Kisha sat bolt upright, her heart racing. She thought she had heard footsteps outside her bedroom door. She sat very still, her senses alert, not daring to speak. She grabbed a torch with a trembling hand and crept down the hall, flicking on all the lights. There was nothing there. She looked outside at the dark expanse of bay and the lighthouse winking near the rocks. A smattering of stars penetrated the inky darkness. She inhaled deeply, reminding herself it was OK now. She was safe here, in Cornwall. It could have just been a nightmare. Although she had felt unsettled for days, being disturbed by strange noises and subtle changes – barely perceptible. She had the feeling that her belongings had been touched, tampered with.
In the morning, she went for a run, her trainers leaving behind footprints in the wet sand along the shoreline. A black dog was barking, chasing a ball into the clear blue sea. Mornings were becoming mistier and there was that autumnal nip in the air. She glanced up at the white houses nestled in the trees upon the cliff. Leaves were subtly changing colour and drifting forlornly from the trees.
She started to shiver, only dressed in a thin top and shorts so she sprinted back to the cottage. Panting with exertion she slid open the patio door and went into the kitchen. She flicked on the kettle and froze to the spot, a prickle of fear running up her spine. Her bottle of water was empty and her bowl of muesli had been eaten.
‘Still running Kish?’ asked a familiar gravelly Scottish voice. Her heart thumping, she slowly turned round to see him lounging like a panther in a basket chair near the window. He was still as cocky as ever. He was wearing faded jeans and a scuffed leather jacket. His wiry black hair reached his shoulders now and had grown a goatie beard. She looked up at her CCTV camera.
‘Switched off,’ he said. ‘Surprised to see me Kish. I was let out early for good behaviour,’ he sneered.
‘Get out Dex,’ she said in a hoarse whisper, trying to control her shaking body.
‘I don’t think so love. I’ve been to a lot of bother tracking you down,’ he said quietly, his piercing blue eyes as cold as ice.
‘You’ve no right to …. ‘ Kisha began.
‘`I like the long blonde ponytail – and you’ve lost weight,’ he said, interrupting her as he leered at her skinny figure.
‘H-how did you know it was m-me?’ she asked.
‘Your new name Liv had me foiled for a while but you didn’t remove all traces did you?’
‘Rang your sister, didn’t I and she let slip where you were. Then I got someone to shout out your name when you were shopping in St Ives and you turned round didn’t you Kish? You’re even wearing the same shabby trainers – you left them out one morning to air. I even recognised your familiar big footprints on the sand.’
Then she saw the knife in his hand, glinting in the morning sunshine.
‘It’s like cat and mouse – I’ve been in and out of this dump for a few days now,’ he said softly. ‘And I’m the cat.’
She had activated the SOS button on the phone in her pocket but realized it might be too late. There wouldn’t be enough time.
‘You’re useless. Just a soft bitch who can’t look after herself,’ he said, languidly popping a piece of gum into his mouth.
‘No, people change,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve changed,’ thinking of the soft, vulnerable woman she had been back then. She was stronger now. She’d had self defence training. She remembered PC James’ words ‘it’s self defence if you use an everyday object to hand as a weapon – then it’s not classed as pre-meditated’.
‘I don’t think you’ll be able to escape from me, love,’ he said, suddenly stepping towards her, traces of alcohol on his breath. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest.
‘I think I just might Dex,’ she replied as she grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen counter, her brown eyes steely with resolve. ‘I’m not the mouse anymore.’
© Belinda Crowther