A new year, a new start. At least to some extent. I mean, the clock doesn’t strike midnight and delete everything from the last twelve months. You won’t suddenly be transported from your semi-detached in North East London to a mansion in the countryside, surrounded by heaps of cash. But you get the idea.
“Start as you mean to go on.”
The question is: what do you do on the first day of the year? I suppose a lot of people spend the day in bed fighting off a hangover, but as someone who doesn’t drink, that wasn’t really an option. Instead, my friend’s family made a plan; we would all write scary (but relatively child-friendly) stories to read out in the evening around the fireplace. Despite my initial hesitance to agree, it ended up being quite a fun exercise, and made me feel like I made a pretty productive start to the year. I also set my Goodreads goal to 60, spent some time on memrise and decided that I should write another blog post (hence, the one you’re reading) since these were all my resolutions for the year, and, let’s be honest, if you don’t make things a priority from the outset, they probably won’t become one later on.
Still, laziness is hard to overcome, and I didn’t feel up to spending ages working on a post. I decided instead that it might be nice if I were to share my “scary” story with you, whoever “you” may be.
A sudden knock on the door jolted Billy awake. He looked groggily over towards the clock hanging on the wall above the mantelpiece, rubbing his eyes as he did so. He’d apparently fallen asleep on the sofa watching a late night re-run of The Woman in Black; his dreams had been a strange mix of ghosts and Harry Potter as a result. No matter how hard he tried when watching that film, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Daniel Radcliffe was going to save the day by whipping out his wand. No magic in that world, though. Just the ghosts and their victims.
The time was now quarter past three in the morning – a rather ungodly hour for someone to be banging on the front door, which the unwelcome visitor was now doing pretty violently. Billy lived in a shabby block of flats just a couple of blocks away from Mile End station, right next door to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park; it wasn’t as if just anyone could get into the building. It must be that girl Silvia from downstairs, he thought grudgingly as he dragged himself up from his horizontal position. He’d told her countless times that he wasn’t interested — he was gay, dammit — but she had seemed to take each rejection as a personal insult, and there had been a few times, much like this one, where she had come home late on a Friday night, completely wasted, and felt the need to start an argument with him.
Just as Billy was debating whether or not he should answer the door, the banging came to an abrupt stop. Thank God, Billy thought. He really didn’t have the energy to deal with a drunk, emotional Silvia right now. He waited to hear the sound of drunken, stumbling footsteps to lead away from the door, but a whole two minutes past without any movement sounding from the other side of the door. The only sounds he could make out were the humming of the fridge coming from the kitchen and the occasional clanking of pipes in the walls as they cooled down after a long day of heating the building.
Billy pushed himself up from the sofa and crept over to the front door before bending down to look out through the keyhole onto the landing. To his surprise, there was no-one in sight. He backed away from the door in confusion, before returning to look one more time in case he had missed something. He scanned the darkness of the landing for Silvia, or at least some trace of her, like a discarded cider bottle, but once again came up empty-handed. He stepped away from the door and turned to face the living room.
A short, sharp scream escaped him. Sitting on the sofa where he had just been was the shadowy figure of a woman, about the same size and height as Silvia.
“WHAT THE HELL?” he yelled. There was no reply. The woman on the sofa didn’t even flinch, though Billy was sure he had shouted loud enough to wake up the people on the floors both above and below him. Despite everything, he groaned internally at the thought of the complaints he’d have come morning.
His heart was pounding, hard, as he took a couple of steps forward to close the gap between himself and the intruder. He was extremely aware of the fact that he could feel his phone, currently in his back jeans’ pocket, pressing against him. He tried to remember if it had had much battery before he had fallen asleep, if he would be able to use it to call for help if he needed. For the life of him, though, he couldn’t remember. He was too focused on the fact that the woman on the sofa hadn’t moved a muscle. From what he could make out in the dim light of the room, currently illuminated by nothing but the glow of the TV, she didn’t even look like she was breathing.
“S-Silvia?” he asked, failing to keep his voice steady. “How did you get in here? I’d be in my right mind if I were to call the police! You’re breaking and entering, you know!”
But there was still no reply. No sign that she had heard him.
“Silvia, this isn’t funny! SILVIA!”
Billy was now standing just a couple of steps away from her, and could see her much more clearly. His eyes widened as he realised that what he had thought before — that she wasn’t breathing — was true. She wasn’t breathing. Her eyes looked dead as they stared out into an empty space of carpet, unblinking and with no emotion. Scattered in her hair, which looked as though it hadn’t been brushed in weeks, were little pieces of twigs and leaves. It was like she had literally been dragged through a bush backwards. Repeatedly.
Billy’s mind was racing as his anger faded away and worry took its place. What should he do? What if something terrible had happened to her? Shaking, he moved for his phone, but his hand found nothing inside his pocket. Suddenly, it was empty.
Panic filled him, flowing into his mouth, his throat, his lungs, drowning him until he began to choke. It was at this very moment that Silvia, raising her head and hands in a jerky, broken kind of motion, like an old, misused puppet, sneezed.
With the sneeze, life seemed to flow back into her, just as panic had flowed into Billy seconds earlier.
“Godddd, Billy,” she croaked. “I took something — I thought I knew what it was, b-but…” Silvia started to cry, and words rushed out of her in a torrent. “It must’ve b-been something else. I d-didn’t know what I was d-doing, I ended up in the cemetery b-but I didn’t realise that that was where I was and then I fell and I thought that I could see p-people coming out of their g-graves and ch-chasing me b-but then somehow I managed to g-get back h-here but I kn-knew it wasn’t safe for me to b-be al-alone and then I tried knocking on the d-door but you didn’t answer and and and then I r-remembered that you have that that that other door r-round the back and it was unlocked but when I came in I just suddenly felt even w-worse so I sat down and everything seemed to fade away and I d-don’t remember anything else and oh God oh G-God I might’ve died Billy I might’ve died—”
Billy stood still, feeling as numb all over as he had felt in his mouth when he was a child and the dentist injected him with morphine before giving him a filling. As he watched Silvia, who was now weeping uncontrollably on the sofa, his heartbeat gradually began to slow and he came back to his senses. His right hand was still hovering by his jeans’ pocket where he had reached for his phone. He realised now that in all the fear and confusion, he’d messed up. His phone was actually in his left back pocket.
Letting out a long, shaky breath, he reached out to comfort Silvia with one hand and took his phone out of his pocket with the other. She needed to get to A&E, desperately. God knows what she took.
He called for an ambulance, and pulled her into a hug, stopping himself from telling her not to get any ideas. He was still gay. The hug didn’t mean anything.