Part One: Shadows
Silence greeted her.
The "Welcome Home" banner hung over the doorway, ready to fall with just the right gust of wind. In the kitchen, food with cling-film wrapped over the top, sandwiches freshly made and placed upon plates set out on the dining table.
Terry dropped her suitcases in the hall, stretched her arms out behind her and went into the living room then collapsed on the couch. She discovered the television remote was missing when she reached for it. She stood up, trudged over to the television, switched it on. The noise at least gave the impression someone else was in the house with her.
Her mind wandered to where they were, her parents, brother. It was clear they had left not long ago, despite her repeated reminders. She grabbed a cushion from the couch, sat down and hugged it to her chest. The television blared the evening news, telling about the latest tragedy to befall somewhere, but Terry wasn't listening. She squeezed her eyes shut, tried to fight the tears brimming at the corners of her eyes.
"Goddammit Terra, you're a grown woman," she scolded herself and dumped the cushion down beside her. She stood once more, reached for the remote again then cursed when it still hadn't materialized on the table.
She left the living room, went into the kitchen and unwrapped the sandwiches on the plates. She opened the bags of crisps, poured them into the bowls and picked up a paper plate. The lump returned to her throat when she saw they were covered in Disney characters, as were the napkins. Paper cups were piled high, bottles of her favourite juice and a jar of her favourite coffee sat there too. It did nothing to dampen the hurt.
"Fine. Fine! It was set out to be eaten, so I'm going to stuff my damn face," she said, unsure just who exactly she was telling. She lifted sandwiches, cupcakes, sausage rolls and celery sticks with a small tub of dip to go with it. She gathered everything together and made the balancing act of returning to the couch.
By this point, the news had finished. She set the food down, flopped onto the couch and growled when the bloody remote still hadn't decided to show itself. She stood once more, checked down the sides of the armchairs, the lower shelf of the coffee table, the television cabinet itself.
Finally, the remote decided to stop playing hide-and-seek. Some bright spark had hidden it in the cupboard under the television. She grabbed her plate and flicked through the channels until she found something to watch. She looked up at the clock, ten past seven in the evening. A Saturday night too. Her friends would be down at the pub. She played with the idea of joining them, surprising them. She quashed this idea seconds later, her anger returning swiftly at the thought of being alone in the house. Great way to spend your evening, Terry. Sit and simmer on the couch, no one cares you're angry at the planet.
She tried to settle down, picked up one of the sandwiches on her plate. Cucumber, plenty of salt with the fluffy part of some romaine lettuce. Such care had been taken to remember everything she enjoyed.
She ran through every conversation she'd had with her family, whether she had offended them in some way that they'd decide to leave on the day of her homecoming. Her mind was blank.
She finished her sandwich, started the next one and soon polished off most of the plate. She was reaching for the bowl of crisps when the television flickered. She scowled at it, as if this would make a difference. It flickered again then switched off entirely. In the screen's blackness, a figure stood behind her.
She jumped then turned in her seat, half expecting to find one of her family returned.
In the hallway was her brother's jacket, hung up on a coat hanger, freshly washed and ironed.
One day her mother would stop doing their washing, despite they had left the family home for nigh on a decade.
Terry blew out a breath and laughed at herself. Since when did she become so jumpy? She checked the light switch, clicked it on and back off only to find there was no power. She went to the cupboard in the kitchen, making a point of not looking at the prepared food on the table, grabbed the torch from the shelf and shone it at the fuse box. All of them were on. She went to the window. The houses across the road were all in darkness, the odd dot of light from a candle moving behind the blinds and curtains, the streetlights also affected. A power cut was all, and she felt even more foolish.
Her suitcases still lay discarded by the door and she took the torch with her. She retrieved them from the hall and went upstairs to her old bedroom. In the time she had been gone, little had changed. The wallpaper she had chosen and put up herself was still on the walls, yellowing and peeling here and there in the corners. Her possessions were boxed up, dust clinging to the surface of them. In the corner of the room, was a full length mirror, once her pride and joy. Now, there were fingerprints on it that she did not remember making.
Everything else oozed neglect, it clung to the room like the layers of dust on her faded furniture.
The mirror was pristine, polished to perfection. Except for the fingerprints. She rummaged through her suitcase to find an old vest top and wiped the marks from the mirror, stepping back to admire it when it was done.
It was then she noticed the man in the corner.
She whirled around, almost dropping the torch in her hand. She shone the light into the corner.
There was nothing there. She turned back to the mirror, squinted at it. She'd seen something, she was sure of it.
Her eyes playing tricks?
She shone her torch in the direction of where the man had been.
"Oh hell no. I'm not sleeping in here," she muttered. She grabbed her suitcase once more, headed into the bathroom, took the box of matches and a handful of candles from the plastic drawers in the corner.
Terry went back down the stairs, into the living room and curled up on the couch. There she stayed, a blanket around her feet, candles set up around the room. The room glowed orange, shadows dancing in each corner. Each movement that caught her eye made her jump. She gripped her torch and regularly shone it around the room.
At thirty-two years old, Terry was not supposed to be afraid of the dark. Yet in that moment, alone in the family house, she felt as if she were five years old again, hiding from the monster under her bed.
Terry grabbed the cushion and hugged it close. Despite the candles and the heavy blanket, she could not generate any heat in her body, her feet like blocks of ice, her stomach a cold pit, swirling from side-to-side.
"This is ridiculous," she said and stood up. "I've just travelled alone across the world and I'm sitting here, ready to bash someone's face in with a torch." She turned, marched back to the kitchen. "There's no bugger here, I'm alone and now the neighbours probably think I'm crazy!" She stood at the kitchen mirror, next to the door. Her mother always insisted on keeping one there and in the hallway. "You're a grown woman, dammit. Act like it!" She stared into the mirror, a candle in one of the tea-light holders, casting shadows across her face.
At the door to the back garden, a man stood watching her.
Terry screamed. She raised her arm to throw the torch at the door, her heart pounding.
She was alone.
She shone the torch around the room, went to the door, found it unlocked. It was an intruder, it had to be. So where the hell were her parents? Why had they left the door open?
She locked the door then crept to the drawers, cringed when it creaked open. She froze, watched the shadows for any sign of movement.
She stood a moment longer to make sure, took a knife from the drawer. She grabbed the torch on the way out, stopped at the stairs, shone the torch upwards. Just what did she expect to do? Confront the intruder? What if there was a group of them? They could easily disarm her.
The worst thing was to endanger herself by playing the big damn hero, yet she didn't want to leave the house and let whoever it was have free reign of items that could be stolen. She checked her mobile phone, cursed when she found it dead.
Terry returned to the kitchen, torch in-hand, knelt down to the cupboard under the sink. There was an old radio there. Perhaps if the intruder heard other voices, it might spook them into escaping while they could.
It was an old battery powered radio, bought when she was much younger, when her father wanted to listen to the football. She clicked the switch, static emanated.
Good, it worked at least. She took the radio back to the living room. It took a few minutes to get it tuned into a station, static blaring, disrupting the voices. Terry frowned and twisted the dial inch by inch until she found something. She set it down on the table, turned the volume up and moved to the other end of the couch to ensure she had a good view of the front door and hall. Nothing was going to get past her.
The power did not come back on.
Hours passed, and Terry felt her eyes grow heavy. There had been no noises, no suspicious footsteps from upstairs. Every noise she did hear sent her scrambling for the knife.
The candle holders were covered in wax, the flame dwindled to little more than a spark. She felt her stomach churn at the thought of replacing the candle and it took all she had to muster the courage to do so. She swallowed, took a breath, grabbed her torch. The radio was still going, now onto Talk Radio during the night. She checked the clock, it was the early hours of the morning.
Surely whoever had been there would be gone by now.
Terry crept up the stairs, torch held in front of her like a shield. The further she went, the faster her heart pounded. She held back a whimper when she reached the top, shining the torch down to her parents' bedroom, then to her own, and to where the bathroom lay. Her destination and prize were feet away from her, though it felt like miles. She scurried down the corridor, past her bedroom where the door was ajar, down to the bathroom door.
Strange, she couldn't remember closing it.
She opened the door, shone the torch around, pulled back the shower curtain.
The candles were grabbed as quickly as possible, too quickly, and they fell to the floor, rolling away from her. "Shit!" she whispered and chased after them. She caught them before they could fall down the stairs and break. Candles in one hand, torch in the other, Terry hurried back to the living room and to her fort she had made on the couch. She replaced the candles that were dim or out entirely, turned the volume up again on the radio and settled down on the couch.
Her head drooped, eyes heavy once more, the radio white noise in the background. She was almost asleep. She shook herself awake, checked the doors, locked them and took the keys out of the lock. She lay back down, pulled the blanket up over her shoulders, listening to the two presenters on the radio discussing music.
She dozed, the talking and the background noise lulling her to sleep.