Time literally stopped. And then it was as if all the clocks in the world could be heard, their hands whirring inside my head with the flicking of numbers changing on digitals, the chiming of grandfathers, the ticking of analogues and the shifting on wallclocks. Images of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory, the melting clocks painting, swirled painfully around my mind. The clock faces felt like they were sinking into my eyeballs, but then they merged and I would see my own eyes floating around the surreal landscape before the clock hands wiped my vision like I was looking out of a rainsplashed car windscreen. For a few moments my world turned from a burnt orange trough sultry yellow and then faded to black.
A cool human hand on my arm steadied me and my eyes strained to focus.
I was in 2045.
The room was darker than before and Alicia’s face seemed grey and worn down as if her time slipping had drained all the colour from her cheeks. She was smiling, but I sensed an embarrassment, a shyness that I couldn’t relate to as if we were of one body but not of the same mind. I swallowed and gagged, a rough dry cough escaping from my lips. Alicia slid away and I flopped forward, my hands grasping above the knees, leaning forward to get some blood to my head before I fainted on her. Then a tin container appeared in front of my nose, long bony fingers with chipped black nails clutching it. Water. I drank it back and it tasted vaguley like soil and earth with a hint of something herbal.
I glanced up and my back cricked. I resisted the urge to yell out, but Alicia’s dark, concerned eyes revealed to me that I had screwed my face up in pain. She looked concerned, but there was no time for this, I needed to talk to her. I needed to find out what all this was about. She had tears in her eyes as she started to talk, her gentle voice sounding distant and tinny. She had a thick line of dusky grey eyeliner along each lower lash line that had smudged and spread down under her sockets with spiky black lashes hanging down to mask the red scars that seeped through the makeup in bleeding veins. I was going to black out. I was. Her hands gripped my arms and I lolled to the side. I felt her guide me down and then I was sitting on the floor. She was still speaking to me and I focussed, gritting my teeth so I could quieten my panic and hear her words.
“…..got to reverse it or he’ll never love you again…..here are the things you need and the incantation to reverse the hex…….sundown when it’s quiet and you can……..please start tonight before she does her Recurrence ritual………..”
I opened my eyes and stared down at the white-washed floor slats. There was a pile of objects, neatly laid out, but I couldn’t make out what they were. The heat in the room was suddenly unbearable and I shifted uncomfortably. Then I was being lifted up as though I was as light as a cloud, but my hand weighed down and dragged beneath me. I was carrying something.
Then a flash of white caused me to see hundreds of light coloured spots dancing in front of me and I was standing up on the floor. Lee was in front of me, staring into my eyes as though he was a doctor giving me a checkup. He shook me lightly by the shoulders and I noticed a film of sweat on the top of his lip where a grey shadow of day old stubble was forming. I tried to smile, but it made my head feel like it was going to split in two. My lips moved to say his name, but I was numb.
“Casey, try and focus on me.” he said, a touch of irritation in his voice. “Have you been drinking?”
I laughed then. It was what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world, aside from hug my boyfriend. I moved in towards him but didn’t lean into me and fold his arms around me as he usually did. He backed off, so much so that I felt a breeze of cold air swing into the gap that he left between us. A cruel, sick coldness that made me shiver and tremble.
“Why are you laughing now? What the hell’s so funny huh?” he said, stepping back again. “Casey. Please GET A GRIP. Jesus, I need you to be sober and listen to me!”
He was shouting again. Lee was losing the plot, not me. It was all too much, too hilarious to be real. I was the calm one. I was the one who wasn’t freaking the hell out all over the place about being ‘trapped’. Of course we weren’t trapped! Alicia would let us out, we just had to help her.
I felt the thing I was carrying being taken from my hand. The objects Alicia had given me. It was as if my brain clicked back into my skull, seeing clearly and thinking rationally for the first time in hours. Days? Weeks?
“Get off that!” I snapped at Lee as he went to peer inside. It was a beige coloured woven sack with long handles that hung to the floor, a black and cream chequered pocket was sewn on the front and it had what looked like some notebooks shoved in it, a spiral spine sticking out. I grabbed at it. I needed that bag more than ever, judging by the mood he was in right now. I swung it behind my back and he didn’t try and wrestle it off me, it was still essentially Lee standing in front of me, Lee who always had respected my privacy.
“Fair enough, play your secrets and games.” he muttered, chopping the air with his hand as if to put a stop to something. “Come to Si’s room. We need to talk. I mean it Casey, NOW.”
I walked through to the room, the difference between the annex of the present and the annex of 2045 so stark it was shocking to the system. What was the place in 2045? It hadn’t looked like a hospital. Alicia’s annex room had been clean and well decorated, not some generic asylum green plastered all over the walls and those grannie pictures dotting the walls, fluffy dogs and children sitting in fields of flowers with bonnets on. No, none of that. We had glimpsed the hall downstairs, the art work hanging from roof to floor, cheerful and bright, a celebration of work acheived. Was it a school or a college? Some private educational establishment or boarding school for rich kids?
If so, why was Alicia so troubled? Why was she a walking advertisement for a Mental Ward, like a character out of Girl Interrupted? Her eyes…so damaged.
A sickening feeling of deja- vu hit me as I walked in to Simon’s room. I glanced around quickly, not wanting to catch anyone’s eye.
“……..in her room all along,” someone muttered. I realised it was Lee and he had said ‘her room’. A feeling of blackness and doom swung around my gut. I sat down on the floor and stared at the bag in my hand. It was made of dried grass.
Simon was sitting up on the bed, Anna beside him with her arm draped over his shoulder protectively. Lee sat down opposite me across the room next to Lisa and encircled his arms around her, kissing her forhead. Her face was bloated and red from crying and then I remembered Joel was missing. I felt nothing for Joel, I was too jealous of Lisa. Simon reached out for a bottle on the desk and drank some water down, his eyes dull and listless. I tried to catch him to smile, but he didn’t look at me. I really felt transparent. The need to start laughing loudly crept up from the pit of my stomach and I pretended to rummage in the bag to dispel any noise from my mouth. Reverse the hex before she does her Recurrence ritual…..
I turned to the side as I felt a hand on my back. The lavender again wafted up my nose along with a base note of something citrus. Bells jangled and I smiled as Alicia pulled her knees up to her chest and winked at me before resting her chin on the fold of her black glittery gypsy skirt. The mirrors sewn on the fabric kept blinking in the dimming light and I’m sure Lee looked across as if he’d seen something. I smiled again. My friend was here. I was ok.
I was aware of the light fading as I tried to focus on what they were talking about. Joel’s name kept coming up and each time Lisa would sniff and start crying again, Annabelle supplying her with constant wadds of toilet paper and insisted on holding her hand. I wanted that comfort too. Alicia had stayed statue-still next to me for ages, only her eyes slowly roaming the darkening room, observing each of them and listening to what they were saying. Suddenly, she leaned in towards me, her hand cupping against my ear. I felt like saying they can’t hear you, shout it out if you like, I dare you! but I wasn’t sure exactly how she sometimes appeared to them and then other times just didn’t. Could she control it? There was a large mirror in there propped up against the wall on the desk. Could they see her through it? I was dying to know.
Then, as if she had read my mind, she showed me.
She glided across the middle of the circle of people towards Lee and Lisa. I looked up at the mirror and at first made out her shape like a shadow person hovering in mid air.
The way that the mirror was positioned, I should have seen her profile, but eerily it wasn’t logical at all. My heart was beating fast as my eyes darted from her reflection to her spectral form in the room, shrouded in the dusky haze. Then I noticed, as she got up closer to Lee, that she was looking at me in the mirror, something flashing metallic in her hand. But all I could see in front of me was her dark figure as she crept forwards, her black hair cascading down her back, her head was looking forwards. I almost screamed. How was that possible? In her hand, I realised what she had.
A pair of scissors.
The conversation had stopped. I held my breath, blood pumping painfully through my veins. I couldn’t see Lee as she was blocking my view completely, but I heard a muffled yelp and Lisa scream out.
“What the fuck?” yelled Anna as she lunged forward, Lisa having pulled her hand so hard that she almost fell off the bed.
“What……..the………?” I heard Lee say, but it wasn’t until Alicia was sitting down next to me again that I saw what had happened. He had his hands on his head as if he was trying to save it from falling off his shoulders.
“What happened? What the fuck happened, Lee? Lee are you ok?” screamed Anna and she was there, right next to him, trying to yank his hands from gripping his head. For a sickening moment I thought Alicia had stabbed him and searched deparately to see any signs of blood. I couldn’t make out anything. I got up and found myself there, helping Anna to peel back his hands. He relented and we both stared at his head. No blood, no blood. My heart rate slowed slightly in relief. I looked at Anna and her blackened- in eyebrows were raised questioningly.
“What?” I trembled. “Tell me Anna!”
“It’s ok, really!” Lee muttered, putting his hands out to make space for himself. I backed off and it was then that Anna said it.
“Did you see her? Casey, I saw her. In the mirror. That demon girl. Fuck me.”
I turned and looked back. Alicia wasn’t sitting down. She was standing in the doorway, something hanging from her hand. Her other hand lifted and her finger beckoned to me. I didn’t know what to do, stay with Lee or go to Alicia. Lee decided it for me.
“Could you two please just leave me alone for a second? I’m ok, I just felt something on my hair. There was no demon girl, grow up Anna for God’s sake. Everything’s cool.”
I knew there was a girl but she wasn’t a demon. She was a lonely, damaged soul who was looking for something, something that maybe we could give her. I turned away and walked towards her. She was silhouetted now in a blanket of darkness, but I could see she had the grass bag slung over one shoulder and something in her hand. It was for me.
A piece of paper had been unfolded, revealing a paragraph written in a graceful hand. Instructions for the Hex reversal, she whispered. She unhooked the bag and lowered it over my head, arranging the strap comfortably against my chest. You’ve got everything you need now. Except this. She opened my hand gently with her fingers and pressed something into my sweaty palm. I gasped when I saw what it was. A long lock of Lee’s shiny hair.
Voices were being raised now. I sat down again, glad that no one could see the spiky hacked piece of hair that hung down near Lee’s ear. There were several candles burning in the middle of the room and some argument was brewing. I was more interested in trying to make out what Alicia had written for my instructions, and I kept looking up and nodding in case anyone noticed I was looking down instead of contributing to the discussion between them. I wanted to shift nearer to the candles but that would’ve meant they’d see what I was doing and that wasn’t going to ever happen. Eventually I managed to memorise the list and the step-by-step:
• 1 apple
• A few strands of your hair
• A few strands of Lee’s hair
• Length of red ribbon
Slice the apple sideways across the middle, so you can see the star formed by the seeds. Spread honey on either half of the apple. Take the strands of hair, and twist or braid them together.
Put the hairs between the two halves, and tie the apple back together with the ribbon. Tie it tightly. Bury the apple either outside, or in the large flower pot in the conservatory (outside is best). You’ll find Lee will start to show a strong interest in you almost immediately and your love will be even stronger than before.
“Casey, any ideas?”
I almost dropped the paper. The room was so dark, I could hardly see who had spoken.
“About………?” I asked no one in particular.
There was a chorus of sighs and Lee tutted loudly. He was so arsy, like I had never seen him before. Even when I’d pissed him off when we were back home, enough for him to climb back down the tree and go home early, he’d never been like this. He didn’t scream and shout and hurl abuse at me like I did to him. He’d just calmly put his opinion forward even if it meant talking under me while I continued to rant. Something was badly wrong with him.
“Sorry, I was miles away.” I said, chuckling at myself to try and lighten the mood. “Ideas about what?”
“Casey, what the hell is going on with you?” Anna asked me, her voice full of impatience. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in a fucking dire situation here. All you seem to do is sit playing with your phone that doesn’t even work. We need HELP. We ALL need to pull together and figure this mess out or else we’re all going to DIE in here! There’s some inexplicably dark entity in here, trying to do God knows what to us and you seem indifferent. Joel’s GONE Casey. I saw him with my own eyes, crumpled and bleeding on the floor, so explain THAT one please! Jesus Christ!”
“Calm down, Anna.” Simon’s voice filtered into the dark hole, cracked and fragile. “It’s not her fault is it? If we all start giving each other shit, we’ve got no hope. Not that we’ve got any anyway, but…..”
I just couldn’t hold back. To me it was so obvious. I had tried once to tell them, but they hadn’t listened.
“I told you. Alicia’ll let us out after we’ve helped her. It’s pointless trying until you all acknowldge she exists and start listening to me. I was in 2045 tonight, not that any of you care. To be honest, it’s time you started caring because I reckon she knows stuff, stuff about each of us and that includes Joel and what happened to Chloe. Call me a nutter but that’s what I think.”
As if on cue there was a huge, hollow bang from below us. Lisa screamed as the candles flickered and went out, plunging the room into pitch blackness. All I could hear was breathing and rasping and Lisa crying.
“Somebody light the candles!” yelled Anna as she rummaged around for her lighter. “I swear I will fucking freak!”
Everyone shuffled around and then the candles were lit again, white faces huddled aroound them, shocked and exhausted. It must have been late.
“Is someone going to check it out?” Simon asked, suddenly seeming to have perked up. Adrenalin must have kicked in and he was standing up. I could make out his outline shifting from side to side.
Then there was a loud knocking, sounding as though it came from the floor near where the end of the bed was. I came out in a cold sweat as I realised that this place was haunted. Alicia wasn’t a ghost, not in the conventional sense at least. Ghosts were from the past and could be here, all around us. Alicia didn’t scare me, she was alive, but spirits of the dead did.
I stood up and went quickly to the other side of the room away from the foot of the bed, longing to be able to snuggle up to anyone, even Lisa. There was someone there and they pulled me towards them. I knew who it was and folded myself into him.
“Guys, you don’t suppose it could be Joel do you?” Lisa’s soft voice floated up into the ether. I hadn’t heard her speak for hours. “He could be trapped under there!”
“Ok. I’ll check it out” said Lee, his hunched up form making its way towards the noise. There was a scratching, like mice scuttling, and Lisa gasped.
Anna grabbed a candle and put it nearer to Lee at the foot of the bed, but quickly retreated back to stand with Simon and I. Lisa moved forward slowly and grabbed Lee’s arm, her legs trembling as she squatted down with him. Seconds ticked by.
“Is there anything there?” Ann asked apprehensively, her voice unstable as she obviously dreaded the yes answer as much as the no. Exactly how I felt.
Lee was lifting something up off the floor. We moved closer, Simon pulling me in by my waist making the most of the fact I was scared shitless and that it was dark back there and no one could see. Lisa started coughing as some dust and grit flew around us like a tornado and into my face. Lee had lifted up a piece of old carpet or something, and was feeling around on the bare wooden floorboards, his hands tracing a large rectangle shape.
“There’s a door here.” he said, pulling at things I couldn’t see. “But there’s no way of opening it.”
Simon broke away from me, catching my fingers and squeezing them before letting them go and hovering over the place where Lee and Lisa were. Suddenly, I heard a ear splitting crack and they were pulling something upwards, noises of exertion escaping from their bodies. Then they were all shouting, looking down into what must have been a massive hole in the floor.
“Joel! Jo, are you down there? If you can hear us, try and climb up, the door’s open! Jo, Jo! It’s ok!”
“Give me the candle!” Simon demanded and Lisa grabbed it, yelping. She must have burned her hand on some molten wax as she scooped it up. “There’s steps leading down. Come on!”
I looked at Anna as she shrunk back into the corner of the room. I wanted to go down but I was as scared as she was.
“Anna, come on.” I said, trying to reach for her hand. “It’ll be fine, really.”
“No way, no fucking way!” she whispered. “I’m staying here.”
Lee came over to us and I thought for one bright second that he was going to take my hand and say, come on babes, let’s go, I’ll be there right behind you, but he didn’t. He whispered something to Anna, the talked in a hush for a while and then he hugged her.
“Casey, I’m staying here with Anna. Do you want to go? Simon’s going with Lisa. They’ll see if Joel’s down there and hopefully find a way out. It’s up to you.”
I didn’t answer. I just walked away and joined Simon and Lisa at the top of the stairs. It was a large rectangular hole, the size of a regular door, a damp stench of mould and decay eminating from the guts of the building. The cold crept up the steps to greet us and gripped my ankles with its chilly fingers. This was it, what I’d been longing to do ever since we’d got here. So, why was I so scared?
“I’ll stand here at the top while you go down, just to make sure you get down there ok.” Lee said, coming up behind me. “Si, go first please….and just test each step first, yeh?”
“Ok Dezmo, I know that, ” Si said as he stretched out his arm and steadied himself by leaning on the doorframe. The other hand held a candle up high so its light reached behind him for Lisa and I. “I’m not a complete imbecile, just cos I failed yet another suicide!”
I laughed and so did Simon. For a second I felt better. I followed him down, the cold and the smell of rot getting worse. Lisa came down after me and Lee being at the top felt reassurring as we descended into the pitch black.
“Watch that fucker,” warned Simon after we’d gone down about ten steps, “It’s on it’s way out. Oh my God!”
I heard him step onto something gritty and his shoes shuffled forward. My foot touched solid concrete and we gathered in a tight corridor that had other rooms going off at each right angle.
“We’re down Dez!” yelled Si and we heard a faint “Ok be careful, the door will stay open.”
We walked forward, me treading on the back of Si’s shoes and Lisa treading on my heels as we cutched together. Simon and Lisa kept shouting out for Joel, but I didn’t say anything. I knew he wasn’t there, I could feel it. There was something else down there though, and we were approaching that something, or someone the further in we crept.
The first room was totally empty, a very small window shrouded in dark just visible in the candle light. None of us spoke, but Si had made sure he’d got my hand and was clinging on to me for dear life. Lisa was behind me, her hand wrapped around a clump of my top. I could feel it pulling everytime we stopped and started again, the seams ripping slightly more each time.
The second room had things stacked against the wall on the right. As Simon held the candle up high, we saw that the room was long and wide and contained tables and other furniture. Suddenly a scratching noise made us all jump and Lisa automatically shouted out for Joel. Si said it was probably rats, but I didn’t think so. I kept seeing dark movements going across whatever was stacked up against that wall. I told Simon. he squeezed my hand and I yelped. He sniggered nervously and we approached the wall.
“Mirrors!” I said as I ran my hand across one of them, a train of candle shine cutting through a thick layer of dust. “Why?”
Simon, Lisa and I walked down the length of the room, examining them all. There were about ten, all different sizes and shapes,some with elaborate frames of swirling flowers and leaves, some with wooden frames and some just naked, all sleeping in a daze of fust. A mirror graveyard.
As I followed behind Si, my eyes were blurring with exhaustion and the strain of depending on candlelight, but I was seeing shapes moving across the surfaces. I shivered as we came to the end, Simon was already standing in front of a long mirror propped up standing on its own. He was motionless in the dancing shadows of the flickering flame, staring at his reflection. Posing twat I thought as I approached, slipping my hand descretely into his. Lisa was still looking at the mirror with the leafy frame and as I stood beside Simon, something weird happened. Mirrors are portals, did you forget that?
Simon and I were gazing into a reflection of a room. Not a damp, cold room left to rot away, but a bright, shiny room with yellow walls and framed pictures hanging behind our heads. I turned around and my eyes closed momentarily with the contasting light, making them fill with tears that spilled out and ran down my cheeks. Simon’s did the same and he pressed his forefinger and thumb into his nose as he grimaced and groaned outloud.
I opened my eyes, fighting the urge to close them again. What I saw was nothing short of incredible, but at the same time, utterly terrifying. I fought for breath as we glanced around us, Lisa nowhere to be seen. There was a desk directly in front of us, piles of books and files stacked neatly at the sides to make room for a space for someone to work. A filing cabinet stood against the opposite wall, and a large floor to ceiling bookcase seemed to grin at us as it showed off all its books.
I leaned over to examine the other things on the desk, not noticing that Simon had left my side. There was a flip desk calender and I picked it up, even though I just knew what year it would be.
It was August 23rd 2045.
There were a couple of photos leaned up against a pile of dusty books, the top one titled: A study of Holistic Psychotherapy by Edwin Mayers. I picked up one of the wooden frames and held it up so I could see the people in it. There was a man, tall with dark hair and glasses, his arm round a younger girl. She looked familiar and it took me a while to realise why. It was a younger Alicia with shorter, bobbed hair. Beside her was a lady, about 40 years old with a short cropped blonde hairdo. She was smiling. They were standing outside a terrace house with a big victorian bay window, a big tree at the side almost engulfing her dad. Alicia’s parents and her house. I told myself to ask her about that if I saw her again. The photo made me feel a bit uneasy but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I was tempted to take it and put it in my bag, but I knew that would be so very wrong.
Then I heard Simon’s voice, calling me. I looked in the direction of the voice and saw he was standing in a doorway with a patio door that lead out onto what looked like a terrace. An open door, a way out.
I walked over to him and he was smiing. He turned and outstretched his arm, as if to say here you go…freedom awaits. I wanted to cross the threshold, but my feet wouldn’t let me. He stepped out and stood there, arms folded and breathed in deeply enjoying the light and fresh air. But it wasn’t fresh. I didn’t want to breath in despite the air being better than the it had been beyond the portal in 2014. It wasn’t right, something was wrong. I shivered and felt sick suddenly, but fought it back. As I turned to walk back inside, a noise was heard in the corridor. I heard Simon turn as well and then I heard a voice. A familiar voice.
“Yes, just bring that details with you, please, Jen. We’ll go through them together.”
As we stood there motionless, a man walked in and sat down at the desk. his back was to us but every movement was familiar to me as was the back og his head and the broad shoulders. Simon was desparately beckoning to me to get out and stand with him on the terrace but my legs wouldn’t move. Another voice then, and footsteps. The sound of laughter and a woman walked in, a little girl with long blonde plaits walking behind her. They sat down opposite the man at the desk and she introduced herself and her little girl. My heart stops, literally ceases to beat, as I realise who the man is.
“Lovely to meet you Mrs Turner, and of course you, Kaitlin. I love your hair! My name’s Lee. Welcome to The Silent Angels.”