Joanne was watching the film but not really following the storyline. She had already seen the film once before. Charlie lay on his side, fast asleep. Joanne stroked his head, his nose twitched. Charlie was their Jack Russell. He was 9 years old and barked too much. Charlie was annoying at times, but good company. Especially when her husband Steve was out.
She could feel her eyes begin to roll, the film was boring. It was 11.15pm.
“What time will u be home?” she sent the text to Steve. A couple of minutes passed, no reply.
“Come on, little man.” Charlie opened his left eye and lifted his head. She lifted him off the bed. The bed too high to jump off. “Pee pee.” Charlie followed her downstairs, wagging his tail. He ran outside into the garden, underneath the bushes. She could see her breath as she stood at the back door. The cold October night, clear and silent. The only noise was Charlie rustling around finding somewhere to pee. The naked tree branches at the end of the garden silhouetted by the light of the full moon. She loved living in the countryside. Having no neighbours had advantages. But tonight, she felt alone especially when Steve wasn’t home.
“Hurry up Charlie, its freezing,” she called out. Charlie appeared from beneath the bush and ran straight into his bed.
She locked the back door, leaving the light on in the hallway. It made her feel secure. Her phone vibrated.
“Hey babe, I am having a few more drinks. I haven’t got my key leave the backdoor unlocked sorry xx” it was Steve.
Unimpressed she typed, “You’re an idiot.”
She couldn’t stay too angry, he didn’t go out very often but when he did. It normally ended up with Steve waking her up and talking nonsense. Retracing her steps, she unlocked the backdoor.
Feeling guilty she sent another message, “Night x” It was 11.35pm.
“Goodnight Charlie.” Charlie lay in his bed, he didn’t budge. She turned the light off, closed the door and made her way upstairs.
The TV played in the background with the sound turned down. She lay in bed staring at the ceiling. A few minutes passed by. She felt tired but anxious. It was always the same when she was alone. She closed her eyes and drifted off.
The room was shrouded in darkness. The TV had gone into standby. Something woke her up, but what was it? She couldn’t tell if she was dreaming or not. In that semi-awake state between sleep and awake. Did she even hear anything? Maybe she just imagined it? The LED alarm clock flashed on the cabinet flashed the time 2.30am.
There it was again. A faint scratching sound. Was her mind playing tricks? The noise came from beneath the bed. She lay in the darkness, her heart beating fast. Maybe it was Charlie downstairs? Or perhaps a mouse? There it was again. Scratching. Her skin felt cold, the hairs on her arm stood up. She felt around for her phone and turned the screen on for some light.
Plucking up the courage, she leaned over the side of the bed. Willing herself to be brave. She shone the phone under the bed, quickly looking from side to side. Nothing but dust. Maybe it was a dream all along?
Where was Steve? She was pissed.
“Where are you?” she huffed and lay on her side. Tired but angry she stared at the wall. Eyes feeling heavy. Just about to drift back to sleep. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
Even though she was angry she didn’t want to start an argument. She heard Steve moving around. His aftershave filled the room. Pretending to sleep, she didn’t move when he climbed into the bed. She slowly fell back to sleep. It was always comforting to know that he was there. Drunk or not.
She had just closed her eyes. When she heard Charlie barking. Why was Charlie barking outside? “Fuck’s sake,” she whispered under her breath. She pulled the blanket back. Steve didn’t budge, he was dead to the world.
She stomped down the stairs trying to make noise. Charlie had been locked outside. He started barking louder as he saw her walking towards the door. He ran back into his bed almost as pissed as she was. She slammed the door and locked up.
“Inconsiderate bastard.” She counted to 10 and breathed slowly. Stay calm. If she woke him now they would end up arguing. She tried her best to keep her temper in check. He hadn’t budged. She felt exhausted. She closed her eyes they felt itchy.
A dull buzzing noise from beneath the bed. What now? She thought. Frustrated, she didn’t hesitate. Why the hell was her phone under the bed? It was a message. It was from Steve.
“Hi babe. I will be staying in Tom’s just lock up xx”
She dropped the phone. The bedroom closed in around her. The darkness smothered her. She shuddered, her shoulders tightened. Who was lying next to her?
She turned around expecting the worse. She pulled the blanket back. The bed was empty. In a state of panic. She sat upright. She grabbed the remote control and jabbed the buttons. The TV flickered on. Had she imagined it all along?
She leaned over to grab her phone from the floor.
Something grabbed her wrist. A hand shot from beneath the bed. Paralysed with fear. It felt like her heart was about to explode. Was this a nightmare? Her head spun. She struggled to break free. “Help me.” Somebody whispered in her ear. Whatever held her wrist, disappeared.
She felt sick. Her stomach tightened.
Her phone rang. She yelped.
“Hello?” She stammered. it was an unidentified number.
“Hello is that Mrs Roberts?”
“It’s Constable Thompson from Westley Police. We have your husband’s mobile phone. He has been involved in a car accident. I’m afraid there’s no easy way of saying this. I’m really sorry but he hasn’t made it.