Here’s a sneaky preview of the opening chapter to my first foray into the supernatural/ horror novel. Quite a few of you have asked for some sneak previews so here you are, please be kind , as it’s still early days and I’m working my way through lots of rewriting and edits. Comments, thoughts, shares, pins, reblogs and retweets all welcome. Us novices must still together !
Relative Strangers, Chapter 1
I blinked my heavy eyelids open, willing them to focus on the room around me. They were dry and stung a little. The digital display flashing on my alarm clock told me it was four AM. I picked it up and glowered at it for a moment before dropping the electronic cube back on to the small bedside table. I’d awoken with a start, almost jumping out of my bed. My heart was still pounding in my chest, despite my brain taking it’s time to come to life.
I’d only spent a few nights in my house; I hadn’t yet adjusted to where everything was and the disruption of the past month hadn’t made the move an easy transition. I’d spent more than a year living on my own in my modern, furnished apartment, surrounded by people and in the assumed safety of a first floor position. You’d have to have been a very motivated to scale the outside of the building to break in through the living room balcony or kitchen window. But the sanctity of my home had been breached and I had painfully discovered how motivated someone could be. I’d evacuated my familiar surroundings quickly and without much time to prepare psychologically. I had just been relieved to have survived the assault, the months of emotional torture; it hadn’t really crossed my mind that I’d still have to deal with the emotional scars wherever I was. All I had known was that I needed to escape, to be somewhere else, to keep myself alive and sane. So I had quit my job, packed up what little I owned and headed cross country back to my hometown. After almost two months crashing in my mother’s spare room, I eventually moved out into a small, vacant property which the family owned.
On the surface, life seemed normal. Christmas had been and gone, the New Year was celebrated with family and friends in the comfort of my childhood home. I relaxed and planned for my future. But then I finally got the keys to my new place and although it was less than ten minutes away from my mother, I felt surprisingly alone and vulnerable. The first few nights in the house were laden with stress. Every time a car door slammed outside, or a dog parked, I worried that there was someone lurking outside. I hadn’t gone to sleep till after two on the previous night, convinced that the metallic tapping from the boiler system was someone gently banging on my bedroom window. But it was always, always, my mind playing tricks.
But that night, that night it felt differently. I knew I had heard something. Something like a bang, and it sounded like it had come from somewhere in the house. As cold beads of sweat trickled down the hot skin of my chest, I scanned the bedroom and attempted to process my surroundings.
Everything seemed to be in place. The bedroom door was still on its hinges and the few frames I’d placed on the far wall, on the picture hooks left by previous tenants, were all still hanging. The portable TV was still standing on the pine chest of drawers at the foot of the bed. The noise, whatever it was, couldn’t have come from inside my room. That was something at least.
I tentatively reached out across my bedside table and to flick on the small lamp but stopped, thinking it could alert any intruder to my presence. I wanted any advantage I could, and surprise trumped vision at that point. I slipped my legs from under the duvet, softly padded over to the window and quietly pulled the cord to lift the blind. It was dark outside, but the street lamp at the rear of the garden allowed me some extra light. The window was open a couple of inches and the cool air helped to kick start my slumbering senses
Everything outside looked peaceful. I raised myself onto tip toes to secure a better view of the small garden at the rear of the house. It was cloaked in shadows, surrounded by a dark fencing on two sides and dense fir trees at the other but in the halo of the street lamp I could see that the garden gate was ajar, rapping against the wooden post in the January breeze. I felt relief for a moment, thinking that perhaps I’d simply been woken by its gently rhythmic knocking. But logic and anxiety quickly reminded me that I hadn’t even noticed it until I went to the window. It was unlikely that the wind had blown sufficiently to slam it hard and wake me up. The rotary line was barely swaying at all, with little more than a gentle rock from one spot back to another. To someone else it could have almost looked peaceful, hypnotic even. I suddenly felt very sad.
The moment passed quickly as every cell in my body came alive, became vigilant. The blood whooshed through my ears as my heart began pumping adrenaline through my system. The fine blonde hairs on my arms stood to attention and the sweat which had collected in my hairline turned cold. There was another noise, different to the loud isolated bang which had woken me; it was more akin to quiet but protracted rustle. Someone was moving downstairs. Someone else was in my house.
Oh my God, I thought, not again, not here. I haven’t been here for a week yet, I’ve not even unpacked. What do they want? Are they going to rob me, kill me or worse? I’d learned that there’s always worse. No matter how perverse your imagination may be, no matter how much TV you watch, how many books you read, someone can always thing of worse things to do to you than you could ever imagine. I can’t go through this again. Think Sophie, think. You need to do something; you need to do it fast and you need to do it now.
My body was frozen in panic but I tried to force my brain into action. There was no way I was going to give in after I’d battled for so long and so hard to be alive, to survive. Nobody was going to rob me of that, or anything else. I quickly assessed my options, but they didn’t add up to much.
I considered trying to be quiet, hiding out in my room and hoping that any intruder would go of their own accord. Perhaps they’d just be petty criminals, after some quick drug money or electronics they could sell. I didn’t have much, a purse full of cash and a few goods bit of jewelry, but they’d be welcome to it. That felt like a much better outcome than the other scenarios which were running through my mind, the scenarios based on experience, on my knowledge of the evil people can do, of being the victim. The downside of staying put was that the potential assailant could just come up the stairs anyway and kill me in my own bed. They could take advantage of my fear and ineptitude and spend these final moonlit hours torturing me for run before slicing my throat and making off with my TV. Perhaps hiding under the duvet and riding it out wouldn’t be such a great option after all.
I was starting to come down on the side of braving it, going downstairs and confronting my intruder. I attempted to persuade myself that it was just a petty thief who would probably me more scared of me than him. He probably doesn’t want to hurt me. Hell, if he tries, I’ll take a fistful of his hair or chew off an ear lobe in the process. At least the DNA evidence would be able to identify my killer if the worst were to happen. Well not the worst, you know that’s not the worst which could happen. There’s worse than being dead. But what if there’s more than one of them? If I stay here then there would be no way of escaping. Right, dash downstairs to the door it is.
The flight or fight impulse was into full swing. Aside from the overwhelming fear, I was also feeling remarkably annoyed. How dare anyone break into my home, my sanctuary? My endocrine system was on overload with adrenaline. Calm down Sophie, think, think. What did your manager used to tell you in work? You don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan. Be quiet, take a breath, and think.
I wasn’t feeling too very composed but I did put together some semblance of a plan. I was going to go downstairs and see what the hell was going on. I’d deal with what’s down there when I got there. That had to be better than cowering in my bed all night to find, in the morning that I’d been neither burgled nor attacked. But first of all I had to be prepared. I needed some sort of protection and I needed to make it effective.
There wouldn’t be time to change into any outdoor clothing but at least wear I was wearing something. The faded AC/DC tour T-shirt and old pyjamas bottoms I’d put on before bed weren’t the most provocative of boudoir items, but they suited the purpose. I tightened the cord around the waist to ensure there would be no embarrassing moments during any impending struggle. I didn’t want to be found bludgeoned to death with my trousers around my ankles. I also didn’t want to end up tripping down the stairs in my effort to escape – knowing my luck I’d end up breaking my neck, killed by my own pyjamas. I considered putting trainers on but quickly dismissed the idea. They’d make my footsteps too heavy and I needed the element of surprise if I was doing to make my escape successfully.
Right then, this is it, here we go. Taking a deep breath, I instinctively reached up to my neck and touched the fine smooth scars nestled below my hairline. The smaller of the two was barely noticeable. I wonder sometimes if I can only see it because I know it’s there. The other was like a brand scorched into my soul. I felt it all the time. It was a constant reminder of the first one who had leapt on me, ripping apart my flesh. That had been the worst time. The bruises had healed, the muscles repaired, the punctures and grazes to my hands disappeared entirely. I knew that I had been overly paranoid lately but I had good reason. I’d taken a physical and emotional battering. I had started to feel like I was a magnet for pain, for sickos, for death.
Erring on the side of caution I scanned the room for some sort of improvised weapon. If I did find that there was someone downstairs, it probably would not be a bad idea to at least look threatening; that could be enough to frighten them off. If there was nobody there, I had nobody to feel embarrassed in front of.
The portable TV ariel looked a bit flimsy, as did my bedside lamp. I couldn’t see anything in my bedroom which looked like it would make a good makeshift cudgel or stabbing implement. I wished that I could find the aluminum baseball bat I’d picked up on a holiday to America a few years earlier. I knew it would come in handy one day, although for what and when I was never entirely sure. At the time I just though it looked like a cool souvenir. I knew it was probably downstairs, hidden away in one of the packing crates. Although I didn’t have much in the way of furniture, I had acquired enough possessions to fill a dozen or so packing crates. Most of them had yet to be unpacked.
I told myself that I’d just have to get down to the ground floor and assess the situation from there. Maybe there’d be nobody down there, and if there was I’d be more likely to find a weapon in the kitchen. At least I’d unpacked most of my pots, pans and cutlery. There was bound to be a decent knife to hand. But first I’d have to get there and I needed to make sure I did it quietly. Any noise would reduce my chances of escape. As I generally seem to make more noise when I’m trying not to, I didn’t tiptoe to the door but stuck to just walking a little slower and gentler than usual. Being barefoot helped. It was a proud moment when I managed to cross the room with barely a rustle of my PJ bottoms.
Thankfully, I’d left the bedroom door ajar so I didn’t have to worry about it creaking. Although there was definitely a winter chill in air, I still liked to sleep with my bedroom window open and let the air circulate through the house. I always ran on the warm side and couldn’t bear to feel too hot, unless I was on a beach of course. My mother had once commented that I reminded her of my dad in that respect, although I don’t really know what she meant by that. I didn’t know who he was or anything about him.
I slipped through the half open doorway and turned into the small landing. To my right, I could see that the bathroom door was shut. The door to the guest bedroom to my left was open but I didn’t investigate any further – I knew I’d left it open myself and that the sound was definitely coming from beneath me. If there were multiple intruders and one of them had managed to get up their stairs unnoticed, then good luck to him, I was firmly set on getting downstairs and out of dodge.
As I looked down the stairs towards the ground floor below, I felt more than a little anxious. I was glad that the small window on the landing let in enough moonlight to allow me to make out the edge of each step. Don’t fall, Sophie, don’t fall. I carefully made my way down the stairs, occasionally touching the wooden banister to steady my footing, my heart pounding in my chest.
Nearing the bottom, I turned to my right and looked through the kitchen through the open doorway. The door was off its hinges and propped up against the wall in the hall but it didn’t alarm me. I removed the door with the intention of replacing it. It had been some horrible concertina creation from the eighties, made up of glass panels and teak effect medium density fibreboard. It had been there when my grandparents bought the house as a buy to let and had been there ever since. It was badly in need of replacing, plus it wasn’t to my taste. I wished that I’d left the crappy thing on now; at least it would have afforded some measure of protection if my intruder was in the kitchen. I could have perhaps attempted to barricade him in. Admittedly, you could probably pull it off its hinges with your bare hands if you had enough motivation, but still, in this situation, surely something would be better than nothing?
I could see straight through the kitchen doorway to the external door directly opposite it. It was a standard UPV type with two glass panels, one at the top and one at the bottom, meaning the kitchen was reasonably well lit from the moon and the street lamp outside. It would be dawn in a few hours and the kitchen would be fully illuminated then. Why this couldn’t have happened then I don’t know, nothing is as frightening in the daylight. I squinted to get a better look of the kitchen. I could immediately see that something was wrong. The bottom panel from the back door was entirely smashed in.
As stealthily as I could manage, I took the final step down into the hallway. I stretched out my right hand to steady myself on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and took a slow, deep breath. I don’t want to die, please God if you are there, don’t let me die. And if I have to die, please make it quick. Please look after mum for me, and my cat. I was glad that I hadn’t installed a cat flap yet. Charlie, my cat, had been out all night as a result, but I was glad that he wouldn’t be around to fall prey to whatever was lurking in wait for me.
In less than half a dozen steps I was stood in the kitchen doorway. Maybe it was the adrenaline but everything seemed suddenly and completely still and quiet, frozen in time. There wasn‘t even the sound of a car passing in the street. I thought for a moment that my heart must have stopped because I couldn’t even hear it beating anymore. There was no going back now, I’d have to investigate.
Stepping through the doorway, I got a much clearer picture of the damage. The glass in the top panel was shattered and in pieces on the linoleum tiles. The force required to break through the modern double glazing would have been considerable but I couldn’t see any projectile which could have done it. There was no obvious sign of a brick or a rock, nothing at all. Could a person actually have the strength to have kicked through it and why would they? I’d only been back home in Wales a matter of months, who could I have possibly managed to piss off that much in so little time? I surely couldn’t have made enemies already? Oh god no, is it happening again?
Then I saw the blood. Between the pattern on the flowing and the poor light, my eyes didn’t register at all at first; I only saw the shards of glass strewn around. It took my bare toe brushing against something wet for me to notice it all. I was expecting to see blood after I got clobbered on the head by a burglar but not before. Reaching down I touched the small trail of droplets and rubbed the dark red blob between my fingers. It was dark but it definitely looked like blood to me – the only way to be certain would be to taste it and that would have just been too grim.
My first thoughts were for my cat. Had Charlie seen an opportunity to get back into the house and cut himself on the broken glass in the process? I didn’t think he could have smashed the door in, but he’s nothing but resourceful and if he had seen an entry route, he’d have gone for it, whether it was following in a burglars footsteps or not. And if this were Charlie’s blood, then where was the intruder?
Following the trail of blood, I saw that they led directly from the back door, across the lino and to the dark green carpet of my dining “nook”, a small breakfast room adjacent to the main body of the kitchen. It was just big enough to fit in a small kitchen table and four chairs, plus a few cardboard boxes containing my non-essential kitchen ware and other sundry items. The room was dark. There was a large window but the blinds were closed and no external light was getting in, the only illumination was some of the residual moonlight bouncing off the kitchen units. Through the shadows, I thought I could see movement.
“Charlie?” I asked nervously. If there’s an intruder in here, please let him leg it now. Please let Charlie be okay. Silence was the only response I received. I called his name again, this time taking a step closer to the archway which acted as to the small room. Again there was nothing but silence. Every fiber of me knew that this wasn’t right. Charlie would have definitely responded by now, even if it was just a yelp of pain or his heavy, nasal purr.
It seemed increasingly likely that this wasn’t his blood and that meant one of one of two possibilities. Firstly, someone had somehow kicked in my door and injured themselves in the process. Secondly, someone had broken in through my door, bringing someone or something else with them that were injured. Either way, it was clear that someone had definitely broken in. That answered the primary question. However, it didn’t answer the second, very important question – were they still there? Thirdly, what the hell do they want?
I felt nauseous, a million thoughts running through my brain which didn’t seem to be doing a very good job of controlling them. They ranged from wanting to cry to I’m going to kick your ass. I’m going to rip every single one of your bloody limbs off. I don’t give two hoots if I’m five foot and practically nothing. You have no idea who you are messing with here.
The tornado of emotions could have carried on but was interrupted by a slow, small noise coming from the corner of the breakfast room. It grounded me back in reality.
What the hell is that? I squinted to try and get a better look at where it was coming from but from the safety of the kitchen it was too difficult.
The fear and anxiety in me was building to an unbearable degree. I felt like I was going to explode, or implode, I couldn’t be sure which. I knew I must have been shaking; every skin cell seemed to be twitching a dance of complete anxiety. Saliva formed in my mouth, it made me want to throw up. I wanted to cry. You should probably go in and take a look. Suddenly I didn’t feel so brave, my anger subsiding into a sense of deep, genuine, fear. Oh God, what is going on in there? Am I going to die? Why didn’t I just stay upstairs and hide. What is the fucking matter with me!
Just when I thought my brain might just shut itself down to preserve my sanity, a primal desire to defend myself and my home took over, urging me forward and I lifted my foot to cross the threshold into small annex. Before my toes had even landed on the carpet, I finally saw what was making the noise and it definitely wasn’t Charlie. This was something else, something bigger. I carefully extended my arm, rubbing my hand along the wall until I found the light switch. Two of the three bulbs in the fitting were dead, but the little illumination I was granted was more than enough.
Lurking in the far corner of the small room, my intruder crouched, animal like, behind the small rubber wood dining set. There was little more than a metre or two between us. He looked up at me with a manic look in his eyes and pupils which were so dilated he looked like he had taken some sort of narcotic. There was little left of the iris, and I couldn’t tell what they colour they usually were. The whites were marbled by a spider web of red blood vessels, some of which had burst to form patches of read. What the hell is wrong with him? Fuck, what should I do? And what the hell is he doing? Jesus, is he actually eating? What the hell is that?
He looked up again, this time without stopping his tearing and gnawing of the fleshy mess cradled in its hands. Stuff this, I thought, I’m not going in there. I took a step back into the imagined safety of the kitchen, hoping some invisible force field would pop up and protect me. If I move fast enough, I might have time to grab the back door handle and swing it open. Although not sporty, I’m a fast runner and I thought I stood a good chance of getting away if I could get just get out of the house. I didn’t have much in the way of technique, but given some sincere motivation, I was fast and could muster amazing stamina. My car keys were on the counter unit, if I grabbed them on my way I’d be assured of a fast getaway. I didn’t have much time to decide what I was going to do – If I was going to run for it, it would have to be then. I decided to make a dash for it.
My opponent obviously felt differently about my plan, as he launched what he had in his hands right at my face. The projectile flew straight past my head and landed with a squelch on the kitchen floor. Please don’t let that be Charlie, anything but Charlie. A quick look out of the corner of my eye confirmed that it wasn’t. No ginger or white fur. Thank God. It just looked like an empty bag of skin; most of its guts had been ripped out. From what I could tell, it had maybe started life as a rat, or a mole. What sort of person eats a live rat? On any other occasion I would have spared a moment to have felt sorry for the poor dead creature. But no time for that right now.
I turned my eyes back up to meet those of the feral creature. I only had the pine effect dining table between us to shield me from a direct attack. While this guy didn’t have great aim he certainly had great strength, judging by his reflexes and the speed with which he threw his leftovers.
I weighed up my options. I could run but maybe I wouldn’t make it. What if Charlie came back and he was still here? I wouldn’t let him end up another victim. I touched the scar on my neck, as I had come to do whenever I was nervous. The memory of my previous attack was still fresh in my mind. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so lucky again. This time I’d be putting up a fight on my own.
As he looked into my eyes, surveying his prey, I tried to assess the opposition. He looked like a man, if you considered that he met the basic criteria of two arms, two legs and one head. But there was something wrong with him – his face, the way he moved. His skin looked clammy, like clingfilmed pastry dough left too long in the fridge, and his hair was limp and dirty, proving a hideous frame for his grotesque features.
“HUNGRY”, the words spat from his lips like entitlement.
The words dripped from his mouth, like the fine threads of blood and spittle that joined his rows of teeth. His head moved from side to side as he looked me up and down, moving awkwardly and disjointedly across the floor. He was getting close; I’d have to do something. Think Sophie, think. Do something!!!!
I took a step forward, back through the archway. As I crossed the low wooden plinth separating the two rooms my hand slid down into one of the open packing boxes which were tucked just behind the entrance. Dropping my hand a few inches into the assortment of magazines and bric-a -brac, I wrapped my fingers around something cold and metallic.
The words rattled in his mouth, still half full with blood and guts. He shifted his weight, crouched like an animal on his haunches and I could see he was ready to pounce. Do it now! Do it now! With nothing but the sound of my own pulse beating in my ear, I pulled my arm out of the box and swung it back behind my head. Swiftly, I propelled it forward.
“Fuck you!” I screamed, as the aluminum baseball bat made contact with the things head. It sounded like a water melon being dropped onto a hard standing.
The creature dropped to the floor. It didn’t even scream. There was a faint hint at a gurgle but that was it. I guess it’s hard to protest when half your jaw is crushed. From behind the mess that was formally his face, I discerned a look of genuine surprise, but it only registered with me for a moment. I brought the baseball bat down again and again. When my arm ached too much to keep swinging, I dropped the bat on the floor and leaned against the kitchen cupboards. The lino had dead rat and dead ‘thing’ all over it. It had been a frenzied few minutes and I’m not sure I was paying that much attention to what was going on, I just knew that I had to protect myself.
As I tried to compose myself, I heard the patter of tiny feet that signaled that Charlie had decided to come home. He leapt through the improvised cat flap made by our intruder and said hello by weaving himself in and out of my legs. He eventually stopped to sniff my blood soaked pyjamas and then hissed at the squishy mound of tissue taking up most of the kitchen floor.
“I know Charlie; I bloody well hate vampires too. Dirty bastards”.
He then sauntered nonchalantly over to his cat dish and took a few small sips of water before proceeding to wash his feet with his tongue. They were pink from splashing through the blood puddles.
When he had finished, I picked him up and carried him up the stairs to bed. We would both benefit from an extra few hours’ sleep. After all, tomorrow was going to be a busy day. I’d have to clean the kitchen, replace the carpet in the breakfast room and fix the kitchen door. But for now, it was time to just get some sleep. After all, melon head wasn’t going anywhere.