It was only eight o'clock, but Sandy was weary. One of the great delights of her single status was that she could do as she pleased - eat cake for breakfast without causing comment, wear stretched tracksuits at home without rebuke, leave unwashed plates on the coffee table if she so desired. Sandy stretched, and headed to the bathroom. She would shower, and change into pajamas. Perhaps tonight she would finally make some inroads into 'War and Peace'.
Stepping into the shower, Sandy felt a flicker of fear light up in her belly again. Something about standing under the water, both vision and hearing obscured, gave her the creeps. This was one of her least favourite things about living on her own. She blamed the movie 'Psycho'. But she knew she was being melodramatic - after all, she had a shower every night and lived to tell the tale. Sandy gave herself a mental talking-to as she scrubbed her face. What she needed was some reading as distraction.
A few minutes later, with towel-turbanned head and dressed in her flannel PJs, Sandy moved confidently about the flat, switching lights off and checking locks. Her earlier jitters had been soothed by the shower, and by the simple rhythms of her evening pattern. She propped herself up in her soft queen bed, pressed a speed dial button.
"Hi Mum, it's me. I just wanted you to know I'm okay."
Her mother's voice had a definite tone of relief. "Oh love, I'm glad you called. Your Dad and I do worry about you, you know."
"I know Mum. That's why I rang. But I'm safely tucked up in bed, ready for a solid attack on Tolstoy."
Sandy's mother laughed. "Are you still trying to get through that doorstopper?". They chatted for a few minutes, and wished each other sweet dreams before Sandy hung up. Sandy was still smiling as she replaced the phone in its cradle.
It was only when Sandy reached for her thick book that her smile fell away. There, underneath where the book had rested, was a half-open packet of matches, embossed with the words, 'Hotel Forum - Bratislava'. Bratislava, Slovakia. A single match lay loose from the pack, charred at the tip. He had been here, he had lit a match in here, maybe even smoked one of his cigars. Sandy's heart began beating frantically, so loudly she could hear nothing but the frenzied thudding. She let the book fall to the bed beside her. She was more frightened than she'd ever been in her life. Then, from within the haze of her panic, another sense intruded. She could smell his aftershave again, stronger than before. She heard a movement from her walk-in wardrobe. Her mouth was too dry to form words; she could only gasp. Viktor stepped from the shadows, twisting a scarf in his strong brown hands.
Sandy's eyes widened, her breathing erratic, thoughts spinning madly in her head. She could try to yell, and kick, and fight, but the walls of these apartments were thick and sound-proofed for privacy. Viktor was six foot four and muscled, powerful. Her chances of surviving this were almost zero. Sandy's voice choked in her throat; she sat rigid with terror. The game was over and she knew it. Then the phone began to ring.
Viktor glared at her, his face vicious and contorted. "Don't answer that!" he hissed, as he strode forward, pinning her arms to her sides.
Sandy stayed motionless as the phone rang and rang, announcing the caller ID at intervals, "Call from 3434 2612 ...... call from 3434 2612 ....". It was her mother calling. She was checking to be sure Sandy was really alright, double-checking with some sixth sense that a mother often has. She would let the phone ring out, and then she and Sandy's father would come over with their extra key. They were five minutes drive away. Don was a big man himself, and still a strong man despite his age. Sandy was in with a chance. She began to holler, and twist, and kick, and bite.
* This story was written in response to a visual prompt on the fabulous new blog magpie tales (thank you Rel, for your imaginative post, which inspired me to go check it out!). Go visit - it might inspire you to try a tale or two, too!