“Chapter 1: A small black box”
The dog kept barking at the door, agitated as he was every night for the last two weeks. Emilia rose from her bed and quickly ran down the stairs, not even bothering to turn the lights on. She had become used to it. The dog heard her steps and rushed to the staircase, wagging his tail and almost knocking the old vase over.
“What is it this time, Aru?” she mumbled, still half-asleep. The dog’s breath was heavy, as if he had been running for hours. Emilia patted him gently on the head and walked towards the window. She looked down the street. The road was empty, as usual. The polished cars were nicely parked in front of the other houses. Still light-headed from sleeping, Emilia touched the switch and light filled the room.
It was a small living room, decorated with bright-colored furniture, mainly orange and light green. A medium-sized TV screen was placed directly across the small couch. The clocks on the wall were ticking, each showing a different time. Under each one, she had written a small note, indicating the city of which the time was shown. Each one, a stop of their journeys together. Each one, a reminder of some other, happier time. All the clocks were different in design too, some funky, some old and ‘grandmotherly’, some looking like they came out of a steampunk fantasy novel. The only exception was the one placed in the center of the wall, directly above a framed photograph. It was a simple, round clock, colored black. This one wasn’t working. It was stopped at ‘2:32’. The note under it read ‘Memento Mori’.
Emilia walked towards it, feeling entranced by it for some reason. Her big, hazelnut eyes stared at it, as if it was something new, something unfamiliar. A sudden feeling of grief grasped her heart. She averted her gaze, as the sound of scratching on the front door filled her ears.
“That’s gonna leave a mark, and someone’s gonna be sorry” she said and let out a sigh. As she was about to exit the living room, she heard another sound. One that made her blood freeze in her veins.
A knock on the door. From the outside. At 3:45 in the night.
Aru’s barking was deafening. It was as though the dog had sensed something eerie, just as she had. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “What to do, what to do?” she whispered. She was certain that the person outside meant bad news. On the other hand, why would they knock? And why did she not see them when she was looking out the window?
As her thoughts made her feel dizzy and fear crawled over her neck, a familiar voice snapped her back to reality.
“Emilia! Your dog’s barking again! Quiet him down, or this time, I will call the cops!”
She let out a sigh. Fuck off, miss Prudence, she thought. The old woman living across the street had a very keen eye and ear when it came to either gossip, or things she found annoying. Well, she was right, Aru had been very noisy the past few weeks… but that what dogs are supposed to do when they sense danger!
“Emilia, I can see the lights from your living room, I know you are up!” miss Prudence said, and knocked harder. Emilia swore again under her breath and went to open the door. In front of her, a 65-year old woman with heavy makeup and a cigarette hanging from the edge of her red lips, was staring at her with anger.
“What took you so long? I’ve been waiting here for 20 whole minutes!”
Always exaggerating, Emilia thought. “Sorry, miss Prudence. I really don’t know what’s gotten into him. Maybe there’s someone around. It is, after all, quite unsafe these days…”
“This is a peace-loving neighbourhood. No foul people run about the streets. Train your dog better, or I will have to do what’s right. This cannot be tolerated anymore.”
“I will try. Goodnight, miss Prudence” Emilia responded. You fugly freakshow, she thought as she closed the door, ending the conversation in a rather rude manner. Luckily, the old woman decided it was too cold for her to stay and complain any further, because Emilia heard her steps as she walked away. She turned to Aru, who was now scratching his ear with his hind leg.
“She can go to hell, for all I care. But, what’s with you, Aru? You’ve been quite lively these days… does it have to do with Max Petersteel? You don’t think he’s around, do you?”
The escaped convict, Max Petersteel, had been on the news for the past month. Supposedly, he had entered some restricted area up north, and he saw things he was not meant to. While he was being transferred to an undisclosed maximum security prison, he escaped and has been on the run ever since.
“Why would he be here? Silly me” she muttered and walked back to the living room. She turned the lights off and decided she could not sleep. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV on. Some random marketing commercial was on. Emilia lied down on the couch, grabbed a small, pink blanket and covered her feet. Aru sat beside her, his head resting on her lap.
As she was slowly getting drowsy, she did not hear the footsteps in her room above. A shady figure had broken into the house. The man approached her desk, taking deep breaths, and produced a small black box from his pocket. He turned around and took a good look, before climbing out the window and descending to the yard. He stood there for a minute or so, looking intensely at the house, and then turned around and disappeared into the night.