It was just what they had been looking for. It stood on a manageable plot on the edge of the village. Behind the cottage was uncultivated land of trees and shrubbery which, in the last war, had been home to a group of British soldiers. Behind that was an old, but still lived in, farm house.
A road out of the village turned sharp left at the cottage gate, carried on for half a mile or so before turning right and heading to the next village. During the war there had been a guard post on that corner – and behind that had been the American Air force.
The cottage, they were told, had been built in the early 1800s as two cottages for workers from the farm. At some time in the 20th century the two had become one and, during the war, had been ‘home’ for an Army officer – well, a number to be accurate, because they tended to be moved on every 12/18 months. After the war a returning soldier, his wife and young son had moved in.
With a brick built toilet in the front garden, a single cold water tap in the house, old thatched roofing and wattle and daub walls it was destined for demolition just as soon as the new council houses were complete. Those houses had been finished, the family of three that had lived in the cottage got one and moved out, but the cottage was not demolished. It had been purchased and modernised to early 1950s standards.
The outside walls had a brick cladding added and the roof was re-thatched. Inside a ‘Raeburn’ fire was installed with a hot water tank to provide room heating and 24 hour hot water. Electricity was also connected. Because of the housing shortage, and the new building programme, the cottage had been let to an ever-changing range of occupants. Young families were the most frequent – and they rarely stayed for more than a couple of years before moving into a new council house in one of the surrounding villages.
Forty years on the cottage was in need of an update and was up for sale again. Jim and Jackie had bought it at a surprisingly attractive price. They had plans for many changes but – once there – the cottage took a hold on them. There was something about the cottage that said ‘Don’t touch.’ So they hadn’t.
It was four years later, following a particularly cold winter, that they finally did ‘begin to touch’. Central heating was their first addition. The local installer came highly recommended and the job was soon complete. In the last cold snap of the winter it proved a god send – except in one part of the house, their bedroom. There the radiator got warm rather than hot.
During the summer they continued to make minor changes and improvements to the house. Nothing seemed to go quite right. When Jim was placing a large porcelain bowl they had just bought onto a side table it slipped through his hands and smashed on the floor. Jim just did not drop things. But – the garden around the house was at last showing the results of Jackie’s careful work. By mid-summer the lawn, the flower beds and the colourful shrubs were being admired by passers-by. But as autumn arrived the garden changed.
The green lawn had brown patches appearing, and they refused to respond to Jackie’s various solutions. By late September the disaster that was the lawn was joined by the plants and shrubs along the south side of the garden. No matter what Jackie did they drooped, withered and died.
Indoors, a new radiator did not solve the problem in the bedroom – in fact it seemed to be worse than the previous one. As autumn set in it just didn’t work at all.
It was the first Saturday in October, and Jim and Jackie were having a drink in the Chestnut Tree pub in the village. They had noticed that the tree that gave the pub its name was looking rather bare compared to all the other trees in the village.
It was Jim that made comment about the tree; and about their plumbing, and their gardening problems.
The group went quiet. The regulars looked at each other. No one spoke.
‘So?’ asked Jackie, looking at each in turn. ‘So?’
It was Peter, a born and bred villager and in his late seventies, that finally answered the question.
‘It’s all building up to tomorrow week – Sunday 13th October – but you’ll have to wait until next Spring for your garden and heating to get back to normal.’
Jackie and Jim looked at each other, then at the group around them.
‘So?’ repeated Jackie.
‘Sunday 13th October 1793 was the day when Charles and William Brockhurst, cousins, were murdered in the house that stood on the place that your house is built on.
‘The story goes that they were found in bed together by other family members who had suspected that situation for some time. Charles was killed where he laid but William escaped. He ran down the stairs and out of the front door. More were waiting for him there. They set upon him but he fought back and killed one of them.
‘There was no escape for him though and they hacked him to death – about where your garden problem is now.
‘By Christmas the house had been demolished and it was not until the 1830s that a pair of cottages was built there. Since then Sunday 13th October has always been a bad day for people living there – some much worse than others.’
Silence fell on the group.
Jim looked at Jackie, and he looked back at him. Without a word they joined hands and left the Chestnut Tree.
On Tuesday 8th October a van pulled up outside the cottage, loaded up with their furniture and other pieces and left.
Jackie and Jim drove away very soon after.
For your peace of mind – the next Sunday 13th October is in 2030.