Even on the very first visit to the house, there was only one emotion that ran through my mind - I felt an indescribable sense of fear.
There was something more than just that regular, "I don't like it" sort of feeling you get when you don't like the paint colour or the décor or even the kitchens and bathrooms.
There was nothing particularly unusual about this first visit. No cataclysmic event, no outrageous occurrences, no materialisations, in fact, my wife Heather, was totally shocked at my reactions, both in the house and, once we'd left the cottage.
The only way I could describe it was just, pure, undiluted fear.
Heather and I had been the proud owners of our family Home for the last twenty year, and our only Son had recently dropped the news on us that it was time that he became more independent and moved on to his own House. He'd met a good crowd down at the gym and three of them had agreed to share a nice furnished duplex, complete with swimming pool, satellite T.V., and all the other trimmings.
The advert in the weekend Property section sounded like the perfect cottage for the two of us and still allowed us to have two spare bedrooms just in case the commune didn't work out for my Son. What we were ideally looking for was a house with the ability to lock-up-and-leave if we felt the urge to take off for a weekend or longer.
The advert described the house as a Victorian Semi with beautiful views out over the bay. What was more attractive, according to the selling Agent, was the fact that the other side of the semi was owned by a European family who had spent very little time in this country since they bought it more than ten years ago. No nosy neighbours to worry about and certainly no one to complain if our dinner parties got a bit louder than normal.
The photograph looked like a fairy tale cottage with its high pitched roof, loft rooms, ornate wrought-iron work on the porch surrounds and a beautiful old oak tree in the centre of the huge front garden.
Looking at the photograph, I guessed that it had been taken some time ago as it had almost a sepia effect, faded around the edges, like a photo' that had stood in its frame in strong sunlight for a long time. Maybe this was just a good marketing ploy on the part of the Agent?
It was also a ten minute drive from the City and Waterfront, central enough for me to nip into town for my business or for Heather to embark on one of her full day window-shopping excursions down at the Waterfront Mall.
We'd arranged to meet the Agent there on Sunday afternoon and purposely arrived fifteen minutes ahead of her so that we could scout out the area.
We stopped outside the address she had given us; number 23 Amberside Road. We were both immediately captivated by the tall, wrought iron gates and high sandstone walls that surrounded the property. Privacy was guaranteed as we found out when we got out of the car and tried to view the property from the gate. The hanging branches of the huge oak tree blocked out any view of the house from the road and we ended up walking up and down, checking out the neighbouring houses until the Agent arrived to show us around.
After taking off the huge padlock and chain from the gates, the Agent explained that the property had been part of a deceased estate and as such, had been empty for nearly two years while the Courts had sorted out the legal matters.
"Slightly Overgrown" was the Agent's understatement of the day as we beat our way through waist high weeds all the way to the front porch, up the stairs to the majestic, wide front door, complete with leaded windows and brass adornments which I visually dated as early 20th century.
I reached out to touch and admire the bold, fluted brass doorknob.
The first wave of fear hit me.
It wasn't electric or static, neither was it hot or cold. It merely sent a huge shiver right through my body. I recoiled and almost knocked Heather flying backwards off the porch.
I stood there for about twenty seconds wondering what had come over me, while Heather and the Agent agreed that there must have been a static build up or something to cause my reaction.
The agent waffled on to Heather as she unlocked the Yale and mortise locks, pushing the door inward with a loud creak of the hinges as it swung into the darkened hall area.
The second wave of fear hit me as I stared into the darkened entrance hall, and I immediately stepped backwards again, this time connecting with one of the wrought iron poles, which decorated the porch.
Heather was apologising profusely to the Agent for my unexplained behaviour and gave me one of her scolding looks as she stepped into the hallway.
Even with the lights switched on in the hallway, I could not bring myself to step over the threshold, as if something was telling me to stay out. That was the exact thought that went through my head at that moment in time.
Again, I could hear Heather apologising, saying that she was sure I'd join them once I'd recovered, and that I was obviously not feeling too well. She looked back at me and gave me one of those looks.
I stepped down into the garden, leaning forward and resting my hands on my knees with my head down. I stood like that for a couple of minutes taking deep breaths, reasoning with myself that my reaction was not natural and yes, I must be feeling a bit out of sorts.
I felt a bit better when I stood up but turning towards the house, got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I turned back around and starting making my way through the overgrown weeds towards the fence that separated the two semi's.
The fence was mainly covered in thick Ivy, which had covered most of the timber with a browny green creeper. Through the sections where the timber had not been invaded and covered by the Ivy, I could see that the once thick and solid fencing had rotted away in places. An expensive replacement would be needed if anyone were to buy this place, I thought to myself.
I caught a quick, dark, flashing movement through the decaying timber. Knowing the neighbouring place was empty, I dismissed my suspicions, putting it down to a wandering Cat seeking out insects in the warm afternoon sun. I thought I heard that familiar guttural mating call as I relaxed and tried to compose myself to go into the house.
I didn't stroll but rather walked briskly and determinately through the garden, up the stairs and straight through the front door.
Ahead of me I could see the beautifully ornate wooden stairway and I could hear the voices of Heather and the Agent, complimenting each other on noticing some or other feature of the house.
I plucked up my courage and took the stairs two at a time. I followed the voices into what I saw, was the Master Bedroom. Its outer leaded patio doors had been opened and I stepped out, somewhat relieved, onto the balcony to be greeted with views to die for. I could see ships in the bay waiting to dock and a couple of tugboats making their way in with a massive container ship standing by.
A hand touched me on the shoulder interrupting my almost dream state.
"Certainly, the views are breathtaking," I said smiling and reaching back to take Heathers hand.
"What the hell got into you downstairs?" she interrupted. "That was quite embarrassing."
"I don't know, just a strange feeling came over me when I touched the doorknob," I replied, turning to face her. "It was almost as if hundreds of years of collected emotions came flooding from the doorknob, it was as if something surged through my body in one giant white flash." I answered.
"Oh, come on Jack, you know you get spooked for the slightest thing. A little bit of work and a lot of gardening, and this place is just what we've always dreamed of." Heather said, smiling hoping for some positive feedback from me.
"Well, it certainly has all the space we need and as you say, a little work and this place could really be stunning." I agreed with her.
My getting spooked was certainly one of my inbuilt reactions to almost anything out of the ordinary. Maybe I was being a little paranoid. Maybe it was just static from rubbing up against the long weeds in the pathway.
Heather grabbed my arm dragging me back inside and spent the next fifteen minutes showing me some of the fantastic features she'd discovered.
Sure, the bathroom needed a lot of work, maybe even having the bath re-lined but the general feeling was of well preserved Victoriana right down to the brass tap fittings, bevelled framed mirrors and the converted gaslight that hung proudly in the centre of the bathroom.
The Kitchen needed a lot more work than the other rooms but the basics were really well preserved, working, and not in need of any master plumbers or electricians to get things moving. A huge, wood-burning stove occupied centre stage in the room.
We walked downstairs and were greeted by a magnificent lounge leading to a drawing room, complete with pressed metal ceilings and a fireplace in each room.
Standing on the front porch, the tree branches swayed gently in the breeze and you could see the view of the bay as the branches and leaves parted.
"A quick trim, and we'll have the same views as upstairs." Heather said, a little more enthusiastically than I could agree. I'd be the one up the tree with a bow saw cutting and chopping whilst Heather did her Master Landscaper impersonations.
Once again, a dark shadow, moving at speed behind the separating fence, caught my peripheral vision.
"What the................" I spat, looking at Heather who was looking in the opposite direction.
"What is it now Jack?" she snapped. "Don't tell me, you've seen the ghosts of everyone who's lived here for the past five hundred years." She said with loaded sarcasm.
"I thought I saw a big Cat there earlier, in the property next door. Probably a neighbour's Cat chasing some insects - or maybe chasing another Cat?" I offered, trying to find a plausible explanation for my latest outburst.
The Agent interrupted us and, after a few words with Heather, we stepped out of the property, into the car and into a familiar calm environment.
"I know you think I'm being a bit weird and paranoid," I said firmly, "but, I know what I saw, know what I felt. Heather, that house scared the shit out of me! I can't explain why, but I have never felt so scared of anything in my life, and the scariest part is, I don't know what it is I'm afraid of!" I said in an unusually high-pitched voice.
Heather said nothing more until we were half way home.
"Jack, I really don't know what it was that caused your reactions, but I have to tell you, this is the place we've always spoken of, always dreamed of. It has everything we've always talked about. Position, space, views, character, even the old wood burning stove in the kitchen." She said, suggesting that this was my exclusive problem and that I would have to deal with it. " I think it's the fact that it's been locked up for so long, everything was dark and dusty and your mind just went into imagination-overdrive." She concluded.
2. THE CLEAN UP
That night we sat down with a notepad and listed all the pros and con's and, I have to admit, the problem was all mine. Heather had no bad vibes, no strange feelings, or even a hint of fear. In fact, quite the opposite. Heather said that she had felt a lovely warmth about the whole visit, a warmth to every room, nook, and cranny.
I agreed to view the property with her again and she said she'd set it up during the week.
The next few days flew by, and it was over supper on Wednesday that Heather told me she'd made a second appointment, this time, without the Agent. We could spend as much time as we liked looking around once we'd collected the keys from the Agent's offices. I was secretly hoping that she'd forgotten all about 23 Amberside Road.
We arranged to meet mid-morning, and when I drove up, Heather's car was already parked inside the driveway. I parked behind her car and walked the ten paces or so to the front steps.
I stopped and turned around, aware that something was quite different from our last visit.
The weeds had gone. I stood there looking at the Garden which I admit, was quite beautiful given the fact that someone must have spent the last two or three days clearing out all the weeds and overgrowth.
"I noticed it straight away," came Heathers voice from where she leaned against the upstairs balcony railings. "The Agent must have brought someone in to clear it. It'll be much easier to sell looking like this." She said glancing around at the newly exposed Rose bushes, Bougainvilleas and Impatiens lining the neat flowerbeds.
I stepped up onto the front porch and looked back at the Garden. Heather had seen this potential and I had been so blinkered by my fear that I hadn't been able to visualise it this way.
A hand touched me on the shoulder. "Nice, Isn't it?" I said smiling as I turned, expecting to find that Heather had come down to greet me.
No one was there.
Once again, that wave of absolute fear overtook me and I staggered backwards, no, stumbled backwards in a sort of low crouch, catching my heel on a piece of wrought iron work. I fell backwards down the three stairs, landing firmly on my backside.
I sat there, actually shaking with fear.
Heather came walking through the front door, smiling at my predicament.
"Oh, come on now Jack, stop being so dramatic will you" she said giggling to herself, not realising or caring how I got into this position. "The Agent has obviously had some workmen in to tidy up. If you think the Garden looks great, come and take a look inside the house." She said, walking back inside.
I picked myself up, dusted the sand off my jeans, and followed obediently up the stairs and into the hallway.
Again, I had to admit that the quick stroke of a paintbrush does wonders to a house's appearance. "The Agent must have had the Painters in the minute we left." I said agreeably to Heathers retreating back.
"Come upstairs and see the job they've done there." She said, her voice fading around the upstairs hallway corner.
I joined Heather in the main bedroom. The wall colour had not been changed but had just been freshened up to its original colours.
"I can't believe how quickly they've worked on the painting" I stated. " And just look at the floors, they must have spent hours polishing them as well." The floors, previously rather dull and scratched from years of use, had been brought back to a magnificent state, the Oregon pine floorboards, glowing a deep, pinkish-brown.
"Oh Jack...................." she pleaded. "Isn't this just wonderful? Think of all the time they've saved us, and the money. It's almost as if we could move in tomorrow. The place is really quite beautiful, restored back to its original state, isn't it?"
I didn't respond, much to Heathers dissatisfaction.
"Heather, let's not rush into this" I said with a certain amount of hesitation. Apart from my weird feelings about the place, she was right. This was just as perfect as we were going to get.
"And how long do you think the house will stay on the market Jack, looking like this, I'm surprised it hasn't been sold. I'll be even more surprised if it's still available in the next few days. Someone's going to come inside and just fall in love with it immediately."
"let's go and have a coffee somewhere and chat about it shall we?" I said, offering some sort of stalling tactic to get her away from the house and it's obvious influence over her.
We left and met up at the local coffee shop where, over several café latte and much sulking on her part, we agreed that we'd make an offer considerably below the asking price. If the Sellers agreed, then destiny would have played its part. Heather phoned the Agent and made a verbal offer, which would be put into writing if the buyer accepted the pricing.
I didn't get any peace that evening at home, Heather repeatedly interrupting my relaxation with articles from Home and Garden, House and Leisure and just about every décor magazine in the house, suggesting this and that change or modification. Regardless of her previous statements, I knew I'd have a lot to keep me occupied for a long time to come.
At nine-thirty, our home phone rang. It was the Agent saying that the seller was more than happy to accept our offer and that we could meet the following morning to take care of the paperwork.
Heather went to sleep more than happy and I remained restless until I finally managed to drop off in the early hours of the morning.
I didn't want to burst Heather's bubble by telling her more about my deepest fears.
3. MOVING UP, MOVING OUT.
Our house sold within a week of listing and we arranged to have everything packed and moved on 25 April, enough time to have the old house cleaned and readied for the new owners.
We spent the night of 25th April at an hotel in the City, knowing that when we arrived at 23 Amberside Road, most of the items would be placed and positioned as we'd instructed the removal men.
On the morning of 26th April, we arrived at the new cottage after enjoying a relaxing breakfast at the Hotel. Heather couldn't wait to get there and gulped down her breakfast like a kid wanting to leave the table to watch the Cartoon Network.
As we opened the front door, the picture we got was one of satisfaction. It looked like everything had been made to fit. It was as if everything had been there for years. I told myself to make a note to phone the removal company to thank them for their attention to our detailed instructions.
Heather was muttering something about moving this piece of furniture here or that picture there, but was generally pleased with the layout.
"How about a nice cup of tea on the front porch?" she asked, smiling contentedly.
"How about a nice cup of tea on the bedroom porch rather?" I suggested.
Heather giggled, knowing that this was an invitation to initiate the new bedroom, patio doors opened wide and the breeze cooling down our bodies. In spite of me being in my early fifties and Heather inching her way there, we still had a good sex life and took advantage of the fact that our Son was less and less present at home.
"I'll get the tray organised, you go on upstairs and scout around then." She said agreeably.
Everything was where it should have been. Our old brass bed had been positioned to face outward, giving us a wonderful early morning sea view, doors open or closed.
I was starting to like the idea now that everything was more familiar, furnished with our good old pieces.
I walked out onto the porch and sat down at our breakfast table, complete with its two cast iron chairs. I relaxed into the soft, padded cushions thinking I could easily make a habit of having breakfasts on the porch.
The smack across my cheek came out of nowhere.
I turned after my head had been spun to one side with the force of the blow, looking for the assailant. No one was there.
I stood up, the heavy metal chair grating against the quarry tile with a sharp screeching sound.
In my peripheral hearing, Heather muttered something from downstairs.
I walked quickly into the bedroom, half expecting to find an intruder skulking behind the curtains. No one was there.
Heather walked into the room carrying a tray laden with the tea set.
"My God Jack! What happened to your face?" she asked, a look of shock wrinkling her brow.
I glanced over to the full-length dressing mirror, neatly positioned as we requested, next to the dressing table.
A clear handprint was visible, standing out in bold red contrast to the rest of my skin.
I moved closer to the mirror, again hearing Heather mumbling something indecipherable in the background.
The handprint showed the clear outline of four fingers, in total, less than two inches wide. The handprint was that of a child, certainly not big enough to be even a small adult.
I ignored Heathers questions and took the tea tray from her hands, placing it firmly on the dressing table. I grabbed Heathers arm and led her to the bed where I pushed her abruptly into a sitting position. I put my hand across her mouth and told her to just shut-up-and-listen.
When I'd finished, heather had turned a greyish sort of colour and just sat with her mouth agape, for the first time, actually believing what I was telling her.
"There are definitely lost souls here Heather, believe me, I'm not imagining things." I insisted.
"Oh God, Jack, what are you telling me? That the place is haunted or something like that?" Heather screeched, her voice bordering on hysterical.
"All I can tell you Heather is that we're not spending even one night here until we have this place cleansed, there are people out there who know how to handle this sort of thing and we need to get someone in here as soon as possible." I said firmly. " We know nothing about this place, but I have a strange feeling that all was not as peaceful as we would like to believe. Something, or things, happened here and we need to get to the bottom of it."
Leaving the tea tray where it was, we grabbed our keys, locked the front door and left in my car headed for the City Hotel. They could accommodate us until this was sorted out.
Once we got back to the hotel and booked in, I made a few phone calls, finally talking to a certain "Mimi", a psychic and medium who came recommended by one of the lay-preachers at our old church. "She's sorted out this sort of thing before." He told us. "Done many a cleansing she has." He said trying to reassure me.
I plugged in my laptop to the Hotel network and went on-line until I connected to the City Records department.
I searched the database and entered the name of the previous owners, "Wicht" in the searchbar. The City Deeds registration came up with a list of "Wicht's" and I scanned down until I found 23 Amberside Road.
I clicked on the link and was taken to a scanned copy of the original title deeds.
It seemed that the property had been in the Wicht family since 1907 when the title was registered to Albert Mannheim Wicht, of German descent who had purchased and obviously lived in the house until 1988 when he transferred the property to his Son, Marcus Mannheim Wicht and Daughter, Margaret Lucille Wicht.
I sat back, thinking that the name was somehow familiar.
I put the name "Marcus Mannheim Wicht" into the searchbar and waited.
According to Google, there were 1205 matches for the search and I clicked on the first link.
The screen formed as the Front-page article from the Saturday Evening Standard, dated 16 June 2002.
According to the article, Wicht had been tried and sentenced in connection with the disappearance and murders of seven young girls between 1988 and 2002. The article went on to say that police recovered the remains of six girls aged between 12 and 14 from the house in Amberside Road, which he shared with his invalid Sister. An extensive search of both properties turned up the six sets of remains as well as personal items belonging to the seven missing, murdered girls. Marcus Wicht remained silent throughout his trial and refused to be drawn on the whereabouts of the seventh girl.
"She's in the House!" I screamed to Heather who was dozing off on the bed next to me." The remains of the seventh girl must still be in the grounds somewhere. Her spirit won't be able to rest until they find her remains!" I shouted.
I eventually dozed off that night, thinking that our problems would soon be over. A little bit of inconvenience, a few incantations and a cheque for some mystical services and it would all be over, a funny anecdote thrown around over pre-supper drinks and a good laugh, would soon replace the terror we had both felt.I couldn't have been more wrong.