Authors: Claire McFall
“Cold?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “There’s a fireplace over there. I’ve got matches – I can probably get it going.”
He stood up and loped over to the stone fireplace, which sat under the remaining piece of roof. The chimney-breast must have strengthened the wall, because this part of the cottage was in the best repair. There were still a few logs strewn about beside it which he gathered and carefully arranged into a precarious tepee shape. Dylan watched him work, captivated by his quiet concentration. As he reached into his pocket, he glanced in her direction and she hastily went back to staring out of the window. Red coloured her cheeks and she hoped he hadn’t caught her staring at him. A low chuckle from the direction of the fireplace confirmed that he had and she squirmed in the chair, mortified. The sound of a match striking was accompanied by a light wafting of smoke. She imagined him holding it into the firewood and trying to coax out the flames, but resolutely kept her eyes away from him.
“Barring a sudden gust of gale-force wind, we should be a bit warmer in a few minutes,” he said, standing up and ambling back across the room to his makeshift seat.
“Thanks,” Dylan mumbled, and meant it. She was grateful for the fire; it chased away the dark that was creeping over the land. She turned slightly and gazed into the flames, watching each one jump and leap over the logs. Soon the heat began to radiate out of the hearth, bathing them both in warmth.
Tristan went back to staring out of the window, even though there was nothing to see. Having used up all of her nerve broaching conversations that had been shut down before they could really begin, Dylan did not dare interrupt his brooding. Instead she folded her arms on the table and leaned her chin on them, staring away from him and into the fire. The dance of the flames hypnotised her and before long she felt her eyelids droop.
As the curtain of sleep closed over her, she heard the wind rushing around the crumbling walls of the cottage. Though she couldn’t feel the chill of its touch, she heard the wailing as it whistled through cracks and crevices, searching for a way in. The sound was eerie, frightening. She trembled uncomfortably, but tried to stifle the movement before Tristan noticed it.
It was the wind, nothing more.
hen Dylan opened her eyes, she was on the train again. She blinked, confused for a moment, but then accepted this bizarre turn of events with an almost imperceptible shrug. The train jostled and juddered as it jumped over the points, then settled down into a gently vibrating rumble. She closed her eyes again and rested her head against the seat.
It felt like only a second later, but when she opened her eyes something felt different. Perplexed, her brow furrowed. She must have dozed off again. The harsh lights of the carriage hurt her eyes, making her squint. Shaking her head a little to clear the cobwebs, Dylan shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The woman’s bags were taking up a ridiculous amount of space and something sharp from a bright orange carrier was digging painfully into her ribs.
She remembered promising to text her dad to tell him she was on the train and, with some difficulty, squeezed her phone out of her pocket. One of the oversized carrier bags shifted with her and rolled dangerously close to the end of the seat before the woman opposite her reached forward and shoved it back. Dylan heard her tut angrily but ignored her. Flicking the screen to life, she began to text.
Dad, on train. Not running too late at
A sudden jolt of the train jarred her elbow and ripped the phone from her fingers. She made a grab for it with her other hand, but only touched the bottom edge, sending it spinning further out of her reach. With a horrible snapping sound, it clattered to the ground and she heard a scrape as it skidded across the carriage.
“Crap,” she muttered quietly. Her fingers scrabbled around on the floor for a few seconds before they came into contact with the phone. It was sticky; some idiot must have spilled their juice on the floor. Dylan pulled the phone up to inspect the damage.
Instead of juice, her phone was covered in a thick, dark red substance that trickled down her heart-shaped phone charm and dripped slowly off the end, falling to create small explosions on the knee of her jeans. Looking up, she met the eyes of the woman across from her for the first time. They stared back, lifeless. Blood tricked from her scalp and her mouth hung open, grey lips pulled back in a scream. Dylan looked around wildly and spotted the two Rangers fans she had tried to avoid. They were lying with their arms around each other, heads together at an angle that just looked wrong. Another jolt of the train made them flop forward like puppets, their heads held on to their necks by thin threads of sinew. Dylan opened her mouth to scream as the world was torn apart.
It began with a hideous screeching noise, a sound that set Dylan’s teeth on edge and sawed at every nerve in her body, as metal collided with metal and ripped apart. The lights flickered and the train seemed to buck and jerk beneath her feet. She was flung forward in her seat with incredible force, sprawling across the carriage directly into the monstrous woman in front of her. The woman’s dead arms seemed prepared to embrace her, and the gaping mouth stretched wider into a hideous grin.
“Dylan!” The voice, unfamiliar at first, pulled her back into consciousness. “Dylan, wake up!” Something was shaking her shoulder, hard.
Gasping, Dylan yanked her head up from the table on which she must have fallen asleep and gazed into a pair of concerned blue eyes.
“You were screaming,” Tristan said, his voice anxious for once.
The terror of the dream was still raw. The woman’s death grin hovered in front of Dylan’s eyes, and adrenaline pumped through her veins. But it wasn’t real. It wasn’t. Gradually her breathing slowed as reality reasserted itself.
“Nightmare,” Dylan muttered, embarrassed now. She pulled herself upright, away from his stare, and glanced around. The fire had long since died but the first light of dawn had begun to brighten the sky and she was able to see her surroundings clearly.
The cottage looked colder in the morning light. The walls had been painted cream at some point, but that had long since faded and begun to peel away. The holes in the roof and the missing windows had allowed damp to seep into the walls and now patches of green moss were spreading across the surface. The careless abandon of furniture and possessions was sad somehow. Dylan imagined someone, at some point, lovingly arranging the room with items that held meaning and emotion. Now they were just discarded and neglected.
For some bizarre reason, the idea made her choke up. Her throat tightened and tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. What was wrong with her?
“We should get going.” Tristan broke through her thoughts, bringing her back to the present.
“Yeah.” Her throat was husky with emotion and Tristan glanced over at her.
“Fine.” Dylan took a deep breath and attempted to smile at him. It felt unconvincing, but she hoped that he didn’t know her well enough to see through it. He narrowed his eyes slightly, but nodded.
“So, what’s the plan?” she asked brightly, trying to gloss over the awkward moment. It worked, to an extent.
He lifted half of his mouth in a smile and moved over to the door. “We walk. That way.” He pointed with his arm and then stood with his hands on his hips, waiting for her to join him.
“Now?” Dylan asked, incredulous.
“Yup,” he replied shortly and disappeared out of the door. She stared at the doorframe he had just vacated, aghast. They couldn’t just go. Not without having a drink from the stream and trying to find some food, or maybe even having a quick wash. She wondered what he would do if she just sat there and refused to follow him. Keep walking, probably.
“Dammit,” Dylan muttered, getting hastily to her feet and chasing clumsily after him.
“Tristan, this is ridiculous.”
“What now?” He turned to look at Dylan, exasperation clear in his eyes.
“We’ve been walking for hours and hours and hours.”
“Well, the train only crashed an hour north of Glasgow. There is nowhere in this part of Scotland that you could start from, walk as far as we have and find
He looked at Dylan, evaluating her shrewdly. “What’s your point?” he asked.
“My point is that we must be walking round in circles. If you really knew where you were going, we’d have got there by now.” Dylan hitched her hands on her hips, ready to argue, but to her surprise Tristan’s face looked almost relieved. That confused her. “We can’t just keep going,” she continued.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“Yes, my better idea was to stay at the train tunnel, where someone would have found us.”
Again he smiled. The concern from this morning had long since disappeared and the arrogant, mocking Tristan was back.
“Too late now,” he snickered, and turned and walked onwards. Dylan looked at his back with disbelief. He was so rude and presumptuous, it was unbelievable.
“No, Tristan, I’m serious. Stop!” She tried to add a ring of authority to her voice, but it sounded almost desperate even to her own ears.
Even from ten metres away she could hear his sigh of impatience.
“I want to go back.”
He turned to face her again and she could tell that it was only with great difficulty that he was keeping his calm expression under control. “No.”
She gaped at him, astonished. Who the hell did he think he was? He was a teenage boy, not her mother. She couldn’t believe he thought he could boss her about like this. She took her hands from her hips, folded her arms across her chest and set her feet, bracing herself for a fight.
“What do you mean, no? You don’t get to just decide where I go. Nobody put you in charge. You are just as lost as me. I want to go back.” She enunciated each syllable in the final sentence, as if the force of her words could make it so.
“You can’t go back, Dylan. It’s gone.”
Mystified by his words, Dylan frowned and pushed her lips together into a thin line. “What are you talking about? What’s gone?” His cryptic sentences were beginning to get on her nerves.
“Nothing, okay? It’s nothing.” He shook his head and seemed to be struggling to find the right words. “Look, trust me.” His eyes burned into hers. “We’ve come this far. It would take just as long to go and find the tunnel again. I do know where I’m going. I promise.”
Dylan shifted from foot to foot, undecided. She desperately wanted to go back to the site of the crash, certain that someone in charge, someone who could
this, would be there. On the other hand, she would never be able to find it alone and she was terrified of being deserted in the wilderness. He seemed to sense her uncertainty. He walked back towards her, coming uncomfortably close, bending his knees so that they were at eye-level. She wanted to step backwards, but she was frozen like a rabbit in headlights. Echoes stirred in Dylan’s memory, but then he was looking right at her, far too near, and she lost her train of thought.
“We need to go this way,” he whispered, hypnotically. “You have to come with me.”
He looked intently at her, watched as her pupils dilated to almost obscure the green, then smiled a satisfied smile.
“Come on,” he ordered.
Without thinking about it, Dylan’s feet obeyed.
Trudge, trudge, trudge. They continued over boggy marshland that seemed, somehow, to be always uphill. Dylan’s legs were screaming and her trainers had long since given up staying dry. Every step she took was accompanied by a cold squelch in her shoes. Her flared jeans had soaked up the water almost to her knees and they were dragging with every pace.
Tristan, however, was unfazed by her dark looks and grumbling. He kept up the pace ruthlessly, always staying a metre or so ahead of her, silent and determined. Occasionally, if she stumbled, he would whip his head round, but as soon as he ascertained that she was fine, he would continue to march resolutely onward.
Dylan began to feel more and more uncomfortable. The silence between them was like a brick wall, totally impenetrable. It almost felt like he resented being stuck with her, like she was an inconvenient little sister he’d reluctantly promised to babysit. There was nothing to do but take on the role and traipse along after him; the sulky little girl who wasn’t getting her way. Dylan was far too intimidated to try and confront him about his unfriendly, almost hostile, behaviour. She tucked her chin into her jumper and sighed. Looking down at the long grass, trying in vain to pick out the holes and oddly shaped clumps that longed to trip her, she muttered miserably under her breath and continued to plod in Tristan’s wake.
At the peak of yet another hill he finally paused. “Do you need to rest for a bit?”
Dylan looked up, a little disorientated from lumbering with her head down for so long.
“Yeah, that’d be good.” She felt the need to whisper after the prolonged silence, but the wind that whipped around them snatched her words from the air as soon as they left her mouth. He seemed to understand though, because he ambled over to a large rock that protruded from the grass and heather, and arranged himself nonchalantly against it. He stared out across the landscape, as if on sentry duty.
Dylan didn’t have the energy to look for a suitable dry spot. She sank to the ground where she stood. Almost instantly the wet grass seeped through her jacket and then her seat, but her shoes and jeans were already so cold and soggy that she barely registered the change. She was too tired to think, too tired to argue. Robbed of spirit, she was ready to blindly follow wherever Tristan chose to lead her. Perhaps that had been his plan all along, she thought blackly.
It was odd; somewhere at the back of her mind she knew that there were several things wrong. There was the fact that they had walked for the best part of two days and not met anybody, the fact that she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since the crash yet she didn’t feel hungry or thirsty, and finally – most frightening of all – the fact that she hadn’t spoken to her mum or dad for forty-eight hours and they had no idea where she was or that she was all right. Somehow these thoughts stayed at the back of her head, nagging her, but only vaguely; gentle tugs on the tail of a charging stallion. She couldn’t focus on them.
Suddenly Tristan looked in her direction, and she was too absorbed in her thoughts to look away in time.
“What?” he asked.
Dylan bit her lip, wondering which of a million questions to put to him first. He was very hard to talk to, and he hadn’t asked her one single question about herself. Wasn’t he at all curious? The only conclusion Dylan could come up with was that he’d rather she wasn’t there. He probably wished that he’d started walking as soon as he’d left the tunnel, instead of waiting to see if anyone else would appear. Dylan wasn’t sure if that wouldn’t have been better for her, too. She could have stayed by the tunnel mouth, and if nobody had come, then eventually she would have persuaded herself to go back through the tunnel and out the other side. By now she would have been home again and fighting with Joan about making another trip to Aberdeen.