's 2016 Horror Write-off:

The Little Old Man From Number 22

Submitted by Cassie Heath

Well, there goes the neighbourhood.

I've just got back from meeting the new neighbours, dear. They've just moved in at number twenty-four, where Marjorie lived before they put her in the home. You wouldn't like them. You really wouldn't like them. They're a young couple — too young, by my book, you don't count as a stable breadwinner if all you've got is a paper round — and the man has to be seen to be believed. All teeth and hair. Of course, I assume he's a man. Could be bloody anything these days. Big thick lumberjack shirt and neck tattoos and more pierced than a naked Frenchie at the Battle of Poitiers, but I've learned not to take that as any indication. Can't be too careful.

She, on the other hand, was very definitely female. Extremely so. Oh, don't look so jealous, dear. I know I'm a lot older than I look, but she's far too young. Remember when we were her age? Everything was so much simpler then. A simpler time, it was. A better time. That reminds me, actually, she gave me this leaflet about the tea dance going on in the community centre on Fish St. — you know the one, the one those kids tried to burn down last year because they were all on drugs or something — without knowing that I was the one organizing it! We all had a laugh. Said she might pop along, get some vintage clothing out. Apparently she operates an online shopping business for that sort of thing. Kids these days. Anything for a quick buck, as our cousins across the pond say.

Apparently there's a child, too. Adopted, obviously, poor creature; shifty little thing, too small, dark eyes, the kind you get in a serial runaway. I just hope they don't get too attached, that's all. Saw a lot of eyes like that after the Blitz, you know. Cup of tea, dear? Hot and strong and with a slice of lemon. I've got a bit of a treat for you, actually. Surprise! Saw a chap in the little poppy-uppy market thing carving roses out of fruit when I went to stock up. Pretty reasonable job of work, when you stop and really look at it, mangos can go horribly squidgy and slack when you don't have a cool bag. Excellent knife skills, that man. Well worth a few quid and a grapefruit. Might have to talk to him at some point.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the little lass. Probably. Dark eyes, dark hair, if she's a day over fifteen I'll eat my hip replacement. Bit sullen, but still, she's probably nice enough in her own way. She didn't take much of a shine to me, that much is clear. Ruddy kids. Too much television, too much reading, too much thinking. Makes you see things. Makes you see what's there.

There we are. Hot and strong and, yes, I remembered the lemon. We've been together long enough for me to know how you take your tea. There we go! All done. Mm. Slow sips. We don't want to spill it, do we dear? It's very hot, and we don't want you getting burned again, now do we?

You wouldn't like them, dear. I know you wouldn't. You mustn't fret so. They don't even have to know you're here. Probably for the best, really. They wouldn't understand how we feel. How our love grew. What grew it.

I love thinking about the old days. Heh. I remember when all this were fields, I do. Well, my grandad did, which is almost the same. London's always been my home. Out on the outskirts, I'll grant you, away from the hustle and bustle, but it's there. Back in them days you never had to lock your door and people minded their own business. Not like now. Every little twerp with a fussy beard and an internet trifle-selling business or whatever has a smartphone now. Smartphones take pictures. They take video. They can't really be lied to, not properly. Them ruddy Google Glasses are the worst for that. You just can't tell what someone's thinking with them on.

Hoi! Simmer down, dear. Don't fret so. You'll be fine. You'll be alright. You'll never have to see them. I mean, you can't. Not right now. None of you can. Here in my little house, quiet as mice we all are, keeping ourselves to ourselves, minding our own business. Heh. Little mice. My dad used to trap them, y'know. Made rat kings to prove he knew what he was about. We were never close, it wasn't done back then, loving your son, but I suppose I followed more in his footsteps than I thought.

The other people in our row thought we were weird, our family. Just because my dad caught rats and my mother died so young, God rest ‘er. But we made things. Dad made his living, his kings. His crowned heads of Europe, he called them, on account of the power. He was funny, our Dad, when he had a mind to be and he wasn't on the beer. He made them and I made you, dear.

People are forever talking rubbish about the number seven. Eric from up the road, he reckons it's the centre of the universe. I just smile and nod. There's no telling some people. Twenty-two, that's where the real strength is. You just have to line it up right. It's fiddly work, working with the number twenty-two is. Like trying to strip a Morris Traveller motor on a bouncy castle, it can feel like. But when you get it right... you really get it right.

There was always enough money for beer back in the old days, because Dad was a clever man who used his power wisely. The Crowned Heads let him talk to people and they gave him what he pleased and thanked him for his custom. He made one out of babies once. Wore it on a chain he had made special — four hundred and eighty-four links, twenty-two karat gold. Took him a few goes, mind, had to be done very quickly and at very specific times, but he managed it. We both did. This house, ones like it at least, have been in the family for six hundred years or thereabouts. A couple of generations. That's what I call power.

And that's why I made you. So much life. Abated. Kept in check. Stored like a capacitor, the water behind a dam, generating all that power. Twenty-two women, twenty-two years old, eyeless, earless, mouthless, skinless. Pregnant, too, but that was easy. Took me so long to get you together — so to speak. And we grew to love each other. I'd be lost without you, and you'd be lost without me. Isn't that right, dear? You're one now. We're one.

Twenty-two, sewn together, veins black with magic, with one great heart stitched together out of all your lovesick hearts. All of you arranged just so, to keep everything as it should be. We want for nothing, but the best pleasures in life are small, aren't they? Food and water, and a nice cup of tea. I like to watch you eat and drink, dears. I like the way it looks as it moves down your gullets, the mass flicking between them, in and out of reality. It's like you're playing duck duck goose! Remember that? Of course you do. I've seen inside your heads. It's not so noisy now, not after all the time we've had together.

Hm. The blood needs refilling. I wish I knew where it kept going. I know there's a lot of power as needs fuelling, but it keeps being drained. I'll pop over to Eric's house, see if he's got any tips that don't involve the number seven, hah. Actually, you know what? We've got time. We'll always have time. And shifty-eyed little madams always run away in the end.

Do you know, I think I've quite misjudged the couple at number twenty-four. They were kind enough to pay us a call.

It'd only be polite to return the favour.