Her Final Hour – Carla Kovach

It had been a sticky night – so sticky, she had constantly been wiping a drizzle of sweat from her brow. She inhaled the smell of beer mixed with body odour and smiled. Turning eighteen had been brilliant, better than she’d ever imagined it would be. She went out to a pub or club most weekends and this weekend it was the Angel Arms in her hometown of Cleevesford in Warwickshire. Her friend Sarah had left her alone after pulling Jake, the boy Sarah had been after for months. No doubt they were down some alley, making out. As last orders were called, he walked over to her, insisting on paying for her last drink, a pint of lager. The disco was still going through the decades and had just about reached the nineties. She’d intended to leave after the eighties had played. Jake would probably walk Sarah home after finishing up in the alley and she hadn’t wanted to hang out alone for too much longer. ‘Don’t think because you paid for the drink it means anything,’ she said. The man laughed. There was something striking about him. His piercing blue eyes felt like they were already stripping her naked. ‘I mean it.

’ He laughed and passed her the beer. ‘It’s just a beer. The rest would be up to you.’ ‘There is no rest,’ she said as she took a swig and almost fell off the stool. She’d already had far too many and would never hear the end of it from her dad when she returned home drunk. ‘Can you watch my drink while I go for a piss?’ ‘Of course,’ he replied. On her return she smiled and took a large swig of the pint, reaching the halfway mark. She’d show him she could handle her drink. ‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m studying accountancy in London. I’m just back for the summer,’ he replied.

She looked up, almost falling as the room took a quick turn sideways. The room hadn’t moved, she’d just had too much to drink. ‘Aren’t you a bit old to be a student?’ she slurred. Then his sickly grin turned into a predatory look as the sound of ‘All That She Wants’ by Ace of Base played. The music was quieter as he escorted her away from the pub, into the darkness of the car park. ‘Get in the car, I’ll drive you home,’ he said in a robotic voice, or did he say that? She hadn’t told him where she lived. As she stared up at the stars, she lost her balance and stumbled. It was okay, the man from the bar had her and he was taking her home. As her limbs deadened, she gave up and nestled into his neck as he took her weight. She opened her eyes and a shot of pain flashed through her head.

Birds sang and the rising sun caused her to squint. The sour taste in her mouth almost made her gag as she realised she was lying next to a pool of sick in the car park. The intense headache made her flinch. A scruffy collie scurried towards her and began licking her face, soon followed by its owner. ‘Stupid slut,’ the middle-aged woman said as she put the dog on a lead and pulled it away. Ace of Base, the robotic voice, the beer, the blue-eyed man – her mind filled with everything that had led up to her being in the pub car park, looking worse for wear. But the man was taking her home. That much she remembered. Her heart quickened. She reached down, her skirt was on but her knickers felt damp and cold.

She’d urinated, or had she? Why couldn’t she remember leaving the pub? Her cheeks burned. What had the woman with the dog thought? Had she had sex with the blue-eyed man in the car park of a pub? The smell of oil came back to her as she tried to stand. She remembered the creaking back and forth. Where had she been? What had he done to her? What had she done? Why couldn’t she remember anything that had happened after she left the pub? She flinched, feeling a deep throbbing pain below as she got to her feet. She wanted to cry with each step. She’d never have agreed to doing that – never. What had he done to her and why had her mind gone blank? As she stumbled towards the path home, tears fell down her cheeks. She couldn’t hold them in any longer. She tried to think back, bridge the gap between her memories of being in the pub to ending up on the pavement. Her memories were gone, nothing.

A car drove past, blasting out ‘All That She Wants’. All that she wanted was to remember what had happened. Who was the man? She was going to find out. ONE THURSDAY, 12 APRIL 2018 Melissa grappled with the duvet until she poked her head out, reaching the cool air of the bedroom. She gasped as she rode the strengthening palpitations, fighting the waves of nausea back with a few deep breaths. The wine had gone down far too well and now it was getting its revenge. She should have stopped at one glass. Staring into the darkness of her bedroom, she rubbed her sticky, sleep-filled eyes. Same story, different day. Her relationship with Darrel was slowly killing her.

She needed out. They had a lovely house in an exclusive part of the Warwickshire countryside, savings, and an investment portfolio – whatever that consisted of. She could get her divorce settlement and make a new start with their two-year-old, Mia. She could go back to working as a customer service agent in insurance, earning a living, something Darrel had never approved of in their six years of marriage, even though they’d met when she started working for his company. He’d never approve of her lover Jimmy, either, if he ever found out, but that was another story. Things were getting harder; Jimmy wanted her all to himself. Why had he complicated what they had? She checked her phone, making sure all Jimmy’s messages were deleted and, as always, they were. Even after hitting the wine, she always tried her best to delete any traces of what she was up to. She tucked the phone away in its secret place. Darrel could never know.

During their marriage she knew there had been others in his life. He was forever in the pub, or attending courses and conferences that needed overnight stays. Then there was his insatiable sexual appetite, to which she knew full well she wasn’t attending. Credit card receipts showed meals for two in cosy restaurants. He certainly wasn’t taking the staff to those types of places. He’d never even taken her to those types of places since they’d married. Dating had been different and so had their four years pre-marriage. He’d given her everything, taken her on last minute romantic escapes and bought her flowers. He’d been perfect in every way. Handsome, intelligent, successful and considerate.

What happened? That was the only question she’d been unable to answer. After their wedding, their relationship declined. She thought that having Mia would bring him back to her but it had driven him further away. Her needs and wants were no longer a part of his reckoning. She stared at the fluorescent clock. It was only nine thirty but the quietness of the house made it feel like the middle of the night. The television had been on when she’d gone to sleep. It had obviously turned itself off due to inactivity. The other side of the bed was empty and the house was silent. Darrel probably wouldn’t come home until closing time at the Angel Arms.

He’d taken everything he’d needed from her earlier that day and, after, he’d gone to the pub without so much as a kiss goodbye, leaving her alone, tending to the pain while looking after their child. She clenched her thighs together and wiped a tear away. She’d originally gone along with all the things he wanted to do, hoping the fad would pass. He’d hurt her, but it had also been over quickly – and, quite often, he wouldn’t bother her again for a few days. Maybe she hadn’t been enough. It certainly felt that way. She’d wanted nothing more than to keep him happy. Having an affair hadn’t been part of her plans. A solid marriage, a child and a nice house were all she’d originally craved. She hoped that when he was happy, he’d then think of her and her needs, but that never happened.

He blamed her for not making an effort. Maybe she just didn’t want to make an effort with him – maybe that was it. She brushed her fingers over her nipples and winced. She flicked the lamp switch on and ran her fingers through her matted hair. The taste of sour wine reached the back of her dry throat. She rolled her tongue around her furry teeth. Why had she drunk the whole bottle again? It was so easy to have a couple, put Mia in her cot and finish the rest – far too easy. She flinched as she got out of bed. Reaching between her legs, she dabbed the torn skin, almost bringing tears to her eyes. Pulling on her dressing gown, she padded down the stairs in need of a tall glass of cold cola – the only thing that helped quench her thirst after being dehydrated from wine.

The wine had soothed away the pain he’d left her in but its soothing properties had soon worn off, leaving her with a sandpaper throat, a deep ache inside and a thirst for cold pop. As she reached the hallway of their large, four bedroomed, detached house she heard a chair scraping behind the kitchen door. ‘Hello.’ She paused and listened – silence. ‘Darrel, is that you?’ Her quivering fingers gripped the door handle. A shuffling noise startled her. Darrel didn’t normally come in through the back door when he returned home. She went to call his name again and hesitated. Her heart began to hammer against her ribcage. If it was Darrel, he would have answered.

It might not have been the most welcoming answer; it never was when he’d come home from the pub. They’d argued a lot lately, not today, but most days they argued. The silence was broken by Mia’s cries. She had to get her child and get out. Her mobile phone was in the bedroom. She ran back towards the stairs, fighting the lightheadedness that threatened to knock her off balance. If she could get her phone and run to Mia’s room, she could shut them both in. She could push a chest of drawers against the door and call 999. Footsteps thundered behind her and the sound of her beating heart whooshed through her head. As she stumbled forward, the well-built intruder shoved her face into the stair carpet with ease.

She went to scream but a blow to her head rendered her world dark. As she drifted into unconsciousness, the only thing she heard was her daughter’s cries. She awoke to the sounds of her little girl screaming, woozy from the blow to her head. The chair she was sitting on was being scraped across the kitchen floor. The pain to the right side of her head flashed through her neck, then finally calmed to a dull ache. The light from the cooker hood was all that illuminated the room. As the masked intruder dragged the chair again, it screeched across the floor until it stopped in front of the cooker hood. She tried to reach out but her wrists were bound to each armrest of the carver chair. She could feel the binds that tied her feet together as they rubbed the skin on her bare ankles. She tried to yell but the cloth in her mouth just shifted further back.

Her heartbeat revved up, almost making her gag as she gasped for air through the fibres. Breathe through the nose, she told herself. A large figure stepped into the shaft of light in front of her, casting a long shadow across the stone kitchen floor. Tears slipped from her eyes. There was no way she was going to be able to get out of the binds. All she could see was a thin gauze covering the man’s eyes. She couldn’t see him but he could see her perfectly. The man stood tall and broad, his red mask reminding her of the devil. Covered from head to foot in a white crime scene suit, she knew he wasn’t planning on leaving any evidence behind. As her heart battered her chest, sweat began to trickle from her brow.

The figure moved closer. She flinched as his gloved hand reached forward and slapped her across the face. He was so close, she could smell a hint of his musky aftershave. ‘Please,’ she tried to yell through the gag. She wanted to be able to speak, to reason with the intruder. Why? What had she done? Who was he? What was he going to do with her? He stared as she wriggled in the chair. She bowed to the side as he struck her again. A flash of pain shot through her head. Blood trickled past her ear. She trembled as it dripped into her lap, dotting her pale green dressing gown.

His gaze moved from hers, to the top of her head and beyond. She wriggled, fighting the binds. She needed to stand, to fight back but the cord around her waist snatched her back. A flood of tears streamed down her face as her daughter’s distressed cries filled the house. Was there another intruder up there with her daughter? Would they hurt Mia? Forcing her weight forward and back, she managed to build up to a rocking motion. She had to free herself, get Mia and run. The man grabbed the chair and firmly held it. ‘You’re finished,’ he said as he held his fist to his heart before nodding. She tried turning, but it was no use. It was as if her neck was locked into place.

She swallowed down the nausea as her head flashed with pain once again. As the room started to sway another pair of gloved hands brought a cord down, laying it gently under her chin. She trembled, writhed and wriggled. Panicking, she almost choked on the rag in her mouth as she inhaled it further. Tears dripped off her chin and mingled with the blood in her lap. Mia – what would happen to Mia? Her body trembled as the intruder standing behind her wrenched the cord. As her body jerked in its confines she thought of Mia, her little brown-haired girl and the love of her life. She tried to inhale and to butt her head back. The man before her remained still as he watched her struggling for her life. She could sense his grin under the red mask as her vision became peppered.

After no more than a few seconds, the world went black to the sound of Mia’s cries. A final tear rolled down Melissa’s cheek as the cord’s pressure continued to constrict her arteries until she reached her end. TWO Darrel stopped at a lamp post and almost wanted to fling his body around it and attempt a tap dance like Gene Kelly did in Singin’ in the Rain, but he stopped. There was no rain, there were no puddles to splash into. He could also feel the ale swishing in his stomach. It didn’t stop the tune from playing out in his mind as he did a little skip off the kerb then back onto it as a car passed. His night out with his friend, Rob, had been another good one and the new barmaid, she was hot. He almost envied Rob for his way with women. He had a wife who doted on him and did everything for him and he’d had extra marital relationships, which his wife had discretely overlooked. He hurried along the roadside and out of the town until he finally reached the house he shared with his wife, Melissa.

As usual it was in darkness. He let out a laugh as he put his key in the lock and turned. ‘Melissa,’ he called. The only sound was his feet echoing in the hallway as he felt for the light switch. Then the silence was broken by little Mia’s piercing cry. As his eyes adjusted, he noticed the streak of blood along the hallway. His heart began to pound as he crept towards the kitchen, stepping to the side of the blood. Mia’s screeches turned into a whimper. ‘Melissa?’ He placed his ear against the door. The only sound coming from the kitchen was the humming of the fridge.

He gently opened it and his knees buckled as he saw his wife tied to one of their carver chairs under the light of the cooker hood. A piece of blue cord was looped under her chin and the raw marks around her neck told him exactly what had happened. He gazed around the room. There was no one there and the back door was closed. When he reached his wife, he felt her wrist for a pulse but there was no heartbeat to be found. He stepped back as he stared at her expressionless face. Almost stumbling, he grabbed the worktop to steady himself as the kitchen began to sway. He’d never seen a dead person before, let alone someone so close to him. Mia’s cries filled the house. He almost fell as he ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs, passing another pool of blood.

He flung open Mia’s bedroom door and saw the screaming toddler standing in the middle of the room, hair soaked from all the tears. Her usual auburn wispy curls were stuck to her sweaty forehead. He scooped her up and ran downstairs and out of the house. His daughter began to shiver as he held her in the cool night air. Opening the car door, he bundled her in. With shaking hands, he grabbed his phone from his pocket and called the police. ‘Emergency, which service?’

.

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