Chapter 1 – Night Terrors
The darkness was intense. The sound of dripping water echoed on walls she couldn’t see. The chill air was musty and dank; still, stale and earthy, like she was underground. Somehow she knew there was another person there, though just an unseen presence, in the pitch blackness.
“Who are you? What do you want?” She heard the shuffle of feet, but no answer came. The back of her neck prickled, her nails dug into her palms. “Who are you? Why am I here?”
“You’ll be safe here,” came the response in a man’s whisper.
There was the sound of quietly retreating feet, disturbing the grit on the floor. She listened, and followed blindly, stumbling and sweeping her hand before her in the dark, only to feel the coldness of a stone wall. Then turning, hearing the footsteps on the other side of her, she lurched, bewildered in a full circle. The sound came from all around, but was becoming fainter and fainter.
“Safe from what?” she yelled, her voice echoing from all angles, frightening and disorientating. “How is this safe?”
She rushed forward, flailing her arms wildly and knocking her knuckles against cold, rough metal, gasping in pain. Reaching out tentatively once again, she remembered her phone, and pulled it from her pocket, the blue light immediately illuminating rungs of a rusty ladder scaling upwards but quickly swallowed in ominous blackness. Swaying dizzily on her feet she turned to see tunnels leading away in two directions. Water glistened as it ran down the walls and moss hung from aged stonework. Impenetrable darkness yawned threateningly beyond the weak sphere of light from her phone. The red warning signifying the end of her battery faded as the light died from the screen. Plunged back into pitch darkness, her throat tightened and she pressed herself against the damp wall. She had to get out!
Anna jumped awake, hearing her own breath rasping, and feeling her chest tight. She sat up and reached for her phone which told her it was 4:12am. Low battery, it warned, and she groaned at the irony, slumping back to the pillow. Well at least it wasn’t another dream where she had been pinned to the ground by The Cleaner, his black eyes boring into her and fingers pressing down on her throat. Regardless, she could do without the recurring night horrors. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes, but immediately the dank walls of the tunnel closed around her again, the cold horror returning in an instant. Her eyes flew open, and she gulped a big sob-like breath. Grumpily, she threw back the covers and sat up. If her inescapable imagination wouldn’t sleep then neither would she. The last few weeks had had her passively endure its exhausting neurosis time and time again. It had to stop. Whatever the tunnels and the ladder and the blackness symbolised, they couldn’t be good omens. Resignedly, she padded to the shower.
The train was mostly empty and Anna gazed out of the window, trying to make out the countryside, which was shrouded in gloom. She turned to the emails on her phone and scrolled through them, bored. At least she was nearly done with her current assignment, but she still didn’t know where she was heading next. HQ had nowhere to put her outside of London, but she had made up her mind; she had to stick to her guns. The nightmares and her experiences of the last month were messing with her mental health; much more of it and she would likely go off the rails and lose her job.
She had been home from Tresco for three weeks, and one thing she was thankful for was that she had not seen Damien, her brief but intense affair of the last year, who still had the power to cause her to lose all self-possession. However there was the increasing nag of insecurity, living near the church. She didn’t know why, but as the days passed, she was ever more jumpy, afraid to look out of her window after dark, and checking behind her as she came and went from the cottage. The feeling that The Cleaner, the man who had tried to kill her, would return to finish his grisly job, gnawed at her more with every passing day. The memory of his eyes burning into her as he pressed down on her neck still stopped her breath and made her heart pound hard against her chest. Yes, she was resolved to get away as fast as possible.
She paused over an email from Tony, the Executive Director she had worked with in New York, now returned from his sojourn on the subway project.
“Had an idea,” read the subject line. Opening the email, she saw he had sent it Saturday morning. “Come see me at HQ,” read the message, and that was it.
Anna smiled at the Americanism apparent in his text that Tony had picked up from his time in New York. She had talked to him on Friday about her frustration of the lack of placements available outside London and her need to get away for a while, and this seemed promising.
“What time are you in?” keyed Anna, swiftly, and sent. Her train was due into Victoria at 6:30am, and she knew he was an early starter. If this was an opportunity, she was going to leap at it. Without waiting for a response, and making up her mind instantly, she decided to head to the Holborn head office. She would work from there for the day, and snag Tony as soon as she saw him.
The sequel is coming soon! Hope you enjoyed the teaser ;-)