Alice sank down into the deep-red, velvety, cotton-wool-comfy sofa. On a small table to her side were all the necessary provisions for an evening’s TV viewing: a bottle of Pinot Noir, some nuts, some chocolate, and a large box of popcorn.
Bernard was away at a conference for the weekend; he had his work to do and his hoped-for promotion to cultivate. He was a stickler for being active and ‘doing’ stuff, so this was Alice’s chance to be self-indulgent for once.
She sighed with pleasure at the prospect of doing nothing much at all and felt the stress ease out of her body, a stress caused by their recent move and a certain tension that had built up between her and Bernard. She shook her head now as she remembered the petty source of the tension: the sofa itself.
The house was rented unfurnished, but when they arrived with all their own furniture, there it was, pushed up against the main wall of the living room. Bernard had been furious and was about to call the estate agent, but once Alice had tried it out, she knew it must stay and she convinced Bernard to keep it.
As the days passed, though, Alice became more and more attached to the sofa. Bernard would come home and she’d be languishing in its downiness. Meanwhile, things weren’t getting done around the house, and there’d be rows. Bernard would argue that he was the breadwinner and her job was to keep house. Alice would retort that she’d given up her own job to come to this new town, so he should really cut her some slack.
Just before he left on his trip there’d been a humdinger of an argument, and what amounted to an ultimatum from him: either the sofa went or … Alice didn’t believe it would come to that, but it gave her food for thought; she really did love him, and she didn’t want anything to get in the way of it.
She put the bad feeling to the back of her mind now; Casablanca was coming on soon. Snuggled down, she took a sip of wine and prepared to drift into the film’s familiar charm again. Then the phone rang.
Alice leaned over to get it but the cushion on the sofa gave way slightly, her elbow slipped, and she knocked the phone off the table.
Still ringing, the phone skidded over the parquet flooring and Alice had to get up to retrieve it. It took her three goes to extricate herself from the sofa’s deep softness but she finally reached the phone.
“What took you so long?” Bernard’s voice sounded only half-joking.
Alice returned to the sofa and resumed her former position.
“My lover wouldn’t let me get up …”
“Ha ha. So … missing me?” Bernard’s now-mellow voice sent warm vibrations through Alice’s supine body.
“As much as you must be missing me,” she answered, putting as much sensuality into her voice as she could while absentmindedly twirling her wedding ring around her finger with her thumb.
“What are you wearing?” asked Bernard. They laughed at the cliché, but it triggered some blissful minutes of long-distance love-making, Alice feeling the velvety smoothness of the sofa against her skin as she moved to Bernard’s prompting.
“I love you,” Bernard whispered eventually.
“I love you too,” Alice sighed.
Bernard paused to bring things back to earth.
“Alice … I have to … you know, what we were talking about yesterday…”
“The sofa. I’m sorry, but it really has to go. You like it, I understand that. I bet you’re on it now, aren’t you? But it’s too big, much too big. And it doesn’t go with the room. And … well, we’ve got a perfectly good one in storage – the one my parents gave us, remember? They’re really offended that we’re not using it.”
Softened up by the last few minutes, Alice stroked the cover of the sofa, already regretting what she was about to say.
“It’s such a shame, but … if you say so, I suppo–”
A loud creak stopped her dead.
“Hang on,” she blurted down the phone. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“That creaking sound?”
“Not this end.”
“Oh, it must have been the telly.”
The volume on the TV was off, but Alice didn’t want to worry Bernard unduly.
“Yeah? Okay, but don’t you go watching any horror films without me. You know how scared you get.”
They both laughed and finished their conversation, professing their mutual love again before hanging up.
Alice got to her feet and walked around the dimly-lit room, inspecting the furniture to see if she could discover where the creaking sound had come from. Finally, concluding that she’d imagined it, she lay back down to watch the film. With her right hand cradling her head, and her left arm slung along the top of the sofa, she was fast asleep well before Ilsa swept back into Rick’s life.
A shrill scream yanked Alice back to consciousness. Casablanca had finished, replaced by some cheap 1960s horror film. Unsettled and disoriented, she went to sit up, but her left hand was stuck in the narrow gap between the wall and the sofa.
She tugged hard, and as she pulled her hand out, she felt her wedding ring slip off and fall behind the sofa, making a light tinkling sound as it hit the floor.
“Bugger it!” she muttered, still half asleep.
Swinging her legs round, she got shakily to her feet, standing for a few moments to clear her head.
After moving the table with the provisions on it to the middle of the floor, Alice first went to the right-hand end of the sofa and tried to pull it back from the wall, but it wouldn’t budge. The left-hand end was not much easier, but she was able to heave it out by a foot or so, the wooden feet of the sofa grinding on the parquet flooring, before it stuck and would move no more.
The wedge-shaped space that the back of the sofa formed with the wall was the deepest, densest black. Alice had half-turned to go to the main light switch when she caught a glint on the floor. Not thinking twice – and not questioning how anything could reflect light in such fathomless gloom – she got on her hands and knees and stretched an arm into the space.
Unable to reach the source of the light at the first try, she readjusted her body so that she could get a little further into the gap. She edged along on her side with the wall at her back, and at her chest, the back of the sofa, punctuated by sturdy, vertical wooden struts covered with the same soft material as on the front.
She breathed in to make herself thinner still and inched forward into the space. With one final effort and stretching every sinew, she managed to touch the ring, only to nudge it a little further out of reach. Then she heard the creak, the same sound she’d heard earlier – very loud now, almost deafening in the confined space.
The creak again, then the sudden grinding noise of sofa-feet on parquet flooring, coinciding with the pain in her chest. Now she was awake to the danger. She was still facing the black angle but the glint of the ring had disappeared.
She made an effort to scuffle backwards but her torso was wedged between the wall and the wooden struts on the back of the sofa. She tried breathing out to make herself thinner, but another deep, groaning noise signalled more movement from the sofa, jamming her head in place.
She let out a desperate scream, echoing those still coming from the television; filling her lungs to do it cut through her like a thousand knives. The last thing she felt before slipping into unconsciousness was the soft, velvety covering on the back of the sofa, caressing her face.
Alice was spared the terrible cacophony of sounds that followed: the shrieks and screams from the television; the relentless grinding of wood on wood; the crunching and snapping of bones; the popping of organs; and the long, sonorous, mournful creaking.