Authors: Mark Edwards
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime
Laura sat on the lid of the toilet, trying not to think about a different train journey. She held the white plastic stick between forefinger and thumb, hardly daring to look. It could be stress that had made her period so late. Stress and worry and the fear that she lived with now. Or maybe she would be lucky.
Maybe here was the good fortune she didn’t deserve.
After Jake’s funeral, she and Daniel had gone back to his flat together. They had ended up in bed. She could hardly remember the details of the night, except that she had cried after they’d made love, and Daniel had held her and told her this was their second chance. That had made her cry more. And then he’d told her he had lied for her.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked, her voice loud against the silence of the night.
‘When I told Edward what had happened at the house, I changed the details.’
She sat up, staring down at him, pulling the quilt over her chest. ‘But . . . why?’
‘Because I wanted to protect you, Laura. I didn't want him to think badly of you. I don’t want
to think badly of yourself. We were out of our heads. Another day, it
have gone as I told him it did. And in the end, we both ran anyway.’
‘What did you tell him?’
‘I told him it was you who grabbed the baby. I said it was you who insisted on taking the child from that room.’
As he talked, it all came rushing back for Laura.
Daniel descended the staircase with the baby under one arm and the candlestick in the other, Laura behind him, barely able to make her legs work, only able to continue because he urged her on.
She begged Daniel to hand the baby over to Dragoș, to do what this terrifying man with the gun said. But Daniel thrust the baby into Laura’s arms so he could strike at the monster with the candlestick.
‘I told Edward and Jake that Dragoș grabbed you, that I was forced to choose between you and the child.’
‘But that never happened!’
She closed her eyes, saw it all. How, even though she was the one who had insisted that they go into the house, as soon as she was confronted by the horrors of that upstairs room, her courage had evaporated. Daniel became the brave one.
While the two men squared up to each other, Laura panicked. She pushed the baby into Dragoș’s arms. And she ran. Out the door. She fled for her life, and Daniel had no choice but to follow her, to leave Alina and the baby behind.
And then came the gunshots.
It was all her fault. She had abandoned them. She was the
Afterwards, the shame had driven her mad. She, Laura, the woman who had dedicated her working life to helping children, who’d had such a terrible childhood herself, had failed the test. In those moments, her own self-image had been destroyed. Her confidence, her belief in herself—ruined. Consumed by guilt and shame, she had been unable to live with Daniel, because now he knew who she really was. He was kind, said it didn’t matter, that she had just been scared. That most people would have done the same thing. But his words had no impact. She had failed herself, failed Alina, failed that poor baby and the women upstairs.
She had begged Daniel not to pursue it with the police
. Daniel had wanted to follow it up later, despite being convinced that Constantin was corrupt. Laura had persuaded him not to. He told her that it didn’t matter, that no one would judge her, but he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand. She judged herself. And she didn’t want anyone to know what she’d done.
When she found out that Daniel had been speaking to his therapist about their experience, she was mortified. What if he told her everything?
But then the therapist’s house had burned down. It was like the gods were protecting Laura.
For a short while, Laura thought the problem had gone away—until Daniel texted her to say he’d spoken to Jake. Laura was
, panic-stricken. Mad, frankly. There was no denying it. She imagined Daniel telling Jake everything, what she’d done. Now, not only did Jake know about her failings, know that she was a coward, a murderer by proxy, but he was the worst possible person for
to tell. Jake was a gossip, never able to keep anything juicy to himself. Oh Jesus, what if he wrote a song about it? Or spoke about it in an interview?
The whole world would know who Laura really was.
That night, after Jake’s funeral, Laura lay in Daniel’s arms and told him she was shivering because of the cold and the emotion. He was so happy that night, ecstatic to have her back. And he was convinced she would be pleased with him, grateful that he’d changed the story when he spoke to Edward.
‘What about Jake?’ she asked, not daring to look at Daniel as she spoke.
‘Oh. I only got a little way into telling him, up to the point where we heard the baby crying, and he rushed off. He . . . he was dead before I could tell him anything else. But I would have told him the same version I told Edward. I hope you weren’t worried about it.’
She wanted to scream at him. Why hadn’t he told her that at the time? Why leave her to think he’d told Jake everything? But she couldn’t scream, couldn’t say anything at all.
Because Daniel could never know what she’d done.
Shortly after receiving the message from Daniel telling her he was going to talk to Jake, Laura went out into Erin and Rob’s garden. Alina glimmered between the two apple trees, camouflaged by shadows. Not a ghost, Laura knew that now. Just a woman. A woman who had come here to avenge what she and Daniel had done.
‘Something has happened,’ Laura said.
She told Alina about the message she’d just received from D
‘You need to go and see him,’ Alina said. ‘Talk to Jake. Beg him to keep it secret.’
So she had set off straight away. She was hurrying towards his flat when she saw him ahead of her, on Thornberry Bridge, heading home. She caught up with him, called his name. He stopped. It was late and there was no one around.
‘Laura? What are you doing here?’
He swayed a little and she realised he was drunk. He laughed. ‘Oops, a bit tipsy. We had champagne. Lots of champagne! I think they’re going to sign me, Laura. After all these years, I’m finally going to make it.’ He moved to hug her but she backed away.
‘How can you bear to hug me?’ she asked.
‘Daniel told you what happened in Romania.’
He was so drunk he could barely stand up. ‘Yeah. Romania. Fuck, Laura.’ He stared at her. ‘You know what I think? That whatever happened, you shouldn’t have run off. He’s a broken m
This came like a slap in the face, but he was right. There was no end to the damage she had done, the damage she would go on doing. Before Jake could react, she climbed up onto the railing, staring down at the traffic below, wondering how long it would take to hit the asphalt below.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Jake asked, climbing unsteadily onto the railing beside her. ‘Whoa!’ he said, looking down at the road below. He sat down on the thick ledge that ran along the top of the railing, his back to the road. Laura sat beside him.
‘You can’t ever tell anyone,’ she said. ‘I need you to promise me that you’ll never tell.’
He stared at her. He looked ill. Oh God, it was because she made him sick. A blast of cold air hit them and they both swayed. Cars rushed beneath them, almost drowning out his words. ‘We need to get down, Laura.’
She didn’t move.
‘Yeah, of course, my lips are sealed. Scout’s honour.’
But his eyes shifted, the way someone’s eyes shift when they say ‘I love you’ and don’t mean it. And she knew in that instant that the secret, her shame, was not safe with him.
He took out his phone saying he was going to call Daniel, and she snatched it from him. That was the last thing that could happen. More pain, more hurt and confusion for Daniel. No.
There was a temporary lull in the traffic; the lights must be red further along the road.
‘Swear on your niece’s life. You will never tell.’
‘Laura, that’s ghoulish. That’s terrible. No, I’m not going to swear on Cleo’s life—’
She pushed him.
She looked at her own hands. Looked over the edge of the bridge, saw his body lying on the road. Not hers. Too cowardly to join him, and unable to bear the sight of what she’d done, she turned and jumped down from the ledge onto the pavement.
She was a killer. A coward, a liar, and now a murderer.
The skin that had grown back was not the old skin. This was her new body and there was no wall of silk to hide behind.
And he’ll never tell
, she thought.
Nobody will ever know the re
Hands shaking, looking left and right to check there was nobody coming, she quickly typed out a message to Jake’s sister:
I’ve decided I can’t go on anymore. Everything is hollow and not worth fighting for. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t think I’m a coward. Please give Cleo a big cuddle from me. I love you. Jake xxx
She sent it and hurried home, tucking the phone into her pocket. She needed to get rid of it because, if she was found with it, everyone would know she’d been there when Jake died. She couldn’t throw it away now though. It would have her fingerprints all over it. She would dispose of it later. For the time being, she needed to hide it.
Now, of course, she knew that when Jake said ‘You shouldn’t have run off’ he meant that she shouldn’t have split up with
. But how was she supposed to have known that at the time? Why couldn’t he have been clearer? When he had looked ill, it was because he was drunk, not because she made him sick.
She stared at the pregnancy test, still waiting for it to develop, and tried to remember what she’d done with the phone. The days following Jake’s death were so blurry. She had lost her mind for a while, until the night Gabor abducted her and Oscar.
Somebody banged on the door of the toilet just as the result appeared on the test. She stared at it, hardly able to breathe.
I don’t deserve to have a baby
, she thought.
I don’t deserve happiness.
A coward, a liar, a murderer. What kind of mother would I be?
‘Are you coming out of there?’ The woman’s voice was shrill, desperate.
‘Yes, hang on.’
She flushed the toilet and opened the door, trying to ignore t
ay the woman tutted at her as they passed. In her pocket w
e pregnancy test, complete with two lines, a positive result, and as she walked back to her seat she made a decision.
She was going to be a mother now. She had to put this behind her. She could never let Daniel find out what she had done. When Alina had lied to Daniel about killing Jake, she had gifted Laura the freedom to go on. Laura could learn from that, and from the way Daniel had lied for her too.
It was time to shed her skin again. To shed the killer’s skin and start afresh.
There would be no more cowardice, no more lies, no more fear. As soon as she got home she was going to tell Daniel the good news about the baby. Their baby! What they had wanted right back at the start of all this. He would be so happy. They were going to be a family. And she made a vow to herself. She would never confess. Daniel could never know what she’d done.
She found her way back to her seat, saw the inspector coming towards her and took the ticket out of her purse, smiling sweetly as he stamped it, trying to ignore the way the air shimmered behind him, the crack she’d tried so hard to seal splitting open again, evil pushing through into the world. She closed her eyes, counted to three and forced herself to open one eye. The crack was gone.
She had one other secret, hidden here in her bag. It had arrived in the post a couple of days ago, with a French postmark. It was issue two of a comic book called
, drawn by hand, just thirty-two pages long. But those thirty-two pages told a familiar s
o couples meeting on a train, a black-clad girl being taken captive and subjected to unspeakable things, then her escape and, finally, vengeance. Laura had raced through the pages until she found the scene in which a young man falls from a bridge. The reader doesn’t see the hands that push him, just the terrible look on his face: t
ock, the realisation.
In another frame, Alina had drawn the heroine cradling a baby, both of them staring defiantly at the reader. Laura took the comic out now and turned to this illustration, looked at the baby, ran her finger over it.
She laid her hands on her belly and a tear trickled down her cheek, attracting the attention of the woman opposite, who offered Laura a tissue. Struck by this gesture, by the kindness of strangers, Laura began to cry, then sob, then howl, until everyone in the
either staring at her or huddled around her, trying to comfort her. The train moved on through the oblivious countryside, gliding into a dark tunnel. Laura braced herself, eyes shut ti
g to re-emerge into light, and at that moment she remembered, with a sickening lurch that had nothing to do with the motion of the train, what she’d done with Jake’s phone.