The day we moved in the entire street dropped by to welcome us, the Kennedy’s diagonally opposite, even organized a welcome party to save us cooking dinner on our first night in the new house. If there were any doubts that the move to Mircheston wasn’t the right thing to do they were well and truly squashed by the time our tired and slightly inebriated bodies hit the sack in the wee hours of the following morning.
We got to know everyone quickly and became good friends with all; none more so than Don Clancy directly across the road from us at number seven. Don was a mechanic by trade and unlike many mechanics of the time managed to make a successful living operating from his home workshop. His reputation preceded him and he took over servicing our 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria, which we’d inherited from Rhonda’s grandfather after his passing in 1959. Subsequently through our professional relationship came a great personal friendship which saw us sharing a beer and chatting away most afternoons relaxing on his front verandah.
It was one of those afternoon drinking sessions that completely changed my idealistic visions of Simpson Street forever.
We were knocking back a few cold beers and watching the sun go down from Don’s front verandah one Tuesday evening late in spring. I was sitting, as always, on the imitation park bench while Don was reclining in his 1840’s Boston Rocker rocking chair. I lifted the nearly empty beer glass to my lips and swallowed a mouthful of the cool liquid then spoke. I had no reason to be nervous, my inquisition was one of innocence but that didn’t stop my voice coming out at a slightly higher pitch that usual.
‘Ya-know, Rhonda and I were talking last night and she brought up something I just hadn’t considered until she’d asked it, but now I’m curious.’
‘Oh yeah? This’ll be good.’ Don said with a grin on his face obviously noticing my slightly higher pitch and making light of it.
‘Shuddup I’m serious,’ I replied mockingly then continued. ‘We’ve been here about six months now and not once have we seen or been visited by a door to door salesman. We used to get anything from encyclopedia to vacuum cleaner salesmen three times a week back in Fielding’s View. What gives? Has Mircheston discovered a secret salesman repellent or something?’
From the many hours we’d spent chatting on his porch I gotten to know Don and his many facial expressions and as soon as I finished speaking I knew my question had taken him by surprise and could tell he was thinking hard about what to say next.
After a few awkward moments of silence he said, “You’d better go inside and get us a few more beers before I start that story.”
In just a few short months of friendship I’d heard many of Don’s stories and each one entertained me more than any book I’d ever read. I’d really grown to love hearing his stories but as I made my way towards the fridge to grab another bottle of beer I couldn’t help but feel something was different this time. Pulling two large bottles from the fridge in the kitchen I shut the fridge door and gingerly made my way back outside.
Upon returning I grabbed the bottle opener from the small table between our seats, opened the first bottle and began filling both our glasses. I then sat down on the bench, pulling the padded cushion under my butt to make the seat a bit softer, and waited for Don to speak.
‘Don’t know what you know about this area but to answer your question you need to know the history.’ I nodded, he continued, ‘Simpson Street was originally called Downy Street. The surrounding estate was developed in the very late 1800’s, the street itself was originally named after Benson Downy, an extremely wealthy developer who worked closely with the Mayor of the time, a Mr. Sheldon Henry. Henry and Downy had a very close relationship which not only saw them develop this area without question but allowed Benson to develop Downy Street entirely for himself.
However there is two things that totally escape the history books, the first is how, why or when the name was changed to Simpson Street and the second is just how Downy managed to get the Mayor to sign an iron clad contract ensuring no land taxes or council rates would be charged on the area for 100 years. Better people than I have researched Downy and his techniques but no one seems to know just how he achieved such a deal, but it’s the reason we still don’t pay any such taxes to this day.’
I hadn’t realised how quickly I was drinking my beer until I looked down and saw my glass more than half empty. I made a conscious effort to slow down as Don took a sip of his beer and started again.
‘Downy’s mansion once stood where the Davidson’s house is and went all the way back to the hills, while large trees and shrubs grew all over this area here.’ He was pointing at the house in the center of the cul-de-sac and waving his arm in an arcing motion indicating the trees and shrubs once stood where our houses now stood. ‘Downy Street was essentially his driveway.
For about a decade spanning either side of the war, door to door salesmen were extremely pushy; they preyed on the innocence or the naive and often used underhanded techniques to sell their wares,’ he took a breath before continuing. ‘They were also very good with the ladies and in the summer of 1919 Downy’s wife was swept off her feet by one such salesman. He must have been good to because she ran off leaving Benson, a life of luxury and more money than a person of those days could wish for. Not one to play by the same rules as the rest of us it’s reported that Benson was mortified and vowed to seek revenge on any salesman who stepped foot in his street again.’
I could see from the sweat forming on Don’s forehead and the look in his eyes that he was struggling to relate the story but before I could reassure him that he didn’t need to tell anything he wasn’t comfortable with he started again.
‘Downy lasted by himself for only a few years before single life got the better of him and he married an English lady named Agatha. By the time they’d returned from their six month honeymoon, sailing around the world none the less, the two identical houses still standing proud on either side of the entrance to Simpson Street were built. According to sources close to Downy at the time they were built for only one reason, to ward off door to door salesmen.’
‘What did he do rent the houses to sharp shooters?’ I said nervously trying to lighten the tense situation that was forming.
Ignoring my poor attempt at humor Don kept on with his story. ‘Downy died in the summer of ’41 leaving Agatha and two barely adult children. Agatha died the following winter and almost immediately both children packed up and moved to Sydney leaving the mansion abandoned.
For the next ten years the houses and the mansion remained vacant yet somehow well maintained. No one in the area at the time could remember seeing the owners, tradesmen or workmen in or around the house in the entire ten year period. Then in 1952, presumably from the comfort of their big city mansions, the children organised the subdivision of Simpson Street. In a time frame that was unheard of at the time the subdivision work took less than six months; the area was then sold off and became what you see here today. Council titles show, because I have checked them myself, that the two kids are still the legal owners of the two houses on the corners.’
‘But that doesn’t explain…’ I said as Don waved his empty glass at me indicating I should refill it.
‘I’m getting to that, shuddup an’ pour me another drink!’
I did as he requested.
‘Over the years there has been a number of rumors about those two houses, some are just kids horror stories, some are easily proven wrong but the most common stories all center around one single theory, the theory that houses somehow seduce salesman inside and do not allow them to leave.’
‘But the houses are vacant and from what I’ve been able to tell have been for many years. Your own story suggests they’ve been vacant since they were built. How can anyone be seduced inside if no one is there?’
‘You’re not hearing me. I said the HOUSE seduces them.’ He raised his hands and created air quotes to emphasize the word house.
I looked at Don dumbfounded, I didn’t know whether to believe his story or not, but by the look on his face I could see he expected me to believe it.
‘I’m sure you realise that what you’re asking me to believe is impossible?’
‘I’m not asking you to believe anything, I’m simply answering your question with the story as I know it. Besides, impossible is only a word used by those who haven’t witnessed it.’
Draining the last of his beer from the bottle I again waited for Don to swallow before he pressed on.
‘I’ll admit it, I too was skeptical when Henry Williams, the guy who first owned your house, told me the story back in ’55. At the time I didn’t know him as well as I know you now and I’m not one to call a man a liar without knowing him well enough to back it up but even my first response after hearing the story was “You’re shitting me?” Putting his empty glass on the table and taking a deep breath the then continued. “On that day he told me the same thing I am about to tell you. If you don’t believe me go in and see for yourself.’
‘Go into a vacant house, a house that supposedly seduces people inside and doesn’t let them out? Well that sounds sane.’ I said with plenty of disbelief in my voice.
‘The house only takes salesman. I swear on my mother’s grave that if you enter that house and you are not selling anything you will leave alive. If you don’t believe me we’ll do it together.’
‘You’re kidding me?’
‘Nope. You asked the question, I told you the answer as I was told it. Because I have been in your position I also know that you remain as skeptical as I did when Henry told me the story. So if you want proof I’ll make sure you get that proof.’
Whilst downing the last beer we discussed and organised a visit to the house next door to Don’s. While some part of me wanted, even pleaded, to get such oddness over as quickly as possible Don insisted our visit would happen the Monday of the following week.
By Monday morning I still had many doubts about Don’s story, doubts which left me anxious to say the least. I deliberately hadn’t told Rhonda of our expedition for fear she would talk me out of going and the truth was that I was so curious about the houses that I actually wanted to go inside I just wasn’t sure that I had the stomach for it. I’m almost certain that Don knew exactly what I was going through in those days leading up to our trip and in response to that ensured that the only related conversation we had happened over Sunday afternoon beers when he asked me if I was “ready” and I hesitantly suggested I was.
Although trying hard not to show it I was slightly shaky on my feet as I crossed the road between our house and Don’s, a feeling that didn’t ease as I met Don at his back door. With the greetings over we walked across his back yard and entered the corner property through a gate cut into his side fence.
‘It’s been here since I moved in, it’s never been locked and I never really saw a need to close it off.’ He said as he stepped through the fence into the well maintained rear yard without a care.
I followed Don through the fence; still trying hard to convince myself what we were doing was necessary.
‘Nice yard, puts mine to shame and my house isn’t vacant.’ I said sheepishly to try and kick my heart rate along the same heart rate which I was sure had stopped the second we stepped through the fence.
‘Mine too. The mowing mob turns up like clockwork, every Friday 10:30 they come in trim the grass, do the garden and keep the place tidy.’
‘Yeah I hear them from my office, but I’ve never bothered to talk to them. Who pays them?’
‘Dunno, assume the family is still payin’.’ Don said as we walked towards the back steps.
He took the eight steps two at a time, an effort I could not match and I was still on the fourth step when Don grasped the brass door handle and pushed the door open without hesitation.
‘You sure we can do this?’ I asked taking the fifth and sixth steps.
He turned, looked me directly in the eye and said, ‘I’m still here aren’t I?’ And before I could answer he turned back and entered the house.
With what appeared to be no other choice I took the last two steps and followed him into a long hallway splashed with light from the open door behind me.
I let the door quietly close behind me carefully keeping enough pressure on it to stop it slamming or making undue noise. With the door fully closed Don and I both stood in darkness.
Looking forward I could see the only light, which appeared to be natural light possibly from a window, was coming through an open door way at the very end of the hallway. We walked along the hallway headed towards the open door, well Don walked and I kind of crept like a cat burglar not wanting to announce his presence. We passed several closed doors on our left and as I passed each one I found myself checking for the presence of light between the door and the floor, but I saw nothing. Several seconds later we were at the end of the hallway and stepping through the door way to the right. The door way led us into a huge kitchen, lit as I suspected by a large bay window along one outer wall.
‘I still get the creeps a little bit wanderin’ around this place.’ Don said breaking the silence.
‘Then why do it?’ I whispered as I stepped up to his left side.
‘Sal’right, no need to whisper, the house knows we’re here and I do it because you seemed doubtful of my story.’
I wasn’t sure if he was trying to settle my nerves but it didn’t work, ‘So, me saying I believed you wasn’t enough?’
‘Ahh but you never said that. Besides I was once as scared as you are, I was once a skeptic and I once wanted answers so I went out and got them. Now just like me you will get answers the big difference is that you have me to help you get those answers.’
‘So how do you know we’ll see a salesman today? How do you know there wasn’t one last week? What if we are…’ I said hunting for answers my rattled mind couldn’t work out itself.
‘Homework, just like I know we will both get out of here alive.’ Don said cutting off my ramblings.
I had nothing more to add to Don’s words and it seemed like an appropriate place to leave the conversation so I remained silent and took in our surroundings. For the first time since entering the house my heart beat slowed and I no longer felt it thumping inside my chest. I moved my eyes from Don’s face and looked around us.