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The Curse of Marehill Manor

Marehill Manor harbours a dark and sinister secret…
Somewhere on the border betwixt London and Essex stands the once stately and venerable house, now decaying and long since abandoned to time. For over a century, anyone who has set foot within the cursed mansion has been tormented with nightmarish visions and insurmountable terror. Many do not dare to tread within Marehill's haunted halls, and those who do soon flee in fear. So of course, when Sam Hain learns of the manor and its dreadful reputation, he can't resist the promise of a new adventure. Together with Alice Carroll and James Mortimer, the occult detective sets out to delve deeper into Marehill's macabre mysteries.

In the third story in Volume II of the Sam Hain - Occult Detective series, the trio are plagued by a formidable and fearsome force as they begin to shine a light on the darkness which grips Marehill, and uncover its horrific history…

Preview

It was a light and balmy night.

The sun was setting over the grounds of Marehill Estate. It was home to Lord and Lady Upperton, whose wealth and class were matched only by the ostentatious grandeur of their manor house. An undeniable aura of unashamed affluence surrounded the estate, with its dignified and stately home and over a hundred acres of land, secreted away from the nearby townships in its own upper-class atmosphere. It always felt so remote and tranquil, far removed from the bustling industries of London several miles away.

Warm orange hues of a perfect summer’s evening bathed the gardens surrounding the estate. Elongated shadows stretched out from the immaculately trimmed hedge sculptures, and the pristinely arranged flower beds seemed to glow with a golden haze in the light of the sunset. A gentle breeze drifted lazily through the air, dawdling between the trees in the nearby forest and barely even rustling the leaves.

A calm and peaceful stillness hung over the estate on that summer’s eve. It was, in many ways, utterly idyllic.

Piercing through the peaceful evening’s air there came the sound of a shrill and agonised scream. It echoed around the extensive and elegant grounds of the estate, rippling over the pond and rustling the rhododendrons and hyacinths. Anyone who had been close enough to hear it would have known the cry had come from Marehill Manor; the place had developed somewhat of a reputation as of late.

‘That girl is an absolute, diabolical menace,’ said a frantic and pale looking woman – from whom the scream had just come – as she fled down the staircase into the foyer. She clutched a red scrap of cloth to her left hand feverishly, and was visibly trembling. ‘Utterly monstrous child.’

Lord and Lady Upperton had immediately emerged from the drawing room and hurried over to meet the woman at the foot of the stairs. ‘We know she can be a handful,’ Eleanore Upperton had spoken with a sickeningly sweet tone, ‘that’s why we requested your services, Emma. She needs a good tutor to set her straight.’

‘A tutor?’ Emma had practically screeched. ‘She does not need a tutor. She needs locking up in Bedlam!’

Emma had met with the Uppertons a week previously, after an enquiry about working as a personal tutor to their eight-year-old daughter, Leticia. She had been polite and courteous to the Lord and Lady, and kind and caring towards the girl when they had been introduced. On first impressions, the family had seemed quite normal, if most assured in their affluence. Lord Howard Upperton was charming and gentlemanly, as is befitting for a man of his stature; Lady Eleanore was prim and proper in her ways, a sweet woman who always seemed eager to please, but very much knew that she was the Lady of the Manor; and little Leticia, who was precocious beyond her tender years, yet shy and introverted upon first introductions. This shyness did not last long, as Emma had very quickly discovered.

One thing which had stood out in her mind after that first visit was the serving staff. Their faces were pale and haunted, with dark rings around their sunken eyes. They looked as if it had been a long while since they had last enjoyed a restful night’s sleep. The attendant who had served them tea during that first meeting had stood ill at ease in the corner of the room, once the whole family had gathered. It was a trend Emma had spotted amongst the others during her time there, too; the staff went about their duties as if in a malaise, and some appeared to be unusually on edge. Now, as she raced down the stairs, her knees weak and her palm stinging with pain, she believed she understood why.

‘No eight-year-old girl should be in possession of such sharp knives.’

‘Where did she get the knife from?’ Howard enquired, tilting his head as he stared enquiringly at the trembling tutor. ‘You should have taken it off of her.’ His tone was all too matter-of-fact for Emma’s liking.

‘I did try,’ she snapped back at him, and held her hand aloft for the Lord and Lady to see. She pulled away the red cloth she had been gripping so firmly, revealing a deep and vicious looking wound, freshly scored into the soft flesh of her palm. The cloth itself had not been red at all; it had, in fact, been a plain white strip of fabric, which was now dyed red from Emma’s attempts to stem the bleeding. ‘How do you think I got this? She slashed at me!’

‘Oh Heavens, look at you!’ Eleanore exclaimed, turning as white as a sheet when she glimpsed the blood dripping from Emma’s hand. ‘Come, let us get you cleaned up. One of the maids can see to treating your cut.’

‘No!’ Emma barked back, not breaking her stride as she marched towards the door. She pressed the fabric against the still-bleeding gash again, and wrapped it around her hand firmly. ‘I’m sorry, but I am not working with such a troubled child. She is beyond my abilities. That girl needs proper, professional care. Somewhere she can not be a threat to anyone, or even herself.’

‘I know Leticia can be... Challenging. But please, we’re at our-’ Eleanore began, but Emma did not stop to hear her out. The tutor hurried through the door, and slammed it shut behind her. ‘-wit’s end,’ Eleanore finished, and turned to look at her husband, worried. ‘What ever will we do about that girl?’

Howard shook his head silently and turned away from her. He rubbed at the back of his neck as he began to ponderously walk back towards the drawing room. ‘I don’t know,’ he muttered, ‘I really do not know.’

Upstairs, in the quiet of her bedroom, Leticia Upperton sat at her dressing table. She luxuriously stroked her silken hair with a brush, humming a soft and happy tune to herself. ‘I don’t understand,’ Leticia said, seemingly addressing her own reflection in the dressing table’s mirror, ‘mummy and daddy never let me play with any other children. They keep sending me annoying nannies, and they never want to play any of my games. It can get oh so lonely.’ She placed the hairbrush down on the table, alongside a long, sharp, and recently bloodied kitchen knife.

There was no one else in the room with her. Not anyone visible to the untrained eye, at least. Certain beings do not reveal themselves except to those they wish to, and only ever in the fashion they wish to be perceived. Leticia’s best friend was one such of these beings. As she gazed into the mirror, the shape of another little girl rose up to stand behind her. She appeared to be about eight or nine years old, and looked as sweet, innocent and unassuming as many believed Leticia to be upon first introductions. At least, she would have done, were her eyes not hollow and impenetrably black, and her fingers were not inhumanly long and clawed.

The thing which looked like a little girl reached its talon-like fingers around Leticia’s head, running its claws through her fine hair. ‘You don’t need to feel lonely,’ it hissed in her ear, ‘not when I am here. They don’t know how to have fun. Not like you and me.’

‘No,’ Leticia said mournfully, ‘they don’t, do they?’

She missed being with other children, running about the grounds of the estate and playing hide and seek. It was a lot of fun. But this was only when relatives came to visit, or her parents would host parties and events for their friends – all of whom behaved as if every action was upholding a certain standard of reputation – and they brought their children too. This did not often happen, however, and it was all too infrequent for Leticia’s liking. She spent most of her time alone, educated from home rather than a school, and was mostly in the company of her nanny or her private tutors. She found herself feeling lonely, with no friends to play with and her parents often too busy doing whatever it is grown-ups do. It was terribly unfair.

Until she met Amelia.

Amelia had come to visit her late one night, coming into her room through the wardrobe, and introduced herself as Leticia’s best friend. She was the only person Leticia had met who truly understood her, who knew what she was feeling, and knew how to cheer her up. They played excellent games together, too. Amelia was the best at hide and seek; she would hide beneath the bed, inside the wardrobe, or on the ceiling. She could hide inside the mirrors, and sometimes the walls, too. And she always had exciting new games to play with people who seemed to be scared of having fun.

‘Wasn’t it funny,’ continued the thing which looked like a little girl with very long, sharp fingers, which called itself Amelia, ‘how you made that lady scream.’ She took strands of Leticia’s hair between her claws, and began to weave it into braids with a movement not dissimilar to a spider weaving a web. ‘She screamed, and she screamed, and she screamed. All because of a knife and a little bit of blood. How silly!’

‘Yes,’ Leticia replied, a smile creeping up her lips and her eyes sparkling with humour, ‘it was very funny. She was so silly to be afraid of a little knife! Sometimes, when I get a scratch, mummy has a nanny dab it with some cold water so it doesn’t hurt any more. But I have never screamed over such a silly thing.’ She giggled, and Amelia giggled too.

‘No, you wouldn’t, would you, Lettie?’ she spoke softly, her voice caressing Leticia’s ear and drifting through her mind like a dream. ‘Because you’re different. You know how to have fun, like I do. And I have another fun game we can play together. A game that’ll really scare mummy and daddy...’