Throwback Thursday: Howler

A throwback to a short story about a couple who decide to holiday in the middle of the woods, and get more than they bargained for.

There was the sound of something running around outside, followed by a low growl. Lexie lifted her head off the pillow to see if she could make anything out on the other side of the curtains, but it was too dark for her to be sure.

“Can you see anything?” she asked Ed.

“No.”

“Me neither.”

Source: Howler

(Flash Fiction) Ghost

An interesting and *creepy* piece of flash fiction.

The Darker Realms

Image credit: Hyena Reality/Shutterstock.com Image credit: Hyena Reality/Shutterstock.com

This hospital has a ghost. Sadly the children here, being the most open, the most psychically acute, tend to see it the most. But on the other hand, they are young, and usually recover from both their bodily ills and the spiritual scarring of seeing the deathly ghost mask hovering above them. For the most part, though it makes them cry, and tell each other stories in its wake, it passes them by, on its grim procession to the elderly, the weak, the dying.

Nurses on late night shifts sometimes speak of seeing it, a floating skull, hovering from room to room as though seeking eternal company. These revelations are whispered things, for to speak more openly would be to risk losing their jobs. But to not speak of it, conversely, would be to hold the secret alone and wonder at one’s sanity. If they must be mad, let…

View original post 191 more words

A Hero’s Welcome by Peter Indianna

Extremely well written and dark horror.

The cobalt dress was taut around Carter Graham’s hips, the nylon thigh-hose stretched smooth and the blonde wig that he made out of Janet’s scalp fit radiantly snug over his short, salt-and-pepper hair. The pumps were far too small so he had to slit the sides of the black leather to make his feet slip into the shoes. Sitting at the dressing table, Carter fumbled about in Janet’s jewelry box, primping and fussing, trying on different pieces to achieve that distinctive look. The make-up strategy was harsh and gaudy, the scarlet lipstick a bit too thick and became smeared from his unskilled attempts to apply it. An synthetic pearl necklace was selected and Carter clasped it around his neck, followed by a pair of pearl studs which he punctured through the lobes of each ear. He stood before the full-length mirror and turned, spun and swayed, mugging at his reflection…

View original post 1,154 more words

The Immortal

I remember how it felt the first time that I took to the skies. One day, I had been normal (if that’s even a thing), working nine-to-five like everyone else, unaware of what existed beyond my immediate vision; the next, two tiny holes in my neck had changed the course of my entire life.

The first time I flew, I jumped from the top of a block of flats and misjudged how easy it would be. Like in the movies, I thought that everything I needed would come to me in the magic of the moment. Thankfully, enough came to me for the world to grant me a chance at a second attempt. I studied up on how birds and bats (especially bats) fly and adopted a working technique. It was wonderful.

Buildings looked so insignificant from above. I thought about the people going round, as tiny as ants, living their ordinary lives, worrying about paying their rent or their taxes. For a while, I pitied them.

Things changed in time. I became used to flying around on my leathery wings, and despite how ridiculous you might think the next statement is, it lost its charm. The world around me changed, developed, and aged, but I stayed the same. I was stuck, motionless, in a void. I wanted to grow old and even die just so I could be like everybody else. Sometimes, I let myself starve, but still nothing happened to me. Food was bitter on my tongue; my nourishment came from the living. It was cruel and I began to hate myself more and more.

I craved companionship, someone who I could relate to, yet I did not wish to condemn anyone else to my fate.

The one who had turned me was arrogant and bitter. He did not care for me, nor did he care for anyone else. I am sure that this is something that comes with the passing of time, the torture of watching generations of mortals be born, grow old and die, all while making the same foolish mistakes that their parents made, and their parents before them. It is easy to see the patterns in history when you have lived through history. That cold emptiness affects all like me in the end. It will affect me, too. One day.

So I always try to remember the awe and the fear of the first time that I took to the skies. It does not remind me of what it is like to be mortal (what I remember is truly long gone), but it does help to keep me grounded. It reminds me that I was new once and I used to enjoy myself. I used to be a small dot in an enormous world, rather than the legend that I have become. I still find pleasure in that memory, and that is all I need to keep me going – though for how much longer, I cannot say.

After all, none of us are designed to live forever.

Hayley’s Chest

Hayley dropped her bag down onto the floor and settled into the armchair, releasing the tension that had built up within her throughout the day with a long sigh. It had been an exhausting day at work and, with the staff problems that they were currently having, it was only going to get worse over the course of the week.

She rummaged through the bag for a cigarette and a lighter. Her hand brushed against something that felt like paper and she frowned at the contact; she had been unaware that there was paper in her bag. She grabbed it and pulled. It was heavier than she had expected it to be and once she removed it from the bag, Hayley noticed that there was a key tied to the note.

In small, blank ink, words paralysed her with fear. Her lips formed them slowly, as though this would help them to sink in.

“You know what to do.”

Hayley reached out to take hold of the key. It was cold under her fingers. The metal held secrets that Hayley had hoped to take to her grave.

At first, she thought about calling Christopher. He had been the one with her that night, the passenger in her now abandoned car. She needed to know why he had chosen to return the key to her now. Was he unable to hide their secret any longer? Had the police found him at last? He was in it as deep as she was after all these years of hiding the evidence.

Hayley was returned to the present by the cold key in her hand. She did not wish to be reminded of what she had done. No, she could not call Chris to ask him why, or if this was the end: it would bring up too many hurtful memories.

The journey up the stairs felt like the longest of her life. Longer than the journey across the room to the bedside of her dying mother. Hayley pushed open the door of the spare bedroom and crossed it to the chest hidden at the back of the wardrobe. It was covered in cobwebs and a thick layer of dust; Hayley pulled it out into the middle of the room, one hand running through the dry dust.

She grimaced and brushed the dust onto her trousers before leaning over the chest to find the lock. There was dust gathered there within the hole too, and when she blew it away small flecks flew up her nose. Hayley sneezed, backing away to escape the dust particles in the air.

Once they disappeared, she moved back over to the chest. With one hand, she slipped the key into the lock and turned it until the mechanism clicked, then swung the lid open with her other hand.

What was kept inside was tattered and grey, with blood stains dried across it. Hayley stretched out her arms and pulled out the old jacket, examining it carefully. The jeans came next. The shirt, boxers and socks had once been white, but they had become dull with time. The fabric was thin and a nasty smell filled the room as soon as the chest was unlocked. It was just like the smell from that night.

Hayley had not meant to hit the pedestrian with her car. She had been drinking that night – though not as much as Chris had – and the guy had walked straight out onto the road in front of her. There had been no way to stop in time.

He had died almost instantly. As if the accident had not been enough, Hayley and Chris had then done something ridiculously stupid that had made the night even worse. They had tossed the body into the boot, taken it back to Chris’ house and buried it in the garden. But Chris, worried that the police would find him, had stripped the body first and taken the clothes back to Hayley’s place, then locked them in the trunk. They had both been implemented in this. If Chris ever thought that he was going to be caught, then he would send the key to Hayley and she would have to bite the bullet as well. That was their pact.

In the five years since the accident, Hayley had been given plenty of opportunities to rid herself of the chest. She could have dumped it. Days had turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, and still they had not been investigated. The burning shame in her gut had kept her away from that chest. Dumping it had not been an option.

She was not ready to be held responsible for her actions. Hayley had built herself a life and a career since that night and she did not wish to give either of those things up.

There was a loud noise from behind her, like the creaking of the stairs, and she spun around with wide, panicked eyes. At first she thought that she had been caught red-handed, holding the clothes of the man she had run over, but then she noticed the words written on the wall.

“You know what to do,” they said. The letters were large, sprawled across the wall and above the door. Hayley stood, staring over at them with a deep sense of worry in the pit of her stomach. Chris could not have come in and painted those words on her wall without her noticing. Below them, a shovel was leaning against the wall – which she was sure had not been there before. It was too clean to have been in the disused room for very long.

This made no sense. Chris would never ask her to dig up the body that they had buried.

Hayley took a step closer to those words, unsure what was happening to her. If this was not Chris, then who had sent her the key? Who had written those words? Who – ?

Her thoughts were interrupted when, without any sign of a paint brush or a hand, fresh words appeared below those already on the wall.

“Unite me with my body. Pay for your crimes at last.”

It was as though someone had reached inside of her and tore out Hayley’s heart. The shock that surged through her quickly turned into guilt, and finally acceptance. For a while, she genuinely thought about digging up the body.

The phone was closer: her mobile was in her pocket. And when she dialled 999 and asked for the police, more words appeared.

“Yes. That’s what you should do.”

The Monster Hidden Within

I think people like to hear stories about monsters. In a way, as strange as it might sound at first, the idea of monsters soothes them. Monsters provide the comforting notion that it is not “us” who cause others harm, but “them”. They divide the humans from the “something else”, and draw a line between what is considered the behaviour of a person and what is not.

We make these monsters ugly or beyond our comprehension. They are designed to be repulsive to us. That is why I believe some of the scariest actions are those performed by people. I’m talking about everyday people who we pass on the street: a man who is walking his dog might look like he had nothing to hide, so to discover that he has a sinister secret would shock us and scare us. How can he act completely normal if he has done something so terrible? But then, that’s the point of monsters, because we’re supposed to know what they’re capable of from the moment we lay eyes on them.

People are frightening because they do not always register on our “monster scale”. That guy who was walking his dog could have picked you out as his victim, and as long as he was able to hide it, nobody else would ever need to know …

Oh, we label certain people monsters, but until we know what they have done we have no idea that they might be monsters. They look like you or I. We cannot discern their monstrous actions because they do not appear like the monsters in the stories we’ve been told.

Donald was this kind of a monster. He liked to go on walks; he even had a dog. I met him on a dating website and I didn’t notice anything that might suggest there was anything sinister about him until he’d ensnared me. Until the trap was set, and until I walked right into it. I can assure you, the fact that I am able to tell you this tale does not offer me much comfort.

Our first date was like any first date should be. It was merry, dignified and just the right amount of silly. We both seemed nervous, although I am skeptical whether Donald actually feels anything: the fact that I could not tell he was acting is a compliment to his skills, and it makes me very concerned for other you.

I know you’re out there somewhere, laughing at his jokes, sipping your wine around a smile that says I think I’ve finally found the one. Trust me, you haven’t. But you won’t keep looking.

We drank and chatted happily. When the bill came, he politely accepted my offer to split the bill with no arguments, which has always been a winner for me. I think it shows a lack of respect if the guy refuses to let you pay for your half, and I’ve never had a second date with anyone who has argued with me about it. So of course, when he agreed, it sealed the deal. I was going to see him again.

You will, too.

The second date was better than the first. It was my choice to select the venue, and we went to a cheaper restaurant – a choice that was largely influenced by the weight of my purse. Afterwards, we went back to his place and I was in awe at the glamour of it. Donald is rich, and it does knock the wind out of you a little to see how much he likes to show it off. You can’t help but feel a little bad – the stuff he has doesn’t matter (or rather, it shouldn’t), and I realised with shame that when I took him back to mine it wasn’t going to live up to the splendour that he was used to. We kissed and I left.

A week later, we met again to go to the cinema. I had an expectation that something was going to happen, but Donald claimed to have a prior engagement that meant we would not be able to go anywhere together. He took me to the apartment complex where I live, complimented the building more than was necessary, and then went home. Whether there really was something he needed to do is debatable.

I’m aware this may be sounding very familiar to you. If so, then I’m sure you’ll also know what’s coming next.

On our fourth date, Donald invited me to his home. He apologised for rushing off at the end of our last date and expressed his wishes that he could have stayed with me for longer. After a conversation that was engineered to sway me to agree, he asked me if I would like to sleep over at his that night. I needed no persuasion: by that point, I felt as though I had been the one waiting for him to be comfortable with the idea of being intimate with me.

That may well have been the case. Oh, he’s passionate, I’m sure you know that, but as I already said, he’s a good actor. He knows just what to do, just what to say, and just how to act to manipulate anyone to do anything. You’ll keep coming back to him and he’ll keep entertaining you until he decides to take the next step. It could be weeks; it could be months. Even if you’re very good, I doubt you’ll get much more than that.

I had about a month and a half. That’s good, I think. At least, it’s good compared to the woman who came before me: she only got a couple of weeks after their fourth date. If you’re wondering, then yes, every date went the same way as mine did. The same way as yours went, I have no doubt.

Then I turned up one day at his place for a romantic evening watching a private movie to discover that the front door was unlocked and he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. There was a note on the kitchen table that told me to make myself comfortable and start the wine without him, so I did. I got through two glasses before he appeared.

He didn’t look like the man I had been dating. Donald had always been a lively, enthusiastic looking man who had taken pride in his appearance: and it had been a good appearance, too. Those wavy golden locks had caught my attention right from the beginning, and his bright blue eyes had practically twinkled in the candlelight.

This time, he looked tired, frustrated, and dark. The colour in his eyes had faded, as though a part of him had died. I passed him a glass of wine and asked him what was wrong.

‘She’s dead,’ he had told me, and I had stopped in my tracks, about to pour myself a third glass. I put the bottle down slowly, moving across the sofa to cuddle him. He was sitting awkwardly, holding the glass out in front of himself as though he had no idea that it was there. I wondered who he was referring to – grandmother, mother, sister, friend – and whispering words of comfort in his ear. It didn’t seem to help.

‘She’s dead,’ he said again, still in the same flat tone.

‘Do you want to be alone?’ I asked him, reaching for my coat. He shook his head.

‘No. I need someone,’ he had answered, and then he had put on the movie.

Not wishing to pry, I had told him that he could tell me anything he wanted to about this woman, and then I had fallen silent, aware that he may not want to talk about it. In all honesty, I had not known what I was expected to say: we had not been dating long enough for me to feel as though I knew what the right thing to say to him was. He told me nothing and we sat in silence for the duration of the movie, barely moving.

At some point afterwards, I fell asleep in his arms. That was my big mistake, and one that I had been warned against – one that I’m warning you against now. When I woke, I was chained to a wall in a room I had never seen before.

I pulled at the chains. At first, I thought it was a game. He had spoken about bondage before and I was more than into it, although we had not yet got around to it. Only then did the letter that I had found hidden away in the silk nightgown after our fourth date come back to me. I had discarded it and abandoned it to the back of my mind, laughing myself silly at the hilarity of it. You will too, although you will regret it later on, just as deeply as I do.

He began to come down to bring me food infrequently, perhaps once a day, perhaps less. I was always hungry when he brought it. The first few times, he did not speak. I begged him to let me out, I pleaded with him to explain this madness, but his face remained blank and his lips sealed in a thin, almost judgemental line. I felt like he believed I belonged there, in that damp cellar.

When he got a little too close and I nearly bit him, then he spoke to me. He pulled back and frowned, then pointed to a set of chains that were hanging on the opposite wall. There was nothing in them but a loose bit of cloth that was stuck in one of the cuffs, and I had done all I could do to avoid looking at them until that moment.

‘She died,’ he said. ‘You’re alive.’

I wanted to add for now, but I refrained. I wondered how many women he had kept down here: she – the woman before me who he was referring to – had not been certain. Again I begged for release, for him to see sense, and when he left I prayed to anyone who would listen to save me from this nightmare. I have no reason to believe that anyone will answer, because nobody answered her when she prayed.

Shouting did not help me. I had not heard anyone shouting when I had been in his house, although I am sure that there must have been someone there trying to get themselves heard. He began to get angry as I became more determined to escape, until as I had been warned he became violent, lashing out at me.

It began with his fists, leaving me with bruises across my face and neck. Then, when he found that his fists no longer satisfied him, he used a plank of wood on the other side of the cellar. Around that time, he must have found you, because he took the silk nightgown I had become accustomed to off me and washed it. My thoughts of communicating with you seemed dashed, until he returned it and hung it on a hook above me, just within my reach. From what I understand of his garbled conversations with himself, the first woman – whoever she had been – had worn it all the time. He likes to keep it close to his prize.

I knew then that there was not much time. My body felt weak and once I died, I knew that you would be the one to take my place. I followed the pattern of the woman before me, and of the woman before her, who had warned her of what she had warned me and I am warning you. I pried the biro from where it was hidden in the wall and wrote this letter for you on a piece of cloth ripped from my clothing. I did not damage the silk nightgown that he had dressed me in; I stuffed this letter into the pocket of the nightgown as deep as I could get it and I now leave it for you to find.

I know that you won’t listen to me, which is a shame. Of course, I understand why. I didn’t listen when I was told, and I learnt the hard way. You’ll be the same. I only hope that one day, somebody will be strong enough to break free of his spell and do the right thing. That, whoever they are, they’ll run as fast as they can to the nearest police station and tell the first officer they can find about what this man does. All of the information they’ll need to prove what he’s done will be available to them in the form of a letter, just like this one. Donald will finally be stopped.

So I leave this warning for you, just as the woman before me left one. And I leave you the biro too, so that when you are in my position, and my body has surrendered, you too will warn the next woman of this inhuman monster.

The Creature in the Garden

It’s cold. The rain is hammering on the window and the sound is almost deafening. I climb out of my bed and go over to the window, slowly reaching over to draw back the curtain. The rain crashes down on the glass as my hand moves closer and closer to the fabric. I pull it back and –

Nothing. There’s nothing. Just the garden and, beyond that, the garden fence.

I sigh in relief and lower my arm, allowing the curtain to fall back into place before returning to my bed. Within a few seconds of my eyes closing, the rain starts to come down heavier than before, smashing against the window as though it’s about to break through the glass. And then –

Tap tap tap

A sound on the window, just like every other night. I pull the bedding higher, covering my face as I try to ignore the noise. I breathe slowly, anticipating the tapping again.

Tap tap tap

And there it is. It isn’t going to stop until I react and I know it. I push the covers away and climb out of my bed, then move over to the window to have a look at the culprit. The curtain feels heavier than last time and it takes more effort for me to move it, holding the fabric back with both hands as I stare out of the window into the darkness.

It’s there, just like it always is. Every night. Only – it’s closer this time. I stare at it and two bright yellow eyes stare back.

It sits cross-legged on the grass outside of my window. That’s all it does, but then the fact that it never does anything more than that only makes it creepier. The rain doesn’t seem to disturb it. It just stares and stares – it never blinks. I don’t think it needs to. I don’t know what it is and I don’t wish to find out, but I do now that it hasn’t always been there. There was a time when it wasn’t there. There was a time when nothing tapped on the window and I slept peacefully every night.

Then, one night that had at first been like any other, the tapping had started.

Every night since, it’s been sat there. I never hear it moving towards the window to knock on the glass or moving away from the house. By the time I climb out of my bed and pull back the curtain to look outside, it’s always sat down on the grass. I fear seeing it up close. I fear seeing anything more than that dark figure and the two unblinking eyes of a monster.

I wonder if it will leave me alone tonight. Sometimes, it only taps on the window a few times. Sometimes, I find that after I’ve looked out of the window, it stops knocking (as though seeing me is what satisfies me, as crazy as I am to look at it). Sometimes, it taps all night long.

I let the curtain fall back down and return to my bed. It takes a long time for me to drift off to sleep; though the thing does not tap again, I lie there waiting for it to do so, hesitant and afraid. When I do eventually fall to sleep, I dream of yellow eyes staring at me from the other side of the room.

*

It only taps a few times the following night. The night after that, it only taps once, which is rare. I look out of the curtain each night and notice with gladness that it has moved no closer to the window. I think about inviting someone to sleep over at my house for a while and wonder if that will make any difference. My parents would love to come visit me and it would be a comfort to know that there’s someone else in the house. Someone else who would hear those taps on my bedroom window.

I wonder what they would think of me if I mentioned it and they didn’t hear or see anything. I wonder what might happen if they were there, in the room with me, and I was the only one to hear the taps; if I was the only one who could see the thing sitting in my garden. I’ve got no idea whether it’s real or in my mind any more.

The more I think about it, the more certain I am that it can’t be real. I decide to take an approach that won’t publicise my insanity and set up a camera outside of my bedroom window to record the thing at night. If I get footage of it, I’ll have evidence of this thing. It’s a better approach than simply taking a picture of it from inside the house: the flash might startle it or cause it to move closer to the window, and this way I would be able to see where it came from and where it went when it left.

That night, I climb into my bed and wait. Sure enough, it returns.

Tap tap tap

I close my eyes and draw in a sharp breath. It’s always hard to encourage myself to get out of the bed and make my way over to the window.

Tap tap tap

I shiver at the sound, certain that it’s a little louder this time, a little more insistent. I hear the bed springs creak as I climb off the mattress, wincing at the noise. My feet touch the carpet and my toes curl as I hear the thing tapping on the window for a third time.

Tap tap tap

I stand and make my way over to the window. The curtain feels heavy again tonight as I push it aside, leaning towards the glass to see the figure in the garden. It’s there staring at me, those eyes gleaming in the darkness. It’s not raining but the wind is rough, blowing through the bushes in the garden; the weather doesn’t seem to affect the black shape sitting on the grass. It’s immobile, like a statue, silent and unblinking. I retreat to the bed.

Tap tap tap

It’s going to be a bad night. I bury my head under the covers and press my face into the pillow, trying to block out the noise of that thing tapping on the window.

Tap tap tap

It goes on for some time. In the early hours of the morning, before it starts to get light outside, the tapping ceases and I manage to get a bit of sleep. When I wake, I feel physically drained and spend most of the day only half awake. It’s not until the evening that I remember the camera outside.

*

It takes me a few more days to work up the courage I need to watch what that camera has recorded. I’ve got four nights worth of footage before I decided it’s time to watch it. Somehow, seeing what that thing does outside of my window every night is far more frightening than what I’ve become used to – going over to the window and staring at it for a few seconds through the curtains. On the previous night, it had looked a little closer to the house, which had been enough to persuade me to watch the footage.

I decide to do it in the middle of the day, aware that if I watch the footage when it’s getting dark I’ll probably freak myself out. I sit down in the living room, the room furthest from my bedroom, and prepare myself a hot drink before going anywhere near what I’ve recorded. The footage can be played on my laptop, but I do everything I can to distract myself from pressing the play button. I’m very aware that what I’m about to watch might make everything I experience at night that much worse. I’m also aware that it might expose everything I’ve been through for the past month or so as an elaborate hoax.

As much as I pray for the latter (it would be a great relief to discover that this is someone’s idea of a joke), I don’t believe it can be a hoax. The idea that someone places a plastic figure in my garden and taps on my window every night seems preposterous. It’s gone on for too long for this to be fake.

I sit myself down with the laptop on my knee, then click play, holding my breath. It’s a while before I see anything significant and I skip through the beginning of the footage until the screen flickers and goes black. I slow down the speed of the footage when this happens, frowning at the computer screen for about half a minute before the screen flickers back to life, showing my front garden again.

Only now there’s a black figure sitting cross-legged on the grass outside of my window. It’s facing the house, two large yellow eyes staring at the window below the camera. I watch it with baited breath, waiting for it to move. The time in the corner of the screen tells me that I had been climbing into bed at this time; for a while nothing happens, the stillness of the creature unnerving as I wait for something to occur.

It’s going to move soon and tap on the window, I know it. Three quiet taps and then it’ll rush away from the house to sit down before I get to the window. I wonder with some fear whether anything about it will change when I pull the curtain back, and my heart beats faster as I wait for the moment of change.

Slowly, to my disbelief, it raises one arm – as black and mysterious as the rest of the creature – and points it towards the window. I tilt my head to one side, bewildered. The window is too far away for it to possibly reach it, but it stretches out its arm anyway as though the window is going to move closer to it.

I expect it to stand and move over to the window when it fails to reach the glass. It doesn’t. It stays cross-legged on the floor, only its arm moving.

And its arm does move. In fact, it grows.

I watch with disbelief as the arm gets longer, stretching impossibly thin and long until the hand reaches the window. I blink, staring dumbly at the screen. The thing knocks three times and in my head I can hear the tap tap tap on my bedroom window. Then the arm retracts and the creature is still once more.

No other part of the creature moved, only that awful arm which grew too long to tap on the window. It happens twice more, each successive time turning my stomach more than the last. The unnatural shape of that arm, the way it seems to grow out of the creature as the rest of it remains motionless, is deeply chilling. Watching it feels wrong simply because I know that arms can’t do that.

After the third set of taps, I sit back in my seat a little, hoping that it isn’t going to respond to the sight of me looking at it from the window. I can’t see myself on the screen but I know I must be at the window by now, staring at that thing. It doesn’t move or respond. I breathe a sigh of relief.

I know it’s going to start tapping again once I’ve gone. I know that arm is going to reach out again and tap the window – and that it will do this all night long. What I don’t expect is for something to become visible beneath those yellow eyes: a set of pointed white teeth, appearing out of the black shape of the creature to create a sinister smile. But that’s exactly what happens.

I slam the laptop lid and run out of the room.

*

I never work up the courage to watch the rest of the footage; I delete it as soon as I’m willing to go near the laptop again. Those sharp white teeth and that awful grin keep flashing through my mind. I wish that I could do something to make those images go away, but I can’t. For a while, I wish I had shown the footage to someone before I had deleted it, but later realised that if they had seen nothing I would’ve had to face up to the fact that I’m losing my mind. I don’t want to discover this is all in my head.

I decide to sleep in the living room that night. I bring my blankets and pillow from the bedroom before it gets dark and settle down on the sofa, flicking through channels on the television long into the night. There’s nothing on but I watch it just to give myself something to do. Sleep now seems impossible.

There’s a window by my feet but it only looks out onto a path and fence, which thankfully means there isn’t enough room for the thing to sit there and stare at me. Nevertheless, I hear a familiar noise in the middle of the night.

Tap tap tap

It’s coming from the other end of the house and it’s very faint, but I know I’m not imagining it. I change the channel to a 24-hour news channel and try to ignore the taps on the bedroom window.

Tap tap tap

I turn up the volume a little in an attempt to drown out the sound. For a few minutes I hear nothing more, and then –

TAP TAP TAP

The sound is much louder this time, as though it’s trying to be heard over the television. I begin to shake, my whole body moving involuntarily, all of my control gone. It knows I’m not in the bedroom – and how it could possibly know that doesn’t matter. There are tears in the corners of my eyes as I wait for whatever is going to come next. I have no idea what to expect.

BANG!

I almost fall off the sofa in shock at the noise coming from the bedroom. I’m sure the house shakes a little.

BANG! BANG!

I squeeze the remote tightly in my hand, hoping this will provide me with some stability. I’ve managed to stop most of my body from shaking but I can’t control my right arm as I point the remote unsteadily at the television and turn the volume all the way up. The noise coming from the television is extraordinary and I push my head into the pillow in an attempt to drown it out.

Perhaps the television will block out the banging on my bedroom window.

Perhaps this thing will leave me alone.

Perhaps if I don’t respond, it will go away.

BANG! BANG!

I groan into the pillow. It isn’t going to leave me alone at all. It isn’t going to go away. In fact, it only seems to be trying harder.

The banging continues for about half an hour until I become bored. The volume of the television has all but burst my eardrums and I turn it off, a loud ringing sound echoing around in my ears. I’m tired and I only want to sleep, but the noise from my bedroom won’t stop. There’s only one thing for it.

I drag the covers and the pillow back to my room and throw them on the bed before turning to the window. My throat feels tight; I can barely breathe. The curtain hangs down heavily, the last barrier between myself and the terrifying creature in my garden. I move towards it, raising my hand to push the curtain aside, and with my heart thundering in my chest I grab hold of the material, moving it slowly out of my way.

It takes all of my remaining strength not to scream at what I see. The thing outside of my bedroom window isn’t sitting cross-legged on the grass like it normally does – it’s stood right outside of the window, looking in. It’s smiling, just like it did in the footage I recorded.

That dark head turns towards me when I pull back the curtain. Those two yellow eyes meet my own and the grin widens a little at the sight of me. It reaches up with one arm – this time, in proportion to the rest of it – and stretches out a finger to touch the glass.

Tap tap tap

I wonder, in a moment of insanity, whether it wants me to tap back. I almost do – before I realise that whatever it wants me to do can’t be good for me. We stand there staring at one another for a few moments before I allow the curtain to swing shut and obscure the creature from view.

It doesn’t tap again. I don’t get any sleep.

*

The following morning, I pack my bags and leave. I should’ve left when I first saw that thing sitting outside of my bedroom window, but at that time I was determined not to let it drive me out of my home. Seeing it up close changed my mind very quickly.

I’m staying with my parents for a while. Just until the nightmares become manageable – I don’t ever expect them to go away. I’m not sure where I’ll go after that, but it won’t be anywhere near my old house. I’ve not been disturbed by anything in the night since I left that place.

I just hope that whoever lives there next doesn’t hear taps in the night.

Dreamcatcher

‘Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight. Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight. Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight.’

Luke turned away from the dreamcatcher hanging over his bed once he had finished speaking. There was a sombre moment, as though he truly believed that the decorative item that his father had brought for him would truly protect him from bad dreams, before he climbed into bed.

At eight, it was something he should have believed in.

At twelve, it was starting to become a little silly.

At seventeen, he still swore by the thing. He had been chanting to it every night for almost ten years of his life and his stepfather had had enough. A brief argument with Luke’s mother, Alice, ended with her husband storming upstairs into Luke’s bedroom while the teen was at college and tearing the thing down from the ceiling.

‘It’s just something that makes him feel comfortable, John,’ Alice said, her voice no longer as feisty as it had been before. She often conceded in their arguments when it was obvious that John was not going to back down.

‘Which would be fine if he was still a kid,’ John snapped at her, pushing past her so that he could race back down the stairs to throw the dreamcatcher in the bin. ‘He’s supposed to be a man, Alice. He’s not supposed to believe in these things any longer.’

‘He has to believe in something.’

‘Well then should we let him believe in fairies? Or goblins? Or elves?’

‘John, just because you don’t believe in anything beyond what you see doesn’t meant that everyone else is the same …’

Luke noticed the dreamcatcher was missing as soon as he entered his room. Aware that John disliked the object and the faith that he held in it, Luke waiting until his stepfather was out of the house to ask his mother where the dreamcatcher was. Alice pointed to the bin, watching Luke take the item out of the bin and take it back up to his bedroom without trying to stop him.

John found it again, of course. For a few nights the dreamcatcher stayed where Luke had returned it at the foot of his bed, but John heard him chanting to it on the fourth night and the next day it was gone again. This time, his mother told him that it was in the dustbin outside and Luke had to race the garbage man to the bin in order to get the dreamcatcher back. He hung it up again, although he made certain to keep his voice low when he was speaking to it and he took it down when he left the house in the hope that John wouldn’t be able to find it.

One week passed, then another, and another. Luke knew that he couldn’t keep up the act forever, and sure enough one morning when he was in a hurry to get out of the door, he forgot to take down the dreamcatcher and hide it in the door of his desk. If only John had been busy that day! Alice, taking full advantage of the fact that John did very little, made him responsible for stripping and changing Luke’s bed and, predictably, upon spotting the dreamcatcher he tore it down from the ceiling.

There was a ripping noise as the dreamcatcher protested. A large tear, easy enough to spot even at a distance, ran down to the centre of the web.

‘I can’t believe you would be so reckless!’ Alice told him when he brought it downstairs. ‘That’s one of Luke’s most valued possessions! Isn’t it obvious that he cares about it a lot when he keeps going through the bins to find it?’

‘He’s not a baby, Alice,’ John replied, raising his lighter and setting the dreamcatcher on fire.

Devastated, Luke spent an hour going through the bins outside the house. He didn’t want to believe that John had burned the dreamcatcher but, covered in dirt and other things he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the names of, he gave in. It was gone.

He paced up and down in his bedroom before bed. The dreamcatcher had been a part of his bedtime ritual ever since his father had first given it to him and told him that it would protect him from nightmares if he asked it to. As a child who had suffered from a lot of nightmares, he had been incredibly grateful.

It had worked, too. He wasn’t sure whether it was some psychological thing, like a comfort that allowed him to sleep easily, but he couldn’t remember the last time that he had had a nightmare. The only occasions when he had not slept easily within the past ten years were when he slept in another bed without the presence of his dreamcatcher.

There was one at his father’s house too, although he barely stayed there now that he was studying at college and working part time in a local store. He knew that if he took it and brought it back to his mother’s, John would only get rid of that one as well.

Whatever it was that offended John about the fact that he needed something to help him sleep well at night, it was not worth the nightmares.

He came to a halt at the foot of his bed and looked up at the hook in the ceiling, where the dreamcatcher had once hung. It was strange to see the space so bare; the removal of such an important item made his bedroom seem alien. Luke sighed, rubbing his eyes as he tried to figure out how to work his night time ritual into these new circumstances.

‘It wasn’t me,’ he said. ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t destroy it. It was John.’

He climbs into bed, unsure of what he’ll discover when he closes his eyes.

At first, there’s nothing peculiar. Nothing out of the ordinary. Luke doesn’t see or experience anything that suggests there’s going to be a lasting impact from the removal of his dreamcatcher and his dreams are peaceful. He’s doesn’t want to relax too soon, so he keeps pointing out that it wasn’t him before he goes to bed as though this will continue whatever the presence of the dreamcatcher did to ease his mind.

Then one night, he wakes up to a strange noise. It sounds like a scream, and at first he isn’t sure where it’s coming from – he isn’t even sure if he’s awake. He jumps out of bed, scattering the duvet and pillows across the room, but by the time he’s got to his feet the screaming his stopped.

He hears someone moving about in the next room, his mother and stepfather’s room.

‘Are you okay?’ Alice asks. Her voice is muffled: she sounds as though she’s been woken by the noise too.

‘I’m … yeah,’ John replies, but he doesn’t seem sure. ‘It was just a bad dream.’

‘Another one? You’re having one every night at the moment.’

‘Yeah. I’m … I’m fine. Go back to bed, Alice.’

Luke doesn’t like the sound of their conversation. He doesn’t get back to sleep.

It happens the next night. It happens the night after that. On the third evening after John’s screams first woke him, Luke stands at the foot of his bed and stares up at the hook in the ceiling. If someone had asked him how he felt about the dreamcatcher a month ago, he would have said that he didn’t really believe it protected him; he believed that the idea of it protecting him protected him. Now, he isn’t sure what to think.

He could have passed it off as a coincidence if it had happened one night, but it didn’t. He had caught his mother asking John when the nightmares started that morning, and had managed to count the nights back to the first one when he had slept without his dreamcatcher. He stares at the hook, as though expecting it to do something, which it doesn’t.

‘I didn’t want this to happen,’ he states. ‘John may have a temper but he isn’t a bad man. He didn’t mean to cause any harm. I don’t want him to have nightmares.’

He climbs into bed and pulls the covers over his head, wondering whether he’ll wake to screams again in the early hours of the morning.

There are no screams. Luke wakes promptly to the sound of his alarm, then heads downstairs to get his breakfast. Neither his mother nor his stepfather are awake, but that isn’t unusual: they normally come down a few minutes after he does. Luke flicks on the kettle for them both and busies himself with his cereal, pouring it into a bowl before heading over to the fridge.

He pulls the door open without really looking, reaching one had inside for the milk. His arm goes a lot further than he expects it to, and he turns to the fridge with a frown.

He jumps backwards at the sight. Instead of shelves of vegetables, yogurts and his mother’s health foods, there’s a black space in front of him. He can’t tell how far it goes or whether it ends. Hanging from the top of the fridge, catching his eye and distracting his attention from the strange depth of the fridge, is his dreamcatcher. It’s torn from the top to the middle and it’s emitting an odd glow. A moment later it sets alight, the flames moving from the dreamcatcher to the fridge and setting it too on fire.

Luke moves away from the fridge, but the fire doesn’t stop there. He’s always been afraid of fire. It moves around the room to the table, chairs and counters; black smoke billows out of the oven, which swings open; cupboards almost hit him in the face as they follow suit, flames leaping out of them to lick at his skin.

Sweat runs down the back of his neck. His breath comes in short, sharp gasps and there’s a pain in his chest that he’s sure is going to make him black out. He can barely see to reach the door, but he puts his arms out in front of him and tries to find it using his memory.

He trips over something and the floor comes towards him. He falls, a lot further than he should, and the floor opens up to allow him to just keep going, down and down in the blackness with the dreamcatcher still there in front of him, a little out of his reach …

Luke wakes, shouting and sitting up in bed. He’s dripping with sweat and panting like he’s just run a marathon, but those things don’t bother him. He has bigger concerns.

The decision itself is easy. Luke can’t allow John to have bad dreams if they mean his stepfather wakes up screaming every night, because he cares about the man despite how much of a jerk he can be. John didn’t have a bad dream on the night that Luke excused him, but neither can Luke have those nightmares every single night. It’s figuring out how to stop them both from suffering that’s the hard part.

At first, he tries the chant he used for ten years, but with the dreamcatcher gone it isn’t as effective and he has a strange – though thankfully not frightening – dream that convinces him that isn’t going to work. He could get a new dreamcatcher, but John won’t allow him to have one and is even less likely to be impressed if Luke claims it’s to protect him as well. When he thinks about it, there’s only one thing that he can do and even if it affects his life in a negative way, the positive connotations of not having to constantly worry about nightmares are far more important.

Luke packs his bag as soon as he can. He doesn’t want to spend another night without a dreamcatcher. He contacts his boss to see if he can transfer his job, but he has no luck and is forced to resign. His college is a little more helpful, allowing him to apply to study at another college closer to his father’s house and, as luck would have it, there’s a space going on his chosen course. Resigned to find a job when he gets there, he says goodbye to his mother and stepfather and leaves that day.

As he stands in his new bedroom, he stares up at the dreamcatcher hanging at the foot of his bed. His father will never take it down, because he knows how important it is to keep bad dreams at bay: if the dreamcatcher hanging over his father’s bed tells Luke anything, it’s that the man is only too aware of that fact. He clears his throat and speaks clearly.

‘Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight. Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight. Dreamcatcher catch all the bad dreams I have tonight.’

It works. He’ll never sleep without it again.

Tyler’s Reflection

Tyler had never liked his reflection. Similar to most people, there were thing about his appearance that he would have liked to have been able to change, but that was not the issue. He did not like his reflection because when he looked at it, he was not sure that he was really looking at himself.

It did everything that an ordinary reflection was supposed to do. It winked when he winked, it moved as he moved, and it never missed a single thing he did, no matter how fast he was. That was not the reason behind his suspicions that he was looking at someone – or something – else. He had seen himself in photographs and on video and he had seen his reflection, and there were clear, alarming, differences.

For starters, there were noticeable differences around his eyes. In photographs, he had bright eyes surrounded by a few age lines that became more visible when he smiled. They were natural, and although they revealed his true age he did not feel particularly bothered about them. His reflection have his eyes another appearance: they were surrounded by dark marks, as though his daughter had attacked him with mascara and missed. They made him look tired and mean. It was alarming to look in the mirror and see himself like that.

Then there was his hair. No matter how much he looked after it, washed it and treated it, his reflection stared back at him with a head of greasy hair. He would run his hand through it whenever he saw himself, but he knew that it did not really look like that. He could feel how soft and smooth it was under his fingers.

The worst feature his reflection had, however, was its smile. Tyler did his best not to grin when he looked into the mirror, because the smirk that was shot back at him by his other self was disturbing. Reflective surfaces would sometimes catch him out, and he had to be careful not to react to that grin when he was out in public. The unnerving appearance of his reflection gave him chills up and down his spine and nightmares all night long.

Was it just his mind playing tricks on him? Was he only imagining that he looked good in photographs? There were times when he thought he had to look like the man who stared back at him in the mirror and that the man in photographs was only a projection of what he wished he looked like. Then there were other times when his reflection freaked him out and he was sure that there was something evil hidden behind those dark, judging eyes.

And then there were yet other times when he had to remind himself that he was a forty-eight year old man who did not believe in ghost stories or monsters or evil doppelgängers living in mirrors.

He stood in front of the bathroom mirror and tested his reflection from time to time. When he was satisfied and walked away, he would often wonder whether he had been the one in control – or whether it had been his reflection that had been testing him. Every day it looked a little bit darker, and he became a little bit more paranoid that it did not belong to him.

Tyler had no idea what he would do if his reflection did do something unexpected. Scream like a baby, perhaps. That imperfect copy of himself haunted him wherever he went and he watched it carefully, certain that it was watching him back.