Old Max, currently with his grey-whiskered snout slumped on the edge of his basket, had seen her haring around like this before – usually every morning when she couldn’t find things – so although he wasn’t enjoying the panic and unease, he wasn’t too unsettled. Instead he yawned noisily and raised his eyebrows hopefully at the bag of shopping on the kitchen surface opposite him.
Marie, meanwhile, felt hysterical.
After dumping the shopping in the kitchen she dashed to the stairs remembering an open window in her bedroom but changed her mind and decided to check all the downstairs doors and windows first.
Think! Did I lock the front door?
She ran to check and then, momentarily paralysed by fear, couldn’t decide whether to turn right or left. The panic was clouding her judgement. She realised she was crying too.
Come on! Keep it together! Where now?
She hastily formed the layout of the house in her mind and darted towards the backdoor and the garage.
Before she even opened the backdoor, however, a chilling draught forced itself mournfully through the gaps in the tattered old oak and the cold, smoky night air flooded her nostrils, mixing with another smell – a sweet sickly smell. It was a smell from the past that swamped her with foreboding.
A thud of fear walloped into her and she baulked at the thought that the garage may already be a place of danger. So she didn’t open the back door to check, instead she locked and bolted the door, feeling like she was taking forever with sweaty, trembling fingers. Then she dropped boots and shoes onto the doormat in front of the poorly fitted draught excluder in a lame attempt to slow down any entry.
The autumn sun was long gone and the windows were inky-dark. Before pulling down the kitchen blind she saw nothing but interior light, her own reflection and an immense insoluble blackness. She would have no visual warning of any impending approach on her house. Her skin pricked and her mouth was sucked dry. She fled from the kitchen. Room by room: she ran in, looked at windows, checked catches, closed curtains, turned lights on and then turned them off again.
‘No. No. Off. Off is better,’ she said to herself.
Marie thudded upstairs but as she stepped onto the unlit landing she was thrown into temporary blindness and she halted, terrified by the thought of potential horrors waiting in the dark.
Again she smelled that sweet sickly smell and now an overwhelming feeling that she was not alone on the landing.
Instinct told her to go back to the kitchen where there was Max and hopefully safety. She could slip into the pantry, curl into a ball and hide until it was all over.
‘But I need to shut the window…’
Her fingers walked along the wall to where she knew the light switch was. She wanted to flash out the dark corners and she cursed herself for not replacing the bulb at the top of the stairs. She flicked the switch anyway knowing it was futile but to her shock the light came on.
The light came on…
‘Oh my God, someone’s replaced my light bulb…’
‘Who’s there?’ she hissed.
Her chest rose and fell quickly as shallow, panicky breaths took hold. She heard herself panting.
Buying a run down old farmhouse had not been so great after all. She had never felt so vulnerable. Just because she was the one with a big house, there was no need for this….
There was a bang and the sound of splintering glass from downstairs. Marie let out the longest loudest scream of her life. She couldn’t stop. She screamed until her breath ran out and then she screamed again. She had completely lost control. She finally collapsed on the landing. And that’s when she saw the box…
They’d been here.
Something claw-shaped was hanging over the edge of the box. It was limp and hairy-looking. In the half-light she couldn’t see if it was black or brown. She wasn’t at all sure what she was looking at and she didn’t want to find out.
They had won.
The house was so quiet.
She heard Max’s doggy toenails clicking on the terracotta kitchen floor and the welcome tinkle of his dog tag as he came closer, with a questioning whine.
‘The shopping!’ She remembered the Pyrex oven dish she’d bought.
Of course! The dog had pulled the shopping off the kitchen surface. That was all.
She started as her mobile phone rang. Marie took it from her pocket and sat at the top of the stairs, angled so she could keep an eye on the box. She looked at the screen of her phone.
Max came to the foot of the stairs, desperate for her to come down.
‘This is it Maxy. Do or die, my friend. Let’s just say we’re not in, huh?’
Marie dragged in a shaky breath before answering.
‘Mar-ieeee!’ a voice screamed at her, ‘are you ready for the fright of your life?!’
Marie sobbed, admitting defeat.
‘I’m bringing them over now,’ the voice continued. ‘Look out – there are eight of them this year. Jack and Lola insisted on bringing a friend… Okay kids? Lets go have a Halloween party at Auntie Marie’s house!’
Marie held the phone away from her face as the noise of over-excited children roared through the earpiece.
‘Oh – and I left some strings of glow-in-the-dark skeletons and lanterns and shit in your garage and some of my infamous gut-sticking eyeball cakes in your oven when I came round earlier. There’s a box of fancy dress on the landing too. Get dressed up before we arrive!’
‘But, Chrissie – there’s – ‘
Click. Christina hung up.
‘- there’s broken glass… ’ Marie finished her sentence pointlessly, put her head in her hands and screwed her face up in desperation.
‘We don’t really like Halloween, do we Maxy?’