It was early 2014 and I was working as a live in carer. It wasn’t as bad as all that…certainly not as bad as some of the jobs I’d done. The woman I was caring for didn’t need a lot of help in terms of taking care of herself. There were just a few physical tasks that were hard for her at her age and in her condition. I was more of a maid than a carer in all honesty.
She was still sharp as a tack. Wicked smart and with a biting sense of humour. And the house she lived in! It was easily one of the most magnificent homes I’d ever stepped foot in. It was like if you got Howard Hughes and Gomez Addams to design a mansion. Four floors, easily over a hundred rooms. A room for every possible function, sometimes more than one.
A library, a games room, a screening room…this old projector and all these old films all set up and ready to go, drawing room, a kitchen, this great dining room with a table you could seat two dozen people around…I could go on. From the outside the place looked like it had seen better days to be sure. It was overgrown with ivy and the brickwork was crumbling in places to be sure, but on the inside…oh on the inside it was beautiful.
I mean it was my job to keep it looking that way, just like it had been the job of the person before me. Dusting, sweeping, cleaning…these were all duties I had to perform as part of my employment. But I was certainly paid well enough for it. More than I’d been paid at any job before or at any job since.
The woman I was caring for was this old Hollywood actress, Victoria Simpson was her name. I remember on the first day I made a crack about her last name, asked her if she was any relation to Homer and Marge. She gave me A Look and after that I never tried to joke with her again. Oh I’d laugh at hers when she made them but I decided I would be better keeping my own attempts at humour to myself
She wasn’t an ogre or anything. She could be bad tempered in that kind of general way I think a lot of people get when they’re older…she had that anger I’d seen in my own grandparents and my parents too, at the fact she was getting older and the things that had come easily were now more and more challenging. But she wasn’t cruel or spiteful. Not to me, anyway. I’d been warned by the last person to hold the job that she could be “Challenging” but to be honest after the first few weeks we settled into a fairly easy routine.
I’d do my chores, when she needed me she’d press a buzzer or ring her little bell or just call out for me. And that was how it went. No I never had any problem with her. The house itself though…that took a little getting used to.
As I said there were a lot of rooms. And some of them had some of the strangest things in them. There was one room; it was just full of these strange little puppets. Marionettes, tons of them. All carefully sculpted and incredibly strange to look at. And there was a room with this great carousel, a hideous looking thing. It didn’t have horses on it. It had these figures…stuffed taxidermy animals but animals that had been posed to look like they were alive.
Not just alive but walking upright. Walking or running or jumping like people. These awful glassy eyes and gaping toothy mouths and little paws and claws posed as if they were in the middle of playing a game together or giving chase. I always dusted that room first when it was time to clean around the place so that I could get it done right away.
I can’t say why they made me so uneasy. I’d seen stuffed animals before. But there was something a little too…I don’t know. Lifelike? No that’s not it. They didn’t just look like they had been alive, which obviously they had. They looked like they were STILL alive. Like at any moment they were going to spring to life and play and caper. Like those glassy eyes were watching my every move, carefully and intently. Every time I cleaned that room it felt like they were judging how I did my job.
And then there were the noises at night.
All old houses make noise. Creaking floorboards, rattling window panes…I know Hollywood likes to make us think each one is proof that the place is haunted or there’s a madman living in the walls or something but the truth is that sometimes strange noises in an old house are just…an old house making strange noises. But all the same, the first few nights I did find it a little unnerving. I’d hear these odd little sounds and find my mind wandering to all kinds of morbid things.
And there were times…usually at night but sometimes during the day…there were times when I’d think I’d catch sight of something. Out of the corner of my eye. There’d never be anything there when I looked properly. In the end I told myself it was probably just a mouse. The house was out in the country and very old. It would be easy for one to get in through the cracks and gaps in its exterior. Or maybe I was just imagining things.
I remember the day when things started to get bad though. Or at least the day that I think heralded the change. It started out ordinary enough. I’d finished preparing a soup for Ms Simpson’s lunch and I went through the house, calling her name. I finally found her in the little viewing room. She had the projector on and music playing and a glass of scotch in her hand. One of her old films was playing and she was lost in it.
I felt like I was intruding and I went to leave but she spoke. She must have heard me there, on the threshold. She spoke in this terribly sad voice.
“I could have done so much more, you know.
If I’d stuck to it. If I’d seen it through. If I’d gone that bit further”
I told her that I had lunch prepared if she would like it now and she turned and looked at me as if she had only just realised who was there, as if being reminded that it was me had caught her off guard. And then she just turned back towards the screen.
“The worst thing you can ever tell someone, you know. To follow their dream.
We never tell the poor bastards where it’ll lead”
I got the feeling that she was off in her own world right now. I placed the soup down on the table beside her and told her if she needed anything I’d be nearby. She didn’t respond.
I didn’t see her again until later that day. She invited me to join her for a drink. I got the fire going and she poured us both a brandy. I insisted on having just a small one. In all honesty I shouldn’t have been drinking at all but I reasoned that a small drink wouldn’t do any harm. We sat there, the fire crackling away. It was the only light in the room and it threw the most marvellous and strange looking shadows across the room and over the two of us.
She asked me what I wanted out of life. She asked me what my aspirations were, my dreams. I wracked my brains for a proper response and she quickly became impatient.
“Well you can’t want to look after an old wreck like me your whole life girl. You’re young. Fairly pretty. I can’t imagine there’s much stopping you getting out there, getting what you want”
I admitted that I hadn’t really thought much about it. The honest truth was that I didn’t really have a “Plan” for my life. Things just sort of happened, one after another. I could tell that this response didn’t fill her with joy and I felt like I was in the presence of a stern and disapproving grandmother or a particularly caustic teacher, annoyed at their pupil’s dim-witted nature.
“When I was your age I knew exactly what I wanted. And I got it, by god.
No matter what it cost. No matter what I had to do. I got it”
I didn’t know what to say but she was speaking before I got the chance to offer anything in way of response to this. The drink had definitely loosened her tongue.
“Lawton. God, what a bastard the man was. Oh you wouldn’t know it to look at him, but everyone who got close enough to him knew. They could see what was behind that twinkle in his eye sure enough”
I imagined that she was thinking back bitterly on some past director she’d worked with. Someone for whom she’d had a bad experience or who perhaps she’d had to do some kind of “Favour” for. We’re all pretty familiar with the “Hollywood Casting Couch” at this point, aren’t we? I asked her if Lawton was someone she’d worked with when she’d been an actor. She snorted and poured herself another drink.
“Oh you could say that.
Marcus Lawton. Thought the man was an ass right from the start. If I’d known…well, I’d probably still have done it”
“Sounds like you didn’t like him much” I offered which I realised sounded lame as soon as I said it. She snorted with laughter once more but I got the impression it wasn’t at the nature of my remark. It felt more like she was laughing at her own private little joke.
“No one liked Lawton. We just needed him. He made things happen. If you helped him. If you got him what he wanted.
If you kept him and his lot happy”
I wasn’t sure what that meant and there was something in the way she said it that made me think I’d rather not know. As we sat there in the firelight the silence in the room became uncomfortable. She was looking at me closely. Studying me. As if she was only properly seeing me now for the first time.
“You seen them, yet?”
I paused, the drink halfway to my lips. I told her I didn’t know what she meant but her stare…it made me feel like I was something on a high school work bench, being dissected and studied. I squirmed uncomfortably in the seat beneath her gaze.
“You have, haven’t you? I can always tell. Happened with the girl before you…Jenna or Jenny or Jamie or whatever her damned name was”
It had in fact been Jenny but I didn’t bother to correct her on that point. I was more curious about what she was talking about and I asked her that very thing, as delicately and politely as I could. She smiled, showing off a mouthful of pearly white false teeth. Smiled and raised her glass to me, as if toasting my success at something.
“Oh you know. Corner of your eye. They’re quick as a flash when they want to be. But they like being seen”
“What are?” I asked her.
“What gets left behind”
She didn’t explain further that night. She announced that she was ready for bed and as I took her up to her rooms I kept my questions to myself. Oh I had plenty of them, don’t get me wrong. But I also got the impression that now wasn’t the time to ask them. And she didn’t seem to be in any hurry to offer any further information that night.
I locked my door once I was in my room.
And it still took me longer than usual to get off to sleep as I told myself that the odd creaks and groans that were a normal part of the house didn’t sound closer to my bedroom door than they had on previous evenings.
I was on edge a lot the following days. Each noise made me start. Each time I thought I caught something just on the edge of my vision it made me whip my head around, my body tense. I felt like a gazelle in a lion enclosure.
Victoria was much less chatty over the next few weeks. She spent a lot of time in the viewing room, watching her old films. I’d often walk past and see her there, drink in hand. Lost in her memories of when things had been better for her, I supposed. Though she rarely seemed all that happy afterwards.
It was maybe a month after that first strange conversation that things took another odd turn. I was eating dinner with her, a rare occurrence but one that was normally enjoyable as she’d often rattle off anecdotes from the hilarious and scandalous to the poignant and moving about actors she’d worked with, experiences she’d had and friends she’d lost.
This time however when she spoke up it was to ask me a question, blunt and direct and accompanied by a hard stare:
“What would you do?
To get what you want?”
I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant or why she was asking me this and I asked her what she meant. She scoffed, her eyes still locked upon me.
“It’s a simple enough question girl. To get what you want. What would you do? How far would you go?
Is there anything you wouldn’t do?”
I didn’t know if something had gone missing and she was accusing me of something, if she thought I’d stolen something valuable or something like that. And if I was wrong I’d feel intensely awkward about bringing the possibility up. So I just answered as carefully as I could that of course there were things I wouldn’t do, for any reason.
Again she scoffed.
“Oh we all thought that once.
Before we met Lawton we all thought that”
I cleared my throat nervously, trying not to show my discomfort.
“Lawton…he was that director you mentioned, wasn’t he?”
“Marcus Lawton was a lot of things, girl.
And yes, a director too I suppose”
She chuckled to herself and drank deeply from the glass of wine beside her. She was no longer staring at me but I still felt that same uncomfortable energy in the room.
“Oh just look at you.
We’d have eaten you alive, you know. Chewed you up and spat you out.
Soft. That’s what your generation is. Soft. Don’t know what it is to need. Don’t know what it is to burn inside.
Lawton burned. Burned himself up in the end but god how he burned. And we all burned with him”
Before I could ask anything more, though I don’t really know what I would have asked in response to this she announced that she was feeling too tired to finish her meal and asked me to help her up to bed. As I did so we passed by some of her old posters on the walls, her eyes lingering on each one as we passed them by.
“I was so desperate.
So naïve, at first. But I learned. Oh I learned. You’ve got to have teeth to survive, girl. Got to be strong. Got to make sacrifices”
She chuckled at that to herself and then went silent again for a while. It was after she was tucked up in bed that she spoke for the final time that night and I wasn’t even sure if it was to me or to the room.
“Burned the others up one by one. Won’t be long now. Can feel it. They’re eager. Can’t wait to get their claws into me”
Because I was once again feeling too unsettled to sleep that night I stayed up on my laptop and attempted to find out what I could about the man she’d mentioned. I’d expected to find out that Lawton had been some kind of 1930’s Harvey Weinstein in all honesty but I had not been at all prepared for what I actually discovered as I searched through the results.
Lawton’s family had come over from Ireland sometime in the early 1900’s and his parents had passed away when he was still fairly young. There had been a period of his life where he’d been mostly unaccounted for and then in 1927 he’d made the scene, flush with cash and rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful. Partly because he was supplying them with all the drugs and women they could ever ask for.
Like a cocaine fuelled Jay Gatsby he’d found himself a figure of both fame and infamy among the right people and a lot of the wrong ones and had begun directing, writing and producing his own pictures sometime in the mid-thirties. Despite or perhaps because of the scandal and rumour that dogged him he’d had no shortage of big stars of the time lining up for parts in his films.
However things had come to a sordid end when in 1949 during the performance of a play he’d written and produced by the unwieldly name of “The Clock Maker and his Apprentice: A Cautionary Tale” there had been an act of arson at the theatre that claimed the lives of the cast and crew. Though not the life of Marcus Lawton, who was found to have slit his own wrists after setting the fire himself, in a truly gargantuan and grotesque act of murder/suicide.
It was after this that much more about him came to light. Allegations by various actresses, the youngest of whom was only fourteen years old of sexual abuse, harassment and “Acts so appalling that many detectives working the case retired rather than see it to completion”. It was also found that far from being “Only” a rapist and drug abuser, Lawton was a person of interest in a number of truly bizarre missing person’s cases.
The accounts about his behaviour in his final days detailed how he’d become firmly convinced that he had been tasked with feeding souls “Tainted by violence” to some kind of entity or entities that many believed he’d simply manufactured in his own warped head.
Only two of the films he’d made still existed in any form and had, understandably, not seen any kind of commercial release. IMDB did have cast lists for all six of the films he’d worked on however and I noticed as I looked through them that Victoria’s name didn’t appear once. It certainly left the question of how she’d known him but having read what I had so far I found myself perfectly alright with not knowing the answer to that question.
Something happened a few days after that.
Something happened that I can’t explain. That I haven’t told anyone about because…well, because I thought they would think I was crazy. There’s a lot that happened in those final weeks I was at the house that I can’t properly explain and this was definitely the first incident that made me stop and think maybe I should just leave.
I was cleaning one of the halls. And, as had become more and more frequent, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. And when I turned to look…
It was one of the animals.
One of the little taxidermy animals from the carousel. This little fox. Peeking its head around the corner, glassy eyes gleaming. Stood on its hind legs, that little green and purple waistcoat sewn to its body, one of its little stiff paws resting on the wall. That mouth unnaturally gaping open showing off those pointy little teeth.
Those glass eyes looking right at me, its head cocked to the side. I dropped the broom I’d been holding and it clattered to the ground and the sound made me start, made me blink. And it was gone.
I went to check. As insane as that must sound, I went to check the carousel in that strange little room. The fox was still there in its usual place, along with the cats and rabbits and dogs. Stiff and unmoving and thoroughly dead. And even if it had been alive it couldn’t have stood the way the thing in the corridor had stood.
I locked the room from the outside. I didn’t want to go near it. I didn’t want to be anywhere near it ever again. It wasn’t as if Ms Simpson used the room as far as I could tell except for storage. I doubted she’d notice if it wasn’t being kept clean. Let those ghastly old things gather dust and be left alone.
I asked her about them, one day. I was serving her a meal and I asked her, as casually as I could, about where they’d come from. If they’d been props from a movie she’d worked on. I desperately wanted there to be some thoroughly mundane explanation for their presence. Something that would help me convince myself that what I’d seen had been my mind playing tricks on me because of how unnerved I’d been recently.
She looked at me as if she could tell right away that there was something more than polite interest behind my question. She smiled this odd little smile.
“Oh they were from a film alright.
But not one of mine. One of his.
And they were a good deal more than props I can tell you”
I asked her what she meant and she just chuckled. Chuckled and muttered about how “Maybe she’d show me one day” before adding to herself “One day soon. Not many days left”
I’m sure those reading this think I should have quit. Looking back I think I should have as well. But the money…the money at this job was incredible. And I hadn’t been put in the way of any harm. I’d just been spooked by some strange noises and seen something that, I reasoned, couldn’t have been real. I deluded myself into thinking there was nothing to worry about. Convinced myself that it would all be fine.
Then came my last day working there.
The week beforehand had been a strange one. Victoria had been more and more reluctant to engage in any way, instead often shutting herself up in the viewing room with the door closed. I’d hear her muttering to herself often and talking to the empty air around her as if she was convinced she was being pestered by a nosy and invasive crowd. I would only ever catch little snippets of what she said but it was clear that she was in a very anxious state of mind.
“Go away, go away…not like the others didn’t do worse, didn’t do worse than I did”
“Knew what you were getting into…all of you should have known what you were getting into, stupid little wretches, stupid little things getting into trouble…”
“Not yet, not yet, the others go take the others leave me be, just leave it be”
I was becoming more and more worried that her mental faculties weren’t as strong as I’d believed them to be. I considered whether I should do something about this but…she had always seemed so lucid and so intelligent before now. And the house, with the exception of that one unsettling room, was such a beautiful home that clearly meant a lot to her. The thought of taking her away from it to be shut up in some old folks home was heart-breaking to me.
On top of that, the sounds at night had begun to become more and more strange. It was no longer just creaking floorboards and rattling windows. I could hear of a night this strange and rapid clicking. This “Tick tick tick” sound that reminded me of the sound of a dogs claws on a hard wood floor. As if multiple animals were rapidly running about in the house, scampering and skittering through it curiously.
My mind went to that strange room. That strange locked room and its eerie little carousel.
It had been the sound that alerted me.
There’d been a loud clatter. Like something heavy had fallen. Instantly I had nightmarish visions of Victoria’s wheelchair tipping over or of her going sprawling down the stairs. I ran through the house calling her name, looking for her. Ahead of me a door slammed shut and I ran towards it. It was locked and I banged my fists on the door, asking if she was in there, if she was alright.
There was a click and the door gave way. As I pushed it inward I took in the sight and for a moment all other thoughts left me.
The room was piled high with papers. Dozens and dozens of papers, many of which had been tacked or stapled or glued to the walls. The ones that were on the walls were all of the same kind…each and every one was a missing person’s poster. They were ancient and yellowed with age, clearly from decades ago at least. Sad little faces, many of them children and some teenagers and young adults looked out from them.
I stared at the strange room, my mind struggling to comprehend what exactly I was seeing here. I’d never seen this room before which was strange in and of itself. It must have been locked during the months I’d been here; perhaps I’d been told it was simply a storage closet or something of that kind. But seeing what was in there now my mind struggled to explain it.
I didn’t dwell on it long though. I remembered the reason I’d raced over to it in the first place and, as Victoria clearly wasn’t there, I proceeded to run through the house in search of her. There was no answer to my shouts but I found her. She was in her usual spot in the viewing room, her back to me and a drink in hand. On the screen it appeared that another of her old black and white films was playing out across the screen.
I asked her if she was alright, frantic and breathless. If she noticed the state I was in she didn’t comment on it. In fact she didn’t even look at me. Her eyes were firmly on the screen. Her hand trembled slightly.
“We all think ourselves such good people, don’t we?
That there are things we would never do for any reason. But what he offered…
He could see it in us. Which of us would do it. Which of us wouldn’t. I think that’s why I hate the ones who never got the offer. What was in them that was so good that I didn’t have?
What made them better than me?”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t even know if she was talking to me or once again talking to thin air. The ice in her drink rattled as her hand shook.
“And when it was done well…it was too late, wasn’t it? We’d done the worst.
Might as well keep doing it. We knew what they’d do if we didn’t.
And now here they come.
Here they come for all of us. One by one with their little paws and jaws and claws.
Coming to get what’s theirs.”
I asked her again if she was alright. She clearly wasn’t. And then my eyes flitted to the screen and I stared in horror. Stared in horror at what was happening on the screen. Because what was playing wasn’t one of her films. Or at least, it wasn’t one that had been released to the general public in theatres.
On screen I could see the carousel. I recognised the black and white forms of the taxidermy animals in their little waist coats and hats and boots. And tied to the middle of the carousel was a young boy. He was tied and clearly terrified. The younger Victoria was stood, dressed in her finery and holding a knife.
Using that knife.
Using it on the boy.
I told myself this had to be a horror film she’d starred in. I told myself that this couldn’t be what I thought it was, couldn’t really be what I was seeing. And then as I watched…as I watched the carousel seemed to spring to life. Twirling and flashing. If there had been sound I’m sure I would have heard it playing some merry tune.
And the animals on the carousel….they were moving.
Moving in ways that I couldn’t explain. Ways that couldn’t be written off as skilled puppetry or stop motion. Moving in ways that could only be described as the movements of actual living things. I watched as their heads turned towards the bleeding boy, their paws and claws making contact with his helpless body.
The carousel whirled. The boy silently screamed. Wide gaping animal mouths stretched in wide animal grins. The young Victoria on the screen soaked herself in the blood.
From somewhere in the house I could hear the skittering of paws. The skittering of paws and a carnival theme playing from somewhere within the bowels of the building.
I ran to my car, parked outside the house. As I ran through the building I could hear Victoria screaming. I could hear the sound of shattering glass. I could hear growls. And what sounded like gravelly whispering voices, issuing from mouths not made for human speech. I could hear something terrible.
As soon as I was locked in my car I called the police. I babbled out something about intruders, about what I’d seen on the film. I made enough sense to them that they sent someone to the house. When they arrived they found me, hunched up in the car and trembling. And they found what had happened to Victoria Simpson.
They found her body tied to the carousel I found out later. Tied to it and “Mutilated and interfered with in ways that suggested a ritualised nature to the attack”. I was questioned but never seriously considered as a suspect. Both because of the state they found me in and because it was obvious to those investigating that I wouldn’t have been strong enough to inflict the kind of damage that had been done to the body.
It was ultimately ruled as a home invasion/murder by person or persons unknown. It was what else they found in the house that interested them more though.
Victoria Simpson was in possession of a dozen of what could only be described as snuff films. All of which starred her. All of which involved her performing “Violent, depraved and unnatural acts” on the innocent victim or victims in the films. Many of those who appeared in the films were those who appeared on the missing persons posters I’d found in that strange small room…missing persons cases that dated back to the thirties and had remained unsolved all this time.
I wasn’t surprised to find out that in addition to Victoria, Marcus Lawton appeared in many of the snuff films in her possession.
I continued to work as a carer for a few years after this incident. I’m happy to say I never had anything close to this happen to me again. And I’m sure it would make for a good spooky twist if I told you that those strange stuffed animals from the carousel stalked me for the rest of my life or that I see Victoria Simpson's ghost but the truth is nothing strange has happened to me since that day.
The only ghosts I’m haunted by are the memories.
Memories of working for her all that time, never suspecting what she had done. What she was capable of. The memory what I saw on that film. What I saw those strange and monstrous animal forms doing to that poor boy. Of the way they moved, the unnatural way they moved that I still can’t explain. That simply shouldn’t have been possible. That couldn’t have been faked and yet also couldn’t possibly have been real.
And the memory of that rasping, growling voice I heard as I ran from the house and left Victoria Simpson to her fate.
“Time to come with us now Victoria. Time to come play with us.”