...or any other children for that matter.
When my sister asked if I could babysit my little nephew, Jack, for the night as she and her husband had a wedding to go to out of town, I said no problem. I love the little guy. Now 3 year-old, he's at that really fun age where he's starting to speak well and is developing his own personality. He's also pretty well-behaved and I was promised £50, so it seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
I had only been to my sister's new house during the day at this point – never at night. I remember how excited she was when she first got the keys. None of us could believe she'd managed to bag such a big, beautiful old house for so little money, and I was quite excited to pretend it was mine, even if it was only for one night. I had grand visions of ordering a pizza, watching old films on her huge 50 inch widescreen TV and stretching out on the giant leather sofa, but then things got weird…
Jack's bedtime was at 7pm, so at 6.30pm I got him his milk, tucked him into bed and read him a couple of books (that kid is really into Beatrix Potter for some reason). It wasn't long before his little eye lids got heavier and heavier, and soon he was fast asleep. To celebrate, I popped the kettle on and settled down to watch something stupid on Netflix.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I remember was being awoken with a jolt by the sound of Jack crying and screaming at around 11pm. Jack has been prone to night terrors and usually calms down after a bit of soothing, so I went upstairs to reassure him. I was surprised to see him sat bolt upright in his bed, his little face pale and densely stained with tears.
"It's alright, Jack. You were just having a nightmare. Come on, lie back down," I said softly, lying him back on the bed. "I'm not Tom. I'm not Tom." He whimpered.
"I didn't say you were, silly." I smiled. He often said the funniest things.
"The lady did. She kept calling me Tom. I'm not Tom!" He insisted, angrily.
"A lady in your dream? It's not real, sweetheart.” I said. "It was just a dream."
"No, she was here. She was here. I'm not Tom.” He whispered. His whole body was shaking.
It took a while, but I stroked his soft curly hair until he fell asleep again. I went back downstairs and decided to have a quick cup of tea before going to bed myself. I was just putting the kettle on when I heard a loud bang on the front door. I glanced at the clock - 12am. Who the hell could that be?
As I approached the door, I could see the blurred silhouette of what appeared to be a woman through the frosted glass. It was hard to be certain as it was so dark outside, but she appeared to have long hair and to be wearing white. I walked toward the door slowly. I could feel my heart pounding inside my pyjama top. I carefully unlatched the door and paused for a moment before throwing it open. I was shocked to see...nothing. There was no one there. I was so confused. Was the silhouette a trick of the light? The shadow of a tree? I stepped out of the door and on to the patch of grass in front of the house. I looked all around but couldn't see anyone, just darkness.
Suddenly, I caught a flash of white in my periphery. I slowly looked up to the window of Jack's bedroom, and that's when I saw her - the lady. Although the night was black, I could see her very clearly. Her face was deathly white and framed by long, dark hair. What terrified me most was her expression. She wore a painfully wide, manic grin, that stretched across her entire face, showing sharp angular bones. She didn't move. She just stood there, grinning, her eyes crazed and unblinking, focused on me. I have no idea how I summoned the strength to break free from the all-consuming fear that had frozen me to that spot, but I found myself running back into the house. I raced up the stairs to Jack's room to find him lying on the floor, screaming and sobbing hard. I picked him up, grabbed my car keys and ran out of that house as fast as I could. I can't remember if I even locked the front door. All I wanted to do was get Jack as far away from that place - and that lady - as possible.
Jack slept at my flat that night while I stood watch. As he lay beside me, breathing softly and peacefully, I tried to make sense of what had happened. Who was that lady? Should I have called the police?
The next morning, my sister called at around 9am.
"Where are you?! Where's Jack? Is he okay?!" She cried down the phone, panicked and confused.
"We're at my flat, we're both fine. Something...something weird happened at your house last night. We had to leave. I'll explain when I see you." I said as calmly as possible.
"We're here now. The police were outside the house when we arrived. Apparently our next door neighbour's child has been abducted. I thought for a second it was Jack and..." She started to cry again.
"It's not Jack, don't worry. He's safe. Your poor neighbours though. Do they know what happened?" My mind was racing.
"No, but the police are searching the area. Hopefully they'll find him soon." She sighed, exhausted.
I suddenly felt an ache deep in the pit of my stomach.
"What's the boy's name?" I asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
"Tom," She replied. "His name is Tom."