Authors: Adam L. G. Nevill
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Cries from the Crypt
Start reading Adam Nevill's Horror Companion
by Adam L. G. Nevill
Stories © Adam L. G. Nevill
This Edition © Ritual Limited
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Before You Sleep
Adam L.G.Nevill. —1st ed.
hese three horror stories are an
before the main course that is
Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors
, my first collection of horror short stories, written between 1995 and 2011, and published in September 2016. These three terrors offer an insight into the other ghost stories, supernatural and occult horror stories, weird tales, and folk horror themes that abound in the
Some Will Not Sleep
A list of my horror novels is included at the back of this book, and there is an offer front and back for horror readers to collect a second free book from me,
Cries from the Crypt: Selected Writings
. This is a full, seventy thousand word book compiled from my rare and uncollected short fiction, various articles featuring advice for writers of horror, some of my favourite interviews that I have given about horror and my own novels, features on horror, and unpublished scenes and chapters from many of my novels. It's absolutely free and a companion piece to both my work and modern horror culture. Register and grab your copy at my home page www.adamlgnevill.com. Meanwhile, thank you for checking out
Before You Sleep
and I hope that you enjoy these stories.
Manes exite paterni
Adam L. G. Nevill
ne side of my body is full of toothache. Right in the middle of the bones. The skin and muscles of one arm and one leg have a chilly pins-and-needles tingle. They’ll never be warm again. That’s why Nana Alice is here; sitting on the chair at the foot of my bed, her crumpled face in shadow. But the milky light that comes through the net curtains still finds a sparkle in her quick eyes, and gleams on the yellowish grin that hasn’t changed since my mother let her into the house, made her a cup of tea and showed her into my room. Nana Alice smells like the inside of overflow pipes at the back of the council houses.
‘Least you still got one half,’ she says. She has a metal brace on her thin leg. The foot at the end of the caliper is inside a baby’s shoe. Even though it’s rude, I can’t stop staring. Her normal leg is fat. ‘They took me leg and one arm too.’ Using her normal fingers, she picks the dead hand from a pocket in her cardigan and plops it onto her lap. Small and grey, the hand reminds me of a doll’s hand. I don’t look for long.
She leans forward in her chair, and I can smell the tea on her breath as she says, ‘Show me where you was touched, luv.’
I unbutton my pyjama top and roll onto my good side. At the sight of the scar, Nana Alice wastes no time and her podgy fingertips press around the shrivelled skin at the top of my arm, but she doesn’t touch the see-through parts where the hand once held me. Nana Alice’s eyes go big and her lips pull back to show gums more black than purple. Against her thigh, her doll hand shakes. Cradling the tiny hand and rubbing it with living fingers, she coughs and sits back in the chair. When I’ve covered my shoulder, Nana Alice still watches that part of me without blinking and seems disappointed to see it covered so soon. She wets her lips. ‘Tell us what happened, luv.’
Propping myself up in the pillows, I peer out the window and swallow the big lump in my throat. Feeling a bit sickish, I don’t want to remember what happened. Not ever.
Across the street, inside the spiky metal fence built around the park, I can see the usual circle of mothers. Huddled into their coats and sitting on benches beside pushchairs, or holding the leads of tugging dogs, they watch the children play. Upon the climbing frames and on the wet grass, the kids race about and shriek and laugh and fall and cry. Wrapped up in scarves and padded coats, they swarm among hungry pigeons and seagulls; thousands of small white and grey shapes, pecking around their stamping feet. Eventually, the birds all panic and rise in a curving squadron, raising their plump bodies into the air with flap-cracky wings. And the children are blind with their own fear and excitement in brief tornadoes of dusty feathers, red feet, cruel beaks and startled eyes. But they are safe here – the children and the birds – and closely watched by their tense mothers, and are kept inside the stockade of iron railings: the only place outdoors the children are allowed to play since I came back, alone. A lot of things go missing in our town: cats, dogs, children. And they never come back. Except for me and Nana Alice. We came home, or at least half of us did.
Lying in my sickbed every day now, so pale in the face and weak in the heart, I drink medicines, read books and watch the children play from my bedroom window. Sometimes I sleep, but only when I have to. At least, when I’m awake, I can read, watch television and listen to my mom and sisters downstairs. But in dreams, I go back to the big white house on the hill, where old things with skipping feet circle me, then rush in close to show their faces.
For Nana Alice, she thinks that the time she went inside the big white place, as a little girl, was a special occasion. She’s still grateful for being allowed inside. Our dad calls her a silly old fool and doesn’t want her in our house. He doesn’t know she’s here today. But when a child vanishes, or someone dies, lots of the mothers ask Nana to visit them. ‘She can see things and feel things that the rest of us can’t,’ my mom says. Like the two police ladies, and the mothers of the two girls who went missing last winter, and Pickering’s parents, my mom just wants to know what happened to me.
‘Tell us, luv. Tell us about the house,’ Nana Alice says, smiling. No adult likes to talk about the beautiful, tall house on the hill. Even our dads who come home from the industry, smelling of plastic and beer, look uncomfortable if their kids say they can hear the ladies crying again, above their heads, but deep inside their ears at the same time, calling from the distance, from the hill, and from inside us. Our parents can’t hear it any more, but they remember the sound from when they were small. It’s like people are trapped up on that hill and are calling out for help. And when no one comes, they get real angry. ‘Foxes,’ the parents tell us, but they don’t look you in the eye when they say it.
For a long time after ‘my accident’ I was unconscious in the hospital. When I woke up, I was so weak I stayed there for another three months. Gradually, one half of my body got stronger and I was allowed home. That’s when the questions began about my mate, Pickering, whom they never found. And now Nana Alice wants to know every single thing that I can remember, and about all of the dreams too. Only I never know what is real and what came out of the coma with me.
For years, we talked about going up there. All the kids do, and Pickering, Ritchie and me wanted to be the bravest boys in our school. We wanted to break in there and come out with treasure for proof that we’d been inside, and not just looked in through the gate like all the others we knew. Some people say the white house on the hill was once a place where old, rich people lived after they retired from owning the industry, the land, the laws, our houses, our town, us. Others say the building was built on an old well and that the ground is contaminated. A teacher told us the mansion used to be a hospital and is still full of germs. Our dad said the house was an asylum for lunatics that closed down over a hundred years ago, and has stayed empty ever since, because it’s falling to pieces and is too expensive to repair. That’s why kids should never go there: you could be crushed by bricks or fall through a floor. Nana Alice says it’s a place ‘where angels come in’. But we all know that it’s the place where the missing things are. Every street in our town has lost pets and knows a family who’s lost a child. And every time the police search the big house they find nothing. No one remembers the big gate being open.
So on a Friday morning when all the kids in our area were walking to school, me, Ritchie and Pickering sneaked off the other way. Through the allotments, where me and Pickering were once caught smashing deckchairs and beanpoles; through the woods full of broken glass and dogshit; over the canal bridge; across the potato fields with our heads down so the farmer wouldn’t see us; and over the railway tracks until we couldn’t even see the roofs of the last houses in our town. Talking about hidden treasure, we stopped by the old ice-cream van with four flat tyres, to throw rocks and stare at the faded menu on the little counter, our mouths watering as we made selections that would never be served. On the other side of the woods that surround the estate, we could see the chimneys of the big white mansion above the trees.
Although Pickering had been walking out front the whole time telling us he wasn’t scared of security guards or watchdogs or even ghosts –
Cus you can just put your hand froo them
– when we reached the bottom of the wooded hill no one said anything, and we never looked at each other. Part of me always believed that we would turn back at the black gate, because the fun part was telling stories about the house and planning the expedition and imagining terrible things. Going inside was different because lots of the missing kids had talked about the house before they disappeared. And some of the young men who broke in there, for a laugh, always came away a bit funny in the head. Our dad said that was because of drugs.
Even the trees near the estate were different, like they were too still and silent and the air between them was real cold. But we went up through the trees and found the high brick wall that surrounds the grounds. There was barbed wire and broken glass set into concrete on top of the wall. We followed the wall until we reached the black iron gate. The gate is higher than a house, and it has a curved top made from iron spikes, fixed between two pillars with big stone balls on top. Seeing the PRIVATE PROPERTY: TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED sign made shivers go up my neck and under my hair.
‘I heard them balls roll off and kill trespassers,’ Ritchie said. I’d heard the same thing, but when Ritchie said that, I knew that he wasn’t going inside with us.
We wrapped our hands around the cold black bars of the gate and peered through at the long flagstone path that goes up the hill, between avenues of trees and old statues hidden by branches and weeds. All the uncut grass of the lawns was waist-deep and the flower beds were wild with colour. At the summit was the tall white house with the big windows. Sunlight glinted off the glass. Above all the chimneys, the sky was blue. ‘Princesses lived there,’ Pickering whispered.
‘Can you see anyone?’ Ritchie asked. He was shivering with excitement and had to take a pee. He tried to rush it over some nettles – we were fighting a war against nettles and wasps that summer – but got half of the piss down his legs.
‘It’s empty,’ Pickering whispered. ‘Except for hidden treasure. Darren’s brother got this owl inside a big glass. I seen it. Looks like it’s still alive. At night, it moves its head.’
Ritchie and I looked at each other; everyone knows the stories about the animals or birds inside the glass cases that people find up there. There’s one about a lamb with no fur, inside a tank of green water that someone’s uncle found when he was a boy. It still blinks its little black eyes. And someone said they found skeletons of children all dressed up in old clothes, holding hands.
All rubbish; because I know what’s really inside there. Pickering had seen nothing, but if we challenged him he’d start yelling, ‘Have so! Have so!’ and me and Ritchie weren’t happy with anything but whispering near the gate.
‘Let’s just watch and see what happens. We can go in another day,’ Ritchie said.
‘You’re chickening out!’ Pickering kicked at Ritchie’s legs. ‘I’ll tell everyone Ritchie pissed his pants.’
Ritchie’s face went white and his bottom lip quivered. Like me, he was imagining crowds of swooping kids shouting, ‘Piss pot! Piss pot!’ Once the crowds find a coward, they’ll hunt him every day until he’s pushed out to the edges of the playground where the failures stand and watch. Every kid in town knows this place takes away brothers, sisters, cats and dogs, but when we hear the cries from the hill, it’s our duty to force one another out here. It’s a part of our town and always has been. Pickering is one of the toughest kids in school and he had to go.
Standing back and sizing up the gate, Pickering said, ‘I’m going in first. Watch where I put me hands and feet.’ And it didn’t take him long to get over. There was a little wobble at the top when he swung a leg between two spikes, but not long after that he was standing on the other side, grinning at us. To me, it now looked like there was a little ladder built into the gate; where the metal vines and thorns curved between the long poles, you could see the pattern of steps for small hands and feet. I’d heard that little girls always found a secret wooden door in the brick wall that no one else can find when they look for it. But that might just be another story.
If I didn’t go over and the raid was a success, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being a piss pot and wishing I’d gone in with Pickering. We could be heroes together, and I was full of the same crazy feeling that makes me climb oak trees to the very top branches, stare up at the sky and let go with my hands for a few seconds knowing that if I fall I will die.
When I climbed away from whispering Ritchie on the ground, the squeaks and groans of the gate were so loud that I was sure I could be heard all the way up the hill and inside the house too. When I got to the top and was getting ready to swing a leg over, Pickering said, ‘Don’t cut your balls off.’ But I couldn’t smile, or even breathe. It was much higher up there than it looked from the ground. My arms and legs started to shake. With one leg over, between the spikes, panic came up my throat. If one hand slipped off the worn metal I imagined my whole weight forcing the spike through my thigh, and how I would hang there, dripping. I looked at the house and I felt that there was a face behind every window, watching me.
Many of the stories about the white place on the hill came into my head at the same time too: how you only see the red eyes of the thing that drains your blood; how it’s kiddie-fiddlers that hide in there and torture captives for days before burying them alive, which is why no one ever finds the missing children; and some say that the thing that makes the crying noise might look like a beautiful lady when you first see it, but soon changes once it’s holding you.
‘Hurry up. It’s easy,’ Pickering said, from way down below.
Ever so slowly, I lifted my second leg over, then lowered myself down the other side. He was right; it wasn’t a hard climb at all; kids could do it.