25 Nov A Touch of Heatstroke
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"A Touch of Heatstroke"Written by
Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Geoff lived in London. He had always considered himself to be one of the most average people on the planet. He was of medium height, medium build, had no talents whatsoever and worked in ASDA. His life was normal to the point of boredom, and every day followed the same routine.
Geoff’s average day did not include going to the shops, but, if memory served, he was short of a few item, bread and suchlike. It was convenient to pick these things up just after work, and he could go back home without disrupting his usual program of events. As he was walking down the freezer aisle, Geoff shivered violently. How he hated this part of supermarkets. As he walked past quickly, he saw a small girl sitting on a container of frozen peas. Her skin was white as snow, and as Geoff brushed past her, her skinny arm was like ice! Her head was bent, and a shock of black hair covered her body down to her waist, but Geoff could clearly see that all she was wearing was a flimsy summer dress. Looking back over his shoulder as he turned away, the girl was still sitting there, unmoving. He shivered, and walked away.
It wasn’t until a week later that Geoff saw the girl again. This time, she was sitting at a bus stop, her feet hanging far off the ground. She was in the same position she had been in before, and once again, there were no parents to be seen. A street waif, though Geoff, pitying this poor girl. Such a hard life on the streets of London. He hurried by, and didn’t see her again. As he passed, the girl looked up. Unseen, she watched him as he unlocked the door of his house, and went in.
As he closed the door, Geoff noticed a slight chill about the house, Shivering, he made himself a cup of tea. He yawned, and shivered again. It was getting late, and he had forgotten to turn the central heating up. Checking the boiler, Geoff did a double take. The boiler was on, and yet the building was cold, and goose pimples were coming up on Geoff’s arms. He stared at the gauge, uncomprehending. Then it came to him. It must be broken. Of course it was. Admittedly it had been working beautifully the day before, but all these modern gadgets broke at a moment’s notice! Geoff decided to ring the company and get them to fix it. He turned it up all the ways, and while he waited for it to take effect, he lit a fire in the unused grate in his living room, and settled down on his favourite comfy armchair. Picking up a book, he began to read.
Geoff woke up a few hours later with a start. The book was lying on his chest; open on the same page he had started reading at. As he returned it to a position he could continue reading at, he saw a white face looking in at the window. He looked up sharply. The night was dark, but the moon shone in with enough light for him to see that there was nothing there. He shuddered, and tossed another log onto the dying fire. It blazed up instantly, but no heat came off it. He read for another thirty minutes without turning a page, then put the book down, and went up to bed. As he opened the door, he cried out in shock and fear. A small figure was seated on the end of his bed, a young girl in a faded, floral-print dress. Her skin was white as alabaster, translucent as if made of paper, and her hair as dark as sin. In place of her eyes were sunken hollows, and under a sharp nose and caved-in cheeks, her mouth was a thin line of red. Geoff slammed the door shut and leaned against it, still shaking. On the count of three, he told himself. One. He could almost hear his heart race. Two. His hallway swam in front of his eyes, and his head spun. Three. He swung the door open fearfully, and peered in. The room was empty, his bed untouched. He edged slowly in, and patted the spot where the demon-child had sat, but there was nothing there, not even the small indent in the blankets where even the slightest weight would have left a mark. He got slowly into bed, and shut his eyes as tightly as he could. He didn’t open them again until morning.
It was six a.m. when Geoff awoke. Three hours before he usually got up. He had slept a fitful night, tossing and turning until the covers had been shoved right off the bed, and after that, he shivered and quaked without them, to retrieve them. He opened one eye carefully, scanning the room over and over again. The demon-child was waiting in a corner, he was sure. Yet, the room was empty, the only sound being his own ragged breathing. He opened the other eye, and swung one leg out of bed. He waited for a hand to grab his ankle, but none came. In fact, as the morning wore on, he became more and more certain that it had just been a dream- a trick of the light, perhaps. Maybe even a hallucination, and although he had never had one before, there was a first time for everything. He went about his day as normal, although there were some aspects of it that brought the previous night’s happenings to the fore of his mind. For one thing, the heat fluctuated erratically. One minute he would be red-faced and sweating, the next, shivering and chilled to the bone. For a few hours during lunch, the feeling of dread he had experienced the day before rose rapidly in his gut. He dismissed this as the heating acting up again, and the seafood he had eaten- it must have been off. Obviously this must be true, as he hadn’t bothered to check the packet before throwing it in the bin. Geoff shivered again, and turned the central heating off. He took his coat from the stand and left the house. A bit of fresh air would do him good.
He visited a local park on his walk, and was surprised to see that although there were many people there, he was the only one wearing a winter coat. True, the sun was bright and the sky cloudless, but the air was bitterly cold. He looked around in a wide arc, desperately searching for someone who shared this point of view. But there was none. He tried again, but this time, his gaze became riveted on a nearby tree. Try as he might, he could not drag his eyes away. A small figure stepped out from behind it. It was a young girl in a summer dress printed with faded flowers. Unusually, though, for all the supposed heat, her skin was white like snow, unlike the sun-browned complexions of all around her. There was something about this girl he knew, Geoff realised. An unwanted memory tugged at his thoughts, but he pushed it away. He looked away for a moment, and then looked back. She was gone. Walking up to the tree, Geoff could see no sign that there had ever been anyone there. The grass was in no way flattened and trampled, and from whatever angle he stared at it from, he could see no indication of anyone ever having stood in that spot. Again, something tugged at his mind, and again he pushed it away. A sick feeling rose in his stomach, and he backed off. Definitely time to leave, he thought. A touch of heat stroke, perhaps. He’d ring the doctor when he got home.
Upon reaching his front door, Geoff suddenly stopped. It’s all in your head, he told himself. It’s all in your head. Every instinct he possessed was screaming at him to run away, anywhere. He shoved them aside, and turned the key. The hallway was freezing cold, and an odd smell invaded his nostrils. He closed the door as quietly as he could, and looked around. Thankfully, the hall was empty. As he passed the mirror by the stairs, however, he glimpsed a small, dark-headed form in the reflection. He looked again, more closely. There was nobody there, only his own too-bright eyes staring him in the face. Then, he saw something small and dark, and almost cried in relief at his own stupidity. It was only his umbrella, leaning up against the wall. He turned the boiler on again, and sat down on his bed with his head in his hands. Gradually, so gradually Geoff almost didn’t notice, the heat crept up, and returned to normal. Feeling better now, he heated up a pizza for supper. It was only until he was in his pyjamas and cleaning his teeth, that things took a turn for the worse. Looking over into the full-length mirror beside the sink, he saw it instantly. A young child stood behind him, her faded dress blowing as if in a gale. Her arm was outstretched as she lunged for him, and her eye sockets blazed red. In his terror, Geoff saw her arm in new clarity, and his shriek was one of pure fear, for her arm was little more than bone- only her face and neck had skin of a kind, her legs too were bone. He fell to the floor, and huddled in a corner with his arms over his head. He remained in this position for some time, waiting for a blow that never came. Slowly, he uncurled and opened his eyes. She was gone. Even the rug she had kicked aside in her lunge for him was back in its place. Geoff did not sleep that night.
The next morning, when he rose from his bed, he had a new, purposeful step. His eyes gleamed with intent, and a spark of insane determination glowed behind his over-large pupils. He put on his coat and hat again, and seemed not to notice the blazingly hot day. For the first time in his life, he visited the public library nearby, and loaned a laptop. He began typing feverishly, and every now and then, would scribble something down on a scrap of paper he had with him. A smile curved his thin lips upwards, and by the time he handed the computer back, a demented grin contorted his features wildly. As he made his way home, passers-by would cross to the other side of the road before he reached them.
Inspector Shrew was a man of logic and science. He was not, by any standards, clever, but he was down-to-earth, and could tell a madman when he saw one. He had just finished a complicated case about a dog, a stolen necklace and a car door, and was feeling pretty pleased with himself. Less pleased, perhaps, when a call came in to investigate strange noises coming from an apparently abandoned house. The man who had lived there last, a man who went by the name of (here a careless tea stain had rendered the text illegible), had inexplicably vanished a month before. Although there was clearly no point, Shrew knocked politely on the neglected door. As expected, there was no reply. Why would there be? He pushed the door, and to his surprise, it not only opened, but also fell off its hinges entirely, shattering the quiet with a loud bang. Shrew stepped over the threshold, and a curious sense of dread mounted in the pit of his stomach. He loosened his belt a bit, and looked around. The foul stench of decay hit him, and he almost lost his balance. But no- it would not do to fall over in front of everyone! Shrew took a step forward. How odd! There was certainly no one there, but all the same, there was an unnerving feeling of being watched by many. Shrew banished all thoughts of that sort from his mind, and told himself not to be stupid. Of course no one was watching, he said to himself firmly. He made his way up the stairs, and along the upstairs hallway. Then, halfway down, he stopped. At about shoulder height, there were three, long, perfectly parallel gashes, as if a wild animal had been in. Shrew shivered, and for the first time in his life, fear made an unwelcome entrance. Making his way forward again, he stopped again, this time at a door. Thumps and bangs could be heard from inside, and Shrew backed away. His foot slipped on a shard of glass from the smashed mirror behind him, and he froze. The bangs stopped, and a shadow under the door ceased moving too, as if listening. Gathering all the witless courage he possessed, Shrew strode over to the door and flung it open. There was no one in there. Shrew breathed a sigh of relief, and took a moment to examine the walls. There were runes and sigils scratched into the
walls, as if by claws, and words.
Protect me from her
Always watching and underneath: No eyes
Don’t look or it takes you
Leave me alone
WAKE UP, PLEASE WAKE UP
And most disturbing of all:
TAKE ME, DEMON-CHILD
Shrew was now shaking so violently he nearly dropped his torch. He tracked the smell to where it was strongest, and flung open the cupboard doors. A body fell on top of him, maggots crawling in the empty eye sockets. The corpse’s features were, on the whole, average to the point that they would simply pass out of one’s mind as if they were never there, and even the height and build of the body were so normal, it was hard to believe there had ever been a more stereotypical human. An ASDA employee’s badge fell out of one hand, the nails so long they looked like claws. A young girl’s giggle echoed around the house. By now, Shrew had had enough. He ran out of the house as fast as the rotting stairs would let him. Upon reaching his house, he fell into his favourite armchair by the fire. The strange thing was, that although the fire was white-hot at its heart, the room was cold. Shrew made himself a cup of tea, and walked on shaking legs to his bedroom. There was a girl sitting on his bed, in a faded, floral-print dress. Her skin was white as alabaster, translucent as if made of paper, and her hair as dark as sin. In place of her eyes were sunken hollows, and under a sharp nose and caved-in cheeks, her mouth was a thin line of red. Shrew collapsed, his skin the colour of snow. When he awoke, the girl was gone, and what’s more, there was no sign that anyone had ever been in.
Credit To – Poppy Thwaites