She hears herself breathing, quick and shallow. She knows what’s coming and there’s nothing she can do.
Tears sting and she blinks hard. Dusk is falling like a grey shroud and the undergrowth is thick with gloom. It’s an unseasonably warm September evening, but still she shivers.
He smiles and holds his phone up in his right hand. She can’t tell whether he’s taking a photograph of her, or a selfie. All her attention is focused on his other hand.
He steps round and behind her, moving so swiftly it makes her head spin. The heat of his body burns through the thin fabric of her dress. He positions the phone in front of her face so she can get a good look at the screen.
It takes her a second to recognise the woman in the photograph. Her skin is paler than usual against her short, dark hair, the blue eyes startlingly wide.
‘You’re very photogenic, but you should have smiled,’ he says. ‘You’ve got a beautiful smile.’
Her heart races and rivulets of sweat run down her spine. Maybe, she thinks, maybe there is still a way out of this.
‘Why me?’ she says, her voice part whisper, part sob.
He laughs softly and she feels his breath hot on the back of her neck. ‘This is so much bigger than you.’
She wants to run, but her legs are shaking so badly she can barely stand. She opens her mouth wide. The scream doesn’t come. Her breath has been sucked from her lungs. She tries to step away, but he grabs her right forearm, his fingers digging into the flesh.
He releases his grip and stands so still, so silently, she lets herself believe, for a fraction of a second, that he has gone. But all hope dies in a moment. He’s there, and the stillness and the silence mean he’s ready.
Hot tears spill down her cheeks. Her vision blurs, but she sees. She sees a dark-haired child learning to ride her first bicycle, her father cheering her on as he runs, arms outstretched, ready to catch her should she fall.
She recalls the excitement of her first kiss, the tenderness of her last kiss. She regrets the precious days she’s wasted, never saying the things she wanted to say. She feels the warmth of her mother’s hand.
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