It was their own fault, really. They should have got a proper, in-depth building survey done, not just relied on the cursory once-over the bank used for valuation purposes. After all, the house had stood there for over 150 years; as her dad had warned her, who knew what nasties lurked just under the surface, waiting for them? Although he’d probably been thinking more along the lines of rising damp or dodgy old wiring.
The house had apparently been well loved, if not well maintained. The previous occupant had only sold up when forced to by his horrified relatives, shortly after he’d been escorted off the premises by several armed members of the local constabulary and fitted with his own straitjacket. From the comfort of his private, luxuriously padded room in a maximum-security facility for the criminally insane, it hadn’t occurred to him to organise a house clearance, so their first job was to clear out all of his belongings.
Housework and general hygiene clearly hadn’t been high on his list of priorities. Underneath the grease and grime, the house itself was beautiful and full of character, but the smell did take some getting used to. This didn’t put them off though, as they were pretty certain that the smell would go once all the old furniture, the ragged drapes and the threadbare carpets had found their way into the skip.
The front room had obviously been the previous occupant’s main living space. A well-worn armchair had pride of place in front of the bay window, a prime position for watching the world outside go about its business. It was impossible to tell what colour it had started out as, but now it was an unpleasant brownish khaki colour, except for the massive dark red stain splashed across it – probably the result of a dropped ketchup bottle or something similar. The front room was also host to a couple of very creaky floorboards, one of which sounded more like a groan or a cry of pain when you stood on it; but as their first week in the house went by the groan became fainter and fainter, until, by the Friday, it had stopped altogether.
The upstairs was no better. The bathroom was particularly bad. The whole suite needed replacing, as the surface of the bath had been horribly discoloured and scoured by what looked like some incredibly corrosive substance – acid, maybe? Stronger than Mr Muscle, anyway. And it was in avocado, for pity’s sake; so very 1970s. When they replaced the bath, they found the pipe-work underneath completely blocked by hair and bits of skin-tissue and what looked like fragments of nails and teeth. The previous occupant had obviously been fond of shaving, exfoliating and cutting his toenails in the bath.
The garage was home to an incredible array of power tools, all the more incredible as the previous occupant clearly hadn’t done much DIY in the house, save for a badly done partition wall between the dining room and kitchen. The tools all showed signs of a great deal of use though, particularly the drills, the sander and a couple of hand saws, all the sharp, jagged, pointy bits caked in deep red flakes of what they assumed was rust.
The house might have been in a pitiful state, but the garden by comparison was another Eden. It was lush and green, rampant with roses, fragrant lavenders and a stately old apple tree at the end. No weeds dared show their faces in the well-striped lawn; no greenfly or lily beetle called the flowerbeds home. It was paradise. It was clear, even before the neighbours told them, that the previous occupant had been a regular at the local garden centre, right up until that fateful day when he had lost it big time and brutally murdered four members of staff with a two metre roll of weed suppressant matting and a small azalea bush.
Their first real hint that all was not as it seemed was when they started to knock down the partition wall. It had to go, as they wanted to create a modern, open plan kitchen-diner with an extension, and quite frankly that wall, with its dodgy plastering and strange bulge down the middle, wasn’t an architectural detail worth saving. Most walls don’t let out a hissing noise, like a sudden rush of escaping gas, when you smash a hole in them; most of them don’t leak a putrid stench of decaying flesh or pour out a steady stream of maggots and flies.
At this point they probably should have called the police, but planning permission had taken so long to come through that they really didn’t want any more hold ups. Once they’d extracted the body (youngish male, going by what remained of the clothing), they realised that perhaps they should investigate the rest of the house much more thoroughly, as the previous occupant’s idea of cavity wall insulation was obviously markedly different to everyone else’s.
It took quite a while for them to dig six graves in the back garden, and in doing so they discovered the previous occupant’s secret for growing such beautiful roses; plenty of decaying organic matter in the soil. If that was the case, they were in for a show-stopping floral display next summer.
This may seem hard-nosed to you, dear Reader, but they justified it to themselves thus: calling the police wouldn’t make those six corpses (well, twelve, if you included what was left of the ones already buried in the garden) – it wouldn’t breathe new life into those how-ever-many corpses, wouldn’t send them home to their loved ones. And the perpetrator was already locked up, talking to pixies and being kept away from pointy objects, so it wasn’t as if they were cheating justice. And if they did call the cops, all that would happen would be a halt to their building plans, followed by months and months of police forensic teams picking through the house and undoing all their hard work. Not to mention the drop in property prices!
Everyone has a few skeletons in their closet, after all. Maybe other peoples’ don’t rattle quite so much whenever there’s a strong wind, but any way… They carried on renovating.
Finally, after six long months of hard work, it was done. He was no builder and she was no interior designer, but together they had created a beautiful family home. All they needed now was the final sign off from the building inspector; they could at last put down their tools and enjoy life again.
But the building inspector was not a happy man. He was sick to the back teeth of novice property developers buying up cheap property, painting everything magnolia and sticking it back on the market to make a fast buck. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t getting signed off.
He finished his inspection and they waited with baited breath to hear his verdict.
“That back wall has to come down,” he said.
They couldn’t believe it. They were devastated; both of them – but her in particular – were done with renovating. She could not face another minute of DIY.
“That back wall comes out past the permitted distance. On your plans you’ve got a measurement here of three metres. Well, I’ve measured three metres ten centimetres. Even with an allowance of 1% either way, that’s well over. You’ve gone too far.”
“No we haven’t,” she said, picking up the sledgehammer.
They had to re-lay the patio to accommodate his corpse, but it did mean they could fit a larger set of garden furniture on it.