You know what’s it like when you are in an old, empty house on your own, and it starts to creak. At night. In the dark. Is it the house settling, contracting because of the cooling temperature? Or is it something else entirely?
I once owned a house like that, though it wasn‘t particularly old. The floorboards would creak in the main bedroom. Sitting downstairs, you would occasionally hear them creak in sequence, and it sounded just like someone walking across the room over your head. Who knows, perhaps it was, the thought a bit unnerving when I was the only person in the house, living person at any rate.
Similarly, Paul Kane has built his story around the uncanniness of being alone in an old house when it is making noises, the uncertainty over whether it’s mundane or caused by an intelligence of unknown intent. Self-absorbed and reluctant to make any emotional attachments, Ray Johnson does up old run-down places and sells them at a profit. This one’s a bit different though because it belonged to his estranged mum, now passed away.
You might expect it to hold memories for Ray, but it doesn’t, because he has disengaged himself from his childhood. But as he goes through the debris of a time for which he has no affection before putting it all in a skip, he starts to think about his mother‘s life, one that he’d ignored since leaving home, and the memories start to come back. Looking at a family photograph, he wonders, as we so often fail to do when looking at old pictures, who took it, who was the recorder of that moment.
Meanwhile the house seems to have taken on a life of its own, and past and present collide dramatically as the truth about Ray’s mother and his childhood are revealed to him, and he finds out what those creaks actually mean, what – literally – lies beneath.
Ray tells us right at the start that noisy houses are known as “creakers” in the trade, which means that the phenomenon is not a rare one. When you stand in an old house it is easy to wonder what stories it would have. Perhaps our housing stock trying to tell us something, in a language we would rather not understand,
Kane’s short story is tautly written, with an introduction by Sarah Pinborough. But I would not advise reading it alone, at night, in a creaking house.
SPECTRAL PRESS VOLUME IX: 28pg A5 print booklet with card covers, signed and numbered, 125 only – published March 2013.
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