Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.
Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more
First up is Jane Lovering! Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition.
THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART ONE BY JANE LOVERING
‘Well, here it is. What do you think?’
James pulled the minibus into the deserted car park and waved a hand, indicating the blocky outline of the house, dark and deserted, outlined against the trees. The sun was going down, throwing the shadow of the building across the sheep-nibbled parkland, like the gnomon of an enormous sundial, telling them night was imminent.
‘Spooky.’ Martine gathered her coat around her. ‘I’m scared.’
‘You’re a wimp is what you are.’ Kate opened the back door of the van. ‘We’re a ghost hunting group. We’re here to hunt ghosts, and Maplewood Hall is supposed to be haunted. Why on earth did you join if you’re scared of old buildings miles from anywhere, at night?’
‘To be fair,’ Martine pressed her face to the minibus window, ‘I’m also scared of deer, owls and carp. It’s not just the buildings.’
James, Ollie and Patrick were unloading the equipment onto the grass-studded gravel. ‘You’ll be fine,’ Patrick said, sympathetically. ‘Deer only attack in the mating season, owls will leave you alone if you’re bigger than a mouse, and there won’t be any carp in the house.’ A glance over his shoulder at the hunched half-ruin. ‘I shouldn’t think. They’re a fish, aren’t they, carp?’
Kate lifted a box and jumped down. Slowly and hesitantly, Martine climbed out of the van and stood beside her. ‘They aren’t just a fish,’ she said, ‘they are absolutely enormous fish.’
‘Here, carry that.’ Ollie handed her a big box. ‘We need to get it all into the house before the light goes. There’s no electricity in there, no lights, so we want to get it all set up before we’re blundering around in the dark taking pictures of each other and bumping into the furniture. This is a ghost hunting expedition, not a Laurel and Hardy film.’
Slowly, burdened by wires, battery packs, bundles of equipment and, in one case, a fear of fish, the Littleton and District Paranormal Investigation Unit advanced on Maplewood Hall. They crouched in the remnants of manicured parkland and glorious gardens and looked at the house itself; windows boarded and shuttered against squatters and vandals and the roof partly covered in tarpaulin, which fluttered and flapped in an unfelt breeze.
Martine shivered again. She’d only come because Kate fancied James. She would have been perfectly happy to spend Halloween watching themed television and eating Skittles, but Kate was her best friend and there were some things you just did for your best friend. Although Martine wasn’t sure that riding shotgun on a trip to a known haunted house on the spookiest night of the year, with rain forecast and probable owls, didn’t go far beyond what was expected from friendship. Especially if it meant having to spend time with Kate’s brother, Patrick, too. He was the last person she wanted to see at the moment, but she wouldn’t think about that now.
Ollie and James went on ahead into the house, followed by Kate, who hesitated for a moment in the huge stone doorway. Martine knew that Kate wasn’t as unafraid as she was trying to make out. They’d been at school together, both equally scarred by memorable episodes of the X-Files, but Kate was determined that James was the man for her and would push through any tendencies to scream in the face of moving shadows for him to see her as a potential mate.
Patrick held the door open for Martine. ‘Look. No deer,’ he said, although the interior of the hallway was so dark that there could have been a herd of elk in there and nobody would be able to see them. ‘You will be fine.’
The last rays of the dying sun flickered down past the fluttering tarpaulin above them and illuminated a huge staircase rising out of the hall into a veil of dust-speckled darkness. Doors led off the passageway to left and right, and the corridor stretched beyond the base of the stairs, curving around into the depths of the house to be lost to sight. The tarpaulin flick-flacked distantly but all else was silent, apart from their footsteps, and Patrick, who’d got hiccups.
‘Ol, you go and check down that way,’ James said. ‘Pat, you do the stairs. Kate and I will find the kitchen, that’s supposed to be the main site of any disturbances.’ He gave Kate a sideways look. Martine suspected that James knew very well that Kate fancied him and was going to use this opportunity for a quick grope and a snog.
‘What about me?’ Martine asked uncertainly.
‘You stay there. Secure the doorway, we don’t want anyone to come wandering in and setting equipment off.’ He handed her a box. ‘That’s the gear. We’ll come back and get you once we’ve reccied the place.’
Off everyone trooped, their footsteps sounding more and more distant against the bare floorboards. Martine was alone. Behind her, outside the door, the sun sank and the night pressed against the house. Her eyes adjusted slowly, but there was nothing to see, only the rising vastness of the stairs in front, and the echoey emptiness of the hallway running off in either direction.
Martine grabbed at her coat again. It was cold. The hair at the back of her neck was prickling and she didn’t dare move in case she fell over something. And she was missing EastEnders. With a sigh she opened the box that James had given her and started to make herself useful, stretching fine tape across the doorway to prevent anything human coming into the house. She wasn’t sure how effective it would be, James hadn’t thought to leave her a torch and she was operating mostly by touch. When a soft sound slithered into her ears from the direction of the staircase, she dropped the tape and spun around.
There was no answer. But Martine could just make out a shape, a pale smudge in the dark, a faint ‘something’ against the wooden panelling. Something that drifted towards her in a silent haze of dust – she drew in her breath to scream, but her yell was stopped by a sudden, louder scream that came from the direction of the haunted kitchen …
A suitably spooky start from Jane Lovering that ended with a scream and a potential ghostly happening. Just what we all want from a Halloween Round Robin!
If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. Jane will have a new Christmas novella out in December – keep your eye on our social feeds for more information, coming soon!
To be in with a chance of winning a Jane Lovering paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):
Which three things is Martine scared of?
To enter, send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 1’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.