Short horror story, age 15+
A chilling read.
I’m not feeling quite myself but I’ve managed to find my way home; the car’s parked in the drive and I’m walking into the front of the house, finding my way, as is habit, down the long hall and into the kitchen. I’m calling out to Hugh and Leo and the light when I hit the switch doesn’t project brightly and thus the kitchen looks strange in this dirty-yellow light. Where are they? Leo has no football practice in the early evenings now it’s winter and my husband was supposed to be home from the office an hour ago.
It must be an hour ago because I always get home from work at 6.30 pm. A glance at the clock hanging on the wall above the fridge tells me it’s stopped working because the hands are marked at 4.15. But I don’t need a clock to tell me the real time.
Yellow eyes glint at me under the table. I take a sudden step backwards and the keys escape from my open hand, dropping onto the tiled floor. My laugh is nervous because I’m then realising it’s Cinn – Cinnamon, our ginger tom-cat – who is the owner of the startling peepers. I wonder why he’s crouching under the table like that, sat on one of the chairs. A chill goes through me.
I pick up the ring of keys which have taken on an icy temperature of their own and place them on the table right next to the fruit bowl. I ought to switch on the central heating before I phone Hugh, it’s that cold in here. I feel off, like I’m coming down with something; I’m also not processing smell properly. There’s a cloying, sickly sweet odour. Then my eyes fall on the apples and pears and I clearly see that they’re rotting.
When I open my eyes I find I’m sitting on one of the kitchen chairs I’ve pulled out from under the table. My head is supported in my hands, elbows on table. I catch a snippet of the dream:
I was driving my car down the winding lane not far from our house, carefully because it was dark, with my eleven-year-old son in the back. He was excitedly telling me about the forthcoming school trip to Berlin and although I was naturally happy for him, I was selfishly happier for myself because it’d mean some rare time alone with Hugh. We planned to spend a day in the historic city of York, sightseeing and shopping, with a restaurant meal in the evening and an overnight stay at the same hotel where we spent our honeymoon twelve years before. I looked at Leo in the rear-view mirror, at his animated happy face. And I smiled at my beautiful boy.
The dream had such clarity and realism because all of this is true. It was as if the dream was echoing reality.
Except there was something odd about it too. I remember this figure standing in the road, man or woman I couldn’t tell, the person was just a dark shape set against a darkening sky. At the beginning of the dream they stood at the side of the lane, right at the edge of the field, at the turnoff from the main road. Just standing, watching. Then a little later I saw the dark figure again, this time in the road.
Now, I can’t remember any more. I feel worse. There is this heavy unease, this weight on my chest. I don’t know what it means but I suspect it’s connected to the dream.
I shiver in the dirty-yellow light of the kitchen. The decaying fruit before me. My cat, terrified for some unknown reason, keeping his distance under the table. There’s something I need to do, I just can’t remember what.
Out of habit I glance at the clock. 4.15.
Where are they? My husband and son should be home by now.
My head throbs with a dull ache. I rest it on the table, encircled by my arms.
“Mum, who is that?”
“I don’t know Leo.”
“I saw him earlier, he was there at the top of the lane.”
“It’s nothing. Just ignore him.”
“But Mum… he’s following us.”
I saw him myself. Yes, him – not a her – because this time I could make out the very masculine features of his face. The long coat covering the stocky figure, the rubber boots on his feet. I didn’t much care for the way he was staring at us.
“I’m looking forward to York.” Hugh had told me on the phone that lunchtime.
“Me too,” I replied, “Only two more days to go…”
I imagined him smiling his end of the phone. Sat at his desk with the framed photo of our little family smiling back at him.
“Hugh, can you tell me why Cinn is hiding under the table?”
“I don’t understand Nikki.”
“And, Hugh, didn’t you buy fresh fruit yesterday?”
“Nikki, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hugh, I’m frightened. I don’t feel well, and… and things don’t seem right.”
Cold liquid, something sticky has oozed under my hands, between my fingers. Some of it is in my hair. The dirty-yellow light flickers and I glimpse absolute blackness. I’m freezing cold. The apples and pears in the fruit bowl have shrunken and withered, grown grey coats, and in this process leaked their innards.
4.15. I remember now.
Instead of Hugh doing it, I’d collected our son from school. Although, that day instead of driving back to work for another hour, we went directly home. My boss said I may as well leave earlier because it was a particularly quiet day at the kitchen and bathroom fitting showroom.
Leo was in high spirits talking about the approaching Berlin trip, a holiday lasting three days. I listened and shared his joy. I thought of Hugh and I having some alone time together.
At 4.15 the tractor came from nowhere and then we were one with it. The heavy vehicle sliced into the front end of my car, into me. Thankfully, Leo seated (and belted) on the back-seat survived. The man, a passing stranger walking along the edge of the lane in the field looked on in horror. Our eyes locked until my dying breath but my son’s screams carried on into the beyond.
At 4.15 by Faith McCord
word count: 1,051
inspiration: I had this sudden vision of a woman coming home in the evening to a house unusually empty of her family – and a rotting bowl of fruit greeting her on the kitchen table!
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Copyright Faith McCord 2020
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.