(picture courtesy of Faye)
The Long Walk
(Sequel to the short story Fear Awaits at Journey’s End posted on 7th March)
The light was dimming and there was a cold chill that made Leonora shudder. She wasn’t sure whether to run or walk but one thing was sure, she simply had to get rid of the fear that gripped her heart as she passed the eerie growth on either side of the path. All around the winds whispered, a ghostly sound of unseen beings waiting to pounce. Leonora trembled and wished she’d listened to those friends who had urged her to catch the bus and go home the long way round. Who knew what lurked in that desolate place, they said.
Her house was situated on the furthest end of
Leonora looked round quickly, fearing that some creature might have been behind her all the time. She saw nothing, her fear magnifying everything. Yet the footsteps sounded real, crunching against the frosty ground. The urge to run grew stronger but her feet were leaden. What would she do if her weary body couldn’t get her home before dark? Looking up at the sky she saw the clouds shift, revealing a pale moon. Perhaps it wouldn’t look so bad once moonlight emerged.
Leonora hadn’t been the same since that fearful incident on the train, when that dreadful Arthur Mott had … what? Done what? She had felt threatened by him but he didn’t actually do … anything … to harm her. And he hadn’t been charged with anything.
Things had been hectic at work. The bosses wanted everything done at the same time. Her fingers ached from high speed typing, and so did her back. She felt tired, knew she shouldn’t have come this way. Other times the walk had been refreshing, but not tonight. The moon, high in the darkening sky, looked menacing. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see a black cat sitting on it. Was a black cat supposed to bring good luck or was it a symbol of bad things, haunting things?
Leonora took a few more tentative steps, fearing the dark, fearing the twigs that reached out and snagged her hair. In the distance an owl called, its cry more like a baby than a bird. A crying babe. Leonora mentally shook herself, told herself not to be silly. Taking a tight grip on her fear she hurried on, following the path round, hoping street lights would soon be seen.
Godfrey Hastings rang the bell and for good measure knocked again on Leonora’s door. He’d been sure she would have been home from her new office job by now but there was no sign of her. He still couldn’t understand why she wanted to go out to work, but appreciated that being with people probably did her more good than living alone in this desperately quiet area.
While he tried to decide whether he should wait or come back later he saw her hurrying along the road. His heart did its familiar lurch at the sight of her. Even in the dark she looked beautiful. He couldn’t wait to take her in is arms and gaze into those welcoming almond shaped eyes.
Leonora was so pleased to see him. She thought again that it must have been an act of God that caused them to meet on the train a mere two months ago. They got on so well. Each time they met she felt as though they had been friends forever. She hurried the last few yards and threw herself into his waiting arms. For no apparent reason they both laughed, such was their relationship.
After supper Leonora curled up at Godfrey’s side on the lounge sofa. The room was lit by firelight and table lamps, giving a romantic feel to the stylish room. ‘I feel safe in this room,’ she said, unaware that she had even thought about it. Her nerves seem to have been rattled since taking the short-cut home.
Godfrey took her right hand in his, lovingly ran his thumb across the raised veins that emphasised the elegance of her tapering fingers. ‘What made you say that?’ he asked.
Leonora snuggled into him, told him about the walk home, even laughed about her fear. ‘My imagination ran amok,’ she said. ‘I even thought the twigs were out to get me.’
Godfrey laughed with her, even though he understood what she meant. He had taken that walk one day, though not at night, and could imagine the effect it would have on someone with a nervous disposition. Not that he thought Leonora was a nervous person but he knew she was still troubled about that awful Arthur Mott.
Leonora shifted her position slightly so that she could look at Godfrey’s face. Still holding his hand, she told him about a recent strange experience. ‘I was in the bedroom getting ready for work. There was a strange noise downstairs, in the kitchen, like something falling. I went to investigate but couldn’t find anything amiss. It must have been my imagination. But I heard it again the next day. Whatever it was clanged on the quarry tiles. Again, I found nothing. But the funny thing was I spotted one of my visiting cards on the floor. I don’t know how it got there but it couldn’t have made a noise, could it?’
Arthur Mott strolled past the house, noticed the light showing through a crack in the curtains of a downstairs window. He pressed his hands to his stomach in an effort to control his fluttering anticipation and remembered his mother’s warning not to act hastily when he was excited. Even as a young boy he always obeyed her wishes. The consequence of disobedience saw to that. For an instant he visualised the cane coming down on his naked manhood. Quickly he brushed the vision away. He didn’t want his dead mother interfering in what he had to do, even though it was all for her.
Next morning Godfrey sat at his desk at the station, musing over the mysterious happenings at Leonora’s house. Things that go bump in the night was an expression dreamed up by storytellers, it just didn’t happen in real life. To his way of thinking if Leonora had heard something then there was something there to be heard. She wasn’t an imaginative woman; neither did she make stuff up. He would have to keep an eye on things. If he had pursued their budding romance a little more perhaps by now he would be spending nights there. He had to admit he quite fancied sharing her bed.
Godfrey’s mind wandered, thinking now of their more passionate embraces and wondering why she gently but firmly brushed him off. Although a little on the plump side he was well groomed and reasonably good looking. Reaching into the top drawer of his desk he withdrew a hand mirror, kept there for when he needed to shave before going out on a job. He studied his face. Admittedly his nose was rather aquiline but it wasn’t ugly. And his skin was perfectly clear, not a spot nor a blemish in sight. Right now he was in need of a shave but that was only to be expected at this time of day.
The buzzing telephone distracted his personal scrutiny. ‘Yes?’ he barked into the received.
‘Private call for you,’ said the station secretary. ‘Mrs Deloitte.’
‘Put her through, Maisie.’
Leonora started to speak before Godfrey could say Hello. ‘Oh Godfrey, thank God you’re there.’
‘Leonora? What on earth’s wrong?’
‘I’ve just seen that dreadful man walk past the house. I’m certain it was him. I was in the bedroom. He looked up, as if he knew I was there, but he couldn’t have known, could he? Not with the nets there. He couldn’t have seen through the nets, could he?’ Oh Godfrey, I’m so scared.’
‘Leonora, my love, calm down. You’re right he couldn’t have seen you unless, of course, you had the light on.’ Godfrey swivelled round to face the window as if to verify the state of the light outside. ‘When you say that man, I assume you mean Arthur Mott. But it couldn’t be him, my darling. He doesn’t know where you live.’
And we don’t know his whereabouts either.
A neighbouring force had issued notices that Mott was wanted for questioning about a recent accost situation. The girl had only brief glimpses of her assailant as he attacked from behind but she got a good look when she employed her martial arts training. Unfortunately, the guy had managed to get away but she lost no time reporting the matter to the police and handing over the knife that had fallen to the ground. Godfrey thought hard about that knife, remembering the case for which Mott did time, when he’d cut the letters IAM in the victim’s bedroom door. I AM. I, Arthur Mott.
Leonora had been so screwed up she hadn’t thought that Arthur Mott couldn’t possibly know where she lived. After a while she managed to pull herself together and went on to discuss the arrangements for an evening out. ‘I’ll wear my finest outfit,’ she said, ‘I don’t want to let you down in front of your colleagues.’
‘That, my dear, would be impossible.’ Godfrey knew that she would be a knock-out with the men at the police ball. They would be jealous as hell when they saw his elegant companion. If all went well tonight would be the turning point in their relationship. He wanted the evening to be as pleasurable for her as it would be for him because at the end of it he intended to ask her to marry him. Maybe later he would tell her about the recent development, reassure her that he would guard her with his life.
Arthur Mott had been here so often he knew the signs of occupancy. When she was at home there was always a light in the front porch, when she was out the place was in total darkness. Not very clever, he thought. Anyone would know it was safe to break in with regular signals like that. But he had the place to himself and had chosen to try out her bed while he waited.
Lying on Leonora’s bed he gazed at the ceiling, thinking back to when he followed her along that dark path. He could have got her then but her fear stopped him. Sensing her fright and hearing panic in her breath was like an aphrodisiac. It had been a long time since he was turned on by sheer apprehension. He wanted to continue terrorising; the heavy, heady stuff would come later.
He could feel the warmth of the duvet beneath him and debated whether or not to actually climb inside. ‘What should I do, Mother? ‘Of course, he knew the answer. She would want him to undress and wait for Leonora. Wait for her to exclaim in delight about his body, to insist on joining him under the pale blue cover. Quickly he checked the pillows and decided that one would be enough to complete his task. Despite his size he was a strong man and he didn’t think too much pressure would be required.
The digital clock on the bedside table said 12.15. She was very late coming home. Other nights he had watched her she had been home at a reasonable hour, 10,30 had been the latest. Except when that awful Godfrey was with her, then they were much earlier. Arthur allowed himself to wonder what they got up to when they were alone in her house but then he thought about his mother and pushed those thoughts away.
Leonora was exactly what his mother liked in a woman and Arthur was prepared to go along with her wishes that he take another one in deference to her. Not for him a compliant plump beauty, not until his mother’s desires had been fulfilled. For an instance rebellion took over. One day, he thought, one day I’ll consider myself for a change.
Leonora and Godfrey strolled from the garage, arms entwined, matching each other’s steps as they neared Godfrey’s front door. ‘I had a wonderful time tonight,’ she said, raising her face for another kiss.
Leonora had looked stunning in the lilac dress, with her greying hair decorated with a matching flower just above her left ear. He had seen the approving glances of his mates, with a wink or two thrown in for good measure, and he felt proud to be the escort of such a beautiful woman.
Placing his lips on hers Godfrey murmured that he too had enjoyed it. He remembered that feeling of joy as they danced the last waltz, when she whispered that she loved him. Oh and how he loved her in return.
Because of the lateness of the hour Leonora had agreed to stay at Godfrey’s house, although both knew that the lateness of the hour had little to do with the reason for staying. They simply wanted to be together.
It was nearly in the morning before Arthur finally accepted the idea that Leonora wasn’t coming home. Thrusting back the duvet he shot out of Leonora’s bed and started to collect his clothes that had been strewn anywhere in his hurry to accommodate his mother. ‘You’ll be the death of me,’ he cried. ‘Perhaps when I contribute another naked offering you’ll give me some peace. Sitting on the side of the bed, he retrieved his knife from under the pillow, put it in his trouser pocket. He slipped on the brown shoes, laced them, and remembered his mother’s brief reincarnation, her eyes flashing as she covered him with her putrid flesh and worked him over with stubby fingers that gripped too hard.
He stormed down the stairs and into the hall. Pulling open the front door he glanced left and right to see if anyone was in sight. He wouldn’t want to be caught without having achieved his goal.
Godfrey had the day off, so Leonora rang the office to request a day’s leave. They needed to enjoy the newness of their romance, being together was all they wanted. Wearing the jeans and low cut linen blouse that she’d brought with her prior to the ball, they lazed about, sometimes in practical mood but mostly wrapped in an invigorating cloak of passion. They adored each other and Leonora was amazed that grandmother status hadn’t got in the way of worshipping her jolly and caring man. They made plans, the first one being for her to introduce Godfrey to her family.
‘We could go for a weekend,’ Godfrey said. ‘On the train, relive the day we met.’
But the day was not one Leonora wanted to remember so she suggested that a leisurely drive down would be preferable. Godfrey could have kicked himself for his stupidity. Still debating the point they had a late breakfast of fresh grapefruit and mushroom omelets cooked to perfection by Godfrey.
Midmorning they went for a walk. Although cold the day was spring-like. The sun was shining and the birds were having a free-for-all on the roof tops. Holding Leonora’s arm Godfrey steered her towards the local park, through the iron gates, and across the damp grass to the lake. It was beautiful. A perfect setting for romantic lovers. ‘I was wondering,’ he said, as they approached a wooden bench, ‘if you felt the same as me.’
‘I think so,’ Leonora replied, inwardly trying to speculate what was to come next.
Godfrey sat on the bench, pulled her down beside him. Holding her hand, he looked deep into her eyes. ‘I was wondering if you would marry me. I mean we get on so well in all respects and I thought … well, I hoped we could make it a permanent fixture.’
Leonora laughed and squeezed his hand. ‘Now you’re thinking about football again.’
Godfrey flushed and wished he’d had the sense to choose his words more carefully. ‘I didn’t mean…’
‘I know what you meant.’ Leonora leaned against him, thinking what a comfort he was, how solid, and how much she loved him. ‘Marrying you would make me the happiest woman in the world.’
Godfrey was overcome with emotion.
In the moonlight Arthur Mott walked slowly, thinking about the time he’d followed Leonora along the same isolated path. He’d been careless then, not even attempting to disguise his footsteps. Now he made sure each step was noiseless by walking on the grass verge. Practising. Just in case. Practice makes perfect, his mother always said. And she should know. Reaching the end of the hedge he could see Leonora’s house. It was a splendid, well kept house, and right now only the porch was lit.
An inspection, front and back, told him she was probably in bed. Bedroom curtains were never drawn when she was out. Quite casually he returned to the back of the house and entered through the back door. It was one of those doors with an easy Yale plus a mortise that was obviously seldom used by an owner who failed to recognise the need for self-protection.
Silently pushing open the door he moved into the kitchen, smelled again the lingering aroma of cooking. He imagined her to be a good cook, not in the least worried about diets. Arthur swore when his foot caught in the rug. Trying to free it made him stumble against the table, sending a couple of cups crashing to the floor. Damn stupid having loose rugs in a kitchen, he thought. That was the problem with moving round in the dark. He’d found the light switch but decided against illuminating the kitchen in case the neighbours were nosy-parkers. Because of that slight accident he now had to wait until he was sure the noise hadn’t disturbed Leonora before going upstairs and surprising her while she slept.
He leaned against a tall cupboard and allowed Leonora’s image to enter his mind. How would she be dressed? Would she be wearing a nightdress or PJs? Or would she be naked. He hoped the former, wanting more than anything to tear the clothes off her before she was fully awake, quickly overpowering her as realisation hit home. Quickly he checked that his new knife and sticky tape were still in his pocket. The rope was loosely tied round his middle, one jerk and it was ready to tie her to the bed.
Arthur swallowed hard, taking control of his thoughts.
Leonora never drew the bedroom curtains. She liked to sleep in a moonlit room or, when there was no moon, use a bedside lamp just powerful enough to see where she was going. She nuzzled Godfrey’s neck and kissed his ear, enjoying the warmth of his body and giving silent thanks that this man would soon be hers. Now that they had decided to marry they saw no reason why they shouldn’t spend all their time together. Godfrey was asleep but Leonora’ mind was too full of wedding plans to sleep.
She gazed at the lacy design reflected on the ceiling. Maybe a lace veil would be too much for a mature bride. She liked the idea of an all white wedding but thought a second time round didn’t warrant it. But the grandchildren would look lovely in wedding finery. Maybe she …
Suddenly she sat up; sure that she’d heard a noise downstairs. Slowly she eased her legs out of bed, trying not to disturb Godfrey. Sliding her arms into a blue dressing gown, she crept towards the door, opened it, and listened. Except for her beating heart, everything was quiet. It must have been her imagination playing tricks. Outside some cats were squabbling, it could have been that which disturbed her.
She went to the window, thinking to shoo them away, opened it and breathed in the night air, seeing the shadows cast by the moon. The apple tree looked gaunt in the half light; there was an eerie feel about it. So much for romantic moonlit nights, she thought, remembering the fearful walk along that lonely path.
For several days she’d experienced bad feelings especially at night. There was something about the house, this room that disturbed her, especially when she found her bed unmade. Something she rarely overlooked even when she was late. It felt almost as if another presence shared it with her. Though it was reasonably warm in the room she shivered, then chastised herself for being silly. Leonora yawned. This is no good, she thought. I need to get back to sleep. But she knew that wouldn’t happen until she’d had a drink. A cup of tea would be just the thing.
Although Geoffrey was a light sleeper he didn’t risk sinking into oblivion. He needed to be alert but calm enough not to worry Leonora. He’d stirred just as Leonora swung her legs out of bed but he hadn’t expected her to spend time gazing out of the window. ‘What’s up, honey, can’t you sleep?
Leonora laughed. ‘Go back to dreamland while I fetch us both a nice warm drink.’ She heard again the odd noise that had disturbed her a short while ago.
Godfrey heard it too. Sliding out of bed, he grabbed his trousers, pulled them on, slid his bare feet into his shoes, then snatched up his mobile phone from the bedside cabinet. Listened again to the noise, guessed at it being the kitchen drawer, the one that jammed half way. ‘Stay here,’ he ordered. ‘Probably cats out in the yard. I’ll go down and sort them out.’
Arthur heard her coming. He cursed. This wasn’t part of the plan. He wanted her upstairs, not here where there was a good chance a neighbour would see a light going on. He’d done time for the last one, he didn’t want to end up there again. Moving at a rapid pace he headed towards the kitchen door through which his victim would appear, one arm ready to grab her the second she was through. In his hand was the pad he would use to stifle a scream before she uttered it. Chloroform. Enough to knock her out until he could secure her to the bed. The one he’d slept on, the one where she would sleep her last. He felt the saliva gathering in his mouth, a measure of his excitement. His smile was evil. Yes, his mother would be well pleased with this one.
He was ready. Pad in hand, he stood by the door, silently waiting for it to open. A few minutes and she would be his.
Godfrey had often been told by his mates that he had a sixth sense but this was one time when he knew what was going on. It wasn’t a hunch… he just knew. He’d seen vengeance in Mott’s eyes the last time he was picked up. And now he was up against him again, man to man. It remained to be seen who the best man was and Godfrey was highly confident that it would not be Arthur Mott.
Godfrey’s cautious nature made him pause outside the door and listen. He could swear he heard heavy breathing on the other side. Instinctively he knew that it was Arthur Mott, and only a door separated them. If he stayed quiet Mott would soon step through to check the hallway and stairs. There was only one possible escape route and that was the way he’d come in.
It was good thinking on Godfrey’s part to secure the front door before escorting Leonora upstairs, taking the house keys with him. If only he’d remembered her dislike of over-locking, hating to think she couldn’t get out of the house in an emergency. He should be horse-whipped for trusting her word that she’d securely locked the back door. Some perishing copper he was! Well, let’s get something right, let’s catch the bastard and skin him alive!.
Right now, the surprise element was on his side. Godfrey waited for the overconfident pervert to push open the door that led to the stairs. There was just enough room for him to remain out of sight until Mott was at the right level to receive the full weight of Godfrey’s karate chop to the back of the neck, backed up by other blows. He was still unconscious when the squad car arrived. ‘Thank God for mobile phones,’ he said to the recumbent form of Arthur Mott as Leonora opened the door to the first copper.
She would never forget that day, the discovery of Arthur Mott’s initials on the pantry door, the relief on Godfrey’s face when that evil man was handcuffed and taken away, the slow evaporation of her own fear. Godfrey’s assertion that he had let her down was received with scorn; how could he think that when he had literally saved her life? A lot of time was spent on conjecture and supposition but today was their special day and there wasn’t a soul in the world that could spoil it for them.
Leonora’s smile was radiant as she looked into Godfrey’s eyes at the end of the wedding ceremony. She was so proud that she had married a brave man, one who cared deeply for her, who had promised before God to take care of her for the rest of their days.