Buried In GriefHamish stirred in his sleep, wrapping the duvet around his body like a cloak and taking the warmth of it with him, much to his wife's chagrin. Alison too stirred because of the chilled draft this movement caused and then she heard the faint double knocking from afar.
'Probably that stupid old man around the corner again, banging his shed doors or wheelie bins lids, why he couldn't just close them quietly, like a normal person, especially at this unearthly hour, she didn't know. It was almost as if he liked waking up the neighbourhood.' She sighed as she looked across at the subdued light of her digital clock that shone out the time, one in the morning. 'Who in their right mind goes out to their shed and bangs around at this time of the night?' she angrily further thought.
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Gentle snoring came from her husband as he wrapped himself further into the white dove-decorated duvet, almost as if he was attempting to cocoon himself within the feathery down against the harshness of the Aberdeenshire winter weather. It made Alison think of a hibernating bear, especially as she knew the snoring would get louder. She gave a gentle chuckle to herself, though inside she was fuming that her nasty neighbour had awakened her again. 'If only I could be like Hamish,' she thought, 'he could fall asleep on a washing line and sleep through a nuclear attack.'
There was a further knock, this time a louder, treble knocking, followed by a thudding four beats, much louder and more insistent. Someone wanted her attention. 'Hamish!' she urgently cried out into the darkness of the room.
He turned to face her, rolling over automatically in his sleep, his subconscious not yet acknowledging her urgency.
The knocking continued, another persistent four beats, almost as if someone was beating out a tune on a...'DOOR, THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOOR HAMISH!' she now shouted, to awaken her husband.
He sat bolt upright, instantly awake and ready to face the night attack to their safety. His long forgotten military training instinctively kicking in. It felt to his muddled mind that he was in a slit trench, back in the plains of Salisbury, and the dawn warning of "STAND TO!" had been shouted by the sentries. But as his head cleared, he knew that this was no army stand-to-arms order. 'What? What's wrong love?'
'Can't you hear it, you daft lump? Someone's at the door!'
'Och, it's probably just Paul, forgotten his keys, the stupid sod!'
The banging continued as Hamish reluctantly dragged himself out of his comfortable and warm bed and slipped on his heavy tartan dressing gown. He fastened the tasselled belt firmly around his waist, as if to dissipate his anger at the foolishness of his son's forgetfulness. He walked over to the window and looked down into the driveway to see if Paul's car was there. The rain was pelting down onto the lock block paving of his half-empty driveway, giving it a silky sheen in the subdued moonlight. His eye was drawn across the road where a lone police car sat. The street lamp shone down its eerie dim yellow light casting a shadow across the vehicle, lengthening its unwanted and intrusive presence. It was empty of driver and passenger. His mouth instantly dried and he felt the long-forgotten tightening in his stomach and groin as terror swept through him like a passing fighter jet on a low sortie. 'No, no no!' he exclaimed involuntary. 'Please. God no!'
Alison jumped out of bed, instinctively knowing that something was awry, not having seen her husband with such a horrified reaction before. She grabbed her dressing gown from the hook behind the bedroom door, reached for the handle and flung open the door. The banging grew louder and more insistent as she ran down the stairs, closely followed by her shaking husband. He knew that they were about to receive the news that they themselves had given to so many families over the years. Helplessness flooded through him, first as a sudden icy coldness and then as a creeping chilliness that stayed like an unwelcome guest. He followed his wife down the stairs and could see the luminous yellow jackets with blue patches through the frosted glass of their front door as Alison fumbled with the house keys. The bulky shapes outside turned around, as if to keep warm from the Scottish winter's night. This movement allowed Hamish to see the rectangular blue stripe across their backs. Though the frosted glass did not afford him the decency of being able to read the words, he knew what they read and knew the purpose of their visit. This was the knock on the door that every parent dreaded, and he was certain that no warmth would ever enter their lives again.
Hamish switched on the lights that Alison had rushed past as he took, what felt to him, the long walk to the door. The two figures outside turned around and faced the door, preparing themselves for one of their duties that no-one liked. The Knock, as it was known in every station throughout the UK. Every officer dreaded this order and reluctantly had to accept this duty. It had to be done sometime in their career. 'Please God, let them be at the wrong house,' prayed Hamish silently. He reached across to Alison's shaking hands that jangled the keys like an elaborate baby's rattle. He inhaled heavily as if to prepare himself for what was to come, and to control his shaking hands. 'Be strong for her,' he commanded himself. 'Here, love, let me,' he gently said as he took both her hands in his and soothingly stroked them with his thumbs. 'Give me the keys,' he reinforced to her.
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