Him

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The kitchen is redolent of a sickly yet tantalising sweet aroma of warm syrup covering a batch of fresh flapjacks, adding torture to an empty tummy.

Little Girl sits by the table, tongue in cheek, feet swinging back and forth, fingers drumming on the tabletop, watching her mother stir the contents of Father’s coffee before carrying the mug out of the room without so much as a backward glance.

Little Girl takes this chance to dash from her chair, stacking a few syrupy flapjacks onto an empty plate before rushing off along the hallway toward the door that leads down into the belly of a smelly basement. For a moment, Little Girl just stands there watching the door, seemingly undecided as she listens to Mother and Father exchanging pleasantries upstairs.

Without so much as a touch, the door suddenly swings open, eerily quiet, revealing a thick, coiling darkness swallowing the stairs further down. The soft hair on the back of her neck and along the length of her arms rises to accentuate sudden apprehension. Except for the man watching her from the depths, no one else is present to witness fine pearls of sweat running down her tender temples. Her eyes widen as her vision adjusts, and as always, finally bringing forth the darker shape of a large man just standing there in silent approval.

“Just put it down on the second step, Little Girl.”

His voice sounds like the wind. His breathe is cold and slams into her body like a roving glacier.

She does what she is told, turns around and closes the door behind her, just in time to see Mother looking at her questioningly, approaching her, asking all kinds of questions Little Girl is not allowed to answer, in turn met with a scowl that contorts her lovely face into that of motherly rage.

At that moment, as Mother angrily pushes past her to open the basement door, Little Girl realises with childish surety that her life will henceforth know no peace.

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CJ Mallark wakes from the dream, smothered with the urge to bolt.

He’s here! He’s found me! Run!

Prizing herself on the fact that she’s a born fighter, she cannot express her surprise when she finds that accompanied by the strong will to flee, a debilitating anxiety locks her body into a frozen set of limbs that leaves her stranded in a tangle of sheets and a darkness beyond blindness.

Instead, she listens.

Groaning pipes; creaking floorboards; a leaking faucet; a sculling heartbeat.

Apart from the usual noises true to old houses, there is no other discernible sound to give an explanation to her sudden anxiety except risking laying blame upon the dream.

Run! He’s here! He’s back!

Her limbs finally unlock, giving her opportunity to dash from the bed and make for the bathroom, throwing the door shut behind her and turning the key with a sigh of relief. Pressing her weight against the door, uncertain if her strength is sufficient to deter unwanted malice, she reaches with her hand toward the light switch and flicks it upward with an audible snap.

Darkness remains constant, unmoving.

Deprived of vision apart from the aid of weak moonlight filtering through dust-covered windows, she pricks her ears for any sound that deviates from the norm, unsure whether or not she is able to trust her own ears.

Above the fast-paced beating inside her head, she imagines hearing the sound of heavy feet on wooden floorboards interspaced by short clips of silence. He, depending on the assumption that the intruder is actually male, sure that her instincts are trustworthy, nonetheless, must be climbing the stairs. In a few seconds, he’ll reach her bedroom. A few seconds more and he’ll know she’s locked herself in the bathroom.

She strains to hear more, but groaning silence.

He must’ve reached the landing on which she’s spread the old rug that was leaning against the baluster when she first bought the place. In hindsight, it would’ve been productive to dispose of the damn thing when she had the chance, given the fact that muffled footsteps won’t allow her to track his progress.

Does it make her a fool to believe that the world is still a safe place?

What would he want in a dilapidated house such as this?

She shakes her head when the thought of other possible motives enters her head, filling her mind with gruesome images.

Outside, the bedroom door slams shut.

She clasps her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream and realises the futility of that act. It doesn’t matter what she does, the intruder must already know where she’s hiding. Except, by sealing her mouth and keeping ghost, it gives her the vain hope of him ultimately deciding that the house was empty, after all. He will leave. He will take her purse, probably, and run, wouldn’t he?

Wouldn’t he?

He’s come for you!

The thought sends shivers up and down her spine.

Taking a deep, slow breath, keeping it, ignoring the throb in her head, she imagines him walking up to the bathroom door, standing there, raising a hand to touch the doorknob.

He hesitates with the darkness that surrounds him.

A slow, hard knock instead.

CJ expels her breath for a fresh one, and retreats further into the bathroom. She makes contact with the big bathtub, almost falls into it, and remembers the razor blade she keeps inside her toiletry bag. Ignoring the presence of danger, ignoring the second series of slow knocks, she stoops down to where she remembers having left the bag, only to grope at nothing.

The intruder, having lost his patience, no doubt, suddenly bangs on the door with what might just be all his might, the sound reverberating through the room in a cacophonous rhythm, the idea of the door giving way under all that pressure making CJ lose all her current fears. She dives onto her hands and knees, scurrying about the cold floor in search of the damn toiletry bag. The banging doesn’t stop, the noise almost overpowering all her senses, leaving her feeling pummelled and dazed instead. Just before losing all hope, she finally touches the elusive bag, fumbles with the zipper, tears it open and plunges her hand inside, searching for the razor.

She finds it and pulls it out of the bag.

The edge of the razor blade catches on the zipper-track. She loses her grip on it, and faintly, just under the incessant banging, she can hear the musical clinking as it falls from her reach. She almost screams.

At that moment, the banging stops.

The silence is so menacing that she catches herself wishing the banging to resume.

She sits there, listening, the basement door swinging open within her mind, a razor blade of her own making cleaving at the walls of suppressed memories that threaten to drown all thought.

He stands there, listening, opening the basement door while watching her facial expressions morph from one to the other, smelling her sweat as both a girl and woman, his overall demeanor that of approval.

In her neck, a soft exhale as cold as arctic gales. In her ear, a faint whisper.

“I found you, Little Girl.”

Him.

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