In hindsight, the unsettled feeling started the moment we turned off the road. There is something inherently unwelcoming about a badly maintained track, full of potholes. That lack of welcome is exacerbated when a vent in the building you’re driving past starts kicking out enough steam to replicate the TV show Stars In Their Eyes, and you expect to come out the other side looking like Simon and Garfunkel. Except that when you do emerge on the other side, there is nothing but a stern-looking man in a fluorescent jacket standing at an open doorway, smoking a cigarette and giving you a stare that says, “Turn back. Now.”
We pressed on.
Upon arriving at the farm to carry out the survey, my colleague went off across the fields with the client to look at some stables, leaving me to measure the converted garage. It looked harmless enough, standing in the shade of a few imposing trees, set into the ground slightly. A short path to the side door required the brushing aside of a few low-hanging branches and trailing creepers; a little claustrophobic maybe, but nothing too Evil Dead.
Inside: kitchen worktop and base units lined the opposite wall from the door, including a washing machine rattling and humming its way through a load, stabbing at what might otherwise have been an overwhelming silence with frenetic mechanics. Some random consumables occupied bits of the worktop – a box of peppermint tea, a packet with some regular teabags – giving the impression of the building being occupied, but only sporadically…
The only other furniture, aside from a selection of chairs that would have been considered uncomfortable in a workhouse, was a table pushed up against the wall under the window next to the door. Its top was covered in a blanket of red sandalwood shavings, with just enough space remaining for a box containing two untouched sandalwood sticks, looking for all the world like an activity invented to occupy someone with a severe obsessive compulsion.
In the left-hand wall from the entrance, three doors leading through to the back half of the garage. The left-most door opened to a small, unfinished store/cupboard – no floor finish, partially tiled walls, a lot of bare plasterboard. The middle door provided access to a drab shower room, finished in a maintenance-free sort of way, just unclean enough to suggest that it gets some use every once in a while. Natural light from a lone, small window reinforced the lack of sparkle, while the incursion of a single aerial root of ivy through the top pane was enough to suggest that nature was doing its best to ward people away politely. For now, at least.
The final room was even more sparsely furnished. Inexplicably, a set of four racing tyres and wheels sat stacked in one back corner, while in the other was a clothes rail devoid of any garments. An Ikea light stood just inside the door, one with a tall stem and a secondary reading light; its base was badly scratched, with a lot of loose flakes of black paint littering the floor. In the centre of the room, sitting on a similar chair to those in the main ‘living’ space, was a cardboard box full of nothing but plastic connectors (like you would use to put a cheap gazebo together).
Measuring around the window on the back wall, it was a surprise to pull back the flimsy curtain and see a child’s bike lying on the bank to the rear of the building. It must have been there a while judging by the layer of leaves covering parts of the wheels and bits of the frame.
Drips of water rolled off the rafters and down the back of my neck as the entrance door settled back into its frame and the process of taking some external measurements started. A process not made easy, it should be said, by overgrown vegetation, slippery ground, and the remoteness of the location. Working from front to rear and negotiating the natural obstacles, eventually the partially buried bicycle had to be confronted.
In the end, however, it was easy to ignore thanks to the attention-grabbing presence of a large two-man saw hanging on the wall.
Excessive rust levels belied the obvious ‘bite’ its teeth still possessed. Standing bewildered, wondering what reason anyone would have for hanging such an implement out of view, it was a relief to hear the chatter of voices carried on the breeze. My colleague and our client returned from their brief jaunt across the Cheshire countryside; the latter going into her house, the former joining me to help take the last few dimensions we needed.
“Nice saw,” he commented, before setting about the remaining work without missing a beat. Reassuring though this attitude undoubtedly was, clearly he hadn’t been inside, seen the same things as me. Or was he just proving the well-tested theory that all the best horror takes place in the mind…?