The Silent Ones: An absolutely gripping psychological thriller
The two girls skipped down the narrow side street, hand in hand. The council houses all looked the same around here, boxy and grey. Only the doors were painted different colours.
‘B. O. R. I. N. G,’ they chanted in time with each springing step.
The afternoon sun warmed the backs of their necks and arms as their feet scuffed satisfyingly against the cracked grey asphalt, scattering gravel off the kerb and into the gutter.
When they neared the house at the end, they slowed down and walked the last few yards, looking around them furtively.
They had to be careful, because people were nosy. Everyone knew other people’s business in the small, sleepy village, and the girls didn’t want to get into trouble for straying this far from their grandparents’ home.
Luckily, it was just after lunchtime and they were on a side street with hardly any cars around. Most of the adults who lived here were at work, with only the older people and young mums with babies at home during the day.
It was quiet here on Conmore Road, although the girls had spotted one or two people pottering around in their back gardens with watering cans, or dozing in their front rooms in comfy chairs.
Nobody appeared to have noticed the children, both barely taller than the fences and hedges that edged the small front gardens.
One held open the peeling wooden gate, whilst the other girl slipped through, stepping on to the short weed-strewn path that ran down the side of the dwelling. They’d been to this particular house a few times before and knew better than to try and gain access at the front door.
The old woman often forgot to lock up at the back of the house. Sometimes, she’d told them, she only realised the back door had been unlocked all night when she came down to make herself a cup of tea in the morning.
Her name was Bessie, and she was much older than the girls’ own grandma, Joan. She liked to tell them stories about her secret work during the war, decoding messages intercepted from the Germans.
The girls hadn’t believed her at first, but then she’d shown them actual photographs of her sitting at a large, very odd-looking machine, her slim fingers poised above the mysterious buttons and levers.
In the pictures, Bessie wore her blonde hair swept back from her forehead, set in neat waves around her smooth, round face. You could see she had make-up on, possibly even red lipstick, although it was difficult to tell from a black-and-white photograph with creases in it.
Truthfully, the girls found it hard to imagine it really was Bessie, seeing her as she was now: that soft, wrinkly face and the twisted fingers that sprouted at odd angles from swollen knuckles.
Still, they enjoyed hearing the stories, and Bessie was good at telling them, always including lots of interesting detail. Yet she was useless at remembering anything else. The last time the girls had called, she must have asked a dozen times if they’d like a malted milk biscuit and a glass of home-made lemonade.
In the end, one of the girls had decided to help herself, but she’d found the biscuit tin devoid of anything save a scattering of stale crumbs, and there was no lemonade in the fridge at all. Only a mouldy bit of cheese and a tub of margarine.
They’d been annoyed, and when they’d raised their voices, a tear had slid down Bessie’s face. She’d said she must have thought she’d bought the stuff in and then forgotten that she hadn’t.
Who did that? It was crazy.
Anyway, they had nothing else to do today, because it was a staff training day at their primary school. Sometimes school sucked, but then it was boring around here without it to fill most of the day.
‘Let’s go and have some fun with Bessie,’ one girl had said to the other, and although the second girl didn’t want to make fun of the old lady, she’d known better than to disagree.
To be fair, when Bessie got confused and thought the two girls were actually women she used to work with, it was quite funny.
As they’d suspected, the back door was unlocked.
They walked boldly into the kitchen without knocking, and wrinkled their noses against the stale odours and the smell of damp.
They found the old lady in her chair, snoozing. She looked thinner than when they’d seen her during the spring bank holiday week a couple of months earlier. On the small lamp table next to her were a few pound coins and a small piece of paper. To pay the milkman, she’d explained to them before.
Pressing her finger to her mouth, the girl with the ponytail tiptoed up to the chair and bent forward so her mouth was right next to Bessie’s ear.
‘WAAKE UUUP!’ she yelled.
She shouted so loudly, the other girl jumped back from the doorway in alarm.
Bessie let out a strangled yelp and lurched forward, tipping right out of her chair. The girl with the ponytail howled with laughter, bent over double, her eyes shining with mirth.
‘Oh! Oh no… please, help me…’ Bessie pleaded, rocking slightly on her back like a dazed swatted fly.
The girl snatched at Bessie’s arm and roughly tugged at the pretty ruby and gold ring on her right hand before slipping it into the pocket of her shorts. Bessie had once told them it had belonged to her mother, but it was too nice to be stuck on the finger of an old lady who never went out.
‘I need the bathroom,’ said the girl at the door, and hastily walked away. She wanted to leave now; it had all got out of hand and this wasn’t what she called fun. But her cousin seemed to be enjoying it. She would try and think of an excuse why they should go home.
When she got back from the bathroom, she gasped when she saw the blood seeping steadily from the side of Bessie’s head. It pooled neatly on the worn, patterned carpet and sank into the grooves around the corner of the cream tiled fire surround.
‘What happened?’ She swallowed down a knot of panic.
‘It… it was an accident,’ her cousin stammered.
The girls backed out of the room and had just stepped into the kitchen when they heard it… a scuffling sound, like the movement of feet.
They froze as a shadow loomed in the hallway and advanced towards them.
Had Bessie jumped up and started coming after them covered in blood looking like a zombie from a horror film?
Alarmed, they let themselves out of the kitchen and darted around the side of the house until they were out in the front garden again.
Behind them, through the open window, they felt sure they heard Bessie laughing.
They were halfway up the street, heading back home, when they heard the sirens