Rattle, rattle, rattle. Kirsty sat bolt upright. There it was again. Rattle, rattle. The same as all the other times - the locked door that led on to the veranda from the living room, vibrating rapidly, as if someone was anxious to open it. And then it stopped. Kirsty strained her ears for another sound. Footsteps maybe. There was nothing. Looking at the bedside clock, it came as no surprise to Kirsty to see that it was 2:30 am; exactly the same time as all the other occasions that she had been wakened by the mysterious door rattle. Rattle, rattle. “That’s it! Enough is enough, is enough!” Several weeks before, when Kirsty had first been so frightened by the sound of what she thought was an intruder, she had phoned her new friends, Jill and Rick, in a state of panic. “It’s probably just the wind,” had been Jill’s reassuring reply to her question about phoning the police. “Don’t worry,” Jill had added, “You’re just not used to living in the country. You’ll soon get used to natural sounds after years of nothing but city traffic noise. Go back to sleep.” She’s probably right, thought Kirsty, feeling a little less afraid. Kirsty was thankful that she had met this nice young couple soon after arriving in Pinehaven. Her decision to accept the teaching position in a country school had been a hard one. She had always been a city girl at heart. She was still unsure about her new life. Meeting Jill and Rick, who lived at the beginning of her road (“track” more like it!) had been a real blessing. She had driven the 300 kilometres to Pinehaven on her own, only two days before the start of the summer term. It had taken all of her first day there to find a place to live. She had finally settled on a little cottage in a peaceful position on about a hectare of natural bushland. What a difference it was from the tiny flat and city life she had left behind. Kirsty’s only previous country experience had been childhood visits to the farm of her Uncle Ted and Aunty Kath. Perhaps it had been the memory of those pleasant days that had influenced her decision about Pinehaven - it being not too far from her old uncle’s farm. And, then when Jill and Rick had appeared with offers of assistance and a few pieces of old furniture to help fill the house, Kirsty was impressed with their generosity and country style friendliness. To find instant friends was not something that would happen in the city. Still, perhaps phoning them in the middle of the night had been a bit foolish, even though Jill was kind enough not to tell Kirsty that she and Rick were annoyed by the rude interruption to their sleep. And, maybe it was just the wind. Maybe I did imagine it, thought Kirsty. That was the first time. When the noise of door rattling happened a second time, Kirsty was really spooked. But, instead of grabbing for the phone, she had just curled up tightly in bed with the covers over her head. “It’s only the country wind,” she told herself, unconvincingly. Two nights later, there it was again. This time she had her softball bat cuddled closely to her in bed.
On her way to school the next morning, Kirsty called in to the local police station. The young constable on duty was very sympathetic. ”Thank goodness you believe me,” Kirsty said, relieved. “Do you think it’s more than just the wind?” “We haven’t had a windy night for quite a while,” said the policeman. “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to have a look around your property later this morning.” Kirsty was so pleased that Constable Phillips (“call me Tim”) had taken her seriously, that she replied that, as far as she was concerned, he could spend the whole day at her place if he wished - and the night, too! They shared a slightly self-conscious laugh, and Kirsty arranged to call in and check with him on her way home. It was a rather disappointed Kirsty who emerged from the police station that evening. “Perhaps it’s mice you’re hearing,” suggested an older policeman, as he passed on Constable Tim’s message that no, there had not been any sign of footprints or disturbed shrubbery near the house. And no indication of any attempted forced entry of the offending door. Kirsty tried to go about her normal activities, pretending all was well. I must be imagining it, she kept telling herself. She invited Jill and Rick to dinner. “How’s your rampant prowler?” was Rick’s raucous, guffawing attempt at humour when they arrived. Jill whooped with laughter. Kirsty tried valiantly to join in their mirth. It turned into a good night. Kirsty eventually forgot her rattling door worries, and was quite relaxed when her guests left at about 1:30 am. Fears forgotten for once, she managed to fall into a deep sleep. Not for long. Rattle, rattle, rattle. It was 2:30 am. This time though, Kirsty leapt out of bed, tip-toed into the living room and carefully pulled aside a curtain. She was startled to see a quick movement in the deep shadows of the old peppercorn tree. But there was nothing she could focus on. Weeks went by. The 2:30 am rattles continued intermittently. The disturbed sleep, the leaps out of bed and the faint glimpses of moving shadows became Kirsty’s regular nightmare. No-one took her seriously.
* * * * * *
And, now here it was again. How many times was it now? Kirsty had lost count. Rattle, rattle ... the regular 2:30 calling time. “Enough is enough!” The words repeated firmly and angrily through Kirsty’s head. She was glad that she had made the trip to see Uncle Ted yesterday. Glad that he had let her borrow his shotgun. Glad she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. She picked it up quietly now, just as the offending racket stopped. Almost in one movement, she unlocked and opened the door and pointed the gun barrel into the night - keeping low and blasting in the direction of the old peppercorn tree. The noise of the explosion woke every dog in the neighbourhood and set off a cacophony of barking. But that was the only obvious consequence. Shaking, but satisfied, Kirsty re-locked the door, went back to bed and fell asleep. Any repercussions I’ll deal with in the morning, she thought as she drifted off. Amazingly, there was no morning response to last night’s shotgun blast. Kirsty was dimly aware of her reluctance to look towards the old peppercorn tree as she set off for school as usual, but nothing seemed amiss. During lunch break, she phoned Jill at the shop where she worked, to tell her of the events of last night. “I’m sorry, Jill’s not here," said the shop’s owner. “She’s still at the hospital with Rick. It seems that Rick had a very nasty accident last night. Something to do with shotgun pellets in his leg.”