“How do I know this is you, that this is real?”
“It’s me. That’s how we prove identification, that’s it. There. I’d be glad of a hot drink?”
“I think I’d prefer we talk here.”
The man stared at her, swallowed, then cricked his neck to the side. His face was white but quiet anger flushed his nose like sunburn, the black bristles on his chin were small and coarse like crawling ants, his hair was hidden by his hat and below his eyes were dark violet shadows. “Miss Crain, I assure you—there’s no danger here, I really would prefer to talk inside.”
The wind blew a chill up her nightie, he seemed to be keeping a safe distance. If he wanted to, he could easily barge past her without causing any noise, without drawing any attention from the outside world.
“Fine,” she said, moving to allow him in. The man removed his hat and Allegra placed it atop of the rotten wooden coat stand. “Please, follow me,” she led him down the hall, pausing to wait when he halted by the cellar door, and then showing him into the disused dining room.
Allegra hummed to herself in the kitchen as she made the tea, an uneasy sound intended to cloak her clinging sense of dread. He was staring up at the old broken chandelier when she re-entered the dining area.
“Thank you,” said the man, taking the mug from her. He put his lips to the rim, sipped, then set it down. “You’re new to this area, I believe?”
“Mmm. Funny old house, this. Was on the market such a long time. We actually had a squatting problem with it for a while.”
Allegra nodded, the real estate agent had told her this—though not in so many words.
“And you work at the university?”
She sighed. “Yes.”
He paused, his walkie-talking bursting with a garbled voice that made Allegra jump. The man lifted it, muttered, ”I’m with Miss Crain now,” then seemed to flick a switch that turned its red light off. “Can I ask you, Miss Crain, do you live alone?”
“I do,” she said, but then thinking better of it, added, “but my boyfriend is here tonight, he’s upstairs, sleeping.”
The man nodded to himself. “Okay.”
“I’m afraid you’re making me quite uncomfortable, sergeant, can I ask again, is everything okay—do I have something to be worried about?”
“Sorry, Miss Crain. That’s not my intention. We’ve had some upsetting reports this evening, and I’ve been going around to all the houses in this area. I’m looking for potential witness statements.”
“Your boyfriend, is he—does he treat you well, Miss Crain?”
The man lowered his voice, “Are you being held here against your will? If you are, I promise I can help you.” He reached a bony hand across the table.
“Why on earth would you ask that?”
“Children, Miss Crain.”
“Children?” Allegra felt her face turn pink.
“Yes, children. Gone missing—this evening. Mrs. Finch from across the road reported seeing Timmy Blake, Jack Doyle, and Alison Jones coming into your house at roughly 8:04pm.”
Allegra laughed without humour. “Well, they did, for all of five minutes! I gave them towels to dry off, a minute by the fire. They were going to catch their death.”
“Please. A figure of speech.”
“And have you seen anything odd, this evening? Any distressed children, any strangers in the area, anything at all?”
“No sir, I’ve just been reading. Watching telly. It’s not so late, could the children not still be outside, messing around?”
“That’s a possibility. Though there’s concern for their health and safety in this storm.”
“Well, I’ll leave you in peace for tonight. Do take care to lock all your doors. I’ll leave this card with you, if that’s okay—if you notice or remember anything, no matter how small, please call me.”
She took the damp square of cardboard from him, “Thank you. I will.”
As they walked down the hall to the door, Allegra felt her relief mix with horror. The cellar door, a chink in her armour. “Sergeant, this probably sounds, well, incredibly stupid, but would you mind checking my cellar—I’ve, I’ve heard noises and well, with what you were saying about the squatters…?”
He spun round to face her, a new softness to his face’s edges. “Of course, Miss Crain. No problem.”
“Thank you,” she said, and then began fighting with the rusty key—eventually opening it wide so that the sergeant could peer in. He stepped into the threshold and Allegra stepped back. “You should be able to feel for the light switch on the right.”
“Thanks.” He said, hand extended into the blackness, his boots creaking on the first step.
Allegra kicked him hard. She angled for his legs and then pushed his back so that he fell off-balance and skipped down the first several steps. She snapped the door shut like a fly swatter, turning the key with cold sweaty fingers. He was faster than the children, already at the door banging against it as she pocketed the key. Allegra had made the right choice by not trying to gag him, tie him up—that one sip of tea was not enough to weaken, he could have overpowered her.
“Oh, won’t you shh,” she hissed at his muffled shouts and banging, “the children are sleeping.”
Her first Halloween alone and no one would be quiet. She took the twisty groaning stairs up to her bedroom, the shutters’ hinges were still crying in the storm and slamming against the brickwork. Her bedroom was an oasis, the duvet soft and fluffy, her fairy lights a twinkling haze.
Allegra decided to ward off bad feelings with a romance, collecting a dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre from her bedstand. Reading with a sigh, she picked up her pen and highlighted a line: ‘Night was come, and her planets were risen: a safe, still night: too serene for the companionship of fear.’ How she wished her own night was serene. The pacing in the attic continued, the distant bangs still shuddered downstairs.
The last of the October night was draining out like blood into a fatted leech. The wind pummelled, the rain slashed, mere houses away were the distraught mummies—panicked, unable to sleep, bones all a-shudder—and Allegra closed her eyes softly, took a steadying breath, ready for a slow, uninterrupted stupor. ‘Sweet dreams,’ she told the house—and then she went to sleep.
About The Author
Caragh Medlicott is a freelance writer and Associate Editor for Wales Arts Review. After graduating with a First-Class degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University she began a full-time writing career in Cardiff.
Previous short stories have appeared in East of the Web, The Cardiff Review, Parthian’s Cheval 12 anthology, Bandit Fiction, and The Mark Literary Review.