The Shadows

“Officers en route,” Dwyer told her.

Which was excellent news, Amanda thought. Because she was aware she needed help here—that she couldn’t do this by herself. There was absolutely no way she was setting foot into those woods on her own. But at the same time, a different thought was gnawing at the back of her mind, and while there was no way she could know it for certain, somehow she did.

The backup wasn’t going to get here in time.

For a few seconds she found herself frozen on the back step, unable to head down through the grass toward the implacable blackness at the end. She was shivering. Even though she was willing her body to move, it wouldn’t respond.

Then:

Calm down, she told herself.

The voice came like a slap. For a moment, she thought it was her father’s, but it wasn’t.

It was just hers.

Someone needs you.

Yes, she realized. That was what it came down to. She wasn’t that little girl anymore, lying in bed in the middle of the night, afraid of the dark and waiting for someone to save her. She was the person who came when someone else called.

“Are you there?” Dwyer said.

“I’m here,” Amanda said.

And then she lowered the phone and headed quickly down the yard toward the woods.





FORTY-TWO



I crouched down between two trees, out of breath and trying to fight the panic that was filling me. The invisible undergrowth was thick and tangled around me. I could hardly see a thing.

And I was lost.

When I’d first run from the man, I’d been sure I was heading back the way we’d come. But I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because I had no idea where I was now. The woods were disorienting even in daylight, never mind the almost absolute blackness I found myself in now. I wasn’t even sure whether I’d headed back toward the town or burrowed myself deeper into the forest.

I held still and listened.

Branches cracked off to my right—not too close, but not far enough away either. I glanced that way and saw light flickering dimly between the trees. He was over there, scanning the woods for me. And he seemed like a man who would search methodically. If I stayed where I was, he was going to find me.

But if I moved, where would I go?

A bramble was digging into my arm. I shifted ever so slightly, trying to think.

Go left—away from the light, for a start.

I started to get up, but then heard a voice— “You can’t hide.”

—and my head jerked around. The words had come from somewhere off to the left. I could see light flashing between the trees in that direction now: closer than it had been before. But it was impossible for him to have covered that much ground so quickly.

Was it me turning or was it the world?

“I used to hunt people like this for a living.”

I turned away from the voice and the light and felt my way slowly between the trees, my hands against the rough trunks, moving slowly and quietly, and praying I didn’t end up cornered.

Everything was silent for a time, apart from the rustling of the leaves against my arms and the soft snap of tangled grass giving way around my ankles.

Then suddenly the world opened up ahead. One second the back of my hand was against a branch, the next it felt like the tree had rotated away from me. And somehow the light was directly in front of me now, slashing brightly between the black trunks.

“There you are.”

The light clicked off and the woods were plunged into darkness.

And then I heard an awful, angry snapping sound as the man came straight at me. I turned and ran to one side, plunging blindly through the woods now, shouldering my way wildly into the trees, rebounding from them, heading in any direction that became open to me. And yet wherever I went, it felt like I was actually moving toward him: that the woods were spiraling the two of us ever closer together. The noise seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Whichever way I looked, I saw only indistinguishable gray shapes, and every time I turned, the vague path before me was identical to the last. And I was surrounded on all sides by the snap and crunch of the man hunting me here.

I couldn’t find the way out of here by myself.

I needed—

“Paul!”

The voice pulled me up short. It came from behind me, and was so far away in the distance that I wondered if I had imagined it. But in its own way it was as heavy as an anchor. It was a woman’s voice. For a moment, I thought it was Jenny—but, of course, that was impossible.

“Paul, are you in there?”

I hesitated, then began to head back the way I’d come. But the man had heard the woman’s voice too. I could sense him somewhere away between the trees to my right. There was the rasp of heavy breathing coming from there.

And as I moved, I felt it coming closer.

“Paul?”

I crept along at first, following the voice like a thread through a maze. Twigs cracked off to the side as the man tracked me, but at least it was only one side now. Then the trees thinned before me and I found myself on a path. I moved more quickly now, still expecting the man to emerge at any moment.

And then, from somewhere just behind me, I heard a different sound. The man’s voice again, not words this time but a primal scream of frustration and pain.

I started to run.

“Paul!”

The screams behind me faded. For some reason, he wasn’t following me. And the woman’s voice, whoever she was, grew louder, leading me out of here. I ran faster and faster, as hard as I could, back toward Gritten, toward her, toward the even more distant sound of approaching sirens, and out of the Shadows.





FORTY-THREE


AFTER


Early morning.

The day was bright and crisp as Amanda left her home and started the half-hour drive to Rosewood Gardens. The sky was clear and the roads were quiet. She left the radio off and drove slowly, appreciating the silence. As usual at this hour, she was the only visitor to the cemetery. When she arrived, she parked on the gravel, and then made her way along the path she always took between the graves here.

Perhaps it was just her imagination, but things felt different today. She passed the usual familiar plots: the ones adorned with flowers; the one with the old whiskey bottle; the grave with the stuffed toys resting against the stone. On the surface, they looked the same as always, but it felt like she was seeing them with fresh eyes this morning. The bottle had been there for a long time, and whoever had left it—presumably an old drinking buddy—had not returned since. The vibrant flowers seemed less like gestures of grief than of gratitude and love. And as sad as the child’s toys were, there was at least a kind of acknowledgment in their presence. Better they were here, surely, than gathering dust in some small, untouched bedroom maintained like a museum.

And all of that spoke a basic truth to her. In the past, she had thought of coming here as visiting her father, but she realized now that had never been the case. Her father was gone. Graveyards might have housed the dead below the ground, but what lay above was always for the living; they were the places where people came to deal with the break between what their lives had once been and what they now were. All the times she had come here, she had only really been visiting herself, and her relationship with the past.

And how she did that was up to her to decide.

She reached her father’s grave. That solid, dependable square of granite, with its careful lack of emotion.

“Hi, Dad,” she said. “I know you said you didn’t want me to talk to you, or any of that nonsense, but I’m afraid that’s tough. Because I miss you.”

There was no response from the stone, of course, and the cemetery around her remained silent. But the relief she felt was so overwhelming that she actually started to laugh. It turned into tears halfway through, and she put her hand to her nose.

“Oh fuck. But I do, you know. I miss you. And I’m sorry I didn’t turn out to be like you, but I guess that’s tough as well. Because the thing is, I think you’d be proud of me anyway.”

She paused.

“Yeah, I really think you would.”

That was enough for now. She stood there for a time, crying. Following another of her father’s instructions, she had never allowed herself to do that here before. But, as with everything else, she figured he would understand. Maybe he would even have quietly nodded his approval. Because he had raised his daughter to be strong, hadn’t he? To stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions rather than taking orders. If she wanted to cry, she would. Her choice.