Briony sat on the edge of the ambulance’s steps, a harsh wool blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes darted everywhere taking in the unfolding scene before her. Three police cars cluttered the street and officers in blue were dotted about searching her house and the surrounding area. Lights flashed on and off from top the cars and also within the houses. Faces appeared at windows and doors, looking worriedly out.
A too young female paramedic was gently inspecting Briony’s right hand, whilst a grey haired man in a matching emergency uniform watched. Briony looked at her and saw the confusion over the girly love heart shaped face. She dropped her eyes to her hand and wrist and saw the long, seemly deep imprints of fingers across her blue skin.
‘It looks like a freezer burn,’ the girl muttered.
‘Let me see,’ the male paramedic requested.
Briony felt her hand being handed over to him and his fingers brushing the marks. Slight waves of pain trailed along her arm and she heard soft mutterings. Twisting to the side, she watched two policemen talking in her living room. A third officer stood guarding the front door with light pooling around him like an angel appearing out of Heaven.
‘This is Briony Hashley.’
She turned back and saw the female officer from last time standing with a suited man a few steps away.
‘I’m Inspector Crane,’ the man stated.
‘Start from the beginning and tell me what happened.’
‘I got home from work, ate, watched TV and went to bed. Then something woke me up,’ Briony answered in a very shaky voice that didn’t sound like her own.
‘What was it?’ Crane asked.
Briony looked at the female officer who was writing in a pocket notebook. Taking a deep breath, she carried on, ‘I felt the bed dip and my comforter being pulled, like someone was on the edge of the bed and getting in.’
‘I looked over and didn’t see anything. I thought it was just…nothing…’ Briony choked, ‘but then I heard footsteps in the hallway and my bedroom opening. I saw a tall black man with long arms and red eyes standing in the doorway.’
‘Did he say anything? Any other details you can remember? His clothes?’ the female officer cut in.
Briony shook her head, ‘no, it was too dark.’
‘What happened then?’ Crane said.
‘I…I tried to turn on the light, but it wouldn’t work. I reached for my phone, but it wasn’t there. It was in my handbag next to my desk. I made a run for it, but when I got there before I could get it he grabbed me. I screamed then something hit me across the back of my head,’ Briony recalled, she touched her hair, tucking it in, ‘then all this happened,’ she waved a hand at the nearest police car.
‘Nothing else?’ the Inspector asked.
Briony looked up at him, ‘no.’
‘We should get you to the hospital now,’ the young paramedic suggested.
Crane nodded, ‘We’ll take a full statement from you later,’ he added.
Briony opened her mouth then closed it again. She glanced up at the house, watching the shapes of police officers moving in the windows. She felt the paramedic trying to guide her up and without any protested, she obeyed.
Early morning light crept into the hospital carpark as Briony got into her mother’s car. She settled back into the seat and sighed with relief. Finally after four days she was going home. She rested her hands on knees and looked down at the fading red finger marks. Her neck, shoulders and back had been badly bruised and four scratch lines, like the claws of a cat had trailed down her spine.
The doctors, nurses and police were baffled. The injuries made no sense and nothing had been found in or around her house. Everyone declared the reports inconclusive and there was to be no further investigations. Briony claimed emotion stress and had taken the next few weeks off work.
Her mother got behind the steering wheel, bringing Briony out of her deep thinking. Her mother looked like her twin sister only a lot older and with darker brown hair. Briony shut her eyes and let normality swim back to her.
‘The police still haven’t found anything,’ her mother’s voice cut through Briony’s meditation.
‘I doubt they will.’
‘The man…I don’t think he’s real. He’s a ghost or a daemon,’ Briony explained.
Her mother laughed, ‘that’ll be the pain killers still talking.’
‘It’s not. I’m fine. I had time to think and everything seems to add up to that.’
‘Briony, seriously. I know you’ve been through a lot, but there’s no need to just make stuff up. You didn’t tell the police that did you?’
‘No,’ Briony answered as she looked out of the window.
‘Everything will be fine when you’ve had a few days rest. And the police will catch this guy. Your father has had all the locks changed and security cameras put in. You’ll feel a lot safer. Now, should we go and pick your things up or do you want me to drop you off and pick stuff up myself?’ her mother asked.
‘I want to go to my house,’ Briony stated, ‘I want to get back to normal.’
‘All right, sweetie. Whatever you want.’
The house was cold. Briony stood in the doorway looking around whilst her mother fussed over the mess the police had left. Blocking out the anger mumbling, Briony pushed the door to and went up to her bedroom. She sat down on the disarranged bed and took everything in. White dust lay on the window still and the desk, a strange smell hung in the air and everything seemed out of place. Her bedroom no longer felt like her own.
She took a shower, relaxing under the hot spray then got dressed in clean comfy clothes. Going downstairs, she found her mum making tea and sandwiches in the kitchen.
‘Are you sure you want to stay here?’
‘Yes, mum,’ Briony replied as she sat down at the small table.
‘Your dad and I don’t mind you staying for a bit.’
‘It’s fine. I’m okay…Do you know anyone who’s religious?’
‘Religious?’ her mother repeated.
‘Why? Not your ghost daemon thought?’ her mother cried as she slid onto the other chair and handed Briony a chipped mug.
Briony shrugged her shoulders and looked down into the swirling milky tea.
‘I think Mrs Butterworth is. Would you like me to speak to her?’ her mother said gently after a few moments.
‘Yes, please,’ Briony said in a small voice.
‘Would that make you feel better?’
‘It really would.’
Falling silent, they ate and drink then Briony’s mother left. Briony tidied up the kitchen then with nothing else to do, spent the rest of the day tidying the house. She debated going shopping, but decided instead to have some soup and an early night. However, as she got ready for bed, Briony decided that she couldn’t face sleeping in her own room.
She gathered some things and went into the guest bedroom instead. Switching on the TV, she watched an old movie and dozed in the warm bed. As the movie ended, she turned off the TV and snuggled down, clutching childhood teddy bear.
Leaving the lamp on, she tried to sleep, but thoughts kept popping up. She wondered if she would see him tonight and what would happen. She thought about the book she had read in hospital, borrowed off a teenage goth girl with a broken leg. The title had been something about ghosts and daemons haunting the living. Briony frowned as she tried to remember then decided it wasn’t important. The information she had found out was though.
Listening, she heard a creaking in the attic above her. It was nothing more than natural movement though. She drifted off, her mind a mass of questions and dark thoughts that couldn’t be answered. She fell asleep, feeling warm and safe even though something nagged at the back of her mind.
It was pitch black when she opened her eyes. Water was dripping from somewhere. She could hear it plopping on something metal. Stretching, she half got up and looked around the room. Seeing nothing, she clicked on the lamp then paused.
I thought I’d left that on, she thought.
Getting up, she followed the sound of the water dripping through the house, but couldn’t find the source of it. Lastly, she came to stand under the attic trap door. Looking up, she wondered if a pipe was leaking. Deciding it couldn’t wait, she changed her clothes, put on some shoes and went up.
The attic was dark even with the single blub on and the torch she had. Briony stepped inside and begin carefully checking the maze of pipes above and below her. Dust danced before the light beam, which bounced back on an array of long forgotten objects the previous owners had left. Briony had never used the attic. There’d been no need with just her in the house. Making her way to the back, she didn’t see any signs of the water, even though the dripping sounded louder up here.
Turning about, she decided to call her dad in the morning to do have a proper look.
Something brushed passed her feet.
Briony paused and flashed the torch light down. The bare wooden chip floor came into view. She looked, but didn’t see anything. Maybe it had been a mouse or a rat? Shaking it off, she walked a few more steps.
An icy breeze tickled her ankles and a soft moaning came from behind her.
Briony didn’t stop. She picked up her pace and headed straight for the ladder.
The moaning grew and hurried footsteps boomed out. She felt cold air wrapping around her and something drawing her to look back. Not giving in, she made it to the attic hatch and looked down. Light pooled all around the ladder, welcoming her back. She went to step down and felt hands on her bottom.
Briony twisted her upper body. Her eyes landing on the red glowing orbs looming out of the darkness behind her. She screamed and felt herself falling backwards through the hatch. Her hands scrambled for something to hold on to and scrapped passed the ladder and wall. Her screaming echoed loudly in her ears and all she could see was the shadow man peeling away from the darkness and falling after her.
Briony felt herself drifting upwards. Coming too, she wiped her face and tried to look around. The hallway was dark and she couldn’t see anything. Getting up, she reached for the wall and tried to find the light switch. Her sense of depth must have been off, because she couldn’t find the wall.
Puzzled, she waited for her eyes to adjust and tried to work out what had happened. She had gotten out of bed to do something…it wouldn’t come back to her. Shrugging, she felt her way back to the guest room and got back into bed. Laying there, she looked up at the ceiling and tried to sleep.
The door creaked open and footsteps entered the room.
Briony reached out to turn on the lamp, but couldn’t feel it. Frowning, she tried again, but there seemed to be no bedside table either.
‘What’s going on?’ she said aloud.
‘You died,’ a slow deep eerie voice came from the foot of the bed.
Briony stopped and looked down. The shadow man was standing there and even though he was still cloaked in black, she could see him clearer than before.
‘I pushed you out of the attic,’ the voice whispered.
‘Why?’ Briony stuttered.
‘Because I need you.’
‘I’m dead?’ Briony cried and tried to touch anything she could.
‘Very,’ the shadow man replied, ‘I need you to help me.’
‘And I couldn’t alive?’
‘It’s the only way.’
Briony pressed her hands to her face, ‘oh God! Why? What about my parents…what are they going to do? What am I going to do? How could you!’
‘Doesn’t matter. What does is finding me more souls,’ the voice hissed around her.
‘Souls? What?’ Briony let out a loud and long oh noise and began rocking.
‘To survive it’s what we need. You can leave here and bring them back,’ the shadow man explained, ‘I can’t leave. That’s why I need you. We can feast on the souls together and grow stronger.’
‘I don’t want to,’ Briony sniffed.
‘No choice. Your soul is chained to mine now. See.’
Briony heard the soft clinking of a chain and looked down at her wrist. There was an iron manacle pressed against her skin and a single linked chain leading to the wrist of the shadow man.
‘You are mine now. Forever.’
‘No,’ Briony screamed and scrambled off the bed.
Loud, echoing laughter filled the room as she fled into the hallway. Stepping around a big crumpled up shape, Briony went downstairs and to the front door. Her fingers fumbled with the lock and went right passed the door. With a quick glance back, she stepped through the door and out on to the doorstep.
A fuzziness filled her ears, like the static sound of a TV. Her vision was black and white and she could make out distant shapes under the starry night sky. She tried to take a few deep breaths and tell herself it was all a dream. But somehow she knew it wasn’t. From behind her came the heavy footsteps and growling sounds of the shadow man. She heard him stop at the front door and call her name.
‘Leave if you want, but you’ll come back. You don’t have a choice. There’s nowhere else for you to go,’ he added.
‘I’ll find a way to be free,’ Briony shouted back.
There came a low chuckle, ‘the last one said that too…’
Briony looked behind and watched the looming shadow press against the front door glass.
‘Come back in. We should get to know each other.’
Briony shook her head then felt a tugging on her wrist. She looked down and saw the chain being pulled back into the door. She tried to move further away, but the manacle tightened around her wrist. She felt no pain, just the urge to go back inside. Holding her wrist, she gave in and did just that, going through the door again as if it was open.
Facing off with the shadow man, her mind raced through everything as he began speaking. His voice went straight over her head and she only released he had stopped talking when she brought her eyes back to him.
‘You’ll get use to death,’ he said, ‘everyone does eventually.’