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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: Rhona Aitken

Title: The End-Terrace House

After tea one day last week I, as usual, called Rory, who was sleeping quietly in his basket. Not that I needed to call him - just approaching his lead was all the reason he needed for his late afternoon walk. As usual we crossed through Sydney Gardens, onto the canal. At this hour of the day it was just us and the water-fowl. No king-fishers flashing their brilliance as the sun would soon be setting. We walked as far as the bridge before deciding it was time to return home. Rory, as usual, running cheerfully ahead.

On my right-hand side, down in the dip, I was surprised to see the end terrace house - boarded up for years, seeming to have a light on. I thought it might possibly have been the low, late-summer-sun caught on the window-sill. For some reason it attracted Rory. He stopped, seeming interested in the unusual amount of fallen bricks in front of the little house - someone had torn the boarding off the upstairs window, and the bricks usually blocking the down-stairs window now lay on the ground. It hadn’t been like that yesterday. Then, he jumped down the bank and made for the garden; his tail wagging furiously. I called him but he was in one of his stubborn moods - Gordon Setters are prone to them. I knew the only way to get him home was to go around the bridge and fetch him. The whole terrace looked sadly abandoned with no sign of life. By the time I reached the end house there was no sign of Rory. I called, whistled - no answer - the front door was slightly open - and unexpectedly brightly painted. I pushed it open to see a carpeted hall. Inside, on a small polished table rested a jug of fresh flowers, a leather-bound book, and a picture frame. Surprised, I knocked and called out.

From the back of the house, presumably the kitchen, a young girl came - smiling, wiping her hands on a tea-towel “Can I help you?”.
I explained my wandering dog. She laughed. “Oh! don’t worry. He’s in the kitchen having a drink of water. He’s no trouble, so don’t be cross with him.” This was all so strange.
“Have you lived here long?” I asked, out of uncomprehending curiosity.
“Haydn and I have been living here together for nearly two years. I can hardly believe it. Did you notice a green narrow-boat on the canal? He is due home today.” She gave me a big smile. “ So I’m getting quite excited. I’ve just made some coffee, would you like some?”
I nodded and followed her into the kitchen, I noticed the down-stairs window had shining glass and crisp net curtains. I could think of nothing to say. It was all impossible. Rory had made himself at home and wagged his tail happily. She chatted on -
“I love this little house. After Father died I stayed on. He’d lived here all his life. He was a Railway man. But I’m on my own now - until Haydn gets home. My name is Beryl - what’s yours?”
“Anna” I replied. That sounded terse, but I couldn’t find a way to ask the things I had to know. Beside my coffee-cup I noticed The Bath Chronicle. I wished it hadn’t caught my eye - the date read October 15th 1962. My confusion grew. In panic I blurted -
trying not to sound too abrupt “I’d better go home now Beryl - thanks for the coffee, and the water for Rory. Next time you’re going into town pop in -40 Great Pulteney Street. I hope Haydn gets home soon,” Hoping my nervousness didn’t show I put Rory on the lead and left the little house.

I went down the littered path to the rickety gate, then curiosity got the better of me; I turned around. Bricks lay tumbled on the unkempt ground. Upstairs, the glass insert, leant on the semi-unboarded sill, same as before.

Rory, unconcerned by what had happened, surprised me. He had not seemed to find anything unusual. Had the visit been unreal? Was I dreaming? Recently I had been ill, and my Doctor had given me new pills. I know that some pills can have strange side-effects - perhaps like hallucinations in this case. It was possible, and I was searching for possibilities. If this was the case the whole thing was in my head, so Rory would not be a part of it. I’ve read that dogs can sense the supernatural. Yet here he was, sniffing away cheerfully. There must be an answer to Beryl and her presence.

We went across the bridge onto the canal and I saw a green narrow-boat rounding the bend. Was it Haydn’s boat? Did I have the courage to find out? Letting Rory off the lead for a last sniff, I leant on the low wall and waited to see if the approaching narrow-boat would stop. Rather hoping that it wouldn’t, to reinforce the feeling that this must be some sort of imagination. Moments passed slowly, then, with the light fading, and an evening breeze blowing the first autumn leaves off the trees, I saw it stop with a gentle bump, just opposite the end terrace house. A figure stepped ashore, drove a peg into the ground, carefully attached his boat with a short rope, stretched, and in turning, looked my way. He was tall, grey-haired. I thought probably in his early seventies. Crossing the tow-path he looked down at the row of derelict houses, stood for several minutes, head bowed; then walked back to his boat.

I took my courage - and curiosity - into both hands and called out -
“Excuse me - can you tell me if your name is Haydn?
Looking over his shoulder, a slight frown on his face - he nodded. “Yes it is. Why do
you ask?”
“Well, Beryl just told me she is expecting you. She was making scones for your tea.” I laughed to hide my nervousness.
“Yes, I’m Haydn. She always expects me on the 15th October.” He looked surprised, gazed at the battered row of houses, and shook his head.
“Every year it gets worse. Next year they will bulldoze the whole row. There will be nothing left. Perhaps the time is right.” He smiled at me.

What should I say? That I had met Beryl; drank coffee with her. Would he - could he - believe me? Before I could speak he asked gently - “Did she have her blue dress on - with a lace collar?”
I nodded.
“I always loved her in blue.” The past tense?
“There are scones to be eaten!” He straightened up and walked firmly towards the bridge, the derelict houses, smiling as he passed me.

Rory was nowhere to be seen. I called him - no answer. I called again, and out of the grass crawled an unhappy Rory, whining. I put him on his lead, and without looking back we went home. He was subdued and shaking. All his usual bounce had gone. We both felt uneasy, and were both restless that night. It seemed in both our interests to go for our morning walk down the canal. I had to find a solution. Rory behaved normally until we were within sight of the narrow-boat. Then he started panting and disappeared once more into the long grass. The end house was as I had last seen it. .Derelict. Just loose bricks and broken glass.

Then, without warning, came a child’s scream, and a boy of about ten catapulted out of the down-stairs window to fall, crying, onto the loose-bricks and broken glass. He was obviously hurt and very frightened.. I ran across the bridge. By the time I got to him he had been joined by a friend, also white as a sheet. I did a little first-aid on badly cut and bruised knees, asking what had upset them so much, and why they were in that house. It seemed that they often went there for a quick cigarette on their way to school. It was easy to climb through the window space and no-one ever thought of looking for them there This morning they had been surprised by a plate of scones on a ledge at the foot of the stairs. Usually they never went further than the front room, but the scones seemed a good enough reason to go further. Running to investigate they had fallen over a body lying at the foot of the stairs, with his eyes wide open - which had terrified them. They thought that perhaps he was dead, but had never seen a dead body before. I collected Rory, and took the two terrified boys to their - luckily - very close-by school. We told the Head-Master all about it; the Police were called, and I went with them back to the house.

Haydn’s body was removed, and the house, looking once more in its usual barren state. Though there was a plate of scones at the foot of the stairs. The narrow-boat was spartan, apart from the framed photograph of a laughing Beryl and a young Haydn, and a beautiful painting of Beryl in a blue dress with a lace collar on the wall.
One of the policemen said - “Oh! - I know this narrow-boat. It comes on the 15th October every year. Over the years several people living in that house have felt a presence, and twice someone found un-explained scones on the kitchen table.” He gave a self-conscious laugh. I don’t believe in these supernatural things – but those scones. Well – it makes you think doesn’t it.

The local Vicar helped me to find the grave of “Beryl Fellows, dearly loved wife of Haydn Fellows. 15th October 1962. Aged 22”

We searched in vain for some reason for her death, and any news of Haydn’s movements since then. He seemed to have been a wanderer. The Canal Water-Police noticed his arrival year after year. He had always been quietly polite, always tying up at the same place. We gave Haydn a quiet funeral and buried him beside his wife.
I visit the grave sometimes on a quiet Sunday. It gives me pleasure to know that they are together now. If anyone in the Bath area can tell me anything about Mr and Mrs Haydn Fellows - I’d love to know. Beryl Fellows was the daughter of a long-serving man in the Great Western Railway. Any clue? Haydn had scars, and on the narrow-boat we found an army beret and khaki putties.

I hope there is love in eternity.

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