I love taking a trip down the local streets at this time of year, especially on a night like this when the evening air is cool and clear. In just a few days, the air will become thick with the smell of burning gunpowder and the light of fire will illuminate the sky, but for now I can look up and se the stars in the night sky. It gives a strange beauty that is so rarely seen these days.
I have been here for so many years now, and when you are in that position you have the luxury both of looking back nostalgically and also appreciating the small, little changes. When I first came here it was a quiet street in a quiet little town. It still is a quiet street, but the town has built up around it, and now it is a suburb for the city nearby.
Still, I like to move around and see what else is happening or has happened. One thing I have noticed in particular is how much the way people mark this time of year has changed. When I was a little girl, there may have been the occasional party or evening entertainment – discreetly done, in order not to offend the minister with his puritanical views. Now, however, the way our colonial cousins celebrate has started to creep into the local life – in some ways charming in other ways….
For example, nearly every house on this street has a pumpkin or some form of decoration outside. There is a few which do not – those who choose not to mark the night of All Hallows Eve or for other reasons wish to stay alone. They have their reasons, and I have no desire to know of them, but there are some I make a point of visiting on a regular basis.
One of those is old Mary, and as I look into her window I see her sitting there, her cat sat on her lap and a cup of tea on the table beside her. It is at times like these I want to stop and talk with her, but that would be impolite – and there will be time enough for that soon. I can wait – I am patient.
Making my way further down the road, I watch the small groups of children walking past, all in costume and many with their parents beside them. This is one of the things I have seen during my time here, and in many ways I approve. At one time the kids would have been dressed as ghosts or worn their best costumes. I have an acquaintance that regales me with tales of going “Guising” as they call it further north, of dunking for apples and trying to eat treacle scones hanging from the rafters.
Now I watch them as they scurry along. The costumes have changed – I fear too many of their parents have let them watch films that are not that suitable for those their age. The masks – some are from classic pictures and art, but others seem to suggest more puerile forms of entertainment. In the most part, however, I see that they are having fun, and their parents are watching them, which is for the good.
On the front lawn of one house, I can see that the family who live there have set out a montage in celebration of the event. There are pumpkins with the inside removed and candles inside, and illustrations of ghosts and ghouls. In the centre stands a pole, and there is a young woman against it, dressed in a most revealing black dress and secured to the pole with ropes. I come closer, concerned, but as I approach I can hear her laughing and behind her I see the members of her family watching and laughing.
A game then, a prank, a joke – I turn and leave them to their enjoyment.
Walking further down the street, I can see the warm light in the window of the house of another family I like to call my friends. The sound of music and laughter fill my ears, and I can see the smiling faces of the people inside. They are playing games, including a version of Blind Man’s Bluff where the ladies have their wrists secured behind their backs and blindfolds over their eyes, but they are in no danger or distress. Instead, they are laughing as they try to find their partners, who are shouting encouragement to them to come forward.
I miss these things from my youth, the sights and sounds of young people in love. Ever since my own dear Derek left, I have watched the young people doing what comes naturally, and I feel from them as they join together.
Turning, I listen to the music fading as I continue my trip along the street. The children are still laughing, and screaming, as I notice a group of older boys and girls coming down the road. Unlike all the others I have seen, these young people seem not to be seeking fun and excitement, but the vicarious pleasure that causing fear gives them. I am tempted to go and speak with them, but the sound of an approaching car distracts me. I turn to see a police car driving slowly down the road and as I turn back the group seem to melt away. It would appear that even with the lack of respect fro authority many people have today, the prospect of a discussion with the police still puts them off.
The night is drawing on, and the streets start to full silent as I make my way to one very special house – that where Patricia lives with her daughter. I have known Patricia ever since she moved to the area, with her little girl by the side of her and her husband. Over the years I have watched them grow and age, and when her husband died I promised that I would watch over them as well. It has been twenty years now, and every year I call in and talk with my old friend. It is a ritual, a common bond between us that we enjoy and share.
As I approach the house, I wonder what it is that she will have for me tonight – a new tale of Nancy, a set of photos that she discovered when searching through cupboards, or tales of the tricks the children have played for her this year. Her house is always bright, well lit, inviting – but as I get closer, I notice that there is light from her windows, no welcoming warmth.
I come closer concerned that there is no apparent sign of life. Making my way towards the door, my concern only grows stronger when I see that the door is lying ajar. Looking at the frame, I can see splinters of wood and a metal fitting hanging loosely from the frame. My concern only grows stronger, and I have a growing feeling that I have not felt for many, many years – fear.
Silently, quietly, I move along the corridor. The main room is dark, cold, but I can see that there has been a struggle here – chairs and tables have been overturned, and there is a broken glass on the floor, the brown stain from the drink it had contained soaking into the rug. Papers and other items are strewn over the floor. Frankly, I am beginning to wonder if either Patricia or Nancy are home. There is no sign of either of them in the other downstairs rooms, but as I re-enter the hallway I can hear some faint sounds from upstairs.
Climbing the staircase, I can see light under the frames of two doors. Standing next to one, I can hear voices, but they are indistinct, blurred. The next door appears to be into a silent room, but as I listen closer I can hear faint moaning noises, so I decide to enter.
The room is dimly lit, with only a very small bedside lamp providing any form of illumination. That does not concern me, however – the sight of Patricia lying there does.
She is still, the light grey hair she usually has done up in a tight bun lying loosely around the back of her head and her shoulders. The thing that is most noticeable, however, is the fact that the two ends of a Hermes scarf that have been tied in a knot over her hair, about a third of a way down her skull.
Patricia is on her side, her brown chiffon dress neatly on her and her legs clad in green knee length suede boots. As I look at her ankles, I notice the brown rope that contrasts against the green fabric, and the way it has constricted her ankles together. I grow in fear as I look further up her body, noticing as I do the rope that I had failed to see around her legs, the skirt of her dress gathered around her legs by the binding. Someone must have attacked her, and secured her – possibly whoever it was I heard speaking in the next room.
As I look at the way her wrist have been bound together, and the ropes that embrace her arms and legs, when she moans and starts to roll over. The fear I had felt turns to anger when I see the large red welt that is on her left cheek, and then concern as I look at the glistening trail that comes from under the cloth that covers her eyes. Her mouth is covered by some sort of tape, and from the way her cheeks are puffed out I have a suspicion that there is more than tape preventing her from making any understandable sound.
It must have been her moaning I heard and I long to tell her that everything will be all right, that the alarm has been raised and rescue is on the way. All I can do, however, is look at her, and run my hand over her cheek and face to let her know that she is not alone.
As I do this, I can see her relax and she mumbles “s t u?” As I continue to stroke her cheek, she nods, but a sound from the next room – a shout makes her tense up. I whisper into her ear that I will see what is happening, and not to worry. She relaxes again, and I make my way into the next room, avoiding the contents of her drawers that have been scattered over the floor.
The sight in the next room, however, fills me with both revulsion and anger. There are two men there – young, arrogant and with faces that show contempt and hate for all who have what they do not. In itself, that would not bother me – people are people, and over the years I have learnt to live and live. As I look at Nancy, however, this becomes an altogether different situation.
She is flat on her back, her wrists secured to the headboard of her bed with silk scarves. The buttons of her white blouse have either been opened or cut, and the front pulled open to reveal her light blue bra. She had been wearing a mid length blue dress, that had buttons up the front, but those buttons too have been opened and her skirt now lay under her behind, her matching panties exposed. Her ankles had been crossed, and the tight black leather boots she was wearing showed the coarse rope around them.
I wondered why she was bound differently from her mother, but listening to the two men in the room I realised exactly what it was they planned. So did she – her eyes were wide with fear and concern over the wide tape that covered her mouth and jaw line.
Normally, I am content to leave well enough alone, but not this time – I am not going to let them hurt my precious Nancy. First, however, I turn and look at her. It is not often that people see me, so her eyes widen even more as she sees me standing there before recognition comes to her. She narrows her eyes, just as one of the young men turn to me and say “Hey – how they hell did you get in here, granny?”
As I turn to look at them, I see for the first time the stockings that covered their heads. I had at first thought they were men of darker hue, but now I see it was merely my eyesight failing me. I also can now see the very large knife that one of them is carrying, and I fully understand why Nancy was so scared.
“I said how the fuck did you get in here, old timer?” one of them shouts as he walks forward, waving that very large knife in his hand. The other one walks over and stands next to Nancy, who is now looking at the unfolding scene with confused eyes.
I look at her and smile, as the temperature in the room begins to drop and the lights that had been lit go out. I can see the two men looking at each other, confused, concerned, wondering what is happening. Somehow, I know that Nancy has realised what is happening, and she closes her eyes. That’s good – it is probably better that she does not see what happens next, as I turn to the two young men and offer my sweetest smile. They start to laugh, but as I allow my smile to be shown in the natural state their laughs turn to screams, the knife drops to the floor and they back away from me. This is not going to work, however, as I continue to walk towards them, my arms held out in greeting……
The dawn is starting to break as I stand outside, watching Patricia and Nancy as they walk towards the waiting ambulance, blankets around their bodies both to protect them from the morning chill and to prevent the shock they must be feeling getting control of them. As they pass, they look in my direction, then at each other, before a smile crosses their face. The police arrived an hour or so ago, called by neighbours who had heard the screams coming form inside.
In a nearby car sit the two young men, staring vacantly ahead with creased brows. They have been secured by the police, but I cannot resist taking one last look at them before they go. As I look in and wave, they look in my direction before shrinking back and cowering, screaming at the officer in front to “get them the fuck out of there.”
As the waiting crowds dissipate, I take one last look down the street in the rising dawn. I have stayed here for oh so many years now, and have come to regard it as my duty to protect those who live here. Even now, when it has been – oh, fifteen years since I passed on, I still keep an eye on the place. Patricia understood, for when I first visited her at her husband’s request before he went over she knew and she accepted. Now Nancy knows as well, and I hope they tell others – I am watching over them and I will never let anyone hurt them.
I feel the warm sunlight on my face as I go to rest – it will be night soon, and once more I will take my walk down these streets of my home.