Different Breaths by Lauren Bell

DIFFERENT BREATHS

by

Lauren Bell

typewriter love

The phone starts to ring, its shrill voice slicing the empty hallway like a cheese wire. The sound goes on and on and on, travelling through the vast house at an alarming speed, rattling decanters in display cabinets, nibbling away at skirting boards. The sound travels through various rooms visiting the dining-room, kitchen, parlour in quick succession, bouncing off each surface and dispersing its chords in to the still air.

On the other end of the line, an anxious woman waits, twisting the cord around her fingers, creating a convoluted maze of loops like a mobile cat’s cradle. She barely makes a sound, preferring to breathe slowly through her nose.

The phone continues to ring; the noise has since become a war cry, wailing in protest, in defiance, demanding to be heard.

Upstairs, an unfamiliar tread pads its way across the landing, entering bedrooms and private studies as eyes fatten on discovered treasures. The stranger says nothing. Not even his faint breathing penetrates the silence. The phone is impossible to ignore, and yet the stranger doesn’t blink. He isn’t interested in ringing phones. They mean nothing to him.

Come on, come on. Someone pick up the phone.

The woman cannot think of anything else; her mind is consumed by a handful of words reducing her to an infant.

Where is everyone?

She wonders about the housekeeper, the butler, the maid. Surely one of them would have answered it by now? Surely they can’t all be out of earshot?

In a tiny closet, three bodies lie, bound by rope. Two huddled, one slumped. Their breathing is shallow and muffled like breath through a handkerchief. The butler died instantly. A knife twisted between his shoulder blades. The housekeeper and maid didn’t put up too much of a fight. After all, he wasn’t here to kill, and if they didn’t try to interfere, they wouldn’t be harmed. They had to trust him.

Now, they glance about in the darkness, their eyes molten through straining, their mouths tightly bound with duct tape. They try to scream but it comes out as mere whimpers, the butler’s body wedged between them.

On the other end of the phone, the woman pulls at the cord, hardly noticing how long a telephone wire is once it’s lost its shape. She knows something has happened. Telephones just don’t go on ringing and ringing like this. They ring off. Eventually.

The stranger stops and listens to the continual ring puncturing the otherwise silent house. This gives him some satisfaction. At least the old boy wasn’t joking when he said his time was up. The fight was over all too quickly. He came in, said a few words while the old boy struggled to get up, waited until he got to his feet, then plunged the knife deep into his side. The spray of warm blood stained his hands. He can always clean them before he leaves.

The woman’s breathing has quickened; her chest hitching slightly as she fights back a wave of sobs.

In the quaint parlour room, an elderly man gurgles and splutters, spraying crimson blood onto the walls, his clothes, and seeping into the floorboards. He struggles to move his punctured body, the wound more like a bloody mouth struggling to be heard and choking instead on the backlog of warm blood. He is certain the person on the other end is his saviour. He needs to speak to them. He has to reach the phone.

Upstairs, the murderer grins to himself. This is what it feels like to commit the perfect crime. Why doesn’t everyone do this? It’s fantastic! And then he sees what he’s looking for, displayed on a stand for his rich picking and knows that it has all been worth it.

Downstairs, the wounded man hasn’t moved an inch. He physically can’t, and feeling the hands of death worming its way into that great bloody mouth on his side, he relents and utters one last frail gasp.

She listens to the infuriating ring and is about to slam it down when the line goes dead.

Now she must do something.

black tree

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