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Feather's Miscellany: The Garlic Lane Monster

John Waddington-Feather tells a tragic tale.

He came each evening, scaring us youngsters to death who happened to meet him up the lane unawares; walking as he did handcuffed to his father like a tethered ape. His dad was a medium-sized man with a military bearing and distinguished silvery hair and moustache. His son towered over him, slouching alongside. He was heavily built with Neanderthal features, and he walked in silence, sometimes twirling a piece of straw before his face; sometimes glaring at us youngsters who quickly crossed the road. He looked like a being from another Age trapped in this one. We kids called him the Monster.

I was told by my parents to steer well clear of him and I did. So did all my pals. We’d seen enough horror films to realise that this Monster was for real, but thankfully nothing terrible happened until that fateful day a year or two later, as you’ll hear. If the truth were known the adults were just as scared as us youngsters and more than once I heard them say he ought to be locked away. I never discovered his family name, but I did pick up snatches of gossip listening in to the adults and it was a tragic story.

The Monster’s family kept themselves very much to themselves. As far as I could gather the father had been a lecturer in a military academy but was retired. His wife had died young and he’d never re-married but had had a number of housekeepers who helped him bring up his family: a son and a daughter. Both had done well at school and the daughter in time went to Cambridge and then became a lecturer in some foreign university. The boy had also begun life normally and did well at school, but as he came into adolescence a terrible and unusual things happened. Some violent hormonal reaction affected his body and brain and turned him into the hideous Monster we saw walked out by his father each evening down the lane to the river and back when all was quiet.

In time I found out where they lived – at the end of a row of large Edwardian middle-class houses near Crag Castle. All the people who lived there were well off: doctors, accountants, bank managers and the like. Some of these houses had become too big for their owners and had been sold off as offices and surgeries. One housed the school-dentist whom I visited from time to time and I had to pass the house where the Monster was locked up.

I’d been told about the house from my parents and looked out for it each time I visited the dentist’s. It loomed up at the end of the terrace three storeys high, and in the topmost storey was a solitary window looking down onto the road. It was heavily barred and often glaring through it was the Monster. When I caught sight of him I hurried by. When I was older, I wondered why his father hadn’t placed him in the local mental hospital. Other Keighworth people had relatives there whom they visited regularly when their condition became too much to cope with at home; but the Monster’s father looked after him until the end, locked up all day in that room whose windows were barred. It may have been he’d bonded so closely with the poor boy who’d changed so in adolescence and couldn’t bear to let him go; better the hideous creature which replaced his boy than nothing at all.

On the other hand, the daughter grew up to be a brilliant scholar and in time became a university lecturer, leaving Keighworth and her dark secret behind her. A darker tragedy was to follow. We never knew what happened to her once she’d left the town and whether or not she married I don’t know. I didn’t even know her family name. She was of a different class which I rarely came in contact with as a boy, living as she did across the railway footbridge near Crag Castle which divided the parish, separating artisan Garlic Lane from professional Fieldhouses.

In time, the drama being played out round the Garlic Lane Monster had a tragic ending. It was clear to those who watched the sad pair trudge up and down the lane every evening that the Monster was becoming more and more unmanageable. After he made a pass at a woman going by he was ever afterwards handcuffed to his father, who also carried a hefty walking-stick and beat him if he misbehaved. When I witnessed his being beaten into submission, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. Like everyone else, I sensed there would be some dreadful ending. Many of us thought the Monster would turn on his father one day and kill him. He quite easily could have done.
He didn’t attacked his father in public but he did kill him in a tragic ending for both of them. They had to cross a main road to reach the row of houses where they lived, and one evening as they stood at the edge of the kerb waiting for a gap in the traffic, the Monster suddenly dragged his father under an approaching double-decker bus, the driver of which had no chance to avoid them. Both father and son were killed outright. There was an inquest, of course, and the coroner recorded an open verdict. He could hardly say the Monster had murdered his father for only the poor bus driver had seen the Monster drag his father into the path of his bus. He might have been simply trying to cross the road. The house where he lived is still there and I pass it often on my way to Crag Castle, now a museum and art gallery, but the barred window has gone and long been bricked up to imprison the past.
John Waddington-Feather ©

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