VICTIMS by Dave Ludford
One year, four months and three days. She knows exactly how long it has been since her ordeal ended. She hadn’t intended to, but had begun a journal of her life since being free of the man she will always refer to as Jack, never being able to bring herself to even think of his real name. The journal had been the idea of the trauma counsellor she’d seen—was still seeing—after her harrowing experience. He’d said it would help her come to terms with events. She sits now with that journal open in her lap, pen poised, ready to relate the day’s events. It won’t take long; nothing much has happened. Nothing much ever happens in her life these days but she doesn’t mind that. It brings its own strange kind of comfort after her trauma. Everything gets noted down; the trivial minutiae of her everyday existence. She wonders when, or if, anything exciting or pleasurable will ever happen in her life again, whether she will ever know true happiness; is painfully aware that she can’t cut herself off from life forever. She knows that only she can make this happen. Then there will be more to write about.
Alan Peter Bailey also keeps a journal and he has plenty to write about. Alan Peter Bailey is now more commonly known as Jack, a soubriquet bestowed upon him by the police during their hunt to capture him. He is proud of this nickname, it couldn’t be more fitting. For Jack was convicted of the murder and disembowelment of five women and the police likened his crimes to those of his hero since childhood, Jack the Ripper. It would have been six victims; should have been six, but that bitch Ellie Peters got lucky, was rescued just in time when the police burst into his house and found him standing over her drugged and inert body, preparing himself for that glorious moment of strangulation. Bitch deserved it. They all did.
“You still scribbling away in that fucking book, Jack?”
The voice of the prison guard startles him, brings him back to the here-and-now. He slams the journal shut, a guilty thing surprised.
“Put it away, Jack. Time for some exercise.”
Alan Peter Bailey—Jack—nods his assent and places the journal on his small bed beside him; stands up, and holds out his arms ready for his wrists to be cuffed.
She puts down her glass of red wine and picks up the journal once more; taps her chin with her pen for a few moments, then continues writing.
‘I saw the little girl in the alleyway again today. She ran away once more but seemed to linger a little longer before turning and rushing back in the direction from which she’d come. I like to think that she’s a little less shy now. Perhaps one day she won’t run away and we can become friends.’
She smiles, pleased with what she has written. She has no idea who the little girl is, but guesses her age at being no more than four. Hair the colour of wheat, intense blue eyes, and a slightly bewildered expression on her face. Must, of course, be a neighbour’s child, surely? But as she rarely ventures out of the house—has hardly done so after moving here four months ago—she knows nothing about her neighbours: not their names or anything about their children. This saddens her; her smile evaporates. Perhaps her neighbours recognize her from the pictures of her in the press and want nothing to do with her. Nobody has been round to visit. She believes she is tainted with the stigma of being a victim, as if she were complicit somehow in her own ordeal. Even the children run away. Oh shit, she thinks, now I’m just being paranoid. It may well be the case that people feel nervous about approaching me, unsure of what to say. What do you say to someone who was abducted, held captive, drugged, and nearly murdered? If DI Radcliffe and his team hadn’t arrived when they did…she gives an involuntary shiver and sips more wine.
Beth Hanley enters the kitchen and stands behind her mother, who is sitting at the table drinking coffee and reading the local newspaper. Beth points at the fridge.
“You want juice, honey?” her mother says. Beth nods her head vigorously. Karen Hanley closes the newspaper, rises, and walks towards the fridge. Beth follows her.
“Orange or apple?” Karen asks, holding up two cartons. Beth points at the carton containing orange juice. Karen smiles, replaces the apple juice, and ruffles Beth’s hair then searches amongst the cupboards for a glass.
Beth takes her drink and walks towards the table, taking a chair opposite to where her mother had been seated. Karen looks out of the window and sees the young woman who moved round here quite recently walking past. Peters, she thinks. Ellie Peters. Oh that poor girl, what she must have gone through. I really must make an effort to pop round and introduce myself. It must be what…four months now since Ellie arrived. I’ll take Beth with me. And then she thinks of her six-year-old daughter’s own ordeal two years previously. An abduction which Beth had survived, at the hands of a sick pervert. There had been other young kids that hadn’t been so lucky. Four, to be exact. But Beth’s ordeal had left her scarred. She hadn’t spoken since.
Ellie hears the doorbell ringing just as she has pointed the remote at the TV and changed channels. Frowning, she turns the set off and moves out of her living room into the hallway. Her stomach feels like ice, fear grips her insides. She thinks: who could it possibly be? I don’t get visitors. There comes a renewed ringing of the bell and Ellie is beginning to imagine all sorts of horrors. This is what her life has been reduced to since her abduction: living in fear and isolation. The victim who will always be a victim. Vulnerable, lonely and permanently terrified. She gingerly opens the front door—the security chain is in place (it always is, even during the day) —and through the gap she sees a pretty blonde woman aged somewhere in her late twenties, and holding her hand is a little girl aged four or five who looks like a miniature version of whom she reasonably assumes to be her mother. Recognition of the little girl comes instantly; the child from the alleyway. Ellie heaves a big sigh of relief and unlatches the chain.
‘There is someone who will carry on my work. I freely hand over my legacy to him. He’s biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike. He knows who must be next. This time she will not escape; the work will be completed.’
Jack closes his journal, a broad smile spreading across his face. Five minutes to lights out. He feels both pleased and proud of today’s brief entry.
“Sorry for barging in on you like this. I saw you walking past my house this morning, and I felt I must come round and introduce Beth and myself.”
Karen is seated next to Ellie on the sofa; Beth is playing on the rug in front of the fireplace with the doll she has brought with her. She is humming softly. It’s the closest she comes to verbal communication these days.
“Oh that’s okay, Karen. It’s lovely to see a friendly face. Well, two friendly faces to be exact. I thought…I worried that people were deliberately avoiding me. Or whether perhaps that was just me being paranoid.”
“Well, it’s certainly not true in my case. It may be because…people are unsure what to say to you, how to approach you.”
Ellie smiles at this echo of her own thoughts.
“That’s the conclusion I came to when I’d overcome my paranoia.”
Both girls laugh. The sound causes Beth to look up, confused momentarily; then she too starts to giggle.
“And I’ve seen this beautiful little lady a couple of times in the alleyway a few doors away.”
“Yes, she’s as slippery as an eel sometimes. I only have to turn my back for a second and she’s gone. It’s put me in a right panic. In view of what happened to her, I feel like a really bad mother sometimes. But she has never gone very far, or for very long.”
Ellie’s brow furrows. She can see that Karen is deeply troubled by something; something of which she seems urgently to want to unburden herself. Although they have only known each other for ten minutes, Ellie feels a bond growing between them. Some past trauma that involves little Beth?
Ellie reaches for the wine bottle and pours herself another glass. Karen had declined the offer of wine in favour of coffee, which she has hardly touched. She is staring intently at her child, agitated but with the unmistakeable look of motherly love on her face.
“Tell me all about it, Karen. But only if you want to.”
Karen wants to, and does so, the words flowing so fast that Ellie is struggling to keep up at first; Karen picks up on this, stops speaking, takes a sip of coffee, and resumes her story. This time much more slowly.
Jack dreams of his shadowy protégé carrying out his grisly but necessary work. The man is known to Jack, of course; has been under Jack’s spell since his arrival at the prison. It had been so easy, like hypnosis. The prison guard who smuggles tobacco and other luxury goods in for his master. The prison guard who accompanies Jack on his daily exercise routines and at meal times. Jack watches him in the dream as he stalks Ellie Peters through the dark city streets, ready to strike; it’s almost as if Jack is there with him, guiding him…
Ellie is still sitting in her living room an hour after Karen and Beth have left, stunned by Karen’s recounting of the dreadful events of her daughter’s abduction. Of how only a chance sighting of the white transit van the police had been searching for was spotted by a routine traffic patrol and little Beth—who had been found bound and gagged in the back—had been saved. It had eerie echoes of her own experience. Beth had been lucky. She herself had been lucky. There had certainly been a bond growing between the two older women, Ellie had felt that. The bond of suffering, of being a victim of evil.
She thinks of the traumatized Beth, that happy but virtually silent child. She had put the little girl’s silence down to a natural shyness which many children have, but now knows better, of course. Ellie hopes that the legacy of the little girl’s ordeal won’t afflict her for the rest of her life. The fact that it may indeed do so sends waves of hot, seething anger flowing through her body; so intense is this anger that she throws the empty wine glass she has been holding against the wall. She rejects the notion of ‘born victims’ but knows with deep certainty that for some the nightmare will never end, that fear and terror will pursue them wherever they go.
Outside, the strong wind has sent clouds on a mad race across the gradually darkening sky. Ellie draws the curtains, checks that the front door is bolted and the security chain is in place, then walks slowly up the stairs to her bedroom. This is the time she fears the most, trapped and vulnerable inside her darkest nightmares.