by Aidan Thorn
Occasional light cracked through the floor boards above. That light bought with it hope and paralyzing fear in equal measure. Heavy, lumbering footsteps would creak the boards overhead and then stop. She never heard them leave or return, they just stopped and started periodically. She could feel cruel eyes looking down at her, glaring deep into her even though she couldn’t see the lurker. The sensation of that unseen stare burned through the solid oak boards and drove terror into her racing heart.
Who was he?
Why had he chosen her?
Sally ran every morning—Just 5K before work, along the seafront. Rain or shine. Last week, month or year—she’d lost track of time trapped beneath this floor—she’d ran for the last time. Rain had misted her glasses as she’d jogged along her usual route. She rarely saw anyone on her runs. Sally was one of the few people mad enough to leave their beds before 5am. But that morning had been different. A man walked towards her as she ran down her front steps and onto the street. Where his clothing didn’t cover his features, darkness did. He moved slow, almost glided. He had an unnatural air about him. Sally’s back was up and she felt a chill that the weather wasn’t responsible for creep up her back. Relief flooded over her as the man glided passed her. Sally started at a quicker pace than normal to put quick distance between herself and the man. One hundred or so yards up the road Sally allowed herself a look over her shoulder. The dark figure had clearly turned up a side street, the street behind her now stood still and empty.
Within minutes Sally was on the seafront. She wore headphones, the audiobook on her iPod stopped her running through all the things she’d have to do today as she took her morning exercise, this time was hers, she wasn’t wasting it on work and relationship problems—and she had many of both.
Waves crashed loud against the otherwise silent morning. She looked out towards the rough sea and saw another figure standing on the edge of the tide. Water covered his feet and he stood serenely as if he didn’t notice the icy sea lapping. The same cold chill that gripped Sally as she’d left her house held her again as she looked on the man.
On passing the distant figure he turned to look at her and her chill gripped harder. It was the same man she’d seen a few minutes before outside the house. His features were still not visible, but she knew. How had he got to the beach so quickly? Sally was spooked and picked up her pace once more. She thought about turning back and heading home. Despite her fear she chanced a look back over her shoulder toward the sea—the man was gone. She must have been more tired than she had realised when she’d bounced out of bed this morning. She decided she’d skip the run tomorrow—get an extra hour in bed. Physical fitness was all well and good, but not at the expense of mental health. She was seeing things now, that couldn’t be good.
Continuing along the promenade Sally took another look over her shoulder toward the lapping sea. Yep, she’d been seeing things; the man was not there. She looked back in the direction of travel. Her heart jumped, the figure stood in front of her. She made to scream but no sound came. There wasn’t time to stop before colliding with his solid, unmovable frame. There was an unnatural strength to the frame, she felt as if she’d collided with a wall. As she hit the pavement, the man without features scooped to lift her like she was nothing.
It was that same faceless man him that lurked above the floorboards now. The dark figure from that morning run on the beach. The way those footsteps moved. Slow, heavy, never leaving or coming back, just starting and stopping. It was him.
When she’d first woken Sally had no idea where she was. Perhaps a coffin? Space was tight and there was no light. After a day or two—maybe less, who knew—she realised as light seeped through cracks she was under a floor. After a day or two more she realised it was her own living room floor. A mobile phone had started to vibrate and ring above. The ringtone Run Away Horses by Belinda Carlisle. It was Sally’s phone. She’d left it charging on the coffee table when she’d gone for her run.
As the days passed the frequency of the ringing phone increased. Someone was worried. She thought of her mother, of Darren—her on again off again boyfriend—her colleagues they must have wondered where she’d gone. She’d heard the doorbell ring and the knocker knocked a number of times throughout her time below the boards. Again, the worry clear in whoever it was at the door. Long and numerous blasts on the bell or the knocker. Was it the same person that had been calling? Was it numerous people trying to reach her?
Every time she’d heard someone trying to raise attention at the door she had screamed. Or tried to—no sound came. She’d banged her hands, feet and knees bloody kicking against the floorboards above her, but again no sound came. If the pain, shortness of breath and claustrophobia wasn’t so stark and present she’d think she was dreaming. Why could she not be heard, what had the figure that lurked done to steal her sound? Whilst she tried to attract attention she heard the man moving about on the boards above. His steps echoed loud. How could those at the door not hear him, he was so loud, every step echoed through Sally’s body and filled her with dread. Sally was sure from the pattern of his steps that he stopped by the window and watched the person at the door when it knocked. Her house had no net curtains, no blinds. He’d be standing in plain sight. Why couldn’t the concerned visitors see him?
After a time the door stopped knocking. The phone stopped ringing. The footsteps above continued, slow, steady, heavy. Sally had no clues as to how long she’d been below the boards—time no longer mattered. There were cracks of light, that darkened as days came to a close but she’d lost count of their passing long ago. The only connection she had with the world above was those footsteps and the stare of a man that she couldn’t see, but felt.
How was she alive? She never slept, despite extreme fatigue. Adrenalin fueled by fear kept her alert. She hadn’t eaten since being here, and yet she never felt hungry. She hadn’t drank, and yet her thirst did not need to be quenched. Was she dead already? No, the pain was still there. Aches from being trapped in such a confined space, wounds from periodically beating the boards above—to make a noise? To try to escape? She wasn’t really sure—perhaps it was just for something to do.
Over time Sally’s body started to shut down. The violent thumping against the floorboards became, tame, labored, more futile than they had been already. She sobbed, soundlessly and finally, sweet release—she lost consciousness. The dreaded footsteps above continued.
Sally woke in her bed. A sweat so cold she shivered coated her body. A body tense and paralysed in fear. The room was dark. She looked to the alarm clock at her bedside—0458. She craned her head slowly around the room —it was definitely her room. She was alone. She called out.
She wasn’t expecting a reply. She was just testing her voice. It worked.
It had been a dream. A nightmare.
Sally flicked on the bedside light. Her running gear was laid out ready for her morning ritual. She stepped from her bed onto cold hard floorboards. The feel of them gave her pause. She shook herself, don’t be silly girl, it was a dream. She pulled on leggings, a t-shirt and a hoodie before lacing shoes tight to her feet. She stretched in the room. As she bent to touch here toes and as she looked on those trainers again she had a moment of doubt. Maybe she’d skip the run this morning. She chided herself again—It was just a dream.
She opened the front door. Fine rain misted her view of the world. A breeze blew across her face. A typical mid-winter morning. She pulled the door closed and stepped onto the empty street to begin her run. She’d barely started when he appeared. A featureless man stood tall in front of her. He raised a hand and took the sound of her scream before she could get it out. Sally’s world went black.
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Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest and Shadows & Light, Hardboiled Dames and Sin as well as online in numerous mags. and ezines. His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts was released in 2013 and his second, Urban Decay, was published by Grit Fiction in 2015 (no longer available). In September 2015 Number 13 Press published Aidan’s first novella, When the Music’s Over. In 2016 Aidan collated and edited the anthology, Paladins.