The Whole Town's Sleeping
As Lavinia rounded the corner of Francine’s street, her pace quickened - The Whole Town's Sleeping introduction. She was not afraid; at least, she didn’t think she was, despite her vigorous steps.
It was a beautiful night, and it was only when Lavinia stopped to rest that she could properly admire it. The crisp, cool air washed over her face, sending the tiniest of shivers down her spine. Up above, the unfathomable night sky coated the town in blue-black splendor. The moon shone with an eerie brilliance unlike anything Lavinia had seen before.
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What a shame that a night like this should play host to so much fear and grief, Lavinia thought to herself as she continued to gaze skywards. Enraptured by the moment, she did not notice the advancing creature behind her, edging slowly closer.
‘No!’ Lavinia let out a stifled cry as she felt something creep up against the back of her leg. She was frozen to the spot; images of The Lonely One filled her mind, looming over her with a taut length of rope in his hands.
‘Meow,’ the Morris’ cat threaded in-between her legs and looked up at her curiously.
Lavinia let out a long, deep breathe that she had been holding for an eternity. The cat was now grooming himself, unconcerned with anything else. She absentmindedly scratched behind the feline’s ear, thinking about how vulnerable she had just been, so engrossed in the night sky. All that mattered now was getting home.
Suddenly, Lavinia was very aware of how alone she was. She anxiously looked up and down the road. Why hadn’t she just stayed at Francine’s! It wasn’t too late to go back. She found herself arguing with her own mind; turn back and stay with Francine, or just go the short distant home and stop being so darnn scared! This wasn’t like her.
Regaining her composure, Lavinia started towards the ravine. She could imagine what Francine would have been like if she admitted that she had been scared. Francine would have just got herself even more worked up over nothing. After all, there was nothing to worry about.
The soft patter of a second set of footsteps told Lavinia that the cat had decided to follow her. She didn’t mind, she had always liked cats, more so than dogs. Lavinia had sometimes seen herself as rather like a cat; independent, maybe a bit untrusting but affectionate when you got to know her, and definitely able to stand her ground.
The whole town was silent, holding its breath, waiting for something to happen. Even without The Lonely One prowling around, it was still dangerous to be out at this hour.
‘This is stupid!’ she whispered to herself, starting to get annoyed. ‘You’re starting to act like Francine, scared of your own shadow.’
The cat prowled beside Lavinia, its eyes never leaving her face. She looked sideways down at him. His piercing gaze made her slightly uncomfortable, as if he was searching for something within her expression.
‘Huh!’ Lavinia gasped and stepped behind a thick tree out of sight. A tall figure emerged from an alley. It was Tom. A dormant anger rose within her as she recalled the earlier incident in her mind; she was astounded that anyone could have been so tactless and insensitive. However, Lavinia was not one to hold a grudge, and relief to see someone she knew soon displaced any shred of resentment. She smiled to herself; that alley led straight from the local bar.
Lavinia came out from behind the oak and walked towards the staggering figure, the cat following closely behind. Silhouetted against the gloom of the night, Tom looked somewhat sinister.
‘Hello, Tom,’ Lavinia said with mild contempt as she walked towards him, ‘Had one too many again?’
Tom walked under the street lamp’s beam, but the man she saw was not Tom.
‘Eh? What’s that you say?’ Stanley Punnick tried to keep his balance as he turned to face Lavinia.’
‘Oh, Mr. Punnick. I thought you were someone else, sorry.’ Lavinia, like everyone else in town, despised bitter, old Stanley Punnick.
His gnarled face twisted into one of his foul, wicked smiles as he steadied himself against the lamp post, ‘Lavinia, my dear. It’s not safe for a fair maiden like yourself to be wandering these dangerous streets at night.’
‘Go home Stan, you’re drunk.’ Lavinia knew not to pay him any attention. Anything Stanley Punick said was questionable.
His grin widened, ‘You’re welcome to stop off at mine for the night. We could have a lot of fun, you and me.’
‘Still single Stan? You surprise me.’
His eyes narrowed, but the malicious grin stayed put. ‘Lavinia, everyone knows you’re next, now that poor Eliza has been found dead. That must have been a terrible ordeal for you.’
Lavinia tried not let his tone of mock sympathy anger her, or the way he talked about Eliza, who had loathed him just as much as anyone else. Instead, she settled for a scornful look and walked away.
‘If you go into that ravine tonight I guarantee you won’t come out the other side!’ he called after her, but she did not look back.
It was a chilly night and Lavinia had started to shiver. She pulled her coat tighter as she walked purposefully towards the murky ravine. It didn’t seem to be getting any closer, which she was partly grateful for, but at last, she inevitably arrived at its edge. She glanced back. The town was in a deep slumber, blissfully unaware of the trial she was about to face. Stan wasn’t to be seen.
Lavinia couldn’t help but think of what Stan had said. She knew he was just trying to provoke a reaction, which she was determined not to give him, but his words had still unhinged her. Was it really worth risking her life? She felt as if she had to prove a point to herself, and Francine for that matter. She would have never taken a risk like this before now, what had changed? Deep down, Lavinia knew that it was highly likely that she would be The Lonely One’s next victim, almost certain in fact. So why would she do something as foolish as walking into this dark ravine?
Her heart caught in her chest as she peered fretfully into the ravine’s depths. It seemed to absorb all the light around it, creating one large black shadow over the land. Pulsating from within was a dark energy, governed by the night and fueled by the terror it induced. It looked formidable even in the day-time, but at night it was a menacing, accursed place where no one dared to go.
‘Meow,’ the cat was standing right at the edge looking deep inside the ravine. It seemed to be transfixed upon something that Lavinia could not see.
‘What is it?’ she asked the cat as she strained to see anything. The cat let out a low, fierce hiss and suddenly darted away, back towards the town.
Lavinia watched the cat run away until it was swallowed by the shadows, then turned back to the ravine. Something had scared that cat, and she was torn between intrigue and dread at what it might have been.
Slowly, and now completely alone, Lavinia walked down the slope into the ravine. The familiar drone of the ravine’s inhabitants met her ears whilst her eyes tried their best to adjust to the impenetrable darkness. She took one last look of longing back at the town, and then made her way into the trees.
It was slow work; Lavinia could hardly see a thing, and she was taking each step gradually to avoid making too much noise. Rustles and crunches came from all around her. Any of them could be The Lonely One, she thought to herself. All she could do was stay focused and not work herself into a panic. Just then, a particularly large and obvious crunch came from behind her.
‘Who’s th-there?’ She had tried to appear commanding, but her voice cracked and sounded small and mousey.
No reply came. Even the natural din of the ravine was hushed to a gentle hum as Lavinia’s eyes scouted the scene frantically. Her heart was racing. She knew what she had heard, and she hadn’t really expected a reply anyway. She concentrated hard, listening with all her might, rooted to the spot.
Five minutes past without any other such sounds, but she was far from satisfied. Lavinia’s speed had slowed even further; she was now edging her way through the trees so slowly that it didn’t seem like she was even moving, but all the while remaining vigilant for anything unusual, not just noises. Her heart was banging against her chest; the Lonely One would be bound to hear it if he was nearby, she thought. She wanted to run but her legs felt as if they would have collapsed if she tried.
The perpetual buzzing was clouding her mind, suffocating her senses. She could feel her sanity gradually ebbing away. Louder and louder; a hint of ferocity now mingled within the frenzied drone. She grabbed each side of her skull and braced her self for the climax that would surely shatter her into a million pieces. Instead something icy cold clasped her right soldier. The freezing touch brought her back to reality with such a force that she was momentarily dazed. Then, she ran. She ran right out of that ravine and into the town without looking back for a moment, and not baring to think about that touch.
Lavinia rushed inside her house and bolted the door shut. After checking it was safely locked, she slumped against the wall and sobbed for a long time as everything that had happened that night ran through her mind; she knew that she would never forget this.
When she had finally got herself together, or as good as could be expected, she walked down the hall and into her bedroom. Lavinia knew that even sleeping, she would not be able to escape these haunting memories. Nevertheless, she had to sleep, and she reassured herself that whatever she may dream, it wasn’t real. She reached out for the light switch, but hesitated. Instead, she went straight to her bed, not bothering to turn on the lights, or even get changed.
She sat on the side of her bed, wondering whether or not to call Francine like she had promised; it could wait until the morning, she thought to herself. Francine would be able to tell something was wrong by her voice and she didn’t want to worry her.
Lavinia laid down on the right side of her bed, like she always did, but something felt different. She fidgeted, trying to get comfortable; something was definitely strange. Just then, Lavinia felt something warm drip onto her left hand. She lifted it up and saw the crimson liquid. Her heart stopped dead. Unwillingly, she slowly turned her head. Francine’s frightened, pleading eyes looked into Lavinia’s. Her body, so unnaturally positioned, appeared to still be writhing. Her clothes were bloodstained and there were deep cuts up her arms and on her hands. Her face was spookily animated. Her tongue stood hanging out…