A few days ago, I made a post mentioning I was considering using an old short story in an upcoming free mini-anthology. However, thinking about it, the story would be so tonally different that I don’t think it would work. So, in that case, I thought I’d post the story here, for people to read and see what they think. It is vastly different that Horror in the Woods, or my upcoming book The Demonic, but it is one I quite like. More melancholy and sad than scary.
So here is, Always and Forever.
The house was always scary at night time.
Mum said that monsters and ghosts were all in my imagination, and that there was nothing in the shadows. I would nod and agree with her, maybe believe her in the day time, but in our house it was different at night. Cracks of light from the streetlights would get in around Mums thick curtains, but for the most part everything was always dark. The house was old, big, and always felt empty. Especially since Dad had gone. Although usually quiet, every so often the house would make a sound, like it was moaning, or in pain. Mum said all old houses made these noises and that it was nothing to be scared of, something about the house settling, but to me it sounded as if someone else was in here, making noises and walking around. I know there is a ghost here, I just know it.
My friend Mike told me all about ghosts; they’re what’s left of people who’ve died. He says some are bad and want to hurt you, and they can appear wherever they want, at any time, and get you. He said they make noises at night, and moan as well, just to try and scare you. I’m sure we have a ghost in this house, but Mum won’t listen. In my head I picture the ghost as the man who hurt me. He was horrible, and ugly too, but I hope the ghost isn’t anything like him. I hope its Dad.
I don’t know why but at night I feel like I have to check around the house, just to make sure no one is hiding, and to make sure Mum is safe. Lying in bed is no good, I can’t sleep and just lie there for hours listening. I’d rather be up, quietly walking around. Like I’m doing now.
The kitchen downstairs, like the rest of the house, is different at night. The plant near the fridge looks like a big claw, reaching out for me. I keep thinking there is someone hiding in the corners where the shadows are the deepest, waiting to leap out at me.
The living room has pictures of us – me, Mum and Dad – across the mantelpiece above the fire. I’m youngest in the pictures in the centre and I get older in each one as they spread out left and right. We are smiling in all of them. The one at the park is my favourite. I remember that day, Mum told me she loved me ‘always and forever’. She used to say that a lot. Looking at these photos makes me sad. Dad looks so happy in them, and it makes me think that if the ghost is him, then he would just come out and say hello. Then I wouldn’t be scared because we would get to see him again. And I know he would want to see us. That makes me think the ghost isn’t Dad, that it’s someone else.
That scares me.
I tip-toe as best I can back upstairs, holding my breath, waiting for something to happen, and careful not to let the floorboards creak. As I sneak past Mum’s bedroom I hear a faint sound, from a person. It could be Mum, but she should be asleep, so it must be someone else.
I’m scared to go in, but I know I have to. I can’t let anyone hurt Mum.
Not like that man hurt me.
I can’t remember a lot of what happened that night. I try sometimes, but I only remember him grabbing me and taking me. It gets cloudy after that. Mums door is already open a little, so I clench my teeth and pop my head in.
No one is in the room with her. It is just Mum, all alone, sat on her bed, crying quietly. She is looking at a photo. She doesn’t see me but I feel really sad. I don’t know whether to go over and hug her or leave her alone. I think she is thinking of Dad. That always makes her cry.
‘It’s okay, Mum,’ I tell her, but she doesn’t hear me. I know she is upset, but I’m still here, I don’t want her to ignore me anymore. It seems like such a long time since we spoke to each other. I walk over and sit on the bed next to her and put my arm round her. She stops crying for a moment and looks up, but only for a moment. Then she goes back to looking at the picture of Dad. Only, when I look at it, the picture isn’t of Dad. It’s of me.
‘It’s okay, Mum, don’t be sad, I’m right here.’
She still doesn’t look at me.
‘She can’t hear you, son.’
I look up to the doorway and see him, standing there, looking exactly like I remember.
I couldn’t believe it, Dad was here.
‘Dad!’ I said. ‘Mom, look, its Dad.’ Still, I get nothing from her. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ I ask.
‘She can’t see you, or hear you. She doesn’t know you’re there,’ he tells me.
‘But why?’ I ask. Then another question jumps out of my mouth, almost as quickly as it jumped into my head. ‘Dad, how come you’re here? I thought that you…’ I didn’t know how to finish what I was saying.
‘I did, son,’ he said. ‘I never wanted to leave you and Mum, but it was just my time.’
‘So, now you’ve come back?’
He didn’t answer straight away, and I saw his eyes get wet. He held out his arms to me like he used to do when he wanted a hug. I looked back to Mum, who still didn’t seem to know we were there, then ran over to him. He hugged me so tightly, and I hugged him right back.
‘Son,’ he said, kneeling down so we were face to face. ‘What I’m going to tell you will be a little confusing, but I need you to trust me. And don’t be scared.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I won’t be scared. I’m brave.’
‘I know you are. You know when I told you I had to go because it was my time?’
‘Yes,’ I said with a nod.
‘Well, it’s your time too, son.’
I didn’t understand. Not at first. Then it started to make sense and I felt a little bit sick.
He nodded quickly, almost like he didn’t want me to finish what I was going to say, which was good, because I didn’t want to say it. I was going to ask him how, and when, but all of a sudden I knew.
‘The man who took me?’ I asked, and he nodded again, looking angry, with tears running down his face. I hugged him again and we stayed that way for a long time. Eventually he pulled away, cupping my face with his hands.
‘It’s time to go, son.’
‘But what about Mum?’ I asked, looking back to her. She looked so sad, so hurt, I didn’t want to leave her.
‘She has to stay here.’
‘We can’t leave her.’
‘I’m sorry, but there is no other way. You’ll see her again one day.’
As he said that I noticed the light that crept in through the curtains got brighter and brighter, so bright it started to hurt my eyes.
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘That means it’s time. I need to take you back.’
‘Don’t worry son, its safe there,’ he said, and took my hand. ‘Hold on to me and we’ll go back together.’
The light got brighter and brighter, it felt nice against my face, like the warm sun, but I didn’t want to leave Mum, not all on her own like this. It wasn’t fair.
‘I don’t want to go,’ I said, but my voice sounded like an echo.
‘You need to come with me. Try not to be scared.’
His voice was all echoey now as well. I think I knew where we were supposed to go, and I wasn’t scared, I just didn’t want to leave Mum.
‘No,’ I said, and struggled to get free. He tightened his grip.
‘This is important son, just stay with me. It’s okay.’
The light got brighter and brighter and my body felt strange. It got lighter somehow, and I felt like I could float away. It felt nice. The light got so bright I couldn’t see anymore.
‘No,’ I yelled again and yanked my hand free. Then, as quickly as I could blink, the light was gone.
And so was Dad.
Everything around me was dark again, and it was quiet, apart from Mum, who was still quietly crying. She shouldn’t cry though, because whether she knows it or not, I’ll always be here to look after her.
Always and forever.