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Black Dog - Chapter 7

Olivia is far closer to the ghosts and myths of Lockwood House than she realises.

Olivia, despite warnings from her mother, intended to carry out as much of the redecorating as she could by herself, and had decided to try her hand at stripping the wallpaper in the guest bedroom. This latest flurry of activity fascinated the cats: several of them overcame their misgivings about Olivia enough to stalk and harass the falling curls of paper, coming over to rub against her legs when her work ran on into feeding time, and one of them knocked her transistor radio off the windowsill, into the neglected flowerbed far below. Not long after she'd retrieved it and set back to work, a loud bang made her yelp in surprise and gouged a long furrow in the plaster with her scraper. She whipped round to see what had happened, but couldn't see the source of the noise. Had she remembered to lock the door when she came back in?

Heart pounding, she ventured forth, gripping her scraper tightly. She found a big hardcover book lying open and face down in the middle of the corridor outside Auntie Imogen's bedroom. There was nowhere it could have fallen from, but it hadn't been there before, either. She picked it up. Flamebound: Uncle George's first novel, its edges yellow with age, its front page signed by the author, with a note to Auntie Imogen in familiar handwriting. Olivia sat down in the hallway, scanning the first lines of the first chapter, the words she'd memorised years ago.

Several chapters later, a loud and urgent knocking at the front door wrenched Olivia from the familiar imagined world. Jumping up with a shout of "Just a minute!" she thundered down the stairs two at a time as the hammering on the door continued. "I said I'll be down in a minute!" she yelled, sprinting down the hall to yank open the stiff front door.

There was nobody there. Olivia circled the house to see if perhaps the impatient visitor had gone to try the back door. Still nobody there.
Olivia settled down on the sofa with her book, irritated that the caller hadn't bothered to wait for her. Some people had no manners.

A weight, barely noticeable, descended upon the padding of the back of the sofa. Tiger again. Olivia flinched away from the threat of claws, only to find that the big tabby was nowhere to be seen. Then the knocking started up again. It didn't sound as if it came from the front door this time, nor the back door, past the kitchen. She could see clearly enough that nobody was trying to attract her attention at the French windows. No, the knocking sounded somewhere overhead, on the first floor. Slowly, Olivia put down her book and got up. Taking a poker from the stand beside the fireplace, she climbed the stairs, listening intently as she tried to locate the source of the noise. A prolonged, stealthy padding search of the house followed, moving methodically from one empty room to the next…

Nothing. The knocking seemed, at last, to have stopped for good.

Olivia slotted the poker back into its rightful place, wondering what exactly she'd intended to do if she had discovered an intruder. Being alone in the big old house must be getting to her. When she went to make a calming cup of tea and found she'd run out of milk, she was all too glad of an excuse to get out. She went out through the little gate in the back garden, intending to cut through the churchyard. By the fading light, she could just about make out the small figure of a girl in the shadows underneath the yew tree. She didn't have time to stop and talk to Verity, though, and still hadn't made up her mind about her new neighbour. Did she always wear that black dress? It was as if the girl had nothing else in her wardrobe. And Olivia hadn't liked the look of that friend of Verity's. Speaking of which, was that him there, walking away from Verity? A tall man in dark clothes, dragging along a huge shaggy dog.

Olivia cursed her luck as she estimated their paths would cross. He stared at her as they approached, and she looked away, wishing she had the confidence to glare back and give him a taste of his own medicine. The dog, frightening as it had looked at a glance, slunk miserably along, watching Olivia nervously with unusual pale eyes. She could guess it had been hurt by people before, and as their paths drew them closer, the dog began to whine, pulling away as far as its lead would allow, and eventually stopping altogether, refusing to move another inch. The tall man, cursing his dog, was forced to stop and wait for Olivia to pass by, and she risked a disapproving look at him. She thought he might be related to Verity - her father perhaps, or an uncle. Like Verity, he was thin, pale and dark-haired, although the resemblance ended there. More likely he was one of Auntie Imogen's neighbours - one of Olivia's neighbours, now. She hurried past, intent on reaching the shop before it shut, and tried her best not to think about it.

She found the shop shut. There might be somewhere open in town, but she didn't like the idea of walking there and back, down narrow country lanes with high hedges, as darkness fell. Instead, she went back through the churchyard, up towards the place where the two wide gravel paths crossed and was surprised to see the shaggy dog sitting exactly where she'd passed it on the way out. Its lead trailed on the ground: the tall man had admitted defeat and sat down on one of the benches, where he was smoking and watching the stars come out.

Olivia swerved his gaze as she passed the two of them. Her attention was on the house: it would take her some years to clean and redecorate, but once that was done it would be much too big for her to live there alone. Although, by the time she'd completed the Herculean task, perhaps she would be old enough to be married and ready to start a family. As she calculated how long it would take to tackle the house room by room, she heard barking behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the big dog tearing through the long grass towards her, snapping and snarling madly. Olivia froze, just for an instant, all thought barged out of her mind by a deep and primal fear: the wolf, dormant inside every civilised dog, suddenly awakened. With a hard shove from her own instincts, Olivia ran. She could make, she knew: hurdle the gate, sprint up the garden path, bolt the door behind her. She didn't get as far as the gate before the full weight of the mad dog slammed her to the ground.

 

 

 

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