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Esthers house, p.3
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       Esther's House, p.3

           Michael Carter
 
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  ~ III ~

  Esther and Florrie weren't really my aunts, although they felt very much to be so. In truth they were fairly distant cousins to my mother, and, blood-wise, to me and my father they were virtually nothing. My family, however, were the only friends that the two had. There were other cousins, just as distantly related as us, but they lived in other towns and never made contact, preferring to forget the remnants of that old, eerie Wharton family.

  So it was that they latched on to us, and we saw them twice a week, every week, and on Christmas Day. And as I grew up, from six to seven to eight to nine, this trend continued, all the time the couple scaling new heights of longevity and becoming less mobile each winter.

  The years passed, still filled with ambiguous reports of preternatural goings-on in their hothouse bungalow; tales of how the large mirror had announced things that weren't physically there, of how Shep had become severely agitated and barked ferociously at walls, and of how money had gone missing from locked containers, fetid water had manifested on the kitchen tiles--a solitary muddy footprint included--and more wounds spontaneously appeared on Esther's body. All of this, too, was sandwiched between near-hysterical retellings of the strangely-shaped creatures, the Knockers, in the trees outside, and at night, in the roof.

  By the autumn of 1987 Esther's stories -- which Florrie had now begun to verify -- began to affect the slumber of not only myself, but my mother too. With this unendurable factor as inspiration, my ever-sceptical father and my sister, then sixteen years old, proffered that they would venture into the knock-producing loft and remain there throughout the night. At first Esther and Florrie protested, saying that it wasn't safe to go up there, but eventually, after realizing they had little choice in the matter, they agreed and worriedly retired to bed as usual.

  Entering the loft proved to be the only obstacle of the night; the hatchway which led into the roof cavity hadn't been opened in many years and it sustained some heavy blows before it creaked and gave up its defence strategy. And then, even before the "ghost-hunters" could enter, the loft hatch had to be left open a while for some clean air to ventilate.

  My dad later recalled that they entered the loft at half past nine at night, armed only with several candles, a novel from school for my sister and some gardening magazines for himself. The only other item they had brought with them--my sister's possession and idea--was a Polaroid camera."Just in case" she said.

  Beforehand they had agreed that they would not speak, and this was so, as they stretched their aural senses to the limit listening for any kind of unnatural sound. They stayed there all night, and just as dawn was breaking, they climbed down, satisfied, and waited until the occupants of the house awoke, when they reported that despite the all-night vigil, both Esther and Florrie still heard the hideous knocking in the dark, although my father was perfectly certain that he had witnessed nothing.

  My father's menu of events, however, did not completely match up with that of my sister. She, with younger, keener ears than any other party involved, had heard something, and it was a sound which she could also hear during the day when the house was reduced to silence. She identified it as nothing more sinister than the large and rather old mechanical wall-clock in the passage-way leading to the kitchen. Satisfied, it was this loud and regular ticking, she said, that the two septuagenarians could hear. She later offered explanations of every other event, too, mainly blaming the offensive heat in the house and its tendency to inspire hallucinations and unusual behaviour. It was a rational set of hypotheses, with only one major weakness; if Esther and Florrie could both clearly hear the clock ticking, and interpreted this as the mischievous work of The Knockers, then why could my father not distinguish the same sound, being as he was in excess of thirty years younger than those two? This query is a slight one, but worth noting, especially in the light of what Florrie later gesticulated; that she could hear both The Knockers and the clock. The mystery deepened and, unknown to all, it would very soon reach a crescendo.

 
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