Here To Stay (for SGAuthor's Contest)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Trial and Terror
My attempt at a classic ghost story. Gabrielle is disturbed to find a dead girl outside her window. However, with time she begins to settle with her curious visitor. It comes and goes and does no harm. But when the ghost arrives one night and doesn't leave, Gabrielle panics. What will happen when the ghost stops watching, and starts to play?

Submitted: December 04, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 04, 2015

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Here To Stay

 

The rations are running out. A couple cans of tuna and scraps at the bottom of a cereal box are not enough to keep even little-old-me not dead for the next week. And there’s no telling when she is going to leave. Could be never. I can’t wait that long. There’re a few tins of cat food, too, but I won’t eat them. I’ll eat the cat before I eat them.

I’m trapped inside a vortex of indecision. She had been coming for three years, and it was never ideal, who wants some dead girl hanging round outside their cottage surrounded by nothing but woodland and isolated nature? But it had been manageable, funnily enough, because she never stayed for too long. Not then.

Sometimes, with a cup of tea and a handful of custard creams, I used to sit at the kitchen table in my nightgown and wait for her. Most days she came at night, you see, when even the creatures outside climbed into their respective holes and called it a night. Once the fear settled – seeing a harmless ghost going on three years could surprisingly do that you; we humans are spectacularly adaptable beings – I tried to communicate with her, with the occasional wave or friendly smile. She was never responsive, mind, she would just stare at me with her sullen little face, sitting at the dried-out pond swinging her legs or standing beneath the small gathering of oak trees, and that suited me just fine. There was the odd occasion I found her leaning against the pine beams separating the patio from the garden, and that did test my limits for the curious visitor, and – unless I was feeling particularly daring – I usually shut the curtains during those arrivals, and everything was fine except for the humming of lullabies that put me slightly off-kilter.

Everything is not fine anymore.

Not since her latest arrival; her extended stay.

The times of custard creams are gone.

She won’t leave me alone. And this time, something is different. She no longer just stares, she roams the garden, and I see her inspecting the cottage, searching for a way in. Her clothes don’t change anymore; she wears a set of worn felt pyjamas, and she doesn’t seem to be aging like she used to – not that I can tell after a month, but something is definitely not right.

I have a theory that she was not dead before. That she found some way to contact me during her sleep, and back then she was happy watching me, making sure I was still here. But now something has happened, she is dead, and she blames me. There’s a cold, old-before-her-time look in her eyes. I’m here to stay, and I’m not leaving until you join me. That is her message.

But I won’t go out. She can’t make me. I would rather starve to death. Maybe that’s what she wants.

The worst part? There’s some part of me that thinks I deserve it.

The morning passes by as she lingers in the otherwise pleasant garden. The birds have decided she will not ruin their tweeting and the sun does not cower. On the contrary, it shines bright, resilient to the last.

I vacuum the cottage to seek some normality. I keep her at the corner of my eye through the sliding glass door, through the hazy rays of my day-warrior’s warmth. I am working on something other than the floor. Mind games. She’s dead, you see, but still a child. And so: on the surface I am vacuuming, not a care in the world, simply going through the motions of everyday life. You are wasting your time here, little one. I have no time for you. That is my message.

Of course, on the inside, churning with the hunger and sleep deprivation, accommodating for an all-round lack of energy, she is all I ever think about.

And she continues to surprise me, I think, as she does something I have never seen before, and, for a moment, as the red void takes her place and begins to writhe, fold and crawl, I ask myself if this is it. If she is finally coming for me. No – I realise as she morphs through the stages of life, the development of childhood – she is demanding my attention like a baby that has dropped its rattle. She is telling me to come out and play.

The vacuum tremors to life in my hand, as if she is inside it and wants to suck me in.

I freeze.

A child, maybe, but she has learnt a few tricks of the poltergeist trade.

I regain my senses and jump back, letting the vacuum whirl frantically on the carpet. The unruly mechanical maid crashes into the coffee table, shattering the four-foot long glass and sprinkling the shards onto the floor. It heads to the sockets and wraps itself in wire until it dismantles the television, obliterating it and adding to the masses of glass on the floor.

Then it targets me.

It’s no longer whirling, but heading straight for me with tremendous speed.

I dive for the sofa. But not quick enough.

It clips my ankle with the force of a child’s boot – not enough to break my foot, but enough to lose my balance and send me head first into the arm of the sofa. I hit it with a clunk and flop onto the floor like a fish.

Right onto the bed of shattered glass.

I lie still for a moment, watching the blood leak beneath me but too scared to move in case I make it worse. I am still breathing, and, oddly enough, despite the blood I feel pretty much okay, though it could just be the adrenaline, or the hunger pain overriding my senses, but if I move I could cut an artery or strip the skin completely from my body.

But she is not done, and I have to act quickly if I want to avoid the vacuum running me over and flattening me onto the bed of glass.

I lift an arm up. It feels pinned down, the loss of blood turning it numb, but I manage to get a hand underneath and keep the left side of my body up. I then dig the right arm from under my stomach and smack the sofa looking for a piece to clutch onto. The blood leads me to slip and fail a couple times, but I see the vacuum charge towards me and quickly yank myself up. I roll onto the sofa. Into safety.

I catch my breath, though I’m not sure how many of them I have left, and wait on the sofa like I would if I had seen a rat or a possum stray into the cottage, plucking the glass out my ripped nightgown, out my maimed skin. Yes, behind the pain and exhaustion, I am still thinking about the long term: the aesthetic impact these scars will burden my body with, and I wasn’t really anything to look at beforehand.

Soon, the vacuum screeches to a halt. It has left the air dry and burnt, but I accept this to mean the mechanical monster has died. The danger has passed.

I hop down, ignoring that the girl is no longer somewhere outside that I can see, and against better judgement check the vacuum, delving my hand through the suction duct. My hand fights against a clot that tangles in my fingers.

‘A fur ball,’ I say, even though the hair is fine and ginger. Even though I know it is her.

Through the window, the girl returns. Her mouth laughs while her eyebrows frown. She is happy at the damage she has inflicted upon me, but angry at my blatant disregard.

A new fear grips me: she was never a wanted visitor, but she was always placid – a mere watcher – but now she is interacting. Playing. Tormenting.

The girl barked. But the ghost has claws. The ghost bites.

It’s still a game – I have to remember – even if the stakes are higher. She is still a child, and I have to convince her I’m not interested. That’s how I win.

I enter the bathroom, strip naked and wipe myself down with a wet towel, for I am afraid what might happen if I enter the bath. The biggest cuts; just below my belly button, right forearm, left shoulder, a large gash along my thigh, and on the cheek below my right eye, are covered with medical pads and stuck into place with cellotape, and some of the smaller ones are covered with plasters. That is the benefit to living alone in the middle of nowhere with no hospital for miles, you have to be prepared for accidents. Of course, this was no accident, but it is treated just the same. I put on my bathrobe that is hanging on a peg and head out.

At this point I am only capable of the menial, so I grab the duvets and sheets from the pantry and go room to room changing the beds. There are five bedrooms. When I earned enough money to leave the world behind, it seemed reasonable to prepare for the future and get a big cottage for when I get married and have children for myself. There was one man I thought I would do that with, but things happen – tragic circumstances that no one can predict – and he is no longer with me. But I was still happy to stay here for the rest of my life. Will be happy, once she leaves me alone.

It’s almost as if she expects me to leave. To join her. I’m not sure if any of the others are dead. There’s no reason why they should be, and none have visited me during their dreams. They don’t share the same connection the girl and I share. I’m not sure why. This is the first time I’ve really thought about it. Of course, I knew who she was, but never asked myself why she would want to be here, with me. When she died, I had never questioned how; and why I was to blame.

It is getting darker now. My day warrior is leaving me, and I am scared. I have fitted all the new sheets, except for the ones in my own room, I wanted to save it to last, to try and get in a little nap before I continue the façade of everyday life for her eyes only. There wouldn’t be any sleeping involved. No, I hadn’t done that for a while. But a little relaxation could do no harm.

But she had decided I wasn’t allowed.

Something is beneath my bed sheet.

I hide behind the clean sheets in my hand, but I know no wishful thinking will erase the horror. It wasn’t going away just because I didn’t look at it. That was silly of me. Like a baby that hides behind his hands and thinks you can’t see him because he can’t see you.

So I drop the sheets and tread over the bundle.

She has made it clear she wants to play. Is it her, beneath the sheets? It writhes like she had in the garden, the red mass pulsating and glowing through the sheet, releasing a single high-pitched shriek that stops abruptly, and this close I can smell the odour of death.

I grab a corner of the duvet, and for a moment tell myself to put it back, walk out the room and pretend I never saw it. But I can’t, she would know. She’s always watching. Always. So I rip the corner from its grip on the mattress, and pull it over.

JESSIE. It’s Jessie. I know her name, and say it over and over as I rush to comfort her. Our two bloods mingle, our limbs tangle, her tail whips the bed like a rogue spark plug stripped of its covering. The fur and flesh surrounds her like a taxidermist’s haphazard decoration. I am sure I can count the beats of her exposed heart as it pumps slower and slower. It matches the frequency of the whips of her tail.

Dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum.

Dum-dum, dum-dum.

Dum-dum.

Dum-dum.

Dum–

Dum–

Then silence.

She’s not moving now, and that somehow makes it better.

I’m not sure what to do. She looks like she has been thrown in a pit of Dobermans, used as their chew-toy.

I cradle her, letting the tears cascaded onto her red bones.

How could I have ever thought I would eat her?

It makes me sick and guilty, and angry that this ghost has involved my precious pet.

But there is only one thing I can do. It’s tough – I loved Jessie like a child – but I have to play the game.

I wrap the bed sheet over her and tie the corners into a knot to create a sack. I find myself hauling the sack over my shoulder, the abomination smacking against my back, and walking to the bathroom, muttering the phrase ‘Damn foxes’ repeatedly and reprimanding myself for ‘forgetting to lock the door’ with a shake of my head.

When I get into the bathroom, I almost hurl the sack without remorse into the tub. The blood splatters against the sides and creates a horrible mess on the tiled wall. I bite my lip to not react.

One good thing has come from Jessie’s death. I have lost my appetite.

I look myself over in a state of déjà vu, except this time it’s not my blood, and that makes it all the more disturbing. I leave the bathrobe on. There’s no telling how much blood is coming, and I don’t want to stain my entire wardrobe.

I twist the faucet in the sink and splash water onto my face. It wakes me up a little. I stare into the mirror, looking for the cold, unemotional me. She is fading quicker as I look into my soul. The girl, the others, the vacuum and the cat create a clustered bedlam in my mind. And then there is a moment of nothingness, of listlessness, and all that is there are the black sacks beneath my eyes, the cuts and bruises and the face as pale as death.

I watch the girl from the small, blurred bathroom window. She is climbing a tree, crawling up it, to reach me. Every second the darkness creeps, and with every shade darker she draws closer to the windows. And it is getting harder to see her. It is now of vital importance that I watch her as much as it seemingly appears for her to watch me. God knows what she’ll do when I can’t. When the lights are out.

I carry myself into the living room and turn on the fire. Or try to. The ignition turns, releases the gas but no spark.

I grab a box of matches from the mantelpiece that is adorned with faceless angels and oriental sculptures that are covered in dust. Then I squat down once more and twist the switch until the gas hisses again, and strike a match to throw into the fire.

It erupts into a large scorching cloud, puffing against my face. I feel the heat hit me like a dragon’s sneeze, but it does not burn me and the fire is sucked back into the fireplace. I count myself lucky, but then the dragon burps and the fire blows out.

There are plenty of matches, but I am not trying again, whether she had anything to do with it or not.

Instead, I head to the pantry.

There is a strange smell in here, and I think it may be my mind replaying the scene with Jessie and the bed sheets. I grab what I came for and rush out. I have learnt from my previous engagement with investigation.

Most of the candles have melted and are nothing but small puddles in their glass jars, but a couple remain untouched. I dot them around in the living room on the three windowsills and a couple I rest on the floor next to the glass door.

I curl up on the sofa and wish the night away like a fragile child in a lost world.

Something dawns on me. A true light bulb moment, even though none of the lights work in the house. This is her true message. It’s so obvious I feel stupid for not realising before. It is her intention to make me feel like a scared little girl – has been all along. A girl like her, a girl lost in an unknown world. A place familiar and yet a place she didn’t belong. A place I was to blame for. A place I put her.

The family I sent her to.

She was trying to tell me how much she despised them; why she came to me in her dreams: to get away from them, to be with someone she could connect with, someone of blood.

Another realisation: her death. Was it her family? That would explain why she blamed me. I had given her away as a material possession – as something to pay my bills and to afford a great cottage in the middle of nowhere – and I had never even vetted the family. I had just dumped her with strangers. With monsters and killers. That’s why none of the others visited, I must have got lucky with them, given them to half-decent families. Yes, it made perfect sense.

I close my eyes.

There is something strange about the night. It inflicts an often irrational fear. Yet there is an obvious transition in ambience. A morbid time of clarity. It never bothered me before. In fact, I often revelled in it. But now it has turned itself to me, and I was hearing unwanted truths about myself. I had thought nothing of giving her away – giving any of them away. They were better off without me, that was for sure, and I had given them a life to reign. But I had been naïve imagining they would be fine without a mother’s hand to guide them. The greed had blinded me to the perverse nature of this world, and life had owned them.

 

. . .

 

I must have fallen asleep, because as I open my eyes it is light around me. Blindingly so, actually, and hot hot hot. Had the candle caught fire to the curtains? Maybe. I don’t really care. I’m enjoying the light. It’s her, she’s all around me. Not watching anymore. Fulfilling her punishment. And I deserve it, boy, do I deserve it. It’s nice. I haven’t had her this close since I gave her away all them years ago.

I can’t complain. It’s my fault.

I walk out the front door. The light following me.

I am sorry.

I just hope the others make it okay.

 

* * *

 

Mommy has finally let me in the house. Second Mommy really, or not even Mommy at all, First Mommy says. She was just holding me until Mommy could take me. First Mommy. Real Mommy. I didn’t understand at first, but then Mommy told me it’s like when I give Daddy his tea. It’s not my tea, I’m just holding onto it, taking it through its journey to Daddy. I’m not sure Mommy explained it very well, but I think I get it. I like giving Daddy his tea.

Daddy doesn’t give me the cup back until he’s finished. I think that’s what Second Mommy is doing. I don’t think she’s finished with the house. She keeps cleaning it. Making the beds. I don’t know why, it’s not like there’s anyone in there with her.

But Mommy says there were others. Like me. Other children. Other First Mommys.

She said Second Mommy went crazy. And that it would happen to anyone that gave away all their children. Mommy says she got married. But she had run out of children. And her husband didn’t like that. So he left. And Second Mommy got a cat.

Look, now. She’s coming out. You should see her. She’s beautiful.

I think that’s the look of when you are sorry about something, but when a mommy or daddy or sister or brother – anyone, really – says they don’t need to be sorry, or that it’s okay, because sometimes mistakes happen, sometimes you take a cookie without asking and you know you done bad. I think Mommy calls it freeing a guil-tea con-sense.

Second Mommy smiles at me. Then she’s gone behind the light. Mommy said she went away because she was so sad with no kids. That’s why Mommy says she loves me every day. I think Mommy is too nice sometimes, and thinks I’m too young. That I don’t get it. But I heard Daddy say Second Mommy is dead.

There was something wrong with the house. Sometimes we visited, and Mommy and Daddy got scared. Said there’s an evil presence.

But I don’t think Second Mommy is evil. I think she was guilty. But she’s sorry. And Mommy always forgives me when I done something bad. So I will forgive her.

I don’t think she was scaring me from the house.

I think she was protecting it for me. Holding onto it until I was ready to have it; like she did when I was a baby.

  At least, that’s what I’ll say.

It needs some work. I think she was very sad. She burnt the place to the ground. I think she was still in it at the time. And, and that’s how she died. I think it is. But Mommy and Daddy won’t tell me.

I think she’s gone now. I can’t see her anymore. She’s not watching me, and it’s like something inside me is lost. I think she is going to find the others. To look after them now.

Bye bye, Mommy.

 


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