Bill Kitson

 

Read below for an exclusive extract from Bill’s upcoming book Identity Crisis

March 2004

It was raining. Not warm summer rain, but cold, driving rain. The sort that wets you through to the skin and chills you to the bone. She huddled miserably in the less than adequate protection of the bus shelter. All pleasure at the shopping expedition long gone. This country had its good points. A cold, wet, March night was not one of them, nor was the less than adequate bus service. She had been waiting for the best part of three-quarters of an hour, getting wetter, colder and more miserable, when a passing car stopped. The driver glanced up at the sign over the shelter. ‘Not waiting for that bus are you?’ He indicated the destination board.

She nodded, her mind too numb to form the words.

He shook his head sadly. ‘Not tonight, love,’ he told her, the cruel message not alleviated by his cheery tone. ‘You been reading that?’ He pointed to the schedule in the case alongside the shelter.

She nodded again.

‘Out of date, love. That’s last summer’s schedule. Management,’ his tone took on a sneering contempt, ‘haven’t got themselves off their fat arses to change it yet. Probably hoped to leave it for another month until the summer schedule restarts. Sorry, love. Looks like you’re stranded. Either that, a taxi, or Shanks’s pony.’

Unfamiliar with the expression ‘Shanks’s pony’ she guessed it meant she would have to walk. She hadn’t planned on anything other than the bus ride. The taxi fare lay in carrier bags at her feet. She looked down at them and sighed. Nothing else for it, she told herself. At least the walk will warm you up. And the carriers aren’t too heavy.

She had reached the edge of town when another car pulled up. Normally, she would have ignored it. Particularly in the dark. Particularly as she was in a lonely spot. But as it coasted to a halt, she recognized the occupant and relaxed. She wasn’t going to have to walk after all. She was cold, wet and tired. The rain had started again. And it wasn’t as if the driver was a stranger, not a total stranger that is. She knew him, had seen him earlier in the day.

Normally, the last thing she’d do was get into a stranger’s car. And it was. The last thing she did.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

2010

The weather throughout February had been wilder than for many years. Heavy rain, brought sweeping in from the Atlantic by storm-to-gale force winds, lashed the north of England for much of the month.

The last Thursday in February was no exception. As night fell, the wind picked up. On the outskirts of Helmsdale in Wintersett village, close to the edge of Helm Woods, the small cottage, sturdily built though it was, received a continuous battering from the wind and lashing rain. The only occupant was watching television. At the window behind her, she could hear the leaves and branches of the ivy tapping and scraping against the glass. She felt the hairs rise on the nape of her neck. She cast an involuntary glance backwards, towards the window, but could see little but the raindrops on the panes. On the TV, the forecaster was promising gales. No kidding, she thought. She began to relax, laughing a little at her fears. It had all been her imagination. She was sure of that now.

Again the tapping sound. Again the wind howling through the nearby trees. She stirred, she wished Brian were here. Normally, being alone didn’t worry her but tonight, things were different. Tonight, for some reason, she felt, not afraid, but unsettled.

She got up and went into the kitchen. She hated cooking for one. She wondered fleetingly if Brian would phone. Then dismissed the idea. He was on a golfing holiday. That would be his excuse. Not that he actually made excuses. Not anymore, obviously didn’t think it was necessary. She wondered again about these frequent jaunts of his. Was he really that keen on golf? Not that she cared. She preferred it when he wasn’t there. And that said more about the state of their marriage than anything. She knew she’d leave him if she’d anywhere to go, any money of her own. But he made sure that wasn’t feasible. What was it they called people like that? A control freak; that was it. These days they were like two strangers sharing the same house.

She stopped torturing herself and tried to concentrate. Her back was to the kitchen window, gave her no chance to see the face peering in. Nor did she hear any sound the watcher might have made. The howling wind saw to that. The figure remained, watching, impassive, until she moved. Half a turn was enough.

She wasn’t sure why she looked out of the window. There was nothing to see. The night was pitch-black. She gave a shrug that was as much mental as physical, and turned back to her ingredients. Immediately her back was turned, the face reappeared. Watching: watching and waiting.

She felt restless and decided to delay preparing her meal until after the programme she wanted to watch on television. She poured herself a glass of red wine, returned to the lounge and settled down to watch her favourite soap. The familiar theme tune was just ending when the phone rang. She muttered something impolite and got up to answer it. She was halfway across the room when the ringing stopped. Whoever had been calling had changed their mind. Either that or it was a wrong number.

The wind was picking up, getting ever stronger. Now it was collecting small bits of debris, hurling them against the cottage walls, the doors, the windows. That must account for the new sounds she could hear. Mustn’t it? Or was it something else? Something more sinister.

Stop it, she told herself severely. You’re getting yourself worked up over nothing. Then she heard it again, a squeaking sound. It came from the back of the house. It could be the sound of ivy against the kitchen window or a hinge creaking. That was it, surely. It couldn’t be anything else. Could it? She ought to go check, but she dare not. Fear was beginning to take over: irrational, but undeniable. It held her in the chair, unwilling to move.

All her senses were at fever pitch. Her ears strained for any sound that might not be connected to the storm. Was it her imagination, or did it seem a little colder in the room? Had a door been opened letting in the cooler air? There! What was that? A footstep? Something moving outside? Or inside? She became aware she was gripping the arms of her chair, her eyes fixed on the lounge door as fear escalated. She glanced down; saw the knuckles white with stress. This is ridiculous, she told herself.

She looked back at the door. Fear turned to terror. The handle was moving. The door opened. As she saw the figure standing in the doorway, her terror multiplied. She screamed. ‘Who are you?’ She screamed; and screamed again.