No.38 is an old lady, and a little after who was preparing for bed. The maid had just made her nightcap and the cup and saucer now stood on the bedside table. It was a grey night outside, grey and wet, it was raining. No.38 sat on the edge of her bed drinking her nightcap. Suddenly through the window she thought she detected movement, only for a second, but she was sure a shadow had passed by the window. She got up in the safe knowledge that it was after 8 and therefore curfew, and the door to her cottage would be soundly locked against any intruder. Putting the cup and saucer down on the bedside table she stood up and crossed the floor to the window and looked out………She screamed, screamed and screamed again!
In the Control Room an Observer reported a disturbance at 38 Private.
“Supervisor, Number 38 has just been screaming.”
“Probably a nightmare” said the Supervisor.
“I don’t think so madam, she hasn’t been to sleep yet!”
“Put up camera 29, sound and vision” the Supervisor ordered.
The view on the wall screen covered the lounge of 38 Private, then camera 22 the kitchen, 35 the bathroom, and finally camera 44 the bedroom, and there was No.38 lying in a dead faint on the floor! Security and a medic were dispatched almost at once, while Observers were put to the task of scanning the outside of the cottage.
“Employ thermal camera” the Supervisor ordered “as well as infra red.”
A thorough search was made, and widened to take in more of the surrounding village. And yet at the back of 38 Private were the woods into which any prowler could disappear.
“Perhaps we might catch a glimpse of the intruder on one of the surveillance cameras” No.60 suggested.
The Supervisor turned to look at his assistant “Good idea, we can leave that task to you can we?”
No.60 took the hint.
Security were also on the scene, they searched the area but there was no sign of anyone out and about after curfew, the Observers were instructed to keep a sharp look out. No.38 was taken to the hospital where a doctor checked her over, she was uninjured but she had received a nasty shock and was kept in hospital overnight for observation.
“He was there at the window” 38 told No.2 the next day.
“He was just standing there staring in.”
“Can you describe him?”
“He was tall like you……he had dark hair like you….come to think of it he looked like you, it was you” the old woman began to panic, calling out for the nurse.
A nurse and doctor arrived at 38’s bed and began to calm the patient.
No.12 gave his superior a quizzical look “I say sir, the old woman identified you as the prowler…..you’re not the prowler are you sir?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, do I look like a prowler!”
“Well sir, according to the old woman…..”
“Look Number 12 you had better catch this prowler and get him under lock and key!” No.2 ordered.
“Yes you sir!”
“Why me sir?”
“You’re always reading Sherlock Holmes stories, I should think that makes you the ideal man for the job.”
“I don’t spend all my time reading Sherlock Holmes stories.”
“No, it’s that other chap as well.”
“What other chap sir?”
“Cribb, that’s the fella Sergeant Cribb.”
“I don’t think I’m qualified sir, I really don’t.”
“Put all posts on yellow alert, and orange alert, have the Guardian on patrol
“Yes Number 2.”
One question which wasn’t asked, what is it the prowler wants?
The whole village was put on high alert, the Observers kept a sharp lookout, the outlying posts were armed as they kept watch. And Rover the Guardian patrolled the village like a guard dog guarding the chicken coup! It was decided that there must be something about 38 Private which the prowler was interested in. Perhaps the cottage contained something of importance. So whilst No.38 was still in the hospital the decision was made to search the cottage. But it was as it seemed, the home of a little old lady, and contained nothing of any significance or importance.
“Perhaps the prowler is some kind of pervert!”
“A peeping Tom perhaps” was No.2’s suggestion.
“I say, you might have something there” agree No.12.
“How old would you say Number 38 is?”
“Seventy-three. If the prowler is a peeping Tom, don’t you think he would pick on a much younger woman?”
“Yes sir, but……..”
“No, I still think it’s something to do with the cottage.”
“But there has been no sign of the prowler these past days.”
“That’s because he’s clever. We’ll relax security, deactivate Rover, rescind the yellow alert.
Normal surveillance, let’s draw this prowler
out into the open.”
“Very good sir.”
“Number 12, I have an important assignment for you.”
It was just after curfew that No.12 found himself hiding in the bushes close to 38 Private, and it was beginning to rain. He had been there for five hours and nothing. But then there was movement, movement inside the cottage. Emerging from the bushes No.12 approached the cottage and peered in through the window. The old woman, No.38, was sat on the edge of her bed drinking her nightcap. Putting the cup and saucer down on the bedside table she stood up and crossed the floor to the window and looked out…She screamed, screamed and screamed again!
In the Control Room an Observer reported a disturbance in 38 Private.
“Orange alert” was the order “orange alert.”
From the depths of the sea the white membranic mass of the Guardian emerged, and skimmed at speed across the waves towards the village. The Supervisor contacted No.2 who made his way to the Control Room.
“Well what is it?”
“A disturbance at 38 Private sir. The old woman is lying on the floor in a dead faint……………. again! The Guardian is about to arrive on the scene. Put up camera 22 sound and infra red.”
A figure could be seen outside the cottage, then the sound of the Guardian, a sound of Gregorian chant crossed by the noise of a bicycle pump, and someone breathing through an aqua lung. The figure turned and in an instant it was on the prowler, who tried desperately to fight the thing off, clawing at the membrane which now covered his face, cutting off the air until its prey fell to the ground.
Number 2 sat in the black globe chair behind the grey curved desk in his office. The steel doors slid open and two men in black and red striped jerseys manhandled the slumped figure down the ramp, across the floor and sat him down into a chair. Then stood back a little way.
“So, it was you all the time, I’m surprised. What was the fascination of that cottage?” No.2 demanded to know.
The figure of No.12 was beginning to revive “You, you think I’m the prowler?”
“You were seen skulking in the bushes, why?”
“I wanted to catch the prowler.”
“But you are the prowler. You were seen by Number 38 leering in through the window. It was you who made her scream and faint!”
“Me! I saw movement inside the cottage, I thought the prowler had got in.”
“That was Number 38 about to go to bed!”
“Why were you skulking in the bushes Number 12?”
“I thought to wait and catch the prowler red handed.”
“And that’s your story?”
“It was my assignment!”
“So you say. Was it Number 38 you had an interest in, or was it something in the cottage?”
“I wanted to catch the prowler.”
“I say you are the prowler, you wanted to scare Number 38 out of the cottage so that you could retrieve this” No.2 said producing something wrapped up in a filthy cloth which he dropped on his desk.”
“You don’t know Number 12?”
“Would I ask?”
No.2 unfolded the filthy cloth “This is what they call…….”
No.12 stared at the thing on the desk, he was afraid of it, but fascinated by it too. He began to jibber inanely like a man possessed, a man gone mad, until he fell out of the chair and onto the floor. His whole body shook and writhed. The two security men stepped forward and tried to restrain the man on the floor, but he collapsed in not a dead faint, but dead.
It was never explained what it was, this thing wrapped in a filthy cloth. Nor was it ever known why No.12 sought to find it. But what is known, is that the thing wrapped in its filthy rag was replaced in the chimney where it was found. No.38 was re-housed in the Old People’s Home, and the former 38 Private was boarded up.
It was the new No.2’s first day in office.
“I want to take a walk through the village” she told her assistant No.22.
“There are several pressing matters this morning.”
“All in good time 22.”
The two set off from the Green Dome, down the steps and turning right at the bottom. No.2 with an old school scarf wrapped about her shoulders, and carrying an umbrella shooting sick. Suddenly she stopped in the middle of the road.
“That cottage there.”
“Yes Number 2.”
“Why has it been left to go to rack and ruin?”
“It was sealed up some time ago.”
“I….I don’t know Number 2.”
“Well find out would you, and in the meantime get gardeners to clear the undergrowth. Send builders and decorators in to make the cottage habitable once more.”
“Yes Number 2.”
The maid had just made No.25’s nightcap and placing it on the bedside table bid the young woman goodnight.
“Goodnight” 25 replied emerging from the bathroom. She went into the bedroom and sat brushing her hair. Crossing the room to draw the curtains it was then that she screamed and screamed enough to wake the dead.
The face at the window stared in with burning eyes as the young woman collapsed in a dead faint on the floor. The face kept staring into the room, a long pointed tongue licked its lips.
The nightshift had just begun in the Control Room when an Observer turned in his chair
“Supervisor, a disturbance at 25 Private. The young woman is unconscious on the floor, and there’s a prowler at the window.”
“Yellow alert all posts” ordered the Supervisor, then “
But it was all too late. By the time the white membranic mass of the Guardian appeared on the scene the prowler had already entered the cottage and gone, taking No.25 with it!
Be seeing you