“A fresh start” you said. I didn’t believe you, but for some reason I followed you anyway, halfway across the country. Why? We weren’t happy in the city, why would a cottage miles from anything make me like you any better? Nevertheless I followed you there.
It was freezing when we arrived. None of our things had reached us yet and all we had were the sleeping bags, some clothes and the few bits we could fit into the car. Luckily we had a lighter, because you smoke, for the fire. The heating was stubborn and we spent that night huddled on the floor by the fire in the sleeping bags as the ice crept insidiously over the window panes.
I slept badly. I couldn’t wash or brush my teeth because the pipes had frozen and anyway you had forgotten to pack my toothbrush. I was awake, or half awake, so I saw it before you woke up.
The room was dark and without my glasses I could make out the blurry shapes and shadows of the unfamiliar room, gently lit by the firelight. Then one of them moved. It detached itself and stood apart, watching, as if it had a face.
I nudged you then and you woke up quickly. You didn’t believe me until you heard the creak of the floorboards upstairs. That made you stop. Strange how much less scared I felt when you showed me your fear. You pressed the button on your phone and it was blindingly bright. When we could see we looked around the room, but there was nothing strange and we began to relax. You even put your arm around me.
The creaking began again. Slow, steady pacing. Deliberate. Wanting to be heard. I looked at you and I suppose you felt you had to go. Shivering you got up and flipped the light switch. Of course it didn’t work. Slowly, barefoot, you climbed the stairs. I watched the pale flesh of your legs disappear up and up until they were all gone, eaten up by the darkness. I heard you open the door to the room above my head and I heard the pacing stop. Silence. You didn’t come back down.
I’ve been in the cottage for nearly a year now. The heating works and the electricity is more or less fine. I’ve gotten to know the neighbours, if you can call them that when they’re so far away, and surprisingly life really is better in the country. There’s just that one room that I’ve never opened up. It never really seemed like a good idea after that night. In fact, the next morning I slipped up and quickly turned the key in the lock without looking inside. I threw it into the lake.
If I ever hear the sound of pacing, I just close the door to my bedroom tight, tight and squeeze my eyelids together. You were right; we should have done this years ago.