Screams In The Dark
by Jason Ryan Qualls
(Elkhart, Indiana, USA)
She was my best friend. But I try to never think about her. It's only on certain nights, when I'm all alone in my room, that I remember...
It was last year when my best friend asked me to stay at her house overnight. She lived in a big, gloomy house set way back in the woods far from the road. And she didn't want to be alone there at night. Her parents had gone out that evening and wouldn't be back until the next afternoon. My friend said we could have a really good time without her parents around. So I decided to stay the night.
We watched TV and ate popcorn in the living room until late at night. When all of a sudden the power went out. We were in total darkness and got scared. We hadn't noticed it before, but now the downstairs seemed too big, and almost sinister looking. They could only find one single candle in which to light their way to bed. They started to go upstairs. Then all of a sudden, they both ran up the steps to my friend's room as if something was coming up from behind us. After they closed the door, they laughed at themselves.
The two girls were not dismayed. Especially my friend, who was more venturesome. They lay chatting for a time in the candle's feeble light. When suddenly, they thought they heard a sound from somewhere below. It sounded like somebody sharpening a knife against stone. Then they heard another sound. A sound as of someone moving about the house. We both stopped talking and stared at each other, feeling really scared inside. For a while there was only silence in the room. I was frightened. But my friend started to laugh.
She said she had heard a sound like that in her house before. She said it was probably the shutters or something. That made me feel better and we started to talk again. Then we heard it again! SCRRITCH. SCRRITCH. The sound made my head hurt as if somebody's fingernails were scratching on a chalkboard. But this sound was much worse. It shrieked up from the dark, lonely rooms below us. SCRRITCH.
My friend got a horrible look in her eyes, as though something horrible had come into her head. My friend said that she was going down to investigate. I tried to persuade her. But before I could catch her, she took the candle and departed out of the room, slamming the door shut. Ignoring my pleas not to go downstairs. Leaving me alone in absolute darkness.
I heard her footsteps as she ran down the first flight of stairs, and then stop. I sat in the dark, sick with fright. I called out my friend's name but my voice was greeted by only cold silence. I didn't want to stay in the dark room alone, but even more I didn't want to go out into that other more forbidding darkness. SCRRAITCH. I heard it again, that disgusting sound. Then I heard my friend's footsteps.
Moving down the next and final flight of stairs. She went more slowly, as if she really didn't want to. I heard her reach the bottom. I waited in the room, wondering what my friend was doing. I told myself she must be all right. You see, the noise had stopped right after I heard her reach the bottom of the stairs. It didn't come after that anymore. My friend probably had just fixed the shutter, or whatever was making that horrible screeching noise. Maybe she had known for sure about that all the time. She had just acted strangely to scare me. Maybe she was sitting on the steps now, laughing at me. I thought about going down myself, but a feeling of fear swept over me that held me back like a hand against my throat. I decided I would wait where I was for my friend to return. I would wait here until her parent's returned, if necessary. Nothing could make me leave my secure darkness for that darker unknown outside the room.
Time passed as I fearfully awaited my friends' return. My ears strained for any sound and my nerves tingled at imagined shadows. Presently after a long silence I heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. A slow, shuffling noise on the bottom step. Was it my friend? It had to be. Yet the footsteps seemed too heavy, too deliberate. My heart began to pound and for a moment I lost control of my mind. It flew to the most horrible corners of my imagination and I shivered with terror.
I decided if it was my friend I would get her back, for playing this awful trick on me. And if it wasn't, well there was nothing I could do...
The shuffling footsteps had reached the second flight of stairs. I cowered back toward the back board of the bed in terror. I felt the skin crawl on the back of my neck as the footsteps reached the top of the stairs and moved slowly down the hall towards the room I was in. They came along the hall and turned into the room.
My eyes forced wide awake from a panic state of shocked horror, as the door creaked slightly as it swung open. I stared at the dark figure looming in the doorway. She called out to her friend, but there was no answer as the steps came out across the bedroom. She laughed anxiously and begged her friend not to play jokes on her. But only silence answered as the footsteps paused beside the bed.
She reached out her hand and felt a wave of relief as it touched the soft edge of her friend's dressing gown. She was so happy. She no longer wanted to scare her friend back. She lifted her hand around her friend's nightgown collar to touch her friend's face. But instead felt something cold and wet... As her fingers moved up there was nothing. Only the bloody stump where her friend's head had been.
SHE SCREAMED AND SCREAMED. When the parents arrived back home, their eyes were seared by a dreadful sight. On the stairs, a trail of blood. The footsteps leading upward. And on the floor in the girl's bedroom, lay my friend's corpse, it's head severed from the trunk. And on the bed the girl sat. . Her lips mumbling the torched fancies of a maniac. In time the police officials pieced the story together from her ravings of what happened on that awful night. But she remained completely mad. The deed was contributed to a homicidal lunatic who had just escaped from the nearby sanatorium.