Screaming. Loud, ear-piercing screaming noises. Where were they coming from? It didn’t matter. The noise was excruciating. Inescapable echoes of screams so frantic they could be mistaken for laughter. He knew better than that. The childlike pitch gave their true intent away. The clue lay in the hesitant pause preceding each cry. That’s how he knew. He’d heard it enough times in the playground, at the park, at the swings. Never out of his own mouth, of course. He’d learned quickly how to stifle that. Yet later, from the wounded throat of his own daughter. The pause after the fall, that moment of impact that hinders the immediacy of the cry for help, the cry of pain, the cry for a caring embrace. Pick me up and hold me. That cry.
It was getting louder. Angrier. Still wordless, but unmistakably furious. He thought it was heading towards him. A girl, perhaps? It was hard to tell. All around him, emptiness stagnated. The feeling of dread pressed up against his back. He’d never had that sensation before. Something was laughing at him. As the screaming crept closer so did the waves of nausea and he knew it was time to run. He had to free himself of this place, he had to. The pressure up against his back intensified; whatever it was, it wanted to push him forward. No matter what ugliness awaited, he would be made to look it in the eye. The cost of that? Irrelevant.
Every instinct in his body clawed at him. This isn’t somewhere you should be, they bawled. We need to get out of here, this place is dark. Still, he pushed their voices aside and forced his view forwards. This is what you’re meant to do, he told himself, you have to look in the dark places where others can’t. Where they won’t. To see the unnatural sides of life; someone has to do it.
“That someone is YOU!” a gnarled voice yelled out from the darkness.
Alan awoke with a start, gasping for breath and clutching hard at the side of the bed. His eyes shot furtively around the room, searching for everything and nothing. They came to rest at the foot of the bed as his heart began to slowly relax it’s pace once more. He glanced down at the body sprawled next to him. Thankfully she hadn’t noticed, he grimaced.
The moonlight cracked its way through the Venetian blinds of the bedroom, throwing an odd, rhomboid-shaped pool of light onto the floorboards. Still no carpets down, Alan thought to himself as he swung his legs over the side of the bed quietly. His bare feet met the cool wood of the moonlit floor as he sighed deeply and headed out of the bedroom. There was no point trying to go back to sleep just yet, Alan knew. Creeping around in the dark had become almost second nature to him these days.
The house’s staircases were still littered with small piles of clothes that needed putting away. Somehow it seemed easier to dance around them rather than actually put them in their homes inside cupboards and drawers, but no-one in the rest of Alan’s family seemed to care. He’d been playing this silent game with them for some time now. How long would it actually take Claire to pick them up as she went past them on the stairs each time, he wondered. So far this latest batch had been sitting on the edges of the third and fourth steps for about five days. It was starting to make Alan’s teeth itch.
He moved silently, barely lifting his feet from the floorboards as he made his way back into the bathroom. Alan felt as though he spent half his life there. He knew every curve of the blue and white patterned motif of the tiles behind the bathtub, every knot and whorl of the floor’s wooden boards. It felt a bit disgusting to have a wooden floor in a bathroom, but Alan hadn’t got around to re-tiling it yet. Another one of his family to-do list jobs that would probably just have to wait its turn.
The toilet seat betrayed his stealth as it slipped awkwardly from his grasp as he lifted it up, making an arrogant banging noise against the porcelain bowl. “Shit,” Alan muttered under his breath, hoping the noise hadn’t disturbed Claire or worse, Abby. That was the last thing he wanted to do right now.
Abby had been having trouble sleeping lately, and Alan’s shift patterns weren’t doing much to help matters on that front. It was one of the reasons Claire was always so pissed off at him. Pissed off or just plain pissed, they seemed to be her two default settings, of late. Alan closed the toilet lid after himself carefully, making a mental note to flush it first thing in the morning. Not that there was much of the night left, from what he could tell. Alan exhaled deeply as he washed his hands. Abby’s sleeping problems were starting to mirror his own. The girl was his double in more ways than one, something which both concerned and fascinated him in equal measure.
The mirror that hung above the bathroom sink called to him. Alan looked into it reluctantly. He was beginning to hate the sight of himself. Even in the grip of night, he looked older than his years. Ten years into the job had left their mark on him and not just internally. He wondered if Claire still fancied him. Something in the back of his brain made him smirk as he realised that he still cared what she thought of him. He leaned in, closer to the mirror, as close as he could get without the steam from his breath fogging it into obscurity. His pupils looked weird, he thought.
Something moved. He felt it behind him, but as his eyes darted across the mirror he saw only darkness. Alan’s feet began to tingle with an increased coldness from the floor below him as he felt something damp and greasy slowly encroaching on his ankles. He looked down, not knowing exactly what he was looking for, but feeling the distinct sensation of something tentacle-like sliding around on his feet.
Nothing. Just emptiness, his cold, bare feet, and a feeling of dread.
His head snapped back up towards the mirror, where a face awaited him that he no longer recognised. His face, but not his own; the twisted, blackened maw of what looked to be a girl. A furious-looking, contorted girl who looked like a grotesque version of Abby.
Then, she slowly started to scream.