"You are crazy", Mary told her. "How can you be so calm after being inside that building?"
"Well, nothing happened, did it?" Delaney replied. "I'm not insane and I can tell you in detail of what I saw inside the house."
"I guess you were lucky", Ronald said. "With all stories told about that house, I thought you would come out a changed person like the others."
"Or the stories are just stories and nothing else", Delaney said.
She hadn't mentioned the sounds she had heard just before leaving the building. But that had just been her imagination affected by all the stories she had heard. Delaney was sure the same had happened to the others who had went inside. Imagination and fantasy were big enemies to courage.
"Anyway", she said, "Next time I'll go in daylight. It was hard to see things in the night."
"Just don't let anyone see you", Mary said. "You would be in big trouble."
"You could join me, you know", Delaney said. "It would be much more fun to have someone to discuss with while there."
Her friends looked at her like if she was insane.
"Just a suggestion", Delaney said and shrugged.
"I intend to do some research on the Samkin Manor", Delaney told the village Mayor, Mrs. Carling, who was responsible for the village archives located in some chambers down under the visitor center,
"For a school project, I assume?", the woman asked with her Scottish accent.
"Yup", Delaney said. "And there's nothing to find in the school library, except for some ghost rubbish."
Mrs. Carling looked at her. "Not many people dare to. There are some quite frightening stories told about that place."
"I don't mind, I'm not the kind of person who gets scared of things easily."
"Well, in that case. I'll give you two hours on Monday, is that good for you?"
"Yes, at least for a start. Thank you, Mrs. Carling."
Delaney turned around to leave. As she reached the door, Mrs. Carling said: "What's your name, miss...?"
"I'm Delaney. Delaney Sterling."
"Miss Sterling. I hope you don't get the idea of going anywhere close to that building. It's restricted."
Delaney turned around and smiled. "Don't worry, Mrs. Carling."
Then she left.
The manor was spooky even in daylight. The sun didn't really seem to reach it, surrounded as it was by high trees.
Delaney looked around to make sure no one was there, and then climbed over the fence in the same way as last time.
A sudden move in front of her made her freeze on the spot. She laughed as she saw the little squirrel hurrying up in the closest tree.
"Sorry, little friend, didn't mean to scare you", she said. "Actually, you scared me as much. But I shouldn't be so easily scared, should I?"
She followed the path and soon she was at the doors.
"Let's start with the ground floor this time", Delaney said as she entered the big entrance hall.
She turned left and headed through a big door that led to what looked like the dining room. A long table, covered with dust, still stood in the middle of the room, but the few chairs left were laying broken on the floor.
The walls were decorated with paintings, mostly of landscapes. Once again, Delaney was surprised that they were still there after all these years.
A side door led to the biggest kitchen Delaney had ever seen. It fetured two big wooden stoves. A lot of tools for cooking still hung on the walls and in the drawers.
"Wow, being a cook here must have been quite tough work", she said, and then exited, heading through the dining room to explore the rest of the floor.
On the other side of the entrance hall there were several doors. Delaney went from one to another. The first one was just a waredrobe. The second one a bathroom. The third one, however, had the sign "office" on it. And very true, inside she found a big wooden desk and many bookshelves. These actually had books in them, which the ones upstairs hadn't had. Delaney ran her eye over them - most seemed to be lexicons and fact books, but also a few novels.
The walls had a few paintings of men and women in old-fashioned clothes. The labels on them told that they were all members of the Samkin family, but in different generations according to the signs below each of them.
As she turned around to see if there was anything in the drawers of the desk, her foot bumped into something. She looked down and found another birch rod, just like the one upstairs. Delaney picked it up.
"Well, I guess we are lucky to have vacuum cleaners nowadays", she said.
She put the rod down on the desk and went around it to check the drawers. Inside she found more books. She picked up one that looked like a notebook.
Incoming and outgoing goods it said. And it was dated 1928-1929.
It wasn't much of interest to read, just a declaration of different articles for the house. In the other drawers, she found many similar notebooks. She opened and looked through many of them, hoping one of them would give a clue on what happened to the family. But the only thing she could tell was that none was newer than 1929. All seemed to end abruptly around summer that year.
"What happened that summer?" she asked.
In the last drawer, she found a book that looked slightly different from the others. She opened it.
Punishment log, 1926- it said on the first page. And under it: To be filled in only case of serious offenses and punishments that has to be reported to Mr. Samkin.
"What?" Delaney asked and opened the next page.
It wasn't easy to read the old handwriting, but Delaney could clearly tell the headers, under which there were paragraphs. The headers said: Date Child Offense Punishment
Delaney kept reading. The names were clearly the children's names from upstairs. The one that seemed to figure most was Margaret.
The "offense" paragraph was almost impossible to read at all, but in the "punishment" one Delaney could decipher meanings like "10 strokes".
Her eyes fell on the birch rod, and she suddenly realized what it was for. And why Margaret had had one in her room as well.
"Wow... really spanking manor, then, I guess," Delaney said to herself.
She had mixed feelings about the fact on how often children got spanked back in the days, and how hard they seemed to get spanked. For Delaney, spanking was something really rare that had only happened a few times in her whole life, when she had been in really serious trouble. But kids back in the days seemed to have gotten spanked for any single misbehavior or wrongdoing.
After a while, Delaney left the office and checked the remaining rooms. One was what seemed like a meeting room. The other one surprised her by it's size, it was a huge room and contained sofas, armchairs and a big fireplace.
"Guess I found the livingroom", Delaney said.
Also here, the walls were decorated with paintings of people, mostly old men actually. As with the other ones, they were all different generations of the Samkins.
Delaney loved the atmosphere in the room. She could imagine how it looked back in the days, when the family must have gathered around the fireplace in the evenings. She sat herself down in one of the sofas, just to imbibe the atmosphere a little bit.
That's when she heard it again: the sound of sobbing from upstairs.
Delaney shook her head. But the sound kept on.
"I need to stop imagining things", she told herself. "There is nothing like ghosts."
A breeze of wind gently touched her face, and she looked around, expecting to see a broken or open window. But all the windows were closed. The sobbing upstairs continued.
"Whatever makes that sound, I'm gonna find out what it is" Delaney said.
She stood up and hurried out from the living room.
Delaney went upstairs, but as she came up, there were no more sounds. She went up to the floor with all the bedrooms. Still no sound.
"Imagination and fantasy aren't good in a house liked this", she told herself.
She turned around to go back down, when suddenly she jumped at a loud, banging noise coming from inside the room she remembered as the first she had been into.
"What the...", she said and opened the door.
The painting of the girl named Harley looked down at her from the wall. But there was no clue to what could have been causing the bang.
Once again, she felt a breeze touching her face.
Then, something happened that made Delaney jump even more. Someone was talking inside one of the other rooms.
"So, someone else is here", she said. "If you're trying to scare me, you failed" she added.
She sneaked over to the door from which the voices came and put her ear against it.
"You really shouldn't have done it, Harley," a voice said. "Father's going to punish you when he finds out."
"It's almost worth it", another voice said. "Thinking about what I found."
Both of the voiced belonged to children, and they were speaking with an accent that Delaney identified as very British.
"Well, let's see what you say once father's done with you. I know who's going to be coming to my room wanting comfort."
Delaney took a deep breath and then slammed the door open.
But the room was empty. There was no sign of anyone being there.
For the first time, Delaney felt a bit scared. Was there something wrong with her, hearing voices? Actually, she would have preferred that comparing to the other option - that there was actually someone there that she couldn't see.
Then, from the first room, another sound came: loud smacking sounds.
"No way", Delaney said, turned around, and went back there. A sobbing was added to the smacking sound.
Delaney swallowed, then she opened the door to the first room. And this time, she saw something: A man sitting on the bed with a young girl bent across his lap. The girl¨s dress was raised up over her back and he was spanking her bared bottom.
Delaney fell to the floor.
The next thing she knew she was laying on her back right outside the room. She sat up and shook her head. No one was inside the room.
What had happened? Maybe she had stumbled and bumped her head?
The voices, the man and the girl... it must have been a dream after she fell. But as she let her hand examine her head, she couldn't feel any bump.
"I need to think about this", she said and stood up.
As she walked down the stairs again, she could once again hear the sound of sobbing, but no smacks.
Down in the entrance hall, she hurried back to the doors. Then she felt it again - a smooth breeze against her chin. And a voice whispered: "Don't go."
"What?", Delaney said. "Who said that?"
But no reply. She opened the door and hurried out, almost ran down to the fence and climbed over. She went so fast that she didn't realize that someone was blocking her way until she ran right into the person.
"Scary place, isn't it?" a voice said.
Delaney looked up. It was Mrs. Carling.
"You are either very brave or very foolish, going in there. Or maybe both. Twice have you been there now, Miss Sterling."
"How... how did you know?"
"I live right over there", Mrs. Carling said, pointing. "And I usually keep an eye on the manor."
"I... I'm sorry. I was just curious."
"You know it's called Spanking Manor", Mrs. Carling said. "Somone should give you one for going in there. I told you it was restricted, didn't I?"
Delaney nodded, feeling rather embarrassed about herself.
"However", Mrs. Carling said, "I feel that you have a genuine interest in the building. Perhaps you are the one who can solve the mystery about what happened to the family that lived there. So I give you permission to go back again whenever you need. But I warn you - be careful, or you might end up like the other's who have gone there."
"See you on Monday, and I'll guide you to the archives."
"Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Carling."
Delaney watched the Major walk away. Then she turned around and hurried back towards granma's and grandpa's house.