Saras face, p.12
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       Sara’s Face, p.12

           Melvin Burgess
 
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  ‘But don’t string it out too long,’ she said. ‘It’s not really fair on Jonathon, is it? Or Dr Kaye.’

  ‘Not fair on Dr Kaye, no,’ replied Sara. ‘I’ll be quick.’

  ‘And let poor old Mark off the hook. He was petrified for you.’

  ‘I promise,’ said Sara. And then they both got the giggles.

  Falling in Love Again

  Mark had a pretty good idea about where to look for the key to that door, if he wanted to. Tom Woods always wore a vast bunch of keys on his belt and Mark had often wondered what on earth they were for. The man had a state-of-the-art security system at his fingertips, every important door in the house had an electronic key – why did he need to carry half a kilo of metal around all day long? If they were just duplicates for the bedrooms and suchlike, he hardly needed them on his person.

  In fact, Woods liked the weight of a good heavy bunch of keys on his belt – it made him feel more in charge, somehow. Most of the keys on the bunch didn’t even have a lock to fit. They were security keys for the security man. Mark had spent enough time in the security room to know that there were no duplicates kept there. That bunch was definitely the place to look, but, as far as Mark could see, Woods carried the keys at all times. That meant he had to get into Woods’s apartment and hunt around while he slept. Rummaging about in Woods’s trousers while the man snored and groaned in bed next to him, ready to wake at any moment – Woods often boasted that being a light sleeper was an essential trick for every security guard – was not his idea of fun. It could be done …

  But not quite yet. A few days later, Mark made his way up to Sara’s room to discuss leaving the house, ghosts, locked doors, murder, mayhem and surgery. Instead, they made love. Much better than rooting about through Tom Woods’s trousers. Much nicer than sneaking about Heat’s state-of-the-art house, trying to uncover secrets that probably weren’t even there in the first place. No competition.

  Sara fully intended to get behind that door, but the ghost scared her so much, she was happy to let it ride. Instead, they closed the curtains on the four-poster bed, drank beer, watched TV, made love, had long conversations about fame, art, life and sex, and developed deep, dark bags under their eyes through living double lives – one by day and one by night. Mark did his best to convince her to leave anyway. He’d presented his arguments against surgery many times before, but now, to his surprise and delight, she seemed to be willing to listen. He railed against the whole concept of surgical youth. He hated the way people wiped life away from themselves – their hard-won crow’s-feet, their smile lines, their sad furrows cut away by the surgeon’s knife. The celebrity mothers who had their silicone implants removed early in pregnancy to prevent stretching, then had their babies by Caesarean at eight months before they got big, followed by liposuction on their bums and thighs and a full stomach tuck to take up the loose skin; the rock stars who changed their noses and chin lines every few years; the old women who looked at the world with ancient eyes out of the faces of girls; the old men who forced their middle-aged bodies into young skins – he despised them all. What’s wrong with growing old? Your wrinkles when they come, your loose skin, were signs of a life lived, they should be worn with pride. Jonathon Heat, Michael Jackson, Cher – they all looked ridiculous, turning themselves into dolls, some of them disasters, some more successful, but all awful, all ugly – all wrong. They were not themselves any more, and what are you, if not yourself? And, despite all their efforts and their fabulous wealth, they’d grow old and die anyway. If you fight life, you will lose …

  Above all, he told her, he couldn’t understand why she, who was about as beautiful as it was possible to get, should want to change anything about herself. Mark’s words brought tears to his own eyes, because, to him, Sara was beautiful as the day. He swore to her, if she could see herself as he saw her, she’d never change a single thing.

  Sara lay in his arms, smiling as if this was all she needed to hear. Mark grew passionate; he wanted more than anything for Sara to leave this mad house and this mad desire for a new face, and go back into the ordinary world.

  He bent down and touched her mouth. ‘Don’t do it,’ he said. ‘I can’t bear the idea of this face I’ve just kissed being anyone except you. And Heat! He’s a joke, a doll, something made up, not real at all – not like you.’

  Sara laughed with delight. She had been called a lot of things but never real before now.

  ‘Beauty is more than skin deep,’ she joked. ‘Or do you only like me for my looks?’

  ‘Your face goes all the way to your heart,’ said Mark, surprising both of them with his eloquence. He bent down and kissed the red triangular scar across her jaw.

  They had two lovely weeks. During the day, Sara went shopping, took lessons in singing and dancing, modelled, accompanied Heat everywhere. At night she forgot her ambitions in Mark’s arms. Two lovely weeks; and then she had another visitation.

  It came to her in her room. Once before it had visited her there, but then it had been a sense, a presence; this time it appeared in its full glory.

  She was woken out of a deep sleep by a sudden scream, so violent and so close that it had her trying to run through the wall behind her, heart in her mouth, before she knew she was awake. She could see nothing, but she knew exactly where it was – standing just on the other side of the curtains drawn round the bed. It was so close she could see its breath stirring the fabric. As she leapt up from sleep, there was a pause, but a second later it began again. The ghost – the girl – was screaming and begging for something – mercy, or death, perhaps. Her voice was so badly scrambled that it was almost impossible to make anything out, except that she was in the most atrocious pain. Sara pushed herself right up against the back of the bed, unable to move her eyes from the place where the demonic screaming was coming from, less than a breath away from the curtains, unable to move or even to breathe. Then, as if in answer to an unspoken question, the curtains dissolved from her eyes – and there she stood, howling like a dog almost, her bony jaws opening and closing like death aping life.

  ‘Help me,’ begged the figure, the words distorted by the fact that she had no lips. Then the words disintegrated into an agony of screams and sobs again.

  The vision was so real that at first Sara was convinced that it was actually flesh and blood. The whole face was a skull, and now she could see clearly that an all-too human hand had done it. The blood vessels were neatly sutured and tied off, the nerves held in little plastic tubes, ready for reconnection.

  Suddenly, Sara found herself again and rushed forward to try and comfort the poor girl, who was a monster after all only in her agony. But as her hands reached out in comfort, they passed straight through the body. She stared, stunned by what had happened. She lifted her hands to her face to see, and saw that they were smeared with blood. She screamed herself – huge, helpless screams of pure terror and disgust that hurt her throat.

  The creature turned from Sara – she had an impression of hope on her face, even though she didn’t have one – staggered across to the door and then straight through it. Sara, whose heart felt as if it was going to burst with fear, pity and disgust, turned on her bedside lamp, and realised in the second that the light clicked on that even though she had seen the ghost standing at the foot of the bed, even though she had watched it turn and drift through her door, the curtains to the four-poster had been drawn the whole time. Now, those same curtains were like a shield hiding her, because she had the courage neither to draw them and see, nor to keep them closed, for fear of what they hid. The stench of blood was still thick on her tongue and it was a full minute before she was able to press her finger down on the button that opened the curtains, convinced that the second she did, that terrible blood-soaked face would be thrust at her through the fabric. But when she peeped through there was nothing to be seen except a patch of something wet on the carpet, which faded as she reached down and was dry by the time she touched it.

  It was anot
her five minutes before she was able to get out of bed and open her bedroom door to see if there was any sign of the girl in her corridor. This time, she took her video camera with her.

  Sara – 23 June 2005

  (The camera is trembling violently and Sara is making choked sobbing noises – desperately trying to stay quiet but unable to control her breathing. The camera flicks over the floor in her room. Then we see the door open and get a view down the corridor)

  Oh my God, oh God! Look – it’s blood. Oh Jesus, it was real, it was real … Look! Look! Shit. God, I’m so scared. Blood. It stinks! She was real …

  (The camera is pointing to a red smear on the wall. It looks as if someone has taken a blood-soaked rag and rubbed it against the wall as they walked past. The blood is trickling down the wall. Sara has started to pant.)

  I just hope … I just hope she’s dead. I just hope she’s really a ghost. Please God, don’t let her be alive, I couldn’t bear it if she was alive. Looking like that! Imagine looking like that … Shit! Look – look!

  (The camera lifts up from the wall and down the corridor, where we see a figure standing in the darkness. It waits for a second; all we can hear is Sara’s ragged breathing. The camera is shaking violently, sometimes losing the image altogether. The figure waits for a few seconds, then the head twitches and we hear a distant but frantic screaming, broken up as if by a bad recording. The figure begins to move towards us.)

  God, no!

  (She runs back into her room, the camera taking a whirling chaos of images – the floor, Sara’s feet, the figure behind, the blood on the wall and more on the carpet as she runs. The door slams behind her and she runs straight to her bed, panting and quivering and sobbing in the low light. She reaches across and turns the camera off.)

  (The camera comes on again. It is focused on a group photograph on the wall. It is evidently some time later. Sara is calm.)

  That’s her. There. That’s her. I found her.

  (The camera zooms in shakily, closer and closer finding a face. We see a plump young woman, with a broad face, standing slightly sideways and smiling out of the picture at us. There is no way of linking her to the figure we briefly saw in the corridor. Sara has drawn a red line in felt tip round her to pick her out. The camera gets as close as it can, but it is shaking badly and we can’t really make out much.)

  There. Poor girl! I hope she’s dead, that’s all.

  (She fiddles with the camera. Darkness.)

  The Locked Door

  Two days later, Mark was fiddling around in Tom Woods’s trousers. Tom Woods himself wasn’t in them, but he lay only a couple of metres away, heaving in his sleep. It was not Mark’s thing at all. If he was caught, he’d be in police custody within an hour. And Sara would be on her own.

  It was vile. Fear communicates. Mark had seen Sara in some states before, but never anything to compare with her terror the night after the apparition had found its way into her room. She rang him weeping, begging him to come to her. Mark did, working his way through the house to her room, where he found her trembling from head to foot, her nerves utterly shot, clinging to him and begging him to help her. Mark wanted to leave the house at once, but she refused. The vision was revealing itself to her for a reason. She was certain Kaye and Heat were behind it. The girl had lived here, hadn’t she? She was one of the staff. She would go – after this only a fool would stay. But first they had to see behind that all-important door.

  Mark made his deal. Right now Sara was waiting in her room, bag packed, ready to go. Once they had seen behind the door, they were off.

  Mark fumbled in the dark, his hands shaking. Woods had the ring clipped onto a loop on his trousers and Mark couldn’t figure out how to undo it in the dark. He almost cut it off. Why not? In an hour they’d be gone. But then he’d have shown his hand … So he struggled for minutes on end, it seemed, until finally he found the catch, slipped the keys quietly off and made his way upstairs to meet Sara.

  Together, they walked down the long slope that led to the service area. Mark pressed the keys on his Palm Pilot that would close and open the cameras as they walked along, always looking over his shoulder, convinced that Dr Kaye and Jonathon Heat would suddenly appear out of the walls behind them. Sara hung on to his arm and looked ahead – her terrors were before her. She didn’t want to scare him, but he knew very well what the little jumps and gasps she was making meant: the visions had begun again. Her progress down the corridor was marked with a series of pops and bangs, flashes of light and changes of temperature. As they got closer, she could hear someone hissing at her. Then, a dark male voice called her name, and she leapt into the air.

  ‘What is it?’ hissed Mark.

  ‘Nothing – noises. C-can’t you hear?’ she stammered.

  Mark shook his head. The night was still to him. All this was for her alone.

  They approached the door. Now she could smell it – blood on the air, and the smell of decay. She had to force herself not to cringe as they drew near, terrified that the apparition would come rushing out of the wood straight at her. But then, when they got there, the noises stopped abruptly as if they knew she was there.

  Sara got down on all fours and sniffed like a dog. Mark watched her bum in the air, lusted, and was afraid for her.

  ‘Death, you see?’ she exclaimed triumphantly. ‘Something is dead in there.’

  He got down himself and sniffed, but this time he detected nothing. On the other hand, he had a blocked nose. Sara heaved a sigh. Please God it wasn’t going to happen again! She sat down with her back to the door and tried to relax, watching as Mark took off his bag and got out the keys, which he had wrapped up in a T-shirt to stop any noise.

  Mark glanced at the keyhole and then at the keys, trying to sort out where to start. As he did so, the noises began again. They began with a soft pop; then, from the slight gap under the door, there was a flash of light.

  Sara started fearfully and looked up at Mark, but it was obvious once again that he had no idea what was happening. He was looking down at her with a little frown on his face, as if he was waiting for an explanation of her behaviour. Sara grinned at him, both embarrassed and scared. To hide her fear she began to talk, jabbery gabble about what they were going to do when they left this place, how their lives would be together, safe happy lives. As she spoke, the noises increased – fizzes and pops and bangs, shadows, flashes and dull voices, bangs and thumps coming from the other side of the door. She conceived a terror that whatever it was behind there was about to seize her and drag her under the gap, squashing her to pulp in the process. Somehow, she knew that whatever it was was possessed of a truly demonic strength. And yet, out of sheer stubbornness, or embarrassment, or perhaps in an effort to prove to herself that it wasn’t really there and had no power at all, she didn’t move.

  To Mark she seemed to be going mad. She was sitting there, holding her bottom off the ground with tension, gabbling nonsense, all the time making little starts and jumps, glancing from side to side, gasping excitedly, twitching and throwing herself from side to side. Suddenly, without warning, she literally jumped up from the ground and landed in Mark’s arms.

  ‘Can’t you hear it?’ she gasped. There had been a terrifically loud bang and a roar, the kind of noise a lion or a film monster might make, so loud, she thought it was literally about to break the door down and snatch her away.

  ‘Hear what? There’s nothing happening,’ he hissed. She was really scaring him.

  ‘But it’s—Oh my God, can’t you hear?’ There was another huge bang, a bellow as if the Minotaur himself was coming, and then a man’s voice speaking urgently but low, the words too blurred to make out. Then there came the sound of a girl suddenly screaming in pain. It was truly dreadful, a cawing, screeching noise, that she understood was coming from a pretty young throat.

  Mark pushed her out of the way. He fitted one of the keys to the lock, then another.

  ‘We’ll see now,’ he said grimly. Sara backed off, g
lancing over her shoulder – surely the noise was waking the whole house! – and watched as Mark began to go through the bundle of keys one after the other, trying to find one to fit.

  Suddenly, the screaming stopped. Sara was aware of their own ragged breathing. The only noise was the low hum of the sleeping building and the sound of the keys rattling as Mark went through them. He went through the whole ring, maybe thirty keys, but he found nothing. Glancing at Sara, he paused. She had gone as white as a sheet.

  ‘What’s happening?’ he begged.

  ‘She’s stopped. Maybe she’s dead. Do you think they’ve killed her?’

  Mark pulled a face. How could he know anything?

  ‘Either I’m going mad or they killed someone in there. Just get it open.’

  Mark licked his lips and turned to go through the keys again. This time, about a quarter of the way through, the lock turned.

  He stood, tugged down the handle and the door swung open. And inside they saw – another door. There were a couple of metres of wall and then another door, a solid metal one this time. There was no keyhole.

  Sara gave a low moan and flung herself at it. Her hands slid over the surface but there was no handle. She got down again to sniff, and her fingers, as she bent to support her weight, found something cold and strange under her palm. She lifted it up. It was the corner of a mouldy old sandwich that someone had dropped days ago and then forgotten about.

  Sara dropped it as soon as she realised what it was. It stank of decay. Mark crouched down on his knees and opened it up with the end of a key.

  ‘Sausage,’ he said.

  He looked up, their eyes met. There was a pause. Then they both had a sudden attack of the giggles.

  For a moment they couldn’t look at each other, trying desperately to keep quiet. The sandwich was hilarious. Mark had a joke he wanted to get out about the sausage ghost, and not being able to speak was just making him worse. But the amusement didn’t last long. Suddenly, Sara let out a shout of fright. Mark followed her gaze to the metal door. He saw nothing, but in front of her, only inches away, a figure began to slowly emerge: the girl with no face.

 
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