“Make sure your brother is inside”
Sandra turned back to the stove, lunch was almost done, she looked out the window, it was a dark and cloudy day. She could already feel it building out there, that strange sense of energy in the air, the oppressive dampness that seemed to invade every space. She heard Todd running down the stairs and out the front door, Jeremy was off playing with his friends. She knew he wouldn’t be too far away, the kids never strayed too far, especially on days like this. No doubt some of the other mothers had sent their children out to fetch their siblings and she suspected that Jeremy was already on his way home, still it was better to be safe. She knew that if he was caught out someone would take him in until the storm passed, but she always worried, a sick, gnawing fear in her stomach that didn’t disappear until a few hours after she had hugged him tightly. Of course the phones usually went out, so it was never much use trying to ring someone. Most you would get it static, maybe a few garbled words before it would cut out. Of course that was if you could even hear over the background noise.
The windowpanes rattled slightly as a gust of wind hit them, it was getting closer. Lunch would be ready any minute but there was still no sign of the boys. They were probably just talking to one of their friends. They’d be back with plenty of time to spare. Still, she began to feel that old worry begin to grow. She shook her head, any moment now they’d come bursting inside, shouting and laughing and they would all have a nice lunch before the storm hit. She glanced at the clock, there was still a good hour before it came, she looked out at the sky, it seemed much darker, perhaps they got it wrong, maybe it would come early this time. She looked at the clock again, if they weren’t back in five minutes she’d go out and look for them herself. She didn’t want to do it, she didn’t want to be that overbearing mother that came screeching down the road, yelling at her kids to get inside like Annabelle across the road, but if something happened, something she could have prevented. The front door slammed open and she heard them talking excitedly, her shoulders relaxed and she smiled. They were inside, they were safe. The door slammed closed, “Be careful with that!”
“That’s ok, just try not do it next time.”
“Lunch is just about ready. Get yourself cleaned up and sit down at the table.”
They thundered up the stairs. Sandra ladled portions of pasta into bowls and laid them out on the table, then she grabbed some glasses. When they returned she was filing each with water. They sat down and waited for her to sit at the table.
“Did you have fun with your friends?”
“Tell her about the guy!”
“I’m going to if you’d let me.”
“There was a guy outside, wandering around. He looked homeless, we stayed away from him though. He was kinda scary.”
Sandra glanced at the window, what was he doing outside? He’d have to have known a storm was coming, he should be in one of the shelters, like everyone else.
“Did he say anything to you?”
“No, but it looked like he was following us home.”
“Are you sure?”
Jason shrugged, “he might have just been coming this way.”
“You two eat your lunch, I just have to grab something from upstairs.”
Sandra stood and left the table, in the hall she checked that the door was locked. Upstairs she went into the front bedroom and pulled back the net curtains, peering onto the road. She spotted him immediately. He was weaving on the path and stumbling every so often. His clothes were tattered and dirty, his face was covered in a thick beard that looked caked in grime. She didn’t know what to do. Part of her wanted to tell him to get inside, to keep him safe, but he might be dangerous. It was just her and the kids in the house, he could easily overpower her. He looked at the house and Sandra gasped, she ducked out of the window, dropping the netting back into place and hoping he didn’t spot her. If he did he would knock. Everyone knew you should give shelter to someone who asks, but she couldn’t risk it. There had been reports on the news of people getting attacked, locking themselves in with a criminal some were only robbed but others were murdered and worse. No. If Bob was home then it would be a different story, but she wouldn’t let him in. She carefully looked out again but didn’t see him. Her heart started beating faster. She moved out of the room and looked into the back garden. It wasn’t fenced off properly, she had been at Bob to fix it, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. After all the boys were both old enough that they wouldn’t just slip through and get lost, they didn’t have any dogs to worry about escaping. The back garden was empty. She breathed out a sigh of relief. Maybe she’d call Marcy from down the road, she had her husband and her brother and his husband were staying with them for a few days. If they took the man in they’d be safe. He wouldn’t be able to overpower all of them.
Sandra crept down the stairs, wishing they didn’t have that big glass oval in the front door. She expected to see him there, pressed against the glass, peering in, but there was no one there. She went into the kitchen, the boys were just finishing off their food. “You two go watch TV in the sitting room when you’re done. We can watch a DVD in a bit.” Sandra picked up the phone, wincing at the high pitched shriek. The storm hadn’t hit yet but the phone lines were already affected. It was going to be a strong one. She tried dialling Marcy, she even got through, but they were barely able to hear one another. Sandra hung up and considered running across to them. From the looks of the rapidly darkening sky she would have a little time, not much but enough. She looked out again from upstairs and still she couldn’t see him. What if he was lurking outside, waiting for someone to step out. No, better not risk it. She checked that the windows were locked, same with the doors. He wouldn’t risk breaking any of them, but if he could open it easily she suspected he would. She finished checking the locks and went into the kitchen, as she started to put the plates into the sink the storm hit. The entire house seemed to shiver, silence fell for a split second, then it was torn apart. Outside the winds howled and shrieked, screaming again and again as the windows were rattled and banged. As always she froze, but after a second she relaxed. It had always been the same way, since she was a little girl. Everything was fine, the storm would pass in a few hours and life would continue until the next one. She went into the sitting room, the storm wasn’t that loud, they had always seemed so much louder when she was a little girl. She sat on the couch, the boys had already picked out a movie, Sandra settled herself in to watch, trying not to think about the man outside. If anything happened to him, she couldn’t be responsible. After all, he never knocked, never asked for help, hell he had just up and disappeared and that was assuming she admitted to even seeing him at all. No, it wasn’t her problem. She glanced at the heavy curtains covering the windows, she hoped he had found shelter, but if he hadn’t, the storm would deal with him. One way or another.