Edition 22: Bring It All Back Home by Michael McGlade
I’m going home and you won’t change my mind. Since Julia’s death, I hate London. Too many things remind me of her. I have to leave.
I guess you already know this. You’ve known for weeks, tried to stop me like a good friend should, but I’ve made my decision.
As far as business is concerned, I’ll sell you my shares. I need the money, Daryl. Restoring my old family home will take everything I own…I need to do this—Julia always wanted it.
Don’t be stubborn and refuse my offer because I’d prefer to sell my shares to you instead of an outsider.
You’ve been a friend and more. I’ll miss you.
Will call soon as I’ve settled in.
To get here I lost Julia’s ashes.
It had been storming hard all morning and I had to walk a half-hour from the only access road. Lazy contractor was supposed to clear a path. Stumbling along through the forest, I let go of the trolley case for a second to rake rain from my eyes and the bastarding thing goes and slips right off the path, down the steep bank and whimpers into a bog. The saddest thing of all was that there was nothing I could do but stand there dumbly and watch it sink beneath the water’s surface, looming like some dead dark carcass before slipping out of view. I said I’d take her ashes home and scatter them, but I even managed to mess this up too. Sorry, Julia, there I go letting you down again, always failing you, breaking promises.
The access road should have closer, according to the building contractor, but it doesn’t surprise me he was ill-informed, considering he hasn’t started the agreed upon works. Neither sight nor light of the bastard. He was supposed to free the overgrown driveway, deliver a hut for me to sleep in, and begin renovations yesterday.
He’s done nothing.
But I’m here now and I might be the first person to see this place in thirty years.
After that stony, muddy, tree-root-tangled, winding, meandering path through the forest, eventually I stumbled on the house. My home is, as I expected it to be, shitty. Briers hem it in like razor wire. Got some nasty cuts for my efforts forcing my way through and had to limbo beneath shrouds of ivy just to find the front door.
I have no signal on my mobile (lost it back at the road, where I parked the hire car) otherwise I’d vent on him Vesuvius- rain down magma and fireballs about his shitty lack of adherence to our legally-binding contact. So much for the securing deposit I paid.
I had to kick the door in. It doesn’t look like anybody’s been here since my parents moved to London when I was six. I was born here—at least I think I was—but my parents never really spoke about this place.
The air here smells like a bushel of tomatoes gone watery and bad. Hot and heavy, somehow. Catches in my throat like orchid house vapour, clinging to me like oil.
I’m glad I bought a tent—an impulse purchase, just in case of an emergency. Rain was leaking through the ceiling. Even the inside walls are slimy to touch, slippery as jelly.
I won’t let this slight misstep deter me. Nothing will put me off. I intend to restore this property and grounds to their former glory. I’ll make Julia proud.
The entrance foyer is big enough to play tennis in and even though I called out a few times, I heard no echo. Apart from the rain needling the slate roof—silence. I’d forgotten what quiet sounded like.
It’s dark enough that I needed a flashlight to explore the ground floor. Seeing the old place, my heart pumped triple-espresso fast. I haven’t had coffee (drastic change, necessary) since Julia’s murder. No stimulants ever again. Yeah I know too little, too late but, guess what, this is the happiest I’ve felt in a long time. It’s a clean break.
Looking around, the rooms appeared undisturbed since the day my parents moved. I can’t understand why they never returned or mentioned this place. It’s a mansion. Must be twenty rooms on the ground floor alone.
I have no memories of my previous time here; of the kitchen with the five-oven Aga, scullery, servants’ quarters, front parlour with grand piano. But I know I’ve been here before. I feel a connection. There’s something spiritual about returning to your roots, uncovering the past.
I went upstairs and the spiral oak stairway felt alive beneath my fingers, warm and inviting, like I’d never left.
I knew I was home. I belong here.
The first floor hallway contained twelve doors, a door for each year I knew Julia. With each step, the floorboards flexed and yawned. I entered my parents’ bedroom. Mildewed bed shrouded beneath a rag of moth-eaten sheets. The room smelt bitter and I forced a window open. Slieve Gullion Mountain hulked over the treeline. Undergrowth growing thickly up its serrated granite slope like porcupine quills.
Daylight escaped the valley in a matter of minutes. It was dark and not yet three o’clock. I was glad not to have been on my way back to the car because I’d be lost. I have a tent and food and I can tough it out here for the night, go check into a hotel tomorrow.
The dark in this house is a peculiar thing which seems sluggish to depart even when zapped with a flashlight. Maybe it’s reluctant to give up its home after so long alone. But this is my house, my home, and I have enough batteries in my flashlight to drive the dark to the other side of the moon, if need be.
I erected the tent in my parents’ bedroom and will spend the night here. The rain has stopped. I’ve opened the window wider, tearing a spider’s web, in the hope of getting rid of the bitter smell in here: it’s stagnation, death. The evicted spider and his tangle of insect husks flagged in the breeze.
I lost myself staring out the window for so long a time it could have been forever. There were no sickly yellow pockets of incandescent lamplight, no nearby dwellings, neighbours, traffic. I am alone. At long last, blessedly alone.
The endless dark out here has made my breath catch, like a huge weight crushing me, the burden of this blackly infinite imagining. The distended moon ill-formed and so fat it could hardly rise above the mountaintop, and the trees…the trees look jaundiced in this moonlight. Mountains and forest surround me. Silence. The vast emptiness beyond my window. I wish Julia was here. Julia would tell me to not let my imagination run away. That of course this change will take some getting used to but it’s worth it; you don’t appreciate something when it’s easy, you just don’t. Like I didn’t appreciate Julia when she was mine because it was easy, what we had was easy, effortless, never had to work hard in our relationship. That was the problem.
No mobile phone signal. No electricity. It’s absolutely quiet. Noiseless. No birds or animals in the forest. Silence like a winter coat (heavy, lumbering). I could get addicted to this peace and quiet. I will get used to it.
Julia, I miss you so much so very much.
There are noises in the attic. It sounds like it could be birds or rodents. My map indicates there’s a gamekeeper’s cottage nearby. I might be able to find some supplies there to repair the roof, or maybe find some traps. A good stiff neck-snapping trap should be deterrent enough, until the contractor arrives. But I’ll have to wait until sunup before I can go looking for the cottage.
Light gobbed through the cobweb cataracts of the windows. I don’t remember what time the scratching and rustling in the attic quit, but it must’ve been around four in the morning when I passed out. It’s now nine o’clock and the sky is prison grey with clouds low enough you could stretch out and touch them.
This silence here is jarring. No birds trilling and no wakeup call from Mother Nature. It’s like everything outside is listening, waiting to hear what I do next. Ridiculous, huh?
Just as I was about to return to my car, it stormed again. I’m afraid I might get caught in a mudslide if I go back to the car now. For the time being, I’m trapped in the flux. The sky weeps an ocean.
Still no phone signal.
I explored the property further. This house is an ancient beast. A rug crumbled after the slightest touch, like it was composed of no more than filth and forgotten memories.
I found my old bedroom. At least I think it was my room. The bed is a fire engine. I always wanted to be a fireman but somehow fell into advertising. Pasted to the wall are some drawings I must have made, charcoal and black crayon scribbles of me and my parents, and a small dark creature with red eyes. It had four legs, fur and a tail. I don’t remember owning a dog. Besides, this thing looks more like a rat, a big rat. I crumpled the drawing and tossed it away. Out of sight, out of mind.
There were quite a few of my old toys lying on the floor, as if they were intended to be used again, and clothes still in the wardrobes. Searching the other rooms, I found other personal effects—combs, toothbrushes, house slippers—that had been abandoned.
I wanted to inspect the attic because, apart from whatever vermin had made a home up there, there must also be missing roof slates.
Boxes were bullied around up there during the night. Wind must be entering gaps in the roof. But before going into the attic, I had this instinctual urge to arm myself. I’d go to the gamekeeper’s cottage first, to see if there was anything I could use.
I walked the exterior of the building, this massive thirty-room, three-storey property. More like a castle than a manor. Hard to believe it could be abandoned and allowed to deteriorate, retreat into nothingness. There are slick veins of ivy as knotted as rope and gravel that crunches beneath my feet like crushed bones.
The rain had lightened and it was almost noon, so I decided to make my way back to the car while it was still clear. I located the path but the mud was thick and sucking, with a reek like low tide. I easily followed the path, thinking how silly it was for me to get lost yesterday. Obviously a lot of animals used it because it was open and quite clear.
After an hour, I knew I was close to the car. I continued to follow the path. A turn. Another turn.
I was back at the house.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d gone in a complete circle. Ended up right where I started.
But I followed the path. I went the way I should’ve, the only way.
The sun set fast, even though it was not yet three, and the rain soon became a torrent.
I stayed inside the tent I had set up in my parents’ bedroom. Rain dripped from the attic like a metronome and freckled the canvas canopy.
All this alone-time has given me ample opportunity to think. For the past month I’ve hidden away from what happened to Julia. Murdered by a mugger. Her wedding ring stolen. Senseless, stupid, petty, ridiculous, pathetic thing to die over. After I had her cremated, I placed inside the urn her engagement ring, which was missing the stone. When I bought the ring I was working in Beijing at the time and my wages were a thousand pounds a month. I spent nine hundred fifty on the ring but the stone was the size of a pin. When I posted it to Julia, customs charged her five hundred pounds tax to receive it. The stone dropped out a week later.
Just another example of something simple I couldn’t do right.
I don’t understand why my parents left with me when I was six. The house looks like it was abandoned wholesale, like we just got a few things and stole away in the dead of night. There was jewellery, makeup, a smoking pipe, all belonging to my parents, that were discarded. And they never really spoke about this house.
Come to think of it, we never holidayed in Ireland. We lived in London, and Ireland was never mentioned.
I only found out about the house when it came to the reading of the will and it was listed as an asset on the balance sheet.
They had bought and abandoned it within a year.
Three AM. The noises in the attic have started again. It’s an intense scratching. If I let my imagination run away, it sounds like some thing trying to claw its way out.
Tomorrow, I’m going up there to put an end to this.
I’ve gone native with a three-day growth of beard. The only time I’ve gone this long without shaving was when Julia died.
A bruised sun slugged above the serrated mountain top. Sky cracked, and pepper black. It’s going to be another hard rain today.
When I went outside, the intensely howling wind turned me into a fumbling harlequin. It was almost impossible to stand straight. I’m confined indoors for the foreseeable future. At least I have enough bottled water to last me through the night.
A strange but fortuitous thing happened. I was in the servants’ quarters and discovered several animal traps. They were the cage variety to capture humanely.
I hadn’t noticed the traps on my last tour. Maybe the rats left them. Well, fine by me. Challenge accepted.
I’m actually a little glad they’re the cage type. I really don’t want to inflict pain on an animal, even if it is vermin. When I trap my adversary, I can have it brought to the vet to be euthanized.
I had to force the attic door open and the stench hit me, smelling like mouldy compost or the fresh clay in a cemetery. A fine powder coated the walls like the dust from a moth’s wings.
I thought of Julia. It stabbed sharp as a dagger. Everything went dark like I’d slipped headfirst into that bog where I lost her ashes. Unable to breath, I bent double, not knowing how long I stayed like that. But the hurt passed eventually.
These attacks used to happen all the time. Now, it’s not as bad.
The attic spanned the length of the building and contained boxes, crates, suitcases. Plenty of places for rats to hide. I didn’t notice any loose slates or holes in the roof. There were no obvious places for the rain to enter.
I set the traps near the edges of the attic.
I couldn’t believe how many boxes and cases there were. One box toppled and spilled a mess of grey wigs, the horsehair rotten and festering, like putrid night crawlers. I gagged. Cobwebs hung everywhere, a thick tangle. I felt like I’d disturbed something by just being there. Rustling in the shadows. Scratching noises.
My skin was crawling by the time I got out. I didn’t feel right being in there. Like I was the trespasser.
The mountains surrounding this valley are steep and night comes earlier, much earlier than I expect. I have at most five hours’ daylight, which is crippling, and when it gets dark it’s the blackest black I’ve ever seen. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. I’m beginning to understand how people get scared of the dark. I’ve always lived in the city where it’s never truly night.
If only Julia hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here doing this on my own.
But I’m strong. I have to be strong, for the both of us, for Julia and for me. We said when we made enough money we’d come here, renovate, live the good life.
There’s been scratching noises in the attic since three AM. Something has made its home up there. It’s inquisitive too, crawling through the wall cavities. I kept the flashlight on.
It’s eating another living thing whole. Eating from the feet up. And I can hear it die, slowly and horribly.
I climb the attic stairs. Hands shaking so badly I can’t focus the beam. Flashlight like a firefly.
Stop at the attic door. Listen. No noise inside. I don’t want to enter, not at night, not when it’s dark. I don’t even want to touch the doorknob, just the thought of that blistered corroded metal makes me gag. I call out, say if someone’s in there to show themselves.
I’m back in the bedroom with the chair wedged against the door. Tomorrow, I need to get out of here at first light. I can’t live like this. Not being able to protect myself and the things I value. I always lose everything I have, in the end. Look at Julia. I lost her. It’s my fault she’s dead. I should’ve been with her that night, walking her home. She begged me to go with her but I said there was no way I was leaving the party. She stared at me for the longest time but I said I was staying put and that if she wanted to go home she could, but when she called a taxi it said it wouldn’t arrive for an hour and she stormed out saying she’d walk home by herself. I said it would be safe anyway because we lived in a decent area and besides she only had a couple of streets to go. I stayed at the party and I was high when she died.
The scratching has started again. I promise I’ll hire an exterminator—a whole team of exterminators. I’ll rid this place of those vermin if it’s the last thing I ever do.
At four AM a trap springs. Something’s caught. It’s struggling, dragging the cage toward the attic stairs. I think it wants to come down. I don’t dare leave the bedroom. After the sound stops, I realise I’m imagining this. I must be. The house is silent. My imagination is overreacting. I will check the traps tomorrow, in the daylight. If I have caught something, good. This is my home. Uninvited guests are unwelcome.
iPad battery running low. Don’t know what I’ll do if I lose it. Maybe lose my mind.
Dawn. Why are there no birds outside? It’s me, just me, me and the house…and whatever’s in the attic. I’m scared, Julia. The rain outside is thick pennies, red and rusted, slashing in horizontal swipes.
I took the path to my car. Followed it carefully. Found myself back at the house after a two-hour slog in mud and mulch and tree detritus. If only the sky would brighten, I could see where I’m leaving the path, how I’m doubling back on myself. But the storm hasn’t stopped.
I think this is a sign. I shouldn’t be afraid to remain. This is my place. This is my home.
This intruder, the one who has been sneaking into my attic at night, making noises, he believes mistakenly he can force me out. He’s dead wrong.
It has to be someone, maybe one of the neighbours who think they can scare me off, keep this place for themselves. You hear about it all the time how people will do just about anything to steal land and property that doesn’t belong to them.
I went to the attic to check the traps. They were empty. One trap had been sprung and lay on its side, upended, but with no rat. Nothing. It had escaped.
The poor beast probably has a broken back and is lying somewhere dying. I didn’t want to look around in the mess of tea-stained boxes.
I restrung the trap and got out of their as fast as I could. Skin clammy. Didn’t like being up there at all.
Night now. Claws lacerate the roof. Hundreds of them. All around. Everywhere, the walls, the ceiling, the floor. I wedged a chair beneath the handle of the bedroom door, got on a chair and hugged my knees. Where could I run? Where was there to go?
A trap sprung and the noise rattled horribly all the way to the pit of my stomach, enough to make me gag. A massive shriek, like something you’d expect from an apex predator, followed. A large beast, not just some rat.
Scratching outside the bedroom door. I went to the door and stood against it. My hands are shaking. Heart in throat. In the daylight, this will all be a silly memory. I know there’s no one outside the door. There can’t be. I’m the only one here.
What have I done, Julia? Why did I dare come back here alone, especially when my family had abandoned it when I was a child. This house, the thing in the dark, it let me go once, but not this time. Those drawings in my bedroom, of that black creature with red-eyes…It isn’t some living creature; I think it’s the house. I know how crazy that sounds, but I think those drawings I made as a child were the reason my parents left and never came back, never dared even speak of this place. This house, this evil place, it takes what scares you most and taunts you with it. I’m scared, really scared, to think what it might do if it knew what I was most terrified of seeing. Julia…
This might be my last entry. iPad battery exhausted. Not much time. I’ve blocked the bedroom door with a chair because some thing is pounding the door. It’s almost dawn. If only I can just make it to sunup.
Hundreds of claws scratch in the walls, the roof, beneath the floorboards. I’ve thought about going through the window, but I’m afraid I’d tumble off the forest path into that bog and end up next to Julia, my bones next to her ashes.
I’m not afraid of drowning. The thing I’m afraid of most is Julia. It’s my fault she’s dead.
The pounding on the door ceases. The thing outside is gone.
I scramble to the window and see the rising sun set fire to the mountaintop. The house, I think it’s going to let me go. And as the moments pass, and the sun splits the sky, I know for sure that I can leave.
I open the bedroom door. The hallway is empty. I rush down the stairs and out into the courtyard, sprinting to the treeline.
But I stop.
I’m free to go, but I don’t want to leave. I deserve whatever’s waiting for me up in that attic.
In a perverse way, I hope it’s you, Julia.
This information was recovered from Hugh O’Brien’s iPad, discovered amid personal items in a makeshift campsite erected within dense undergrowth in a National Forest Park, quite some distance from the nearest access road. A pair of hikers found the campsite and alerted authorities. A manhunt for Mr O’Brien is underway. We have not been able to locate the house he made mention of.
Police Investigative Report
Michael McGlade is an Irish writer with over 50 short stories in journals such as Spinetingler, Perihelion, Voluted Tales, Dark Moon Digest, and the Mars-themed anthology Redshifted by Third Flatiron. He holds a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Ireland.
Represented by Isobel Dixon of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.
Find out the latest news and views from him on McGladeWriting.com.