Please note this is fiction and any similarity between real people and places is purely coincidental.
The next time you hear a bump in the night what will you do?
The thing that really stands out when Jen looks back at the incident is that she doesn’t scream when she’s terrified.
Unlike the high-pitched, blood-curdling screams that movies are made of, Jennifer’s terror noise is a low, animalistic sound, somewhere between a growl and a grunt.
The day of the incident was off kilter right from the start, beginning with a 2 am crash in the kitchen Jen knew she should investigate but the soft bed was just too comfortable. Her exhaustion as a working, single mother of two teenaged sons was enough to easily silence the alarm bells sparked by that crash.
A MESS AND A MENACE
Staggering to the kitchen for the all-important coffee to kick start her day, Jen noticed the little antique dish where she kept her rock salt was toppled over. There was salt all over the counter.
She silently cursed her sons for their negligence, figuring they had left the mess in their rush to leave for an early morning run before school.
Jen couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched as she drank her coffee and planned her day. It made her shiver even though the tall, 36-year-old brunette knew she was alone in the house.
She checked all the rooms, just to be sure, grabbing dirty clothes left scattered on the floor by her sons as she went.
It didn’t seem to matter how often she nagged them, Jen’s sons kept mindlessly dropping their dirty clothes in a heap.
They seemed quite oblivious to their mother’s resentment at having to pick up after them all the time.
Jen wouldn’t describe herself as particularly fussy, but she did like a clean and tidy home.
After rechecking the rooms – she still felt something sinister in the house, Jen showered and dressed for work.
As she was applying her makeup, taking care to cover the tiny scar just above the left side of her lip, she thought she heard a noise in the kitchen. When she checked the room, it was empty.
The unsettling feeling stayed with her all day, though the sense of menace wasn’t as strong at her office as it was at home. Jen realised she was dreading going back into the house, as she stopped to grab dinner supplies on the way home.
She chastised herself for this crazy feeling and knew her sons would be waiting. The long day was made longer by the fact Jen had to rush home to drive her 14-year-old son, Jackson, to his guitar lesson and her older son, Simon, to soccer practice.
As she was waiting at the music school for the lesson to finish, Jen was thankful Simon, 16, would get a lift home with a friend and she wouldn’t have to brave the winter chill to pick him up from practice.
When she returned home she lit the fire and turned on some lamps, trying to create the cosy and comforting contentment she always felt at home.
She couldn’t capture this feeling and, her senses telling her something was wrong, she searched each room yet again, trying to discover what was amiss.
Everything appeared to be in its rightful place and she found no intruders – still, the feeling of menace remained.
Telling herself to snap out of it, Jen poured herself a glass of wine and started preparing dinner.
Home-made chicken schnitzel, chips, and veggies were on the menu tonight – a favourite with the boys.
When she paused mid-way through peeling the potatoes to have a sip of wine, Jen realised here hands were shaking.
Not prone to histrionics or any kind of anxiety, this all at once infuriated and scared her.
Was she losing her mind? Why on earth was she so creeped out?
Years spent alone as a teenager, when her parents were working nights, had given Jen the skills to enjoy her own company and overcome any sense of fear of the dark.
It always amazed her when her adult girlfriends confessed panic at being alone at night.
Jen had learned to be independent early in life and there were very few things that scared her.
When her husband Malcolm was around, before skipping off with a younger version of her, he called her Superwoman and rejoiced in the brave way she’d tackle spiders that found their way into the house, when he himself was frozen with fear at the sight of them.
The only time Jen could remember feeling or acting truly terrified was when she was pregnant with Simon and saw dozens of huge rats while walking past a construction site near her home.
The sight inspired her to run into the road screaming and pulling at her hair while the bemused Malcolm looked on.
She was deeply ashamed of this reaction and put it down to hormones. Or her mother’s insistence that baby rats were more than capable of getting through the tiny vents above her bed in an old apartment she had lived in, where she could regularly hear rats squealing in the walls.
She’d always been disgusted by those scurrying rodents with sharp teeth but was even more disgusted by her over the top behaviour when faced with them.
Jen shuddered at the memory and took another gulp of wine before dropping the chicken fillets in the seasoned flour, whisked eggs and then the breadcrumbs.
Her movements were shaky and by the time she was finished there was flour and breadcrumbs all over the counter and floor.
Angrily, Jen started cleaning the mess and then realised her anger had chased away the fear and she was able to finish making dinner without turning into a crumbling mess.
Proud of her new composure, Jen plated the meals, leaving Simon’s on the counter to cool before covering it to save for him to have when he returned home.
Jackson had finished his homework and was engrossed in some crazy movie about vampires so Jen decided to let him eat his dinner in front of the television to avoid the inevitable fight.
Just as she was finishing her own meal, Jen heard her older son arrive home.
She went into the kitchen to warm up his meal, the one she had forgotten to cover, only to discover her hand made chips were missing from the plate.
This was the last straw in a day that had dragged on for far too long and Jen screamed at Jackson to come into the kitchen and explain why he had eaten his brother’s chips.
She was in no mood to listen to his denials and screamed at him again, this time for the salty mess left on the counter in the morning.
Jackson responded with more denials and Jen had to resist the urge to hit him, though he was just as tall as she was.
She shooed her sons out of the kitchen, promising to make more chips for Simon and feeling guilty about the confused look on his face and the hurt look of dejection on Jackson’s, caused by her harsh words.
THE SOUND OF TERROR
It was as she was peeling the potatoes for the second time that
Jen saw it, really only a blur as it moved so fast. But she knew what it was.
Still holding the vegetable peeler Jen backed out of the kitchen, wondering what that horrible growling, grunting noise was.
As she stood on a chair in the dining room she realised the inhuman noise was coming from her as she faced her biggest fear.
Though only a fraction of Jen’s size, and clearly terrified, the rat had turned Jen into a blithering fool who could not stop the terrified growling long enough to explain to her curious sons why their tough mum was standing on a chair with tears running down her face.
With a shaking hand, Jen managed to point in the direction the rodent had disappeared and finally managed to scream the word ‘rat’.
Jen was by now shaking uncontrollably while stomping on the chair and making her growl/grunt noises.
It barely registered for her that her sons had gone into action, keen to be the heroes that would save their Mum, maybe even turn her back to her normal self.
Once they had seen the intruder for themselves – after all, mum was acting really weird and was maybe seeing things – one went in search of the family cat while the other stayed to guard their terrified mother.
Jen wanted to scream that the cat wouldn’t help. It was old and slow and lazy. But she couldn’t stop growling/grunting.
She was right, the cat was not impressed with being grabbed by Simon and put on the kitchen counter, a place it had previously been forbidden to venture.
The cat hissed and scratched before running back to the relative safety of the yard.
Ignoring the blood forming on his hands from the cat’s scratches, Simon had managed to pin the terrified rat between the kitchen wall tiles and a wooden knife block.
He grabbed a knife from the block and stabbed the rat before serving it up to the disgruntled cat sitting outside the front door.
With the rodent gone, the feeling of menace had also disappeared, leaving Jen to deal with the apologies – the salt was obviously knocked over by their invader and the missing chips were found in a neat pile behind the toaster, also no doubt the work of the intruder.
She was astounded by the way the tiny, scary creature had transformed her into the real monster, easily relinquishing the composure and control she was always so proud of.
As she searched for the rodent’s point of entry, Jen vowed to herself the next time she heard a bump in the night she would investigate immediately – or maybe not.
I hope you enjoyed this tale.
Wishing you, as always, a gleeful week, Tamuria.