What happened the last night proves I am sane? I know you thought otherwise, but you’re wrong. There’s something haunting me. I dismissed the strange things, the presence, and the fleeting shadows as nothing more than the working of an overtaxed mind. The sleeping pills helped and rested, I could relax a little and think more clearly. I’ve heard nothing from the others, as they expect all is going as planned and I’ll be there tonight. This gives me some much-needed breathing space and allows me to put my plan into action. I bought a litre of whiskey from the off licence this morning and could brush aside the owner’s jokes, as he wrapped my purchase. Neil Galvin is a cheerful man, and I excused my reason for buying alcohol as a gift for an ailing friend. I’ve been tee total, and in the past, I’ve been outspoken about the demon drink. I think my explanation was accepted. I’ve become overcautious and more suspicious, though I doubt Neil took any notice of my blushing stammers.
“So, they’ve finally driven you to drink,” he laughed, referring to those I work with. “I said it would happen sooner than later.”
I heard his merriment, even after I closed the shop door. I wonder what it’s like to be normal; to have no secrets and nothing to set one aside from the rest of humanity. But I digress. Back to tonight.
I’d taken my customary sleeping pill about ten-o- clock and by eleven was feeling the effects. Making sure the alarm was set and all the windows and doors securely locked, I climbed the stairs with nothing further to burden my mind. The bedroom was warm, but I turned the heating up a notch. The nights are colder, and I enjoy my comforts. I turned the key in the door, I’ve started to do so since the nightmare of the shadowy figure. I curse my foolishness at such things but feel it rash to ignore such a safety precaution. After all, if it was a ghost, I’m sure nothing would stop it, certainly not the hollow timbers on the door. I remember smiling at the idea of some earthbound spirit intent on revenge. Now I’m not sure.
I must’ve dozed off with the heat of the room and the calming effect of the pill, I couldn’t fail to do so. Something woke me. I was not sure what it was, and I lay listening. The only sound came from the ticking clock beside my bed. I looked towards its luminous dial to find only an hour had passed. It was after midnight. I couldn’t settle down and after much tossing and turning, decided to make a milky drink. If it didn’t work, I’d take another pill. I hadn’t thought about the boy all day, and as I pulled on my robe, his face flashed before my eyes. It’s natural as the time was upon us. I shrugged aside the image and went out on the landing. Flicking the wall switch, I saw the bulb in the hall below had blown and the glow from the landing did little to light my way. The shadows at the bottom of the stairs were darker than I remembered, and I climbed down into their inky blackness with growing trepidation. I admit my hand was trembling as I turned the handle on the sitting room door and felt along the wall for the switch. The bulb here had also blown, and I stumbled around in the dark trying to locate a lamp. Cursing under my breath, as I knocked my knee against the coffee table, I felt my way like a blind man. The smooth polished surface of the sideboard met my fingers and I knew the lamp was within reach. The cord hanging beneath the shade knocked against the back of my hand and I reached out grateful for its touch. Soon the comforting glow would dispel the gloom and I’d get myself together. But before I could pull it, I heard something close by. Why didn’t I turn the lamp on? I’ve asked myself this a thousand times. The next few minutes played out like some horror movie; I know now I could not have pulled the cord as my fingers refused to obey the commands of my tortured brain. I smelt it before I heard it. The hairs stood on the back of my neck, that’s not a cliché, you know. It happens. I waited, listening in the dark. Something brushed by me, something soft, fluid, boneless, but nevertheless real. I think I cried out; I know my stomach retched at the slight breeze passing my face. It smelt of rotten meat.
“Who’s there?” I called.
There were sounds within the room. They circled the air and I strained to hear the evil whispers. They sounded far away and indistinct, as though someone was speaking under water, but I caught some of the words. They spoke of revenge and promised terrible suffering to those who offended it. The words were those of a madwoman, I’m sure it was a woman, and I was sobbing at the images she conjured. Fingers clutched at my neck; I felt the bones digging into my skin. The nails felt jagged and cut into my flesh. I felt myself sinking and unknown to me I was still clutching the cord. As I fell beneath the weight of the onslaught, I pulled the cord and the room blazed into light.
There was nothing there.
No demon or spirit stood waiting and the pressure disappeared from my throat. Using the sideboard for support, I stood and waited for the pounding in my heart to subside. I could’ve dismissed this as another of my nightmares, but for one thing. When I looked into the mirror my skin showed the dark bruising left behind by the fingers of my attacker. Pulling aside the collar of my pyjama top, I saw the skin was broken in places. My fingers were covered not only in blood, but a brown, dry substance smelling of earth. I saw reflected the door to my office was open. I know I locked it before going to bed and I swear I heard my teeth chattering as I approached the darkness. The light here flicked to life, but to my dismay the safe in which I keep this diary and my collection of pills was torn open. I say torn, as there’s no other word to describe the condition of the metal. The silver handle was wrenched up, snapping the stout bolts holding the door in place. This diary lay open on the floor as though someone was reading it. The pages were marked with the same earth as my neck and whoever discovers the book must understand the marks are not my work. Neither are they the work of anything mortal. Before I searched the contents of the safe, I went from room to room to make sure there wasn’t a door or window jimmied open. Common sense told me the alarm would’ve gone off had an intruder tried to gain entry, but I had to make sure. To my horror I saw it wasn’t sweat sticking the clothes to my body, but I’d wet myself. This gave me reason to recall the time in the woods at Erebus and the first murder. After changing out of my wet pants, I went back downstairs to survey the damage in my office. Little time elapsed since my encounter with whatever it was invaded my home, and the night outside was dark as ever. I knew whatever presence was there had gone, and while I still trembled as I resumed the search of the office. I wasn’t as terrified as before. The letters to Christy and Freddy remained untouched, but to my horror, the bag containing the collection of sleeping pills was gone. I looked behind my desk and the chairs dotting the room, hoping in its haste the searcher threw this aside, but it wasn’t there. The realisation made me sick, and I’d to sit my knees shook so much. The bottle of whiskey I intended to use to wash down the pills sat on top of the filing cabinet, and the glow from its amber contents seemed to mock my plight. I was trapped; I felt every ounce of hope drain from my body. There was no use going to the doctor requesting a refill of the prescription as he’d mumbled about my becoming too dependent on the drug. The only other doctor I know is Freddy and while I’m sure he’d supply without question the amount of morphine I need, it meant going to the cottage. Why do these things happen? Why after all the deaths do the fates decide to strike back now? I must think, find the answer, before it’s too late. Time is running out, just 16 hours to go.
“My throat hurts,” Toby sat up in the bed and looked around for his mother.
When he realised where he was, he sank back down on the rancid pillows and waited for the flames that coursed through his body to die down. His eyes wept with infection; a hard crust coated his lashes, and it hurt when he tried to wipe it away. Even his tongue felt strange when he licked his parched lips, and despite his urgent need for water, he could not get his legs to move. The fridge seemed miles away and he no longer had the strength to get out of bed.
“Mam,” he croaked again, believing in his fevered condition the word alone would bring her running to his side.
But there was no soothing hand to stroke his hair and no soft words to still the pounding of his aching heart. His cries of pain and terror were particularly piteous and the gentle ghosts that surrounded his bed, cried along with him.
“Hold his head up.” He was hoisted up and a water bottle pressed against his lips. “Drink, Toby,” Rachael ordered, tilting the bottle higher.
Most of it dribbled down his chest, and despite the soreness of his throat, he gulped at the life-saving liquid.
“Better?” She asked when he had drunk his fill.
The air in front of him shimmered like a heat haze and he couldn’t quite make out where she stood, but he nodded to one of the moving shapes within the mist.
“I think you must have the flu or something.” He felt her sit on the bed beside him.
“Poor Toby,” a hand belonging to one of the boys, stroked his arm.
“He’s very sick,” Rachael whispered, but Toby was beyond hearing as he had drifted off to sleep.
The stench from the portable toilet now vied with those of the damp and mould. His stomach, unused to the onslaught of so many fizzy drinks and sweets, had rebelled, and he was forced to use the toilet several times. With no proper washing facilities, the hands that touched what remained of the food, were dirty and riddled with germs. The stale air within the cellar was a breeding ground for bacteria and a child such as Toby was bound to suffer the effects.
Rachael, who had become a mother to all the boys, paced the room, darting fearful glances towards the bed. Toby tossed and turned, trying to fight his way free of the fever’s hold, and she bit down on her lip as she watched the struggle.
“Will he be all right?” Raymond whispered.
“If we get him to drink more water, he might,” Rachael said. “That’s what my Mam always made me do when I had the flu, drink loads of stuff.”
“There’s only one more bottle of water left,” Paul opened the fridge and peeped inside. “Will that be enough?”
“I don’t know,” Rachael sighed. “This one is almost empty.”
The boys looked at the bottle she held, each thinking the same thing. It wasn’t a lot, not when Toby was so sick.
“What if he dies?” Paul asked.
“Oh, he won’t die,” Rachael threw her eyes up to the heavens. “No one dies from the flu.”
“But if he does,” Paul persisted.
“Maybe it would be better,” though Raymond’s voice was low, the words seemed to echo in the quiet of the room.
“What do you mean?” Rachael gasped. “That’s a wicked thing to say.”
“Well,” Raymond brushed a cold hand along Toby’s sweat-soaked forehead. “If he dies like this, then the bad men won’t be able to hurt him.”
No one spoke as they took time to digest this. They knew what lay in store for the boy and each one was thinking the same thing, perhaps this way was the kindest.
“No,” Rachael unscrewed the top of the water bottle. “We have to make him better.”
“But what about the bad men?” Raymond asked.
“My mother is coming to get me,” Rachel motioned at Paul to lift Toby up. “She’ll save Toby.”
“Oh, you’re always saying that,” Raymond huffed. “And she never comes.”
“She’s coming this time and she’s going to take us all out of here,” Rachael promised. “I just know it.”
They watched as Toby drank, all willing him to get better. They were tired of the cold and dark, tired of wandering in twilight. Though the stench of the room was beyond them, Rachael looked fearfully towards the overflowing toilet and knew this was making Toby sick. Being seven years old she knew a bit about germs and other stuff, and this little knowledge was enough. She felt in her heart what she had said was true. Her mother was coming to get her. Though she wished it countless times before, something deep down inside told her that her mother was coming closer by the day.