(published 28th May 2018)
The little girl’s my favourite by a long way. My mum would have said ‘she’s a bonny thing’ and she’d have been right. She kneels in front of me and we talk about all sorts and her smile always cheers me up no matter what kind of day I’m having. Last time she came she said that she wanted me to know that people suffer in life not in death. It’s a funny thing for a little girl to say but my visitors do talk about some funny things. I’ve thought about it a lot since she said it. She offered me her hand too. Her smile was so sweet and kind and I thought about saying yes, and I nearly did it. I nearly took her hand. Then I said no. No, not yet. And she was gone.
People suffer in life not in death. Have I suffered? Am I suffering? That’s what I’ve wondered since her visit. Am I suffering? Well my bones ache, I miss my teeth and sometimes, especially in the mornings, it’s an effort to breath. I had my heart broken once, a long time ago, and that hurt worst of all. Oh, and I’ve been frightened too. I feel fear, real terror when the man comes to visit. I don’t think I really know what loneliness feels like, that must be an awful way to suffer. And I think I’m lucky that I’ve never felt that, especially at my age. Not because I had Ted all those years, he wouldn’t have helped with loneliness, and not because of the ladies that bring me my dinner either. But because of my visitors. All those visitors I’ve had over the years. So I wonder, is any of that, anything I’ve been through really suffering? I used to put the radio on sometimes and I’d hear about what went on in the world. The things that happen in faraway places, the things people do to women. Oh, it did hurt me when I lost my Sophie, my heart broke and the pieces never really fit back together properly. It didn’t make the news though. Real suffering makes the news. I’ve never suffered so much that people in faraway countries hear about it on the radio.
The man took my radio away. Or he’s hidden it I think. Probably upstairs where I can’t get to it. I sleep downstairs now and the bathroom’s downstairs so I don’t need to go upstairs at all. If I fell again they’d make me leave you see. One of the ladies that brings my dinner, she’d phone someone and then they’d come and they’d take me to the hospital. I hate that place. If I go there again they’ll not let me come home. I don’t want to be anywhere but home. That’s why I don’t go with the little girl really. She’s lovely but I’m comfortable where I am. Sometimes I can hear voices upstairs but if I shout out they go quiet so it’s definitely not the radio.
I don’t know how long the man’s been coming. I think it’s been more than a year. I knew straight away that he was different. I felt it in the air around him. When he comes I sit in my chair and watch him. I daren’t take my eyes off him when he’s in the room. I know he’s not to be trusted, you see. The man, you wouldn’t know that he was wicked if you saw him. He looks like a normal man, not very tall, not very short, not fat or thin, he has dark hair that’s going a bit grey and he’s clean shaven. But I know what he is, when he enters the room I feel a chill, I shudder sometimes. He likes to move things around and I have to sit and watch. He likes to do that because he knows that it annoys me. I never get angry and shout though because I like to think that it annoys him if I don’t react. I just sit and watch him. Often, he’ll turn to me, look me in the eye and mouth something. He can talk out loud, I know that he can. He does this just to make me feel stupid. I know that because his eyes are always laughing when he does it. It’s three words he mouths over and over again, he pauses between each as though he’s talking to an idiot or trying to make a child understand something that he’s sick of repeating. I don’t react. I look right at him so that he doesn’t know that I’m scared and I don’t say or do anything.
He’s the only one of my visitors that can move things around. The others just pass straight through anything that might touch them. A nice woman once brought a couple of little dogs in. They were leaping about all over the place and never knocked a thing over. They ran in and out of the room through the walls, yapping at each other all the while but they never touched a thing. The woman was laughing, I remember. It made her happy to watch them, so it made me happy too. That’s how it normally is. There’s only the man that’s different.
Although, when I think about it I wonder that there isn’t something different about the little girl too. Granted the little girl doesn’t actually touch anything. Usually she kneels in front of me, so that she’s looking up at me in my chair. She talks softly to me but it’s not like a little girl would talk. It’s adult words that come out of her mouth. But she’s still a little girl. You can see it in her face, her eyes are innocent. And her smile too. And she’s been coming for a long time now, as long as the man has. A lot of my visitors only visit once. Sometimes they might come back twice or thrice. There was a very sweet little old lady once and she came to see me five times before she said ‘I’ve got to go now’ and she never come back. But only the little girl and the man have kept visiting again and again.
That’s what the man says. What he mouths at me.
I never give him any sign that I know what he’s saying. But I knew the first time he mouthed it and I’ve known every time since. Sometimes I want to answer ‘No. Never, I’ll never go with you’ but I don’t want to give him any answer at all. He doesn’t deserve an answer, harassing me like that. And there’s something else. He can’t make me leave with him. I know that that’s true, I can’t explain how. He doesn’t know that I know and so I’ve got that over him too. Sometimes it’s wise to play dumb.
There’s a noise. It wakes me up. It didn’t sound like it came from upstairs. It sounded like it came from the kitchen. Glass breaking and then a thud. I realise it was the back door and in the same instant I’m fully awake. I think of the man. None of my other visitors make a nuisance of themselves like him. I get up and put on my glasses and my dressing gown. The light’s on in the kitchen. There are two young men that I’ve never seen before. They aren’t visitors. I can tell that straight away, they can’t walk through the walls, they’re solid.
‘Any cash?’ one of them asks.
I do keep a bit of money in the house but I say ‘no’.
They start going through drawers. I feel very uncomfortable seeing my things being thrown around. They aren’t precious things, they’re what I’d call bits and bobs, old bills, candles, a ball of wool, that sort of thing. But I don’t like seeing them thrown on the floor. They’re my things even if they aren’t anything special.
I try to make my voice as loud as I can ‘Get out’ I tell them.
They ignore me. I keep saying it but it’s as though I’m not there at all. I think of how Ted used to act around my visitors. He’d walk right through them sometimes, no idea at all that they were there. For a little while I feel like that. Then one of them suddenly turns to me.
I’ve never had much jewellery. Only my wedding ring and I’d taken that off happily when Ted had died. It’s probably upstairs somewhere but I couldn’t say where.
‘No’, I say, ‘please stop’.
He walks straight passed me into the lounge and starts searching in there. The other man joins him and they’re throwing things around again.
‘Please stop doing that’. My voice sounds really small.
There are two of them, I think to myself. They’re stronger than me. I need to be careful or I’ll end up in that hospital.
I go to the front door. I unlock it and go out into the street. It’s dark and quiet. It must be really early in the morning because the streets are so still. I’m going to shout. Shout for someone to come and help me. I stand in the middle of the road, shivering, it’s cold, I wonder when I last left the house. It seems strange standing in the road in my slippers. I’m about to shout and I see him. He’s standing in the road a little way up. The man, he’s smiling at me. I’m too shocked too hide it this time. I’m scared. I want my house back and I don’t want the man anywhere near me.
‘You sent them’ I say, outraged.
He creeps towards me and I can see even at a distance that he was mouthing those three words.
As he gets nearer I can see the laughter in his eyes.
I don’t want to turn my back on him, knowing he’s there but not seeing him, that frightens me most of all. So I edge back into my house, watching him all the while. He follows me into the house though. I sit in my chair, I’m out of breath. The men, the solid men, they’re upstairs now, I can hear them crashing about. The man comes into the room and stands in front of me.
I keep my eyes on him, gripping the arms of my chair tight. He can see that I am shaken, there’s no hiding that. I won’t give in to him though. I glare at him the whole time.
The men leave before he does. I don’t even look at them so I can’t say if they take much or anything at all. I daren’t take my eyes off the man.
One of the ladies who bring my dinner calls the police and a nice young woman in a smart uniform comes around. I tell her about the men who were solid. I don’t say that they were solid of course, and I don’t tell her that the man sent them. I know what is ok to say to people about my visitors, I had years of testing that with Ted. And I won’t give them any excuse, none at all, they won’t put me in that hospital, they won’t and I can see she’s thinking about it. She looks at my hands which keep shaking and she asks am I sure I’m alright. ‘Can I call anyone?’ She asks that three times and she gets three no’s. Before she leaves she says ‘Are you sure you want to stay here, we could find somewhere you’ll feel safe’. I still tell her ‘no’.
I hear voices. They’re not upstairs. They’re out on the street. I jump and grip the arms of my chair. Somebody just walked past the house. That was all. I listen hard but they’re gone.
The little girl comes. I’m pleased to see her. She kneels in front of me and looks up at me. For the first time her eyes seem a little sad.
‘What’s wrong?’ I ask her.
She smiles at that ‘It’s you that’s upset’ she says.
‘I’m ok’ I tell her and I look down at my hands, they’re still trembling a little. I look around at the room, my stuff’s all over the floor. I’m not really ok. ‘It’s only stuff’ I say it to me and to her as well.
‘Yes’ she agrees. Then she says ‘Are you ready yet?’
I don’t move from my chair. I sit up all night, like I’m on guard. The lights on. I listen really hard. At one point I hear a word. Just a word from upstairs. I can’t tell if it was a man or a woman’s voice.
‘When’ it says. It doesn’t sound like a question.
‘Who is it?’ I say as loud as I can.
There’s no answer. I listen for hours. I think I’ve fallen asleep because I find myself sitting out in the garden on a sunny day. It’s so beautiful. All the flowers are blue. But they shouldn’t all be flowering together. That’s how I know it’s a dream. There are bluebells, huge blue hydrangeas, cornflowers and forget-me-nots. My mum told me when I was little that when you see forget-me-nots you should think of someone you’ve lost.
Sophie. I think of Sophie and I see her face for a second, the last time I saw her, all those years ago and only five days old. Sophie. That tiny little face with those beautiful vivid blue eyes. Forget-me-not blue.
Then the little girl’s amongst the blue flowers.
‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ she says.
‘Yes, yes, it’s perfect’.
‘All your favourites’ she says brushing her hands over the flowers. I hear a bird singing nearby and look and see a blue bird. I’ve never seen a blue bird before and I laugh and I say ‘all the blues’.
She laughs too. And I realise how relaxed I am and how happy too. She smiles gently as though she knows what I’m thinking. And she says ‘he can’t get to us here’.
I nod because I know she was telling the truth. And then I’m back in my armchair and all those beautiful blues are gone. The artificial light in the room makes everything look washed out and I feel like the dream was more real. I want to be amongst those blue flowers again.
The man comes at dawn. I’m thinking about my dream. My lovely dream and suddenly he’s stood over me. I’m not surprised and I’m thinking to myself that he can’t surprise me anymore, when suddenly he speaks.
‘Come with me.’
I actually gasp and jump in my seat a little. He’s never spoken out loud, though I always knew he could. I don’t answer him.
‘Come with me, they’ll be back, those awful men. They’ll come back you know’. His voice is calm and actually quite soft. It’s not a wicked voice.
I eye him suspiciously. Is he threatening me? He seems to guess what I’m thinking and he sighs as he kneels down in front of me, like the little girl does. And he looks up at me.
‘I know you think that I’m wicked’ he says ‘but I’m trying to help you’.
I look directly at him so as not to let him know I’m afraid. Something under his skin writhes a little, only for a second.
‘I didn’t send those men’ he says. ‘I really didn’t. I’m trying to help you.’ He goes to take my hand but I snatch it away.
And for the first time I speak to him. ‘I’m not an idiot.’ I say.
There’s a hint of a laugh in his eyes. It was only there for an instant but I see it.
‘Of course you’re not an idiot’ he tries to say it gently but I can see he’s running out of patience all ready. ‘Why would I think that?’
‘Because you’re trying to trick me’ I say.
Anger flashed across his face. ‘I’m not trying to trick you, you stupid old bat.’ He gets up and paces in front of me ‘I’m trying to help you. How many times do I have to say it? Do I have to spell it out? I’m. Trying. To. Help. You.’ He leans down and shouts right in my face ‘You ridiculous old crone!’
I’m taken aback. I always knew what he was but it’s been a good many years since anyone spoke to me like that. I glare at him but say nothing. His temper’s given him away and he doesn’t like it. I see that movement under his skin again. A wriggling under his cheek moving up towards his eye. I see what looks like a thin black worm pass over his eye and then disappear again under his eyelid.
‘Stop being so bloody stubborn.’ He snarls ‘Come with me, I’ve had enough of this. You’ve been hanging around far too long, it’s time you left. Come with me. Come with me now.’
He scowls at me. But I know, I know he can’t make me. I sit back in my chair and I scowl right back at him.
‘Come with me, you stubborn old witch. Get out of that bloody chair and come with me. I can send worse than a couple of petty thieves you know. I can make your life hell. Come with me or I’ll make you sorry.’
I continue to glare at him, trying to keep myself calm.
‘This is your last chance’ he says through gritted teeth. ‘Come with me’.
I look him in the eye and I say ‘no’.
The moment the word’s left my mouth he’s gone.
The lady that brings my dinner asks if I want her tidy up a bit. I can see she doesn’t want to though. She just thinks she should ask. My stuff’s everywhere. I look at it all over the floor and then I look back at her and I say ‘no, it doesn’t matter’. She’s a bit confused by that but more relieved so she doesn’t argue.
It’s dark outside when the little girl arrives. I’m ready for her. I smile as soon as I see her and her face lights up. ‘You’re ready’ she says and there’s real joy in her voice.
I smile and nod. ‘I want to see the garden’ I tell her.
She grins at me ‘I just need you to take my hand’ she explains ‘that’s how it works’. She offers me her tiny little hand. I take it. It’s not quite solid but neither is mine. I lift out of my armchair as though I weigh nothing. She leads me to the back door, it should be dark but as she opens the door I can see clear blue skies and a mass of blue flowers ahead of us. She turns to me and her eyes flash forget-me-not blue.
‘Are you ready?’ she asks.
‘Yes’ I say. And we step out together.
Jess Doyle is an aspiring writer from North Wales. She writes short stories and flash fiction and is currently working on her debut novel. Jess has recently been shortlisted by Horror Scribe. You can find Jess on Twitter as @jcdoyley