5 October 2014

Short Story: 'Watching'

I love scary stories. The kind that make ghostly fingers run down your spine and have you leaving the hallway light on 'by accident' when you go to bed. I love long build-ups with an excellent twist, all the way down to two-sentence horror stories that freak you out way more than a couple hundred words should.

I've been building up a little collection of horror/suspense flash fiction for a while now. I posted one of the stories, Goblin Offerings, on the blog a few months ago. As we're into the month of Halloween October now I thought I'd pick up the pace a little.

This one, is the title story of the collection and the first one I wrote. I hope you enjoy!

You don’t walk home at night through the woods at the edge of Victoria Grove Park.

If someone were to tell you that they know a person who was burnt after playing with fireworks, you say, well, it was their own fault for playing with fireworks. And if someone tells you they know a person who was last seen late at night going into the woods at the edge of Victoria Grove Park, it’s a similar thing. It is the unspoken rule so universally known around here that it’s practically common sense.

Somebody is about to break that rule. 

Jenna Louise McKenzie is checking her phone for the time and wincing as she sees that she’s over three quarters of an hour late home. There are no texts or calls from her parents because they know where she has been, and who she has been with, and why she is so late. They are saving all their anger for when she walks through the front door in twenty minutes, the length of time it will take for her to walk all the way around the park from her boyfriend’s house.

She glances up as she passes the wrought-iron gates and pulls her jacket closed against the chill of the autumn night air. She grumbles a little to herself as she crosses the entrance to the park and thinks how she could drop twenty minutes down to ten if she could cut through across the park and through the woods.

Jenna stops. The thought crossing her mind is evident on her face. Why shouldn’t she? She takes a minute to work out why not. Something stirs in the back of her mind, a thing she has known forever but can’t remember ever being told. In the end, there is nothing to deter her from pulling her jacket closer around her body, checking the time hastily once more, and hurrying forward to push her weight against the stiff gates.

Around the still duck pond, past the silent bandstand, through the deserted play park with its skeletal climbing frame and gently swaying swing set. Jenna is looking at her phone again, her face illuminated by the eerie blue light of the screen. The wind has picked up and she has to repeatedly brush her flailing blonde hair from her face, absent-mindedly wishing she had brought a hat.

Jenna does not hesitate when the path she is on comes to the edge of the woods. She does not glance over her shoulder and she does not look up. In fact, she barely glances away from her mobile as she leaves the open park and is enveloped by the trees, her fingers continuing to tap out another text to the boyfriend she left just minutes ago.

Something snaps to Jenna’s right. She jumps at the sound and drops the phone which skitters across the stone path, throwing weak electric light through the gaps of the trees and skidding to a halt several feet away. The blue light flickers and dies, plunging Jenna into a heavy blackness and causing her to stumble in her search for the phone. She curses under her breath, the snapping noise dismissed in her annoyance at dropping her mobile.

She drops to her knees, hands reaching out blindly over the path and snatching at thin air. She hears a rustling sound up ahead and freezes; goose bumps erupt over her skin, the search for her phone forgotten. She jumps up and squints ahead at the path and through the surrounding trees. She sees nothing, but this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be seen.

“Is s-someone there?” Jenna calls out, in a voice that betrays her fear. Her eyes dart back and forth trying to pick out what had made the noise, her mind whirring frantically as she tries to convince herself it was a bird, a raccoon, a branch in the wind. Her eyes flash with thoughts of potential headlines for when her mutilated body is found tomorrow morning… she shakes the thought from her head and drops once more to the ground, scrabbling desperately for the mobile.

Jenna’s twisted nerves are already rattled, so when a could-be innocent whispering through the trees begins behind her she is on her feet swifter than a breath. Her pumps are pounding along the path at the kind of speed that would have surprised her, had her mind not been preoccupied with other thoughts. Her breath is short and ragged, and beads of cold perspiration glisten on her forehead as she throws herself along the path faster and faster until her muscles begin to burn. A choked sob escapes her throat and she steals a harrowing glance back over her shoulder. 

Jenna is so panicked and disorientated in the dark that it is only a matter of time until her feet catch on a fallen branch, or maybe it’s a sudden dip in the path. It doesn’t matter. Her legs are whipped from under her and she finds herself sprawled on the ground, spitting dirt from her mouth and jerking her body in an attempt to right herself as quickly as possible. She won’t get the time to. The girl is down, her lifeline has been removed, and it’s only too easy now to move from the darkness and descend on her soundless as a shadow.

You don’t walk home at night through the woods at the edge of Victoria Grove Park. It is the unspoken rule so universally known around here that it’s practically common sense. Which is why there is nobody here to hear Jenna Louise McKenzie’s terrified, haunting scream as it vibrates through the woods and echoes out across the park.

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