One year earlier
It was almost one in the morning. The house was in darkness, the curtains closed. He was wearing just a light sweatshirt and jogging bottoms but he didn’t feel the cold. His nights were about silence, not warmth, and the more he wore, the more noise he made.
He waited. He wasn’t sure what for at first, because he’d stood there before, long hours as he waited for a sign that the time was right, but it had been too still.
This time, it was different. He felt them. A light ruffle of wind through his hair, and movement under his feet like soft rumbles in the ground. Whispers behind him. He whirled round but there was no one there, just a fence that shielded him from the houses behind.
He closed his eyes, just to make sure, because sometimes there were false alarms, small teases that made him move too soon. It felt right, though. His breaths were shorter and his arousal made his tongue flick to his lip.
She had her routines to keep herself safe, but they were her weakness, because all he had to do was keep watch. He slipped into her stride as she’d walked home, or he was the man sitting three rows behind her on the bus, or in the queue in the local shop with that bottle of wine to get her through the evening. She loved her Thursday nights; he’d seen her relief as she clutched the bottle and a long week at work became just one more day to get through. He knew what sandwiches she bought at lunchtime and how she would sit outside if she could, when the weather was good enough.
Habits made her feel safe, because then she’d never forget to do something, like checking that everything was turned off or locked up. It was just the opposite, because all he had to do was learn her patterns.
Her lights gave her away, the same order each night. The television went off first, and then the flickering candles. The light for the stairs went on and then her face would appear at the back door, distorted through the glass, checking the door was locked. He was watching and waiting, just a shadow amongst the leaves.
Patience brought its rewards. There was always a way. Some people are casual about their keys. Others forget to lock their doors when they go to bed, or fall asleep drunk on the sofa. All he ever had to know was how to get in.
She never left the key in the back door. Always the front. He’d guessed why: so she could open the front door quickly if she had a delivery or something, rather than rush round for the keys. People are forgetful though, and she kept a spare back door key under a flowerpot.
Habits are dangerous.
The stair light first, followed by the landing light. Her bedroom was next, although that was harder to see, because the bedroom was at the front, so the light was not much more than a glow. There was always a delay, when he imagined her getting undressed and slipping into her nightclothes. Usually pyjamas, but in summer it was just knickers and an old T-shirt.
The bathroom came next. It was the middle window at the back of the house, frosted, with a blind she didn’t always close. He’d watched the movement of her arm as she brushed her teeth. Two minutes. Always two minutes, as if she timed herself. Then it was the toilet. Her back to the window, bending over as she pulled down her knickers, before disappearing from sight. Such a private thing but it was his view. Her secrets became his secrets.
Her garden was long and dark. He’d been in the undergrowth for an hour. Dressed in black, he was invisible. The cloth mask moved in and out as he breathed. Black and made from thin nylon, eyeholes the only bright spots. He’d passed her in the street and she hadn’t known him.
He’d waited a long time for a dry, moonless night. The winds got faster, the tremors under his feet made him unsteady. The whispers were small words of encouragement. It was time to move.
He pulled the branches of the laurel bush that grew in a corner to one side. His footsteps were light. No rustles, no noise.
There was no security light as he stepped on to the patio. He reached under the flowerpot for her spare key. The pot scraped on the paving slab. He paused as he looked out for a light in one of the windows, but they stayed dark.
The key was there.
He crept to the back door, staring through the glass as he hunted for a sign of movement inside, but it stayed dark and still. He turned the key slowly, letting out a breath at the slight clunk of the lock. The door opened silently, as he knew it would. She didn’t know that he’d oiled the hinges. The back door, and all the rooms in the house, so that he could move silently. He’d been in there before, when she’d gone out, learning his way around the house. He knew the weak points, the creaks and the groans. Avoid the third step.
He moved quickly, his breaths getting faster under the hood. He tried to concentrate but the ground moved beneath his feet, the whispers in his head like chants. He passed the doorways to the other rooms, the streetlight at the front providing a half-light in the hallway until he reached the bottom of the stairs.
He stared upwards. It seemed darker up there. A droplet of sweat ran into his eye, making him blink.
He kept to the edge of each step, striding over the third one, his clothes brushing the wall. He paused at the top. The voices stopped as if holding their breath. The earth stayed still. Now he was in control.
Her bedroom was large, with the streetlight outside the window. Her bed faced the door, so this was the most dangerous time. If she heard a noise, or just sensed his presence, she’d see him, but only as a shadow, a vague outline. Darkness was his friend, but he couldn’t afford to be caught.
He listened out for the creak of the mattress as she moved, or the sound of her feet on the carpet, investigating the noise. Nothing. Her bedroom door was ajar and the only sound was the steady tick of a clock.
He pushed at the door. It opened slowly, silently. He remained still, to see whether she moved or opened her eyes. He could leave and she might think it was a dream.
As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, the faint glow of the streetlight made her silky bedcover gleam.
He knew how it felt; he’d lain on it when she wasn’t there, took in her aroma from the pillows, stale perfume and warm sleep. He’d looked through her drawers, run his hands through her underwear, relished the silkiness.
His mouth was open as he stepped into the room, his breath coming too quickly. Stay in control. She was under her covers, lying on her side, facing him, the sound of her sleep so gentle. If he closed his eyes for a moment, he could smell her.
He knelt by the bed. Her face was inches away. Her lips, soft and full, her hair over her cheek, her fingers slender over the duvet. He reached out but stopped. Not yet. He’d always promised himself. Not that.
He closed his eyes again. The voices were back, the chants like a rolling rhythm, the wind blowing through the bedroom, the voices now like drumbeats, tempo increasing, his heartbeat racing.
He took long slow breaths to calm himself and let the voices fall silent. The drumbeat stopped. All he had left were the race of his heartbeat and the rise and fall of his chest.
He opened his eyes and gasped. Her eyes were open too.
Her arm moved quickly. He tried to move backwards, panicking, but he was kneeling down, so his toes jammed into the floor.
He saw the lamp just before it connected. Small but made of brass and with a narrow edge. She brought it down hard.
The last thing he remembered was the loud clunk when it struck his forehead and the blinding flash of pain. Then there was nothing.
You want more it is now available on paperback and EBook you can find it Here I haven’t read it yet but the EBook is a steal at 98p.
If you have already devoured this treat do let me know but I don’t take kindly to spoilers.