The Binding Song (Extract)

The break in the trees told him nothing. Ryan had no idea how far he had travelled or in what direction.

Posted on February 21, 2018 in Extract
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Prologue

The break in the trees told him nothing. Ryan had no idea how far he had travelled or in what direction. He longed to sink down into the mud, rest just for a moment, but instead he scuttled across the open patch of long grass, bent double like a crab. He tried not to think about the lorry he’d left behind, the warm seat, the friendly driver. Perhaps if he’d stayed, he could have hitched a lift out of Norfolk. But it had made him nervous when his companion turned up the radio. At every ad break he started to sweat, wondering when his description was going to blare out over the news.

He stumbled as he re-entered the wood. The ugly grey day was getting darker, the trees’ outlines bleeding into the dusk, making it hard to see where he was going. He blinked water from his eyes. A fine mist of rain coated his hair and ran like sweat down his face.

Every inch of his skin felt damp. Ryan took a few steps deeper into the wood, seeking out a clump of trees that bunched together more closely than the rest. Leaning his back against a trunk, he slid down its length, finally coming to rest on the earth. Even if the entire East Anglian Constabulary came crashing through the woods behind him, he couldn’t bring himself to walk any further. With his head against the bark, he listened. Nothing but the wind and the patter of light rain on needles and bracken. Perhaps it was safe to stop for a while. He got out the chocolate bar he had stolen from the trucker, its plastic wrapper rustling as he broke off a piece. Eating some now and saving the rest for tomorrow would give him a little energy, maybe even enough to make his way to the port at Felixstowe.

Focused on the taste, he nearly missed the stooped figure flitting by, some distance away in the wood. It was a woman, small and thin, making no noise as she passed. She seemed to know her way, moving with purpose. Ryan inched himself up on his haunches, trying to make out where she was heading. As soon as he moved, she stopped. He flattened himself against the trunk. The woman turned towards him. She was too far away for him to make out her expression; only the white of her face flashed back through the darkness. For a moment, he thought she had seen him. Then she turned and moved on.

Something about the paleness of her face recalled the dread of Halvergate. Like a flare sent out at sea, it briefly illuminated his thoughts, then sank into the unknown. In prison Ryan had laughed at the other men, but now, alone in the wood, he felt uneasy. He watched the woman continue her journey. A little further and she would be out of sight. Twilight was setting in, so she must know her way. Perhaps she was heading to another road – if so, he could get a sense of his bearings. Deciding to follow her, he scrambled to his feet.

He tracked the woman, treading as quietly as he could. It seemed to him that while she made no noise at all, every twig that snapped under his feet went off like a gunshot. Ryan took out the broken shard of CD from his pocket, sharpened like a knife. He turned it over in his fingers; the keen edge felt reassuring. He didn’t plan on hurting her, not unless he had to, but the weapon reminded him that outside Halvergate all things were possible.

Darkness seeped into the wood and it became more difficult to follow his prey. She seemed to be walking faster now, still not making any sound. He struggled to keep up, his only guide the silver bark of the trees, dim in the moonlight. She became nothing more than a shadow at the edge of his vision, a movement that frayed and split in different directions. He stumbled first one way, then the next, before giving up. He stopped. The press of the trees, the silence and the darkness, all stretching out in unknown directions, felt more claustrophobic than prison. Then he saw it. The woman’s pale face. She was watching him through the branches, the white of her skin lit up by the moon. But no light shone in her eyes. Like holes gaping in a mask, her eyes were completely black.

Ryan gasped and stumbled backwards, dropping the broken CD. The image disappeared. Looking back at him was a white strip of bark, two shadowy knots cut like eyes in its peeling skin. You could almost mistake it for a face.

‘Stupid bastard!’ Ryan spoke the words aloud for comfort, but felt none. The trees closed inwards, silencing him, a hostile force.

He had to get out into the open. He squatted down in the mud, feeling for the CD. The pounding of his heart beat loud in his ears and his fingers shook as he scrabbled through leaves and mud. The knife was gone.

Behind him Ryan heard the crack of snapping wood. He swung round. Nothing. He turned back, unsteady on his haunches, and there, crouched in front of him, was the eyeless woman. He saw the white veins standing out in her neck, her face contorted with rage. She screamed. The sound expanded in Ryan’s head, shattering his mind. He tried to stagger upright, but instead he fell, crashing into the mud, the soft side of his neck landing heavily on the upturned spike of his CD. Blood filled his mouth. He tried to pull himself upright, to crawl away, but found himself choking. Above him,
the trace mark of branches faded.

Ryan couldn’t see the woman, but he sensed her white face, leaning downwards, close to his own. The stranger’s dark eyes stared into his, the black spreading outwards as he lost consciousness.

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