It was deadly quiet. No birds. No wind rustling through the leaves. And no reception on Gretchen’s phone. Gretchen sat on the ledge of a raised flower bed in the driveway of a quaint Victorian home, dissecting a dried out piece of wheat. The house, surrounded by a thin belt of equally dried out grass and edged by trees, sat in the middle of nowhere.
The clicking of Jen’s sensible white pumps on the wraparound porch pierced the silence. The real estate agent’s pale yellow sundress matched the siding on the house the same as her stark white hair matched its trim. Jen was one of those women whose youthful beauty echoed elegantly in her later years. She stopped beside the front door.
“I know you don’t want to look at another house without Matt, Gretchen,” she said for the umpteenth time, “but come inside. For the baby’s sake. It’s too hot out here.”
Gretchen shook her head and stared at her phone. The eight-month-old fetus performed a torturous roll, making Gretchen nauseous. A foot beat against her rib cage. It seemed the baby felt creeped out by the house as much as she did. Another kick forced her to her feet. She paced the walkway, one hand on her stomach, the other digging into her aching back.
A spigot in the barren flower bed started dripping as she passed. A few sparse drops echoing in the dead air turned into a steady stream. The baby turned again, pushing against her bladder for leverage. The need to pee became paramount.
“Does the bathroom work?”
Jen hid a smirk as she threw open the front door. “Yes! There’s a powder room just off the entry.”
Gretchen hesitated, one foot on the first step. She wondered how well she could manage peeing against one of the trees out there, or if Jen would fly off the handle if she perched against the rear bumper of the agent’s SUV to relieve herself. She kept the image of Jen’s horror in her mind as she climbed the stairs. She stopped at the door. A stone lion sat to its side. Gretchen braced herself in the doorframe and edged it against the door.
“I’m going in and coming right back out. Don’t close this door.”
Jen raised her hands in surrender.
The tiny bathroom was bone-chillingly cold. The plumbing worked. As Gretchen washed her hands, she heard the front door slam shut. Just as she was about to yell her protest, she heard Matt’s voice outside the door, talking to Jen. Finally, he was here!
Gretchen opened the door to find herself facing the back of a gray-haired stranger. He turned. Gretchen screamed and stumbled for the front door. The baby pounded against her abdomen as she fumbled for the doorknob. She twisted it violently, seeing Matt’s red Civic parked next to Jen’s SUV through the lead glass window. Nothing happened. Gretchen’s vision tunnelled to black as she slipped to the cold floor.
Annette Connor (USA)