The doorbell rang. Sarah looked up from her book. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and no deliveries were scheduled. Brady, her white and brown spaniel, wagged his tail at the possibility of guests and treats, but Sarah was less enthusiastic. Perhaps it was one of the neighbours asking for a favour, or maybe some kind of charity agent, or possibly even kids from the nearby school playing pranks. She got up wearily and looked out of the living room window. It was a cold, grey October afternoon, with dry bronze leaves flittering and drifting in the breeze, and silvery puddles on the roads. Some birds had delivered a cluster strike of white poo on her car windscreen and bonnet, which worsened her bad mood, and as she opened the door, she noticed the neighbour’s cat—as if driven by some secret competition with the birds—had done its business on her front drive. That’s just wonderful….
Nobody was there.
Looking down, she spotted a small, square cardboard parcel, about thirty centimetres high and wide. She knelt to inspect it. There was no label or barcode. No address. No markings at all. She turned it over in her hands a few times. It was light and made no sound when she rotated it.
Brady came out and sniffed the parcel. Which was no help at all, because Brady had failed his police sniffer training, being massively uninterested in scenting out drugs and explosives, preferring instead to focus solely on biscuits and soggy tennis balls. At least Sarah knew that the box contained neither of these items, because Brady lost interest in a matter of seconds and scrambled away.
Sarah shrugged and brought the parcel inside. She figured it was a mistake, so she left it in the porch, deciding that it’s rightful owner would come back and claim it at some point. The she returned to the sofa and didn’t give the package a second thought.
Later that night, as she was brushing her teeth, Sarah heard a sound. At first, she couldn’t make out what it was, only that it was coming from downstairs, and that it sounded somewhat like humming.
She set her brush down and listened.
She moved closer to the stairs.
“Brady? Is that you?”
The dog didn’t reply.
Sarah shook her head and turned away.
She stopped in her tracks, a shard of ice in her chest.
What was that?
It sounded like a whimper. A mournful wail. Somewhere between the drone of a mosquito and an electrical appliance running low on battery.
“Pipes,” she said out loud, because she felt like saying something to fill the space, and because that’s what her dad always said when there were strange noises in the house. “Pipes…or your mother snoring.”
It didn’t sound like either of those things, and she felt as though she should investigate. Maintenance of this place was her responsibility now. If something was faulty, she needed to fix it.
“Brady? Come here boy. Come and help.”
Brady didn’t come.
There was no sound. No movement.
“Puppy? Where are you?”
Moving slowly, she made her way downstairs. She turned all of the lights on as she went.
Louder this time. Coming from the near the front door. With her skin pricking with goosebumps, Sarah crept towards the noise.
She opened the door to the porch.
Saw Brady sitting bolt upright in front of the package, his head tilted to one side, his silhouette dead still.
“What are you doing, dog?” Sarah said.
Brady didn’t turn around.
Sarah took a step closer. Put a hand on the dog’s collar.
Brady jumped in the air and squealed. It was as if she’d jabbed him with a taser.
Sarah’s heart nearly exploded.
“Bloody hell, Brady!” she snapped, and the dog seemed to notice her for the first time, thrusting himself against her legs and licking her hands.
“What have you been doing down here?”
Brady leapt up into Sarah’s arms and made himself small. Caught by surprise by the dog’s fear, Sarah ruffled the pup’s neck and whispered comforts to him. Then she looked down at the parcel. The air around her was cold. Even with the light on behind her, the corner where the parcel sat was threaded with gloom. Sarah dropped Brady in the living room and went back to pick up the box. She opened the front door and placed the parcel outside. The weather forecast had predicted rain, but that was too bad. The box didn’t have her name on it. It wasn’t hers. Who cares?
Closing the door firmly, she raced Brady back upstairs and settled down into the warmth of her bed. Brady looked at her with big, wet Disney eyes.
“Come on then: you too…”
Brady grinned and jumped onto the bed, curling himself into a ball beside her.
Sarah listened to some podcasts and music for an hour until her heart stopped jackhammering and her eyes got heavy. Then she went to sleep to the sound of Brady’s rhythmic breathing.
When she opened her eyes, the red digital numbers on her clock read 3:03am. She sat up and noticed right away that she was shivering. She pulled the duvet around her but it made no difference. She could see her breath form in misty puffs in front of her face. Had she left a window open? She was sure she had not.
She switched on the bedroom light.
Brady was gone.
Nothing unusual there, however. He often slinked back to his own bed, tired of Sarah’s flailing arms and general fidgeting, and wary of the sharp old springs in Sarah’s ancient mattress.
She wanted to get up and seek out the source of the draught, but she was too damn cold. It was as though she’d parachuted naked into the middle of some Arctic expanse. She checked her phone. The temperature readout said sixteen degrees. Which couldn’t be right. Sixteen was less than ideal, but a long way from this ice blizzard.
There it was again. This time it was more urgent. It didn’t sound focussed or pinpointed. It was all around her.
It was everywhere.
“Pipes,” Sarah said again—because that had to be the cause. Especially now the heating was gone.
Come on. You can do this. Just go and check the dial. It’s not that far…
One, two, three…
She tore out of bed, pulling open the wardrobe and putting on her thickest fleece and jogging bottoms. Then she put on another two layers, top and bottom, plus three pairs of socks.
“Alright! I get it!”
A plumber call-out was going cost a lot of money. She hoped the damage wasn’t too bad. Frozen pipes were no joke. She guessed Christmas was going to be a charity shop affair this year.
Behind her. In front of her. Above her.
Brady started yapping. Not helpful.
Sarah opened the airing cupboard and placed a hand on the emersion heater.
The pipes were warm too. The dial looked healthy, with no flashing lights, alarm bells or faults.
What the heck?
Brady kept barking. Insistent, staccato ruffs, cutting into her cold ears.
Sarah went downstairs. The sound was getting stronger. It was coming from the front door.
Breathing heavily, and with a cold sweat slicking her back, Sarah reached out towards the porch door with trembling hands.
She opened up.
Then she jumped back, catching her hip on the door handle, sending a bolt of pain arrowing up her side.
The parcel was there, on the mat, neatly lined up, taunting her.
Singing at her…
How had it got back inside?
Who had put it there?
Why had they put it there?
Sarah took out her phone and hovered her finger over the number 9.
All of a sudden, Brady stopped barking.
A thick silence draped over the house.
Sarah’s phone glowed, her thumb twitching, the device wobbling in her weak grip.
Then something touched her shoulder.
Gnarled fingers dug into her skin. Long nails pressed against her flesh.
Sarah turned around
Happy Halloween everyone!!!!
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So that’s it for now, Hoogly lovers! Have a wonderful Halloween and Christmas. Stay safe and drink lots and lots of tea!
Written by Chris Bedford,