Midnight Mortuary: Tales from the Darkest Trade on Earth
The truth behind the black ties and white eyes.
Funerals. Dead bodies. Black ties and baggy eyes. There's something quite concerning about it all, isn't there? Working in the funeral trade isn't for everyone. That's something I can say with confidence. Because like most, I assumed it would be the most morbid, depressing, and mundane career on the planet. And to be fair, I guess I was half right. When I took on the job as a part-time undertaker at the age of fifteen, I wasn't overly sure what the trade consisted of outside of the funeral service. I mean, I knew there was paperwork and travelling, but besides from the obvious, I wasn't aware of the 'special tasks' that would take place behind closed doors.
In this article I'd like to cover a lot of things that I encountered when working alongside the family business funeral directors. And maybe you'll get a thrill from some of the downright horrifying things I'll spill. From late night tales that can only be described as being paranormally strange, to various sub-stories about home-life above the mortuary, I'd like to level with you for a moment and assure you that everything I intend to reveal here is one hundred percent accurate. There are no lies or exaggerations, and everything I write will be directly from both the heart and from memory. Let it be known that this is not a fictional story full of make-believe morbidity. This is the truth, plain and simple. And you may not like it. So settle in my friends, because we've got a lot to talk about. I present to you, Midnight Mortuary.
"Welcome to the family business, son"
Dad always wanted his sons to follow in his footsteps and join the ranks as undertakers in the family business. That's kind of all he wanted in life; to pass down the torch to his kids in the hope they'd take the company to sky-heights and demolish any rival that stood in the way.
When he offered me the job at fifteen, I wasn't overly sure how I'd decline without seeming like an ungrateful so and so. Because honestly, I wasn't prepared to go from slumping it at school throwing paper airplanes to burying relatives. That wasn't really on my agenda when I pictures my career path. I always had a vague idea of what Dad did in his work life, but I never really questioned him too much when he'd step out and 'take care of business' like a Tony Soprano clone in his fitted black suit. I just sort of assumed it was something to do with death, and that was it.
At fifteen I had the dreams of pursuing a career as an actor. I had just finished school and entered the six week summer break, and in my mind, I had my whole life ahead of me. Plus, I'd be starting college in September and preparing to choose my route. And the two routes I had in mind were either a performing arts course or a media production course. Notice how 'funeral director' wasn't really on my mind? Well, that's because it wasn't. In fact, it was the last thing on my mind. Truth is, I took on the job purely because I needed money. Especially seeing as I was just a stupid kid who not only needed to fund a moped with petrol, but also because I was still in the obnoxious stage where I needed to drink alcohol at least five times a week otherwise I'd be out of the 'cool crew' at school.
I started the funeral trade, not because I wanted to, but pretty much because I felt the need to. Sorry, Dad.
I knew I had a lot of dark things steering my way when I signed up to the job. But one thing that I wasn't expecting from the job, was to be genuinely mortified. And at times, I was exactly that. The job as a whole had many good days and bad days, and more than likely the good days usually outweighed the bad days. And when the bad days did manage to appear, they were bad enough to talk about.
The melancholy faces of the funeral trade.
What people don't seem to understand is that undertakers aren't usually as 'depressing' as you'd imagine them to be. I mean, sure, I met a lot of stone-faced, cliché bastards in my time, but overall, they weren't really that bad.
Picture your box-standard undertaker; dressed to the nine in jet-black trench coats and velvet ties. With blank facial expressions and a strong scent of the unknown emerging from their collar. Now, implement a dose of charisma and a catalogue of stale Dad jokes into the mix, and you've more than likely got yourself a true undertaker.
See, what people make out when attending both the funeral arrangement and service is that anybody remotely involved in the trade is dark and sinister. But truthfully, nobody is like that at all. And more goes on behind closed doors than you'd think. Sorry for the spoiler.
At the end of the day, the funeral trade really is just another job. Only, it features two or three specialist things that most people don't fancy trying out. Shortly after I was inducted into the fold it wasn't uncommon to shuffle through a room of bodies just so you could flick the kettle on. Because believe it or not, that was the norm. And once you convinced your inner-monologue that the people beside you aren't going to magically sprout up and annihilate you, you kind of learn to live with it. No pun intended.
My initial days in the trade were spent doing all the boring things any normal office job would entail. You know, fold this, deliver that, etcetera. That was all it was for a short while. And other than seeing the odd toe or two before a funeral service, there wasn't much I could differentiate between working as an undertaker and slaving away at an insurance broker. Because, you know, things were pretty normal.
Sadly, things aren't always destined to be normal. And I knew for a fact that the day would finally arrive where something would make me quake in my size eights.
The first few weeks were perfectly normal in that crooked old office. But as the famous saying goes, "... nothing lasts forever..."
Alone, but never quiet.
Like I said, scooting past bodies just to get to the kitchen was normal. But for the first few weeks I was struggling to grow accustomed to the lifestyle, and sadly for me, I was trusted to man one of the smaller offices by myself. That was slightly nerve-wracking, seeing as I had only just managed to get my head around what to say or even do once a grieving customer walked through the door.
Luckily, the office I watched over barely had any movement, and that isn't an intended pun. Because honestly, other than the local postman or preachers, nobody ever really came by to talk funeral arrangements or even enquire for that matter.
The office was a slim building sandwiched between two other businesses either side, and although they saw a steady flow of clientele most days, our little business remained plastered with a lingering silence.
For eight hours a day I'd pretty much be on my own. With nothing but a front little room, a small chapel, a kitchen and an upstairs storage room packed full of urns. There was an old Packard Bell computer with no internet access. There was a stock of Cadbury cups and plastic crockery. And there was a kettle. That, was depressingly it. And believe you me, there's only so many games of solitaire one teenage boy can play before questioning self-worth and sanity.
The office had that certain eerie presence like something was hanging over you. Like there was more to your surroundings that what met the eye. The roar of the traffic outside was often overpowered by the rumbling of the generators in the office. That as well as every floorboard creaking for every foot you set down. Both of those combined with the daunting feeling of isolation for eight hours a day was grim enough to consider quitting.
There would usually be a body or two; sometimes on a stretcher, sometimes in a casket. With a thick sheet covering from scalp to toe, you'd never be able to identify them unless removing the material. But for those first few weeks, I had no interest in breaking out of my comfort zone. And so I did what I was asked every single day without hesitation. Strictly twiddling thumbs a lot of the time, I'll admit. But to be fair, the mind-numbing hours in confinement was worth the hourly rate in itself. Some would call it easy money. Some would call it torture. But for me, I guess I'd refer to it as awkward. That's all.
It's dark, morbid, boring, and depressing; essentially everything you would imagine working in a funeral parlor would be like. But despite the startup period being unbelievably forgettable, I do remember the first time I saw a body in its full form. Now that was something I'll never forget so long as I live.
The day finally arrived where arranging office utensils wasn't enough to scrape together a nice little wage packet, and at last I found myself drifting into the deep end of the business. Dad was sure to help with that, with or without my cooperation.
The only problem was... I didn't pack any armbands.
"You'll get used to it"
Looking death in the eye is something I never thought I'd get used to. To be honest, I don't think anybody ever has a feeling of comfort when gazing blankly into a pair of white eyes that used to sparkle effortlessly. That's something only senior undertakers can deal with. But like most, I was terrified of witnessing my first of many deceased back in 2009.
At fifteen, most kids spent their summer holidays hanging out at the park or hiking up a hill with a fistful of cheap vodka. But for one kid, in particular, things were a little different.
In the middle of the afternoon under the glow of the white sun, I found myself pressed up against the door with one ear listening out for the grumble of the generator fans inside the office.
Dad had brought me to the second office in the next city over, looking to dress a body in preparation for the service the following day. That, as well as expecting me to dive right in and be a keen little helper handing him the shirt and tie willingly.
I hadn't really seen a body before; only the odd finger or big toe from beneath the sheets in the other office. So, in ways, this was going to be my first encounter. And man, what an encounter that was.
Dad sort of gave me about fifteen seconds to decide whether I was ready or not, and after that he gave me little choice but to step forward into the icy yet bleak room where the bodies would be prepared for services. Not exactly fuelled with confidence, I stumbled into the room and clocked immediately onto the partially opened casket in the centre of the room.
Now, I realise many of us link the stench of death with rotten eggs and sewage waste. But honestly, it really isn't that bad. I'm serious.
Dad removed the screws from the casket lid and placed them beside him. Giving me only the slightest look of reassurance, he pulled away the lid and rested it against the wall. I stepped forward and arched my neck over the person laying neatly below me. With arms resting in the centre of his belly, and both eyes and his lips sealed firmly shut, there was no pungent scent, nor was there any horrific sight to make me quiver. There was just a man, in a casket... resting peacefully.
A strange and surreal moment. And I'll probably never forget the burning sensation in my heart suddenly settle into a warming feeling of bitter sadness as I looked down onto somebody I had never met before. And although I hadn't the slightest clue as to whom he was or what he had accomplished, I still managed to swell up and feel the tragedy as if I had known him my whole life.
As I stood in the mortuary in the middle of the afternoon, I came to terms that this was a large portion of the job. And that, if I was going to follow in Dad's footsteps, I had to learn to deal with it.
In that moment, as Dad and I looked down on this gentleman, I remember him saying only one thing before leaving me to my thoughts in a brisk isolation.
"You'll get used to it..."
After a few weeks of working with Dad I had managed to switch myself off and knuckle down when it came to the darker sides of the trade. I'd pitch in when I had to in the office; whether being in the mortuary lending a hand with dressing a loved one in their finery, or taking daily trips to retrieve a body from either the hospital mortuary or the coroners office.
I had a hefty amount of funeral's under my belt after five or six weeks, and the more gory tasks were becoming a lot more frequent.
As I turned sixteen in August, I had entered the final few weeks of working with Dad full-time. And before long, I was due to begin college and advance in my career as a media wizard. Not an undertaker. A media wizard. The money would eventually stop filling my pockets and before long I'd be applying for the local McDonald's just so I could afford lunch every day. But before I could consider my job options, Dad made a proposition. Rather than leaving with no future connection to the family business, he offered me the opportunity to work on the callouts for when I wasn't in college.
The callouts were basically the graveyard shift tasks that involved travelling to the place of rest shortly after the person had passed and transporting them back to the mortuary. That, as well as speaking to the grieving family and making all the necessary arrangements.
Dad gave me only one instruction after I accepted the job that afternoon."Keep your phone on at all times. You might be needed at any time..."
He was right. When he said 'any time', he really did mean any time. At 4 AM, to be precise. That's when I received my first call with instructions for the callout.
In the dead of night when all was asleep, the phone sprang off the bedside table with a loud piercing buzz. The phone illuminated and all I could make out through crusty sleep-deprived eyes was 'Dad' written in bold lettering.
I threw the phone to my ear and clicked accept in under five seconds; eager to accept my first job. In a few short words, Dad coughed up only the most essential details of the case. "Residential. One hour. Get dressed."
At first, I thought nothing of it. I thought that it'd just be a simple pick up and go job and that I'd be back home within the hour. But before Dad hung up he was able to give me only the final detail in one heart-wrenching word.
That was a moment I'll never forget. And as I locked my screen I could only hold the phone between my fingers with a quaky balance. With my eyes still partially shut and my mind still adjusting to the twilight hours, I was shellshocked and petrified of leaving the safety of my duvet covers.
I climbed out of bed and put on my blackest suit. I fastened the tie and brushed the crumbs from my blazer. And within ten minutes, I was ready to depart into the early morning madness.
The beaming headlights of Dad's business estate car soared over the hill, and before long I found myself standing patiently by the roadside with my heart beating frantically in my chest.
In one simple but effective croak, I said the one and only sentence I'd speak for the remainder of that night."... I don't want to do this..."
As we made our way to the run-down estate situated on the other side of the city, I remember thinking a lot about my future with the company and how I'd balance it with college.
But the more I look back on it though, the more I realise that I was just trying to find excuses not to do any more of these unnerving and terrifying callouts.
This was my first job, and so I assumed Dad would've allowed me the chance to dip my toe in the water before sliding me into the deep end. But Dad wasn't at all like that. Because in his mind, if he had been able to do it since he was sixteen, then why couldn't I? Made sense to him, of course. But not everyone thinks alike, and some people need more time to prepare for things. Not Dad. And apparently, not me, either.
We pulled up to the council estate at around four o'clock, where the only things circling were the dotted residents of the tower block. Sipping cans and toasting to the memory of their friend, they stood around the front entrance doorway as we pulled up in our shadowed vehicle. Climbing out of the car we made way for the entrance, where two police officers were located just by the bottom of the stairwell. I snapped to Dad's ankles and didn't say a word as he exchanged details with the officers. The countless eyes stalked over us as we retrieved the stretcher from the rear of the vehicle, and the only sound to break free from the estate was the screeching of wheels groaning across the concrete.
I kept my head down as we made our way to the bottom of the staircase. Without looking into any of the residents eyes, I snapped to attention and followed Dad's orders precisely.
He escorted me upstairs and didn't say a single word. And so the only time I had to contemplate my actions were those short twenty-seconds before reaching the pinnacle of the complex and at the foot of the doorway.
"We've taken him down..." one officer whispered.
"He's on the other side of the door... in the bedroom..."
My heart plummeted through my chest and the gravel in my throat scratched my voice box repeatedly. Dad switched out of father-mode and turned on his business face in one swipe of expressions. He pushed back the bedroom door and uncovered the gentleman led on the other side in the centre of the bedroom.
Quickly assessing the situation like he had done a million times before, he directed me to the bottom end of the body on the other end of the room. I followed Dad's eyes as he made his commands, and without saying a word I judged his requests and played my part the best I could. With a grip on both wrists and ankles, we lifted the gentleman into a spread out piece of material beside him, where Dad would then zip up and strap in tight.
I took that moment to look at my surroundings. And it still haunts me to this day, it really does. Seeing the TV still on, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in the pause menu sitting idly, and the controller, mobile phone and half-finished glass of squash sitting on the footstool beside it.
The room still had a smidgen of life left within it. And to think only an hour or two prior to our arrival, this young man would've still been breathing.
There's no time to adjust to situations like that, especially during callouts. Instead, you just have to learn to switch off and carry out your duties like nothing else is worth thinking about.
I found it insanely difficult that night. But I did what I had to do. And although everything was over in a matter of minutes, it still felt like the longest moments of my working life to date.
We lifted the body downstairs and onto the stretcher by the entrance. Clicking the wheels in place and strolling back through the teary yet eerily silent crowd, we buried our heads and did what we had to do.
I remember driving away that night with the melancholy cheer and clash of tin cans clank from behind us. Thinking only of tomorrow, I dreaded what I'd be asked to do next. And although I had only just accepted callouts into my life, I had already made it a mission to never see a hanging ever again so long as I lived.
That was just something I'd rather not have dealt with at all. And at sixteen, those sure were some heavy sights for just a kid.
Money, Cigarettes and Needles
One afternoon I was called away from my petty responsibilities of teenage life and thrown into another callout over in the next city.
Frustratingly, it wasn't a basic nursing home case. Nor was it a peaceful passing in a warm environment surrounded by loved ones.
It was an overdose.
Again, I hadn't been given a script packed full of details. I was just given the rough area and a pickup time. That was it. And you know, I wasn't even surprised anymore. Dad just never really had much to say when it came to exploring facts. He just put it how it had to be; short and sweet.
I had taken on a handful of callouts by the time this case rolled in, and so I had a clear understanding of what needed to be done and how. But as for the more gruesome jobs, I wasn't exactly massively experienced on them nor was I ever desperate to learn. Because truthfully, after the hanging job I had taken on a couple of weeks before, I wasn't exactly jumping at the opportunity to take on a further coroners case.
With callouts, you've got two types. One being a standard pickup either from a residence or a nursing home. And the second being a coroner case, where the details are slightly more explicit. This can be anything from having police involved to forensic scientists searching for evidence of fowl play.
This particular job was an OD, and so the police were on the scene before our arrival at the run-down trailer park on the edge of town.
With grim faces pressing down on us as we approached the static home, they said very little and simply pointed us in the direction of the front door.
"Nasty one, that is..." one of the officers sighed.
"Good luck with that one, boys"
That was all we were given before being granted permission to the residence. No list of requirements of safety checks before entering. Just an OK GO and a finger towards the access point for the stretcher.
I remember the layout of the static home almost too well. In fact, every time I've been to a holiday park since that callout I've always had minor flashbacks to the scene of the overdose.
If you've been to any holiday park in your life, then you'll know exactly what kind of place this was. And as for the caravan; it was no different to one you'd find at any old family-run retreat. Only, this home had been trashed to pieces and turned upside down many months in advance.
Buckets of urine, blotches of blood, dirty needles and wads of banknotes; that's what I remember the most.
The curtains were drawn and the room was dimly lit with only a slight glimpse of the sun breaking through the torn material. The floor was plastered with pocket change and the walls spelt out death in bloody handprints left, right and centre.
The lonely old man had passed away in an upright position on the sofa. With only a grubby yellow blanket over his body he was left without clothes and in the most fragile state known to mankind.
Weedy, naked and battered; he passed quietly only hours before our arrival. And with the heat radiating from his skin it was clear he had only been breathing a short while ago. That was something I can't really describe in words. It was surreal, to be honest. Worryingly surreal.
Dad and I carried out our routine like we had done many times before, and as I gripped his ankles and lifted him from the sofa, I remember only one deadly thing which made the air felt even thinner than before.
A single breath leaving his body for the final time.
That, my friends, is something that still makes me shiver to this day.
The silhouette in the hallway
Moving on a few years to where my moralities had changed quite a bit and the stubble on my chin wasn't as embarrassing as before. Let's say, the year of 2014. That's actually quite a few years into the future, actually. But I'd like to swivel this in the right direction and try to bypass all the boring malarky from my younger years. If possible.
After summer ended in 2010 and the call-outs died out (get it?), I pretty much steered away from the family business and aimed high with a course in Media Production at college. And, from there, basically moved into a pretty neat editing gig at a local investigation company. And that's where I stayed, for several years in fact; right up until my fingers locked stiff and the repetitive and mundane workflow became too much for my creative little brain to endure. So, I did what any curious kid would do. I went back to work for Dad; where tasks were a little more unpredictable and intriguing.
In 2015, I threw back on the jet-black suit and pinned on my newly-polished cufflinks, ready to embrace the family business in a whole new light. And, to my amazement, the business was booming like never before. With so much work coming through the doors, there were vacancies available for brand new staff and enough jobs to last a lifetime.
The new dawn was calling, and this little family business had blossomed beautifully from nowhere; soon enough competing with some of the much bigger names in the trade. And it was just like that, Dad had made a name for himself within the county. The underdog undertakers were finally on the map.
But, I shan't stray too far from the little side-stories here. There's plenty more to tell yet. And I think it may be best to begin here; with one of the eeriest experiences to date. The very experience that I'll never forget so long as I live. An experience I look back on with fickle fingers and spine-tingling dread, of course. An experience I can only describe as being paranormally peculiar.
In the dead of twilight, at around three in the morning, I had received a new callout instruction from Dad. But, to my surprise, it wasn't packed with any subtle hints of potential gore or melancholy ambience. In fact, it was just a regular job. A care home job. One of the more simple and sophisticated jobs in the trade, that is.
My brother and I arrived shortly before the sun crept just beyond the hills and the world was still patiently tucked in bed. With limited resources and only a blood-red clock to guide our way, we pulled up outside the rear of the care home and buzzed the receptionist.
"Can't wait to go back to bed," I yawned, just the same as any other night.
"Hope this is relatively simple."
The care worker running the night shift eventually appeared behind the frosted glass and creaked open the doors one by one. She then greeted us quietly and urged for us to follow her through the hallways and towards the room to which the person had recently passed away in. So, we kept our heads low and followed her quietly.
The care home was one we had been to three or four times before, and like most of the others, it had no unique charisma or special quirks to separate it from the rest of the rival homes. It was just another monochrome place, no different from your local chain of supermarkets. With narrow hallways and tiny pockets of light here and there, it was just as creepy and daunting as any other place we had been to. Only this place possessed one too many exaggerated snores and a whole monologue of ranting armies from behind the doorways. That in itself was creepy enough; especially at night.
We followed the carer to the room where the gentleman had been residing for several years, right up to his bedside where a single rose was placed on his chest. We quickly assessed the width of the door and the course of action for the stretcher, and then left to retrieve it as the carer left for the office. But as we turned the corner out into the long and narrow hallways, we immediately noticed something out of place. A silhouette of sorts; in the shame of an elderly gentleman.
He hadn't clocked us. Instead, he was shuffling his feet away from us, down towards the reception area about sixty yards away or so. And, at first, we didn't think too much on it. We kept our heads down and walked past him without saying a word. But before we reached him and had the chance to overtake, he spoke loudly in a ghostly high-pitched voice.
"WHAT AN UNUSUAL PLACE TO MEET YOU!" he squealed.
I said nothing. My brother... said nothing. We just passed, and reached the reception area without trying to think about it. But as we reached the reception only twenty yards ahead of the elderly gentleman, we turned back to acknowledge him. But, to our amazement, he was gone. He had completely vanished into thin air. With no doors closing or any alternative routes, it was impossible to be anywhere but the narrow hallway. And that's when it hit us; the creepy shiver up the spine like somebody was stalking our footsteps.
The hallway felt colder and much more sinister, and every sudden breath soon became groggy and short of air. The lights felt dimmer and the hallway appeared a whole lot slimmer than before. But, we took deep breathes, and we retrieved the stretcher without so much as saying a word to one another, despite the fact we both witnessed the same thing.
We retrieved the stretcher from the car, and we returned to the room where the carer was already waiting patiently with the paperwork in hand. Without lingering, we carried out our duties, signed the paperwork, and left the home without mentioning it again.
That night changed something in both me and my brother, I think. We didn't want to admit what we saw, but we wouldn't be forgetting it any time soon, either. It was the sort of surreal experience you don't want to remember, but would also regret not telling anybody when the opportunity presented itself.
We never did see that elderly gentleman's face that night. I guess that made us wonder the one thing we didn't want to really think about. Perhaps, that gentleman was nothing more than a resident who lost his way. Or maybe, just maybe, he was a slightly different version of the man we put into our car that night. Just maybe.
Keys to the mortuary
Pushing forward a few more years and you'd eventually see me growing up into quite a fine young man. Damn, I never expected that to happen. But, it did. And somehow, I managed to convince a girl to marry me and to start a family with me.
We were young, and we didn't have everything mapped out like we probably should've done. We weren't exactly broke, but with the rising costs of baby necessities we may as well have been. And with the housing market being slightly tough and not a whole wad of notes in the savings to keep us afloat, we were almost destined to fail before the family even launched.
One day, Dad came to me and offered me something I couldn't refuse. A home. With a no-strings-attached contract along the lines of a 'pay this and you're set' agenda, that's all he asked for in return for a few basic requests. Requests like 'make sure you lock the compound gates at night' or 'make sure you save space for the hearses out front'. But other than that, there were no real causes for concern or doubt. It was a steal; a bloody godsend in our greatest hour of need.
In December 2016, my future wife to be and I moved in to our new two-bedroom coach house just above the triple-set garages and connected mortuary.
The coach house was attached to the main office; creating one huge complex within a gated compound area surrounded by only a few spaced out houses and a very large crematorium and cemetery opposite. That's all it consisted of. And for a family of soon to be three, we couldn't fault a single thing with our new little spot.
But as the weeks passed by and the novelties of living alone wore off, we began to notice the unfamiliar feelings of anxiety and tension within the flat. Like patterns, the feelings became all too welcome and the house was soon enough engulfed in grim tidings and twisted secrets. And, although this was too good of an opportunity to pass up, we still felt as if every day living inside that home was just one day too many. And soon enough, we knew we'd leave because of it.
The many residents of Hillview Drive
Although the nighttime was grim and isolated on Hillview Drive, we still never quite felt alone and untouched out there. There was always this, I don't know, feeling of being watched all the time. But we kind of always put that down to our minds playing tricks on us and nothing more. And, although Hollie and I weren't overly convinced on the paranormal, we still had to question many things that took place in that house over the two years we lived there.
The first thing I remember was the baby monitors. Man, what a night that was.
It was March 2017, and we had just had our beautiful baby girl, Ivy. We had brought her home only a few weeks into March, and of course, had to endure many, many sleepless nights with an alternating cycle of shifts with the baby. That in itself meant having to face the horrible sleep deprivation. But, it also meant having to endure the harsh thinking and overactive minds willing to mock us for every waking moment we clinged on to reality.
"Did you hear that noise? Was it the baby? Are you imagining things?" it would chant endlessly as I held my baby girl in my arms at four o'clock in the morning. Like a tedious conscience, it lingered over my shoulders every night until my patience wore thin enough to just push it out of my mind entirely and pretend as if it never even existed.
The night did, however, finally arrive where I felt that disturbing chill on my collarbone once more. And I knew for a fact I wasn't dreaming nor was I suffering from one of the many side-effects of sleep deprivation. I felt something close-by, in the corner of the main bedroom nearest to the plugged in baby monitor that echoed the noises from the babies nursery next door. But, the baby wasn't actually next door at all. She was with me that night.
I stopped in my tracks briefly and stared into the dark abyss of a corner just to the side of me. With a short-sighted vision into the shadow I could barely make out the cracks of my fingers let alone the strange presence in the darkest corner of the room. But I knuckled down and took one deep breath. And from there, I walked into the corner of the room where the monitor was plugged in, and I listened with one ear against the wall.
A deep and harsh breath quickly left the corner of the room, no further than a foot or two away from me. I quickly backed away and left the room with the baby in my arms, out into the living room where the comfort from the warming lights welcomed me. And after that, I slept in the living room for a while, all whilst thinking only of the monitor and how it pushed out such noise.
The next day, as the room was brought to life by the embrace of a cooling bolt of sunshine, I was able to investigate the corner and the monitor further. But, the one thing I was quick to notice as I entered the room was that the switch for the monitor hadn't been turned on.
The plug socket had been left untouched, with the power still switched off. So where the voice came from was beyond me. But one thing's for certain. It definitely didn't come from the monitor.
The prints, the jar, and the toys
As Ivy began interacting with us more and started mobilising around the flat without our assistance, we were finally able to take a breath and focus on things other than the baby. That, of course, meant getting on top of the months of dirty washing or the pile of dishes we kept avoiding because of the same old excuses of being too tired to operate.
We brought the home back up to speed and quickly managed to mould it into something we could be proud of for when people came to visit. But the one thing we couldn't tidy away or cover up, was the fact that we still actually lived above the dead. And, you know, people weren't overly keen on staying over a house where the dead walked only a few short feet below the carpets.
After living in Hillview Drive for almost a year, we had managed to forget about the monitor incident. But, instead, we had plenty of other stories to tell our petrified friends who dared to come and visit. Stories like how Ivy would often be in her crib at night and talk to the dark space at the other end of the room. Or how her toys would spontaneously spring out and play without even touching a button. Or even stories like how we'd leave the house for a few hours, only to return home to muddy carpet tracks and half-emptied cupboards or misplaced groceries or items.
Things seemed to happen on a regular basis after about a year, and as much as wanted to ignore the fact the house was riddled in bad juju, we just didn't have many other options in terms of living arrangements. And, to be honest, it was either that, or returning to live with parents in a single-room. So, you know, I think we made the better choice by putting up with the gremlins and ghouls of the coach house. But, still, it didn't mean we were comfortable living with them. And, honestly, at times, we were even afraid of what went on behind closed doors.
One day, as Hollie and I sat on the sofas in our living room, we felt the air dip to a rather low degree. I shut the window, thinking nothing of it, and continued to converse like normal. But in a sudden split-second crash, a glass jar flew from the highest cupboard in the kitchen and shattered straight against the drawers opposite. Like a thunderbolt it launched as if being thrown; so forceful that no possible gust of wind nor loose screw could've pushed it with as much strength. And if either of us or Ivy had been anywhere near the kitchen at that moment, then one of us would've been spending a night in hospital, for sure. And I'll never forget how close it was or how we felt in the moments leading up to it happening, either. It was something that kept us on our toes from that day forth, and something that was able to convince us to start saving for a new place to live. A place that wouldn't be trying to murder us with glass jars, of course.
When Ivy turned one she was able to say a bunch of words that would make our hearts melt. Words like 'mummy' or 'daddy' or 'hello.' Those were plenty enough to keep the smiles on our faces wide and the anxiety from the home well and truly out. That was, of course, until she decided to speak to somebody that wasn't her parents.
During the middle of the day, as Hollie sat with Ivy in the living room and I slaved away at work on the other side of the city, a funeral was about to take place below. With a hearse preparing to load up with flower tributes and a beautifully-varnished casket, it bulked up and convoyed out of the compound alongside the set of limos and the undertakers walking beside it.
Ivy put her head to the ground shortly after the convoy of funeral vehicles departed, and said only one thing.
Hollie looked at her and wondered who she might've been talking to. But the staff had vacated the garage and the office was empty and dead-silent. The car park was open and the only noise to come from below was the rumbling of the mortuary fridge. Other than that, there was nothing. Not a sound.
"Hello," Ivy laughed.
No sound ever returned, and the fridge only continued to groan furiously. The ambience of isolation left Hollie cold and distant from the world as she sat facing our daughter whilst both perplexed and afraid. But after a while, Ivy had moved her attention away from the floor and began to interact with something else on the other side of the room. And just like that, her conversation had ended.
Later that day, the undertakers returned from the service and positioned the vehicles back into the garage below. Hollie put Ivy to nap in her room and left to find my brother, who had been the one conducting the recent service.
Turned out, it was a child who had recently passed away. And they had been prepared for the funeral below our home that morning, around the same time Ivy took interest in what was happening below. But she wasn't talking to the her uncle, nor any person for that matter. I think she was talking to the child.
The ominous hour
I recently published an article about working as a writer during the twilight hours. And, although I praised the living daylights out of it, I still had to mention the drawbacks of attempting it without the correct tools for the job. Most of those drawbacks were a little skeptical, but real enough to question. One I can think of most is the paranoia you tend to feel during a certain hour of the early morning isolation. Between one and two o'clock to be exact. That's when the creepy things tend to steer your way.
As I was working late back at home in Hillview Drive, I was planning on reaching a milestone of eighty-thousands words in my latest novel, The Stalker. This, of course, meant lying to myself about the time and forcing myself to ignore my brain and just sludge through until dawn. Nothing unusual there for a writer, though. We all kind of do that. It's when we feel the most alive, surprisingly,
But I remember this one night back at the coach house. It was around one o'clock on the dot, and the living room was icy cold and sinisterly black. I had nothing but a flat battery on my phone, a cup of lukewarm coffee, and an illuminated iMac monitor ten inches from my pupils. Other than that, I had nothing but isolation. But, that was fine. I was used to it by then, and if anything, I kind of liked the peace and quiet.
But something touched me that night. On the shoulder to be precise. Like boney fingers spread wide across my collar and against my sharpened and frosted hairs. It held an awkwardly long presence for a minute or so as I sat in silence facing an idled Word document. But after a mind-numbing sixty second torture, I finally managed to swivel my head around to face the ten-foot demon and accept my fate, only then to notice the room was empty, and the hand had been lifted sharply.
The next morning, I told Hollie about what happened, only to discover she had felt a similar thing, too. And, it wasn't just me who felt the cold air and trembling hand against jagged skin. It was everywhere that night, not just beside me.
I asked her what time she felt this mysterious presence, expecting it to be completely random. But she said the one time I wasn't hoping to hear; the same time I have referred to countless times over as the ominous hour.
Goodbye, Hillview Drive
Two years after our arrival on Hillview Drive, we made the decision to move on and leave the increasingly haunting home behind and look to greater pastures in another city. A city where things wouldn't be so peculiar and where things wouldn't try to kill us for no reason whatsoever.
In March 2019, we left the coach house, and we set up shop in a new city thirty minutes from our childhood homes. In a place where we didn't know anybody or have any clue as to where the amenities were or how we'd go about finding them. Like starting fresh, we turned the leaf over and left the ghosts of Hillview behind. And, the family business, too.
I went back to working for an investigation company as an editor, and I vowed never to take up undertaking again. Because, honestly, for a twenty-four-year-old man, I had seen quite enough morbidity to last a lifetime.
I guess I just wanted to live like a normal person for a while. I never really had that opportunity at sixteen when Dad pulled me into the fold. So, I guess, almost a decade later, a bit of freedom was exactly what I needed.
I didn't want to continue creeping on broken eggshells or tiptoeing around the fact that they may or may not've been somebody lingering from the shadows. I just wanted to tend to my wife and my children. That's all.
I guess, I just wanted to feel alive again. And after seeing death in the face for many, many years, I can quite confidently say it's never too far from taking any one of us. It's closer than we think. So, just live. You might just find yourself being somebody else's story tomorrow.
- J Tury
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