Claire surveyed the chaos that surrounded her. Perhaps her mother was right and she would always regret it. She clambered over a large crate until she found the cardboard box marked kitchen utensils. “I do hope we’ve made the right decision moving here,” she sighed.

Simon endeavoured to ease the tension as he placed Molly in her high chair.

“Give it time Hon,” he forced a smile.

Rummaging through the half empty box she continued to grumble, “We’ve been here two days without speaking to a soul.”

Simon jostled a rattle in front of the baby,  “Where did this come from?” 

He inspected the coloured beads. There was no reply.

Conscious of the fact that Claire was not going to be pacified that easily, he planted a peck on her cheek and joined her in the search, “Anyway what are we looking for?” he joked. 

“The can opener!” she snapped. Suddenly realising that she was starting to irritate Simon- who was convinced that the house in the country would be better for Molly, she shrugged her shoulders, “I just thought someone might have come round to say hello.”

“‘Well now is your chance to introduce yourself,” Simon beamed, “Why don’t you go and ask the woman we spotted next door if you can borrow one?”   

Claire began to realise that bickering did nothing to improve the situation. She untied her apron and threw it over an empty crate, “Good thinking Batman,” she pointed her finger to her temple, and without another word she was making her way up the path next door.

A little nervous as to the response she might receive, she hesitated a moment before tapping lightly on the door. She could just make out through the glass the silhouette of a person stood ironing, but there was no reply. She wondered if she should make a hasty retreat but decided to try once more. She knocked with a bit more force. The figure looked up instantly and began limping down the narrow hallway. The door squeaked as it inched open to reveal a petit grey haired lady peeking out.

“Hello,” Claire announced with the sweetest smile she could muster, “I’m Claire, we’ve just moved in next door”

The lady reciprocated with a welcoming smile and opened the door fully. An arthritic hand shook as she cautiously extended it, “I’m Edith.,” she smiled and began to fiddle with a small object resting behind her ear. “You’ll have to speak up,” she shouted, “my batteries are almost flat.”

Relieved at the favourable reception, Claire continued, “I was wondering if you had a can opener we could borrow? We can’t find ours and Molly’s baby food doesn’t have a ring pull on it.”

“Of course my dear come in,” Edith responded warmly gesturing towards the kitchen.

A waft of cold air induced a shiver as Claire followed the shuffling figure. Surveying the neat but basic surroundings, she immediately noticed the antiquated iron that Edith had been using. It rested on an old wooden table, which was protected by a thick woollen blanket. “I’m sorry to be a bother” she apologised.

“Think nothing of it,” Edith slid open the drawer of an oak dresser and began searching through its contents.

Claire’s eyes were drawn to a bright light emanating from the next room. The door was ajar just enough to see a middle aged man seated gazing into a void. He seemed oblivious to the small black spaniel nestled at his feet. 

Edith tutted and clucked as the vast array of cutlery clattered about inside the drawer. Eventually she produced a rather primitive looking object. “Here it is,” she chuckled inwardly as she grabbed a teacloth and began rubbing the can opener as if it were a magic lamp. She paused in the polishing; “It’s nice to have someone to talk to again.” Her head started to nod suggesting she were deep in thought, “It’s been too quiet.”

Claire was relieved that Edith appeared to be genuinely pleased to see her though she found her comments slightly unusual since it was evident that she had company. She was trying also to take an interest in what Edith was chattering on about, but was intrigued by a strange glow that appeared to surround the man and dog.

She thanked Edith for the can opener – although she had no idea how to use it and started to make her way out. As she neared the sitting room where the solemn gentleman was still seated she suddenly became aware of a gentle radiance that began to envelop her. She glanced in and nodded a distant greeting after unintentionally making eye contact with him. His eyes seemed dark and secretive and unnerved her somewhat. He appeared to look straight through her ignoring the smile that she had offered. She thought him rather rude, but as Edith had been so polite, she shrugged it off.

In an instant, the warming sensation had passed with the passing of the room.

That evening she discussed it with Simon, “It was quite bizarre,” she recalled. “Edith didn’t mention the other person at all, although she could clearly see me looking in his direction.”

“Don’t fret about it,” Simon laughed, “at least we know she’s not a dragon.”

However, the image of the man refused to leave Claire’s thoughts. Who was he, this one with the staring eyes, and why did Edith prefer not to mention his presence?  

Next morning, after Simon left for work Claire decided to spend some time in the garden. She put Molly on a blanket on the lawn and set to weeding the border, still musing over the strange experience of the previous day. Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck began to prickle. She felt a familiar warmth begin to flow over her. She looked up just in time to spot the stranger from next door shuffling – with his head stooped – past her garden gate. The spaniel was trotting alongside. The same strange glow seemed to surround them. As they passed he looked in her direction. She stood up and called out, “Hello, I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet yesterday.”

It was as if she’d spoken to the trowel in her hand, there was not a flicker of a response. “Hmph,” she grunted and made a mental note never to attempt conversation with him again.

She was wondering why he was so hostile towards her, when a shrill ring of the telephone interrupted her reverie. She dropped the trowel and rushed inside leaving Molly happily chewing on her rattle. 

It was her sister enquiring as to how they were all settling in. Claire furnished her with all the necessary information before broaching the subject of Edith’s houseguest. “It’s so bizarre Jules,” she divulged, shuddering as she recalled the moment he looked at her, “his eyes stare almost like a zombie.”

 Julie insisted that Claire describe every minute detail about this ghostly stranger. Claire continued, “Edith talks loud enough to wake the dead but we have yet to hear her utter a single word to him. It’s as if he’s not there.”

Engrossed in the conversation, Claire had forgotten about Molly. It was only when something brushed against her leg startling her momentarily that she noticed the little spaniel from next door. “Got to go now Jules I’ll call you back tonight,” she said and hung up the receiver. She bent down to stroke the dog but it scurried towards the door and began to yelp incessantly. Claire realised that it was trying to attract her attention to the garden, “Well let’s see what you want,” she muttered.

As she stepped outside, she was frozen to the spot by what confronted her. Molly was lying on her back, her little body completely limp. Even from the doorway, Claire could see that her face was blue and she was obviously struggling to breathe.

She tried to run but her legs had become lead weights anchored to the ground. She screamed as loud as she could, but nothing came forth. She wanted desperately to yell, to summon the whole world and tell them that her baby was dying, but she was a useless shaking wreck.

Suddenly her legs began to buckle under her weight; Her head began to spin. She was brought back to consciousness when the spaniel began howling. The most piercing howl she had ever heard. When she looked up the strange man from next door had Molly across his knee and was slapping her back.

A small coloured ball shot out of her mouth and she gasped instantly. Claire then heard the sweetest sound imaginable, as Molly let out a shrill cry.

As if someone had released her chains, her feet instantly became detached from their magnetic hold. She rushed over, grabbed Molly clutching her tightly, and sobbed uncontrollably. When she eventually looked up a flustered Edith was scurrying towards them with the stranger. The dog had disappeared.

“What on earth has happened? “Edith puffed, “I can’t get any sense out of our Malcolm.” She began furiously winding the dial on her deaf aid.

Claire told her between sobs how the little dog had tried to attract her attention. How it had called the only way it knew how for Edith’s companion -who had without doubt saved Molly’s life. 

Edith looked a little bemused. She began to explain that Malcolm was her only son. How he had been struck by meningitis as a small child which had left him almost blind and profoundly deaf. 

 Edith looked directly into Claire’s eyes. “Then that winter the accident happened. He was playing by the river and threw a stick for the dog. The bank was slippery and the dog slipped into the swollen river and was washed downstream.” She gently caressed Claire’s hand. “It broke Malcolm’s heart. That dog was his shadow and he never recovered from it.” She wiped a tear with a corner of her apron “So you see he couldn’t possibly have heard a dog howling.” 

At this statement, Claire sat up. “His dog… was it a little black spaniel?”

“Why yes” Edith sounded shocked. “How on earth did you know that?”

Claire looked up to see Malcolm smiling; he was straining to look at her.

“It’s a long story,” Claire said, “ but I’m sure Malcolm has at last laid his ghost to rest.”

She hugged Molly tightly. She knew then that they had made the right decision in moving there. She looked at Malcolm and winked wondering, “Can you keep a secret?”

August 15, 2020 08:11

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