Contains scenes both sickening and unsettling.
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Emma Haggins came home from work early that day. Unable to cope with the constant demands of screaming mothers and crying babies, she crept in through the door and locked it immediately, then gripped the handle and tried to open it. Once satisfied that it would not open she fastened the dead bolt, then the second dead bolt and finally the third, double checking each as she fastened them.
It never used to be this way.
She went quickly to the kitchen and set the jug to boil. A hot coffee, that would help her, settle herself a little, then maybe a hot bath. Yes. No. She didn't know. At the moment she just wanted to sit down and not think about anything. She grabbed the little china cup with the teddy bears on it. It was her favorite because it was different from the rest, it wasn't sterile, old and plain.
Emma made her coffee, a double shot expresso, took the cup, and placed it on a saucer with two hands trembling. Got to stay awake. Got to stay awake.
"Ah," she jumped and coffee spilled, the cup fell back on the saucer with an unbroken clack.
"Only the mice, only the mice in the walls," she told herself, but it didn't sound like mice, it sounded like rats, rats with sharp teeth and thick tails, scuttle, scuttle, scuttle.
"Stop it." She tried to control her breathing, "Get a hold of yourself Em, there's nothing there, it's a branch scraping against the side of the house. What would the girls at Diners Club think if they saw her this way. 'Poor Emma's lost it' they'd say, wretched thing, she didn't use to be like that. Yes, that's what they would say and soon everyone would be saying it.'
Emma sat down on the large four seater Edwardian couch. She rested what remained of her coffee on the broad oak coffee table in front of her and tried to push everything in her mind out, concentrating on nothing. It was a very bad thing for her to do, sitting by herself, in a large room in a large house, alone. When you try to suppress thoughts exactly the opposite happens. When you're on the edge, senses are heightened, everything is a surprise and your mind begins to wander.
Emma took a sip, it tasted thick and bloody. The coffee seemed to congeal in her mouth, congeal or coagulate, either way it wasn't nice. The cups heat felt uncomfortable in the cold room. It had been one of the first houses built in Lumsden and remained one of the biggest. When the English settlers had first come to New Zealand they built one story houses that resembled castles, a throwback from Britains colonial eye, a home away from home.
It had never been Emma's home, it had been a house in which she had lived for fifteen years but never a home. Now as she sat in the cold silence trying not to let her mind think, she thought about the cold and that did it.
The stone bricks, the hearth, the unlit fire. Emma hadn't started a fire here, it had been Dennis's....... And there it was, Dennis. The shallow mind barriers she had built were crushed like an child's skull. The memories started to flow through and gradually began to rattle.
It had been almost a month since they had buried him, closed casket of course, there hadn't been a body, not yet. Prior to the funeral he had been missing for another three weeks, presumed dead, God knows there was enough evidence to support that theory.
Emma rose and went straight to the window, between the curtains and the sill she peered.
I can see you.
"Shut up," she cursed herself, "shut up, shut up, shut up." There was nothing out there, nothing but the hills and the fields surrounding the township. Even so she was reluctant to look away in case something appeared just as she did. Look away, look back. Look away, look back. Finally she forced herself away, back to the uninviting giant couch. As soon as she sat down she wanted to look under the curtain again.
Just relax she told herself, there's nothing out there. The last of her coffee tasted like syrup.
"Mmmmmm." Emma found small comfort in listening to her own voice even though it was untruthful, she licked her lips and sat.
The funeral had been a large gathering of people who for the most part were strangers to Emma. Dennis had preferred 'acquaintances' over friends, colleagues over workmates. They had come to show their presence, not their marks of respect. To not attend a funeral in Lumsden, especially the funeral of a man who's family had helped sculpt the town would be like not saluting the Queen or not going to church. They all paid their condolences to her and told her what a fine man her husband had been and then said a few words to the closed casket. His brother Henry had been there, as odd as usual if that made any sense. In the eulogy for his brother Henry had neither wept, nor had he talked of his brother with any sentimental remorse.
Emma had wept, though not for Dennis, she like other victims of missing persons still believed he was alive. No matter how long he had been gone there was still that glimmer of hope that he would be found alive. The people at the funeral hadn't had that hope. The facts spoke for themselves, the bloodstains and the tyre tracks, an abduction, there was plenty of motive, Dennis hadn't been well liked, in a poor rural town the wealthy seldom are, especially when their wealth is old. So they had come and they had gone but to them it was an open and shut case, a closed...... She didn't want to think about it.
It seemed silly really, fifty odd people talking to a box that contained nothing, commiserating with someone who wasn't there, reflecting on the life of a man presumed dead. The casket had been lowered into the ground, the dirt had been thrown back in and the plot had been marked with a stone block.
'Dennis Haggins. May he find eternal peace.' That was that. No sweeping epithet, no glorious achievements. No nothing, just a box in the ground holding nothing but emptiness and a padlock.
Emma looked around the room, she hadn't dusted after Dennis's disappearance. He had forbid her to dust the house ever.
"My Grandfather built this house Emma. He lived in this house along with my Father and then later Henry and I grew up here. When you sweep dust away you sweep away memories of my ancestors. When you collect the dust you collect pieces of them and you end up throwing them away," he reminded her and he had kept his gaze fixed on her, wanting to see her reaction. 98 per cent of dust is dead skin tissue.
"The dust stays then," she had replied quietly and since then she hadn't touched the duster.
Now as she recounted the memories the dust loomed in front of her, rising in the shards of uncurtained light. The spiders thrummed the strings of their silent orchestra and the only things missing were white sheets draped over the furniture.
Emma picked up her little china cup with the teddy bears and threw it at the wall. It splintered into a thousand pieces. and she began to cry.
After, when she had finished, Emma picked up the little pieces of broken china, careful to sweep the dust off them and placed them in a plastic bag. It would never carry coffee again but she could still make out some of the little bears smiling faces. the little bears broken smiles.
She thought better of another cup of coffee, the first had made her more sporadic and uneasy and the large stainless steel cups Dennis always used felt cold, cold and old.
A bath, yes, that's what she needed a nice hot bath maybe some Helen Fielding for comfort, and maybe a glass of Lindaur.
Emma floated down the dark hallway from the kitchen to the bedroom like a breeze in a tunnel. She looked at the pictures hanging on the wall, they stared back. How unoriginal she thought but she looked away all the same. The pictures on the wall were all pictures of unsmiling men. Dennis's grandfather and great uncles, each sullen, they posed like Czars, their beards long a wild. No women stared back at her.
"Can I hang some of the other paintings on the wall to brighten up the hallway?" She had once asked Dennis.
"No." He had barely even looked up from his newspaper. When she had asked him a second time two months later he had looked at her and had made a fist, she thought he would hit her but he hadn't. In fact he had never touched her at least never with his skin. His words didn't touch her as much as they molested her, fiddling with her emotions.
"Did women cast stones to make this house Emily?"
"No Dennis, I guess..."
"And did women fell the trees and clear the scrub?"
"Then why should we glorify their nonexistent achievements Emily? It wouldn't be fair on those who laid the foundations before them would it? Those who paved the way, those who set the corner stone of the very family that gives you shelter."
His focus was now directed solely at Emma, his newspaper cast away and forgotten like a used tissue.
"Now Emily," his head was nodding slowly but his eyeballs never moved. "I think you should go and do whatever it is you do when I'm not around and do it quietly." The word 'quietly' was spoken quietly and he stopped nodding.
Emma understood. She quietly turned around and walked out of the room.
Now with Dennis away, the paintings still hung. She forbid herself from removing them because when Dennis came home, well, the paintings weren't the only things that could be hung from hooks. She doubted that Dennis would ever harm her but still, there was still that uncertainty with someone she hadn't really known.
When she entered the master bedroom the first thing she always saw was the four poster bed. She couldn't help but see it, it was right there, in the center of the room. Its loose lace netting draped from the from the top of the posts to the bottom. They were so light that a mere breath touch could unsettle them, it could rape their stillness.
In a way the bedroom had a sameness to the living room. The furniture was old oak just like the rest of the house but it was the dust illuminating in the small pockets of light that gave it that eerie unlived in feeling, a silence echoing in a quiet maelstrom. Emma shuddered, it was not a warm room.
She hadn't made the bed since Dennis had gone and she cursed herself for being so lazy. Dennis had always insisted on a made bed, "how do you expect me to sleep in this mess?"
It wasn't laziness though, she secretly knew that, it was sheer determination to make the bedroom look as if someone had been there. Apart from the ruffled sheets everything else seemed uninhibited, the short bedroom cabinets each side of the bed, the drawn see-through curtains, the shut clothing cupboards, the closed, wardrobe in the corner, the wardrobe Dennis had forbade her from opening. Its padlock smiled at her.
"The wardrobe is not yours to open, it is not your padlock on the door. When someone locks something it is only intended to be unlocked by the person who locked and no-one else."
The wardrobe didn't tremble in the corner, it didn't shake, it just stood there, still and mocking. Emma dragged her fingers through her hair grazing her scalp.
"Stop it," she told herself. Bad thoughts introduced themselves and they began to well, it was only a matter of time. The wardrobe seemed to leap towards her. She could feel some tears being made from somewhere behind her eyes.
"Stop it" she said again to her brain but her thoughts didn't stop, they persevered and the wardrobe stood, silently talking to her. Emma went to a clothing cupboard and snatched a towel, dragging it by its end she ran out of the room.
She watched as the water poured, it was making a bath. So many unnecessary words, she thought to herself and shucked, the water stuttered and coughed. The old well from outside drew from the muddy springs that came from the hills. It caused the water to be a little unclear and although it was warm, could never be classed as inviting. Dennis had forbidden her to wash the bath. "Do you think the memories of my ancestors want to be washed down the drain?" On a later day when Dennis had been at work she had cleaned the bath, she simply couldn't bring herself to bathe in a tub inhabited with dead skin and other disgusting muck. Dennis had returned home and upon seeing the clean tub had shown her a new sort of disgust. From memory the question of Dennis's ancestors being washed down the drain had been the last he had asked. From then on conversation had been limited to a series of grunts and more often then not a 'no'. Clearly up until the day of his disappearance he had not forgiven her.
Despite the lack of smell, Emma still thought the bathroom stank. It seemed as if she hadn't quite managed to wash all the bad memories away and they continued to corrupt the room, her hand swayed through the bath as if she were filtering it with her fingers.
Silently, on a whim she went to the window and peered out into the hiding darkness. There was nothing there, she knew that but she couldn't see it. That's the problem with nothing, if you can't see it then how do you know it's there. If nothings not there then there must be something, out there, hiding.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Emma told herself again for what seemed like the millionth time. She clasped her eyes shut and brought her hands to cover them.
"Only mad people talk to themselves ," she told herself even though it was only for reassurance, even though it was just to hear the sound of a voice, even though it was just her own.
Her hands now slightly damp, moved away from her face and led her back to the bath and Emma began to undress. First she kicked off her shoes, then she removed her socks and then she pulled down her pants. She quickly peeked a look at the window, it didn't feel like it was shut but it was. With a little uncertainty she forced courage and pulled down her underwear exposing herself to the room and her hand instinctively shielded her 'nakedness'. With her other hand she yanked her blouse still buttoned. She unhooked her bra and placed a leg over and into the bath, the other turned on the floor and the cleft between them widened. It was as though the water began to draw her and Emma found herself being taken and eventually she succumbed to its icy burn and she let the water swallow her. It digested her entire body until only her head was left untouched and her hair flared like a starfish. Its' strands rippled over the wrinkly water. Emma let herself float. It wasn't a warm warmth, not something refreshing or comforting more like settling into a tepid bowl of concrete and becoming absorbed.............
Eventually Emma would have let the demons of the house overcome her. Eventually she would have keeled over in a fit of fear and despair. Eventually Emma would have lost her mind. Eventually doesn't come soon enough in some cases and as she lay in the bath too frightened to get out and too paranoid to stay in, it happened, that little thing called madness and more importantly the thing that made the madness happen.
She lay back with her eyes closed and it gently touched her. It hung down like one solitary spider thread from the roof to her shoulder connecting her. As she sunk a little lower in the bath it stretched. She turned he head slightly in slow motion and her mouth opened. She witnessed it gradually thin in the middle of the line until it broke and settle onto her and finally she understood everything. The thing that had deposited itself on her was semen.
I may be stupid but at least I'm not handsome.