Just Before Dawn: Episode One

Monday 15 May

Jade shivered and she wasn’t sure if it was from cold or shock. The hills all around her were just murky outlines shrouded in a dull whiteness and the air felt wet and icy. She could hardly remember the sensation of being warm. Her vision was blurry with exhaustion, her muscles so fatigued that her movements were jerky and uneven. Every step jolted her aching joints and her swollen, bruised throat was pressing on her windpipe, making each breath a short gasp of desperation.

This never happened in films.

In films, the heroine escapes the monster and falls directly into the arms of some brawny detective who risked everything in his single-minded determination to save her. She wasn’t left to stagger about in the freezing pitch darkness on her own, tripping over wire fences, treading on brambles and nettles and those wee jaggy bastards that were like nettles but spikier.

Heroines almost never have to contend with sheep shit.

At some point in the night, Jade had skidded on a pile of droppings on a steep verge and ended up tumbling over rocks and stones, pure raging at the thought of having fought off an evil murdering shithead only to be done in by a load of sheep jobbies.

Some time later she found a road. She thought it might be the wee road that cut through the Campsies between Lennoxtown and Fintry, but it was, after all, a narrow strip of tarmac surrounded by grass and sheep and rain: it could literally be anywhere in Scotland. Something about it was familiar though, she thought, and a tiny spark of hope ignited in her. It was the road she thought it was.

Jade could remember squealing as she was lifted off the bus seat as it flew merrily over potholes along this road on the way to visit her Granny in Fintry. Not her Gran, her other Granny. She could never remember which one of them you were allowed to shove off a bus, but if she had to chose, it would be the Fintry Granny. She had a wee pinched mouth like a cat’s bum and only ever had jammy biscuits in when she knew fine Jade hated jam.

Blood was trickling from somewhere along Jade’s hairline. When she’d wrenched herself from his grasp and scrabbled over the remains of an old wall, shed plunged headlong into the dense foliage on the other side and nutted herself on a rock. She had bitten her lip to stop from screaming she could still feel the sharp, metallic taste of blood in her mouth. She had frozen, crouching on the grass behind the wall, certain that at any moment she would feel his icy fingers close around her ankle and yank her back, but they never materialised.

The massive, sheep’s bum wool jumper she was wearing was scratchy and sore around her tender neck, but she was grateful for its warmth nontheless. She couldn’t say much for the past few hours, but the jumper had kept the worst of the hypothermia away, so that was something. For the millionth time, Jade felt for her bag. Then, for the millionth time, she remembered swinging it in his face, feeling the satisfying thud of its weight colliding with his nose as he yowled in pain. He had grabbed hold of the strap and yanked it: she let go and scarpered.

When she first started going out in town, Gran sternly ordered her to always immediately give up her purse if she was mugged. At the time, Jade laughed that the city centre was fine these days. The razor gangs of Gran’s youth were all doddery wee old men now, and the good thing about bams off their heads is that they rarely have the coordination or mental wherewithal to do much damage to anybody but themselves. Gran shook her head and insisted again that no purse was worth her life.

She’d been right enough there. Jade was still breathing and that was something. She might be beaten and bruised and sore and exhausted and terrified, but she was upright. She’d heal. She would wake up tomorrow morning, refreshed and revived and grateful to be around, and she would make a start on putting her life back together. Dumped one day and nearly murdered the next. She’d had a belter of a weekend.

The roar of an engine disturbed the stillness of the morning. A tiny electric blue hatchback, souped up to within an inch of its life, screeched around a bend in too low a gear, the deafening bass from some Euro-dance horror thudding through the air. It crossed Jade’s mind that she didn’t know who was in the car; maybe she should hide, or duck, but the thought of doing anything other than staggering in a vaguely forwards direction was insurmountably exhausting, so she just carried on until the car pulled up alongside her.

It was rammed, to clown-car proportions, with a shower of Neds. They all appeared to be at that exact stage of teenage growth spurts where their hands and feet seem a bit too big for the rest of them, like puppies, except puppies who would thieve the wedding ring off a corpse. The driver rolled down the window and Jade was hit by an overpowering stench of BO, with base notes of weed and overtones of the sort of cheap cologne that promises to turn women to jelly. In fairness, her knees were weakening, but probably not in such a way that would be of any use to the raging testosterone-fest in the Nedmobile.

The driver his shaved skull covered in an inexplicable tattoo of a teddy bear – grinned, revealing a gold tooth. He was saying something, but Jade couldn’t make out the words. Blood rushed in her ears and it sounded as though he were speaking from under water.

There was an angry-looking spot on his chin. He had tried to cover up with a glob of foundation several shades too dark for him, presumably nicked from a severely tanned sister. Jade’s heart went out to him and all of a sudden a heaving sob crashed over her like a tidal wave and then she was on the ground, icy dew beneath her ravaged fingers.

‘Oh shit — quick, sum’dy phone the polis — missus, missus are ye okay? ‘Mon now missus, breathe with me, okay? You’re okay now, you’re safe.’

Jade bent double, kneeling on the grassy verge as though physically holding herself together; empty, aching sobs that were half screams and half gasps for breath wracking through her body. The wee Ned rubbed her back until police sirens approached in the distance.

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