Like so many stories, it began with a drunken promise. My friend Nathan told me he’d found something. “It’s the most amazing thing in the world,” he said.
Naturally I didn’t put too much faith in those words, but I nonetheless looked forward to the day I’d become a part of the secret; the main frustration being that three people in the whole world knew about this “amazing thing” and I wasn’t one of them…
One warm summer night we were drinking in a blues bar. There were many familiar faces, but I found myself alone with Nathan, talking about the “amazing thing.”
“It’s a house,” he said. “An abandoned house.”
My excitement died a little. How exciting could a house possibly be? In Dundee, damn near half the buildings were derelict. “You’ve got to see it… It’s beautiful. Not just any house; a big house. Ancient. On the _____ Road, too.”
I was a little surprised to learn of the location. ______ Road was prime property, with even the smallest buildings going for unreasonable prices. “Where is it?”
“I bet you don’t know…”
“Of course, I just asked…”
“You’d never guess. It’s right in the middle of ______ Road. You’ve walked past it at least twice a day for the last five years…”
“Bullshit!” I laughed, thinking Nathan had gone nuts.
In the early hours of the morning we walked back from the bar towards our flat. There was a group of us – Cameron, Daniel, Nathan and I.
Nathan stopped at a junction halfway along the road. It was indeed a place I’d passed several times a day for five years. I looked about, unsure what to expect. One thing I did observe was the CCTV camera above us, swivelling about in pursuit of something invisible.
“This is it,” Nathan said, gesturing at what looked like a three storey building on the corner.
“Fuck off,” I said, in utter disbelief. I couldn’t have imagined a more expensively placed property in the whole of the city. It made no sense… Moreover, the windows were all intact; nothing was boarded up or damaged.
We slipped quickly down a set of stairs, leading from the main road to a dark, terrifying corridor fifteen feet below street level. It was pitch black down there, and cold.
Even in the dark, though, the house was different. The view from above had been that of a typical Victorian era Dundee house – big, sturdy and grey; large windows and black railings. There had been nothing to differentiate it from the hundred other houses on ______ Road.
Down that little flight of stairs, though, there were weeds protruding from between the cobbled walkway and from the gaps in the walls on either side. A door beneath the stairs was boarded shut and something had been spray painted over it.
Nathan and Daniel told the three of us to wait, leaving Cameron and I to wait in the dark. After a minute or so Nathan beckoned us after them, and we proceeded around the side of the building, where the weeds became thicker, the path rougher, and eventually it felt as though we were in a dark, wet forest.
There were pieces of furniture littered about, which had been overgrown and had become a part of the jungle. Trees and grass grew together so ferociously it became hard to tell where one ended and one began. As we pushed further forward the house kept growing. By the time we reached what must once have been a garden the house appeared some four storeys tall.
The garden, it seemed, went on and on. I realised then that I’d actually lived for a year in the student residence next door to this building. From the road they were not next door, but my old home bordered the giant garden. Of course, back then I hadn’t realised there was a garden there. I had assumed it was a piece of wasteland, waiting to be turned into a car park or more student housing.
After climbing on an up-ended mattress with a chair balanced on top, we all stood in a room on the second floor – cloaked in a frightening, absolute darkness. The garden had been dark but the house was different. It was less a darkened space than a place absolutely devoid of light. It felt as though the house was sucking light from outside and consuming it before it passed through the windows. We could see the moon and the stars, but their light fell inches short of the building… I thought that if I lit a candle or a torch the room would swallow it. The same felt true of sound. There was nothing to hear in the house. Nothing from outside could be heard.
Nathan guided us around the rooms, up and down the ornate spiral staircase that lead from the basement to the attic, and I used the flash on my camera to illuminate the way as best I could. Evidently my light-swallowing theory had proven inaccurate. But perhaps it would all have been a little less disturbing had we seen nothing at all.
You see, this wasn’t an abandoned house. The previous residents had obvious not planned upon leaving… The house was fully furnished. There were wardrobes, chairs, tables, TVs, record players (that’s right, not even CD players), beds, curtains, nightstands… There were clothes, reading glasses and newspapers; letters and photos of the people who’d once lived there… A walking stick hung by the front door, awaiting the residents’ return, and a cup of tea seat atop the bedside table, long since abandoned.
We moved in silence, our footsteps not even producing echoes. The only thing I could think to describe the world around me at that time was “thick.” The air was thick, and maybe it was just dust and damp, but it was odd. I’m usually the sort of guy to get scared easily, but I felt no fear. Just the overwhelming sense of not being welcome. The house was pushing from around us. It was trying to crush us with the weight of its atmosphere. It almost felt like hands pushing down on our heads and shoulders. I could feel myself being pushed towards the door.
In the kitchen we found the most visually disturbing image – vines, roots and branches had pushed through the walls, windows and ceilings, and taken over the room. Everything was green and smelled rotten. The floor, too, was covered in maybe-living-maybe-dead plant matter. It all reminded me of The Evil Dead.
By the light of my camera’s flash, we were able to discern the last days of the former inhabitants. The letters and magazines all were dated around the middle of May 1980. The very last newspaper was from the 16th May of that year, twenty seven years prior to our discovery. Twenty seven years exactly.
The next day I went to a bookstore across town, with a friend. We had a cup of coffee and read books. We were students and couldn’t afford to buy them, so we used the place like a library – with the coffee being our late fee.
As we sat and read I told her about the house. She was obviously a little sceptical, but she believed me for the most part, and was curious to see the house for herself. I told her to ask Nathan; I would never be setting foot in that building again. The sense of unwelcome was too much to bear.
As we sat, another friend – Joe – appeared. We had no idea he would be there, and he gave no explanation. I wasn’t aware he’d ever read a book in his life. He sat and joined us. Naturally, I told him about the house.
“Wait a minute,” he said, and ran off.
A little later he returned with a well known book from the crime section. It was one of the sensationalised best-seller books from a few years earlier that I had seen and dismissed without reading. It had sold thousands of copies in the local area, and its subject matter was that of the area’s foulest, most depraved murders.
Joe flipped through the book quickly until he found a picture. He showed me it and I felt the same sensation over my head and shoulder as that I’d felt in the house. It was a picture of the front door of that very building…
According to the book, on May 16th 1980, an old couple had been living in the house. They returned one evening to find a burglar in their basement. The burglar overpowered them, tied them up and went off to find a claw hammer. When he returned he tore their bodies apart, then rebuilt them at a window, tearing the edges of their mouths into warped grins…
The next morning, students living next door – in the building I had occupied some twenty three years later – kicked a football over the wall and ran into the garden to retrieve it, whereupon they were confronted with the twisted smiles of two dismembered pensioners.
The killer, having had his first taste of blood, went on a killing spree, heading south into England before being caught.
A week later I e-mailed my dad a cleaned-up version of the story, neglecting to mention the breaking and entering or the location of the building. I told him “A friend of a friend…” had found the house and that it was somewhere in the city.
My dad immediately replied. He hadn’t been in Dundee much during his lifetime, but several years before I was born he had gone there to visit an old school friend. He was twenty one at the time – the same age I was when I visited the house. He had been out drinking with his friend when he’d said that there had been a murder in the area a year earlier and that it would be really creepy to go visit the house. I didn’t need to ask where that house was or what it looked like – he told me and it was exactly the same house I’d been in.
He said that the feeling he had being inside the house was too much to bear. The sense of unwelcome drove him to flee, and his friend remained inside. Shortly after, his friend was arrested for trespassing, and spent the night in jail.
A couple of months ago I was sitting at a bar in downtown Daegu. A man was sitting nearby, and talking loudly to no one. He was the kind of guy you normally ignore, except that his accent was unmistakably Scottish. I couldn’t quite place it, though, so I asked him.
“Where’s the accent from?”
“Scotland,” he said.
“Obviously… I mean, where about in Scotland? I’m from St. Andrews.”
“Glasgow, originally. But I went to uni in Dundee and lived in Edinburgh for a bit.”
“Aye? I went to Dundee University, too… Studied literature…”
The old guy laughed. “I think I’m a bit ahead of your time, mate. I was there in 1980. I studied literature, though. It’s good place for it…”
“Where did you live?”
“S______. On ______ Road.” The name of the student residence in which I’d spent my first year at university. The one next door to the Murder House.
But I didn’t think of the Murder House immediately. It had been a long time since that had crossed my mind. What I did find interesting, however, was that he had lived in the same building as me, many years before.
“Hey! I lived there, too. Back in 2003…”
I looked at him, expecting him to have grasped – even through his drunkenness – the staggering coincidence that had just revealed itself. Two men in an unpopular bar in a tiny city in a tiny country thousands of miles from their homeland had just met for the first time, having lived in the same little building, albeit twenty-something years apart.
Instead, he stared into space, his face turning downwards into something more commonly reserved for the hangover. I thought he was about to puke on the bar. He shook his head, then stood up and walked out, and I never saw him again.
(The middle building, below the church… That mass of trees is the “garden”… This was taken weeks later, in the less scary light of day…)