Sheila’s mother sighed heavily as she looked at her illuminated bedside clock. One of the less pleasant things about getting old was her growing need to get up in the middle of the night. Accustomed to an orderly, controlled life her body’s recent independence in this matter was a source of annoyance for her. Her bedroom window was open and she could hear the sudden, urgent howling of a cat fighting. The noise was really intrusive. She frowned in exasperation at being disturbed; she found it harder and harder to get back to sleep these days. The cat fight ended abruptly and the howling stopped. Mrs Balsam snorted her annoyance. A much more immediate annoyance of course was Sheila’s sudden insistence on keeping the statuette of the unicorn. She could not think what had got into her normally complaisant daughter. This was more important than the pain in her back; she was used to that. After mulling the matter over for a while, her back pain became too insistent for her to ignore it further and she reluctantly accepted that without any pain relief medication she was not going to get any further sleep that night. With another heavy sigh she swung her legs out of bed. Sitting up and bending forward to search for her slippers, she hissed at the jolt of pain from her lower back. “I hate getting older,” she said very quietly, perhaps in the hope that she would not hear herself say it. She didn’t need to turn on her bedroom lamp to make her way to the door, but once that was open the darkness was too much for her to feel safe walking across the landing and down the stairs. The switch for the light that hung at the top of the stairs was beside her bedroom door. She fumbled awkwardly with her left hand until she found the switch and turned on the light. There was a brief scuffling sound at the bottom of the stairs so she walked across to the banisters and looked down into the hall. The kitchen door was open and a shadow moved. “It’s Molly,” she thought. A moment later she heard the cat flap open and close, and relaxed. Only when she relaxed did she realise that she had been tense. “This is silly,” she said aloud to herself. She paused for a moment, but could hear nothing from Sheila’s room and the rest of the house was quiet too. She took a firm hold of the banister rail and started down the stairs. She counted each step on the way down as was her habit. At the bottom of the stairs she stopped and looked along the hall towards the front door. The single bulb at the top of the stairs cast an adequate yet dim light along the hall. Nothing moved and she was unaccountably relieved. The unicorn stood on the stand near the window, facing the front door just as they had left it. After the discussion over the broken plant pot Sheila had picked up the unicorn and turned it to face the front door. She had re opened the cut on her finger whilst doing so and had asked her mother to get a cloth to wipe the blood from the unicorn’s horn. Her mother recalled walking out of the kitchen with a damp cloth, only for Sheila to tell her that it wasn’t needed now. “Too late,” Sheila had said to her mother. “It’s all gone now.” Now in the dark of the night Sheila’s mother found herself wondering where the blood had gone. “Of course,” Sheila will have wiped it off herself,” she decided. “She just did that to be annoying.” She turned away from the front door and the hall and walked into the kitchen through the open door. Behind her she fancied that she heard a noise. She took a deep breath before walking back into the hall and chided herself for being silly. She turned on the hall light too and looked all around. She examined the position of the unicorn statue. Was it her fancy or was it suddenly out of its previous position? Of course it was her fancy. But when she walked back into the kitchen she still pulled the door shut behind her. Mrs Balsam turned on the kitchen light and walked across to the cupboard where she kept the medicines. She opened the cupboard door, then turned back to the sink. Taking a glass from the side of the sink, she rinsed it under the tap and then filled it with water. Setting it down on the worktop with a click, she reached into the cupboard and pulled out the packet of pain relief capsules. She pulled some of her painkillers from the packet and put them in her mouth. She reached for the glass, and stopped as she heard a click. Was that the glass clicking on the worktop; or was it the sound of the kitchen door opening? She grasped the glass firmly and turned to face the door. It was ajar, but not properly open. “I must have not closed it properly,” she said aloud. “It’s that statue thing. It’s really upset me, as has Sheila’s behaviour over it, and I’m thinking silly things.” She drank a little of the water, wincing at the acrid taste of the tablets now that they had sat in her mouth for a few moments. She put the glass down and as she did so the door moved slightly. “I may be getting old, but I’m not senile!” she said firmly. Mrs Balsam walked across the kitchen floor to the door. She took hold of the handle and pulled the door open. She gasped as a dark shadow rose up before her, the horn on its forehead almost scraping the ceiling. “No…” she managed to whisper. Sheila’s mother stepped backwards across the kitchen floor. The ceiling light failed and went out. The shadow tilted its head forward to enter the kitchen and the bright glow from its red eyes became the only illumination in the room. In that glow she could see the horn on the shadow’s forehead swing downwards. It pointed directly at her as the shadow rushed forward. She wondered if she would have time to scream, and decided to try anyway.
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