A black cat jumped onto the sofa, where Sophie had made herself comfortable for the evening. She regarded the cat with deep suspicion. It wasn't her cat. The cat glared at her with an accusation in its’ cold green eyes. Then, lifting an elegant yet deadly paw, it started to lick itself as if it had every right to be there, and, in fact, Sophie did not.
She hadn’t remembered leaving a window open; the doors had been locked since the early hours. Sophie wasn’t expecting visitors. She loved her own company, having no need for spurious gossip or evenings with friends. Reaching over to her wine glass, she took a satisfying glug. Ah well, she thought, if it's happy to stay, I'm happy too. If given a choice between humans and animals, the latter had always been her preference. She slowly extended her hand to try to smooth the cat, but it moved just out of her reach, glaring at her with those large cold eyes.
Scrolling through the TV controls, Sophie searched through the menu, hoping to find entertainment that suited her mood. She was looking for something not too heavy, but also not too facile. It was a tall ask, of course. Most things were either cheesy or so obvious she didn't want to waste her time watching them; she wasn't very patient and was super critical. She'd usually give it ten minutes before switching to something else or sticking with it.
She loved anything filmed in Providence or a location full of pastel coloured clapboard houses; lots of atmospheric lamplights shining moodily out of interesting windows. The Hamptons usually fitted the bill. Exclusivity; something unobtainable; that sort of fantasy would be welcome. Or something enchanting, with swirling winds whipping up fallen autumn leaves around the feet of lovely young witches. Now that was escapism!
A car alarm blared in the distance as the cat let out a low, curling growl, looking at her with an expectant disdain.
‘What?’ she said, 'You're not my cat; I don't know what that means. Are you hungry? Do you need to go out? Be my guest. I don’t have any cat food.’
Sophie threw back her fluffy blanket, and got reluctantly to her feet. She made for the front door, muttering at the cat as she went. Then, turning the large brass handle, she threw open the door dramatically, turning to usher the cat out. But the cat had gone. There was no cat. She turned back to the street, expecting to see it sauntering moodily away, but no. Instead, pumpkins glistened in the dark, a darkness that seemed much more intense than usual. Their grinning, carved features flickered with candlelight.
‘OK, I’m not playing games here; I'm tired' she shouted back down the hallway. ‘C’mon cat, beautiful as you are, it’s time to go home.’ Nothing. She padded back to the room where the cat had been, but there was no sign of it.
A refreshing wind billowed autumn leaves up the porch steps. They swirled and crackled golden, rust and brown through the still-open door into the house. Sophie fleetingly noticed it wasn’t a cold wind. She couldn't feel any temperature change, but enjoyed the way it tussled her hair and pulled at her clothes. ‘C’mon cat, you’re ruining my evening.’
The cuckoo sprang out of the clock hanging in the hallway, but it looked different, strange, almost transparent. The pendulum seemed to swing much slower than usual, but Sophie knew this wasn't possible. Wooden acorns hanging from the chains looked strangely liquid, dripping slowly onto the floor.
She closed her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply. What the hell is this? When she opened them again, the cuckoo clock seemed perfectly unremarkable. 'Damn that cat', she muttered, running upstairs to search the bedrooms. Nothing.
She looked under the beds, checked out the bathroom, still nothing. Frowning, she made her way back downstairs. Slowly closing the front door, she returned to her sofa, her cosy socks skidding slightly on the floorboards.
'Odd', she thought, grabbing her blanket. She glared accusingly at her wine glass, then picked up the bottle, scrutinising the label. It was as if she expected it to inform her that this vintage could cause hallucinations. Pushing her glass away, she pressed the select buttons on the remote control to continue her search for something decent to watch. Plumping up several brightly embroidered velvet cushions, she tried to relax, but a creepy feeling was inching its way up her neck. Grabbing one of the softer cushions, she smoothed it against her tummy, perhaps for the extra warmth, now that the wind had drained heat from the room. Perhaps for comfort. But mostly as a barrier between her and whatever this feeling was. Scootching down, she drew her thick, sock-clad feet up to her bottom, tucking herself into her favourite blanket.
There was a scratching noise at the window, but Sophie knew it was just tree branches. When this first happened, she'd freaked out, but Tom had gone outside, then knocked on the window, holding up some branches. He was grinning triumphantly, a sleuth among sleuths, almost on a par with “Sherlock”. There was no Tom anymore, but she remembered him fondly, vividly; it brought some comfort.
The girls at work had recommended a "box set" about a washed-up star struggling to keep her slot at "Vegas". She tried to input the title into the “search” section. Episode 1: Series 1. Knowing how impatient she was, they'd she suggested stick with it. It was what they called a “slow burner”. It would soon become more interesting, they’d said. Interesting enough to keep watching. This was great. She needed the distraction tonight. A black cat just didn't cut it. Cats are not necessarily that entertaining. But the screen wouldn't turn on. All she could see was a very matte black blank screen. Sophie shook the controls, as if that would help resolve the problem. It did not. She decided to try the age-old solution of switching the TV off and then on again. That didn't work, either. So she switched it off again.
There was a strange noise in the kitchen, which she tried to ignore. But it happened again. Sophie sighed, decided to take the wine bottle with her and pour the contents down the sink. The bottle might also come in handy, as a weapon, if an intruder was in the kitchen. Throwing back her blanket, she fully expected to find the cat, convinced now that it was causing the noise.
The kitchen was raven black, except for the light from the open fridge slanting across the room. She frowned – why was the fridge open? 'Bloody cat’ she muttered, even though she realised how unlikely it would be that the cat had opened the fridge. No opposable thumbs. But there was no cat. Instead, there was a doll in the fridge. It stared, with blank glass eyes, outwards at her.
Gasping, she clasped her hand over her mouth. This doll was one she knew. It had belonged to her dead sister. She reached out a shaking hand and picked the doll off the fridge shelf. Its clothes felt crispy, its limbs stiff, making her almost physically sick. She was still shaking as its eyes blinked lazily. She screamed and nearly dropped it, but managed to place the doll quickly onto the island, as if it were too hot to handle.
Turning on the brushed steel faucet that bent over the white ceramic “Butler” sink, she splashed her face with cold water. There was no explanation for the doll being in this house, let alone in the fridge of all places. And she could still hear that car alarm somewhere way off in the distance. Why the hell hadn't someone come out to sort it out?
Sophie quickly phoned her brother. 'Yeah, I was wondering whether you'd been over today? No, no, of course not. It's just ... well, you remember Densey? The doll. Densey. Yeah, Rebecca’s favourite. Yeah, yeah, I know. It's just that it's turned up here in my fridge. Yes, I know! I don't know how either! That's why I'm asking you. No, I’ve no idea why a doll would be in my fridge. No. Of course not. I would have remembered! OK, thanks. See ya next week then.'
She replaced the receiver, slowly staring at Densy. It was dressed as it had been when it was pulled from the wreckage. A burnt, torn black outfit still smelling of smoke and oil, partially melted but incredibly intact considering. Long, brassy blonde tresses fell across its shoulder and down its back. The hair, melted in patches, had a synthetic sheen that made the clothes look even blacker. ‘Why the hell are you in my fridge Densey?’
Sophie reasoned that she’d take the doll with her; keep an eye on it, stopping it from suddenly turning up somewhere else. That would be freakier and more terrifying. By keeping it near, even though she didn’t like it staring at her, she could keep an eye on it. It was a bit like seeing a spider. It was better to know where it was than not, even if it kept you up all night watching it. You could find help during daylight.
‘Frankie, is this anything to do with you?’ she asked out loud, looking around the room, not expecting or receiving an answer. She had never wanted it, but she could feel ‘vibrations’.
Whenever someone died, it would take around a fortnight before the "soul" or whatever you wished to call it returned to its usual “haunt”. Fearful of having died, unaware of what was happening to it, Sophie could feel a heavy presence. The hopelessly lost soul didn't know what had happened or where it should go. It had often reduced her to tears. She'd tried to help once or twice, but would die of embarrassment if anyone ever found out. She secretly whispered to nobody, 'I don't know if this is true, but they say to go towards the light. So maybe try it?'
Sophie felt an overwhelming sense of relief when the heaviness cleared, imagining that perhaps things had improved for the lost soul. But, of course, this could all be her over-active imagination. Whatever was actually happening, this was how Sophie explained it to herself. It was her secret. Too many films and TV programs had used this scenario. She disliked being ridiculed, and being ridiculed was inevitable.
When Frankie died in a freak car accident, Sophie had felt nothing. Not even after a fortnight. Nothing. They’d been close too. This had knocked her beliefs a little. Until this doll appeared in her fridge. And why now?
It was exactly three years since the accident. The doll had been in the car when it became an inferno, as a huge truck had ploughed into it. Francis enjoyed the unexpected, the surge of emotions when things didn't go as they should. There was never any way of guessing what she would do next; no surefire way to know how she would react. “Wild Child” was often her nickname when people mentioned her. Sophie loved this about her sister, but was pretty sure she wouldn't have revelled in something this unexpected.
The car alarm was growing in volume. Pulling back her blinds, Sophie glared up and down the windswept street. It was still raining. Large raindrops on the windowpanes exaggerated the grinning pumpkin lights, making them flare in the dark as the droplets meandered downwards. 'Strange' that's still going', she thought, closing the blinds, 'bloody annoying, actually.’
As she swung back to the room, she nearly screamed. The doll wasn’t where she’d left it. Instead, Densey was now in the middle of the sofa, grinning manically at her. Sophie pressed her hands against the wall for reassurance, but Densey started to melt as she watched. It was like watching molten rubber pool over the cushions.
The missing cat jumped onto the back of the sofa. It too slowly started melting, as did the sofa and everything else in the room.
Sophie was so scared she couldn’t comprehend what was happening. She tried to dash out into the street, but the lock wouldn’t open, the door was also melting. She tried to phone for help – the phone was just a blob in her hands . The beeping noise was blaring now, screaming so loudly Sophie had to crush her hands over her ears. The nightmare was engulfing her. Everything in the house was swirling and pooling into some vortex, pulling her in too.
She was going to die. The certainty was crushing.
The screeching bleeps were so painful now she felt, indeed, hoped she would pass out. But instead, her body felt stretched as she joined the pool of melted objects now sinking into the middle of the carpet. She gasped her last breath as she too turned slowly into a semi-liquid mass, before disappearing completely. The last thing she heard was the bleeping car alarm changing tone. Instead of bleeping, it was now a continuous sound, so loud it was unbearable.
The nurses left the room quietly, quietly.
All was silent now. Some of the windows had been decorated for Halloween. Pumpkins and a black catch with large green eyes had been drawn onto the glass panes.
Hi-tech machines had been unplugged; wheeled respectfully away; it was all respectful.
A lone figure sat in a comfortable winged hospital chair as the shock set in.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ said a large man in scrubs, a stethoscope sticking out of a side pocket. ‘We couldn’t continue with this line of treatment, as we’ve already discussed; the damage was far too extensive. Please take your time, though; there's no rush. Stay with her as long as you need. We will help you with the paperwork and any arrangements you may need to make.’
'Thank you, doctor', whispered the woman in the chair, angrily swiping away tears.
She was holding Sophie's hand fiercely, yet gently, as if her own life depended on it. Leaning across the bed, Sophie's mother kissed her beloved daughter tenderly on her forehead. A fresh tear landed on Sophie’s cheek.
'Sleep well, my darling girl', she cried.