The Cobbe house ii the Flunky club
There were the four of us: Tony Cerci, Nell and I. Bound by childhood passions, street’s and, at that time, school’s. By
the time of the great storm of the summer of nineteen hundred and twenty-three; the four of us had reached that age, where both curiosity and independence flourished, and where play, though not discarded, as yet, was both frowned upon and yet, secretly enjoyed in equal measure.
In this age, we would explore, either the Cohansey river as it raged and splashed its way through the town, cutting it in two; or fish then swim in the Tumbling Dam Lake as I recall it was called back then.
Summer’s in Bridgeton were long warm and riddled with mystery. Whether it involved going up to the Cobbe house on a dare, or to swim the river or the lake or to peddle ice creams from Mr. Dawlish, for a buck or two, given in turn, or in kind, by a kindly eye.
Cerci Middlestone, was my next door neighbour. She was –at that time- 12 Years of age with thick auburn hair. She had long lashes over wides set cornflower eyes blue freckles, over a slightly small and a narrow nose; Being thirteen myself at the time, I was
slowly becoming aware of that unique species of human known as “girls” and found myself shyly taken by her both her beauty and her presence. Her father Mr. Jeremy Middlestone worked at the bank from morning to late, forcing her mother, (whom I only knew as Mrs Middlestone, on account of her austere frown from her thin face narrow line drawn lips and her over crossed arms; making her very fearful and unapproachable. ) to stay at home, cook and clean.
Her best Friend was Eleanor Kirkbride, or Nell, as she liked to be called. Nell was 12; a narrow faced sea green eyed, blonde haired girl with an upturned nose and a smattering of freckles. Unlike the rest of us, who lived along Rhode street, she lived three streets away in Briar street, in what was considered to be part of “poor town” I didn’t know her parents.
Anthony Sables, Tony, was my best friend. He was a large boy for his age that being the same as mine, though he was born in the month of October on all hallows eve. He had curly, chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes that glittered with constant humour. His father, Donald Sables owned the ice-cream parlour in town and would always hand out a cone or two to us, who would help out occasionally.
That was us:- known around the school and the town as the flunky club; as we tended to not fit in with the other children of our age.
Before I continue, there is something about the flunky club that set us apart from the other kids. There was a reason as to why we didn’t fit in. We could share things. Things that most kids couldn’t share. We knew other things too... things that we simply shouldn’t know.
For instance, when Nell trapped her foot in
the river in the fall of 1921, and nearly drowned Both Tony and I heard her scream and ran to help. Even though no one else could hear her.
When in the winter of 1922, Tony found himself trapped in the well on Parson’s farm, he called out; it was Cerci, Nell and I who somehow knew where he was, managed to find him and get him home, much to his parents and the towns thanks. Even when Cerci was in trouble with the school Bully Stephen Brinks; who wanted to do something to her, down the alley behind the picture house; all three of us could hear her cry and were there to protect her.
We were always there for each other and always knew what we were thinking… to a degree… we could partition our minds and have secret thoughts, but on the whole we had a collective that we simply called sharing; which was what it was like. We could share one another’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s hard to explain something like this to someone who does not, nor has not experienced it. So it was no co-incidence that what happened,
happened the way it did. What worried us was why.
It was the last summer before we were to be split. Cerci had been told she was to go a fashionable new middle school twenty miles away; Nell’s parents were moving away too as neither the mother or the father could find work; while at the time I thought Tony and I were destined to go to Drewsmore Middle; I didn’t know that this was the last time we would see each other for many, many, years.
The Cobbe house changed everything. it was one of those defining moments, that comes along once or maybe twice in life. An occurrence that itself, act’s as a fulcrum, to send people in directions that perhaps they didn’t expect. I have to say, if we had known where it would lead, we would never have entered it.
For it is one thing to stand by the gates of a knowingly forbidden place and look with pulse racing. It is altogether
another, to cross that threshold.
The house itself was south facing, so a warm glowing sun, shone through the cracked and splintered windows onto the bleached peeling paper on the walls, and the arched doorway, whose wooden door, had fallen outward, onto the crumbling brick steps and in our minds eye took on the gate entrance to a castle.
The house itself was two stories high with a high round, or perhaps, eye like window on the left gable, as well as two
dormer windows equidistant apart. The outside walls were plaster over stone and many of the top floor windows were
narrow and gothic in design, the ground floor had four sets of large narrow windows either side of the arched doorway creating a hollow space, where the wind howled through in hisses.
Another thing that needs to be mentioned
was at that time, when the four of us chose to venture upon the grounds, we knew very little about the history of the house. My Uncle preferring to keep his research to himself, and away from the minds of children whom at that age, would exaggerate
this rather ugly and tragic place. I recalled we ran around the outside kicking up the dust and the dead grass and whooping and cheering at our success as having managed to, at least on one
level, face our fears, knowing that, in the end, there was nothing here to be afraid of. After all what loves the dark; tends to stay in the dark.
However, it was one thing to play about the grounds of the large rotting house; and another to take that step inside. After
an hour or two of exploring the unkempt garden, playing on the chain swing at the rear of the property and throwing stones down the brick well, we then turned our attention to the cavernous front door and the darkness within.
The first thing I recall was the unusual smell, sour and musty and altogether unpleasant. Our footsteps creaked on the boards with each step we took. Hall was large and dilapidated, pictures of long dead men and women, damp and encrusted hung loosely in rotting wooden frames, the green painted wall’s bubbled with huge round patches of black damp in the corner, while large in the near dark large well fed spiders, teased their webs, with long hairy legs.
The floor was riddled with some white fleshy fungi, that was distorted into shapes that seemed to me similar to the twisted forms of men and women; and the smell coming from them was nauseous to say the least. In the near dark they seemed to glow with a pale blueish tint that was both exiting, and at the same time eerie.
‘I think we should go’ said Cerci, as she slowly took my hand. I being just as afraid, but not wanting to show it, smiled into her cornflower eyes and with trepidation tightened my grip.
‘Whatever was here, has long passed.’ I began. There is nothing to be afraid of.’
Nell interrupted . ‘Its sleeping…can’t you feel it?’
I tried to ignore that thought. but I couldn't.
I heard a scratch to the left and started; back as a large fat rat, scuttled into the darkness. Then Tony leaped on my back howling sending me falling to the dusty grimy floor. I screamed with a whoop and then turned to face him. My fist drawn back.
‘-Oh come on durtbag!’ He giggled; and soon we were laughing again.
We avoided the basement as the stench was so foul we all concluded, that if we were to go down there our souls could possibly go mad; so we went from room after room, ending up in an attic, that was filled with boxes of old broken toys, and rattling spinning wheels that were decomposing into something both evil and to me utterly alien.
It was Nell who found the mirror. She picked it up and began to play with it, gently stoking her hair.
‘Look at me, Queen Nell, lady of the manor.’
Then she screamed. The mirror was suddenly thrown
to the floor.
I turned to her. Tony who was next to her began to comfort her, as she started to chough; before becoming hysterical
‘It’s in th- walls in the walls The WALLS!’
We looked and saw nothing. With a nervous hand I picked up the ornate mirror and looked into It and seeing nothing but my
Cerci then said that it was definitely time to go, and on the whole I believed her. It was as we left that I Saw Tony pick up a
small tin soldier that he had found and let him put it in his pocket; after all, at the time, I thought nothing of it. I only wish I had the foresight to tell him to put it back. For everything that
happened afterwards stemmed form that little –perhaps- subconscious act.