Rain was coming down hard enough to fill the air with cacophonous thuds. Thick drops hit leaves, slapped mud and tree trunks.
Diane’s hair was plastered to her scalp and stuck against the back of her neck like ivy. Trickles of water found gaps in her collar and trickled between her shoulder blades.
‘I hope you’re enjoying yourself,’ Diane shouted. Stanley looked back and, apparently seeing nothing of interest, darted off through the trees.
Diane thought about work. Or the lack thereof. There were thousands of jobs between Crawley and the surrounding towns and she had applied for at least a hundred. All to no avail.
Diane hated herself. Without generating some kind of income, she was just an expense. A mouth to feed. Diane growled, pissed off at her situation and yet feeling useless to do anything about it.
Stanley barked and Diane looked up. He was standing at the fork in the path. They could go right, up the hill and across the bridge over the M23 or they could go left, back toward the lakes.
No matter where they were in the park, Stanley would always aim for water. Which was why it surprised her when Stanley ran right, taking them across the M23 and into the depths of the forest.
Already wet, tired and with an afternoon ahead likely to be filled with emails telling her that “unfortunately on this occasion you have been unsuccessful,” Diane let Stanley lead the way.
The sound of the motorway grew from a hiss to a roar as she got to the top of the hill and walked onto the bridge. High fences lined the bridge to put off trash-throwers and jumpers. Below, the M23 was almost lost in the mists of water kicked up by tyres and the auras of headlights.
She was watching the trucks and cars slipping by underneath when she tripped. A high pitch bark and whine followed her down as her knees and palms collided with concrete. She stayed still waiting for the surge of pain to come. It came as warm, heartbeat throbs up her hands and into her arms, from her knees and, oddly, into her groin.
Diane looked up ready to shout at Stanley but he was gone. She rolled onto her backside and looked about.
A bark. From behind. She pushed herself up and headed for the far side of the bridge. ‘Here boy!’ Diane called. ‘I’m not angry at you,’ she said quietly, checking the grazes on her palms. Her walking trousers had split at the knee.
Another bark. Higher. Urgent. Diane quick-stepped.The last time she heard Stanley bark like that he was being attacked by a Doberman. He’d come away bloody and shocked. It took Diane a long time to get to get Stanley back out and about.
‘Stanley’, she called out. Stanley broke from thick ferns at the side of the path. He turned to her before turning back toward the trees and unleashing a barrage of those high-pitch barks as he slowly backed up.
Diane looked into the trees. She couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
‘Here boy. Come-‘
There! Someone moved between the trees. A mop of dark hair. The hairs on the back of her own neck raised and her skin turned cold. Felt like it was contracting and squeezing everything within.
‘Stanley! Here!’ Diane shouted. Stanley whined and bolted for her.
Diane saw him again. He stepped between the trees walking parallel to the path. Arms lank by his sides. He wore only a pair of pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt that clung to his skin. As Diane turned to run away, she saw a knife.