Home > In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware

I AM RUNNING.

I am running through moonlit woods, with branches tearing at my clothes and my feet catching in the snow-bowed bracken.

Brambles slash at my hands. My breath tears in my throat. It hurts. Everything hurts.

But this is what I do. I run. I can do this.

Always when I run there’s a mantra inside my head. The time I want to get, or the frustrations I’m pounding away against the tarmac.

But this time one word, one thought, pounds inside me.

James. James. James.

I must get there. I must get to the road before—

And then there it is, a black snake of tarmac in the moonlight, and I can hear the roar of an engine coming, and the white lines shine so bright they hurt my eyes, the black tree trunks like slashes against the light.

Am I too late?

I force myself down the last thirty metres, tripping over fallen logs, my heart like a drum in my breast.

James.

And I’m too late – the car is too close, I can’t stop it.

I fling myself onto the tarmac, my arms outstretched.

‘Stop!’

1

IT HURTS. Everything hurts. The light in my eyes, the pain in my head. There’s a stench of blood in my nostrils, my hands are sticky with it.

‘Leonora?’

The voice comes dim through a fog of pain. I try to shake my head, my lips won’t form the word.

‘Leonora, you’re safe, you’re at the hospital. We’re taking you to have a scan.’

It’s a woman, speaking clearly and loudly. Her voice hurts.

‘Is there anyone we should be calling?’

I try again to shake my head.

‘Don’t move your head,’ she says. ‘You’ve had a head injury.’

‘Nora,’ I whisper.

‘You want us to call Nora? Who’s Nora?’

‘Me … my name.’

‘All right, Nora. Just try to relax. This won’t hurt.’

But it does. Everything hurts.

What has happened?

What have I done?

I knew, as soon as I woke up, that it was a day for a park run, for the longest route I do, nearly nine miles all in all. The autumn sunlight streamed through the rattan blind, gilding the bedsheets, and I could smell the rain that had fallen in the night, and see the leaves on the plane tree in the street below, just turning to golden-brown at the tips. I closed my eyes and stretched, listening to the tick and groan of the heating, and the muted roar of the traffic, feeling every muscle, revelling in the day to come.

I always start my morning the same way. Maybe it’s something about living alone – you’re able to get set in your ways, there’s no outside disruptions, no flatmates to hoover up the last of the milk, no cat coughing up a hairball on the rug. You know that what you left in the cupboard the night before will be in the cupboard when you wake up. You’re in control.

Or maybe it’s something about working from home. Outside of a nine to five job, it’s very easy for the days to get shapeless, meld together. You can find you’re still in your dressing gown at 5pm, and the only person you’ve seen all day is the milkman. There are days when I don’t hear a single human voice, apart from the radio, and you know what? I quite like that. It’s a good existence for a writer, in many ways – alone with the voices in your head, the characters you’ve created. In the silence they become very real. But it’s not necessarily the healthiest way to live. So having a routine is important. It gives you something to hang on to, something to differentiate the weekdays from the weekends.

My day starts like this.

At 6.30 exactly the heating goes on, and the roar as the boiler starts always wakes me up. I look at my phone – just to check the world hasn’t ended in the night – and then lie there, listening to the pop and creak of the radiator.

At 7am I turn on my radio – already tuned to Radio 4’s Today Programme – and I reach out and flick the switch of the coffee machine, pre-loaded with coffee and water the night before – Carte Noire filter grind, with the filter paper folded just so. There are some advantages to the size of my flat. One of them is the fact that I can reach both the fridge and the coffee machine without getting out of bed.

The coffee is usually through by the time they’ve finished the headlines, and then I lever myself out of my warm duvet and drink it, with just a splash of milk, and a piece of toast with Bonne Maman raspberry jam (no butter – it’s not a diet thing, I just don’t like the two together).

What happens after that depends on the weather. If it’s raining, or I don’t feel like going for a run, then I shower, check my emails, and start the day’s work.

Today was a beautiful day though, and I was itching to get out, get wet leaves beneath my trainers and feel the wind in my face. I’d shower after my run.

I pulled on a t-shirt, some leggings, and socks, and shoved my feet into my trainers where I’d left them near the door. Then I jogged down the three flights of stairs to the street, and out, into the world.

When I got back I was hot and sweating and loose-limbed with tiredness and I stood for a long time under the shower, thinking about my to do list for the day. I needed to do another online shop – I was nearly out of food. I had to go through the copy edits on my book – I’d promised them back to the editor this week and I hadn’t even started them yet. And I should go through the emails that had come through from my website contact form, which I hadn’t done for ages because I kept putting it off. Most of it would be spam of course – whatever kind of verification you put on it, it doesn’t seem to deter the bots. But sometimes it’s useful stuff, requests for blurbs or review copies. And sometimes … sometimes it’s emails from readers. Generally if people write to you, it’s because they liked the book, although I have had a few messages telling me what a terrible person I am. But even when they’re nice, it’s still odd and uncomfortable, someone telling you their reaction to your private thoughts, like reading someone’s opinion on your diary. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that feeling, however long I write. Maybe that’s partly why I have to gear myself up for it.

When I was dressed, I fired up my laptop and clicked slowly through the emails, deleting as I went. Viagra. A promise to make me ‘satisfy my woman’. Russian cuties.

And then …

To: Melanie Cho; [email protected];
T Deauxma; Kimayo, Liz; [email protected]; Maria
Tatibouet; Iris P Westaway; Kate Owens;
[email protected]; Nina da Souza;
French, Chris
From: Florence Clay
Subject: CLARE’S HEN!!!
Clare? I didn’t know any Clares except …

My heart began beating faster. But it couldn’t be her. I hadn’t seen her for ten years.

For a minute my finger hovered irrationally over the delete button. Then I clicked, and opened up the message.

HI ALL!!!
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Flo, and I’m Clare’s best friend from university. I’m also – drum roll – her maid of honour!! So in time honoured fashion I will be organising her HEN DO!!!
I’ve had a word with Clare and – as you can probably guess – she doesn’t want any rubber penises or pink feather boas. So we’re going to have something rather more sophisticated – a weekend away near her old college stamping ground in Northumberland – although I think there may be a few naughty games snuck in under the radar!!
The weekend Clare has chosen is 14th – 16th November. I know this is VERY short notice, but we didn’t have a lot of choice between work commitments and Christmas and so on. Please RSVP promptly.
Love and kisses – and hoping to meet old friends and new very soon!!!!
Flo xxx
I sat, frowning uneasily at the screen, chewing the side of my nail, trying to figure it out.

Then I looked again at the ‘to’ list. There was one name on there that I recognised: Nina da Souza.

Well, that settled it. It must be Clare Cavendish. There was no-one else it could be. And I knew – or thought I remembered – that she’d gone to university at Durham, or maybe Newcastle? Which fitted with the Northumberland setting.

But why? Why had Clare Cavendish asked me to her hen night?

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