It was the Devil down there. It gave life to death. That death burrowed through the filth and the salt water to wreak havoc in that small town. The waves lapped gently against the shore, barely making a sound. It was dusk. The thing slithered from the water, the late evening sun making the crust of sand glisten on its form. Adorned with foam and seaweed, a bony hand clawed its way through the silt. Dragging its wretched body into our world.
It stood erect. What was once dead wore its flesh like rags. A skeleton the colour of dirty ivory peered through decaying matter and dregs of what once were clothes. Its gums receded, and long teeth like cuttlefish bones, jagged as those of a shark, hung in a foul mouth. Eyes like fetid mould rolled back into a cracked and empty skull. Those eyes, festering pools of soulless jelly scanned the town. It was looking for light, or food, it was looking for us. This thing was driven by instinct; an instinct murderous and primal. A flicker in a window startled it. The entity swung its head, and it began to walk.
Feet dragging and legs limp it ambled towards the light. Its coal-black tongue flicked out like a serpent. A festering cloud of vile gas emitted from gaping ribs as it moved towards the cottage. The sea continued to swish and slosh as the sun began to descend over the eastern cliffs.
Danny thought that a summer by the sea would be the ultimate statement of his personal freedom. Get down to the seaside; work in hotel and just party the summer through. While everyone else back home was panicking about exam results and whatever yop scheme they were going to end up on, Danny would be laughing. It was a playground, gloriously resplendent with young lasses dying for a holiday romance with a cute boy-next-door type, with hazel eyes and mousey hair. One who looked as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
Danny’s brother Jack had asked him to come down. It was a blistering summer, there was life-changing music screaming up the charts, and the ecstasy-fuelled second summer of love was but a month away. Jack was a restaurant manager in a hotel, and he always needed extra hands, Danny would fit the bill perfectly. At just 16 years old he’d have his own place, no bills, all his meals and decent pay packet at the end of each week. For Danny, this was a dream come true.
What Danny hadn’t figured into the equation was that Jack was a bit of a bastard and saw Danny as help. Real help. The type that you would normally pay. Except you don’t pay your family for domestic chores, do you? So after cooking off menu breakfasts, running errands on a 1970’s racing bike that was well past its prime when the pound coin came in. Endless cleaning and washing on behalf of his slave master brother, Danny began to think that worrying about yop schemes may have been a more desirable option.
Danny hated Wednesdays. He loathed them. If he were given a choice, he would rather tongue Dennis Thatcher’s balls while Wet Wet Wet blared out of the stereo on a contestant loop (Danny hated the Thatcher’s and Wet Wet Wet equally), than have to clean Jack’s flat. Jack’s place was next door to Danny’s. They lived in a cottage that had been converted into three apartments. The hotel manager had the whole downstairs, and Jack and Danny’s flats were at the top of a steep set of carpeted stairs. Jack’s was a modest flat with a huge bedroom, half decent bathroom that he shared with Danny and a cosy living room. No kitchen needed, the hotel provided all the food and drink they could want. The lads had a lovely place to sleep and relax.
Jack’s bedroom had windows on two sides. One faced out towards the seafront and the other across to a mini golf course at the back. It was fitted with built-in wardrobes that had massive sliding doors. While tidying, Danny’s trick was to cram everything into the wardrobe and slide the door shut. Super fast domestic engineering.
Then, Danny would fly around the place with the u-bank and pick up all the dust. If he was sharpish, he could get the whole job done before dark, and get down into town in time to catch up with the other lads from the restaurant. Easy. But, still awful. Jack was a pig and lived like a homeless pig at that. Danny hated cleaning after him, picking up his skuzzies, disposing of soiled johnnies. It was either that though, or a pasting. So, he would grit his teeth spread some Vicks under his nose and get on with it.
The light in the flat was turning. The sun was going down and what was warm amber was turning violet to blue. Danny flicked on the bedside lamp and started throwing piles of dirty clothes into the wardrobe. He looked into the corner of the room and smiled. Jack had his snooker cue there, it was in a case and leaned against the wall. On top of it was a ten-gallon Stetson hat. Danny put it on and walked through the living room, into the hall and cross to the bathroom. He opened up the windows and squirted some cleaner into the bath. He went next door to the toilet, opened that window and squirted some of the same cleaner into the bog.
Danny went back to the bedroom. The u-bank was stood upright in the middle of the room. Danny jumped. He dropped the cleaning liquid. Something touched the back of his neck. Every hair on his body sprang to attention. His stomach fell into his bowel, and he gasped a deep and deathly breath. The u-bank violently flipped into air, the wardrobe door slid shut, and the snooker cue fell over. Danny spun around he could see nothing. Then all the doors in the cottage simultaneously slammed shut.
‘It’s the wind’, he thought. Danny walked back to the toilet and reached to close the window. A tremendous gust blew in debris like shattered brick. It pelted Danny in the face and grit stung him in his eyes. The window then smashed as it fell shut. In a panic, Danny reached for his face and began to rub his eyes. The Stetson came off. Danny’s eyes welled with tears and stung as if they had been bathed in acid. The gust of wind got louder, the doors opened and slammed again and again, and the glass in the bathroom window shattered. Then silence.
Danny had his back against the toilet wall. Slowly he slid down to the floor and sat with his knees up to his chest, he rubbed his eyes. The silence was unearthly. Danny could hear nothing, not even the sea. He held his palms over his eyes and almost cried. It was as though the world had died, total silence. Danny could only feel the stinging pain in his eyes.
There was a slither. It sounded like someone dragging a heavy bag down a corridor. Danny wasn’t sure he had heard it right. Shhhhsssshh, again, the slither, then the drag, the noise, the chilling noise. Then a knock, followed by a muffled thump. The drag, the knock, the thump. Again, the drag, the knock, the thump. Something was walking up the stairs. Danny opened his eyes. He could see only a blur of light emanating from the bedroom and across the hall. The drag, the knock, the thump. It was getting closer.
Danny pulled his legs up close and gently pushed the toilet door shut. He couldn’t close it, the Stetson was in the way. He tried to kick it away. Thump. The drag was closer now, it was in the hall. Danny began to shake with fear. His arms trembled, and his chest jerked uncontrollably. A smell, an ungodly smell, like a fetid dead animal rinsed in the guts of fish filled the hall. This odour was fusty and lay thick in Danny’s nostrils, he wanted to heave. His gullet began to flex and pump. He was going to vomit. Thump, Drag, sssssshhhhhhssh. That sound was now echoed by the buzzing of flies.
Danny could hear it. The thing was dragging itself through the living room and into the bedroom towards the light. Danny wanted to run, but he was paralysed with fear. The searing pain in his eyes drenched his face with streams of tears. He cried silently, and that dragging sound, the thump, and the knock carried on.
There was a crash from the bedroom, glass broke, and Danny could hear cloth ripping. Then the shuffle. That slow, aching shuffle was moving to living room. Danny desperately wanted to look, an almost suicidal curiosity made him want to look but he couldn’t. The smell was back. He was beginning to choke. He held his hand against his mouth. He pressed hard. He opened his eyes. The toilet was being invaded by a gassy cloud and the smell, that vile smell. On the floor, maggots crawled towards his feet. A long shadow passed by the tiny room and towards the bathroom. Danny knew his room was next. He curled himself up as tight as he could and screwed his eyes shut. He desperately held his breath.
It could have been one minute, or it could have been ten. Nothing. No dragging, shuffling or footsteps. Danny peered around the door. A long dirty stain of soot, sand, and maggots trailed through the flat. Danny dare not investigate. The smell was faint, there was no sound. Danny ran down the stairs. His legs got away from him and three stairs from the bottom he fell and rolled. He sprung up and could feel pain in his back and legs. He carried on across the courtyard towards the hotel. Jack was working in the bar, terrified out of his mind he needed his big brother. As he ran around the back of the garden towards the back entrance to the kitchen, it lunged at him. Foul breath and razor teeth. Its arms outstretched, flesh hanging like weeds from a ruin. It screamed, a high-pitched, banshee wail delivered from the bellows of hell.
Danny stumbled back he fell and scrambled for his life. He scurried on all fours, he fell again, plunging his face into the dirt. From deep inside Danny pushed and raced with everything he had to get himself upright. He ran towards the lights of the hotel, this screaming monster right behind him. In his ears, the buzz of flies and that wail of death. He ran, his heart pulsing, pumping trying to smash its way out of his chest. He screamed and fell through the door of the kitchen. He slid and slipped in spilled grease, he tried to compose himself and scurried as hard as he could to the bar.
One of the coach drivers saw Danny spill through the archway of the bar. “Jack, it’s your brother! Quick mate he’s hurt.” The driver caught Danny as he fell again and picked him up. Jack flew from behind the bar. Danny couldn’t open his eyes, he was a mess. They took him back to the kitchen and lay him on an aluminium prep table. Danny was mumbling incoherently, something about his eyes. The coach driver filled a jug with water. Then poured it into Danny’s eyes. The water went into his mouth and up his nose. He choked back to consciousness.
Water streamed over his face, and the tears in his eyes bubbled blood shot and sore. He spoke, “There’s a ghost, a monster. I saw it.” Jack and the driver just stared at Danny, they looked frightened, repulsed and confused. “I did, I saw it.” They said nothing they just stared. “What? What is it?” Danny pleaded. Jack reached out and touched Danny’s head. “Oh shit, your face. My god, it’s your hair, it’s gone pure white.”
Danny slid from the table and scoured the kitchen. He spied a stainless steel tray. He grabbed it and held it up. His skin was like ash, and his face had aged fifty years. Gone were the hazel eyes and the mousey hair. Looking back at him was a face, an ancient visage devoid of humanity, close to its end; moribund.
This is a short story by Nick Mann, if you liked it, you can find more of the buggers here. Otherwise, if you have enjoyed it please consider sharing it – Karma and my badself will thank you for it. The buttons are on the right, thank you kindly.