Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Duncan Johnstone
Literary Correspondent
1:57 PM 19th December 2022

James Grant And The Haunted House

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As Sheila came into the office she found James already seated at his desk.

“Would you like to come away with me for the weekend?” were his first words.

When she appeared somewhat taken aback he looked a little embarrassed and corrected himself.

“Sorry. That didn’t come out as I meant. I’ve got a case I’ve been asked to look into. It means going to a village some distance away and staying for a day or two. And I could do with your help.”

Sheila wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed by the clarification.

“I don’t know much about it yet. Here. Read this note. I found it pushed through the letterbox last night.” He handed her the note - which read:

Dear Mr Grant,

You don’t know me, but I have heard of you and wondered if I might seek your help in a strange matter. I live in the village of Ottery View. It is just a small community with a pub, a church and about thirty houses, most gathered around a village green, but with a few - of which mine is one - a little distance from the rest. There are three houses some three hundred yards or so from the main village. I live in the last of them - the other two are empty, or so I believed. But recently we have heard strange noises at night time which cannot be easily explained. I shall be in your area tomorrow and hope that you will be able to see me if I call on you around ten in the morning.

Yours sincerely, Joseph Jenkins.

“Looks interesting”, was Sheila's initial reaction.

Within a few minutes of the time suggested in the note there was a knock on the office door and a man in his mid-forties with already greying hair entered.

“Mr Jenkins?”, inquired James.

“Yes. Thank you for seeing me Mr Grant. I won’t waste your time. Let me get on with my story.”

He went on to tell them how he lived on the edge of a small village. His was the last house before, some two hundred yards or so beyond the main village, was another house. This stood on its own, was very old - there before the rest of the village had been built - and had a string of legends and strange stories attached to it. These went back for centuries, and thus people were quite ready to believe any strange superstition that might be associated with it. Recently strange noises had emitted from the house at night time, and no one would go near it. His own daughter of seven years insisted on being collected from school now even though the school was but a few hundred years from their home and she did not have to pass the strange house in order to get home.

This was the essence of the story. Would James come and investigate? Even though it was over a hundred miles off James found the idea fascinating and agreed to see what he could discover.

A fine drizzle of rain had accompanied them all the way to the village of Ottery View. The journey had taken nearly four hours, and it was dark when they arrived at about 6.00pm on a dark November evening. It did not take long to find the village inn unoriginally called The Red Lion. James drove into the small car park at the rear with space enough for about half a dozen vehicles - theirs was the only one there this evening.

They went to the front and entered the inn. A friendly figure who was clearly the Landlord greeted them -

“You’ll be Mr Grant and Miss Barclay. Mr Jenkins has booked two rooms for you. They’re adjacent” - He appraised Sheila and gave a knowing look towards James - “Numbers 3 and 4.” James reflected that in such a small village and similarly small inn there were probably not many more rooms available.

“We’ll go up now and have a bit of a wash and a change”, said James, “We've been travelling quite a while. Can we have a meal when we come down?”

So saying they went to their respective rooms. James was the first to change. He came down to the ‘snug’ wearing a light grey jacket, dark blue shirt open at the neck and matching blue trousers. Sheila soon followed. James looked up and caught his breath. She had on an emerald green dress with no adornment other than a small butterfly brooch - James thought it was a peacock but hadn’t his glasses to hand and didn’t like to stare too obviously. It was the first time he had seen Sheila in a dress. Usually she wore a trouser suit to work.

“You look great” he said, trying to get the right intonation in his voice of appreciation without suggestiveness. (“Great” he thought to himself must be the understatement of the year.)

As he looked at her James became troubled. Was he falling in love with his assistant? No. Certainly not. And anyway, to do so would be to endanger the friendly working relationship they had. And surely a girl like Sheila could get any man running with a click of her finger. He, James Grant, was hardly likely to be anywhere near the list of prospective partners she might consider. It was his habit to underestimate himself, not out of false modesty but from a genuine lack of self-belief.

They settled down to a meal. The menu was neither extensive nor original. They both decided on shepherd's pie and veg - the other option was fish and chips. Then came a generous helping of treacle pudding. Sheila forbore to make the often girly remark of having to watch her figure - James was more than happy to do that - and they ate enthusiastically. They were both hungry after their drive.

After the meal they went to sit by the blazing log fire - a very welcome sight on this November evening. James half nodded off while Sheila, noticing the Landlord and the only other man in the inn looking at her, engaged them in conversation.

What she learnt added little to what they had already been told - namely that the old house in question had an aspect to it which readily encouraged the idea that strange things might be associated with it. Recently (and Sheila noticed this word in particular) there had been strange sounds emitting from the house at night time, and even a white figure of ghostly appearance. People were afraid to go near, especially after dark, and children wouldn’t pass the place on their own.

All this time James had been half asleep, but took in most of what was said.

He came to. “Time for bed” he said. “Tomorrow we begin our investigations.”

Next morning saw them eating a surprisingly good ‘full English breakfast’. Once finished they set about the first stage of their task - to see the supposedly haunted house in the daylight. It was no great distance away - about ten minutes walk, so walk they did.

On arriving at the house they found that it fulfilled all one might expect in such cases. The house was surrounded by a high wall; its windows were shrouded in grey curtains that looked frail and torn; an atmosphere of darkness was added to by high trees to the rear of the property. There was a gate at the front opening onto a long path up to the front door - except that the gate didn’t open. It was locked. James heaved himself up onto a part of the wall to get a better view of the area. Clearly the occupants, if there were any, were not keen gardeners!

“Not much more we can do for now”, he remarked. “We will need to come back tonight when the ‘haunting’ begins.” He smiled disbelievingly.

There being some time to wait until dark, they took a look around the village which was indeed little more than a hamlet. A church, a pub, a small shop which seemed to sell everything, and a score of houses made up its entirety. Chatting with some of the locals produced no more information than they already had and so, after a quick look into the shop they returned to the inn which offered lunch. Again the menu was limited - sausage and mash or fish and chips (again). Sheila went for the first option, James for the second. “We can't keep having the same thing”, she laughed.

They waited until getting on for 10.00pm before setting off for the supposedly haunted house. It had been dark for some hours, but James believed that if something strange was going on there it wouldn’t start until quite late. They walked the fairly short distance. It was, as in all good ghost stories, very dark and there was also still more drizzly rain.

James had planned to scale the wall and approach the house with some caution while Sheila, who had insisted on accompanying him despite his suggestion otherwise, was to wait outside the property. As they passed the gate James gave it a casual push. It was not locked - yet it had been when they had been there earlier. Strange. At least it made entry into the place somewhat easier than they had anticipated. Quietly they both almost crept up the long drive to the front door. That, too, was open - but as soon as they pushed it a strange wailing sound rose up. Sheila clung to James with a start - or was it the other way about?

They paused for a moment - and then crept cautiously forward. James caught his foot on something on the floor and the strange wailing began again. They moved now even more cautiously. Suddenly Sheila let out a scream. Something had brushed against her face. James took the torch from his pocket and swept it around the hallway into which they had entered. Strung across from wall to wall was a small piece of netting. It was this that Sheila had felt.

“This isn’t a haunted house”, said Jame, “but someone wants us to think it is. And why? To keep away possible intruders.”

On reflection he wasn’t quite sure whether this made him more or less concerned. If whoever was there was sufficiently concerned to keep people away they must be quite desperate. Thinking fast, he made a decision. Whoever was there was likely to be dangerous. He didn’t want to put Sheila in danger. (Nor, to be honest, did he want to put himself in danger!) There seemed to be some sign of activity further through the house. But he wasn’t going to take any risks.

“We’re going”, he told Sheila.


“We’re going. We’ll come back tomorrow - in the daylight.”

Next morning the two of them again set out for the house. This time they drove there to make it easier to carry the ladder James had persuaded the innkeeper to lend him. As he expected, the gate was again locked. Placing the ladder against the wall he climbed up and jumped down into the grounds. Looking at the gate he saw that it had been bolted from the inside. It was no more than a moment before he had drawn the bolt and let Sheila in. His thought - he prayed that he was right - was that whoever was in the house only came there at night and that the ghostly presences were all a part of a scheme to allow the occupants to get along with their objectives undisturbed. They would not be there in the daylight hours.

And so it proved. As they entered the wailing began again - but in daylight it wasn’t quite so scary. James was not technically minded, but he realised that some kind of electric beam had been set up which caused the warning noise once it was crossed. So also the trip in the floor.

They began to search the house which was currently unoccupied. It took a while, but finally, in one of the upstairs bedrooms, they found what they were looking for. Stacked in one corner of the room were several boxes. James managed to force open one of them. It contained a large quantity of sachets containing a white powder. He sampled a little on his tongue. Drugs.

So that was it. A place to store drugs prior to selling them on the market. A place that was supposedly haunted. A place that, therefore, no one would willingly approach.

Back at the inn they told the landlord what they had discovered, and handed the matter over to the police.

The drive back home was a pleasant one. The rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and Sheila was as beautiful as ever.

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