I was inspired to write this after reading Stephen King's short story The Road Virus Heads North.
The envelope was pushed right to the back of the bureau drawer. A plain brown manilla envelope. Sealed. Across the flap in block capitals someone had written: DO NOT OPEN. The words were underlined. Twice. So of course Kate opened it. Inside was a single black and white photograph depicting a view.
Kate studied it for a few moments, a vertical frown line between her brows, then walked into the hall and climbed the stairs. On the landing she paused, undecided, then strode over to the door opposite, pushing it wide.
Beyond was the master bedroom; the bedroom in which Kate's mother had breathed her last just six days ago. Medicine bottles and jars of pills still stood on the bedside cabinet like minature sentry guards. The faint smell of Olbus Oil hung in the air. Kate walked across to the window and dragged one of the heavy velvet drapes to the side with a swish of fabric, setting the brass rings clattering on the curtain pole.
She peered through the glass, nose almost touching the pane. Just as she had thought. It was the same view.
From her vantage point Kate could see most of the front garden, neat and tidy and laid to lawn. Flower borders, barren now in mid-winter, edged the grass. A paved stone path meandered to a wooden gate that was flanked on either side by a low white-washed picket fence. Beyond the fence was the lane, beyond the lane the fields. Fields which rose steeply. Stretching away until they met the copse that divided the ground from the sky. As Kate watched, a lone black crow broke out of the trees and flew across the evening sky, wings beating lazily. Heading north.
The view in the photograph was identical. Although none of the garden could be seen, the white-washed fence - gate just off centre - ran along the bottom of the photo, along the top ran the copse. In fact (and surely this was nothing but coinicidence?), there was a tiny black dot hovering above the trees that could have been a bird.
Kate squinted her eyes, brought the picture closer to her face. Yes, it was definitely a bird. Heading north...
Kate jumped as the phone in the hall downstairs started to ring. The photograph slipped from her fingers and drifted to the floor. It landed face down on the carpet.
* * *
It was Tom. Her husband. "Hiya hon, just thought I'd see how you're doing?"
Kate grinned. "I'm doing fine," she said. "But Jesus Tommy, I didn't realise my mum had so much crap."
Tom laughed. "Like mother, like daughter."
"Ha. Ha. Tell you what though, I've found this really strange old photograph."
"Yeah? Like strange how?"
"I don't know. It just gives me the creeps...ouch!" Kate held the phone away from her head as static screeched down the line. When the noise receded Kate put the handset back to her ear. "Tom?" She was answered by the hum of an empty line.
A beep sounded behind her. Her mobile. Kate grabbed it up. A message: lost u on landline. r u cumin home tonite. tom.
Suddenly she wanted to be home. Badly. Night was drawing in, lending the cottage shadows she'd never noticed before when her mother was alive. As much as she didn't want to admit it - even to herself - that photo had given her the willies. She shook her head. Stupid. She stabbed a reply: think I'll stay here...still lots to do. See You tomorrow. Kate x
She was standing by the window that looked out onto the back garden. Her own ghostlike reflection stared back at her from the night blackened glass. Face pale.
Kate gave herself a mental shake and once more ascended the stairs. She felt weary, dog tired. She would lie down on her mother's bed for a few minutes. Restore her energy.
Her gaze fell on the photograph as soon as she entered the bedroom. She walked over, bent down, picked it up.
Just as night had fallen outside, so it had in the photo: moonlight flooded the scene. The bird above the copse was long gone...but a shape could be seen stepping out from the shadows of the trees. Frozen in mid-stride.
Goosebumps prickled Kate's arms. Without allowing herself time to think she ripped the photograph in two, then in two again, throwing the four pieces into the small wicker bin that stood next to her mother's dressing table.
She lay down on the bed.
Within seconds she was asleep.
TO BE CONTINUED....