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The ShortRead: Adam Nevill

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The ShortRead of 29th October


Adam Nevill

29th October

No One Gets Out Alive

Author: Adam Nevill

What's the story: Forget pumpkin carving and fancy dress - Adam Nevill knows what Halloween is really about. A seasoned author of supernatural fiction, obsessed with things that go bump in the night, his titles include the deeply sinister The Ritual and Apartment 16

No One Gets Out Alive is a contemporary haunted house horror. Near broke and struggling for work, Stephanie Booth is on her last legs when she takes a new room at 82 Edgware Road. Sure there's a bit of an eerie atmosphere, but soon Stephanie realises there's something more disturbing about the vast, neglected house and her new landlord. There are whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors and the footsteps in the dark...

Release date: Out now


Extract

The dream receded quickly and Stephanie recalled little of it, beside an anxious  desire to leave a cold, greyish place; a narrow space in which people  stood  too  close to her. one of them had been crying.

Into the unsettling  moments, trailing the end of sleep, came a relief that  only her panic  lingered  from  the night- mare. The respite was twinned with a sense of loss for something  important, yet indefinable and  left incomplete. And she was cold. Where her head poked  out of the duvet it stiffened,  as though  her bed had  been placed  outside  of the building.

Stephanie’s  eyes were open. She was lying on her back and   could   see  nothing   above.   But  inside  the  darkness was  a voice, a muffled  continuous voice surrounding her waking  thoughts. Not  a  single  word  was  loud  or  clear enough  to be understood, but she was horribly  certain  the muttering  could  not  be  part   of  the  dream   because  she was  fully  awake.  There  was  no  urgency  to  the  voice, or particular emphasis,  or  even emotion;  the  tone  suggested monotony, a monologue.

The  voice issued  from  the  side of the  room,  near  the fireplace that  she couldn’t make out in the dark. Even with the lights off, not even an ambient  glimmer peeked around the thick curtains.

A radio? In another  room?

Though  the more  she considered  the voice, the greater was her impression  that  someone  was speaking  behind  the wall on the other  side of the room.  But there  was nothing on the other  side because the house  was detached. So per- haps a television was switched  on – yes, don’t forget those – in the  room  below  her own,  and  the  sound  was travel- ling up through the chimney.

When    the   voice   in   the   fireplace   began    sobbing, Stephanie  felt  like  joining  in.  It  was  a  strange  kind  of broadcast that  allowed  one person  to  speak  continuously before breaking  down  on air.

Could  be another  tenant.  In a nearby  room  someone might   have   been   talking   to   themselves   and   was   now crying. This sound  of genuine anguish  introduced a picture into  Stephanie’s  mind  of a woman  kneeling  on  the  floor beside an open fireplace, clutching  her face.

She could  not  go and  ask after  them.  She disliked  her- self  for  feeling  embarrassed by  another’s   distress,  but  it was  the  middle  of  her  first  night  in  the  house  and  she wasn’t  confident  enough  to offer that  kind  of gesture to a stranger.

But  thank  God  it’s only  a neighbour.  For a moment I thought—

The  tension  returned to  her  body  and  her  mind  so quickly  and  with  such force that  she sucked  in her breath as  if she’d  stepped  into  cold  water.  Because no  radio  or television  or  heartbroken tenant   could  possibly  account for the scratching  that  began  beneath  her bed.

She  might  have  risen  from  the  bedclothes   screaming had  she not  arrived  at a new hope:  that  the grating  noise against  timber  was  issuing  from  beneath  the  floorboards, as opposed to the wooden slats on the underside of the bedframe.

Mice! There were mice here; she had seen two little cardboard traps,  the  type containing a blob  of poisonous blue  bait,  on  the  first floor  landing  and  the  second  floor toilet.  When  she was  shown  around the  house  yesterday morning  the sight of the traps  had shocked  her; they were another symbol of diminishing  choices, of being com- promised  by poverty  – a side to freedom  improperly con- sidered  before  independence was  achieved,  or  exchanged for a different  kind of captivity.  But she’d lived in a build- ing infested with mice before, and seen similar traps  in the warehouse  where she worked  last summer.

And during your first night in the darkness and un- familiarity  of a new room  in a strange  building,  the sound of mice was bound  to be alarming  and to seem too large a disturbance for small animals. When you lay alone in bed, the  sound  of  tiny  claws  were  amplified  in  the  silence  of deep  night,  everyone  knows that.  only in  these  circum- stances  could  such  a  noise  suggest  the  activity  of  deter- mined human  hands  beneath  your bed.

The mice were having a go at something  that  was rust- ling. Polythene.  Maybe.  Yes,  it  must  be  polythene. There could be a plastic carrier  bag under  there and the mice, or rats  – don’t  even go there – were having  a go at the bag, or tearing  something  under  the floorboards. Yes, that  is a better idea.

Beneath  her  bed  the  sound   of  rustling   increased   in volume  and  ardour  and  her  imagination  swamped   her thoughts again  with  the  notion   that  these  were,  in  fact, human  fingers pulling  at polythene.  She was just about  to sit up and reach for the bedside lamp – the one she’d read by before she fell asleep, satisfied she’d found  a new room so quickly  – when  everything  suddenly  got worse  and  she was filled with the kind of fear that  was mindless, that  was madness.  Because Stephanie  could  now  hear a fresh intru- sion of noise inside her room.

Beyond the foot of her bed, between  the two large sash window  frames,  was a table  and  chair.  on the table  were her unpacked bags. And from  this area  came a rustling,  a rummaging, as if someone’s hands  were going through her rucksack. The painted  floorboards beneath  the rug creaked as the intruder shifted its weight.

Behind the fireplace a woman  wept.

Under the bed fingers pulled at polythene. The darkness  was filling with sound.

Stephanie  could  see nothing.  The  air  was  so cold  she shivered.  She desperately  wanted  to reach  for the bedside light,  but  that  would  creak  the  old  bedframe.  She didn’t want  to make a sound,  any sound  at all.

And  what  will I do if I turn  the light on and someone is standing  there?

The door  to her room  was locked. The key was inside the lock. Had they come in through  a window? Could  she get off the bed and reach the door,  and hold the key in her fingers, and  turn  the  key in the  lock,  and  open  the  door, and step through the doorway . . . before it reached  her?

Can I fight? Should  I start screaming?

She had  no  strength  for  screaming,  let alone  defence. Everything  inside  her  was  frigid  with  a  fear  so  vast  she was nothing  but terror;  she became stone from the hair on her head  to the toes on her feet.

Unwelcome  images  flashed: cotton  buds  being  used  to take  swabs,  police  officers  in  plastic  overalls  collecting hairs  from  a carpet,  a gurney  covered  with  a sheet  being loaded  into  an  ambulance, watched  by  a  woman  in  the doorway of a nearby  house.

Stephanie sat up and reached  for the bedside table. The bedframe  made the sound  of an old wooden ship.

The rifling of her bags stopped.

She  slapped   a  hand   around  the  bedside   table.  The wooden  surface was cold under  her mostly useless fingers. She found the rubber cable with the light switch  attached to  it, then  lost  the  cable,  sensed  it swing  away  from  her fingertips in the darkness.

Footsteps  creaked  across the floor towards her bed.

She groped  for  the  cable  again  and  found  the  metal stem of the lamp  instead.  When  she located  the cable her desperate  fingers twitched  their  way to the plastic switch.

Beneath  her  feet  the  mattress  dipped  as  someone  sat down.

Through the darkness  she was sure a face was moving closer to her own.

She snapped  the  lamp  on  and  turned  to  confront the intruder sitting on the end of her bed.

‘Oh God, oh God, oh God, shit, shit, shit, oh God.’


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