By Jake Kale
I’ve seen some interesting things outside my window.
I currently live a spacious third floor flat in a converted factory, and the window in my living room offers a stunning view of eastern Cranford, and the old Abbeyville golf course in the distance. Directly below are twin car parks separated by a wire mesh fence, one side belonging to the apartment building and the other to the Weaver Club, a fairly swanky little pub opposite. There’s always something going on out there. I only moved in July last year, and in that time I’ve looked out the window and seen a parade of drunken soldiers getting a bollocking from their CO after being turfed out of the pub, a wedding party that unexpectedly erupted into a near full-scale riot, and at least one car that was definitely a-rocking when the policeman came a-knocking. Another night a bunch of star gazers turned up in a silver minibus laden with telescopes, and my mum even reckoned she saw a UFO out there when she came over a few weeks later. And the police are regular visitors on Friday and Saturday nights.
While most of these incidents involved transient visitors, one presence remained constant—a white refrigerated van. It always seemed to be there, all day long, come rain or shine. It was a large Ford Transit, and it was a company van, I could tell as much from the name on the side, a name I read and immediately forgot several times. It was always in pristine condition too, no mud or stains from traffic fumes. No humorous “I wish my wife was as dirty as this van!” messages scrawled crudely on the back. Its driver clearly took great pride in it. That was something that struck me as odd—I never saw the driver. I knew someone was driving the van during the night because every morning it was parked in a different place. But while I didn’t go out of my way to look out for it I soon realized that I never saw it leave, I never saw it come back, and I never saw anyone get in or out, or even approach it. I assumed the driver was a shift worker and was probably sleeping during the day. Still, it sometimes seemed like he, and I was quite confident it was a he, was being deliberately secretive. And I developed a minor obsession with that van, and with trying to spot its enigmatic owner.
That white van became my white whale.
One Saturday night I decided to stay in and see if I could spot the driver. I pulled my desk chair over to the window and sat leaning on the sill, my grandfather’s binoculars beside me. I watched as cars pulled into the pub car park, preening men and women on the pull exiting the vehicles and strutting their way inside, full of hopes and soon to be full of spirits. I saw several of them leave a couple of hours later as alone as they’d arrived, and I got a snide chuckle out of that. Gradually both car parks emptied, so that only the van remained. I waited for another hour, feeling increasingly stupid. Why did I care so much about who drove that damn van? Even if I did spot the driver, what would I do then? I’d probably just go to bed, feeling a damn sight sillier than the drunken idiots I’d been laughing at earlier. I pulled my chair away from the window, and to lighten my mood I turned the TV on and watched repeats of Angus Deayton era Have I Got News For You on Dave, or UKG2 as it was called then. I fell asleep in my chair after a while and woke up around half three. Out of curiosity I decided to take one more look out the window before I went to bed. Predictably, the van was gone.
I stopped trying to spot the driver after that, and for a long time I consciously avoided looking for the van. I still saw it every now and then, parked in a different spot every time, as per usual. Summer gave way to autumn, which in turn yielded to winter, and Christmas and the New Year passed. Then one late January night—or I should say one early February morning—I got up to go to bed and just happened to glance out the window, and saw that the van was parked right below my flat.
With the back doors wide open.
Looking down from that angle I couldn’t see very far inside, but my intrigue was well and truly piqued, so rather than go to bed I stood and watched, certain I was finally about to catch sight of the phantom driver. I might even discover exactly what he kept in there. Five minutes passed with no sign of him, and I wondered what the hell he was doing. Five more minutes went by, and I was getting fidgety. Suddenly a thought occurred—what if I were to go down and have a gander inside? It was a ridiculous thought, one I’d never imagined myself entertaining. I’m not a nosy person by nature, yet I’d developed such a fascination with that van. I debated with myself for a while, wondering whether I should, whether I dared, and just what the hell I’d say if the driver turned up. “Nice van you got there!” Yeah, that’d work.
Finally I decided, sod it—I had to know what was in that van. I grabbed my keys and left the flat, the light in the communal hallway flickering on as I did so, locked the door behind me and headed for the lift. On the way down I almost lost my nerve—or came to my senses, both amount to the same thing—and I’d decided to press the button to go back to the third floor when the lift stopped. Then it juddered to a halt, and I jumped off and went straight out the front door.
The air was absolutely biting in the car park, and I wished I’d worn some thicker clothes—I was clad in a T-shirt, track suit bottoms and trainers, none of which did a damn thing to repel the winter chill. I hadn’t bothered to put on a coat or anything because I didn’t want this golden opportunity to pass, and because I didn’t intend to stay out there for long. Rubbing my exposed arms and inhaling painfully cold air, I looked to my left and spotted the van about thirty feet away. The back doors were still open, and there was still no sign of the driver. The cab was empty, and a quick scan of the car park told me I was alone. The pub had been locked up for the night, and the windows in the flat and the houses in the street were dark. I started walking towards the van, my nervous excitement going someway to negate the cold. As I got closer I noticed the door nearest me swaying lightly, and it was at this point that it finally dawned on me that there was something highly suspicious about this whole scenario. Where the hell was the driver, and why had he left the doors open?
I really should have turned back then, and I wish I had. It was stupid going down there to begin with, and I knew that at the time, but it didn’t stop me—I’d got this far, now I had to know. I walked around the door and stood facing the interior, feeling like Indiana Jones on the threshold of the Temple of Doom. I couldn’t see much to start with because it was too dark. Within seconds my eyes had adjusted enough that I could make out vague shapes inside, and I was somewhat disappointed to realize the van was stacked with empty plastic baskets. What the hell I expected it to be full of I don’t know, but after months of wondering and after coming down here in the dead of night to see it seemed a bit of an anticlimax. Then I noticed there was something else. Right at the back, between the boxes I could see something lying on the floor. I squinted to try and make it out, and then my mouth fell open and I felt a chill that came entirely from within.
Because poking out from behind those baskets was a human arm.
At first I thought it a toy, a joke. But even in that dull light I could tell it was real, and I realized that this whole thing was a trap, and I’d gone and fallen right into it. I spun, readying myself to try and fend off the attack I knew was coming, but there was no-one there. I had maybe half second to register surprise, then my inner voice screamed at me, Get back inside! and I did as it instructed, racing back to the front door, pulling my keys out of my track suit pocket as I went, and I almost ran through the glass door when I got there. I thrust the fob to the sensor, but it wouldn’t work! Then I realized I had it backwards, so I corrected my mistake and yanked the door open, darted inside and pulled it closed after me, and it resisted but finally clicked shut. I ran to the lift and pressed the open button, risking a quick look back at the door—there was no-one outside—and the lift doors parted, and for one horrible instant I thought, Oh God, he’s in the lift! then I saw it was empty. I dived in and pressed the button for the third floor, and when the lift stopped I sprinted straight back to my flat, the key held ready, and I let myself in and locked the door behind me.
Once I was inside I felt the adrenaline drain out of my body, and I leaned against the wall as I caught my breath. That had been so close! I knew I had to do something, I had to call police before the driver came back. Then I heard a door opening somewhere in the corridor outside—it sounded like the door to the stairs. I heard footsteps, quiet and purposeful and heading in the direction of my flat, and I told myself, It’s probably just one of the other tenants when the footsteps stopped right outside my door.
And the handle started to turn.
My eyes bulged, and every muscle in my body became taught as I stared at the handle, unable to move, unable to blink. He was right outside! The door moved forward perhaps a millimetre and I realized he was leaning against it, trying to force his way in. I thought, He’s gonna do it, he’s gonna break it down and then I won’t stand a chance! Then I heard him step back, and the door handle released. I heard a breathy sigh that froze my heart, and at last those stealthy footsteps started moving away from the door. The stair doors opened, then closed again, and the corridor outside was silent. A few minutes later I heard the sound of an engine turning over, and I listened in the dark as the van drove away, it’s mysterious, murderous owner still unseen.
I spent the rest of the night sitting in my hallway, not daring to move, and I swear I’ve never been so afraid in my life. I panicked when the light outside flicked off, even though I knew that meant there was no-one out there, and that it would come on again the second someone stepped into the corridor. The next day I moved a heavy chest into the hallway, which half-killed me, and every night since then I’ve shoved that chest against the door, just in case. I sleep in an armchair facing the hallway now, a baseball bat I bought from a charity shop in my lap. I say “sleep”, but it’s a rare night that I drop my guard long enough to get more than a couple of hours worth of shut-eye. And I almost never look out that window anymore.
I never saw the van again, and I never told anyone about that night. What could I say? There was nothing I could do—I couldn’t remember the company name on the side, I have no idea what the registration number was, and I never saw the driver. It was just a generic white van. What was I supposed to say to the police? “Excuse me officer, but one of the hundreds of white van drivers in this town is a murderer. Which one? How the hell should I know?” I could walk by the bastard in the street, and I wouldn’t even know it. But he knows me, and he knows where I live.
For that reason I’ve decided to move. I’ve found another flat, and it’s maybe a tenth as nice as this one, but it’s also all the way over on the other side of town. Everything’s arranged, and I’ll be going in a week’s time. Still, I know I’ll never truly feel safe again, and my conscience will never leave me alone. I’ll have to suck it up and learn to live with the guilt, and try hard not to think of that night, and about the hand lying in the back of that frigid van.
Its blood-stained fingers clawing feebly at the floor.
Frigid by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.