Out in the Darkness. Short Story.

Nancy pulled the blanket tighter about herself as the wind shook the trees against the sitting room window. She made a mental note to talk to Hanna about getting someone in to cut the trees back a little, then promptly forgot about it. The fire crackled in the hearth, providing heat that Nancy just couldn’t seem to feel. The heating had been on all day and she spent most of the afternoon in the sitting room, doors closed and fire blazing, blankets layered across her lap. She had a sip of tea, now only lukewarm, and changed the channel on the TV. Outside the tree tapped on her window again, the sound reminded her of something, though she couldn’t quite place it. Nancy dismissed the feeling and pulled the blanket closer. She’d have to have a talk with Hanna, maybe there were some drafts and she hadn’t realised, she couldn’t even remember that last time she was this cold. A voice spoke up at the back of her mind, soft but with a hard edge, “that isn’t true, you do remember.” she frowned at that. The weather had taken a turn about three days back, the mild, wet winter they’d been experiencing giving way to the freezing winds. The scent of snow hung on the cold air, fresh and promising, Nancy always loved that smell, ever since she was a little girl. The tree hit against the window again, only this time it was a gentle scratching sound, it sent a chill through her already cold body and she remembered the last time she had been this cold.

She had been fifteen and finishing up her shift at the store, outside it was already dark and the store was mostly empty. Keith, the manager, was somewhere in the back. Nancy didn’t mind working in the store too much, it was easy enough work and most people were nice enough. The only thing she hated was walking home during the dark, winter nights. Nancy buttoned up her coat and shoved her hands in her pockets, she’d forgotten her hat and scarf in her rush to make it to the store on time. It hadn’t been too noticeable then when the sun was shining down on everything and the wind had fallen still. Now the wind was blowing steadily and the air was frigid. She stepped out into the street and for a second found it hard to breath. The feeling passed and she took a deep breath, smelling the snow on the air. She smiled, Nancy always loved the snow and as she started to walk a few solitary flakes started to fall.

Ten minutes later and Nancy felt frozen to the bone. Snow was falling steadily around her, thick flakes drifting to the ground. Her ears were burning with the cold and she had a strange feeling that she’d never feel warm again. She paused at the intersection then turned down the alley, it would cut off a good ten minutes of her walk, her parents didn’t like her going down it but on a night like tonight she wanted to be home as quickly as possible. The alleyway was poorly lit and seemed darker than usual. Nancy kept a steady pace, ignoring the pounding of her heart and the sudden bloom of fear. She wasn’t a child any more and it was just an alley, she knew there weren’t monsters lurking in the dark. A figure lunged out of the darkness and she shrieked arms going up, Mr. Franklin from down the road stood in front of her, his eyes wide and staring, alarm replaced by concern Nancy touched his arm gently, “Mr. Franklin? Are you OK? Did something happen?”
“It’s coming again. I have to warn them. Have to warn everyone. It’s coming.” he looked at her, his eyes suddenly focusing, “Nancy? What are you doing here? Get home, now. Don’t talk to anyone on the way either it isn’t safe.” his head whipped around, he let out a strangled yell, “it isn’t safe. Get home and stay there!” and before Nancy could say anything else he took off, half running, half stumbling through the alley and out of sight. Nancy stared after him for a few seconds, torn by indecision, should she go after him? He didn’t seem to be in his right mind after all and if he was lost or confused. A freezing wind tore through the alley with a howl, Nancy stiffened, the cold stole that last of the warmth she had, shivering she turned and started to walk again. He would be fine, of course he would. She’d let her parents know when she got home, they’d know what to do, she wasn’t dressed for this weather and Mr. Franklin had been dressed warmly.

That night Nancy lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Her parents had rang the police and last she heard they’d found Mr. Franklin, he’d been going through the town raving at people and was currently safe and warm in the local police station, sleeping off whatever he had drank. She shivered beneath her heavy blanket, the cold had gotten into her bones and she couldn’t seem to get warm again.

Nancy slipped from her bed and put on her slippers and dressing gown. Normally she brought a glass of water to bed, but with all the excitement of the night she’d forgotten and now her mouth and throat were dry. She crept across the landing and down the stairs, avoiding the parts the creaked. She didn’t bother turning on the lights as she went, she knew where everything was. In the kitchen she grabbed a glass then went to the sink. She peered out the window that was just above it, into the darkness and the sheet of falling snow in front of her. It was still coming down pretty heavily out there, maybe school would be cancelled tomorrow. She turned on the tap and started to fill her glass, listening to the pipes gurgle. Outside something moved amongst the snow. It was too dark to get a proper look, but it was large. Nancy frowned and squinted, trying to see something, anything but it was too dark. Then something was pressing itself against the window, Nancy stood frozen as she looked at the creature. It tapped on the glass gently, almost as though testing it. It had two dark eyes, a cruel, hooked nose and a short gash of a mouth. Its eyes met hers and it grinned, even though it looked like a man Nancy knew in her very soul that it was anything but. The thing winked, then it was gone from the window. Nancy’s glass overflowed, bitingly cold water washed over her hand and she dropped her glass with a startled gasp, it clattered as it landed in the sink.

By the time Nancy slipped back into her bed she had convinced herself it was just a trick of the snow and her overactive imagination. As she rolled over she heard a gentle scratching against her window. She nestled deeper into her blanket and squeezed her eyes shut. She had the urge to look, to get out of bed and walk to the window, the pull it open and let the cold night air in. Her stomach twisted, nausea building, the urge turned deeper, into a maddening need, an itch that she refused to scratch and still she heard that gentle sound that seemed to fill the entire room. There was a loud bang on the window, Nancy jumped her eyes opening. The scratching had stopped, she needed to know. She swung her legs from bed and stood shakily, goosebumps rippling across her skin. She walked to the window and gently pulled back the curtain revealing her empty window. She let the curtain drop back into place and went back to bed feeling foolish. She was just a little jumpy from her scare earlier. That was all. Nancy repeated it to herself again and again, but still she couldn’t’ seem to believe it. Eventually she fell into a fitful sleep filled with dark and violent dreams.

When she woke the next morning her parents had been sitting at the table in the kitchen, clutching cups of black coffee, her mother was pale, her father looked angry.
“Schools cancelled today.” her father’s tone was sharp.
“Snow day?”
her mother and father shared a look, “No, something happened last night, there was-”
“Joseph!” her mothers voice was high and slightly scandalised.
“What? What happened?”
“She’s going to find out sooner or later. It’s all the kids will be talking about, hell it’s all anyone will be talking about.”
Her mother was silent, “some people were attacked last night. Killed they think. They’re not sure.”
Nancy frowned, “what? How are they not sure?”
Her father looked at his coffee, “they didn’t find any bodies, but there was blood. Lots of it.”
Nancy sat at the table, feeling light headed. “Who? Who was it?”
Her parents shared a look, “we’re not sure yet, they haven’t released the names, but we know three of them were kids.”
Nancy felt her stomach clench, “Three of them? How many were there?”
Her mother slammed her hand on the table causing them all to jump, “That’s enough I don’t want to hear anything more about it. It was just a drifter, that’s all. The police will catch him and everything will be all right.”
An image flashed in Nancy’s mind, the man she had seen last night, maybe it wasn’t a dream. She opened her mouth to speak and her mother gave her a hard look, Nancy closed her mouth again.

In the end twelve people were killed, six children, six adults. Nancy didn’t know any of them personally, but she knew of most of them. The killer was never caught and the bodies had never been found. Most people seemed to think that Mr. Franklin had been involved somehow, he kept raving about the killings, he always seemed to know the nights something would happen. After the seventh victim a mob, consisting of the family of the victims went to his house. Mr. Franklin hadn’t been seen after that and the police were too concerned about the murders to worry about a crazy old man going missing.

A log in the fire popped, startling Nancy out of her memories, it was happening again. She could feel it. What ever that thing she had seen was, it wasn’t human and it was coming back. She stood from her couch, disentangling herself from the blankets. She needed to get to the phone, needed to warn someone before it happened again. She didn’t know how she’d get people to believe her, but she’d find a way. The scratching at the window came again, but it was different this time. Nancy froze, then slowly turned around, he was standing at her window, he raised his hand slightly in a half wave, around him snow was falling steadily. Nancy let out a shriek, she turned from the room and ran. Panting, Nancy stood in the kitchen, searching for the phone, it wasn’t in its cradle, as she searched she curse under her breath. How many times had she told Hanna if she used the phone she was to put it back in the god damned cradle? She could hear it tapping at the window in the kitchen, she refused to look, some part of her knew that if she just didn’t look everything would be fine but that need was back, that itch she knew she shouldn’t scratch. She felt herself turning, eyes rising and meeting the gaze of the thing on the other side of the window. It smiled at her, a slow, lecherous smile that made her stomach drop. Nancy started moving forward, unable to stop herself, she moaned as her shaking hand reached towards the latch, her hand gripped it, feeling the cold metal beneath her fingers. It turned and opened, the lock opening with a gentle, light click that filled her ears. The wind caught the window and blew it open, ripping it from her grip, thick heavy snowflakes blew into the kitchen, melting as soon as they landed. The creature was suddenly inside, she hadn’t seen it climb through the window, it was just there, in front of her. It nodded at her, the gesture was startlingly friendly and familiar, a quick “nice to see you again.” then it lunged. Nancy started screaming, a high shrill sound that was suddenly cut off.

Hanna let herself into the house, she stepped inside and stopped, it was freezing in here, did something happen to the heating? It had seemed fine yesterday. “Nancy? Everything OK?” Hanna didn’t bother stripping off her jacket or gloves, she opened the door to the sitting room and peered in, it was empty. She moved into the kitchen, Hanna pushed the door open and stopped. The window above the sink was open letting in the cold air and there was blood, so much blood, it seemed to have covered everything. Hanna fumbled for her pocket, wrestling to grab her phone with fingers that felt numb and somehow too large at the same time. After what seemed like an eternity her phone was finally in her hands and she called the police, fighting against the vomit that was at the back of her throat. She left the kitchen and stumbled into the sitting room, half collapsing on the couch where she’d remain until the police arrived, phone still gripped tightly in her hand

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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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