There was a slight click as three phone lines connected. There was a moment of silence before a low and faintly husky voice came over the empty air.
"Good evening ladies. How are we all?" asked Alma Parker. She smiled and picked up the remote, muting the volume on the TV and smiling at her reflection in the glass door beyond the set. Alma was quite small for her seventeen years and almost delicate looking, as if a sneeze would shatter her into a million pieces. Her limbs were long and gangly, pale skin made paler by long black hair framing her face.
Saturday, as sad as it seemed to the three girls on the conference call, was babysitting night. Alma had a set of stroppy twins upstairs while, a few streets away, Goldie Payne had a little boy. On the outskirts of town was Laila Raynor with a little girl. All fairly easy jobs but money was money and if they wanted that girl's holiday next year, they needed all the extra dosh they could get their hands on.
"Everybody asleep?" asked Goldie, not quite managing to stifle a yawn.
"You sound like you're ready to pack it in now" laughed Laila. A slurping sound came down the line as she sipped from a coffee mug.
"It was the bloody parents fault. It took me ages to get those little bastards into bed. They left the news on while they were showing me round and this report came on to say that a prison transport had crashed and some nutter had escaped. It only happened a few streets away and the kid was proper freaked out! It took ages to calm the poor little bugger down and get him to sleep" said Goldie, yawning again.
"That must have been what all the police cars were for. They came round and told everyone to stay inside and keep the doors and windows locked. Didn't stop mummy and daddy from going out on the lash though" added Alma. She had picked up the remote again and was flicking through the news channels, trying to find the local station.
"I found the news report, they must be repeating it until they get. He's a weird looking git. What did he do?" she said. A photo had appeared on the screen of a gaunt man with scraggly grey hair and thick, glasses perched on a bulbous nose.
"I've got my lappy; I'm just finding the right site . . . Shit a brick. No wonder the kid pitched a fit. The dude kidnapped four children and killed them, they found him with a fifth but he killed the kid before the police could stop him. They were moving him to a more secure prison when the crash happened" said Laila. Alma stood up and hurried about the house, checking doors and windows. The twins were fast asleep which was a blessing.
"Last seen on Lewis Drove and heading west" added Goldie, obviously watching the news too. Alma groaned as she pulled the curtains on the landing.
"Thanks, Goldie. That's the next street over from here."
"Calm down, Ally. He's gonna be more interested in getting away then killing anybody else. Besides, he's a kid Killer" Laila broke in.
"Yeah, because that's so much better" snapped Alma. She pushed open the door to the master bedroom and froze on the threshold. The window was wide open and there was fresh mud all over the carpet.
"Oh shit" she whispered. Her eyes darted around the room but, as far as she could see, nothing was out of place.
"What now?" sighed Goldie. Alma backed out of the room, her eyes glued to the smudges of mud that led across the bedroom and out onto the landing.
"The window in the bedroom was open and there's mud everywhere" she said, turning in circles to try and see everywhere at once.
"Big whoop. Serves them right for leaving the thing open in the first place."
"There are muddy footprints, Goldie! I'm following them now!" There was a moment of silence before Laila's voice, quiet and trembling, came over the line.
"Are you serious? Please tell me you're joking." Alma followed the mud and felt her heart almost stop when she found herself outside the kid's room.
"Shit" she whispered again. Goldie and Laila were talking again but she couldn't focus on what they were saying. Alma pushed open the door and peered through the gloom. It was almost completely dark in the bedroom but there was enough light for her to see that the bunk beds were empty. Alma dropped the phone and took off down the corridor, going from room to room and calling out for twins.
"Mark! Ralph! Where are you babies?" The upstairs was empty so Alma almost threw herself down the stairs and into the living room; she skidded to a halt in the middle of the living room. Her eyes were glued to the sliding glass door and the man that stood framed in it. He was gaunt with scraggly grey hair, thick glasses and a bulbous nose. Alma gulped and edged towards the doors; she reached out a hand and turned the lock. The man smiled as if he knew he could just break the glass to get in if he wanted to. The man bent down and picked up two small shapes from what must have been a bush and flung them over his shoulders.
"Oh shit. NO!" screamed Alma as she recognized the twins pyjamas. She dashed to the door, unlocked and dashed onto the lawn but the man had vanished.
"NO! Mark! Ralph!" The only way he could have got out of the garden was the side gate, but she didn't understand how he had just vanished. She yanked open the gate and ran out into the street just as two police skidded to a halt.
"He's got the twins! I don't know which way he went, I couldn't see!" she screamed. Two officers ran down the street while a few more hurried into the house. Alma was left standing at the gate as the light drizzle turned into a downpour.
Alma's father arrived and took her home after the police were finished with her. Laila and Goldie also appeared as if from nowhere to stand up to the twins parents when they seemed ready to blame Alma for what had happened. They all went back to Alma's house and sat on her bed with mugs of hot chocolate.
"Don't you dare blame yourself, Ally. It's nobody's fault and if they want to blame someone they can look in a frigging mirror" said Laila. She seemed about to say more but then just nodded as if she had decided that what she had already said was enough.
"Yeah. You were lucky he didn't kill you" said Goldie, she patted Alma's arm.
"He never got close enough for that" replied Alma. When he friends didn't reply she looked up and found them both staring at her, mouths agape. She raised her eyebrows at them and shrugged.
"Didn't the police tell you? About that sliding door in the living room?" asked Laila. Alma frowned and shook her head.
"I heard one of the officers telling his mate. They only found your footprints on the lawn. That guy was never in the back garden" began Goldie. Alma shook her head and slid off the bed to pace the room.
"I saw him through the door! He was in the garden" she cried. Laila shook her head and put her mug down on the side table.
"No he wasn't. The glass in the door is tinted, you can't see the garden. What you saw was a reflection. He was right behind you. They reckon he was behind the sofa with the kids when you ran in; he stood as you passed him and that's when you thought you saw him in the garden. He was right behind you, Alma." Alma's face suddenly turned very pale, the mug dropped from her hands to shatter on the floor. Laila and Goldie led her back to the bed and clung to their shaking friend, murmuring comforting words into her ear.