I tilt my head to listen. Hold my breath. I’m sure I heard an odd sound coming from downstairs. But all is quiet. I’m in the house alone. Or at least I thought I was…
Leaving my bedroom, I pause on the landing, listening… Silence. And then, again, that same irregular sound making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Until I realise what it is… the scrape of claws on wood, followed by a low yowl.
‘Frank! What are you doing?’ I pull my old dressing gown around me and clatter down the creaky cottage stairs, hoping my ginger tomcat hasn’t brought a mouse or a rabbit home. I really am not in the mood to deal with a dead rodent. And I’m even less in the mood to deal with a half-dead one. Blood and guts are not my forte, especially first thing in the morning.
In the kitchen, Frank is crouched by the back door, glaring down at the floor, his white-socked paw swiping at something, claws extending and retracting. He barely acknowledges me.
‘What is it, Frank?’
With a certain amount of relief, I realise there’s nothing untoward lying around the kitchen. Well, nothing that I can see so far. So what is it that has got my mischievous cat so worked up? I walk over to him and see that it’s a piece of old paper sticking out of one of the floorboards. Frank gazes up at me and miaows, his green eyes softening for a moment. I scratch his head and stare at the triangle of paper, rising up like a shark’s fin. Frank makes a sound deep in his throat and bashes at the paper with his paw once again. What is it, and how did it get there?
Intrigued, I tug it out with my fingers, dislodging a cloud of dust. The paper is thick and brittle with age. I realise it’s actually a small envelope. From the look of it, it seems years old. I brush away some of the dust and see that the envelope is unopened. Still sealed. My curiosity piqued, I wonder what’s inside. I turn it over and blink at the name written on the front in blue cursive script:
The letter is addressed to me! How strange…
Could it be from my boyfriend, Joe? Perhaps he wrote it months ago and it accidentally fell through a gap in the floorboards. But then how did it work its way up again? Could Frank have somehow got his paw down there and pulled it up? No, the gap is too narrow.
I stare at my name for a moment, at the blue swirling letters. Finally, I ease the envelope open and peer inside. I pull out a single sheet of faded writing paper folded in half. Straightening out the sheet, I stare at the words – there are only a few – which have been penned in the same unfamiliar handwriting:
You’re my only obsession
Weird. Is this some kind of love letter? Whatever it is, it has me spooked. And then I see something that troubles me further – in the top right-hand corner of the letter, someone has written the date:
That’s… Yes. That’s today’s date. How can that be possible? The envelope looks as though it’s been unopened for years, or at the very least months. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. After all, there’s no year written. But what are the odds of discovering a letter from the past on the exact same date that it was written? I grow hot. And then I shiver.
This is crazy. There must be a logical explanation. The back door has no letterbox, so it can’t have been posted through. Either the letter worked its own way up through the floorboards, or… did someone come into the house and deliberately leave the note there? I drop the letter and jump to my feet, my heart thumping uncomfortably as the paper floats to the floor. Could someone have broken in this morning, or last night? Why would they do that? Do I have some creepy secret admirer? I glance out of the window. And try the back door – it’s locked.
I wonder again if the letter could be from Joe. It’s the least horrible explanation. But that doesn’t explain the age of the envelope, or why Joe would tell me I’m his obsession. He’s never said anything like that to me before. Maybe it’s a practical joke. But it’s not funny, and it’s not Joe’s style. He’s a straightforward guy – flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, a card and a pressie on my birthday. Joe has never written me a letter or a note in his life – he hardly even uses texts. And besides, this is nothing like his messy writing. It’s way too neat and beautiful.
I snatch up the letter and stuff it back into the envelope. Unsure what to do with it, I slide it into the side pocket of my handbag for now.
Checking the time on my phone, I realise I only have fifteen minutes before I need to leave for work. I suppose I should have some breakfast, but my hunger has evaporated, my head is buzzing, my hands trembling. Besides, I’m not even dressed yet. I always like to give myself plenty of time to get ready before work. Can’t stand it when I have to rush around. Joe leaves for the garage at seven thirty, so I usually have a whole hour to myself. My quiet time. But now I’m going to have to hurry.
I run back upstairs. With my heart still pounding, I get dressed on autopilot, shrugging on a blue and white wrap dress, picking out a necklace and slipping on a pair of kitten-heel sandals. I’m lucky to own such nice clothes. One of the perks of being the manager of Georgio’s – Malmesbury’s most upmarket clothes and gift shop – is that I get a decent staff discount. But as I’m getting ready I can’t seem to distract myself, all I can think about is that letter. Someone obviously put it there deliberately for me to find. Why would they do that?
I check myself in the wardrobe mirror; the dress suits my curvy figure, the china-blue pattern bringing out the blue of my eyes. I grab a hair tie from the dressing-table drawer and sweep up my thick, chestnut hair into a ponytail. That will have to do.
I make my way back downstairs and into the kitchen where Frank is walking around, his ears flat, tail twitching back and forth. He obviously feels as unsettled as I do. With my phone on speaker, I call Joe while spooning cat food into Frank’s dish. As expected, my call goes straight to voicemail, so I leave a message:
‘Hey, it’s me. I found a weird letter at home. It’s not from you, is it? It doesn’t look like your writing, but I can’t think who else could have put it there. Call me back when you get this. Love you.’
But I already know the letter isn’t from Joe. Was it written by a secret admirer, or is someone playing a twisted kind of game, trying to get my attention? I don’t know. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is something far more sinister…