Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “The Middle Room” by Ken Dunn

This is a tale worth reading after midnight…

It’s just an ordinary room in the middle of an old house, my grandparent’s house. I walked through the place today. It was empty, lifeless, my shoes creating echoes as I walked, trying to remember myself as a child and my memories of the old place almost sixty years ago. The story of the middle room is more than strange. I remember Dad telling me about it and then, after that… if only I could just forget.

I sold the house three days ago to a property developer. The house and the half an acre of land it sits on will soon be an up-market nest of maisonettes. The bulldozers arrive soon. The sooner the better. I had this silly notion of coming back once more, just to say goodbye. There have been some good times here. Sitting at the top of the stairs I’ve been drifting back…

I was eight years old and we had arrived to Gran and Grandad’s house. We did this every Sunday afternoon. Dad knocked on the door. Seconds later it opened and there was Gran, all cuddly, wide-eyed and open armed at our arrival. She ushered us in, saw to our coats and sat us all down in the front room, the best room. The fire crackled away giving a warm, glowing focus. Gran bustled off but returned almost immediately with a laden trolley. Teatime had arrived.

Grandpa joined us a few minutes later and he and Dad struck up a conversation about something. Gran and Mum did the same thing leaving me to talk to the tea trolley. I managed to cram in half a dozen scones before Mum gave me a clip across the back of the head.

After tea I wandered off, as usual, to explore. At that age I found everything large, fascinating, almost magical. The house was old. It was probably mediaeval to begin with but had been messed about with over many decades so that the actual original structure was difficult to define. From the front room, along a wide gloomy corridor, wood panelled walls and tiled floor sat a large gong. One of those big brass things, a proper ‘J. Arthur Rank’ job, complete with gong stick. That was so tempting.

Further on sat a piece of furniture which was a cross between a chest of drawers, a dressing table and a sideboard which filled a large recess in the wall. To me, a curious eight year old, the contents of this were wonderful. It contained a collections of  fossils, postcards, foreign coins, old photograph albums and many other treasures. Each discovery held me spellbound as I sifted through them. I would spend ages checking through all the drawers until abruptly brought back to reality by a call from one of my parents.

Beyond this, and opposite the bottom of the staircase, there was a single door. I hadn’t really taken any notice of it before, it had always been locked, but now it was standing slightly open. I pushed it back slowly and walked in. There were no windows in this room, which was odd, and I can still remember the vague, musty smell it had. It was unlike any other part of the house. It was dark and quite spooky and extremely cold. This was the middle room. On reflection I suppose it was just a quirk of the unplanned development of the house over many years.

In the awful shadows of the place I could just make out an old, ornamental, cast iron range on the far wall. A few pieces of furniture huddled against the dark walls but a sudden cold waft of air on my cheek made me stiffen with fright. I didn’t stay there. Scared witless I ran out slamming the door behind me. I never went back in there for a long, long time.

The years rolled on by and first Grandpa died and then Gran a few years later. They left the place to Mum, their only child, but she didn’t want to sell it. Not yet. She and Dad slapped some paint around and then rented it off. I went off to college and didn’t really see much of them for three years. Then I arrived back home a fully qualified teacher, much to Mum and Dad’s great delight. I applied to a number of schools but without a great deal of success. I stooged around for a few weeks and waited hopefully for the first interview. It must have been in the second week of being back home when Dad asked me to go and have a look at the old house. The last tenant had moved on and the place needed checking over.

I rolled up there and turned the key in the lock. As I opened the door I could have sworn I heard a low sigh from the corridor. I stood there, listening. Nothing. Shrugging it off I closed the door behind me and began the inspection. There wasn’t much to do. It was just a matter of making sure that the previous tenants hadn’t nicked anything and seeing that there were plenty of logs around the back of the house for the fireplaces. Central heating was not one of the attributes of the place.

I was about to leave when I noticed that the door to the middle room was standing open. I was quite sure it hadn’t been when I’d arrived and I’d walked past the thing twice on my rounds of the house. That same feeling of doom I had felt as a child flowed over me as I walked inside. I couldn’t get out of it fast enough, pulling the door shut as I left, just as I’d done as a kid all those years before.

Later, I had a quiet word with Dad about the middle room. I didn’t want to upset Mum about it. He looked at me for a long time and then sat me down to listen. After Gran had died and the house had passed to Mum they didn’t really know what to do with it. Mum didn’t want to sell it so that’s why they decided to rent it out. That much I knew already so I pressed him further. Of the seven tenants who had rented the house no less than four of them had died there. Every one of these deaths had involved the middle room. The other three had experienced other strange events which they were reluctant to talk about. They simply left in a hurry.

The first tragedy happened in the late afternoon of a cold September day. A Mr and Mrs Thomas had been there for only a couple of days and were a bit fed up with not having central heating so Mrs Thomas decided to light a fire in the range in the middle room. The theory she had was that a fire in there might just warm the place up more efficiently. All the other main rooms had fireplaces but once out in the corridor the temperature tended to drop dramatically.

So she brought some logs from the back of the house, managed to get some kindling going and then sat there for a few minutes until the fire was going strong. The odd thing was, and this was confirmed by her husband later, the temperature didn’t rise at all. It stayed an icy cold. Her husband heard her bustling about bringing in another bundle of logs for the fire. After a while he wondered where she was so he walked down the corridor and found the door to the middle room standing open. Looking in he found his wife lying on the floor in front of the range, logs scattered around her.

The inquest brought a verdict of accidental death. She had somehow tripped with the logs and hit her head on the front of the range.

The second death involved a young lad. He had found the door to the room standing open, wandered in and began fiddling around with the range. He’d never seen one as ornate and he was all over it inspecting it thoroughly. His parents found him two hours later. His head was stuck in the flue at the back. He’d suffocated. A similar verdict was given, accidental death.

Number three was an elderly gentleman, living with his ageing sister. She found him, dead, in the middle room. His death was diagnosed as a heart attack. Again the door to the middle room stood open.

My parents were distraught by the three deaths and closed the place up for six months. Then the following year they were forced to let it again. Finances were getting a bit thin. A family of five moved in and then out again quickly. The wife is still in an institution, quite mad. Her husband had found her in the room, at three in the morning, screaming.

The next to arrive was a young batchelor. He lasted the longest. After six months my parents were much more relaxed about the place, setting the awful events of the past against coincidence or just plain bad luck. There was no other rational explanation. Then Dad, for some reason, called in to see his young tenant and found the front door open. Not wide open but just ajar. He called and called but couldn’t raise the chap at all. He entered and saw that the middle room door standing wide open. With more than just trepidation he walked over to it and looked in. There was no one to be found. The young man hadn’t just left, he’d disappeared. All his personal belongings were still there. Clothes, books and a small typewriter. Even his toiletries were still in the bathroom, undisturbed. They never saw him again. He’d simply vanished. Mum and Dad waited for a few weeks and then sent his belongings to his parents, who the police had managed to trace, but he never returned.

Another young couple then took the place over but their two kids, a boy and a girl, both under ten years old, began to have nightmares. It was always the same one. They were trapped in the middle room with something terrifying. The doctor was brought in to see them who then referred them for psychiatric treatment. It didn’t help them. Within days the family left. After that the kids were fine again.

By this time my parents were beside themselves with worry. What the hell was going on in the house? It just didn’t make any sense. But Dad persuaded Mum to let the place again, although she was absolutely against it to begin with. A short while later a middle-aged couple with a 25 year old daughter moved in. Everything seemed to be going well for a couple of months but then, one late Sunday afternoon, the daughter found her father and mother in the middle room, each in a chair on either side of the range. They’d lit a fire but now they were quite dead. The coroner laid the blame on the range. Fumes had overcome them. He missed the point that the door to the middle room was standing open when the daughter found them.

After this Dad felt completely helpless. He didn’t know what to do for the best. The one thing he did do was to visit the house with his tool bag. In less than an hour he had drilled through the doorframe of the middle room and screwed the door tight shut. With twenty screws running around the whole thing there was nothing, on earth that is, that could open that door again.

The house stayed empty for over a year. The following summer they rented it out again but this time for short holiday periods. Quite a few folk used it but only staying for a couple of weeks at a time. Any questions which were asked about the middle room were easily dealt with. Dad had covered the screw holes and repainted the frame so as far as anyone else was concerned the room was locked and being used to store family possessions and furniture.

I listened to all of that trying not to take it too seriously. I assured him with all the commonsense things anyone could find to say that all of it must have been a tragic set of coincidental circumstances but no more than that.

Things settled down and I found a job about thirty miles away in a large comprehensive. That kept me busy and most of my spare time was spent in preparing lessons. I’d found a flat, convenient to the school, and saw my parents only twice over the following few months. After the end of the holiday season the following year Mum and Dad went up to the house to tidy it up. Later that same day I had a phone call from the police. The officer told me he had some bad news. Dad had been found dead. They would appreciate bit if I could come immediately. My mother was fine but would be needing help. Can you imagine my state of mind? What the hell had happened?

When I arrived Mum was just sitting there, a complete blank. The police were still there and one of the neighbours arrived and said she’d see to Mum. I was grateful for that. A sergeant told me what he’d been able to glean from Mum although that had been difficult for her.

When Mum and Dad had arrived to check the house over Dad had found the door to the middle room standing wide open. It was as if he’d never screwed the thing shut at all. They walked into the room and were immediately caught in a cloying, freezing atmosphere. Dad staggered, clutching his throat and Mum fell to her knees as if being born down by an enormous weight. She managed to crawl out and stop a passer-by. When she came back in with help Dad was lying on the floor of the middle room, his face blue, his eyes staring blankly. Mum now sat in the front room, immobile, silent. She died three days later. It took me months to get over all that. I don’t think I ever will completely.

So, there I was. Sitting at the top of the stairs with a few tears in my eyes. It’s difficult to believe all the tales about the house. Coincidence? So many things had happened here. Is it really evil? Well… I don’t know what to believe anymore. It is an ancient mediaeval building. I still wonder what use it was put to in the past. Yet for all those doubts Gran, Grandpa and Mum had lived there for years without anything peculiar happening to any of them. But then was my experience as a small boy too much imagination?

It was only during the period when the place was being rented that things really changed for the worse. Did the house resent that? Is that possible? Had the middle room, forever dark, been some sort of focus for the supernatural in the past? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know the truth. All I do know is that the whole place would be gone in a few weeks. A pile of rubble. I knew I wouldn’t miss it, not with all the memories still crowding my head.

It was beginning to get quite dark and I thought I should make a move. The bottom of the stairs and the corridor were fading into the shadows as I looked down but there seemed to be something different at the bottom of the stairs. Had the gong or that old storage unit been moved? No. I leaned forward to see what… It was the door to the middle room. It was wide open.

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