Bradley paused and listened again. The faint crying of a baby brushed his ears once more. He looked over at the wall next to him, with its slightly peeling and faded floral paper and old family photographs. The noise seemed to be coming from behind there. He wondered if someone had finally moved in next door. He tried to remember if he had seen any signs this morning or before when he came back from work.
The crying stopped and Bradley, with a shrug, unmuted the TV and started eating his pasta ready meal. The news was full of the latest political scandals, murders and weather. Bradley hurried through his food, trying not to notice the gloopy, bland taste. He turned the TV channels over and turned on his game console.
The crying came again, muted only slightly by the single brick wall between the houses. The wailing noise rose and fall and Bradly couldn’t help but think about a baby in a cot seeking comfort. Shaking his head, he got back to his game, the sound of gun fire blocking out any more noise.
He went to bed far too late. The creaking of the stairs in what had once been his grandfather’s house, but was now his, seemed to accuse him of laziness. Getting ready for bed, Bradley just knew he was going to be grumpy for work in the morning. He flipped back the covers and stopped. The baby was crying again, only it seemed to be directly behind the bedroom wall now. Bradley walked over and put his hand on the wall then his ear. There was most defiantly a baby living next door to him now.
Groaning, he got into bed and put a pillow over his head. Luckily, he was far too tried and drifted off quickly.
His phone alarm clock broke into Bradley’s dreamless sleep. He reached out and turned it off before rolling over and snuggling back down. He awoke suddenly minutes later and hurried out of the bed, nearly tripping in his desperation. Flying through his morning routine and skipping breakfast, he dashed out of the house and into his ancient red Mini.
Driving, he had no other thoughts other than to get to work on time and he did barely make it. Dropping into his chair, he dragged a few breaths of stale, coffee scent air then cracked open the window next to his desk. He spent a few moments straighten his black tie, white crinkled shirt and trying to flatten down his mop of blond hair.
He brought his hand down and nodded at Mark, the only real friend he had in this Hell hole.
‘Sleep okay? Looks like you didn’t,’ Mark chucked.
‘I think someone moved in next door,’ Bradley began.
‘They have a baby,’ he finished.
‘Damn. Unlucky. When my neighbour had her brat it kept me up all night too. You’re going to have to invest in some ear plugs, my friend,’ Mark stated and patted Bradley on the shoulder.
Mark walked to his own desk, which was behind Bradley’s and began shuffling papers around. Bradley nodded and looked down at his clutched desk. Too much work with left over from yesterday and he knew today’s would have to wait.
‘Hey, you coming to the pub tonight?’ Mark called out.
‘Maybe,’ Bradley replied over his shoulder then threw himself into his job.
Work done for the day, Bradley couldn’t talk himself out of going to the pub even though he didn’t feel like it. He sank into a plush sofa that felt too hard and still stank of cig smoke though the ban had been years ago. He nursed his pint and thought about all the trouble he was going to be in on Monday. He couldn’t risk getting fired; there were too many outstanding bills of his grandfather’s left to pay. Someone brought another round just as he had finished his first and he couldn’t refuse a free drink.
It was late by the time he left, the sky was dark with clouds and no stars or moon peered down. Bradley got into his car, sure he was over the limit as he put the key in. He drove back straight enough, with the street lamps flashing by like a count down. A light rain started falling as he pulled up outside his house.
Getting out, he wobbled up to the terrace house on the end and let himself in. He stumbled in the dark upstairs and into his bedroom. There he threw himself on the bed, grabbing pillows and blankets to wrap himself in. He was fast sleep when the crying began.
In the morning, his head hurt so much, it took him a while to clock the sounds of crying coming from the wall. He sat in the living room, sipping too hot coffee and regretting last night. He put a hand to his head and thought about the fact he could have gone into work and tried to catch up on everything. The baby screamed.
‘Shut up!’ he yelled and almost threw his coffee at the wall.
Instead, he splashed it down and stormed to the front door. Opening it, he walked out and around to the gate of the next house, he went through and was at the front door before he realised that the front bay windows were boarded up and so was the front door. A for sale sign stuck up from the front fence and the street was as silent as ever.
Unclenching his hands, Bradley looked about confused then quickly left. Going through his house, he went out the back door and looked over the wired fence that divided the two gardens. He could clearly see the boarded up back door and windows of the house next door. Wondering what was going on, he went back in then out onto the street once more. Maybe a neighbour had had a baby and the noise was carrying a lot?
Undecided, he went back in and spent the day being too hungover to do much else. As evening came through, he heard the crying of a baby once more. Getting up, he went to the living room wall and really listened. The noise was just too loud and there could be no doubt it was coming from next door.
Maybe, squatters got in somehow? He thought.
Grabbing the phone he dialled the police and told them what he now believed.
‘I’ll send someone around as soon as I can,’ the too cheery female voice on the other end replied.
Bradley hung up and turned the TV on to block out the noise.
The knocking at his door came hours later and it was now dark outside. Bradley let the two male officers in and told them about the baby crying. Together they went to the front then the back of the house, looking for away in. The wooden board was nailed down too well and no corner had come away at any of the doors or windows. There was no access inside.
‘Maybe it’s an animal they left behind?’ one of the officers suggested.
‘I don’t know,’ Bradley replied, ‘I’ve been here four years now and before that it must have been empty for about six years or so…would a pet survive that long?’
‘No,’ the other policemen put in, ‘it could be a wild animal that has got stuck though. We’ll get the RSPCA and come back tomorrow.’
‘It just doesn’t sound like an animal though…’ Bradley muttered as the cops left.
He went back inside and got into bed. As soon as his head touched the pillow the crying started again. Growling, Bradley put the other pillow over his face and tried to ignore it.
Finally the morning arrived. He awoke, sore eyed and tried as if he’d had another night drinking. The sound of hammering and a drill buzzed through his head. Scrambling up, he threw on some clothes and rushed outside. A police car, an RSPCA van and a locksmith’s van were parked outside.
He looked across and saw a burly man removing the board over the front door. Two different police men and a female animal inspector were standing next to the gate, watching him work. Bradley eager though he was to join them, decided to stay where he was and just watch. Soon the locksmith had gotten in and they all entered the building.
It seemed to take forever, but at last the animal inspecting came out. She was gulping down air and looking very pale. She walked down the path and back to her van, where she rested against it as if trying not to throw up.
‘What did you find? Was it an animal?’ Bradley called out.
She looked at him, wiped her hair back then got into the van. Starting the engine, she drove off, leaving Bradley more puzzled. He went and lent on the wall to try and peer into the now open front door, but he couldn’t see anything. For a few minutes, he debated jumping over and going inside to see for himself, but then the locksmith and cops appeared.
‘What was it?’ he asked.
The cops looked at him, whilst the locksmith hurried off as if desperate to be far away.
‘I was the one that phoned about the baby crying last night,’ Bradley explained.
‘Oh…did you know the people who lived here?’ one of the officers asked.
‘No. I never saw them and I never asked my grandad about it,’ Bradley answered.
‘All right then, I’ll go and call it in,’ the second policeman said.
‘Wait, wait! What was it?’ Bradley shouted.
The two cops eyed each other, then the second walked away as the first turned to him, ‘I shouldn’t be telling you this,’ he said a low voice, ‘but we found the mummified remains of three babies…..Now, are you sure you know nothing about the people who lived here?’
Bradley shook his head, too shocked to open his mouth.