Bump in the Night

At eleven o'clock, strange things begin to happen, and by eleven-thirty, they've taken a turn for the downright deadly. When the clocks strike midnight, all hell breaks loose.

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11. COWARD'S WAY OUT

The clocks struck eleven.

Andy only knew what time it was because his eleven-o’-clock alarm had just gone off; he always ‘forgot’ to turn it off on working nights. Pressing ‘snooze’ instead of ‘dismiss’ to subdue the psychedelic techno music, Andy grinned at his cameraman before shoving the phone back into his pocket.

“Workout alarm.” He smiled casually, almost as if to say ‘aren’t I silly for forgetting again?’

“Yeah, I gathered.” The cameraman didn’t look up.

Andy frowned in slight annoyance; he’d already developed a distinct dislike for this guy, whose name he’d already forgotten. Turning away from his irritating companion, he lifted a hand to adjust his head camera before remembering he didn’t have it anymore.

It was ruined by Jean, remember?

Cursing under his breath, Andy tightened the hastily-made strap holding his digital camera to his belt before running a hand absent-mindedly through his hair.

It was completely dark in the garden, ignoring the weak glow of the torch the cameraman had placed upright on the ground, and there was a defined lukewarm breeze that rustled the leaves of the living trees and stirred the bare branches of the dead one. Andy shivered a little, but didn’t regret leaving his jacket on the minibus. He liked the way the shirt he was wearing made his arms look.

“Ok,” said the cameraman; “I was given a prompt sheet, so...anyway...”

Who the hell even are you? Andy thought as the cameraman continued to babble. As he fiddled listlessly with the end of his camera strap, a name suddenly sprung to the front of his mind.

Trevor.

No, Travis.

“Oh, fuck it, who cares?” He mumbled, turning his head away from Trevor/Travis and towards the horizon. The sky was cloaked entirely in black as the last remnants of blue dusk leaked out of view.

“...so, yeah, that’s basically it,” Trevor/ Travis finished.

“Right. Whatever.” Andy already hated his cameraman.

“Ok, and we’re rolling in 3, 2, 1...”

Rolling? What kind of a stupid expression even is that? Is his camera going to grow wheels and trundle away down the hill?

“Action!”

Andy was even more irritable than usual today, but he couldn’t help it; he was becoming increasingly worried that the misery he was feeling was heartbreak. The relationship between him and Jean had always been rocky, but normally they fell out over ridiculously insignificant things, like how Andy apparently ‘didn’t pay enough attention’ or ‘only cared about himself’. He’d always tried hard to brush these accusations off, but the longer he stayed with her, the harder it became. When he’d started dating Jean, Andy had had no intention of keeping her for very long, but those intentions had slipped further and further away with each passing month.

How long’s it been now? Five years, right?

No, six years. Jesus Christ, that’s a long time.

He’d always called it insecurity, or impulsiveness, but Andy knew that there was no decent excuse for the way he’d been treating Jean. In his mind, only weak men allowed themselves to be bossed around by their girlfriends, but keeping Jean quiet was definitely not an easy task; she had a strong head and never allowed her resolve to break. And maybe, just maybe, that was what he loved about her. That was why he loved her.

Of course, he’d never told her he loved her out loud; he had no doubt that she’d laugh at him.

Then, that bloody Kevin came along.

Kevin had showed up out of nowhere less than two years ago, but he and Jean had hit it off instantly; she acted completely differently when she was with him to when she was with Andy. She seemed happier. Kevin was everything Andy wasn’t; he was quiet, he was modest, he was gentle, and he was, in Andy’s own private opinion, excruciatingly boring.

After their latest argument, however, Jean hadn’t gone to Kevin for comfort. She’d gone to that asshole, Tony White, and that new crackpot of a production worker, Dave. Andy had seen and heard all kinds of irritatingly weird things during their short time at Lansfield Hall, and he was convinced that the three of them were playing pranks on him. He felt furious with Tony, whom he’d hated from the very moment they’d met, but he just felt miserable whenever he thought of Jean.

“Andy! Talk!” The irritating guy whose name began with a T interrupted his train of thought. His voice remained calm, but his facial expression screamed ‘open your fucking mouth!’

“All right! All RIGHT!”

Andy gave one last fruitless tug at his makeshift camera and slipped seamlessly into character.

“Hey. I’m out in the garden of the mansion, right next to the tree where- OW! Mother of fuck!” Andy suddenly yelled, tearing his hand out of the freezing grasp of whoever- wait.

Who WAS behind him?

Andy turned around, cradling his throbbing hand, but saw nobody in the darkness of the barren orchard. Then, he spotted the producer coming into view around the corner of the house.

“How’s everything going, Andy?” His boss bellowed in a commanding voice that seemed to ripple from all corners of the garden. Andy had been working with the producer for far longer than Tony or Jean, and he liked to think that because of this, he was appreciated a little more. In reality, though, the only person that either man seemed to appreciate was himself.

Yeah, great.” Andy rubbed the back of his hand, dismissing the biting pain. The annoyingly concerned expression on Trevor/Travis’ face had probably manifested at around the time Andy had ruined the take by swearing, but he hadn’t really been paying attention.

“Good, good.” The producer stepped backwards onto a paving slab that wobbled significantly under his weight, as if it had been yanked from under his foot.

“Right, I have to go check on David.” The producer’s voice seemed tinted with resentment whenever he talked about Dave, which Andy could understand completely. He left the door open behind him, but after he’d stepped inside it slammed with a sudden velocity that made the entire wall tremble.

“Travis, follow the prompt sheet!”  The producer’s muffled shout was still vaguely audible.

Ah, so it IS Travis.

“We’re rolling in, er, 3,2...”

“No. No, not now. Give us a second.”

Travis sighed in frustration, but didn’t stop Andy from walking away from him. Wandering closer to the dead tree, Andy shook his throbbing hand at each second step.

The bloody Hanging Tree’s a lot creepier at night. The thought wandered into his mind before he could stop it.

Now, his eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness. Thin yellow tendrils of torchlight illuminated the small workstation Travis had set up, and the soft silver glittering of stars was visible in the fragments of sky between the tree’s branches. If he looked to the side, though, he could see the grey hulking silhouettes of the woods that blended into the Lansfield orchard, and the thick swathes of mist encasing the barren countryside.

Every time Travis nervously called his name, Andy was reminded of how much he hated his colleagues. Tony always acted like he was better than everybody else, and Dave just always acted like a weirdo; as far as he was concerned, the two of them were perfectly suited to one another. The producer didn’t give Andy enough credit, two of the cameramen were nosy and bossy, and the third one had tried to steal Jean from him.

Jean... no, Andy had to try not to think about Jean. If he did, he might actually start crying, and he looked fucking ugly when he’d been crying. He just wanted to lose himself in silence and darkness; if a hole had opened up in the ground next to him, he would have jumped gladly into it.

“Andy? Um... Andy?”

Travis’ voice was no less jittery, but it had a little edge to it now; he was probably attempting to act stern. Andy had been planning to answer him, but then he decided to wait a while longer to find out if he’d get any angrier. Today, just like most days, Andy really felt that pissing somebody off was the only thing that could cheer him up.

The back of his left hand suddenly bristled, and Andy writhed his wrist uncomfortably in an attempt to subdue the pain. When he touched a finger lightly to the skin, it stung as if he were touching a raw burn, but there wasn’t a mark visible, especially in the dimming torchlight.

Travis left his camera and walked over. “Andy, I don’t want to be fired because... are you all right?” He was now staring down, so Andy hurriedly stuffed his hand into his pocket despite the pain of his raw skin grating on the fabric.

Why did you do that? What is there to hide?

“Should I get the medical kit or something?”

Travis’ question remained unanswered; Andy’s attention had been snatched away by something else.

Andy would have liked to recount that when the torch lifted vertically from the ground behind Travis, with nobody touching it, he’d been staring in surprise, or perhaps laughing. In reality, stuck on his face was a perpetually gormless expression which he found impossible to wipe, despite the fact that he rubbed his eyes twice.

Wait a second.

What the FUCK?!

Travis was facing away from the torch, but he turned to follow Andy’s gaze after the shadows dissolved from the tree trunks. It was too late. The torch had fallen back to the ground and was now lying on its side.

Andy ignored the half-concerned, half-scared look he received and walked back over to the camera station.

“Where the hell is the invisible thread?” He muttered as he waved his arms around the torch. He gave up and sat down on the ground, feeling his heartbeat beginning to quicken and a cold feeling spreading into his chest.

“Never mind.” He started in shock at the sound of a tremble in his own voice.

Andy couldn’t stand Travis regarding him with such pity, so he yelled, “Never MIND!”

Andy felt compelled to give the torch a slap, just because it had made him feel stupid. Just as he was raising his hand, though, the light was snuffed out without so much as a splutter and he was steeped in darkness.

The bulb blew. That’s all.

Andy’s skin prickled with goosebumps. It suddenly seemed much colder where he was standing, and in the diluted light of the moon he could see his breaths condensing in the black air. Just moments ago, he’d been almost comfortable in just his t-shirt, but now he was really regretting not bringing a jacket.

Well, so what? This is Britain. The weather’s like this in Britain. Isn’t it?

The torch reignited. Andy opened his mouth; maybe he was going to say something smart, or sigh in relief. He never got to do either before the light died again, just as the words died in his throat.

“Fuck this shit,” Andy said to the darkness, trying to conceal the terror in his voice. Somehow, hearing his own fear out loud turned his blood to ice; it was almost as if he’d forgotten what it felt like to be scared, but at that moment he realised he’d been scared all along. He strode towards the door, expecting to hear shouts of protest from Travis but hearing nothing. Andy turned around and, when the sickly torchlight pulsed on and off again, was shocked to see no sign of the cameraman in the garden.

Andy tried desperately to ignore the sickening feeling rising in his throat as he hurried blindly back inside; he left the door ajar and gave somewhat of a shocked whimper when it crashed shut behind him, causing a sudden throb of sound in the still air. Breathing heavily, he leaned against the wall and would probably have slid right down to the ground had he not heard a commotion on the stairs. Andy looked up just in time to see Jean tumbling into view; his eyes were still adjusting to the light indoors so it took him a moment to realise she was falling. When she lurched to a stop and lay shaking on the bottom step, Andy’s affection for Jean managed to surpass his fear and anger, even though he’d broken her heart. He forgot that he was meant to be trying hard to hate her and ran to help.

Maybe if you act like you’ve forgotten you broke up, she won’t remember either.

He remembered that she’d dumped him at around the time she pushed him away, but he didn’t care. He tried hard to not care when she called him an asshole as well, but as soon as the words left her lips something else stirred. His arrogance never failed to surface, even when he was with Jean, and the fact that he was fighting confusion, frustration and terror at the same time didn’t help either.

Right. That’s it.

Something inside Andy snapped; the fear in his mind hurdled the line into blind anger and he felt all affection he still had for her beginning to dissolve. Before Andy knew what he was doing he was yelling at Jean, blaming her for everything that had gone wrong tonight, even though he didn’t really believe it himself any more. He wasn’t even listening to his own words, but Jean was clearly hearing him, flinching at every word.

When she said something about seeing a ghost as well, Andy’s temper deteriorated along with his sympathy. He left Jean on the ground, unsure of where he was going to go or what he should do. He supposed he would have to go back into the garden, even though the thought of it made something inside him scream in protest. Luckily, just as he was reaching for the door handle, a sudden crash from the kitchen gave him the excuse he needed. Andy changed course and went to investigate the noise, even though all he wanted to do was go home. In fact, he’d just have liked to be anywhere but here. He didn’t even know if he still wanted to be with Jean.

Andy’s heart punched him in the chest with every step he took towards the kitchen door. Half an hour ago, he’d been a complete sceptic, ignoring every strange thing that he saw, but now his stupid brain seemed to be taking every little blip as proof.

Of what?

Andy’s brain didn’t seem to comprehend the word ‘ghosts’ when it sprung to the front of his mind, but at the front of his mind it stayed.

Ghosts.

GHOSTS.

They’re real.

And they’re going to fucking kill us. Maybe they already have.

Andy’s mind was tripping over itself; he was tangled up so much in his thoughts and emotions that when he broke through the kitchen door and saw the blood spattering the walls and floor, he didn’t give a shit whose it was, or how it had ended up there. All he knew, right then and there, was the same truth he’d been trying to hide from all his life.

You’re a coward.

You’ve always been a coward.

And since you’ve finally owned up to being one, you may as well act like one.

Run.

Andy flung himself back through the door, turning his back on all of the people he’d never cared about; all remaining thoughts of Jean or his job dissolved into smoke as he shot out onto the driveway. Desperately searching for a way to wake up from his nightmare, Andy’s eyes fell upon the producer’s pristine silver car, sitting in the middle of the rubble-strewn driveway.

You always liked that car.

Andy knew that the producer was arrogant enough to always leave the keys in the ignition. He dumped himself into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and pressed down on the accelerator with full force.

The digital clock on the dashboard read 11:30.

Just half an hour ago Andy had been an idiot, totally at ease with his surroundings. Now he was a fucking terrified idiot.

The car lurched forwards into the overgrown field and six-foot weeds lashed at the windscreen, but they couldn’t reach Andy. Nothing could; not even the stupid ghosts. He was safe inside his silver cocoon.

There was no road, no path, and no landmark to guide him, except from the bloody Lansfield house growing ever smaller in the wing mirror.

He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care.

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