Kerry went to bed carrying a mug of sweet tea. Her room was painted a brightish green, the exact colour of celery. When her aunt had moved into this house, there had been a rotting old wooden shed in the garden with a few tins of paint inside – one sky blue, one puce, and one celery-green.
‘Waste not, want not,’ her aunt had said the day Kerry had come round to help her paint.
And then later on, her mum had been worried about the effect the divorce proceedings were having on Kerry, and Auntie Jo had offered to take her in for a while, and the arrangement carried on for rather long than had been originally planned. And Kerry ended up in the celery-green bedroom.
She opened her window – this room always got hot and stuffy at night – put her cup of tea down on the bedside table and went to the bathroom.
Below her bedroom window, Dorus was perched in a tree. The branch was only just supporting his weight, but he clung on tightly, gazing up at the sill.
Kerry flushed the toilet in the bathroom and put the seat down. She sat on the side of the bath for a while, thinking to herself, watching a beetle crawl up the puce-coloured wall.
Then she washed her hands and unlocked the door.
‘Goodnight, Jo!’ she shouted down the stairs.
‘Goodnight, Kerry!’ came the reply.
She went back in her room, welcoming the cool air on her face as she stepped inside. She undressed, putting her clothes on the radiator, because she knew it would be cold again in the morning.
Kerry pulled on shorts and a t-shirt to sleep in and crawled under the duvet. She drank her tea before switching off the lamp.
But she couldn’t sleep. She lay in the dark, watching the light from the streetlamp outside her window cast shapes on her wall. Occasionally a car would go by, sending light streaking across her wall. It was a dark sort of night out there... most nights were dark, of course, but this dark night was especially... nighty.
Kerry could tell she was tired when she started thinking like this.
So why couldn’t she sleep?
A new shadow appeared on the wall. It looked like a head.
Kerry stopped breathing, and slowly drew the covers up to her nose, wanting to duck under them entirely, but not wanting to take her eyes off the wall shadow.
The head was slowly followed by a neck, and then that was slowly followed by shoulders.
Kerry didn’t dare move. She watched in horror as a hand appeared. It was reaching for the edge of the window, which was still open.
Kerry tried to make it look like an illusion. You’re going to feel silly in a minute, she thought to herself, when your brain kicks in and you see it’s actually just a football caught in the tree outside.
But no, now the hand was very, very gradually reaching out to grasp the edge of the curtain.
It wasn’t an illusion, no matter how much Kerry tried to make it one. There was a man at the window who was about to climb in. And what would happen then?
She sat up very slowly. Her face was in the pillow, but when she sat up in this rather uncomfortable position, she could see the figure’s outline at the window. He was wearing red robes, and she couldn’t see any weapons on his person.
Suddenly the figure hooked his fingers around the edge of the open window and yanked it open.
Kerry’s first reaction was to scream hysterically, but after four or five seconds of that, she realised it wasn’t going to help her much. So then she flung the duvet away from her and jumped off the bed. The man got one foot on the inside of Kerry’s window-sill and stepped inside, leaping like a cat with a firework in its behind, into the room.
Kerry had reached the door, pulled the handle down, and flung herself though. The man was right behind her, and from the sound of it, he was wearing heavy shoes.
‘JO!’ Kerry shouted, and almost immediately a light flicked on downstairs. She was now in the hallway. There was an armchair, a small chest of drawers with a purple cloth draped over it and a pack of pens on top of that, but nothing, Kerry thought furiously, that could be used as a weapon.
The man stopped right in front of Kerry and reached inside the folds of his robes for something. Kerry shrieked and ran down the stairs.
‘JO, HELP!’ she yelled again. She reached the bottom of the stairs in two seconds and had charged into the living room in another two. Jo was there, looking terrified, but she pulled Kerry close to her and shut the living room door firmly.
‘Shut the other door,’ she ordered, releasing her.
Kerry rushed to the other door and slammed it while Jo walked to the other end of the sofa. She started to shove it against the door. Kerry froze, listening for any noise from upstairs.
She couldn’t hear anything. Then she saw her aunt, slipping about on the wood floor in her high heels and went over quickly to help with the sofa. She pushed it forward until she heard it hit the wall.
‘OK,’ Auntie Jo said, sounding breathless and shaky. ‘Kerry, you do that one over there. I’m calling the police.’
‘I think he’s got a gun,’ Kerry gasped, getting ready to shove an armchair against the door to the kitchen.
Jo nodded, reaching for the phone. Then they both heard the front door open and shut.
There was a minute of silence. Joe’s long bony fore-finger stayed on the call button on the phone.
‘I think he’s gone.’
Jo shook her head and exhaled deeply. ‘I’m calling them anyway.’
The window smashed.
Kerry and Jo screamed. Kerry rushed to her aunt, who jumped off the sofa in terror. They clung to each other as the man in the red robes smashed the rest of the glass from the window pane and climbed in again. He advanced on them, whilst keeping his head and arms as far away from them as possible.
Kerry watched as his hand slipped into his robes again, and he pulled out not a gun, but what looked like a torch with a long barbed metal spike on the end.
The two of them hugged each other tightly, forgetting for the moment that the most sensible thing to do if faced with an intruder is to firstly pretend to be asleep if they enter your room, unless they actually approach you at the bed, and secondly, if an attack is likely, to strike out at them and protect yourself in any way you can.
Had Auntie Jo been thinking more clearly, she could have picked up her gaudy red leather handbag and swung it at Dorus’s head. It was quite heavy, as Jo often carried a lot of things around with her that she didn’t need, including a brick that had been placed there especially for the purpose of swinging at attackers.
Had Kerry been thinking more clearly, she could have seized the umbrella that she’d lost a few days ago behind the sofa and only recently discovered, but not properly put away, and aimed it squarely at Dorus’s windpipe. She may have decided to pick up a handy table lamp and aim it at his head, or just kept things simple with a good hard kick in the groin.
But neither of them moved until the very last half-second, when Dorus aimed the weapon, a sneer twisting his face, and fired.
Then, Kerry Grail and Auntie Jo were gone.