The Bitter Watches of the Night

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

Photograph by   Benjamin Blättler

Photograph by Benjamin Blättler

Winner of the 2018 Forge & Flint Halloween Competition

A dark grey 2007 Volkswagen Beetle sped down an equally dark grey road, haphazardly skidding from one side of the wet asphalt to the next. Harsh rain crashed against the windshield and the dull headlights did little to illuminate the path ahead.

The driver, despite what you may assume, wasn't drunk. One could even argue Miss Annabel Harper was far too sober. Inside the miniature vehicle, she screamed as loud as she could, clenching her jaw and howling through gritted teeth, and doing nothing to stop the endless cascade of tears coursing down her reddened face.

The road in front had become a blur. The little white lines designed to keep her straight were now nothing more than a smudge in her vision of which she would occasionally catch glimpses of between her agonised cries.

Life is a hard, unforgiving nightmare of broken dreams and failed searches of happiness, Annabel believed. Maybe more so than others. That isn't to say her life was particularly “bad” by any means, and as people loved to point out: others had it worse. She was an adult. In charge of her own life choices, and free to envision it as she saw fit. However, perhaps this was the problem.

The monotony of everyday life and constant struggle to achieve even the simplest of tasks ensured she could never see the world as anything but unforgiving. A fear inside her urged her to run when there was no danger, told her she was disgusting when she wasn't, and convinced her she was worthless when nothing could be further from the truth. All this culminated in a hatred for herself that was so deep it almost seemed like there had never been a time before it.

She described that fear and self-loathing as a demon. Something that haunted her insides, changed who she was, and moulded existence into a bleak pool of poison and despair.

Sometimes the demon would leave her alone, and for the briefest of moments she would be faintly content. But it always returned. And it always made sure to punish her for her indiscretion.

Today the demon had her. Choking out her waning will. The slightest mistake was all it took to cause the demon to surface, and all that fear, hatred, sadness, and anger to smoulder through her skin.

She gripped the steering wheel tightly. Rain continued to fall, and mixed with the dirt and muck on the edges of the road.

She slammed her foot on the breaks and cried helplessly into the night. Her jaw ached to be unclenched and her chest heaved painfully with every shortened breath.

'WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS?' she shrieked. The noise reverberated through the small car like a stereo at its highest volume. But with the anguish inside her head, she heard almost nothing, and the scream may as well have been a thought.

She would have been embarrassed by any passers-by, but the road was empty. Who knew where she had ended up? She guessed her subconscious just wanted to be alone. 

No matter how hard she yelled, how foully she cursed, or how many tears she shed, the pain inside her mind remained. Desperately, she flung off her seatbelt and pulled open the glove compartment with numb fingers. A bunch of random items sat inside: a few papers, an empty water bottle, and one small pencil case. She snatched the case, unzipped it, and removed a small Stanley knife used for unpacking boxes.

Without a moments delay or second thought, she sprung out the blade, then slowly and precisely brought it across her wrist. Blood, as crimson as could be and glistening under the overhead light, seeped out of the cut, dripped down the side of her arm until finally falling passively onto her white skirt with a faint thump.     

She felt no pain. But relief washed over her. So she did it again, this time now feeling the slight sting of the blade as it calmly pierced through her pale skin. She let the knife fall to her feet, and rested her head back. Finally, she could think again. Tears still ran down her hot cheeks and joined the blood in her lap. She felt stupid and ashamed, but at least now her body could relax and the tension was released.

The rain had stopped. She hadn't realised. Her watch read 12:18, but it felt much later. After all, it was only half an hour ago that she had made a mistake at work, triggering this whole mess. Thinking back on that made her anxious again, so she tried desperately to focus on anything else.

The sky outside was dark. The tall forests that lined either side of the road looked dense and ominous under the sparse street lamps. Her eyes closed and a deep breath filled her lungs.

She listened to the wind push against her car.

The slight trickle of rain hitting the bonnet.

The passenger's door creaking quietly open.

Her eyes shot open, but a hand gripped her throat tightly before she could turn her head to see what was happening.

A foul stench emitted from the seat beside her, and a door slammed close. The clammy fingertips around her neck were sticky and reeked of sweat. She tried to squeak out a cry for help, but nothing came out.

A black, uneven shape appeared in her peripheral vision. It moved slowly closer. The smell became stronger, and infinitely more unbearable. She identified it as a combination of vomit, sweat, metal, and dirt. The thing that it belonged to inched closer, letting out a splintering moan. When Annabel saw what was in front of her, she shrieked.

An ashy monster glared at her with eyes covered in a milky film. It smiled, and as It did, vomit spewed from It's mouth like a pierced water balloon. It's eyes bled as they rolled back, and a new set of bloodshot pupils replaced them. The vomit turned into blood, then blood mixed with bile and painted Annabel's leather seats a shade of reddish-brown that will forever be burnt into her

The stench, texture, and horrifyingly, taste, caused her to dry heave, then painfully spit out a few mouthfuls of repulsed vomit from her clenched throat. She tried to kick The Monster, reach the door handle, or squirm free, but all seemed hopeless. Instead, The Monster shook her violently, breaking the back of the seat and forcing them both to collapse into the back of the car. The Monster was now on top of her, oozing its vile fluids all over her chest and stomach. It sneered, and a group of black tendrils shot out from Its shoulders, wrapping around her arms.

'WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU?' Annabel managed to choke out.

The Monster's smile faltered. It straightened It's back before proceeding to strangle her harder. She cried out, and in response It bit down on the side of her neck with It's grotesquely jagged teeth. Blood jetted out, spraying in every direction, and had the effect of a bullet piercing a lake. The thick, sticky, acidic liquid from The Monster's mouth stung her exposed tendons which provoked a sickening screech that no amount of strangulation could suppress.

She assumed she would pass out.

Pathetically, she tried to push the creature off of her, but even the slightest movement sent a searing pain jolting through her body. She feared the worst.

Suddenly The Monster released It's grip around her throat, and a flood of oxygen filled her lungs. She peered through her heavy eyelids, and dizzily stared up at the thing above her. It's body was covered in tiny spikes like a cactus, and It's limbs seemed to be spliced together like a bad toy made by glueing parts of other bad toys together.

It leered at Annabel, gargling as It did through vomit still clinging to It's mouth and nostrils.

She knew this was the moment she would die.

All her life had let to this moment, it would seem. Countless years spent in anguish over her pitiable existence. Wishing away her emotions, and begging all the gods she didn't believe in to just stop the torment inside her skull. Living with a myriad of problems, fears, torments and traumas, and this is what it all culminated to?

Fitting, she thought.

But no.

She had braved each day with a fake smile no matter how exhausting, worried no one with her problems, but helped others with their own, stepped outside when all she wanted was to fade away, and got out of bed when life seemed meaningless and dark. She was constantly on the cusp of insanity, but pushed through it all the same. And no ugly-ass, piece of shit, Cthulhu wannabe could torture her as much as she tortured herself on a daily basis.

She lifted her arm, ignored the pain, pushed herself up, and head-butted The Creature as hard as she could.

The force was laughable. But the surprise alone was enough to stagger the thing, so Annabel seized this golden opportunity to reach down and desperately search the floor for he hilt of the Stanley knife she had discarded what seemed like decades ago.

The tiny spikes of The Creature's chest grazed against her cheeks, but she didn't falter. However, the thing quickly gained back Its composure and shoved her back into the dirty seat. It growled, and blood oozed from Its eyes, out of what Annabel assumed was anger.

She steadied herself on the seat.

The Monster raised Its fingers and snarled as thick claws plunged out of the cuticles.

She breathed faster.

Just as It went to slice her open, she swung forward the open Stanley knife, crying at the pain streaming through her body, and slit open the thick, vain-ridden neck of The Creature.

Black goo spurted forth, and a look best compared to shock ran across Its face.

Annabel pushed open the car door, and kicked Its prickly chest, flinging Its shoulders into the steering wheel, causing the horn to bleep loudly into the empty night. Quickly, she sat up and shoved The Monster onto the dirty, wet asphalt, slamming the door behind her. The keys were already in the ignition and the car roared to life. She could have driven away right then and there.

But something stopped her.

She gazed over at The Monster kneeling on the ground like a samurai with blood still pouring from Its neck. It slowly looked up at her, opening It's mouth as if to speak. She didn't know what possessed her, but she felt compelled to wind down the window, and hear what It had to say.

'You know you will never escape,' It rasped.

Annabel froze. She closed her eyes, breathed, then smiled before facing The Creature again. 'Oh yeah?' she said, 'watch me, Fuckhole,' and then sped off into the night, leaving The Monster to Its death, and crying silently to herself with a tired smile.

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