Alice sensed she wasn’t alone as soon as she went into the room. As if she was a split second too late to see who had vacated the chair by the window. She hesitated, hand tight round the doorknob. She could feel a strong presence. Slowly, a grey shadow overlaid the beige upholstery. A man—sitting at his ease. Legs splayed, fingers curled over the chair arms.
She gave a sharp intake of breath—the figure was gone.
She forced her legs to carry her to the patio door. She swished the curtains back to let in the light. A swift glance confirmed the chair was still empty.
Imagination, she told herself firmly.
But he could have taken advantage of her momentary shock to duck behind the chair.
Only one way to find out, but she baulked at walking the few yards down the room. A cornered thief could be dangerous….
How had he got in? Both the front door and this one were locked.
“I can see you,” she lied.
When nothing happened, she gave an exasperated ‘humph.’
That this should happen today of all days, when she had a viewer coming to see the house.
Alice had lived here just over a year, but there was something off-putting about the place. This room, for example, always gloomy and dismal. She’d redecorated three times. First white, which she understood would reflect light into the room, but made her think of hospitals. Next she tried a buttery cream, but the room still felt depressing. Right now it was a pale apricot, in a last ditch attempt to add warmth. She had been tempted to try daffodil yellow or fire engine red…but sanity had prevailed, and she’d decided to sell the place. Someone else could have the headache of trying to inject life into this room. Maybe this antipathy could just be a personal reaction, although the house had stood empty many years…what a pity she’d not thought to find out why.
The doorbell rang. It must be her viewers… If she went to answer the front door, the thief could escape. She quickly turned the key in the patio door and, keeping her eye on the chair, darted outside.
“Mrs and Mrs Brown?” she called “Round the back!”
When their puzzled faces poked round the corner of the building, she beckoned them close.
“I’ve had a break-in,” she whispered. “He’s still inside.”
“Called the police?” Mr Brown asked, pulling his mobile out, when she shook her head.
“Only just found out…” she said, frowning at the window with closed curtains, the one beside the chair. It was unbroken, undamaged. She had been so sure he’d got in that way. She had imagined him cowering behind the chair, waiting for her to turn her back, so he could escape…
“Sorry about this. I’m sure you’ll like the place, when you get chance to look round,” Alice said, going into sales woman mode. “All recently decorated, good-sized rooms—” she broke off as the wail of a siren heralded the police.
“Still inside, you say?” the sergeant asked, trotting round the corner of the house.
He beckoned his companion, and stepped into the house yelling, “Police! Show yourself!”
Alice, in the doorway, saw the figure of a man rise from behind the chair. Tall with a receding hairline, he seemed about to head butt his way out of trouble.
“On the floor,” yelled the police officer. “Down on the floor!”
Suddenly the room was a grey blur of movement, a woman screaming, children crying and out of it all the man’s twisted face thrust angrily towards them—
Then all was silent and still. The man gone.
“What—want happened— exactly?” Alice asked, breaking the silence. “Where has he gone?”
“Guess what occurred ten years ago must be embedded in the fabric of the place,” the police sergeant answered, looking shaken. “We’ve just had a replay. That was Justin Sherman. He butchered his wife and three children in that very room. and tried to make it look as if she’d disturbed a thief. He claimed on the Insurance, made out he was the injured party.”