For The Record, Episode 11: Neighbourhood Watch
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[PAPERS FLIPPING, RUSTLING]
[SIGH] So, what do we have here? Another statement of someone too high or drunk to tell the difference between reality and their own imaginings? Oh, great. I don’t see why Katie thinks cataloguing old statements is a better use of my time than literally anything else. [DEEP BREATH, SLOW EXHALE]. Fine, let’s get this one over with.
[TAPE RECORDER CLICKS ON]
This is Niamh Donnelly, archival research assistant at the Dublin Bureau of Paranormal Research recording case number 1006003-B. Statement originally given by Áine Ní Bhróin, September 22nd 2004, recording carried out by me May 12th, 2015.
I guess we should have known something was up from the start. The house was too damn cheap. I suppose that’s the one thing you’ll believe: housing prices. No one believes me. My family don’t, even though I moved back here to Dublin without Rian. They just presume he disappeared. Or that he walked out on me. But Rian would never do that. We were in love. Are. I don’t know. Tenses are weird. We were in love, he was… taken. These are the things that I know, so when my friend Lily said I should come here and talk to you - as a joke, I should say - I decided I’d give it a shot. If there’s any chance you can find my husband, if you can track him down, then I’ve got to take it.
Rian and I were college sweethearts, we had met at Durham in the 90’s during an English tutorial - something on Chaucer, I think - and quickly started dating. By the turn of the millennium, we were happily married and renting flats where we could. I don’t- I don’t presume to know your life, but you can imagine we were eager to find a place of our own, and, since Rian was trying to get a research position with one of the universities in London, we decided we’d try to get something local. I still didn’t know what I was going to do with my life - teaching, probably - but for the moment, that was fine. So we spent any free moments we had checking listings and going to viewings, but all to no avail. Until we got a phone call.
We did not recognise the man at the other end of the line, who identified himself as Jacob Lovelace, but told us he’d been given our number by Misters Jones and Burke, an estate agent we had previously dealt with. Lovelace, an altogether greasy character, said that he specialised in finding “unique, and out of the way properties”, and that he had come across something which fit our exact briefing, and would we be able to pop along to a viewing at our earliest convenience?
The property was in Camden, number 16 Plum Lane, and Lovelace greeted us outside the gate of the property once we followed his directions to the house. I surveyed it as Rian and I made pleasantries with the agent, who was just as greasy in real life as he had seemed across the phone. It seemed lovely from the outside; the front garden was lovely and well kept, the door painted a shiny black, reflecting distorting visions back to us. Although it was only 11 o’clock, there seemed to be no signs of life on the rest of the street. There were cars parked outside the other houses, sure, but there was no sense of life, if that makes sense. The air was dead, and all the curtains up and down Plum Lane were closed. It had the feeling of an abandoned nighttime street, but in the bright light of day.
“Where is everyone, it’s so quiet?”, I asked Lovelace.
“Hmm? Oh, they’re around here somewhere, I’d say. This is a fairly quiet area. They don’t do a lot of ‘out-and-about’ as it were, they mainly keep to themselves, and watch how things play out.”
Something about the way he said it made me feel nauseous. Lovelace’s eyes seemed to light up with hunger, as if he were searching my soul for some deep and hidden truth. I shuddered with revulsion under the soul searching intensity of his gaze. Rian coughed, diverting Lovelace’s attention for a moment, and just like that, the feeling was gone.
“Shall we see the property, mmmyes?” said Lovelace, as if nothing had happened at all.
The house was lovely, a spacious enough kitchen, two bedrooms upstairs, a comfortable sitting room, a small garden with a shed out the back. It was everything we could have wanted, and we said as much to Lovelace who informed us that if we wanted it we could have a deal closed by the end of the day. It didn’t take much conferring with Rian to agree. However odd Lovelace and the street seemed at first glance, the house more than made up for it. It was even below the budget we had put together from our meagre earnings and some money my parents had kindly given to us to help. Rian’s parents had died in a car crash two years before we got married. We took the house.
We got the paperwork and payments sorted fairly quickly, and, within a few days we had moved what few belongings we owned to the new house in the back of Rian’s old Volvo. Lovelace met us at the house on the day we moved in to hand us over the keys and some final paperwork. As he was leaving, he stopped in the doorway and turned, to give us a final parting gift of wisdom. He extended a long, bony, too pale hand, and gave us a black business card, embossed with the words ‘Jacob Lovelace, home purveyor’ and a phone number underneath in gold script.
“If you need anything, please feel free to contact me at the number on the card. I believe that is all.”
He turned to go.
“Oh, actually,” he said, turning in the doorway, “if you hear any knocking in the night, don’t mind it. It’s nothing… I’m sure.”
With this ominous piece of information and a coy smile, he left us, in the open doorway of our new home.
Things passed normally - well, as normally as they could in our strange new situation. Rian still went out every day to interviews and meetings with professors, and I stayed at home and perused job listing websites wondering if there is an actual practical use for my bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Language. As the days and weeks went by, we still hadn’t seen or heard anything of the other people who lived on Plum Lane. No children walked and played ball in the streets, no houseparents took out bin bags for an early morning collection, no one ever seemed to drive their cars, they stayed parked in driveways and on kerbsides. They just sat there, slowly rusting away. Call us old fashioned, but Rian and I expected at least one instance of that old tv standby: the quirky next door neighbour barging in the door with some food under their arm to welcome the newcomers to the street. But no. We’d been there a month and a half, and no one had so much as nodded at us. There wasn’t so much as a rumble of construction or clamour on the horizon. The birds seemed to be holding their breath.
We hadn’t seen the neighbours, in the traditional sense, but we did catch glimpses of… something. Sometimes, when Rian was driving down the road to work, or when I went for my midmorning jog, we would see the closed net curtains of a house twitch slightly, and inside there could be seen brief glimpses of some amorphous black shadow, vaguely resembling a face. Other times, it would be the slat of a letterbox poking up, and a milky white eye would make an appearance, rolling around, only for a second. A front door slightly ajar, would have a long, thin, black finger crooked around it, retracted soon after being noticed. They used to be infrequent sightings, only ever happening on rare enough occasions that Rian and I could dismiss what we had seen as merely a trick of our imaginations; but, as the days went on, they became increasingly more and more frequent. The number of curtains that twitched, mailboxes that opened, doors that stood ajar grew in number, until we could not leave the house without some form of observation from our unseen neighbours.
Out of the two of us, Rian was always the most rational. Anything that did not fit within the realm of the purely sane and natural, he dismissed, and I loved that about him. Even when all the other houses on Plum Lane seemed to hold some unseen watcher, beholding our every move, he maintained that we were merely seeing shadows, projected by our fears onto our neighbours. Still, I wasn’t quite sure he was right. Any time I so much as glanced out at the street, there it was. That heavy creeping feeling on the back of your neck that tells your brain that someone’s watching you. This feeling only seemed to increase a hundredfold if I stepped outside the door. I was at my wit’s end, and was nearly ready to quit my daily jogging, just stay inside for good, become a hermit. The fear of being watched was always there, unless my mind completely blocked out all thoughts of the street, but this was getting progressively harder and harder. The knowledge of the street was slowly filling my mind up to the edges, like a cup filled right up to the very rim. One which can hold no more for fear of the surface tension breaking. I wonder idly what would happen if the surface tension of my mind broke…
And then the knocking began.
We had all but forgotten the last thing Lovelace had told us before he left. We hadn’t seen him since, hadn’t contacted him at all, even with my fear of being watched out on the streets. I can’t remember how long exactly we had been living there when it started. Four months at least. Five, maybe. It was coming on midnight, 23:54, to be precise. I know this for certain because I was staring at the wavering red light of our bedside alarm clock while Rian slept soundly, his arm draped over my side. I had begun sleeping less and less, the knowledge that there was something out on the street watching me. The knowledge pulsed against the inside of my brain, I could feel an actual weight there as the information shifted and moved and settled over and over in my mind. How could I sleep when there was something out there that could watch me while I slept. I felt like it could watch me when I was unaware of it doing so. It felt like- It felt like a violation, somehow. Like if it could watch me when I was unaware of its doing so, it could get me, open me up, pull out all of my thoughts and memories.
It was 23:54 on the clock, when…
[HEAVY, REPEATED KNOCKING]
A knock came on the door. It was quick and heavy and insistent, like someone was in a rush to get our attention. I froze. Who could it be? As we had come to learn, no one on our street was in any hurry to make our acquaintance, and none of our friends and family had yet to visit Rian and I in our new house. None of them would be calling at this hour. The knocking was still going, still keeping its rhythm, as if the arm of whomever was knocking was incapable of tiring. Maybe someone’s car had broken down, and they were looking for a phone to call for help. In all our time at 16 Plum Lane, we had never seen another car moving other than ours.
I nudged Rian awake, and he sat up in a bleary fuzz.
“What’s that?”, he asked, finally noticing the knocking.
I can’t tell you how relieved I was that he had acknowledged it with my prompting. There are very few things that terrify me more than the idea of my mind becoming no longer my own. Before, it was an abstract fear, lingering on the edges of future possibility. Now it was real and tangible. Could the street worm its way into my thoughts, my memories, unmake me? The knocking still came.
“Honey, please go see who it is. Maybe someone needs help”, I said.
Rian didn’t look particularly happy with it, but he slowly got up and made his way downstairs in his pyjamas. I followed at a safe distance, in case there actually was something on the street that could harm us. Rian unlocked the door and pulled it open quickly. The knocking stopped abruptly, and out on the street there was… nothing. [KNOCKING SOUND ENDS] No one. The street was just as empty as it had always been, except this time, there seemed to be no sign of any of our unseen observers in the houses around us. For the first time in God knows how long, my knowledge of the street was quiet. My mind was silent.
We looked at each other in confused wariness. The look of a couple who have experienced something that is quite clearly outside of the conditions of absolute sanity, either in the world outside, or a shared delusion between them. We left the door open for another moment or two, waiting to see if anyone would come. Maybe they had given up when we hadn’t responded quickly enough and had moved onto a different door? Maybe they would come back when they saw ours was now open. When it became clear that no one was coming, we shut the door with a resounding thud. [KNOCKING RESUMES] No sooner had we done this than the knocking began again in earnest, repeating its incessant, repetitive call. Rian threw open the door once more, and the knocking ceased. [KNOCKING ENDS] We repeated this a few more times, with no sight of our mysterious knocker. After a while, we gave up trying to find the source of the knocking, locked the door, and headed back upstairs to bed. The knocking continued on into the morning, never letting up, never slowing down. It only ceased when the sun finally rose.
The knocking became a nightly occurrence. Beginning just before midnight and ending just once the sun rose. Rian and I were barely sleeping at all now, only a few scraps of it snatched here and there before the knocking - or the knowledge of it - broke through our dreams. It was in our heads now, drumming and beating against our skulls like a howling tempest. I knew for certain that something was wrong, that something not of this world was plaguing our house, knew we should move, but we were barely able to string a thought together, let alone coordinate and finance another house move. We no longer left the house, save for ten minute trips to the local shops to pick up groceries. Even then, we picked up very little, the knocking seemed so all consuming that it filled us up so much that there seemed like there was no room, no need, for food. The street was all we knew, all we needed. We left the house less and less and less, simply stayed inside waiting for the knock and observing each other, picking apart every flaw we could see in one another. When you looked at someone… and I mean really looked at them, how could you possibly love them. If you knew their every thought, every dark pocket of their mind, how could you love them? The calls and texts from the people Rian would usually meet grew fewer by the day, and eventually stopped entirely. People stopped caring. It was just Rian and I.
No. It was Rian and I and the street: us and the knowledge of what was out there, filling our minds but never making itself known.
The street was encroaching, and soon I could not escape the weight of it in my mind no matter how hard I tried. Where before, focusing on the house and not going outside the door had seemed to be a reprieve from the street, it now felt like a slowly shrinking prison. Looking back now, it’s humbling to realise you’ve been manipulated by a malevolent street, but I had. It had made me feel I was safe here, feel as if here was my only refuge, until I could no longer leave it. I was exactly where it wanted me to be. I was trapped. Well played, street. Well played.
I had lost all sense of the progression of time at this stage. Days were not measured by whatever the lying clock tried to tell us, there were only two times now: knocking and not knocking. Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. [A HUMOURLESS CHUCKLE] My eyes felt as if they were glazed in a thin coating of fire. I can’t remember now, but I’m almost certain that even in our dreams, the street was there, undulating and writhing in our minds.
The house was no longer safe. One of the evenings - I know you probably want exact dates - but I have no idea. Time did not exist. It was an evening anyway, and the clock said some time that had no meaning anymore. Rian was having a rare moment of sleep. He no longer held me, he lay curled in the foetal position, tossing and turning fitfully. It didn’t take much to guess what was in his mind. The street. Same as mine. It had come between us and eroded our marriage. [KNOCKING STARTS] The knocking started and I paid it little heed, the same tempo and rhythm as always. Idly, I wondered whether the knocking would ever stop, or whether we would waste away first: two skeletons lying together on the bed while the knock continued on and on. [ALMOST A WHISPER] Knock, knock, knock. Then, somehow above the knock, there was a new noise.
[CREAK OF SOMEONE STEPPING ONTO STAIRS, THEN ASCENDING]
Someone in the house. A bolt of panic shot through me. Even in whatever you would call the state Rian and I were in now, I still made sure the door was locked - it was a regular occurrence. Checking and rechecking to make sure there was no possibility of the street and the things out there and getting in. I had locked the door, hadn’t I? The door was locked, right? I froze completely, breathing heavily as the thing made its way up the stairs.
[DOOR CREAKS OPEN, KNOCKING ENDS]
The door swung open with a creak, and, for a moment… there was nothing. And then, around the door crooked a long, thin, black claw. It swung the door fully open, and I saw the owner of the claw. It was a bent and twisted creature, all tall and gangly limbs, darker than any of the shadows around it. It was like someone had cut a hole through reality into the depths of space. And then… And then… It opened its eyes… All of them. And I screamed.
Rian shot awake, making sure I was okay. I began to tell him, but the words died in the back of my throat. When I finally brought my eyes back up to the door, not only was there no creature standing there made of a hundred thousand blinking, writhing eyes, but the door wasn’t even so much as open. Rian tried to tell me that it was just a nightmare, the product of a feverish brain. But I could tell from the haunted look in his eyes that he really didn’t believe his own words. As we paced the house, trying to prove to whatever rational parts of our brain still existed, that because the door was locked, the house empty, that nothing could have possibly gotten in from the street outside. Even then, we knew that this wasn’t true. That thing had come in, come into our home off the street, regardless of whether or not the door was closed and locked. I knew this as a certainty, as certain as I used to know my husband. The bleary, frazzled, and dishevelled man that stood across from me… was he my husband? He was a stranger, really. I didn’t know him. We were two strangers, the only thing we had in common was the fact we were trapped by the same street.
It’s funny how quickly things came to a head, after such a long and drawn out campaign of terror. This was the night that Rian… that he… well… you know. We were in bed again, I think we spent most of our time lying on the bed, not speaking to each other, not holding one another. Not knowing each other. I avoided looking at Rian’s face as I avoided looking in the mirror. I no longer knew the haggard, haunted face which returned my gaze from that mirror. The time shifted from not knocking to knocking, and it began as it always did. This time, however, it was different.
[KNOCKING BEGINS AND GROWS LOUDER]
The knocking started to grow louder and louder, until it boomed like cannon fire, like we were in the middle of a warzone. More and more knocks joined the original, slightly asynchronous, so we could hear each and every one of them as they landed all around us. On the doors, on the walls… in our minds. The street was in our minds, and now it was getting out, because, from inside my mind - and, I imagine from the inside of Rian’s, too - the knock came back with force, joining the many ones already knocking.
I’ve heard people say that the mind is like rubber, that it can stretch out to accommodate any new information we learn. But only for so long. This was the point when Rian’s mind finally exceeded the conditions of absolute reality. It had stretched and stretched, continually trying to rationalise the presence of the street in his mind. And now it had snapped. He shot up out of the bed, and stormed downstairs. I imagined if he had been dressed, he’d be pushing his shirtsleeves up over his elbows.
“That’s it”, he roared. “If they want me, they’ve got me!”
I followed behind him, worry sparking up within me, despite the fog of unrecognition inside. I waited in sick anticipation as Rian flew down the stairs, reached the door and unlocked it. I was halfway down the stairs as he threw it open…
At the door stood one of the creatures made up of hundreds of thousands of living eyes. Behind it, were hundreds more, filling up the street, all their eyes open, roving. When they blinked, they didn’t blink them all at once, they blinked each in turn, like some great rolling wave. All of the doors and all of the windows on the houses on the street were thrown open. Finally, our neighbours had come out to greet us. The sight of the neighbours froze Rian in his tracks, his bluster completely evaporated. He sputtered incoherently as his mind completely fractured, and the street poured in like a river. The neighbour closest to the door reached out its thin, clawlike appendage, pulsating with eyes. It landed on Rian’s shoulder, and there was a bright, blinding flash of white light. Rian was gone.
[SHORT SIGH] Although it’s not up to me to pass judgement, parts of Miss Ní Bhróin’s statement quite clearly do not stand up to scrutiny. Even the most basic of inquiries reveals that there is no such street, lane, boulevard, or avenue as Plum Lane in Camden. While Miss Ní Bhróin’s statement gives very little in the way of dates and times, which normally would strip similar statements of any and all credibility, we do have some dates available.
We followed up with Misters Jones and Burke, the agents Miss Ní Bhróin mentioned, in researching her statement. Although they admitted to never having known a Mr Jacob Lovelace, and would never have given a client’s information to anyone else without prior permission from the client themselves, they did have a copy of the paperwork Miss Ní Bhróin and her husband signed. They stated that they had received the paperwork in an unmarked envelope that was slid under the door of their premises. The paperwork is dated March 2nd, 2001, and does indeed list a property on Plum Lane. Mr Jacob Lovelace’s signature also appears on the paperwork, although all of the Bureau’s efforts to track him down have been so far unsuccessful.
A missing person’s statement was filed with The Metropolitan Police for Rian MacCullough - it seems Miss Ní Bhróin kept her maiden name - on June 30th of 2001, and is the date of incident listed on her statement to us, as it is the closest date to when the reported events allegedly happened. An excerpt from the transcript of her statement to the Met reads thus:
[RUSTLE AND SNAP OF PAPER AS SOMEONE HOLDS IT]
“[…] I waited for I don’t know how long after he was taken… , disappeared…, whatever you want to call it. Just in case he came back, or they returned him. Or, I don’t know. When I was certain he wasn’t coming back, that’s when I decided to come to you […]”
One last thing. Miss Ní Bhróin did provide us with the business card given to her by Mr. Lovelace. On first inspection, the card reads “Jacob Lovelace, home voyeur”, and not “purveyor”, as Miss Ní Bhróin had originally thought. The number listed on the card is active, and when rung, well… I suppose it’s better for you to just hear it for yourself.
[AN UNNATURALLY DEEP, DISTORTED, ECHOING VOICE] …we see you in the darkness while you run and scramble and fight and flee and in the darkness you think you have escaped in the dark oh yes but you cannot we see you with a hundred thousand million eyes in the dark all open and blinking you cannot escape from our gaze we see you we know you we are the unblinking eye and we are the prickle on the back of your neck when you think you are alone and we are–
[NORMAL NARRATOR’S VOICE] We have tried calling that number several times, and each time, the voice - presumably Mr Lovelace himself - continues this unbroken stream of consciousness-esque monologue, never repeating itself. It sounds vaguely incantatory or ritualistic in nature, and so we’ve set Bronagh to trying to find any match between this chant and ones used by various mystic and occult groups. Until then, there is nothing more to do than report my findings to Katie, and file this case under ‘Ongoing Investigations’.
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This episode of For The Record was written, directed, edited and produced by Nigel McKeon. It starred Jenna ‘Mars’ Rembaum as “Niamh Donnelly” and Floris ‘Swiftly’ Bordewijk as “Jacob Lovelace”. It used sounds from freesound.org, under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial International License. For full accreditation, please see the show notes. To be kept up to date on future episodes, submit your statement, or get involved in production, you can follow us on Twitter @ftrecordpod, on Tumblr at fortherecordpod or view our website at fortherecordpodcast.co.uk. Stay safe, take care, and keep watching.