Nyctophobia By Christopher Fowler
Alone In The Dark
Newly married, Callie is learning all about her businessman husband, whom is eighteen years older and has a child from a previous relationship. After years of unhappiness that brought her to the brink of suicide after having an abortion, Callie believes she can keep the past in the past and move on to a brighter future in Christopher Fowler's novel Nyctophobia.
The term itself relation to an intense fear of the dark, Callie has put her struggles behind her and as she grieved for her broken childhood through overcoming addiction and self mutilation, she has found happiness with Mateo, although she admits as he moves the family to Spain; she doesn't really know her new husband as well as she thinks.
Finding a cliff side home at a ridiculously low price, Callie and Mateo quickly move into the home only to find it comes with an observatory, a master clock whose gears keep daylight time for the entire house, and the staff that came with the property that are less than friendly to the couple.
Explaining they belong to the land and not the owners, the housekeeper refuses to give Callie the keys to what was told to be old maid quarters that run behind the kitchen, laundry, and bathrooms of the house with no access to any of the other parts of the house. The housekeeper, Rosita has told Callie multiple times that she doesn't have keys to that part of the home, that there is water damage to the area and just used for storage with no reason to ever enter that part of the home.
But Callie is persistent, explaining she didn't buy part of a house, that all the property is theirs, regardless of its condition and after finding some keys that were hidden and unblocking doorways, Callie finds a whole section of the house that has been closed off and immediately wishes she had followed the old woman's advice.
Finding a section closed off of the main house with barricades against the drawing room doors and locks that the staff claims they no longer have a key to after terrible water damage, Callie forces herself to the closed section of the house and immediately wishes that she left well enough alone.
Something Beyond The Walls
Exploring the rooms to find only clutter left behind by what seemed to be the family that had built the home and had passed it down through their line since 1912, Callie finds little in the secret rooms that ever point to it being lived in by staff. It is as if someone had been locked away in the small space, with a half bedroom, half dining area, and small bathroom that had seen better days due to extensive water damage.
While in the room behind the walls of her home, Callie feels shadows moving around her, but summons the courage to not let her fear of the dark get to her. She begins to question the staff again about previous occupants, and how long each was employed. Finding that her gardener had his lounge cut out in the village some years before, Callie only finds one friendly guide that is leading her to the history of her home.
With Mateo gone two weeks out of the month, Callie feels alone in the strange house and decides to write a book about its history as she continues to uncover the story of the founding family, but why the observatory? What is with the Latin inscriptions to stay in the light? Why has the staff warned Callie to keep the lights on and off in accordance to the timers on all the clocks?
Feeling extremely homesick for London, Callie is no longer alone in the house when she is joined by Mateo's daughter that will be attending boarding school the following year nearby.
With her own anxieties about the house and the locked rooms, Callie is now tasked to also protect a child from the madness.
After hosting a party for the village, a small girl is found in one of the rooms, scratched up and bleeding. She insists she was pulled into the enclosed rooms when leaving a bathroom, but no one seems to believe her after finding a doggie door that was cut into one of the walls. Yet, the village still has rumors about the crazy family that had lived in the house over the years and the deaths of those buried behind the house.
The Buzzing Of Bees
Callie dreams that Mateo is being attacked in the yard as the gardener is burning a wasp nest...That is what she is told to believe anyway.
After reading a book in the yard, Callie is called to attention by the buzzing of bees and wasps that are swarming after the nest was pulled to be burned. Seeing Mateo walking through the line of swarming insects, she watches helplessly as he is stung again and again. Mateo's body swells from the reaction to the stings and Callie races to him to chase them off, beating the insects with her hands until they are raw and stinging.
Trying to awaken her husband with mouth to mouth, she runs to get the staff to help after the realizes she can not move his body herself.
After flagging down help Callie returns to the site of the attack to find no Mateo, but some dead wasps in the grass. Her hands are swollen with stings, but she can't explain for the vision of seeing her husband die before her.
Walking into the house in a confusion she sees Mateo, who is very much alive. He claims he took the early flight home as a surprise. Everyone convinces Callie she must have fallen asleep and the bee sting that awoken her must have triggered the dream, but none of it is making any sense to her.
Bobbie, the daughter of Mateo, seems to think Callie is crazy too as she watches her explore the rooms behind the locked doors. Everything Callie sees, Bobbie seems to deny.
After twice seeing a haggard woman with a china doll mask over her face moving behind the walls, Callie is convinced the area of the house was sealed off to contain the evil but no one will believe her. Finding out from the history there was a woman that went insane in the homes history, Callie believes she has found who is behind the woman in the mask.
Bobbie Knows More Than She Is Letting On
Bobbie is scared.
Scared that her father is always gone.
Scared of her stepmother's pursuit of the ghosts.
Bobbie is scared of what she has seen in the rooms. She knows about the woman that scratches at her room from the back of the walls, and the children that hang around her in that dark place.
Bobbie knows that the woman had gone crazy and killed her children after her husband had been killed in the war.
Bobbie knows that Callie has seen them too, but she can't let Callie or Mateo know that she is aware of what is going on.
The woman had a fear of the dark, like Callie. Similar to Callie as well, the woman spent most of her marriage without her husband around and when she started to fall apart after the cult that her husband had started was falling apart and her children were starving from no one caring from them, the woman did what she thought was the merciful thing. Slitting the throats of her children before they would starve, she managed to keep the whole family together after her husband was dead and brought home from war for burial. They resided in the rooms that never got any light.
Bobbie knew all this because she has a secret too that she can't tell Callie.
The True Family
In a twist that the author brilliantly keeps hidden in something like The Others fashion, Callie after confronting the ghosts and wanting to know the secrets that they hide, finds out that not only are the inhabitants of the house dead, but her husband and stepdaughter as well.
The vision Callie saw of the wasps that had stung Mateo had claimed his life and for the weeks that he was to be out of town for work, he hid in the rooms behind the walls so that he didn't have to reveal his secret.
He claims he only wanted Callie to be safe.
Then she finds that Bobbie has also died sometime ago, the child withered away from starvation just like the children of the family that once occupied the house, as after Mateo died, Callie is told she stopped taking care of Bobbie.
But this is ridiculous! Callie goes as far as to burn the house hoping that it is all a dream but she wakes up in a hospital and is returned home to what is left of the house, knowing the way to be together forever is through her own death as shown to her by the ghost woman.
Excepting that Mateo and Bobbie are forever bound the house now, Callie must join them.
Nyctophobia is a brilliantly written tale that I had no idea where the ending was leading until the final pages. Creepy and fast paced, this book just what I needed in a horror novel.
The imagery of the people behind the locked doors is unsettling at best, and the realization that Callie has been the only living person in the home for some time, really comes as a shocker.
Nyctophobia will defiantly have any reader fearing the dark for a few days after reading.