21

After a while, the darkness stopped being absolute. There were pinpricks of light, so small that at first she thought it was her imagination. When she tried to focus on them they disappeared. It was only when she looked off to one side that they became visible – tiny specks like a horizontal plane of stars on the edge of her vision.

As her eyes adjusted, she found she was able to make them out more easily. Not just specks. Slits. Cracks of brightness. Before long she was able to discern that they weren’t all around her. The light was coming from a single direction. She started to think of that as Front.

With that to guide her, Jenny gradually began to impose form and shape on the darkness surrounding her.

Waking had come slowly. Her head hurt with a dull, senseless throbbing that made any movement agony. Her thoughts were scrambled, but a terrible sense of dread goaded her from sinking back into unconsciousness. She thought she was back in the car park, only this time the taxi driver had put her in the boot of the car. She felt hemmed in, unable to breathe. She wanted to shout for help, but her throat, like the rest of her body, wouldn’t seem to acknowledge her commands.

Slowly, her thoughts had grown more coherent. She became aware that wherever she was, it wasn’t the car park. That attack was in her past now. But the realization brought no relief. Where was she? The darkness confused and terrified her. As she struggled to sit up, something seemed to grab her leg. She tried to pull away, felt something snap taut, and then her fingers encountered the rough hemp of a rope around her ankle. With mounting disbelief, she followed it along its length until she came to a heavy iron ring set into the floor.

She’d been tied. And suddenly the rope, the darkness, the hard ground underneath her, all fell into awful alignment.

And she remembered.

It came back in fragments; a patchwork of memory that gradually merged together. She’d been talking to David on the phone. The doorbell had chimed. She’d gone to answer it, seen the figure of a man standing outside, obscured by the bead curtain in the doorway, and… and…

Oh, God, this couldn’t be happening. Except it was. She called out, shouting for David, for Tina. Anybody. No-one came. With an effort, she forced herself to stop. Deep breaths. Full yourself together. Shakily, she began to take stock of her situation. Wherever she was, it was cool but not too cold. The air was foul, with a rank odour she couldn’t identify. But at least she was still dressed, her shorts and sun vest undisturbed. She told herself that was a good sign. The pain in her head had subsided to a muted throb, and now the strongest sensation was thirst. Her throat was swollen and dry, making it painful to swallow. She was hungry, too, and with that thought came a far more chilling one.

She didn’t have any insulin.

She couldn’t even guess how long it was since her last shot. She had no idea how long she’d been here. She’d given herself her usual injection in the morning, but how long ago was that? If her next wasn’t already overdue, it soon would be. Without insulin there was nothing to regulate her blood sugar, and she knew only too well what would happen when it started to rise.

Don’t think about that, she told herself, sharply. Think about getting out of here. Wherever here is.

Stretching out her hands, she’d begun mapping the physical limits of her prison as far as the rope would allow. Behind her was a rough wall, but on the other three sides her hands met only air. Then, as she groped in the darkness, her foot kicked something. She gave a cry and stumbled away. When nothing else happened she crouched down and cautiously felt for the object again. It was a shoe, she thought, testing it with her fingers. A trainer, too small to be a man’s…

She dropped it as realization swept over her. Not a trainer, but a running shoe. A woman’s.

Lyn Metcalf’s.

For a while fear threatened to overwhelm her. Ever since she’d felt the rope around her leg Jenny had been trying to hold back the knowledge that the killer must have selected her for his third victim. Now it had been brutally confirmed. But she couldn’t afford to fall apart. Not if she wanted to get out of this.

Moving nearer the wall until the rope was slack, she explored the knots with her fingers. They might as well have been cast from the same iron as the ring itself for all the play in them. The noose wasn’t tight enough to cause her pain, but it was too small for her to free her foot. Trying only rubbed the skin of her ankle raw.

After that she braced her untethered foot against the wall and heaved as hard as she could. Neither the rope nor the iron ring had budged, but she’d still pulled until her head pounded and flashbulbs popped and burst behind her eyes.

It was as they faded and she lay gasping for breath that she’d noticed the chinks of light. Light meant a way out, or at least something else beyond this black prison. But wherever it was coming from remained out of reach. Lowering herself to the floor, she moved to the furthest extent of the rope and stretched out. Tentatively, she put out her hand. It met something hard and unyielding less than a foot away. Jenny slowly ran her fingers over it, feeling the splintery texture of unplaned wooden planks.

The slivers of brightness were coming through cracks and gaps between them. One of them was right in front of her, slightly bigger than the rest. She edged closer. She flinched as her eyelashes brushed against the wood’s rough surface, then carefully put her eye to the crack.

Through it she could see part of a long, deeply shadowed room. A basement or cellar, by the look of it, which would explain the subterranean dampness of the air. The walls were unpainted stone with the look of age about them. There were shelves filled with jars and tins, all of them dusty and old. Opposite her was a wooden workbench, with a vice and a variety of tools spread out on it. But that wasn’t what made her breath catch in her throat.

Hanging from the ceiling, like obscene pendulums, were the mutilated bodies of animals.

There were dozens of them. Foxes, birds, rabbits, stoats, moles; even what looked like a badger. They undulated queasily, stirred by some faint draught like the surface of an inverted sea. Some were suspended by their necks, others by their hind legs, displaying blind stumps where their heads should have been. Many of the small corpses had rotted to skin and bone; empty eye-sockets staring blankly back at her.

Choking off a cry, Jenny pushed herself away from the planks. Now she knew what the foul smell was. And then the hairs on the back of her neck began to rise as something else occurred to her. She stood up and slowly felt above her head. Her fingertips brushed something soft. Fur. She snatched her hand back, then forced herself to reach up again. This time she felt the soft stir of feathers, swaying slightly from her touch.

There were animals hanging above her as well.

She let out an involuntary cry and ducked down to the floor, scrabbling along it till her back was against the wall. She broke down then, hugging herself as she sobbed. Gradually, though, the tears stopped. She wiped her eyes and nose. Wuss. Crying wasn’t going to do any good. And the creatures above her were dead. There was no harm in them.

Gathering her resolve, she moved to the plank wall and put her eye to the crack once more. The room beyond was unchanged. No-one was there. And now she noticed something the shock of seeing the dead animals had made her overlook. Behind the workbench was a recess. What little light there was in the cellar was spilling from this; a dim, artificial glow. Just visible in it, rising out of sight, was a flight of steps.

The way out.

Jenny looked at them hungrily, then moved back from the crack and gave the planks an explorative push. Resting on her knees, she slammed both hands against them. The impact jarred her arms and drove splinters into her palms. The wooden wall didn’t budge.

But the effort made her feel better. She drove her hands against it again and again, each blow exorcising a little more of the fear that threatened to paralyse her. Breathless, she moved back until the rope was slack enough to allow her to sit down. Her tethered leg had cramped, and the exertion had made her headache and thirst worse, but she felt a grim satisfaction. She held on to it, refusing to consider how little she had actually achieved. The planks weren’t impassable. Given time she felt she could get through them. Except you don’t know how much time you’ve got, do you?

Pushing that thought from her mind, she felt for the rope and began working at the knot.

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