The large grey family vehicle came screeching to a halt in the horrendous downpour. Tyres grinded against gravel, spitting golden specs and wafting coffee coloured clouds up from the ground. The second the van came to a full stop the family fled the vehicle and raced towards to the ageing church. Rotting wood, peeling paint and boarded windows made up the old place of worship. But they had no choice. Rick and Susan grabbed their girls from the back seat and lugged them to the front door, each praying it would be unlocked. Fortunately it was. The abandoned, neglected church stood in the thick of a forest, beside the small gravel path that was littered with a few crumbling headstones. The family had been driving along when the weather became unbearable. They couldn't stay in the van as they were running dangerously low on gas and couldn't afford to keep the car turned on for heat. They were beginning to panic when one of God's many sanctums came into sight. Following this they each wrapped up in thick, dark winter clothing and rushed to the building, being showered by the spiky, heavy rain.
Rick kicked open the door, releasing an almighty creak. That unsettled Rick as he would have thought any creaking would have been prevented by the rain lubricating everything in sight. They were presented with a huge hall with tiny slivers of dim evening light peeking through cracks in the boarded windows. Rick held his three-year-old Sally while Susan help their five-year-old Kirsty. Each parent tread carefully, fearing termites had ravaged this long forgotten place. Beads of water dripped from the corners and trailed the badly plastered walls.
"Daddy, I don't like it in here," Sally whispered to her father, squeezing him tighter.
"It's okay princess, it's just until the rain gives up a little," he soothed with a delicate voice.
"But what if it never stops?" the young girl asked with a worried look painted on her wet, red face, peeking from a thick hood like an Eskimo.
"It will stop, I promise," he smiled, kissing her damp forehead where stray moist hair strands were pressed to her skin.
Uneven paintings and photographs hung from the dirty walls whilst light fixtures were draped in tonnes of dust and cobwebs, spiders creeping down the rusty fittings. An altar lay at the front of the room, with a huge Jesus sculpture suspended from the ceiling. How it had remained that way was chilling. The church looked like it could barely hold its form, let alone carry a heavy replica of Jesus Christ.
"So we just wait it out yeah?" Susan asked her husband, holding a scared little girl, eyes darting everywhere, unsettled by the masses of darkness.
"Yeah, I guess," he shrugged, putting Sally down. The instant her feet touched the ground she grabbed her daddy's leg and clung on for dear life.
"Princess, you have to let go so daddy can walk," he grinned at how adorable she was. Sally reluctantly released but stayed close to Rick.
Susan also lowered Kirsty but being slightly older she simply stood, frozen and on edge, eyes still exploring the scary building, inspecting the darkened corners. Whilst rubbing her aching shoulders Susan noticed a bunch of chairs crammed into the corner, just beside the altar.
"Rick, chairs," she pointed.
They all scurried to the cheap, tacky chairs fashioning dust and drops of rainwater. But each could careless, as they were beyond exhaustion and desperately needed to sit. They each grabbed a chair and huddled together, conserving heat as the church was just as cold as outside, if not colder.
"I need the bathroom," Sally moaned, face creased.
Great! Rich thought. They had been sat down barely five minutes and he would have to get up again.
"Come on then," Rick picked up his daughter and headed for a corner of the room clouded in darkness. But the agile father had noticed a gleaming door handle hidden in the murk, perhaps to a toilet with any luck.
"Wait daddy, aren't we going outside?" Sally was clearly reluctant to go wandering in the blackness.
"No sweety, it's still raining really bad and isn't safe outside, but there should be a bathroom inside."
"Okay," she pouted.
Rick turned on the spot and stared at Susan. "Keep an eye on Kirsty while I'm gone please," he smiled.
"But daddy, I am a grown up," Kirsty spoke so comically Rick had to grin.
"I know princess, but mummy still needs to keep you safe in case you get hurt okay? And mummy needs you to keep her safe as well, can you do that?" he asked.
"Yes daddy, I will keep mummy safe," she nodded, behaving unbelievably cute.
Rick lugged his youngest through the dusk, coughing on dust particles swimming in the air. The dark was thick and stale, he sniffed mould and faeces. Which made him think they were in fact headed to a bathroom. He grabbed the cold shiny handle and twisted it. The door didn't even need a nudge as it fell open for them. It welcomed the father and daughter to a filthy bathroom, white tiles covered in grit, dirt, grime and dust. Taps and pipes were rusting and glass was strewn across the floor, it crunched underfoot as Rick entered the rankness. Which is when he decided to carry her to the cubicle that was nestled in a corner, just aside another boarded window. The rain was leaking through one of the boarded windows and pooling on the disgusting tiled floor, filling the cracks and slowly flooding the place.
"Okay princess, we have to make it quick," he told her as they went inside the only cubicle, walls covered in graffiti and various stains. Rick slowly lowered his daughter down as he wiped away some dirt from the toilet seat, using his sleeve to send black and brown muck onto the tiles. He didn't even want Sally to sit down at the toilet, but they didn't have any choice. There were no seat covers in such an outdated, deserted church. Which made him check the toilet roll holder. Fortunately, and surprisingly, there were a few sheets left. As he was about to ask Sally to get on the toilet he saw her already sat, urine tinkling into the dirty water. It only seemed like yesterday when she was wearing pull ups, now she could go all by herself. Life moves too fast! He pondered.
"The seat is cold on my butt," Sally chuckled, cheeks dimpling, resulting in a little laugh from her father. But soon enough she was done.
"Finished daddy," she straightened her back and lifted her arms, ready for him to cart her off the seat.
Sally reached for the toilet roll and pulled a couple of sheets off, wiping herself and then shimmying up her thick winter trousers.
Rick had been preoccupied, reading some of the scribblings scratched onto the inside of the cubicle door. Please stop, let me out, save us, help us, if you find this place leave now, they will kill you. An icy chill slithered down Rick's back as he read warning after warning, now questioning if they would be safer in the rain than some worn down old church. They were on a road trip and had never been to the area, maybe he'd been slightly foolish to assume just because it's a church, that it's automatically a safe place for shelter.
"Ready," she beamed.
Rick turned and hoisted her up, elbowing the door open and leaving the bathroom in haste.
They rushed over to Susan and Kirsty, who sat playing a game of I Spy.
"I think we should go," Rick suggested to his wife.
Susan turned mid-guess, frowning in confusion. "Go? Why?"
"There was some writing on a cubicle in the bathroom, warning people who arrive here to leave, some were even scratched onto the wood," he worried.
"Seriously? That's your reason? That is probably kids messing around," she waved a hand at his silly fear.
"Susan! There was the entire inside of the door covered in these warnings! Why would kids do that?" he stomped. Sally began to fret in his arms, whimpering.
"Great, now look what you've done, scaring Sally!" Susan yelled, opening her arms to Sally.
"Come here sweety, wanna play a game with me and big sis?" she offered.
Sally instantly grinned and stretched out to Susan. She lowered and sat Sally on her knee, bouncing the girl as she giggled hysterically.
"Susan, are you gonna answer me?" Rick asked like a moody teenager.
"Rick! Please, kids graffiti tall buildings!" Susan shouted.
"That's art, not warnings to get out for your life," he bellowed.
The lively debate was suddenly put on pause when a loud bang echoed from the entrance. Rick whipped to face the double doors, and Susan's pulse loomed in her eyes, vision beating with adrenaline. The children, absolutely horrified, nestled into their mother's protective embrace. Each girl nestled their heads into the many rolls of the dark winter coat.
"Hello?" Rick asked the dimness, fists clenched and body tensed in preparation for anything.
There was no response. The eerie silence soon became petrifying after that.
"What do we do?" Susan asked, swallowing nerves.
"We leave, and get out of this place," Rick ordered.
Susan took a deep breath and stood, holding both girls in her arms. Rick advanced forwards cautiously, planting each foot with care. Susan and the girls followed a few inches behind, all shaking in a bundle of terror. The darkness had mutated, as if the moon itself feared the unknown visitor and fled in a hurry. The hectic rain and creaky floorboards were the only noises lingering in the dark, with the exception of very subtle respiring. The wind thrashing into the decrepit church didn't help their anxiety much. Sally and Kirsty envisioned monsters and ghouls hiding on the other side of the entrance doors. Just waiting to hack and slash and bash the entire family into a meaty pulp, grinding bone and flesh into disgusting chunks. Susan pictured a gang of hill-billy cannibals, waiting to gorge on their skin, and devour every internal organ, their faces smeared with blood. But Rick's fear was far more real, and portrayed the haunting a past event still had on him. A couple of years ago Rick and Susan had made the horrific mistake of allowing a neighbour to babysit Kirsty. Little did anyone know, he was a highly disturbed man, that kept up pretences of being an average American citizen as to indulge in his sick fetish. He adored harming children and watching the pain on their innocent faces. Fortunately, the couple had come back from the restaurant early and entered the babysitter's home. The instant Rick saw this man running a sharp knife along his baby girl's soft skin, he flew into a violent storm of rage. Jaw clenched, fists beating into the sicko, and feet ploughing into the guy's stomach. The guy had been close to the brink of death after the enraged father was finished with him. The police had come and luckily they let Rick's outburst slide given the circumstances. But the guy had a family, a big family, drug dealers, rapists, murderers. None of them would be nominated for citizen of the year any time soon. His family was now at risk of retaliation, so they'd moved in with a family member until they sold their house, and then relocated. Rick wasn't intimidated in the slightest; he could easily take care of himself and his family. But as work monopolized a great deal of his time, he wasn't always home when his family was. And at the time, Susan was pregnant with Sally, and didn't need to be constantly worried. But now Rick had to admit, he was scared. He imagined the whole breed of them waiting outside with chains, knives, bats and guns. But rationality eased his concerns as they were miles from their home, and their former home. It would be an awfully strange coincidence if they were outside. Either way, they would find out what was outside soon enough.
The family was now crowded only inches from the rotten doors that brought them into the deceptively dangerous place. When Rick stepped on a termite infested board, it crumbled beneath his foot and plummeted into the basement with a thud. Already being alert and vigilant, he'd launched himself backwards, arms outreached, throwing his family back with him, away from the gaping hole. They landed with an omph, their multi-layered winter clothing absorbing most of the fall.
"Is everyone okay?" Rick turned whilst standing, staring at his family who were dusting themselves off and awkwardly rising.
"Yup," Susan replied, rubbing her neck.
Both girls nodded, squirming, no doubt from touching the grimy floor. Even Rick wasn't thrilled about lying among the various forms of crap scattered on the wood. Rick gently peered over and looked down into the newly formed cavity. The blackness clouded the basement heavily, but he could make out soil, some wooden beams holding the structure, and of course the broken masses of termite ravaged wood that he'd sent tumbling into the abyss. Other than their only exit being blocked, he wasn't too alarmed. He figured they could break down the boarded up windows and climb out. They had to get out, this place was giving all of them the creeps. Not to mention it was now a very hazardous building, not being strong enough to withstand the weight of two adults and two children. But when Rick saw a hand wriggling out of the soil down below, it wasn't a case of wanting out anymore, they needed to get out.
"Back up! Now!" Rick ordered, shuffling him and his family away from the dent.
"What is it Rick? What's down there?" Susan asked, forehead frowning in distress.
"I....w....something bad," that was all Rick could think of. He didn't want to add to the already heavy weight of horror pushing down on Susan's shoulders. And he'll be damned if he adds anymore despair into his daughter's wide eyes.
"We just have to get back, but be careful on this floor everyone, it's clearly not safe," Rick advised, back turned to the black void.
"Rick!" Susan screamed, pointing behind him.
Pale, ripe, creepy people had started climbing out the floor's gash. The girls shrieked as they all scuttled away from the hoards of undead beings rising from their basement graves. Rick resourcefully began launching chairs at them. They were cheap, plastic and old, but they sent a couple tumbling back into basement. But within no time the chairs had been used, and Rick's energy was dwindling as he fought for breath in the chaos. The white coloured faction of the undead were relentless, they just kept climbing. Two had made it from the darkness and were crawling on the ground, approaching the helpless family. Rick was beginning to understand the warnings in the bathroom now. Rick was fixated on the ghostly bodies that continued to writhe and slither at him and his family. But his attention was distracted when his daughters screamed bloody murder. He whipped round to face the back of the church, near where Jesus hung, to see something truly terrifying. Sneaking from the heinous gloom was an old nun. Skin wrinkled and saggy, clothing torn and shredded, but that wasn't what was scary. Her eyes were black and blood trailed from her smiling toothless mouth.
“SINNERS!” she yelled, pointing at Rick, Susan and the children.
Rick jumped and goosebumps made their way onto every inch of their body, he was truly petrified of this woman.
“May the Lord have mercy on your tainted souls!” she shrieked, gums oozing blood, and then broke out into a chilling laughter. As she chuckled hysterically her pitch went from painfully high to unbelievably low, resembling a demon. Rick couldn't help but think of exorcism and possession movies where innocent people speak low and bellow unnervingly when a demon inhabits their body. Which wasn't helping his escalating fear. The girls had begun wailing, sniffling and wheezing in horror.
“What do we do?” Susan helplessly asked, tears lining her eyes and face a deadly white tint.
For the first time in his life he didn't know. His worst nightmare was to not be able to protect his family. Had it finally happened? How would he battle a demonic nun and famished zombies squirming from their graves.
“I....I....” Rick tried incessantly to think of anything, when something grabbed his leg.
Rick jerked to a zombie gripping his ankle, looking up at him with decaying and torn flesh, jaw snapping, hungry for fresh meat. Using his other foot he stomped its head and thankfully it was crushed rather easily. This gave him hope. That was until his eyes fell upon the hoards of them now out of the dark den, all worming their way to him, and even more getting out. He guessed almost a hundred of them were snaking to him, eager to chomp on his carcass. Rick stumbled back, shoving his family to the far window where the chairs had been, only to notice a door handle glistening in the dusk. It wasn't the bathroom, but on the other side of the church, another door with a no doubt equally reasonable space, where they could possibly hide? Out of options and out of luck he hauled his family from the creepy nun and floor-bound zombies and to the door. But unlike the rest room, this door was locked.
“Damn it!” he roared.
Yet Rick continued to bash and kick and fist at the door. The wood was surprisingly sturdy given that this church was on its last legs. But within seconds the wood had splintered, leaving a large enough space for them all to squeeze through. Which they did.
The room was once upon a time an office. A mahogany desk, drawers, filing cabinets and chairs. But there was a coating of dust over everything, cobwebs clung to the corners and the wood had long lost its lustre, tarnished beyond repair.
“We need to block the hole in the door,” Rick shouted to Susan.
Just as they were about to grab a heavy-looking book shelf Susan paused.
“Susan we need to hurry!” he ordered, confused, scared and irritated.
“Where's Sally?” she asked fearfully.
Rick's heart dropped as he quickly surveyed the room to see only one of his daughters. Without thinking, without assessing the situation, Rick leapt through the hole and went back into the church hall.
The zombies now covered every inch of the floor like a sickly pale fleshy carpet. He had to quickly step between and on them to make his way through the heap of the living dead endlessly grappling for him.
“Forget something?” the old evil nun asked, holding Sally.
Oh God! Rick's pulse boomed looking at the devilish nun holding his daughter and seeing her alarmingly sharp claws running along his baby girl's face.
“Get the fuck away from my daughter you bitch!” he rumbled, anger taking over his fear, the paternal instinct clouding his previous terror.
“Speak to me like that again and I'll slit her little throat and throw her in the pit,” she whispered. Pit? Oh she meant the basement, with those things! No no no.
Rick played a balancing act whilst conversing with the unholy woman, crushing skulls and kicking away wriggling fingers.
“What do you want? She is an innocent little girl!” he spat.
“Perhaps, but you're sure as hell not are you?” she winked, making blood stream from the eyeball, crimson matting into thick spider-like eyelashes.
Oh no, she knows! Rick's face filled with nervous warmth, hands shaking.
“Y...b....Okay, don't punish her for me, please, I beg you,” Rick's tactic had gone from threatening to pleading. In the middle of his new approach to get his daughter back he heard Susan and Kirsty shriek from the office. They were screaming and asking for help. What do I do? Rick wasn't sure his heart could take anymore as his lungs were ablaze, struggling for breath, throat becoming papery and dry.
“You choose my dear, I will allow you to save this girl,” her prickly claws stroked Sally's cheek as she sobbed, face a dark red, creased and wet from tears. Rick wanted nothing more than to snatch his daughter from the psychotic nun and punch her square in the jaw, but he knew that wouldn't help anything.
“Or those in there,” the index finger of her claws flicked, pointing to the office.
She has got to be kidding. The twisted bitch.
“Are you joking? I am not choosing who dies! You're one sick fucked up bitch!” he hissed.
“CHOOSE!” she roared, with a demonic growl reverberating underneath her voice, ricocheting off the fragile walls.
“I can't choose, I will not choose,” he protested, stomping on more squishy skulls, almost falling.
“Very well,” she muttered gently, then everything went black.
Rick's head was pounding. He lay in bed, nauseous and aching, glazed in sweat. How the hell did I get out of there? Wait, where's Susan and the girls? Letting his pains fall to the back of his mind he tumbled from bed still wearing his winter clothes and searched the house for his family. “Susan?” he called out.
He paced through every room, turning door handles, checking under beds, opening closets, and continually yelling their names. But nothing. No answer, and no one was found. What is going on? He looked at clock's to realise he couldn't tell the time anymore. It was as if he was gawking at a foreign clock using a language that meant nothing to him. How was this even remotely possible? Did I suffer brain damage? Then he heard the all too familiar sound of the front door opening. He galloped from the living room through the hall, passing by the kitchen and stopping at the front door to see his wife and two girls enter. He couldn't help but cry. Tears streaked his face as he thumped onto his knees in happiness. He didn't know how this had happened, but he didn't care, he had his family back. Rick rose and jogged to his girls, needing to hold them tight, feel them in his embrace. But the strangest thing happened, he fell through them. Not into them, but passed through them. He bumped into the fridge, discombobulated.
“Sue? What the...” he rubbed his forehead, and none of them turned to him.
“Sally? Kirsty?” he shouted. But not one of them paid attention to Rick, lying on the kitchen floor, beyond perplexed. Using the fridge handle he pulled himself up, unsure whether he should be angry or worried. Did he do something wrong? Rick followed them into the living room, repeatedly yelling their names and receiving no response. His heart thundered when they all sat down on the leather couch, dressed in black, weeping horrifically, a photo of Rick on the brown coffee table, surrounded by flowers and candles.
The nun appeared behind Rick, reeking of blood, mould, and death, whispering into his ear. “I had to take someone's soul...” she giggled, as Rick screamed in anguish.
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From my upcoming release, 'Nightmare Fuel', out July 31st 2015!
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