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Short story – Horror

Christmas 2016, Ghost stories..., Short story - Horror

THE GARDEN GATE

If only I had been able to sleep that night none of this would have happened. You see when I couldn’t sleep I would gaze out the window and that’s when I spotted that the garden gate was open. It was swinging to and fro in the dark misty night, and it seemed to be beckoning me in.

I look at my sister Jenny, fast asleep in the little bed next to mine. “Jenny, Jenny,” I whisper. “Wake up!” But she will not stir; she just groans slightly in her sleep and snuggles further down into her warm bed.

I run back to the window. The gate is creaking in the still dark night – but wait, what is that, a light at the far end of the garden? I just have to find out what it is; I just can’t rest.

Feeling less than brave I creep slowly down the stairs, my nightdress billowing around me, my slippered feet making no noise on the parquet floor. The house is completely dark. What would my parents say if they saw me going out at the dead of night to the garden, dressed only in my nightwear?

I slowly lift the latch on the heavy front door and it creaks open. I wait a few moments, just to make sure that I haven’t woken anyone else, and then I am outside. Thank goodness no-one heard me.

Once outside my feet just seem to fly over the cobbled path towards the light. It is blinding in its intensity and draws me in, draws me on.

I reach the open gate, still swinging gently on its hinges. It seems to be saying ‘Enter, come right in.’ I walk nearer and nearer to the light and, as I approach it, I see that the glow is surrounded by an enormous rainbow bubble, just like the ones Jenny and I used to blow from our little pots of bubble liquid that Mother bought for us, but we had certainly never blown one so big or so beautiful.

Suddenly I stumble but feel a hand guiding me up. “Careful, my child.” A woman is standing there, the hood of her long black cape covering her face. “Careful,” she repeats. “You nearly fell and we can’t have you falling, can we now?” The woman is holding my hand and I feel strange, uncomfortable. I want to go back to my nice warm bed. Who is this woman, and what is she doing in my garden late at night? Deciding I must tell my parents, I turn to go but she will not release me.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“Back. Back to the house,” I reply.

“Not so fast. We’ve only just met, and we have so much to talk about,” she says. She will not release my hand. “Come sit a while.”

I am scared. I don’t want to sit. I want to go back now. This was such a bad idea. But the light is blinding me now and I can’t see the woman’s face; it is completely hidden by her hood. Maybe if I could see her face I wouldn’t be so scared. “What do you want to talk about?” I ask her.

“Oh you know, this and that.” I try to calm myself, but I am shaking like a leaf. There is nothing I can do to calm my nerves. “Now, Emily,” she starts.

“Oh! How do you know my name?” I ask in surprise.

“Oh, there’s a lot I know about you,” she replies. “For instance, I know that you have not been a very nice girl lately. I know that you stole your sister Jenny’s ballet shoes because you had lost your own. I also know that you have been telling lies about your best friend Miranda, and got her into a lot of trouble. That’s just a few of the things I know. Would you like me to tell you the rest?”

I sink down onto the cold grass. “No, no thank you,” I reply, my head in my hands. I feel my heart racing. How could she know so much about me? I stutter an apology. “I never meant to hurt anyone, or do them harm. It’s just that I had a really important ballet exam, and I couldn’t find my shoes anywhere. Jenny is no good at ballet so it wouldn’t be so important to her, and it meant everything to me.”

“That was very unfair of you,” says the woman. “Jenny wanted to do well in her ballet exam as well. You see that light in the distance, the one in the middle of the big coloured bubble? I want you to walk towards it. You must enter the bubble and be cleansed of all your evil ways.”

I start to cry. I don’t want to walk into the bubble. Why had I come here?

“Now my child, there is no need for that. Just keep on walking. Come on, I’ll lead you there.” She grips my arm once again, pulling me towards the light, and all the while I am sobbing quietly.

I find myself in the middle of the bubble, and there is Jenny. I call to her, “Jenny, Jenny,” but she doesn’t seem to hear me. She is looking for something, and I hear her say, “My shoes, my lovely ballet shoes, where can they be?”

She starts to cry and I run towards her, but the light is hot, beating me back. “Now I can’t enter the competition,” she says. “All that practising, all for nothing . . . ” and she sobs as though her little heart would break, and I feel mine break with her.

Suddenly, with a loud pop, Jenny is gone and, with a whooshing noise, there in the middle of the light stands Miranda. She is talking to someone; I think it is our teacher but I can’t be sure because the light is so much brighter now and I can’t see her face properly. I call out to Miranda, but she doesn’t hear me.

Tears are running down her cheeks as she sobs, “I promise you, I didn’t steal Tom’s pocket money. I wouldn’t do that, Miss.” But the teacher says she doesn’t believe her, and that she will probably be expelled from school. Miranda falls to the floor and I want to run to her, tell her that I didn’t mean to get her into trouble. It was just that I really wanted those sherbet lemons on the top shelf of Mrs Walker’s sweet shop, and Tom’s money just happened to be in his desk and it was my only way of getting those lovely sweets. I know I shouldn’t have blamed Miranda for stealing the money when I had done it myself, but I didn’t think Tom would notice the money was missing. After all he is so spoilt and seems to have loads of money all the time, and I never have any.

Suddenly there is another loud pop, the light goes out and the bubble bursts, throwing me back onto the grass. I see the woman standing there again.

“See? See what you do by your lies and untruths? So much unhappiness all caused by you,” she says.

I am just trying to work out how to defend myself when, from the distance, an even larger rainbow bubble starts hurtling towards me. It stops beside the woman and she steps inside it. In an instant, she is gone and I am alone in the garden.

I run back to the house, my slippered feet carrying me faster than I have ever run before. I hear the garden gate close behind me. I am nearly home, nearly at the house, safe, warm. AND I have learnt my lesson.

Christmas 2016, Ghost stories..., Short story - Horror

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Reward
£100 Guineas for information leading to the whereabouts of Lady Sophia Foster
Fears grow for missing girl as parents offer a substantial reward for any information that leads to news of her whereabouts.

December 1858
I stopped at the doorway to the Grand Ballroom and peered inside. It looked so beautiful with the sparkling chandeliers bathing the room with sharp slivers of light that bounced off the ebony dance floor. The women were all dressed in their finest silks, which at this Christmas-time meant deep jewel tones of garnet, green and gold. The men looked dark and mysterious, dressed in their evening suits of black and dark blue.

I looked down at my new silk dress, delivered only this afternoon. It was a bright blood-red, crimson silk with a tight-laced bodice that accentuated my curves. The neckline was much lower than I was used to wearing, but it made my neck seem long and swanlike. Somehow I appeared taller. I had piled my long hair up and fastened it with a jewelled comb.

I certainly felt I looked my best, but I just wished I knew who had invited me.

The dress had arrived this afternoon with a note inviting me to attend the ball, along with an apology for sending the gown. The writer had seen it in a shop window and had been inspired to send it to me. The note had been signed X.

My mother would definitely not approve. Indeed she would be positively shocked that I had accepted such a personal gift from someone I had not even met and decidedly angry that I had accepted an invitation from them. I could hear her voice in my head: ‘Young Ladies of Good Breeding would never deign to behave in such a way. What would people say?’

But I was tired of the restrictions that society placed on me. I wanted to have some fun, and what harm could I come to in a Grand Ballroom with fellow members of my class? Other girls my age were earning their own living, working as governesses, ladies’ companions or in some of the new business offices around town. What harm would it do for me to have a little fun? So, with the help of my maid, Mary, I had got dressed, secretly, after Mother retired for night with a convenient headache. I climbed down the backstairs to the servants’ entrance where I hailed a cab in the street, another thing a Young Lady of Good Breeding would never do.

And here I was, intrigued about who had invited me and excited to be here alone, even more so because it was a masked ball. My eyes were hidden behind a red and gold lace mask, as was the current fashion for women, whilst the men wore larger disguises of full-face masks.

“Ahem.” I heard a discreet cough behind me and turned to see a tall man leaning down towards me. “May I?” he asked, in a deep rich voice that made me think of chocolate and silk, as he offered me his arm.

I stared up into his face: it was covered with a white porcelain mask that obscured almost all his features. “The dress looks well on you. I am glad you allowed me the liberty of sending it to you,” he went on.

I continued to stare at him, lost for a moment in trying to recognise him. His voice wasn’t familiar and he was considerably taller and broader than any of the men I was acquainted with. I stood as tall as I could, almost on tiptoe, trying to look into his seemingly bottomless blue eyes. “Th-th-thank you,” I stuttered. “I am very pleased to be here.” I sounded ridiculous and childlike – what would he think?

I looked down and realised I had taken his arm. We had moved through the entrance to the Grand Ballroom and now stood at the edge of the busy dance floor. He leant down once more and whispered in my ear, “Shall we?”

Before I knew it, I was being swept away in his strong arms. Around and around we whirled, and I felt like I was flying as the waltz went on and on. I was pressed tightly against his solid chest and, several times, I felt my feet leave the floor as we moved together as one. Round and round, side to side, on and on until I was quite breathless and the room had taken on a dream-like quality.

The surrounding dancers seemed to make a path for us, inclining their heads in deference as we wove between them. Some of the nearest couples seemed to be guiding us along an unseen path – a brush against us here led to a gap being created there, as we were led along the dance floor from one end to the other.

Suddenly we came to a stop, and I felt a wave of dizziness rise over me as the other dancers seemed to recede into the background. He leant forward and, once again, I heard his deep rich voice in my ear. “Some air?”

I nodded and allowed myself to be led out to a balcony where the cool night air seemed to surround us. I felt his arms encircle me from behind as I grabbed the wrought iron of the balcony to steady myself. For a while we stood in companionable silence and I tried desperately to calm my reeling senses, to clear the fog from my head.

His hands were moving in slow, steady circles at my waist, much as you might try to calm a skittish horse. I half-turned towards him in sudden shock as I felt the hard shape of his mask and the soft lips beneath place a kiss on my exposed neck.

“Sir, I . . . ” was as far as I got before his lips met mine, feeling strange and unnatural half-hidden behind his porcelain mask. I pulled away from him and stepped to one side but, before I could say anything, he grabbed my hand with his white-gloved fingers.

“Please forgive me, I seem to have forgotten myself. I can only apologise and ask you to excuse my familiarity. All I can say is that I was carried away by your beauty.” He gazed at me and I realised that his eyes were much darker than the deep blue I had thought they were, much darker, almost black. I shuddered and took another step away from him, so that my arms became outstretched as he continued to hold my hand.

I felt the urge to run, to get away from him, but the longer I looked into his eyes the further that feeling retreated. I found myself taking a step – and then another step – closer to him until I was once more inside the circle of his embrace. Again I heard his voice in my ear, making the moment seem even more intimate. “Now you have forgiven me, I have another gift for you.” He reached in to a pocket with one of his white-gloved hands and pulled out a fine gold chain from which was suspended a single garnet, like a teardrop of blood.

“I can’t possibly accept such a gift, especially from someone I don’t know,” I gasped in surprise.

“At least try it on for me, so that I may see how it looks on you,” he replied. Before I knew it, I felt his strong hands at the back of my neck and the gold chain slithered into place, the teardrop hanging heavily on my chest.

I turned towards him once more. “Sir, I really must insist that I take my leave. I have had a lovely evening, but I think it is time for me to go.”

“Really?’ he asked.

I took a step sideways, intending to return to the ballroom, and felt the weight of the heavy teardrop lift as the fine chain began to tighten around my throat. As I reached behind my neck, my fingers met his smooth gloved hands and I realised he was pulling on the chain. I gasped and tried to grab it but I couldn’t get enough purchase to loosen its dangerous grip, which was now restricting my breathing far more than my corset ever could.

If I couldn’t loosen the chain I might faint or, worse, be unable to breathe at all. Terror and panic began to claw at my stomach as I realised how precarious my position was. No-one but my maid knew I had left the house tonight, and she didn’t know exactly where I was going. The other dancers seemed so far away and I was in no fit state to scream for help.

Slowly and carefully my air supply was being cut off and I had no option but to hope he was just trying to frighten me. In one last effort to pull away from him I gripped the wrought iron of the balcony and stepped as far as I could to one side. “I don’t think so. You will be joining us,” was all he said, and I realised with mounting horror that his voice was not in my ear at all. It was inside my mind and I must have imagined it all along.

I was finding it really hard to breathe now, my vision blurring and a curtain of blackness slowing drifting into my view. I changed tack and pushed my desperate hands towards his face, clawing and scrabbling at his mask. If I was going to give in, I wanted to see the face of the man who had done this to me.

In my panic my fingers scraped against the white porcelain of his mask, pulling and scratching at it, until they caught an edge and managed to knock it sideways. It was then that terror really took hold of me as I looked into the empty face of the man who had danced with me – there was nothing there at all, just empty blackness. I opened my mouth to try to scream once more, but it was too late. Darkness closed over me, and I knew no more.

December 1859
I stopped at the doorway to the Grand Ballroom and peered inside. It looked so beautiful with the sparkling chandeliers bathing the room with sharp slivers of light that bounced off the ebony dance floor. The women were all dressed in their finest silks, which at this Christmas-time meant deep jewel tones of garnet, green and gold. The men looked dark and mysterious, dressed in their evening suits of black and dark blue.

I looked down at my new silk dress, delivered only this afternoon. It was a bright blood-red, crimson silk with a tight-laced bodice that accentuated my curves. The neckline was much lower than I was used to wearing, but it made my neck seem long and swanlike. Somehow I appeared taller. I had piled my long hair up and fastened it with a jewelled comb.

I certainly felt I looked my best and I was just waiting for the man who had invited me.

“Ahem.” I heard a discreet cough behind me and turned to see a tall man leaning down towards me. “May I?” he asked, in a deep rich voice that made me think of chocolate and silk, as he offered me his arm.

I stared up into his face: it was covered with a white porcelain mask that obscured almost all his features. “The dress looks well on you. I am glad you allowed me the liberty of sending it to you,” he went on. I looked in to his deep blue eyes, and smiled.

I looked down and realised I had taken his arm. We had moved through the entrance to the Grand Ballroom and now stood at the edge of the busy dance floor. He leant down once more and whispered in my ear, “Shall we?”

Before I knew it, I was being swept away in his strong arms to take our place amongst the other dancers for another year . . .

Short story - Horror

The Watcher

All I need is just one of them to look up and catch my eye – surely just one of them will realise I need help.

I have been sitting in the window now for an hour – just an hour since he had dragged me out of my dark corner.  I know it is an hour because I can see the bold red hands of the clock mounted at the top of the slide which is in the centre of the playground outside my window.

He tied my legs to the chair and pushed me up to the large, bright window so that I could look out onto the snowy-white landscape.  It had snowed overnight, that means it must be winter again.  I have been here for a year – a whole year.

The first time I looked out onto this view of the children’s playground it had been a sunny autumn day.  The brown kind of day you get when the summer is over and the sunlight is starting to fade.  I have watched every day since then.  All through the winter and the bright spring days, the heavy hot summer and now it was winter again.  And I was still here trapped and at my captor’s mercy.

He didn’t tie my hands anymore.  I had learnt that the first time I raised my bound hands, banged on the glass and shouted at the top of my lungs for help.  That’s when he took my hair – there was hardly any left now, just wisps around my neck.  The second time I did it, he took my finger.

I stopped shouting when he told me he would take another finger and then my tongue.

My hand still throbs even though it has almost healed as it relives that terrible moment when he bought the blade down and I felt the agony of him slicing through my bone.

I know I can’t risk making noise or giving any sudden movements – I know he would carry out his threats.  So I watch and wait through all the long days marking the time in my mind by the way the children are dressed.  Brightly coloured shorts and t-shirts in the warmer days, swimsuits and water games in the unbearably hot days.  Richly coloured woollen hats and scarves as the days got chillier and they added thick padded jackets and gloves as the winter days began in earnest.

So here I sit watching the snowball fights  and sliding games play out before me – hoping that someone would see me and realise.

I don’t know why he is doing this – I think he is enjoying a cruel game.  Every night as I am jerked sharply away from the window he asks me to describe what I have seen.  All the details right down to the games that are being played and who has won.

If I tell a good enough story he might let me sleep or give me some more water.  I am always thirsty.  I think it is the drugs he uses to keep me docile.

I know he thinks he is being cruel, but really he has given me a gift.  Everyday there is a chance, however small, that someone will notice me  – after all I only need one person to see me. Just one.

* * * * *

“Are you taking Rosie back to her room Jack?” called out Maggie from across the hall.

“Yes, just walking her back now,” Jack replied

“Wait for me and I can walk with you. I would like to hear how she’s doing.”

Jack stood and waited behind the wheelchair where Rosie sat slumped, staring into the distance.

As usual she made no sound, just staring straight ahead, never looking to the left or the right. It concerned Jack that she was so unresponsive. Admittedly it had been traumatic for her leaving her little house and moving into the nursing home, but her lack of interaction with other people was unnerving.

She never spoke until she was spoken to, never asked for anything and never engaged with any of the other residents. It was almost like she was here alone. Just Rosie with Jack to look after her.

He bent down and adjusted the metal guards that cupped the back of Rosie’s legs, keeping her steady so that she wouldn’t fall out or get her feet caught underneath the wheels.

“Come on Maggie,” he called out. “We don’t want to be late with our exercises. I want to hear about what Rosie has seen today.”

That was the only time she spoke, when he asked her about her day, encouraging her to think about what she had seen and heard through the window. She became quite lyrical about watching the children giving lots of detail and bringing them to life like characters in a story.

She visibly relaxed when he told her she had done a good job or asked to hear more. It was almost as if she was trying to please him.

The only other time he had heard her make a noise was that first day when she had arrived, confused and unsure, clearly frightened to be in such unfamiliar surroundings.

She had clenched her fists and beat them against the window, until they became swollen and bruised, so swollen he had had to cut her wedding ring off.

She had screamed and tried to bite him, banging her head against the wall until she had to be restrained. It was a horrible thing to see, but she would not be comforted and needed to be sedated in the end.

Poor old girl, she didn’t deserve to end up here with no family to visit her.

It wasn’t natural, he decided. Tomorrow he would redouble his efforts to get her to engage with him. She needed to have just one conversation, to ask him for something, anything. Just one conversation that would be all that was needed. Just one.

Short story - Horror

A tooth for a tooth

The blinding white walls gave off a cool light that reflected against the dark green floor leaving the impression of pale green shadows that danced along the walls as the small number of doctors, nurses and visitors made their nightly journeys through the rambling hospital.

It was easy to spot the doctors and nurses amongst the visitors, even in their street clothes. They moved with purpose, using a brisk walk that I am sure they learned during their training. They exude confidence, never running, never appearing to hurry, just using the brisk confident walk that says I am in control. I know what I am here to do and how I am going to do it.

This is one of the most important things I have learned as I have watched the various medical professionals making their way around the hospital.

I have been here as a visitor for over a month, wearing various disguises. One day, the business suit and the harried air of the impatient businesswoman, briefcase and phone clutched in hand, the need to visit the hospital an inconvenience in the busy life of the woman who has sales to make and profits to build. Another night, the long slightly dirty blonde wig, torn denim and flowing blouse of the relaxed traveller, my flat leather sandals slapping on the floor and the embroidered rucksack banging against my hip as I made my way through the labyrinth of corridors.

Tonight was different. Tonight I was here as a medical professional, or at any rate I would adopt the appearance of one. I stepped out of the shadows and through the brightly lit doors into the main body of the hospital.

I made my way through the cavernous front entrance and passed the reception desk with a nod and a smile for the busy receptionist who was marshalling a group of drunken young men. One of them was cradling a bloodied hand tightly next to his body in an obvious attempt to stop the bleeding. The dark red blood flowed steadily down his arm, pooling at his crooked elbow; the rich delicious velvet staining his pale blue cotton shirt. He would have been better raising the arm above his head, above his heart, to slow the bleeding.

I could almost smell the fear emanating from his drunken friends who were demanding immediate medical attention in loud voices with slurred words and angry gestures. They occupied the full attention of the harried receptionist. Perfect timing.

I had chosen my moment well. I walked into the hospital unnoticed and slipped into the lift to gain access to the floors above. I was dressed casually in jeans, shirt and boots with a beige trench coat and, hanging from my shoulder, a large leather tote bag that contained my beloved tools. I kept my hands in my pockets, resisting the urge to scratch my head, hot from the mousey brown wig that gave me a bobbed hair style. The green contact lenses I wore hid my true eye colour, making my eyes seem pale and uninteresting.

Even so, I took care not to look into the eye of the CCTV camera. I kept my head down, the long side fringe of the wig shadowing my face and my posture relaxed, as the lift climbed steadily towards the fifth floor.

Once out of the lift, I made my way down one of the interminably long corridors until I got to the staff lounge and changing room I had discovered on one of my earlier visits. The advantage of the fifth floor was this was an outpatient surgery ward. Patients came in during the day for simple surgical procedures that could be completed in a day, so this area of the hospital was almost deserted at night.

I opened the door and walked casually into the lounge to see that it was as empty, as it had been on every other visit I had made, and it was without CCTV. I made my way quickly through to the changing room and was relieved to see that it was also empty.

I shut the door firmly behind me and walked over to the scarred wooden bench that ran along the length of the small changing room. A bank of lockers sat along the opposite wall, with their fat keys sticking out of the open doors.

I put down my heavy tote bag and removed a set of pale green scrubs that I had taken from one of the large laundry cupboards that supplied each ward. The light weight cotton rustled like paper as it met my skin. I folded tonight’s street clothes and returned them to my tote bag. I removed my boots and changed into a pair of well-worn baseball boots that allowed me to walk briskly and silently along the slick polished floors. I liked these boots, but this would be the last time I would wear them.

I went back to the door, watching and listening to make sure that I was still alone. Hearing nothing but satisfying silence, I went back to the bench. I removed the stethoscope from my bag and hung it round my neck, the cold rubber tube cradling my nape. I secured the name badge I had borrowed during an earlier visit to the front of my scrub shirt, mimicking the others I had observed around the hospital.

I pulled one of the gloves onto my right hand. Re-opening my tool bag I added a scalpel to my pocket, its gleaming steel blade nestling against my gloved hand.

I secured my tote bag in an empty locker and pinned the key to the inside of one of the large square pockets on the front of my scrub shirt. The other pocket contained two sets of blue disposable gloves, shiny and smooth to the touch, warming to my hand as I stroked them.

I turned and looked into the mirror to check for any mistakes in my disguise. I didn’t recognise myself: with the tight hot skullcap that covered my own hair, the mousey brown wig and the contact lenses I was unrecognisable. The scrubs and the stethoscope made me feel invisible – after all, who pays attention to one more nurse in a hospital? It’s the same as the waiter at your dining table who is only paid attention when you need to be served.

I had also taken the precaution of applying some cosmetics that made subtle changes to my face. A pale base lightened my complexion considerably and careful shading gave me a slimmer nose, dark shadows underneath my eyes and the impression of a different face shape reflected by the shadow under my chin.

It was time. I had to teach him another lesson, as I had been taught. I would show no pity or mercy. He had dared to try erasing the gift I had given him when he had plastic surgery to repair the scar that should have been a daily reminder of his sin.

I could not allow him to escape his suffering so easily. His lady love would leave him once she saw he was no longer the handsome man she had first met. Her patience would wear thin as he wallowed in self pity, failing to understand why he had been punished. Had he not suffered enough to understand he must face his sins?

I checked my reflection once more and, satisfied with the anonymous figure that stared back, I left the comfort of the empty changing room. I made my way to the stairwell at the right hand corner of the ward.

The advantage of the stairwell was that there was no CCTV. Even so, I climbed the stairs at that telltale brisk pace, pausing at the top of the stairs to don two pairs of the blue disposable gloves, one over the other, there could be no risk of leaving a fingerprint behind.

I made my way down the short corridor to the bank of private rooms that ran along the right hand side of the ward. I opened the door to the first room and stepped over to the mechanical bed on which he lay. I looked down into the sleeping face of my love. He was still asleep, the drugs from his operation still coursing through his bloodstream. No matter, he didn’t need to be awake to take his punishment.

My anger settled in to a hard white-hot ball in my chest as I gripped the cold steel of the scalpel to caress his face. I raised my hand and drew a strong deep line diagonally from his cheekbone, down across his lips and ending at his chin, the scalpel grating against his whitened teeth. He slept on as I watched his dark red vital fluid begin to ooze from the line I had drawn, deep enough to scar but not to cause any threat.

The blood began to flow faster, to soak into the snowy white bandage that covered the other side of his newly repaired face. I stood for a moment, transfixed by the rich red velvet stain that spread across his face, and the white hot ball in my chest melted away.

I mentally shook myself into action and placed the scalpel that had served me so well back into my pocket, taking care to wipe the blade clean on the bedclothes. I reached down to the binder that contained the record of his stay and made my own notation; Leviticus 24:20.

He could not be allowed to forget.

I turned on my heel and slipped quietly out of the room, just another nurse checking on her patient. I reached the corner stairwell and moved briskly down to the fifth floor and returned to the safety of the staff lounge where I removed the two sets of gloves that had protected my fingers and folded them into my pocket. I would burn them later along with my shoes and scrubs.

I breathed out deeply and realised I had been holding my breath. Now for the difficult part: there were just six and a half hours before the end of a typical nursing shift and I would need to spend them here in the hospital if I was to maintain the illusion that I was a nurse who worked here.

I sat down on the well-worn bright blue sofa to think through the next steps of my careful plan. I would need to be seen by the CCTV cameras around the hospital to establish a credible presence, but I needed to take care. Appearing on a ward to work as a new agency nurse would expose the holes in my medical knowledge and could lead to my downfall. No. The best thing to do would be to appear around the hospital on different wards, seemingly carrying out basic tasks.

I made my way out of the staff lounge and walked briskly to the corner stairwell and down the stairs to the ward two floors below. Once I had entered the main entrance to the ward I walked briskly between the sleeping patients to the main reception desk which stood in the centre of the ward. I smiled at the tired-looking nurse who was working at the large desktop computer, updating records, the soft click of the keys echoing throughout the sleeping ward.

I reached over to the Out tray and picked up the plastic bags of various sizes, each containing small tubes of body fluids ready for collection and delivery to the laboratory floor in the basement. I signed the register with my nurse name and went down to the laboratory, traversing the main corridors so that I would be seen on CCTV throughout the hospital.

The next six hours passed in the completion of various tiresome jobs around the hospital, making beds with fresh sheets, collecting and delivering samples to the laboratory, stocking cupboards with medical supplies and sitting with sleeping patients in private rooms.

Satisfied that I had made my presence felt, I went back up to the fifth floor and began the daily routine of the operating ward, the sterilisation process. I had studied hard to understand this process and I was confident that I could complete it flawlessly.

I loaded each machine with the various sets of operating tools that would be required throughout the day, slipping the beautiful scalpel, that had lain heavy in my pocket throughout the night, into the last of the three stainless autoclave steel machines. I flicked the switch that would begin the steamy sterilisation process.

Finally, I felt that it was safe to leave. I made my way back to the changing room and opened the locker with the key from my pocket to remove my tote bag, and changed back into my street clothes. I folded the scrubs, shoes and stethoscope into my bag and, taking a final look in the mirror, left the changing room.

The hospital was busier now as nurses and doctors left and their counterparts for the day shift arrived. I was no longer alone as I walked briskly towards the lift and filed in amongst the others, who were leaving after the night’s work.

I kept my head down and avoided making eye contact as the lift descended towards the ground floor and my safe escape. Once on the ground floor I stepped out of the lift and took the few short steps through the main entrance.

I had delivered his lesson and now I was free. I walked with a light step out onto the street in the pale grey light of the early hours.

Short story - Horror

The doorway

The hood of my jacket is pulled forward close around my face as I lean back into the shadows of the doorway. I have found the perfect place: from here I can see into her window, but she can’t see me.

The rough red brick is pressing into my back as I settle in for the evening, the polished wooden door providing a solid pillow for my head. This space – my space – is set between two street lamps. A space completely in shadow, a space the light never reaches.

Occasionally, a figure will walk past. It gives me a thrill to know that I am so close to them, hidden in the shadows.

My hand moves reflexively into the pocket of my jacket to touch the shiny polished handle of the serrated blade hidden there. I feel comforted by the feel of the solid plastic and cold sharp steel.

I look up at her window across the street. She never closes her curtains, which is lucky for me. The glow from her table lamp provides a golden halo that surrounds her and lights her face. I can see her every expression from here. I know what she is thinking.

The thing I need to explain is that I never intended for things to go this far, but sometimes the universe has a different idea. It doesn’t matter how much we plan, how much we prepare. We can set events in motion expecting a particular outcome, but the universe will provide something unexpected, something outside of our control. Like the day I first met her.

You see, it was meant to be.

I should begin at the beginning, the day I first saw her, dropping her shopping basket in the local shop. One of those expensive delicatessen type places that take advantage of people who don’t plan their weekly shop.  They are open until late, which means that, at ten o’clock at night, they prey on tired workers making their way home.

Her shopping went everywhere and she blushed, coloured up bright red, falling to her knees to collect her intended purchases. She was clearly flustered and my heart went out to her. I understood her embarrassment, her need to wipe out the mistake as soon as possible before anyone saw how clumsy she had been.

I knelt down to help her and she looked up into my face and smiled. She just smiled and it was obvious what she was saying to me with that smile – she was telling me she wanted me to help her, telling me she wanted me. I could see it in her eyes.

That’s the way it was between us. There was no need for words, our connection was deeper than that – I knew what she was saying to me just by the way she looked at me. The little messages she sent me with the way she did things, like that first moment when she reached out her hand to pick up the same items in the same order as I did and our fingers brushed together. She was telling me she wanted me to touch her, wanted me to hold her hand.

I know that you won’t be able to understand, you can’t unless you have experienced it. The total symmetry of that connection, how deeply we understood each other.

That’s how I knew, when she left one of her shopping bags behind on the counter, that she wanted me to follow her home. It was a signal, you see, a message just for me.

I could have run after her and given her the bag, but that’s not what the message meant. She wanted me to know where she lived.

I followed her home, a few paces behind, waiting for a few seconds after she had turned the corner. Watching her reflection in the windows, I could see the direction she was taking while staying far enough behind to be hidden.

I saw her walk briskly up the steps to her front door. She stopped on the top step and put her shopping on the ground while she balanced her handbag on her raised knee to search for her keys.

Once she went inside I made my way down the opposite side of the street and that’s when I found this doorway, the perfect place to watch her.

I watched and waited until she appeared in a window, her window. Now I knew I could see into her home.

I watched as she dropped her keys onto a small side table and bent gracefully to pick up the shopping bags before turning to move into another room – the kitchen perhaps?

This was my chance.

I moved quickly across the road and up the stairs to her front door. I felt breathless and excited at being so close to her again. I placed the shopping bag on the front step and knocked on the door before turning away and running back across the street to the safety of the doorway.

I was rewarded by the front door opening a few moments later. She leant forward from the doorway, looking from left to right to see who was there before venturing out to stand on the top step.

That was when I knew she couldn’t see me although I had a perfect view of her.

At first she looked puzzled to see no-one there, but then her beautiful face changed as it displayed a small rueful smile. She bent gracefully once more to pick up the shopping bag she doubtlessly thought she had left on the doorstep in her haste to get inside.

I continued to watch as she turned and moved back into the house, closing the door behind her.

This doorway has become my favourite place and I return here night after night to watch her. The thrill of being so close to her warms my blood and makes my skin tingle.

We are so perfectly matched and one day, when the time is right, we will be together forever.

Until then I am content to watch and wait from the shadows of my doorway.

Short story - Horror

Locked in

I am trying to open my eyes.  My eyeballs roll up to my hairline under the lids with the effort of it.  Nothing.  OK, stop that for now.  Try something else.  My finger.  Let’s move that – just a little bit.  I feel a bead of sweat form on my forehead as I concentrate my whole being on the index finger of my left hand.  It remains motionless, resting on the rough cotton of the sheet.  The cotton – I can feel that – so coolly lifeless.

I can hear a door opening and the rustle of clothing.  Almost silent feet pad in my direction.   I can feel a scream forming in my throat – but the silence is tangible.  The footsteps stop and my brain flashes as a voice fills the room.

“Can you hear me, Elizabeth?”

“Yes, I can hear you,” my brain replies.  “I can hear you, I CAN HEAR YOU…HELP ME!”

With a supreme effort, born of desperation, I feel my eyelids twitch.  I try again and they twitch once more.  My right eye opens just a slit and the light is blinding.  It is enough.

“Oh, there you are.  I’m Susan, the duty staff nurse.  I’m just waiting for my colleague and we’re going to turn you.”

Turn me?  What are you talking about?  Duty nurse?  I must be in hospital…and this is real.  I feel a tsunami of panic begin to swell in my head.  I try again to move my tongue and hear a high pitched squeal – like a dying animal.  It comes again and I realise the sound is my own voice.  The tsunami breaks.

“Hello, Elizabeth.”  This is a new voice – male, resonant, too cheerful.  “OK Susan, before we turn her, did you explain?”

“No – do you think I should?”

“Of course.  It’s early days, but she’s locked in – for now anyway.  She probably has no memory of what happened on Thursday.”

Thursday?  So what day is it now, then?  Locked in?  LOCKED IN?  The tsunami has formed a whirlpool, the words swirling down in a spiral of fear.

Susan’s voice assumes a measured calm.

“Elizabeth, you’ve had a stroke.  You’re in hospital now and you’ve been here for a couple of days.  Your son will be back very soon – he’s barely left you…”

The male voice interrupted, “The doctor thinks you may be locked in, which means you are unable to move or communicate at the moment…”

“Too much information!” hisses Susan in an aggressive whisper.

“She deserves to know the whole position.”  The man is obviously affronted at the criticism.

“She’s not deaf!  And it’s too soon.”  The forced calmness returns to her voice.  “Locked in syndrome is often temporary, Elizabeth.  We’ll do everything we can to stimulate movement.”

I’m falling into the whirlpool.  I am swirling round and round and the eyelid closes as another silent scream rises to my throat.  The sound of roaring water fills my ears and etched against my eyeballs, I see a pageant of pictures – the field at the back of our house, the long grass rippling as I watch my son running towards me; laughing faces round the barbecue in the garden; Christmas paper strewn all over the carpet as the cat tries to climb the Christmas tree and the baubles fall to the floor; my husband, young again, and well.  Then nothing.  I recognise that I have seen my past, and the future I had imagined has vanished without trace – snatched by my body’s own treachery.  I am left only with this fading consciousness…sliding…dissolving…gone.

Short story - Horror

An eye for an eye

SDWC Short Story Competition 2015 – Runner-up.

This particular piece was inspired by a creative writing exercise that was set during an evening course I attend once a week in order to develop my writing skills. The exercise asked us to take one piece of paper from the ‘colour’ bowl, another from the ’emotions’ bowl and a mystery object from the black bag. I ended up with the colour brown, the emotion anger and a glass eye. From this I was inspired to write a short story set at Halloween for the 2015 Swansea & District Writers’ Circle Short Story Competition.

The long brown robe weighed heavily on my shoulders and the coarse material dragged along the floor as I walked slowly and fluidly forward, giving the impression that I was gliding. One great advantage of this costume was its cavernous hood which overshadowed my face. To add to the darkness, I was also wearing a black Lycra face mask, giving the effect that the hooded monk was faceless. I was comforted by the knowledge that no-one could see me, that I was anonymous. My hands, covered in brown leather gloves, were hidden because my arms were folded inside the wide flared sleeves of the robe.

I approached the entrance to the party, a black hole surrounded by pinpricks of orange fairy lights. The two black-robed figures flanking it bade me welcome in deep, menacing voices.

Stopping inside the doorway for a moment, I realised that the corridor leading to the main room was set up like a House of Horrors or a Ghost Train. I was disoriented by the total blackness, but it was also comforting. I was beginning to enjoy this feeling of invisibility.

The long robe hiding my feet, I pushed forward. As I glided along I was temporarily blinded by a flash of light as a mannequin, dressed as the corpse of a bride, was illuminated n the wall to my right. Her faded grey dress hung like cobwebs from her body and was coated in what looked like dried blood. My next step found me sinking into a jelly-like substance that felt cold and clammy, but I continued to move.

I reached the end of the corridor and was showered with something wet and sticky. I had just worked out that the liquid was meant to represent blood when a flash of light lit up another mannequin: this corpse had its throat slashed like a second mouth below the chin.

I was rewarded for my silent journey by the dimly lit entrance to the main hall housing the throng of party goers. I paused inside the door, adjusting to the brighter light and the firmer footing of more solid ground. I was greeted by a waitress dressed as a skeleton, her face shiny with heavy black and white make-up.

‘Welcome. Would you like an eyeball cocktail?’ she asked, brightly.

I looked down at the proffered tray: it held a collection of champagne flutes half-filled with sparkling white wine and raspberry juice. A lychee, representing an eyeball, floated greasily in the depths of each glass.

Once again I resisted the urge to speak and slowly shook my head before stepping into the crowd. I moved through the throng of party goers, unnoticed and unseen, and stood against the far wall. I had a clear view of the dance floor and entrance so I settled down to wait for my quarry to appear.

No-one approached me and it was a further fifteen minutes before I saw him enter the party. “Captain Kirk” was accompanied by a pretty brunette “Lieutenant Uhura”. Anger rose in my belly and I felt bile in my throat as I realised that they had planned to come to the party together; why else would they be wearing complimentary costumes? They were holding hands and giggling as they came through the corridor, clearly experiencing a frisson after navigating the nightmare experience together. My man, with another girl, at the party he was “too busy” to attend with me.

I willed myself to stay calm and continued to watch as he handed her an eyeball cocktail. He laughed as she took a first delicate sip with her pretty mouth and found the “eyeball” hitting her teeth. Hilarious! Maybe she will choke on it, I thought viciously.

Still, this wasn’t her fault as far as I knew. He was the deceitful liar, he was the cheat who had made a fool of me and he must be punished.

I stayed in position, watching the couple carefully as they chatted and laughed. Two drinks later they were gyrating on the dance floor, their hips moving in time with each other and the pounding music until he took her in his strong arms for a slow dance. His eyes never left her face and, slowly, he bent his head, joining his lips to hers in a kiss that seemed to go on forever.

The kiss ended and they stood frozen, barely moving to the music that surrounded them, gazing into each other’s eyes.

I felt physically sick as I watched her staring up into his handsome face, the face with the shining blue eyes and the strong jaw. His aquiline nose was not quite perfectly straight and it gave him an imperfection that somehow seemed to enhance his beauty rather than diminish it, the beauty of which he was so proud.

He leant forward and bent his head to whisper in her ear.

Was this it? Had my moment arrived at last?

I knew it wouldn’t be long before he needed to excuse himself to top up his confidence, to snort the white dust that, lately, he seemed to need more and more often.

My anger settled into an icy-cold fist in my stomach and I became very calm. I watched him give her another kiss and release her from his arms before he turned and appeared to move straight towards me. But he was heading for the toilets and didn’t even see me as he passed. I stepped out of the shadows on the wall and followed him, two paces behind.

I paused inside the doorway, momentarily blinded by the bright light bouncing off the tiled walls and shiny porcelain of the wash basin and the urinals. I retrieved the out-of-order sign I had hidden behind the door earlier and wedged the door shut with a chair. No-one could now enter without my knowledge. I heard him finish at the urinal and move over to the wash basin.

He bent over the washbasin, steam rising from the hot water and fogging the mirror, washing his hands as thoroughly as if he was about to perform surgery. After drying his hands on a pristine handkerchief, he took out his wallet and selected a credit card before pulling a packet of white powder and a small mirror from his pocket.

He still hadn’t noticed me, and I realised this was my opportunity. Moving silently and surely, I walked towards my prey until I was standing right behind him. As he straightened up it was the work of seconds to reach around his throat with my forearm and hold him tight against me, pushing hard on his windpipe. He struggled but was trapped between my body and the hard, unyielding porcelain of the washbasin.

Panic filled his eyes and heard his gurgles of protest as he saw the blade glinting in my gloved right hand. I raised the knife and drew it slowly down his forehead and across his now-closed eye until I felt the blade hit his cheekbone.

Blood spattered onto my gloved hand, hot and sweet, making the handle of my knife slippery and hard to hold but I kept my grip, savouring his shudders of fear.

I hadn’t pushed hard enough to sink the blade into his eyeball, but he would be scarred. Thinking of my vindication, how every day he would look in the mirror and be reminded of his deceit, warmed my blood.

He sank to his knees, clutching his face and groaning in pain and fear, as I released my hold on his throat.

Seizing the chance, I reached up to the mirror to leave him a message: daubing the letters with my finger, wet with his now-sticky, clotting blood. Leviticus 24:20.

Realising he wouldn’t stay quiet for long, I moved quickly out of the door and back towards the party. I made my way along the wall and through the door marked “exit” into the cold, dark night.

Once outside I hid behind the large industrial bins beside the kitchen door. Removing my robe, gloves and face mask revealed my skeleton costume and stark black and white make-up. I changed my shoes, rolled up my discarded garments and pushed them into a rubbish bag to retrieve later for burning.

Making my way into the kitchen I placed my beloved knife in the industrial dishwasher, added a generous dose of bleach, shut the door and switched it on. There was a short pause before I heard the machine start to fill with water. The heavy blades that began to rotate would create a whirlpool and wash away any evidence of the lesson I had taught him.

I picked up a tray and, smiling brightly, made my way in to the party to serve eyeball cocktails.