By John Maguire
The house was notably different when Samantha walked through the door. A complete change in atmosphere. There was normally always somebody inhabiting this home, particularly around 5pm on a Friday afternoon.The flat screen television that dominated the living room, looked out of place, as for the first time Samantha could remember, it was actually switched off.She walked through the dining room to the kitchen and flicked the kettle on, to make an instant mixed cappuccino. After trying to distract, with a few menial tasks, the silence was just too much, she gave in and the T.V became alive. The news boomed out, the usual symphony of doom and gossip,“CELEBRITY SUPER SLUT PEBBLES’ HIGHWAY SEX VIDEO TAPE HAS GONE VIRAL AND SENT HER POPULARITY SOARING.”It’s just background noise, thought Samantha. But, the literal drivel that poured out of the set meant she soon pushed the off button.A hot bath and a movie was the itinerary for the evening. Realistically, she knew revision was a necessity but that could wait until the morning, when she was more alert.The importance of getting the right amount of points to get into medical school had been her “get out clause” for going away to York, for the weekend with her family.The prospect of spending four days with her dad’s parents was far from appealing. A Household where breakfast was a fag and a cup of tea with the tea bag left in the cup. Her parents were hesitant leaving her, being a teenage girl, but her sister only lived around the corner. Secretly her parents did hope she may have a few friends visit with a cheap bottle of vodka. They thought she did over study. Her entire week and daily schedule was divided into fifteen minutes of allotted time. She was rigorously organised.Samantha drew a bath, popped downstairs to the kitchen and put a goat’s cheese and spinach quiche into the oven. She opened the window, to stop the smoke alarm from going off. The aroma from the jasmine bath bomb and the food, started to make the house feel a little warmer, like it was lived in again. The silence amplified the sounds from next door: the drone of radio four, the humming of the fridge and Mrs. Jenkins’ monologue on the telephone, a consistent mumble. Occasionally phrases from her conversation would stand out.Just before Samantha closed the kitchen window, she heard Mrs. Jenkins declare, “She, she is in for a sharp shock!” and then a pause.Samantha realising that she was straining to hear the rest of the conversation, had a word with herself and closed the window quickly. For the rest of the evening though, the mystery of who was in for this shock and why, kept creeping back into her thoughts.Suddenly a shadowy figure lunged up on to the kitchen window sill.It startled Samantha at first, until she realised it was Sheba, her Alsatian dog.The pet had the run of the large garden and of an evening slept in the kitchen. On the odd occasion, Samantha would smuggle Sheba upstairs and here the dog would lay under the bed, head just out by the side.During the night Samantha would reach her arm over the side of the bed and stroke the hounds head. Sheba would often lick her hand, such a gentle dog considering her size. Samantha found this reassuring and comforting. Partly the reasons why Samantha’s parents had no hang ups about leaving their sensible teenage daughter alone was that the house was well secured and Sheba was a trusted guard dog.And of course as Samantha’s mother was prone to remark to anyone who would listen, in a clipped put on English accent, “ It’s Woolton, NOT Walton, dear.”A half bottle of sparkling wine was in the fridge. Her mother, the dad nicknamed, “The Prosecco Princess,” did not have a drink problem! Samantha’s mum enjoyed a glass of fizz or two, thinking that the sparkles made it less intoxicating.Tonight, Samantha decided to pour herself a flute of “fizz” and took her quiche and rocket salad on a tray into the bubble bath with her. Decadent, why not? She was the only one in the house. The wine was a mistake, as a sip of it seemed to hit the back of her throat and as she was not used to drinking, the bubbles came through her nose. Samantha enjoyed her luxurious dinner for one and discarded the tray to the side of the bath. She decided to stay in the tub a while longer, running the hot tap some more. She washed her long blonde hair and submerged her head under the water.There appeared to be a loud scratching sound and she jerked her head out, sitting up, shocked. Splashes lapped over the tubs edge and splattered foam along the floor tiles, like a Jackson Pollock painting.Complete silence! It was not like Sheba to scratch at the backdoor. Perhaps she was acting differently, aware that Samantha was the only person in the house tonight. Sheba had had no interaction with anybody all day, as Samantha had been in college.The temperature in the house had dropped. She threw on her silk dressing gown with an embroided S in white Ribbon. She had done seven hours study today, so tonight, a Hitchcock film, some popcorn and a carton of black cherry ice cream. She headed into the kitchen and had to hit the light on, funny she normally always left lights on in the house. The kitchen window was wide open, no wonder it was so cold. Sheba circled the garden smelling the ground, totally absorbed.The urban fox, she thought. Sheba spent her days in a consistent tango ballad with different creatures. Of a night the fox played around the garden and of a day, one lone Magpie seemed to taunt the dog by tottering on the ground, only to suddenly fly off, just as Sheba drew near, poised to pounce. The dog, seemingly sluggish, although her tail wagged with vigour, trotted into the kitchen and straight into her basket.Samantha closed the window, locked the back door, throwing the keys on the side. She sprinted up the stairs, to generate some warmth. The thermostat was switched on to heat up the house for the night. Samantha never normally felt the cold at all. The house was a little like Times Square, always electric, always busy.In her room she started to dry her body, putting her hair up in a towel. She felt suddenly as if someone was looking at her. A penetrating gaze making all the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Instinctively, she looked to the window, but as she thought, the wooden blinds were closed. She would shut the blinds without thinking as soon as she arrived home and was going to get changed. The woman opposite was infamous in the street gossip, for flaunting her naked ample torso in front of the window day and night, for all to see. Some said the only thing missing from her room was a red light.She opened the blinds and looked into the front garden. The pink red sky brow drew a line across the clouds emphasising the storm filled heaven. Rain was going to fall this evening. Samantha hoped so; there was nothing better than being in bed and listening to wet bullets bounce off the window panes.Samantha walked into each of the two other bedrooms, flicking the light on and looking around, opening wardrobes and cupboard doors. She stood at the top of the stairs, whistled and called out, “Sheba.” The Alsatian came straight away stopping at the foot of the stairs, looking up. She smiled, “good girl”, the dog lay at the foot of the staircase, awaiting further commands. Yet, still the feeling of someone else being present in the room would not leave her. She dismissed it, as being her imagination working overtime. The revision this week had been on the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps assisting her paranoia. That bloody raven again, bloody Evermore.Samantha had never felt a presence in this house, not like in her aunties in Aigburth. Her family home in Belle Vale had been built on farmers’ fields in the early seventies. The surplus population from the city centre was shipped out to the new council housing. The area had improved over the last few years, but still Samantha dubbed the place, with a dose of irony, “the Beautiful Valley.” It was quite a green area and close enough to Woolton for her mother to claim the postcode. The only negative aspect was that on the far side of the farmers field by the M3, was where Wheathill Prison, a grey concrete detention centre was located.This house was definitely ghost free; Samantha had encountered spiritual activity in her aunties, without a doubt. The dilapidated building had once been an old people home. The day she helped her aunt move in her little cousin Stephanie waved at someone at the top of the stairs. “Who are you waving to babe? “ Enquired Samantha. “The old woman just there”, Stephanie replied pointing at the stairwell.Samantha now quickly switched her mind onto something else, as the other things that had occurred in that house were not the type she wanted to dwell on, particularly on her own, even though she had Sheba. But like her Grandma Francis used to say, “It’s not the dead, you should be afraid of love, it’s the living.”The dog was a fierce protector and would literally go at anyone unrecognisable who strolled up the path. Samantha chuckled to herself, remembering the Mormon incident (not to be mistaken with Tove Jansson’s Moomins, as she often did). They had come to tell the family about the good word of the saviour. The two young Americans, all sharp suited and Californian smiles attempted to make their way into the garden. Sheba bounded down the pathway, leaping on to the gate. A few more seconds and the two chaps would have been savagely attacked by Sheba’s loyal chops. It was amazing how although they were petrified, they still retained a nervous grin, dazzlingly white and their side parted waxed crew cut hair remained perfectly intact. There was a small sign on the gate, “Beware of the Dog”, but the rain and the elements had practically worn it away. Samantha took a duvet and some cushions from her bedroom and made camp on the chesterfield couch. She opted for a more suspenseful Hitchcock, “Rope”; “Psycho”was not to be watched alone, even if she had finished in the bathroom for the evening. She watched the film in fragments drifting in and out of sleep. The credits played and she stumbled to the DVD player. She heard the dodgy floorboard on the landing upstairs make a noise, the noise it only made when someone was walking around. She crept to the bottom of the stairs; Sheba lay asleep in her basket, not stirring, how ridiculous she thought, your mind is playing tricks on you. She waited to try and hear for any other sounds.The telephone barked out an incessant shrill. Nobody ever used the landline anymore. It was an old fashioned form of communication. Samantha jumped and Sheba instantly looked at the phone.
“Hello,” Samantha answered.
A silence on the line that seemed to last forever.
“Hello”, she repeated.
“Sammy its me.” her sister spoke with an agitated voice.
“Sorry, Charlie James has had sugar and e numbers from something he ate; he is like a whirling dervish.”
“Hi,” said Samantha.
“Look sorry I know it’s after ten and I know you are old enough for me to not check on you, but I promised mum and dad I’d call. Is everything okay?
“Yes, apart from the …………….orgy………….. sorry just chilling, watching a movie.”
“I know ignore your voicemail and the texts.”
“Sorry I must have fallen asleep.”
“Is anyone with you, boyfriend? One of your mates?”
“No, I am all…”
“I don’t care…I won’t tell mum and dad, I just don’t appreciate being kept in the dar…”
“Nobody is here. I’d tell you, I’ve had dinner and it’s just me and the dog. All my mates have gone to town, like I’d want them to know I had a free house, they’d turn it into Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Oh, town and a nightclub….sounds divine!”
“Can I come please? I never signed up for all this ….baby puke, nappies and a hyper active little bleeder who has a permanent residence on the naughty step.”
“Listen you are not missing out on town, after ten o’clock, think a zombie movie with fat men in tight jeans and orange girls with way too much make up on stumbling in heels.”
“Yes, but you’d be too blindingly drunk, to care, anyway, why did you hang up about an hour ago?”
“What do you mean?”
“I rung, the phone was picked up for a few seconds and then it hung up.”
“I never answered the phone.”
“Oh, whatever, it doesn’t matter, who uses the landline now anyway, it’s probably a fault on the line. I think the last time it was used was when I went into labour eighteen months ago. I mean, I only used it because I’d exhausted the mobile, disgracebook and BBM, haha, right I am going to have to go and give this little fella some calpol jelly, I am exhausted, I will see you tomorrow, bye, bye, bye.”
Samantha littered her room with scented candles. Her room was crammed full of books. There was no order to her eclectic range of literature, copious volumes of horror and crime books, alongside classics and her collection of art catalogues and exhibition programmes. In the corner was her reading chair. To look at the spindly antiquated rocking chair, it looked exceptionally rigid, but it was surprisingly comfortable. Samantha had inherited the chair from her great grandmother. Family members who never visited during Carries lifetime, all congregated like vultures around her corpse, wrestling over antique coins and jewellery.Nobody wanted the battered antique, though. Samantha had rejuvenated the chair with a simple wash of varnish. It still retained the damage to the right side of the head. Her grandmother’s anarchic parrot, “Captain”, had gnawed away at it. She sat in the chair slowly rocking as she started to read “The Summer book” by Tove Janson, one of her favourite authors. The light flickered and she looked at the shade. There was a hole just adjacent to where the light wire hung. She’d forgotten about this hole to the loft. Her dad was not exactly the most thorough of D.I.Y enthusiasts. The house was full of tokens of his handiwork. If you turned the stair light on the kitchen lights went off.Samantha switched on the radio and listened to the classical channel, she cocooned herself into the book. The hourly radio news update came on, more unrest in the Middle East, another sex scandal, and then an excerpt gripped her attention. A sex offender had escaped earlier in the day from Wheat hill Prison. Locals are instructed to remain vigilant. Whilst there is nothing to fear, for the offender is believed to have stowed away on a HGV truck at the motorway. An accident earlier brought the motorway to a standstill. It is believed that this gave the escapee the opportunity to enter one of the vehicles. Inspections are currently underway. Any suspicious individuals sited or activity must be reported immediately. Local authorities believe an assailant may have assisted in the convicts escape.Samantha switched the radio off and went downstairs to make a milky drink. She double checked the burglar alarm was set and the doors and windows were all locked. She took a handful of chew sticks out of a cupboard and led Sheba upstairs.The dog took her customary position underneath the bed, her head just outside of the frame. Samantha arranged a barricade of pillows, put her drink on the window ledge next to her bed and nestled into the covers, continuing to read her book.She dropped her arm down to the side of the bed and gave Sheba’s head a stroke. Sheba gave a contented whine. The house was exceptionally hot now so she dived out of the bed, popped the thermostat off and hung her silk gown up in the wardrobe. Samantha slipped into the depths of sleep and began to dream.She was sitting in her rocking chair, it rocked haphazardly. A sign above her head read in neon lights, “The gateway to the land of clowns.” A scratching sound grew to a loud crescendo, tearing at her very ear lobes. The bedroom light switched on and off rapidly. She looked at the lampshade and looked at the small hole in the ceiling adjacent to it. A piercing blue bloodshot eye stared down at her from the dark loft. She heard an unhuman voice whisper, “Wicked thoughts set their mark on the face especially the eyes.”Samantha awoke and was soaked in sweat. She felt damp on her pillow, drooling in her sleep, a family flaw. Not one of her most attractive features. She dropped her hand down to the side of the bed and stroked Sheba’s head. The dog sensing her upset licked her hand. She lay completely still and tried to drift off once again and before too long, she fell into a black hole of deep sleep. Samantha half remembered during the evening dropping her hand to the side and stroking Sheba’s head. The dog was such a comfort.Morning, it was like she’d had no sleep whatsoever. As she stepped on the cold floorboards of her bedroom, the morning chill nibbled at her toes. She looked on the bed for her dressing gown and then remembered hanging it in the wardrobe; a strange feeling shuddered through her body. She opened the pine doors and was totally gobsmacked Sheba hung through a wooden coat hanger, with a bloody stump where the head once was. Blood had seeped through the dresses into a dark puddle.She turned hesitantly to look under the bed.