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Memories of Nowhere

Childhood memories can be as clear as day, even when they are of a place that only exists at night.

By Bryan IrvingPublished 6 years ago 7 min read
Picture by CulhainGAMES, used with permisionChi

Some memories are fleeting. They vanish on the wind in an instant or they fade slowly over time so that the details become increasingly less well defined, less clear. Each time you tell the story it becomes a little different because you find you can't quite recall the little details anymore.

Then there are the other memories, the ones that stay with you all of your life. Ones that remain as crisp and clear in your mind's eye as the day they were formed. Memories that you can recall in minute detail and crystal clarity until the day you die. Some of those the psychologist call 'flash point memories.' Memories of where you were and what you were doing when some major world event occurred. Most of us have one or two of those by the time we reach our 40s. For me, they are the Iranian Embassy siege in London, the Challenger disaster and the terrible events of September 11, 2001 in New York. For my mother's generation, it is often the Apollo 11 moon landing and the assassination of JFK.

Events such as those cause such a 'flashpoint' in your mind that they sort of burn the details into your memory. Decades later you will remember the socks you wore and the pattern of the wallpaper like it was yesterday.

Traumatic stress will do something very similar but far worse. It will sear into your mind the memory of things so horrific, so terrifying that you would give anything to be able to forget them, but you can't. Worse than that, it will make you relive those moments indefinitely.

None of those things are what I am talking about here though.

Here I am talking about seemingly normal memories from your life that stay with you in far sharper detail than usual.

Many of us have them. Often they are from our childhood.

I have just such a memory. One I can recall with perfect clarity at any moment. It is of a house. A house that I have never lived in. To be perfectly honest, I am not certain if anyone has actually lived in it. I mean, someone must have at one time I suppose but when I knew of this house there never seemed to be anyone dwelling in it. No one living, at least.

It was a long time ago, about 40 years past as I write this. I can't have been more than six or seven years old. I was living, then, in a tiny village in the north east of England. Nestled between two other villages that were all beginning to grow into one another. It had little to recommend, save for a beautiful view out over the countryside.

The village was little more than four rows of terraced houses–some of which had been converted to flats, and two shops. Behind the village was, and still is to the best of my knowledge, a large area of rough moorland.

The house which is the focus of my memory stood on the edge of this moorland and at the end of two terraces. Unlike all other buildings in the village which all faced south, this house was oriented east to west and as such, it looked down the terraced rows.

The house looked different from those around it in other ways too. It was a grand, three-story edifice which stood a full floor above all but one of the other buildings in the village. Most of those were small, slightly down-at-heel, social houses, what we call in the UK 'Council houses' because they are owned and let by the local councils, in this case, Derwentside District Council. The house which is of interest to us here, however, was far larger and more elaborate than any council house. At that age, I had seen nothing like it. What I didn't know then and what I do know now is that the style of building was entirely out of place in a northern English village because the wooden walls and tented roofs above sash windows were a style not commonly seen in these isles but instead typical of the colonial and American Gothic architecture of the United States.

How such a building had come to be transplanted to the coal mining and steel making heartland of north-east England is a mystery to me now. Such a question never occurred to me as a child.

Something else that didn't occur to my youthful and inexperienced mind, but which would occur to me years later as an aficionado of ghost stories and classic supernatural horror films is just how much this house resembled the archetypal image of a haunted house. Ask someone to imagine a haunted house and it will almost certainly conjure up in their imaginations a picture not altogether removed from the appearance of this house.

Nor was it just the architecture of the house that seemed, in retrospect, to be straight from some television movie about ghosts and phantoms either. Something about the place just felt... wrong.

It was somewhat dilapidated, but then the same could be said of half the buildings in the village. Then there was the fact that no one who saw the house ever recalled seeing anyone entering or leaving it. The postman would walk past it without a second glance. The paper-boy never stopped there. The milkman ignored it.

It seemed perpetually dark, and no lights were ever seen in it and yet one always got the uneasy feeling of being watched whenever one was within sight of the place.

Another strange feature of the house was that on the really bright, sunny days–and there are few enough of those in the near perpetually bleak north east–you tended not to notice the place at all. It was almost as if, under the glorious light of a scarce, beautiful day, the house just ceased to be.

It was there alright though. On an overcast day or as twilight fell, the house seemed to loom over the west end of the village. Squatting there like some vast and malevolent being. Waiting. Watching.

Perhaps that is why I recall the place with such clarity. It frightened me.

I felt that there was something unidentifiably amiss about the place. As a child, I could not define what that could be. In truth, I am not at all certain that I could define it even now, as a grown man.

I think many of the other children of the village felt the same way about the house. I know some did because I can clearly remember one of my childhood friends, David, telling me one day. His mother had sent him to the shop for some minor essential. A pint of bread or a loaf of milk or some such necessary. It was overcast and twilight had begun to descend upon the village. He hadn't wanted to go but his mother scolded him and ignored his protestations that he would have to go past the 'scary house.' At that, his mother scoffed and told him not to be so silly and so he went.

Nothing happened.

Nothing tangible anyway, but he peddled faster as he passed the house. When recounting that occasion he later swore that he felt someone watching him although he saw no one. He thought he heard voices though, whispering as he passed.

Of course, he could not have done. The distance between the house and the far side of the road where David had passed it, must have been fifteen feet at least. Too far for whispering to travel.

The imaginative fancies of a child, perhaps. Yet I recalled having similar experiences myself in the past and indeed would again in the future for that matter.

We spoke of that house often in the months that followed until my mother and I moved away. Our speculations about that place grew wilder as we let our youthful imaginations run unchecked. From time to time we would try to goad each other into knocking on the door but we never did. We never even crossed the boundary of the property nor did we ever stray too close to the building or even dare to look upon it for too long. After all, if you did that you were always left with the uncomfortable feeling that it was looking back!

Perhaps it was, for all I know. I have come to think that there are a great many things in the world that are beyond my understanding.

I still have occasion to pass through that village from time to time. I always glance as I pass by, looking for that house, but I never see it now.

There is something else there in its stead, and old and ramshackle garage at the back of another property takes up part of the lot. The rest? Well, the rest is just part of the moor.

The thing is, that old, dark, apparently abandoned house–the one I remember so well. The one which childhood friends recall with the same certainty and clarity that I do, the one that frightened us all so much as children. It isn't just that it is not there anymore. It appears upon no plans or maps or old photographs of the village. The Ramshackle garage has stood there since the 1960s—a decade before I was even born. No adult that lives in the village today recalls the house ever having been here, but the children do. The children do and they don't like to speak of it.Childish imagination, perhaps. You see, that old house that frightened us so. It never was there.

At least, not when the sun shone, anyway.


About the Creator

Bryan Irving

Born in the North East of England to an Anglo-Scottish mother and a Kurdish Turkish father, Bryan struggled with Dyslexia but was determined to become a writer despite that minor setback.

He has written a novel and several tabletop RPGs

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    Bryan IrvingWritten by Bryan Irving

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