I wake up and my mouth is dry. My pillow cradles my heavy head and I can smell that my hair is dirty. Like, really dirty. I try to sink deeper into the little body groove in my mattress. I can’t squeeze my body down any further and my throat starts really killing me. Somehow I lift my blanket and dislodge myself from my quicksand bed. I stumble into the bathroom in the pajamas I wore yesterday and the previous three days before that. My throat feels like it’s on fire. I drink two glasses of water and it tastes so rusty I can barely swallow it.
Somebody calls my phone and I answer it, ignoring the face on the screen. I can hear noises but I don’t know who it is because they sound like they are in a bubble and I feel like I’m in a bubble. I stare out to the trees beyond my window and as they sway in the wind I sway too. My vision blurs and a spiraling begins in my head. It starts like a pinprick in the middle of my brain and like a black hole grows larger sucking everything in. My knees buckle a little so I open my eyes again.
There is a bird on a branch staring at me and I want it to go away. Then I remember I’m on the phone and the words sound like chirping and for a moment I think the bird is talking to me. There is a long silence and I realise I have been nodding in reply to the sounds I refuse to comprehend. I don’t really feel like talking anyway so I hang up and when it immediately rings again I turn my phone off.
Back in the bathroom I mechanically brush my teeth wondering what the point is since I’m not going to smile today anyway. Not today or any other day for that matter. I collapse in a sullen heap and sit cross-legged on the cold bathroom tiles, an indignant protest to no one. My ass goes numb and I just start to enjoy the painful pins and needles in my feet and legs when someone taps lightly on the bathroom door. I hear my Dad’s voice say my name a few times before telling me I have 20 minutes. I don’t respond or even look at the door and when I know he is gone I drag myself over to the toilet and throw up.
Rinsing out my mouth at the sink I catch my reflection. I barely even recognize myself. The dark bags, pale lips and hollow eyes all belong to a stranger. I’m a mess and I shouldn’t look like a mess. Not today. I quickly shower. I even wash my hair. I blow it dry very carefully. It takes me ages to do my makeup because I want it to be perfect but its not and I almost cry but then my mascara would run so I break my eye pencil in half instead.
I stand in front of my closet for a long time. Door wide open I contemplate crawling inside but I know there is no Narnia in there or anywhere. Nothing in my wardrobe looks like it belongs to me and I wonder how someone else’s clothes got in there. I choose the darkest pieces of material I can find. My skirt feels strange and too short and it clings to me like a foreign object. In the mirror I look small and faded like a shadow. I can’t focus my eyes on my face.
I hear my Dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs and he knocks on my door. I open my mouth but it is full of cobwebs and dead moths. He is standing in the doorway angry because I’m taking too long. Finding my voice I scream at him because I can’t find my hair clips. He screams back at me then immediately apologises with tears in his eyes. I apologise too and silently wish that Mum was still here but she isn’t and that is just tough shit. My Dad leaves and I hurry to get ready as fast as I can but the burning in my throat is back. I ignore it and go downstairs.
My Dad is waiting on the footpath and I approach him with my head down. I’m wearing Mum’s coat and when he notices I don’t want to see his face. My eyes follow the asphalt all the way to his shoes and I have never seen them so shiny. For a second I remember that not too long ago my life was shiny too but not anymore. The big black hire car pulls around for us and my Dad reaches for my hand. I let him take it for once because the spiraling has started again and he squeezes it all the way to the cemetery.
Yesterday I died. I wasn’t murdered. No one stole my life away. I wasn’t run over by a car. I didn’t drown. I wasn’t in a plane crash. I didn’t stand on the edge of a cliff and wish everyone goodbye or wash down 30 pills with vodka and choke. It was nothing like that at all…
It was my Dad’s birthday. He wanted a book by his favourite author and I had to import it from overseas. I was so glad it arrived in time and I picked it up at the post office before choosing him a card and some nice wrapping paper. I walked home from the shopping centre, enjoying the sun on my face. The day had been so calm. Not too hot and not windy. The few clouds that scattered lightly along the sky were fluffy and white. Birds chirped playfully in the trees above my head. When I got home I went about wrapping my father’s gift and spent about 20 minutes trying to think up something clever to write on his card. I decided on wishing him a Happy Birthday with all my love. It wasn’t as creative or original as I would have liked.
I checked my email quickly before my shower and John had finally messaged me. He had just gotten back from Bali and wanted to catch up. I was ecstatic and replied immediately suggesting next Friday at the café on King Street. We had spent so many late nights there amongst the tattered cushions, art students and organic coffee. I quickly went into the bathroom and got ready for Dad’s dinner. I had chosen a bright pink dress to wear, probably because my own heart was so happy. I checked my email again before leaving, but John hadn’t replied yet. On the way to the restaurant I thought about all the time John and I had known each other and how many missed opportunities we’d had. I hoped that this time it would be different. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of his handsome face.
When I arrived at the restaurant my parents were already there. We had seen each other only two days before, but greeted like long lost friends. Bear hugging and laughing we sat down to our meal. We cheerfully ate our Italian food and enjoyed one of my Dad’s infamous wine choices. We chatted happily about our lives and joked about Mum’s latest conspiracy theories regarding grocery prices. Dad loved his present. After dinner we relaxed over coffee and I talked excitedly about my email from John. Mum reacted encouragingly. Dad wanted me to take my time and be careful with my heart. We all knew how badly broken it had been just before John left 6 months ago. I promised to be guarded while all the time knowing I wouldn’t be and would throw myself heart and soul into a relationship with John, if that was what he wanted. It was my fate in life to love big and risk falling hard.
Outside the restaurant we hugged again near our cars and I watched my parents drive away. I remember thinking how in love they still were and how very much I loved them. I drove home singing along to my stereo. When I got to my apartment I hopped into bed with my cat Charlie at my feet. I felt warm and safe. I was happy. I think I may have even had a small smile on my lips as dreams started to dance in my head. My last clear thought wasn’t of John. It was my Mum’s face. It was like I remembered it from my childhood. Everything about her was soft and hopeful. There was that special sparkle in her eyes that said, “All the very best of everything in the world, is what I want for you my love”. I went to sleep soundly. And I never woke up.
It was an aneurism. I never had any symptoms. Not even a headache. I didn’t feel any pain. I didn’t feel anything. It was like I just fell asleep, forever. Like Snow White only with no prince to ever wake her. I’m sure people are sad that I’m gone. I know Mum will never really recover but I hope Mum and Dad can endure it and eventually laugh at all those silly things we used to laugh at together. I wonder if John is sad. I don’t suppose it matters now that I am gone, but I think I would prefer it if he was sad. Just for a little while anyway. I hope he doesn’t bring a date to my funeral.
I hope someone takes good care of Charlie cat. All he needs is a warm lap and a can of fish. Even if he misses me he won’t ever show it. Cats are like that. I think what I will miss most, other than my family and friends, is my future. My hopes, dreams and the plans I had made. The husband I will never marry. The children I will never have. All the things that will never be but could have been are just forgotten now, blown away like dust by a careless wind.
People are born into this world every day. Yesterday I died. My name was Michelle. I was twenty years old.
The bathroom door slammed shut. What am I going to do?
Sandra pleaded at herself in the mirror. Her lips were twisted tightly together, her face a stark white, her eyes frightened and wild looking. She was shocked for a moment by the unfamiliarity of her own reflection. Then she noticed she was naked. She didn’t have her towel anymore having dropped it in the bedroom when that thing had leapt at her. Sandra felt a deep uneasiness. She felt vulnerable and self conscious. She wished desperately she had brought her pyjamas into the bathroom so she had something to wear. Anything to put a barrier between herself and that thing. The dirty sock hamper offered no solution. Neither did the soaking wet bathmat. The hand towel? There was no point.
Sandra shrieked as something violently struck against the bathroom door.
BANG! Jesus! Find something to defend yourself!
Sandra’s eyes raced around the small, windowless, square bathroom but there was nothing. Turning towards the mirror again she opened the doors of the medicine cabinet. Rummaging through it she desperately searched for some kind of weapon. She found a cardboard nail file, tweezers, cotton balls, lipstick, roll on deodorant. Nail scissors or safety razor?
Neither offered any real protection but Sandra grabbed the three inch nail scissors.
Sandra jumped and with scissors in hand she backed away from the door.
It hit even harder that time. The door jumped on its hinges and suddenly seemed very flimsy and useless.
BANG! God! It’s going to get in!
Sandra tried to control her breathing but her panic was building up to hysteria. It’s going to get me!
In the few seconds she had seen it Sandra knew that thing meant her harm. Real, actual harm. She didn’t just sense it. She knew it. Knew it wanted to hurt her. Make her bleed. Slowly shred her flesh and play in her blood. Her mind screamed at her to think of something.
The small lock jutted open. Christ!
Sandra grabbed the lock and swiftly threw it back in place. It’s going to get in! I need a plan! What should I do? Hide behind the door and when it opens I can throw the shower curtain over it and stab it? Yeah right. These scissors barely cut my nails! Besides I’m not going anywhere near that thing!
Sandra stepped out of the shower and wrapped the blue towel around her midsection. Wiping the steam from the fogged up mirror she had briefly admired her reflection. Barely thirty, she could easily pass for twenty five with her clear skin, full lips and big blue eyes. She picked up her plastic comb and ran it through her long blonde hair.
Sandra cocked her head to the side.
“Mike?” she called.
All she heard was silence. It was a little early for her boyfriend to be home. His shift at the hospital didn’t usually end until midnight and it was only just after eleven. Sandra listened. All she heard was a strange scraping followed by a hiss and a snapping sound.
“Mike?” Sandra called louder this time.
There was no reply.
Sandra would never admit it but she hated being in the apartment alone every night. Ever since they had moved to the three story brown brick two months ago, she always felt a little creeped out.
This time Sandra jumped. Throwing the comb into the sink she looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were wide for a moment and then she smirked. You’re such a chicken shit.
Sandra spun around and confidently opened the bathroom door. Without another thought she stepped across the hall and into her bedroom. The room was illuminated by the streetlamps outside. Didn’t I leave the light on?
The curtains were drawn back. Sandra thought for a second that the window was open ever so slightly. Something moving in the room caught her eye. Something faced away and bent over in the corner. For a moment she thought it was Mike playing a prank. Instead that thing, crouching on all fours, slowly turned around and started creeping its way towards her. It’s back hunched up awkwardly it sort of resembled a man. An oddly deformed man with a slick, pale body that was too thin. The face was half covered by stringy twine-like hair. The yellow glowing slits of its eyes completely unhuman. The pine needle like teeth suddenly stretched out unnaturally in a demented grin. The long talon claws made a scraping sound across the floorboards. She saw it preparing. She heard it hiss and flinched at the loud snap of its jaws. She saw it had an erection. When it leapt at her Sandra was sure she saw it. That terrifying, revolting thing had an erection. As it pounced Sandra lunged backwards instinctively and found herself back in the bathroom where she quickly slammed the door.
The memory made Sandra’s whole body shudder.
She screamed and saw the door jump again but somehow it held shut. A hiss came from the other side and then silence. Sandra strained to hear. Nothing.
Sandra stood for a second listening but all she could hear was her own rasping breath and the pounding of her heart. Sandra’s ears were still straining when her eyes wandered up the bathroom wall and came to rest on the air conditioning vent above. It was more of a manhole actually. Man sized. It would fit! It could get in!
Panic flew through her like an electric shock. A scream curled up out of her chest but refused to push its way past her lips. It sat in her throat choking her. FUCK! What do I do? Should I run for it? What if it was waiting? Should I stay here? What if it was coming?
A loud scraping sound came from the vent above her. Sandra gasped. She tore open the bathroom door and bolted. Just in time to feel something tug at her hair. She felt the tension. Heard the hair audibly rip out of her head and then heard the SNAP! She cried out at the pain but didn’t dare stop. Sandra sprinted through her apartment and flung open her front door, slamming it hard behind her. Naked and hysterical she ran down the hallway. It’s behind me!
She was sure of it. Almost tripping Sandra scrambled down the three flights of stairs and only stopped when she reached the front door of the building. Sandra’s wet body slapped hard against the glass. Where am I going? Should I run out naked into the street?
The whole block was security apartment buildings. She wouldn’t even be able to get into a lobby. Her hand let go of the silver door knob and she spun herself around bracing her back up against the door. There was nothing there. Maybe it didn’t follow me. Maybe it’s still in the apartment? I shut the door didn’t I? Maybe it’s trapped.
High above her Sandra heard an apartment door close. Whimpering, her breathing was unnaturally fast. The light in the entrance hall was dim. The globes were set on power save at night. She looked hard towards the staircase. For nearly a minute she didn’t blink. Her eyes stung as she searched the darkness for any movement. Nothing. Dragging her eyes away she scanned the foyer. She could make out the stairway she’d come down, the pattern of the tiles and the door just beyond the stairs. Mr Janz! He was always home!
The building manager was a fit and sturdy sixty year old widower. Handy with a hammer. Sandra tried to inch her way towards his apartment but she felt paralysed. Her bare feet were firmly stuck in place and she couldn’t move. Her back was pressed so hard against the door that her skin was stinging. She wondered for a moment what she must look like from the other side, her wet bare buttocks pressed against the glass. Willing herself Sandra slowly peeled her back from the door and began inching her way along the wall. The wall was covered in course concrete that gravel-rashed her skin. Terrified, she kept staring up into the stairwell. Blackness filled the space at the top. She couldn’t tear her eyes away but she kept moving. She had made it halfway when she heard a sound on the wooden stairs above. The unmistakable scraping of claws. She was sure she heard its jaws snapping. Sandra ran and crashed so hard against Mr Janz’s door she was surprised she didn’t go right through it. Desperately she pounded on the wooden surface.
“Mr Janz!” she frantically screamed. “Please let me in! Mr Janz! PLEASE!”
Sandra tried to turn the knob.
Suddenly the door gave way and she fell forward landing with a hard smack on the floor in front of her. Her whole body aching and the wind knocked out of her Sandra struggled to her feet. Slamming the door behind her she latched the safety chain. She spun around quickly and tried to locate Mr Janz. Did he let me in?
She peered into the darkness of the apartment.
“Mr Janz?” she whispered. “Mr Janz?”
Nothing. Where is he?
She couldn’t make out very much around her. The only real light source seemed to be coming from a room directly in front of her. Down the hall and off to the right. Is that the bedroom?
She imagined the layout was the same as her apartment. Her eyes adjusted slightly to the dark and she could now make out a little more clearly a gap in the bedroom door with a vertical beam of light shining out. Carefully Sandra made her way towards the light source. As she moved she listened intently for any sounds of movement especially from behind her. When she reached the half open door she heard only her own breathing and her heart threatening to bust out of her chest. Mr Janz?
She wanted to whisper but the words wouldn’t form in her dry mouth. She slowly pushed the door open the whole way and saw a lamp on the floor near the outline of a bed. Sandra’s hand searched the wall for the light switch but all she felt was smooth painted plaster. The rest of the room was dark. The curtains must have been closed. Crouching low, Sandra crept over to the lamp. Picking it up she rested it on the nightstand where it illuminated half the room. Half of the bed. Half of Mr Janz. His broken, torn up, naked body lay in two pieces on the bloodied sheets. His intestines trailed out of his stomach cavity onto the floor. Both they and his face looked chewed on. One dead, blank eye stared up at her. The other eye was missing. Sandra stumbled backwards into the hallway, a scream about to escape her lips when she heard the scraping of claws. She heard the loud SNAP! Only this time she felt the teeth biting down and penetrating the flesh of her neck.
Original published by Death Head Grin, Anthology of Horror 1.