It is colder than the rest of the house, now a repository for our old toys, which adds a certain Gothic element.
Back then, however, my four-year-old brother occupied it.
We would return home to find the taps turned on full-force, requiring wrenching back into inaction.
An oven, on the third floor, would have its rings switched to red hot, making the house’s already airless attics crackle dangerously with heat.
Again, I am told that this is standard form: ghosts (I can barely type the word) act up with newcomers, then they – and you – adjust.
Plus, I like to think that Bettses are far more terrifying. Our neighbour’s new cleaner recently informed him that she would not be returning, having seen a woman walk through a wall (our buildings were once joined).
To be sure, our new house had a degree of notoriety.
Local gossip held that it boasted three “presences”: a woman who stalked the ground floor, an elderly doctor forever racing up its stairs searching for a dying grandson and, in its upper reaches, the victim of an argument that had spilled over into murder. And yet, there was something unsettling about our new home, a personality, a sense that we were installing ourselves in a place already occupied. Doors would shut of their own volition, footsteps would sound. Very soon, this phoney-war period became the subject of nostalgia.
This is a story I have never told in print for fear that I would sound mad. I was 16 when, one June, my family moved to a lofty Victorian villa in the Midlands: ivy-strewn, hidden behind trees, high-ceilinged and replete with corridors. When people asked how many siblings I had, I tended to chirp “we are too menny” à la Jude the Obscure, or “we are legion” à la biblical possession.
It is the version of events as I remember them, so that the tale told by another member of my family might differ slightly in order or timing. It happened, despite our collective reluctance to admit it, and my reluctance now both to tell it and to own it as mine. Ours, in fact, was the perfect situation for a horror story: three girls of 16, 15 and nine, a boy of 11 and one of barely four.