In my writing class recently, my teacher assigned us each to write a piece in a genre we hate. For me, this meant writing a horror piece. I don’t like horror, I don’t like to watch it, and I don’t like to read it. I disliked writing this so much that I cannot even bring myself to finish it. Nevertheless, I post it here for the benefit of my classmates, who have teased me mercilessly for the last couple of weeks because, when I shared this in class, I’d only written as far as Astrid cutting her hand.
It was the silence that woke her. Astrid was a light sleeper and drifted in and out of sleep to the sound of the farm around her – the sound of the generator in the dairy humming away to keep the milk cold, and the cry of the cows to their calves on the other side of the farm after they had been separated. It was such a pained noise, as mother and baby cried to each other, but Astrid found it oddly reassuring; especially in the earliest hours of the morning after her husband, the herdsman, had left the house to do the milking, leaving Astrid alone. On this particular day, there was total silence and Astrid was startled. She lay for a few minutes, straining her ears for something, anything, that would reassure her enough to fall asleep again, but there was nothing.
Astrid got out of bed slowly and went to the window. The farm lay before her in total darkness; the moon was bright, but clouds kept scudding in front of it and plunging everything into even deeper darkness. The shadows next to the calving sheds and tractors were like black holes that could swallow you up. The piercing scream of a rabbit shattered the silence, it’s squeal heightened to a frenzy before suddenly cutting out and the silence that followed seemed even colder than before. Astrid shuddered, wishing she was still tucked up under the duvet, but she suddenly realised what was wrong with the scene before her and any thoughts of going back to bed were shoved to the back of her mind: there were no lights on in the dairy.
“I must go and see if Alan is ok,” Astrid thought, “this doesn’t feel right.”
Astrid reached for the light switch, but there was no power.
“Damn!” She said aloud, and began groping towards the bedside table to retrieve her phone. The device had been trying to recharge and the battery was now dead. Astrid had no idea where the torch was kept (when was the last time she had even used it? The torch on her phone was always to hand), so she resolved to make her way outside and find her way in the darkness, expecting that her eyes would acclimatise and it wouldn’t be too bad.
Feeling her way out onto the landing, Astrid walked carefully down the stairs. Tripping over the miscellaneous detritus that had accumulated in the bottom step, she reached out blindly to grab hold of the banister and caught a jagged nail on the underside, which tore into her flesh and ripped a deep wound. Astrid screamed, clutching her hand to her chest and holding it upright as the blood began to run down her pyjama sleeve. Her knees nearly buckled with the pain, and Astrid stumbled into the kitchen and felt around for the sink. She washed the wound and wrapped it tightly in a tea towel, before feeling her way to the back door, donning her coat and wellies, and making her way out into the farmyard.
As a child, Astrid had been terrified of the dark, and this fear had returned when she married Alan and left the comforts of city life for this new life as a farmer’s wife. She loved the farm in the daylight, but night changed everything and the farm was full of shadows and dark corners, of strange noises and flickering movements of things unseen. Astrid had kept her fear well-hidden, frightened to admit that she, as a 34 year old woman, was afraid of the dark. She knew it was silly and irrational, but it certainly wasn’t helped by the local stories of escaped panthers, and news reports of violent robberies at farms. Astrid had heard of one farmer’s wife who had disturbed an intruder in a barn and been severely beaten with a claw hammer.
Astrid wrapped her coat tightly around her, clutching her injured hand. She could feel the tea towel becoming warm and slightly sticky as it became soaked with blood, and she could smell the slightly metallic smell of the blood. Astrid was aware that she was beginning to feel lightheaded. Was she going to help Alan, or was she getting Alan to help her? Astrid wasn’t sure anymore and dragged her feet towards the dairy in a sort of stupor.
A rat shot across the path in front of her, and Astrid jumped. She wished that she’d thought to bring the dogs with her, “hang on-” Astrid suddenly thought’ “why didn’t the dogs bark when I opened the back door?” They were working dogs, and served as guard dogs at night -usually hypersensitive to any human noise. If Astrid had thought to fetch the dogs before she left the back garden, she would have found them both lying dead with their throats slit- perhaps it was just as well that she didn’t check, yet if she had then it certainly would have stopped her venturing any closer to the dairy and what awaited her there.
Astrid quickened her pace, her uneasiness with the whole situation was growing minute by minute and she wondered what she could do to make herself wake up from this dream, in her bed with Alan next to her before he went out to work. Suddenly, Astrid was aware of a black figure up ahead near the dairy. It was definitely human- a tall and broad figure, standing with a slight stoop in the shoulders. There was a loud bark and Astrid saw the squat outline of a dog next to the figure. Astrid froze and shrank back into the doorway of an outbuilding, tilting her head to assess the direction that the wind was blowing. She breathed a sigh of relief, the wind was blowing south, so at least the dog wouldn’t pick up on her scent.