The long slow hours of the night

by Jenny

Shuffling, dead-eyed and stumbling through clouds of dull, grey fog they came. I drew back into the shadows and stayed as still as I could, trying not to breath or even blink. They were hazy outlines in the fog for now, there was every chance they’d pass me by and never even spot me. I was good. I had made it.

I thought about poor Jess, then shook my head. It was too late for her and we’d agreed at the start; no regrets. Every woman for herself. But when I thought of her helpless eyes staring back at me as they came for her, it was almost too much. She was only seventeen. But there was nothing I could have done.

That’s when I realised my mistake. I had gone over this a thousand times; when you can’t out run them, hide from them and hide in a place they wouldn’t think to go. Do not draw attention to yourself and never put yourself between them and their goal. Stupid, stupid!

They became more distinct now, defined, lunging shapes reaching blindly towards me. Even if they didn’t know where I was already it was just a matter of seconds before their grasping, groping, foetid fingers found me in the dark. I fought the urge to run, but that would be certain disaster. So I stayed still, hoping the fog would shroud me as it billowed around me like smoke from a chimney. Maybe, just maybe...

Then I felt fingers at my waist, heard the rasping hiss of breath. As the grip tightened, I knew it was too late. I felt myself pulled towards one of them - I remembered this one from before - Richard, or Ralph, maybe? How changed he was now! I smelled his bitter, rancid breath as his mouth drew closer to my cheek, the soft, tender flesh of my neck and ear…

“Hello Rachel, what are you doing hiding in the shadows?”

They were everywhere now, hands gripping the slender stemmed glasses on the table behind me, each containing a measure of urine-yellow Lambrini and boasting a frozen blackberry, bobbing like a single disembodied eye, staring sightlessly at the suspended ceiling that Sheila from HR had pinned streamers to earlier in the day. It was unspeakable. I fought back a sob, a scream.

Richard-or-Ralph’s hand crept downwards towards my bottom. At least, I thought, as his voice slurred something into my ear, I’d see Jess again.

But then a reprieve! Richard-or-Ralph bellowed loudly into my now damp ear, a primal roar of joy and release, and charged off. I heard the Village People blasting and felt the exodus as forty-five middle aged men lunged passionately for the dancefloor.

Peering through the fog I saw, to my delight and astonishment, that it was Jess at the DJ booth. Our eyes caught across the room and held as I tipped her a slow salute of thanks before creeping off to a safer place to wait out the long slow hours of the night.