Can I Offer You a Glass of Mulled Wine?

Jessica Farrington was hosting a Christmas Drinks Party; she had lived on Shire Lane for long enough now to identify which neighbours should be invited. However, as it was Christmas, she had generously extended her list to include a couple of ‘unknowns’: Mrs Nazeby-Naze at Windy Mede and Very Old Annie at No 29. Jessica hadn’t been inside either of their two houses but Mrs Nazeby-Naze was a Sunday School teacher and Very Old Annie lived on the last undeveloped plot, so it couldn’t hurt to get a name and contact number from whoever brought her along.

To be honest, Jessica was hoping that Very Old Annie couldn’t reciprocate her invitation – it wasn’t personal, she tried to avoid all old people – for heaven’s sake, the recycling bin in the back porch still smelt of wet hay and disinfectant from the Christmas Card the old woman had left on the doorstep last week - but she was desperate to see inside Windy Mede. Earlier in the year, when the children had been invited to a Charity Easter Egg Hunt, she had come close to getting inside the elusive Mock-Tudor residence and getting her own measure of Zoopla’s two thousand four hundred and fifty square feet. Unfortunately, on that occasion, Jessica’s valiant efforts to break through the lines of gingham bunting strung across the back door, the utility room door and the French windows had been thwarted by some ghastly Christian charity worker, wearing a freezer label inscribed ‘Ask Me for Help’. On insisting that she had only been trying to find a way in for Tamara, who was in dire need of the facilities, the ASDA-clad hippy had proceeded to ‘hug’ her away from the house and demonstrate the ‘interesting’ and innovative eco-loo in the barn ... which, incidentally, smelt alarmingly like Very Old Annie’s Christmas Card.

Anyway, that was in the Spring ... Jessica preferred to entertain when it was cold outside and eliminate the unpredictability of the British Climate; she wasn’t a ‘wing-it’ sort of person, the type that has numerous weather apps on their phone, swipes for a favourable forecast and hopes for the best. She preferred the kind of certainty that planetary alignment afforded and was comforted by her current proximity to the winter equinox, knowing that the sun would have set by 5pm. Jessica’s husband had a brother who had proved to be quite useful after dark – he was an Illumination Design Engineer ( with good reviews on Check-A-Trade) – and the outside of the house was adorned with five thousand warm-white LEDs, stroking her soffits, caressing her gable ends and projecting superbly good taste to the guests as they arrived.

Everything was ready – the children were at her mothers, her husband was reading a respectable newspaper in the Garden Room and ‘Start Control’ on her sleek, chic, Die Dietrich Induction Hob had been programmed to begin warming the Mulled Wine in fifteen minutes time. The final downstairs perimeter check ended in the lounge, where she arranged some plausible sheet music on the piano stand and partially concealed Tamara’s English-Speaking Board Commendation Certificate under this month’s edition of Country Life Magazine.

She checked her make up in the mirror above the silk flame fireplace and was basking in the warmth of its reflection, when her phone spoilt the scene with an ugly blue light; she couldn’t think of anything important she might need to know right now but had enough time in her contingency planning to open and delete the intruder.

“Your Power Network: We apologise for the interruption to the service in your area. We will keep you advised”

Everything, except the phone, went dark.