The CCF platoon was nearing the end of a stifling summer’s day, sweating uncomfortably in uniform with packs on their backs when they discovered the old farmhouse by the river, partly hidden under bushes and creepers growing over the building.
With the freshening wind and dark clouds piling up to the west they were glad to find shelter – if you could call it that – the roof and most windows broken and now roughly boarded up. But it would afford basic protection from the worst of the storm that was coming.
“Well…,” announced Jake, the leader, contemplating the building, “not ideal but it’ll give us some shelter if the weather turns shit. Bit early to stop but I suggest we get settled, have a dip in the river to cool off then think about firewood and cooking.”
“This place seems dead creepy,” observed David, one of the younger members, shivering despite the heat. “Those black marks on the wall and the charred roof timbers look odd – like there’s been a bloody big fire. There’s a decent farmhouse over the other side. Couldn’t we cross over and see if we could sleep in a nice dry barn? Maybe cadge some food?”
“Orders are to stay on this side of the river until we meet up with the other platoon. Plus I don’t see a crossing place,” Jake retorted, “now let’s get set up before the weather turns.”
The platoon settled down, had a swim and wash and got a fire going when a voice hailed them from over the river.
“Halloo,” shouted a farmer, “You OK there? I just noticed you and could offer you better shelter at my farm over here; there’s a crossing point at the stones 100 yards down river. It might be more comfortable. I don’t recommend the old farmhouse…. Not a good place….”
“Very kind,” Jake yelled back, “but my orders were to stay this side of the river. And I think we’re
“Well, if you’re sure. The offer’s there,” replied the farmer, “You might find it more comfortable
and, dare I say, safer over here. It’s not always so pleasant over your side,” he added darkly.
“Though I can’t see that a small deviation would do any harm……,” David cut in.
“Look we’re here now so shut up,” Jake snapped.
The farmer gave a wave and walked off, though Jake couldn’t help noticing that he turned to look back at them shaking his head.
The boys ate their rations in near silence as the sky got darker, storm clouds rolling in with the distant rumble of thunder and flickers of lightning. The air got increasingly hot and stuffy and for no apparent reason, the boys began to feel jittery.
“Going to be stormy,” remarked one of the company nervously, “let’s hope we don’t get totally pissed on….. Wonder where the other lot are.”
“Let’s not worry about them,” Jake replied, suddenly feeling chilly and apprehensive for no apparent reason, “just hunker down.”
Just after the boys had finished supper, the storm broke. After some banter, which faltered nervously, the boys eventually fell asleep after the day’s walk despite the hammering rain and wind, drips through the roof and the thunder and lightning. All except for David who felt unaccountably edgy and dozed fitfully with strange dreams of dark figures. Eventually he looked at his watch – just after midnight; the storm had petered out and was away off east. He heard some owls hooting mournfully to each other in the distance. Otherwise all was deathly – almost unnaturally – quiet except for splatters of rain dripping from the trees.
Then an odd feeling prompted him to get up and look out of the windows. Through the gloom, now partly lit both by sporadic flashes from the receding thunderstorm and by moonlight breaking through the clouds, he saw a number of dark figures prowling around outside the farmhouse. David watched with a sense of growing menace gnawing at his heart as he observed how noiselessly the figures seem to glide purposefully across the ground, as if floating on air, picking up what looked like pieces of wood from underneath the trees and heading towards the farmhouse.
He shook Jake awake.
“What’s up?” Jake enquired sleepily.
“Some strange people out there. They look weird, like ghosts almost,” whispered David struggling to force the words out of his throat.
Sure enough Jake could see them, mysterious black figures coming ever closer carrying large dark bundles. The two boys watched as the figures approached.
Then Jake hissed,“Wake the others quickly and quietly. Something’s not right. I don’t like this.”
David shook the others whilst Jake continued to watch. The figures seemed to be laying their bundles around the building. Then he saw a flare appear in the hands of one of the figures and realised that they were going to set fire to the house.
“Everyone! Awake now – out! Fire!”
But as the boys found the door blocked by planks of wood and they saw haggard but ghostly figures with matted grey hair, eyes as black as coals contrasting with their deathly white palor and with thin colourless lips laughing obscenely through stained teeth. The house began to fill with smoke flames licking at the roof lighting the surviving timbers. Jake and the boys began to try and force the barricade but could not move the planks whilst the shadowy figures poked at the boys through gaps in the planks with sharpened sticks.
“Let us out…, please,” David cried in terror.
“Burn, like those bastards what possessed our property,” came a deathly rattling response, “and what lived on what was rightfully our land and suffer the pains we suffered.”
The house filled with smoke and the heat was becoming unbearable as. The boys were terrified with thoughts of being burnt alive or suffocated. Several began to scream. Jake thought quickly,
“Let’s try and break one of the side walls. Stonework’s crumbling over there. Come on, quick,everybody….”
They began to tear furiously at the wall with their bare hands desperately pulling away the loose stones in a last attempt to escape dripping with sweat from naked fear and heat.
Then shouts outside, the sound of a gun being fired and the splintering of the planks over the doorway.
“Quick.” a voice shouted urgently. “This way – now.”
A figure frantically gestured through the smoke and flames. Jake was last one out as the farmhouse crumbled, the roof timbers crashing down in a shower of sparks. Some of the boys began to shake and weep.
“Thank you,” Jake shakily addressed the group of men standing around with lanterns and staves. By the light of the flames he recognised the leader, cradling his shotgun, as the farmer from across the river. “We probably wouldn’t have survived if you hadn’t arrived. But who were
those people? They looked like ghosts.”
“Let’s get you to the farm. I’ll explain then.” the farmer replied quietly.
Back at the farm the boys were ushered into the large kitchen where the farmer’s wife bustled around rustling up hot chocolate snacks and discreet whiskies for the boys as the men downed large tots.
“So what was that?” Jake asked, embarrassed to notice his hand was shaking.
“Lammas Farm always had a reputation,” the farmer explained. “So story goes, it were tenanted for many years until Lord Howthwaite, who used to own estate on the other side of river, evicted the tenants and abandoned them to the road to provide somewhere for a member of his family to live. Ever since then the ghosts of the tenants have haunted anyone living there – and I mean truly haunted. Howthwaite’s family had several fatal accidents there and legion are tales of later tenants meeting death or injury. Then the house mysteriously caught fire in a storm and wife of tenant was burned to death. I remember the accidents, if you call them that, as I were a young lad here in my mid-twenties; and I can still remember the wife screaming for help as the flames consumed her – utterly hideous it were. Since then farmhouse has gone to ruin. Nobody round these parts goes near it.”
“That’s why I were concerned about you,” he continued, “but seeing as you were just camping for the night I thought you might be OK. But I had bad feelings on account of the likely thunderstorm. There was a storm when the last tenant’s wife died in the fire. Many said lightning struck the farmhouse but I myself never believed that and nor did my late father.”
I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, although what happened was really terrifying,” Jake answered
“Well, you might do now when you think on it.” the farmer replied. “Never underestimate evil. I know, I’ve seen it first hand and now you lads have. You cannot be rid of it – it lurks in this world.”