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I used to live in a small cottage in the country. It was quite secluded and there were only two buses a day that went past my home. If I missed the bus, I’d have to walk down a long country road to get back. In summer, it was quite nice walking past the fields in the shade of the trees. In summer, there was still sunlight. In winter, there was no sunlight, and it was in winter when I missed the bus home.
I’d been working late at the office and I had to get the later train home instead of my usual one. As I sat on the train home, I watched as the sun slowly sank beneath the rolling hills of the countryside. It was getting dark outside.
I got off at my stop and starting walking towards the bus stop. It was then I saw its familiar shape cresting the hill on the horizon. I knew I couldn’t miss the bus. If I did, I’d have to walk home in the dark. I jogged to the stop and managed to reach it before the bus did. I held out my hand to stop the bus, but the bus didn’t stop; the driver just kept on going. Now obviously I was annoyed, but I knew that swearing and cursing wouldn’t help my current situation. Instead, I started walking home.
It was at least three miles to my house, which is a lot for one person to walk alone on a dark, cold winters night, but still I persevered. The dead leaves beneath my feet made a satisfying crunch as I walked over them; but it wasn’t so satisfying when I heard the same noise coming from behind me.
I knew I was alone, I’d checked several times during the walk to sooth my paranoia but now I couldn’t even consider turning around just in case. Just in case I would find something as horrifying as the things that often appeared in my nightmares.
I ignored the crunching and carried on, but I started to speed up at this point hoping that I could out run the noises.
But I couldn’t.
As I moved faster, the noises behind me moved faster too and they started to sound closer and closer.
I started to run when I heard the breathing.
The deep, croaky, terrifying breathing of the thing following me. I ran fast, but the thing did too. Adreneline gave me a boost but fear powered me through out. I wasn’t going to let that thing get me; I was determined.
I kept running while the breaths behind me became shallower and shallower.
I kept running while the crunching leaves sounded quieter and quieter.
I kept running because I couldn’t stop.
I didn’t stop until I reached my house. I quickly unlocked the door and slammed it shut behind me before stumbling through the onyx black darkness and tumbling into the cupboard under the stairs.
The cupboard was my safe place; I always felt safer in confined spaces. If I ever had a panic attack or worked myself up into a fear frenzy I’d just hide in there as I did that night. I curled up in the blankets I’d left under there and fell asleep, but as I drifted off, I thought I heard scratching at the cupboard door.
Some hours later, I was awoken by sunlight pouring thought the cracks in the door. I slowly opened the door and peered out, half expecting a monster to lunge for me. Instead I was greeted by my cat, Snowball. I noticed her food bowls were empty. “So that’s why you were scratching on the door last night,” I cooed “You were hungry weren’t you poppet.”
I emptied a sachet of cat food into a bowl for her and brewed myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly, I heard a floorboard creak upstairs. I grabbed a knife from the draw and quietly walked up the stairs, keeping on guard at all times. When I reached the top of the stairs, I saw the landing was empty. Cautiously, I opened the door to my bedroom and checked in there. It was empty too. So was the bathroom and so was my study.
Everywhere was empty.
I told myself to stop being so paranoid; it was an old cottage and the beams were probably weak and creaky. I retrieved my coffee from downstairs and started doing some work in the study, for today I could work from home which meant I didn’t have to run down any country roads late at night being chased by a boogey man! I turned my laptop on and started working. I worked for several hours without a break. Sometimes I felt Snowball come and brush up against my leg so I’d stroke her and assure her I’d come down and play with her later.
Whilst I was working, I heard a noise outside. It was an owl hooting. I looked out of the window opposite my desk, when I had a realisation. It was a realisation so chilling it made my blood run cold.
There was an owl.
It was still dark outside.
My house was dark when I got home, but now the lights were on.
I wasn’t woken up by sunlight. Someone or something turned the lights on.
The house wasn’t empty.