Some people swore that the house was haunted

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The brooding hulk of the old house squatted on the ancient hill above the village, dark and still and patient, like some carrion beast waiting for its dinner to die. Its foundations lay deeper in the darkness of ancient evils than they did in the earth itself, some people said.

The village folk knew the story, how it had started in the elder days, how some sickness had corrupted the occupants of the old house on the hill. Children were disappearing and everyone knew who was to blame. On the day that they could take no more pain, the villagers burst upon the house armed with pitchforks and scythes and firebrands… an orgy of revenge overtook them all.

The next day, there was no trace of the occupants and the house was a blackened shell. The ownership of the land passed to remote relatives who cared little about the land, the house or their sudden inheritance. Attention drifted away from those terrible events… or so it seemed to the casual observer.

Sounds were heard, things were seen, ominous evil was felt. The tales grew in the telling in the flickering firelight of the long winter nights. Everyone knew that the spirits of those evil occupants lingered in the shadows of the charred beams and struts and broken walls. But that was long ago in darker ages when folk were more susceptible to superstition and irrational fears.

As time passed without incident, the children became braver. Modern ways crept across the lands and the children again played in the grounds of the old house. Just in the grounds – at first. But closer and closer to the deep shadows inside the ruins they played. Inevitably, drawn by some siren song, young twins stepped hand-in-hand inside the shattered doorway and into its shadows.

Their screams scattered their playmates whose own screams brought the adults running. They scoured the house, ripped up the remaining floors, tore down the charred timbers, but no trace of those children was ever found.

The men talked long into the night; they would finish the cleansing that had begun so long ago and which had clearly failed. At dawn, they descended grimly upon the ruin, ripping and tearing at the skeleton of the house, breaking it apart into countless pieces. What could burn was burnt and the ashes scattered; the stones were distributed across the hill; the very foundations were unearthed and scattered. And all the while, no man stood in any shadow cast by any part of the ruin.

At length, nothing remained to mark the site except the reluctance of grasses and weeds to grow within the perimeter of that vanished building.

It was over.

Again, times changed. Professionals from the city visited the site. They listened to the old tales and they smiled politely in the way that sophisticated city people do, exchanging jokes on their modern, electronic devices about the ignorant locals.

The land was cleared to make way for the housing estate and the pile of rubble and debris grew. Someone with a qualification in saving money considered the estimated removal costs and pondered for a while, then scuttled away with his laptop and his technology.

The first day of term at the estate’s new school was bright and sunny, the children in party clothes to celebrate the official opening, proud parents beaming.

The fine entrance had been built, like the rest of the school, from the old rocks and stones found littering the land.

The children passed through its doorway singing, holding hands, waving flags - and the shadows inside grew strangely darker...

* Written for a Halloween radio show in 2010

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