I’m a Ghostwatch kid. Like everyone else my age who was even a little nerdy, I watched, twenty years ago as the nascent reality TV form was set up, shown to us by Aunty Beeb, who never lies, and then gleefully and brutally subverted. Stephen Volk‘s script is extraordinary, even today, matching Mike Smith, Sarah Greene, Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles, a pantheon of early ’90s safe TV stars, against the unimaginable. The ending in particular is akin to an episode of Coronation Street concluding with the killteam from Spooks storming The Rover’s Return and murdering a leading cast member, who, it turns out, was a Taliban sleeper agent. It just doesn’t happen and the fact that it did, and did twenty years ago is nothing short of miraculous. Stephen’s script is close up magic at its absolute best, showing exactly what’s really going on in a way that’s certain to not be noticed until it’s far too late.
Jason Arnopp has written its equal.
Like all great ideas, it’s simple and like a lot of great horror, its epistolary in nature. The story is a letter, written to you by the previous resident of your house. It’s polite, slightly long winded in that way that British people all are when we’re telling each other bad news and it takes hold of your lapels in the first two lines and only tightens its grip from there. The writer is involved in a happy relationship, and he (although never being gender identified I read him as a he) introduces us to this partner and their lives as busy professionals. Jason also uses the familiar trauma of moving house as the first knife in his reader’s ribs; we’ve all eaten our first dinner out of pizza boxes, all taken too long to unpack, all slept badly.
Thankfully, not all of us have had trouble sleeping for long. Or had trouble breathing.
Or had the nightmares.
As the story goes on, the second knife goes in; the simple, mundane horror we all fight and none of us win. The horrors of day to day life, of being too busy to relax, or sleep, or have sex. Eating badly, stress at work, snapping at your partner, the great grey expanse of life stretching out in front of you and you finding yourself honestly unsure, some days, how you feel about that. This is the horror David Byrne sings of; ‘And I think to myself, how did I get here?‘
The insomnia gets worse and there are hints of something else, something darker that Jason covers with the third blow; insomnia. Everyone suffers from it from time to time and if you have it for too long it starts to affect you. I slept in 20 minute chunks for two weeks when I had strep throat and I was so tired I would just pass out, waking up as my nose plummeted to the desk and having to pull up like an old fashioned fighter plane. It was miserable. It changed my perceptions, cmuffled my world and that hope, that the nightmare is mundane, treatable with sleeping pills instead of an exorcist is the polite lie that powers the center of the story.
But, as ever, the center cannot hold and the main character is propelled out from his shattered life to discover why this is happening. Jason’s fourth knife blow comes here, the discovery first of the nature of the paranormal event and secondly the way that the author of the letter instinctively assumes the best, even now. He’s a good man, the fictional man who sold your house, and that makes the horrific experience he goes through even worse.
As the story continues, Jason’s final attack is so subtle neither you or the main character notice it at first. There’s hope, even in a situation like the one presented in the story, but that hope lies through insanity, through a unique form of mutilation that’s insanely dangerous and the best possible course of action. There’s no exorcism here, no bones to salt and burn, just a desperate man doing the last thing he can to try and get some peace. To be able to sleep at night. Yet, for all that, he sabotages himself. His escape from the horrors of the house are tenuous and, somehow, he’s compelled to warn the reader of what faces them. It’s guilt in the face of deceit, what seems like the last knife in the reader’s ribs being withdrawn, held; the quality of mercy, strained to breaking point by insomnia and grief and terror but still there, still holding firm. For a man we learn so few specifics about, he’s one of the most nuanced and quietly heroic figures in recent modern horror.
Because, in the end, he gives you your salvation and tells you what it cost, and what it cost him. There’s no guarantees, no certainties, but one thing; it’s a seller’s market, and you still have your health.
A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home is available for 96p from Amazon. However, over at Scary Letter, Jason is doing something frankly extraordinary; Jason will post you a copy of the letter, anywhere in the world, tailored to your details, including, as he describes them:
Your first name, eight times throughout
Your exact property type (ie flat/apartment or house)
The length of time you’ve lived at the property
Your address, road name and town/city will be mentioned
One or two other details in the text, specific to your local area
A surprise, capitalising on the physical nature of letters
More details can be found at Scary Letter.