Marla dropped her keys on the kitchen counter, then walked around and grabbed the orange juice from the fridge. She took the bottle to the head, because she could, because no one else was there. No husband to shoot a stern look down his nose, no kids to point and say, ‘But you do it Mommy.’ Three long gulps. She pushed the button on the answering machine. Nothing but sales calls.
Why do we even keep a house phone?
Roger was in Philadelphia with the kids, visiting with his parents. Marla volunteered to stay behind and watch the store. They could have asked Fostin to keep an eye on things, but last time, two of the younger staff decided to not show up at all, which left things a bit of a mess – it was a perfect reason to miss the in-laws and catch a fair amount of alone time. She dropped her heels, then slid off her restrictive pants. After draping them over the bar chair, she opened the Papa John’s app on her phone and pulled a bottle of champagne from the fridge.
“Ya, Denise, I have the whole place to myself for three days. I can’t wait to do nothing.”
Denise went on about how jealous she was that she was out of town on a business trip or she would join Marla.
That would kind of kill the alone time, wouldn’t it? But she didn’t say it out loud, there was no point. Instead she went on, “Oh, yeah, that’s too bad. Maybe we can plan a spa day soon.”
Off the phone. To the shower. She answered the door in her robe with a towel wrapped around her hair. After shuffling through her purse for the cash, she handed a crumpled twenty to the pizza guy. He had a wide-eyed stare and kept looking behind Marla. Surely he had seen a spiral staircase before. She dismissed his attempt to hand over change, then closed the door behind her. Deadbolt one and two.
After three episodes of The Haunting of Hill House and almost making it through Jurassic World, she decided to call it a night and wander upstairs. Teeth brushed, age cream applied, time for bed – but she needed a glass of water. Her mouth was dry and her head a little achy from the champagne bottle she killed on her own.
As she approached the bottom of the stairs, she felt an odd tension in the air, the hum you feel when someone walks into a room. Marla rubbed the goosebumps crawling up her arms. She had a tendency to do this to herself, get jumpy in a dark, empty house. Shaking her head, she waved off the eerie feeling and proceeded to the kitchen. The water was cool and crisp, beyond refreshing. The tension in her head instantly eased. She filled the glass once more, then resumed her journey to bed.
She reached the spiral staircase, climbed a couple, then froze. There had been a noise, the sound of something solid on wood. She tried not to focus on her raised heart rate, the fresh flush in her cheeks, the tips of her ears filling with blood. She tried not to notice the weight growing heavier on her back. She was alone in the house. What could have possibly made that noise? Yes houses creak and sing in their own way, but this was not that. This was crisp, distinct, and just a few feet behind her. Her chest raised and lowered with a quickening pace as she prepared to turn around and prove she was only being a wuss, when she felt air rush past her neck.
Someone grabbed her, held on tight. She didn’t think. She kicked the railing on the stairs, sending them both tumbling back. She fell hard on the wood, saw smoke and ash disperse around her in a cloud. She jumped up, scrambled. There was no one there, no attacker or masked man. Just as quick as she felt it, it was gone…except, there was a light layer of dust in the area where she had fallen, some of it on her shoulders.
It grabbed her again.
She struggled, twisted, fought, managed to tangle their feet together as they half danced around the living room. They passed the mirror hanging over the fireplace and she saw…nothing. There was no one holding her, only a light haze, like a foggy day hanging around her body. Marla picked up her feet and drove them into the mantle. She slammed against the wall, and once again, her attacker lost its grasp. The hazy cloud dispersed around her. She didn’t stay for it to happen a third time.
Marla fell onto the door, fumbled with her clumsy fingers to get the locks open. Just before she ran from the house, she looked over her shoulder. The haze seemed to be recollecting, pulling all the particles back together, and next to the mass, seated with an elevated posture, was a cat, a silky, all black cat with absolutely no eyes on his face. Instead, five eyes floated in a circle in front of him, all of them aimed at Marla. The door slammed and locked with Marla still inside. Even the closest neighbors didn’t hear her muffled screams.
Copyright WB Welch – All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.