by Jay Walker
Laura is exhausted. She sits with her mum having coffee after a harrowing night of haunting. Laura’s haunting continues at breakfast and throughout the day. The haunting intensifies at her local pub, where she has to confront her monster, a monster that lives deep within her. A monster that is a depiction of her eating disorder Anorexia…
Making it through the night leaves me feeling both disappointed and relieved. My legs ache, hair is dank with stale sweat and my head is throbbing like a bitch. Closing my eyes does nothing to ease the pressure behind my eyes; maybe I could scoop them out with a spoon? Hmmmm. That would solve more than one of my issues.
My thoughts are blurry, distorted by an early morning fog. Asking myself whether I had managed to sleep at all was becoming a familiar question. With my head in my hands, I sit up at the second attempt, stomach yelling at me; well it’s more of a growl really. Reaching out and grabbing the door is the only thing keeping me upright as I stand. Dizziness leaves me feeling detached from my body; the sensation is welcome. Helps me forget how fucking hideous I look, as for my brain…well that’s well and truly broken, like a shattered mirror that can never be repaired. Hardly surprising really, given the last two years.
Negotiating the staircase leaves me gasping for air. Heart pounds like a train, beads of sweat form on my top lip and my lungs heave; anyone would think I’ve just crossed the finish line of the London Marathon. Damn…I’m as unfit as a fattened pig ready for slaughter. Mum is at the table, sipping coffee as I enter the kitchen. She hasn’t put out her cigarette properly, she never does. Annoying. The crumpled butt emits a floating smoke trail reminding me of the tentacles belonging to a Box Jellyfish. She has her garish pink robe on. Eyes lock on me, looking me up and down. She frowns, judges, I know the look, I know what she sees.
‘Breakfast?’ she says then lights another cigarette.
‘No, just coffee,’ I say, trying to sound awake and with it. She exhales smoke with a sigh, she appears disappointed with my answer.
‘I’m going away with Peter tonight, he’s booked some hotel, probably a shit hole,’ Mum is ever the optimist. She finds it hard being anything than a moany old cow. She is funny with it to be fair.
‘What you saying? Peter’s a cheapskate?’
‘You know he is. Remember that bracelet?’ She says, smiling as she taps ash in her coffee cup. Nice.
‘The one that turned your wrist green for like a month? How could I forget,’ I squeeze out a fake laugh as I’m ambushed by visions of last night’s haunting.
‘Best go pack a few things I guess.’ Mum uses the table’s surface to push herself to her feet then drops her cigarette in the dregs of her coffee; classy bird my mum.
The smell of coffee fills my nostrils as I hover my head over my mug, inhaling the steam. The chair hurts my bones as I sit. My heavy eyes close; it’s involuntary; like roller shutters shutting automatically. Then BANG. The chair tips back, skeleton nearly jumping clean from my skin. A hand is pressed up against the window above the sink. It’s her. Long spindly fingers are unmistakable. Her index finger wags, left then right. It means don’t you dare, don’t even fucking think about it. The gesture is one I’ve seen many times. There’s a small puddle of coffee on the table. I leave it and return to my room as if it’s some sort of safe haven, like a church; no evil allowed. But that is like, so untrue, nowhere is safe anymore.
There’s a tap on the window. The sound brings me out in a cold sweat; hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. It’s her. I can see her long tapered fingernail tapping on the glass without even looking. SCREEEEEEEECH. Pillows become improvised ear defenders but they don’t mask the sound. It’s piercing, sickening, like it is emanating from within me. She’s dragging her claws down the pane.
A knock on the door leaves me wrapping my arms around my torso… as if they are going to protect me! The door handle moves, perspiration runs down my back.
‘Jules is here, Laura,’ Mum says as she opens the door. Jules is my oldest friend. We went through school together and would be at college together too if I hadn’t dropped out last year.
‘Hiya, gorgeous.’ Jules struts into the room, looking like a model without even trying. She’s dressed in tight denim shorts and a teal crop top. The outfit shows off her stunning hourglass figure, tanned athletic legs and flat navel. She doesn’t even work out, lucky bitch. Her eyes narrow as she looks at me. Whether she is suspicious or concerned I can’t decide.
‘We’re going out tonight, Tom’s birthday. We’re all meeting down the Dog and Duck at eight.’
‘I dunno. Not sure if I can.’ The thought of the thing outside distracts me from offering up a plausible excuse.
‘You ok, Laura? You’re shaking.’ She encapsulates me in her arms and places her head on my chest. The affection and concern eases my terror; well a little, but I’ll take that.
‘You’re heart is going like the clappers girl. You ok?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ Lying has become much easier lately. ‘How was your trip?’
‘Oh my God. It was so awesome. Australia is like the best country ever and the boys, well they’re hot.’
Jules fans her face to emphasise just how hot. Jules spent her summer in Australia. Alright for some.
‘So, anyway, tonight…what you gonna wear?’
‘I haven’t got anything, nothing that looks good anyway,’ I mutter dejectedly, looking at the floor.
‘Lies. You’re not getting out of it that easy girl.’ Jules springs to her feet and heads for the wardrobe. She throws the doors open and runs her eyes over the racks of clothes. I on the other hand freeze. I can’t swallow, but I need to or my heart is going to be ejected from my mouth. She’s there. In the mirror on the inside of the door. Jules can’t see her, she can’t do otherwise how would she be standing so close to such a grotesque being?
‘What about these with this top?’ Jules asks, holding up jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
But how can I answer? She’s right there. A pallid, gaunt figure. Eyes surrounded by a ring of black, deep in their sockets and cheekbones high and square. Greasy unkempt hair hangs past her prominent collarbones. She looks frail, all bones and sharp angles, but she is far from frail. She’s strong, malevolent. The corners of her mouth turn down and her eyes are filled with malice, narrow, glassy and bloodshot. A second later her mouth opens showing blackened teeth and bleeding gums. Just as she starts to scream Jules stands in front of her and says, ‘Laura, you in there?’ She waves her hand in front of my face. ‘Did you hear me?’
‘Yeah. I‘ll wear Jeans and a sweater.’ That’s as much of a fight I can put up against Jules right now.
‘Cool. Well I have to go see Nan, but I’ll be back later. We can do make-up together.’
‘Can’t wait,’ I give a rye chuckle. Jules kisses the top of my head and bounces out the room. So much zest for life, so much positivity, so much beauty. Fuck I’m so jealous.
Jules came back at 6.00 and took advantage of my mental and physical exhaustion. I tried in vain to resist her badgering but I know how determined and stubborn she can be so I soon realised I wouldn’t be able to defy her wishes. Now we’re walking down Nightingale Street on the way to the Dog and Duck. Jules looks like a million dollars, I look like a penny in a bucket of shit.
‘So anyway, Ted says he’s going to come over next year,’ Jules says. It’s the only part of the conversation I’ve heard in the last few minutes. It’s all a blur.
‘He’s gonna come over with his friend Steve. We could double date.’ Jules gives me a friendly shoulder barge and giggles. Boys are the last thing on my mind right now and as for next year, the way things are I can’t see me making it.
My legs feel as though they have spontaneously combusted. The burning sensation floods my muscles as lactic acid builds up. I’m so tired, I’m so fucking useless.
‘I didn’t want to say too much in front of your mum earlier but I’m guessing things haven’t got any better since I’ve been away.’ ‘No. No they haven’t.’ I fight back tears with a gulp. Jules doesn’t know the half of it.
‘I’ll be fine, you don’t need to worry about me,’ I say, bullshit flowing as easy as water flows in a river. Jules starts waffling again. My mind is lethargic, distracted, it can’t keep up with Jules right now.
Although it’s early evening the summer sun is still kicking out some serious heat. Its radiance plays peek-a-boo with us, hiding behind houses as we walk down Turpin Road. Jules is in a short red skirt and tight-fitted white T-shirt. I rub my arms, trying to take the chill out my bones. I’m cold. I’m always cold. We round one more corner onto Roxom Street and I see the Dog and Duck in the distance. There’s a large crowd outside, busy. I’m not sure whether that will work in my favour of not.
Jules is all pearly whites and energy as she mingles with the crowd. I was like that once. What happened to me? The haunting that’s what. It’s changed me. I hide, lie, sleep too much and I’ve become a terribly selfish bitchface twat. But I’m weary, all the things that were good about me have been siphoned out by that Witch. Why me? Why can’t she just leave me alone?
It’s so loud. So many voices all at once but somehow it’s silent too. My eyes are like pinballs, shooting around in their sockets. Searching her out. She’ll be here somewhere, I know it. She always is, no matter where I go she follows. I’m cursed. I’ve been cursed by a Witch.
‘Come on Laura,’ Jules yells above the din of drunken chatter. She locks her arm inside mine and whisks me inside the pub. ‘Let’s get some drinks. Cider?’
‘I’m really not in the mood to get hammered tonight, Jules.’
‘Rubbish. You know you’ll give in once I start plying you with shots,’ Jules laughs.
The barmaid places a pint on the bar in front Jules, slopping golden liquid on the bar. I watch the bubbles disconnect from the bottom of the glass and float to the surface. Then a glass is placed next to my hand. My hand recoils like the tongue of a lizard. The barmaid’s hand around the glass is not hers. Bony knuckles are unmistakable. I follow the hand to the arm, the arm to the shoulder, the shoulder to the face. My heart stops. Stomach churns with horror making me take a step back. She’s there. So close. I could touch her if I dared. Frozen like a stone statue, it’s impossible to unlock my eyes. She has one of those faces that looks both young and old; like she could be 18 or just as easily 38. Complexion is harsh, made worse by the shape of her skull which is clearly defined through her thin, almost transparent skin. Scalp is white showing signs of hair loss.
‘Come on girl, let’s check out the buffet,’ Jules says dragging me away from the bar… away from her.
The buffet is a sprawling banquet of crisps, sausage rolls, quiche and the usual party favourites. Jules grabs a paper plate and starts filling up. She builds a mountain of food. How is it possible for her to eat so much and look so damn good? My envy is cut short by her. I know her name but I don’t dare speak it because that might transform her from a figment of my imagination to reality. Just as I take an empty plate from the stack a hand shoots out from beneath the draping tablecloth, grasping my ankle. The plate falls from my hand as I stumble back. Her grasp is tight, I’m unable to free myself from her grip. I tumble to the floor. A hundred pairs of eyes are on me…including hers. Including Anna’s.
‘Laura, you ok?’ Jules says putting her overfilled plate on the table and offering her hand. ‘You’re not that drunk already are you?’ She laughs pulling me to my feet.
‘How embarrassing. I’m going to go,’ I say, head held low, trying to hide my face from a pub full of spectators.
‘Don’t be daft girl, you ain’t gonna be the only person falling over tonight. Come on, get some food and we can sit out the back.’ Jules drags me back towards the tables of food but before I make it Anna scuttles out from under the tablecloth like a giant spider. She’s hissing, drool hanging from her mouth. I can do nothing to hold in my terror, my hand goes to my mouth but a scream has already found its way into the air, into the room full of people. Turning, I flee, barging passed onlookers that are gossiping about the crazy girl, gossiping about me.
My sprint quickly turns to an unsteady jog, then an amble, then I’m falling to my knees on the pavement. No fuel left to power my limbs. I’m on my back now, streetlight shining down on me like a spotlight. A spotlight to highlight just how unwell my mind is. A car goes passed. It doesn’t stop, but it makes me realise I can’t lay in the street all night.
Back on my feet, I haul my arse towards home. My phone pings. I fumble it and look at the screen. It’s a message from Jules. Let me know you’re home. I’ll be round soon. Jules is a social creature, she won’t be round until late, if at all. Determination drives me on. I know what I have to do. There is a way to beat Anna. It will take time and perseverance but unless I make a stand she will not relent, her hauntings will become even more frequent than they are, until there’s nothing left of me but her.
Turning the key in the lock, I fall into the hallway. Adrenaline giving me the strength to get straight back up. I march to the kitchen. There she is, standing next to the fridge. ‘Get out the way you fucking bitch.’
‘You can’t,’ she snaps back, pressing her back against the fridge door. She’s guarding. ‘Move,’ I yell, charging at her.
‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,’ she screeches but as I reach her she disappears and I crash into the hefty metal door. I hit the floor but bounce back to my feet, swinging the fridge door wide open. Hands clamp around my neck. Anna tries to pull me away but I have to be stronger, I have to resist. With as much aggression as I can muster, I swing my arm back, elbow connecting with Anna’s jaw with a crack. She screams again.
‘You eat, you know what will happen you fat fuck. I will make you feel guilty for a week.’
‘Get fucked. You can’t tell me what to do. You are me. I’m not giving you the power anymore, I’m taking it back, taking my life back.’ I turn back to the fridge, take a piece of cheesecake and ram it into my mouth. The flavours hit me instantly. Anna tries to make me detest it, tries to punish me, but I force her out of my mind. She comes at me again, face to face, all bone and decayed teeth. ‘Don’t come crying to me tomorrow you ungrateful cow. I’ve protected you, I’ve given you a purpose, a talent. I’ve transformed you from a nobody to somebody.’
‘No you haven’t. I see it now. You isolated me, you controlled me. And do you know what? FUCK YOU ANOREXIA,’ I blurt and take another bite of cheesecake.