Monstrous

I’m broken. Damaged beyond repair. That’s what they’ve told me. The care workers, the mental health team, the police. They come here to look at me with their narrowed, suspicious eyes and to jabber condescendingly over me when I try to talk. To them I’m done, useless, an effort too much to mend.

With no wife, children or siblings I’m just a broken nobody that society must tolerate.

I suppose at 68 I should be glad I’m still alive, if you can call this living. To all intents and purposes I’m housebound: arthritis cripples my joints; and years of smoking makes each breath a painful effort.

I live in a constant state of fear. Afraid of what is outside. No, afraid of who is outside. Never sure if I’m going to be shouted at, spat at or tumbled into the gutter by some of those monsters outside. Not that I get out much now anyhow.

I hear them at night, you know. Sitting on my garden wall, drinking and spewing foul language. Scribbling abuse on my property. They are vile. Their taunts and threats thrum in my ears each night as I toss and turn in my sweat soaked bed.

Care workers come in to annoy me three times every day. Well, they’re called “care workers” but I think the only thing they care about is getting out of my company as quickly as possible. They are young and they are foreign. I’ve given up trying to talk to them – they just roll their eyes and mutter their foreign gobbledegook under their breath. A firing squad would be friendlier.

They pull me from my bed in the morning, wash me with a sponge soaked in freezing cold water, and tug a razor randomly over my cheeks and chin. They are rough and abrupt and leave my skin red and raw.

They dress me in clothes that don’t match, and plonk me in my armchair in the living room with a plate of dry toast and a mug of tepid coffee drowned with too much milk.

At lunchtime they return, shouting “Hello Richard”, as they bustle about my kitchen and make me a sandwich. Cheese. Or maybe ham. Never both together. No sauce, mayonnaise or pickle. No variety. No thought to ask what I’d like. That would squander some of their precious time. It might mean they have to actually start caring about me.

They creep back at night, any time between eight and midnight. They drag me from my television programme, tug off my clothes, heave me onto my bed and turn off the lights. Sometimes I can hear them in the kitchen afterwards: the click of the kettle, the clacking of a spoon swirling coffee, and the rustle of wrappers as they devour all my chocolate biscuits. I lie there, seething in shadows, listening to the monsters outside.

The only joy in my day is sitting in my armchair looking out of my front window, watching the hustle and bustle of life outside. During the day it is a busy, happy street: kids playing, women gossiping, men jabbering away on their mobile phones. I watch,unseen, from behind my net curtains, feeling like an exotic bird trapped in a dirty, filthy cage, my wings clipped and my song no longer melodic.

Sometimes, on one of my good days, I’ll slide to the edge of my armchair and slowly hoist myself to my feet. My joints protest noisily and my lungs burn in protest as I grab hold of the metal walking frame and stand there like a mountaineer teetering on the summit of Everest.

Then, if I take my time, and if my muscles don’t give up on me, I can slowly stagger to my bookshelves. That’s where my guilty pleasure lies. Nestled amongst the old hardback novels and encyclopaedias: my precious photograph albums. The pictures may be fading now – just like me – but flicking through their pages still brings me a pleasure that is indescribable.

But sometimes even that is too much effort. I fell once: the album skittered across the floor, as my old bones tumbled to the carpet. I lay there for six hours, cold and alone and afraid of what they would do once they found me.

Thankfully it was Nonza who found me that day. She was new and, of all my carers, she was the only one with a softness in her eyes. She hoisted me back to my feet, and supported me as I shuffled back to my chair. She scooped up the album, flicked through it, and smiled kindly as she said I had lovely grandchildren. She made me a hot coffee, and left me the whole packet of chocolate biscuits, whilst she busied herself with the hoover. But she never came again after that day. The good ones never return, once they find out.

Outside, last night, the monsters raged more than usual. Their vile taunts rent the night air, and their shadows slashed cruelly across my bedroom curtains. I pulled the blankets over my head and burrowed deep into the darkness there, soon the pounding of my heart in my ears drowned out the ruckus from outside.

This morning the carers blanked me. Their faces hard, their eyes dead, and their nails sharp and painful. They twisted and tugged me into my clothes, dropped me wordlessly into my armchair, and slammed the door shut like a coffin lid.

I shuffle my way to the window, and stand there immobile, just far enough from the thick net curtains so that I can’t be seen.

I don’t look at the shards of broken glass on my path, or the half drunk cans of cider still spewing their contents on the ground. I don’t look at the misspelt graffiti sprayed on my wall, or the broken eggs still trickling down my front door. Nor do I see the excrement smeared down my living room window.

No.

I see only her.

The little girl in the garden across the street.

She bounces higher and higher on her trampoline. Hair flowing, her skirt swirling, exposing the delicate white skin of her thighs.

I lick my lips, and I smile.

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Dark Business 

The Dark Web. It has always intrigued me: the rotting underbelly that lurks just beneath those welcoming Facebook posts or the comforting arms of Tinder. The whirligig of social media inanely spins with constant “likes” and “shares”, whilst the Dark Web slithers and thrums, hidden from view, but spawning new levels of depravity and altogether more perverse types of liking and sharing.

I still remember where I first heard about the Dark Web. It was an overheard conversation between two male nurses at St. James’ Hospital when I was attending my regular chemo sessions. They were huddled around a mobile phone, salivating over some revenge porn of another nurse: giggling at her small breasts and unkempt overgrowth of pubic hair, saving and forwarding on the links so others could continue to eke away at the young girl’s dignity. 

“You just have to download Tor mate, and the Dark Web will keep you busy whatever your tastes. However kinky.”

Dark Web. Tor. Those two grappling hooks snagged in my brain, and whilst the nurses drip fed me the bag of poisoned goodness that was slowing down my stage four bowel cancer I thought about possibilities. 
For the first time in many years I found I was looking forward, excitedly, to my future.

When I got home that night, Lynda had already cooked dinner, and was getting ready to start her shift at the local ‘pub.
Spag Bol yet again, for Christ’s sake. I moved to give her a kiss, but she pulled away. Instead she ruffled my hair as if I were a pet poodle, and asked how my session had gone. I muttered a few sentences which she barely listened to: more interested in pimping her eyelashes and applying her mascara. She liberally sprayed herself with Poison, which I found to be ironic given the circumstances.

Then, in a perfumed swirl of cleavage and thigh, she was gone.
I sighed.

Glad to be alone.

The cancer was eating away not just at my body, but also at my ten year marriage. It had seeped and gobbled its way through my life: turning love into pity, souring memories and making me feel so very inadequate. 

Making Lynda look elsewhere?

I felt nauseous. Maybe it was the reek of her perfume, or maybe the side effects of that afternoon’s chemo – but either way the spaghetti bolognese ended up a congealed mass at the bottom of our kitchen bin.

I gulped down a glass of cold tap water, its icy taste making memories burst back into life.

Tor. 

Dark Web. 

Tor.

Like a fool I reached for my laptop.

And I let the Dark Web ensnare me.

****

The Tor Browser Bundle was surprising easy to locate, download and install. Within a few minutes I was up and running, my laptop’s IP address bouncing randomly between distributed servers across the world so that my web access couldn’t be traced back to me.

For the next few days I fed feverishly on everything I could find. 

Revenge pornography was only the start; I dipped my toe in the stagnant cesspool of child porn and snuff movies and I felt queasy to the core. I cruised dating sites where prostitutes offered every kink imaginable and where others could pay to view my sordid sex session and humiliation.

But I went deeper.

Darker?

Bulletin boards where anonymous keyboard warriors offered instructions for manufacturing crystal meth or ricin or nitroglycerin.

For five more days my fingers clattered on the keyboard, searching and following hyperlinks whilst Lynda was working evenings. 

During the day I sulked and ignored her. She would attempt to cajole me into changing my clothes, or having a shave, or eating something more nutritious than toast. I shamefully used my cancer as an excuse, feigning weakness and pain, snapping at her and counting the minutes until she would leave me alone with my dark mistress again.
On that fifth day, I finally found what I was looking for. 
In a little corner of depravity, a bulletin board labelled simply, 

“Assassin for hire.”

I bookmarked it.
****

 I couldn’t bring myself to click on the link that night.

Or the next. 

The very act of highlighting that link with a mouse, and accessing it seemed somehow like a point of no return. 

During the third day I moped around the house, even moodier than usual. The pain in my guts and the blood in the toilet just made my mood even fouler. But the real pain was in my head: cogs turning and grinding as I tried to think of consequences.

Lynda seemed oblivious: she chittered away condescendingly as if I were an infant; she cooked food I wasn’t able to stomach; and she wore skimpy outfits that no one but me should be enjoying. She disguised the stench of her infidelity in clouds of perfume and flurries of fancy French knickers.

That night when she left I was seething. My fingers pounded the keyboard like they were tenderising raw steak. I returned to the bookmarked site and added a new message:

“So, how does this work?”

I sat there for four hours, pressing F5 to refresh the browser, but there was no response. Soon my head ached, and the blinking white cursor on my post had etched an image onto my aching retinas. 

I heard Lynda’s key in the front door and closed the laptop, sending it into sleep mode. I too feigned sleep, stretching on the sofa, letting my head loll and deepening my breathing.
I smelt the sour stench of alcohol as she approached me. She kissed me lightly on the forehead and gently covered me with the throw from the back of the sofa. I drifted off, serenaded by the rhythmic tapping of her false nails typing lies into her iPhone.

Soon my sleep was real, and deep, and dark.

****
It wasn’t until the next day when Lynda had gone out shopping that I next sneaked a look at the laptop.

I logged onto the bookmarked bulletin board, and found a reply waiting for me. 

I excitedly clicked on it. The note was strangely formal and business-like:

“Thank you for your interest in the services I provide. I assure – and expect – absolute discretion at all times.

“If you are interested in hiring me please purchase a Pay As You Go mobile phone (using cash so that it cannot be linked back to you). 

“Text me on the following number and we can make arrangements to tailor my services to your specific requirements.

“The cost of my standard package is £9,000. This price is non-negotiable. Please do not waste my time or yours if this price is not acceptable.”

It then listed an eleven digit mobile number.

“This mobile number will only be used for the sending and receiving of text messages related to your specific job. 

“Voice calls will NOT be answered.

“This mobile number will be disconnected after our transaction is completed, or should I not hear from you again within 24 hours

“Best Regards,

“Jack.”

****

Lynda was surprised to see me washed, shaved and showered when she arrived home from the shops. It had been nearly a week since I’d worn anything than my threadbare blue dressing gown, and a pair of thick black socks.

 
“I prefer you with no stubble, and fresh breath,” she said as she enveloped my frail, bony body in a warm hug and kissed me on the lips. 

“You off out Kyle?”

“Yep, meeting my brother for coffee and a catch up,” I knew she didn’t like David, so hopefully my deceit would prevent her tagging along, “I shouldn’t be too long.”

****

The walk to Tesco should have taken ten minutes. Instead it took nearly an hour. I was like a wind up toy whose internal springs and cogs had lost their tightness. 

Putting one foot in front of another was an effort; just staying upright was an effort; resisting the stomach cramps was an effort; swallowing the constant bile in my throat was an effort. Some people proclaim they will “fight cancer”, yet I barely had enough energy to slap mine in the face with a wet towel.

Still, I triumphantly made it to the supermarket and bought the cheapest PAYG mobile I could find. I thrust a fistful of notes at the cashier and, feeling the guilt flushing my face red, I scurried away as fast as my decrepit, cancer-ridden body would let me. Which, believe me, wasn’t very fast.
***

It is handy having a wife that works nights, as it makes planning a cold-blooded killing so much easier.
That evening I charged up the PAYG mobile, registered it with a false email address, inserted the SIM card, and applied the top-up to it that I’d also bought earlier.
I then texted Jack. He was surprisingly quick to respond. 

Again, the exchange was perfunctory and businesslike. He sent me bank account details and asked me to transfer £50 to him as a holding deposit. There was to be no further communication until he received this.
I used internet banking on my laptop to set up a new payee with his account details and dutifully transferred the £50. I chuckled as I named this new payee “Anniversary Surprise”. I had more than enough money in my personal account to cover Jack’s fees as one of my life insurance policies had recently paid out following my terminal diagnosis.

It was now just a matter of waiting for Jack to confirm receipt of the deposit so I placed the mobile on silent and tucked it deep under my side of the mattress.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Like Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” I was sure I could hear the phone vibrating and thrumming my guilt for the whole world to hear. 

****

For the next two days I carried the phone with me everywhere, secreted in my dressing gown pocket beneath copious tissues. 

Like a mistress I took it out when I could, gazed rapturously into its screen, and fondled its buttons: checking and rechecking my message inbox in delicious anticipation.

Lynda and I were eating bowls of hot chilli in front of the television when I felt the vibration of a text message arriving. I spluttered milk everywhere, peering at her guiltily, sure she would have heard or noticed something, but no, she simply carried on watching “The Chase” oblivious.

I feigned stomach cramps so I could rush to the toilet and check the phone.

“Thank you for your deposit,” said the message, “the bank will now use Fast Payments for future transactions so they will be near instantaneous.

Where would you like the event to occur?”

I sat on the toilet, for once not thinking of bowel movements, bloating or blood soaked underwear. For once I was sweating and shaking with adrenaline rather than cancer.

“3, Tottington Lane, Leeds,” I replied, helpfully adding the postcode so that Jack could find the address.
“When?” came the reply, almost instantaneously.

“Tomorrow evening?” I typed, desperately trying to remember Lynda’s work rota.

“I’ll be in touch tomorrow at 7pm. Be ready to transfer money and send me picture of the person of interest.”

****

At 6:00 pm this evening, Lynda and I sat down for our last meal together. It was Spaghetti Bolognese again. I played with its long strands, too excited to swallow anything.

At 6:30 pm this evening Lynda got ready for her shift at the ‘pub. She squeezed herself into a slinky red dress, her long auburn hair a tumble of curls just framing the top of her breasts. She expertly applied mascara and lipstick, her face beaming at the prospect of a busy shift at work and earning lots of tips.

At 6:45 pm this evening I surprised Lynda by asking if I could take a photograph of her. She smiled, delighted that I was finally taking an interest in her. She pouted and flashed flesh as I took a photo with my iPhone.

At 7:00 pm this evening Lynda left the flat, and the phone secreted in my dressing gown pocket vibrated it’s little dance of death.

“If you still wish to proceed, transfer the balance of my fee.”

At 7:10 pm this evening I powered off my laptop after making a payment of £8950 to my “Anniversary Surprise” payee.

At 7:32 pm this evening I received a message: “Payment received. Please send photograph of individual concerned.”

So, now, I’d reached it: that point of no return.

I thought of spaghetti, of Poison, of all those times she’d held me whilst my diseased body sweated and convulsed with pain. I thought of those nights she sat up googling my symptoms – her long fingernails tap dancing on her phone. I thought of those long shifts she did at the ‘pub, letting drunkards ogle and leer at her just to help make ends meet. I thought of all those times I’d punished her, snapped at her, accused her of cheating just because I was so frustrated at no longer being able to play the role I wanted to in her life.

And I thought of those other life insurance policies that would only pay out when I had died.

There really was no point to return to.

I took out my secret mobile phone. 

I ruffled my messy hair back into shape, and tried to rearrange my face into a smile.

At 7:48 pm this evening I took a selfie and sent it to Jack.
I poured myself a glass of wine, stuffed my earbuds in, and cranked the volume up full.

****

At 11:34pm this evening a house in Leeds lies still and quiet. The front door is askew, having been kicked from its hinges. 

Inside, lights blaze, and the tinny noise of music being played through headphones can be heard.

A brown leather sofa sits on dusty laminate flooring. Under the sofa, and just inches away from a slowly spreading pool of blood, lies a discarded mobile phone.

It vibrates and judders a little death jig as a text message is received.

“Business completed.”

And in that blackness under the sofa, perhaps disturbed by the vibrating phone, a spider stirs and spins its web darkly.

Last Christmas

Often at this time of year you’ll find me sitting outside a busy coffee shop. I’ll absentmindedly stir sugar into my foaming latte, and then hug the coffee cup tightly in both hands to absorb its warmth. I’ll hear the Christmas carols playing over the loudspeakers, and the excited shouts of children dragging their tired parents to different department stores. My eyes will scan the shop fronts – their windows ablaze with lights and bedecked with glittering baubles and enticing offers. Sometimes I’ll glance at the huge outdoor Christmas tree standing proud and invincible against the biting wind. 

I’ll raise the mug slowly to my lips, and down a slug of the hot, comforting liquid. 

Sometimes I’ll see you sitting there opposite me, snugly swathed in your favourite red coat and the long woolen scarf you knitted that Christmas. The corners of your eyes crinkle as a smile slowly plays across your gorgeous face, and your gloved hand seductively stretches across the table to find mine. 

But I have to look away, as bittersweet memories of you always sting my eyes and roll down my cheeks. Instead I look into the hoards of passers-by and my eyes wander amongst the crowds there: the old couple, walking lovingly hand-in-hand; the young woman giggling and chatting animatedly on her phone; the business man in his smart suit striding adroitly though the crowds; and the busker strumming his guitar his eyes closed as his music transports him elsewhere. 
My eyes search desperately, flitting from person to person. 
If I sit here long enough I know I’ll eventually find it. 

A sign – maybe just a glimpse – of those last wondrous Christmas presents you gave.

***

Ah, Christmas. I’d first met Alice twelve years ago, on a very snowy Christmas Eve. I had gone to the ‘Horse and Hounds’ pub after work, and was standing by myself at the main bar. She squeezed through the crowds and slipped into the space at the bar beside me. She smiled and apologised for shaking snow from her coat all over me. I smiled back and we started to chat. Soon all thoughts of snow and Christmas were forgotten as we talked and smiled and laughed our way through to Christmas morning. I walked her to the taxi rank as the sun was rising, and the kiss we shared before she left warmed me to the core and melted my heart. As the taxi drove off she drew a heart on the steamed up taxi window, and grinned at me through it. I giggled like a child, raised my eyes heavenwards and thanked God for bringing some love back into my dreary, lonely life. 

That night was the start of twelve years of happiness and togetherness. It was also the start of our Christmas tradition – each Christmas Eve we would venture into town and treat ourselves to a slap up meal somewhere. We would then meander from pub to pub until the small hours of Christmas morning. In the taxi on the way home we’d snuggle together, looking out of the steamed-up window and joking that we could see Santa flying through the night sky. Then we would get home and rip open all the presents under our Christmas Tree, before finally tumbling into bed just as the rest of the world was waking and thinking about going to Church or putting the turkey into the oven.

And then there was last Christmas. 

Our last Christmas. 

A night that has been indelibly tattooed on my heart using needles so sharp and ragged that the pain may never subside.

We had just stepped out of our favourite Thai restaurant, we were hand-in-hand and warm and happy from the good food and the bottle of red wine that we had just shared. The night was frosty, the dark sky peppered with twinkling stars. Our breath clouds and blooms as we laugh and try to decide which pub we should go to next. I let go her hand so that she can fasten her long red coat and drape her handbag over her shoulder. I glance across at her and smile, my heart busting with love for her.

And then she stumbles, as her feet slip on the thick hoar frost on the pavement. Her arms flail and she reaches out to grab me, missing by just a breath. Her ankle twists beneath her and she slips off the high kerb, tumbling out into the road. I scream her name in horror as the taxi hits her, its horn blares and its brakes screech like a banshee. She is tossed and then flung like a broken ballerina before hitting the road with a sickening thud. I run to her, but she is motionless. I cradle her in my arms, and I cocoon myself in grief as my world shatters around me.

What happened next is just series of jumbled jigsaw pieces. I remember the blue ambulance lights strobing across the night sky. I remember the taxi driver’s distraught face as a policewoman questions him. I remember someone dragging me off Alice as the paramedics crowd over her in their day-glo jackets. I remember church bells heralding midnight, and elsewhere the sound of drunken happiness. I remember the stretcher, and the sheet. The pristine white sheet that they draped over her body. And I will always remember the look of pity in their eyes as they pulled that sheet over her head to shroud her dead body.
The contents of her handbag have scattered all over the road. Keys and coins twinkle feebly against the black tarmac. Her mobile phone is cracked and broken, her pink notebook flaps its pages desolately in the cold wind. Her purse and credit cards lie stained in the pool of her blood. The policewoman respectfully gathers up these last remnants of Alice’s life. I see her peer intently at the pile of credit cards. She reads one intently before taking it to the paramedics. They have found Alice’s Organ Donor Card. 

***

I finish my coffee, and the last bitter dregs burn my throat. I place some money under my saucer, and wave at the waitress who is sitting indoors in the warmth. I button up my coat against the cold wind, and drape the woolen hand-knitted scarf tightly around my neck.

I glance into the crowd once more. It is now busier, a swirling heaving jumble of people.

 Yet amongst the hustle and bustle there is a still point.

I see her there.

A young blonde girl, wearing a thick red coat.

She is in a wheelchair, her parents slowly pushing her across the busy pedestrian area. 

For a fleeting second her eyes meet mine, they crinkle in the corners as a smile lights up her gorgeous young face.

The crowd closes around her again and she is lost to me forever.

Tears stream down my face and I look gratefully to the heavens. 
I breathe a silent prayer to you there.

My burden is eased. 

My beautiful, generous, thoughtful Alice. Our last Christmas together will always be hard for me to bear. 

But now I know that those last presents you gave will have eased the burden on so many others. 

Your final precious gifts of life. 

In Shadows Lurking – Part One.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, wasting time scribbling this madness down for all to see. My mind is fogged through lack of sleep and my brain addled with guilt. I’ve lain awake these past few weeks turning and tangling in my sodden sheets, afraid to shut my eyes, afraid that sleep will take me, and afraid that my nightmares will then manifest. 

And still I see him everywhere, in shadows lurking.

I watch my words scrawling across this page, my pen scraping and cavorting as if possessed. My synapsis are sparking and misfiring and my brain is spewing information too quickly for me to commit to this paper. Soon the virgin white sheet is violated with ink, smudged with sweat and splattered with their blood.

I need to slow down, to take control again, and to make some sense of this mess.

I need to tell you how it started.

I need tell you of the night he came.

***

Emrick Wynn. Even his name has an aura of glamour about it. I first heard that name at my Jane’s funeral – ten years ago now – but I can’t remember who mentioned it, or in what context. I do remember it being whispered, in hushed secretive tones. I do remember someone saying Emrick Wynn could have helped. Emrick Wynn could have cured her. Emrick Wynn could have saved her. And I remember thinking, what use was a saviour to me on the day of my dear wife’s funeral? But that one mention was enough, the name lodged itself in my mind, like a grappling iron snagging itself permanently in my subconscious.

The merry-go-round of life spins steadily on. Jane’s passing left me devastated, but with two young kids to look after I had little time to grieve. Besides, when could I find time to cry? When I was reading Kerry her bedtime story and tucking her up safely in her bed? When I was teaching Billy to tie his shoelaces? When I was making their packed lunches? Patching grazed knees? Sewing buttons onto shirts? Mending Kerry’s heart when she was dumped by her boyfriend? Or when I was trudging from door to door selling cleaning products so that I could make enough money to pay that month’s mortgage? No, there was no time for tears or feeling sorry for myself. I put the kids first. It’s what Jane would have wanted. 

But I did cry when Kerry was diagnosed.

Ah, Kerry, my beautiful brave daughter. It was two years ago when she first started to have the seizures. She’d been helping Billy and I do the dishes, and suddenly collapsed to the floor in a shower of broken china. Her whole body jerked and convulsed, her head smacked repeatedly on the hard slate floor. I cradled her in my arms until the spasm subsided, whilst Billy phoned for an ambulance.

She fitted again on the way to the hospital, juddering on the trolley in the ambulance as Billy and I looked on helplessly. The paramedics moved around her in a well-choreographed dance involving drips and cannulas as the siren and flashing blue lights surged us onwards.

Epilepsy, I thought, thinking that was as bad as it would get.

Little did I know.

Over the next day and night the National Health Service embraced us in a whirligig of doctors, nurses, blood tests, scans and biopsies. When the doctor walked towards me with his sad eyes and his practiced emotionless face, my hopes dropped. When he announced that Kerry had an inoperable brain tumour my heart broke and I wailed and cried as if he had punched me deep in the guts.

He told me she had a year, maybe two. During which time they would poison her little body with radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy to try to stop the tumour from spreading further.  

That was two years ago. Two years during which I watched helplessly as my daughter waned and became a shadow of her former self. Her beautiful blonde hair was all gone, her face was jaundiced and sallow, and her eyes had lost their spark. Each night I carry her to bed, hugging her frail body to me as I carry her up the stairs. Her body is bony and brittle, like a bundle of kindling dressed in a flimsy nightgown.

I can feel the life seeping from her, and there is nothing I can do to save her.

And yet.

Last Monday I crawled into my bed at midnight, sure that sleep wouldn’t take me, but it did.

Sleep’s fingers caressed me, and I dreamed.

I was back at Jane’s funeral.

I was looking at her peaceful face as she lay in the open coffin.

A chill coursed up my back, and the hairs on the nape of my neck rose and tingled.

A cold, stinking breath blew against my ear as a man’s voice rasped these words:

“Emrick Wynn could help. Emrick Wynn could cure her. Emrick Wynn could save her.”

I was dragged from sleep as if someone had yanked that grappling hook loose in my subconscious.

I sat bolt upright in bed, my lungs gasping for air as I screamed his name:

Emrick Wynn.

***  

He had agreed to come here tonight, the night before Kerry’s 17th birthday.

I had cooked the kids’ favourite meal of Lasagne with garlic bread, before sending Billy to bed early telling him he could read his graphic novels for an hour before I turned out the lights. Kerry was very weak today, and barely reacted as I scooped her from the sofa in the lounge and carried her up the stairs to her bedroom. A little smile played on her face, and I hoped that maybe she was dreaming of her mother. I tucked her safely into her bed, put on the nightlight and left her door ajar so I could hear if she needed me.

Then I went downstairs to wait.

I sat in my chair and gazed out of our front window.

A full moon stared from the sky, its effulgence casting eerie shadows into the stormy night. Trees waved skeletal branches, whilst leaves swirled a melancholic dance in the growing wind. Rain sliced through the night sky, glittering like glass shards in the moonlight. Somewhere a neighbour’s gate clanged and ground on its hinges as it too was caught in the wind’s dance.

A shroud of mist materialised, a hypnotic cloud swirling and luminescent in the night sky. The mist appeared oblivious to the wind, instead it seeped and oozed towards my house. Soon I could see nothing from the window except a bleak whiteness.

There was one sharp knock at my front door.

I licked my lips nervously, and wiped my sweaty palms on the legs of my jeans. I strode to the door, took off the security chains and slowly swung the door open.

The fog had gone.

Emrick Wynn smiled at me.

He wore a black greatcoat adorned with ten sparkling silver buttons. Under this was a pristine black three piece suit, and a brilliant white shirt. He reached out a pale, carefully manicured hand towards me, I grasped it and winced at its leathery coldness.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you at last David.”

His voice was deep and melodic. It soothed and calmed my jangling nerves.

“Thank you for inviting me to your home.”

I finally looked into his face.

The first thing I noticed was how pale he was, as if his skin had never seen daylight. His eyes sparkled like blue jewels, his long hair was jet black and slicked back from his face and tied in a ponytail. He smiled, and his teeth were white against the blood red of his lips.

“Aren’t you going to ask me in?”

He took a step forward, but stopped short of crossing my threshold.

I glanced behind me, back into the house. 

I saw myself in the mirror at the end of the hallway, holding a door that was open to the empty night.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

His voice was toxifying like a fine red wine. 

I could no longer resist him.

“Emrick Wynn,” I said, “you are very welcome to my home.”

The vampire smiled, and stepped across the threshold.

In Shadows Lurking – Part Two

“Emrick Wynn,” I said, “you are very welcome to my home.”
The vampire smiled, and stepped across the threshold.

I closed the front door, absentmindedly dead-locking it and putting the chain on.

He smiled knowingly.

For a moment we stood awkwardly in the hallway, like two strangers on a blind date, gazing at each other, assessing, scared to say the wrong thing in case an opportunity was destroyed forever.

I took a deep breath and pushed past him into the kitchen.

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

He laughed, his very laugh seeming to belittle me.  

“Tea is not the refreshment I have in mind.”

He stepped into the kitchen, his nose twitching, sniffing the air like a wolf seeking a scent.

“It reeks of garlic in here,” he smiled, “could you please open a window?”

“Apologies,” I said reaching to open the small kitchen window and put it on the latch.

Again, he smiled knowingly.

He looked into my eyes, transfixing me with his gaze.

 “I shall set out the terms of our agreement, David, so there will be no misunderstanding between us. You know who I am, more importantly you know what I am. You know I am of the undead, that I lurk in shadows, that I drink blood, and that I have the power to make others eternal like me.

“Your daughter Kerry is ill, dying. You have promised that I can drink of Kerry’s pure, virginal blood. In return I shall let her drink of mine. This will preserve her, and give her life eternal. She will become a vampire like me.”

His voice was lilting and soothing, thrumming in the air between us, caressing my ears.

His eyes grew more intense.

 “This is the point of no return.

“The decision is yours.

“Say ‘no’ and I will be on my way – disappointed of course – but with no repercussions to you or to your family, you will never see me again.

 “Do you wish to proceed?”

My mind raced with possibilities and probabilities. I was making an agreement with the devil – and yet – somehow I knew he had already outsmarted and double crossed me. “This will preserve her”. Those four words reverberated over and over and over in my head, drowning out my many doubts. “This will preserve her”. Those words were calming and reassuring. Yet, little did I know, that one other word in our agreement had already assured the horrific turn that tonight’s events would take.

I licked my lips nervously.

I swear I intended to say “No”, but instead was surprised to hear myself uttering the word “Yes.”

“Take me to her.”

***

I led him up the stairs, my legs numb, and my feet thudding heavily on each wooden tread.

He followed close behind me, silent, his breath cold on the nape of my neck, his quiet ascent causing my frayed nerves to unravel further. “This will preserve her,” I repeated to myself, “This will preserve her”. I was clinging desperately to that mantra to stop myself descending into madness itself.

Billy’s bedroom door was ajar, and I could hear the soft rasp of his breathing as he slept. A triangle of golden light spilled from the hallway through his open bedroom door, illuminating him as he lay in peaceful slumber. I hesitated before, softly pulling the door shut, not wanting him to be any part of what was to happen next.

Emrick brushed past me, his impatience now obvious. He strode to the end of the corridor where Kerry’s bedroom door was wide open. For a moment he stood there, silhouetted by the light from the full moon that gazed through Kerry’s window. He glanced back towards me, a greedy sneer of triumph scarring across his face. For the first time that night I saw his sharp white fangs as they shone in the moon’s eerie light.

I had done as instructed and added extra tranquilisers to the meagre portion of lasagne I had fed to her earlier. She therefore didn’t react as Emrick placed an arm under her neck and slowly scooped her body towards him, her white throat arching enticingly as he pulled her close.

He inhaled deeply, like a connoisseur about to take the first sip of a fine vintage wine. He bent, his bare fangs now resting close to her jugular vein. He looked me directly in the eyes as he slowly punctured her throat and drank deeply.

His face darkened and his features turned into a snarl. He withdrew his mouth and spat blood in my direction.

“You promised me,” he snarled, “you PROMISED me!”

He shook in fury, eyes burning, blood spittling from his mouth as he raged.

“You said she was PURE! You PROMISED! Instead she tastes like a filthy, diseased whore!”

My mind raced. What was he saying? I thought back to when Kerry had broken up with her boyfriend, was it possible? Were they having a physical relationship? How did I not know? What other secrets had my children hidden from me?

“I didn’t know … ” I stammered.

“You lied, and will pay the price,” he raged.

With that he roughly pulled Kerry’s throat back towards his mouth. This time there was no tenderness about his actions, his teeth tore into her throat, slicing through flesh and veins with ease. He gnawed, the sound of bones and sinews tearing filled the air. He pulled back triumphantly, huge chunks of her flesh in his mouth. He smiled as blood spurted from her jugular vein, splattering the room with dark globules of her life-force. Droplets of her blood hit my face – hot and sticky and cloying – and the smell of iron clogged my nostrils.

I recoiled in horror, before clambouring across the bed, desperate to cradle my poor daughter’s dying, broken body. Tears of water or blood blinded me as I hugged her close and felt her life force draining away. I felt helpless, grief had embraced me and wouldn’t let me go.

But he hadn’t finished.

Far from it.

“You promised me pure, virginal blood,” he hissed, “and that is what I shall have.”

He swept from the bedroom, and down the hallway.

It wasn’t until I heard Billy’s blood-curdling scream that I realised what Emrick had meant. Too late I climbed off the bed dropping Kerry’s lifeless body to the floor; too late I stumbled from the bedroom and down the corridor to my son’s bedroom; too late I stood in the doorway my knees weakening at the sight before me.

The vampire held Billy in his arms, his fangs were deep in Billy’s throat, and he was drinking his fill. Emrick’s eyes were closed in ecstasy, as he savoured every drop of Billy’s nectar-like blood.

“NO!” I screamed and hurled myself across the room at him. He easily slapped me away, sending me spinning across the room, and slamming me into the dressing table in the corner of the room. The huge mirror on the dressing table shattered, showering me in glass.

He dropped Billy to the floor, his appetite sated. He pulled a white handkerchief from his trouser pocket, and daubed the blood from his mouth as if he were a diner at a fine restaurant. He smiled at me.

“I think that our agreement here is now complete,” he said, and had the audacity to chuckle.

He abruptly turned and stalked from the room.

Suddenly I was filled with rage. Emrick Wynn had just murdered my family and had laughed in my face. My heart was beating so loudly that I could hear it pounding in my ears, blood surged through my body giving me a strength I didn’t know I possessed, and every synapse in my brain was sparking and sizzling, powered by adrenaline.

I leapt to my feet, and grabbed the largest fragment of the broken dressing table mirror.

I bounded down the stairs to where that devil was standing in the kitchen.

I launched myself at him, the sharp silvered shard of glass aimed straight for his heart.

It was impossible for me to miss.

But he smiled knowingly.

Then I felt the slap of leather across my face, and heard the thunderous beating of wings.

Where he had been there was now nothing, and I fell to the floor impaling myself on the broken fragment of mirror.

I looked up in time to see a vampire bat circle the kitchen just once, before flying out of the window that I had conveniently opened for him earlier.

***

I can feel my strength ebbing now. Blood is seeping from the wound in my stomach, and I am too much of a coward to pull the fragment of mirror from it in case it hastens my end. At least I’ve managed to write down this madness, to fill these pages as a warning to others. Not that anyone will believe this lunacy.

I tried to dance with the devil, but the choreography was too intricate and frantic for me to follow. Instead of a triumphant waltz, I found myself being jerked around like a broken puppet on frayed strings. Now I have lost everything – and everyone – dear to me.

Take these, my final words as a warning.

Emrick Wynn.

Never, ever invite him in to your life.

He is still out there, waiting.

In shadows lurking.