There was a shrill scream followed by unearthly laughter. No one moved. The men around the large table were dead silent. Not even a flutter of a whisker, not a breath, not a sign of life from their pale horror-stricken faces. Silence filled the large room once again; a silence peaceful yet tormenting. It was a long everlasting silence of unspoken death.
It was a large old house surrounded by beautiful pastures, trees and animals but it was also the only house for miles around. Nobody lived in the old house and no one had for over twenty five years. It had been condemned many years earlier but people had been too frightened to go near the house because the house was believed to be haunted. Those who had tried to bring the house down and build a new one, clear the pastures into farmland, settle down with a family, were, a few days later, found dead in Waihi.
A group of government officials stepped off the stagecoach in the small town of Waihi. They were big and strong, well-dressed and each carried a rifle in his hand and a pistol at his side. There were curious spectators wondering what was going on because it was not often that the stagecoach came into town. The constable of Waihi came out to greet them and invited them into his office. He was a middle-aged man with broad shoulders. He had a thick black moustache which made him look very distinguished and important. He went into a small closet and brought out some chairs and asked them to sit.
“What’s this all about Charlie?” asked one of the officials.
“Well, Ben, I’ve been worried. You know that old house that’s supposed to be haunted?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Well, I think that someone is living there and all those people who died were murdered.”
“Are you sure about this Charlie?” asked Jack, Ben’s brother, with a concerned look.
“I’m sure of it,” he replied. “A couple of days ago I went up to the house and I saw washing on the line and the next day the washing had been removed. Now, I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’m pretty sure they don’t wear clothes.”
“And you want us to help you find out who, right?” asked George who had come along to see what it was all about.
“Right,” replied Charlie as he leaned back on his chair. There was a long pause then Ben said that they would start up to the old house in the morning. Charlie walked them over to the hotel and thanked them for coming. He then went over to the pub.
Next morning they rode for a couple of hours until they reached the top of a hill overlooking the house. They decided to watch the house before going down. It was three o’clock when they finally saw something happening. Charlie had been right. Someone came out and sat on the old rocking chair which had been lying on the porch. Slowly, the men made their way down the hill towards the house, but before they reached it, the person had seen them and gone into the house. When they reached it, they searched inside and outside but could find no one.
“We’ve missed somewhere,” said Ben.
“Yeah, the place where he’s hiding,” said Jack in a sarcastic tone.
“Did any of you find a cellar door or any passage leading into the cellar?” asked Charlie.
“I didn’t even think there was a cellar around here,” said Ben.
“Well, look at that then,” said Charlie.
In a darkened corner of the house there was a shimmer of light peeking through the floorboards. They went towards it and looked between the floorboards. They could only see some boxes and a couple of candles. They hammered away at the floorboards with their boots hoping to find a hidden trapdoor or anything of that nature but with no success. George went up to the attic where he had seen an axe earlier and decided to start the demolition. He opened up the floorboards until they were able to climb through. Suddenly the candle went out. They heard quick footsteps and a squeak like the hinges of a door that needed oiling.
“Quick, the candles!” exclaimed Charlie. Jack, who had been standing nearest to them, grovelled in the dark trying to find them but had no luck. They scrambled back up through the boards and went outside. They sat on the porch while Ben went to get a couple of lanterns and then they went back into the cellar to search it. George found a narrow passage which seemed to twist and turn until finally it ended up in one of the small rooms of the house. They were back to where they started.
“I think we’re going to have to wait ‘til tonight because that’s when I think we might learn a little more about that guy,” said Ben with a weary look. They went outside, unsaddled the horses and made camp.
As the sun descended over the horizon, it left an array of deep orange and red colours. The men were finishing off their meals and enjoying hot coffee.
“If we are to catch a ghost tonight,” said Charlie, “we better get ready.”
They finished their coffee and helped Charlie set up the trap and then, all except George, went into the house to wait.
It was a few minutes after twelve when they heard moans, groans and the distinct sound of rattling chains. They started to move towards the place where they thought the sounds were coming from. Suddenly, laughter echoed through the house. They stood still. There were no more noises, just silence.
After a few long seconds, they heard running footsteps. They turned and saw a dark figure disappearing through the door. They gave chase. Ben pulled his gun from his holster and threatened to shoot but the figure kept running.
Meanwhile, George heard the commotion and got ready to spring the trap. As the figure came rushing past him, he pulled the rope and a net which had been carefully set on a tree fell on the running figure.
It was an old man whom they had captured. They took him back to the house and the old man spurted out the whole story. He was an escaped convict whose only refuge was this condemned house. He had been the ghost of this place. Some people ran away because they thought the place was haunted, but those who stayed, he killed by poisoning their food.
“Why didn’t you poison our food?” asked Charlie.
“Oh, but I did,” replied the old man. “It just takes a little time that’s all.”
There was a scream of pain and a laugh echoed through the house. Then there was silence. A cold everlasting silence.
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