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A young women receives a gift that is too good to be true - a house in the country. But does it come with a catch...or a guest? A look at how guilt can haunt us.

Horror / Thriller
Age Rating:

A short short

I thought I’d had a pretty guilt free existence. I had been a good person, a good daughter, occasionally a great girlfriend. But it seems everyone has that one thing that haunts them. I did.

One, maybe two incidents in my life that I’m not one hundred per cent proud of. Where I might have hurt someone. The irony is, the better the person you are, the smaller that thing has to be to make a difference. But at what point did I hurt someone enough for this?

I’m stuck now, trapped. I’m sure I didn’t do anything to deserve this, but yet here I am. In this house, this godforsaken house. Stalked, watched, haunted. Trapped? Could I walk away from this house and never come back, just forget it all? It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like if I did something worse would follow, that I would take it into my normal life. Bring it back with me. Would I even be allowed to leave? Or am I destined to be here? All these thoughts, emotions and just me to sort them. If I can focus for one moment, sort out what happened, go over the time lie, then maybe I can tell you. Not in a storytelling sense. There is no happy ending here. But just to go over it, one more time, in my mind, to find out this time where things turned. Where it went bad. I’m sure my psychiatrist would tell to vocalise it, to shout it out. But I can’t. He might here. It will stay with me until the end.

My letter box went, a day, week, year ago? It feels longer when you try and think about it, try and pinpoint the exact moment. How long had it been? It seems so long ago. Things were different then. I was not me, not who I am now. I was happy. It was a small parcel, one of those padded envelopes that smell of business.

Strange how certain details remain intact as if to convince me that this is definitely real. This is happening. That the small chance that this is all a dream is not possible. It had a key inside. Just a key and an address. ‘Your new address’, it read. Back then, I liked mysteries. Like a treasure hunt when you’re a kid.

Who was it from? It’s strange that at the time, I don’t remember looking at the postmark. I just saw the key, and my new address. Was it arrogant of me to assume that someone might want to give me a house? Maybe. Was it even a gift or had I bought it myself and just forget. Had the craziness started that early? I even checked my bank balance, but no money had gone. A gift then. It was near Christmas when I set off for my early present. I remember that. But, time is blurry.

Did I wait? Do some background research on the house? Check previous owners? Who registered in my name? Was it actually registered in my name? Or did I just go right there? I think part of me thought it was all just a trick, a joke, but I was happy to play along. I went alone.

I was alone then. I had friends, but no one that I would want to share this with. No boyfriend. Not for some time. I don’t want to go into that now. He left, I didn’t. That’s all I can manage for now. It was a small cottage out in the countryside. Remote, lonely like me. If I try to remember it as I first saw it, I struggle. All I see is one of those cottages you see on the cover of Town and Country magazine. Small, bright, beautiful. I do remember that I liked it. More than that, it was perfect. Someone knew me, knew what I wanted.

I’d come with a few supplies – food, couple of bottles of wine, change of clothes. I had planned to stay one night. I honestly thought someone would be there waiting to explain it all. By the time I arrived it was getting dark and cold. The house was warm and welcoming. A fire was laid and I lit it. The house seemed to hold me like a duvet. I didn’t want to leave. I waited, have a glass of red while I did. The warmth and wine combined to drag me to sleep.

When I awoke, I was happy. I made some breakfast and explored the house. And then, it seemed to get dark again and I was still there. So I slept again. And I woke. Two days, three, four. The cupboards were stocked with food and I was happy. I was settling in. I seemed to forget that I was waiting for someone to turn up. This was my house now. I felt somewhat isolated out there in the nothing, but I had grown to become happy with my own company recently and so grew accustomed to it. Was isolation the same as loneliness?

The fifth night came. It’s funny how I can remember that it was the fifth night, but not exactly what it was that happened. There was something, a noise definitely. A shadow, I’m not sure. It wasn’t usual house noises. Houses in the countryside creak and moan all night. But this was something different.

It was dark and late when it happened. I was eating in the kitchen. The rest of the house was pitch black and I sat in the only pool of light in the building. Spot lit for all to see. I heard it first at the window. Yes, it was definitely the window. Was it a tap, or a cough, or just my conscience? Whatever it was, it made me look.

And there, at the window, in the dark outside, I could make out his shape. The light from inside reflected off the glass, so I didn’t have a great view but there was a shadow, a bulk of something, that wasn’t there before. If it was someone then they would have been looking straight at me – eye to eye. Him staring at me, looking at him. Sizing each other up. Both perfectly still, one from fear, the other? Well, who knows? Did he just blink? Were those the whites of his eyes?

The fear had become unbearable, an actual physical pain, a sickness in my stomach. Despite the fear, I had to force myself to move. I moved to the draw with the knives. This meant going closer to the window. Two steps forward, eyes still locked on the shadow, maybe his eyes. I looked down for one second to grab the knife and when I look back he was gone.

A breath escaped me, frosting the window slightly. I didn’t rub it off. My body relaxed, muscles unwound. Was that the door? Or was it the draw closing? Finally, my instincts kicked in and I ran to all the doors, locking everyone, putting all the lights in, closing all the curtains. Creating an imaginary boundary of light and fabric between me and him. I barely slept that night. One, maybe two hours, and then only in ten minute patches. The light stayed on, the night stayed dark and I grew tired.

Who was this man? This hulking figure. Was it him who had given me the house? Had he provided me with this honey trap to lure me into the countryside, alone, so he could torment me? It all seems so illogical now, looking back, but then I had the fear of him still in me. It seemed then that if this was his aim, then he had succeeded. Game over. You’ve won. But it wouldn’t stop.

Yes, so far it had only been the one sighting, but I was sure it was a ‘someone’ I saw, and logically it follows that if it was someone then they were here to scare me, otherwise why the strange behaviour. I thought about ringing the police, but they would have been no help. I’ve tried them before in similar situations. Without evidence, a crime or even a face, they could do nothing.

What did I do the rest of the day? I don’t remember. The tiredness got me every now and then, but I don’t remember sleeping. I was anxious. Again and again, I ask myself, why didn’t I go, why didn’t I go, why didn’t I go? I have no answer. I could claim it wasn’t safe to drive so tired, but that was lies. That I wanted to be brave and not be scared off, but that wasn’t true either. So I just waited for thenight to come and for it to be over. That’s how it felt. Even after the first night, the one sighting.Maybe, I did do other things that day. Maybe I even forgot all about him, put it out my head and convinced myself it was just shadows and that I’d overreacted. I can’t remember thinking that but then why else would I have stayed.

During the day, the garden seemed safe. Open fields spread out all around to the horizon. I ventured out, I remember that. Or at least I remember having my coat and shoes on that night, so I must of. There was nowhere outside to hide. No trees, sheds, bushes. Just me and the cottage. As dusk appeared, so did he.

I was outside, definitely. Just by the front door looking at the sun set.Just 20 feet away, by the car, there he was, looking at me. The closeness, the lack of barrier between us creates a different response in me. I fled. Ran indoors. Locked the door. The windows were still locked from the night before. I had done it, created a sanctuary. But were the windows closed? Or had I opened them to let the spiced winter air in? I checked again. Yes, I had opened them. Damn it. Footsteps, upstairs. Had he gotten in? Was he that quick? He was inside now, locked in with me.

The last of the sun disappeared over the frosted peaks. We were alone. Or was it him, or did I just hear things? I could make a run for it now. To the car. Into the darkness outside. What if he hadn’t come in? What if he was still stood there? No, definite steps again, going to my room. Creak, tap, creak, tap. Gentle, soft, but piercing. Now to the stairs, down, step by agonising step. Creak, creak, creak.

And now, stopping silently on the bottom step. I too was silent crouched in the kitchen, a ball of fear, eyes seeing only the door. The door he was behind. Breathing silently. There was no ticking of the clock in the kitchen, so time evaded me. We stood in a silent stand off for hours. I sometimes slipped into a crouched sleep, only to woken by nightmares of sounds. Sounds of the door swinging open, of him scrapping his nails down the walls, of him crying. All in my head, but enough to wake me.

When I awoke, I inspected the door. Was it open that much before? No, it had moved. He was there. In the crack, in the darkness, I could see his eye again. Further down, something else. His head. His skin, pail white like the frost outside, radiant in the darkness. He was there, but hadn’t made his move. He wasn’t ready yet for that. I slept, woke, dreamt. Did he know when I was asleep?

I sobbed when awake, the feat tearing a hole in my chest. Had I missed my chance to run? I could have gone through the kitchen window, but wasn’t sure whether I could make it out before I felt his cold hand grab my ankle. But maybe that would have been better than this. Get it over with. No, I was made of stronger stuff; I could get through another night. The door creaked shut as my eyes closed. Again, I slept little until the water down winter light came and saved me from one more night alone.

Why was he doing this? Was he real? The questions kept me from relaxing yet kept me sane. If I didn’t question him, challenge him, then I would be accepting defeat. He would be right and I would be wrong. But I hadn’t been wrong. People say that you have to consider other people’s feelings but you also have to consider your own. It’s no use making concessions for someone if it ends up you’re compromising your own life.

Maybe I could reason with him. Tell him this. Back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t move from my spot in the kitchen until the sun was at its highest point, that I was atthe further point from the darkness. But the days seemed to be getting shorter. And I started to think about his arrival earlier.

As the sun started its slow descent, I began to worry where he was. Iwanted to lock everywhere, but there were rooms I was too afraid to go into in case he was there. The house had three rooms upstairs and three down. I was stuck in one, maybe two downstairs. The rest were his.

He’d taken the house back from me. Maybe it was never mine. He came again, night after night. First, as I carefully made my way to the bathroom, he was there, running water possibly. I didn’t see him but heard him. A definite sound, worse than seeing his shadow. At least when I saw him I knew where he was, knew where I could go. The sound only gave a vague hint as to his position. Where he had been. It could be a trap to lure me into another room.

I knew it was upstairs though, so could never go up. That night, I didn’t sleep. At all. The night after, he walked past me. This was the closest we came. I hadn’t left the kitchen in two days. I decided to venture out. It’d been since the bathroom incident the night before since I’d heardfrom him, so had become braver. My mobile phone was in the lounge. I was going for it. I doubted I’d have any signal but a text for help might get through. I carefully opened the door, like I was peeling back a plaster. I looked around. There at the top of the stairs I could see his legs. He turned away and headed back upstairs.

I knew where he was now. I had a chance. I crept across the hall to the front door but it was locked. The rattling of the handle was echoed up stairs by his footsteps turning, coming for me. I darted into the bathroom. It had no windows. I could lock the door. It was a measure of safety. Though I was secure in the bathroom, I was now finally trapped. There was nowhere to go. I heard him walking about the flat liked he owned it. He went up to the bedroom, I heard the draws being opened and closed. With no windows, no watch, there was no time. No sleep, not anymore.

How long had I been in there, I couldn’t tell you. But I knew he was out there, that I’m certain. Now, I’mhere, telling my story to myself to try and work things out. What is the ending?

This is the third, maybe fourth, time I’ve told this story to myself. Each time, little things change. Details change, are added or removed. I’m not sure if it is becoming clearer or not. This is not the definitive version, I know that, but it is the last.

There was no food in the bathroom – I would starve sooner or later. He would win. A light. Under the door. Was it sunlight or the hall light? I couldn’t tell through my sleep filled eyes, but I could tell that the two shadows in the light were feet. He stood directly outside the door. Finally sick of waiting, he was coming for me. Who was he? What had I done wrong? Was it you? If so, I’m sorry, but I don’t deserve this. Or was it someone else? An ex maybe? We’ve all had break ups, good and bad. The last one was bad. But we had been close, that’s why it was bad. He wouldn’t do this. Yes, I had been unfaithful to him, but he never found out. He couldn’t have. It was a random guy in the middle of nowhere. It was a mistake. I’m sorry.

Am I speaking out loud now? Why did you bring me here? I’m sorry, we all make mistakes. I won’t let you do this to me, I don’t deserve it. Bang. Bang bang. He was trying to get in. He was ready for it to be over. So, was I, but on my terms not his. He won’t get me. I can handle the pain, but not the fear. He’s shouting my name now. Screaming it. Angry. You’re not going to get me, I promise. It’ll be me who ends this. And I end it all.

Prologue: The lawyer had dealt with the police many times before, but not as a suspect. He’d called them after he heard the girl screaming inside the bathroom. He’d broken the door down, but it was too late. She had killed herself. The police were happy with his story – he was delivering the deeds to the house and seeing whether she had settled in. No, not many lawyers would do that, but this was a small village and this was a special case. He showed the police the will. And ex-boyfriend of the girl it seems had left her the place. He’d recently been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to make amends. The will read: “The house should go to the only girl I’ve ever loved. Sorry I hid myself from you. Sorry I could not tell you the truth. I have no time left to make amends, but this gift should help. I know how you always wanted one of those homes from Countrylife – now you have one. I hope you live happily ever after.”

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