TIME BEFORE

The sign reads “Evil outside. Keep doors locked” seeing the door locked, barricaded with furniture from the dining room and boarded up with wooden shutters.

The Japanese family that lodge at the house are huddled upstairs; they look like an educated couple, yet I feel a desperate concern for their adorable daughter.

Is there enough food here?

It has been days since I left the house, and I begin to dream of stepping outside into the wintry air, a humble walk through the park lined with green fir trees feeling like a luxury of the Time Before.

I do not wish to frighten the family, but I have to open the doors and check on the horses.
I work quickly and silently, the latch on the old-fashioned lattice windows catching.

I am too impatient – too careless – the metal bolt slams across with a bang!

My heart stops and my breath hugs the top of my throat.

My eyes adjust to the twilit world around. I do not know if it is dawn or dusk. The proud yet solemn eyes of the horses twinkle in the darkened blue, and I smile, comforted that they are safe and alive. A selfish thought enters my mind – if they’re unharmed, perhaps there’s chance for us, too. I look to the saddle still tightly hugging to the horse’s chest from when I rode in and a wave of guilt chills me.

I make a step toward the horse, but that primordial animal instinct within all of us alerts me to my false step.

A patch darkens on the adjacent roof.

The head of the figure appears to rotate slowly, but just like the wheels of a car, I know it is an illusion, and it is moving at an infinite speed.

The dark patch moves closer still, and I sense my closeness to death.

I think of the cowering family inside, and jump back into the house, tearing the skin from my knuckles on the side of the latch. The rusted bolt resists my force, and takes vital moments to finally slam back into place.

I raise my eyes to the window.

I expect to see death straddling the glass, mere inches away from me.

I do not.

I see a young girl with air-hostess good looks and a high, blonde ponytail at the window, smiling but visibly disturbed by what must be abject horror on my face.

I blink, and force a polite smile, opening up the door.

“Hello!”

“Hi, you okay?”, she says, walking past me and honing immediately in on the piles of dirty dishes in the sink. Pink rubber gloves appear from her handbag, sliding her gel-manicured fingers into them and snapping them on her wrists.

The familiar sound and smell of washing-up liquid, hot water and steam envelopes me, still frozen in my confounded position from the window. While the sink was filling up with hot water, she bustled over to the shutters, her sweet, bubble-gum perfume leaving a mile-long trail behind her.

Morning sun-light flooded the room, the aftermath of paranoia and cabin-fever cowering away from the cleansing beams of treacle thick rays.

“So you’ve just been staying in have you, nan?”

I open my mouth to reply, but she continues to talk.

“Evil outside… I tell you what, it’s a nightmare sometimes trying to get in.”

She turns off the taps and moves across to the window, tearing down the piece of printer paper stuck to the window, the rather embarrassingly scrawling letters looking sheepish in the light of day.

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