DI Kenneth Naylor is on the hunt for a child killer, but can’t find a way of getting close to the strange murderer.
His daughter is being haunted by something outside her window, something both fascinating and terrifying.
These three people are at different corners of a devastating mystery that threatens to destroy them all.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It was a couple of things.
To start with it was a really strange dream I had about seventeen years ago. I won’t go into it, because it’s quite explicit and turns up as a scene in the novel.
Then I wanted write a story where unwitting people were in danger from a force bearing down on them.
Crafting the story took almost five years after that as it worked in my mind.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The process of coming up with the characters was quite long and difficult. I wanted all the characters to be grounded and easy to relate to.
The character of Bethany Naylor was a particularly difficult character to craft. Getting into the head space of a young girl isn’t easy for an adult man.
The blanket of quiet darkness told her it was late and the furtive night sounds of the house came to her. An odd creak, a strange whisper like someone shuffling over the carpet in the hall, popping of something she couldn’t identify. None of these sounds gave her cause for alarm. Charmaine had explained it was what happened at night when there was no one moving around and the heat of the day was leaving the building. The last time these noises had worried her was when she was seven and she was a much more grown up girl now. In a few years she would be going to secondary school. She was too old and too smart to be afraid of night sounds. She had stopped believing in ghosts when she was five.
Yet, there she was, Bethany Naylor, one of the brightest children in her class, in the school if she felt like boasting to herself, lying awake in the middle of the night. There was no denying she was afraid. Lies, unless they were absolutely necessary, like the time she killed the goldfish her mother had bought for her, were against her nature and made her feel squirmy. Lying to yourself was impossible anyway. She had read in books and saw on films and television programmes people lying to themselves so much they became convinced by those lies. Bethany couldn’t understand how that worked. How could you convince yourself something you made up was real? She found it hard to accept anyone could be so stupid.
Anyone but Denise Salter. Denise had a hard time counting to twenty and would try to put off other people in the class when they were trying to do their work. She would heckle the teacher. Most of the other girls in the class were afraid of her, all except Bethany and Nicola Liddle, and the only reason Nicola wasn’t afraid was because she was Denise’s sly little messenger and servant. The girl would go and cause trouble, get Denise involved. She would watch from a safe distance with a nasty smile on her face as Denise punched and kicked some other girl or a smaller boy.
Bethany refused to be pushed around by either girl. Bethany had omitted the fact she had given as good verbal abuse as she had got. She didn’t think it was as important as the kicking, biting and scratching that had ensued. Denise’s words had stung as much as the punches. They had reached a dark place inside Bethany that waited and longed for such stimulation. It was the dark drive to swing with fists, grab hair and bite flesh. It was the final resort after replying to Denise’s malicious words with venomous taunts of her own. Before the two teachers had prised them apart Bethany had been on the verge of gouging Denise’s eyes out. She hadn’t been afraid and there had been no flicker of hesitation in her defence of her mother or herself.
Now she was scared. She lay in her familiar bed, knowing there was nothing harmful in the house, but a heavy ball of freezing fear built up in her guts that felt like a football-sized snowball spinning within her, draining the power from the knowledge she was safe. As silly as it seemed, she felt unsafe. It was as though she was waiting for something. She felt exposed. She huddled down in her covers and tried to ignore the feeling. She tried to squeeze her eyes closed. They popped back open again.
Her bed was in the middle of the floor of the bedroom. She faced the closed door. Behind her was the window through which the dirty orange lights from the street spilled. The grimy glow was faded by distance, a watery splash against the wall and door.
A shadow moved. She blinked and stared. Her breath came in shallow bursts. The movement was so sudden and the light so weak it was hard to tell which direction it moved. Or what it was. It could have been anything. Fear wound through her bones and muscles, paralysing her. She waited for it to happen again.
It seemed like she lay there forever. She was surrounded by her toys and dolls in this cosy nest, her safe place. The place she could go to when she needed to feel secure. Now she felt as insecure as she ever had. It seemed her scoffing disregard for monsters and ghosts was uninformed. Something was close by.
Her bladder began to ache. She didn’t want to move, but if she stayed she would pee the bed and her mother would go mad. The water inside her stretched her bladder to painful degree. It felt like it would burst. She had to get up.
What if the thing was in the room with her? She lay still and listened. The noises the house made stayed rare and consistent. Nothing out of the ordinary moved in the house. The thing had to be outside her window.
At last she threw the duvet off, allowing the cool air to grab her. She wore pyjamas, but the sudden loss of her heavy blanket made her skin rash with goose bumps and she shivered.
Her steps were quick with cold and latent panic as she went into the toilet. Even though she knew whatever she had seen was outside, she still felt chased by a presence. There was no question as to whether she put the light on. The glare hurt her eyes after being in the dark for so long. She didn’t mind, it meant she could see there was nothing lurking in there. She closed the door.
There was no lock on the door and she felt exposed as she peed. She wished there was a lock like there was in Anna’s house. Then, if there were some ugly, sinister thing stalking around outside the door, the locked barrier would keep it at bay. Without that all it would take was a small turn of the handle, a tiny push and it would be in with her.
She convinced herself there was no presence, gliding through the darkness like the shark from Jaws. It was a film her mother had been excited to see. Bethany had jumped when the dead man popped out at the diver. The rest of the film was disappointing. The shark had looked like a giant rubber toy. Bethany and Charmaine had sat laughing at how daft it looked splashing about in the water.
As she switched the toilet light off, Bethany imagined all that was outside the toilet was a comical rubber thing. Yes, a harmless big lump of latex, sliding around in the dark, of no worry to anyone. A rubber chicken being pulled, unconvincingly along the floor in an attempt to scare her. A special effect that couldn’t scare a two-year-old, nothing more.
The thought was of no comfort. It was silly but she wondered who would be operating this chicken. Someone would have to be in the house to pull the chicken along. The silly image of a rubber chicken on a string bumping along the carpet was joined by the image of the crouching, grinning person pulling the string. Wild, wide eyes glinting at her with mad hatred.
The jolt of fear was like a kick and Bethany scurried to her room. The mental picture of a grinning, slavering, slouched figure with bright, mad eyes and big horrible teeth coalesced quickly. For the briefest moment she actually believed she saw the gurning madman right in front of her. His clammy warmth almost an entity on its own, reached out, brought the stench of old sweat with its grasping advance. String wound tight in his fist without any rubber chicken attached, just a sullen, insane threat as he raised his fist.
The image was gone as she threw herself into bed and under the covers. In the short time she had been gone the mattress had become cold again. She clenched her eyes closed and wound herself into the soft protection of the duvet. Willing herself to sleep.
She was too keyed up. The bath of light she had given herself had dispelled what remained of her sleepiness. Her heart hammered away, a rush and roar in the ear she pressed against her pillow that almost sounded like a whispering voice. She shifted to take the weight off her ear and the disturbing sound ceased. A curious draft touched her cheek. She frowned and wondered where the cold breeze came from. She remembered and opened her eyes.
The open door was a rectangular square of solid darkness on the grey-orange wall. The hall beyond was expunged and replaced by an inky void. Anything could be out there. Waiting. Waiting with ancient patience to pounce on anyone foolhardy enough to get close. She glared at the darkness, blaming it for her sudden bout of unreasoning fear. She was blaming the wrong thing. The only thing to blame herself and the realisation made her angry. The anger was enough to get her out of bed for the second it took to swing the door shut.
She was up and closing the door tight, when the room darkened. She stopped with her hand on the door handle and tried to work out what caused the sudden lessening of the light. She looked up at the wall and saw there were still traces of grubby amber-grey from the far streetlights, but a darker hued shadow blotted them out.
The thing was back. It seemed she was no longer in control of herself, because, even as she decided not to look, she found her body turned. Her mouth was dry and her eyes were staring before she fully faced the window. Something was there she was sure she didn’t want to see. Yet to miss it would be much worse.
She was in no hurry to complete her turn. However, she was curious about what she would see when she did. It could be something harmless, like an agile cat. Or it could be a wild, staring face, with drool dripping from the chin. The cloying body odour kept out by the glass.
What she saw puzzled her. A small shadow was outside the window. The meagre light thrown by the streetlamps lighted no features. Her guess of a cat wasn’t far off. There was no solace, because this wasn’t a cat. At least no kind of cat she had seen.
The head was small, about the right size for a cat, but where there should have been erect, pointed ears there was nothing. It was bald, that was clear. Any other definite observations were impossible.
Unseen eyes, adapted for the darkness stared at her. She stared back, riveted by both fear and wonder. What could it be? She had been taught nothing about anything resembling this creature. Miss Ingham had told them about rarer creatures, such as the red squirrel and the pine marten, both very agile animals capable of clinging up the side of a building, but this was no more a pine marten or squirrel than it was a cat.
This was a new and unique creature. Had she discovered some new breed of animal not in any of the natural history book? The thought excited her. She could name it after herself. There were lots of possibilities. She would be famous. She hoped it would make her rich too. She would have to study it. Learn about it. Do something other than stare at this small invader.
As these wonderful opportunities flashed through her mind, the thing turned. It moved with incredible speed, but before it dropped out of sight, she caught a glint of shining green from those unseen eyes – and another detail she couldn’t puzzle out. She tried to understand this tiny detail that seemed to be incredibly important.
She hopped over the bed, making more noise than intended and stood at the window, staring out at her back garden. Nothing down there. No evidence anything had passed through. She looked at the hedge surrounding the property. It swayed in the strong night breeze, and seemed as innocent of activity as the grass ten feet below her window. Another scan of the lawn proved what she already knew. The fabulous new creature was gone. She wondered if it would return. It had to. She had to know what it looked like.
She vibrated with excitement as she crawled back into bed. She doubted she would get to sleep. The possibility she may have discovered some new species was beguiling. She would watch the news tomorrow and see if anyone else had seen this new thing and reported it. She would figure out what she would do next.
The sleep she thought would evade her again tugged her down quickly, drowning her schemes and her doubts. The last question to break the surface before being overwhelmed by tides of sleep was an uneasy one. Did she want the thing to come back? The answer would have to wait for another time as the sleep, so hard to attain a few minutes ago, came as easily as turning onto her side.
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