'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Haunted House

There's a small plastic ship in the fish pond. I think the wife's niece put it there. I don't know what the fish think of it, or if they think anything. If they knew the wife's niece, they'd be glad that the only contact they have with her is through a small plastic ship.

My Aunt Bridget inherited a house from an uncle of hers. The house was an old mansion in the country, but her uncle always said it was haunted. Some people believed that the ghost was just a bat, but others said the bat was dead.

Bridget's daugter, Rachel, said that only stupid people believed in ghosts, and she offered to spend a weekend in the house just to prove that it wasn't haunted.

"That would really put my mind at rest," Bridget said.

Rachel wasn't expecting her mother to allow her to spend a weekend in a haunted house, but she couldn't get out of it then, so she suggested that her brothers, Ronan and Alan, stay there too.

Ronan was spending that week on a camping trip with his friends. They met up with another group on a mountainside, but Ronan didn't get on very well with one member of that group, Nigel. Nigel used to say that the only positive thing about camping was that he'd get to kill things with his bare hands. About once an hour he'd say to Ronan, "Have you killed anything with your bare hands yet, or are you still crying over the bee that landed on your hand?"

There was a post box outside a small shop at the foot of the mountain, and Ronan used to send letters to his girlfriend, Audrey, every day during their camping trip (she said she'd throw something at his head if he didn't write to her every day). She got the final letter on the day he was supposed to return. The handwriting was almost illegible, and she suspected that he was drunk when he wrote it, but she still wasn't expecting the following line near the end: Hey Nigel, go back to the tree you came from.

She showed it to him when he got back, and he stared at the words in horror. She said, "Are you worried that you told Nigel to go back to the tree he came from?"

"No. I'm worried that I wrote what I was going to say to him and said to him what I was going to write to you."

"What were you going to write to me?"

"I can't remember."

"Would it have been like that bit where you said I was like a rose in a garden full of rabbits?"


Rachel asked Ronan if he'd spend the weekend in the haunted house, but he refused. Then his mother told him that a man had called to the door earlier looking for him.

"Who was it?" Ronan said.

"He didn't say who he was."

"What did he look like?"

"He was very tall. And I thought for a second there was dried blood on his hands, but it was probably just mud."

Ronan thought this must have been Nigel, and he changed his mind about spending the weekend in the haunted house. Audrey agreed to go too. Alan brought his new girlfriend, Sonia. Rachel also convinced my cousins Gary and Jane to go, and Jane's friend Claudia.

The house was huge, and it looked great in the daylight, but they all became nervous when it started to get dark. It got very dark when the storm clouds moved overhead. The electricity went in the storm, but they all pretended that it didn't bother them at all.

Jane was having trouble keeping up that pretence in front of the others, so she decided to go to bed. She had locked her room, and she thought she had put the key in her pocket, but she couldn't find it. She lit a candle with a cigarette lighter she always carried with her. There was an image of a cowboy on the side of the lighter, and when she looked at it in the light of the candle, she noticed that the cowboy seemed to be trying to hide a key.

Alan and Sonia stayed in the drawing room, but the others helped her in the search for the key. Gary was keeping a look-out for a drinks cabinet or a wine cellar.

Jane led the search party down a corridor, but they stopped when they heard footsteps at the end of the corridor. Ronan wondered if Nigel had tracked him down to this house. When he heard the faint sound of a voice he said, "It's him!"

"The ghost?" Jane said.

"Ah... yeah. The ghost."

They all took a step backwards.

They went upstairs. Jane looked down at the ground every few steps, hoping to find her key, but she was too worried about what might lie ahead to keep looking down. They walked very slowly down the corridor and stopped at the end. There was complete silence for nearly a minute as they stood there, listening for any sounds. Then a voice behind them said hello and they all screamed, but it was just Gary.

He had left the group for a while, but no one noticed his absence. Judging by the look on his face, he had found the wine cellar. He had a calculator in his hand and he said, "I can spell the word 'rabbit' on a calculator. Look."

He held out the calculator. Jane looked at it and said, "You've just written the word 'rabbit' on it with a marker."

"I know."

"Wouldn't it be more impressive if you could write 'rabbit' using the digits on the calculator?"

"It would."

"Why did you want to spell the word 'rabbit' on a calculator?"

"Because someone bet me I couldn't do it."


Gary tried to think, but he couldn't remember much after going into the wine cellar. "I can't remember," he said. Ronan was convinced it was Nigel.

"Was he wearing a cowboy hat?" Jane said.

Gary tried to think, but in his mind all he could see were badgers with crash helmets running in circles. "Yeah," he said.

Ronan wondered why Nigel would be wearing a cowboy hat. As they were walking down the stairs, Audrey said to him, "Do you remember that letter you wrote about you being a cowboy and me being your cowgirl?"


"Do you think you called Nigel a cowgirl?"

He thought about it for a while and said, "Oh God!"

After looking for the key on the ground floor, Rachel suggested looking in the attic rooms.

"Why the attic rooms?" Jane said.

"You're not afraid, are you?"

"No, of course not. Let's go."

Rachel was afraid, and she had been hoping that Jane would say there was no point in searching the attic rooms because she'd never been up there.

They went upstairs again and walked down a corridor that led to the spiral stairs up to the attic. They all stopped suddenly when they heard a sound from a room, but the moment of panic passed when they realised it was just Alan and Sonia. The search party stood outside the door and tried to hold back laughter as Alan and Sonia discussed who was the better kisser.

There was silence for about a minute when that conversation came to an end. Alan had never realised it would be this difficult to keep themselves entertained without electricity. He had been doing his best with his Doctor Who impersonation. He'd seen a man on TV do a Doctor Who impersonation by making cryptic statments to a candle stick. Very few people in the audience were familiar with Doctor Who, and no one understood the statements, but they all pretended that they did. They laughed at everything he said.

Alan remembered this when he was walking around the house with the candle stick, so he started doing that Doctor Who impersonation. Sonia had no idea who Doctor Who was either, but she laughed anyway.

He thought the joke would start to wear thin eventually, but he couldn't think of anything else to say, so he broke the silence with another Doctor Who impersonation. He picked up the candle stick and said, in his best Doctor Who voice, which was really just a very deep voice, "The thin bird makes rally cars forget they have a say in how the slow deer steal the white feathers, and a dead rabbit."

Ronan and Audrey had no idea what that meant, but they were sure it had something to do with the letters. They screamed and ran away. Jane, Claudia and Rachel ran away too, leaving just Gary. When Alan and Sonia came out to see what was going on, Gary held up the calculator and said, "You owe me twenty quid."

Alan and Sonia had met Gary in the wine cellar earlier, and Alan made this bet just to get rid of Gary. He looked at the calculator and said, "There are two 'B's in 'rabbit'."

Gary looked at it for a while, but the three of them ran away when they heard something flying over their heads.

The moose's head over the fireplace has looked confused over the past few days. I think it's because of a film on TV that was mostly about people looking for something on the carpet. It ended with someone saying, "I found it." 'It' turned out to be a bottle of gin with an image of someone falling over a fence on the label. I found this confusing too. The moose's head couldn't see the screen, and I think he'd be even more confused if he knew what they were looking for. The surprised looking hen in the painting didn't look confused at all.