As a young (and incredibly well-behaved) child, both of my parents worked during the daytime. During school term, this was fine. My Dad was around in the mornings to see my brother and I off. My Mum would be home from work by the time we finished our school day. It was during school holidays that we would be trusted to stay at home on our own. We didn’t really break that trust. At least, not until we became teenagers.
Initially our time at home would be punctuated by regular visits from older cousins. They would watch us closely to ensure that we weren’t setting fire to the furniture, or to each other.
We generally weren’t allowed to leave the house, so we occupied our lazy afternoons with old horror films and psychological thrillers stored on old video cassettes. Despite many of these cassette tapes being marked as 18-certificates, we were able to acquire them from a couple of sources. We could usually rely on the dusty cardboard boxes overflowing with videos, stored in our neighbour’s musky smelling rickety old wooden garage. Failing that, we could borrow them from the video rental section in the shadiest corner of the newsagent on our street. At best the shop proprietor was undiscerning, but at worst he had a flagrant disregard for the British Board of Film Classification and our psychological well-being. You could see it in the shopkeeper’s weary eyes – he knew he should be refusing us service, or at least warning us. But who else was going to borrow Children Of The Corn on a Tuesday afternoon? The profit margins were negligible and he had a mortgage to pay! Just take the money from the children!
We had great fun watching these videos, eyes wide and mouths agape as we felt an intrinsic enjoyment from seeing the hapless blonde meander across the screen as the unknown, unseen stalker lies-in-wait behind the shower curtain.
The tale you are reading took place during the early 1990’s. In defence of the gentleman running the local corner shop, it is worth pointing out that many people in positions of authority were not sensitive to children watching 18-certificate films. Film ratings had only been around in The UK for about 10 years. They weren’t taken very seriously, except by fundamental Christians and Mary Whitehouse. Until James Bulger was horribly murdered by two 10-year-old boys in one of the most awful events of the 20th Century. Then the usual kind of things happened. People found something to blame (“Video Nasties”). People went on a moral cruscade in a misguided attempt to divert their emotion. Newspapers (“The Sun”) took the opportunity to milk everyone’s emotion in an effort to sell more newspapers, while successfully campaigning to increase the sentences of two 10-year-old children.
Although I committed no murders as a direct result of watching these films, they forged within me an interest in ghouls and ghosts. I would leave the local library complete with the full quota of 12 books spilling from my arms, all of them about the paranormal. By making my developing interest in the subject known to my parents, I built my own collection of spooky “real life” ghost story books. You know the kind of books. Publications that are passed off as serious reference titles.
I ate it all up. To begin with my brother didn’t share my interest, but I was able to read stories to him with sufficient dramatic flourish until he was also hooked. His eyes were wide with wonder at the story about the bus driven by a ghost that nearly ran a man over. The book didn’t say whether or not the pedestrian (or indeed the bus driver) had been drinking. The illustrator, with his watercolour image, had decided to suggest that the bus driver was a semi-translucent milky ghost with a hapless demeanour, rather than an irresponsible drunkard. Which is more likely, I will leave you to decide.
There was also the story of a family who moved to a new house some 200-miles away from their old one, only for their pet dog to run away as soon as they got there. An unnaturally short time later, a neighbour from their old street called to say that the dog had turned up back at their old house. I don’t know how this qualified as a haunting, as opposed to a story about a fast dog with a good sense of direction, but the book passed it off as one and my brother and I revelled in it.
I must have felt that my brother wasn’t completely on-side with me, and I must have decided that the only thing I could do to fully convince my brother that these paranormal phenomenon were real, was to bully him horribly. I know what I could do. I’ll stage a haunting in our house! It would be easy during the summer holidays, while we were home alone.
The tricks I played were not particularly elaborate, but they were effective. One day, my brother was outside with friends on one of the school holidays where it wasn’t raining, and I prepared his room for his return. He had an indoor television antenna on top of his portable television set. I took some thin fishing wire and tied it to the coaxial cable that runs from the antenna to the socket on the back of the television. I then ran the fishing wire under the carpet that I had carefully lifted. The fishing wire continued out of his room a few feet.
I had to hang around all morning before he returned home, but it was worth it. He grabbed some junk food for lunch and then he went up to his room. He put on some music. He was probably lying on his bed. Perfect. The music masked my footsteps as I made my approach. His door wasn’t completely shut, so I could peek through the gap between the door and the door frame. His eyes seemed to be closed. Great! He’d never be able to tell that the antanna was simply yanked.
And that’s exactly what happened. His television antenna flew majestically through the air before crashing violently down on to his desk. It then fell again onto the floor. It made a wonderful racket. My brother glimpsed around, daring to try to see what had caused the noise, and then just as quickly, he turned away from it, onto his side, trying to frantically dig a tunnel through his duvet where he could hide in safety from whatever evils infested his room. I struggled so hard to contain my laughter and enjoyment that I almost swallowed my own fist. I went back downstairs. I have no idea how long my brother was scratching at his bed, trying to dig some kind of protective cave.
Several days later, I walked towards the living room and looked through the glass panelled door. My brother was lying down on the sofa. The family dog, Paddy, was stood in front of him, looking for a bit of attention. Paddy was positioned in such a way that he blocked my brother’s view to the doorway. I had to act quickly.
I slowly pushed the door open, careful to prevent it from squeaking on its hinges. I got on all-fours and crawled towards the sofa, hiding behind the armrest just below where my brother’s head was lying. I waited for a few seconds, taking my time and taking far too much pleasure from my evil deeds. After a short time, I reached over and grabbed hard at my brothers wrist, yanking at it for just a second. I let go just as quickly and crouched tightly down out of view.
My brother screamed an odd sound before begging the dog not to leave (gripping the animal around the neck so that leaving was not necessarily an option). I was cackling like an asthmatic witch the whole time. The beauty of the fact that he was hugging the dog so tightly was that I was able to sneak back out of the room without being seen.
Once enough time had passed for my brother to see the humour in my heartless tricks, I admitted that I had orchestrated the paranormal events that he had experienced. I think at that point we must have jointly reached some kind of unconscious decision that, yes, we simply must turn our house into a haunted mansion into which we can invite the neighbouring kids to enjoy a jolly good haunting.
On numerous occasions we would manipulate and trick friends and neighbours to visit. We would tell them stories about things that had happened to us or stories we had read. We would show them cheap but spooky illustrations in cheesy books of ghost stories. Then, the tricks would start. We would tend to split up so that one of us could prepare a trick in another room, while the other worked as a distraction and pretended to be as scared as our victims. We would swap roles in order to lessen any suspicion.
The tricks ranged from the simple to the slightly more elaborate and even as far as the slightly dangerous. Sometimes things would be switched from one place to another when returning to a previous room. Occasionally fishing line would be attached to objects which would be manipulated in order to make objects appear to fall or move. Bad smells would sometimes seem to permeate from a particular room, and sometimes there would be something in the air that would burn at your throat slightly when you breathe…. Yes, burning black pepper under a flame was slightly dangerous and certainly not something well behaved children would do, but the effect was quite impressive. If the other kids weren’t sufficiently traumatised, then the coup de grâce was the five minutes of being locked in the attic in the pitch darkness while we banged hard on the ceiling with sticks.
Things probably reached a climax when, on one of the final days of the school holidays, we managed to burn some oil in order to fill the house with acrid smoke. Our victims were suitably terrified, but time managed to get the better of us. We barely managed to remove the smoke and the stink of burning before my parents returned home. We must have realised that, so long as we were almost as terrified as the visitors to our haunted house, it must be time to wrap things up.
Several years later, something quite odd happened to me. I’ve never been able to explain it. While on a family camping holiday, I read a ghost story about a murdered pirate whose footsteps can sometimes be heard to this day. We visited the pub and, stood alone, I heard footsteps right beside me. I screamed. Once home, I went back the those same ghost books I used to read to find the story again, but I couldn’t find it and I haven’t been able to find it since. I can’t explain those footsteps or where the story came from. My strongest suspicion is that my brother and some fishing line were involved.