I promised I would reveal the Prologue to Sleep Tight a week before launch – well I’m two days early, but here you go!
I hope you like it – and there are some tweets at the bottom if you’d like to share. Just click “click to tweet”.
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The girl was smiling as she left the noisy, packed pub, and shouts of laughter were ringing in her ears as she wrestled the heavy door open, letting in an icy blast of cold air. She turned and shouted, ‘Night!’ to anybody who might be looking her way and a few arms were raised in a farewell salute, but most were otherwise occupied with pint glasses, or were gesticulating wildly to emphasise some part of the latest funny story being shared with anybody who was prepared to listen.
The door slammed shut behind her, cutting out the warm yellow light and the happy sounds of young people enjoying themselves. The dark night settled around her and the sudden silence hit her like a physical blow. For a moment she stood still.
Shivering in the early winter chill, she wrapped her scarf tighter round her neck and folded her arms, hugging herself to keep warm. She really was going to have to find a coat that she liked enough to wear on a night out. She smiled at her own vanity, and reminded herself that it was only a fifteen-minute walk back to their flat, so if she walked quickly she would soon warm up.
The silence was momentarily shattered as the door to the pub swung open again, the light from inside spilling its amber glow across the wet pavements. Above a burst of loud music coming from the warm bar she thought she heard somebody shout her name, but the door swung closed with a bang, and all was silent again.
The few folk who were out on the streets of this part of Manchester were hurrying along, disappearing down side roads that led to their homes. The miserable weather and the early cold bite appeared to have kept people indoors tonight, and who could blame them?
A few yards ahead of her a couple stopped to kiss, the girl wrapping her arms round the boy’s neck, standing on tiptoe to press the whole length of her body against his, and the night felt warmer for it. She smiled again as she looked at them, thinking how wonderful it felt to be in love. She and her boyfriend had only recently moved in together, and she had never been so happy.
She reached the junction with the main road, and waited at the crossing. There wasn’t much traffic, but being one of the main roads into and out of Manchester, it was never completely quiet.
She hurried across when the road was clear and made her way to the quieter streets on the other side, away from the halls of residence and the modern housing. She had been thrilled when they had found a flat in an old Victorian house – the whole of the ground floor was theirs and, although it was still a bit scruffy, they were working on it. Best of all, it was on a lovely peaceful tree-lined road, which gave each house a sense of privacy.
She turned into the first road. The small park on her right was usually full of children playing, but at this time of the night it was deserted, the only movement coming from a single swing that was swaying gently, silently.
Her flat shoes made little sound on the pavement, and she had a strange feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world. She glanced towards the windows of the houses as she passed, but most were protected from view by high hedges and those she could see were black, with just the lifeless reflection of the street lights making the rooms beyond seem eerily deserted.
The feeling that she wasn’t alone sneaked up on her. There wasn’t a single moment – the scuffing of a shoe, the glimpse of a dark shadow – that persuaded her. It was something else entirely. It was the feeling that somebody’s eyes were boring into her back. She just knew.
Her body grew rigid, and every nerve ending tingled. Should she run? Or would that be a signal to him to chase and catch her? Should she turn into somebody’s drive? But he could be on her before she reached the door.
Was it better if he knew that she was aware of him? If she turned round to look, would that precipitate a reaction? She didn’t know.
But he was there. She just didn’t know how close he was.
Without thinking, she turned her head quickly. The street was empty. Wasn’t he behind her? He was somewhere, she was certain. She glanced across at the park and thought about the swaying swing. He could be walking alongside her now, hidden behind the shrubs that lined the dark, unlit pathway.
A flash of recollection from earlier in the night pierced her mind. Amongst all the laughter and fun in the pub, there had been just a moment when she had felt uncomfortable. She had quickly spun around on her bar stool, almost expecting to find the invasive presence of an unknown man standing inches from her back. But nobody was there; nobody was even looking. She had brushed the feeling aside, allowing the pleasure of the evening to envelope the frisson of discomfort and squeeze the life out of it. But it was the same. It was exactly the way she felt now.
Just ahead was an entrance to the park. If he was in there and he was coming to get her, this is where he would do it. She had seconds to make a plan. She was going to act as if there was nothing to worry about, and then the moment she drew level with the gate, she would run. And if she had to, she would scream.
Two steps, and she would be there. She unfolded her arms and dropped them to her sides. She could see the corner of her road just ahead, but it was even darker down there, the thick trunks of the trees she loved so much casting deep shadows on the narrow pavement, their stark black branches blending into the night sky.
One, two – and run.
She didn’t risk a glance at the park’s open gateway, and couldn’t hear if anybody was following her over the thump of her feet and the gasping of breath.
She was ten metres from the corner when it happened. She was almost there, almost home, almost safe.
A dark figure emerged from behind the last of the black trees, and stood still, legs spread wide, waiting to catch her.