Swimming – An original short horror story.

I wrote this in the middle of the night, after reading this short comic by Fran Krause (The series is called Deep Dark Fears – I strongly recommend it). I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, so I sat and hammered it out. It’s got my usual love of YA and Lovecraftian themes, so pretty standard. I’d like to thank my brother for suggesting the inclusion of the extra bit after the ending… I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Let me know!


Why is it swimming in PE again? I swear it’s every other week. Just because the school got a stupid grant from the government and built a state-of-the-art pool with the money doesn’t mean I need to be inflicted with the stinging water every week. They put way too much chlorine in it.

They could’ve quite easily used the money to put into the drama department you know. We’re doing this production after half-term of Macbeth – all modernised and set in a boarding school (I know, I helped draft the script, I’m a genius), and I’ve spent the last fortnight spray painting plastic baguettes silver to use a swords. I’m not even sure why the Mrs Lugo has plastic baguettes.

I look at Mary Simons’ legs and feel jealousy flourish inside me – I swear she doesn’t even grow hair on them, they’re so smooth and perfect. I look down at my own, pale and covered in more scabs and scars than Freddy Krueger’s face, and inwardly curse the universe, or fate, or whatever it is that has led to me being forced to stand, cold, damp and ashamed of my entire traitorous body. I’m not huge, I know that – I remind myself most nights, staring into the full-length mirror in my room – but something about my swimming costume highlights every bump and bulge I spend so much energy trying to forget. It’s the fabric equivalent of those big, bright lights they use during police interrogations in the movies – white and stark and revealing – not to mention perfect for making me sweat.

“Okay, everyone in!” Miss Bell shouts. Her voice, tinny and shrill, echoes in the huge pool, making the tiny PE teacher seem even smaller. I close my eyes and step off the bumpy, slimy tile and into the water. For the smallest increment of time it’s like I’m hanging in nothing, suspended in the air against every known law of physics. It’s only a single moment though, and I hit the water, an unpleasant wave of shock rippling through my skin as my body tries to cope with the freezing cold.

I’m not the only one who disagrees with the temperature, and several girls shriek as they drop into the pool.

“Get doing lengths, then! Fastest way to get warm!” the teacher yells, drowned out by the splashing and screaming. Want a group of sixteen year old girls to behave like they’re six? Just add water, apparently.

Cold water is splashed on my face, and I blink rapidly. The pristine Mary Simons is looking at me, her hair slick and sexy even in the water.

“You heard her, Ab-ee-gail,” she sneers at me, elongating every syllable of my name, a distorted mockery of my own accent. “Maybe you can drop a few pounds? Wear a bikini to swim in like a grown up?”

She splashes off in a flash of perfectly bronzed skin and vivid red material, leaving a trail of lazily widening ripples in her wake. I struggle to think of a late comeback.

“Yeah well… Your face,” I mutter into the water.

“Come on Abby, quit daydreaming!” Miss Bell shouts at me, and I realise how insane I must look, wittering under my breath in the pool. I pull myself back against the smooth wall of the pool and take a deep breath, and push off, trying to be a graceful and natural as possible, and start to work towards the deep end in a half-hearted front crawl. I take deep gulps of air as I swim, watching the pale blue tiles on the floor getting darker and darker as the depth of the water builds underneath me. I’m forced to begrudgingly admit that Miss Bell is right – I can already feel the tension in my muscles easing off as they work, warming my limbs with each pull through the water.

“Still would rather be in Starbucks with a hot chocolate, but oh well,” I gasp inbetween strokes, my words blurry and bubbling.

I’m finally settling into the rhythm of the swim, my arms pumping smoothly, my focus on pulling me forward and I let my mind wander. A little too far, in fact, and I slam into the side of the pool painfully. I hear someone laughing – and the large, pulsating paranoia that lives in my brain whispers, telling me that they’re laughing at me and my clumsy stupid existence. I picture it as this big, fat grey slug that feeds off my self-esteem and turns all my happy memories into faded spedia home movies that blur and shimmer. I can’t stand it, the heat embarrassment warming me far more than the exercise did, and so I kick off the side again to escape their snide sniggering. This time, I put my arms out over my head, making an arrowhead with my hands that angles downwards and drives me underwater instead.

The world is abruptly cut off from my senses as I plunge deeper, the water filling in the space where laughter had been just a second ago. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to adjust to the stinging chemicals they pump into the pool, but all I can really see is a wall of blue and the occasional blurry leg in the distance. Being underwater is the only good thing about swimming, I think. Everything is so quiet and peaceful under the surface, and I can just about forget about everything. It’s like how I imagine being in space must feel – isolated, sure, but I’ve felt like that my whole life. I kick in unison, pretending I have a mermaid’s tail driving me along instead of my stupid, messy, pockmarked legs. It can’t last forever though, and I can feel my lungs burning for oxygen as I start to head towards the shrieking, headache-filled world above, as though someone is inflating two balloons in my ribcage. It’s odd, isn’t it – as my air is running out, how it feels as through my chest if filled to bursting?

I break the surface with an almighty gasp, blinking rapidly to clear any water from my eyes. I always like to see how far I’ve managed to get on one breath. One time I managed to get pretty much my own body length away from the side – although I thought my lungs were going to burst afterwards. As my vision clears, my heart stops beating, my blood freezing in my veins.

I’m no longer in Coalington High School’s swimming pool. The shining, brand new chrome and white tile is all gone. I can’t see anything but blue-black inky water for miles. Forever, it seems, from one horizon to horizon. Somehow I’m in the sea, only it doesn’t look like any sea I ever paddled in as a kid. It feels wrong on my skin, thicker and more cloying than proper water should feel. Panic swells in my like a wave, forcing my heart into my throat, until my breathing becomes more like hysterical coughing.

“Hello?!” I scream. The word drifts over the calm, placid sea like a gull, and sails away into the distance. There’s nothing except me and an endless expanse of ocean, black like crude oil. The panic is spreading to my fingers and toes now, making them tingle as adrenalin floods them, begging me to do something, anything, to ensure my survival.

Only there’s nothing I can do – not a damn thing. I can’t swim that far, and there’s nowhere to swim to anyway. I look down, and my stomach lurches. My pale legs are spinning in messy circles, keeping me afloat desperately, and below them is nothing. More nothing than stretches out towards the horizon – the nothing beneath me is just miles of black, getting darker as it goes down. I strain my eyes to see if there’s anything down there, but the idea of all that crushing nothingness makes my head spin. I start to whip myself around, looking frantically at the empty universe I’ve found myself in. The sky is slate grey. Not the kind that’s thick with clouds – but as though all the colour has been drained out of it. I notice suddenly that there’s no wind blowing on my face. My hair hangs in thick, wet ropes around me, but there’s no trace of even the slightest breeze kissing my skin. The air feels as though it’s been untouched for centuries, dry and brittle and smelling faintly musty and rotten. The smell of decay.

“This is impossible…” I whimper, “This is not not NOT happening…”

Something moves in the distance. My heart leaps, hammering into the prison of my ribcage at the thought of rescue, and I squint at the shape cresting the water. At first I think it’s a sail – the sail of some ship emerging from the dark, lightless deep. But then I realise it’s no sail – it’s a fin. A gigantic, pinkish white fin, cutting through the water like a hunting knife cutting through flesh and sinew. For the second time, my heart stops. A white shark peeks from the water, easily big enough that it couldn’t turn around in the school pool. Easily big enough to swallow me whole. I only see it for a fraction of second, but that’s enough time to sear that monster onto my bones until the day I die – which might well be today. Massive, cold black eyes sit on either side of its bullet-shaped head, complete dispassionate and unnervingly calculating. Its mouth is what truly horrifies me though. Instead of rows of jagged teeth, like the sharks I’ve seen on those David Attenbrough programmes, this impossible nightmare has a gaping maw filled to bursting with writhing black tentacles, each one flailing hungry and blind. I feel bile stinging the back of my throat as the creature plunged back beneath the calm, lilting waves, its sleek body so perfectly designed for the water that it barely made a ripple as it sank. It’s almost as if it’s just a figment of my imagination. Until the first coils of a tentacle pulls me under.

Water is filling my mouth, which was open in a silent scream. White bubbles froth around me, obscuring my vision, but somehow I can still sense the shark beneath me, a mix of raw animal power, and cold, otherworldly malice spreading around me like a plume of blood in the water. A sense of despair that wills my muscles to give up, that dulling my survival instincts to little more than a sputtering flame battling against a torrential downpour of utter hopelessness. A second tentacle wraps around my other leg, and the pain of the pressure they’re squeezing with sends black spots popping in and out of my vision. They’re going to tear me apart, and feed each dismembered body part into that hideous creature’s belly. I wonder if they’d noticed me missing from the pool yet. The pull on my legs becomes so strong that my arms stopped struggling without me telling them too. I’m distantly aware, even underwater, that I can hear the popping of my joints being displaced under their powerful grasp. The world starts to fade at the edges as the last of oxygen was used up, my brain becoming sluggish as the cells began to die.

Two hands grasp me under each armpit and hoisted me out of the water. The burning fluorescent lights bleach out all other details, but I feel a hard, bumpy surface underneath my back.

“She’s breathing!” a voice yells. Miss Bell. “Stand back, give her some space you lot! Jessie, got get a bloody lifeguard will you?”

I try to speak, but life is flowing back into my blood slowly, pulling an exhaustion along with it that was so deep that I feel like I could sleep for a decade or more. My eyes start to adjust to the light, and the vibrant colours of the world came back to me. I’m lying on the hard tile of the poolside, Miss Bell’s weather beaten face looking down at me with an odd mixture of concern and annoyance. The school pool seems too sharp and vivid, making my head pound like a drum in time with my frantic heartbeat – the only part of me that doesn’t feel bone-weary.

“What… happened?” I croak finally. My throat is sore and bruised. I don’t want to ask about the infinite void I’d found myself swimming in, nor the impossible shark the colour of old bones that had stalked me through it – they’d skip a trip to the nurse’s office and take me straight to a padded cell. But it had all felt so real.

“Not a clue,” the teacher huffs, “One minute you were swimming just fine, the next you vanished under the water. It was the strangest thing – If I didn’t know better, I’d think one of the other girls pulled you under as a joke. But when you didn’t come straight back up I started to worry. When Marcy said you were lying like a stone on the bottom of the pool, I knew something was wrong – so I went in after you.”

She puts the back of her hand on my forehead and frowns, “Well your temperature’s back up. When I pulled you up you were practically sub-zero, it was the strangest thing – your skin had gone all grey and weird, your eyes were all glassy and white. You gave me quite the shock!”

She gives a little uneasy chuckle, and I try a weak smile to show her I really am okay, but the muscles around my mouth just twitch and falter.

ADDENDUM No. 062


COALINGTON HIGH SCHOOL SWIMMING POOL COLLAPSES

Brand-New State of the Art School Aquatic Centre destroyed

The Government funded swimming pool at Coalington High School collapsed yesterday, shortly before the school was set to open, causing an estimated half a million pounds in damages. Police have said there was no obvious structural damage to the pool floor, but underneath the pool was home to a large number of unusual remains which appear to belong to some kind of humanoid creatures, but which officers have confirmed are not human remains. Detective Stains commented that the bones found were “More fish-like than human, but it’s too early to tell at this stage. Forensics teams are reconstructing as we speak.”

This comes just a week after the pool’s changing rooms were witness to the attack of P.E. Teacher Rebecca Bell, who was the victim of a frenzied attack by a Year 11 student wielding a concealed craft knife. Bell is currently recovering in Friarage General Hospital, and the student – who remains unnamed for legal reasons – has been taken into psychiatric care. It’s believed a severe case of hydrophobia, or fear of water, drove the girl to a psychotic break, although she had exhibited no such fear in the past.


Thanks for reading, if you did! Do hop over to Twitter and let me know what you thought.

Until next time…

D

Things Going Bump in the Night

So in the last week I’ve moved out on my own. Hurray! Super exciting! Having your own space really is shiny special. However, living alone also comes with its own special set of anxieties, especially for someone with a runaway imagination like me. When I was a kid, every creaking floorboard was a vengeful spirit and every half opened wardrobe a gateway for alien abduction… And that’s never really left me. In the middle of the night, things seem more plausible than they do as a rational grown-up in broad daylight. Magic flows in the dark, and shadows hide horrors. So this is something I cooked up staring at my new kitchen window at two in the morning the other night. Because that’s how I process things – I write about them.


Two thirty three.

Amy stared at the angry green light of her alarm clock as she slowly came to the weary realisation that she wasn’t getting back to sleep. With a sigh, she sat up in bed, pushing her covers aside and surveyed the vague dark shapes that littered her bedroom. She still hadn’t really bothered unpacking, so her whole apartment was a warren of different sized cardboard boxes with her whole life rammed into them. It looked as jumbled and chaotic as it felt.

Three nights in her new flat and all three so far she’d woken up at two am sharp. Stretching out her aching arms, Amy hopped out of bed and pulled her dressing gown around her. She still hadn’t worked out how to put the heating on. The layout of the flat was still unfamiliar to her, but she decided to navigate in the dark anyway to try and force her brain into mapping it out, stalking out into the short hallway. Her familiar furniture loomed strange and threatening in the shadows, reminding her just how much her life had been warped and distorted by the last few weeks. Jason had completely ruined everything he’d come into contact with during the five years she’d put up with his crap for. When she’d finally walked in on him in bed with another woman, her world had shattered into fragments, each one a jagged, harsh truth she’d never wanted to face. She wasn’t sure if she could piece that old life back together any more. Although, if she was honest with herself, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. A brand new one seemed much more refreshing, away from the taste of betrayal, salty and bitter. Away from the crying for hours at a time, until knives of pain needled relentlessly into her skull.

The silence that hung from the walls was deeper and more oppressive than the shadows could be. University had been loud, vibrant and exciting, living with six other girls in a cramped terraced house. Even when the arguments with Jason both drove them into sullen silences, there was still the sense of presence that hung in the air that the flat completely lacked. Amy stood for a few moments, soaking in the sense of unease that had accompanied her last three sleepless nights.

‘You’re a grown woman, for God’s sake’ she whispered. It felt like a transgression, like swearing in church or breaking a mirror. Shivering, she realised that the feeling that was churning in her stomach wasn’t an unease from feeling alone at all. It felt like being watched. She tried to quash the feeling by chastising herself harshly, deliberately breaking the hallowed silence of the night.

‘Amy,’ she hissed, ‘stop letting your imagination play tricks on you. It is all. In. Your. Head.’

Her bare feet slapped softly against the cheap laminate floor as she padded quietly along the hall. Even though she was pretty sure no-one could hear her unless she screamed her lungs raw, she was still paranoid about annoying her new neighbours, and all her day to day movements had been measured and dainty since she moved in. Not that it would last for long – she was definitely the clumsiest person she knew, and sooner or later she’d shatter something in the middle of the night and her neighbours would detest her forever. Maybe. Her mouth felt clammy and tasted sour, the memory of sleep gummed up in the corners, begging for the water to return it to normal. Stumbling, her body still unsure of its surroundings, she squeezed herself into the cramped kitchen. It was one of the few rooms that had been fully unpacked, which her dad would’ve no doubt used as an opportunity to make fun of her weight, just like he always had when she was a teenager. She felt a dull ache in her stomach. She hadn’t spoken to either of her parents since she was sixteen – seven years ago now. In the stillness of sleepless nights, she let her memories bubble to the surface from time to time, and let the arguments and violence echo around her. It reminded her of how far she’d come. Not even Jason could take that from her. A single plain white plate and polka-dot mug sat by the sink, sparkling in the moon, a show of perfectly normal, bland everyday existence. Grabbing a clean glass from the cupboard, Amy let the cold tap run gently, making a tinny rattle of water on metal as it fell into the sink as it cooled, and stared out of the window as she filled her drink. Outside, the world was still and waiting, bathed in a blend of inky deep shadows and harsh orange light that flickered like an angry buzz, desperate to chase the shadows away. Over the top of it all, the pale glow of the moonlight held court, adding its own hue to the frozen, empty stage of the night. She was nestled in a horseshoe shape of identical apartments, pushing in from either side and looming from above, and beyond those was the uniform row of uncaring terraced houses, each an uninspiring grey that was designed, Amy believed, to sap the creativity and aspiration out of the people who lived there. By day, kids kicked balls against them and hurled insults at passing strangers like hyenas defending their territory. She always felt her heart hammer in her chest as she approached them, wondering frantically why they never seemed to be at school. But now everything was still, and staring idly out into the world she tried so hard to shut out, was when she saw the thing.

Amy wasn’t sure how she’d even missed it in the first place. It was a hunched, humanoid looking shape, shimmering a dull grey that perhaps she’d mistaken for the contours on a bin bag, highlighted by the chaos of light and shadow. Now she’d properly noticed it, though, it was obviously not a trick of shadow and sleep deprived eyes, it was definitely something that hadn’t been there when she got home from work, squatting in the centre of the car park all pointed limbs and statuesque stillness. It was as still as the brickwork that surrounded it, but something about the way it held itself emanated otherness. The water topped the rim of the glass, pouring over Amy’s hand and jolting her with an unexpected cold stab. She twitched only slightly, but it was enough for her to loose her grip on the wet glass, which fell with an almighty clatter into the metal kitchen sink. It didn’t break, but the sound reverberated through the perfect stillness like a gunshot in a movie.

Outside, a ripple of angry twitches ran across the creature’s back, and inside Amy was paralysed with fear. It seemed like all the air had been sucked out of the room, the silence becoming a vacuum as deep as the void of space. The creature outside began, with a slow deliberateness, to stretch itself to its full height. Amy watched, her heart tight and painful in her chest, as long arms and legs unfolded, impossibly lithe and thin. She almost thought they must be too weak to support any weight at all, but something about them looked hard and strong – and dangerous. As it unfolded, it became more and more horrifying, standing easily two feet higher that the blue transit van that sat in the car park. Its back was still turned to her, but everything about it screamed danger and Amy could feel a silent scream croaking and dying in her throat. Finally fully unfurled so alien and abhorrent into the everyday normality of the car park, the thing stood still again, like the music had cut out in a game of musical statues. Except the muscles under the pale grey skin twitched away, making the creature seem like it was crackled with electricity. The skin, taught and stretched, reminded Amy of the marble statues from Ancient Greece that she’d seen during a school trip to the British Museum years before. She remembered finding the statue’s featureless staring eyes deeply unsettling, and the memory definitely wasn’t helping make the thing outside her window any less terrifying.

Finally, a whimper escaped her mouth. It seemed like such a small thing that fluttered out into the air panicked and fragile that she was hardly sure if it had happened at all. There was no way the creature outside could’ve heard such a soft noise, she told herself frantically. She was wrong. The monstrous entity cocked its smooth, featureless head as if honing in on the sound Amy had made with ears that simply didn’t exist. In the place a human being would have ears was nothing – simply more uniform marble like skin which glistened as though wet in the various half lights that lit the square. In an uncharacteristic shift in speed, it spun ethereally and effortlessly to face her and finally Amy came face to face with the horror that stood separated from her by a flimsy two sheets of glass. Funny, double glazing had seemed so secure when she moved in. Peering in at her was two rows of six uncaring, dispassionate eyes, each a horrifying black so intense and so deep it made her chest ache. She had no way of knowing where their gaze was trained, but something about the way it had frozen screamed that it was fixated utterly on her. In the middle of the parallel lines of eyes was a large, sharply hooked beak which was the same uniform whitish grey as the rest of the monstrosity’s naked, featureless form.

Amy screamed then, any idea of causing upset in her neighbours utterly fractured. Outside the thing opened its beak, revealing concentric circles of hundreds of tiny viciously sharp looking teeth, and let out a scream in return. The sound was piercing, worse than a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards. It was the sound, she thought, of hopelessness, and it felt as though her skull buzzed and flexed as the pitch reached crescendo, her vision blurring with it. Around the square, no lights came on. She was utterly alone in the universe.

Falling backwards, the spell of abject terror that had held her so fixed broken, Amy fled the kitchen, turning on each and every light she could find as she tripped and tumbled around her littered possessions, none of which anything that she could use to fight a lithe, loathsome horror that stood twice her height. As she flailed blindly in boxes for something useful, one of the long wicked butcher’s knives perhaps, there was a pounding knock at her front door that echoed in harmony with the hammering of her adrenaline soaked heart. She stopped moving, as if the disturbance of the air her arms made could be picked up on the other side of the door. More knocks made the little chain that kept it secure rattle as if it was made from paper. Then everything fell quiet, the pressure of uncertainty building in the hallway like the heat of a roaring fire. After a few seconds of the air building to an almost unbearable level of threatening possibility, a voice drifted through the cracks around the wood. Her stomach lurched as impossibly familiar patterns of speech crept their way like seeking tendrils into her ears.

“Aaaaaaaaamyyyyyyyyyyy…” rasped Jason’s voice through the door, taunting. It couldn’t possibly be him, she knew. He had no idea where she even lived now, and he definitely didn’t care about catching up with her either. She knew in her bones that the voice was that of the creature that stalked her.

“Amy babe,” the voice crooned to her, a sound so familiar that her body responded to it in a variety of involuntary ways, “I’ve been missing you… I need you to let me in sweetie…”

Her voice shook, “You’re not him… He’s not here. I don’t need him any more.”

“Of course it’s me,” he laughed, “who else would it be? Come on Aims, you’re being fucking mental as per usual.”

“What are you..?” she quivered, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“Amy… Aaaaaaaammmmyyyy…” It was mocking her, using Jason’s voice to confuse her. She had to fight it. Jason wasn’t anything she wanted. She couldn’t open the door to him.

“I don’t need you any more. There’s nothing here for you!” She tried to keep the shake from her voice. Tried to will an ounce of confidence to fight the thing that tried to twist her thoughts.

“Then why was he the very first thing I plucked from your mind?” the Jason voice teased from behind the door. “I don’t just sound like him you know. I can look like him too. I can be the perfect him that you always hoped he would grow into. No more skinny whores or careless drunken fists…”

Amy thought she was going to be sick as memories of black eyes and split lips swam back up into her mind’s eye. “He never meant to… It was an accident.”

The thing on the other side cackled with a laugh that wasn’t quite Jason. It shimmered with a high pitched otherness that spoke of endless horrors.

“Let me in, Amy. I can be everything you ever needed from him…” it purred.

“I don’t want anything from you.”

The voice shifted then, growing deeper, developing a broader accent that Jason’s crisp educated drawl.

“Amy, you ungrateful little bitch, let me in right this second or I swear you’ll regret it” the voice of her father echoed through the years back to her, unseen but malevolent as it had always been.

Amy’s head swam, over a decade of guilt and fear coming surging back along her veins, old terror mixing and congealing with new to create a fizzy mix of blind panic pulsing through her.

“You’re not him you can’t be him he doesn’t know” she babbled.

“Time for pissing around’s done now,” his deep voice was quiet but as always every word was impossible to miss. Her ears still made sure they heard everything to avoid the consequences that came from poor obedience. “Let me in and we’ll forget all about it. You need looking after Amy, look at you. You’re a disgrace, young girl like you living on your own. It’s not proper.”

“I don’t need you. I DON’T NEED YOU EVER AGAIN” Amy shrieked, her voice cracking as she allowed an entire life of hatred fill it and force her words forward with the anger of bullets. Years of being told by her father, by Jason, by so many people how to be a quiet woman who does what she’s told. It all bubbled to the surface as the heat the memories made her blood boil. Charging down the hallway, her fear now evaporated into incandescent bitter rage, as her father’s voice called “You’ll always need me. A little girl always needs her daddy!”

She placed her hand on the chain that locked the world out and separated her new sanctuary from the aggression and judgement of society. Her blind rage was building to eruption, until a sudden voice cried out in her head. Amy looked at her hand, ready to fling the door open so that she could drive the full force of her fury into her father’s chest. Only it wasn’t her father outside, egging her on. She was being manipulated by an unknowable monster whose desires she couldn’t possibly begin to fathom. She allowed the white hot fire drain slowly from her body, feeling her heart still racing as the aggression soured.

“I will not let you in…” she whispered into the wood.

Outside, a shriek of frustration cut so sharply and keenly through the night that it felt as though the very universe would be torn asunder.


 

The end! Feedback is always appreciated.

Thanks for reading. If you did, I mean.

D