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The Gift

By Jonathan Lynch All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Blurb

Michael is a 17 year old boy who has no friends, has never kissed a girl, and keeps a diary documenting his miserable existence. But his worst problem is the atrocious bullying that eventually leads him to try and take his own life. But when his suicide attempt fails under strange circumstances Michael has no explanation for it. That is until he finds a message left by a stranger offering him a chance to avail of The Gift. The Gift - all of the hearts greatest desires for the price of a handshake and a favour, to be carried out when Michael is a very old man. When Michael accepts The Gift his life is transformed. Money, success, happiness, and the love of a beautiful woman soon follow. But when the man in black returns a lot sooner than expected to call in his favour, Michael finds himself in a life or death battle against the demonic destroyer. The Gift is the Readers Favourite award winning debut novel from Jonathan Lynch.

Chapter 1

Dear diary

I must have dreamt that I tried to kill myself today. That is the only explanation I can come up with as to how the overdose went wrong that doesn’t actually make me sound crazy.

So – if I was happy with that reasoning, then why am I writing about it? Well, apart from keeping with the tradition of writing down every single event that goes on in my life in this diary, things still don’t feel right. I don’t feel right.

Yes, the dream theory is plausible enough, but there are still so many other things that are not, and thinking about them all has done nothing but drive me nuts, and given me an awful headache. So I thought that if I retraced my steps as far back as I can remember and wrote down what I think has happened, then things might become a bit clearer on paper. I agree the idea sounds silly. It is silly. But so is this whole situation.

But as my English teacher Mr. Davis always says, ’There is nothing clearer than the power of the written word.’

So – here it goes.

I got in from school just after half three. I was drenched in sweat, and feeling totally exhausted. The sprint home in the scorching heat, combined with carrying the weight of all of my school books in my bag, had really taken a lot out of me. Not that it takes much to drain me lately. Since writing in this last, I’ve lost another 3 pounds in body weight.

But anyway – Luke and Robert hadn’t been in for the last two classes today. And even though getting one last beating on the day I was going to kill myself didn’t really seem to matter, I still ran all of the way home from the second I got into the schoolyard. I don’t know if I did this from pure habit or just because I was so eager to get on with my task. Perhaps both.

When I eventually caught my breath (after quite a while), and mustered enough energy to peel myself away from the inside of the front door, I did so very slowly and called out to my mother. I knew, of course, that she was long gone to work – and that she wouldn’t be back until the early hours of the morning. But I still checked all the same.

The last thing I needed was for my mother to be home early, or to have cancelled her plans to go drinking with the girls after their shift for whatever reason. But, as I expected, my call was met by silence. Now that I think of it, the whole flat had an eerie silence to it. I remember how being inside the hall made the hairs on my neck and arms stand on end. And how my stomach swirled with butterflies.

I shook the nervous feeling off as best as I could, and gave the flat a quick scan, just to be doubly sure that I was alone.

I had to be alone

The weeks – months – of planning, all depended on me being in the flat by myself. And my search confirmed that I was. Well, kind of. I don’t know what exactly it was, but I had a feeling that I wasn’t really alone.

I felt like I was being watched by secret eyes in the strange and heavy air. At the time, I put it down to pure nerves about the situation that I was in, and what I was about to do. But even now, as I write this, I still have that feeling of being watched. The uncomfortable feeling of being observed by an invisible companion still hangs in the air.

But anyway – after I had completed my search, I went to my bedroom, dropped my bag on the floor with a heavy clunk, and changed out of my soaking wet uniform. I then changed into my tracksuit bottoms and took a T-shirt from the drawer of my desk. I remember looking at the two red strap marks on my shoulders that had been scored into my skin from my schoolbag, before I put the T-shirt on. They ached and irritated when the fabric of my fresh top rubbed against them.

When I was dressed, I picked up my uniform and took a long look at the school crest on my jumper. I felt sickened by the Latin motto surrounding the coat of arms. Its loose English translation was Integrity, Dedication and Equality.

Saint Gabriel School prided itself on being one of the very few mixed secondary schools left in Dublin. Left in Ireland, actually. And it liked to believe that all the boys and girls who attended classes mixed harmoniously together during the school hours.

If they only they knew some of the things I was put through, while wearing that uniform, they would seriously have to rethink their proud motto. And they would have to take a closer look at some of the pupils that wore it too. I don’t ever remember the crest and words bothering me so much before. Until today, I don’t think I had ever studied them so closely to be perfectly honest. I guess with what I was about to do, and it being the last time I’d ever wear the damn thing, it made it all the more significant.

And repulsive.

I then carried my uniform into the kitchen, which is where mother keeps the wash basket. Not that the location of the wash basket is critical to the story, but whatever. I lifted the lid off the plastic drum, tossed the damp uniform on top of a pile of clothes, and slammed the lid back down.

Thinking about that school – and the people in it – only made me sick and angry. And the basket’s lid bore the brunt of my aggression. Looking back now, I don’t know why I put something that I would never be wearing again for washing. But I knew I didn’t want it anywhere near me or my bedroom. Part of me wanted to pick it back out of the basket and tear it up into pieces. And then burn it. If I’d have had the strength, I probably would have.

I tried to shake off my anger and focus on my real task. I went the couple of steps over to the sink counter. From there, I grabbed the only bottle of wine from the rack. A Spanish red Merlot – the last of the four bottles that my mother had bought only four days earlier. Then I took the bottle opener from the cutlery drawer, and headed back to my bedroom.

I put the wine and opener on my desk. I then went and retrieved the tub of pills, and the suicide note that I had hidden under my bed last night. I had spent a couple of weeks building up the mixture of pills in very small and crafty increments. Most of them were Paracetamol and there were a few headache ones too.

But I did manage to raid my mother’s drawer in her bedroom (always when she wasn’t around of course), and get some prescription tablets as well.

They had names on the tubs that I couldn’t even pronounce. But with them being prescribed, I knew that they would be strong enough to do the job once they were combined with the others and the booze.

I then attached the suicide note that I had folded into a small square to the tub with two elastic bands. The last thing I needed was that note breaking free, and my mother finding it when she was doing one of her daily deep cleans in my room.

I opened the note and placed it on top of this very diary – on this desk. I didn’t want to read the note again, just in case it started to give me second thoughts and cause me to back out. Although it had taken me all of those attempts to get it right, the note was pretty simple, and to the point.

It was basically a few lines written to my mother explaining what I had done, and why. It was littered with apologies for my cowardice and breaking her heart. I had told her in the note to read my diary and in doing that she would realize what drove me to kill myself.

I pushed the thoughts of the note, and my mother, out of my head, went back to my bed with the wine and the bottle opener, and sat down. After much fumbling, I finally managed to pop the cork open.

My hands were beginning to tremble so badly that I almost dropped the bottle. If that had happened, then everything would have been over. And I don’t know how I would have explained to my mother how her wine had come to be spilled all over my carpet either.

When the cork slid free from the neck, I remember the sour aroma of the alcohol wafting up into my face, and it made me shudder. How people drink that stuff for pleasure I will never know. I then clamped the bottle between my legs, and spilled some pills into my hand. I examined the mixture of capsules – orbs – and oval shapes against each other. There were a couple of yellow ones in there that I didn’t remember gathering, which looked big enough to put a horse to sleep.

They reminded me of tablets I once took when I had a really bad throat infection. It’s funny how they seem to prescribe over-sized pills for you to swallow when your throat is shriveled to the size of a penny. But – I’m getting off the subject – that’s not important right now.

So – as I looked at the pills, I felt my heart began to slam hard in my chest. The reality of everything was making me tremble.

This was it.

It was now or never.

I had come this far and there was no turning back now. All of that planning had finally brought me here. I swallowed hard, and grabbed the wine bottle by its neck with my free and shaking hand.

It slipped again in my wet palm, and the bottle nearly tipped over into my lap. I took some deep breaths and composed myself. My heart was still working overtime in my chest – but I did manage to get my breathing under control after a couple of minutes.

I clamped the bottle between my knees again, and wiped my palms on my legs. I then grabbed the bottle in a firmer grip. I took one long, last look around my dingy bedroom. A teenager’s room is supposed to be filled with colour and happy memories. And indeed, both were present in mine.

But for me the colours’ were dark and the memories sad. My eyes returned to my desk, to the diary, and again, to the suicide note. The strange, electric feeling in the air was at its strongest in this room. It felt like a heavy, smothering blanket that was weighing me down with each passing second.

My whole body tingled and shivered with static. And for a split second, I thought I heard somebody breathing as heavy as I was in the room with me. I looked around, but of course, I saw nothing or nobody. My eyes returned to the note once again. It kept calling to me. The note that had taken me 12 attempts to get ‘right’.

I’m so sorry mother.

Please forgive me. I love you.

That’s how I had ended the note. I had told her that I loved her right before I destroyed her by taking my own life and leaving her all alone. And that’s when I started to cry. I quickly tried to push any more thoughts of my mother out of my head. Any longer, and the guilt would overwhelm me, and I would lose all my nerve and abandon everything.

Driven on by what I can only call a nervous energy, I took a couple more of those calming deep breaths. And then I emptied the mixture of pills from my hand into my mouth, and swallowed them down with a big gulp of wine.

The mixture of the two was both chalky and sour. It stung and burned in my mouth like a fire that licked its way right down my throat – and seared all the way down into the pit of my stomach, where it turned into a blaze.

But I couldn’t let the burning stop me. Although the thoughts had occurred to me – that if I was to drink too fast, I would run the risk of vomiting everything straight back up.

So, after a short breather, I carefully emptied more of the pills into my mouth and drank more of the wine; only the second time I took my time in doing it and I swallowed in smaller, more controlled gulps, while breathing through my nose. I gave myself another short breather and then took the last of the drugs and washed them down again in the same slow and controlled manner, with as much of the wine as I could stomach.

I still hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t vomit. But the burning inside of me began to rage. My bowels felt like a furnace. I took some more deep breaths, and examined the bottle. I had drunk just under half of the alcohol (I thought that I had consumed more). I just hoped that it would be enough.

I then wedged the cork back into the bottle, and put it on my desk, along with the empty pill tub. I put them right beside the diary, and suicide note, and returned to my bed and lay down. I interlaced my fingers across my chest – in a prayer-like fashion – and looked blankly at the ceiling. The burning inside me started to ease off slowly. I didn’t expect it – but the wait on death, the build-up, had turned out to be the most nerve-racking part of all.

I had read a few horror stories on the internet, and researched a lot of articles about botched suicides, and about people who were saved at the last minute from death. Apparently the pain of having your stomach pumped was appalling. Not to mention the humiliation of having to face your family, neighbours, and God only knows who else might find out, as well as to have to undergo all the physcological evaluations, and all the other messy questions that went with it.

Then, there were the cases of others, who had choked on their own vomit and apparently died under great stress and a lot of pain.

I began to pray for real, and I asked God to make it as peaceful for me as he could. All I asked was for it to be just like falling into a deep sleep.

An eternal sleep.

But apparently, according to religion at school – God didn’t answer your calls when you took your own life. That was a major sin.

After a few minutes of nothing, I started to think that I hadn’t taken enough drink and drugs, or that maybe; just maybe, this whole thing was going to be peaceful after all. I felt myself beginning to relax a little bit and all of a sudden my eyes began to sting and droop like heavy dumbbells had just been hooked onto them.

My skin started to burn hot, and my stomach – as well as the rest of my insides – began to cook and roast at high temperatures. I prayed to God one last time – begged him – to let this be the worst of it. But my body began to feel like it was being tied in rough knots, by huge iron hands. My stomach lurched all the way up into my now swelling throat, and I dry heaved. Water filled up inside my mouth, and I was sure that I was going to throw up. I dry heaved twice more after that. And, each time, the pain worsened.

The last thing I remember was trying to lift my arm to wipe away the tears that were running down my temples, and dripping into my ears. But my limbs had become numb. Each second that passed was paralyzing my whole body. My skin burned and fried until I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Outside, my body was hot and numb. But inside my organs throbbed in agony.

Part of me really wished that I would just pass out, so I could escape the torture. I gritted my teeth hard and felt the pain consume me. Then, after what felt like an eternity, everything began to fade and grow darker. I wrestled with the invisible weights that were pulling my eyelids down. I fought for as long as I could to keep them open. The blurry, white ceiling above me spun around in vicious circles. That was the last vision that my eyes allowed me to see. They slammed shut for the final time. My body temperature changed from boiling to freezing.

Then everything faded to black and silence.

My time was up, I knew it. I…

Michael closed the diary and threw his pen to the floor in frustration.

‘It wasn’t a dream! It couldn’t have been!’ His angry words wafted into the crisp air.

You don’t remember and feel all of those things so well in a dream. It’s just not possible! The emotions were all too real! Way too real!

He could still taste the wine and tablets in his mouth too. He had even rinsed and brushed his teeth before writing in the diary. But he still had that dry cotton feel, inside his mouth, which irritated his gums, and made his teeth feel chalky. The thoughts of it all only caused his head to pound more. He got up from his desk and stretched his aching limbs. His bones cracked and creaked at their release. He groaned loudly and closed his eyes and rubbed his throbbing temples.

If everything is so real, then why is the wine back on the rack in the kitchen untouched? And where the hell is the suicide note? And the empty tablet tub?

The sound of thunder booming in the sky outside broke him from his thoughts. He shambled the couple of steps across the floor to the rattling window. A sharp and bitter breeze enveloped him instantly. The window frame’s best days and draft protection were long behind it. It struggled in the fight against the wind pushing in through the warps. Michael put his hand on it to silence the trembling.

He peeled back the net curtain slightly, and looked outside. It was unseasonably dark and gloomy for a May evening. A heavy rain began to pour down, hitting the ground hard and rebounding several inches back up into the air. It then turned its attention to the window and began battering the glass.

The breeze that was wrestling with the window, like invisible, strong hands, whistled loudly in the murk. It blew litter debris in high swirls along the empty street. He studied the elements outside for a moment and remembered how hot it had been when he had run home from school. Hot was an understatement. It had been scorching.

I came home in a heat wave and woke up to a thunderstorm.

He let go of the curtain and released his hand from the window. It began to rattle again behind him as he walked back to his bed, and sat down. Nothing was making sense. And trying to figure out what had happened was getting him nowhere. He thought again about trying to find the suicide note. But his body ached too much at the moment, and his head swam with pain and confusion.

The thoughts about taking a painkiller for his hurting had a laughable cruelty to it.

‘I came home – got changed – and then I fell asleep,’ he said once again, to the empty room.

It’s only natural that everything felt so real. I’ve been planning this day for so long now. And I really did let it totally consume me. My mind was playing tricks on me. That’s all it is. You’re losing weight rapidly by the day. You don’t sleep much and you barely eat. It’s no wonder you’re imagining all of this stuff!

‘I need to eat and sleep. In that order,’ he told himself. He shook his head and rubbed his temples once again.

‘You should have just hung yourself then.’

His statement induced goose pimples all over his flesh. He was shocked at the words he had just said. Although it didn’t feel like they came from his own mouth.

No! It’s one thing taking your own life through an overdose, and being found dead in your bed. But to be found hanging… well that was something far too morbid and devastating for the person who found you. And in your case, it would have been your mother!

The voices inside his head were starting to irritate him. He ordered himself to stop thinking about it all. His mind needed to rest. The rain began to pelt the window even harder, and it brought along more booming thunder, this time accompanied by lightning, which lit the blackened sky outside.

He left his room and went to the kitchen to make some tea. The sight of the wine on the bottle rack beside the kettle made him sick. He did his best to ignore it, as he filled the kettle and flicked the neon switch on, and waited for it to boil. He plopped two teabags into his M initialed cup, and heaped three teaspoons of sugar on top of them. He then finished it off with a small drop of milk.

He needed a strong brew. The skull-crushing migraine was growing worse by the minute. His head felt like it had a storm of its own thrashing around inside it, and it was a lot worse than the one outside.

He listened to the rumbling of the kettle turning over and watched the tendrils of steam rise as his thoughts turned once again to the suicide note. He had to find it. He had to try and get rid of the aches – find some energy – and then go looking for that incriminating note again.

It was in the flat somewhere. It just had to be. And he had to find it before his mother did. The kettle switched off, and continued to grumble as he filled his cup. He didn’t bother to take the teabags out. Instead, he pressed down on them hard with the teaspoon and stirred gently. The stronger, the better. He turned the heating on before he left the kitchen, and then made two short steps into the adjacent sitting room.

He turned the TV on and sat down in his favourite chair directly opposite the small screen. He hadn’t been on his feet long, but already his bones were relieved when he took the load off them. He channel-hopped until he found the repeat, and much edited, WWE program, and settled for that. He sipped his sweet tea and exhaled loudly. The hot liquid warmed his insides in a much milder way than the wine had. Or at least he thought it had.

He quickly pushed the thoughts out of his mind and turned the volume up on the TV. The wrestling cut to one of its many ad breaks which caused him to grunt loudly and decrease the volume. The sitting room was even colder than his bedroom. And it would be another few minutes before he would be feeling any benefit from the central heating. He interlaced his fingers around his novelty cup to warm himself as he sank deeper into the chair.

His stomach rumbled with hunger, and he thought about eating, but knew he wouldn’t have been able to for quite a while. His mother had left money on the table for him to get a pizza. But his insides were still on edge and a bit tender. Better to wait for a while.

And if I do need to eat, I might just have a couple of pieces of toast. I don’t think a greasy cheese supreme would be the best addition to a sick stomach.

When the wrestling came back and he had watched two poor matches he felt himself begin to relax. His thoughts about the earlier events, and looking for the suicide note, began to slip away.

He nestled further down into his chair and sighed. If the weather was any way better he would have considered going out for that pizza. It was times like this he wished they had a phone in the flat to call for a delivery or a computer to order online.

Suddenly his attention was caught by the sitting room door slowly creaking open – all on its own. It groaned with that clichéd haunted-house creak, guided by an invisible force, and only eased slowly to a halt once it had opened fully.

Michael looked at the door, and then into the blackness of the hall behind it. His skin prickled as the door swayed slightly back and forth.

Just the wind and bad draft exclusion, he told himself.

Probably warmer outside in that storm than it is in here. Damn flat is like an icebox.

He took another sip of tea before getting up to close the door. He put his hand on the door handle, and it slipped right off. The metal handle was dripping wet and freezing cold to the touch. A howling wind that sounded like a dog in agony then swept through the flat. It pushed the door back hard, and it thumped against Michael’s head right between his eyes. Behind him, the television blacked out.

The light in the sitting room followed next, as its bulb exploded in a large pop that rang in his ears, and instantly brought back his migraine. He was plummeted into total darkness.

The radiator under the window behind him rattled and thumped. He heard the boiler that controlled the heating choke and rattle and go into shutdown. The delayed click, of the time clock switching itself off, followed next.

‘Bloody storm’, he mumbled into the black.

It was probably just a couple of circuit breakers that had been tripped, or the main fuse had blown. Then somebody turned the bathroom light on. He recognized the heavy clunking of the ancient switch so well. The heavy and sticky switch that could only be turned on by the firm depression of fingers.

Even a mighty storm had its limits. No wind was capable of that!

But - if the power was down - then how the hell was the bathroom light still working? Michael scolded himself for not thinking about the most obvious question.

Who the hell had just turned the damn thing on?

His whole body began to quiver. It felt like he was standing under a cold shower. The bathroom was just four feet to the left of where he was standing, in the doorway of the sitting room. Its dim yellow light spilled down into the hall. It didn’t offer much illumination, but it did allow him to see a shadow move inside the bathroom. The shadow of a very tall human form. The light inside the bathroom quickly changed to an amber colour.

And it was then that he realized it wasn’t the bathroom light he was seeing. It was the light from an intruder’s torch. His stomach began to spin like a turbine and his heart thumped hard in his chest.

The sound of footsteps – heavy heeled or booted ones – resonated on the concrete floor inside the bathroom.

There’s an intruder in my house. I’ve got to do something.

The thought was there, but the action wasn’t. His legs had turned to straw and he had to put his hand on the wet doorframe to support himself. He could only stand frozen in the middle of the doorway, staring into the dark, dark hall. The light began to shine from bright to dim, in slow, rhythmic pulses. The only things Michael could hear was the rain outside and the thumping of his heart.

He tried to call out, but his mouth was too dry. The footsteps came again – and this time they sounded like they were getting closer. He saw that the light was beginning to probe itself further down into the hallway.

They’re coming right towards me. Oh GodI have to move!

He had seen it so many times in his favorite horror movies, and read about it in countless novels, where the victims always seemed to be rooted to the spot in moments of terror.

And how they used to put their hands up to shield themselves from the slasher’s knife or whatever weapon they brandished. But it was something he never, ever bought. If you are scared – scared as hell – then you’ll find the energy to get out of there as fast as your legs can carry you. And you never - ever looked back. Or tripped yourself up. It was that simple.

But in reality, it was completely different. He knew that now. He wasn’t running around the woods or being stalked on the highway. He was stuck inside his tiny two-bedroom, rundown flat. The only ways out were to run into the hall and try making it out the front door before the intruder got hold of him, or to try and climb out the window and flee into the wild night.

But even on a good day it took a lot of time and energy to get that disfigured wooden frame up. And he was in short supply of time and energy.

Extremely short. His legs felt like concrete blocks, and even an oncoming intruder – a possible slasher – couldn’t move him.

A tall, dark shadow crawled out into the hallway, enhanced by the pulsing light. It was the silhouette of a person. A very tall person there was no doubting that now. The only thing he was thankful for was that it only appeared to be one shadow. He thought he heard what sounded like a muted squeal of laughter. But he only heard it for a second, before it was drowned out by exploding thunder.

He waited – braced in the same position, using the doorway as his foundation – for the sound of footsteps to come again. The ones that creep up on you slowly, right before you get grabbed in the dark. He waited, and waited. But nothing came. And for a moment he almost felt relieved.

But he knew – he could feel – the presence of somebody standing in the hallway looking at him. Just like he had felt when he first got home from school earlier that day. Only this feeling of being watched was real. The air was thick and oppressive. Almost choking. All of the hairs on his body stood to a vibrating attention. Droplets of condensation from the doorframe dripped onto the hand that was holding him up.

The hand didn’t feel like it belonged to him. He swallowed a couple of times to try and moisten his throat. He tried once again to speak – but still he couldn’t. Beads of sweat broke out on his brow and ran down his cheeks.

What could I say anyway?

He tried again to move. But that too was useless. Sweat dripped into his eyes and ran in slalomed lines down his back like icy snakes.

The storm raged outside, and the window rattled violently. Lightning lit up the darkness for a couple of milliseconds.

But that was all it took for Michael to see the tall, black figure standing in the hallway, angled in such a way so he could be seen standing between the bathroom door and Michael’s bedroom. The figure – whose head almost touched the ceiling – was only a few of feet away from him. His stomach dropped, as the lightning vanished, and returned him into the now familiar darkness. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or terrified.

Say something! Anything! Pretend you have called the Policeand that they’re on the way. They don’t know you haven’t got a landlineor mobile phone. You hope not, at least. Or better yet, go get a knife from the kitchen - and try and protect yourself. Or run. For God’s sake, just run! Do something. And do it quickly!

The lightning came again, but for slightly longer this time. He saw that the tall shadow was a foot closer to him now. Almost within touching distance. Another foot, maybe even half a foot, and he would be well within grabbing distance. He tried to shout out, and even move backwards. But all of his motor functions had shut down.

He waited in terror for the lightning to come again. And to reveal the shadow – which he knew now would be right in front of his face. He thought he could feel a hot, pungent breath on his face, heating the cold lines of sweat on his skin. He waited in the consuming darkness, with his eyes tightly closed. His heart was beating so hard that it pained his chest and rib cage.

Then – his legs started to walk him of their own accord right into the hall, towards the bathroom. But first – right into the path of the shadow. He tried to resist, and grabbed on to the doorframe as tight as he could. But one by one, his fingers slipped from the cold and slippery wood, as the invisible conveyor belt dragged him slowly along.

As he moved in a super slow motion, he expected to meet the clutches of the shadow. He should have by now, judging by where it was the last time the lightning had struck. He squinted his eyes tight and held a hand up in front his face.

Any second now I’m going to feel that grab, a painful bear hug of an embrace. A death grip. Or perhaps see the glint of a blade - or feel it.

But there was nothing – or nobody – there waiting to take him. He opened his eyes slowly – and into a darkness that felt like his eyelids were still shut. He knew, though, that he was standing just outside the open bathroom door. The sound of the faulty cistern dripping, and the piney smell of Pot Pourri and other toiletries, were unmistakable.

The invisible conveyor belt that had dragged him to this place had apparently wanted him to stop here.

But why? Because that’s where the shadow is going to get you! Please God don’t let there be someone waiting for me in there.

Earlier he was prepared to die. He really had wanted to. He’d planned it so meticulously for so long and he couldn’t wait to get it done. The thoughts of it had even made him happy. But this – whatever this was exactly – was a lot more terrifying than carrying out an overdose. The air coming from the dark room was bitter, and it crept around him like a thick cloak of fog. The clothing he had on offered little protection.

He had to bite down and lock his jaw tight to stop his teeth from chattering loudly like those novelty, wind - up dentures. He went against all of his instincts and reached out in the darkness to put his fingertips on the light switch. It was dripping with condensation, and was as cold as the air around him. Reluctantly, he flicked the switch down. He didn’t expect, or really even want, it to produce any light. But it did.

The light burned his eyes as he opened them slowly. Even when his night vision adjusted, he still kept them partially closed. He didn’t want to see what was waiting for him in the bathroom. But all he could see was a large fog of steam and droplets that were cascading down the walls and dripping from the ceiling. The coldness of it all was overwhelming. The bathroom looked like it had just been used as a sauna. A reverse sauna though – where the temperatures had gone down instead of up.

He stepped inside, feeling a little relieved but still slightly confused. The concrete floor was covered in large puddles of water that squelched under his feet and seeped through his socks. But that was all that greeted him. The shadow from the hall had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He was alone in the dingy bathroom. He exhaled so deeply in relief that it ended up sounding like a stifled cry.

Despite the build-up of water and condensation, nothing else in the bathroom looked out of place. His and his mother’s toothbrushes were still in the cup on the sink, along with a half squeezed tube of toothpaste. The bathtub beside the sink was clean and still smelled of citrus cleaner. The same way it always did for the day, after his mother scrubbed it early in the morning.

The toiletries, bubble baths, and shampoos were all still arranged neatly on the rack in the corner, beside the bath taps. The dripping in the faulty cistern still trickled away in the same manner as it had done for as long as he could remember.

‘I’m not even going to try and work this one out,’ he said to nobody. ‘A damp bathroom is hardly the Zodiac Letters now, is it?’

The power outage and bulb exploding are down to the storm. And as for the light switch being tried, and the shadow – well- overactive imagination. It’s been like that since you woke up. I think you’ve had enough fun for one day. Best thing you can do now is get to bed, and try getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe when you wake up in the morning you will stop hearing all of these new voices in your head too!

He decided that he would take his own advice, as soon as he cleaned up the bathroom a bit. Outside in the sitting room, the television suddenly came back to life but he paid no notice. The last thing he wanted was for his mother slipping on this later, when she came home drunk. He went to retrieve the mop and bucket outside the bathroom but then stopped in his tracks.

Something caught his attention from the corner of his right eye. He looked across to the medicine cabinet that hung over the toilet. But it wasn’t the ghostly, haggard reflection looking back at him, or the fact that the mirror wasn’t steamed over either, that surprised him.

There was something stuck to the glass. Just above eye level, in the right hand corner. He took a couple of small, squelching steps, closer to the cabinet for a better look. It was a card. A small, white, rectangular one, similar in size to that of a business card. And it had beautiful, black handwriting on it. He leaned over the toilet and plucked it from the glass. It came away easily, and had no adhesive properties to it on the back. He turned the card over and read it.

Hello and good evening Michael. My name is Lorcien. You do not know me, but I certainly know of you. And I have been watching you for some time now.

And it was I who intervened in your attempt at taking your own life earlier this evening. The reasons for this will be explained to you upon my return at midnight, tonight. But please, do not be afraid. I am here to help you.

Until then L

Michael let the card drop from his hand. He had no time to feel anything. He was already unconscious before he hit the soaking floor.

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