(Just a little story I wrote for Halloween, and for my graduate school writing sample, and never got around to posting. But on the bright side, I’m early for Halloween 2022.)
The kitchen cocooned me in warmth, as the layered scent of flour, nuts, and vanilla swirled around me in a blissful cloud. I trailed my hand along the line of ingredients on the counter, then while my fingers were free of flour or sugar, I skimmed the recipe one more time. With the directions committed to memory, I closed the Braille book and laid it aside.
After a month living with Mac, I couldn’t imagine why the decision to move in with him had been so complex. As it was, I wished for more hours in the day, just to spend them with my fiancé, but moving from my neighborhood in Raleigh with its public transportation and many shops and restaurants within walking distance, to a sprawling home in the country hadn’t been so simple. Had I cautioned myself that I’d be giving up some independence? I couldn’t imagine it now, for I had gained so much more.
Our “Winter Classic Rock” playlist was the perfect soundscape while I sifted and measured – The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, America, and now The Doors, only Jim Morrison was cut off in the midst of shrieking at the top of his lungs. With the silence, the world grew still. Gazing out the window, what light I could see was murky, and not because of my vision. It was a “gray” day.
A crash shattered the silence!
There was no wind to blow the trash can onto its side, and I couldn’t think what else would be so near the back door.
I stopped stirring and listened. Glob of chocolate cookie dough plopping softly back into the mixing bowl, ducks and geese down by the lake, and . .
Someone was at the back door.
The screen door moved, just barely, but I knew without seeing, someone was in the house.
And if I hadn’t known, my Maine coon, Jax, dispelled any doubts. He set up that mournful maowing that meant something was wrong in his world. Reserved for vets, car trips, sometimes opossums, but always strange men. He leapt onto the counter, completely ignoring the mixing bowl, his tawny fur bristling, face pointed toward the back door.
“Mac,” I breathed out my last tiny hope with his name, knowing if it was him, I would have already been in his arms.
Jax began to growl, a sound I’d only ever heard from him once before. Fear skittered along my spine, cold and slimy, like the water bug that had run across my back inside a boat house the summer I was ten. Panic threatened to swallow rationality, and I forced it back. IT’S NOT SETH!
IT CAN’T BE SETH!
He has no idea where you are, where you live, it’s not him, it’s not! I tried not to breathe, tried to listen with my whole body.
Where was he?
Where were they?
Where was the cigarette smoke? The cologne? The sweat? Where were any of the scents that accompanied humanity?
Where were the footsteps? The breaths? The unconscious fidgety gestures people so often make?
There was nothing. Nothing except Jax, now under the end table, growling. Futility threatened to overwhelm me. Whoever he was, he could see me. Any move I made, anything I tried, he would see. He would see, and he would move first, and faster than I ever could. There was nothing sharp on the counter, and could I really hope to stab someone who could see?
I could feel a shadow, something big, something at eye level. In a desperate effort to grab my would-be attacker before he could grab me, I whirled and lunged, hands outstretched
And ran headfirst into the cabinet door I had left open when I took out the vanilla extract. That was the “shadow.”
The curse steadied my resolve, and pain cleared the fog of panic just long enough for me to think of Mac.
He WILL NOT come home and find me dead! He WILL NOT come home and find me raped. I love him too much not to fight!
“Why are you here?” My voice did not waver.
Nothing, except a soft sad meow from Jax, as if things had already been decided, and not in my favor. Was that a creak near the back door?
My body stiffened, but I heard nothing else. I strained my eyes until they felt like they were filled with grains of sugar on chilled glass, as if willing it so would give me anything more than the light and shadow perception I had been born with. The world held its breath. The rattle of Mac’s jeep broke my paralysis. I had to warn him! My mind went blank. There was no way to get to my phone. Then I remembered my Apple Watch. I took it off and put it in a drawer before I started baking. If I could get to it, I would have time for one message if I was lucky. 911 or Mac? 911 would be more help in the long run, but Mac was closer to the danger, and that made my decision for me. How could I get a message out before they made their move? An idea struck me, and I almost laughed at the absurdity of it. I feigned nonchalance as I picked up a round of dough from the cookie sheet and popped it into my mouth. The gritty sweetness could very well be my last meal. I picked up another, and dropped it, hoping it would appear to be accidental.
I squatted down, behind the kitchen counter, pretending to feel for the cookie dough. Everything depended on the location of the stranger at the door, what he, or they, could see, how much could be heard. I slid open the drawer, so slowly that it made no sound. The watch was on top of everything else. I pushed the button to wake up Siri, and whispered, “tell Mac I think there is someone at the back door. Be careful,” and hated Siri for confirming my message by reading it back to me.
Outside, the jeep slowed, and then a message arrived on my watch. “I’ll drive around and check it out. If there’s anything, I’ll call the authorities.”
A stiff breeze rattled leaves across the ground. Every decision I made, every action I thought to take, seemed like the wrong one in hindsight.
Jax meowed again, a questioning meow this time. His tags jingled as he padded toward the back door.
“Jax,” I called gently, trying to will him away from whatever danger might be lurking just outside the door.
And then a new voice broke the silence.
A tiny strident feline voice demanded entry at the screen door. The world righted itself as I slotted the new information into my interpretation of things. I replayed the last few minutes, the toppled trash can, Jax’s reaction, my own reaction to the open cabinet door. Could it be as simple as a kitten?
The stranger at the door sounded no more than a few weeks old. A few minutes later, Mac brought him inside.
“Here is your wee trespasser,” he said with a smile in his voice, handing me a tiny ball of purring fluff. The stranger at the door claimed his new home.