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The Unquiet House
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The Unquiet House

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Author: Alison Littlewood
Publisher: PS Publishing, 2014
Jo Fletcher Books, 2014
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Ghosts
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Synopsis

Mire House is dreary, dark, cold and infested with midges. But when Emma Dean inherits it from a distant relation, she immediately feels a sense of belonging. It isn't long before Charlie Mitchell, grandson of the original owner, appears claiming that he wants to seek out his family. But Emma suspects he's more interested in the house than his long-lost relations. And when she starts seeing ghostly figures, Emma begins to wonder: is Charlie trying to scare her away, or are there darker secrets lurking in the corners of Mire House?


Excerpt

THE UNQUIET HOUSE

CHAPTER ONE

It was five months after the death of her parents that Emma Dean first saw the house, so in an odd way it had become attached to them in her mind, though as far as she knew they'd never seen it. It was someone else's passing that had brought her here, one that hadn't touched her so deeply, and it was strange to think that it had affected the direction of her life just as much.

Mire House. It wasn't a prepossessing name; it wasn't a prepossessing start. She couldn't find it, for one thing. It was supposed to be a little beyond the road that ran through a village called West Fulford - she hadn't seen a North, South or East Fulford on any map - so she'd followed it through the village and past a country park and over a little bridge, and then she'd turned off into a narrow lane which led nowhere in particular. It wound between farm buildings and broken-down barns and out again until she reached a junction unmarked by any sign. There she turned around and retraced her route. This time she took it slowly, pulling tight over to the hawthorn hedge so that she could look to left and right without finding herself stuck in the middle of the road if anything rushed around the next bend. There was nothing, only a dip with muddy verges and the damp dirty shine of puddles in the road.

It was if it had never existed, and that, at this moment, seemed a more cogent explanation than that she was lost. She had never seen the house; she had never met Clarence Mitchell, the distant relation whose death at the age of eighty-two had made it hers. She didn't know why he'd left it to her; he had a grandson, after all. She had considered finding the boy and asking why, curious to know what had happened within the family to make this happen to her, but the thought only summoned the image of her own father's face: his eyes watery, his skin sallow and a little loose, no longer the strong man who'd once hefted her on his shoulders and made her laugh.

Now the house was hers. Hers. And she couldn't even find it.

She let the car roll onwards into the bottom of the lane and glanced to the side. There was nothing but a field that rose away from her, tufted and rough and silvered by the breeze, and then she saw a small interruption to its curve and she squinted. What she was looking at was a chimney. There was a building set into the lower ground on the other side of the hill.

She accelerated towards the end of the lane, driving with purpose now. She was the owner. She had property. She should try to look as if she knew what on earth she was going to do with it. She turned right and went onward, spotting the turning at the very last moment, and she pulled into a lane even narrower than the last.

The house was set in a dip in the land where the humid air seemed to hang in place. It had been so near all along, and yet now she was looking at it, it looked like it was sitting in its own world, tucked away from everything and everyone. Emma loved it at once. It was hewn from blocks of stone which were deep grey in the damp air. It was tall and grand, and looked much older than she'd imagined; the style was of an earlier era than its age implied. The door was nestled into a porch and footed by three wide steps. There was little decoration, though the upper windows each had a small gable topped with a simple stone globe. Another globe was set over the porch and Emma thought there was writing carved into it, something she couldn't read from where she was sitting in the car. She stared up at the house, and all she could think was: He didn't even live here.

Mire House was beautiful, and imposing, and alone. She had a sudden image of herself coming down to breakfast in a silken gown, trying not to splash it with milk as she poured it onto her cornflakes, and she let out a brief giggle, a sound too high and too loud for the quiet interior of her car. It hung there, echoing in her own ears. No. She was an owner now. An adult.

Alone was the word her mind was trying to add, but she pushed it away. Independent was the word she substituted, already knowing it wasn't the right one, not quite.

Her parents would surely have loved this place. Had they even known about it? It had been described as a second home in the will and she had thought it must have been meant for holidays, but judging from the blankness of the windows and the air of quiet, it hadn't been used for anything in a long time.

She didn't get out of the car. She wanted to gaze at the house a little longer. Behind it were only the low-rising hills which were sliced by the narrow lines of drystone walls. It looked cut off from anywhere and anything, but as she looked around, she realised it wasn't quite alone, that there was another building close by after all. It was only a short distance away down the lane but it was masked by a stand of trees. She could make out part of a wall and, lower down, the lines of a fence. She returned her gaze to Mire House - her house. It had octagonal gateposts clutched by stems of ivy and it only occurred to her now that she could have driven through them. She wasn't a guest.

Instead, she stepped out of the car and walked through the gateposts. The drive was a mixture of gravel, scabbed earth and weeds, but she could still imagine ladies dressed in finery being driven up to the door and servants rushing towards them with umbrellas as they exclaimed in lady-like fashion about the dampness of the day.

The day was damp. She sniffed at the air and as she did so a squadron of midges descended. She batted at them and they divided around her before settling again. They moved with her as she walked towards the door and her hairline started to itch. The scent in the air was sour and metallic, with the more musky under-note of rot. There was a river close by, wasn't there? Perhaps the smell was coming from there. Yes, definitely the river. It couldn't possibly be the house.

She tilted her head back and looked up at the windows, seeing only the heavy grey sky reflected in them. The house was hers. Hers. She smiled. It was odd that she already felt so proprietorial as she pulled the keys from her pocket. As she went to open the door, she wondered that she could feel so close to belonging to a place she had never seen and had no intention of doing anything with other than selling, as quickly and effortlessly as she could.

Copyright © 2014 by Alison Littlewood


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