Please be advised this book contains graphic description of violence, injury, murder and death, and contains several references to trauma (including family trauma), suicide, abuse (including physical and emotional abuse), homophobia, anxiety and panic attacks.
This book contains themes that may not be suitable for all readers, including strong language and intimate scenes
Olivia woke to the door squeaking as it slowly opened downstairs. She blinked a few times, her eyes adjusting to the darkness that enveloped her small bedroom. Gradually, dark shapes came into focus that formed the rest of her furniture. Beside her dinosaur bookcase, the bedroom door was open just a crack, and a slit of pale yellow light poked through, casting a soft glow across the floor.
The sound of the door clicking shut downstairs barely reached her ears. It couldn't be Mummy—she was asleep in the other room.
Maybe that was the sound of her leaving? Olivia's panicked breath started to become ragged, and she sat up in bed, the duvet falling away from her. No, Mummy wouldn't leave without her, would she? The panic started to spread through her, a lump of it landing in the pit of her stomach where it buried itself—an infestation of panic-lice eating away at her stomach lining. Her little heart beat hard against her chest, and the thumping radiated through her whole body until her fingers started to tremble.
She closed her eyes.
No, Mummy would never leave without me, she told herself.
Then what was that noise downstairs?
She decided she better go check Mummy's room, just in case. Just to be absolutely sure. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, letting them dangle just above the floor. Her thoughts instantly turned to the monsters that could be hiding under the bed, eyes glowing red and pointy, white teeth so bright they could be seen in the darkness. They would be ready to grab her feet as she set them on the floor, their long claws waiting to dig into her ankles and pull her screaming under the bed to eat her—
"No," she whispered to herself. "Monsters aren't real. Mummy says they aren't real." She took a deep breath as she set her feet on the soft carpet, waiting with her eyes scrunched closed for the claws to grab her and drag her away.
But no claws took hold of her, and she exhaled with a long sigh.
"Monsters aren't real," she affirmed to herself, then crept quickly towards the door, just in case the monsters were only stirring from their sleep and hadn't realized their next meal was within arm’s reach.
A beam of light shone through the crack in the door, guiding her towards it. She nudged toys and teddies out of her way with her feet as she went, careful not to make too much noise. A delicate silence hung over the house, fragile, ready to be broken and alert everyone within its walls. She put her hand on the doorknob, about to open it, when the stairs started creaking.
The steps squeaked and groaned as someone climbed them, getting closer and closer to the landing. Closer and closer to her. Maybe Mummy was coming home? Maybe she had to go to the shops, and now she was back? But why would she be out when it was still dark? Olivia waited at the door, peering out through the crack into the hall. She would just check if it was Mummy, then she could go back to bed and return to her world of sweet dreams. If Mummy caught her out of bed, she might get into trouble.
The person was climbing higher, and Olivia could see the top of their head through the banisters now. They had black hair…
But Mummy didn't have black hair.
The person ascended until their head and torso came into view, but there was something not right about this person, about this stranger that made her stomach sink. They looked like a person, but there was a smoky haze surrounding them, black as midnight yet somehow slightly transparent. It swirled and churned, reaching out into the air like hungry fingers grasping and searching, then falling back on itself and returning to the stranger on the stairs.
This person was made out of smoke and shadow.
Olivia's eyes widened, her lungs freezing, and she slowly backed away from the door.
There was a stranger in their house.
Where was Mummy?
The Shadow Person reached the top of the stairs and paused for a moment before continuing along the landing, towards Olivia's room.
She gasped into her tiny hands. She stood completely rigid, muscles locked into place, her small heart hammering away at her chest, trying to burst through it and escape her frozen body. Sweat was clinging to her skin, covering her in a sticky film and plastering her clothes to her.
But the Shadow Person moved past her door, hardly making a sound as they walked. They blocked out the light from the hall, and she was momentarily submerged in complete darkness. Her heart stopped as the light went out, and only restarted with manic pounding as they moved past and light trickled into her room once again.
Olivia tip-toed up to her door and quietly pulled it open, just enough so she could peer after them. The Shadow Person was standing at Mummy's door, their shadow hand closing over the doorknob. Trails of shadow snapped at the air, feeling along the walls and wrapping around the banister. Olivia's heart skipped a beat, and her eyes blurred for a second as tears filled them. She brought her shaking hands up to press firmly on her chest, making sure her heart was still beating and this wasn’t all a dream. It pumped hard against her palm, reassuring her that she was still alive. Mummy's door only gave a small squeak as it opened, not loud enough to wake her up.
Olivia swallowed, trying to move the lump that was blocking her throat. She blinked away tears. They were going to hurt Mummy, she knew it. They were a bad person, a person Mummy would tell her to run away from. And they were going to hurt her!
She couldn't let that happen!
She had to warn her.
She had to do something.
The Shadow Person stepped into Mummy's room and seemed to melt into the darkness there. They blended in perfectly with the black veil that covered the room.
In a surge of panic, Olivia flung her door open and ran towards Mummy's bedroom. Her feet made soft thuds on the scratched wooden floor as she ran. The Shadow Person had probably heard her, but she didn't care anymore. She had to tell Mummy, and they had to run away. Right now. Her heart was racing, a stampede of horses in her chest, booming loudly in her ears. Her throat was squeezing, shrinking smaller and smaller. Her eyes stung with tears.
She made it to Mummy's room but hesitated at the door. Light from the hall shone past her and into the bedroom, piercing through that black veil, but she couldn't see the Shadow Person. Maybe they were hiding? Were they hiding under the bed, like the monsters under hers?
Were they a monster?
She quickly pushed the thoughts away. She couldn't worry about that just yet; she had to get Mummy up, and they had to run.
Olivia reached her hand up the bedroom wall and flicked on the light. She squinted as the light blinded her, but when they finally adjusted to the room, the Shadow Person was nowhere to be seen. Mummy groaned and rolled over in bed. The light reflected on her pale blue eyes like sunlight on a still pond, glittering with diamonds. They were kind eyes, a peaceful place you could get lost in and be safe from the world.
"Olivia, what are you doing up?" she asked quietly, her voice croaky. Tears started falling down Olivia's face as she reached the bed, letting out a whimper.
"There's someone in the house," she whispered urgently, her voice breaking as more tears rolled down her cheeks.
Mummy frowned at her. "What?"
Olivia screamed as the Shadow Person rose up on the other side of the bed, looming over them. Shadows reached out of the dark corners and latched onto the Person as they rose in height, adding to their mass. Olivia noticed for the first time that this person had no eyes, no mouth, no defining features at all. There was just a blank face, shifting and moving in the light. They were like a nightmare, something that had crawled from her dreams—a real monster. Even though Mummy said monsters aren't real, Olivia knew this one was.
Mummy swore and pushed Olivia backwards. She stumbled and fell, landing with a loud thump. Her head was thrown backwards as she hit the ground, and she was barely able to save herself from smashing her skull off the floor.
Then the room changed.
A brick wall rose from the duvet and up towards the ceiling, slicing the bed in half, cutting the Shadow Person off from them. They were red bricks with crusty, white cement holding them in place and blocking off the other half of the room. She couldn’t tell if it was real or not—if it was just her panicked imagination, or if this wall had really just risen from the bedroom floor. Just as she was starting to register what was going on, Olivia was jerked off her feet, and her head was thrown backwards again with the sudden force. A hand pushed her face tight against Mummy's shoulder, and Olivia’s forehead knocked against Mummy’s collarbone. They started to run.
The pound of Mummy's footsteps on the ground sent jolts through Olivia's body. Olivia just held on tight to Mummy's top, forgetting the wall that had just appeared in the bedroom. Her chest was starting to hurt from all the battering her heart had done to her ribs.
Then they violently jerked to a stop, and Olivia lost her grip and flew from Mummy's arms. She cried out as she landed.
Mummy shrieked, her hands flying to her throat as she was pulled backwards with a dark trail of shadow wrapped around her neck. The artery that ran up her neck was bulging, ready to burst. Olivia screamed, struggling to stand up again. Bullets of pain shot through her with every move she made. Tears ran steadily down her face and soaked into her already-stained pyjamas.
"Run, Olivia!" Mummy choked out, wrestling with the shadow that was pulling her back into the bedroom, back to the monster that lived in shadow and fed on pain.
The brick wall was gone now, and there stood the Shadow Person, one arm outstretched with trails of smoke and shadow streaming from their dark fingers.
"No, Mummy!" Olivia finally managed to stand on weak legs, but her knees were trembling, and she almost fell again.
"Run!" Mummy screamed between gasps of air.
Now there was another shadow snaking along the floor towards Olivia, slithering across the floorboards, reaching towards her. Olivia let out a cry but turned and ran along the landing, then stumbled her way down the stairs. She almost fell twice, almost slipped and tumbled down to a possible death.
As she reached the bottom step, Mummy gave a wailing howl that echoed through the whole house, following Olivia as she ran. Olivia covered her mouth with her hands to stop herself from screaming as she ran, her stubby legs moving as quickly as they could. Her whole body was shaking, and her legs were starting to give up, ready to accept the inevitable.
Downstairs was completely dark, except for the light that shone from the landing upstairs. But Olivia knew her way well enough to hurry into the kitchen. She moved as quietly as she could, barely able to contain her sobs as her lungs begged for air. Each breath hurt and closed her throat even more. Soon, she feared, she wouldn't be able to breathe anymore.
Mummy screamed again, and this time, Olivia couldn't stop her own scream. It tore its way out of her lips, ragged and wild, digging knives into her throat as it forced its way out of her lungs.
Her small legs buckled from under her, and jarring pain shot up her wrists as she landed. She crawled her way to the cabinets and fumbled with the handles, her hands shaking so much she could hardly move her fingers. Eventually, she managed to pull one open and stuff herself inside. She pushed the boxes of cereal and packets of biscuits over so she could fit. She pulled the door closed but left a crack to peer through to see if the Shadow Person came looking for her.
She waited in silence, struggling to control her noisy, quivering breaths. She was starting to feel sick, an awful heaviness in her stomach, but willed herself not to throw up. Not now.
The stairs started creaking again.
Olivia closed her eyes and kept her hands clasped firmly over her mouth, forcing herself to take slow, deep breaths. There was a tight pressure in her head, and it pulsed with each creak of the stairs, blurring her vision.
The Shadow Person stepped onto the hall floor and paused.
Olivia held her breath.
The footsteps started again, but they went into the sitting room. Olivia turned her head slightly, trying to listen through the faint ringing in her ears. Through the crack in the door, it was too dark to make out anything except the black outlines of the furniture and the vague yellow glow from upstairs that spilled across the hall floor.
The footsteps came back towards her, and Olivia peaked out of the crack. The Shadow Person was walking past the stairs, coming into the kitchen. Their black mass glided through the glow from the upstairs light and into the darkness of the kitchen, where they disappeared from sight.
Olivia slowly moved her head away from the cabinet door, and did her best to slow her breathing.
The footsteps got louder, tapping against the tiles. Tears filled her eyes again, but she wouldn't let herself cry or try to wipe them away. She couldn't give away her hiding place. They couldn't find her. They were going to hurt her, she knew it.
Had they hurt Mummy?
The Person stopped, and Olivia risked a peek out, but she couldn't see them.
The tapping started again as they moved back into the hall. Olivia almost sighed with relief, stopping herself just before it escaped her lips. She looked out the crack to where they were standing in plain view at the foot of the stairs. Smoke and shadows swirled around them, trailing off into the house in search of their prey. In search of her.
She shrunk herself into an even smaller ball despite the pain that flared in her neck and back. Her stomach heaved, and she nearly spewed its contents out all over herself.
She waited for what seemed like an eternity, and everywhere was starting to hurt. Her head, her feet, her arms…everywhere. But she didn't dare shift her position. If she did that, if she made any noise at all, they would hear, and the game would be up. They would drag her out of the cabinet and—
She stopped herself as her heart started to flutter and panic with the thoughts.
The Person turned, looking up the stairs. They held up a hand and shadow burst from their fingertips, darting to the second floor to search for her. It seemed like forever that they stood there, waiting for those shadowy snakes to find something. But eventually the Shadow Person lowered their hand, and the shadow returned to swirl around their body.
Then they left.
As the door clicked closed, Olivia let out a heavy sigh.
Yet she stayed still, hidden away in her hole under the counters. Just in case they came back. Just in case they were waiting for her to put her feet on the floor, just like the monsters under the bed were. But she also wanted to wait for Mummy to come down the stairs and find her. But what if Mummy was hiding too, waiting to see if they came back?
What if they’d hurt her?
The thought made a cry rise in her throat, but this one slipped past her defences. She squeezed her cheeks and mouth with trembling hands, but it didn't stop the noise. It rang through the house, and she froze. Her muscles cramped painfully. Beads of cold sweat rolled down the back of her neck and soaked into her sky blue pyjama top, leaving dark stains.
But the Shadow Person didn't come back.
She pushed the cabinet door open and crawled back out. A packet of oats fell out after her and spilled across the floor. For a second, she had the urge to clean it up quickly before Mummy came down and saw, but then she realized Mummy wouldn't mind, not after what had happened. Not after the stranger with the shadows had been in their house and tried to hurt them. Olivia stood and dusted herself off. She looked around the dark kitchen, and her eyes started to tear up again.
"Mummy!" she cried out. She broke into a run and clambered up the stairs, tears rolling off her cheeks in fat droplets and splashing onto the steps.
She tripped and landed hard, the edge of the step digging into her ribs. She winced but pushed past the pain and kept climbing.
She reached the top of the stairs and stood upright but nearly fell backwards as the blood dropped from her head. She used the wall to steady herself. Lights exploded in front of her eyes, and she blinked furiously before wiping away the tears with her spare hand. Her vision slowly came back into focus, and the world stopped spinning.
Mummy was lying face-down on the landing.
Blood was pooling beneath her, creeping outwards over the wood. Olivia dropped to her knees and let out a wail, grabbing Mummy's hair and pulling it, trying to wake her up. But Mummy was still, and the blood kept coming. It soaked into Olivia’s pyjamas and coated her hands. Olivia went cold. The trembling returned, much more violent this time.
"Mummy! Mummy!" she screamed, pulling her and shaking her. Olivia began batting her with balled-up fists, screaming until her throat was raw. A sharp pain shot through her stomach, and she curled over on top of Mummy, crying into her matted, stained hair.
"Mummy, please!" she begged, struggling to suck in air through her swollen throat.
But Mummy never moved, never spoke. She lay completely still.
Olivia stayed bent over Mummy, wailing and screaming until she couldn't bear the pain in her throat and her tears ran dry. Sunlight broke over the horizon, and the room lightened. Mummy's body was turning cold, and the pool of blood had spread so much that it had cascaded down the stairs like a waterfall. Now, though, it was starting to slow its spread, lazily creeping over the floor. Olivia slowly uncurled herself when warm sunlight fell across her back. She sat upright. Her head was spinning, and she swayed so much to one side that she had to put her hand out to stop herself from falling. Speckles of blood splashed upwards as her hand met the floor.
She sat like that for a few moments, starting to form thoughts, but then they escaped her like feathers in the wind. Her legs were numb, and pins and needles poked at her feet. Sometimes it felt like she was floating, looking down at her body from above, not connected to this earth anymore. The shrill ringing in her ears was all she could seem to focus on.
Eventually, she could form a sentence of a thought in her mind. Help Mummy.
She struggled to her feet. They were heavy as lead, and she couldn't move her toes.
She had to do something. Mummy wouldn't move or get up, so she needed a doctor. A doctor would help her. Yes, a doctor. She needed a doctor.
She walked carefully around Mummy, dragging her weight through the thick blood and making her way towards Mummy's bedroom. The floorboards were slick, and her feet shot out from under her. The ground rose to meet her face, so fast she didn't have time to put her hands out to stop herself. Her small nose crunched as it slammed into the wood, and she screamed. Throbbing pain flared all over her face, spreading and growing until it covered her whole head. She sobbed as she pushed herself to her knees.
Blood dripped from her face and splashed back into the sea of red she had landed in. She slowly stood, heaving for breath between her sobs. Her face was still throbbing, and blood ran over her chin and down her neck. She tried to wipe it with her sleeves, but they were soaked in it too, so the motion only served to spread it further, staining her flesh.
She gave another cry then pushed herself up and started walking again on shaky legs. She still had to call the doctor. She still had to help Mummy. Red footprints followed her across the landing and into the bedroom. They stained Mummy's carpet. Her phone was on the dressing table. She picked it up and stared at it for a moment. The grey casing was smeared with red where her stubby fingers touched.
Mummy had told her the number to call if there was ever an emergency. This was an emergency, she told herself. Mummy was cold, and she wouldn't get off the floor. She was hurt really bad. She needed a doctor, and she needed the police. The police could find the Shadow Person and put them in jail for what they did.
She pressed the three numbers Mummy had told her and held the phone to her ear with a shaking hand. Her heart was starting to beat fast again. Faster and faster, pounding her lungs and forcing air in and out of them too quick.
"You need to help Mummy, please!" Olivia begged, her voice breaking.
"Hello, dear. Can you tell me what happened to your Mummy?" the operator asked kindly.
"She's lying on the floor, and she's cold, and she won't get up! That person hurt her, the person who came to the house! And-and she's bleeding! She needs to go to the doctor!" Her legs shook violently, and her stomach lurched. Vomit rose in her throat, and she struggled to swallow it back down. She sat herself down on the floor, her back against the leg of the dresser. The world was starting to spin again.
"Okay, dear. What's your name?"
"Olivia, sweetheart, everything is going to be okay."