Returning to her own room Susan sat beside the casement in her nightdress, the magazine she had abandoned lying open at its first page. While the house exhaled warmth during the day, sunset drew the night in through the open window, laden with the dark, pagan smell of elms and hornbeams. She got up and walked to the kitchenette, holding her hair back as she stooped to light a cigarette from the stovetop. Catching her reflection in the window she pondered it from both sides, then gave up, vanity exhausted, settling on the bed with the quilt arranged about her legs. Comfortably ensconced, she was reminded of the portable turntable she had dredged from the garage by its needle bumping against the label and convinced herself she could ignore it, flipping determinedly through the magazine until she swore and threw down her feet to obey its tireless summons.
Subordinated beneath the hiss and pop of the oscillating vinyl and the shuddering of the refrigerator cycle she discovered another sound, low and crisp and intermittent, the passage of animate weight through the rugosa hedge embracing the foot of the white plaster wall. She stowed the needle and stood in silence by the turntable. A moon outlined the crawling clouds in glowing white and cool perse blue, its slim curve like the blade of an Arab sword. Cruciform shadows lay on the boards in the passage outside, glimpsed in section through the door that she had left ajar while the restive sounds dragged back the gnawed, demonic utterance she had struggled to efface, the smell of blood rising on steam from the laundry tub filling her throat with a prickling catch. She swallowed hard, but was forced to cough once into her hands.
The noise ceased. A bird called an abortive note from the elm as though startled from a dream. The sight of her own reflection in the pane over the bed, its pallor and the shadows draped beneath her eyes administered a fright that pressed both fists to her breast; the shuffling recommenced, gathered by a rough, concerted foray into the body of the roses and culminating in the taut crack of a branch, its stiff thorns scraping the parched plaster. The window stood like a hole gaping in ship plate at the bottom of an ocean. Susan whispered to herself and crept onto the bed, the old springs groaning underneath her as she leant across the sill to dart a hand toward the casement. It was achingly distant, her bare skin silvered by the moon over a yawning darkness, silent until an arid squeal was answered by a heavy, rasping slide as something found and began to climb the unseen wall below.
She jerked back her hand and sat on her heels. Outside, whatever ascended observed the same precipitate silence as though in mocking imitation until she felt that to move was to give it license to do the same and pressed her eyes closed, turning her head from the brass lamp perched before the pane. When she leant onto her hands, the climber scuffed the narrow oak framing and committed weight to the crumbling black ledge. Susan screwed up her face and threw herself at the latch, the sill bruising her hip as she strove for it; a gouging shriek kicked off a tight, explosive rush against the plaster and as she cried out and toppled backward a white blur lashed up at her arm.
THIS PASSAGE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
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