Red wine and a more than three day growth (a Halloween treat)

by Nalini Haynes

Lights clustered together for comfort in the oasis of the train station platform in a suburban desert. The train clattered along the track, wheezing to a halt. Pneumatic doors groaned open, spewing passengers into the night. A student stood out among the middle-class office workers; Caucasian, six feet tall, wearing jacket and jeans with a backpack in a multicultural sea of suits. Tired but cheerful with a belly full of red wine keeping her warm on this chilly night, Lynne bounced down the steps, humming snatches of song on her way home.

The crowd mostly headed to their cars, with the tattered remainder scattering through the streets. Feeling less self-conscious once alone, Lynne’s humming turned to singing. ‘WAH-ew, WAH-ew, Who you gonna call?’ She chuckled to herself, thinking she might reward herself for a semester of study with a TV movie night.

Lynne’s energy drained away as the chill wind cut through her clothes. Trudging up her darkened street, she fumbled for her keys.

Letting herself into her home and turning on the lights, she dumped her backpack on the floor. She heard movement in the living room directly ahead while she unlaced her shoes, kicking them off in the hallway. Smokey, a short-haired grey cat with green eyes, walked out of Lynne’s bedroom.

Scooping Smokey up, Lynne walked down the hall into the living room to turn on the heater. Smokey dug her claws in to Lynne’s shoulder when Lynne tried to put the cat down. ‘Hey, OW, stop that!’ Lynne chatted to Smokey thoughtlessly while extracting claws from her shoulder and firmly depositing the cat on the floor.

Too tired to cook, Lynne pulled out ingredients to assemble an antipasto platter for one and poured herself another glass of wine. Rustling noises from under the computer desk caught Lynne’s attention.

Glancing over, Lynne saw Smokey’s rear end poking out from the arch of the desk, tail lashing the ergonomic chair innocently parked in front of the keyboard. Growls and thumps ensued as Smokey charged a few steps forward, all but her tail disappearing; she probably hit the wall or the speaker under the desk.

Sighing, Lynne walked back up the hall and pulled her shoes back on as a precaution. She wondered if she should get some of the traps from the roof cavity, set to catch the mice up there, or if this could wait until tomorrow when she could cycle down to Bunnings to pick up some new traps.

When she returned to the living room all was quiet. Lynne breathed a sigh of relief, washed her hands and finished assembling her antipasto plate, ready for some serious television watching. Plonking herself down in front of the TV after putting Buffy’s musical episode ‘Once more with feeling’ on, Lynne leaned back, sighing, before sipping wine and rolling it around her mouth, followed by some chilli dip on a cracker and more wine, leaving a pleasantly fiery aftertaste.

As the characters on the TV started singing about having a theory, Smokey shrieked in distress. Out of the corner of her eye, Lynne saw Smokey leap onto the dining table then the very top of the kitchen dresser in two bounds. Spinning towards the noise and rising to her feet, Lynne spotted something grey zipping away, hiding between the computer desk and the dresser.

‘What’s wrong, Smokey? Mice getting too aggressive for you?’ Lynne laughed nervously, hoping to god it wasn’t a rat but thinking that Smokey’s reaction to mice is usually to want to play with her new friends, before they hid from her, anyway.

Smokey hunkered down on top of the kitchen dresser, looking like she was settling in for the duration.

It was late and cold outside. If Bunnings wasn’t already closed it would be by the time Lynne cycled to the nearest store, and the traps available at supermarkets had been less than spectacularly successful in the past. Briefly contemplating going up into the roof cavity to fetch down some traps, Lynne shook her head, shrugging it off as a neurotic cat and a chore that could wait until tomorrow. After all, she’d get filthy going up there then she’d have to battle the traps followed by a shower. This was the last day of semester, and dammit, she was going to have an evening off!

Settling back down in front of the TV, Zander and Anya were singing ‘I’ll never tell’ in their pyjamas.

Scuffling and banging resounded from under the computer desk behind Lynne. As the noises grew louder she tensed up, every muscle quivering. Turning off the TV, she swigged the last of her wine to fortify herself. Stomach clenching, Lynne was unable to eat so she deposited the remains of her meal in a plastic container in the fridge. As she closed the door, turning back into the living room, she saw the source of the noise clearly for the first time: several grey fuzzy creatures racing across the floor towards her. Lynne leapt onto the breakfast bar, shrieking.

As she looked around it slowly dawned on her that these creatures were not mice nor even rats. They looked like… surely not…

Hyperventilating, Lynne swore colourfully. ‘You have GOT to be kidding me! I know I let the housework slide in the past few weeks, but SENTIENT DUST BUNNIES?!’

Watching the creatures moving around the room, Lynne lobbed an apple from the fruit bowl to the other side of the room. The dust bunnies tore towards it. Hmm. In quick succession, Lynne lobbed the remaining contents of the fruit bowl to the far corners of the room before leaping off the breakfast bar, through the hall door, slamming it shut, racing up the hallway, grabbing her coat as she yanked the door open and fell outside. Lynne raced up the street to the little park on the corner, where she paused to catch her breath and pull on her coat.

Peering through the gloom of the night, Lynne kept careful watch for pursuit while she pulled out her phone and called up a search engine to look for a phone number. Finger hovering over the screen, Lynne hesitated.

‘Who do I call? Pest control or a cleaning company?’

Note:

This short story was originally written as an assignment for university for a subject I had to drop. Because I submitted it this year I’m not allowed to resubmit it next year when I take the course again. I’ve poked around on the webz a bit looking for a home but couldn’t find a publication likely to accept my little morsel, hence I’ve published it here as a Halloween treat.

I hope you enjoyed it.