Authors: Spike Black
© 2015 Spike Black
All Rights Reserved
Published by High Concept Books
Cover Design by Kit Foster
Spike Black Logo Design by Richard Wendt
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(The ear-piercing, brain-throbbing squeal of the alarm.
My footfalls on linoleum.
And his cries. Bone-chilling, terrible, and forever distant, no matter how close I am. Cries for help from the mouth of someone gargling blood…)
“Silas, wake up.”
(I rattle the key into the slot and turn. The lock slams back, the cell door jerking free of its frame, yawning wide—)
“Silas, wake up. There’s somebody downstairs.”
His eyes snapped open.
The sense of alarm faded as his mind struggled to catch up. Her words…
Lost now, in a blanket of fog. “What did you say, hon?”
“Somebody’s downstairs. I heard a noise.”
He tried to propel himself up but the bedcovers were heavy, restraining, tucking him in tight.
What the hell?
This was not his usual puffy duvet. Had Oona changed the sheets while he was asleep? Why would she ever do such a thing? Freeing his arms, he tugged off the covers and swung out his feet.
The mattress was too soft. It dipped beneath his weight as he lurched into an upright position. Probably explained the ache in his lower back.
Where was his trusty alarm clock, with its ever-present digital display? Had there been a power cut? It was still dark, almost pitch black in fact, so it had to be the middle of the night. But he detested the feeling of being completely and utterly
, without an anchor in space or time.
He launched off the bed, his feet thumping onto cold floorboards.
This was wrong.
Where was the luxurious, thick-pile carpet? He’d insisted on it when they’d moved in together, despite the tight budget.
Skimp on the rest of the house if you have to
, he’d told Oona,
but I want quality carpet in the bedroom
He staggered forward, rubbing his eyes. The floor creaked.
He was intimately familiar with the sound of his own floorboards, often cursing them on his return home after a long shift as he attempted to sneak into bed without disturbing his wife. But they had never groaned like that.
He took another step, his feet exploring this strange new terrain. A musty smell hung thick in the air. That groan again. And the floor… it appeared to be sloping downward.
Where the fuck am I?
He felt guilty for cursing, even inside his own head. His wife had reprimanded him for his bad language so many times during their seven years of marriage that it often seemed like she was policing his thoughts.
A square of dim light was his only clue in the darkness. A window where his closet should be. He crossed the room with purpose, as if sensing a door in the dark that he could not see, and his hand closed around a large brass doorknob.
A part of me is familiar with this place
, he thought, and it angered him that he was not privy to such vital knowledge, stuck as he was in his bubble of disorientation.
He turned the knob. It rattled, loose in the frame. The door popped open, carving a wedge of illumination in the blackness.
He froze, then glanced back at Oona just as the encroaching moonlight hit her face, causing it to glow in the dark, almost; a floating white head bobbing on a sea of murky gray.
“Be careful.” Her voice cracked, and in that moment Silas wanted nothing more than to stay with her.
“Sure thing, hon.”
He read the unease on her face, and caught a glint of something worse in her eyes - a look that brought him fully awake with a jab to the gut as he realized, stepping through the doorway, that anything could be out there.
What he found was unremarkable: a stubby landing laid with ratty carpet that was frayed at the edges, and the doors to two more rooms on the east side.
There was an opening to his immediate left - a staircase of steep stone steps leading down. They gave the place an out of time, old-world feel, and something sparked then, as if his mind was trying to tell him something. But the curtain of fog refused to allow the information through.
Placing his toes over the edge of the top step, he leaned forward and listened. Rummaging noises emanated from below, causing the panicky little guy in his head to scream
His heart lurched to life, his stomach churning with the lazy rotations of an industrial meat grinder. A coating of cold sweat sprang up on his palms.
He’d been called to countless break-ins during his career, always feeling that same exhilarating rush of adrenalin as he stepped into the property, that gung-ho sense that he was righting the world’s wrongs. But this was the first time he had encountered only fear, and it disappointed him.
These were wildly different circumstances, of course, given that he was now merely the victim of a burglary. And standing there, barefoot in stripy pajamas, he was stripped of the power that came with wearing the uniform.
If someone in his position had called the station, he would advise them to remain upstairs and wait until help arrived. And perhaps that was the smartest course of action - the burglars could take whatever they wanted for all he cared. It wasn’t
home, after all.
But there was no help on its way, and he could never live with himself if he retreated to the bedroom like a coward. He wanted to clear his head before he made a move, perhaps take a few moments to devise a strategy, but he found himself descending the stairs anyway, that first stone step feeling like a block of ice on his bare feet.
He stooped to avoid hitting his head on the incredibly low staircase ceiling. Clearly this place had not been built to house anyone over six feet tall. He wondered if people had been shorter back in the Middle Ages, or whenever this place had been built.
A rush of insight, too fleeting to grab.
When this place was built.
That was the key to it.
A memory lodged behind the fog.
He rubbed his eyes, drummed his fingers to his forehead, and then, in a flash, it came to him:
Built in the sixteenth century, the stone staircase encapsulates the rustic charm of this delightfully preserved two-bed cottage…
he knew where he was.
The cottage in Yorkshire.
When they arrived it was already dark, and he’d been so tired from the long drive that he was out like a light as soon as his head hit the lumpy pillow.
It was a relief to know where he was, at least.
He’d found the cottage in an online brochure and thought it perfect for their getaway. Remote, quaint, peaceful - some might even say boring. But he needed a bit of boring in his life after everything he’d been through, and if he’d gone to see Doctor Wickham like Oona had insisted, then she would have prescribed this place.
Only without the terrifying midnight prowler, obviously.
Just then something smashed downstairs, and he froze.
Glass breaking. A window?
Shit. Fuck. (Sorry, Oona)
He needed a weapon. A baseball bat, like the one he kept under the bed at home. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t been on his list of essential items to bring with him on their relaxing break away.
He tried moving faster, but the stairs were tall and close together. There was barely enough room for his large feet (
, Oona called them) on each step, which made descending the staircase quite perilous, particularly as there was no banister. It was a sheer drop off the right-hand side to the kitchen floor below, and he knew that if he lost his balance he was a goner.
The checkered linoleum loomed into view as he descended, and he wondered if he would catch a glimpse of the intruder. It was bewildering to him why anyone would choose to raid a place like this. They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by moorland. There had to be easier places to burgle.
Arriving safely at the bottom of the stairs, Silas was immediately confronted with a sight that caused his heart to leap into his throat. A pair of glassy eyes glinted in the dark, suggesting an intruder of more than seven feet in height.
He staggered backward until the threat was silhouetted against the mottled glass of the front door. A stag’s head, mounted to the wall. He hadn’t noticed it when they arrived, but it seemed inappropriate in a kitchen somehow. And it was spooky as hell in the dark.
His muscles slackened for a moment, until another smash caused him to tense up again and he spun around. The kitchen stretched before him, a long, narrow room with a beamed ceiling and ugly floral wallpaper.
There was no immediate sign of an intruder. He stepped forward gingerly, stopping just as his feet crunched on broken glass.
A shadow on the linoleum. He looked up.
A cat, its claws
on the draining board.
Silas almost expected it to arch its back and hiss, like all the cats in every scary movie he’d ever seen, but instead it acknowledged him with a quick glance and a deadpan expression before carrying on its way.
“C’mere, you little bastard.”
He navigated around the shards and grabbed the animal. It was unhealthily thin, its ribs jutting into his palms as he carried it across the kitchen. Its paws and lower legs were ringed in white, giving it the appearance that it was wearing little ankle socks.
Silas turned the key in the lock and popped first the top bolt, then the bottom. A sign on the back of the door stated in large red letters:
NO SMOKING. NO PETS.
“See? It says you’re not welcome. Sorry.”
As the door opened a strong gust of wind battered him, ripping the door from his grip and rattling it on its hinges as it swung wide. He placed the cat down on the step and it turned back, looking up at him with sad eyes. Silas felt a twinge of pity as he closed the door, turning the key and snapping back the bolts.
He fell back against the door and expelled a sigh of relief.
A cat. A bloody cat.
Taking a dustpan and brush from under the sink, he swept up the glistening pieces of two drinking glasses that the cat had knocked to the floor. The creature’s pleading eyes haunted him as he went back upstairs, treading carefully on the staircase.
It had probably been hunting for food, and now he’d sentenced it to a lonely, starving death on the moors.
He stopped on the landing outside the bedroom, his body trembling. He took a moment, a few breaths, and composed himself.
Oona was sitting up when he entered. “Well?”
“You think I’m a big guy,” he said, “you should have seen this fellow. Huge bear of a man. Seven feet tall with fists of iron. Well, he took one look at me and ran.”
Oona rolled her eyes. “It was just the wind or something, wasn’t it?”
“A cat, actually. It’s gone now.”
“A cat? How did it…?”
“Don’t know. Must have been here when we arrived. Trapped inside when the last people left, maybe. Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. Go back to sleep.”
She registered this information with a frown and slunk under the covers. Silas climbed onto the sinking mattress, beat his pillow into shape and closed his eyes.
(The cell door jerks free of its frame, yawning wide—)
It was going to be a rough night. He had hoped to sleep better while they were away, but that wasn’t looking likely. He huffed, shifting his weight, trying to find a comfortable spot.
Fucking bed. (Sorry, Oona)
He drifted, sleep within reach. He grasped for it. Then—
Did you lock up properly?
A pang of anxiety. He thought it through.
Top bolt, bottom bolt, key.
Yes. Yes I did. Nothing to worry about.
He took a deep breath in and exhaled. Opened his eyes to check the time and then remembered he’d left his alarm clock at home. Along with his baseball bat.
An image of the cat’s sad eyes invaded his mind. Something bothered him about it. He sailed on the cusp of sleep for a time before jerking awake.
That was it. They often used a cat as a cheap scare in the opening minutes of a horror movie.
To make the audience jump. To throw the protagonist off the scent. To lull him into a false sense of security.
A shudder twisted down his back.