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If the title of this post didn't give it away, this is not my story, but one that I was told by my Grandfather when I was small that left a large impact on me.
My grandfather was in the Royal Engineers, and was serving somewhere in eastern France during WWII, him and a few others had been sent on a patrol and gotten lost in a particularly bad storm. Seeking shelter they tried backtracking to an estate they had passed earlier in the day. Eventually one of my Grandfather's squadmates saw light in the distance, only faint, but certainly light.
For about an hour they trudged through muddy fields to reach the source of the light and eventually came upon a wall, around 10-15 feet high, and walked around the perimeter until they got to a heavy iron gate, even taller than the wall, topped with spikes and chained tightly shut. Beyond the gate was a large garden with a winding path leading to the mansion itself. Even from the considerable distance between the gate and the house itself the soldiers could make out the shapes of people through the window, vaguely hear the sound of an upbeat piano.
They looked at one another and grinned, not only had they found shelter, but there was a welcome party for them!
With the ground soft from the rain the soldiers easily dug out a small gap underneath the gate and slid into the garden itself. My Grandfather was the second man in, and was able to take a moment to admire the grounds as his fellows followed suit, he described it to me as breathtaking, there were hedges sculpted into animals, a pond the size of a swimming pool, and a statue of something he didn't have the time to distinguish. Just as he'd squinted to make it out you see, the last of the squad had wriggled under the gate, and the mansion fell dark and silent. One of the soldiers muttered something about the party being over and laughed to himself, my Grandfather was wary though and couldn't bring himself to laugh. The sculpted bushes now looked warped and pained in the darkness, and the indistinguishable statue was lost to the gloom. nevertheless, he pushed on.
The men reached the door pretty quickly, cold and wet were good motivators. No matter how hard they knocked though, or how loud they shouted, there was no answer. Eventually one of the men went to the window that had been lit and peered in.
"It's empty John! Looks like it's been empty a while too." This made my grandfather uneasy, well, I imagine it made all the men uneasy, but him especially. He ordered the window broken, claiming that they were here to liberate the French, the least they could do was put them up for the night, the window would hopefully show them some manners. With that, the window was broken, and the men climbed into the house.
Inside was not what had been expected, rather than a well kept function room, they were greeted by, just as the man at the window had said, a room that had been empty for a long time. Paint rotted and peeled from the wall, the table was more worm than wood at that point, the carpet and sofa suite had faded from what would have once been an intense red, to a dull pinkish yellow. This of course, did not sit well with the men, one or two demanded they leave, try to find somewhere else. But my grandfather knew that going back out to that storm would be death or disease for them, the men were effectively trapped in the decaying house.
A small fire was built from the rotting furniture, and the men planned for the night ahead. They were to sleep in shifts, two hours on watch per man, and first sign of daylight they would leave the house and never look back, the most important rule, was that they were, under no circumstances, to leave that room. For the safety of those left asleep, and whoever was brave or stupid enough to wander the grounds.
It took my grandfather a while to drift away, the eerie surroundings had him on edge, so he lazily mumbled conversation to the watchman until he eventually slept. What felt like moments passed until he was shaken awake.
"You're up John, good luck." The previous watchman mumbled blearily to him as he climbed under a sheet. With that my grandfather was alone. He checked his watch to see when he'd be able to get back to sleep. "The sooner sleep came." He used to tell me, "the sooner I'd be out of that cursed place."
It was around half an hour into his shift that my grandfather began noticing strange things, as he was adding more table to the fire, he caught a distinct whiff of brandy mingled with something sweet, that was easy enough to ignore though, compared to how things progressed. He sat, humming a tune, and poking the fire, when he noticed that what he was humming was the song from the piano earlier that night. He stopped humming immediately, the quiet tinkle of the piano coming from upstairs however, continued.
Panic setting in he readied his pistol, training it at the door. "What must've only been five minutes passed. But it felt like an eternity Ry, I'll tell you that." I don't know why, but whenever he told me the story, that line chilled me to the bone.
That eternal five minutes finally did pass, my grandfather's trance was broken by the door cracking open, and a shaft of light, that was broken by a soft hand reaching through it, and beginning to beckon towards him.
"John, won't you join us in the party John?" said the voice of a girl, pretty sounding, but laced with an emotion he couldn't quite identify.
"And who are 'Us', miss? I only hear you outside this room" Replied my grandfather, and then he heard them, or perhaps they'd always been there, dozens of happy voices behind the door chattering to eachother.
"Don't be foolish John, just come join us. It'll be such fun." It was here that my grandfather was able to pinpoint that other emotion behind the sweetness.
He stood up, slowly edging towards the door. Making sure to kick each of his comrades awake as he did so.
"So miss, why did you not answer the door when we knocked earlier this evening?" By this point he was within yards of the beckoning hand, and could see that beyond the image of a soft woman's skin, was rot and darkness. With a glance to make sure his men were by the window, ready for escape, he shot as many rounds into the door as he dared before turning and running.
A scream sounded out as he made it to the window, without a moment of hesitation he jumped outside into the garden and broke into a sprint behind the others.
He always described this escape as "Like running through molasses, towards a finish line that keeps moving away." With the screaming terror behind him though he pushed on, and somehow, all of them were able to escape.
Dawn was breaking and they got their bearings. Nobody believed them when they told them what had happened that night. but on his way back out of France after the war was over, he passed by that familiar iron gate, and saw that the house had been burned to the foundation.