Rattus Rattus


Mary Gooding turned in alarm as she heard the bloodcurdling sound from the garden. The twins were screaming and waving their arms as they ran from the shed across the lawn towards the kitchen door.

Gramps had opened the door of his shed and invited them in. As Emma and Ginny sat on wooden boxes their Grandfather closed the door and pulled the blinds over the window. It was very dark. The only visible light were pinpricks that could be seen peeping through tiny gaps in the larch-lap wooden boarding that the hut was constructed of. Gramps sat down in his chair.

‘It was a great big horrible building that I lived in as a boy,’ he began.

‘There were two sets of steps leading up to the giant front doors like a stately home. The doors banged shut after us like the clap of doom.’

They had been discussing their childhood memories over lunch during the school holidays; visiting Gramps was always one of the highlights, he always had some exciting tales to tell.

‘Let’s go to my shed while your Mum clears the dishes,’ he said.

Mary hadn’t heard, as she was in the kitchen, but knew when they disappeared that her Father would keep them amused.

‘Black! Black sooted stonewalls in the middle of a garden. Windows that were so grimy you couldn’t see out of them and adults that treated us like dirt.

‘We had to attend lessons; the teachers were very strict and would punish us for even the tiniest thing, floggings were an everyday experience for us there.

‘The dark winter nights were the worst.

‘During the summer it was light quite late so we had to work in the back garden where vegetables were grown, food that we would be fed later in the year. Sprouts were a favourite with the adults, not with we children, but the adults forced us to eat them anyway. The plus side was that by the time we were sent to bed we were so tired we quickly fell asleep.

‘The Winters, I hated the Winters. We were always sent to bed early, the lights were turned off and we were forbidden to speak after lights out. If you aren’t tired you can’t sleep so we would lay awake thinking about the night and the things that go on in the night. And things did go on in the night.

‘Usually it would be a very dark, windy and rainy night. You could hear the wind howling through the eves. Whooo.’ Gramps imitated the ghostly sound of the wind. ‘You could hear the rain and hail battering the windows.’ Again Gramps imitated the sound by drumming his fingers and imitating the wind at the same time. The trees outside would brush against the window frames.’ He drummed his fingers once more as he imitated the rain and howled like the wind while brushing some twigs the children couldn’t see across the floor.’ The shed was as silent as the grave.

‘Then,’ he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, ‘there would be the scratching.

His Grandchildren were spellbound as usual and huddled closer as his voice grew quieter. He gently drew his fingernails across the side of his chair.

‘They always came at night, scratching the floor,’ he simulated this. ‘It would start slowly at first then quicken as they scurried across the floor. We would pull the covers up to our chins fearful of what it was we could hear as the scurrying brought the scratching right under our beds.

‘Then!’ There was a loud snap; Gramps broke a twig he had hidden under his chair. The twins screamed and jumped up, ran out of the shed screaming and laughing, waving their arms. That was the moment Mary knew everything was all right.

They ran into the kitchen still screaming and laughing.

‘Gramps been telling his tall stories,’ she asked as they calmed down.

‘He says it’s true; he did live in that big old house,’ Ginny volunteered.

‘I’m sure it’s not but we’ll ask him, he’ll be coming in for his afternoon cuppa in a minute.’

‘It’s true story isn’t it Gramps? ‘ Emma questioned as soon as he opened the door.

‘Well, not all my stories are true but the one about the old house, that’s true, Blenheim Place was what it was called then I believe. I’ll take you tomorrow if it’s still there and your Mum will drive?’

They pulled up outside the imposing building. Bright clean stone, brilliant white windows and manicured lawns. There was a wide gravel drive leading to a large car park in front of the building. A double-sided staircase led to the heavy double front doors.

They stopped at the entrance fearful of trespassing on private property. ‘It’s nothing like the building in your story,’ Mary commented.

‘But it is, there’s the name on the gatepost, Blenheim Place. It’s been converted into flats, look, there’s a for sale sign, Apartment for sale, with the name of an Estate Agent.’

They walked up the drive feeling very self-conscious.

‘If anyone asks, we want to look at the apartment,’ Gramps said. ‘I’ll show you where we worked in the garden, come on it’s round the back.’

They circled the house but the garden was all grassed over though the orangery had been restored.

‘We were never allowed in. I think they grew exotic fruit in there but we never saw any.’

Arriving back at the front Ginny discovered a round blue plaque fixed to the staircase, they began to read.

Blenheim Place
Union Workhouse 1835-1930
Disused 1930-1939
Military Hospital
Converted to apartments 1975

Gramps stood looking at the plaque, Mary and the twins were stood in front of him, necks craned, engrossed in the reading of the buildings history.

A loud snap broke the silence behind them and all three suddenly screamed.

Gramps just laughed.

Barry L

© 2016 Yeadon Writers

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