Guest writer JOHN MORRIS describes a spooky, unsettling experience from his youth during the 1960s in Kilburn, North-West London.
It all happened a long time ago. Phil, Geoff and I met in London and became friends back in the late 60s; we still keep in touch to this day.
We were in our teens then and wanted to get our own apartment.
We found the ideal place. An attic flat in Brondesbury Villas, Kilburn (‘Little Ireland’ it was known then).
It was just within our budget – £10 per week – but we couldn’t move into it right away because, we were told, the last tenant, an unbalanced old lady, had tried to burn the place down – starting with our flat! So it needed gutting and complete renovation.
It was an old, four-storey Victorian terraced house.
The Landlords, a nice elderly couple, Polish Jews who both had the blue Auschwitz tattoo on their forearms, lived on the ground floor.
Other tenants occupied converted flats on the first and second floors.
Our flat had a large living room and two bedrooms: a small one in the front, a larger one with two beds at the back.
I think I lived there for maybe three years.
One night, after a year or so, we had all gone to bed.
I had the single room at the time, Geoff and Phil shared a bedroom but we rotated periodically so everyone got the single room every so often.
If someone brought a girl home, the rotation moved that much quicker.
It was pitch-black in my room.
I was just dropping off to sleep when I first heard it, the sound of someone breathing right next to my bed.
It was a regular in-out, in-out sound, as though a bit breathless.
I thought one of the guys had crept into my room and was doing it for a joke.
Now fully awake, I lay there for a few seconds waiting for whoever it was to shout something to scare me (we knew how to have fun in those days) but nothing happened and the breathing sound continued.
I turned on the bedside light, the sound stopped immediately, I looked about but there was in one in the room.
I thought it was odd, or perhaps my imagination playing tricks on me, but I was tired so I switched out the light intending to get to sleep.
Immediately, the breathing noise started again.
It was same steady, rhythmic sound of someone steadily breathing in and out but this time, in a heavy, more laboured sort of way.
This time I definitely thought it was peculiar so I got up, went to the other bedroom, and told Geoff and Phil to come into my room for a bit to see if they could hear it too.
All three of us sat on the bed, I turned out the light plunging the room into darkness, and we sat quietly and listened.
The breathing sound resumed and we all three heard it clearly.
We could actually pinpoint where the sound was coming from.
It was in the room at a point about waist high between the bed and the door.
We remained there on the bed not moving, just listening for perhaps a minute or two before the regular breathing slowly changed into something more gasping, and for a few seconds became, ‘grating’ or ‘throaty’.
It was a very unpleasant, eerie sound and it lasted only for a few seconds before it suddenly stopped dead.
There was then a total, empty silence.
We waited for a while, but there was nothing more.
Even now, I find it very hard to describe the last sound that we heard, and it was something I only came to recognise later.
But I didn’t know at the time what it was.
We turned the light back on and looked at one another, trying to figure out what it was we’d just experienced.
None of us had any idea.
There was no natural explanation for it like the water pipes or anything.
Someone cracked a joke and we laughed the whole thing off.
I noted by my alarm clock that it was almost midnight and we all had to be up for work the following morning.
Geoff and Phil went back to their beds, I didn’t like the idea of staying in the room after that, so I went into the living room where I slept on the sofa till sun-up then I went back to my own room and dozed till the alarm went off.
I can’t remember if anyone said anything about it the following morning.
We had different schedules and all of us were hurrying off to work.
I would have forgotten the whole thing had it not been for what happened next.
I left, slamming the door behind me, and raced down the stairs.
As I reached the hall leading to the front door, the landlords, Blanka and Leo Squarenina, came out of their flat to meet me.
They were a nice old couple and very kind to us, and even after I left their home, I continued to correspond with them for several years until they both died.
To this day, I kick myself for the opportunity missed, by not thinking to ask them to relate their first-hand wartime experiences to me.
Both white-faced and looking very serious, they stopped me in mid-flight.
One of them said, ‘You remember we told you about the old woman who lived in the flat before you,’ I must have told them I did. ‘We just heard from the home she was taken to that she died last night, just before midnight.’
I remember being shocked and thinking back to the night before and the peculiar, inexplicable sounds we had heard.
Had we heard the old woman breathing her last breath; her death rattle?
I don’t know. I can’t explain it; what we all experienced. All I know is that it happened.
Wicklow-based writer JOHN MORRIS is the author of Jack the Ripper: The Hand of a Woman. You can follow him on twitter here. You can buy his book on UK AMAZON or US AMAZON.