I hit the gas, threw the car into reverse and shot off down the dirt track. At the end, I spun the small car around and roared back onto the side road. Nervously, I stared into all my mirrors then out of the side window. I could see nothing but the road ahead and behind me, at the sides old pine trees clawing at a darkening sky blocked my view. The house was nowhere to be seen. Fighting down the panic and clutching the steering wheel as if I had just fallen off a cliff, I sped away.
Taking in deep breaths and trying to concentrate on the road, I started up the radio and found the connection to my IPod. Snatching up the IPod, I skipped through the new music I had download for my trip to America. I had an odd mix of heavy metal and classic rock, though nothing at the minute would soothe me.
No one was going to believe me. I should have taken a photo of that thing in the window. I shook my head and told myself there had been nothing there and it was only matrixing. I had seen it tons of times in photos of ‘ghosts’ on the internet. People claiming to see a face or figure in a carpet, wall or mirror when it was only a reflection of light creating shapes. That’s all it had been.
Looking down at my IPod screen, I scanned through some more music and finally decided on Barenaked Ladies. As I went to put it on, one of my front tyres bounced over a large rock and I scrambled to gain control as my car went into a spin. I floored the brake and yanked up the hand one as tall tree trunks filled my vision. Branches whipped past me, scratching against the car and shooting out of view. Somehow, I avoid the line of trees and the car came to a spluttering stop facing into the forest.
I let go of the handbrake and the steering wheel. Pins and needles pricked my hands and arms. I opened the door and got out. Breathing deeply, I took in the scent of pine trees, dirt, burnt rubber and warm oil. I looked around and saw the road half a mile behind me. Shaking, I leant over and put my hands on my knees. How had I not hit a tree? Thanking God or whoever as I wasn’t religious and didn’t believe in ‘higher powers,’ I sorted myself.
Getting back in the car, I left the door open and tried starting up the engine. It turned over, but didn’t fully start. I took the key out and lent back in the seat, the shock sinking in. I shut my eyes and listened to the crows screaming around me. Dark patterns danced before me and head ached.
‘Don’t sleep!’ I shouted, snapping open my eyes and jumping up.
I moved to get out and something flickered passed me. I stopped, put my hands on the wheel and lent over to look out. It was probably just a bird or something. Still, I held my breath and waited. A tentacle like shape appeared out the forest gloom and wrapped itself around the trunk of a tree. I dived for my camera, switched it on and began snapping photos.
The images came back blurry, so I got out the car and did two full circles shoots, before collapsing back into the driver’s seat and locking the door closed. It’s crazy, I’m crazy! I shoved the camera down and tried my car again. This time the engine roared into life and slowly, I reversed back on to the road. Shaking, I turned the car around and carried on driving down the road. The radio sorted itself and music drifted from the speakers.
By the time I got into the small town I was staying in, it had begun to rain and the sky was inky black. I parked up outside my motel room, grabbed my stuff and hurried into the room. I hit the harsh lights, dumped the stuff on the bed and stripped to my boxers. I went into the bathroom and showered. When I got out, holding a towel around my hips and water dripping off my hair, the realisation of the situation hit me.
I sink onto the bed and laughed. In the safety of the room, I felt so stupid. I turned on the TV, just to have some noise in the too quiet background and picked up my camera. The battery was low, so I put it on charge and took the memory card out. I turned on my laptop and left the memory card on the mouse pad as I put on a soft pair of pants. I towel dried my hair, then as the laptop loaded, put the memory card in and opened the files.
Putting them on full screen, I tapped through the photos and looked closely into the backgrounds. There was nothing in the first handful and a small voice in my head started up that I was being silly and trying to find something that wasn’t going to be there. However, in the first photo of the hallway there seemed to be a blotch of pure blackness in the centre. Frowning, I went through the next few and found the last one in the hall. Clearly, before my eyes was a long stickman shadow. The breath caught in my throat and my inner voice screamed, matrixing! I zoomed in, my fingers twitching, but there was no deigning the image before me. I clicked off it and cycled through the other photos, until I reached the attic room.
The hairs rose on the back of my neck and I broke into a cold sweat. The child drawn pictures on the walls burned before my eyes and the words I’d not given any focus on before popped out at me.
DON’T LOOK AT HIM
I shook my head and went through the next lot which were all in the forest. The first few were confusing blurs of trees and shadowy patches and the rest showed only old pine trees, tracks my car had made and the edges of the road. I saved all the photos and removed the memory card. Putting that back in my camera, I took out my external hard drive and saved the photos on to there as well. Closing my laptop, I went back to the bed and sat down. The box Brownie rolled into my hip.
Picking it up, I wondered if there was anything on it and how to get it off. I placed it next to my camera then cleaned the bed of my rucksack and other stuff. I sprawled out on the starched sheets and shut my eyes.
‘It’s not real. Just light tricks,’ I muttered, ‘There was nothing there. Just a creepy abandoned house. The photos? Tricks of shadows and lights. My mind making shapes. Nothing more…nothing…’
My alarm cut through my dreamless sleep and I woke with a start. Shaking sleep out of my limbs, I got up and straight in the shower. The hot water helped me wake further and after dressing, I ate some breakfast fruit bars and finished off a carton of milk. I emptied and repacked my rucksack, grabbed my camera and the box Brownie and opened the door.
A gloomy, wet morning greeted me. Stepping out and rubbing at a tension headache, I went to my car. Unlocking it, I got in, put my stuff to the side and closed the door. Yesterday’s memories that I had been trying to keep back like vomit, surfaced and I pressed my head to the steering wheel. I mumbled that it wasn’t real then started the car.
I drove into the town and focused on something else. At some point, I had seen a one hour photo and camera store. The problem was I couldn’t remember where it was. With my head feeling foggy, I parked in a superstore lot and got out. Gathering my stuff, I walked in and asked for directions. It was right around the corner. Leaving my car, I walked over and found myself outside a very old and run down looking store.
The sign on the door welcomed me in and I went straight to the counter. An old man with puffy white hair, large glasses and wrinkled hands stared at me. I placed the Brownie on the glass top next to an antique looking till.
‘I…erm…brought this at a junk store. I think there might be something on the film inside. Can you develop it for me?’ I asked.
A gnarled hand reached out and picked up the Brownie. The old man looked at it, rising his glasses up and down. He smacked his cracked lips and in an thick American accent I was becoming use to, said, ‘Shouldn’t be a problem. Come back in an hour.’
Nodding, I left not bothering to look around. I felt better outside and wondered back to the superstore to get some supplies. However, my mind was districted by questions; mainly, what images were on the Brownie? I went back well before the hour was up. The old man wasn’t at the counter, so I had a look around. The two walls were lined with thin wooden shelves that had a range of cameras, equipment, other supplies, magazines and books upon them.
I had just found a box Brownie that looked like mine, when he appeared.
‘Ah, I’ve managed to do it. The film was pretty old, but some of the photos came out OK…I fixed the camera too and put in a new roll. Seems to be OK…’
I hurried over and took the pile of black and white prints from him. The first three were too blurry to make out and they looked almost water stained. The fourth one though showed the abandoned house as it used to be with the Ford parked out front. I looked at the tiny attic window, but couldn’t make everything out. Something was there in the next one though; the outline of what looked like someone wearing a pillowcase on their head. My breath struck in my throat and had to turn to the next one. This time the mud room door was open and there was the shadow of the stickman standing there.
The old man cleared his throat and tearing my eyes away, I looked up at him.
‘Sorry, how much do I owe?’ I forced out.
He named his price, I handed him the money then looked at the other six photos. They worked in succession; the dirt track with the house in the background and the stickman just visible in the trees before the house. The next three were deeper in the woods and trying to hide in the background was the stickman. No matter how hard I stared, I couldn’t make out any features other than a round white head, long body and limbs.
I turned to the second to last one and saw the attic. The door was half open and the long figure was standing there as clear as anything. He was wearing a black suit, dark shirt and tie, his face was completely whited out. His arm reached down and out of shot. I scrambled for the last one and others fluttered to the floor. He was in full view this time, taking up all the space on the photograph.
My hands shook, I gasped for breath and dropped it alongside the others. I looked at the old man and saw the fear on his face. I wanted to say something, but my mind was scrambled. My eyes dropped to the scattered photos. It wasn’t possible! It was just a joke! A Halloween costume or someone messing around.
‘Ya need to leave now,’ the old man muttered.
‘No,’ I shouted and reaching across the counter grab the old man by his shirt, ‘tell me it’s not true! It’s a joke, a trick! It’s not real!’
He pressed his hands to mine and surprisingly shoved me off. Gasping, I swept up the photos and the Brownie. Clutching them to my chest, I stepped backwards and fled the store. I ran back to my car, threw everything in and peeled out of there. Like a mad man, I drove back into the forest and to the abandoned house.
‘It’s not real! It’s not real!’ I screamed.
I shot passed the very missable dirt track and had to spin the car around. I tumbled along the track, my whole body shaking and not just because of the vibrations. I skidded the car to a halt next to the house and snatching everything up stormed inside. Ignoring the darkness, I made my way to the attic. Kicking open the door, I stomped in and dumped everything on a small table against the window.
‘Where are you? Come out! You’re not real!’ I yelled.
I scanned the room, deep breaths bursting out of me and saw nothing but drifting dust clouds. Fat tears blurred my vision and I rubbed them away. I kicked a soft toy dog over and it thump across the floor.
‘It’s all fake!’ I added and took up the box Brownie.
I snapped some photos with it focusing on the open door and the walls. Then I took my digital camera and did the same. I looked closely at the screen after every photo, but saw nothing. I screamed and heard the echo of sirens in my ears. I hurried to the dirty window and looked out, two county sheriff cars were pulling up and blocking my car in. I collected my things and rushed outside.
I erupted through the mud room door, slightly tripping over my feet and would have flown at the three officers if I hadn’t seen their drawn guns.
‘Show your hands and get down!’ the oldest of them yelled.
Fear flashed through me and through I was still panicked, I put my stuff on the floor and dropped down after it onto the porch. The tears I had been fighting back overwhelmed me and I sobbed hard. Dimly, I was aware of the officers talking as they came over to me. I felt cuffs going around my wrists then I was dragged to my feet and patted down. I saw the younger female officer bagging my stuff up. I tried to tell her to be careful, but it just came out as blubber.
I was walked to the car and pushed into the back seat. I dropped on to my side then eased myself up and looked at the window. The sheriff and his deputies had moved away and I could see the pine trees retreating deeper into the forest. I drew in a shaky breath, shook my head to clear away the tears and really looked amongst the trees.
He was there, staring back at me.
To be Continued…?