Faster. Sharp leaves whip past her ears, skeletal bushes and shrubs snatch at her ankles as she lurches into the next garden, breath trailing in her wake. Bare feet burning through the crisp, frozen grass.
He’s getting louder, shouting and crashing and swearing through hedges in the gloom behind her. Getting closer.
She scrambles over a tall wooden fence, dislodging a flurry of frost. There’s a sharp ripping sound and the hem of her summer dress leaves a chunk of itself behind. The sandpit rushes up to meet her, knocking the breath from her lungs.
Not like this…
Not flat on her back in a stranger’s garden.
Above her, the sky fades from dirty grey to dark, filthy, orange. Tiny winks of light forge across it – a plane on its way south. The sound of a radio wafts out from an open kitchen window somewhere. The smoky smear of a roaring log fire. A small child screaming that it’s not tired yet.
She scrambles to her feet and out onto the slippery crunch of frozen lawn, her shoes lost many gardens back. Tights laddered and torn, painted toenails on grubby feet. Breath searing her lungs, making a wall of fog around her head.
Straight across to the opposite side as the back door opens and a man comes out, cup of tea in one hand. Mouth hanging open. ‘Hoy! What do you think you’re—’
She doesn’t stop. Bends almost in half and charges into the thick leylandii hedge. The jagged green scrapes at her cheeks.
A sharp pain slashes across her calf.
If he catches her, that’s it. He’ll drag her back to the dark.
Lock her away from the sun and the world and the people who love her. Make her suffer.
She bursts out the other side.
A woman squats in the middle of the lawn next to a border terrier. She’s wearing a blue plastic bag on her hand like a glove, hovering it over a mound of steaming brown. Her eyes snap wide, eyebrows up. Staring. ‘Oh my God, are you…?’
His voice bellows out across the twilight. ‘COME BACK HERE!’
Don’t stop. Never stop. Don’t let him catch up.
Not after all she’s been through.
It’s not fair.
She takes a deep breath and runs.
‘God’s sake…’ Logan shoved his way out of a thick wad of hedge into another big garden and staggered to a halt. Spat out bitter shreds of green that tasted like pine disinfectant.
A woman caught in the act of poop-scooping stared up at him.
He dragged out his Airwave handset and pointed it at her.
The hand wrapped in the carrier bag came up and trembled towards the neighbour’s fence.
‘Thanks.’ Logan pressed the button and ran for it. ‘Tell Biohazard Bob to get the car round to Hillview Drive, it’s…’
He scrambled onto the roof of a wee plastic bike-shed thing, shoes skidding on the frosty plastic. From there to the top of a narrow brick wall. Squinted out over a patchwork of darkened gardens and ones bathed in the glow of house lights. ‘It’s the junction with Hillview Terrace.’
Detective Chief Inspector Steel’s smoky voice rasped out of the handset’s speaker. ‘How have you no’ caught the wee sod yet?’
‘Don’t start. It’s… Woah.’ A wobble. Both hands out, windmilling. Then frozen, bent forward over an eight-foot drop into a patch of Brussels sprouts.
‘What have I told you about screwing this up?’
Blah, blah, blah.
The gardens stretched away in front, behind, and to the right – backing onto the next road over. No sign of her.
‘Where the hell are you?’
There – forcing her way through a copse of rowan and ash, making for the hedge on the other side. Two more gardens and she’d be out on the road.
Logan hit the send button again. ‘I need you to—’ His left shoe parted company with the wall. ‘AAAAAAAARGH!’ Cracking through dark green spears, sending little green bombs flying, and thumping into the frozen earth below.
THUMP. ‘Officer down!’
Self-deprecating and dry humoured, Stuart MacBride lives north of Aberdeen. His new book The Missing and The Dead will be published on January 15, available at all good bookshops.