Sarah was like many other teenagers during the war. She still wanted to go out, to see films, to meet her friends. But the harsh realities of war had a way of taking over. Her parent’s house in Sliema was destroyed by a bomb and they were forced to rent a house in Pieta’, Malta.
It should not have been such a hardship. The house was, after all, huge. At the back of the building, a huge garden stretched out beneath the towering mass of St Luke’s Hospital. And yet, something was not quite right.
When Carmen, her mother, first climbed up to the door and walked into the house, she would have sworn that something was barring her way. Nothing tangible, just a ‘thickness’, a pressure, as though an air-filled bag was inflated in the doorway.
The house had plenty of space for Carmen and her husband, Sarah and her younger sister, Joanna, and her other married daughter with her baby. She set about decorating it. The house was soon filled with huge, dark paintings, and old, imposing furniture that they managed to find here and there. Carmen may have liked the style, but Sarah found it oppressive, spooky.
And it was not just because of the furniture. The house was often shrouded in smoke screens let off to protect the boats in the nearby Torpedo depot, giving the place an eerie atmosphere even in broad daylight.
And on the wall on the roof they could see where some stones had crumbled and fallen. It seemed that lightning had once hit that spot, killing a man in the process.
And were the neighbors’ stories true? Had someone committed suicide in the house?
Unlike Sarah, Carmen could not allow herself the luxury of allowing her imagination to run riot. They were lucky to have a roof over their heads. She was a pretty no-nonsense woman.
For some time, the family lived there and the only change in their lives was the asthmatic wheezing caused by the smoke.
Until some people moved in next door. The house had an even larger garden than Carmen’s and the family decided to start up a small weaving industry. Sarah and her sisters spent many hours sitting on their balcony that summer, draped over the railing, watching the men work in the garden next door. Sarah was quite a stunner and was quite aware of the admiring glances she was getting from the men below. But the harmless flirting came to an abrupt end when the men started cutting down a huge blackcurrant tree at the bottom of the garden.
The men had started to dig out the roots when their spades uncovered a gruesome sight. They carefully dug out the crumbling bones of a skeleton. Or at least most of a skeleton. Sarah and her sisters could hardly believe their eyes. Their hands flew up to stifle their screams. They watched in amazement as the men lifted out one long limb after another.
The men gathered around the bones and seemed to be discussing the find. They then casually tossed them into the pile of rubble which had accumulated against the adjoining wall and carried on digging.
“Ma, Ma!” the girls yelled as they ran indoors.
“They’ve dug up some skeletons … ” But Carmen would not have any of it. “Don’t be ridiculous. It was probably a dog or something.”
Sarah was about to insist but thought better of it.After all, she argued with herself, why on earth would a skeleton be buried under a tree … unless ….
Her mind was filled with images of murders and strange disappearances. It was only later that evening that Sarah realized that the men had only dug up the limbs and torso. No skull.
Sarah’s younger sister was studying for her school exams at that time and she used to help the neighbors’ sons with their homework. It wasn’t too difficult; they were only about 10 years-old and quite hard-working. So Joanna had no idea what their mother would want to talk to her about when, one day, she pulled her over to one side. “Have the kids said anything to you about a man?” Joanna stared at her blankly. “What do you mean?” she asked. It seemed that the boys kept complaining that there was a man wandering around at the bottom of their garden. The neighbor wanted to know whether Sarah and Joanna had ever seen anyone from the balcony.
Joanna mentioned it to her mother, but soon forgot all about it. Shame, really, as it was a warning of the things to come ….
One summer evening, the girls were all sltting around the dining-room table, a sultry breeze blowing in from the open door to the garden. Carmen was bustling around the kitchen. She was a creature of habit and had little rituals that she followed regularly. Every evening, she would send the girls up to bed and follow a little while later with a tray of hot drinks and biscuits. But tonight, it was not to be.
She suddenly went deathly-pale and stifled a scream. “Sarah, shut the antiporta,” she yelled and then, to the girls’ bewilderment, she turned and ran out of the room, up the stairs. They heard the door of her bedroom slam shut and the key turn in the lock. And then there was silence.
They had no idea what was wrong. They tried to work out what could have happened but the only thing that Sarah remembered was the sound of the light-switch flicking on and off. Not that that would have meant anything. It was one of the days when they did not have any electricity and the room was lit by a large oil-lamp. And she also heard the door-handle rattle slightly after her mother left the room, but it did not open and she thought it was just the way her mother had slammed it.
The girls waited for a while and then realized that their mother was not coming down again. They were surprised. What could have frightened her so much that she would run away and leave her children down there?
It was not till the next morning that they found out. Even then, she was reluctant: “You’ll go mad if I tell you.” Eventually Carmen, looking fearfully around as she spoke, told them that she had looked up to see a smart, elegant man walk into the room from the garden. He was tall, dressed in evening wear.
And instead of a face, a skull grinned lewdly at her.
The effect on Carmen was profound. Whenever the girls went out, she would refuse to stay in the house alone, and would wait by the antiporta. She refused to talk about it again, but often Sarah would catch a look of horror flitting across her face. The ghost was obviously still in the house.
What is more, it seemed to have attached itself to Sarah. For weeks, Sarah would suddenly feel a coolness behind her. The light-switch would click on and off as she walked into a room and the door-handle would rattle. They once heard the sound of heavy, rasping breathing coming from their bedroom. But she never saw anything, and the door never opened.
Her sister one day flew down ,the stairs. Till then, she had been pretty skeptical, but her face showed that something had changed her mind. “OK,” she gasped. “I believe you. There is something there.” She too refused to talk about what she had seen or heard.
The days passed, and their mother grew more and more fretful. In the end, the strain of the unwelcome visitor proved too much for her, and she had a heart attack and died.
The girls were beside themselves with grief. But the house loomed larger and more terrifying after that. They tried all sleeping together in one room, but in the end, fear got the better of them They decided to move in with Sarah’s brother in Mellieha for a few months. Eventually, they gave up the house and moved into a far smaller place that the authorities managed to find for them.
The family did not really want any reminders of the house, but they had spent a small fortune doing it up. Sarah’s married sister, Mariella, insisted on removing at least the bathroom fittmgs and some other bits ano pieces. She was to regret her decision.
They all went into the house together, hoping to find safety in numbers. Mariella’s little girl clutched her aunt Sarah’s hand, aware of the strange tension in the air. As they all walked down the stairs, the little girl was suddenly snatched from Sarah’s side and slammed against the wall opposite. No, she didn t fall. She was actually thrown horizontally across the stairs, banging her head, and falling unconscious to the ground. Even now, Sarah can remember with a shudder of horror the silence after she had fallen down onto the ground. Not even a cry. Mariella had scooped the little girl up into her arms and run out into the street with her, with Sarah and Joanna not far behind.
They never went into the house again.
The authorities immediately found three other families desperate for a roof over their heads. But even these families did not last long in the house. Sarah heard that one woman died soon after moving in.
Her aunt told her that another woman had seen someone, something, while she was in her bath, and had run out into the street, terrified out of her wits, completely naked. The neighbors abandoned their weaving industry and apparently left the island.
And the house still stands. Sarah is now in her 70s and whenever she passes the house, she wonders whether the family who now lives there have ever seen the man with no face.
And whether the workmen who dug up the skeleton from under the blackcurrant tree could have had any idea of the forces that they had unleashed ….
Categorised in: Paranormal
This post was written by Albert Saliba