I’m in a dark place and I’m scared. I was crying all last night and now my eyes feel gritty, like they’re full of sand. It smells strange down here and the floor and walls are damp. The black confuses me. My mind feels empty. Terry used to lock me in the attic, so I’m not scared of being locked in places but I am scared of this darkness. It feels hungry.
I’m here is ’cos I was stupid. This guy friended me on Facebook and, ’cos I wanted more friends than Amy, I accepted him. He said he was sixteen and he looked so hot in his photo. It was a lie. Mind you I lied to get on that site. I said I was fourteen when I’m only twelve. It was so easy.
He arranged to meet me outside ABC computer shop in Chorley and I waited for him until it was almost dark before I gave up and left. It was when I was walking past the cemetery that he grabbed me from behind, shoved me into his car boot then drove me away and flung me down into some horrible black hole.
It must have been the Facebook boy who grabbed me. Who else? Obviously it was his evil plan all along and I was an idiot, ‘a stupid, stupid girl’ as mum would say. She’ll be tearing her hair out now, no danger. I mean it must be days since I’ve been down here.
Oh shit, he’s coming now. The flash of light blinds me, and down he comes. All I know is he seems huge. I feel really sick and I’m too frightened to look at him, but I do know two things, he isn’t sixteen and he isn’t the boy in the photo.
“Here, eat this.”
The plate clatters to the floor near the camp bed and he comes to me. He grabs my face tightly, squeezing my cheeks in until my mouth is forced open. It hurts. I try not to look at him. I look anywhere but at his face. I am too afraid to look at him. I always think if you see them and they know you’ve seen them then they’ve no choice but to kill you and I don’t want to die. He twists my face until I have no choice but to look into his eyes. I feel sick, sick with fear because there is nothing in his eyes. They are dark and they are empty, like a shark’s. I do know he wants to kill me, though. That much is in his eyes.
I can feel pee run down my legs and he lets me go with a harrumph of distaste and a slap to the side of the head. Then he turns and stomps off back up the stairs, his anger evident in every heavy footfall. At the top he switches the light out and leaves me once more in the dark, feeling the warm pee quickly turn cold.
How much time passes after that I don’t know. I don’t understand what he wants with me. He does dirty things to me that hurt, with his fingers and his mouth, but recently he has started using black marker pen on me, I don’t know why. He takes off my dress and draws black lines on my body, like he’s marking me out. This worries me a lot because I remembered this funny, scary thing on Youtube where some guys played a trick on their friend and acted like he’d had his kidneys removed and he woke up in the bath and was so shit scared I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Surely these things can’t really happen? That was just a joke right? Or another thought maybe even worse. Is he gonna fucking eat me? Is he some fucking pervy cannibal? Excuse my language but I am shit scared here.
Anyway his drawing lines on me makes me even more frightened and sick and I know now that I have to get away from him ASAP. So when he brings me food, when he comes to hurt me, my eyes travel over every surface, every object, seeking help.
My life-belt, my saviour, is my memory palace and I go to it almost all the time now then I don’t have to think about what he’s doing to me and in the hope that something in there will save me. Save me from this darkness. Save me from boredom. Save me from fear. Save me from him. I learned about the memory palace from Hannibal Lecter. I love those movies. I know I shouldn’t have seen them but mum is always busy with my little brother, Joe and Jez, my stepdad, just wants me to leave him alone. He says kids should be not seen as well as not heard. Why he had so many, I don’t know.
So I’m gonna write my story in my head, let it take me away from this dark dungeon and that weird, dead-eyed monster with the prickly face and the cold, cold fingers. Even the way he breathes, so silently you can hardly hear him, makes me feel a chill right through to my bones.
I will call it ‘The Life and Death of Ellie Wright’. No. Cross that out. Make it ‘The Life and Life of Ellie Wright’. I might be little but I am well tough. And I will survive, as that stupid old song my mum sometimes sings says.
Once upon a time I was happy, when there was just mum and me that is. I’d had a few nice uncles but I’d never had a dad before. Then my stepdad and his five kids happened and that was when everything changed.
When baby Joe came along we all moved out of the grotty old council flat we were in into a dormer bungalow, right by the M6. It was great. Massive compared to the last place. I shared the upstairs bedroom with my stepsisters, Shylah and KC. We used to sit on the windowsill watching the cars whiz by and spying on Val from next door. The three boys, Johnny, Kevin and Terry had the room downstairs next door to Mum, Jez and baby Joe, so, Jez said, they could keep a bloody eye on them.
One day while we girls were up on our perch in our bedroom, we saw Terry, my disgusting stepbrother, throw our pet dog, Kipper, over the motorway fence. Kip wasn’t a clever dog and, panic-stricken, he ran up the grass verge into traffic and almost got killed.
I nearly got flattened getting him back and when I screamed my anger at Terry he kicked me down the stairs and split my head open. Of course, when mum asked what had happened he lied and said he didn’t do anything, to Kipper or to me. He said it was me who’d thrown Kip over the fence. This was what Terry would do to me all the time, blame me for his own evil stuff, but mum knew what was really going on and she would just look at him with her ‘you don’t fool me’ expression. Mum knew everything.
I hated Terry with an intensity so pure it could have shattered diamonds. I used to sneak into his room when he was out. It made me feel like I was taking some power back for myself. I looked on his computer once but there were horrible things on there I couldn’t understand, sex things, so I closed it down. I never looked again. Terry was a freak. Mum must’ve had a look on it too, because she got into a rage that same night.
When I came out of my room I saw Terry sitting at the top of the stairs listening. Nothing got by Terry. I hid behind my bedroom door and listened too.
“That lad o’ yours, Jez, I’m just sick of him,” she said. “I’m telling you now he’s gonna end up in bother if we don’t do something soon.” Stepdad said nothing. She carried on, her voice rising with her anger. “Have you seen what he’s looking at on that bloody computer you got him? I don’t know how they get away with it, puttin’ that evil filth on there. I mean people wouldn’t dream of letting their kids swim in a cesspit full of toxic waste but they obviously don’t give a stuff what they look at on the net and that’s worse. Their poor little minds, no wonder they’re so horrible these days.” Mum’s voice rose into scream mode now, my stepdad’s lack of response would do that to her. Terry sniggered silently behind his hand, he was only too happy to create trouble between them. I felt my stomach churn with hatred.
“Are you listening to me, Jez? Somebody was getting their head chopped off on there, for God’s sake, and the porn he’s got on there, I nearly puked up, I couldn’t look any further, it’s disgusting. The people that put that stuff on there should be dealt with, they’re lowlife scum.” She was shouting a lot louder by now and Terry had both his dirty hands covering his mouth to stifle his laughter. I moved towards him silently, the thought strong in my mind to give him a push. He made my mum’s life a misery in more ways than one and my mum didn’t deserve it. She was good and she was beautiful.
“Jez, are you listening to me?” she screamed. I heard the remote crashing against the wall then. That was mum’s favourite trick when she thought stepdad wasn’t taking any notice – throwing the remote at him. He wasn’t bothered. He just went and got another second-hand from Chorley market. The man there knew him quite well now. I heard stepdad complaining to him once saying my mum was highly strung, the other man had laughed and said it sounds like she should be.
“I’m bloody traumatized by what I saw and your Terry’s seen it and he’s only a kid. I’m gonna have a bloody heart attack ’cos o’ that kid. JEZ!”
There was another clatter as she obviously kicked the side-table over, incensed by stepdad’s silence. He just couldn’t do the talking thing, like my mum could, but sometimes he would just explode and if you were wise, you just got out the way.
My family life wasn’t the happiest, as you can probably tell, so I read a lot and I daydreamed. I found a load of my mum’s old books in the attic behind the fibreglass wall and I read them. They were well ace. I was Heidi sitting on that mountaintop drinking in all that fresh, clean air, feeling that warm sun on my skin. I was Jane Eyre longing for my Mr Rochester. I was anyone else but me, anywhere else but here. I know most kids today don’t read at all, but for me it’s a great escape. It takes me away from snarling thoughts of Terry.
My mum used to hate Jez going on his Xbox games. She would scream at him that he ignored her when he was gaming and that it was horrible and wrong that baby Joe and me could see all that brutality and murder, but Jez would just get into a terrible rage and shout at her for getting him killed – on the game that is. He’d shout at us kids, too, if we tried to talk to him or got in the way of the telly. Those games put him in a right bad mood. That was one of the times to keep away from him. My stepbrothers were just the same when they were on the Xbox and stupid little Kipper would get kicked to bits if he ever put his nose to the TV screen and got in the way.
At first some of the games really scared me just to look at them. There were weird monsters who ate your face off or huge, masked men who chased you and chopped your head off with a chainsaw, or ghostie things that slid out from crawlspace and scared the crap out of you. They gave me nightmares when I was little but now I play on them myself sometimes. I like shooting people, especially when I get them right through the head. I pride myself on my perfect aim. I also like running people over on GTA, that’s quite funny, but I didn’t like getting out the car and beating them to death with baseball bats like Terry did. I hated it when my stepbrothers killed animals on the games, especially pigs. I like pigs, my mum says they’re more intelligent than most people, but their squealing really, really upsets me. Terry always said he liked hearing them squeal and that one day he was gonna make me squeal like that.
He came up to my room one day after playing on the pig game. My heart always felt sick when Terry caught me alone. When I saw him swagger in I felt the puke rise in my throat.
“Hey, piggy, what you up to?” he said.
I cringed away into the corner near the wardrobe, hoping it would be difficult for him to access me there.
He walked over to the window so he could peer down at next door. “That dirty slag from next door at it again?” he asked, his thick, chewed-up lips screwed up into a smirk. He was talking about Val. Whenever her boyfriend came over her car windows would end up all steamed up. “Eh, y’know that game o’ mine, the pig one? Well,” he came right close to me now, his hazel eyes so close to mine I could see the brown and gold speckles in amongst the pond-scum green, “I bin finkin’, maybe I’m gonna do the same to you as I do to them, you fackin’ mammy’s gel.”
He reached under my skirt then and grabbing hold of the flesh inside my thigh he squeezed so hard I had a bruise for a week. I didn’t cry, you didn’t cry when you had three older stepbrothers, but my hate for him grew sharper and harder. I slept with Terry’s rusty old hunting knife under my pillow after that. I’d stolen it from Jez’s secret drawer where he hid all Terry’s confiscated weapons and tools.
When Kipper disappeared I thought my heart would break. Always I thought of Kip when I came to the memory palace. Kip had loved me, I could tell by the way he looked at me and ’cos he chose me to sleep with every night. He avoided Terry as much as he could and crawled along on his stomach whenever Terry was around, as if he thought making himself low to the ground would somehow make him invisible. He would show the whites of his eyes too, which was weird, and make funny little whimpering sounds.
Amy and me searched for Kip everywhere. When she went home I continued my search alone, but all I found was an empty part inside of me I didn’t know I had but that just grew and grew. I cried inside all the time I was searching but I couldn’t let it out, couldn’t let Terry see.
Finally I snapped, my anger making me brave. I burst into Terry’s room and screamed at him, my fists clenched, my heart pounding. “What’ve you done with Kip? You’ve murdered him, haven’t you?”
“Nah, course I didn’t murder ‘im,” he said, that sly smirk of his twisting the corner of his horrible, tortured lips. “It was Johnny, he musta scared him off the other day.”
My fists unclenched. Was Terry telling the truth? No. Terry never told the truth.
“Yeah, that’s it. I saw ‘im, I saw Johnny, he kicked Kip up the butt, ’cos ‘e was gawping at the telly and got him kilt on dad’s ‘Resident Evil’ game and then Kipper ran off scared shitless.”
I jutted my chin out to show my disbelief and anger, but my voice came out in a pathetic little squeak. “No way Johnny would hurt Kip, you filthy liar.” Johnny was the oldest brother, the nicest one. “I know it was you killed him, just like you killed Fluffy, you stinkin’ MURDERER!”
I could feel a scream of rage hurtling up to my throat from my insides so I turned and left and tried to hold it all in. I could feel the tears starting in my eyes but I forced them to stay there. Terry must never see me cry. Never.
I’d seen him do little Fluff. He’d waited till my teeny Roborovski hamster was right under his little ladder and then slammed it down on him hard, nearly slicing him in half. Fluffy was only a tiny little triangle of fluff. He never stood a chance. Terry had chortled like some idiot when he’d done that and he chortled like an idiot now. I turned back when I heard him and rushed him with a head butt to the belly. That shut him up. Made him sick too. He projectile vomited all over mum’s wallpaper, it was like something out ‘The Exorcist’. The dickhead.
Much later I found Kipper’s collar in Terry’s room, so then I knew for sure that he’d killed him. The sick little shit, that’s what Jez always called him. Terry always kept trophies from the things he’d killed, usually a small skull or a sad, little stick bone.
What could I do? I was little and he was big. I wanted the world to know what Terry was so I wrote on my mum’s old blackboard in white chalk over and over – ‘I HATE TERRY, HE IS A STUPID SHIT AND CRUEL’ and dragged the easel out of the attic, down the stairs and planted it outside his room so it would be the first thing he saw in the morning. When he rubbed it off I would write it back on. Mum and Jez confiscated the blackboard in the end..
Terry made sure he got me back in a hundred different ways, including his favourite, squeezing me in that painful place at the top of my leg.
I loved my mum. She was everything to me. I just wondered, every day really, why she’d done this awful thing to us both by marrying into the family with Terry in it. Mum and baby Joe were my blood and I loved them, but always I felt separate and alone. As for Jez’s lot they only added to my feeling of isolation, although, out of them all, it was only Terry who was evil. The rest of them were nice – big blondes with those lashes and brows that were so light they were invisible. But we even looked so different you couldn’t ever mistake us for one family. Mum, baby Joe and me were very dark and small, like gypsies my stepdad said, and strangely so was Terry – small and dark and evil.
One bright sunny day mum and stepdad decided they would take us on our yearly day out to Southport. We were happy that day. Mum and Jez kept looking meaningfully at each other and clasping each other’s hands. Terry kept putting his finger down his throat and pretending to vomit.
The sun was beating down on our old, off-white Nissan Micra and the wind was blowing my wild, black hair into a knotty mess as I hung bodily out of the car window. When mum saw me she shrieked, twisted around dangerously and pulled me back in. That was the first time I’ve heard Jez scream. Mum was the one driving.
On arrival all us kids scrambled out the car and ran off.
“Oi, come back you lot!” mum shouted and ran after us. Terry took a quick look around then pushed me out into traffic and I heard the terror in mum’s voice as she screamed, “Ellieeeeee!” The driver of the closest car swerved to avoid hitting me and shouted angrily out the window, “ya stupid little shit! Take care o’ ya fucking kids!” Car horns blared in my ears and my mum yanked me back, her face frozen by fear. She pulled my head tight against her breasts and I could hear her heart beating too fast, Joe’s little legs pressed close to my head, my mum’s fingers clutching my tangled hair. She reached out with the other hand and grabbed Terry by the front of his black skull and crossbones T-shirt and dragged him towards her, swearing and struggling. She shook him like he was a rag doll. “You coulda killed her, Terry, you stupid, horrible boy. Don’t you EVER do anything like that again, do you hear me!”
She threw him away from her in disgust and he fell on his bum on the pavement. I think that was the closest I’d ever seen mum come to hitting any of Jez’s kids but she couldn’t ’cos he was right there.
My hatred for Terry, by now, had the feeling of a physical thing. I had honed the sharp blade of my hatred every day on the whetstone of my fear. I could feel it growing inside me like some hideous parasite, like that ‘Alien’ thing that burst out of that lady’s stomach on the film, and I knew my mum felt the same way although she had to try and hide it.
Anyway, mum grabbed us to her, and one by one eventually recaptured us all. It made me wonder exactly how many arms my mum really has and how long they are but I’ve always been too scared to ask her about it, especially after I saw that programme on ‘Octoman’, the ‘extraordinary’ person with eight hands. Mum said he wasn’t ‘extraordinary’ at all, he was a bloody freak, and that she was sick to death of pc. She never said who PC was or what he’d done to her but I’m sure it wasn’t that ‘Octoman’.
Anyway Octomum caught all six of us that day, balancing little Joe on her hip. As always, Jez left everything to mum and walked off to the pub, unconcerned, picking his teeth with a cocktail stick.
After Jez came out the pub we went to the funfair. That was great. We went on the ‘Big Dipper’ and the ‘Waltzer’ and ate candy-floss and hot dogs and popcorn and then KC was sick.
“No wonder I’m sick,” she said. “D’you know what’s in dem fings?” she asked, pointing at mum’s hot dog accusingly. We’d all scoffed ours. “Pigs’ ears, pigs’ eyelids, pigs’ arseholes, probly even their little piggy wiggy toe-nails and all kinds of other shit and they’re dead nice, pigs, y’know.” I felt a bit sad and sick and wished I could regurgitate my hot dog.
Mum looked at hers like it was a dog turd and threw it in the bin, then shouted at KC for saying ‘shit’.
“All that fast-food crap makes ya fat, y’know,” said KC and righteously indignant now, she jabbed a grubby finger at the lardsters around us.
“Mum, KC’s right, look at all the fat people,” I said, too loud for my mother’s comfort, and pointed my own rude, ketchupy finger.
Mum looked around her and then down at her own portly belly and muttered, “World’s gonna end up like bloody ‘Wall-E’.”
When we were shooting people on the video games in the arcade Terry leaned in to me and whispered in my ear “One day this is gonna be you, little piss,” and he blasted somebody’s head off their bloody neck before looking back at me, his face split by a fiendish grimace, his eyes dark buttons of evil. I shuddered. He scared me so much I felt physically sick.
Jez said, “C’mon, let’s go, kids, let’s go out on a boat, yeah?”
Mum shook her head fearfully, “No way I’m going, Jez, not wit’ baby,” and she pulled little Joe closer to her. But we all screamed with excitement and followed him down to the boating lake. None of us had ever been in a boat before. We all piled in, happy and shouting and pushing each other about. I waved at Mum and little Joe. I felt sorry for mum ’cos she had a bad headache. She said being with us kids always gave her a headache or sent her into a deep repression, what that is I don’t know. Anyway she stayed near the cafe, baby Joe snuggled in her arms, and watched us.
Jez set off rowing with Shylah sat on his knee, her blonde straggly curls blowing across his face, her skinny, pale arms wrapped around his thick red neck. KC sat next to them pulling at stepdad’s shirt and the rest of us jumped up and down rocking the boat and shouting and screaming in excitement. Then KC was sick again, over the side.
“Sit down, you lot,” Jez shouted, “ya gonna have us over.”
Johnny and Kevin were sat at the front of the boat and I was trapped unhappily with Terry on the back seat. He looked at me with evil in his eyes, then he got hold of his favourite place inside my thigh and squeezed hard. I grabbed at his hand to try and pull it away but he just dug his nails in even harder. I screamed. Then he grabbed my hand and gave me a Chinese burn that brought tears to my eyes.
“Stop it you two,” Jez shouted back at us but Terry ignored him and tore at my favourite shirt, scratching my chest. I slapped his horrible, smug face hard. So he grabbed at my shirt again, dragging his jagged, dirty nails along my exposed neck. We were stood up by now grabbing at each other, kind of wrestling, like those big, fat sumos, then without thinking I swiftly pushed him into the lake. His wiry body did a strange kind of slow backwards somersault and his head made a sickening sound as it smacked against the side of the boat. As his stick-y body righted itself I saw the shock and anger on his ugly reptile face, his dirty-brown hair rising up like he’d had an electric shock, his eyes wide open with fear, their algae-green colour almost identical to the water that quickly pulled him down. I saw briefly the ghostly shape of one hand come up oh so slowly to the wound on his head and a small cobweb of blood clinging gummily to his skinny fingers and then the light in his eyes went out and he sank from view.
In that moment, which seemed about a year long, the world seemed to stop and start up again in slow motion only with the sound turned down. KC gaped open-mouthed for a second and then let out a ragged scream. Stepdad twisted sharply round and seeing immediately that Terry was gone he vaulted over the side and into the water. I heard him inhale in shock as the cold of the water embraced him. He surfaced quickly spluttering and coughing only to dive again and again.
I was vaguely aware of mum running helplessly and crazily around on the bank like some momma chimp, her mouth a big O. I didn’t understand why she was so upset. After all, she hated Terry, too. Everybody did.
I felt no emotion. Maybe it was that de-sensitization thing mum kept on about. She was always saying “it’s a wonder all the kids these days aren’t mental all the horrible shit they can see, they’ve been completely desensitized.” I didn’t know what it was or why they would do it to kids but it sounded like a really nasty operation. Maybe Terry’d had it. After all he was on psycho pills or something. I’d seen the jars in the bathroom cabinet. Well, we all knew Terry was mental.
Anyway, it was as if I’d been thrust out of myself and forced to watch with cold and objective eyes, eyes that saw but conveyed no feeling to the brain. I saw my stepdad thrashing about in the water desperately, crying and spluttering and bewildered, trying to part the water with his hands, as if that would somehow allow him to see better.
I saw the other kids’ faces, tears streaming down them, their open mouths unsightly squares of grief. I knew they were crying but I ceased to hear. It was if I was caught in some vacuum in time, could see, but couldn’t hear, couldn’t touch, couldn’t feel. Then Jez suddenly resurfaced for what seemed like the hundredth time, his mouth pulling in air hungrily. And in his arms was Terry.
Still I was trapped in a world without sound. I saw my stepdad strike for the boat and push Terry’s rag doll body over the side. Jez’s face was red from his exertions in the cold water. Terry’s face was an indescribable colour, like that of the skin of a movie alien. His glazed, empty eyes seemed both mesmeric and accusing, the treacherous life flown out from them. Stubborn remnants of snot clung horribly on to the underside of his freckly nose and filthy water streamed out of his blue lips. Blood leaked from the back of his head and streamed in tiny rivulets down his neck, its colour rendered invisible when it reached the black of his soaked T-shirt.
Terry was dead I knew. He was small and wet and dead, a dead little stick bone, like one of his own gruesome trophies.
I felt the other kids go quiet and then start up again with their wails. They were crying out of instinct, not out of feeling. They knew something was badly wrong but had no real idea what that something was. I was the youngest (apart from baby Joe onshore) but I knew. I was a murderer. In my cruel, childish way I felt strong in this knowledge. I was different from the others, alone and set apart. They all feared me now. I could see it in their eyes.
Terry was buried in a small, white coffin that next Sunday. I cried all that night that Terry died but, in my secret heart, I was glad to be free of my tormentor. People looked strangely at me at the funeral, a mixture of puzzlement and pity in their eyes, and whispered behind their hands. It hardened me to be cast out in this way, made me stronger somehow. My mum had gathered me closer to her, her face a mask of defiance, her lips a thin line.
I was eight then, eight when Terry died. He was eleven. If I could get rid of Terry, my first tormentor, I know I can get rid of this monster, my second tormentor, especially because now I’m twelve and all grown-up.
If this man had known my history, my strength, he would never have chosen me to take.
He’s coming for me now. I can hear his footsteps.
He turns the key in the lock. The gritty noise of it makes my heart lurch and my stomach roll.
The harsh light of the fluorescent blazes and blinds me for a moment.
He comes in. I don’t look at him. I never look at him.
He doesn’t realise it, but all these minutes, hours, days, nights that I’ve been here, I have looked. But not at him, which I know has annoyed him. But for something that might save me. Anything. In the odd, brief flare of the dirty fluorescent my eyes have moved like a camera lens, click, click, click.
And there it was, like a shining beacon of hope – a dirty, rust-encrusted nail. And every spare moment, since I first saw it, I have been working it loose, shifting it back and forth, back and forth, in the damp, crumbling plaster, like a rotten tooth in diseased gums.
And now I have it, long and sharp and comforting, in the palm of my hand. Waiting. Waiting for him. Waiting for my chance.
Right through the eyeball into the brain, that’s how to kill him. I know because I saw it in a horror movie or was it on Youtube? You can see anything on the net now. They even teach you how to make a bomb on there.
He walks towards me and, this time, I look straight at him, the big nail clenched tightly in my small fist.
He is a dead man walking.
Sharon Yarwood asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.