The rain is softening up the ground and puddles are rapidly forming after just five minutes of rainfall. It’s really coming down now. I can feel my clothes getting heavier. The rain, although it’s never really bothered me, isn’t the most convenient thing right now.
The lights of the streets are behind me now and I’m heading down the path that leads into the valley. It sits alongside the river and it’ll be a walk of a couple of miles until I reach the estate Caroline’s mum lives on.
I’d always got on very well with her mum. She was genuinely upset when Caroline left me because she knew my love was unconditional. I’ve still never found out the full extent of the reasons why Caroline left me and I’ve been reluctant to ask too many questions. She has a habit of lashing out if she feels she’s being put under duress, so I’ve allowed her the time to think for herself. No doubt her mum has been in her ear and I know Eloise hasn’t been giving her an easy time over the breakup.
I’ll give Caroline her due; she’s been great where Eloise is concerned. She hasn’t made it awkward for me to see her and has always kept me up to date with texts and phone calls. That in itself gives me hope we can sort everything out. The only reason I haven’t called her tonight is because she might already be in hiding and I wouldn’t want to compromise her.
She’ll be there and she’ll be fine… and so will Eloise.
I remember the fear I felt when Caroline told me she was pregnant. I really couldn’t have been less enamoured about the idea of being a dad. Everything changed the moment that beautiful little girl appeared in this world. I’d never felt love like it in my entire life and time has done nothing to dull the edges. She’s the reason I carry on most days. Whenever things are looking bleak or I feel like I don’t have the strength to keep on going I think of Eloise and everything makes sense again. She’s the reason I’m walking through this dark valley right now, scared to my wit’s end.
My eyes are at least acclimatising to the darkness around me and I can make things out. There really isn’t much to make out. At this point, the river is little more than a stream; it grows into something much grander further down.
The trees are plentiful, giving people a plethora of places in which to hide and assault me, although I highly doubt TDN would take such a covert approach. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. The walk is giving me the chance to reflect on everything that’s happened so far; It still doesn’t make any sense.
I could do with finding somewhere to stop and vacate my bladder. It’s not like I’m limited in my choices, so I just do it. That’s better.
I occasionally and fleetingly flick on the torch I acquired from the man I killed—I still can’t believe I killed somebody—whenever I hear a noise that doesn’t seem to tie in with the rain and rushing water of the river. I quickly reach the conclusion it’s my mind playing tricks on me.
I know there’s a bridge coming up soon as the path switches to the other side of the river. As a local lad, I naturally played down here a lot when I was young. The amount of telling’s off I got from my dad because I’d come home soaking wet from the river were innumerable. I even had my first kiss down here—amongst other things I daren’t go into detail about! I had a decent childhood and my adolescence wasn’t too shabby either.
I’ve come about a thousand yards since I entered the valley and I know the bridge is close by now.
What was that? That was definitely the sound of a voice up ahead!
I come off the path and move behind a tree. Though the river and rain are making a colossal racket, I can definitely hear people talking. I can’t see them though. I remain behind the tree until something becomes more apparent.
A minute or so later I see it. The movement is barely perceptible, but my senses are in overdrive right now, as is my will to survive.
There are people up ahead.
There’s a dim orange glow that brightens momentarily. One of them is smoking. Who are these people? Are they friends or foes? Can I take a chance either way? I can’t hang around waiting to find out. I’m going to have to act on this.
They’re standing on the other end of the bridge slightly off the path. If I walk across the bridge then I’m right out in the open and they’ll kill me on sight if they’re TDN. Again, this is a risk I can ill afford to take.
I know the river here isn’t deep from my times playing about in it and collecting interesting looking stones and pebbles. The water level is likely to be higher than usual because of the way the heavy rain; regardless, that’s the way I’m going to have to go. I can’t risk being seen.
The bank is slippery as I sneak along into the shallow river. I immediately regret it as the water flows up and over my feet and immediately drenches them. I really could’ve done without that! There’s little worse than your feet being completely soaked through. Oh well, it’s happened now; there’s not a lot I can do about it.
I still can’t hear what the men are talking about. The sound of rushing water is all-encompassing. It’s not long before I make it to the other side. The bank is a lot steeper over here. I attempt to negotiate my way quietly up it, lose my footing, and slip back down. I hear one of the men ask “what was that”.
I guess that’s my cover blown!
I look up and, even though I can’t make out any faces, I can tell they’re looking at me. What do I do now? They’re asking who I am and they don’t sound friendly. One of them is approaching the bank.
To hell with this; I can’t take any chances!
I quickly get back to my feet and pull the AK-74 off my shoulder. It shocks me how easy I find it to squeeze the trigger. A spray of bullets bury themselves in whoever the man is. The other man cries out “Oh shit!” and I jump as high as I can up the slope of the bank before squeezing off another round. I hear an exclamation as the gun discharges and stop firing after maybe a second; it feels like an eternity.
The sound of the gunfire resonates in my head. I pull myself up the slope onto more even ground and come face to face with the sole of the trainer of one of the men. I get back onto my feet and take out my torch to study the man.
I can’t believe it; I’ve killed an innocent man!
He looks about my age. I don’t even need to look at the other guy to know he was just an ordinary citizen too. They were down here hiding from TDN and they’ve met their end by my hand instead. If I wasn’t a murderer before then I definitely am now! Whether I did it for a justifiable reason or not, I’ve taken the lives of men who didn’t deserve to die.
I can’t contain it anymore and the tears begin to roll down my cheeks, though the rain quickly washes them away. The intensity of this nightmare just increased exponentially.
These poor blokes! If I hadn’t slipped on that bank then I would’ve seen they were just normal people and I would’ve left them alone, maybe even had them join me. The fact I don’t recognise either of them doesn’t make me feel any better about it. I’d never properly heard of TDN until last night and I already completely hate them! I’m making a pact with myself to kill at least one more of them before the night is through. Maybe I’ll feel a little vindication for these two gents that way.
Just as I’m deliberating over that fact I hear voices. Damnit! The gunfire has alerted TDN. That’s my cue to leave. I touch each of the men on the forehead and offer an apology before jogging away down the path.
I can see torches shining through the trees. They’re wasting no time, so I’d better follow suit. I really can’t move any faster than a jog thanks to my waterlogged trainers. Hopefully the valley will slow them down sufficient enough that I can get away.
It’s wishful thinking though as the voices are getting louder. These guys have obviously done their homework on the area. The speed I’m moving at simply isn’t fast enough. I’m going to have to go with a different method.
There’s a fence on the left-hand side of the path; a field with long grass sits on the other side. I know there’s a ditch on the field; perhaps I can hide there. I hop the fence and make my way through the grass. I’m conscious of whether I’m leaving a trail in my wake; there’s little I can do about it now.
I make it to the ditch and duck down. It’s filled with water that flows down into the river. I’m so wet already that it really doesn’t make a difference anymore. All I can do now is wait.
TDN are on approach.
I might as well use this opportunity to rest. I can hear them talking; the voices are muffled from the helmets and the ever-present sound of the river and rain. They’re on the path. I can see the beams from their torches. It looks like there are three of them; no doubt there are more elsewhere.
The three on the path don’t appear to have seen the track I left in the grass. They’re obviously not the astute and military trained men they’re portraying themselves to be.
If that’s the case then who are they? Where have they even sprung from and why? I rarely watch the news, so my knowledge of current events is limited to what I hear through conversations at work or read on social media. The thing about TDN is that I’ve heard very little about them. I’ve perhaps heard them referenced to on a couple of occasions and I had no idea they were some form of terrorist group.
The disturbing thing is they’ve all sounded English so far. Or at least they’ve been speaking English when I’ve heard the odd muffled word. I don’t claim to know much about terrorists, though I’d always been led to believe the groups to be wary of were Middle Eastern. I guess this goes to show we should all perhaps have a little more awareness. We spend our time worrying about those people who the media shove down our throats while those who really are a threat can work in the shadows and plot moves such as this without fear of ever being discovered.
It’s always been a somewhat personal thing for me because my best friend since junior school is a bloke called Mohsan. He had to endure a little racial taunting in school. Thankfully, he was always able to take it in stride. By the time 9/11 came around, Mohsan and I would often be seen out and about on the town drinking and having a laugh. One night, shortly after 9/11 had happened, he was badly beaten up by a group of guys who’d called him a terrorist and other such nonsense. It was pathetic and it was disgusting! To say I’ve always been quite vociferous as regards racism ever since is an understatement. Fear is no reason to lash out in such a way. Implicating innocent people is something I’ll never condone.
TDN have moved on. I can still just about make out the glow of their torches up ahead, but their voices can’t be heard anymore. The rain is easing now as well.
I remove my trainers for a minute and allow the water to drain out of them. I also remove my socks and wring them out the best I can. While it won’t prevent my feet from being sodden it’ll at least make movement that much easier.
I can’t see the glow of the torches anymore once I’m done. They’re gone and it’s time for me to move on. It’s a fair old walk from here. I’ll be at it for at least an hour. Now I’ve got the added pressure of TDN potentially sneaking around too.
Never mind; I’ve survived them so far.
TO BE CONTINUED
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Read Chapter 5: Let There Be Light… now!