Childhood Paranoia and Growing up in rural England

An article by Paul Melhuish

When I was eight years old, I thought that my parents were part of a satanic cult. Either that or they might have been demons in human form, I wasn’t quite sure. Anyway, I got it into my head that they couldn’t be trusted because they were up to something. My dad would stop at the top of the stairs after he’d put me to bed for some reason and I imagined that he was talking to the devil, or a demon, or an alien, or an alien demon. In reality, I think we were just fiddling with the thermostat. Childhood paranoia was almost normal for me at that age; I was convinced that the house where we lived was haunted. In my bedroom, the cupboard door never closed and I was sure there was someone in there looking out at me.

(Hail Borgnine! Is this what my parents were up to on a Friday night? And they told me they were line dancing down the British Legion.)

We lived in an isolated part of Oxfordshire in a hamlet of around 15 houses located halfway down a hill. Directly north of the hamlet was a massive dark wood which was definitely haunted and that’s where they were going to take me when they sacrificed me, or took me to be possessed by the alien demon or whatever. My parents weren’t the only ones involved in this cult, everyone else who lived in this hamlet were also part of it. Mr Griggs opposite, Mrs Vernon next door. Even Mr and Mrs Howlett who walked their dog past my house every day. However, I couldn’t be absolutely sure that any of this was true, I just had unfounded suspicions. A psychoanalyst would have a have a field day if they’d used the eight-year-old me as a case study.

(Rural Oxfordshire. Pretty creepy, eh?)

There were other terrors to face, real terrors, such as the school bully and authoritarian teachers at the village primary school I attended. (step forward Kingham Primary School and particularly Mrs Anderson, who made me rifle though the bit for a spelling test I’d thrown away and once shut me in the book cupbaord) so at least I had real terrors to distract me from my imagined terrors.

By the time I was ten I eventually worked out that my parents weren’t Satanists and the tiny hamlet of Kingham Hill wasn’t populated by weird sect members. The school bully got moved to another class but Mrs Anderson was still a twat.

So, this is a pretty weird thing for a kid to imagine but I was a pretty weird kid and, some would say, I’m a pretty weird adult. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and I believe, as a child, you begin to identify what is real and what is not. This was one of those learning curves, I guess. My doubts about the validity of these hypotheses kept my behaviour in check; I never acted on these fears and tried to run away for home. I never actively distrusted my parents to the point that affected our relationship abnormally. As far as I know they knew nothing about my paranoid fantasies. As an adult I’m not ‘coming to terms’ with it or ‘seeking closure’ because the experience wasn’t real.

These days I channel the same ‘what if’s’ into my writing and it gets pretty close to the knuckle sometimes using current realities I’ve twisted into fictions. The spark of the idea has to come from somewhere, so where the hell did this paranoid fantasy come from? How did I know of the existence of Satanist cults at the age of eight? Where did I get the idea that my immediate family and a whole community were part of a secret sect?

I dimly remember seeing the film The Devils Rain as a child. The plot runs like this: a man returns to his family to find out that they are all part of satanic cult. I don’t think my parents would have let me watch such a film at that age or let me stay up that late so as an explanation this doesn’t fit. There must have been some other stimuli to trigger this.

I think I’ve found it. Ah, there’s the culprit. (Children of the Stones)

I got the DVD Children of the Stones for Christmas. I watched it the other day and was quite surprised at what I saw. Children of the Stones is a TV series filmed in Avebury, the village built within the famous stone circle. Everyone in the village, apart from the protagonist and his father, are part of this cult called The Happy Ones. There is one chilling scene where the protagonist stumbles upon the whole village standing on the village green holding hands singing at night.

Gotcha! So this is the guilty party. Children of the Stones was shown in 1977 and I remember watching it. I think that scene was the trigger. One year later I thought that my parents and the rest of the community were all in on something weird. Ironically, the TV series was shown at tea time, being a children’s television programme. The DVD has a 12 certificate.

I’m not saying that this should never have been shown. If I’d not seen this then something else would have triggered my paranoia. I watched Doctor Who every week, maybe I’d have believed my parents were Autons or something. I also believe these fantasies were by products of my real fears of school bullies and teachers.

(The Rollright Stones. Definitely a portal to another dimension.)

I grew up to be a normal-ish teenager and a normal-ish adult. My parents moved when I was 24 to Great Rollright, the village with the stone circle nearby. I think if they’d moved there when I was eight that really would have sent me over the edge. They’ve moved to a stone circle, they’re definitely going to sacrifice me/possess my soul/send me to the mother ship.

When I was in my twenties I asked my mother is she had ever been part of a Satanist cult when I was a child. She laughed.

‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘We were too busy working in the underground lab testing the subsonic paranoia machine for intended for use on children.’

Note: Names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.


Paul Melhuish is the author of horror, sci-fi and thrillers. Works include Dark Choir (2020) and High Cross (2018). Member of Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group and Northampton Morris Men (but don’t hold that against me). Follow Paul on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Amazon.

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