The gardens were about to close and Taylor started to make his way towards the exit. It had been a spur of the moment decision to visit Hillside Court Gardens on his way down to Marlborough.
The conference did not begin until 7pm anyway,so time for some country air and exploration.
As Taylor approached the gate, he caught a glimpse of someone waiting by an old oak tree next to the ticket office. When he looked up again, there was nobody there. Must have imagined it then but how on earth…….? The gate was not open – he tried it and realised it was padlocked. He can’t have missed the steward’s call but the gate was firmly shut. There must be another way out,he thought and looked about him. As he turned back to retrace his steps,he again caught sight of a person standing by the entrance to the rose garden……before it too vanished,he recalled how shadowy and vague the figure had been – dull and grey in the sunlight. Really,he hadn’t had that much to drink at lunchtime,although he did feel rather tired. Now where on earth was the other exit? He was sure there was one past the rockery garden.
As he walked on,he gradually realised that he was alone. In fact,he hadn’t seen any other visitors,except for that shadowy figure. He couldn’t be sure whether it had been a man or a woman. This was ridiculous – the gardens had been teeming with people before. Where had they all gone? Don’t panic or you’ll start to get really worried,Taylor thought. He turned around the corner,past the entrance to the rockery garden and saw that same figure ahead of him.
This time, there was no mistaking it was a woman, wearing a curly blonde wig by all accounts, piled high on her extremely white head – extraordinary! "Excuse me," he asked rather awkwardly, "can you tell me where the exit is? The other gate is locked." She stood staring at him. As he came closer, he noted she was wearing an old-fashioned dress billowing out from the waist, like one of those Georgian hooped dresses. Her impassive face seemed to gaze straight through him. Her eyes glazed dully, her movement static. A certain repugnance came over Taylor as he approached her, perhaps due to the woman’s ugliness, warts on her nose and rather disconcerting odour emanating from her body – a stale, almost stagnant smell.
He walked on, occasionally looking back. She was still standing there, her position exactly the same as before. The sky was darkening now, more clouds on the horizon. It was becoming colder. Taylor began to feel nervous, something was wrong. Get a grip on yourself, he thought. You’ve just been locked in,the steward will soon check to see if everyone has left. Taylor called out in desperation, "Anyone there? I’ve been locked in!" Silence greeted him, not even the twittering of birds could be discerned. No sounds of cars driving away either. He stood absolutely still and listened. Something rushed past him so fast he hadn’t time to register what it was; neither could he see anyone running away. That stagnant smell was in the air again.
Gradually, he became aware of a sound; the sound of people talking, their voices rather indistinct. Now that he was concentrating, the voices sounded dry and husky, almost growling. "Hello?" he enquired. The voices ceased. "Can you help me?" He walked over to where the sounds seemed to have emanated from. A hedge barred his way, a hedge so unkempt the gardeners must have neglected it for quite a while. There were various objects lying beneath the hedgerow. He could make out the remains of a sparrow, mouse and a crushed rabbit – most of the animal carcasses had decomposed. A reddish-brown stain covered part of the path, from the centre of which large black flies were buzzing around. He felt nauseous. There was nobody else there, so whose voices had he heard? A dog howled behind him and he spun around. Nothing was there. There followed the unmistakable sound of a small animal padding along behind him – the dog? Then the voices began again, the same dry and dusty voices and this time, there was an added effect that made Taylor shiver where he stood. It was a dry, rustling sound, together with what sounded like the beating of huge wings. Good Lord,what on earth was that? The sound was growing stronger, as if something huge and malevolent was approaching. This time, Taylor did not wait to discover what is was and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Then he stopped running and looked around him. The overall shape and setting of the gardens appeared to have changed. They now gave the impression of being more compact in scale and certainly not as attractive as when he first entered them. The voices and accompanying sounds had ceased. Where was the gate? The gardens were now surrounded by solid brick walls with no exit discernible. Taylor was trapped. A sound of horses’ hooves from the garden forecourt broke the silence. It gave the impression of many horses cantering on the gravelled path. Muffled sounds of command from men’s voices added to the bizarre effect. Taylor could see nothing at all. Panic had now taken hold of him. The whole experience had been turned into one of nightmarish proportions. The gardens were definitely haunted and here he was, trapped inside, while the sky grew even darker and more threatening.
Distant thunder rumbled; soon it would start to rain. Taylor felt clammy and claustrophobic. His throat was dry and sore – what on earth was happening to him? The sound of horses and voices was all around him now,rising to a tumult as if an invisible battle was being re-enacted in front of him.
Suddenly, an idea came to him. He had his mobile phone with him and could call for help. Why hadn’t he thought of this before? Taking out the phone, he noticed the lack of a signal……..actually, there was no power. As he began to come to terms with his predicament, he tried to recall a story concerning Hillside Court, a story he had read many years ago. It had concerned an investigative report by the acclaimed ghost-hunter, Gerald Huntingdon. Taylor attempted to remember the details of the story. Hadn’t Huntingdon suffered a near-fatal heart attack as a consequence of his experience that day? That really cheered Taylor up – was he to suffer a similar fate? A piercing shriek filled the air – so shrill it seemed to burst Taylor’s eardrums, leaving him dizzy and reeling from the shock. It did not sound human. As Taylor looked about him,wondering where to go next, something wet and icy-cold appeared to drag itself past him, something extraordinarily heavy and sluggish. An abominable stench accompanied the sensation, a smell of death and decay. A shadow passed in front of him; whatever it was had been huge. He ran as fast as he could, making for any available sanctuary. He could hear something being dragged behind him, something bulky, moving with great difficulty. Whatever it was brushed past him, the same damp and freezing creature he had previously encountered. Suddenly, the sun appeared from behind the clouds, as if it had never gone away and on the instant, Taylor could hear the birds chirping away. The garden vista was different once again………back to its original, beautiful condition, flowers blooming in abundance. He now saw that there were other people in the garden; couples, families and gardeners, all enjoying the late summer afternoon. Taylor checked his watch – it had been a quarter to five last time he looked. It now read half past four…….this was impossible. How could he have lost fifteen minutes of time? He felt more uneasy and rather apprehensive. He noticed the exit gate, the gate that had previously been padlocked shut. As he reached it, he noticed it looked newer, painted, modern in style. Never mind, it was open now. As he went through the archway, he was greeted by a garden steward. "Had a job finding my way out," said Taylor. "Got quite lost in there. Heard and saw things." The steward looked at him in a puzzled manner but said nothing in reply. "How old is the garden?", Taylor asked him. "Landscaped in 1740, Sir – changed much since then of course", replied the steward. "Was it ever used for burial purposes?", continued Taylor. "Good heavens Sir, how did you come by that information?" Taylor noticed the change in the steward’s expression. He almost looked frightened. "Just wondered", responded Taylor, as he made his way to the car park.