Of course, no new wife likes being left on her own. But when your husband works with the navy, there’s not much you can do about it. Still, some times are worse than others.

Having just moved into a lovely house in Floriana, Jessie found that her domestic instincts were taking over. She wanted to make the house into a home and she would have liked Mark to be there more to share it with her.

The people who sold them the house had left it in a good enough state but there was still much to do. So when Mark left to go to work, sometimes for a week and a half, sometimes just for a few days, Jessie would spend her honeymoon pottering around.

The house seemed huge and empty at night. Alone for probably the first time in her life, Jessie was on edge. Was it her overworked imagination perhaps? Was the dark silence of the house making her feeling particularly vulnerable?

Whatever the possible psychological explanation, what happened to Jessie terrified her. She was woken up by the sound of crying. There were raised voices uttering blasphemous oaths. And there was the creaking sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs.

Jessie sat up terrified, not thinking clearly enough to realise that the flight of steps was made of stone. There was nothing she could do. Paralysed by fear, there was no way she was going to leave the bedroom to see if there was anything there.

When Mark returned later that night, he found his wife cowering with fear in bed. He searched the house but, of course, there was nothing there. Or was there?

The next day, Jessie found herself standing at the top of the stairs, emboldened by the daylight. The scene below her looked so peaceful and yet what demons lurked in the walls? Perhaps she was overcome by the memory of her night of terror? Perhaps, she was pushed...That’s what she thinks. In any case, she found herself falling, tumbling down the stairs, landing luckily and being only winded.

Every night, she would hear the slow, shuffling footsteps; many times, she heard the manic voice screaming and shouting.

Every night, she would hear the slow, shuffling footsteps; many times, she heard the manic voice screaming and shouting

Whatever ‘it’ was, Jessie was tormented. She would feel the warm breath of someone standing behind her. When she was in the bath, she would feel someone running fingers up her spine.

One morning, she was on her way out to buy bread but the spirit had different ideas. As she went down the stairs, it gripped her by her ankles, refusing to let go.

One night, once again alone in the house, she went into the bathroom to get cleaned up before she went to sleep. As she stood at the sink, Jessie heard the door of the bathroom close. And just as clearly, she heard the key on the outside turn in the lock. She banged on the door and cried out. But who was there to hear her?  It was some time before Jessie finally accepted that there was nothing she could do. No amount of crying and banging was going to get her out of the bathroom. She spent a terrifying night locked in there, unable to sleep for fear of what she might see or hear.

Dawn seemed an interminably long time away. But eventually, she heard Mark opening the door downstairs and she almost sobbed with relief.

“Mark!” she screamed. And no sooner had she done so that the door flew open, taunting her with her helplessness over whatever possessed the house.

Mark was at a loss. He was completely sceptical and had not seen or heard anything himself. He could not believe that a simple house could terrify his wife, turning her into the person who threw herself into his arms racked by sobs.

But he was not to be spared. One night as they were asleep in their bed, the whole bed started to shake. It was the final straw. They had only been in their first home for around three weeks but Jessie could not bear to stay there a moment longer. That very night, she went to stay with her in-laws until Mark could find them somewhere else to stay.

But Jessie was tormented by the memories of the house. Whenever she closed her eyes, she could still hear the wailing, the raised voices and the hollow footsteps on non-existent wooden stairs.

She started asking about the history of the house. The people they had bought it from claimed they had had no problems there at all but eventually her persistence paid off.

She found out that the house had once, a long time ago, been used as a mental asylum. Who knows if the rumours were true? That in those days, the patients were locked up, tortured and tormented by their minders... perhaps even killed?

Jessie is in her 90s now and many of her memories have faded away. But she still remembers the house in Floriana. The house is still there and people are living in it. Perhaps they do not hear the tormented voices. Perhaps they do not want to.

Jessie only knows that if she shuts her eyes, she still does.

This is the 19th in a series of short stories The Sunday Times of Malta is running every Sunday. It is taken from The Unexplained Plus (Allied Publications) by Vanessa Macdonald. The first edition was published in 2001 and reprinted twice. It was republished, with added stories, as The Unexplained Plus. The Maltese version of the book, Ta’ Barra Minn Hawn (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is available from all leading bookstores and stationers and from www.bdlbooks.com.

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