I can hear the clock tick. I have never been so afraid in all my life. There’s a half-empty bottle of brandy on the floor.
The house has been like this for more than a week now, ever since we got permission to knock it down. And I don’t know what to do … but I do know if I don‘t do something soon, Stephen Heywood is going to kill Leigh, the man I love now more than anything in the world.
Ten years we’ve been haunted by this house, but it’s never been this bad before. We’re trapped inside a nightmare.
We’ve done everything right, cleaned the doors with brine, there’s frankincense and dried sage in the corners of every room and we’ve lit white candles and pinned prayers to the chimney breast.
The Land for Sale board outside rattles insanely. Logs are roaring on the fire … but the room is so cold my breath is frozen in the air.
The clock ticks …
… footsteps on the landing. Heywood’s back and he’s furious. Annie Campbell’s been freed, you see, and she’s taken all of his children with her.
Leigh moved in to The Old Stores, Staffordshire, a beautiful old English village, in 1987. The house was supposed to be a new beginning for him and his partner, Kath. But like most last-ditch efforts it didn’t work and they split up within a year. Leigh was left alone in its 20 echoing rooms.
He paid 50,000 for the old place but from day one things went bump in the night, lights danced across the ceilings, there were faces at the windows, the footsteps and a terrible smell of a dead thing on the landing.
He embarked on a spending spree to bring the old wreck with a broken roof in to the 20th century. The first thing was a £10,000 central heating system but the place remained as cold as the grave.
Leigh is the kindest, most gentle person I have ever known but there is a dark side going back to his childhood. It reveals itself in depression but he’d kept it buried away in his soul until the events of this terrifying day.
I met him in the village pub after my own marriage floundered and I moved in to the Old Stores with my boys on Millennium Eve. We really hoped it was a new beginning for us all.
But the house never welcomed Adam, aged 14, or Brad, 17. Brad refused to stay, he was so terrified. Adam chose to live in the front with its inglenook and oak beams but he was scared to be alone in there.
One night his best mate Leigh Lawrence stayed. He said: “I was in a sleeping bag on the floor when something woke me up. In the moonlight I could see an old man bending over me. He was dressed in black.
“He kept leaning closer and closer to me - it was terrifying. Then he screamed into my face, it was if he was blowing the life out of me.”
The next Christmas I was dressing the tree in front of the log fire. I used to be a florist and decked the old oak fireplace with beautiful displays of mistletoe and holly.
Leigh and I were both kneeling, putting baubles on the tree when I shivered: “Gosh, somebody’s just walked over my grave.”
Neither of us felt remotely intimidated by our visitor though. I think it was Annie Campbell seeking comfort.
Another time - I remember, it was 4am - we were lying in bed holding hands and listening to three children playing in the lounge. They were giggling. At times like this, our house was a home.
But a few nights later, Heywood pounded down the landing and rapped his knuckles on the bedroom door just to let us know he was still around.
The paranormal investigators arrived from Birmingham at midnight. It was like a military operation as they set up base camp in the old venison store. They put an infra-red camera in Adam’s room and sealed it off.
After two hours the house was quieter than an abandoned grave but then Mark, co-ordinator, nodded towards the infra-red monitor and I saw a diffused ball of light dancing on the screen.
“A Circle of Confusion …” Mark sounded relieved. “In a sealed room too.”
And that was just for openers. The crew couldn‘t believe their luck, hundreds of orbs were flitting around the screen and electrical equipment around the house started to pick up impossible temperature changes.
The Ghostbusters picked up footsteps on the landing and the sound of something heavy being dragged down stairs, exactly where the stench of death lingered.
Three days later, the house was still crazy. Leigh had gone to bed early and I’d stayed up watching TV. He could hear a snarl, half asleep he tried to drown it out with the radio. But the louder the radio, the louder the snarl.
Then he saw a pale-green glow by the wardrobe … it looked like worms feeding on a pile of disgusting rags on the floor. Something was moving under them, rising and falling.
Leigh jumped out of bed and bound naked down stairs. As he burst into the lounge something flung me sideways onto the couch like a discarded doll. I remember being angry with Leigh and demanded: “What did you do that for?”
“I didn’t do anything …”
“You were here, in front of me, holding my wrists and talking to me. Then you pushed me over.”
The three mediums from London arrived the next day. They’d been deliberately kept in the dark about their destination.
Shawn chose the top of the stairs and that’s where she saw them, three children and a teenage girl.
“Her name was Annie Campbell,” Shawn said. “Stephen Heywood bought her to look after his three children after his wife died. Her family in Edinburgh sold her, she was barely fourteen. I’ve released her and the children. They’re gone now.”
I asked: “Why were they here?”
“He tried to rape her and she ran down the corridor with him in pursuit. That’s the footsteps you can hear. She couldn’t escape him and when she died, she couldn’t escape the house. He strangled her on the stairs, you see. The children didn’t know what to do, so they stayed with her.”
“Is he still here?” I asked.
Shawn smiled sadly: “Yes. I’m sorry.” Then she turned to Leigh: “It’s him who is master of this house, Leigh, not you … but he gets his strength off you, off a deep-rooted fear you have from your own past.”
The clock ticks. Dust falls through the ceiling. He’s angry and stamps around in a slow war dance. I’ve never been as terrified in my life. I swig from our bottle of brandy.
It’s a storm outside and the Land for Sale sign yatters like its going to rip from its moorings. We light more white candles.
Leigh suddenly launches himself at the door and in that same instant boots begin to crash down the landing towards us! I grab Leigh’s arm and shout: “Where the hell are you going?”
“To face him!”
They say that if your fears are real, then you have to face them. And I know Heywood is taunting Leigh over his past.
Leigh throws the door open - the air in the hallway is foul, putrid. Heywood, so full of hatred that even the ground rejected him, is standing there, tall as a tree and dressed in black.
Leigh said afterwards: “I could see through him, right into myself and I could see it all … I was nine years old … and I was being abused in a great dark Victorian schoolhouse by a burly bearded teacher. He swore me to secrecy – he threatened to tell my parents if I didn’t. I never got over the shame, it left a hole in my soul.”
Heywood got in through that hole. The Victorian child killer had wandered the corridors of The Old Stores for 150 years until he finally found refuge inside the victim of a 20th century child molester.
Finally Leigh could slam the door shut on his tragic past and we could lay to rest four of the ghosts of the Old Stores. Now the house will be knocked down and a small housing development put in its place.
We were lucky that both scientists and spiritualists showed us that we weren’t mad, that there really were a series of anomalies at the Old Stores. We were also lucky that Leigh was able to face the thing which had haunted for decades.
We can move on in our lives now, just as Annie Campbell and her three wards were able, finally, to move on in their deaths.
But sometimes I wonder where did evil Stephen Heywood go?
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