Peony’s sleep was disturbed by a loud thud. She sat upright, stiff with fear, scanning her room with wide eyes but not daring to move a muscle. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, her heart racing and her stomach was somersaulting as if she was falling from a great height. She sat for a moment in the dark, making sure there was no threat. The only movement in the room was the gentle swaying of her lace curtains in the breeze from the open window. Some of the loose papers on her desk waved their corners at her lazily and as her eyes adjusted to the gloom she could see nothing out of place, no assailant lurking in the shadows. Her breathing and heart rate slowed gradually, and she looked down at her pink top which was damp with sweat, clinging to her chest so as to display her small, pert breasts moving rhythmically with her breathing, nipples erect as if they were acting as antennae trying to aid in her threat detection. She had been lying on top of her duvet, sinking into it like a child in a ball pit, and now swung her legs around so that she was perched on the side of her bed. She bent her toes, raking them through the carpet, and noticed as she watched their elegant display that her textbook was on the floor, lying awkwardly against her bedstead open at an obtuse angle that was putting strain on its spine. A thought passed through her mind; how much would it hurt if her body was contorted in such a way? She blinked hard, dispelling this image, realising as the veil of sleep was lifted that the thud that had woken her had been caused by her textbook slipping from her grasp and falling to the floor from the bed as she slept. She looked at her bedside clock, radiating a soft green fuzz of light from its tiny screen; a quarter past one in the morning. The girls wouldn’t be back from the party yet, and Beth might not even be back until late afternoon if she had her way, which she usually did. Peony needed to pee, she stood from her bed, pulling her blouse off slowly over her head as she did so. She took the few steps towards her clothes rail and paused to admire how the moonlight, patterned by its passage through the lace curtains, danced off the contours of her torso; highlighting the small mounds that were her breasts, and casting a small shadow beneath them. The lines of her toned abdomen bespeckled with a bewitching marriage between haunting light and flowery shadows. She ran her hand gently over her breasts, watching the pattern jump from the skin on her chest to that of her fingers, her torso goose-pimpling in response, then extended her arm to the clothes hanging on the rail and selected an oversized white t-shirt. She pulled the t shirt on as she made for her en-suite and flicked on the light. She lowered her underwear as she sat down onto the toilet, humming softly to herself and gazing into the recess of her shower cubicle, not noticing the shadow that passed across her moonlit bedroom floor. She finished urinating and flushed the toilet before crossing the small room to her basin, where she absent-mindedly washed her hands, still humming. There was a tiny crack in the lower corner of her bathroom mirror, and as she bent forward to splash water on her face Peony didn’t see this crack slowly extend toward the centre of the mirror, nor did she hear the scraping sound, like a knife on slate, that accompanied it’s growth until the crack was a full inch long. It ceased its advancement when Peony straightened, reached for a hand towel, dried her face and hands, and turned off the tap. As the running water stopped so should the silence have returned, but there was a noise coming from elsewhere in the house; a soft, constant whooshing noise that Peony was sure hadn’t been there when she’d woken up. Tentatively, she edged to the entrance to the bathroom, putting one hand gently on the frame and leaning slightly into her bedroom she called out,
“Hello?” Her voice was trembling, “guys? Are you home?”
The only response she received was the constant gushing sound from somewhere in the distance, now slightly louder as she emerged from her bathroom and turned to look down the hall through her bedroom door.
“Rach? Kim? Hello?”
Peony strained to see down the corridor, which was darker than her bedroom, being further toward the back of the house and thus farther from the moonlight. She couldn’t see anything awry, but the darkness, intensifying as it did as the corridor drew on, seemed foreboding and unwelcoming. She considered turning on the light in the hall, but didn’t want to draw attention to her whereabouts if there was an intruder in her home. Such a thought deepened her fear, she realised that she had been holding her breath, and that she had been gripping the doorframe so hard she had broken her thumbnail. She put her thumb in her mouth, wincing at the sudden sting as her saliva met the abrasion and at the sickly metallic taste of blood, and crept forward into the hallway. Her eyes darted from side to side, searching for anything out of place or anyone lurking in her peripheries. All the doors along the corridor were closed, and there were no signs that the girls had come home early form the party; no slivers of light escaping beneath the doors, no deep, sighing breathing or snoring. Peony ran her quivering fingertips along the handrail over the stairs as she advanced hesitantly on their summit, the whooshing growing ever louder as she neared its source, the floorboards occasionally creaking and groaning as if in protestation to her curiosity, warning her to turn back. The floor felt cold under her bare feet, another reminder that she would be far safer hidden away under her plump duvet. She glanced over the handrail and saw that the ground floor was as consumed by darkness as the first, she could just about see the moonlight dousing the frosted glass in the front door but beyond that there was only black. Peony was so transfixed on the pitiful amount of light penetrating the downstairs that she didn’t realise she’d reached the top of the stairs and almost missed her step and fell, as she stumbled she let out a brief yelp that she had to stifle by slapping a hand to her mouth, an action that rekindled the stinging in her thumb. She caught her footing, and her breath, inhaled deeply and cautiously began to descend the stairs, every step now agonisingly producing biphasic squeaks from the wood; each stair would squeal as she lowered her weight onto it, and groan as she lifted off. As soon as she was low enough to do so, she stooped to get a view of the rest of the ground floor. Still seeing nothing, it was obvious now that the rushing sound was coming from the kitchen, still growing louder as she got closer she was thankful that it must have dampened the sound of her approach. Eyes fixed squarely on the black rectangle at the end of the hall that was the kitchen door, Peony reached the bottom of the stairs and rounded the newel. She advanced slowly on the kitchen, playing through in her mind where the knives were kept so that she could defend herself if required, the whooshing now an intimidating rush ringing in her ears like an alarm. Had she not been so fixated on the kitchen door, she may have noticed a shape lurking in the alcove under the stairs; the contorted shadow of a man crouched in the very smallest nook of the space, holding perfectly still in his unnatural position, skin crawling and writhing, watching her with bright white eyes centred with large, jet black pupils as she crept passed. She reached the kitchen door, which was open, and could just make out movement on the island; the tap was on full and was pounding the basin with water. The noise now penetrating her eardrums and vibrating in her skull, she rushed to the island and hurriedly turned off the tap and, remembering her predicament, spun around checking all corners of the kitchen for trespassers. As the last remnants of water gurgled into the plughole Peony was again plunged into silence, and she could detect no further evidence of foul play. She moved back to the kitchen entrance and switched on the light, she was blinded momentarily by the sudden flash but as her eyes grew accustomed to the illumination she felt more reassured; the kitchen was just as she’d last seen it, empty wine glasses decorated the breakfast bar but there was nothing out of place or suspicious. The light spilled out of the doorway sending a wedge of yellow-white down the hall, Peony glanced over her shoulder scanning the entranceway, the closed doors to the downstairs rooms and, finally, the space under the stairs. Everything appeared normal, no ghosts or ghouls, or invaders of any sort. Smiling to herself, but still confused as to how the tap had come on all by itself, Peony fetched a glass and filled it with water, making sure to turn to tap off tightly when she was done. She turned off the light on her way out of the kitchen and made her way back up the stairs. Rounding the top step, she flicked on the light to the first floor landing and promptly dropped her glass of water, smashing it on the wooden floor in a deafening cacophony of jangling shrapnel, added to by her scream; the hatch in the ceiling was open and the step ladder had been pulled down to the floor. Now she was terrified, frozen to the spot by fear and by the knowledge that she was standing barefoot in a hallway full of broken glass. Her eyes glazed over and she struggled to think, her eyes and ears seemed numb and she was only aware that she was now crying because of the salty droplets trickling down her cheeks. Standing at the summit of the stairs, wide-eyed and streaked with tears, Peony knew she had to do something; flee or investigate. It was possible Mia was home, she was less sociable than the others so she could have come home early while Peony was asleep. That would explain who turned on the tap. Peony began to carefully pick her way through the shards of glass strewn on the floor, feet now wet with the water freed from her glass as it shattered. As she made her way to the stepladder, the door to the bathroom opened silently behind her.
Peony waited, no answer. There were no lights on in the attic, and no audible signs of current occupancy. Against her better judgement, and now physically quaking, she climbed the first few steps so that her head infiltrated the gloom and she could see into Mia’s room; the window blind was down, blocking out the moonlight, but Peony could still make out the outline of Mia’s bed. The uniform, linear borders of the shadow made it clear that the bed was empty and, after a swift glance around the rest of the room to satisfy herself that no one was up there, Peony hastily descended the ladder and pushed it back up into the ceiling, closing the hatch after it. Skipping through the final splinters of glass she bustled her way back to her bedroom, flicking the hall light off as she got there and spinning around to close her door. As she did so she found herself facing the corridor once more, and saw the silhouette of a man standing in the bathroom staring back at her. The figure seemed darker than anything she’d experienced in the gloom so far that night, unnaturally dark, but his eyes glowed bright white and were fixed on her through strands of untidy hair that obscured the other features of his face. The edges of the figure seemed to blend into the darkness around him like a smudged charcoal drawing. Peony shrieked loudly; a piercing, blood-curdling annunciation of desperation and fear. She slammed her bedroom door shut, ran to her en-suite and locked the door shut. She turned on the light and then huddled into a ball by the side of her toilet, in between the cistern and the wall as if the smaller the space she could squeeze into, the safer she would be. She held her head in her hands and sobbed loudly, shaking her head violently and rocking back and forth.
At first nothing happened, she sat there weeping and mumbling incoherently, praying to be left alone. Her hair fell limply in front of her face, a curtain between her and apparent doom. There were no footsteps rushing after her though, no crashing as her bedroom door was shouldered open. Peony stopped rocking and lifted her head, still crying, when the door to the bathroom shuddered with such force it shook the whole room. She screamed again and buried her head back into her arms. The door shuddered violently again, as if an inhuman force was banging against it. Again and again the door boomed, straining at the hinges and bowing intimidatingly, and each bang was met with a scream from the fragile young woman cowering in the corner. The relentless booming became deafeningly loud, hurting Peony’s ears so that she clasped her hands over them. The crack in the mirror began to grow once more, the scratching sound as loud as each crash of the door, and as abrasive as dental tools on exposed nerve endings as it reached the centre of the mirror and spindled out in all directions. Then the booming stopped and Peony, who was now jabbering in her lavatorial safe place, glanced up hesitantly from the floor. She checked the door, which was intact, then moved her gaze to the mirror; the cracks had spread through the entire pane, and in a maniacal mosaic pattern were the words ‘So Cometh The Dark’. As Peony drew in a sharp intake of breath, preparing another scream, the mirror burst from its frame and the bathroom door splintered explosively towards her. As her prone form was peppered with wood and glass, Peony was overcome, her eyes rolled back into her head and she lost consciousness.
Dim light bathed the room, the bed she lay on was lumpy and uncomfortable, she could feel ligatures around her ankles tying them together. Her hands were similarly bound behind her back, the bony prominences of her wrists and knuckles digging into the small of her spine as she lay vulnerable on her back. She was gagged with a piece of cloth tied across her face, and the warm, salty taste of sweat told her that this fabric had once served as somebody’s handkerchief. Her breath was harsh and panicked through her flared nostrils, and she began to wretch slightly at the thought of a strangers sweat diffusing from her gag and into her mouth. She knew she was naked, lying above the bed sheets, by the chill that caressed her body; her stomach, breasts and thighs unaccustomed to being so exposed. She blinked away her unconsciousness and saw a filthy ceiling above her, a single light fitting housed a dimly lit bulb sorrowfully determined to bring light that it did not have the capability to produce. Her hair, far from its usual neat ponytail, had knotted messily around her head, tickling her ears. She rocked from side to side trying to roll free from the bed, locks of hair sticking to her cheeks as they came into contact with the pillow each side of her, but the mattress was too worn and soft, and she couldn’t produce enough momentum to move herself sideways. Her struggles did give her a better view of her surroundings though; dirty, pastel green walls stained with nicotine and various anonymous fluids surrounded her. She lay on a square bed and could make out no other furniture in the room, although she couldn’t twist enough to see down past her feet she could see a photograph of a church hanging over the head of the bed. To her right she could see a door, a potential escape route even if it was currently locked and bolted, painted red, the paintwork peeling and chipping away as if distorted by years of heat exposure. To the right of the door, duct taped to the wall, were several flattened cardboard boxes that Peony guessed had been arranged as such to obscure a window beneath them. She rocked over to her left again, double checking for any other furniture or means of escape; there was a door parallel to the head of the bed, it had been pulled from its lower hinge and sat wedged open, the bottom edge of it scraping the floor, its panels twisted and distorted as if it had been in this position for some time and the wood had settled into a new shape dissimilar from the traditional rectangle. Peony couldn’t see into the adjoining room but could make out that it was dark, and so either there were no windows in there or they had been covered just like the ones to her right. A creaking sound from beyond the foot of the bed brought a whimper through her voice box, which was muffled by her gag, and she began to hyperventilate, blowing mucousy bubbles from her nostrils. It sounded like a heavy set man rising from an old leather seat, the rubbery hide stretching and settling as its load was removed. She struggled against her bindings to lower her head and see what had made the noise, but she was held too tight and only caused herself to wince in pain from trying to manipulate her limbs; her arms felt heavy and numb beneath her but her shoulders stabbed at her as if they would dislocate at any moment, and her back burned from the prolonged torsion caused by laying across her upper limbs. A shadow moved over her, creeping up her supple legs, past her slender waistline and settling on her face as a figure approached her. She couldn’t make out any details at first, silhouetted as this man was in front of the only light source, but as he stood over her, scanning her from head to toe over and over, his features became clearer; his skin was unnaturally pale and his clothes, a light blue shirt and black slacks, were torn and ill-fitting, like he had dramatically lost weight. His trousers hung low on bony hips, tied tight with a piece of electrical wire, the knees and hems stained with mud and damp. Through his shirt, which really was no more than a tapestry of rags draped over his torso, Peony could see thin blue veins coursing over the man’s skin, which itself seemed alive with movement. Shadows danced over the man’s stomach like those cast by candlelight, but there were no candles in this room that she could see, and the only source of light was behind him. He continued to watch her silently, the only sound in the room being that of Peony’s laboured and desperate breathing, as she fearfully raised her eyes to look upon the man’s face; his dishevelled light brown hair hung forward over his swollen forehead, it looked as though someone had stitched a fat slug under the skin of his hairline. There were no blue veins on his head, just the ghostly white complexion of a gaunt, expressionless face, and inhuman eyes. Eyes as white as the skin encasing them, with immense pupils an ungodly shade of black. Eyes that seemed unfathomably deep and immersive. The eyes, she remembered, that had been staring at her from the other end of the hallway in her home.
She began to scream through her gag, jets of saliva escaping the sides of her mouth as she tried to be heard beyond the putrid walls of the room. The man cocked his head slightly, a gesture of quizzical amusement, before raising a fist and striking her square in the jaw. The crack of the man’s bony knuckles on Peony’s teeth sent sharp tendrils of pain through her head, an intense agony erupting from her gums and tracking into her nose and eyes. Her jaw went slack and her vision blurred as the anguish penetrated the rest of her senses and before she could recover, or even fully react, another blow crashed down across her mouth, this time from the man’s elbow. This strike shook the joints in Peony’s jaw, dislocating them briefly before they found their anchorings again with a sickening ‘pop’, her head ricocheted limply forward, bouncing up from the pillow, and she felt several of her teeth come loose, the exposed nerve endings feeling like a ravenous rodent was gnawing at her gums. She didn’t lose consciousness completely, but was disoriented and feebly protesting as the man gripped her gag and pulled it from her mouth. He plunged his other hand into Peony’s oral cavity, scraping the insides of her cheeks and the back of her throat with his fingers as he scooped up the dislodged teeth. The raking of his splintered fingernails against her tonsils sent a violent, pulsating gag reflex through Peony’s throat and, just as she began to vomit, the gag was forcefully thrust back into her mouth and tied in place, the rag now saturated with blood and bile stung the exposed nerve endings where her teeth used to be. The man’s hand dripped with blood as he brought it close to his face, examining the fruits of his gory oral excursion and finding six teeth in his palm; four incisors, one fang and one molar. He placed his free hand across Peony’s forehead, pinning her flat against the pillow. She was weak now, overcome with fear and pain, and was in no state to offer any meaningful resistance. Instead she lay there, squirming slightly and moaning pathetically into the sodden handkerchief as the man bent forward and slowly pressed one of her own incisors, root first, into the centre of her left eye. She tried to clench them shut but the man readjusted his grip to free his thumb and index finger, which he used to pry it back open. He was now leaning over her, almost lying on top of her, so closely that she could feel his warm breath on her face, the smell like rotten fish left out in the sun through the stream of snot falling from her nostrils. She felt the nauseating rupture of her eyeball as the tooth penetrated her cornea, and a dark curtain quickly descended over the left side of her field of vision, but there was no pain. She thought she could feel the jelly from inside her eye leak down her cheek as a second tooth was inserted, but couldn’t be sure if this was blood instead. The man remained on top of her, his chest now pressing her breasts against her sternum and his forearm now pinning down her head, as he continued to feed her teeth into the empty sack of her eye ball one by one. None of them hurt as they went in but they began to rub against one another and felt like someone scratching a chalkboard inside her head. Peony continued her mumbled protestations against the obstruction in her mouth, noises that became more and more gurgled as blood began to pool at the back of her throat. She thought she might drown, a fate she would have welcomed at the time, but just as this thought entered her head and she went still as her consciousness began to fade she was hauled onto her front and the gag was ripped from her mouth. The blood from her gums had started to clot and had fused to the fabric of the handkerchief so that when it was removed there was an impressive jet of blood sent across the pillow and she was wrenched back to full awareness by another surge of mind-numbing pain. With nothing to muffle her voice, she began to beg for her life.
“Stop mister. Please, stop.”
A mixture of tears and blood spat from her lips as she pronounced the word ‘please’, and the man readjusted his position so that he was kneeling behind her, holding the ligature around her wrists in one hand and pulling Peony into a kneeled position too. Blood and sweat amalgamated into rivers running down her face, gathering at her jaw before dripping onto her bosom and riding the contours of her breasts and stomach, down towards her vagina. Some of the blood had become tacky in her pubic hair, matting it to her skin.
“My parents are rich, they’ll pay you anything!”
The desperation in Peony’s voice was now maniacal and she continued to spray blood-stained spittle from her mouth as she spoke, still lacking the energy to physically resist. The man remained silent, holding her knelt upright as he pulled a machete from behind his back with his free hand and presenting it in front of his prisoner. On seeing the blade, glinting slightly in the poorly lit room, Peony began to sob uncontrollably, her torso jerking as she did so shaking droplets of blood from her nipples onto the bed linen. As the machete penetrated her abdomen Peony screamed loudly, attempting to bend double but being held erect by her captor. A second, piercing scream echoed in the room as the knife-edge drew downwards opening a six inch wound in her stomach. The wound was deep, and Peony felt the blade dragging and catching on her muscles and intestines as it moved inside her, seemingly leaving a trail of fire as it did so. Her screams were now continuous, one after the other, interrupted only by the sharp intakes of breath needed to load another shriek. The man dropped his knife and reached around into her abdominal cavity, grasping a handful of innards and pulling them out like a gory magic trick. Peony watched in horror, now numb to the pain but scared almost to the point of death, as more and more of her bowel was extracted from her wound, and when then man had pulled several metres out he wrapped it around her neck as tight as the slippery tube would go. The visceral noose was not tight enough to close Peony’s airway completely, but did cause her to choke and fight for breath. Eyes wide, the veins in her neck distended to the point of near rupture and rapidly turning blue in the face, Peony gasped for air as the man continued to wind the remaining intestine around her wrists and ankles, turning her into a gruesome cat’s cradle. As the life began to leave her body and her consciousness finally began to fail her, the man knelt with one knee against her spine, wrapped his arms around her face and pulled her head backwards, bending her back over his knee until, with grisly crack, her backbone snapped, sending bony shrapnel spurting from the hole in her stomach, and one last inconceivable agony surging through her body before she finally died.
Aaron let the girl’s body fall into a heap, it looked like a sack of bone and blood had been slit open and dropped from a great height. He shuffled backwards on his knees to the edge of the bed and climbed off, still expressionless and not casting a second look towards his victim. His hands, knees and face were stained deeply red with blood that was drying by the second, deepening in colour with every passing moment. He seemed to pay no mind to this, however, as he made his way to the corner of the room, to the leather wing back chair, and slowly lowered himself into it. There were still some weak arterial jets coming from the body on the bed, and some bubbling as air escaped from a penetrated lung through the pools of blood, but these soon subsided and, as they did, Aaron closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep, head hung forward, breathing in a deep, sighing rhythm.