Hi all, as promised here is short story number 2 – or Evil Trudi as it should be known. Good Trudi short story was uploaded last week and if you care to have a read, just click on the highlighted link. I hope you enjoy this one.

 

What’s out there? by Trudi Slavin

A dim blue light settles softly over the trees as Mel stands on her back verandah. Looking down through her garden she takes a sip of her wine and squints through the gloom. The early evening is quiet except for the sigh of a hot summer breeze through the trees and the glassy cry of currawongs in the bush beyond her back fence. But this is the first night she’s been alone in their new house and she’s fighting off the sense of unease she’s had since the sun slunk behind the hills.

‘Oh for God’s sake,’ she mutters, draining her glass as she she moves inside and closes the back door on the encroaching shadows. They moved to the mountains two months ago and all this space, all this quiet folds itself around her like a suffocating blanket. She loved the idea of moving out of the city, to make a new life, to slow down and enjoy the peace. But it seems peace doesn’t sit too well on her shoulders. And to make things worse, David is away for the weekend. Now she’s alone with her thoughts and an endless sea of grey-green bush pressing at her back gate.

She turns on the TV, looking for noise and distraction, and tries to settle for an evening of toasted sandwiches and American sitcoms.

Around midnight Mel can no longer ignore her drooping eyelids. In the house on her own the TV has always been a comfort, but she has to go to bed. I’m an adult, she chides herself, I can’t be afraid of the bogeyman.

But it’s not the bogeyman she’s afraid of. She couldn’t really say what it is, hasn’t put form to it yet, but she knows it’s not just her. One of the neighbours put voice to her disquiet only a fortnight ago when she stopped to chat.

‘Do you use the bush trails much?’ she’s asked, just making conversation.

‘Used to,’ he said, stretching his back, one hand gripping a garden rake. ‘When we first moved up here, but…’

‘But what?’ she’d asked.

‘I wouldn’t recommend being down there on your own. It’s a funny business ’round here… Somethin’ not right my wife always said.’

‘I don’t understand,’ she said. That was a lie.

‘The couple you bought the house from – they got spooked on the bush trail one time. You know the one at the end of the street?’

Mel nodded.

‘Reckoned they kept hearing somethin’ in the bush, but couldn’t see it. You know how dense it is down there. Right on dusk it was. Gave ’em the willies.’

Since then she’s caught herself listening intently on her morning walks, looking sideways at every shadow, seeing shapes in every patch of darkness. She told herself she was being ridiculous, but that feeling of being watched never left her. She felt eyes on her back at every step.

As soon as Mel gets into bed she’s wide awake. Gone is the cosy drowsiness she had in front of the TV, so she decides to read and nestles under the covers, gripping her novel. She tries to ignore the ticks and cracks of the tin roof. It’s the night air, she tells herself, the roof is contracting or something.

Then she hears the scratching. She sits up and stares at the ceiling as claws scrape across tin. It stops, then dull thudding footprints patter over her head and the scraping begins again. What the hell is that, she thinks? Shortly after, she hears a chittering noise and releases her breath as she realises it’s just possums.

Living in the city she knew what the dangers were. Don’t walk alone in certain areas after dark. Always look in your back seat before you get in the car. She felt confidant knowing these things. But here, everything’s new and at night, on her own, the silent strangeness of it all looms large in her imagination.

Mel lies back in her bed and drags her eyes to the book. Her breathing is shallow and she tries to release some of the knots she can feel in her shoulders. ‘I’ve got to relax,’ she mutters.

Taking a deep breath, she can feel some of the tension leave her. The tin roof creaks, the possums patter above her head. It’s okay she thinks, absolutely fine, I know what those noises are.

Her eyes start to feel heavy and, letting her book drop onto the covers, Mel begins to slip into a half-world of sleep. That’s when she hears the dull thud. Her mind once again is fully alert. Her fingers grip the edge of her book, she holds her breath, she listens.

Then she hears it again – a soft, heavy footfall on the back verandah steps.

Mel has left her window open a crack, to let in the fresh night air, only now all she can smell is a musty scent of earth and something like wet dog. Her curtains billow softly, dragging the smell from the verandah into her room. Then she hears another footfall, coming closer this time, followed by another. Whoever’s out there has nearly reached the top of the steps.

She sits up in bed, her body pulsing with fear, her ears straining. There’s something about those footfalls, something calculated, a sense of cunning stealth. That’s when she hears a deep dragging breath wheezing from the other side of her open window, a slow, wet sound that stops momentarily. Whatever is out there is listening for her.

Did she shut the back door properly? Suddenly, Mel isn’t so sure. Sometimes she leaves the sliding door to the back verandah open just to let in the night air.

Slowly, slowly she inches out of bed, desperately trying not to make the wooden floorboards creak. She pads quickly to the lounge room, crouching down, although she doesn’t know why. Through the darkness she peers at the sliding glass doors and with a wash of relief she can see they’re closed.

That’s when she hears a quick scrape from the bottom of the stairs outside and a few footsteps rustling through the leaves in her back garden. Whoever… whatever… is out there has retreated, out the back, around the side. Perhaps to the front?

Mel gasps and stands upright – the front door, did she lock it? It’s such a quiet little town that, for all her city living, Mel has got in the habit of forgetting to lock up. She turns and races to the front door. In the small hallway she flicks on the light – she can see the deadbolt has been engaged. Of course – she remembers now.

She should call the police. But what would she say? ‘Officer I think there’s a hairy creature breathing heavily at my back door. Come quickly.’ They’d cart her away.

Flicking off the hall light, she turns to go back to her bedroom, still deliberating about calling the cops. She stops just inside the kitchen and is staring at the phone trying to think what she would say when she hears a scrape from somewhere in the darkness. Somewhere in the house.

A prickle of dread creeps over her skin as she takes the last few steps into the lounge room. Through the gloom she peers at her newly opened back door, she peers at the curtain pulled aside, rippling in the night breeze. She peers at the lock she forgot to turn, at the wedge of night pressing through the opening.

Her body shakes as she walks closer and she’s possessed by a numb feeling of fate as she places one foot after another on the cold wooden floor. The musty scent of earth fills the room, heavy and oppressive.

Then at her back she hears a wheezing breath as heavy footsteps thud across the floor behind her. It reaches her and lowers its head, its foetid breath caressing her neck. And in the darkness, she shivers and begins to weep, as a low, malevolent growl ripples through the night and into her bones. The last sound she knows she’ll ever hear.