LONELY NIGHTS - GRAHAM SMITH
Susie got in from work and pulled a ready meal from the freezer. Putting it into the microwave, she got a knife, fork and plate ready, switching on the kettle as she moved around the huge farmhouse kitchen.
It had been Mike’s idea to buy this place and he was steadily renovating the place between other paying building jobs. She’d never wanted to live in the country until he’d shown her this place and explained his vision. She’d bought into his dream immediately and they had scrimped and saved to finance the mortgage and the necessary repairs and alterations.
Now it was back on the market. A rotten scaffold plank had given way beneath Mike’s boot and he had fallen to his death. Now she lived alone in the big farmhouse. No pets, no family and the nearest neighbour over a mile away down the rutted access road.
When the microwave beeped its culinary finale, she removed the fish pie and tipped its unappetising mess onto her plate. Carrying the plate through to the lounge, she switched on the TV in time to catch the seven o’clock news update on Sky News.
Despairing at the plethora of misery presented from around the world, she shoveled the food into her mouth uncaring of its bland tastelessness. It was nourishment. That was all; purely and simply fuel to keep her body going. Since Mike’s fall two months ago, she had struggled to take any pleasure from any act. Books were half read, films were watched in an uncomprehending daze, food was eaten not savoured. The purpose had gone from her life and she was little more than an empty shelled zombie, sleepwalking her way through the tatters of her life.
Ironically her job was what gave her the most satisfaction and by throwing herself into her work she could forget the tragedy for whole minutes at a time. Never had accounting seemed so interesting. Normally the intricacies of tax law left her bored to tears. Now they stopped the tears flowing.
After channel-hopping aimlessly for a couple of hours, she gave it up for a bad job and went to bed. Since Mike’s death, bed had become a haven. She was safe there, surrounded by the smell of him on the sheets. His pillow was her comfort blanket and each night, after taking a sleeping pill, she cuddled the pillow to her body and dreamt of him, smelling his aftershave and the salty tang of her tears.
Susie awoke, bleary-eyed and confused. Her subconscious had heard an unfamiliar noise and had prodded her awake. Unsure as to whether it was a dream or not, she sat up and listened intently. Nothing. No strange noises, no unknown sounds. A cow lowed in the distance but that sound was familiar. Now awake, she decided to get up and check the house anyway. Although not timid by nature, she was still unnerved enough to creep around checking doors and windows, until she had determined the house was secure.
As she’d made her way around the house, she’d grabbed her mobile from the coffee table and now it rested on her bedside table next to the lamp, alarm clock and the ever-present glass of water.
Sleep came harder a second time, but it eventually returned and she retreated back to her dreams of Mike. The time when he’d proposed, their first meeting, their first kiss and their first glorious weekend away together.
This time, her unconscious didn’t so much prod her awake as kick her. Hard! Her hand shot out to switch the lamp on and knocked the glass to the floor where it collided with last night’s glass in a sudden crash startling her further. Again she listened; again nothing untoward assaulted her ears. Shadows flitted across the window. Investigating, she discovered they were caused by the oak in the garden, blowing against the moon’s low-slung light.
Nervous adrenaline was coursing through her veins so she set off on a second inspection of the house. Only, this time, she had her mobile in one hand with the number for the police already dialed and her thumb on the call button. In the other hand, she carried a long shard of broken glass retrieved from her bedside. Room by room, she toured the house. She switched every light on. Made noise, deliberately announcing her progress. She wanted to scare off any intruder so she didn’t have to confront them. Still no sounds or noises came. The kitchen was the last room to check and, when it too was found to be secure and vacant, she started chastising herself. ‘Silly cow, total overreaction. What’s next, being scared of my own shadow?’
Switching off the lights, she went upstairs where, after quickly tidying up the broken glass, she went back to bed.
And that was when the hand grabbed her by the throat.
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