Tell A Tale in 500 Words

A Tail By Linda Mallinson

After his wife died, he cut off her long red hair and sold it on eBay.

She had been a familiar, but remote figure, where they lived. Tall, her distinctive auburn plait swinging out behind her, she was often seen jogging or walking. Early mornings or late evenings were her favoured times. For a while she’d been accompanied by a black Labrador. And then she wasn’t. Her eyes, usually masked by large dark glasses, were blue. When meeting people she always smiled pleasantly but never stopped to chat and no-one had ever been inside her house. She regularly attended church and it was probably the vicar who knew her best. But he said they never talked about anything personal, just general things like reincarnation.

The day she was cremated, her body at last freed from fist shaped bruises, her husband bought a new car with her life insurance money. In bed that night, he heard a tapping on the window pane. He ignored it, putting it down to tree branches. The knocking got louder, more insistent. Wrenching open the curtains he saw nothing to account for the sounds. The large oak was standing outside as usual but it didn’t appear to be touching the house. Thinking it must have been the wind, he returned to bed. The banging started again. This time he flung open the window and leant out. Nothing moved, there wasn’t even the lightest breeze. He punched the duvet, repeatedly. It was soft and yielding. He did not find it satisfying.

In the morning he found the bonnet of his new car covered in deep scratches. They weren’t knife or key marks, they looked more like they’d been made by sharp curved claws. He clenched his fists but there was no-one to punch. He was alone now.

The next night the noises were overhead. It sounded like someone was in the loft. He could hear several pairs of feet. They seemed to alternate between running, stomping and jumping. The following morning, before breakfast, he examined the attic with a powerful torch. But he found nothing except the expected suitcases and a few rolls of wallpaper. He wondered if it was rats.

The pest controller came and traps were set. A squirrel was captured.

“Vermin,” said the husband. “Give it here and I’ll kill it.”

“No way. You can’t touch this one,” said the pest controller.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s red. I’ll have to release it back into the wild.”

Clenching and unclenching his big fists, the husband glared at the animal. He noticed the creature had a distinctive, lustrous red tail, it reminded him of something.

Soon afterwards the house caught fire. No-one heard the screams of the trapped husband. The cause of the blaze was found to be an electrical fault. The pest controller said the squirrel had probably chewed the electric cables. There was a verdict of accidental death even though no-one had ever seen a red squirrel in Milton Keynes before.

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