Hey guys! This feels a bit odd as I've never really posted fiction online before (except the occasional dire anonymous fanfic, but of those we do not speak). I'm not sure if it's the, uh, done thing to post fiction on Blogger, but I've stalled lately on my work in progress so I thought I might throw a bit of it out into the world and see if feedback/comments might prompt me to get back to the grind. If you want to see more fiction please let me know, if this is a terrible idea then same applies! Constructive criticism is welcomed, nay, encouraged, but please be gentle ;) Thanks!
(c) Amy Townsend
'From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!' - Traditional Scottish prayer.
Wynford Little sat up in the middle of a wet November night, entwined in his bed sheets and drenched in sweat. He rubbed a hand over his face and fumbled on his bedside table for his glasses. The digital clock showed three a.m. in garish green numerals.
Wyn put on his glasses and untangled himself from the sheets. His head was pounding, his brain still in a muddle, as he crossed the chilly floorboards in his bare feet. Without switching on the light, he retrieved a battered box of Marlboros - the emergency box - and a Pound Shop lighter from his underwear drawer. Blotting sweat from his forehead with his pyjama sleeve, he pushed open the window. Wind howled in, sharp and feral, and the curtains billowed. Rain spat and splattered against the glass .
Clouds swirled across the sky, and in the garden the oak tree lashed back and forth, casting strange, twisted shadows across the walls of the room. Wyn leaned his elbows against the windowsill, cupped a protective hand around the lighter flame, and took that first deep drag. It had been years since he'd last smoked a cigarette. Right then, with the echoes of that nightmare scuttling back and forth across his subconscious like a mad wife in an attic room, he didn't care.
He exhaled smoke like dragon breath. His narrow face was very calm, almost placid, beneath a three-day growth of beard stubble, but his dark eyes, under startlingly long lashes and heavy brows, were bright and watchful. He was a tall, thin, angular man hurtling towards middle age, with a puff of wild dark hair, silver-threaded, that stood out around his head like a dandelion clock.
The tip of his cigarette glowed orange. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead in his palm. He was still tired, somehow, bone tired, but sleep had never felt like such a distant memory.
He drew on the cigarette again and let another curl of smoke trail from his lips. The front of his pyjama shirt was getting damp with rain. The windowsill was dripping. He still stayed, staring and thinking, in front of the open window for another few long moments before he pushed himself upright, stubbed the cigarette out almost viciously on the sill, and yanked the window closed. He could still hear, faintly, the wind moaning through the branches of the old oak. He remembered a fragment of dreaming, thought of sharp, sharp teeth and long, thin fingers, and reached out to switch on the desk lamp so quickly that he nearly knocked it over. A warm golden glow flooded the room.
It was a beautiful room at the top of a tall, grand house. Or, more accurately, a tall house which had once been grand. It was very old. Its bricks were a deep, autumnal orangey-red, and it had details picked out in white stone around the windows and under the eaves. Its chimneys were high and spindly, its windows long and narrow. The windows themselves were old, too, and when the wind came screaming down from the mountains in the north they sometimes jumped and rattled in their frames.
Most of the rooms in the house were little used. The bin in the kitchen overflowed with takeaway boxes. The living room, although spacious and welcoming, sat under a layer of dust that glistened with a soft pearl lustre when the sun shone in. Wyn used the bathroom, his bedroom, and his study, which had a large oak desk that was polished until glossy and upon which sat his notepads and typewriter (he still used a typewriter; not out of any pretentious disdain for modern technology, but because it was old and comfortable and familiar, and the clacking of the keys felt right under his fingertips. His laptop sat sullenly in the top drawer of the desk), and a forest of bookshelves taking up two entire walls.
Wyn sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. He had lived comfortably in this house for more than twenty years, but in that moment, with the nightmare still hanging over him like a shadow, he hated the house, and the town, deeply and fiercely, with every bone and every sinew in his body.
From somewhere down the hallway, there came a dull whump.
Wyn immediately recognised the sound. It was a book, falling to the floor. Probably in the study. The books on the shelves were stacked two or three deep, with more piled on top, and it was not unusual for one of the haphazard piles to slump this way or that, and let something fall. But in the bleak silence that settled over the house at three a.m., it was a startling sound, and ominous. The hairs on the back of Wyn's neck prickled. He got to his feet with some reluctance. The old tree rattled its branches again outside the window, and he glared at it through the glass. He was fully intending to go to the study and retrieve whichever book had fallen, but he found himself strangely hesitant. There was a heaviness in the air; that sort of electric tingle that precedes a thunderstorm. It had settled over the house, and Wyn's nerves, already frayed from the terror of his dream, were thrumming like guitar strings.
And then, from the study, there came another soft whump.
Wyn's bladder briefly threatened to do something alarming. For a moment he was ten years old again, and the obvious solution to the problem he was facing was to get back into bed and pull the covers over his head until he resembled a burrito rather than a boy. Unfortunately, Wyn was forty-six years old, and had the horrible suspicion - faint, but growing - that he was not alone in the house any longer, and that if he were to put a blanket over his head, he might find that it would become his shroud.
He stayed frozen in the centre of the room for a few moments, his toes just touching the pool of ragged, wind-whipped moonlight upon the floor. The third whump, no less gentle than the first but somehow much more horrifying, decided him. He picked up a crystal whisky decanter from the dresser. It was empty, only a faint amber residue left at the bottom, but it was heavy, and the weight of it in his hands reassured him as he opened the bedroom door and slipped into the hallway. He left the door ajar, allowing a trickle of warm light to bring life to the gloomy corridor beyond.
All was quiet. Wyn's heartbeat seemed loud, obtrusive. He edged towards the study, holding the decanter high like a club. It sparkled in the dim light, sending gold ripples skating over the landing walls. The floorboards, worn soft with age, were cold. The air smelt of dust and pine forests and electricity.
The study door was closed. Wyn regarded the brass doorknob for several long moments, his pulse throbbing in his ears. He did not consider himself to be in bad shape, but faced with the possibility of an intruder in his home, he suddenly felt very old, eighty if he was a day, and made out of twigs.
The quiet stretched out. Rain drummed down on the roof.
And then, so faintly that he wasn't convinced that it was not the overactive imagination of a writer still in the grip of tenebrous dreams, he heard another sound, from the other side of the study door. A soft rustling, a susurrus of paper on paper, as though someone were standing beside his bookshelf and rifling through the pages of his books.
Wyn took a step back from the door, chewing his lower lip. A floorboard creaked gently and he froze mid-step. The weight of the decanter was dragging on him now, and he lowered it. His arms wanted to tremble. For a split second, he made as if to raise one hand, to knock on the door of his own study, but quickly he caught himself, curled his fingers around the doorknob and flung the door open.
The first thing he noticed was that the window was open. The curtains were drenched, billowing in the early-morning breeze. Outside he could see that the sky was slowly lightening to moody indigo, but this was the north, and it was winter, and it would not be sunrise for some time yet. The mountains clung to the horizon, hunched black shapes like crouching dragons, and brooded.
The study seemed empty. But it was cold, very cold, and Wyn could feel that static in the air once again, stronger here, as though he was standing at its nucleus. Goosebumps rose and prickled on his arms as he inched forward into the room and flicked on the light.
It came on slowly, turning the grim darkness to dismal beige. A sound, a movement, just over his head, made Wyn jump and swing the decanter wildly, sending shards of light skipping around the room and over the bookshelves, but it was only a moth, albeit a large one, lazily circumnavigating the room before homing in, manically, on the light bulb.
Wyn advanced into the study. The rug, patterned like a magic carpet, or so he had fancied when he bought it, grew damp under his feet as he approached the window. He set the decanter down upon the sill, and dragged the window closed, not without effort. The curtains fell back against the walls with a wet slap. Wyn rested his back against the window and sighed, pushing a few strands of damp hair - whether sweat or rainwater, he didn't know - off his forehead.
The moth detached itself from where it had been bouncing erratically from the light bulb and descended in a dreamy spiral towards the bookshelf. Wyn watched it but paid it no particular mind. It settled on the edge of a shelf; stretched its wings. It was a huge thing, the size of his palm at least, mottled brown and grey, its body coated in thick white fur.
One minute it was there, and the next, it was gone.
Wyn started, pushing himself bolt upright. His forearm caught the lip of the decanter and knocked it to the floor. He bent to pick it up, and froze there, half-kneeling, almost afraid to blink, as the books upon the bookshelf began to move.
A ripple spread through them, and then a murmur, as though they had just awoken from a long sleep and were leisurely stretching their pages as the moth had stretched its wings. Wyn's jaw went slack as their spines flexed and moved. Several paperbacks tumbled from the higher shelves as the books jostled, shifting, rearranging, until his disbelieving eyes registered the shape of a man, at least as tall as he if not taller, being formed out of spines and covers and pages, and then there was a man standing there, in the bookshelf, and Wyn half-wondered how he had ever thought he could see books there at all.
His fingers closed tightly around the neck of the decanter, throttling it, but he did not get to his feet. Instead he watched, and waited, and listened to the roaring in his ears.
The man in the bookshelf looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers. At first there was a sound like the spine of a book breaking, and then his knuckles popped and cracked, louder than gunfire in the hush, and anything at all booklike about him was gone.