This is the first time I have written a haunted house novel – I can’t believe it has taken me so long, considering it’s one of my favourite genres.
‘Nyctophobia’ concerns a young architectural student named Callie who marries an older man with a daughter and moves to a beautiful, isolated house in Spain. Callie suffers from a fear of the dark, and the house has been built so that its rooms are always sunlit. The only parts that remain in darkness are the old servants’ quarters, and they are kept permanently locked by the housekeeper.
At first life is idyllic, until Callie comes to suspect that there is someone living in the darkened part of the house – but of course she’s too frightened to ever go in there. What she doesn’t realise is that perhaps something in the dark may want to come out…
Now read on.
The second Thursday in October was Bobbie’s ninth birthday. ‘What would you like to do?’ I asked her as we sat together in the reading room one afternoon, sorting through old magazines.
Her face lit up. ‘Could we have a party?’
The sun was a little lower in the sky now, but it was still warm. Only the shadows had started to chill down, so I thought we could have it outside. ‘That’s a great idea,’ I told her. ‘Who do you want to invite?’ Bobbie had made friends in Gaucia, and although they had asked her over, they had never come here.
‘I can make a list and we can paint cards to send them.’
‘Okay, let’s get started right now.’ We found boxes of coloured pencils, glue, glitter and cotton reels, and made cards the old-fashioned way instead of typing them in online.
‘Why don’t we ever open up the other rooms?’ she asked as she sketched out her design.
‘Because it’s always dark in there, and there’s no electricity,’ I explained. ‘And the wines are very valuable and can’t be disturbed, so we can’t have you playing in there, in case all the sediment gets shaken up. Sediment is –’
‘Dust in the bottles. I know. Don’t you get fed up with sunshine?’
‘No, because I don’t like the dark.’
‘Why not? It’s dark when you go to bed.’
‘Yes, but when Daddy’s not here I sleep with a nightlight on. And Rosita keeps all the clocks wound up, so she always knows when to turn on all the lights.’
‘I don’t mind the dark. The room behind your bedroom is one of the dark ones, isn’t it?’
‘There’s a tiny room there, yes.’
‘I know because I can hear it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I can hear water dripping. Rosita says there’s standing water in the servants’ bathroom, and that means leeches. She says I can’t go in there.’
I laughed. ‘I’m sure she didn’t say there were leeches.’
‘Yes, she did. They suck your blood.’
‘I really don’t think she meant that.’
‘Yes she did,’ Bobbie insisted. ‘We need envelopes and stamps.’ With the subject of blood-sucking leeches smartly written off, it was clearly no longer on her roster of interesting topics.
‘I’ll go and see if Rosita has any.’ I headed off to the kitchen, where the housekeeper stored the stationery supplies. I was going to tell her off for filling Bobbie’s head with images of ghoulish creatures living in stagnant pools, but she wasn’t there.
I stood in the kitchen, listening. It seemed to me in that instant that the birds had all stopped singing. When I returned, Bobbie was still sitting on the floor of the drawing room gluing tinsel onto cards. Her sheet of silver stars glittered in the afternoon sunlight. A faint draught blew from under the door that connected to the matching room on the other side.
‘I can’t do this.’ Bobbie was trying to thread some pink sparkly cotton through a piece of cardboard cut into a star.
‘Here, let me.’ I held out my hand and she gave me the thin spindle of cotton.
‘Can I get some lemonade?’
‘Of course.’ I watched her go, and began threading the card.
I didn’t want Bobbie running in the hall – the floor had just been polished and was slippery – and turned to admonish her when the spindle slipped between my fingers and bounced onto the wooden floor. Before I could grab it, it rolled away, unspooling. A door slammed. Bobbie was still in the hall, heading for the kitchen. I looked up in time to see the spool disappearing under the gap beneath the connecting door, leaving behind the strand of cotton.
Rising from my chair, I picked up the end of the thread and absently pulled it back toward me, but it started coming undone because a moment later I had several feet of thread in my hand, so I kept pulling.
Quite suddenly, the thread stopped and tightened. Dropping to my knees, I tried to see under the door, but there was only blackness. I pulled again.
Something pulled back. I rose with a start.
Wrapping the thread around my fingers I pulled hard, but whatever was on the other end pulled harder still. The stinging thread sliced into my fingers, but I could not let go. I hung on, but finally it snapped and I fell back, watching as the crimson cotton snaked under the door and disappeared from sight.