This is the first chapter to The Babysitter. Please feel free to read it, then let me know if I should stick to my day job…
January 1st 2000. Just after Midnight.
The two women hurried down the hill. Arm in arm, their hands gripped a flimsy umbrella that flapped against the wind trying to keep the rain from their faces. Sophie, the older of the two, pulled her companion along, forcing her almost to trot in her high heels on the wet road. In her free hand, Sophie held an ineffective torch. Their journey took them down a hedge-lined lane from the top village to The Forstal. They had less than a mile to go, but tonight, what with battling the weather and after too much alcohol, the walk seemed endless.
“What’s the hurry?” Complained Tamsin, the younger of the women. Her faux-fur coat was heavy with rain. Its matching hat, equally soaked had worked its way down her forehead and almost covered her eyes.
“I need to get back,” said Sophie. “It’s Nathan’s first time without me, and I want to make sure he’s alright.”
“So you’ve been saying all night,” said Tamsin, pushing her hat back up. “Stop worrying. Lottie’s a good kid. I’m sure she’s coping. She’s sensible, churchy, capable and can sing lullabies like a fucking angel. Everything you’d want in a babysitter. So, for the thousandth time, stop going on. He’ll be fine. But it won’t be fine if you pull me over in this pissing rain and into the ditch. Slow down!”
“Sorry,” said Sophie, slowing her pace.
Above the women, a series of fireworks suddenly burst in the sky, projecting their bright colours against the low clouds.
Tamsin looked back at the display as the muffled sound of the explosions caught up with them. “I wouldn’t mind so much, but the party is only just getting started,” she said. “I’ve still got plenty in my tank, and I feel like seeing in the new millennium properly.”
“You didn’t have to come with me,” said Sophie, regretting not making the journey home on her own. “You could have stayed. Or you could always go back.”
“Nah, I don’t fancy the walk,” said Tamsin. “Not now. Not in these shoes. Maybe we can carry on the party at yours.”
Sophie’s stomach tightened at the prospect. “It was a shame about the weather,” she said, trying to change the subject. “All that money spent on the fireworks, all that planning and then this.” She nodded towards the rain captured in the glow of her torch.
Tamsin pulled her collar higher, sending a cascade of cold water down the back of her neck. “Well, at least it stopped for the kiddies’ display,” she said. Then added, “For what it was worth.”
At the base of the hill, the ground evened out and coloured lights from The Forstal began penetrating the gloom.
Old cottages built for long dead farm workers were scattered like seeds on stoney ground each side of the lane. Most were in darkness. One had a stingy lantern in its porch that seemed determined not to share any of its glimmer beyond the last few steps of the path leading to it.
Some newer, much larger brick homes had sprung up in the 1980s when planning permission was easier to buy.
The result of a partnership between a farmer and a developer who was also the brother-in-law of a local councillor was a cul-de-sac of a dozen “units” ran off to the left.
To the right, The Apostle, an old coach-house, hunched against the rain. Half-hearted rock coming from its Public Bar. Sophie glanced through its window. Despite being New Year’s Eve and having a live band, the bar was almost empty. Everyone was at The Pavillion, she guessed. The beat became suddenly louder as someone threw open a door, ran out and was immediately sick in the entrance.
“That’s fucking charming,” said Tamsin, pointing at the spewer.
Beyond the pub, lay a terrace of concrete fronted homes. Built by Ashcorn Council forty years before for their renters. It was apparent that words cheerful, desirable and upbeat were not included in the architect’s brief.
In a forlorn yet optimistic attempt at exuberance, many of the residents had adorned these houses with Christmas decorations.
In one of the gardens, an illuminated reindeer lay on its side as if slain by a mysterious huntsman who preyed on the garish. Next to it, a sad battery operated snowman stood on a cracked paving slab while it waited for reindeer to get up again.
Strings of plastic lanterns banged against rotting wooden fascias under eaves. On one door, a wreath hung apologetically, its lights, having given up the ghost several days before Christmas Eve. Next door to this, a Christmas tree stood sentry, proudly lit up like, well, a Christmas tree. Fixed to someone’s roof was a teddy bear in a racing car. This Sophie found particularly confusing. There seemed to be everything except anything pertaining to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Sophie’s house was the last in the row. It was much neater than the others and had newly painted door and window frames. A simple strand of white fairy lights hung in even loops from the eaves. Her husband’s van was parked straight and square on the driveway.
More fireworks flashed and popped above them. Then a thunderous boom rolled across the sky startling the women, forcing them to quicken their pace.
Sophie handed the umbrella to Tamsin while she searched in her handbag for her house-keys. The women tumbled inside. Tamsin was going on about whether there was any alcohol in the house and if they could they restart the party. Sophie wasn’t listening to her. Something wasn’t right. She held her breath. The lights were on, but there was no sound. Perhaps Lottie had fallen asleep. But surely she would have been watching something on the television.
“What is it?” Tamsin asked. “What’s wrong? I need a drink.” Tamsin continued jabbering.
Sophie put up a hand to shush her, then pushed open the door to the living room. It was empty. The TV was off. Black paint covered the coffee table. A soaking sheet of paper with small smudged handprints lay in the middle of the mess. Paint had dripped from the table and had formed a dark pool on the carpet.
Sophie’s throat tightened. Unable to speak, she turned to look at Tamsin. It was then they heard it. A faint moan. It came again, louder this time.
A moan, a sob, then a cry that morphed into an ear-piercing scream.