Fright night ii, p.2
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       Fright Night II, p.2

          
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  ***

  She seemed to be lying in a bed of wet shale. She could feel fine, flinty grains between her fingers. When she stretched out her hand she felt empty air and a breeze rising from below. She realised she had landed on a ledge of some kind. She assumed Lucy had been less fortunate, but had no idea how much further she might have fallen.

  Apart from her leg and the nausea and fear she seemed okay. Even the fear had receded a little as her body responded to the flood of chemicals from her adrenal gland. She felt detached, slightly floaty. Under other circumstances she could have drifted off to sleep.

  She wondered again what had happened to Lucy. She shouted, first for Lucy and then for help. Nothing but echoes. As the echoes faded she heard a new noise below, a scuffling sound, distinct from the swirling water but acoustically concordant. As she listened the sound got louder, eventually eclipsing the water noises. Other tones – squeaks and squeals and high-pitched chirps – evolved to expand the soundscape. Sarah thought the noises were probably made by rats.

  She redoubled her efforts shouting for help. Still nothing. After half-an-hour’s screaming her voice was a croak and her mouth parched. She dipped fingers into the moist shale and sucked them, spitting gravel and mud onto the ground by her shoulder. Her horror of the rats had diminished a little; they seemed unable to climb the tunnel walls to her ledge.

  She pushed all thoughts of Lucy from her head.

  She thought about her broken leg and the blood she had lost, concluding that however bad the break might feel she had not severed an artery. If she had she would have bled out by now, or at the very least fallen unconscious again. She surprised herself with how lucid her thought processing was. She had no idea what she could do in practical terms, but realised she had to do something. She tried to straighten her leg again, screaming at the pain that raced through her body. So much for that idea.

  She became aware of new pain in her shoulder and back. Nothing broken, but she was lying on something hard and jagged. She braced her arms and good leg against the ground and pushed herself up and back. The pain was excruciating, but after three bumps she was almost sitting with her back against the sidewall. The fourth bump was a bump too far. The shale beneath her shifted and crumbled, a slow trickle at first but then a sudden rush that plunged her and the ledge she was sitting on into freefall.

  She fell around fifteen feet, the impact partially buffered by Lucy’s body beneath her. Feeding rats scattered in all directions. Sarah felt a brief flare of pain from her leg and a sharp blow to the side of her head. She slipped back into unconsciousness.

  When she woke again it was to an intensity of pain and terror she could never have imagined. Small bodies were scrambling all over her, rolling and fighting for prime positions where the flesh was softest and most vulnerable. Rats swarmed around her leg, chewing at the raw and bloody meat where bone emerged from skin. Blood flowed faster now from veins shredded by sharp incisors. More rats clambered over her face, biting at the soft tissue of her cheeks and ears and lips. She screamed: a primal howl that ricocheted off the surrounding walls. The rats scattered, but stayed close and returned within a minute. She screamed again, but this time it bought her even shorter respite. Her third scream was weaker, exhaustion, shock and blood-loss taking their toll. The rats ignored it.

  When unconsciousness took her again it was a relief. She was at one with the darkness, and its embrace was warm and welcoming. She felt within it, cocooned, but outside of it too. There came a deeper, all-encompassing, darkness, and then a single light burning at its centre. Sarah felt herself rushing towards it, the light expanding to fill every corner of her world.

  And then there was nothing.

  The Lost

  Karen Tucker

  Jenny spat toothpaste into the basin, rinsed the brush, and raised her gaze to the mirror in front of her.

  There was someone there.

  She yelped. Her left hand shot to her suddenly racing heart, and she spun around, breathing hard.

  The young soldier was still in the doorway, though she could clearly see the bedroom door through his hazy outline. She backed up against the cold basin, holding the toothbrush in front of her like a weapon.

  His smile was hesitant and apologetic. ‘Sorry, miss. Din’t mean to scare yer.’

  ‘Who the hell are you?’ she asked, breathless.

  He shrugged. ‘I was gunna arks you the same fing, miss. I come home at last – it’s taken me a long time, but I come home – and me family’s all gone. And here’s you instead.’

  ‘I live here.’ She took a shaky breath. Details of his appearance were starting to seep through the panic. Including his puzzled frown.

  ‘Um, you look like a World War One soldier,’ she remarked, intrigued.

  ‘World War One?’ he repeated.

  ‘Oh, er – Great War,’ she amended, dredging up a memory.

  He brightened. ‘Oh, yes, miss, that’s right. Just home. Where is everyone? And how come you live here now?’

  ‘Oh God! I… look, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… they’re dead. So are you.’

  His nose wrinkled and his head tipped sideways. ‘Dead, miss? Me?’

  She nodded. ‘It’s a hundred years since the Great War started. It’s the year two thousand and fourteen.’

  He looked taken aback. ‘You havin’ me on, miss?’

  She shook her head. ‘Nope. You’re dead alright. I can see the door, right through you.’

  ‘I’m… a ghost?’

  She nodded again. Her mouth was almost too dry to swallow.

  In slow motion, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. ‘Oh bruvver!’ He took a moment to consider this information. ‘But… what do I do now, miss?’

  She shook her head and shrugged. ‘I don’t know. But you can’t stay here.’

  He looked younger now, scared and lost. ‘But…’

  A thought came. ‘Hold on!’ Her left hand scrabbled in her jeans pocket. Long seconds passed before her fingers closed on her mobile. It caught on the edge, and she almost ripped it free.

  With trembling fingers, she hit r-u-t then, steadying her hand against the edge of the device, she stabbed the entry marked ‘Ruth’.

  Please let her be awake!

  The phone connected. It rang, and rang… and just as she was sure it was going to go to voicemail, Ruth’s sleepy voice answered.

  ‘Jenny? What’s up?’

  She drew a shuddering breath. ‘Ruth! Thank God! I need your help!’

  ‘What’s wrong?’ She sounded more awake now.

  ‘I’ve got a… a ghost… a spirit… in my house. What can I do?’

  ‘Oh my God! Really? Wow!’

  ‘Yeah, really.’ She knew she sounded horribly sarcastic, but she couldn’t help it. ‘What can I do?’ she repeated.

  Ruth drew a deep breath. ‘OK, you need to help him to pass over.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘Right. Use your finger to draw an arched doorway, somewhere near him. As you do that, imagine the doorway becomes filled with bright white light.’

  Jenny nodded, though she knew Ruth couldn’t see her. ‘OK.’ A shaking finger traced a wobbly arch in the corridor.

  ‘Done?’

  She nodded again, then said, ‘Yes.’

  ‘Good. Now ask for a loved one to come and help him pass over.’

  ‘Pass over?’

  ‘Through the veil. To the Other Side.’

  ‘Oh, right.’

  ‘You don’t have to say it out loud.’

  ‘Good.’ In her head, Jenny asked the question. She jumped when the figure of a woman appeared in the doorway in her mind’s eye. She glanced at the soldier.

  He’d seen her. His eyes were alight with joy, and he stepped forward into her embrace, wrapping his arms tightly around her.

  ‘Ma!’

  They held each other like they would never let go. Jenny’s eyes filled with tears, and she dashed them away with the back of her hand.

  Finally, they separated, just a little. The woman planted a kiss in the middle of the soldier’s forehead.

  ‘Oh, Joe,’ she said tenderly. ‘We’ve waited a long time for you to come home. Do come in, won’t you?’

  Moving aside, she made room for him to step through the doorway, and they disappeared into the blinding light. Hairs lifted all along Jenny’s arms and she shivered.

  ‘Done?’ Ruth’s voice made her jump.

  ‘Yes. He’s gone.’

  ‘Excellent! Well done. You’d better close the door, or it may attract other souls looking for a way home. Just retrace it and watch it disappear.’

  Jenny did as she was told.

  ‘Gone.’

  ‘Good work! Well make a ghostbuster of you yet!’

  Jenny shook her head. ‘Oh no, you won’t! That was terrifying!’

  ‘But you dealt with it.’

  Jenny shrugged. ‘Well, yes. But what choice did I have?’

  ‘Not a lot, I’ll grant you. But you’ll know what to do if you encounter one again.’

  ‘God, I hope that never happens!’

  ‘Can’t be guaranteed, I’m afraid. But probably not tonight.’

  ‘Good! Thanks for your help, Ruth, and I’m sorry I woke you.’

  ‘That’s OK. It was in a good cause. You get to bed now.’

  ‘Right.’

  ‘Goodnight.’ And she was gone.

  Good night? Some hope! Jenny thought.

  That night, she slept curled into a foetal position, fist to mouth and the covers over her head, all lights blazing. It took a while, but she slept.

  Pet Food

  David Hensley

  ‘No! No! No! No!’ shrieked the normally mild and lovely Mrs Murdoch.

  Keith had been sat at the kitchen worktop, casually eating the Parmesan that she had just grated for their lunch, but with this outburst he leapt out of the window.

  ‘You always spoil things,’ she screamed after him. Parmesan was a luxury they could ill afford at present, but she felt it made a big difference in making otherwise basic food more palatable.

  Sally, sat at the other side of the kitchen, watched Keith disappear and then stared accusingly at Mrs Murdoch with her big brown eyes.

  Mrs Murdoch apologised for her loss of temper, silently, inwardly. Things had gone from bad to worse over the last few weeks, and the stress was starting to show.

  Losing her benefits had been the beginning of the end. True, she hadn’t actually suffered from most of the disabilities she had been claiming for, but she did need the money. Now, to take account of the years of overpayment, she was getting nothing while her case was reviewed. She’d even been told that she could get put away. Who then would look after Sally and Keith?

  So, she realised, today would be the day. The day she had been fearing. The day she had been hoping to put off forever. After forty years in the same house, this would be the day when everything changed.

  The local foodbank had been a godsend, providing something every three days to keep them going. She had been gleaning vegetables past their sell-by-date, but since her electricity had been turned off the old fridge didn’t keep anything fresh for very long.

  In the circumstances Keith and Sally had been commendably calm. They were both hungry, she knew. She hadn’t been sharing what food there was very evenly; they were both looking too thin, ribs visible when they walked.

  Still, this was preferable to obesity, which she had read caused cancer, diabetes and many other problems. Perhaps it was to their advantage that she erred in the other direction. Several neighbours had chubby children who lived on little more than take-away pizza and bags of chips. Indeed some were so fat they could hardly walk. At least that hadn’t happened here.

  ‘Well, if today really is the day, this meal needs to be special,’ she murmured to herself. The meat for the Bolognese was far from fresh, and it wasn’t even butchers’ minced beef, but minced scraps destined for pet food. But the stolen Parmesan – what was left of it – would help cover that. She knew that Parmesan in the heat of southern Italy had a similar role to spices in India: to mask any imperfection in the meat sauce. Today she needed a very strong dose to disguise the rancid smell.

  This would be it. Their last meal together. Still, better than nothing, she thought to herself. Today was the day. Keith and Sally lay lethargic on the bench in the back yard; she needed to move fast.

  From an old box in her bedroom she recovered the two large bottles of Kaolin and Morphine. Her mother’s favourite remedy, certainly not available over the counter today, but reliable, effective and long lasting. The clay at the bottom of the bottles had long-since solidified and the brown liquid morphine swilled like syrup in the sealed bottles.

  With a couple of packets of paracetamol crushed in too, and with the rest of her brandy, it would do. This will bring fast and permanent sleep. It will be pain-free. It will take away this agony of everyday existence.

  She prepared the three bowls, put Keith’s in his place, Sally’s in her spot, and her own carefully in her place at the head of the table, and then called them in from the yard. Despite her fit of pique neither of them could have gone anywhere. The high old walls were still too tall for either of them to climb over. She knew because she had seen them try.

  The food looked good enough to die for, she thought, and the Parmesan smelled suitably strong. But the way they sniffed at the food and then looked at her told her they suspected something wasn’t right.

  Suddenly Sally leapt at Mrs Murdoch, scratching her face. She screamed and tried to push her away, but at the same moment Keith dived into the back of her knees and she fell backwards. Hands held up to protect her face, she could do nothing to break her fall. Nothing to stop her head cracking open on the stone fireplace.

  Darkness came faster and more painfully than she had expected.

  It was seven days later when neighbours alerted the police. The flies had been the first suspicious sign, but there were often flies coming from Mrs Murdoch’s back yard, even if these did seem more prolific than usual. It was when Elsie from next door mentioned it to Jane who ran the foodbank that they wondered if all was not right. Jane noted that Mrs Murdoch had been in every three days without fail for the past few weeks, but had now missed her last couple of slots. ‘Either she’s won the lottery or someone’s done her in. And I haven’t seen any celebrities in the street.’

  So there was a small crowd of neighbours peering out between their lace curtains as the police broke down the front door. A familiar ginger cat and black-and-tan terrier dived out past the officers’ legs, unnoticed, and disappeared off down the road. The neighbours could not see the shock on the police officers’ faces when they reached the kitchen, greeted by a large bowl seething with maggots in the middle of the table, and two smaller bowls, each covered in dead flies, either side of the fireplace.

  But it was what was in the fireplace that shocked them. The pure white bones of a human skeleton, picked so clean it might have been there for years.

  The Dead of Winter

  Peter Tonkin

  In dead of winter, when the snow

  Was piled against my window frame

  I died because the gas went low

  And killed my fire’s flame.

  Wrapped in blankets, half asleep,

  I sat and let the chill creep in

  Until I couldn’t feel my feet

  And my hands were cold as sin.

  I should have called for help, I know

  Or raised my voice and asked for aid

  But there was no-one near I knew

  And I was afraid.

  Afraid to shout, for who might come?

  I’d already had my windows smashed

  By vandals who had laughed and run.

  And no-one had swept up the glass.

  I heard the postman at the door,

  I turned my head and tried –

  He was gone before the letter hit the floor.

  And so I died.

  I would have been gassed, I understand,

  When they made up the pressure-loss.

  But the letter was a final demand

  And they had cut me off.

  The social worker found me there

  Three weeks later when she came,

  Still sitting in my favourite chair

  Still looking for a flame.

  They had some trouble laying me flat:

  My knees and elbows wouldn’t straighten

  But they buried me in my Sunday hat

  In a cemetery near Leyton.

  The Landlord let my flat again

  To a nice young couple from the North.

  They haven’t changed it – it’s still the same;

  They’ve nothing much of worth.

  I sit in the shadows and watch them go

  Through rooms which once were mine.

  I sit and wait – they too will grow

  Old, in time.

  And even on a summer’s day

  On the warmest evening of the year

  One will turn to the other and exclaim,

  ‘It’s cold in here!’

  I sit in the shadows and softly say,

  ‘It’s colder than you think, my dear.

  The Flowing Finger

  Paul Bright

  They knocked down the old hospital brick by brick, wall by wall. Wards and consulting rooms, labs and operating theatres. Obliterating all trace of the long, dingy corridors, the smell of damp linen and antiseptic, the sagging chairs and faded signs. The doctors, nurses, radiologists and receptionists moved on, took eager retirement, or relocated to the gleaming new building just a few miles away. And developers moved onto the site to build homes of distinction for discerning purchasers, with prices to match. The demolition crew were replaced by diggers and dumper trucks, and a huge crane rose, section by section, until it towered over the neighbourhood. A forbidding, steel dinosaur by day, and a looming red beacon by night.

  They dug deep, where underground car parks were planned. And beneath the foundations of the hospital they found traces of the old manor house that had originally been there; once the home of an eminent Victorian traveller and archaeologist.

  ‘According to the drawings,’ said the architect, ‘there may be old drainage pipes down there. Difficult to be certain, so far back, but we need to make sure they're dug up or properly sealed off.’

  So Mick and Terry grabbed Johnnie with his JCB, and they cut a trench, long and deep, across that part of the site, to see what they could turn up. It was late in the afternoon when the scoop hit something with a metallic Clunk!

  The three of them clambered down and set to with shovel and pickaxe, at last revealing a container, small but extremely heavy, and revealed to be a leaden box once they had wiped off the mud.

  ‘What do you know?’ said Terry, with a whistle. ‘A darn site more interesting than a chunk of broken drainpipe.’

  Mick looked around. The site was clearing and no one had noticed their discovery. ‘The old geezer must have had loads of valuable stuff. Who knows what could be in here? I reckon we should take a look inside, and rather keep this to ourselves for a while. Know what I mean?’

  A jemmy was found and a mallet and screwdriver, and eventually the lid was, none too delicately, prised open. Inside they found a blackened object, packed around with yellowed cotton wool. It was roughly cylindrical, and made from, or wrapped in, a resinous fabric, now hard and glassy with age. Terry picked it up, cautiously.

  ‘There's more,’ he said. ‘Something underneath.’ It was a rigid leather tube, of the sort that might once have held a small telescope, but when Terry reached inside, it was a scroll of paper that he pulled out. ‘What on earth have we got here?’ Despite the long years in its hermetic container, the writing was still remarkably legible:

  August 1857: Of all the artefacts I have found during my excavations in Egypt, this is the strangest. It was found beneath a temple dedicated to Anubis, god of the dead and the afterworld. I know not what it contains or what its function may be. Some associated hieroglyphics were faded and unclear, but there were fragments which appeared to warn of death and contagion. The object had been sealed with extreme care. I am similarly protecting it and storing it safely. I will not try to open it and I exhort anyone who comes after me not to do so.

  ‘Bloody hell!’ muttered Johnnie. ‘Let's tell the guv’nor and get it down to the museum. Let them work it out. Too bloody spooky for me - I don't want anything to do with it.’

  ‘I don't know,’ said Mick. ‘I still reckon it could be worth a fortune. It must be thousands of years old. Let me have a look...’ He made to take the object from Terry, but his hands were wet and muddy, and somehow, between them, it slipped and fell, turning and catching the edge of the leaden box, with an ominous Crack!

  ‘Bugger!’ said Mick. Then: ‘I think it's OK. It's still in one piece. I...’ But at that moment a stench struck them. A foul, stinking exhalation of decay and death, dank and dreadful, and a strange grey substance, a slime or mould, oozed from a faint crack in the black, resinous surface.

  ‘Sod this,’ spluttered Terry, trying not to retch. Then a strange thing happened. A beetle, clambering over the debris from the digging, fell into the trench, landing on its back alongside the blackened object. As it scrabbled to right itself, the mould seemed to pause, abruptly, in its spreading. As they watched, it oozed a flowing finger of slime; a finger that seemed almost to probe and prod, like a dog snuffling after a scent. Then it found and enveloped the hapless insect, and in one squirming, struggling instant - the beetle was gone, with not a trace remaining.

  ‘That's it,’ said Terry. ‘That is something weird. That is evil. Cover the bugger up now. Quick!’ They shovelled frantically, covering the object and its container in a mound of clay and rubble. As an afterthought they laid a scrap sheet of damp-proof membrane on top, then they refilled the trench, firming the surface down with the back of the JCB shovel.

  ‘Not a word to anyone,’ said Mick. ‘Not a bloody word!’
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