A Christmas Eve Horror Story
I seem to keep my neighbours under close observation and scrutiny; from the man who looks like a beetroot Roy Kinnear over the back, to his neighbour whose wandering hands creep into our garden over the fence to very visibly snip through all our creepers which climb up his patchy conifer that overhangs our garden, but this Christmas Eve tale of English horror revolves around the house next door to us which, at the beginning of 2016, was still for sale after being briefly haunted by a previous owner who still had unfinished business in this realm.
But this is no ghost story.
Her gutted house had been bought a couple of years ago from the family of the deceased by an odd family who, in the previous August, had undergone a suspicious spurt of activity and finally cleared away the renovation rubble which had been piled upon their drive for a year. They’d bought the “little old Jewish lady” house for £115 K in March 2014, to “live in” they told my Dad, although as soon as it was finished it was suddenly up for sale for £165 K.
They’d knocked the chimney off, knocked some walls out, turned the garage into a very obvious pot den, but the most extreme family member was the long-haired tomboy daughter whom, I discovered, sang unselfconsciously to herself in the back garden – “…oh, I think that I’ve found myself a cheerleader…” – whilst she went about her hobby of hitting things which were unable to fight back: plants, trees, brick walls: she wasn’t fussy.
And whilst she sure cleared that small space of decades old foliage behind their garage-cum-drug emporium, thus weakening our house’s defences, she also seemed to have gone to town on the small piece of wall we shared at the bottom of our gardens because suddenly it resembles a shattered tottering death trap. Still, they caused the problem, they sorted the problem…or at least they put up a bit of flimsy wooden fence on their side and stopped worrying about it.
The most bizarre incident with the daughter I witnessed was when she had a bizarre lovers’ tiff in the street which involved much screaming, shouting, crying, and – true to form – the smashing of something on the pavement before he had the decency to put his foot down and drive away. My greatest fear, with the house being up for sale, was that it would now be bought by someone worse. To counter this I hoped that the increased fifty grand asking price would only act to imply “no riffraff”.
At the start of 2016 the house next door finally sold and in April the construction family moved out. I did wonder who was next to join the circus and then I overheard a commotion between a bearded man who looked like Danny Dyer and a balding pensioner as they shuffled cars about outside after which the former said to the latter: “I have had the car up the drive…but it’s the cars opposite”.
Before the house had sold I had seen someone struggling to be the first person up that narrow drive since the 1980s, when the Bernsteins had a red Lada and the road was quiet, and I knew then and there that some fool had bought it thinking that it was a going concern. The street was built in the fifties, the houses opposite had no drives, and so in the 21st Century the road is usually chock-a-block. If I’m ever lucky enough to buy a house, especially one at such an inflated price, I’d like to think I’d do some due diligence first.
My Dad later heard beardy on his phone telling someone to come around and see his new house, which he thought was marvellous, and he went around and interrogated our new neighbour who it turned out was called Dave and that all he’d ever wanted in life was a drive and a garage. Little did he seem to know that his drive was inaccessible and that his garage was a pot den. Silly Dave. I imagined that we’d soon lower his expectations…and wondered if Mrs Bernstein was still about and haunting the place.
I’d been cultivating our sparrows, finally winning in the war against the sparrow hawk, twice having to nearly punch it out of our privet hedge empty-handed, and we have been blessed this year with loads. I fed them bread on top of our shed roof, right next to Dave’s tree at the end of his long drive, and they used to appear from it en masse flitting out briefly when it was safe to do so.
But then Dave got a man in to widen his drive entrance.
Then he got some men in to remove the sparrow tree which blocked his view.
And so the sparrows have gone.
The last time I threw food onto the shed roof it just rotted.
Now Dave zooms up and down that drive at all hours shooting out into the street like Batman. Fair play to him: he had a dream; he made it happen.
Losing the sparrow tree really opened up our back garden to public view from the street, and so my Dad started pruning his side of our privet at the front in case he started getting any more ideas, and then the Jewish lady on the other side had her hedge removed and now you can actually see into our dining room from the street. The outside world encroaches still further.
So the sparrows have mostly moved to safer pastures; and the foxes stopped coming long ago, or so we assume; and the hedgehogs all disappeared long before hibernation; but I still every day put the leftover cat food scrapings out on a plate for whoever is out there, even if it’s just the birds, and so it was late one winter night, at 2am when I found a full bowl of combined leftovers as I headed off to bed and it had just starting to pour down outside, that I decided I would unlock the back door again and take it out, dressing gown flapping in the wind, because I’m not shy in flashing the neighbours, and I opened the back door…and that moment was when I found it.
A single wet footprint outside the back door.
Just like Robinson Caruso on the beach.
I was not alone.
I did say this was a horror story.
There was no obvious sign of anyone, but who really knows what goes on, in the darkness, when no-one is looking. So sleep tight this Christmas Eve and hold your loved ones close…if you’re lucky enough to have them.
Of course I went all Sherlock and set about photographing the scene of the crime to record the evidence, only regretting later that I didn’t put down an object to judge a sense of scale, after assuring myself that the assailant had left and that it was safe to do so.
It had only just started to rain heavily and my Dad had gone to bed a couple of hours previously so I imagined I’d had a close call.
I showed the photographs to my concerned parents the next morning and my Dad checked the pattern against his shoes and it did not match.
It did match his slippers though.
It turns out, forensic fans, that you don’t get the finer pattern printed from sodden slippers from heavy rain, but you do from the light rain we’d had a couple of hours earlier when he’d been out to check the shed was locked.
Except to say that I bought my Dad a sparrow colony nesting box for Christmas.
Happy Christmas everybody. Don’t let the monsters in the darkness bite.