"What does it say?" asked Rosie, distracted

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The wind was behind them now, blowing the small figures back down the lane and as they rounded the bend to the cottage, Jake looked back to see a man silhouetted against the stormy sky, watching. He began to run then, dragging Rosie behind him, desperate now to reach safety.

Barring the storm door, Jake leaned against the heavy wood, struggling for breath. Rosie sprawled at his feet fighting for air. Paralysed, neither could speak, but a quiet whimpering told Jake of his sister’s terror.

“Look, Rosie, what’s this?” asked Jake, pointing to a bag of popcorn with a scribbled message tied around it lying on the doormat.

“What does it say?” asked Rosie, distracted.

“I can’t read the writing, it’s a mess, but I think I know who it’s from,” said Jake, “The girl with the lurcher.”

“We’ve only been here a few days and we’re always getting presents from folks,” laughed Rosie, shakily, regaining her breath and relieved to be back inside with the door barred.

“We don’t need their damned presents!” exclaimed Jake.

“Aww Jake. Let’s keep the popcorn… please…I love popcorn,” begged Rosie.

“All right, we’ll keep the popcorn. I earned that,” laughed Jake, remembering the furious expression on the farmer’s face. And then he was lifting up his sister and twirling her round and round and both were laughing helplessly, suddenly released from the terrible tension.

But just as suddenly as it had started, the laughter died in Rosie’s throat. She glanced at the window, knowing that the urgent tapping on the glass was only the wild thrashing of the branches in the wind. But the world outside seemed alive with terror.

“I don’t like the dark,” she whispered fearfully as the gloaming darkened the room. Unwillingly, Jake’s eyes were drawn to the dark window. His sister’s fear was spooking him too.

From ‘Tightrope’ by Gill Friel

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