Angel Hair Street
There’s a street in Newdean where no one goes. If Newdean were a city, this wouldn’t be so odd. In a city, there’s plenty of space to get lost in, enough that a single, solitary street can simply fall out of use without the order of things being disrupted. But Newdean is only a small town, barely a town at all. An entire street being shunned… that’s curious. Anyone that has ever lived in a small town and tried to avoid someone will know that, inevitably, one will run across them at the earliest opportunity. It’s difficult to avoid anyone or anything in a small town, and an entire street is no exception.
According to the sign, this street is Sycamore Avenue, which is the name it has on the maps too, though everyone calls it Angel Hair Street. There are about a dozen homes on both sides of the street, all abandoned. Despite its seaside location, property prices in Newdean have never been very high, and yet all these homes stand unoccupied. There is not a single For Sale sign to be seen; the gardens have all returned to a state-of-nature, and the houses have started to show unmistakable signs of decay. Only a few windows remain unbroken because, of course, the only people who go where no one else goes are teenagers with time on their hands, and an unbroken window is such a tempting target… Not that they ever hang around for that long. It’s more a rite of passage than anything else.
Angel Hair Street. There are no working street lights on it, the local authority conveniently forgetting its existence. It is never particularly dark, though. Newdean is still lit up at night with those phosphorous-yellow street lights which modernity is inexorably upgrading to bright, white LEDs – at night, Newdean always has a dull, yellow, ambient glow, and that’s enough to make Angel Hair Street navigable, if one decides to resist custom and risk the occasional roving gang of miserable teenagers.
No one is particularly inconvenienced by the taboo against using Angel Hair Street. It’s towards the far side of town to the sea, a fair distance from the high street. It isn’t a shortcut anywhere, it’s just… there. Just an ordinary street in a plain, dull, little town. Of course, this wasn’t the case thirty years ago. Every house was occupied, most owned by the children of the first people to move into Newdean. In many of them, old granny or grandpa was still doddering about. But, after one night in the early Eighties, the families all started leaving. Not selling, you understand.
They just left.
My family home, where I now reside alone, is in what passes as the classier side of town, but only barely. That is, on the west side of the high street, near the seafront. We were new arrivals in Newdean, moving in in the Seventies. I was only very young then, and had only been going to school for a few years. We moved there so my father could live closer to his mother, who was ailing in her old age, and like I said already, the property prices were never that high. This being said, moving to Newdean wasn’t a terrifically attractive prospect for any of us. My father had been brought up here, and his memories of it were far from golden. Newdean has always had a reputation for being grim in an undefinable way. The place simply exudes a malefic aura.
When the event that earned Angel Hair Street its name occurred, I was in my teens, and pushing for the minor independence one feels entitled to at that age. Although it is true that back then most people didn’t pay a second thought to the idea of letting their children wander around unsupervised, Newdean’s character was enough to make my parents constantly watchful over me. I would have to negotiate permission to go out with friends, and I had a rigidly enforced home-time.
One night, I was with some of my friends, and at their insistence, I flaunted the regulations my parents imposed, and stayed out later than I was allowed. I felt like I had won a great, triumphant victory, that I had scaled a barrier previously thought to be impassable. I puffed out my chest, walked with a new energy and determination, confident that now, at last, I was a man. I was fourteen years old, the age where one is most susceptible to such delusions.
Naturally, we didn’t have any exciting, daring plans for that night. We just walked, chased cats and foxes, allowed the streets of Newdean to open up before us and guide us wherever they chose. It was strange, it felt like we were being pulled along somewhere by an unseen force, that our steps and the turns we took were predetermined by something. This wasn’t a frightening feeling, it was almost tranquil.
We found ourselves at Sycamore Avenue. I checked my watch, and saw it was just past midnight. The glow that my defiance have provided me was fading into a mixture of guilt and anxiety about the punishment I could expect. However, seeing that I had stayed out so long already, there didn’t seem to be any harm in staying out even longer. Suddenly, we stopped walking.
Ahead of us was stood a naked man. He looked middle-aged, and I vaguely recognised his face. I couldn’t identify him though – I think he was simply one of those people one passes on the street, the kind of person that immediately slips from memory after they’re gone, recognition only coming when one sees them again.
He was, simply, nobody in particular.
You’d expect a group of bored teenagers to find this spectacle raucously funny, but none of us so much as giggled. Something felt very strange, like we were watching something we shouldn’t have been, some forbidden secret from out of the shadows. The man looked at us, and grinned
He pointed up, into the night sky.
‘You’re the shepherds, you see? You’re here to bear witness.’ He laughed. ‘Shepherd-boys here to watch me.’
None of us moved, none of us said anything, none of us looked away.
‘They’ve heard me. You’re my witnesses.’
There was a bright flash of blue light from above us, blindingly bright. The light burned persistently, and a colossal roar exploded out of it. The roar transformed into a howl unlike anything in nature. We shrieked in fear, covered our ears and shut our eyes.
At some point we lost consciousness.
When I woke up, my parents were looking down on me with a combination of anger and concern. I was lying on the road of Sycamore Avenue, and I could see my friends nearby. People, in some cases their parents, were talking to them softly. The naked man was nowhere to be seen.
My parents explained that they had headed out towards the lights and sounds, terrified that, somehow, it was responsible for my absence. My Dad had brought the car, and he told me to get in it so he could take me to the hospital, to ensure that I hadn’t hurt myself. As we approached the car, someone shouted ‘Good Lord!’
We looked over, and saw that, all over Sycamore Avenue, a rain of ghostly filaments was descending. They settled on the houses, the streetlights, the road, the pavement, and the people, who tore them off in terror. We jumped in the car and fled as quickly as we could. This bizarre rain was entirely concentrated on Sycamore Avenue, not spreading any further. I learnt later that it continued until daybreak, the sun’s light dissolving the strands into nothingness.
The people who had been touched by it were said to have been profoundly, inwardly altered by it. They would report dissociative episodes, depression, anxiety, even hallucinations and, in extreme situations, suicide.
This included my friends, who did not manage to escape untouched. Today only one of them is left.
The people of Sycamore Avenue who had stayed indoors and watched the spectacle through their windows, and thus had avoided contact with the rain of filaments, became quiet, meek, avoiding visitors and rarely venturing outdoors. Although none of them experienced symptoms as strong as those who were touched physically, none of them were the same again, and all drifted away from Newdean.
The man was never identified. No one was reported missing, and the descriptions we gave to the police were too vague.
I myself was not left unscathed. I have been receiving mental health support ever since, in all the endless and fruitless varieties available. None of it has eased my persistent anxiety, nor my bouts of depression.
And I can still not bring myself to venture outside at night.