Passenger

The winter chill bit hard. John tightened his scarf and rushed Megan out of the front door. The garage spotlight, long-since on the blink, fought valiantly against the dark.

John slammed the door behind Megan as she slid onto the back seat. He climbed into the car himself and turned the ignition.

Nothing.

He took a short breath, then tried again.

Not even a splutter.

“It’s fine, dear. It’s fine.” He almost believed it himself.

She shifted behind him.

“Daddy,” Megan whispered softly. She hadn’t called him that since the day Andrea died.

“Megs?”

“There’s a man sat next to me.”

Lights Out

Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Lights on…

Thirteen ons, twelve offs. It was a pattern. And there was a reason to the pattern.

There was also a reason why I had to do it to all the lights in my room. I said it was to keep Them away. The pattern, see. My parents said I’d be seeing a doctor.

They also said I was to start sleeping with the lights out. That my mood swings and depression would improve if I did.

So they removed the bulbs.

Zero ons, zero offs. No pattern.

Alone in bed.

Dead.

Lost Love

“I’m sorry, honey… it’s over.” He seemed to be speaking in slow motion.

Karen tried to focus but already felt her crystal-blue eyes glaze over. “Don’t… Please.”

I beg you.

“I’m sorry. I can’t anymore.” The conviction in his voice, usually so soft, so wonderfully tender, told her it truly was.

No, not again.

She watched the shock spread across his face as the ground shook beneath him. She watched as he stared back, shock giving way to panic giving way to wide-eyed terror. She watched as the ground consumed him, whole and forever. Another love lost.

The curse still had its hold.

The Grey Man

If you hear his scratches, learn to accept your fate. Once you hear his scratches, it’s already far too late.

The Grey Man

Jenny semi-stifles a yawn and rubs her baby blue eyes as she rolls across her bedraggled duvet. Hank the Elephant has fallen from his side of the bed; she reaches into the darkness for him. She finds his trunk and swings him upward, tucking him under the duvet at her side. She glances around her room and sees nothing but black: it’s definitely not morning time yet. Her clock tick-tocks away on the far wall, but the night’s shadows make it impossible to read. She sits upright for a moment and listens; the silence of the house broken only intermittently by the wind’s gentle whistle against her window. Jenny can’t even hear her dad snoring, which she usually can when nighttime sleep interrupters visit her.

A sound.

Not the wind or the clock, or her father’s snoring or Hank’s teasing. Nothing so mundane and recognisable. Something else.

Jenny straightens her back and grips Hank tightly across her chest. While the black which surrounds her shrouds the goings-on of the night, she feels something close.

The sound again, coming from her bedroom door.

Definitely foreign, much clearer this time. Almost like a scratch. Like a rusty nail on an old chalkboard, Jenny considers. A sound she knows all too well. She feels the palms of her hand moisten, quickly dampening Hank’s floppy trunk. She pulls the duvet up to her chin, forming a thin, nylon shield. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

A strong, tormentingly-long scratch reaches out from across the room. Jenny finds herself clenches her fists. Its point of origin absolutely the other side of her bedroom door. Her child’s body tells her to turn away; clammy palms now joined by feet and neck, sweat coursing from every tiny pore. But she can’t. She stares across the black, eyes locked on the door as the scratching grows louder, deeper.

Jenny can’t see the door handle turning, but the distinctive creak of its metal alerts her it is happening. As if finally catching up with what is going on, her curiosity wilts and she finds the strength to slip fully under the covers and out of view. Out of sight, out of… danger. Or so the mind of nine-year old girl believes. She hears the tap-tap… tap, as the door nestles to a rest against her pine wood skirting. Dad never did put up that rubber rest like he promised. Her disappointment is short-lived; footsteps ripple throughout the room. The click-clock noise they spawn is jarring; the only other time Jenny has heard such a sound was her father’s shoes on the hard wood floor of the church on the day of her mother’s funeral. A sound she – even at such a young age – knows she will never forget. As scared as she is – a fact Hank and the grip he finds around his neck can attest to – she finds the sound strangely comforting, enough to pull the duvet down below her eyes. As she does so, the footsteps stop.

Jenny finds the room empty. Nothing but dark corners and the finest illumination of moonlight across the foot of her bed. But she’s not alone, she can feel it. Then, as the footsteps slowly make their owner’s presence once-again known, the blurry grey outline of a man can be made out. It’s almost like a mirage, like grey smoke on black night. She can only just see it – the hour makes it hard to be sure – but Jenny is positive that it’s there. The footsteps stop, and the silhouette disappears, right at the foot of her bed. It may have been only the briefest of glimpses, but she’s sure the shape was that of a tall man, wearing one of those funny hats like those men she’s seen in the old movies her father always watches. Abraham something she thinks one might be called.

For a moment, nothing but the sound of her own breathing. One hand grips Hank, the other sinks fingernails into palmy flesh. The reprieve is brief.

A hand reaches out from the foot of the bed; the grey silhouette reappearing. The arm is long and spindly, reaching much farther than any adult Jenny has ever seen before. She squeezes her eyes tight and grips Hank tighter still. She knows she should scream – her body screams itself for her to do so – but she doesn’t. She braces herself as the sensation of bony fingers through her hair sends goosebumps across her skin, and the sound of scratching echoes all around her. Winter’s cold night bites into her bare skin as she feels herself being lifted from her bed. She holds on tightly to nothing and finds herself thinking of her mother.

She slowly drifts away into the black, the sound of heavy footsteps marking her passage to a place where nightmares of scratches and shadows await her.

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

Hello there. As with last week’s, the piece was written in one sitting (plus an edit or two after!) with no planning. I’m kind of enjoying just writing and seeing where the story takes me, if I’m honest. How it affects the final piece, well you can judge for yourself below! But, while I’m having fun, I’ll carry on doing it. Enjoy!

Sticks and Stones, Part 1

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

We speak, we die.

Bloody hell.

I slide out Clive’s office chair and slump into its cold leather. I rub my temples in a desperate attempt to stop the pounding beyond them. Something nudges my foot.

I look up and Clive has written something else on another sheet of paper. More this time.

IT’S ON EVERY CHANNEL
IT’S HAPPENING EVERYWHERE
I KNOW IT’S CRAZY
BUT WE MUSTN’T SPEAK
JUST IN CASE

I finish reading and give him a half-accepted nod. I mean, how does something like this happen? It’s too much to try to untangle on a Monday morning. I decide to write down my most immediate question.

WILL LISTENING TO THE NEWS HURT US?

Clive shrugs. We sit in silence for a few minutes, each contemplating our own thoughts. At least that’s what I’m doing. I really want to turn the television back on, despite not knowing what may happen after. Clive’s been listening to it for a while and he’s OK, so it could be fine. Then it dawns on me. Did I say something to cause that young boy outside to die? The very thought makes me nauseous again, although I know there can’t be much more inside to be brought to the surface. Still, my stomach is in knots. I probably just killed that boy.

Clive forces another sign in front of me.

WE SHOULD SWITCH IT BACK ON?

You know when you’re younger and there’s that place in your house your parents told you not to go to, but you did it anyway. A place you know you’ll get in trouble for going – like the basement or your mum’s make-up drawer – but you just can’t help yourself. This feels like that. The need to know what’s going on outweighs the fear of what may happen. So, as with even the most obedient of cats, curiosity gets the better of me.

I throw Clive an enthusiastic nod.

The television, long since lost in this era, chimes to life with a waning fizz. After seconds of warming up, the screen fills with…nothing. I flick to the next channel and get a “Programming Interruption” message. The following channel displays the same, as does the channel after that. I quietly curse Clive’s inability to find a comfortable place with the modern man by the fact he still doesn’t have Freeview. That’s when my phone vibrates.

I already feel silly for forgetting about it as I swipe it out of my cardie pocket. It’s a message from my sister, Ellie.

WTF is going on? Where are you? Are you OK?

We’ve always been close – sisters born only a year apart usually are, I think – but grew to rely on each other even more after mum and dad passed. It was obviously a tough time, but with no other immediate family, all we had was one another. We still meet up once or twice a week, despite her moving away last summer, to catch up and exchange stories.

I notice the message was sent over thirty minutes ago but is only reaching me now. The network must be suffering problems. With probably hundreds upon thousands of people all trying to text or call family and friends, I guess that’s understandable. I fire off a quick reply telling her I’m OK, that I’m safe in work, and tell her that under no circumstance must she speak. To anyone.

I hate the thought of her sat alone at home with my two-year old nephew, Lance. Unfortunately, he’s started speaking a lot lately. I guess the fact she has text me is good news, so I decide to take it as such. I force from my mind thoughts of children arriving at schools, all playing and laughing and shouting. Dropping dead. Not having the news suddenly seems a blessing.

Clive taps me.

WHAT NOW?

I shake my head. I decide to deal with something I know I can and make my way to the bathroom opposite. My knee is still throbbing from the fall and the cut needs to be cleaned. As I pass across the hallway I catch the front door burst open out of the corner of my eye. Two figures rush inside.

Sandra, a middle-aged lady who looks a hell of a lot older, usually arrives later than the rest of us as she has three children of school age. “Bloody traffic again!” she’s found shouting most mornings. Not today, I hope. Please God, not today.

I panic and wave my right hand around manically while covering my mouth with my left. She acknowledges my mad mime and gestures that she understands. While this makes me feel a little better, the sight of the person with her does not.

I can’t believe I didn’t see it right away, but the little girl with her must be her youngest daughter. She’s mentioned her many times before but her name alludes me. Right now the little girl is thrashing around with duct tape across her mouth and her hands bound together. As I get closer to the two of them it is clear Sandra has been crying. The fact she only has one of her three children with her is enough to tell me why. The girl’s pleading mumbles grow more intense and send a shiver right through me. The poor thing has no idea why her mum has done this to her.

I try to think of what my mother would do right now. She always seemed to find the right words at the right time whenever me or my sister were upset. If she were here right now, she’d know what to do. She’d have the girl laughing and smiling in no time, I’m sure of it.

What she wouldn’t do is shove me out of the way. I turn to see a furious Clive ripping the tape from the girl’s mouth, gesturing wildly at Sandra who promptly bursts into tears. Sandra tries to reach across to stop her daughter from screaming but Clive pushes her away. I’ve never seen him so animated, so angry. I go to move closer but it’s already too late. The girl’s shouts for help are quickly followed by two loud bumps and a suddenly silent room.

Only she and I are still standing.

Stick and Stones

Hello, good people. Back to a full feature this week. Enjoy!

Sticks and Stones

The door swings open and Clive staggers inside. He’s long since given up trying act like he’s not hungover. Especially on Mondays. I ask him how his weekend was and he mutters something nondescript as he meanders to his office at the back. The whistle signals my morning brew is ready, which I pour, before slumping back down at my desk. As I lift the mug to my lips, blowing gently on the liquid inside, I hear the first scream. The first of – as it would turn out – far too many.

I forget myself for a moment as I scan the room for my colleagues’ quizzical faces. Being only a ten to 9, Clive and I are the only ones in the ground floor building. He pokes his head out from behind his office door just as I shout his name.

“Was that-” he says. I gesture a nod.

He disappears back into his office, leaving me to investigate the origin of the scream alone. My mother always said I was far too nosey. I slide open the front door and brace myself for the winter cold which rudely follows. I already feel my teeth chattering when I notice the gaggle of commuters across the street. They’re all shouting over each other, so it’s much too difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on. I carefully bounce across the icy road and approach a woman nearest the curb.

“What happened?” I ask.

As she steps back the body of another young woman reveals itself. Lying so motionless on the floor, her face devoid of feature, I already know she is dead.

“She just, she just…”

I place my hand on the woman’s shoulder, grip it ever so slightly. “It’s OK. Just relax.”

“She just…dropped d-”

She trails off abruptly as the man behind me falls to the ground. I turn just in time to see his head crack open on the curb. I cover my mouth as I feel a warm sensation begin to rise in my lungs, desperately trying to force it back down. I breathe deeply for a few seconds, allowing the moment to pass. It’s only now I realise the woman is screaming again. As I turn back to calm her she runs away up the street.

I catch the eye of a young boy, not too long out of college by the looks of his new suit. He looks as white as a cue ball and just as sick as I feel.

“What the hell’s going on?” he pleads.

I part my folded arms. “I honestly have no-”

He drops to the floor right in front of me. The adjacent flat’s rubbish bags cushion his fall, so there’s thankfully no bodily trauma this time. I rush over and raise his head but he’s not breathing. Most of the gaggle have scattered but one of the remaining men comes to my aid. He checks the young boy’s pulse and presses his studded ear to his mouth.

“Dead,” he says, shaking his head. It’s so matter-of-fact I know it’s not the first person he’s attempted to help this morning.

The warm sensation again rises in my lungs; I’m powerless to stop it this time. I crawl over and quickly cover the frosty curb with horrible breakfast-filled vomit. I force out the last drop and wipe my mouth, when the gravity of the situation again hits me.

People are just dropping dead.

I rise to my feet and rush back across the road. Forgetting the conditions are not currently my ally, the opposite pavement promptly bests me. I put out my hands and manage to slightly break my fall. I feel the warmth of my blood cover each palm and most certainly my knee. I can already feel it trickling down my leg beneath my tights. I force myself to my feet once more and stumble into the office.

Clive watches as I stagger inside. He begins to gesture wildly as I look toward him. His arm waving becomes increasingly manic as I open my mouth.

“Clive, you have to see outside. It’s…well it’s…”

I find myself unable to properly articulate a situation I genuinely do not understand. The moment I take to consider this is enough time for Clive to rush across the floor and cover my mouth. I feel my eyes widen as I stare back at him and attempt to wriggle free. He lets go but shakes his head, pushing one finger to his lips. He makes his way back to his office and gestures for me to follow.

He has his television on. It’s against company policy to allow a television in the building, even in the office of the manager. I’ve told him this many times, but at this precise moment I couldn’t care less. I still manage to shake my head at him – reflex I guess – but he simply smiles a half-smile and points at the screen.

It’s not just here.

The news tells me of people dropping dead up and down the entire country. By their very early estimates, there is not a town or city where at least one case of this has not been reported. The news anchor speaks over image after image of people simply dropping to the floor, dead. It’s so horrible to watch, but I cannot muster the will to turn away. Then the news anchor drops the bombshell.

“As far as we can tell, the only thing each case has in common is that the deceased was spoken to, or in the vicinity of a speaking person, moments before he or she suddenly expired.”

She says a lot more, but this is all that sticks. I feel the distinct beginnings of a migraine brewing inside my head as I try to arrange the anchor’s words, but a sudden thought shocks myself to a stop. Are the words themselves killing? Could listening to her speak result in my death? I pounce forward and slam the television off. It’s too much. Jesus, it’s all far too much.

I shudder as Clive taps me on the shoulder. He again places his index finger over his lips, as he holds up a small piece of paper he has written on. The words chill me.

DON’T SAY A WORD, CLAIRE. WE CAN’T.

WE SPEAK, WE DIE.

Day One

Swell_Kel joined the conversation
Swell_Kel: I’ve been calling you!
Swell_Kel: How’d it go? 🙂
ClaireBear17: Sorry 😦
Swell_Kel: Don’t worry…give me the details! 😀
ClaireBear17: Not feeling too good.
Swell_Kel: Did he finally make a move? 😆
ClaireBear17: Feeling a bit sick.
Swell_Kel: Hunny what’s wrong?
Swell_Kel: Claire…come on…its me 🙂
Swell_Kel: Tell me…
ClaireBear17: Nothing…I’ll be fine.
Swell_Kel: Shall I come over?
ClaireBear17: No.
Swell_Kel: What happened? 🙄
ClaireBear17: Well I snuck in…he was asleep on the sofa…
Swell_Kel: You cracked open the wine didn’t you! 😉
ClaireBear17: No! Listen…
Swell_Kel: Hun what happened? 😦
ClaireBear17: His parents were out but he was just asleep…no DVD, no drinks
Swell_Kel: OMG
Swell_Kel: Waster!
ClaireBear17: So I shook him awake…but he was angry
ClaireBear17: Realy mad
Swell_Kel: WTF he didn’t do anything did he?
ClaireBear17: He grabbed me so I slapped him…ran to back door but he tripped me up
Swell_Kel: Are you fucking kidding me…I’m gonna kill that asshole! 👿
Swell_Kel: U ok?
ClaireBear17: Kickwd him off…got out house
Swell_Kel: But ur ok? He didn’t hurt you?
ClaireBear17: I’m k…just feel sick
ClaireBear17: He jst bit myankle…weirdo
Swell_Kel: I’m gonna kill him!
Swell_Kel: I’m coming over…
ClaireBear17: No im k…jst need
Swell_Kel: Just need what?
Swell_Kel: You still there?
Swell_Kel: Hun?
Swell_Kel: Claire?
ClaireBear17: Felng realu hot
Swell_Kel: What? Ur worrying me. Whats going on?
Swell_Kel: Claire? Hellooooooo?
Swell_Kel: 😦
Swell_Kel: Bet your throwing up..
Swell_Kel: Gross :p
Swell_Kel: Ok…not funny!
Swell_Kel: Claire???
Swell_Kel: I’m calling you…pick up
Swell_Kel: Or don’t 😥
Swell_Kel: Fine…not funny anymore..I’m coming over
Swell_Kel: CLAIRE?!?
Swell_Kel: On my way…
Swell_Kell left the conversation
ClaireBear17: dnt
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