Winters Tale

Frances Mackay

© Copyright 1999 by Frances Mackay

In the early 1950s my parents moved to a new farm in rural Victoria, Australia. I was recovering from polio at the time and my siblings were both away at school, leaving me a rather solitary child. This incident happened when I was about 15.  It is one of those moments that stayed with me.

Photo of Frances.
It was a typical winter’s night in Victoria’s Western District, a newly settled farming area in the early 50s. The moon had vanished behind rain clouds and heavy spots were hitting the windows. I curled up in my chair beside the fire, it was the warmest place in the house. The lamp on the mantle-piece flickered in the draft, (there was no electricity in those days) adding to the pleasurable feeling of suspense.

I wasn’t often alone in the house but tonight a neighbour had threatened his wife with a gun and my parents had been called to help. In those days one didn’t call the police over these matters, they were best kept in the family, besides the town was so far away and the telephone system was unreliable… This particular neighbour often went on a "bender" after a stock sale so I wasn’t too concerned for her parent’s safety.

The window rattled with a sudden gust of wind, or perhaps by a possum attracted by the light. I settled back to my book, a first edition of "Tales After Midnight", intent on savouring every thrill of the classic horror story I was reading.

"The hand moved stealthily over the desk…" Gradually an unusual sound intruded on my consciousness. I listened for a few moments. Nothing. I snuggled closer into the arm-chair and turned the page. "…it plopped of the desk and crabbed its way to the door…"

There it was again! I identified a creak this time – a floor board maybe?

"Houses move a lot at night. Expanding and contracting with the changing temperatures, especially weather board ones like this one," I rationalised.

I sat and waited for a repeat of the sound. Silence. I now became aware of the storm that raged outside and peered out the window to see if I could see any lights yet from my parents’ car. There was only my reflection. "It’s nothing," I told herself, "I’m just letting the story get to me."

Returning to the story I kept an ear tuned to the sounds around me. Somehow the magic had been lost. I realised for the first time how isolated I was. What if this time it hadn’t been a false alarm? What if he’d really used the gun and was now after me? He’d know that I knew where my parents had gone. Logically, I would have to be the next one he would go after!

Cr-e-e-k… There it was again! My scalp crawled. I desperately wanted to go to the loo. But it was outside and the night was so black. C-r-e-e-k! The same sound - I could hear it clearly above the wind and the rain. My heart stopped for a moment and everything appeared to be waiting.

A log toppled in the fire, shedding sparks onto the rug and I jumped up to grab the hearth brush and shovel.

The poker ! Thank God it was a heavy one. That should give me some protection! I grasped it and straightened up, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror above the mantle. Dark staring eyes, too big for their small face, stared back.

C-r-e-e-k. What ever it was had become more careless. The noise was more frequent now.

I froze, yet my face had a slick sheen of sweat. My clammy hands tried to grip the poker firmly. The shadows cast by the lamp appeared to deepen as I moved towards the door.

Cr-e-e-ek. It was in the hall, just outside the door! There were so many dark doors – he could be anywhere! Never before had I felt so vulnerable, so unable to control my fear.

Picking up the lamp from the mantle, I carefully made my way to the door, clutching the poker in my other hand. I placed the lamp on the bookshelf, and peered around the corner with the poker at the ready.

No one there, so I sidled out into the hall and set the light on the hall stand, next to the useless telephone. This gave me full view of the L shaped hall which appeared empty. Unfortunately all the doors along it appeared to be ajar!

I drew a deep breath and moved cautiously out from my haven. Not a movement anywhere, even the wind had died down. I stood there listening for some time but all was still.

"Maybe he’s gone?" I hoped.

C-r-e-e-e-k! Right beside me in the cupboard! My bladder betrayed me. Cr-ee-e-e-k! In an anguish of fear and humiliation I wrenched open the door in time to watch our mother cat give birth to the last of her litter. Her movements with each contraction knocked the cupboard door, which was slightly ajar, creating the noise.

I leaned weakly against the door, laughing shakily. The storm had passed and my parents’ car had just turned in to the drive.
 


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