It was an ordinary day, much like the one before it, and the one before that.
A few clouds in the sky managed to block out the sun at irregular intervals, casting a shadow over the streets of London. Occasionally, a welcome shot of light would fall down between a gap in the procession of oddly shaped balls of white, and it was during these few brief periods that Alex felt he didn't mind being outside shoe shopping after all.
Well, of course, the actual shopping part was done inside, but when Alex's mother dragged him out on this hated expedition, most of it happened to be outside.
They lived just a few streets away from a local shoe shop; privately owned. It didn't sell the fashionable footwear that the boys at Alex's school always sported, but his protests towards buying at this shop were always shot down with excuses from his mother. It was too far a drive from the local shopping centre, she said, and a waste of petrol money. Besides, it was good to help out a small business.
Alex personally felt that the world would be far better off if that particular small business went bankrupt.
The closest shoes to Nike's that the store supplied were a rip off brand called 'Like!" As in, I don't 'Like' these shoes, Mum, and I'd rather go to school in my socks, Alex thought bitterly. They didn't even have the famous Nike tick! You couldn't wear tick-less shoes at school... Not unless your name was Desperately Unfashionable Alex Wrightley.
But the worst part of the day was over now, and Alex's spirits were beginning to lift. His mother had asked if he wanted a sausage roll for lunch, and when he refused, she had bought him an ice cream instead.
It was probably more of a bribe, really, but Alex wasn't complaining. He bit into the chocolate coating and winced as the cold ice cream came into contact with his front teeth.
His discomfort didn't last for long, however, before the clouds parted and another rare amount of heat fell onto his pale face.
"Do you like your ice cream, love?" Mrs. Wrightley asked pleasantly, unappreciative of this small gift nature was bestowing on her. As though responding to her oblivious attitude, the clouds moved over the sun again, casting the houses around him a shade darker.
"Yep." He quickened his steps to catch up with her. He was only as high as the upper part of her arm, but he made his shorter legs work twice as hard to keep up with her stride.
He was eager to get home; he had been given a new puppy for his tenth birthday the week before, and he was sure she was missing him. She was very dependant.
When they reached their modest little street, he broke into a run.
"Alex!" his mother scolded from behind him, but he ignored her. From the hollow of the tree in his front yard he removed the spare key, opening the door quickly after. Without waiting for Mrs. Wrightley to catch up, he ran down the hall to the laundry, where the border collie puppy was whining pitifully.
"Hey, Sally," he cooed tenderly, as she raced with awkward, eager strides towards his lap.
"Alexander, is 'wait' not in your vocabulary?" His mother pulled open the fridge roughly, her annoyance obvious.
Alex shrugged, clutching Sally to his chest.
She sighed, securing her short brown hair back with a hair tie. "Get in your room and get those shoes put away," she instructed. "And you're not just having ice cream for lunch. Would you rather a sandwich or soup?"
"I'm not hungry." Alex placed Sally on the floor and began to laugh as she fell over her own paws in her drunk-like, puppy way of walking.
"Oh, I'm sure you're not. If you don't choose, I'll choose for you."
"I don't mind." Alex took the shoe box through to his room with Sally at his heels. He knew that he was being uncooperative, but he still hadn't forgiven his mother for her purchase of the 'Like' runners.
He sighed as he heard the microwave start. She had chosen soup. He'd wanted a sandwich.
He got on his knees and shoved the shoe box under the bed. Hopefully he'd be able to forget them.
A loud bang caused him to jump, hitting his head on the bed. A gunshot rang out from somewhere not far behind him. His mother screamed, the sound catching in her throat. Another bang.
Instinctively, he pushed himself forward until his body was under the bed.
The noises grew louder. Crashing, screaming, the sound of something – a curtain – being ripped from its place.
Alex scrambled onwards, wedging himself between a suitcase and the wall.
Amidst the noise of the unexplained chaos outside the room, he heard Sally whimper, and felt her pawing at his leg.
And then the footsteps were in his room. There were men shouting in a language he didn't understand.
Sally began barking in a high pitched squeak. The squeak quickly became a yelp. Alex felt her being pulled away from him. He had to use every ounce of his willpower to keep from moving.
No, not Sally! No, no, no!
Her yelps stopped suddenly.
It sounded as though his chest of drawers was overturned.
Alex placed his hand over his mouth to force himself into silence. The suitcase was suddenly pushed into him so hard he was winded, but he neither cried out or moved.
There were more shouts, like barked orders, and then the footsteps left the room.
It wasn't long before the voices faded altogether.
He was perfectly still. He didn't want to move, and he couldn't bring himself to. What if there was a man still there in his room, quietly waiting for Alex to emerge?
The more he thought of this, the more likely it seemed. He could almost hear the man's quiet, patient breathing.
Alex stayed in the one position for hours, too terrified to make a single move. If he moved, the man would find him. If he crawled out, the man would kill him. He didn't even realise it when he began to silently cry.
As the afternoon drew to a close, the front door of the house was opened, and Alex's heart began to race. There was a period of silence, interrupted only by the thud of footsteps on the carpeted floor of the hallway.
"Alex?" choked a voice.
He recognised it immediately, but didn't trust the circumstances enough to reply.
The voice was in the room now.
It was panicked, desperate.
Alex swallowed and then summoned up the courage needed to make his presence known.
"Daddy?" he whispered.
There was movement, and he felt the suitcase pulled away from his almost numb body.
He found himself staring wide eyed into the face of his father, before his father, always strong, always calm, always brave, began to cry.