Who had taken little Sarah from her bed?
WHAT do you mean, Sarah’s gone?” Mary asked her daughter. “I just checked on her half an hour ago –”
“Mum!” Susan cried. “She’s not in her bed!”
Susan turned and ran back upstairs, with Mary and George close behind, desperate to find out what was going on.
The party continued in their living-room with the other guests oblivious to the drama.
“Look!” Susan pointed at the empty bed.
The flowered blue duvet had been turned back on the bed, as if the child had simply been lifted from beneath.
Mary stared at the empty bed. She’d placed her granddaughter there earlier that night, before the party guests arrived. She’d read three stories to her and sung her favourite lullaby.
“Where is she, Mum?” Susan cried. “Someone’s taken her. I know it!”
Mary hugged her daughter to her, trying to make sense of what was going on. But try as she might, she could find no logical explanation.
Their front door had been locked all night; no-one could have got inside without a key. No-one could have taken the child.
Mary swung round when she heard a noise behind her out on the landing. “George?” she called out. “There’s someone here, Mary,” George said sternly. “Someone who needs to explain herself. I’ve just found her sitting on the edge of our bed with Sarah in her arms.”
Mary looked beyond George and, sure enough, there was a woman in their bedroom.
She was the same woman who had crept into the house an hour ago, unannounced and uninvited, and in her arms she was cradling Sarah, who was fast asleep.
Relieved, Susan gently lifted her child from the woman’s arms and took her back to bed.
From her spot on the landing, Mary pushed the door closed so that Susan couldn’t hear the choice words she had for the woman.
“Doreen!” Mary hissed. “What on earth are you doing?”
“I was about to ask the same question myself,” George barked. “You’ve given us all a fright, Doreen.
“You weren’t invited tonight. How did you get in?”
Doreen looked from Mary to her brother, then patted her coat pocket.
“I’ve still got my spare key. I needed a bit of peace and quiet, so I headed upstairs and heard Sarah crying. So I lifted her from her bed and –”
“Doreen, listen to me,” George told his sister. “You can’t just turn up unannounced and take our grandchild like that. Where’s Jack?”
Doreen rolled her eyes to the ceiling and tutted. “Jack? That old fool?” George sighed heavily. “Don’t tell me you two have been arguing again? So you let yourself in here, thinking your little brother would look after you. You never thought to ask?”
Doreen bristled at George’s words.
“I thought family were supposed to look after each other?”
Mary put her hand on George’s arm.
“Let’s go downstairs. George, get your sister a drink. Doreen, you can stay in the spare room for as long as you need to – on one condition.” “What?” Doreen asked. Mary nodded towards the bedroom, where Susan was now trying to get Sarah back to sleep.
“You go and you apologise to your niece right away. You gave her quite a scare. You had her thinking that someone had taken her child, for heaven’s sake.”
George and Mary made their way downstairs, huddled together.
“Why did you invite her to stay?” George whispered. “You know she and I don’t get on. She can be a nasty piece of work, Mary, she’s –”
“She’s your sister, George,” Mary told him firmly. “We all know she’s not the easiest woman to get along with, but she’s family. And that comes before everything else.” George sighed.
“I’ll ring Jack in the morning,” he said. “I’ll find out what’s really going on.”
The next morning a grey, wintry sky dawned above the Ship Inn. Sam was still asleep in the flat above the pub when he was woken by a loud scraping noise.
His heart quickened and he jumped out of bed.
He pulled his dressing gown around him and walked into the kitchen, where he picked up a cast-iron pan. Then he tried to work his features into a look that might appear threatening in case there was a burglar.
He inched his way down the stairs. The scraping noise became louder and more insistent, then it was followed by a banging, then silence.
Sam stood, pan in hand, waiting beside the pub’s front door. More silence.
He edged his way forward just as an eerie cry started up outside the door.
He gulped and reached out his hand to turn the lock, determined to find out what was going on. More next week.