The Custodians Chapter 11
THE TOURISTS (11)
Rousinac, France 2013
At 3am a crushing stillness enveloped the house, so quiet that Tom’s ears hummed. He lay frozen afraid to breath. Perspiration seeped around his eyebrows. His throat dried. When he swallowed, it clicked. The pistol felt greasy and strangely light in his hands.
Then he heard a sound. Catherine heard it too. Her eyes flew open. She grabbed his arm.
“Oh God Tom, no.”
“I think they’re back.”
“Where? The garden?”
“I don’t know. Maybe closer.”
“The roof or window,” he gestured towards their bedroom window.
Tom quietly slipped off the bed.
“What should I do now?” she whispered. “I don’t know what to do Tom.”
“S-sssh! Don’t make so much noise.”
“I want to hide. Can’t we just hide?”
He heard the panic in her voice.
“Listen, we have a gun remember? And all the lights are off. They probably don’t even know that we’re here,” he replied trying to convince his wife. “Sometimes bats nest behind the shutters, it could be that.”
Tom knelt back on the bed and pulled his wife closer.
“We’ll be all right.”
A few minutes passed … and nothing. Tom and Catherine ached in anticipation. The silence was unbearable.
A subdued hum began to fill the air. It grew louder and louder until it was deafening. All at once there was an onslaught downstairs: smashing, crunching, cracking, grinding. Mass movement like herds of buffalo trampled the garden’s undergrowth. A screech rang out like a battle cry.
“What the fuck is that?!” Tom clamored incredulously.
The noise was unbearably shrill – a guttural gurgle escaping through the high pitch of a scream. The resonance was incomprehensible. For a moment, Catherine thought of her neighbor’s cats back home, how they would cry and fight all night long, making horrible sounds. But this… this was all consuming, devastating. What IS it – a pride of lions – what? The couple stood rigid. Tom’s hand shook uncontrollably as he unconsciously rattled the pistol against an iron bed knob. The odor had returned. It was seeping through the vents.
Catherine grabbed the aerosol can. Her hands trembled as she tested her father’s lighter.
“What should we do now Tom!” Catherine pleaded.
“I don’t know.”
His chin quivered. She watched as he folded. The gun dropped from his hand.
“This is all my fault Catherine,” he whimpered.
The entire house was now under siege. Doors, shutters, shingles, locks, everything shook violently. Something deep inside of Catherine snapped. She impulsively pulled the chest of drawers out of the way.
“What are you doing?” Tom shrieked.
Catherine unlocked the bedroom door and ran out. Movement from outside, dull, simultaneous thuds, trudged up the exterior walls.
“Oh God. They’re climbing,” he said as he followed her.
Catherine stood on the landing.
“We have two options Tom – we wait for them in a box or take our chances. Which is it to be?” she barked.
Tom stiffened. He was back in the game.
They drowned the hallway in light. The noises outside ceased.
“They cringe from the light,” Tom said with relief.
But within seconds the chilling screams returned.
Catherine tilted her head.
“Listen. They sound different now, almost angry.”
Tom acknowledged that the pitch had changed.
Suddenly all of the house lights were extinguished. For a few terrible seconds they were bathed in total blackness.
“Catherine the power lines have been cut!” Tom rasped inching towards her.
“Surely they couldn’t have done that? Could they, could they have done that?” she babbled.
Catherine’s fears mirrored Tom’s as he flicked on the flashlight. He pulled her from the landing window.
“Stay alert. If they manage to get in, remember use the lighter and aerosol. Aim for the bottom of the stairs. Don’t waste the aerosol spray and keep out of my way. I’ll need the light to shoot straight.”
It was soundless below. Tom lay his arm on the banister, gun aimed down the stairs. His trigger finger twitched.
Catherine looked up towards the ceiling.
Something heavy was crawling across the roof. They heard the crash of roof tiles slipping, moving, being thrown to the floor.
“They’re above us.”
Catherine clung to Tom’s shirt. He tilted the gun upwards. Desperate for breath, they vigilantly waited and watched. The noise above them stopped. Tom flicked back the gun’s safety cap.
“Come on then you bastards!” he yelled.
Silence resumed once again. What were they waiting for?
The lull was short lived. From outside the landing window, Tom recognized a sound he had heard before. As a young child, he had watched a neighbor’s dog corner a mouse under a dresser. It couldn’t reach the rodent directly but had spent an hour circling the furniture, sniffing out its exact location. This sound was the same. It’s trying to pick up our scent to find a way in. He spun around. Everything had been secured, right? Right?
Catherine was stopped mid sentence by an explosive crash. It came from a bedroom window to their right. The wood was twisting under a frenzied assault. Neither Tom nor Catherine made a sound as they ran along the landing and flushed the bedroom with the flashlight. Whatever was on the other side, screeched and swung back. The excitement outside escalated even more. Chimpanzees… Catherine thought. That’s what they sound like, chimpanzees. The howls drummed up again, rupturing a fragile peace.
“There must be dozens of them,” Tom announced gravely.
Something broke through the front of the house. Instinctively Tom charged to the top of the stairs. Catherine snatched his sleeve.
“Tom, stop. We only have one flashlight. We need to stay together.”
Tom trembled. Things thronged downstairs filling the lounge with smashing and shredding. Thankfully the couple had locked or nailed every interior door shut. It would at least delay them.
Something above them dropped into the attic with a heavy thud. It scratched and snorted as if seeking an exit. Tom felt Catherine jump. It seemed as if the creatures were now everywhere. Tom’s mind heightened as he surveyed their position. They were too vulnerable where they were.
“Quick get to the bathroom – NOW!”
The bathroom was their last refuge: three stone walls and a solid oak door.
“Get in the bathtub and stand behind me,” Tom yelled.
He aimed his pistol at the locked door. Catherine leaned against her husband.
They felt the vibrations on the floorboards first. Movement came toward them from every corner of the house. The stairs creaked torturously under the creeping weight of their assailants. Tom listened to the pattern of the creatures’ advancement. After each room was probed, the quiet would resume. Then the whispering would start. Regrouping? Tom felt Catherine’s knees buckle. Her heart banged against his back like a sledgehammer.
A stench permeated the bathroom, a smell like a road kill. Tom retched as his finger hovered on the trigger. He could now hear shuffling along their end of the landing. The bathroom door was tested. A cautious pressure was being applied. The flimsy lock jangled in small measured thrusts. Each time this happened, Tom would point the flashlight forward causing the footsteps to retreat a few paces. Please let the dawn come.
The flashlight was steadily dimming. All that stood between them and the invaders was a torch battery. Catherine blindly stretched her hand out towards the aerosol can but no further. Her father’s lighter remained firmly rooted in her pocket. When the flashlight at last extinguished, the door’s hinges gently whinnied under a renewed, sustained force.
Hot urine splattered down Tom’s legs as the wood gave way.
“Catherine, I love you…” he gasped.
His voice was barely audible. The door snapped in two like a wafer. Tom raised his pistol and aimed at the musky shadows behind it. He didn’t hear his wife clawing the bath tiles behind her. The door dangled to one side suspended by a single sturdy hinge.
Tom fired once as the blackness enveloped them.