PHOTO PROMPT © Karuna
By the time Diana reached home, night was snapping at her heels, the first fallen leaves of autum swirling in the wind.
What had her mother always said? Never be alone. Always be inside after nightfall. But despite her best efforts and being ‘striking’ in her youth (not beautiful, never that) she’d always lived alone.
Once inside the house, she locked and bolted the door, passed from room to room, closing the shutters on the darkness. Something warm pressed against her calf.
She lifted the cat into her arms, felt the rumble start in his throat as she ruffled the back of his neck. Not quite alone.
After dinner she lit the candles, three groups of three – earth, air and sky as mother had taught her – took a bowl of warm water to the dining table and began cleaning the toys she’d found at the allotment.
She didn’t bring objects home often but these had spoken to her. So much love poured into them, so many hopes and whispered promises. The dreams of a young heart had a potency that faded as people aged.
There were countless similar objects around the window and door frames, cluttering the fireplace. China dolls with missing limbs, brooches, rings, letters of love and loss and friendship, a fabric heart, hand-stitched, a token left for an orphan centuries before. Anything loved could work. Could ward them off.
Grim jumped to the window seat, eyes fixed on the shutter latch. Standing, Diana put aside the doll, its eyes rolling closed.
‘You okay, Grim?’
The cat leapt up, hissing, spitting, spinning on his claws, fur standing from his body like pins. The windows rattled, the glass chiming in the frames. Wind howled down the chimney puffed ash into the air. The floor shook beneath her feet, boards bucking, her chair falling.
She checked the candles, still alive in there holders … and watched in horror as they blew out one by one.
A moment of quiet. Ash fell like charred snow, the only sound her own breathing.
Three loud knocks on the shutter.
I wrote the first part of this for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers this week and the wonderfully talented Jane Dougherty asked me about the significance of the toys. That got me thinking. So here’s my answer.
The story that raised all the questions – Toy Soldiers – is here. And another tale of Grim the cat is here.