Today’s guest blog post is from Jill Downie, author of A Grave Waiting.
When I was about twelve years old, my mother, who never stayed in one place for long, rented a small flat under the eaves of a centuries-old house in Gloucestershire, England called Vine Court. Owned by an ex-army Captain, Percy Cooper, and his wife, and built in the beautiful honey-coloured stone of the Cotswolds, it was originally a Rest House for monks travelling between Gloucester and Wales.
My mother was aware of an aura about the place — “a benign influence,” she called it.
My mother was right. There were presences in the house. When I came home for the holidays I felt them, the most overwhelming feeling of other worlds, unseen beings, I will ever experience. Where my recollection differed from hers is that the “benign influence” did not extend to me.
The monks whose aura still clung to Vine Court did not want me there. I sensed their hostility, particularly at night, and particularly in the bedroom I had been given on the second floor. Sometimes I would wake up and catch a glimpse of a cowled figure bending over my bed. As I looked up, I would hear the swish of a robe, and he was gone. When I told my mother she laughed and said I had let my imagination run away with me.
Perhaps. But the night I started menstruating for the first time in that room, hooded figures surrounded my bed, and they were angry. There was a sense of menace so strong I actually felt my life was threatened before they finally left me, paralysed with fear, heart pounding, longing for daylight. The next day I refused to sleep in that room anymore.
Years later I went back to Vine Court, drawn by what had happened there. In the intervening quarter-century it had become a semi-ruin, every window broken, a rubble-filled courtyard. Mrs. Cooper’s immaculate garden was overgrown, choked with weeds from which an iron bedstead reared up like a foundering vessel. But there was still that heavy watchfulness in the air I remembered from so long ago.
Suddenly, a young girl materialised through a broken French window. Behind her, through a smeared, cracked windowpane I could see a pram, and a mishmash of assorted possessions on the mantelpiece where Mrs. Cooper’s Rockingham china King Charles spaniels once stood.
“Can I help you?” She sounded wary.
I explained I had lived there once, but she knew nothing of the Coopers. ”Do you live here?” I asked her.
“Temporarily. We hope to fix the place up.” She waved an arm in the direction of the wasteland of a garden.
Squatters had taken over Vine Court, it appeared. How do the monks feel about this, I wondered. Then her face suddenly darkened, and she added, indicating the room behind her. ”We just live in there.”
“Why?” I asked her.
“The second floor isn’t safe,” was all she said, and all she needed to say.
Jill Downie is the author of A Passionate Pen, awarded the Drummer General’s Award by Richard Bachmann of A Different Drummer Books, and Storming the Castle, which received the Hamilton and Region Arts Council Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Previously, she has published five historical novels. Daggers and Men’s Smiles, the first book in the Moretti/Falla series, was published in 2011. She lives in Ancaster, Ontario.