by for Pith.
Audrey awoke on cold cobblestone in the middle of nowhere. The first thing she saw was the dense forest around her, with its tall, looming evergreen trees sprinkled with snow and dark green leaves obscuring the night sky above her. In the distance she heard an owl hooting, otherwise it was deadly silent, an unnerving, unending silence. It made her heart race knowing she was back in the Black Forest, back in this awful place where her nightmares were real and harmful.
She tried to sit up, but fell back on the ground in agony; it felt like someone had struck blows to her back and stomach. Every inch of her torso was aching and sore, but she knew she had to get up and out of this forest. She took a deep breath then pushed herself off of the cold stone, screaming as pain shot through her body. Had she been dropped here? Surely the fall would have killed her? Audrey looked up again, her eyes only meeting the foliage of the trees and small patches of a starry sky. She looked around her; just trees and a thick blanket of snow over the forest floor, and the cobblestone path she had woken up on winding into the trees in front and behind her, to nowhere in particular it seemed. Then she noticed her garments. She wore a long-sleeved, black silk dress slanting from her knees down to the snow behind her, fluffy black half leg boots and a heavy red woollen cloak with a hood attached, pulled up to shield her hair which was out of its usual French twist.
"Seriously?" she sighed to herself, feeling the cloak's fabric in disbelief. There was a rustling behind her and she abruptly turned to it. That cottage definitely hadn't been there before, but now it was unmissable; the exterior walls were constructed with big square stone and medieval style wooden panels outlining the door and windows. The roof was covered in straw, and the windows were decorated with a black diamond pattern on the glass typical to old-fashioned buildings. The interior was illuminated by a yellow-flickering light, which Audrey assumed must be a candle. It radiated menace, but something told her that she had no choice but to go in there.
Very slowly, she made her way towards the heavy-looking wooden door. Her step was soft on the stone beneath her feet, but she willed it to fill the silence; the presence of the cottage was creepy enough without the quiet tension. Cold air that hadn't affected her before now crept over her skin and left goose bumps wherever it touched, while a slight breeze blew back wisps of copper hair from her face. As she edged closer, she realised that all she could see through the windows was the warm yellow glow and nothing else. Terrible thoughts raced through her mind of what could be waiting inside for her; all the horrid stories that the nurse had told her as a child, all those hideous monsters she'd envisioned lurking among the trees on her visits to the forest, any one of those could be in that house.
She reached the end of the path and stared at the door for a while, wishing for once that she had Dee at her side for protection. Her hand shakily grasped the doorknob, icy cold against her fingers, and urged herself to turn it until it clicked. The small sound made her jump even though she expected it, and only after she swallowed the bile rising up in her throat could she push the door open. She was only met with darkness.
"Hello?" she called uncertainly into the black void in front of her. There wasn't a line of moonlight seeping into the cottage like it should, and this scared her. Perhaps it's because the moonlight can't get through the trees, Audrey tried to reason with herself, but she had been able to see her surroundings in the woods, and deep down she knew that logic didn't work here. In her nightmares.
Audrey registered a muffled sound from deep within the darkness, like a high-pitched moan or the creaking of a door or bed. She stepped passed the threshold and took a few more cautious steps inside before stopping. She was waiting for the door behind her to shut and disappear; it was an automatic expectation she'd acquired from the games, which had started making her paranoid about entering rooms for fear her exit would vanish. In this instance however, the door remained fully open, as did the disconnected forest outside of it. After a little more scepticism, she continued to move further into the darkness until she was absorbed by it, and held her shaky hands up to feel her way through. Soon she realised this was pointless. There were no rooms in this cottage, no walls, no obstacles, and she began to doubt whether she was still in the cottage at all. The darkness just went on forever, leaving her to hope that she wouldn't eventually occupy it with her thoughts, hoping there wasn't a hideous creature of darkness waiting for her arrival. When she caught a glimpse of the dull light ahead of her, she braced herself for danger.
There was a clear line on the ground where the darkness ended, and beyond it the surroundings seemed far less threatening. It was a room she remembered from a long suppressed memory, when childish toys are thrown away and replaced by make-up and magazines, a time when change in her life was frequent and inevitable. Her mummy and daddy hadn't told her that grandmother was sick, and then suddenly she had been there, standing in the bright white room with its sheer fame windows and wooden bed with the pale blue sheets, staring at one of the most important women in her life drifting away from her. Audrey walked over slowly to the bedside and sat on the navy blue armchair angled towards the bed, the exact one she'd sat on all those years ago and looked around the room. It was exactly the same as she remembered it, except the blinds were covering those big windows looking out onto the gardens. She realised the door was to the far right of the room and she had come in through the other side, meaning that she had walked in through the wall that apparently hadn't been there before, but the most important feature of the room was the one that should no longer be there. Her grandmother.
She'd sat in that chair while her parents went to speak to the doctor, not quite knowing what to do. Usually they would have long conversations about anything that was on Audrey's mind; whether that meant exciting news or things that were bothering her, her grandmother was always willing to listen. In this current state, it didn't seem like she even knew Audrey was there. "There's this boy," Audrey had started to say. She'd wanted to tell her grandmother this problem for a while, but she hadn't seen her till now. She assumed it would be her last chance to do so, "In the year above me. He told me he liked me and wanted to be my boyfriend, but I said no and walked away. He is nice and stuff, but he is a year older than me and has a really weird family. They stare at you really weirdly if you walk passed them. But he has started following me home all the time, I've told him to stop but he won't. I don't know what to do." She wiped away a tear, not wanting to look silly. Her grandmother's eyes fluttered open, big blue friendly eyes, and she'd smiled.
"Too beautiful...for your own good," she'd wheezed, dragging her arm across the mattress to take Audrey's hand, deadly cold against her grandchild's, "You...have to...tell...your parents." And with those last few words, she'd slipped away, letting out one last breath. Her parents had wept, the doctors had crowded her in a flurry of movement, and Audrey had stood there, contemplating the last advice her grandmother would ever give her.
But now she was back in this moment, listening to the unnatural clicking sounds of the life support machine, holding her grandmother's cold hand, all the while reminding herself that this wasn't real. How cruel could he be, forcing her to watch her grandmother die all over again in this gloomy, lifeless setting? Or maybe not so cruel. He knew better than anyone all the bad things that had happened to her over the past decade. He knew her insecurities, her darkest thoughts, but he also knew how much she had missed the loving support of her grandmother. Perhaps through all his cruelty he was giving her a second chance, and this wasn't a nightmare after all. She racked her brain for something important she'd been dying to tell her, something she couldn't tell anyone one else because she no longer trusted anyone else; people that either knew nothing about her or far too much. There had been so many awful things to say that she didn't know which one to focus on, and then she knew exactly what she'd wanted to talk about all this time, about the one thing that had caused all the problems consuming her. She didn't care if he was listening.
"There's this boy. Not really a boy, something from another world. A Shadowman. He is impossibly old and cruel, but beautiful beyond your wildest imagination, if you saw him you wouldn't be able to compare anything to the colour of his hair and eyes. He is...was in love with my friend Jenny. You would have loved Jenny; she is so sweet, and the bravest person I know after everything he has done to her. He's stalked her, tormented her, threatened her with our lives, but she fought against his beauty and his offer to give her everything she had ever wanted for us. He died for her in the end, yet, I still feel him tampering with my mind, his presence lingers..." she couldn't say anymore, because now more than ever she could feel him close. Looking up from her grandmother, she noticed the room was darker; the corners of the small room had been cast in shadow, almost as if there was a spotlight above her head refusing to touch the walls around her. Her body stiffened, she tightened her grip on her grandmother's hand, and stood up slowly, in case she had to run from something, or someone.
"I don't know what to do." She whispered breathlessly. She knew he was watching her now, his eyes were burning into her head from somewhere in the shadows, enjoying the fear his mere presence brought her. She knew she shouldn't have spoken about him, he'd given her this chance and she'd abused it. She'd taunted the devil. Before she could run, her grandmother's hand flinched, and Audrey was momentarily drawn away from her fears of the darkness.
"Oma?" she cried, sitting back in the chair by her grandmother's side, "Oma, it's me, Audrey!" her head swung to face the other side of the room, and when she turned back, her eyes fluttered open to reveal glowing yellow eyes, flickering like a candle.
"Oma..." Audrey gasped, rising from her chair once again. She recognised those eyes. Her grandmother's lips parted in a wide unnatural grin, revealing a row of long razor sharp teeth stained red. Audrey covered her mouth with shaky hands, unable to come to terms with the horror scene unfolding before her. She whispered under her breath "Your teeth..."
"All the better to eat you with, my dear." His voice filled the room, filled her entire mind with its soft, musical irresistibility. She looked up from the monster in the bed, straight into Julian's threatening blue eyes on the other side of the room, coiling away from the audacious smirk mocking her terror. For a second or two she was frozen on the spot, unable to overt her eyes from her beautiful tormenter, and then she ran for the door despite having to run towards him to get there. She had no choice, all she could do was run from him or give in; a lesson well learnt from Jenny. Audrey stumbled through the darkness sobbing, knowing that the Lurker who had been disguised as her grandmother was chasing her. She could hear its low inhuman growl close behind her, but she focused on finding the big wooden door that hopefully hadn't shut behind her. There was a faint glow in the distance, and she took her chances, urging her legs to move as fast as they could towards it. Finally she reached the door and stumbled through into the forest, slamming it behind her just as the Lurker made a dive for her neck. Its growling ceased, and once again it was quiet except for her rapid breathing, but still she stayed wary of the door, backing away from it slowly. Suddenly the forest was a comfort, a safe haven, and she kept backing away until she reached a tree and sat against it. Exhausted, Audrey slid the hood off of her head and leant back against the tree, and then she wept, great heaving sobs that she shielded with her eyes. There was no one to hide from here, but she willed the cottage and the forest and the Shadowman to all disappear, focusing on her warm bed and safe room where she was in a deep sleep and begged herself to wake up.
"You know, it's been said that it is impossible to die in a dream," Audrey's head lifted slowly from her hands. The cottage was still there, door open though she hadn't heard it squeak, and Julian was leaning to the side of it watching her. He looked particularly menacing in the snowy setting, matching the icy atmosphere around him with his stark white hair and shocking blue eyes. Once or twice, she had thought about him differently, thinking he was sexy and mysterious, wishing he'd noticed her instead of Jenny, but now she could see nothing but a demon standing before her, prolonging her pain and misery for his own enjoyment.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed at him, losing any composure she had left in that moment. She couldn't even stand now, she felt weak and betrayed. Her grandmother was the last untainted memory she'd had and he'd stolen it from her, he had taken everything she had tried so hard to keep secret.
"But I'm having so much fun with you." He feigned innocence, crossing his arms over his chest. He wore snakeskin pants and a black leather vest top tight against his muscles, looking every bit the trouble maker, and she noticed he stood bare foot in the freezing snow. He didn't make a move to attack her, yet Audrey felt like a deer caught in the headlights with no escape but to except her fate. Julian was going to kill her sooner or later, and she would never know the reason why. The bowed her head and closed her eyes in preparation, which she knew annoyed him. He wanted her to play his game.
"Pathetic," he snarled, "You always were the weakest in your group. Fine. I'll find someone more entertaining to play with. Do what you want with her." She heard the Lurker stirring from inside the cottage before growling and charging towards her. Once again it aimed for her neck, but succeeded this time, and Audrey let out a piercing scream before the Lurker ripped her head from her torso and launched it towards Julian. He looked down at the pile of copper hair and blood at his feet, then back up to his pet wolf with a devilish smile.
"Let's go pay Dee a visit." He said darkly.
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