I saw him again. Last night. Not in my dreams now, but real. He stands in the courtyard between my block of flats and the next. He stands still, arms limp at his sides, head upturned towards my window and his face as white and round as the moon. I see him, then the next minute he’s gone.
And every time I see him it’s the same, a strange smell, that cold smell. Like moss, like the grave yard, it makes me feel cold, like a damp wind on bare skin, old like the smell that comes up from the cellar, a lonely place. But worst of all, that smell’s now inside the flat. I smell it in the kitchen, I hear him, his feet on the bottom stair. I know that creek, I wouldn’t hear it if someone’s foot wasn’t placed there.
He’s getting closer, he’s coming here. He’s coming for me. Now he’s inside the house.
Dad said it was rubbish. He doesn’t remember me asking him though. Drunk and cheerful, he couldn’t focus on the screen when I showed him the video on Youtube. He laughed too, they say that’s the worst thing you can do, that if you laugh it makes it worse, it brings him quicker, faster.
It was Liv who told me about the clip. She put a link on facebook and asked me if I’d seen it.
‘Why would I want to watch that?’ I said. It was as we were walking to school. It was autumn, leaves heaped against the old stone wall on Richmond Road, puddles in the road, brown leaves turned to mush., cars coughing smoke, belching fumes into the misty wet air.
‘It’s just for fun. I’ve seen it. Nothing’s happened.’
I shouldn’t have believed her. I should have known she was lying.
‘It’s just some creepy weird clip someone’s put up there, something about a man and he’s in the woods and he’s looking over his shoulder at you.’
I shouldn’t have listened.
‘They say if you watch to the end then he comes looking to you.’
I laughed at that, more a snort, a scoff, a bit of spit came from my mouth like splutter from a car exhaust.
‘No, it’s true. It’s fucking crazy. Watch it. I’ll put it on Facebook tonight.’
And I did watch it. I watched it all the way through. Some stupid home-made video. ‘It’s like Slenderman.’ I messaged Liv. The same misty wood. The same creepiness.
‘No, it’s not slenderman.’ She messaged back.
‘I know, I said it’s LIKE Slenderman.’
‘Have you watched it?’
I did what she wanted, I watched it through. I watched the man as he walked across a field with the camera following him. Whoever held the camera follows him and into the woods. He looks across his shoulder as he walks, looks right at you. It’s not scary, it pointless. It’s a little boring, but the wood is dark, even though it must be shot in the daytime, and it’s misty and the trees are bare and the man is carrying a spade and he’s fat and he’s old, although not as old as Granddad. He has no hair, just thin strands across his bald white head and the look on his face, it’s like pain, like he’s about to cry and it ends before anything happens.
‘It just stops.’ I messaged Liv.
‘Did you watch it?’
‘Nothing happens, he just goes into the woods and then it just stops. Why did you tell me to watch that? Nothing happened, he just keeps looking at the camera. Why did you want me to watch it?’
She didn’t answer my question.
But that night I dreamed about it. I dreamt I was following the man into the woods, cold and grey and winter-bleak. My dream was just like the video, dull at first, just strange. It didn’t feel right, like a thought that comes to you unexpectedly, like a snippet of conversation overheard on the bus that’s out of place and out of context and, just, sort of, random.
At least it was random. Now I dream that dream every night and every night he gets further, and I’ve started looking over my shoulder too, in the dream, and now when I dream I can’t see the edge of the forest, I’m so far in, and it’s so dark I Can barely see.
Liv told me the next day in school that she hadn’t watched it.
‘What, why not?’
‘I never said I had.’
She said she was too scared, she turned it off after a second. I wasn’t mad at her, but that’s when I started to get a little scared. So then when I got home I showed it to Dad and he laughed.
He would have laughed at anything. He’s been drinking all afternoon.
That was weeks ago. That was autumn and now it’s winter. The trees are bare and the puddles frozen on the path that leads from my flat to the main road. In the mornings it’s still dark and the sun doesn’t rise until after registration. Sometimes it doesn’t rise at all. It’s dark all day and out on the street people are just dark shapes moving through the mist.
Mum’s working harder. She says we need the money for Christmas, but it means she’s never at home and I’m on my own.
But not really.
Last night I heard him on the stairs.
His feet crunch on the gravel beneath my window. I think he wants me to now he’s there. He slams the gate that opens onto the bins. He makes dogs bark. He wants me to hear and when I look outside, too scared to look for more than a second, he’s there, but then he’s gone.
‘Alice, please.’ Mum got angry when I told her. ‘There was nothing there.’
She’s tired all the time. She says that I should stay with Dad, but ‘I can’t get him on the phone. ‘Has he texted you?’
I shake my head. I can’t find Dad. He’s never at home, he doesn’t answer his phone. But then, I can’t help thinking the worst, he did laugh when he saw the video.
I told Liv to watch it too. ‘This is your fault.’ I shouted at her. It was in a Science lesson and I got sent out. I threw my book on the floor. But she’s more scared than I am, which makes no sense. Why should she be scared?
‘Just watch it too. It’s the least you can do!’ but she doesn’t answer her phone to me now, she’s un-friended me on Facebook. Everyone at school thinks I’m dying, or that I’ll disappear soon.
‘It happens in Winter.’ They say, passing comments from kids in school, comments in the canteen queue, walking between lessons.
‘He’ll come for you.’
‘Have you seen him yet?’
‘If you watch the video, he comes for you and he takes you to the woods. He tortures you.’
Last night I saw his finger prints on the railing that runs along the stairs. His hand print on the banister. His hands are bigger than mine, bigger than Dad’s, wide and blunt like he works on a farm, which is what someone said he does.
‘Adam Monk said he makes you dig a grave. That’s why he has a spade in his hand. That’s why he takes you into the woods.’ Liv said. Adam Monk had watched the video too and now he’s gone, no one knows where he is.
When I asked in the office they wouldn’t tell me.
‘You’d say though if he was dead, wouldn’t you? You’d tell me if Adam Monk got killed? If he disappeared? You would, wouldn’t you?’
They sent me home for saying that, said I should calm down, sat me down and gave me tea and called Mum and looked at me with concerned faces and said things like, ‘It’ll be alright.’, ‘You’ll be alright.’, ‘Get some rest.’
I don’t know what to do. It’s winter. I heard him on the stairs and I’m so scared and I started watching it again. Mum’s got my laptop now, she keeps it at work and she’s said she’ll take my phone and she’s unplugged the wi-fi box and hidden it. I can’t find it. She started crying when she caught me looking for it.
‘Alice, what did I do wrong?’ she bawled, ‘What’s wrong with you?’
But secretly I’m glad. I’m glad I can’t watch it. I don’t want to. When I started watching it again it was different. When I watched it again the man wasn’t worried, not like the first time, when his eyes, so wide they were like a little child’s eyes, they were like the kid next door who walks his rabbit on the stairs, feeds grass to it in the courtyard, his white pink-eyed rabbit. When I watched it again the man’s eyes had become narrow, evil like his smile, and his walk confident and faster.
And I think I even saw him laugh.
And last night I heard him on the stairs.
And now it’s the night and I won’t sleep. I’ll not dream. I’m looking through the window and he’s not there. But he was there, just now and now I can hear him on the stairs.
Not just the bottom stair. And I look at my door handle and I see it turn.
Which is why he’s not there.