Hours of Darkness by Teresa Sweeeny

Lady of the Shadows

Photo by Laura Kiselevach

 

‘Hours of Darkness’ by Teresa Sweeeny

 

Someone is following me. I feel the weight of their stare on my back. Hear the crunch of their footsteps on the frosted grass behind me. The dark night moves in. It circles and encloses, swallows up any hope of seeing two feet ahead. Only a fool would walk through this park at night.

There have been warnings.

It is advised that no woman go through the park after six pm. It is considered most dangerous during the hours of darkness.

Danger has always enticed me. I move through its shadows. Bored and restless in the confines of my apartment.

I feel the frost crunch and compact beneath my feet. My light boots are no match for the cold of January. The phantom steps behind me continue. I stop. They stop.

I wonder if he, as I imagine him to be a he, is standing on the very imprint that I leave. If his giant feet slam and smudge my footprints, swallowing up their existence. Denying them ever having been.

Somewhere in front of me is the end of the park. There are huge iron gates that stay open no matter what the warnings. Gates that hang off ten foot poles, that give entry or exit to a park with no walls.

I could run. And I do consider running. But I can already feel the weight of him as he drags me to the ground. And I would fall face down into that cold sparkling frost.

I could phone someone. The small plastic phone is in my pocket. This is one of those times when a person should be grateful that they have a phone.

But I choose not to.

There are many things I should do. Ways to ensure some kind of safety for myself. I am defenceless. A woman. Alone.

But I do nothing.

Instead I listen to his footsteps behind me. Heavy, certain steps that walk when I walk. Stop when I stop. I think of those iron gates, unnecessary and useless, and yet what all people in here move towards. Another half mile away. Maybe more.

This park is one mile long and almost one mile wide. A haven in this city. Beautiful in the summer, full of colour and growth and vibrancy. Birds and wildlife ignore our intrusion.

In the winter it is truly serene. Crisp white snow hangs off the branches of trees, ice sparkles on the ponds. A silent, beautiful killer.

When I was a child I dreamed of living near here. I imagined that I would come here with friends or a book or nothing at all. And I would sit and breathe the almost fresh air, watch the people walk by with their dogs or their lovers or to the beat of their own hearts.

Now I have done all that. I have sat on the bench under the willow tree by the pond. I have watched the flowers bloom and open to spectacular colours, then curl and fade and die. I have smiled at people walking along the sanded path, dutifully keeping to the Walker’s Trail. I have watched mothers chat with mothers as they push babies ahead, children running, jumping, screaming. Celebrating their freedom in this highly orchestrated free space.

I have watched it all.

Now he watches me.

He is not new to me. Many times before I have been so sure that someone was where I was. Moving through space just as I move through it. Turning as I turn, pausing where I pause.

By the ice cream van last summer, as kids squished up around me and I moved to sit and eat my cone, I felt him. His stare penetrating through me.

When I turned, there was nothing. Only green grass, people lying, stretching, walking, laughing. There was no one standing there, staring at me.

In the autumn, my favourite season of all, I walked through a carpet of brown and orange leaves, felt them crunch and crumble under my feet, kicked them forward, flung them back. I heard a similar crunching behind me. It stopped when I stopped. Moved when I moved.

I did not bother to turn to see him then. He had already become familiar to me. I would turn, and he would disappear. It was like a dance we did, flowing movements, graceful emotive turns. Each step meticulously planned.

I caught a glimpse of him once or twice. Always only here, in this park. The movement of a dark shadow from behind a tree. The sudden dart of an arm being pulled back from sight, as if it were not an arm attached at all.

Some days, if the park is quiet, I read aloud. I know that he is nearby. That he will be listening. I prefer thrillers, the kind where brutality reigns and the villain wins. But somehow, I think he would enjoy the classics, like Austen or Tolstoy. I imagine there being a graceful, intellectual way about him. Hiding behind his trees.

I never mind him following me. A silent shiver up my spine that I cannot still. A threat that feels to pose no real threat at all. He is like a ghost that hovers, or a dog that has decided I am its owner. I think I might have even fallen a little in love with him. Time will do that. Time and consistency.

But I have never been here in the dark before.

Never alone in this park with him without daylight to guide me through.

I came this way without thought. The natural path for me, my feet had led me here before my wandering mind knew where I was.

I had visited Mathew. An old friend who sits and smokes pot in the evening, creates computer software during the day. He is the richest man I know. And always generous when I need help. We have sex. And then he gives me whatever money I need. We smoke a little. I leave.

He is a decent sort. Generous with his money and his drugs as long as I am generous with my sex. I don’t resent him his life. It is an easy one, but intelligence gave him that. Intelligence and a lot of good luck.

His apartment is three times the size of mine. A Leather suite, marble worktop, a bedroom that holds a bed big enough for five. And there has often been five in it.

It is a few months since I last needed to visit Mathew. And that was during the summer. When daylight continued into night.

This evening, as I hurried through the frosted green to Mathew’s apartment block, he was there. I felt his presence before I heard his heavy step. I was rushing. And for the first time, I felt frustrated by him.

I made a sudden stop, a sudden turn. Certain I saw a shadow dart low behind some bushes.

‘Stop it. Stop following me.’

The evening walkers and their dogs looked at me as I shouted out into the vast open space.

‘Are you alright?’

A stranger, an old man. What would he be able to do if I was not?

‘Fine.’

I released my arm free from the intrusion of his concern, and walked on.

Now I regret the anger I shouted. That one instance, those few words, altered our careful dance. I pirouetted where I should not have. He would not like that.

The dark here is heavy, I feel it weigh on my shoulders. My feet urge me to run. But it is like an old nightmare, where running is impossible, no matter how terrified you are.

And it is too late now. The shadow of his hand falling on my shoulder. Pushing me down.

My hands hit the ground first. Without gloves they touch the cold of the frosted grass. I try to scramble to my feet, but they slip and slide, useless to me now.

I am pushed face down onto the sharp frozen blades of grass. The white sparkles in front of me. Shimmers with beauty that makes me smile as I feel something impact with force against my back.

I do not want to scream. I want to lie here, lost in the frosting of the grass that still tells me life can be magical, while he bludgeons mine from me.

But pain, intense sharp and surprising pain, makes me scream out. The noise leaves my throat in high pitched tones, brutally killing the silence of this park.

There is a light dancing towards me. Moving, jumping up and down, back and forth. It is florescent, too bright, burning my eyes as it gets closer. A stranger’s voice accosts me. Their light blinds me.

‘You fell. I saw you fall.’

 

Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below

 

Bio:

T Sweeney
Teresa Sweeney is from county Galway. She was short listed in this year’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, 2014. She has been published in Roadside Fiction, Number Eleven Magazine, Wordlegs, Boyne Berries and runner up in WOW! Awards 2011. She is studying an MA in Writing in NUIG this year. Teresa’s stories can be read here.
 

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2 Responses to Hours of Darkness by Teresa Sweeeny

  1. David Jenkins

    A well written story which creates a sense of suitability not just for it’s choice of words but through the sentence lengths and the flashbacks. The idea that this is a dance is great as it has connotations of it being practised and perhaps the danse macabre. One criticism it should read computer software not computer softer.

    • Roadside

      Thanks for your comment, David. Glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks also for pointing out the error which I have fixed.

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