I found Tom standing outside Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen in Golden Lane. A hug was followed by his first question. He wanted to know if our new residence was situated well away from evil that enveloped the luxury apartment block from which we were about to collect his things.
“Thank God,” Tom said with genuine fervor after I told him we’d be residing approximately three kilometers away. “On your account I am delighted. As to myself, I assure you that no earthly consideration could have induced me ever again to pass a night in this monstrous luxury development.”
“Confound The Denizen!” I ejaculated, with a genuine mixture of fear and detestation. “We did not have a single pleasant hour when we lived here.” I went on and related my adventure with the plethoric old rat.
“Well, if that were all,” said my cousin, affecting to make light of the matter, “I don’t think I should have minded it very much.”
“If you’d seen the evil creature you wouldn’t say that!” I replied. “But I want to hear about your Denizen experiences.”
At this challenge he looked uneasily round him. Clearly I was stirring up unpleasant recollections.
“You shall hear it, Dick! I’ll tell you everything once we’re in my father’s investment property and the sexy cleaning lady arrives to pack my things,” he said. ” I shall feel quite queer just going up there, though we are too strong a body for ghosts to meddle with in the middle of the day.”
The middle-aged bleached blonde cleaning lady packed up Tom’s things while we sat and chatted in the living room. She soon suspended operations and with mouth and eyes wide open became an absorbed listener. Tom’s experiences were told in these words:
“I saw it three times, Dick and I am perfectly certain it meant me some infernal harm. I was in extreme danger, for had we not escaped my reason would most certainly have failed me. Thank God we’ve escaped from the City of London to Islington!
“The first night of this hateful disturbance, I was lying in the attitude of sleep in my lumbering bed. I was really wide awake, though I had put out my light and was lying as quietly as if I had been asleep. Although I was restless my thoughts were running in a cheerful and agreeable channel.
“I thought I heard a sound in an odious dark recess at the far end of the bedroom. It was as if someone was drawing a piece of cord slowly along the floor, lifting it up and dropping it softly down again in coils. I sat up once or twice in my bed, but could see nothing, so I concluded I was imagining it. I felt no emotion graver than curiosity and after a few minutes ceased to observe it.
“While lying in this state without at first a suspicion of anything supernatural, I suddenly and unexpectedly saw an old man, stout and square, in a sort of roan-red dressing-gown, and with a black cap on his head, moving stiffly and slowly across the floor of the bedroom, passing my bed at the foot and entering the fitted wardrobe. He had something under his arm, his head hung a little at one side and when I saw his face! My God! I hate to think of it!”
Tom stopped for a while, and then said:
“That awful countenance, which living or dying I never can forget, disclosed what he was. Without turning to the right or left, he passed beside me and entered the closet.
“While this fearful and indescribable type of death and guilt was passing, I felt that I had no more power to speak or stir than if I had been myself a corpse. For hours after it had disappeared, I was too terrified and weak to move. As soon as daylight came, I took courage, and examined the room and especially the course which the frightful intruder had taken, but there was not a vestige to indicate anybody’s having passed there and no sign of any disturbing agency visible among my clothes in the closet.
“I was exhausted and at last overpowered by a feverish sleep. I came down late and found you out of spirits, on account of your dreams about the portrait superimposed upon your window, whose original I am now certain disclosed himself to me, I did not care to talk about the infernal vision. In fact I was trying to persuade myself that the whole thing was a delusion and I did not want to risk the constancy of my scepticism by recounting the tale of my sufferings.
“It required some nerve to go to my haunted chamber the next night and lie down,” continued Tom. “I did so with a degree of trepidation. That night passed off quietly enough, as also the next. As did two or three after that. I grew more confident and began to fancy that I believed in the theories of spectral illusions, with which I had at first vainly tried to impose upon my convictions.
“The apparition had been altogether anomalous. It had crossed the room without any recognition of my presence. I had not disturbed it and it had not acknowledged me. What then was the point of its crossing the room in a visible shape at all? Besides how had I seen it? It was a dark night and there was no light in the room. The window is so overshadowed by neighboring buildings it hardly let’s any moonlight in even when that orb is not obscured by clouds, as it would have been on that night. And yet I saw the spectre as distinctly as ever I beheld human form! A cataleptic dream would explain it all and I was determined that a dream it should be.
“The ghoul had not appeared a second time, that certainly was a comfort. I was nothing the worse for having seen him and a good story the better. So I tumbled into bed, put out my light and cheered by a loud drunken quarrel in the street outside, fell fast asleep.
“From this deep slumber I awoke with a start. I knew I’d had a horrible dream but what it was I could not remember. My heart was thumping furiously. I felt bewildered and feverish. I sat up and looked about the room. There was the illusion of a broad flood of moonlight in the room and yet the curtain was drawn and the neighboring building would have blocked any illumination there was from a heavenly body. Everything was as I had last seen it. I lay down again and closing my eyes did my best to think of nothing but the various women I wished were in my arms.
“Eventually I sank myself into a doze that was neither sound nor refreshing. Somehow the image of our cleaning lady had got into my head and I was dreaming she’d accepted my money. I was caressing her doughy figure and solid breasts. Her bleached hair was dry and brittle when I touched it and her blue eyes invited me to drown in their depths. In my dream, as in life, she was older than my mother. But in my fantasy she was prepared to do all sorts of things my mother would never do, or at least would never do with me!
“How long this semi-lucid dream continued in my uncomfortable half-sleep I don’t know. But in my fantasy I got the cleaning lady to call up her daughter on my mobile and I had a threesome with them both. Eventually I found myself muttering, ‘dead as a door-nail, so there was an end’; and something like another voice within me, seemed to say, very faintly, but sharply: ‘dead! dead! dead! and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!’ Instantaneously I was wide awake. I saw the same accursed figure standing and gazing at me with its stony and fiendish countenance from half-way across the room.”
Tom stopped here and wiped the perspiration from his face. I felt very queer. Our middle-aged cleaning lady was as red-faced as Tom was pale. She stormed out of the room saying we could keep our money, coz she didn’t want to work for someone who indulged in such filthy fantasies about her and her daughter! “I’m a respectable woman!” The cleaner screamed as she slammed our door behind her. Tom and I were grateful for this disturbance and the clear daylight outside.
“For a few seconds I saw it plainly, then it grew indistinct. For a long time there was something like a column of dark vapour where it had been standing and I felt sure that he was still there. Eventually this last trace of the phantom disappeared too. I dressed, then went out into the street and walked about the City till morning. When I came back I was in a miserable state of nervousness and exhaustion. I thought you would laugh at me and so I kept my tale of horror to myself.
“For many nights after this last experience I did not go to my room at all. I used to sit up for a while in the living room after you had gone up to your bed and then steal out of The Denizen. I’d go and sit in the Slice of Life or some other Smithfield café that was open all night. I’d come home at dawn and catch whatever sleep I could but never in my bed. I sometimes had a snooze on in the library at college and I’d try to nap on a chair in the living room until you got up. But I had absolutely no regular sleep.
“I was quite resolved that we should find another flat but I could not bring myself to tell you the reason and I somehow put it off from day to day, although my life was rendered absolutely miserable. I was growing seriously ill from this wretched mode of life.
‘One afternoon I determined to enjoy an hour’s sleep on your bed. I hated mine, so that I had never, except in a stealthy visit every day to unmake it, lest our sexy blue-eyed cleaner should discover the secret of my nightly absence, entered the ill-omened chamber.
“You had locked your bedroom and taken away the key. I went into my own to unsettle the bedclothes and give the bed the appearance of having been slept in. Now a variety of circumstances concurred to bring about the dreadful scene through which I was that night to pass. Firstly I was literally overpowered with fatigue and longing for sleep. Secondly the effect of this extreme exhaustion upon my nerves resembled that of a narcotic and rendered me less susceptible than I should have been to the fears that had become habitual to me. Then again, a little bit of the window was open, a pleasant freshness pervaded the room, and it was day time. What was there to prevent my enjoying an hour’s nap on my own bed?
“I yielded to the almost overpowering temptation and I lay down, deciding to limit myself to half-an-hour’s doze in a proper bed.
“It was horribly insidious and the demon no doubt marked my infatuated preparations. Dolt that I was with mind and body worn out for want of sleep, and an arrear of a full week’s rest to my credit, I should have realised I wasn’t going to wake before it was dark. My sleep was death-like, long, and dreamless.
‘Without a start or fearful sensation of any kind, I woke up. It was long past midnight. When sleep has been deep and long enough to satisfy nature thoroughly, one often wakens in this way, suddenly, tranquilly, and completely.
‘There was a figure seated in the chair in my room. There was the stony face, with its infernal lineaments of malignity and despair, gloating on me. There was now no doubt as to its consciousness of my presence and the hellish malice with which it was animated, for it arose and drew close to the bedside. There was a rope about its neck, and the other end, coiled up, it held stiffly in its hand.
“My good angel nerved me for this horrible crisis. I remained for some seconds transfixed by the gaze of this tremendous phantom. He came close to the bed and appeared on the point of mounting upon it. The next instant I was upon the floor at the far side, and in a moment more was, I don’t know how, in the living room.
“But the spell was not yet broken. The valley of the shadow of death was not yet traversed. The abhorred phantom was before me there. It was standing near the balcony door, stooping a little and with one end of the rope round its own neck, was poising a noose at the other, as if to throw over mine. While engaged in this baleful pantomime, it wore a smile so sensual, so unspeakably dreadful, that my senses were nearly overpowered. I saw and remember nothing more, until I found myself in your room.
We finished packing up Tom’s possessions and called for an Uber cab, since we wanted to leave Golden Lane well before sunset. While we waited for the taxi we spoke to the concierge who told us that the phantom we’d seen was the ghost of Judge Horrock. He was a hanging judge of the seventeenth-century who’d hung himself when caught in flagrante with a young man in a molly house that had once stood on the site of The Denizen. This gay establishment stood next to a more regular brothel that had also been built on land now occupied by The Denizen. Horrock’s wife and the two Sheriffs of the City of London had men out searching for him because a man he’d sentenced to death had escaped from his condemned cell leaving behind only a note saying he’d kill Horrock if it was the last thing he did before he died. This the criminal had intended that as a ruse to confuse those who might come after him about his whereabouts, since his plan was to flee London. But the note really had the effect of killing Horrock, who was caught engaged in the then capital offense of sodomy.
The concierge said all those who’d tried living in The Denizen’s ghost flats had either fled after being menaced by Horrock’s ghost, or had been found dead in their investment property showing signs of deep fright in the last moments of life. That was why the luxury development was so empty. Certainly Tom and I had seen no other residents while we lived there.