Tales of the country, A perfect house.
Tales of the country, are a selection of stories inspired by true events that happened somewhere in the deep French countryside. They do not always convey a moral but often represent the absurdity and chaos that is life lived as a human being.
When I was 23, I lived in an old two bedroom house in a small medieval town called Thouars, in the Poitou Charentes county, in France. The house stood near the old town gate along the ramparts on a narrow street busy with old houses of the same era. I lived there with my best friend Tom for a year. We found the house to be perfect to share and we easily settled in.
The house had the shape of a H, the kitchen was in the middle facing South and opened to a medium size garden with a tree, several bushes and grass. On one side, was the living room facing West with my bedroom above. On the other side, was the bathroom also facing South with my friend’s bedroom above.
It was a rather quirky house, it had three tired steps to get down the living room from the kitchen, weathered black and brown checkers tiles on the ground floors, deep and shallow alcoves in each walls. In every room, the ceiling was supported by large matured wooden beams which gave the whole house its ancient look. The L shape staircases to each bedroom were narrow, steep and creaked at each steps.
The house even had a small cellar which was given over to mould and dust. A dark and dirty stone L shape staircase fell sharply from the kitchen to the cellar. It turned to the left half way down and led to a small shabby wooden door.
A weak light bulb hang at the top of the stairs which made it nearly impossible for the light to reach the bottom of the stairs. Once past the turn, the light dimmed and once at the small shabby door, it was dark. Thankfully there was a switch to a bright light in the cellar which revealed a compact room surrounded by four walls made of bare chalky stones covered in cobwebs, two small rusty shelves, a ground made of earth, concrete and gravel, a ceiling so low one could not stand up straight under it.
And thankfully also, a door to the dark staircase could be shut from the kitchen. I regularly made sure that door was shut, I found this part of the house impractical and dangerous, I did not want to go down there nor did I find any purpose for it. My friend and housemate Tom, however, used the cellar to store his tools and sport equipment.
As a whole, the house was perfect for us. We never had to endure each other’s loud music, guests or even phone conversations as our bedrooms were far apart and we did not share a wall. It was the perfect set up for a house share. We’d meet daily in the middle, that was in the kitchen or in the garden for meals or cups of tea and cigarettes and had our privacy whenever we wanted thanks to the shape of the house.
My bedroom was very big, the first time I stood at the door I could not help but notice the two large single glaze windows with its blue exterior shutters, the two huge wooden beams across the ceiling and the two walk in closets in each corner of the far wall, with their white louvered doors, the kind of doors you can see through from the inside but not from the outside. The vinyl flooring was worn out and the floor uneven. I remember having to raise the feet of my bed after the first night so I could sleep straight flat. If I dropped a pen or a round object I could be sure to find it under the windows where the slope ended its course.
The closets were big but very mouldy, I did not leave much in there. Moreover there was something creepy about these closets, they were always so cold and damp no matter the temperature of the room and no matter the season. I could feel a dramatic difference between the inside and the outside just by stepping half way through the doors. They were far enough from my bed so the mould did not affect me and I could obviously close the doors though one door was temperamental and would pop half open for no apparent reason.
I have to say, I had several nights when I could not sleep wondering why I had this strange and unusual feeling about these closets. These questions hovered over my mind like shadows, was my feeling a warning that there was indeed some influence, neither sane or fathomable? Or was my imagination a little too wild? Eventually, I would try to ignore this end of the bedroom and would fall asleep my back turned from it. Silly? perhaps! After a while I was convinced there was something strange about that part of the room so I avoided it. Denial? perhaps!
During our house share my friend and I led an ordinary life. During the week, I drove to a school in the countryside where I supervised pupils and their studies. I rarely saw Tom in the morning because he had to go to work a lot earlier than I did. He worked at a food packaging factory. It was a fairly brainless job but a job that paid the rent. I would see him most evenings and share dinner with him or have a cup of tea and cigarettes in the garden. Sometimes, we would watch something on TV and have a laugh at stupid programs.
At weekends, I used to see other friends and so did he. At times, we would all hang out together at ours and have parties or barbecues.
I was 23, Tom was a year younger. I was tall but he was a lot taller, he was also a well built handsome man with a slight tendency for smugness. He had a great sense of humour and overall was a positive and uplifting person. I was the most pessimistic of us two, I had a cynical sense of humour and often used sarcasm as a substitute for confidence. I wore dyed jet black hair, had a weakness for goth clothes and melancholic music.
The town we lived in was one of those unfortunate towns that slowly and inevitably die away with time. It was not particularly pretty except for its few medieval buildings, churches and a castle. The river banks offered some basic activities for the rare tourists, campers and families. Bars and cafes closed one after the other due to the lack of profit, only to be replaced by other cafes or shops that would receive the same treatment soon after opening. It was an economically dying town, with its culture long dead and its youth deserting it at the first opportunity. But my friend and I lived in this town. It was cheap and familiar although at times depressing and isolating. Thouars was either a graveyard for ambition or a stepping stone at the beginning of a long journey.
After a few months sharing our house, it became clear that I was not the only one feeling uneasy with some parts of the house. While Tom did not have a closet problem- neither did he have a closet in his room- he certainly had a problem with the cellar.
One afternoon, Tom and I were both at home. I was in my bedroom when I suddenly heard him heavily stomping down the steps to the living room beneath me and shouting:
“ Mel! Mel! Meeeeeel!!”
Alarmed, I came out of my bedroom, rushed down the stairs and saw him rather agitated.
Out of breath, Tom exclaimed: “ The crucifix! The crucifix! It fell on my back!!”
-”What crucifix?”, I asked, confused.
-”Downstairs! In the cellar!, he replied.
I was not aware there was a crucifix in the cellar, so I asked him to slow down and explain from the beginning what had just happened. Tom explained that he went to the cellar to look for some of his tools, as he was crouching and rummaging through the tool box, the crucifix fell on his back. This had left him choked and stiff before fear sent him running up the stairs.
-”Where was that crucifix before it fell?” I asked, thinking he must have knocked it without realising. My friend is very tall, this room tiny and the ceiling very low. He said the crucifix was on the left as you enter the room, hooked high against the wall, the top almost touching the ceiling. I had never noticed it, perhaps I was too focused on leaning forward enough as to not bump my head against the ceiling. Besides I only went down the cellar a couple of times.
His eyes were wide open when he said:
-” I know what you’re thinking…you’re thinking I must have leaned my back against it without being aware of it and somehow unhooked the crucifix so it fell on my back.”
-” Well…yes.”, I replied, slightly mocking him.
-” I did not”, Tom said, his face filled with conviction,” I was never anywhere near the damn thing! I went in, switch the light on, crouched to look into the tool box on the bottom shelf. I was always a good meter away from each wall”.
I had to admit it was strange. Still in disbelief that anything else than my friend could have unhooked and dropped the crucifix, I suggested we both go into the cellar. As I walked in -actually leaned in- I noticed the crucifix resting on one of the shelf where my friend had left it after it fell on his back. He showed me exactly where the crucifix was hung, and yes, clearly enough there was a hook at the top of the wall by the door. Then Tom crouched exactly in the same spot as earlier. Indeed, there was at least a meter between him and each wall, the tool box still open at his feet. If an object had fallen from the wall, it would have fallen straight down against the wall. The way the crucifix fell on my friend’s back seemed to mean that it had jumped a meter from its hook to go land on his back. We doubted it could have silently bounced on the floor and ended on Tom’s back, but we held it back up near its hook, dropped it on purpose as to see if it would bounce in any direction. It didn’t, the ground was mostly earth by that wall and it fell flat shattering a couple of wood chips on the cross. Truthfully, it was odd and unsettling. I could now see why this had frozen my friend like a winter. I then raised the question:
-” Why is there a crucifix in here? Out of all the rooms in the house, why here?”.
We obviously had no idea. At our grandparents, we were accustomed to see crucifixes in bedroom or living rooms but not in cellars. Oppressed with the feeling that something was wrong, Tom picked the tools he needed in one hand, and held the crucifix in the other. He looked at the walls around us and said out loud:
-”We come in peace, we do not want you any harm, you are safe, we’re leaving now.”
I felt a bit embarrassed about those words but played along. He put the crucifix back on its hook, closed the shabby door behind us after switching the light off and we climbed back upstairs happy and relieved to see the natural light of the sun shining through the kitchen glass doors.
We sat in the garden with a welcome tea and cigarette and my friend said:
-”I don’t know about you but — recent events excluded- I never felt at ease in the cellar. There is something about this room that does not feel right.”
I could not disagree, and confessed that I had never liked the cellar either although I never searched for a reason. We agreed to stay away from the cellar unless we really needed something in there, in which case we would try not to go alone.
Now, I have to mention that none of us were particularly superstitious, we were always in favour of a rational explanation before even considering a supernatural one. It is often too easy to jump to conclusions when we do not understand what is happening.
We thought of every explanation we could think of. The hook was rusty, it could no longer support the weight of the crucifix, but that could not explain why the hook was still in place on the wall. Moreover the crucifix was intact except for a couple of wood chips missing after our experiment.
Since we were at it with sharing oddities about the house, I told Tom about my feelings about the closets in my bedroom. Now it was my friend’s turn to smile at me.
I went to get another tea in the kitchen and when I sat back in front of him at the garden table I found Tom to be deep in thoughts. I looked at him, he apologised for his silence and as if he was about to reveal a secret, he leaned towards me across the table. He said in a quiet voice:
-”I’m sorry I just realised I completely forgot to tell you what happened the other night…I didn’t make anything of it on the moment but now I’m thinking it might be relevant to the story you just told me…”
-”Ok…go on…” I replied, intrigued.
-” One Friday night…I think it was two weeks ago, I didnt go out as I was too knackered, I watched a film in my bedroom. But you went out, or at least I thought you did. It must have been around 10.30 when I went to get myself a beer from the kitchen. I could hear talking and giggling coming from your bedroom, the rest of the house was quiet so I heard it quite distinctively. I remember thinking you were back and being disappointed you didn’t come say hello as you usually do. But then it sounded like you had company so understandably I left it and went back to my room. Then, approximately an hour later I heard the front door and you shouting to me that you were back…”
-” And you answered “I know”!”, I interrupted.
-” Exactly, remember?” Tom asked.
-” I simply thought you heard me just then…wow! Shit. I never came back around 10.30, nor did I come back with anyone at any point. I remember this because it was Olivier’s birthday and we were at the bar the whole time. I don’t know who you heard but it was not me. Are you sure it did not come from outside?”, I nervously asked.
-”I doubt it. I never hear anything coming from the street, besides we have double glazing in the living room. I am certain it was coming from your room, I even stepped into the living room for a few seconds just to make sure”, Tom replied.
I did not know what to say but was really concerned, it sounded all so hard to fathom. I had not noticed anything out of the ordinary when I got back home that night.
We looked at each other in silence, it seemed something odd and unpleasant had happened to both of us in the house. And at that moment, something in the air, a little cold chill touched us both.
In the end, with cheer devotion to optimism, we laughed at ourselves and at one another and were comfortable again.
A few weeks later, my friend’s mother came to the house for dinner. We had a lovely time. I loved it when she came to visit us, she was a lively, funny and spiritual woman. Time spent in her company was always exciting. Her name was Franckie, she had raised her son on her own after divorcing Tom’s father when he was still a young child. She was a hospital nurse, trained in psychology and alternative holistic therapies. As I mentioned, she was a spiritual woman mainly believing in the new age movement. She was dedicated to her personal development as well as healing and always keen on helping people in trouble. She was in her early 50’s, tall, well built with a good sense of fashion and a love for the colour purple. She’d mostly wear white and purple clothes and always dyed her hair burgundy.
That night she shared dinner with us, we had a lovely time catching up. Among other things, we told her about our experiences in the house and she offered to go to my room and to the cellar in order to see if she, too, could feel something out of the ordinary.
After dinner, she went up to my bedroom. She noticed the mould in the closets but did not feel anything spine-chilling like I did. Afterwards she went to the cellar, this time she took sage with her to burn and cleanse any negativity from the room, so she explained. We went together, the three of us and after a couple of minutes left Franckie to do her cleansing ritual on her own. She came back up shortly after that looking unimpressed and announced she could not feel anything unusual about the cellar either. But she did tell us something very interesting and perhaps relevant to our search for ghosts.
She explained that such houses like ours inside the ramparts of our town nearly all had cellars similar to the one we had. These rooms were not cellars in the first place. In medieval times, the town was fortified by the ramparts. In case of a fire or an attack, people living within the ramparts could evacuate or flee the town and their homes through a maze of underground tunnels which led outside the ramparts, into the countryside. This was not uncommon for old medieval towns, even though the ramparts were now partly destroyed, the tunnels remained. Post World War 2, they were converted into individual cellars, which was awarded to the owner of the house above. My friend and I found this information to be fascinating. We soon started to speculate about what could have happened in those ancient tunnels for the last hundred years. After all, who knew what these walls had seen before and after the tunnels were converted.
Several months later I moved to England to start a new life. I missed that house very much and I missed my friend even more. Tom stayed there another few weeks before moving on to another city. Neither of us has ever found such a unique house as our perfect house since. However, Franckie took over the tenancy and moved in. This was great news for me and I looked forward to visiting her in the house I had loved so much.
Now I feel I need to explain why this place had been so meaningful for us. My friend and I lived in different towns for a long time prior to this year long house share. We were best friends since high school but chose different paths and for years we hardly saw each other. On top of that, we had an argument during those years and due to our mutual stubbornness, did not speak to each other for ten months. I had lived in the south of France and on the west coast before finally coming back to my high school town, near my family and in search for work.
Tom lived in Ireland, then went to university in a big city in the West of France where a traumatising break up forced him to move back to his high school town too, closer to his mother’s.
I had been renting a tiny bedsit by the castle along the river for a few months when Tom arrived in town and contacted me. We rekindled very quickly, as if no time had passed. I wanted to move and he was desperately looking for a place to live, so we naturally decided to share a place together.
We soon found our perfect house.
My friend was having a rough time with depression and anxiety since the break up which carried on over the first months of our house share. He was trying to recover from his broken heart.
As for me I had spent the past five years living independently from my parents and their old ways, I had seen beautiful places, met amazing people and being back near my parent’s home felt like a huge step backward, a total regression that depressed me greatly. For months I feared this was as good as it would get for me.
The house was important for us because it gave us both shelter to figure ourselves out, to support and inspire one another. We made the house ours, me by decorating it the best I could, my friend by making and building things around the house. We allowed ourselves to settle without thinking of the months ahead. And so with time, we healed and eventually moved on.
To this day, this was the best house share I have ever had. It was a perfect house, a perfect timing, a perfect friend, even though we were both going through difficulties. Our perfect house with its little quirks, its dubious history and all its wooden beams.
One evening, nearly a year after I moved to England, I went back to our house, where Franckie was now living. Autumn was near but the nights were still warm. It was a still evening under the crescent moon. I can still feel the warmth of that evening as if it were present. I can still feel the dew that descended with sunset.
As I entered the house I could not help but notice how different it looked, simply because of the way Franckie had decorated it and laid her furniture. She had a lot more than we had and a lot more clutter too. In the garden, she had hung a tarpaulin over the garden table, the tree had died and she had painted its trunk and branches in rainbow colours. Other than that, the house itself was the same.
Franckie had offered to let me stay the night in the bedroom that used to be mine. I gladly accepted.
We sat down at the garden table and lit a candle. We had a lovely meal, drank tea and smoked cigarettes while talking for hours about our lives and remaking the whole wide world.
Once above the skyline, the moon had seemed to climb quickly and as it stood high it gave out a chill that blended with the faintness of our candlelight.
As the hour grew late, I checked if it was still alright for me stay in my old room and Franckie happily confirmed it was.
At this, she took the opportunity to tell me she had recently let a friend stay in that bedroom for a night. She explained to me that her friend was a medium and regularly encountered beings or entities that no longer live on the same plane as ours. In other words: ghosts. I knew where this was going. I started feeling uncomfortable but I let her carry on.
Franckie’s friend Nicole, was a tall and thin woman of 48 years-old, she had short black hair. I only briefly met her once and I remember her to be fairly shy, quiet and good-natured. I had heard Franckie talk of the struggles Nicole had with her unwanted gift, how difficult it was for her to accept her visions, let alone what to make of them. This “gift”made it impossible to live a normal life, it tired her greatly and for a long time convinced her there was something seriously wrong with her mental health. She had met Franckie at some spiritual retreat where she had hoped to find answers along with her sanity. At the very least she found a friend.
After several years, she became more accepting of her special abilities as well as accustomed to them though she persistently felt tired, isolated and abnormal.
That recent night at Franckie’s, Nicole went to bed in my old room. In the middle of the night, she woke up to a rattling noise in a corner of the room. She opened her sleepy eyes, adjusted to the dim light of the room as she turned in the direction of the noise. There, by the closet, was a little girl standing in an old lace gown. She was not older than six years-old with long wavy dark hair and looking straight at Nicole, her face expressionless, her eyes reflecting absence and emptiness. And suddenly in the blink of an eye, the little girl disappeared. So was Nicole’s description.
Franckie had just told me all this in such a casual way I could not help but be utterly gobsmacked, while trying to keep my composure, while shouting in my head:”what the hell woman!?! why are you telling me this now!?!”
I can not exactly remember how our conversation ended, but I remember her telling me that it was probably nothing, Nicole’s vision did not mean I was going to see the same thing nor that there actually was a little girl haunting the room.With this rather unreassuring conclusion, I reluctantly went up the stairs to my old room, opened the door, crossed the threshold and stood in the room.
It looked very different. There was a couple of single beds laying length wise, head to foot, against the wall opposite the windows and a little lamp on the floor by the beds. The rest of the room was filled with unopened cardboard boxes, it was now a place for storage, evidently.
I felt uneasy after hearing Franckie’s story, I tried to reassure myself but it was past one in the morning and I was very tired. I switched the lamp on, put my pyjamas on and lied down on the furthest bed away from the closets. I read a little but I was too anxious to focus on the book.
I decided to try and sleep and switched the lamp off. The night was absolutely silent, rays of amber street lights crept through the cracked shutters. I felt the night stretching before me but when I looked up at the ceiling I saw thousands of little bright dots!
I suddenly recalled that my friend Tom had spent some time in this room. He had left his bedroom to his mother when she moved in and temporarily slept in mine just before moving out. He liked making cheerful things like these glow in the dark pieces all over the ceiling. It made me smile with joy and reassured me. Without knowing it, he had managed to give this potentially haunted room its warmth back, as well as my sanity. It still took me a long time to fall asleep and I decided to leave the little lamp on all night. During the little sleep I managed to get that night, I never heard or saw anything, except of course for the ghosts hidden in the depth of my mind. I was immensely relieved to hear birds singing at the first signs of dawn approaching the horizon.
I never went back to our old house at number 14 rue Tyndo after that. Franckie moved out before I had the chance to travel back and visit her. I would love to though, not for the house’s paranormal activity but for the memories, before these become ghosts too.