Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I was seven when I moved into that house at Ashbrooke Lane. At least that’s what my parents tell me. My recollection of that time is vague. I have memories of the big tree on our lawn, running round the garden with the boy next door, and I remember sitting on the living room floor playing with my He-Man figures. But my most vivid memories are of the recurring nightmares.
To the best of my knowledge, they happened every night I stayed in that house. The first time, I woke during in the early hours with a feeling that I was being watched. I lay there in the dark, listening intently, scared to move in case it drew the prowler’s attention. I could hear or see nothing, but that feeling wouldn’t go away. There was somebody or something in the room with me. I screwed up my eyes tightly, hoping it would just pass me by. I felt the bed shake and I stiffened up like a statue, afraid to make even the slightest movement. And then I heard the sound of raspy breathing from the foot of the bed. It moved round the side of me then stopped. Moments passed silently. Then I felt the breath on my face.
Instinctively, I opened my eyes. I saw an emaciated man in a lab coat looming over me, an expression of horror etched into his pale gaunt face, veins bulging from his forehead. I tried to scream, but he grasped me around the throat with his skeleton-like fingers and dragged me out of bed. Jerking and contorting, I tried to grab onto something to stop him from taking me. He pulled me out of my room onto the landing where I gripped the stair rail. He pulled at my arms and then at my feet and I kicked and screamed in a furious fight for my freedom.
The next thing I knew, it was morning and I was waking up in my parents’ bed. They had found me sleepwalking across the landing in the middle of the night. I had a lot of nightmares as a kid, which was put down to my active imagination, but sleepwalking…that was a first.
I saw him again the following night. He yanked me from my bed with no warning and this time he managed to pull me down the stairs. Once again I woke in my parents’ bed. My dad had woken in the night and found me lying at the foot of the stairs.
I worked myself into such a panic over these dreams that my parents allowed me to stay up late with them one night. We watched TV and I strained to stay awake. I don’t remember going to bed that night; I just found myself sitting on the stairs observing the hallway, waiting for him to arrive. A grandfather clock stood in the hallway, ticking away the minutes until part of the wall opened up to reveal a concealed doorway from which he emerged. He was wearing the same lab coat I’d seen him wear before, only this time it was smeared with blood. Whatever he’d been doing inside that room I didn’t want to find out.
I watched with dread as he slowly and methodically slipped a pair of rubber surgical gloves into his hands. He tented his fingers together then turned and looked directly at me with his intense, deep set eyes. A pained grimace stretched across his chalky face. I rushed upstairs calling out for help as he crawled behind me, swiping at my heels. I ran into my parents’ bedroom. They were asleep and unaware of the commotion. Before I could reach their bed and shake them awake my pursuer snatched me up in his bony arms and started pulling me away. I managed to grab onto the door frame and despite his efforts, he could not prise me from it. He relented for a moment, his breath heavy and laboured against my neck. Slowly, he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a scalpel, before slicing deep into my hands. I released my grip on the doorframe as blood dripped between my fingers. I shrieked out, but there was no sound. I could see mom and dad lying there fast asleep, oblivious, as this withered spectre hauled me out of their room and all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.
I tried to claw my way back, leaving streaks of blood on the carpets and walls in my wake. He pressed his fingers against my throat. I whimpered and choked, and my limbs thrashed around in frenzy. At that moment the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime and he suddenly abandoned his fight. I looked up to see the emaciated figure creeping back through the door from where it came. The door sealed shut, disappearing into the wall as though it never existed.
A point came where I starting to confuse my dreams with reality. I couldn’t tell if this was all in my mind or actually happening to me in the middle of the night. During the daylight hours, I examined the wall in the hallway, looking to see if there was some indication of a secret door. I told my parents and my Nan about the dreams and though I never doubted their concern, there was not a lot they could do except reassure me. I stayed with my parents when I got particularly distressed, either in their bed or we’d bring the blankets and pillows downstairs and have a sleep over in the living room.
Nothing helped. My tormentor found me night after night, waiting until mom and dad were asleep before hauling me away. I tried to call out, but my screams were always silent as he gripped his hand round my throat. He grew increasingly violent as he tried in vain to drag me into his secret room. Sometimes he would use his scalpel across my hands or under my fingernails, other times he would inject me with a syringe, and it wasn’t unusual for him to bite my fingers. As I prepared for the dreams, I rehearsed how I would try to fight him off, what I could grab onto as he dragged me downstairs. I knew if I could just hold out until the clock chimed, then I would survive another night because that’s when his door sealed shut.
What terrified me most was the realisation that if he got me into his secret room before the chime of the clock, the door would seal behind us and nobody would ever see or hear from me again.
I don’t remember much else about that house, but we didn’t stay long. We moved in with my Nan for a while and even though there wasn’t much room for all of us, at least those nightmares stopped. And so did the sleepwalking.
Of course, I never forgot about those dreams. How could I? But I figured I was just a kid with an overactive imagination and I never considered them particularly abnormal. That is until my teens when I started to suspect something more sinister was at play. I was looking through old photo albums with my parents when we came across some from our old house at Ashbrooke Lane.
“Something wasn’t right about that house,” I heard my mom say to my dad.
This roused my curiosity. “What do you mean, mom?”
“Well, I used to have bad feelings and nightmares when we were living there,” she added.
My dad tried to change the subject, but I persisted. “What sort of nightmares?” I enquired.
“I don’t want to go into it. Just violent and disturbing dreams.”
“I had recurring nightmares in that house too,” I said.
“You were too young to remember your dreams,” my dad interrupted. “You probably just picked up on something you heard us talking about.”
I felt insulted, like they were dismissing me, but you don’t forget dreams like those. I tried pushing for more information. They weren’t forthcoming.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that we were able to talk about it again. I was in the living room with my parents and my dad was reading the paper. He casually told my mom, “Our old house in Ashbrooke Lane is up for sale again.”
“Nobody stays there long,” she replied. “It makes you wonder.”
My dad nodded in agreement.
“So what exactly happened at that house?” I interjected.
Maybe it was because so much time had passed or perhaps it’s because I was older, but they were more open with me this time. My mom explained how she’d had visions of a violent murder – dead bodies lying on the floor, blood all over the walls, and she claimed she had felt a “presence”. When she was alone, she would often hear crying and it sounded like it was coming from inside the house. She also revealed that my aunt and uncle had come down from Manchester to stay one weekend and woke in the middle of the night to see a figure of a tall man at the bottom of the bed.
My aunt and uncle had passed away by this point, so I was unable to ask them about their experiences, but mom explained that they were so distressed by the incident they returned home the next day.
I asked my dad, “Did you have anything weird happen?”
My dad has always been a very grounded sceptic, but I knew something had affected him too, though he wouldn’t admit it. “There was just an uncomfortable feeling,” he said, and volunteered nothing more.
Ever since learning of my mom, aunt and uncle’s experiences in that house, I’ve been overwhelmed with curiosity. Like my dad, I’m quite the sceptic and I was convinced there’s a rational explanation for all this. Even so, I wanted to know more about that house.
From time to time I would check the newspaper, and just as my parents had said, the house was rarely occupied for more than six months before going up for sale. There wasn’t much more I could find out at this time. I’m sure the information and history is available in some archives somewhere, but I wouldn’t know where to start. However, I was passing by that area one day and got the idea to drive by the house. It was unoccupied, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary, and felt no chills or foreboding. It was just an old house. But still, I wanted to know more. I noted down the phone number on the “For Sale” sign and later that day I called the estate agents and requested a viewing.
The lady who met me for the viewing introduced herself as Andrea. We went inside and immediately I felt a shiver run over my body. It was probably my mind running away with me, but I got this eerie feeling. I can only describe it as being like the tension that lingers in the air after a big argument.
If I’m honest, I barely recognised the interior of the house. My memory was vague, but there was one area that brought to mind those recurring nightmares I had as a child, and that was the hallway.
I tried not to draw attention to myself and continued the tour as Andrea gave me her sales pitch. As we walked round, I was convinced that the wall in the hallway was hiding something.
“What’s behind this wall?” I asked.
The look on her face at that moment could disguise none of the lies she proceeded to tell me. First she told me there was “nothing there”.
It wasn’t my intention to make her uncomfortable, but I’d come this far and I wanted some answers. “There’s at least fifteen foot between here and the external wall,” I pointed out.
I heard her mumbling on about an old boiler room that had been bricked over, but she stopped mid-sentence when I started knocking against the wall. This was not my usual kind of behaviour. It was as though I’d been consumed by an obsession.
“You know something, don’t you?” Andrea asked me, a tone of surrender in her voice.
“I used to live here as a kid. Something isn’t right about this house, is it?”
Although still apprehensive, it was as if I’d freed her from an eternal silence. “It could cost me my job if I told you.”
“It can’t be much worse than I already suspect,” I said. “Was somebody murdered here?”
She hesitated and took a cautious glance over her shoulder, “Do you mind if we talk about this somewhere else? I’m really not comfortable talking about it here.”
We decided to go for a coffee and this is what I learned…
In 1953, Doctor Henry Fenton moved into Ashbrooke Lane with his wife, Mary and their teenage son, Raymond. The upper floor would serve as their living quarters and he had the lower part of the house converted into a Doctor’s practice. His office was set just off the hallway opposite his prized grandfather clock.
Things were going well for the Fentons and business was thriving. And then, one day Mary fell down the stairs in their home and broke her neck. She died instantly.
Henry reacted to the tragedy by immersing himself in his work, using the practice as a distraction from the heartache. Raymond, on the other hand, was struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death. With his father too busy to offer the emotional support he needed, he started to drift. He fell in with a bad crowd, started skipping school and there were a couple of times he’d been caught drinking or brawling and was escorted home by police.
Henry barely noticed nor cared during this time. Once he closed his practice for the day he would collapse into his armchair and attempt to repress his grief with liquor. Some nights he’d drink himself into a coma, other nights he would fly into a rage, smashing furniture and throwing things around the room, and sometimes it was his son who bore the brunt of his temper. Raymond was taken in by his grandparents soon after, leaving Henry Fenton all alone in that house on Ashbrooke Lane.
Later that year, on a cold autumn night, Henry was woken by a disturbance from downstairs. Emboldened by the liquor, he decided to go and confront the intruder. His practice was the only thing he had going for him and he refused to let some thug take that away.
Henry tiptoed downstairs in the darkness. He saw the light of a torch in the far room and heard the intruder rummaging through cupboards and shelves. Probably some junkie after the drugs and syringes he kept on the premises. Henry snuck into his office, withdrew a scalpel from a drawer and tucked into a corner and waited.
The intruder entered the room, a rucksack over his shoulder and his face covered by a black mask. Henry sprung out of the darkness brandishing the scalpel and ordered him to drop his bag.
The masked man panicked and lunged towards him, attempting to push past and make his escape. Henry swiped out blindly as he fell backwards against the wall. The intruder staggered along the hallway and opened the front door before collapsing on the doorstep.
Henry got to his feet and approached the fallen man. Blood gushed from a deep incision across his throat from where the scalpel had made contact. Henry pulled the mask from the man’s head to clear his airways.
Staring back at him in the moonlight, eyes wide with terror, Henry saw the face of his son, Raymond. His heart wrenched at the sight before him. What had he done? How could he have known?
His professional instincts kicked in and he sprung to action. Raymond thrashed about, choking and gurgling on his own blood as his father gripped his throat, pressing his bony fingers firmly against the wound in an attempt to contain the bleeding. He proceeded to drag him towards his office where he could clamp and stitch the laceration. By the time he got him there, however, it was too late.
At that moment, the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime.
Patients turned up to the practice the following day to find Raymond cradled in Dr Fenton’s arms. Unable to come to terms with killing his own son, Henry had turned the scalpel upon himself, slashing his own wrists before bleeding to death on the floor of his office.
Credit: Dan Hammonds