Let me start by telling you that I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve spent enough time in enough terrible places to know that there are many, many bad things to worry about without adding the souls of the dead to the mix. But the story I’m about to tell you now did happen, and to this day I cannot explain it.
The autumn of 1922 was a difficult one for me. I won’t bore you with the details as to how I ended up travelling so far out into the fields on foot, but suffice to say that circumstances had conspired to leave me without a home, unemployed and penniless. I wouldn’t normally choose to bed down in a derelict building, but what little shelter the bones of that old farmhouse offered was better than no shelter at all.
I saw it first from the road, as the sun began to set, and night had practically fallen by the time I found the path leading up to what remained of the house. The moon, now marching into a cloudless sky, lit my way across the sparse flagstones. About halfway up the path, I thought I spied a figure watching me. I stopped in my tracks, breath held, waiting for their next move. The figure did the same. Only after several minutes of this did I realise that it was, in fact, no more than a statue.
Releasing my breath, I went in for a closer inspection. The statue, about four feet tall, appeared to be that of a young girl. Time and the elements had worked away at her features and so only a blank face gazed back at me. Now, I survived the Somme, and I’ve seen many an unnerving and gruesome sight in my time, but something about this faceless effigy sent ice into my veins. The wind blew sharper and I shuddered, pulling my tattered greatcoat tighter around myself. As I did so I spotted an inscription on the base of the statue. It looked to have been added recently, and etched by a childish hand.
Poor, restless Elle. Who will play with her now?
I shuddered again, my mind conjuring up dark scenes as to what misfortune had befallen this young soul.
I shook myself out of it and pulled my gaze away from the macabre statue. I headed towards the ruins of the house, resolving to get myself out of this freezing draught.
Three walls remained of the building. The roof, or rather the lack of one, would not be an issue; as long as the sky stayed cloudless and conditions remained as they were I would be fine. I dropped the bag holding my few, meagre possessions to the stone floor in the corner and searched the place for some material for a fire, but I found only damp and rotted wood that fell to pieces in my hands. I considered going back out into the fields to search for something to burn but in the end decided against it. I told myself I could go the night without a fire if I must and besides, I had no desire to pass that statue again.
Settling down as best I could, I retrieved my hip flask from my pack and took a long, warming drink of rum. Eventually, my eyelids grew heavy and I fell asleep to the whistling of the wind.
What happened next is difficult for me to recount, not because I don’t remember it; I do, like it happened yesterday. I didn’t speak about it for years, not to the passer-by who found me babbling incoherently in the road the next morning, not to the police officer who took me to the hospital, and not to the doctors who treated me. But I will tell you now. I no longer care if people think I’m crazy.
I was woken in the middle of that night. Not by the wind, but by a different sound; the laughter of a child. I felt a cold, solid hand take mine and, as I opened my eyes, a featureless face made of stone stared back at me.
‘Would you like to play?’ it asked.