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**The story below is a rough draft. It could end where I’ve left it, but I will probably expand this more after the challenge.

The Silence After

Hours passed before Tess became conscious of the noise. The low hiss and crackle teased the edges of her mind, like rain pelting a tin roof. She wanted to turn away from it, nestle down further into the warm comforter, and return to her dreams. But Tess’ thoughts became more concrete by the minute, and her body which seemed weightless moments ago now felt heavy against the satin sheets.

The sound she realized was the clock radio. Instead of the top one hundred songs of 2009, a steady stream of white noise blasted from its speakers. Tess slipped an arm out from under her cozy cocoon and swatted at the off button. Silence filled the room.

Relief lasted only moments. The impact of last night’s party hit Tess in the form of a pulsing red light. It rushed past her eyes and left a vicious throb in its wake. Her searing eyelids told her the sun was streaming through the venetian blinds and well past ten o’clock. Tess groaned, prompting Keira to whimper and saunter over to the bedside. The Alaskan Malamute’s tongue worked its way over, under and in between Tess’ fingers, leaving behind a hand covered in a sticky coating of saliva.

“Keira, stop it.”

Tess rolled onto her side, brushed a stray lock of auburn hair from her face and glanced at the clock. The orange bar sat just past ninety-two, so no problem with the channel. She turned the radio back on and rotated the dial, but every station produced static.

“Huh, that’s weird.”

Kiera let out three, ear piercing barks. The dog’s golden-brown eyes were insistent even with the silly tongue lolling out the side of her mouth.

“Okay, okay,” she conceded to the dog.

She flung her legs over the side of the bed and reached for her lounge pants. Her lithe form felt ravaged and abused from the excessive amounts alcohol she had drank. Today is a pajama today.

Only a month had passed since her former roommate had bolted, leaving her to take care of Kiera. Tess didn’t know the first thing about caring for a dog, but she didn’t have the heart to turn her over to the Humane Society. They were an unlikely pair, but everyday things got a little easier.

Downstairs, Tess opened the back door to let Keira out. She watched the boisterous dog bound into the backyard, letting off a string of barks to announce her presence and begin patrolling her miniature territory, before she shut the door on the frigid January air.

“Time for coffee.”

She shuffled over to the cabinet, pulled out the organic Italian blend coffee and pried it open. The aroma filling the room sent ripples through her senses. Mornings were all about coffee and more coffee. Tess opened the lid preparing to pack the filter with grounds when she realized something was different . . . no, wrong. Something was not right and hadn’t been right all morning.

The kitchen revealed nothing out-of-place. The sun, now high in sky, bathed the old kitchen in a flood of light. Even the generic, white-washed cabinets seemed to glow. The kitchen had its draw backs but Tess loved living in a home with character. She had acquired the turn of the century bungalow at auction over a year ago, a Christmas present to herself.

Tess walked from room to room, ignoring the icy feeling that traveled up her feet. From living room to studio and back to the kitchen, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, but she couldn’t shift her uneasy feeling. The silence raised the hairs on her arms, sending a chill up her spine. Even Keira had ceased her barking.

“Damnit!”

Keira had made several successful escapes from the backyard. After weeks of attempting to curve the behavior, she’d had a new fence installed, problem solved. Unless the dog was dead, Keira’s silence said otherwise.

She grabbed the leash off the counter and flung open the door. It hit the wall with a loud crack, leaving yet another dent she’d have to repair later. As she stepped out onto the aged porch an arctic wind gripped her by the ankles. Tess pulled her arms in tight to fight off the cold air.

“K-K-Kiera!” she yelled, through chattering teeth.

The long, narrow yard, covered more in weeds than grass, ended in a door leading out onto a dirt alley. Kiera sat facing the door, frozen like a statue.

“Kiera!” she yelled again, but the dog didn’t budge. “What is it now?”

Tess ducked back inside to snatch her heavy coat off the rack. Its fleece lining would offer more protection against the winter elements than just her pajamas. Grumbling, she went back outside and stomped down the porch stairs. Her footfalls echoed off the wooden planks in the unnatural silence.

The feeling of apprehension returned as she trudged through the overgrown grass. It wasn’t only quiet inside, but outside the house too. Even on a holiday there should be the sound of cars on rumbling on the nearby highway.

Kiera still sat by the door, but now she could hear the dog’s low whining as she drew closer.

“Kiera?”

A growl rumbled from deep within the dog’s throat, halting Tess in her tracks. She had never seen Keira like this before. An undulating mass of hair emerged from her shoulders and spread down her back. Was this her dog, or a wolf?

“Kiera, stop it!” she yelled.

The dog turned its head, wagging her tail vigorously. Tess kneeled beside Kiera and ran her fingers through the dog’s thick coat trying to smooth her hackles.

“What’s wrong girl?”

Maybe Kiera had found a dead rat. Tess scanned the area around the fence, searching for whatever had caught the canine’s attention. Through the slats in the wood she saw a hulking mass. Tess’s muscles tensed again, this time with fear. Sometimes the homeless wandered down the back alley to find shelter in the garbage bins, but something told her this was not a homeless person. The familiar smell of dirt, grime and body odor, typical of the city vagrants, was missing.

“Hello?” she called, trying to keep her voice steady. The only sound that greeted her back was Kiera’s anxious whimpers.

Tess stood up and peered through the narrow space between the planks of wood. She could just make out what looked like blue jeans and an empty beer bottle. The thought occurred to her that one of her neighbors could have passed out in the alley, was in need of medical attention, and here she was scared as a school girl.

Tess shook the anxiety from her clenched hands.  and grasped the door’s handle. The mechanisms creaked and groaned as she turned the knob. She only meant to peak around the corner, but Kiera barked, pushed past her, and took off down the alley before she could protest. Her barks echoed back from somewhere down the road.

“Fine, see if I care when you coming whining for dinner!”

Tess turned her attention to the form leaning against her fence. The heavy duty, mud encrusted boots told her with some certainty it was a man, maybe one of the crew working down the street. A thick woolen hat hid the man’s face. Tess knelt and placed a hand on the gentlemen’s arm to nudge him awake, but a sound, like the crumpling of paper erupted from the body.

“Uh, sir?”

Against her better instincts, Tess leaned in to lift the hat from the man’s face. The man’s torso shifted, and began to fall from the rest of the body.

“Oh my God!” she screamed and jerked her hand away from the body. “Oh my God, help!”

©  Amanda Makepeace

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