I awakened with a jolt, my heart racing but my lids heavy. The glowing display of my alarm clock informed me it was four a.m. Had the noise been real, or had I been dreaming? My brain fired up and I took in my surroundings. I had spent two months living with my mother in my childhood home following my sudden relocation back to South Wales. I’d only moved into my own place a few days earlier and was disorientated. Bed, furniture, dressing gown draped over a chair- all mine, definitely my bedroom, no one else in the room with me, all good. So what the hell was that noise?
My anxiety levels were sky high. It had been a terrible year, one brimming with violence and death. I couldn’t take another emotional or physical beating; I hoped my imagination was playing tricks on me. Please don’t let this be anything more than a dream, I prayed.
I tentatively reached across the nightstand to flick on the lamp, but quickly retracted my hand. What if there is someone in the house? There could be someone downstairs. You don’t want to let them know you’re up here. Think Sophie, is that what woke you up, could that have caused the noise you heard – was it a bang, something smashing? It might be better to err on the side of caution. Take a breath, think before you do anything.
Slipping my legs from under the duvet, I padded over to the window and quietly pulled the cord to lift the blind. It was dark outside. Dawn wouldn’t surface for several hours, but the street lamp at the bottom of the garden afforded me a little light. The town council switched them on early during the winter months.
Everything outside looked peaceful. The garden gate path knocked rhythmically against its post in the cold January wind. I must have failed to close it properly.
Another noise. Was it a noise? Did I actually hear something? Yep, definitely coming from downstairs. Blood whooshed through my ears as my heart began pumping adrenaline through my body. Someone else was in my house. Oh my God, no, not here. How could he have found me? Why now? I’ve been moving on. I didn’t even tell.
My body froze in panic, but something deep in my gut forced my brain into action. There was no way I was going to give in after I had battled for so long and so hard to stay alive, to survive. Nobody was going to rob me of that or anything else for that matter. I quickly assessed my options, but they didn’t add up to much.
I could hide out in my room and hope that the intruder would go of their own accord. Perhaps they’d just be an ordinary burglar – they’d be in and out. They would take my purse, mobile phone and keys which I’d left in the kitchen and escape, but I could replace things. At least I’d be alive and unharmed.
However, what if I just stayed put and they came upstairs, perhaps looking for things of higher value? Based on my experience, it was more likely that it was some sicko who would then have me penned in. I’d have no escape and be at their mercy. I wasn’t ever going to let that happen to me again.
Thoughts machine-gunned their way through my brain, but I decided to come down on the side of braving it, going downstairs and confronting my intruder. Maybe, I’d be lucky and it would just be a petty thief, more scared of me than I of him. But, on the other hand, perhaps it was him. If so, I was probably dead already, may as well get it over with.
I took a deep breath. Nerve endings tingled with an overwhelming fear of what may befall me. The sensation was coupled with a surprising feeling of annoyance, an anger that someone felt it was okay to come into my home to try and take my things or hurt me. My nightmare was meant to be over. I was attempting to make a fresh start.
My endocrine system was overloaded with adrenaline, but I knew I had to form a plan. It was a given that I’d be going downstairs to investigate and I’d just have to deal with what was down there when I got there. First of all, I had to be prepared. I needed protection.
I scanned the room for some form of improvised weapon. If I did find that there was someone downstairs, it would not be a bad idea to at least look threatening. That could be enough to frighten them off, and if there was nobody there, I had nobody to feel embarrassed in front of.
The portable TV aerial looked too flimsy, my bedside lamp too lightweight. There wasn’t anything that looked like it could make a good cudgel or stabbing tool. I wished that I could find the aluminium souvenir baseball bat that I’d bought on holiday in America a few years earlier. It wasn’t heavy, but if I used enough force and swung it hard, I was sure it could do some damage. I’d yet to unpack all my packing boxes, few that they were. It would be hiding in there somewhere. If I survived, I vowed, I’d keep it next to my bed.
I’d have to just go downstairs and assess the situation from there. Maybe there’d be nobody down there after all.
There wouldn’t be time to dress; my pyjamas would have to do. 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 sleepwear. To retain the advantage, I’d have to be quiet. I left my slippers tucked under my bed.
Right then, this is it, here we go.
Taking a deep breath, I instinctively reached up to my neck and touched the fine, smooth scar nestled below my hairline. Barely noticeable, it still felt like a brand, scorched into my soul so I’d never be able to erase it. I felt it all the time. The bruises had faded, the muscles repaired, the cuts healed, but I had been altered forever.
I slid through the half open door and turned onto the landing. The doors to the second bedroom and bathroom were closed. The small, high, window at the height of the stairs allowed enough light for me to get my footing. As I looked down the steps towards the ground floor below, I felt increasingly more nervous.
Don’t be afraid Sophie, it will be okay, it’s probably nothing. Even if it’s someone, it won’t be him, it won’t be one of them, and they don’t know where to find you. You’re quite safe here.
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 archway which led from the hall to the kitchen.
Shit. Even from that distance, I could see that the back door was damaged; glass was strewn across the linoleum.
As stealthily as I could manage, I took the final step down into the hallway and steadied myself on the newel post. I don’t want to die, please God, if you are there, don’t let me die. And if I must, please make it quick.
Maybe it was the adrenaline, but everything appeared completely still and quiet, frozen in time. I wondered for a moment if my heart had stopped. I couldn’t even hear it beating. There was no going back now, I’d have to investigate.
In less than six steps, I stood in the doorway of the kitchen. There wasn’t anything lying in the debris, no rocks, no bricks, no apparent cause for the damage.
That’s when I heard a new noise, one coming from the small breakfast room adjoining the kitchen. It was a tiny room, accessible through an archway, with just enough space for a small round table and four chairs.
I felt nauseous, a million thoughts running through my brain, which didn’t seem to be doing an effective job of controlling them. What the hell is that? I squinted to 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 were building to an unbearable degree. I felt like I was going to explode, or implode, I couldn’t be sure which. I know I must have been shaking. 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 subsided 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, a primal desire to defend myself and my home took over. It urged me forward and I lifted my foot to cross the threshold into the small annex.
Before my toes had even landed on the carpet, I finally saw the outline of what was making the noise. It was big, human-sized, and human-shaped.
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 room, my intruder crouched, animal-like, behind the small rubber wood table. He looked up at me with a manic look in his eyes and pupils so dilated that he looked as if he had taken some sort of drug. 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 burst blood vessels.
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? I’ve never seen anything quite like him before! What the fuck?
He looked up again, this time without stopping his tearing and gnawing of the fleshy mess cradled in his hands.
I panicked and decided to retreat; taking 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. My car keys were on the counter unit; if I grabbed them, on my way out, I’d be assured of a fast getaway. I didn’t have much time to decide what I was going to do. If I were going to run for it, I would have to do it then. I decided to make a dash for it.
My opponent apparently 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. Charlie was my cat and he’d been out all night.
A quick look from the corner of my eye confirmed that it wasn’t. No ginger or white fur, just an empty bag of skin and matted dark hair, guts ripped out and hanging in tendrils from it. From what I could tell, it had maybe started out life as a rat or a mole. What sort of person eats a rat? Buck up Sophie, you’ve heard of worse.
I turned my eyes to meet those of the feral creature and weighed up my options. I could run, but maybe I wouldn’t make it. What if Charlie came back and the man was still here? I wouldn’t let him end up another victim.
“HUNGRY,” the words dripped from his mouth, like the fine threads of blood and spittle that joined his rows of teeth like lacework. 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 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 of 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 aluminium baseball bat made contact with the thing’s head. It sounded like a watermelon being dropped on concrete.
The creature fell to the floor. It didn’t even scream. There was a faint hint of a gurgle, but that was it. I guess it’s hard to protest when your jaw is crushed.
From behind the mess that was formerly 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 stick on the floor and leaned against the kitchen cupboards. The floor was covered with bone fragments and tissue.
As I tried to compose myself after the frenzy, I heard the patter of tiny feet, which signalled 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 hate vampires too.”
Relative Strangers is available to download from Amazon and in paperback at Amazon, Createspace and Barnes and Noble.
It is also FREE this Saturday on Amazon for Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Relative-Strangers-Modern-Vampire-Sophie-ebook/dp/B00MRAZGK0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424682559&sr=8-1&keywords=relative+strangers+helen+treharne