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Authors: Graham Masterton

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BOOK: Figures of Fear: An anthology
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But now Dawn was standing in front of it with her hand pressed over her mouth, wondering if she had the nerve to open it. What if the burnt-smelling man was standing inside it, amongst all of her dresses and her jumpers? He couldn’t be anywhere else, could he? Yet when she had come home last night, she had hung up the long black skirt that she had to wear for work, and he hadn’t been inside her wardrobe then.

She was utterly confused. Perhaps the most sensible thing to do was to lock the wardrobe, and then call the police. But what if she had simply imagined him? What if she hadn’t woken up when the sleigh had been sliding nearer and nearer to the edge of the lake, but only
dreamed
that she had woken up, and only
dreamed
that the man had been standing by the door? What if she hadn’t really woken up until the moment she had opened the curtains?

What if she called the police and told them that there was a strange black-faced man hiding in her wardrobe, but there was nobody there?

She went up to the wardrobe and turned the key in it, and rattled the handle to make sure that it was locked. Then she leaned close to it and said, ‘Is there anybody in there? Because if there’s somebody in there I’m going to give you one chance to come out of there, and then I’m going to call the police.’

She waited, but there was no response. Perhaps it was stupid of her to expect him to answer, if he was in there, and did she really want him to come out? What if he attacked her? But what else was she going to do? Even though the wardrobe was locked, she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, knowing that a man could be hiding inside it. And if he wanted to, he could probably kick the door open.

She picked up her mobile phone and dialled Jerry’s number. It rang and rang for almost a minute. When he answered he sounded sleepy and clogged-up.

‘Dawn? What the hell time is it?’

‘Jerry,’ she blurted, ‘there’s a man in my bedroom!’

‘What? What do you mean?’

‘I woke up and there was this man in my bedroom. He was all black like he’d been burnt and then the light bulb went and now I think he’s hiding in my wardrobe. I’ve locked the door but I don’t know what to do!’

‘Dawn – say that again, slowly.’

Dawn repeated herself, trying to explain more clearly what had happened, although she couldn’t stop herself from repeatedly sniffing and wiping the tears away from her eyes with the back of her hand. When she had finished, Jerry said, ‘Leave the bedroom, sweetheart, like
now.
Lock the door. You
can
lock the bedroom door, can’t you? Go into the living room and lock that door, too. Wait for me. I’ll be there in ten minutes, OK? But if you hear this bloke trying to break out, call the police – like, immediately.’

The front doorbell chimed. Dawn unlocked the living-room door and went into the hallway, and through the frosted-glass window in the front door she could see Jerry. She unlocked the door and flung her arms around him.

‘Hey!’ he said. ‘Hey. Everything’s going to be OK. It’s probably just some nutter who wandered in by mistake. He didn’t try to hurt you, did he, so that’s something.’

Jerry was tall and stockily built, with short brown hair that was no more messed up tonight than it usually was. He was handsome in a slightly overweight, rugby-player way, with very blue eyes. Dawn was blonde and very skinny and, up until Jerry, all of her boyfriends had been almost as skinny as she was, and older, too. Jerry, though, gave her a feeling of being physically protected. He wasn’t artistic, like she was, but he had the boundless confidence of a young man who was sure that he could take care of himself in almost any situation, and she found that strongly attractive.

‘OK,’ he said. ‘Let’s see what this character thinks he’s doing, shall we?’

Dawn gave him the key and he unlocked her bedroom door. The wardrobe door was still closed and undamaged, so the man obviously hadn’t made any attempt to break out of it. Jerry walked up to the wardrobe and banged on it with his fist.

‘Hey! You in there! I’m opening the door now and I don’t want any trouble! You got it! You’re not dealing with a girl now, mate, I warn you!’

He twisted the key in the wardrobe door and flung it open, stepping back two paces after he had done so, both hands raised defensively in front of him. On one side of the wardrobe rail there were six or seven empty wire coat hangers, which jangled for a moment and then stopped jingling.

All of Dawn’s coats and dresses and skirts were hanging in the wardrobe, and all of her shoes and boots were neatly arranged underneath them. On one side, there were six shelves on which she kept her sweaters and her underwear and her socks.

But there was no man standing or sitting in the wardrobe, and the only smell was the light flowery fragrance of Allure, Dawn’s favourite perfume, on her clothes.

Dawn looked up at Jerry and shook her head. ‘He’s gone. I don’t understand it. Where did he go? He
must
have hidden in the wardrobe. There’s absolutely nowhere else.’

Jerry reached into the wardrobe and rapped his knuckles on the back of it. ‘Solid. No false back to it. And in any case, it’s right up against the wall.’

‘Oh, Jerry,’ said Dawn, and she suddenly burst into tears. ‘I must be going mad! I swear I saw him! I swear it! His face was all black and horrible like he’d been burnt or something and he grunted at me and he was coming to get me but the light bulb popped and it all went dark again and I was so
scared
, Jerry! I thought he was going to kill me!’

Jerry held her close and shushed her. ‘You had a nightmare, that’s all. Plenty of people have nightmares when they think they’ve woken up but they haven’t really.’

‘I’m going mad! I
know
I’m going mad!’

‘You’re not going mad, silly. You’ve just been overworking, that’s all. Too many split shifts at that crappy restaurant. You haven’t been very well, either, have you?’

‘No,’ she said, miserably.

‘Listen, come back to my place and spend the rest of the night with me. I’ll call up the restaurant tomorrow for you and tell them that you have to go to the dentist or something. I’ll take a day off and we can go for a walk around Kew Gardens or down by the river or something. It’s about time you had a break.’

Dawn nodded, and said, ‘All right. I’d like that. Thanks, darling.’

She dressed and brushed her hair and collected a few clothes together in case she wanted to change later, including her favourite pink jumper. When she was ready, she closed the wardrobe door. Jerry was waiting for her in the hallway and he smiled when he saw her locking it, too.

‘There’s no horrible black-faced man inside there, sweetheart, I promise you.’

Dawn said nothing. She still found it hard to believe that the man had been nothing more than a nightmare. She locked the bedroom door, too, and set the burglar alarm before they left.

Jerry put his arm around her and gave her a comforting squeeze. ‘I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen somebody setting an alarm to stop an intruder from breaking
out
.’

The following evening Jerry drove her home and came in to check the wardrobe and reassure her that there was nobody in there, or anywhere else in her flat. He even lifted up the cushions on the sofa bed in her living room, in case there was a black-faced man hiding inside it.

‘There’s nobody here, sweetheart. You can see for yourself.’ He walked through to the kitchen and opened up the oven door and said, ‘See? Empty. You’re completely on your own.’

‘You don’t have to make fun of me.’

‘I’m not. I’m just trying to convince you that you’re perfectly safe. I wouldn’t leave you alone here if I thought that there was a prowler around. But – listen – if you do hear anything, or get frightened about anything – just give me a call. I’ll come over straight away.’

‘Thanks, Jerry,’ she said, and put her arms around him and gave him a kiss. ‘It’s just me being stupid, you know that.’

‘That’s why I love you, stupid.’

That night she dreamed that she was sitting on a veranda overlooking a weedy, unkempt garden. The grass was almost knee-high and all the laurel bushes surrounding the lawn were overgrown. Above her the sky was heavy and grey, and the garden smelled as if it had just stopped raining.

At the far end of the veranda a wind chime was jingling.
Jing-a-ling-jing-ching.
She found the sound of it irritating rather than soothing, and she wondered why it was jingling at all, since there wasn’t any wind.

Then she thought:
The wind chimes sound just like the sleigh bells in my other dream. But how can I remember another dream, when I’m dreaming this one?

She opened her eyes. Her bedroom wasn’t completely dark, because she had deliberately left the curtains three inches apart. She could see her teddy bear’s eyes glistening in the gloom, and on the wall behind his chair, a shadow was flickering, a shadow that looked like a witch nodding her head. Dawn knew that it was only the shadow from the plane tree which stood in the garden at the front of her block of flats, but all the same she couldn’t keep her eyes off it, in case it moved, and the witch suddenly came tapping at her window.

Jingle-jingle-ching
went the wind chimes. Only they weren’t wind chimes out of her dream, nor sleigh bells from the black-painted sleigh. They were coat hangers, jingling inside her wardrobe.

Oh God, oh God, please don’t let it be him. Please don’t let it be the black-faced man inside my wardrobe. Please God, don’t let him get out.

Dawn stretched across the bed for her mobile phone, but as she did so the whole wardrobe creaked, and she could hear something heavy shifting inside it.

Oh God, please don’t let it be him.

She groped around for her phone –
where was it?
But the wardrobe creaked again, much louder this time, almost a groan, and the groan was followed by a shuffling sound. She was so startled that when she found her phone she accidentally tipped it over the edge of her nightstand. She heard it drop on to the carpet but when she looked over the edge of the bed she couldn’t see where it had gone.

The door’s locked. He can’t get out. Please don’t let him get out.

She threw back the covers and climbed out of bed and went down on her hands and knees. Her phone wasn’t anywhere in sight so she guessed that it must have bounced underneath the bed. She reached into the narrow gap between the bed and the carpet, pushing her arm in as far as she could, and after sweeping her hand from side to side three or four times, she touched it with her fingertips.

She tried to flick her phone back toward her, but it was a fraction of an inch too far away, and she succeeded only in pushing it even farther out of reach. The bed was much too heavy for her to lift, so all she could do was force her arm in deeper, even though the rough hessian lining scraped against her skin.

She was still straining to reach her phone when she heard the key slowly turning in the wardrobe door.
Click, click, click
– pause –
kerchick.

She turned her head around and looked back up at the wardrobe. It was impossible. You couldn’t unlock the door from the inside. Yet as she lay there, on her side, with her left arm pinned underneath the bed, she saw that the wardrobe door was slowly opening.


Go away!
’ she screamed. ‘
Don’t come out of there! Leave me alone!
Don’t come out of there! Don’t!
Don’t come out of there!

She dragged her arm out from underneath the bed, grazing her forearm all the way from her elbow to her wrist. Then she threw herself on to the bed, rolled over it, and went for the bedroom door. She tried to turn the key but it jammed, like it often did, because it was old and worn and always needed coaxing. What had she been thinking about when she locked it? She should have realized that she might need to escape.

She glanced frantically over her shoulder, and as she did so the black-faced man stepped out of the wardrobe and turned toward her. He not only
looked
burnt, he was actually wreathed in acrid-smelling smoke, which lazily curled its way across her bedroom. His white eyes were staring at her and his black teeth were bared in a snarl. He started to make his way around the end of the bed, with both hands raised in front of him like blackened claws.

Dawn jiggled the key in the lock and at last managed to turn it. As soon as she pulled open the door, though, the black-faced man came up behind her and slammed it shut again.


Bitch!
’ he said. His voice was so harsh he sounded as if he had grit between his teeth. He stank so strongly of charred wool that Dawn could hardly breathe. ‘Why’d you tell ’em it was me, you bitch? You see what they done to me? You see what they done?’

Dawn was unable to speak. She sank down on to her knees, her hands crossed over her breasts like a religious supplicant, and all she could do was whimper.

The black-faced man stood over her. She was too frightened to lift her head and look up at him, and all she could see was his black, ragged trousers and his burnt lace-up boots, with smoke leaking out of them.

He seized her upper arms. His fingers were blistered and rough, and he gripped her so tightly that she felt that he was trying to twist her arms out of their sockets. With a deep grunting noise he hoisted her up off the floor and flung her backward across the bed. Immediately he climbed on top of her, straddling her hips. He glared down at her, with his black flaking nose only an inch away from hers.

‘Please,’ she said. ‘I don’t even know who you are.’

‘Oh, you really
are
a bitch, aren’t you?’ he growled at her, and she felt his spit prickling on her face. ‘You don’t even know who I am? You knew who was I right enough when they came asking questions about your babby. You knew who was I then, all right.’

Dawn dug her heels into the mattress and tried to kick herself out from under him, but he clenched his thighs together even tighter and then he slapped her across the face, twice. Her eyes burst out with tears and her cheeks felt as if he had set them on fire.

BOOK: Figures of Fear: An anthology
4.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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