Empty House (Part 1)


A dark wooden chest of drawers, home to a collection of pocket watches, is left inside the abandoned farmhouse

Ava Costello sighed and cast her dark blue eyes around the bedroom. A fresh wave of tears stung in her cheeks. She wiped them away with a shaking hand then swept her blond hair back. Even though she had tied it up in a bun, strands had come loose and were sticking out all over the place. She caught sight of herself in the dressing table mirror.

All I need is some hair gel and I’d look like a punk…well…a washed out one at least, she thought.

The footsteps on the stairs caught her attention. She turned to the half closed door and watched it slowly pushed open by a scruffy grey trainer. Her boyfriend, Dale Butler, stood in the doorway. He was holding two mugs in one hand, with a small book under his arm and a pot shire horse in the other hand.

‘Oh no, I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone,’ he said in a soft voice.

Ave turned away and dropped her head. She swept both her hands across her face and tried to make herself look better. Dale walked over to her, whilst she did so. Bending down, he placed the horse on the floor then the mugs, before sitting down on the floor beside her.

‘I’m okay,’ Ava replied, though her voice didn’t sound it.

Dale rubbed her shoulder and offered her a mug, which was actually a china tea cup. Ava ran her finger over the delicate hand printed roses. Taking a few sips of sweet, milky tea she wondered if the cup might be worth something. She quickly chastised that thought and hung her head in shame, why do I have to keep putting a price on things? And when did it start becoming so easy?

The silence pressed down on them like a heavy weight. Ava stared into her cup and then turned to look at Dale. He had the other mug, which was a souvenir from the Queen’s coronation, balanced on one knee of his folded legs. His short, wavy brown hair looked mused. He had her favourite expression on his face. He was staring at the floor to ceiling fitted bookcase, but he seemed to be staring more distantly. The boyish features of his face were calm, thoughtful and he almost seemed happy. However, Ava knew him better and he was trying to hide the sadness he felt for her.

‘What did you find?’ she asked suddenly to draw his attention back and to break the silence.

He pointed at the horse. ‘That. It’s fine. No breaks or mends. And this book…which seems to be interesting. Well, to me anyway.’

As he handed her the book, he caught her hands. Ava almost threw herself at him and cried hard into his shoulder. Somehow, she held herself back and let him dropped his hands away. She looked at the book. The paper cover was half coated in dust still and the title was quite faded, The Lancashire Witches.

‘It’s about the Pendle witches,’ Dale explained, ‘open it.’

Frowning, Ava flipped the cover and saw a small black and white photo. A woman and a man were standing either side of a gravestone. She stared at the tiny writing and could just make out the name of Nutter.

‘It’s her, isn’t it?’ Dale continued. ‘I got a bit of a shock when I saw it. It looks just like the one we took ourselves two years ago. Ava?’

She nodded, unable to think clearly and turned the photo over. In faded blue ink there was a flourish of handwritten letters.  Araminta Costello and George Herman. Newchurch in Pendle, Lancashire, England, 1934. Turning it back again, she studied the woman.

‘Yeah, it’s her, my great aunt,’ Ava replied, quietly.

‘Still a bit weird though,’ Dale cut in, ‘what are the chances that your aunt and her husband went there almost a hundred years before us, I wonder?’

‘I don’t know,’ Ave responded.

Sliding the photo back inside, Ava closed the book and placed it next to the horse. Not wanting the silence to envelope them again, she thought of something else to add. Her throat felt chocked and all her mind could come up with was a string of nonsense words. Taking up her cup again, she drank the tea.

‘It’s getting late. Shall we get out of here and ordered a pizza?’ Dale spoke.

‘I suppose so. What time is it?’

‘Half four,’ he answered, ‘I know it’s a bit early for tea, but I’m starving.’

‘How did tidying the other bedroom go?’ Ave cut in suddenly and as if she had only just remembered what her boyfriend had suggested he go and do an hour or so ago.

‘All right. I didn’t find the key to the other bedroom. Just some more books, papers, ornaments. Nothing special really,’ he finished with a shrugged.

Ave nodded, ‘I guess the key will turn up. Anyway, I should finish emptying the wardrobe first before we go. At least, I won’t have to think about that when we come back tomorrow.’

They both looked over to the large, early Victorian wardrobe that took up the entire far wall. The flame mahogany was brightly polished and the different colours of the wood looked striking, even in the dim glow of the single light bulb. There were no handles on the double doors or the single doors that flanked the sides.  However, each door was decorated with a raised panel in the centre and foliates carvings. It was easy to imagine the piece of furniture in a grand Victorian bedroom.

‘If only it could talk,’ Dale muttered.

‘Huh?’

‘The wardrobe,’ Dale stood up and walked over to it. ‘I wonder what happened to it. How did it end up…here in a council estate house from the sixties?’ he waved a hand around the bedroom.

Ave shrugged, ‘I don’t know what happened. Aunt Araminta was rich, she had houses everywhere. Or so it seemed to me. I thought she was living in Cornwall…I never knew about this house.’

‘You’ve told me. Many times,’ Dale said over his shoulder.

‘Sorry,’ Ave frowned into her tea cup.

‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault,’ he said softer this time, ‘come on, I’ll give you a hand.’

For the hundredth time, as she stood up, Ava examined the room. The other furniture; the dresser, completed with stool, bedding box, the bookcase and the bed matched the wardrobe. Somehow all of them had been squashed into the small double bedroom. The gaps in-between had to be walked through sideways. There was heavy, burgundy velvet curtains covering the three panelled windows. The wallpaper on the other two walls had a dark, gone off white colour with small red flowers dotted across. The floor was un-polished wooden boards.

Dale opened the double doors of the wardrobe and saw that the space had been divided into two shelves with a chest of three draws underneath. It was empty, Ave having already cleaned it out. Leaving it, he pulled open the other two doors and saw that both racks were full of clothes. A range of bright colours and pastels seemed to blind him and trap him into a dying era of fashions. There was a multitude of dresses for all occasions, skirts of every length, tops made out of so many different fabrics and trousers that seemed oddly out of place and yet suitable for the lifestyle the wearer of all these clothes had once lived.

Ava came to his side, hugging herself.  A sudden chill had made goose bumps break out across her arms. As she went to rub her skin, Dale turned sharply to her, breathing out a deep breathe. He grabbed her as she practically fell into him. Ave wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her head into his shoulder.

‘We’re so getting out of here, now,’ Dale said.

He hugged her tightly and kissed her hair. Ave, not trusting herself to speak, nodded. He led her out of the room and into the corridor.  Opposite them, was the locked door with the key missing and what lay beyond in that room they had no idea about.  A few steps took them to the top of the staircase, but the corridor ran on to make space for two more doorways on the other side. The first on the left was a bathroom and the other the second bedroom where Dale had been looking through stuff.

Gingerly, he led her down the narrow staircase at the bottom was the front door and the short hallway off which led two doors marking the entrances to the living room and kitchen. He thought about taking Ave into the living room to sit down, but changed his mind as she shakily grabbed his arm.

‘I wish we didn’t have to do this,’ he said.

Ave bit her lip and waited for him to go on.

Dale banged his fist against the wall and fully turned away from her,’ is there no one else who can empty her house?’

‘No,’ Ave muttered and squeezed his shoulder.

‘Can’t you just sell it as it is?’ he pressed, ‘It’s not good for us doing this! Especially you, Ave. I’m worried about you.’

Dale turned back and took her face in his hands. Ave pressed her hands over his and took a deep breath. From somewhere deep down inside her, she found the courage and replied, ‘I already told you I didn’t want to do that. There could be things from my parents or my grandparent here. We will get through this, Sweets. It’s hard, but it’s a fact of life. Please just bare it and help me get through it.’

Gently, she planted a kiss on his lips, then pulled him in for a deeper one. He kissed her back, feeling desperate to become lost in her kisses and her body. Ave felt his hands sweeping up her body and rubbing against her. She smiled, realising what he needed at the same time as noticing it herself.

‘Let’s go and get pizza, and have an early night,’ she whispered then licked his ear.

To Be Continued…

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