The Ghoulish Easter Competition stimulated six writers to join in and create a horror story with a difference. Thanks to writers Ann Fox, Holly Magill, Geoff Robinson, Carrie Rubin and Wendy Strohm for joining me over Easter 2012 (and a little bit beyond). All that was needed was an opening paragraph and the story took on a life of its own thanks to these talented writers. It was such good fun, compelling reading when the next part of the story came through! We plan to publish it in an ebook anthology and would love to know what you think of it :)
When the Time is Right
It was nearly midnight, Maggie looked through the window. Fear held her silent, her throat constricted, she felt herself screaming inside, agape at the evil, snarling, rictus-drawn face that hissed ‘I am coming for you when the time is right’. She looked at her phone, just 23:31. What did that mean, ‘when the time is right’?
She wasn’t about to find out. Shoving clothes and toiletries into her gym bag, Maggie hightailed it out of her bedroom. Shoes. Where are my shoes? Her Uggs would have to do. Jamming pyjama-clad legs into the brown fur, she lunged for her purse and foraged for keys. To hell with her shrink; she knew that face was real. She’d seen it enough to know that. But what did it mean?
Leaving the bedroom didn’t help much – it was there again! The hideous face snarled at her through the sitting-room window. Maggie swiftly drew the curtains and turned the radio on, volume up full – it drowned it out – oh good Lord! What now? This had never happened before… the voice echoed eerily from the speakers ‘I am coming for you when the time is right’. She peered through the crack in the curtains, nothing, so she dashed for the car, feverishly turned the key in the ignition, willed it to start first time. She drove like a maniac, constantly glancing in her rear view mirror, afraid to turn on the radio for fear of hearing that hissing, snarling voice again. Where could she go? Midnight was only twenty minutes away – was that when the time would be right?
Maggie had no idea where she was going. It was only six months since she’d moved in so all was new to her and the nest of roads were unexplored. The high hedges of the lanes blurred as she barrelled through the darkness. She knew she was driving way too fast but panic gripped her. The figure appeared in the road from nowhere. Shit! A wrench of the wheel hurled the car off the road. The scream of bushes and scrub scratching paintwork mingled with her shrieks. She waited for the crunch. It never came and she was still screaming as the car burst through into a clearing. The single headlight still working lit up a crumbling barn as she slid to a halt in the moonlight.
A shadowed figure seemed to hover in the edge of her vision as she fought to catch her breath, she made herself calm down, shaking and quaking until a cold chill calm took over. Taking a deep breath she turned her head – but he was gone; just a whisper remained ‘…when the time is right’. Maggie thought back to the first time she’d heard him, seen that grim visage, heard the vile hiss of the voice, smelled the dankness of homelessness, felt his hatred of her and wondered why me?
And still now, after all this time, she felt a pull towards him, or towards the fear of him, just as keenly as she felt the urge to run.
The doctors said she exhibited strong self-destructive urges.
Without thinking, or even knowing how it had got there, Maggie drew the slim, sharp paring knife from where it lay sly against her shin inside her boot.
A chemical taste on her tongue and a feeling of almost hunger building from her guts upwards, she felt her feet moving her towards the barn.
Something propelled her forward, as if she were merely a helpless observant in a deadly game. But was she helpless? After all, she had had the foresight to bring the knife. Had she known it would come to this? Heart pounding, fist clutching the knife, eyes searching for the shadowy figure with the cruel and twisted face, Maggie inched forward. Surely the time was here.
She stepped warily through the barn door holding her breath, listening intently for the slightest sound that would give her a hint that any living thing, or any unearthly entity, awaited her. The pitch blackness was close and heavy, her breathing became laboured, but she forced herself to take deep breaths to steady her nerves and slow her wildly beating heart. Step by faltering step, holding the knife before her, she made her way across the barn until she stopped dead, frozen in her tracks by the hissing voice … ‘The time is here’. Was the shadowy form in the dark recesses of the barn real? The knife would not provide much protection if it was a figment of her imagination – or something much worse.
‘No, the time is not here!’ Maggie shouted loudly, her voice reverberating through the blackness. ‘I will not be scared of you. Go away. Leave me alone!’
His laugh when it came was deep, dark and throaty echoing through the empty barn; it seemed to come from the depths of his rancid soul. He took the knife and threw it outside, she barely felt him remove it from her clenched fist, it was simply there in her hand one second and gone the next. Maggie felt and smelt foetid breath on the side of her throat as he whispered in her ear, ‘You’re right, it is not yet time, you have to realise who I am, why I’m here. You shouldn’t have moved, it’s taken me six months to find you. But you’ll never get away. I’ll be back for you when the time is right’.
Slowly, Maggie realised he was gone. She stood alone in the already humid dawn outside the barn thinking over the events of the past year. Gerry and Sam’s death, the press milling round, making it into something it was not, the sense of people turning against her; and she’d done nothing, nothing to put them right, said nothing to tell them the truth of what had happened. They say fact is stranger than fiction. Strong self-destructive urges? What did they – the doctors – know? What did anyone know?
Lifting the gym bag from the back seat, Maggie rested it on the car’s warm bonnet. The time modulating device pulsed orange in the darkness. Time. Tick tock. Back and forth. She’d hoped not to use it again but now he’d tracked her down she had no choice. Just a small jump wouldn’t hurt surely? She fumbled with the dials and grasped the silver head of the modulator as it began to hum and vibrate. The shift left her coughing and wheezing like it always did, tears slipped down her cheeks but she’d learnt to bite down on the pain and to only scream within. She opened her eyes: same place but blinding daylight. The car was gone, of course. All she had left was her modulator and a healthy amount of guile. Pushing back through the bushes was difficult as the car hadn’t yet punched a path through. She ignored the scratches on her face, they’d be gone with another shift later anyway. It was time to hunt the hunter.
An hour later Maggie stood hidden amongst the trees bordering the backyard of the house in which she had once lived; Gerry was mowing the lawn while Sam bounced around on the trampoline. Maggie’s breath caught in her throat, all she had lost coming back to her in a great rush of emotion – this had been her life. She knew the rules of time, she must do nothing here that would alter the future, nor must she let herself be seen, most especially by her ‘other’ self – the one who still lived here and loved and cared for the husband and son she dared not even talk to now. Very soon ‘he’ would appear, the ghastly dark visage and the hissing voice she had come to know so well in the past months – but things were about to change, this time when he left he would not be alone.
Maggie watched the man she loved and missed every day. She could hardly bring herself to watch her boy; such was the wrench and longing in her very being. Her men were enjoying the fine weather with what seemed not a care in the world, and she tried to appreciate this for their sake. Then, through the tranquil scene Maggie heard the screaming of a woman in rage and the crashing of items being thrown. The noise appeared to be coming from the house.
Maggie saw her husband physically wince and her dear sweet boy had fear in his eyes. What on earth could have happened here in this timeline for her men to be living on a knife edge? Suddenly the door to the house flung open and an unkempt ball of fury emerged, throwing a saucepan at Gerry and screaming incomprehensively at Sam. Shocked to the core, Maggie realised she was looking at her alter-ego. The one she was not supposed to meet, to avoid. It would be no hardship to leave this horrific version of herself, but how could she leave her dear Gerry and Sam to this evil creature?
Slowly an idea formed in Maggie’s mind. The time modulating device seemed to burn heavily in her hands. Why should Maggie continue to run from one horrible terrifying creature and Gerry and Sam be subjected to living with another? Nice, kind Maggie could swap with evil Maggie. Evil Maggie could go on the run … Well, why not? Maggie set the time modulator and ran towards herself. She thrust the device into her hands and in flash evil Maggie disappeared…shifting into a different plane.
Maggie heaved a sigh of relief and smiled at her husband’s bemused face. She opened her arms to welcome her son.
‘When the time is right’? Rules are made to be broken.