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The Curse

The Cottage

The late autumn wind howled around the old cottage, shaking the chimney stack and blowing the branches of the old oak tree against the window. Esme sank deeper into her favourite armchair and pulled the blanket up around her chin, her mind in turmoil. Tonight. After all these years, it would be tonight.

Esme had inherited the cottage after her mother had passed on, some sixty years ago. Her mother had been – to put it tactfully – “odd”. She had “seen” things, things that hadn’t happened yet. Esme hadn’t understood until she’d moved into the cottage. Now the Gift was hers.

People had come to her in the early years. Will this be a good harvest? Will the village fête be rained off? Will it be a boy or a girl? Now only the kids came – the world had moved on and nobody believed any more. Of course, she never told the kids what she really saw. How could she tell little Nathan from the village post office that the pain in his tummy wasn’t just stomach ache? Or bubbly blond-haired eight-year-old Stacy that she would outlive her kids?

No, she told them that they would find their prince or princess, live in a big house with two point four children and live a long and happy life. She wasn’t a monster.

She supposed she was lucky to have lived when she did. Not so long ago, she would have been shunned and feared for her Gift, years before that burned as a witch. People always feared that which they did not understand. That was human nature, and Esme didn’t hate them for it. She understood.

The only future she couldn’t see was her own. She couldn’t see even a glimpse of her own fate except for one thing – her death. Her mother had called it “The Curse” – she had known years before her time and it had slowly driven her mad. No-one should know such a thing. Esme guessed that at ninety-three years old she wouldn’t have much warning – for that she was grateful.

She sighed and brought her thoughts back to the present. Although it was cold outside tonight, the fire burning cheerfully in the fireplace kept the cottage comfortably warm. The temperature wasn’t the reason Esme huddled beneath her comforter.

Today she had dealt the cards as she always did, every day at the same time. And today her death stared back at her. Esme glanced at the cards still lying on the coffee table and shivered under her blanket. The Curse.

A shadow at the window made her start. Just the branches of the old oak tree, she realised. Tomorrow, she decided (if she was still here) she would call the boy (he was in his forties but at her age, he was a boy). He would come around in his little landscaping truck and cut the branches back. She liked “the boy”. He was always very kind to her (though he didn’t believe in her Gift) and they would often chat after he’d cut the grass, or weeded the flower beds.

Would she have the chance to talk to him again? She realised with a sudden shock that she really wanted to talk to him again. She really wanted to survive this night, and more.

She had believed that at her age she would be ready to die. She’d been, if not happy, then at least content. The only real darkness had been the ever-present threat of The Curse. Now that the threat had become a reality, she wasn’t sure she was ready to die. She needed just a few more days, a little time to get her affairs in order. Maybe the prediction was wrong? She’d been wrong before, or at least she had misinterpreted the signs. Maybe this was one of those times.

Another shiver ran through her and she glanced up to see a shadow at the window. Tomorrow for sure, she would get those branches cut back. She relaxed back into her chair and then froze. Wasn’t the oak tree outside the other window? And why was it suddenly so quiet? Had the wind dropped?

A cold tongue of fear crept through her as she looked up, very slowly, almost as if she would be safe if she didn’t move.

The shadow was inside the cottage.

She gazed at it in horror, unable to look away as the shadow crept slowly, ever so slowly, across the floor towards her. She stared helplessly into its inky black depths, feeling as though she were staring into the abyss, or the maw of some creature from the depths of the underworld.

Perhaps she was.

Her mind clutched at something – anything – to keep her safe. She tried to stand, to run, but her legs no longer wanted to work and in any case she doubted her aged body would carry her far. Though her body was ailing her mind most certainly was not and a small burst of hope blossomed inside her as she remembered the phone sitting next to her chair. Maybe if she called the emergency services, a neighbour, anyone, they would arrive and scare the shadow away?

She allowed her hand to creep, as quickly as she dared, to the side table to pick up the receiver. Heart in her mouth, she brought it to her ear, half expecting silence. The dial tone buzzed in her ear, a friendly, normal sound, a connection to the world, to people who could help her. She wanted to call her best friend, she was only minutes away, but her brain refused to give up the number. It would have to be the emergency services. Three nines. Her finger found the nine and moved the old-style rotary dial around to the stop. One down, two to go.

All the while the shadow crept closer, ever closer. It was half way across the cottage now. Esme fancied she could feel the waves of evil emanating from it, but evil or not, she knew it had come for her.

She dialled the second nine and flicked her gaze up to check the shadow’s progress. A crush of terror encircled her chest as she saw the carnations in the vase, flowers she’d picked this morning, turn brown, wilting and dying before her eyes as the shadow passed over them.

The receiver fell from her nerveless fingers as the terror crushing her chest made it harder and harder to breathe. A desperate sob escaped her lips.

“No, please, more time, I need more time.” A tear escaped her eye and trickled down her wrinkled cheek. She tasted the salt as it caught the edge of her lips. Would her own tears be the last thing she ever tasted?

“Please, no.”

She wanted to close her eyes, a childhood defence against the monsters, but found she couldn’t take them off the shadow, helpless to act as it crept closer, only a few feet away now. The crushing sensation in her chest increased and her eyes opened wide in shock as her aged heart fluttered desperately…

… and stopped.

The last thing she saw as her life fled was the scatter of cards on the table as the shadow receded across the cottage to disappear into the night.

  1. September 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Wow, this is even more creepy. I think what worries me most about dying is that I will have left things unsaid that I should have said or that I won’t have sorted things out properly for those that are left behind. Nicely written 🙂


    • September 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      I’m glad it’s creepy! I’ve read it so many times that it’s lost pretty much everything inside my head. It’s just words now.
      This is why a fresh set of eyes is good!

      It’s so easy to leave things, thinking we always have more time.


  2. September 15, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    That was amazing! I loved every sentence and every second I was hoping she’d dial that final 9! Great job!


    • September 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      Thank you!
      I did a lot of editing to try to hold the tension and keep a flicker of hope alive.
      After a while of reading it over and over again it’s hard to see if that has been achieved, so thanks for your kind comment 🙂


  3. September 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Very good. I didn’t find it so much creepy as sad. Everyone dies. It’s only a matter of when, from what, and how you get there. A quick heart attack and an advanced age sounds like a good choice to me. It works. Moody and tense, all the way to the end.


    • September 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      She certainly made it to a good old age and died in her own cottage, and had a reasonably happy life. As much as most of us can hope for, I guess.


  4. September 16, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Good read, not as dark as some of your writings. Thank you, I needed a completed story.
    On reflection I suppose we all fear death a little at the moment and her fear was short lived. A nice way to go.

    I believe our souls live on so my thoughts of death are not so bad. I want to know what happens next.


    • September 16, 2013 at 7:51 am

      I’m glad you liked it, I was trying to do some “dark fiction” as per your request!
      It turns out it’s quite hard to do in a longer story (for me anyway).


  5. September 16, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Wow! Dr Ali, you certainly can write!!!


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