Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “A Night to Remember” by Ken Dunn

On a cold, dark night in the depths of winter the woman was alone in the house. It was early evening and she was not in the best of moods. The house, stone built and square, stood by itself on the edge of the village which only increased her feeling of loneliness, isolation and frustration. The weather forecast hadn’t helped her state of mind either. Heavy snow was expected before morning.

Outside, across the dark and open landscape, the wind began to strengthen and the first few flakes of snow could be seen flickering in the light which shone from the ground floor windows. A few hundred yards away, the few trees which stood next to the main cluster of houses in the village, began to sway and dance under the growing pressure of the wind. She closed the curtains in the living room, irritated to be alone again and to shut out the prospect of another freezing night, enclosing herself from the depressing arrival of the worsening weather.

There was, however, one other matter on her mind. Earlier that same day, she had called in to the only shop which served the small community as post office, grocers, hardware merchant but most of all a place where ‘gossip’ could be freely exchanged. A few of the other locals had heard strange things the previous night, rustlings in the gardens, scratchings at doors and always in the early hours well before the sun came up. Very peculiar.

A few of them had even sat up until dawn, peering furtively out of their windows, in the vain hope of detecting whatever was causing these strange noises but nothing was ever seen. The noises, they said, were more than the usual skitterings of moles, voles, mice, squirrels, foxes, neighbours cats or anything else. Whatever was causing it was very odd. But such is the kind of chatter found in all small villages and which tended to increase the mystery for all of them.

As a fairly forthright woman, she had dismissed all of this nonsense of ‘strange happenings’ as the probable foraging of rats, of which there were always a few about. Yet, at the same time she was aware that one could never be too sure. That thought stayed with her for the rest of the day. Now that she was at home, by herself, the closed curtains gave her a slightly more substantial feeling of security and she busied herself with some housework as the evening wore on. She knew very well that what they had been saying in the village was just idle chatter but it was comforting to have the security of ones own home around one on nights like this.

The wind had become quite strong by now and moaned round the house finding every small crack in the windows and doors to chill the interior. She brought the central heating up a notch to cope with it and pushed the long fabric ‘sausage’ closer to the foot of the front door, the worst offender, to stop the draught. The place should have been draught proofed properly months ago and it still was one of many repairs and fixings which she held as a mental list for him. He really would have to do something about this. Before spring arrived, with slightly warmer weather, he would have to complete all those things which had been left, forgotten about, delayed, deferred, excused, denied, undone. It really wouldn’t keep any longer.

With the housework finished and everything in its proper place she settled down with a glass of red wine to watch television. The picture was terrible. There was almost as much snow on the screen now as there was falling outside the house. That would be another item to check when the weather cleared. That aerial had never been very good. If only he had brought in the local TV people to do it. Well, now she would insist. After channel hopping she gave up and switched off. The radio offered nothing better and again reception was poor. If only something worked in this house!

She resorted to a putting on one of her ageing ‘LP’s’, easy listening stuff, and the latest pulp fiction best-seller, bought in the village shop. She snuggled down onto the settee and opened the book.

Outside the darkness thickened, mixing with the wind and the snow. This was now falling heavily, whipping across the open landscape and against the front of the house. It began to drift as it fell, softening the landscape and the outline of the buildings. The temperature dropped a few more degrees and all exposed forms of life shrank away, deeper into their burrows, holes, nests and crevices, leaving only the trees and shrubs to bear the brunt of the now near blizzard.

Any animals which may have been on the prowl had long since taken shelter. Nothing seemed to move but there was still something else out there which had been making its slow way up from the village. It had been a very painful process but it kept going, bumping along, against doors and windows, perpetuating the fear of those inside of something strange going on, a fear which had been growing amongst many in the small community, day by day.

No one ventured out to look. They heard the movement and were as frozen as the landscape, apprehensive to really find out what was making the sound. It was now quite still, taking its time, but would soon begin to move again, to close in on the house, the stone, square house all by itself where the woman sat reading. Nothing would stop it.

Drowsy with the warmth of the room and the wine, she began to nod off. Long after the record had finished she suddenly woke to the sound of the wind gusting outside. Glancing at her watch she raised her eyebrows at the time. It was almost midnight. Over two hours had somehow slid by without her realising it. She closed the book with a snap, stretched and wondered what was happening with the weather. Had the snow been falling all this time? She moved over to the window and pushed one of the curtains aside. She had to squint through the speckled glass where the snow had landed and melted against the warmth of the interior.

Apart from snowflakes, flicking passed in the light which spilled over her from the room, she could see nothing at all. There were no street lights in the village and no other light from any of the houses could seen. She mused over the so called ‘noises’ some of the others in the village had been talking about, but surely on a night like this there would be nothing around at all. But well inside the veil of snow there was something which was moving slowly and erratically in her direction.

Shivering slightly she closed the curtains. It was late. She switched off the light and made her way upstairs. The house creaked from the wind, still blowing hard and causing pockets of cool air to form round the inside of the upstairs windows and then flow under the doors into the rest of the house. It would be just as well to leave the heating on overnight, ticking over. The last thing she wanted was frozen pipes. There was enough to do in the place without that.

After using the bathroom she entered the bedroom which was cool rather than cold. A healthy temperature for sleep but sleep didn’t come. Half an hour later and she was still awake. It was now just after one in the morning. Changing position didn’t help and she still couldn’t sleep. Then she became aware of a change outside the house. Something was different and as she lay there she tried to puzzle out what it was. The wind! It had died completely and the light outside seemed to growing although it was well before dawn.

Opening the curtains she looked out onto completely changed landscape, lit by a full moon surrounded by stars. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and everything was a still and glistening white, yet very cold and freezing quickly. The snow lay thick and white, untouched, unblemished. Perfectly smooth as if freshly painted. The trees over by the village stood white and bare casting long shadows across the fields in front of the house. No owls hooted, no animal tracks could be seen anywhere but there was something moving down the lane towards the house, hidden by the hedges from where she stood looking down.

After a minute or so she closed the curtains, picked up a shawl and went downstairs. In the kitchen she made herself some tea and sat holding the cup between her hands sipping it slowly, looking out through the glazed door of the kitchen to the back garden. That was something else which needed seeing to. The place was a mess. Even with a white layer of fresh snow it was a mess. He must do something about that when the weather allowed. If he remembered. She would remind him.

Although warm enough, she pulled the shawl round her shoulders slightly tighter, more for psychological comfort, as she sat there. The minutes ticked by and she decided to continue with the book. It was still there where she’d left it, on the settee. She picked it up and flicked through the pages as she made her way back upstairs to the bedroom. She fluffed up the pillows, slid under the covers and settled down once again to read.

The gate from the lane to the front garden of the house creaked slowly open, as if by itself, and then was pushed to one side as the shape lurched through. She heard nothing of this, absorbed in the racy storyline of this new paperback. The shape moved and then uttered a painful sound. It was this low animal moaning which snatched her eyes from the page and to the bedroom window. What was that

It had sounded like some kind of animal in pain. She listened, her whole body stiffened as her ears tried to pick up any kind of noise. Silence prevailed. There was nothing to hear. Those damn silly village stories! Why did she take any notice of them? She shook off her concern, forced herself to relax and settled back into the pillows. Finding her place again in the book, she continued to read.

The shape outside was now moving again, very slowly, up to the front door, stopping for a few seconds and then inching forward, closer and closer. The freezing snow crunched under its weight. Now it was on the step and stopped, falling against the door with a soft thud. She heard that. That was not imagination! That was something downstairs, but where? She strained her ears to hear the slightest sound but again there was nothing.

She went over to the window and opened the curtains, just as a lone cloud sailed in front of the moon. Looking out she could find nothing to explain the noise. The shadows were deeper now as the cloud drifted over, covering the moon and its silvery light, and she missed the irregular, wide trail which came through the open gateway and continued up the curving path to the front door. Then the scratching started.

So it was true! There were peculiar noises going on after all! She strained her eyes into the darkness but still there was nothing to be seen. What she couldn’t see from the bedroom window was still at the front door, lying up against it. Another couple of minutes dragged by but no other noises came. She shivered again but this time it wasn’t just the cold alone which had caused it.

The shape outside stirred and pushed heavily and repeatedly at the door, a muffled thudding filling the hall on the other side. Turning from the window she picked up the shawl, throwing it round her shoulders and moved out from the bedroom to the top of the stairs, trying to identify where the noise was coming from. The thudding continued and then suddenly stopped followed by another unearthly moan just like the one she’d heard earlier.

Without switching on the light she carefully and stealthily made her way down the stairs and into the living room, listening all the way. No noise at all. She tiptoed across to the hall door and opened it without a sound. The cloud across the moon had almost passed but it was still too dark to see anything. She moved silently to the front door and with her ear pressed hard to the wood strained for any slight clue as to what might be outside. Nothing.

The shape had moved. Scraping and sliding along the stone and the path in front of the house it followed the structure of the building and flopped round the corner then stopped as if to take account of its surroundings. Then it was moving again but no less erratically than before. Inside the house she had carefully closed the hall door and now stood in the middle of the front room, her shawl pulled tightly around her, her ears listening for the slightest sound. She knew there was something very near but she didn’t know where it was.

To be standing in the dark, alone, in the middle of the night, in an empty house, on a freezing winters night, would tax anyone’s stamina, not to mention fortitude, tenacity, determination, resolve or any other term which would be appropriate to this bizarre situation, but she was strangely calm about the whole thing. She continued to just stand there, thinking for a while and then, after coming to a conclusion, walked slowly though to the kitchen. She didn’t bother putting on any of the lights, being able to see quite clearly in the moonlight which flooded through the kitchen window. She pulled over a chair from the kitchen table, unlocked the outer door and sat down within reach of the light switch for the room and waited.

The shape had now made its hesitant way round to the back of the house, slithering slowly through the freezing snow, stopping occasionally but quite oblivious of the cold. It was now near the kitchen door. Another cloud slid across the moon then cleared, bathing everything again in a glowing silvery light. She still sat inside the kitchen near the door waiting for it to open.

The door handle began to turn slowly. It swung open slowly revealing a crumpled mass which lifted itself and then slowly crawled across the threshold, sighing as it entered. It lay there, lumps of snow falling from it and melting on the hard surface of the tiles. A part of its body extended and pushed the door closed behind it. That’s when she switched on the lights.

The shape raised itself towards her, grinned and hic-cupped loudly.

‘Lo luv!’ it said. ‘Smee! I’m, burp, back!’

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