I had lost my phone charger cable. Always. Always when I’m in a rush to go somewhere. First world problems, eh? Rick and I had arranged to spend a few days around Halloween at a farmhouse in South Wales and the owners of the property ? a lovely couple about our age – were coming to stay in our house. A house swap, if you wish, like one of those awful TV programmes but without the prying cameras. Can’t tell you how much cleaning our rooms saw that they’ve never seen before! But first I had to find my charger cable. In the meantime, I checked and double checked my packing against the list we’d made, adjusted one or two items and then sat down for a coffee.
When we decided to do this swap I had researched the area and the house itself. Set a mile from Carmarthen (for shopping), it had four bedrooms and a beautifully decorated living space. One and a half acres of land surrounded it which backed onto woods, perfect for taking the dogs for walks, and it was about five miles from the coast. The main building was at least two hundred years old and looked part of the hillside. Just what we needed for a getaway from the rigours of city life. We had contacted the owners through an ad in the Saga magazine and were amazed that we got on really well from the start. It didn’t take long to make the arrangements; they wanted the end of October so that they could spend time with their grandchildren, who lived not far from our house, over half term and we didn’t have any restrictions. We settled on October 29th to November 2nd.
So, here we were, packed ? charger cable duly found – and ready to go on a new adventure the following day.
The drive took just over five hours. We could have spent less time on the road but we split the journey part way to stretch our legs and have a coffee. We arrived around lunchtime, having left quite early in the morning, and found the key in the little key safe attached to the shed in the back garden. We had installed a key safe as well, just for this occasion, as it seemed like such a good idea. Once we had managed to get into the house we were pleasantly surprised. The place was quite as beautiful as the pictures they had sent us had suggested and, as well as the heating being on and wood ready by the hearth in case we wanted to start a fire, we had been left a loaf of homemade bread and some Welsh cakes. Luckily, we had thought to do something similar and breathed a sigh of relief.
After unpacking the food we had brought into the kitchen and putting the suitcases in the bedroom, we took the dogs out for a walk. Labradors love the wide open spaces and our two were no exception. Choco and Honey (not much imagination there, right?) dashed around the garden sniffing all the new things and coming back to tell us about them. The air was so fresh it assaulted the nostrils and made us wonder why on earth anyone would leave this place to go to the town. They must love their grandchildren very much.
By now we were very hungry. We hadn’t eaten since 7.30 that morning and the early start, as well as the fresh air, had finally caught up with us. We went inside, fed and watered the girls and then had lunch, naturally including Welsh cakes and fresh bread.
The afternoon went surprisingly quickly ? spending more time in the garden and sitting indoors and reading – and we decided to have dinner and then get an early night, so that we could go into Carmarthen the next day and window shop for a couple of hours. We didn’t actually have any intentions of buying anything but we also know how these trips usually went! Besides, we didn’t like leaving the girls for too long at a time.
After dinner, we sat back down in the lounge to allow our food to settle before going to bed. Without warning, the lights flickered, dimmed and went out. Only a security light in the hall gave us some light to move around by. Typical, we thought, Sunday night and not even a clue where to find an electrician. Rick suggested calling the other couple and asking if they knew of any problems with the lighting circuit in the house and/or the name of a trustworthy tradesman. I found the paperwork in my bag and he called their mobile. It rang for some time and then went to voicemail, so he left a message. As a backup plan, we rang our own number at the house, but that went to the answering machine. There didn’t seem any point in leaving a message on that ? what were the chances they would even think to listen to someone else’s messages? We found some candles in the kitchen, by the light of the torch app on my phone, lit them with some matches we found in a drawer and used their light to get upstairs, where it became apparent that this was a house-wide problem. No point in trying to fix anything in the dark, we thought, so we just had an earlier night than we had planned.
The next morning we slid out of bed and faced the prospect of trying to sort out the electrics instead of going on the trip into town. Without thinking, Rick flicked the light switch in the bedroom and the room was lit up instantly. Pleasantly surprised, he tried the hall and the bathroom, which also both worked. After going round the whole house and finding all was now well, we thanked the gods of electricity then showered, dressed and had breakfast. We needed to take the girls for a walk before leaving them, so we donned our outdoor clothes and called to them from the back door. They didn’t appear. We called again but still nothing. Going back through the house, we found them both sitting in the hallway at the foot of the stairs, shaking. We looked around to see what could be having this effect on them but there was nothing. We put their leads on and tried to walk them to the back door but, as soon as we went near the door to the cupboard under the stairs, they pulled back and stood their ground. I took them both and went the other way through the front door instead, which they were happy to do, whilst Rick opened the cupboard door and examined the interior. It was just an ordinary understair cupboard, he reported, shrugging his shoulders.
The walk did the girls good and, on returning to the house, they showed no further signs of their fear. We had a coffee before setting out to Carmarthen.
The road into the town was quite easy and, in less than fifteen minutes, we had parked in the centre car park. The shops were interesting but nothing caught our eye in the windows and we decided to turn for the cottage before having lunch, rather than eat out. We were going to have another look at what tourist attractions there were and try again the following day.
As we pulled up to the house, we saw someone standing in the porch at the front door. A man dressed in typical country gent clothes, if a bit old-fashioned: tweed suit, flat hat and with a pipe in his mouth. He turned as we closed the car doors and took a step towards us. We greeted each other civilly and he wanted to know if we had experienced any problems with the electricity the previous night. He said he was a local landowner and wanted to check up on us. We breathed a sigh of relief and assumed he had suffered the same problems, meaning that it wasn’t a fault in the house wiring. After making sure that we didn’t need anything, he waved cheerily and walked away.
Dinner was a simple affair, consisting mostly of food we had brought back from town. Later, the girls were in the lounge, fast asleep on their cushion beds, indicating that their fright of earlier had passed and they were back to normal. We each picked a book from the well-stocked shelves either side of the fireplace – Rick chose an autobiography of a local WW2 aviator and I found an anthology of local stories – and dropped into the two armchairs; very much ‘curl-up-in’ pieces of furniture. Rick managed a few pages and started to drop off. The fresh air was getting to him and he slowly drifted away, letting the book lower gently onto his lap. I was on page fourteen and was glad I had picked this one when I heard what sounded like a rustling from the kitchen. I sat perfectly still and willed Rick to stop snoring just for a moment. The rustling continued and I was worried there was a rat in the house. There were barns not that far away, as the rat runs, and one could easily have found its way in when the door was left open earlier in the day.
I managed to attract Rick’s attention and pointed towards the noise. He listened and heard it as well. We both put down our books on the coffee table between our chairs, silently rose and began to walk towards the kitchen. The noise stopped. We stopped as well. It started again and we moved closer. It stopped again. Every time we moved, whatever was making the sound stopped and it only moved again when we were still. So, I thought, and intelligent rat. The worst kind. We finally rounded the corner of the hallway and stared into the kitchen. It wasn’t a huge room so it should have been easy enough to see if there was an animal in there. There appeared not to be and the noises had completely stopped. We both breathed again and stood up from the crouched position we had been in. We looked at each other for a moment and then laughed. If anyone had seen us they would have thought we were out of our minds.
Then something caught my eye. High on the wall above the sink there was a long piece of wood with a carved feature at one end. It was the length of the wall and hung on two, U-shaped hooks. It looked very old but, at the same time, was in remarkably good condition. Rick admitted that he hadn’t seen it either when we took our first look round on arrival but agreed it was a fine piece. Still having found nothing that could explain the sound we had heard, we turned to return to our seats and our books.
That was when we heard the whispering.
Just to the side and out of sight. If we turned it was still just to the side and out of sight. At first, indistinct but, as it continued repeating, more understandable and more urgent.
“As the sun goes, so come I.”
We waited. Would there be more?
No. We were not to be allowed another chance to hear it. Was it a woman, a man … something else?
Suddenly, the air was clear and all trace of anything unusual had passed. Unsettled by our experience, we chose to go to bed, rather than wait for something else to happen.
The following day was the 31st. We wondered how our swap couple would cope with the knocking on the door and children roaming the streets. Perhaps they would take their grandchildren out and give their parents a year off. Out in the back of beyond, we didn’t expect any Trick or Treaters. Just to be sure, we would turn off all unnecessary lights and be as quiet as possible. The girls would happy with a quiet evening. But first we would do some walking, some shopping and some eating, just like a break should be.
After breakfast, and going out the back door into the garden, we took the girls for a walk to the edge of the property and out into the woods behind. They seemed very lively, but that might have been because they’d spent more time than usual indoors. Once in the woods, we followed a well-trodden path, hoping that it would prevent us from getting lost. After about ten minutes, we realised we couldn’t see the edges of the woods. It hadn’t seemed like it was that thick and yet we were completely surrounded by trees. Choco was walking close to my leg and Honey was firmly attached to Rick. We became acutely aware of the silence. Without a word, we turned and retraced our steps, thankful to see the cottage as we walked out into the open.
The girls had some water and a few treats, and we sat down to a coffee and some of the delicious cake we had bought in town yesterday. The plan now was to have our refreshment and then go shopping. We didn’t need to buy any more food but we had said that we would bring our neighbours back something typically Welsh. I went into the hall to change my shoes and stopped short. I called Rick. We stared into the corner by the kitchen door. The stick was standing leaning against the wall. The stick that, last night, had been hanging over the sink. We looked at each other and – for reasons we still don’t understand – chose to ignore this strange incident. The girls seemed unperturbed so we settled them and went to the car.
Every now and then, you find yourself wondering. Why did we do this? Why didn’t we do that? On the short drive into Carmarthen, I had time to think. When we saw the ad in the magazine, I was immediately drawn to it. I looked up the house and surrounding area on the Internet and fell for them both. When I showed Rick – normally Mr Let-me-think-about-it-and-do-two-weeks-of-my-own-research – he agreed straight away. Before we knew what was going on, we’d contacted the couple and made the arrangements. Now, a mere month later, we were in the middle of nowhere, in a house that seemed to have a life of its own, and spooked by a moving stick. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for the whispering the night before, I might not have been so fidgety, but I was less than happy about the night to come, given the words spoken by our unseen housemate:
“As the sun goes, so come I.”
Rick was the practical, down-to-earth one, the sceptic, so I chose to keep my thoughts to myself.
We were lucky. There was a gorgeous, little shop in the main shopping street in Carmarthen which sold genuine Welsh artifacts and we found a beautiful, traditional apron for Diane next door. Her husband, Glen, who had long ago given up smoking, still had an impressive collection of period and modern pipes and we spotted a Meerschaum of a design that we knew he didn’t have. Some more browsing produced a new pair of pot holders and some tea towels for ourselves. Having already had lunch and congratulating ourselves on a much more successful trip, we turned for home mid-afternoon, hoping to have time to make a proper dinner without having to rush. Welsh lamb, roast potatoes and local vegetables – a feast!
We pulled up to the drive at around four and were surprised to see the man from the other day waiting on the porch again. He turned to face us as we closed the car doors and doffed his cap, smiling. He enquired after our health and hoped we were enjoying our stay. Feeling a little uncharitable about the last time we had seen him, we invited him in for a coffee but he replied that he couldn’t, wished us a good night, turned and walked away. We watched him for a moment and opened the front door, leaving our shopping on the hall floor as we entered.
Choco came bounding up to us, greeting us as she always does and I indicated that it was Rick’s turn to take them out the back, whilst I started dinner. We looked round but couldn’t see Honey. We called her. No response. We asked Choco where she was – I know, but they’re devoted – and she ran to the kitchen. She was wrong. Honey wasn’t there. Nor was she in the lounge, any of the bedrooms or out in the utility area. Rick checked the doors and windows. He had unlocked the front door as we came in and everything else was still shut tight. One thing we did notice, however; the stick – first on the kitchen wall and then in the corner of the hall, was now standing beside the fire. This time I couldn’t ignore the strangeness. I drew Rick’s attention to it and said I was now, officially, twitchy. Attempting to pacify me, he offered me a gin and tonic to calm me down, whilst he went outside to see if Honey had, by some chance, managed to get out. He came back, ten minutes later, carrying a very frightened dog. He laid her down in front of the fire and Choco went straight to snuggle with her.
Apparently, she had been lying in a defunct vegetable patch, staring into the distance. She had recognised Rick when he approached her but needed coaxing to move from the spot. In the end, he had picked her up – no mean feat with a full grown Labrador – and heaved her back to the house. Seeing that the two dogs were happy curled up by the warmth, we ignored the stick and went to prepare dinner.
As I was cutting potatoes, I looked out of the window and those words came back to me:
“As the sun goes, so come I.”
The sun had just about finished setting. A small shudder went through me and I glanced behind me to see if Rick was still there. He was. Dinner was surprisingly uneventful. The lamb was delicious and the fresh vegetables crisp and full of flavour. Rick started talking about how he really must work on that vegetable patch he’d started for us and I just gave him an old-fashioned look. Good intentions with a grasshopper mind but I still loved him.
Having decided we’d spend some time after dinner reading our books, given that we wouldn’t have long to finish them, we settled in to soak up a few pages before taking the girls outside once more before bed. The surrounding area was rich with folklore and I was thoroughly enjoying my choice of reading material. I turned the page and stopped. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was an illustration of the very stick that had been working its way round the cottage; unmistakably the same. And it was being held. The person holding it was the image of the man we had found on our doorstep for two nights. I called to Rick and started to read:
‘In the winter of 1840, there was much snow on the ground – more than in the previous few years. Folk in the outlying farms and small communities had been advised to stay in the house unless they had to go from home for some important errand. Many of the hill farmers had already taken in their sheep for the winter but one or two left it to the last moment in order to save on feed. One such person was Charles Carson, an English landowner who had bought a sheep farm in Wales to spend time in the country. On October 31st of that year, he finally decided to take his dogs and round up the flock to bring them in. His wife begged him not to as she had heard from the postie that the weather was about to close in and all had been advised to stay indoors. The farmer couldn’t leave his sheep to die, so he kissed his wife and went out into the snow.
Hours later and he had not returned. His wife became frantic, more so when the sheepdogs arrived at the back door and scraped to be let in. She couldn’t go out herself as it was now dark and the snowstorm had hit. All night she sat in a chair by the fire, waiting for her husband to come home. He never did. The next day the constabulary sent men round to make sure that the community was safe and they came across Carson’s walking staff sticking up out of the snow. Of him, there was no sign. The staff was returned to Mrs Carson and she placed it over the sink in the kitchen, insisting that it should always be left there, even through sales of the house long into the future, which has been done. She died a sad woman, only two years after her husband disappeared.
Every year, on the same night, the farmer is believed to return to try to collect his walking staff so that he can go and join his wife, but there is no-one to let him in.’
We sat in silence. When the man on the porch had said he couldn’t come in, that was exactly what he meant. His wife wasn’t there and no-one else knew.
They knew. The swap couple knew. They had, presumably, experienced the strange happenings but had never read one of their own books. If they had, they could have changed their own lives and the afterlives of Charles Carson and his wife.
We put down our books and I picked up the stick, which was still by the fire. Walking to the door, we felt we were not on our own any more. Choco and Honey lifted their heads and their eyes followed us into the hall. Rick opened the front door. Mr Carson was standing on the porch, eyes sad. He doffed his cap and smiled weakly. I held out my hand offering him the walking staff he had sought for so long. The expression in his eyes changed and he held out his hand towards me. As he touched the stick, I felt a shiver run through my arm and I let go. Now Mr Carson’s smile was wider. A voice came from behind me in the house.
“There you are! I’ve waited so long, Charles. Can we go now?”
A breeze passed between Rick and me and suddenly there was a woman standing by Mr Carson.
“Yes, my love. I believe we can.”
He turned to us, doffed his cap one last time and walked into the night, his loving wife on his arm.
We stayed the other two days but it wasn’t the same. We tried to decide whether to tell our swap couple what had happened, that they could stay home on Halloween in the future, but came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t believe us anyway. So we relaxed some more, walked the dogs, ate good, country food and, when the time came, packed the car and drove home.