After Z-Day – Part I – Chapter IX

Chapter Nine

Location: Waltham Forest, London
Date: 12 October 2016

I slept, all in all, for maybe thirty minutes that night. By the time I got back to the flat, it was gone two, but Naomi was still awake, had waited up for me. I knew she didn’t like Lucy that much, but still, she sat with me when I cried, hugged me and offered to sit with my phone while I got some rest.

At four, I told her to go to bed. She went but kept her door open a crack and I knew it was in case anything happened, in case I did anything stupid. I couldn’t blame her for that—I wasn’t in a great frame of mind for doing sensible things.

At five, I turned in. Well, I lay on my bed and stared at my phone but every time my eyes closed, I could only think of Lucy. Where could she be? If she’d been attacked like those girls, then, had they dragged her off somewhere? Had she been taken somewhere because of something I’d done? Because of something Jake had done?

Hell, because of something she’d done?

At six-thirty, I gave up. My phone was fully charged again so I jumped in a cold shower and dressed, pulling my hair out of my face.

Naomi came out of her room, yawning, just as I picked up my keys.

“You gonna look for her?”

I nodded. “Me and Jake. We said we’d go to the park when it was light, but—” Daylight was only an hour away now, anyway, and I could send Jake a text—if he’d managed to get any sleep, hopefully it wouldn’t wake him.

“I hope you find her,” Naomi said. “I’ve already let people know. Rang around last night. No one’s seen her yet, but I’ll let you know if they do.”

“Thank you,” I said and, on impulse, hugged her. She squeezed me tight and sighed.

“I do hope she’s okay. I really don’t like her boyfriend, but he doesn’t deserve this, either.”

I nodded. “I’ll be back later. Call me if you—”

“You too.”

I left the flat, walking out onto the cold street. I had to hope. She would be there, somewhere. She would be alive, somewhere. She would be alright.

She was alright.

***

I text Jake on the bus and he answered immediately—I’d bet anything he hadn’t slept, either—agreeing to meet me at the bus stop. When I saw him, I knew he’d heard nothing. He still wore the same expression he had the night before, a kind of pinched look, and I wrapped my arms around myself.

“You hear anything?” he asked me. He’d asked in the text he’d sent twenty minutes before, but my answer was still the same.

“Nothing yet.”

“C’mon then,” he said, expression shuttering and I knew then, this was combat Jake. He had to compartmentalise his emotions, had to be able to carry on in even the worst conditions—and I knew, rationally, that that couldn’t always be healthy, but all I wanted now was to be able to do the same thing.

We reached the park as the sun was beginning to rise and I realised, then, how dumb it had been to run here the night before. There wasn’t a chance I’d have found anything.

The gate was still locked, so I climbed over it, Jake following close behind. We walked through the park silently, almost like we were both holding our breath, hoping to see her.

Nothing stood out.

I wandered off the path and started looking near the trees. I didn’t know her route; hell, I doubted she even had one. This had been her first run in… how long? Long enough that it wouldn’t be set in stone, wouldn’t help us here.

“You see anything?” Jake called out.

“No.”

There was nothing. The grass was dew-wet and I could see paw prints and the occasional shoe print and—

I stopped. A drag mark?

I wandered over to it, circling it a few times before I stopped to look. “Jake!”

It looked like something had been dragged, though it was cut off. Didn’t look large enough to be a body, either, but—

“Did you find something?”

“I—I don’t know.”

I pointed at it. Jake sighed. “It could be anything,” he said. “There’s all sorts of animals here at night.”

I nodded. Useless. Okay. “What time are the police coming here today?” I asked.

Jake shrugged. “When they get here, I guess,” he said darkly. “If they even feel like it. Keep looking. I’ll just be over that side.”

I kept walking, but aside from that one mark, I found nothing else that stood out. We scoured the park for two hours, until well after the pensioners were out with their dogs, and didn’t find a thing that indicated Lucy had even been at there, never mind that she’d gone missing from it.

I found Jake on a bench and dropped down next to him. He had his head in his hands and I leant against him gently.

“She might not’ve even gone from here, that’s the thing,” he said after a minute, quietly. “She was wandering about at night—I should’ve come with her. Or I should’ve at least offered to meet her after. God knows who’s about when it’s dark.”

I shook my head. “You couldn’t have known,” I said. “I was the one who was supposed to come on a run with her, anyway. If I hadn’t fallen asleep—”

Jake looked up at me, eyes ringed red. “We can’t spend all this time blaming ourselves,” he said. “Even if it feels like we should. We should—”

His phone rang. My heart leapt into my throat. He fumbled it out of his pocket, answered the call—

“Lucy? Oh. Yes, that’s me. Okay. Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Ended it again.

“Was—”

“Wasn’t her,” Jake said. “The police officer. Told us to come to the station.”

I nodded and got to my feet, offering Jake a hand. He took it and I pulled him up. “Let’s go and see why they’re not here then,” I said.

***

It was immediately apparent why there was no police presence in the park—because, like the night before, there was barely one in the station. We saw the officer we’d spoken to before and she looked a little more frazzled, a little more like she might break.

Was there something else going on? Something we didn’t know about?

I didn’t have time to think about it much—she spotted us the moment we arrived, ushering us over to her desk. I saw two other officers on the way through, but that was it. Where was everyone?

“What’s going on?” Jake asked brusquely. “You told us to get here straight away.”

“Yes,” the officer said. “Now, you may not like what I’m about to tell you, Mr Harper…”

“What you’re—What are you about to—”

“We heard from Lucy.”

I sat bolt upright in my chair.

“What?”

The police officer looked at me. “She called this morning,” she said. “About fifteen minutes before I called you, Mr Harper. Told us that she’s left London for a while, felt a little overwhelmed being here, with her job, with the change in her relationship… She said she wanted to be left alone.”

Jake opened his mouth but I beat him to it. “That doesn’t sound like her,” I said, “Why didn’t she call me?”

The police officer shrugged. “I didn’t ask her,” she said. “She said everything very quickly and then hung up the phone. We checked the number—it all checks out, though of course, we can’t give out any details of where she’s staying. But she’s fine! That’s good, isn’t it?”

I leant back in the chair. No. No, it wasn’t good, because there hadn’t been a single time since the moment Lucy and I had met where she’d ducked out on telling me something important. Besides, she was too caring. Too much of a worrier. Too much not like me.

This sounded like something I would do—go running off without worrying about what everyone else would think. Lucy would never.

“Where is she?” Jake asked, voice low.

“I can’t tell you that,” the police officer said. “She is an adult and she asked that we not pass any details on. As far as we’re concerned, she’s safe, she’s alive, no crime has taken place—That’s it, all wrapped up.”

“Except, she’s not here,” I said. “She’s still missing.”

“I’m really sorry. There’s nothing else I can do.”

I opened my mouth again but Jake reached over, tightening his hand around my wrist. I stopped short.

“Thank you for your help,” he said in a tone that made it clear he meant the exact opposite—and then he pulled me up, practically dragging me out of the station.

I pulled away once we were outside, rubbing my wrist. “Jake, what the hell?”

“I couldn’t stay in there another minute and listen to that—”

“You know it’s not true!”

“Do I?” He ran a hand through his hair. “What the fuck do I know, Rachel? I’ve barely seen Lucy in months and now—Jesus, is it that surprising that she’d leave? You said it yourself—my job—”

“I said your job was keeping you apart, which was what she didn’t want to happen! And when I spoke to her, she was happy, Jake! She was so happy…” I pressed my hand to my mouth, feeling the tears well up. She was happy. Happier than I’d heard her be in months.

Jake shook his head. “I—I’m gonna go home. Sorry. I’m gonna try and call her. See if she’ll pick up. If she’s really left me—”

I nodded, swiping at a stray tear. “Call me if you—”

“Yeah.”

He stood there for a moment, awkwardly, then turned and walked down the street. Back in the direction of that empty flat; I couldn’t even think about it, so I turned away.

Something was very wrong. I had a few firm, unshakeable beliefs and my belief in Lucy was one of them—in her dependability. There wasn’t a chance in hell that she would have up and left without calling me. Without at least sending a text.

I started walking and the more I walked, the more my anger grew. Not at Lucy, but at whatever else was going on. This wasn’t like the distant, strange anger I remembered from the other night, either; this was directed, focused—and it was the kind of anger I thrived on, the anger that was familiar and invigorating.

I stopped when I reached the park. It was cold out, colder than I’d been expecting, and when the wind blew, I shivered. I could see people, going about their business, and so I walked in slowly, sitting down on a metal bench.

I eyed the houses surrounding the park and let my anger simmer, let it brew into a vicious flame.

I’d find her. I didn’t believe in any gods, but still, I gave the sky a quick glance. If I do nothing else with my life, let it be that.

I sat. And I thought and I waited and the worry fed the anger, preparing me, hopefully, for what was to come.


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