Samantha, October 21st, Friday
It's freezing. The water is dripping from the gutter of the building opposite. It has always done that; my brother makes a joke about it every time he passes. Hasn't that bloke finished his piss yet? Don't make a sound, I am told, and I won't hurt you. The knife pressed into the small of my back. I can't even scream because there are hands covering my mouth. They are gloved and there is the taste of rough wool on my tongue. And oil. A thick padded jacket squashes me against the wall. I don't want to know what happens next.
My room. It's safer here. The walls have recently been painted a creamy yellow and there are new curtains. My mum made them out of fabric that she bought at the Indian store. She's thrifty that way. She puts flowers in here too, sometimes, white and pink with lots of greenery. They are supposed to last fourteen days but they never do. The petals droop inevitably towards the end of the first week and the water smells like a shallow pond in summer, stagnant.
Inevitable. That's a French word. Strange, we don't say evitable though. It doesn't exist. Éviter: To avoid. Police warnings: avoid unlit areas after dark. Take precautions. Did you take precautions? And so on.
I run these little mantras through my head. Though they never lead to any enlightenment and result only in shame at myself for trying to sound clever.
It's late autumn now, and dark already at five o'clock. There was a chill today that went right to my bones and relentless rain falling onto a mushy carpet of brown leaves. Still, I think it must be my favourite season. I look forward to the cold sky, so clear and frozen that the anticipation of winter hangs there, crystallizing your breath as you exhale. Streets are much quieter, especially on cold days like this one. I like to walk down the length of a street without seeing a single person. I imagine them snuggled on the sofa watching television, grumbling at having to have the heating on so much. All this goes on behind the closed curtains whilst my footsteps crunch the frost outside.
Rebecca rang me earlier. She wanted me to go out with her tonight. I haven't decided what to do about this yet. Broaching the subject with my mum would only cause a lot of fuss and worry. Rebecca doesn't go in for worrying. Don't let the bastards get in your way. Anyway, it's been a while since the last one. I would have thought the parents were loosening up a bit by now.
Things like that only happen to other girls, girls in newspapers. Maybe you've seen them around, a friend of a friend of a friend, but you don't ever really know them. You're parents read about it and start being a little stricter. You can't walk home alone after dark anymore. But inside everyone gives a little sigh of relief: It wasn't my daughter. It wasn't me.
Anyway, I don't want to go. It will be busy tonight, being a Friday, and there'll be stumbling drunks, clutching at you in crowded rooms as they trip over each other's feet. The dim lights and sticky floors, sweaty bodies pressed close to yours as you squeeze past, desperately stretching your neck to find someone, lost in an undulating sea of bodies. It reminds me of those warehouses, thousands of chickens crawling on top of each other in the darkness, eyes bulging, eating their own excrement. I always tell mum to buy free-range eggs, although she says you can't even be sure about those. There are loopholes in the regulations.
Samantha, October 21st, Friday
October 24th, Monday
Taken from the Houlton & Leytop Star
… Locals in the Houlton district have taken safety measures after a string of recent sexual assaults in the area. A few months ago a local girl, aged 17, was attacked whilst walking home from work. Since this attack the police have not managed to make an arrest. Chief Inspector Simmons of the city's police force said recently that his force were still very much on the case, but, after two more attacks in the neighbouring areas, local residents are unimpressed.
"We are very concerned for the safety of young girls in the area and the police have not done anything to help. I can't believe they are no closer to a lead after two more attacks" says Jim Threapleton, head of a local Neighbourhood Watch group. The group have issued door-to-door leaflets offering safety advice and are currently trying to set up a scheme for young girls walking back from school so that they are always accompanied, especially since the evenings are becoming darker. They want to ensure that everyone is taking the necessary precautions. Inspector James gave a statement commending the action but says that the local residents should have faith in the continuing investigation…
Samantha, October 27th, Thursday
My dad was reading the paper last night. I don't know why, but he always reads papers that are at least three days old. He says it's because he never gets round to reading them. My mum was annoyed because she wanted to throw it out. Old news, she said. My dad asked why we hadn't got any of those neighbourhood watch leaflets in the mail. Mum said that we had, but she had thrown them out. Junk mail. We don't need a load of nosy neighbours telling us how to run our lives. I took the paper upstairs with me after tea. They want to ensure that everyone is taking the necessary precautions. I remember when all this first happened; a policewoman came into school to talk to us all. Even those of us in the sixth form were dragged down from our common room and made to sit through it. Necessary precautions seemed to be a popular phrase around then, although most of us were too busy chewing our nails and staring at the hall floor, bored, to take any notice. Besides, didn't we always walk home in a group, anyway? We could look after ourselves, look out for each other. Be on the look out. Look out. You can never see it coming, that's the trouble.
I remember walking home from school. Just thirteen, with Christopher Hall trailing behind me, hurrying over the potholes in the pavement. He seems out of breath. He's talking at me, a stream of quick sentences tumbling out of his mouth. I quicken my pace slightly. He must notice because I can hear him speed up behind me, but he doesn't seem slighted. Mid sentence he catches up to me. Resigned to my fate, I slow down. At least there's no one else walking home this way that will see us. You fancy that Christopher, don't you. Did he walk you home from school? A sneer. Or worse, from the lads: Bet you sucked his dick in the cemetery.
But there was no one there.
I was saved from some embarrassment then. He was talking about some TV programme that I never watched; eager to show he has all the insider knowledge. It wasn't originally called that when it first came on, you know. I didn't know and my silence ought to have shown that I didn't much care, but even the largest hints were wasted on Christopher. It was like throwing handfuls of gravel at a concrete wall. His hair was greasy and old fashioned, hanging limply over his forehead. I bet he only washes once a month. He stinks like cheese. We would sit at school in groups at lunchtime and speculate over sandwiches and cans of coke whilst Celia, worldlier than the rest of us, took delight in introducing us to new and disturbing concepts. I saw him looking over in English. I bet he was wanking under the table. He's so gross. We attributed him with all sorts of perversions. I noticed he had his hands in his pockets and I rushed along the street, mumbling in agreement, eager to get home.
Now, though, I would give anything to walk home with Christopher Hall. I've come to realise the value of people who are self-absorbed. They are easy company. It was the other lads that we should have been careful of. It was they who would glance surreptitiously at your white oxford weave blouses. The cemetery enchanted them; it offered an oasis of forbidden possibilities, fantasy and rumour. Mostly the stories were about Celia. I thought it was probably because she had the biggest breasts, the obvious target. All Christopher wanted was to impress me with his extensive knowledge of science fiction. But, at thirteen, he was another obvious target.
Brenda, October 28th
I got another leaflet through the door today. I don't know why Jim bothered sending one to me; I'm hardly a likely target, am I? Mind you, it's been quiet round here since the last one, seems to me like whoever it was has moved on. Most likely they'll never catch him now. A drifter. Most things like that are usually some nobody just passing through the area. They upset a whole community then move on to somewhere else. He was probably on drugs, too. It's terrible the way things have gone though. I mean, you never heard of anything like that when I was a girl. And I've lived round here all my life. Makes you think how society can change so much.
I saw that young girl, anyway, the other day. She must live close by because she was walking down the street opposite with a friend. She seemed spirited enough. It's surprising how resilient the young are, though. I never knew her before, but apparently her dad is one of the driver's at our Margaret's place. I remember her saying so at the time. She said he took a lot of time off work. Understandable, I suppose, in the circumstances. Although my Roger said there's no use dwelling on it all. Best thing to do is get on with things. And dragging it all through the papers like that, it can't have been any good for the girl.
I've hardly ever taken a day off work. My father wouldn't hear of it. He would pack me off every morning, rain or shine. Six days a week, eight in the morning till six at night, working at them machines. Optician says that's most likely why my eyes are so bad now; I was forever straining them when I had to re-thread the machine, because the needlepoints were so small.
Now I'm on at the co-op I find work a little easier. I couldn't cope with all that now, not at my age. Mind you, some of them get on their high horses a bit. Give them a clipboard and a different uniform and they think they've got divine right. I nearly said to that young man yesterday, I won't have you bossing me about; I've been working for thirty odd years now, and you only fresh out of college. Its all targets and service procedures now. You don't need any of that in my opinion. Most folks just want their morning paper, a pint of milk and a friendly smile.
While I'm thinking about it, I'd best get those veg on for tea. Roger'll be home soon. At least he's not working late so much anymore. I said to him, you tell that boss of yours, it's no good for you at your age, and especially not with your health the way it is. He was in the army, you see, and he gets terrible gip in his back and shoulder. He was wounded, you know. I have the medal upstairs.
Makes you think though, a lot of them girls don't help themselves really. Now I'm not saying it was her fault, but you should have seen this girl the other day. She was only buying a few loaves of bread, but you'd have thought she was walking down the catwalk. Skirt as short as I don't know what and she could barely walk in them boots. When I was younger we knew where to draw the line. You never saw me tarted up to the nines just to nip on to the shop, it's no wonder some men get funny ideas. You've got to know what's appropriate and what isn't, haven't you? It's like our Roger said the other day, apart from having no shame, they'll only catch their death in this weather.
Samantha, October 28th, Friday
Target. Target practice. Target market. Teenage market. Teenager target of another attack.
When that policewoman came to school she said that if we knew anything then we ought to tell somebody, even if we thought it was nothing.
I didn't know them though, the other girls, those in the newspaper. I only know as much as them anyway, it isn't as if I can tell them anything they don't already know. I don't owe them anything. It's not my responsibility.
I am lying there. I don't know what time it is. I worry that my parents are wondering where I am. I can't see my watch in the dark. My skirt is damp and I am sure my legs will be muddy. I can feel tiny shards of gravel stuck to my calves and I wonder how I will explain any scratches away. I need a shower. Aching, I try to stand. I could just lean back and close my eyes; it wouldn't be my responsibility then. Leave it in someone else's hands. His hands on me, rough. My arm feels tender, most likely bruised. I want to cry. There is no one about who will hear me.
October 31st, Monday
Taken from the Houlton & Leytop Star
… shock of yet another attack on a local girl. The attack took place on Tuesday evening as the girl in question was on the way to a friend's. She was unavailable for comment and is still in hospital recovering from her injuries.
The police spokeswoman said that this was the most violent attack of the four and that they are appealing to people in the area for information. The attack took place on a lane between the playing fields of St Mary's High School and the neighbouring housing estate at around 7pm.
If you have any information or saw anything suspicious that evening, you are urged to call a confidential police information line on 01723 776778. The neighbourhood watch representative, Jim Threapleton says that his organisation plans to intensify their safety campaign.
"As it is, we cannot put these horrific incidents down to a passing opportunist," he told our reporter. There is a meeting for anyone concerned at the local sports hall at 6pm on Friday.
The police have commended this action and are grateful that the local community are being so helpful.
"It is highly possible that someone out there knows the person responsible. We urge that person to come forward."
The police spokeswoman, however, did not say that there are any suspects at this time...
Brenda, 1st November, Tuesday
I wish I hadn't bothered buying that newspaper now. I never normally buy the local one. Roger says it's full of adverts, anyway, he prefers his usual daily. But I thought he might want to know what had been going on, everyone at work was making a fair fuss about it all. Anyway, he just looked up from his tea and said I shouldn't be gossiping about such things, it's not our business. I must say, I was a bit put out, but I expect it was something at work that was bothering him, he's not been himself since he's had to start working late again. I said to him, can't they get anyone else to do it, all those young 'uns that you've got working there now?
I kept the paper anyway; it's something to read on my tea break. It says here that the police are looking locally for whoever did it. Doesn't that make you feel funny? Gives me a shiver, I might have served him at work. Just think. That Carol, who works on a Tuesdays with me, said it could even be someone you knew. I said I wouldn't go that far, and anyways, if it was anyone you knew then you'd most likely know yourself. I mean, whoever it is isn't exactly a well man, is he? She said that her cousin's friend had once dated the Yorkshire Ripper, so it just goes to show that you never can tell. Then they all started gossiping, and I didn't want any part in it. I don't go in for that sort of idle speculation.
Apparently they're now appealing for information, there's a number you can ring. Carol asked me if I'd not seen anything seeing as how I live round there. I said of course I hadn't, don't be so daft. Honestly. Anyway, I was busy in my kitchen making our tea. I think I had Coronation Street on. Well, it gets a bit lonely when you're in on your own, and I like to have the TV on for a bit of noise in the background. I'm not peering out of my windows at that time of night, am I? I've got enough to worry about without snooping out of windows. Roger's getting too old for all these late nights now, driving back in the dark. It just isn't on.
Makes you wonder, though. I mean, that school is just round the corner. All that going on and I'm just sat watching the TV. Bit creepy, really.
Samantha, 2nd November, Wednesday
We urge that person to come forward. I'm keeping the newspapers under my bed. Mum thinks I have thrown them out. She says I spend too much time in my room. Dad says she should leave me be, I'm at that age. She doesn't want her mum and dad interfering, he said.
....did not say that there are any suspects at this time. I don't know if it was him, though. It's hardly concrete evidence. A feeling. A shiver that runs down your spine. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to run away, curl myself up into a ball. I used to do that when I was younger, if it was thundering outside, or if the shadows on my bedroom wall were moving. I'd pull the cover right over my head and curl up tightly. I thought it would protect me.
I didn't want to be there, in the middle of the co-op, so exposed.
But that's not the sort of evidence the police want to hear. I have nothing to tell them. They can't help me. Even if they catch him. Nothing can take away this feeling now.
I cut my finger this afternoon, slicing the vegetables for my mum. She said I was making an awful lot of fuss. It's only a bit of blood. Stop struggling.
Stop struggling His voice muffled through his thick coat. He's old. It's the cracks in the sound, like he's spitting the words. His breath. Tobacco and something else. Like my dad's car, musty and waxy.
Sorry love, but I thought I'd better let you know I'll be late back again tonight. Mick needs a hand with some paperwork, sorry.
It was the same voice. I know it. I haven't forgotten it.
I'd best be going, though. I'll see you later love. Bye.
She looked like she was going to protest, but he didn't give her chance. A quick nod to the other staff, then he hurried out of the door. She looked a little flustered, shaking her head she turned to me.
I bought the paper the next morning. My dad doesn't believe in coincidences.
There's a meeting on Friday, apparently. I saw the leaflet this morning before my mum threw it away. Personal safety should not be ignored. I expect the police will probably be there, they advertised their number again. It's confidential; anything you say is in the strictest confidence. Confide. What if you can't get the words out, though? They collect in your tummy, rising up your throat in a confused jumble. What if the words strangle you? I stood there in the doorway, looking up at my mum. What's up with you? I felt like I was choking. Nothing, Mum, just getting a drink, my throat is a little dry.
Refreshments will be served. They put that in bold letters at the bottom. I expect that they have to promise the public some reward.
Brenda, 3rd November, Thursday
To honour and obey. That's what I said on my wedding day, and I stick to my promises. Not like these lot nowadays. It's not my place.
That bloody leaflet. But I didn't have time to throw it out, see, for once he was home early.
..Be safe… personal safety. I'm not going to no meeting. Tomorrow it is. Police'll be there, Carol said. They came round too, yesterday afternoon. Just doing door to door, asking if I'd seen anything unusual. I didn't tell him that though.
House is so quiet now. There's a number on that leaflet. Roger threw it in the bin before he stormed off out. Expect he went to the pub. Most likely. I tell you, I can't explain these moods of his. Too much stress for a man his age. Too much. Well, it's been thrown out now, no use dwelling on it.
Still, I don't see where all this carrying on is going to get anywhere. You have to let the Police get on with things. I'm sure they'll catch up with him soon enough. I said, of course, I hadn't seen anything. Well, I haven't. Anyway, don't know what they come asking me for anyway, our house doesn't face the playing fields, it's them across road they should have been talking to. Said had my husband seen anything. I said not likely seeing as how he's at work. When will he be back, smooth as a fox this young fella was, can we come back and talk to him later? I didn't like the look on his face, the other one just stood there looking at me. Well I don't know what time he'll be back, I gave them my stern look, he works very hard you know. They haven't come back anyway. Most likely found someone else to pester. No, they won't come back now.
I've closed all our curtains now, anyway. I'm not spending all night poking my head out the window to see if I can see anything going on. He'll most likely be back later on. Well, I'll wait up for him, watch some telly. Karen at work says there's this new thing on tonight, might give it a go.
Wait then, that's all I can do. He's my husband. He's paid his dues enough without being pestered. He went to the Falklands, you know. I have the medal upstairs.
Samantha, 4th November, Friday
The paint on my ceiling is cracking. There's a long split pushing its way from one end to the other. Maybe I will be able to see it moving, if I watch it for long enough. Strange how you don't see these things actually taking place, like hair growth, buds opening. It was only a tiny mark at one time, look at it now, a full-scale tectonic fault line. Whose fault though?
I can hear my mum bustling about downstairs, the pots in the sink clinking. She probably knows I am faking illness and can't be bothered to argue. If I don't want to go to school, it's up to me. She knows that I'll catch up. I'm old enough to make my own mistakes. You can tell all this extra caution is wearing a little thin with her. After the uproar of the first attack had died down I wasn't driven everywhere in the car, just as long as you're sensible, stay with a friend. Now we've got the rules again, she has to pick me up from work on an evening from the Spa on the main road. I know it's only 10 minutes walk, she said, but you can't be too careful. Something about her tone of voice implied that she wished that you could. She was missing Eastenders.
I don't say anything about all of this. I don't want to protest at these tighter regulations in case they agree. She was late last night. I stood in the doorway, where it was well lit. My manager kept looking out of the window, wondering what I was doing. Why doesn't she just start walking, meet half way? My heart was beating so fast, like a hummingbird. They have a fantastically quick heart rate; they have to flap their wings constantly. Just to stay up.
On Wednesday I ran home from school after Rebecca went her way. Why are you so out of breath? My mum said. She's scared of ghosts in the dark, my little brother smirked.
My Mum looked at me funny, how come you never wear that amethyst necklace anymore?
Don't tell me you've lost it?
It's that meeting tonight. I know I have to go. But what if… Surely no one is that audacious? I saw his wife in the co-op again, she smiled at me. Called me 'love'. I wanted to be sick.
Brenda, 4th November, Friday
Sick, ill, you have to be to do something like that. That Carol pronouncing her judgements on the world again. I couldn't listen to her, I came over all funny. I'm sure the air conditioning in that place doesn't agree with me. I went all dizzy and hot, and they sent me home. Treated me like an infirm pensioner. Wanted to ring Roger. I said I could manage on my own; I'm only fifty-two, for goodness sakes. I'm hardly at death's door.
He could have fallen on the way back from the pub or something. He doesn't have to hide it from me. Those trousers were new nearly, only bought them a month ago, and not cheap. Ruined they are, with all that mud. I'm sure that's what it was, had one pint too many and stumbled. Hardly surprising, the stress he's been under is it? That Carol keeps on going about all that at work, developing her conspiracy theories, no wonder I'm becoming suspicious.
I've not mentioned the necklace to him.
He most likely just found it somewhere, picked it up. He's always doing absentminded things like that.
I found it in his sock drawer.
I wonder why he kept it?
It's that meeting tonight. I could go, I suppose. It might belong to one of those girls. He might have just found it. Where did he find it?
If I went I might be able to help.
Where did he find it?
I can't go.
Samantha, 4th November, Friday
I can't go. How will I explain it to Mum and Dad…? I can't tell them what happened. I can never tell anyone.
I have to. He might do it again.
I wish I knew how to say the words.
November 5th, Saturday
Taken From The Houlton and Leytop Star
…The Local Neighbourhood Watch held a meeting last night, focusing on Personal Safety in the community. Community Liaison Officer, Sergeant Steven Murray was the guest speaker. Organiser, Jim Threapleton was pleased with the high turnout.
"I think we have made people wake up and realise that action must be taken."
He also said that he was pleased the Police had an input into the meeting. However, the man responsible for the recent attacks is still at large…
January 5th, Tuesday
Taken From The Houlton and Leytop Star
…The Police have issued warnings to local residents after a string of recent burglaries in the Houlton district. A Police Spokeswoman said that such incidents are not unusual at this time of year, as many people may have bought new computers, televisions and other expensive items over the Christmas period. Neighbourhood Watch organiser, Jim Threapleton, has called a meeting so that Police can issue advice to residents.
They will be offering security advice, and also issuing special marker pens and stickers for marking electrical equipment and valuables. Mr Threapleton commented last night,
"I really think it is a sad time when you can't buy your children presents at Christmas without fear of being robbed. The Community really needs to sit up and take note…"