Rita had a lovely spacious house on the main road of a village in the south. Most of her children had been born there and she felt it was her home. For a while, at least.
But eventually Rita could not stand it anymore. There were just too many strange things going on. After six years, she decided she had had enough and moved out. She would probably have persevered and tried to put up with her ħares’s tricks – until he started messing around with her children.
One of the first things she remembers involved a little picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she kept on a window ledge on the stairs. In front of it, she kept a wick alight, floating in a little glass container of oil and water. Once as she walked past it, the container flew off the sill and crashed in front of her, splashing oil and water everywhere. She thought she must have knocked it with her arm – until it happened again and again. She started getting quite jittery.
Rita used to keep all her towels in a huge chest of drawers, all neatly folded and sorted out by size.
Once she opened the heavy drawer and her cat leapt out with a squeal, giving her the fright of her life. She was sure that there was no way the cat could have got in there without her noticing.
On another day, when her younger daughter Louise was only three years old, she left her asleep in her bed and dashed across the road to the little shop. She only had a few things to buy; it couldn’t have taken her more than 10 minutes at most. Which was certainly not long enough for anyone to get all the carpets out of storage and laid.
And yet, that is exactly what happened. She rushed in to check on Louise but the little girl was still asleep, alone in the house.
“Oh well,” she said to herself, bemused.
“I suppose I should be grateful that I have been spared all the hard work…”
The ħares was very defensive about the house. The original house had been twice the original size but it had been split into two. The landlord once wanted to reallocate some of Rita’s room to the house next door. The ħares seems to have had different ideas.
When the landlord came over to measure up, the wooden door would not budge even though it was not locked and the room was in constant use. As soon as the exasperated landlord left, Rita went upstairs again and the door opened effortlessly.
She never actually saw anything, although her son constantly complained to her about interruptions while he was trying to get his homework done.
“Ma, ask him to shut up!”
The daughters would feel themselves lifted up into the air and they would float down the flight of stairs, a few inches off the ground
Nor did the ħares ever give her anything, even though he cost her a fortune in broken crockery.
And then her daughters got involved.
Her 10-year-old daughter was in the cellar, doing her homework on the table there. All of a sudden, the three shelves under the window all collapsed, crockery and ornaments crashing to the ground. She would have blamed it on faulty nails but her husband checked them all carefully and could find no reason to explain their sudden collapse.
The ħares took a liking to the children. The house had a flight of stairs leading up to the washroom on the roof. Whenever the two girls came down from there, they would feel themselves lifted up into the air and they would float down the flight of stairs, a few inches off the ground.
This did not just happen once but almost every time they went up there.
“I didn’t like it,” Louise told me. “But neither did I mind. We were kids; we just accepted it.”
As she told her story, she stood up, hunching up her shoulders to explain what she meant. She said with a smile: “When we moved into the next house, for a long time I still hunched up my shoulders whenever I was going downstairs, ready to fly. But of course, it never happened again.”
Her sister’s experience was perhaps a little more frightening.
Not only did the ħares “fly” her down the stairs, he also suspended her upside down. Louise remembered her pinned up against the wall, head down, about two or three feet off the ground, her feet in line with a small, flower-shaped window that overlooked the stairwell.
Louise was not going to be spared completely though. In winter, they used to close off the entrance to the cellar with a large wooden board to keep out the cold, damp air. She was once walking across the board when it just evaporated. She fell into the cellar but when she got up and dusted herself off, luckily unhurt, the board was still in place.
The ħares was sometimes merely teasing, playful. Her elder daughter once called out to Rita from her bedroom upstairs. But as soon as she answered, her daughter appeared behind her, wedged into the corner of the room.
Three brothers, who used to live a few doors away, refused to play with Rita’s children any more. One of the teenaged boys was convinced that Rita’s son was hitting him whenever he walked by. But Rita knew that there had never been anyone in the house at the time… At least, not anyone from her family…
Eventually, Rita had had enough. She brought a maid in to clean the house and moved out, leaving much of the furniture behind. She shut the door behind her with a sigh of relief.
But it was still not all over: the ħares had another trick up his sleeve. The next time Rita met the landlord, he expressed his surprise that she had left the house in such a mess. Apparently, he had found cat excrement in every room.
Louise lowered her voice and leaned forward towards me.
“The woman who moved in after us... Well, she kept rabbits in the cellar, and once, when she went down there to get one out, she found it had been turned into a dog.”
Her memory of falling through the wooden board obviously still clear in her mind, she added: “Once she fell into the cellar and broke her back and both her legs.”
When this woman moved out, it seems a tailor took over the house to use as a workshop, and even though he was only using the hall, he too moved out soon after.
The house is still empty.
This is the 29th 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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