Winning short story for sinister competition of the month February 2015
'Sinister' - competition piece: 2,315 words
by: Jo Mamo
I hacked and pushed on the rock which surrounded the entrance to old miller's cottage and urged away what seemed to be enough stones to leave a clear passage for me to fit through.
With only the light of the ending day to see, I slipped through the space I had made and ducked to avoid the pebbles which fell as I brushed against the ceiling with my shoulder. An eerie silence overcame me. The low ceiling became an upside down ramp and arched higher above me. The entrance to the cottage was peculiarly tiny, as if made for children under the age of 9 and no one else. The first room I came to was almost entirely empty except for two lone chairs which faced away from each other, their backs touching. Scratched and beaten to bare basic, the chairs were almost completely stripped of their oak covering to reveal their true blackened filling within - in fact the chairs seemed as if they had been burnt from the inside out.
A small rectangular window was stuck in the left wall's corner looking as if it had been forced into the room with no intent of being there. I peered out of it curiously as I watched the last of February 28th's sun disappear over the shadowy trees which surrounded the cottage. Sal had called tonight 'portal's eve'. She confided that the extra day was the only way of contact with any other life force inhuman and unearthly. While she made up a special name, I simply called it leap day and didn't think twice about why it existed other than the scientific reason I had been supplied with as a child - February stole an extra day from March out of pure pride.
Sal was 18, exactly my age and about my height. She had been my closest friend since we were 7 and the pair of us had agreed on mostly everything other than certain ritualistic and seemingly imaginary beliefs (or at least they seemed imaginary to me before that night). Apparitions, spirits, shadows which appeared and disappeared into nothing; the supernatural. Sal had stated she was destined to be a medium a year previous and clearly planned to fulfill her fate. Since I indefinitely did not qualify for any kind of supernatural exchange, she had asked me to retrieve a small wooden box from the miller's by sunset on the 28th. Her instructions were crystal clear, I needed to get in and get out before midnight or the portal would open and I would be supposedly subject to whatever ported over from Sal's mystical world of imaginary creatures. Video camera in hand, I planned to stay until three am in order to prove to Sal that her lively imagination would not suddenly become reality simply because she said so.
Creeping down the narrow hallway, I reached an ancient looking door; it's hinges groaned as I twisted the large brass knob briskly. The musty smell of the dust draped walls stuck to the inner bridge of my nose, giving me the sensation that a cloth was being held loosely around my face. Sal had told me that the box would be in the main bedroom beneath the fifth floorboard, 7 steps to the left of a twisted mirror. A large four poster bed stood in the centre with moth eaten nets hung from it's highest corners, collecting the dirty air instead of the brown insects which already swarmed within it's layers. A cloaking closet leaned against the wall nearest to the bed and to the left of it, my eyes caught onto the most impressive piece of furniture I had seen up until that point. The mirror was embellished with a beautiful floral border which shone as if it had been polished yesterday. Approaching it with awe, I stared into it's wide frame as if expecting to be given sight into another world, only to be granted with the view of the same face i had seen whenever I passed a shop window or the large rearview mirrors of tow trucks. The girl staring back at me looked suddenly much older. The contours of her face had stretched over her bony cheeks and any and all remnants of a childhood seemed to be stripped bare from it's surface. Her eyes - my eyes, narrowed slightly as I studied the face I had newly acquired. The glass before me suddenly began expanding (or maybe it was contracting), either way I could not tell because my senses were elsewhere. Sirens rang in my ears and a slick wetness tingled my fingertips. Trying to figure out exactly what was happening was the last thing on my now overpowered mind.
Only a couple centimeters away, I reached slowly towards the mirror expecting my finger to pass straight through the reflective glass but just as I was about to make contact, my hand was halted. Grasping at an invisible barrier, my mind began to convulse like the image before me, warping and spinning so rapidly that I could feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head.
From under the bed:
Although she was standing up straight, her limbs trembled and her neck was twisted at an odd angle as if it was threatening to snap backward. The girl was a stranger to me and so I decided I would call her Talia. This was the name of a girl who had disappeared in the mainstream last fall back in Yorkshire back where I came from. She used to visit the bay every evening and one day she stepped much too close to the water's edge and became subject to it's horrendous turbulence. Both Talias were the creators of great past and future news stories.
I had fantasized about this moment for much too long and could hardly believe that it was happening right before my very eyes just out of the sheer luck of not being alone in this hotspot of a haunted room. While my breathing had become shallow, hers was picking up. The girl was drowning, drowning in air and gasping uselessly, failing to acquire the oxygen she so much craved. The following moments happened so fast that had I not been recording them on my camera, their sequence would have been forgotten entirely. Quite like she had been disrupted from a deep sleep, Talia jerked sideways and turned to face the bed. It was now that I realized her irises were spun backwards and all that was visible were her stark white eye balls. From being at her sides, her hands shot up to her thinning face and dragged her nails from her high cheek bones to her neckline, continuing to pull at her shirt collar - clearly trying to strangle herself. I spun my camera upwards and watched the scene through it's screen, bursting with eagerness as her lips curved into a smirk just before widening so much that her skin began to rip slowly into an even wider smile. Extremely happy with my footage so far, I moved myself into a more comfortable position beneath the wooden-supported mattress, glancing momentarily just to check that I was still out of sight from the stranger girl beside me. Within the moment that I looked away from my screen, Talia had moved. She was now staring straight down at me, as if her unseeing eyes had finally noticed me lying there. The expression on her face had changed and now all that remained was a long slit across the lower half of her face; the bloody ghost of a malevolent smile. She reached down and ripped the mattress from the frame above me. The time on my camera read 11:45 meaning that it was just a matter of time before the portal was completely opened.
The whole situation reminded me of visitation hours at the hospital, family and friends dropping by and entering to aimlessly whisper words of courage to even those who had lost all sense of interpretation. The language of the dead was not one I was fond of. It included facial expressions and writings of those who were living being manipulated by the spirit inhabiting it. By this point, I was anything but scared, my bloodline was completely blackened by spiritual haunting and resting disturbances so much so that no spirit would dare attempt to get under my skin. This girl Talia, however must have been pure. I had watched her become possessed within moments of entering the master bedroom without any restraint. In fact, she had fallen right into a trance and probably had no idea how to fight it. Although I knew how to separate the two, I would let the demon have his fun as long as I could have mine. I stood up bravely and waited patiently for the time to make its mark.
11:57 - The glass of the mirror shattered behind us.
11:58 - A beam of light shone at the centre of the room.
11:59 - The beam of light grew until I imagined it would swallow the entire room whole. I was blinded and oblivious to my surroundings, I had entered a void. Doubt began to take over my previous ideals; what if my bloodline was not truly as marred as I had been told? Despite my fears of being put into a trance, I slowed my thoughts and began to assess my situation properly. My mind brought back an image of the first page of my copy 'sub natural possessions' by T L Jared.
Signs of possession:
Bells or chimes sounding
Unnatural movement of limbs
Rapid eye movements
Loss of voice
Show of physical urge to get rid of one's body
'Darkness' was the exact opposite of the amount of light I was experiencing and so I ruled out possession completely. The area around me was beginning to come back into focus and I was able to make out a room which was similar to the one I had previously occupied. Instead of dust covered walls, four lavender painted slates surrounded a small box mounted on a podium in the centre of the room. I flipped open the box and discovered a folded piece of notepad paper which was brown at the edges like it would be had it been over 100 years old.
The paper read:
'Dear reader, if you are reading this then you have figured out my hiding place. Most of my sanity has disappeared and I fear that I shall never have it back. You however, friend, you have found the piece of my sanity which remains. Although we are most probably strangers to one another I will however ask of you one thing, if I may. Upon finishing this letter you shall be sent back to the cottage in the woods. Whatever you do, do not let go of this box, this box is the only thing keeping you rooted to earth, all will be lost for you if you let go of this box just as it has for me. When you get back to the cottage, leave immediately, all that you have seen within the house has been an illusion and no girl truly entered that house, you were alone the entire time - physically of course. The spiritual beings in that house are not to be messed with and you will find that it is better that you do not attempt to make contact with me again after this reading. Tell whomever has sent you here that you discovered nothing and that there is nothing to find in this house. Tell whomever has sent you here that it was a waste of time. Save that person and save yourself. Burn this letter and do not pass it on, however do tell her that I am sorry and that I am well. You will know who she is and she will know me. All is predestined as it always has been and she has been expecting this message for quite some time now I'll assume.
Finally, remember this: the closer you go to darkness, the closer the darkness will come to you, impurities begin where purities do.
'Don't let go of that box reader, farewell and good luck.'
The letter ended, and the scene around me disappeared, leaving me back in the cottage just as the mysterious writer had said it would. I fled the house, told Sal that nothing had happened and then burnt the letter. Sal was surprised that the box was empty but said that someone must have already taken what was within. When I asked her what she had wanted from it, she replied quietly and after a few moments of thought, 'a friend of mine promised to write to me, he disappeared 7 years ago and I have been waiting for his reply ever since'. A tear trickled down her face and I opened my mouth to tell her that he is well and sorry, but my words stopped cold in my throat. Sal's mouth had opened into a widely cut grin and her eyes were white as sheets in her pale cushioned face. My head began to spin and I felt suddenly slight weight in my jean pocket. A folded piece of notepaper and an old looking pen emerged along with my hand; the words on the first line read:
'Dear reader, if you are reading this then you have figured out my hiding place. Most of my sanity has disappeared and I fear that I shall never'
'Have it back,' I hissed through my teeth. I flipped the paper over suddenly, and read out the name which was carelessly scrawled across the back, floating just above the lines with clearly no intention of neatness; 'Talia'.
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