Annie hung up and Tess settled down on the settee. She poured herself a glass of wine, being careful to avoid getting any of the deep red droplets on either the cream carpet or the even creamer suite, ruing again her colour choice given her natural clumsiness. Safely negotiating this task she carefully put the bottle down and took a sip. Not bad. She was trying hard to get out of the thrift habit, the three for £10 syndrome that had been with her since student days. She had to consciously tell herself to look at the label, to go for quality not price. She was an associate now, she could afford it. It still made her feel guilty though and always made sure the bottle was on offer even if she paid more for it now. She took a sip; yeah it was a good choice. Rich, round, a hint of blackberry, a touch of oak. Lovely.
She found herself staring into the glass, watching the light reflect off the facets of the cut crystal, the infinite shades of red within the microcosm of the tulip. Her mind went back to what her sister had said. She was right, she should be out having fun, seeing a bit of life, spending some of her new improved salary on herself. But still she couldn’t, not yet.
It was still too soon.
Tess brought herself back to the present. She realised she hadn’t watched any of her soap. She checked her watch. Ten minutes! Annoyed with herself she tried to concentrate, to pick up the thread.
The commercial break came all too soon. And with the adverts came a feeling she didn’t at all like, a feeling of unease, a prickly tingle that seemed to cover her whole back. Her skin seemed to be shrinking away from her clothes. She tried to ignore it, she told herself that she was just being silly. She gave herself a good talking to in her head. She was safely locked inside her flat, up on the 7th floor. She absolutely would not give into her instincts and go and look around. Monsters under the bed indeed! She was a grown women for God's sake.
She took another sip of wine and adjusted her position on the sofa, kidding herself that she was just getting comfortable but now, out of the corner of her eye, she could now see the door into the hall, which was open. The hall was dark, the only lights on in the flat were the uplighter by the window and what the TV gave off, so she could not see far into the gloom. What she could see though was the spot of light from the spyhole showing the well-lit corridor outside her front door. Everything else was just dark shapes.
Harmless dark shapes, Tess, she told herself silently, harmless.
‘Pull yourself together,’ she muttered out loud and turned to the TV, deliberately turning her back on the open door, and the hall, and its gloomy corners.
The tickling, prickly feeling was back. She couldn’t get rid of it, couldn’t get the thoughts out of her head. Every sense told her to turn back and look, look. Look. Look behind you! She fought it, tried to rationalise. To be a grown up but then a thought nag, nag, nagged at her.
Could she see the light of the spyhole when she first looked? Or had it appeared as her eyes adjusted to the gloom? If it had appeared then it meant something was in the way. No, no, no, she was just being stupid, letting her imagination run away with her.
She forced herself to watch the TV.
But the urge to turn around was so strong. And so was the fear, the fear of seeing something dark, something malevolent, something or someone that shouldn't be there. She found herself hardly able to breathe and this made her very angry with herself.
‘Stupid cow,’ she muttered getting to her feet, annoyed that she was giving in to what had to be her childish fears.
She found herself looking straight into the eyes of a masked man.
She felt a blow to her midriff.
A brief, dull pain, then an icy numbness.
Tess looked down. There was blood everywhere; over the carpet, on the sofa, soaking her t-shirt, dark as the wine in the glass that she still held. Even at that moment it struck her how odd it was that she was still being careful not to spill a drop.
Blood? It was on the knife held in the hand of the man, the blade big and evil and silver, no, silver and red; his hands in leather gloves, black but darkened further by her blood.
She looked back up into the eyes of the man, a question framed on her lips, but suddenly the eyes shot upwards, away from her, whilst the carpet rushed up to meet her.