14 Nov The Mannequin Farm
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"The Mannequin Farm"Written by
Estimated reading time — 21 minutes
I think I’m finally at the point where I’m able to talk about it.
It’s been several years since it happened. None of us – not me, nor my friend, brother, or brother’s friend, who also experienced it – have ever told a living soul, and rarely mention it to each other, but I think it might help to write it down. Then maybe I can finally forget about it.
When it happened, I was a teenager living in Cumbria, which is a region in the north west of England. Specifically, I lived in the Lake District: an area of outstanding natural beauty, which is also very rural, and very popular with tourists. Imagine lurching dark skies, grey brick walls and rugged scenery – mountains, fields, bodies of water – unfolding all around you, and you’ve got The Lake District. In my youth, I would be out on a boat in the height of summer, lazing on the dappled wood in the beating hot sun; I would hike up the toughest mountains in torrential rain to see some of the most beautiful views that exist on this planet. I know I was lucky, and I tried never to be ungrateful. But, as a teenage girl growing up, I always felt a keen sense of isolation from the rest of the world. My family lived – and still live – in a tiny cottage in a tiny village where everybody knows everybody, where there is no privacy at all, and no chance of ever getting away with anything. I went to the local secondary school, but by ‘local’, I mean I had to take a half hour bus ride to get there, and our nearest town was that far away as well. Summers, in my youth, were always long – and lonely.
That’s why it was such an incredible stroke of luck when a girl my own age moved into my village the summer I turned fourteen. My own family consisted of my parents and my younger brother Tom, who, when I was fourteen and he was on the cusp of thirteen, just seemed too immature for words, and spending time with him would only occur as a last resort. By some lucky miracle, the girl also had a younger brother, and on the day they moved in my mum sent us both over to her house to introduce ourselves and bring round some Kendal Mint Cake (kind of a Cumbrian speciality, for those of you not in the know).
The girl – Katie – and I quickly became fast friends. She’d moved up from London after her dad had passed away from cancer, which, obviously, was a difficult adjustment for her for several reasons, and I remember being acutely aware that I had to tread carefully with her. It was just Katie, her brother, Michael, and her mum.
The moment we met I knew I’d like her. She was my age exactly, with a cool sense of style – unkempt hair pulled effortlessly up into a bun, small nose ring glinting from her nostril (a fascination to me, who was not even allowed to pierce my own ears), and she wore a t-shirt for a band I’d never heard of, its symbol a skull and crossbones. She didn’t seem too put off by my own frumpy charity shop clothes and overly friendly (desperate?) demeanour either, which was a huge relief. Her brother, Michael – a small, narrow shouldered kid with very pale skin and an awkward manner – and my own brother hit it off too after starting a conversation about video games, and went trotting off to Michael’s room immediately to play on his Xbox. I sensed the family had money – their house was bigger than ours, and a lot less shabby – and so Michael would probably have a lot of the latest games. After a nervous introduction, Katie and I soon got talking, and we sat in her kitchen swapping stories whilst her mum unpacked boxes around us. She seemed grateful that there was someone her own age in this strange, rural land; I, of course, was ecstatic.
The summer went by in a happy haze: Katie and I spent most days together, wandering down to the lake for a swim, or hanging out in each other’s bedrooms, larking about online or watching movies. Our brothers, likewise, found companionship in each other, and Katie’s mum, who was from the area originally, made a friend in my own mum. When school came, Katie and I rode the bus together, and she assimilated effortlessly into our friendship group (another huge relief, as I’d been concerned that she might be a bit out of our league). I spent a lot of my time trying to please her, making sure that she knew I was as mature as she was – living in London, she’d experienced things I could only dream about – and the effort was tiring, sometimes. But I didn’t want her to move on and find someone more interesting.
My story really begins in the week leading up to the October half term, where Katie had an idea. We’d been friends nearly four months, and I remember that the two of us were in my room one rainy autumn evening, watching a scary film on my laptop (I don’t recall what), whilst trying to decide what I should give Katie for her birthday the following week – she’d suggested concert tickets in London; I’d suggested a rather more affordable bath bomb from a gifty place we both liked. My parents were out of the house for whatever reason, so we were in charge. As the film got to a particularly tense, almost silent scene, we suddenly heard peals of laughter coming from my brother’s room, which regrettably shared a wall with mine. I banged on it with my foot, telling the little pests to keep it down – my brother had reached a deeply troublesome (I thought) stage of development, where his teenage hormones had kicked in and he was no longer the sweet, docile, slightly irritating child I had once known, and had turned into a moody, distant, intensely irritating monster. Of course, my kicking the wall had absolutely no effect, and after a couple of minutes of threatening various abuses through the plaster I decided that I would simply have to go next door and carry out my threats in person.
I burst into his room, thoroughly cranky at this point, to find that it was in pitch darkness. There are few streetlamps in my village, so when I say pitch, I mean pitch. Furrowing my brow, I strained to see through the gloom, and I couldn’t hear a single sound, other than the whir of my brother’s Xbox on the floor. What were they doing? I voiced this to the dark room, but got no response.
Quickly, so quickly I wasn’t sure I saw it, I saw a shadow dart across the room. Even though I knew it was my brother messing around, I couldn’t help but feel the scenes from the horror film still sticking to me – was I sure they’d been in his room? Hadn’t they gone for a walk in the woods at some point? Had it really been them laughing?
I considered this as my hand fumbled around the wall for a light switch when, suddenly, something grabbed my wrist from nowhere – another hand. I screamed, piercingly, and tumbled back out into the hall, only to be greeted by the familiar peals of laughter we’d been hearing all night. Katie ran into the room and threw on the switch to reveal the little darlings huddled in black cloaks in the middle of the room like acne-ridden dementors, falling about in hysterics.
‘That wasn’t very fucking funny!’ I screeched at them, but even Katie was suppressing a smirk. The horror film had got to me, and my brother and his friend had taken full advantage of that. The two boys were still creased over, bundled in their cloaks, as I took my brother’s pillow and proceeded to hit them with it, which only encouraged the laughter.
‘We were just trying to be like old Mr McCreepy!’ Tom said through guffaws.
‘Who’s Mr McCreepy?’ Katie asked.
‘You must have heard of Mr McCreepy!’ Tom’s eyes were wide, and he nodded at his friend to clarify the obvious.
‘Everyone’s heard of Mr McCreepy,’ Michael sighed at two people he evidently considered imbeciles. ‘He’s that guy who owned the mannequin farm near Kolby village.’
Katie and I looked at each other and shrugged. Kolby village was ten miles away; I’d had no reason to ever go there, and I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t know anything about a mannequin farm, either.
‘He killed a whole load of people there, like fifty years ago,’ Tom interjected. ‘He was this really creepy guy who made mannequins for shops – and probably other things – and he lured all these guys to his house by pretending to be a woman online, then he bludgeoned them to death with an axe.’
‘And then he made mannequins out of their skin!’ added Michael, with glee.
Now, I’m going to pause here to explain that I am not a fan of horror. I don’t do scary stories, creepypastas, any of that stuff – and I usually hate scary films, and was only watching one that night because I didn’t want to look like a wuss in front of Katie, who had a taste for those sorts of things. Plus, there was a more than likely chance that my brother and his friend were lying, and I didn’t want to entertain this for longer than was necessary. Katie, on the other hand, was looking at them, intrigued.
‘There was an axe murderer who lived ten miles from here?’
‘And his name was Mr McCreepy?’
‘No, you tool,’ Katie’s brother sighed. ‘His name was Martin McGreevy. That’s just his nickname.’
Unusually, Katie let this insult slide without comment. ‘What was his kill count?’ she asked.
Tom and Michael looked at each other, less cocky now. ‘Dunno. Loads probably. You could Google it.’
‘Haven’t you Googled it?’
‘Nah. We just heard it around school.’
I laughed, wishing to bring this conversation to a close. ‘Oh, sure. You guys heard it around school, so it must be true.’
‘It really did happen!’ Michael insisted. ‘Everybody knows about it! It’s coming up to the anniversary of his first murder on Halloween.’
‘Oh yeah, the fact that it happened on Halloween makes it all the more believable.’ I raised my eyebrows to the ceiling, then left them to it, returning to my own room and trying to shake off a strange, bubbling feeling in my stomach.
For all of the bravado I’d shown, there was a part of me – a small part – that had a feeling they might possibly be telling the truth. Something had happened in that village, a long time ago. I didn’t think it happened how they described it, but the name rang a bell; the image of the mannequins was clear in my head. I could picture my parents at the breakfast table, talking in hushed tones, the word ‘Kolby’ and ‘murder’ and ‘dummies’ bubbling from their lips when they thought I couldn’t hear them.
Katie came back into my room, and I had my finger poised on the play button on my laptop, ready to scare ourselves silly again.
‘Actually, I’m not really feeling this anymore,’ she said, and I breathed a huge, internal sigh of relief. ‘I’d quite like to look up that case.’
The relief quickly left me, to be replaced by further anxiety. ‘What, the thing they were on about? Katie, they’re morons,’ I said. ‘They’ll be making it up.’
‘Probably. But I’d like to check, just in case they’re not.’
She slid onto the bed next to me and plucked the laptop from my hands before I had a chance to protest. She opened up a new tab, and typed ‘Kolby murder Cumbria mannequins’ into the search bar.
Sure enough, a whole swarm of articles popped up.
‘Now, there’s a plot twist,’ she said, impressed. ‘They weren’t lying!’
I felt my palms growing sweaty as she clicked on the first article and a picture of a man appeared. The man was reasonably average looking: about forty, with short, dark, cropped hair and a sallow face, like he hadn’t eaten in a long time, wearing a tartan shirt, but his hollow eyes, looking intensely at the camera, sent a chill of fear down my spine. I felt as though he was looking directly at me. This was Martin McGreevy, killer of nine people, who had once lived just down the road. His time active wasn’t fifty years ago, as Tom had said, but a much closer nineteen, back in 1999 – although, anything pre-millennium was all the same to my brother – and I remembered hearing the stories, still fresh to the residents, when I was a child.
I can’t remember exactly which articles we looked at, but the story went like this. Martin McGreevy was a family man, with a wife and a four-year-old son, who owned a successful home business making custom mannequins for shop windows. However, like a lot of people, he had his secrets. Unfortunately, Martin McGreevy’s secret was that he liked to pose as beautiful women online, reel in gullible men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, get them to send him nude pictures, and then lure them to his house under the pretence of hooking up. These were the days when the internet was still relatively new and people were less cautious about it, so he was generally successful in his invitation. Once there, he tied them up and committed unspeakable acts of torture on them, before eventually killing them with a sharp implement he would make his mannequins with. His wife, apparently, was aware of the entire situation, and may even have been an accomplice. Once he killed the men, he made mannequins in their likeness – though not out of their skin, as the boys had claimed – and he treated them as though they were real. Nine mannequins were found in the cellar when the police raided the house.
Once McGreevy became a suspect in the disappearances, he shot himself with a revolver, along with his wife and son. He was dead before they could even put handcuffs on him.
I think that most people, after reading this – and reading the gory details, as we did, which I will not relay here – would close the laptop and perhaps go to quietly throw up. Katie’s curiosity, on the other hand, was piqued. She wanted to know more. She summoned the boys in, who said that, although they’d heard wildly exaggerated versions of this story at school (the human skin anecdote, for instance) it was basically the same story that they were familiar with, and it really had happened in a farmhouse near the village of Kolby.
‘Well, that’s just vile,’ I said. ‘Those men died at the hands of that sicko. I hope he rots in jail.’
‘Why did you say you were acting like Martin McGreevy when you put on the cloaks?’ asked Katie.
‘Cos that’s what he used to do. His wife would let them in, and then he’d be down in the cellar. He would lie in wait for his victims, wearing the clothes he dressed his dummies in, and then pounce on them before they could do anything.’
‘How would anyone know that?’ I demanded.
‘His wife survived the shooting. She gave the police a full confession. She’s still alive today, in jail,’ Michael told me.
Katie asked if anyone still lived at the farmhouse.
‘Last I heard, it was abandoned,’ said Tom. ‘They say his ghost still roams the rooms, looking for more people to kill…’
They both started prancing around the room, swaying their arms and making howling sounds. Surely, at thirteen, they were too old for this.
I looked at Katie to share a look of exasperation, but instead, she was smiling. She had taken in the news of the abandoned house without comment, though I could see her expression changing, her dark eyes flickering with the formation of a plan.
I didn’t know if this was what happened to you after suffering grief at a young age, but my friend seemed to be abnormally fascinated by the dark side of life – death, torture, destruction, abandonment. It was – and is – a part of her that I struggle to like, if I’m being honest, but I try to understand that it is probably because she’s been through a childhood trauma. I don’t like to think that anyone could be interested in these things just for the sake of it.
After they left, she turned to me, the glimmer of a smile playing around her lips.
‘I know what I want for my birthday,’ she grinned.
I knew, at that moment, what she was going to say, and fear coursed through me like blood. Still, I needed to act nonchalant. When you’re a teenager, image is all that matters.
‘I want to go and explore the mannequin farm,’ said my friend. I just smiled, blankly.
It was absurd.
Our parents were going to a dinner party in the next village, where they were likely to be out until midnight. That was the night we chose, as it gave us plenty of time to get there and back.
Unfortunately, in the midst of our planning, my younger brother overheard, and threatened to reveal everything unless we allowed him and his weedy friend to come along with us.
‘You’ll ruin it!’ Katie screeched at them the night before we planned to go – the eve of Halloween, the night before his first murder, another thing that, surprisingly, my brother had got right. ‘You’ll end up telling the adults.’
‘We won’t!’ Tom insisted. ‘We’ll only tell them if you don’t let us come. Come on, we were the ones who told you about it.’
‘Go with your own friends,’ Katie said, ‘Surely they’re all going up there in droves if this story’s so famous.’
‘No one’s been up there that we know,’ Michael said. ‘It’s fenced off. It’s really hard to get in to.’
My heart jumped a little – I was hoping this nugget of information might put her off wanting to go. It only made her more determined to get in somewhere that others had not. Eventually, they struck a deal: the boys would come with us, if they could help us figure out how to get inside. Hands were shaken; spit was proffered; subsequently discarded. We were ready.
We set off after our parents left for their dinner party under cloak of darkness. Katie had a rucksack on over her coat packed with torches, a map and – most worryingly – even a knife, ‘In case we run into any trouble,’ she said. Her birthday had been two days prior, and she walked up the dark lane ahead of me, her new pink Converse shining in the moonlight, practically bouncing with excitement. My heart was full of lead.
The boys had also packed supplies: a penknife – ‘because you never know’ – my brother said, and some rope – ‘In case we need to scale any walls.’ The place was an abandoned farmhouse, not a maximum-security prison, but I said nothing.
The village of Kolby was very pretty, dotted with thatched cottages and an old 13th century church nestled in parkland. We trod through the streets carefully, not wanting to look too suspicious, and huddled under a streetlamp to glance at the map. We needed to follow Church Lane, out of the village, until we passed a track on our left which read ‘Pidcote.’ If we walked a mile up the track, we would hit the farmhouse. At least, that’s what one of Tom’s friends at school had told him – we could only see the first bit of the track from Google maps.
The night was very dark now, and it was bitingly cold. As we wandered up the road, we got out our torches, and fewer and fewer cars marked the roads. Eventually, we were immersed by dark stretches of farmland, and could hear nothing but the hoot of an owl in the distance, and some far-off noise from cattle. I pulled my coat tightly around me, fear beginning to set in. I wasn’t even that afraid of the farmhouse itself, or of the legend of Martin McGreevy’s ghost – I was more afraid of who might be living there now. We were four vulnerable kids on a dark, lonely road. We could be putting ourselves in serious danger.
The white wooden sign, ‘Pidcote,’ shimmered like a mirage under our torches.
My brother stopped, staring at it. ‘Maybe…maybe we should turn back,’ he said, nervously. Katie and Michael turned to look at him like he’d gone mad. ‘I don’t know if this is such a good idea.’
I was amazed – out of the four of us, Tom and Katie had been the most vocal in wanting to go. Katie and Michael shot me a look, as if to say, he’s your brother, you deal with him. l saw the fear flickering in Tom’s eyes; the irritation flickering in Katie’s. I had to choose.
‘Either you come with us, or wait here,’ I said, with as much courage as I could muster. ‘We’re not turning back now.’
I saw my friend smile with pleasure, and Tom’s expression hardened. ‘I’m coming,’ he said, sulkily. ‘I just meant if anyone else wanted to turn back.’
We trudged up the leaf strewn track, mud claiming our shoes. I had a fleeting gleeful thought that Katie’s beautiful new Converse would be getting muddy, then suppressed it out of guilt. Sometimes I felt envious of her wealth, and then remembered that at least I still had a dad.
We saw a building begin to loom in the distance. Surprisingly, as we got to it, it was actually very easy to get inside – the fence surrounding it was wooden, and not high, and we simply climbed over, finding ourselves on the other side with no trouble at all. I didn’t know what my brothers had been on about.
The farmhouse was a two storey affair, trees looming over it like hunchbacks, the windows boarded up so it looked vaguely monstrous, with metal panels for eyes. We shone our torch around the premises. The driveway was submerged in leaves; there were, obviously, no cars in it, and I couldn’t see any lights on in the house. Not that I was expecting to, of course, but I couldn’t help the thought that perhaps there were people squatting inside, and the lack of light made me feel less uneasy. The place was clearly deserted, a ghostly relic of the past. The wind bristled and I closed my eyes, wishing us away from it.
‘Well, we made it,’ I said. ‘Shall we go back now?’
Katie looked at me as though I was bonkers. ‘What? Go back? We’re going inside!’
The words didn’t come as a surprise to me, but I felt the full force of them even so.
We’re going inside.
The front door gave way easily; it was rotting, and falling off its hinges. Inside, the house smelt musty and damp; I remembered my grandmother’s house smelling like this when we went in after she died, because she’d stopped being able to take care of it properly and refused to ever put the heating on. The room we were standing in was a hallway, doors aligning each wall around us, a decomposing staircase toward the back wall. What I hadn’t expected was that there would still be furniture in the house. A side table was standing by the front door; a picture of a vase of sunflowers was skewed sideways on the wall. Homely artefacts amongst the dirt, reminding any visitors of what the place used to be, whilst the floor hosted more leaves and mud; the wallpaper was peeling and smeared with graffiti. I wondered if the kind of people who’d written that graffiti might be thinking of joining us here tonight, and I felt a bit sick. I shone my torch to see the numbers 666 scribbled in red on the once floral wallpaper; I realised that this would probably be the perfect location for dealing drugs. Cumbria was a boring place to grow up, and thus the drug trade was booming. Teenagers just didn’t have anything else to do.
‘Let’s split up,’ Katie said – the three most dreaded words in the English language. ‘Boys – you go upstairs. We’ll explore down here. We’ll all do the cellar together.’ Her eyes sparkled at this.
I could see Tom looking less than comfortable, but they nodded and headed up the stairs, whilst I trailed after her meekly.
She pushed open one of the doors on our left and we trod into the room. My feet felt like they were standing on linoleum; we were in what was once either a kitchen or a bathroom. Together, we shone our torches around. Then we froze.
A woman was standing in the kitchen, turned away from us. She was standing over a space where the stove most likely used to be, wearing a traditional 1950s outfit – hair up, flowery apron, floaty skirt. Every fibre in my body told me to run. But I was rooted to the spot, staring at this strange, stiff looking woman – who had not moved upon us entering the room. I reached out for my friend’s hand, but she was in the process of moving step closer, cracking a twig below her foot. The woman still didn’t move. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Why wasn’t she turning around? What was wrong with her?
‘Katie…there’s something wrong here…’
‘Hello?’ Katie called out, gently. ‘Hello?’
She moved even closer to the woman, before prodding her on the shoulder. I couldn’t speak, waiting for it to turn around – what was she going to look like?
‘It’s…it’s a mannequin!’ my friend exclaimed, open mouthed.
I drew closer to it as well, realising, as I brought my torch closer, that it was indeed a mannequin – the hair was too stiff; the neck too white. I got close enough to see the other side of her and, most horrifyingly, the thing was faceless, no features at all other than a large smile that had been drawn on with what looked like crayon, the rest of it just a white, blank canvas. A figure with no eyes.
‘Jesus Christ,’ Katie said.
I shone the torch around a little more, and noticed that, on the floor, in the space where the stove should have been, was a frying pan lying on the dirt, with two plastic fried eggs and a sausage in it – the kind you might give to a child.
‘She’s…cooking,’ I said.
Of course, McGreavy had made mannequins for a living. But why was there one in the house, now, all these years later? Some sort of sick joke by pranksters?
Katie and I looked at each other, unsure whether to laugh, or to cry. The sound of a scream from across the house meant we did neither.
We ran to the sound, coming from upstairs, finding both our brothers huddled together in one of the bedrooms, pointing at the boarded-up window. We got closer to it to find a small bed – or, what remained of a bed, rotten and smelly as it was – with the dummy of a child lying in it.
This mannequin was more detailed than the one in the kitchen. It had a face carved into it – a nose, and lips. Someone had even stuck two of those goggly eyes you can buy for arts and crafts to its forehead – giving the odd impression that it was lying in bed with its eyes wide open. On top of its head was a mop of curly hair.
‘What the fuck is that thing?’ my brother asked. His voice was quivering.
‘Well it’s a mannequin, what do you think?’ said Katie. ‘There’s one in the kitchen too.’
‘There’s more of them?’
My brother really was losing his shit. I felt a little embarrassed, if I’m honest. Michael remained calm and composed, eyes fixed on the thing in the bed, his head cocked as though he were looking at a scientific oddity.
‘I’ve had enough,’ Tom said. ‘This place is too weird.’
‘It’s obviously just a prank,’ Katie said. ‘Someone’s probably done it to scare stupid kids like us off the premises. Or it’ll be some of those serial killer groupies, trying to recreate the family home.’
‘That’s fucked up,’ my brother said, his face stark white.
‘Yeah.’ But Katie’s expression didn’t look like she thought it was fucked up. Instead, there was the trace of a smirk on her mouth. She looked like she was thoroughly enjoying the whole affair.
‘I think I’d like to leave now,’ Tom said. He looked at me. This was my chance to be a supportive older sister.
‘Well…maybe we’ve seen enough,’ I said. ‘This place is a bit freaky, after all.’
‘But we haven’t done the cellar yet!’ Katie exclaimed. ‘That’s the best bit!’
‘I don’t want to do the cellar. I’ve had enough,’ Tom persisted. ‘We’ve come out this far – there’s a bad vibe in this place. I feel like something bad is going to happen.’
‘Well, you can go home,’ Katie said. ‘But I’m going to go and explore the cellar. You don’t have to wait for me if you don’t want to.’
This was a difficult situation. I really didn’t want to choose between my friend and my brother, but it looked like I was going to have to. I stood, staring from one to the other of them; Katie’s face hard, certain; my brother’s pale and anxious.
That was when we heard it.
A soft, dragging sound. Coming from beneath us. Far beneath our feet. Like it was coming from the cellar.
I’ve never felt four people stop breathing at exactly the same moment, but that’s what happened. Then we heard it again. A dragging sound. Like someone dragging something heavy across a concrete floor.
‘What…what was that?’ Michael was the first one to speak. For the first time, he was looking scared too.
‘We need to get out of here,’ said Tom.
Cautiously, ever so cautiously, we tiptoed across what was Martin McGreavy’s son’s bedroom, headed out into what had once been his landing, and crept down what had once been his staircase. The dragging sound started to grow louder, more urgent, as if it knew we were getting away.
I grabbed my brother’s hand; he in turn took Michael’s arm. We made a beeline for the door, when I realised that Katie hadn’t moved. She was staring at the cellar door.
‘What are you doing? I asked in a desperate whisper. The boys headed out into the open air, but she remained rigid, staring.
‘Well, aren’t you curious?’ she asked. ‘Even just a tiny bit?’
‘No, I bloody well am not!’
‘I am. I want to see what’s making that noise.’
I couldn’t believe this. How could she be this stupid? As we were speaking, I noticed that the noise had stopped. Oh my god. What if whatever it was had heard us.
‘Katie, it could be dangerous down there. You don’t know who it is.’
‘I’ll just be quick.’
She was trancelike, moving towards the door as the sliver of moonlight from the front door fell across her face, and even as I grabbed her hand she pulled away from me, stronger than I was.
She opened the door, and before I could stop her, she was gone, heading down the steps.
‘For God’s sake!’
Nothing – not heaven and earth moving, not a maze of chocolate, not pigs flying – could make my feet unstick from their place in the ground and make me go down there and stop her. Instead I stood there, not even sure if I was breathing, as Michael poked his head back round the door.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked, ‘Why are you taking so long?’
‘Your sister’s gone down to the cellar,’ I said.
We both shared a glance – a terrified, helpless, awful glance. But neither of us could move. The dragging sound increased in volume again; the urgency amplified, filling my ears.
And then we heard her scream.
Her scream was even more ear-splitting than that of my brother’s; it was the kind of scream a person makes when they are experiencing the last moments of their life. Both Michael and I ran toward the basement door and stood at the top of the steps, the torch light falling in shards across the stairs. I took in the sight below: Katie, running back up the steps, her expression like that of a person being hunted; but nothing and no one was behind her. I moved the torch around to see a group of tall shadowy figures lurking in the farthest corner of the room; nine of them, stiff as boards, faceless. I felt my heart stop, but I couldn’t understand why she was so frightened – they were only mannequins, like the ones in the rest of the house.
And then one of them moved.
Thud, thud, thud – Katie’s footsteps pounded up the final steps and she pushed us with all her might back through the door, back into the hallway.
‘Get out of here,’ she shrieked, ‘Get out of here now!’
We didn’t need to be told twice. We began to run, out of the door, down the drive, towards my brother, who was also running – we ran to the fence, and climbed it, and lost rucksacks and shoes and grazed our limbs in the process but we did not care, because all we knew was that we were running, running far away from that place and that sound and those awful, awful figures.
I don’t know what made me do it. Even now, when I look back on it, I’m not sure it was even real. It was probably the hysteria.
But I’m sure that when I looked back there – and I looked back there only once, when I was twisting myself around on the fence – I’m sure I saw another figure standing in the doorway; another mannequin, a young girl this time, about fourteen. Its only feature a drawn-on mouth, a mouth wide with terror, and its long, bony arm was stretched out towards us, pointing. On her feet was a pair of pink Converse trainers.
I didn’t look back twice.
Katie never told me what happened to her in the cellar that day. She never told a single soul.
She refused to ever speak of the incident at all, in fact, and would get very upset when we mentioned it. Once, I asked her if she saw the figures in the cellar, like I did, though I never mentioned the dummy wearing the Converse. She refused to engage with me. Her taste for horror waned; she never suggested going exploring again.
Sometimes Tom and I will talk about it. We’ll try and make a joke out of the whole thing now – must have been some twisted pranksters, we’ll say – but deep down, it scares us still, and I’ve never been able to go anywhere there are mannequins again, which, as you can imagine, makes life difficult in a department store. I don’t know why someone chose to put those things in there; I don’t know if they were mannequins made by McGreavy himself, or whether they were brought there after his death, and I don’t know how they knew that one of us would be wearing pink trainers. To ask those questions means delving deeper into the horror of that night.
I’ve never been back to the farmhouse. Katie and I became less close when we went to university, though we still keep in touch every now and then, even after she moved away from the village.
Michael and Tom are still close though. Tom says that Michael even went back there about a year ago – in broad daylight this time – to get some footage (he studies Film at university). He said he didn’t find any mannequins there, and all the furniture had been looted too.
The cellar door was locked when he went there, though. Whatever it was that lurked down there amongst the shadows was concealed away. And whatever it was Katie saw that night – whether she saw the same thing as I did, or maybe worse – was hidden away, and can only be left for you and I to speculate.
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