Last Thursday, Jasper went to the pub to play Skittles. Lily was staying with her cousins overnight, and I was relishing the blissful prospect of uninterrupted solitude and trashy TV.
I was curled up on the sofa watching X factor with a glass of red wine and a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, when the phone rang. Sighing, I turned down the volume and answered it. No one spoke, but I could hear heavy breathing on the line.
“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”
Except for a shallow, rasping groan, there was silence. Then the line went dead.
I dialled 1471. “The caller witheld their number.”
I gulped, as an icy trickle of fear ran down my spine. In my peripheral vision, Simon Cowell was reducing a chubby wannabe starlet to a snivelling wreck . The phone rang again.
My heart was pounding as I answered it.
“Hello? Who is this?” My voice was shrill with fear.
There was no reply from the caller, just a chilling death rattle, like Voldemort in Harry Potter.
I crawled on all fours over to the window and peered out into the blackened garden.
The breathing was getting heavier.
I scrambled to my feet and bolted around the ground floor of the house, closing windows and locking doors.
There was obviously a serial killer outside the house and he was coming to get me.
I recalled the opening scene in the first Scream film, where Drew Barrymore is alone in the house one night making popcorn, when the phone rings. She answers it gaily, thinking it is her boyfriend. It is not her boyfriend. It is a psychopath who tells her that he is coming to get her. The ensuing scene, in which she is chased around the house by a maniac wearing a mask of terror, before being brutally stabbed and hanged from a tree, is indelibly printed on my mind. I slept with the light on for 6 months after watching it.
I was convinced that I was about to suffer the same fate. As I cowered behind the sofa, listening to to the blood pounding in my ears, I wondered whether my killer would don the same gruesome mask, the unforgettable, black and white evocation of Edvard Munch’s “Scream”. He might, I grimly reflected, put his own stamp on his disguise, perhaps in keeping with the rural location of his latest murder. I was assailed with nightmarish visions of being pursued around the house by a knife wielding, life size Postman Pat. In glorious technicolor, I watched him decapitate and disembowel me, before fleeing through the maize field behind the house, cackling demonically and clutching my liver as a trophy.
Jasper would return from Skittles to find my blood spattered corpse suspended from the pear tree and my severed head spinning crazily on the weather vane. Or maybe placed facing out of the pop hole of the hen house. Or even in one of the nesting boxes….
Summoning every last vestige of bravery, I took a deep breath and squeaked:
“I’m not scared of you. If you try to break in here, you are very foolish because my two dogs are vicious. They are highly dangerous and very protective! Do you hear me? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. They’ll go for your throat, and I won’t try to stop them.!”
I looked at the dogs, both comatose by the wood burner. I nudged Trevor with my toe and pleaded with him to bark. He opened his only eye, clouded with cataracts, and staggered arthritically to his feet before flopping back down with a groan.
Bandit was no more useful.
“Kill Bandit!” I hissed desperately.
He grinned at me, tongue lolling. I watched in despair as he opened his back legs and began to lick his testicles.
I couldn’t stay behind the sofa, I decided. It was the first place he would look.
I frantically wracked my brains for a good hiding place. I decided that the cupboard under the stairs was my best bet. It was pitch black, and I could hide behind the log pile.
I roused the dogs and dragged them, protesting, towards the door. They both grumbled and huffed, reluctant to leave the soporific warmth of the open fire.
I was trembling violently as I opened the kitchen door. What if he was already in the house?
The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling as I turned off the kitchen light and crept across the floor towards the dining room on my hands and knees, followed sulkily by Trevor and Bandit. I paused by the sink and groped around in search of the knife block. Holding a filleting knife between my teeth, a bread knife in one hand and a rolling pin in the other, I resumed my journey, until I reached my hiding place, praying to God that it afford me some protection from the manaic.
The door creaked open. I shoved the dogs in to the pitch black, musty smelling hole and crawled in after them. Bandit, refusing to acknowledge the perilousness of our predicament, yawned loudly.
Not to be outdone, Trevor farted wetly. I pressed a shaking hand over my nose as the putrid odour filled the cramped space.
I strained my ears. It was eerily quiet. Then I heard the unmistakeable sound of someone turning the handle of the front door.
I felt Bandits hackles bristle beneath my hand. He growled softly.
I almost fainted with terror as I heard the kitchen door open and close. He was inside the house!
I clamped my hand around bandits muzzle and pleaded tearfully with him, not to make a sound.
He shivered and made a low keening noise.
I backed into the corner, until I was pressed against the damp wall. My heart was hammering against my ribs as I waited…
His footsteps were slow and measured on the wooden floor boards. He was savouring his evil game, relishing every moment of my terror. My skin tingled with fear as I listened to him walking round the house, pausing in the door way of each room, before continuing his search. The footsteps receded for what seemed like an eternity. He must have gone up the back stairs. I jumped as I heard the groan of floorboards from somewhere above. The blood was pounding in my ears as he descended the stairs directly above my head into the drawing room.
He stopped briefly halfway down. I imagined him running a gloved flinger slowly down the gleaming, razor sharp blade of the murder instrument. Machete or Hunting Knife I wondered. I stuffed my sleeve in my mouth and prayed for the end to be swift and painless. I wondered, bizarrely, whether my blood would stain the newly laid floor boards. The hand clutching the croquet mallet was slippery with sweat as the foot steps approached my hiding place.
There was a long pause, and then the click of the latch.
As the door creaked open, a burly black outline was silhouetted against the gloom of the drawing room beyond. My atavistic survival instinct kicked in as light flooded the space. I leapt up with a vulpine scream, smashing my head on the slanted ceiling, tripping over Trevor, and dislodging a camping set. Jasper’s bellow of terror was drowned out by the resounding crash of a dozen tent poles as they came clattering down around me, dislodging a teetering pile of Christmas decorations. In the ensuing melee, a row of hurricane lamps were knocked off the shelf and smashed to pieces on the stone floor.
The dogs scrambled out barking in confusion, as I clutched the walls for support and blinked into the sudden blinding light of a 60 watt bulb.
Jasper’s ashen face stared back at me.
“Are you trying to scare me to death?” he whispered shakily, clutching his head.
“It’s you!” I whimpered. I slumped against the wall as my knees gave way.
“Of course it’s me. Who did you think it was?”
I staggered upright into his arms and burst into tears.
“ Why are you sitting under the stairs in the dark? What’s wrong with the living room?”
Abject terror had given way to dizzying, overwhelming relief. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes.
I stumbled out into the drawing room and collapsed onto a sofa.
“I had some silent phone calls.” I sobbed. “It was man. He was heavy breathing and he withheld his number. I thought you were him. I thought he’d broken in dressed as Post Man Pat and he was going to slit my throat and dangle me from the pear tree!” I blurted out.
“Why would anyone want to slit your throat and dangle you from an apple tree?” he asked.
“There are some weird people in the world. Look at Jack The Ripper! He was an evil monster!” I said defiantly.
“Not as evil as Post Man Pat.” He countered.
“Don’t you dare take the piss out of me! Do you have any clue what I have been through? Look at the state of me! I thought I was going to die!” I wailed, through a fresh bout of tears.
“Poor Bunny.” Jasper said soothingly, patting me on the shoulder.
“And what is Postman Pat’s murder weapon of choice?”
“What do you think?” I asked snivelled.
He scratched his head.
“Ooh, well, he’s spoilt for choice really. Um, his Satchel? Mrs Goggin’s rolling pin?”
I gave him a withering look before replying in a mongol voice
“DUH! A knife??”
“Ah! So Postman Pat carries a knife? Very conventional.”
I feigned a lofty indifference to his jibes.
“You might think this is funny, but the fact remains that there is a maniac on the loose out there, who phoned me twice this evening on a withheld number, and refused to speak. I think we should call the Police.”
Jasper looked at me with an expression of dawning realisation.
“What?” I demanded.
“Old Bob phoned you.”
I stared at him. Old Bob is ninety, has chronic emphysema and spends a good deal of his time attached to a ventilator. He never misses a skittles match, watching the action with rheumy eyes from his mobility scooter and banging his walking stick on the ground to demonstrate his approval. Old Bob hasn’t spoken since 2002.
I gawped at him.
“Why would Old Bob phone me?”
“His daughter gave him an I Phone.”
“What in the name of arse for? He can’t even talk.”
“But why would he phone me?” I repeated.
“I don’t think he meant to. His daughter asked us all to put our numbers in it, in case of an emergency. I saw him fiddling around with it while we were playing. He must have pressed call by accident.”
He turned away, but not before I saw him smirking.
“Very amusing.” I said acidly.
He pulled me to my feet and gave me a hug. He was shaking with laughter as he led me through to the living room and handed me my wine.
“There are some good films on Tonight. What do you want to watch?” He asked , still sniggering as he picked up the remote control.
I took an enormous gulp and sat down wearily.
“Anything except Scream….”