She tripped as she stepped down from her porch. It was dark, the only light coming from a slither of an obscured moon and a flickering, faded, slanted streetlight. Standing on the pavement for a moment, looking from side to side, she shivered. Satisfied she wasn't being watched, she headed left towards the little park. She climbed the fence at the nearest point and cut straight across to the swings.
She was late already. If he was already there, she was in trouble.
As she approached, the butterflies subsided – she was safe, he wasn't there. Sitting down, the swings creaked as she rocked gently, scraping her toes across the tarmac. In the distance, she heard a shrill laugh followed by a deep voice, another giggle and then silence. A moment later, she felt a breeze tease between her scarf and her hair, and then she heard the gate in front of her open and quickly slam shut again. She froze. The moon disappeared behind a cloud; there was no light any more.
In the darkness, she could see no movement, but she listened as carefully as she could, brushing away her hair and exposing her ears to the bitter cold. Nothing. It was only the wind nudging open a gate not properly closed. Reassured, she sighed and wondered what time it was. Maybe she hadn't been late.
Shivering again, she decided to stand and walk about for a few minutes. She lifted herself up slowly. Her hands stung a little from the cold.
Instantly, a strong hand pushed her back down again. She didn't struggle, but remained perfectly still.
"Alistair?" she called into the darkness. "Is that you?"
She was answered by a flame a few feet in front of her. For a second, she could see his outline, and then it flickered away with the flame and was replaced with a glowing circle, the end of his cigarette. At least she could see one of his hands.
"No, Elise, I'm here. Behind you, that's Robert. You know him, right?" Elise nodded in the dark. "Well, do you?"
"Erm, yeah, sorry," Elise said. "I nodded. Look, what did you want to talk about? Have you heard from Will? Is he okay?"
Alistair inhaled deeply. He waited a few seconds and said, "No, Elise. He's dead."
Robert felt Elise stiffen under his hand.
"Dead? Oh, God. How? When? I mean... God."
"I don't know," Alistair shrugged. "Sorry, Ellie. But I told you not to be hopeful, it was the likeliest thing. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to see you about."
"What else could be more important?" Elise snapped, struggling to keep her voice even. "I mean, Jesus, you just told me my brother's dead. Oh, God, I want to go home. Let me go home."
She tried to stand up; Robert forced her back down again.
"No, Elise. I want to know where my money is."
There was a short pause. It was a fraction too short. "What money?" Elise asked, too innocently.
"Don't fuck with me, Elise. The money Will gave to you, just before he disappeared. It's mine, Elise, and I want it back."
Elise went to stand up for a third time. Robert pushed her down harder again, securing her with both hands. She was anchored to the seat, squirming.
"Be reasonable, Ellie. You don't want anyone else to get hurt, do you?"
Ellie shook her head, stuttered. "I don't... I mean... Jesus... Erm... J-just make him let go of me, please. Alistair, I don't know, honestly. I really truly don't know what money you're talking about."
Alistair sighed. Elise straightened up; her eyes narrowed to see exactly what he was doing.
He took another drag of his cigarette. Elise stiffened. Robert didn't react. He didn't seem to notice. The moon was emerging from behind the cloud again and Alistair could see her outline. She had been squinting at him, intensely concentrating.
"I'm really sorry, Ellie. I really am." He turned and dropped his cigarette, putting it out with his foot. That was the signal.
As soon as Robert released her shoulders, Elise was on her feet, head down. Robert swung down with a black bag but missed her. She was too fast for both of them, Alistair not seeing anything until she disappeared off ahead of him.
Heeding her brother's advice, she ducked low and darted silently into the night. The moon disappeared and the men lost her.
"Shit," Alistair cursed. "Shit. What now?"
Elise didn't stop running until she was safely inside her house. Her brother had told her exactly what to do if this happened. She'd followed his instructions to the letter so far and he hadn't let her down. After a few seconds' rest, she scooped up her two bags from just inside the front door and went back out into the night.
A/N: The one person who read this in advance for me asked why Alistair swaps from calling her Elise to Ellie. Ellie's just affectionate, a contraction of Elise. It is intentional - differences in tone and stuff. If you leave me a review, I'll return it threefold, largely because I love reviewing things, but also because I'm very grateful. Please, if it made you think anything - if you were anything but indifferent - tell me what you thought. Hell, if you felt indifferent, tell me anyway. Thank you!
Now, to give credit where it's due, this was inspired by the opening paragraphs of Bekki's GCSE coursework, which is far better than she'll let herself believe. Thanks also to Jos for approving the plot and the title and giving me some faith that this story will turn out fantastic, unlike much of my recent work.