I look out the window at the rain falling.  Cold, hard, sticky rain.  Though I can’t see it, I know the ground is a chilly quagmire of sucking mud.

Nice.

Christ, I hate this time of year.  Yet in here, it’s cosy.  The rugs all over the floor form a barrier against the chill of the ancient, worn flagstones.  The thick fabric hangings cut the waves of cold that emanate from the thick stone walls.  And the stove may be small, but it kicks out heat like a furnace.  A warming pan for the whole room.  Ensconced in this tiny room, I can leave off most of my layers and be comfortable.  I rarely venture to the rest of the house at night.  Before the sun goes down, I ensure I have food, water, and all the other necessities to hand to survive the long, lonely dark at the arse end of the year.

Dropping the thick curtains back in place, I retreat to my nest on the sofa, and my book.  I have electricity here, thank goodness, but I often don’t use it at night.  In such an ancient place as this, it seems like a harsh intrusion.  Hell, I get through a lot of candles, though.  There are three burning on the table next to the sofa right now, so that I have enough light to read by.

Settling back into the mess of blankets and cushions in one corner of the sofa with a contented sigh, my toe pokes the cat, who grumbles sleepily.  I smile as he settles even deeper into his disguise as a cushion – curled up tightly, only an occasional dream-twitched whisker to show he is, indeed, animate.

Rain and wind batter the small panes of glass in the window frame, a small breeze escaping into the warmth and disturbing the curtains.  I don’t feel it, though.  And the sounds of the howling storm outside are comforting, here in my soft warm haven.  Far away in the night, I hear a loose outhouse door thudding with the rhythm of the elements, and make a mental note to fix or wedge it in the morning.  But the thought of morning and the venturing out into the damp cold makes me shiver.  So I put it aside and prepare to burrow back into my book.

Just as I begin to slide into the tale of a woman and her five children living in frontier America at the turn of the 20th century, there is a rattle and bang somewhere in the bowels of the ancient house, accompanied by a flurry of movement by my side.

Alarm spikes my gut as I look to my no-longer cushion-impersonating friend.  Now, he resembles a wild animal – ears flat to his skull, body rigid with aggression, spitting and swearing as I have never before heard.

I ask him what it is that’s scared him so, but he pays me no mind, merely staring at the half-shadowed door behind the chimney breast.  The door leads to the rest of the house, and I assume it was the wind-induced rattle and bang that has wrought this instant change in my normally placid companion.  I reach out my hand to offer him comfort, but draw it back quickly with a curse as he lashes out at me.  Still paying me no mind, he sinks to his belly on the sofa.  Staring at the door again, his foul language has dwindled to a low menacing growl, punctuated by that strange chewed yowling that cats make when they feel their territory has been unforgivably violated.

The sound, more than the howling of the wind, or the mysterious clattering and banging, raises hairs on my neck, as my body responds in its ancient way to a threat.

But I know it is only the wind.  My modern brain takes over, and I chuckle nervously.  Speaking low, soothing words to my little guard, I rise slowly, and make my unthreatening way to the door.

As I turn the handle, I chide him for being so silly.  I tell him that, really, there’s nothing to be afraid of.  It’s only the wind, after all…

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