I’m walking, alone. It’s late afternoon and the sun is out, I’m dressed for winter but surprised at the warmth; I have to undo the buttons on my jacket. Venture along a familiar route, through a field of horned sheep, over the stile, up past the ancient manor house and then I’m out in open farmland, beyond my usual course. Haven’t been this far in years.
Huge flat fields stretch to the left and to the right, tiny distant trees pin the sky to the ground like tent pegs. A well-worn path leads down into a dip, next to a wooded area, and I make my way towards it. I stop for a moment first just to look around, take it all in: this beautiful, peaceful English countryside. There is not a sound… not a single sound. Nothing. I’m only twenty minutes, half an hour maybe, from home, but somehow it could be hours, days… my sense of being away from everything and everyone is such that it's almost overwhelming and very slightly unnerving. As I proceed down the path getting nearer to the trees I can see, quite literally, for miles: not a soul around.
Or so I think.
I hear a rustling, some kind of surreptitious-sounding movement, coming from the large cluster of trees. I can’t see much there, just the dark shapes of trunks and broken branches knitted together, the sun too low now to cast light on the ground between them nor on anything stirring amongst them.
It will be a fox. Or a pair of woodpigeons, maybe. Birds, yes - of course! But still I stop. Should I just keep walking… walking right towards and past those trees…past the noise... or should I simply turn around now and head back?
I’m too warm in this heavy jacket to run…. my feet are tired… no phone… is it ridiculous that I’m even thinking like this (whatever ‘like this’ is?) when I’m only walking in a field in England on a lovely, sunny March afternoon? Regardless, that’s what I do: turn around and retrace my steps, and I do so a little more briskly than before. We’re just not used to being this alone, are we? Just not used to the idea that if something were to ‘happen’, even if it was nothing more sinister than tripping over and spraining my ankle, out here I am helpless. And then there are those darker thoughts… of what?... of the madman with his axe waiting behind a twisted elm?
Somewhere in the woods round here, only a few years ago, the body of man who’d gone missing was found; he’d hanged himself. If you really mean it then this is the place to do it – I guess he hoped he’d never be located, never subject some stranger to the trauma of that macabre discovery (sadly he failed in that respect). Not like those who hang themselves in their homes, or who throw themselves under trains. This would be the place - to leave your body to the elements, let rain and sun and wind break you down and magpies peck at your remains, never witnessed by another human. Just a fox. Or a pair of woodpigeons, maybe.
I don’t look over my shoulder… I just walk back a lot faster than I’d walked there, and try not to be freaked out when I catch a sudden glimpse of my shadow in close pursuit.