As they drove away, the expression on their faces darkened and became serious. In the rear-view mirror, they watched as the Riordan country stately home slowly became smaller, until a turn on the path took it from their sight.
The party continued there, but other people had left, and some were getting ready to leave as Mr and Mrs Stockton approached the open gates to leave the estate.
“Why didn’t you stick up for me?” said Beverley, “You could see I was struggling”.
“There was nothing to say,” said Dean, turning out onto a country lane, the lights of the Bentley eight Mk2 penetrating deep into the darkness.
“Nothing to say, there’s plenty to say. You can never be bothered, that’s your problem, leaving me there like an idiot, while her ladyship in there witters on about how great her son is.
How he owns a car insurance company in Barcelona, and is looking to open another branch in the south of France. This is the same person, who I was gladly told, was once in a country and western band in Finland, and got to number three in their charts in 1986. He then went on to marry the woman who came sixth in Finland’s national beauty competition in 1989.
After that, he put on his business brain, and look where he is now. Obviously she asked how our Kenneth is. Obviously I couldn’t tell her he was serving three years for fraud, so all I could think of was that he was travelling in Asia with his wife”.
“Well, it’s not that big a lie,” said Dean. Beverley glared at him for a few seconds.
“Yes, it is. I don’t like lying, but I suppose I had good reason this time”.
Dean and Beverley were 69 and 67 respectively. They could easily have been called upper-class, but just about. The house party they were returning from was thrown by a friend of Beverley’s, the occasion being their grandson’s eighteenth.
They had a direct bloodline to royalty, and Beverly was convinced she had also, but didn’t. She thought there was some connection there, after tracing her family tree to find that her great-great-grandfather was a friend of the royals.
He was, however, unknown to her, unrelated. With her delusions and aspirations, she dressed and acted rather aristocratically, but Dean was hardly any different, he just had more sense of reality, but was happy to let Beverley revel in her illusions, as he knew better than to interfere. They were a bickering couple. Every day there were a few disputes, but nothing major.
Thirty-four years they had been married, and bickered before then, even arguing on their wedding night, sleeping in separate beds. Their happiest time was the honeymoon, bickering only four times in two weeks in Naples, Italy.
However, upon their return, things progressed slowly on a downward slope, not enough to think of divorce, because like so many long-lasting couples who argue regularly, there was a deep underlying love and respect for each other, the seal that kept them together for so long, but neither of them could ever show it.
They were the type of couple when in public would present a façade of camaraderie, of closeness, laughing and smiling together in the company of friends, and even strangers, but when back on their own, they would return to normal. Their bickering, however, did not constitute the majority of their marriage. It was approximately a third. Another third was simply tolerance, an acceptance of each other. An acceptance of how things were. The other third was genuine affection for each other, concealed in the dark recesses of their minds.
“Anyway, nevermind our stupid son,” said Dean, “What about that coat you’re wearing. How much did it cost?” Beverley gave a loud sigh of despair.
“We’ve been through this, I’ve told you, it’s a nice coat, I wanted it so I bought it. We can afford it, or have you forgotten?”.
“Eight hundred and ninety-five pounds,” said Dean. “Eight hundred…….and ninety-five pounds. For a coat”.
“Yes, so, what’s your point?”
“You could have bought one at a bloody charity shop”.
“A charity shop! Do you think I would ever be seen in a place like that? When have you ever known me to go inside a charity shop?
And anyway, do you they would sell this? Do you know how rare this is? This is genuine white Siberian tiger fur. Do you know how many of those tigers it took to make this? Four. So do you think they would sell this in a charity shop? I don’t think so”.
“If someone took it in they would”.
“No, it would be taken by one of the staff”.
“What happened to your love of animals?” said Dean, entering an empty roundabout, and taking a left onto a motorway slip-road.
“As much as I love animals,” said Beverley, “Who is going to miss a few tigers who nobody ever sees anyway. If they disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, who would notice? Would it affect you? No. So why not use their fur to look nice for an occasion?”
“Yes, how many times are you going to wear it?”
“Plenty of times actually. Now that it’s approaching winter, I’ll be wearing it more, and showing it off, so don’t give me that”. There was silence in the vehicle for a few minutes.
“I think it was a good night all round though,” said Beverley.
“Yes, even though you wore your coat all night”.
“Well, they need to sort out their heating, it was quite cold, and again, if I’m going pay nine hundred pounds for a coat, I might as well show it off”.
“It does look rather nice though, I’ll admit,” said Dean. Beverley gave him a slight, genuine smile, and the rest of the journey home was spent in silence.
Their house was fairly large, even though it was half the size of the place they had just come from. It was in a secluded urban area with other, similar houses, their nearest neighbours being around forty metres away.
They were hidden also behind high Birch trees in an extravagant front garden, which was only a quarter of the size of the back garden. The Bentley drove to a halt in their driveway, and they both got out into a cold wind. Dean locked the car, and hurried across to let them in.
It was 23:15 pm, and they ate supper with normal conversation. No quarrels or bickering. Beverley hung her coat up under the stairs with her other expensive garments, and at 23:50pm, they went to bed, and as ever, every night for the past seventeen years, lay with their backs to each other.
Outside, nocturnal creatures scurried in their quest for food, trying to avoid becoming it, and avoiding any form of light, as dotted along the roads, orange street-lamps bathed vehicles and front gardens with their muted hue, the cold wind having died down to a light breeze, blowing the odd leaf across the road that made no sound at all.
Silence pervaded the town, and the moon was hidden behind blackened clouds that rolled languidly across the sky, unseen by anyone. In the Stockton household, it was even darker, and seemingly even quieter. It was 03:18 am, and nothing moved.
That was, until a few minutes later, whilst Beverley and Dean were still at the peak of their dreams, at the deepest of their sleep, they never heard the creaking of a leather coat beneath the stairs, as the fur coat began to move against it, sliding off its hanger, and moving slowly to the door which was always open slightly. It pushed against it and slid out of a six-inch gap to float unhurriedly into the hallway, where it stopped to regain its composure.
It filled itself out as though somebody invisible had put it on, then began its slow journey towards and up the stairs, where it drifted across to the bedroom, pushing itself against the door which opened with only a slight creak of protest from the hinges, which had no effect whatsoever on the Stockton’s slumber.
The room was black as pitch, but the coat seemed to know where Beverley was, as it stopped at the foot of the bed, hovering, as though contemplating what to do. It drifted across to her, and lowered enough to place the right forearm on her face, where it slid down her neck and around the back, forcing itself between her and the pillow.
It took a few seconds for her mind to wake her up, the dream of sailing boats and dolphins vanishing instantly. Her eyes opened, and her mouth was covered, so she could not shout. She could not fathom what was happening, and felt something sliding down her back and along her arms.
The coat was manoeuvring and twisting itself so she was wearing it. The first word she screamed was: “Dean!” when the coat could not cover her mouth anymore. Her husband woke instantly, looking around in the blackness in an almost state of panic.
“What? What?” he asked.
“Help me!”. Dean turned and put the bedside lamp on, then looked at his wife and could not immediately see what was wrong, as the duvet was still near her shoulders. She began to rise slowly, the duvet sliding away as she drifted away from the bed, near a mirrored wardrobe, where she turned to stand upright on the carpet, facing Dean.
“What’s happening to me?” she yelled, unable to move. Dean could only stare at her, frozen. Then the inner lining of the coat began to rapidly grow hotter, and burned away her long lace nightdress, continuing onto her skin, where she screamed as it seared her flesh, burning her nerves, the sizzling audible to Dean who still lay there staring.
Slight wisps of black smoke billowed from the edges of the coat. Her eyes were closed as the pain tore through her very being, her blood seeming as though it was boiling as well.
The last nerve burned away, and the pain ceased, but the coat’s fur at the neck fused with Beverley’s hair. The coat had wrapped itself around her to become her skin, but unable to reach her lower legs and head, but the essence of the Siberian tigers had penetrated her core, which meant her toe and fingernails had become white claws. When she opened her eyes, they were exactly the same as a cat’s. Her teeth, also feline.
Dean still lay there, not knowing what to do, watching as Beverley crouched on all fours, then leaped onto the bed, and within a second her mouth had clamped around her husband’s throat. He gave a yell of fear before he could make no more sound, and the teeth sank and squeezed tighter, Beverly breathing through her nose as she waited for Dean to die. His head was pressed into the pillow, and rivulets of blood ran down onto the fabric.
The tenseness in Dean eased away and he relaxed as he passed away. She clamped even further and tore away the flesh, swallowing it whole. Her sharpened claws then proceeded to tear open his stomach, and she ate most of its contents, including what he’d recently eaten.
The light from the bedside lamp reflected from the blood streaming down Beverley’s jaw and neck, and cat-like, she leapt to the floor, made her way onto the landing and down the stairs. She went into the kitchen, and knew instinctively that she had to be away from prying eyes, and also that beyond their housing community, there was a large stretch of countryside.
With the instinctive knowledge and collective intelligence of the four white Siberian tigers, and Beverley, it knew what to do. It must hide out there somewhere, away from the danger that was human, whilst feeding on that very threat, and anything else that could satiate its hunger.
The back door was locked, so she leapt up onto the counter next to the sink, and without hesitation leapt through the pane of glass onto the patio. The noise shot through the night air, but was soon lost to the wind. Glass rained and danced down around her, but she didn’t notice, concerned with getting away, and finding a new home.
Running into the garden, she easily leapt over the small fence separating the house from the terrain beyond, and ran as fast as she could out into the darkness of the countryside.