Quatre Faces, Pagham-on-Sea, 1973
It was quiet when Linn woke up, a shaft of weak, sinking sunlight trailing over the edge of her orange dress, picking out a line of cold white flesh below the short hem, the rest of her in shadow.
The window was boarded up from the inside, but one board was hanging loose, allowing the sun to slice through.
Her throat was dry. She couldn’t remember how she got here, or where she was. She remembered Suzy, her white boots, her red skirt. She couldn’t remember when they split up, or if they had. But Suzy wasn’t here, so they must have done, mustn’t they?
She found her bag, lying some way away from her on the bare floorboards. Linn stood up, legs wobbling, knees weak. She scooped up the bag, but it was empty. No purse, no lighter, no cigarettes. The only thing in there was a card from the last place they had been; THE PIT.
The Pit was a night spot she didn’t know well, and she had vague memories of red velvet, darkness, and dancers. In her fractured memory, some of them were dancing upside down.
Her attention snapped to the ceiling as she flinched at this bizarre idea, but it was a plain, high, white affair devoid of anything unusual. A plaster corbel with floral decorations was the only ornate thing, a modest chandelier hanging from the centre.
The room had two doors, one on either side, as if it was meant to be a thoroughfare. Linn tried both, her boots clunking loud on the wood, but both were locked. She tried the window, but while the loose board let in the sunlight, it refused to let her out, and wouldn’t budge, no matter how she tried to force it to part from the window frame.
There was a fireplace, and a chimney flue. This was the only feature of the room, which was devoid of any furniture or personality. Linn inspected the flue as far as she dared, but soot fell on her face as if something further up had dislodged it, and she recoiled back into the empty space.
She found the light switch and the chandelier flared into dim, flickering light. Two bulbs were gone. The remaining bulbs flooded the shadows with dull yellow.
Now other details presented themselves; scuff marks on the floor, scratches in the walls, and something small and bloody embedded in the floorboard at her feet. She bent down, trembling, to see what it was.
A human fingernail, with chipped pink polish, ragged on the edges and crusted with blood, was stuck between two boards.
Stifling a choked scream, Linn ran back to the window and heaved at the loose board again, but it wouldn’t shift any further. Neither would the others, no matter how she tried to prise them free. She returned to the doors, trying to force first one then the other, but to no avail.
From behind her, soot pattered into the grate. Linn rattled the door handle so hard it came off in her hand. Linn dashed back to the window to try and use the handle as a means of prising the boards off, or break the glass. The handle only hurt her palms, biting hard into her as she levered, and Linn dropped it. She battered the boards with her fists in the hope of attracting attention from someone in the street, but the chink of visibility revealed an empty road beyond well-kept railings.
Was she in one of the townhouses on Quatre Faces? The square was the quietest, most expensive address in the town. Nobody passed through it in the evening or at night. There wasn’t even any traffic.
Linn had always wanted to see what the insides of these great confectionary blocks were like, and she had imagined opulence and decadent parties, not something so bare and hollow. A shiver shot down her back as she took in the sinister details for a second time; this room was not a room at all. It was a coffin.
Something thudded to the floor. Linn leapt around with a scream.
An object had fallen from the flue and landed in the grate, where it now lay in a cloud of soot. It was a white PVC woman’s boot, the same size as Suzy’s. It had kept its shape, as if a foot and calf were still filling out the interior.
Numb with fear, Linn forced herself to approach it, unsure how it could have got there. Protruding from the lip of the boot was something misshapen and sharp. It was only when she got closer that she realised it was a shattered femur, snapped off before the knee, and the boot was indeed still full of pale, bloodless flesh.
She screamed until her throat was hoarse, begging someone to hear her. She threw herself against the doors, bouncing off the sides of her prison, her coffin-room, and slamming against the boarded window.
Behind her, something else slithered down the flue. Linn couldn’t bear to turn and see what it was, her voice was hoarse, her fists stinging, her shoulders aching with the effort of slamming against the unyielding doors.
The slithering ended in a solid thump, but there was more slithering, and Linn spun around in time to see the dead faces, dead hands, dead bodies, reeking of grave mould and ashes, crawling towards her in a greedy tide of leering teeth and monstrous facial ridges, hollow eye sockets long eaten clean by worms, long tongues like toads flicking out across the floor and tasting the air for Linn’s small cuts and scrapes.
Linn’s final screams were drowned in the suffocating press of their bodies against hers, mouths splitting all the way from ear to ear and fastening on her own, tongues snaking down her choking throat to suck at her stomach juices, tearing holes in her flesh with their coal-blackened talons, suckling at her wounds and draining her away.
Silence fell once more on Quatre Faces as the lights began to turn on in the eerie Square, windows veiled and boarded, rooms echoing and empty, each one an opulent shell for the dead.