The Haunting of Gillespie House

By: Darcy Coates

WHISPERS





The night was cold and still. The curtains were too thin to block out the moonlight, which stretched over the carpet in quivering dabs and strange shapes from where it managed to worm its way through the forest’s boughs.

A sliver of the light fell over the sleeping girl’s face, making her squirm to avoid it. She rolled over and opened her eyes. The dolls and stuffed animals spread about the room watched her with plastic eyes, their comforting influence dissipated in the cold blue light of night-time.

The girl sat up and pushed her hair out of her face. She thought she’d heard the voices through her dreams; they were becoming clearer, though, almost clear enough to understand.

“Hello?” She kept her voice quiet so she wouldn’t disturb her parents as they slept in their room down the hallway. “Is that you, little friends?”

There, so faint that she almost could have imagined it, was the soft scratching noise that accompanied the voice. The girl slid her feet off the bed, shivering in the cold air but too entranced to search for her dressing gown. Her toes dug into the carpet as she circled her bed, trying to find the source of the noise. It seemed to come from all around her, below her feet and above her head. The curtains fluttered as the wind picked up, and the old house groaned under the weight of its years.

“Hello, little friends?” she repeated.

The voices answered her, urging her to come to them. She closed her eyes and stretched out her hands, rotating in a slow circle, listening to the sounds. They seemed to fade and strengthen, depending on the direction she faced. She stopped turning when they were at their loudest, and took a hesitant step forward. The voices rose in volume and urgency as she moved closer, and the girl could feel her fingers shaking as she reached for her invisible companions.

They had never been so clear before. The voices were slowly merging, their echoes and mutters colliding into a single voice. As the girl’s fingers tapped against her bedroom wall, she finally understood them.

“Yes,” she said, breathless, her heart fluttering like a frantic trapped bird. “Yes, I’ll help you, little friends.”





FIRST DAY





I waved at the Gillespies' car as it crawled down their driveway, weaving between thickets of trees, then started its journey to the couples' retreat two states away.

Their house stood at my back. It was an old mansion, three stories tall and built mostly of sandstone blocks. The porch had been beautiful once, but the hardwood boards below my sneakers had lost their shine and were developing cracks, and the white paint on the doorway pillars was peeling.

The Gillespies had entrusted the house to my care for the month while they “built on their foundation,” as Mrs Gillespie had put it. But judging by the way the couple actively avoided touching each other, I suspected the foundation had washed away years ago, and the retreat was a final effort to keep their marriage from being submerged entirely.

Their house seemed to echo that sentiment. It was a magnificent building—way beyond what I could ever hope to afford with my part-time retail job and a useless English degree—but the years hadn't done it any favours. The floorboards creaked under my feet as I passed the threshold and looked around the lounge room. It was clean, at least, but the furniture had a shabby past-its-prime look, and the off-white walls were edging towards a dingy grey.

I dropped the house key on the coffee table as I passed it, along with a slip of paper with Mrs Gillespie's mobile printed in a neat, feminine script. Beyond the lounge room was the dining room. A twelve-seater dark-wood table took pride of place below an actual chandelier.

“Wow.” I gazed at the crystal beauty as it sparkled in the dim light, hinting at a history of glamorous dinner parties and decadent lifestyles.

I ran my hand through my messy hair, trying to pull out some of the knots. I hadn't washed it the night before, and it felt greasy between my fingers. Settle in first, shower later.

Mrs Gillespie had told me my room was the last door on the left at the end of the second-floor hallway, so I grabbed my travel case and pulled it up the curved stairway. The hallway stretched the length of the house, with four doors on each side, and I was winded by the time I pushed open the last door. I found myself in a neat room with a large window overlooking the woods behind the property.

My suitcase was heavy, loaded with clothes, books, and my laptop, and I heaved it onto the bed to unpack. There might not have been a chandelier in my room, but it did have sconces set into the wall and patterned wallpaper that looked as though it belonged in the 1920s. For all I knew, that might have been when the house was last renovated.

As I hung my T-shirts and jeans in the dark-wood dresser, I couldn't stop marvelling at how clean it was. The room had a stuffy feeling that had made me assume every surface would be covered with dust and cobwebs, but Mrs Gillespie must have been thorough in her sprucing. Despite this, it felt closed in and musty, and as soon as I'd finished hanging up the clothes, I unlocked and opened the windows to let in fresh air.

A slope, spotted with clumps of rocks and spindly weeds, ran down behind the building to meet the pine woods fifty meters away. The trees had to be old; some of them looked so large I would have had no chance of touching my hands if I tried to embrace them. Their tips stretched above my window, possibly even above the roof of the house, and patchy bushes and vines filled in the spaces around their trunks.

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