Helen’s eyes flicked open into darkness, no shapes discernible, her world a charcoal blanket. The softness beneath her back told her she was in bed; the deep breathing and chemical taint in the air told her Derek had taken a nightcap before coming up.
She was about to roll to her right and head to the bathroom when she realised she didn’t actually need to pee. So what had woken her?
The pit of her stomach suddenly felt tight, and her hands clenched involuntarily. Derek always told her she worried too much about people breaking in, but she couldn’t help herself; it was how she was wired.
She blinked a couple of times and started sweeping the room with her eyes, hoping she would find the cupboard and the antique chair, terrified she might find more. She willed her pupils to dilate faster, but the room remained an obsidian mystery.
Unable to rely on sight, she held her breath, body rigid, straining for the faintest sound that was out of place.
Was that another layer of breathing, hidden beneath her own and Derek’s?
Was that a creak on the stairs?
There was a clunking groan out in the corridor, but even as her heart jumped, Helen reassured herself that the noise was just the pipes. She’d heard it every night for the last seventeen years. There was a “plink” from the leaking tap in the bathroom too, but that was nothing new; something Derek had promised to fix ages ago, but hadn’t got round to.
Also nothing new.
Something was wrong though, she just couldn’t place it. There was a sound beneath the others. She knew it, but she also knew she shouldn’t be hearing it. Her face scrunched up in concentration, head lifting slightly off the pillow, as though getting her ears away from the fabric would somehow help her listen.
There! Faint, very faint, but recognisable.
What was it though?
That was it! The noise of the living room door swinging against the frame. It didn’t shut properly because the mechanism was broken, the latch stuck open. Something else Derek hadn’t fixed.
It didn’t normally swing though. It was only when the back door was open and a breeze came in that…
“Derek. Derek!” No movement. “The door!” Nothing.
She reached a hand across to her husband’s side of the bed and started patting – as loudly as she dared – against the soft, bulky frame beneath the blanket. Her whispers increased in volume.
“I think someone’s in the house.”
Finally there was movement. Derek rolled over to face her, his whisky breath assailing her nostrils.
The voice wasn’t Derek’s.