An introverted twelve-year old has to save her broken family from a house that wants them dead and a serial killer stalking them for a madman's secret that will end the world.
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Twelve-year-old Constance Jones knew the house was up to no good the moment she looked at it. It wasn’t the chipped pebble dashed walls that matched the dreary day or the garden flourishing with weeds in some parts, peppered with slick muddy patches in others. It wasn’t the stubby concrete canopy over the cracked and peeling mud green front door or the dirty window frames. It wasn’t that.
It was the pale figure with no face watching her from one of the two upstairs windows before it faded away into the shadows behind it. Some may have thought it unfair to blame the house for having an unsettling occupant, but Constance thought the way the shadows covered the figure so quickly made it a co-conspirator.
The faceless figure was there when she stepped out of the taxi, her size four hobnail boots click-clacking on the paving slabs. She saw it as she opened up her big black umbrella that wasn’t black until she’d coloured it in with fifty-three permanent marker pens. She could have stopped at forty, but it rained a lot on the Northern Irish coast and she wanted to make sure the shade didn’t run away in a downpour. The umbrella had to be black because its original bright blue wouldn’t go with her black knee-length dress, thick black tights and black duffle coat.
Her two brothers, the reason for the hobnail boots, which weren’t easy to get in a child’s size-four and a half, bundled out of the taxi behind her. They were only three years older than her, but both hit a growth spurt over the summer that shot them up past a lot of adults, let alone their younger sister. The boys, twins, pushed and shoved to get to the boot of the mini-van first. Since the growth spurt, everything had become a competition between them. Good news for Constance, who relied less on her boots for defence, but not so good for their mother, which was also good for Constance.
Michael opened the boot and Christopher dove in. They grabbed bags and cases to switch the competition from a race to a feat of strength. Constance judged the amount they’d be carrying, the likelihood of cheating, which was high, and stepped away another few feet to avoid getting caught up. She’d spent an hour polishing her boots last night, and it’d be a shame to scuff them kicking the boys.
Melissa Jones, her mother, stepped out of the taxi, frowned at the sky, and hurried to the front door carrying Izzy, Constance’s little sister, out of the rain.
‘Boys! Will you be careful,’ said Mrs Jones, setting Izzy down on the doorstep.
Weaving like two over-burdened sherpas, the twins passed their mother as she rushed back to the taxi, where she fished out two crumpled notes from the dwindling supply in the only purse she’d been allowed to keep. Her mother held out her hand for change from a scowling cabbie who wasn’t happy at not getting the tip after a thirty-mile fare of fighting children, a snappy woman, and a man who talked to himself most of the way.
Constance’s dad got out of the taxi and ducked under her umbrella. She held it as high as she could, but he still had to settle one knee onto the ground and pull his long raincoat up so it didn’t get dirty.
‘The perfect cover,’ he said, ‘none of my foes will ever think of looking for me here.’
Constance pretended not to hear him, well, only half-pretended because she was looking at the figure in the window while Michael tripped up his brother and sent him crashing to the ground. Christopher, only saved from injury by his armour of luggage, retaliated swiftly and toppled his sibling with a cry of triumph.
Mrs Jones slammed the taxi door and glared at the driver. It was a glare that said ‘you had this for less than an hour. Do you really want to be involved longer than you have to?’ He didn’t. Shaking his head and muttering, the cabbie drove away.
This was the ‘I’ve had enough’ tone of voice. Constance knew it would work because her brothers would know they’d taken this as far as they could before maternal aftermath took all the fun out of it.
They both mumbled apologies and reloaded the bags as Mrs Jones walked past her husband and daughter without looking at them.
‘Let’s get you inside, Dad,’ said Constance.
David Jones stood up, put on a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses with no lenses, slumped his shoulders and stooped over a little. There was a damp patch on the knee of the charity shop three-piece suit. He switched his voice from its deep bass to the higher pitched one he used when he was Donald Dexter.
‘Terrible weather, isn’t it?’ he said.
Back at the front door, Mrs Jones hunted through her bag, telling her youngest daughter in a sing-song voice she was looking for the keys. It was intended to soothe Izzy but told Constance her mother was close to cracking. A sure sign to stay out of the way.
The key, shiny and new against the drab green door, appeared. The tumblers clicked, and Melissa Jones sidestepped from habit.
‘Boys! Now put those…’
Her plea came too late as cases, bags, and brothers fell to the floor in the house, scattering with thuds, bangs and laughter.
‘Boys! Now please pick those up.’
Constance stood at the door, her father silent beside her. It opened onto a small hallway barely enough to fit two people. Directly in front of them was a staircase leading up to the room with the figure with no face. A door on the left lead into a living room echoing with the twins’ latest scuffle.
A shadow flickered across the back wall above her. Constance let go of her father’s hand and stepped into the house.
‘Dad. I’m going upstairs.’
Each step of her boots on the wooden stairs, partially covered with old newspapers, made a solid tap that echoed off the bare walls. Constance turned left onto the cold, gloomy landing, all of its four doors closed and in shadow. The first door right beside her opened into a bathroom where it just about cleared the toilet and stopped against the long edge of a bath that had leaves and dirt at the bottom. A square of cardboard hung by a single line of sticky tape from the corner of a broken frosted window.
The next two doors, set in the long wall, lead into bedrooms at the front and back of the house, but it was the fourth door, the one at the opposite end of the landing that Constance walked towards.
She was halfway there when the handle creaked downwards until it clicked and the door swung open to the smallest room in the house. It was barely big enough to fit a single bed and its dirty window looked onto the surrounding circle of sixty other identical houses in the Ramore Green council estate. Constance’s shiny boots stopped on the threshold. She shuffled them until they were both exactly halfway on the worn piece of wood separating the landing from the room.
The walls, like all the others she’d seen in the house, were a mess of ragged wallpaper strips and plaster.
A slow scrawl cleared dust to leave a message on the glass.
‘Come inside and close the door.’
Constance pursed her lips.
A door banged against a wall below, Michael and Christopher clattered upstairs ignoring Mrs Jone’s pleas to ‘go easy’.
‘I’m picking our room, muppet,’ said Michael.
Constance stepped over the threshold, turned around, and took hold of the edge of the door. Her brothers stopped their struggles and looked at her.
‘What are you looking at Constipated?’ said Christopher.
Constance held her brothers gaze until they blinked and looked away.
‘This is my room,’ she said and closed the door.