That’s all I know it as – The House. It has been given no name by the townspeople; nor does anyone live in it. The stories told about The House are of course, spooky, reworked, over sensationalised nonsense, according to the minds and mouths of the older folk. The older folk in town, the ones with more life experience (as they like to compound onto us), are they the ones who know all the cold, hard facts? Or should we be listening to the inquisitive and imaginative minds of the younger generation? You tell me.
I ask, not on behalf of a friend, but because I actually, genuinely want to know. My questioning does have a purpose. You see a teenager with proven familial connections to that house got in contact with me. I’ve no clue as to how they got in contact with me. I’m just a struggling writer trying to hit upon her next great story. Anyhow, the purpose of the call was because they wanted the public to know the truth about The House.
We arranged to meet the following day at 10am at The House.
The teenager, a girl, aged about eighteen, was waiting for me when I arrived at 10am sharp. Firstly, she explained and proved her familial connection to The House. She told me that her family had been the sole owners of the house; and after their deaths, the house went to rack and ruin as no one wanted to buy a “Murder House.”
A look of puzzlement cascaded over my face. I inquired about the term of “Murder House.”
A smile that made me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable spread across her face, but she said nothing.
I asked who murdered them.
She said without a hint of emotion: ‘Me.’
‘Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched?’
‘I’m sorry, but what sort of a question is that?’
‘It’s the sort of question I just asked you.’
‘Well, I refuse to answer it. It is an inappropriate question.’
‘Generally, when a person refuses to answer a question, it alludes to us that there may be some truth to the question. I mean, a person like you, with all your wit and charm, must attract a great number of followers, both literally and figuratively. But a few of those many, just a tiny number, has a deadly dose of crazy.’
‘This is ludicrous…this interview is over…’
In Hugh’s mind, that was the worst interview he had ever done. His answers, he deemed, were okay, considering the fact that the interviewer was an incompetent arsehole who asked the creepiest of questions. Questions that were completely unrelated to why he was actually there.
He pushed his hands through his sandy hair and sighed deeply as he stared at the coffee his secretary had left him.
He knew that his PR team would be, well, unhappy would be a huge understatement, about him leaving that damn interview the way he did, but what was he meant to do? Sit there and answer those damn questions? Like hell he was!
He understood, hell he expected, to be asked questions along those lines when he first started out in the writing industry. He wrote psychological thrillers that primarily focused on people who were being watched, or thought that they were being watched. Paranoia, Hugh believed, would be horrid to have, but boy oh boy, was it brilliant to write about!
But now, after all these years, with five novels and two short story collections to his name, why should he have to put up with being asked those questions?
“The media and the general public have a strong fascination with writers who write the scariest stories. They want to know what made the writer want to write such terrifying stories. Did something traumatic happen during their childhood?”
Hugh couldn’t recall where he had heard that quote, or if someone had told him, but even to this very day, it rang true. His mother and father would ask him why he wanted to write such disturbing stories. Hugh thought this over every single time before he graced them with his answer, and much to his parents’ disappointment, his answer was always the same: I don’t know. His parents, especially his mother, would fret that she or Hugh’s father had done something to upset Hugh’s childhood which, in turn, directed him toward the path of being a writer of psychological thrillers. He told his parents, vehemently, that they had done nothing wrong; that they were wonderful, that they still are.
Hugh’s wandering thoughts came to a halt. He heard a whisper. Or was it a whooshing noise, Hugh wasn’t sure. But it was definitely someone’s voice.
The whispering was right in Hugh’s ear now. He couldn’t get rid of it. A thought of momentary clarity dawned on him: it was that damn interviewer; that damn interviewer with his stupid creeper questions was screwing with him.
The heat was rising in Hugh’s face. His temper and frustration was coming to the boil.
‘Where the hell are you, you bastard?’ Hugh screamed.
Still the whispers swarmed around him, sending him hurtling around in angry, drunken circles.
‘I know you’re here. I heard your whispers circling around my head.’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what you are talking about.’
‘There you are, you arsehole! I knew you’d show your face. I’ve had about enough of you and your questions. Why are you following me?’ Hugh screamed.
‘You said that no one was following you.’
‘That was then,’ Hugh took a deep breath, ‘this is now. You are fucking following me, so get the fuck out before I clobber you one.’
Hugh was running around his apartment, looking for the person that was screwing with him. To be specific, he was after that ‘damn interviewer.’ And Hugh, Hugh was ready to kill that bastard. He actually felt like he wanted, that he needed, to kill that interviewer so he could live in quiet serenity.
Hugh staggered into the bathroom, looking hungrily in all directions for the interviewer. He picked up the old school razor he used to shave. It glinted as he slashed it around in front of him.
‘Where are you hiding, you piece of shit? I know you’re here somewhere!’
‘I’m right here, Hugh. Why so angry?’
Hugh turned and looked at the bathroom mirror.
‘There you are, you bastard. I’ve got you now,’ Hugh murderously screamed.
‘You’ve got me now, Hugh,’ the voice replied. ‘All you’ve got to do is kill me, and then you’ve won.’
‘And I will always win,’ Hugh spat as he smashed the mirror to smithereens, and drove the knife into the interviewer’s neck.
‘I saw a woman outside my room at night,’ a young Cal Rogers told me in the safe confines of his room, where his mother sat protectively by his side.
‘Was she standing outside the window, Cal?’ I needed more than what the kid was giving me. I couldn’t go off the extremely broad and ambiguous description of “a mean looking lady.” In my kind of work, I need specifics – hair colour, size, height, clothing, tattoos; the more detail, the better. I’m sort of like a detective, but not. I like to think of myself as the person people call before they call the police or a medical professional. Basically, I investigate events in which such things happen like a mean looking lady appearing outside a little kid’s bedroom. It’s not as hokey pokey as it sounds.
‘She was outside the window. Then she said she was gonna come inside. I didn’t want her any closer so I screamed.’
‘What happened then, Cal?’ I cajoled.
‘Mum came and rescued me to her room,’ Cal replied, sounding on the cusp of tears.
‘I looked around Cal’s room, but saw nothing. It was deathly black outside, so I was unable to see anything through the window,’ Cal’s mother assured me.
‘Can you describe what the woman looked like, what she was wearing? Do you remember the expression on her face? What was her face like?’ I added on a quick ‘take your time, Cal.’ I didn’t want the kid to feel so pressured that he just said what immediately popped into his mind.
‘She wore glasses that made her look like a cat,’ Cal said after a few beats of silence.
I knew the type. They kind of fanned up at the edges to give the glasses a winged look. Very vintage.
‘Her face was mean. Her eyes were the most mean I’ve ever seen. Her hair was curly with lots of grey bits. Her teeth shiny but yellow and her smile mad, mad, mad.’
For a ten year old, Cal looked the closest I have ever seen to having a mental breakdown. He was teetering on the edge. What he saw must have been ghastly.
I opened my mouth, ready to ask Cal one last question when he buried his face on his mother’s arms and wailed ‘No more no more no more! Make it stop. Please!’
When Cal had recovered from his (understandable) breakdown, I assured both him and his mother that I would make said woman disappear. I don’t think either of them had a clue as to how I would excise this woman from their home, and quite frankly, neither did I. Every situation is different. The kooky methods some use with the oils, incense, candles, and chanting isn’t my style. Thus far, my methods have worked, but in the back of my mind I know that, for every piece of bad I am able to eradicate from this world, there is an equal or even greater amount that has the potential to destroy me. Why me and not the people it had previously mercilessly terrified? Fear attracts fear. Every single person I see (which by now would be in the hundreds), leaves a remnant of their fear on me; and on the other side of the same coin, every nasty piece of terror I eradicate, leaves a disregarded piece of terror on me as a parting gift, which is why any case could be my destroyer.
‘Thank you, Millie,’ Mrs Rogers gave me a loose hug. ‘Me and Cal, we are both grateful to you for doing this for us.’
I put on a fake smile that I hoped would hide my rapidly increasing feel of dreadful unease. ‘I guess I’ll see you both in the morning.’
My plan was to stay in Cal’s room with the door shut and the lights off and, you guessed it, wait. I had my night camera set up on a tripod that faced the window, and had set up motion sensors outside his window and around his bedroom door. If anything were to cross those lines, I would know immediately.
It was nearing 11pm when I started to drift off to sleep. For me, this always seems to happen when something is about to go down. I reached for my one litre iced coffee and took a few long swigs to wake myself up.
I decided to focus my attention on the window. Using the door to Cal’s bedroom would be far too bold for this woman, I thought. Her face shining disgustingly through the window fit the bill quite well.
I stared intently at the window for a solid ten minutes when I heard violent scratching. I thought it was coming from the outside of the window, but it changed so quickly that I thought that it was coming from behind me. It was almost as though I could feel whatever it was aggressively scratching me, but at the same time, it was soft to the touch. That’s a paradox if there ever was one! The scratching ceased for a while. Relief – albeit short lived. Sooner rather than later, shuffling, scuffing and light banging sounds replaced the scratching. Shuffling, like the almost imperceptible sounds of people moving around (and murmuring) in the distance. Then the scuffing, like the sound you make when you wear your slippers on a linoleum floor. Shuffle, bang, scuffle, bang, shuffle, bang, scuffle, was the routine I heard for, according to my camera, roughly ten minutes.
Then as quickly as it had begun, it stopped.
I was sitting on the floor with my back leaning against the long side of Cal’s bed. I sighed and leant my head back so it was resting on part of the mattress.
I was two minutes away from a deep sleep when the violent scratching sounds resumed. This time I could distinctively hear that they were coming from outside the window. Imagine the noise of a long, strong fingernail, etching into solid glass – that’s the sound I heard.
I shot up and went straight to the window. All I saw was a long pointy finger with a long fingernail literally carving a message into Cal’s window. The sound was almost unbearable, but I wanted to get a look at the damned woman’s face, and to have it on camera.
As she made her way painfully to the end of the sentence, she planted her face directly outside the window so we were looking directly into each other’s eyes.
Cal was right. Her eyes were mean; full of contempt and evil, framed with those cat-style glasses.
I knew that if she could, she would do tremendous harm to me. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to, but for some reason, couldn’t. Perhaps she was scared. I felt the colour slowly draining from my face. I knew this woman. And I knew that she knew me, too. We both knew that we knew one another.
And with this knowledge, she parted her poisoned lips into a nasty, grisly smile and cackled while her yellowing teeth illuminated in the dark.
Hard work, self belief and persistence pay off.
I know that we all hear this line a thousand times from our teachers, parents, mentors, and celebrities – basically everyone. But here’s the thing: they aren’t wrong.
This year I delved in to the world of self publishing through Amazon, and let me tell you, it wasn’t a “hit publish and you’re a successful author selling heaps of books!”
Oh no. It was a: “now you’ve published your book(s), here comes the hard work and never ending hustle.”
I have worked and hustled this year like you wouldn’t imagine, and it’s paying off.
Follow your heart.
For years I tried to make myself passionate about another occupational field that was easier to make a living from, but nothing really stuck. Family and friends offered options of potential career paths and/or study options, but, in the end, it all came back to my love for reading and writing. I couldn’t shake it. For me, doing something instead of writing (and reading books) would be like cheating on a life-partner. I would feel guilty for not following what my heart truly longed for.
You can make your dreams come true.
If my memory serves me correctly, I discovered Amazon Self Publishing Services after I had received countless rejection letters from literary agents and publishing houses alike. That moment when I discovered Amazon’s Self Publishing Services completely changed my outlook on being an author. My mindset went from solely relying on the acceptance letter from a literary agent or publishing house that would love my work so much that they would want to publish it, to having the opportunity to publish my own book in digital and paperback on a print-on-demand basis. I now sell my books on Amazon, Mightyape and via my own website. (Amazon allows me to buy author copies and sell them to my customers).
All of this comes down to: hard work, self belief and persistence.
About a year before I started writing and self publishing my own books, I was in a relationship with a (at the time) great guy. However, he was really keen on settling down and eventually starting a family. I, on the other hand, felt unsettled; that I hadn’t yet fulfilled my purpose in life. I knew deep down that what I really, truly wanted to do was to write books for a living, and being in a relationship with someone so intent on settling down would stall my dream of becoming an author.
It’s safe to say that I am no longer in a relationship (with anyone) anymore.
And if I had ignored what my heart was saying and settled down, imagine how different my life would be?! (Actually, maybe we won’t try to imagine that lol).
Take care of yourself
There have been times in the past when I would be exhausted but would still work at my current fulltime job, come home and work on some area of my writing life (marketing, writing, or editing). And to be honest, those days are not completely in the past. There are still times when I ignore the feeling of tiredness and continue to work.
In saying that, I have gotten better; if I am exhausted on the weekend (which I mostly always am), I will have a nap, or simply lie on my bed and read.
I know that due to the fact that I still work fulltime in the retail industry (I am still working towards writing being my fulltime career), that I need to apply for annual leave/holidays because: I am entitled to them; taking a holiday abroad and escaping the real world is necessary for my sanity (and everyone’s). I am also a big believer in taking annual leave just to catch up on life. You know, not specifically going on a holiday, but just taking time to chill, write, read and relax.
2018 was one hell of a ride; one filled with new experiences to relish, opportunities to grasp hold of, lessons to be learnt and challenges to face head on.
2019 is gonna be filled with hard work, hustle and promise. I’m ready. Let’s do this!
Stay safe. Stay humble. Stay Hungry.
When the lights go out and everything is still, there is eeriness in the atmosphere; something’s off kilter; something’s not right.
The Box, you remember, as you lock the door – you forgot to check The Box. It must always be securely closed and locked. There had been times when people had been inquisitive and decided to unlock The Box and take a look inside. What made the whole damned lot much scarier was the fact that, you could check on The Box, and the padlock could be broken; or worse: broken in two.
Then the difficulty of obtaining a replica padlock. Custom made padlocks were scarce and cost a lot of money. But the letter of justification – that was the worst part. For each broken padlock, you were required to hand write a letter to the boss (whom you never met), explaining why X amount of padlocks had been broken and how they had been broken.
If your justifications didn’t involve human error, particularly your own, then you would be safe. However, if it did involve your own human error, well … best not to think about that and the consequences that would follow.
The Box should be okay, you reason to yourself. You’ve never heard any noise or inhuman screams coming from inside it, so it will (probably…hopefully) look the same in the morning.
The Box knows that it is alone. It heard the door close, and it knows that the minder forgot to check that the padlock was in one piece and locked. The box knows this so it starts rocking from side to side and back and forth; in all directions. It is making a loud racket but no one will hear. Only a few souls know that The Box is stored here.
Escape. Yes, escape is on the mind. When you have spent a very long time trapped in a box in pitch black, lonely darkness, you do think about escape. The minder’s boss thinks that the padlocks work but they don’t. They can be broken rather easily. Rock the box a bit and then give the lid a good few pushes, then with your hand, grab the padlock and pull it downwards and snap, rip, pop, the padlock is no more.
Something doesn’t feel right; even more so now, than when you left the building. You try to convince yourself that you’re just tired or stressed, but deep down you know it’s because you didn’t check the damn padlock on that damned box. Hell, you don’t even know what is in The Box! It’s probably nothing because for the past two months you have been working in the building and haven’t heard a single peep from the box. Nothing to worry about.
But it’s the unknown strand of thought that reignites your worries and concerns. What if there really, truly is something dangerous inside that large wooden box.
You decide to drive back to the building and look through the window and make sure the lid of The Box is still down. If it’s open then there’s going to be hell to pay.
Walking towards the building, you hear a violent rocking and scratching sound – as if something is trying to get out and escape.
Screams are coming from all directions; squeaking tyres and glass shattering.
‘Come closer. Come closer if you want a surprise. Come closer, don’t be afraid,’ a voice cajoles. You want to resist but don’t seem able to. The voice is becoming louder and louder. But when you enter the room is abruptly stops. The air is still; the silence is loaded, almost about to burst. Fumbling for the light switch seems to take an eternity but you find it, and switch them on. Relief cascades over you like water on a hot summer’s day. When there’s light, there’s safety. Taking a breath of courage, you walk over to The Box, and take a quick inventory. The padlock is locked and secure, the lid is tightly closed. As you do a final check of the box, you notice that a large yellow sign has been attached to the front of the box. It says: SURPRISE!
Uneasiness crawls and rattles through your body – you need to get out, and fast. You turn to run but the voices have started again. Those damned voices. ‘Come closer. Come closer. Open the lid. I won’t bite. Open the lid for a surprise.’
Your head says no, but your arm is reaching to unlock the padlock, but as you look down to unlock it, it appears to unlock by itself. The lid begins to open very slowly. A strong force shoves you closer to The Box, and forces you to peer inside. When your head is almost inside the box, the force you felt before shoves you harder this time and forces you inside The Box. The lid slams closed and the padlock clicks shut.
Is this how it ends or is this a dream? Remember that nothing in this world is ever as it seems.
Before she went to bed in the evening, she double checked that the doors were locked; that the windows were tightly closed. Nothing, not even a fly or a moth squeeze their way inside her secure home. The action of closing all of the curtains added, to her uncertain mind, an extra blanket of security. If someone were really going to break in, they would have a great time trying to untangle themselves from the curtains.
This was all a very standard routine for Penny. She always double and triple checked everything. Checking things once was simply foreign to her.
In the evenings, Penny would dutifully follow her mother as she checked that every door and window was locked, and that every curtain was closed. Penny was always terrified that if her mother didn’t overlap the curtains when she closed them, that someone could peep through the gap and watch them with their horrible, beady eyes. Then, Penny thought, they would come to know their routine with the doors and windows and curtains. And then they would break in and take Penny away. She would of course put up a fight. She would scream until her throat screamed back at her; until her mother came to her rescue.
Penny’s mother, on the other hand, didn’t quite know what to make of Penny’s curious habits and routines. In the beginning, she found them cute; then she put it down to the fact that Penny was growing up to be a very inquisitive and intelligent child.
However, after a while, Penny’s mother had begun to feel even more concerned for Penny, as Penny always asked to watch scary films or television shows. The answer to her constant questioning was always a firm “no.” Her daughter was far too young for that stuff. She would have to be content with watching Dora the Explorer. As it stood, she allowed Penny to watch the news, and that was more than enough to corrupt a young mind.
It all happened one night.
When Penny and her mother had completed their routine of double and triple checking that all the windows and doors of their home were securely closed and locked, and that the curtains were tightly closed, with the edge of one curtain overlapping the other, so no unwanted eyes could watch them, Penny’s mother made sure Penny brushed her teeth before she tucked her into her bed.
‘Can you hear that sound, momma?’ Penny asked as her mother made sure her sheets and blanket were tucked in properly.
‘No, honey, I can’t hear anything. What does it sound like?’
‘Breathing, momma. Someone is outside, trying to look at us through the window, but they can’t because we locked the doors and windows and shut the curtains tight.’
Penny’s mother took a couple of moments to take in what her daughter was saying. Part of her refused to believe Penny, but she had stated it so matter-of-factly that she thought that Penny must be telling the truth.
‘Look, Penny, honey, there is no one out there,’ Penny’s mother soothed. ‘You’re just tired.’
‘No, momma, listen harder,’ Penny said forcefully, bordering on hysterical crying. ‘The breathing is getting closer. It’s right outside the window.’
Penny’s mother cocked her hear towards the window. Now she could hear what her daughter had been talking about. The heavy breathing was coming from the other side of the window. Someone was out there, watching them, trying to terrify them with their throaty heavy breathing.
For a moment, Penny and her mother remained as still as they possibly could, with their eyes locked on the window. Their eyes were ready to detect even the slightest movement of the curtain; their ears ready to detect the sound of glass being smashed.
For two or three minutes, nothing happened; no glass was shattered, nor did the curtains move an inch. Penny’s mother thought that it might be over, but Penny knew better.
‘Momma,’ Penny whispered, pulling the blankets closer to her chin, using them as a safety cocoon ‘the breathing is getting closer.’
‘The window is shut, honey, it’s fine,’ Penny’s mother reassured her. But even as she said this she could hear the heavy breathing moving closer to her; she could feel the warm breath on the side of her face. The breath was warm and hungry like it wanted something.
‘Penny, get out of here now!’ Her mother screamed. But in her mind she knew that they were both trapped.
‘Momma, I can’t. The heavy breathing monster won’t let me go! Help me, Momma!’
With her eyes closed, not wanting to see what was terrorising them, Penny’s mother grabbed the bedside lamp from Penny’s bedside table, lifted it above her head and, with all her strength, smashed it in the direction of the heavy breathing.
To Penny’s mother’s relief, the heavy breathing had ceased but…
They called it Maniac. Not because it was crazy or anything like that. They called it Maniac because it was dangerous. Dangerous in ways you wouldn’t even imagine.
Maniac, I can tell you, is a house.
A lot of people call it a haunted house, but that isn’t truly accurate. You see, there are not any ghosts flying around inside Maniac. Believe me, if that was the case, it would make everything much simpler. To be frank, I do believe that some label it a haunted house simply because they don’t want to acknowledge the sad truth of Maniac which is this:
Inside Maniac, there are trapped souls. They are trapped between the walls and underneath the floorboards. They scream out in hysteria when you turn on the shower or when a faucet is running.
Many believe that these trapped souls are harmful because of the screams and agony they espouse on others. They are not harmful, these souls; they are simply damaged.
Over time, these souls have become helpless and damn fed up that no one has heard them and attempted to help them; to set them free. All they want is to be heard and understood, because no one knows who or where they are. They are the lost souls of long ago, who unwillingly had life snatched away from them. They were forced away from their loved ones because Maniac’s call was too strong.
Maniac looks like any other house on the street. The lawn is a bright, healthy green; the gardens look bright, lush and full of the love of life. The house appears to be in solid condition.
It is not until you look very closely at the house that you begin to notice small cracks in the wall; the scratches on the window; the paint slowly falling like a sprinkling of light snow.
If you are inside Maniac, looking through a front window at the garden, that the garden doesn’t look as bright and lush and happy as it did when you walked in.
The faucets scream when you let the water flow because water cannot wash away the demons inside you like everyone thinks it can. The floorboards scream hysteria because uncontrollable fear and anguish have been there.
Maniac, as I said before, is dangerous. But not for the reasons you suspect. Maniac is dangerous because it is the place where people go when they feel that they haven’t been heard or understood; that people won’t take the way they feel seriously.
So, please, remember that you are valued, you have worth, and you will be heard; but above all, remember this: You are not alone.