John sat at the old kitchen table, tapping his foot, “Hazel, will you hurry? I thought you’d prepared everything earlier. We’re only going over for a Halloween party with the Anderson’s. You’re not baking for the Ritz.”
Hazel’s black eyes flashed, “I know, but these skull cookies must look good. Sandy wanted them as the centrepiece. I don’t want people to think I’m slapdash.”
John snorted, “You, slapdash, never. Everyone knows how much effort you put into your baking. I mean, how could you win the trophy for baking at the agricultural show if you were not the best! But time is marching on. There is a pea-souper fog swirling out there, perfect to lend the right ambience to this do, don’t you think?”
Hazel was carefully packing her baking into a deep biscuit tin, “Yes, great for ambience but not for travelling. I’m glad we’re close enough to walk. I’ve put the cookies into this container, so they don’t risk getting damp. How do you think the other guests will manage driving up the hill in this weather?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem, Len said he had hung lanterns on stands along the road.” By now, John was squatting in front of his “wine store.” In reality, it was just a fold-up wine rack. The choice should not be too difficult. There were only spaces for half a dozen bottles. “Do you think I should take red or white wine?”
“Red, of course, if any gets spilt, it will look like blood, have to keep in the spirit of the thing.”
In the old hallway of the farmhouse, they shrugged into their coats and outdoor walking shoes. John placed his bottle and Hazel’s cookie container in a large old basket.
Within a few steps of leaving the house, the fog had swallowed them up. Fearing they might lose each other as the visibility was only inches, John insisted on holding hands. They set off down the familiar pathway. Now it felt eerie, none of the usual landmarks were visible. Hazel felt scared. What if they wandered off the path? What if they got lost?
Then the rational part of her mind clicked in. She told herself to stop being silly. She had walked this path for so many years as well as the shortcut through to the Anderson’s. Her son and daughter and Sandy’s two children were all about the same age. She always knew if they weren’t visible in her garden, they would be over the way.
Now, of course, all the children were adults. Shaun was working as an electronics engineer in the States. He had gone there after university, married there and had kids of his own. He had lived there so long he was more American than English. Paula had stayed here but was an academic at Cambridge. She rarely made an effort to come home, which was strange since she never married and had most weekends free. She shook her head, enough thinking about the past. They were going to a party. She needed to be light and happy.
The pair of them safely negotiated the paths and scrunched up to the front door. It looked a little different, “They have gone to a lot of trouble, I’m sure that’s a new front door and the path is new gravel,” grunted John.
“Well, new door or not, ring the bell I don’t like standing out here in the fog.”
John reached out to ring the bell, but the door opened before he managed.
A stranger stood looking at them, surprised, “Good evening, can I help you?”
Taken aback, John gazed at the man. He did not recognise him. “Er, we’ve come to the party.”
Now the man in the doorway looked hard at them, “Who are you? What party are you talking about?”
It was John’s turn to look affronted, “Why the Andersons’ one of course. I’m sorry we’re a few minutes late. We just walked over from our place, but this fog made us walk slower.”
The man in the doorway looked strangely at them, then indicated for them to enter, “What time did you leave your house?”
John thought for a moment, “Well, we should have been here at eight o’clock.” He glanced down at his watch, “good heavens, it’s taken us twenty minutes to get here!”
“No, sir, it’s taken you years. Mrs Anderson moved out after the tragic death of her husband. Now you mention a party the date of the accident was Halloween ten years ago. Mr Anderson died when a car hit him and two other people. I understand there was terrible weather then too.”
This news shocked Hazel who shivered so badly it was difficult to get the words out, “You’re saying Sandy and Len aren’t here? But I was speaking to Sandy only half an hour ago.”
The man nodded, “Maybe half an hour ago plus ten years. You looked shocked. Come in and let me get you a drink.”
A slim brown-haired woman came in at that moment, “Vic, who was at the door I heard you talking.”
Then she saw the couple standing in the centre of the room looking lost. They wore old fashioned clothes, and the woman looked shattered.
“I don’t think they need a drink. Better have a hot cup of sweet tea. Please sit, make yourselves at home while I sort things out in the kitchen.”
Later, Vic and Trish waved their unexpected guests off. They could see the lights on in the house next door and two people heading that way.
Vic looked puzzled, “What do you think is going on here? That house has been empty for years, then suddenly people emerge out of the mist and the house looks like a ship with all those lights on. I’m going to explore there in the morning.”
The next day the only evidence Vic found was the traces of two pairs of shoes leading up to the front door, but no other signs of habitation.
(c) Felicity Edwards