My name is Rachel Tyler. I am twenty three years old. Today something happened, something big, something life changing. Until today, I have never had any reason to consider how I would die. Until today. Still I search for all the answers. After all that searching, I still have as little as when I started. And when I do finally find all that I have been searching for, that is when it will be too late.
My name is Rachel Tyler. I am twenty three years old. Today is the day I will die.
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* * *
My mother’s front door is locked. This means one of two things, she is in her photography studio taking refuge in the creativity and solitude, or there is something wrong. My mother rarely locks her door, she sees little point in trying to keep people out. As a child I had never questioned this, it was just normality. I fumble in my pocket for my key and groan as I hear them jangle on the bitter slabs beneath me. In the dense blackness I can not see where they have fallen; I crouch down to pick them up. All I need is a small glimmer of light but there is none. No doors are open, no lights in windows open, nobody with a torch – it is far too early.
Out of the corner of my straining eyes I see a shadow pass over the house, then another, then another. Turning around to see what is producing them; I see nothing. Just continuous darkness. What was there is either gone, or was never there in the first place. Is my mind playing tricks on me? The feeling I am being watched will not leave my side, and the heavy night seems to tighten around my frozen body. Slowly I go back to hunting for my keys. Suddenly the door in front me looks so much taller and more daunting. Staggering backwards to try and get away from my home, I hear the jangling of my keys beneath my lumbering feet. Like a flash, I stoop down to grab them then straight back up to standing. It feels silly, but everything feels scarier at night. I repeatedly tell myself this as with shivering hands I attempt to unlock the door. It swings open, and I am hit in the face with the deafening silence of the hallway.
Suddenly I realise how long it has been since I have visited this house, the walls have been repainted to an icy blue, the carpet is gone, replaced with smooth polished linoleum. It no longer feels like my home. The hallway light is not on, but fading light emanates from the kitchen. It looks gloomy, and feels empty. Stepping inside I feel no homely warmth, the air is heavy with tension. The walls are still covered with photos of me as a child, growing up, my mother and my father, but still numerous amounts of her photography grace the walls. I find myself smiling at a photo of myself about five years old, standing proud in my bright red school uniform on my first day. Leaving the photo, I walk briskly forwards and feel a wave of nausea as a shiver sprints down my spine.
‘Mum?’ no reply. The atmosphere shifts slightly, even colder now. I pace hastily forwards toward the back of the house, toward the kitchen. I stop as I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. I open the text from my mother; ‘Hurry.’ Still no explanation. Still no reasoning as to why she has called me down here at no notice. Shoving the phone back in my pocket, I turn the corner and see my mother lying dead on the kitchen floor.
I freeze. Opening my mouth no scream escapes. My bag drops out of my hands and I hear the thud as it hits the floor. The world around me goes thick with the sound of my own blood pounding in my throat. Two staggering steps toward her. Her throat is savaged, her tongue lulls and the kitchen air holds the unmistakable stench of death. There is a silver gleam of wire wrapped around her blood spattered neck.
An empty kitchen-table chair stands next to her, as if she may have been sitting on it before she died. A low moan escapes from my dry throat, and I crash down next to my mother’s body. Brushing a tangle of her graying hair away from my face, her eyes are revealed. They are wide and swollen, unseeing. I brush my hand on her pale cheek, her skin is still warm.
I stand back up. A wave of dizziness buckles my shaky legs. The police. I have to call the police. I stagger around her body to the kitchen counter, where her breakfast still sits; a half full coffee cup and the leftover crumbs of her toast. I reach past this toward the slender white phone, my hands shaking violently. I punch in the three best known numbers and hold the phone to my ear.
Metal hammers brutally into the back of my head. The phone slides out my hand crashing onto the stone floor and I drop down with it. My teeth bite into my tongue and I taste the tang of blood. I shut my heavy eyelids and crumple into the darkness.
I feel a gun press coolly against the back of my head. The perfect circle of its barrel pushes on my scalp. A rope is looped around my neck and I feel the burn as it is tightens. Jerking away from it, I feel the gun crack against my temple, and a strong male voice speaks from above me.
‘Be still.’ Immediately I tense my body and try to sit up. I feel a powerful arm push me back down.
‘Or you’re dead.’ They pick up my bag from the edge of the kitchen, a robbery. I stop myself saying anything just in time, and hear the rustle of them rummaging around in my bag; my computer, my camera, my laptop. I hear the sound of my laptop turning on, louder than my own ragged breathing. Then a few long seconds of silence, fingers tapping on a keyboard. I want to ask what they want, what they are doing here, with me, why they killed my mother, but I can not. Fear of what the answers may be chain my lips tightly.
The gun pushes me further forward so I am almost touching my mother’s dead jaw. The smell of her blood burns my nostrils; I bite my lip to stop myself gagging. I want to turn round and see my captivator’s faces, but this is an impossibility. The noose around my neck tightens, pulling savagely into my throat, and I feel my pulse throbbing against it.
Behind me I hear them whispering, and I strain my ears to try and hear. As if I am being punished for ear wigging, the rope tightens again, and I writhe around trying to grasp some oxygen. There is none.
‘You took breathing for granted, didn’t you now sunshine?’ This mans voice is new, different to the previous one. It crosses my mind when they could have switched places without my noticing. He loosens the rope just enough for me to breathe, and I gasp it in. Flooding myself in oxygen, I feel my lungs thank the cold air. Disgust at my weakness radiates from the man above me. His shadow folds over me, and I cower underneath his power. It is a cold shadow, and I let the darkness steal me in.
* * *
I wake to the sound of my phone screaming at me. Something is wrong, no-one who knows me would ever call me this early. I open my eyes to stare up to the cobweb ridden ceiling. Stained with festering rings of mould it is not a pleasant site and only made me wish I had spent extra on the hotel. There was no questioning what could have happened in this room; murder, crime, anything. I did not want to think about it. Turning away from the ceiling, I grab around until my hand finds the phone.
My mother answers; ‘Rachel, I need you to come home now. No questions. Just do it.’ She speaks in a hushed whisper, her voice fast and unnerved.
I fumble for the bedside lamp. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘I just need you here now, please.’ composed but persistent.
Why could she not tell me? Surely she did not expect me to travel all that way with no reason? ‘Mum, please, just tell me what’s going on and I’ll come.’
‘I said, not over the phone Rachel. Please.’ She fell silent, this was the end of it. An uncomfortable tension rose between us for around ten long seconds, until she broke it. ‘Please Rachel.’
The naked neediness, a tone I have never heard from my mother, made her sound a stranger to me. I have nothing left to say. ‘Okay Mum, I’m coming.’
‘Thank you. I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
She has already hung up.
* * *
Consciousness floods back into me; I keep my eyes shut. Silence. I hear no speech, though the atmosphere is still heavy with tension and death. The rope is still around my raw neck, but loose now. Realising I am shivering violently, I open my left eye a slit. The room is empty. For a few seconds I lie there with both my eyes open, now taking in everything that has happened.
Stumbling up, I take in this changed room. The countertops are spattered with mine and my mother’s blood. The floor is carpeted with the shards of glass of all of her favourite photos. I stare at the pictures behind the spider webs of shattered glass, all of my mother’s prized photography, ruined. Her life. Gone. Already the absence of her seems to have settled into the house, into the air, into my bones. One of the shiny cupboard doors is hanging on its hinges, another has fallen off completely, revealing a gaping cave of glossy bowls and plates. The cutlery draw is open and disorganised and the knife stand is missing several. Lurching forwards I fall against the wall, then stagger through the archway back into the hall.
There is a large, cavernous hole punched in the cool blue walls, and many stab wounds gouged into them. Outside the sun is rising slightly, and patches of the natural light bathe the hall in ugly beams of daylight. Stepping over the torn, trampled photographs, and the remains of their frames I reach the front door. One of its glass panes is smashed, another shattered maze of cracks. I pull it slowly open, it squeals like a famished cat. Outside it is dawn, casting the street in a mist of grey. Each house looks substantially bigger than I remember; much more intimidating. I feel so incredibly insignificant and minute. And weak; so helpless.
Standing still for many elongated seconds, I have no idea where to go. Where can you go when your mother has just been murdered and you can not tell anyone? Nowhere. This is not a normal situation. A luxurious black business car pulls up at the end of the driveway. Somewhere in the distance, a cat screeches, and I feel time slow down. The seconds wash around me, each coated in the death of my mother and the loss of her being. Watching the car door open I keep still. A tall, lanky man in an expensive suit and thinning grey hair climbs out. He walks as a man who knows what he wants, and where he’s going to get it. His eyes pierce into me; stealing my thoughts. The pupils dart around to take in their surroundings. His shoes are polished to perfection, and even his tie looks ironed. All I can do is watch as he walks briskly towards me. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Feeling myself being grabbed from behind, I do not fight. There is no point, I am weak and the force of their arms pushes forcefully against me. I know nothing of what is happening here today, with these people I may find the answers I so desperately need. Answers to why my mother was murdered, answers to why I have been targeted, answers. My body gives in as they march me down the path to the car. The door is opened by the man with the ironed tie, and I step fearlessly inside, leaving the innocence of my past world behind.