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The Workhouse

March 12, 2013

To mark the release on Kindle of Flowers On My Grave, as promised here is the first of the ghost stories that I can vouch for, because they involved me. Although this happened over twenty years ago, the evens are still fresh in my mind. I was working in the Harrogate branch of our company, which was located in an early Victorian building on the outskirts of the town. The three-storey building had at one time been used as a workhouse. There, the children who had been cast on the parish through poverty, neglect, abuse or the death of their parents were given rudimentary care.

The branch occupied the top floor, whilst our Regional Manager used one half of the middle storey. The other half plus the ground floor were both empty. I had been given the task of sorting out a large and difficult liquidation. As I also had my own work to do, the days were pretty busy. Thus I found myself having to work two evenings a week to catch up on the reams of paperwork.

It was autumn, and the clocks had already changed. Once the rest of the staff left, I set to work. It was about 7 p.m. when I first heard the noise. It started with a shuffling sound, as of someone walking slowly or with difficulty. I dismissed this as something generated by the old building, which had more than its share of creaks. However, the second noise I couldn’t ascribe to the building. It was the sound of children’s laughter. I was so focused on my work that although the sound registered, it was several minutes before I realized the significance.

I went to investigate, believing that the outer door had been left open and some of the local kids had sneaked in. The door was locked, however, and I realized that they could not have approached without me hearing them because the sound of footsteps on the gravel of the drive and car park surrounding the building would have alerted me. The building was too far from the road for the sound to have carried, and the properties on either side were too distant.

I went back to work, but an hour or so later, I heard the laughter again, this time accompanied by voices in conversation. They were the voices of children, but they were whispering so I was unable to make out what they said. This time, I switched on the exterior floodlights and went outside, but without success. There was no one about. I finished work at about 9.30 p.m., and switched all the lights off as I exited the building. I unlocked my car and as I placed my briefcase inside, I glanced back at the building.

I was surprised to see there was a light on in the middle floor – in the unoccupied part of the middle floor. It wasn’t the harsh white of a fluorescent tube, but a warmer, softer glow. The light cast upwards, as if from a table lamp, or a candle. I went back inside to double-check that I’d switched all the lights off; I had. It was then I decided to call my boss.

He told me that the architect who owned the building, and who had been using the other half of the middle storey had moved out six months earlier. ‘Leave it until morning. I’ve a spare set of keys. We’ll take a look then.’

Needless to say, I was first to arrive, and when we unlocked the offices on the middle floor, not only were there no light bulbs in that part of the building, but the fittings themselves had been removed. Several weeks later, I happened to meet the building’s owner and told him the story. ‘I’m not surprised,’ he replied, ‘I’ve known for years that building is haunted. I lived there for a while and I had to move out. Imagine what it’s like trying to get to sleep with all that going on – and the knowledge that you’re not alone.’

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