This story was published on Spinetinglers.co.uk , which a great site for horror, thrillers and anything of the spooky persuasion. They run monthly paid competitions in which this story, By Invitiation, came fifth to the tune of £25. It was my first paid for fiction story, so I was pretty chuffed. Don’t read it with the lights off……
It shocked me like a tackle from a ten foot tiger. Had I seen something like that back in my Rugby days I’d have either punched it square in the face or run away in a stumbling panic, it was hard to tell. Neither were an option as I sat there, paralysed in my steel chair with the wheels locked in place. It moved from directly in front of me over to the right. I strained my eyes as far as they would go, you know, to the point where it gets a little hazy and you can see a translucent half of your nose, and watched the shape move into Andy.
Spring Falls care home wasn’t much. The kids said they’d put me here after the accident so I could get the best help, but I know I’d become a burden. Living this way changed my world. Instead of subscribing to mantras such as ‘live life to the full’ and ‘carpe diem’, now I’d settle on two essential life lessons; ‘Don’t drink and drive’ and ‘All the muscle in the world won’t help you when you snap your neck’. Pretty specific I know, but when your head connects with your dashboard like an egg on a Halloween window, that positive crap you read on kitchsy arthouse coasters gets a little harder to swallow. The home itself was built back when people designed buildings to appear on the outside as forewarning to what they contained. Like driving past an old prison and just knowing that it was built to house the deviant and the savage. Spring Falls was a little like that. Picture the feeble, the meek and the unwanted and you’ll get an idea of the dilapidated, moss- covered auctioneers nightmare that I now call home.
“Time for lunch, Stephen,” said Sandra as she plonked the tray on my lap. The powdered soup slapped against the sides of the bowl and I could smell I was in for another dose of Chicken and Mushroom. The lukewarm liquid dripped from my chin as Nurse Sandra spoon fed me torn soggy bloomer, retaining her stronger hand to text this weeks casanova, who’ll no doubt be revving his 1 litre Nova outside any second waiting for her to finish her shift. I’d lost my voice in the accident and biting down on the bread caused a shooting pain which, despite what the doctors said, could be felt through the drugs. They happily assumed successful treatment in lieu of me being able to tell them otherwise.
“Well aren’t you a messy puppy. Time to clean you up.” Sandra put her phone in her apron pocket and by the time she had pulled tissues from the box, it had beeped again, so I knew her attention would only be short lived. The phone came her patients. I felt a drop of soup lingering on the end of my chin like a lonely icicle watched by school kids on a sunny spring morning. When’s it going to…..just hanging on in there…..any second…..Sandra swiped across my chin as firmly as she’d swiped across her phone. The tissue was that recycled sort and felt like slightly softened sand paper as the force of her lack of interest knocked my head back a little.
It appeared at the back of the room. It stood just shorter than the door and waited. It sometimes came when Sandra was around, but never when the kinder nurses were here. Just her. Just waiting. It was thin, so thin I was unsure whether it had physical shape or was an impression on the wall just right of the door, like a jet black vinyl sticker or a burn mark on the eggshell paint. It had the form of a human being, however that was where the comparisons end; it gave the impression of a face, however had no discernible features. I was sure it wouldn’t move until Sandra was in her boyfriends backseat, uniform hitched to the hip, banging away to AC/DC, Motorhead, or whatever it was kids got off to nowadays. It stayed perfectly still whilst she packed up her things, picked up the tray and left, walking straight past it without so much as a glance. Sandra couldn’t see it.
She left; it moved. From the right, it flipped to the other side of the door as quickly as turning a page in a book and slid along the wall towards where Frank lay. Frank had been in the Army, but when a enough pressure from the misplaced step triggered a Taliban mine, he’d lost his legs. He had regular visitors, but right now he was alone. Yes, you could say we were here, in that we were present and accounted for. Had someone come in for a headcount they’d be sure to count four people in all. But were we really there? Were people like us ever really anywhere? Between Andy, Dave and I, despite all still being of sound mind, we didn’t have enough working body parts to form a single human being. So when it reached the end of his bedside, Frank, in every sense of the word other than the purely and pointlessly physically, was alone. It moved from the wall towards his bed limb by limb. First, it’s left shoulder popped from a flattened state into a fully formed limb, then the right. With its shoulders thrust out, the hips followed, leaving the rest of its form flat. The hands raised up from the elbows and the head bent down, wriggling as it did so like a maggot forcing its way through a tiny hole. It was in no rush to complete this transformation. It’s hands yearned forward and grasped onto something which from the shape they formed may have been an otherworldly rope or handle, tangible to it; invisible to me. It finally moved completely into the room taking its fully three-dimensional form, not of its own strength, but as if a force had pulled it inside.
“Oh God. Help. Please. Oh God. Shit. Shit.” Words that should have been screamed were whispered. He was experienced in frightening and life threatening situations, so I couldn’t tell whether fear had swollen his voice box or whether he’d given up on screaming, given up on telling them day in, day out what he saw at night, given up on being crazy, rambling Frank. His breathing quickened. His shoulders raised and his legless hips writhed as his body, gripped by the visage that slinked towards him, chose to flee, despite not having the means to do so. It leaned over him until their faces were almost touching.
“Oh shit. Oh shit. God Jesus Susan. Susan.”
Its body followed and hovered inches over Frank. He became still. He quietened down. It descended.
Andy died in the weeks that followed. I can’t be sure exactly when, but I remember there being a rush of Doctors followed by grieving family members visiting one evening. From the Doctors conversations (people often discussed confidential information around me. Hearing something you’re not supposed to isn’t so dangerous if you can’t repeat it) it seemed he’d died of a heart failure which puzzled them as he hadn’t shown any signs of being at risk of such a condition.
“He didn’t want to live like this,” said a male voice. I couldn’t distinguish who was who as the speakers were not stood in my very restricted line of vision.
“It was so sudden. I came as soon as I heard,” said a female voice, early twenties I’d say. Sudden for them, I thought. Sudden for them who go on with their lives, their daily distractions passing the time so quickly. Another year gone? Christmas already? Doesn’t time fly. Not for us. Not in here where days pass at the pace of an eroding rock. Not so sudden at all. Not so sudden for Andy.
An older man spoke. His tone had a sense of authority, “The thing is, I hate to say it but he talked about this a lot. Going away. Being done with it all. He’s happier where he is now. I wish we’d made up, but he’s in a better place. I believe that, Sharon. Andy wanted it this way.” They were words only a parent could rightfully say.
There was an inquiry into Andy’s death. His family weren’t satisfied that the Doctors had done everything they could to predict the complications leading to his passing. The home went into panic mode, known commonly amongst the staff as CARE (Cover Ass and Retain Employment). To appease the public, more nurses were employed from the local temping agency. Sandra was moved to another ward and we benefited from a new nurse. Nurse Beth was in her early 30’s and looked like a waitress from a 1950’s diner, with plump red lips, curly auburn hair and a pale complexion. I imagined her kitchen was full of red polka dot tea towels with matching plastic aprons and a kettle that still whistled like they used to. I was fed full meals, my meds were on time and she put me at ease. She even listened to Franks stories. Well, not all of Franks stories. There were some she was told not to listen to. The one about the dark shape that starts in the corner of your eye and moves to the end of your bed, the one where the cabinet rattles and Nurse Sandra says you’re causing it yourself and restricts your food for doing so, the one where you want to end it all because the ringing just won’t stop. She doesn’t listen to those stories. That’s just crazy rambling Frank talking. Standing on a mine does things to the mind, you know.
Once the press backed off and the public found new things to complain about, the suits of Spring Falls dispensed with the temporary staff. Elizabeth left and Frank passed away shortly after, the events deemed unrelated to everyone but myself. The thing is, if you sit still and stay quiet long enough, you see far more than those busy, busy people for whom life flies by. We were people for whom life held little meaning, who’d burdened their loved ones and who knew things could never go back to the way they were. I saw what happens when life becomes a simple waiting game and death is welcome, so welcome you’d not just open the door, but you’d drag it through the smallest crack. It didn’t visit in the good times. It wasn’t there on the sunny day you proposed, when you got that new job, or when you’re around people that care. But it watches as you break up, it’s there when you lose that big client and it peers in as you descend into drink. It sits in the back seat as you get behind the wheel and, as you lie in bed regretting it all, it waits to be invited in.