Melissa felt the cold in her bones. Her muscles felt like they were locked in cramp, her breaths were short and awkward. Her leg itched and she wondered if she would need to go to the hospital.
They had been walking since the early hours of the morning. For over four hours they had made their way through the forest using only the cones of their LED flashlights. Dense clusters of wet skeletal trees and the onslaught of rain drowning out all other sound had left Melissa feeling disorientated and claustrophobic.
The light of day had come slowly, the sky above moving sluggishly through shades of grey until Melissa and Nora no longer needed their flashlights. It was just as well. They had been stupid enough to leave the pack of batteries in the house.
‘We need coffee. Something warm,’ Nora said. Melissa looked over to her sister. She looked like hell. Melissa guessed she looked the same.
‘I’m going to keep looking,’ Melissa said.
‘No you’re not. You’re coming to get a drink.’
‘Bollocks. You’re coming with me. I’m freezing Melissa. I’m so cold, I can barely concentrate. We’ll get a coffee, grab a snack and come straight back in. We can go to Smith and Western. They’re open for breakfast.’
Melissa looked around. Trees and more trees. The sound of the motorway was dull here, the sound broken by the forest. She wanted to keep looking. Needed to find her husband and needed him back home where she could make sure he was safe and not running around in the dark, alone and out of his mind.
‘Don’t cry,’ Nora said. She came over and wrapped her arms around Melissa’s shoulders. Before she knew it, Melissa was bawling into her sister’s shoulder. David had left once before and they had found him hours later in the hospital. He had been standing on the side of a building debating whether or not to jump when someone had intervened. He had run off into the woods with a knife.
‘I can’t stop thinking of him sitting at the trunk of a tree somewhere with his wrists cut open and…and just bleeding out.’
Nora stepped back, grabbed Melissa by the shoulders. ‘Don’t you dare think that. You said yourself that he wasn’t in his right mind. He’s been taking his medication. He said he heard something. Has he ever acted like that before?’
Melissa shook her head.
‘Exactly. He’s not come out here to kill himself. He came out here for a completely different reason. He cut you, Melissa.’
‘I know it was an accident. But even if it was an accident, if he was in his right mind he would have stopped and helped. He was out of his mind. He has walked off in his sleep before. And what happened?’
‘He came back.’
‘Exactly. Right now we need to drink something. Eat something. Whatever. It’ll take us twenty minutes to get there, ten minutes to get food and twenty minutes to get back. We’ll keep looking. If we can’t find him we’ll call the police.’
‘If we tell them he has a knife they’ll arrest him.’
‘Then we don’t tell them about the knife. Chances are he dropped it when he woke up and realised he was in the bloody woods. For all we know he’s on his way back home and he’ll call any minute. Now come on. We need something to warm us up.’
‘Okay,’ Melissa said. She dried her eyes, nodded to herself. ‘Okay.’
They knew Tilgate Park well enough to know the general direction of Smith and Western. They traipsed through the trees, across mud and moss and through puddles when they reached a clearing. Firs lined the space, green needled branches reducing the sound of the motorway to a distant hiss.
They were halfway across the space when Melissa stopped.
‘What’s up?’ Nora asked. Melissa’s head oscillated one way, then the other. She turned round and repeated the motion. ‘Melissa. Are you okay?’
Melissa felt a tingle at the base of her skull. A tickle that turned to something warm and strange. She looked left. Right. There. There it was. Coming from over there. She took a step forward and was rewarded with a flush of heat.
Nora felt her heart thumping in her throat. Her sister was shuffling. Stumbling. ‘Melissa what the hell’s wrong with you,’ Nora said, stepping forward and taking her sister by the arm. Melissa whirled, eyes searching wildly but looking straight through her sister.
‘Can you hear it?’