He could be looking at a cousin, an absent brother, or a photo of his father or uncle when they were young. Yet this is Brian’s ancestor, a soldier from a long-ago war he hardly knows a thing about. He wants to ask him questions, climb into the screen where he’s viewing his records and learn everything he’s got to say. His face is proud, serious, yet there’s a hint of mischief around his eyes. Brian ignores his date of death and glosses over the cause of it, wishing for the chance to go back in time. For them both.
It’s been a while since you slept in a single bed, and to be honest you aren’t entirely sure how you got here, but here is where you are, and here is where you’ll be for the foreseeable future.
Moonlight casts shadows through the strip of window and bathes the bare grey floor in a pale half light, right between the desk and the wardrobe.
The night is unbearably silent, and yet, crushingly loud; every wind-rustled leaf, every passing car, every disembodied voice floats past and surrounds you like an invisible shroud as you try to identify each and every noise, make sure that all is okay.
This is the third night you’ve kept a careful watch on the ceiling, and you try not to document all the sounds of the previous evenings but of course, you have no control over what you think.
You know that the apartment above you went to bed twenty minutes ago and the one to your left will be watching overseas sports for another hour. You hear the occupants of your own accommodation sigh, shuffle, turn over and make their pillows comfortable.
You know the moment that you’re no longer alone in the room.
The air becomes charged, like an extra-heavy element has been added to saturation point and is weighing it down, pressing into you like it wants to deflate your lungs. You feel the watching. You know the direction it is coming from even if you’re too scared to look, and the entire room is filled with the electricity of nervous tension. The only thing louder than the nothing you hear is the staccato of your own heartbeat, suddenly sprung to life like a bird bidding for freedom.
What is to be gained by just watching?
Why are you being watched? What’s the motive? Is this the effect of some long-forgotten cause?
When is something going to happen?
The night swells with ominous intention and you are lifeless, limbless, helpless. This is what happens when you stir the monsters from their dormant state beneath the bed.
Meet Jack. A successful environmental officer working within an industry that is so very far from his childhood dream of saving the planet, that he no longer recognizes himself. How he’s found himself in Houston, Texas, where he has no one, and nothing but his work for company, he tells himself repeatedly he doesn’t know. But when the place that became home had the heart sucked right out of it, and all around him was the remnants of a life he wouldn’t get to have, Jack ran, at the first opportunity given to him. On a bright, sunny morning, Jack sees a face so familiar to him that he knows it better than his own, one that takes him back first to a beach in his childhood home of Tampa Bay, and second to a college in Boston where Jack learned – and lost – his heart.
Tainted by our choices is the story of first crushes, loves, and heartbreaks, and the fallout that left Jack clinging to his past. Join him on his rediscovery of himself, as a chance meeting reminds him of the life he always wanted to lead. Is he brave enough to live it?
This building is old. It has worn many identities, been both home and safe haven, yet also a horror for some of its occupants. There have been fights, failings, fortunes, and famines. Laughter, love, and so much life. But there has also been death, and despair, the everyday demands of what it is to be living. The building has seen so much that it is almost as though the building lives itself.
Some people remain with the building. Walk its halls, peer out its windows, long after they have lived their lives. Perhaps through fear of moving on, or unwillingness to let go of memories. Perhaps because for some, there is nowhere else to go. There must be a dozen of them who remain from various decades of existence, aware of one another and yet rarely interacting. Too preoccupied with reliving their lives. Wails of despair remain half-hung in the air, mournful groans for a last exhaled breath echoing in half the rooms. And those that are strong slam doors, move furniture; for something to do, out of desperation for something, the building doesn’t know. It can’t talk to them, doesn’t have the words with which to ask.
They come and they go, the living people; long after the building has fallen into disrepute, abandoned by years of neglect and disrepair. They’re investigating; with their cameras and their voice boxes, their alleged psychics and those disbelievers who do nothing but scorn. They ask for proof of a life beyond, turn every building creak and groan into a sign of it, every speck of dust into an orb.
And they scream. They scream because they hear things; the echo of long-trodden footprints, the whispered sighs of those who exhaled their last breath behind these walls. They ask, and they ask, and they ask for evidence, and yet when the evidence is presented to them, they scream. Run. Cry.
Perhaps it is time to give them something to cry about.
Tony keeps having this dream where he finds the courage to confront him. Where he backs him into a corner demanding that Reece tells him what he wants. They’ve both hinted enough. Discreet glances and no-so discreet touches, stolen kisses in the middle of the night. Always when no one can see, of course, always stealing those moments out of sight. Avoidance is something they’ve both perfected over these past few months. Now Tony’s just tired. That smirk is calling him even now, calling for him to kiss it right off his face. He prowls closer, eyebrow raised, hands out.
The scurrying sound starts on a cold Sunday evening, when she’s comfortably slouched on the sofa and on a second glass of wine. Her gaze lifts to the ceiling unworried; this is a top floor flat with the only thing above it an unused attic. They get the occasional bird, and bat, and who knows what other wildlife half the time.
She continues to watch the ceiling as the burrowing sound continues, picturing a Labrador happily digging a hole in the park at the bottom of the road. She knows it’s probably a squirrel up there or something, but the image is a good one. Though a squirrel might not be so bad; it would be far better than a rat. So she pictures a big grey squirrel with sharp, tiny claws and a large fluffy tail, currently making itself at home in her attic space. One that’s had plenty of good meals from the sounds of things; this thing is heavy-footed. She watches the ceiling until the scuffling noise stops, returning her attention to the TV.
Her attic visitor comes back on Monday, scuffling at no greater volume than the previous night. She pauses from typing on her laptop, tilting her head to listen. The rain is softly battering the windows and the wind whipping around the building, so she likes to imagine her new friend has at least found dry shelter for the night.
By Thursday the burrowing above has become… irritating. She sighs when it starts, rising from the sofa and walking through to the kitchen, opening a cupboard taking out a broom. She bangs the handle beneath where that scurrying is happening hearing whatever it is up there stop. She pictures a racing heart in a bird chest, or an inquisitive cocked ear and the twitch of a tail. When she strains her ear to listen harder, she imagines her nocturnal companion to be padding on soft feet back outside, half-convinced she hears a scurrying across the rooftop seconds after.
She starts taking the broom through to the living room in the evenings in preparation for her guest. She wonders sometimes if to expect to see sawdust or something else to come falling down, or this creature to come tumbling through. It doesn’t, so their routine continues. Burrowing for a few minutes, then two bangs of the broom handle sending them back out into the night. Or at least into a corner of the attic to be quiet.
Her brother comes for the weekend. She expects to have to explain their evening entertainment, but they’re out with friends on Friday, and still far too hungover to notice much of anything on Saturday. At least she thinks that’s why neither of them hear anything; she remembers when she goes to bed that she doesn’t recall hearing her friend. Maybe they noticed she had company.
When she mentions it in the morning, her brother checks the ceiling, standing precariously on the arm of the sofa to reach and pat the plaster, happy that nothing is likely to come through. It’s the strangest thing, though, that when he insists they borrow ladders from the neighbour and poke their head into the hatch, the attic is empty. A few feathers from previous visitors, a thick layer of dust since the room isn’t used, yet no scratches showing up in their torchlights. No signs of anything burrowing at all.
They come back, whoever they are, on the Monday, interrupting her favourite TV program and making her pause from taking a bite of her pie. She finishes the plate listening to that digging, then takes her trusty broom and makes her usual two strikes. The scurrying stops, like always, and she waits to hear them walking away. Which they don’t; she imagines two round startled eyes staring down as she stares up, both of them waiting for whatever is about to happen. The scurrying starts up again.
It’s more furious this time, as though whoever they are is in a hurry to get through. She bangs the broom a little more ferociously which only seems to incense her visitor further. She knows she’s imagining the growl that accompanies it but it puts fire in her blood, sending her looking around the room for something tall enough to stand on. Her neighbour is out, and she doesn’t really want to borrow the ladders again anyway. Though by the time she has a dining chair directly beneath the attic hatch and is listening through it, the burrowing has stopped again. She stands with her broom poised, rolling it between her hands as she listens. There is no sound of anything upstairs in the attic, but she does feel like she is being watched.
The burrowing continues the next night, and the following one, its speed and ferocity only increasing. On the third night she is almost ready to tear the ceiling down with her bare hands to stop it. She stomps through the flat after several attempts of hitting the ceiling do nothing, clambering on to a dining room chair and shoving open the attic hatch. A ladder would be so much better; from this chair she isn’t sure how she’s going to make it down again with ease—or, really, how she’s going to get up there—but she’s so exasperated, she doesn’t think too much about after.
She clings to the edge of the hatch and hauls herself up on pure adrenaline, balancing on her forearms with a torch in her hand that she shines around. There is nothing, and then there is something; two luminous eyes catching in the torch’s beam looking back at her unblinking. She tells herself it is in surprise. Though then those eyes narrow, and a mouth she hadn’t noticed before turns up in the beginnings of a wicked smile.
Her heart begins to thrumb for realising how trapped she is, just dangling here with no way to get down, or escape. The dull thud of it only picks up for the familiar scurrying sound now here, in her face, without the barrier of the ceiling between them. She tells herself not to panic, even as her throat dries out.
A blur of teeth and fur charge towards her with a rage-filled hiss. Her screams echo out in the attic, the arch of her blood splattering in the dust silhouetted by torchlight as she drops it on the boards. Those scuffles so familiar to her ear now replaced by thudding and a deep, soft laugh.
Presenting as an Omega at the age of fourteen, Elliot has grown up cautious, distrustful of the world around him, yet determined to live a fulfilling life in spite of that. He is successful at work, has recently moved into a new apartment, and everything in his world appears to be falling into place. Which is, of course, exactly when his body decides to rebel, forcing ideas and urges into Elliot that he has spent his life trying to deny.
Enter reluctant Alpha, Oskar; as adamant as Elliot that he will not have his life disrupted by what he is, and just as horrified by his instincts as Elliot is finding himself about his own. Should they fight the inevitability that is their bond, that need they have for one another that will not get them a moment’s respite, or give in to just how easy, and effortless it feels between them?
Hear that? Listen beyond the trees rustling in the breeze And the occasional bird song overhead, Ignore the panted breath of excited dog out for a woodland walk Off in the distance And listen. Feel the gaze on the back of your neck And know you are completely alone. Even if you called out to the dog Or shouted to rouse the attention of its owner You are too far away From anyone, or anything that could lead you out. So, walk. Hear the crunch of autumn leaves beneath the soles of your boots. You came here to breathe so you might as well do it anyway, Even if those breaths are about to be your last. Or maybe they won’t be, Maybe that feeling of the world closing in on you That is catching in your throat Is just your overactive imagination. You always did like making up tales when you were young. So, step forward, Hear the crisp leaf crunch accompanying that Heavy, soggy sound from the mud beneath the blanket of colour around you. Your ears prick for sensing a similar step behind. And with your heart dancing, you spin, Tell yourself it’s another walker Or an inquisitive animal come to investigate. There is nothing. Only beautiful trees bared to their barks as far as the eye can see. But something is watching you. What else would explain this eerie feeling draping in across your shoulders Like some spectral cape? Why is it always only buildings that are thought to be haunted? Open fields and hidden groves too have been home to humanity for millenia; Would their echoes not resound here as well? This woodland has seen some things Provided shelter to countless souls And some have never left here, Even with their earthly passing. It is those who accompany you now. Their footsteps do not race to catch you And their fingers don’t snag like roots to trip, But they are approaching. And as you turn your head this way and that To pick up all the whispers and echoes around, It’s clear that you too will become a whisperer in the woods. It’s not so bad. An eternity spent among such beauty Watching the way the world turns from afar. It might be nice to know some peace for a while. And you can see them now, All those souls waiting to guide you, Stretched smiles in greeting and Open arms to welcome you home. This isn’t home. Though, it will be. And soon it will be you who chooses To ensnare those who walk alone.
There’s no need for technology to know that he is there. Even in this pitched darkness, you are ensnared in his stare. When they warned this place was haunted maybe you should have had a care, But then, you always did disdain at those who cautioned: beware.
You moved into this old house and replaced corroded locks. You blamed the age and creaking wood for all those unknown knocks. Whispering scorned, footsteps dismissed, unsettled feelings mocked Until you woke from slumber, startled by a chair that scraped and rocked.
He lingers in the shadows, grows more arrogant at night. By day, he’s lurking, creeping just upon the edge of sight. You tell yourself he does no harm, and at worst, causes fright. But when he bars all exits, your heart still hammers in flight.
Accounts record that his corpse was found not so far from here. He watched you as you looked him up; over shoulder, he peered. Cause of death: bludgeoning of skull by object from the rear. They never found his killer, so he can but linger here.
History tells the story of a violently led life. It whispers of whipped children and a meek, thin battered wife. Stories of all his wickedness are harrowing and rife. You try to forget what you’ve read, yet grip to chest a knife.
And now the doors are bolted but the danger is within. The monsters aren’t out there hiding; there’s only one. It’s him. Excuses for your sleepless nights are becoming too thin. You recoil from the thin air, feel his breath upon your skin.
So now the lamps are lit and you sit, sipping Bristol Cream. Perhaps by the morning light, things will not be as they seem. Maybe you’ll wake to tell yourself, ’twas nothing but a dream. But through these thick stone walls you’ll call. No one will hear your scream.
Three days passed in your absence; then the village deigned to care. They creaked your door wide open, and by torchlight crept in there. Many a back of neck pricked under the weight of his stare. Nothing of you they found but clawed floorboards reading: beware.
It’s the wind. It’s the extractor fan rattling, a stiff breeze coming in through the closed front door. The cold whisper over your shoulders nothing more than a blast of cold air.
It’s the building. It’s the neighbours shuffling furniture, the brickwork expanding in the sun’s heat, poor workmanship that’s led to uneven, creaky floors. The knock to the desk beside you nothing more than its wood settling.
It’s you. Your overactive imagination sees shadows when there are none. Your irrational thought that’s conjuring disembodied sighs. And that prickling feeling over your skin is only because you’re overthinking. This feeling of not being alone nothing more than a trick of the mind.
But what if it is something more?
Who would you tell? Who would listen? Who wouldn’t scoff at the ideas that put an extra beat in your heart?
Out of the corner of your eye, the curtain twitches, a faint shimmer beside it looks like a person’s silhouette, and it feels as though it’s turning to you, and watching, just as hard as you’re watching back.
It’s your imagination. Nothing more than a trick of the light and an overactive mind. Nothing more than that.
Matthew isn’t looking for a relationship. Ask him, and he’ll say it’s because between work and studying there’s just no time. Ask his best friend, Sarah, and the story is a little different and involves a failed relationship that left him raw.
Enter Joel, a childhood friend of Sarah’s recently back in the area. He’s not looking for love, either, but he’s not averse to the idea of a little fun. Uncomplicated and on the same page: what could possibly go wrong?
He’s not in the same room as you, he’s not even inside the house. But you know with full certainty that if you turn from the kitchen counter away from the overripe tomatoes you are chopping and towards the full glass doors that form the only barrier between you and him, he will be there, watching. His eyes will flit from your face, down to the sharp knife in your hand as the tomato juice drips from its point, pooling and splashing onto the slate tiles beneath your feet. His gaze will return to yours and your own eyes will stare right back, transfixed, stuck in proverbial headlights in perpetual fight or flight mode.
Pasta over-boils behind you, spitting and splattering a shower of water over the surfaces as the steam rises, ready to trigger the smoke detector at any moment.
And as its shrill beep begins to ring out, the spell is broken, you are able to move.
Knife is returned to chopping board, stove is turned down, pan is temporarily removed from the heat.
His eyes remain on you, watching.
You hear him, even though he speaks no words out loud.