Returned. Short Story.

Gwen was dead for almost twelve hours when she started screaming. The high pitched shrieked rattled the windows of the dark room, outside a man walking by clapped his hands over his ears, his palms wet and slick with blood that dripped from them.

The scream slowly trailed off to silence, Gwen sat motionless for a few seconds, then there was a loud gasp and the rushing sound of air as she breathed deeply, coughed violently then breathed deeply again before she spat up a lump of phlegm.

Gwen looked around herself,  the dark room was strange but also familiar.  There was something about it, but the realisation danced just beyond her reach. She coughed again, deep and booming, she spat out more phlegm. She knew it was too dark to see but that didn’t stop her from being able to make out things in the gloom. The worn brown or red couch that was pushed against the wall, the coffee table laden and overflowing with rubbish that sprawled its way across the floor. Gwen shifted slightly and stood, her body felt stiff and pins and needles jabbed at her entire body. A wave of dizzyness hit and Gwen stumbled backwards, falling onto a chair behind her. The chair was soft but the fall was still jarring. She sat for a moment, she felt cold, colder than she ever had before, part of her wondered if she’d ever feel warm again. She pulled her knees up to her chest and looped her arms around them. She was shivering, though she hadn’t noticed yet. Why was she here?  The last thing she remembered was going out to get a cup of coffee early Monday morning. It was night now, wherever she was, was it still Monday? The thought frightened her, how long had she been unconscious? No, she hadn’t been unconscious,  it was more than that. She had been dead. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart stopped for and brief, terrifying second before it resumed its steady beating.

Outside the man got shakily to his feet, he felt sick and disorientated, splatters of blood coated the ground on either side of him. Not sure who, or where he was, the man stumbled on, leaving nothing behind himself but bloodstains and a briefcase.

Gwen gripped her knees tightly. Tears were flowing freely down her face, she wasn’t aware she was crying. Something had happened to her; someone had brought her here, someone had killed her and something had brought her back.

Gwen didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when the sun started to rise. The heat was strangely soothing and she could finally feel her body start to warm up. As the room brightened she could see more clearly, the couch was red and heavily stained, there was a door beside it. Gwen’s stomach grumbled and groaned, she was starting to get hungry. A pang of fear hit her, what if she was some kind of zombie? A sudden image came into her head, French toast, covered in syrup and served with bacon, a flood of saliva filled her mouth, she smiled to herself. At least she was craving normal food.

Gwen stood carefully, her body felt stiff, uncoordinated, she stretched for a moment, then started walking across the room. As she picked her way through the rubbish Gwen felt her muscles relaxing. The room really was gross, old pizza boxes were scattered about the place, glasses that were half full of liquid and mold, greasy, shiny wrappers and clothes seemed to cover most things. At the door she paused and listened, she hadn’t heard anyone moving around but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. With her heart beating wildly she reached out and twisted the handle, the door opened smoothly. It revealed a short and thin hallway that was also covered in various rubbish, a rickety looking staircase led upstairs. Carefully Gwen moved down the hallway towards another door, this one looked like it would lead outside.

Gwen stood outside the building, squinting in the bright light of the morning. The area was deserted and more than a little seedy. She glanced at the briefcase lying on the ground and continued past it. She wasn’t sure where she was but Gwen knew that standing around would do her no good. She felt like she needed to keep moving, that she couldn’t sit or think any longer. She could feel something crowding at the back of her mind, a heavy pressure, like someone took their thumb and was steadily pressing it into her brain. She hoped that as she walked she would start to recognise things, but there was nothing. The area itself had a few noteworthy landmarks, like the large neon sign of a woman sitting atop a banana, or the larger, flashing neon beside it that promised Girls! Girls! Girls! To the empty street.

Gwen stopped. The sign was familiar. She could see it in her mind, blurry and distracting, the street was full of people trying to push past her, in a hurry to get to whatever seedy place they were going. She had been with someone, but she couldn’t quite picture them. Gwen took a deep breath, she didn’t need this right now, she needed to get home, to be safe, after that she could worry about everything else.

It took almost an hour of wandering before Gwen saw something slightly familiar, it took her a moment to place it, but she knew the café, she had been there on a date with someone, Toby? She wasn’t sure of the name, it had been about five years before, but at least she knew where she was.

Gwen stood outside her door, she was exhausted, she patted her pockets for her key and after finding it she let herself into her apartment. She paused at the hall mirror, she hadn’t had a chance to look at herself since she had woken up. Her hair was messy, her skin pale and her eyes were dark, she looked like she was hung-over and doing the walk of shame. Well, at least none of the neighbours had seen her. She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water, she drank it quickly, then went rifling through the cupboards for food.

After she had eaten and showered Gwen was feeling better, she had now realised that what had probably happened was that she was drugged and dragged out to that building by someone. It didn’t seem like anything really bad had happened to her, maybe who ever it was had run or gotten distracted by something. Obviously the whole being dead thing was just a delusion brought on by the drugs. She couldn’t really have died, it would be impossible. It was time to just put the whole thing behind her. Going to the police would bring up too many questions she couldn’t answer, most of the day before was fuzzy if not completely gone. Besides she had always classed herself as somewhat intelligent, the thought of going to the police and telling them she had allowed something like that to happen filled her with more than a little shame.

Gwen gasped as she felt a burning pain in her stomach, she could feel something deep inside, cold and twisting, then with a sudden flare of pain, it was gone. Gwen carefully lifted her t-shirt, there near her belly button was a small red line, almost like a scratch, there were more across her stomach, how hadn’t she noticed them earlier? The pain hit her again, this time it didn’t stay in one place, it moved across her stomach and chest again and again, quick, stabbing pains. Gwen cried out and fell backwards.

She wasn’t in her apartment anymore, she was somewhere else, somewhere dark and gloomy, someone was standing in front of her, a knife in their hand. The knife seemed huge and somehow shone in the darkness, she felt it plunge into her flesh. Gwen gasped, the room was bright again, she was lying on the floor of her apartment. She sat up shakily, no, it didn’t happen, it couldn’t have. This was just some kind of weird flashback from what ever they had drugged her with. Gwen carefully got to her feet, she needed to lie down, that was all. She had a stressful day and it was all just too much. Once she had a rest she’d feel better. The scratches on her stomach throbbed steadily as she moved, she could almost feel the cold, sticky blood coating her body. Gwen lay down on her bed, she just needed to forget about it, to move on with her life.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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