The evening was quiet, the TV volume was low and my wife was curled up on the sofa. I was listening intently to the ever increasing news bulletins on the progress of the pandemic that was sweeping across the country when I heard a stirring upstairs. Light footsteps softly moved around in the room above and I traced them audibly across the ceiling until they stopped; I decided not to inspect. I continued watching the news but was distracted by a small figure in the doorway that caught my attention. My youngest daughter, Cassie, was standing barefoot in her baby blue pyjamas, her pretty shoulder-length blonde hair hung loose against one side of her face, on the other side it was curled around her ear. Her delicate features were crumpled with a sleepy scour as her eyes squinted to keep out the light.
'Dad, there's a woman in the garden.'
She was right. I stood in the conservatory looking out into the blackened garden. The panoramic view coming through the surrounding windows made me feel vulnerable, and the darkness outside consumed the garden into a blind canvass, so I had to turn off the light, bringing myself closer to the darkness of the wet night in order to see, and there she was. She stood unstably in the middle of the lawn, lightly dressed in a pale green hospital gown that hung stiffly in the rain. Her unkempt hair dribbled across her pale, shadowed face and her expression was inanimate as her head slightly wobbled with confusion.
Cassie hid behind the kitchen door, peering nervously into the conservatory.
'Can you see her?' She whispered softly.
'Yeah,' I whispered back, 'Honey, can you go and wake Mum for me?'
I listened to Cassie's miniature feet pat the laminate flooring and heard the waking voice of Julia.
'Mum, Dad wants you, and there's a woman in the garden.'
'That's creepy.' Julia said with a tone of worry.
'I know, I suppose I should go out and see if she's okay. I'll go get my torch.' I huffed before jogging up to our bedroom and retrieving my small Maglite. I promptly returned to the conservatory, torch in hand, with my trainers on and a light jacket. Julia was talking to Cassie when I glanced back into the garden.
'She's gone!?' I exclaimed in puzzlement, frantically scanning the view.
'What? She must be there.'
'Well, I can't see her.'
I shone the torch through the window and lead the slim beam back and forth. I strained to see in the black and moved closer to the glass. I aimed the torch higher and in an instant the woman's gaunt face was illuminated as she pressed against the window and screamed aggressively at me.