The House on Blackfield Lane

Based on the above illustration by Marisa Bruno

This is another passage from the spirit-writing of local psychic Keith Credge (1943-2004).

In the last years of his life, Mr Credge claimed he was taking dictation from lost souls during hundreds of trance sittings. Most of the writings are fragments but others take the form of complete narratives. Rose’s story is exceptional because parts of it have been verified (as far as these things can be) by the Society.

Out of respect for the surviving relatives, her surname and house number have been removed from the transcript.

Broughton Society for Paranormal Research, 31 October 2020


I’ve been alone in the dark for five thousand and twenty-two days now with nothing to do except get my thoughts in order, so I’m happy to tell my story and think I’ll do it well.

My name is Rose. I was brought up near Moor Lane, in a Salford suburb that was almost Prestwich. I knew this from an early age because my parents were incapable of saying where we lived without quickly adding that it was almost in Prestwich. When Engels came to Salford in the Nineteenth Century, he found an old man living in a pile of dung, and a critic would say it hasn’t changed much—but our corner of the city was nice enough. Maybe because it was almost Prestwich.

There isn’t much to say about my youth. My early memories are a jumble of dream logic and magical thinking, stitched together like a patchwork quilt. When I got older I folded it up and put it away. It’s still there in the back of my mind and it smells faintly of the sea and sun-cream. I find it a comfort in this dark place, where I’ve been stranded for five thousand and twenty-two days, with nothing to do except get my thoughts in order.


In adult life I was the senior editor of a publishing house, with a secret ambition to write my own literary fiction. My husband was a GP in Cowley. We were very comfortable in Oxford, but I wanted to retire to Greater Manchester because all my family were there. My husband was sceptical of Salford—”almost Prestwich” or otherwise—until a beautiful house came up for sale on Blackfield Lane.

We weren’t ready to retire but I thought we could rent it out in the meantime. My husband grumbled but acquiesced. Since it was my dream rather than his, we agreed that I would take the sabbatical to do it up. Thus I found myself boarding a train to Manchester on a cold wet day in November, full of ideas about real fires and oval rugs and crystal chandeliers.

It was raining when the taxi brought me to Blackfield Lane and it’s raining now. I can’t see it but I can hear it. The wind-whipped droplets, lashing the house like handfuls of rice.

I’m still here, you see. I vanished but I never left.


When I first arrived, it was already dark and raining hard. Great liquid sheets of it, hitting the ground like glass meteors. I put my jacket over my head and ran to the door, cursing the strange new keys as I fumbled with the lock.

When I finally got inside, the first thing to hit me was the smell of damp. I walked through the house in a horrified daze, tormenting myself with long deep sniffs. Where was it coming from? Would it ever go? What if a time came when we thought it was gone, but we’d just got used to it, and people were too polite to say?

I made my way through the house, opening all the windows. I wanted to catch something red-handed, like a leak in the ceiling or rising damp, but there was nothing obvious. Nothing at all. The whole place simply stank.

“Great,” I said out loud.

I plugged in a phone and got a dial tone, which was a small victory. We’d asked for the line to be re-connected but didn’t think it would be. Then I rang my husband to tell him about the smell.

“What about the rest of it?” he said.

I looked around.

“Well you saw it yourself,” I reminded him. “It’s quite presentable. If we’re having tenants, we can leave most of the rooms till we move in ourselves.”

“Are we, though? I don’t think we decided.”

“I suppose we didn’t. What do you think?”

There was a long pause.

“Well we don’t need the money,” he pointed out. “Do we?

We agreed to discuss it another time, but I think we’d reached a point where neither of us could be bothered renting it out. It was a small weight off my shoulders, of the kind you don’t even notice till it’s gone.

I unrolled my inflatable mattress and bedded down in one of the rooms. It took a long time to get to sleep, and I began to wonder why I hadn’t booked a hotel for the first few nights—at least until I got a bed delivered—but I couldn’t go back in time. I just lay there feeling sorry for myself.

When I finally nodded off, I had a nightmare.

In my dreams it was raining. I watched in horror as countless leaks ran down the walls. Enormous drops of water welled up on the coving, leaving dark grey tracks as they skidded to the carpet. In places, the plaster was so damp it had turned to wet clay. I scooped it off in handfuls, trying to work out how bad it was.

Deeper and deeper I went into the wall. I couldn’t even find the brickwork beneath. I can’t remember what I did find, but I know I woke up screaming.


The next morning I explored the house properly, this time in a better frame of mind.

The previous owner had started to improve the property, apparently without much conviction. Here and there was evidence of half-finished work, like a bag of screws with the corner ripped off, or a dusty hammer stood on end. A post-it note with a plasterer’s number had fallen to the floor and curled up, like something that had died of old age.

I poked my head in the loft and was surprised to find a folding camp-bed. It looked a lot better than the inflatable mattress, so I lowered it through the hatch on the belt from my dressing gown. Then I went to a charity shop in Prestwich and paid for a chest of drawers, a small table, a jewellery box and a lamp. My plan was to put them in the room with the camp bed, just to make it more cosy in there.

I can still see them now. They’re set out before me, right where I left them. When morning comes, they’ll be thick with dust, like they were yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. I’ve watched the dust settle for five thousand and twenty-two days, like a blizzard of snow in slow motion. Tomorrow, it will be be five thousand and twenty-three, and the dust will be a tiny bit thicker. This is how I live now—watching the dust as it fills the room.


By the end of the week, I wasn’t worried about the smell any more because it seemed to have gone. I was coming and going enough to think that, if it was still there, I’d at least notice when I came back from town. I put it down to the house being uninhabited for several months with no ventilation.

It was surprisingly hard to get contractors to come. A decorator poked his head in the bathroom and promised to get back to me with a quote, but I hadn’t heard back and felt I never would. I went to B&Q and had a long talk with them about a new kitchen, but they weren’t due to visit for a while.

In the meantime, my husband and I formally agreed that we wouldn’t bother looking for tenants, so I made a start on stripping the rooms and planning the décor. In the evenings, I half-heartedly worked on a novel I’d been trying to write for nearly eight years, which began with the joyless words, “The whole house smelled faintly of lamb but dinner was ruined.”

“I think I misjudged this,” I told my husband on the phone. “I thought I’d have a team of people to manage, but it’s all so slow. I need something to happen.”

I could tell he was smiling at the other end.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he reminded me.


That night I had another bad dream.

It was the same as the first one. All the plaster in the house had turned to wet mush. I clawed it off the walls in a blind panic, trying to work out how bad it was.

Before long, my fingers discovered something in the plaster. It was the brim of a hat, caked in wet cement. I wiped it clean then backed away in horror.

A living face was buried in the wall, with two bright eyes and a mouth like the moon.

It leered at me like the Cheshire Cat and I woke with a cry of fear.


When morning came, the room smelled of damp. I sat up stiffly and saw, to my horror, a huge wet patch by the window. It started at head height and went all the way to the floor.

I got up and went to investigate. It was almost the shape of a man. Halfway down the wall it split in two, making an uneven pair of legs.

“Great,” I said sarcastically.

I brushed my teeth and found a Yellow Pages. I tried eight builders and only one of them answered.

“I’ve got water coming in,” I told him.

“In through the ceiling or rising from the floor?”

“Neither.”

“Eh?”

“It’s starting half way up the wall.”

I could hear him checking a diary.

“I can’t get there till next Friday,” he said. “I can do—one o’ clock on Friday?”

It was far from ideal, but no one else answered so I had to take it. After I hung up I went through the whole house, obsessively sniffing and checking for leaks. I didn’t find any others but I postponed my plan to hang the new wallpaper. I felt irrationally sure that, wherever I put it, rain would come in and instantly ruin it.

The downpour continued on and off for the whole day. The damp patch didn’t grow or change shape. It just got darker.


On day ten, I woke to what I thought was an intruder in the corner of my room. When my head cleared and my heart stopped pounding, I saw that it was just the damp patch on the wall. It really was uncanny, the way it resembled a man. I could discern a head, shoulders, waist and legs, but it was just my brain looking for patterns. I struggled to remember the word for this and it suddenly came to me.

“Pareidolia,” I said in triumph.

I had no choice but to wait for the builder. In the meantime, I kept checking the damp. I’d never seen a leak at head height before. There must have been a crack in the bricks, I realised, because I could see the shape of the fissure where the water entered. It was a band of damp across the top of the head, like the brim of a hat. It gave me an eerie sense of déjà vu but I couldn’t think why.

After dinner, when I sat down to write, I put my long-suffering manuscript away and tried something new. “I had no choice but to wait for the builder,” I began. “In the meantime, I kept checking the damp.”

There was a peal of thunder and it started to rain.


The contractor postponed twice but eventually came to look at the leak.

“It’s through here,” I told him.

He stepped into the room and looked around.

“Where?”

“Right there,” I told him. “In the corner.”

Which corner, sorry?”

I looked at him in surprise. He was blinking right at it.

Then my skin began to crawl because it was clear he couldn’t see it.

That corner,” I said—pointing it out.

He went to check but seemed bemused.

“It looks fine,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say because it couldn’t have been more visible. Not to me, anyway. I was fearing for my sanity at this point but didn’t want to make a scene.

“Well it’s fine now,” I lied. “But that’s where it gets wet, when it rains.”

He pressed his hand to it, getting black he couldn’t see on the tips of his fingers.

“It feels dry enough,” he said. “So you won’t have to replaster, at least.”

“Well that’s good,” I said weakly.

He went through the motions and found a cracked slate at the edge of the extension roof. It wasn’t in the right place, but he gave me a rehearsed spiel about how water finds its own route, then offered to come back and fix it for eighty quid. After I accepted he left me in a daze.

Eventually I rang my husband.

“How did it go?”

“There was a cracked slate on the extension roof,” I heard myself say. “The water found its own route. He’s coming back to fix it.”

“I suppose you’ll need a plasterer next.”

“He didn’t think so.”

“Really? You said it was a right mess?”

I turned to look at the dark shape in the corner. It—or was it him?—seemed to be watching me.

“I must have been exaggerating,” I said.


For the next few days I seemed to move through life in a dream. I kept finding myself in the room with the damp patch, looking at in in confusion.

Before long, I no longer thought of it as a damp patch. Other people could see damp patches. It was simply the shape of a man with a hat. It reminded me of those shadows in Japan, etched onto buildings by nuclear fireballs. They were the outlines of people who had died, frozen in time in Nagasaki, or on the steps of a bank in Hiroshima. Mine was waiting by the window, loitering among the house plants.

But waiting for what?

I considered moving out, or at least picking another room to sleep in. For some reason I didn’t. A peculiar sort of fatalism had come over me. I don’t think I ever got over the shock of discovering that only I could see it. From that point on, I sleep-walked through my life, doing bits of DIY in the day and staring at the shadow in the night. Before long, it even had a face. Two bright eyes and a mouth like the moon, watching me from the corner of the room.

You’ve guessed by now that my story doesn’t have a happy ending. Whoever he was—whatever he was—a time came when he stepped off the wall and came to life. I woke in the middle of the night to find him standing at the foot of my camp-bed, grinning down at me.

When I tried to scream, he climbed on the mattress and pressed a cold hand over my mouth. The smell of mildew was so strong that I almost passed out.

Very dimly, I remember him lifting me from the bed and carrying me to the corner of the room. Then—somehow—he sealed me in the wall he’d come from. It gave way like porridge and swallowed me whole. He stood back to admire his handiwork then melted into nothing.

And here I remain. I can still see the room but I no longer have my former shape. I’m two-dimensional now, spread through the plaster like a web of spores—or maybe just a patch of damp.

From my strange new vantage point, I watched my husband, and then my sister, and then the police come to visit. I was powerless to call out to them. I saw them slowly give up on me. I watched in silence as dust filled the room and settled on my possessions.

I don’t know who the man was, or why he put me here, or where he went, but I strongly believe that my capture was the price of his freedom. It has a perverse sort of logic. One in, one out. The house must have its ghost. If you sleep here you will dream of me, just as I dreamed of him.

I’m waiting for the day when someone else buys the property and moves in. I’ll see if I can will myself into being, like he did, until I’m strong enough to step off the wall and seize my replacement. Then I’ll melt into darkness and simply go away. To heaven or hell, if such places are real, or the never-ending peace of non-existence, I cannot say.

In the meantime, I’ve been alone in the dark for five thousand and twenty-two days with nothing to do except get my thoughts in order. Tomorrow it will be be five thousand and twenty-three and the dust will be a tiny bit thicker. This is how I live now—watching the dust as it fills the room.


The narrative you just read was produced by Keith Credge over the course of four different sittings. After his death, it was edited it into a single document by volunteers at the Broughton Society for Paranormal Research. Edits were made to correct misspellings, redact personal details and remove duplicated material. Other than that, the original text was unchanged.

In recent years, we’ve established that a woman called Rose did indeed move from Oxford to Kersal and subsequently vanish. The house on Blackfield Lane remains in her family and is presently unoccupied—or, at the very least, has no living tenants.

Broughton Society for Paranormal Research, 31 October 2020


Ellis Reed, 01/11/2020

Shallow Man

Image by Marisa Bruno

Mr Keith Credge (1943-2004) was arguably the most talented psychic in the North of England. In the last years of his life, he shuttered his parlour (which he called a “clinic”) and devoted himself to the practice of spirit-writing. He produced hundreds of handwritten notes between 1997 and 2003, believing them to be the life stories of lost souls. The narrative reproduced here is among the most striking.

Broughton Society for Paranormal Research, 25 May 2020


I know my name was Daniel, and I know I went to school on Nevile Road, but I don’t know where that is any more.

Nevile Road. It hangs in space, trapped in a bubble of gleaming grey sky. In my mind’s eye, the ends of the street are lost in glare. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know where it goes.

Nor can I remember what the school was like. I can see it from a distance, but the windows are blanks that mirror the sky. I wish I could walk towards them and lean in to see. In my dreams, I stand by the school gates, watching dead leaves circle in the wind. I am unable to move.

I know we had a playground. On rainy days, we played a game called “Shallow Man”. There was a blocked drain that flooded, and it happened so often you could see the puddle when it wasn’t even there, because it left a stain in the dirt. When it was there, we said it was Shallow Man’s den, and that was where we played.

The Shallow Man was a local legend. He jumped out of puddles to snatch children, but apart from that, the details were vague. We thought he made himself flat like a pancake and waited for victims to walk by. Other times, we wondered if the puddles were magic portals, so he’d step in one and spring from another. I had a notion he could kneel down and reach in the water, and his arm would come out somewhere else. It made me shiver with a mix of horror and delight.

When you were Shallow Man, you stood in the puddle and waited. He had long white hands with terrible fingers, so your task was to grab your friends and pull them in. You had to keep at least one foot in the water because Shallow Man never came out of it. He wore oilskins, like a fisherman, but they were black instead of yellow, and his sou’wester hid a scowling face with terrible eyes. When you took your turn in the puddle, you pulled your jumper over your head and grimaced through the neck-hole to impersonate him.

So here we are in my memories. It’s a cold wet day in March and I am Shallow Man. The others dance by the puddle, daring me to grab them. As they do they chant my name: “Shallow Man! Shallow Man!” My shoes are sodden but I laugh as we play. Then the school bell rings and they all turn to leave.

In the very same second, there’s a brief electric flash, followed by peals of thunder. It starts to rain again. Then I wonder: what if Shallow Man is real? I imagine a wet hand reaching from the water, grabbing my leg and pulling me down. The puddle closes like a liquid trapdoor. No one knows I’m trapped below.

I shudder in the rain and run to join my friends, shaking water from my shoes.


I know there was a place where I felt safe, and in that place was a woman. She must have been my mother.

In my dreams she is frozen in time, boiling rice and shelling peas. I remember the bitter green smell of the raw peas. The lava sound of boiling water. She doesn’t turn round, which is sad, because this is my only memory of her. Her face is lost forever.

She asks about my day. I tell her about Shallow Man and she whistles in surprise.

That’s a sad story,” she says. “When I was your age we’d never heard of him. Then a boy drowned in a puddle and his mum went crazy. He’s got my boy, he’s got my boy—the Shallow Man has got my boy! It was a weird old story no one knew, but after that, well—everyone knew it again.”

I look at her in surprise.

“How can you drown in a puddle?

She shrugs.

“He used to have fits. Convulsions or something. I think he passed out when no one was looking. You can drown in an inch of water, if you’re lying face-down. I knew his sister, and—”

That’s all I remember. She disappears, blown out like a candle.


I don’t have many memories left, and I’m trying to put them in order.

I’m sitting by the window as a grown man, watching the street below. It’s late at night. Drops of rain dance in the wind, set ablaze by orange streetlight. I don’t know when the Witching Hour is, but it must be now, because the night is strange and electric.

I hear the distant sound of high heels. Clop, clop, clop. A woman appears at the end of the road, shielding her face from the rain. She’s holding a phone to her ear, and I can hear her talking, even through the glass, because her voice is loud and angry.

“Nigel,” she’s saying—“honestly—I don’t give a crap what she said, because I said—”

She stops suddenly and listens to her boyfriend in disbelief. As she does, my eyes are drawn to a puddle by the kerb. It spreads before her like a mirror, reflecting her long bare legs.

A grasping grey hand reaches from the water…

I want to shout a warning, but instead, I freeze. The fingers close around her ankle. She falls on her front and is dragged under, too surprised to even scream.

For a split-second, she claws at the kerb, fighting for life. Then she’s simply gone, and the puddle closes with a soft splash.

I sit in a daze, trying to make sense of what I’ve seen. How can a person vanish into—what—an inch of water? Even so, she’s gone. Her phone lies on the ground, exactly where she dropped it. The screen hasn’t even gone dark yet.

Before I can decide what to do, the puddle starts to churn. A dark figure rises through the ground, like an actor being lifted through a stage.

Water runs from his waterproof sleeves. His shapeless hat is almost a hood. I can see his face because he’s looking right at me. As he does, I hear (or think I hear) an echo of the playground chant: “Shallow Man, Shallow Man”—distant and shrill—almost lost in the sound of the rain.

My heart pounds, fit to burst. He points up at me with a long wet finger.

I see you, comes a voice in my mind.

The fusebox bangs on the wall behind me, making me jump in fright. The flat is plunged into darkness. Then he sinks in the water and is gone.


It’s the middle of the day. I’m standing at the end of Nevile Road. The ground is wet but the sun is warm. The clouds in the sky are brilliant white, like shirts in an ad for washing powder.

Before me is a rundown house. The first floor cladding is rotten. Salt blooms white on the bricks. Beneath a broken gutter is a beard of black mould, like the shadow of an icicle. It’s not a nice house. It seems more rained-on than its neighbours. You could squeeze it like a sponge and water would come gushing out.

I go up the drive and knock on the door. No one answers, but I hear a brief sort of panic in the hall.

“Hello?” I call through the letter box. “Mrs Shaw? I want to ask you about—Shallow Man.”

The silence continues, but it seems different now. Curious, rather than fearful.

“I heard you know about him,” I say, “and the thing is”—I look over my shoulder, checking the street is empty—“I think I saw him.”

There’s a stained glass window in the door. Her face appears on the other side. Her eyes are hidden by a red rose.

If that’s true,” she says through the glass, “he’ll never leave you alone. It’s been thirty years for me. Every time it rains I close the curtains so he can’t see in. I won’t have drinks any more in case I spill ’em, I just eat ice lollies.”

My heart sinks.

“What can I do?”

“Nothing,” she says bluntly. “All you can do is hide. Don’t go out when it’s raining. I think it’s safe in the day but don’t risk it. Lock the house and stay inside.”

“Can I come in?”

“No. I’ll give you some advice though: he can’t leave his puddles. He can reach out, but he can’t come out.”

My mind recalls the game we used to play. That was the rule. One foot in the water.

“Remember that,” she says, “and you’re in with a chance. Now clear off.”

I thank her for her time and walk away, avoiding puddles on the pavement.

Half way down the street, I glance at one and start with fright. There, in the water—just for a second—is a terrible face with two wide eyes.

They stare up at me from the ground. Once again, his voice enters my mind: “I see you!”

Then the wind blows a ripple through the water, wiping him away.


The next memory is my last. The rest of my mind has blown apart, like seeds from the head of a—what’s it called? The yellow flower that turns to fluff. My mind has turned to fluff.

I’m in the same flat but much has changed. In the living room, the whole back wall is covered with newspaper clippings. Half of them are about missing people. Key passages are underlined. The rest are cutouts of the five-day forecasts.

I don’t know how much time has elapsed but I know I feel older. Maybe just tired. I put the telly on in time for the weather.

“It’s a mixed day tomorrow. Low pressure heading north, bringing cold wind and more showers—”

The windows are boarded up but I can still hear the rain. It’s like the sound of cellophane. A car goes by with a liquid roar.

“—and here, in the northwest, it’s going to be very wet indeed. Looking ahead to Friday—”

I inspect my stockpile of food, flipping tins to check the dates. Apart from the tinned food I’ve got some bottles of gin, porridge oats, long-life milk, Monster Munch and dried fruit. I can stay inside for weeks if I have to. I drink the gin to mortify my fear of the rain and the rest is for sustenance.

This is how I live now. I don’t know how I get money, but it’s something to do with—diagrams? I think I write, or maybe proofread, the instructions for kitchen appliances. Whatever it is, I do it from home. Nothing else would fit my lifestyle.

I put the last tin down and go to the bathroom, running the shower till it starts to steam. When I get under it, the warmth is a great comfort. For a second, I could be anywhere. The Brazilian jungle. The Kingdom of Bhutan.

I look down and see water draining slowly. The plughole must be clogged because the shower tray is full. Inches of water slosh around.

Bang!

The fusebox blows a fuse in the next room. I’m plunged into darkness. The shower head slows to a trickle.

Then I hear a soft splashing at my feet, and I know I messed up, because I didn’t think he could get me in shower—but it’s too late for regrets.

A cold hand grabs my ankle. He pulls me down into a bottomless sea, and that’s the end of my memories.


I’m in another place now.

When I woke, I was on a dark beach, and the Shallow Man stood over me. He dragged me from the sea and onto the sand.

The moon was a vicious hook, sharpened by the bitter wind. It wasn’t the moon I knew. It was much too big, and the light it gave was eerie green.

He bound my hands and led me inland. We walked for days. In all that time he never spoke.

After days of walking, we came at last to a barren plain with one bent tree. He took me to a palace on the far side, where the Smiling Ones were waiting to greet us. They took me in without a word and led me to my place in the choir.

Here I sing forever. When I do, I retreat into my mind, and what remains of my memories.

I know my name was Daniel, and I know I went to school on Nevile Road…


Ellis Reed, 19/07/2020