Hope you enjoy.
Standing beside her front door, Emma Cooper gave the car a wave as it followed the curve of the little road from Willow Court. There was a flash of white—Jo sticking a hand through the window for a moment to return the gesture before the car disappeared behind the flats marking the entrance to the Court. As soon as the car was out of sight, the silence of the evening crashed back down again and Emma remained still. Trying to keep her smile fresh even though there was nobody nearby to see it, she watched for Jo, hoping her friend would reappear. After long moments of listening to nothing but her own soft breath, Emma let her smile go and fished out her keys, not thinking of anything else. Refusing to let herself think of anything else.
The metal dug into her palm and she squeezed her hand around it, relishing the discomfort. The approaching sunset covered her house with a warming red light, shining on each brick and on the windows that needed cleaning. As she inserted her key into the lock, she fought the urge to turn. Jo had gone; Emma knew that. Even so, she wanted to be with Jo and Rich, watching TV, talking to people she loved instead of having to face her empty house.
“Get a grip, you stupid cow.” She turned the key. The musty smell of sealed rooms on a hot day ran past her as she opened the door. Out of nowhere, an unbidden mental picture of a month before fell over her eyes and blocked any sight of the entrance hall in her house.
“No,” she whispered. “No.”
The picture faded, leaving the memory of that horrible time in the delivery room to drift away. Still tasting the final cup of tea, Emma let her breath go. At the same time, the stale air inside the house hit. She’d have to give it a clean tomorrow. Keep the windows open, let some of the day in: air and light and fresh.
Kicking off her trainers, she walked through to the living room and tossed her keys and phone to the sofa. Once the curtains and patio doors were open, the outside freshness entered and banished some of the closed-in feeling although not quickly enough. She stood in the doorway, took deep breaths and figured the best plan was to catch up on some box sets, have something to eat and go to bed.
As she locked the patio doors, her mind threw up the picture again, too fast for her to stop it.
She’s pushing when they tell her to, concentrating on anything she can other than the glassy pain, trying to think of how it will be after, of going home with her child and that’s when the hurt changes to something monstrous that isn’t physical. Instead, it’s far deeper than the stupid weight of her body because something’s wrong, something’s—
Emma whirled around, breathing fast. Instead of letting her mind speak a name, she strode to the kitchen, grabbed a Budweiser can from the fridge and swallowed a few rapid mouthfuls. The lager slid down her throat fast, forcing her to concentrate on nothing else for several seconds. Lowering the beer, Emma belched and managed to laugh. The laughter slipped away as the name broke through her barriers.
The doorbell rang.
Stifling a second belch, Emma placed the can by the cooker and returned to the hall to peer at the shape outside, the form indistinct through the frosted glass. A man was all she could work out.
“Who is it?” she said, raising her voice.
For a moment, the hall seemed warmer than it should have even with the sunlight dropping through windows.
“Hi.” The voice was friendly and sure. There was a pause long enough for Emma to think: shit, it’s the godsquad. Just great.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you do,” Emma whispered. She slid a step closer to the door. “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”
The man gave no reply. Still listening, Emma took a step back to the kitchen with the idea of having a quick look through the window at him.
“I need to talk to you, Emma.”
Still moving towards the kitchen, Emma froze. The warmth in the hall no longer existed. In its place, winter cold crept through the house and made the fine hairs on her arms rise.
“Go away,” she said, grateful her voice held steady. “I’m really not interested.”
“I’m sorry, Emma, but I need to talk to you.”
The man still sounded friendly. Walking as lightly as possible to the living room, Emma grabbed her phone from the sofa and readied it.
“Leave now or I call the police.”
Although she knew it was impossible, she thought she heard the man sigh.
“I wish I could leave, but I can’t. Now please open the door.”
As she licked her lips repeatedly, Emma was dimly aware of a new feeling. Apprehension remained while rising from her mid-section, anger swam in closer.
She stabbed nine three times. “The police will be here pretty quickly, so why don’t—”
The man’s voice interrupted her. Instead of sounding muffled through the front door, it came clearly from the phone.
“It’s about Leoni, Emma.”
Unable to make a sound, Emma dropped her mobile and fell against the doorframe to slide downwards. A great thundering roared on all sides as her heart boomed in her ears. She swallowed repeatedly and tried to pull herself up with her fingertips on the doorframe. Failing, she stared at the front door and crawled to the hall where she slumped beside the bookcase.
“Emma, please. We need to talk.”
She made it another foot and managed to stand. With a hand against her stomach, she walked to the door.
“Leoni?” she murmured.
Emma reached for the lock. As her fingers brushed the cool metal, her rational mind made a bid to control her actions. It failed. She pushed the lock down and opened the door.
The man stepped back.
“Emma. My name is Xaphan.”
“Xaphan,” Emma repeated. The man extended his hand.
“Will you come?” he said.
Leoni, Emma thought. Ignoring the offered hand, she stepped outside.
Everything turned red.