The Old Swanson Place | Short Story

Talk of the town, it was. The old Swanson place had finally sold. Three years it had been on the market, its balconies covered in gull mess and the gardens creeping over the gravel chips in the driveway. Dusty bay windows looked out over the estuary, bulging and blank, as though unable to bear the sight of the cheaper dwellings at the bottom of the steep hill. Then one day the estate agent’s sign was gone, rotten stake heaved out of the ground.

A foreign investor, went the rumour in Sally’s Café, someone looking to develop as soon as the weather turned and renovations could begin. The Bull Inn had it different; Tim Gillian had heard that it was a banker from the big smoke come to start a family after having made his money when the markets crashed. Phil Murphy was trimming a customer’s sideburns and telling him that the new owner had only bought it for tax purposes. Phil did not seem to be able to elaborate on what these purposes might be.

Winter passed, and summer. The tide went up and down the estuary hundreds of times, breathing salt air over the damp slate roofs of the town. Men in suits were seen at the mansion, pointing up at the east wing with furrowed brows as they discussed and discussed and shivered in the breeze.

The old Swanson place 1

Planning permission was the issue, Mrs. Henderson told the boys and girls in her English literature class. The new owners were trying to make changes that would Compromise the Historical Integrity and Period Features of the house, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Ivy crept over the roughcasting and rust ate into the ironwork of the gates as autumn approached again. Storm winds shrieked underneath the eaves of the old house and the single-paned windows rattled in their frames. The nights drew in and Graham Houston, on his paper round, saw headlights swinging over the gravel. Still the windows remained curtainless and the takeaway leaflets piled underneath the letterbox.

The new owner’s wife had miscarried shortly after having moved in, Constable Taylor told Constable Bellingworth as they sat in a layby on nightshift, looking up at the dark mass of the house silhouetted against the sky and sipping coffee from thermos mugs. Hadn’t been able to spend a night in the place since, he said knowledgeably. All she had been able to hear throughout the cavernous rooms were the sounds of a baby crying.

Christmas lights were slung between lampposts. Snatches of carols made their way to the base of the hill but no further. The saltwater in the estuary was steely grey, mercury sucked in and out of a test tube. ‘No trespassing’ signs were chained to the gates of the house.

The old swanson place

Torchlight had been seen glaring from the upstairs windows of the property, Mrs. Grey whispered to the occupants of the church pew behind her during Evensong. Down at the swings in the playpark, Charlotte Roxburgh passed a bottle of cider to Stephen Dailly and told him that her friend Tamara Manning had heard that shouts had been heard from the house at night. Pupils from the private school had seen a woman dressed all in white at one of the windows. Stephen swigged from the bottle and asked her which window, what pupils, and on which night. Charlotte had reached for the bottle and kissed him.

The low spring sun was glinting off the estuary when Graham Houston wheeled his bicycle into the newsagents after his paper round. Interesting news, he had told the shop owner. A ‘for sale’ sign had been planted in front of the old Swanson place. Offers over. Viewing by appointment only.


***Thanks for reading, folks. Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia and ***

Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is an absentee member of the Glasgow Writers Group, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.

Not necessarily in that order

18 thoughts on “The Old Swanson Place | Short Story

  1. My favourite part was “Down at the swings in the playpark…” onwards to end of that paragraph. 😍I wonder how many of us experienced a paragraph like that one, as teens? Of course including wondering about the spookiest house in the neighbourhood?

    As always, a lot of questions come up for me with your stories. 😁Number one, in this particular case, what would you say the theme might be? Number two, is there any significance of the march of seasons, in this story, besides showing that over a year has passed? Number three, what inspired you?

    Just thought I’d ask 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooh good questions! [sits down at laptop]

      1. I would say the theme centres around the narratives that a town or village creates when there is a void to be filled. In this case there was an ‘out-of-towner’ who had bought the property and who didn’t seem invested in the town as a community. Consequently, I wanted the rumour and speculation to get wilder and more creative as time went on, before the banal end as the owners decide to sell without ever moving in fully.

      2. I wanted to show the change of seasons, the movements of the tides etc set against the comings and goings of a small town. The stark changes of weather against the banality of gossip – the paper boy is spreading rumour about the house at the start and the end of the piece. Everything changes, but at the same time nothing really does.

      3. I think it was something I heard over the radio as I drove to work one day. Don’t ask me what but doubtless it has little or no relation to the final product here!

      Thanks for asking Nadine. That was the first time I’ve ever been asked to commentate on my own work and it was very cathartic!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ooh…. ANSWERS! 🤩 [abandons pocket-heroin-I-mean-mobile-phone, sits down at laptop so she doesn’t have to use a magnifying glass to see the text 🧐🤓]

        I felt shy asking, but thanks to your lovely response I’m now glad I did.

        I love hearing about what ticks behind your stories. Now it all makes sense, you’ve explained it so well and now I really see these elements of the story so clearly! I love what Aeryk said below about the spirit of the town being in the decaying house, i.e. nothing much going on; and much ado about nothing; a kind of spiritual void.

        Thanks again, might do this again, if you won’t mind :)))

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Awwww you just gave me such happy vibes!! 🤗😍🙏💗✨Thank you Matthew for your super kind words, and yes this would be so much fun! 🎉🙌

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a rhetorical question I’m asking having just finished reading this: Who is watching whom?

    I love that the Old Swanson Place is the first one to be “seeing” anything with the line: “Dusty bay windows looked out over the estuary, bulging and blank, as though unable to bear the sight of the cheaper dwellings at the bottom of the steep hill.” All of the “real life’ is going on down at the bottom of the steep hill, but the spirit of the town is in the decaying house up there.

    Great story!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Loved your insight there Aeryk. BTW your site is not commentable/likeable in WP Reader again; I did read your day 30 sum up though, and since I can’t easily comment on it there….. just a quick huge congrats on completing your 30-day torture test! Looks like it didn’t kill you, so now you are officially stronger 💪 😜

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Amazing story written vibrant prose. The portrayal of physical surroundings catches my breath. Your talent is much appreciated. Anand Bose from Kerala

    Liked by 2 people

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