Fear.

F

This story is actually a follow up to a series I started in A to Z last year. You can read it on its own but if you’d like to read the other two first, the links are below.

Elevator.

Party.

I hope you enjoy the first and second parts, this is part three.

– – –

 

Its laugh repeats in my head, whatever I try to stop it doesn’t work. It feels like ‘it’ is everywhere, waiting.

I see a door in the distance, the only light to be seen. Running for exit I hear the laugh close behind, a breath brushes the back of my neck. Adrenaline flushes through my entire body and I fling myself through the door into the light.

Mirrors…everywhere.

My worst nightmare come to life, countless images of myself once again, all as scared as I am at making eye contact as they reflect my own movements. They’re searching for the odd one out, as I am, I know it’s outside. It was behind me and I didn’t see it come in. I begin to move slowly through the halls of reflection, studying each and every mirror as they copy my movements as normal.

But then again, what is normal anymore?

I need to get out of this place, wherever it is. Corner after corner, one long drawn out corridor after another and I feel like I’m getting nowhere. It’s only a matter of time before one of these images decides to move of its own free will. Because when that happens…

Wanting to make sure, a definitive answer, I stand still. Where I am now I can see six mirrors all pointing towards me. Surely standing still for long enough will bore whatever this ‘thing’ is into moving. It wouldn’t resist the chance to leap toward me for ultimate shock value.

Minutes pass.

Nothing.

The sound of glass straining breaks the silence once more, as it has done countless times before now. A mirror begins to buckle, the centre point of the cracks distorts my face into a kaleidoscope of eyes and mouths staring back at me.

I hear the laugh, it’s here.

As if slow before, I find yet more speed in me as I weave through countless twists and turns. Slowly getting louder and more menacing, each mirror now expands to reveal infinite reflections of me stretching off into the nonexistent distance.

I burst into a room bigger than any previous, the walls. Floor and ceiling all blacked out, if not for the spotlit mirror shining my image back onto me I’d struggle to make any sort of movements due to pitch black darkness.

This is it, I approach the mirror, ready to accept my fate. Facing it, not making any effort to hide the tears streaming down my face, the reflection in front of me begins to laugh that bellowing roar of a laugh. I can hear the other reflections in the maze behind me laughing to, all of them taunting me, trying to get me to move.

I watch the reflection in front of me step back, forward again, raise a hand to the glass and make contact. Only this time something is different, something is wrong.

The hand passes through the glass.

Exposure.

EThe following record is the only information recovered regarding the sudden and tragic disappearance of world-renowned explorer, Nicholas Burton. Pioneer in the discovery of several rare species, he has helped catalogue an invaluable percentage of the known wildlife in the extremely isolated areas of the world.

Habitually writing every single experience down, he was famously noted to have had several diaries and journals weighing down his bags as he had ‘base books’, books which did not leave camp, and ‘travel journals’, those which he took with him.

These excerpts are the most relevant to Nicholas’ disappearance, taken from his most recent, and regrettably last, ‘travel journal’.

– July 24th 2010, 11:46-

Having left camp several hours ago, I have stumbled across a cave of considerable size and unknown depth. Dropping stones in large caverns, some took over 15 seconds to send back echo of contact, and some didn’t make any echo at all. There are natural tunnels however, hoping to explore once water and torches replenished.

-15:35-

Having potholed briefly, approximately 40 minutes, I have located a larger network of caves deeper down, some intimidating in size with large open spaces to traverse. Intriguingly, however, impressive mounds of animal remains are scattered around the floor of the largest caverns. Potential discovery imminent.

-19:21-

Confirmed UCD, unidentified cave dweller, not sure why I coined the acronym, it amused me at the time. A beast, assuming quite large although hard to identify as I shall explain, crawled around the lower caves unaware of my presence, easy to avoid. On attempting to shine a light on the situation, apologies once again, puns help the isolation, the creature screamed and fled. Only development: scales. A scaled creature, potentially some sort of lizard, dwells in the deeper sections of the natural structures beneath my feet. The caves potentially span miles from the looks of it. Will investigate further tomorrow.

-July 26th 2010,12:11-

Unfortunate to have had no luck yesterday, a brief encounter with creature occurred mere minutes ago, closer to the surface. Still pitch black however, had to dull the torch as photosensitivity is now obvious. Creature seems to sense nearby surroundings through flashing a bioluminescence located on head. In a flash it calculates the current situation and re-evaluates movements based on the primitive picture its painted with its natural light. Never seen anything like this before, must investigate.

-18:46-

Close encounter.

Found myself in the range of a flash and the victim to a charge. I’m left to assume this creature preys on the defenceless and disoriented that have stumbled unwittingly into the cave. Running from its gnashing maw, I escaped narrowly while the thing, recoiling from the flashing canopy above, skulked back into its expansive lair.

-19:02-

Having returned to camp after collection of thoughts on the subject, since realised the lack of a travel journal. Must have dropped it in the rush for the surface. Must return to retrieve at first opportunity tomorrow.

-July 27th 2010, 10:29-

Cannot find lost journal. Must have been kicked and moved in the scuffle. Will replenish supplies and search further later today.

-17:12-

Frustrated at loss of valuable research notes, will recommence search tomorrow.

Heartened greatly by descriptive study of creature. Dulling the torch through cloth was able to paint a rough picture of the beast peaking my interest.

Scales protruding from every visible part of its body, seeming to react appropriately to the surroundings as taken in through the flashes, they flare having sensed a threat or a disturbance creating an intimidating coat of spiked barbs, and smoothing when calm for ease of movement. Taking care to evade these sensual sparks of direction from its front end. I was able to study from the side. Rows of sharp, long teeth protrude from its mouth much like the sabretooth’s did in prehistoric times, only less guerish and more frightening. Eyes are non-existent, probably due to adjustments to the environment over time, it’s clear this species has been an inhabitant of those caves for an inconceivable period of time.

-July 29th 2010, 20:58-

Ambush.

These creatures are intelligent, more so than I first thought.

Having found my lost journal in the depths of a cavernous opening in the cave systems, I found myself overcome with a barrage of flashes not so dissimilar to the hounding of paparazzi back in civilisation.

They were all over the walls.

Having been seen, undoubtedly, by at least 15 of these beasts, I ran for the exit where I remembered it to be. Documenting this in fear of it being my last entry, I find myself in a cramped system of caves, previously unexplored, under constant pursu….

-End of journal-

The journal, along with the rest of his belongings were retrieved from the caves by the search team after not hearing from Nicholas for a considerable period of time. Preferring to work alone, the team took several weeks to locate his belongings in the cave through study of tracks left in the dust and animal remains.

The loss is tragic to not only us, his close work colleagues and family, but to the world for the work he has done in identifying countless species previously unseen.

The creatures discussed in his last notes were never located.

Darkling.

DI first noticed a difference in Sara a week ago when I visited her in her office late one night. The main offices were in darkness and the only faint light beckoning was a small standalone lamp in her own office. Locked for privacy, not that she would have been disturbed, the building was dead.

On knocking the door, I heard a quick click of the lock and the door swung open, buffeting her preened shoulder-length brunette hair behind her as if to emphasise her distaste in being disturbed.

“What?” Immediately I knew she was pissed I’d came. She held the door open and ushered me in with a swing of her arm and a dopey face to indicate I took too long staring at her. I sat down in front of her desk while she swept behind it, she didn’t sit down. The lamp she faced cast a long, darkened shadow trailing behind her, stretching from the floor to the ceiling as it hit the wall.

The shape didn’t look quite right though, the light must have distorted her dimensions. Her arms, as she moved them in front of me, looked twice as long on the wall and with extreme points over her joints. Her shoulders jutted out from her petite frame and her fingers looked long and spider-like.

She ranted and raved about how stressed she was, I can’t remember a word she said because of the spectacle behind her. That shadow was hypnotizing. The figure behind her was morphing as she screamed, becoming more and more demonic with every venomous word spilling out of her mouth. With a final roar she ordered me to leave and so I departed swiftly, she definitely was not in the social mood.

The only reason I find myself thinking back to that weird night is because I’m looking at her again from a distance and it’s worse now. We’re at a charity benefit that has attracted a lot of media attention. Sara’s business is responsible for hosting all of this, celebs from several circles are even aligning themselves with the good press it has generated and so it’s escalated into a red carpet event. Being the woman of the hour, the paparazzi beg for her photo and she obliges, noticeably hesitant.

Watching her get her picture taken is horrifying, the flashes are blinding yet I find myself not looking at her or the cameras, but the grotesque shadow cast from an unknown light source. As if it had a life of its own it remains stuck in place behind her while the cameras flash and create their own snaps of shadow.

Noticeably deformed, this image of horror behind her slithers along the floor, everyone else mistaking it for her dress. I, however, unwittingly knew what I was looking for. Skeletal and equipped with long talons, the mockery of my best friend would easily tower over her by several feet if it stood upright.

The night went on, I cast the image from my mind for the sake of the good cause we were supporting. The champagne was flowing as easily as the conversation and everyone had a fantastic night. Up until the presentation of a cheque to the charity’s founder. Having gained ‘backstage’ access through knowing the focus of the attention, Sara grabbed my arm and dragged me into a back room for a pep talk before going on stage.

At least that’s all I thought she wanted.

On closing the door behind her, she turns to me and says:

“Observant, aren’t you?”

I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about initially, then I see the shadow grow behind her and engulf the corner behind her, floor to ceiling like last week. She replies to my silence with:

“I guess I can show you what I’ll do to every other sorry human that sticks their nose where it isn’t wanted.”

Her voice has deepened and gained a rasp, sending prickled shivers down my spine in fright. Grabbing my wrist and lifting it, I try to pull away and she pulls me close. Voice now alien to me, this isn’t Sara.

“If I knew you wanted a fight, I would have brought the right tools for the job.”

Pushing me back, I stumble and fall against several stacks of spare chairs. My dress catches in between the stacks and I try to pull it out all the while maintaining eye contact with the creature before me.

The shadow had spread well past reasonable boundaries, swallowing half of the room behind its host, a black so absolute I felt a draught coming from its depths. The form had now grown horns, wings and a tail. Screaming for help, I make no progress with my dress and Sara steps towards me.

Grabbing my chin, the puppet I call my friend slaps me with her other hand and pain blazes through my cheek. I see the blood drip down over my dress and she laughs. Searing agony spreads across my face and travels down my body as I slide to the floor in shock. Standing over me, she pulls my hair and ties it in a knot to the chairs behind me.

“That should keep you busy. Now, keep quiet, I have good deeds to do.”

With a click of her shadowy talons, the room is plunged into a cold darkness and I hear the door slam behind her, echoing like it were miles away. Screaming and crying, I try pulling at my hair, it doesn’t budge at all. I’m bound to these chairs without a hope of untying them, that thing tied it well. I can’t see a thing, she didn’t just turn the lights off she robbed the room of light.

I hear something.

A clacking, clattering noise; followed by a long sinister hiss.

I’m not alone.

Castle.

CAlone in the ruins of the castle, at least for now, Princess Eleanor (or Elle, as she prefers) stands peering out of a breach in the stonework which had since been blasted open in the wars of the previous years. The hole in the wall threw a welcoming embrace to all forms of weathering. Waist-high at its lowest point, it ascended the crumbling wall and spanned a large part of the ceiling, exposing it to the dark twilight morning outside. Mother nature had wreaked havoc on the room, the highest point in the castle, followed by another tower noticeably smaller, each with a doorway facing each other. She remembered the bridge that had once connected the two, wooden and rickety, she missed its whines for relief.

Noticing a commotion coming from the wood in the distance, Elle watches the imperial guard burst through the trees in swift synchronisation, the king following close behind. It would only be a matter of time before she was reunited with her father and he would accompany her back to her chambers in their own castle.

Except this castle was their castle, now only her castle. Elle was the only one to remain attached to the tattered strips of cloth and smashed remnants of wealth strewn about the draughty halls. It was in this room she watched her mother die, shot by an invading solider from across the battlements years ago. It was here she always returned, to mourn and to escape her smotheringly-absent father. His ignorance of her need for a father figure hadn’t been lost on Elle, she quickly realised when she was born she only had one loving parental figure, her mother.

And she was gone.

Patting her dress down, it trailed on the floor without its pompous underwires and frame keeping it aloft. The bottom seams were filthy and she enjoyed the thought of her father seeing the state she was in and expressing his obvious disappointment. She liked it when he was disappointed, his expectations deserved no more than what she gave to fuel them: nothing.

The advancing soldiers clattered into the courtyard and reigned in their horses as the curious beasts of the brigade recognised the loosely familiar surroundings. Calmed by the memory, they knew they were safe. The King, however, was furious to have returned. Commanding his men to storm the tower and retrieve his daughter, he insisted on waiting in the courtyard with his closest comrades. Staring at the face of his regrets and lost futures, he hated it here, the memories haunted his thoughts.

As the soldiers battered on the door from the outside, Elle closed her eyes and wished hard, she always believed those who died never really left, and she asked just this once that they prove it to her. On opening her eyes she was met with a faint light growing from the moon, gazing down onto her and her request. With a tiny flash, the holes in the ceiling and walls closed over in a light resembling the constellations in the night sky. Feeling the newly replaced defenses from the outside, she could feel the sturdy craftsmanship of the moon above.

Knocking on the door, Elle could no longer hear the soldiers outside. With a gentle push it swung open without a sound except for the tinkling of magic surrounding the tower. Veins of reinforced starlight filled in all the gaps, the holes, the weaknesses. She padded down the stairs, lifting her dress over her careful tread so as not to fall, she came to the doorway which once held the wooden bridge and saw its successor. An impressive shining construction now connected the towers, twinkling in the breeze as the princess took her first step onto the gleam of the celestial body above, she held onto the side and a figure stepped out of the doorway on the tower opposite.

It was her mother, shining and glorious, an absolute vision.

Raising a hand, Elle’s mother said only “come” and her daughter began to cross the bridge without hesitation.

The King, however, witnessing his daughter step out of the doorway above into nothingness screamed her name and dismounted his horse in terror for her life.

Hearing the commotion, Elle glanced downwards to make eye contact with her father and stopped to breathe in the purity she felt surrounding her. Utter clarity seemed to flood her mind and she replied with

“Father, look, it’s mother! She’s here!”

Looking over at her mother again, standing in the threshold of the other tower, she had now angled her gaze to the courtyard, taking in the sight of the man she once knew and loved.

And she burst into flames, screaming.

The princess, frightened for her mother’s life for a second time, took a tentative step towards her and recoiled in the blinding heat. Now catching onto the bridge, the starlit constructions quickly disappeared and the King watched as his daughter fell towards the courtyard.

Feeling the rush of air freeze her cheeks and send her mousey blonde hair whipping upwards, tears flew towards the towers as Elle knew this was how it was meant to be. She was going to be with her mother again.

The King, running to try and catch his daughter screams for help, resulting in nothing as fast as his daughter is descending.

With a scream shattering the magic, princess and parent are reunited.

Breath.

BLooking over the lavish ballroom beneath, Anna darts across the first floor balcony, noting the darkened gloom that appears like it once held such happiness. Hand swiftly flying over the worn, cracked barrier for mere thoughts of support, she doesn’t dare look back at the blackened beast of shadow silently following suit. Hearing it’s grumblings behind her she makes it to the doors leading to the stairs and collides with them full force. Trembling and shook from the impact she lashes her hand out for the ornate handle and slips through the minuscule gap she has time to create.

The beast collides with the door as Anna did, only she now barricades the door from the other side with her entire being, the only thing she had to hand, and listens to the frustration coming from the faint shapes of hooves underneath the door. With countless gruff roars, the beast surrenders and skulks back to wherever it came from within the mansion. Anna is safe.

The silence begins to overwhelm her as her panting for air becomes painfully obvious. Slumping against the door, she lifts her gaze upwards to the remainder of the corridor before the stairs and is once again reminded of the ruin she currently finds herself in. Tattered wallpaper, with a glint of beauty still desperately clinging to its strips as it limps down off the walls, revealing the rotting shell of the house beneath. The wooden floorboards, smashed and creaking under the shifting pressures put on them from the harshness outside; a harshness Anna cannot wait to burst forth into, and out of this hellhole of a building. The carpet hides a multitude of sins, especially in terms of this floor, so pre-emptively she grips the corner of the long runner carpet and flips it over, revealing a large gaping hole a few feet ahead, cradling a blackness inside that she only watches for a brief moment before turning away and hoping it remains only black.

Gathering the shreds of nerve she has left and with help from the door handles that served her so very well previous to now, she stands upright and skirts around the newly discovered bowels of the house, not wanting to descend further into the madness of the night. Hearing a loud creak and a crunch, the floor begins to dip beneath her and she jumps for the banister on the stairs.

The floor reverts to its lie of stability and she clings to the banister like a long-lost sibling, or family pet, she hasn’t decided which. Setting foot onto the first smooth marble step, she gains confidence in its weight and sturdy appearance, not making a sound except for the reassuring tread of her shoe on the dusty surface.

Having calmed considerably from the previous few minutes, Anna has now steadied her grip on the banister as she makes her way down the stairs which connect from the first floor on both sides of the house to then sweep down into a flatter interval and then continue down into the expansive ballroom, yawning with the light of the moon peering through thin french bay windows.

“Cross the ballroom, rush the windows” she whispers to herself as she flows down the remaining steps to the mid-way floor which connects both staircases into one, she pauses between both flights and listens. Nothing will stop her between where she stands presently and those windows, nothing. Determination fuels a tight grip on the banister as the moonlight beckons.

The ballroom isn’t empty, she notes mentally; Centered is a statue of indistinguishable human form, due to the darkness. As this very thought enters her mind a bright flash causes her to flick her face away and recover. Adjusting to the barrage of brightened surroundings, the faded gold accents covering the room gleam with bated shimmer and the blood-red curtains flowing from ceiling to floor on Anna’s left side look at their fallen comrades on the right, mourning their failure at remaining upright.

Looking upwards towards the ceiling, over a dozen meticulously carved cherubs gaze down at the statue, now menacingly lit from beneath by an impressive chandelier, twinkling with expectation. Bows drawn, if they weren’t statues Anna would have mistaken them for living, breathing creatures. The distinguishing feature of their inanimate nature being the loss of crumbling limb, some missing arms, legs, wings. Anna notices them dotted around the room, some smashed on impact, some remaining intact.

Eyes fully adjusted now, Anna pays attention to the figure presented to her. Perfectly illuminated from above to accentuate the love and care given to its creation, a polished white marble ballerina stands atop a plinth given only to a thing of beauty such as this. Skirt fanning outwards, with one leg extended at a perfect right angle to the floor and arms outstretched in an everlasting invitation for attention, the image of absolute grace makes Anna forget she’s ever been in danger even once before in her life. Appreciating the statue, she sighs.

And it gasps.

Arms curling inwards towards its chest, leg falling slightly and skirt losing it’s lift as Anna’s sigh is quickly retracted in shock, the statue freezes once more.

It’s alive.

Well, arguably.

Holding her need for air in, Anna quickly descends the remaining staircase and dashes for the patio doors, overlooking the overgrown gardens outside.

A heavy burn and pulse clouds her perception of the room as the need for air takes over. Making contact with the glass of the doors she exhales heavily and pulls them open, feeling a searing agony rip through her right shoulder.

Glancing downwards, an arrow protrudes proudly from her. Casting her gaze upwards, the cherubs have drawn their attention to the patio doors and the intruder opening them to escape. The statue on the ballroom floor now poised for a leap from her plinth.

I’m not dying here. She panics to herself, internally.

And turns to run down the patio steps, now holding the gulp she took at the door.

Aftermath.

AI open my eyes to a throbbing burn in the back of my head, whatever happened, it wasn’t good. Lifting a hand to the pain, there doesn’t look to be any blood, so at least I’m not bleeding to death.

I realise I’m lying on the cold kitchen floor, the house isn’t making a sound, complete silence. Holding onto the counter next to the sink, I lift myself up. Feeling the rush of standing upright, I hold on with both hands and let the dizziness fade. Vision blurs and the sound of blood passing through my head fills my senses for some time. The burn fades, as does the sound of life from within and my vision focuses on the garden outside.

A sheet of grey has covered everything visible, outside. Snow, maybe? Still no sounds coming from the rest of the house, or outside for that matter. I go from room to room, calling out for anyone to answer. I notice the snow has begun to fall once again outside, as it must have before I woke up.

I open the front door and feel a warm embrace of air from outside, this isn’t right. Warm snow? Kneeling at the front porch I touch the grey and it crumbles under my hand.

Ash, and it’s falling more now, settling into piles around my feet.

I take a few cautious steps into the fluttering curtains of low visibility and the piles around my feet kick up into larger clouds. I twist and tuck my hair into my jumper to keep it from the peculiar weather, holding the sleeve up to my face so I can breathe without inhaling any of it.

Thinking logically, if I can’t see anyone in my neighbourhood, surely there should be someone in the centre of town. So I begin my walk, it’s a short distance, only taking a few minutes. The ash is falling harder now, and even with a slow breeze brushing against my exposed cheeks and forehead.

Breathing through the jumper has quickly became more than essential as the ash is so thick I have to hold my other hand out and really squint to see even a small distance ahead of me. Eventually I stumble against a small wall of stone, smooth and cold despite the heavy warmth lingering over the town.

I’ve reached the fountain, meaning I must be in the middle of the town square. I’ve made it to the centre and still nothing or nobody, nothing makes a sound except the crunch underfoot.

That’s odd.

Kneeling next to the fountain, holding it with one hand for support, falling into this ash would be a bad idea, it’s nearly knee height now. I reach a hand down and my hand makes contact with something pointed, harder than ash should be. I grab whatever it is and lift it up closer to see, it’s a crystalline structure, reflecting what little light is coming from above.

A wind picks up and blows a large volume of the collected ash from behind and a steady whirlwind forms a distance away, clearing the nearby area and revealing a dead town square, and crystal formations all over the ground. They must be forming as the ash falls, revealed in the brief moment of clarity from the blankets of soot surrounding them.

The whirlwind subsides in gradual stages and within the walls of ash is revealed a larger structure. Flashing dull moments of light from above its clear that the crystals aren’t simply random, they’re purposeful.

Before me, a small number of feet away I see a clear silhouette of jagged legs, a torso and slowly forming arms, ending in long sharp fingerlike shapes. The sight of this creature rushes to my head and like before I have to hold onto something for support. Stepping back towards the fountain I grip with one hand and breathe through the jumper, as the ash gathers in front of me.

Through the smog, I can see the creation of the creature has accelerated even as I turned away only briefly. The hardened figure has wrapped itself in the ash falling around it and is now a softened form, compared to the craggy sharpened skeleton inside. With no distinguishable head or neck, just a large bump resting on its shoulders, it opens into one big jaw and screams a most deafening scream.

Whatever it was, the creature in front of me is what happened to the town.

My grip on the fountain quickly changes to a push and I’m running in the opposite direction, now consciously aware that the crunch coming from the ground is the birth of even more of those things. Screaming is useless, there is nobody to hear.

I am all that is left.

Another guttural scream sends a sharp pain through my head and the ash around me stops, suspended in mid-air the ash defies the very forces pulling it to the ground and everything is visible. I see the creature now, crystal clear.

It moves for the first time, the sound is similar to stone grinding against glass, scraping and scratching as, no doubt, the joints I just saw form have never moved before. The movement is clear and defined, it now faces me. With a decided determination and a puff of ash…

…it charges.

 

– – –

 

So that was my first A to Z post for the month of April. It’s exciting to be writing and publishing my ideas again and at this point that seems to be all they are, ideas.

Throughout the month of April, as I post a new piece every day corresponding with the next letter in the alphabet (so tomorrow will be B) I hope to improve as I did last year.

Thanks for reading.

Party.

Lily got in her car, flipping down the visor to check her mascara. She quickly batted it back up, realising it was yet another mirror she had to avoid. Safe to say, she avoided them since whatever ‘that’ was at work the week before.

The entire experience replayed over and over in her head, the drive to her old friend Ash’s apartment was no different. Reflections of herself were everywhere. Faintly in the window of her car door, in the windows of the other cars, even in her phone screen before she unlocked it.

Every visible reflection of herself brought back the memory of the ‘thing’ in the elevator, and it’s desire to break through. Even reflections she couldn’t see properly, but those she knew were there. The rain pouring into her car for example, the patter of little prismatic reflections shattering on her windscreen, all images of herself. Watching, waiting, anticipating her next move.

This was the first time Lily had gone out for anything other than work after the ‘incident.’ That’s what she called it in her head, something that wouldn’t immediately remind her of the waving monster in her peripherals. Safe to say, she took the stairs in work from then on.

“C’mon Lil’, it’s been weeks since I’ve seen you! You have to come over to my publication announcement, it’s important!” Lily couldn’t say no, she and Ash had been close ever since her mother passed away and he was there for her. He’d show up with food, he’d stay however long he needed and not think twice about it. She couldn’t let him down, not for something that meant so much to him.

So, she’d found a dark navy dress that hugged her figure perfectly. With a cascade of crystals dispersing from the bodice down towards the floor, back exposed, heels on, she put on a brave face and crossed her front door for the first time in what felt like forever.

Arriving slightly late, she pulled up into the drive of Ash’s building, a modern apartment block in a great part of the city. He was the envy of all Lily’s friends, they’d been bugging her for years to get settled in with him and get even closer “if you know what I mean” they’d say. Truth is, she wasn’t interested and neither was he, she knew that.

Taking note of the conscious decision to use the stairs, again, she began her slow ascent. Floor upon floor of stylish lobbies and welcoming entrances all beckoning her in for ultimate comfort and class. Luckily for her, at the top of this building there was an open door with an actual invitation inside.

She felt like she fell into the apartment in the end. Feeling flustered, she wasn’t the only one taking note of the state she was in.

“My god, Lils, are you alright?-” Ash saw it right off, her face was red and her hair wasn’t as tidy as he knew she preferred “-did you take the stairs? You know there’s a perfectly working lift, right there?” He pointed to it down the hall as if to prove his point.

“Ha ha, yes, very funny you bastard, I’m a mess. Can’t help putting a little effort into looking good for the red carpets you’ll obviously be taking me along to, once you collect all your bestsel-”

In a hushed voice, Ash cut in “-please, L, I haven’t even given everyone a drink yet, never mind told them all the big news.”

They quickly resolved the drinks issue among the rest of the guests, and everyone got comfortable into a night of light conversation and the mandatory publication world chatter. All of which bored Lily, she was really only here for Ash’s benefit.

She loved Ash’s place, it was decorated perfectly and, while much more than she could afford, it was tasteful. Off-white walls gave a clean warmth to the place while casually dotted with works of simplistic modern art. The second floor stopped at a balcony overlooking the living area which opened it up brilliantly and the whole apartment looked over city through expansive windows, it was gorgeous.

A polished grand piano stood proud as the centrepiece of the room tonight, usually off to the side, Ash wanted to impress his business associates and show off that he wasn’t just a writer. The porcelain keys faced the window, Ash never liked to see himself reflected as he was playing, it distracted him.

Gradually, the rest of the city went to sleep and the party was booming. The windows now threw back a wonderful show of the party going on inside as outside no longer shone bright, the night was pitch black.

With the clinking of glasses, Ash raised his own and called for a toast to his book’s success, and success to come. As he spoke, however, Lily felt a brief draught that caught her back. Sending a chill down her spine, she tried to ignore it and concentrate on what Ash was saying.

A light from the kitchen flickered faintly. ‘Electricians’ she thought, always working on the building at the worst times.

Then the light went completely haywire and flickered on and off, she seemed to be the only one noticing it through. She looked over at it briefly, and on turning back she saw that everyone had disappeared.

She was alone, accompanied only by the struggle of the lightbulb which had taken her attention only for a split second.

The striking of a high note on the piano shattered the silence. Seeing the room was still empty, she approached the piano slowly.

Another key was struck and the chill went through her again, she was alone, definitely alone. She turned to the flickering light again and then back to the piano.

She studied the keys and a movement from the window caught her eye. There it was, her reflection was sitting at the piano, pale back exposed to the window, crystals twinkling back at her.

Dropping her wine glass and sending a violent crash of red across the white rug she screamed

“No! This cannot be happening again.” Another high pitched note struck on the keys and the reality of it struck her even harder. There it was again, in the window.

Then it spoke.

“I love this dress. It’s very…me.” Lily studied the reflection at the piano, looking back at the real one to make sure it wasn’t there in real life. The occasional high note had now escalated into clusters of sharp times as a hand glided over the keys playfully.

“Why are you here? What do you want with me?” On asking these questions, the reflection it’s hovered a hand over the keys and paused. The silence was deafening once again.

“I’m here for you, of course. I thought we’d established this, Lily.” Hearing it say her name felt wrong, completely wrong. Her skin crawled as she watched the reflection strike more notes. The irregular piercing tones quivered throughout the apartment as each cluster reverberated throughout the emptiness.

“The question is, how?” A demonic laugh escaped the reflection and surrounded Lily. The high pitched tones began again, escalating into violent jabs at the keys, violent jabs at her sanity. The laughing calmed and nothing was said for a short while.

Lily approached the window, staring at the reflection still with it’s back to her, she cleared her throat and tried to sound confident.

“Whatever you are, and whatever you’re trying to do, I’m not scared.”

It laughed in that unnaturally low tone again. The lights flickered once more and Lily turned to them in surprise. Turning back to the piano she screamed and fell backwards onto the rug.

It was right at the glass, tapping lightly.

Now able to see it’s face, Lily felt that horrible sick feeling rise to her throat, choking her in her own fear. It’s pupils were now indistinguishable from the rest of it’s eyes, blood had poured from them and crusted down it’s face and neck, right down into the dress.

Tap.

“I think you’re pretty scared, Lils.”

Tap.

“Actually, I think you’re terrified.”

Tap.

The glass began to crack where it was making contact, spreading thin lines across the entire window, splintering the image of the reflection.

“What might happen if I break through, you ask?” It took a few steps back, Lily’s heels clicking against the dark wooden floor.

“Let’s see, shall we?” It ran at the glass, face first.

Shielding her own face, Lily screamed as she heard the window shatter and the lights flickered again.

“Lils, oh my god, why happened? Are you ok? You’re bleeding.” Several gasps from the party guests alerted Lily that they had returned, and the reflection was gone.

Looking up, she saw the window was fine, the lights were working perfectly and everyone was now looking at her. She’d landed on the glass from the wine she dropped earlier. Ash helped her up, one of the guests had fetched towels and they took to picking out the shards.

Wincing, Lily could finally focus on herself. Broken glass was lodged right the way up the arm she’d raised to shield her face, and more had shredded her dress from the bodice right the way down one leg.

What everyone was really puzzled at, though, was the clean papercut-thin slice across one cheek. On noticing this, Lily caught a movement in the window again and saw her reflection sitting in the same position as she was.

Only it was winking and laughing that deep demonic laugh once again.