The passage from one’s personal heaven to one’s intimate hell can be measured by, say, the swing of mood from the euphoric to the desolate. Sometimes such transformations between these polar opposites occur within the blink of an eye. Such alacritous metamorphosis from the positive to the negative is nearly always representative of the very worst kind of perdition, especially so when one’s ability to choose one’s own destiny is taken away. The moments prior to an untimely death at the hands of malevolent folk who have previously taken as their own a victim’s ability to keep safe their person is a good example of this.
The tall blond girl wearing seemingly ragged old denim shorts and plain white t-shirt, her plentiful locks tied loosely, rests upon the bonnet of her father’s red SL Class Mercedes-Benz dragging on a much needed cigarette and idly wishing the car was her own for more than just this one day. C’est la vie. Only her Dior shades and Gucci sneakers (albeit, aficionados would note, criminally ‘scuffed’) testify to her status as the offspring of ‘new money’. Then again, to any inquisitive, yet less discerning observer perhaps the vehicle, sunglasses and footwear might well be stolen goods. Of course, they would be wrong. Regardless, the way she exudes confidence conveys even to the least alert that she knows she gets away with this unusual challenge to fashion convention with aplomb. This currently unattached young lady is wholly aware of the fact that she sits comfortably at the top of the tree of ostentation. Today is her twenty-second birthday. There will, she thinks, be presents galore.
So why then does she waste time in pursuit of a mere nicotine hit when at the family home, not that far from the wasteland that is the gravel surfaced car park where she idles away time the caterers will be in full swing; the marquee long since erected; the band will have set up and a host of well-heeled guests will shortly be arriving? Just for her. Notwithstanding the fact that she needs sufficient time to shower and change, as evening approaches, she ponders. Being spoilt by her doting parents is a thing she cherishes as selfish as that might seem to others less fortunate; having to act out the part she is expected to play as the gushing and able heir to the commercial empire of her old man is quite another. Most of the party guests she will hardly know. The names of many she will not know at all. Beware of strangers bearing gifts for such offerings are made in expectation of reward in the fullness of time she thinks. The parental dictate that she impersonates the individual of their expectation weighs heavy on her shoulders. If only her parents were younger rather than close to dotage perhaps the pressure upon her would be less. Certainly her father has made it clear that, when casting off his mortal coil, then, by dint of his only child’s ascendancy to the top job, the business will remain within the family. A heavy burden for one so young to carry upon her shoulders, or an opportunity most of her friends would gag to have? She broods upon this point as she stubs out one cigarette with her heel whilst extracting from its packet and lighting another. Shortly she must go back home and feign the role of consummate young capitalist worthy of the exorbitant price of the education bestowed upon her. Fortunately the girl is as bright as a button and will breeze through her task skilfully and unruffled. That does not however remove the feeling of trepidation born of an apathy of sorts. On the outside she is conscious of the fact that she comes over as a radiant beauty; inside there is a repressed tomboy clawing her insides in a struggle for liberty. She must keep the tomboy caged and suffer the tedium of it all.
So how then does she get use of the Merc for the day when she has a perfectly good Golf Gti of her own? Why also this unlikely location to stop and chew over in her mind the wearisome certainty (presents aside) of the forthcoming event in her honour?
Earlier this day she had, by way of escape, explained to her father that it might be best if she disappeared for a while leaving those arranging the evening’s event to carry out their task unencumbered by the presence of the birthday girl herself. In truth she had simply to get away for a few hours; go anywhere the road took her; there was no particular destination in mind. Rich or poor, there is no price on freedom.
“Good idea beautiful girl,’ and throwing his own car keys to her, the hint of his Essex drawl still clinging on after all these years, “Take mine, it’ll be more fun and I’ll not need it. I’m busy overseeing this motley crew all day,” his eyes casting a lingering glance through the lounge window toward the grounds where a veritable army of humanity were going about their respective duties in readiness for the ‘bash’ as he constantly referred to it as. As she breezed off he added, “You’ve chosen a stunning day for it, enjoy yourself.” Indeed this day had the potential to be a scorcher, not a cloud in this high summer August sky.
The place where she now finds herself parked up, is however a random choice. She could have visited friends yet she chose the simplicity of being alone. There would be more than enough people to meet later. Besides self-imposed isolation has appeal to those at ease with themselves. Alone she is generally at such ease. Earlier she had had a seafood lunch at a little place she knows in Brighton after wandering delightfully aimlessly about mazes that are The Lanes there. Window shopping this time; she adores the mass of independent establishments that grace the area whilst knowing guiltily that only the rich can seek solace in shopping without spending. Later she had wandered down to the marina; taken coffee there. However time waits for no birthday girl and the unease about returning to the nest was growing with the relentless shift of the clocks own metre. She must now prepare, as ever, to ride the wheel of the fortunate. Thus the burden of doing ones duty was growing uneasily and could be measured by the gradual knotting of her stomach muscles. She tried to determine exactly why she felt this way. All she ever really wanted was anonymity. She felt she had sold her soul to the temptations and material rewards her father’s wealth offered her. In truth she probably had.
She could not contemplate the stress of driving the main roads back home, and fully aware it would take a little longer the promise of scenic panoramas of the B roads had appeal. A random choice.
The ‘pit stop’ that now takes her fancy for what is, the subliminal voice inside her head deems, an essential smoke is close by to the pinetum that is a part of Bedgebury Forest. There are no other vehicles in this particular spot, most, during this school summer holiday period, preferring the main car parks further along the road a little nearer the attractions of a wealth of conifers. Besides as the afternoon turns into evening most others will be either returning home, children in tow, to eat, or, the less fortunate stuck in rush hour traffic.
Only now does she take in the irksome cooing of a wood pigeon. There is, in her secure world, little worse than trying to get to sleep, or to remain asleep to the subjectively inessential resounding five note repetitions this particular breed of bird constantly emits. She glances over to where its blatant chant emanates. There is no bird to be seen. It sits, maybe is nesting, somewhere up high. A thought flits through her mind as she gives up her visual search for the pigeon. She manages to catch its essence before it disappears into the ether. The thought is one of exploration. In the far corner of the car park there is signposted a public footpath. The entrance to the pathway is cast in shadow surrounded as it is by trees. She wonders where it leads. An inquisitive streak consumes her. Looking at her wristwatch she figures there is just enough time – maybe half an hour at the most – of her own left to explore. First though she must buy a parking ticket or risk her father’s chagrin should he get served a penalty notice of her making. A mini reality check. Annoying! Daddy might be worth a fortune yet he still watches his pennies.
Above the cooing is relentless, at ground level the allurement of semidarkness encasing the trail before her is enticing. It feels to her that the excitement of childish discovery remains within her; remains undiminished by the passage of time; that she is not quite the grown-up yet. She takes the first, almost tentative steps along the path. The delicious tingle of fear that accompanies being alone in the woods gets her adrenalin pumping. She dismisses the fear of the unknown outdoors as being the stuff of fairy tales and of Scandinavian crime writers. It subsists, yet is exciting nonetheless.
The track is a straight one. She is about one hundred metres in. No longer a tentative walk; picking up a little speed now. Any apprehensiveness has subsided. About her all is dense and deciduous. Tree roots spread beneath the path making it uneven to walk on. In the near distance the dipping sun shines through where it can; late afternoon shadows cast, capturing overhanging branches and turning them into monochrome graffiti works of art set against shafts of pure light upon the ground ahead. She focuses on the horizon and judges it akin to the white light of death at a tunnels end – a thought swiftly dismissed. What though is that stark whiteness? A lake, she thinks? Maybe a river? Hard to tell from this distance. Certainly it is water. The closer she get she becomes certain that it is indeed a lake. As she closes in she notes the spines of conifers on the lakes far side replace the green leaves that are currently above and around her.
Suddenly the irritating loop of the wood pigeons monotonous cooing ceases. Only the loud clattering of its wings as it takes flight. It startles her for an instant. Then nothing. The quietness is absolute. Not even the sound of traffic in the distance nor aircraft in the sky, or even the whispers of the trees. There is no wind this day. It is so much cooler under the canopy. Welcome relief, yet ever so hushed still. Onward she perseveres.
Behind her she hears the crack of the snapping of what she guesses is an offshoot, a twig. A stereotypical frame from a horror movie she thinks. She slows a little listening for the sound of footsteps upon the carpet of soft earth born of last year’s still rotting vegetation. She chews over both the probable and improbable cause of this without success. The desire to look back is overwhelming as is the ever so slight panic of actually doing so. Onward she perseveres, a little reluctantly now, yet the potential safety born of the daylight ahead is now much closer than the sanctuary of the Mercedes-Benz behind. She decides to be rational. A sound imagined or actual is irrelevant if not chaperoned by man or beast. Onward she perseveres.
A split second later, what feels like a leather gloved hand clasps her mouth. An ice cold blade indents her larynx. A repulsive stale and strong odour of yesterday’s garlic on the breath of her aggressor (she wonders why she notices this at such a time); head resting rigidly on her shoulder; the stubble of beard against her soft cheek; held fast; the spare arm wrapped tightly around her. So tight her ribs feel they might snap; her lungs might burst. She can neither take flight nor fight. Her legs wilt. She is petrified. Cannot move; a withering statue. This simply cannot be happening. It is happening. There is primeval telepathy of kith and kin about the copse as she whispers, lips trembling, “Dad.” Prematurely, as it is not yet dusk, an owl hoots. She hears that well enough – is dumbstruck as to ‘why’. Then, calculable were this a novel, a voice, a deep and harsh voice, an accent; not clear what accent though. “If you don’t already believe in God better start now luv. I’m your very own God and I am a jealous God.” She wants her old life back right now. She never wants to be alone again, and yes, with muffled, tortured tongue she calls out once more for her beloved father. Then all is blackness.
At that very moment a wealthy entrepreneur, alone in his study, all of sudden loses his train of thought as, in an instant, he is rendered a helpless monolith. Absurd anxiousness supplants the rationale. Without giving notice of its coming a coldness consumes him; makes him shiver. He lets his special earthenware mug – hand painted with childish butterflies; a gift from his daughter when she was small – full to the brim with Earl Grey tea to slip out of his hand. It crashes onto an Italian tiled floor and it is smashed to smithereens.
THE CONCLUDING EPISODE WILL BE POSTED SHORTLY.