Mike Rickett’s third novel, A Walk on the Wilder Side is published today. It is a departure from the first two in that it is set in 1970 in St Helens, a town in Lancashire, UK, not far from Liverpool. It is the beginning of a decade of change when life was completely different.
It is also a semi-autobiographical story because that is how Mike began his journalistic career and many of the events actually happened and many of the people were real, although names have been changed.
The central character is Keith Wilder, news editor for a press agency in the town and it is against this background on a dark, dismal, night in January when he receives a mysterious phone call asking him to go to lonely Bluebell farm on the outskirts of town. He discovers the body of a farmer who appears to have blown his brains out with a shotgun.
The killing is the beginning of a series of events in which both Wilder and the police receive taunting, sneering notes predicting that there will be further murders. Shortly after, a notorious drug dealer is found dead on Liverpool’s famous Lime Street. He too was murdered.
Despite that, life in a 1970 press agency goes on with characters like Richard Armitage, an older hack who has seen better days and Dot Sykes, a glamorous new recruit out to make a name for herself.
Meanwhile, Wilder’s teacher girlfriend, Amy Sunderland, is bent on unravelling the enigma of Keith’s father who vanished when he was born. Who was he? Why did he abandon Wilder and his mother? And has he re-appeared on Merseyside with a new identity?
In the meantime, a mysterious Mr Parker moves into the flat next to Amy. He appears to be stalking her in that he shows up wherever she is going. Then, one day, Amy returns to her flat to find that someone has left a message in lipstick on her dressing table mirror. It’s a heart with a knife going through it.
Wilder is also being stalked by a shadowy man wearing a trilby. An attempt to trap him fails and he escapes.
The police and Wilder decide to lay a trap for ‘Mr Trilby’. Dot Sykes volunteers to be a decoy and to impersonate Amy to lure the mysterious man to an ice rink, but the plan backfires and she is abducted.
Dot is held prisoner in a dingy room with iron bars on the windows. She hasn’t seen her captor’s face. She has no idea where she is.
Keith looks though his past stories and discovers a Howard Balmer whose business went bust after one of his stories exposed him. Is he ‘Mr Trilby?’
The following day Dot is confronted by ‘Mr Trilby’ who says she will shortly be recording a message for Wilder and that if she refuses, he will kill her. But Dot taps a message in Morse when she records it. Wilder and the police finally decode Dot’s Morse message and raid the house but ‘Mr Trilby’ escapes.
In a final climax ‘Mr Trilby’ tricks Keith into going to Bluebell Farm. When her gets there, he is threatened by a knife but is saved by Colin Parker, who shoots ‘Mr Trilby’ dead. It is then revealed ‘Mr Trilby’ is Howard Balmer. Keith leaves hospital and is met by Amy and Parker who reveals he is Keith’s father.
A paperback version will be published on September 1.
Hello. I thought you might like to hear a rundown of the first story i was involved in… The Poseidon Files.
This is a story of two scientists who discover that a top-secret installation in Alaska run by the American military, ostensibly conducting research into the upper atmosphere, is in fact developing technology that could transform the weather into a weapon of mass destruction and kill millions of people.
They are horrified and decide to warn the world by copying vital classified files. But fate plays a decisive hand when the car they escape in plunges into a fast-moving river during a violent storm in freezing temperatures.
One of them, George Parry, survives and escapes pursuing military police believing his colleague, Keri Murdoch, is dead, managing to grab a microchip containing classified files before the car is swept down the river. Parry makes his way to Toronto and then on to Liverpool in the UK intending to give the files to the Press to warn the world of the potential dangers.
But he is followed and murdered in a Liverpool hotel room but not before passing the microchip onto an unsuspecting woman during a psychic reading in an attempt to hide from his pursuers.
This is where I come in. I am an artist and a mystic. I am 26, leading an uneventful life, enjoying the new-found freedom in bustling Liverpool that a divorce from a cheating husband has brought me.
I make a precarious living from art and my psychic abilities and when Parry hides in a city centre pub and sits for a psychic reading with me, I realise he is frightened of something or someone sinister following him.
He hands me a keyring as a token for the reading but before I can discover what he is scared of he runs out leaving a notebook and the keyring behind. I was not to know at the time that the secret microchip is contained in the keyring.
Unbeknown to me though I have become a target because I am the last person to see Parry alive.
In Toronto, private investigator Alex Nelson is hired by FBI station chief Gram Rogers to recover the files and she travels to Liverpool only to discover that Parry has been murdered and that the last person to see him alive was Naomi.
Celebrity climate change activist Myron Hill is a leading light in the Environment Rebellion protest movement who also hears rumours of the research in Alaska. He decides to investigate and discovers that secret files have been copied; files that prove how destructive it would be to the environment. But Hill is not who he appears to be, and he too has a secret.
FBI chief Gram Rogers encourages Alex to befriend me thinking I have hidden the files, but Alex becomes a target for assassins herself when an attempt is made to poison her on the streets of Liverpool.
Alex and I are pursued by both the Russian Mafia and the GRU who are keen to redeem themselves after the fiasco of the failed attempt to murder the Skripals in Salisbury but one of their number is found murdered in Naomi’s apartment.
Alex and I flee to Snowdonia to stay with my brother but there is an attempt to murder me in the mists of mount Snowdon. But I am saved when one of my spirit friends takes a hand and the would-be killer sees a horrifying image of himself in Hell.
We move back to Liverpool where the final drama is played out on the streets of Liverpool where I am abducted and held hostage by a criminal gang. The supernatural in the form of Nancy my spirit guide comes to my aid in a final confrontation which takes place in a notoriously haunted sunken cemetery that lies alongside Liverpool’s majestic Anglican cathedral.
The Mafia gang are killed in the cemetery by spirits who come to my aid.
Will the world be warned about HAARP? Is there a cover-up? The final chapters reveal that people and events are not what they seem.
The Poseidon Files is available on Amazon as both an eBook and paperback. Ebook ASIN: B0892668HX and paperback ISBN: 9798647878892 and ASIN: B08BF14NWP
Hi. My name is Naomi. I am the central character in four stories by author Mike Rickett. I am a little unusual in that I have psychic powers. There aren’t too many psychics around at 26, not the genuine kind anyway. And I am genuine because age has nothing to do with psychic ability. Indeed, I have always had the gift, only I didn’t understand it until I was about nine or so.
I have always been able to hear words and sometimes see things and people that other people could not. Sometimes I could hear words – loud and clear – that tipped me off that something was happening. At first, I thought I was going nuts – my mum had my hearing checked, got me evaluated for mental health problems, and so on. However, I was OK, and the only explanation was that I had an ability that other people do not.
When my mum was on a cruise one year, I woke up in the middle of the night because I had heard her voice saying ‘flood.’ I rang her to make sure she was OK because, you know, she was on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
Everything was fine. The next day, I went to her house to feed the cats and found that a water pipe had burst about ten minutes before I got there.
My business card declares to me to be a psychic consultant. When I had them printed, I felt it sounded sophisticated ‘Naomi Richards, Psychic Consultant’. Now, I’m not so sure. I have a suspicion it might just sound pretentious.
I know the local Police take me seriously. They regularly call me in to help locate missing people, or more seriously, in the grim and immensely sad task of locating bodies. At first, I could see doubt writ large on their faces, as well as the sniggers behind my back. But four successes in a row ended that and now I am treated with respect. I guess I would have been burned at the stake 400 years ago. Thank heaven we are more indulgent these days. Or at least some of us are.
Psychic Naomi becomes involved when her friend, Joy Davis mysteriously disappears after her car crashes in a snowstorm on the outskirts of Liverpool in the UK.
Has she simply escaped her cheating and wasteful husband Jon or has something more menacing happened? Could her disappearance be linked to her writing which has moved in a new, darker direction following her interest in the story of a convicted serial killer. Or has she simply decided to disappear like Agatha Christie?
Naomi decides to investigate and discovers that Joy’s disappearance is more menacing and leads her and journalist Sandra Parry into uncovering a conspiracy involving murder, intrigue and trafficking.
The book is available on Amazon both as an ebook and paperback. Just do a search for ASIN: B0B3V68FPH.
A number of people have written to me saying how much they identify with my character Naomi who first appeared in a ghost story but who has since been the central character in two full novels and who will also be the central character in a third which I am writing. You can read that original story on my website, given below.
She is a psychic and all the stories in which she is featured have a supernaural element. You may also be interested to know that the inspiration for her comes from a real person who had exeactly the same abilities. That person was my grandmother.
If you enjoy Naomi, read Pursued by Shadows, and Kill Joy.m They are both available on Amazon, both as Ebooks and paperbacks.
My fourth ghost story which will eventually be part of an anthology
By Mike Rickett
It is half hidden behind a chest of drawers when I first spot it. It is the ornate carved mahogany surround to the mirror that catches my eye. I can only see a corner but there is something about it that impels me to try and drag it out but it is completely jammed by the heavy Victorian drawers which I simply cannot move. I look for the shop owner and at first there does not appear to be any sign of him or her.
I wander around the shop calling out, but there is no reply. Eventually, I come a across a Chesterfield high-backed armchair in the style of Queen Anne. I almost walk past it until I spot an elbow resting on one of the arms.
I walk around it to see an elderly man with an untidy mop of grey hair and extensive side whiskers staring at me through a pair of old -fashioned wire spectacles.
‘Are you the shop owner?’ I ask. He just nods. ‘I have seen something I would like to take a closer look at,’ I say. ‘But it is jammed behind a chest of drawers. Could you give me a hand to move it please?’
He hoists himself up and I see, with some amusement, that he looks like an antique himself with his black waistcoat and Prince Albert chain and grubby-looking shirt with wing collars and a spotted bow tie. He is also quite short, just coming up to my shoulder. He looks at me grimly and wanders off in the direction of the chest of drawers. For some reason he reminds me of Mr Pickwick. How does he know what I was looking at, I think to myself and slowly follow him?
I have always had a fascination for junk shops. I was brought up on a farm in mid-Wales and there was a shop in the village a quarter of a mile away where I spent many hours talking to the owner. To me it was an Old Curiosity Shop with all its treasures. At the time I thought the owner was quite old but that was from the perspective of a small boy who thought that anybody grown up was old. Looking back, he was probably only in his early forties. He would regale me with tales connected to the items in his shop. He somehow managed to make a Welsh Dresser sound exciting by telling me how it was made and all the people who may have owned it and what their lives would have been like.
Ever since then I have never been able to resist the temptation to browse antique and junk shops. I now live in Liverpool and I know where most of them are. Strangely perhaps, I was quite unaware that the shop I am now in, on Renshaw Street in the city centre, even existed despite travelling down the road regularly.
I follow the shop owner and we arrive at the chest of drawers. I point to the mirror and he looks at me, grimaces and shakes his head. ‘Are ye sure lad?’ he mutters reaching for the back of the drawers and wrenching it away from the wall with apparent ease. He is evidently stronger than he looks. He bends down and pulls the mirror out. It is covered in cobwebs and grime. He places it on top of the drawers and wipes his hand on a cloth.
The mirror is oval, almost two feet long and the surround has figures carved into it which I can’t make out because of all the grime.
‘How much do you want for it?’ I ask.
‘There be a better un over yonder,’ he replies pointing to the opposite wall.
‘No, I like this one. I’ll give you a fiver for it.’ I offer him a note. He stares at it as though he has never seen one before.
‘Some mirrs are better not lookd at,’ he says fixing me with a piercing stare. He takes the note and shuffles off.
I wipe the worst of the grime off and am about to thank him for his help but he has vanished. I shrug and make my way to the door. I hail a taxi and give the driver my address on the outskirts of the city.
I have not long moved into the three-bed terrace house with my wife Amy. My name, by the way, is Dominic Burridge and I am a reporter with the Press Association. My brief is to cover the Northwest of England so I do a great deal of travelling but my ‘office’ is our front room, something many people have had to get accustomed to during the Covid pandemic.
Amy and I have been slowly buying furniture and fittings as and when we have any spare cash. I found a nice dining room table in an Oxfam shop and a set of six chairs at a local Barnardo’s. I am sure Amy will like the mirror which will look good in the hall once I have cleaned it up.
I get home and immediately take it to the sink. Amy joins me. ‘Where did you get that?’ she says staring at it. ‘It’s filthy. What’s the betting it is riddled with woodworm too. You should just dump it in the nearest skip.’
‘It’s mahogany,’ I call after her. ‘It will be really nice when I’ve cleaned it up. You wait and see. It will look good in the hall.’ There is no answer. I press on, first wiping all the grime off the glass. The mirror is perfect and cleans up well. Next, I use soapy water to clean all the dirt off the surround. The wood responds and gleams and for the first time I notice there are figures carved into it. I decide to let it dry and polish it up later. I rest it on the kitchen divider with a cloth covering it.
I return to the kitchen a few hours later and the cloth is on the floor. I assume Amy must have had a look and the cloth must have slipped off. I examine the surround which is now quite dry and decide to rub in wax to preserve the wood.
While I am doing it, I study the figures which at first glance look like dancing people but then, on closer inspection, I realise they are not people at all but are more like the grotesque gargoyles you see on medieval churches. That is rather odd and it probably points to the mirror being a great older than I at first thought. I know that commercial mirrors have been around since the 17th century so I speculate that perhaps that is when our mirror dates from. If that is so it is a good find for £5! I feel rather pleased with myself
I lean it up against the wall and look at my own reflection. Suddenly, I see Amy’s reflection behind me wearing an odd white cap. She is staring at me unsmiling. I turn around but there is nobody there. I look at the mirror again but it is just my face that stares back at me. I must have imagined it. I finish waxing the wood and hang it in the hall. I feel oddly unsettled.
I don’t see Amy until later in the day when she has finished work at the Central Library on William Brown Street opposite the iconic St Georges Hall.
‘I see you have hung that wretched mirror in the hall,’ she says. ‘I’m not sure I like it. There is something about it that makes me feel uneasy.’
I decide that it would not be a good time to mention the strange reflection I think I saw. Instead, I laugh it off and tell her that I have good reason for thinking it may be 17th century. ‘It’s a genuine antique,’ I tell her enthusiastically. She looks at me doubtfully and swiftly changes the subject suggesting we have a takeaway for our evening meal.
It is about 2:00 am when I am woken by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They are measured, heavy footsteps like those made by boots and they gradually get louder as they ascend the stairs. I can feel the hair rising at the back of my neck. I look at Amy who is snoring softly and quite oblivious to it. I know I must investigate despite a desire to hide somewhere. I swing my legs out of bed and listen as the steps continue along the landing and then abruptly stop outside our bedroom door.
I am scared. Who could it possibly be? What could he want? A burglar would hardly announce himself like this. And why have the footsteps just stopped. There is an old walking stick with a silver knob that belonged to my grandfather in the corner. I grab it and reach for my dressing gown, slip it on and silently walk to the door and listen. I can hear nothing. I slowly turn the handle.
I yank the door open with all the force I can muster, raising the stick threateningly with my other hand. There is nobody there. I reach for the light switch and turn the landing lights on. I stare down the blackness of the stair well. Do I see something moving or am I imagining it?
I can’t turn on the hall light from the landing. There is a switch but for some reason it doesn’t work. I am going to have to go down the stairs in the dark. ‘Who’s there,’ I shout stepping carefully and staring into the void.
I am about halfway down and there is a dim light from the window above the front door. The streetlight outside is casting a yellow beam on the front half of the hall.
I have reached the bottom of the stairs. There is a sepulchral stillness as though I am being watched by somebody or something. I quickly walk from room to room but everything is as it should be. I return to the hall and glance at the mirror. I am about to walk past it but I stop. Something is wrong. I stand in front of it but there is no image of me. There is just the hall with the door to the sitting room behind me. I move around but I am still not reflected.
How can a mirror not reflect your image? I look at it again and I realise that while I can see the hall, it not the hall as it is now. It is a much older hall with heavy Victorian wallpaper and the doors are painted a horrible brown so loved by the Victorians. I must be going mad. First, footsteps on the stairs and now this.
I climb the stairs and return to bed. The hall has become an alien place. Amy is still asleep and was obviously not disturbed by my shouting. That is also strange because she is normally a light sleeper and the slightest noise will waken her.
I must have dozed off because Amy is shaking me. ‘Dom, Dom, wake up. What’s the matter with you?’ she is saying. I blink as consciousness gradually returns. I sit and stare at her.
‘Didn’t you say you had to go to Birkenhead for 9.30 this morning?’ she says. ‘It’s 8.30 now. You had better get moving.’
She is right. I head for the shower. I debate whether to tell her about last night as the hot water revives my senses. I decide not to. It would only scare her but I think I will get rid of the mirror which appears to be the cause of all the weird events.
Over breakfast I tell her that I will return it to the shop when I get back from Birkenhead. ‘Oh no, don’t do that,’ she says. ‘I like it. I get a good feeling when I look at it and you have done such an excellent job of cleaning it up.’
‘Are you serious. You hated it when I brought it home.’
‘Well, I don’t anymore. You leave it alone. I’ll clean it and polish it.’ I am lost for words. What could have brought about such a change of heart. I wait until she has left for work and take the mirror down and put it under the stairs. With any luck she won’t notice and tomorrow I will take it back to the shop and just return it to the weird old man whether he wants it or not!
I have a particularly gruesome murder to cover in Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square where a man went berserk with an axe and hacked his wife and two children to death. I am going to do some doorstepping and get some background on him. The killer is in police custody and they will also be making a statement later in the morning.
I arrive home a little later than expected. I have a story to write which I then must file and so I go immediately to the front room with my laptop and get to work. Amy is already in and I call out saying I could murder a coffee. There is no answer. At first, I think nothing of it and carry on working.
Fifteen minutes later I pause because there is an unnatural silence. Amy usually has music playing when she is busy at home making a meal or anything else really. She is not a person who likes a stillness. I work for a little while longer until I have completed the killings story and file it, then I go and investigate with the primary intention of making a much-needed coffee.
I walk into the sitting room and Amy is sprawled on the sofa. At first, I think she is simply asleep but then I stop in my tracks when I glimpse her face. It is one of the grotesque gargoyles from the mirror surround. It is the face of a harpy, half woman, half bird, the mouth wide open exposing a tongue which lolls through jagged teeth.
I gasp and step back in terror until I reach the door. I turn and glance at the hallway. The mirror is back on the wall. Amy must have found it.
‘You must need a coffee,’ says Amy’s voice. I turn and look at the sofa and she is standing up, yawning. ‘I must have dozed off for a while,’ she says, walking over and giving me a hug. I must stop myself shrinking back. What is happening. Am I going mad?
‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ she asks as I continue to stare at her. How can I tell her that she briefly had the face of a gargoyle and, while I am at it, the footsteps I heard in the middle of the night and the mirror that did not reflect me?
I slump on the sofa and bury my head in my hands. ‘What’s the matter?’ she says, sitting next to me and putting a comforting arm around my shoulders.
‘It’s the mirror,’ I mutter. ‘Did you find it and replace it?’
‘What do mean?’
‘I took it off the wall and put it under the stairs,’
She stares at me, puzzled, concerned. ‘You must have been dreaming,’ she says. ‘It was on the wall when I came home from work.
What am I to do? She is not going to believe me whatever I say. There is only one solution and that is to get rid of it once and for all.
‘I am going to take it back to the shop,’ I say standing up. She shrugs, shakes her head and smiles demurely.
‘If you must, you must,’ she says disappearing into the kitchen. I walk to the hall and look in the mirror. My face is reflected but as I look it changes and my image begins to laugh tauntingly, sneeringly, gradually fading, leaving just a view of the hall behind me. I rub my eyes. Am I really seeing this or is it all in my mind?
How did the mirror find its way back to the hall? Amy must have found it under the stairs. How else could it have got back?
We eat our meal in a strained silence until I ask her if she is feeling all right. She looks surprised. ‘Never better, why do you ask?’
‘Well, you don’t normally fall into such a deep sleep this early in the evening,’ I say and then, half-jokingly: ‘I think you’ve been looking in that mirror too much. You know that old fairy-tale line: Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.’ I say it wearing a big grin. ‘If you aren’t careful the seven dwarfs will come after you.’ I chuckle disarmingly.
She glares at me and slams her knife down on the table. ‘You are talking nonsense Dom as usual. ‘Yes, I admit looking in the mirror. I feel at peace with myself when I do. I don’t know why. There is just something about it.’
She stalks out into the kitchen taking the dirty plates with her. Twenty minutes later she is still there. I decide to go to the pub and call out saying I will be a couple of hours. There is no reply.
Three pints later I return to an empty house. I look in the mirror but all I see is myself. I go to all three rooms but there is no sign of Amy. Has she gone out as well? I sit in an armchair and stare at the blank TV. There is an odd atmosphere I can’t quite put my finger on, almost as though something is about to happen. I hear a slight sound in the hall and glance to see the door slowly open of its own accord to reveal the mirror. There is a silvery light emanating from it.
My first reaction is to stay away from it; I have had quite enough of the horrors that emanate from it but then I know I must look because whatever is happening is obviously intended for me.
I walk slowly to the sitting room door and shield my eyes from the bright light which slowly dims to reveal Amy’s face but not the face I know and love. The face that stares back at me malevolently is more gargoyle than Amy. Her mouth opens to reveal jagged teeth with blood dripping from them.
‘Fancy giving me a kiss,’ says the apparition in a low guttural voice. I back away and slam the door and lean on it to prevent it opening. Behind it is raucous, harsh laughing.
I decide to spend the night in the spare room. I place a chair under the door handle. I doubt I will be able to sleep and I decide to keep the light on. I lie on the bed with all my clothes on and settle into a fitful doze.
I wake with a start. I can hear voices downstairs. Coarse, guttural voices; the sound of movement and then, interspersed, the sound of Amy’s tinkling laugh. At one point I can see my bedroom door handle turning but I press the chair even more firmly against it. There is a mocking, scornful snigger and then there is a heavy silence.
I return to the bed and come to a decision. I know what I must do.
It is morning and I am on my way to a DIY store on the outskirts of Liverpool. Before I attempted to go to sleep last night, I went online on my phone. I wanted to find out what the melting point of glass is. Modern glass melts at around 2,500C and can mostly only be done in a kiln but older glass will often melt at around 900C.
I quite quickly find what I am looking for: a blowtorch and a mask, together with a canister of gas. I put it all in the car boot and hurry on to my first assignment of the day which is to Southport to cover a story of a man who says he has figured out a way to make his car work on water. Probably a crackpot unless he has found a way of making hydrolysis work to split hydrogen from water. Crackpot or not, people are going to take notice.
I return home a little earlier than expected. Amy is also home which is a complication I hadn’t expected but I am determined to press on with my plan come what may. I say hello to her and bend over to kiss her on the cheek. She looks at me with a strange, unnatural stare as though I am stranger. Hopefully, what I am about to do will release her from whatever or whoever has possessed her.
I tell her that I have work to do in the back yard and I hurry through with my bag. I have a larger bag as well. I wait until Amy goes upstairs to the toilet before going to the hall and taking down the mirror and covering it with the bag. I am careful not to look at it. I close the kitchen door firmly behind me and place the mirror face down on a slab of concrete at the end of the yard.
The back of the mirror is covered with a thin sheet of wood. The first job is to reduce all the wood to ash, especially the surround with all their grotesque carvings so I light the torch and cover my face with the mask. I get to work on the backing.
At first, the backing smoulders and then bursts into flame, so then I direct the torch to the surround moving it a few inches at a time. It is then that I notice the smell. It is the stench of rotting flesh. I hold a hand to the mask, pressing it to my face and continue playing the flame as the wood begins to blacken.
I keep my eyes fixed on it despite the smell which is making me gag. I am determined it must be reduced to ashes. As I look, I see dark shapes writhing in the flames. They are grotesque, horrible, and I can hear screams of agony as the flames gradually devour them. I continue remorselessly until all that is left is smouldering ashes.
Now, it is time to deal with the mirror itself. The backing has been scorched by the flames so I brush the ashes aside. I suspect that the reflective surface has a film of mercury which would have been used in the Middle Ages. I also know that when I begin work with the torch it will very likely give off toxic fumes, so I make sure the mask is securely fastened covering my nose and mouth.
After a few minutes, the glass begins to become slightly translucent and I notice that a black cloud has formed around me and that in it is a darker outline of what looks like the head of some sort of horned beast. I ignore it and concentrate on the glass which is now beginning to glow a dull red.
Suddenly, there is an ear-piercing screech. I glance up and standing a few feet away is Amy, her face contorted into a snarl, her teeth bared and her eyes glowing a bright red. She is clutching a large kitchen knife and pointing it at me.
A guttural growl comes from her and a deep male voice commands me to stop. I ignore it and keep my eyes fixed on the mirror which is now beginning to glow a deep red. I expect the knife to be plunged into my throat imminently but nothing happens. I glance up and Amy is still there. Suddenly, her head tilts back and she screams, dropping the knife and she collapses in a heap. I want to go and help her but I know I must continue.
The mirror begins to melt, forming little glowing puddles on the concrete. I break it up into even smaller globules with a stick. Finally, I can switch off the torch and remove my mask. I go over to Amy and carry her into the sitting room, laying on the sofa. I pour a small brandy and cradle her head with my right arm and rub a little brandy on her lips. She coughs and her eyes open, staring at me.
‘I have been having really bad dreams,’ she whispers. ‘It’s the mirror Dom. It’s evil.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘I have destroyed it and it will trouble us no more.’ She bursts into tears and we sit there, side by side, for what feels like eternity, safe at last.
It is a week later when I find myself in Renshaw Street once more. The trauma of that day when I melted the mirror is still with me. I can still smell the rotting flesh and see the terrifying image in the black cloud. When the bubbles of glass cooled, I swept them up and poured them in the wheelie bin which was emptied the following day.
The house is at peace now and Amy is once more the carefree girl I married, although just occasionally I catch her glancing nervously in the direction of the hall.
I find a parking space on Renshaw Street and walk up the road in the direction of the junk shop where I bought the mirror. I want to find out where it came from.
I can’t find the shop. I remember which block it was on but there is no junk shop. This is impossible. The shop was here just a week or two ago. I cannot be mistaken. Instead, there is a small gallery and curio shop with pictures of old Liverpool in the window. I glance at them.
I am about to turn away and walk down the road just in case I am mistaken about where the shop was when one of the pictures in the window catches my eye.
It is a faded black and white photo of the junk shop with, standing outside, his arms folded over his chest, the elderly man with grey hair and side whiskers staring at the camera through wire spectacles. I look at the photo more closely. He has a sneering smile on his face.
The caption says Hob’s Curios, Renshaw Street, 1895.
I haven’t, in truth, known Dr Irwin Jacobs for very long. I would stop short at calling him a friend because I don’t honestly believe he has anyone he could apply that title too. While appearing outwardly friendly, in reality, he struck me as a very self-contained person; a very private man who only very reluctantly reveals anything about himself.
I first met him in Llandudno in North Wales at a conference on The Study of Personality Disorder. It was organised by SANE, the mental health charity and was attended largely by medics and psychiatrists and others involved in the provision of mental health services. I was there as a freelance journalist with an interest in mental health, having written on many occasions about how destructive it can be to families and relationships.
I literally bumped into him at the hotel bar where he was sitting on a stool staring gloomily into a gin and tonic. I rather clumsily managed to spill his drink which he was about to sip. I naturally apologised profusely and immediately offered to buy him another, but he waved the offer away.
Dr Jacobs has a rather Teutonic face; startling blue eyes, a square jaw and a firm mouth that is not given to smiling. His thinning grey hair sits above a furrowed brow and a sallow face. We shook hands and I apologised again.
I sat on a stool next to him and introduced myself. I am Dominic Howard, quite well known in my chosen field by mental health professionals, even if I do say so with a degree of modesty! After we concluded the introductions, I asked him about his practice. He immediately became quite animated and went into some detail about the problems some of his patients present. It was, however, punctuated by nervous glances around the room, his eyes flickering from side-to side as though expecting a friend or colleague. I looked around but there were just other delegates standing in small groups in earnest discussion.
‘Are you expecting someone,’ I said, standing up, preparing to leave.
‘No, No,’ he said, placing a hand on my arm with a look that invited me to sit. I did so. ‘I thought I saw a cat,’ he muttered, almost under his breath.
I stared at him. ‘A cat?’ I repeated looking around the bar.
‘I’m allergic to them,’ he said by way of explanation, looking around furtively. For some reason I did not believe him but why would he lie about something like that? Our conversation then turned to topics to do with matters of the mind. It ended with us exchanging contact details. As a journalist I have always found it useful to collect people who are experts in their fields and for all his odd behaviour, Dr Jacobs did appear to be highly knowledgeable. We shook hands and parted.
That was a month ago and I have been busy writing a feature on stress at the workplace, a subject close to my heart, when I routinely look at my email queue and there is one from Dr Jacobs inviting me to call round for supper. To say that I am surprised would be an understatement.
I note that Dr Jacobs lives at Bedford Square, which is not that far from my apartment at Ridgemount Gardens, near the University of London. I reply saying that I would be happy to call round. I am curious, more than anything else, to see what life is like at Bedford Square. I note his address is not an apartment!
The door is opened by a man formally dressed. He asks me to identify myself and ushers me into a small but comfortable room to the left of the front door. I take it he must be a butler or manservant. I am astonished that they still exist in the 21st century.
Five minutes later he returns and invites me to follow him to a plush, but rather austere lounge. Jacobs is standing near an open coal fire. He steps forward and we shake hands. He treats me to a rather watery smile and waves me into an expansive easy chair. The Butler, who he addresses as James, is standing nearby awaiting instructions. Jacobs orders two whiskies.
I gaze around the room. It is slightly Edwardian; not quite Victorian but fussy in that everything obviously has its place. Along one wall are shelves full of tomes. I am always fascinated by bookshelves; what treasures are hidden away there, I wonder, and I am sorely tempted to explore, but I don’t. Instead, I look at Jacobs who is staring around the room furtively.
‘Do you hear anything?’ he asks softly.
I listen. There is just a heavy silence which is interrupted by James bringing our whiskies. I stare at him. His face could be made of stone. It is set and expressionless as he sets our drinks down on occasional tables.
‘I am informed by cook Sir, that dinner will be served in 30 minutes,’ he announces in a monotone. Jacobs nods in acknowledgement and James glides out of the room.
‘I didn’t hear anything,’ I inform Jacobs, ‘apart from the occasional car passing outside.’
‘You didn’t hear a laugh,’ he asks, looking at me closely. I shake my head, puzzled, and enquire why he asked.
He stares at a corner of the room. This is a strange house,’ he says. ‘Once the servants have left, I can’t help feeling that there are other people here. I can hear them. Mutterings and laughing, sometimes all night long. There is a cat too. I have no idea how it got in here but I see it every night, lurking in corners.’
I look around the room and then say breezily that there is no sign of any cats now and then ask him how long he has lived at Bedford Square.
‘It was bought by my grandfather,’ he says, relaxing a little. ‘We have lived here for three generations. Both my father and grandfather were medical men. I am the only one to practise psychiatry.’
‘Did you never marry,’ I ask a little hesitantly wondering if he might be offended by such a personal question.
He frowns and replies that he did but that his wife died suddenly just two years after they were wed. ‘It was toxic shock. She died in just two days of the bacteria taking hold,’ he says quietly. I have been alone ever since.’
Suddenly, James appears to announce that dinner is served so we follow him into another spacious room with a dining table in the middle with seats for ten people. There are two place settings at one end. The room is mostly lit by candles, two candelabra on the table and two meagre wall lamps which together manage to cast ominous silhouettes on the walls.
Dinner passes in a gloomy silence and it is with some relief that we eventually rise to leave the maid to clear away the dishes. We return to the lounge which is also poorly lit with just two small wall lights.
Jacobs walks over to a cabinet and holds up a bottle of Martell. I nod and he pours two large measures and returns to his seat by the fire. He begins a conversation about psychiatry and the unusual symptoms displayed by his patients. I listen with interest as he describes Clinical Lycanthropy.
His patient involves a delusion that he can transform into an animal. It is often associated with turning into a wolf or werewolf; the name of the syndrome originates from the mythical condition of lycanthropy or shapeshifting into wolves.
‘The patient genuinely believes he can take the form of any particular animal and during delusional periods he can act like the animal.’
He goes on to talk about another patient who suffers from Alien Hand Syndrome which is characterized by the belief that one’s hand has its own life. Individuals experiencing the syndrome have normal sensations but feel their hand is a separate entity: The affected hand has its own agenda. This syndrome may occur in individuals who have damage to the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain.
All very interesting but I notice that while he is talking, he is casting nervous glances around the room. He notices that I have almost finished my brandy and offers a refill and when I accept, walks over to the cabinet which is in a half light.
As he uncorks the bottle, I fancy I see a shadow to his right which appears to be bending over him. He suddenly starts and shouts ‘No, no, go away, damn you,’ waving his arms wildly. He steps back and glances in my direction.
‘Forgive me,’ he says. ‘That was not intended for you.’
‘I thought I saw a shadow,’ I say looking around the room. ‘But it may have just been a trick of the light.’ I smile a little uncertainly.
‘She is plaguing me,’ he mutters taking a large gulp of brandy.
‘Who is?’ I ask.
‘A patient of mine who died about a year ago. In fact, she committed suicide,’ he says with a finality I find rather strange.
I begin to think of what excuses I can conjure up to escape from this place with its sepulchral atmosphere. Did I imagine that shadow? Did he? Has this gloomy dump somehow infected his subconscious into making him believe he is haunted?
Just then there are measured footsteps in the corridor outside, becoming louder as they approach the door. We both stare at it, and then they stop just as suddenly as they started. The door handle turns slowly twice and then stops.
‘Is that the butler?’ I ask, but his face is white. ‘Why doesn’t he come in?’
‘The servants have gone home,’ he replies quietly twisting his fingers around in his lap.
I stand up and walk quickly to the door and wrench it open. There is nobody there but for some reason my eyes are drawn to a dark patch by an occasional table with phone directories on top. I can see two yellow eyes staring at me malevolently. They become larger and larger and begin moving towards me and I swiftly return into the room and slam the door behind me. I lean against it and then slowly walk back to my chair and sit down.
‘What did you see?’ he asks softly.
‘I thought I saw a cat,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘I have no idea who the footsteps belonged to though because there was nobody there.’
I decide it is time to go. I stand up and thank him for his hospitality. He also stands and we both walk to the door, a little warily in my case. The hall is eerily silent as we walk down its length. He opens the front door and I step outside. I turn and thank him again but just before I walk away, I ask. ‘Are you going to be alright?’ He doesn’t reply. He just closes the door silently.
It is two weeks since my eerie supper with Dr Jacobs and I have managed to put him to the back of my mind. I am about to file a story for the Telegraph when I feel my mobile phone vibrating. I stare at the screen. It is Dr Jacobs. Why on earth is he ringing me? I click answer and am about to ask how he is when he asks me if I could round to Bedford Square later. He sounds strange. His voice has a rasping quality and is slightly tremulous. I reluctantly agree.
I ring the bell and wait. Nothing happens. I ring it again. There is still no sign of life. I am about to walk away when the door half opens slowly revealing Jacobs. I stare at him in astonishment. He is unshaven, his jacket is open, his shirt half undone but it is his face that startles me. It is gaunt. His eyes are bloodshot.
He slowly opens the door wider and I walk in with some trepidation. When in the hall I ask him where the butler is.
‘He left,’ he says. ‘He said he could no longer tolerate the things that go on here and just walked out’
I am about to say that I could hardly blame him but don’t. Instead, I follow him into the lounge where the curtains have been drawn back to fill the gloomy room with daylight. It looks no more inviting than it did at night. He walks over to the drinks cabinet and offers me a whisky. I decline with a shake of my head. It is just 10.00am.
‘What has happened to you?’ I ask indicating his open shirt and generally unkempt appearance.
‘I can’t sleep,’ he says. ‘It won’t let me. I get no peace, none at all.’ He glares around the room. ‘Very soon I imagine cook will leave and then God help me. I have no idea what I will do.’
It is on the tip of my tongue to say that he will have to do what most other single men do; cook for themselves or eat out, but I don’t.
As he talks, I find myself looking at the door. I have no idea why. It might have been a movement that caught my attention, I’m not sure, but then as I look, the door handle begins to turn very slowly in one direction and then in the other. I stare at it in dreadful anticipation at what might be on the other side but the door remains closed.
Jacobs has walked over to the window and is staring at the street outside. ‘Is there anyone else in the house?’ I ask.
‘No, just us,’ he says, turning around. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘I thought I saw the door handle turning,’ I say. He simply shrugs and turns back to the window. ‘Why have you asked me here Dr Jacobs?’
‘You have some idea of what I am going through,’ he says. ‘You know it is not the result of a fevered imagination or hallucinations. I just want someone to record what I am going through.’
‘There must be a cause though,’ I say. ‘Do you have no idea why you are being persecuted. There has to be a reason.’
‘I think it may be the result of a fixation my former patient entertained about me,’ he says staring at the other end of the room. I follow his gaze and there just by the door is a large black cat, its yellow eyes staring, unblinking. There is something malevolent about it.
‘Get away from me,’ he yells, throwing a book at it. But the cat has vanished.
‘It is always here,’ he growls. ‘It watches me day and night. There is no respite. I can hear it growling wherever I go.’
I am standing a little way into the room near the fireplace which is unmade. There are half-burned documents in the grate. Jacobs has resumed staring out of the window so I bend down and grasp the two pieces of paper. I hastily stuff them in my pocket and as I do, I hear a dry chuckle in my right ear. I start backwards and almost fall over an occasional table. He turns around and asks if I am alright. I tell him I lost my balance.
‘All I would ask you do is to make a record of what you have heard and seen here,’ he says. ‘My colleagues in the profession will be interested that my experiences have been verified by an independent witness.’
‘Surely they will be interested in the likely cause as well,’ I say. He turns back to the window.
‘That will be a matter of some debate I imagine,’ he says quietly.
I take my leave of him. He doesn’t offer to show me out so I make my way down the hall half expecting some horror to emerge from the shadows, but there is just an ominous silence.
I cross the road and look back at the house. I can see Jacobs in the window staring gloomily at the sky and then I look more closely. Standing behind him and slightly to his left is another figure, the figure of a woman, an old woman with a pinched face and a shawl around her shoulders. She is staring at him malignantly. I continue staring for perhaps a minute or two until the figure gradually fades from view. I make my way out of the square back to Ridgemount Gardens.
I had forgotten about the pieces of paper I found in Jacobs’ grate. I take them out of my coat pocket and lay them out on the table. The top halves are unburnt and one appears to be a bank statement belonging to a Catharine Bancroft. There are just three items visible, all withdrawals totalling £100,000. The other is a letter addressed to Jacobs saying that he had been granted Lasting Power of Attorney for Ms Catherine Bancroft. The rest of the letter is burnt. I assume she is or was a patient of his. Why, I wonder, has he attempted to destroy them in the grate? Then, another thought occurs. Could she be the patient he referred to?
I decide to go online and see what a Google search reveals. The first is a news story in which police are appealing for information about Catharine Bancroft, aged 78, who vanished a year ago. I read the story. It seems she told a neighbour she was going to a local shop in south London and was never seen again. The neighbour is later quoted as saying she was devoted to her cat which had also disappeared. It was, apparently, a large black cat which she doted on. It was always with her. I stare at the photograph. There is no doubt about it. She is the spectral figure I saw standing behind Jacobs. And the cat I saw was no doubt hers too.
The second news story that comes up is five years earlier in the Daily Mail saying the actress Catherine Bancroft was retiring from the stage after a lifetime in the theatre. It seems she was a regular in West End productions. It goes on to list many of the shows she appeared in.
So why would she be haunting Jacobs, if indeed it was her I saw? And why did he say she committed suicide, if indeed it was Miss Bancroft he was referring to? The inescapable conclusion, given the documents I found, is that Jacobs was somehow involved in her disappearance but I find that difficult to believe. He may be a little odd but an eminent psychiatrist like him murdering and stealing from a patient is difficult to believe. Surely not. There must be another explanation.
But if she weren’t murdered, what could have happened to her? Suicide is simply out of the question. A well-known actress like her taking her own life would have been certain to have made the headlines.
I scroll through the other news items in which Catherine was mentioned but the headlines get smaller and the stories shorter as time goes on and there is no trace of her. There is only one story in which Jacobs is mentioned and that was when he revealed that she had been a patient of his for some time. No significance appears to have been attached to that.
I decide that I can do no more but I write up my research and file it away thinking that if Catherine does re-appear there will be story in it. I put Jacobs out of my mind and immerse myself in more pressing matters.
It is just a week later when I am sitting in a coffee shop sipping a cappuccino reading the Guardian when my mobile rings. I sigh and am minded to ignore it. I value my thinking time and interruptions are annoying. I glance at the screen which is saying ‘Dr Jacobs’. I really do not want to visit him again in that creepy house of his but I decide to answer and make an excuse, if indeed that is what he wants.
I click on it and listen but all I can hear is an odd subdued, whispered, muttering. I keep saying ‘Dr Jacobs, are you there’ but there is no answer, just the muttering and a strange, rather eery rustling sound.
Then, suddenly, there is scream which is so loud I almost fall off my chair. The two people sitting at the next table glance at me curiously as I hold the phone away from my ear. When I listen again there is just absolute, total, silence. Then I hear a sound that chills me to the bone; it is a sound I last heard in a butcher’s, the unmistakable sound of flesh being sliced. I rush outside and hail a cab, telling the driver to take me to Bedford Square.
I stand looking uncertainly at the door. What am I going to find behind it? Perhaps I should have rung the police first, but then if nothing gruesome has happened despite the scream, I would look foolish. For all I know Jacobs might have just been having a fit of hysterics. Having said that my instinct is telling me otherwise.
There is no movement in the windows; no lights are shining; they just stare down at me ominously. I press the bell and wait. There is no response. I press it again and notice that the door appears to be very slightly open. I push it gently and it swings open very slowly as though by an invisible hand, revealing the cavernous, dinghy hall.
I stare into its gloomy space. There is no movement, no sign of life. I suddenly have an almost overwhelming urge to walk away from this place but I know I must enter; something is compelling me to.
I walk slowly, fearfully, down the hall. I call out to Dr Jacobs several times; there is no answer, just an oppressive, brooding silence. I reach the lounge and stare at the door. I want to turn back; what will I find in there?
As I stand there transfixed, the door gradually opens of its own accord. I step hesitatingly into the room which is in partial darkness due to the curtains being slightly open. At first, I can see nothing in the gloom. I was expecting to see Jacobs in his armchair asleep but the two chairs are empty.
It is only then I notice the smell. It is a sickeningly dry, sweet metallic scent on the verge of being pungent and slightly suffocating, mixed with the odour of burning.
It is only when I walk past the first armchair that I see it. At first, my senses cannot interpret the scene that confronts me. I stare in open-mouthed horror at the carnage that lies before me. Bile rises up and I rush to a plant in the corner and throw up. I leave the room trembling, the scene etched into my mind.
Jacobs, or what is left of him, was lying in the hearth in front of the fire which had been lit and which was casting a red glow on the room.
Embers from the fire had somehow fallen on his chest and burned their way into him exposing a few ribs. He is lying in a pool of blood, but the most horrific sight is his face which has been shredded as if by a claw. One eyeball has been forced out of its socket and hanging down his cheek.
I stumble to the end of the hall into the kitchen and pour myself a tumbler of water. I sit on a chair until my breathing returns to normal and my heart stops its wild beating. Something is telling me to return to the room. I walk to the doorway and there, in the centre of the room, is an elderly woman. I know immediately it is Catherine Bancroft. She is staring at me, tears trickling down her cheeks. At her side is her cat, also staring at me, its eyes no longer glowing. She raises an arm and points to the floor and they both slowly disappear.
It is two weeks later that police discover a body in the cellar. It was quickly identified as that of Catherine Bancroft. I had some difficulty persuading them to search the cellar without revealing that it was Catherine herself who pointed it out. The half-burned documents I produced persuaded them that it was a possibility that Ms Bancroft had been murdered.
At the inquest, forensic scientists were unable to satisfactorily explain how Jacobs sustained such horrific injuries. An open verdict was recorded.
Just two days later, I found myself wide wake at 2.00am. I glance at the window. I always leave the curtains half drawn to let in light. The moon’s rays cast a sombre light on the opposite wall. I stare at the windowsill.
Steam andthe ‘Sixties is publishedas an eBook onAmazon today.
It is a stop gap until the finished and enlarged book is published in hardback, probably early next year and gives potential readers the opportunity to decide whether they like it or not and if they want to own the physical volume. It only costs £2.99 from Amazon ASIN: B09KVFKVBT
In the book, Liverpool artist and journalist Mike Rickett takes a personal journey through Britain in the 60s, witnessing the end of steam in the North West of England as well as York, Chester and North Wales.
He also reflects on the mistakes of the 1950s when the government felt that the railways were obsolete and refused to invest in them, followed in the 1960s by the vandalism of the Beeching report which closed hundreds of stations and branch lines. Something that has been debated ever since.
Mike also has a lifelong interest in photography as well as railways and the industrial scene and he took many pictures which have never been published before.
He witnessed and recorded the closure of Liverpool’s historic south docks which became derelict and overgrown as well as the final days of city street trams as generations of Britons knew them.
This is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever.
These are two pages from Steam and the ‘Sixties. Unfortunately the published pages are much darker than shown here obscuring a lot of detail and I am not pleased with the result so while it is available from Lulu, I would advise interested poeple to wait until I publish it on Amazon. It will then have an extra 20 pages detailing every heritage railway in the UK.
This is my latest non-fiction book. It is a personal memoir of the 1960s and which I both loved and hated at the same time. It is also a record of the demise of the steam locomotive in the UK during that period. There are also chapters on Liverpool’s iconic dock system, as well as areas in the north of England where steam made its final stand.
Apart from that it is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever.
This edition is published by Lulu. It is just about 50 pages but a longer (and probably cheaper) version will be available from Amazon in the near future.