After the unease became unbearable and he’d paced the narrow room as if it had been a racetrack, Joel stepped out into the night where only foxes could eye him from the sidelines, penetrating the air with their activities of the night. Like a cat burglar during his most productive hours, he prowled the streets with omnipotence. His darkly clothed lithe frame, wide stride and soft steps ensured silence and invisibility. The final Cherry Blossom of the season showered lazily while he ran. The leaves of these rich deciduous trees oozed moisture after a long night’s drinking session to the bowels of the earth. He soaked in the scent before sprinting to the top of the hill where St Mary’s church overlooked the flickering haphazard lines of light across the city. This was one of the views he had been thinking of for thirteen years.
Although his confusing anxiety had begun to dissipate, he had expected to feel a different sensation once he’d returned home. Something calmer, happier even.
So he waited, urging the right feelings alive by noting the details that ran in a curve from Canary Wharf to Battersea Power Station. Ignoring the shiny elongated pyramid and other new buildings, he concentrated on what was familiar. Condensed black smoke from Guys hospital’s incinerator pierced the grey horizon. What he’d long ago nicknamed the ‘Mary, Mungo and Midge’ tower blocks, were still reminiscent of innocently surreal children’s television programmes. Each of their oval-shaped roof top heating rooms was decorated with TV aerials, masts and pilot lights. They could have been three gigantic birthday cakes in the sky.
Then something happened. Slowly, the ghostly outline of a murmering child emerged from a haze of fog. Joel craned forwards and noted it was a small girl, lean and tanned with light hair and pupils too wide. She just stood and stared. Her eyes focused at a point in the distance, way beyond him. With her soft white jeans and tight triangular patterned blue and yellow tank top she could have stepped out of the Seventies. Her thin arms looked hard and sinewy. She had some kind of stick, bent and wobbly, and let it swing freely in her hand. Apart from the stick’s gentle swishing through the uncut grass, only a cuckoo sporadically broke the silence.
When she brought her head down and caught his eye he saw she looked as frightened as he himself had began to feel. There were a thousand things he could have said to ease the dreadful discomfort but he failed to utter even one of them. He looked away to reject the girls stare and as he did so, her outline slowly retreated, swallowed by the low lying mist of the approaching dawn.
But still he felt her. Blood hammered the walls of his heart. Movement became impossible. ‘Hide, hide. Find a place to hide.’ The mantra pierced his limbs until he began to move in obedience. Within the undergrowth of a small dense copse he found a secret hiding place. It was still too early for the sun to rise and the ivy invaded log he hid behind reeked heavily of the night. Beyond the log an assortment of hawthorn, blackthorn and elder trees provided another layer of cover. And there were these sporadic clusters of shrubs too. Their bright orange berries gave him an idea of the distance he’d have to cover to escape from the copse if the ghost girl found him again.