Sarah was in a rush. She wasn't particularly late but she liked to get things done early. Today she had decided to shop for her oldest grandson's birthday and something for her friend's 40th wedding anniversary. She paused for a moment, if only her marriage had lasted that long. It had finally fallen apart after 23 years, but had been broken for a lot longer. Sarah shook her head then carried on getting ready, this was no time for regrets, beside she had a good life now, many friends, lots of grand children, all sorts of things to keep her occupied.
The aerobics twice a week really helped to keep her in shape, then there was the regular practice sessions at the club. She picked up her purse, pulled on a light jacket and left. Two minutes later she was back, she ran effortlessly up the stairs, picked up her cheque book and jogged back down. Who said we slow down has we get older, she thought to herself. Half way across the hall she saw a shadow approaching the door. It was too late for the milkman, and the postman had already been. Sarah hoped who ever it was wouldn't stay long, she had a full day planned.
The shadow grew larger, suddenly a strange man lurched in through the open door, slamming it shut behind him. A scream died in her throat as the blade of a large knife glinted in the early sunlight. The man was over six feet tall, badly shaven with small brown eyes. He was wearing grey overalls and dirty leather boots with the steel toe-caps showing through. "Aw right, Granny!" the man yelled, "don't panic, I just want to stay 'ere for a bit, 'til the 'eat dies down, know what I mean?"
He winked at her, turned and locked the door, removed the key then dropped it into a ripped pocket. "Anybody else 'ere then? No granddad or home help or nufink?" Sarah tried to swallow, she was absolutely numb with fear, her mind had frozen in dread. She had seen news items often enough, but had always sworn she would give the thugs a good hiding. Now, faced with reality her nerves let her down. Sarah jumped as the man came closer, bending to stare into her face. She reeled as the man's foul breath beat across her face. Every muscle in her body tensed as if expecting a blow. He smiled a leering smile.
"Say, granny, anyone else in the house?" He said it with slow, exaggerated lip movements. "A bit deaf are we? Never mind." Sarah managed to stutter out a soft "no, j-just me." "Don't mind if I 'ave a look do you, naa, course not." His speech was rough and quick, all the words seemed to jumble together, making it sound like "donmin difiavalook dya." The man pushed past leaving a terrible smell of stale sweat and nicotine on her jacket.
Sarah found herself holding her clothes together at the front, hugging them to her as if to provide some kind of protection, like a small child hiding under the sheets. She realised with a start that she had seen rape victims in films do this... that thought was quickly locked away in the back of her mind. Think about something else Sarah, she whispered. The banging of cupboard doors startled her, reflexively the grip tightened. She forced herself to try and do something, anything to get out of here. Her eyes fell on the phone on the hall table. She began to tremble as the adrenalin kicked in. Her heart rate soared, she could feel the blood pumping, thumping in her head. Her body was finely balanced, adrenalin saying "go, go now, pick up the phone, quick, quick before he comes back!" But fear, ever present fear, said "no, don't touch that, don't, he'll catch you and you'll die!" A loud voice made her jump again, this time she let out a short scream. Immediately a massive grimy hand clamped across her mouth, nose and her left eye. She couldn't breath.
Her eye was pulled out of focus. The taste of something bitter was crammed into her mouth. Her mind swirled at this latest onslaught. She fought for breath, for control. The room around her faded, went black.
Sarah was laying down somewhere soft, she could hear voices, men and women talking. She opened her eyes slowly. There seemed to be a ledge at a strange angle on the opposite wall. Things looked familiar yet odd, as though seen from a new viewpoint. Everything came back to her with a start, the man, the knife, she had fainted. The voices made sense to her now, it was the television, she had landed at the bottom of the stairs with her head against the bottom step. The ledge was the lounge door frame. The bastard! she suddenly thought, he's left me where I fell!
A rage built up inside her, this man is getting out of my house. She pulled herself to her feet, checked herself over, no injuries thanks to a thick carpet. Sarah marched into the lounge. The man was sat in her favourite chair with his feet on her coffee table. One thick, dirty toe poked through a woolly sock badly in need of a wash. The smell was overpowering, add foot odour to body odour to bad breath.
Sarah, usually very clean and tidy was even more irritated. But her voice caught in her throat as she tried to speak. The man turned around. "Hello gran, awright are ya? Thought you'd dropped dead for a bit." The man pulled the knife from the arm of the chair and jabbed it back in. The sound of splintering wood could be heard above the sound of the T.V. "I'll just be staying for a while, two or three days that's all."
He turned round suddenly and thrust out his hand, "my names Barry, most people call me Bull, don't know why, hah!" He laughed loudly.
Sarah looked down at the hand, large, dirty, covered in cuts and bruises. There was no way she was shaking that. Her hands clutched nervously at her clothes again, she forced herself to stop. Instead she put them in the pockets of the jacket she was still wearing. Barry looked at her face then back at his hand, "Oh yeah, sorry, I had a bit of bovver, they 'ad me locked up see. Me! wouldn't hurt a fly, flies are awright, now coppers and screws that's anuver story, hah!" His raucous laugh filled the room, making Sarah shudder. Barry turned back to the television.
"Might as well sit down gran, gonna be a long day, don't wanna tire ya self now." He took a deep drink from a wine bottle, dribbling white wine down his chin. "Your phones don't seem to work any more either, and all the doors are locked and I've got the keys." He turned around to look at Sarah, "no trouble from you, no trouble from me, understand?" "Yes, no trouble, I'll do as you ask. I'll just go to my room if you don't mind." Sarah tried to keep the nervous sound out of her voice but ended up sounding like a frightened school girl.
One more reason to hate this...this thug. She reached the top of the stairs practically running, went through her bedroom door and closed it, leaning against it as though it might hold off an army. This was her sanctuary, out of his sight, sound and smell. The sound of footsteps on the stairs suddenly chilled her, another wall in her mental defenses crashed down. Barry looked in the other rooms then forced his way into hers. "Just thought I'd better check this room gran, for anything dangerous ya know, dobermuns and oozies and gun-toting granddads! hah!" He wandered slowly around the room looking under the bed, in the wardrobe, in the pots on her dressing table.
He picked up a pair of tracksuit trousers, "what you need these for then? You couldn't run up a pair'a curt-uns, nevamind a race, hah! Barry looked up at the top of the wardrobe, Sarah's heart missed a beat, which was racing so didn't really mind. He pointed to a box, "what's that then?" The box was about 30 inches long, ten inches square at the ends and had the letters
N.A.S. stencilled on the side. "No, don't tell me, it's...Nitting And...Stuff, right?" "Knitting is spelt with a 'K' actually, but no it isn't..." "I don' care how ya spell it." He leaned right over Sarah, pulling the knife from his belt, "You give me any trouble and you'll be wanting to knit yaself a bullet proof vest, O.K?" he punctuated each word with a tap of the knife blade on her shoulder. Sarah shrunk back further with every tap until she almost fell onto the bed.
She didn't know how long she sat on the edge of her bed. He had been to raid the wine rack in the kitchen at least four times, once dropping something. The crashing of the glass seemed symbolic of the state of her nerves. It had got dark at some time, somehow the darkness fitted in with the situation. The dull orange glow of a lamp-post shining through her window had made her think of the neighbours. They kept pretty much to themselves mostly, but someone may have seen something. Perhaps they had, perhaps even now armed police dressed in black with their hats on back-to-front lay in wait. One twitch of the curtain, one show of his ugly face and bang! It would ruin the carpet of course, but she could afford a new one.
Sarah was amazed at this turn of her mind to practicalities, slightly sickened by how quickly one comes to accept violence as an everyday item. But it had made her mind up, an English woman's home is her castle! It was high time she made a stand. Eventually the sound of snoring rose up through the floor, mixing with the sounds of some television thriller. Sarah stood quietly, still clutching the jacket she had been wearing all day. She forced her hands to relax, reaching up for the box on top of the wardrobe. This was going to be her anchor, her life line to sanity and safety.
As quickly as she could Sarah worked, nimble fingers assembling the familiar parts by the dull light of the lamp post. When she had finished she put the box back exactly as it had been. She pulled the quilt back over the bed, checking to see if anything showed. When she was satisfied all was smooth she sat down in the dresser chair to wait. Sarah awoke with a start, a faint noise getting closer rousing her from a light sleep. Suddenly she knew what the noise was. Before she could react there was a loud crash from downstairs followed by several bottles smashing. A loud roar joined the other sounds, shaking her brain. Sarah grabbed the quilt, flung it off the bed and fumbled with what lay underneath. Loud stamps thundered on the stairs, the sound of the siren screeched in her head, closer, ever closer. He tripped at the top of the stairs, still a little drunk.
He was shouting, swearing, promising vengeance. She fumbled, her hands sweaty, she dropped the most important part. The siren was outside the house, inside the house, echoing in her head. The roar a continuous roar. The bedroom door shattered open. A waft of sickly odours and vapours washed over her, turning her stomach. The man stood for a second regaining his balance, catching his breath. The knife glinted in the orange light from the street as he stepped through the remains of the door.
Sarah was angry. Very angry, he had wrecked her home, polluted it with his filth. Then he had the nerve to come into her own room and threaten her. She let the anger rise, so far but not too far. Something at the back of her mind took over, some inner strength, feet shoulder width apart, relaxed arms, breath in... A strange twanging sound slipped through the cacophony, closely followed by a dull thud.
"I'm gonna rip..." The thug's words were cut off as a searing bolt of pain pierced his chest. The burning agony drove deep, sending shock waves of heat through his whole rib cage. He looked down towards the pain, but his small brain couldn't grasp what he saw. To him it looked like an arrow! He looked to Sarah for help. She stood in the semi-darkness still holding the take-apart composite bow. She walked slowly towards him as he retreated backwards onto the landing, stopping a few feet away as he slumped against the stair rail. Slowly she spoke three words, "Northwood Archery Society." He slipped to the carpet as the siren faded into the dawn.
- Copyright Steve Dean