It would be easy for him to get inside if he wanted to. And getting inside, frightening the breath out of her lungs, was definitely what he wanted. It was only a matter of time.
All the same, she checked the deadbolts on the doors, front and back. Both were secured — three inches of steel into the doorframe. The door from the pantry to the garage was locked and she’d checked the outer garage doors when it was still light out. Now, she went methodically over each window in the house — two stories, five thousand square feet of living space. All were locked. She rarely opened them. The security system was armed, including the motion detectors on the first floor.
According to her mother, she was paranoid. Always expecting the worst.
All those negative thoughts create a self-fulfilling prophecy, her mother had announced, as if this were a new thought that she’d never mentioned before. It’s been three years, you need to move on.
Diane clenched her hand that wasn’t holding the phone, digging fingernails into flesh, ignore the cramp across the back of her hand. He wants to hurt me. Punish me.
He hasn’t lifted a finger to you. Ever. I said he wouldn’t hurt you and I was right. The whole domestic violence thing was blown out of proportion. It’s the latest fad.
After that, Diane stopped discussing the situation with her mother. She would fight the battle alone.
She hated doing it, and every night she debated with herself, but she turned off the light at the top of the stairs. It cost too much to leave every overhead light and table lamp glowing throughout the night. The single sconce in the upstairs hallway would have to do. Darkness was so pervasive out here in the exclusive but lonely foothills. The nearest neighbor was visible only in winter when the leaves had fallen, exposing branches that were blacker than the night sky.
He hadn’t wanted window coverings on the upstairs windows — huge glass monoliths that stretched from the baseboards to the eighteen-foot ceilings. She could have done something about that after he was gone, but it was beyond expensive. And in some ways, watching the darkness surround the house kept her alert. Fear was a good thing. It was a gift of self preservation.
Walking barefoot, with careful steps, she approached her bedroom. She held a glass of white wine in her right hand and the ineffectual knife in her left. All these props to make her feel secure. Instead, they mocked her. Wine wouldn’t allow phantom-free sleep and the knife wouldn’t cause any damage whatsoever. The house looked sleek and secure and elegant, but it was cage.
She put the glass on the nightstand. She went into the bathroom and placed the knife on the counter. It clattered as if she’d dropped it, steel against porcelain tile. She washed her face and teeth and changed into a nightshirt. Sleeping in something silky and lacy was a faded memory. She flicked on the nightlight, turned off the overhead light, and slid beneath the covers — a prison within a prison.
Despite her lack of freedom, her constant terror, she loved her life. She loved plucking weeds out from around her plants and she loved nearly any kind of music — soft rock to Chopin. Lately, she’d drifted almost exclusively to Chopin. All the movements of her simple life were pleasurable — cooking, eating, drinking a glass of wine, even washing her single plate, feeling the soap-saturated sponge glide over the china until it was smooth and slick. She liked drying the tines of her fork and polishing the bowl of her wine glass.
She sipped the wine and clutched the knife under the covers near her hip.
By the time she’d finished the wine, she saw even more clearly how ridiculous the knife was. She moved her hand out from under the comforter, released her grip, and let it fall onto the carpet with a soft thud.
The night dragged on and she longed for another glass of wine, but going downstairs was impossible. Her eyelids were heavy, but they wouldn’t fully close. Every few minutes her head drifted forward and then she jerked awake, not sure how long she’d dozed — probably only fifteen or twenty seconds. He was coming for her. She could feel it. She could smell him in the room already — the tang of his cologne, dulled by the claustrophobic atmosphere of his grave, but unmistakable.
The room filled with a dark, smoky shadow. The heat of his presence was intense, making her skin burn. He waited near the foot of the bed. Stabbing his flesh until he bled to death had been easy, but suffocating her with his power from beyond the grave would be easier.