'Daddy!' The voice broke the stillness of the household.
'Daddy!' More urgent this time.
'DADDY!' Much louder now, with panic in the voice. Stuart stumbled out of bed, his legs not yet awake, and tried to get moving. Reaching for his dressing-gown, he banged his knee on the wall. 'Shit' he muttered. He only swore when awoken in the middle of the night, when his defences were down. Kelly would have told him off if she'd heard, but she was still sound asleep in their warm bed.
'DAAAADDDY!' He slung his dressing gown around him, and fiddled with the tie at the front as he moved across the landing, waiting for his legs catch up with him. He flailed his arm towards the wall on the right, aiming for the light switch. He caught it with the tip of his pinkie finger, and yellow light flooded the upstairs.
'DAAAADDDDDY!' The child's voice screamed out this time, and Stuart pushed his son's bedroom door open with force.
'Timmy, it's alright Timmy.' Stuart's face was muffled by something warm and smothering as he entered the room. It somehow got into his mouth, too, and he screwed up his face as he spat the material back out. Could do without a midnight snack of dressing gown, he thought, and flapped the nightwear away.
'Daddy!' A small but warm little body hugged at his legs and waist, gripping tightly. Stuart banged the light on with his fist, wanting to gain some control of this unwelcome night time situation.
'Hey, Timmy it's okay.' He picked his son up and cuddled him tightly, stroking his hair. The little body was shivering in his arms, terrified. The dark blue lump of dressing gown swung on its hook on the door behind them, settling. Still clutching his dad for dear life, Timmy began to cry.
'It's alright little man.' Stuart stroked his Timmy's head, trying to get rid of his son's nightmare as he comforted him. He felt tears on his arm.
'Come on.' Cradling his son, he brought him over to the bed and sat down.
'You just had a bad dream, Tim-Tim.'
'No, it was Mr Cleaver.' His face was red and a little swollen. Stuart felt goose-bumps on the back of his neck. It was the surety in Timmy's voice which caused the reaction. And the name rang a bell.
'He was in here.' He pointed at the bedroom door, where the dressing gown hung, lifeless.
'My dressing gown was Mr Cleaver.'
Stuart shivered. He suddenly felt like a little boy again, scared in his bedroom. He remembered not being able to move for terror, late at night, after bad dreams. Too much imagination, that was the trouble. Timmy had obviously inherited it.
'You've just been dreaming, Timmy, that's all. You've had a bad dream.' He sounded like he was trying to convince himself, not just his five year old son. Timmy shook his head, then buried his face in his daddy's chest.
'No, he was here. My dressing gown was moving.' His voice was muffled as he spoke. Stuart glanced over at the door. An arm of the dressing gown twitched. Stuart gasped, and his legs went numb. The logic of the cold light of day had abandoned him, and he could feel his ability to explain what was happening ebbing away as his flesh crawled. He wanted to feel in control, to be able to laugh at how he was feeling, but couldn't. He felt like a little boy, cowering in the corner. But I'm not, he thought. I'm thirty-five. I'm a dad, a father, for goodness sake.
'Ouch, daddy.' He realised he was almost squeezing the life out of Timmy, and forced himself to relax. He looked at the dressing gown again, it was still. He kissed the top of Timmy's head.
'Come on, Tim-Tim, it's time to go back to sleep.' He pivoted and moved Timmy back down towards his pillow.
'NO!' Timmy screamed. Stuart's heckles raised up straight away. His legs lost their strength again.
'Alright, alright. Shhhh.' Picking him up, cradling his shivering son in his arms, he walked out of the room, trying hard not to make eye contact with the dark, folded shape on the back of the door. He settled him down next to his mum, who automatically turned and put her arm around him sleepily. Stuart envied her oblivious peace. Timmy snuggled up gratefully to his mum and sucked his thumb, something he still did whenever he was really upset.
'Good night little man.' Stuart ruffled his son's hair and pulled the duvet up over his shoulders, and kissed him on the cheek.
'Night daddy.' Timmy whispered, eyes closed. Feeling a little better, Stuart moved towards the door.
'Daddy?' Stuart froze.
'Can you leave the lamp on?'
'Course I can.' He reached and flicked on the bedside lamp, knowing it wouldn't disturb Kelly. 'Sweet dreams Timmy-Tim.' No reply this time, but Stuart's heart swelled a little as he watched his son suck his thumb again. I never want anything to hurt him, he thought. Glancing at the bedside clock, he took in the time: three twenty-five. Walking back out onto the landing, he thought: have to be at work in a few hours, I could do without these night-time adventures. Yawning, he returned to Timmy's room and flung back the duvet covers of his bed. Sleepy again now that his adrenaline rush had retreated, he nestled his head on the pillow, and fell asleep.
From The Collington Gazette: 6th October
Police were called to no 11 Godwin Road, Collington, at around six am yesterday morning by neighbours who heard screaming coming from the property. According to a Mrs Angela Cox, a neighbour and friend of the family, who consist of a young married couple and their six year old son, she first heard 'terrible screams for help' at around four thirty in the morning, as Mrs Cox was getting up to let her dog out. Police are not making full details available at this time, as the investigation is ongoing, but the indications are that the man of the house, a thirty-five year old named as Mr Stuart Young, has deceased, and is survived by his wife, Mrs Kelly Young, and their son, who cannot be named. Rumours that Mr Young was found strangled in his son's bed cannot be confirmed at this point...........