Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
As a young man, my job took me to some interesting places. Selling houses for a living; you never knew what you were going to encounter from one day to the next. From crumbling stone cottages hidden down forgotten country lanes, to derelict farmhouses perched upon lonely hillsides, I had seen and sold them all.
The county I lived and worked in was one of rural poverty. Degrading villages full of broken families with troubled histories were scattered throughout the beautiful ancient woodland, lakes and fields that made up the region. The beautiful scenery masked the extreme human misery and suffering that existed within its borders.
I experienced this misery and suffering to its fullest extent one cold, dark, seemingly endless winter.
Of all the houses in the area, none intrigued me as much as The Old Chapel; a four hundred year old building perched imposingly upon a heavily wooded cliff in the heart of the forest, overlooking a deep valley dotted with houses. The Old Chapel was a landmark, familiar to all who lived nearby.
It was also the subject of a local legend.
The legend told of a family who once lived in the Old Chapel many years ago, headed by a man named Tobias Crookshank. Tobias was a devout Catholic who’s relentless dedication to his faith forced he and his family to live apart from the rest of the community, whom he considered heretics.
Tobias was also known for his wicked temper and would often take his anger out on his three young daughters in a most cruel and vicious manner. Particularly his eldest Mary.
The story goes that one evening the family were studying the bible together by the fire when Mary, fed up of having a life of strict religious adherence forced upon her by her father, slammed her bible down and proclaimed that she had renounced God.
Tobias exploded with fury; grabbing Mary by the hair he shoved her face into the fire. Her cheeks blackened, her lips blistered and cracked, her hair caught fire and created a dreadful stench that filled the room. She let out a sickening scream that was heard even by the villagers all the way down in the valley below.
Tobias was so engulfed by his own rage, he didn’t even noticed that the hand he was holding Mary’s head with had been horribly burned.
That same night, Tobias banished Mary from The Old Chapel, allowing her only a white shawl for warmth and a small knife for protection. She was forced to live alone, a disfigured pariah who drifted aimlessly through the nearby woodlands and meadows for the rest of her days.
Mary’s mother and two sisters were found dead just days later by a local villager, their throats violently sliced open, eyes staring blankly into the sky, mouths twisted in horror. Tobias was never seen again.
Did I believe the legend of The Old Chapel? No not really. It sounded like the type of bullshit folklore that you often hear in isolated communities. However, when my boss Michelle told me we had been instructed to sell The Old Chapel by the family estate, a chill went up my spine.
The Old Chapel was purchased by a local villager named Henry Curson a few years after Tobias Crookshank’s disappearance. Henry died shortly after acquiring the place, but the property was passed down through each generation of the Curson family right up until present day, and now they wanted rid of it.
We were in the depths of winter; it was a cold and misty morning. Michelle and I were slowly winding our way up the lonely, potholed forest track that led towards the Old Chapel, excitedly speculating as to what the property would be like. Nobody outside the Curson family had stepped foot inside since it was acquired by them all those centuries ago.
Michelle was an unusual lady. I found her eccentric, irritating and slightly amusing all at the same time. She had the swagger and ego usually associated with a man, yet she was entirely feminine and charming at the same time.
Something told me she would need to use all of her charm, and manipulation, to get this one in the bag. There was speculation that the Old Chapel would be coming to the market for years, and every agent in the county had been competing for a chance to sell it.
9 am, we arrived at a pair of rusty iron gates covered in dead ivy. There was no intercom system and we could see no vehicles parked outside. The place looked virtually abandoned. Towering spruce and larch trees framed the entrance like sinister guardians of whatever was inside.
I got out of the car and pushed the gates open, they creaked loudly as if this was the first time they had been opened in decades. We rolled forward and pulled up near the front door. It was eerily quiet. A noise from the nearby bushes startled us both.
It was just a deer.
Something felt wrong. Where was Mr Curson? Why was he not here to greet us? The fog was getting thicker and there was a piercing chill in the air that penetrated deep into the bones. The quietness was almost un-natural. No birds, no wind, no rustling in the trees.
I rang the doorbell . . . . nothing.
I rang it again.
Maybe he wasn’t here. Maybe Mr Curson had forgotten the appointment. We turned around to walk back to the car, and as we did so, we heard the door open behind us. I turned around slowly.
The door had been opened only very slightly, and in the thin black gap, we saw a narrow, pale face with the most lifeless and weary eyes I had ever seen staring at us from the shadows.
“Are you from Downey & Co?” He croaked in a strained and unpleasant tone.
“Hello Mr Curson, my name is . . “
“You’d better come in.” He interrupted before I had a chance to introduce myself.
The first thing I remembered as we stepped into the Old Chapel was the stench. A toxic mixture of human waste, rotting meat and something else I simply couldn’t put my finger on.
We were led into the kitchen and asked to take a seat. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mr Curson. He was a sorry looking character with dead eyes and a gaunt face that suggested a life of misery and misfortune.
He offered us tea. Upon seeing the filthy cups on the sideboard, I politely declined.
We sat for a few minutes and discussed what we could offer him in terms of our service. He didn’t seem to listen to any of it, and simply sat there staring out of the window overlooking the leafless trees outside, as Michelle did her usual aggressive sales pitch.
After a few uncomfortable moments silence, Mr Curson came to. “I don’t care what you need to do, and I don’t give a rat’s ass how much it will cost,” he spat, “I want this place sold.”
Michelle and I looked at each other and nodded.
“May we take a look around the place before we leave Mr Curson?” Asked Michelle, “Just so we know exactly what we’re selling.”
“You do whatever you please young lady.” He replied in his acidic tone, “But whatever you do, stay out of the God damn cellar.”
We had walked past the staircase that led down to the cellar upon entering the house, and I had been curious to see what it was like down there. Disappointed we would not get a chance to see it, I began to wonder why Mr Curson was so adamant that we shouldn’t go down there. Was it flooded? Full of junk? Or was there something more sinister in the cellar that he didn’t want us to see.
We proceeded to explore the property.
The rest of the place was expectedly dark, dank and depressing. Creeping ivy had worked its way across many of the windows, further adding to the gloom. Floorboards were rotting, walls were dripping and rodents were present in some of the bedrooms.
We returned to find Mr Curson staring out of that same window again, much more intensely this time.
“It’s a real fixer-upper!” Said Michelle in her usual patronising tone.
He turned round slowly, blinking his eyes several times as if coming round from a daydream.
“It’s a God forsaken shithole young lady.” He retorted, “And your job is simply to get rid of it for me.”
Michelle wanted to make a phone call to the office, but due to the poor reception she had to step outside and wander down the lane slightly to get some signal. I was left alone with Mr Curson.
As soon as Michelle had stepped outside, he turned and locked on to me with a frantic, eerie stare.
“Do you know what it’s like to live here alone for so long boy?” he croaked.
He was quivering at this point, drool coming from the corner of his mouth, eyes wide with a mixture of fear and exhaustion.
“This was once a house of God, a place of love and prayer. And now . . . . I curse the day my ancestors decided to buy it.”
He turned the conversation to Michelle.
“You’re colleague is an arrogant little cow.” He said in a disarmingly calm voice. I was unused to hearing people talk so frankly about my employer, however I didn’t disagree with him.
“She had better get this place sold for me, and soon.” He continued, “If I have to spend one more winter here I am scared as to what might become of me.”
His face was now drooping, tears forming in his eyes and his voice becoming quieter. He looked like a scared child.
He turned around again and stared out of the window.
As we left the house I felt slightly unwell. The experience had left me with an uncomfortable feeling; I had never met anyone like Mr Curson before, he was both pathetic and terrifying at the same time, one of God’s forgotten creatures. What had happened during his lifetime to make him so utterly disturbed?
A week later, the photographs had been taken, the brochures printed and a convincing (if not slightly misleading) advert placed in the local newspaper. Michelle insisted on doing all the viewings herself, convinced that only she had the ability to get the Old Chapel sold. Frankly this suited me just fine; I would be happy if I never had to step foot in that place again.
However, a week later, after her first viewing at the Old Chapel, Michelle became ill, seriously ill. I suppose I would have to accompany the viewings after all.
A few days after falling ill, Michelle’s husband phoned to say she had been admitted to hospital. An undiagnosed illness had rendered her incapacitated. She had lost a lot of weight and was coughing up blood. What on earth was wrong with her?
I was sat in the office fiddling with my pen, thinking about Michelle and her unexplainable illness. It was a Monday morning and things were quiet. Winter was always a quiet time in this business.
All of a sudden, the phone rang. It was a lady requesting a viewing of the Old Chapel. Her telephone manner was unusual, speaking in hushed tones with long pauses between each sentence. She refused to give us her full name and told me she was known simply as Mary.
Friday afternoon, late January. It was almost 16:30 as I reluctantly made my way up the wooded hillside towards the Old Chapel. ‘Mary’ had requested that I meet her there at five o clock sharp. It was getting dark and I was unsure if this was the best time to be viewing such a property, however, she insisted upon it.
I arrived deliberately early so I could prepare the house before she arrived. Mr Curson was away for a few days and had left us with a spare key.
I did my best to brighten the place up, switching on the few lights that worked, opening curtains and windows. I even cleared away Mr Curson’s filthy dishes on the kitchen worktop, which were covered in green mould and rotten scraps of food.
For a brief moment I had a realisation that I was actually here, alone in the Old Chapel. My mobile reception was non-existent and the nearest neighbour was over a mile away back down the hill.
I was fucking terrified.
“Get a grip!” I angrily told myself, surprised at how worked up I had become. The viewer would be here soon.
It was raining heavily outside now. The wind was howling and the darkness becoming more apparent. It was 17:10, where was this woman?
The smell that greeted me upon my first visit to the house was much stronger this time around. Surely nobody in their right mind would actually want to buy this place, it was beyond repair and would cost a fortune to make it liveable again.
My mind began to conjure up scenes from old black and white horror films; images of haunted houses in the middle of nowhere swallowing up those curious souls foolish enough to venture inside.
17:15, still no sign of Mary. I was becoming increasingly nervous.
I recalled Mr Curson’s warning not to look in the cellar. What if my viewer asked to look down there? Surely it makes sense for me to check it out before she arrives. His warning had only increased my curiosity.
I headed back to the kitchen. There was a torch on the side, I grabbed it. I rummaged around in some of the drawers, looking for a key that would open the cellar door.
I found a whole bunch of keys, but one in particular stood out. A rusty, ancient looking thing covered in cobwebs, hidden in the corner. Obviously it hadn’t been used for many years. I grabbed it and made my way down the steps towards the cellar.
The staircase to the cellar was made out of ancient oak. It was in poor condition and covered in what looked like stains. Stains from what, I couldn’t tell. At the bottom of the stairs, a crucifix was nailed above the cellar door, slightly askew. A Jesus figure hung upon it, his face was missing.
My palms were clammy, my stomach in knots. I stood still for a moment listening out for the sound of my viewer arriving, maybe the sound of a car pulling up outside or a knock on the door.
I placed the key in the lock and turned it. It stuck immediately and took a great deal of force to get it to turn all the way. I pushed the door open.
A rush of cold, stale air wafted out from the gloom below, swiftly followed by the now familiar smell of rotten meat and faeces. What on earth was down here?
I became almost trance-like as I blindly proceeded into the cellar. My head was telling me not to go any further but my body, now numb and detached with fear, pushed me onwards.
My torch flickered and died. Water was at my ankles. The faint light from upstairs had faded into nothing as I proceeded deeper into the cellar. I stopped for a moment.
This was too much to bear, I had to get out of here. My mind and body joined forces again, and I shook myself back into a state of alertness.
By now I was deep in the bowels of this huge, cavernous cellar. Dark was all around and I was trembling. I felt a chill envelop my whole body. I tapped the torch aggressively and it blinked back to life briefly before dying again.
In that short moment of light, I saw something utterly horrifying.
A white face staring directly at me from a dark corner of the cellar, its pale bloodshot eyes looked straight into mine, its sunken cheeks covered in open sores, and its lips shrivelled, cracked and bloody.
For the split second that my eyes were upon it, those lips curled into a sinister, knowing smile.
Did I really just see this or was it my panicked mind playing tricks on me?
By now I was literally writhing with fear, bashing the torch frantically against a nearby wall to get the useless thing working again.
Then I heard it. A faint sound at first, similar to a cat meowing or a dog whimpering in its sleep. As the noise became louder, I realised it was being made by a person, and it was coming towards me.
I shook and bashed the torch violently. “Please fucking work!” I screamed. After several strikes against the wall, the torch flickered back to life. I raised it in front of me.
There was nothing there. The sound had stopped.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Squinting hard into the blackness, pointing my torch into every corner of the cellar, I wanted to make sure there was definitely nothing there.
After a few moments, I managed to muster up the courage to move back towards the door. I found it closed. Someone had locked it from the outside.
I panicked, what the hell was going on? Who had locked the door? Was it my viewer Mary playing a cruel prank on me? Surely not. I banged hard on it. I screamed and shouted, kicking and punching the door. I was so utterly insane with fear and frustration I started bashing myself in the head with my fists and punching the walls. I was completely frantic.
After a few minutes I stopped and slumped down against the door, feeling defeated. What the hell was I going to do? Staring deep into the empty black space before me, my mind drifted back to the horrible, sinister face I had glimpsed just minutes before.
Then the noise started again. I heard it much more clearly this time. It was the sound of a girl. A young girl, humming something that sounded like . . . a hymn.
“Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, thine
And bathed in its own blood
Whileall exposed to wrath divine
The glorious suff’rer stood.”
The singing was horrible. The words sounded full of malace. I did not wait for this noise to get closer and with my back to the wall, slowly inched my way along it, hoping to find another way out.
Something splashed in the grimy water several meters in front of me. I pointed my torch in the direction of the sound.
This time I was under no illusion.
I saw the face again. It was the face of a young girl, yet it looked worn and weathered. It was partially covered in a white shawl. The sinister smile had transformed into an intense look of pure hatred, those pale blue eyes piercing mine. All of a sudden the figure dashed towards me. I realised it had a small but sharp looking knife in its left hand. My guts churned as this horrible ghoulish figure lunged towards me, its eyes still fixed upon mine.
I leapt forward and sprinted into the darkness, frantically pointing the torch in every direction, hoping to discover another exit from this dank hole.
Suddenly, the light from the torch revealed something that caught my eye. Did I really just see . . . another door?
I stopped running, turned around and scrambled towards what I desperately hoped would be my escape. I could still hear the ghost-like figure splashing in the water behind me as it got closer and closer.
I raised the torch, which was thankfully still working at this point. Sure enough, in front of me was a pair of wooden double doors up a short flight of stone steps. I sprinted up them and rattled the doors by the handles. At first they stuck. I glanced behind me to see the figure approaching. It looked almost as if it were drifting above the ground, the knife now raised and pointing towards me.
I used all my strength and with a hard, adrenaline fuelled kick, managed to get the doors open. Lurching out into the pelting rain, I glanced behind me for just a second.
Those eyes were there, staring at me from the dark cellar. The creature was focused and intent, drifting up the cold stone steps towards me.
I stopped briefly to catch my breath, and just as I was about to start running again, I realised that this being, which had seemed so intent on killing me, had stopped. It was stood there at the top of the steps completely still, its legs still in the cellar, its head poking out through the doors. Those eyes, greyer than a winter forest, were now fixed upon mine. We stood and just gazed at each other for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, all of a sudden, it tilted its head in an un-natural jerking motion, almost like a dog would when confused. Its eyes still fixed upon mine, it slipped slowly back into the murky cellar below.
Everything was still, the moon had pierced the clouds, the rain had faded into a faint mist. I breathed a sigh of relief.
In my dazed state, I completely forgot about my car and lunged into the gloomy woods that bordered the Old Chapel. The next 20 minutes I spent running aimlessly downhill, surrounded by crooked ancient oaks that had taken on a sinister form in the black confusion of the night. My mind was swimming with images of what I had just seen and thoughts of what might have become of me.
It was a torturous 20 minutes. Every creaking tree, whooping owl or snorting boar in the bushes filled me with fresh dread.
Eventually I ended up at the road that leads through the nearest village. I looked at my phone; full signal. I called my girlfriend immediately.
I left The Old Chapel behind, knowing that the wretched, wraith like girl who hunted me in the dark cellar was still up there.
After the events of that haunting winter night, I decided to take two weeks off. I spent time at home, recovering from the experience. Usually during my time off work, I would go for walks in the woods with my girlfriend and our dog, but now I was determined never to go back to the woods again. By the end of the two weeks, I was feeling a little better.
I decided that I could go back to work, but I would absolutely not return to the Old Chapel. My colleague Leon had been holding the fort whilst I was away, Michelle was still unwell in hospital and deteriorating further.
It was my first day back in the office when Michelle’s husband came in to collect her possessions. He looked exhausted and grim.
“How is she doing?” I asked meekly, knowing full well what the answer would be.
He looked at me wearily, his eyes heavy and dull.
“She hasn’t got long. Her body has shut down. There’s nothing left in her.” He muttered.
Michelle was dying. I was surprised at how sad I felt, considering what a complete pain in the ass she could be. We weren’t friends, yet we had a connection based on the demanding and unique job we did. An estate agent’s only real friend is another estate agent. I had to go and see her.
I arrived at the hospital early the next morning; I wanted to get there before the office opened. It was 7:30 am, the ward was quiet. I was led to Michelle’s room by an old, fat, miserable nurse. I was glad I wasn’t being looked after by her.
Michelle’s room was dark. I walked in and shut the door behind me. The curtains were closed and there was a stale odour in the air. A bed was tucked up in the corner, a shrivelled, hairless old woman in it, looking closer to a corpse than a living breathing human being.
I approached the bed, a lump in my throat and a knot in my gut.
“M. . M . . Michelle . . .” I stuttered.
The lady in the bed slowly turned around. Her skin was saggy and loose, there was no muscle left beneath it. The bones in her face were harshly visible and her hair was almost completely gone, only a few messy strands remained, knotted and plastered against her face. Her skin was white, lumpy and split. She smelled bad.
With some effort, she limply lifted her arm and beckoned me towards her. I leaned down so I could hear her.
“D . . . Did you s . . . s . . see her?” She strained.
I went cold. “See who?” I responded.
She lunged forward and grabbed me by the collar, pulling me right down towards her face. Her eyes were wide with terror.
“You saw her . . . . the girl.”
She was crying at this point.
“Did she touch you?” She whimpered. “I, I had just finished my viewing. I was . . . switching off the lights when I saw her. I ran. She . . . she scratched my face with her nails as I ran out the door.”
“No, she didn’t touch me.” I replied, not wanting to disclose the extent of the horrific experience I had gone through.
I held Michelle’s hand for a few seconds, and as I let go and turned to leave, she gasped a deep, erratic breath.
It would be her last.
Back in the office later that day, I was emotionally spent. The two weeks I had spent recovering at home after my ordeal at The Old Chapel had allowed me to return almost back to my normal self. Seeing Michelle in that state, hearing her story; it brought back all the dread of that terrifying night.
I was at my desk, staring blankly at the computer screen before me. A man walked in, I barely noticed him at first. He took a seat.
The man was silent. Before I even looked up at his face, I noticed something else; his hand. He had placed it on my desk, it was horribly disfigured, almost as if it had been burned.
I shook myself out of my daze and looked up at him.
“Hello sir, how can I help.”
He didn’t reply. His eyes were piercing and grey. A plain steel crucifix hung from his neck.
“What’s your name sir?” I asked.
He slowly opened his mouth revealing blackened, pointed teeth.
“Crookshank. Tobias Crookshank.”
CREDIT : Chester Peelflesh