The walk back from work was cold, dark and miserable. Alice had to walk home from work every night as she didn’t like to sit on a bus in traffic for over an hour, when her walk home was just a mere fifteen minutes. But it always felt longer in the winter, as if she had the sudden urge to get home quicker than before – though time wasn’t moving any faster. In the summer she took her time, enjoying the 9-5 job and a beautiful summer’s evening walk home. Feeling the little gnat flies touching her skin or the odd one bouncing towards her face as she passed green bushes, some blooming with flowers and others buzzing from the bees. Dog walkers and joggers taking advantage of the lighter evenings and people sitting by the swan pond enjoying the sounds. Winter was dark, cold and why did places look so different at night? Unrecognizable, especially walking through the park. Alice didn’t remember the benches sometimes, and often wondered if she ever did pay attention to this place in the summer.
The cold air became unbearable, Alice made sure she was wrapped up warm and her bag safely zipped. She walked deeper into the park, the middle bit as she would describe it when meeting up with friends in her younger days. – The legitimate half way meeting point.
It became a wider open space, and more grass with trees and a little path coming off the main walk down to what was a smaller pond. She liked the smaller pond, it was almost unnoticeable – Even in the day time, the bushes and old trees made it look very private, as though nobody should be there. It gave her the creeps at night, remembering the stories she heard growing up about children and adults going missing around that area in the olden days – When it was much more of a bigger pond and less greener pastures. Some people were never found, and they always left something behind though – Nothing like a shoe, but a fragment of clothing. It was a place very strange to Alice, but also fascinating. At times she imagined it to be a little world of it’s own that nobody could see but a community living amongst use everyday, invisible. Somewhere that would be the perfect place to escape.
The cold fog began to rise from the floor and surround the trees like someone had let off one of those fog machines at a bad 80’s disco, but it was light fog and lingered eerily – Clinging to the air, and just like that the little pond had vanished.
Alice looked back, and couldn’t see anything anymore – Not even a street light from back where the park toilets were. She began to feel colder, and became more alert as tonight the walk home unnerved her.
‘Don’t be daft now, you’ve done this walk a million times. Chill out’ – she whispered, almost tempted to reach for her phone and call her mum to ease the rest of the walk but her hands were too comfy inside her coat pockets.
She was however, grateful for the early Christmas present from her mum, she did need a decent winter coat. Alice was even allowed to choose it, dark navy parker with a faux fur hood and fleece lining. A bit more pricey than her usual coats but her mum insisted on getting a decent one. ‘You can’t go round wearing that tatty thing thing, you need a good coat.’ She would express in the middle of the shop floor. Her mum always expressed herself, and sometimes a little too often. But that was her, she liked to speak her mind and didn’t care what the outcome or reaction.
Alice respected that, even if it did embarrass her from time to time – She understood why her mum was like that. Coming out of an abusive relationship with her step dad changed her. After sinking into depression and pulling herself back up, her mum was a new woman. A little less happy than what she remembers but stronger and still fighting to live like the rest of us. Alice wished her mum would find happiness and joy again, her mum was her best friend. If she was down, Alice was down and worrying until she knew her mum was okay. They were all eachother had, Alice had nobody but her mum – Not even a friend to hang out with or meet up for drinks after a long Friday at work. A twenty seven year old living like a loser.
The walk would be almost over, but she wasn’t even sure herself now as Alice felt as though she had been in this park forever. The fog got thicker, and the night was dark leaving the distance and shadows around her look like a deep navy black hole. She stopped for a brief second – Everything around her fell silent the air still and nothing moved, except a small cracking noise coming from behind her. Alice turned and saw nothing, then a rustling noise came from the direction she was walking – She faced forward and again nothing. ‘Hello?’ she croaked, her face cold and throat dry.
The snapping and cracking got louder, and her mind convinced her she heard a little laugh amongst the trees. Alice did a slow three sixty turn, squinting her eyes to concentrate slowly on what she was looking for. Another rustle and this time she decided to walk, fast. ‘It’s okay just a squirrel, just a squirrel’ she breathed out.
She heard another laugh, and this time she felt eyes watching her burning deep into her skin. Was she hearing things, or could this be the moment something happens to her?
Not looking around, she focused her eyes straight ahead and picked up her pace which gradually turned into a jog. Alice got faster and the rustling picked up the same pace eventually both of them turning into a run. She tried to find what side of her it was coming from, but every time she looked to her left or right a figure of black would move quickly, so quick it left the fog unsettled. Who was following her? Her arms moved forward and back trying to give herself momentum to pick up the pace, she wanted this park to reach its end but it was as though the other side was nowhere to be seen.
Were her eyes playing tricks, or was it that dark that she really didn’t know when it would end. – Her legs were getting tired, and everything around her got darker and darker. Fast footsteps still copying her pace and little giggles echoed around her. – What was going on? As she was about to allow her legs defeat her, Alice saw a glowing light ahead. ‘I can make it, come on come on’ She shouted out, making sure whoever was following her heard.
Why hadn’t his person tried to jump out? Or did they have a gun, maybe they could of shot her. Guns didn’t seem to be a regular thing in Bluefield, the oh so lovely little town of Staffordshire. Who would want to shoot up a place that was made up of countryside, farms and hikers walks. It had the elements of a city but the outskirts were for the people that wanted peace and those who had the money. Working and living in the centre of it all reminded Alice of what a shrunken down New York would be.
The glowing light from a distance looked like one ball, which tricked Alice’s eyes into thinking she was nearing the end of the park – And as she grew closer she saw that it was what appeared to be fireflies. As she slowed down they all dispersed around her. The rustling and fast paced footwork stopped and the park was silent again, she looked around and could see her surroundings being lit up, she was safe and almost at the end. ‘Wow, how beautiful’ she whispered, thinking that if she spoke loud these little gifts of nature would fly away. As she reached out her hand, a sharp ‘psst’ came from behind a tree and within a flash the fire flies vanished. As if they had been turned off at the plug – Alice’s heart jumped and realised she was alone once again. But strangely, she felt safe and her body was a lot warmer. The fog slowly vanished and the black dark park wasn’t so black any more, her eyes had adjusted somehow – A little too late she thought, and without hesitating she walked at her normal pace taking in what had just happened.
Who was following her? Did the fireflies really just vanish like an instant. Maybe it was all a in her head, the fright of being alone playing tricks on her. Feeling confused, she pulled out her phone as it was vibrating. Her mum was calling.
‘Hello mum, you okay?’
‘Alice where in Gods name are you, I have been texting and calling you since five o’ clock. I am out of my mind with worry.’ Her mum almost bursting into tears.
It couldn’t be no later than half five? It was only a fifteen minute walk or so home, surely her mum wasn’t that worried. Alice checked the screen, it had just turned seven. That can’t be right?
‘Alice hello? Where are you?’ Her mum sounding a little angry with her now, as she would be if she’s driven herself to such a state of worry.
‘Mum, I am so so sorry. I had to stay behind from work then I must of left my phone on silent. I’m..nearly home now can we speak then my hands are freezing.’ – Alice said trying to sound calm and not a little worried about what was going on. She didn’t want to frighten her mum anymore.
‘Okay, make sure you tell me as soon as you get into that apartment and get warm. Speak in a bit love you’
‘Love you mum bye’
Alice fumbled putting her phone back, her heart was racing and her head was spinning. All that she could think of was to get home, be somewhere safe and get warm. She had no time to stand any longer in the dark trying to figure out where two hours of time had vanished too. She continued to walk and finally reached the end, she saw lights and a few cars parked along side the road where a small street of houses were. ‘Thank God’ – Alice picked up the pace with feelings of relief, as she exited the park she looked behind her and a flicker of light appeared and vanished once again.