Ten-minute story from our Hallowe’en writing class:
Josie pulled up outside the cottage, switched off the headlights and sat for a moment, engine idling, looking around. She’d found herself at the end of long winding lane, lined with trees and with no sign of any other properties close by. The owners hadn’t mentioned how remote it was when she’d signed up to house sit for two weeks while they went off to Caribbean.
She made a mental note to update the house-sitting agency then, with dusk falling, she switched the headlights back on to give herself enough light to find her way into the cottage. She’d have packed her torch in her handbag if she’d known it was going to be like this.
From what she could see the cottage looked picture-postcard perfect; roses still tumbled over the front of it and the honeysuckle climbing up and over the porch had kept its fragrant flowers despite autumn fast approaching. It would be cosy inside with the fire lit to take off the slight chill of the approaching evening, Josie thought, using the key that the agent had sent to open the door.
With the car unloaded and locked she set about settling in, unpacking her few belongings, putting food in the fridge and switching on the lamps throughout the ground floor. The owners had thoughtfully left the log burner laid, matches at the side, so she lit it and sat back. The cats must have gone into hiding from the stranger in the house. Three of them, the information sheet said. They’d no doubt appear as the evening progressed.
Two hours later she was settled on the sofa, glass of wine in hand and one cat on her knee, the other two snuggled in beside her. The fire was glowing and Josie smiled to herself. Doing this and getting paid for it was the best job in her life so far.
The lights flickered once, twice and then died. Josie sat on for a minute or two, hoping they might come back to life, the room dimly lit by the glow of the fire. Just as she was wondering whether to go in search of a torch and hunt out the fuse box the cat on her lap sat up and looked around the room, ears pricked. It made a low, growling sound, a sound echoed by the two cats at her side. They were all on their feet now, backs arched and fur on end, staring at the curtained window.
‘Sssh,’ Josie soothed, trying to stroke them back into settling down. But they were having none of it. There must be a dog outside, or maybe a fox, she thought. Were cats frightened of foxes? She stood up and went over to the window, drawing back the curtain. The wind had got up and the rambling rose around the window was tapping at the glass, as if trying to get in. Perhaps it was this that had startled the cats?
Then she saw something. Two eyes, glowing red like the embers of the fire, staring right at her. For a moment she thought she was seeing the reflection of the fire but the eyes moved. They were getting closer, coming towards the window. The cats yowled and fled as one into the dark hallway. Josie heard their paws scrabbling on the stairs as they fought each other to be first to escape.
She flung the curtain back across the window and stepped back. She stood rigid then, as realisation dawned that it was somehow worse not knowing what was out there, she stretched out her trembling fingers to take hold of the fabric. As she did so, she heard the shriek of a terrified animal from upstairs, punctuated by a low growl somewhere out in the dark of the night.
To be continued…