I remember when I first moved into this accursed house, I was 10 years old and loved all the things a ten-year-old boy loves, you know; climbing trees, catching bugs, playing cowboys and Indians, those sorts of things. We had moved from the hussle and bussle of “The Big Smoke” to the small Cheshire village of Helsby. Helsby with its prominent red stone hill sits nestled at the top of the Mersey estuary the hill sports a thick covering of gnarled trees misshapen by the strong onshore winds that rush from their home on the Irish Sea funnelled by estuary coming to rest at the foot of the hill. The village is also surrounded by a vast expanse of marsh that holds a depressing sullen atmosphere even on a clear sunny day, the various wetland birds adding a constant chorus shrill cries. Our new country home was and still is an old Jacobean house with a sprawling garden to the rear scaling the looming red hill behind – a venerable playground for a 10-year-old boy.
The first thing I noticed upon moving to Helsby was how quite it was at night, you could hear a pin drop and this dead silence was quite unsettling having being used to the constant ebb and flow of noise emanating from the Liverpool streets. I would sit up in bed for hours listening for any sort of noise fancying I could hear people talking or the pitter patter of mice scurrying around in the dark. Sometimes though I thought I could hear other ‘things’! Things more sinister, things I knew were there just beyond my sight, hidden in the inky shadows.
The first time I became aware of the low barely audible whisper was maybe 3 or 4 weeks after we had moved. I was not frightened or worried by this as I merely assumed it was my parents talking or exchanging some heated words as they often did. There’s was a fractious relationship with my mother wanting more for herself and indeed us and my poor farther being unable to provide. The whispers started during a tempestuous storm that raged outside my window, the wind and rain battering the rust coloured front of our house. I had just finished reading about and was dozing off when I thought I heard my name being called in a low muffled tone. “Daniel”, “Dannnnniel” it repeated perhaps four or five times. I quickly flicked on my bedside light but couldn’t for the life of me couldn’t figure out where my name was being called from. I sat there in the dark the covers pulled up to my chin. I must have sat for an hour or more straining to hear. In the end I put it down to my imagination and eventually dozed off into a sound dreamless sleep. The next morning downstairs over breakfast I asked, “Mother did you call me last night”? She said that she hadn’t and turning to my father asking the same. He had not either. He told me that old houses make strange noises and with the sounds of last night’s vicious storm that I shouldn’t worry, that I would soon get used to them. He jokingly teased saying that my over active imagination was playing tricks on me. Oh, how I wish that were true.
That day I ventured outside to inspect the storm damage. Merkey grey clouds still hung to the hills summit giving it the impression it was much more immense than it was. Looking up into the tree line I was amazed by the volume of old trees that had fallen in the night lying motionless on the hillside like fallen soldiers. Many of these trees appeared to have rotted from the inside out, probably due to some insidious fungus slowly draining the old trees life.
That evening after dinner I sat at a desk in the front room doodling in a great scrapbook quietly nestled in a mouldy cobweb filled alcove when again heard that menacing whispering of my name, “Daniel”, “Dannnnniel” I turned looking around the room but nothing was there. It couldn’t be the storm now as there wasn’t one so as my father said I put it down to my over active imagination and continued to doodle when I again heard “Daniel!” this time followed by the quick succession of pattering feet. I jumped up knocking my chair backwards to the ground. I slowly approached the old mahogany sideboard where I had last heard the pattering of small unseen feet come to a stop only to find nothing there. Confused and frightened by this I crouched down and looked under the sideboard finding only dust filled cobwebs, however as I stood up my fingers moved over a series of small scratches at shin height on the sideboard leg as if some miniature human-like figure had been hiding, watching me with tiny clawed hands griped in around the leg of the sideboard.
This growing feeling of being watched grew over the following weeks as the frequency of whispering along with an accumulation of other bizarre sounds came to a climax late one evening as I was playing close to the great oak just beyond our garden boundary. The sun had almost set and long twisted shadows were being cast across the lawn although I was far too absorbed in collecting the abundant acorns scattered around the ancient tree to notice such things. That’s when I spotted a pair of bright green eyes staring at me with malicious intent from beyond in a clearing in the bushes. In fright I dropped my collection of acorns and shuffled back in the dirt trying to put some distance between myself and this unknown creature. Perhaps 10 or 12 seconds had past but in my mind it seemed like eternity as the creature held its ground and stared dead into my eyes, then with the flash of a wide toothy grin it darted off into the bushes leaving me trembling all over. I knew then that this was my unseen stalker.
Not much happened after the incident in the garden that day and the winter pasted relatively uneventful. The leaves shifted through their spectrum of colours, Christmas came and went and as the first signs of life had appeared once again on the looming heights of Helsby Hill and I grew confident that the evil little creature with all that harm and hate in its eyes had gone for good.
We were in the midst of an unseasonably warm spring and much of my free time was spent exploring the highs and lows of the hill at the back of our house. I had become an avid adventurer being that little bit older which gave me the confidence to wander further and further than previously allowed. This in hindsight was my undoing for one sunny weekend afternoon I was hurriedly making my way up the rat track I had worn into the garden lawn, bursting through the flimsy fence head first into the bushes and trees. I was scrambling and climbing steadily to the first vantage point on the hill when I felt a sharp painful scratch on the back of my leg followed by what sounded like laughter. When I had reached the huge rotted log which marked the vantage point I stopped to exam the source of my pain and to my horror found five tiny evenly spaced tears in my trousers which had also cut my skin and drawn blood. I sat there in shock for what seemed an age panic stricken and paralysed with fear as the realisation that whatever had been stalking me in my home was now actively following me and what was worse; causing me harm! When I finally zoned back in I felt a massive rush of adrenaline and I hurriedly made my way home only stopping to quickly listen to see if I was being followed. When I arrived home, I was shaken and seeing my nervous state and the tatty condition of my trousers my mother asked what had happened. I dismissed her by telling her the neighbour’s dog had chased me and in my effort to flee had torn my trousers on a bramble for I did not dare tell her the truth. Besides would my parents have even believed me?
That evening as I prepared for bed I was on edge fearing whatever had attacked me that afternoon would make its way into the house, into my room and this time cause me considerably more harm. I spent over an hour checking all the usual places a child checks; under the bed, in the wardrobe and the other numerous shadow filled spaces around my room. Only when I had deemed my room creature free did I venture to sleep.
The night past without incident of so I thought but upon waking I found the bed sheets around me littered with the criss-crossing of tiny clawed feet and hand prints some of which had only been centimetres from my sleeping head. I let out a scream and ran from the room. Shrieking I dragged my mother and father to my room to show them what had happened in the depths of night. Surely they had to believe me now? Entering the room and seeing for themselves the state of the bedsheets they surmised that a wild animal had perhaps gotten in during the night. A wild animal here in the Cheshire countryside? The closest thing to a wild animal was Misses Andersons Shih Tzu further along the street. However, upon inspecting the footprints and claw mark they became more confused than anxious and laughed it off as a clever prank I had played on them, telling me that I should apply those brains to my school work. I went to school that day terrified out of my mind knowing that something was living in the woods behind my house and that worse it could enter my house unseen and climb onto my bed and do God knows what while I slept. The school day passed painfully slow but it did allow me to think how I would deal with whatever was going on. Finally, school had finished and I arrived home with my mind made up to take on whatever had come uninvited into my room the previous night.
I sat and I sat that night well past my usual 8pm bedtime. My mother and father had gone to bed and as far as I could tell were sound asleep. At around midnight as I whole heartedly fought to stay awake I heard the pitter patter of those horrible little clawed feet followed by the low whispers of “Daniel”, “Dannnnniel”. My heart started to race and I frantically scanned the room looking for the source of the whisper voice. Then suddenly my eyes fell upon “it” standing there in the corner of my room having must of come through a small hatch I had never noticed in the bedroom floor as it was covered by a small table. I guess it was used to access the piping under the house or something. It stood hunched maybe a foot and a half tall with long thin arms ending in short stubby claw like fingers. It had huge green shining eyes that even in the low light of the room still shone unnaturally bright, its torso was quite stumpy for the length of its arms and legs as its legs were also long ending in short stubby feet with hideous clawed toes. Its skin from what I could tell in the dim light of the room was a mottled green grey colour stretched over a bony misshapen skeleton. It stood there watching me for an age before it quickly started to walk towards me its clawed feet tinkering on the ground as it walked. I sat there petrified unable to move. The next thing I knew it had shot across the room was there on my bed crawling towards me its hideous clawing hands making tiny tears in the bedsheets as its feet and legs left dirty smudges on my white linen all the while whispering in that horrible low guttural tone “Daniel”, “Dannnnniel”. I shut my eyes and hoped it would all go away!
I opened my eyes and the creature was gone, bright spring sunshine threading its luminous tendrils through my bedroom curtains. “Was it all a dream?” I asked myself. Assuming that I must have fallen asleep and dreamedt the entire thing I jumped out of bed and hurried downstairs in the search of breakfast.
When I arrived in the kitchen I could see my mother standing by the sink with her face in her hands heavy sobs lurching from her body, my father was standing there with a hand on her back making small affectionate circles as if to comfort her. This shocked me, I approached unsure of what had happened. Then my mother spoke in a faint whispering cry, “how could this have happened, what has happened to our boy?” I was confused. What boy? Did they mean me? I asked, “Father what is wrong, what has happened?” He turned to look at me saying nothing his hazy eyes filled with tears. He gave my mother a short hug and walked towards me all the while tears streaming his face. I was growing more and more alarmed. I asked again, “Father! Mother! What has happened? What is going on?” Still nothing. He reached the door and walked past me up the stairs, I followed him unsure of what I would find as he headed towards my bedroom door. Turning the handle he entered, the door giving it usual squeak and there through the opening I could see a form on my bed covered in my duvet. I screamed and rushed into the room – what was this? Who was this? I turned to my father standing there in the doorway he seemed unsure whether to enter. He ignored me still. I stood motionless as he approached the bed and pulled back the covers and there in that bed lay “Me”!
I know now that whatever lives in the wooded expanse of that red stone hill ruthlessly murdered me that night and that it sits there in the undergrowth waiting for another boy or girl to come live here in my house. But I suppose it won’t be all that bad, for at least I’ll have someone to play with.
CREDIT : Christopher Murray