It’s an honor to welcome back to my website esteemed author of Gothic horror, Catherine Cavendish, this time with an eerie story about a widespread haunting that I had never heard of before (and I’m a sucker for these kind of stories). She’s making the rounds to get the word out about her latest novel, The Devil’s Serenade, which has received much early praise. I hope you’ll check it out.
Meanwhile, enjoy this little-known story about a string of houses that all experienced the same paranormal assault. Take it away, Catherine..
My new novel – The Devil’s Serenade – mostly takes place in an imposing Gothic style mansion built by Victorian industrialist Nathaniel Hargest. When Maddie Chambers inherits it from her Aunt Charlotte, she soon discovers she has acquired far more than mere bricks and mortar. From the strange appearance of tree roots growing in the cellar to the manifestations, noises and a nostalgic wartime song played again and again, Maddie’s fears grow and intensify. What is going on here – and who, or what, is seemingly hell-bent on driving her insane?
Of course, my novel is just that – fiction. But, in real life, there have been numerous reports of houses cursed or possessed by demons. Sometimes these emanate from the ground on which the house was built. Other times, the builder of the house has somehow managed to impart his – or her – evil into the fabric of the place so that it becomes irrevocably woven into the walls.
It is rather more unusual to find an entire street affected by paranormal behavior, but such was the case back in 1981 when three years of terror began for the residents of Thornton Road, Ward End in Birmingham (U.K.)
Those who lived through this lengthy ordeal remain traumatized by their experiences and police and churchmen were left baffled by all that occurred.
Windows were repeatedly smashed by polished stones that seemed to rain down from the night sky with no human hand involved. Roofs were damaged and residents erected barricades in a futile attempt to keep out the attackers. Police officers mounted round the clock surveillance by camping out in gardens and setting up cameras but their quarry remained mysteriously elusive.
Chief Inspector Len Turley, who was in charge of the investigation, said, “We have spent more than 1,000 man hours on this case. We are keeping an open mind about the whole thing. We don’t know why it’s gone on for so long.”
No one could even fathom out the reason why this street had been targeted in this way – the hub of activity centering on Numbers 32, 34 and 36. To this day, residents are divided on whether the attacks were of paranormal origin or whether human vandals were involved.
At the time though, with no one else to turn to, residents called in paranormal investigators and clergy.
The frightened householders wore safety helmets for protection, stretched chicken wire over windows and even laced cotton thread around their gardens to see if it would be broken by intruders. It never was, but the attacks continued. One girl who was seventeen years old at the time, remembered hearing the stones rolling off her roof at number 32. “It was so weird,” Natalie Holford said. “There were police everywhere and they even put a camera in one of our rooms. My mum was at her wits’ end. It was the lack of sleep.”
The residents of number 36 at the time are still there. Geoffrey Sidebotham shares the house with his sister but back in 1981, their parents also lived there. He maintains the nightmare they endured hastened the death of his mother. She died in 1982. Sidebotham worked nights at the time so was never present when the attacks took place. He is convinced the ordeal they all endured was the result of human hands and that somewhere, the culprit or culprits remain at large.
“Windows were smashed every night by stones. As soon as you replaced one, it would be put through again,” he said.
The police believed the culprit was someone using a giant catapult to project the stones from around 200 yards away. They vowed they would one day get their ‘man’.
Thirty-five years on, they are still looking.
Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…
“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.
She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.
Here’s an extract:
A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.
The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.
I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.
I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.
I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.
You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:
About the author:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows. Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.
You can connect with Cat here:
To learn even more about Catherine Cavendish, check out this interview between the two of us HERE.