My name is Gracie. I’m tall, very tall for a woman. I have wide shoulders and long legs. Like most every other woman in my family I like to hike and swim. We were built for it, and our Grandma taught us how. I have long wavy brown hair that has this red sheen when the sun hits it. I like thick books, the kind you can squeeze in your hands, and strong, sweet tea. I like early mornings, people who are kind, and the movies my Grandma used to have me watch when I was a kid.
What I’m about to tell you happened a few years ago now. I was in my late thirties and I was feeling like I was at a proper dead end. I’d moved on from yet another job, I was single, again, and no matter how much people told me I knew it wasn’t going to change. ‘You’ll find the right person soon!’, ‘the right person will just full into your lap!’. I’d stop believing them and as my fortieth birthday approached my stomach dropped out of my life, and my head buzzed with panic.
Panic turned into a kind of high functioning depression. I would spend nights awake, fraught with desperation and sadness. I had tried so hard in my life, and nothing had gone right. I felt like I was always treading water, and now I’d given up. I was getting ready to sink. I quit my job, eventually my flat went to, and I found myself back at the family home. Occasionally I’d try to kick myself out of my stupor, and I’d drive into the mountains to see my Grandma. She’d allow me to stay over in the spare room, and every time I would feel a bit better. For a while. Then Grandma died.
She was ninety-eight, she’d had a good life, but it kicked the core of me. The shock of it all lasted a couple of weeks. I woke up just in time to hear the family begin to discuss what they would do with Grandma’s house, Grandma’s things. I asked if I could go and stay there, and deal with packing up. I think everyone knew I was in no fit state to be relied upon to do anything, but they thought it would make me feel useful again. So that’s how I ended up in my Grandma’s house, nestled in the mountains. Her walking stick still leaning against her chair, her bottle of whiskey perched on the table next to it, her fingerprints still visible in the light.
For the first few days I did try. I tried to pack books, I tried to go through the list of bequests that my Grandma had left, I tried so hard. Then I opened a bottle of wine and I stopped trying. I would rise every day around noon. I would take ibuprofen for my inevitable headache, then I would lie on the sofa watching TV. That’s how life was for a couple of weeks. The family left me alone, and I left everything alone. I would drink, I would watch TV, I would pass out in the small single bed, the quilt never quite covering my feet. Then I would wake up and start the whole thing again. Until my Grandma’s birthday, it was on a Friday, a week before my fortieth.
On the Friday night I drank, more than usual, and I passed out in my bed, later than usual. It was about three in the morning when I woke. I was used to waking with panic attacks, but the alcohol had since drowned those out. This time was different, something had woken me up. I began to panic at the idea of people breaking in. The house was remote, I was unprotected. Had I locked the doors? Had I even opened the doors in days? That’s when I heard it.
A terrible bloodcurdling crack. Like a twisted limb being broken in two. It was distant, but it was sharp, and it pierced through all my alcohol addled senses. I stayed awake for a while, looking out into the darkness. My heart raced. Time dragged on, and I fell asleep. When I woke I deliberated that it must have been a broken tree nearby, maybe a storm had caused a limb to snap? I put it to one side, and returned to the sofa. Until the next morning. Again I woke around three and felt the atmosphere shift. Again, the crack. As loud and as stomach churning. This time I could hear where it came from; my Grandma’s bedroom down the landing. Then I heard something worse.
Whatever it was it was moving. My breath caught in my chest. I urged myself to turn on the light, to rouse myself, but I froze. The scraping lasted only a few seconds, but I lay awake for hours. In the daylight I looked inside my Grandma’s bedroom. Nothing. Nothing but her still made bed, her book, her fingerprints on the water glass. My eyes watered and I sat on the edge of the bed. I hadn’t been in there, I’d avoided it. Now it was all too much. I got up and slammed the door shut behind me. I drank that day even more heavily than before, and went to bed even later. But I wasn’t asleep for long. Again.
I held my breath.
It was dragging itself along the bare floorboards. It was far away but the noise was distinct. Again my heart raced, I lost my breath. I backed into the corner of the bed, pulling my feet up toward me. I stared at the darkness of the room, at the closed door, for what seemed forever. And then, as always, I fell asleep. When I went back into my Grandma’s bedroom I checked the walk-in wardrobe, I checked the floorboards. Then, for a while, I lie on my Grandma’s bed. This is where I used to come to sleep when I felt sad or sick. But I couldn’t sleep here, not now she was gone. I resumed my drinking. Then it came again.
Crack. Scrape. Drag.
I opened my eyes as I heard the bang against my Grandma’s bedroom door. My heartbeat picked up so quickly it pained in my chest. I guarded myself, waiting for the sound of the door opening. But nothing came. I froze in place for a long time. When I woke up, earlier than normal, I was curled up in a tight ball at one end of the bed. I don’t know why I didn’t go, why I didn’t leave the house. Maybe in the daylight I was able to push it out of my mind. I still don’t know how though.
That day when I went into my Grandma’s bedroom I looked through her wardrobe, I looked through her things. I found some items that were meant for members of the family. I took them downstairs. But that was about it. I began drinking again and hoped that I would pass out on the sofa. I did, for a while. I woke just after midnight and contemplated what I should do next. But my brain was too tired to think about anything. Whatever it was, it was coming for me. Upstairs or down, it didn’t matter.
Crack. Scrape. Drag. Bang…
That night it got out of my Grandma’s bedroom. It began to work its way down the landing. I tried so hard to get out of my bed, to stand. But I froze. I froze so hard my body began to ache with pain. I don’t know how many hours passed or when the dragging stopped but when I came to, the sun was streaming in the window. I took a few nervous steps to the door and checked the landing outside. Nothing. I went back to bed, and slept. When I woke later that afternoon I went to pour myself a drink. Dry. Everything was empty, everything was dry. There was only one thing left, my Grandma’s whiskey.
I held the bottle in my hands for what seemed like an eternity. I held it in the sunlight, I felt the marks of her fingerprints against the glass. My sadness overwhelmed me. I drank it straight from the bottle. The taste, and the emotion, was overwhelming. I began to cry. I wandered up to my Grandma’s bedroom and pulled things out of the wardrobe, out of drawers, looking for things that reminded me of her. I cried, and I wailed, and I thought of her. I thought about me. I thought about how lost I felt. That night I dragged her quilt into my small room and wound myself up in it. I drank the last of the whiskey, and thought about how I used to feel.
Crack. Scrape. Drag. Bang. Drag…
I shot up out of bed, pulling the heavy quilt with me for protection. I crumpled into the corner of the room and cried. I was terrified. I felt the blackness on the other side of the door as the noise moved closer. It began to crack, and crunch, and drag. It stopped outside my door and I steeled myself for what would happen next. Nothing. Nothing happened. After an hour passed I wrapped the quilt around me and forced myself toward the door. I crept out on to the landing, but there my resolve failed. I turned back, shutting the door behind me.
The next day I woke earlier than usual. Out of alcohol and out of ideas I packed a bag and pulled on my walking shoes. I walked out on to the mountain, with no plan, and no idea of when I would be coming back. I wouldn’t be able to tell you quite where I went or what I did that day. I just remember walking, and wandering. Almost in shock, in a daze. When the sun began to set I couldn’t imagine going back to that house, so I stayed out, wandering further than I should have. Then it got cold.
It must have been gone midnight before I realized how cold I was. I knew I had to turn back home. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know where I was. I panicked. I trampled through the undergrowth for what felt like hours. Until I felt it. A thick darkness around me. Something clawing at my senses. I couldn’t see it, but it was there. My senses heightened, and I tried to find my voice. But nothing came. I began to run. I ran so hard and so fast. Then it happened, my foot caught on a root. My knee twisted, a stomach clenching cracking sounded as I fell. I lay writhing in pain, on the cold forest floor, and realised I had only one choice.
I had no phone on me, no GPS, I was an idiot. But then they were idiotic times. I could have stayed and waited for someone to find me. But I wouldn’t have lasted. My eyes watered at the idea. As if reading my thoughts something else made the decision for me. I heard a noise, a dragging sound, there was something in the darkness and it was getting closer. It was coming for me. And I made my choice. I knew my leg wouldn’t take the weight. I threw aside my backpack, and I leaned on my elbows. I summoned every ounce of strength and I dragged myself, I didn’t know how long I would last but I had to try.
I dragged myself for what seemed forever. Eventually I found a path. It seemed familiar but I couldn’t remember how. I slid myself in the rain drenched grass, further and further. I paused for a moment to give myself a chance to breath. And then if there was any doubt in my mind I heard it, the dragging sound. Back in darkness it was still coming for me. I pulled myself on. It must have hurt like hell, but my body didn’t register it. Eventually after an hour or so I found myself on a path I knew. I pulled myself quicker and quicker, and I saw my Grandma’s house in the distance. I’d left the back door unlocked and I pulled myself through with such relief, such delight. I lay on my back and I smiled to myself.
The dragging continued, out in the garden. I set my jaw, I was not having this. I dragged myself to my Grandma’s chair, I grabbed her walking stick and pulled myself up to standing. The pain shot through every part of my body and I fell. The dragging got closer. Still holding my Grandma’s stick I dragged myself up the stairs and down the landing. I pulled myself up on to my Grandma’s bed and felt underneath for the rifle I knew she kept there. I flicked on the lights and pulled myself up into the bed. Then I sat and waited, the old hunting rifle pointed at the darkness beyond the open door. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to have me.
I don’t know if it was the pain or the exhaustion, or both, but I woke the next day curled up in a ball, the rifle still in my hands. The pain was excruciating. I managed to reach out and grab the phone from my Grandma’s nightstand. An ambulance came to take me to the hospital. My knee was badly broken, my body was covered in bruises and sores, I was severely dehydrated. They wanted to keep me in but I couldn’t stay.
On the night of my fortieth birthday I climbed into my Grandma’s bed, with her quilt around me and the lights on. I held that rifle in my hands all night. But it didn’t come. I spent the next couple of nights like that. Lying awake, standing guard, ready for what was coming. It never came. Eventually I began to wake up to the world around me, my life changed, and I moved back here. I still think I hear the crack at night, but I’m brave now, I face it.
I tell you all this not because I want to scare you – or maybe I do – but because I want you to heed the advice. The darkness is out there waiting for all of us. But I don’t think it means to attack us, it’s challenging us. It came looking for me to tell me what my Grandma couldn’t, that I had to get up, get out, to move, and to fight. My Grandma always used to tell me we can’t back away from the things that scare us, the things that make us give up hope. We have to stand up to them. Because the second we lose our will to fight, they’ve already won.
This was a short story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. The challenge was to write a story no longer than 2500 words in eight days. My genre was horror, and it had to include a very tall woman, and a piece of advice. And seeing as I am a very tall woman who loves horrors and moral lessons I really enjoyed it. I knew my story was a bit obvious. I mean, every horror is about a single woman being pursued by some malevolent force. But Gracie just appealed to me and I knew I wanted to write about her. In the end this became the first NYC Midnight Challenge where I didn’t make it through the first round, which was a bit of a bummer. It didn’t help that the judges feedback was conflicting. As it is I don’t know where to start, right now, on making this better. But I like Gracie a lot and, for now, I think she just deserves her moment.