If Only

My phone buzzes on the kitchen counter. I know that more than three vibrations means someone is trying to call, but I don’t want to get up and check who it is—the television is on, I have a drink nearby, and it’s the first chance I’ve had to relax all day.

I ignore it.

It stops buzzing, and then starts again. The vibration is only brief this time—a voicemail alert. It can wait. If it’s urgent, whoever it is will surely call again. I turn up the volume.

I doze for a little while, the constant chatter of reality television an effective white noise machine. I’m woken by the explosions of the late night news. I drag myself to bed and disappear.

I wake. At first I think I have beaten my alarm, but then I hear it faintly playing. I reach over to the bedside table to switch it off, but my phone isn’t there. Then I remember—I left it on the counter.

Yawning, I shuffle down the hall to the kitchen. I stop the melody and check my notifications. I’m reminded of the missed call. The name of the screen belongs to my neighbour, Julie.

Thinking she was simply calling to catch up—we used to talk all the time, but recently I’d just been too busy—I check the voicemail. ‘Received. Eight. Thirty-six. PM,’ the stilted computer voice said.

Then a whisper, ‘Um, hi, I think there’s someone in my house. I need help. Pl…’ The voicemail cut out.

I frown. What a strange message. Some sort of weird joke? Surely if she was actually in danger, she would have called the police, not me. I try to call her back.

She doesn’t answer. I look out the front window—her car is in the drive, so she’s probably home. Maybe her phone is on silent.

I wander out the front and across the yard. I knock on the door, accidentally pushing the unlatched panel inwards. I frown.

I walk inside a little way. ‘Hello?’ I call.

And then I see a leg sticking out from behind the lounge. I move closer and wish I hadn’t—her clothes are torn and stained with blood, a dried pool surrounding her body. As I fumble for my phone, I think, If only I answered her call last night.

 

My phone buzzes on the kitchen counter. I know that more than three vibrations means someone is trying to call, but I don’t want to get up and check who it is—the television is on, I have a drink nearby, and it’s the first chance I’ve had to relax all day.

Still, it could be important. I get up.

‘Hello?’ I answer.

‘Um, hi, I think there’s someone in my house,’ says a whisper. ‘I need…’ Silence.

‘Hello? Hello?’ I ask into the phone, but there’s no response.

I frown. What a strange message. Some sort of weird joke? Surely if she was actually in danger, she would have called the police, not me.

Still, she sounded frightened, so I tug a shirt on over my pyjamas and rush out the front. I pick up a plank of wood that’s leaning against the bricks from a long-since abandoned renovation project and cross the yard.

As I approach, I see a shadowy figure sprint down the front path of Julie’s house and across the street. They throw themselves into a parked sedan, which bursts to life and speeds away.

I watch the vacated parking space in shock for a moment before suddenly remembering that Julie is still inside the house. I push on the door and the unlatched panel opens. Still wary, I hold the piece of timber aloft.

And then I see a leg sticking out from behind the lounge. I move closer and wish I hadn’t—her clothes are torn and stained with blood, a red pool surrounding her body, starting to soak into the carpet.

As I fumble for my phone, I hear Julie speak.

‘I was going to call…’ she pauses, coughs, ‘…the police, but I didn’t think I had time, and I knew you were next door. I’m sor…’

‘Julie,’ I say. ‘You’ve got to hold on. I’m dialling an ambulance right now.’

As the operator picks up, I think, If only I’d come over this evening—maybe I could have saved her.

 

I knock on the door. I’m exhausted—I worked all day and all I want is to put my feet up, watch some television, and maybe have a drink—but for some reason I felt compelled to visit my neighbour tonight.

‘Hello?’ Julie asks when she answers the door.

‘Hi,’ I reply. ‘Sorry for the impromptu visit, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I just thought that if you were free, you might like to catch up. Sorry that it’s so late.’

‘No it’s fine! I’ve missed our late night chats. I was just about to make a coffee—do you want one?’

‘Actually, that would be lovely,’ I say as I’m invited in.

‘Take a seat. I’ll go and put the jug on,’ Julie said, gesturing to the lounge. ‘Sorry about the terrible reality television—change the channel if you like.’

I don’t mind the white noise of the trashy show; it means I don’t have to think too hard, which is nice. This is the first chance I’ve had to relax all day.

I hear a loud thump. It seems closer than the kitchen, but still I call out, ‘Are you okay?’

Immediately my face is covered by a hand, encased in a sticky leather glove.

‘Shh,’ somebody hisses.

And then I feel an awful pain in my abdomen—one, two, three, four—as something pierces through me.

I fall to my knees on the carpet and, as blackness begins to encroach on my vision, I see a figure, bloody knife in hand, flee through the front door.

‘Oh my god,’ a voice says.

I try to move a hand to clutch at one of my many wounds, but they feel too heavy. I try to speak, but I can only whisper. ‘Someone was in your house,’ I say, my tangled thoughts difficult to straighten. ‘Call an am…’

As my voice abandons me, I think, If only I’d gone straight to bed.