I was brewing a cup of tea on Wednesday, a few days before Halloween. Once the water started boiling, the tea kettle screamed and my cat was startled out of a deep sleep. His terrified reaction gave me an idea for a short story. Grabbing my laptop, I jotted down the following story, that I thought would be an appropriate post for Halloween.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Tormenting Tea kettle
Clarise awoke to the screeching of a tea kettle once again.
That had terrified her for the first week or so, but now proved to be merely tiresome, considering she’d been trapped in her house, alone, for nearly three months. And she didn’t own a tea kettle.
Nevertheless, at 5:47 every morning, she was yanked out of Morpheus’ arms by the high-pitched whine in her kitchen.
The first time this had happened, she’d shot out of her bed and raced down the hall to see what the hell was making that sound. As soon as she crossed the threshold to the kitchen, the screeching stopped. Heart pounding, feet freezing, nerves tingling, the hair all over her body standing on edge, she jerked to a stop on the linoleum while frantically searching for the source of the noise.
Scanning the room, she found everything in its proper place, burners on the stove turned off, and absolutely nothing on its cast iron grates.
“Must have been a nightmare,” Clarise mumbled to herself. “But it seemed so real.” Wrapping her arms around her to ward off the morning chill, she turned back toward her bedroom. After every few steps she would cast a quick glance into the kitchen. Silly, certainly, since there was nothing there, but she couldn’t help herself.
Once she reached the bedroom, there seemed to be no point in returning to bed. She was wide awake now. She glanced at her phone on the nightstand to check the day’s weather. Cloudy with a high of 42 degrees. A typical March day. So, she pulled on a sweater, jeans and thick socks, pulled her hair into a messy ponytail and headed into her home office to check emails.
The next morning, a Sunday, at 5:47 a.m., a whistling tea kettle jerked her awake again. As had happened the day before, Clarise raced to the kitchen, and the sound stopped. What were the odds of having the same nightmare two days in a row? Pretty slim, Clarise reasoned. There must be another explanation.
She walked into the kitchen and examined every inch of the room. She opened her microwave, searched the pantry and every cabinet. But since she wasn’t a tea drinker, and she lived alone in the house, she found no kettle.
I need to stop having that extra glass of wine before bed, she thought. It’s making me a bit batty. Or maybe I’ve been cooped up inside too long.
Covid was raging and since she had an autoimmune disease, she’d decided to isolate herself as much as possible. She’d bought enough supplies to last an Alaskan winter, stocked up on propane for her generator in case of an emergency and set up a lovely office in the spare bedroom so she could easily work from home.
Maybe she’d been working too hard. Many a time, she’d look up from her computer only to realize she’d worked straight through lunchtime. And often didn’t stop for dinner until her stomach was grumbling.
Yeah, that must be it. So, instead of tackling her latest computer project, she decided to put on her grubbiest jeans, a flannel shirt and her faded college sweatshirt and head outside to ready the garden for spring.
She’d spent hours weeding the beds, sweeping leaves from her rear patio, repairing a loose step on her front porch and removing the remnants of summer flowers from her decorative planters. Exhausted but satisfied with her progress, she’d headed inside as the sun dipped below the tree line. Once she’d washed up, she’d heated up a hearty stew for dinner and crawled into bed—looking forward to a long, well-deserved slumber.
Monday, 5:47. Tweeeeeeeeet.
What is happening?! Clarise sat up, tired and cranky. Where is that sound coming from? It must not be the kitchen. She grabbed her phone to see if it was making that infernal noise.
She slowly swung her feet to the floor, put on slippers and her robe and skulked around her bedroom. She checked her windows. Opened her closet. Pressed her ears against the wall hoping that maybe the noise was a result of a weird problem with her plumbing.
Nope. The sound was clearly coming from her kitchen.
Grabbing her walking stick from the closet, she crept down the hall, as silently as possible, hoping to sneak up on whoever was harassing her. But as soon as she got to the doorway, silence.
This is insane. And a little frightening. Was someone deliberately tormenting her? Or playing an outlandish prank? By why? And why now? She’d lived in this house for three years. It was a small ranch house set back on nearly two acres of land, so she rarely saw her neighbors, but she was pleasant when she’d encountered them. She didn’t have any stalker ex-boyfriends or crazy coworkers that she knew of. Who could be doing this?
Determined to solve the mystery, she spent the rest of the day laying traps. She sprayed water all around her house, turning the gravel path and surrounding gardens to mud. Then she locked all her doors and windows and sprinkled flour in front of them. That way, if something or someone got into the house, she’d be able to footsteps or signs of a creepy ghost gown dragging across her floor. As a final precaution, she turned off the valve to her kitchen faucet. No faucet, no boiling water, no whistle. Problem solved.
Tuesday, 5:47 a.m. Tweeeeeeeeet!
On went the slippers and robe, walking stick in hand, Clarise raced down the hall, excited and anxious to discover some telltale clues from her cleverly laid traps. She found…nothing. No kettle, no footsteps and even more surprisingly, no flour.
FUCK! What the bloody hell was going on? Who was doing this? WHAT was doing this? And why? Was she losing her mind? Sure, she’d been cooped up in her house for two months—but a few months alone wasn’t much of a struggle. She enjoyed the quiet.
Or at least she had until the universe decided to set a 5:47 wake-up call every morning.
Clarise shot upright in bed, but this time didn’t leave its comfy confines. Instead, she buried her head under the pillow, determined to wait it out. Maybe it would automatically turn off after a minute or two and she didn’t realize it because she’d just happened to enter the kitchen at that exact time.
But no, the whistle kept blowing. Without warning, tears dripped onto her mattress. The sound was piercing her skull and after four very long minutes, Clarise gave up and tromped into the kitchen to encounter blessed silence. She wiped her eyes, took a very large breath…and SCREAMED in frustration!
WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY? What do you want from me? STOP IT. STOP IT! She screamed until her throat was raw. Then choked back a hysterical giggle when she realized a cup of tea might soothe her vocal chords.
She collapsed into her kitchen chair and finally gave in to the great gulping tears of frustration she’d been holding back all week.
Once she’d cried herself dry, she got up, splashed cold water on her face and decided to make the best of it. She went about her normal day, tucked herself into bed a little earlier than usual to counteract the inexplicably early wake-up call and rose at 5:47 a.m. to shuffle into the kitchen.
This went on for a few weeks. Annoying, but tolerable.
Then one day, Clarise, decided to take advantage of a warm, sunny day, working in her yard from breakfast till mid afternoon. She cut back mounds of unruly bushes and hauled them to the back of her property where she composted yard waste. When she’d finally finished, she dragged herself into the house. Standing in the shower, she realized just how exhausting the day’s work had been. The warm water soothed her aching limbs while it lulled her into a near coma state. Exiting the shower, she managed to dry off and run a brush through her hair before collapsing on her bed.
I’ll just lay here a few minutes and then get up to make something to eat, she thought.
“Clarise. Clarise! Wake up, hon. This has gone on long enough.”
Clarise felt a firm hand on her arm. It was shaking her brusquely. She moaned and tried to turn away, but the hand gripping prevented the maneuver.
“Clarise! Open your eyes, honey.” The woman’s voice sounded equal parts worried and annoyed.
Clarise thought she recognized the voice but couldn’t imagine why her mail carrier would be in her bedroom. This must be another weird dream. So, she yanked her arm in an attempt to remove the hand confining her and go back to sleep.
It didn’t work. The grip grew firmer. And the shaking returned.
“My daughter said you should be fine by now. The swelling has gone down and the bruises are a lovely shade of yellow. Hardly noticeable.”
Bruises? Swelling? Clarise didn’t know what to make of that. Maybe opening her eyes and taking a peek around wouldn’t be such a bad idea. She cracked them open a tiniest smidge.
“Oh! There you are. Welcome back!” The hand lifted from her arm and the woman clapped excitedly.
Clarise open her eyes wider and inched up against the pillows to get a better look at her surroundings. She was not, in fact, in her bedroom. She was lying in a large four-poster bed, covered with a pastel blue quilt. Afternoon light shown on the faded wallpaper illuminating gold trellises entwined by blue morning glories. Standing next to the bedside, backlit by the window, was Pauline. Her letter carrier.
Bloody hell. What was going on now? Clarise raised her freed hand and ran it across her forehead before raking it through her hair. It was full of tangles. As if she hadn’t brushed it in days. She pushed herself up to a fully seated position. “Pauline,” she croaked out, her voice oddly scratchy, “ Where am I?”
Pauline smiled and sat down on the bed. “Well, dear, you’re in my house.”
“You’re…” She shook her head, trying to shake her marbles back into alignment, “you’re house? Why? And how did I get here?” She felt like Alice landing at the bottom of the rabbit’s hole.
Pauline patted her hand, answering in a soothing tone. “You had an accident, sweetie. I was making my rounds last month and you had a delivery that was too large for your mailbox. When I drove up your driveway to hand deliver it, I found you lying on your front porch.”
“Oh my God. What happened to me?”
“Best as I can tell, you must have tripped somehow and banged your head on one of those giant ceramic planters where you plant those beautiful red geraniums. I found a hammer and nails scattered around, so I think you’d been fixing something at the time.”
She paused when Clarise moaned a little, remembering she’d relived fixing the front step while unconscious. “Then what happened?”
“I tried to wake you but you were knocked out cold. I know the hospitals were all overwhelmed with Covid, so I called my daughter—she’s a doctor, you know—and she said to bring you here and she’d keep an eye on you. Turns out you had a concussion and needed yourself a little rest.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Well, today is Wednesday, so nine days. Which sounds like a long time, but my daughter said your vitals were good, you mumbled in your sleep occasionally and even yelled something one morning about “no water, no whistle.” I have no idea what that meant, but it showed you had brain function, which was a good sign.”
Clarise sank back into the pillows. She closed her eyes, trying to make sense of it all. So, the last few weeks had just been a dream. The whistle must have been a weird reaction to her addled brain. She could come up with no other explanation.
Pauline rose from the bed, saying, “You just lay here and rest. I’ll bring you up some food. You haven’t had a good meal in over a week. Does a grilled cheese sandwich sound good?”
Clarise opened her eyes and smiled at her kindly caretaker. “That would be delicious, thanks.”
Once Pauline reached the doorway, she turned and said, “You can stay here until tomorrow when my daughter will come check on you. If she clears you, you can go home. Alright?”
“Perfect. Thank you so much.”
Clarise heard Pauline bustling around in her kitchen and it wasn’t long before she reentered the room with a tray, carrying a sandwich, glass of milk and even a cookie. Clarisse quickly gulped down the food and thanked her host again. Worn out, she turned off the bedside light and quickly fell back to sleep.
Thursday 5:47 a.m. Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet
“Tea’s ready, Clarise,” Pauline called from the kitchen. “Would you like a cup?”