Authors: Claire McFall
ait, stop! Where the hell are we going?” Dylan huffed to a standstill and cemented her feet to the ground, folding her arms across her chest. She’d been blindly following him, but they had been marching for twenty minutes in total silence now, going in who knew which direction and he hadn’t said a word since the curt, “Come with me.” All of the questions, all reasons for staying at the tunnel mouth that had inexplicably vanished from her head when he’d ordered her to follow had returned, now with full force. Walking randomly like this was just stupid.
He continued on for a few strides, before turning and looking at her with his eyebrows raised. “What?”
“What?!” Dylan’s voice rose an octave with incredulity. “We’ve just come out of a train crash where everybody else seems to have disappeared. I have no idea where we are, and you are marching us halfway across the middle of nowhere, away from the place where they are going to be looking for us!”
“Who do you imagine is looking for us?” he asked, that arrogant half-smirk sneaking back onto his lips.
Dylan frowned for a moment, confused by the strange question, before launching into her argument once more. “Well, the police for one. My
.” Dylan felt a little thrill at being able to say that in the plural for the first time. “When the train doesn’t arrive at the next station, do you not think the train company might wonder where it is?”
She raised her eyebrows here, secretly pleased with the strength of her line of reasoning, and waited for him to respond.
He laughed. It was almost a musical sound, but underpinned with a hint of mockery. His reaction confounded and infuriated her again. Dylan pursed her lips, waiting for the punchline, but it didn’t come. Instead he smiled. It changed his entire face, warming his natural coldness. But there was still something not quite right about it. It looked sincere, but it didn’t stretch to his eyes. They remained icy and aloof.
He walked over to Dylan and ducked down slightly so that he could look into her eyes, shocking blue into startled green. His closeness made her a little uncomfortable, but she stood her ground.
“If I told you you weren’t where you thought you were, what would you say?” he asked.
“What?” Dylan was totally confused, and not a little bit intimidated. He was maddening with his arrogance, making fun of her at every turn and coming out with nonsense statements like that. What could be the point of his question except to bamboozle her and make her doubt herself?
“Never mind,” he chuckled, reading her expression. “Turn around. Could you find the tunnel again if you had to?”
Dylan looked over her shoulder. The landscape was empty and unfamiliar. Everything looked the same. Stark, windswept hills as far as the eye could see, dipping down into gullied valleys where vegetation grew voraciously, soaking up the moisture and revelling in the shelter from the constant gales. There was no sign of the tunnel entrance or even the train tracks. That was weird; they hadn’t gone very far. She felt a tightening in her chest as she realised that she had no idea what direction they had come from, that she would be completely lost if Tristan left her now.
“No,” she whispered, grasping how much trust she had put in this unfriendly stranger.
Tristan laughed as he watched the realisation trickle across her face. She was at his mercy now.
“Then I guess you’re stuck with me.” He grinned wickedly and began marching again. Dylan stood motionless, torn, but as the distance began to open up between them, her feet seemed to act of their own accord, afraid of being left alone. She scrambled over a small cluster of boulders and jogged through some short grass until she had bridged the gap. He continued to stride out, his long legs and loping gait allowing him to outstrip her easily.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” she panted as she hurried to keep up.
Again that irritating smirk. “Yes.”
“How?” Matching his pace was reducing her to one syllable questions.
“Because I’ve been here before,” he replied. He seemed supremely confident, and had taken control of the situation – and of her – completely. Though she hated to admit it, unless she wanted to wander helplessly around on her own, she had little option but to trust him. He continued to storm up the hill and Dylan’s legs, unused to exercise, were already burning.
slow down?” she gasped.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, and despite his frostiness he seemed it. He slowed to a more moderate speed. Dylan gratefully matched his pace and continued her questioning.
“Is there a town or something nearby? Somewhere where the phones
“There’s nothing in this wasteland,” Tristan murmured.
Dylan bit her lip, concerned. The later it got, the more worried she knew her mum would be. One of the conditions of Joan allowing her to make the trip had been that she would call as soon as she arrived and met her dad. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed – she’d been unconscious for a bit on the train – but she was sure that Joan would be expecting her to get in touch soon. If she phoned Dylan’s mobile and got the answerphone, she’d start to worry.
She also imagined her dad waiting at the train station for her. Maybe he’d think she hadn’t wanted to come, that she’d chickened out. That would be awful. No, he knew which train she was on. He’d hear that the train had crashed, or got stuck, or whatever had happened. Still, she needed to let him know that she was okay. She supposed by the time all of this got sorted out it would be too late to head up to Aberdeen this weekend. Hopefully he would be willing to buy her another ticket. Although really the train company should give me one for free at least, she thought. Joan would be even less willing to let her go after this, though. Maybe he could come down to Glasgow instead.
But then something else made her pause. If there was no town nearby and it was already late afternoon, what were they going to do once it got dark?
She gazed around her, hunting for signs of civilisation. Tristan was right, though: nothing.
“You said you’d been here before,” she began. By now they had traipsed to the top of the hill and were going down a particularly sheer section of the other side, so Dylan kept her eyes on the ground, watching every step. If she had been looking at Tristan’s face she would have seen the wary, cautious look that came into his eyes. “When was that, exactly?”
Nothing but blanket silence from the boy walking beside her.
So many questions, so early on. It seemed an ominous sign to Tristan. He tried to lighten the mood by laughing, but Dylan drew her mouth into a grimace and this time she really did look at him. He rearranged his features into a more convincing expression.
“Do you always ask this many questions?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
Dylan was stung into silence. She turned away from him, looked up at the sky where the clouds were painted steely grey and darkening with each passing minute. So that was it, Tristan realised.
“Afraid of the dark?” he asked. She wrinkled her nose, ignoring him. “Look,” he said, taking control, “it’s going to take longer than this light will last to get where we’re going. We’re going to have to rough it I’m afraid.”
Dylan made a face. She had no experience of camping, but was fairly sure that any activity which involved sleeping outdoors with no access to a kitchen, bathroom or warm bed was not for her.
“We haven’t got a tent. Or sleeping bags. Or any food,” she complained. “Maybe we should head back to the tunnel and see if anybody’s there looking for us.”
He rolled his eyes, arrogant and patronising again. “It’s way too late to do that! We’d end up wandering around in the pitch black. I know a sheltered spot. We’ll survive. You’ve been through worse today,” he added.
Oddly, Dylan hadn’t thought much about the train crash. Once she’d got out of the tunnel, Tristan had assumed control so thoroughly that she had simply followed his lead. Added to that, it had all been over so fast that she wasn’t really sure what had actually happened.
“See that?” he asked, pulling Dylan from her thoughts and pointing to a ruined cottage about half a mile away, nestled in a narrow valley at the bottom of the hill. It looked long abandoned, with a tumbledown stone wall outlining the boundary. The roof had several large holes in it, the door and windows were long gone and it seemed as if another ten years might finish off the crumbling walls. She nodded mutely, and he continued. “That’ll keep the cold and wind out a bit.”
Dylan was unconvinced. “You want us to stay
tonight? Look at it! It’s falling apart. I mean, it’s only got half a roof! We’ll freeze!”
“No, we won’t.” Tristan’s voice dripped with scorn. “It’s barely raining at all. It’ll probably stop soon, and it’s much more sheltered down there.”
“I am not staying there.” Dylan was resolute. She could not imagine anything less comfortable than spending the night in a damp, cold, ramshackle hovel.
“Yes, you are. Unless you want to keep going by yourself. It’ll be dark soon. Good luck.” The words were spoken coldly, and Dylan was in no doubt that he meant them. What could she do?
Close up, the cottage did not look any more attractive. The garden had attempted to reassert itself as wilderness, and they had to fight their way through thistles, brambles and tufts of thick grass just to get through the front door. Once they were inside, things improved slightly. Even without the windows or door, the wind was cut considerably, and the roof at one end was almost completely intact. Even if it rained during the night, they had a reasonable chance of staying dry. The place looked like it had been ransacked, though. The previous owner had left various possessions and a few rickety bits of furniture, but almost everything was broken and strewn carelessly across the floor.
Tristan led the way in, righting a table and chair, and upturning a bucket for him to sit on. He gestured to Dylan that she should take the chair. She sat gingerly, thinking it might collapse under her weight. It held firm, but she couldn’t relax. Without the howling wind there was a very awkward silence. Added to that, now she no longer had the walk across perilous terrain to keep her occupied. There was nothing to do but sit and try not to stare at Tristan. She felt incredibly ill at ease, trapped inside the cottage with a virtual stranger. On the other hand, the day’s trauma was beginning to sink in, and she was desperate to talk about what had happened. She eyed Tristan, wondering how to break the silence.
“What do you think happened? With the train, I mean.”
“I don’t know. Just crashed, I suppose. Maybe the tunnel caved in or something.” He shrugged his shoulders and stared at a spot over her head. Everything about his body language told her that he didn’t want to talk about it, but Dylan wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“But what happened to everyone else? We can’t have been the only survivors. What happened in your carriage?” Her eyes burned with curiosity.
He shrugged again, standoffish and disinterested. “Same as yours I suppose.” His eyes flitted away and Dylan could see he was uncomfortable. How could he not want to talk about this? She couldn’t understand it.
“Why were you there?” He looked up sharply at that, startled, and Dylan quickly elaborated. “What I mean is, where were you going on the train? To visit someone?” Suddenly she wished she hadn’t asked. Something had flashed in his eyes that she didn’t like, a defensiveness.
“I was visiting,” he said. “My aunt lives up there.” His tone was final, shutting down the conversation.
Dylan drummed her fingers on the tabletop as she considered him. Visiting an aunt seemed innocent enough, but she wondered if it was something more sinister. Why else would he be so mysterious, so shifty? Was she isolated in the middle of nowhere with some sort of criminal? Or was she just being silly – paranoid after the shock of the day?
“What will we do for food?” she asked, more to change the subject than anything else, because his aloofness was unnerving.
“Are you hungry?” He sounded a bit taken aback.
Dylan thought about it and found, to her surprise, that the answer was no. She had last eaten after school on the way to the train station. A hurried hamburger from a greasy café choked down with a warm Diet Coke. That had been hours ago. Although skinny, she ate like a horse. Joan always joked that she’d wake up one day and be twenty stone. Normally she would have expected to be ravenous. Maybe loss of appetite was a symptom of shock.
“At the very least we’ll need some water,” she said, although even as the words came out she realised that she wasn’t thirsty either.
“Well, there’s a stream out back,” he answered, humour in his voice. “Can’t say how clean it’ll be, though.”
Dylan thought about drinking from the mucky stream. The water probably had mud and bugs in it; it wasn’t an appealing suggestion. Besides, she thought, if I drink the water I’ll need to use the bathroom, and there doesn’t seem to be one. The clouds were bringing the night unusually quickly, and the idea of going out alone in the dark to find a suitable spot was not one she wanted to think about. There were nettles and thistles to consider, plus she would be too scared to go very far, so she would have to worry about staying within earshot. It would all just be too embarrassing.
He seemed to read the thoughts in her eyes. Although he turned his face away to stare through the window into the evening, Dylan could see the telltale lifting of his cheek. He was laughing at her. She narrowed her eyes and glowered in the other direction, out of the hole where the back window had once been. She could see next to nothing, just the outline of hills in the distance. The onset of night was making her nervous.
“Do you think we’re safe here?” she asked.
He turned back to look at her, his expression unreadable. “Don’t worry,” he said quietly, “there’s nothing out here.” The sense of isolation in his words was as chilling as the thought of unknown things scurrying about in the dark, and Dylan shivered involuntarily.