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Closer to Home

Chapter 2

Annabel Lanley enjoyed her work; she felt like she was truly helping people. It also got her out of the house… and that was the only payment she needed. Her husband didn’t understand. Doug wouldn’t lift a finger if there wasn’t a pay-check waiting for his trouble… unless it was to make Annabel happy; she knew he’d do anything to make her smile.

Walking along the quiet street, she thought about the nursery. It might seem a little premature to some, but Anna knew she would eventually fill the spare bedroom of her little terraced house with children of her own. She and Doug just needed to be patient. In the meantime, she would indulge in furnishing and decorating the cosy space. And she could take her time; a cot one month… some wallpaper the next. Money wasn’t exactly flowing in, but they managed.

Offering her time as a volunteer community carer also distracted her from her concerns, financial and otherwise. And it was far better than waiting for a paying job to surface. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stand working in a factory for long… and that was all that ever seemed available. No… she would rather volunteer for the time being.

Annabel halted and beheld the large Georgian town house that now stood before her. Taking in it’s impressive but dishevelled façade, she let out a long sigh; one of her more troublesome cases lived here.

Anna had been assigned Michael Darling over a month ago, but as of yet, she still hadn’t met him. He never would open the door for her, but she was convinced he wasn’t looking after himself properly; the house and garden where in obvious disarray, and Mr Darling himself rarely emerged, according to neighbours. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be seen leaving the house for a fortnight or more… and he certainly didn’t seem to purchase enough food to properly sustain himself for that long.

Visibly bracing herself with a deep sigh, Annabel opened the little garden gate, hanging crooked on its hinges, and began along the weed-ridden path.

Peter was staring at the ceiling, watching the small tendrils of sunlight that managed to penetrate the papered windows. His hands were still tied, and the door of the room was locked. He felt strangely calm as he plotted his escape. Perhaps ‘numb’ would be a better word for it. His dearest and most loyal companion was dead. Not only that, but Wendy was also gone forever. Peter felt utterly alone.

At first, Peter’s mind didn’t take notice of the sound of knocking; he was too absorbed in misery. But when the loud chiming of the aged doorbell broke through the silence of the house, Peter realised what it meant; someone was at the door.

No sooner had Peter started shouting, sitting up to beat his bound hands against the nearest window, than the sound of frantic footfall began. The boy’s desperation and calls for help intensified as Michael burst through the door, and grabbed him.

“HELP! HELP ME...” Peter’s voice was cut off as Michael clamped a hand over the child’s mouth, and squeezed.

Anna glanced up at the house. She had heard something. The sound of muffled screams, and someone banging on one of the many windows. She was sure that’s what she had heard… but there was no sign of anyone now. The house had fallen silent. But for a moment, there had been life; she knew someone was at home.

Stooping forward, she lifted the flap of the front door’s mail slot and peered into the gloom of the hallway beyond.

“Hello? Mr Darling?” She was not surprised when she received no answer.

“It’s Mrs Lanley… your community volunteer. May I come in?”

The house now seemed abandoned, without sound or movement. But Annabel was not so easily put off.

Peter sobbed as he desperately tried to fight against the crushing weight of Michael, lying on top of him, pinning him down, a hand still covering his mouth. He could sense Michael’s fear; the man was tense, concentrating more on the window than the boy he was restraining.

“Mr Darling… I really must insist on seeing you.” Still more silence.

“At least let me know that you are alright. Mr Darling?!”

Annabel let out an aggravated sigh as she stepped back, letting the mail slot close, and looking up, once again, at the imposing house. She was convinced Michael Darling was in there; he was simply refusing to cooperate. She had been warned about him by her colleagues; he would never open the door without a fight.

Deciding she had wasted enough time, Anna reluctantly turned and made her way back along the path to the pavement, telling herself this would be the last time Mr Darling would be allowed to avoid meeting with her.

Michael and Peter both heard the un-oiled creak of the gate closing in the front garden below, and Peter was suddenly released as his captor scurried to the window to confirm what they had heard.

He let out a sigh of relief, “She’s gone.”

Peter rolled himself upright, and edged away from the man.

“Blasted woman… why can’t they all just leave us alone?!” He turned then, and saw a terrified boy staring back at him.

Michael shifted uneasily and glanced at his own feet, disturbed by the look of trepidation in Peter’s face.

“Well then… no harm done… but you must never make noise like that again, Peter.”

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