I awoke suddenly in the small hours. All our lamps were out but there was light coming from around the closed door. All our barricades had been moved away. Diane was lying on her side with her back to me and was watching intently, waiting for something to happen. I looked around. Everybody else was still there sleeping. I looked down at Gina and watched her breath. Diane turned to look at me, eyes wide, unable to speak.
‘Have they got in?’ I whispered. She looked around jerkily, and shook her head a little.
‘I don’t think so’ she said in a tight whisper. I eased myself up so as not to disturb Gina and looked about. ‘I can’t see anything’ I whispered back. We sat in silence, listening. There were noises so tiny I couldn’t be sure they were not in my head. I breathed again and we sat petrified, waiting.
I don’t know how much later I awoke again. It was still dark out but I realised with a sickening terror that the door was wide open and I could see out into the brightly lit landing. I looked around to check we were all still there. I don’t know how long I sat and looked at the doorway, waiting for something to come in. There were small noises coming from below – disjointed thumps and taps of things being moved. After a long time I couldn’t stand it any more and I got up as stealthily as I could and crept over to the door. I stood just inside and watched and waited. I could see some way down the stairs. All the lights were on. On the landing the other room’s doors were open but dark inside. I thought I saw a movement in the one at the end of the corridor out of the corner of my eye and ducked back in and shut the door, breathing hard. I propped a chair under the handle and crept back to our nest.
‘What was it?’ said Gina, sitting up, a silhouette among the shadows.
‘I don’t know. Something’s happening down there.’ She asked me why I had opened the door and I told her I hadn’t. She didn’t know what to say to that. We settled down together to watch.
The third time I awoke there was the feint light of dawn in the room. The door was still closed. Everyone else was sleeping peacefully, breathing steadily and I felt warm and cosy among them there. I wasn’t tired any more and I got up to look out of the window. It was cold and grey outside. The sun was there in the distance but still very tiny. I sat in an easy chair in the window with a blanket around me and watched. Everything felt very still. Light was still leaking in around the doorframe but I had the very strong sense that whatever had been in the house had gone now. I found something to drink and sat and watched the others sleeping as dawn came along.
The fourth time I awoke it was light. The door was open again and there was a space where Lisa and Warren had been among us. I woke the others up and everyone looked around with unbelieving, horror stricken faces. We looked at the door. We didn’t dare make a sound. There were definite noises coming from below, metallic noises, sounds of tools on work surfaces, hushed voices. None of us wanted to look very far out the door but we knew we couldn’t leave them. I looked at the window. Maybe it would be better to go down that way. I couldn’t think straight.
‘Do you guys want coffee or tea?’ came a voice suddenly from the kitchen.
It’s a measure of the tension we’d been under that we all at first assumed it was some kind of trick or illusion, and none of us answered. Then Lisa’s head appeared at floor level through the banisters. It was still attached to her shoulders, and presumably to the rest of her body.
‘I heard you guys moving about up here. Do you want a drink? There’s instant coffee and tea bags. It looks like the owners came home last night.’ We all slumped in a relieved and giggly huddle and said we’d be down soon. Lisa thought it was hilarious when she realised what we’d thought.
When we got down Warren wasn’t there which wasn’t so funny but we assumed he must be about. There was something of a party atmosphere stemming from a very strong sense that we were on the other side of something very nasty. We sat at the breakfast bar with our mugs and looked about happily. Warren did indeed appear soon – he’d been out looking at the garden. ‘There’s an amazing greenhouse’ he said. I went to have a look at it after breakfast and it was indeed amazing – spanning the entire width of the very large garden, totally overgrown and with most of the glass missing. I looked about, taking in the bright sunny weather and the roses still blooming over a collapsed pergola. Gina waded through the long wet grass toward me, smiling broadly. ‘Everybody’s thinking about going’ she said. ‘You ready?’
I nodded and went down to follow her in.
I suppose that final horror hit us worse because we thought it was all over, although I also think we knew we couldn’t have got away that easily. We’d been packing up to go, wanting to take as much food as we could because although food is superfluous in the afterlife, it is comforting and we needed comfort. Lisa was the one who looked in the cupboard under the stairs.
So predictable. How many horror films had we seen? We all just ran. Leaving all the food we’d collected, we crashed out of the back door, around the side of the house and out onto the lane. Only once we were some distance away did we stop and look back at the house. All the lights were on. Music was coming from one of the downstairs rooms. Several of us vomited. We all stared and waited. The sun was shining and birds were singing and to our right, beyond the houses, there were fields and trees. I recognised the music. Whoever they were they were into Pink Floyd.
We told ourselves it couldn’t have been the people we had set out with - the ones we had lost along the way but it was impossible to be sure - in that dim and dusty space under the stairs were body parts mounted and arranged on hooks and shelves along the wall behind a chicken wire screen like some psychotic Victorian menagerie. I remember especially a collection of hands pinned in their pairs to the wall, flexing and scratching at the boards, unable to extricate themselves. Six eyeballs in an egg box stared lidlessly back at us, trying to focus. Some pink and grey internal organs oozed in a white enamel bowl on the floor. It was a living museum of human anatomy, the personal collection of an enthusiast. A finger curled like the leg of a starfish. Some poor boy’s penis engorged and shrank like a sea cucumber in its dish. The entire lower half of someone’s head screamed silently on the top shelf. Its teeth seemed to have been removed - why, I couldn't imagine. I remember thinking how little blood there was, and how little odour. Everything was meticulously labelled.
I threw up my breakfast, ran out and stood gasping with the others.
Meg, I think it was, eventually said something about going back to help them but none of us were going back, ever. It was simply impossible. Eventually though we did manage to gather ourselves and stand up straight and then we walked away. We told ourselves there was nothing else we could do.