Authors: Mark White
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Supernatural, #Ghosts, #British
boy opened his eyes and peered into the darkness of the room, lying deathly
still to avoid disturbing whatever might be lurking in there with him.
Initially there was only a black oblivion, a sense of being trapped in the
depths of a windowless pit. Slowly, he withdrew his hands from beneath the stifling
blankets and reached out, feeling for anything that might reassure him that he
was in a safe place and not some horrific torture chamber or vile monster’s
lair. Breathing silently, he forced his eight year old imagination back into
its box. Now was not the time to inject life into the pages of the illustrated
stories of werewolves and witches that he liked to read before lights out;
stories that thrilled and scared him and often prevented him from falling
asleep, until eventually his eyelids were so heavy they were no longer able to
take the strain.
He soon realised that
he was lying in his own bed; his eyes gradually adapting to the surrounding darkness,
distinguishing the familiar outlines of the Superman and Star Wars posters covering
the walls; boys’ posters that vied for precious space with his sister’s
stomach-churning images of doe-eyed princesses and waiflike fairies.
Growing more confident,
he sat up and afforded himself the luxury of breathing normally, reaching under
his bed for the switch to his nightlight. His father didn’t like him using the
light, believing that at eight years old his son should be ‘man enough’ to accept
that there was no such thing as the bogeyman in the closet. Besides, it cost
money to burn a bulb through the night, and money was something the Railton
family had precious little of. Right at that moment, however, the boy couldn’t care
less about the economics. He wanted the reassurance of light, and fast.
As he groped around for
the switch, he noticed that the bedroom door was wide open, which was strange
as both he and his sister preferred it shut. At first this didn’t overly
concern him. It was only when he pressed the light-switch and nothing happened
that he began to worry.
‘Lucy,’ he whispered,
flicking the switch back and forth as if it might suddenly change its mind,
conscious of his sleeping parents along the hall. He would rather confront a
flesh eating zombie from one of his comic books than risk waking his father.
‘Lucy? Are you awake?’
He stared at the bottom
of the bunk-bed above him, willing a response from his little sister. When none
was forthcoming, he raised his hand and prodded the base of her mattress
through a gap in the slats, pushing it up to disturb her sleep. Usually he did
this merely to annoy her, but on this occasion his motive was quite different.
He didn’t want to be alone. He needed someone to talk to. Unfortunately for
him, the mattress lifted up all too easily. His sister’s bed was empty.
‘Shit,’ he said, unsure
as to his next move. Like all brothers and sisters they were prone to the
occasional fight, but they were as thick as thieves, having already suffered
enough pain and misery in their few short years to last a lifetime. They looked
out for each other, defended each other, lied for each other. Theirs was the
kind of relationship founded on the mutual need for self-protection…the
strongest kind of all. As cramped as it was, their room was their sanctuary,
and by closing the door they could at least pretend that the outside world -
world - was just a twisted figment of their imaginations. The
door had no business being open. Especially at night.
Without warning, the hallway
light came on, followed immediately by the sound of footsteps tearing along the
hallway towards the top of the stairs. There was the briefest of pauses, and
then the screaming began; raw, primitive cries that gripped the boy’s throat
and pinned him to his bed. He tried to get up but couldn’t, terrified of becoming
embroiled in whatever was going on outside his room. Instead, he could only lie
still and listen to his mother scream, his survival instinct too powerful to
allow him to move.
Then, with all the
bitter venom of the possessed, he heard her howl the words:
What have you done?
What have you done to my baby?’
Against all instinct,
the boy leapt from his bed and ran out of the room to join his mother, whom he
found slumped on all fours at the top of the stairs. He stopped when he saw her,
momentarily uncertain that the person crouched in front of him with bedraggled
hair and savage eyes was in fact his mother and not some wild banshee. She
looked up at him with a hollow stare, before returning her focus to the bottom
of the stairs. He shuffled the final few steps to her with trepidation, the
natural curiosity of an eight year old boy outweighing the warning signs flashing
‘Mummy,’ he said,
finally reaching her. ‘Mummy, what’s wrong?’
Little did this young boy
realise that his life would never be the same again.
just words, Sam. Just words.’
‘Easy for you to say.
don’t have to write them.’
‘It’s not my job to
not the marketing man.’
‘I think you’ll find my
official job title is ‘copywriter’.’
‘Okay, Mr Copywriter, will
you please go back to your desk and write some fucking copy?’
‘I’m trying but…well…they’re
words and you know it.’
‘Look, Sam, what I do
know is that if we don’t have a signed-off website by this time next week then
we’re all screwed. Chapman’s Design Agency can’t afford to lose the Pilko account.
We need the work.’
‘I know that, Tom.’ Sam
sighed and gave his boss a weary glance. ‘Is there anything else in the
‘The pipeline’s as dry
as a camel’s shit-pipe. Business has never been so quiet; this recession is
killing us. We’re not the only ones struggling to stay afloat: half the design
firms in London are suffering, and the other half are too proud to admit it. With
no new business coming in, we can’t afford to lose the few decent accounts we
‘I promise you, Tom, we’re
not going to lose the Pilko account, okay? When have I ever let you down?’
‘It’s not that I don’t
trust you, but I need to see some progress in the next couple of days. More to
the point, the Board needs to see some progress. They’re getting tetchy, Sam.
They don’t know you as well as I do.’
‘The Board! I should
have known this was coming from them. Since when have you given a damn about those
‘Since they warned me
that if things don’t start improving around here they’ll have no other choice
than to start looking at ways of cutting their cloth.’
‘You mean redundancies?’
‘You didn’t hear that
from me, okay? But yes. They’ve asked me to draw up an options appraisal of
cost-cutting measures, and the message was loud and clear:
options are fully explored
‘Jeez, I didn’t think
it was that bad.’
‘Well, I’m afraid it is
that bad. Look, Sam, you’re the most talented writer this firm has ever had, so
I’m counting on your best work here. There are jobs on the line if we lose this
account. People are relying on you to deliver, do you understand?’
‘No pressure then.’
‘Who would have thought
that so much would rely on Pilko’s Pork Pies? We live in a strange world.’
‘Sorry to come on so strong.’
‘I suppose it’s nice to
feel wanted. Don’t worry, Tom. I’ll get my head into gear.’
‘Good, I appreciate it.
‘Sarah. The last time I
still married to her.’
‘Oh…her. She’s fine. By
the way, I forgot to mention that we had a lovely time the other evening. Your
Jane’s a fantastic cook.’
‘She has her moments.’
‘You two any closer to
sorting things out?’
‘Not really, but we’re
working on it. Burning the midnight oil at this fucking place isn’t helping,
but what can I do?’
‘You work too hard.’
‘I have to. I need this
job, Sam. More to the point, I need the money. Sometimes I wish I’d stayed away
from management. The fucking stress…’
‘Lighten up, mate, it’ll
work out. It always does in the end. Look, I better get back to my desk. I’ve
got a deadline to meet.’
Tom nodded, placing a
conciliatory hand on Sam’s shoulder.
‘Music to my ears.’
for ten pm, the train from King’s Cross to West Finchley was surprisingly
quiet. Sam Railton rarely came home so late in the day. He was a nine to five
man, a bona-fide clock-watcher. He may have been good at his job, but that
didn’t mean he had to like it.
There was only one other
person in his carriage: a young, handsome man of Mediterranean descent. Wary of
making eye contact, Sam focussed his attention on the text books in the man’s
Gray’s Anatomy for Students
belonging to a future doctor. Sam briefly looked up at the man’s face, envious
of his youth and the rewarding life ahead of him. The man returned his stare,
causing Sam’s eyes to shift away and nervously focus on the aisle floor between
them. Confidence was not one of Sam Railton’s most notable qualities.
The train arrived at
West Finchley station and Sam made his way along the platform and up the steps
to the high street. The buildings on this street were mostly shops and takeaways,
their gaudy neon signs competing with each other for the handful of passers-by
who were yet to return home. Sam ignored the signs, pausing only for a second
to glance through one of the windows of the ‘Fox and Cub’ bar that marked the
start of his street. It was busy inside, inviting laughter spilled out into the
night air, beckoning him in like a Siren’s song. He couldn’t, of course he
couldn’t, but that didn’t kill the urge. Even now, nearly fifteen years sober,
the cravings persisted. Cursing himself for allowing such thoughts to enter his
mind, he rounded the corner and hurried down the street to his house, forbidding
himself to look back in case the temptation grew too powerful.
Like father, like
son…the apple never falls far from the tree
‘Fuck off,’ he hissed
to nobody in particular as he opened the gate. Fortunately for him, only the
neighbour’s cat was around to hear him.
The small, terraced
house was warm and welcoming as he opened the door and stepped inside, removing
his shoes and coat and heading directly to the lounge where he knew he would
‘Anything on?’ he
asked, bending over the back of the sofa and kissing her forehead.
‘Not really,’ she replied,
taking his hand in hers but keeping her eyes on the TV screen. ‘You’re late
‘I know. Tom gave me a roasting
so I thought I better show willing.’
‘Tom? That’s not like
‘He’s majorly stressed
out. The head honchos are giving him a hard time, and, well, you know what they
say about shit always rolling downhill. I’m not the only one getting it in the
neck. The pressure’s really on.’
‘You don’t do
‘I know, but I don’t
want them to think I don’t care.’
‘But you don’t.’
‘I do, a little bit.
Either way, I have to pretend that I do, at least until business picks up
again. Anyway, how was your day?’
‘Fine. The usual.’
‘Sound asleep. Have you
eaten yet? There’s some chicken casserole in the slow cooker.’
‘Thanks, but I’m not
hungry. I think I’ll make some coffee and join you. Can I get you anything?’
‘Won’t be a minute.’
Sam smiled to himself as he left the lounge and walked down the hall to the
kitchen. Okay, so he might have a boring job - no, he
boring job - but he was lucky in other, more important ways. No matter how
uninspiring his work might be, at least he had something to look forward to at
the end of the day: a small but comfortable home and a beautiful, loving wife.
And then there was Max, the apple of his eye. How the hell such an amazing boy
could come from someone like him, with all his neurotic hang-ups and annoying
habits. The boy was his strength, his raison
He made it all worthwhile.
The aroma of chicken
casserole was too inviting to turn down, so even though he wasn’t hungry he
helped himself to half a bowlful as he waited for the kettle to boil.
You’re a lucky
, he thought.
times, when he was in one of his darker, more contemplative moods, that he
almost convinced himself that he didn’t deserve a family, and that one day his
luck would inevitably run out and he’d find himself back where he started:
alone, paranoid, worthless. No amount of therapy – and Christ had he had some therapy
– could prevent the occasional dark thought from sneaking through the barriers
he’d fought so hard to build. Most of the time he was fine, but not always. The
darkness was still present, would
be present, waiting to smother
him and take all the good things back. As he grew older he was becoming more
adept at heading the demons off at the pass before they reached him and sunk their
teeth in, but he was always on his guard.
Given his past, he always