Hello there. Welcome to the latest instalment of the prologues for my horror work in progress. So far we’ve had The Vampire, The Monster, Wendy parts One and Two, The Killer, and The Wolf. This is the final prologue, initially titled The Fool. But now it's The Victim, and it presents the last group of characters before the plot starts properly. For now, please enjoy.
Patrick Keel had settled into a routine. He would get up, check Elsie’s room, make a cup of tea, drink half of it, and check the post. When he checked the post he would look under the flower pot by the front door to see if the key was still there. He had left it there when Elsie had first started going out at night with her friends so she wouldn’t have to wake him up when she got home late and drunk. It hadn’t moved since she’d gone. Then he would go inside, turn on the television, and let the day go by.
He didn’t get visitors more than once or twice a year. His brother and sister would ring him once a month to check in on him. Make sure that he was eating properly, that he was keeping the house in a reasonable state. They used to come round to visit but they could never find anything to bother him about and he had nothing to say to them. He would just sit there, politely answering any questions they had. He would give them a quick hug when they arrived and when they left.
The doorbell only rang when someone wanted to sell him something. He would turn them away with firm but gentle refusal. He always answered the door. He always answered the telephone. He checked his emails regularly. He’d even kept his fax machine. Just in case. It was unlikely, of course. But just in case.
The police had been round a few times after it had happened but they hadn’t been in touch for a long time now. He used to call them every day but he’d made himself stop. It was useless to bother them. They would call if they found anything. He couldn’t get too angry that they’d stopped looking; they had a lot to deal with. He knew that they had stopped looking, no matter what they told him. Of course they’d stopped. It had been two years.
He’d even gone up to where she’d last been seen. He’d spent nearly a month going around, talking to people, handing out photos of Elsie. “Have you seen my daughter?” Some people had, and that would always get his heart racing. But they’d always seen her a couple of days ago, they’d seen her with her friends, they’d seen her before she’d gone into the woods. It was never anything they hadn’t already told the police.
He had been inconsolable. Worse than inconsolable. His friends and family had been right to worry. There had been talk of his moving in with his brother, or his sister moving in with him for a bit, just to keep an eye on him. They had always used that phrase. “Just to keep an eye on you.” He’d always found it so sinister. He didn’t understand how it was supposed to be comforting.
But now. Now he was alright. He had reached some kind of balance. He’d found an equilibrium. He looked after himself. He was eating. He washed his clothes. He used the vacuum cleaner. But he didn’t leave the house if he could help it.
He knew Elsie was gone. But he knew that she was alive. He could never explain this to anyone and wouldn’t dream of trying to, but he would know if she was dead. He had no doubt about that. He had no way of finding her but he knew that she was alive. And if anyone came to talk to him about Elsie, he would invite them in, tell them what he knew, and listen to what they had to say.
So when the three women arrived at his front door and told him that they wanted to talk to him about Elsie, Patrick invited them in.
The older one introduced them. She was called Suzy, and she was a good fifteen years older than the one that kept touching her arm and her shoulder. That one said her name was Polly. Patrick would have put her in her late twenties. Polly and Suzy both had long black hair, though Suzy’s was streaked with grey, they wore similar clothes, and they were clearly a couple. The third woman, who Patrick guessed was in her thirties, was called Mary. Mary had short red hair, dressed sensibly, and she stood about a foot apart from the others. Patrick supposed she didn’t know them very well, but that wasn’t really any of his business.
They wanted to know if Patrick could tell them anything about Elsie’s disappearance that hadn’t been in the papers. Patrick gave them a description of each of the items of clothing that she had taken with her, what kind of reading glasses she used, and what kind of car she had driven off in.
“She went missing in November, is that right?” asked Suzy.
Patrick nodded. That had been in the papers. He didn’t really mind going over it all again.
“Have you seen her since?” she asked.
“What kind of a question is that?” he replied. Suzy seemed to realise that she had phrased it badly and began stammering as Patrick leant forward in his chair.
“I don’t mean have you seen her. I’m sorry, that came out wrong. What I mean to ask is, has there ever been an instant, just a moment when you’ve maybe felt her presence, when you thought she might be close by?”
Patrick looked at the three women very carefully. Polly had put her hand on Suzy’s shoulder, either to reassure her or to stop her talking. Mary looked embarrassed but not mortified. He wanted to know where this was going.
“Of course I have. I wake up thinking that she might be asleep in her bed. If I hear a car slowing down as it goes past I think it might be her. But it never is, is it?”
Mary nodded comfortingly, as if to say that she understood completely. This irritated Patrick a little but he tried not to let it show. He wanted to give these people the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Keel. But I’m not talking about that. What you’re talking about is perfectly normal. What I’m asking is quite different. I’m not asking what you’ve hoped for; I’m asking what you’ve felt.”
“Why? What is this about, what are you trying to get me to say?”
Mary stood up and picked up her handbag. She took out a battered brown notebook and opened it to a page near the middle before handing it to Patrick. What he saw got his heart racing. His heartbeat clamoured in his skull.
“We don’t know where Elsie is, Patrick. But we think we know who took her. And we’re looking for him too.”
In the notebook, in pencil, was a detailed sketch of a young woman’s face. In the drawing she was tilted forward with what looked like a noose around her throat, her hair obscuring most of her features, but Patrick recognised her instantly. He wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be crying or bleeding. There was a note under the drawing.
“SHE SAYS HER NAME IS ELSIE”
I hope you enjoyed this latest prologue, I'm sorry for the delay but things have been pretty hectic for me at the moment. I was very keen to get this done though, as Patrick, Suzy, Polly, and Mary are the only really human characters in this novel. Mathieu is a killer, these four are normal people. Suzy, Polly, and Mary have a history which will be explained in due course, but I wanted a group of characters who were really driven, who really had a purpose. One observation several people had of The Novel That Nobody Wanted was that the characters sort of drift aimlessly, but I think all of the characters in this have very specific motives and desires.
But what next for the blog? Well, there will be a post either next week or the week after with a small snippet of what's in store for each of the characters, but that will be it for this group for the forseeable future. I'm very pleased that the people I've had feedback from seem to like it, or at least find it interesting.
In the near future there will be a short story that I'm working on, but I would also like to hear if there are any requests. Throw some story titles at me if you like. Otherwise, we'll see how it goes.
Thanks for reading. Shall we have a song? Here's Lou Reed and John Cale: