Jim Hughes had just opened the front door to put out the trash when he saw the Ferrier kid. He was standing in a spot of moonlight at the bottom of the garden path, staring up at the house. The sight of him almost made Hughes drop the can.
“Hey!” he called. “Who is that?”
The boy didn’t reply, but Hughes quickly realised who it was. He recognised Ferrier from the descriptions he’d overheard from the local kids. Painfully thin and impossibly tall, his face a mass of acne scars. His clothes were also several sizes too small, which gave him a scarecrow-like appearance. But what confirmed it for Hughes were his eyes. They were huge. Great white cue balls they were, with the tiniest pupils you ever saw. It was those eyes which freaked people out the most. Girls mostly; it always seemed to be clusters of girls running away from him. The high school kids said the Ferrier boy—the weird kid from the special school in Brighton—could see right into your soul.
Hughes followed the boy’s gaze, which led him to the bedroom window of his step-daughter, Stephanie. He could see her silhouette moving about behind the curtains, getting ready for bed.
Hughes started down the path. “Have you got a problem, buddy? Are you a pervert? That it?”
Those huge white eyes met Hughes’ own as he reached the end of the path. Hughes, a fearless soldier who had seen combat in the Gulf War, felt a finger of dread creep up his spine.
“Get out of here,” he said, his voice lacking its usual punch, “or I’ll break your head.”
The kid stared at him a while longer. Then he opened his sore-encrusted lips and spoke only two words.
“What?” Hughes barked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
But the boy didn’t answer.
Hughes watched him walk off down Cedar Road until he was just a shadow amongst the trees. When he raised his clenched fist, he found he was shaking uncontrollably.
He found it hard to sleep that night. The encounter with the Ferrier kid had deeply unsettled him. Lying next to his snoring wife, Hughes turned those two simple words over and over in his head until the early hours.
What had he meant by that? No more what? Was the kid vowing that he wouldn’t peep at girls’ bedroom windows anymore? Or did he mean something else entirely? Whatever it was, he’d seen the little creep off.
He got up and shuffled out to the bathroom. Relieving his bladder, Hughes listened to the silence of the house, broken only by the incessant drone of his wife’s nasal music. Marie was so fat she couldn’t sleep without snoring anymore, it seemed. Just another nail in the coffin of their sex life.
He was crossing the landing when he felt that familiar urge again—the one that always came in the darkest hours—and he changed direction. He placed his ear against his step-daughter’s bedroom door, listened intently for a moment, then went in.
Stephanie was sprawled across her bed like most teenagers in deep sleep. Caught in a sliver of moonlight, her face looked as beautiful and fragile as porcelain, the image of Marie when she had been her age.
His heart beating a little faster, Hughes sat down on the bed beside her, gingerly brushing the backs of his fingers along the silk of her nightdress, along the curve of her thigh.
“Stephanie?” he whispered. “Daddy’s here.”
She didn’t stir, didn’t even open her eyes, but two words escaped from her lips. A sudden gust of wind from the gap in the window obliterated what she’d said.
“What, honey?” he said, leaning close.
“What?” he said, his mind reeling. But before he could say any more, he felt a white-hot pain explode in his brain and his vision filled with fire . . . then absolute darkness.
The week after her father was buried in Brighton cemetery, Stephanie Hughes found the courage to tell her mother what he’d done to her, what he’d been doing to her for months. Her mother refused to believe her; she was too lost in grief for her husband, the war hero. But Stephanie didn’t mind. Before her father dropped dead of an aneurysm in her bedroom, she’d been on the brink of suicide. By his death, she’d been saved—just in time. It was almost as if a guardian angel had been looking after her.
Coming home from high school one afternoon, she saw the Ferrier kid standing on the pavement a few houses away. He was staring at her with those big, uncanny eyes. She shivered and rushed into the house, trying to shake the mental image of him from her mind. She never saw the contented smile which momentarily broke his acne-scarred features as he turned and continued on his way.