It’s dark. It’s criminal. It’s unmissable.

 

Alone in the dark

 

There’s something about watching others in the night that appeals to me. It always has.

 

There’s something about watching others in the night that appeals to me. It always has. For one thing, there’s the quietness of it all; sometimes almost total and utter silence. It makes your senses so much sharper, so extraordinarily alive, so that any sound that does reach your ears is exquisitely precise and unblemished.

Then there’s the deep, satisfying joy of being alone. Just you and the night. No other human to invade your space or assault your senses with their vile, pervasive stink and cackling, self-centred chatter. I relish being alone in a way no one else can possibly understand. Alone with my myself and whoever I choose to watch.

And I like to watch. To watch from the silent, solitary confines of darkness. Through curtainless windows and glass-panelled doorways, into poorly lit yards and walkways, my body always on the verge of excitement, tingly with the pleasure and the anticipation.

But I am disciplined in my excitement. Never a murmur, never a movement. Always silent and frozen, waiting, watching from the darkness. From dusk to dawn, I can wander and prowl, hunting for my opportunities, until a new day arrives to carry me home to my sanctuary, my retreat.

On this night, I watched from the endless shadows provided by a large, sprawling timber yard, the sweet, aromatic scent of freshly-sawn lumber thick in the late evening air. I ran a hand over lengths of newly-cut oak and ash, to feel the surface damp and smooth with the sap that drained away so slowly, the last, lingering moments of life being clung to by the tree.

I looked on through a wire mesh fence, over a half-lawned yard, to the back of a timber house, long in need of a little love and attention, its neglected shell worn heavily by the weather, signs of rot and waning resistance everywhere to be seen. It was a shame someone didn’t take to a ladder and do the maintenance required; a couple of days and the essentials would all be done. I’d do it, if I thought I could get away with it. But I wouldn’t, so there was nothing to be done.

She was middle-aged and single, was the woman I was watching; just like I had for the past two weeks. Her mousy-brown hair was piled high on top of her head, odd strands hanging down by her neck, as they always seemed to do. It was untidy, messy and unnecessary. It annoyed me. And she smoked, the cigarette hanging loosely between her thinning lips as she washed her crockery and cutlery in the sink, standing in front of the large, uncovered window, from which a pool of bright light spilled out on to the concrete section of the yard.

I have never much cared to see a woman smoke. It makes her look so cheap, so tatty, so careless of her own appearance, not to say her health. And who, I always wonder, wants to taste an ashtray when they press their lips against those of such a woman. Pleasant it is not.

She stopped and stared sometimes, out through the window, at nothing in particular. Just stood there, motionless, sometimes her hands still in the water. Whenever she did, I would wonder what was on her mind, what odd little thoughts were running through her head, taking all her attention, while the world went slowly by. Then she would spark back into life, as suddenly as she stopped, no sign of any decision having been made.

The small, messy lounge that shared a wall with the kitchen was the other place I saw her spend time. In fact, I saw her spend more time there than I did anywhere else. It would be nice to report that she engaged in pursuits to expand the mind, or entertained a myriad of friends with amusing conversation and carefully chosen treats, but she never did any of that. Her only companion, as the hours ticked relentlessly by, was the flashing, flickering monster that is the TV. Always on, it held her rapt, whatever it chose to show.

Game shows, cheap and tacky, never-ending series that featured medics, way beyond repair themselves, and experts ill-equipped to dispense advice to those with troubled relationships, they all flickered past, broken by the regular, jarring interruption of ads. She liked the ads. Any ad that featured an animal made her sit up, lean forward in her chair, a worn, bright red affair from some other period in time. It made me wonder why she didn’t have an animal companion of her own; a cat, a dog, even a tank full of fish, anything to keep her company.

And, of course, I saw her naked. She never bothered to take the trouble to close the blinds, no doubt mistakenly believing she wasn’t ever overlooked once the lumber yard had shut up shop for the day. So careless. Her bulbous little belly and droopy, unattractive breasts gave me little reason to think that I should be looking to add a woman to my life. If all women looked anything like her, I’d rather remain on my own, with an active imagination. I noticed the scar that ran for several inches across her left shoulder and watched her pick attentively at her toenails, while she sat on that red chair, the TV on and only half-watched.

This evening, she walked up to the window and looked out. If only she had realised it, she was looking directly at me, clueless that I was there, watching and waiting. I was far too good at this to ever be spotted and no one ever did. Not once. And this time, too, she saw nothing but the dark before returning to her chair and the TV.

The funny thing was, it never once occurred to me that I might not be the only one watching. Why would I think otherwise; I was a one-off, a single, solitary creature who never met anyone or anything except the night. What’s more, it never crossed my mind, not even briefly, that someone might be watching me. Oh, the irony in that. The watcher being watched.

I never heard them, let alone saw them. In fact, I had absolutely no idea they were there, nor how long. For all I knew, they could have been watching me every single time I sat there watching that woman. They must have decided they’d had enough of my presence. Maybe they saw me as a competitor; I would have seen them as precisely that if the positions had been reversed. Perhaps I had been spoiling their own fun, interfering in their peaceful, silent nights.

I never heard them, not a single step, as they came up behind me. There was just the briefest, faintest smell of aftershave before a hand cupped my mouth, tipped back my head, so they could slit my throat. It was clean and efficient, admirable in other circumstances, in just the same way as I was myself when I disposed of those I watched in like fashion, bored of them at last.

As the last of my life seeped from me, I looked across at the woman, who sat, as ever, in that red chair, her eyes fixed to the TV, blissfully unaware of the sad demise of the man who had watched her every night-time move for the last two weeks. If only she had known that I had been there and that she was the last person I ever observed. But just as the darkness hid my coming, it now also hid my passing as, silent and unnoticed, I slid out of this world.

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Shorts in the Dark, collected works

All the stories from my first two seasons of Shorts in the Dark, plus some extra ones not previously published, can be found in Collector of Crimes and Shattered Dreams.