I crash through my front door porch - umbrella first, and kick my sodden shoes into the shoe basket by the front door in a manner to suggest I've had quite enough of Tuesdays. My fringe is stuck to my forehead, creating a little channel for the rain to run down my nose and plop on the floorboards in my hall. I sigh, and as usual try to avoid stepping on the cat as I make my way down the hall and into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
"I know, I know. I'm coming." I say to her as she mews and widens her beady eyes.
I happen to look up before I open the kitchen door.
How funny, the glass is black.
I stop dead in my tracks, my hand clutching the doorknob.
The glass is black?
I look closer. The glass isn't black.
I see the flash of iridescent wings and hear the whirring, fizzling hum hover over and around me, darting in and out and settling into a continuous speed. I'm not mistaken; there are hundreds of big black bluebottle flies - the kind that land on dog shit - crawling on the inside of my kitchen door.
I didn't expect to be dashing up the aisles in Sainsbury’s supermarket looking for poison. I'd wanted a cup of tea and back to back re-runs of Channel 4's Who Do You Think You Are? in my pyjamas.
"Cat food... Light bulbs... shoe polish... bleach... where's the bloody fly spray...?" I mutter to my Mum, pressing the phone into my head with my shoulder as I balance my shopping basket, heavily loaded with J-cloths and an obscene amount of bleach.
"These flies don't just come from nowhere, Lizzie.” Mum says to me, all matter-of-fact. She pauses. "You don't think the old woman who lives upstairs... What's her name-?"
"Myrtle." I say.
"-Myrtle. Well, with that many flies I wouldn't be surprised if Myrtle's dead, darling. It only takes days for a body to start decomposing..."
"Oh my God - she's not dead, Mum!" I yell, horrified. "I'm pretty sure I heard her banging upstairs yesterday." I grit my teeth. I still can’t find the killer fly spray and I am so sure it should be somewhere near the disinfectant and bin bags.
"Well, I'd give her a knock just in case, and if she doesn't answer, I'd ring the police."
"Don't you think ringing the police is a bit dramatic?" I reply, distracted suddenly by a shelf full of Raid fly killer.
Mum pauses and then in a manner to suggest she knows how to win this one, she says; "Hang on - Steve's here!"
As Mum explains the whole palaver in great detail to my very considered Stepfather, I choose the neon yellow and black can of fly spray. It looks the most economically unfriendly substance on the shelf, so I throw it in the basket. Mum finishes her sentence with a resounding; "So, don't you think she should ring the police, Steve...?"
"Okay, I'll knock. But you know it's probably going to be a dead rat." I say, unconvinced. Filled with an sense of dread at what I may be about to find, I hurry to the counter to pay, and with a resounding bang, place my basket on the conveyor belt.
I stand outside her flat in my plimsolls, leggings and black anorak, clothes I'd thrown on in a hurry. I hop from one foot to the other as I wait for her to open the door. The hallway is dark and I look around briefly in case there's a switch I missed somewhere. Overgrown spider plants dangle from the banisters and cast long spindly shadows up the wall, stealing the glow from orange streetlights dotted up our road.
I place my hands up to the mottled glass panes and peer in. I squint to the right and then the left, watching how the grey light from deep within the hall plays in the mottled glass, splaying out beautifully. The sound of faint canned laughter creeps out from under the door. There's a glimmer of hope she might be watching TV from the sofa, inside, and perhaps just didn't hear my knocking. But as Mum pointed out, the TV could have been on all night.
I decide to knock again, a little louder this time.
"Hello? Hello, Myrtle? I'm Lizzie - I'm from downstairs. I was just wondering -"
- if you're dead? No, don't be silly.
"- if I could ask you something..." I yell louder than before, and rapping three times on the glass window pane.
Nothing moves inside. I imagine her sitting all dead in her chair, gooey, big black flies zipping around the living room, the TV's canned laughter chortling inappropriately. I shiver. I wish there was a bloody light in the hallway.
I remember Mum saying something about the smell. I sniff through the keyhole a couple of times, but don’t smell anything particularly nasty. It's been a good minute. I decide to knock again, even louder.
"Um... HELLO? Are you there, Myrtle?!" I bang again, this time on the wood, so the spider plants jump.
Silence. Not even a peep.
Oh my God, I'm going to have to actually call the police.
As I go to get my phone out of my pocket, and debate whether I'm in a big enough emergency to call 999 (probably not), I see the light from behind her door, glint slightly.
I look up. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, and a rush of blood shoot to my head, all in the space of a second.
Very slowly the door opens half an inch - I spy wide eyes peering out from the dark at me and a flash of white on leathery skin. Then I hear the scream. An hollow, gurgling, high-pitched scream sprung in short bursts of sheer terror.
I'm nearly sick with shock. My toes curl in my shoes. I scream. I scream because I'm petrified - because I think she's dead - because maybe she really is dead - and there's nothing worse than a ghost in a lace nightie.
But she's not dead - and she's still screaming. A small, wrinkly Jamaican lady shrieking in my face, showing holes where her teeth should have been and lassoing a wooden broom around her head. I realise I've put my hands up pathetically to protect myself. I stutter something about being from downstairs. I'm shaking so hard.
As quick as she started, she stops. Takes a wheasing breath, and as casually as she was asking me in for a cup of tea says in a heavy Jamaican accent;
"Aahhh, sorry me darlin'. I thought you was burglars."