The Morning Of

The soft wetness against my lips was heavenly. Those big beautiful red lips were intoxicating.

It was the first time I’d been kissed like that in years. I disappeared into a divine trance as her hard, sandpapery tongue ran across my face. Wait a minute? Sandpapery? Tongue? All across my face?

“Albert!!”

I sprang up from my pillow and wiped the dog drool away from my face, the dampness disappearing but that horrible slippery feeling never quite coming away.

I squinted through a blur of tiredness at my 5 year old black labrador, Albert, sitting bright eyed by the side of my bed looking at me with expectation in his eyes. His tongue lay lazily on his open mouth, half hanging out like a beach bum sleeping on a hammock. They say dogs are intelligent animals but when Albert would look at me like this I had pause to question that theory.

His tail was going mad, helicoptering it’s way round and round and up and down behind him. I patted him on the head, giving him what he craved to prevent him taking off towards the ceiling. “OK mate, I’ll get up, I’ll get up” I grumbled. With that he hopped up on the bed in celebration and begun to cyclone his way around me. I grabbed his legs and we had our customary morning wrestle.

I’d had Albert since he was a puppy, in fact I picked him up the same day I got the keys to my place. It was a culture shock for me, to say the least. I’d gone from living with my Mum who catered to my every need to living in my first flat with a new roommate who liked nothing more than to cock a leg and pee on the floor and chew on the corner of walls. With being so concentrated on Albie, I think it helped me settle into life on my own. Or at least the life of washings, ironing and homemade cooking. Whatever I had, he had. None of that nonsensical stuff you read on the internet, how could I possibly sit and tuck into a steak whilst my boy sat and stared at me pushing pedigree chum around a bowl. Nope, Albie was my equal and I made sure he was treated that way.

Only thing I couldn’t tolerate though was sleeping together. I didn’t mind at first, he didn’t stink, he didn’t shed a lot of hair. Nope, the problem was that Albie would steal the covers from you in the middle of the night. I’d wake shivering, freezing cold. I’d look over and see him satisfyingly sound asleep rolled up in the covers like a hot dog. So with much regret we went together and picked him out his own giant dog bed to get comfy in. After this, the rude awakening I’d received this morning had become the norm. It was like his stomach had an automatic timer set to go off at 6am. I didn’t mind, if my boy was hungry, he’d get his breakfast and I’d let him out into the garden for a sniff and the toilet. I could head back upstairs for another snooze then we’d head out a run.

Albie is my best mate. He’s my running partner, my guy to watch Netflix with, my dining companion, my football buddy and my therapist rolled into one. I genuinely believe when I look into his eyes and chat to him that he knows what I’m saying. His tail goes like the clappers when I get his Arsenal shirt out before a big game. Sometimes when I tell him for the millionth time about Julia from my work does he let out a fart and walk away? Yes. But not everyone’s perfect. My boy’s as close as it gets.

He flew down the stairs in front of me and bumped the kitchen door open with his nose. He marched straight over to the fridge and looked up. “I know where the food’s kept mate” I said to him, laughing. He just wagged his tail and looked at me hopefully. “Right, what are we on today?” I pulled some chicken sausages out the fridge and threw them onto the gas grill. I clicked on the coffee machine and collapsed onto my kitchen couch whilst I waited for the sausages to cook. Albie ambled over and lay over my feet, keeping them cosy.

As the grill alerted me the sausages were ready, I popped some leftover rice into the microwave and waited. Albie, sat at my side, keeping a keen eye on me as if I may somehow forget that this was his breakfast I was making. I emptied the tub of rice into his bowl and pulled the sausages from the grill. By this point Albie’s drool was dripping on each side like a couple of large vampire-dog fangs protruding from his mouth. “Jeez, lick your lips mate” I said to him. One quick smack of his tongue and the drool disappeared. I laughed and ruffled his coat.

I chopped the sausages and added them to the rice. I pulled some fresh orange juice from the fridge and poured myself some. Albie nudged me again with his head, as if it would have been possible that I’d again forgotten that this food in the dog bowl was for him. “It’s cooling down you maniac” I laughed at him. “You’d burn your tongue!” His tail began to helicopter again as he turned and hopped up on his bench at the table.

I laid the bowl down in front of him and he stared a hole through me waiting on the command. “OK mate” I said and he began scoffing it down. I slumped back down on the couch and slowly began to sip on the orange juice. I popped on some music through my kitchen’s Bluetooth speakers and began to plan our morning run. We were due to do 10km this morning, hence the chicken sausages for him. I was due to run a half marathon only a month from now and my training partner was doing an excellent job of keeping up with my progress.

Run planned, I popped my phone down just in time for Albie to lick his bowl clean of any morsel of food. He lapped himself up a long drink of water and trotted towards the back door. I hopped up from the couch and let him out the back door into our grassed and fenced-off back garden. I left the door ajar for him as he disappeared out and tidied away the dishes from his breakfast into the dishwasher. After that I plonked myself back down, ready to go back upstairs for another hours sleep. After a few minutes of aimless scrolling I realised that Albie hadn’t come back in so I got up and wandered over to the back door. I assumed the kids from next door were out and he was playing up to them, licking them through the fence, an activity they all seemed to revel in.

Instead he was stood bolt still, his back to me, facing towards the bottom of the garden. I couldn’t see past him to see what he was looking at. If anything, it looked like he was stood staring at the fence at the bottom of the garden. “Albie?” I shouted out to him. “In you come mate, I want another sleep.” But he didn’t move. It was then that I noticed that his tail was rigidly tucked between his legs. A horrible feeling came over me and a shiver took over my whole body. I grabbed my shoes and closed the back door behind me, making my way onto the grass. As I approached him from behind I could see he was shaking. His whole body looked like it was vibrating. “Albie?” I asked and he let out a little moan. I touched his body and he flinched, baring his teeth at me and growling, his hair on his back stood on end like a spiky mohican. I fell onto my backside away from him. “Albie?” I asked him “it’s OK mate, it’s me.” His ears flopped backwards and he threw himself between my legs curling himself up in a little ball. “It’s OK mate, it’s OK.” I reassured him. He stayed there, curled up as small as he could make himself, it reminded me of him as a puppy when he would curl up on my lap and crash out after a little wrestle.

As I looked towards the bottom of the garden where he’d been stood, I could see that there was some disturbance in the grass. In fact, as I stood up I could see that there wasn’t just a disturbance, there was quite a large area of my grass missing. On further inspection there had been a large, rectangular hole dug out of my grass. “What the…” I muttered under my breath. I looked down to see Albie almost clinging behind my left leg, his tail still tucked up behind him. “It’s OK mate” I said to him, giving him a pat on the head. His scared eyes looked back up at me, suggesting that this was very far from OK and could we just head back upstairs to bed now.

The hole was maybe 4 foot long and around 2 foot wide. It had been clinically dug with sharp, straight edges around it. I stood at the edge and looked in, Albie whined at the top of his lungs. It was a deep hole. But not so deep that I couldn’t see inside it. Maybe 6 or so feet down into the earth, lay something I couldn’t quite believe I was seeing. I dropped to my knees to get a closer look, Albie’s whines turned to scared barks. He began tugging at my shorts, almost succeeding in pulling me away. “Enough!” I snapped at him and he dropped the material from his mouth. Turning and lying down on the grass a foot or so away from me.

I dropped back down to my knees and peered into the dark hole. Perfectly placed at the bottom of this hole which had appeared in my garden seemingly out of nowhere was a small shiny, brown, mahogany coffin. It had gold seals along the sides which shined way more than they had any right to at 6am on a dark winters morning. They glistened at me as I peered closer and closer. On a plaque placed on the middle of it was a name in fancy, calligraphy-type writing. I squinted my eyes to try to make it out but was none the wiser. I grabbed my phone out my pocket and tapped on the torch function. I shone it down into the hole and got a better look at the writing on the plaque. Just as I began to get a better look at it a loud thud came from the box. Albie jumped up from his safe spot on the grass and took off into the house. My heart flew up through my rib cage into my throat and I screamed. I looked up to see curtains ruffling in the windows at the houses either side of me, I laughed and waved up at them, trying to convince them, and me, that everything was OK. I succeeded with one as both neighbours waved politely and disappeared from the windows.

Returning to the edge of the grave, because that’s what this was right? A grave. I kneeled back down and shone my torch back down in the hole. As I did the coffin began to slowly creak a little on one side. After more horrible, aggressive thudding which rattled their way right through my body the coffin began to slowly open. On seeing this I toppled forward, unsuccessfully clutching out at the grass as I fell, head first past it. In the time of the small drop I grimaced, setting my teeth together, bracing myself for the impact of the coffin, but it never came.

The Mirror

Introducing Scarville, Iowa.

Scarville, Iowa has a creepy, Disney villain-themed, name. Unfortunately the truth to it is less extravagant than the name suggests. The town is named after Ole Scar, a local landowner in the 1800’s. It’s a small, old fashioned town where everyone knows everyone and local businesses depend on their customers for survival. The name of the town might be less than remarkable, but the incidents which occur within this quiet, isolated American town could be described as nothing short of terrifying.

“Hey Annieeeeeee, want to come an adventure?!” The cheeky face of Perry “Pop” Johnson stuck his head in through the window of Annie Hardy’s front porch. He swivelled his head around to see if anyone was around. “I’ve told you before Perry Johnson, the next time you appear through that porch window will be the last time, you done made me spill my coffee!” Janice Porter, Annie’s mothers’ live-in carer, chuckled as she laboured her way through to her favourite chair in the weathered looking sitting room, before she sat down she turned and said “Annie’s upstairs, go on up and see her son”.

Pop dashed in through the front door and flew up the stairs, taking them two at a time, he slammed against Annie’s closed bedroom door, landing face down on her carpet. “Ouch” he muttered. He picked himself up and looked around the empty room. “Annie?” he peered out her bedroom door and tiptoed along the dark corridor, standing for a while to regard the only other closed door upstairs. “Annie?” he inquired, quietly. He placed a tentative hand on the door knob and began to turn, just as he did the door flew open and Annie slipped out of the room into the hall. She made a “shhh” noise with her finger to her lips and they walked back to her bedroom and closed the door. “Sorry” said Pop “Janice said you were up here, I just thought…” . “It’s OK” said Annie, her back was turned to him as she opened her double-doored wooden wardrobe and threw on a coat. “How’s your mom?” he asked. “Fine” was all she could muster. She turned, keeping her awkward gaze on the bedroom carpet. Just as quick as the awkward encounter had started, it ended. “I’ve found something crazy cool” enthused Pop.

Although having just turned 15, Pop looked around 12. He was short for his age and his baby face didn’t do him any favours at making up for it. His mother always told him he’d welcome it when he hit her age but he had never understood.

“OK” said Annie. She was quiet but, as was often the case, Pop’s enthusiasm for whatever new idea was that day warmed her up. Although some of the teenagers in Scarville thought of him as childlike, Annie enjoyed the distraction his little schemes and adventures brought her. “Where are we going then?” she asked him. His excitement radiated throughout the room, he was speaking so fast he was incomprehensible but she got the gist. “…shediedandsomekidswereatherhouseandfoundthismirrorand….” “Cool”, she said “lets go”.

They said their goodbyes to Janice and promised to be back for dinner. They made their way through the football-pitch-sized fields of corn which were adjacent to the back of Annie’s garden and stopped at the precipice of the old railway line. “How much farther?” she asked him. “Only over the line and then through the tree’s, that’s where the house is” he said. He was still in a state of complete excitement.

He’d explained to her as they were walking that he’d been out for one of his “recce’s” and had come across old Mrs Samson’s abandoned house. When he was there he’d met two older kids who had told him that they’d been checking over the house for anything ‘cool’. “They had backpacks of it, mainly old jewellery and stuff though” he’d said. Annie had thought this was pretty gross but Pop didn’t seem to notice as he was bubbling over with his excitement to tell her the next part. The two kids had told him that in the loft of Mrs Samson’s house they’d found a mirror and when you stood in front of it, it showed you your biggest fear. “Bullshit” she’d laughed. “They were having you on Pop! There’s probably nothing but rats and mice in the loft, maybe some dusty china that was kept for a special occasion that never came.” But he’d protested, the two kids had told him what they’d seen. “The first guy, Marlon, he’d saw himself standing on top of a high rise building, a huge gust of wind had hit him and he’d fallen from the top. He said he could feeeeel the cold air as he was hurtling to the pavement Annie.” Pop’s eyes bulged and Annie was slightly concerned they might actually fall out his head. She laughed again. “Pop, you ever wonder why it is that you end up in these sort of weird situations with people telling you odd things that have happened to you?” “NOPE” he replied marching with purpose onwards to the abandoned house. “So, the other guy, he’d saw himself trapped in a cage with massive snakes, he said he could feel it biting him!! Can you believe that?!” The two boys had explained how they had had to pull each other away from the mirror to stop the terrifying ordeal continuing. “Right, sure” said Annie sarcastically. She rolled her eyes at Pop but he was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice.

They finally arrived in front of the old house. They stood together looking at the front door, which rested open. The house sat alone in front of the the old commuting road which linked Scarville to the rest of American civilization. “Right, let’s go find this magic mirror” snarked Annie. She was willing the sarcasm to dominate the fear creeping over her back and crawling into her ear. She’d thought this was just another one of Pop’s usual silly adventures, something to do on a boring Sunday afternoon. But when she saw the house sat on it’s own in the middle of nowhere, crooked old front door sat open almost beckoning them in, something felt a little off to her.

They made their way in through the front porch and into a dark creaking hall. The wooden walls were bare and a small table with an old looking telephone next to it lay knocked over on the floor. “Through here” whispered Pop. His excitement had been usurped by fear and in the dark of the hall his pale complexion looked ghostly.

They came to a set of wooden, makeshift stairs, 10 or so high which disappeared off into a pitch black square hole in the ceiling. Pop turned to Annie, half smiling, half terrified and nodded his head. They both clambered up, one after another into a dusty, murky loft. Pop pulled out a small torch which illuminated the immediate foreground. Cobwebs and dust dominated their vision. They held hands, creeping into the darkness. Just as Annie was about to declare it was time to abort this particular adventure, she bumped into the back of Pop who had stopped dead in front of her. “Look” he whispered. He shone his torch in front of them, lighting up a giant mirror. It must have stood 7 foot tall and was facing away from them at a 90 degree angle. “Holy shit” Annie whispered. Pop began to nervously laugh.

They had decided that if they were going to do this, that they needed a plan. Sat on the dark, dingy floor of the loft, whispering as they conspired, they had agreed that if either of them looked like they were in danger, that the other would grab them and pull them from in front of the mirror. As a failsafe they had agreed that if they couldn’t pull them away for whatever reason (Pop had offered the example of him being seduced by a female Vampire who looked like Angelina Jolie) then they would smash the mirror using a brick they had found lying on the floor.

“OK, here goes” said Pop. His voice shook nervously. He left go of Annie’s hand and walked to face the giant mirror. For the first few seconds he stood staring, his face unchanged staring deep into it, as if he were looking way into the distance. Annie, feeling as though she were sat alone on a deserted island, sat holding her breath only a few feet away. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Just then, Pop’s face contorted in horror, he let out an ice tingling shriek, flicking at his face as though he’d just disturbed a bee hive. He began to run on the spot, looking over his shoulder at nothing. He screamed. “GET THEM OFF ME, JESUS CHRIST, GET THEM OFF” he continued to run on the spot, picking up his pace. It looked to Annie as if he was running flat out but uncannily he stayed on the spot, thumping on the wooden floor beneath him. “ANNIE!!” he screamed “PULL ME OUT, IT’S COMING!!” Annie was frozen to the spot, she tried to speak but her voice caught at the back of her throat. Regaining some control over her body, she slowly approach Pop and just as he screamed “NOOOOOOOO” and covered his hands over his head she pushed him as hard as she could. He thudded to the floor out of the mirror’s vision and the room fell silent.

“Pop?” asked Annie, in whispered tones. He groaned as he pulled himself to his feet. “I really hate spiders Annie” he said, fixing her with the most serious look Annie thought she had ever seen from him. “Spiders?” she asked. “They were all over me and this massive one was chasing after me, it was 8 feet tall with gigantic fangs!!!” his haunted face burst into an electric smile and he shook with elated laughter. It echoed all around them. “That was AWESOME” he shouted to the sky. Annie realised that her whole body was sore, she had been rigid with fear. As Pop excitedly recounted the giant spider chasing him through a jungle, his face and body covered with them, all shapes and colours, she exhaled and relaxed slightly. “That sounds horrible Pop, how can you even be laughing at that?” she asked him. He was giddy “Honestly Annie, it was awesome, really. Come on, I can’t believe this thing works!!” She shook her head and proposed they leave, they’d tried it, it had worked and now it was time to go, she should get back for dinner. Pop was having none of it. “Come on Annie, it’s your turn. It’s not that bad at all and we can end it any time, I’ll either push you or use the brick.” He’d won her round. “OK” she conceded “but please, push me away from it as soon as I say” He held his hand to his head and sarcastically saluted her “aye, aye captain”. She took a deep breath, turned her body and stood to face in front of the giant mirror.

After a few seconds of peering into the mirror, staring at her own reflection her vision became water-like, as if looking into a whirlpool, she felt dizzy as the mirror started to swirl round and round. She blacked out and after a few seconds she slowly opened her eyes. She was lying on her back in a brightly lit room. She thought she was in bed which was confusing. Must have been a dream, she rationalised. Something niggled away at her hand, she grabbed at it to feel an IV tube snaking it’s way beyond the side of the bed, looking down she could see she was wearing old looking traditional pyjamas. “Mom?” said a voice. She looked up to see four adults sat around the bed, two men and two women. They felt familiar to her but she couldn’t place them. “Who are you?” she asked, she jerked up and sat facing them “Where am I?!” “Mom, it’s me, Toby” said the oldest looking man, he took her hand and stroked it. “We’re in the hospital remember? You’ve been here for 3 years now Mom, it’s Mothers Day so we thought it’d be nice to have lunch with you.” She was panicking now. “I don’t like this Pop” she screamed. “NOOOOO!! POP!!!” I DON’T LIKE THIS!! NOT LIKE THIS” “There she goes again” sneered the other man “always talking about goddamn Pop, who even is he?” he was shaking his head and looking at the others around the bed. “No-one knows” said one of the women “the nurses told me that she shouts for him at the same time every day, something about pulling her away.” Annie felt faint and thought she was going to pass out, she screamed at the top of her lungs “POP!!! SMASH IT!!! SMASH IT NOW, POP!!”

Pop, stood in the dark loft, had watched this whole ordeal unfold. He had watched her lie down in front of the mirror, pull out her hand involuntarily as if someone else was holding it and he’d watch her scream in horror, shouting his name over and over. He had tried to push her but every time he got next to the mirror he saw himself with a spider on his face and had gotten scared. As she began to scream for him to smash it, he about turned and made for the brick. He picked it up and with all his might he threw it as hard as he could at the mirror.

The four adults were attempting to sooth her as she spiralled further and further into a terrored panic. Just then, a huge crash of glass rang out in the hospital ward and all four adults jumped in fright. “Sorry everyone” said a nurse as she slumped to her knees and began to pick up large shards of the test tubes she had dropped. “POP?!” shouted out Annie. “POP!!! ANSWER ME!!!” The four adults shook their head and slouched back down into their chairs. “man this is hard” said one of the men. “I know” said one of the women “But she looked after Grandma when she had the same, it’s just something we need to do”. Annie was crying, blubbering for Pop over and over through shallow breaths. “Mom, we’re going to go now” said the oldest man “I’ll come by next week” Annie looked up, feeling caged in a body she couldn’t escape. “He said he would smash it” she repeated to them, over and over. “love you Mom”. They all took turns to give her a kiss on the cheek or cuddle and turned to leave.

As they were walking to the ward entrance she screamed at them with all her might. “HEY!!!!” they all turned, their faces stunned at the outburst. “Where’s Pop?” she whispered “we agreed he would smash it.” Their heads all dropped as one and they turned away towards the entrance.