Restoration or Repetition?

Prompt: House of horror in the old city

Andy Miles 4th February 2023

It is the one building on the street that makes you shudder as you walk past it. You don’t like to look at it with its black windows and dark carved wood façade. If you were to look up you would notice one of the carvings gives a date of 1723. the date is bookended by two gargoyle-like faces that would seem more appropriate on a gothic church. You catch your reflection briefly in one of the windows as you hurry past. It was your reflection and not someone inside, wasn’t it?

Like a lot of old buildings in an old city like this one, there are stories about this one. Ghost stories that can be easily dismissed, a woman in white, a priest, strange noises, all easily explainable. The place had once been a cloth maker, with large looms populating the top floor, it had also been a butcher and the meat hooks still ran along the beams in the cellar. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was been converted into a house, the upstairs space filled with bedrooms and a bathroom. Now it stood empty apart from some abandoned furniture, rats in the cellar, mice in the kitchen and starlings in the loft.

Walking home after finishing your last job, a renovation of one of the Victorian townhouses on the east of the city, your mind can’t help but wander to your current financial predicament. The downturn in the country’s fortunes has meant fewer people are investing in older properties to renovate. With no more projects lined up, you have to wonder if it is time to wind up your own business and get a less risky form of income. The black cloud is still hanging over you, blinkers your vision and it is with a start you find yourself at that building. It is as dark and foreboding as ever. A sign is posted on one of the windows, SOLD. So, someone has bought this place, good luck to them.

As you eat your breakfast your son brings the post in. One day, you hope, he will take over the business. He has already shown skills in carpentry and design, also good financial awareness, probably more than yourself. A couple of business bills, leaflets advertising local businesses and a handwritten envelope addressed to the business. The envelope is made of quality paper, as is the letter inside:

Dear Sir,

I have recently taken possession of one of the historic buildings in this fine city. It has been vacant for a while and requires some repair and updating. I do want to keep the place as close to its current design as possible, but accept some updating would be required to make it a suitable property to live in.

I understand you specialise in this sort of undertaking and would be very much obliged if you would agree to this commission. I am sure we can come to a suitable financial arrangement, I understand there will be a need to provide some funds in advance for supplies and so forth. I have visited some of your previous work here and spoken to their owners who recommend you highly (I hope you will not find this presumptuous of me).

Please reply to the above address as soon as possible as I would like the work to start immediately.


Jonathan Eve-Hamilton.

The writer is fairly well known, especially in your line of work. He has several properties in the county and has the funds necessary to cover the sort of project he describes. You write back that day, after all, you need another venture and a good paid one at that. The response comes at the earliest post possible. The package includes a key, the address and a rough plan of the house with some requirements. A shiver passes over you, the sort that people say means someone walked over your grave. It is that house, the one you try so hard to avoid.

Of course, you have no choice as you need the money this would provide, also being a building in the centre of the city a little advertising outside would not do any harm. The weather is overcast, heavy with possible rain, and maybe even a storm. The key seems heavy in your hand as you rotate it in the lock, the deep sound of old tumblers resonates in the wooden door and it opens with a whine of objection in the stiff hinges.

As you light your torch the skittering of the mice is a welcome sound, at least you are not alone here you think with a slight smile. This soon fades as the door behind you slams shut and the mice are gone. The downstairs is in reasonable condition, you will need a clearance company to get rid of the leftover furniture, the new owner has stated they do not want anything that is currently in the house. You also note down that you will need a glazier to replace two or three of the window panes and a got sweep to get the chimneys back into working order. The rest of the work can be done by yourself and your normal team.

You climb the stairs, a creaking floorboard causing you to pause, more to check whether it needs replacing than the sound, however as you add it to the list of items to attend to you hear the sound of cloth, string and wood, like a dozen cellos repeating the same dull note again and again. The sound fades as quickly as the wind outside picks up, whistling through the old house. You continue upstairs walking out onto the large open room filled with looms. No, wait, this cannot be right, you know the history of the place and it had been converted to rooms a long time ago. In addition, the looms are moving and weaving, although no one is operating them.

Above you starts a cacophony of noise, birds, starlings, flapping, screeching and pecking. You must get out, you always knew this place was not right. Turning, running, you scramble downstairs and are met with a wave of mice. They climb over themselves pushing you toward the kitchen and the open cellar door. One might think it would be easy just to push through some mice but think of a small wave in the sea, and suddenly that strong current that sweeps one away. Before you are properly aware you are forced into the cellar.

The mice are replaced with rats. Bigger, meaner and with more menace. Turning you notice the meat hooks in the ceiling beams, then you see the butcher and his knives. This is the last thing you notice.