THE OFFERING • by Katie Stevens

It started with a dead crow left on the doorstep outside the kitchen. Its wings were folded tight to its body, eyes mercifully closed, feet curled up to its body. There was no sign of how it had died or where it had come from. I was unsettled, looking at the dead body laid there like an offering.

I live alone. I like it that way. There was no one to get rid of the body but me. I wore bags on my hands to pick it up and threw it in the hedge. Dead things make me squeamish and I puked up in the hedge next to it, haunted by the memory of its dead weight.

The next day I found a rabbit, its neck broken. I used to have a cat until my husband hung it by the neck. He was drunk and I was hiding. He left it swinging high in a tree outside my bedroom window.

I vomited before I got close enough to remove the rabbit. The body was rigid in death and my stomach heaved at the sight. I averted my eyes when I pushed it onto the spade with the edge of my shoe. It joined the crow in the hedge. I used half a bottle of bleach cleaning the blood off the step.

I came here to escape, to hide from a violent man who sought to possess me. I had felt safe until now.

The fox kickstarted the nightmares. It was blood covered and battered with a broken leg. The poor creature, still alive, hunched in a ball shaking, was shrieking the most god-awful scream. I swung the door open and it tried to run. Its movements were slow and agonised as it attempted to drag itself away. The sound of its screams pierced me to my core. I might have dumped two dead bodies in the hedge but I do believe in living with compassion and the state of the fox was cruel.

I didn’t own a gun. I never wished to possess the power to kill before. I moved around the house reluctantly, considering the options, hoping if I delayed the fox would do the decent thing. It didn’t and so I had to do it myself, with an old towel laid over it and a brick. I cried for a long time after.

That night my dreams were filled with blood, screams of terror and the sickening sensation of bludgeoning another being to death. I spent the rest of the night watching old Hollywood musicals on the internet, trying to blot out the dark images seared into my brain.

Deep down I knew the real fear; had he found me? Was this his declaration of intent? He always knew how to terrorise me so I would give in. My bungalow no longer felt like a refuge, there aren’t many places you can hide from the outside world if it wishes to peer in. If he wanted to find me I was there where he could see.

A sheep’s skeleton followed, the bones licked clean. It was a blessed respite from the previous day’s horror. Still, bones were bones and I’d had my fill of death. Garnering all my courage, which wasn’t all that much, I decided to stay up the next night and catch him at it. I had my camera to hand. At least I’d have something to show the police when I called them.

The moon filled the night with its muted glow, turning everything to silver. I stayed crouched down beneath the kitchen table until I had the sense I was not alone. Fear exploded in my chest as I saw the large shadow crouched near the hedge. I was rendered useless as my nightmare materialised before me.

But it wasn’t him and nothing could be worse than he was. The shadow was immense compared to its owner. The relief was intoxicating. Its black tail flicked as it fed pulling my gaze to what it ate, which was mostly blood and gore, but I was drawn to what appeared to be an arm complete with hand and fingers. I pressed my fist into my mouth to suppress a scream.

I must have emitted a noise for the cat’s head rose sharply. It looked me dead in the eye so I could see the bright moon reflected in bottomless wells of darkness. There was a flicker of recognition. It was like seeing myself, the darkest recess of my unconscious, brought to life. Or was this a dark angel protecting me?

I couldn’t move as it dragged the limb and dropped it at my feet. My stomach lurched; I recognised it, the large signet ring on its pinkie unmistakable. I ran my finger unconsciously across my cheek which bore its indelible imprint.

She mewed, sitting at my feet, head pushing urgently against my leg. I had heard that sweet supplication before, understanding and complicit in my inability to defend myself from his cruelty. I sat there, in the moonlit night, on the cool earth, outside my little house and wept into her soft fur.

I buried the limb. I hoped he had suffered in the losing of it. I recalled the dead offerings and suddenly recognised them for what they were, a promise. A reckoning in which my abusive husband would be brought to justice.

I don’t know how she did it nor will I ever know. When I ask her she just gives me an enigmatic stare, with those wide, green, unblinking eyes. Then she turns to lick her paws, that cat of mine, whom I had given up for dead, hanging from that damned tree.

I am no longer afraid. I no longer hide. I no longer feel the dread of discovery. My dark angel has set me free.

Katie Stevens says: “This is the first story I have written. I love fantasy and dark tales. In another life I write plays for children’s theatre.”

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Every Day Fiction