(This was my attempt, sometime last year, to write what I called ‘a narratological horror story’. The Bitter King was written with a similar thought process – the concept that narrative and narrative devices can be where true horror lie, not necessarily within plot.
The Bitter King, I feel, works better as an examination of our culture of celebrity worship, but Proof of Existence, my first attempt, is much closer to what I was attempting to achieve and is, if not actively horrific, then certainly unnerving.)
Ashley Holmes was a good kid. At least, she thought so. She brushed her teeth, kept her hair neat, and won all of her soccer games (well, almost all – but she was damn near certain that bitch from the other school had fouled her when the ref wasn’t looking, and sprained her ankle for three months). So what, Ashley’s grades weren’t always up to scratch, and she had a bad habit of handing in assignments late (“Or not at all,” her mother would scathingly comment) – Ashley didn’t need any of that stuff! Ashley was going to be a world famous soccer player!
You know, just as soon as she got older, and stuff.
She was walking home from school. The leaves were already beginning to turn, and summer’s warmth was starting to give way to autumn chill. As the tallest girl in her class, Ashley had been picked to go into basketball, but soccer was her love, and she was even now kicking a soccer ball ahead of her, bouncing it on her knee, her head, her feet, weaving in and out of cars, ignoring the curses of the drivers, when fate or, rather, the laws of physics, intervened..
“Whoops!” said Ashley, and got to feel her stomach drop to her feet as the ball soared through the air, over and over…
The instant she heard the window smash, Ashley was running like a hare down the nearest street, then turning left, then right, then left again, positive that police, or angry neighbours, or somebody was going to follow her. She was paying little to no attention to direction: just running, as far and as fast as she could.
When she stopped to catch her breath, she took in the scenery and froze.
Not only had she managed to circle three blocks and come back to the main road, but she had managed to wind up directly in front of the last street she ever wanted to walk down: Ariel Bend.
Ever since she was a little girl, the yew-lined road gave her nightmares, and she couldn’t say why. A dark, eerie feeling – her English teacher might have called it ‘foreboding’, but Ashley settled with ‘the creeps’.
The nightmares had haunted her ever since she was small, and weren’t even that scary. She just walked faceless pavements, the yew trees scowling at her from their barks, until she woke screaming.
Yet Ariel Bend’s pavements were like every other pavement: speckled with chewing gum and dog mess. The lawns of the houses ranged from well-kempt to messy, the houses from fancy to falling apart. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Ashley desperately did not want to go down Ariel Bend.
“That’s the one!” she heard from somewhere behind her, and without consulting her brain, her feet ran down the road.
Hoping, praying that somewhere there would be a turn off, Ashley ran until her lungs gave out and she thought she might throw up half of her intestines. She just gave up, resting her hands on her knees and gasping for breath, a stitch screaming in her side.
And then Ashley heard it.
Some monstrous, great thing was breathing in…and out…
Ashley started to shiver as she walked, her steps as leaden as a tombstone.
It was then she realized that for all the chewing gum and dog messes she saw, for all the variation in lawns and houses, for all the empty and full mailboxes, for all that it was five o clock on a Thursday evening, not a single house showed any sign of human existence.
There were no lights on. There were no cars parked. No bicycles. No dogs. No humans at the window.
Ashley started to panic.
And then she saw where the breathing was coming from.
It was an old, old house. The balcony on the top story was held up by two pillars, the carvings in them as worn as if they had been carved at the beginning of time itself. The windows were stained glass, the roof tile, the walls brick, something that was rare to see in the town Ashley lived in, where most houses were either wood or drywall.
And it was breathing.
At first, she sought to dispel the illusion, but as she approached, she realized that, with each inhalation, the house expanded slightly, and with each exhalation, the house contracted, as if it were the lungs of some mighty beast.
The door swung open.
And a new sound swallowed her.
The foyer was covered in cobwebs, the tiles inch-deep in dust, everything grey and unloved, but this went unnoticed, because all she could hear was the deep, unrelenting lub-DUB…lub-DUB…that echoed throughout the room, as if she had clapped her hands over her ears and was hearing her own pulse resounding into her, except resounding back twice as loud, twice as penetrating.
She knew she should have left. Should have gone home, apologized to her parents for keeping them waiting so long.
But she couldn’t.
The sound was as hypnotic as it was penetrant, and her feet carried her deeper in, into a carpeted room, where the carpet let out little puffs of dust with each step.
Strangely, there were no photos, no furniture, nothing to indicate that anyone had ever lived here. The walls showed no signs of hangings, or of frames, as if the house had been built and then left to the ravishes of time. And still, the ever present pulsing got louder.
Another new sound entered. A creaking.
There was a door beside her, and it creaked open and shut in time with the pounding. There was something absurd, almost obscene about the door and it’s creaking, as if it were an art piece made to resemble a piece of human genitalia, or a drawing of a face just slightly off, lingering forever in the uncanny valley, lurking behind your eyelids. Her mouth went dry at the sight of it; all she wanted was to look away, and yet she could not. Could not close her eyes, could not cover them; her hands and eyelids seem to lack opacity, for as much as she shut and covered her eyes, the obscene doorway remained in her sight.
And the little voice whispered to her, close it.
She then did something that she knew she would never be able to explain. After all, it would be so easy to shut the door permanently closed and leave, wouldn’t it?
Instead, she opened the door, ran through and shut it behind her.
Here the noise was everywhere. It screamed through the air, it thrummed in her heart, it brought her nearly to tears.
And in the middle of the room was…
…and it blazed so very, very beautifully…
Everything in this room was so right. So precious. So beautiful. How could she leave? How could she want to leave?
Smiling dizzily, she stretched her hands out to the blazing hearthfire, and let the house engulf her.
After the dogs located the remains of Ashley Holmes’ right toe in 7 Ariel Bend, a common target for squatters, the parents demanded we search the building. This was a problem, as the building is not structurally sound (both structural supports are collapsed; roof is caving in; evidence of a fire), nor particularly safe. We investigated as best we could, but found no evidence of the existence of Ashley Holmes.
END CASE FI