“So… this is officially it.”
The couple stood together, gazing about the empty room. Containing only the bare essentials – a table, a couple of chairs, a lamp, it could easily have been mistaken for any of the interchangeable houses on their terraced row. Except, of course, it was newly theirs.
“Your mum is so great, but I will be delighted not to hear her voice for at least, like, a full day. If we can get away without her calling. Plus, I’ll be able organise the cupboards properly. Imagine that?”
“Uh huh, yeah. You can put your cups… wherever you want.”
Together, they giggled with the fresh ecstasy of embarking upon a significant, new chapter. The road was dark, and unfamiliar, but illuminated faintly by the loyal glow of the other’s face, inviting a delicate tingling through their clasped hands. Their laughter soaked into the walls, as their breathing became deliberately slow. Forehead balanced on forehead, eyes closed, their mouths melted into mellow shapes, lifted into smiles by contentment.
“You know, I’ve been meaning to say, when I was chatting to my boss, he mentioned that he particularly loved the Madagascar piece. Which was all you. You helped me with that. So, really, this is our promotion. You got me here.”
“And you brought me here. I–
A wailing car alarm suddenly pierced the intimate cocoon enveloping them, shredding the walls of the house and sending man and wife leaping in place. Both were forced to recover from their shock, their senses pillaged by the explosion of noise.
“I’d already forgotten those things existed. The second you leave the city, it grows very quiet.”
The sanctity of their innocent bubble had been punctured by embarrassment, at jumping to so common an occurrence, so they sheepishly manoeuvred towards the table.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do if this place is going to be presentable tomorrow.”
“Umm, I reckon all we’ll need is a couple of strobe lights here and there, we need to set the speaker up and buy in some cups but, otherwise, it’s probably all set. The emptiness just seems spacious. We can’t have people destroying stuff or bumping into clutter. Especially because Ricky still thinks he’s eighteen around vodka.”
As the car alarm abruptly cut off, it seemed to exactly coincide with their back-garden security light triggering. The short patio was subjected to a blazing spotlight, interrogating the immature shrubbery that skirted alongside the high, wooden fence. Nothing else revealed itself. Long seconds limped on laboriously. Both sets of eyes seemed transfixed by the rear, sliding glass doors, but were instead darting through, nervously scanning the small lawn. One clutched the other’s shoulder, fingers tensed, their thoughts partway between confused concern and outright terror. Both brows were furrowed, but juxtaposed by wide, alert eyes.
Unbothered, the security light clicked off. This was the suburbs. Animals existed. They loved keeping nocturnal schedules, not least to evade the invasive human species. With the couple turning to face each other, mouths slightly ajar in a prepared chuckle at their shared foolishness, the scene erupted into light once more. Their heads whipped back.
“Okay, something has to be out there. Honey, you need to investigate.”
“What? But it’s probably just a badger or a fox. Also, I’m in my pyjamas. What investigating could I even do; the point of the light is to show us everything. And there’s nothing out there. For all we know, a branch could keep blowing over the motion detector.”
“I know, but…”
A desperate and irrational longing for some arbitrary reassurance was beginning to gnaw away. Logical bluster was no longer welcome – the situation required calculated proof that nothing was concealing its presence behind their home. Evidently, the misty night’s chill mingled with a gust of wind, leaving the bushes trembling in the cold, and one lone tree flexing its branches. The light stared on.
For no longer than a single beat, it flicked off. Before, enraged again, the garden was plunged once more into daylight. A streak of muddy red vanished into the mess of leaves at the rear.
“Did you see that? It must have been a fox all along. Come on, we can’t be this silly about the light. Imagine if we had panicked at every noise in our apartment? Every waking moment would be a hell of psychotic anxiety.”
“But what if it was running away from something? The fox, what if it was only trying to get away from something larger?”
“I don’t know, I just think… wait what was that?”
Mild exasperation was drowned by a tidal wave of raw panic lodging like a heavy ball of ice. An almost imperceptible clink, two objects colliding. Faint, but definitive. Coming from upstairs.
They froze, determined to hear it again. No sound. The ambient hum of nothingness rose into a fever-pitched cacophony of deafening silence battering against their ears, motionless bodies straining to recapture that noise. Only after an eternity, beginning to convince themselves it had resided solely in their imaginations, another tiny clink darted downstairs, accompanied by the unmistakable creak of floorboards.
An all-consuming fear engulfed the couple, leaving them petrified by uncertainty. Scarcely daring to breath, their enormous eyes and dilated pupils locked.
“There’s a person upstairs.”
It was almost laughable, a completely alien situation neither could comprehend. Somebody was in their home. An intruder had violated their private space. Every time the house lapsed into booming echoes of silence, their fragile relief was shattered by goading creaks, with renewed bursts of searing, white-hot dread.
“Surely we have to do something?”
That’s what happened on TV. A husband defended his wife. That’s what chivalry was all about, after all. He was duty-bound to guard his domain. Before heading upstairs, he pondered over the kitchen draw for a weapon, eventually brandishing a wooden spoon. Their conversation was in low, spitting whispers:
“I feel like I need something. Having something feels appropriate”
“Why not a knife?”
“Because I won’t want to use it. They might use it on me.”
“Okay. I guess. But a spoon is stupid”
“You’re doing great.”
Inching towards the stairs, the creaks continued. Arrogantly proving beyond any doubt an additional presence in their house, boasting a rummaging through this couple’s collection of hidden items and memories. As the husband hovered one tentative foot over the first step, the couple once again started with shock. A knock at the door.
Frozen, but appealing to the other for assistance, this new stimulus had stunned them both into dumbfounded submission. An ordinarily innocuous event, the knocking became another impossible decision. It came again, followed by a strained and high-pitched voice.
Would the house be any safer than what threatened them outside? They needed their own help.
As the seconds dragged themselves forwards with excruciating pain, a verdict was reached. A consensus finally ascertained. They had vowed to help each other, for better or for worse, in all of life’s trials. Together, they would survive this ordeal.
The door was opened, with fingers prematurely raised to lips. Telepathically conveying their plan to each other, the couple were determined to flee and harbour themselves as fugitives, with this new arrival, behind a neighbour’s walls. From there, the police could be called and dispatched; trained professionals trusted to defend against malignant forces. It would be a bonding experience, an ice-breaker with the couple next door. If they acted fast, perhaps nothing would even be stolen. The intruder wouldn’t have time to escape. The perfect plan.
It just never happened.
As the lock turned, the door was slammed open, bursting at its hinges. A man barrelled through the doorway, swatting the husband aside, sending him sprawling over the stairs. With a sickening crack, his head split over one of the edges, leaving him slumped forwards awkwardly. A light trail of steaming blood gargled from his lips. Wordlessly, this new invader unveiled a knife, advancing upon the wife, a rigid statue of panic. He plunged the knife into her midriff, before joining his colleague upstairs.
Only vaguely aware of someone stepping over him, the stair-bound husband raised his head, breathing hard. Blinking hopelessly through a torrent of sticky, congealing red. His wife before him was doubled-over, sporting a severe wound. In an aching crawl, he moved towards her.
Reaching her body, he tried to meet her eyes. He tried to apply pressure. He tried to nudge life into her body. It was useless.
Finally, her head raised. Her eyes opened, with one, last, shuddering breath. He gazed into her soul, until all that remained was glassy eyes. They never closed, but no longer looked to him.
He tried to shake her, but couldn’t. He felt so feeble, so weak, so frail. His body seemed to have faded. Hearing cluttering above, he spun in agonised circles, yearning for an elusive remedy. His vision snagged on an alien object.
A corpse, lifeless at the foot of the stairs. He was dead.
Yet, he had left his body behind. Somehow, his consciousness had escaped that decaying husk, leaving him detached. He tried to cradle his beautiful wife’s delicate head but couldn’t. From the depths of something unknown, he unleashed a guttural wail of unadulterated despair, morphing into a visceral shriek of electric rage.
He moved upstairs.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!
This was based on an idea I had a while ago, and only now managed to write. The title is borrowed from George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia‘, which I thought was semi-appropriate for an otherwise untitled piece, reflecting, in a sense, a horror he viewed in suburban life.
Halloween might have passed, but it’s still very much time for horrific tales, as dark nights descend and gloomy mornings greet us.
Here are a further three writings prompts you could use, if you’re interested. I’d love to hear any responses!
Whilst walking home, you see someone turn into your drive, knock on the door, and pull out a gun.
You notice something strange in the mirror. Whilst you’re looking, your reflection blinks.
With that, and a cheery wave, they hopped backwards, falling from the ledge.
Whilst you’re here, why not check out my short stories page?
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