The silence surrounded us like a cloak as we followed a crooked path to the back fence.
The moon was full, enormous as it hung over us, bathing everything in a milky light.
Every overturned pebble, every twig cracking, every sniffle of Annie’s cut through the silence. If silence was our protective cloak, every sound we made tore through it, exposing us gradually.
We reached the fence and I held Annie back. “Wait.”
There was a massive gap in the fence already, with broken palings on either side. We crouched at the edge now, letting the silence settle around us as we held still.
The world sat still around us.
I cautioned a look out into the street. It sat empty before us, parked cars now abandoned sitting with dew glistening on their bonnets in the moonlight.
Time to go.
I slipped back behind the fence and took Annie’s hand. “Across the road, just like Jay told us. Don’t let go of my hand.”
I stood on quivering legs and we took a cautious step forward. I let one arm fall behind me, gripping the fence as long as I could. The chipped paint scraped at my fingertips as my hand fell away.
Panic was crashing over me, pulsating in my ears, drumming in my chest. Every instinct screamed at me – turn back, run, hide.
I gripped Annie’s hand and kept moving. We insisted that she didn’t let go of me, but she was my raft. If it was just me, on this road alone, I think I would have sat down and waited to be taken.
Somehow we reached the middle of the road.
“Hurry.” I whispered, pulling Annie in closer to me, quickening our pace. I took my eyes off the road, just for a second. Not even a second.
I didn’t see the pothole on the road. My foot caught the edge. I lurched forward, catching myself with a sickening scrape of sneaker against bitumen. The noise was everywhere, it lasted forever. We were frozen in the middle of the road, letting the noise fade around us. Annie was clutching my hand so tightly it was beginning to throb.
“Almost there.” I whispered, stepping forward.
We’d barely started moving again when I heard it. Something dragging.
Slowly, but steadily.
It seemed to bounce off the trees, the cars. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
It was getting closer.
I pushed Annie forward, stumbling the last few steps to the cars. My hand slipped along the bonnet as I moved her towards the curb.
I couldn’t tell how close it was.
But the park was so close now, even in the darkness under the trees I could see the path leading in.
It grunted. Maybe only a few cars away.
I still couldn’t tell.
We were off the road now.
The dragging stopped. Quiet engulfed us.
It started moving again. I could hear it sniffing now. Not the frenzied sniffing of a hunter, but the curious, slow sniff of a searcher.
I let go of Annie’s hand and crept further around the car, each step more carefully placed than the last.
The front door was slightly ajar. I could see the bump in the car’s body. I strained to reach, too frightened to take another step away from Annie.
With a click that would normally be so quiet but now sounded like a gunshot, the door pulled open. I reached for Annie, both arms straining in opposite directions.
Her whole body was shaking. She clutched Teddy in one arm, the other hand skimming along the side of the car for support. I could hear a tiny crunch as each of her steps grazed the gravel.
A groan this time. Definitely no further than a few cars away now.
Panic took control. Annie curled into the foot-well, her tiny frame taking up an impossibly small amount of space.
I crawled onto the seat above her. There was no time to spread out, no time to move to the other side of the car.
I pulled on the armrest, holding the door millimetres from locking shut. I waited until I could hear another drag.
So close now it had to hear us breathing.
I clicked the door shut.