The Witching Hour
Sophie couldn't sleep.
A brilliant moonbeam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right on to her pillow.
The other children in the dormitory had been asleep for hours.
Sophie closed her eyes and lay quite still. She tried very hard to doze off.
It was no good. The moonbeam was like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face.
The house was absolutely silent. No voices came up from downstairs. There were no footsteps on the floor above either.
The window behind the curtain was wide open, but nobody was walking on the pavement outside. No cars went by on the street. Not the tiniest sound could be heard anywhere. Sophie had never known such a silence.
Perhaps, she told herself, this was what they called the witching hour.
The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world to themselves.
The moonbeam was brighter than ever on Sophie's pillow. She decided to get out of bed and close the gap in the curtains.
You got punished if you were caught out of bed after lights-out. Even if you said you had to go to the lavatory, that was not accepted as an excuse and they punished you just the same. But there was no one about now, Sophie was sure of that.
She reached out for her glasses that lay on the chair beside her bed. They had steel rims and very thick lenses, and she could hardly see a thing without them. She put them on, then she slipped out of bed and tip-toed over to the window.
When she reached the curtains, Sophie hesitated. She longed to duck underneath them and lean out of the window to see what the world looked like now that the witching hour was at hand.
She listened again. Everywhere it was deathly still.
The longing to look out became so strong she couldn't resist it. Quickly, she ducked under the curtains and leaned out of the window.
In the silvery moonlight, the village street she knew so well seemed completely different. The houses looked bent and crooked, like houses in a fairy tale. Everything was pale and ghostly and milky-white.
Across the road, she could see Mrs Rance's shop, where you bought buttons and wool and bits of elastic. It didn't look real. There was something dim and misty about that too.
Sophie allowed her eye to travel further and further down the street.
Suddenly she froze. There was something coming up the street on the opposite side.
It was something black ...
Something tall and black ...
Something very tall and very black and very thin.
It wasn't a human. It couldn't be. It was four times as tall as the tallest human. It was so tall its head was higher than the upstairs windows of the houses. Sophie opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her throat, like her whole body, was frozen with fright.
This was the witching hour all right.
The tall black figure was coming her way. It was keeping very close to the houses across the street, hiding in the shadowy places where there was no moonlight.
On and on it came, nearer and nearer. But it was moving in spurts. It would stop, then it would move on, then it would stop again.
But what on earth was it doing?
Ah-ha! Sophie could see now what it was up to. It was stopping in front of each house. It would stop and peer into the upstairs window of each house in the street. It actually had to bend down to peer into the upstairs windows. That's how tall it was.
It would stop and peer in. Then it would slide on to the next house and stop again, and peer in, and so on all along the street.
It was much closer now and Sophie could see it more clearly.
Looking at it carefully, she decided it had to be some kind of PERSON. Obviously it was not a human. But it was definitely a PERSON.
A GIANT PERSON, perhaps.
Sophie stared hard across the misty moonlit street. The Giant (if that was what he was) was wearing a long BLACK CLOAK.
In one hand he was holding what looked like a VERY LONG, THIN TRUMPET.
In the other hand, he held a LARGE SUITCASE.
The Giant had stopped now right in front of Mr and Mrs Goochey's house. The Goocheys had a greengrocer's shop in the middle of the High Street, and the family lived above the shop. The two Goochey children slept in the upstairs front room, Sophie knew that.
The Giant was peering through the window into the room where Michael and Jane Goochey were sleeping. From across the street, Sophie watched and held her breath.
She saw the Giant step back a pace and put the suitcase down on the pavement. He bent over and opened the suitcase. He took something out of it. It looked like a glass jar, one of those square ones with a screw top. He unscrewed the top of the jar and poured what was in it into the end of the long trumpet thing.
Sophie watched, trembling.
She saw the Giant straighten up again and she saw him poke the trumpet in through the open upstairs window of the room where the Goochey children were sleeping. She saw the Giant take a deep breath and whoof, he blew through the trumpet.
No noise came out, but it was obvious to Sophie that whatever had been in the jar had now been blown through the trumpet into the Goochey children's bedroom.
What could it be?
As the Giant withdrew the trumpet from the window and bent down to pick up the suitcase he happened to turn his head and glance across the street.
In the moonlight, Sophie caught a glimpse of an enormous long pale wrinkly face with the most enormous ears. The nose was as sharp as a knife, and above the nose there were two bright flashing eyes, and the eyes were staring straight at Sophie. There was a fierce and devilish look about them.
Sophie gave a yelp and pulled back from the window. She flew across the dormitory and jumped into her bed and hid under the blanket.
And there she crouched, still as a mouse, and tingling all over.
Under the blanket, Sophie waited.
After a minute or so, she lifted a corner of the blanket and peeped out.
For the second time that night her blood froze to ice and she wanted to scream, but no sound came out.
There at the window, with the curtains pushed aside, was the enormous long pale wrinkly face of the Giant Person, staring in. The flashing black eyes were fixed on Sophie's bed.
The next moment, a huge hand with pale fingers came snaking in through the window. This was followed by an arm, an arm as thick as a tree-trunk, and the arm, the hand, the fingers were reaching out across the room towards Sophie's bed.
This time Sophie really did scream, but only for a second because very quickly the huge hand clamped down over her blanket and the scream was smothered by the bedclothes.