10 November 2009

Curse of the Other World, part eight

Chapter Four


'Sarah,' said Peter. His voice was soft and low, almost as if he did not want to wake her.

He shook her shoulder gently. She stirred, but showed no sign of actually waking up.

'Sarah,' he repeated, this time with more force. 'Wake up, Sarah.'

She groaned. 'What?' she asked. She was clearly a little dazed. 'Where am I?'

'You're on your sofa. You fell asleep while I was scouring the Internet.'

'Oh. Right.'

She brushed some stray hairs out her eyes, then stopped suddenly, her hand still at her forehead.

'Hang on. How long have I been asleep?'

'About an hour.'

This news did not hit home well. She looked like someone had thrown a brick through her window, then asked for the brick back.

'Oh bloody hell,' she moaned. 'I've missed taking my tablets. No wonder I feel so bad.'

'Can I get you anything?'

She shook her head but even that looked like it took something out of her. 'No, it's okay. I'll deal with it. You go and put the kettle on, yeah?'

'Your wish is my command, madame.'

'Yeah, right,' she said as she fought her way to her feet and walked unsteadily out of the room. 'In that case, you can get me a million pounds and a golden egg while you're boiling the kettle.'

'You know what? I don't think I can manage that,' said Peter.

From the tone of his voice, Sarah got the impression that he was smiling. That was good, she thought. He needed to smile more. She was certain he had not smiled in a long time.

She struggled to her feet and followed him into the kitchen. At first her legs were cold and would not respond but she managed to massage enough life back into them that she could walk. She was unsteady, her body felt like it was weighted down with lead, and even the smallest of movements felt like her muscles were being torn apart, but she managed it.

She reached the 'fridge, cut herself a couple of chunks of cheese and ate them slowly while Peter busied himself making tea. She was no big fan of cheese, but it was a quick snack and she had to take her medication with food otherwise it would attack her stomach lining and make her even more ill.

'There's cheese in the 'fridge if you want any,' she said. 'I'll be back in a second, I just need to take my tablets.'

'Thanks. I'll take the teas through to the lounge.'

By the time she reached the bathroom, she was fully awake. Her head was full of cotton wool and she was groggy but that was all part of being ill and she had long since stopped taking any notice of such feelings. Instead, she concentrated on the tasks at hand: sifting through her e-mails, or writing articles for low-paying magazines, or whatever the day demanded in order for her to be able to pay the bills. Today the day demanded that she take her tablets quickly and the convince Peter that Coxton Hall was a problem that was worth pursuing.

She felt for the pull cord out of habit, and yanked it to turn on the light. The cord clicked but the room stayed dark. Great. Another problem to add to her ever-expanding list. Still, it hardly mattered to her. In the time she would be in the room, the energy-saving bulb would have little time to warm up; meaning what light it did give out would only serve to emphasise the murkiness of the shadows that made out what was left of her eyesight. She settled for swearing under her breath, yanking the cord again and then fumbling for the plastic box on her windowsill.

She ran her fingers over the rough lattice of square lids that made up the upper side of the box until she came to the one with the correct date on it; printed in Grade One Braille. She flicked open the lid, poured the tablets into the palm of her hand and swallowed them with a glass of water.

As she put the glass down on the sill, the scratching noises began again. It began directly below her, on the ground floor, on the wall she was facing. That was unusual. Normally, the scratching would begin on the wall by the door; like someone was trying to claw their way through the wall to get into the old Post Office. Maybe now they were trying a new tactic, going for a different wall in the hope of finding a weak spot?

Or maybe they're just trying to get to you.

She wanted to turn and run but she was rooted to the spot. The noise, that scritch-scritch, slow and steady, dug deep into her and froze her solid. Her hand remained fixed gripping the glass, shuddering under the strain as she gripped tighter and tighter, unable to let go.

What is wrong with you?

In her mind, she screamed at herself. This was not the woman she knew she was; or had been once. The woman she knew would not freeze in terror at the slightest of sounds. The woman she had been would have grabbed a torch, opened the window and found out what was going on outside. Hell, it was probably just rats getting into the empty shop below. The neighbourhood was on the verge of turning into a slum so rats were not outside the realms of possibility.

The scratching drew nearer but now there was another sound as well. A dull scraping noise, like heavy cloth being dragged along a dry stone wall. It was getting nearer, moving up the wall outside, coming right for her.

Oh shit! Oh shit. What is it? What the hell is out there?

Scritch ... scritch ... scritch ...

It was coming nearer! Her mind's eye filled in the picture for her. Something was out there, climbing the walls, scraping at the brickwork, trying to get into her house. Soon it would reach the window, and then what? What was out there? She wanted to run, but she could not. Her legs could not carry her that fast even if she could get them to move, but she was rooted to the spot. Fear and illness had conspired against her.

'Sarah, are you alright?' The voice came from the doorway behind her.

She screamed, and collapsed into a ball of terror. Torn between turning and confronting the newcomer and risking leaving her back open to whatever was outside, or staying facing the stranger outside and risking not seeing who was behind her, she elected to drop into the foetal position and tremble on the floor. She knew it was stupid, but she could not help herself. Her mind had conspired against her.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and screamed again, pushing herself away across the floor until her back was pressed against the wooden panels along the side of the bath.

'Get away from me!' she shouted. 'Stay back!'

'Sarah, it's me,' said Peter. 'What's gotten into you?'

'Peter?' she asked.

'Yes,' he said, reassuringly. 'It's okay. It's just me.'

She could feel herself shaking. Her bottom lip quivered. She did not want to cry in front of her friend, but some things just can't be helped.

'For fuck's sake, Peter. Don't scare me like that!' she pleaded.

'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. It's just that you've been in here ages and I was getting concerned. What took you so long?'

'I thought I heard something outside,' she said. 'Someone trying to break in downstairs. I was listening in case they got inside.'

Peter was silent for a moment. The floorboards creaked over by the window and she guessed he was trying to see out through the frosted glass.

'Well, whoever was outside, they're gone now,' he said.

Sarah smiled an unconvincing smile. 'That's good news.'

'Here,' said Peter. 'Let me help you up. Maybe your tea won't have got too cold yet.'

No comments: