Who could that be at this hour?
Or had it been a dream? He waited for a moment, still half-asleep, listening to the snow softly kissing the window panes. If someone were outside they would knock again – it was too cold to get out of bed on a half-conviction.
The knock came again, tentatively – no urgency about it. Reluctantly he slid from beneath the duvet and went to the window. He pulled the curtain very slightly to one side and looked up and down the street. Just recently he’d experienced a sensation of being watched, as if his every move was being monitored. There was no-one in sight; snow was lying six inches deep on the front path, and there were no footprints to be seen. Maybe it was a branch tapping against one of the other bedroom windows.
He climbed back into bed, hoping to fall asleep quickly. For months now his nights had been restless and troubled; on the rare occasions he did sleep there had been terrible nightmares. It was to be expected, they’d said; give it time; the war had lasted five long years.
He’d been part of an elite squad, a small band of six men picked for special missions, all of them carefully screened for their resistance to the horrors they would be required to perpetrate, for their ability to see the job through. There had been sights no man should ever see, deeds that defied humanity, reprisals that had been swift, diabolical and merciless. They’d done what they were required to do, and done it well. But these nightmares…
He’d tried to contact those he’d fought alongside, wondering whether it might help to talk things through with them, see if they were suffering in the same way as he. But most of them seemed to have gone to ground; his calls had remained unanswered, letters returned opened. It was as if shame itself had cast a cloak of invisibility around them all.
The knock came again, more insistent this time. He sighed, switched on the bedside light and shrugged into his dressing gown. As he went down the stairs he could see no silhouette on the other side of the front door and, with years of training kicking in, he picked up the gun he kept in the cupboard in the hall. He waited, hidden from view before quietly opening the door. Snowflakes swirled into the hall, and he froze for a moment, on full alert. Nothing moved, yet still that sensation that someone was watching.
He glanced down the path and saw that now there was a single line of footprints leading through the snow to his front door. They stopped there, heading neither right nor left. The only possibility was that someone had climbed onto the porch roof. He closed the door, and retreated swiftly upstairs to the spare bedroom which was directly above the front door. The window opened easily and quietly; he leaned right out, gun at the ready. There was nothing to be seen below.
There was the softest of sounds above him and he swivelled his head to stare up to the roof of the cottage.
At that precise moment a seven inch icicle broke free from the eaves above him and dropped swiftly. For a split second, he felt a searing pain in his right eye, followed by a needle of ice lodging deep in his brain. Then nothing more.
In another country, thousands of miles away, a woman drew a velvet cloth over a scrying mirror and picked up the candle on the table beside her. She made her way to the noticeboard hanging on the wall. There had been six scraps of paper pinned to this board, each bearing a name, but now, after several months, only one remained. She withdrew the final pin, and held the paper over the candle, watching it scorch and curl before stamping it out on the floor.
Then she turned to a framed photograph on the table below the board.
Two men in uniform smiled at the camera, the older with his arm round the younger.
“It’s over now,” she whispered, stroking their faces with her finger “justice is served.”
The opening line for this week’s speakeasy at yeah write was chosen by me: “Who could that be at this hour?” 🙂 You also had to incorporate some reference to this picture.