Monday 29th July 2013
Jenna woke up with a gasp and a shudder. It had been that dream again, the one where she was trapped in a confined space, unable to move, unable to breathe, the darkness pressing down on her face like a damp cloth. It had first disturbed her sleep the year she had turned five and her dad had died in a motorway pile up, and it always returned at times of stress. The year that she had transferred to the secondary school had been very bad, but, until now, mum had always been there to soothe her forehead and tell her that everything would be alright.
She lay still for a moment, breathing deeply and thinking about her mum, half a world away in Africa covering a particularly brutal civil war in a country that Jenna was only vaguely aware of. The thought of her mum having to cope with the heat and dust, land mines and the ever present threat of snipers and roadside I.E.Ds put her own problems into perspective.
After a minute or two, she kicked her legs free from the tangle of sheets and blankets – ‘Why couldn’t aunt Lavinia use a duvet like a normal person,’ she thought. ‘And’ she added as an afterthought, ‘why did mum’s big sister have to have such an old fashioned name?’ She hauled herself upright and sat propped against the pillows, her chin resting on her drawn up knees, arms clasped around her legs, reflecting bitterly on society’s desire to be in constant touch and its demand for 24 hour rolling news. She cursed the news media, especially the TV company that employed her mum, for their eagerness to feed the addiction. Then, with no sense of irony, she reached out for her mobile and checked the screen. A spasm of disappointment passed across her face and she dropped the phone onto her bed with a groan. She had forgotten that Long Barrow village was a peculiar dead spot when it came to mobile phone reception and that her aunt had no WiFi connection. “What a dump!” she groaned. The remaining weeks of the summer holiday stretched ahead of her, grey and drab. The beginning of the year had been wet and it looked as if was going to carry on that way. Jenna sat staring at nothing, watching the pale light of dawn seeping under the curtains.
Aunt Lavinia’s house was old – ‘Parts of it dating back to the Tudor period, or even earlier,’ she had explained in her odd girlish voice, when Jenna had arrived late yesterday evening. ‘And there’s a ghost too, a grey lady, it’s said she disappeared in mysterious circumstances some time back in the 17th century. Although I’ve never seen her,’ she had added sadly. Jenna had been tired and hungry after her long journey and had taken an instant dislike to the place – too many odd, dark corners for her liking. It was no better in the cold light of day, it just felt wrong in a way that she could not put her finger on. The mirrors that she had passed on the way to her room last night had given her the creeps with their dark, blotchy surfaces.
Jenna slipped out of bed and walked over to the window. The wooden floorboards, worn smooth by the passage of hundreds of years and occupants were cool beneath her bare feet. Opening the curtains, she leaned on the windowsill as she tried to make sense of what she could see. Although bright sunlight was illuminating the interior of the room, everything outside appeared white and misty – was this some effect of the old glass she mused. As she continued to peer through the diamond leaded panes she thought she could make out a range of buildings on the other side of the yard. Had she noticed them on her arrival last night? The mists seemed to swirl, there was a movement across the way and a figure appeared in the doorway of what looked like a barn.