Horla Fiction (November 2020)



I HAVE to warn her. It eats away at me: the idea that she does not know what is coming for her. I can feel the terror of it in every moment that I am away from her. And when I am not: I might be watching her from across the street, when she’s drinking coffee or eating noodles or something. The feeling that she is unconcerned fills me with terror and darkness. I have to warn her.


It sounds quite simple when I put it like that, but it’s not. She’s not going to take any notice of me in the usual contexts. I’m not in great shape: wild unwashed hair, ragged clothes and so on. She’s in a different world. She has her clothes brought laundered to her, sweet smelling and neatly pressed. On a Wednesday, usually. And she’s drinking coffee in the most expensive coffee shop on the street. They aren’t even likely to let me in, and if I threw myself against the window, like I sometimes psych myself up to do, I mean, what do you think? She would be terrified, and that’s not what I want. I want her to understand what’s coming. I want her to look into my eyes and believe it’s real. I’m not sure, after that, what’s going to happen; that’s not my responsibility. I exist only to deliver this warning, just to her, and completely.


I’m getting closer. I managed to talk to her this morning when she was in the park, checking her messages while picking absent-mindedly at a brown box filled with food. I had it all rehearsed in my head but it came out pretty garbled. And like I said, I don’t look so great these days, which I think is why she screamed. Normally she’s a very calm individual, even on her own in the dark path across the churchyard near her house where it’s very easy for someone to hide in the yew tree branches and just watch her walk by. This time in the park I wasn’t just watching and I got a reaction, at least, and she dropped the box and ran.

She calmed down after a little while, once she had decided that I hadn’t given chase, but I saw her calling someone, probably the police, so I melted away. I hadn’t seen her quite so nervous before; maybe she has caught sight of me from time to time after all, and has started to wonder why this figure seems to be following her. At first I could have looked just like any homeless person, and she may not have put it all together; now, given that she seems pretty smart, I imagine she has an idea that I’m interested in her for some reason. That’s probably what was behind the scream – a slow build up of anxiety over time, a nameless dread, and then suddenly there I am, in front of her, in the full glory of my ancient decrepit self and my radiant stink, shouting something incomprehensible through rotten teeth. She won’t know the reason I want to talk to her. She won’t know that I’m just the bearer of a warning: that it’s coming for her.


And I think it’s coming for her tonight. That’s why I’m thinking this all through, trying to find the final act of communication that will break through. I can feel it’s near: something in the way the clouds are all stretched and broken across that sick-looking sky with its bruises and sores.  That’s why I’m here, waiting for her to come home, still shaken up by that incident in the park, perhaps, and by the footsteps that follow her; by the feeling that around each corner something wicked lies; by the fear of turning around suddenly in a dark room or of looking at the shadowed places that are always there behind her when she looks in a mirror. But it has to be this way: I have to warn her. And when she comes in, hurrying slightly for fear that she is being followed, and then realising with a lurch of her heart that yes, she really is; when she fumbles with her keys, and she closes the door to her apartment and walks across its small black space towards the bedroom: I’ll be waiting.



SAM DERBY is based in Oxford, England, and has previously been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Prize, placed for the ChipLitFest Short Story and highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize. His work has appeared here at Horla – enter his name in the search engine at top right of any of our pages – and other fiction sites.

Title photo credit – Taofeek Obafemi-Babatunde on Unsplash

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