- Author: Elena Wilkes
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Keep My Secrets
A letter from Elena
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Keep My Secrets
The girl knows she’s going to die.
She drags herself back on her elbows, the gritty boards digging into the soft skin of her forearms as her heels struggle to find purchase. There’s the jangle of a belt buckle in the darkness and the canal boat pitches gently with the swell. Her terror ratchets higher.
Her eyes widen as her breath wheezes in her lungs.
‘You don’t want to do this. You know you don’t.’
But death is closing in and she wants to survive, no matter what.
‘You can do whatever you want, I promise I won’t say anything.’
Tiny sparks flash and burn in front of her eyes. She touches her temple where she hit her head. Her fingers drift to the place on her throat where the red weal burns.
It’s not far to the bank. If she shows she’s totally compliant, then…
She shuffles back on her bottom, levering herself up onto the boat side and glances out at the black water. Her eyes search that dark, undulating emptiness. She longs for the lights of the town, to be back at that party again, to see people.
It was safe there; you should have stayed.
But it’s not safe here.
There’s a rustle out there and the boat rocks – the hands on her pause. Someone’s there? Her rescue?
Everything freezes. She snatches round and takes her chance. Now! There’s a scramble towards the side, but her knee catches on something hard and she lurches sideways, the bank, so close, her hands reaching out, her arms flailing, meeting—
Someone’s here. Thank god. Someone whose grip is tight and can save her.
Thank god you’re here.
They won’t let anything bad happen, she’s sure of that. She can trust them: they’ll stop all this. But these hands move in a way she’s not expecting – they loosen and grip again, towards her shoulder this time. Aggressive. She’s shoved hard, the power of the blow knocking her backwards, and her ankle twists in a shock of pain. She loses her balance, toppling awkwardly, grasping out but falling – her hip cracking on the side of the boat. The sudden shock and plunge of water punches into her mouth and eyes. She breathes in only water; it fills and chokes and squeezes her lungs until all she can hear is the banging echo of escaping bubbles skimming past her face.
The pain in her head clamps down, vice-like. It’s unbearable: a pressure beyond pressure, an agony that grows and grows until she thinks her skull might burst. She gropes wildly, lungs burning, her hands reaching up out of the water to grab the hands that are holding her down. She fights, her mouth just breaking the surface to furiously suck at the air. Her eyes are wide open, popping with terror and the sheer will to survive.
‘… No… Please!…’
The two faces hang above her like a pair of pale balloons, bobbing with effort. The moonlight picks out their mouths set with determination, the flare of their nostrils, but their eyes tell her what she already knows. They want her dead.
The stars above her head pulse dully with the beating of her heart that gets smaller and smaller. Her hair whispers across her face as her hand trails out in the water. The faces gaze down blankly, their images reflected, one to the other, knowing, from this moment on, and for eternity, the three of them are bound together forever.
Frankie walks quickly towards her car from the children’s care home. It’s still raining hard and the wind is getting up. The only sounds are the echo of her footsteps on the black tarmac; it’s so dark she can’t see her own feet moving.
Over in the distance, the bulky outline of Caer Caradoc and the trail of the Long Mynd hills sit blackly against the darkening skyline of the Welsh border. Tucking her chin closer into her jacket, she blips the immobiliser. It flashes a reassuring orange into the ghost outline of the hedges as she drops her case into the back.
There are no streetlamps this far out of town. Slipping into the driver’s seat, she fumbles a little for the ignition as the engine turns over. The squeal of the wipers startles her and sets her heart racing. She finds her hands are shaking.
I’m not scared, she tells herself. It’s just the adrenaline from all that earlier bravado.
You’ve done good today, Frankie. She presses her lips together in determination. Concentrate on that.
Taking a deep breath, she begins to pull away. The road is quiet as her car picks up speed.
Come on, get a grip, Frankie. Thirty minutes and you’ll be home.
It’s Friday, well after going home time and the road is eerily dark. Her car headlights leap awkwardly, illuminating only a small stretch of the black tunnel ahead.
Letting the air slowly out of her lungs, she tries to relax her shoulders from up around her ears and she glances warily into the rear-view mirror. No one would believe this was the same woman who’d been trying to talk a teenager from a roof just half an hour ago. She wavers a smile at the memory. She doesn’t think that getting up on a line of ridge tiles in the pouring rain is high priority on her regional manager’s job description, but that’s precisely what she did.
She closes her eyes briefly. See? Think about the good stuff and block everything else out.
The radio fizzes and floats in and out of its station and her eyes sweep again and again into the shadows in the hedgerows. She concentrates hard on the shining road