“Why aren’t you at school today, Melissa?”

 “Teacher-Training Day”, said Melissa, biting enthusiastically into an apple, and sounding like a hungry racehorse.  

 “They seem to have an awful lot of those these days”, Lucy sighed, continuing to water the pot plants on her living-room windowsill.

 Melissa shrugged and continued to eat.

 Lucy doted on her Great-Niece, and she didn’t like to think that she could be lying.  Melissa was always such a frank, straightforward girl.  She was the type of person who couldn’t lie without sounding thoroughly unconvincing.  Lucy knew education had changed a lot since her day, many decades before, but even so, children seemed to have far too many random days off these days.  And Home Time seemed to be any time between 11 o’clock in the morning and 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  “In our day”, thought Lucy “School always finished promptly at 3:45 PM.  The only variation was on the very last day of term, when we would be able to leave an hour early”.  

 She wished she could comfortably raise these issues with Anna, Melissa’s mother, but Anna would only take it as a criticism, and no doubt make some barbed comment that Lucy had never had children herself, and so couldn’t possibly know how difficult it all was.  Lucy had never been able to think of an adequate response to this.   

 “You should never neglect your education, Melly”, said Lucy “It’s so important, particularly these days.  Everyone is expected to have a degree these days”.

 “You haven’t got one, and you did alright”, said Melissa, looking at the bookcase under the window, which housed Lucy’s complete works.  

 Lucy was a writer, her genre was historical romance, and she had made a long, prolific and profitable career out of it.  Since she had first emerged on the scene in the early 1960s, she had built up a steady and loyal following, and now that her books were being reissued on Kindle, she was gathering new, younger fans, a fact which delighted her.  

 “Yes, but a degree isn’t essential for a writer”, said Lucy “In spite of what I’ve heard some say these days.  A writer simply needs to read as much as possible, and work hard at the keyboard”.

 “Mum says you work too hard”, said Melissa, tossing the apple core into a nearby wastepaper basket “Says there’s no need for you to be working every day at your age”.

 “Does she now”, said Lucy.  

 Anna always seemed to have something to say about Lucy’s lifestyle.  Normally she carped about Lucy’s flat.  “Why do you carry on living in this shoebox?” she had carped “Barely room to swing a cat.  You could make a packet if you sold it these days, prime location and all that”.  Lucy had protested that the flat suited her needs perfectly.  As an elderly lady living alone, she didn’t need or want too much space (it was just more work), and the location in the centre of town was perfect.  She liked having everything conveniently on her doorstep.  Lucy believed it was very important for pensioners to get out every day, otherwise they became housebound and vegetated.  

 “I love my work”, Lucy said to Melissa “I will do it as long as I possibly can, and as long as people still want to read me”.   

 “Cool Lulu”, said Melissa, using the pet name she had used for her Great-Aunty since she was little more than a baby “But seven days a week? Starting early in the morning?  Don’t you ever feel like having a lie-in?”

 “I’m a morning person”, Lucy chuckled “And at my age you don’t need a lot of sleep at night”.

 Historical romance wasn’t really Melissa’s thing.  She was more of a Horror kind of girl, but she was proud of her Great-Aunty, and had been delighted when she had first seen copies of her books in the local library.  

 “You even work on holiday!” said Melissa.

 “Well I’ve never understood why going on holiday means having to stop doing things one enjoys”, said Lucy.

 Melissa hooted with laughter, and climbed out of the armchair.  She came over to stand next to Lucy at the window.  When she got up close to her, Melissa always felt a bit disconcerted at how frail her Great-Aunty was becoming.  Lucy was short and thin.  She still coloured her hair, and had immaculate dress sense, but there was no denying that she was now getting  a very fragile old lady look.  By contrast, Melissa was a healthy-looking youngster, big but without running to fat.  She enjoyed her sports, and was fairly athletic, belonging to the school netball team.  In olden times, thought Lucy, Melly would have been called “a hearty girl”, or “a strapping young lass”.   A “jolly hockey-sticks sort”.

 It was only a similarity in the eyes which showed they shared the same genes.  Lucy had always been a rather introverted woman.  Shy, but not stand-offish.  She had always preferred to be at home with her books than out-and-about meeting people.   She had a lot of quiet charm, and Melissa knew that under that reserved exterior Lulu could often have a mischievous sense of humour.  

 They both looked down at the pedestrianised town square.  Some people milled about, ambling from shop to shop.  Office-workers moved in a more brisk, time-is-money way.   On the other side of the square, a young man was setting up to sing along to some pre-recorded backing tapes.  Anna (naturally) didn’t like the buskers who often performed in the square.  She said they were a menace.  Lucy liked them.  She enjoyed the background noise they provided when she was working, and she had once angrily signed a petition when those miseries at the local council were threatening to have them banned.

 “I suppose I’d better get off”, said Melissa “Me and some of the girls are gonna have a park-run this afternoon”.

 “The energy of some of you young people”, said Lucy “I always wanted to curl up in a chair with a book when I was your age”.

 “Ah we’re gonna have to be fit for when the zombie apocalypse kicks off”, said Melissa.

 “This obsession your generation have with the end of the world”, said Lucy “It’s not healthy you know”.

 “You can’t deny there’s some really weird shi … I mean rubbish going on at the moment, Lulu”, said Melissa “Look at all these earthquakes and floods, and hurricanes and things”.

 “Those things have always happened”, said Lucy “The trouble is, you and your friends all go on social-media and you frighten each other with these stories.  Fear breeds fear.  One advantage of studying history is that it gives one a sense of proportion.  Some of the worst disasters ever recorded happened many, many years ago”.

 “But there are more earthquakes happening than EVER!” Melissa protested.

 “I don’t believe that”, said Lucy “We are just hearing about them more, that’s all.  When I was a child these stories would have been buried as small paragraphs on the inside pages of the newspaper, or newsreels at the cinema, but now we have 24-hour rolling news channels, and people filming everything on their phones.  And before you write me off as an old fogey, I think that’s a good thing.  It’s a good thing for the world to be more connected, it makes people more caring.  But the downside is that it’s very easy to start thinking the Apocalypse is nigh”.

 “Sometimes I wonder if my generation will get to be old”.  

 “If it’s any comfort Melly, I remember young people saying that over 50 years ago!”

 “Were things better in the old days?” asked Melissa, sounding wistful.

 “No they weren’t.  They were hard, very hard, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”, said Lucy “And I would never want to go back to a time before central heating and automatic washing-machines.  AND the Internet.  To be able to buy books and newspapers at any time of the day or night without leaving my sofa is something I still can’t get over.  The only thing that was better before was the music”.

 “Oh I’ve heard that’s a sign of  old age, Lulu”, Melissa teased the older woman, as they ambled towards the front door “When you say that music isn’t as good as in your day”.

 “Well I believe it’s true”, said Lucy “We had such cheerful, uplifting songs when I was your age.  The modern music I hear always sounds so sad or unnecessarily aggressive”.  

 They hugged each other at the door.  Melissa noting again how very frail Lucy seemed, and frightened that she might crush her bones in her enthusiasm.  Lucy was too busy checking that Melissa had her bag containing her running-kit with her.  It wouldn’t be the first time she had accidentally left it behind.  

 “Mum says she might give you a ring later”, said Melissa, as she turned towards the stairs.

 Lucy gave an inward sigh – Anna always left her feeling jangled – but she gave a smile of appreciation.  


 “She’s a good girl, your Melissa isn’t she”, said Rosie, who was one of Lucy’s oldest friends.  They had met for a cup of coffee in a bakery shop a few doors away the following Saturday afternoon.  

 “Oh yes”, said Lucy “She’s wonderfully straightforward and pragmatic is Melissa”.

 “When you hear some stories in the News about young people”, said Rosie.

 Lucy had to suppress another sigh.  This was usually the moment Rosie went off into a lament about the modern world.  Sometimes it was hard to persuade Rosie that not all young people were hoody-wearing, sadistic drug-addicts, armed with machetes and cans of acid.   It isn’t just Melissa’s generation who fret too much about the News, thought Lucy.

 “Juvenile delinquency has always been a problem”, said Lucy.

 “Not in our day it wasn’t”, said Rosie, stoutly.

 “Teddy-boys”, said Lucy.

 “But the Teds didn’t go around armed, attacking people”.

 “Oh yes they did.  Some had some rather sophisticated weaponry, from what I recall.  And you don’t get gangs of young people terrorising seaside towns on mopeds these days”, said Lucy “There was so much more generational warfare when we were young.  Young people do seem more concerned about the elderly these days”.

 “Humph”, said Rosie “When they’re not mugging them I suppose.  I despair of this country these days.  We seem to be going down and down, and we’re never going to get up again.  I’m just glad my father isn’t around to see what’s become of it”.

 Lucy remembered Rosie’s father as a bitter, angry man with some decidedly fascist views, and forbore to comment.  He had once threatened Rosie that if she ever got pregnant before marriage, he would take a strap to her.  Lucy had got the distinct impression that Rosie rather approved of such a Victorian attitude, as she had often quoted it since, mainly when she was complaining about the free-and-easy attitude of some of the girls around town.

 Outside in the street a vintage car drove slowly past, decked out in white ribbon for a wedding.  The bride could be briefly glimpsed, smiling nervously, in the back.

 “Blimey, that IS an old one”, said a pensioner at the counter, referring to the car, not the bride.

 “Aw!” Rosie looked dreamy for a moment “Those were the good old days weren’t they, Lucy?”

 “I think every era is what you make of it”, said Lucy.

 But Rosie was well-launched on her favourite subject, and nothing would distract her from it.  She was now busily trying to claim that people were nicer in the past.  Lucy could remember plenty of examples of small-town nastiness from decades ago, of bullying when anyone dared to step outside the norm.  Of people’s lives made a complete misery, because they had offended some small-town archaic law by getting pregnant before wedlock, or falling in love with someone they supposedly shouldn’t have.  Or of people having to spend their entire lives living a lie.  Of victims being blamed for rape (“you must have led him on”), or domestic abuse being covered up, because no one wanted to rock the boat.

 It was a small step from that for Rosie to turn to the way Sex & Nudity were allowed to run riot in Everything these days.  Personally, as a writer, Lucy found the more relaxed attitudes easier to deal with.  In her early days as a scribe she had sometimes found it unnatural the way couples were supposed to be discreetly abandoned at the bedroom door.  She remembered the time she had written her first explicit sex scene, and had worried her mother might read it.  She had even turned her framed photograph around on her desk!  But after that she found it easy, and had never looked back.   

 “We used to have everything in this country”, Rosie was going on (“ah”, thought Lucy “we’ve on the Decline Of British Industry” speech now) “We used to have steel industries, coal mining …”

 “Well you were the one who voted for Margaret Thatcher”, Lucy interjected.

 “And now look at us”, Rosie continued, regardless “Too many foreigners taking everything”.

 When it got to the Too Many Foreigners stage, it was usually time for Lucy to make a discreet withdrawal.  She gathered her gloves and handbag.

 “It’s been nice seeing you Rose”, she said “But I really must do a bit more work today”.

 “You shouldn’t still be working at your age”, said Rosie, echoing Anna.

 Lucy patted her shoulder and left the shop.


 By the time she had got back to her flat Lucy could always console herself that she wouldn’t have to see Rosie again for another week.  Her duty was done.  She didn’t particularly enjoy these little meetings, and frankly, if Rosie told her she was going to emigrate to Australia tomorrow, Lucy would be delighted.  She kept seeing her partly out of some misguided sympathy (Rosie had no one else to meet for coffee), and partly because it would have been more trouble than it was worth to stop the meetings.  They both lived in the same small town, so the chances of them bumping into one another again were high, and Rosie was the sort of person who would make life very difficult for her if Lucy tried to cancel their friendship.  

 Lucy removed her outdoor things with a grateful sigh, and glanced over at her laptop on the desk in the corner of the living-room.  There was a little romantic scene involving two young lovers in a rowing-boat on an Italian lake, which she had been looking forward to getting around to for hours.  

 Above the desk was an old framed, black-and-white promo photo which had been taken of her when she had written her first bestseller back in 1963, when she was aged 30.  In it she looked not unlike a young Joyce Grenfell, with a permed hairdo, a broad, toothy smile, and matching pearl necklace and earrings.  She had been pictured sitting at her old manual typewriter, her fingers strategically placed above the keys.  Sometimes she missed that old typewriter, it had lasted her for years.  She didn’t miss chores like having to change the ribbon, but there had been something very satisfying about seeing the pages of a manuscript steadily piling up neatly next to it.  Nowadays she simply pressed a button and scooted chapters down some invisible wire to her editor.  It was all much simpler, but Lucy had never been able to shake the feeling that she was hurtling her precious work into some forbidding black hole, never to be seen again.

 She opened her phone and checked her emails.  As usual, there always seemed to be somebody after a favour, usually wanting her to do something for free.  That was the way these days.  Sometimes Lucy had succumbed to these entreaties, and had then been irritated when she had received not so much as a “thank you” for her efforts.  Really, some people could be very rude.  Others seemed to think that an 84-year-old writer had limitless energy, and could spend all her time travelling around from one literary festival or other bookish event to another.  In recent years Lucy had flatly refused to do any more of these.  She had spent far too much of her life in anonymous hotel rooms in strange cities, and didn’t wish to do anymore.   She would be happy if she never had to go further than the town square for the rest of her life.

 Oh dear.  An email from Anna.  These were never good news.  This one contained a link to a brochure for a new lot of sheltered housing being built on the other side of town.  These sort of missives seemed to come with depressing regularity from her sister’s daughter.  Anna really couldn’t accept that Lucy enjoyed living in her little flat, all by herself, and was convinced that she would be much happier living alongside a bunch of other old fossils.

 Lucy remembered visiting an old male friend in a flat like this a short while ago.  He had answered the door to her wearing a grubby vest, constantly scratching himself, and had spent the entire visit moaning about how depressed he was.  When Lucy had suggested that he should talk over what was troubling him, he had constantly barked at her “I want pills!  Pills!”  Lucy knew she couldn’t blame the accommodation for this, but there was no denying that Bert did seem to deteriorate quite sharply when he moved into that gloomy little apartment, surrounded by intensely silent, shadowy corridors.  Bert had died the previous Winter.  He had spent his last few months suffering increasingly with dementia.  It was the price one had to pay for getting old, she thought, seeing one’s friends end up in such a sad state.  

 She pretended she hadn’t seen Anna’s email, and switched off her phone.  Her young lovers were impatiently waiting for her attention.  


 She worked steadily until she saw the light fading outside.  It was that time of year when the dusk seemed to creep up on you unawares.  Every year it felt as if the dark evenings somehow became more menacing.  She had barely closed the lid on her laptop when her front door bell rang.

 It was Gavin Hunter from the flat directly above her own.  He was a middle-aged 50-something man, who lived alone.  He worked at the local university as a lecturer, and had also written a handful of books, usually academic analysis of different areas of pop culture.  The sort that had limited print-runs and sold for about £50 a copy on release.  He had always been perfectly civil to Lucy, but she still had never been able to shake the feeling that he looked down his nose at her own literary career.   

 When she had first known him Lucy had always been baffled as to why he was still single, and never seemed to have any friends, apart from a female friend, who dropped by a few times a year, usually to deliver his Christmas and birthday presents.  Otherwise she was never seen.  But after 7 years of having him as a neighbour, she was beginning to understand why.  Gavin seemed to have a touch of Peter Pan Syndrome about him.  In many ways he lived like an overgrown student.  He filled his flat with comic books and models of action heroes.  His weekends were spent watching DVDs of obscure European cinema, and sometimes he went to gatherings of other like-minded cult film fans, where he came home laden with even more object d’art.  At Christmas he went home to see his 93-year-old mother in Birmingham, returning as soon after Boxing Day as he reasonably could.  He holidayed alone, cultural jaunts to European cities, where he posted selfies on social-media of himself standing alone outside various points of interest.  

 He was the kind of person who wasn’t at ease with high emotion, or issues of an overtly serious nature.  Any attempt to break down the barrier and get to know him better, were usually greeted with a sardonic joke or an outright rebuff.   Lucy was an incurable romantic at heart, and she sometimes wondered if Gavin had been bitterly hurt in the past and had locked part of himself away forever, or if he simply had never developed in that sense.

 “Oh hello Gavin”, said Lucy “What can I help you with?”

 Gavin was the sort of person who never called unless he wanted a favour, or there was some problem with the building generally.  He wasn’t the just-dropping-in-for-a-chat sort.

 “I don’t want to worry you, Lucy”, he said “But have you heard anything out the back the last few nights?”

 “What sort of thing?” asked Lucy “Why don’t you come in for a moment”.

 “Oh OK”, he said, as if she was imposing an intolerable restraint on his time.  It simply didn’t occur to him that Lucy didn’t want to stand near the stop of a draughty flight of stairs for very long.

 He walked into the living-room and looked around himself helplessly, as if he was uncertain what to do next.  Lucy gestured at the sofa for him to sit down.  He obliged.

 “It’s a strange noise”, he said “Coming from the gardens out the back.  I’ve heard it for a few nights now.  Like a shrieking”.

 “Well that could be anything”, said Lucy, sitting in the armchair opposite him “Probably children messing about.  They always seem particularly excitable at this time of year.  Halloween seems to cover the whole of Autumn these days”.

 “I know”, said Gavin “I could throttle the person who invented Trick Or Treat.  I dread Halloween night.  I have to put all the lights out and pretend I’m not here”.

 “I used to join in”, said Lucy “I brought bumper bags of sweets for them, but it got too much, they were arriving all evening.  Now I just pick up a card from the Newsagents and put it on the front door.  It asks them politely to stay away, and they usually oblige”.

 “One night I heard it about 3 AM”, said Gavin “Which seems  a bit too late for kids to be up and about, or even drunks”.

 “Young people coming back from clubbing?” said Lucy “My friend Rosie said they had a problem with someone ringing all the doorbells down her street in the middle of the night recently.  It was very unsettling, particularly for an elderly lady like her, living alone”.

 “It’s a really awful shrieking noise”, said Gavin, now sounding dangerously as if he was about to burst into tears.

 “Are you sure it’s not an urban fox, Gavin?” said Lucy “A vixen with her cubs can sound very eerie and strange”.

 “Oh”, he brightened “A fox, I hadn’t thought of that”.

 “Or a screech-owl”, said Lucy “It’s many years since I heard one of those, I’d love to hear one again”.

 “Stay awake around 3 AM and you just might”, said Gavin, with that caustic note in his voice which could sound very off-putting.  It was one Lucy had often noticed over the years with male academics, brought on no doubt by years of snapping impatiently at young students.

 She would have liked to offer him a drink or a cup of tea, but Gavin could make such a sociable advance feel like an imposition, so after a couple more minutes she politely showed him to the front door.  On the landing the bulb which overhung the top of the stairs was flickering in an eerie fashion.  

 “Oh not again”, said Lucy “Bulbs don’t seem to last five minutes these days, in spite of all these claims that they last forever”.

 “I’ll replace it in the morning”, said Gavin “I take it you’re not going out again tonight?”

 “Well I wasn’t planning to”, said Lucy.

 “Good”, he said, heading up the stairs “Night”.

 “Goodnight Gavin”, Lucy sighed, as she returned to her flat.


 When she went to bed a couple of hours later, Lucy not only put the chain on the front door, but she activated the deadlock too, something she only normally did when she was going out.  Gavin’s visit had jangled her.  It was rare for her to feel uneasy in her own neighbourhood.  The most trouble they ever usually had was the odd rowdy drunk, or someone driving their car too fast through the square, but tonight she felt uneasy.

 As she was undressing in the bathroom she noticed that the wind was getting up outside.  Lucy decided that she would put on her little ambient noise machine which she normally used for meditation purposes, it would help to drown out the wind and any other unwelcome noises.   

 The background noise of waves lapping on an imaginary beach helped to lull her into sleep fairly quickly.  


 She was woken up sharply a couple of hours later by Gavin clumping about overhead.

 “Oh Gavin”, she sighed to herself “What is it now??”

 There were some nights when Gavin seemed as restless as a tiger in a cage, constantly pacing to and fro.  It could get very wearying.  She switched off her ambient noise machine, in case it was that which had disturbed him, although he had always claimed he could never hear it from his flat.  She switched on her bedside light, and reached for her current reading matter, a biography of the actress Celia Johnson.  She had reached a part where Celia had confided in a letter to a friend that she had tried sleeping outside on her veranda one night, only to be constantly disturbed by the sounds of the wildlife all around her.  Lucy couldn’t help thinking she had only needed Gavin there to complete the racket.  

 There was then a loud screeching noise as he wrenched open his bedroom window.

 “Oh do go to sleep, Gavin”, she muttered.

 It was only when the noise continued that she realised it couldn’t be his window.  It was in fact coming from outside.  Lucy put aside her book and climbed reluctantly out of bed.  At her age she had a marked aversion to getting out of bed in the middle of a chilly night, unless Nature demanded it, but clearly something was troubling him, and she wouldn’t get any more sleep until she found out what it was.  

 Her bedroom window – like Gavin’s overhead – opened onto the gardens at the back of the flats, which belonged to a row of houses over the way.  It was a very dark, cloudy night.  There were no stars in the sky, and very few lights were on in the houses.  Lucy opened the window a crack, and the noise immediately got much louder.  It was impossible to define.  At first it sounded like a dog howling in pain, although it was much too loud for that, and it seemed to be coming from overhead.  It was a weird, unearthly sound.  Occasionally it would give a sharp blast, like somebody practising on a trumpet, and at others it sounded like a peculiar electronic music.  Melissa had once played her a YouTube video of eerie noises recorded from Saturn’s rings, and it sounded not unlike that.

 Lucy closed the window again, and paused for a moment.  She couldn’t even begin to decipher what the noise was, she only knew that it made her feel as if she was about to break out in goosebumps.  She padded through into the living-room, and went across to the window which overlooked the town square.  

 For some reason unknown to herself, she left the light off.  She had a feeling that she didn’t want to be seen from the outside.  She opened the curtains a little, and carefully levered open the window, just enough to hear.  Yes, the noise was every bit as loud on this side of the building as well.  The square itself was intensely dark.  For reasons of economy the local council now turned off most of the street-lights between midnight and 5 AM, and now there was only one operating, offering a small pool of artificial light around its immediate vicinity.  Lucy noticed a dark figure pacing about near it.  It seemed to be loitering about impatiently, and yet shuffling away again when it got too near the light cast by the lamp.  Whoever it was definitely didn’t want to be seen.

 Lucy was more concerned about earthly intruders than anything odd and mysterious.  The way the person was loitering was reminiscent of a burglar checking out a building.  That still didn’t explain the strange noise though.  

 She was nearly startled out of her wits by a soft tapping noise on her front door.  

 “Lucy”, Gavin hissed “It’s OK, it’s only me”.

 “Oh for goodness sake, Gavin”, Lucy panted, when she opened the door “You nearly gave me a heart-attack”.

 “I’m sorry”, said Gavin, who had thrown on a rain-coat over his pyjamas.  His hair was sticking up in tufts “I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I heard you moving about, and I wondered if you’d heard it too”.  

 Lucy ushered him into her flat.

 “There’s someone outside”, she said, pointing towards the living-room window “On the other side of the square.  I’m wondering if we should call the police”.

 “And tell them what?” said Gavin, with a return of his usual acerbic tone “That there’s a person in the square?”

 “Well frankly anyone who is hanging around like that at this time of night is very likely up to no good!” said Lucy “You know what it’s like, this square usually goes completely dead after the pubs close”.

 “I know, I’m agreeing with you”, said Gavin “I’m just saying that the police won’t be too impressed”.

 “And heaven alone knows what that awful noise is”, said Lucy “I don’t understand why more haven’t heard it.  It’s so loud.  You would think lights would be snapping on all over the place”.

 “Not the first time I’ve noticed that”, said Gavin “Every time I’ve heard this noise so far I was starting to wonder if I was the only one left on Earth”.

 Lucy couldn’t shake the goosebump feeling.  She ran her hands along her arms and shivered.

 “I think I will make us some tea”, she said “I’m sure you could do with one too”.

 Gavin didn’t object, and Lucy went into her tiny little kitchen.  

 “It’s amazing what people DON’T notice”, said Gavin, leaning in the doorway “We once had a fire break out at the university, and we had to evacuate the building.  Most were sensible, and didn’t hang around, but some dawdled about as if they were on a sightseeing tour.  They couldn’t seem to grasp at all that it was an emergency”.

 “You do get people like that”, said Lucy “One sees them crossing the square sometimes.  They don’t seem to have any awareness of the traffic.  They stroll across a busy road as if they were ambling through a meadow”.  

 She carried the tea-tray through into the living-room.  Gavin didn’t offer to carry it for her, instead he was pacing about again, lost in his own thoughts.  Lucy put on the little soft light by her armchair.  It wouldn’t be seen much from the outside.

 “I can still hear it”, said Lucy, although the sound was muted by the double-glazing “Is it always in the middle of the night?”

 “Round here, yes”, said Gavin “Although I’ve been doing a bit of browsing Online.  People have heard it in some places during daylight hours too”.

 “And no one knows what it is?”

 “Oh there are all sorts of theories.  Some dismiss it as industrial noise”.

 “I suppose it COULD be that”, said Lucy, doubtfully “I know when they were working on the railway line, they sometimes worked overnight”.

 “I never heard them make a racket like that”, said Gavin “Some say it could be fracking.  And then you get the real nutjobs who say it’s aliens, or the God Squad who say it’s The Last Trumpet Of Doom, that sort of thing.  They usually start quoting Revelations all over the place”.

 “Well all I know is it’s jolly unsettling”, said Lucy “And the world is already quite unsettling enough!  My great-niece, Melissa, seems obsessed with the Apocalypse”.

 “A lot of my students are like that”, said Gavin “In recent years I’ve noticed a considerable upsurge in essays and stories about the End Times, or violent ones about unknown assassins”.


 “I blame the News”, said Lucy “They seem to positively delight in ramping up fear sometimes”.

 “They have to keep us watching somehow”, said Gavin “It seems to have faded a bit.  I can’t hear it so much”.

 “I hope so”.


 After Gavin had gone Lucy went back to bed for a couple more hours.  To her surprise she had no trouble sleeping.  When she next awoke it was still early, but slowly getting light.  It was at times like this that she knew why poets and musicians over the centuries had always waxed lyrical about the dawn.  After a fearful night, those first glimmers of daylight were truly reassuring.

 She wandered back into the living-room, where the tea-tray was still abandoned on the coffee-table.  This time she pulled the curtains back more confidently.  The daytime belonged to ordinary, normal people.  Mysterious intruders had no claim to it.  The square was still quiet, but there was a glow of light in the air, and the birds were starting to be vocal.  Lucy could hear a crow cawing from very nearby.  An early morning jogger pounded along below, giving an appearance of fierce concentration on what he was doing.  


 “Hi Lulu”, Melissa’s voice was cheery on the telephone “I’ve gotta do an essay on people’s memories of War breaking out.  Gotta interview some old people, so I thought I’d start off by asking you”.

 “Thank you Melly”, Lucy smiled “Which particular War did you have in mind?  Napoleonic?  The Battle of Hastings?”

 “Oh very funny, Lulu”, said Melissa “You know the one I mean, 3rd September 1939.  What were your memories of that day?”

 “I was only 5 years-old at the time”, said Lucy “I can’t say I had a lot of memories of it”.

 “You mean you can’t remember anything?” Melissa almost had a wail of anguish in her voice.

 “I have one very vivid memory”, said Lucy “I must have been staying with my Grandmother that weekend, and on that Sunday morning, she said to me ‘War has been declared’.  I immediately ran out into the garden, expecting the sky to turn black.  I think I was quite disappointed when everything seemed to be carrying on as normal!”

 “That’s great, I can make a start with that”.

 “Excellent, we’ll make a writer of you yet”.

 “No chance”, Melissa gave a snort “I struggle with emails sometimes, let alone writing a book!”

 “Sometime after that I asked my Father WHY we were having a War”, said Lucy “And he said to me ‘a man called Adolf Hitler wants to take over the world’.  I remember being very confused.  Who on earth was this man, and why did he want to take over the world?  It was all very bewildering for a small child”.

 “Did you have rationing and all that?”

 “It didn’t impact us as much, living out in the countryside.  We grew a lot of our own food, and my Mother kept chickens.  It all helped enormously.  She was an absolute marvel, she always put food on the table.   I don’t ever remember us going hungry.  It was far worse for the people in the big towns and cities”.

 “Huh, the Apocalypse will be like that”, said Melissa “Can you imagine being trapped in some crummy tower block when a CME knocks out the National Grid, or there are zombies roaming about outside”.

 “I’d rather not”, said Lucy “I’m very glad my chosen genre is Romance!”


 After her disturbed night Lucy felt very tired by 2 o’clock that afternoon.  She decided to take a short break from her keyboard, and doze on the sofa for half-an-hour.  She left the curtains open so that the golden Autumn sunlight could pour in and warm her fragile bones.

 She immediately fell into a deep sleep, and was happily in the land of Nod for about 10 minutes, before being rudely jolted awake by the most horrendous noise.  It was similar to the one she and Gavin had heard overnight, but considerably louder.  There was also the sound of people shouting from down in the square.

 Lucy pulled herself off the sofa as quickly as she could and went to the window, opening it a fraction.  People were running towards the right-hand side of the square.  Some were shouting in consternation, although a couple were still ambling along as if this was a normal afternoon’s shopping.  A policeman was standing in the middle of the square, trying to direct the traffic, which was heavily congested.  The noise all around was terrifying, like a nuclear siren going off.  

 “What on earth’s going on?” Lucy exclaimed.

 She hastily slid her feet into her outdoor shoes, and reached for her keys.  She had to go down and try and find out what was happening.


 Lucy woke up in some confusion.  It took her a few moments to realise that she had actually been asleep, and must have dreamt the horrendous noise outside.  Carefully she made her way back to the window.  There was no shouting, no terrifying racket, no policeman trying to direct traffic.  The woman who ran the deli shop over the way was altering something on the chalkboard she kept outside, and there was a charity collector standing outside the Tesco Express.  That seemed to be the total of excitement on this typical Wednesday afternoon.

 “What on earth did I dream?” thought Lucy.

For a moment she hoped that the previous night had been a dream too, but she knew it hadn’t been.  The doorbell rang, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

 She was relieved to find it was Melissa, and not Gavin from upstairs.

 “You alright Lulu?” said Melissa, chucking her schoolbag down in the hallway.

 “Yes I’m fine”, said Lucy “I’d only just woken up.  It’s unusual for me to nap during the day, but I felt awfully tired.  I didn’t sleep very well last night.  Would you like some coffee?”

 “Yeah I’ll make it, you sit down”, said Melissa, pointing at the kitchen chair.  She went to fill the kettle at the sink “I had a rotten night too.  Had a really freaky dream”.

 “Oh”, Lucy suddenly felt very alert “What kind of a dream?”

 “Dunno”, said Melissa “It didn’t last very long, not like some of those ones that seem to go on all night and make no sense at all.  This only lasted a short while, but it scared the shi … life out of me”.

 “Well what happened in it?”

 “I seemed to be in some kind of a camp, in a cage.  I had this orange jumpsuit on, like you see American prisoners wearing on the telly.  There was a load of other people there too, and they were all in cages as well.  I dunno what it was all about, but freaky as hell.  I hope it’s not a premonition of something”.

 “No of course not”, said Lucy, hastening to reassure her “Dreams are usually just our subconscious rattling around, things we’ve picked up during the day.  Probably a result of some of those peculiar conspiracy theory videos you and your friends watch on YouTube”.

 “Might be”, said Melissa “I hope it’s just that”.

 “Tell me about your running”, said Lucy, in order to distract her.

 This worked magically.  Melissa had an ambition to take part in a big marathon one day, and she never tired of talking about it.  They chatted amicably for about half-an-hour.  Melissa got up to leave as it was going dark.

 “I’d better get off”, she said “Mum was all weird this morning.  Said she didn’t want me walking home in the dark, even though I’ve done it loads of times.  Told me not to stay too long here or she’d be worried sick.  Wasn’t like her at all”.

 “Well you’d better get off”, said Lucy, who was pleasantly surprised to hear of such concern coming from the normally-waspish Anna.

 At the door Melissa paused to give her a hug.

 “I’ll try and pop round on Saturday, just before the rugby starts”, she said to Lucy “Are you gonna be alright, Lulu?”

 “Yes of course I am”, said Lucy “I’ve got plenty of work to keep me distracted, and hopefully I’ll sleep better tonight.  Now you concentrate on all your sporty stuff, and stop worrying about zombie apocalypses, and nonsense like that!”

 After Melissa had gone, Lucy sat in her armchair, deciding to enjoy the twilight, before she had to put the lights on.  She dreaded a repeat of last night’s performance, and could only pray that it was a one-off, a peculiar blip.  One of those strange, random events which happened in life sometimes, but were soon forgotten afterwards.  

 She hoped that was all it was.





© Sarah Hapgood and, 2011-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Hapgood and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Strange Tales on Kindle

Cover of Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales 5

Mysteries, murders and other tales of the Unexplained from my blog entries,
Strange Tales 5: Mysteries, murders and other tales of the Unexplained
is now available for Amazon’s Kindle, price £1.99. Also available on other Amazon sites.


Cover of Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales 4

An illustrated collection of 42 more of my blog entries, Strange Tales 4: 42 new cases of the Unexplained is now available for Amazon’s Kindle, price £1.99. Also available on other Amazon sites.


Cover of Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales 3

An illustrated collection of 35 more of my blog entries, Strange Tales 3: A new collection of mysterious places and odd people is now available for Amazon’sKindle, price £1.99. Also available on other Amazon sites.


Cover of Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales 2

An illustrated collection of 23 more of my blog entries, Strange Tales 2: more mysterious places and odd people is now available for Amazon’sKindle, price £1.15. Also available on other Amazon sites.


Cover of Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales

An illustrated collection of 40 of my blog entries, Strange Tales: an A-Z of mysterious places and odd people is now available for Amazon’sKindle, price £2.32. Also available on other Amazon sites.

Sarah’s fiction on Kindle

Cover of Sarah Hapgood's 
Transylvanian Sky and other stories

A second collection of my short stories, Transylvanian Sky and other stories is now available for Amazon's Kindle, price £1.99. Also available on other Amazon sites.

Cover of Sarah Hapgood's 
B-Road Incident and other stories

A collection of 21 of my short stories, B-Road Incident and other stories is now available for Amazon's Kindle, price £1.15. Also available on other Amazon sites.

%d bloggers like this: