The cold air hit Alena hard in the face, she tried to wiggle her mouth and smile, but it was numb and tight. Alena loved the winter; the cold air was refreshing, and it helped her in the mornings when she really needed to wake up and face the day. Cold air smacking her right in the face and eyes, making them water before she had even put any mascara on. That instant cool feeling hitting your lungs and breathing in the morning air. She never understood why the air was so different in the AM, you could smell everything from the dew-covered grass, to the damp moss covered stone slabs. Alena found it more bracing when she made her fifteen-minute walk through the park to work, and the beautiful sunlight slowly seeped through the gaps between plants and trees. Birds would tweet as if they were also joining her and off to work themselves, or maybe they were leaving their nest to attend a morning coffee meeting at a local spot with other fellow birds – Who really knew how creatures and animals lived.
The night time though was a different story. The winter time in the dark was a lot more silent, especially by the time Alena finished work at five. A few dog walkers, the odd runner but people didn’t like the park at night, especially alone. Nature was much more enjoyable to spend time with, who wants to sit on a packed bus with sweaty, rude (most of the time) people? Let’s not forget the kids, screaming annoying kids or babies – It was her own therapy.
Not only was it beautiful, she felt safer walking through the park than the actual streets, it was as though the trees were somehow watching and protecting her and maybe even the night creatures that she could never see but always hear rustling around were guiding her home. Creating this little world allowed her to not think the worse, because sometimes just being in the dark itself causes our brain to create nightmares of their own.
This Friday night was particularly cold, mid-November really did start to show off its winter and what it was capable of. For some reason the colder the weather the more people obsessed over the idea of it almost being Christmas. But people were relieved to be leaving work, usually more appreciated on a Friday as they didn’t have to face the office for two days. The relief for most though was purely excitement of getting drunk with each other in the pub not so far from the office building, a tradition that never seemed to die. For Alena, she never went unless it was the Christmas works do or a super special occasion, she never counted the birthdays of co-workers – None of them were her friends. It wasn’t a choice though to not have friends outside or even inside of work, in fact it was something that she wanted for many years now, for the past five years or so to be precise. The only real social interaction is either online with Facebook and other social media, or the small talk at work.
Her unlimited minutes and texts on her phone were a complete waste, as she has nobody to call or text. Quite some years went by and she never really gave it much thought as to why people just stopped being her friends, why the long text messages turned into small talk and then nothing at all. That even her ex friends all still spent time with each other but failed to include her.
This might be the core reason why she was so miserable and unhappy. It’s even worse when you can’t share your sad soul with best friends or a partner. The few good years she had in high school seemed to be irrelevant, as she thought her friends were going to be for life – Even though back then, they were a real bunch of bitches when they wanted to be. Even Alena regrets being friends with them in high school as she was often felt influenced to be a cold-hearted cow. But as they got older from the age of eighteen and upwards they all seemed pretty cool young adults. Many laughs, memories and drunken nights were always going to be remembered.
Alena also never really had many boyfriends either, she rarely chased the men like her friends did. Even on nights out, when she tried to flirt or even kiss a guy it was because he was too drunk to probably really see her, and the alcohol turned her into an overly confident loud mess.
It was sad what she thought of herself, after hours of styling her hair to look nice and applying makeup her reflection to her would look good, but immediately shattered when she realised nobody looked at her or even paid her a compliment. It was always her friends who were the gorgeous ones that turned heads, but she often thought she was too and just as good if not better sometimes without feeling a tad egotistical, better. Her maturity back then was not like the rest, she acted older and had her head screwed on – But someone had to be like that. Even one-night stands were not her thing, which was something else that seemed to be a trend, maybe that was one thing she should have done? Sleep with more men, but Alena refused to be that girl.
Her friends often thought she was too funny or too sarcastic and loud, and men saw her more as one of the guys but with huge boobs – Something else she’s had to deal with. Comments, compliments, stares are all things she has had to get used to since high school because of how developed she was. This didn’t make her feel confident, it made her shy and ashamed. Alena would do everything in her power to make sure even a lounge t shirt didn’t show any cleavage and because of being blessed in that region this did often attract the wrong guys, who did only see her as an object willing to offer them that something they could get at a brothel.
What was so bad about Alena, that nobody wanted to be friends with her? – She always wore her heart on her sleeve when it came to her friends, always willing to help, lend money or just be that last resort when they had nobody else. Every time she fell for it, even when they made her feel sad and often forgot to include her. Alena was honest when needed to be, and she liked to believe all of the thing she did were what made a good friend, but her entire life she found herself always forgotten.
She had a hunger for a new adventure but that was just a dream now and she if hadn’t spent all these years feeling sad or in such a dark cold place then Alena would probably have been to most of her bucket list countries. She also wanted to meet new people and make new friends, like the tv show Friends or Sex and The City. This thought made her smile, but they were all things that made her cry because they didn’t exist.
Alena couldn’t really remember when someone made her laugh, or even a time she smiled at all, she tried to think of when she last dated someone. Did even any of the men she walked past every day or worked with see her as anyone? Did they even think she was pretty? Over the years admittedly she had let herself go a bit, wearing tons of makeup turned into a light look, often none most of the time. Even at twenty-seven she couldn’t shake off getting break outs and her hair, long naturally wavy dark brown with tints of all sorts when the sun would shine, was now a shoulder length bob which she never wore down, always in a bun or half assed pony tail and used dry shampoo on a regular basis. Her need to look good and make herself feel good was lost, it didn’t exist. Because she either thought herself to look stupid and trying too hard if she did make the effort, and nobody would notice her anyway. To who was she impressing because doing it for herself seemed a waste of energy and product. She now accepted her pale face, and big brown eyes to be her identity. She even wore her glasses more than she needed to, because it covered her eyes and hoped that it would make people not look at her – Alena thought she looked like a creature without them, her eyes felt naked since she stopped wearing eyeliner and eyeshadow. Her thoughts reverted back to a time in high school when she loved wearing mascara and lots of black eye liner on her water line and would be teased for it. Then, she remembered sometime at nineteen, a guy she spoke to in a chat room for loners like herself said she had huge scary bug eyes. If she wasn’t being bullied for being fat, it was she looked like a bug. Boys were even mean to her in high school. Alena never knew why, she was friendly with everyone and with growing up going into the big school, friends were important. Nobody liked to be that kid that sat on a bench alone during play time or stayed glued to the teachers. Whilst her ‘friends’ seemed to of had better experiences at school, she prefers to keep hers locked up and forgotten about.
Alena approached the entrance to park, relieved that she was finally away from the busy town centre and cars impatiently trying to beat the traffic rush hour. It was five minutes past five, it was already dark and extremely cold which was not usually out of the ordinary, but tonight the air had such a sharp bitterness to it.
Her walk would take around fifteen minutes and every day she tried to beat that time to and from work, but for some reason no matter how much she rushed herself it seemed to take longer. She didn’t care though; this park was her little adventure place, her own little world where she could get lost in thought and use her surroundings to create little stories.
The trees on the left-hand side were the working-class trees with a kind nature and friendlier approach, the right side were the upper class rich busy bodies with such perfect form. It was harder to see them in the pitch black, the only light seeping around the park were tiny specs of car lights from the streets but the further she walked the smaller the lights looked and within minutes, Alena was in the middle of the park where everything was silent and pitch black.
Her eyes managed to adjust to the sudden darkness, and she saw the outlines of trees, bushes and the odd grey stone bench. Fog slowly began to appear and thicken, it soon became near impossible to see anything around her – It was odd, she never felt the park to be so quiet. Alena could usually feel the atmosphere, or the presence of something that lived in the park, perhaps a hedgehog family somewhere scurrying back home to sit and eat around the fire place in their little home, but tonight was as though nothing else existed but her and this black space. No waft of air and no noise of the floor as her winter boots scraped the frozen dirt path she walked on, which in the summer make crunchy sounds as you would step on little stones mixed in with the dusty light brown dirt.
The temperature was dropping, and the cold became even more bitter as if flecks of ice were been flicked against her skin, she had never felt so cold. She wanted to speed up her walk, but the fog grew even more thicker which became impossible to see forward and her mind was no longer thinking of the cute nature stories this park had helped her create, but a worry in case she walked the wrong way as the park went on for miles around her – And she might end up in a ditch.
Alena took a deep breath but being cautious of her steps, and for the first time ever the dark was creating all of those unwanted scary thoughts – She felt scared and she didn’t know why.
She began to sing to herself, a Backstreet boys song something cheesy to keep her mind happy but her senses began to feel as though she wasn’t alone. Her anxiety levels were rising, and she was trying so hard to not to fall into that trap of being scared of the dark – What was the dark? ‘Nothing other than the earth rotating, it’s okay’ – She thought to herself.
A few minutes later, heart sank with relief and warm feelings raced around her body as she heard small leaves or something rustling. The animals had come out to make her feel safe, perhaps they were off to the pub as well – But the crunching of frozen leaves and a warm blow of breath against her cheek caused her to stop dead still in the pitch-black park, the darkest it had ever been.
‘Hello?’ she called out, her throat dry and lips freezing cold. It’s all in my head she thought, and slowly proceeded to walk. It was no longer a casual walk home, it became a goal to get the hell out of the park and into some where well lit. All these years of walking home at night, peacefully without being disturbed had now drastically changed, which was not good for her anxiety and sometimes paranoid mind. All the films she had watched of people being creeped out by walking alone in the dark that caused havoc in our minds she once laughed at, now she fully understood the fictional feelings.
More rustles and crackling of frozen twigs were making themselves known, and the feeling of an actual presence began to worry Alena, it really did feel as though someone was following her – It wasn’t a late Halloween trick someone wanted to play, or some silly teenagers feeling brave to taunt a grown woman, something or someone was following her. Alena began to quicken her walk, if she really wanted to get home should she not be running for her life? But she realised that whoever seemed to be tagging along with her was mimicking her pace. Rustling and quick steps surrounded her left side, then swished quickly in an instant to her right as if it were a ghost, perhaps it was. Alena caught a black figure from the corner of her eye moving again from left to right, almost teasing her or perhaps they were luring her into a trap. What could possible move that fast, is her mind making it up?
Alena walked and thought, she wanted to convince herself of this as some mystical woodland creature who liked to play in the dark and not someone who might attack her. It was extremely hard to think, it was freezing, and the cold was reaching inside of her gloves. Her ears began to hurt, as her beanie didn’t quite cover her ears fully and every time she pulled it down, because of her hair being tied up it caused the beanie to slip up. The last time she felt this cold was waiting for a taxi home after doing a huge food shop, unfortunately taxis were delayed, and traffic was rammed due to an accident earlier that day. The whole town was at standstill, and she waited two hours out in the cold. Alena tried to move about to keep warm, but it felt near impossible to move, it was as though the ice-cold air had frozen her bones, and when she tried to walk her body was stiff and achy.
This was how her bones were feeling now, even though she was already moving.
She tried to remain calm and kept the same pace, not letting them know that she was scared, it seemed a rational tactic but mostly to keep her sanity. ‘Please let it be my mind playing tricks’ she thought. Maybe a fox will jump out at any minute now and make her laugh at herself for being so pathetic, but her mind making it to be much more – Was this her life now, creating stories and fictional situations to make her feel a little bit better, though Alena couldn’t help but sense that whoever was following her, was not a figure of her imagination.
A little giggle let out and echoed the park, Alena’s heart raced she almost felt something pop into her throat and slide back down, now she understood the saying ‘my heart was in my mouth.’
She quickened her pace – Screw remaining calm she thought, and as her walk sped up so did the black figure.
What was going on? Her eyes wandered around her – Trying to get sense of her surroundings, she realised that the park was not your typical night time black where outlines of things were easy to spot. It was a black she could only imagine it to be of the bottom of a never-ending ditch. Which made her feel as though her surroundings were not quite right. The more she ran and panicked, Alena had begun to feel claustrophobic as though she had entered a tiny room painted black – No trees were to be seen, and the fog was invisible as if it were never there. She was panicking, her heart racing with fear put an enormous pressure against her chest it was unbearable, her walk had now turned into a run. ‘Keep going, just keep going’ she breathlessly whispered, not seeing her cool breath surround her face in a little cloud.
Her fear and anxiety grew, and her heart felt as if were to pop out, the pain and strain in her chest was uncomfortable – Was she having a heart attack? No, you’re being stupid she thought.
The quicker she ran, the more of a blur the park became, and within minutes what felt like forever her run would come to an end. The black figure swiftly moves and giggles behind her, but she managed to focus on the main goal and just before her legs were about to buckle with fear a flickering ball of light appeared ahead – She was almost out of the park.
Yes, yes, yes, she excitedly spoke out, never in her life had she had to run like that and her legs feeling like jelly were a mixture of adrenaline and being unhealthy. The closer she got to the light the slower she paced herself and eventually became face to face with the ball of light.
Alena bent over trying to get back her breath, breathing in through her nose and out with her mouth – Always something she remembered every time she had a panic attack. As her heart beat slowed down and she familiarised herself with the parks surroundings, she realised the ball of light wasn’t a street lamp – She wasn’t out of the park, and everything around her remained completely pitch black but this odd flickering light was right in front of her floating. It replicated the warm ambience of being in her living room with the fire on and candles lit. Which was her sanctuary of peace and comfort, but this light just floated in mid-air aligned with the height of her eyes, it was pretty, and Alena must have stood staring at it for a few minutes or so – It calmed her, she felt relaxed.
She snapped out of her trance and approached the light more closely, squinting as it became too bright for her eyes, what were those tiny little specs she could see? It almost looked like thousands of tiny pixels creating one huge ball of light, it almost mimicked the shape of the sun. It was nothing she had ever seen before, she touched it with her finger it tickled her fingertip making her let out a little squeak and within flash thousands of fireflies dispersed around her creating a circle, moving slowly around her. They were warm and as she closed her eyes, it almost felt as if she was at home sitting by the fire. She stretched out her arms to embrace whatever it was, and then just like that they disappeared – They didn’t fly away like a flock of birds, they just vanished as though someone had turned them off like a light.
Everything around her started to look how it should be, she saw trees and bushes. Alena had noticed her cool breath and the fog was once again hovering in the air. Alena really couldn’t understand what was happening but sighed with relief as she saw the entrance of the park, she had almost forgotten about the black figure that was following her and realised that whoever it was had stopped and she no longer felt this unusual presence. Alena composed herself, feeling oddly warm again and began to walk the last few meters out of the park, happy that she could see the street lit up and old Victorian houses in the street near by – This would mean only five more minutes and she would be in her own street, opening the front door and basking in the heat as the central heating timer would have successfully done its job and heated up the house a few hours before.
As she stepped out of the park, Alena looked behind her not forgetting what had just happened, how could she? – She saw the ball of light reappear, it flickered and once again disappeared. This moment, this walk home really was not something to forget, and she couldn’t help but call herself crazy and think that she had experienced a magical moment of some kind – That this ball of light saved her from whoever was following her home. Something strange happened, and for the rest of the walk every thought she had about it left her feeling warm and fuzzy inside.