It was quiet that night, quieter than usual it seemed. The street was dark and not a sound could be heard. John’s stomach twisted and turned, making his body shudder and his jaw clench. He sunk down into his seat, the windscreen fogging over as his breaths became deeper and longer. It would be happening soon. He couldn’t back out now. Just this one time and that would be it. John’s phone flashed on the dashboard, the light pierced the stillness and hurt John’s eyes. He fumbled to pick it up, his palms sweaty with anticipation. “Is the mouse in the trap?” the text read. John pawed at the screen, clumsily typing out one simple word, “Yes.” He threw the phone down onto the passenger seat and looked back towards the house. His eyes were drawn to the bedroom window, he held his breath as he caught a glimpse of a small figure peeping out from between the curtains. A little girl, no more than 7 or 8. Her chestnut brown hair was tucked behind her ears, she rubbed her eyes as she gave out the biggest yawn John had ever seen. He waved and the small spying shadow smiled back and dove playfully behind the curtain. A smirk crept across John’s face. He forced himself to settle his composure and remember what he was there to do. He had to keep a clear head.
It was late now. 12:45 his wristwatch told him. Picking up his lukewarm coffee he lifted it towards his mouth. Colombian blend. The smell hit him in the face like a heavy weight boxer. It stuck up his nose and made him feel dizzy. John took a sip. He found it hard to swallow, his mouth was as dry as a desert and the coffee did nothing to quench his thirst. The minutes passed slowly, each second seeming to last an hour. Something must’ve happened, thought John. He’s late, three minutes late. Nothing had stirred in the house since that pretty little girl had peered out through the darkness. Keep calm, he’s not the most punctual man. It was 12:58 now. John cranked the window down and a cool breeze came rushing in. He could really do with getting a new car, who had roll down windows now-a-days? The wind started to pick up. John quickly rolled the window back up, as he did he heard the distant sound of slamming window shutters and toppling garden furniture. The gale seemed to grow faster and more powerful. It bent the trees and brushed the fallen leaves across the ground, whipping them up into a frenzy. The calm was no more.
“I’m in” – The text didn’t find John until he opened his eyes. The two words flashing on his display. He must’ve nodded off. The heat in the car had built and the air felt thick and clammy. John slipped in and out of consciousness, his eyes heavy, he struggled to keep them open. He rubbed his sodden face, the sweat covering his hands and dripping from his hair. John looked in the rear-view mirror. He could do with a shave, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a moment to get a shower, the last time he’d slept even. Those precious few seconds in the car were the first moments of rest he’d had in weeks. He turned off the heat, it was too hot. He used his jacket sleeve to clear the condensation from the windows and looked back out toward the house. Nothing. Not a sound. 1:05 – ten minutes late.
Then it happened. Two bangs pierced the stillness in quick succession -silence – and a final shot. John slumped down in his chair and his head fell to his hands. The wind outside had come to a stand-still. John lifted his face and checked his mirrors, no one had come out to check the disturbance. No nosey neighbours. His heart began to beat faster in his chest, his breathing quick and short, his stomach knotted and his throat tightened. John was having a panic attack. He certainly knew how to pick his moments. John rolled the window back down, letting the cool wind blow through his black tousled hair. He breathed slowly through his mouth, counting to 8 and making sure to expel all the air. He closed his eyes and breathed back in, counting back to 8 whilst he took in all the fresh air he could. And Relax. The therapist was right. John’s heart rate returned to normal and for a few seconds his mind escaped the muddled state it had been in for the longest time. He felt the breeze move through the car, spiralling around him and blanketing him in an icy chill. He smelt the dregs of coffee in the bottom of his cardboard cup, and the leftover burger he’d had for lunch. He hadn’t eaten anything since. He knew he must be hungry, but he just couldn’t bear to think about that now.
John waited there in that car for something he knew might never arrive. Something that may just leave him there to deal with the mess. That thought grated on him. It made him feel more helpless than he’d ever felt before. As John sat there, he realised how quiet it was. He thought it strange that no one had come to check what was happening, but that was how people were nowadays – self-interested. John’s legs felt stiff, he should get up and move soon, it’d been hours since he’d shifted from that seat. John switched his gaze back to the house. Frankly he was getting sick of the sight of it. Looking at it from the outside it seemed like nothing had changed, when in fact everything had changed, it just wasn’t apparent yet. He traced the familiar outline with his eyes. Looking at the same square windows, the same white door that’d been there many hours ago. The red climbing frame in the back garden, barely visible from where John was stationed. It was all rather nice, rather benign, there was nothing spectacular about this house, nothing to set it aside from any other house on the street. It was who was inside that made it extraordinary.
By Clarrie-Rose Plommer