Thomas gazed out from the windscreen of his car. The inky night was clouded over. Without its gleaming stars, it appeared dead, uncaring and empty. The streetlights were like spotlights casting a harsh glare upon him with their pale eyes. Thomas glanced back to his girlfriend in the back of the car, he thought back to the house, had he cleaned everything sufficiently? Surely he had, he was just being paranoid he told himself.
Thomas looked at his meter. His engine was gasping for petrol to continue, he knew he would have to stop, to halt their escape. He moaned with worry. No, no, he couldn't succumb to anxiety now, there was still the note. The note that would tell them all that he and his girlfriend, his beloved Charlotte, had eloped together and were starting a new life, a life free of the pressures that had crushed Charlotte for so long. Her parents never understood her like he had, thought Thomas. He remembered a all the nights she had cried into his arms about her mother's cutting words that stabbed like needles, or her father's constant disapproving stare. They had planned this escape for so long.
The petrol station was just ahead. The cameras that hid on the cold concrete walls would soon document his location. NO! Thomas thought, stop this, they'll forget you as soon as you leave and nobody will ever find either of you. Breathing heavily as he refilled his car, and entered the station. Every step sent spears of dread through him, the lady at the counter would surely notice his skaky movements, the bags that rested beneath his eyes. But she did not react and he left the station shaking like a boy leaving bed at night, afraid of the monsters that might reach out and grab him.
Again on the road, Thomas remembered when he and Charlotte had first met, the snowy day she had moved in next to him. They had so much in common, and despite everything, she radiated joy. He loved her so much, and the day that he found out that she felt the same was the happiest day of his life. Thomas couldn't help but glance back at her and smile at the memories they had painted in their minds together.
Exhaustion grasped at Thomas' eyelids, and his vision began to swirl into a drunken stupor, but he wouldn't stop. Not now. Every driver he passed seemed to be... glaring? Did they know? Why were they glaring? They didn't know. They couldn't know. What right did they to cast judgement on him? They couldn't understand. But why did they watch him like this? And the trees. The Winter corpses whose bodies shone with a ghostly glow in the headlights of his car, like skeletal arms reaching out from the ground. What was between them? Thomas could see dark figures watching him in slips of darkness that lurked between the trees. He knew they were there. They were watching him. No... No. He had to ignore them they couldn't truly be there.
Thomas needed to distract himself. He recalled his and Charlotte's trip to Oxford, they were so happy, so free. But then the arguments. The blazing rows. Searing red pokers of rage ran through him at the memories, doused with a cold wash of sadness and regret. They had planned so much. They were going to escape everything, but she backed out, she couldn't do it she said. He was so angry, he thought she had betrayed him. Thomas remembered this morning. The morning he saw sense, he was going to apologise and everything would be okay again. He remembered the packed bags and how she told him she was leaving. He remembered how desperate he was to stop her, to explain himself.
He remembered what happened next.
The car stopped. They were here. Thomas turned to Charlotte in the back. He saw her face pictured her smile in his head. The smile that was now frozen in shock and fear. The red thag dribbled down her forehead clashed with the sickly white shad that her face had turned.
'She's dead.' Thomas said out loud. He hadn't said it before. He hadn't fully accepted what he had done until now. The paranoia had clouded his mind.
Looking into the crystalline lake, Thomas' mind cleared into clarity. Nobody was watching him. Nobody was coming. Not after the note he left. The thought sprung tears to his eyes, tears that crawled down his cheeks like insects on a corpse. He wept with sorrow, a pathetic heap of self-pity. But he was safe. He knew that. Nobody could see him.
Except he was wrong.
Somebody saw him.
A hunter watched as a man dragged a corpse up to a lake, put rocks in her clothes and threw her into the deep waters. The hunter scribbled down the man's license plate and retreated into the safety of the shadows.
Thomas sat slumped in a chair. He was in a room of the Ridgewood Inn. He hadn't slept in days. He couldn't eat. He couldn't only think of her. What he'd done to her. Thomas heard voices in the hall. Footsteps on the stairs. Coming closer. Closer. Then. A knock upon his door.