I grew up in Bingara, a country town in north-west NSW that boasts an IGA, three pubs, and a population of 1428. My dad lives on a small farm a few kilometres out of town. We have about fifty sheep, a few dozen cattle, two alpacas, chooks, ducks, a parrot, and a pair of sheep dogs who are more useless than the Liberal government’s drought relief package. We also have a ghost.
You see, there are two houses on the property: the house that everyone lives in, and a structure we’ve dubbed ‘the cottage’. The cottage is relatively quaint. It has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge room, and a large veranda that juts out from the north-facing wall like a crooked tooth. It is completely empty, apart from a few old house plans we unearthed in a drawer and a rusted claw foot bathtub. The off-white walls are peeling; the power points don’t work; rats have taken up residence in the roof. To someone who doesn’t know about its history, it would appear to be nothing more than an ambitious, unfinished renovation project.
But the cottage was built on the same ground where a house burnt down a hundred years ago, with the family still inside.
As a kid, I liked to bring friends to the farm and introduce them to ‘real country life’. We’d shoot guns, build mud houses, and drive the tractor through yellow paddocks. One weekend, my friend Gaia was sleeping over, and we thought it would be fun to camp out in the cottage.
We rolled out our sleeping bags in the lounge room, or the empty space that should have been the lounge room, and lit a citronella candle. Shadows played upon the corners of the fireplace. Dust motes swarmed when we rolled over on the wooden floor. At one point, a fox screamed in the distance. I told her stories about the family that was reduced to ash at this very spot. She was sufficiently spooked. We zipped up our sleeping bags and slept, huddled, two black shapes in the middle of a black room.
But then, at 5am, we both awoke suddenly. Footsteps.
In my head, I knew it was just a frog hopping down the hallway, but I decided to scare Gaia by pretending it was a ghost. I flicked on a torch, crept to the edge of the hall, and paused—it was empty. Confused, but unperturbed, I yelled to my friend, “The youngest daughter died just here, hiding in the hall cupboard. They found her bones in the bottom shelf.”
“Oh great, just what I needed to hear,” she replied sarcastically.
I scanned the walls with my torch, opened all the cupboard doors, looked under a floorboard. Nothing.
“Did you find anything?” Gaia called out.
“When their father got home from work and found his house and wife and kids burnt to a crisp, he did what any sane person would do…” I continued.
I checked the bathroom and the bedrooms. Nothing.
“I don’t want to know!” she yelled.
“He took the shotgun out from the shed and topped himself.”
I started walking back to the lounge room, but heard it again. I broke into a jog, dived to the floor, and buried myself in the comfort of my sleeping bag.
It was quiet, for a moment. The footsteps followed me past the fireplace, creaked closer, moved in a careful arc around our heads. Gaia and I made eye contact; we were both shitting ourselves.
“Who are you?” I yelled out into the darkness, terrified. “Speak to us!”
And this is where the story gets fucked. I shit you not, everything in the room went completely still.
Then, suddenly, this fucking bone-chilling, inhuman voice bellowed out from the silence:
It was the loudest, deepest, most horrible sound I have ever heard in my life. Gaia screamed. I crapped my pants. Everything closed in tight around me and, I swear to god, I must have flatlined for a bit because my body pretty much noped the fuck out.
I sat, dumb, on the floor, shaking in the wake of a howl from the devil himself.
Gaia soon shook me to my senses. We grabbed our stuff, dropped the torch, and ran for our lives back to the main house. We woke up my dad and, in a sweaty, squealing panic, told him to go to the cottage and hear this thing for himself. He returned a few minutes later; the cottage was dead silent.
It’s safe to say that I haven’t slept in the cottage since. I never really believed in ghosts, but c’mon, you can’t tell me that was wind in the leaves, or a wild animal, or a dream, or any of that bullshit. I heard it with my own ears. Felt it with my own skin. Shit my own pants. Something really fucking weird happened that night, and more than six years later, I still shake when I retell the story to scare off mediocre Bumble dates.
A week after the incident with Gaia, my dad was pruning the roses around the outside the cottage window, when he thought he glimpsed something through the glass. He went inside and found the bathroom tap running, water leaking over the sink, pooling on the tiles, and flooding the hallway. Almost as if it was trying to put out a fire.