Today I want to tell you a story.
“But why!” my little sister, Clara, demanded as I shoved a dish towel at her.
“Because mum left me in charge, that’s why,” I snapped. Clara snatched the dishtowel from me and pulled the plate from the drying rack before drying it with short, angry motions.
“They would have dried anyway,” she said.
“Yes, they would, but if we do it now, then it’s done and we won’t forget to put them away like we did last time,” I said. “You remember last time, right?” Clara took a second plate off the rack and snorted.
“I remember,” she said. “It’s just dishes though, I don’t know why mum gets so upset.”
“Because she’s mum,” I said, sinking my hands into the basin to fish out a glass.
“Well, you’re the oldest, do the work. I’m the baby, you take care of me.”
“You’re lazy, not a baby,” I said, cleaning the glass. “Besides, I do take care of you, I never told mum who you had round after school last week.” I glanced at Clara to see her blushing.
“Yeah, thanks,” she said. “I don’t get why mum doesn’t like Jason.”
“She likes him,” I said. “But she doesn’t like you two being alone in the house together.”
“I’m fourteen,” she said. “I’m not about to go and…”
“I know,” I put my dripping hands up in a gesture of peace and Clara sighed. “I know you’re not stupid and so does mum, but she worries.”
“She let you have Michael over,” Clara snapped. I lifted the last fork out of the sink, washed it and put it on the rack.
“Only because Jillian was here,” I said, drying my hands and starting to put the dried dishes away.
“It’s not fair,” Clara huffed, finishing drying the cutlery. “You’re only four years older than me.”
“Yeah, well … not a lot we can do about that,” I said. “Maybe if you stood on a box,” I stood close to Clara, emphasizing the difference in our heights. “I doubt it would fool mum though.”
“Yeah, doubtful,” Clara smiled and folded the towel before hanging it on the rail. “Right we’re done, so snacks?”
“You just ate dinner,” I said.
“Not for now, for the movie,” Clara opened the larder and started pulling out bags of crisps.
“Fine,” I said, taking two bowls from the cupboard. “But get the salted popcorn and the jar of pickles as well not just crisps.”
“You’re odd,” she said, but pulled the jar out and set it on the counter.
“You want some cheese?” I said.
“Hell, yeah, I want some cheese,” Clara stalked over to the fridge and started rummaging through.
“It’ll give you nightmares,” I said, tipping crisps into bowls.
“No, Ultra Zombies from Universe X will give me nightmares, cheese will make me happy,” Clara shut the fridge. She did not cut the block of cheese in her hand, instead she picked up a bowl of crisps and my jar of pickles before heading into the living room.
“You are not eating a whole block of cheese!” I picked up the remaining bowls of crisps and popcorn and followed.
“I totally am, got to make use of my metabolism while I‘ve got it,” Clara said pulling the oversized cushions of the sofa to build some kind of nest for herself. “Soon I’ll be old and fat like you.”
“You realise sitting on the floor makes it easier for zombies to get you?” I said, trying to make my voice as casual as possible.
“Cause that’s what would end the zombie apocalypse,” Clara snorted. “Sitting on the sofa?” She stood up and let her head tilt to the left, half closing her eyes and hobbled towards me. “Brains! Me need brains,” her voice was low, she bumped against the sofa. “But human have a mighty sofa, zombie defeated!” she fell back onto her cushion nest. “How will zombie feed his kids?”
“Aww, zombie babies,” I laughed.
“Zombie not have babies,” Clara said in the same low voice, “Zombie have teenage children, how zombie feed them, how zombie pay for college?”
“Zombie needs to shut up,” I said opening the blue ray box and putting the disc in the player. I threw myself at the sofa and pulling the remaining cushions around myself got comfortable. “Ugh,” I said, reading the back of the box. “This sounds awful! And it’s three hours long!”
“Big sister shut up, Zombie want to watch film,” Clara threw a crisp at me.
“Zombie will regret that someday,” I muttered, eating the crisp and settling myself in for a long and probably boring movie. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and wandered around on social media.
I woke with a start, blinking at the tv. The Blue Ray menu screen was up which meant the film had finished. My phone had fallen into my lap, lifting it I saw it was almost 3am. Glancing down at Clara’s cushion nest, I saw it empty.
“Yeah thanks for waking me up,” I muttered. “And for turning off the TV.” I stretched and put my feet down on the floor, standing and listening to my back crack. I went to the TV, ejected the disc and shut the system down. As I stood back I heard something from the kitchen, a sharp sound like someone setting a jar down.
“Clara?” I called. She didn’t answer me. “Oi, Clara?” Picking up the empty and half empty bowls and Clara’s half eaten cheese block, I walked towards the kitchen. As I approached, I heard the sound again, close to it I could tell it sounded like tapping, someone tapping on glass.
“Clara? What are you doing in there?” I said as I reached the door. I didn’t turn the light on as the light from the living room was enough to see by. The kitchen was empty, but the sound of tapping had not stopped. I flicked the light switch on, flinching as the sudden brightness hurt my eyes. The tapping stopped instantly, and I looked around. The kitchen was empty. I sighed loudly.
“Clara it’s 3 in the morning, not the time for you to be playing zombie,” I walked into the kitchen and around the central island, I put the half empty bowls on the counter, figured I’d sort them in the morning before mum came home and put the remaining cheese in the fridge. I headed out of the kitchen and reached for the light. As I touched the light switch, the tapping started again, louder this time.
“Clara, it’s not funny,” I snapped, turning round. I felt my heart jump to my throat when I saw Clara. She wasn’t in the kitchen, she was outside in the garden, leaning against the kitchen window, tapping the glass with her fingernails. Her face looked distorted and pale, her hair hanging dark and limp against her skin. She was staring at me, grinning. I took a step towards her and stopped. Something inside me screamed at me to stop, to run. But it was just Clara trying to freak me out after watching a stupid movie. I took a step forward before unexplained panic overwhelmed me, and I turned and fled. That wasn’t Clara.
I ran back to the living room and ran right into Clara. We stumbled over each other and fell.
“Watch it,” Clara snapped. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she looked at me and the anger in her face disappeared. “Sarah?”
“There’s someone in the garden,” I said.
“What?” Clara snapped. “Like a burglar or something?”
“No, not like a burglar.” I said as Clara started pushing me off her in an effort to get up.
“Move,” she said as she shoved me. “I want to check this out.”
“Clara!” I tried to grab at her, but she dodged out of the way. I scrambled to my feet and followed her into the kitchen. I got there just as she flicked on the garden lights. “No, don’t!” I said. I’m not sure why I didn’t want her to turn the garden lights on, but the panic feeling was back, I had to fight myself not to run.
“You total wuss,” Clara said turning to me. “There’s nothing out there.”
“What?” I said, coming to the window. “But there was someone, right at the window, they were tapping on the glass.” The garden was empty.
“You got spooked by the zombies,” Clara laughed and flicked the outside lights off. “Come on you big wimp, it’s late.”
“But there really was someone out there,” I said, following Clara up to bed, turning the lights out as we went.
“Sure there was,” Clara said. “Just admit it, you got freaked out by the Zombies.” She stopped at the top of the landing and looked at me. Her smile faded. “You do look pretty freaked out, want to sleep in mum’s room?” I nodded. “Ok, let me grab my phone.”
I went into mum’s room and pulled down the quilt, Clara came in behind me and clambered into the bed taking mum’s side. I crawled into the other side, I could feel Clara warm beside me and felt silly for getting so freaked out.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
“You’re welcome, wimp,” The pillow muffled Clara’s voice. She leaned over and turned out the light, and the room went into darkness. I snuggled down into the bedding and closed my eyes.
I woke up to Clara shaking me.
“Sarah!” Clara hissed. “Sarah wake up!”
“What?” I said.
“There’s something outside,” Clara said. I could feel her shaking against me.
“What? Outside?” I sat up and blinked around the dark room. “What time is it?”
“Almost 4am,” Clara said. “Sarah, there’s something at the window.”
“But we’re upstairs,” I said. Clara shh’ed me. I fell silent and listened. All I could hear was our breathing. I sighed and turned to Clara, as I was about to tell her to go back to sleep I heard it. Loud and clear, tapping on the window.
“What the…” I said, feeling every muscle in my body tense.
“It’s at the window,” Clara’s voice shook, sounding more like a sob than words.
“How? What is it?” I said.
“I don’t know,” Clara said.
“Little girls,” it was mum. Or rather, mum’s voice.
“Mum?” Clara said, I gripped her arm hard then she went to get off the bed.
“It’s not mum,” I said, swallowing the bile that had risen in my throat.
“Let me in,” mum’s voice came from the window. “I need to come inside.”
“What would mum be doing at the window!” I snapped. “Think for a minute.”
“But,” Clara managed.
“It looked like you earlier,” I said, finally looking away from the window and staring at Clara. “It had your face, downstairs, it was trying to get inside then.”
“Oh god,” Clara said. I shh’ed her.
“Where’s your phone?” Clara didn’t move, I shook her. She looked at me. “Your phone.”
“On the table,” Clara leaned forwards. There was a sudden thump outside, like something dropping from a height and landing on the patio.
“She’s gone?” Clara breathed softly.
“The back door,” I felt my heart stop in my chest. “Did you lock the back door?”
“What?” Clara said.
“The backdoor? After you fed the rabbits, did you lock the back door?”
“I don’t remember?” Clara was crying. I bolted off from the bed at the same time as Clara, but she beat me to the door. We ran down the stairs, I could hear banging from the kitchen.
“Clara!” I called as she darted into the kitchen a few steps ahead of me. I heard her scream, but it cut off as soon as I stepped into the kitchen. I skidded to a stop as I entered, the back door was open and swinging it slammed against the wall each time it opened.
Clara was gone.
“Clara?” I called out. “Clara, where are you?” I heard footsteps behind me, spinning on the spot I saw someone run up the stairs. I followed. “Clara what the hell are you doing?” I bolted up the stairs, seeing Clara’s dark hair flick as she darted into a bedroom. I reached the top of the stairs and heard footsteps behind me again. I turned and saw Clara disappearing into the downstairs bathroom.
“Clara?” I called out. I heard laughter, it wasn’t Clara. It was too young to be Clara. Whatever had been outside the house was inside now.
Sixteen miles away, Officer Susan Johnson was working the graveyard shift in the call centre when a call came through.
“999, what’s your emergency,” she said.
“Police, I need the police,” the voice of a young girl said.
“Ok, what’s the emergency,” Officer Johnson breathed but firmly as she prepared to fill out the online system that would send a car to the girl.
“There’s someone in our house, something’s wrong with my sister, I can’t find her.” Officer Johnson waited for a few seconds while the system traced the girl’s phone number, giving her an address.
“Ok I’ve got your address on my screen and I’m dispatching a unit to you now,” Officer Johnson said. “Where are you?”
“In the bathroom,” the girl said.
“Do you know where the intruder is?” Officer Johnson said.
“No, I … Clara?” the girl said.
“Excuse me?” Officer Johnson said.
“Clara? Clara, come here! Run!” the girl screamed down the phone. “Don’t look back, run!” Officer Johnson heard a door slam and banging.
“Hello,” she said. “Are you still with me?”
“Yes, yes, I’m here! You’ve got to send someone now!”
“There’s a car coming to you,” Officer Johnson said. “Is your sister all right?”
“Yes, she’s here with me,” the girl said. “Clara what’s … is that blood?” the girl started sobbing. “You’re not Clara.” Officer Johnson almost pulled her headset off when the girl started screaming and the line went suddenly dead.