Volume 4 Number 1
Nobody was shocked to discover that Annabelle's parents were murderers. In less than an hour, the news had crept over garden fences and along gravel driveways, to either end of the street. By the time the first kids were being called in for their dinner, the rumour had reached far enough to become a fact.
Later that evening, as the sun started to set, the same phrases could be heard over and over through the fading light. It sounded like so many pigeons cooing the same noise back and forth, up and down: 'Ooo, I know. I know. It's terrible, just terrible. Can't say I'm surprised though. It's really no surprise at all.'
After dinner, Stuart Price, in number 36, was explaining the truth of the matter to his brother over the telephone. He described, in some detail, how they had made their money dealing as a clearing house for stolen goods. How recently crime had been rising steadily. And how it only takes one household to bring the whole street down.
A little down the street, at number 42, Mary Crusher told her husband about how they were, in fact, penniless vagrants from one of those East European countries that nobody could ever quite remember the name of. 'Perhaps it's Bulgaria, or something like that,' she said. 'They've definitely brought their strange foreign ways with them. They're not right, I always knew it.'
'You've never even spoken to them,' said Mary's husband, quietly over the top of his newspaper. 'You're making it up as you go along.'
Back up the street, at the same moment Mary shouted a reply at her Husband, Stuart's brother asked, 'What are their names?'
'Hmm, I don't remember,' replied Stuart. 'Maybe nobody knows,' he ventured.
On the other hand, everyone knew Annabelle's name. With her wild chocolate brown hair, she was the pretty and amiable local girl. Mothers cooed over her protectively. Boys her age shot furtive and nervous glances as she passed. They all wanted to get to know her better. She was different from other girls, curvier but sleeker as well. Even the fathers would sometimes follow their sons' gazes. Casting a glance in her direction, they would remind themselves, 'She's so young, too young for you, old man.'
Everyone had taken to commenting that she was nothing like her parents at all.
When the news of her disappearance had been beamed into living rooms, the previous evening, everyone suspected who was to blame. Even after Annabelle's parents were shown making a tearful plea for her safe return on the late night news. They were at the top of the list of suspects. Everyone could see through the lies and the crocodile tears.
Getting later into the night, a few people began to slink back out onto the street. After reluctant children had been put to bed, and after the adults were well into drinking away the pressures of the day, they began to emerge. The excitement of the day had left them restless. They wanted to see if there was more.
The sound of their whispered conversations wafted on warm gusts through open windows and ventilation ducts. They crept unannounced into the homes up and down the road like a rich intoxicating aroma. Everyone was being called outside onto the street. Everyone was being called into action.
Soon the road was lined with hunched silhouettes. All deep in whispered conversations. Small huddles became joined into larger and larger groups, until they were a single mass.
Steadily, the volume began to rise. The gazes of this crowd flickering out to Annabelle's parents house, and back into the group. Back and forth, back and forth. Their eyes growing a little wider each time.
Then a shadow broke free of the crowd, heading into the front garden of Annabelle's parents' House. In that instant, the spell of restraint holding back the mob was broken. People began to swarm. Pushing down fences in the front garden, they advanced. The street lamps turning the darkness red. A single rhythm of marching feet filled the night.
Several miles away, a young girl with long chocolate-coloured hair was making her way back home. Sitting in the passenger's seat of her boyfriend's car, she was watching the streets of her childhood slip by, out of the window. Heading home for the last time, she needed to explain why she had disappeared. How she had met the love of her life and had decided to travel the world with him. She wanted desperately for them to understand that she was sorry. That she still loved them. She just couldn't live with them anymore. She rehearsed the lines in her head. Trying to stay calm. Getting closer all the time. Tears blurring the images outside.
As they pulled up, the street was empty. Apart from the muted noise of a dog, barking and howling from a mile or so away, there was silence. The only indication was the front door. It hung loosely off the hinges of her former home. To Annabelle it looked like a mouth broken open and screaming into the night.
She sat in numb silence, her boyfriend Chris sitting next to her as the engine idled regardless. He glanced at his watch and back across to where she sat. His mind on timetables, airports, connections. He reached out and squeezed her leg. In a measured tone he said, 'Annabelle?'
Without replying, she got out of the car and headed towards the house. Her feet crunching on the scattered gravel. Inside the living room, she found her parents where they lay motionless on the floor.
The silence shattered as her screams filled the night. Up and down the street, people turned in their beds. White eyes wide in the darkness behind drawn curtains.