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6 / Take Two

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At that time of night, when the world is about to fight the urge to turn into a pumpkin and the moon starts prodding the sun to get out of bed and light up the day, the streets are often silent. It's as if they're holding their collective breaths, hoping to hear the voice of the moon as it tells the sun 'Come on, old fella. Wakey, wakey!' Or perhaps it's wondering if there'll ever be a time when the sun just wants to turn over and have five more millennia.

I couldn't remember the last time I was out walking at almost midnight. Usually, I was in or on my way to bed. I would often be locking my doors and turning out my lights long after I'd intended. No matter how many times I promised I'd get an early night, Time had other ideas. It would quietly steal the seconds, filtering occasional ones while my attention was diverted. Before I knew it, the seconds had clubbed together to become hours and I'd know I would be tired in the morning, yawning at work and promising myself I'd be in bed earlier the next day. And the next.

I looked around. There were no cars or pedestrians. Some houses had lights still on, though many were in darkness. I turned off Chasing Cars and listened to the silence. It felt as if I was being cleansed, as if the lack of noise was washing my senses of the ravages of the day. I was refreshed. I rounded a corner onto a street with few houses along it. A primary school lined one side of the road and on the other was a wide field edged by a river. On the river, every year, swans would have their cygnets. I'd see them grow. Often stopping to take a photograph to upload onto Facebook or Instagram. There was a way to go until the little ones came along so there were only a few ducks hoping for scraps of bread to break the calm waters. I kept to the school side so as not to disturb them.

I didn't see her at first. She was wearing dark clothes and her body obscured the light from the phone in her hand. I caught the glimpse of headphone wires but that didn't mean she was oblivious to the rest of the world. She might, like me, have turned off her music to listen to the world.

At first, I kept my speed, thinking nothing. Without realising, I saw I was gaining on her. My speed had increased, but only by a touch. Then a little more. She must have heard me coming but then I noticed the rhythmic thud-thud-thud of music.

By the time I had caught up, my feet having, without me requesting it, sped up to a run, we were almost at the end of the school grounds. The metal fence stopped and a wall finished the boundary. It had the name of the school on it and their motto: Hand in Hand We Learn.

She noticed me, then. If not from the sound of my footfalls then from the vibrations. Or from some sixth sense that she wasn't alone.

She was about to turn. About to look at me. About to show me her face and break the spell I was under. My hand was in the air, almost of its own accord, swinging hard. It connected with the side of her head, pushing hard. Skull and brick connected in an impact that made one of them make a dull crunching sound.

She staggered, unsteady on her feet. She tried to walk, dropping her phone. I heard the glass break and winced. It would cost a fortune to repair. I took hold of the ponytail in the back of her hair to stop her moving away and slammed her head against the wall again. As her weight started to pull against the hand holding her hair, I made it three times, the charm.

She fell. She didn't move. Not even the twitch of a finger or the rise and fall of a chest.

I crouched next to her, as if waiting for the feelings to overcome me like a Highlander's Quickening. They didn't. The beat of music laughed at my continued failure. I ignored it, for a moment, then stamped down on her phone, silencing it.

That did feel good. I was quieting a naughty child, though I'd never use physical violence on a youngster. Smashing her phone shut it up. That taught it a lesson it wouldn't forget.

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