‘You look terrible this morning.’
Kitty looked at her husband in disgust. ‘Thank you, you say the nicest things.’
She cupped a hot cup of coffee in her hands and pulled her thick dressing gown closer around her, she shivered and pulled a tissue out of the pocket and blew her nose.
‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
‘No, I’ve got a headache and I was coughing all night. So I didn’t keep you awake then?’
‘No,’ Gordon carried on eating his breakfast.
Kitty stood up from the table and started rummaging in one of the kitchen cupboards looking for the first aid box and opened it.
‘I can’t remember if we’ve got any cold capsules, perhaps I can get some at the shop.’
Gordon stood up and carried his plate and cup over to the sink. ‘I can pick up some later for you on the way back from work.’
Kitty nodded at him. ‘Leave that, I’ll do it in a minute.’
Gordon kissed the top of her head ‘Okay, I’d better get going or I’ll be late, ring me if you do want me to pick anything up.’
Kitty sat at the table with a cup of tea, outside the sun was shining and it made the events of last night seem unreal but while she tried to dismiss it Kitty could still feel the touch of those fingers on her shoulder and she shivered.
She stared out the window into the garden, the apple trees still had one or two shrivelled little apples clinging to their branches. The leaves were falling fast now and were blowing around the garden in the slight breeze.
Perhaps I’ll have a bonfire later, she thought. And clear all those up.
Kitty pushed the chair back and sneezed. ‘Oh bless me! I think I will walk down to the shop and see if I can get something for this cold.’
Although it was a lovely morning there was a nip to the air and Kitty was glad that she had wrapped up in a thick coat. Nero was on a lead this morning as there were a few cars about, probably on their way to work.
A few late sprigs of honeysuckle were still growing in the hedge and Kitty picked one and tucked it into a buttonhole.
Apart from the cars Kitty had the lane to herself and she enjoyed the walk to the shop, the fresh air was helping to clear her headache and by the time she had reached the bottom of the hill it had all but disappeared.
Kitty pushed open the shop door, leaving Nero tied up outside, the dog whined and pulled at his lead.
‘Oh shush... I won’t be long,’ she reassured him.
‘Good morning,’ Mrs Leavenham was stood behind the counter unpacking some boxes; she looked up and smiled when Kitty opened the door. ‘Isn’t it a lovely morning after all that rain?’
‘What a storm!’
‘I hope you didn’t get wet yesterday, I saw you walk past the shop.’
‘I made it back home just in time, I walked to the top of the hill; it’s quite a view from up there.’
‘It certainly is, now what can I get you?’
‘Have you got any cold remedies? I was coughing and sneezing all night and I can’t bear having a cold.’
‘Well now, I’ve got the usual, throat lozenges or there’s this, it’s called Honey Linctus. It’s locally made, wonderful stuff, I always use it.’
Mrs Leavenham handed over a bottle filled with a thick brown liquid.
‘It looks disgusting,’ Kitty picked up the bottle and peered at its contents doubtfully.
‘I know, it tastes disgusting as well so be warned,’ she smiled. ‘But we all use it. Last year when we had that flu I ran out and couldn’t get any for weeks.’
‘Who makes it?’
‘Oh, it’s a local chap, he used to have a pharmacy in Seaton, everybody has the recipe but he makes it up for us.’
Mrs Leavenham wrapped the bottle in a paper bag. ‘I’ll wrap it as the bottle is a bit sticky, this will help, I promise.’
‘Well I’ll give it a go then, how much is it?’
‘Two pounds fifty, dear. It’s been used for years around here. The recipe came originally from a woman in the village; she was the local midwife and was very good with herbs and suchlike. Here’s your change, now how are you settling in?’
Mrs Leavenham looked at her intently, head on one side.
‘Oh, okay I think, I suppose it will take time to get used to being in a new place,’ Kitty hesitated. ‘I keep hearing strange noises in the house.’ She suddenly felt very silly admitting to it and wished she had said nothing.
‘Oh don’t you worry, my daughter had the same thing when she moved into a new house in Axminster. She was convinced that the house was haunted.’ Mrs Leavenham laughed ‘It was just the house settling, I expect that’s what you can hear.’
‘Perhaps that’s it,’ Kitty said doubtfully, she hesitated but decided to let the subject drop. ‘Well thanks for this,’ she raised the bottle. ‘I’d better be going, still loads to do.’
She closed the door and untied the dog. ‘Come on let’s go home.’
Kitty waved through the shop window at the old woman who was watching her with a slight frown on her face from behind the counter, she smiled briefly in response before turning back to the boxes.
Kitty spent the rest of the morning unpacking the cardboard boxes in the utility room, most of it went in the garage as it was the contents of Gordon’s shed from their previous home. She squashed the empty boxes flat and piled them on the grass at the end of the garden meaning to have a bonfire.
She was just heading off to find the rake in the garage when she became aware of a figure on the other side of the wall.
Kitty turned. ‘Oh Mr Beamish, hello.’
He stood leaning against the stone wall staring at her, his work hardened hands clenched over the rough stones.
‘How are you?’ she asked. ‘I was just going to have a bonfire, get rid of these boxes and all the leaves need clearing.’
He didn’t answer and Kitty was suddenly worried.
‘This isn’t going to annoy you is it? If I have a fire?’
He remained silent and Kitty was surprised by the strange intensity of his stare. Feeling very uncomfortable under his scrutiny and unsure of what to say next she turned and walked down the path to the house.
‘Well, I’ll get on then Mr Beamish, nice to see you’
Kitty opened the side door to the garage and glanced back up the garden, but he had disappeared and she felt strangely relieved.
The rake was in a clutter of tools at the back, she pulled it out, reluctant to go back outside. She hesitated and peeped out the half open door.
Kitty chided herself. ‘For goodness sake what is wrong with you, you daft old woman.’
She spent the next hour steadily raking the grass and by the time she had finished had piled a huge pile of twigs and leaves on top of the cardboard. Kitty kept her head lowered as she worked unwilling to look up in case Mr Beamish had returned.
‘Now I need some matches,’ she said to herself walking to the house.
Opening the back door warm scented air met her as she entered the kitchen.
‘There you are dog, didn’t you want to help me in the garden then?’ She reached down and patted Nero’s head; he looked up, wagged his tail and yawned. ‘Lazy dog,’ she yawned as well. ‘Oh dear, I’ll have a cup of tea and sit down for a minute before I light the bonfire’
Kitty put the kettle on, pulled out a chair and sat down with a sigh. She suddenly felt very tired and yawned again.
‘Maybe I will leave the bonfire until later. What do you think dog?’ she asked fondling his ears. Nero just yawned and snuggled his head down into the box.
It was beginning to get dark and Kitty felt quite chilled sitting at the table even with a hot cup of tea. She sneezed again and decided it was time to change into something warmer. After changing into a pair of thick cords and a warm jumper she hobbled stiffly back down the stairs, passing the front room door Kitty had a sudden urge to light the fire. The fireplace hadn’t been used yet and Gordon was looking forward to the weather getting colder so that they would have an excuse to use it. As Kitty was still feeling cold she decided it would be a good opportunity to try it out, the prospect of sitting in front of an open fire would be rather welcome for a while.
Gordon had the kindling all ready piled up next to the grate and the log basket was full.
Kitty scrumpled up a newspaper and put in on the grate and was just putting on the kindling when the phone rang. Easing herself up as her knees were stiff from her afternoon in the garden she hobbled into the hall hoping to get to the phone before it stopped ringing.
‘Hi dear it’s me, just checking to see if you still want some shopping.’
‘No thanks, it’s okay, I bought some local potion from Mrs Leavenham, she swears by it, God knows what it’s in it though. It tastes disgusting.’
‘Bat’s blood and eye of newt. Who knows? I will be home in about 10 minutes, see you. Kitty? Are you still there? Kitty!’
She didn’t answer; she had taken the phone away from her ear and was staring back into the living room.
Kitty lifted the phone again. ‘Gordon, the fire’s lit.’
‘That’s nice dear.’
‘No, it’s not, I didn’t light it, I was just laying the fire when you rang.’
‘You probably did it without realising; you know what your memory is like.’
‘I didn’t light it Gordon there aren’t any matches in there so I couldn’t have!’ Her voice rose.
‘Kitty calm down, I’ll be home in ten minutes.’
There was a click as Gordon put the phone down and a constant buzzing sound as Kitty stood in the hall with the phone still held to her ear. In the living room the fire blazed, the kindling popping and crackling was burning down quickly. The fire needed feeding but Kitty hesitated before entering the room, as she stood in the hall she became aware of movement in Gordon’s chair near the fireplace.
The phone clattered to the floor.
The chair had been pulled up in front of the fire, the back facing the door. Unable to see the occupant of the chair she edged into the room grasping the door frame to stop herself from shaking. From the chair an arm stretched out, grasped a log and placed it into the flames.
Kitty drew a strangled breath and backed slowly out of the room into the hall. The fire irons clattered on the hearth, the noise spurring her into action and she dashed into the kitchen and slammed the door behind her. Leaning against it she gazed wildly around the room and lit on the block of kitchen knives sitting on the worktop. Kitty leapt forward and pulled the largest carving knife out of the slot, with her other hand she dragged one of the kitchen chairs over to the door and jammed it under the handle and then sat on it.
Kitty gripped the knife tightly trying to stop her hands shaking but after while her knuckles began to ache where she was holding it so tight. She forced herself to let go of the knife and balance it on her knees while she shakily massaged her hands. Outside in the hall it was quiet but she could still hear the fire popping as the kindling burnt, no other sound came from the living room and Kitty’s breathing was just getting beginning to slow when she heard the sound of the hearth being swept. Kitty jumped, the clatter of the knife falling to the floor made Nero start, he rested his head on the side of the dog box and looked at her sleepily.
‘You’re some guard dog Nero!’ she whispered frantically.
The kitchen clock ticked on slowly as she watched the hands creeping around the face. Kitty strained to hear the car pulling into the drive and for an awful minute thought that perhaps he had stopped at the supermarket. She was just considering running out the back door when she heard Gordon’s car. The front door banged open.
‘Kitty, Kitty where are you?’
She dragged the chair away from the door and opened it. ‘Gordon! Why were you so long?’
Kitty rushed towards him forgetting that she was still holding the carving knife. Gordon jumped back.
‘Wow! What are you doing with that?’ and put up an arm to fend her off.
‘There’s somebody in the living room Gordon.’
He stared at her in amazement. ‘What are you talking about?’ He walked into the room. ‘There’s nobody here, look,’ he swung around and pulled her into the room. ‘Look it’s empty.’
Kitty stared around the room nervously. ‘But I didn’t light the fire and I saw somebody in here.’
‘Well, the fire is going a treat now,’ he said wearily.
The fire was burning well, several logs had been piled on and a few lumps of coal had been placed on the flames. The room was already warm, the smell of wood smoke mingling with the fragrance of lavender.
‘I’ve been shut in the kitchen since you rang; I was too frightened to come back in here.’
‘Well you must have done it, I don’t know what’s wrong you at the moment. Perhaps you should go and see the doctor. Maybe it’s the stress from the move, or something?’
He looked worried, running his hand over his hair.
‘It’s not stress,’ her voice trembled as she stared blankly around the empty room.
Gordon took the knife from her hand and walked into the kitchen throwing it onto the table.
‘Oh calm down Kitty, I’m sure there is a logical explanation.’
‘What! I’ve just told you there was somebody in the house and you’re treating me as though I was nuts.’
‘Oh for God’s sake Katherine,’ he exploded. ‘I’ve had a hard day at work and I have to come home to this!’ He shoved the chair back under the table scraping it along the tiled floor.
‘I think you should make an appointment tomorrow and get something for your nerves.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with my nerves,’ she shouted at him.
Gordon pushed past her not bothering to answer and headed for the stairs. Kitty slumped down in a chair and rested her head in her hands. Upstairs drawers were being dragged open and banged shut as Gordon changed out of his suit. It was strange how Kitty could always tell how annoyed Gordon was by the way he opened the drawers in the bedroom.
Kitty pulled off a piece of kitchen roll and blew her nose. There was a movement at the door, she jumped and looked up. Gordon was standing in the doorway looking apologetic.
‘Are you alright?’
‘I’m okay,’ she said gruffly and sneezed. ‘Oh bother.’
‘Did you say you had some medicine?’ he was trying to sound normal.
Kitty looked at him for a moment. ‘I walked down to the shop this morning.’
She glanced away from him and stared at her clasped hands on the table.
Gordon sighed and pulled out one of the chairs and sat down. ‘Shall I make tea tonight? I could make one of my curries.’
‘If you like,’ she said quietly.
He reached out and stroked her hand. ‘Everything’s okay Kitty, there’s nothing wrong with the house or the orchard. You’re just letting things get on top of you.’
‘I’m fine Gordon.’He pushed the chair back and stood up. ‘Why don’t you go and have a soak while I make tea.’
‘No,’ she said quickly. ‘No, I’ll stay here.’
Kitty glanced nervously into the hall; Nero was laying full stretch on the hall floor, fast asleep. ‘Why isn’t it bothering Nero?’
Gordon had his back turned while he was rummaging through the shelves in the freezer. He turned to face his wife. ‘What about the dog?’
‘Every time I see or hear something in this house he hasn’t been worried at all.’
‘Because there’s nothing to be worried about, that’s why.’
He put a pan on the hob and started to chop onions ‘What have you been doing today? Have you been busy?’
‘I was clearing up the garden, I was going to have a bonfire and I saw Mr Beamish, he was acting very strangely. I thought perhaps he was annoyed because I was going to have a fire but he didn’t answer when I asked him. He was really odd.’
‘Oh dear, poor old Mr Beamish is going to get the Kitty treatment now is he!’
‘That’s not funny.’
‘Sorry,’ he looked at Kitty; she was slumped in the chair looking tired and dejected. ‘I’m sure you’ll laugh about it in the morning.’
‘I doubt it.’
Gordon filled a pan at the sink and put it on the hob before throwing some chopped peppers into the frying onions.
‘Prawn curry okay?’ he asked.
She nodded. ‘Yes, there’s a curry sauce in the cupboard if you want it, on the second shelf.’ She half rose from her chair. ‘Shall I get it for you?’
‘No, no sit still, I’ll get it.’
Gordon opened the sauce and poured it over the frying vegetables then threw the prawns on top of the mix, stirring it all together. The rice was gently bubbling on the hob and was nearly cooked.
‘Can you set the table?’
‘Yeah I’ll do that,’ she pushed herself up from the table and sneezed again. ‘Damn.’
‘Bless you dear, the local magic potion doesn’t seem to be working.’
Kitty blew her nose. ‘Well actually my throat isn’t so sore now so it must be working a bit.’
She put out the place mats and the knives and forks. ‘I think there is some red wine left if you’d like some.’
‘It should be lager with curry really but red wine will do.’
Gordon set out the plates on the table.
‘That smells wonderful,’ she said.
He brought over the dish of rice and curry. ‘Help yourself; I hope I have cooked enough rice.’
They were halfway through their meal when a strange drumming started on the roof.
‘It’s raining again, sounds like a hard storm,’ said Gordon staring at the window.
‘That’s really noisy,’ she paused with a forkful of food half way to her mouth. Kitty turned to look out the window as well but by now it was already dark and she couldn’t see a thing. The drumming got louder and louder until they were almost deafened.
Kitty said alarmed ‘That sounds like hail but it’s not cold enough for that.’
The ferocious downpour continued, drumming on the roof and pinging off the windows of the kitchen, they sat in silence, their food forgotten. The lights in the kitchen flickered and Gordon glanced towards the hall in alarm.
‘Where did we put the torch?’
‘You don’t think we’re going to have a power cut do you?’ asked Kitty worried, as she spoke the lights flickered again. ‘I think it’s in the garage but there are some candles in the living room.’
‘Well I’m sure we’re not going to need them Kitty, so don’t worry.’ Gordon reached across and patted her hand reassuringly. ‘It’s just the storm shaking the power lines that’s all.’
Nero whined and climbed out of his dog box, he pushed his way through their legs to get under the table and sat next to Kitty’s legs whining gently. She groped underneath the table to find his head and gave it a gentle reassuring pat.
‘Wow! I’m glad I’m not out in this,’ Gordon had to raise his voice so that Kitty could hear him over the drumming noise.
Kitty leant towards him over the table. ‘Do you remember that news report of hail stones in America that were the size of golf balls?’
Gordon nodded. ‘Sounds like we have hail the size of boulders, but I don’t think I’ll go out just yet for a look.’
The sound slowly abated until within a few minutes there was just occasional ping of the hail stones on the window.
‘Ah, it’s stopping, thank goodness,’ he said rising from his chair. Gordon opened the back door. ‘Let’s look at the icebergs,’ he joked and switched on the outside light.
It shone out brightly lighting up the path and illuminating half of the garden, the apple trees just beyond the pool of light were dark fingered shapes casting shadows onto the farm buildings behind the stone wall.
The path was bone dry, no hail or rain had fallen outside.
He stared outside perplexed.
‘What? Look at this, there’s nothing out here Kitty. It’s dry, nothing has fallen at all!’
Kitty came to the door and peered over his shoulder.
‘What was it then? Perhaps a branch fell on the roof or something.’
‘That wasn’t a branch, it sounded like hail but where is it?’
Gordon stepped out onto the back step and looked left and right.
‘How strange,’ he said perplexed and walked down the side of the house.
‘Gordon don’t go too far,’ she said in a panic, peering out of the door after him.
‘I’m just here Kitty.’
‘You have to admit that this is strange Gordon.’
He looked at her impatiently. ‘I’m sure there is a logical explanation.’
‘Well what is it then?’
He looked perplexed for a minute. ‘I’ll let you know when I think of one.’
‘Good evening,’ a voice came from the dark lane making Kitty jump. She could just make out the figure of Mr Beamish waving an arm in greeting as he walked down the lane.
‘Evening,’ Gordon called out, turned and caught sight of the expression on his wife’s face ‘He’s just a harmless old man,’ he said in exasperation.
‘But he’s always around when something strange happens; perhaps he’s trying to scare us off his land.’
She watched the old man disappear down the lane.
‘Now why would he want to do that?’
Gordon steered her back into the warm kitchen and shut the door.
‘Perhaps it’s because we’re not locals.’
‘Locals? Your family come from Axmouth, mine from just over the hill. If we were any more local as you put it we would have been born in his farmyard!’
‘Perhaps he just doesn’t like us then.’
‘He’s a very nice old man, he’s always friendly.’
‘He wasn’t friendly when I was going to have my bonfire.’
‘Why, what did he say?’
‘Well nothing, he didn’t say anything, he just looked, well you know...weird.’
‘Weird! Perhaps he thinks you’re weird, perhaps he’s heard that you’ve being seeing ghosts. That’s weird.’
‘Well he was being very strange,’ huffed Kitty.
‘You’re imagining things again Kitty, come on,’ he said calmly. ‘Let’s just get on with our meal before it gets too cold.’
‘What was that programme called from years ago, the spooky one?’
‘The Twilight Zone.’
‘That’s it! We’re living in the Twilight Zone!