This was the first time that Sally had been allowed out on her own, and she had a sneaking suspicion why. Nobody else would take the job.
Given the history of this boarded up old house, it was hardly surprising the other the estate agents didn’t want to survey it. Of course, once the property was assessed and had flattering photographs added to a brochure about its amazing potential, older hands would immediately snatch the commission and the credit. Once there was the real chance of a buyer they might even take the customer to view it. With company and a confident sales pitch the place would seem less haunted - not that this part of its history would be mentioned to a potential purchaser.
Sally didn’t mind. She was an 18-year-old still learning all the tricks and cunning ways of the house selling business. It was inevitable that she would need to survey a remote, run down property, which had a ghost, at some time or another. Sally just wished it hadn’t been this one. Local legend claimed that the sinister rocking horse in the upstairs nursery would sway backwards and forwards accompanied by the wicked giggles of young children. And there it was, looking down from a bay window, glass eyes staring at her as though knowing that it was due to be tossed onto a rubbish dump. Having survived the fire of over one and a half centuries ago, no one had endeavoured to rescue the antique toy. Other furniture and collectible items had long since been salvaged. Once the house had been virtually stripped of fixtures and fittings, that rocking horse remained exactly where it had been on the night of the fire. It was probably that expression... Sally certainly wouldn’t have wanted it in her flat, however much of a conversation piece it might have been when entertaining her antique collecting friends. The mythology attached to it alone was enough to give anyone nightmares.
Once the front door was unlocked, enough light escaped through the half boarded-up windows to show the way through the hall. As a precaution against treading on a rotten floorboard, Sally took out her torch.
The dimensions of the downstairs rooms were taken with a laser measure and added to the old plan scanned onto her smartphone. Sally took her time, snapping more photos than necessary, reluctant to ascend the stairs to where the nursery was situated.
A call from her office to check up on how things were progressing meant she could not put off measuring the bedrooms any longer.
Sally ascended the stairs in trepidation. She was surprised to find that the Victorian rooms were light and airy. The fire that had briefly swept through the house had left its charred evidence, but had been quickly doused. Although smoke damaged, the half drawn curtains in the nursery had hardly been scorched and allowed in a shaft of sunlight which fell on... that sinister rocking horse.
Already familiar with its malevolent gaze from the forecourt below, Sally could now feel the toy’s evil presence. Part of its mane and tail had been shrivelled by the flames and on the bridle, across its forehead, was the name ‘Twinkie’.
To make up the time she had wasted downstairs, Sally quickly measured up the other rooms. The last thing she wanted to do was spend her lunch hour in that house.
Soon, only the nursery remained. Trying not to look at the rocking horse, Sally quickly recorded its dimensions and took a few snaps.
Then Twinkie moved.
Perhaps a freak breeze from the broken window had given him a slight nudge. She was rooted to the spot, but not yet intimidated enough to flee the room.
Then came the high pitched giggling of two young children. It was not the normal, gleeful laughter of infants, but resonated with wickedness.
Rotten floorboards or not, Sally dashed out of the house.
Safely back at her desk, she grabbed a sandwich and mug of tea. Feeling calmer, the trainee estate agent pulled out the folder of documents the current owner of the property had provided. The house had remained unoccupied since the fire one and a half centuries previously. It had been inherited by a distant relative of the owners who lived in Ontario. They only bothered with its basic maintenance and security to prevent it becoming vandalised.
There were foxed pages of copperplate handwriting; too many for anyone else in the office to waste time with. The only thing that interested them was how much the derelict property and its grounds would bring in if sold for redevelopment. Hang the complaints from local historians claiming that it was a local, haunted landmark which should be preserved in all its decaying glory. At one time Sally might have agreed with them, but after her brief experience inside the house it would have been a relief to see it demolished.
At the bottom of the box folder was a large manila envelope containing early police reports. This handwriting was a round, legible print, probably learnt in a 19th-century Mother Hubbard school. At the top of each page was printed the name of a local constabulary and below it the address of the incident. It was surprising that no local historian had managed to ferret out this constable’s account of events at that sinister house.
There was no time to read it, so Sally dropped the manila envelope into her briefcase.
There were usually too many distractions after work; Facebook, drinking with friends in the pub, or watching a good film. But that evening something insisted that the contents of the manila envelope were too terrible to be ignored. Sally poured a glass of wine and curled up on the sofa with the police report.
In the autumn of 1865 Constable Flowers had been summoned by the distraught house owner to investigate the sudden and unexplained death of the young nanny he had employed to take care of his four-year-old twin sons. Their mother had died giving birth to them and the father, having to spend so much time away, had gratefully engaged this personable young woman to oversee them. Alice had come from a poor, but respectable, background and was well educated. The rest of the household thought highly of her, even the grumpy housekeeper who could be very territorial.
Dominic and Simon were problem infants, unresponsive to what was going on about them, and had created a small world of their own, which excluded adults and other children alike. Their father had put the identical twins’ behaviour down to the fact that they had never known their mother and the small episodes of cruelty exhibited towards family pets and toys merely a phase that would pass.
Immediately he entered the house, Constable Flowers became suspicious of the boys’ detached behaviour. Given their tender years it seemed incredible that Dominic and Simon could have been responsible for the death of their new nanny, yet their manner unsettled him. The policeman recommended that the matter should immediately be reported to the coroner. He instructed a medical practitioner to examine Alice’s body for traces of noxious substances as there was no other apparent explanation for her death.
The matter was never resolved, and the coroner allowed the young woman to be laid to rest with the other members of her family. A headstone and compensation was donated to the parents by her employer who was reluctant to engage another nanny, although many young women would have been glad of the position. From then on his strict housekeeper kept watch over the twins as she was the only person who could intimidate them into good behaviour.
Relative calm returned to the house for two years.
And then the housekeeper died. There were deep puncture marks in her body. The scullery maid, cook and gardener all lived in fear of this woman and wouldn’t have dared confront her with an out of place word, let alone a stiletto blade.
This time Constable Flowers had no doubts and was convinced that Dominic and Simon were responsible. Every moment the policeman spent there, he could feel the needle gaze of four calculating eyes, as the twins’ high pitched giggles filled the house. Astride their rocking horse, they swayed to and fro like assassins on the road to their next victim.
Their father had to accept that he had sired two young murderers, and that they should be removed to an institution before they could kill another person.
But Simon and Dominic knew what lay in store for them. The night before the carriage to take them away was due to arrive, the house caught fire. The local residents and fire brigade quickly quelled the flames before the property was engulfed. The scullery maid, cook and gardener, who lived on the ground floor, were able to escape. But the body of Simon and Dominic’s father was found in his bed, hardly touched by the flames.
His throat had been cut while he slept.
The twins had disappeared. Search parties combed the area and daguerreotypes of the six-year-olds were sent to the neighbouring constabularies.
No trace of the children was ever found. The coroner recorded a verdict of death caused by felons unknown, and Constable Flowers must have gone to his grave wondering what became of those little assassins.
Sally finished reading and poured another glass of wine. She didn’t sleep very well that night.
The house and land was soon sold for redevelopment. The owners in Ontario did not haggle over the price, well aware of its history and relieved to get rid of it. Despite the protests of local historians, especially when they became aware of the report by Constable Flowers, the developer who had purchased the land demolished the house before the wheels of virtuous preservation could begin to turn.
One overcast morning old rugs, curtains and rotten wood panels were piled up in the forecourt. Twinkie, the malevolent toy of the murderous twins, sat on top of this bonfire, setting its demonic gaze on the demolition team.
Sally watched from the gate as the blaze filled the leaden sky. Constable Flowers would have probably been comforted to know that the rocking horse had been committed to the flames.
Then came an awful, evil, giggling from Twinkie as it was consumed by the inferno. The giggling turned to shrieks that horrified the onlookers.
The rocking horse suddenly exploded in a fireball, releasing two scrolls of black smoke that corkscrewed up into the grey clouds.