“And that was when they realised it was the babysitter that had been killed. The murderer was wearing her clothes.”
Kev sat back, triumphant. That was surely the story to beat them all. To his satisfaction most of the other kids round the campfire oohed and ahhed appreciatively. All apart from Mark. He just tutted and rolled his eyes as he had to all the other stories. In his hand he wielded his stick, poking the campfire unnecessarily, sending sparks high into the evening air.
“That’s bull and you know it,” he groaned, turning to the others. “I heard that one last year.”
Kev shuffled along the tree stump, holding his hands out towards the fire to try and keep warm.
“Does anyone know a real horror story?” Mark asked. “A proper, real, shit yourself scary one. How about you dickface?” He punched Terry on the shoulder. “Or would you wet your pants like you did last time?”
A few of them giggled but most kept quiet. They didn’t want Mark’s wrath turned on them.
Terry smiled back at Mark, ignoring the pain in his arm and the embarrassing memory of his weak bladder from the previous sleepout, the nightmare he’d had about the flat man that had made him wake up soaked in sweat and urine and unable to sleep without the light on for weeks afterwards. “I’ll tell you a real story if you want,” he said at last.
The others fell silent. Mark sighed and folded his arms, his face saying go on then, impress me. Terry sat up straighter, glancing from one person to the next before beginning, his voice low, drawing them in as up at the house the faint sound of his mother laughing reached his ears.
“I had a brother called Ed. My parents never talk about him, not since he was killed and I’m not allowed to mention him in front of them either. It was too traumatic for us all.”
Mark laughed loudly. “You never had a brother. That’s bull.”
Terry wondered again why Mark hated him so much, what made him so worthy of this level of bullying compared to everyone else assembled here. “That’s what you think,” he said at last, wanting just one chance to tell his story, the one he’d waited a long time to tell, the one that might change everything, make Mark respect him at last, or at least leave him alone for a while.
“What happened to him then? Take one look at your face and drop dead?”
Terry continued as if he hadn’t heard him. “He was a cool guy for an older brother, gave me his games when he’d finished with them, let me read his comics when he was out. One day I was in his room and I saw something sticking out from under his bed. I pulled it out. It was one I’d not read before called ‘The Flat Man.’ Blood dripping down from the letters, ‘For Adults Only’ in capitals across the bottom. It was about this guy who’d been run over by a steamroller and flattened out completely. Crushed flat and half stuck in the hot tarmac. It took a while for the ambulance to appear, though all it was going to do was scrape him up, but when it got there the body was gone. Nobody knew what happened to him but then kids started disappearing in the city. I was about to find out what happened next when Ed appeared in the doorway.
“Where did you get that?” He wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the comic, terror in his eyes.
“I found it,” I said as he snatched it from me, his hand shaking violently, he looked as white as a sheet.
“I threw it away,” he said. “You shouldn’t read that one. It’s…different than the others.”
“That was the last time I saw him alive. I woke up the next morning to hear my mum screaming. I stumbled out of bed and caught a glimpse of his room before my dad slammed the door shut, leaving me alone on the landing. I’ll never forget what I saw if I live to be a hundred.”
“What did you see?” Kev asked, shivering a little in the evening wind.
“I saw what remained of my brother, his foot torn off at the ankle, the Flat Man comic on the floor beside it. The rest of his body was gone but his bed was soaked in his blood, it was dripping onto the comic. The Flat Man had taken him.”
Terry expected more of a reaction from the others, disappointment evident in his face when they laughed instead of screamed.
“That wasn’t great,” Alan said, trying to be sympathetic. Mark punched Terry again, grabbing him by the shoulders and pretending to throw him into the fire.
“Screw you all,” Terry said, climbing to his feet. “I’m going inside.”
He ignored their catcalls as he weaved through the trees at the bottom of the garden and made his way back to the house. He’d worked hard on making that story as believable and realistic as possible but it still hadn’t worked. Anger coursed through him as he stomped up to his room, kicking off his shoes as he climbed into bed, vowing never to invite those idiots round for a sleepout ever again. If only the Flat Man was real, then they’d soon stop laughing. Especially Mark.
It was gone midnight when he woke up, unsure what had caused him to come out of a dream so vivid it felt real. He’d been laid on the road as the Flat Man rolled over him in a steamroller, looking down at him and laughing, tar gurgling from his flat mouth, falling onto Terry’s face. For a moment Terry was confused between the dream and reality and when the corner of his mattress moved he froze, heart pounding and wide awake, too afraid to reach out from under the covers and turn on the lamp beside his bed.
He wanted to call for his parents but he wasn’t six anymore. He was nearly in big school, too mature to scream at nightmares. He lay still, waiting for sleep to return. Eventually his eyes closed and he began to drift off.
Then it happened again. There could be no doubt this time. He shot up in bed. The corner of the mattress had definitely moved. Looking down at the edge of the bed in the dark, his breath caught in his throat, he couldn’t speak at all, let alone scream.
A flattened hand was reaching slowly out from under the mattress. It looked almost as if it was made of black paper, too flimsy to be real. Terry’s mind wanted it to be a dream, a flat pitch black hand curling slowly upwards towards him. When the fingers wrapped round his exposed ankle, he realised just how real it was. He tried to scream but he just couldn’t. He was too afraid. All that came out was a tiny squeak of air as the silently moving hand dug deeper into the flesh of his ankle, gripping him tightly, trying to tug him down off the bed.
“No!” Terry managed to mutter, grabbing the headboard with both hands, fighting to remain in his bed, feeling the skin on his leg beginning to bleed. With a wrench, he was able to kick his leg upwards but the hand never let go, just more of that perfectly black arm appeared from under the bed, impossibly long now and incredibly strong, never losing grip, not even for a moment.
Terry’s arms began to weaken as the struggle continued. The whole mattress shook and lifted upwards. The flat man was under there, about to emerge. Terry knew he didn’t have much time. He reached down and grabbed the flat man’s hand, ignoring the burning heat of his tar coated flesh. He managed to peel back the fingers just long enough to dive away from the bed, falling onto the floor and rolling over twice before thumping into his bedroom door. He looked back at the bed just in time to see the flat hand silently slip back out of sight, sliding back between the mattress and the bed base.
Scrambling to his feet, Terry threw open the door and stumbled onto the landing outside, crashing into Mark who was standing there looking amused.
“What’s up, wet yourself again?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s cold out there. Your mum said I could sleep in your room.”
Terry couldn’t speak. He was too scared. He barely felt the pain in his ankle as warm blood flowed freely down into his sock.
“You don’t mind do you?” Mark said, giving him a shove out of the way and then stepping into the bedroom. “Or is the flat man in there?” He laughed and pushed the door closed in Terry’s face, leaving him alone on the landing.
Terry stood still for a moment, thinking. Then he turned and went back downstairs, heading out into the garden, thinking to himself that maybe sleeping in a tent wouldn’t be so scary after all. Maybe he’d ask his parents if he could sleep in the tent every night from now on.