I couldn’t figure out what that bloody noise was.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
It wasn’t quite a screech, nor a squeak, but some strange hybrid mix of the two. And it was driving me crazy.
It had been exactly two weeks since the big move. The upheaval from the suburban life of London’s outskirts had been mostly my mother’s doing. “It’ll be good for us, Sam,” she had promised as she boxed up what little remained of our life back home.
In all honesty, I knew she had moved us for purely selfish reasons. It meant she could have her fresh start with Monty, formerly known to me as – gag – Mr. Matthews. My mother had not one musically inclined bone in her body, so there was something blisslessly ironic about her shacking up with my year nine music teacher. Man, did I regret picking up that clarinet. I mean, who did I think I was, anyway? Benny Goodman? Yeah, right.
Credit given where it’s due, my mother would never have gotten the idea to cart me off to the countryside if not for Mr. Math—er—Monty. He had been offered some swanky new job at a grammar school up North. Head of the music department, apparently. My mother was impressed but I didn’t really give two flicks of a rat’s behind. If it was such an amazing new position, why had we moved into such a hole of a house?
Each room was about four decades behind on its décor: sickly green wallpaper that displayed horrendous floral designs, the flowers gaudy and nauseating; thick velvet curtains that billowed out years’ worth of dust at the slightest of touch; horrifically patterned carpets that were threadbare in places, worn thin by moths. The place stank like damp and dust, with the strange underlying scent of wet dog.
We didn’t own a dog. I didn’t even like dogs.
I found it strange how, despite every door being scratched and worn, every silver doorknob shone so bright they practically sparkled. In fact, the house contained a lot of shiny things: large ornate mirrors with fancy intricate frames; silver-coated picture frames, far too fancy for the horrid muddy pictures they held inside; random shiny knick-knacks on display in the dining room cabinets, left by the previous owner and adopted by my mother (like the two-headed elephant ornament that was as equally ugly as it was polished). It was like the previous owner had been a magpie or something, collecting anything that sparkled and bringing it back to their nest of otherwise complete garbage. I mean they polished the elephant but never bothered to repaint the worn front door. What sense did that make?
My mother had been so excited. Secretly, she had this dream of becoming the next Beatrix Potter. She imagined living out her years in the tranquillity of the countryside as she wrote the next best seller in children’s fiction. There was only one problem with that: her stories stunk worse than the house.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
Neither Monty nor my mother believed me when I told them about the noise I could hear, sometimes in the day, most often at night. The screech like sharpened fingernails against a white-dusted chalkboard; the squeak like the polishing of the finest of silverware. According to them, I was the only one to hear it. They said I was just unsettled in the new house, that I just needed more time to get used to the place. I hated that word, “just” – like I was some naïve little child who couldn’t understand the concept of a few creaky floorboards. They thought I was making it all up to get attention. I could hear them discuss it through the paper thin walls when they thought I was asleep, how I was probably just acting up because of the move and just needed some time to adjust. I tried to convince them it was real; they told me they would believe me if I showed them where the noise was coming from. Only, I couldn’t.
I had checked everywhere – twice. I had looked in every room, every cupboard, every crevice of the shabby house I was now supposed to call home. There was nothing. It wasn’t coming from the attic, nor was it the clunky old boiler hidden away in the pantry. I had checked every window for rogue tree branches scraping against the glass. I had even checked the worn white fence in the back garden, thinking maybe a post had wormed its way loose on a night of strong winds. Other than discovering what little was left of an old field mouse that’d had an unfortunate encounter with Chester, Mrs. Norris’s cat from next door, the search had been unsuccessful. Two weeks in and the search was still unsuccessful.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
And yet, every time I was about to give up, there it would be again. I was losing sleep because of it. Every night, as I’d lie in bed, I would stay awake and plan each place I was going to search the next day. It was becoming an obsession, something to do instead of dwell on whether or not my friends were missing me back home.
Looking back on it now, I wish I’d let it go. But I hadn’t. Instead, on that night when the sound came back, I didn’t just lie in bed and plan. I went searching.
It started out quiet, a sound like someone wiping the condensation off a misted window in the distance. I stayed in bed for a few minutes and listened, duvet pulled up to my chin as I tried to build up the nerve. I was scared of the dark. I had never gone searching at night before. I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
There was no point going to Monty or my mother to ask if they could hear it this time, too. Two weeks in and they had already left me alone for the night, having taken a drive up to Scotland for some literary conference that my mother had no business attending. She had hoped to get her foot in the door, gain a little exposure and maybe even make connections with a publisher who’d be willing to help her with her latest manuscript, “A Tale of the Two Talking Tomatoes.” I had read said manuscript and, believe me, she would need all the help she could get.
I’d asked them not to go. I didn’t feel comfortable in the new house on my own. I didn’t want to be left alone and I told them that. They’d laughed. According to them, the best way for me to get over my obsession with the house would be for me to spend some time on my own in it. I disagreed. Even so, they packed their bags and said they goodbyes’, leaving me with nothing but a rising sense of resentment and a crisp twenty to order some pizza with when I got hungry. They weren’t going to be back until noon the following day. I was completely alone.
My heart beat so hard it felt as though it was about to hammer right through my ribcage as I climbed out of bed. I was fairly certain the sound was coming from the kitchen, directly under my bedroom. The old springs in my mattress pinged as they were relieved of my weight. I tiptoed over to the door and pushed it open a crack. The shiny metal hinges creaked at the movement, the sound unnerving as I stood peering out into the darkened corridor. Moonlight filtered in a fraction from the window sat at the top of the staircase. I tried to ignore the ghastly shadows it created. The human-like shadow cast from the vacuum cleaner, abandoned outside my mother’s study, almost had me scrambling back into bed.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
The unusual squeak echoed through the house. Only, this time, it didn’t sound like it was directly below me. This time it sounded like it was coming from the end of the corridor, right down at the bottom of the stairs. But that was crazy. The noise couldn’t be moving. Not unless…
The image of the mangled remains of Chester’s supper entered my mind. I found the grim memory oddly comforting enough to step out into the darkness. The field mouse – well, not that field mouse but a field mouse. What else could it have been? It made sense. It squeaked, it moved, and it was an old house in the middle of the countryside. Our village was surrounded by fields. It had probably scuttled inside to nibble on the leftover pizza in the box on the kitchen table. With any luck, maybe I could scare the little critter back outside and Chester could finish it off.
Floorboards cracked underfoot as I creeped my way down the corridor. I trailed my fingers against the wall until they hit the light switch and then click. I turned the lights on. At least, I tried to. A faint orange glow began to grow from the lightbulb overhead before it fluttered, sputtered, and puttered out to nothing. I flicked the light switch a few more times but to no avail. It was a stupid old house with stupid faulty wiring.
The squeak stopped so I stood still and listened, anticipating the scuttling of tiny claws downstairs. Instead, the house was quiet. The silence was unnerving. I considered going back to my room.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
This time it was climbing up the stairs, the distinctive squeal climbing higher and higher and higher.
I waited for the rodent to reveal itself at the top of the landing, my eyes peeled for something small, brown and furry. Nothing appeared. I took a few steps closer to the edge of the stairs and peered down into the inky darkness. The squeaks stopped again.
The sound of a harsh breath just a few feet behind me sent ice down between my shoulder blades.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
The squeak was behind me, too. And it was close.
It wasn’t a mouse. I didn’t know what it was.
I turned around on legs that felt like cooked noodles, heart invading my lungs as I suffocated on its beat. For a few seconds I didn’t notice it. Then, I did.
Etched on the window in a patch of foggy condensation were two small eyes and a long, crooked smile. A singular drop of water trailed down from the left eye. The face was crying.
With a trembling hand I reached out to wipe the face away. The glass felt strangely warm.
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
It was downstairs again, travelling from one room to the next. I desperately tried to convince myself that I was imagining things. I hadn’t been sleeping well. I was tired and hallucinating. Monty and my mother had been right all along, it was nothing.
It was travelling back up the stairs.
Another breath sounded. Another patch of condensation appeared on the glass in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. It felt like an icy hand had a grip on my throat as a strangled gargle escaped with every breath.
Hh hh hh.
It was almost like it was laughing at me, whatever it was. And then–
One dot reappeared on the glass, drawn by an invisible hand.
A second dot joined the first. Then, finally–
A long, curved line took its place under the eyes. The crooked face was back.
My feet thudded down the stairs as I raced for the front door. I ran past the large mirror hung on the wall, startled by the sight of my own reflection in the shadowed hallway. I glanced over and froze still. My reflection didn’t look half as frantic as it should. Instead, it stood calmly, eyes staring blankly back at me. Then, the lips – my lips – began to curl up at the corners. My reflection grinned at me.
It walked forwards, leaned in and breathed against the mirror’s surface, the patch of foggy breath distorting its sinister smile. Then its hand came up, finger trailing against the glass as–
Eek. Eek. Eeeek.
I – it – drew the face back through the patch of breath, distorting its features further. And, suddenly, I was stood directly in front of the mirror, too. It was my fingertip pressed up against the glass. I started, startled, and slapped my hand over my mouth to cover the grin. I moved towards the front door, stumbling over my own feet in my rush to escape. I reached out for the silver shiny doorknob, fingers clasped around it so hard my knuckles turned paper white.
It wouldn’t turn.
I tried and tried and tried but it wouldn’t budge. It was as if the mechanism had been screwed in place. I was trapped. I banged my fists against the door, hoping and praying that someone could hear me from outside. Maybe there was some plausible reason for why Mrs. Norris would be stood out in her garden during the middle of the night. That’s when I noticed the way my reflection grinned up at me from the round, gleaming doorknob.
I raced back for the stairs, hoping I could somehow outrun the nightmare. If I could only get back to my bed then maybe I could at least pretend that was what it all was – a bad dream.
Something grabbed me before I could reach the stairs. It was a hand, my hand. Only it wasn’t my hand. My reflection somehow reached out through the mirror’s surface, fingers wrapped around my arm in a vice-like grip. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
You would think one of us would have said something, made some sort of noise.
Maybe the reflection would cackle and snarl a sinister “gotcha” as it dragged me closer – it didn’t. Instead, it merely continued to grin that crooked grin as it watched me.
Maybe I would scream for help, beg for my mother as I at least tried to break free – I didn’t. There was no time.
I could only stare back in frozen terror as, within a matter of seconds, I had been dragged inside the mirror. My body slid through the mirror’s surface, glass like water against my skin. I was on the other side. I was stuck; I was trapped and alone. My reflection was gone, I was the reflection.
Now I did scream, banging my hands against the solid glass surface as I tried to break back through into my hallway. It was no use, the glass was impenetrable. I scraped my fingers against the glass, desperately trying to find a weak spot.
Eeeek. Eeek. Eeeek. Eeek.
Eeek. Eeeek. Eeek.
I couldn’t get out.
It took precisely eleven hours and twenty-two minutes for my mother to notice I was missing. She and Monty returned home at noon the next day, as promised. I watched from the mirror as the front door opened, jumped from one reflective surface to another as I followed them around the house. I tried everything to get them to notice me: yelled, screamed, cried, scratched, screeched, kicked and punched. Nothing worked; they had no clue I was there. All I could do was watch on from my shiny prison.
Every mirror, every pane of glass, even the spout of the kitchen sink if I could bear the drip… drip… drip of the leaky pipes for long enough.
That was where I was when I witnessed the phone call my mother made to the police. She was crying. I was, too, not that she’d ever know. Still, I tried to comfort her. Day after day, night after night, I’d call out to her. I called out from the window in her bedroom as she sobbed herself to sleep, screamed from the shiny surface of the toaster as she made breakfast for Monty before he left for work, hollered from that stupid ugly elephant in the dining room cabinet as they prayed each night before supper for me to come home safe. Nothing ever worked.
Days became weeks. Weeks became months. Months became years.
I had no choice but to watch my mother grow old and grey from the confinements of the tiny, shiny trinket box on her dressing table. I couldn’t comfort her when Monty announced he was leaving, trapped in the glass vase in front of the fireplace. He couldn’t handle her grief, apparently. She was alone, then, too.
I would watch as Chester occasionally hopped in through the kitchen window and curled up next to her on the sofa. I watched as she would write her stories, stories that would never go on to be published. And, eventually, I watched her get sick.
I could only stare on from the mirror in the hallway as the paramedics arrived to take her away. She never came back.
A new family moved in, then another, and another. The house was redecorated, walls repainted and carpets ripped out. The old boiler was replaced, my mother’s study turned to a nursery and yet, still, I remained.
To this day, I don’t know exactly what happened that night, what that thing was or how I ended up like this. But I do know this:
If you ever happen to move into a random house in the countryside, and if you happen to hear that noise (an unexplainable hybrid squeak-screech in the distance that you can’t quite place) do not try and find it. Ignore it. Do what I should have done on that dreadful night, all those years ago. Accept it as nothing more than the whisperings of an old house and leave it alone – because that noise is me. And, if you come searching, it might just become you, too.