I do the same walk every day, just for exercise since I retired. I used to do it with my dog, but since he died, I now walk alone along the brook because it’s a little bit of countryside in the middle of town. Sometimes I meet many people, but today I see no-one.
I do however hear raised voices coming from the path near the fence that separates the brook and its surrounds from the housing estate that borders it on the path that is hidden by thick brush and trees. A couple arguing, lover’s tiff perhaps, or a married couple, where one is accusing the other of having an affair, I try not to listen, but it’s hard to ignore them when everything else is silent apart from the flapping wings of birds and the occasional car or bus running along the road I’m headed for, the one that marks the end of this rural retreat and a return to civilisation.
Quiet as it is, I still can’t make out the words. I do, though, hear the woman’s scream that follows and the ominous return to silence. I want to investigate, but I’m afraid. After all, the man’s voice sounded much younger than my seventy-three year old female pensioner’s frame could cope with if he retaliated when I tried to challenge him.
I’m also afraid to take out my phone and call the police, for fear he hears me speak and comes after me, so I carry on walking, more hurriedly at first, then when I hear his feet crunching the leaves on the ground as he runs away from the scene of what I can only assume to be a crime, more slowly, thinking that in his haste to get away, when he breaks cover and turns on the path towards the houses, he won’t look round and see me.
He too slows once he leaves the cover of the trees, turns to look at the gravel path I’m walking on, the main one running through the park.
I know I’ve been spotted and don’t know what to do. Should I carry on walking as if I haven’t heard anything, turn back the way I came, or stand still until he’s out of sight?
For a moment I do stop because I freeze, then, realising how obvious it must look that I’m afraid and not wanting to turn back in case he runs after me, I walk to the bank, pretending to watch the kingfisher perched on a branch on the opposite side, while I keep turning to make sure he’s not going to wait for me to pass when I walk on.
Now, he’s finally out of sight I’m faced with another dilemma, do I follow the path he’s just come from. There might, after all, be a girl lying bleeding there, or do I make that phone call and let the police investigate?
I’m still dithering about my decision when the man who owns Chui, the husky I used to meet when I walked my dog, takes to the path I was thinking of following, so I wave a hello, put my phone away and carry on walking.
I’m on the path I walked yesterday, hoping that today my walk passes in a less eventful manner. I turn into the brook and see a sign at the end, one of those police notices that asks for information regarding an incident that took place here the previous day.
‘If you saw anything, contact the police on …’ and giving a phone number. I think about calling, but what did I see? Nothing really, just a man in a hurry coming off the path behind the trees, then slowing down as he headed towards the housing estate. The sign doesn’t mention what to do if you’ve heard something, so once again I put my phone away and walk on.
When I wake up and switch on the TV this morning I see a report on the local news which tells of an assault by the brook where I take my morning walk and how a young woman died in hospital. This was followed by a picture of the girl, with a nursery age little boy, followed by a picture of the man I’d seen two days ago who they wanted to question and an appeal for witnesses.
The journalist who’s covering the story interviews Chui’s owner who tells how he found her and adding that he saw a woman, (me) walking through the brook. The police want me to come forward and give them any information I can. What choice do I have?
If I take my usual walk, I’m bound to see him again, or worse, now he knows I’m a witness, he’ll come looking for me even though I saw nothing.
I call the number on the screen, tell them who I am when they ask and tell them I didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything, for after all, I couldn’t hear any of the words they were shouting at each other, so I wasn’t sure what help I could be.
I could, of course, have told them about the scream, about the man who came out from the cover of the trees and headed towards the housing estate. That he looked exactly like the man in the photograph, but I didn’t because I was scared he might find me.
Today I walk a different way, crossing the road and under the railway bridge, to the open fields that lead to the golf course. Another of the walks I took with the dog when I had him, resolving never to walk through the brook again.
When I reach the railway bridge at the top of the hill, I turn towards, Red Road and home, feeling safe and free for the first time in three days.
The feeling doesn’t last, however, because just as I get to the other side of the bridge, he’s there, the man I’d seen on that awful day I’m trying hard to forget, walking towards me, hands in pockets.
I want to turn and run, but my running days ended several years ago so there’s nothing I can do but keep walking forward, hoping to be able to just go past him and carry on walking home, but when I’m almost level with him, he sidesteps so he’s directly in front of me, forcing me to stand still.
I see a flash of metal in the hand he takes out of his pocket, but this time there’s no scream, just a hiss of air as the blade pierces my lung, then blackness.
by Joyce Walker
Joyce has previously had work accepted by the now defunct Affairs of the Heart, New Fiction, Writers Cauldron and Voyage and has had some success in competitions, including taking 1st prize in the Writers Brew Short Story Competition in 2002, 2nd prize in the storyfeedback.com competition in October 2009 and more recently taking 2nd Prize in an EWG competition.
photo credit: Johannes Plenio