I don’t know if this says more about where I used to live than it does me, but when I first heard a house alarm go off, I did nothing. I moved from the city to the country to get away from shit like that, trying to sleep while a house alarm drowned out the traffic, or a car alarm ringing through the night. So, to say I was annoyed was an understatement. It had been going off for twenty minutes before I opened the back window to see if I could work out what direction it was coming from.
When it finally did stop, I thanked God, and I’m not a religious man. It was barely minutes before it started again. My newfound faith evaporated as quickly as it came. The second time it went off, my first thought wasn’t whether a neighbour was being burgled, it was, is that my house alarm? I checked, and out the front of the house the alarm was quieter. I felt relieved and went back inside, put earplugs in and tried to sleep.
Every night was the same, a solitary house alarm shouting for help in the dead of night. After the second day of it, I thought fuck it, got my large Maglite torch, you know, one of those that are so long they could double as a nightstick or a baseball bat, and went to find the source. I’m not a big guy at all, but I have those city smarts, more than a match for rural England (except for farmers with shotguns of course).
The streets around my house snake and bend, following the old roman routes, I guess, absolutely no modern city planning has been enacted. There’s only a couple of houses though, until the pavement disappears, and we’re left with tall hedgerows that line the narrow country roads. It’s dangerous enough to walk these in the daytime, they having the ridiculous national speed limit of 60 mph. I walked on the right of the lane, heading into traffic, little did it matter, an SUV would brush both sides of the hedgerows, and if they travelled at speed, I wouldn’t have much luck.
As I slowly walked, I could hear it get louder and louder until, suddenly, it stopped, leaving a ringing of silence in my ears. I don’t know what made me angrier, the fact the alarm was left unattended for at least twenty minutes, or the fact it stopped before I found the source. I carried on walking.
When the road finally opened up and I glimpsed civilization again, I saw a couple standing outside a house. I approached and asked if it was their house alarm I heard. The man I assumed was the husband nodded. He was hugging a woman who sobbed uncontrollably. I felt guilty about not phoning the police. Something had happened here. But what could I have done?
“I’ve just moved in, down the road over there,” I said.
He looked at me perplexed, probably wondering why someone would have walked so far to investigate an alarm.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, just as a white Volvo Estate was pulling up outside.
The husband wriggled free from his apparent wife and ran over to the car.
“They took her, Gerry.”
Gerry got out of the car. He wore strange brown robes, like he was a monk.
“What did they leave?” Gerry asked the man.
“I haven’t had the heart to look.”
“Everything will be okay. It’s what God wants,” Gerry embraced the man, before walking past him and into the house.
“Did someone kidnap your daughter?” I asked.
“Who are you exactly?” he demanded, his sadness now pure anger.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to intrude, I heard the alarm.”
“Get off my fucking property!”
“Hey, I’m going,” I said, and turned to leave, wishing I stayed in bed and put in the ear plugs in.
Walking away I heard Gerry speak.
“His name is Tommy,” he said.
I saw Gerry kneel next to a little boy.
“Dad, I’m tired.”
“No problem, Tommy, let’s get you straight to bed,” the man said, his anger gone, his voice anxious and hesitant.
“Would you like a glass of warm milk? Susie liked…” the woman cut herself off before she finished.
I ambled slowly down the narrow road back to my house wondering what I’d just witnessed – the soap opera of the countryside. I was surprised I hadn’t heard someone playing a banjo.
About halfway back, I heard the house alarm again.
I shouted, “for FUCKS sake!” into the night air.
I began stomping as my anger grew and resentment brewed in my stomach.
The alarm was so loud, I almost toned out the sound of the car horn behind me. Instinctively I jumped into the hedgerow. I cursed the driver who passed me at some speed, the brake lights too bright for me to make out the car.
The sound of the engine slowly dissipated and was replaced by the house alarm that seemed even louder than before. I was too wound up to notice it get louder and louder until I was in my street and the shrill was so loud, it was deafening. I saw the white light flash once every couple of seconds on the box on the wall of my house. A white Volvo Estate was parked outside. A man in a brown robe was thumping my front door.
I turned on my Maglite and shone it at the man. He held his hand up in front of himself and said something I couldn’t hear over the din. I raced towards him. The houses to the left and right of mine were dark. No one had stirred or investigated the noise that rang out in the night.
“What’s going on?” I shouted to the man, now barely inches from my face.
“Do you have any children in the house?” Gerry asked loudly, still slamming his fist into the door.
“No, I don’t have any children. Just my wife and dog.”
“Is she in there now?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“We need to get her out of the house!”
“She has earplugs in, she has to be up early.”
There was silence, except for Gerry’s fists that slammed into the door one after the other, until they also stopped.
He slid down the door and sat on the front step.
“You’re the new tenants here, right?”
“Yeah, we moved in two days ago.”
He took out a leather-bound book and flicked through it. Sweat glistened on his forehead.
“I was supposed to see you next week,” he continued rifling, expecting to find something he did not, “something must have changed. I’m terribly sorry, I hoped to meet you under less stressful circumstances. Things are a little different here. I’m sure this has given you quite the frightscare.”
A noise from above took both our attention. It was my wife, opening up the front window.
“What are you doing out there? Was that our alarm?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“What on earth are you doing out there? And who is that?”
“This is Gerry,” I said without thinking.
“It’s nice that you are getting to know the neighbours, but at this time of night? I’m sorry, Gerry, I’d love to get to know you, but that damn thing woke up our daughter, it’ll take me ages to get her back to bed and I need to be up early. Justin, can you be a sweet and microwave a glass of milk?”
She turned away from the window and shouted into the house, “Daddy’s going to make it for you, Susie.”
She turned back and scolded me, “hurry up!” Then slammed the window shut.
“I don’t have a daughter,” I said to Gerry, feeling a cold sweat cling to my skin.
“It’s vital that you treat her as your own. She won’t hurt anyone if you don’t make her mad.”
“I don’t understand,” I said flatly.
“You’re not the only one. Justin, is it?”
“Make sure Susie is happy and everything will be fine.”
He started down the path to his car.
“Is that it?”
“Oh, there is one other thing.”
He reached into his car and pulled out a flyer.
“We have a barbeque coming up. You should come along.”
I took the paper without thinking.
Gerry smiled. A smile that told me this wasn’t unusual for him.
“Now remember, don’t upset her. Don’t let her anywhere near your dog, I think that goes without saying. And next time your alarm goes off, make sure your wife gets out of the building and leave Susie inside, tell her you have a surprise for her or something. Don’t let her leave the house. Okay?”
In the distance I heard another house alarm go off.
“Duty calls!” Gerry said with an upwards lilt to his voice.
“See you at the barbeque.”
The front door opened. A little girl stood there in pink pajamas.
“Daddy, where’s my milk.”
“Coming up sweetie,” I said, I don’t know why I did. I felt compelled to.
Don’t make her upset – I didn’t plan on doing that.
I looked down at the flyer.
village barbeque – Valeday 12th August – All residents welcome – no children
What the fuck is Valeday?