While I was taking an online writing course run by Curtis Brown Creative I was tasked with writing a “suspenseful scene”. They published my final efforts on their blog under the title: How To Write a Suspenseful Scene For Halloween.
By the time Sarah made it back to the house, a fine layer of cloud had settled so low that her hair and skin were sticky to the touch. Instead of sneaking into the house via the front door and having to run the gauntlet past her parents’ bedroom, she opted for the back.
The gate from the alley into the back garden was in such desperate need of WD40 that it squawked whenever it opened and shut, and that squawk turned into a howl in the winter cold. Rather than disturbing the gate she hoisted herself over the wall and dropped onto the gravel path. The garden was stark in the eerie moonlight that leached through the fog — devoid of the flowers and vegetables that crowded the beds during the warmer months. The house stood dark and silent, but Sarah still walked with caution along the path trying not to let a single crunch of gravel escape. Just as she reached the back door and placed a hand on the doorknob, the clocktower struck one and made her jump. She jerked open the door more abruptly, and more noisily, than she’d intended.
She paused and waited to see if any lights snapped on around her. They didn’t so she pushed the kitchen door open just enough to let her slip in. Before she stepped farther in, she shouldered the door silently closed and reached down to take off her boots – her eyes adjusting to the dark. Her dinner place was still set on the kitchen table — plate, glass, fork, knife, dessert spoon all in their correct spots and defiant in their lack of use. She could see that a piece of paper – a note, no doubt – was folded and propped up in the centre of the plate.
She flinched, closed her eyes and swallowed her breath. Here came the bollocking for staying out so late. Turning slowly, she expected to find her dad in pinstripe old-man pajamas, silhouetted by the door frame – but she was still alone.
‘What? No —’
Her father’s voice, muffled by a closed door. She padded in stocking feet across the kitchen, every muscle in her legs trying to make her footsteps silent. She knew she should take her chance and “go directly to bed, do not pass go, do not collect berating,” but she never made the should decision.
Her dad was behind the living room door, talking at a surprisingly normal volume given it was past one in the morning.
‘No, I can’t accept that. You’re being unreasonable.’
There was no light leaking around the door. He hadn’t turned on any lamps.
‘Can’t we talk tomorrow? I’m tired. I’m tired of it all. Please —’
The door wasn’t fully shut — it rested on the latch. Sarah moved closer and pushed the door open by an inch. The curtains of the bay window were drawn back and the fog outside had become so thick it had turned the glass into an opaque wall. The phone cable stretched taut across the room from the phone jack beside the sofa, but her dad was still out of view. He was breathing sharply as he listened to the words she couldn’t hear. She leaned her weight forward to her toes and the floorboards beneath her gave out a tattle-tale squeak. The cable jerked as her dad reacted. Clamping her mouth shut, she snapped her hands into fists. Her shoulders and stomach muscles tensed, and she started to calculate how fast she could reach the back door, knowing that the deadbolt on the front door would slow her down too much.
‘I have to go… What? No. Wait — shit.’
She should go right now.
The shadow of her dad crossed in front of her. Stooping down, he replaced the phone on the end table and leaned over to click on the lamp. The flood of sudden light made Sarah recoil and screw up her eyes. When she opened them again, Dad still stood with his back to the door, and to her. His head hung down and he had his hands clamped to either side of it as if to stop it falling any further. He looked wrong to Sarah. Wounded. He should have been shouting.
She pushed the door again and this time it swung all the way open and exposed the whole room to her.
‘Damn it, Sarah. Get some sleep. You’ve got school in the morning.’