A mysterious man in my house late at night turned out to be my stepfather. But then I received a phone call from his boss, who urgently warned me that the man just feet away from me was not who I thought he was…
When I came round, I was still lying on the floor. I opened my eyes and saw the yellow-stained ceiling above me. It was daylight and I was still stuck in between the kitchen and the living room, where I had tried to escape but fallen after colliding with the door handle.
I could hear my mum sobbing, somewhere close by. My head hurt and I lifted a hand to my eyebrow, which seemed to be the source of whatever wound it was. When I pulled it away there were specks of dry blood on my fingertips, my palms dyed a faint red.
“Mum?” I groaned. She stopped sobbing abruptly and I heard her shuffle over to me.
She nudged me with her foot and I rolled over slightly so I could see her. Her red eyes could have been the result of the monstrous hangover she was surely feeling or because she had been sobbing when I woke.
“What the fuck are you doing down there Maisie?” She wrinkled up her nose as she got close to me, which I thought was rich coming from her. “Have you pissed yourself? Girl, have you been fucking drinking?!”
Her incredulous tone at the thought of me lying here drunk would have made me laugh at any other time, the hypocrisy was hilarious. But the memory of the night before still chilled me to the bone.
“Mum, where’s Shane?” I whispered, remembering everything that had occured. In the harsh light of the day I knew that whatever had happened couldn’t be as crazy as it had seemed. I felt the stirrings of shame that I had reacted in such an extreme way. I knew there would be a reasonable explanation. I suspected that Brian and Shane had been playing an unkind trick on me, though I admitted to myself that I was surprised Shane would leave me passed out on the floor all night.
“Where’s Shane?” I repeated, louder this time. Mum looked like I had suddenly slapped her round the face, then began sobbing loudly again. “He’s dead Maisie!” She wailed. “Your dad is dead!”
I sat up as quickly as my sore head would allow me to. “What?!” I spat out, shocked and scared all over again. “I don’t understand!”
Mum gave my shoulder a harsh smack. “What is there to understand Maisie? Your dad is fucking dead! Brown fucking bread!” She sobbed theatrically and I put my arm around her.
“I’m so sorry mum. What… what happened?” A thousand thoughts were running through my head at once. Trick or no trick, he did look ill last night. Maybe he stumbled up to bed and died in his sleep? Was his dead body upstairs?
Mum lent on me, the booze fumes so strong they were almost visible. “He went and fell off a fucking ladder, didn’t he?”
I frowned in confusion. He was workshy at the best of times, there was no way he would have been climbing a ladder past midnight in the state he was in last night. “Why would he be up a ladder in the middle of the night?” I asked her, bewildered.
Mum scowled at me and moved away. “Sober the fuck up Maisie! It was yesterday afternoon, in Germany. He’s an electrician, remember?” She snapped, sarcastically. “They climb fucking ladders.” She paused for a moment, then wailed loudly again. “He WAS an electrician. WAS!”
I felt my mind overwhelmed with confusion. Yesterday afternoon? But he was here last night! I saw him, with my own two eyes. Lighting his fag, doing weird stuff, like screaming and staring… like rubbing his neck…
“What actually killed him mum?” I asked quickly. “Did he bang his head or something?”
“Nah, Maisie. He broke his neck, the dopey bastard. He was pissed up. He’d had a few breakfast pints, you know… when in Germany and all that. He had a wobble up the top and fell down. Instant snapped neck, instant death. What are we going to do without him, eh?” She erupted into hysterical tears.
I glanced at the sofa where ‘Shane’ had sat last night. Sure enough, there was ash on the arm like there had been the night before. I shook my head in disbelief. What the fuck had happened last night then?
Anyway, that’s pretty much the end of that. We got by just fine without him, if you’re interested. Well, as fine as we could. In all honesty, when he alive he was a waste of space. I never hated him, even though he could be a nasty piece of work at times. Maybe I should have hated him, but I didn’t.
To this day, I don’t know what happened that night. Was it Shane’s ghost? Was it some sort of demon pretending to be my stepdad? Was he passing over into hell, and wanted one last cigarette first? I’ll be damned if I know. I’m not sure I ever want to.
I saw Brian at Shane’s funeral. He avoided me throughout the service, but I cornered him at the wake. “Why didn’t you call the police, that night?” I forced myself to keep eye contact as I waited for an answer.
He looked around us, making sure nobody was near. He kept his voice barely above a whisper, keen to ensure nobody would overhear us. “I was ringing to tell your mum about the accident. When you said he was there, obviously I knew he couldn’t be, you know? I thought maybe, I dunno, someone was pretending to be him, you know? But that didn’t make sense. The phone cut off, the line was shit – oops, sorry. I mean the line was rubbish in the digs we were staying in. I would have called someone… not the old bill mind, but someone, you know? But when I turned round and Shane was…” Brian’s face paled and he swallowed, leaving the sentence open.
“You saw him too, didn’t you?” I asked, my eyes widening at the revelation. Brian didn’t answer me but the truth was scarred onto his face in a way that only I could understand. I had those same scars.
I felt relieved that I was no longer alone in my trauma and blurted out all the questions that I had been agonising over mentally for the last few weeks. “What was it?! Was it Shane? Was it something else? Was it evil? Why was it so terrifying? Is that what happens to us when we die?!”
Brian shook his head slowly. “The only thing I know, you know, is that I’m a lot closer to the end than you are chick, and after seeing… that, whatever it was, I’m not going to waste any of my precious time worrying about what is coming. I say you move on, forget it. Well, as much as you can.” He mumbled some excuse and left.
I didn’t see Brian after that. Last I heard, he’s living the rest of his days out in luxury in Thailand. I didn’t ‘move on’ per se, but I did come to terms with what had happened over the next few years. When I was 16, I was at a sleepover with my newly made college friends (I finally fitted in somewhere!) and I told them that story. They were the first people I ever told. They were completely gripped, then when I ended it they burst into laughter and said what a great storyteller I was. I insisted it was real, but that only seemed to add to their enjoyment.
There’s only one part of the story I don’t share in real life. Partly because it always feels like overkill, but also because I’ve often wondered if I’m just deranged. You see, every single year on the same night Shane died I always hear a clicking noise coming from the kitchen. Click-click-click-click. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter where I live or who I live with, it just happens… every single year. I’ve tried waking up girlfriends I lived with, having friends stay over, all sorts… but they never hear it. I can though, and it doesn’t let up. It would keep me up all night long if I let it. I know one night a year with no sleep doesn’t sound that bad, but the years creep round fast and there’s something about that clicking that pushes me to the brink of sanity.
Thankfully, I found out a couple of years after it started that there is a way to stop the racket. Every year when the clicking starts late at night I go to the kitchen alone – it has to be alone. I’m sure you can guess what I do next. I turn on the gas. Within a few seconds, there’s a single click and the hob will ignite, and it sure isn’t me pressing the ignition. Once that’s over with, I can go back to bed in peace.
In the morning, there are always white smudges of ash on the arm of my sofa. Ex’s of mine were sure I was playing tricks on them when I showed them, and so I just stopped telling anyone after a while. The first few times were scary, sure, but it’s been happening for years now and it’s just yet another weird part of my life. I don’t know the meaning behind it, and I don’t want to. Brian was right – there’s no use wasting what precious time we have here wondering about what happens next.