by Biba Pearce
© Biba Pearce
The stalker watched as the object of his attention exited the National Archives building in Kew, West London, a little after six o’clock in the evening, her handbag slung casually over her shoulder.
Right on schedule.
She glanced up at the April sky and frowned at the ominous clouds that threatened to erupt at any given moment. It was still light, but only just. The sun had already set and what little light was left was hastily following its descent into darkness.
She hesitated. The stalker knew what she was thinking.
Should I take the river path to the right, which is quicker but more isolated, or should I stick to the main roads, which are safer but will add fifteen minutes to my walk home?
She turned right, opting for speed over security.
The stalker smiled to himself.
He followed her around the brutalist building with its gun-metal grey chunks of concrete and complex spaces casting long, chaotic shadows across the surrounding lawns. She walked fast, her jacket pulled tight around her slender frame. He could hear her heels crunching on the gravel path as she made her way towards the river.
He knew her route by heart. She’d follow the towpath along the Thames for just under a mile, after which she’d climb the steps to Kew Bridge, cross it and turn left into Brentford. Her apartment was off Brentford High Street, a new tower block with a cold, characterless exterior and shaded windows. It had probably been advertised as having a river view, but her apartment didn’t. It faced the wrong way.
As she turned onto the river path, the heavens opened and the rain began bucketing down. The stalker hung back as she fiddled in her handbag for an umbrella.
“Come on . . .” he muttered, watching her launch it against the deluge.
Then she was off again.
The towpath was secluded along this stretch, which was why he’d chosen it. On the right-hand side was the river, swollen and about to burst its banks, while on the left, an impenetrable tangle of trees and foliage backed on to allotments. There was nobody around thanks to the weather and the high tide. Except her, of course.
The stalker narrowed the distance between them, careful to keep to the left, where the trees overhung the path. The leaves were only beginning to grow back after a long, frosty winter and the gnarled branches cast twisted patterns onto the gravel. Here, in the shadow of the foliage, she wouldn’t see him approaching. He wore soft-soled trainers to mask his footsteps, and where he could, trod on tufts of grass and fallen leaves.
The moment of truth was approaching. She was almost there, at the point where the allotments ended and the field began, where the trees were thicker and the undergrowth deeper. The point of no return, he called it. The point where he had to act or the opportunity would be lost.
Sure, there would always be another night, but tonight it was as if the universe was working with him. The weather, the timing and her decision to take the river path had all colluded to create the perfect opportunity. He wasn’t going to waste it.
His heart rate quickened along with his pace. Keeping his back to the undergrowth, he almost ran the last few metres but forced himself to keep steady in case she heard him. He needn’t have bothered. She was oblivious to any sound other than her high-heeled boots on the gravel and the rain pummelling down on her umbrella.
This was it, the moment he had been waiting for. The moment where he would make her pay. The stalker took one last look around him, checking the path was deserted.
It was. Time to strike.
He lunged at his target, putting one hand over her mouth and the other around her neck. He felt hot breath against his palm as she tried to scream. She dropped her umbrella and struggled against him, but he was so much stronger than her, it hardly seemed a fair fight. Within seconds, he’d pulled her into the undergrowth. It was wild and bushy and swallowed them up almost immediately.
A runner jogged by, taking the stalker by surprise. He fell to his knees, taking the buckling woman with him. A wet branch smacked them in the face before they landed on the sodden ground. She tried to shout out, but he clamped down harder over her mouth and the jogger didn’t hear her muffled moan. He ran past with only a cursory glance at the abandoned umbrella, oblivious to the woman being attacked only yards away.
That was close.
She wouldn’t stop wriggling, so he tightened his hold around her neck until he felt her strength ebb away. A few more seconds and she would be unconscious.
He laid her gently on the mulch-covered ground and studied her face, breathing hard. Her eyes were shut, and her chest rose and fell in an even rhythm like she was asleep. She looked so tranquil with her wet hair spread out against the dark leaves and her pale skin dripping with rain. She would look that way again once he was done with her.
But first, he would make her pay.