The sound of Maddie’s car engine drifted away while Emma stood on the porch, groping through her bag for the keys. The door swung open; the hallway was lit, dully, from a glow beneath Emma’s bedroom door.
She thought two things at once: Shit, I left the bloody light on and There’s someone here.
She stood waiting on the porch, not making a sound even as she knew that if there was, in fact, anyone hiding inside her house, they would be alert to her presence after hearing the key in the lock and the creak of the door and the swish of its base along the mat inside the hall.
Emma turned again and looked back at the road, hoping to see Maddie’s car idling at the kerb, her friend’s half-lit face craning forwards across the passenger seat. But there was nothing there – the empty road shone wet in the dark and the night air was cool and indifferent.
If she just turned the hall light on – she could reach the switch from here – she’d come to her senses, surely. She darted a hand out and flicked it on.
When the gloom lifted, everything inside was just as it should be: the old wooden table against the wall; the white cordless phone resting beside its cradle; the rag rug on the floor with its usual decoration of mismatched shoes. But the bulb was casting the wrong kind of glow; the light was too harsh and bright. She held her breath, straining to detect a sound of what might be waiting inside, but it was oppressively quiet. Whatever it was, it was waiting.
She made her choice, moving urgently inside and turning on every light as she went. Through the archway and into the kitchen, where she glimpsed the countertops just as she’d left them hours before – the dishes beside the sink, ripening bananas in the bowl on the table, her sweatshirt thrown over the back of a chair. She checked the windows, tried the doors, peered behind chairs and beneath tables, hastily opened one of the bedroom wardrobes. There was only implacable darkness, blank space that filled with her own internal rising panic.
Emma’s heart thumped in her chest, and its heavy thudthudthud seemed to slow and somehow merge with the house itself, a sign of hidden life in its walls. The threat was inside, and it wasn’t – there was nothing here, nothing moved or missing. Something followed, but not behind her; it was everywhere, anticipating her next step before she’d decided it.
But there was nothing – nothing she could see. At 3:17, she took a blanket from under the couch and wrapped it around her shoulders, sat down and stared at the clock, willing the night to pass until finally she must have drifted off around five.
When Emma opened her eyes again, it was just after seven and she was blinking into a thick shaft of sun. She sat up. Daylight was doing its job: the room felt undisturbed, normal.
She wandered into the bedroom, tugged up the blinds to let the morning in. She could hear a child yelling next door as she approached the wardrobes beside the bed, opened the one she couldn’t bring herself to check hours before. There were his clothes, neat rows of shirts and jackets, polished shoes placed quietly side-by-side beneath a coat of fine dust, a musty odour seeping into the room behind her. His things were still here, but David was still gone. Wasn’t he?