Some years ago, while visiting relatives who live in an old hall in the north of England, I had a strange and weird experience. The house, Darkwater Hall by name, built in 1600, was long and rambling, with one room opening into another, and with secret cupboards let into the panels of the walls. A lovely old world garden surrounded the house, and beyond the garden was a moat.
I had always heard from childhood that the hall was reputed to be haunted, but which was the haunted room, and what form the ghost took I had never been told; and when I received an invitation to stay a few days in this fascinating old place I accepted with pleasure.
The bedroom allotted to me was on the first floor, a large, low-ceilinged room, and the most noteworthy piece of furniture it contained was a huge four poster bed.
The first two nights of my stay passed without incident, and the thought that I might be in the haunted room never entered my mind. The third night I retired about 11 o’clock, and soon fell asleep. How long I slept I do not know, but the sound of the extinguisher on the china candlestick (which was standing on a small table at the right side of my bed) being lifted and dropped again, awakened me.
I listened for a moment, and then suddenly I felt that something was being pressed over my mouth, and that I was being suffocated. I could not move or cry out, and felt that I was losing consciousness.
After what seemed hours to me, but could not have been many moments, the terrible feeling passed, and I lay very still, waiting for the dawn.
No sooner had my mind resumed a restful state, that I noticed something thin and eel-like slithering against the wall nearest my bed-side. Turning quickly, I beheld the most hideous figure of a woman that ever claimed the sex. While her brow hung in heavy folds, the skin of her face was drawn back tightly over the cheek bones, her ferocious eyes and prongs of teeth making her altogether like a wild beast.
But in all the horror of that moment I did not lose my presence of mind. I pulled the bed covers aside and sprang towards the door; but it was too late — the key within fell to the floor, and now the detestable thing stood before me, from which I recoiled, the cry in my throat strangled by sheer horror. Was it human at all, that dreadful creature, in grotesque likeness of a woman, with long arms, and hands like yellow claws, and wild, unkempt grey hair, and ragged garments hanging on its bony frame? It mouthed and gibbered like a monkey to such a point that its head almost rocked clean from its shoulders; and its eyes gleamed with the ferocity of madness; and it chuckled hoarsely to see its victim. It felt like forever that I stood petrified; the creature — my tormentor — meant murder; and what was my strength against that of those long, wiry arms and lithe fingers. Then, for a moment it grinned and rejoiced in its triumph — the next it would spring. But in that frightful pause there were heavy steps outside the door; the creature heard it, and uttered a loud yell of terror. It seemed for a moment to be almost paralysed, but it was only for a moment; she — it — evidently possessed, shrank back to the grey chasm from which it had entered this world.
Not caring to risk a repetition the following night I returned home.
A week or two later I met a woman who had been born and had lived in the old hall until her marriage. When I told her I had been visiting there she was very pleased and interested. She asked me if I knew that the house contained a haunted room. I told her I had heard so and described the room in which I slept and related my uncanny experience. My feelings can be imagined when she told me I had occupied the haunted room and that she and several other members of her family had had a similar experience when sleeping in that particular room. The story goes that a century previously a woman had been murdered in this room through being smothered with pillows while lying on the right side of the bed. It was further revealed that the woman knew her murderer and had some foreknowledge of her demise; and with the ghastly deed impending she had besought her sisters, when she was dead, to cut her head from her body and to preserve it within the walls of the mansion, there to let it remain for all time.
‘Never,’ she begged, ‘let it be taken from here; and make this, my final wish, known to any who may come into ownership; and know that if my desire be not fulfilled, my spirit shall render the house uninhabitable for human beings’.
It is said that in the years following the terrible event, the skull had been removed more than once by members of the family who made light of what they considered to be a stupid belief, but there was never any luck about the house until it was returned. It so happens that the current resting place of the skull — a family vault in the local church — is at some considerable distance from the house.