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Midnight Terror


Fahima Yousouf

        “Yipeeeee,” I screamed. This week is my lucky one. I couldn’t help marveling at the glory of my liberty for one whole week from my authoritarian parents and nagging brothers. They are off to see my sick Uncle Louis staying 300 kms away. I have an exam coming up in two weeks so they had to leave me back. After all I’m 16 years old; I can take care of myself. I took the phone to invite my friends over as I had to celebrate my newly-found freedom. I also ordered lip-smacking pizzas and colas to treat them. After all a teenager gets this chance once in 100 years, right?

        Sending off my friends for the night, I decided I had done enough of slacking off today and went to hit the books. I put in a good half an hour of sincere study when my eyes started drooping. My brand new gold Swistar showed a quarter past one. I slammed my books shut, set my timepiece to wake me up at 6 and got all cosy and comfy in the oversize couch in the drawing room. Though staying alone had its own advantages, it gave me the creeps too. I felt I’d sleep better close to the main door in the safe proximity of my neighbours than upstairs in my bedroom shivering under the covers. My neighbourhood is the place I like most in this world next to Disneyland. You can’t see nicer people in the world than my neighbours, especially the Harolds who lived next door. Too bad they are away on a vacation; otherwise I could have dined grandly in their house every single night till my parents returned. Maybe they might be back by then, I thought. It’s almost a month since they had gone. Just as that thought drifted through my head, I heard some noises from next door. Wow, they are back already, I thought joyfully. I made up my mind to see them first thing in the morning and snoozed off.

        Pretty weird, I thought to myself, standing at the Harolds’ door. I have been ringing the bell for almost 5 minutes but nobody has answered it. Have they gone again somewhere? It’s almost noon and the sun was blaring fiercely. Maybe they didn’t like the heat and went back to enjoy the chilly Switzerland weather, I thought uncertainly. Or maybe I’m crazy. Why would they come back late night and leave the next morning itself? Maybe it was an emergency. Maybe somebody was ill and they had to be off immediately.

        “Hey Angela, why are you daydreaming at the doorstep of the Harolds’?” A sharp voice cut through my thoughts. I turned to see Phyllis steering her bicycle through the gate. Even in the scorching heat, she looked completely hip and trendy in faded jeans and a turtleneck T-shirt. There was not a single droplet of sweat on her flawless skin whereas I looked like I had run out from the shower. I wished I looked at least half as her, especially in front of Mitch McGuire , the coolest hunk in town who, to my luck, happened to be living in the neighbourhood. Speaking of Mitch, I eyed Phyllis suspiciously as I knew she had a major crush on him. Where was she off to dressed up like that on a hot Saturday afternoon? Maybe she was going to catch up on him in the local gym where he worked out. Or maybe bump into him in the library ‘accidently’ and fake surprise meeting him there. “Hellooooo, am I speaking in Spanish or something? You seem to be in a kind of daze. What are you doing here anyway? The Harolds’ won’t be back till next month.” “Really…” I searched for my words, “how do you know that? I heard them coming back last night.” “Maybe you dream too often in a day, kid. They are not crazy to leave the ice-cold slopes of Switzerland and come get baked here now. And I know that for sure as I just had a call from Uncle Roy this morning. He said that he and his family were having a great time and they were going to stay a week longer. So be off, squirt.” I watched her annoyed as she turned and whizzed through the street. Did I have to hear that from Phyllis, the tyrant? Why doesn’t Uncle Roy call and talk to me? Oh well, her father is his business partner and he needs to keep in touch quite often.

        The day had begun so perfectly with me getting humiliated in front of Phyllis. I went indoors and wondered what I could do to pass my time other than brooding over my books or daydreaming about Mitch. Oh, did I forget to mention, I’m crazy about that guy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t flirt like Phyllis. I’m thinking of a serious relationship. Really I do. I squinted at the calendar and saw it was Monday, one of the days my maid dropped in to clean the house. Well, she‘d be here by 2, so I got to do the grocery shopping and finish up my lunch by then. My mind kept going back to the embarrassment I faced in front of Phyllis. How cheeky of her to say I dream too often! I did hear some noises last night and I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Maybe she’s the one who got to have her hearing tested. She didn’t hear anything though she too lived just across the street. I was fuming with rage when I stopped dead on my tracks. The thought struck me like a bolt. The Harolds are not back yet and I heard some noise in the middle of the night. So if they didn’t make any noises next door, then who did??

        I peeked out from my window that overlooked the window of the Harolds’ house. It was lightly curtained and I couldn’t see any movements inside. Of course no one was there. But was someone in there last night? I had a healthy skepticism as far as ghosts were concerned no matter how many horror movies I watched. I sat on the dining table trying to find a solution to this queer situation. My eyes fell over the newspaper I had tossed there in the morning. The front page read in bold letters. “Nefarious gang hits the residents of Seattle. Police on the lookout for robbers.” A terrifying thought swept across my mind. Could it be burglars next door? But the door would have been left open if they had broken through. This morning it had been locked shut. Maybe they got in through the back door. But if there really was a burglary, there’d have been a lot of commotion in the street by now. Anyone who passed the house would have noticed. But what if they broke in through the back door, I thought uneasily. Maybe I better have a look.

        I stood in front of the two-storied red brick villa for the second time that morning. I felt a little silly when I thought that it could have very well been a mouse or something that managed to squeeze though some crack and knocked down something the previous night. And here I was like Nancy Drew to look for tell-tale clues and implicate the intruder. Nevertheless I had to convince myself nothing was out of order. I first went straight back to check the back door. Yes it was locked shut alright. Yet someone was in last night. I began to explore the garden surrounding the house first. Everything looked normal until I reached the side path that let to the back of the house to the kitchen door. Fresh cigarette ends were strewn across the path as if someone had walked that way. And I could clearly make out distinct footprints in the muddy path. Two of them.

        I made my way back to my house and locked the door. My heart pounded heavily and felt as if it’d explode. Two people had been in the Harolds’ backyard in the middle of the night with one or both of them being smokers. And they had got into the house by some way which I couldn’t find! I suddenly felt a chill run down by spine which I knew was definitely not because of the air conditioning. Timid and shy I was, I knew I couldn’t sit back and watch some strangers getting in and out of my neighbours’ house who happened to be on a vacation. They didn’t burgle the house but they were up to something. I suddenly noticed it was past 12 and I had to hurry to the grocers’.

        “Miss, I can’t stand here talking to deaf people when I’m at work,” yelled the butcher. I started and turned to look at his angry face. I realized he had been asking me how much meat I wanted for the past 30 seconds. “Ya, make it half a kilo,” I said. Sheesh, this next-door mystery has got nailed right into my head. As I was at the cashier a sudden thought gripped my mind. I had to do something about this. Fast. The burglars probably used the house as a meeting place and maybe they might be here again. Tonight possibly. So do I report the matter to the police? I put my shopping bag in the front basket of my cycle and sped off to see Uncle Sebastian.

“So you are convinced that Bull’s eye gang members are meeting in the Harolds house at 2 am daily?” said the Inspector smirking. “Are you sure this is not one of your pranks?”

“No, uncle Seb, I swear,” I said insistently. “You know I can’t make jokes at times like this. As a police officer, please investigate this matter,” I pleaded.

Uncle Sebastian seemed to believe me as after a few thoughtful minutes he punched in some numbers on his Nokia and ordered his squad for a roundup tonight. I felt that a great burden was lifted off my chest.

“Well, since you are planning to play detective today, you have to answer me a few questions,” he said seriously. I nodded solemnly.

His eyes narrowed, “Give me proper details about the location of the house. Whose houses are on the either side of the house and right opposite.”

I told him everything. Their letters were usually delivered at my house. So far only two had been mailed, one an annual report of an insurance agency and the other shopping discount offer.

“Has anyone visited the house not knowing they are away?” he inquired.

“Nobody quite suspicious. Just few salesmen at times.”

“Have you seen any strangers about in the street particularly around this house?” I shook my head. He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “We have to find out how these people had entered the house.” He started pacing up and down the room. He suddenly turned to me and asked. “Does anyone have a key to the house? Any of your neighbours, possibly? Someone must have been appointed to clean up the house, right?”

I sat up on the couch and said, “Oh I forgot, Mrs. Clarkson usually cleans up the place once a week. And Mr. McGuire has a key.”

“Dearest, I’m thankful you remembered this very significant detail at least now. I’ve got to see the McGuire’s and the maid at once.”

I looked up at the clock which showed a quarter to two. “She comes to clean my house too, uncle. She would be there in 15 minutes time.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” He was already at the door.

        I let in Mrs. Clarkson at the sound of her bell and she seemed startled to see Uncle Sebastian. He started questioning her right away. She appeared scared to be mixed up in this affair and he assured her that it was just a suspicion; there was no surety that robbers were involved. After finishing off with her, he asked me to escort him to the McGuire’s which I did gladly. Mitch would be impressed when he sees me in this investigation. But to my great disappointment, he was not at home. The key was safe in the key holder and Uncle inspected the full area. There appeared no way anyone could have stolen the key and replaced it. He took the key and made a thorough investigation of the Harolds house pleading with me not to disturb any fingerprints or footprints. Nothing seemed out of order and there appeared no signs of a burglary. He saw the cigarette ends and the footprints I had noticed and found some more footprints near the back door by which they had probably entered. He agreed with me it might be some sort of meeting place. He was puzzled to find only two types of footprints. “Maybe only two members come here to avoid the whole gang being caught,” he conceived. “ Well that is a trifle disappointing because their accomplices may be scattered anywhere in the town. Still capturing them may give some answers. We’ll have to wait for tonight,” he said grimly.

        It was almost midnight. Plainclothes police officers were stationed around the Harolds’ house and Uncle Sebastian was with me in my house watching from the window. It was a no moon night and was pitch dark. I felt thrilled and excited. I couldn’t wait to see the proud faces of my parents when Uncle Sebastian would praise me on my feat. “Without Angela, these thieves could never have been brought to light,” he would say as I beamed with pride. It was a long, impatient wait when suddenly two stealthy figures appeared at the front gate. My uncle became alert and silently crept out of the house signaling his men. We heard a cry evidently the two of them being caught by the officers at the back of the house. My uncle motioned me to stay in the house and disappeared next door, leaving me straining to control my excitement. Ah, what a great job I have done, I complimented myself.

        After a few minutes Uncle came back inside. He asked me to come out and take a look at the criminals I have so wonderfully helped in apprehending. I walked out with my head held high feeling in the top of the world. “Let me show you two dangerous gangsters who look so terrifying that you’ll faint with fright,” he said as we reached the back of the house. The criminals were held indoors as any sort of commotion might wake the public, I thought. The door opened and I saw them.

        I stood open-mouthed, not believing my eyes. I’d have really fainted if it had not been for the angry look in my uncle’s eyes, freezing my limbs. “You bring a police squad down here to catch two unworthy teenage lovers having a secret rendezvous?” he almost screamed. “I am much disappointed in you, Angela; I shouldn’t have listened to you at all. You built such high hopes in me and now all are shattered.” I hung my head in shame not uttering a word. He talks of his hopes being shattered, but me…my heart is in pieces now, I thought, tears filling my eyes. It was bad enough that my tip as a responsible citizen turned out to be nothing. But what could be worse than seeing my prince charming, Mitch with that evil witch, Phyllis? It is every teenager’s worst nightmare, for me it has turned into reality.

        The two of them were sent back home with stern retorts that the matter would be discussed with their parents in the morning. As for me, my parents had a surprise waiting for them when they returned. I’d never be allowed to play detective for the rest of my life!!

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