THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
Lucie clutched the pole by the exit, willing the train to go faster, urging it to take her further away from Jake.
“May I see your tickets?” singsonged a male voice. “Tickets, please.”
While the seated passengers dug into pockets and rummaged through bags, Lucie reckoned she had about two minutes before she was found out.
She was in luck: The train slowed and hummed to a halt. She pushed the “open” button and jumped out.
The place was dark and deserted, one of those small unstaffed stations. Behind her, the doors beeped and whooshed shut. The train accelerated with a growl and vanished into the night.
A rust-streaked sign proclaimed that she had reached Seelsden: merely five villages from where she had left. Her heart was still thudding from her escape, her mind reeling from the confrontation with Jake, and her thoughts churning in a jumbled mess, but she knew she had to hop onto the next train and this time try to get further.
In the sickly light of a wall lamp, she scanned the time-table poster. Only one train served Seelsden at night: the 11.36pm that had just rumbled away. After that, no trains stopped here until 6.42am.
The small station building was unlit, the door to the waiting room locked. At the contact point - “For Information And Enquiries, Press Here” - a cardboard sign said “out of order.”
She hugged herself against the chill and rubbed her bare arms. Now what?
An empty coke can rattled across the concrete, a crisp wrapper rustled along the track, and somewhere in the distance, a motor whined.
The hamlet of Seelsden was a mile away on that gloomy hill. A lone female trudging up there would put herself at risk from motorised predators, and even if she got there, where would she go? She had no money for a hotel – assuming that the village had one, which was unlikely. Other doors would remain locked. People around here did not open the door to strangers after 8pm, and those who did had unsavoury intentions.
It was safer to stay on the platform, a semi-public place where she could see anyone approaching.
Overhead lamps soaked the station platform in their sulphurous light. The station clock ticked 11.50.
Claws of tiredness spiked at her brain. A warm bed, a cosy duvet, a safe place to spend the night... but there were only the benches along the single platform, with their hard white metal and curving backs. One of them would have to do for the few hours until dawn. She did not need to be comfortable, she just needed sleep.
Lucie picked the one least soiled by pigeon droppings and grime. The metal was cold, and the chill seeped through the thin fabric of her dress into her flesh.
It had been stupid to run away unprepared. She should have kept a bag packed, saved some money, identified places to stay. Instead, she had clung to her denial and her hopes that Jake would mend his ways, until she had no choice and she had to flee without even the chance to grab a jacket.
The jaundiced lamp glowed its disapproval.
If she had had any sense, she would have seen the danger signs as soon as she moved in with Jake – the satisfied pleasure with which he crushed that moth, the way he kept the spider trapped in a glass for weeks before he squashed it, the way his blue eyes gleamed when rough bedroom games escalated in violence – but she had clung to her denial, had shut out the truth even when it banged on her mind and demanded entry. Until tonight, when he had tried to...
No. She would not think about that.
She wanted to curl into a ball with her knees against her chest to keep warm, but the bench was too narrow for that. Cigarette stubs crammed into the gaps still stank of nicotine.
Denial followed by panic - this had always been her mistake. She could see the pattern now. When the lycée discriminated against girls, she meekly accepted it – and then one day she dropped out. When her father's new wife made her life hell, she suffered in silence – and then ran away. When the father of the family where she worked as an au pair made lascivious remarks, she ignored them, but when he tried to paw her, she freaked out, packed and left.
Each time, she could have made a formal complaint, given notice, taken her time to find a better way out. But each time she had denied, then panicked, and each time she had landed in a worse mess.
Midnight. Clouds flitted like pale ghosts across the sliver of moon. In the thicket that flanked the platform, rodent feet scurried.
She had to get some sleep. Dawn would bring warmth, light and clarity of thought.
Not far away, an animal howled. There were no wolves in England, she reminded herself. It had to be a dog. She turned to find a position of acceptable discomfort, one arm under her head and the other across her eyes, blocking out the light.
She woke, shivering. After a moment's disorientation, she realised where she was, and why. What a stupid situation to get into! At least it was over. But wait: the station clock said 2.13 - still four and a half hours before she could get into a train.
A pair of yellow eyes stared, flickered, vanished. There, again. Did England really have no wolves? Hadn't she read somewhere about wolves and foxes spreading into towns? And then there were exotic illegal pets, and big cats escaped from zoos.
Her pulse pounded in her throat. What if it was a hungry panther in search of easy prey? A thousand ants seemed to crawl over her skin.
Why hadn't she stayed on that train? Why hadn't she stayed at home?
Silence. Wind swished through the treetops.
She needed to go to the loo, really bad. But the railway companies had closed station toilets. Cost saving, budget cuts.
Another four hours before the train would take her away. And then, what? She still had no money, still had nowhere to go.
At least, the train would have a toilet. Probably. But could she hold out until then? The pressure on her bladder increased. Sleep wouldn't come back until she had a pee.
She squatted by the metal fence at the edge of the thicket, releasing a hot stream. Nothing stirred in the undergrowth. No eyes, no animal. She had imagined things because of her overwrought nerves. Already, she felt better. Even her panic about Jake subsided, and her thinking grew rational.
Running away like this had been stupid. If she had held out just a few more hours, she could have left in the morning with her clothes, with some money, with a proper plan.
Had she submitted until his violent lust was spent, she would have some bruises, but she would be lying in her own bed, cosy and warm.
Silly panic. How could she have thought Jake would kill her? He had different erotic tastes and sometimes he got carried away, that was all. She should have talked with him about her concerns and explained that they were not compatible. They could have had a rational discussion and broken up civilly. No need to panic, no need to run like a madwoman, no need to spend the night on a platform bench.
Those eyes again. And a second pair. Lucie's breath stalled, and fear clenched like a tight fist around her chest.
If only she had a weapon! That empty coke can over there – but it wouldn't help much even if she could reach it.
She lowered her lids, hoping this made her own eyes less visible to the beasts. But they had probably already taken her scent and were waiting to pounce. Would the metal fence keep them out? The bars were a handspan apart; too narrow for a big animal to squeeze through, she hoped. Another five minutes ticked by. Six.
She tried to hold absolutely still, so the predators would not see her move. How ironic: by fleeing from Jake, she had put herself in real danger. Instead of beaten by an intemperate lover, her flesh would be ripped by wild beasts.
If Jake were here, she would not be frightened. He would chase away the beasts, real or imagined.
A motor vroomed down the road. Twigs cracked, and when she opened her eyes a crack, the four gleaming pupils had vanished as if they had read her thoughts.
Where were the eyes now? Did she dare hope they had left? She breathed into her abdomen to still her racing heart. If she could get through the night, she would be more sensible in the future. She would talk things through with the persons concerned. No more rash running.
The night grew colder still, and the station clock seemed paralysed, taking an eternity to advance by even one minute.
Wind rustled the leaves in the thicket, and the bushes seemed filled with flickering eyes - a trick of the moonlight glinting of pale leaves. As usual, she had overreacted, worked herself into a pointless panic. She had to get a grip on herself and stop indulging in silly fears.
Tiredness gritted her eyes and blocked her thought, and she must have slept, because when she looked again, the clock stood at 3.04. The bench had grown harder still, and the temperature had dropped beyond what any human would willingly endure. She rubbed her feet, trying to massage life into her icy toes.
Faint nausea rose from her stomach, and a headache threatened to split her skull. She remembered the week when she was ill, too sick to leave the bed. Jake had taken care of her, feeding her dry toast and sips of water, washing her limbs, emptying the vomit bowls, all with an angel's patience and a lover's tenderness.
A motor stuttered to a halt, a car door slammed.
Her mind raced through scenarios in which someone would drive to a deserted railway station where no train stopped at night. None of them was reassuring.
Heavy steps thudded on the tarmac, came closer.
It was best if the person did not see her here. She squeezed tighter against the curved back of the bench, the icy metal pressing into her cheek.
Thud, thud, thud.
Bunched keys jingled with every harsh step.
Jake! A warm wave of relief swept through her.
“Thank heaven, I've found you. I've searched everywhere.” The familiarity of his firm, gentle voice enveloped her.
His shirt was unevenly buttoned, and stubble shadowed his jaw. He slipped off his leather jacket and draped it over her shoulders. “I've been worried sick. In the car, I have a thermos with hot tea.”
She followed him out of the station gate to the car park. “I'm sorry I overreacted. When I saw that rope... I thought.. I panicked....”
“It's my fault, Lucie,” he said gently. “I should have explained what I was doing. Of course you were frightened. We need to talk. But first, I'll take you home. You look like you could do with some sleep.”
He held the passenger door open and waited until she had sunk into the seat. The familiar smells – pine air freshener, fish & chips, milky tea - hugged her with their familiarity. Her mind sank into drowsy warmth.
Their relationship was doomed, she would tell Jake that. But she appreciated the trouble he had gone to to find her, and she would tell him that too. In her own time. No rush.
He got in on the driver's side, pulled his door shut, and snapped the central locking.
“Look at me, Lucie.” His blue eyes gleamed, and his smile bared teeth. “See what I've brought.”
His hands held the thumb-thick rope.
Genre – Horror
Rating – PG-13
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