Every Society Breeds The Ghosts It Deserves….

Lethmachen is the most haunted town in England.

 We should know. We have lived here all our lives.

 Yet you have probably never heard of Lethmachen. The town is never mentioned in any book or on any website dedicated to the paranormal.

 This does not mean that Lethmachen is not haunted, it means that people here are afraid to talk.

  A conspiracy of silence? We say ‘Always watch the quiet ones!’

 The purpose of this site is to document the supernatural phenomena of Lethmachen, both contemporary and historical.


Lethmachen: The Most Haunted Town in England

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The first book of tales based on the true accounts documented on this website

13 terrifying tales of Shire Horror, published by Lethmachen Press….

ISBN: 978-1-291-40880-5

Heirlooms Cover

HEIRLOOMS & OTHER GHOST STORIES: published 13th October 2015

by James Stoorie (native of Lethmachen and author of horror)

ISBN: 978-1-326-40836-7

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  • E-book available via Lulu http://www.lulu.com  (ISBN: 978-1-326-44512-6)

Thirteen terrifying tales of the supernatural. Things you dare not even imagine. Modernised updates of the traditional ghost story, the vampire, the phantom hitch-hiker, the imaginary friend, the witches coven. An uncanny landscape of haunted high rises, haunted hospitals, haunted holiday cabins, haunted show homes, haunted music festivals, haunted bird sanctuaries. Think Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood in the 21st Century! An animated film of lead story ‘Heirlooms’ is currently in production (a tale of school children who inadvertently summon up Peg Prowler, a predatory Victorian ghost).


Do local parents have more to worry about than the latest Ofsted results?


After the ignoble defeat of his Party of the Fields and Trees in this year’s election, which saw labour and Liberal candidates urge their supporters to back Katherine Knot, their Tory rival, Lord Carrier all but disappeared from public view.

He has recently returned as a philanthropist, or so his press office would have it, bank-rolling a school to serve the Lethmachen area, despite there being no dearth of other providers, nor any existing demand for alternative services. “The Carrier Free School” sees its mission as “widening participation” with a focus on the “total pedagogical transformation” of the under-privileged.

It is not for us to cast aspersions on such a no doubt well intentioned endeavour, and thus it is with regret that we learn that the project has already encountered difficulties. An early Ofsted inspection has been postponed due to a lack of students. The school points out that it had not officially opened its doors when it received notice of the immanent visit, and takes this as an opportunity to launch into an attack on government bureaucracy. This has caused no little confusion, as witnesses claim to have seen a number of children about the premises. Young relations of the newly appointed staff, the school maintains, and has gone so far as to publish admissions data and financial plans in the local paper. The school is set to open in autumn 2016.

Adding to the school’s woes is the recent bizarre footage of various teachers and governors caught off-guard, and behaving in a less than professional manner. There is nothing untoward about the images. In one, Douglas Codswell, on record as a geography teacher, is filmed standing alone and holding a flask. He is biting its lid and talking to himself. As he does, his eyes are fixed and open, and his head bobs from one side to another, punctuating the little sing-song sentences, the precise words of which are impossible to catch.

In another video, Martin Ryder, Deputy Head, and local businessman Marty Reynolds are filmed together. Martin, the taller man, is facing Marty, his arms round him. Marty’s arms are hanging by his sides. The two are circling round, Marty quietly gurgling with laughter, and Martin muttering, again in a sing-song voice.

This peculiar, child-like behaviour has, thus far, been regarded only as proof of the silly and odd nature of Lord Carrier and his various enterprises. To us, however, it carries a peculiar, uncanny charge.

Or is it just your imagination, running away with you?


The conversation that set in motion this chain of events was hardly memorable. A chance meeting with a childhood friend who I had not seen in years. That perhaps makes the incident sound more romantic and more significant than it felt at the time. In fact this individual had never been more than an acquaintance, even when we had shared a classroom back at primary school. We both spent a couple of years lingering on the fringes of the same gang – that is all. No doubt this explains why our adult conversation soon grew so strained and awkward. We had literally run into each other during a busy lunch break, both of us impatiently scouting for seats in a crowded café. He seemed to recognise me immediately, which must have instantly put me on my guard. A little bit of background: I am one of those rare souls from our hometown who has spent most of his life living and working away from Lethmachen. Yes I returned a year or two ago, but to be honest the demands of my career have allowed little opportunity for nostalgia and I never had the time for looking up old friends. Nevertheless I suppose it was only natural that our conversation was quickly directed towards those people we once had in common. It was not my intention to be rude or dismissive, but I genuinely struggled for something to say. At first I could not summon up any of the faces of the names mentioned, nothing but an indistinct blur of half formed faces in school uniforms. Then, out of nowhere, something came back to me. ‘Matthew Dolly?’ My companion fell silent, and studied me noncommittally, as if I had said something mildly offensive or inappropriately intimate. No, he did not recall anyone by that name. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Matty had been as insignificant as we had been, just another boy on the margins, never the centre of attention with the boys or a favourite with the girls. If my memory served me right, he had actually been subject to a certain amount of teasing, on account of his effeminate surname and a nervous stutter.

My companion left shortly after, suddenly recalling that he needed to be back at the office in time for an important meeting. It meant nothing to me – the conversation had been stilted, inconsequential, and I did not expect to give it a second thought. However over the next few days it kept cropping up in my mind at the least opportune moments: in the middle of a delivering a corporate presentation or in the middle of the night. I suppose I was being oversensitive, guilty about not having been more open towards my old acquaintance. I found myself dwelling over every word uttered as some people are inclined to do. Why had he not remembered Matthew Dolly? The more I thought about that strange boy the more long forgotten details I was able to sketch in. Yes, on the whole he had simply been a face in the crowd – one of the substitutes for the football team or an anonymous shepherd during the nativity play. And yet there had been a handful of occasions when we had actually spent some quality time together…alone. Once Matty had turned up unexpectedly at my house on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t even aware he knew where I lived. My family were out – I had played up a slight cold to avoid having to trawl around the shops in the town centre. Matty and I spent three or four hours making up games in the attic, hunting through dusty boxes I knew I was not supposed to touch. It had been fun, but I remember I made him leave before my parents returned. After all, I was supposed to be ill. There was another time when I returned his visit. He lived with his grandmother in this old house on the hill that everyone thought had been empty for years. Matty invented some kind of treasure hunt because he had acres of overgrown gardens and lots of empty rooms. In one of these there were lots of dolls. Nothing but a heap of china dolls, lying neglected upon the floorboards, their eyes fixed on the door we had inched open.

Thankfully as the busy weeks passed I gradually forgot all about Matthew Dolly, resigned him to history once more. Then one evening recently I was enjoying a meal with my parents in a local restaurant. It was something they said that stirred everything up again, that raised the gnawing sense of doubt that has plagued me ever since. It began with the most casual of remarks. Perhaps these things often do. My parents were already in the preliminary stages of organising a small New Year’s Eve party for a few of the neighbours. It was a tradition down their road that each household took a turn as hosts as this year was the turn of my parents. This led to a discussion of the gatherings they used to host when they first moved to Lethmachen, and I was about five years old. As I grew older, and I assume my parents felt successfully assimilated into the community, these little soirées became few and far between. Yet they were a significant part of my early years, when every weekend I would be dragged out of bed to meet the assembled guests. As a nervous child, I always found being paraded in front of a crowd of slightly drunk strangers quite intimidating. My parents understood this and so, my duties over, I would then be permitted to retreat to the kitchen with a glass of lemonade and a plate of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There was one person I always enjoyed seeing though, who would pop his head into the kitchen with a friendly smile, either to tell me a joke or to smuggle me a handful of peanuts he had pinched from the glass bowl in the living room. He was, I think, a work colleague of my father’s. That is, I had never seen him around the area so I assumed he was not a neighbour. Somehow he seemed younger than the other party guests and his name was David Christmas. I shared this memory with my parents.

‘There was no such person, you must have imagined him!’ Both my parents were adamant about this, insistent even. Suddenly, inexplicably, my thoughts flashed back to Matthew Dolly. There seemed to be a connection, something I had overlooked. Could it be that I had imagined them both? Before I had time to consider the implications, my parents had proceeded with the conversation. No, they had only thrown a few of those evening parties, and there had been nobody present called David Christmas. Perhaps it was one of their friends playing a joke, although they could not imagine from my description whom it could be. Anyway, as they had explained, they had never really felt comfortable hosting those events, full of people they soon discovered they felt nothing in common with. If anything, the experience had only made them feel more isolated in their new neighbourhood. Instead they had soon settled on a more sedate arrangement with a certain couple they had become particularly friendly with. Did I not remember June and Geoff Ainsell? They used to come over for a meal every other Saturday night? No, try as hard as I might, I could not picture these people at all. I was about to say so when something terrible dawned on me. Perhaps my parents had imagined June and Geoff Ainsell, much as it appeared I had imagined David Christmas and Matthew Dolly? Should I dare suggest this possibility to them? But how could I? Too much time had passed, it would only upset things.

For I was beginning to recognise there was always a fragile sense of narcissism in the developing of an imaginary friend. A need to reassure ourselves that an imaginary friend lived only for us, that only our behaviour could impact upon their mood, that we alone could appoint a time for their final dismissal. Yet what if this belief were mistaken? What if imaginary friends were non-exclusive? What if in fact they were as indifferent to you, as sporadic in their interest, as ‘real friends’ so often were? Perhaps their needs were as fleeting and fickle as our own and they would only ever be peripheral characters in our lives. But then, how to identify an imaginary friend, to distinguish them from a real one, either at the time or with hindsight? Would there be a tell-tale sign in the purpose they served, or would their true nature be almost unobservable? How many of the people I had thought I had known in the past had in fact only existed in my imagination? For many weeks now I have been able to dismiss this anxiety, to get the fear out of my head.


Is cleanliness next to godliness? Or next to something very different?


Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I had the strangest experience in the bath last night. I realise there is a supremely rational explanation, but I would really prefer another, for reasons that will become clear. The twist is simple: when, after washing my hair with an old cup whilst sitting in deep, warm and soapy water –this a throwback from childhood – I lay out flat and submerged my head.  On doing so, I heard – with great clarity – the ringing of a little bell. Ting, ting, ting. This sound was small, like a jewel, I thought, but perfectly distinct. It was a tolling, not a shaking nor a rattling. Is there a possibility this is something a little more romantic than tinnitus or madness? If anyone knows, they are sure to be a regular reader of your wonderful site…

All the very best, Nigel Scrimp

We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help Nigel. In the meantime we asked folklorist and friend of the site Nigel Lawrence Tuns-Smith for his take on the bath time bells:

Bells are uncanny. The bell is bound to the science of metallurgy, forever associated with occult practice. Imagine: you are out upon the common lands. No one is about, and all it is possible to encounter is mud and sky, the occasional trees or low lying shrub. If you say up there a while, an animal might come into view, having lost its way.  Before that: a sound.  The dull, sway of a bell. No other person is about, but that sound is sourced in iron, and where there is iron, there are human hands, and the spark of invention.  In a moment, human agency has intruded in a space you know is bereft of all human life other than your own. A spectral presence. Taken another way, that chime can speak of man’s departure, and that brings its own specific fear. The bell can sound through chance, not design, through the movement of air, or the swaying of bovine shoulders. It is an instrument of the human, but its note does not need to be consciously willed. The striking of a bell can thus seem automatic, deathly, a human art extrinsic to the human. The repetition of the thing supports this. The ringing of the bell goes nowhere. In one sense, it serves no purpose. Of course, it draws attention to itself, and thus to whatever it is bound, yet this really is nothing. Its purpose is to announce existence. It achieves nothing. That is why, I think, it has its place in ritual. It is the pointlessness of the thing that isolates it from any wider meaning: it has the terrible cleanliness essential to any ritual object. The danger is that this pointlessness can return in ways that are not desired, drawing attention to the emptiness of whatever ritual is to be enacted. It is not only that the bells, as signifying nothing themselves, fail to adulterate the wedding, but they sing out and repeat wedding’s insignificance, its lack of difference, the extent to which it is beyond anyone’s control. The bell is extrinsic, as I have said: the terror of it always comes back to that.

Of course, ‘the bell under water’ has a long standing tradition in British folklore. The drowned church mourns the passing of a golden age, and celebrates its persistence, whilst warning against a loss of faith. The knell is heard from an element other than water: it reaches the ears of those upon the land. Nigel has encountered something different. As we know from the song of whales that sounds travel swiftly beneath the waves.  Is it that these particular sounds have traversed a great distance? Or is it that distance is precisely what is not an issue. The bell is with Nigel, not attached to some other place, some lost way of thinking.  If this is a keening, what is to be lost? As all devotees of the Tarot know, death does not have to mean death in its most literal sense. Yet, I think, it is well that Nigel, concerned as he is with tinnitus and madness, is sure to be visiting his GP at the earliest opportunity…

A ghostly stare plagues a man during his most private moments…


I find I must begin with a slightly embarrassing confession. This does not start in a very auspicious place: let me take you to the gents toilets on The High Street, Lethmachen! I was sitting in one of the cubicles the other day, and I suppose I must have been there for a while, because I got to thinking about the door in front of me, specifically about its size. Why do they make them so small? The obvious reason, I guess, is safety: you don’t want a child trapped in there. Yet it seemed to me that there are other advantages in having gaps at the floor and the ceiling. For a start, they must make unsavoury types less likely to engage in their preferred activities. I guess they cost a little less as well. That sounds silly, but I know a thing or two about economies of scale.

Anyway, that was that, or at least it should have been, but this seemingly trivial subject was returned to me later that evening when, in a distracted moment, I found myself contemplating the door to my guest bedroom. This room does not enjoy much official use, to be honest, and since I have been living on my own, I spend quite a bit of my time in it. Well, I was watching television, as is my want, when my eye was caught by the rectangle of glass at the top of the door. My home is rather large, and I find it disconcerting to leave all the doors open, so I had a good view, and it occurred to me that, rather like the gaps at the bottom and the top of toilet doors, this was a design feature to which I had not previously given much consideration.  I suppose it was there to let in light. This was not for the benefit of the bedroom, as behind the door there was only a small, enclosed corridor, containing three doors that led variously to my lounge, study and bathroom. Could the feature, then, really be there to illuminate such an insignificant place, and then only during those hours when the door was closed? It seemed absurd, and I looked on some more, hoping, in the most general way, to understand.

It was then, for the briefest moment imaginable, that there appeared to me two vast, brown eyes, looking through the glass, searching, yet horribly placid. They were not floating, but set within a vast, masculine brow. As I say, the vision was over before it began, the memory of it being, it seemed to me, all I had from the first.

I was struck with fear, really quite pinned to where I sat. I have never felt anything as intense, certainly not in my adult life at least. What disturbed most was not the knowledge that I was exposed, or even the sheer size of the threat, but the incongruity of the space in which my adversary must have been located. What contortions had that body, even momentarily, had to endure. And why, considering this, was there no pain registering in those vast, mild eyes?

If anyone else has experienced similar, I would, of course, like to know. Somehow I doubt it.  This is more generally a warning: these things can creep up on you. I am now more careful than ever about what I look at and what I think.

Radio Dada? A pirate signal haunts the airwaves…

radio wan2

I am probably making something out of nothing. The concerns I am about to raise, the phenomena I am about to document, may merely be the result of some technical issue or even an overactive imagination. It is true that I have not been sleeping well recently. I suppose I am in an awkward phase of transition. My new shift at the warehouse means more pay but also means that I have to work unsociable hours: I clock in at 6pm and never get home before 2am. As you will understand, this had completely disrupted my familiar sleeping patterns, and so this could account for the strange things I have been hearing recently. Some of your readers will no doubt immediately conclude that my evidence is unreliable. They will point out, quite correctly, that I have only heard these things when I am alone and when I am probably over-tired following a long, physically demanding stint at work. After all, who doesn’t imagine things at that time of night? Sometimes when I am still sleepless in the small hours of the morning, it feels like I must be the only person awake in the entire country. I suppose that explains why I like to have the radio on. It is comforting to hear another voice or a piece of music, and when they have other callers on the air you do feel there is still a community out there, even at that time. As I said, the radio was a help, a comfort….at first. But lately I have started hearing things, and I am not convinced these sounds are all in my head. Have any other listeners experienced what I have?

Mostly, I try and sleep during the day. I find it impossible to go straight to bed when I get home, which is typically about half two in the morning. It takes me at least a couple of hours to unwind, especially if anything has happened at work, if the orders have been packaged wrong or if I have had a bit of a run-in with one of the managers. These are the kind of things that trouble me and keep me awake; they race around my mind in circles if I attempt to just lie there and close my eyes. So before I retire, I like to have a quick drink and switch on the radio. The local station, Radio Wan, is the one that I found most soothing. At that hour they mostly broadcast talk shows, interspersed with the occasional record, usually something light and familiar. Not being young anymore, by the time I get home I am hardly in the mood for banging party anthems! Anyway, the topics discussed are mostly local issues, or simply just local residents phoning in to confess their problems or air their grievances. One night they may cover pedestrianization and parking permits, the next infidelity and terminal illness.  Even if you do not agree with their opinions it is nice to hear from other people when you are sat there alone in the dark, these other voices you know are not too far away. It makes you feel less isolated. Thinking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the trouble started. I probably was not even aware of the initial signs. They were so quiet, so subtle, like the way the dawn creeps up on you.

All I heard at first was static. Or what I took to be static – an irritating wash of white noise, as if I hadn’t tuned in the station properly. Over repeated nights, this would fade in and out of the listed programme at irregular intervals, until I found myself listening more closely to this interference than I did the conversation or the music. Half consciously, I began to recognise, to identify certain sounds. What could be mistaken for whispering was actually atmospheric sound. To be precise, it appeared to be a field recording of nearby Lethmachen Hill. Over the years I had taken a number of strolls up there, and I became convinced the distortion on the radio was in fact the sound of the trees up there swaying in the wind, the boughs creaking, the leaves rustling. Although I had never before heard them at night, I was certain that was how those trees would sound. It was as if the hill itself was broadcasting a signal; communicating. The more intently I listened, the more I drew from the ambience. There was the soft gurgling of what must be a woodland stream, and the grunting and whinnying of what must be small animals scavenging in the undergrowth. Most chillingly, I often heard the drawn out, plaintive, practically human cries of what I believed to be foxes.

Frustratingly, these snatches of sound have been infrequent and indistinct. They also seem to be repeated in random order, making it difficult to judge if I am hearing something for the first time or the fifth. As the days passed, I became increasingly impatient with the deejay and his callers, longing for the precious minutes when they would dissolve into a symphony of sighs and groans as the wind and rain swept through the hidden alcoves of the hill. I admit there are nights I spend hours waiting beside the radio, poised with pen and paper beneath a solitary desk light. You see, I have become convinced that this pirate signal is trying to communicate something, that the hill has a story to tell. Only of course the details are almost impossible to communicate on our wavelength, meaning that those who listen need to assemble the narrative from any clues that can be deciphered. For instance, on half a dozen occasions I have heard the same brief melody repeated, either hummed or whistled as if at a slight remove. It is possible, however I don’t think this is just stray music transmitted by a neighbouring station. Recently, my patience has been rewarded. Now, there are words. Just a single exclamation at first, evolving gradually into distinct, individual words. Finally, I have been able to hear what are apparently broken sentences, perhaps a conversation cut short? ‘No…not tonight…another night…’ I thought I heard a hushed voice say. ‘We should be getting back…it’s getting dark…’ she repeated. Then I think, in the background, an answer in a lower voice. Muffled, almost indecipherable: ‘There’s no hurry…’

That is my story. My motivation for writing to your site was the hope that other readers could tell me if they have shared a similar experience whilst listening to Radio Wan late at night? Is it just a problem with the local transmitter or the reception in this area? Do other people feel they are being communicated with, or is it just me? I appreciate that at that hour the listening figures are probably low. I did recently confide in a colleague at work. He is always very quiet and keeps himself to himself, so I figured he could be trusted. Yet he just responded by shooting me a very wary glance, and when I tried to go into the details of what I was hearing, he looked genuinely frightened and avoided any further interaction.

Location, location…apparition? Exclusive residence hides a dark past?


It was only upon discovering that the house had been rebuilt that I felt the need to write to you.  I am not even sure why this is significant. Following the renovations, the place is almost completely unrecognizable as the derelict ruin that still haunts my memories, and my dreams. Now the house exhibits an air of opulence: an array of expensive cars parked up on the driveway; the whitewashed stonework of the Georgian facade boasting sculpted pillars and elegant balconies. It even has a new name: Hillcrest Villa. Yet it was all very different in my day. I am not even sure the building had a name back then, not a real one. People called it all sorts of things: Hill House, Tower Lodge, Yews Court. But to the children who attended nearby Lethmachen Primary School it was known simply as ‘The Haunted House’.  I remember we used to talk about it all the time, especially during the summer, when the teachers would march us up the hill on a nature trail. Our route would typically skirt around the back of the property, and every child would take turns peeking nervously over the crumbled stone wall, pinching and kicking at each other whilst inventing terrible stories.

As for me, these days it is the familiar story. Trying to balance work and family life occupies most of my time, so I rarely have the inclination to venture across town and visit the neighbourhood where I grew up.  In fact, I only happened to be crossing Lethmachen Hill that day because I was attending a meeting out of town and had been diverted by the latest set of roadworks. As my car struggled to the peak of that steep incline I happened to glance off road to my right. And that was when I saw Hillcrest Villa. You know how it is when you return to somewhere you once knew. You immediately notice if anything looks different, even if you can’t exactly remember how it looked before. It almost feels like a personal insult that changes have been made in your absence! Well, my first reaction on sighting Hillcrest Villa was ‘Ooh, that’s new!’ Only the next moment I realised it wasn’t. In fact it was very old, and I knew it. You see, in spite of the shiny new facelift, in spite of the gentrification with the chandeliers and works of art I glimpsed in passing, nothing had really changed. I still felt this horrible, oppressive sense of fear when looking at that building, even though it had attempted a disguise. That afternoon I gave a terrible presentation at the executive meeting. All I could think about was The Haunted House, and what had happened there so long ago. I mean, what had happened to me. When my eldest daughter mentioned your website, I thought that perhaps by sharing my story it would become just another story, and no longer belong to me. I am tired of keeping it all to myself.

We’re going back twenty years now. That morning everyone in my year had received their GCSE results. That evening, as we were all still too young to get into any pubs or clubs, a party had been arranged on Lethmachen Hill. I don’t remember much about the actual party, partly because of the alcohol, partly because I imagine it was pretty dull. There were probably stories circulating for a few weeks afterwards, exaggerated tales of who had been sick and who had had sex, but by then I had already decided I was too old for such gossip. Instead of returning to school for A levels, I had made up my mind I wanted a job. This party would be my last experience of school life, of my childhood. Tomorrow my life was going to change. At some point in the evening, about half way down a bottle of vodka, I realised that I needed to mark this momentous occasion in some way. There needed to be a significant ending that I would be able look back on and recognise in years to come. Drunken logic dictated that Chris would fulfil this function. He was a boy in my class who had liked me for ages. The other girls were always winding me up about ‘the chemistry’ between us, although in truth I only really saw him as a friend. Still, I kept flirting with him on and off throughout the party and we ended up walking off alone and stumbling down the hill together in the dark. He was showing off in front of me, little suspecting I did not intend to see him again after this night was over. For me this was an ending, not a beginning.

Straying from the path, we soon lost our bearings and found we were approaching ‘The Haunted House’. When I was able to focus, I could just pick out its low silhouette crouched amongst the surrounding trees. In the dark the place looked even more desolate, as if it were the remnants of some stone age dwelling, rather than the shell of some Victorian town house, gutted by fire, as was told in most of the stories. Of course the stories were what we immediately started talking about, the conversation suddenly steering away from how short my dress was or how it would be fun if we went to explore what was behind those bushes. By our age, nobody really believed those stories about ‘The Haunted House’ anymore. Even at primary school they had become so contradictory and confused that you had your doubts. Tales of drowned witches, phantom highwaymen and headless horsemen had somehow all got mixed up in the legend, and even I recognised the latter had just been drafted in from ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. The version of the story I knew best was that there had been a murder in Victorian times. A father had murdered his wife in an upstairs bedroom and then waited for his children to get home from school. On their return he had stormed downstairs, picked up the boy in one hand and the girl in the other, and thrown them on to the roaring flames of an open fire. Oh, and another thing. When the father stormed down the stairs he had been wearing a mask cut from the face of the dead mother. No, no, no, argued Chris, quite animatedly. That was not the version he knew. His story was at once more plausible and more sordid: something to do with an illegal abortion racket and police corruption. But seriously, between us we had heard dozens of variants, ranging from fairy realms to flying saucers.

The result of this conversation is that Chris and I became convinced that we had to break into ‘The Haunted House’. We couldn’t believe that, as far as we were aware, nobody had ever attempted this in the past. Suddenly it all made perfect sense. We had a purpose in life, we would make history. Predictably, Chris insisted on trying to impress me by dramatically wrenching away the rotten boards nailed across the nearest window. There was no glass, just a gaping hole that yawned an even deeper darkness than the night outside. The two of us slithered clumsily through the jagged space and dropped to the floor. As you would expect, once inside there was nothing to see. Not only was the hull pitch black but it smelt dank and there was no furniture, no carpet, no character. We loitered awkwardly for a few seconds, trying to think of something funny to say and trying to imagine what we could do next. I certainly wasn’t having sex in here, no matter how drunk I was. ‘OK…right. I think it’s time to go home…’ I began to slur when Chris abruptly hushed me. Yes, now I could hear it too. A dull, muffled vibration of sound rising from somewhere up ahead. As if summoned, we took simultaneous steps forward. Could I also now make out a frame of pale light in the far corner, as if a door had been left ajar?

We opened the door and walked in. The living room was brightly lit and cosy, neatly arranged with a chintz sofa and an ornamental table piled high with board games and books. An open fire raged in the hearth – this was the sound we had heard. Fascinated, I stared deep into the fire, watching the tongues of flame spit and surge higher. Chris touched me gently on the arm. On the mantelpiece stood a gallery of family portraits: two parents and two children stared out from the sepia tinted photographs. The mother’s smile always appeared strained, as if she felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Everything about the room felt impossibly warm and homely, just for a moment. Then I realised it all felt impossible. My sensation of content had been broken by the sound of heavy footsteps above us, pacing the upstairs room. Did this house even have an upstairs anymore? No, I couldn’t recall seeing one from the outside, the roof had sunken in. This couldn’t be. But there in front of us was a flight of stairs, ascending. Suddenly, a savage, unseen voice rang out from the top of the stairs – threatening, not welcoming.

‘Children, is that you? Are you home?’

I can’t remember exactly what happened next; I didn’t drink alcohol for a while afterwards. When I heard those footsteps slowly begin to descend the stairs I must have instinctively turned to run. There was something wrong with the way they sounded: heartless, lifeless, weighted with a burden. I think they even had this weird echo. Anyway, I swear I grabbed Chris by the arm and tried to drag him with me. But he refused to move. He was frozen to the spot, staring blankly towards the stairs with this horrible expression – a mask of disbelief and yet undeniable belief. In that split second, he looked to me almost as if he had suddenly realised that this place was his home, that he had been stupid to have ignored the stories, or been unlucky to have heard the wrong ones. He had been part of the myth all along and it had come back to claim him. I guess I just panicked. I fled the room and scrambled through the dark next door until I reached the window. Outside, I must have dashed blindly down the hill for a distance, careering through hedgerows and undergrowth (my body was covered in cuts and bruises when I woke late the next morning). Then a sudden wave of guilt had swamped me and I stopped running. How could I have left Chris there on his own? I turned and sprinted back up the hill as fast as I could. But when I reached ‘The Haunted House’ there was nothing there. Once again it was just a dark, dismal, empty shell of a building: holes in the roof, damp in the walls. I couldn’t find that brightly lit, inhabited room and I couldn’t find Chris. In fact, I never saw him again after that night. Of course I had never intended to see him again but that didn’t stop me feeling guilty. Later I heard rumours that he and his family had relocated, left town during that summer. I hope this is the truth.

Most of the time, when I think about what happened at that house, I can convince myself it was all a dream. Even today, if I ever drink too much, I often have dreams where the night continues as if I had never gone to bed, and then in the morning I have to pick apart dreams and reality. Perhaps this is what occurred? Perhaps Chris and I just parted ways after the party, yet because we had been talking about the legends of ‘The Haunted House’, I then went home and dreamt about one of them? I mean, it couldn’t be that out of that jumbled mess of stories that have been told over the years, one of the stories was actually true? And so that particular story returns every now and again to assert its truth? As I said at the beginning, I thought I had buried the memory, the guilt years ago. But for some reason seeing that house rebuilt, renewed….well, it brought it all back again. Sometimes I worry I will open the wrong door and find myself back in that warm, cosy room, as if I now too belong to the myth. I suppose that was one reason why I wanted to give the story to you?


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