I loved our little flat, crammed full of good associations: I first made love to Carly in it, our son Dylan was conceived in it, I received the call telling me I’d got the job as a clinical pharmacist at Kings Hospital in it. But now, as Dylan was about to turn two and Carly pregnant with our second child, I had to concede it was too small. Time to move on.
We first saw the house – a Victorian end of terrace – on a sunny April Morning. It was a dilapidated mess, but had that most coveted of London assets – space. Carly was immediately smitten; she saw past the decaying detritus of the previous tenants to see the ideal family home it had the potential to be. It had three bedrooms, a garden that was botanical bedlam, and a bonus space: “Erm, I don’t have a key for the cellar yet.” Said the Estate Agent apologetically.
On the second viewing Dylan chuckled as we walked through the door, clapping his hands in gleeful approval. The main problems seemed to be ‘cosmetic.’ A clear out, a good clean and a lick of paint would make it home. Our enthusiasm mounted. “The cellar, we’ve not seen down there yet?” I reminded the agent as we were about to leave. He squirmed his way round an excuse, “The landlord’s lost the key, but it’s a pretty standard cellar,” he said, trying to fob me off. “Look, we’re going to have to see it before we make a serious offer. Tell the vendor to get his finger out.”
I went alone to the third viewing of our potential new home (Carly and Dylan were having Swine-Flu jabs.) I was eager to see the cellar: my music studio, my den, my space.
The door had been forced open. The agent handed me a torch and made some joke about what I might find. The bottom of the concrete stairwell gave way to a narrow passageway not wide enough to accommodate my shoulder width. Turning sideways I inched in, shining the torch along the walls – some sort of compacted corrugated material? The tight squeeze induced a momentary surge of claustrophobic panic, which subsided after a deep breath. The walls reached about head height. I moved back and up onto one of the steps, shining the torch to the top right of the wall – NEWSPAPERS – stretching back some three metres either side and about a metre and a half high. It was hoarding on an Olympian scale. I continued along the passage until it opened out into a tiny cell like space just big enough to accommodate a neatly made single bed, on which lay more newspapers, all reporting the death of Princess Diana. A bit odd I thought.
Eight weeks later and 30 Petal Road was ours – Yeah! My dad and brother helped with the clean up. We worked out a regimented relay to clear the cellar, working with military precision. By the end of that first day we were disappointed to only have cleared about a third. It was a much bigger job than I’d anticipated.
On the 5th day I woke with a heavy heart. I could sense that my Dad thought I’d made a mistake, bought a dud. But I soldiered on and by the end of the second day we’d cleared over half the crap out. Outside I noticed Dad and Robert poring over the papers, “This is a bit weird son. All the front pages are reporting deaths and tragedies!” I scanned the headlines: JILL DANDO SHOT DEAD! NURSE MURDERD ON WARD! FORMER CHILD STAR HANGS HIMSELF!
The previous tenants had been students, but the agent did mention a reclusive older man before them. In the pub afterwards we concluded that he was just some weirdo who revelled in tragedy. The following day we dumped the last of his mammoth collection.
The old lady next door welcomed me in, hungry for company. She was thrilled a young family were moving in after ten transient years of noisy students. I asked if she knew anything of the hoarder, “He was an odd fish. A good neighbour in that you never heard a peep out of him, but he wasn’t sociable.” She paused before adding, “Mind you, looking back he did disturb me on occasion – digging the garden in the middle of the night with a bag over his head, but then it was raining – I think?”
I was perturbed by what the old lady said and decided to get rid of the last vestige of the prolific old hoarder – his bed. I lifted up the pillow and found an old supermarket carrier bag that had been made into a mask with eye and mouth holes. Strange. I tugged at the top blanket, pulling it off almost violently. The grey sheet underneath was heavily stained a dark brown; the unmistakeable colour of dried blood – and lots of it!
I felt my heart sinking as I told Carly. She phoned the police. We had just five weeks left in our flat, “We have to get this sorted,” she said pragmatically.
The following morning the house swarmed with police and sniffer dogs. Just as I was about to leave work that evening the police called. They’d unearthed bones in the garden which were being sent for analysis. We could expect the results in the morning. I lay awake all night – to prevent our dream home becoming a nightmare.
The bones, they said, were of an animal, most probably a goat. The blood on the bed was also of animal origin, most probably avian. They suggested they may have been ritually killed, but were satisfied our house wasn’t the scene of any human homicide.
Carly and I were relieved. As grounded rational types we espoused scientific fact, not magical fiction, so we dismissed the hoarders malevolent activity and moved in six weeks later.
It was everything we’d hoped it would be and more. We tamed the garden and hosted a house warming barbeque on a gloriously sunny August afternoon. As we said goodbye to our last guest, Carly’s waters broke. Our daughter was on her way.
I felt desperately helpless as Carly’s labour failed to progress. Her distress escalated with each excruciating hour. By the time she delivered by emergency C-section she was hallucinating and needed constant reassurance that our daughter Polly was well.
Carly came home changed: morose, manic, frightened; a constantly looping triumvirate of moods. She woke at night with apparitions. She saw the face of her deceased grandmother on the wall. She’d have me check the cellar, convinced the hoarder was still down there. She checked on Polly constantly, fearful of sleep lest something should happen to our daughter while she rested. One morning her slicing screams startled me awake; she’d found a chicken carcass in Polly’s cot. Alarmed, I rushed to check – all I found was our distressed daughter Polly.
As her behaviour became more erratic I enlisted the help of her mother, who tentatively suggested the baby blues. Carly raved it wasn’t blue she was feeling, it was black foreboding – someone was out to harm her and our babies – and we’d better believe her!
She imagined she was being stalked. A man was watching, waiting in the shadows until the time was right to lurch out and take our baby.
One morning I returned from the newsagents to find her cowering at the bottom of the garden, grasping the kids in a tight protective embrace. A hooded man was in the house, in Dylan’s room. I raced upstairs. I was the only man in the house.
I recognised the symptoms of severe post-partum psychosis; she needed pharmacological help – and sleep.
I gave her a sleeping pill and she slept for fourteen solid hours. She woke feeling a little better and even suggested a trip to the park. We spent a lovely day, the first as a (semi) functioning family. Carly was insistent she didn’t need medication. She new her own mind, her fears were real, but she did concede they may be exacerbated by the birth and her subsequent extreme sleep deprivation. Regular rest was the key to her recovery she said. I was overjoyed to be getting my Carly back.
I was almost euphoric on my first day back at work, jumping back into the controlled chaos of Kings with renewed vigour. The day signalled a new beginning, a return to a semblance of normalcy after the trauma of Polly’s birth and post-natal aftermath. I was shattered at the end of the day, but looked forward to going home to my family.
My phone beeped when I emerged from the underground – eight missed calls from a private number. I called Carly: voice mail. I called again: voicemail. I quickened my pace and called again: voicemail. I began a slow canter and called again: voicemail. I started to run – fast – very fast.
I sprinted into Petal road breaking ticker tape and dodging a police officer. The street was a blur: police cars, men in forensic suits, miles of ticker tape, an ambulance? I heard a howling sound, like a pained animal. It was only as I rose from the ground that I realised it was coming from me.
Shock disabled me. As the sedative calmed my convulsing body a young Police Woman approached me and asked if I lived at 30 Petal Road. She then spoke those clichéd words, always delivered with professional empathy, “I’m really sorry to have to tell you…”
A mega dose of valium rendered me a robotic automaton for the formal identification. Thankfully most of her face had been spared the brutality of the butcher’s blade. I didn’t linger, “Yes, it’s Carly Adams, my wife.” The murder investigation began in earnest.
Police believe that Carly disturbed an opportunistic drug addled burglar as she returned from a walk in the park. She had fought valiantly for her life. Her final heroic act of motherly love was to push our children into the kitchen. She saved their lives and spared them the full violence of their Mothers murder.
Zanax took the sharp edge off my grief, allowing me to function and be strong for my children.
Three days after Carly’s murder the story broke nationally. To avoid the news I took myself off to a grotty greasy spoon café. I ordered a tea and took a seat at the back of the café. I was blind to my surroundings, until a rasping cough alerted me to an aged figure in the corner. A ragged old man. He slouched over a newspaper: grinning, giggling, gurgling – relishing! I rose and looked down on his paper, the headline screamed: YOUNG MOTHER BRUTALLY SLAIN IN HER OWN HOME.
He shot me a look with eyes a bright blazing blue. In that instant I had an epiphany – a vivid insight into another dimension, the side of life besmirched by science: magic – black magic.
By day I’m a hospital Pharmacist, by night I’m a witch finder. The black arts are rife in our cities. Tackling them is a tough job, but I must do it for my wife, our children and our children’s children. The hoarder will no longer conjure tragedy and derive delight from its reporting. His removal from the world is just my beginning.
May good be your constant companion.