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Authors: Mark Edwards

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime

Follow You Home (12 page)

BOOK: Follow You Home
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Chapter Twenty-Four

I
stopped off at my flat, grabbed my laptop and went out. I didn’t want to be on my own at home. I needed to be around people, around the living. There was a coffee shop at the end of the road that also served greasy all-day breakfasts. Just what my bo
dy craved.

The first item on my list was to look up more information about what had happened to Dr Sauvage and her husband. My relationship with my therapist had been purely professional but that didn’t make her death any less shocking. She was only in her
forties
. . . and what a horrific and terrifying way to die. I wondered if her dogs, those snuffling pugs, had perished too?

The story was on the
Evening Standard
website, with a photo of the burnt-out house plus a snapshot of the smiling Sauvages,
Claudia
and Patrick, taken a few years ago. They had no children, which was something. There was no mention of the dogs.

Then I read the line at the end of the article.

Police are trying to ascertain whether the Sauvages were victims of arson and are expected to release more information in the coming days.

Arson? My God. Why would someone do that? I wondered if Dr Sauvage had made enemies. It was truly dreadful. And, feeling guilty for the selfish thought, I wondered who I was going to talk to now. Laura was too fragile and my therapist was gone. That only left one candidate: my best friend.

Jake and I arranged to meet the next day at Friends House, the Quaker place on Euston Road. He had a meeting at the offices of a record company who were based in a glittering new office block beside the station.

‘This is it,’ he told me on the phone. ‘I’m pretty certain they’re going to offer me a deal.’

‘That’s amazing.’

As soon as he gave me this news I almost cancelled. He was so excited and I didn’t want to bring him down. But I suspected that the moment he agreed to the deal he would go into orbit for a while. It was best to talk to him now while he was still within Earth’s gravitational field.

My CCTV equipment had arrived at lunchtime and I’d spent the early afternoon setting it up. The camera was positioned a
bove th
e entrance to the front door of the flat. It was connected to an app on my phone and was triggered by movement. If anyone entered the flat the camera would start recording.

As I left the flat I looked up at the camera and smiled.

Friends House is the Quakers’ London base, with a café and meeting area that is open to the public. It was one of Jake’s favourite places to meet because of the relaxed vibe.

I arrived first, bought a coffee and carrot cake and took them to the back of the meeting area, where it was quiet and secluded. A few brave souls shivered outside in the courtyard, where a light dusting of snow that had fallen during the afternoon coated the tables and gathered on window sills.

While I waited, I texted Laura and asked how she was. I hesitated then sent another message before she replied, telling her I was going to talk to Jake about what happened.
My therapist is dead
, I typed.
And I need to talk to someone. I hope you understand x.

Jake arrived wrapped in a chunky military-style coat, a long scarf wrapped around his neck. I had been right about him being ready for lift-off. Energy radiated off him as if he was a human microwave. He could barely keep still. He grabbed a large coffee and chatted up the Quaker girl at the counter.

‘Got her number,’ he grinned when he got back to the table. He sat down, his leg jerking back and forth, the worst case of restless leg syndrome I’d ever seen. ‘Hey, who was that Eastern European girl you were with the other night? She was well rude. Hot though. Don’t tell me you pulled her.’

‘She wasn’t
that
rude to you.’

He waved a hand. ‘Sorry, I’m turning into an egomaniac, aren’t I? I need you to tell me when I’m acting like a wanker, Dan.’

‘Keep you grounded, you mean. Down here where the mor
tals live.’

‘Hey, you’re a supersonic business dude. Apps sell a lot more than music these days. It should be
me
keeping
you
grounded. Instead, you’re still acting like the world is a funeral procession. Even though you’re pulling hot women like that . . . where was s
he from?’

‘Romania,’ I said.

He slapped the table. ‘Really? So is she your new girlfriend? Have you given up on Laura? That would break my heart. I’m still convinced the two of you are going to get back together at any moment. Remember, you promised I could be your best man. I’ve already got some great jokes lined up.’

I sipped my coffee. It had gone cold. I was tempted to ask Jake to hold the mug, thinking that the heat coming off him would make it drinkable again.

‘No, she’s not my girlfriend. But Romania . . . well, that’s what I want to talk to you about.’

He sat forward. ‘Surely you’re not finally going to tell me what went down with you and Laura in Europe?’

‘I don’t know. But . . . I want to tell you about everything that’s happened since.’

His phone rang. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Got to answer this.’

He wandered out into the frosty courtyard and I watched him talking animatedly. I was envious of him. Everything was going brilliantly, nothing tainted, no shadows clawing at the edges of his life. This moment—about to sign a record deal, with everything ahead of him, the promise of greatness—was probably as good as it would ever get. As he had said, I should be feeling like that too, had indeed felt like it when Laura and I set off on our trip. I wished I was back in that place, the magical garden where Jake stood now.

Seeing him striding about the courtyard, chatting away, a big smile on his handsome face, I realised that I couldn’t be envious of him. He’d worked so hard for this. I was proud of him.

He came back inside, his hair glistening with snowflakes. ‘That was my manager. Universal and Sony want to meet me now too. So that’s three of the big four.’ He rubbed his hands together.

‘You deserve it,’ I said.

‘Thanks, man. Though I haven’t signed anything yet.’

‘You will. You’re going to be a star. Soon the only glimpse of you I’ll get will be when you’re in the paper, hanging out with
Taylor
Swift and Rihanna.’

‘Hmm, I think I’d prefer Beyoncé. Anyway, you’re gonna be a big techie superstar. We’ll be going to the same parties. We’ll be . . . Shit, Dan, your face . . . You look like I just reminded you that you’ve got cancer or something. I’m sorry. You have my
undivided
attention.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Come on, then. Hit me with it. What’s going on?’

So I told him about the burglar returning my stuff and the fraudulent use of my debit card. I told him how my therapist’s house had burned down, leaving me halfway through my course of treatment with no one to talk to. I filled him in on the details of Laura’s suicide attempt, which made his mouth drop open, and how she’d apparently been seeing ghosts again.

‘I’m sure I saw someone watching her, too . . . and someone might have tried to push her under a Tube train. All this weird shit.’

‘Fucking hell,’ he said when I’d finished. ‘Have you been to
the police?’

‘They think I either hallucinated the break-in, that I’m crazy, or that I’m a liar and a time-waster. Sometimes I think I 
am
going crazy . . .’ I trailed off. I decided not to tell him about hallucinating the photos from the train. ‘It’s ever since Romania.’

I looked at him, my eyes stinging.

He didn’t say anything for a few moments, just stared at me. ‘And are you going to tell me what happened?’

‘I want to. I really need to talk to someone. That’s what I intended to do. But now, when it comes to it . . .’

‘Daniel. It’s me. You can talk to me about anything. I’m not going to go and blab to anyone about it. I promise. I know you think I’m a major gossip but I swear, hand on heart, I won’t tell. Whatever it is.’

I tore an empty sugar sachet to shreds, unable to meet his eye. ‘It’s so hard to talk about. Just getting the words out . . . Plus I’m afraid of burdening you with it.’

‘Burdening me? Come on. It can’t be
that
bad.’

I looked up him. ‘But it is.’

I started by telling him about the train journey, meeting Alina and Ion, the guards throwing us off, the creepy station in the middle of nowhere. He listened, enrapt, as I told him about the walk along the tracks, Alina going into the forest and disappearing. Laura and I going to look for her.

‘And then we found a house. In the middle of the forest.’

He stared at me, eyes wide, as I told him what happened next.

Chapter Twenty-Five

A
s we moved closer to the house, I could see grey shadows flickering in the upstairs windows, those jack-o’-lantern lights. Candles. Somebody was home.

There was a little boy inside me yelling at my adult self as we approached the place.
This is a witch’s house, a witch who lures and eats the lost, who’ll fatten you and devour you, make bread from your bones. Run. Run as fast and far as you can, find a bed, get under the covers and hide there.

Laura touched my hand.

‘Daniel. Look.’

Laura was pointing at something and at first I thought my heart had leaped from my body and was lying there, twitching in the dead grass, but I somehow got hold of myself, forced my eyes to focus.

‘Alina’s other boot.’

I stooped and picked it up, turned back to Laura, cradling the boot like it was a kitten.

‘We should go, get help,’ I said.

My girlfriend set her jaw and, not answering me, walked up the path towards the house. I wavered. What was I—a boy or a man? Perhaps if I’d been here on my own I would have run, gone to seek help. But the need to stay with Laura, to not look like a coward, was even stronger.

The door was solid, fashioned from the oak trees that surrounded the house. I could sense those trees behind us, like they were watching, daring us to go inside. All the hair on the back of my neck stood to attention; ripples ran the length of my spine. Why was this house here, deep in the forest? I guessed it must have been the home of—what? A huntsman? A woodcutter? Some kind of ranger?

A witch?

The house had an ancient air about it, centuries old. It probably pre-dated the railway line we had walked along. The door had no number, no letterbox. I suppressed a hysterical giggle at the thought of a postman traipsing through the forest to deliver junk mail and fliers from pizza places.

Laura raised a fist to knock but I caught her wrist.

I somehow knew, as if I’d seen it in a dream, that the door would open if I pushed it. It did. It was stiff, heavy, but it swung open slowly, revealing a large open space.

I stepped inside, Laura following, holding on to my shirt.

The room reminded me of the entrance hall of a stately home. It was dark, lit only by the moonlight that penetrated from o
utside. N
o candles here. I waited for my eyes to adjust and soon saw that the darkness concealed very little. A couple of chests, a coat stand with a black jacket hanging from it. Doors stood closed in both corners and, directly in front of us, a stairway stretched up into more darkness.

Laura and I looked at each other. She looked more afraid now we were inside the house. If I had sensed a sickness about this place before we came inside, I felt it more keenly now. Terrible things had happened here. I knew that as clearly as I knew my own name. Laura had taken a few steps into the room but now moved back towards the exit, like she’d had second thoughts. Maybe it was the smell that did it: the room had a musty, damp odour, the cloying reek of mildew and rot. But there was another smell, a top note, that was worse. Years ago I had lived in a bedsit that had a vile stink. Eventually I found the source: the previous tenant had left glue traps beneath the cooker and the fridge, and dead rats had been left rotting for weeks. That’s what this place smelled like. Rotting flesh. Death.

‘You want to go?’ I whispered to Laura.

She stared at me, the fear evident in her eyes now. A look that said this was a mistake. A look that asked what the fuck we were doing here. The door had drifted shut behind us and I had a horrible feeling that it was locked now, that we were trapped. That we would be trapped here forever.

Maybe we would have gone then, done what we should have in the first place: gone back through the trees, kept going along the railway tracks, sought help in town.

But then we heard the noise.

Jake’s mobile rang, jerking me back to the present moment.

‘Fuck, sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s the guy from the record company.’ He clearly felt anxious about answering the call.

‘It’s all right. Take it.’

‘I’m sorry, man. I’ll be right back.’

He stood up and walked away, saying ‘Uh-huh’ and ‘Right’ as he went.

I had torn a dozen more sugar sachets to shreds while talking and now I picked at the pieces; grains of white sugar were scattered across the tabletop.

I felt sick, wondering if I’d have the guts to tell Jake the rest of the story. If I would be able to tell him the truth about what had happened.

He reappeared at the table. He wore a sheepish expression. ‘Daniel, man, I’m really sorry. They’ve moved the meeting forward so the Executive VP of A&R can sit in.’ Seeing my blank expression he added, ‘He’s, like, the top dog.’

‘You have to go.’

‘Daniel, I really want to hear the rest of what happened. Why don’t we have a drink later? After my meeting.’

‘OK. Maybe.’

He bounced from foot to foot, agitated.

‘Go on,’ I said, forcing a smile. ‘I’ll call you later. Knock

em dead.’

‘Thanks, Dan.’

He ran around the corner. I heard him bump into someone and apologise. Then he was gone.

By the time I got back to my street the sky was dark and starless and the snow had given way to icy rain. Cold drops ran down the back of my neck as I entered my building and ran a hand through my hair. There was a new poster on the wall, the words printed by a trembling hand. TO WHOEVER PUT THEIR FOOD WASTE IN THE GREEN BIN—THIS BIN IS FOR
RECYCLING
ONLY!!! This was followed by a threat to REPORT this
IRRESPONSIBLE
PERSON
to THE RESIDENTS’
ASSOCIATION
. I rolled
my ey
es. I was surprised there was no mention of the pizza-
munching
fox.

I trotted up the stairs and put my key in the lock, keen to g
et into
the sanctuary of my flat, despite the recent intrusions. I felt jittery and uneasy in my skin and had already decided that I didn’t have the mental energy to meet up with Jake after his meeting and tell him the rest of the story. Another day.

I flicked on the light. Nothing happened.

The light in the communal hallway behind me was working so it couldn’t be a power cut. I left the heavy door propped open with my bag, which was just sturdy enough to hold it, and went into the kitchen to test the light there, flicking the switch. Again, nothing happened. The flat was in darkness.

The fuse box was in a cupboard beneath the kitchen worktop. On the rare occasions when the power had gone out before—in fact, I could only remember it happening once—I had simply needed to push the fuse switch back down. Kneeling on the floor, trying to see the fuse box in the nearly non-existent light, I heard the front door shut, plunging me into complete darkness. Fuck—the bag must have been too light to hold the door for long. But I was able to feel the fuse switches now, running my finger along to find out which one had tripped.

None of them had. I took my phone out of my pocket and used it as a torch to double-check. No, the fuse switches were all in position. Without removing the fuse cartridges I couldn’t see if the fuse wires were intact, and I couldn’t remember whether the switch
would tri
p if the fuse blew. In normal circumstances none of this would have made me feel nervous, but recent events made me wonder . . .

Had somebody been in here again? Had they disabled
the lights?

Were they still here, hiding?

I went back to the front door, feeling my way along the wall, stumbling over the vacuum cleaner and almost falling. I looked up at the CCTV camera above the door, wondering if it had captured anyone. Maybe someone had spotted it and turned the lights out so they could move about without being filmed.

I fumbled for my phone so I could check the app that was connected to the camera, and promptly dropped it. It bounced and skidded under the furniture. I hesitated. My fear that someone was in the flat now overrode my desire to find the phone so I went back out into the communal hallway. The light, which switched itself off after a short while, had gone out now. I turned it back on and stood in the hallway, trying to decide what to do. I could knock on one of my neighbours’ doors, ask them if they had a torch.

I looked at my nearest neighbour’s door. I never spoke to
the woma
n who lived here, suspected that she was responsible
for th
e crazy signs that were always appearing. I didn’t want to get her involved, especially as the likelihood was that this was a failed fuse.

I made a decision: I would go back in, recover my phone and check the app to see if someone had been in the flat.

I went back inside and, this time, used the vacuum cleaner to prop the door open. I got down on all fours and felt under the sofa and the coffee table, feeling for my phone. Where the hell was it? I swore out loud and thumped the floor with my fist.

A scrabbling sound came from the bedroom.

I jerked upright.

There was someone in my bedroom. Oh Jesus, I needed my phone. I needed to call the police. But then came another bang, then another. I jumped to my feet, headed to the front door, then thought
no
. This was my chance to find out who had burgled my flat, to catch them and get some answers out of them myself. The police would probably take forever to get here. And I was pissed off. Sick of my world being violated.

I crept into the kitchen and took a large knife from the block on the worktop. Then, trembling with fear and fury, I tiptoed to the bedroom door and, holding the knife aloft with my right hand, used the left to quickly push the door open.

For a moment, I could see nothing. And then something hit me, knocking the breath from my body as I fell to the floor, forcing the knife from my grasp. It spun away across the carpet.

BOOK: Follow You Home
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