Hello, Bookish folks! It’s the second day of Howl-O-Ween and I’m back with yet another fabulous guest! If you enjoyed Sheila’s post yesterday then I’m sure you’ll like Ali’s post just as much. So *drumroll* please welcome our second guest:
Ali George is a journalist based in Edinburgh who has spent this year writing the first drafts of a different book every month and blogging about it at 12 books in 12 months.com. In October she is writing a book of short horror stories, and she has written this one especially for Howl-O-Ween 2011. If you would like to find out more you can follow her on Twitter @12books12months or ‘like’ her Facebook page.
I live in a talking house.
I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s really old, like, ‘if only these walls could talk they’d tell amazing stories of social history’ – I mean that our house can literally talk. And now that I’ve noticed, I can’t get it to shut up.
When I first found out, it was a pretty normal night.
I mean, there was a tingling on the back of my neck that I couldn’t shake off, and the temperature seemed to have dropped for no reason, but I didn’t really think about it, y’know?
Sure, I could feel a strange, prickling sensation at the top of my cheek, at the top of my forehead where the hairline starts, then by the side of my ear.
And OK, I put a hand to my face and my fingers come away dark and wet with browny red fluid.
For a moment I was confused, then I realised I must have dozed off, sitting there on the end of my bed waiting for the dye to develop. I was changing my boring, mousy hair into something more dramatic and stylish.
Glancing at the clock on the side table I could see it was only half past; I couldn’t have been asleep for more than five minutes.
I caught my reflection in the mirror and saw rivulets of thick red liquid coursing slowly down the sides of my face. It was insanely itchy, and looked like I was the victim of some kind of head trauma.
A trickle headed right for the corner of my eye must have changed direction in the moment I jerked awake, because as I gazed at myself it rolled down my cheek like a long, bloody tear.
“I’m sure the stuff I used last time was nowhere near this drippy,” I said out loud, even though there was nobody there.
I remember thinking it was a shame Pete didn’t live with us anymore. I’d probably have wound up in one of his horror shorts with my head all gooey like that… But my big brother hasn’t made one of his films in ages – which I think is a travesty, although nobody else seems to have even noticed. They’re too busy worrying how he’s going to cope when the baby comes.
Frankly I think he could use the distraction from all that stress, it’ll be full on enough when Mini Pete gets here… But his wife doesn’t like those kind of films, and of course Melissa knows best. Or at least Melissa thinks Melissa knows best, and nobody in our house is brave enough to pull her up on it.
Without really meaning to I engaged myself in the latest of many mental battles with my sister in law that will never take place, invested enough to mouth my retorts and gesticulate to emphasise how ridiculous her imagined answers were.
I also had music in the background, some album I got so I could impress The Boy with how knowledgeable I am about music – more specifically, the kind of music he likes. I actually think it’s pretty good, but I’ll never get the chance to tell him that because he’s decided to go after Sarah Carson.
Any leftover mental awareness was taken up with using cotton pads to dab away the never-ending trickle of dye – it must’ve been because the instructions told me to wet my hair first, I should have dried it more thoroughly after.
Anyway you get the picture, I had a lot on my mind, so was it any wonder I didn’t realise the house was talking till it was too late?
The first I heard it properly was when I stepped into the shower to rinse the mixture off my scalp, although I found out later it had been banging on for hours.
“Nicola,” it said in this reedy voice (it sounded a little bit camp, actually), “Nicola, can you hear me?”
Now, even though it didn’t sound like either of my parents, my first thought was not that the house must have been talking to me. So I yelled something like I would be out in a minute and why were they back so early? But I got no reply, so I thought they must have gone off to another room to wait for the bathroom to be free. What can I say; I’m not the nervous type.
Or at least I wasn’t.
My suspicions were first aroused when I’d been under the water twenty minutes and the water was still running bright, scarlet red. Anyone who’s done their own hair before will know the colour leaks a bit for a couple of washes after, especially with red dyes, but this was beyond the norm.
I tried shampooing but all it did was sting like hell, at which point I thought with rising panic that I might be having some kind of allergic reaction.
I jumped out of the shower and went through to my room to get a look at it – the mirror in the bathroom was all steamed up.
What I saw when I got there would have made a lesser person faint, but as I said I’d been raised as a constant extra in my brother’s homemade zombie movies so I was stronger of stomach than that. I mean, it was so gross it looked like a special effect, which meant I was able to distance myself from it.
“You’ve been ignoring me, Nicola,” the reedy voice said, and this time I was positive it didn’t belong to either of my parents.
“What?” I said, distractedly flipping the flap of scalp that had come loose. I could see my skull showing through it. I thought it’d be gleaming white, like on a Jolly Roger or something, but it looked sort of grey through the mess of red gunk that might’ve been blood or it might’ve been hair dye.
“You’re doing it again,” the voice said petulantly, and I felt a cold hand clamp tight around my ankle. “You never listen.”
“Who is that?” I looked down but there was nothing there, “Pete, are you filming? I thought you and Mel were supposed to be on holiday?”
“It’s not Pete,” the voice said, “why would you think I was Pete? You’re obsessed with him, it’s unhealthy.”
“Well who is it then?” I should have been crying in pain around then but to tell the truth I was more just irritated. Whoever this was clearly couldn’t see me, or they’d realise I needed a hospital, not a demonstration of their voice throwing capabilities.
“I’ve been watching you for so long,” the voice said, somewhat creepily in my opinion. “Ever since you were a little girl, in fact. Do you remember when you moved here, Nicola?”
“You were very small.”
The grip around my ankle tightened.
“Do you remember when you used to play Narnia?” the voice asked.
“Yeah, kind of.” I assume by this point I’d lost so much blood that talking to a disembodied voice felt like a pretty normal thing to do. “I used to go and sit in the old wardrobe in the spare room and pretend I was Lucy.”
“That’s right. You used to say that you wanted to go to another world and have adventures because this one was boring and nobody would play with you.”
“Yeah, thanks for bringing that up,” I huffed as my hair dripped on to the carpet, “what a happy childhood memory. Very comforting.”
“You promised that if you could get a glimpse of that other world, you’d do anything.”
“Yes well, children make silly promises. Any chance you could call me an ambulance?”
“You did get a glimpse, Nicola.”
“I gave you a glimpse, and now I’m collecting your promise.”
“I may be somewhat light headed,” I said primly, “but I’m pretty sure I’d remember if I’d been to a magical world at any point.”
“Your sixth birthday,” the voice replied, “at the party you went to play hide and seek in the garden. You climbed over the fence, even though that was cheating, and you saw a flash of something in the woods at the back of the field.”
“How do you know that?”
“You followed it, and you saw-“
“I imagined it,” I said softly, remembering. “That wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been.”
“It was real. And now you have to pay up.”
I sat on the end of the bed where I had fallen asleep earlier on. I rubbed my temples, and my vision blurred.
“So what is it you want?”
“Well isn’t it obvious, Nicola?” the voice purred. “I want you, of course.”
“Oh right, silly me.”
“Every fifty years I claim a child,” it sounded put out, “yet the new owners never bother to look into local history to find out why they’re getting a new home in a prime location so cheap. I’ve been doing it for centuries.”
“That’s nice,” I said. Then I fainted.
* * * *
When I woke up some time later, I wasn’t me any more.
I could see my parents searching, their faces pale and drawn, then later Pete and Mel came, and the police; but they couldn’t see me.
I thought maybe they could, sometimes. One of them would stop suddenly, stand very still, and look in my direction, frowning, like they were trying very hard to see what they knew was there.
But then they always shook their heads and walked away.
It’s been forty years now, and all of them are gone – I don’t know where they went, in the end, but they couldn’t stay here.
There’s a new family now. They have a little boy, with black curly hair and serious grey eyes. The way the house looks at him makes my spine ache. Or it would if I could find my spine.
I’ve tried to warn them what’s going to happen, but there’s nothing I can do – I have no voice anymore.
It won’t be long before the house takes him too.