In the dead silence, all the details suddenly fell into place for me with a burst of intuition.
Something Nancy wanted me to be oblivious of.
Something that made Allen carry a handgun around, though he knew I hated it.
Something everyone already knew about — everyone but me.
Something I sensed was coming soon, anyways.
Something I knew would get me, no matter the lengths I took towards obscurity.
Something I feared … something that haunted me each night…
I can never escape this nightmare, can I?
The dream started out the same as always, but the ending was far from expected.
The first wave was the run.
I could hear the quick gasp, gasp, gasp, gasp of the short breaths dragging through my lips, alongside the arrhythmic thump, tha-thump, thump, of my frantically racing heartbeat. The edges of my vision were stained with black splotches, and scorching air wheezed through my overworked lungs. Who or what I was running from, I didn’t know at the moment, but I pushed on aggressively, willing my non-compliant feet to move against the invisible tar that always made runners in REM sleep move in slow-motion. But no matter how hard I struggled to break free of the dream force pulling me back, I was still one second late.
The sound of two minuscule, metal pellets being fired signified the second wave.
I arrived at the family manor the same time as always, beholding the awaited ghastly scene: my parents lying on the floor, stone-cold and motionless like the marble tiles. Tears welled from my eyes as my peripheral vision became tinted with red — red from the fire that blazed in my torrid heart, red from the blood that rushed in my pounding head, and red from the sticky fluid that oozed from my parents’ skulls, filling the air with the repugnant scent of salt and rust.
The piercing shriek from a faraway place, which threatened to burst my eardrums, brought about the final wave.
At this point, I usually got down on my weak knees and forced my dream world to kiss reality. I would wake up drenched in sweat and screaming, realising where the ear-splitting shriek was coming from. I would then start praying fervently for those once-in-a-blue-moon dreamless nights that provided me with an escape from the memories of my parents’ deaths, which my subconscious mind could still precisely portray (to my own detriment). That was how my nightmare ended each night.
But this night was different … this night, I was trapped in purgatory a while longer.
The clear-cut sound of another bullet being inserted in its chamber started the foreign fourth wave.
My stomach dropped as I became aware of the dreadful fact that I was still dreaming. Why couldn’t I wake up? I didn’t want to see this … didn’t need a reminder….
But my wishful thinking couldn’t cancel out the fourth wave. No matter how hard I tried to protect my fragile sanity by keeping the anamnesis at bay, I still lucidly remembered.
Thud, thud, thud.
Muffled yet distinct footsteps — alongside the creaks and groans of wooden floorboards — approached me until the final thud indicated the person was at my back. The hairs on my arms stood erect and my head jerked up, my eyes and jaw wide open.
But it wasn’t the sight of the gun pointed between my eyes that left me paralysed on the marble floor. It was the horrid sight of the cutthroat’s face that killed me before I could bite the dust. I saw my spirit exit my body when the blood drained from my face, leaving behind a lifeless vessel. My airways seemed to be cut off by an invisible plug — only my accelerated heartbeat could distinguish me from a corpse.
The man’s whole face was covered in white paint, and the left side was marred by three long gashes. The dark-pink tissue inside the cuts was coated with thick, yellow slough. I tasted bile in my mouth as I watched pus spill out of his wounds and mix with the face paint.
The first slit had its source at the top of his eyebrow, dragging it and his other features downwards. This left the impression that the left side of his face was melting like liquid wax on a candlestick.
The second rip ran down his left eye, which was encircled with black kohl. Both of his eyes were pitch-black and blank, with barely any trace of humanity in their unfathomable depths. Red paint meandered from the corners of his hollow eyes to his chin, playing tricks on my mind that he was crying blood.
The last cut started from the left side of his crooked nose and ended at his lips, both organs painted in deep red. Now, his face was plastered with a huge grin — probably intended to complement the grotesque clown mask — but the gash twisted his smile at awkward angles, replacing it with a painful grimace.
I barely had time to react to his finger, which was slowly applying pressure on the trigger. My mind just kept screaming the words I saw in the steely glint of the cutthroat’s eyes: You’re next.
The last bullet flew towards me as fast as lighting, but like every mobile object in a dream, it eventually slowed down. Images flashed before my eyes immediately as my subconscious rapidly reviewed the incredibly emotional moments of my life. Each memory took less than a third of a second before it fleeted to the next, but that didn’t stop the assorted feelings accompanying them from crashing into my throbbing heart. The final images were the most recent — my parents’ sleeping bodies … and the cutthroat’s horrid face.
Whether I was drowning in a sea of emotion or suffocating from the lack of oxygen, I didn’t know. But what I knew was that the last thing I felt that night was fear — overwhelming and utter fear.
Like thunder and lightning, the sound came moments after the bullet was fired. Unwilling to stare death in the face, I slowly closed my eyes and welcomed the sweet bliss of unconsciousness.
I wake up with a start and wipe off the sheen of sweat on my forehead. I was breathing heavily and shaking from head to toe.
“Mallory, it’s just a dream,” I mutter weakly to myself. “There’s no need to get worked up over nothing.”
These little assurances did nothing to clear the thick cloud of fear hanging over my head. I was still unsettled over the fact that my parents’ murderer hadn’t yet been captured. Although it’s been three years, I know he will come back to finish the dirty job he started. I was the next victim on his list — the next in line to the grave.
Heaving a huge sigh, I roll out of my bed and walk silently to the kitchen.
Drip, drip, drip.
A light rain starts as I put two slices of bread in the toaster. I fill a glass with water and put on the counter two tablets of Paxil, medicine for my unsteady nerves. As I wait for my toast to get ready, my mind drifts back to that night.
Would I have preferred death to the torture my memories bring? I muse privately. The bullet only missed me by a hair’s breadth, and I fainted afterward. Maybe the killer thought I kicked the bucket when I fell (I’m sure I could have passed out for a corpse then). But I’m certain the cutthroat later realised I rode out the massacre, what with the media putting my picture on every newspaper and tabloid with the headline, ‘Mallory Bradford Survives Sadistic Assassin at Family Manor.’
I cringe inwardly as I remember the shell-shocked picture of my haunted face.
Split, splat, split, splat.
The rain increases in frequency and intensity, drowning my thoughts. Did the forecast say a storm would brew? I look at the front door and my eyebrows pull together. I hope Allen beats the storm and makes it here in time….
My skin crawls as I imagine staying here without Allen, my protector. Because I couldn’t make myself go back to my family manor after the incident, I moved into a small, inconspicuous house with my guardian and nurse, Nancy.
“The better for the assassin not to track you down,” she said. However, I doubted Nancy could stand a confrontation with my killer
if when he came back for me. That’s when Allen, my bodyguard, came into the picture. Whenever he’s here, I automatically feel safe. But despite the protection he provided, not even Allen can save me from the nightmare that haunts me — nothing can, except my soon-to-be murderer’s demise.
A shiver runs down my spine, and I chase out my thoughts by focusing on more trivial things, like the cadence of sounds in the rain. The aggressive whoosh of the winds, the low rumble of thunder, the impatient tap, tap, tap, of my foot on the ground, and the clear tick, tick, tick, of the wall clock counting the time fill my ears as I wait for my toast.
My head jerks up at the sound of a wooden floorboard groaning against a person’s weight. I blink once and listen in silence. Maybe I imagined it — I hope I did. I nervously take a sip of water and shift my weight on another foot. Where is Allen?
I hear it again, louder this time. The hand holding my glass of water starts to shake as I stare at the North end of the kitchen, where the corridor to the bedrooms is. There isn’t any light turned on there, so I can’t make out the shape of anyone….
I gasp as a long shadow falls into the entrance of the kitchen. My heart is in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. He’s here. I’m next in line. He got to me. I can’t stop myself from panicking. My cutthroat may be pointing a gun at me for all I know….
“Mallory!” a familiar voice screams in alarm. Warm arms cradle me, lifting me up from the floor where I collapsed, which is now covered in shards of broken glass. I try as much as possible to control the tears streaming from my eyes as I clutch my chest and hug Nancy tightly.
“What happened?” she asked, concern dripping in her voice.
What happened? I blink back more tears as I look at the floor.
“I dropped my glass cup,” I squeak and wipe my nose.
“I h-heard a gunshot,” I whisper to Nancy, and my voice cracks. “I th-think he’s here. M-my killer.”
Nancy’s forehead creases and she folds her arms.
“Have you taken your medicine, Mallory?” she questions me in a tone that rapidly changed from guardian to nurse. “I hope you know your anxiety will never go unless you take your medication.”
I want to tell her my anxiety will never go until the murderer is dead when I’m stopped in my tracks by the sight of my slices of toast out of the toaster. I groan internally as I realise where the pop sound that triggered my reaction came from.
“I know,” I reply glumly. “It’s just … my sleepless nights are finally taking a toll on me.”
I hear a huff from Nancy and bow my head.
“You gave me quite a shock there, you know,” she says, already cleaning up the broken glass and filling a plastic cup with water. She hands me the cup and presses the Paxil tablets into my hand before moving on to butter my cold toast. I occupy my mind with her nimble and determined movements and the sound of her reproving voice.
“If I had known you were awake already, I wouldn’t have bothered trying to come here quietly.”
“I’m sorry,” I mumble and sigh. “I was having bad dreams.” Again.
Nancy looks like she’s about to say something, but the opening of the front door interrupts her. Her eyes narrow suddenly and her lips are pressed into a thin, white line.
Squish, squish, squish, squish.
The squeak of rubber boots enter the kitchen and I turn around to see just the right person to ease my stress.
“Allen,” I breathe out as relief washes over me.
“Why did you bring that?” Nancy asks, and I can detect a hint of steel in her voice. My eyes follow her glare down to Allen’s hand, and I’m suddenly face-to-face with a gun.
Pant, pant, pant, pant, pant.
I try to control my breathing, but it keeps on coming out too loud and too fast. Memories of the cutthroat’s eyes flash in my mind, and I start to hyperventilate.
“Are you okay?” Allen’s deep voice asks me as he eases me unto a chair. The image of the three long scars dripping pus on the killer’s face surface to my mind now, and I squeeze my eyes shut.
“Go away,” I say, more to the memories than to Allen. I put the tablets in my mouth and don’t wait for the water to follow before I swallow them. My head starts to pound, but I wait patiently for the drugs to work their numbing magic.
Allen and Nancy start arguing in the corridor, which doesn’t soothe my nerves one bit. I turn on a radio to tune out their banter.
The radio static distracts me momentarily, chasing away the haunting flashbacks. I gulp in lungfuls of air until I’m certain my breaths are even and no longer wheezes. I breathe in and breathe out, working to relax my stiff body in a futile attempt at making the antidepressants diffuse into my bloodstream faster.
“...told you not to bring weapons into this house ... triggers....” I hear Nancy’s brusque voice say.
“…more protection … sightings … could be here anytime soon….” Allen whispers earnestly. I tried to ignore their voices while I focused on relaxing, but the conversation suddenly piqued my interest.
“…just recovering … claiming she’s hearing gunshots … stressed out….”
“…haven’t you told her… wrong to keep her in the dark … pertaining to her life….”
“And scare the poor child further?” Nancy all but screams. My eyes snap open and I stare at Allen and Nancy. Did they not realise that I was still here.
“Tell me what?” I croak, moving towards the corridor to hear the argument better. It was unlike them to keep secrets from me.
“Nothing for you to worry yourself about,” Nancy says coolly.
Allen grits his teeth and flares his nostrils. “She has a right to know.”
I look at his hand and am more than happy to find that he hid the gun somewhere. Good — the last thing I needed now was another distraction.
“Know what?” I press on when it looked like neither of them were willing to push the conversation any further. As if in answer to my question, the radio starts working at that precise moment.
“…sightings of the mysterious clown with a gun. The police are in on it, trying to track the clown man down. They believe he’s the same killer that got away with two murders three years ago–”
The radio cuts off and goes back to making the white noise. I stare blankly into space as all the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together. My mouth forms a small o as the seemingly disparate facts form a solid picture.
Something Nancy wanted me to be oblivious of because she was afraid it would upset me.
My body starts to shiver as cold chills my bones.
Something that made Allen carry a handgun — not for his protection, but mine.
My breathing is ragged and my heart beats louder.
Something everyone already knew about … something big enough to cause a stir in the media.
My vision fogs up and I feel slightly dizzy as the numbness comes a tad later than wanted.
Something I sensed was coming soon.
The ground comes closer to me, and I hit it with a loud bang. Pain threatens to split my skull open, but it soon fades into a dull throb.
Something I knew would get me.
A flash of lightning illuminates a figure by the window, and my heart stops. Could Allen also see the gun pointed at me? It was a 38 caliber revolver — I faintly remember someone naming it when I described its details to the police years back.
Something I feared.
The cutthroat’s white face was staring back at me — the black and soulless eyes, the tears of blood, the grotesque half-grin... My scream gets stuck in my throat.
Something that haunted me each night.
I can see my parents’ ghosts beckoning to me. This is it — my time was up. Not wanting to stare death in the face, I close my eyes and drift into unconsciousness….
Then I wake up with a jolt.
I’m still on the kitchen floor, but Nancy is hovering over me with smelling salts under my nose. It feels as if a second passed after I fainted before I resurfaced. I blink once and the killer at the window is gone. I imagined it?
“No,” I say, aghast. Why couldn’t I just live in peace? My mind was a cage of fear. I would certainly prefer death over this torture my memories harboured. But my soul couldn’t rest until the murderer was dead. As long as he lived, I would forever be haunted by my past.
I close my eyes in dismay and see the cutthroat’s face glued behind my lids.
I can never escape this nightmare, can I?
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This is a really good story. The way you portrayed Mallory’s dreams made them sound so distinctively horrifying that readers sympathize even more with Mallory. The energy is kept up throughout the whole story, locking readers in until they can’t do anything but read the whole story through! Mallory certainly has an interesting past, too, which makes people want to hear or read more about this girl who’s being hunted down but a murderous clown. Very nice!
Thank you so much! I'm really glad you enjoyed my story. Also, Mallory's dream took me about two days to write, haha. But I'm a naturally slow writer, so that wasn't really surprising.
Haha that makes sense! But it came out pretty darn awesome. Nice job!!!!!!
It's a wonderful story! Please read my stories.
Wow! I loved the incredible imagery in this story. Your detailed descriptions of the scenes really allowed me to visualize the story and feel a little bit of the fear that the narrator felt. Great job!
Thank you so much for this comment. I really appreciate it :)
Well done. You do the the physical responses to fear and anxiety very well. My favorite part is early in the dream describing running. The pieces of the story are very skillfully woven together. There are points that I thing could be heighten, though, with short crisp sentences. Maybe this could help contrast the reality with the dream. Excellent writing-- thanks for sharing
Thank you so much for this detailed comment — I really appreciate it. Also, I hope to improve on future stories so that I'd be able to balance the use of short sentences with long ones. I know short sentences have an effect and I hope I'd be able to do that more often in the future. Thanks, once again :)
Great story. I loved it. It was also a bit creepy but well written. Would you mind reading my story "The secret of power?"
Thanks for the comment. And I'll take a look at yours, too, whenever I'm free.
oh my god this was such a cool story! first of all, i really liked the beginning part you wrote in italics - that pulled me in right away, and i also really liked how had 'I can never escape this nightmare, can I?' at the beginning and used it to circle back at the end! i don't know why, but that specific line gave me chills! your imagery and descriptions were also all very vivid and clear in my mind, and i believe that your use of language to set the scene made your story all the more horrifying! overall, this was a very engaging read. nice...
Thank you so much, Courtney. I'm really blushing right now. I'm glad you enjoyed my story. It means so much coming from you, considering that your a contest winner and all, haha. Thanks, again for this comment. I really appreciate it :D
I read this again and again Kelechi and that rarely happens when I read stories. Your story was really nice. Your flow was flawless. Your descriptions, oh my. Mind blasting. I was impressed from beginning to ending and you kept my attention all through as your reader. You are very very potential, you have mastered the use of words in your craft. Spread your wings and fly higher Kelechi. This was amazing. Having you look at my stories is a true honour. I applaud you for this. Wow.
Thank you so much for this, Grace. Your comment made my day. Thanks for the well wishes and everything. I'm really, truly glad you enjoyed my story :)
A well-written story. I liked it. You kept the tension high, the descriptions vivid and the characters memorable. Great job. 👌 ~~~~~~ A few hiccups, to point out with the intention of helping make the story stronger. These are suggestions to be thought about and either discarded or reworked into the story through your own words. - In the sentence, (I’m sure I could have passed out for a corpse then), I believe it should be, (I’m sure I could have passed for a corpse then). The 'out' needs to get out because it changes the meaning...
Wow. I wish this came in earlier so I'd have the time to make the necessary edits. My work is already approved, so I can't change anything now, haha. But I'm really happy that you pointed them out. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it :)
A polished story is always useful for future submissions and contests. 😉
That's true. Thanks, once again. I really appreciate it😊
This story was so good! I loved the descriptions you used and how it really helped the reader truly understand the depth of the narrator’s trauma. Great job! Thank you for writing this.
Thank you, James, for reading my story. I'm really glad you could sympathize with the character and happy you enjoyed my story.
It's just awesome! You showed! I loved that it kept my heart beating and my senses flared up. I was skimming so fast, I really needed to know what was to happen! Loved it!
Thank you so much for reading my story. I'm really glad you liked it :)
Wow. I have no words. This went above and beyond all my expectations, absolutely fantastic! You are really good at setting the scene too, the smells, the sounds and the feelings. It’s like I was there. Congratulations, really.
Thank you so much, Monica. I'm really glad you enjoyed my story. I totally appreciate that you read it. Thanks, again :D
Very well written. You did a great job of stringing the tension along.
Thank you so much. I'm glad you liked it :)
THIS WAS SO GOOD! My eyes were literally glued to the screen! I felt like I was really going through everything. You did an amazing job and the way you ended it was just so perfect! Great work! :)
Thank you so much for taking the time out to read my story. I'm really glad you liked it :D:D
Totally loved it! Your word choice is just perfect. I mean, the story was easy to comprehend and had that nice feeling that makes you think you are actually present there. So can you please share some tips on how to do it? Also the auditory imagery you used, took the story to another level ! Also I know this too much to ask for, but can you please go the site in bio and review my book their. If you feel like buying it please do, but if you don't then rate it on the basis of the sample.
Thank you so much, Isha, for taking the time out to read my story and commenting on it. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. As for tips on how I made the reader feel present, I think it was the way I described everything. Other than the dream, I wrote my story in the present tense. I think that also played a factor. And I made sure to add sounds in order for the reader to feel part of the story. That's basically what I did. I'm glad it had an effect.
What a beautiful story, you make such an amazing writer
Thank you, Rilwan :)
Oh my soul! This story is amazing! You kept me in suspense he entire time. Your descriptions literally made my heart race the entire time! I love how you incorporated the beginning into the end, and then made it another nightmare to show just how haunted she really is. I can't wait to read more from you in future! if you get the chance, please check out my story "Fragments of the Past" and tell me what you think :)
Awwwn... Thank you so much for this lovely comment. I'm glad my descriptions had an effect (it took some work for me to ensure my story did just that). And yes, I'll check out your story.
I am blown away from the detailed descriptions! The flow of the story is good and you can really feel the anxiety and brink of insanity from the character. Great job!
Thank you so much for taking the time out to read my story and commenting on it. I really appreciate it :)
Your gonna give ME nightmares! So creepy great job.
Thank you :)
I really enjoyed reading this. The descriptions were so clear, I could picture the scene and sort of climb into her point of view. I loved the opening with the italics and how it also appeared later towards the end. Really beautiful piece, happy I read it but sort of terrified now.
Haha. I'm sorry I scared you (my bad). But I love that you could climb into Mallory's point of view. Thanks for taking the time out to read my story. I really appreciate it :)
Woah, your descriptions are so vivid that throughout the entire story, I could hear my heart going crazy in my chest. You really painted a scary environment. Good job!
Thank you, Annandi, for taking the time out to read my story and commenting on it. I really appreciate it :) The descriptions took a lot of work for me to do (I had a thesaurus with me as I was writing) but I'm glad it paid off.
That is commitment! It definitely paid off for sure :)