Authors: C.M. Saunders
Tags: #horror, #ghost, #paranormal, #supernatural, #mystery, #occult
By C.M. Saunders
© Copyright 2016 by C.M. Saunders. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without explicit written permission of the publisher.
Welcome to Sker
“What's the name of this place again?” Lucy asked.
“Sker House,” replied Dale, giving her a sidewise glance as he drove. He loved the way the breeze ruffled her long, dark hair, causing a few rebellious strands to fall over her eyes which she expertly flicked away.
They took an exit off the M4 motorway, and continued toward their destination. The air was slightly chilly but the weather clear and sunny. A perfect spring day. The sound of the car's wheels on the smooth tarmac mingled effortlessly with the muted strains of vintage Green Day issuing forth from the speakers of Dale's battered old Vauxhall Astra. One of his guilty pleasures. The sun streamed through the trees and glinted off the windscreen as they wound their way carefully through a maze-like sequence of narrow country lanes, Dale gripping the wheel tightly. He was used to driving in the city. Navigating lanes carved out of the earth for horses and carts half a millennia ago called for an entirely different skill set.
“Sker House. Right. How could I forget? And the place is a guest house now, right?”
“Right,” Dale confirmed, applying a little nervous pressure on the brake as they approached yet another harsh bend. “I did a little digging around on the Internet. Apparently, it was first built as a monastery over nine hundred years ago. Then it was turned into a farmhouse for a couple of centuries and after that, you know, shit happens. It fell into 'disrepair,' as the website says. Which I guess means it went to shit. Some new owners bought it a couple of years ago, and turned it into a seaside Inn. It's taken them this long to make the place liveable again.”
“Is it open for business? I mean, you did check that, didn't you? I don't wanna drive all this way if the place isn't even open yet. And I don't fancy spending the night in the car.”
“Technically you aren't driving, I am. Worst case scenario we'll just find another haunted hotel to stay in. There must be loads around here.” Going back to the place he was born always stirred up a complex set of emotions in Dale. Childhood memories of a time when life was carefree and simple flooded back, and he was happy to bask in their glory for a while. But they were inexorably linked with all the bad stuff that followed, and he was powerless to stop his mind returning to those dark places.
“You know what I mean,” Lucy protested, unamused. “This little jaunt of yours is still taking up my valuable time and energy. I don't want to come all this way for nothing.”
. This little jaunt of
. This is as much for your benefit as mine, remember. You're the one obsessed with ghosts and stuff. But to answer your question yeah, its open. I talked to the owner yesterday. He's very excited to have us stay.”
“And why would he be so excited by the prospect of a couple of students coming to stay?”
“Our money is as good as anyone else's. And lets just say I was a little economical with the truth...”
Lucy tutted and shook her head. “What did you tell him, moron?”
“Hey, there's no need for the abuse. I didn't tell him anything much. I just
that we are journalists going there to write a feature for a big national magazine. I didn't specifically say those words. I just told him we wanted to do an article about Sker and let the guy's ego do the rest. I convinced him it would be good publicity. Something every new business needs. In the end, he even gave us a discount on the room.”
“Dale! What is wrong with you? We do NOT work for a big national magazine! We're journalism students doing a write-up for a pissy campus rag nobody reads!”
“Hey! Solent News is NOT a pissy campus rag. It's kind of a national publication. We could send copies anywhere. That makes it national. Hell, that makes us
. Intergalactic, even. We could smuggle a copy onto the next space shuttle and be the first magazine in space. How would that be for a PR stunt? There's a difference between lying and bending the truth. Like I said, I just wasn't entirely honest. It's what journo's do, Lucy. It gets results. In this case, it got us a discount on the room.”
“S'pose so,” Lucy relented. “And the place is supposed to be haunted, yeah?”
“It's about as haunted as haunted gets, baby! Haven't you ever heard about the poor Maid of Sker?”
“Can't say I have. Was she your last girlfriend?”
“Ha-ha, very funny. Actually, no. For your information, the Maid of Sker is the ghost that haunts the place.”
“She has a name?”
“Of course she does. And this is actually a lot more than just a ghost story.”
“Really?” suddenly interested, Lucy turned in her seat to face him, her seatbelt pulling tight against its constraint. “Okay, consider my curiosity piqued. How do you know so much about it?”
“When I was a kid my folks used to take me on holiday to Porthcawl, which is only a few miles down the road from Sker House. Superstitious bunch, the Welsh. The Maid of Sker is just one legend popular in the area.”
“So are you gonna share it with me or what?”
Dale hesitated. “Nope. Not yet. I don't really know all the details well enough. I couldn't do it justice. I'm pretty sure the people there will do a much better job of scaring the pants off you than me. Unfortunately. I'll leave it to them.”
Lucy groaned. “Okay, have it your way. Tell me another story instead, if this part of the world has so many.”
“Well, Kenfig Pool is nearby. It has an interesting legend associated with it. Not exactly a ghost story, but interesting all the same. Wanna hear it?”
“Sure, hit me.”
“Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a town where one day a peasant killed and robbed a local lord, to get money to impress this girl he fancied. He used his ill-gotten gains to pay for a lavish wedding ceremony. But at the reception, a strange booming voice came out of the sky and told all the guests that vengeance would come with the ninth generation of the victim's family. Time went by and when the ninth generation finally appeared, a huge torrent of water came from the sea and engulfed the whole town. Hundreds drowned. The pool is still there, and they say that at certain times you can still hear church bells ringing from under the water.”
“That's more like a fairytale than a ghost story,” Lucy said, unimpressed.
“Not exactly. Because under certain conditions, people say parts of the old submerged village are still visible beneath the surface of the pond.” He neglected to mention the fact that when an investigation was carried out, nothing more was found than the remains of an old Victorian boat house. No sense shattering the illusion.
“They say most legends have a grain of truth in them,” Lucy said. “However unlikely they might seem. Things like that happen all the time. Floods, tidal waves, underwater eruptions.”
“Not in Wales,” Dale said as he slowed the car to a crawl in order to take a particularly nasty bend.
“Maybe not recently. But the story could be based on much older events. Things that happened hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and then became woven into the local folklore. On the other hand, it could be metaphorical.”
“Anything can be metaphorical if you want to go down that road. Maybe when we tie up this Sker house business we can launch an investigation into Kenfig Pool. Anyway, it'll be fun working together on this article, won't it? Me being the wordsmith and you the... the what?”
“Um... I'll be the Photographic Director, please.”
“Is that even a real job?”
“It is now.”
Sker House, tall and majestic, stood overlooking the dunes a few hundred yards from where the twinkling sea met the land. From a distance, it looked more like a stately home than a guesthouse. Served by a single narrow road that terminated in a tiny rectangular car park, it was the only building in sight apart from a few crumbling barns and outhouses scattered across the nearby fields. Looking at it, the main building immediately made Lucy think of a single rotting tooth sticking out of an ageing gum. If she let her imagination run wild, which she was prone to doing, the shape of the cove in which the house was situated even had the rounded appearance of a mouth.
Sections of the imposing, grandiose structure had obviously recently been renovated, and though it wasn't the crumbling Victorian country house she had hoped for, it had somehow managed to maintain its character. Four stories high with masses of green ivy snaking up the walls like long, probing fingers, the only thing that looked like a new addition was the small reception porch protruding rudely from the main building.
Dale parked in the empty car park, then they retrieved their luggage from the boot and made their way down the short cobbled path that led to the entrance. Once inside, they saw that the porch opened into what was, to all intents and purposes, an old fashioned-style pub with a hardwood floor and oak-panelled walls adorned with brooding oil paintings of stormy seas and old sailing ships. The maritime theme was hardly original, nor unexpected, but the place had a warm, homely atmosphere, reinforced by the smell of stale beer that hung in the air.
“Awesome!” exclaimed Dale, delighted at the sight of a well-stocked bar after a two-hour drive.
There appeared to be no conventional check-in point, so they left their luggage at the door and headed for the bar, where a slightly overweight, jovial-looking man wearing jeans and a white t-shirt was grinning at them expectantly. Must be the landlord
thought Lucy. She hoped so, because apart from him and an old man with long wispy hair and a thick white beard sitting at one of the tables nursing a pint glass and reading a newspaper, the place was completely deserted.
“Alright, but!” greeted the man behind the bar in a strong South Wales accent.
“But what?” asked Lucy, perplexed.
“It's just what local people say, means 'friend.' Like 'mate' or 'bruv,' up in Sarfampton, innit,” Dale explained helpfully. She knew how excited he was to be home. Or at least, near home. She couldn't imagine what it must be like to leave everything behind, your family and friends, and move to what was effectively a different country.
“Right. Got it,” said Lucy, as if trying to memorize some priceless nugget of information that could serve her well in the future.
“Do you 'ave a reservation, like?” the man behind the bar asked, making a clear effort to look professional. The fact that he had to try so hard was slightly unnerving.
“Like?” asked Lucy. The landlord glared at her. A thick vein pulsed in his temple and little beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.
Dale stepped in and answered the question.“Erm, yes we have a reservation. Two people, two nights.”