A/N... This is my entry in America's Next Author. You had to submit a story between 2500 to 5000 woords. It had to have minimal formatting, and no italics. Well, I got to 17 out of over 500 entries. I entered eight weeks after everyone else so only had one and a half weeks to get votes. Think I did pretty good, considering!
Lauren hated going to bed alone.
The house was always too dark, too quiet, too, well, creepy. She didn't have to sleep alone much, her husband Michael was not often away.
Still, not often was too much for her.
Michael knew Lauren got frightened when she was alone even though she denied it, even though she told him she was fine. He knew. He was good at reading her.
He bought her a sweet cat, Lucy, to keep her company. "Throw Lucy in anyone's face if they get in. See how a burglar copes with a mass of Siamese claws in his face" he'd told her.
Lauren didn't know how to tell Michael that it wasn't any kind of burglar that she was afraid of.
She had no fear of people trying to break in.
Even though she was a finely built girl she was still over six feet tall, and her mom hadn't raised a scaredy cat.
Lauren kept a crowbar beside the bed to take out anyone foolish enough to enter.
No, burglars were not what she was frightened of.
Years ago, when she was only a little thing, only maybe seven or eight she had convinced her parents to let her camp out with her cousin in the tree house.
It was all a wonderful adventure, at first.
That was until it happened.
Until...but no, she wasn't going to think about that now. Not now, not when she was all alone.
Apart from Lucy, she was alone in this old, rambling house.
This house that was set way back in the woods, miles from anywhere.
Lauren sat up and shook her head.
She was NOT going to do this to herself again.
Last time Michael had to work away she had gotten herself into such a frenzy that she couldn't stay home. She'd had to drive to her mom's place fifty miles away and stay there until her husband got back.
Pulling on her fluffy slippers, she padded out to her husband's study and poured a very generous amount of whiskey into a cut crystal glass.
This should help still those demons.
Should help her get her brain back into calm sleep mode.
Or at least shut it up long enough to go to sleep.
She gulped the burning liquid down then made her way back to bed. The night was slipping away and she was tired.
Sure that this time she would drift off, Lauren turned off the lamp and snuggled up under the covers. Lucy curled in the small of her back, right where she always slept.
A soft sighing of the large pines outside did not disturb her as the breeze slowly lifted the smaller branches and played its soft tune amongst the pine needles.
A cooing from a night dove, a faded call from a distant owl. These were all comfort noises that told her all was okay, that the night was calm and quiet and would fold in and protect her until her husband came home.
Lauren felt sleep start to overtake her when a snap of a twig outside her window stilled her breath in her chest.
She listened, ears straining, but when she heard no more she exhaled.
Must be a fox. Or a squirrel.
She turned over and Lucy moaned her displeasure at her sleep having been disturbed.
Sleep came back swiftly and Lauren welcomed it, her dreams opening up and accepting her into their nocturnal wonderland.
Lauren liked dreaming, and could always tell that she was in a dream, that things were not real.
This time was no exception. She smiled as the warm afternoon sun filtered down through the branches of the oak tree. She loved this tree. It was over a hundred years old when her parents bought the farm where the tree lived, and it would have lived for a hundred yards more if...
….if what happened had not happened.
Lauren didn't know how it got dark so quick, but it was a dream, after all, and she guessed that's what happened in dreams.
She was no longer standing on the lush, neatly trimmed grass in the afternoon sun. Now she was watching herself as a seven year old, lying in a sleeping bag in her tree house at the old farm, her cousin Harper beside her.
Her brother had been taken back inside after crying to stay in the tree house, too, but he was four years younger than Lauren and that made him too young to stay all night with them.
There was a camping lamp in the corner. It was turned off now, allowing the wondrous dark to caress them and envelop them with all of its mysterious sounds and scents.
She watched her younger self laughing and talking to her cousin but she could not remember what about.
She could hear her cousin talk, but could not understand the words.
Such was the riddles of dreams.
Many a night over that summer the two girls had camped out in the tree house, and they had enjoyed every minute of t.
Lauren smiled in her sleep as she watched the two young girls, herself and her cousin, snuggle into the downy sleeping bags and try to quiet down enough to allow sleep to find them.
Other melodic symphony of night sounds cut out, then, as if turned off by a switch,
The two dream girls noticed and sat up in the dark tree house, not quite scared.
Lauren knew what she was dreaming about, and she didn't like it.
She wanted to stop.
She didn't want to see what happened. Didn't want to live through this again.
Not ever again.
Normally in dreams Lauren could make the dream change and retell itself if she didn't like what was happening. She could even wake herself if she needed to.
Not this time.
This time she was stuck here, watching herself start to feel the icy cold finger of fear creep along her spine.
She watched as her cousin's eyes widened, noticed how dark they looked in the pale camp light as she turned to look at Lauren, hoping for comfort, hoping to see her cousin laugh at her fear.
Instead she knew her cousin saw her own fear reflected back at her.
She knew, because she was feeling it again, right now.
Suddenly she was no longer watching her younger self. Somehow she had become the frightened seven year old Lauren, and was sitting bold upright, her hands clutched helplessly as she felt her terror grow.
All around the open tree house a soft mist had begun to spread, its soft tendrils caressing and moving towards the girls, slowly twisting icy wisps of moving fear.
The tree house was not much more than a platform, four half walls and a couple of beams that supported a fairly sturdy roof. There was no real protection from anything.
Nothing that could stop the mist lapping in over the edges of the platform, looking like soft sea foam as it rolled and curled its way into the tree house, covering the floor area and dancing around the girls.
Lauren felt her throat constrict as the cold tendrils moved up over her, now covering her sleeping bag and settling around her waist.
Harper's eyes were wide as she sat there, frozen with fear, the mist having now reached to their chests.
There was no noise from outside, no call of crickets or chirrup of frogs. Just the cold, damp mist and the feeling of terror that it brought.
Even though she knew she was dreaming, grown up Lauren felt all the fear that little Lauren felt, she could even feel the cold as the mist engulfed her chest.
She reached her hands out in her dream, just as the little Lauren had, all those years ago, and pulled her cousin close to her, and together they held each other, silent, frightened and very cold.
The mist seemed to be glowing. Whether it had a light of its own or was merely reflecting the camp light Lauren could not tell but the higher it rose, the more her fear grew.
She knew what happened next. She knew.
It was something that she had relived many times over at first, but had stopped thinking about and dreaming about quite some time ago.
She had forced herself to stop, to get over it, to move on. To not suffer this again and again.
Lauren looked through little dream Lauren's eyes as the long hand slipped its way through the window opening on the half wall of the tree house.
She watched as the twisting arm, more like a reptile than a human appendage, snaked closer to Harper.
Lauren tried to scream.
She tried, she tried very hard, but the breath died in her throat the way it often does in dreams.
This dream, however, was different. She remembered that night, and remembered that her breath had died in her throat back then as well.
But this time, while aware that it was a dream, the fear she felt still iced her through to her soul and despite all her effort she was unable to alter or end her dream state.
Harper felt little Lauren's body stiffen and saw the intake of breath for the unrealized scream and turned to see what had escalated her friend's fear.
Catching sight of the snaking arm Harper felt none of the restrictions that dream Lauren did.
She screamed loud and long.
She screamed as the hand impossibly snaked around her waist, circled her body one, twice, and again, looking like a black suited snake.
Harper screamed as the long white fingers found her face and covered her mouth.
She was still screaming her muffled scream as the hand snatched her from Lauren's arms and whisked her out the hole in the wall that that sufficed as a window.
Big Lauren awoke and sat bolt upright, her heart hammering in her chest, panting as if she had been running, her body sheened with sweat.
"That was NOT GOOD" she groaned. It had been years since she had such a bad dream, and she wondered why, now, she was having one. Taking deep breaths Lauren managed to slow her racing heart and she wiped a hand across her forehead.
Strange that Lucy had not protested the interruption to her precious sleep, she thought, and turned to her cat... who was not there.
"Lucy?" Lauren frowned. Lucy never left her side. The cat followed her to the bathroom, the shower, the car, anywhere except when Lauren was riding one of the horses, but even then Lucy was close by, usually perched on the gate post of the arena, waiting for her person mommy to get off the massive warmblood she was riding.
Maybe she was using the littler box? "Lucy!" Lauren called again, knowing the tiny Siamese would answer her with her deceivingly loud voice.
Lauren slipped out from her bed and barefooted to the bathroom where the litter tray was housed.
"LUCY!" Already anxious from the too real nightmare, Lauren felt her heart start to hammer in her chest again.
Lucy never went missing, was never away from her, not since the day Michael had brought her home, wrapped in a pink satin pillow slip with a massive red bow tied around her neck.
It had been love at first sight for cat and girl; they were inseparable from that first moment.
"LUCY!" Lauren bellowed this time, panic rising in her voice, her hands cold and clammy.
She didn't like to walk around the house at night at the best of times, and avoided it totally when she was home alone. But she knew without a doubt that if she didn't find her tiny Siamese cat she would not be able to sleep at all.
Her bedroom was housed in a wing to one side of the rambling house, and she walked the small corridor to the main house with trepidation.
She had closed and locked the door to the main rooms when she had retired for the night, and as she clutched the handle to turn it and unlock the door she gasped at how cold it was.
It was like ice. The night was not that cold, the old brass handle should not have felt like this...like it was frozen.
She opened the door and shuddered at the horror movie style screek it gave as she slowly pulled it ajar.
Reaching forward Lauren flicked the light switch, the brass flat plate for the switch as cold on her fingers as the door knob had been.
The light barely covered the length of the short corridor that led to the main rooms and Lauren drew a deep breath to try and steady herself before padding along the soft grey carpet.
"Lucy?" she whispered, afraid to call out in her own house.
Even though the door had been closed Lauren knew her little cat could slip through the heating vents to search for the odd mouse or two and wind up anywhere in the building.
She came into the lounge room quietly, as if frightened to disturb anyone.
She flicked the switch as she entered and frowned. This switch again was freezing, and the lights, normally so bright that there were few shadows in the room, were instead dull and barely spread their fingers of incandescence to the carpet.
Lauren tipped her head to one side, confusion lining her pretty face.
Was there mist on the carpet?
She was sure she had closed all of the windows and doors tightly, almost obsessively; such was her fear of being left alone in this rambling old house.
Yes, definitely mist rolling across her Shades of Organza Grey carpet. Combined with the barely working overhead lights it lent an eerie quality to the room, accentuating the shadows and nooks, hiding places for any nasty little evil lurking in her drawing room.
She took a tentative step forward and the soft mist swirled around her feet. Barely high enough to cover her pink painted toenails it ebbed like sea foam as she made her way across the large room and stood near the window, trying to figure out how the mist had spread across her floor.
The curtains were pulled closed and she was loath to open them, one of her fears was that if she looked out of the window she would see someone on the other side, looking in.
Instead she slipped her hand through the tiniest of parts in the heavy drapes and felt along the window sill.
Cold, freezingly so, but tightly fastened.
"Lucy?" she called again, a little louder, but not much so.
Moving to the next window in a long bank of three Lauren again slipped her hand through and checked the lock was tightly fastened, making sure to firmly close the curtains again. At no time did she peek through the small opening she had made in the heavy drapes.
She moved to the next window, and this time her heart started to hammer in her chest again, for a fearful thought had popped into her head.
What if she reached through the curtains and a hand grabbed hers?
She stopped and looked at the wonderfully theatrical red velvet drapes that covered the window. Drapes she had lovingly bid on at an old closing down theatre's sale auction of unwanted items, and had hand trimmed and adjusted to fit her three long windows in the drawing room of her home.
They were marvelous for keeping out the cold or heat, for blocking all light when you wanted dark, but when you had an irrational fear pop into your head, they suddenly seemed ominous, threatening even. A wonderful hiding place for something sinister.
She mentally and physically shook herself.
"Grow up, you big silly" she admonished herself, all her false bravado she could muster in her voice, and marched to the window.
This time she thrust her hand though, pretending to be brave.
Fake it till you make it, her mother had said.
She felt like her heart was about to leap out of her throat, but managed to find the window lock and pulled her hand swiftly back after finding it tightly fastened.
Now the French doors.
Also covered in red velvet, the doors were at the end of the long room and were shrouded in darkness.
The overhead lights were not working at this end of the room and Lauren moved to the bank of switches near the internal door and flicked them, but nothing happened.
Well, she had already done the unthinkable in slipping her hand through the drapes after she had thought of something happening to her. She would be fine to walk over to the doors, pull the curtains back a little and check the door was locked.
There had to be a reason there was mist across the floor. And the damp mist would ruin the expensive carpet that Michael had just had lain only the week before last.
If it wasn't that one of the windows was open then it had to be the door.
Even though she was sure she had locked it. One hundred percent sure.
Again taking a steeling breath Lauren stepped up to the door and snaked her hand through to the ornate brass knob that fastened the French doors closed.
The doors were open.
Just a sliver, but open.
The mist had crept in through the door and gently coated her new grey carpet, spilling forth from the drawing room into the dark corridor and perhaps the rest of the house.
Thankfully the sturdy door was not open enough for Lucy to have left the house so Lauren pulled it closed and fumbled around for the clasp to lock it.
She shook the freezing door knob hard to make sure it was locked, the whole time holding the curtain tight around her hand so she could not see out.
Pulling the curtains closed Lauren turned to the darkened hall beyond the drawing room.
Having watched many a scary movie and hollered at the stupidity of the victims as they explored in their underwear around creepy haunted houses, Lauren was not missing the irony of her search.
If this were some sort of late night show she would be under the covers, the scary music enough to stop her watching.
Instead she was exploring her darkened, mist filled house. She couldn't believe, having already had a frightening dream, that she was still moving forward.
Lauren flicked the switch in the hallway but no lights came on. She could only imagine that the mist had somehow shorted the wiring, the old house and damp did not get along very well at all.
She had flashlights in various places around the house for any such emergency, so had one at hand within moments.
Checking, making sure that the batteries were fine, she headed down the hall.
She couldn't help but think that. The hall was dark, bathed in fog, and her flashlight beam only added to the atmosphere.
"Lucy?" she called again. At this point she didn't want to think about why the mist was still in the house, or how it seemed to be growing thicker.
She didn't want to think about why half the lights were out, and the other half seemed to be working at half strength.
She just wanted to get her cat and climb back into bed, the door locked, the covers pulled tight around herself.
A scuffle of sound ahead of her sent her heart hammering into overdrive and she took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
It was probably Lucy.
It had to be.
It was either Lucy, or a rat.
She hoped it wasn't a rat.
The flashlight illuminated the closed door that led to the dining room and kitchen beyond. Taking another steadying breath Lauren grasped the brass knob.
It was as cold as the others, but she didn't stop to think.
Best not to.
She turned it and shoved the door open.
Finding the light switch, also frozen, Lauren let out a sigh of relief when the overhead lights flooded the room with their brilliant glow.
Great! The lights here not only worked, but worked properly. She turned off her flashlight and looked around the room for her errant cat.
The dining room was fairly sparse, only a long table and chairs, and a small side table against the window. Nowhere for little Lucy to hide.
There were sliding doors that led to the kitchen and Lauren pulled these open.
Michael had rigged the doors to trigger the overhead fluorescents here as there were no windows for natural light. This time, however, the hum and click of the lights coming on did not greet her as the room stayed in darkness.
There was a manual switch, but it was on the other side of the room. Lauren turned her flashlight back on.
The mist was thicker here, and with the bright glow from the dining room behind her it looked so much more sinister as it softly swirled around the old kitchen.
This room had been renovated using most of the old appliances and was kept in the style of the era the house was built.
It was old looking, and in this light, very spooky.
No answering mew.
Maybe she should give up. Maybe she should just go back to bed and hope Lucy was okay, and whether she slept or not, it wouldn't matter.
It was too cold and too scary hanging around in her house at night, half the lights off, the house filled with fog and freezing door knobs.
Lauren nodded, her mind all but made up. Lucy was probably chasing imaginary mice through the fog in one of the rooms and didn't want to go back to bed.
The scuffing noise caught her attention again.
Lauren waved the flashlight, hoping the beam would catch something, anything, that may explain that frightening little sound that seemed to tickle the frayed edge of her nerves.
There, the sound again.
This time her light beam caught the barest flash of movement, something just at the corner of her vision, something quick, scurrying….
A crash behind her caused Lauren to cry out I fear as she turned, flash beam pointed straight in front of her, to find Lucy on the kitchen dresser having knocked over a small dish.
"Oh god, Lucy, oh god" exhaled the frightened girl as she tried to steady her racing heart. "You scared the living shit outta me"
Lauren reached forward to scoop up her car, but Lucy backed up, her hackles risen, her eyes wide in fear. The cat snarled and hissed at Lauren's outstretched hand.
"Lucy! Sweetie, it's mommy. This mist got you all spooked out too, baby?"
Lucy still cringed back against the wall, so Lauren scooped her up and held her tight to her chest. The little cat was cold, her fur damp from the mist.
"Let's get back to bed, little one, with the door locked tight. We'll sort this mist thing out in the morning when Michael is home"
She turned, torch hanging down in her hands, its beam lighting the floor, all thoughts of whatever had scurried across the floor earlier forgotten for now.
Lucy snuggled into her owner, the warmth from Lauren's arms a soothing embrace for the frightened cat.
Taking comfort from her cat Lauren turned to leave the cold kitchen and find her way back to her warm room. Away from the mist and the unlocked doors, from the fear, from the cold, from the creeping night terrors.
She could never find comfort or solace in the dark. She wished only to have her husband home, his strong arms holding her tight as her fears laid way to dreams.
As Lauren emerged from the cold, dark hallway into the barely lit drawing room Lucy screeched and growled, her teeth and claws bared as she yowled her fear into the darkened room.
Lauren gasped as the cat jumped from her arms, scratching her deeply a she leapt.
Burning, sharp pain flooded Lauren's senses from the deep scratches. Lauren touched her chest and her hand was instantly soaked with blood. "Lucy! Lucy!" Lauren shook her head, confused and shocked. What would make her cat act this way?
A yowling hiss from under the desk brought Lauren to her knees and she pointed her flashlight towards the growling fur ball.
Even though this end of the drawing room was lit, the light was dull, not reaching to the corners under the desk.
The light reflected from Lucy's eyes and Lauren steadied the beam. "Lucy, little girl, what's wrong?" she cooed, trying to get the little cat to come to her. "Sweetie, baby, I must have made you frightened when you sensed my fear. Come on, girl, come on" she coaxed.
Lucy stopped snarling and looked at her owner. "Come on, little girl, come on. Here we go, there's a good girl" she made sure to keep her voice steady, calm, and it was working. Lucy crept forward, though still hesitant and nervous, her little body tense and ready to flee.
Lauren reached forward, slowly, and touched the little cat just as Lucy hissed again and drew back, the Siamese cat's face twisted into a frightened snarl, all teeth showing and her hackles on end.
Lauren rocked back on her knees, not sure what to do to calm her little cat long enough for her to hurry them both back to the relative safety of her bedroom.
She didn't notice, at first, the sudden thickening of the mist that still whirled around her knees and flowed over the carpet.
She didn't notice the shadow either until Lucy screamed in only the way a terrified Siamese can. Lauren frowned, her brow wrinkling in disbelief as the long, thin shadow fell over her and the top of the desk.
Lauren pulled in a frightened lung full of frigid air as a long, deathly pale hand snaked its way around her shoulders.
She tried to scream as the hand, cold as death and hard as iron snaked around her, pinning her arms to her torso, but her breath died in her throat. No sound came from her parted lips as the hand clutched her tight, lifting her to her feet, lifting her up until her feet no longer touched the floor.
No sound came from her as terror filled her, spread through her like an electric shock, no sound as her bladder emptied, her heart pounded, her vision swam.
No sound passed from her as she blacked out, but Lucy screamed.
Lucy screamed and screamed, her teeth bared, her claws unsheathed, her hair on end as she backed as far as she could into the corner under the desk.
She kept screaming as the tall, faceless, slender man lifted her person mommy into the air and snatched her away into the night…
A/N... reviews are very nice. And only take you a moment...