Samantha Jones or Sammy as she liked to be called never liked returning to her cottage after dark. She had inherited the home from her granny a couple of years ago and just like her granny had done, the cottage also creaked and groaned with age. These sounds wouldn’t ordinarily bother the twenty two year old. However, because the cottage stood deep in Ringwood Forest the night brought a heavy silence that amplified these sounds. As a result Sammy felt it was natural to feel a little spooked at times, especially as she had no neighbours for over a mile in any direction. It was always worse at this time of year, as autumn turned to winter and the trees cast long shadows that crept up to the cottage like the long black fingers of some terrible woodland spirit. Sometimes her imagination got the better of her and more than once she felt as if she was being watched. But, she firmly told herself, she was just being paranoid.
Sammy had just got back from her evening class and casually plonked her sports bag down at the bottom of the stairs. Then she turned back to the front door to make sure she had locked it securely. Living here had made Sammy very security conscious and she often laughed at how easily she managed to frighten herself. Already the stillness of her quiet home was beginning to press in around her and she needed the reassuring babble of the radio to bring some life to the cottage. She could already feel the anxiety in the old house like a phantom materialising around her and trying to grab her with its icy hands. Quickly she made her way into the kitchen. In the reflection of the kitchen window she caught herself tucking her funky pink hair behind her ears again. She always fiddled with her hair when she was nervous and it irritated her no end. She hated that annoying habit nearly as much as she hated to see any kind of mess or clutter around her home.
Sammy took pride in having a clean and tidy home. For one thing it helped to deter any bold woodland creatures from nosing around her bins or venturing into her house. Why her grandmother had thought to buy a house out here, Sammy had no idea. She would much prefer to be living in Ringwood itself, or Bournemouth, or even Verwood, if she really had to. At least she wouldn’t be so isolated and alone then.
Sammy quite liked the forest in the day time though, you never knew what you would find and it sparked her sense of adventure and rebelliousness. When she was younger her granny and her parents would always tell her to stay away from the forest because it was not a safe place to go on her own. Anyone could get you in there, they would warn her time and time again.
Her parent’s advice came back to her again as she glanced out through the kitchen window. Outside in the garden it was growing dark and the yellow light from the kitchen was spilling out onto the top of the long garden. If there was someone hiding amongst the shrubs and bushes or even a monster peering through the trees at the end of the garden, they would be able to see her illuminated in the window as if she was on stage. Sammy was just about to pull the blind down to shut out the night when the security lights came on outside flooding the immaculately kept garden with bright dazzling light. Sammy froze. Her arm reached out towards the white cord that released the blinds, but had stopped inches away from it in mid-air. For a moment she couldn’t move, as if the ghosts of her granny’s house were gripping her tightly in their cold embrace. Temporarily immobilised, Sammy scanned the garden hesitantly; terrified of what she might see. Her breathing quickened and she felt her heart hammering in her chest as images from a dozen horror films paraded through her mind; flesh eating zombies, knife wielding maniac’s and vengeful spirits.
She waited, rooted to the spot for several moments but at last concluded there was nothing out there. She switched on the radio that sat on the windowsill which broke the paralysing silence. Sammy smiled; it was that Irish presenter with the sexy voice again. He was talking about his experiences of a Christmas Market in Austria. That sounded like something she’d like to do one day. This thought helped Sammy to find the courage to move again. It was probably just a fox in the garden that had tripped the security light, she suspected. They often came sniffing around at night, especially when she threw out the left-overs from her cooking.
Sammy shut out the eerily still garden by drawing the pale green blinds with their yellow daisy pattern dotted over them. She had never liked the blinds; they really didn’t go with the rest of the kitchen but, Sammy had surmised, granny had been a little colour blind all her life. Despite this, she had been a wonderful cook and Sammy still treasured all of her recipe books. One of them was stood open now on the large pine table that dominated the kitchen. Alongside the book lay the raw ingredients waiting to become part of Granny’s Winter Stew. Young Sebastian was safely tucked up in his room and probably wouldn’t want anything to eat but that didn’t matter because the stew would keep for a few days. Plus she still had plenty of meat stockpiled to keep her busy in the small kitchen for some time.
All around her the kitchen gleamed with a clinical whiteness that almost dazzled. If her cupboard doors were teeth they would be the envy of every dentist in the world. Sammy had meticulously washed and cleaned all the ingredients earlier in the bath and had laid them out on the table along with her yellow marigold gloves. Her friends thought it weird but Sammy preferred to wear rubber gloves when she was cooking. She hated touching raw meat and couldn’t bear to have sauces or juices splashing her hands. She had always been like it and up until a few years ago she had been a staunch vegetarian and was a member of various animal rights groups. But her Granny had cured her of that and now she was just as much a carnivore as everyone else in the family.
The heavy silver chef’s knife rang with the sound of metal against metal as she slipped it from its knife block. After she had cut up the meat into chunks she placed them in a bowl of seasoned flour, taking care not to spill the flour and make a mess on her clean and polished table. But as she worked she couldn’t help flashing glances out towards the cheap tasteless blinds at the window. Sammy felt unnerved tonight for some reason but she didn’t know why. When she had finished the first batch of meat she felt compelled to go over to the back door and try the handle, just to make sure it was still locked.
Sammy returned to her work, making a neat pile of discarded bits and pieces of unwanted meat and bone in one corner of the table as she sang along to the Rihanna song that was now playing on the radio. Chopping the carrots and celery in time to the music Sammy bopped from side to side in an embarrassingly poor imitation of the singer in her video. She didn’t care what she looked like though, no one was around to see her after all.
The wind whistled again outside like a faraway banshee and Sammy sang a little louder to herself. Granny never had double glazing in the cottage and Sammy hadn’t got round to getting it either but on nights like this she wished she had. She jumped slightly and paused in her dancing and chopping as she heard a soft rustle fabric creep up behind her. But then she let out her breath as she realised with mild relief that it was just Sebastian. He must have got up when he heard the music. She turned, smiling at the young boy with his tousled blond hair. She was about to ask if he was hungry when she noticed his little six year olds deep blue eyes staring straight ahead. They were suddenly as wide as saucers. His mouth was hanging open, gasping for breath like a fish drowning out of water. A moment later and his hands flew to his eyes as if to shut out some terrible nightmare image that loomed out of the darkness behind Sammy. She spun around as Sebastian’s delayed scream echoed around the kitchen, bouncing off the walls and assaulting her ear drums in a cacophony of anguish. Sammy looked at the blind covered window, just as the glass in the kitchen door shattered over the floor.
Sammy jumped at the sound of breaking glass. A fist in a black glove smashed through the fractured glass. It groped around, looking for the door handle. Sammy stood rooted to the spot again as she watched her idle fears come play out before her. Her every instinct switched off as if her body was suffering a power cut, which wasn’t uncommon in this old cottage. A cold dizzying sensation spun inside her head and her senses slowly came back again. Her first thought was that she would have to clean up all that glass, but then as the disembodied hand found the lock and turned the key the thought vanished as quickly as it had arisen. The idea of hitting the arm and fighting it away briefly crossed her mind but the moment passed as, with a terrifying click the backdoor opened and the intruder eased his way inside, crunching broken glass under his enormous hiking boots.
The intruder filled the doorway with his heavy frame. Beneath his close-cropped dark hair his narrow eyes glared around the kitchen. He had the red chubby round face of a local butcher, only without the friendly smile. His faded blue denim jacket hung open over a tight grey t-shirt that struggled to contain his oversized belly. As well as round, he was also tall; almost two feet taller than Sammy and much broader. A silent snarl seemed to emanate from his open mouth as he stepped boldly into her kitchen, his eyes fixed on Sammy and Sebastian. Sammy moved in front of the boy to hide him, more out of instinct than conscious decision. She looked around feeling more helpless than she had ever felt in her whole life. Her thoughts turned to running; fleeing with Sebastian. But the front door was locked and she’d never be able to unlock it in time. The phone was in the hallway and she could call for help? But she’d seen enough horror films to know she would never get there in time either. The man grunted, taking another intimidating stride towards the terrified pair. It was then that Sammy saw what looked like a camping axe gripped tightly in his hand and her horror intensified. He smiled humourlessly and Sammy pictured him as someone who works in an abattoir and enjoys his job a little too much. The intruder didn’t say a word as he took another silent step forward. He glanced at her cooking and then at Sebastian before lifting the axe and pointing the axe menacingly towards Sammy’s face, anticipating the slaughter to come. He quickened his pace, closing the gap between them. His large bulk came for Sammy like an unstoppable freight train. Sammy backed away but came up against the far wall. Her hand was fiddling with her hair again. She stopped and pushed Sebastian away into the other corner of the kitchen as the attacker swung the axe towards her.
Sammy flinched again and hated herself for doing so. How could she be self-critical at a time like this?
Doing her best to stay calm and not panic Sammy concentrated on what she had been practicing in her evening classes over the last few weeks. The axe seemed to come towards her in a slow yet unstoppable motion and she saw the look of triumph already curling across the man’s podgy scarlet face. She waited until the last moment before stepping to the side, out of the path of the axe descending blade. She brought up her chef’s knife that she still held tightly out of sight behind her back. Her attacker didn’t see it until it was too late. His expression showed Sammy that he only recognised it for what it was as it slashed vertically downwards across the exposed wrist of the hand that held the axe. The razor-sharp blade sliced cleanly through his skin, severing arteries and tendons, almost reaching the bone. The axe clattered to the floor with a metallic clang as the blood spurted from the torn flesh. Sammy didn’t hesitate but pushed the damaged arm away with her left hand and stepped forwards almost toe-to-toe with her attacker. Her knife-hand shot upwards, under his chin. She wasn’t sure if it was luck or accuracy but despite having to stretch her arm she was none-the-less able to drive the blade up through the soft unprotected flesh of his lower jaw. Using all her strength she pushed it up into his mouth, piercing his tongue like a harpooned fish and lodging the tip of the blade in the roof of his mouth. That had taken less than a second and now he stumbled away from Sammy gagging on the blade. He gurgled a throaty string of syllables as the blood fell in a scarlet waterfall down the front of his t-shirt and jacket mixing with the vital fluids pouring from his wrist and pooling horribly on the white tiled floor.
Sebastian was still screaming as Sammy stepped over to him and pulled him towards her. He struggled still panicked and she held him tightly to her chest burying his face so he would not have to look at the dying intruder or the blood splattered around the kitchen. After a few moments his muffled screaming grew quieter and Sammy stroked the back of his head, all the while never taking her eyes off the man in front of her. He was on the floor now between the pine table and cupboard doors still twitching and showering her immaculate kitchen units with scarlet raindrops. Sebastian shouldn’t have to witness any of this. She could feel him whimpering still, struggling in her arms. For a moment, no doubt ignited by the sudden violence of a moment ago, Sammy’s dark side rose up again and she wondered what it would be like if she didn’t let Sebastian go; if she continued to hold him like this, slowly suffocating?
No! What was she thinking? She told herself firmly and the thought vanished.
Sammy released Sebastian who stared up at her startled. His teary eyes appeared even larger than they were before.
“Don’t worry” Sammy told him quickly leading the young boy back out into the hallway and away from the horrors of the kitchen. “I’ll soon have all this cleaned up”.
“What are you going to do?” he asked between racking sobs.
“I don’t know” Sammy sighed as she picked Sebastian up and carried him back into his room feeling calmer than she thought she should be after what had just happened. “You know what” she said and was surprised by the cheerful tone to her voice. “This reminds me of what my mum used to tell me: She would always say that the forest is not a safe place to go on your own: Anyone could be waiting for you out there”.
“You could cook him and eat him up?” Sebastian offered, looking up at her with imploring eyes.
Sammy couldn’t help smiling at the innocence of childhood. “Don’t be silly” she chided. “He’d be all tough and grisly. “No, I prefer the soft tender meat, of little children”.
Sebastian began crying again and Sammy had to hold him down firmly on the bed as she retied the ropes around his wrists and ankles. She did double knots so this time he wouldn’t get free again. Then she closed the door, shutting out his sobs and went back up to the kitchen to clean up the unsightly mess and finish preparing his older sister for her stew.
She needed to take notice of her Mum’s advice: There were dangers in the forest and she’d have to be more careful next time or other people may come to her cottage looking for their lost children.