“Did you hear that?” he asks softly, his deep voice breaking the silence.

It’s a wintry Sunday morning. The rain is coming down in a steady stream; the wind is howling and rumbles of thunder sound off in the distance. It’s early—6:00 am—and I am nowhere near ready to get out of bed and neither is my husband, Mark. He has pulled me in close, my forehead resting against his stubbly chin and my face inches from his neck. In return, his warm, bulky arms are wrapped around me, holding me tight, his rough hands softly caressing the small of my back.

“Hear what?” I reply, eyes closed, inhaling in his scent.

His breath catches in his throat. “I’m sure I heard someone call out ‘help’ but…I don’t know…I’m not sure.”

I move in closer, snuggling my head into his chest. “It could have been anything; the wind, a dream, someone fighting nearby. We are on the beach, after all, and it’s Sunday morning. I’m sure there are some of those seriously dedicated joggers around. The ones who run no matter the weather.”

“True…but it just felt so real,” he replies, his hands moving up my back, gently tickling my skin, which shudders ever so slightly in response.

“I’m sure it was nothing. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just enjoy this moment,” I whisper, my lips finding his neck, which is met with an appreciative murmur and his hands moving lower.

Later that morning, I finally drag myself out of bed and pull on a pair of pink pyjamas and fluffy pink slippers and make my way to the kitchen, my mind screaming for caffeine. Standing at the counter in our pristine shiny white kitchen, I’m stirring my coffee when a voice calls out, making me jump, nearly knocking my drink over as I do. Mark had been called into work unexpectedly, leaving me alone, so I know it’s not him calling out from the bedroom with the hopes of starting up again. My stomach tightens at the thought and I close my eyes, indulging in the memory for a brief moment before I open them, senses tingling. I gently place the spoon I’m holding on the countertop and lay my hands either side of it and listen, the quietness of the house now deafening as my ears strain against it, scanning the air for any kind of sound.

“Help!” a voice calls, tiny and anguished.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. This couldn’t be my imagination, or street noise, or the storm that’s now growing weaker by the minute. This was in the house and it was close. I stay still and hold my breath, the butterflies that have woken in my stomach flying around in frantic circles.

“Help me, please! Help!” it calls again, louder and desperate.

My head snaps in the direction of the voice as thunder rumbles softly above me, fading away as quickly as it came. This time, there’s no mistaking it. It’s in the house and it’s coming from the basement.

My stomach drops as I turn around and look at the nondescript brown basement door opposite me, the butterflies giving way to a growing feeling of anger.

“Damn it,” I mutter.

I turn back to the bench and grab my oversized coffee cup, taking a sip, my lips curling into a small smile as the delicious liquid glides down my throat, warming my chest. I take another sip as I walk over to the sink, where I tip the remaining coffee out and place the empty cup in the basin.

“Damn it…” I mutter again, angry at wasting a perfectly good cup of joe.

I walk over to the key holder near the front door, a little wooden plaque with hooks, the word “keys” in bright pink calligraphy, a stark contrast to my now filthy mood. I grab the brass basement key and cup it in my left hand, which is now shaking at the thought of what is hiding down there. I shuffle over the smooth white kitchen floor tiles to the basement door and unlock it slowly, carefully creaking it open. The dank smell of the room hits me immediately, but underneath the overwhelming odours of long-forgotten discarded sneakers and dirty, probably mouldy, unwanted clothes, lies something far more sinister. I hit the light switch and the stairwell is instantly flooded with fluorescent light, the impact forcing my eyes shut as they shy away from the intruding artificial brightness.

“Help me! Please, please help me!” the voice cries again, the urgency palpable.

I climb down the stairs, taking my time with each step as my eyes quickly adjust to the light, stopping when I reach the bottom to flick on the rooms light switch. This light is not as harsh as the staircase light and throws a warm glow out into the room, making scanning the room quick and easy. I sigh wearily as I spot the source of the noise.

Just beyond some floorboards that have been ripped up and left askew, exposing the soil underneath, is a young woman, sobbing as she struggles to heave her body out from a deep hole in the dirt. A hole that looks like a grave; the grave I’d dug, especially for her. Her arms shake as she tries to lift herself on the intact floorboards around her. She is filthy, bruised, and bloodied; just as I’d left her.

I curse under my breath as I scold myself for doing a half-assed job. Firstly, I should have checked she was actually dead. Secondly, I should have packed the dirt down tighter and put those damn floorboards back over the top of her straight away, nailed them back in place. Then she’d be stuck and would have slowly suffocated to death, not be here before me trying to make some last-ditch grab for freedom. I make a mental note not to make this mistake again.

“Please, help…” she starts, as her eyes meet mine. Her jaw drops and she jolts back, her movements coming to a violent halt. The scream that comes out of her mouth is nothing more than a hoarse shrill. “You…you’re…you look just like…you look just like…how? How is this possible?” she finally squawks, tears steadily trickling down her bloodied cheeks. She starts squirming again, the horror on her face quickly replaced by hard determination. “Now, now,” I tsk as I walk over to her, my steps slow and deliberate. “Why’d you try and get out for? Did you really expect you’d make it? You know both your legs are broken. How did you plan on getting out exactly?”

“Please,” she whimpers, straining to get the bottom half of her body out from the dirt. “You don’t have to do this. Surely there’s someone else?”

I squat down in front of her, my hands loosely clasped in front of me. “Sorry, sweetheart, but that’s a no. There’s no one else, Charlotte. It’s you. You know, if you stayed in your hole, you’d be dead by now and probably in a much better place.”

She stops moving, exhaustion clear on her weary face, and sinks back into the hole, her head resting in between her arms, which are splayed out on the floorboards in front of her. She looks up at me, her sad eyes struggling to stay open. “If you let me go, let me live, I won’t tell a soul. I swear.”

I tilt my head and purse my lips as I take in her features. As recently as the day before, she was a stunning girl. She’d been blessed with a breathtaking smile, full dewy pink lips, big blue eyes, and wavy brown hair that went all the way down her back before stopping at her firm bottom. Her young, toned, twentysomething-year-old body was always wrapped in the latest designer gear from daywear to gym gear, with accessories to match. Put simply, she was a glossy magazine cover come to life. This is what attracted me to her. I was in the park late one afternoon when she ran past me, annoyingly oblivious to anyone around her, her large diamond drop earrings sparkling as they bopped along with her in the setting sun. As I watched her glide past me, I knew she was my next. I followed her home and stalked her over the following weeks, watching her every move from work, to home, to coffee dates with the girls. I knew exactly where she was and what she was doing at any time of the day or night. She had truly been blessed in all aspects of life; a picturesque house right on the beach, a dreamboat husband who adored her, a fantastic and lucrative career in advertising, and friends who were fun and supportive. Her life was all I wanted and more. And I was going to make it mine.

Early one Saturday morning, I waited until Mark had left for his usual run before I broke into her house, catching her unaware in the kitchen. She put up a hell of a fight, I’ll give her that, but I prevailed, breaking both her legs and beating the life out of her with my bare hands. I buried her in the basement, in the dirt underneath the floorboards, and had not long finished cleaning up the blood in the kitchen when Mark returned, forcing me to quickly lock the basement door, delaying my return to nail the floorboards back in place. I was planning on finishing the job today when Mark went to the local pub for his usual Sunday afternoon routine of watching the game with his mates, but luckily, he had been called into work to go over an urgent report with his boss, getting him out of the house before his real wife ramped up her incessant, and expected, howling from her grave. I had managed to fob him off earlier, but things would not have ended well for him had he heard it again. Which would be a shame, really, as I had already grown quite fond of him.

I move in closer, my face leaning into hers—my face, minus the cuts and bruises—and smile sweetly. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s my turn now. You’ve had your fun. Let someone else have a go. I’ll take good care of your life and of your gorgeous husband. What a catch he is, huh? You sure bagged yourself a good one there. By the way, he tells me he wants to try for a baby soon.” I wink at her as her eyes widen. “Sure, I can’t conceive, but it’ll be fun trying…”

Charlotte lifts her head up and in a last act of defiance, spits at me, a slippery ball of phlegm landing on my cheek. In a flash, my hand shoots out and grabs her around the throat, squeezing it, the other wiping the saliva from my face and flicking it onto the floorboards at my feet.

“You’re a monster,” she gasps as her hands desperately claw at my wrist, her eyes bulging as she struggles for air.

My phlegm-free hand joins the other and closes around her throat, both of them squeezing, her windpipe collapsing beneath them in one satisfying crack. I press harder as her grip on my wrist weakens and she gives one last stifled scream as her head flops backwards, her face slack.

“Not a monster, Charlotte,” I laugh. “A shapeshifter.”