Howler

Lexie paced around the room nervously. She turned to the mirror to examine herself, adjusting her necklace and gently running one hand through her hair, her fingers tugging on some of the knotted strands. With an aggravated sigh, she picked up the brush off the nightstand and began to work out the knots, chewing on her bottom lip as she did so. She knew it was red and sore but there were more important things on her mind.

It had been so long since she had gone on a proper date that she had all but forgotten how to behave. The last time she had gone out with anyone she had been at least five years younger – though that example hardly counted; realistically, it was probably closer to ten. There were lines across her face that had certainly not been there the last time she had been out on a date and she had been a couple of dress sizes smaller as well.

Her nerves were completely unnecessary, and she knew that. There was no reason for her to be so worried and yet there she was, unable to stop herself from moving around as though she was some pathetic schoolgirl on the way to her first prom. For crying out loud, she had three children with the man! It wasn’t as though she was going out with a complete stranger. This was just a week long break away from the kids with her husband. There was no reason for her to be behaving in this way.

She took a deep breath, straightened her dress and pushed open the door, walking through and into the living area. Her husband, Ed, was bent down in front of the oven, taking out whatever he had been cooking for their first night away from home. Lexie moved around the room and sat down at the table, eyeing the candle her husband had set in the middle of the table. There was a rose on her side; she picked it up and smelt the flower. It had been a long time since he had given her a rose. She remembered it being a little more exciting than this.

He turned and saw her, grinning. “You look lovely.”

Lexie grinned. “You look good too,” she said. Ed must have taken the time to get changed while she had been fussing around in the bathroom trying to make herself look perfect. He was wearing a smart shirt and tie, his trousers ironed neatly and his shoes freshly polished. Lexie thought he looked much younger and more handsome, as though the time they were spending away from their children was already rekindling their dying romance.

Ed took some time to prepare their food, humming to himself as he moved around the small kitchen in the cabin. It was a little out of the way for Lexie’s liking – she preferred her holidays to be in the middle of a busy, bustling area that allowed her to indulge in everything the place had to offer. To hire a cabin in the middle of a forest for a week was the last thing she would have thought of. Ed had booked it – and she had to admit, a week of nothing but quiet relaxation did seem like a good idea.

Her husband had always been an excellent cook. Lexie had often said Ed could have been a chef if only he had had the patience. He certainly outdid himself this time, presenting her with a wonderful three course meal that she would have only been able to purchase at an extremely expensive upmarket restaurant. Although they ate in relative silence, there was something in the air between them – a spark, as though their relationship had been born again – and as they stared at each other over the tops of their glasses, Lexie knew that Ed could feel it too.

After dinner, they sat together on the sofa and cuddled in front of the fire. It was wonderful to have the pressure of typical family life taken off their shoulders, even if it was only for a little while. Lexie sighed contentedly into Ed’s shoulder and he bent his neck to kiss her. It was only a brief kiss, but it promised much more.

Somewhere, off in the distance, muffled by the sound of the wind, they heard a dog howl. Lexie wondered how many wolves were around in these parts, but as she snuggled further into her husband’s chest it hardly mattered: there was nothing but the two of them.

They stayed together on the sofa cuddling and swapping chaste kisses until the last embers of the fire died. Ed checked the heater in the bedroom before taking Lexie by the hand and leading her through into the room. She was barely through the door when he started kissing her, passionately this time, as though they were both drunk, horny teenagers again. Everything else became unimportant and Lexie wondered momentarily why she had been worried about their date.

Following their passionate embrace, Ed went back into the other room to fetch her something. Lexie was seated on the edge of the bed in her nightgown, the rug beneath her feet tickling her toes as she waited for whatever he had gone to fetch for her. The floorboards in the other room creaked as he moved closer to the bedroom door, returning to her with something wrapped up in his hands. The door swung open and at the same time, somewhere not far enough away, Lexie heard another howl – the long, drawn out wail of some nearby animal.

She jumped, almost falling off the bed in shock. Ed, who had just appeared around the door, dashed over to her side and threw the present – now clearly a badly wrapped box of chocolates – on the bed next to her so that he could comfort her.

“It’s okay,” she said with a hint of laughter in her voice. “It just surprised me.”

They opened the chocolates and discovered very quickly that there were not nearly enough of them in the box. It was almost pitch black outside when they had finally had enough of one another’s charms and decided to go to sleep; Lexie could barely keep her eyes open any longer, and she was thankful that she was already in bed. Ed wrapped his arms around her and rest his chin on the top of her head, the warmth of his body lulling her to go to sleep.

She had almost drifted off when there was a noise outside of the window in the bushes. Something large was moving around out there, rustling the leaves only a few metres from where they were sleeping. At first, Lexie thought she had imagined it or dreamt it, but when she felt Ed tense she knew that he had heard the sound, too. There they lay, still and silent for a few moments, both of them straining to hear another noise. They did not need to wait for long, but as the room filled with tense anticipation it might have been forever.

A third howl, this one as close as the rustling had been. Whatever had been moving around in the bushes – and, presumably, whatever they had heard earlier – was loud and sounded agitated. Lexie’s heart began to hammer against her ribcage. If there had not been a wall between them, then … it was something she did not wish to think about. She had never been close to a wolf before but this animal sounded feral.

“I’m going to check the door,” Ed whispered to her, slipping out of the bed and moving as quietly as he could towards the living room. The curtains were shut and Lexie stared at them, hoping that the shadows she could see moving around on the other side were only figments of her imagination. Ed returned to the bedroom and climbed into the bed, cuddling up to her again. “It’s cold outside of the covers now. You’re always so warm.”

“The door,” Lexie muttered.

“Bolted shut.”

“Good.”

“Don’t be scare –”

Another long, loud wail cut through Ed’s words and Lexie did not miss the shiver that travelled down her husband’s spine. It sent waves of fright through her, too, causing her to shake almost as much as the animal’s howling did.

There was the sound of something running around outside, followed by a low growl. Lexie lifted her head off the pillow to see if she could make anything out on the other side of the curtains, but it was too dark for her to be sure.

“Can you see anything?” she asked Ed.

“No.”

“Me neither.”

There was a moment of silence both inside and outside of the house.

“Ed, I don’t like this place.”

“It’ll be fine, baby, don’t worry. People stay here all the time.”

“We should’ve just gone to the beach like we usually do. A nice, busy town on the seafront. Lots of people. No wolves.”

“Honey, it’ll be fine. It’s just nature. Try to ignore it and get some sleep.”

Lexie had been with Ed for long enough to recognise when he was unhappy and from the tone of his voice he was clearly not comfortable with the situation. Aware that it would do neither of them any favours to spend the entire night cowering in fear, however, she summoned up her strength and replied.

“Yeah … yeah, it’s just nature. Let’s get some rest.”

They shifted around on the bed until they were both in a good position. Eventually Ed became still. The sounds outside continued; Lexie attempted to block them out, but the more that she tried to concentrate on anything else the more impossible they became to ignore. Nothing she thought of was able to distract her from the sounds, until she thought the howls and the running footsteps might actually drive her mad.

She listened to Ed’s heavy breathing and knew that he was in the same situation. His chest rose and fell rapidly; Lexie could feel it against her back. She focused on that feeling, on the sound of her husband, on the touch of his hand on her hip and the sensation of being loved, of being wanted by someone who cared that much about her.

It worked for a while. Lexie knew nothing more than the feeling of Ed moving gently, slowly, and it was glorious.

Bang!

They both shot out of bed as though they were one person, sitting up and staring at the bedroom door in horror. The sound had come from the front door, as though something had collided with it at high speed.

“Was that –?” Lexie asked, without really knowing how to finish her sentence.

“Maybe just the wind,” Ed replied.

Bang!

This time, the noise was followed by the sound of claws scratching at the door. Ed wrapped his arms around Lexie and pulled her closer to him.

“That’s not the wind, honey.”

The scratches continued; in between them, the animal outside of the door whined loudly, as though it expected to be granted entrance. When its whines were not answered, it began to bark, and the barks turned into howls, the scratching on the door becoming more and more desperate with each passing minute …

“Do you think it’ll get in?” Lexie whispered. “Do we need to call someone? The police? Should we call the police, Ed?”

“I … it’ll stop in a minute, baby. It won’t get in. People stay here all the time.”

“I know people stay here all the time!”

“Well, then … you know we’re safe in here.”

“Oh come on Ed, you don’t believe that!”

It scratched the door again; it smashed itself against the door; it howled and whined and snarled at the wood.

“Of course I believe it, Lexie … we’re fine. Nothing can get in here.”

“Well it certainly seems to be trying!”

They were face to face, arm in arm, gripping one another hard enough to bruise. Ed had an intense stare, his eyes locked with Lexie’s as though it offered him some comfort. It took Lexie a few moments of staring back at him to realise that the noises from outside had stopped.

The only thing she could hear was their breathing. Lexie was shivering nervously, waiting for the animal to come back and attempt to break through the door again. Ed began to relax his hold on her.

“It’s gone.”

He was right. It did not return, but that did not grant Lexie any peace. She got no sleep that night and from the way Ed tossed and turned in bed, what little sleep he managed to get was plagued by bad dreams. In the morning, she announced that they were leaving and he had no objections. There was no way they were going to spend another night there.

So it was time to step back into normal life, a little earlier than either of them had planned. Back to taking their children to school and picking them up at the end of the school day; back to working long hours and barely scraping by with their pitiful wages; back to family, to stress and to reality.

Actually, Lexie thought, it was a fairly good life.

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