The Pighouse had been there, at the edge of the playground, forever. Or so it seemed to Connie.
“Why is it called the Pighouse?” she asked her dad, more than once.
“I don’t know,” he said on each occasion, “that’s what Mummy called it.”
“Do pigs live inside?”
“No, Princess. It’s just an old lavatory. Now it’s full of lawnmowers and spiders.”
The Pighouse had on its door a padlock the size of Dad’s hand and its one window was boarded and painted over. It was a squat round building made of bricks and slate and half-shrouded by green moss and ivy. Connie imagined it had been there for so long that it was turning into a little hill.
The door was the reason she liked to believe pigs lived in the house. It was too small for people – for grown-up people at least. She couldn’t think what sort of a person might have made use of it.
One day she found the door ajar.
Dad had left her on the big swings and gone to buy a newspaper. She noticed it from there: the absence of the big rusty lock, a jagged line of black between the door and its frame. She hopped down and crossed the yard to where the little brick house stood ignored by all but her.
Lawnmowers and spiders.
There was a round hole in the door where once had been a handle. She curled her finger around the hole and pulled, and the door swung open.
It was dark. She couldn’t see if there were lawnmowers, or spiders, but she stepped through the door anyway, thinking that next time she came, it could well be locked again. As she crossed the threshold, whether it was a gust, or a passing child, something caused the door to shut behind her.
The blackness was everywhere and gone in an instant, because the inside of the Pighouse filled with a harsh light. And then there was a change in the air like walking into an old church on a hot day, and it wasn’t the Pighouse at all. The ceiling was gone. The walls and floor were tiled, pristine and white, like a hospital. There was a smell of bleach. In the centre of the space, a single bulb hung on a long cord, and beneath the bulb stood a woman.
When she saw her, the woman smiled, as if she knew Connie and was unsurprised to see her. She seemed old; not in years, but in demeanor, as though she came from another age. She had the kind of round face Connie had only seen in black and white pictures.
“Hello m’dear,” she said. Connie said nothing. The woman crouched and put her hands on her knees, and Connie saw that her fingertips were scratched and bleeding. “Are you lost?” she said. Connie shook her head. The woman’s eyes reddened and she bared grey teeth. “Then what do you want?” she snapped. Connie shuddered.
The light began to flicker and fade. “I’m sorry,” said the woman, “I don’t mean to shout.” Connie could smell dust and old things – the air of the Pighouse returning to the space. The woman with the bloody hands seemed somehow further away, and she was wiping tears from her eyes.
And someone else was there: a tall man, standing behind the woman, whose appearance made Connie’s heart jump in her chest. He leaned over the woman’s shoulder and grinned without teeth. He was thin and grey and when he wrapped himself around the woman it seemed like he was all arms. The woman’s eyes rolled over and closed, and the light went out.
In the dark, a spider crossed her face. She felt the panic crawl up her back, fumbled for the door, and felt a rush of cool air as it opened and she fell out of the Pighouse into her father’s arms.
The following summer, the playground was rebuilt and the Pighouse destroyed, but its outline remained: a circle of white floor tiles around the rock garden. When Connie sat on the rocks, beneath the sickly lavender, she sometimes smelled bleach.