Here is a short story, which will feature in the upcoming compilation Faces in the Dark: A Short Compilation of Paranoid Horror.
This story is more of the sad and haunted kind of darkness rather than the grotesque kind of horror. I hope you like it!
It was between Hallowe’en and the advent of Christmas, that half-haunted and melancholic time of year when spirits and ghasts one by one went to their slumber in the hidden places. I had spent the night drinking and smoking with a friend, and now in the small hours I set off on the pale roads to home.
From the first steps, as the chill night closed its web around me, I knew this was no ordinary walk. I was there for a snapshot of rare world, a world in undress that was intended for no human eyes. The ground crunched under my feet as I turned out of the estate and onto a main road.
Cars lined the street in an endless procession of tombstones. Each appearing to me some frozen sentinel cold and implacable. The roads and the land betrayed no movement. Each grave of a car standing as testimony to the desertion or extinction of the human race. I would say that never before had I felt so alone, and yet this was not true, for I was shepherded by the world, and roused those spirits not yet asleep, or woken by my heavy footfall. Unseen eyes opened in slits to see my passing.
There was an almost unbearable, and yet beautiful, sadness throughout. Here was the world stripped bare, skeletal in form, and I privy to these emotions that were at all other times impossibly guarded. I could feel them leaking, the last few leaves on the branches dripping like tears, the railings shivering in quiet failure, desperate to cease their never-ending point to the heavens, waiting to leave my sight so they could collapse.in solitude.
My own tears sprang to my eyes as I beheld all that had been hidden, and at such longstanding pains. I ran a gloved hand over the window of one of the dead cars, preparing myself for something terrible within; a rotting ghoul perhaps, or a bristling werewolf. As the ice swept away I only saw a hollow, an emptiness like deep space that echoed that within my chest, and I sank away and continued on.
I did not really want to see such horrible phantasms, to fright myself to death on this eerie walk. But, somehow, the nothingness was always worse.
I crossed a bridge and looked out on the black glass of the canal. Willow trees hung over the banks, their ends wilfully drowning. I pictured huge crocodiles under that still surface, and then Lovecraftian monstrosities. At any moment their heads and tentacles could break the waters and rear up to me, gnashing and flailing . . . but the moment passed, and all other moments, and the water remained as it was, all such secrets kept too deep for mortal knowledge.
The bridge and canal was lost to the turns of my route. Houses passed on the side, every one lightless, each street a cemetery. Humanity’s gaze had ceased to rest on this town, perhaps everywhere, and there were not even other animals to make sound or sight. If there was life anywhere it was only in the drift of ghosts and their haunts, coming to rest now that humanity and its noisy wildlife had been finally scared to death. I knew then, as my footsteps echoed in the silence and my breath fogged out like bonedust, what it would be like to be the last person alive.
It was while I was thinking thus that a figure came upon me, and we both kept our faces to the ground, saying not a word in greeting or parting. For nights as this belong to each of us alone, and it must be alone, for on such nights nobody is entirely human. The thoughts and moods in the air are not to be shared, except from the earth’s whisperings to our individual soul.
The figure left, and it was as though it had never appeared; and perhaps it never had, and I had imagined it as I imagine so much else.
I looked up as I walked. In the ghost-black, almost translucent sky was a pinhole moon, something stabbed through from beyond. I peered at it and through it I sensed a bright hospital room, crowded with doctors unnaturally long of limb and face, who called out to me for my birth.
Push through, they said. Come on through.
I will, I replied.
I came upon the road leading up to my flat, passing the glow of traffic lights that changed for no-one. On the path was a telephone box, and I wondered how many years had come and gone without its use. It emanated a wispy, amber light, that gathered as if in currents, and I wanted to believe that it was a hostel for travelling spirits, readying for the next fly-through in the cold, and yet as I passed it seemed occult with melancholy, and I almost heard the plaintive calls that were sirens to my heart.
On the last stretch to my home I felt the rising and familiar urge to stop dead. I knew if I did so I would not move again. But no matter the strength of the feeling, my body would keep on even while my mind rebelled, for my body was as much on autopilot as it has been since my beginning. I would take the same route, the same steps, think the same thoughts in the same order and say the same words to every person I met no matter if I’d turned back time a hundred times.
If I stopped then the sun would rise on my statue. People would try to talk to me, and there would be no answer. The police would try to move me, and they would fail. Days, weeks, and eventually years would crawl by, and people would become long used to this immovable form, as though I were a lamppost or a park bench. Kids would throw things, and drunk men would piss on my feet.
A little girl, on a day trip, would tug at her mother’s sleeve and whisper, curious and biting her lip. ‘Why is he standing there?’
The mother would look up and say, as the residents bustling around them smiled and shook their heads, ‘Why don’t you ask him?’
The little girl would hesitantly come up to me, and ask me the same question.
‘I don’t know,’ I’d reply, out of the corner of my mouth, so nobody else could see, and so quietly only the girl could hear. ‘Why don’t you join me?’
The girl looked confused. ‘There must be some reason.’
‘I think, perhaps, if I stay completely still, then maybe things won’t carry on without me. Or at least as far as I’m concerned. I can put a stop to it by putting a stop to myself. Don’t you want to join me? If you stop too, then maybe other people will stop, and one day everyone can be completely still, and nothing bad or difficult or tiresome will ever happen again.’
The child would bite her lip again and then shake her head, and her mother would call her back and they’d both walk away. And neither of them would stop for me, just like all the other times. And in the end I would always be the only one.
I let myself in the front door and climbed the stairs to the flat. I entered the warmth and turned the lights on. I took off my gloves and scarf and coat and unlaced my boots. I poured myself a drink and sipped it, and in the lounge I closed the curtains, dissolving the night into a mere fancy of the imagination. Something that could never be truly explained to anyone, never accurately described, for it was a night that may have happened and may not have happened, but whether it did or it didn’t it happened to me, and I cherished it’s rarity, now gone.
This was not a story about zombies and vampires, about things going bump in the night, about unbridled terror and nightmares realised. This was a story about the things that don’t happen, the nothingness out there, and that hollow emptiness in the car’s window. My nightmare is not monstrous or disfigured, it does not have tentacles or fangs or the form of a beast, it does not drip goo or blood and it does not shuffle and it does not snarl.
I drank my drink and I looked at my television and my computer, at my large collection of DVDs and books and videogames, and at the pictures on my walls, and I sat down, my thoughts once again returning to suicide.
But for one more night like this.