Kind of spooky...the dimly lit alleyway, but it was loads shorter than going ‘all around the houses’. Fumbles in her bag for a torch; it was there somewhere. She remembered picking it up that morning shortly after breakfast, knowing it was going to be a late night. Parent’s evening at a local comprehensive where she taught ‘A’ level Psychology. What a drag those evenings were, and a waste of time. The parents of under-achievers rarely came, which spoke for itself, but those with bright kids – everything going for them, always turned up. Crazy that! It was her first term and she was fast discovering she’d far more to learn than her pupils.
Rejoining the main drag, her route takes her past a couple of antique shops, the inevitable estate agent’s, a butcher’s and one of those ‘twee’, housing developments, eventually joining the single-track road leading to her house.
Leaving the majority of streetlamps behind, she heads for open country, and glances up as bats flit here and there. They roost in the old mill with its redundant mill race, and she’s often wondered what it’s like inside. Buildings have always fascinated her – especially ones with history which this place surely had. Another bat swoops low – just over the top of her head. Instinctively, she ducks. Bats are supposed to have fantastic radar, or so she’s been told, but she’s not taking any chances, and it’s just then she hears them; footsteps – some way in the distance, but footsteps nevertheless.
Uneasily, she carries on, then stops, and listens again. Not a sound, save the rustle of leaves and the occasional bark of a muntjac. ‘Paranoid’ is what she is, and she knows it; ‘frightened of her own shadow’, as her mother succinctly puts it. But OK, most probably it is all down to her vivid imagination; bearing in mind, she does live somewhat ‘out in the sticks’ – a mile and a half, as the crow flies, from the nearest market-town, where her school is.
Almost there and the welcome sight of her porch-light, like a beacon, beckoning. Hers was the only house lit up at night; her elderly neighbours considered outside lights ‘a waste of electricity’, set in their ways as they were. Already, she can taste that customary gin and tonic she invariably treated herself to; a quick shower, slippers on...Pavarotti singing his heart out. Idyllic – her modest, chalet bungalow right on the edge of farmland, in a small hamlet of four similar properties. It was rented, but she aspired to buy it, one of these days. Pie in the sky, but, like everyone, she had her dreams.
Fishing in her pocket for the door-keys, she hears footsteps again; the crunch of gravel. Only now they’re far closer, and gathering momentum. ‘Make a dash for it! What the hell are you hanging around for?’ yells a voice in her head, but her heart’s pounding fit to burst. Kicking off her shoes, she breaks into a run.
“Hang on!” A shrill voice slices through the darkness. “Didn’t mean to startle you, only...I think you might have dropped your mobile phone, love. Phew! I’ve been trying to catch you up for ages. Here it is, love. You should be more careful, you know. I’ve ‘ad mine nicked out of me back-pocket on more than one occasion!”
Shit! It must have fallen out of her handbag when she was searching for the bloody torch. “Isn’t that just like me?” she muses, half-smiling and turning to thank him. Whoever her ‘Good Samaritan’ was, it was kind of him to have gone to so much trouble; to have followed her all this way. He’s standing under a solitary streetlamp – hand outstretched; something glinting in the ice-blue, neon light. And she sees her mobile phone. On the kitchen table, by the marmalade jar...where she’d left it that morning.