Mind the Gap - By Christopher Golden

Chapter One

little birds

Even before she saw the house, Jazz knew that something was wrong. She could smell it in the air,

see it in the shifting shadows of the trees lining the street, hear it in the expectant silence. She could feel it

in her bones.

Dread gave her pause, and for a moment she stood and listened to the stillness. She wanted to run,

but she told her-self not to be hasty, that her mother had long since hardwired her for paranoia and so her

instincts should be trusted.

She hurried along a narrow, overgrown alleyway that emerged into a lane behind the row of terraced

town houses. Not many people came this way, out beyond the gardens, and she was confident that she

could move closer to home without being seen.

But seen by whom?

Her mother's voice rang through her head: Always assume there's someone after you until you

prove there isn't. Maybe everyone had that cautionary voice in the back of their mind; their conscience,

their Jiminy Cricket. For Jazz, it always sounded like her mother.

She walked along the path, carefully and slowly, avoiding piles of dog shit and the glistening shards of

used needles. Every thirty seconds she paused and listened. The dreadful si-lence had passed and the

sounds of normalcy seemed to fill the air again. Mothers shouted at misbehaving children, ba-bies hollered,

doors slammed, dogs barked, and TVs blared inanely into the spaces between. She let out a breath she

hadn't been aware of holding. Maybe the heat and grime of the city had gotten to her more than usual


Trust your instincts, her mother would say.

"Yeah, right." Jazz crept along until she reached her home's back gate, then paused to take stock

once more. The normal sounds and smells were still there, but, beyond the gate, the weighted silence

remained. The windows were dark and the air felt thick, the way it did before a storm. It was as if her

house was surrounded by a bubble of stillness, and that in itself was disquieting. Perhaps she's just

asleep, Jazz thought. But, more unnerved than ever, she knew she should take no chances.

She backed along the alley for a dozen steps and waited outside her neighbor's gate. She peered

through a knothole in the wood, scoping the garden. The house seemed to be silent and abandoned, but not

in the same ominous fashion as her own. Birds still sang in this garden. She knew that Mr. Barker lived

alone, that he went to work early and re-turned late every day. So unless his cleaners were in, his house

would be deserted.

"Good," Jazz whispered. "It'll turn out to be nothing, but..." But at least it'll relieve the boredom.. To

and from school, day in, day out, few real friends, and her mother constantly on edge even though the

Uncles made sure they never had any financial worries. No worries at all, the Uncles always said___

Yeah, it'd turn out to be nothing, but better to be careful. If she ever told her mother she'd had some

kind of dreadful intuition, even in the slightest, and had ignored it, the woman would be furious. Her mother

trusted no one, and even though Jazz couldn't help but follow her in those beliefs, still she sometimes hated

it. She wanted a life. She wanted friends.

She opened Mr. Barker's gate. The wall between their gardens was too high to see over, and from

the back of his garden she could see only two upstairs windows in her house —her own bedroom window

and the bathroom next to it. She looked up for a few seconds, then brashly walked the length of the garden

to Barker's back door.

Nobody shouted, nobody came after her. The neigh-borhood noise continued. But to her left, over the

wall, that deathly silence persisted.

Something is wrong, she thought.

Mr. Barker's back door was sensibly locked. Jazz closed her eyes and turned the handle a couple of

times, gauging the pressure and resistance. She nodded in satisfaction; she should be able to pick it.

Taking a small pocketknife from her jeans, she opened the finest blade, slipped it into the lock, and

felt around.

A bird called close by, startling her. She glanced up at the wall and saw a robin sitting on its top,

barely ten feet away. Its head jerked this way and that, and it sang again.

Above the robin, past the wall, a shape was leaning from Jazz's bedroom window.

She froze. It was difficult to make out any details, silhou-etted as the shape was against the sky, but

when it turned, she saw the outline of a ponytail, the sharp corner of a shirt collar.

It was the Uncle who told her to call him Mort.