It had started off as a normal family gathering.
I was having a catch-up with my older cousin, Jen, then 20, who had popped over to see me, my dad, Shayne, then 38, and mum, Joanne, then 32.
But, as everyone became merry, the conversation took a strange turn.
"You know your house is haunted, don't you?" Jen blurted.
There was an awkward silence as I shot Mum and Dad a worried look.
They shifted uncomfortably in their seats, trying to avoid my gaze. Jen, though, didn't seem to notice.
"Yeah, there have always been things going on here," she went on, nodding at me. "You spent the first 18 months of your life sleeping in your parents' room because you were so scared."
"Then there was that time, wasn't there?" she added, turning to Mum and Dad. "With your friends Denise and Jason."
I listened in horror as she recalled a story about how, years before, Mum and Dad's friends had been sitting in our front room eating chips and dips, when they'd heard a rumble and watched the lid of the dip fly off the table and land in the middle of the floor.
Jen revealed that another time,
Dad found his slippers facing the skirting board, the toes curled up as though a spirit had tried walking through the wall with them on.
"Right Jen, I think that's enough," Dad snapped.
"She's only winding you up," Mum insisted, laughing nervously. "There's no ghost here."
But I'd always suspected there was something strange about our two-bedroom 19th century terraced miner's cottage.
Over the years, I thought I'd heard unexplained banging noises and disembodied voices, yet every time I'd mentioned it to Mum and Dad, they'd insisted it was all just in my head.
I was in two minds.
These were memories from my childhood, so maybe I had been imagining these goings-on.
On the other hand, I was sure I could remember more than one occasion when Mum had been so frightened of something that she'd grabbed me and my little brother, Adam, and sat with us on the doorstep until Dad had come home from work.
"We're just getting some fresh air," she'd fibbed.
Then there was the time Adam and I had discovered a video camera on the kitchen worktop.
When we'd switched it on, we'd found a load of strange night-vision videos, which included footage of our hallway.
"The camera is for our family holiday," Dad had said when we'd quizzed him about it. "I was just testing it out."
But now, after Jen's revelations, it got me thinking – had he been trying to capture ghosts?
I've always thought this house was haunted," I said. "Jen's telling the truth, so why don't you just admit it?"
But Mum and Dad quickly changed the subject.
A while later my friend, Paige, and I decided to go to a mediumship demonstration at our local spiritualist church.
Yet when we arrived, we were disappointed to find that the service had been called off.
"I'm afraid the medium is unwell," said Peter*, the man who ran the church. "However, how do you fancy doing a development circle instead?"
"I suppose so," I shrugged.
As me and Paige, and the 15 other people who'd turned up, gathered round, we soon got sidetracked and began sharing scary stories.
Peter told us he'd been doing spirit cleansings for decades – removing entities from other people's homes.
"What's the scariest one you've ever been to?" someone asked.
"Oh, that's easy," Peter said, trembling. "It was a very creepy place I was called out to bless a number of times, a real house of horrors. The phenomena there were unreal."
Scared, I gripped Paige's arm as Peter launched into the whole story.
He began with how the little girl who lived in the house had started behaving strangely after her dummies kept going missing and turning up in piles on the floor.
"One day, she tried to smother her brother in his cot," he said. "It was totally out of character, like she was possessed or something."
Gasps rang out from the people in the group.
"And that's not all," Peter continued. "One time, the parents heard their little boy laughing maniacally in his cot. They rushed up to find his bed was lifted up at one end as though there was a spirit playing with him."
He revealed how the family had been plagued by 21 spirits who'd caused absolute mayhem, repeatedly trashing their home.
"And they are still there," he added. "I can't remove them because they're too powerful."
I went icy cold as he began counting off some of the spirits on his fingers.
"There was a man who dropped dead in the back room who now haunts the house with his wife; a girl who was killed in a fire and walks the top floors of the house; a man who used to appear in the boy's room to terrorise him; and the ghost of a woman who'd been a spiritualist in her time. These souls all lived in the house at one point, but there were evil, visiting ones, too."
That poor family.
They'd gone through so much.
"Why on Earth would anyone live there?" I asked. "Surely you would just move?"
Everyone in the group nodded, looking as shocked as I did.
"All I know is that the family kept calling me back to re-bless the house, but I never had any luck moving the spirits on."
I was about to ask Peter if he knew what happened to the family when he brought the session to an end.
As everyone packed up their things and left, I couldn't get the story out of my mind.
"I hope you don't mind me asking, but where is this house you were talking about?" I asked Peter before I left.
"Oh, now you're asking," Peter frowned, thinking hard.
Finally, he recalled the name of the street.
I shivered at his reply, because it was the same street I lived on.
Then he added: "It was number 55, if I remember correctly."
Suddenly, it felt like the room had shifted. My breath caught in my throat and I felt sick.
It was my house! I lived in the house of horrors.
"Er, well, thank you," I croaked, making a sharp exit.
But as my fear and shock subsided, it made way for anger.
How had I not known about any of this before?
I stormed home, determined to have it out with Mum and Dad.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I fumed at them as soon as I got inside. "All this time you kept telling me it was all in my head, but you knew all along that this place is haunted!"
Their faces dropped as I told them what I'd learned from Peter.
Now, they seemed relieved it was finally out in the open, and they could talk about some of the disturbing things they'd witnessed.
I could hardly believe my ears at all the stories they came out with.
"One time when you were little, Mum took you out in your pram while I had a nap," Dad recalled.
"I had a nightmare that the house had been trashed. Only, when I woke up, I realised it had happened for real."
He shook his head.
"Your cot had been thrown across your bedroom and all of the furniture in the house had been knocked over."
A similar thing had once happened to Mum.
She had been downstairs and heard an almighty crash from above.
"The chest of drawers in our bedroom had been launched across the room and all the contents put in piles," she said, quivering. "There were a number of occasions when we had to pack an overnight bag and go to Nana Anne's because we were too scared to sleep here."
"The man at the spiritualist church said I tried to smother Adam," I said."Is that true?"
"We don't know if you were trying to protect him from the spirits, or if it was something more sinister," Dad explained.
"And the video camera?' I asked.
"I was trying to get evidence of the hauntings," Dad confessed.
"We were trying to protect you," Dad sighed, burying his head in his hands.
"We want to leave but we've never been able to afford to," Mum croaked. She was training to be a nurse, so we only had Dad's income as a bin man coming in.
Which meant that all this time, Mum and Dad had been trying desperately to keep everything hidden from Adam and me, while being utterly terrified themselves.
"I once caught a large black mass walking about downstairs."
I shivered uncontrollably.
"Look, don't worry," Mum said."As soon as I qualify and get a job, we'll be out of here."
True to their word, less than a year later Mum and Dad announced they'd finally found a buyer who was willing to take the property at a knock-down price.
Relieved, we began packing our stuff.
The night before the big move, I finished up folding the last of my clothes and taped them shut in a cardboard box.
"Right, that's the last of it," Dad sighed. "We'll be gone tomorrow."
But the next day, we woke up to absolute chaos.
All the boxes containing our clothes had been opened and were lying on their sides, empty!
"My clothes have been hung back in the wardrobe!" I spluttered, a chill sweeping down my spine.
Mum, Dad and Adam checked their cupboards and found their things had also been carefully put away, too.
It was as though the spirits didn't want us to leave, but we couldn't get out of that house quick enough.
Our family had been terrorised for 16 years but, thanks to Mum and Dad protecting us, Adam and I had escaped the worst of it.
We've since told Adam the whole story and he remembers seeing a man creeping around his room at night, although he prefers not to discuss it.
Dad and I, however, have turned our experiences into something positive.
We've since set up a group called Furness Paranormal Society, to help other families like us.
I'll never forget my strange childhood home – I even have a tattoo of a haunted house to remind me of it.
But having lived through such terrifying experiences, we're all in agreement that memories are the only thing we want to take away from that place.
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