By Jay Darkmoore
Copyright Jay Darkmoore 2021
The January snow came early as Ruth finished packing the rest of her and Simon’s things. She hated the snow, and knew that they would have to get up extra early to get to the airport in time for their flight. The smile hadn’t left her face all evening as she packed her jumpers neatly into the suitcase, sealing them away with steel teeth. She hadn’t been to Scotland to see her family all through the Christmas period due to work commitments.
“You work too hard!” Simon told her a few nights ago. A recurring rhetoric that repeated like a broken record.
“The book isn’t going to write itself!” She scalded, three glasses of red wine deep as her thick rimmed glasses reflected the light from the laptop. She was so close to finishing her third Novel Diamonds in The Night, a story of three women that are sold into the slave trade of blood diamonds following a Safari trip in South Africa that turned deadly.
“I know.” Simon resigned, getting up from his arm chair. The fire place crackled and popped as smoke pushed out of the chimney into the quiet street outside. They lived in a small cottage, nothing too fancy, but the old stones and the large meadow overlooking their home made it all the cosier, and even made the front page of the countryside brochures in their remote village in Devon. Simon placed his aged hands on her shoulders. A carpenter for years who had long hung up his saw, but the hands told a story, and it was one of love and labour. “We need to go and see your mother in Fort William soon.” He whispered tenderly, massaging the knots in her shoulders that had developed from the months of being hunched over a computer screen. “The publisher will understand. You are ahead of schedule anyway.”
That had done it. The next day she got off the phone to the publishing house and she had a wry grin on her face.
“Well?” Simon spoke, lingering at the foot of the door like a nosey child. Ruth exhaled and Simon felt his aged heart begin to break. The look on her face told a story of sorrow. Her fair skin looking flustered. But then, like the melting January snow, a bright light emanated from her growing smile. One that said I don’t care what they say, everyone needs some time to themselves!
The day was spent gathering last minute items and putting their belongings together into a couple of small suitcases. They would normally drive, but both comfortably in their sixties and with the thought of travelling so far in the snow, it just made more sense that they took the plane to Oban, hired a car and take the coastal route up to Fort William. Maybe even climb Ben Nevis in the Winter. Ruth had once been a keen hiker, and she felt like she still had some life left in her old bones.
Simon finished getting things sorted around the house: Passports, climbing gear, maps. All the things he would normally leave to Ruth, he had taken care of, and as he placed them all in a duffel bag for the airport. As if knowing she was watching, he looked up to see her smiling in the doorway in her nightgown. Hair In rollers and supporting a Baileys on ice. Simon stood, moving to her, his silvered beard stretching into a wide smile. “Shouldn’t you be getting some rest?” He joked. “We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” A night cap later, he tucked her into bed and put on his coat.
“Where are you going?” She queried, a slight urgency to her voice. “It’s late and the snow is falling. You should come to bed.”
“I’m just stepping out to get some fuel.” Simon said, sitting by her bedside and placing his hand on hers. “I looked earlier and the car is on fumes. We don’t want to be rushed in the morning. I won’t be long. I’ll be right back.” He gave her a small kiss on the lips. “Get some sleep.” He stood and moved to the door, his hand lingering over the small lamp that sat near the doorway. Ruth watched wide eyed as his finger moved towards the switch. They held a gaze, and Simon nodded. His hand moved away from the lamp. And then he was gone.
Ruth eyed the lamp that hummed lazily in the corner. The shadows of the bedside ornaments now stretching into long arms and mouths onto the walls. She cursed herself. “You’re too old for horror stories Ruth come on.” She scolded herself quietly, relinquishing the white knuckles that gripped the bed covers. Since Ruth had heard the stories as a young girl her grandmother told her about the house being haunted, it had always stuck with her. Things that crawl into your bed at night and wait for you to fall asleep before they eat you. She wasn’t terrified of such monsters; she wasn’t that ridiculous. She did however have nightmares when she was on her own, when the darkness seemed that little blacker, the wind howled that little louder, and the shapes in the night took on the forms of sinister apparitions. The light hummed quietly still, and her eye lids felt heavy. The Baileys kicking in now, making her gums and face numb. She let out a staggered breath before finally giving herself to the world of dreams.
She was walking. Her feet bare in the snow. Her nightgown flowing white. The sky was unloving and the morning sun struggled to get through the thick blanket of clouds above. The country road was cased in thick white and the wind fierce as it cut through her.
“I’ll be right back.” She heard those words again. An echo with no speaker. A sound with no source. Just bouncing, drawing closer then dragged away. Ruth was farther from home now, turning the corner onto the bend where the road got busier on the way to the coast. Ahead, smoke pushed out of a car. A wrecked and crumpled car with tyre tracks of black scarring the snow, like a toddler had drawn thick lines on paper with black marker. She felt dread strike her heart, and she ran towards the crumpled mesh of metal, howling his name.
Ruth reached the smouldering wreckage. He wasn’t there. Where was he? She called out for help but only the wind heard her, and it answered back lowly, whistling through her clothing as the snow continued to fall. “I’ll be right back.” She heard his voice once more. The sound of heavy breathing behind her. She turned and a bolt of terror tore through her, as he stood there, face bloodied, eyes jellied and jaw hanging low.
Ruth screamed, fighting away the ensnaring covers that wrapped around her, fighting away the monsters, the cold, the wind, the hell that plagued her mind. The vision lingered like the sound of a disappearing train in the distance, still able to feel the tremors of the rampaging wheels on the track rattle her bones. The black of night encased her. Consumed her like a wretched Viper that hadn’t eaten in months. The snaking shadows that rushed to her. Apparitions in the dark closing in. Red eyes in the hellish night. Wind rattling the windows and deathly fingers nails rattling and tap tap tapping on the glass.
Hands took hold of her, took her into his. She pounded, called out, screamed for help. For release, until the breathing slowed and his voice, the voice she had known the for the last forty years brought her back to reality. Her eyes fell onto him, and he was with her. She could smell his aftershave, see the lines on his face in the darkness, his eyes through the light seeping through the bedroom window.
“It’s okay, Ruth, its just a nightmare. I’m here.” He soothed her like heat melting through dry ice. She lay back down on the bed, her head sweating and her body dampening the bed sheets. They held each other a moment as she recounted her nightmare. He laughed in that annoying way he did when she was feeling vulnerable, and a little silly herself. “You can’t get rid of me that easy.” He soothed.
“The light is off…” She croaked through her tears. “Why did you turn the light off?” You never turn the light off?” He didn’t answer. He only kissed her and soothed her. She lay there still, her heart erratic. The night closing in. Until she felt the bristle of his stubble on her cheek, and like magic, the monsters lost their teeth. “It was so real.” she cried, touching his face. He ran his fingers through her hair, took handfuls of her body and pulled her into him. She was soaked through and the smell of terror was strong. The love falling from him enveloped her, and she found the night seemed a little brighter, and the wind not as fierce in those sweet moments he held her.
She lay there awake for a few minutes, maybe longer, while she listened to him sleep. She thanked him silently for it as she got up out of bed, put on her nightgown and went down to the kitchen for a glass of water. The night was sheer black, and as she turned on the kitchen light and stepped into the cold, she paused. The heating wasn’t on. Simon always put the heating on when it was the winter months. Maybe he had forgotten? Or maybe it was in between cycles? She would ask him in the morning about it. Ruth poured a glass and watched the snow falling over their back garden, her reflection cast onto the sheet white ground that looked back at her. She knew they would have to dig the car out tomorrow morning before they set out. Another thing she had to do. The nightmare crept into her mind once more, like an echo from beyond, not quite done with her. She saw her reflection in the glass. Her mouth falling lower. Her eyes sinking to the back of her skull. She finished the glass of water quickly.
I shouldn’t go. She thought. I have too much to do. The weather is terrible, and the flights might be cancelled anyway, and that’s even if we can get to the airports if they haven’t cleared the snow from the roads! And what about Scotland? The thought about how the weather was all the way up that far North made her blood run cold. She sighed heavily, her stomach in knots. Resounding to her anxiety and encroaching deadlines, she moved into the hallway next to the front door to use the landline.
Ruth dialled her literary agents’ number to tell her she was going to cancel the trip to Scotland, that it could wait, that she needed to get things moving, that Simon would understand. That was what she wanted to do. But as she lifted the receiver and pressed the numbers and the phone began to ring, her eyes fell onto the front door window, and the figure she saw standing there.
Ruth’s fingers trembled and wrapped around the cord of the phone. She should shout for Simon, but if she did, it would know she was there… It didn’t move, simply stood. A tall silhouette cast against the falling white. Shadows on the walls grew fingers that stretched out to her. The dark had its teeth back. A cold chill grew in her stomach like a burst sack of spider eggs which raced through her bones. “Hello?” The voice on the end of the line nearly made her scream. Tears pushed from her eyes as he held the receiver closely to her dry mouth, a shaking whisper staggering from her lips.
“There’s someone outside the door….” Ruth hushed.
“What? Ruth? Is that you?”
“There’s someone outside the door.”
“Ruth, you’re scaring me. What’s going on? Do I need to call someone? Where’s Simon?” Ruth stared in horror as the figure consumed the doorway. It’s shadow bleeding through the glass and crept up the carpet to her feet, creeping into her home to consume her, to drag her into the abyssal black she had awoken from. A knock came then, three hard long knocks which seemed to bounce and echo around the hall. Ruth screamed inside. The sight of it, the presence of it. The horror stories her Grandmother had told her about the creatures in the night. They were all true. They had come for her. Come to take her away. “Ruth!” Her agent called at the end of the line. Unblinking, unbreathing, Ruth eyed the spectre. It was looking through the glass. Directly at her. She tried to call for Simon, but no words left her throat.
“There’s something at the door…”
“That’s it!” Her agent said urgently. “I’m calling the police. I’ll call you right back. Do not answer that door!”
“Don’t leave me alone with it!” Ruth urged, but the line cut off and a solid tone blared in her ear until the line began to bleep and stagger, before resounding to dead silence. The light switch for the porch was within arm’s reach. She could, she must, she had to press it. To set the light on the creature of darkness and send it away. Another knock at the door. There was two of them now. Two figures at the door. Two shadows on the carpet. Two creatures wanting to come in and take her away.
The sight of the two of them forced her body into a frenzy. “Go away!” She howled, finding the strength from somewhere. Forcing that frightened air out her trembling lungs. The shapes recoiled. They knocked once more, a booming sound which shattered the hellish howl of the marauding winter wind.
“Open up…” The fiend crackled through the glass, pushing its warped face to the frosted glass. Ruth turned to the stairway. She could run and get Simon, but this was her home, and that child inside her needed to fight away the monsters of the dark at some point.
She roused herself, roused her courage, like the three heroines in her novel when they break free of the slavers and head towards the sunset in a riot of valour and prowess. She took one step, the shadows watching her, not moving. She took another, the cold carpet pressing into her bare feet. She flicked the switched and heavily light drowned the black figures in radiance and grace. The beating in her heart slowed for a moment. Then, the façade of hope melted, and she saw the high vis jackets and the hats of two policemen standing at the door. Ruth’s lips began to quiver. The worst of the worst of thoughts pushing into her mind like a rabble of uninvited guests. Suddenly, she wished for the demons to return. For the shadows to drag her away, for that would be a more welcomed visitor. She unlatched the door with shaking fingers. The night air struck her like a truck as she saw the two constables standing in front of her, their jackets dusted with ice and snow. Their noses red and hands wrapped in thick leather black gloves.
“Sorry to disturb you at this hour madam,” one said, a tall, broad man. He took of his hat, revealing a bald head underneath his hat. “Can we come in? I’m afraid its bad news.”
“What’s going on?” Ruth said, the lump in her throat beginning to swell.
“I would like to discuss this inside please madam,” the officer spoke. “It’s about your husband, Simon.” Ruth turned her head at the dark staircase leading to the bedroom. The night seemed darker once more. The walls moving with the shadows of falling snow, like they were constricting, breathing like a living creature.
“What about him?” Ruth quivered, her fingers turning numb from the cold on the frozen door. “He’s upstairs in bed…” The words didn’t feel real as they left her mouth. The two officers exchanged a grim look, both with faces of sorrow.
“No,” the officer said firmly, shaking his head. “Simon was in a car accident tonight. On his way here, near the bend at the end of your road. The snow… he lost control. He was pronounced dead at the scene.” A heavy breath fell from his mouth. “I am so very sorry.” Ruth staggered back, every part of her breaking like a room of plates in a storm. She turned, running to the stairs, her legs failing her. She stumbled up the steps, shouting his name, calling for him, yelling at him at the disgusting joke he was playing. The door to the bedroom was ajar, and the bedroom widow wide open. Wind howled through the open space. Ruth hit the light and the dark vanished revealing a bed filled with snow and mud. Bed covers strewn over. Black hand prints on the walls, on the floor and then as she found to her horror, on her arms and nightgown.
Aftershave bottles, Simon’s aftershave bottles empties and turned out onto the floor, soaking into the carpet. Ruth raced to the window and looked out into the meadow. A black figure stood there, unmoving, staring back at her with deep red eyes. It’s features old, but not that of her husbands. His build much taller, slim and wiry, and the smell of aftershave carried by the wind into her nostrils, as the monsters from her dreams raced back into her mind. The creature waved to her, hands with razor fingernails, and teeth spread, long and white, and the black figure vanished in a blizzard of screams.