Short Story – Alice

The sun burst through the window as Alice drew back the curtains. Behind her she heard a deathly growl, more animal than human and as she scrabbled to open the glass, it rose to a shriek, both of anger and pain. Terrified to look back she frantically pulled at the handles but in her panic they seemed to have a life of their own and fought back against her efforts.

Again the voice shrieked behind her, but this time added a note of despair and then seemed to die away to nothing. The window handles still resisted her efforts and finally she risked a glance back into the room she was so desperate to escape from. And saw nothing.

She stopped, scarcely able to believe that the fearsome beast had gone. A longer, more careful look and she confirmed that she was the sole occupant of the room. The bed, an old fashioned, four poster bed, surrounded by faded red curtains, and covered in a dusty, old, brocade bedspread stood in the middle of the room. While a large, carved oak wardrobe was against one wall and adjacent to the window she was trying to open was a matching dressing table. The furniture, and indeed the whole room was covered in the same thick layer of dust that she had seen everywhere in the castle since entering it earlier that morning. The rug, now that she had time to look properly contained a pile of dust, around and about the cloak that her pursuer had been wearing. Shapeless in the way it lay on the floor, but spread out over five or six feet both above and below the clothing she knew it must be significant, but couldn’t immediately fathom out why. She had walked, indeed, run across that rug and would surely have disturbed a pile of dust in her haste.

She moved back into the main part of the room, carefully stepping around the dust pile and approaching the door. As doors go, the one on the bedroom was a very serious affair. Like the furniture the door was solid oak, with black, iron fittings and a large iron key protruding from the keyhole. She hadn’t dared to lock the door when she’d been hiding. She’d hoped that a cursory glance by some searching minion would have missed her but she’d been horrified when the count (as he had fashioned himself), who’d brought her to view his ‘family castle’ had simply entered the room, taken a deep breath and found her immediately. It had taken some while for him to check all of the other rooms before finding her that the sun had had enough time to rise and so far, been able to save her.

She listened at the door, hoping firstly that no-one had heard what she now thought of as his dying shriek and secondly that there was no signs of any movement from the rest of the massive building. It seemed that she was to be disappointed on both counts. There was definitely angry shouts from beyond the door. She knew that there were at least five retainers, she’d seen them at dinner, and the shivers that they had caused to run down her spine returned as she heard them cursing and arguing in the corridor beyond.

She turned the key as quietly as she could. But not quietly enough. There was a deafening crash as someone threw themselves against the door. It shuddered in the frame, but held. She left the key in the lock to thwart any attempt to unlock it and turned back to the window.

The room faced east and was on the second floor. In the light of the rising sun she could see into the garden. It looked overgrown, abandoned almost. A line of poplars marking the boundary were preceded by various clumps of shrubs and somewhat weary looking borders. To the right a stand of silver birch stood tall forming a frame for the sun. The lawns were overgrown and running to seed, paths such as they were, looked as though they had given up the fight against the return of nature and in places were indistinguishable from the lawns that they had once constrained.

The door crashed again behind her, louder now and more controlled, as though a concerted effort was being made to break it down. A slight pause, then another crash, and another. Clearly she could not stay in the room.

Now that the immediate panic was over and a merely general feeling of urgency had replaced it she tried the window handles with more force and found that they could indeed be opened. The only way down to the ground was clearly via the vines that surrounded the window and which had also grown unchecked, much like the remainder of the garden.

She looked back into the room, taking in the pile of dust and its surrounding clothes. Something nagged her not to ignore it. The door crashed yet again. It still held, but the frame was starting to move with each thunderous smash. She looked at the window, then down at the clothes and making a final decision she grabbed the cloak, wrapped what she could of the dust up in it and ran back to the window. One more crash and the door frame started to splinter. Not long now she realised and reaching out through the open window she grabbed a hand full of the vines and swung herself out, the cloak and its awful contents safely tucked inside her jumper.

Alice had no fear of heights fortunately, and started to clamber down the vine. She had hardly descended more that a few feet when she heard the doorframe finally give way and her pursuers clearly fell into the room. Their screams of rage and horror when they found the partial remains of their master, now scattered across the bedroom rug made her increase the speed of her descent.

A head protruded from the window its face glaring down on her. “You’re not getting away. The dogs will tear you to shreds down there.”

Alice hadn’t seen any dogs and she certainly hadn’t heard any, but looking down and around now that she had a better angle she could see, lurking under the shrubs the unmistakable shape of four large Doberman Pinschers. Silent, but clearly alert and watching her with evil intent.

She stopped about ten feet from the ground; the dogs trotted quietly out from their lair and stood in a small semi-circle waiting for her to make the next move. The fact that they were silent made them all the more frightening. They watched, they waited.

On looking back up to the window she could see the head that had threatened her was still there it was leering now. It also watched and waited.

She felt around herself, desperately trying to find something, anything that she could use to distract the dogs. The vines were secure to the wall of the castle and despite the apparent poor maintenance of the building and its grounds there was not even any loose masonry she could prize free to throw at them.

Alice felt around in her clothes, looking for at least a bunch of keys or some loose change, but nothing and as she did so she dislodged the cloak and the dust which fell around her. As it fell down to the dogs the effect was incredible. The dogs ran, away, around the left side of the building. Almost as if they sensed that their master had summoned them. The face above her cursed and swore when it saw what had happened.

She didn’t wait to give the dogs or her pursuers a second chance. She scurried down the remainder of the vines and on reaching the ground she ran, literally for her life out past the poplars and to safety.