FREE Fiction Friday: Visitor: By Aidan Thorn
By: Aidan Thorn
At bedtime Tommy Edwards found comfort in two things: the crack of light from the hallway–the door slightly ajar, and the sound of TV as his parents watched downstairs. Their laughter wrapped a warm embrace around him as he drifted off to sleep. He never enjoyed the nights when he was still awake as the evening news started. There was no laughter then. Occasionally, he’d hear his parents commenting on stories as they were announced. But usually he’d just hear the terrifying details of what went on all over the world. No normal nine-year-old enjoys the news; and Tommy was as normal a nine-year-old as any other.
He dreaded the headlines. A clear stern voice like a schoolteachers, over alarming music. It told of wars, missing persons, murder, and abuse. Tommy would bury his head in the duvet in a half-hearted attempt to muffle the distressing words. His child’s curiosity would always come to the surface, he couldn’t help but listen.
Tonight, the first echoing dong of the programme was followed by the word ‘tragedy’, dramatically delivered by a booming voice. Tommy’s head came out from under the duvet to hear what followed.
The newsreader continued. ‘… as a young mother plummets to her death in an apparent suicide whilst her seven-year-old daughter watches on.’
There was another dong, the booming voice moved on to an unrelated and equally awful story. Tommy didn’t hear the rest of the broadcast. His thoughts were with the poor little girl who had watched her mother die. He imagined himself in that situation, and wished he hadn’t – it terrified him. Now he feared sleep, feared the nightmares that sleep would bring.
Tommy woke needing to use the bathroom. His bedroom was in darkness, the hallway light now off, his parents asleep. He could hear his father snoring along the corridor. Tommy didn’t like leaving his bed whilst the house slept. It was comforting to hear his father’s snoring, comforting to know he was close. At the same time worrying to know that he was asleep and unprepared to leap to Tommy’s defense should the things that lurk in the darkness appear. He could switch his bedside lamp on, but it was a long walk to the light switch in the hallway. The lamp would give the corridor outside some light, but it would cast those spooky long shadows that chased Tommy and could reach from the walls and grab him.
The house never felt warm at night. Unaware that his father set the heat to switch off whilst his family slept, Tommy was convinced that it was a ghostly presence that brought the chill. In his vivid imagination, the imagination only a child can maintain, whatever it was that made the shadows move and the house feel cold couldn’t get to him if he stayed safely beneath the covers.
But, it was no good, Tommy’s bladder told him he needed to overcome his fear, he wasn’t going to last the night. As he reached out to the bedside lamp the chill air pricked up the tiny hairs on his arm. He whipped his arm back under the duvet twice before he finally found the courage to hit the switch. His eyes strained against the light and he stepped onto soft carpet, its chill biting his foot and creeping up his leg. Goosebumps pricked Tommy’s skin and he ran on tiptoes to the bathroom.
Tommy left the bathroom light on and the door open when he left. He always did if he had to get up in the night. It stopped the shadows that had chased him down the hallway from chasing him back.
When Tommy returned to his room a boy stood beside his bed. A boy he’d never seen before. A boy, who would be out of place in the playground with Tommy’s classmates, his look from a time long since past. His skin was pale, almost translucent. His clothes were unlike any Tommy had ever seen. They were ragged and dirty. They hung loosely on a frame to small to fill them, suggesting they’d been handed down from an older sibling, or picked up cheaply secondhand and were expected to last a number of years.
‘Afraid of the dark?’ The boy asked in a whispered voice that floated on the night air as if it hadn’t emanated from his mouth.
To his surprise Tommy wasn’t scared. He knew he should be, but for some reason he just wasn’t. Tommy didn’t feel threatened by the intruder. There was a serenity about the boy that Tommy didn’t understand but it calmed him. The room no longer felt cold. There was a warming smile on the boy’s face and without realising Tommy mirrored it.
‘I don’t like the shadows,’ Tommy answered, before asking his own question. ‘Who are you?’
The boy’s tone suggested he expected further questions. Tommy had plenty, and they came all at once.
‘How did you get in to my room? What are you doing here? Where are your parents?’
‘My parents are dead, Just like me.’ Francis paused to let that one sink in.
Francis had confirmed Tommy was talking to a ghost, and yet it didn’t shake Tommy, it was something he’d known with out having to hear.
‘How long have you been dead? What happened?’
‘My mother drowned me, I don’t know how long ago. The world is different from when I was alive, our light never came from switches on walls, we used candles and there was never a toilet in the house when I was alive. We had an outhouse, and at night we would use a pan under the bed.’
‘Why are you here?’
‘The little girl that you heard about on the news this evening, I killed her mother. I’ve killed many mothers, mine was the first,’ Francis said without passion. ‘I’m going to kill your mother next.’
Francis spoke as fact. He hadn’t said it to shock or frighten Tommy. He spoke matter of factly.
Tommy felt anger rise inside him. In contrast to the chill he felt when he had left his bed, Tommy was flushed with adrenalin fueled heat. Francis still wore his smile but it no longer felt warm, it had taken on a sinister look. Tommy thought of the little girl on the news, how she must feel tonight, her mother gone. His thoughts turned to his own mother. Propelled by the force of all of Francis’ orphaned children Tommy threw his fist at the murderous spirit. The punch didn’t connect with Francis’ head, but went through it and hit the wall.
Francis was gone but his laughter filled the air.
Light cracked through the threadbare curtains into Tommy’s room. He woke to his mother’s voice calling his name as she did every morning. Tommy rarely remembered his dreams, but this morning he remembered Francis. The news bulletin from the previous night had got into his head and made him dream up Francis – it was the only explanation. He heard his mother call again and he felt relief at the knowledge that she was under no threat.
Tommy bounced from his bed and zipped down the stairs to join his mother at the kitchen table for breakfast. She’d already poured his favourite cereal into a bowl for him and he attacked it greedily. As he ate he noticed an aching in his hand and a darkening of the skin over his knuckles. He pushed at it with his other hand and felt tenderness beneath swelling. Cold sickening fear hit Tommy deep into his stomach and he could no longer face another mouthful – perhaps Francis had been real.
‘What’s up, Tommy?’ His mother asked.
‘Oh, uh… nothing.’
‘Well, eat up then, we need to leave by eight-thirty.’
‘Um, Mum? When you got up this morning was the bathroom light on?’
‘No Tommy, looks like you slept through last night.’
‘Are you sure? Maybe Dad switched it off before he left for work?’
‘No, I was up before him this morning, Tommy. It was definitely not on. Why?’
The feeling in the pit of his stomach subsided. Francis must have been a dream – Tommy must have just lashed out in his sleep, affected by the dream. Tommy shoveled the last few mouthfuls of cereal into his mouth.
‘Right, I’m going to brush my teeth. When I come back I want you to have your bag packed and be ready to leave, ok?’ Tommy’s mother said as she made her way from the kitchen.
Tommy hopped down from the breakfast barstool and took his cereal bowl to the sink. As the bowl filled with water and slowly sunk under its weight a louder than expected thud met Tommy’s ears. A thud too loud to have been merely the bowl hitting the base of the sink.
From the hallway he heard his mother calling to him.
‘I’m coming mum,’ he called back, rushing to his school bag and shoving his packed lunch inside.
Tommy ran to the hallway to meet his waiting mother, but, he found she wasn’t waiting at all. She was lying at the foot of the stairs, both legs making angles that they shouldn’t. Her hair was growing red with the blood leaking from the back of her head. Her eyes were rolling back and she looked sickly white. The hallway felt cold, like his room had last night.
‘Mum!’ Tommy cried out in panic, ‘What, what happened?’
‘I… I felt something push me at the top of the stairs,’ his mother replied in weakening pained tones. ‘Call an ambulance, Tommy.’
Tommy rushed back to the kitchen and grabbed for the phone. He dialed 999 and listened to the brief dialing tone and ringing.
‘She’ll be dead before they arrive.’
Tommy turned in the direction of the voice from behind him, a voice that traveled on the air – a voice he knew. He caught a fleeting glimpse of Francis’ and his sinister smile in the doorway to the hall before he disappeared again.
Tommy ran out into the hallway to be with his mother. He knelt next to her as the operator spoke on the other end of the line. Tommy didn’t hear what was said, he was concentrating on his mother. She was gone.
Francis’ laughter filled the air again.
Tommy dropped the phone and sobbed over his mother’s body.
– THE END –
Bio: The fiction of Aidan Thorn has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest and Shadows & Light as well as online at Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Near to the Knuckle, Pulp Metal Magazine, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive and Spelk Fiction. His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts was released in 2013 and his second, Urban Decay, was published by Gritfiction in 2015.