Silence is never silent.  Quite often, it can be a cacophony; albeit a quiet one.  For instance, though Jill was alone in the house, she could hear at least six distinct sounds.  Several of these she would only be able to hear from her position at the kitchen table.  However, there were a few that she could usually hear from anywhere in the house.  One of which was the fridge.  The damn thing was ancient, and it really needed replacing, along with the equally ancient kitchen shelving unit.  She glanced up as she began the familiar litany of “things we cannot afford to replace”.  The shelving hung on the wall by, as far as she could remember, two screws.  Large screws, yes. But screws nonetheless.  It was  so crammed with recipe books, novels, pots, pans, baking ingredients and random knickknacks that it seemed to always be in danger of coming crashing to the floor in a shower of cereal and dried fruit.  She could almost hear the groaning of its overloaded frame over the whirring of the cursed fridge.  Then the fridge evidently reached optimum tempersature and stopped whirring with a shudder and a creak.  Into the relative silence flowed all of the other sounds; the ticking of the kitchen clock, the ticking of the timer on the antiquated and badly designed central heating system.  Traffic rushing and rumbling by on the wet road outside.  Her fingers tapping a slow tattoo in the table top.  The almost imperceptible hiss of the cooling system of her laptop as its accusing bright white light washed over her face from the blank piece of virtual paper on the screen.  The silent wail of writer’s block as it ground her self-esteem to a puff of dry and bitter dust.

The knocking made her jump slightly but what it did give her was a feeling of relief as she shot from her chair and headed for the front door, glad of the interruption as now the blank piece of ‘paper’ was no longer her oewn fault.   The knocking was soft but continuous as she headed down the hall to the front door. ‘Okay, okay I’m coming!’

Her feet slowed though, as she reached the door.  The knock was becoming louder, or maybe just clearer, but there was no shadow on the frosted glass panel that let light into the gloomy hall.  No shadow fell across the loops and whorls patterned into the pane.  Throwing open the door and sticking her head out into the damp chill of the now empty street, Jill experienced a moment of disorientation, as the knocking grew quieter and her perspective shifted.  The knocking was actually coming from behind her; from down the hall in the kitchen.  Quieter yes, but still insistent, each soft impact raised hairs on the nape of her neck and made her insides tense just a tiny bit more.  She walked back down the hall, placing each foot as carefully and quietly as she could on the buckled parquet floor, wishing that her slippers didn’t make quite such a tapping sound as she moved.  She vaguely noted that her heart seemed to have speeded up to match the cadence of the knocking sound, which as she reached the kitchen doorway she could now reliably pinpoint to be emanating from the cupboard under the sink.  The cupboard door was vibrating a little with every impact.  Gingerly, Jill reached for the tip of the tea towel that was threaded through the cupboard door handle to air out, and stretching both her arm and the tea towel as far away from her body as she could, she jumped back, tugging open the cupboard door.

The cupboard was empty.  Nothing in there but cleaning supplies and the water and waste pipes to and from the sink above.

No knocking.

No nothing.

Breathing heavily, a flicker to her side caught her eye and she whipped her head around to see her long-neglected laptop put its screen to sleep.  As the screen turned black, it reflected the opened cupboard and its benign contents.

‘Hello, Jill.’

With a little scream, Jill turned around again to be confronted by the sight of a homunculus, perched on the edge of the sink.  Swinging his legs from knee to neatly crossed ankle, he looked for all the world like a child.  But the proportions were all wrong for a child, as was the voice.  And the mode of dress.  And the posture.

Proportioned as a tiny adult, he was dressed in an immaculately tailored three piece suit, complete with neck tie and tiny yet perfect triangle of silk hanky peeping out of his breast pocket.  He sat straight backed, hands folded neatly in his lap, hair parted to one side and slicked down in precise lines so that it almost looked painted on.  He looked, in fact, for all the world like a ventriloquist’s dummy made flesh.  And flesh he undoubtedly was.  From the rise and fall of his chest to the way the light from the kitchen window caught his slightly too wide smile and the gleam in his utterly soulless black eyes.

Jill’s hands began to shake violently and she took a step back.

‘Oh, Jillybean don’t go!  We’ve only just met!  We’re going to be such good friends.’

Jill whimpered at the man’s use of ‘Jillybean’, her husband’s pet name for her.  The whimper seemed to galvanise the tiny nightmare into action.  His smile widened, and his lips peeled back to reveal rows of needle sharp teeth.  A grey tongue flickered out to caress them one at a time as his voice dropped to a low hiss.

‘We’re going to have such fun, you and I…’

So saying, he reached into the chaos of the unwashed dishes in the sink behind him and, with unerring accuracy, plucked out the filleting knife Jill had been using the night before, and held It up for her inspection.

‘Ssssuch fun…’

Jumping down from the sink to land on the kitchen tiles without a sound, he advanced on Jill; waving the knife in a slow figure eight as he came.

Jill repeated her whimper and began backing into the hallway, unable to take her eyes from the advancing nightmare that nevertheless only came up to her waist.  Darting towards her, the homunculus slashed with the knife, letting loose a maniacal cackle that turned Jill’s brain to water.  Blind instinct kicked in as she held out her hands to defend herself and jumped the lower half of her body backwards in an awkward attempt to protect her vital organs from the knife.  Pain blossomed, bright and clean across the palms of her hands as the razor- sharp filleting knife made short work of her palms.  The laughter rose in pitch and the knife became a blur as he slashed again and again and Jill screamed in agony.  Still moving backwards, she tripped on a warped piece of parquet and her head hit the front door as she went down.  The last thing she saw from her place on the floor was a grinning face appear above her own, and single ruby red droplet falling towards her eye.  She closed it in reflex, and the world went black.

 ###

The world took a while to swim into focus.  It began as a pale green blur – almost eau- de- nil – with the odd shape here and there.  One of the shapes resolved itself into the form of her husband asleep in a high- backed chair close by.  His appearance was shocking.  A dark  growth of stubble marred his normally perfectly- shaven chin and cheeks.  His face was haggard, pale, and partially covered by straggles of unwashed hair.

‘Nigel!’

She could barely manage a croak, her throat was so dry, but his eyes were open in an instant.  Moments later, he was by her side, relief and concern flooding his featueres.

‘Jillybean!  You’re awake!’

She reached out to take his hand but as her own hand came into view, she gasped as her warm and fuzzy comfort was shattered.  It was nothing but a ball of bandages stuck to the other end of her arm, and even the slightest attempt at movement bought sharp pains and dull aches.

‘Nigel!  There was a man!  A little man!  He came out of the cupboard and took the filleting knife and attacked me!  He…’

She stopped, realising that not only had her voice risen in pitch, but that she sounded utterly and irretrievably insane.  The look on Nigel’s face confirmed it.  The image of the tiny homunculus with the filleting knife wavered and superimposed itself over an image of her standing at the sink, looking at the knife gleaming in the morning light, fractured through tears.

This man who loved her and had had her back through thick and (more recently) thin, was looking at her like she had grown another head.  Then his face softened to something close to grief.  The gentle tone he used was somehow worse than if he’d told her to stop being a mad bitch and snap out of it.

‘Jillybean.  Sweetheart.  I know you’ve been…  stressed…  lately.  What with the redundancies, and the writer’s block.  But…’

He looked away and Jill’s heart broke as she saw, with perfect crystal clarity, a tear roll down over his perfect and beloved cheekbone.  He kept his head turned as he spoke.

‘I…  I know things haven’t been easy for you, Jillybean.  I just wish you’d told me.  Self- harming just…  well I know you feel it helps in the long run, but…’

Jill’s insides shrivelled.

‘I didn’t.  it was the man.’

Her whisper was audible only to herself as Nigel went on.

‘I…  I’ve signed the papers.  They’re going to move you to the psychiatric ward for evaluation.  Jilly this can’t go on.’

The psychiatric ward.  Locks and bars and looneys.  A place where you can’t escape.  Somewhere restricted.

It was Jill’s turn to cry as she looked up at the door of her private hospital room and saw a small face with a too- wide smile peer around the doorway, black eyes gleaming.

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