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Mystery Thriller

Paola’s cane danced lightly on the stairs.

‘Two steps,’ her mother directed.

The wood eased beneath Paola’s feet as she climbed. 

‘They’re old,’ she said.

‘Very.’

A door squeaked open.

‘Here we go. Home for the next week!’ Her mother’s voice echoed down a hallway. 

‘Great!’ said Paola, a little too enthusiastically.

Spending an entire week at a cottage in the middle of nowhere hadn’t sounded like fun to her, but she knew how much her mother had been looking forward to it.

‘You’ll love it, kiddo.’ Her mother took her by the shoulders and guided her inside.

‘Just breathe in that fresh air!’

All Paola smelt was old wood and new paint. She held out her hand, letting her fingers glide along the wall.

‘What color?’ she asked her mother.

‘Off-white. It looks like fresh paint.’

In her mind’s eye, Paola made the wall a soft pink, her favorite color; it went better with the dark wooden floors she imagined beneath her feet. 

Before the accident, Paola had been a talented young artist, finding the beauty in most things and reflecting it back in her drawings. Now, her only canvas was her mind and in it, she was free to make the world as beautiful as she liked.  

She walked forward, her cane tentatively feeling out the way ahead. 

‘Entrance to the living room is on your left,’ her mother said. ‘First bedroom is on your right. You can take that one if you like.’

Paola’s cane found the door and she reached out. The doorknob was metal and cool to the touch. She opened it and stepped through, her cane stopping on an object in the middle of the room.

‘Bed,’ her mother said, coming in behind her.

Paola heard drapes gliding open and felt warm sunshine on her face.

‘Wow,’ her mother said.

Paola sat on the bed. 

‘Nice view?’

‘Very.’

‘Describe it to me.’

‘There’s a garden, lots of flowers.’

‘What color?’

‘Different colors. Yellow, purple, fuchsia. White roses too. Then there’s a grassy hill which slopes down to the river.’

‘I thought I heard running water when we were outside.’

‘Yes. Oh and there are swans on the river!’

‘Really?’ 

Swans were Paola’s favorite bird. 

‘Yes, they must have come just for you. The sun is starting to set, so they look pink in the light.’ 

Paola laughed. Since the accident her mother had been so generous with her own sight, describing scenes in every detail so Paola could illustrate them inside her mind. But she suspected her mother added extra details sometimes. Little things. Like pink swans. Just to make her happy. 

‘There’s no signal,’ her mother said. ‘I’ll have to go up to the main house to let the owner know we’ve arrived.’

‘Main house?’

‘This is the farmer’s cottage. The main house is up on the hill. The owner asked me to let her know when we arrived. Margaret, I think she said her name was? Do you want to come?’

Paola’s legs ached, the drive here had been a long one.

‘Can I just stay here? Maybe I can sit in the garden and get some of that fresh air you’ve been talking about.’

‘OK, come with me.’ 

Her mother took her hand and led her out of the room. Paola heard another door creak open. She smelt flowers. 

‘One step,’ her mother directed. 

Paola stepped down onto gravel and their feet crunched as they walked along a path, then onto soft grass. Leaves sang in the wind around her and the long, leafy tendrils of a tree caressed her face. She reached out to touch the thick trunk.

’What kind of tree?’ Paola asked.

’Willow, I think.’

Her fingers felt the roughness of the bark, getting stuck in deep grooves etched into the wood. The grooves seemed to be letters.

’M and…’

’What have you found?’

Her mother leant her head on Paola’s shoulder.

’Letters, I think.’

Her mother laughed.

’Hah! Yes, someone’s carved their initials. M and B. Looks old.’

Her mother took her by the shoulders.

’Come over here.’

She eased Paola down into a large, winged chair. It felt like wicker and creaked beneath her weight.

‘Someone’s set up some lovely chairs here to look out over the river. You sit here for a moment and enjoy the warm sun while it lasts. I’ll be back soon.’ 

Paola leaned back in the wicker chair and closed her eyes. Her mother’s footsteps faded away as she crunched up the path. The chair was very comfortable and Paola found herself dozing off. 


Soft footfall on the gravel path woke her a moment later. She lifted her head.

‘Back already?’ she asked, surprised her mother’s trip had been so brief.

The footsteps stopped, as if the person approaching hadn’t realized they’d woken her. 

‘Hello?’

Paola’s fingers wrapped around the arms of her chair.

‘Hello?’ she said again, her heart beating faster in her chest.

‘Hello,’ came a voice, finally.

Paola relaxed a little. It was a girl’s voice, about her age by the sound of it.

‘What are you doing here?’ the girl asked.

‘We’re renting the cottage for a week.’

‘Oh.’ 

Her voice was much nearer now. It shocked Paola as she hadn’t heard the girl’s footsteps crunch closer down the gravel path. 

‘Do you live around here?’ Paola asked, recovering herself.

‘Yes, up at the house.’

Paola relaxed. This must be Margaret’s daughter.

‘I’m Paola.’

‘Pretty name,’ the girl said. ‘Briony.’ 

‘Nice to meet you.’

There was a pause. The leaves sang in the breeze around them. 

‘What’s wrong with...’

‘My eyes?’ Paola offered. People always asked sooner or later. ‘I was in a car accident two years ago. I lost my sight.’ She’d told the story a hundred times.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ said Briony.

‘So, what is there to do around here?’ asked Paola, changing the subject.

‘Not much. It’s very quiet.’

‘Maybe you could show me around sometime?’

‘OK,’ the girl sounded doubtful. 

‘I’m pretty independent with this.’

Paola held up her cane and waggled it. 

‘Oh. No. It’s not that. It’s just that I can’t… we wouldn’t be able to go far.’

‘That’s OK. Just having someone my age to talk to would be nice.’

‘I can do that!’ her new friend replied enthusiastically. ‘I don’t get to meet new people much. There used to be so many kids around here, but they all moved away. It gets lonely sometimes.’

Paola nodded. She knew the ache of loneliness well. 

Voices came from inside the cottage.

‘I should go,’ said Briony. ‘I’m not meant to be here.’

Her feet crunched quickly up the gravel path. 

‘It was nice meeting you, Paola.’ 

‘I can come up to the house tomorrow if you like?’ offered Paola.

There was no reply.

‘Briony?’

The back door of the cottage squeaked open and her mother’s voice came down the path.

‘Have you lived on the property long, Margaret?’

‘All my life. It’s quiet, but it has its charm.’ 

Margaret’s voice was loud, authoritative. Older than her mother’s, thought Paola.

‘This is a lovely garden,' continued her mother.

‘Thank you. My father was a great gardener, I’ve just tried to keep it going. Oh, I see you’ve found the willow tree.’

’It’s a lovely spot.’

’Yes, it was always my sister’s favourite as well.’

’Does your sister live here too?’

‘Not anymore.’

‘Come and meet my daughter, Paola.’

Hello,’ Margaret said in the loud tone people used when they forgot Paola was blind, not deaf. ‘I hope you enjoy your stay here.’

‘Thanks,’ Paola replied.

‘Margaret has kindly invited us to dinner tonight up at the house,’ Paola’s mother went on.

‘Great. I’ve already met your daughter, it’ll be nice to talk to her again.’

’My daughter?’ Margaret asked.

Paola hoped she hadn’t got her new friend in trouble. What had Briony said? She wasn’t meant to be there?

’Oh, I’m sorry. It was my fault, I was the one who started talking to her. Briony was just walking past me…’

‘What did you say? Briony?’

Something in Margaret’s voice put Paola on edge.

’Are you alright Margaret? You’ve gone white as a sheet.’ Paola’s mother asked.

‘She told you her name was Briony?’ Margaret pressed.

’Yes.’ Paola replied, wondering if there was something wrong with this woman.

‘Margaret, do you need to sit down? Can I get you some water?’ her mother asked.

‘No. No. Thank you. It’s just that…My sister’s name was Briony. She loved it here, even carved our initials there in the tree when we were girls. But… she drowned in the river. Over 50 years ago.’


October 11, 2022 09:40

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2 comments

Ross Dyter
07:32 Oct 20, 2022

Hi I liked the story, the imagery and descriptions really brought you in to the scene, describing the setting without using sight made it more vivid "All Paola smelt was old wood and new paint." Critique circle, I really liked the opening, the first line brought you into the story, and the opening was quite compelling. I liked the twist at the end, but it felt a little rushed and lacked some of the description and imagery that made the rest of the story so vivid, I think a few more paragraphs of description for Margaret's reaction would h...

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Mel Dingwall
20:20 Oct 20, 2022

Hi Ross, that’s some really constructive feedback, thanks 😊

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