She recognised the phone immediately, it was a different colour from her own, and in the agonised moments as she flew down the stairs she was sure beyond all doubt that it was Carl’s. It lay before the front door, a small grey harbinger of calamity and disaster.
She poked at the power button, and there was nothing on earth that could have prepared her for the image that blazed out from the home screen as it came to life in her hand.
Carl’s frightened face stared at her, his mouth covered with tape, his eyes bright with terror.
Though she clicked and poked at buttons it seemed that everything else had been deleted. Access to the internet had been disabled. There was nothing in the call log, though the battery was fully charged. Jean’s mind was blank as she stood looking down at the beloved face on the tiny screen. She didn’t know how long she stood at the bottom of the stairs, silent, immobile, terrified.
When the thing quivered in her hand she gasped in fright and dropped it to the floor where it lay on the carpet burbling now with a melodic ring tone.
She couldn’t remember ever feeling such fear, as that which overwhelmed her while she stretched down to pick up the vibrating handset.
There was a message notification and the last thing she wanted to do was to open the screen. She was dreadfully afraid of what she would see. Her finger hovered over the touch screen, a part of her brain screaming that she should leave it, she should call the police, immediately, that she should take no other action until she had professional help. Of course, she ignored the voice, she pushed aside her fear and she opened the message.
‘Do not call the police.
Do not tell anyone.
We will contact you.
He is safe now. It is up to you how long for.’
At the end of the message was an emoticon of a screaming face. Of all of it, and it was all shocking that was the thing that shocked her most.
Thoughts refused to be pinned down:
She had to tell her sister.
But they said tell no-one.
They couldn’t mean his mother surely?
But they had said ‘anyone’.
Maybe like the earlier picture it wasn’t true, perhaps it was some horrible joke. She looked at the terrified eyes and knew that it was not.
Who could have done this?
What was her nephew involved in?
She had to call the police. She could call Bob.
She had to do something, anything.
The phone vibrated again, another message.
‘It is up to you to avoid this boy joining our friend in the water.’
‘Our friend in the water.’ So, there it was, and Jean was faced again with the dreadful memory and the image still so very near of the grey dead face and the empty eyes.
The landline rang and she saw her sister’s name scrolling across the screen. “Lesley.”
“Where are you. You said you’d be here in twenty minutes and there you are still at home. I tried calling your mobile, there’s no answer. Your bloody battery’s flat as well, or you’ve turned the sodding thing off. Jean, I need you. I’m going out of my mind here. Why are you still at home?”
The next words were swallowed by the sound of her sister sobbing down the line. She had to say something, but Jean was truly speechless.
She took in a deep breath. “I’m sorry Lesley. I’m coming now. I’m leaving right now. My mobile was pinched, I’ll tell you about it all later. But I promise you I’m on my way now. She stepped out of the door and with her heart pounding, body shaking with fear and shock,Jean climbed into her car and started the engine.
She had put it into gear before she realised that she couldn’t go anywhere. How could she leave when she had no idea how these people were going to contact her, they had delivered the phone through the letter box. She couldn’t leave her home.
She ran back into the house, “Lesley, you have to come here.”
“What, what the hell do you mean? I can’t come there. What are you playing at, Jean. I need you and you’re farting about, messing me around.”
“I can’t explain, I’m sorry, not on the phone and not right now. I need you to stop asking questions and to come here. Don’t drive you’re in no fit state. I’ve called a taxi it’s on its way to you now. Just get in and come here. Please love, believe me – it’s for the best and it’s all we can do. Come to me.”