I wrote this a while ago but has never been posted anywhere before… it’s a little bit creepy… hope you enjoy.
There was something about the house that had drawn Alice in. Maybe it was the warmth of sun through the window of the front room; or the way the front door seemed to sigh with pleasure when she pulled it shut, locking her inside with the Victorian fireplace and the tarnished brass doorknobs.
Alice had always loved a challenge; and after spending so many years in far flung places, she was glad to have a little space of her own. Even if it did need a complete overhaul. After learning so many things on her travels, she hoped to do most of it herself. It wasn’t just about teaching when you were in a small village in the middle of the African plains. There was everything else that went with living in such a place. Helping to re-build a school with packed-mud bricks was a lesson in life. Those smiling faces had made the resulting backache more than worthwhile.
She would miss it. But she couldn’t stay there forever. When Kitty had died, something had died with her. She felt drawn back to her hometown, to the familiarity of her own people; though none even knew she’d had a child, never mind that she’d lost her so tragically in a flash flood. They’d never found the body. In a way, Alice was glad no one really remembered her. She relished the fresh start; a time to mourn in quiet.
She tackled the small jobs first. Buffing the green off the brass and making it shine like gold lifted her spirits; freshening her mind so she could focus on the bigger tasks at hand. The one thing she would definitely need help with.
At first she’d thought it was the bulbs, so she’d replaced them all. But still the lights flickered. Plumbing, plastering, painting and papering – anyone could do those things with a bit of time and effort. But electrics – no. She’d seen the results of amateur electricians and it was never a pretty sight.
She’d found him online: Customer recommendations, discount on call-out fee. The knock at the door came just as she was unloading the last of the washing. She was already impressed: he’d even turned up on time.
“Hello,” he said, flashing an ID card bearing a smiling picture of his face and a number of acronyms that said he was part of all the appropriate professional bodies.
Alice opened the door wide, smiling.
“I’m David,” he said, “not Dave… sets me apart from all the other tradesmen.” He had a gleam in his eye and Alice liked it. A bit of charm never went amiss. Then he cocked his head to the side, looking into the hall, and said “hello,” again, and this made Alice frown. Now she wondered if it wasn’t charm at all, and actually he was just a bit odd. She ignored it, ushering him in to the living room, and the door made its usual swish as she closed it.
“As I said on the phone, it’s just the downstairs lights that are flickering. The living room mainly. But if you could do a general check of the whole house…”
His eyes swept around the room. “Of course,” he said. “It’ll take a bit of time though.” Then he cast his eyes down towards the fireplace, and winked.
A tick, Alice thought. Well, two, actually. The repeating things… the winking… Some form of Tourette’s? Alice had seen all sorts. She was fascinated by the quirks of the human condition.
“Fine… well I’ll leave you to it,” Alice said. She glanced back to see him crouched down by the fireplace, unloading various tools and instruments from his bag. He appeared to be talking to himself, but so quietly she couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Make that three, Alice thought.
She busied herself in the kitchen while he worked. She heard the clicks as he shut off each of the trip switches in turn. Heard him go up and down the stairs. The beep of his impedance meter as he checked the ohms.
All the while, muttering away to himself.
By the time he’d finished, she’d bleached the back doorstep, steam-cleaned the ancient gas oven and taken down the curtains.
“All done,” he called through from the hall.
She padded through, drying her hands on a dishcloth.
“There was a bit of damage up in the bedroom,” his eyes flitted up to the ceiling, “from the storm?”
She looked at him strangely. “I was going to say, do you think the flickering had something to do with the radiator pipes? They run round the inside of the fitted wardrobe. They whine when I turn the heating on, not that usual whistling and clanking, more like…”
“No, no. It was the leak in the roof. The water was everywhere, apparently,” he said, butting in. “The little one told me.”
Alice felt like someone had dropped an ice cube down her back. What was it her neighbour had said that day? It’d seemed strange at the time, but now…
She’s just a little one, Alice. She just wants to go home.
Alice had ignored her. She’d been too busy thinking about the green brass doorknobs and the tortured sound of the pipes.
“Alice? Are you okay?”
Alice blinked. “I heard you… thanks.” She took her chequebook from her bag. Her hand shook as she held the pen.
Now it was his turn to give her a strange look.
“You sure you’re okay, Alice? You look like you’ve seen a…”
“Don’t say it,’ she said, ‘don’t say it. Please.”
She handed him the cheque and he stuffed it in his pocket. He looked scared now. Scared of Alice.
“Bye,” he said, scuttling off.
Alice glanced up as a floorboard creaked overhead. The pipes began to whimper. That’s when she finally recognised it for what it was: giggles.
The laughter of a small child.
Alice sucked in a long, slow breath. “Kitty?” she said, placing a foot on the bottom stair, “is that you?”