Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Beach Boy Blues

Aaron was still looking for a way out of the holiday as the plane touched down in Hawaii. Most people would be thrilled at the prospect of two weeks on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but Aaron looked out of the window of the aeroplane, to the bright sunshine and welcoming Hawaiian skyline, and felt an unstoppable desire to disappear.

It was nothing personal to the people of Hawaii of course. He was sure that they were just as lovely as everybody had always said they were, but Aaron was not in the right frame of mind to enjoy a luxury holiday, and he wasn’t sure that he ever would be again. His head pounded from the four bottles of cider he had sunk on the plane and he wasn’t in the mood for being pampered, but, alas, the people of Hawaii were excellent hosts, even to the drunk and belligerent. As he watched the pink sky paint itself a warmer red and the sun set a little lower, Aaron stepped off of the plane with the others, shielding his eyes as he felt them sting from the surviving sunlight.

On the plane, he had been plagued by nightmares. He couldn’t remember much as he awoke, and simply had a nervous energy pulsing through his body, and the faint scent of something that disturbed him deeply lingering in his nostrils. Burning flesh.

“Aloha Aaron!” A voice cried before him. A strand of orchids fell around his neck and he was pulled into a hug, too tired to resist, but just awake enough to curse himself for forgetting to cancel the Lei greeting. The greeter pulled away with a bright smile, that faded slightly when he looked at the second Lei in his hands and noticed that Aaron had travelled alone. “Let’s get you to a taxi…” The greeter mumbled, and Aaron nodded, trying to return his smile, but only managing a grimace.

This was a repeated incident as Hawaii said “Aloha” to Aaron. He had planned the trip with his husband, for their anniversary, so he had spent a long time ensuring it was the most romantic trip the two of them had ever taken. Dual lei greetings, a dreamy suite full of roses and candles, and intimate dinners booked at beachside restaurants. Every aspect of the trip seemed to remind Aaron that his husband was nowhere to be seen. He had waited at the airport until the flight was about to leave, even arguing with the unfortunate desk clerk who had the misfortune to be faced with his furious attempts to have the plane delayed, but his husband didn’t show up, and after spending thousands on the trip, Aaron glumly headed off on holiday, with a broken heart.

As he ordered another cider, slumped against the hotel bar, he let out a loud sigh. He couldn’t remember why his husband had left. Perhaps it was the drink clouding his memory? Perhaps his drinking had been the issue in the first place? He didn’t remember himself being a big drinker before he headed off to Hawaii, but a lot of what came before was a blur, so he couldn’t be sure.

All that seemed to matter was his next drink, and a desperate need to forget. The good news was that Aaron appeared to have succeeded at forgetting, but the bad news was, not remembering the reasons for his sadness just gave him a greater sense of sadness.

“Cheer up, cousin.” Aaron didn’t look up as the cheery voice beside him spoke, staring down at his wedding ring with a loud sigh. “You’re in Hawaii, not hell.” Pressing the bottle to his lips and guzzling down more nectar, Aaron nodded. He had to admit that the stranger had a point. Looking up, he glanced to his left and spotted a smartly dressed but very small boy. “I’m Milu, and I’m going to be your guide.” The boy extended a hand to Aaron, who was puzzled and a little unsure of how to respond.

“Aren’t you like, twelve?” Aaron slurred with an inquisitive look at the boy. Milu remained polite, politer than Aaron deserved anyway, and continued to smile, still holding out his hand to Aaron.

“You need help, and I’m here to help you.” Aaron felt a little humbled by the boy’s kindness, even in the face of his own rudeness and finally took Milu’s hand, shaking it with a smile.

“You’re right on that, mate.”

That night, they drank and talked about Aaron’s troubles. He was feeling a little lost, and frankly a little unsure of how he’d made it to Hawaii. The trip had been booked for months, and while he could recall the long, lonesome wait in the airport, everything before that, beyond the longing for his lover was a little fuzzy.

By the end of the night, Aaron had no answers to the many questions that ran through his mind, but he did have plans for a tour of the volcanoes the next day with Milu, so as he walked back to his hotel room after saying goodbye to his new friend, he felt a little lighter.

The streets were quiet, with the island lost in dreams as the clock struck two, and Aaron could see his hotel in the distance. If he had been sober, perhaps Aaron would have looked around him and seen the danger, but alas, dear reader, the young doctor stumbled forward with only the soft sheets of his bed on his mind, oblivious to the shadows cast across his path as several figures crept up behind him.

He walked into the lonely lobby, walking through to the elevator and headed to his room, with the beginnings of a headache. Falling into his bed with a sigh, he closed his eyes, unable to see that from all corners of the room, he was being watched.

Within a few minutes, Aaron slipped away from consciousness and into dark, disturbing dreams. His heart raced as he sunk deeper into the dream. A long, winding hallway, fluorescent lights above that flickered and flashed as he walked, under someone else’s power, pushed forward towards sobbing that seemed to get louder with every step he took.

The floor was slippery, and as his eyes darted down, he saw blood smeared across the tiles. Screams had joined the sobbing, filling the air and as much as he wanted to run, he was drawn to them, his steps, slow but constant as a chilly wind wrapped around his shoulders, whistling and whispering in his ears as he got closer to the commotion.

He stumbled through a door, sunlight pouring through to greet him, and for a moment, just a few solitary seconds, there was peace as the scene fell quiet. Aaron peered into the bright light, his heart starting to calm as it faded away and his eyes trailed across the emergency room that was so familiar to him. He was glad to leave behind the creepy path he’d taken to where he’d found himself, and he had to admit, seeing something he knew so well was comforting.

He stepped forward, his feet moving with a little more freedom as he explored the empty emergency room. He had never seen it so quiet, and as he had that thought, his heart began to race again. Something wasn’t right.

He began running, past the reception desk, the cubicles and waiting area, looking for someone, anyone, who could make the dream a little less unsettling.

“It’s time to go, Aaron.” He froze, a chill slowly sliding down his spine as he turned towards the voice behind him. There was nobody there, and Aaron began to wish that he’d wake up, digging his nails into his palms but feeling nothing. “Aaron, you have to go now.” He shuddered, feeling an icy hand on his shoulder, watching in horror as the emergency room filled with people, flames spreading across the room, as the air ached with struggling, strangled screams again.

Aaron wanted to run, but he was cemented in place, watching the fire rip through the emergency room. The hand lifted from his shoulder, moving past his face and pointed to a bed at the back of the room. Aaron’s heart sank as he followed the hand and reluctantly looked over at the bed, seeing his own body, engulfed in flames. He felt sick, shaking as cold, clammy hands began clutching his skin. His mouth fell open as he watched his own face staring back at him, it’s own mouth open. No scream came from either of them, but they were surrounded by the sorrowful, pained howls of the inflamed crowd that were now running towards Aaron. He struggled, trying to run but finding himself frozen as they grasped for him, their hands charred and skeletal.

“Aaron.” He awoke to his name being called and a small hand shaking his shoulder. It was Milu. Aaron was still reeling from the nightmare and it took him a moment to adjust to the waking world. He was about to ask the boy how he’d got into his room when Milu continued, with a wide smile. “It was just a dream, Aaron.” He returned Milu’s smile and pushed the covers away from himself. “They’re right, though. You do have to go.” Aaron looked up, his breath caught in his throat as he stared at the boy, unsure of how to respond.

“Go where?” He stood from the bed, his eyes narrowing as he followed Milu across the room. Milu shook his head, gesturing Aaron towards the bathroom with a slight smile.

“All in good time, cousin.”

Aaron was uneasy as he showered and dressed, and to his dismay, the feeling seemed to grow as the day went on. He was sober now. Still without many of his memories, but very familiar with the dream he’d had the night before, and the new feeling that had followed him all day. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite work out what it was. He barely listened to Milu as they toured the volcanoes, troubled by the strange anxiety that was beginning to bubble in his chest. It was at dinner that he decided to ask Milu about the dream, unsure of how exactly a child was able to help, but desperate for some kind of peace.

“How did you know what I dreamed about?” Aaron blurted out as the waitress collected their dessert dishes. Milu glanced up from his lemonade, twirling the umbrella in his tiny fingers with a grin.

“Aaron, there’s something you need to understand, and…” Milu continued to talk, but Aaron had lost his focus, his eyes suddenly drawn to the television behind the bar. While the TV was muted, and miniscule in size, Aaron knew immediately what he was seeing. He stood from the table and walked closer, almost entranced, enchanted by the eyes on the screen, the soft curve of his lips as he spoke, his rosy cheeks, covered in tears. It was his husband, Joe.

“Turn it up.” Aaron barked, leaning against the bar, his heart fluttering as he gazed at the man he adored. The barman shook his head, raising a hand and pointing behind Aaron. Aaron shook his head, his eyes glued to the television, as his heart ached for Joe. “Please, that’s my husband.” He pleaded, trying to be polite, but worrying that he sounded a little demanding. I just want to hear what…” Aaron fell into silence as Joe stared down the camera, his green eyes piercing and chilling in a way they never had been before.

“It’s time to go Aaron.” Aaron fell back in shock, his jaw happened as Joe stared at him, his eyes empty of emotion. “Go!” He yelled from the screen. “Go!” Aaron glanced around, noticing that the patrons at the bar were now pointing behind him, along with the barman. “Aaron, you have to go now!” He thought about looking back, to see what they were pointing at, but the thought of what he might see tied his stomach into nervous knots.

“Aaron.” He jumped at a voice, right at his ear, gravelly and ominous. “It’s time to go.” He felt a hand on his shoulder, and his eyes darted frantically to the people that surrounded him, all pointing with blank faces. The air began to cool, and he could hear the crackle of flames behind him, his eyes filling with terrified tears. He surveyed the blank faces before him, their fingers pointing insistently towards him, and as he ran down the row of silent people, his jaw fell open as he spotted one, looking back at him, with the same horrified stare. Flames ate at his skin as he tried to scream, looking back at Aaron with his own, horrified, terrified face.

“Let’s get a drink.” Aaron shuddered as he felt his hand being snatched, breathing a touch easier as he looked down and spotted Milu. The boy grinned up at him and nodded towards the bar. Aaron cautiously looked up, relieved to see everything was normal. The TV was showing a baseball game, the patrons and barman were relaxed and chatting, and as he looked around him, everything had returned to how he’d hoped it would.

“What’s going on Milu?” Aaron asked, his voice shaking a little as the young boy handed a fistful of dollars to the barman. “Why can’t I remember anything before this?” Milu slid a glass over to Aaron with a friendly smile and Aaron immediately raised it to his lips, swallowing a few mouthfuls all at once before slamming it back down on the bar. “What were they pointing at?” Milu pondered the questions, signalling to the barman for more drinks as he swung his little legs against the bar stool.

“I thought you’d have figured it out by now, to be honest.” The boy sighed. “No offence, cousin, but I thought doctors were smart.” Without another word, Milu slid down from the stool and began walking down towards the beach. Aaron chased after him, his mind racing as fast as his legs with questions.

“Milu, wait.” He rushed past the busy, smiling holidaymakers, bolting towards the sea, where the small boy sat. Milu was waiting at the shore, seated in the sand, the soft waves lapping against his legs as he stared out into the ocean. “Milu, what is going on?”

“The sun is going down.” The boy whispered, reaching up to Aaron’s hand and gently pulling him down to the ground. “It’s nothing to fear, you know.” Milu squeezed Aaron’s hand gently, turning to him with a smile.

“Am I in hell?” Aaron mumbled, looking away from Milu as the young boy chuckled at the question. “The flames, the voices…” He whispered, trying to swallow the spectre of dread that was swirling in his stomach.

“The flames do not belong to the devil.” Aaron’s eyes fell on the sunset before him, and for the first time in the whole trip, he felt a soft, almost strange sense of peace washing over him. “The things you run from belong to you.” Aaron didn’t want to look away from the sun. It bowed behind the waves, still shimmering as it descended from the sky. “You’re hiding here, but you have to go.” Aaron felt a warmth throughout his body, and his eyes felt heavy. His fingers tingled as they tapped slowly against the sand before Milu took his hand again. “There’s nothing else to be done, cousin.” Aaron looked down at his hand, now held tightly in Milu’s own. Flames wrapped around them, slowly licking up Aaron’s arms, but he felt no pain. “You have to go.”

Aaron nodded, still a little unsure of what was unfolding but no longer able to summon the strength to fight back.

“Will you stay with me?” He whispered, falling to the sand, the blaze crawling across his body as the world seemed to fade.

“I’m right here.” Milu said softly, their hands still entwined as the sun fell behind the sea entirely.

Aaron heard the flames crackling softly, his mind full of the memories he had been searching for. His wedding day, hand in hand with Joe as they kissed tenderly outside the registry office. His smiling face as he held his doctorate high above his head on his graduation day. The two lovers, sharing a gentle kiss as Aaron clicked the confirmation button to book the trip of a lifetime, to beautiful Hawaii. His body was basked in warmth as his memories surrounded him.

Somewhere in the background was the hospital, the fire, the end, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. In the end, he was at peace, at last, finally finding his way as the sun set over the beautiful beach.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Faerie Tales

You meet all sorts of people when you run a bed and breakfast. I’ve had honeymooning couples, couples on the brink of divorce, lads on stag nights, people who’ve run away to start a new life. All sorts. It just comes with the job, I suppose. You meet all sorts, and they probably won’t remember you when they check out, and most of the time, you won’t remember them either, but every now and again, you get a guest like Nick, and over time, you realise that you’re not going to be able to get them out of your head for as long as you live.

It was a nasty business, what happened to Nick, and to that girl of his. A very nasty business, indeed, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.

I assume you’ll want Nick’s room, right? All the travellers who come here want his room. They come to make their documentaries, their podcasts, their long form journalistic pieces that nobody will read. They all want his room when they come to stay, and they sit up all night, trying to figure out what happened to him, poking around the room for clues. There’s nothing up there that the police haven’t already dusted for prints and photographed, but they insist all the same. They all want his room, and they all want to speak to me about what I saw. I’ve told them, all of them, but none of them can explain it or find the poor man.

I used to think nobody would find him, but I’m beginning to think I’ve solved the mystery of where he was finally laid to rest. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself, so I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. You’ll want to know everything, won’t you?

Nick was a last minute booking. It was a few weeks after the end of the tourist season. Bookings had been slow for most of the summer, and had slowed to a stop during the October half term. We’d had quite a few cancellations, because apparently people don’t realise that rain on Scottish islands in the autumn is a possibility, and by the time Nick arrived, the entire place was empty. I had kept the place open out of habit, but hadn’t really been expecting guests, especially not a guest that hadn’t booked in advance, but after a difficult year, I certainly needed the money, so I was very pleased to see him.

As he checked in, he buzzed about the plants across the island that he’d like to see. It was almost winter, so all the plants would be dead, but I didn’t want to talk myself out of a booking, so I humoured him and made conversation. He told me he wanted to hunt for faeries, and again, I held my tongue. We get quite a few faerie hunters on the island, and they always head back towards the ferries with disappointed faces, but I needed the money, so I humoured him and wished him well.

He seemed a nice enough man, with a kind face and soft, auburn hair. He cut a striking figure on the posters, you know, after… everything. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself

He arrived alone, but after that, I rarely saw him by himself. They were inseparable, him and Debra. She was the daughter of Henry Johnson, one of the farmers on the other side of the island, although, on an island this small, it is a little redundant to clarify on which side of the island somebody lives. Debra was Henry and his wife Joanna’s pride and joy, but between you and me, I’d always had a bit of a weird feeling about her. I know that it seems a little judgemental, but I’m not alone.

Nobody would say, of course, but almost everyone I know had a bit of a weird feeling about Debra. I suppose she’d always been there, growing up with our kids, going to school with them, but something about her always seemed… off. None of the kids wanted to play with her, so she’d wander the hills and valleys as a little girl, and as she grew into a young woman, she kept to herself. The kids grew up, probably matured enough to include her, but she didn’t have an interest. Some people saw her as stuck up, maybe a little bitter, but for me, I’d always seen something a little bit dark in that girl, and I don’t just refer to her gloomy dress sense and long black locks. When Nick came along and she got her claws into him, I felt vindicated in my suspicions.

He met her on his first night on the island. I saw them out of the window. I can see quite a lot of the island from my bedroom window, you know. Sometimes, I let the reporters and so on look through it, to see what I can see, but they waste the view. Everyone that comes here is in a rush, you see, they never take the time to really look, but I do. That’s how I saw them.

He was walking down towards the beach when they crossed paths. He looked up and seemed instantly enchanted. They chatted for a few minutes before walking together into the dark night. The next morning, Debra was all he could talk about. He was spellbound, unable to keep a smile off of his face and before long, she stopped by to collect him. They told me that they were off to look for faeries, and I frowned at Debra, knowing that she knew, as I did, that there was no such thing, but again, for the sake of my fees, I kept my reservations to myself and wished them a good day.

There had always been rumours of faeries from visitors to the island. They were obsessed with the idea, and in a way, it was what we were famous for. None of us had ever seen them, but if people wanted to pay us to make use of our island while hunting for them, we weren’t really in a position to spoil the illusion. Debra seemed to believe though. I couldn’t understand why, but she’d always been strange, so I just attributed it to that.

The day went by, and nothing too interesting happened until I went to change Nick’s sheets. As wrong as it is, I tend to take a little look around the rooms when I change the sheets. It’s an invasion of privacy, and it’s completely unethical, but anyone in my position who says that they don’t is a liar. It was mostly normal. He had the usual things you’d expect for a young man on an exploring holiday, but tucked away in the papers on his desk was a drawing. It was quite intricate, with beautiful shading and detail. It showed the forest, down past the Johnson’s farm, and there was a woman with dark tresses, backing away from the trees, afraid, her face as white as the sheets I held in my hands. Behind the branches of the trees was a strange, silvery light that seemed to have wrapped its way around the night.

He had signed it with his name, and written “She is lost” in the corner. It was unusual, and very pretty, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I suppose I should have. If I’m going to snoop, I should follow it up, but even when this place is almost empty, running a bed and breakfast is a lot of work, so I got on with fixing dinner and forgot about it.

Debra joined Nick for dinner, and barely said a word to me. Nick explained that they’d yet to spot any faeries, but that Debra was sure they would eventually. I shot her a look of contempt and carried on with dinner. It was wrong to take advantage of his naivety, but at that point, we were both in as deep as each other, so all I could do was glare.

They chatted to each other about the faeries, both of them lost in the idea that the faeries were sweet and benevolent, the protectors of the island. It was nonsense, of course, but they seemed happy enough, so I left them to it.

That night, Nick made use of the sitting room with me, half paying attention to the television as he worked on another drawing. I peered over at it, trying to hide the fact that I already knew he liked to draw.

“What are you drawing?” I asked, trying to be as casual as I could.

He passed me the pad, with a proud smile on his face. He had drawn the beach, with a huge, glowing moon looking down on it. It looked beautiful, until my eyes travelled down and I saw what lay in the sand. There was a woman’s body, half buried, her dark hair fanned across her shoulders, as a pair of spindly, silver claws crept out from behind one of the rocks.

I handed the pad back to Nick, suddenly uncomfortable with his company, but desperate to know why he’d draw such a thing. I asked him, and he told me that he’d seen it in his dreams, for weeks. Apparently, he’d been having these horrible nightmares and all of them seemed to lead him here, to the faeries. He believed, with all sincerity that the faeries could cure his bad dreams. It was hard not to laugh, in the moment. Not so funny now, of course.

The next morning, he went out with Debra, again, hunting for faeries, and I got on with my day. I took another little peek at his drawings and noticed that he’d captioned the drawing from the night before as “She is found.” I felt a shiver through my body as I looked over the image, dropping it back on the desk and walking from the room, trying to push what I’d seen from my mind.

I tried to forget as the day went on, but the latest drawing stuck with me as the hours slipped by. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I couldn’t help but worry about Nick.

He didn’t arrive home for dinner that night. Time ticked by and I stared from my bedroom window, waiting to see him walking down the path, but he never came. I thought about the drawings again, wondering what they could possibly mean, and in the pit of my stomach was a small but growing drop of dread.

I went looking for him that night, but I didn’t find a trace of him. I walked down to the beach, and the whole place was quiet, with nothing but the soft waves lapping against the sand and rocks to fill the air, until, all of a sudden, a scream burst through the quiet night, capturing my attention. I began running towards the sound, over towards the farm, unsure of what I’d find when I got there, but, for some reason, I knew it would have something to do with Nick.

As I approached the farm, I stared up at the forest ahead, shocked to see it ripped from the darkness of the night and surrounded by a silver light that was weaved around the branches and leaves. As I got closer, I could hear another scream, weaker than before, strangled by sobs as a figure fled the shadows of the trees. I ran towards them, suddenly struck by how similar the image was, as I saw the figure’s dark tresses falling down their back as they backed away from the forest. It was the woman from Nick’s drawing, and she was running from the forest, surrounded by the silver light, just as the picture showed. I took her hand, and she grasped it tightly, weeping hysterically and pulling me away from the forest.

As we ran, I could see it was Debra, and when we reached the edge of her parent’s farm, and she slowed to a stop, I caught my breath and then asked her what was going on.

“It’s Nick.” She said. “They took him.” I took her back to her parents, but she was inconsolable. I didn’t really know what to tell them, and as we all sat down for a cup of tea, staring at her expectantly, it became clear that he wasn’t sure what to say either. After a little coaxing, she began telling us about how the two of them had gone to the forest to look for faeries. I rolled my eyes, again, knowing that everyone around the table knew that such a thing just didn’t exist on the island, or anywhere, but she carried on, seemingly unconcerned by my lack of faith.

“I used to see them in the trees sometimes, so I took him to the spots I’d seen them before…” Her parents looked at me, confused and hoping for some answers from me, but I had nothing but what I’d seen at the edge of the forest. “The faeries are different now…” Debra trailed off, sadness and fear flooding her eyes. “It’s all my fault.” She wailed, running from the room and slamming the door behind her.

I made my excuses shortly after and left. Something didn’t feel right, and I needed to find Nick, but it was far too dark for me to have much success, so I walked home, and decided to get some rest before trying again the next day.

I couldn’t help it, as cruel as it felt, but I knew that Debra had something to do with it. Like I said, there was something off with that girl.

The morning came, and I wandered the island, with the benefit of daylight, but Nick was nowhere to be found. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice but to call the police. Nobody wants to call the police when their business is tourism, because it’s a small island, and everybody talks. Just the smallest hint that the police have been called, for any reason at all sends tourists into a panic. I kept thinking about his family, and how they’d need to know that I did everything that I could, but I had a bad feeling that everything I would do would be for nothing. Of course, I didn’t believe Debra’s silly story about faeries, but I knew that something terrible had happened to Nick. I’m not sure how I knew, but I just had a feeling, a deep, troubling feeling.

It wasn’t just the few tourists we had dotted around the island, the locals were beginning to worry too. Within an hour, I had a crowd of islanders outside my door, ready to pitch in and help me find Nick. A few of us made up posters to hand out as the two police officers that had come over from the mainland began combing the island. As time went on, more of the island joined us, until there was only one, glaring and obvious omission, Debra.

I came across her on my search, stood by the entrance to the forest, looking just as frightened as she had the night before, her eyes following the branches as they swayed gently in the wind.

“He’s not in there anymore.” She whispered, turning away from the trees and looking over my shoulder. “That way.” Debra pushed past me and began walking down towards the beach. “Hurry up, he’s dead.” I followed her, a little uncomfortable with how casually she said such horrifying things. She showed no emotion as she walked. Her face was still covered in tears, but the sadness had left her eyes, and they were empty of anything.

“Debra, do you know what happened to Nick.” I asked her, jogging to keep up as he began to run towards the shore. “Debra?” She ignored me, pushing though a small group of volunteers that was searching by the beach, and running towards the waves.

The rest of the crowd began to gather by the beach, all of us following Debra as she approached the roaring sea.

Rain began to fall as thunder crashed, and Nick’s sketch pad washed up on the shore, dirty and damaged but obviously his.

Debra pointed at it, her finger shaking as I crept closer, lifting it from the bubbling waves. She then pointed behind us, towards the forest, her eyes filling with tears.

“How did you know he was here Debra?” She fell to her knees, weeping as she grasped for the sketch pad. I snatched it away from her reach as the police officers approached. “How did you know Nick was here?” She wailed, thrashing as the police officers began lifted her to her feet and began walking her back towards the farmhouse.

“They’re coming to get me too!” She screamed, as the officers lifted her from the ground and carried her, kicking and shrieking towards her parents home.

Nick was declared dead a few days later. His body was never found, but it was assumed that he’d drowned. I spoke to his mother briefly, and when she asked me what had happened, I almost hung up the phone. I didn’t know what to say to her. Nobody did. We didn’t even know what to say to each other.

After Nick was declared dead, things went downhill for the island. The media coverage began, and tourists were put off. The few bookings I had left before the new year were cancelled, and the cafes, restaurants and shops around the island knew that a lack of tourists would affect them too. It was like a chain reaction. The holiday cottages lost their bookings too, and then the bus company that did day excursions. Soon, none of us had any work for the foreseeable future, and it all seemed to link back to Nick’s death.

The Johnson’s were shunned. Debra was to blame. That’s what everyone thought. They’d never say it, but that’s certainly how they felt. I felt it too, I couldn’t help it. The police said that there was no evidence of foul play, but she takes him into the forest at night and then emerges without him, talking about faeries and such nonsense and the police don’t suspect any foul play? Sounds fishy to me.

She had no answers as to why she took him to the forest at night, when they’d apparently been able to find faeries just fine during the day. She also couldn’t answer how he went from the forest to the sea without her noticing. It became very clear that she’d had something to do with his disappearance, but there was nothing that could be done. The police moved on, and we were expected to as well, but nobody could.

She spread her sickness across the island and soon, we were all pariahs too. We tried to move on, but there was resentment bubbling, and a rage that needed relief.

It had been a few weeks before that relief was found. As I settled into bed, exhausted, my rest was immediately interrupted by the sounds of walking outside. Lazily, I got out of bed, and headed to my window to see what was happening, and was shocked to see several of the islanders walking past the house and up towards the farm. I opened the window, leaning out and seeing more and more pouring down the street behind them.

“What are you doing?” I called down from the window. Nobody answered, so I dressed and ran from the house to follow them. “What’s going on?” I asked, pulling my neighbour Russell to a stop and forcing him to meet my gaze.

“We’re going to make Debra confess.” He snarled, taking my hand and pulling me along with the crowd. We walked down towards the beach, to head up to the farmhouse, and that’s when I saw the silver light.

It shone high above the beach, casting brightness throughout the night’s sky. It lit up the sand and her dark hair seemed to shine as it lay across her shoulders. Submerged in the sand, all I could see of her was her shoulders and her glistening hair.

I pulled Russell towards the beach, the others began breaking away from the crowd and following us, and soon, we gathered on the sand, staring down at Debra’s body. I clasped my hand to my mouth, horrified as I stared around the beach, suddenly aware of how familiar it all was. Behind one of the rocks, I noticed a slender, light fingertip, almost like a claw slip behind the stone, just like Nick’s picture, and my blood ran cold.

Debra had been telling the truth, you see. They’d encountered faeries, but they had no idea what they were getting into.

The faeries are real, but like many things, the reality didn’t quite live up to the fairytale. Debra wanted to see them as kind, loving creatures and Nick saw them as the saviours that would rescue him from his bad dreams, but that was what the faeries wanted them to think.

I know that it sounds ridiculous. You’re looking at me like I’m mad. They all do, when I tell them. They ask me for the truth, but they’re not ready to hear it, or to understand.

We began to understand, but nobody liked to talk about it. The curious journalists began to flood the island after Debra’s body was found. One death on an island is a little strange, but a second, with an actual body drew them to us.

The doctors didn’t know what had happened to her, or how she ended up on the beach, and the police didn’t look into it too much, but people with questions approached the island, pointing cameras and pointing fingers on their quest for the truth.

None of them ever got close, of course. They’d theorise about drugs, or illness, some kind of pact between them, but none of them ever got close to the truth.

We learned to stay in at night, and to keep our guests close when night fell, but every now and again, some well meaning type would see us as paranoid and go out for a late night walk and just… never come back. We stopped calling the police after Debra. They never got to the bottom of it. Someone would wander into the night, and just never return, and we’d all swallow the guilt of it, knowing the truth but knowing that we’d never be believed, just like Debra.

It was a nasty business, you know.

Nobody ever knew what the faeries wanted, or why they took people, so all we could do was try to keep people out of their grasp. It isn’t easy, when nobody believes you, but I do what I can.

As for Nick? I told you, I’m beginning to understand where he ended up. It wasn’t in the sea, not all of him anyway. Bits and pieces, I suppose, his sketch pad, of course, but I saw Nick again just last week.

The faeries are getting bolder. It’s a nasty business, you know. I saw them gathering at the entrance to the forest during daylight. Their spindly claws protruding from their cloaks as the silver light whipped all around them, and tied to a tree, surrounded by chanting faeries that skulked around the trunk with wicked smiles was Nick.

I couldn’t see much under the cloaks, but what I could see looked almost human, almost beautiful even. Not quite, but almost, and it unsettled me. I hid behind some bushes, peeking through and hoping that they didn’t spot me.

Nick didn’t struggle. He leant, lifelessly against the tree, bruised under his bounds with the colour drained from his cheeks. He looked up at me, a solemn sadness in his eyes, and the faeries all turned to me, their gaze piercing. I had been discovered.

I ran. I wish I could tell you that I rescued him, that I burst through the hoards to untie him and carry him to safety, but I ran. I didn’t stop running until I was back inside my house, bolting the door and closing all the curtains.

I’ve seen them a few more times since then, but I just walk past, as quickly as I can. Like I said, they’ve gotten bolder. Sometimes, we see them without their cloaks. They look almost human, like I said. Like pretty, mischievous girls, but there’s something strange about them, something that you don’t quite spot unless you’re looking for it.

I don’t know what they wanted with him, or why they’d kept him alive, but as we’ve all come to understand, you don’t question them.

You don’t question them. You don’t go out when night falls. You don’t bother them. That’s the only way that you live.

I’ve never actually told anyone about Nick, and you’re not going to either. It’s a nasty business, but people off the island mustn’t know. The faeries wouldn’t like it. I’ll tell you what they would like, though. I think they’d like to spend some time with you. In fact, I’ve set up an appointment for you. That’s them at the door. Don’t struggle. Don’t worry. It will be over before you know it.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Lights Out

Deep in the darkest depths of hell lay the light stealers. Content within an endless night, they wait and they watch as the human race goes about their lives.

You’ll know a light stealer when you see one, but something about them will tell you not to ask questions.

Perhaps it will be their cold stare, and the way that it burrows into your stomach, tying it into nervous knots. Perhaps it will be their long, slender hands that don’t seem quite right to you. You’ll wonder why they strike you as so unusual, but you’ll be too afraid to think about it more deeply. Perhaps it will be the crowds that follow them. The enslaved, masked minions, once human, just like you, but now, subordinate and subservient in a way that chills your bones.

They’ll look almost like a human, but something will be off, and if you’re lucky, you’ll never see the true, terrifying form that lies beneath the disguise.

You’ll know right away, but you won’t feel able to walk away, because they’ve already got you, and they’ll always have you. They’ve been watching you for weeks, maybe even months.

They’re part of the furniture, part of the scenery, just someone you see at work, or someone you met by chance on a bus. Your postie, your shopkeeper, your fiancé, your friend. They’re someone that you never quite suspected, but now can’t stop suspecting, and the worst part is, deep down, you’ll know that they’re going to get you.

Nobody knows where they came from, or why they want to toy with you. There is no rhyme or reason for who they choose, but they all want the same thing. Just a little morsel. Just a little taste. Just the little light inside of each human.

I believe that your people call it a soul.

Sometimes, they leave their victims alive, or, as alive as a human can be without the very thing that makes them human. Sometimes, they will steal their prize and then devour its former host, just because they can.

Sometimes, they’ll even let you think they’ve let you get away, but they’ll always be watching, waiting, working you into a fevered, frenzied sweat as you spend whatever time you have left asking yourself if you’re really safe.

You’ll never be safe, once they get their eyes on you. You’ll always know that, at the back of your mind, but you’ll wonder if it’s possible, all the same.

If your will is weak, and your desire is strong, the light stealer will have you in an instant, but even the strongest among us can fall prey to their powers, and they’ll find a way to break you, if they want you badly enough.

I once spoke to a man who thought he’d defeated a light stealer, somewhere up in Scotland. He came to me, actually, all abuzz with his stories about a cinema, midnight showings and the tempting torture of a light stealer he called Pumpkins.

His will was strong, so he said, and he fought the beast back, keeping hold of his soul and his place on the planet, but as he spoke, I could see the light slipping from his eyes, and behind his slumped shoulders, with a single finger to his lips, I saw Pumpkins, with a cold stare and the worst of intentions.

As I said, once you’re marked, you’re never free of their torment. You might live, but they’ll feast on your soul eventually.

Some of them like to keep up the charade, and torture their toys with their masks intact, but some can’t resist giving that extra little scare by tearing away their mock human flesh and revelling in their demonic form.

They might work for hire, turning humans to shells, stealing the light from their eyes until they are obedient and quiet, but most just do it for fun, or to feed on what’s inside you, and to feed the desperate need to capture all that you are.

You’ll know when you see one, but by then, it will be too late. It’s already too late, my friend, because you’ve already met one…

You have the most beautiful, bright eyes, you know, and I’m terribly peckish.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

A Trip To Terrorland

Daniel was a good kid. He’d just finished school for the summer and wanted to earn a little cash to help out his parents, so he started working here at Terrorland, a struggling little amusement park in the Kent countryside.

Years ago, they built the park in a tiny village with a strange history. The original village was built across miles of Saxon graves, and now, the park rests upon the restless souls. It was basically on top of the village, with only the old manor house left standing.

Villagers were more than happy to sell their homes and land to the developers, but the developers kept the manor house standing, because it already belonged to the future owner of the park, Jonathan Frank.

The manor house had been empty for decades. It was built in the 1800’s, and was passed down through the Frank family until it reached Jonathan. He would give the same speech to all the new recruits, about how the house had always terrified him as a kid, so when it finally became his, he turned it into a horror themed amusement park. We never knew if it was true or not, but I suppose it didn’t matter to us at the time.

The manor house had nothing in it, apart from the sound system. It was at the centre of the park, so you could see it from the whole park, and it was rigged up to make weird noises, howling, screaming, gargling and so on, to freak out the customers. Jonathan would stand outside it and just glare at it some days, and I could never work out whether it really scared him, or whether it was all part of the act.

I suppose it’s smart to profit from your childhood phobias, and it gave me a job, so I didn’t think much of it, but the park had a lot of problems. We were hard for the public to reach, so getting customers was a challenge and even when we had customers, there were only a few rides really.

There were the teacups, the waltzers, the big slide, a very disappointing rollercoaster and, of course, the ghost train, all splashed with tacky, supposedly spooky decor. There wasn’t much for the customers to do so they didn’t tend to stay very long.

Jonathan would try his best. He’d wander the park, telling bored guests about the village’s history, all about the graveyards and the many villagers who had convinced themselves that they’d been haunted. It didn’t help much, but he tried, I guess.

We also had high staff turnover, for a number of reasons. The wages weren’t good, Jonathan was a pain to work for, and some of the staff would buy into his silly stories, so they’d only last a few months before they left.

Sometimes, I’d hear weird noises when nobody else was around, or I’d see a shadow out of the corner of my eye, and it would freak me out for a second, before I calmed myself down and realised that ghosts, ghouls and monsters weren’t real. Some of my colleagues hadn’t managed to get to that point, but I’d gotten used to the weird atmosphere of the park. That was all it was after all, a weird atmosphere.

I’d been at the park for about a year before Daniel arrived, and I was allocated to him as a mentor. I didn’t mind, because, like I said, he was a good kid. He was eager to learn and he cared about giving the customers a great day out, so I was happy to work with him.

I showed him around the park, and even though I shouldn’t have, I let him have a look inside the Manor House. When I’d given him the tour, I bought him lunch and we sat on the steps of the manor with chips and milkshakes, watching the park fill with guests.

He was a little freaked out by the guy in the window, on the top floor, but I reassured him that it was just a cutout, or some kind of hologram.

I’d never been sure of how Jonathan actually did it, but he had never paid me enough to wonder.

At first, we were paired together at the refreshments kiosk. It was pretty easy work, frying up chips, preparing ice creams, pouring drinks and keeping the guests fed and watered when they weren’t on the rides, so I had no complaints.

We’d chat about life outside of work, movies, tv shows and stuff like that, and it was fine, as long as we didn’t get too busy. It was a hot summer’s day, and an unusually busy day in the park when things changed. I suppose that I didn’t know at the time what was about to happen, nobody did, but both of our lives were about to change, forever.

Jonathan approached the kiosk, pushing past the long line of customers who were impatiently waiting to order ice cream and poked his head through the counter.

“Sophie’s just quit, so I need someone to cover the ghost train.” He turned to Daniel and gestured behind him, towards the entrance of the ghost train. “You’re up newbie.” Daniel smiled enthusiastically, removing his apron and heading for the door of the kiosk. “You’re alright here on your own, right Chloe?” I nodded as Daniel left the kiosk, with a jolly little wave, and ran excitedly towards the ghost train.

I’d worked on the ghost train before, but I’d never been on it myself. As brave as I often pretended to be, it had always freaked me out a little. Every few trips, the worker needs to inspect it, and as crazy as it sounds, I could swear to you, I saw somebody or something in there. It was right at the end of the ride, on the edge of the track, just a shadow up ahead of me, not saying a word, not moving, just… staring.

Maybe it was just my imagination, maybe it was one of the animatronics, but whatever it was, it always seemed to be there. It wasn’t on the schematics of the ride, and nobody else had ever mentioned it, so I just tried to tell myself it was a shadow, or something.

With each inspection, I dreaded reaching the final room before the exit and seeing the strange shadow. As time went on, it seemed to get clearer. Maybe it was just my eyes adjusting to the darkness, but whatever it was seemed like it wanted me to see it.

Its skin was grey and covered mostly by black robes, and it’s thin, spindly fingers were clutched around a lever. Thick, long black hair covered it’s face, but beneath a few strands was a smile, beaming and bright.

I know that it’s cowardly, but in the end, I stopped going as far into the ride to check it. As boring as the rides were, they were well made, so the inspections felt a little redundant. There hadn’t been many issues, so I didn’t feel too bad about my choice, in the end.

Daniel seemed to really enjoy it. He came over to the kiosk during his lunch break to tell me how much fun he’d been having while I slaved away behind the kiosk, and I couldn’t help but smile, happy to see him getting on so well. I didn’t see him as often after that, but we were still friendly. I’d watch the guests go in and out of the ghost train as I worked, and sometimes I’d wonder what it was that made their faces so pale when they got off the ride. I didn’t know then, but I would find out the truth sooner, rather than later.

Daniel had been working on the ghost train for about a week when he came to me, his eyes wide, and his face pale, just like the guests. I’d only just arrived for my shift, but he’d been working a few hours.

“They disappeared!” He cried, grabbing my arm and pulling me along after him, in the direction of the ghost train. “I talked to Jonathan and he doesn’t believe me, but they’re gone!” We came to a stop just outside the ghost train, and Daniel leant against the walls of the control cubicle, breathless. “All of them Chloe, every single one of them vanished.”

I stared at him blankly, looking around at the park. It wasn’t busy, but it was hardly empty.

“Who vanished Daniel?” He didn’t answer, reaching through the window of the control cubicle and pulling out a teddy bear. “Who do you mean?”

He pressed the small bear into my hands as he got his breath back.

“I put the guests on the train, they all went in…” His voice dimmed to a hushed whisper as he placed his hands on my shoulders and stared intently into my eyes. “When the ride was done, all the carriages came out empty.” I stared back, before glancing over his shoulder at the ghost train, empty and still. “The only thing I found inside was this bear. Everyone was gone.”

It didn’t make sense, but he seemed sure.

“That’s impossible, they couldn’t get to the inspection entrance without the key, and…” He shrugged, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the inspection entrance. “Oh no! Daniel no!” He ignored my protests and began unlocking the door. “I’m not going in there!” He turned towards me, his face fixed with a puzzled frown. “I just… don’t like it.” He rolled his eyes, throwing the inspection door open and yanked me through it.

The inside of the ride was quiet and still. Darkness stretched across the tracks as we wandered the trail that the ride took, and I tried not to think too much about how uncomfortable I was.

“They must be in here somewhere.” Daniel grumbled, striding ahead of me and peeking behind each animatronic and jump scare mechanism as we went. “Did anything like this happen while you were on the train?” I shook my head, clutching the teddy bear close to my chest. “Chloe?” It suddenly occurred to me that we were in the dark, so he likely hadn’t seen my nod.

“Oh… no, nothing like this.” We were beginning to reach the end of the track, and I dug my nails into the bear and shuffled nervously behind him.

“Did you ever see something at the end of the ride?” I stopped, the bear crushed against my chest as I stared at the door up ahead that led to the last section of the ride. “Like a weird smiling guy?” I didn’t know how to respond, but at the very least, I knew that I hadn’t imagined it. Daniel turned back to me, a nervous look on his face. “What happens if you pull the lever?” I wasn’t sure, as I never had, but Daniel looked like he really needed an answer, so I tried to think of something to reassure him.

“I’m sure it will be fine, mate.” I did my best to seem calm, putting my hand on his shoulder and smiling up at him, but he still looked anxious, and if I was being honest, I felt how he looked. “I mean, it’s probably just something to spook the guests, so, I wouldn’t…”

The door behind us suddenly flew open, the lights around us burst into life, flashing manically as the air filled with howls and screams. We both stared around us, horrified as the ride seemingly activated.

“Chloe! Move!” Daniel yelled, shoving me from the track, as a carriage headed our way. It just missed us and sped past, down through the next door. We sat on the floor by the edge of the track, breathless and confused. “We’ll need to head back and turn it off.” I nodded, not sure how it had been turned on in the first place, when we had the keys. “It must be malfunctioning, or something.” I nodded again, getting to my feet and offering him my hand to help him up.

“We should get Jonathan, something weird is going on.” I whispered, pulling him from the floor. “The guests might have stolen the spare keys to mess around with.” We began walking back towards the inspection door when I heard keys jangling behind me.

“I keep both sets on me, to make sure they don’t get pinched.” I turned back to Daniel, watching him dangle both sets of keys with a confused expression. “So how did they…” Over his shoulder was a smile, hidden behind thick, long black hair, I looked up, my heart pounding as I saw the creature from the end of the ride, one of his skeletal hands landing softly on Daniel’s shoulder. He jumped letting out a panicked yelp. I tried to grab his hand, but felt my own being pulled away.

The lights began flickering again as a crowd of pale, skeletal soldiers descended on me, their armour clinked as they marched towards me, pulling me back from the track as Daniel struggled helplessly against the creature.

“Daniel!” I called out to him but it was no use. The door behind us opened and a carriage burst through. The creature bundled Daniel into it, and they set off through the next door. The cloaked figures dashed after them, and slipped through the door before it slammed shut.

Daniel’s helpless screams faded as the carriage got further away, and I scratched and clawed at the door, desperately trying to get it open but heartbroken as I realised it wasn’t possible.

I wandered back through the rest of the ride, tears in my eyes, jumping at every sound and shadow until I reached the entrance, crawling through the door and falling down onto the ground, exhausted and terrified.

I thought I’d never see Daniel again, but as I looked up from the floor, to the windows of the manor, I saw a crowd of people pounding against the glass, silent screams across their faces, and in the middle, reaching out a hand to me with a frightened stare was Daniel.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Unwanted Guests

It had been a long day and Maria was exhausted. She hated having to travel for work conferences, but the one highlight was always the hotel. Her employer may be making her travel across the country for days of pointless meetings and panels at the conference, but at the very least, they spared no expense when it came to her hotel, and during the week, Maria had made use of the accommodation provided to her. She had started every morning with a fruit salad by the pool and had fallen asleep every night in the comfiest of beds.

With her dinner half finished on the bedside table, she felt herself drifting off to sleep, trying to forget the early meeting she had booked for the next day as her eyes became heavy. There was a storm getting started outside, thunder rumbling softly in the distance as the rain began to lash the window panes. Its soft rhythm helped her to relax, and as she pulled the blankets over her body and closed her eyes, she found herself enjoying the luxury of the soft sheets and fluffy pillows.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria’s eyes snapped open, but there was silence again. She was so sure she’d heard a noise, but it was after midnight, and there was no reason for there to be a knock at her door, so she closed her eyes again and tried to relax again, sighing as she heard her mobile phone buzz beside her on the bedside table.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria sat up in bed, far more alert than she’d like for that time of night. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and it was so late, that the sound was a little unsettling.

“Hello?” She called out, but there was no response. She was certain that she’d heard someone at the door, so she grabbed her dressing gown and decided to check. As she approached the door, there was more knocking, and Maria tried to sound confident as she called out again, but a tinge of fear slipped into her voice as she spoke. “What do you want?”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

As she raised her closed eyes to the peephole, she took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves with reassurances that it would just be a member of staff, or a silly prankster. She felt around in the darkness for the door handle and took another breath before opening her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as she finally allowed herself to look.

There was a crowd of children, each wearing the same unsettling smile and a set of blood red robes. No older than seven or eight, with some as young as toddlers, they just stared at the door with those unmoving, unnerving smiles. They peered up at the door, their eyes still as the child in the centre raised a fist to the wood again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria jumped back, clutching her hand to her mouth. She could barely understand what she’d seen, but she knew that she wanted no part of it. Her eyes fell down to the small crack between the bottom of the door and the carpet, where a small glimmer of light flooded through, accompanied by the shadows of the children’s feet, still as the sound came again from the door.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She slowly stepped backwards towards the bedside table, reaching for her mobile phone, her heart sinking when she saw that there was no signal to make calls. As she glanced down at her home screen, she noticed that there was an unread text message sent a few minutes before she had begun to prepare for bed. She hadn’t noticed it before, and even if she had, she wasn’t sure that it would have helped her to be aware of it. It was a simple, spine chilling message, and she had no choice but to assume it was from the children.

“We’d like to take your photograph, Maria.” She read the words over and over, her breath hurried and panicked as she tried to make sense of what was happening. There was silence for a moment, before the children reminded her of their presence again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She glanced down at the text, her heart racing as the knock echoed around the room. The phone buzzed in her hand as the signal briefly returned, allowing another message to arrive, before it dropped once more. Maria tapped against the screen, hoping with everything that she had that the signal would reactivate and that she would be able to call for help, but it was no use. The words repeated in her head again and again, as the children, growing impatient, knocked again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She clicked the latest message notification, unsure of whether she wanted to see but clicking anyway.

There was no text, just a picture. The children were gathered around a man, beaten and bloody. He reached out an arm, his face sullen and screaming, and Maria shuddered, unable to shake the feeling that he was reaching out to her. The children smiled widely around him, beaming up at the camera, their faces covered in blood that could only belong to the man.

She felt sick but she couldn’t take her eyes off the image. Each time she looked, it disturbed her more.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She almost dropped her phone in shock, but the interruption took her eyes from the man, and allowed them to fall upon the landline phone on her bedside table, and as quietly as she could, she placed her mobile phone in her pocket and reached for the receiver of the landline, hoping to call for help. Raising it to her ear, she was alarmed to hear no dial tone. The line was almost silent, but when she listened, she could hear soft, gentle breathing.

She thought about speaking, but kept quiet, her eyes fixed on the door as the caller on the other end cleared their throat and began to speak.

“We’d like to take your photograph, Maria.” The voice was young, almost innocent, but with an edge that frightened her. She sat on the bed, keeping her eyes locked on the door, the shadows of the children still visible underneath it, as they waited, in vain for her to join them. “We just want to play.” She could hear other children in the background shuffling and trying to get hold of the phone as she spoke.

“Why?” The children laughed in response. She could hear it down the phone, but even louder outside, their gleeful laughter echoing down the hall.

“It’s just a game.” The line went dead as Maria sat, paralysed with fear among the sheets and blankets.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Another knock rattled through the room as Maria placed the receiver down on the phone and stood from the bed. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but she knew that she couldn’t just wait to find out what the children had planned for her.

Her phone buzzed again, and she opened the picture message right away. Recoiling in horror at what she saw.

The children were gathered in a circle around a young girl, their little faces lit up with smiles, and gripped tightly in her little hands was the head of the man from before. His eyes were open, wide and full of terror, his face captured in a scream that would never end.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria locked her phone, trying to come up with a plan, as she found the courage to keep walking towards the door, to find out what the children were doing.

Approaching the door, she leant against it, her eyes meeting the glass of the peephole.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

There seemed to be more of the children than before, all dressed in red, smiling up at the door.

She watched one of the children knock again on the door, her big, blue eyes gazing up with the sweetest smile as her hand slipped under her cloak for a moment. Maria wanted to look away, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.

She spotted the man’s head in the hands of one of the children further back in the crowd and felt a pant of nausea deep in her stomach.

“Maria…” Cooed the little girl, standing back as the children fanned out all around her to form a circle. Maria was frozen, stuck in place as the seconds ticked by. “We’d like to take your photograph.”

The other children giggled and pointed as the girl pulled a key from underneath her cloak with a wicked, wretched grin, and it was then that Maria knew that there was no escape.

The children would make her the star of their next photograph.