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.
Constance Jones knew the house was up to no good the moment she looked at it. It wasn’t the drab pebble dashed walls that matched the dreary day or the patchy garden flourishing with weeds in some parts, peppered with bare muddy circles in others. It wasn’t the thick square concrete canopy over the cracked and peeling mud green front door or the dirty white sills under the big downstairs window and the two smaller ones above it. It wasn’t that. It was the pale figure with no face in the smallest bedroom window that turned towards her 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 part of whatever was going on.
The 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 Antrim coast and she wanted to make sure it didn’t run. The umbrella had to be black because its original bright blue wouldn’t go with her black knee length dress, black tights and black hooded duffle coat.
Her two brothers, the reason for the hobnail boots which weren’t easy to get in a child’s size-four but weren’t really size-four any way, bundled out of the taxi behind her. They were only four years older than her but both hit a growth spurt last year that shot them up past a lot of adults let alone their ten year old 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 after the breakdown of their collaborations against her, but not so good for their mother, which was also good for Constance.
Michael, never Micky, got the boot open first and Christopher, never ever Chris, dove in, grabbed bags and cases to switch the competition from a race to a feat of strength and balance over who could carry the most. Constance judged the amount they’d be carrying, the likelihood of cheating, which was high to almost certain, 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 defending herself. Her mother stepped out of the taxi, frowned at the sky, popped open her own umbrella, walked briskly to the front door, and put Izzy, Constance’s younger sister on the doorstep under the canopy to keep her out of the rain.
“Boys! Will you be careful,” said Mrs Jones.
Weaving like two over-burdened sherpas the twins passed their mother as she rushed back to the taxi, fishing out the last of the dwindling notes that not-really-uncle-Bobby had given her from the last handbag she’d been allowed to keep. Her mother held out her hand for the change from a scowling cabbie who wasn’t happy at not getting the tip he expected 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 drop 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 sweeping leg and a cry of triumph.
Mrs Jones slammed the taxi door, glared at the driver, more a dare than a glare. It was a dare 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. Mother’s magic touch.
This was the ‘I’ve had enough’ tone of voice. Constance knew it would work because the boys were smart. Not as smart as her but smart enough to know that they’d taken this as far as they could before the extra maternal aftermath took all the fun out of it. They both mumbled apologies, reloaded up with the bags and cases 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, the ones with no lenses, slumped his shoulders and stooped over a little. There was a damp patch on the knee of the three-piece suit the charity shop gave him after all his were taken away. 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.
Constance’s mother was already at the door digging in 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, Melissa Jones sidestepped from habit, and the twins hurtled in.
‘Boys! Now put those…’
Her plea came too late as cases, bags, and brothers fell to the ground 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 at the top of the stairs. 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 almost bare walls. Constance turned left onto the cold, gloomy upstairs landing all of its four doors closed and in shadow. The first door was right beside her at the end of the back wall and 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. The frosted window was broken in one corner and the rough square of cardboard sticky-taped in place had come loose. The next two doors were set in the long wall in front of her. One lead into the back bedroom and the other the main front bedroom but it was the fourth door, the one at the opposite end of the landing that Constance made her way towards.
Halfway there and the handle creaked downwards until it clicked and the door swung open to the smallest room in the house the one where the faceless figure had been. It was barely big enough to fit a single bed and its dirty window looked onto the dreary front garden and the circle of a hundred other identical houses on the council estate. Constance’s shiny boots stopped on the threshold. She shuffled them until they were both exactly halfway on the slightly raised, curved 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 bare plaster. The window frame was coated in a hard white emulsion bought in bulk and liberally applied by painters paid by the amount they did not how well it was done and had no interest in letting the paint dry before shutting the window for good.
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 downstairs, Michael and Christopher clattered up ignoring pleas to ‘go easy’.
Christopher made it to the landing first but his brother kicked off the back wall, landed high on his brother’s back and brought them both to the floor. They spent a lot of time doing that these days.
‘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 up 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.