“You’re imagining it. Go back to sleep.” Dennis rolled over and pulled the covers over his shoulder. His wife gave him another nudge in the back.
“You’re not listening,” she scolded. “There it goes again.” She shook him until he swore. “There’s somebody in the house!”
“Bloody hell; give it a rest. It’s probably the cat.”
But Sandra would not be placated.
“Right,” she said with a sniff. “If you’re not going to see about it, I suppose I’ll have to.”
Dennis felt the mattress rise as Sandra got out of bed. She slipped into her slippers and shrugged her dressing gown on, grumbling and complaining as she did so.
“All right, all right!” Dennis threw back the bedclothes. “I’ll bloody go!”
He got out of bed and stormed out of the bedroom they’d shared for twenty three years. Sandra bit her lower lip. She followed him out onto the landing.
“Be careful!” she whispered. Dennis waved at her to be quiet and picked his way down the stairs. Sandra clutched onto the door post for support. He wasn’t the man she married. Nowadays his arms were skinny; the skin hung from them like deflated balloons. His washboard stomach was more of a washbasin.
When he reached the foot of the stairs, Dennis froze. He listened.
The kitchen door was open. A dark shape flittered across the doorway. Dennis gasped. Sandra had been right: there was someone in the kitchen! He felt along the wall for something to use as a weapon. His fingers closed around his rickety old umbrella. It would have to do.
Carrying the umbrella like a baseball player ready to hit a home run, Dennis padded towards the kitchen. The laminated floor in the hallway was cold beneath his feet. Perhaps it had been a mistake to get rid of all the carpets – Dennis quashed this crazy thought. He needed to focus.
The intruder was at the kitchen sink, facing away from Dennis.
Dennis tried to speak, to give a warning, but his voice was caught in his throat. He didn’t want to cough and alert the intruder to his presence too soon. So he took slow, silent steps towards the stooped shoulders – Dennis had the height advantage at least. He expected the intruder to turn around at any second and catch him and – and what? Send him back to start like in the children’s game? Dennis’s bladder ached urgently and his heart was racing like a frontrunner in the Grand National. He had to make a move before his fear overwhelmed him.
He raised the umbrella, preparing to strike. Time seemed to slow down. The intruder was beginning to turn, very slowly. Dennis saw that it was a woman, a woman the exact height and shape of his wife.
But the eyes, the eyes were all wrong. They flashed blue-white like searchlights. The familiar face was distorted by a snarl and the intruder – this not-Sandra – let out a hiss like an angry snake.
Dennis, half-blinded by the eye-lights, stabbed at the hissing head with the tip of his umbrella. The screech of the intruder was cut short as the umbrella pierced right through the back of its throat. The Sandra-shaped thing lurched and writhed before dissolving into mist.
Within seconds there was nothing left.
Panting, Dennis turned on a tap to rinse the ferrule of his umbrella.
“Dennis?” Sandra’s voice was shaky with fear. Dennis intercepted her in the hallway. He sent her back to bed, assuring her he had let the cat out and would tidy up the mess it had made. There was nothing for her to worry about.
He waited until he heard the bedroom door close. Then he turned his attention to the sink. His trusty umbrella was called upon once more to despatch the thing that was growing there. A thing that was already beginning to look a lot like Dennis.