Warm shadows of evening were gathering in the cemetery. Cheryl drew her coat tighter around her shoulders as the world began to grow dim. It wasn’t cold but it felt colder as light was gradually overtaken by darkness. The shutter of the camera clicked shut for the final time and Damon nodded at her. The shoot had come to an end. The cemetery had been a good choice and she knew Damon’s pictures would be superb, but there was still the thought she had been not been able to shake of all the dead people sleeping under her feet.

            “It’s a spooky little place even in daylight, eh?” Damon said as he packed his camera and tripod away.

            “You’re not kidding,” said Cheryl, “I think I had a dream about it last night.”

            “Oh yeah?”

            “Yeah, that the people buried here were watching us, I could hear their fingernails scratching away against the lids of their coffins and they were saying something. Something strange, I can’t remember what it was though.”

            Brrrr – that’s some imagination you’ve got on you there.”

            “Well, I am a writer, Damo.”

            “This is true. Maybe you want to put your shoes back on and hop in the SUV so we can get on our way. You don’t want it to follow you home.”

            “What did you just say?”

            “What?”

            “That last bit.”

            “Uh … you don’t want it to follow you home? It’s just an old saying, I think. Something my gramps always used to say when he’d call us in at night. ‘You kids come in here naow, cos you don’t want it to follow you home.’”

            “That’s a great accent, Damo,” Cheryl laughed.

            “What I don’t make as a photographer, I make up for by being a comedian.”

            “Yeah sure, don’t give up the day job.”

            “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

            Cheryl nodded and retrieved her shoes from where she’d shucked them off behind one of the tombstones. She looked at the way the shadows were lengthening in the cemetery as she put them on. She saw how her own shadow was blending in among them and how they all looked like long, shapeless fingers scratching across the dusty ground. She thought something was there, for a moment, behind one of the tombstones. Low and dark, a small, crouching form. She was sure it had eyes. It looked like it was about to stand up and be seen. She felt a sudden prickling sensation. She looked down and saw that the shadows of the cemetery were touching the tips of her toes. They felt so cold.

            Damon sounded the horn of the SUV.

Cheryl came back to herself. She wiped at her eyes as if she had just been asleep and rudely awoken. There were grains of sleep on her fingers and they appeared black in the fading light. Looking back over to the stone, she saw nothing there.

“That’s definitely some imagination you’ve got,” she said to herself.

She dusted her hands, turned and walked out of the cemetery gates. She paused as she crossed the threshold. She heard it something scratching away, like dead fingers in a dream.

More like too much imagination, she thought, as she climbed into the SUV. It was warm and stuffy in the vehicle as it pulled away. The lingering heat of the day had dissipated. Cheryl watched the cemetery recede in the wing mirror until it was consumed by the night. She was sure she hadn’t seen something small and hunched crawling out through the gates.

“You’re quiet, Cheryl. Are you all right?” asked Damon.

            “Yeah, I’m okay. Just thought I saw something back there. That’s all.”

            “Shit, I’m sorry. I spooked you with my old gramps’ stupid superstitions.”

            “No, no, no. It’s okay. I’m a writer, I’m more than capable of spooking myself without anyone else’s help.”

            Cheryl squeezed his knee and gave him a reassuring smile. She hoped it was convincing. What could it have been back there? A desert animal, shaped by the shadows into something more sinister? It had to be. It couldn’t be anything else. Too small to be a grown man. Too big and the wrong shape to be vermin of any kind.

... something in-between ...

Now, that was a horrible thought.

            “You sure you’re okay, Cheryl?”

            She smiled and nodded, hugging her coat tight around her body despite the warmth being pumped out by the dashboard heater. She watched the road disappearing behind them and the shapes which seemed to come into and out of being along its boundaries. None of them looked like a frail, withered form, wrapped in rags, slowly and steadily pursuing them. No, none at all.

 “You sure you’re going to be okay at home tonight?”

            Cheryl was standing beside the SUV, looking at her house and how dark it was inside. Lily was away at college and Phil was on another business trip.

Yep, just me, myself, and I tonight, she thought.

            “Yeah, I’ll be fine, Damo. You get on home and develop those pictures.”

            “Sure thing, boss. That’s why you pay me the big bucks.”

            “I sure do. See ya, Damo.”

            “Take care, Cheryl.”

            There was a sincerity to his gaze as he spoke those words that she found touching. They hadn’t known each other long and were still more colleagues than friends, but his kindness made her feel better about going into the house alone. He was right. She had managed to spook herself back at the cemetery and the feeling of it was still lingering in her gut. It was easier to be scared on your own than it was when other people were around. She watched his SUV’s tail-lights wink out around the street’s kerb and felt the urge to run after it and wave him down. But she didn’t. Because a shape by the fence across the street was just a sack of garbage, nothing more. It hadn’t moved. Some stray animal must have been at it, that’s why the black plastic was torn and fluttering like that. Whatever was in the sack must have been last night’s dinner. She could smell it in the air. It had gone rotten in the heat.

            “Isolation is the root of all fear,” she whispered as she took out her door keys.

            She let them hang there in her hand for a moment and clink together a few times. She waited until she was sure she could not hear a scratching sound coming from behind. She headed for the front door and unlocked the house. She should feel safer here; in her street where there were no tombstones and creepy dead people under the ground.

But what about those not under the ground?

            “Stop it.” she said to herself.

Everything around her was suffused with the elemental night-time blue of the moon. The houses, sidewalks, fences and front gardens with their bushes were arranged in serene, familiar patterns which soothed her eyes and mind. But still she squinted at the garbage sack across the street. It seemed to be more ragged than it had been a moment ago – had it moved? Were those tatters of cloth and not plastic?

Maybe some kid had torn up a shirt  and they’d had to bag it up. Yeah, something like that. The moon’s light was not shining on dirty old bones and there were no eyes over there, looking at her from a face which made more shadows than flesh on its bones.

Cheryl pushed the door open, stepped into the house and shut the front door hard. After a few minutes, her breathing settled down.

Dinner was lukewarm pizza from the microwave. Leftovers from last night’s takeaway before Phil and Lily left town, leaving her home alone. The house was not a home when it was this empty. She felt like a stranger.

            Cheryl turned the television on and cranked up the volume, creating false sounds of life to echo through the house. As time went by, she found it difficult to concentrate on the old film playing across the screen. It was one of her favourites; Some Like It Hot. Maybe it was because Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were in black and white and, in her periphery, the shadows of the house seemed to be moving in time with the monochrome patterns. Whenever she turned her eyes to look though, the shadows became still. She went back to watching the film. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were walking through a blizzard in downtown Chicago. It was cold there, so cold.

She felt the cold biting at her toes. A cold like the shadows in the cemetery. Her mind kept returning to Damo’s words until it was running through her mind like a ritual chant drowning the playful dialogue of the film.

            ... you don’t want it to follow you home ...

Rubbing her eyes, Cheryl got up and turned off the television. Silence closed over the house like a mouth. Her fingers made fists in response. At least the play of shadows seemed to have come to an end. I must just be tired, she thought, too tired.

She decided to make a coffee to steady her nerves. It was late for coffee but she didn’t have much desire to sleep, not just just yet. The quiet of the house was broken only by the sound of her bare feet on polished wood and then lino. She was sure answering footsteps did not come from upstairs.

Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, as the old English saying goes.

            Cheryl swallowed her coffee in one gulp and then stayed in the light-saturated space of the kitchen until her feet began to feel numb from the cold floor. If Phil and Lily could see me now, she thought, literally jumping at shadows. I’d never live it down. But I’d never be like this if they were here either. I’ll feel better in the morning, just need to sleep this evening off. I’ll be fine.

            The house felt quiet and heavy around her. A weight from nowhere. A presence following behind. It was there on the stairs and it was there when she showered. It always seemed to be hiding behind another sound. When she stopped on the stairs, paused crossing the landing, or turned off the showerhead there was nothing but the silence of the house to greet her. I heard something though, she thought. Each time, she heard it. Something in the walls, lightly scratching away.

Cheryl took a sleeping pill to ease the effects of the caffeine, and listened out for the scratching once she was in bed. Almost willing it to come to her so she knew that she wasn’t hearing things. Clouds of the night passed across the bedroom window. She stared at them until she saw that horrible, hunched shape drawn across the curtains. She imagined its dirty bones under the light of the moon.

            ... you don’t want it to follow you home ...

            Cheryl rolled over in bed, away from the window and faced the wall. The wall where the scratching waited. She was sure it was there even though she hadn’t heard a sound. It was waiting for her to sleep, then it would begin. Light and scrabbling, enough to wake her. It was there, she knew it, so she waited for it to begin. She could almost hear it, coming from some far-off place. Somewhere very, very dark where no light had ever shone and the dead hopelessly scratched away at the coffins trapping them in their graves; lost to eternity, desperately seeking a way out. A way to live again.

            Minutes came and went. Hours passed by. Cheryl did not sleep. The scratching did not begin, but it was there. It had to be. She couldn’t bear it. She couldn’t close her eyes. She got out of bed, went to the window and opened it. The cool air felt good as it bathed her face. She breathed it in and then looked down on the street below.

            It was there on the sidewalk. The sack of garbage; it had moved from the other side of the street to hers. She could see clearly it was no sack of garbage. The eyes glimmered like old coins. Perhaps they once were; a payment for passage along the paths of the dead. Its body was a hunched twist of rags and old bones. She could see its teeth working over the gnawed remains of a tongue. It came rushing, soundless, towards the house.

Cheryl slammed the window shut and sat down on the bed. She drew her knees up against her chest, shivering violently. It was here. It had come for her. She had let it follow her home.

            Cheryl reached for her cell phone on the bedside dresser. She turned it on, waited for the bars to fill and then thumbed in Damo’s number – and listened to what she had expected to hear. A light, insistent scratching. No dialling tone, no static, just that steady, grating sound. She couldn’t even leave a voice message. The computers and laptop were too far away for her to reach. They were buried in the darkness downstairs. This was not her home anymore. It belonged to something else. She could hear it. It was in the house. She knew if she opened the door to the bedroom, it would be there. It could wait all night. The dead were patient. There was nothing else for them to be.

            Don’t sleep, she thought, that’s all you have to do. Stay awake and don’t leave this room because that thing wants to scratch its way inside you. Stay awake, that’s all you have to do. Cheryl sat on the bed and waited for dawn.

            Just don’t sleep.

She stifled a yawn.

Morning came, natural light filtered into the bedroom and Cheryl’s cell phone began to vibrate its way across the bedside dresser. Her slender hand reached out, picked up the phone and thumbed the touchscreen to answer it.

            It was Damon.

            “Hi, Cheryl. How’re you?”

            “I’m good, Damo.”

            “You sure? I got a missed call from you.”

            “No, I’m fine, just fine.”

            “Okay ... you sure you’re okay? You sound a bit … I dunno … rough ...”

            “I had a rough night. Late night. Too much coffee”

            “Careful now, boss. That stuff’ll kill ya.”

            “I’ll try to take it easy.”

            “Okay, cool. Well, gotta go. Need to develop those shots for ya. Just wanted to phone and check you were okay.”

            “I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

            “Great. Bye then, boss. Take care.”

            “You too. Bye.”

            Cheryl’s hand put the phone down. She got up and stretched, welcoming the morning light with a broad smile and bright eyes. She breathed in and felt dryness lining her throat. It was no longer dark downstairs so she could get something to quench her thirst and wake up some more.

It felt like so long since she last drank and ate. As she padded out of the bedroom, she pushed something under the bed with her foot. A ripe bundle of rags that scraped and rustled to itself. She would put it in the garbage later. No-one would know what it was, or had once been, even if they found it. As she showered away the night’s tiredness, Cheryl closed her eyes and rejoiced in the feeling of hot water on her soft flesh, and listening to a sound only she could hear.

It was the sound of fingernails hopelessly scratching away inside a coffin which was a good hour’s drive away. Soon, it would be long forgotten. She heard and felt the cries of a woman trapped there. She would never be found. She should have known better. She should have listened to her friend, it thought as it stretched out arms that were supple and alive, admiring the young body that was now its own.

She should not have let it follow her home.


© Greg James 2015.


Greg James (aka G.R. Yeates) is an author of horror fiction who has published a number of novels, novellas and short stories; including the critically-acclaimed Vetala Cycle trilogy. He was born in Essex, England and was brought up in dilapidated seaside towns along the South-East coast during the 1980s. He studied English Literature and Media at university before spending a year in China teaching English as a foreign language. He lives in London where he continues to write often and sleep very little.




To find more of Greg James’ horror work visit his website here.  Or you can go to Greg James’ Amazon page here.

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