My mother was passed out in bed drunk and my stepdad, Shane, was working away in Germany. I realised there was a man downstairs in our kitchen and I made my way down to see what was going on…
“Shane!” I cried out, then started laughing with relief. It was just my stepdad! All that terror for nothing. My heart rate started to slow as the adrenaline slowed it’s turbo journey around my veins.“I thought you were in Germany?” I asked him, breathless.
I was no longer laughing and the sweet relief quickly gave way to exasperation that no one had bothered updating me about his apparent change of plans. I had just spent the last 20 minutes convinced a man had broken into the house to kill my mum! Was it so hard to keep me updated, to treat me like an actual family member?
He didn’t answer me. In fact he didn’t even turn and look at me! I was irritated and trying to decide whether to keep my mouth shut and go back to bed or confront him about how scary this had been for me and risk getting screamed at. Then I saw his hand shift slightly, and the clicking sound echoed around the kitchen. Click-click-click-click.
Recognition and satisfaction rushed over me as I realised immediately that I knew the source of the sound. My brain just needed to be in the right environment in order to release the answer from my memory. It was the cooker ignition! Of course! He was trying to light the hob.
“What are you doing with the oven?” I asked.
“Need to light fag.” He mumbled, his voice sounding strained and full of pain. I wondered what was wrong with him. He had a cigarette between his lips that was wobbling about as he spoke. He pressed the ignition button in again and the spark started flickering at the corner of the hob closest to him. It was unable to ignite because he wasn’t releasing the gas! He had never been the cleverest of guys but he didn’t usually act like a total moron. I decided he must be so drunk he couldn’t work the oven, which I have to admit wouldn’t have been a first.
Knowing how grumpy he would get if he didn’t have a cigarette, I made my way into the kitchen and stood next to him so that I could help. I noticed straight away that he smelt strange. Not his usually boozy and smoke covered self, but something I’ve never been able to put my finger on. I can only describe it as ‘off’.
Still, I reached across and held in the knob, twisting it around until I heard the light hiss of gas. Shane pressed the ignition button and there was finally just one click followed a mini gasp of flames as the hob closest to him lit. I laughed nervously as he lit his cigarette, and watched as made his way out of the kitchen without another word. He was gripping his neck so tightly that his fingers looked white and lent to the left as he took rigid steps towards the living room.
A little freaked out but not totally shocked (after all, Shane and my mum did a lot of stupid shit when they were this drunk), I went to the kitchen sink and ran the tap so I could pour myself a glass of water. I was drinking it slowly when the phone started ringing in the living room, its shrill ringing unreasonably loud in the silence of the house. I wondered who would be phoning at this time; most of mum’s friends would be passed out by now and Shane didn’t really have anyone who would want to speak to him this late. After the 8th ring I decided he must have gone up to bed already, so put the glass down and went into the living room so I could answer it.
He hadn’t gone to bed though. He was sat on the sofa, staring right at the phone that was on the opposite side of the room. He looked weird. Like he was shell shocked.
“Are you not going to answer the phone, Shane?” I asked. He totally ignored me, rubbing his neck all the while as he stared at the phone. Irked, I walked over to it and picked it up abruptly, plunging the house back into a desolate silence.
“Hello?” I said, a hint of suspicion in my voice. I played with the curly cord nervously while I waited to find out who was calling so late.
The line crackled. “Maisie? Is that you?” I immediately recognised Shane’s boss’ voice instantly. He had rang the house tons of times at the crack of dawn, screaming down the phone to get Shane out of bed and to work. Like it was my responsibility.
“Oh, Hi Brian.” I raised my eyebrows at Shane. He was staring at me now while he massaged his neck, his saggy cheeks drooping even more than usual. He looked ill. I hoped Brian wasn’t going to start screaming about him being missing from Germany… I didn’t know what was going on, but my stepdad definitely did not look capable of work. And I certainly wasn’t capable of dealing with this.
“Hi love…” Brian said gently down the phone. “Can you pop you mum on for me please, sweetheart?” Love? Sweetheart? Was he off his head too? He never usually spoke to me kindly.
“Mum’s crashed out Brian,” I told him. “I can’t wake her, I’ve already tried. It’s alright, though, Shane is here. I’ll pop him on…” I held the phone out towards my stepdad but he didn’t move a muscle. I frowned at him, raising my shoulders. “What are you doing?!” I whispered to him, covering the mouth piece with my hand. Still, he totally blanked me, rubbing his neck and staring right through me. I put the phone back to my ear and heard Brian babbling on about something or other.
I interrupted him. “Brian, sorry but he won’t come to the phone for some reason… I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“Listen, Maisie… I need you to follow my instructions very clearly.” Brian’s voice was firm. He spoke in a low tone, no hint of his typical anger or the out of character gentleness I had heard moments before. I was starting to get scared again, but the night had been such an emotional rollercoaster that it manifested as anger.
“Brian!” I snapped down the phone. “What is going on? I can’t wake my mum up, Shane is being all weird -”
“- It’s not Shane, alright? Whoever is with you, that is not Shane.” I seized with fear. What was happening?
I was absolutely frozen to the spot. I stopped breathing and I felt all the colour draining from my face. I knew what Brian said sounded absolutely stupid – I was looking right at Shane. He was there, just in front of me, a few steps away. His rapidly balding hair, his bloated face, his double chin that never matched his skinny and tall frame… It was him. It was the same sexist, racist bigot who had waltzed into my life when I was 9, acting like he was King of our castle. Yet, somehow I knew Brian was right.
“Maisie, I need you to put the phone down and run out of the house. I don’t know who is there with you, but it is not Shane. It can’t be.” I looked at the door to our hallway that would lead out of the house. Shane sat next to it, now frantically rubbing his neck but still staring at me with those same dead eyes. His held his now burnt out cigarette in his other hand, the ash all over the arm of the sofa. Something instinctive warned me that if I bolted near him he may well come for me.
“I can’t get out” I whispered into the phone.
Harry let out a sigh of frustration. “You’re going to have to find a way, chick. You need to get out of there immediately.” His voice shook with fear even though I could tell he was trying hard to disguise it. I felt tears filling my eyes and then I heard the flat hum of the dial tone as the phone line cut off. My hands started to shake and I dropped the phone.
Shane – or whoever he was – was rubbing his neck furiously now and to my horror he was starting to smile. Perhaps he knew that I knew he was some sort of imposter? Maybe the terror on my face had given it away. He stood up stiffly, looking awkward. He didn’t move his back at all as he rose from the sofa. He stared straight into my eyes, his pupils black and bottomless. His expression went from seeming to mock me to suddenly looking terrified. He opened his mouth as wide as it would go and then screamed.
I bolted. I felt myself lose control of my bodily functions as I ran towards the kitchen door but I just kept going, his scream pushing me forward. I tripped, though, and smacked my face into the door handle. I was so full of adrenaline and fear that I didn’t even feel the impact, I just fell to the ground.
I scrambled around and saw him stiffly walking towards me, still rubbing his neck but no longer screaming. I lay on my back terrified, waiting to discover my fate which was surely nothing but doom. As he towered over me I saw his expression change from batshit crazy to what looked like sadness, regret, grief… His eyes were full of heartbreak and emotion, and his shoulders drooped with defeat. He removed his hand from his neck and reached out for me, silently begging me with his eyes for something that I couldn’t give.
I didn’t know what was going on but I felt overloaded with fear. His neck was black and blue and swollen to double its usually size. My heart was beating so rapidly that I was sure it was about to explode out of my chest. Was this a nightmare? Surely not, it was too vivid to be the product of my imagination. I began screaming for my mother, wailing for her to help me.
I felt something wet on my face as Shane dominated the space above me. I wiped it away frantically, then looked at my hands and saw they were covered in blood That was the last straw – the world span and darkened, then I passed out. The last thing I can remember seeing is ‘his’ black eyes, full of tears and pain as he reached for me…