By D.C. Ward
Carol has been fed up with the mundanity of her marriage for some years. When her selfish exploits lead to the death of her husband, her guilt becomes too much to bear and she begins to feel the burning, accusatory eyes of everyone around her. She loved her husband and never meant to hurt him, but now, it seems, he wants to hurt her. In this psychological horror by D. C. Ward, the house of a once content marriage becomes a living nightmare.
The relaxed snow dropped in light clumps, clinging to her coarse, black coat and the drooping dark hat that veiled her face with a shadow of solitude. Those close enough would see the black streaks of sodden mascara that stood bold on her ghostly skin, and the bleeding bottom lip from where she had anxiously and obsessively gnawed. Carol’s sobbing was covert and those in the crowd behind her wouldn’t hear her crying, but they would guess she was anyway; most of them knew her well enough.
“Mum?” whispered her daughter, Vanessa, her arm linked under Carol’s.
“Sorry,” she replied. She had picked up the dirt from the ground a while ago now. She had rolled the damp earth between her fingers and palm, muddying her thin red gloves. “Bye, John.” She dropped it as delicately as she could on the exposed coffin, but the clumped dirt still made a loud thud. “I’m so sorry, everyone,” she said. The crashing of the earth onto the coffin had likely brought accusing stares and faces of repulsion and disgust. As she turned, only sympathetic faces stared back at her. They all wore the same mask and Carol saw right through them all. They all knew it was her fault. They all knew she had killed her husband.
She endured the reception at her own home for just ten minutes before she climbed the stairs, walked into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. She kicked off her laced heels that hurt so bad and they hit the wall by her dresser with a thud. She realised she had been wearing those the night John died. The night she got him killed.
The curtains were open, revealing the view of a winter wonderland that could have easily been a framed picture. She and John had bought this house almost solely for the view out of the bedroom – that and its isolation from the rest of the town. ‘Peace and bloody quiet for the first time in our lives!’ John had said, placing his rough, hairy hands on her shoulders and kissing her neck as they looked around the house for the first time.
The view overlooked the hilled fields where sheep now grazed fully coated, some close to invisible in the snow. Beyond that was Bridwick, the quaint town in which she and John and been raised. You could even see the houses they had lived in as children – Carol to the far left, where a new supermarket was in the early stages of development, and John closer to the centre of the town, his flat two floors above a cheap Italian restaurant. It was then Carol finally broke from her reserved mourning and began to blubber, her tears flinging themselves in clusters from her lashes. John was gone for good and that was exactly what she deserved. And it was all her fault.
“Forgive me, sweetie,” she sobbed.
The bedroom door creaked open behind her.
“Go away,” she said.
The footsteps approached.
“Please, I want to be alone.”
Strong fingers began to massage her shoulders and stroke the base of her neck.
She knew those hands; they were large and rough and had once been unimaginably comforting to her. Hands of safety. The hands of an angel. They had been comforting when the man to whom they belonged was still alive, standing behind her and telling her how much he loved her, telling her playfully to put down the boring Sudoku and do a good old history crossword. She sat frozen, her eyes just able to see his fingertips, rich with thick, dark hairs.
“You… killed… me… honey.” The voice was a slow and pain-filled rumble.
The coarse fingers dug into her skin. She was plunged into a moment of darkness, where the soft murmur of her daughter’s voice was all that existed.
“Mum. You should come and say bye to Derek and Sandra, they’ve come from Portsmouth for God’s sake… Mum? Mum?”
“Forgive me, sweetie, please” Carol croaked, her throat bone dry, as she stirred awake. Vanessa was sitting on the bed by her side. Carol bolted upright and scanned the room like a meerkat on lookout duty. The curtains were closed. Vague memories of her drawing them shut and getting into bed started to grow more opaque and the terrible feel of her husband’s grasp began to flutter away to the back of the mind as dreams tend to.
“Mum, are you okay? You dreamin’ of Daddy?” Vanessa asked as she ushered a few tears of her own away with the fanning of her hand.
“Yes, dear,” Carol replied.
“You should come down. Everyone’ll be leavin’ soon.”
“Just give me a second to sort myself out. I won’t be a minute.”
Vanessa left Carol alone in the bedroom. Her daughter was playing nice now but soon she would work it out. ‘So, I guess Mummy killed Daddy, huh?’ then everyone would know it was her fault. They’d never forgive her for taking John from them, none of them; he was everyone’s best friend. Carol had been nobody but ‘John’s wife’. Now she could hear them whispering her new name downstairs: ‘Where’s that murdering bitch?’
That night had been a real blizzard. The roads were nothing but ice and sleet and there was no seeing beyond ten feet in front of your own eyes for all the thick snow. Only an idiot would have driven in it – or the husband of an idiot whose wife had begged him to. Carol had been on a night out with the girls, but she had left the club three hours before ringing her husband and pleading for a lift home. Those three hours she had spent with a man she had met at the club. He had been a good ten years younger than her, but Carol had told him she was thirty, knocking her own age down to his. It hadn’t been her first time.
This had become a regular thing and she knew that John knew what was going on. He’d never say anything though. He was too nice, too polite. Life with John was lovely, peachy… quaint, but boredom had hit her a few years ago and it seemed so eager to suck the life out of her. Those two years went by in a flash and the next two decades would do the same until she and her lovely husband kicked the bucket. What’s wrong with you, girl? As if you have an excuse for cheating on him. For killing him. He was fucking perfect!
The guy she had slept with that night was a dickhead, the biggest dickhead she had ever met. Maybe that was why she had chosen him, because he had been the polar opposite to the big, safe hands of her husband. The dickhead had practically kicked her out into the blizzard as soon as he had done with her, and after walking around scared, alone and ashamed for what seemed like the whole night, she caved and called John. Of course he came to the rescue, even staying on the phone all the while so she wouldn’t be too scared. He’d have climbed out of bed in a hurry, thrown on his robe and ‘driving trainers’ – his old shoes with the extra grip so his feet didn’t slip off the pedals of his beloved green Vauxhall Vectra. Carol used to wear them around the house sometimes and they’d both laugh at how big they looked on her tiny feet. But they were still really comfy, just like his hands, and made her feel calm and safe. His voice made her feel that way too, that slow, warm rumble. She hadn’t been scared as they talked over the phone about what she’d missed on that night’s TV and what they’d have tomorrow for breakfast, not until the phone made an abrupt screeching sound. John screamed a panicked curse and then the phone made a noise as if it had been dropped into a blender, before cutting out altogether. That’s what happens! Somebody said in the back of her mind. You deserve that you cheating bitch! You’ve killed your husband now!
“Mum, you comin’?” shouted Vanessa from downstairs.
“Sure, I’m coming.”
She was in the doorway, about to leave the bedroom, when she had the sudden urge to stare back in. A quiver in her gut. Something wasn’t right. It was cold, but the heating was on full blast, it had been for an hour now. Then she noticed marks of water on the floor. Footprints. The prints of the shoes’ souls were striped at the toe and dotted towards the heel – for extra grip.
“Mum, Come on. There’s people waitin’ to say goodbye,” said Vanessa, climbing the stairs again.
“I’m coming, sweetie.” Carol rubbed her eyes like they do in the movies when they’ve seen something that just can’t be real, but it didn’t work.
Vanessa came into the room and noticed the footprints her mother was staring at, letting out a brief gasp before a sigh of relief. “Mum, why the hell are you wearing Daddy’s shoes?”
“I guess I… those damn heels…”
Vanessa closed her hand around Carol’s elbow and gave her a look of… pity? Carol had told Vanessa about the affairs when they had started. Her daughter had been angry but sort of understood at the same time. She was a bright girl, got a first in economics at Bangor University almost two years ago now. No doubt she had worked out why her mum needed picking up from the middle of nowhere in the early hours of the morning. Carol saw it in her daughter’s eyes: behind the pity, behind the sugar-coated glaze of a daughter’s semi-conditional love, there was a demon. A demon that would whisper to Vanessa as she fell asleep and as she fetched her mourning mum a cup of tea: (Mummy killed Daddy. Mummy killed Daddy. Does she even give a shit? No. How can you forgive her for killing Daddy? All she needs is half a litre of vodka and a room full of men wearing beer goggles).
“Mum, you okay?”
Carol flicked off the giant shoes into the middle of the room. “I’m not going to say bye to anybody,” she said. “They all blame me. You blame me. I blame me.”
“Nobody blames you, Mum. Nobody.”
A deep voice, its breath cold, whispered behind her. “I… do.”
She turned. There was nothing there.
“Please, I’m not… I’m not well.” She looked at her hands. They were shaking and very white – no, they were red. She closed the door on Vanessa, who protested for a few minutes outside, but Carol couldn’t hear her. Wherever she stood, whichever direction she faced, the voice whispered behind her. “You’re… guilty… honey.” Its blood clogged throat gargled as it spoke. “You… killed… me… honey.”
That night she lay on her back and stared at the wavy plastering on the ceiling. It was one in the morning now and the house was dead. Vanessa was asleep in her bedroom at the other end of the hall, far enough away so that her soft, whistling snores could not be heard. The darkness blurred the pattern on the ceiling and Carol watched as her eyes struggled to settle on a clear image. It almost looked like a face staring down at her, its eyes narrow and its pupils fixed on her accusingly. She closed her eyes. The blur had begun to look like John, but she wasn’t going to let her mind trick her like that. She opened them again. Now the contours of John’s face were vivid, each pore defined and every thick, grey hair protruding the way she remembered. His face had sunk into a grimace, a look of pure disgust and hatred. It was an expression the living John had never made in his life, but still Carol recognised him. She closed her eyes again, humming to herself lightly to cover the sound of John’s wheezing breaths.
A furious and familiar crashing sound exploded from nowhere – the sound of a car skidding across the ice, breaking through a fence and tumbling down the hilly farmlands – and Carol’s eyes were forced wide. John stared down at her, still bathed in the night’s shadows. Above his right eye a thin cut widened into a gash. His face changed, crumpling into a broken mush of bones and bleeding flesh. The red bile spread across the ceiling, so vivid in its colour that the darkness did nothing to shade it. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. She couldn’t close her eyes now, nor could she scream. Did that mean she was dreaming? A luminous bead of scarlet dropped from the remnants of John’s nose and landed in her gasping mouth. The rich, metallic taste was the most real thing in the world. In a dream there was always that subtle doubt, but this was her room, that was her husband, and the drop of liquid rolling down her tongue was blood.
She jostled with her bed sheets – they seemed intent on trapping her – but eventually escaped, tumbling to the carpet. She let out a whimpering scream. Vanessa would help her run away. Her footfall was clumsy and she toppled out of her bedroom and into the cold hallway. Vanessa dashed out of her own room, her long, dark hair clumped in knots around her face.
“Mum? What’s up?”
“It’s… I saw your dad… I…”
Vanessa switched on the hallway light and then the one in Carol’s bedroom. There was nothing there. “Mum, you’re just dreaming.” She looked at Carol, concerned. “And you’ve been biting your lip again!”
Carol wiped her lips, smearing the blood onto her hand.
Vanessa stroked her mum’s arm. (Mummy killed Daddy). “Maybe we should sleep in the same room tonight.”
It didn’t take long for Vanessa to fall back to sleep. She had cried nonstop the first few days after John had died – after John was killed – but since then she had been strong and composed. Carol was still awake. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever sleep again. She refused to stay in her own room so now she was sharing her daughter’s bed.
Hours went by and still she couldn’t sleep. Nothing had felt the same since the face on the ceiling. When she opened her eyes, shadows crept towards her. She had woken Vanessa up a few times when she had heard the footsteps downstairs. With every step, Carol felt an icy chill flutter around her nightgown. Vanessa had investigated. There was nothing to be afraid of. But there was. Now Carol lay with her knees pressed up to her chest, her eyes screwed up tight. The pillow was damp with tears. She had never been surer of anything in her life; she couldn’t open her eyes to check, but she knew. There were three people in the bedroom now. One was her, the snivelling middle aged woman who had killed her husband. The second was Vanessa. Carol’s eyes may have been closed, but she could see her daughter behind her, sleeping with a grin stretching from ear to ear, her eyes open, staring into the back of Carol’s head and never blinking.
Vanessa mumbled in a phlegmy croak. “Mummy killed Daddy. Mummy is guilty and Daddy will get her. Daddy will get her for what she did.”
The third person in the room was John. He was standing at the foot of the bed. Carol had the sheets tucked under her but still she felt the icy wind he brought with him. His shadow swayed beneath her eyelids. What could have been hours drifted by and then, just as Carol was beginning to convince herself it was her mind playing tricks, John spoke.
“You… are… guilty… honey.” The deep echo shook the floorboards.
“Forgive me, please. Sweetie please, I never meant anything. I never meant to hurt you, I–”
“– You… are… not… forgiven.”
A slow, wet footfall – driving trainers lathered with snow and blood – began to circle the bed towards her.
“You… killed… me… honey.”
She had no choice. She opened her eyes, hoping to see the dark and empty room. John stood in his blood-soaked robe. His skin was white, almost radiant. His eyes were grey and still, like they’d been carved of stone. His face was crushed in a smear of protruding bone and congealed red and pink flesh. His jaw hung limp, like a snake ready to swallow its oversized prey, displaying a mangled set of teeth and a lacerated tongue. “You… are… guilty…” His mouth didn’t move as he spoke.
Carol gasped and pushed herself backwards, bumping into her daughter.
Vanessa giggled, “Mummy killed Daddy.”
Carol turned. Vanessa’s grin stretched across half her face under eyes as big and as black as a doll’s.
“I know what you did, Mummy. Daddy knows what you did. I think he’s angry.” She laughed and blood began to spill from between her teeth into a puddle on the bed.
Carol scampered over to the bottom of the bed, panting, crying, pleading. “Please, please, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t mean to.” She climbed over the footboard as her husband and daughter laughed behind her. Carol tried to run, but she was drunk with fear and the corridor danced like the inside of a kaleidoscope. She couldn’t help but glance behind her. John began to tread slowly after her. Vanessa, her black hair and fair skin now clogged with dark blood, crawled over the bed like a spider, the giant black beads of her eyes unblinking.
She stumbled through the hallway and reached for the banister, but her blood-soaked hands slipped across it. Her body flew forwards, rolling and sliding down the sharp, wooden stairs with a series of terrible thuds. She crashed into the wall at the bottom. She couldn’t move. She looked to the source of her pain and could see her right ankle was crooked. Her right arm was too. The pain didn’t come. Her senses and emotions were lost in a narrow vista where only fear passed through.
“Honey… you’re… running… ‘cause… you’re… guilty.”
She stared at the front door in a heavy malaise. It was moving, spinning, and sweating blood in the darkness. The amber stars of the outside streetlights shone through the frosted glass panels. Go towards the light. That seemed like the thing to do. She crawled. Her bloodied fingers squeaked and slipped as they tried to pull her body over the laminated floor.
“You…are… guilty… honey.”
She didn’t look behind her as John’s sodden footsteps made each wooden plank of the stairs groan. Her tears were hot and sticky. Was that blood too? It could well have been; the floor was covered in it. She extended her left hand toward the door handle. Again the blood made her fingers slide.
The door was thrown open, but she didn’t do it. Vanessa pushed Carol outside. The sky was red. Parked on the front garden was a half-wrecked Vauxhall Vectra, its right side jagged and concaved, the windows smashed. Vanessa dragged her over the wet grass, pried open the crushed front door of the car and shoved her inside. Carol was too weak to fight. She was guilty. She deserved this. The world bled scarlet and the fluffy red snow fell onto the car. John stood beyond the bonnet. His lacerated jaw, hanging by strands of red flesh, had somehow curved into a grimace. The car started and the headlights came to life. The crystals of the snow, the gloss of the blood and the blank, white voids of John’s eyes erupted in illumination. He climbed onto the car. Only shattered shards of the windscreen remained. John pushed his mangled corpse through them. His voice, an echo in the back of Carol’s mind, rumbled with ferocity.
“YOU… KILLED… ME… HONEY… YOU… ARE… GUILTY!”
His hands reached for her throat.
“Do it, Daddy!” Vanessa screamed with excitement. Her face leaned over Carol’s. Her large black eyes saw threw her mother, saw that she was guilty. She cried blood. “Mummy killed Daddy.” But still she smiled. “Mummy’s guilty. Daddy will make her pay.”
John’s hands were cold and crisp with snow, warm and sticky with blood, and soon a black veil darker than the night descended over Carol’s eyes. The car began to move.
“You’ll be alright, Mum.”
* * *
Daffodils had begun to bloom along the borders of the car park. There was still a nip in the air from what had been a cold winter, but the sun was bright and Vanessa could feel the strength of its rays as she stepped out of her car. She put on her red rimmed Ray-Bans and breathed deeply; it tasted of spring. Her heart gave a flicker; it always did as she stepped towards the tinted double doors of Whitepark Hospital. She signed in at reception who called for Dr Singh to meet her. Her emotions danced in her throat and stirred the early sting of a headache. Dr Singh was a tall, well built, caramel-skinned guy whose left hand was always in his white coat pocket, his right always free to place softly on Vanessa’s shoulder when she needed it. He briefed her on her mother’s progress. He smiled as he told Vanessa that the next time she came they would try a face to face meeting. The thought made her nervous.
Vanessa, with the doctor’s hand on her shoulder, stared into the patients’ common room. It was only a small facility. Three patients were sitting nonchalantly, dealing cards between them, joking and laughing. They seemed okay. When Vanessa had first come she had imagined the patients to all be playing Connect Four or Snakes and Ladders or making ashtrays out of Play-Doh. Carol, her mother, sat on a smaller table, alone. She seemed calm. She was looking at a newspaper and she had a pencil in her hand, probably doing a Sudoku. It still brought tears to Vanessa’s eyes, thinking of how her mum had screamed. She’d practically had drag her to the car after her fall down the stairs. She was getting better though. But she was still talking to herself.
Carol pencilled in a number four and five in the middle right box. “That’s another bloody one done.” She smiled, almost shyly, to her companion.
“Boring things. Try a crossword, I’ll help,” said John.
Her husband was how Carol remembered now – before the accident. Such kind, warm features. Forgiving eyes. Beaming smile. She stared at him.
“I’m…” she began.
“What is it, honey?”
“I’m just so sorry, sweetie. I love you I just…”
“You’re forgiven, honey. I love you too.”
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If you like a bit of horror and fantasy, you should try The Demons’ Cry, our serial fantasy special.