Context: Kate, a teen and the focal character in this sketch, is dreaming. Transported by mysterious means from Earth to another planet, she has befriended the children of the local precinct. A friend is trying to wake her.
Hugging the hedge like a leech, she crept along the contour of the hill to the gap where a gate would have been. Booms and thuds from the artillery fire over the brow of the next ridge reverberated through the ground. An actinic stench hung in the air, a by-product of the fighting. It stung her nose and lungs, causing her to take shallow breaths.
She reached the gap and peered around. Sharp stones dug into her knees through the thick pants she wore. It was a relief to find no one visible near the house at the top of the hill. It stood exposed, as though someone had left it behind, a decoy against the Nazis. Even the trees that had once stood guard seemed to have backed off, afraid of the coming storm. Though the hill had once been covered in green grasses, bushes and trees, in the semi-twilight it looked grey; grey as the uniforms the Nazis wore. Grey as death.
She prayed they would leave the house alone. It was only a matter of time before this hill was taken. Did she have time?
… Kate …
A hard jog put her across the field and up against the north wall of the house. She collapsed at its foot, back braced against the bumpy stone wall for support. Her heart pounded, a rhythmic tattoo in her ears, as she sucked in painful breaths. She willed her body to calm down from the unaccustomed exertion. It didn’t help that her legs felt like gelatine had been used in their construction.
Precious moments passed before she felt ready to move again. Keeping low, she peered around the corner of the house. No one was in sight. She manoeuvred around the corner and crawled to the back door. She reached a weary hand up to the handle and turned it. A wave of relief crashed over her as the catch snicked open and the door creaked inwards. Cool air tumbled out of the house, along with a dank, musty smell that competed with the sulphurous haze outside.
Staying on hands and knees, she entered the house. The cold, hard flagstones were smooth in contrast to the rough ground she’d moved over outdoors. Almost like a frozen lake. She moved through the house towards the main bedroom. If Eric hadn’t had time to retrieve it, a pistol should be in the hiding place there. So long as there was light enough…
A shower of thuds ripped into the wall to her right. Bullets. They were here! Too late!
Vital energy shot through her body and her heart renewed its rhythmic thump in her ears, throat, chest… With nowhere else to go, she dropped onto her belly and commando-crawled over to the window set in the wall that had been hit. It was the safest place, putting her out of view to any peerers, since the sill of the window was a meter off the ground. Not daring to look outside, she ransacked her brain for a safe hiding place. They would surely search the house.
… KATE …
The lounge at the far end; the windows were barred, and the door could be locked. Retracing her route back through the kitchen, and moving as fast as possible, she headed there, keeping quiet and low.
Reaching the room, she closed the door and locked it. She was safer, but she wasn’t about to enumerate her chickens. Then she turned to look around. There was a barred window in the north wall, the closely-meshed iron bars only preventing quick entry. To her dismay, the only piece of furniture was an upturned couch in the middle of the room. The last time she’d been here, not a few weeks ago, the room had been fully furnished. She could only pray…
Footsteps crunched on the gravel outside. A cold shimmer sped up her neck, making her hair stand on end.
With no time to lose, she covered the distance and hid behind the couch, out of sight of the door and the window. Closing her eyes, she breathed in and out as quietly as she could. If the walls had been paper, the owners of the feet would have heard her heart beating.
She didn’t dare move. As seconds turned into minutes, her legs and arms grew numb. She could feel sweat running down her sides. The musky smell began to permeate the air around her. Her hands grew clammy. More footsteps; this time inside the house. Her senses jumped into high alert. Doors were slammed open, thudding off the walls they hit. A pause. More footsteps. Drawing closer.
They had to be just outside the door to the lounge. She drew in a breath and held it. Silence. They would hear if the drip of sweat on the end of her nose parted her company. Lungs burning, she exhaled slowly, ever so slowly, and…
An unnatural chill swept through the room and her arms jumped out in goosebumps. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel the being that stood in the hallway. Her heart thumped louder in her ears. Darkness. Evil. A presence that grew… drew closer…