The world is a scary place. Every day we’re forced to make choices, no matter how small, that may be leading us along a new path. Whether that path is heading towards something good, like a promotion or meeting some special, or towards something bad, like an accident, or even death, we can never know. In the end, that’s possibly the scariest thing of all.
That’s why I need your help to guide a character, or characters, through the possible dangers that await them in #YourHorror, an interactive horror story that will be shaped by the choices you make. Even I don’t know what will happen, and I’m the writer…
From Monday to Friday, at roughly 8pm GMT each day, there will be a new Twitter poll. These polls will ask you to choose between a number of options, each of which may take the story in a new direction. Sometimes a decision will give a bit more insight into the character, setting, or backstory, while other times the decision will solely focus on driving the narrative forward.
Excited? Intrigued? A little bit terrified of the unknown? Yeah, me too. Get involved.
She wasn’t quite sure how long the ringing sound lasted for, but she’d shut her eyes tight and rocked back and forth for what felt like hours. Her throat and eyes stung from the tears and the constant questioning of “why me?” Once again, the continuing insanity that seemed to have become her everyday life had drained her of energy, such was the mental toll it was taking on her.
Her knees protested with loud cracks as she stood up, and her hands, which had been wrapped around her legs so tightly that they’d turned white, began to regain their colour.
Although she’d have liked nothing more than to run a bath and soak her aches, pains and memories away, she couldn’t stay in this place for a minute longer. Not only did she not feel safe, but she felt as if the ringing were going to come back in full force at any second – every now and then she thought she could hear it again. For now, at least, it was only her imagination.
She picked up her rucksack and hefted it onto her shoulder. It seemed so much heavier than it had when she had first packed it. Whatever, she’d make do. She’d complete the damn 12 Labours of Hercules if it meant she’d get away from this town.
Without even looking back at her new home, she left. It was a bold decision, driven by events that she didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand, and honestly wasn’t even sure had happened. However, she sighed in relief at having made the decision. She’d be back in her real home town soon. Whether they thought she was crazy, if she even told people the truth, was a bridge she’d cross when she came to it.
She crunched across the gravel path, and swung open the gate at the end of it. Some of the aches and pains seemed to be receding as she put distance between herself and the town, and the rucksack didn’t weigh her down quite as much now.
(I’m getting out of here. Hollywood had this so wrong. Moving sucks.)
With no phone to call for a taxi, no nearby train station, and a deep dislike of buses (what about being late and strangers that smelled of cat piss did people actually enjoy?), she decided upon hitchhiking as her preferred method of travel.
It probably wasn’t an option for everyone, but it was something she’d done a few times when she’d been in need of a ride to a friend’s house or a last-minute gig she’d scrounged tickets for. As long as someone was heading in the right direction and kept their hands to themselves, there was nothing wrong with it. Especially if, like she was, you were in a hurry to be on the move.
She kept her head down as she walked towards the main road out of town. It was late afternoon, the sun still shining but beginning to dip towards the horizon, and a few others were also out walking dogs or picking up their kids from school. In her mind, an irrational fear formed. If she were to catch eyes with one of these strangers, they would know exactly why she was leaving town. They would point, whisper, laugh, shout, throw things and run her out of town with pitchforks, torches and cries of “you’re crazy” and “get a padded cell, freak.” While the latter sounded quite comfortable, it wasn’t what she needed after the hell she’d been through.
Her pace quickened until she reached the main road, a dual carriageway with a speed limit of 60mph. After awkwardly stumbling her way across the side of the road, she found a lay-by near a bright orange emergency phone. She planned to use the colour as free advertising for her hitchhiking campaign. Thumb in the air, she waited.
Since it was still relatively early, there weren’t that many cars on the road. Her arm was aching by the time a car slowed to pick her up. With a groan, she let her arm hang by her side, and gave the car a small wave with her other hand – the burnt hand. When she realised, she hid it behind her back.
She walked towards the car. Who was waiting in there? It could be anyone.
(Why did I think this was a good idea? I start getting notes and phone calls from strangers… so I decide that I’ll get in a car with one? Great plan.)
As she approached the car, the window rolled down. A voice called out:
“Y’alright there, darlin’?”
She peered into the car, and saw an old man sitting in the driver’s seat. He was quite thin, with a hat pulled down low over his eyes. If the eyes are the window to the soul, she thought, his soul is hidden. Then he smiled at her. It was a big toothy grin, and she found herself returning it in full force. It would be fine.
He reached over and opened the door from the inside. “Come on in. I don’t bite.”
So she did, and placed her rucksack between her legs as she sat down. “Thanks for picking me up. I know a lot of people aren’t so sure about picking up a stranger on the side of a road…”
He chuckled. “Well, you looked like you could use a bit of luck.”
She almost snorted. “You have no idea.”
The car joined the road again, and they began picking up speed.
(Fuck you, town. I’m out of here.)
“So, where you headin’?”
She explained that she was trying to get home, and that as far as he could get her in the right direction was all she needed. As soon as his journey and her own took a different road, literally, she’d hop out and make her own way from there.
“You’re in luck. I can all but drop you on your doorstep. I’m visiting family nearby, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I ended up leaving you next to another road somewhere. Anyone might pick you up.” Under the cap, she thought she saw him wink in her direction.
“You’re a lifesaver. If you want any money for petrol, or want to get some food on the way, let me know. I owe you that.”
“Nah, don’t worry about a thing like that. I enjoy the company, and I’ve done a lot of driving in my time. It won’t be more than a few hours, give-or-take some for traffic.”
He began to tell her about long journeys from his childhood, and she smiled and nodded along. She relaxed into her seat a little. Outside the window, trees and signs blurred past. A smile crept onto her face. The town was getting further and further behind her, and the memories it held would begin to blur too, in time.
(And, unfortunately, Dissociative Identity Disorder! This is what happens when old man/woman are voted for in equal measure, but then you only choose for there to be one person in the car. Do you even know how hard this was to write? Do you?)
A revving engine snatched her back from the brink of sleep; startled back into the passenger seat of the old man’s car.
As far as she could see, her eyes now regaining focus, there was no other car around. Another roar of the engine made her gasp. She looked across to the driver’s seat. Something was wrong.
The old man was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles had turned bone white, and every 30 seconds or so his right leg seemed to spasm. When it did, he was forced into pushing down on the accelerator and the engine screamed, almost like it was in pain. They were going 70mph, but, for some reason, he had left the car in 4th gear. It wasn’t happy. He didn’t even seem to notice.
She placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Hey… are you okay? Do you want to pull over for a second? You’ve been driving for a while.”
He didn’t say anything. The spasms continued. Back and forth the car jolted as the speed increased and decreased. This wasn’t safe.
She shook him a little. When it changed nothing, she shook a little harder.
His hands seemed to relax on the wheel, and the revving stopped. She could almost hear the car sigh in relief, and it wasn’t alone. He shook his head, and it felt like he was present again.
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry about that. I think I switched off there for a second, didn’t I?”
She began to reply, planning to hide just how much it had scared her – he was probably more scared than she was. He didn’t deserve a hard time about what had just happened. Before she could, he continued:
“It happens more and more now. Sometimes it’s in the car, or when I’m gardening, and I can’t for the life of me remember how I ended up on my knees in the soil. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve let the bath overflow. Don’t even bother with sorting the ceiling in the kitchen anymore, it’s soaked through so many times.”
She offered up a small smile, unsure of what she could even say.
“I just thank the lord that they took my ovaries. The last thing I’d have needed was a bunch of babies I can’t remember crawling around, sticking their fingers in plug sockets and floating face-down in the bathtub.”
(Well, that was dark. Wait… ovaries? Am I missing something? Is his voice higher than before… maybe softer, too?)
The old man removed his hat. Greying hair spilled down, almost to his shoulders. Where had he been hiding that? It was shaped into some kind of bob, which seemed strange for a man to choose.
(Is… is that make-up?)
In the shadows that the hat had cast over the old man’s face, there were a pair of eyes, speckled green in colour, surrounded by make-up. His eyelashes were long and curled, and his eyes were enveloped in a dark blue eye-shadow. It wasn’t a colour she would have used, but it did contrast well with his (or her?) eyes.
He ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it up at the end. It looked like shampoo advert for all ages. He was trying to give himself “maximum volume.”
What followed as they drove along this one road was a conversation with a completely different person to the man that had first picked her up. He had a new personality, a new life – as a woman. He told her about getting married, about his wedding dress, about discussing children but never getting around to it.
At some point, most likely during that episode with the spasms, Paul Hollywood had been replaced with Mary Berry.
He clearly had some sort of personality disorder, and maybe schizophrenia or something similar, but that didn’t mean he was dangerous, right? Not everyone was lucky enough to grow older with their mind completely intact, and considering the last couple of days, she could completely empathise. She’d be lucky to made it to the end of that week feeling sane.
No, she wasn’t about to lump him into some sort of “danger to society” category. He was a person, hell, two or more people, and he deserved the same respect from her that he’d had even before he mentally switched between the two.
Even so… she didn’t know how to feel. Whatever was happening to him, it wasn’t his fault, but she also couldn’t help but feel concerned for her own safety at the same time as worrying about his, or now, hers. She hated herself for that, but certain events had her on guard. There was nothing she could do about that.
This disappointment in herself quickly turned to fear as the driver spoke again:
“Yes. We’ll drive. Not too far, though, not too far. That’s not what they want. They need you. We do their bidding. You, my dear, have been chosen. There is no escaping that.”
Neither the man nor the woman was leading the show now; it was both of them. Somehow, they were involved in what had been happening to her. She closed her eyes.
(No. Not again. I’m getting away. I’m getting home.)
The driver began to laugh, and it was as if two people were fighting for their right to do so. From one set of vocal chords, she could hear a man and a woman laughing at the same time. Naturally, the car door was locked, otherwise she’d have jumped from the car just to escape that awful sound. It overtook the sound of the engine, the sound of the wind rushing past the car, and the tyres against the road as they sped forward.
She’d thought she was getting away. They’d known all along. Whoever they were. They were watching, they were waiting, and they knew every single step she was making.