Bricken Hall 

Bricken Hall

Bricken Hall was the large house on the hill, during Michael's childhood. He sometimes half-looked up at it from the school playground, never questioning its presence and, as time continued, barely noticing it at all.

Like all towns where people are raised, he took many of the landmarks for granted, however they might have appeared to strangers - the quirks and nooks, winding alleys, architectural peccadilloes, long walls without entrances, squares with fountains amid the odd statuary, and the line of terraced houses where Michael himself had been chosen to live, with stylish out-jutting windows and carved ornamentation more akin to gargoyles than one would think typical of the Utility Years.

But he never really noticed anything at all. He played at being a steam-train along the lines in the pavements, as he wended the familiar course to school. Sometimes he decided that the blue-mottled paving-slabs meant death, so he had to hop over those for fear of his very existence (albeit a tenuous existence at the best of times). Then he reached Temperance Street where, if he had only realised it, the school was itself an architectural peccadillo, with it squat priapic bell-tower, endless red-brick walls, and two playgrounds, one for boys and the other for those who were at that time a mystery to him - they were called "girls", but that was all he did know, other than the fact that they seemed to dress differently - and teachers with pea-brain whistles, looking older than they really were either because of the strain of the job or the comparison with Michael's insultingly young age - and playtime when he had to pinch his nose for fear of the ripe stench in the Boys Lavatory, followed by games such as Denno and chants of "fight! fight! fight!", whereupon a teacher arrived breathless from the affrays Michael later learned took place within the sanctuary of the staff-room, to tear apart, limb from limb, those ruffians partaking in a catspit scrap, and other games, yes, like flicking cigarette cards so they flew off as bodiless helicopters into corners of the playground where, on different occasions, he sometimes sat with a crony or two debating the nature of existence (however tenuous) and whether "girls" had willies.

Those were the best days of his life. The horror was he could not later remember them with any degree of clarity. But, presumably, he did not need reminding that, one day, upon emerging from the Boys Lavatory, deeply inhaling the comparatively fresh air of the playground, he had looked up for once at the large house that stood on the hill. Bricken Hall, they called it. A teacher, during Gym that day, whilst the brawnier boys dragged the thick bristly exercise-mats from the bike-sheds and the weaker morsels toted the bean-bags from the Boys Lavatory, told Michael (as, the teacher said, Michael was the only trustworthy one), that Bricken Hall was haunted. Michael stared back quizzically, not speaking, for he hardly ever opened his mouth (except to nourish his tenuous existence with food) and, inretrospect, that was probably why the teacher trusted him so much. In later life, Michael could still see him, standing there, staring at Michael's three-quarter length trousers, which demurely hid his knobbly knees. The teacher's eyes were blue and younger than the other teachers. His horn-rimmed spectacles reflected Michael's own face twice over...

For several months after that, Michael was intrigued by Bricken Hall. He began to notice it more and more. He went to the library to read up about it, searching archives of local history, questioning the spinster type who stared into space at the front of the reading-room. She told him more things than any of the books could tell him. The books were more concerned with the personalities that had passed through the annals of the Town Hall (which, Michael supposed, if you had the time, would itself prove to be quite an interesting building to study, with its Gothic clocktower and yet unrepaired war damage). It was perhaps because he remembered more about facts when given to him by word of mouth (the eyes saying as much as the lips), that he literally ate up the sounds, recompensing in due course, he hoped, for his own silence. She knew what he needed to know, without really being asked. She must have read it in his face like an open book.

She said that parts of the Temperance Street School were older than Bricken Hall. Its bell-tower was, in itself, the oldest part of the whole town. And from the boys' playground (and no doubt the lavatory, too) had emerged some of the world's leaders, such as Disraeli, Cromwell, Churchill, Thatcher and so on. Michael ate it all up.

But, when he heard about Bricken Hall, his mouth gaped open and stayed like that for days afterwards. It had ghosts, true - many had seen them. Not only that simple fact, it had actually been built to house the ghosts that already populated the once bare hill.

"What sort of ghosts, I hear you ask me," she continued (and he later could not recall what she had said precisely with that strange Welsh underlilt). "They came from all walks of reality, but the ones that linger most are literary. E.F. Benson stays locked up in the room in the tower, scribbling social comedies. M.R. James even today sits in its bookroom, illuminating clues upon all the fly-leaves, sometimes confiding with Carnacki who has recently taken to roosting up one of the chimneys. H.P. Lovecraft has left to go to a better place, but he has abandoned many of his more striking creations in the shuttered attic, where lesser monsters dare not go. Matthew Gregory Lewis ponders on why his Nun was bleeding and his descendants such crass people. Sitting in the kitchen polishing the silverware of his dreams, is one with a remarkable resemblance to Edgar Allan Poe..."

She rhythmically intoned the last name, almost too low for a woman to reach. None of it then, as later, made any sense to Michael, but it was all so perfectly mysterious; each word fell into place like a massive jigsaw that would keep him busy for at least a decade of Christmases.


He could not remember ever noticing Bricken Hall again. The teacher who had drawn his attention to it was never seen again. There was a rumour doing the rounds in the Boys Lavatory that he had been sacked for venturing into the "girls'" playground "out of season", as it were. Michael never even again noticed the hill upon which Bricken Hall had sat. Life took on a new urgency, speeding up, doing things to his body that he feared he would never understand. Events leapfrogged. Exams seemed all-important, for he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the famous Old Boys of Temperance Street Juniors.

He became older and, he hoped, wiser. He thought he had left that town far behind him, both in mind and body. The image of Bricken Hall did not cross his thoughts for all these years of helping his own children winnow the impossible jigsaws from the rest of their lives. But then I came to haunt you, Michael, with memories, memories which you perhaps hoped had slipped away beyond recall. I was a ghost from the unchangeable, if forgettable, past, bringing it all back with me like the black lace train of a funeral dress. I had come to teach you that the past was all-important and should not be filed way in that forgotten drawer which was full of old childrens' clothes. You should have riffled through the old yellowing photographs that your eyes once snapped - such as the reflections in a pair of glasses. I was to renew the mysteries of the opposite sex which, at the best of times, you never really plumbed. I was to show you how to tread fearlessly on the blue-mottled paving-slabs. So, whatever you might have done and was still to do, Michael, I was surely destined to live an existence (sometimes shy and tenuous, sometimes neither) in the shuttered attic of your brain.

Michael looked up for the last, and perhaps first, time and saw a shape waving from the top of a bare hill. He however barely discerned the glint of its glasses in the setting sun - or was it the naked sparkle of its tearstained eyes?

Published ‘Crypt of Cthulhu’ 1994

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