Charlotte replaced a freshly plumped cushion back on the sofa as she glanced through the window. There was nothing there yet. She straightened the large book on the coffee table so that it covered a newspaper and in her head she counted through the jobs she had left to do. She moved from the lounge into the hallway and picked up a large heavy cardboard box of assorted detritus. She moved towards another door and sat awkwardly on the handle until it popped open.
‘Charlotte!’ a voice called from the lounge.
She sighed and shouted back a ‘What?’
‘In the spare room and no, you can’t have it now.’
She returned to the lounge to see her husband, Jeff, wearing paint-flecked overalls with the arms tied around his waist, a faded Iron Maiden t-shirt and on his face, a very perplexed expression. Charlotte offered ‘I’ve just finished getting the house all nice and tidy’ as an answer to a question he hadn’t yet asked.
He shrugged and moved to sit down.
‘Don’t sit down!’ Charlotte said urgently.
Jeff did exactly as he was told and hesitated in his descent. He stood at half mast with bent knees and a waggling posterior.
‘Why not?’ he asked as he teetered precariously. Jeff remained in this position as he listened to her answer. He began to regret this decision as the reply went on longer than he expected, but he was a stubborn man so he persisted.
‘We’re expecting a guest and it would be nice if just for once we could pretend that we live in a neat and tidy house that doesn’t look like a pig sty. I’ve put all the things you had laying around in the spare room. You don’t need them now, do you?’ it was clear to both of them that she didn’t expect an answer. ‘There’s no need for her to go in the spare room’, she continued, ‘unless she wants to stay the night. Oh God, we don’t want that. OK, don’t offer and hope she doesn’t ask’.
When his wife had finished he simply said ‘Oh.’
Charlotte retrieved the newspaper from between book and coffee table and was about to place it under her husband like a coaster when she saw the woman in the window.
‘Annabelle’, she said and moved to the window to open it.
‘Hello Charlotte’ she said.
‘How are you? Oh, what am I saying? Come in, come in.’
Annabelle gripped either side of the window frame and lifted her foot onto the sill. She began to hoist herself up.
‘No, no. Come round to the side. I’ll open the door for you.’ Charlotte said with obvious embarrassment, before she hurried out of the room.
Annabelle shrugged as well as you can halfway through a window. She looked at the man hovering over the armchair with his bottom in the air.
‘I’m Jeff’, said Jeff trying to make a better second impression.
Annabelle didn’t stay long. Neither Charlotte nor Jeff knew how long she had been stood at the window, but they both presumed she had heard everything. Annabelle hadn’t asked to stay the night, but Charlotte suggested it if only to assuage her guilt and give the impression that she and her husband had been talking about someone else. Annabelle declined, but did take Charlotte up on the offer of some shoes and socks.
After she’d gone Jeff plucked up the courage to ask Charlotte who this odd woman had been.
‘My sister.’ the answer came
‘Another one! How many have you got?’ he asked incredulously.
‘Gordon Bennett. Anything else you need to tell me?’
‘No.’ she lied.
Jeff had met two of her sisters, Emma and Karen. He couldn’t remember which was which, but one of them had come to the wedding. He hadn’t taken much time to get to know them, but they both seemed well adjusted. He’d found Annabelle very odd company. She was clearly very intelligent, but naïve. Jeff had liked her, but he wasn’t sure why. He pulled himself out of his armchair to go and liberate his belongings from the spare room. As Jeff left the room he shook his head and said ‘well I wasn’t expecting surprises like this after twelve years of marriage.’
His wife paused before volunteering ‘I have fourteen brothers as well.’
Jeff’s face reappeared in the doorway with an incredulous expression on it.
The platoon had made their way down the mountain and combed the forest for clues. They found nothing. A report came through of a young woman in a white dress seen walking toward the church in nearby Peckford. After dark, seven figures, dressed all in black and armed to the teeth, stalked their way through the village square and on to the church. Another thorough search revealed nothing.
The platoon’s captain was leaning against a gravestone with her arms crossed. The sergeant sidled over and broke the news to her. She remained calm and simply said ‘Find something.’
She moved to go. The Sergeant stepped backwards to allow her to pass and vanished. She looked into the darkness. There was no sign of him. The black camouflage they wore wasn’t that good, she thought. She flicked her torch on and scanned the graveyard. There was still no sign. She looked down to see him clambering out of what appeared to be a green carpet that must have been placed over an open grave. The sergeant was dazed by the experience, but managed to report ‘I have searched the hole thoroughly and she’s not in here either, sir’ before attempting a pathetic salute.
Billy watched from the tree above as they found his ladder and freed the soldier that fell in Mr Moore’s grave. His eyes darted from soldier to soldier, and then again from gun to gun. Annabelle was in trouble. He was relieved that they weren’t after him, but wondered how long that would last.
Thanks for reading.