Welcome to your terrible or terrific Tuesday, depending on how your day is going.
It is the second day of my writing week challenge, where I will post a new piece of fiction every day until Sunday! If you haven’t given me a prompt yet but want to, you can do so in the comments below or visit my Twitter/Facebook and leave a comment there!
This day’s story is 2,226 words. The prompt was actually quite in-depth and would technically contain spoilers so I’ll put this much: a young man sick with the flu wakes up, only to find his roommates gone and apparitions in their place.
Let me know what you think about it and, of course, show the love by sharing!
Dedicated to “Papa Jazz”.
Lance rose out of sleep as though through a hot haze. A fractured dream involving a school hallway that never ended and a late paper due, released him only reluctantly.
With a groan, he pressed his palms against his closed eyes, which felt like they were throbbing inside his fiery skull. Lance rolled over to his side and reached out blindly, his fingers fumbling over his phone, some loose change, and – finally – a glass of water, now room temperature. He took a sip, grimacing as the water brutalized his swollen throat.
Lance fell back against his pillow and tried to go back to sleep, but the painful pounding of his own flu-ridden brain prevented him from slipping back into oblivion. His mind, chased by the heat of fever, ran through various trains of thought – remembering an awkward moment at work that happened last week, the cute girl who often came in to browse the new stock, the song composition he was working on, what present he should get his mom for her upcoming birthday – and he struggled to get it under control.
He pulled himself up into a sitting position and clutched his head as it thundered in response. Even his own breath felt muggy as it slogged across his wrists, like his very insides were boiling. A thought caught hold: medicine.
That’s right. There might be something in the bathroom, or he could ask his roommates if they had anything on hand that might help.
Lance swung his feet over the side of his bed and to the floor, where the chilled hardwood made him shiver. He stood and wavered unsteadily. He definitely felt worse than he had when he went to bed and now he was shivering hard enough that it felt like he would shake to pieces. He couldn’t understand why it was so cold in the house.
With his room faintly illuminated by the streetlights filtering in through his window, he stumbled to his laundry basket in the corner and pulled out article after article of clothing until he found a sweatshirt and pulled it on.
Lance paused. He listened to the house. It creaked in the same way, sighed in the same way, but it was quiet in a different way all together. The silence that filled the spaces between the normal house noises seemed heavier, deeper, in a way Lance couldn’t pinpoint. Suddenly he didn’t want to be alone.
He went to his bedroom door, found himself holding his breath as he opened it. The hall outside was dark, empty of – of what? What had he been expecting to find? Images flickered past his mind’s eye: a burglar on tip-toe, a monster with dripping fangs, his roommates making out against a wall.
The hall began to tilt and Lance’s stomach churned dangerously. He clenched his eyes and breathed harshly in through his nose, out through his mouth, in through his nose, out through his mouth – until the urge to retch disappeared.
He’d thought he’d just had a cold, but now he worried it was something worse.
Opening his eyes, the hall was back at the proper angles, so Lance began his way down towards the bathroom. It was the first door on his left. He opened it.
This was Annette’s room, not the bathroom. Her bed was empty.
Lance turned around; how did he get here? He remembered turning right out of his bedroom. The bathroom was down on the right, the first door on the left.
His head was pounding harder, sending bright spikes of pain through his brain into the backs of his eyeballs. He was in desperate need of some acetaminophen. He went back the way he’d come, past his own closed bedroom door – hadn’t he left it open? – and to the first door on the left.
He opened the door. Saw Annette’s empty bed.
A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye. Lance turned, caught a glimpse of someone disappearing around into a room at the other end of the hall. If this was Annette’s room, that would be where the kitchen was. But this shouldn’t be where Annette’s room was, didn’t he just come from there?
He struggled against the fever, to make sense of what was happening. He’s gotten turned around. He had stopped at his bedroom and turned back; he’d gotten confused.
“Annette?” Lance called and then flinched.
His voice had been loud and it felt late. His other two roommates would be pissed if he woke them up.
He went down the hall, towards the kitchen, towards the person he’d seen. Feeling worse every minute, Lance made it past the closed doors along the hall (didn’t he leave his and Annette’s open?) and through the entryway to the kitchen. The lights were off, and with no windows, the kitchen was dark. Too dark.
He slid a hand along the wall for the light switch, flipped it. Nothing. Flipped it again. Nothing. Unlike the emptiness he’d felt when he first woke, Lance could feel that he wasn’t alone.
“Annette?” he whispered.
He stepped farther in, reached out, and jerked open the fridge door. The light cast a weak glow across the tile floor, the scratched counters, the leftover dishes from dinner in the sink, and just barely reached the sickly pale legs of someone standing just outside the light’s reach.
The voice came as a hiss from the direction where the legs were.
“Hey, haha. Very spooky. Listen, where is everyone?”
The person lurched forward and her – its – face entered the light revealing a mess of rot, bone, and leaking ichor. In the mashed contours of its skull, a thick tongue lolled out and was snipped in two as the skeletal jaws snapped shut.
“LEAVE!” it blubbered, spewing black fluid onto the kitchen floor.
Lance booked it out of the kitchen and back down the hall. His overheated brain failed to compensate for this sudden speed and he slammed into a wall as the whole hallway spun. Ahead, someone laughed. Lance looked up.
Half a man floated in the middle of the corridor. He ended just above the waist and flickered with a sickly blue hue. He was clutching his bloated belly as he laughed and laughed.
Then he stopped.
The silence was worse, especially as azure intestines fell from his severed middle and piled onto the floor. The thing met Lance’s gaze and bared its teeth, snarling like a rabid animal. Lance didn’t wait to see what would happen.
There was a door right next to him so he opened it and slipped inside, shutting it behind him as fast as he could. This was all his stomach could take and it rebelled against his upright state. Lance fell to his knees retching, but nothing came out. Still his body refused to give up so he continued in this manner on his hands and knees for a full minute. His stomach finally settled for the moment and Lance curled up on the floor, his back against the door, shuddering. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this cold in his life.
“I’m hallucinating,” he tried to tell himself, alone in the empty room. “I went to bed with a fever and I am dreaming all of this.”
His shivering wasn’t getting better despite his self-assurances. Lance knew he needed to go back to bed and sleep, so he could wake up in the morning and laugh it all off. He got to his hands and knees then, with both hands clutching the doorknob, pulled himself up into a hunched standing position.
“This is our house. There’s no room for you. Oh, mommy will be so mad.”
He didn’t want to. For the life of him, Lance wanted to ignore the little voice behind him.
Lance turned around. He was in Dan’s room. That was logical. That made sense. It was the closest bedroom to the kitchen. For a moment, Lance had been teetering on the brink of a scream thinking he would have found himself in Annette’s room again.
Not that this was truly any better. Dan’s bed was also empty. Suddenly, Lance knew without any shadow of a doubt that he was alone in this house. Well. Alone was subjective considering he was staring at – staring through – the smoky silhouette of a little girl. Her bottom jaw was gone, all that remained were tatters of translucent skin hanging down and the glint coming from a top row of teeth. Lance’s brain tried to figure out how she could have spoken but failed.
The little girl pulled a pair of scissors from behind her back.
“Mommy doesn’t like it when I play with people, but she’s in the kitchen so I won’t get in trouble. Wanna play?’
She gripped the handles of the scissors in both hands, raising it above her tiny head.
Lance jerked open the door and practically fell out into the hall. “Mommy” had made her way into the hall now, effectively blocking a complete escape as the front door was opposite the kitchen. The blue apparition hadn’t moved, but floated at the same level in the same place, above its pile of intestines.
In the hazy heatwave of his fever, Lance was convinced that getting to his room and back to his bed was the best course of action. With that mantra beating against the backs of his eyes, Lance lunged forward, ducking beneath the clawing hands of the legless torso, and made a dash for his own bedroom door.
A door farther down the hall opened on its own – was it Annette’s now or maybe Murphy’s – he couldn’t keep his directions straight, everything seemed backwards. Lance pulled open his door and slammed it behind himself.
Panting, he leaned against the closed door and stared at his own bed.
His own bed which wasn’t empty.
In the darkness, he could see the shape of someone – something – underneath the covers and backlit by the dim streetlight. His breath caught in his chest as he waited for what horrible entity would come rising up from it.
Somewhere else, somewhere distant, he heard a door slam and laughter. Lance couldn’t tear his eyes away from the monster beneath the sheets.
Next he heard voices in the hall.
He recognized them. His roommates had come home from wherever they’d been this whole horrifying night. They were out there and they didn’t know what danger they were in.
Lance reached behind himself and opened the door again, never taking his eyes off the shape in the bed. Light flooded around him.
They’d turned the hall light on and it pierced him, momentarily blinding him as he stood in the hall. His heart raced as his brain promised him that those ghouls were just in front of him, reaching out, reaching for him.
No answer but he could hear them talking. His eyes adjusted and he looked for them. His three roommates were walking down the hall in his direction. Behind them, in the shadowy kitchen door, stood the brutalized female spirit, leaning out as if participating in a coy game of hide and seek. Between him and them floated the blue apparition, who was slowly reeling in his own guts. His roommates didn’t see them. They couldn’t see them.
“I got Lance some cold medicine, we should see how he’s doing,” Annette said as she passed through the sapphire smoke of the man’s torso.
The torso rotated until it faced Lance again. It was laughing. Lance stumbled back a step, clutching his arms in a vain attempt to stop his shivering. His naked arms. He remembered putting on a hoodie… right?
He looked to his right. His door was closed again. He hadn’t closed it. He knew he hadn’t closed it.
“Don’t open it, there’s something in the bed,” he said softly though he knew now.
Annette opened his bedroom door and entered the dark room.
“Hey Lance, you awake?”
Dan and Murphy had disappeared into the kitchen. The female ghoul was now completely bathed in light, from the hallway and also from the kitchen. Lance could hear dishes moving around. The little girl stepped out from Dan’s room and smiled at Lance.
Lance didn’t want to look but he did all the same, because a part of him wanted to believe this was all a bad dream. He watched Annette put a small plastic bag on the foot of his bed and reach out to shake the shoulder of what lay beneath the covers.
Loud laughter as his two other roommates tumbled from the kitchen and began to make their own way down the hall, equally blind to the other tenants of the house as Annette had been – as he had been.
“…L – Lance?”
Lance screwed his eyes shut a moment before she screamed, and screamed, and screamed. Murphy and Dan went still as statues in the hall, then rushed to Lance’s room. Lance shivered, he couldn’t feel any part of his body, it was all just… numb. In his room, Dan was holding Annette as she sobbed. Lance never realized how sweet she looked when she cried. Then again, he couldn’t remember having ever seen her in such a state before. Murphy was attempting CPR even though Lance knew he’d dropped out of his certification course. His limbs felt heavy, so heavy. Lance sunk to the floor and cradled his head. Somewhere in the house, a little girl giggled.
Thanks everyone. Don’t forget there will be another piece posted tomorrow. until then~
x P.L. McMillan