Steven Deighan is a promising young 19 year-old writer from Edinburgh. He's had a love of horror fiction since his childhood and has been writing since he was about ten. His first credit was a gory short entitled 'The Dark Shadow', which was published in 1998 by Acorn Magazine, and he has been submitting work to various horror magazines since. In 2002, he won the Annual Short Story Competition in Guy N. Smith's Graveyard Rendezvous publication and subsequently achieved 1st place in the following issue released the next month. His first book of poetry was published in May 2003, something he is quite rightly proud of. Steven is currently writing for a local newspaper and is due to start a media course at Stevenson College later on in the year. He believes his inspiration comes from his family, who have been behind him all the way with his writing.
For Karen -
As time will tell, you sometimes win when you lose.
Clasping his hands together, and thoughtfully entwining his fingers to the hypnotic sound of his breathing, he told her: 'He said to me once that he thought - he knew - that all death was was just a long sleep.'
Without hesitating, and trembling at the thought of finally knowing the truth of her brother's sudden death; the sudden urge of all exploration gone, she asked: 'Then why'd he do it?'
His eyes, deep with horror and immense perception, looked into hers, and he replied: 'He loved to dream.'
The house was quiet during the day, which it was now, especially in this dream. The three unknown figures were sitting quietly in the living room, all gazing at the muted TV. An eerie silence overshadowed them and entrapped the rest of the house too. Their presence dominated the whole room (and much of the dream) as it always had done. And although they never moved, they lived on, endlessly.
Like a camera on TV, his eyes - his haunted vision - floated around the dark hallways (there were no windows) and wandered to all the rooms. In the pits of his ears he heard laughter and talking, but could not figure out from where they sounded. Dreams were never meticulous. They were solemnly perverse. He knew this, but he didn't.
Passing a vase of dead flowers sitting on top of a small box, his eyes entered a room, empty except for a hulking wardrobe that stood ominously in the corner. He heard himself laughing, then silence as his eyes walked curiously towards the wooden beast.
He watched as his hands protruded from the camera-like vision into view, and numbly fumbled for the small handles. The sounds had grown louder behind him, as if they were approaching, wanting to grab him.
Suddenly, the wardrobe shook violently and looked as though it was about to topple over. This hasn't happened before, he thought, trying to grasp the fake reality he was witnessing.
The single window embedded in the wall opened on its own and the glass began to freeze up and crack as it swung in the air. His eyes saw this too, and he watched, fascinated, as the cracks made web-like patterns and the lines spread over the thick pane of glass. But as it got closer to the point where the glass would shatter and rain on him, it didn't. Not in this dream. Instead, the glass began to melt over the ledge and as it dripped onto the bare floorboards below him like a sharp, ice-blue waterfall, it formed into a neat pile of yellow sand.
The wardrobe stopped shaking. His eyes turned to meet the brown monster, and then lowered again to take hold of the handles. He took the small, cold handles in his hands and pulled at them. The doors didn't open. Then the sunlight that was spilling through the window onto the floor began to fade. He watched as the shadows of the room formed a huge circle around the light on the floor before engulfing the yellow spot. Darkness (except a tint of light coming from the hallway) was all the room had to offer.
The doors gave way.
As the doors swung past him, his vision, his eyes, the two things that gave him sight into the dreamworld, looked on at the horror that hung inside the wardrobe. And although he tried, his eyes would not close.
A young boy, not more than ten, was hanging inside the wooden hulk, barely alive. But he was not suspended on a rope. A thick, steel coathanger had been pierced through one of his shoulder blades and out the other, with the twisted head of the hanger curled on the pole so grossly that it could not break in any way. But his eyes would not turn away from the grim sight.
The young boy's eyes were missing, and so were many of his fingers and teeth. His head would have been bald if not for thick clumps of hair that rested upon it. The veins on his face and forehead stuck out like lines on a road map. But oh God, that scream! The scream of a thousand children echoed throughout the house and his ears; Make it stop! he found himself yelling. The cries swam into his head and before his vision, making the room swirl. The hanging boy lifted his arms, bloody stumps where fingers should have been, and begged his onlooker to help him. And although no eyes occupied the sockets, cold tears streamed down his face.
This was a vision too monstrous to contemplate, even when alive.
Even in the beginning, the Devil had wings.
But there had always been more than what she already knew. The death of her brother didn't mean that it was over. It didn't mean that all life was to stop, nor did it mean it should continue as if nothing had ever happened. Then, what did death really mean? Not just to her, but to humans as a whole.
The pain filled her body constantly and the heartache was unbearable. There were numerous questions still to be asked; puzzles still to be solved. To some, it felt like a game, sickening, like a twisted version of Cluedo. Except this wasn't a whodunit? There are no more mysteries in death than there are few answers in life.
It wasn't just the fact that her brother was gone, taken from her so abruptly; no, there was more, had to be. She only had time to think about the way he had gone. Suicide, she thought, was harder to grieve than to commit.
She left her apartment to see her other brother, Stephen, just after ten. The night was cold and the walk was short, but it seemed to go on forever. She passed many nameless streets until she felt like she was in a labyrinth, trapped and intimidated like a cornered rabbit in a fox's den. Although it was turning November, a warm wind caressed her sagged face.
It hadn't been long after the funeral that the hurt had really set in. Only a couple of weeks had passed, and still the grief stayed. Her parents took their son's death very badly. Nothing uncommon. All do.
She knocked on the door and Stephen let her in.
'Hi, Claire,' he said before hugging her. His hold was strong, for he knew it would always have to be.
She hugged him back. Their hugs were tighter now.
They sat down with cups of tea and talked about their dead brother. It wasn't the usual chat, of course. Before, the three of them used to sit around and make jokes about one another, teasing, laughing. The company they had should have been everlasting. All that was left was anguish.
The room was slightly warm and Claire, who had been rummaging through her bag, produced a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to Stephen. He opened it. It read:
I SAW THEM
He placed it down on the table, and shook his head.
'It's true,' Claire told him, her voice trembling. 'He must have. If he hadn't, wouldn't, then he...'
'But how?' asked Stephen. 'It just couldn't have been possible. Not him.'
The fire burned brighter, and the lamps above the two dark silhouettes flickered.
'If only he had told us,' Claire whispered aloud.
The paper lying on the table slowly began to straighten itself. Each crumpled corner snapped back until the sheet remained distressed no more, but became as smooth as a new one. The two of them witnessed this, shaken and terrified, knowing too well that some uninvited presence was in there with them. The room began to grow cold as the lamps flickered even more. A dreadful silence became a ceiling over them as the paper stopped moving.
'Did you see that?' asked Stephen, shakily.
'I did. Oh God, it's here, isn't it?' Fear gripped the young woman tighter, causing even her unborn child to stir in its slumber.
A small gust of wind blew through them; the lamps stopped flickering and the fire became restless. The bright orange flames danced wildly in the alcove, the naked, fiery waves twisting in the air like a gymnast performing an act of obscure manoeuvres. Although the fire burned, the air grew cooler still.
'Why did he see them?' she asked.
Stephen gave her a look of bewilderment. 'They just came to him. They must have always been in there.'
'In his mind. That's where they always lie, I think. God, I miss him.'
'I do, too,' she replied, looking down at the floor.
The atmosphere in the room came to a standstill again, and the brother and sister looked at one another, then glanced around the room, watching, waiting for something to jump out on them from the shadows. Their weary, cried-out eyes peered into the growing darkness that lay silent in the corners; something was there, and they knew it. Something evil. Something that had taken their brother to Hell from a vision.
Even in the end, the Devil had wings, and he knew how to use them. He took with him the evil in Heaven and fled to the black pit called Hell. The chains bound him for those thousand years, but chains could be broken. But not with brute strength. Angelic.
And those aching joints would soften on Earth.
An immense shock of fright tore through them as the radio blared. Stephen ran to the CD player and turned the power off. Glancing down at the socket, he saw that the plug wasn't even in.
A bemused grunt filled the room. Something was in there.
A car horn blasted outside as an angry driver swerved to avoid a cat crossing the slippery road, yet its paws failed to touch the ground.
'The demons are here, aren't they?' asked Claire, nervously.
'They always have been.'
The fire died.
(C) Steven Deighan 2003
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.