Drowning the Light

by Jo Baker. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2022

I call them the Watchers.

They live in the forest beyond. I have never seen them, nor spoken to them, but sometimes late at night I can hear their whispers.

My Papa, he has learned to shut his ears to the sound. He has learned to shut his ears to most sounds.

Basil-cat sits at the window beside me, tail curling. We watch the road from the attic window. It snakes by the forest.

Papa is late. I know what that means. The bar has beckoned my Papa on his way home. I leave it as late as I can, until the sun bleeds the last of its day into the sky and the forest is thick and ominous beyond.

‘What do you think, Basil-cat,’ I say, softly. ‘Shall I go?’

He turns to look at me, almost as impenetrable as the forest itself. I should go. The house is silent around me. It offers no more answers than my Basil-cat.

Swallowing, I descend the stairs in the half light. Papa has not paid the electricity, we have no lights. I collect my courage with my coat and step out into the cold night.

When I get there, the public house is lit like a beacon in this dark town. Pushing open the door, there is a rush of warmth, conviviality, the smell of crisps and a fire crackling in the corner. But underneath, a sallow sweetness like beer on old carpet.

He is there, slumped over his pint glass like an old coat, eyes glassy as optics.

My girl!’ He spots me, a fuzzy smile covers his face, ‘Lovely girl.’ He buries his head in my shoulder, nuzzling me, forehead sticky. ‘Best thing that ever happened to me.’

‘Come on Papa.’ I push his head back upright, slip my arm around his trunk. ‘We need to go home.’