Every town thinks they have a house like the one at the end of Raglan Street. They all have some run-down shack with an overgrown garden, or a maisonette collapsing into ignominious decay: a place that can attract the local town legends and mysteries, a mythology in which children pass on fearful tales of murder and mayhem, each more lurid than the last.
In reality, these houses rarely radiate more than a sense of forlorn melancholy. The house on Raglan Street was different. It had no gate, no collapsing front deck and no weeds. It was barely talked about, and was instead avoided instinctively, as if the brooding building squatting at the point the road became track barely existed.
Unusually, there was more than one empty building on Raglan Street. The church stood empty, the white planks peeling paint and a faded sign proclaiming “-esus -igh- of the worl-” was disquieting, but paled in comparison to its baleful neighbour.
I was maybe ten when my mother sat down to tell me why I shouldn’t enter the house on Raglan Street. As a sensitive child the idea that I would go anywhere near the place scared the hell out of me, but apparently some boys in my class had thrown rocks through one of the windows and my mother wanted to make sure I wouldn’t take part in a similar expedition.
“You know about not letting people…touch you, right?” said my Mum. She was nervous, and anxiously searched my face.
“We had a policeman come into school and talk to us about it.”
“Good.” The relief was obvious. “And you know not to go near the house on Raglan Street? Or the old church?”
“Good.” She looked into her mug of tea for a second before continuing.
“A long time ago, there was a bad man at the church. He was supposedly a Man of God. He did…he did what that police man said was wrong to some boys and girls from around here. He did…other things as well. Violent things.”
I didn’t really understand her, but she went on.
“The priest would take them to that old house.” she said, her voice wavering. “One of them didn’t ever come out again. A boy called Tommy. They searched the house.”
“What happened to the priest, Mum?”
“He…he was supposed to get reassigned. But he disappeared before then.” Venom I had never heard before entered her voice. “Bastard skipped town.”
When I returned to the town as a property developer, the strange, horrible conversation with my mother twenty years before returned fully formed to my memory. The church had been demolished, but the house was still there, a little more run down and a little more filthy, a few more broken windows, but substantially the same. Somehow, the garden was still free of weeds. Nobody had ventured inside it for years.
Seeing the land was for sale, curiosity got the better of me, and I headed to the door. Old, childish fear rose up inside me, but I pushed open the door and went inside.
A sickly sweet smell assaulted my nostrils. The house was extremely dusty, and cockroaches clicked across the floor as I walked in. The kitchen was at the end of the hall, and I headed in that direction.
Rotten herbs and weeds hung from a rack and old pans sat in the sink covered in cotton-like mold. Moths flapped lazily in the airborne dust. The kitchen smelt of mulch and soil, and it was almost fresh, compared to the mustiness in the entrance hall. The awful sweet-smell was stronger too, and it was coming from a door in the corner.
Steps led down into a cellar. As well as the first smell, there was a vague hint of ash in the air, as if a fire had been burning below. It was pitch black, and as I bumped into the bottom step, I pulled my phone out to see what I was doing.
I swept my tiny rectangle of light over the cellar, and my heart stopped, and I left rapidly to re-enter a saner world.
By the time the police had cleared out the cellar they had discovered the remains of a fire pit and a primitive altar. The desiccated remains of a man’s body, still clad in vestments, was slumped behind it, and hadn’t been moved for some time. Another body had been found, a malnourished, naked, fifty year old with rotted teeth lying sprawled near the cellar steps. The time of death of the wretch had been impossible to determine due to his disease-ridden state, although he appeared to have suffered some sort of cardiac arrest relatively recently. He had clearly been living down there for years.
All of this I could have coped with. But the nightmares come for one simple reason, and one reason alone. In the sweep of that tiny rectangle of light, something near the steps had moved, and reached its pitiful arms towards me.