She Is Alone in the House
BY STEFANI MUÑOZ
She is alone in the house.
In the kitchen the lights create a soft cocoon of light and she settles there, elbows caked in crumbs as they lean against the kitchen counter. To her left sits the door, the shades drawn over the tiny window above the lock and knob. She plays on her phone, head bent and legs crossed at the ankles. She laughs at the screen as the colors from the display tint her teeth a pale blue.
There’s a tick at the other door, like nails against glass. She looks to her right, past the bay windows that stare out into the dark backyard, and sees her dog there. His soulful eyes plead for something, maybe food. Somewhere his companion wanders, sniffing tufts of grass.
She turns back to her phone. Her dog retreats, though ever hopeful.
Her nail taps lightly against the screen as she resumes the video. From her speakers voices reverberate through the empty house, echoing in the corners. Suddenly her water dispenser gurgles in protest, its blue tub sucking up air as if it were drowning. She watches as the bubbles reach the surface and pop.
Beyond she can see the backyard if she squints. The porch light’s halo does not reach far. All she can see in the distance are flits of color in the gloom, her dogs like phantom hounds on the wind that rustles the tops of the trees. She goes back to the video, to the comforting sound of blurting voices. She can feel the vibration of it through her palm.
Somewhere in the house the floor settles, as if its joints are popping back into place, and she jumps at the sound. She turns her head again, neck straining as she peeks into the dark archway behind her. She knows that there, in the darkness, sits the dining room table. And in the room next to that there’s the sofa, her stepfather’s chair, and her mother’s favorite pair of slippers. And in the corridor beyond that is the door to her room. All of these things are familiar; comforting even. If she were to just take her finger and flick on the light, she could see all of these things.
But suddenly it is as if she is in a completely different world altogether. Her bubble of security breaks like a too taut rubber band. She looks back towards those windows and notices just how dark it is outside.
She can feel the creeping cold slipping beneath the crack in the window, tugging at the skin of her exposed arms. She can imagine the cold’s clammy fingers tracking a trail to her neck as the hairs on her forearms lift themselves from her skin, as if she were a cat caught in a corner.
It is now too bright in the kitchen. The the light acts as a beacon, exposing her to the outside world. She’s an easy target to anything waiting in the darkness. Leaning over the counter, she flicks a switch and her eyes adjust to the muted light as her phone casts a blue-hued tint against her skin. She shuts that off too.
She finds her way to the door leading to the backyard. She begins to regret the decision to turn off the kitchen ligh. The empty spaces seeming to crowd her from all sides as the silence numbs her ears. The light above the porch becomes enticing, another cocoon to keep her safe.
I’ll call the dogs in, she thinks, feeling safer already.The dogs will help, she rationalizes.
Opening the door she steps out into the quiet night, the coolness from the concrete steps seeping through her socks. She feels the pebbles beneath her feet as she descends the few stairs, the rough hewn railing scratching the sensitive skin of her palm.
The dogs do not come. The yard extends almost a hundred feet from her, sloping until it levels out towards a dense forest of pine trees that sit like towering giants, their forms almost indistinguishable from each other in the dark. In front of her, all she can see is a dense wall of black.
She turns slightly, head craning over her shoulder as her toe plays on the line between light and dark. From outside she realizes just how sinister the house is without the lights on. In one of the windows, she almost believes she sees a figure staring back at her.
She takes a step into the dark as her heart beats heavily in her throat. Blades of grass licking her ankles as she carefully finds her way closer to the line of trees. She stares hard enough that her eyes begin to ache. She keeps her arms crossed protectively in front of her.
From a distance she can hear a rustle of foliage. Above her the tops of the trees sway and groan, their bodies bent at an angle as a gust of wind shakes her entire body. Between a break in the pines she can see the moon, a half crescent concealed by an abundance of bruised clouds. With that little bit of illumination, she can see down towards the tree line, Cookie and Jax fighting over something in the grass.
“Cookie! Put it down!”
Her heart is pounding behind her eyes now as she runs towards the snarling dogs. She can barely feel her feet as she tears up clumps of wet dirt, lungs aching as she comes to a stop besides them. She can see something dangling from Jax’s mouth as the smell of copper wafts on the brisk air. Tail wagging, Cookie bites at his jowls.
“Jax, you drop that thing right now!”
The dog obeys and she can feel the wet thump of something solid against her toes as Jax drops the item from his mouth. He settles himself in front of her dutifully. Beside her, Cookie nuzzles her nose in the grass, effectively flipping the object on its side.
The wind howls relentlessly and the trees moan in protest. Jax and Cookie stare at her. Their tails flick wet droplets onto the skin of her legs. In the light of the half concealed moon she can see their canines as they pant, the long fangs tinted pink.
From behind her a light turns on in the house. She knows this because now she can see her dogs in full detail, their eyes glinting in the yellowed light.
And at her feet…