Of Darkness and Light

When Elora starts being followed everywhere she goes, she assumes it's paranoia, afterall, if you can't see it, it can't be real...can it? Things grow increasingly weird in Elora's world; the sound of wings, footsteps and physical attacks with no one in sight. Could she be losing her mind?
When an attractive stranger saves her from her assailant, she can't help but think he might be in on it.
Who can she trust when she doesn't even feel able to trust herself.

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1. Chapter 1

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in our philosophy'

(Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5)

 

I will love you until the sun burns out, the stars fall from the sky and theARGH! The zombie tore into the princes throat, blood spurting out in all directions. Once it was spent- tiny rivulets trailing down his still body- the undead creature turned its attention to

The bell rang again. I was officially late for class.

            I had managed to lose myself in a book again.  Damnit, I had been late three times this week already! I wouldnt be making head girl anytime soon.

I threw the paperback into my locker, slammed the door and grabbed my bag, amazed at how the corridor had emptied without me even noticing. If Im already late, a few extra minutes wont matter surely. I reopened my locker and pulled a compact mirror from the inside. I was the least vain girl in school, hell, I didnt even wear make up, but I could feel something stuck between my teeth. I made faces at myself in the mirror, trying to check my teeth from every angle, when I caught the reflection of someone stood behind me. I snapped the mirror closed and turned quickly, expecting to find a disapproving teacher or someone wanting to snitch on me.

There was no one there.

I shook my head and checked I had the right books, trying to remember what class I was late for, when I heard something move.

I turned back towards the main corridor, hoping that I was supposed to be going to English class, when there were footsteps. I felt a gust of air like someone had rushed past me, but could see nothing.

            I rubbed my eyes and continued towards the corridor, feeling a little creeped out that I was hearing things.

            The area darkened, shadows filling the hall and making strange shapes against the walls. One side was all windows, so I assumed the sun had gone behind the clouds, but that didnt explain why the lights had gone out. Someone clearly thought this was hysterical. I ran through a list of people who would be cutting class and pulling pranks.

            Give it up, Jake, youre not funny. I said, trying to insert the right amount of venom into my voice.

            There was no response, and no sound save a random pinging from the lights above me, as though they were trying to turn themselves on.

            I shook my head in annoyance and went on, my footsteps a little too loud in the silence. I didnt think I had ever seen the place so empty, there were usually people visiting the toilet or lockers. This was way too horror movie-esque for my liking, and if I was going to be in a slasher flick, I didnt want to die at school.

            I felt a sudden breeze on the back of my neck, as though someone was breathing close to me. It felt hot and came in short bursts. I shivered and increased my pace, unable to see or hear anything. I made it into the tower block, thankful for the lights and the sound of voices coming from the classrooms. I pushed open the door to the first floor stairs and began to run up them, irritated that I was letting this get to me, but not wanting to slow down for fear of being alone out here.

            The lights died. The stairwell was in almost complete darkness save one window that allowed a hazy grey light to the area. I could see well enough not to fall, but I felt a presence. It was most likely paranoia, I was startled and feeling guilty from being late to class, my heart began to thud. I wasnt usually this wussy- I lived alone, for Gods sake- but something was there. I ran up two flights, my breath the only sound over the muted footsteps, the darkness increasing as I passed the window and left it behind.

            I was beginning to feel disorientated from the running, my heart and the darkness. The staircase seemed to be never ending. Then something struck me from behind.

            The last thing I saw was my body rushing down to meet the steps.

 

            Elora?

            I groaned and tried to move. Surely I had a few more minutes until I needed to get out of bed?

            Elora? a soft, gentle voice called.

            I didnt know that voice. I opened my eyes slowly, my hand protecting them from the light. I was in school, lying on the floor between flights of stairs. What the hell?  Then I began to remember: the feeling I was being followed, the light-headedness, the power cut, being late for class..

            I sat up and looked around. There was no one there. Maybe I had been dreaming when I passed out. I reached up to feel my head for cuts or blood but there were none, I just felt like crap. I remembered falling onto the stairs, so how was I now lying on level ground?

            My hands were a little scuffed from where they had broken my fall, and my body ached as though I had in fact slept on a staircase, but other than that, I felt OK. I must have fainted. I never faint.

            I made it to English, explaining to the teacher that I had passed out and felt a little odd. She looked startled until she ascertained that I wasnt bleeding, and sent me to the nurse.

            Everyone in the school knows that I practically live alone. My parents travel a lot; my father some high-up in a bank, my mother his arm candy. They schmooze with clients all over the world and dont come home much. Most teenagers dream, but not mine. It did have its benefits, though. I was independent, and almost a domestic goddess as I had to do everything for myself, whereas my classmates had mummy and daddy falling over themselves to taxi them around or wash their clothes, cook, clean and generally offer room service at all hours of the day. They envied me. I envied them. It was lonely.

            The nurse knew the situation and clucked around me like a mother hen. I could see I looked pale in the mirror on the opposite wall. I was always pale, and a little too slim. I wanted to be taller and sometimes I wished my poker straight blonde hair had ringlets, but I was ok. I didnt hate myself like most people my age did. There were things about myself I actually liked. My eyes were a really odd blue, almost purple in the right light, and my skin was pretty good.

            I realised I was daydreaming as the nurse fired a thousand questions at me. Was I eating properly? How was I feeling? Could she call anyone? I politely dismissed her concerns, I just didnt have the energy. I was still shaken by the experience, freaking myself out over nothing. I just didnt want to be home alone tonight.

 

            Elora! Thomas lounged against the school gates, his skinny frame looking uncomfortably tall when near the younger students leaving the building. His curls were in a mad, boingy mass around his face. I smiled. I couldnt help it, he was so damned cute.

            Hey, Thomas. I called back, rushing to meet him and linking arms like an old married couple. How was school?

            He rolled his eyes. I heard you collapsed? He tugged on a loose strand of my hair so I looked at him. Mountain, molehill.

            I just kinda fainted, I said dismissively, trying to think of something to change the subject.

            Kinda fainted? What does that even mean? Are you eating  properly? Making sure you get plenty of iron? Girls need iron apparently. You could be anaemic or hypoglycaemic. Did you want me to come to the doctor with you? His voice began to get higher and more panicked with each sentence. He was a worrier, and the closest thing I had to a parent.

            Im fine, I was just a little light-headed, ran up the tower block and woke up on the floor. I laughed and made my voice light. It was nothing. Really. Maybe if I kept telling myself that Anyway! Wanna come over tonight to check Im eating properly? We could make tacos!  The way to a boys heart is through his stomach, right? It didnt hurt that he was scarily good with food. If his mother didnt loathe me so much then I could have probably convinced him to move in with me.

 

 

The next day at school passed without incident and I was beginning to convince myself that everything I had felt the day before was just a product of a stressed-out mind. We werent that far from exams, and what with my parents, panic about the future and all the other junk I had to deal with, it made sense.

            We had another stupid open evening at school that night, another chance for our teachers to pretend they like us and enjoy their jobs, fawning over us as we pretend to be working on projects, as potential future students and parents look around. It was freaky being in school after dark. It didnt matter that it was only 6pm; looking out of the huge windows of the science lab and seeing nothing but my own reflection from the darkness was eerie.

            Thomas was resting his cheek on his hand, yawning occasionally as he dipped litmus paper into various liquids that were in test tubes on the desk in front of us.

            This is so dull, he whispered, jolting himself upright as a new round of visitors entered.  I balled up my fake notes from the last round and began writing them out again. This was the fourth time we had performed this experiment and it hadnt been all that great in the first place.

            I was drawing out another table on my paperwork, when I felt that odd sensation again, like I was being watched. Well, of course I was being watched. There were thirty people watching us as we pretended to be excited by our results –– but this was different. It was like someone had their face pressed against the window, someone that shouldnt be there. I could see nothing outside, but the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. I shivered.

            You OK? Thomas asked, pushing his hair from his eyes.

            I nodded, pulled a huge fake smile and exclaimed how fascinating the experiment was, answering questions the visitors asked in a high, perky voice.

            The evening dragged as group after group entered and left, but I couldnt get rid of this weird feeling. Someone was there, they had to be, or else why was I feeling like this?

            When it was FINALLY time to leave, we tidied our things away with a relieved sigh, heading for the exit to meet our parents, or in my case, walk home alone.

            Thomas mother was sitting in the family car, glaring at me. I smiled sweetly at her. Nothing I could do would make her happy.

            Make sure you send me a text when you get in so I know youre OK. Thomas said before we parted ways.

            Yes, Mum, I said to Thomas, squeezing his hand before turning towards the gates for the short trek home.

            The darkness was absolute. The only breaks were the yellow glow of the street lights that were too sparsely spaced out. I wasnt afraid. It wasnt the safest town in the world, but it was early and there were people around. Besides, I had a good strong kick and we had self-defence talks every year: go for the groin, scream, run like hell, dont end up on your back, use anything you have as a weapon, especially keys.

I increased my pace- solely to get home quicker- or thats what I told myself. The lingering feeling of being observed hadnt left yet and was putting me on edge.

I clutched at my house keys, ensuring one was pointing outwards between my fingers so I could use it if I needed to. I had never once been threatened or attacked, and had never felt this nervous before, yet I couldnt put my finger on what was wrong.

            It was then that the streetlights flicked off, one by one.

            This was crazy. Was my town having some serious electrical issues, or was someone doing this on purpose? No, that was insane! I was being paranoid, all those thoughts about horror movies were scaring me. I was too old for this! I took a deep breath and increased my speed as each light I stepped under flicked off once I had reached its glowing halo. The street behind me was in darkness, the way ahead lit. I was aware that I hadnt seen anyone in several minutes. Crap.

            I took out my mobile, not my smartest move if I was going to be mugged, but I could throw it at my assailant and run, or at least call someone to ask for help. My hand shook as I fumbled for it in my bag, not willing to look at what I was doing with my hands as I was so worried about falling over my feet.

            Plink.

            The next light went out. My pace increased.

            Plink.

            Plink.

            Plink.

            I was practically running and still hadnt managed to get hold of my phone.

            I could hear myself panting and it annoyed the hell out of me. Acting scared makes you a victim, if you appear weak you are more likely to be targeted.

            I gulped in air as I half-ran, the lights beginning to flip off just before I reached them now. This wasnt an accident, it couldnt be.

            I stopped to catch my breath. My feet had began to stumble over each other as I was shaking so hard. I turned to face the direction I had come from, peering into the darkness to see if I was being followed. I could hear footsteps, confident and heavy, but could see nothing. I needed to run, needed to find somewhere where there were people. The police station wasnt far from here, but the footsteps were getting closer.

            LEAVE ME ALONE! I yelled, trying to sound confident but my voice shook so badly I could barely form the words.

            I gave up on finding my phone and took out my keys, placing several between my knuckles as I made a fist. If I was going to be attacked Id damn well leave my mark on them.

            The footsteps grew closer and closer, but still I couldnt see or hear anything. No sounds of breathing, no clothes rubbing together, nothing but footsteps and the odd sound of birds wings. Was I actually losing my mind?

            The steps were too close, only a couple of feet away. Then suddenly that rushing feeling that someone had swept past me. I turned and stared, looking in all directions. There was nothing there. At last I found my phone and pulled it from my bag, lighting up the screen and shining it in an arc around me. Nothing. I could feel my chest struggling to take in enough air, my vision beginning to darken around the edges. No! Not again! I clutched the keys tighter, the cool metal helping a little.

More wings. It sounded as though the sky was full of birds, fluttering all around me, blowing my hair around my face. My arms beat the area around me, but I made no contact with anything.

            Footsteps again. The light above my head flicking on and off like a strobe. I was going to faint, I could feel it. Fight it! I gritted my teeth, embracing the anger. I was no longer scared, just livid with rage that something was doing this. Ghosts? Demons? Or was I insane?

            Something shoved my shoulder, then the other one, as though I were being buffeted in a crowd of people, each blow harder and harder. I couldnt run, I was trapped by a wall of invisible bodies, the air above me full of fluttering. I was knocked to the ground, falling painfully onto my knees, my arms rushing to protect my head, the keys within them catching on my hair.

            And then as soon as it had started, it stopped.

            The lights were back. Not a sound. The feeling of being watched was gone.

            I was shaking so hard it took several minutes for me to get to my feet but when I could, I ran all the way home.

            I hoped I imagined it when I looked over my shoulder and saw a man perched on top of one of the lampposts, balancing effortlessly, a long coat hanging down over the edge.

 

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