Today was a series of highs and low. I took time off work to join in the search. I had to show willing. All the obvious areas were checked and there is not one barn, outbuilding, or ruin that wasn’t searched. No clue came to light on the whereabouts of the boy and spirits are running low, as the hours pass, and exhaustion sets in. They brought the search and rescue in this morning, and I was out at first light to watch the boats set off. The rescue crews use dinghies, but those with boats and other small craft accompanied them. The river is ten miles from the village, and I wonder how they imagine a small boy would walk that distance. The dreaded kidnapper wouldn’t discard his prize that quickly, as the child is something to be savoured, like a fine wine.
The divers looked like sleek seals in the dim morning light, and I watched through binoculars, as they prepared for the task. I admit my stomach gave a little flip every time one of them fell backwards into the water. I wonder what it is like to search beneath the water. I am told visibility is poor and after a few feet, it is pitch-black especially at this time of year, when there’s little sunlight. Imagine searching in the dark, feeling your way among the debris with only your senses to guide you. There were a few villagers lining the banks this morning. Some brought deck chairs and picnic hampers, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere going at one stage. We edged closer to the river every time a diver surfaced from its murky depths and not a sound was heard, as we held our breaths. I feigned disappointment when it was signalled to shore nothing was found and unlike the onlookers, I left early. I knew what the outcome would be, and once the initial excitement wore off, I became bored. I returned to work, as the weather was cold, and I did not want to catch a chill.
I thought about the boy again last night. I find this strange, as I’ve always managed to distance myself from their suffering. It’s the dark nights bring him to mind. That and the strange shuffling sounds I’ve started to hear in my home. Last night, I became a child again and left the landing light on. I found it hard to sleep, even with the help of two strong tranquilisers; I tossed and turned for ages. That is when I heard it; a slow, dragging of feet on the wooden floor, as though the walker was too weary to lift their legs. It’s no use trying to dismiss it, as it refused to be ignored. I know it’s nothing mortal, as I’d checked every window and the house alarm was on. My educations taught me there’s a rational explanation for most things, so what was it stalking me? A vision of the little girl, I can’t recall her name, swam before me and I heard her words again. I laughed, all those years ago at her childish threats, but now…There’s a key in the lock of my bedroom door. It has been there since the house was built, and I have never had reason to use it, until now. I sat for a while, listening. I didn’t dare turn on the light. The slightest movement would’ve alerted it to my presence. I stayed in the dark, watching the light flowing in from under the door. How my hands trembled as I drew my quilt closer, but I swear for the first time in my life, I became afraid of the unknown. I know you think it’s probably my imagination and I tried to convince myself the same thing, until I saw it. A shadow moved across the strip of light beneath the door. Twice it passed by and by the third time, I was weeping with terror. Gathering courage, I ran for the door and turned the key in the lock. It was standing outside, its shadow fell upon my bare toes, and I knew, it wasn’t an illusion. Can you imagine my terror knowing something stood listening at the other side of the door? All that protected me from some nameless thing was a thin sheet of wood.
I spent the rest of the night watching its progress. There was no one I could call for help, and if I did reach for the phone and bring the doctor out on some pretence, I would have to open my door and walk out to the landing. I waited as the hours crawled by, and it was only as the first light of dawn crept into my room the infernal shuffling stopped.
In the light of day, it’s easy to dismiss what happened and anyway, what could it be? The ghost of a child? There’s no one else I’ve hurt, or some Wraith sent to haunt me. Ha, I think not. I will pay another visit to the doctor, as I read on the leaflet enclosed with the sleeping pills, they can cause hallucinations. That’s probably what it was, the effects of the pills coupled with my overwrought mind.
The rest of the day passed slowly. My work bores me, I no longer find pleasure in the things I once enjoyed. Hour after monotonous hour crawled by until I was free from the confines of my labours. There would be a further meeting in the school assembly hall this evening and I’d be there. You know how I thrive on the uncertainty, how the confusion and distress serve to excite me. I did visit the doctor and to my disappointment, she wasn’t there, the boy’s mother. It’s crass of me to expect she’d be working under the circumstances. She strikes me as the stiff upper lip type, and I would have liked to witness her distress, but it was not to be. The doctor agreed it was the pills causing my nightmares and illusions and changed my prescription. He was kind enough to add anyone could be excused having bad dreams with all that was going on. We exchanged a few pleasantries, swapped theories on what happened to the boy. I almost laughed, when he described what he’d like to do to the person involved; for a man of medicine, tut tut.
The house didn’t have the same air of foreboding it had earlier in the day. My courage was renewed by the bottle in my pocket and in the comforting rattle of the pills, which I was assured, would knock out a horse. I’ve taken to reading Freud; did I tell you that? Not that’s it done me a bit of good, but I’ve persevered through endless pages of twaddle. He believes we can’t control any of our actions, as we’re victims of what’s gone before. Something about men being afraid of having their penis cut off. What twaddle! I agree with him on one point, as that part of the anatomy was the catalyst for all the horror; at least in Freddy’s and Christy’s case. He believes psychoanalysis is the key and anyone can be transformed, if they put themselves in the care of a professional. It made me laugh when I thought of Freddy, who is madder that any of the misfortunates who share their darkest secrets with him. If only I could believe what Freud said was true and I could turn my life around, but the compulsion is too strong, I know I’m a creature of habit. No, I’m clutching at straws, now the time is upon me, and I search for ways out that were never an option.
After dinner, I decided to take a stroll down to the school. As usual, the place was buzzing with a constant stream of people. It was dark when I got there, and the lights from the assembly hall were the only thing cutting through the night. All the shops were closed and shuttered for the night and my footsteps echoed in the still air. I thought I saw something in the shadows, but I’m sure it was my imagination. I see danger behind every bush and tree and jump at the slightest sound. Thankfully my colleagues excuse this as understandable with all the tension in the air, etc. I’ll have to try and pull myself together. If others hear the tremor in my voice, they will become suspicious, and I would not want to rouse their wrath.
I made my presence known by volunteering to help. Paul O’Farrell was there, fielding calls and interviewing witnesses. He looked haggard from want of sleep, but I’ve seen him look this way before. Still, I can’t help, but derive some sort of satisfaction knowing I’m the cause of his suffering and the witnesses have nothing much to offer.
“Would you mind sitting in for me?” He asked. “Take any calls and tell them I’ll phone back.”
“No problem,” I assured him.
“I’ll want to slip home and have a shower,” he explained.
There were three other desks in the room, and a police officer sat at each of the other two. They showed the same signs of neglect and stress and watched the retreating figure of their superior with a mixture of disgust and yearning. Once the room emptied and the phones ceased to ring, I suggested they follow suit and assured them of my ability to cope. They hung on to this suggestion like drowning men and shook my hand before walking away. I realise something, not God, that is for sure, was on my side, as they had no sooner disappeared through the door, when a ghost from my past entered. My hands shook and the words on the A4 pad in front of me merged until I couldn’t read them. I made pretence of writing, but I saw later what I wrote made no sense. I hadn’t seen him in nine years and never expected to see him again, so his appearance was disconcerting.
If he recognised me, he gave no sign, other than to hand in the map marked with the area he’d searched.
“Any news?” I felt the hopelessness in his question.
“None, I’m afraid,” was my sad answer, as I put on what I call, my “undertakers face”, mournful and full of understanding.
Though I didn’t want to make any further conversation with him, the man refused to leave and walked to the area set up as a makeshift canteen and poured himself a coffee.
“Want one?” he held the pot up.
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I’ve been drinking it all day.”
“I can imagine,” he came and sat in the chair opposite my desk.
He thought I was playing a major part of the search.
“I can’t believe it’s happening again,” he said.
I looked up at him and frowned, pretending not to know what he meant.
“Oh, you don’t know about the others?”
“Only from what I’ve been told,” I said. “I’ve read some of the old reports, but I arrived in the village when the first child went missing.”
At first, I wondered if my words betrayed me, as he was watching me closely.
“I was working abroad,” I explained. “I came back home when my father passed away. He lived here for many years.”
“I see,” he nodded, and I saw something in his eyes.
Was it a fleeting glimpse of suspicion? My imagination is apt to play tricks on me and my nerves are not the best.
“My daughter was the first child to go missing,” he continued. “She was only seven at the time and it destroyed my family.”
“I’m so sorry,” I patted his hand.
Did he flinch at my touch, I think he did? I willed the doors to open, but the cold drove the most hardened indoors and there was nothing to relieve me from his probing gaze.
“My wife took her own life a year later,” he continued, and I swear there was accusation in his tone. “She never recovered from her loss, neither did I.”
“There can be nothing worse than the death of a child,” I hoped this sounded sincere.
“I never said she was dead,” his eyes became cold lasers boring into my soul. “Only she’s missing.”
“Of course, I understand.”
My tortured nerves screamed.
“I’m sorry,” he placed his cup down on the desk. “I’m tired, and I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”
“We’re all tired,” I gave him my sad smile again. “You should go home and try to rest.”
“Are you on all night?” He looked around the empty hall.
“No, until the detective in charge gets back.”
“Paul, I met him earlier today.”
“He’s gone home to have a shower and something to eat,” I explained.
“He must be exhausted,” he said. “I remember when he was searching for Rachael. He’s a good man, but the odds were stacked against him.”
“What do you mean?” I was troubled by his inference.
“The person who took the boy is well organised. It’s probably a gang of some sort, don’t you think?”
“I can’t imagine,” I’m sure I stuttered.
“Oh, definitely a gang,” he mused. “This isn’t some lunatic working alone. The boy is probably miles from here and time is running out.”
I nodded, unable to speak. Of all the theories put forward, his was the most accurate. The realisation of how close he came to the truth left me dumbfounded, but I managed to wish him goodnight.
My house seems like a sanctuary after the terror of that meeting, and I’ve turned the key in the bedroom door locking myself in. The prescription bottle instructed I take only one of the sleeping pills, but I’ve taken two to be on the safe side. Despite my fright I’m still counting, 112…