Short Story|The Cry from the Empty Cot

The Cry from the Empty Cot is a haunting work of short fiction by Harri Battersby. Harri is a writer and proofreader, currently based in Yorkshire. She writes across a number of genres but remains fascinated with themes that explore fantasy and the paranormal. She has an MA in Publishing.

She sat by the window in the dreary living room. The nursing chair gently rocked beneath her body as she looked out upon the unkempt garden. In her lap lay a book, a book she hadn’t read for many years and was still not reading now. It sat there for when her friends and family asked her what she had done that day.

‘I’ve been reading,’ she would lie. ‘This one. It’s a favourite of mine.’

But then her face would turn back to the window and she would follow each drop of rain as it ran down the already dirty glass panes.

Behind her, stood a tall oak bookshelf. It stood rudely in the room, matching no other furniture, and was home to shelves and shelves of baby books and toys. The dust had piled upon them. In the left-hand corner of the top shelf, in a clearing, free from any dirt, sat two pairs of laced shoes. Each was no bigger than her own ears. The shoes were old, of course, but had never been worn; not by feet. They were placed in her fingers occasionally and caressed upon her cheeks but those little shoes had never known the toes for which they were made.

There was a heavy knocking sound and the woman dragged herself to her feet. She tucked her hair which had not been washed for several days behind her ears, as if that would disguise the dark circles that penetrated her faint eyes. She pulled the door open and flicked her eyes up to their natural level.

No one stood behind the door; no one stood anywhere. But then, she had not seen a pair of footsteps walk up the garden path. She had not seen anything, but her eyes had been fixed upon that spot.

She touched her two forefingers to her throat and made a sort of grunting noise to clear the voice that had not been used in almost a week now. ‘Hello?’

Another knock. It was hard and heavy but the door was in her hand and nobody stood in front of her. With a scratchy whisper, she added, ‘Come in?’

It would not be the first time that she had looked straight past somebody and not even be aware of their presence.

A cold chill brushed past her so she closed the door and turned to go back into the room she so often found herself. It was not a living room, for she barely lived in it; and yet to call it a sitting room made it sound as if that was its purpose. The room, in her opinion, had not a purpose but an absence just like all the others which were tucked between the house’s walls. Another knock, but it wasn’t from behind the door – not the door she was stood by.

The knocks were abrupt and persistent. Three heavy blows. No culprit. No one.

Hearing a sound that was not there was not uncommon, not to her. Each night when the lights were finally out and she pretended that she would try to sleep she would hear that unfamiliar soft snoring. A snore that echoed in the hallways of an empty house.

Another knock.

She took a low breath and decided to climb the stairs. Her feet were soft upon the wooden floors but heavy footsteps now followed her from behind. They were slow and firm but kept in perfect synchronisation with her own. She pulled her fingers tightly into the palm of her hands and her breathing increased in speed.

‘Who’s there?’ She cried as she turned around.

The footsteps stopped. The knocking stopped. There was no one in sight. She clung to the bannister as she reached the top step, straining her ears for the slightest sound. The silence rang at an uncomfortable pitch and left a bodily chill running across her pale skin. All the doors upstairs were open. She closed the door to the nursery before she could spot the cuddly toys sitting on the shelves and the mobile hanging from the ceiling which spun in a clockwise fashion. That door was never open. Never, not in years. It had been locked in fact, she was sure of it. And yet, she had just had to close it.

She made sure all of the other doors were closed too, before heading back to the stairs. She took a deep breath and tried to omit any thoughts from her head. Maybe she should read. Take her mind off what was clearly tormenting her. But, there was another knock. This time four beats. Faster. Angrier. She turned her head back to the nursery door. It was open. Again. A juvenile laugh, that shook her and made the hair on the back of her neck stand to attention, burst from the room. It cooed and giggled and the heavy footsteps seemed to walk towards it, leaving another chill across her left shoulder.

Walking slowly into the room, her feet made imprints in the dust that had settled on the floor like footsteps in the snow. She stared at the empty cot in terror, beside which came the harrowing laughter. Closer and closer from the unused cot came the heavy footsteps and it wasn’t until now that she could hear a pair of smaller footsteps. They skipped alongside the others happily and without fear.

They stopped abruptly in front of the woman. Their toes pointing to hers without a centimetre gap between them. The laughter of the child continued but it had turned nervous and quick, and the breaths of which blew against the frail body of the woman. The cries of a new-born erupted from the cot. The cry that the woman had never got to hear. And, like any other mother would do, she tried to reach the cot. She wanted to pull the baby into arms, cradle it as if it was her own. But, her hand was caught; caught in thin air; no, it was being held. Her hand was being held to stop her from running to the cries of an empty cot.

‘What do you want?’ She cried as the tears trickled down her cheeks and her knees bent causing her body to sag. ‘Please!’

A second hand grabbed hers, cold and tight, it refused to budge. Then, the door to the nursery, the door that was so insistent on being open, slammed shut.

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