A creeping sense of dread began to fall on Georgie. She stood tensely by the bench, looking around while rubbing her hands furiously with a baby wipe. The library, usually a comical shape when seen in daylight, loomed above to her right. Across the walkway, she could see other familiar buildings, their forms made twisted and sinister by the absence of light. Shuddering, she imagined she could smell the warm iron of blood on her hands, even over the pungent disinfectant of the wipes. Georgie considered herself to be unflappable, but she was currently finding her mind full of an anxious threat of immediate danger — not just for her but for the girls. She glanced at her watch, but immediately forgot what time it showed.
Pulling her long sleeves over her hands to form a pair of make-shift forensic gloves, she snatched the bag from the bench. It was heavier than expected; a small but dense satchel of dark brown leather. Creases caught in the light as she turned it over, checking for blood. As she crouched down to attempt stuffing it into the already-full compartment at the bottom of the pram, her tired thighs screamed at her, and she gripped the pram handle hard, cursing under her breath. It was only half a day ago that Georgie had been walking back out of town across this very spot from her first CrossFit session.
She felt a warm prickling sensation, tingling all over, just on the point of beginning to sweat. Georgie tended to walk as though she was urgently needed somewhere, even when aimlessly meandering about town with the girls. It often wasn’t until pausing that she would become aware of the sudden warm glow of exercise.
Still squatting, she pulled her damp hair to one side, feeling the cool air on her bare neck. Tapping her watch revealed an animated half-moon, the friendly ‘do not disturb’ symbol — of course, she would have turned it off overnight to prevent anything from disturbing her precious sleep other than the girls. Rubbing her legs, she sensed the beginnings of self-pity. It was a sad emotion that she hated to feel just as much as to see it in others. She gripped the handle and pulled herself upright, drawing a deep breath. Spinning the pram around decisively, she began to stride back towards the town path, towards home. She would call the police as soon as she got there.
She had only travelled a few short meters when she nearly jumped out of her skin at a sound like a sharp hiss, coming from above. Looking up, there was a dimly visible figure at the top of the library block. It was only about five floors up, but in the hazy early morning light, it was difficult to see anything more than an indistinct silhouette. Another sound reached her ears, a short low whistle, and the person was pointing urgently with their arms, past Georgie. Craning her head around, Georgie peered back where the figure was directing her. There was nothing to be seen, just the alleyway between the pub and the gym. She glanced up again, but the person was gone. Already feeling anxious, a strange feeling started to dawn on her as she looked stared unseeing into the dark alleyway.
Varied dark grey shadows took form as Georgie’s imagination filled in the shapes with her vague visual memory of the area. She has walked past here hundreds of times but had never really looked. The air hung still, peripheral sounds coming in and out of consciousness; a fluttering of a plastic bag, a distant aeroplane overhead, the rustle of the breeze. Another gust blew gently across Georgie. Her eyes opened wide as a shadow shifted almost imperceptibly in the dark. There was something there. A soft but deep thump reached her ears across the open ground. There was a faint metallic clang, followed by a faint rustling — or was it the sound of breathing? The shadows seemed to dart and sway as she focussed hard with tired eyes. She could feel goosebumps on her bare arms, the tiny hairs standing on end.
She dragged her eyes away to look back upwards to the figure on the library roof, who had now moved further away and was pointing emphatically across the street towards an old council housing block. There was something about their urgency. Either she was being royally pranked, or something was very wrong. Maybe the gangs were at it again, and she was walking right into the cross-fire. Didn’t gang members have a lie in after an evening full of… gang stuff? Whatever the case, her gut was telling her to get out of there.
She looked homeward towards the town path, but rather than beckoning her, it too seemed foreboding and grim. With the hedgerow running down one side and walls and fences running along the other, she felt trapped just looking at it. For some reason, her mind wandered to those nature documentaries where the wildebeest stampede down gullies and channels in the African landscape, chased in by predators. Nope. She wheeled the pram again, now heading straight towards the tower block over the road, ignoring every fibre that was screaming at her to look behind. She wasn’t sure why, but she made an effort to walk steadily, quickly but not rushing. Although the sound had undoubtedly been present when walking into town, she was now painfully aware of the sounds of clothing that accompanied her walking, echoing in the square; the zip, zip, zip, squeak, squeak, squeak.
After a short walk and a dart across the empty road, she made it around the corner and head past a stairwell towards the lift entrance on the far side of the tower block where it faced into other buildings. Getting to a higher floor would give her a better view, but there was no chance of getting the pram up the stairs. She thumbed the large metal button to call the lift and glanced back around the corner anxiously while she waited for it to make its way down to her. It was two floors up, and painfully slow as it creaked its way to the ground floor. She caught a flash of her own reflection in the cracked window as the door opened – her eyes were wide open and afraid, her face pale.
Trying to snap herself out of it, she stepped into the lift, pressing the top floor button and breathed out a frustrated hissing sound – this was ridiculous. She’d call the police from the top floor as soon as she could see what was going on below. Jack had often had a go at her for going out on her own in the night with the girls, saying it wasn’t safe. But this was the first time Georgie had ever felt threatened before, and she knew it was all in her head. Perhaps she’d had too much cheese last night. Then she remembered the man on the roof, and the blood on her hand.
As the lift door juddered to a close, the thin, blurry window made of reinforced glass went dark. Georgie stepped back with fright. The door creaked as though a heavy weight had been leant against it. A snuffling sound came from underneath the door, but then the lift began the slow climb up to the top floor. As the elevator crossed the first floor, the glass became clear again. She watched nervously as the lift passed the window on each consecutive level, her heart thumping so hard she could feel it pulsing unpleasantly in her ears.
Enough was enough. Kneeling down, fiercely ignoring the pain in her legs, Georgie felt around underneath the satchel until she gripped the comforting weight and shape of her phone. The lift continued to slowly climb as she pulled it out, but as she pressed the front of the phone she realised the haptic button was lifeless — the phone was dead.
Looking down into the pram to check on the girls, who were both still asleep. Their peace made her feel ridiculous — but also fiercely protective. Wren was making signs of beginning to stir with the unusual sounds of the elevator working, a clanging of pulleys and rustily scraping metal cable. As the lift reached the top floor, it creaked and swayed unsteadily as it eased its way to land. The lights flickered slightly as it settled with a judder, and a pause of a couple of seconds felt like it stretched on far too long. Georgie held her breath. The door opened jerkily with a loud piercing scrape of metal against metal. She stepped out of the lift.