THE TILED HOUSE

By Perry Lake

 

I admit it up front: we moved to Ireland in ‘94 to beat the taxes.  Sure, we wanted a nice country place, and Jessica had shirttail relatives in Dublin, but mostly the great tax breaks drew us there.  Maybe that was the problem; maybe it was punishing us.

 

Mr. Starks, the land agent, took us out to see the old place.  “It’s barely a mile out of the suburbs now, but it must have been quite a ride in horse and buggy days,” he said, “You’ll find it’s mostly pastureland, with not many houses around.  A low ridge keeps the city out of sight, so it seems even more remote.”

 

The house was off the main road a ways and bigger than anything either of us had ever lived in.  But it was cheap too, and with good reason.  Most of the doors and windows were gone with boards nailed haphazardly over them.  The inside was empty and filthy.  But it had been quite a house once.  They could build 'em back then.

 

It was called the Tiled House, though I sure couldn't see any tiles.  Starks said it belonged to the Castlemallard family, who had once been of the peerage, like I was supposed to be impressed.  They all packed up and moved to America thirty years ago and Starks' company had owned it since then.  No one wanted to go to the trouble of fixing up the old joint, so it just stood there.  ”Funny thing about Ireland,” he said, “outside of the cities, the population is steadily dropping.  All the young people move to the cities or to America.”

 

Well, we were determined to reverse that trend.  We liked the place tolerably well and the price was right.  We took it and arranged to have it in shape in a month, when we would return with our kids and furniture.

 

We settled in nicely.  The kids fell in love with the house and envisioned they were knights and dragons and princesses, though the place is only a couple of hundred years old—more likely to produce ruffles and powdered wigs.  I'm afraid our furniture and decorations didn't go well with the place, but we had no intention of buying Hepplewhite and Chippendale.  The waterbed was staying.

 

With two stories and eight bedrooms, we needed a maid and an all-purpose man.  Jessica's Irish relatives said there's a terrible servant problem, but they mean compared to the way it used to be.  We had no trouble getting the people we needed.  Mrs. Bailiwick was a round, smiling, motherly type, and Mr. Fitzhue was steady and quiet, with thirty years of gardening behind him.

 

We'd been there a few days when Jessica's people from Dublin came to welcome us and help unpack.  The McCrackens were impressed—too much I'm afraid.  I had the feeling they were planning to enjoy having rich American relatives so near.  To the Irish, all Americans are rich.  I wish Jessie wouldn't encourage them.

 

After they'd gone we sat on the patio, enjoying the lukewarm July night.  Fortunately, there was no breeze, or it would've turned cooler than our American blood would appreciate.

 

"I guess I'll have to drive the kids to school every day." Jessica said.

 

"I suppose I could do it when I'm not busy." My end of the business could be held up by phone and computer, so four thousand miles meant little.

 

"I hope they get along well.  Lance is so sensitive to criticism."

 

"If the McCrackens are a barometer, they'll adore them."

 

"I hope so."

 

We sat there, staring out at the darkness, listening to the crickets and the rustling of dead leaves.  Jessica got up and leaned against the railing.

 

"It's getting late," she said.

 

"It's only ten."

 

She gave me a look I knew from old, and we broke in our new bedroom properly.

*   *   *

Repairing the stonework on the old well occupied Mr. Fitzhue and me for a day or so.  Jessica spent the time exploring shops in Dublin as the kids explored the countryside.  Gloria had already made friends with a little girl from down the road.

 

There was also the old latticework to secure, since it would scrape along the wall at night.  The whole garden would need rotor tilling, but Mr. Fitzhue and Mrs. Bailiwick got into an argument about whether it was too late for the fruit trees.  I stepped in and went with Mr. Fitzhue since he was the gardener.  Mrs. Bailiwick was monosyllabic for the rest of the day.  We began to see how we needed to handle good servants with care.

 

I got an e-mail over my Mac from Bill in Chicago: “The company has never done better—you should've left years ago.”  Quite the character, Bill.  I showed the printout to Jessica and asked her to help me come up with something snappy to send back to him.

 

“I can't think of anything this morning," she said, blinking.  "That damned lattice was scraping along the wall again.  I thought you fixed it."

 

“So did I.  Must've come loose.”  I hadn't heard it, but it didn't take much to keep Jessica awake.

 

I went out to the shed where Mr. Fitzhue was hard at work trying to light his pipe.  I told him about the lattice.  He sat for a moment and let his pipe go out again.

 

"No, sir." he said suddenly.  "Twon't do.  That lattice is wraw ern, and I bolted th'clamps m'self.  On m'oath t'will stand t'the Judgment Day, as'm a sinner!"

 

"Well something's making a noise....  Could it be the pipes?"

 

He looked at the pipe he was relighting, then at me.

 

"The plumbing."

 

"Ah.  That it might, sir.  That it might."

 

I set aside my retort to Bill and spent most of the day in the basement.  There was enough work to do on the pipes, but none of it looked as bad as it sounded.

 

I showered and came down to dinner.  A glance at Jessica showed something was wrong.

 

"Now what?"

 

"Lance was in a fight."

 

"Is he OK?"

 

"Oh sure, but the other boy was scuffed up, apparently."

 

I decided to hear Lance's side.

 

"He said I talked funny, so I said he talked funny.  Then he hit me."

 

“And?"

 

"I hit him back and he ran away.  He was bigger than me."

 

I'd always felt good about having the whole family take karate lessons until now.   "Do you know who he is?"

 

"Bobby McSomething.  He lives in that little green house up the road."

 

"Well tomorrow I want you to go there and apologize to him.  It's hardly right to say he talks funny in his own country.  You're the stranger here—you have to make concessions.  Besides, when you apologize he'll realize you're fair sort of person and you can become friends.  I'm sure you won't have worry about him hitting you."

 

Then he smiled.  "I guess not.  I got him pretty good."

 

"Don't brag."

 

"Sorry."

 

That was one less worry, but that night there was something outside our window scraping—I'd call it tapping—every once in a while.  I wondered if it could be a woodpecker or something.  I looked out the window and saw the ivy shaking.  I pounded the wall with my shoe and whatever it was ran off.  I hoped it hadn't made a nest.

*   *   *

Mrs. Bailiwick was quiet the next day.  We'd thought she'd gotten over the thing about the fruit trees, which was proceeding slowly enough anyway, thanks to all the other work.  Jessica had a talk with her, then came and told me about it.

 

“She wants to leave.  She hasn't made up her mind because jobs are hard to come by, but she's thinking about it.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Oh, she thinks there's a prowler.  She's heard noises at night—I think she has problems getting to sleep.  I'm going to give her some Valium—I haven't needed any.  She also swears she saw a hand at her window last night, but I think it was a dream.”

 

“Are you sure?  They have rapists and child molesters in Ireland, too.”

 

“...Yes.  But it can't be anything; she's on the second floor, same as us.  There's no way anyone could get up there.”  The servants’ quarters were below, but they had been painted recently and still smelled bad.

 

“You're right.  Don't give her too many of those Valiums.”

*   *   *

I spotted Gloria’s golden hair bobbing just barely over the top of the hedge before she came back home the next afternoon. 

 

"You sure were gone a long time." I said to her.

 

"I was playing with Siobhan."

 

"You like her a lot."

 

"Uh-huh."

 

"Does she have any brothers?"

 

"A couple."

 

"Lance's age?"

 

"No.  One's a baby and the other's three."

 

"Oh.  You know, her parents might not want you over there so often.  Maybe you should invite her over here to play."

 

"Siobhan can't come over."

 

"Why?"

 

"Her father won't let her.  He said so."

 

"He did, did he?  Well, if Siobhan can't come to our house, you won't go to hers."

 

Gloria's mouth fell open.  "Why?"

 

"Because I said so."

 

Gloria wouldn't talk to me for the rest of the day and Jessica didn't approve, but I refuse to let some yokel snub me in front of my own daughter.

*   *   *

Ireland never really gets warm and that evening there was a wind coming straight from the Arctic, so we had a fire.  Actually we had smoke because the damper had rusted shut, and I broke the poker trying to work it loose.  That was another job for the morning.

 

Gloria was sulking upstairs, but Lance was sitting with us, unusually content.  Bobby McEgan had been over earlier and Lance was still going on about him.

 

"Never played baseball.  Not even softball.  At least they have football."

 

"Are you sure about that?" I asked, "Over here when they say football, they mean soccer."

 

Lance frowned.  Then there was a scratching at the patio doors.  It sounded like a cat wanting in.  Lance got up to investigate.

 

"Lance!" his mother cried.

 

"Wait a minute," I said.

 

"What?"

 

I doubted it was anything, but I still got the shovel from the fireplace and went to the doors.  I couldn't see anything, so I flipped the latch and stepped out.

 

"Lance," Jessica said, "stay back."

 

"Aw, Mom."

 

"Do as your mother says."

 

I went out a ways and searched the blackness for anything out of place.  I waited a moment then beat the shovel against the new hedge, hoping to scare something out.

 

I stopped and listened, but I heard only the wind.  I stepped out further and listened again.  Through the wind I picked up a noise all right—it was behind me.  I turned and saw something at the door for a split second before it went behind the bottom paneling of the door—and into the house.

 

I ran in, ready to hit it, but I'd lost it.  Jessica and Lance stood by the window.

 

"Where'd it go?" I demanded.

 

"I don't know; we didn't see it." Jessica said.  From where they stood, the couch blocked their view.  "It sounded like it went over there somewhere.” 

 

Holding Lance, she pointed at the wall with the stereo and the kitchen doorway.

 

I ran the shovel under the stereo then stomped around in the kitchen for a minute, but I didn't find a thing.  I came out and said a bad word for a good fertilizer.

 

“What was it?” Jessica asked, closing the patio doors.

 

“I don't know, a rat.  Some kind of rodent.  Tomorrow I'll have Mr. Fitzhue get some traps.”

 

After things calmed down we decided to go to bed and make an early start of it.  It was shortly after that when we heard the tapping noise again, but this time it was coming from inside the Tiled House.

*   *   *

Not on our honeymoon in Hawaii when I poured a bucket of ice water on her back, or a year later when she had Lance, had I ever heard Jessica scream so loud.  I didn't know anyone could scream that loud.

 

I didn't know what was happening as I woke up in the dark, but it scared me.  She just screamed and screamed.

 

"Jessica! What is it?"

 

She tried to form words through her cries of terror.  I couldn't imagine anyone more frantic than I me, but she was.  Her eyes bulged in horror.

 

"Thh—annn!  The hand!  The hand!" she shrieked.  I grabbed her wrists to see if something had happened to her hands.  She pulled them away and covered her face.

 

"The hand!  The hand!" Then she broke down crying.

 

I heard a noise.  Lance was standing at the door, with eyes and mouth opened.

 

"What happened?" he asked in a tear-filled voice.

 

"Nothing.  Your mother had a nightmare." Hell, I didn't know what to say.  "Go back to bed."

 

I think he did so.  I hoped he did.  Jessica was crying as hard as she could.  I held her because I didn't know what else to do.

 

"I-I saw it! It was right above me.  Just a hand in the air.  And then—it—it touched me!"

 

"It was a nightmare.  That's all."

 

She just sobbed and said no more.  Sobbed and stared out of the corners of her eyes, just in case it came back.

*   *   *

Dreams are funny things.  When they're happening, they're real.  I know, I've had some midnight snacks gone bad that left me quivering till dawn.  But after a while you get over it, laugh about it.

 

But Jessica hadn't got over her nightmare.  She wasn't crying or anything, but I hadn't seen her so quiet and unresponsive since her father died—they'd been so close.

 

And she was constantly looking over her shoulder like something was going to jump on her.  Gloria came flying around a corner and Jessica almost had a heart attack.

 

By noon I was getting short with her, so I thought it might be a good idea to get some air.  Standing out front, I noticed a guy slowly coming up the walk, kind of like he'd rather not.  He was dressed very plainly, like a farmer or a laborer.

 

"Hi," I called when he was closer.

 

"How d'y'do, sir," he said.  "I'd be wishing to speak with Mr. Richards."

 

"That's me."

 

"Ah, and I thought you might be at that.  I'm Mr. Allan-McCarthy from down the way a bit."

 

"Nice to meet you." I said and we shook hands.  I'd heard the name before, but I couldn't place it at the moment.

 

"I share the very same feeling.  Aye, that I do.  I fear I've been a wee tardy on welcoming you to our country, but I've been a might busy of late.  I drive a lorry for Fitzwilliams and Matthews."

 

"Oh."

 

"Aye." He paused to collect his thoughts.  "What I wanted to speak with you about was me daughter."

 

"Daughter?"

 

"Siobhan."

 

"I see."

 

"You might well know that I asked her not to be visiting your house."

 

"Yes," I said, coldly.

 

"It's not your Gloria.  Nay, not at all.  A fine wee lass she is.  And I surely hope you won't think it's account of your being outsiders and all.  Oh, no.  It's not that at all.  It's the house."

 

"The house?  What's wrong with the house?"

 

"Y'd'not know?"

 

"Know what?"

 

"Haunted, it is."

 

I laughed.  "Really?  I imagine all these old houses are supposed to have a ghost or two."

 

"Oh sir, do me better credit'n that.  I know most folks'd look at any old place and call it a haint, but the Tiled House is so—bad haunted.  For better'n a hundred year folk have seen a disembodied hand reaching out for victims.  The Castlemallards left in—"

 

What left was the blood from my face.

 

"Y'seen it!" he said.

 

"No.  My wife...  It can't be.  There's no such thing." I don't know why I said that, I believe in ghosts.  I guess I just didn't want to believe it was actually happening to us.

 

"I'm sorry." I said.  What I was sorry for was leaving the doors open the night before last.

 

"Oh, twas nothing." he said, cheerfully.  "Maybe one of these days you'd care to bring the family over for tea?  Tain't much, just poor folks fare, but me Jenny she can bake a pudding to make your mouth water.”

 

"Fine.  Thank you."

 

"Tomorrow, perhaps?"

 

"Uh, yes.  That'd be great."

 

We shook hands and he left.  I went in and told Gloria it would be all right for her to play with Siobhan.  She was delighted and gave me a kiss.  I told Jessica about it, but she had nothing to say.

*   *   *

After dinner, I put the kids to bed.  Then I sat with Jessica by the unlit fireplace having a nightcap.

 

"We've been invited to the Allan-McCarthy's tomorrow for tea.  Do you feel like going?"

 

"I suppose."

 

"You don't sound too enthused about it."

 

"I'm not."

 

"He seemed all right.  Why shouldn't we go?"

 

"You didn't think so when he didn't want Siobhan to play here.  Did you find out why?"

 

I didn't think she needed to hear what he said.  What proof was there?  "No.  Well, being strangers, I guess."

 

Jessica looked about at the high walls and vaulted ceiling.  "This is no place for children."

 

"Why?  What's wrong with it?"

 

"It's a morbid dump.  I don't know why we had to come here."

 

"You're the one who begged me to buy the place."

 

"I changed my mind.  I want to leave."

 

"What?  Oh, come on.  We've hardly been here a week.  There isn't a thing wrong with this place that some elbow grease and a coat of paint won't cure.  Good God, do you know how much we'd lose if we were to sell out?  Assuming we could sell it?"

 

She turned on me.  "Is that all you care about; the money?"

 

"I know I'm not going to throw away a $50,000 investment because of some stupid dream."

 

She glared at me a second then turned away.  She covered her eyes.  She was crying.

 

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I can't understand why you're letting this thing get to you."

 

She wiped her eyes and got up.  Without another word she went to bed.  I heard her crying louder on the stairs before the door shut.

 

I sat there a while, staring at my drink.  This was no good.  Maybe she'd get better in a few days, but I had my doubts.  If she kept going on like this she would have a nervous breakdown, like her mother.  I wasn't any help—I kept wondering if she really did see something.  Allan-McCarthy's story was getting to me.

 

Then I heard a 'click' from the study, followed by a whirring.  Then there was a rat-a-tat-a-tat.  I smiled when I realized it was the printer, but I didn't like being disturbed at this time of night, even though it was not quite quitting time in Chicago.

 

I went in the study as the printer finished the e-mail.  I read it.

 

Desperate here, but not serious.  Anderson has lost the Nurolex account, but managed to get Doyle's ass in the sling for it.  That's okay, he deserves it.  So do I but I got shots of the boss with a Girl Scout.  Hah!  Say, why didn't I hear from you—did the leprechauns make off with your Mac?  Tell Jessie I'm ready when she is.

Your friend Bill, who is still a Real American.

 

It was his usual needling, but somehow it didn't strike me funny right then.  I turned out the lights and headed for bed.  Jessica usually leaves a light on if I'm staying up, but I guess she was upset and forgot.  The stairs were dark and I went slowly, feeling my way.  At the landing I moved my eyes about—I can't really say I looked at anything.  I thought about going back to get a flashlight.  Then I seemed to make out the line of Gloria's door formed by her nightlight.  I used it as a guide till I got past it.

 

I thought then I would only have to feel my way to our door, but I stopped.  Peering down the long, dark hall I could see something pale on the floor, lit by the faint light from Gloria’s room.  It was moving, crawling from one side of the hall to the other.  I stepped closer to get a better look.  It was not very big, but it was not a mouse.  It moved funny, like a giant, white spider or a...

 

I thought of Jessica as it vanished into a doorway, then I realized that was the backstairs that led to the servants' quarters.  I had no intention of following it in the dark.

 

I made my way to the bedroom and opened the door.  I couldn't see anything, so I got into bed quickly.  Jessica was pretending to be asleep, and I was glad that I wouldn't have to tell her what I saw.  In a while she really was asleep, and I felt alone.  I must have laid there till three, listening to the house creak and settle.  After that, shear exhaustion made me sleep.

 

I wasn't as scared in the morning, but I was scared enough to know something had to be done.  But that was not the only problem I had.

 

I'd forgotten about Mrs. Bailiwick and Mr. Fitzhue, who'd moved down to the servants' quarters.  Mrs. Bailiwick did the talking and she never said what brought it on, but they were quitting.  No notice—they would pack and be off by noon.  Nothing I could say would change their minds, even admitting the problem and telling them what I planned to do about it.

 

After a quick breakfast I drove into Dublin to see Father Donald Newry of St. Anne's.  Father Newry was a small, smiling man and he listened carefully as I told him everything I could about the events in the Tiled House.

 

"And you would have no idea what brought this about?" he asked.

 

"Not a clue."

 

"I see.  You know of course exorcism is a serious business."

 

"I'd be glad to pay you for your trouble.  Otherwise, we can't stay there another night."

 

"The Church of Rome does not operate on simony.  If the Lord's work needs doing, we do it for Him, not for profit."

 

"I'm sorry.  I didn't mean it like that."

 

"Of course, any contributions to the St. Anne's Restoration Fund would be most welcomed."

 

Fifty pounds and an hour later, Father Newry in robes of white and black and gold, and a younger priest and an altar boy were out at the house.  I'm glad they were so quick; I didn't look forward to any more nocturnal visits.

 

They talked to Jessica, who'd improved when she saw them, and she told them about her 'dream'.  Father Newry phoned Mrs. Bailiwick and got her side of it—something I hadn't been able to do.  The stories of the place were common knowledge among the country folk, though they didn’t have the details of we’d been through.

 

All in all, Father Newry decided he had enough evidence to proceed with the exorcism.  He explained they usually made a report in these cases and waited for a higher authority's approval, but he said that special circumstances warranted putting the cart before the horse.  A report could be submitted afterwards and so prevent anyone from worrying over a decision.

 

Then I started having second thoughts.  Maybe the kids were pulling a prank.  Or maybe it was just imagination.  No, I knew what I saw the night before.  And I knew what I felt when I saw it.

 

Father Newry said they were ready to begin, so I had Jessica take the kids into town for an ice cream—I wasn't sure they would understand what was going on, and I didn't want them to think it was serious.  I found an out-of-the-way corner and watched.

 

He sprinkled holy water and they said the Lord's Prayer.  He waved a cross and a censor, and then beseeched the Lord's aid in cleansing the house of the foul spirit that had invaded it.  He made the sign of the cross, sprinkled more holy water and they again said the Lord's Prayer.

 

He came over to me when they had packed their things away.  "I think that should do it, Mr. Richards," he said.  "This would be my eighteenth exorcism in nearly as many years as rector of St. Anne's, and I've yet to have a bogey come back on me.  I hope me luck holds out."

 

"Thank you, Father."

 

"Twas easy enough on me part.  It's the good Lord that does the work.  By the by, might we be seeing you and your family at St. Anne's this Sunday?  We welcome visitors."

 

"Oh.  Uh, sure."

 

He shook my hand vigorously and I showed them out.  Jessica and the kids came back soon afterwards and we went to the Allan-McCarthy's for tea.

We had a nice time and I told then about it, trying to make it sound like the house was fumigated.  Later on at home Jessica threw together dinner and all was fine until dark when we started getting edgy.  But that night there was nothing.  No sounds, inside or out, and no bad dreams.

*   *   *

With that problem out of the way, we decided to get back to leading normal lives.  I tinkered in the shed and garden, and watched Lance and Gloria, and Bobby and Siobhan play and fight and generally be kids.  One thing I was glad about—the damned thing hadn't bothered them.  They didn't look like they were going to let anything bother them—except, of course, the onslaught of school in September.

 

Jessica came out to tell me lunch would be ready soon and to see how I was doing on the weeding.  I told her how I missed Mr. Fitzhue.

 

She smiled and looked up at the old place.  "Yeah, I miss Mrs. Bailiwick’s help inside.  We still have a lot of things to do.”

 

"Thinking of staying, then?"

 

"I guess.  I just need to control my nerves."

 

I kissed her.  "You can do it." I said.   Then we called the kids to get washed up.

*   *   *

It was quiet that evening and I felt relieved.  Jessica and the kids went to bed, but I stayed up a while, enjoying the house as I hadn't in a while.  I opened the patio doors and thought about the night I let it in.   God, I was glad that was over.

 

Outside it was nice; probably one of the last few nice nights, before winter.  From the patio I could see great handfuls of stars.  The new grass was soft beneath my feet, and if Mr. Fitzhue had spread slug and snail bait, I think I would've walked around barefoot.

 

I wondered if he and Mrs. Bailiwick would come back.  If not, maybe an employment agency in Dublin could find someone less superstitious.  Maybe the ghost was real, but it was over now.

 

I stepped out beyond the hedges and looked over the whole garden and the new shrubs and the low wall bordering the whole thing.  It was a nice little garden.  It would be perfect for a small wedding.  Lance's wedding would be up to his future wife's family, but I could envision a grown-up Gloria all in white, with a few friends.  I think she'd like that.

 

It was starting to get cool and Jessica would be wondering where I was.  I turned around.  I felt something move against my foot.

 

My heart jumped in my throat.  I saw the thing for an instant before it ran off in the brush.  It was back.  The goddamn thing was back!

 

I stood there, shuddering.  I wanted to get away from it, but I was afraid—afraid to move and afraid not to.

 

Then I bolted for the patio.  I ran inside and searched the desk.  I found Father Newry's number and dialed him.

 

My heart raced as the phone rang again and again.  It seemed like ages before he answered.

 

"Hello?" he chirped.

 

"Newry!" I growled, "Great job! Really great job.  Sure, you kicked the goddamn thing out of the house, but it just went back to the garden where it came from.  Now it's trying to get back in ..."

 

"Mr. Richards?  Is that you?"

 

A chill ran up my spine.  I realized what I had done.  I had left the patio doors open.

 

"Mr. Richards?"

 

I turned around and looked at the doors.  The receiver slipped out of my fingers and slammed against the desk.  It just sat there on the threshold.

 

A hand.

 

A human hand without a body.

 

And it moved!  It crawled across the threshold.  It was back in my house.

 

I ran.  I should've stopped it or knocked it outside with the shovel, but I was too scared.  I ran up the stairs and hoped it wouldn't come after me till morning when I could get away for good.  I turned to see if it was following me.

 

I tripped.

 

I tried right myself and still run even as I was falling, and that made it worse.  I rolled all the way down the stairs, slamming into the banister twice.  I came to a hard stop on the floor.

 

I laid there flat on my back.  I was in pain, but that wasn't what worried me—I couldn't move.

 

I rolled my head to one side.  I looked towards the patio.  I saw it in the air, a foot above the floor.  The fingers spread open, the thumb was crooked. 

 

It was moving.  It was reaching.

 

As it came towards me, I saw it vaguely and yet detailed.  I saw it clearly, but maybe I could see through it.  It was a man's right hand, strong and hairy with dirty nails.  Beyond the wrist was nothing.

 

It came closer, only a few feet away.  I cringed.  I hoped I would have a heart attack and die so it couldn't touch me.  It was only a foot away.

 

Then it stopped.  I held my breath, expecting it to pounce.

 

The hand turned.  It held the palm upwards.  The fingers slowly curled, then opened.  It repeated the movement.

 

I raised my head.  The hand backed away and again beckoned me.

 

I found that with some agony I could get to my elbow, then my knees.  I fell on my face—I’d fractured my leg, though all I knew then was that it hurt like hell.

 

I looked up and saw the hand farther away, still beckoning.  I got up as best I could and used the desk to steady myself.  I hopped to the stereo.

It was at the doors, wanting me to follow.

 

Follow I did, though I don't know how long it took or how often I fell.  The cool air of the garden was some relief, but I was crawling by the time the hand stopped by the old well.

 

I panted and grabbed the edge of the moldering stonework.  I pulled myself up.  The hand moved above the well.  It pointed.  It pointed down into the depths lost in the darkness.  I looked up again and the hand was gone.

*   *   *

As soon as my leg was set and my other infirmaries bandaged at the emergency room, I had Jessica call for a crane.  Despite the hour, she finally got someone to agree to come out first thing in the morning.

 

When they did, the stone wall was broken down and the digging begun, first with a clam shovel, then by hand.  Meanwhile I contacted someone at the University's history department who said they would try to find something about the well at the Tiled House.

 

Father Newry came by and I apologized for being brusque with him.  It was hardly his fault.  I asked him to stay for lunch and told him what happened.

 

I had a mouthful of egg salad when a workman came and told us they had found something.  He was awfully nervous.

 

Outside, the other fellow showed us a handful of little bones and suggested we call the police.  I paid them and called the University again, this time the archeological department.

 

The dig at the well took most of the day and part of the next, but that was mainly to be sure they hadn't missed anything.  Digging through the old records took longer.

 

They had found parts of six hands at the bottom of the well, somehow preserved in peat.  Apparently there was a village here long ago and the well was their water supply.  When it became stagnant it was used to hold rubbish, hence the formation of peat.  And in those days, rubbish might well consist of the severed hands of those convicted co stealing a crust of bread.  Father Newry had no doubt that Cromwell or some other English invader was responsible, and said so at the service.  There was not much of a crowd, but there was a man from the Psychical Research Society and a couple of reporters.  I didn't want to talk to them; I just wanted to see the hands laid to rest in the cemetery.  A proper burial would give the ghost peace.

 

We got home late, so we hit the sack soon afterwards.  Jessica was asleep shortly, but my leg started throbbing and I lay awake quite a while.  And as I lay there I could hear a noise in the attic above us; a strange noise, muffled at first, then louder.  There was a shuffle, then a bump—bump—bump on the stairs, then a long, low, painful moan such as might come from the ghost of a severed head.

 

Our new tract house leaks and needs rewiring, but we love it.

 

The End