077: The Manhunt House


The older children in Maryhill play a strange game in what is known to them as Manhunt House. Typically, the game is reserved for those between thirteen and seventeen: the children do not often allow adults to play – they may demand the adult buy them cigarettes or alcohol from the nearby newsagents, but following through with their demands does not automatically mean that they will allow you to accompany them. They are fickle and capricious. Nonetheless, the “lucky” acolyte may be allowed to join in, on very rare occasions.

The game is kept sacred by the children, and when the game is threatened, the children’s “team spirit” keeps it safe, no matter what the cost. In 2004, several children went missing, and when word got out that the children were playing a “strange game” with certain adults in an abandoned house, a coalition of the parents, media and police tried to smoke out the individuals responsible. To protect their game, the children chose to martyr a number of their parents – those most vocal in defiance of the game – corroborating false claims of child abuse and perverse photographs in order to have them locked away. It’s impossible to say if the furore died down because the rest of the parents believed they had got the culprits, or if they were cowed into submission and silence after seeing that those who spoke out against the strange game – whatever it was – ended up getting life imprisonment. The secret game continues in the uneasy, half-knowing silence.

The game takes place at 8 p.m in a particularly run-down, dilapidated two-up two-down flat connected to a row of four other flats just like it – the eponymous Manhunt House.  The front garden is sparse and bare, occupied only by muddy stumps of ragged bushes, broken pottery and chunks of stone from the decrepit stone path, half-sunk in the choking earth. The door to the property is always locked, save for select nights of the year – usually in midsummer and midwinter – when a small, silver Yale key with an old-fashioned military patch keyring is found in the front door. This allows a new game inside Manhunt House to begin – the game starts the second that all of the players enter the house and the key is used to lock the door from the inside. The brass clock sitting on the mantel beside the front door chimes at eight o clock, then remains silent until midnight, which is when the game ends. Once the clock chimes the eighth hour, every player runs away to various parts of the house, looking for hiding-places.

The aim of the game of Manhunt is simple – the Hunted hide, and the Hunters hunt. However, this is a special version of Manhunt, and the House gives one more objective, as inside the house, there are special photographs hidden away throughout the House, pictures of bizarre objects, locations and events throughout the city of Glasgow – an album spread through the house of every Gideon Key in the city. One particular photograph that seems to crop up often when acolytes play is an overexposed, blurry image of several children, bunched together in an indistinct room, with eeriely smeared looks of abject terror on their blanched-white faces, each of which is instantly recogisable as one of the children in the house alongside the acolyte. The children collect the photos like trading cards, often completely unaware as to what the photographs really represent. The Hunted are allowed to take any photographs they find – the Hunters can only take photographs from the Hunted that they find. Acolytes, either Hunters or Hunted, are encouraged to do their utmost to collect as many photographs of their own as possible – the house conspires to keep photographs collected by the children out of the hands of acolytes using many of its idiosyncratic eccentricities.

One particular eccentricity of the house tends to go undetected by newcomers until around five minutes into the game, when the player has stumbled across the fourth kitchen, or realised that, having taken three left turns down the main hallway, they should be back where they started, and not in the attic-space above the bathroom. The house is impossibly large – but never in an obvious way. There are no sweeping ballrooms or colossal staircases, no vaulted ceilings or elaborate lounges – every space in the house is low, narrow, and cramped. The upper and lower corridors never seem excessively long – they just have far too many branching corridors, far too many doors, far too many sets of stairs. And yet, despite its cyclopean size, no two areas in the House are the same: as far as one can tell, there are no two matching sets of wallpaper anywhere in the house, each floor is seperated from the others by a differing amount of steps, and the architecture is of varying size and design – the only commonality are the brass clocks, identical to the one near the front door, in every single room, which all count down the hours til midnight. Many explain this away by claiming that the other flats in the street have had the walls seperating them knocked down, resulting in one long collection of five different apartment blocks. This goes some way to explaining the eccentricity, but does nothing to alleviate the odd sense of vertigo suffered by players that look through the cracks in the boarded-up windows of the house and realise they all look out onto different streets — even when looking through different cracks in the same window.

Another eccentricity are the players themselves. Many variations of the playground game Manhunt have the teams split into two: the Hunters and the Hunted. When a Hunter finds one of the Hunted, they become a Hunter too – any Hunted left at midnight win the game. However, whenever acolytes play the game, new Hunters begin to join in the game – as the clock counts down towards midnight, They begin to manifest, and They do their very best to find the children, Hunter and Hunted alike. For whatever reason, They leave acolytes alone inside the Manhunt House: the dull chattering and creaking of aged, stretched limbs in nearby corridors, or the heady scent of allspice wafting through the damp, earthy smell of decay that permeates Manhunt House, are the only indications that They are present – aside from the screams of the children whom They have found, of course. And when acolytes are present, it seems as though They step up their game just to impress – just to make sure the acolyte knows how good they are at finding the children hiding themselves in the house that They built.

When acolytes play, the game usually ends with every clock in Manhunt House ringing simultaneously, and you walking out of the house, alone, at midnight, after They have found all the children, to be met only by the silent, accusatory looks of a handful of parents too scared to scream blame in your direction. There is no consolation prize – no consolation at all – but you get to walk away with the photographs: one of which is a permanent reminder of the souls that were lost to the house so you could emerge the zero-sum victor.

Congratulations, you win!

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2 Responses to “077: The Manhunt House”

  1. wouldn’t the manhunt be a game of where and when they find rather than just randomly searching because “they will always find them but not lose them”. Many of the world events are re-located and not found they play a “game of time” even without knowing but if they know just hope that they don’t lose.

    • Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. As far as I’m aware, They have no pattern to finding the players in Manhunt House, but as much as possible, They go to extreme lengths to demonstrate how easy it is for them to find the players, all for the benefit of the acolyte. Instead of making a beeline for a hidden Hunted, They will pretend to look for them in every corner of the room bar the one they’re hiding in, just to make a show of it.

      If that’s not what you meant, I apologise. I’m afraid the meaning of your comment wasn’t very clear to me.

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