Authors: Amy Cross
Copyright 2016 Amy Cross
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events, entities and places are either products of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual people, businesses, entities or events is entirely coincidental.
Dark Season Books
First published: June 2016
Secrets don't die. They wait.
“We'll bury her so deep, even her ghost will have a mouth full of dirt!”
When Rebecca Wallace arrives at Auercliff to check on her aged aunt, she's in for a shock. Her aunt's mind is crumbling, and the old woman refuses to let Rebecca stay overnight. And just as she thinks she's starting to understand the truth, Rebecca makes a horrifying discovery in one of the house's many spare rooms.
A dead body. A woman. Old and rotten. And her aunt insists she has no idea where it came from.
The truth lies buried in the past. For generations, the occupants of Auercliff have been tormented by the repercussions of a horrific secret. And somehow everything seems to be centered upon the mausoleum in the house's ground, where every member of the family is entombed once they die.
Whose body was left to rot in one of the house's rooms? Why have successive generations of the family been plagued by a persistent scratching sound? And what really happened to Rebecca many years ago, when she found herself locked inside the Auercliff mausoleum?
The Body at Auercliff is a horror story about a family and a house, and about the refusal of the past to stay buried.
Rebecca – Today
Rebecca – 1997
Emily – 1989
Verity – 1957
Lady Catherine Switherington – 1851
Martin – 1957
Barbara – 1989
Rebecca – 1997
Rebecca – Today
Rebecca - Today
I always knew I'd come back to Auercliff one day. For many years, my last memory of the place was the afternoon when – sobbing and in shock – I was driven away by my parents. That was my overriding impression of the house.
I was twelve years old back then.
I was terrified and I was in pain.
I had to go to hospital.
And now finally, eighteen years later, I drive myself back through the gates, bringing my little yellow Beetle to a halt just short of the leaf-strewn driveway. I have to lean down closer to the dashboard, in order to look up and get a proper view of the huge house, and I can't help noticing right away that the place looks exactly the same as before. Somehow it stayed perfectly preserved in my mind, even if other memories faded over time.
“It's huge!” I remember myself shouting excitedly when I first saw the place, back when I was a kid. “It's like a mansion!”
How long ago was that? Almost twenty years? Well, maybe there's a little more ivy clinging to the walls, and the grounds appear to have been neglected, but beneath all of that...
Auercliff hasn't changed.
changed. No longer a gangly teenaged girl, I'm taller and a little fuller in the face as I step through the wide-open front door and into the house's gloomy hallway. I immediately spot my shadow, cast across the tiled floor. For the first time in my life, I'm shocked to see the shadow of a woman instead of a little girl.
I can't help feeling that we don't grow older at a consistent pace, second by second. Instead, we take little leaps every so often, when we suddenly realize that we're not who we thought we before. When I got out of the car a moment ago, I thought I was a young woman not long out of medical school. Now, in a flash, I feel like a middle-aged woman whose childhood was two decades ago.
God, that's a little depressing.
Then again, as I step over to the foot of the stairs and place my hand on the scratched handrail, I realize I remember each and every dent and mark in the wood. I move my hand across the surface a little, feeling the fingerprint of the house against my palm.
I remember this place. I remember more of it than I ever realized. Except... Now that I'm inside, I'm starting to see that Auercliff
changed a little. Everything seems slightly darker, and stiller, and the air is thinner.
All around, Auercliff has fallen completely still, as if the house itself is holding its breath. Looking up the stairs, I see clouds of dust drifting through the air, picked out by light from the landing window. There are visible clumps of dust on the picture frames, too. Aunt Emily would never have let the place get so dirty, not in her prime, but I guess she's in her mid-sixties now and she must find it hard to keep the place tidy.
I never thought Auercliff could feel so quiet and still.
“Aunt Emily?” I call out finally, immediately feeling dust on my tongue and lips.
I wipe my mouth on the back of my hand as I wait for a response, but the house remains quiet. I knocked several times before I came inside, of course, but there was no answer. Now I'm starting to wonder if anyone's home at all.
“Aunt Emily? Are you here?”
Making my way across the hallway, I lean through into the old study and see that Uncle Martin's desk has been left exactly where it always used to stand. I don't know why I even bothered to look for Emily in that room, since I know that she's barely ever gone in there, not since my uncle died. Martin passed when I was just a baby, so I never met him, but I've seen a couple of photos of myself with him and somehow his presence seems to have stayed in the house. Not as a ghost, obviously, but as a memory. Even for those of us who
“Hey, Uncle Martin,” I whisper, the way I used to as a child. Just to spook myself out, I guess.
Stepping back out into the hallway, I make my way past the old grandfather clock, which appears to have stopped ticking at 1:53 one morning or evening. Reaching the door that leads into the drawing room, I head through and see the same old floral-patterned sofas and armchairs that I remember from years ago, and then I see that the grand piano still stands over by the window. There's still no sign of Emily, so I wander around one of the sofas and walk over to the piano. Running a fingertip against the top, I collect a little cap of dust, which I quickly flick away as I head around the piano and see the discolored keys. With a faint smile, I reach down and pat the stool, and sure enough a cloud of dust puffs into the air. I sit anyway, and then I gently press one of the piano keys, just enough to hear an out-of-tune A# for a moment.
Immediately, there's a brief, faint creaking sound from directly above.
Looking up at the ceiling, I listen in case someone might be up there, but the house has once again fallen silent. Getting to my feet, I head back out of the reception room and through to the bottom of the stairs, where I stop and look up at the dust that still drifts so casually through the air.
“Aunt Emily?” I call out. “Are you in? It's your niece, Rebecca Wallace!”
Then again, Auercliff is such a big house, she could be at the far end and there's no way she'd hear me.
Figuring that she's most likely out, maybe tangled somewhere in the vast garden or perhaps even at the village shop, I start making my way up the creaking stairs, passing the old oil paintings that show all those hunting scenes my mother used to detest. The air is so thick with dust, I actually wave my hand in front of my face and then cover my nose, not wanting to breathe in too much of the fluff and old skin particles that hang all around, but by the time I get to the top of the stairs I can't help wondering whether there has been some kind of huge mistake. After all, the house seems utterly uncared-for, almost deserted, and I'm starting to think that perhaps – without telling a soul – Aunt Emily has run off to start a new life in the Caribbean.
And left the front door wide open.
“Aunt Emily?” I ask cautiously when I get to the top of the stairs.
To be honest, by now I'm not really expecting an answer. By now, I'm a little worried.
Stepping over to the window, I peer out and see the western wing of the house. To say that Auercliff is a large place would be an understatement. There are something like twenty bedrooms, each with an en-suite bathroom, and the rest of the house is filled with various studies, offices, libraries, drawing rooms and storage spaces. There was some talk, long ago, of turning Auercliff into a hotel, and it's certainly the right size. Emily and Martin refused, however, to even consider the possibility. I still remember how my mother used to drone on and on, complaining that my aunt and uncle pottered about in such a large house all by themselves, with no children to care for. My mother seemed to believe that simply by dint of having started a family, she was somehow owed the chance to swap homes with her sister.
Then again, that's my mother all over. Arrogant and -
Stopping, I hear a bumping sound from along the corridor. The sound continues for a few seconds, as if someone is rearranging themselves.
“Who's there?” a voice calls out suddenly, sounding flustered.
I smile, immediately recognizing her. To be honest, I'm just relieved to have found her at all.
Heading along the corridor, I already know exactly where I'll find her. She and Martin always slept in the largest room in the house, at the far end behind a large oak door, and as I get closer I can hear the squeak of old bed springs. Stopping at the door, I knock gently, figuring that I've most likely woken her from an afternoon nap. Suddenly I feel as if I might have intruded.
“Aunt Emily? Are you -”
“I have a telephone!” her haughty, annoyed voice shouts back at me. “Whoever you are, you'd better get out of here or I'll call the police! I've told you before!”
“It's me,” I reply, reaching for the handle but not turning it, not yet. “Aunt Emily, it's Rebecca.”
“Whoever you are, you can bally well sod off!”
“It's Rebecca, Aunt Emily. Rebecca Wallace, your niece.”
“Go on, get out of here! I have a gun, you know!”
Turning the handle, I begin to ease the door open, only to stop as soon as I see the unlikely sight of my aged aunt sitting upright on the bed with what appears to be a walking stick aimed directly at my face.
“Aunt Emily?” I say loudly, realizing that she seems to be a little deaf. Stepping through into the room, I hold up a hand and wave at her. “It's me, it's Rebecca Wallace, your niece. I used to come here as a little girl, remember? I'm Barbara and Daniel's daughter.”
Although she looks so much older than I remember, and there's a trace of whiteness in her eyes, I can't help smiling as I recognize that same kind face that I remember from my childhood.
“Who?” she asks with a scowl.
“Rebecca Jones,” I explain, stepping over to the foot of the bed and noticing a distinctly fusty smell in the air. Looking at her bare legs, which are poking out from under the white sheets, I can't help spotting thick bandages in certain spots, as if she's been injured at some point. “Your niece,” I continue, watching as her trembling hands keep the walking stick more-or-less aimed at me. “Barbara and Daniel are my parents. You're my aunt. I'm the one who got locked in the mausoleum once. Don't you remember me?”
She stares at me for a moment longer, her mouth quivering slightly, before slowly she lowers the stick.
“It's been a long time,” I remind her, still seeing a hint of doubt and fear in her eyes. “I hope this isn't a bad time.”
“It's you,” she whispers, as if she's in shock. “It's really you.”