07 Jun The Children on the Stairs
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"The Children on the Stairs"Written by
Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
I was doing a job for a friend of a friend. I was only charging half what I’d normally charge, but I was doing the job over just two nights, meaning I wasn’t making too much of a loss; there wasn’t a lot in the way of material outlay, either.
It was simple enough: strip out the plaster in the nursery of an old house and replaster it. I’d have my mate with me, so it wasn’t too big of a job. I could have done it in a single day and night, but it was better to say two nights, just in case.
When I saw the place, the first thing I had in my head was, why do they only want one room replastered? I hadn’t met the owner, otherwise I might have asked. The whole place was falling down, a total disaster if you ask me, though it would have been a grand old building if it was done up properly.
As it turned out, I ended up needing both nights after all. My mate Charlie left after the first night. But I’ll get around to that in a minute.
There was a story about this house, though I wasn’t sure at first if it was true or not. The story went that a family had lived there, some time before the Second World War, a family with four children. One night the father had come home from his job at the bank to find a silent house. He called out to his wife and kids, but there was no answer.
On going upstairs to the nursery, the man found a bloodbath. The floor, the walls, even the ceiling, everything was slick with blood. And in the middle of the floor, a jumble of bloody limbs and torsos. The mother was nowhere to be found. The father, in his grief, hanged himself from a tree in the park across the road.
The strangest part was, when the police arrived, they couldn’t find any of the children’s heads.
But like I say, this was before the war, and it was just a story people told around there. The house had been lived in until recently, so I understood, but I couldn’t tell you who had been there.
Now about Charlie.
He’s a big bloke, and not the sort of person you would picture getting scared over nothing. But that first night, at about 10:30 pm, he suddenly stopped still as a statue, the rotten plaster board shaking in his hands.
‘Did you hear that?’
‘Like feet running up and down the stairs?’
‘It was like feet, running on the stairs…’
‘I didn’t hear anything, Charlie.’ I thought about teasing him, but stopped myself. Charlie is a big bloke, and he doesn’t have a sense of humour.
‘Little feet,’ he said, carefully putting down the plasterboard.
Charlie walked over to the door and looked out.
‘You’re not thinking about that story are you?’ I asked.
His head whipped round. ‘What story?’
‘What happened here, Bill? Something happened here, didn’t it! Something bad.’
The landing was dark. I could see the top of the lower staircase, the ivory ball on the newel post connected to the mahogany bannister, the deep shadow of the stairwell, and the bottom step of the upper flight of stairs. The rest was dark.
‘Little feet…’ Charlie was muttering.
Without saying another word, Charlie bolted out of the room, whacked the lightswitch on at the top of the stairs, flooding the scene with light, and galloped down the steps, almost flying down them. I heard the front door crash open, and that was the last I saw of Charlie for a very long time.
He hadn’t bothered to shut the front door, so down I went and shut it for him. Then I went back up the stairs, swore under my breath, shook my head, and got back to work.
The second night was tough going. I should have gone back there during the day, but it was my wife’s birthday, and I’d driven her to a spa out in Hemel Hempstead and had to wait around to drive her back again. In the end I got to the house at about 10 pm, annoyed at putting extra pressure on myself, knowing that plaster was best applied during the day.
The room was just as I had left it. All the old wallboards were gone. The new wallboards were up, the seams taped, the wooden battens nailed in place. I got the buckets and started mixing the undercoat.
It was around 2 am and I was almost finished skimming the last section. The battens had been removed and lay in a pile in one corner. It might have been the coffee, but I was feeling a little edgy and I thought I heard the ceiling creak overhead. I got back on with skimming the plaster down and thought nothing of it. But then I heard the ceiling creak again. I told myself it was an old house and the floorboards were warped, but it didn’t do anything to calm my nerves.
At about 2.20 am something made me go out onto the landing. While I was standing there holding my breath, the trowel shaking in my hand, my eyes fell on the ivory balls on the newel posts. There were two of them on the landing, as well as one at the top of the upper flight and one at the end of the lower flight, four altogether, and with a decorator’s eye I began absentmindedly to compare the two on the landing.
They weren’t identical, and it started to bother me. As I got closer to them I realised two things: first of all that there were very fine zigzagged lines running across them, and second, that they weren’t quite the right colour to be ivory.
The ceiling creaked again, loudly.
I ran down the stairs, just as Charlie had done the night before, and sprinted down the street to my van.
I had my phone pressed to my ear even as I turned the key in the ignition.
Something moved in the nursery window.
‘What service do you require? Hello?’
It took me a moment to catch my breath.
‘I want to report some human remains,’ I said.
Credit To – Owen Clayborn
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