The sinking sun casts golden light across the porch and front door. It makes the door seem haunted or spectral like it’s some gateway to another world. But it’s not; it’s just an old wooden door splintering at the hinges that creaks when it’s opened.
Without pausing I toss my bag into the living room and make my way into the kitchen. I open the fridge to find it almost empty. There’s three cups of my mum’s low-fat yogurt and two bottles of my dad’s expensive wine half-drunk that I’m not supposed to touch. I grab a yogurt cup.
Leaning against the fruit bowl on the kitchen island I find a small envelope with my name in my mother’s neat handwriting across the front. I untuck the note from the envelope:
We’ve gone to Melbourne. Back in 3 days.
No ‘love you’. No ‘sorry’. No warning. Just gone.
Rage heats my body and makes my head hurt.
I open the fridge and without reading the label choose a wine bottle. I bring the bottle to my lips and down half its contents in three big swigs.
Something snakes its way up my leg. Long fingers that feel as thin as flower stems but as strong as chains. I look down and almost miss the shadow holding my leg. I try to tug my leg away from the shadows. It doesn’t budge. I grip the counter and with the violent intensity that could bring down a grown man, I kick my leg. The fingers around my ankle never slip, just tighten.
With just a swift tug it has me on the ground. The bottle shatters, scattering shards of glass across the kitchen floor around me.
It takes the opportunity to rapidly ascend my leg and wrap itself around my torso, like a boa constrictor. It drags me so quickly through the house that everything—the walls, the floors, the furniture—blends and folds together. I feel the kitchen tiles, the wooden flooring of the dining room, the shaggy rug in the living room. Above me the white ceiling blurs with the yellow hue of the lights, making a murky, streaky mess.
My thrashing only makes it tighten its grip around my waist and legs until I can’t breathe. My hands try to find a purchase on the shadow, but I can’t grasp it. My fingers fall through it like it’s not even there. But it is. It’s all around me, smothering me, crushing me.
It’s black and translucent and it’s pulling me towards an inky black hole in the middle of the living room, the depth of which I cannot tell. As it pulls me closer, I resist more, and it tightens more. My heart is galloping. The harder the shadow squeezes my waist, the more I feel like my heart is going to be squeezed out of me like a sauce packet.
Then I’m going down the inky black hole. Down. Down.
I enter my house; the door opens with a long creak. The door closes behind me shutting out the noise from the streets, leaving me in silence.
Sometimes I think my house is haunted. I always feel like I’m being watched even when I’m alone. Like there is something tucked deep into the blackness of the shadows cast in the corners. The shadows seem to breathe, slightly expanding and contracting in intervals. Something was there, I was sure, coiled in the shadows waiting for a moment to spring.
I toss my school bag in the living room and go to the kitchen.
My parents’ note from the previous day is still sitting on the kitchen island. Shards of the broken wine bottle were scattered across the floor, but I fail to remember why.
I grab a yogurt from the fridge and sink to the floor, my back resting against the cabinets. Loneliness is a heavy feeling. A seed as heavy as a stone in the pit of my stomach.
I place my empty yogurt cup on the ground beside me, accidentally cutting my palm on the shards of glass littering the floor. I press my thumb against the wound which throbs against it.
I rummage through my dad’s liquor cabinet filled with gifted spirits and expensive wines for a suitable disinfectant. Using one of my dad’s unopened bottles of alcohol as disinfectant would definitely piss him off when he gets home.
I grab a vodka bottle from the depths of the cabinet, and I pour only a couple of drops of vodka on the wound, but the skin still burns and screams.
I examine the bottle, toying with the idea of trying some. I’ve tried sips of my dad’s wine or beer when I was younger, but I’d never had vodka.
Quickly I grab a shot glass from the cabinet’s top shelf and pour myself a little vodka like I’m expecting him home soon. Tentatively, I taste it. I savour the taste on my tongue.
I polish off the glass like it’s water. I like the way it burns. I pour my second. Third. Fourth.
Something nudges my heel, creeping up the side of my foot, rubbing against it and grasping my ankle. It is nothing but the shadow of a vine but has the strength of steel.
The thing from the shadows had finally made its move. Its eyes were on me, but now it is ready to attack.
It races up my leg. I try to kick it away, but it never budges, it just coils around tighter and tighter.
With its iron grip, it pulls me to the ground, wrapping a second arm around my other leg as it pulls me quickly down the hallway. The house goes by in a blur, I feel the terrain beneath my back change from tile to wood to rug.
My phone slips from my dress pocket, I manage to grab it before I’m pulled away. I squeeze my phone in my hand as the shadow squeezes me harder. It moves further up my body and wraps itself around my chest, so I can’t breathe. I panic as I see a large hole opening up in the living room floor. The hole is so inky black I cannot tell its depth. I try to thrash against the shadow, but it doesn’t matter it still tightens and tightens and tightens.
My vision starts to spot, colourful explosions in front of my eyes and then the spots get bigger, and the house turns black and white.
With the palm of my hand, I accidentally activate the flashlight on my phone. Despite my failing vision, it burns my eyes, I turn it away and—
The creature recoils, just enough that I can breathe. I suck the air in like it’s water, and I’ve just journeyed the desert. The creature is still pulling me, but slower, almost cautious.
I flash the light on the shadow again and it recoils again. So, I hold the light closer to the shadow and it jolts, detangling itself from my leg.
I get up off the floor, waving the flashlight towards the shadow like I’m wielding a sword. The shadow curls up on itself and slowly shrinks in size, as does the inky hole behind it.
I don’t wait to see them disappear. I run upstairs to my bedroom, slamming the door behind me.
Sometimes I think I’m haunting this house. Haunting my parents
I could stomp down the stairs, loud enough to shake the photo frames on the walls and they’d barely even take notice. It’s like any frequency of noise I make they’re not tuned into. When I come into the room my father will flick his eyes over me with the same disdain he regards the politics page in the newspaper with, but nothing else will move. When my mother has guests over, she doesn’t even look at me. If I make a noise and her friends look at me instead of her, she says, ‘Oh, just ignore her’, and laughs, high and shrill like silver bells. Like I’m just some poltergeist living in her walls.
So, I decided today I’m not going to go to school. My parents’ note was still in the kitchen, along with the glass shards. I saw them every time I went to the kitchen hungry only to remember there is no yogurt left. I ate it this morning, while I mulled over whether I should go to school.
The hunger pangs are sharp now though, so I wander into the kitchen and open the fridge just to be reminded there is still nothing.
I slam the fridge door closed and pull open every door and cabinet in the kitchen, pulling out glasses, bowls, plates, and cutlery to the floor on the hunt for any bit of food my parents’ might have hidden.
I eventually reach the bar cabinet and sift through all the labels in my father’s alcohol collection. I pick the Melbourne-themed souvenir shot glass—a toast to my parents perhaps—and the vodka bottle from the back of the cabinet.
But by the time I slug my fifth shot, I can feel something crawling up my leg and pulling at my ankle. I jolt backwards and the vodka bottle falls from the top of the cabinet and smashes around my feet.
The thing pulls me again, I look down, and see only a thick strap of shadow wound up my leg. I try to shake it off, but that only encourages it, as it wraps tighter and tighter and up and up my leg.
My heart thar-rumps. My face is flushed. I reach down to shove the shadowy creature, but my hands just can’t connect. With every kick and flail the shadow creature fights back harder and faster.
It gives one swift, hard tug and I fall on my back, my dress pockets emptying on the floor beside me.
I wildly search for something at my side to help me and my hand grasps at the little lighter. I flick the trigger and put the flame against the shadow. It jerks back. I go at it again, dragging the lighter across as much as I can reach. It rapidly detaches itself from my leg.
We stay apart for a just a breath. I close the lighter flame. It jumps at me and before I can react it wraps itself around my face. I can see and hear nothing except darkness. I try to scratch it off my face, but my hands can’t grasp it. I can’t breathe, the shadow covers my mouth and nose. I struggle to ignite the lighter flame.
I try once, nothing.
Thrice and the flame ignites. I assume it touches the shadow, because it jumps back, so the spilt alcohol is pooled between us.
I touch the lighter to the puddle and it erupts into flames. I turn and run.
Ash falls like rain around me, speckling the street. The emergency vehicles cast red and blue hues over the neighbours’ houses. But nothing reflects off the blacken, razed mess of my former house.
Even with the air polluted with smoke, it was the first time in a long while I could breathe. The heavy smoke-filled air couldn’t hold me down. I felt light, my heart was soaring. I could barely feel my feet against the ground.
A taxi containing my parent’s perfectly manicured figures in the back pulls into the street. They jump out of the taxi before the taxi could come to a complete stop. From their frantic gestures, I can tell my mom was crying and my dad was angry. They only looked at the house though, they didn’t search the crowd for me. With the mess of people, vehicles, and equipment, it’s easy for me to slip away. I bet nobody will even realise I’m gone.
Lauren Grzina is a Sydney based writer. She was published in the 2018 KSP Ghost Stories Competition Anthology, Night Works, for her story The Midnight Creature. Lauren has also been highly commended for the Future Leaders Writers Prize. Lauren is often inspired by fantastical stories and otherworldly creatures and has a soft spot for morally grey characters.