After Z-Day – Part I – Chapter VIII

Chapter Eight

Location: Waltham Forest, London
Date: 12 October 2016

I stumbled off the night bus, not even caring about the stares that were being tossed in my direction. Lucy’s flat was off to my left, but I ran right, racing to the park I was sure she’d gone to.

It didn’t make sense and I had to go to the park—even though Jake had told me to meet him at the police station—because I had to see for myself that she wasn’t there. I’d only spoken to her a few hours before. How could she have gone?

I’d tried calling her phone on the way over, had probably left messages ranging in the dozens. I couldn’t bring myself to care; I knew Lucy wouldn’t, if our roles were switched.

I reached the park, my breath coming in pants. It was eerie this late at night, empty, and I hesitated before I approached the gates. They were closed but I climbed over without a second thought, glancing around when I landed on the other side.

There was no one here, not that I could see, but I didn’t let my guard down as I followed the path through the park. It was massive, trees casting shadows here and there and I shivered when the wind blew.

I tried calling Lucy’s phone again. No answer, and I didn’t hear her ringtone. Tears pricked the back of my eyes. She could be fine, I tried to reason with myself. She could have gone for her run and then gone for a drink, could have met up with friends, could have…

Footsteps behind me made me spin—and I let out a breath when I realised it was Jake.

He looked haggard, his expression lost as he approached. “Rach, I—Why didn’t you come to the station?”

“I was going to, but—”

I could see he understood, but I realised I should have gone to him. Lucy wasn’t here. Lucy had been here, I was sure; it was the only park close enough and one we’d been to often enough, but she wasn’t here anymore.

“Come on,” he said. He put an arm around my shoulders and I leant into it, though there was no comfort for me there. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the situation. Lucy was gone? Really gone? Why? Where?

A bulb went out in the light across the street and I looked up, startled. I felt something, a faint whisper of whatever I’d felt after I’d run from that lab a couple of days ago. But as soon as I stepped away from Jake, towards the now-dark streetlight, the feeling was gone.

“What is it?” Jake asked. “Did you see something?”

I shook my head. I hadn’t. “Let’s go,” I said.

***

We made our way to the police station and I ignored the feeling of dread as I stepped inside. We were far enough away from the city centre that I was sure these police would have no reason to suspect who I was—if my break-in had even been reported in the first place.

I needn’t have worried. The police station was bare-bones, even for this time of night. I frowned as I looked around; there only seemed to be two police officers in, both looking harried.

The woman spotted us and a smile flickered over her face. Trying to be kind, I was sure, but it didn’t sit well with me. It felt brittle, strained, like there was something else going on. I suppressed the urge to make for the door. I was here for Lucy.

“Mr Harper,” the police officer said, smiling at Jake. She looked at me. “You must be Rachel.”

I nodded, throat dry. I’d come into contact with a lot of police officers in my life, particularly the last few years, but it was a rare thing to have one being friendly—even sympathetic—towards me. Not their fault; they were doing their jobs, but it felt—odd.

“What happened?” I asked. I could feel that sensation just before a big cry, when my throat constricted and voice rasped and I knew they could both hear it.

“We were hoping you could tell us,” the police officer said. She waved us over to her desk and Jake stepped back, let me take the first seat. “When did you last hear from Lucy?”

“She rang me earlier today. Yesterday. She was going for her run—I was supposed to go, but I was sick today, at work, so she told me to get some sleep.”

The police officer nodded, taking notes. “How did she sound?”

“Fine,” I said. My eyes cut to Jake. “Excited. She was happy because Jake was looking for work here.”

The police officer nodded again. She looked at Jake. “You didn’t mention that.”

He shrugged. “I didn’t— I’d kind of forgotten,” he admitted. “I was thinking about when I’d seen her last.”

“Alright,” the police officer said. “What happened next, Rachel?”

I shook my head. “She was excited and then she said she’d got to the park.” I frowned. “I told her to be careful.”

“Why?”

“Because it was dark. And I saw that attack on the news today. Those two girls, and another, near where she lives.”

The police officer nodded. “Did you tell Lucy about that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She told me she’d text me when she’d finish her run, but she didn’t. I was asleep; I didn’t notice…”

I trailed off, pressing my hands to my eyes. I wasn’t going to cry, damnit! I couldn’t help anyone if I was crying and I needed to help here.

The police officer made a sympathetic noise. “Okay,” she said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We have Lucy’s contact details from Jake, so we’re going to see if they work—it’s very likely that nothing at all has happened to her, you understand? Then we’re going to search the park in the morning, when it’s light. As you can see, unfortunately we’ve not got a lot of staff in today…”

“Why is that?” I asked, lifting my head sharply. She seemed altogether too chipper for this; and while I could understand she was trying to keep us calm, I didn’t have to like it.

She shrugged. “Budget cuts, that kind of thing. It’s just one of those days.” A brittle smile again. My stomach turned sour. She was lying. Not about wanting to find Lucy—I could believe she was kind and sympathetic to what Jake and I were going through. But there was something else going on.

I didn’t have the energy to push it, though. I could feel Jake’s eyes on me, questioning what I would do. I wanted to search for Lucy. If not that, then I wanted my bed, some place dark where I could be alone and pretend I wasn’t living one of my nightmares.

I swallowed around a sudden thought. What if this was my fault? It didn’t feel like a coincidence that it had happened so soon after me breaking into that lab—what if they hadn’t called the police, but this was their revenge?

I felt all the blood drain from my face. Jake glanced at me and his expression switched to one of alarm. “Rach? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I muttered. I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know if it was true. It probably wasn’t. But I couldn’t tell him. “I didn’t eat much today, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

He didn’t believe me; that much was clear from his expression, but he let it drop. The police officer looked between us.

“For now,” she said, “I suggest you both go home and get some rest. Keep your phones close by in case Lucy calls, but the best thing you can do right now is make sure you’re feeling okay.”

I knew the last comment was directed at me but I didn’t have the energy to care. I stood, swaying a little on the spot. Jake put a steadying hand on my elbow. His face was almost expressionless, except for the concern in his eyes. I wondered if this was combat Jake, if he’d gone into soldier mode to protect himself from the fact that his girlfriend had just vanished.

I didn’t want to ask. He thanked the police officer and led me out into the night, where I immediately gave in, sitting down on the kerb. She was gone? She couldn’t be. It wasn’t—

My thoughts chased each other around and around and the air pressed in tight and my chest hurt and then I couldn’t breathe and—

Jake sat next to me, not too close, but enough that I could see him out of the corner of my eye. I tightened my hands into fists, my palms sweating and shoved my head into my knees, closing my eyes tight. I wasn’t crying, not yet, but the tears were crashing against a wall that was beginning to give.

“We’ll find her,” Jake said and the wall strengthened a little. My breathing slowed; the thundering in my ears quieted.

“What if we can’t?” I asked, flinching at the raw emotion in my own voice.

“We will,” he said. I didn’t recognise the expression on his face, but I didn’t care. The panic ebbed. It would come back, but I might make it home now.

“I need to go to the park,” I replied.

Jake shook his head. “Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll come with you, but, tomorrow. When it’s light. We won’t find anything tonight.”

It made sense, as much as I hated to hear it. Creeping around in the dark wouldn’t help Lucy and though I knew I wouldn’t sleep, the idea of going home and resting, coming to the place with fresh eyes, was an enticing one. I nodded.

“Okay,” I said. I took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’ll meet you at seven. It’ll be light then.”

Jake nodded. “Do you—” He frowned. “Do you want to stay at the flat?”

I couldn’t face my best friend’s flat without her in it. I shook my head. “I’ll just get the bus home,” I said quietly. “Sorry.”

He shook his head, forced a smile. “No worries,” he said. “I’ll… If you need anything, call me.”

I cringed. I’d been so worried about Lucy that I hadn’t even thought—“Same,” I said. “I don’t think I’m gonna sleep anyway.”

“Me neither.”

Jake stood and helped me up, walking me to the bus stop. We waited in silence for the bus—I certainly couldn’t think of anything to say—but he hugged me when it arrived.

“It’ll be okay,” he said and though it rang false, I knew he was trying.

I nodded. “It’ll be okay,” I repeated.


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