Erika woke suddenly from a dreamless sleep. It was dark and her bedside clock glowed red, showing 00:13. She shifted her pillow and had turned over to go back to sleep, when she heard a very faint creak. She held her breath. The creak came again. A few seconds passed and then she heard a rustling of paper in the living room. Then she heard a drawer being opened, very quietly. Her eyes darted around the bedroom for a weapon; something to defend herself with.

There was nothing. Then she spied the bedside lamp. It was made of metal, and heavy, like a small candlestick. Very slowly and quietly, without taking her eye off the door, she leant down beside the bed and eased out the plug. Holding her breath, she wound the cable round the base of the lamp, and heard a faint creak outside her bedroom door.

Bracing the lamp in her hand, she eased herself off the bed. She heard a creak further down the hall, moving away from the door. She stopped and listened. Silence. Erika moved lightly to where her phone was charging on the floor by the wall, and switched it on, wishing she’d had a landline put in. She heard another creak. This time it was coming from outside the bathroom. Part of her just wanted whoever it was to realise that there was nothing worth taking, and then leave. As Erika crept towards the door, taking care to lay her bare feet down evenly and softy on the wooden floor, her phone blared out its start-up tone. It rang through the silence.

Shit, what a fucking idiot mistake. Her heart started to race. There was silence, and then the sound of footsteps walking towards the bedroom. It was now a heavy footfall, confident, no creeping about and scared to be heard.

It happened suddenly: the door was kicked open, and a figure, head-to-toe in black, rushed at her and gripped her by the throat with a black leather glove. Eyes glittered through a balaclava. Erika was shocked at the power in the hand and she felt her throat and windpipe crushed. She grappled for the lamp, but it slipped from her grasp onto the bed. The figure pushed her back onto the bed, all the time gripping her throat.

Erika kicked, swinging her leg, but the figure twisted deftly to one side, pinning both of her legs down with a hip. She reached up with her hands, trying to grab at the balaclava, but the figure pinned her upper arms down painfully with sharp elbows.

The hands tightened around her neck. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything. She felt drool from her open mouth, running down her chin. Blood seemed trapped in her face and head, and the hands kept squeezing, squeezing so hard that she felt her head might explode before she suffocated. The figure was so quiet. So calm. Breathing rhythmically, arms trembling from the effort of maintaining the grip on her.

The pain was now unbearable; thumbs on her trachea pushing, crushing. She was staring to see black spots in her vision. They spread and grew.

And then Erika’s doorbell rang. The grip on her throat tightened and the last of her vision began to fail. The bell rang again, longer. There was a bang on the door, and she heard Moss’s voice.

‘Are you there, boss? Sorry to call so late but I need to talk . . .’

She was going to die, she knew it. She was overpowered. She flexed her fingers and felt the lamp on the bed beside her. Her vision was flooding with blackness. She summoned up all the energy she could and pushed her fingers against the lamp. It budged a little. Moss knocked once more. Erika used last of her energy and shoved at the lamp. It slid off the bed and hit the floor with a crash, the bulb shattering.

‘Boss?’ said Moss, hammering on the door again. ‘Boss? What’s happening? I’m going to break down the door!’

Suddenly the grip loosened on Erika’s neck, and the figure fled from her bedroom.

Erika lay there, gagging, attempting to draw air into her ravaged throat, down to her lungs. There was a thud as Moss attempted to break down the door. Erika gasped once, twice, heaved, and as a little oxygen reached the rest of her body, her vision swam back into view. With a superhuman will she crawled to the edge of the bed, tumbling off onto the wooden floor with a crash, feeling shards of the broken bulb pierce her forearm. She scrambled towards the door, not caring if the figure was still there, not caring.

There was now a louder thud as Moss shouldered the door. On the third attempt it burst open with a crack and a splinter.

‘Jesus, boss!’ shouted Moss, hurrying towards where she was lying on the floor. Erika was still gagging and clutching her throat. Blood from the cut poured down her arm, and was smeared over her chin and throat. Her face was grey and she sank back in the doorway.

‘Boss, shit, what happened?’

‘Blood . . . just my arm,’ Erika croaked. ‘Someone was . . . here . . .’

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