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Authors: Graham Masterton

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BOOK: Figures of Fear: An anthology
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If he hadn’t been so angry, maybe he would have looked to his right before he stepped out into the blinding white sunlight at the end of the arcade and across the street in front of the Soledad Hotel. An old Dodge truck loaded with oil drums hit him at no more than fifteen miles an hour, but it knocked him through a wooden barricade that had been erected around a twelve-foot-deep excavation in the street, where the sewers were being replaced.

He fell right to the bottom, amongst the sewer pipes, and then the truck skidded on the dusty surface of the street and dropped into the hole on top of him, with a shattering, ramshackle crash.

He opened his eyes. It was gloomy and surprisingly chilly at the bottom of the excavation, and there was a strong smell of sewage and gasoline. He tried to sit up but found that he couldn’t move an inch. His right shoulder was crushed under the right nearside wheel of the truck, and the truck itself was jammed at an angle.

He looked up. He could see anxious faces peering down at him from the sunlit street.

‘Señor Foster!’ a girl called out, and he recognized it as Esmeralda. ‘Are you hurt, señor?’

‘I can’t – I can’t get out,’ Henry called back, his voice blurry with shock. ‘My arm … it’s stuck under the wheel.’

‘Señor Foster, you have to get out. The truck is pouring gas.’

‘I can’t. It’s my arm.’

Henry could hear Esmeralda talking to some of the men up on the street. Then there was a long pause. The stench of gasoline was growing stronger and stronger, and it was making his eyes water. It suddenly occurred to him that he was going to be roasted alive, down at the bottom of this stinking pit. That was how his life was going to end, and he had never even found anybody to love.

It was then that he heard a clanking noise. He lifted his head again, and realized what it was. A large carpenter’s saw was being lowered down to him on the end of a length of cord.

It came to rest next to his left hand. He stared at it in horror.

Esmeralda called down to him. ‘It is terrible, señor, I know! But what choice do you have?’

Henry picked up the saw and positioned it against his upper arm. The cross-cut teeth were so sharp that they snagged in the fabric of his linen coat. He closed his eyes tight, clenched his teeth, and pushed the saw as hard as he could. It cut through his coat and his shirt, and ripped into his skin. He had never felt anything so agonizing in his life, and he screamed, or he thought that he screamed. He was deafened with pain.

He dragged the saw back, and then pushed it across his shoulder a second time, cutting through muscle. So much blood welled up that his whole sleeve was flooded bright red, but he realized that he would have to push even harder, or cutting his arm off would take hours.

He pushed a third time, so forcefully that the teeth cut into his bone. But the saw also skidded against the iron sewer-pipe, and set off a spark. There was an instant
whoompph
of exploding gasoline fumes, and Henry’s face was seared by a blast of 300-degree heat. His hair flared and shrivelled and his eyes were fried.

Henry blazed like an effigy. His linen suit turned brown and shrank and fell apart. His skin was scorched scarlet, and then charred black. But unlike an effigy he sawed harder and faster, with the jerky motions of one of those little figures on a weathervane. Within a few minutes he was a mass of flames, but he kept on sawing and screaming until he had cut right through his upper arm. He dropped backward, blackened and smoking, but free.

The painter of
retablos
had joined Esmeralda in the street above. She laid her silver-polished nails on Esmeralda’s shoulder.


Le Virgen de los Remedios
, she warned him,’ she said, in her throaty voice. ‘He had no faith in her, no trust. But the Virgin of the Remedies … she has a remedy for everything, even that.’

WHAT THE DARK DOES

‘M
ummy – please don’t close the door.’

His mother smiled at him, her face half lit by the landing light, the other half in shadow, so that she looked as if she were wearing a Venetian carnival mask.

‘All right. But I can’t leave the light on all night. Honestly, David, there’s nothing to be scared of. You remember what Granpa used to say – dark is only the same stuff that’s behind your eyelids, only more of it.’

David shivered. He remembered his granpa lying in his open coffin at the undertakers, his face grey and half-collapsed. He had thought then that Granpa would never see anything else, ever again, except the darkness behind his eyelids, and that
was
scary.

Darkness is only benign if you know that you can open your eyes whenever you want to, and it will have fled away.

He snuggled down under his patchwork quilt and closed
his
eyes. Almost immediately he opened them again. The door was still open and the landing light was still shining. On the back of his chair he could see his black school blazer, ready for tomorrow, and his neatly folded shorts.

In the corner of his room, lying sprawled on the floor, he could see Sticky Man, which was a puppet that his granpa had made for him. Sticky Man was nearly two feet tall, made of double-jointed sticks painted grey. His spine and his head were a long wooden spoon, with staring eyes and a gappy grin painted on to it. Granpa used to tell him that during the war, when he and his fellow soldiers were pinned down for days on end under enemy fire at Monte Cassino, they had made Sticky Men to entertain themselves, as many as ten or twelve of them. Granpa said that the Sticky Men all came to life at night and did little dances for them. Sometimes, when the enemy shelling was particularly heavy, they used to send Sticky Men to carry messages to other units, because it was too dangerous to do it themselves.

David didn’t like Sticky Man at all, and twice he had tried to throw him away. But his father had always rescued him – once from the dustbin and once from a shallow leaf-covered grave at the end of the garden – because his father thought that Granpa’s story about Sticky Men was so amusing, and part of family history. ‘Granpa used to tell me that story when I was your age, but he never made
me
a Sticky Man. So you should count yourself privileged.’

David had never actually seen Sticky Man come to life, but he was sure that he had heard him dancing in the darkness on the wooden floorboards at the edge of his bedside mat:
clickety, clackety
,
clickety, clackety
. When he had heard that sound, he had buried himself even deeper under the covers, until he was almost suffocating.

What really frightened David, though, was the brown dressing gown hanging on the back of his bedroom door. Even during the day, it looked like a monk’s habit, but when his father switched off the landing light at night, and David’s bedroom was filled up with darkness, the dressing gown changed, and began to fill out, as if somebody were rising up from the floor to slide inside it.

He was sure that when the house was very quiet, and there was no traffic in the street outside, he could hear the dressing gown
breathing
, in and out, with just the faintest hint of harshness in its lungs. It was infinitely patient. It wasn’t going to drop down from its hook immediately and go for him. It was going to wait until he was so paralysed with terror that he was incapable of defending himself, or of crying out for help.

He had tried to hide the dressing gown by stuffing it into his wardrobe, but that had been even more frightening. He could still hear it breathing but he had no longer been able to see it, so that he had never known when it might ease open the wardrobe door and then rush across the bedroom and clamber up on to his bed.

Next he had tried hanging the dressing gown behind the curtains, but that had been worse still, because he was sure that he could hear the curtain rings scraping back along the brass curtain pole. Once and once only he had tried cramming it under the bed. When he had done that, however, he had been able to lie there for less than ten minutes, because he had been straining to hear the dressing gown dragging itself out from underneath him, so that it could come rearing up beside him and drag his blankets off.

His school blazer was almost as frightening. When it was dark, it sat hunched on his chair, headless but malevolent, like the stories that early Spanish explorers had brought back from South America of natives with no heads but their faces on their chests. David had seen pictures of them in his school books, and even though he knew they were only stories, like Sticky Men were only stories, he also knew that things were very different in the dark.

In the dark, stories come to life, just like puppets, and dressing gowns.

He didn’t hear the clock in the hallway downstairs chime eleven. He was asleep by then. His father came into his room and straightened his bedcover and affectionately scruffed up his hair. ‘Sleep well, trouble.’ He left his door open a little, but he switched off the landing light, so that his room was plunged into darkness.

Another hour went by. The clock chimed twelve, very slowly, as if it needed winding. David slept and dreamed that he was walking through a wood, and that something white was following him, keeping pace with him, but darting behind the trees whenever he turned around to see what it was.

He stopped, and waited for the white thing to come out into the open, but it remained hidden, even though he knew it was still there. He breathed deeply, stirred, and said, out loud, ‘Who are you?’

Another hour passed, and then, without warning, his dressing gown dropped off the back of his bedroom door.

He didn’t hear it. He had stopped dreaming that he was walking through the wood, and now he was deeply unconscious. His door was already ajar, but now it opened a little more, and a hunched brown shape dragged its way out of his bedroom.

A few moments later, there was a soft click, as the door to his parents’ bedroom was opened.

Five minutes passed. Ten. David was rising slowly out of his very deep sleep, as if he were gradually floating to the surface of a lake. He was almost awake when something suddenly jumped on top of him, something that clattered. He screamed and sprang upright, both arms flailing. The clattery thing fell to the floor. Moaning with fear, he fumbled around in the darkness until he found his bedside lamp, and switched it on.

Lying on the rug next to his bed was Sticky Man, staring up at him with those round, unblinking eyes.

Trembling, David pushed back the covers and crawled down to the end of the bed, so that he wouldn’t have to step on to the rug next to Sticky Man. What if it sprang at him again, and clung to his ankle?

As he reached the end of the bed, and was about to climb off it, he saw that his dressing gown had gone. The hook on the back of his bedroom door had nothing hanging on it except for his red-and-white football scarf.

His moaning became a soft, subdued mewling in the back of his throat. He was so frightened that he squirted a little warm pee into his pyjama trousers. He looked over the end of the bed but his dressing gown wasn’t lying in a heap on the floor, as he would have expected.

Perhaps Mummy had at last understood that it scared him, hanging up on the back of the door like that, and she had taken it down when he was asleep. Perhaps she had taken it away to wash it. He had spilled a spoonful of tomato soup on it yesterday evening, when he was sitting on the sofa watching television – not that he had told her.

He didn’t know what to do. He knelt on the end of the bed, biting at his thumbnail, not mewling now but breathing very quickly, as if he had been running. He turned around and looked down at Sticky Man, but Sticky Man hadn’t moved – he was still lying on his back on the rug, his arms and legs all splayed out, glaring balefully at nothing at all.

Whatever David did, he would have to change his wet pyjama trousers, and that would mean going to the airing cupboard on the landing. Mummy always liked to keep his clean pyjamas warm.

Very cautiously, he climbed off the bed and went across to his bedroom door. He looked around it. The landing was in darkness, although the faintest of green lights was coming up the stairs from the hallway, from the illuminated timer on the burglar alarm, and that was enough for David to see that his parents’ bedroom door was open, too.

He frowned. His parents
never
left their door open, not at night. He hesitated for a few long moments, but then he hurried as quietly as he could along the landing until he reached his parents’ bedroom, and peered inside. It was completely dark in there, although he could just make out the luminous spots on the dial of his father’s bedside alarm clock.

He listened. Very far away, he could hear a train squealing as it made its way to the nearest station, to be ready for the morning’s commuters. But when that sound had faded away, he could hear nothing at all. He couldn’t even hear his parents breathing, even though his father usually snored.

‘Mummy?’ he called, as quietly as he could.

No answer. He waited in the doorway, with his wet pants beginning to feel chilly.


Mummy?
’ A little louder this time.

Still no answer.

He crept into his parents’ bedroom, feeling his way round the end of the bed to his mother’s side. He reached out and felt her bare arm lying on top of the quilted bedcover. He took hold of her hand and shook it and said, hoarsely, ‘Mummy, wake up! I’ve had an accident!’

But still she didn’t answer. David groped for the dangly cord that switched on her bedside reading light, and tugged it.


Mummy!
Daddy!

Both of them were lying on their backs, staring up at the ceiling with eyes so bloodshot that it looked as if somebody had taken out their eyeballs and replaced them with crimson grapes. Not only that, both of them had black moustaches of congealing blood on their upper lips, and their mouths were dragged grotesquely downward. Two dead clowns.

David stumbled backward. He heard somebody let out a piercing, high-pitched scream, which frightened him even more. He didn’t realize that it was him.

BOOK: Figures of Fear: An anthology
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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