My little sister went missing three days ago. …

Grandad was the one who told us.

He’d been out with Sally for one of their walks through the New Forest. Supposed to be gone until late afternoon, but he came back early. Sally didn’t.

I was in the lounge when I heard the hammering on the front door. Loud, panicked. It was lunchtime and I was sat in front of the TV, watching Netflix. I paused the show and went to answer it.

It took me a moment to recognise grandad. Normally he’s this calm, gentle giant. He combs what’s left of his grey hair neatly to one side. Wears a suit, even around the house. Tie and everything. But today he looked different. His blazer was draped over one arm and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. His tie was skewed. Sweat patches formed dark circles around his armpits. It was his eyes I noticed first, though. They were wide with an expression I’d never seen before on my grandad’s face: fear. Fear and panic.

“Where’s your mum and dad? Quick, Jack.”

The smell of cherry bubble gum wafted from grandad’s mouth as he spoke. He was chewing a piece almost frantically, his mouth working a mile a minute. My grandad always chews that stuff – he has as long as I’ve known him – and he always gave me and my sister pieces as a treat when mum wasn’t looking. The smell usually has positive connotations for me. Now though, like my grandad’s rumpled suit and panicked eyes, it just felt wrong. All of it did.

“What’s the matter grandad? Where’s Sally?”

“She’s gone, Jack. Jesus Christ, she’s–” Grandad paused and pulled in a shaky breath. Then he started sobbing. Never before in my life had I seen my grandad cry. I didn’t know what to do. The sight felt totally unnatural to me. The thing is, grandad’s always been the fun one. The one we’d joke around and play games with. Learning magic tricks; taking each other on in board games; playing dress up when we were little. Grandad is the kind of person who would tip us a wink even after we’d been told off by mum or dad, just to let us know he was still on our side. He’s only lived with us for the past year, but he’s been there my whole life. After mum, dad, and Sally, he’s the person I love most in the world.

Seeing him like this – his eyes red with tears and his grey hair dishevelled – I felt dread in my stomach. It was worse than anything I’d ever felt before.

“What happened, grandad?” I said. “What is it?”

“I swear I only left her for two minutes.” Grandad’s eyes were large and desperate. “I just went into the bushes for a pee, and told her I’d be right back. But then she wasn’t there. I looked all around and shouted and called her name. She’s disappeared. It’s like she’s vanished off the face of the friggin’ earth.”

*

I only thought of Sally’s diary this morning.

Three days had passed. Sally still hadn’t shown up, and things were getting desperate. The police, and our entire village, were in full search mode. Investigators had interviewed each of us separately, and were now “following up several lines of enquiry”. No one told me anything, of course. But I learned at lot from listening at closed doors. Apparently a group of travellers had been seen staying in an area not far from the spot my grandad and Sally were walking. Camping out illegally. I heard dad tell my mum that the police were talking to each of them separately. Seeing if they knew anything. And while that was going on we had volunteers combing the area where Sally had gone missing.

It was a big area, I overheard one of them say. Not many roads. Plenty of room for a little girl to get lost.

Sally’s bedroom is separate to mine, and the police searched it the day she went missing. Took away her phone and a bunch of other stuff in clear plastic bags. Just like they do on TV. But there was one hiding place I didn’t think they’d know about.

As I crept into Sally’s room this morning, I kicked myself for not thinking of the diary sooner. The last few days had been such a nightmare it hadn’t even crossed my mind. A blur of tears, questions, and hours of fruitless searching among the bracken. I’d felt useless, mainly. A spare part. Big brothers – especially ones who are quite a bit older, like me – are meant to protect. They’re mean to watch out for their little sisters. What good was I if I couldn’t even keep Sally safe?

Then I remembered the diary. I’d stumbled across it months ago, completely by accident. Or rather, I’d stumbled across Sally hiding it. I’d gone into her room one morning to find her cupboard door open. Sally was hunched over in the corner, half visible among the clothes. It was only as I walked closer that I saw what she was doing: stashing a pink book beneath a loose floorboard. I’d crept quietly out without saying anything. I didn’t want to startle her, and I’d guessed straight away what the book was. As a 15-year-old I had no interest in reading my 8-year-old sister’s diary, so I thought the best bet was just to stay quiet. Let her keep the secret to herself.

Now, walking across Sally’s room towards her cupboard, I had a weird mixture of fear and hope in my stomach. It was a long shot, I knew that. But maybe there was at least a chance I’d find something. Maybe I could help.

I creaked the door open. Sally’s cupboard was dark and messy. My shoes crunched across sweet wrappers on the floor. I pushed piles of clothes to one side. It didn’t take me too long to find it. The floorboard in the far-left corner had a hole in it clogged with paper. I pulled it out and worked my finger in. Then I lifted the board up.

The pink book was the only thing in the space beneath. Crouching down in the darkness, I opened it up. Used the light on my phone as a torch. The latest entry was dated three days ago. The day Sally went missing. As I read the first line, I felt fear growing in my stomach like weeds.

Dear Diary,

The alien came to visit me again last night. I never told you about the alien before even though I wanted to, because it made me promise. But now I think I have to tell.

The alien is tall and it’s got an ugly grey head and narrow black eyes. It visits me at least once a month. I wake up in the dark and it’s in the corner of my room by the cupboard, watching me. It hardly ever speaks, but the one time it did it told me I’d been chosen for an experiment. A special and secret experiment that I could never tell anyone about.

Then I followed it through the cupboard door and there was all this white light on the other side, so bright I couldn’t see, and the next thing I knew I was back in bed again and the alien was gone. I couldn’t remember anything.

I’m scared to tell but lately I keep forgetting stuff during the day, and my head feels funny. So now I think I have to. I don’t think I can tell mum or dad about it, though – they’ll be cross with me for keeping the alien a secret so long.

Sally x

I re-read that page several times in the cupboard. The fear in my stomach had blossomed into a full-grown sense of dread. I kept thinking about how Sally had just disappeared – there one minute, gone the next. Like a hole had opened up in the sky and swallowed her.

After a few more minutes I got up to leave the cupboard. I kept the book in my hand – there were other entries that I still needed to read, and even then I knew I’d have to show it to someone. My parents or grandad, maybe, or the police. As I went to leave the cupboard, my foot crunched down on another sweet wrapper. I paused. There was something in the back of my mind nagging me – a sense I’d missed something obvious. I looked down at my feet. And as I did, the whole nightmare puzzle suddenly began slotting into place. Images flew through my mind like a film reel unravelling.

An image of the day I’d found out Sally was missing.

An image of us playing dress up when we were younger.

An image of a tall, shadowy creature, standing in the corner of my sister’s room. A creature that told her not to tell anyone about it, and that took her into the cupboard to do experiments on her. Experiments she couldn’t remember.

Mostly, though, I thought about the wrapper beneath my foot. The wrapper in my sister’s cupboard, one of many, that wasn’t a sweet wrapper after all. It was a bubble gum wrapper. Cherry flavoured.

The puzzle finished forming in my mind. I felt sick.

There was no alien. There never had been any alien.

It was grandad.

(source) story by (/u/samhaysom)

Nanna stands at the foot of my bed each night.

I love my nanna lots and lots. She’s my second favourite person in the whole world, after mum. Lots of kids in my class say they love their dad the most, but I don’t know mine that well. He left when I was very little and I haven’t seen him since.

Nanna makes me feel better about things. She makes stuff okay. When I used to feel sad about dad not being here, or whenever I was scared because people were shouting on our street late at night, nanna would sit by my bed and comfort me.

She had the same song she’d always sing:

Hush now my darling

And never you fear.

For you won’t know danger

As long as I’m near.

Whenever I’m frightened I think of nanna singing that song. I close my eyes and picture her leaning over me: her bright blue eyes shining with the light from my bedside lamp; her cheeks crinkling up as she smiles.

Lately nanna hasn’t smiled so much. She hasn’t been herself at all. She usually talks to me lots and lots – tells me stories; asks me questions about infants school – but lately she’s been different. She hasn’t said a word.

It all started when nanna got poorly. This was a couple of weeks ago. One day I got home from school and nanna was in her usual chair in the lounge; the next day she wasn’t. When I asked mum where she was she told me nanna was sick. She was resting in bed, like I did when I had the flu last summer.

Only when I had the flu I got better. I had an achy tum and a bad head for two days, and then I was okay again. It wasn’t like that with nanna. I kept asking mum if I could see her, and she kept saying no. She kept telling me I couldn’t go into nanna’s room. I thought mum might be sick too, because she wasn’t wearing makeup like she normally does. Her skin was pale and her eyes were all red. She wouldn’t talk to me much either because she was always in the room with nanna.

Without nanna in my room at night, I started feeling scared again. I found it hard to sleep. I tried to imagine her singing to me, but it wasn’t the same. I could hear grownups shouting on the road outside our house, their voices loud and angry, and all I wanted was for someone to come and make me safe again.

Then, about a week later, I got my wish.

*

The first night I saw nanna again was a bad one. I’d been lying in bed for hours, struggling to sleep. There were too many sounds outside the house: men calling to each other on the street; a woman laughing; big buses rumbling by. My best friend at school, Tom, says the road I live on is dodgy. I didn’t know what that meant, and when I asked Tom he said he didn’t know either. He told me it was just something he’d overheard his dad tell his mum. Said it was why his parents didn’t like him coming over my house to play.

I think dodgy must mean when stuff’s really loud all the time. Like when it’s so noisy you can’t sleep. The night nanna came back to see me I remember checking the Scooby Doo clock that sits on my bedside table. Watching the time as it got later and later. 9:36pm. 10:18pm. 11:45pm. The sounds outside didn’t stop. First there were all the people laughing and shouting, and then later there was something that sounded like a big van right below my window. The engine rumbled on and on like a snoring giant.

There were other noises, too. Inside the house. Sounds from upstairs that I couldn’t quite place. I thought I heard mum speaking at one point, like she was on the phone. Then later I thought I heard her crying. The outside sounds made it hard for me to hear clearly, though. The next time I looked at my Scooby clock it was after midnight.

I must have gone to sleep for a bit then. I remember I had a bad dream. In the dream I was lying in bed, and I could hear footsteps coming up the staircase in our house. Creak, creak, creak. I tried calling for mum, but my voice didn’t work. I couldn’t make a sound. Creak, creak, creak. The footsteps grew louder. Soon they sounded as though they were right outside my room. I tried screaming, tried to climb out of bed, but my body wasn’t working. I couldn’t move or speak.

It was as my door was being pushed open that I woke up. Darkness surrounded me. I pulled in a deep breath. My heart was hammering in my chest and my room was almost pitch black. A faint crack of light crept in under the door, but that was it. I knew it must be much later now, because for once the road outside was quiet. Everything was silent.

Well, not completely silent.

Somewhere in the darkness of my room I could hear a faint rustling – a soft whooshing sound – like the noise curtains make when it’s windy. I checked the time on Scooby. 02:48am.

I yawned, still half asleep, and went to turn over. That’s when I saw nanna. She was standing in the shadows at the far end of my bed. I could just see her silhouette in the light from under my door. Nanna stood completely still. Not moving a muscle. Watching me. It was too dark for me to see her face, but I could tell that she was looking in my direction. She wore the same dress she’d been wearing the last time I saw her – her favourite one that’s covered in blue flowers – and as I stared I could see it swishing slightly. Like there was a breeze in the room. Only I couldn’t feel one.

“Nanna?” My voice was dry from sleep and it came out all croaky. “Nanna, what you doing?”

She didn’t say anything. I reached a hand up to my face to rub the sleep from my eyes.

When I opened them again, nanna was gone.

*

The next morning mum told me nanna had left. That she’d gone away in the night.

Mum’s eyes were red again and there were bags under them. Her voice kept breaking up when she spoke. I asked her where nanna had gone.

“Someplace better,” she replied.

“Was that why she was in my room last night?” I asked. “To say goodbye to me?”

Mum looked at me for a long time without saying anything. There was a frown on her face. Eventually she asked if I’d dreamed about nanna.

“It wasn’t a dream,” I said. “I was having a dream, but nanna woke me up. She was in my room, watching me. She didn’t say goodbye, though.”

Mum turned away from me so I couldn’t see her face. This time she was silent for even longer. When she finally spoke her voice sounded funny again.

“She’ll always be watching over you, sweetheart.” Mum gave my leg a squeeze. “Your nanna loves you. You know that, right?”

I wanted to ask why nanna had gone away if she loved me. But mum got up and left the room before I could.

It didn’t matter in the end, though. Because the next night, nanna came back.

*

Every night for a week, the same thing.

Noises on the street outside. Checking my Scooby clock. Laughter. Shouting. The same loud van, rumbling away below my bedroom window. Finally falling asleep.

And then, nanna.

Nanna, standing at the foot of my bed. Not talking, or saying anything when I spoke to her. Only watching.

The one thing that changed – the only way I could tell the difference between one night and the next – was that nanna kept getting closer. Steadily closer. Each time I saw her she’d be a little bit nearer my bed. She didn’t move when I was awake; it wasn’t like that. Even when I asked her questions, she stayed perfectly still. But then the next night, when I woke up, she’d be that little bit nearer. It was like she was playing the statues game me and my friends sometimes play at school – the one where you have to creep towards someone without being spotted.

After a few nights, nanna got close enough for me to see her face. That’s when I started getting scared. Up until then I’d looked forward to seeing her. Having her in my room made me feel better. But once she was close enough that the shadows no longer hid her, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all.

Her face had changed. Not in the way it looked or anything, but the difference was still obvious: she didn’t smile.

Nanna had always been happy to see me. Her blue eyes were always bright and her cheeks would crinkle when she looked at me.

But when I saw her at night, they didn’t. Her mouth was a straight line, and her eyes just stared without blinking.

*

The last time I saw nanna was a few days ago. It makes me feel bad to think about it, but by then I almost didn’t want to see her anymore. She scared me. I kept picturing her silent, unsmiling face, and every time I did my skin would prickle up. She kept getting closer, too. The night before she’d been near enough that I could have reached out and touched her if I wanted to.

I didn’t want to. I wanted the old nanna back. The nanna that used to sit by my bed, talking to me and singing the same song whenever it was time for me to sleep. Not this new nanna who only stood and stared. It wasn’t as if I could talk to mum about it, either. I’d tried a couple of times but it didn’t work. She only told me I was having nightmares. Then she said she’d talk to me “properly” about nanna “when the time was right”. I didn’t understand what she meant.

There’s a part of my brain that wonders if mum’s right. If maybe I was just having nightmares. Bad dreams caused by me struggling to sleep, and worrying about nanna being poorly. Even now, I wonder if that might be it. If maybe the whole thing was just a nightmare.

Because if it wasn’t, I don’t know how to explain what happened the last time nanna came into my room.

*

The night started normally enough. I was lying awake in bed, listening to people yelling on the road outside. Watching the clock. The same as always.

The first difference was the van. Each night I’d heard it rumbling below my window for at least an hour – it was one of the noises that made it really hard for me to get sleepy – but that night it wasn’t there. There was no sign of it at all.

This must have made me drift off a bit earlier, because the last time I looked at my clock it was only 10:26pm.

A sound woke me up. A soft smash, like glass breaking in the distance. Then a dull click and a muffled crunch.

As I came fully awake I realised there was a hand over my mouth.

My eyes snapped open. Nanna. She was standing by the head of the bed, her blue eyes staring down at me. Her left hand was clasped over the lower half of my face. It felt cold. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. Nanna raised her other hand and pressed a single finger to her lips. I looked back at her in terror. My heart was beating so hard it felt like a fist in my chest.

As I stared at nanna, she shook her head from side to side. Slowly. Then she removed the finger from her mouth. Far off in the house, I heard more noises. Soft thuds. They sounded like muffled footsteps.

Keeping her freezing hand on my face, nanna leaned down so that her mouth was right beside my ear. I lay completely still. The terror was so bad I couldn’t move.

And then, after a second, I heard it.

Hush now my darling

And never you fear.

It didn’t feel like nanna was singing the words to me. Not exactly. I know this sounds strange, but I could just sort of hear them. In my mind. Like the song was playing in my head. The sound of it was gentle and soothing, and I immediately felt a little less frightened.

For you won’t know danger

As long as I’m near.

The words played in my head, over and over. I felt my eyes drift shut. The lids suddenly felt heavy, like they were being weighed down. Far off in the house, the noises continued. Creaks and thumps. They were getting closer. The soft pad of footsteps moving up the stairs. But the funny thing was, even though the sounds were drawing nearer, they were also getting fainter. It was like the volume was being turned down. My head was filled with nanna’s song, and the words covered everything. They stopped me feeling scared; only sleepy. Like that feeling you get when you lower yourself into a warm bath. Safe.

I only opened my eyes once more after that. Just once. Only a crack. Because even though the volume had been lowered on the house sounds, I still heard it when my bedroom door was opened. The sound was so close not even nanna’s song could cover it. My eyes drifted open, expecting to see mum. But it wasn’t her. The person standing in the doorway was a large man in a black t-shirt. He had a wide, pudgy face and small eyes. In his right hand he held something long and shiny.

The man’s eyes looked around the room and fell on me. And then they moved to nanna. His face changed. He’d been smiling before – sort of grinning – but now his eyes were wide with terror. His mouth hung open. I followed his gaze and looked up at nanna. And I saw why the man was so scared.

Nanna was screaming at him. At least, she looked like she was screaming. Her mouth was wide open, but I couldn’t hear any sound coming from it. Her grey hair streamed out behind her head. Her blue eyes blazed. Up until then I’d never seen my nanna angry about anything. It’s something I hope I’ll never have to see again.

In my head, nanna’s song played on. The words washed over me like warm water. I felt sleepier than I had in a long, long time.

My eyes flicked back to the strange man once more. The last thing I saw before my eyes drifted shut was that he’d fallen to his knees, and he was covering his ears with both hands.

*

I haven’t seen nanna since that night. Not once. I’ve woken up a few times at around 2am, and every time I do I stare hard at the shadows in my room. But she’s not there any more.

Mum still hasn’t spoken to me about her, either. She hasn’t told me where nanna’s gone.

I keep trying to ask her, but over the last few days she’s been very busy. The day after the strange man came into my room, there were lots of other people that came to our house. Way more than normally visit.

Some of them were policemen. They had uniforms on, and they smiled and asked me lots of questions. I told them all about what happened in the night. They didn’t seem too interested in the stuff about nanna, but they wanted to know lots about the strange man. They kept asking me to tell them what he looked like. Describe his face again and again.

After the police had gone, a man came round to fix one of our downstairs windows, which had got smashed in the night. And after that lots of mum’s friends came over to visit.

At one point, when mum was busy chatting in the lounge, I snuck off to nanna’s room. I hadn’t been in there for a long time. I don’t know what I expected, but I was still a bit sad when I saw nanna’s bed was empty. She really had gone away, after all.

The room still smelled of her, though. Of the perfume she always wore. And when I shut my eyes and breathed the smell in, I could still remember the sound of her song. I could hear it in my mind.

I think about that song a lot now. Whenever I’m struggling to sleep, and whenever I wake up in the night, I think about it.

It helps. I used to need nanna to sing it to me, but now the words are enough to make a difference. I sing them in my head.

I close my eyes and the sounds wash over me like warm water, again and again, and I can almost imagine nanna is right there beside me.

(source) story by (/u/samhaysom)

A bully forced me to show him the secret we ke…

Brian caught me about half a mile from my house.

The kid was actually hiding behind a tree, if you can believe it. God knows how I didn’t see him. I was walking back from the bus stop, winding along the country lane that leads me home, and the next thing I knew he’d jumped out onto the road in front of me.

“Hey… weirdo.” Brian stood on the tarmac panting. His chubby face was red and sweat stained. I already knew what had happened: Brian lives a few miles from me in a nearby village, and he must have run here straight after he got off the bus a few stops back. Cut across the fields or something. For a kid his size, it was an impressive feat.

“You okay Brian?” I tried to keep my voice as calm as I could, but the truth is my heart was beating fast. Brian’s not a nice kid. He’s two years above me in school and he’s got a reputation that’s well earned. The kid’s a bully. He’s tall and fat and he likes to throw his weight around. Picks on people every day. For some reason he took an instant dislike to my best friend Simon, and he’s made the poor guy’s life a misery since we started secondary school. Tripping him up in the corridors; grabbing food off his lunch tray. The problem with Brian is he’s not just one of those bullies that backs off if you stand up to them, either. Maybe that works in books and films, but not in this case. The only time I ever saw Simon say anything in retaliation, Brian punched him so hard in the stomach the poor kid collapsed to the floor. Winded him so bad I thought he might die.

Brian has never done anything too unpleasant to me – I guess I’ve got a reputation of my own, albeit of a different kind – but I didn’t want to try my luck. And I still didn’t know what Brian wanted. So far he hadn’t said anything else. Now he was just standing in front of me with his hands on his knees, trying to get his breath back. But his eyes never left mine.

“You know… I heard… some stuff…” Brian spoke between breaths. A gust of wind blew along the road and ruffled his sweat-streaked hair. “Some stuff… about your… family… weirdo…”

Brian paused. He took one more deep breath, then finally stood back up. Standing straight he was at least a foot taller than me. I watched him without saying anything.

“Fucking hell.” Brian wiped an arm across his forehead and pulled in another breath. I could see sweat patches staining the front of his school shirt. “This had better be worth it.”

“What had better be worth it?”

“The secret, you little freak. I keep hearing around school that your dad’s got a secret shed in his back garden. A weird dungeon or some shit. Justin Weathers says it’s full of guns, but Tim Waynton reckons it’s stuffed full of all this fucked up porn. So which is it?”

I stared back at Brian. So this was what his sudden appearance was all about. It made some sense. Ever since I joined secondary school, whispers about my family have floated around the playground. The thing is, my mum and dad sort of invite it: they’re both covered in tattoos, and they both dress in black no matter what the weather’s like. My mum does tarot readings for people, too – tells fortunes from tea leaves, reads palms; all that stuff. And my dad… well, let’s just say he’s had a colourful past. He was actually a university professor for a while – he taught physics up in London – but they made him retire early over some big misunderstanding. My mum says they never liked him much, anyway – he didn’t fit with their version of how a professor should look, or something – and they were always looking for an excuse.

Staring back at Brian, I kept my face as straight as I could. “I don’t know what you’re on about.”

The big kid took a step closer. His shadow, impossibly tall and wide, stretched across the tarmac towards me. “Be careful, you little weirdo. Just because your family are all fucking satanists or witches or whatever the fuck, don’t think that’ll stop me knocking your teeth out if I have to.”

I stared back without saying anything. I wasn’t trying to act tough; I was worried that if I spoke, my voice would give away just how nervous I really was. Kids like Brian can smell fear the same way dogs can, I reckon. You can’t give them an inch. By this point I knew Brian wasn’t going to give up easily, either. Whatever rumours he’d heard about my family in the playground, they’d clearly peaked his interest. I could have told him there was nothing all that exciting about them – could have said my dad’s just a guy with tattoos and some hobbies he likes to keep to himself – but it wouldn’t have worked. Brian only would’ve accused me of lying again.

Once I thought I had my nerves under control, I forced a smile onto my face. What I hoped was an appeasing look. “Tell you what, Brian. I’ll do a deal for you. My dad doesn’t like anyone going into the place you’re on about – not even me and my mum – but I know where he keeps the key. So I’ll show you, but you have to promise you’ll leave Simon alone from now on. That you won’t mess him about any more.”

The frown on Brian’s face was replaced with a grin. The braces lining his teeth were a dull silver. I could see food stuck in the metal. He took another step towards me, and I resisted the urge to flinch. “What you don’t seem to understand, you weird little fuck, is that this isn’t a negotiation.” Brian placed one meaty hand on my shoulder. “You either take me to your dad’s shed, right now, or I put you in the dirt.”

Brian’s fingers dug into my flesh. I forced myself to meet his gaze and ignore the pain. Then I nodded.

*

“Tell me something.” Brian’s voice was in my ear as I opened the garden gate. His breath smelled bad. It reminded me of the stink that wafts from a packet of freshly opened ham. “Are your family all as weird as you are?”

I don’t know, Brian, I thought. Are your family all as thick as you are?

I wanted so badly to say it, but I could still feel the ghost of Brian’s fingers digging into my shoulder. I still had the image of how Simon had looked after Brian had punched him, too. No: I had to be patient.

“And your dad,” Brian continued. “Did he really get kicked out of his job at the university for trying weird experiments or some shit? He definitely looks like he’s into some sick stuff.”

I ignored Brian and surveyed our gravel driveway. I’d known my parents wouldn’t be in – they never are when I get back from school – but it was still a relief to see that their cars were gone. I didn’t want my dad stumbling across Brian and I as we attempted to break into his private space.

Our footsteps crunched across the driveway. We passed my house on the right, the windows staring back at us like empty eyes, and continued into the garden. My dad’s secret hideaway – what Brian kept calling the “shed”, even though it wasn’t really – was round the back of the house. Tucked out of sight. I knew the way off by heart, and I headed straight there. Now that we were in the garden, I wanted to get things over with as quickly as possible.

Brian and I rounded the corner of the house. I moved beneath a silver birch tree, the shadow of its branches dancing across the grass beneath my feet. Brian was panting again now. I couldn’t tell if it was from tiredness or anticipation. I thought maybe the latter, though. And just beneath the bundle of nerves that had filled me ever since Brian jumped out from behind the tree, I felt it too: a tiny seed of excitement. It grew as we approached a bank at the far end of the garden.

“What the fuck is this?” said Brian. “I thought we were going to see his shed?”

“It’s not a shed.” Weeds and ferns formed a barrier in front of the grass bank. I walked along parallel to it, counting under my breath. “The kids at school might have told you it’s a shed, but they’re wrong.”

I stopped alongside a break in the weeds. A tiny path had been trampled through them, leading directly to the grass bank. A small, rounded stone door was set into it.

“Jesus.” Brian pushed past me and shouldered his way along the path. I let him go ahead. “What the fuck is this? Did your dad build it?”

“He found it,” I replied. “It was one of the reasons we moved here.”

Brian stood in front of the door, panting. His bulk was roughly the same size as it. He traced his large hands over its surface – moving from the flat of the stone to a large keyhole near the centre.

“Right, come on then,” he said. “How do we get it open?”

I stepped up alongside him. It wasn’t the first time I’d stood before this door, but I felt nervous all the same. The thing always made me uncomfortable. “Are you sure you want to do this, Brian? My dad will go mad if he finds out.”

Brian’s face creased in a scowl. “Just open it. Now. Before I lose my patience.”

“Okay. Fine.”

I crouched down beside Brian and felt in the weeds to the left of the door. It only took my fingers a second to find the rock. I rolled it to one side and pulled a large key from beneath it.

“You mind not like what you find in there,” I said to Brian as I straightened up. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Brian snatched the key from my hand without saying anything. As he turned back to the door, grinning, I stepped to the left. I positioned myself so that Brian was in front of me, and my back was to the grass bank. So I couldn’t see inside the door when it opened.

As Brian fumbled the key into the lock, I pulled in a deep breath. Shut my eyes. The garden was peaceful. A light breeze ruffled the ferns around us. Birds called to each other from the branches of the silver birch. The smell of freshly mown grass filled the air. I pulled in another breath and did my best to fix the sounds and smells in my mind.

The lock clicked opened with a dull thunk. I opened my eyes to see Brian push the door inwards, an eager expression on his face.

Time seemed to slow down. I watched Brian’s grin morph into a mask of animal terror. A dull sound, like the howl of a far-off storm, issued from the mouth of the door. I felt a wave of heat touch my skin. Hairs stood up on my left arm and I shuffled to the right, away from the entrance. Brian screamed. I will never, ever, get used to the sound of a kid screaming like that. For someone so huge, the noise was impossibly high-pitched. The cry of a pig in the slaughterhouse. The temperature around the doorway grew hotter still, like the air around an open furnace. Brian’s face was turning red. It deepened to the shade it had been when I first met him on the road earlier, and then darkened to a bruised purple. He screamed over and over again, a hysterical infant, hitching in half breaths as his face blackened. His large hands reached up to press the sides of his head, then moved to grasp handfuls of his dirty hair. I thought he looked like a blind man, struggling to feel his way in the dark.

As the noise from the doorway grew in volume, Brian clawed his own eyes out.

I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. It was as though my gaze was locked in place. Brian raked his chubby fingers deep into the cups of his eye sockets, causing twin gouts of blood to come gushing between the knuckles. He’d stopped screaming now. His mouth was open in a silent O of agony. His fingers continued to rake automatically at his face, the hands of a broken robot. White jelly dribbled down his cheeks.

Then, just when I felt I wouldn’t be able to stand the heat from the doorway any longer, it finished. A black limb snaked out from the mouth of the door like the arm of a dead tree, and a skeletal hand found the front of Brian’s shirt. It pulled him through the doorway. I caught a glimpse of his chubby bulk disappearing through the opening, and then he was gone. The door clicked shut behind him.

I pulled in a deep breath. I closed my eyes for a moment, collecting myself. Just as it had been in the moments before Brian opened the door, the garden was peaceful again. The birds had stopped calling to each other, but apart from that things were back to normal. I could feel a soft, cooling breeze against my skin.

As I bent retrieve the key from where it had fallen on the grass, I felt a smile forming on my face. “Oh Brian,” I murmured. “I guess maybe you shouldn’t have picked on Simon after all, should you?”

By the time the door was locked and the key was back beneath its rock, my smile had turned into a grin. I’ve heard lots of rumours about my parents over the years, and most of them aren’t anywhere near the truth. But some are close enough. And Brian, despite how dumb the kid was, almost had it for a moment.

My dad did indeed do experiments at university. The problem was, they weren’t the sorts of experiments he could tell anyone about. Some of his colleagues looked for atoms, or the light from distant stars; my dad looked for doorways. Places where the barrier between the things we understand and the things we don’t is sort of… well, thinner. Places like the one he found in our garden.

Nobody understood him. When he tried to tell people about his discoveries, he lost his job. But that was okay. It was okay because he still had us, his family, to support him. We were always the first to learn about his new discoveries. About his secrets.

And we’ve always been happy to keep them to ourselves.

(source) story by (/u/samhaysom)

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