A short story by Barbara Godfrey
ALISON was feeling cheerful as she came out of the front door of her home in the Surrey village of Ozebury. Bessie, her smooth-haired terrier, was obviously feeling happy, too – her tail was wagging in anticipation of her daily walk in the woods. She didn’t yet know that today would be different, with unusual variety in her “walkies”.
Fifteen minutes later Bessie was intrigued to find herself wandering not among trees but in the strangest setting she had ever seen: enormous wheels swooping down with chairs of laughing people hanging from them; great colourful roundabouts with more laughing people sitting on brightly decorated wooden horses; huge rinks with tiny cars buzzing everywhere knocking into each other; and so much more going on around her that Bessie didn’t know which way to turn her head. She wasn’t scared as Alison was holding her firmly on her lead and clearly loving all this excitement.
Now and again Alison stopped and stared up as the giant wheels bore down almost on top of them, it seemed. And at the more ordinary stalls she even tried rolling some little balls in the hope of winning a teddy bear, a water pistol or some other prize – without luck. Bessie hoped they were not both going to end up in one of those frightening wheels or roundabouts, but soon realised dogs were not welcomed “on board” – and Alison would not be able to go on her own as there would be no one to hold Bessie’s lead.
When she lingered in front of one of the roundabouts Alison noticed that a weird looking man was standing a few yards away, watching her. He was very tall and thin and dressed in a shabby raincoat, and she wondered why anyone so scruffy – more like a tramp – would be visiting a fairground. She was not worried as he did not approach her, and anyway she had Bessie to scare him off.
Eventually she felt it was time to take Bessie for a real walk – in the woods not far away, where they usually went. One of her shoelaces was loose so she bent down to tie it, putting her handbag on the wooden step of the roundabout which whirled in front of her.
It was at that moment she caught sight of the weird man a few yards away, looking at her. And he seemed to be slowly drawing closer. She panicked. Her shoelace was now tied so, hauling Bessie behind her, she fled. It was not until later that she realised how silly she had been. After all, there were hundreds of people at the fairground. The man may have looked peculiar but he had not actually made any threatening gestures, and if he had she could have raised her voice to get help from the crowd.
She was running past one of the rides when she caught sight of a man who was a near neighbour on her estate. She stopped breathlessly in front of him and gasped: “There’s a man following me.” She pointed wildly back in the direction she had come from, but the strange man was almost swallowed up in the crowd and her neighbour just laughed and scratched his head, obviously thinking she was rather paranoid.
Alison realised she wasn’t going to get any help there, so she tugged Bessie’s lead and ran towards the main road, leaving the fairground – and, she hoped, the weird man – behind. There were still plenty of people about, some making their way towards the fair, others just doing their normal shopping. She could no longer see the man and felt sure he was not following her.
Feeling much happier, she turned into a side road that led to the village where she lived, and passed the parish church on her way home.
“Thank heavens I’ve got rid of him,” she sighed with relief. “I don’t know why I was so scared, but you never know these days, and he certainly looked peculiar.”
She decided to celebrate by walking to the woods, where she could throw sticks for Bessie to fetch and where there would be lots of interesting scents for the dog to investigate.
“That will make up for the boring time you had on your lead at the fairground,” Alison told Bessie, whose tail was now wagging with pleasure at the welcome sight of green trees ahead.
The two of them were well into the woods when Alison suddenly spotted the man in the distance, running towards her, with his shabby raincoat flying behind him. She froze in terror, then tugged violently on the lead and dragged Bessie along the narrow path between the trees. There was nobody else in sight, nobody she could call for help, so there was no option but to keep running on and force her way through the thick ferns and tough undergrowth.
The woods were much denser now, and in places Alison could barely squeeze between the trees. Bessie, too, was finding it hard going as now and again she became trapped in the undergrowth.
The man was still on their trail, screaming “Stop!” every few minutes. That frightened Alison even more, as it meant beyond doubt that she was his intended victim in some evil purpose. Perhaps even murder.
The area of woods she found herself in was wilder and more desolate, with steep slopes down to an open area of sandy common. Further on was a small lake known as The Black Pond, a favourite local beauty spot. Alison tripped and nearly fell several times as she tore down the slope, the only way forward for her.
“I shall be completely on view from here unless I can find somewhere to hide in the trees,” she thought in despair.
To make matters worse, she was almost dying of exhaustion and desperate to sit down and get her breath back. She tore aside some rhododendron branches and fell on the ground among the bushes. Miraculously Bessie did not make any noise, no doubt being thoroughly exhausted by the breakneck speed of the chase.
Several minutes passed and there was no sign of the man apart from distant shouts of “Stop!” After what seemed an eternity Alison decided she had at last escaped his clutches. Inch by inch she squeezed out from the bushes, pulling Bessie behind her.
She scanned the surroundings nervously and suddenly caught sight of the man just as he spotted her. He was only yards away, waving his arms like a lunatic as he yelled for her to stop. Terrified, she dragged Bessie, who was barking loudly, behind a rhododendron and picked up a heavy branch from the ground. The man appeared round the shrub and confronted her.
Alison lifted the branch and smashed it repeatedly into his head. Screaming with pain, he tried desperately to ward off the blows, but even his thick hair did not protect his scalp. Soon his face was covered in blood and he staggered against the bushes as he tried to clear his vision.
Watching in a state of shock, Alison saw the man collapse to the ground, dying. Something fell on the leaves beside him. It was the leather handbag she had put down, and then in her panic forgotten, when she stopped to tie her shoelace by a roundabout at the fair.
© 2007 Copyright by Barbara Godfrey
The story Take Fright is an original work protected under copyright law, and may not be reproduced or adapted without the written permission of the author.
More short stories by Barbara Godfrey
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