It was mid-afternoon in June but the weather was as cold, grey and wet as winter. The trees arched overhead, their delicate hands interlacing, forming a rustling green tunnel which forced the path ahead into a patch of circular darkness. The dappled half-light made the concrete between the overgrown rubbish-strewn edges and tumble down walls indistinct, and my shoes would occasionally slip or sink into soft mud. Everywhere was littered by broken branches and fallen leaves from the recent storm – a storm whose remnants still stirred the tops of the trees; the leaves softly sighing.
I was on my own. But it didn’t feel like it. I kept looking over my shoulder to the path behind me. There wasn’t anything there – but I felt watched, stalked. I hurried on shaking my head at my discomfort. I could hear the road noise not that far away and felt foolish, a grown man scared by shadows.
I focused on picking a way through the debris on the path and tried to increase my pace, the petrol can clasped in my hand, its weight reassuring. I had taken this short-cut thinking it would help me get back quicker to the girls, left stranded in the car, but instead it felt like it was taking twice as long.
I trod deliberately on a wormy piece of wood that snapped with a loud satisfying crack. There was another crack behind me – a delayed and yet different sounding echo. I turned around expecting to see another person, who had by chance also stepped on a twig, but there was no one there. I stood and stared at the path behind me, breathing hard. Nothing moved apart from shadows cast by the trees.
A chill crept up my legs. I knew I had to get to the girls but I didn’t want to turn my back to the emptiness behind me.
There was something there, I was sure. An animal or something watching – smirking at my fear.
I silently cursed myself for having an overactive imagination.
The first stab of intense pain in my chest stole my breath. It was quickly followed by another and another. It felt as if something – a hand – was moving through bone and flesh. Five cold fingers burnt inside me – like a touch of ice. They surrounded my heart and then squeezed together. I sank to my knees. I had no air in my lungs to scream.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. I fell backwards. The petrol can clattered to the ground next to me. The trees filled my view. Their shadows played over my face and a cool breeze carried away my final breath, as it lingered on my lips.
In the moment between darkness and light, I could see the beast crouched over me. Its toothy grin. Its hand buried deep inside me.