An adult horror novel
With the accelerator pressed to the floor, Beth turned the ignition again. It spluttered for a moment and died. Anxiously, she looked around. The headlights flickered and dimmed. Pressing her face against the steering wheel, she reached under the dashboard, found the plastic lever, pulled it. The bonnet locking mechanism released with a clunk.
She should have listened to her father, stayed the night, or left earlier, missed the jams on the M3, never have tried to go across country. Instead, she needed to prove to him, and herself, that she could make effective decisions. But she couldn’t. He knew that, and so did she.
Throwing the door open, she stepped out then slammed it shut.
The wind whipped her shoulder-length brown hair about her face. She had never known a night as black as this. Could almost reach out and touch the blackness that seemed to push against her.
Walking round to the front of the car, she popped the bonnet. Lifting it with difficulty, she then slotted the metal arm into the hole to hold it open. She kept her hands by her sides as she leaned forward, so that they wouldn’t get dirty. Looking at the metal and plastic spaghetti, she had no idea what to do. Jiggled a wire here, a wire there, and banged her head on the bonnet as she stood up.
‘Shit!’ Rubbing the back of her head, tears welled in her eyes. Everything was going bloody wrong. Decisions she had made, unravelling like poorly-knitted jumpers. Why had Marc suddenly decided he was gay and left her for a man? Why had her easy job turned to shit with the arrival of a new office manager? Why was she even going back to London? There was nothing left there for her. Had toyed with the idea of staying with her dad in Devon. But she had responsibilities. A flat, bills to pay, a boring low-paid job with a bitch for a boss, and Marc’s goldfish to feed. She should have walked away from a life that was crumbling around her like dried up biscuits. Started another life.
A click! Oh God, no. Rushing to the driver’s door, she tried to pull it open – locked. The keys dangled in the ignition.
‘No, no, no!’ She ran round to the passenger door – locked. There was her handbag on the seat, her mobile, money, credit cards, ID. ‘Crap! What now?’ This was the mirror of her life. Locked outside, staring through the windows at other people’s love, happiness, and fulfilment. None for her, never would be, why should she even try, or go on?
‘I’m outside, you brainless heap of… garbage.’ Felt no better for shouting at it.
Putting her hands on the roof, she then kicked the yellow Renault Megane, which only ten minutes ago, had been her pride and joy. Her shoe came off and slid under the car. Tears ran down her cheeks.
‘You stupid fucking car,’ she screamed. ‘You useless piece of junk metal, you, you…’ Not used to swearing, she ran out of expletives. Marc would have been able to swear at the bloody thing for at least half-an-hour, she
She looked around in the impenetrable darkness. Had no idea where she was. Remembered leaving the M3 at Junction seven then… a turning. Where the hell was she? Where was her life? She had nothing, was nothing – a failure at love, at work, at everything.
Wrapped her arms around herself – cold now – and getting colder. Her coat lay warm and cosy in the boot. Her exposed midriff had goose bumps. The piercing in her belly button she’d had done for Marc, all of a sudden, felt stupid on a woman nearing thirty. Another stupid decision. What had happened to her life? Where had her youth gone?
Listened. All she could hear was the wind whipping the walls of towering beech trees that stood on both sides of the narrow road like sentinels.
Saw nothing. No lights. No cars. No movement. It was as if she were the only person left in the world. The road – it was more like a dirt track – was desolate. She felt desolate.
The headlights went out.
She jumped. Oh no! The darkness was complete, an echo of her life. Lifted her hand up to her face – nothing. Slid down the car, turned, kneeled, and stretched her arm out feeling around to locate her shoe.
Something touched her on the backside.
Jerking, she turned and sat on the road staring into the blackness – saw… nothing.
Called out. ‘Who’s… there?’ Her voice sounded hoarse. Licked her lips, her mouth dry. Strained her hearing, trying to block out the wind.
She was being stupid. There was no one here. Scrabbled under the car again. Her finger touched something, but she couldn’t quite reach it.
Something rubbed against her hip.
Yanked her arm out from under the car, turned and stood up. Slowly, she moved her hands out to feel in front of her – nothing.
‘I know there’s someone there... Who is it?’
Within the tendrils of the wind, she thought she heard someone breathing. No, she was being foolish. There was no one out here in this awful weather. Something must have blown onto me, or maybe it was an animal, snuffling about, lost, and looking for food. I hope it doesn’t think I’m food, she thought.
Felt her way round the car to the other side, knelt down again. Knew she had to get the bloody shoe, couldn’t start walking without that stupid fucking shoe. Stretched, face close to the ground, right hand grubbing in the dirt.
Something definitely touched her – the inside of her thigh – she froze.
Again – harder this time – between her legs.
Jerked out from under the car, slithered up the door. Shivering. Her breathing came in short gasps. Thought she might faint.
‘I know there’s someone there. Please… help me,’ she pleaded.
A flash of lightning lit up the track. She saw nothing – no one. Thunder cracked the sky overhead. The rain came down in torrents. It pelted her head and shoulders, cascading down her back and between her breasts.
Tears burst from her eyes. ‘That’s all I fucking need.’
Mouthed a prayer. Eyes closed involuntarily.
Hands grasped her upper arms, twisted her round, and forced her against the car. Struggled, but her attacker was too powerful. Felt the hands on her. Lightning flashed again. Saw the indentation of the hands on her top, but there were no hands.
Her screams were whipped away to nowhere by the wind.
‘Please…’ she begged. ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ A repulsive stench invaded her senses, something rotten and decaying. A wave of nausea swept over her.
Felt her top being pulled. It was ripped from her body. The hands released her. Knew it was pathetic, but all she could think was, thank God I’ve got my bra on.
Up the track towards… where? Glanced back. No one there.
Oh God! What’s happening? Why me?
Had to stop – couldn’t breathe – out of shape. Leaned forward, hands on hips, and took great gulps of air.
Hands grasped her. Forced her to kneel, face pressed into the mud. Felt tugging at her linen slacks, tearing, and then the rain bouncing off her naked legs.
The hands released her.
Hair plastered to her face, she wrapped her arms round her knees and sobbed.
She was being punished. What for she didn’t know, but she must have offended someone or something. It must be her fault.
‘Please… tell me what I’ve done… what you want?’ she cried into the wind. ‘I’m sorry.’
No one answered.
Sobbing and shivering, she lay there for what seemed like ages.
Maybe he’s gone, she thought. Maybe he’s got what he wanted. Why would anybody want my top and trousers?
Sat up. The thunder, still close rumbled above. As the lightning creased the sky, she noticed the shoe on her left foot – kicked it off – useless.
Wearily, she pushed herself up. Drained, she began putting one foot in front of the other – escape – safety.
Lightning flashed, lit a gap in the trees to her right. She moved off the track, down a gentle slope. Bushes stroked her legs as she pushed onwards, arms outstretched in front of her in the all-consuming blackness. Wet leaves cool and soft on her bare feet.
The trees protected her from the worst of the wind and rain. Teeth were chattering. Did she see a light? She stopped to concentrate, focus her eyes up ahead.
Something grabbed her round the throat, forced her back against the rough bark of a tree. Oh God! There was no one there. She flailed her arms, felt nothing, no one. Felt her bra ripped from her, rough hands squeezing and kneading her breasts, tongues licking her face, her neck, her nipples, her stomach. Foul breath, like rotting meat, spittle dribbling down her face into her mouth making her gag.
‘No, no, stop it.’ Was that her voice? ‘Leave me alone. What are you doing? Please…’ She kicked out, the bark of the tree ripping into her back. Her feet met emptiness.
Her words fell into the blackness and disappeared, as if they had never been.
The hand released her neck. She slid down the tree trunk, slumped at its base. No more tears left, stared unseeing into the shadowy gloom of the forest.
A lull in the storm, rain turned to drizzle, wind not as bad. Forced herself to stand, to look for the light. Still there, she moved towards it.
As she staggered forward, Beth began mumbling something. What was it? Something her mother had once sung to her, so long ago. Did she even remember her mother? The words came tumbling out:
Horsey horsey don't you stop
Just let your feet go
The tail goes swish and the wheels go round
Giddy up, we're
Tripped, fell into a bush, breasts and arms bruised and sore. Staggered up, heard running water. Stream – waded through it – up to her knees – cold – so cold. Started climbing uphill – towards the light – a house – safety.
Tripped again, fell forward into the tall wet grass, a weight on top of her, pushing her down. Knickers ripped off, legs spread.
‘Noooo,’ she screamed. He entered her – huge – tearing her insides apart. Oh God, what had she done to deserve this?
Blacked out. Lay there. How long? Got up on hands and knees, crawled towards the light, towards safety.
Out of the trees, wind and rain battered her. Wooden gate, hauled herself up, opened it, staggered towards the door.
Weak – so weak. Fell to her knees. Heavy weight forces her down. No strength to fight, to scream, to care.
Please… no… not there. Searing pain. Blackness.
Cat licking her face, where was she? Memories flooded back. Looked up – the light, the door, safety, just a few more feet. She scratched on the wood, called out, her voice just a whisper.
‘Is that you Tinker… my God!’ Patty Carver gasped as she opened the door and saw the battered naked woman on her doorstep. She knelt and felt for a pulse. Thirty years of nursing useful after all, she thought.
Tinkerbell arched its back and slid in through the open door, into the warmth.
Patty turned and shouted into the house, ‘Henry, bring a blanket, come and help me, hurry.’
The poor girl, she thought. What in Heaven’s name could have happened to her? Where had she come from? Where are her clothes?
‘What’s going on?’ Henry asked as he stood over his wife holding the blanket. ‘What have you got there? Is it an animal?’
Patty clutched the blanket, opened it, and began wrapping it round the girl. ‘You would think so, Henry, the state of her.’ She half stood. ‘Come on, help me lift her, but be careful with your back. Bend your knees. I don’t want you laid up for weeks.’
Henry squeezed between his wife and the door. Bent at the knees, grasped one of the girl’s arms.
Patty took the other arm. Together they lifted and half-carried, half-dragged the girl into the house. Henry kicked the door closed.
Patty hesitated in the hall. The stairs led upwards to the three bedrooms and the cavernous attic. The kitchen lay past the stairs straight ahead.
‘There’s no way we can carry her up the stairs,’ Patty said. They were both in their eighties now. Living so far away from medical help, they had to be careful. ‘Let’s take her into the workroom. She can use the sofa bed.’
Patty directed Henry through the first door off the hallway. They carried the woman through the living room and into the workroom beyond. It was a large room. On the right side, her books on writing and her collection of horror novels were stacked on shelves, above the computer and printer hung the acceptance letter for her first horror novel: Diary of a Demon. On the left side of the room, Henry had his stamp collection on shelves in the alcove behind the door, a spotless glass worktop, and underneath a cabinet with tiny draws full of tweezers, stamps, glue, and magnifying glasses. Above his work top, in pride of place, hung a framed unused Penny Black. Facing them, between the two halves sat the sofa bed. Rain drummed against the glass of the window above the bed and the door in the right-hand corner of the room.
Whilst Patty held the woman precariously on her swivel chair, Henry opened up the sofa and stretched a sheet over it. He then helped his wife to put the girl on the bed.
‘She looks a bit of a mess,’ Henry observed. ‘Where’s she come from?’
Patty stared at him. ‘Don’t stand there making understatements and asking stupid questions, go and put the kettle on. Bring a bowl with hot water, a flannel, iodine, a towel, the medical box, and warm blankets.’
Mumbling about shopping lists and pack horses, Henry shuffled out to follow his orders.
Patty knelt on the hard mattress, her nurse’s instinct taking over. With difficulty, she shifted the woman further up the bed, took the blanket off so that she could see her injuries. Saw the slime and filth, the blood, the cuts and lacerations, smelled the fetid stench. She brought her hand up to her mouth when she saw the damage between her legs.
‘No more… please… no more…’
Stroking the woman’s face, Patty covered the battered body up again. ‘It’s alright, you’re safe now. I won’t let anything else happen to you.’ She turned towards the open door. ‘You’ve not fallen asleep in there have you, Henry?’
‘No, Sister Carver,’ Henry complained. ‘I’m working as fast as I can.’
‘Bring the flannel and water first, Henry. You can come back with the other things after.’
‘Yes, Sister,’ Henry said, balancing the bowl of hot water on the bed. He passed the flannel to his wife, and laid the towel next to the bowl. ‘Will she be alright, dear?’
‘Give me a chance to examine her properly,’ Patty said, putting the flannel in the hot water. ‘Go and get the other things, then you can wait outside until I need you. You’re not going to stand in here ogling a naked woman, let me tell you.’
His face dropped. ‘Yes, dear,’ he mumbled, his worn crumpled slippers scraping on the wooden floor as he left his wife to tend the woman.
Patty worked quickly. She had washed patients a thousand times. The woman moaned incomprehensibly. Injuries to the body weren’t serious. She applied iodine, dressings, and plasters.
‘Henry, come and help me turn her,’ Patty called out.
Henry shuffled in, put the medical box down, and stood behind his wife. Ex-army – desert rat – he was used to following orders.
‘Go round the other side. I’ll push you pull. All the way over, keep your back straight and your eyes in your head.’
He did as he was told. ‘Maybe I should take them out and put them in my pocket,’ he mumbled as he shuffled round the bed.
‘Don’t be stupid, Henry. How would you see what you were doing?’ Patty knelt on the bed, hands under the woman, pulled upwards then pushed.
Henry lowered the girl down onto her front. Saw the lacerations on her back, the bleeding between her buttocks. He grimaced. ‘I should have taken my eyes out, like I said.’ He turned away. ‘Am I done, dear?’
‘You’re done, old man, thank you.’
‘It’s hard to believe a man could have done that,’ he said, shambling out.
Patty turned on him. ‘I don’t see why, all men are evil pigs,’ she said.
‘If you say so,’ he muttered.
‘Call Sergeant Pothill, Henry. He’ll need to know about the attack on this woman, and ring for an ambulance.’
He stopped at the door. ‘I’ll try, Patty, but I don’t think the telephone is working. Storm must have damaged the lines.’
‘Again? Hardly worth having it, never works.’
Henry shut the door behind him.
Patty inspected the woman’s back. There were deep scratches with slivers of green bark embedded in them. She was gentle with the flannel. Washing each cut individually, rinsing the flannel, washing it again, dabbing it dry with a clean part of the towel, painting iodine on each one. She opened the woman’s legs, kneeled between them, spread the buttocks.
‘Henry,’ she shouted at the door. ‘Are you out there?’
The door opened a crack. ‘Yes, here dear,’ Henry’s disembodied voice slunk through the gap.
‘You’ll have to come in and help me.’
The door opened a bit more. Henry’s silver-grey topped head peered round it. ‘Do I have to?’
‘Sorry, old man,’ Patty, her voice soft, said to him. ‘She’s been terribly mutilated in the back passage. I have to put sutures in, and I need you to hold the buttocks apart whilst I do it.’
He came all the way in the room, hands stuffed deep in his pockets. ‘Not really a job for a Major-retired, but I suppose, in the absence of any privates or lance-corporals, I’ll have to do my duty. Where do you want me?’
Normally, she would have smiled at his ramblings, but not tonight. ‘Sit on the other side of the bed. Up there,’ she pointed to a position level with the woman’s elbow. ‘Oh, before you do that, bring the light off your desk, plug it in down here and point it to where I’m working, there’s a dear.’
Henry acquired the light, plugged it in and balanced it on a high shelf. He pointed the hundred watt bulb downwards, aiming it like a sniper’s rifle so that it lit up the woman’s buttocks over his wife’s shoulders. He then moved to his designated position.
‘When I say, put your hands on the woman’s buttocks and pull them apart,’ Patty instructed him. ‘You’ll have to hold them like that for not more than ten minutes, so be prepared. I’ll be as quick as I can.’
Henry nodded, his reading glasses slipping further down his long thin nose. ‘Just say when, dear.’
Patty took a syringe from the medical box and inserted the needle into the rubber top of the Lidocaine. She withdrew five millilitres of the local anaesthetic, tapped the syringe and pressed the plunger until all the bubbles and air had been removed.
‘When,’ she said.
Henry spread a hand out on each buttock, the thumbs pointing towards the cleft. He pressed down and pushed outwards.
Patty injected small amounts of the clear liquid into a number of places around the three jagged tears splaying out from the woman’s anus. ‘Relax, Henry. Give it a couple of minutes for it to take effect. The poor girl has had enough pain for one night. I don’t want to cause her any more. Was the telephone working?’
Henry relaxed his hands. He had a bit of arthritis, and on nights like this they tended to get a bit stiff. He looked out of the door into the blackness. It was a bad night alright, he thought. The rain pelted the glass. He noted a small area three-quarters of the way up, that kept misting over as if someone were breathing on it. He’d have to take a look at that in the morning. ‘No, dead as a door nail,’ he said. He didn’t really understand computers, but he asked, ‘What about the Internet?’
Patty clucked. ‘Don’t be silly, Henry, the Internet works through the telephone line. It’s getting like a third world country. Right, Henry, do the honours.’
With Henry doing the honours, Patty put two sutures in each tear. Even after twenty-five years, her hands worked quickly and efficiently. The woman lay still, her breathing shallow. Finished, Patty gave the area a last wipe with disinfectant and sprayed a plastic protective barrier over the sutures.
‘That will do it, Henry. Help me turn her over now.’ Together, they turned the woman over and covered her with the quilt. Patty collected up all the medical items Henry had brought in for her, putting the waste in a plastic bag and everything else in the medical box.
‘Poor thing,’ Patty said, leaning down and brushing strands of hair from the woman’s face. ‘We can do nothing more for her now, Henry. The girl needs rest.’
‘And probably psychiatric help as well,’ Henry offered.
‘That also, but not tonight, come on, old man, let’s go to bed. Carry the bowl of water will you.’
‘Henry!’ Patty hissed, elbowing him in the ribs.
‘Henry, wake up.’ She nudged him harder.
‘Not again, dear,’ he mumbled.
‘Again! Once would be nice. Wake up. There are noises coming from downstairs.’
Henry sat up in the darkness. A flash of lightning lit up the bedroom. Thunder damaged the silence. He reached his hand out to switch on the light. ‘I can’t hear any noises,’ he said, straining to hear above the driving rain, the branches of the pear tree smacking against the window, and the creaking of the rusty swing in the back garden that had not been used for over a year.
‘Go down and check that the doors and windows are locked. I know what your memory is like. You’ve probably left a window open or something.’
Grumbling, he slid out of bed. Put his dressing gown over his blue and white striped pyjamas and looked at his watch. It was three forty-five. ‘I locked everything. My memory is not that bad, I do it on a check-list.’
‘Try not to wake the woman,’ Patty said, turning over.
‘Yes, you go back to sleep,’ Henry mumbled as he opened the bedroom door. ‘I’ll wander round the house doing something I’ve already done.’
Now he was up, he may as well have a pee. His prostate was playing up now. He made a detour into the bathroom, switching the light on, he closed the door. Leaned over the toilet and waited. Two drips finally appeared and plopped in the water. ‘Hardly worth the effort,’ he muttered to himself.
No point flushing the chain and wasting water, he thought. Switching the light off, he then went out onto the landing. He flicked the switch on, grabbed the handrail as he cautiously navigated his way down the stairs. At the bottom, more lights on. Front door – check; kitchen, light on – windows, door – check, light off; dining room, light on – windows, door – check, light off; living room, light on – windows – check.
He opened the door of the work room. The cold air enveloped him. He shivered. Paper littered the floor. The wind and rain gusted through the open back door at the end of the room. He heard noises coming from the bed, switched the light on, the quilt was on the floor. The naked woman was thrashing about on the crumpled sheet as if she was having sex, but there was no man on top of her. Shameful, he thought. He glanced at his Penny Black on the wall – still there. He went out through the living room to the foot of the stairs and shouted up, ‘Patty, you better get down here.’ He waited, his fingers tapping a march on the round oak-patterned Newell post.
Patty eventually appeared at the top of the stairs and began to descend. ‘What’s the problem, Henry? Can’t you be trusted to do anything right? Do I have to do everything myself?’
‘If you’d let me get a word in, dear?’
He told her what he’d seen.
‘I thought you’d locked all the doors?’
‘I did, dear.’
‘Obviously not, you old fool, if it’s open now. If anything’s happened to that woman because you left the door open…’ She left the threat hanging.
Patty entered the work room. The woman lay ghostly still on the bed. ‘Go and lock the door, Henry. It’s freezing in here.’
Henry squeezed past the bed. Leaned out into the raging storm to grasp the handle and pulled it closed. He inspected the door – no damage that he could see – the key was still in the lock, the locking mechanism flush. He knew he’d locked it, remembered doing it. The woman must have opened it herself. Why? If she had let a man in, he could understand, but… there was no man that he saw.
Patty leaned over the woman. A foul-smelling sweat glistened on her body. ‘She’s clearly got a fever, Henry. Fetch me another bowl of hot soapy water, a flannel and a towel.’
‘I suppose we’re up for the night now then?’ he mumbled.
She turned on him, eyes narrowed. ‘Try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change,’ she said. ‘Stop complaining, and do as I ask.’
Chastened, Henry slouched out of the work room.
The woman started moaning, tossing her head from side to side. Patty noticed that she had started bleeding again between her legs. The same obnoxious smell drifted up to her nostrils from there as well. A pool of clear liquid mingled with the blood and stained the sheet beneath her. Patty didn’t know what to make of it, so she didn’t even try.
Henry came back with the bowl, a flannel and towel. She took them off him and laid them on the bed next to the woman’s feet. ‘Do something useful, make us a pot of tea,’ she commanded.
‘Useful… yes, dear.’ He turned to go.
‘Well, was the door open?’
He turned back, hands stuffed into the pockets of his maroon and blue patterned dressing gown. ‘It was open, but I locked it, I tell you.’
‘Don’t be foolish,’ Patty said, wringing the flannel out. ‘The woman didn’t open it herself did she?’
‘Well… I’m not so sure,’ he mumbled.
‘We’ll have to get Doctor Singh to check you out next time we go. Look at the poor woman. With the injuries she’s got, she could hardly stagger to the door, open it and then get back into bed. What’s wrong with you, Henry?’
Henry knew there was no point in arguing with Patty when she had the bit between her teeth. ‘Hmmph,’ was all he said as he shambled into the living room.
Patty cleaned the woman up again, covered her up with the quilt, and switched the light off as she crept out of the work room.
Joining Henry in the living room, she said, ‘We’ll have to try and get her to the hospital today.’ She sat down on the sofa. A steaming cup on a saucer sat on the table. She picked up the tea, and lifting the cup to her mouth, sipped the hot liquid gingerly. Photographs stared back at her from the walls, memories of absent children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. People that were familiar only through annual pictures, occasional phone calls, or birthday and Christmas cards. Attachment eventually leads to detachment, she thought. It had been over a year since they had seen anyone. She still had Henry. That was the most important thing. She reached out and took his hand in hers.
Henry’s forehead creased. ‘Something wrong, dear?’ he asked.
She turned to him, a wry smile on her face. ‘I was just thinking, old man, how lucky we are to have each other.’ Tears welled in her eyes. ‘Some people have no one.’
Henry shuffled closer on the sofa and put his arm around her. ‘I know she’s pretty bad now, Patty, but she’ll pull through. You’ve done everything you can, and more for that matter. She was lucky she came to Sister Carver’s house, that’s all I can say.’
‘She could hardly have gone to someone else’s house could she?’ Patty said. ‘The Madger’s are in Spain for the winter, and their house is five miles away.’
‘Exactly my point, she’d have got short shrift at their house even if they hadn’t been in Viva Espanã.’
They finished their tea and fell asleep where they were.
Nice work, Tim. Riveting! Dale Ibitz