The Melancholy of Herbert Solomon

By Chef Michael Whitehouse

On several occasions my interest in the supernatural has taken me to some of the most prestigious seats of learning in the entire United Kingdom. From the venerable halls of Oxford and Cambridge, to the more humble surroundings of inner city colleges and schools, my pursuit of evidence to substantiate such claims has rarely been fruitful. However, while exploring the University of St Andrews in Scotland, I found a rather interesting tome hidden away in a dark and musty corner of the campus library.

The book itself was unusual, its cover bound in a weathered and blackened leather which unashamedly wore the wrinkles and cracks of time. It dated back to the 16th century, and seemed to contain various descriptions and accounts of the daily lives of the people of Ettrick; a small isolated town built in the south moorlands of the country.

Perusing the volume there were a variety of entries from a number of authors spanning a 60 year period. It seemed to have been handed down from town elder to town elder over that time, and to be quite frank most of it contained idle musings on the townsfolk and plans for a number of humble building projects and improvements.

Just as I was about to conclude that the book was of little interest to me, I noticed on the inside of the back cover that someone had drawn a picture. It was elegantly depicted, but I would never have described it as a pleasing sight, in fact my immediate reaction was one of disgust upon first viewing it.

The combination of the harsh, almost angry black lines used and the stark imagery of the scene as relayed by the artist left me with a thoroughly unpleasant impression of its subject. I shuddered as I cast my eye over it in an attempt to take-in the picture of what seemed to be of a man, tall with long, thin arms and legs. His face was partially obscured by one of his gaunt white hands, but what could be seen was monstrous. Prominent veins protruded from his forehead leading up to a pallid bald head, his eyes were deep set into his skull and the surrounding woods seemed to twist and lean away from him fearfully.

At first I assumed that the picture was some form of hideous graffiti, but at the bottom of the page was inscribed the date of 1578, and a rather unusual name: ‘Herbert Solomon’. Whether this was the name of the menacing figure in the drawing or of the artist, I did not know.

Disturbed yet compelled by that dark woodland scene, I decided that the book required further study. I desired greatly to know who this creature was, and why someone had felt the need to capture his strange form in a drawing; a drawing at the back of a book otherwise used to record the lives of the townsfolk. On closer inspection what surprised me further was that the same image seemed to recur elsewhere in the book, but drawn by apparently different individuals.

Within the book I found numerous mentions of Herbert Solomon, and it became clear quickly that he was indeed the emaciated man in the picture. He had lived in the 16th century on the outskirts of Ettrick town. It was a small and underdeveloped place, surrounded on all sides by the thick cover of Ettrick forest, which itself sat in the midst of a vast region of southern moorland.

The town had a small parish church with one humble steeple, an inn normally used by those travelling through the unforgiving countryside, and quaint cobbled streets which wound their way around the stone cottages and town hall.

According to the descriptions in the book, during the December of 1577 children began to disappear from the town. The first was a young girl by the name of Alana Sutherland. She had been playing with some friends by an old well on the outskirts of the town, but had dropped a small toy doll down it accidentally, which had caused her much distress. Unable to retrieve it, she returned home to borrow some string and an old hook in the hopes of being able to fish the doll out of the water below. She was last seen walking towards the well just as the sun set.

In a panic the townsfolk searched, they dredged the well, they combed the wheatfields, and even sent several groups of those willing into the surrounding woods. Alas, the girl was not found.

A few days later a young boy by the name of Erik Kennedy was running an errand for his grandmother. It was dark, but he had only to take some wool over to the Munro place as way of a thanks for the grain they had provided, and they lived but only a few streets away. It was assumed that at least the centre of the town would be safe, but the boy never completed his errand. He vanished, as if he were torn from existence.

By the end of January an unusually bitter winter had caused significant damage to the town and its people. Large, thick sheets of ice and snow covered each house and building. Several people died from the cold alone, and the general mood of Ettrick town was a sombre one.

Despite these trying times, the townspeople were more concerned with the safety of their offspring. In total, seven children had now disappeared without rhyme or reason. Whole families wept in despair and the people of Ettrick began to view one another suspiciously. They knew the truth; someone was taking their children from them.

By mid February two more had went missing and accusatory glances were now being shared between every family, and every member of the community. The town elder decided to act, and took upon himself the arduous task of identifying and catching the fiend.

Bureaucratic discussions were had, church groups convened, and in every house in every street, in every corner of Ettrick, one name crossed the lips of its inhabitants: ‘Herbert Solomon’. The more the name was mentioned, the more certain his guilt became.

Herbert Solomon was an outsider. He lived in a small wooden cabin amongst the woods which surrounded the town, and due to his unfortunate appearance tended to avoid human contact. What his malady was no one was sure and in the unenlightened times of 16th century Scotland, many believe that he was cursed.

Modern eyes would have guessed him to be the victim of a wasting disease. He rarely ventured into town, except on a few occasions to trade for supplies and even in those instances he covered his face with a brown tarnished hat and a grey piece of cloth, which obscured his features below two deep-set and darkened eyes.

Several of the townsfolk told stories of Herbert Solomon, according to these accounts he would stand on the edge of the forest watching the farmers till their land, and their children play in the fields. It was his fascination with children which left many feeling uneasy. Some of the town’s children returned home from playing near the woods on a number of occasions with beautifully crafted dolls and toys. They were a present, from Herbert Solomon, and being innocent children they could not know of the dangers therein.

When the children began to disappear, eyes immediately turned to the strange man living in the woods. Accusations were carried by the whispers of fearful parents, and as the whispers increased in number so did their volume, until it was decided that Herbert Solomon must be stopped.

On a cold February night the elders of the town decreed that Solomon should be arrested immediately. Grief, anger, resentment, and fear grew to a fever pitch with this news and every man woman and child set out across the fields, entering into the surrounding forest in search of the child killer Herbert Solomon.

Details of exactly what occurred that night are limited, but it seems as though the people of Ettrick town attempted to remove Herbert from his small cabin by setting it on fire. The crowds cheered as the heat grew and the fire rose. His screams echoed throughout the woods finally to be silenced by the flames.

The townsfolk believed that justice had been done, and while the grief of the parents whom had lost their children could never be quenched, there was at least the satisfaction of knowing that the man responsible was now dead.

However, over the following few days an unease descended upon the entire town. Stories began to spread of strange encounters in the streets at night; a gaunt shadowy figure prowling the cobbled stones, hiding in the darkness. Within a week numerous residents claimed to have woken up during the night to the petrifying sight of an unwelcome visitor.

One account was of an elderly lady who woke to the sound of something rustling under her bed, only to nearly die of shock as a tall, thin man pulled himself out from underneath. She fainted, but not before she saw his face; a withered complexion as if ravaged by disease, his eyes blacker than night and his hands comprised of tightly pulled skin over a bony interior.

Another story consisted of a local tradesman who while investigating a noise from his cellar was confronted by a hideous figure, so tall and gaunt that it had to hunch over to avoid the low ceiling entirely, its sheet-white face flickering in the candlelight. The man managed to escape, but he refused to re-enter his premises.

It became clear to the townspeople that the vengeful ghost of Herbert Solomon was still searching for other victims from beyond the grave. His hate and hideous form haunting the town which murdered him.

With each passing day the sightings grew in intensity and number. A fog descended on the town, and the people wept and grieved as the sound of Herbert Solomon terrorized each person, night by night. He was seen wandering amongst the wheatfields, in the cellars and lofts of cottage houses, his long gaping footsteps ringing out each night through the streets of Ettrick town.

They had been cursed. In life Herbert Solomon had taken and murdered their children, and now in death he seemed to possess the twisted means to terrorize the entire town.

Then the unthinkable happened; another child went missing. A young orphan girl – who often wandered the streets when she could not find a place to call home for the night – was heard screaming for her life. The townsfolk rushed to their windows, looking out but not daring to leave the imaginary safety of their houses; paralysed by fear.

The screaming ceased quickly and moments later wandering aimlessly out of the fog came the menacing figure of Herbert Solomon. He rushed down the street, his lifeless arms bashing against the houses which he passed, scraping the doors and windows with his rigid fingers, emitting an unnatural yell of anger and hatred on his way.

The girl was gone, and the town grieved once more.

In the preceding days the fog grew denser and with it came the unwelcome news of two more children taken. One a girl whom after having a raging argument with her family, left the house never to be seen again. The other a boy named Matthew, the son of a notable drunk, who was taken from his own bed by the hands of Solomon while the father lay unconscious from drink.

During a church service the unthinkable happened, Solomon appeared briefly in the aisles of the church seemingly unaffected by consecrated ground. The congregation whimpered in horror and disdain as his warped, spindly form walked slowly behind a pillar and then vanished.

It was indeed a show of influence.

Hope was almost lost. Not even a place of worship could deny him, and he was now capable of entering any home at night and then taking whatever, or whoever he wished. The town had to act, or abandon the place altogether, but there was no guarantee that the curse of Solomon would not follow.

The local vicar, a man by the name of McKenzie was asked by the people of Ettrick to use any sacred power which was ordained to him. In an attempt to destroy or banish the spirit of Solomon, a plan was provided. The vicar and a few chosen individuals armed with torches, swords which had been blessed, and vials of holy water, would take guard over the town waiting for the cursed figure of that child killer to show his face once more.

Then they would confront him.

Observing as much of the town as possible from several house windows, roofs, and strategic street corners, McKenzie’s chosen waited. They did not, however, need to wait long. That night the lonely figure of Herbert Solomon appeared through the mist, walking the streets of Ettrick with purpose. Yells and screams rang out as people alerted one another that Solomon had returned.

Families held their children close as dark thoughts consumed the town: Please spare my child, take another’s.

McKenzie was the first to confront him. His will was shaken by the sight of Solomon’s hideous pallid face, rotten and ravaged. The gangly spindling figure stood staring intently at the vicar through black, clouded eyes.

Another man now joined, then another, before long Herbert Solomon was surrounded. McKenzie instructed the men to slowly close the circle, drawing their swords with one hand while brandishing flaming torches with the other.

Fear gripped them, but they knew that this could be their only chance. McKenzie threw a vial at Solomon’s lumbering feet and as he uttered a Christian Psalm, another man struck out with his torch. The blow crackled as the cloth-covered arm of Solomon caught fire. Cheers rang out from the townsfolk watching from their homes above, but the man had strayed to close, providing a gap in the circle which Solomon claimed with purpose.

He fled.

His spindling legs and flailing arms cast spider like shadows on the walls and cobbled streets as he passed. The townsfolk gave chase, following the pathetic figure as it negotiated each street corner, lane, and courtyard in an attempt to escape their rage.

The noise alerted the town: Herbert Solomon is trying to flee!

From every home across the town, people poured out of their houses carrying whatever they could as way of a makeshift weapon. They flooded the streets and ran towards the protestations, shouts and screams of Solomon’s pursuers.

With every turn of a cobbled street corner, Solomon was running out of places to hide. Finally, as he stumbled down the town’s main street, he stopped. The townsfolk had blocked all escape routes; he was trapped.

McKenzie pushed his way to the front of the crowd, asking for quiet and calm as he approached the hunched defeated figure of Herbert Solomon; he and his chosen few were going to rid the town of Ettrick of this abomination once and for all.

Vial in hand, accompanied by several large bullish men brandishing swords, McKenzie approached slowly reciting verses from the bible. Through dark eyes Herbert Solomon observed the townsfolk, their faces etched with hate and thoughts of revenge, moving towards him and then, he simply turned and entered an open doorway next to him.

The people gasped and MacKenzie and his followers rushed inside after him. The house they had entered was still, and lying on the hard wooden floor of the main hallway was the pale body of a young girl. The creaking of floorboards under weight sounded above as numerous pursuers searched the house, disappointed to find nothing.

Then something miraculous occurred, the little girl gasped for air – she was alive.

She had little or no strength, all she could do was utter one word: Below.

In the cellar of the house McKenzie found a grim and horrific scene. The floor was covered in blood and the quite dead body of a man lay face down upon it. Chained to the walls of that dim place were the children who had been taken.

They were partially drugged, malnourished, and traumatized, but they were alive.

The town rejoiced with the news, families were reunited, lives were mended. The mist of a bleak and horrible winter slowly lifted and all seemed well. On regaining their strength, the children recounted what had befallen them.

Each of them had been taken by a man called Tom Sutherland. He was the father of the first girl who had went missing and it appeared that it was he whom had killed her. No one knew for sure, but many were aware of his bad temper and on more than one occasion he had beaten poor Alana.

Consumed by guilt and loss, Sutherland began taking children at knife point and locking them in his cellar. Often drugging them with a local herb and occasionally beating them while pathetically weeping in self-pity.

On the day that the children were found, Sutherland entered the cellar drunk, carrying a knife and rope. He began striking the children once more, and told them that one would die that day. He untied one of the children and pinned her to the ground with his knees. The knife hovered over her neck, but just as he was about to plunge the blade into her, someone entered the house.

Sutherland grew ferocious with anger but whoever was standing at the top of the staircase struck such fear into him that he quickly back peddled into the cellar. Ducking under the doorway was the tall scarred figure of Herbert Solomon.

At the sight of him, and now being free, the little girl crawled quickly between Herbert’s long legs. She was free, but too weak to run. She fainted before she could escape the house.

Details of what happened to Tom Sutherland were muddied by the unstable, semi-conscious condition of the witnesses. But it was clear that his neck was broken, his head twisted with such force that it faced an unnatural, opposite direction.

There were various accounts of subsequent glimpses of Herbert Solomon, and some of the children claimed to find beautifully crafted dolls and toys on occasion sitting at the edge of the woods, but of course this cannot be substantiated.

Indeed, I would have said that the entire story could not be substantiated, if it were not for the events which I experienced several months after reading that old book, in the depths of St Andrews University.

A colleague and dear friend of mine invited me to stay at his family home for a few days in the countryside. I knew that the house was in the borders, not half an hour’s drive from Ettrick and could not miss the chance to have a closer look at the area. I had managed to persuade the powers-at-be to allow me to take the book from St Andrews and show it to my friend. He had a particular interest and not insignificant knowledge of the history of the area. I thought perhaps he could shine a light on this curious tale.

His family were very to kind to me, and the house and its grounds were serene in the summer sun, with his children playing in the fields having a carefree and happy time. After reading the book he told me that it was fascinating, and that he knew of a local poem which had been written in the 17th century about a man called Solomon who killed children, but he could not tell me any more.

The next day we heard screams coming from nearby the house; it was my friend’s little girl. We raced outside. Following the cries for help over an old fence and down a steep grassy hill, we reached a winding and furious river. The girl had fallen in and was clinging to a large tree root which thrust out from the opposite embankment into the water. The root was wet and my friend let out a scream of anguish as his daughter lost her grip, being swept down stream towards a large formation of huge sharp rocks which jutted out from beneath the surface. The river would not let go and was throwing her around with such force that it was difficult to see how she could survive.

Filled with the abject terror that she could drown we finally made it to the water’s edge. As we rushed into the murky torrent we watched helplessly as the poor little girl was about to crash into the rocks.

We were too far away!

Suddenly our attention was grabbed by the cracks and creaks of a tall gaunt figure at the other side of the river, rushing out of the woods at tremendous speed on the opposite bank. With one swift motion a thin, bony hand plunged into the violent water, prevailing against the immense currents, finally pulling the young girl to safety.

She was alive. Frightened, crying, but alive and unhurt.

The pale faced, emaciated figure placed the girl gently on the ground, stared at us from across the water through darkened eyes as we ourselves clambered to safety, then turned and disappeared into the woods. Fading away to nothing but a memory.

Even in death Herbert Solomon was the kindest and gentlest of souls.

The End

Advertisements

Bedtime

By Chef Michael Whitehouse

Bedtime is supposed to be a happy event for a tired child; for me it was terrifying. While some children might complain about being put to bed before they have finished watching a film or playing their favourite video game, when I was a child, night time was something to truly fear. Somewhere in the back of my mind it still is.

As someone who is trained in the sciences, I cannot prove that what happened to me was objectively real, but I can swear that what I experienced was genuine horror. A fear which in my life, I’m glad to say, has never been equalled. I will relate it to you all now as best I can, make of it what you will, but I’ll be glad to just get it off of my chest.

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but my apprehension towards falling asleep seemed to correspond with my being moved into a room of my own. I was 8 years old at the time and until then I had shared a room, quite happily, with my older brother. As is perfectly understandable for a boy 5 years my senior, my brother eventually wished for a room of his own and as a result, I was given the room at the back of the house.

It was a small, narrow, yet oddly elongated room, large enough for a bed and a couple of chest of drawers, but not much else. I couldn’t really complain because, even at that age, I understood that we did not have a large house and I had no real cause to be disappointed, as my family was both loving and caring. It was a happy childhood, during the day.

A solitary window looked out onto our back garden, nothing out of the ordinary, but even during the day the light which crept into that room seemed almost hesitant.

As my brother was given a new bed, I was given the bunk beds which we used to share. While I was upset about sleeping on my own, I was excited at the thought of being able to sleep in the top bunk, which seemed far more adventurous to me.

From the very first night I remember a strange feeling of unease creeping slowly from the back of my mind. I lay on the top bunk, staring down at my action figures and cars strewn across the green-blue carpet. As imaginary battles and adventures took place between the toys on the floor, I couldn’t help but feel that my eyes were being slowly drawn towards the bottom bunk, as if something was moving in the corner of my eye. Something which did not wish to be seen.

The bunk was empty, impeccably made with a dark blue blanket tucked in neatly, partially covering two rather bland white pillows. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I was a child, and the noise slipping under my door from my parent’s television, bathed me in a warm sense of safety and well-being.

I fell asleep.

When you awaken from a deep sleep to something moving, or stirring, it can take a few moments for you to truly understand what is happening. The fog of sleep hangs over your eyes and ears even when lucid.

Something was moving, there was no doubt about that.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was. Everything was dark, almost pitch black, but there was enough light creeping in from outside to outline that narrowly suffocating room. Two thoughts appeared in my mind almost simultaneously. The first was that my parents were in bed because the rest of the house lay both in darkness, and silence. The second thought turned to the noise.  A noise which had obviously woken me.

As the last cob webs of sleep withered from my mind, the noise took on a more familiar form. Sometimes the simplest of sounds can be the most unnerving, a cold wind whistling through a tree outside, a neighbour’s footsteps uncomfortably close, or, in this case, the simple sound of bed sheets rustling in the dark.

That was it; bed sheets rustling in the dark as if some disturbed sleeper was attempting to get all too comfortable in the bottom bunk. I lay there in disbelief thinking that the noise was either my imagination, or perhaps just my pet cat finding somewhere comfortable to spend the night. It was then that I noticed my door, shut as it had been as I’d fallen asleep.

Perhaps my mum had checked in on me and the cat had sneaked in to my room then.

Yes, that must have been it. I turned to face the wall, closing my eyes in the vain hope that I could fall back to sleep. As I moved, the rustling noise from underneath me ceased. I thought that I must have disturbed my cat, but quickly I realised that the visitor in the bottom bunk was much less mundane than my pet trying to sleep, and much more sinister.

As if alerted to, and disgruntled by, my presence, the disturbed sleeper began to toss and turn violently, like a child having a tantrum in their bed. I could hear the sheets twist and turn with increasing ferocity. Fear then gripped me, not like the subtle sense of unease I had experienced earlier, but now potent and terrifying. My heart raced as my eyes panicked, scanning the almost impenetrable darkness.

I let out a cry.

As most young boys do, I instinctively shouted on my mother. I could hear something stir on the other side of the house, but as I began to breathe a sigh of relief that my parents were coming to save me, the bunk beds suddenly started to shake violently as if gripped by an earthquake, scraping against the wall. I could hear the sheets below me thrashing around as if tormented by malice. I did not want to jump down to safety as I feared the thing in the bottom bunk would reach out and grab me, pulling me into the darkness, so I stayed there, white knuckles clenching my own blanket like a shroud of protection.  The wait seemed like an eternity.

The door finally, and thankfully, burst open, and I lay bathed in light while the bottom bunk, the resting place of my unwanted visitor, lay empty and peaceful.

I cried and my mother consoled me. Tears of fear, followed by relief, streamed down my face. Yet, through all of the horror and relief, I did not tell her why I was so upset. I cannot explain it, but it was as though whatever had been in that bunk would return if I even so much as spoke of it, or uttered a single syllable of its existence. Whether that was the truth, I do not know, but as a child I felt as if that unseen menace remained close, listening.

My mother lay in the empty bunk, promising to stay there until morning. Eventually my anxiety diminished, tiredness pushed me back towards sleep, but I remained restless, waking several times momentarily to the sound of rustling bed sheets.

I remember the next day wanting to go anywhere, be anywhere, but in that narrow suffocating room. It was a Saturday and I played outside, quite happily with my friends. Although our house was not large we were lucky to have a long sloping garden in the back. We played there often, as much of it was overgrown and we could hide in the bushes, climb in the huge sycamore tree which towered above all else, and easily imagine ourselves in the throws of a grand adventure, in some untamed exotic land.

As fun as it all was, occasionally my eye would turn to that small window; ordinary, slight, and innocuous. But for me, that thin boundary was a looking glass into a strange, cold pocket of dread. Outside, the lush green surroundings of our garden filled with the smiling faces of my friends could not extinguish the creeping feeling clawing its way up my spine; each hair standing on end. The feeling of something in that room, watching me play, waiting for the night when I would be alone; eagerly filled with hate.

It may sound strange to you, but by the time my parents ushered me back into that room for the night, I said nothing. I didn’t protest, I didn’t even make an excuse as to why I couldn’t sleep there. I simply and sullenly walked into that room, climbed the few steps into the top bunk and then waited. As an adult I would be telling everyone about my experience, but even at that age I felt almost silly to be talking about something which I really had no evidence for. I would be lying, however, if I said this was my primary reason; I still felt that this thing would be enraged if I so much as spoke of it.

It’s funny how certain words can remain hidden from your mind, no matter how blatant or obvious they are. One word came to me that second night, lying there in the darkness alone, frightened, aware of a rotten change in the atmosphere; a thickening of the air as if something had displaced it. As I heard the first casual twists of the bed sheets below, the first anxious increase of my heartbeat at the realisation that something was once again in the bottom bunk, that word, a word which had been sent into exile, filtered up through my consciousness, breaking free of all repression, gasping for air screaming, etching, and carving itself into my mind.

“Ghost”.

As this thought came to me, I noticed that my unwelcome visitor had ceased moving. The bed sheets lay calm and dormant, but they had been replaced by something far more hideous. A slow, rhythmic, rasping breath heaved and escaped from the thing below. I could imagine its chest rising and falling with each sordid, wheezing, and garbled breath. I shuddered, and hoped beyond all hope that it would leave without occurrence.

The house lay, as it had the previous night, in a thick blanket of darkness. Silence prevailed, all but for the perverted breath of my, as yet, unseen bunkmate. I lay there terrified. I just wanted this thing to go, to leave me alone.

What did it want?

Then something unmistakably chilling transpired; it moved. It moved in a way different from before. When it threw itself around in the bottom bunk it seemed, unrestrained, without purpose, almost animalistic. This movement, however, was driven by awareness, with purpose, with a goal in mind. For that thing lying there in the darkness, that thing which seemed intent on terrorizing a young boy, calmly and nonchalantly sat up. Its laboured breathing had become louder as now only a mattress and a few flimsy wooden slats separated my body from the unearthly breath below.

I lay there, my eyes filled with tears. A fear which mere words cannot relate to you or anyone else coursed through my veins. I would not have believed that this fear could have been heightened, but I was so wrong. I imagined what this thing would look like, sitting there listing from below my mattress, hoping to catch the slightest hint that I was awake. Imagination then turned to an unnerving reality. It began to touch the wooden slats which my mattress sat on. It seemed to caress them carefully, running what I imagined to be fingers and hands across the surface of the wood.

Then, with great force, it prodded angrily between two slats, into the mattress. Even through the padding, it felt as though someone had viciously stuck their fingers into my side. I let out an almighty cry and the wheezing, shaking, and moving thing in the bunk below replied in kind by violently vibrating the bunk as it had done the night before. Small flakes of paint powdered onto my blanket from the wall as the frame of the bed scraped along it, backwards and forwards.

Once again I was bathed in light, and there stood my mother, loving, caring as she always was, with a comforting hug and calming words which eventually subdued my hysteria. Of course she asked what was wrong, but I could not say, I dared not say. I simply said one word over and over and over again.

“Nightmare”.

This pattern of events continued for weeks, if not months. Night after night I would awaken to the sound of rustling sheets. Each time I would scream so as to not provide this abomination with time to prod and ‘feel’ for me. With each cry the bed would shake violently, stopping with the arrival of my mother who would spend the rest of the night in the bottom bunk, seemingly unaware of the sinister force torturing her son nightly.

Along the way I managed to feign illness a few times and come up with other less-than-truthful reasons for sleeping in my parents’ bed, but more often than not I would be alone for the first few hours of each night in that place. The room where the light from outside did not sit right. Alone with that thing.

With time you can become desensitized to almost anything, no matter how horrific. I had come to realise that, for whatever reason, this thing could not harm me when my mother was present. I am sure the same would have been said for my father, but as loving as he was, waking him from sleep was almost impossible.

After a few months I had grown accustomed to my nightly visitor. Do not mistake this for some unearthly friendship, I detested the thing. I still feared it greatly as I could almost sense its desires and its personality, if you could call it that; one filled with a perverted and twisted hatred yet longing for me, of perhaps all things.

My greatest fears were realised in the winter. The days grew short, and the longer nights merely provided this wretch with more opportunities. It was a difficult time for my family. My Grandmother, a wonderfully kind and gentle woman, had deteriorated greatly since the death of my Grandfather. My mother was trying her best to keep her in the community as long as possible, however, dementia is a cruel and degenerative illness, robbing a person of their memories one day at a time. Soon she recognised none of us, and it became clear that she would need to be moved from her house to a nursing home.

Before she could be moved, my Grandmother had a particularly difficult few nights and my mother decided that she would stay with her. As much as I loved my Grandmother and felt nothing but anguish at her illness, to this day I feel guilty that my first thoughts were not of her, but of what my nightly visitor may do should it become aware of my mother’s absence; her presence being the one thing which I was sure was protecting me from the full horror of this thing’s reach.

I rushed home from school that day and immediately wrenched the bed sheets and mattress from the lower bunk, removing all of the slats and placing an old desk, a chest of drawers, and some chairs which we kept in a cupboard where the bottom bunk used to be. I told my father I was ‘making an office’ which he found adorable, but I would be damned if I’d give that thing a place to sleep for one more night.

As darkness approached, I lay there knowing my mother was not in the house. I did not know what to do. My only impulse was to sneak into her jewellery box and take a small family crucifix which I had seen there before. While my family were not very religious, at that age I still believed in God and hoped that somehow this would protect me. Although fearful and anxious, while gripping the crucifix under my pillow tightly in one hand, sleep eventually came and as I drifted off to dream, I hoped that I would awaken in the morning without incidence. Unfortunately that night was the most terrifying of all.

I woke gradually. The room was once again dark. As my eyes adjusted I could gradually make out the window and the door, and the walls, some toys on a shelf and…Even to this day I shudder to think of it, for there was no noise. No rustling of sheets. No movement at all. The room felt lifeless. Lifeless, yet not empty.

The nightly visitor, that unwelcome, wheezing, hate-filled thing which had terrorized me night after night, was not in the bottom bunk, it was in my bed! I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Utter terror had shaken the very sound from my voice. I lay motionless. If I could not scream, I did not want to let it know I was awake.

I had not yet seen it, I could only feel it. It was obscured under my blanket. I could see its outline, and I could feel its presence, but I dared not look. The weight of it pressed down on top of me, a sensation I will never forget. When I say that hours passed, I do not exaggerate. Laying there motionless, in the darkness, I was every bit a scared and frightened young boy.

If it had been during the summer months it would have been light by then, but the grasp of winter is long and unrelenting, and I knew it would be hours before sunrise; a sunrise which I yearned for. I was a timid child by nature, but I reached a breaking point, a moment where I could wait no more, where I could survive under this intimately deviant abomination no longer.

Fear can sometimes wear you out, make you threadbare, a shell of nerves leaving only the slightest trace of you behind. I had to get out of that bed! Then I remembered, the crucifix! My hand still lay underneath the pillow, but it was empty! I slowly moved my wrist around to find it, minimising as best I could the sound and vibrations caused, but it could not be found. I had either knocked it off of the top bunk, or it had…I could not even bear to think of it, been taken from my hand.

Without the crucifix I lost any sense of hope. Even at such a young age, you can be acutely aware of what death is, and intensely frightened of it. I knew I was going to die in that bed if I lay there, dormant, passive, doing nothing. I had to leave that room behind, but how? Should I leap from the bed and hope that I make it to the door? What if it is faster than me? Or should I slowly slip out of that top bunk, hoping to not disturb my uncanny bedfellow?

Realising that it had not stirred when I moved, trying to find the crucifix, I began to have the strangest of thoughts.

What if it was asleep?

It hadn’t so much as breathed since I had woken up. Perhaps it was resting, believing that it had finally got me. That I was finally in its grasp. Or perhaps it was toying with me, after all it had been doing just that for countless nights, and now with me under it, pinned against my mattress with no mother to protect me, maybe it was holding off, savouring its victory until the last possible moment. Like a wild animal savouring its prey.

I tried to breathe as shallowly as possible, and mustering every ounce of courage I could, I reached over slowly with my right hand and began to peel the blanket off of me. What I found under those covers almost stopped my heart. I did not see it, but as my hand moved the blanket, it brushed against something. Something smooth and cold. Something which felt unmistakably like a gaunt hand.

I held my breath in terror as I was sure it must now have known that I was awake.

Nothing.

It did not stir, it felt, dead. After a few moments I placed my hand carefully further down the blanket and felt a thin, poorly formed forearm, my confidence and almost twisted sense of curiosity grew as I moved down further to a disproportionately larger bicep muscle. The arm was outstretched lying across my chest, with the hand resting on my left shoulder as if it had grabbed me in my sleep. I realised that I would have to move this cadaverous appendage if I even so much as hoped to escape its grasp.

For some reason, the feeling of torn, ragged clothing on the shoulder of this night-time invader stopped me in my tracks. Fear once again swelled in my stomach and in my chest as I recoiled my hand in disgust at the touch of straggled, oily hair.

I could not bring myself to touch its face, although I wonder to this very day what it would have felt like.

Dear God it moved.

It moved. It was subtle, but its grip on my shoulder and across my body strengthened. No tears came, but God how I wanted to cry. As its hand and arm slowly coiled around me, my right leg brushed along the cool wall which the bed lay against. Of all that happened to me in that room, this was the strangest. I realised that this clutching, rancid thing which drew great delight from violating a young boy’s bed, was not entirely on top of me. It was sticking out from the wall, like a spider striking from its lair.

Suddenly its grip moved from a slow tightening to a sudden squeeze, it pulled and clawed at my clothes as if frightened that the opportunity would soon pass. I fought against it, but its emaciated arm was too strong for me. Its head rose up writhing and contorting under the blanket. I now realised where it was taking me, into the wall! I fought for my dear life, I cried and suddenly my voice returned to me, yelling, screaming, but no one came.

Then I realised why it was so eager to suddenly strike, why this thing had to have me now. Through my window, that window which seemed to represent so much malice from outside, streaked hope; the first rays of sunshine. I struggled further knowing that if I could just hold on, it would soon be gone. As I fought for my life, the unearthly parasite shifted, slowly pulling itself up my chest, its head now poking out from under the blanket, wheezing, coughing, rasping. I do not remember its features, I simply remember its breath against my face, foul and as cold as ice.

As the sun broke over the horizon, that dark place, that suffocating room of contempt was washed, bathed in sunlight.

I passed out as its scrawny fingers encircled my neck, squeezing the very life from me.

I awoke to my father offering to make me some breakfast, a wonderful sight indeed! I had survived the most horrible experience of my life until then, and now. I moved the bed away from the wall, leaving behind the furniture I had believed would stop that thing from taking a bed. Little did I think that it would try to take mine…and me.

Weeks passed without incidence, yet on one cold, frost bitten night I awoke to the sound of the furniture where the bunk beds used to be, vibrating violently. In a moment it passed, I lay there sure I could hear a distant wheezing coming from deep within the wall, finally fading into the distance.

I have never told anyone this story before. To this day I still break out in a cold sweat at the sound of bed sheets rustling in the night, or a wheeze brought on by a common cold, and I certainly never sleep with my bed against a wall. Call it superstition if you will but as I said, I cannot discount conventional explanations such as sleep paralysis, hallucination, or that of an over-active imagination, but what I can say is this: The following year I was given a larger room on the other side of the house and my parents took that strangely suffocating, elongated place as their bedroom. They said they didn’t need a large room, just one big enough for a bed and a few things.

They lasted 10 days. We moved on the 11th.