4 comments

Contemporary Horror Suspense

John’s mum used to say that you ended up with the house that was meant for you. When he was younger, he was uncharitable towards his mother’s sayings. He found them to be twee and ultimately irrelevant, but as he calmed down and relaxed into his life, he found merit in what she said understanding that she’d done a fair amount of living, mostly before he came along and changed her into a parent and mother. She’d been more like him than he had cared to admit. He still struggled with that admission.

Finding and securing a house had been a protracted and tortuous process for John. He knew other people who had suffered in similar ways, but he thought he was near the top end of the scale when it came to unnecessary nonsense. He was close to believing that a shadowy cabal had gathered and selected John for their amusement, such was the crap he’d been subjected to. He wasn’t going to break, even in the face of his frequent fantasies of dismembering the awful estate agent and using her leg to beat to death the useless and lazy conveyancer. The bank clerk would be slowly lowered into a vat of acid. An inch a day. Apart from Sundays, as John would be at his Mum’s for a lovely roast. Her roasts were top notch. One day he would learn her secrets, especially when it came to the thick, meaty gravy. Maybe the secret ingredient was bank clerk, or some other nuisance half-wit who had crossed his Mum and required a very painful and ultimately fatal punishment. John’s family were practical and fairly frugal, so he would not put this sort of thing past her.

John had also had to be practical and frugal when it came to selecting a house. He’d had higher hopes but they had been dashed on the rocks of his limited funds and so he’d had to cut his threadbare cloth accordingly. He’d had a rude awakening as he pored through the available housing stocks. The reality of his situation was that he couldn’t afford a house, let alone one that he’d considered to be half decent.

He spread his net wider, expecting that the original area he’d selected was more expensive than places further out. This had turned out not to be the case and he was quickly in danger of becoming depressed. There was no understanding this because it made no sense. He had a pretty good job, better than either of his parents and their house was actually pretty good, so what had happened in the time between their purchase of a house and his? 

Asking this question of friends and the so-called experts, he’d had the same, two word answer. The economy.

Not for giving up, he looked even further out from his ideal location and then he started to find likely candidates. The likely candidates looked the part. Then he saw where they were. There were some locations that he’d ruled out as soon as he saw them. He wanted to live in his new house and make it a home, not survive in it and have to make it into a fortress.

Then one day he had a message from a friend who had a friend who knew of a house that had just come available via probate. John knew that probate was what happened when someone died. What he didn’t know was that it was an opportunity for more people to be involved in the house purchasing process and those people seemed intent on sport and entertainment as opposed to actually getting on and selling the house.

John had liked the house as soon as he saw it. It was tucked away down a narrow side road that probably didn’t qualify as an actual road. One of those dirt roads that were unadopted by the council. If you did not know it was there, you’d walk right past it, hidden away as it was behind a row of houses on the main stretch of the village.

He had been predisposed to like the house thanks to its location and the attractive fact that he could afford it. He’d expected it to be a doer-upper because the previous owner had died in the house and from the start he assumed that owner had been very old and likely lived there most of their lives. Once he had concocted this back story he never once attempted to replace or revise it with the facts. People do this. It’s called romance. Romance isn’t restricted to a lady seen across a dancefloor, it can extend to a house that someone wants to become their home and even cars, caravans and other objects that convey experiences. A person latches onto the prospect of those experiences being magical and romance ensues.

When he first saw the house in the flesh, he was not disappointed. It was an off white colour that had once been white but over time blended in with its surroundings. Walking inside he was pleased to see a tired and worn blank canvas. He could live with the dated wallpaper and patterned and stained carpets. He had to. Whatever he did after he’d bought the house would be on a shoestring. He’d accumulated basic furniture over time and his Mum had helped on that front. Half her garage was filled with it. He’d get a van and be moved in in the space of an hour. His mate had a van, so again, there would be no huge impact on his funds. Just the cost of a few beers to cover the fuel.

The tale of John’s house was a variation on a theme, a story so often told that it could have been boring, and maybe it was, right up until John decided it was time to decorate.

John was always going to decorate. Of all the things he could do to the house, giving it a freshen up was something he could afford and he knew it would make all the difference. After giving it a couple of months to settle in, he decided now was the best time to crack on with decorating. He wanted to do it whilst he still had the inclination to do so and he wanted to do it whilst there wasn’t all that much clutter to move out of the way. 

Borrowing as many of the tools as he could and laying out a few quid on anything else he might need. Knowing it was all in the planning and the preparation, he worked out what he needed to do and what he needed before he started with the doing. There was something rewarding in getting the approach right and he was smiling as he started to in on removing the wallpaper.

What happened next was a resounding anti-climax. John spotted a corner of the first piece of wallpaper sticking out and he pulled. He kept on pulling until the whole sheet of wallpaper came off in one go. After all his prep, all he really needed have done was grab at the offending paper and remove it. With that first sheet done, he did not move directly onto the next, instead he stood in front of the revealed patch of wall and stared. 

At himself.

For under the wallpaper was a mirror. Nonplussed, he stood there for quite some while. Standing there feeling confused and under that confusion swam something darker. The puzzle of the covered mirror was more than a mere puzzle, it was wrong. It didn’t just feel wrong, it was wrong. The mirror had been covered up and no one covered mirrors without good reason. 

Worse still, there was more mirror to uncover. John could already see this and was inexplicably reluctant to continue. He looked along the hallway wall and from what he could see, it was possible that the whole wall was mirrored glass. 

He returned his gaze to the exposed mirror. It was one sheet of glass and promised to be until it stopped at the next wall. 

If it stopped at all.

How was this even possible? He’d seen mirrored walls, but not in a small cottage like this. And those walls were usually made up of tiles. The logistics of getting the glass in the house was something that John couldn’t get his head around. 

He wasn’t sure how the next bit happened. He wanted to know, but was trying not to think about it, because when he did think about it, it seemed like his reflection took the lead and started pulling the next piece of wallpaper off. And once that process started, it was all John could do to stop at that first wall in the hallway of his house.

With a force of will he stopped at the stairs. He was sweating and he was shivering. The shivering was fear, but what of, he could not say. The limit of his articulation was this. And this was the expanse of mirror that lay to his right. The extent of the mirror was dizzying and from this angle the reflection was huge. Impossibly huge.

John staggered backwards and closed the door on that mirror. He continued staggering all the way to the kitchen where he leant over the sink and poured himself a class of cold water. He was finishing his second when he saw his gaunt and distorted reflection in the glass itself. He put it to one side. But then the metal surface of the sink and tap he was leaning over conspired against him and haunted him with twisted ghosts of himself. 

He felt sick. Launched himself into the living room and sat down heavily on the sofa, a coil of spring pushing uncomfortably back at him. He slumped further into the sofa and buried his head in his hands.

“Get a grip, John!” he hissed at himself. 

It was only a mirror! What was wrong with him? He was worn out. The house purchase had taken more out of him than he’d thought. He needed to get over the stress of that, his shiny new mortgage and the novelty of the financial burdens of house ownership. Eyeing the closed door that led onto the hallway, he decided to go to bed. He pushed himself to standing, gave up on an evening meal and instead tentatively opened the door. He closed his eyes and found the foot of the stairs with his right foot, then strode up the stairs two at a time.

He could feel that mirror behind him and its draw was too much. He wanted to look back at it, but somehow he knew that if he did, then he would go back downstairs and stand before it. He wasn’t ready for that though. He needed the rest of sleep. Sleep that would elude him for half the night and more.

In the morning he awoke with a start and groaned. He ached all over as though he’d run up a mountain and then fallen back down it. His head pulsed painfully and when he looked in the bathroom mirror he peered into a right eye filled with blood. He felt like crying at the sight of it, but held back his tears. Crying would hurt too much, and not just physically. 

Getting dressed took longer than usual. His range of movement was restricted from all of the aches and pains. He groaned some more, and as he did, he tasted copper in his mouth. Reaching into his mouth, his finger found his teeth and as he pressed down more firmly he wailed in shock and pain. His tooth was loose, but then so were its neighbours. He padded back into the bathroom and examined his now blood filled open mouth. His teeth were higgledy-piggledy around his mouth.

“This isn’t right,” he whispered to himself, leaving the bathroom and heading to the stairs.

“No!” he gasped, then he grabbed at his mouth as two of his teeth tipped out and hit first one wooden stair and then the next, playing a dull percussive and asynchronous song as they tapped their way down each and every step to the very bottom.

Now his horrified eyes were leaking, but whether with tears or blood John neither knew nor cared, because he was looking down the stairs at not one mirrored wall, but two. At some point during the night, the opposite wall had shed its wallpaper and of that wallpaper there was no sign.

Standing at the top of the stairs he looked about him as though to confirm where he was. He no longer wanted to be on this floor. He felt trapped right now and at some point he would have to go down these stairs. He had to do it now. Waiting wasn’t an option. Carefully he stepped forward. Both hands grasping the single banister in a way that reminded him of being a boy at the local swimming pool before he could swim. This felt like that too. The air solidifying and pushing against him, the pressure building as he went deeper into the house. 

The still open door of the living room offered him some form of sanctuary and respite. He leapt from the last two steps of the stairs and through the doorway not caring where he landed or how. He stumbled and fell on his back, but had the presence of mind to kick the door shut from his position on the floor. 

Laying there, eyes closed and breathing heavily he attempted to think about what to do next as he calmed from his escape of upstairs and the hallway. His next actions were obvious. He needed to get out of here. The back door was the only way out. 

He was about to sit up and head for the back door when he heard something that sounded like an ethereal voice.

Shush!

His beleaguered body went rigid. And the voice spoke again. Only there was an echo this time.

Shush! Shush!

“No!” he gasped again, “please no!”

For that was no voice. Now John knew exactly what it was, and he needed to get up and out of here before…

Shush! Shush!

Shush! Shush!

He gave forth an anguished cry that was transformed into a stifled scream as the final whispering sounds were punctuated with wallpaper flopping upon him. He acted as though scalded, the fallen paper a poison that should not touch bare flesh, and perhaps he was right. He bucked and wriggled and somehow found his feet. Looking down at the carpet and avoiding what he knew would be staring right into him and burning his very soul. Four mirrors piercing through him. 

He tried to make his way forward but each step was laboured and chaos and pain flooded his mind until he was spinning and spinning. 

Again he screamed and lunged forward. He had to get out of here. He could feel the walls closing in on him and he knew they would not stop until they had him. He was in the devil’s maw and about to be swallowed, swallowed down and expelled into a form of hell that would hold him in a state of eternal pain. A pain that built and built and never ceased to become worse with every one of his tortured heartbeats. And he could hear that heart. A taut drum beating in his ears and deafening him.

Eyes firmly shut and lunging ever forward he went through the doorway and fell to his knee. 

“Yes!” he croaked, “oh yes! Thank you!”

He didn’t know who he was thanking, but thanks must be given. He’d made it out of the room and everything was going to be OK. Everything…

The floor under his knee was cold and hard. He swallowed a tortured breath of air and reminded himself that the kitchen had a tiled floor, so this was to be expected. His body was rocking from side to side as he pulled more air in. He needed to steady himself. He did not want to collapse. Not when he was so close.

Reaching out a hand he found a wall with his palm. The wall, like the floor, was cold and hard. He was sobbing now. He knew, and knowing was undoing the last of him.

He didn’t want to, but there was only ever one way of truly knowing, so head still bowed, he opened his eyes just a little, but they shot open all the way as his brain processed the visual information provided to it. 

He was on a mirror and he could see the mirrored walls either side of him. The ceiling was yet another mirror. He was surrounded now. Back in the hall, not the kitchen after all. He looked up, not daring to believe the front door remained. But it did.

It did!

Hope surging forth he found his feet and dragged himself forward. The walls either side of him were closing in, but he knew he could make it. He was almost there. 

Then he was pushing and clawing clumsily at the door, the catch almost swallowed by the encroaching wall. But not quite. His finger caught it and pressed down and the door did not budge. Of course it didn’t. It opened inwards and now the walls held it in place and they held John in place too.

For now.

Turning around and placing his back against the door he watched as the other ends of the mirrored walls angled together and the stairs disappeared. The doorway was already gone. All there was, was the reflection of the reflection of the reflection that went on forever.

Then he felt the mirrors pushing against him and he was gone from this world and into a place where there was no escape from the eternal pain that hungrily awaited him.

November 18, 2023 18:10

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

Hazel Ide
21:21 Nov 29, 2023

I enjoyed how slowly the creep factor settled in! Thank you for sharing!

Reply

Jed Cope
12:10 Nov 30, 2023

Lovely feedback, thanks! It's good to get the pace something nearing right... build things up... Glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
20:45 Nov 18, 2023

Swallowed up by home-ownership.

Reply

Jed Cope
22:23 Nov 18, 2023

It's a crushing responsibility!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply