If you walk through a certain run-down, inner-city area located in a working-class northern town, there’s a chance you’ll stumble across a terraced street like none other. I say there’s a chance, but in reality it’s a slim one. That’s because – technically speaking – Purgatory Street does not exist, at least not in our plane of existence. You won’t find it on any maps and none of the locals will speak about it with outsiders. There are only whispers of its existence in the back rooms of working men’s clubs, bingo halls and greasy spoon cafes.
It’s taken on a life of its own however, becoming an urban legend across the towns and cities of the north, with rumours eventually reaching people like me through obscure internet forums. I regard myself as an amateur urban explorer and paranormal investigator. Most of my family and friends say I have too much time on my hands and I’m wasting my life chasing after ghosts and ghouls in abandoned buildings and dark country lanes. And after years of dead ends and disappointments, there were times I thought of giving up my unusual hobby…but then I walked the street and my life changed forever.
I would like to say there’s some set of rules or magic formula you can follow to visit the street. If there is such a way, nobody’s ever been able to identify it. In the real world the location is wasteland – a gravel-covered empty lot plagued with weeds, rats and assorted rubbish. It’s unclear who owns the land. The council has nothing to do with the site and no private developer has ever tried to build on it. When you ask the local residents about the land you’ll receive a stoney response. It’s as if there’s a conspiracy amongst the residents to keep this dark secret from the outside world, and they will react with hostility whenever someone like me comes around and starts asking questions.
There’s no set time or date when you can turn up and the wasteland magically transforms into the paranormal street of legend. Some say that the street chooses you, only allowing a select few to walk its cobblestones. In any case, 999 out of 1000 times you’ll visit the location and find nothing but weeds and piles of dumped rubbish. But, despite numerous disappointments over the years, I kept on returning. I guess there was something pulling me back to that place, and in the end my persistence was rewarded. But, as the old adage goes, you should be careful what you wish for – because you might just get it.
It was almost midnight on a cold Saturday evening when the street finally opened up to me. I almost didn’t go that night as I was exhausted after working a double shift in my day job, but I still braved the elements and dragged myself out to the site…And when I saw it, my heart almost jumped out of my chest.
The strip of wasteland was gone, inexplicably replaced by two rows of red brick terraced houses set along a street paved with old-fashioned cobblestones and dimly illuminated by gas lamps. It was as if I was looking back in time, casting my eyes upon a working-class street of the industrial era. But this wasn’t what concerned me the most.
The entrance to the street appeared as a transparent, liquid-like portal – a doorway to another dimension or plane of existence. I stood there in astonishment for some time, barely believing my eyes as I realised I was looking upon another world.
I was briefly distracted by the sounds of joviality and so turned around, looking across the ‘real’ street where I stood and seeing a young couple staggering along the pavement, presumably returning home after a night out. They looked at me suspiciously, whispering and sniggering to each other as they passed. I realised they couldn’t see what I could, otherwise they would have reacted very differently. This vision was only meant for me.
I waited until the drunken couple had disappeared from sight before turning back towards the mysterious street. For a moment I was unsure how to proceed. The accounts I read from the few who’d claimed to have visited Purgatory Street were typically vague, and so it wasn’t clear how one would enter and exit the supernatural realm. The membrane – or whatever it was – looked inviting, but appearances can be deceptive, and I didn’t know whether I could safely cross over and make it back again.
Part of me felt like turning around and leaving. I had seen that Purgatory Street did exist after all and perhaps this was enough. But no – I’d come this far and knew I couldn’t give up now. So, I took a deep breath and stepped forward, cautiously lifting my arm and putting my hand through the membrane, watching in astonishment as the surface rippled like a pond of water broken by a dropped pebble. I saw my hand on the other side, relieved that it was still connected to my body. Reassured, I continued to walk, submerging my entire form in the liquid membrane.
For a second I couldn’t breathe and so feared the worst, but then I emerged on the other side, stepping out onto the cobblestones of Purgatory Street. Relieved, I breathed the air, sensing that it was somehow different to my world but not really understanding why. Still, it was a case of ‘so far, so good’. But now I had crossed over I needed to make sure I could make it back. Without turning around, I took a step backwards and then another, once again passing through the portal before finding myself back on the ‘real’ street in the mortal realm. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to return but thankfully this wasn’t the case, as I could step across and back without any problem.
And so, after all these years of trying, I had finally discovered something extraordinary. I was very excited but also nervous, not knowing what lay before me or how long the portal would stay open, but I was determined to explore the street and uncover its secrets, and so I moved on without delay…and this is what I saw…
The street itself really is like a throwback to a bygone era. It’s difficult to place it precisely in the historical context as there are a number of anachronisms. What you do see when you first step foot onto the road is rows of two-up, two-down terraced houses on either side of the street, their front doors opening right out onto the pavement. The lamps lighting up the road appear to be gas rather than electric, although I have no idea who maintains them.
In addition to the houses there are two establishments of note – a corner shop and a back-street pub, the types of small business that are sadly disappearing in the modern world. At first glance, the street has a quaint and almost idyllic appearance…but as you’ve probably already guessed, this small community holds many dark secrets.
As I’ve already explained, the top of the street is a portal leading back to our world. The other end however…well, that was something of a mystery. When I looked down the road I saw a thick mist beginning just after the last set of gas lamps. It formed a thick membrane that I couldn’t see through, and it was disconcerting to think about what lay on the other side of the fog…but this was a problem for later.
I walked cautiously down the dimly lit street, feeling increasingly uneasy as I progressed. I had the feeling I was being watched by hostile eyes, and when I looked to the windows of the houses I swore I could see the dark outlines of shadowy figures standing just behind the curtains. I jumped when I saw a set of curtains twitch as a face emerged from the darkness – a ghostly white, almost inhuman face with black, shark-like eyes staring out at me.
I recoiled in horror but couldn’t look away. It was as if those devilish eyes were holding me in a trance, and against every instinct in my body I found myself slowly walking towards the window, listening intently as the creature whispered softly through the glass. It repeated the same line over and over again, its red lips emitting a low and unnatural voice.
“You don’t belong here. You don’t belong here. YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”
It screamed so loudly the third time that I fell backwards onto the cobbles, landing heavily as the creature cackled cruelly at my misfortune. I glanced at the portal entrance and for a moment considered fleeing back to my own world, but I didn’t. In the tales I’d heard and read, paranormal realms such as these were often protected by a ‘harbinger’ – a supernatural entity tasked with scaring off visitors from the mortal world. They would go out of their way to frighten the likes of me, but the stories say they can’t do us any physical harm. I hoped the accounts were correct and summoned the courage to stand up and face the beast.
“LEAVE THIS PLACE!” the creature snarled.
“No.” I replied defiantly, “Not until I’m finished.”
It reacted with anger, its eyes widening and fangs exposed as it hissed like an angry cat. For a moment I thought I’d made a terrible mistake as I imagined the beast smashing through the thin glass and devouring me right there on the cobbles. But instead the creature retreated, snarling once again before it disappeared behind the worn curtains. I breathed a sigh of relief as I turned back to the street, reacting with surprise when I saw two figures standing on the pavement watching me closely.
They were two elderly ladies dressed in heavy winter coats and with shawls covering their heads. Their hair was white and their skin wrinkled, but the ladies had eyes filled with expression and intelligence. I noted how both carried wicker shopping baskets covered with kitchen towels and they were stood on the pavement outside the doorway of No. 7.
“Good for you son!” called out the woman on the right, “Good on you for standing up to that vile thing. It’s high time he got taken down a peg or two.”
I soon realised she was talking about my encounter with the entity in No. 3 and wondered what she knew about it, but part of me was afraid to ask.
“Thanks.” I muttered as I cautiously walked across the cobbles towards them.
Both women seemed friendly enough, greeting me with smiles and waves. However, this was far from a normal situation and I suspected the old ladies were not what they appeared to be. Nevertheless, I had embarked on this quest knowing the risks and had a feeling these women could provide me with some answers.
“I’m Mavis,” said the first woman, “and this is Alice. Nice to meet you, young man.”
I nodded my head and smiled thinly. “Good to meet you both. Do you live on the street?” I enquired.
Mavis laughed before replying. “Oh yes young man, we’ve lived on the street for a long, long time. Not much happens around here without us hearing about it.”
I nodded my head in understanding. Mavis and Alice reminded me of neighbourhood gossips, the types who would always be standing on the street corner and watching all the comings and goings.
“You’re not from around here son, are you?” asked Alice, even though she surely already knew the answer to her question.
“No.” I replied hesitantly, “I’m from back there.”
I pointed towards the portal at the top of the street, wondering if they could see what I saw.
Alice nodded her head in apparent understanding. “Ah, you’re from the other side. It’s been a long time since we’ve had anyone visit from over there.”
I expected follow up questions but instead Mavis and Alice shared a look, and I saw a terrible sadness in their eyes. A tense pause followed before I broke the silence.
“So, do you like living here?”
It was a stupid question but evoked a response nevertheless, as both women began an animated conversation while almost forgetting I was there.
“This used to be a nice street. Not anymore!” Alice exclaimed, her old eyes lighting up with a mixture of passion and anger. “There was a time you could leave your doors unlocked and walk alone after dark. No longer, I’m afraid.”
“Oh yes,” Mavis agreed whilst nodding her head, “It’s all gone to hell. That Mr Smith in No. 13. You know he beats his wife and kids after he’s been on the drink?”
“Shameful,” her friend answered, “and that’s not the half of it. What about Sally in the pub? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terrible tragedy what happened to her, but now she’s really lost the plot.”
“You’re right there. And what about Mr Rashid? He used to run a respectable business, but there’s something very strange about that man. I won’t be patronising his shop again, let me tell you!”
“Me neither. And don’t get me started on that young hoodlum from No. 33. They’re calling him ‘Billy the Kid’ these days…Did you know that?”
“God help us. He’s watched too many of those damn western films I suppose.”
“No discipline in that household. They let him run wild, terrorising the whole street. Where’s it going to end?”
My tired brain was nearly fried with this deluge of information. I wanted to ask for more clarification about the street and its residents, but fate intervened. I saw the projectile out of the corner of my eye, ducking instinctively as it missed my head by mere inches. Next, I heard glass shattering against the cobblestones. I looked around and saw a young boy of about 11 or 12 wearing shorts, a ruffled shirt, a peaked cap, and with a thick scarf tied around his neck. There was a wickedness in his eyes as he laughed cruelly, although I suspected he was disappointed that the bottle he’d thrown missed its mark.
Mavis waved her fist at the boy and shouted in anger, crying – “Damn you Billy, you’re a bloody menace!”
Alice calmed her friend down, placing a firm hand on her arm before saying – “Come on now Mavis, let’s get indoors before it gets worse.”
And with that they escaped into No.7, slamming the door shut behind them and leaving me alone on the pavement. Shocked at the ladies’ sudden retreat, I shot the boy an angry glare, only to be met with a one fingered salute and more mocking laughter.
I lost my temper at this point, shouting – “You little bastard! Come here!”
The boy started to run and I foolishly chased after him, not stopping to think that it could be a trap. I saw him darting into a doorway and disappearing from sight. I followed, only briefly looking up to read the sign hanging above the door which read – ‘Mr Rashid’s Newsagents and Grocers’, and I noted the miniature flags, newspapers, and stacked cans displayed in the shop’s window.
I entered through the door and scanned the shop’s interior, frantically searching for the boy but not finding him. But by this time, ‘Billy the Kid’ was the least of my concerns. There was something very wrong with this corner shop, that quickly became apparent to me. The first thing that hit me was the awful smell – one of rot and decay. It was so bad that I almost retched. And then I realised I was being watched.
I slowly turned around and saw a man who I guessed was Mr Rashid, a middle-aged, bearded fellow of South Asian descent. He had a wide, unnatural grin which seemed to be painted onto his face. This was disconcerting, but what really concerned me was the striped apron he wore over his clothes, which I noted was covered in blood stains. But Mr Rashid ran a grocery shop, not a butchers.
The shop owner greeted me amicably, at least on the surface – although I could tell there was a sinister undertone to his words.
“Good evening sir. Welcome to my humble store. And how may I help you today?”
His greeting took me off guard and for a moment I struggled to find the words to respond. “Erm…I saw a young boy running in here. He threw a bottle at me on the street. Did you see him come through here?”
Mr Rashid shook his head, his smile never faltering as he answered. “Goodness gracious…No sir, we don’t allow troublemakers in this establishment. But, since you’re here, why not take a gander at our fresh produce and see if there’s anything that catches your eye? I guarantee we have the best prices in town.”
I almost laughed as I looked around the store’s interior, soon realising why it smelt so bad in here. Far from being fresh, Mr Rashid’s stock was in a state of decay – the fruit and vegetables brown and rotten, and the milk sour and curdled. In fact, the entire shop interior was in complete disarray, with the ancient newspapers yellow and crumbling and the label-less cans dented or smashed open. Amazingly, Mr Rashid seemed totally oblivious to the mess, smell and general chaos as he continued to stand behind the till with that inane grin on his lips. But I sensed there was worse to come, a terrible secret yet to be revealed.
The stench grew worse as I walked down the aisle and towards the back of the store. I spotted an ancient white refrigerator which I guessed was out of order, because my nostrils were hit by the new odour of rotting meat as I approached it. I turned to see Mr Rashid watching me, a nervousness now evident behind his otherwise amicable expression.
“What’s inside here?” I asked hesitantly.
The shop owner’s smile faltered for the first time as he answered. “Take a look inside if you so wish.”
I didn’t want to open that fridge door, not really…but I felt compelled to do so. Reaching out with a shaking hand, I slowly turned the cold metal handle and pulled the door open, recoiling in horror at what I saw. The shelves inside were packed with rotting meat, the fridge’s mechanism broken and the meat infested with maggots and black flies. But, as disgusting as the sight and smell was, this was not the reason for my horror and revulsion.
Because, stacked on the shelves were arms, legs, internal organs and a human head – its eyes missing from their sockets and its mouth open and full of wriggling maggots.
I retched, retreating in utter disgust as I turned away from the revolting scene, and I glared back at Mr Rashid, whose face was now filled with guilt and shame. I continued to stare at him in disbelief, remaining silent as he stuttered out his confession.
“You have to believe me…I’m not a murderer! I never meant for this to happen.” He wiped the sweat off his brow before continuing, “I came to this country with good intentions – to start a business and raise enough money to bring my family over. But the pressures, the loneliness…it was too much for me.” He pointed angrily towards the dismembered corpse in the fridge. “This man broke into my shop late one night. I caught him in the act stealing from my till. We fought and…I guess my anger got the better of me.”
He lowered his head, no longer able to meet my eye. “I knew the police would never believe me, so I vowed to get rid of the body. Please sir…you must believe that this was never my intention.”
Tears were rolling down Mr Rashid’s cheeks as he finished his sorry tale. I was left speechless upon hearing his tragic confession. What did he want from me? Redemption or absolution? I could give him neither. Instead, all I wanted to do was escape from this hellish corner shop and so I looked past the grieving Mr Rashid and to the door. I feared he wouldn’t let me go now I knew the truth, but suddenly there was a distraction, as a half brick smashed through the shop window, showering the interior with shards of sharp glass.
Mr Rashid screamed as if in physical pain, crying – “Leave me be! Leave me alone damn you!”
I took the opportunity given to me, running for the door and darting back onto the street, leaving the stench and death behind me. I found Billy there waiting for me, soon realising that he’d thrown the brick that had smashed Mr Rashid’s window.
The kid continued to mock me as he ran down the cobblestones. I followed him, although I no longer felt anger towards the young lad. His brick attack had allowed me to escape from Mr Rashid’s shop and I now wondered whether he was guiding me down the street, acting like some kind of cross between a hooligan and ferryman. In any event, I decided to keep on following the boy, even though I feared where he would lead me.
I watched as the lad dashed into a doorway halfway down the street, but I paused before entering, seeing the sign above the door which read – ‘The Bucket of Blood’. The windows were frosted and the swing door closed as the boy disappeared inside. I soon realised that – despite its unappealing name – this establishment served as the local public house…a back-street boozer of the sort you used to find all over working-class areas. Based on my experiences thus far I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the pub. As soon as the door swung open, I was hit by the smell of tobacco smoke and stale alcohol. Not the most inviting of aromas, but certainly an improvement on the rot and decay in the corner shop.
At first glance the pub’s interior was surprisingly ordinary; adorned with wooden fittings, neat little booths and with a bar stacked with label-less bottles of liquor and beer pumps. The walls were decorated with old black and white photographs of dour-faced workers and their families, and all seemed to stare down at me in a somewhat sinister fashion. The barroom was almost empty, the only patrons being three burly men drinking at the end of the bar, all wearing dirty overalls and with hardened looks on their faces as they sipped from their pints. They ignored me as I walked up to the bar and was greeted by the proprietor.
“Evening love, what are you having?” she asked.
I looked to the woman serving me – a lady in her mid-to-late thirties. She was attractive, wearing make-up and with her blonde hair done up in a neat bun. She wore a white lace blouse and dark skirt and shot me a friendly wink and a smile, her eyes green and passionate, although there seemed to be a sadness behind her welcoming demeanour, and I sensed there had been tragedy in her past. Nevertheless, I took the landlady up on her offer, taking a stool and replying – ‘A pint of bitter please.’
“Sure thing love.” she replied with a smile, grabbing a clean glass and pouring my beer.
“You’re Sally?” I asked sheepishly, remembering the old lady’s conversation.
“That I am.” she replied, “And we’ve been expecting you love.”
“Yeah?” I answered in confusion.
“Oh yes, news travels fast on the street, and it’s not often we get visitors from the other side.” She laid the pint down on the bar in front of me. “On the house love.”
“Oh, thank you.” I replied.
“Not a problem love. But just remember, this is a local boozer and we’re a tight-knit community. We look after our own around here…Now, I’m not saying you’re not welcome love, but just make sure you behave yourself.”
Her expression had become more hostile and I could tell she was giving me a warning. I struggled to find the words to reply but Sally had already turned her back on me, and she diverted her gaze to a framed photograph hanging behind the bar. I glanced across, feeling like I was intruding on a private moment. The picture showed a smiling and happy Sally on a beach alongside two laughing young children in swimsuits – a boy and a girl. There was a tear in her eye as she looked upon the photograph and I wondered what the story was behind the picture.
Just then, the pub door shot open and a newcomer entered. I looked up to see a dark-haired man dressed in work overalls, muscular and with rugged good looks. He grinned as he approached the bar, exerting an arrogance as he swaggered up to his stool and put in his order.
“Evening Sally, my darling. My usual please.”
The landlady shot him a look that could kill before responding. “All right Neil, I don’t want any trouble tonight. Do you hear me?”
Neil simply shrugged his shoulders, shooting Sally a wink as he said – “You know me darling. I’ll be as good as gold.”
Sally snorted but poured him his pint nevertheless. I was getting some bad vibes off this bloke and tried to avoid his eye, but Neil looked over at me and started a conversation.
“Hello mate, Neil Smith is my name. You must be this fellow from the other side we’ve all heard so much about.”
“Yeah, that’s me.” I confirmed, wondering how every person, spirit or entity on this street knew all about me.
“Welcome to the neighbourhood my friend. Although I’ve got to warn you…it’s bloody dead around here!”
He laughed boisterously at his own joke while I smiled awkwardly. Next, Neil glanced across at Sally who was once again staring at the family photo behind the bar.
“Still living in the past Sally?” he sneered, “About time you moved on I reckon.”
The landlady shot him a furious look and spat out her angry rebuttal – “Go to hell Smith!”
She retreated to the back room and Neil smirked cruelly.
“Are those her children?” I asked, pointing up at the photograph.
“They were.” Neil replied, “The poor blighters died in a fire.”
“Jesus!” I swore, suddenly gaining some understanding of the landlady’s pain.
“Aye, it was a tragedy alright,” said Neil, shaking his head, “I have kids myself you know. It would be terrible to lose them like that. Still, you should see what old Sally did to the lad who set the blaze. She got justice for the wee ones, don’t worry about that!”
He laughed again as he took a gulp from his pint. I saw a sour expression come across his face as he stared at his glass.
“How’s your pint?” he asked.
“Fine.” I answered in confusion, although in truth I hadn’t touched my drink.
“Nah mate, the beer is off…I’m sick of this piss water! I work hard all day to provide for my family, and this is what I get! Sally!”
I was shocked at how angry Neil had become as he descended into a furious tirade over something as trivial as a pint of beer. The landlady stormed out of the backroom, meeting her aggressive customer head on.
“What is it now Smith?”
“The pint is off. I want a new one!”
“There’s nothing wrong with my beer. Quit complaining!”
Neil slammed his pint down heavily on the wooden bar, spilling about a third of it liquid, and he snarled his next words through clenched teeth.
“Get me a new pint you bloody bitch!”
I gasped, astonished at how fast this had escalated, but I watched on as a stone-faced Sally lifted up the pint glass, calmly lifting it above the sitting Neil and emptying the contents over his head.
Once Neil recovered from his shock, he launched himself across the bar, reaching out to grab Sally’s throat. I jumped up from my stool thinking I had to intervene, but a moment later Neil was grabbed roughly by the trio of drinkers who’d suddenly jumped up from their seats, and the men started beating the living crap out of Neil, punching and kicking him without mercy as his blood and teeth spilt onto the wood floor.
Neil screamed as the men dragged him to the back door of the boozer and Sally cried – “Get that bastard out of my pub!”
I was horrified by the sudden descent into violence, but worse was to come, as a moment later the glass window at the front of the pub shattered and a firebomb was thrown inside, smashing onto the wooden bar and instantly setting it alight.
“Oh dear God no! Not again!” Sally screamed, as sheer terror overcame her.
Soon the fire spread and the barroom was filled with smoke. I stayed low, coughing profusely as the smoke entered my lungs, but somehow making it to the door and back out onto the street. And of course, Billy was there waiting for me, but for once he was not mocking or laughing. Instead, he looked incredibly guilty as he watched the fire take hold. He saw me and fled and I quickly followed, watching as he disappeared into yet another open doorway.
I looked to the house number and saw it was No. 13. Not a good omen. I stood for a moment on the pavement before a large figure emerged from inside to greet me, and to my surprise it was a face I recognised.
Neil Smith darkened the doorway, his previous charm gone as he cast me a disparaging look. I’d just seen him beaten half to death but now he didn’t have a mark on him. What’s more, he didn’t mention anything about our previous encounter only minutes before, although he did appear to recognise me.
“Here you are then,” he said without enthusiasm, barely concealing the hostility in his voice. “You best come in then. The missus is about to serve dinner.”
I didn’t want to follow him inside as I’d already seen the man’s violent side, but I felt compelled to enter No. 13 and face whatever horrors lay inside. What I found surprised me, because I was confronted by an oak dining table where a family sat waiting to eat. There was a boy of about 14 or 15 and a girl under 10. Both bore a passing resemblance to Neil Smith, and so I assumed they were his children. The two children looked up at me suspiciously as their father took his place at the top of the table. No introductions were made and I felt uncomfortable in their presence.
My feelings of discomfort only increased when Neil’s wife walked in from the kitchen holding a heavy copper pot in both hands. She was a young woman with long dark hair and a pretty face, but she looked tired and bedraggled. Mrs Smith reacted with shock once she saw me, jumping and almost dropping her pot.
She nervously looked to her husband and asked – “Who’s your friend Neil?”
Her husband glared at me as he replied. “He’s a visitor from the other side.”
“Oh.” his wife replied, as if this one off-the-cuff comment answered all her questions. “Well, you best sit down then.”
I took a chair at the end of the table, watching nervously as Mrs Smith opened the cooking pot, using a ladle to dish out a stew of boiled meat and potatoes. I thanked her as she piled the food on my plate. It did not look appetising. The stew appeared to be made from offal and cheap cuts. Besides, the gruesome scenes I’d witnessed in Mr Rashid’s shop meant I’d lost whatever appetite I might have had, and I was turned by the sight and smell of the meal.
Thankfully no-one seemed to care that I wasn’t eating as the family all tucked into their food. They ate in silence for several minutes before Neil abruptly spat out a chunk of tough meat onto his plate.
“Damn you woman!” he shouted aggressively, directing his anger towards his long-suffering wife, “I work hard all day and come home to this tripe! You can’t bloody cook…Can’t do anything right! Why the hell did I ever marry you?”
I felt the tension rising inside of the small room and feared where it would lead. Mrs Smith winced at her husband’s cruel words, but there was a spark of defiance in her eyes when she answered him.
“Well Neil, maybe if you didn’t spend all our money down the pub I could afford to buy better food!”
I could have cheered after hearing Mrs Smith’s witty retort, but I’d seen her husband’s bad side and knew he would react with violence. To my horror, I saw his face turn red with fury as he swiped his plate onto the floor and launched himself across the table, grabbing his wife by the throat. The young girl screamed and the room descended into chaos. There was no-one to stop Neil’s violent attack this time, no-one but me.
I desperately reached out in an attempt to hold Neil back, but when my hands touched his body I felt a surge of pain run through me, and I collapsed onto the floor in agony, paralysed by some unseen force. Meanwhile, Neil continued the brutal attack on his wife, knocking her down and wrapping his enormous hands around her slim neck, strangling her right there on the kitchen floor.
I couldn’t move and couldn’t look away as the horror unfolded before me. But suddenly a new figure emerged with a blade in hand, stabbing Neil in the back in a desperate attack. I looked up and was shocked to see Neil’s son, the knife still in his hand as his father cried out, releasing his grip on the woman’s throat and spinning around. He moved to attack his teenage son but instead got stabbed a second time in the belly.
The blood poured from his wounds as Neil’s huge frame collapsed heavily to the ground. In that instant, I regained control over my faculties, jumping up and running to Mrs Smith’s side. But it was already too late as the life had been choked out of her – her face a ghostly shade of pale and her dead eyes staring up at the ceiling.
Her husband-slash-murderer was still alive however – although barely, as he bled heavily from his deep stab wounds. He looked up at me, struggling to speak his last words before he bled to death.
“It wasn’t me.” he spluttered, “There’s a demon inside of me, but now I’m finally free of it.”
And then he choked on his own blood and closed his eyes.
My whole body shook as I tried to come to terms with the shocking violence I’d just witnessed. Instinctively I looked to the children to see if they were hurt. What I saw was the crying girl being comforted by her older brother. He held out the bloody knife towards me, threatening me as he cried out in fury.
“God damn you outsider! You come to our home to watch our suffering. How dare you! You don’t belong here. Get out before I kill you too! GET OUT!”
I looked into the boy’s raged-filled eyes and knew he meant it, and so I turned on my heels and ran out the door, soon finding myself back on the street. I felt an intense shame in that moment because I knew Neil’s son was right. I had made a great effort to come to this realm and see the horrors it contained. I was a tourist here while they had no choice but to live through the nightmare.
I looked to the end of the street and saw Billy up there waiting on me. But the boy was no longer mocking or tormenting me. Instead, he remained silent, his eyes filled with sorrow. I noted how his scarf was gone and there was a thick red mark around his neck. All of a sudden, the tragic stories of the street started to make sense to me.
I continued to watch as Billy slowly lifted his arm and pointed towards a house right at the end of the street, directing me to its front door. Despite all the horrors I’d already witnessed I somehow knew I needed to see whatever was inside and hopefully find some answers to this mystery. And so I cautiously walked forward, avoiding the wall of thick fog and Billy’s dead eyes as I passed him and made my way to the house.
The door was already open and the number on it was 33. When I glanced up, I saw red smoke emanating from the house’s chimney and I believed this was an omen. I hesitated briefly before entering, feeling a cold chill and thinking that perhaps I didn’t want to discover what was inside, but I forced myself to do so, as my whole journey had apparently been leading up to this point.
I walked into yet another small, terraced house decorated like it was straight out of the 1940s and proceeded to the tiny living room, where an elderly man with white hair and a long, dishevelled beard sat in front of a roaring fire, its heat warming up the small room. He read from a book which I quickly identified as being a copy of the King James Bible, and by his side lay what appeared to be a full-size wolf, its white fur matching the owner’s beard.
The beast growled aggressively at me, showing its teeth. I instinctively backed off, but the man calmed his animal with soothing words – “Now now boy, that’s no way to treat our guest.”
The wolf returned to its slumber as the man addressed me without looking up from the good book.
“Welcome my friend, please take a seat.”
Puzzled yet intrigued, I grabbed a wood backed chair and sat facing the enigmatic old man, watching him carefully as he continued to read from his bible. He remained silent for some time before eventually speaking, reading a passage out loud.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
He slowly nodded his head, appearing deep in thought before he closed the book and rose from his armchair. Then he carefully placed the Bible on a bookcase beside the fireplace. I glanced up and noted other works of religion and philosophy from throughout history – including the Quran, the Vedas and the Torrah, as well as Plato’s Republic and Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. There were many other works too – some I recognised, others I’d never heard of. I imagined holy texts from long-extinct religions and perhaps philosophies from future civilisations still to come.
I didn’t know who this mysterious bearded man was…a deity, or a spirit? Who could say? Regardless, I soon got the impression that he held all the answers I sought. The man saw me looking at his bookshelf and offered an explanation.
“Humanity has many theories on the meaning of life and what lies beyond the mortal realm. Some are partially correct, others very wrong. In truth, only those who have crossed over know the truth, and they’re never coming back.”
He smiled thinly, meeting my gaze for the first time. When I looked into his deep, dark eyes I felt like I was drowning.
“You’ve come far, my young friend. It’s been a long time since a mortal made his way to this realm. I must congratulate you on your tenacity.”
I was awestruck by the entire situation and struggled to reply, muttering – “Thank you sir. And where is this place exactly?”
The man snorted before answering. “You’re a smart young man – I think you already know the answer. But let me elaborate. ‘Purgatory Street’, as you call our little realm – it’s something akin to a half-way house. The spirits living here aren’t entirely good or bad. They all made a terrible mistake during their mortal lives and are now suffering the consequences of their actions, trapped in cycles of violence which repeat again and again. In time some will achieve some degree of redemption – enough that they can move on to the next place. But sadly, others will be stuck here for all eternity.”
I was hanging on his every word at this point, as everything suddenly started making sense.
“And who are you, might I ask?” I enquired nervously.
The old man laughed softly before replying. “My real name would be quite impossible for you to pronounce, and in any event is not relevant. Most folk call me the gatekeeper. I sit here in this house of brick and mortar which just happens to be located on the border between two worlds. And I do my best to keep the peace. But this isn’t about me, young man…Its about you, and the decision you make next.”
I felt a cold chill of anticipation as I realised something of great importance was coming.
“You have two choices.” the gatekeeper continued, “You can turn around and go back the way you came, returning to your own realm, or…”
“Or what?” I prompted impatiently.
“Or you can keep on walking, through the wall of fog and onto the next realm.”
I experienced a further surge of emotions in that moment, thinking my whole life had been leading up to this.
“What’s over there?” I asked.
“I couldn’t possibly describe it in words you could understand. The visions of the next world are something you must see with your own eyes. If you cross over, you will experience wonders far beyond your human comprehension. But there’s a catch…if you choose to go over to the immortal realm you can never come back. You will be leaving the mortal world forever.”
I gasped in dismay, shocked by the implications of what I’d just been told.
“What should I do?” I whimpered, no longer feeling confident with my choices.
“I cannot make this decision for you, young man. You must decide quickly as this realm will shift in time and space before the sun rises. Now, I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.”
Suddenly the atmosphere inside the living room became hostile, as the fire crackled, and the wolf growled at me. I felt unsafe, slowly backing out of the room as the bearded man shot me a parting glare. I soon found myself back out on the pavement, facing the fog bank which marked the boundary between Purgatory Street and the immortal realm beyond. My nerves were shot and my whole body shook in anticipation as I walked forward, ready to cross and bear witness to the wonders beyond.
But, at the last moment, I paused – stopping dead in my tracks as my head was filled with doubt. Suddenly I remembered my family and friends and my life back home. It wasn’t perfect but it was what I knew, while the other side was a great unknown. I had come this far but was always confident I could return home, but if I took the next step there’d be no way back. So, what can I say? I choked…lost my nerve and turned around.
As I walked back down the cobblestones I saw the door to No. 33 was now firmly shut. But the other residents of Purgatory Street were there to see me off.
‘Billy the Kid’ returned to his rebellious self, giving me the finger one last time as he laughed in open mockery, only adding to my humiliation. Neil Smith stood outside of his front door, alive once again as he shot me an angry look with his fists clenched. Sally was cleaning the windows of her magically restored pub, turning to give me a smile and a wink as I passed. And Mr Rashid was sweeping the pavement outside of his corner shop, that inane and half-crazed grin on his lips as he wished me a good evening.
And finally the two neighbourhood gossips – Mavis and Alice – were standing at the top of the road, carefully watching everything that occurred on their home street. I looked up nervously as Mavis met my eye, saying – “So long son, I doubt we’ll meet again.”
I thought about her parting words as I continued walking, but I suddenly jumped in terror at a foul cackling emitted from No. 3. I looked across to see the pale-faced demon staring out at me, its sharp claws scraping against the thin glass window and its black eyes burning with hatred. I feared what the beast would do to me if it got out onto the road and so I ran the last few yards in a panic.
And with that, I stumbled back through the transparent portal and returned to my own world, instantly feeling a huge regret as I found myself back in the run-down neighbourhood just as the sun rose on the far horizon. I turned around and saw Purgatory Street was gone, replaced by the sadly familiar, rubbish-strewn wasteland. And my heart broke because I knew my adventure was over.
So, that’s my story, and this is the first time I’ve ever told it. It’s been many years since my visit to the street and my life has gone downhill ever since. I’ve lost family members and friends, jumped from one unsatisfactory job to another, and have become unfulfilled and unhappy.
I think back to that fateful night every day, wondering what might have been. And I regret my decision back then, realising that I’d gone so far in my journey of discovery only to lose my nerve at the last moment. But it won’t happen again.
I return to that spot every night, hoping against hope that Purgatory Street will reappear and allow me to cross back over. I’ve had many years of disappointment, but one day my persistence will pay off. I will walk the street again and this time I’m not coming back. Wish me luck my friends.
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