Content Advisory: Contains scenes of suspense.
The train reached the station, stopping with a jolt.
Natalie looked up from her book. ‘Lewisham’, the platform sign read. Damn, it was her stop! Quickly, she leapt to her feet and rushed down the carriage to the doors. She pressed the button to open them and jumped from the train and onto the platform.
Behind her, the doors hissed shut and the train thrummed back to life, pulling away from the station. The platform was deserted. No one else had left the train and the isolation felt oppressive, despite being on the outskirts of London.
Natalie stuffed her paperback into her bag and stepped off the train platform. She made her way through the wrought iron gates leading to the road. Above her, the moon hung low, fat and white in the night sky, diluting the light from the streetlamps.
Across the road, a solitary car’s headlights cut through the night, heading towards her. The asphalt shimmered and shivered in the cold light. Natalie paused at the side of the road, waiting for the vehicle to pass, and then half-jogged to the other side of the street.
It was late and she had only just caught the last train from London’s Canary Wharf where she worked. Some guys in the bar that night had simply not wanted to go home. Even after she’d called last orders and started pulling down the shutters, they still hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to leave. It was Monday night, so there hadn’t been any doormen on, and the rest of the bar staff had already gone home. She’d thought a call to the cops was going to be needed, but finally the men got the message and drank up.
Now all she wanted to do was crawl into the warm comfort of her bed. Though she knew taking shortcuts at this time of night wasn’t a good idea, she couldn’t resist the temptation of getting home quicker. A path running alongside the train track diverted her from the necessity of walking the much longer route through town. Despite the dangers of walking down a deserted pathway at night, it would cut a good fifteen minutes off her walk home. She fought with herself for a moment, her common sense trying to overrule her body’s desires, but in the end her body won out.
She ducked down the narrow pathway, away from the road and towards the train track. A six-foot chain-link fence divided the rails from the path, acting as a deterrent to any mindless teenagers who decided playing chicken with the trains was a good form of entertainment.
Gradually, the path took her away from the train tracks and deeper into the small patch of woodland. Either side of the footpath, skeletal trees clawed their way up towards the huge moon. The bitter November night kissed her cheeks and she buried herself deeper into the folds of her coat.
She stared down at her feet as she walked, counting her steps as though she were in a marching band: One...Two...One…Two… The walk was hypnotic, lulling her into a place where time had no meaning and the rest of the world existed in a separate dimension.
Around her, the wind moved through the branches of the trees, in such a way it were as though the trees themselves were whispering her name.
Her walk slowed, her eyebrows knitting together. How strange that the acoustics could be so perfect. She shivered again and pulled the coat closer. She was grateful for the streetlight above her head; if this path had been unlit, she would never have dreamt of walking this way.
Then she heard it again, the gentle whisper of her name.
The walk slowed to a stop and she peered into the trees. Was someone in there? Someone calling to her? Sharp tears of fear pricked the backs of her eyes and her heart thumped, quickening its beat.
It was impossible to believe that not only was someone hiding in the trees, but they also just happened to know her, and know her name. Natalie believed in coincidences, but not that much. She had a healthy dose of skepticism. Whatever the sound was, she was sure it hadn’t been a person calling to her. The hour was late and darkness surrounded her, the perfect scenario for her imagination to run away with itself. She just needed to keep walking. Another ten minutes and she would pop out the other side of the narrow pathway, on the other side of town.
She would be grateful to see the bright lights of the couple of takeaways and the cheap off-license-come grocery store opposite the exit. This was London. Even at this time of night, the shops would still be open, catering for the nightclub trade.
She kept walking, picking up her pace. Above her head, the branches of the trees came together, creating a canopy, a tunnel of sharp twigs and stilted branches. In the summer, this would be a walk of luscious vegetation, cool shade from the sun. In the depths of a bitter autumn, it was like being enclosed beneath the clasped hands of long-dead lovers.
Again came the sound of someone whispering her name. Adrenaline speared through her, clutching at her heart, stealing her breath from her lungs. Above her head, the branches rustled and clicked together like bones.
Her heart thumped audibly and her hands balled into fists, her nails digging painfully into the palms of her hands. Something wasn’t right here and it wasn’t just the feeling of being spooked. It was the certain sensation of being watched, of feeling eyes upon her, and not just one set, but surrounding her.
The trees rustled, each naked branch creaking against the other like the wooden bow of a boat on the ocean. They sounded as if they were talking to each other in hushed whispers, passing a secret from one to the next.
What the hell had she been thinking, coming this way? She knew there was the possibility of danger, of a madman leaping from the trees and abducting and raping her, yet all it had taken was that split second decision. She ignored the sensible part of her, just so she could save a fifteen minute walk. Should she turn back? Go back the way she came and then walk through town? The entrance to the path and woodland was still closer than the exit.
Yet somehow she didn’t want to turn back, as if giving into this irrational fear would make it more real. She was scared that if she turned to run, panic would take hold and she would lose her rational self. Better to just keep walking, keep her head down, and pretend she didn’t feel something inextricably wrong around her. Pretend she didn’t hear the trees whispering her name or feel their branches hug tighter above her head, as if trying to embrace her.
As she continued to walk, dried leaves of russet browns and yellows crunched beneath foot like broken glass. The cold burnt the insides of her nostrils, the chill of the night reducing the scent of industrial smell of the rail track.
She was grateful for the soft orange glow of the streetlight. Without its light, the path would be in almost pitch black. Natalie could still see the white of the moon peeping through the silhouetted branches of the trees. It looked like the moon of a science fiction movie, one where the moon was too close to the earth, an impending doom.
Natalie kept her head down, her neck and ears tucked down low within the collar of her coat. The branches rustled and creaked above her. She glanced up. Were they lower than before? Surely they had tightened around her, knitting together? Between the branches, less of the moon was visible now and the ground seemed darker than before, the shadows thicker.
She should call someone; just let someone else know where she was. She wanted to hear the sound of another person’s voice—one that wasn’t whispering her name.
Her handbag, bumped against her hip. Her flat-mates would both be in bed. They worked regular nine-to-fives and they wouldn’t be happy about being woken up, but it would be worth their wrath to connect with another human being and have them tell her how ridiculous she was being.
Natalie paused on the pathway as she pulled open the flap on her satchel-style bag. Her breathing sounded heavy and labored—as if she had been running—and it only made her more aware of her isolation and how close panic was. She could feel it creeping upon her, like the sensation she was not alone in a room, like fingers trailing lightly down the nape of her neck.
She scrabbled around, pushing aside the paperback she had been reading, her fingers feeling for the cool, slim plastic of her phone.
Damn, where the hell was it?
Natalie pulled open the couple of small front pockets of the bag, designed for keeping things like her phone in, but, except for some old receipts and a bit of change, they were empty.
Now she saw her phone, but only in her mind. The mobile sat on the back of the bar, beside the till. After all the commotion at the bar, she had been in such a rush to get the last train she had completely forgotten to pick it up.
Sharp crack of twigs made her jump and she started around.
“Who’s there?” she called out, her voice horribly loud in the still, cold night.
“Stop it! Whoever you are, this isn’t funny.”
She listened again, her ears straining. Surely she wasn’t imagining this? Surely this wasn’t just acoustics and her over-active imagination playing tricks on her?
Would her flat-mates even notice if she didn’t come home? Would they just think she’d gone out in the city after work, or maybe stayed at a friend’s house? If she’d left her bedroom door shut, they might not even realize she wasn’t in her bed. They all kept such different hours, it could even be a couple of days before they finally realized they hadn’t seen her.
Suddenly, the feeling of loneliness swept over her, weighing her down. How awful not to be missed. At the age of twenty-eight, Natalie thought she would have been settled with a husband, maybe even considering children. Instead, she was alone. Tears filled her eyes and she blinked them away, furious with herself. She told herself she wasn’t going to cry over him anymore. The man who had left her.
Natalie pushed the memory away. It had been a year now, but every time she believed herself to be over it, or at least healing, the pain was back with renewed force, stabbing her in a way that left her breathless and stunned.
The wind moved the branches above her head, whispering and creaking around her. If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought they had a life of their own.
Long Dead Lovers will conclude on Monday, 11th July.
If you would like to catch up on any of our posts or get a preview of the rest of this month's stories, you can purchase the eBook, Digital Digest, Volume 1, from Amazon and Barnes & Noble for only $0.99!
Copyright © 2011 Marissa Farrar.
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.