It began with a thump.
I looked up from my laptop and around, surprised. It sounded like something heavy had fallen on my desk—a glass bottle falling sideways, or a heavy paperweight. Other than my laptop, though, there was nothing on my desk other than haphazardly strewn printouts of client accounts, a chewed-on pen and a stapler. For a moment I stared at the stapler, trying to decide if it could have made that noise somehow. Probably not. Perhaps I’d misheard the sound and it had come from outside, after all.
A few days later I was standing bleary-eyed at my kitchen counter at 7:10am pouring myself a coffee, when a carton of milk that was nowhere near my elbow flew backwards across my kitchen, hit the wall, and then spilt all over the floor.
Panicking, I grabbed a huge wad of paper towels and rushed to mop it up before the milk got into the floorboards and made them smell. It wasn’t until I was done and dropping the empty carton in the recycling bin that I wondered how on earth it had happened. The carton was on the other side of the bench, there was no way I could have had anything to do with it flying across the room.
Maybe I left it on the edge of the bench accidentally? I wondered half-heartedly, knowing that if that were the case it would have simply dropped to the floor in the kitchen and not flown across the room. Perhaps I really did knock it, I decided, thinking that there was at least a slim possibility I was too tired to remember what had happened correctly.
I felt odd all day, though. There didn’t seem to be an explanation.
That night, I was woken from my sleep by what felt like the most monumental clatter I’d ever heard. Heart pounding, I sat up in my bed and clutched my doona about me with one hand, desperately slapping my bedside table with the other in an attempt to find my glasses, and certain I was about to be murdered by a robber.
“Who’s there!” I shrieked at the blurry darkness, yelling, “I have a gun!” Anyone in their right mind would know an Australian actuary would most certainly not have a gun, but I thought it was worth a try.
When I’d finally found my glasses and switched on the light, I was busy shouting something like, “I’m going to call the police if you don’t leave my house right fucking n—”
There was a woman tangled in my curtains with the rod across her shoulders, looking just as panicked as I felt. She didn’t look at all like she was about to kill me.
“Don’t call the police!” she begged me in what sounded like a suspiciously British accent, hurriedly trying to untangle herself. “They’ll just think you’re mad!”
Honestly, part of me felt like that might be the case. Both the window and my bedroom door were still closed, but somehow there was a still woman in my room, tangled in my curtains, wearing—a dress that looked as if it might have been lifted directly out of a Jane Austin adaption. Her hair was curled too, the proper way, with perfect ringlets. She had beautiful earrings, a beautiful elaborate necklace and—a dark bruise that extended around her entire neck, as if someone had tied a rope around it.
It didn’t look like the sort of injury you could sustain and live.
I stared at it, my jaw dropping. Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place: she didn’t survive that injury. I remembered all the little things that had been happening around my house. Every little anomaly, all the things I’d dismissed. “It was you,” I realised aloud, somewhat vindicated that I hasn’t spilt the milk. “The thump, and the milk flying across my kitchen.”
She stopped struggling for a moment and grimaced. “I’m sorry!” she said. It sounded like something she might say a lot. “I’m just really clumsy!”