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Horror Suspense Thriller

Jessica woke because of the cold. Icy tendrils of damp were clawing at her arms and the chattering of her teeth was enough to make her jaw ache. Beside her, Jackson slept soundly. The duvet was tucked round her shoulders and his face was relaxed and innocently boyish. The cold that seemed to be seeping into her very bones didn’t appear to be affecting him in the slightest. 


Jessica remembered her mother talking about fevers so hot they tricked you into thinking that the burning you felt was ice. She certainly felt like she wasn’t completely awake. The semi-dreamlike state was disorienting and, when a car went past and lit the room with its headlights, she could see mist curling around the corners of the bedroom. Jackson’s house was fully insulated and he’d talked about the cost of getting his windows double glazed only last month. Granted, it was her first overnight stay here, but Jackson took pride in everything he had. The house would not let in fog. 


Jessica wished that she could wake up fully and move her arms. Her limbs felt like lead, the illness weighing them down. The bedside light was close and the light would help her assess how sick she was. Maybe Jackson would even wake up and check her temperature for her. If only she could lift her hand to turn it on. 


Leave.


The fever must be strong if she was hallucinating. The voice was faint enough that she knew she was imagining it. Leave. It was coming from everywhere and nowhere — her fevered mind unable to pinpoint the direction of the sound. Leave. Her heart was beating too quickly, a staccato rhythm at the base of her throat and she wondered if she might need an ambulance. Leave. Leave. Leave. 


Another car, another fleeting brightening of the room. 


The paralysis broke and Jessica’s scream filled the room. 


Jackson woke up immediately and his light was on before Jessica had finished the exhale. In the harsh light, Jessica’s fever vanished like it had never been, though the shivers took longer to subside. Jackson was angry when she couldn’t explain the scream, which she found hurtful. Surely he could give her a break? After she’d told him about the strange fever, and given his examinations of the goosebumps on her arms, he was mollified, but his shoulders turned away from her as he settled. Irritated that she’d disturbed his sleep for no good reason. She watched him fall asleep again, wishing that she could pacify him with a tale of a night terror or the glimpse of a mouse. 


But how could she explain the bloodied face of the woman and the broken, grasping fingers that had reached for her? 


She obsessed about it the next day and made an excuse to avoid returning that night. The woman’s face was imprinted on her mind, and she replayed the moment again and again. The caved cheekbones, the shattered teeth, the torn fingernails. 


By the weekend, Jackson was getting annoyed with her avoidance. He had bought groceries to make her dinner, he complained, and they were going to go to waste without her. He wanted to know why she was skittish and suddenly had to work late — was she seeing someone else? Didn’t she love him anymore? She was his world, his everything — was she abandoning him?


He sounded so heartbroken that she gave in. After a few days of distance, the memory was losing its edge and she knew that a bad dream — for what else could it have been — wasn’t worth compromising her relationship for. 


She returned. 


They had a lovely evening. Jackson made pasta and they drank wine on the porch, talking about work and families. There was a bit of tension when she mentioned spending time with a friend the following weekend. Jackson had planned a trip to the theatre, so Jessica cancelled on Annie and everything was fine. She would have more fun with him anyway — none of her friends really understood her the way he did. He was so happy when she told him that she could go that it more than made up for the sadness in her friend’s voice. He was right, too. Annie was just jealous and being selfish. She was so lucky to have him.


It took Jessica a long time to drift off. The slightest rustle of the curtain was enough to wake her from her shallow slumber, but eventually she succumbed to the pull of unconsciousness. 


Leave. 


The voice startled her awake. Once again, her limbs were heavy and she was trapped in the shell of her body. 


Leave.


This time the source of the noise was obvious. It was coming from the shadow in the corner. As Jessica watched, dumb with terror, the shadow moved. It scaled the walls with jerky movements. A passing car lit the room briefly and Jessica caught a glimpse of a body, twisted and grotesque, climbing towards the ceiling. Its face was turned towards her and she saw that it was the woman from before. Her arms were hanging oddly, perhaps broken, and she dragged herself up in fits and starts. 


Jessica’s breath was quick and shallow. Her chest was the only part of her that was moving. 


Leave. 


The woman was almost directly above her. 


Leave!


What had been the dry rustle of the wind through leaves in a graveyard was getting louder. Now the scrape of ragged nails under a closed lid. Now the frenzied cry of the forever trapped. 


LEAVE! 


Jackson swore as he woke, all flailing limbs and angry confusion. He thought she was the cause, and what could Jessica say? The dead woman screamed it, not me? He wouldn’t be calmed, either and they ended up standing: Jackson fury personified and Jessica cowering before his wrath. 


The names he called her weren’t fair but who could blame him? As far as he was concerned, Jessica had waited till he was asleep and then shocked him awake with a jarring noise. What would the neighbours think? What kind of sick sense of humour did she have? 


At one point, he raised his hand and Jessica flinched. But he saw and caught himself, scooping her up in apologetic arms. He was sorry for that. She’d pushed him so far but she didn’t deserve that. 


They fell back asleep with limbs entangled, Jessica tightly ensconced in his embrace. And the woman did not return. 


They stayed at hers for a while. 


Jessica made an effort to make her apartment welcoming for him, enticing him over with favourite beers and lingerie and whispered promises. 


He enjoyed the attention, relished being treated like a king. Women have forgotten how to treat their men nowadays, he said as Jessica rubbed his shoulders and tried not to think of bloodied lips and exposed bone. It was nice to be with someone who understood how things should be. 


Jessica nodded and apologised again for the burnt steak at dinner. She didn’t tell him it was because she’d looked for the time and thought she’d seen matted hair in the reflection in the glass on the clock. He forgave her though, and she promised again to be more careful next time. She rubbed her wrist where he‘d gripped it so tightly and reassured him again. 


She evaded his requests to go to his house for the next few weeks. What had been a treat for him had become routine and he didn’t understand why she wouldn’t come to him. He had to drive twenty minutes out of his way to get to hers but his house was only ten minutes from where she worked. Was it too much to ask for her to put the effort? Eventually he got tired of listening to her excuses and demanded it. 


He wasn’t being unreasonable. Jackson saw her for who she was, loved her more deeply than anyone else could and was the only one in the world who truly cared for her. She could get over her objections and give him something in return. 


So she went back.


Every movement made her jump. The scraping of Jackson’s chair as he stood up: a squeak. The chiming of the clock: a spilled coffee. The slam of the porch door: a wine glass shattered on the carpet. 


The storm arrived after that, though. Jessica was putting away the dishes after dinner when the drop of blood in the sink made her raise her head. The woman clung to the cabinets and her face was inches from Jessica’s own. She wore a sense of urgency like a shawl.


Leave!


Jessica’s screech made Jackson turn and her outgoing arm caught him full in the face.


Jackson’s rage was to be expected but the strength of it took her by surprise. She was clumsy and stupid. His lip was swelling and it was her fault. She‘d already ruined a new carpet with a wine that was already staining. Her reactions were ridiculous. Why was she so jumpy anyway? What was she hiding? Why would she hide something from him? 


Jessica’s half-articulated attempts at pacifying him only made it worse. Why was she treating him like a child? He’d been so patient, so good and this was how she repaid him? With deceit and patronising excuses? 


As Jackson advanced, Jessica saw the shadow crouching in the hall. It flinched away from Jackson as he dragged Jessica towards it, shrinking as he shouted about how she was just like other women. She lied and manipulated. She tried to make a fool out of him. She was a conniving bitch. 


She saw the wide eyes of the woman, streaked with ruptured capillaries and horror, at the bottom of the basement stairs. No words, no pleas for forgiveness would soothe Jackson’s ire. He was fury and vengeance and justice. 


Jessica saw the woman’s expression: unmistakably sorrowful as she wheeled through the air, desperately trying to catch a handhold to save herself. Jessica landed on the cold concrete of the basement, her own body now twisted in sympathy, her own face marred and bloodied to match. 


Her final breath was scented with the woman’s fetid exhale and the last thing she heard was the mournful whisper. 


I tried to warn you. 


October 19, 2020 21:15

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85 comments

Rayhan Hidayat
10:52 Oct 20, 2020

Oh heck yeah, more Laura Clark!! Here’s the things that I loved: >The bone-chilling imagery that was concisely described without using overtly flowery language >The hints sprinkled throughout that Jackson is kind of a gaslighting prick >The starkly distinct perspectives of the two main characters, which added depth and complexity to a genre that usual doesn’t get so deep Here’s the things that in my humble opinion could be improved: >”Jackson” and “Jessica” both starting with the letter “J”. This isn’t a big deal but I’m not a ...

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Laura Clark
11:53 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks as always for a lovely and helpful comment! I will go and change the final part because I was going for repetition but I can see how it would be a bit much. I also usually avoid characters with the same letter for the same reason but I’m okay with it in this one. Not sure why - I feel like I should come up with some deep answer about them being parallels or their connection being deeper because of that but none of that. I’m just cool with it here. I completely get what you mean about tropes and I knew, as I was writing it, that th...

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:00 Oct 20, 2020

No worries, that's fair ;) I don't normally critique to this extent because I don't have any proper creative writing education and I don't trust myself to leave useful suggestions. But, you've done so for me in the past and I'd hate not to at least make an effort :P Quid pro quo, as you and Hannibal Lecter say haha. Anyway, just so you know--my latest story seems to have gotten a laugh out of some readers, so check it out if you're down :)

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Laura Clark
12:31 Oct 20, 2020

I loved the critique! Please please please keep doing it. I really enjoyed thinking it through more deeply and ultimately, it’s down to personal opinion. There are definitely going to be people calling me an idiot for not listening to you! Looking forward to your next story. I’ve still got 30 to judge but I’ll be at yours ASAP!

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:52 Oct 21, 2020

I always forget how busy you must be as a judge, so I implore you to take your damn time! You'll always be my favorite judge of the bunch ;)

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Laura Clark
07:10 Oct 21, 2020

Well it’s not usually this intense! A few weeks ago there were 14 to judge and this week there are 35. It’s so lovely reading the entries but it does mean that the ones on my follow list have to take a bit of a backseat until Wednesdays. Damn straight, I’m your favourite! I’m everybody’s* favourite. *3 people

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01:10 Nov 25, 2020

Wow! Beautiful story. Your description is really really good and vivid, I felt as if I was right there. Your characters also felt really real. Nice job!

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Lina Ozz
00:23 Oct 20, 2020

This story is just incredible. That last section was rightfully disturbing and the description throughout this piece is fantastic. The section where you describe the woman is so vivid, so creepy, and so well done. That was my favorite section; I could literally envision her "scaling the walls with jerky movements". Shivers. One tiny note––on a mechanical side, the sentences where you use hyphens need to be em dashes (like I just used in this sentence). Hyphens tie words together; em dashes tie clauses/ideas together. Tiny, minuscule fix....

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Laura Clark
04:23 Oct 20, 2020

Thank you so much — both for the compliments and the suggestion! I’ve fixed the dashes (I didn’t realise I had so many, to be honest). Thank you!

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Thom Brodkin
13:52 Nov 19, 2020

I am drawn to talent in general and more specifically to talent I do not possess. I struggle to write about things beyond that which I can see and you have done it masterfully here. You made me believe in ghosts. You made me feel her gut level fear. You slowly revealed the true villain of the story but you somehow let us know from the start. I don't know about the rules of horror or if you should use one dash or two when separating sentences but I do know that you write stories that begged to be read and isn't that the point after all? ...

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Deidra Lovegren
00:22 Oct 25, 2020

Gees, Laura. Want to talk about it? Of course with the week you've had, it's always good to vent. This is COVID meets Stockholm Syndrome in all the best ways. Gruesome, ghoulish, and good -- the normalizing of evil until the end. Sounds like my date to junior prom. Haha? Good to see you back on the boards. Love your stuff :)

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Laura Clark
08:18 Oct 25, 2020

Geez, Deidra - do *you* want to talk about it? I hope that was a joke but if not, hope your prom date had something suitably awful happen to him. Thanks for the comment - not my finest work but it’s been a couple of weeks since my last so I thought I’d get something out!

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Deidra Lovegren
09:12 Oct 25, 2020

11th grade. Soccer player. You know how they are...

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Laura Clark
09:57 Oct 25, 2020

😬

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Katina Foster
15:51 Oct 23, 2020

This is why fiction can be so powerful. Taking on real life horror in an unconventional way is a wonderful way to put the reader in someone else's shoes. You did this very well. I like the subtle foreshadowing into Jackson's character: "Jackson took pride in everything he had." I got chills at that, wondering if his partner was going to fall into the category of possession. The only thing I wanted more of was the main character's struggle with excusing or justifying his behavior. It's hard to do in such a short story, and you do a gr...

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Laura Clark
17:24 Oct 23, 2020

That’s a really good point - I will see if I can throw some extra bits of that in before someone approves me. I think the contest is still open - it’s Friday night here so I always forget when the competition closes in uk time. Thank you for the helpful critique!

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:48 Oct 20, 2020

Hi Lora! This is excellent and not really like your usual stuff. Although, no, you actually had some dark elements in Final Performance and Newly Fallen Dark, this just takes it up a level or two, and does so brilliantly! I saw in another comment that you don't like horror. That's amazing, because, as a horror fanatic, I can tell you that this is perfectly done. Something I learned from HP Lovecraft is that you can convey the horror of a scene better by describing the characters' reaction to the horrifying thing than by describing the t...

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Laura Clark
12:04 Oct 21, 2020

Thank you! Always a pleasure to have a comment from you! I know it’s really heavy on tropes but 🤷‍♀️ I like it (as much as I ever like my writing). I’m comfortable with the fact that this isn’t a winning piece. I’m glad it worked for you - I hadn’t really thought about the fact that horror connoisseurs would be reading it but I’m glad I haven’t mangled the genre too badly! Are you writing one for this week?

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Jessica C
04:25 Nov 28, 2020

I realize I'm late to the party, but this is fantastic! It becomes clear almost right away what your ghost is doing and how the story will unfold, but you've crafted the narrative in such a way that it doesn't make a bit of difference; it's a nail biter from beginning to end. You have plenty of critiques below, so I won't even bother. Just wanted you to know that I loved this!

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Amaya .
23:40 Nov 18, 2020

Hey I just found out about your account and I'm really glad I found it. I skimmed one of your stories and ill come back to do a full review and deep read, but already I'm really impressed. You are really good, seriously!

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Kara Ohara
18:54 Oct 26, 2020

Damn... I kind of predicted that the bloody woman was trying to warn her, but you're bang for the buck on the delivery. I also noticed their names both started with J. I wonder if Jessica was the type to get matching J.J necklaces or something. XD The fact she didn't want to tell him about the ghost, probably for the fear of making him think she was crazy, was probably the first uh-oh signal that something wasn't right in the relationship. If he was truly supportive, why wouldn't she be able to confide in him? He probably gas lit her i...

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Laura Clark
19:42 Oct 26, 2020

Thank you so much! What a great comment!

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Dede K.
00:19 Oct 21, 2020

Ok. So I love horror. I envy your ability to write these beautiful descriptions....so fluid. I naturally had to read a few of your pieces since you commented on mine..and although this is different, it's fantastic! I can't wait to read more.

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Laura Clark
06:09 Oct 21, 2020

Thanks! It’s not what I usually do but I do love a story where the villain you anticipate is actually not the villain at all. I only wish I could have ‘I saw a ghost falling out of a tree’ as my inspiration for writing it!

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Dede K.
09:14 Oct 21, 2020

haha! I laughed out loud at that. If that happened...you WOULD have to find a way to write about that. If that happened to me, the prompt would be: Describe a day your character soiled their pants.

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Laura Clark
14:24 Oct 21, 2020

Well, I mean, there’s your next story sorted!

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Tom .
14:37 Oct 20, 2020

I am kind of new here, so I do not really feel qualified to critique such a good piece. It is very well written. In places some of the horror is a bit stereo typed, the crawling distorted figure. Although that is a current archetype in horror so maybe it a sign of the times. I cannot really comment as for the same prompt I have done a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The gas lighting is good. The way she does not doubt him until it is far too late is so true. I am a new follower. Good Work.

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Laura Clark
12:07 Oct 21, 2020

I accept critique from all - from the newest to the oldest Reedsy people! I definitely agree that it’s a bit trope heavy. There are a few reasons for this - I’ve gone into more detail in another comment but one of the reasons is that I hate horror! So the things that freak me out the most aren’t the niche original things that hardened horror fanatics love - it’s the basic creepy woman climbing onto the ceiling bit. Thank you for the follow and the comment!

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Yolanda Wu
04:39 Oct 20, 2020

Wow, I had to go and read through the stories about three times, because it was so good, I just kept wanting to relish in the sweet horrific details, and each time I read it brought me something new, a new layer of understanding, a new layer of meaning. Your descriptions were so vivid as they always are, and immediately sucked me in. You totally nailed the horror genre - I could totally see this as a short horror film, I was imagining it the whole time in my head. Especially the description of the ghost woman, I could just see her bloody fac...

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Laura Clark
06:04 Oct 20, 2020

Aw, Yolanda. You spoil me. I am actually a massive wuss when it comes to horror. My friend has just got a big writing credit in a horror series and I have promised to watch his episode but I just can’t bring myself to because I’m so scared even at the thought of watching horror. I think this is quite heavy handed trope-y because I don’t read/ watch enough horror to have mastered the subtler nuances but I’m so happy that you liked it! I pretty much just went with a bunch of stuff that freaked me out and hoped that it freaked other peo...

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Yolanda Wu
08:18 Oct 20, 2020

Honestly, I don't even know why I'm so drawn to horror, I've just watched it since I was little, and eventually became numb to all the jump-scares, it's actually the slower parts where you don't really know what's happening that creep me out a little. But I find much more horror watching murder documentaries, which doesn't stop me from watching it. And even though your story does play on the tropes, I think you wrote them really well, after all, tropes become tropes for a reason - it's because they're so popular. I agree, I would much rat...

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Yolanda Wu
05:47 Oct 22, 2020

Hi Laura, my new story is up now. When you have the time, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. :)

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Zilla Babbitt
00:58 Oct 20, 2020

This is truly terrifying, especially your descriptions. I didn't realize, until I read the last sentence twice (and the last few paragraphs again after that) that this is a modern version of Jane Eyre. He literally keeps a bloody battered woman in his basement. I was going to comment at first about how she's letting some abuse slide because she's preoccupied by "hallucinations"-- which I didn't see at first until I read "who could blame him?" and my head automatically went "I could." I paid more attention after that and I'm glad I did. ...

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Laura Clark
04:33 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks, Zilla! I’ve added in a bit where she flails and accidentally hits him, which I think leads into the trigger moment a bit better. Would you mind scanning it quickly and letting me know? Thanks for the advice! As for Rochester, I think that any man who keeps a ‘mad’ woman in the attic is — as the kids are saying nowadays— abut suss. Also abusive men have along history of discrediting their victims by calling them mad or psychos. A bit suss, indeed. Thank you for the feedback!

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Zilla Babbitt
14:06 Oct 20, 2020

It's perfect. I think the phrase you're looking for is "gaslighting"-- and you do it well. I mean, your characters do it well. You know what I mean :)

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R. K.
00:06 Oct 20, 2020

I saw "18 submissions", I ran. Oh my god, Laura you did it again. You somehow make the genres that are out of my spectrum enticing for me. First sci-fi, now horror. My chest was pounding at every noise. I did not expect the plot twist and smacked my head at the end, because I should have. The "leave" was right there slapping my cheeks. If I may ask, who would you say the ghost was? Brilliantly executed, not a dull moment. If I'm right like I was like last time, this will win or get shortlisted.

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Laura Clark
04:13 Oct 20, 2020

Oh you’re so sweet! I would love it if you were right, obviously, but I suspect this is too heavy handed to scoop a win. Also, not sure that it could win as it’s a bit dark! But thank you for the compliment - I do love them. My feeling is that the ghost is his previous partner who suffered a similar fate (although I imagined that her abuse was far more drawn out as she didn’t have a ghost to speed things up). What would your interpretation be?

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05:48 Dec 02, 2020

What’s up peeps! I’ve written my first mystery and submitted it for this week’s contest. “Murder at Kasserine Pass” I’m looking for honest feedback. I’ll admit I’m kinda nervous. I had a few ideas but not enough space to put everything in this short story. Your opinions matter to me and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read my work. If you have something you’d like me to read please reply back and I’ll check it out. Robert

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There's so much voice in this story. A true roller coaster.

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Rose Buckingham
16:03 Nov 12, 2020

Hi, I was wondering if you might take a look at my most recent story (the quest for the arcanum) and give me a little feedback? I love your writing style and I got really excited about writing for the prompt but then got a bit lost with it all and I don't love how it turned out so I'd love some constructive criticism if you have time! Absolutely more than happy to do the same for one of yours, if that's how you like to do things, just let me know if there's one in particular or I can just pick one! Thanks!

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S. Closson
01:52 Nov 07, 2020

Wow, this was a fantastic story. Your descriptions were powerful and articulate, and the way you distinguished the two characters' POV was very well done and the foreshadowing of Jackson's dark actions was well placed without being heavy-handed. The message that I took away from the story of listening to your intuition when it's trying to tell you something, and the dangers of allowing yourself to be coerced back into a dangerous situation is so important. My favorite line in the story is: 'She wore a sense of urgency like a shaw...

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Bianka Nova
23:16 Nov 06, 2020

First I read Deidra's The End, Less Possibilities, now your story... I think I'm going for a night of the dysfunctional relationships. The the abusive boyfriend trope was a see-trough (at least for me), but I really enjoyed the horror one. It was executed very well, gave me the chills and all. I'll have to read something funny before going to bed, just in case... 😳 Just one suggestion: "After she’d told him about the strange fever, and given his examinations of the goosebumps on her arms, he was mollified, but his shoulders turned aw...

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