Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
I hold with the pillow around my head so she won’t hear me crying, and to block out the whispering.
We moved out of the city a month ago; an old detached house in the suburbs was all I can afford now after paying for her treatment. Thin wooden walls make for a vulnerable feeling; rotten floorboards echo with every creak. Our old house held in its four walls great highs of joy and depths of grief; This sinister shack amounts to three endless weeks of counting tinned food and fruitless attempts at fatherhood.
With something over my head I feel somehow safer, as if imaginary beasts in the darkness can’t see me if I can’t see them. Every corner of the room not touched by moonlight forms a pitch-black abyss that could hide anything. The house is swallowed by swathes of unknown space; Yet, beyond a childish fear of spindly ghouls, I think I’m more unnerved by what I can’t see than what I can. Twigs seem to paw and tap at the windows in the wind; they wouldn’t want to come in if they knew.
At some ungodly hour in that sleepless night I am startled upright – a smashing noise down the hallway. I thought I might have a night of peace but she always finds some way to frighten me at night. I fumble for a torch and grasp the doorknob, pausing to prepare myself for the fear these nights can hold.
There is no spectral phantasm waiting for me on the other side, just a dark silent hallway to the kitchen. The smell of ancient cigarette stains always brings back memories of my Grandmother’s house. On my way I stop to listen at her bedroom door. Do I want to hear something? Signs of life but nothing else, please; there are no nurses to check on her anymore, no sedatives, no straps. The wind is blowing much stronger tonight. I finally hear the faint snoring of my little girl, relieved I let out a shaky breath.
In the kitchen there are no songs of merriment, no scents of cooking. Not anymore. Here putrid nicotine meets rotting food and rodent aromas. A window lies open above the sink; I move to close it and see the pieces of a shattered plate in the basin below. It must have been teetering on the side against the draft. Did I close it? My memory deceives me these days.
Locking the window shut I see a long, distorted face in the darkness outside. Its paleness glows in the black of night, its eyes seem lost in plunging cavernous sockets. Fear pumps through my veins but as I look again my own gaunt, sagging face looks back at me, illuminated by the torch. A mind unnerved by the unseen always conjures visible demons. Such things aren’t real; it’s the unknowable human condition that is truly dangerous. A whisky bottle catches my eye beside the sink. Not tonight, not again.
Walking down the hall with some peace, my blood freezes to find her door open. I edge closer revealing a perfectly made bed and closed window. I shout her name to no avail. Making so much noise is something I try to avoid in this place. We sent her to them because they said they could treat anything, exorcise her even, but when the money ran out she came back different. Worse than before. It’s only me now and I can’t help her.
On the floor beside the bed something glints in the moonlight. I bend down to pick it up. A long, sharp piece of broken plate. The last piece?
My contemplation is broken by the sound of the front door slamming open against the kitchen wall. But something else? The moan of the wind? Creaking of the walls or the floorboards?
“Who’s there?” I shout, rushing towards the kitchen in a clumsy panic, knuckles white – with fear or readiness to fight I do not know.
My anger subsides as I find the kitchen empty of intruders. There is no little girl out there in the darkness. Shutting the door I begin to cry and I shout her name again.
“That’s enough please! Rosa! Come back.”
I don’t know what’s worse: that I can’t find her, or the nights she’s here but I can’t recognise her.
I turn to see her looking at me from the hallway, empty of expression, blood streaming down from deep cuts across her cheeks.
“Where did you go? What have you done to yourself? Did you open the door?”
She just stares back at me through unsettling eyes full of tears. Hollow eyes set deep within her skull; the same hollow eyes that looked back at me from the window, the same hollow eyes of the nurses that refused to care for her anymore.
Cleaning the cuts on her cheeks I ask again what she did.
“It follows me daddy, it likes to scratch me when I’m not looking.”
It’s the same thing she told Doctor Forrester the night they had to move her. I’d seen photos of the frantic lacerations on the other girls’ faces; one girl underwent reconstructive surgery to replace her nose.
“I know darling, I know.” I said applying the plasters.
“Look at me.” I said holding her tiny hands. “It’s not real remember, the whispers, the claws, the fear.”
She didn’t seem comforted by this. “You can take your tablets now instead of the morning O.K? And I’ll get you a glass of milk.”
There wasn’t any milk, water would have to do. Her medication ran out two days ago, Paracetamol would have to do.
I tuck her in and lock the bedroom door. I move a chair against her door ready to sit there all night to ensure she can’t hurt herself again. First I take the whisky bottle from the kitchen, then, I remember it. I open the drawer beside the sink and under appliance manuals and junk mail I see it. Pulling the revolver from the drawer I check the cylinder, two rounds.
I settle in, ready for it. It can’t be more than a few hours from sunrise. I stare down one side of the hall then the other, but never can I see both. After only a few minutes, I hear it, something like murmuring. Faint at first but getting louder. It drifts under the door and tickles the eardrum in the most disturbing way.
Something moves in the corner of my eye, I shine the torch to reveal… nothing. It’s not real, even if I feel it touch my skin, it’s not real. My senses deceive me, but that sound, that whisper from the other side of the door, that exists in the more horrifying realms of reality.
The louder it gets the tighter I grip the bottle, the faster my leg bobs up and down with anxiety. They thought putting her in her own room she’d have no one to cut and no reason to scare the other girls with her whispering. They were wrong.
“Don’t look at me.”
Indistinct hisses become audible sentences, saying very little yet speaking to every fibre of my nerves.
“Don’t look at me, don’t look at me.”
She continues, louder yet with the same unnatural tone, I can hear her tossing and turning in bed. I think of her playful laughter, the painful days leaving her at nursery, the first photo with her mother, trying to remember why I do this, why I put us both through this. I glug from the bottle and fumble with the revolver in my pocket. Holding back the tearing feeling in my heart I chant a lullaby her mother used to sing.
“Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me.”
As she hisses it seems to reach a crescendo. A scream cuts through the wind and whispers. I lurch upright whip open the door, desperately longing to find some wizened witch or wraith; I want her to be right and for her torment to be coming from without, not from within. Something I can fight, see, understand.
I find a room solely occupied by my little girl, blood again streaming from fresh scratches on her face.
“I can’t do it anymore, it follows me, it scares me daddy.”
“I know darling,” I say scooping her up, “that’s why you’re so brave.”
I hold her so tightly it must hurt. The revolver is burning a hole in my pocket. What else can I do for her?
I don’t know the girl that whispers and scratches behind the door but I know this little girl in my arms right now. She’s the only thing I have. I carry her to my room; without a door maybe I can stop her harming herself.
Tucking her in I realise the fear has been replaced by a sense of oblivion; I can’t see into her mind, I can’t save her no matter what I do. These are the thoughts that surround me as I try to drift off next to her.
Then I hear it.
The whispering, now closer than ever. Why does it unnerve me so? I try to ignore it.
“Don’t look at me.” She hisses into the room.
Why is she saying that? Why the cutting?
“Don’t look at me, don’t look at me.” She gets louder.
I feel her thrashing on the other side of the bed, I need to turn and see her.
“Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, DON’T LOOK AT ME.”
I finally turn; she’s laying there, eyes wide with terror. Why was there no blood on the plate shard, or her fingernails? She’s staring at the space behind me; her lips haven’t moved.
The floor creaks, breath whispers on my ear from behind. “Don’t look at me.”
Credit : Blair C
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