I was awoken by a noise in the night. The kind of noise that you're not sure whether was in your dream or your real life. I lay in my bed facing the darkness of the ceiling, eyes wide open, as if blinking was not yet possible. I did not even breathe. I listened for another sound.
I heard it again. It was coming from downstairs. In this big house, the night hours can cause all kinds of strange noises. But this one was close by. It was tangible, like someone was downstairs, doing something.
I don’t know what came over me next. I am not usually the bravest of men. If I can avoid a fight, I will. I found myself rising up out of bed in my good old pyjamas, and taking a moment to put on my robe. I do not know why I did this. Perhaps I thought its remarkable thickness could act as a protective barrier to any knife attacks. It was big and brown and luxurious, made of some kind of animal with thick, leathery skin. It was heavy, and it made me feel strong as I caught the dark outline of my reflection in the bedroom mirror. It made me look twice as big.
I heard a noise again. It sounded different this time. Perhaps slightly closer, still downstairs. My heart was really pumping good and hard. I could hear it, and I could feel it in my chest beating as if it had just been injected with adrenaline. All sorts of images flashed in my mind – what to do, what I would see, what the intruder would look like...or they...how many could there be? Many thoughts seemed to flash up in the few seconds I was tying the waist-belt of my robe around me.
I then, very quietly, made my way swiftly to my bedroom door. I tried to move smoothly, like a breeze. My wife was still soundly asleep. I had no time to tell her what was going on. I opened my door slightly and peered out through the crack. Darkness and the top of my staircase was all I could see.
The noises were louder now, I could hear a distant voice too. I still don't know what came over me! In one movement I opened my door fully and flew out into the landing. I reached the stairs and glided down them, quickly and gently, like I was falling down them and my feet were there to softly absorb the impact on each step. Toes first, my body travelled down the big, curving staircase, and I reached the archway of the living room entrance at the bottom, where the noises seemed to be coming from. There was some kind of thunderstorm approaching outside. I could hear the wind and rain hitting the windows, and I could see the shadows of trees swaying violently that were cast into our main hallway by the moonlight.
My back was to the wall outside the living room. I could hear them moving around in there. I needed a weapon! I glided again over to the kitchen, checking behind me as I went to ensure that I had not been seen. I reached the kitchen counter with my outstretched hands and grabbed our biggest and fattest knife from the knife stand. I held it out in front of me, like I was showing it off, and I moved, now more slowly, back to the living room.
Crash! They'd dropped something big. "Ssshhh!" followed after, with a few voices of condemnation. The "Ssshhh" was nearly as loud as the crash. I hadn't even thought to call the police. I approached the living room entrance and slowly turned away from it, feeling the wall with my back again. I could hear them speaking to each other, whispering intensely:
"Oh we'll never find it! We will never find it! What will we do if we can never find it!"
"That's why I hate this job, it's never easy, and I hate you for always moaning about it as well!"
"Shut up the both of you! Just keep your heads down or else!"
I peered around the big arch-frame entrance and into the room.
Three men were there, dressed in black. I couldn’t see their faces. They were looking for something, looking under things, behind things, moving things around.
"Alright! What's going on here?!" I screamed as I entered, knife brandished. The voice that erupted out of me sounded full of fight, full of depth and strength.
The middle one looked up from his task at hand, the others continued looking around with their heads down.
"Ah, hello Bertram," the middle one said, calmly. "One moment please."
"What do you want, what are you looking for?" All my strength seemed to have been drained from me, following this absolute lack of reaction from all three. Perhaps I was not as scary as I thought I was.
"Let me introduce ourselves first," replied the same one in the middle. He had a common accent, like our groundskeeper. I could see in the darkness now that they were all wearing masks.
"And how do you know my name?" I questioned with a surge of fierceness again, moving in closer with my knife.
He seemed unconcerned with me.
"Listen," he continued, "there's no need to be scared. We are just after your peace of mind. Where is it?"
My what? I thought I had misheard him.
"I'm Anger, this is Worry and over there by the fireplace is Hatred. Judgement and Misery are over the road at the Wilson's, they should be over soon. We just need your peace of mind. Where is it please?"
I thought I must have been dreaming. I tried to wake up, but couldn't yet. Behind Hatred – a heavy-set and hunched over individual, who seemed to be grunting as he searched – above the fireplace on a shelf was a big red box with the words written on it on a big sticky piece of paper: "Bertram's Peace Of Mind."
I had never seen this box in my life, and as I looked, Anger saw my eyes resting on it for a while. Anger followed my gaze, and with an "Aha!" he moved over to the box, got it down and opened it. It was quite big, and after opening he closed it again, slamming it shut. He looked up at me. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness now. His eyes looked like they were red.
"It's empty,” he said, throwing me the box. I caught it, it was surprisingly light, and I opened the cold metal lid. Indeed, it was empty.
"Where is it!" he suddenly shouted, seeming to have taken my role as the aggressor. I seemed to accept this, and casually replied:
"I don’t know what you're on about."
He jumped over the sofa, ran towards me and pinned me up against the wall, with his fists grabbing the lapels of my massive thick robe.
He got in my face.
"Listen, Bertram, just tell me where it is and no one will get hurt."
I poked the tip of my knife into his ribs, and his grip loosened.
I said nothing, I was convinced now that I was dreaming, so wanted to see what was going to happen.
I appeared in my bedroom and saw my wife was not there. I appeared back in the living room. "Go ahead and search all you like! You never introduced yourselves as figments of my imagination!"
And so they searched, they sped up, they made noise, they moved around, still not able to find my peace of mind. They ended up leaving, exhausted.
"Let's try the next house," Anger ordered wearily, "there's no point looking here anymore." They left as morning was making its appearance, and a few seconds later, my wife appeared at the living room entrance. She was squinty-eyed, holding a hot cup of tea, standing there in her own pinkish robe and big slippers.
"Who was that dear?" she yawned.
"Oh, no one," I said.
I walked over to the fireplace and put my box back on the shelf.
"What's that box?" my wife asked, suddenly sounding rather awake. "Would you mind if I use it? I need a good box like that." She walked over to the sofa and sat down. She put her cup on the table and invited me to sit beside her.
"Look," she said, "I've got all these things I need to store somewhere." With both hands she reached in her deep pockets and pulled out many pieces of folded strips of paper, all with writing on them. They were bulging out of the gaps between her fingers.
"Some are yours," she said, handing me a handful on to my lap.
I picked one up and read it:
"I'm not sure my pension is big enough."
I picked up another:
"It is certainly big enough for the rest of my years."
"My pension could have been bigger, though."
I put all of my concerns in my pockets. I looked over to my wife's. One read:
"I'm not sure if Adrian will be ok in his new job."
And then another:
"Susan sounded a bit off with me yesterday."
And then another:
"I should never have shouted at Rupert last month."
I looked out of our living room window and could see the sky just beginning to regain its blueness.
"So," she said, expectantly, "would you mind if I use that box of yours? It's just perfect for all of this."
I got up from the sofa and got the fire going. I was squatting down, prodding at the embers with my best fire iron.
"Dear?" she asked again over my shoulder, "Would that be ok with you?"
I took out my concerns from my pockets and threw them in the fire. They crumpled up quickly and the flames grew slightly brighter. My wife was reading her own notes, and she hadn’t noticed what I'd done. I stood up and reached for the box. I opened it again and looked into it.
"No, darling," I replied, closing the box again and putting it back on the shelf. "This one needs to stay empty."