They were coming.
Cheryl could hear their heavy panting and their footsteps on the wooden stairs of the house.
It was a big house, an old mansion with a number of winding staircases and many places to hide. At the moment, she was hiding under her bed on the third floor, her eyes wide and terrified. Her parents were dead. Her brother was dead, and now they were coming for her.
Cheryl whimpered softly and clamped a hand over her mouth. She couldn’t let them hear her. She had to be quiet like her cat Scampi was when he stalked mice; silent and stealthy but she was the mouse in this situation though and she was being stalked, hunted down. She bit down hard on her hand to quell her fear. They were moving closer. She could hear them on the second floor as they opened wardrobes and cupboards in the search for her. No doubt they’d be looking under beds too, she thought. She couldn’t stay here. She had to get higher up in the house.
Cheryl slowly and softly slid out from under the bed and crept to the door. She peered out of the room, making sure her breath was shallow. It was cold in here and she didn’t want them to see the telltale fog.
There was no one outside the room. Her crouching shadow on the opposite wall was the only thing that moved. She stepped out of the doorway and tiptoed to the stairs at the end of the corridor. She felt like a character in a horror movie and suddenly, all the scary films she had ever seen presented themselves inside her head in a kaleidoscope of disjointed figures, gushing blood and tortured screams. She pinched herself angrily. I’m not going to be like some stupid character that gets killed, she told herself. I’m going to escape. That thought spurred her and she ran up the stairs lightly on her bare feet.
A weapon, she thought. I need a weapon. She ran into the first room on the fourth floor, her father’s office. She headed for the big oak writing desk and pulled open one of the drawers where she grabbed a letter opener and held it tight. Small but incredibly sharp. Maybe she could stab one of her pursuers in the eye, blind them. She quickly scanned the room but could see nothing else that she could use as a weapon so with the knife in her right hand, she left the room and thought of a good place to hide.
As she ran to the next room, she heard their voices. They were on the floor she had just come from, she thought.
“Hey, come on…..we know you’re up here somewhere….”
Her heart slammed into her throat and she nearly wet herself. Holding onto her courage, she ran to the room at the end of the corridor. There was a cupboard in there with a strong lock. She could hide in there. She ran into the room and to the cupboard. It was full of junk but after pushing some of it aside, she managed to crouch down in the musty darkness. She reached up to pull the door shut then grabbed for the key. Her fingers grasped thin air. She had left the key on the outside. Moaning softly, she stood up and opened the door slightly and slid one hand out to grab the key. It wasn’t there.
“No.” she whispered.
She opened the door fully and stepped outside. The lock was empty. Why hadn’t she noticed that the key wasn’t there when she’d opened the door? Too late. She could hear their footsteps on the stairs. They were coming up to the fourth floor. She fled the room and ran up the next flight of stairs to the last floor of the house apart from the attic. There were guest rooms up here and nowhere decent to hide but she ran into one of the rooms anyway. Maybe she could find a better weapon. She ran past the four poster bed to the fireplace where she could see there was a heavy iron poker. Yes, she thought. She picked it up then walked back to the door. As she was about to step out, she heard one of the men speak. He was close. Her heart pounded hard. Oh my God! They must have split up. She was trapped. No! She screamed silently. She wouldn’t let them get her.
“I’ll check these rooms okay. You do that side. We’ve got her now.” she heard a man say.
Cheryl softly stepped backwards and behind the door. She held the poker up high, her mouth puckered and dry. The man stepped stealthily into the room, head turning left and right. As he passed the door, Cheryl brought the poker down hard onto his skull. She caught a glimpse of shock in his eyes before he fell heavily to the carpet. She gazed at the blood on his head with triumph then she turned and listened for the other man. He was in the room opposite. She could hear him opening a wardrobe door. She knew she had to get to him before he got to her, before her courage deserted her.
She stepped over the other man’s body and slipped out of the room. She ran across to the opposite doorway and as she did, heard the others climbing the stairs. The man in the room turned and saw her.
“There you are.” he said. He reached inside his jacket pocket and she knew he was going for his weapon.
She threw the poker at him then spun around and ran from the doorway. She headed for the attic stairs. The last room in the house.
“Hey!” she heard the man yell.
Cheryl ran up the stairs as fast as she could and prayed that the key would be in the lock. It was. She pulled the key out and pushed the door open then tumbled into the attic and slammed the door shut again. The sound of the men’s feet on the stairs was like thunder. She thrust the key back in the lock with trembling fingers and turned it. It stuck slightly and her breath caught but then it locked. She backed away from the door just as one of the men turned the handle. He banged on the door with his fists.
Cheryl panted with exhaustion and fear. The door was solid, she thought with a little relief. It would take them a while to get through it. Trembling, she turned around and pulled the light cord. Weak light washed around the attic, revealing cartons and boxes covered with years worth of cobwebs and dust. As she stepped forward, she noticed something else lying among the dirt. A dolls head. Cheryl stared at it, for some reason feeling a small fission of apprehension. Frowning, she stepped past it and let out a slight gasp. There were more dolls heads, at least a dozen, all strewn across the attic floor. Their bodies, she noticed were lying against a wooden box, their legs splayed obscenely.
She bent and picked up one of the heads. Its curly blonde hair was coarse and matted. This was her doll, she suddenly realised. They were all her dolls, bought for her by her father. When she was little, he went away a lot on business trips and he always brought her back a new doll. American dolls; Oriental dolls; African dolls; baby dolls. A baby for my baby, he would say to her. She gazed at the head in her hand. Who had done this to them? The eyes on the doll suddenly blinked open with a click, the gaze blank yet accusing. She could see her reflection in the glassy, still, cold eyes.
Cheryl threw the head onto the floor causing the dust to lift and swirl. A resounding thud on the attic door made her jump and scream. She ran through the broken dolls and ducked under the low roof toward the window of the attic. She stopped in front of it and placed both hands on the glass. It was thick with dirt. She scratched at it with her nails and peered through the clear spot. Outside, she could see the rolling green fields disappearing into the damp grey of a low cloud and in the far distance, mournful crows hung over a patch of dense, dark woods.
She had to get outside, she thought, to the trees. There was sanctuary in the woods and the fields. Many times, as a child, she had played there and she wondered if the tree den she had made was still perched high in the capable bows of the oak in the centre of the woods.
Another blow to the door made her jump and for the first time, she felt like crying. She was so scared and so tired and the men just kept coming. Rubbing at her face, she turned and dragged one of the boxes over to the window then she climbed on top of it, feeling the lid give slightly with her weight. She leant forward and pulled at the window sash. It was old and stiff with countless coats of paint and wouldn’t budge. She screamed with frustration and she suddenly realised that the door behind her was rattling in its hinges. It was becoming loose. Desperately, Cheryl pulled at the window, her face turning red, her neck stretched and taut, teeth gritted. The window moved slightly and she increased her efforts until bit by bit, it raised enough for her to crawl through.
Out on the sloping roof, the wind whipped her night dress up, raising goose bumps on her pale flesh. Her hair, dark and long wrapped around her face like a scarf and she tucked it back behind her ears. Cheryl held onto the sill and behind her, she heard the sound of the door finally splintering open. The men were calling to her. Oh God. She stepped away from the window and her feet slid down the damp roof slightly. She screamed, her arms out straight as she tried to keep her balance.
“Don‘t move!” she heard one of the men say.
She twisted her head to look at him. He was leaning out of the window.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed.
“You have to come back Cheryl,” the man said, and in his hand she could see a syringe.
She closed her eyes briefly as the reality and truth came hurtling back to her. She remembered the crisp white sheets of the sanatorium, the smell of bleach and piss, the irritating squeaking of the doctor’s shoes on the linoleum floor.
She shook her head defiantly. “I’m never going back to that place,” she yelled.
Now, in her head, she could hear her doctor’s voice; recall his false smile as he tried to quell her with pills and injections. You’re very ill Cheryl, he had told her. You have to stay here until you’re better. That was a lie though, she thought. She wasn’t ill. She had just told the truth but no one had believed her because her father was rich and respected, a politician. They’d all thought she was lying about the abuse she had suffered at his hands all through her childhood.
She cried now. Her father’s voice sat in her head, hushed and comforting in stark contrast to his actions.
“Shh, be quiet, its okay….our secret darling….here I’ve brought you another doll to replace the ones you broke…..so pretty just like you…shh now.”
Cheryl’s eyes glazed as she recalled sitting in the attic ripping the heads off the dolls one by one. That had been six months ago, her sixteenth birthday. Then, amidst the smell of the plastic from the dolls, a shadow had loomed over her, fingers sliding and touching, cologne choking her, whispered words torturing her, another doll on the floor. Oh daddy.
She closed her eyes now, like the dolls in the attic. Earlier, she had managed to escape from the sanatorium, had stolen a nurses car, driven here to her family home. She had stood outside in the rain and watched as her parents and brother had eaten dinner then she had rang the bell.
Her father had died first. A knife through the heart just like the emotional one he had thrust through hers. She had watched the light fade from his eyes and along with his death rattle, she had heard his words from ten years ago echoing in her ears. The first time he had touched her. Daddy loves you princess. You’re special.
She had never wanted to be special though.
She had killed her mother next, her blood spilling all over her smoked salmon. Her crime for not believing her daughter. Then, Cheryl had chased her brother catching him as he had fled out onto the hallway.
Like father, like son.
Now, as the men shouted to her and started to scramble out of the window towards her, she opened her eyes and spread her arms further, like the crows in the woods. She longed to fly like them, be free.
Cheryl stepped off the roof. She had to get away.
They were coming.