Unknown | 5/09/2014 |

         A force ten gale blowing outside - well, maybe not 10, but a very strong wind all the same. I do not dare put the rubbish bin out - it may be blown over on to the road in front of my house and cause disruption. I have closed all the shutters, but they rattle like mad. The wind is a banshee screaming down the chimney - I have pulled the trap door down, but it still whistles around the front room. I hate the wind - more than rain or snow or even sleet - it acts on my limbic and arouses primal fears. Muffin is nervous, and keeps whining and following me like my shadow. On top of that, it was full moon yesterday, and as usual, I shall not sleep well. I hate the lunar cycle as well. No, this night won't bring much peace, I think, and pace around the house, checking doors and windows. I even make a quick trip to the balcony to make sure that my flower pots are still in place. The wind lashes at me, tearing at my clothes and my hair like a frenzied demon. I have trouble closing the door, as if an invisible hand with superhuman strength is trying to keep the door open.

            I don’t like storms in general, it is true, but today’s storm is just spooking me out. Today the wind seems evil, somehow, as if planning horrible things on earth. I don’t believe in ghosts or phantoms – those stories have always left me indifferent and unimpressed. But I believe in evil all right, in man as in nature, and I know that I have this strange capacity to sense things. Take this ordinary house in town. I often have to stop in front of it since it is right next to a traffic signal. And every time I would feel this unease - the hairs stood up on the back of my neck or my hands suddenly became freezing cold, whatever the season. Well, a few months back I saw that the house was for sale. The ‘For Sale’ board stayed outside exactly for a week till the story broke – a double death discovered by the gasman who had a key to the backyard to read the counter. The police still don’t know whether it was a murder or a suicide.

            I am feeling the same type of unease tonight, in my own house. I suddenly wonder if Muffin can feel it too – is that why she is whining constantly? Is it something to do with me? Can she smell my fear? I cuddle Muffin, and she reacts in the same way as always – four paws in the air, tail spread out, exposing her belly to be tickled. I am marginally reassured. I prowl some more, unable to settle down. I flick on the TV and watch a simpering young girl with a beautiful empty face gushing about her aspirations of becoming a top model. I run through the channels, but nothing holds my attention. I switch off the TV and sit down in front of the computer screen. Several unknown people are chucking verbal brickbats at one another about the human rights violation in the US in one chat room. In another one a juicy conversation about Brangelina is in progress. I can’t concentrate, but the conversation blurbs calm me down somewhat. These are real people behind stupid names like Morph or Zug or Glitch. I switch off the computer and decide that it is time to go to bed. I switch off the lights one by one, and each time the sound of the storm seems to become louder. I lose courage and leave the passage light on. I fill up Muffin’s bowl with water. She is already stretched out in her furry splendor beside the bed. I pick up the thriller I was reading…..

            I don’t know what woke me up but suddenly I was looking at my ceiling washed by pale moonlight. The wind must have blown the clouds away. The familiar objects in my room look different in the pearly ghostly light. I see red eyes glowing at me from the corner, till I discern the Chinese dragon swaying in the corner. The dream catcher over my bed twirls in a draft of wind and casts wild shadows on the walls. As I slowly emerge from my sleep, I start feeling uneasy. How come I can see the moonlight on my ceiling? I had closed the shutter before going to bed. The room should be totally dark. Why were the objects in my room moving? Why was I feeling so cold under the duvet? I reach down to feel the warm presence of Muffin. My hand touches the cold floor. She is not in her place any more. I sit up in bed, thinking she is stretched in front of the door. The bedroom door is ajar, no sign of Muffin. Now I start panicking in earnest. What was going on? I was sure that I had closed the bedroom door, and Muffin can’t open doors. The corridor was awash with the pale moonlight as well, though now I clearly remembered that I had kept the passage light on. I rub my eyes, not sure if I am awake or asleep. Is this a dream? Or did I dream what happened earlier in the evening? It is precisely at this moment I hear my gate creaking open.

            There can’t be any mistake about that noise – cans of oil have failed to keep the ancient hinges of the door from creaking. I glance at the bedside clock – it is three in the morning – well past the witching hour, but it does not reassure me much. I am afraid to move, and keep wondering where Muffin has gone. If there is someone at the gate, she would be up barking. ‘If it is human’ the thought streaks across my brain, like a bolt of lightning. I lie there, straining my ears, and all I can hear is the keening wind. I start to calm down, and suddenly I hear the sound – someone or something was scratching against the front door. Still not a peep out of Muffin – it was not possible that I had heard the sound and not her. My voice is dry as I call her name softly. And the fact that she does not respond thrusts another fear right in front of my confused mind – was anything wrong with Muffin?

            This galvanizes me into action. I pull on my robe, grab my cell phone automatically and peer out of the bedroom door. Muffin was standing in front of the door, totally silent, like a marble statue, her tail between her legs. She does not even turn her head to look at me. I go and stand next to her, a few feet away from the front door, and now I hear the scratching noise again. Like a key being run over the metal door. I glance at the lock and I am immensely relieved to see that the safety chain is in place. Immediately my limbic springs into action – can locked doors bar entry to anything? I push the unpleasant thought to the back of my mind. I now wish that I had listened to the glazier and had a peephole on the door. The only way I could see outside was through the window in the study. I started off in that direction, only to remember that I had closed the shutters in that room too. Opening them would involve opening the window first, and I was strangely reluctant to do that. My only option now was the attic window that looked down directly on the front gate. It was an ordinary Velux window, therefore transparent.
            The steps going up to the attic creak under my weight, as usual, except that every creak now sounds like a gunshot. The wind is a living creature in agony as I mount the final steps. Reluctant to switch on the light that would give away my presence, I switch on the torch of my cell. I navigate my way to the window through cartons and suitcases and assorted rubbish and reach the window. I peer out onto the pitch black street – maybe they switched off the lights because of the wind. My front gate is now swinging in the wind, screeching in protest as the gusts blew it this way and that. I can’t see anybody – the moon has gone behind the clouds once again, and my garden is covered in a blanket of darkness. My eyes wander on to the street, now totally empty of all traffic, lying there like a giant languid snake…

            I open the small window and lean out, braving the raw wind. The trees and the plants are doing a weird dance, bending this way and that. The torn clouds race across the sky, now covering the moon, now letting it peek out. The chiaroscuro world is in turmoil, my garden gate swings desolately. Just at that moment I see the giant shadow looming right in front of the gate. I hear Muffin growling, a low angry sound, but still she does not bark. The shadow raises its head and looks straight at me, two blood red spots set deep in two hollows. I spring back, but I know that the thing had seen me. I try pulling the window shut, but the wind forces it outward. I see a long shadowy hand raised toward the attic window. I see the form glide inside the garden gate, and then disappear. All the stories featuring supernatural figures I have ever read in my life flit across my brain – walking zombies, resurrected mummies, shadow walkers, the grim reaper, the dead army…and suddenly the paralyzing fear leaves me. If a supernatural creature has come to visit me on this turbulent night, I shall definitely go and meet it.

            I calmly shut the attic window, switch on my torch and come down the stairs. Muffin is now stationed just outside the patio door, growling softly. I stroke her head and her tail wags. Now I remember that I had not closed the shutter of the kitchen window – that would give me a clear view of the garden. As I look out, I see a movement out of the corner of my eyes – the same shadow moving towards the garden shed. Again I hear the scraping sound of metal on metal. And now I am totally reassured – phantoms don’t need keys to go through doors. I think of calling the police – after all, I do have an intruder in my property, but decide to check first. I open the kitchen window a crack and cry out loudly ‘Who’s there? Show yourself or I shall call the police right now’.
The shadow literally jumps into the air and a key ring rattles to the ground. The moon comes out from behind the cloud just then and I see a tall man clad in a long hooded cloak, holding a mask in his hand. 

- ‘So sorry to wake you up’ says a voice I know well, that of Jeremy, my son’s best friend.
- ‘What the hell are you doing here, Jeremy, at this time of the night?’ I fume. ‘Come in, don’t stand there in this horrible wind’. 
He comes in with a sheepish grin on his face. ‘I left my bike in the shed last weekend’ he says, ‘and Taj gave me the key to the shed. I need the bike to go home’

- ‘At four in the morning? Where have you been?’ I fume, knowing the answer fully well. He must have gone to some stupid fancy dress party and was now heading back home. ‘Have you seen what the weather is like? You shall be blown off your bike in no time. And look at that stupid cloak. How are you going to ride a bike in that?’
He takes off the cloak and says ‘in any case, I was going to leave it in the shed. And don’t worry, I don’t have a long way to go. I am very sorry I woke you up. I tried to be as quiet as possible, but I can see now that it wasn’t good enough’ he says ruefully. 

              I send him on his way, making sure that the garden gate is properly latched. I switch off the lights one by one, and return to bed. By now the storm has blown over. The eastern sky is lightening up. I wrap myself in the duvet, and close my eyes. As I hover on the brink of a light sleep, I can’t help wonder who or what opened my closed shutter, unlocked my locked bedroom door and my garden gate, switched off the light during the night and scratched gently on my door…


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