Clara is walking down the street. It is dark. Her heels click loudly on the pavement. She likes the sound - it is comforting.
She finds the brassy light of the streetlamps lining the road garish and ugly. She avoids them as she walks, veering onto the road - the light emphasises her pores. And even though there is no one else on the path, she can feel it. The light filling the divots and small craters in her face.
She continues walking, her toes growing damp as the water on the path seeps through her suede shoes. As she comes to the dark, gaping mouth of a tunnel the clicking of her heels becomes louder, echoing off the curved walls of concrete, stretching up and up as if they reach to the heavens and she is underneath. Stuck below.
A car roars past, the growl of the engine deafening Clara for a moment as the blue hunk of metal soars past, coughing out fumes, black clouds, like it is dying of some strange vehicular disease. She wishes, only for a moment, that she could contract it, that her lungs would fill with the inky nebula that grew and reached out towards her.
After the ringing in her ears subsided, she noticed that the regular click-clacking of her heels had acquired another echo: a harmony. Though the sound of these footsteps were not as comforting to Clara as her own, they followed her through the tunnel, matching her own pace.
When she exited onto the pavement she was once again thrown into the glare of the streetlamps - though this time she didn’t try to escape it. She stopped. So did the footsteps.
Clara stood for a moment, surrounded by the sickly yellow light. She thought maybe she could stay there; curl up in the pool of light, pull the dead leaves by the side of the road over herself, cushion her head with the soiled nappy that lay on the path.
Clara walks again, this time speeding up, and echo following behind her started up again. She can hear them getting closer. Sweat gathers under her arms and pools in her bra, droplets rolling down her sloped forehead, dripping from her nose.
The clacking of her heels is fast, yet it sounds tired, out of breath. But the footsteps behind her are not tiring. Their breathing is steady, their stride constant and swift. She knows that the footsteps behind her are confident, strong. Hers are weak and panting.
Breaking into a run, Clara swings her arms desperately to propel herself forward, almost flailing, as if she was drowning. She felt like she was.
The streetlamps stopped just ahead of her: the light that she despised, but at this moment kept her safe. The light she so desperately needed to protect her.
She dived into the dark, kicking, swimming as fast as she could. But the footsteps could swim too, and faster than her. But Clara wouldn’t turn around.
She ran and ran until her feet ached and her toes bled, not stopping, not even to look behind her. Her breathing was ragged and desperate, and her lungs ached and burned.
Until she stopped.
She stopped. They caught up to her - the footsteps. And the person they carried.
Clara turned - in front of her stood a man of average stature with sharp shoulders and pale silvery hair. He was holding out a purse: it was a deep pink with small orange flowers embroidered on it and a silver clasp. Clara recognised the purse - probably because it was hers.
She thanked the man, laughing shakily - in fact, her whole body was shaking. The man asked her if she was okay, placing a tentative hand on her shoulder. Reassuring him she was fine, she laughs again, awkwardly, and she suddenly felt stupid for imagining she was in danger.
Then, Clara noticed something in his pocket. The end of a rubber handle just stuck out of the leather. She followed the lines of the handle to the strange protrusion jutting out of his pocket, wondering what it could be. It wasn’t until Clara lay on the wet pavement, blinded by the pain that exploded behind her eyes that it was a hammer, and that she knew she was right to be scared.