‘You know this can’t go on,’ the detective warned, offering a lukewarm cup of tea from across the table. A gesture of kindness under the guise of friendship. But they weren’t friends.

To Ellie’s left, a mirror she presumed to be two-way spread over one third of the wall. To her right, a door securely bolted from the outside served as a reminder that there was little choice to her scenery. The walls around her were a dull beige.

‘Your silence implies guilt, Miss Swanson,’ the detective said, turning over another page from his case file. The noisy bustle from the corridors outside had reduced to a distant mumble.

‘Are you charging me?’ she asked.

‘I’m questioning you.’

‘Then when can I leave?’

‘You are entitled to legal counsel if it would make you more comfortable.’

‘It would make me more comfortable to leave.’

The detective remained cold, holding a long and intrusive gaze before slowly selecting four photos from his folder. He placed them evenly spaced apart in front of her.

‘Please look at them,’ he said, speaking softly.

Seeing their faces Ellie gave a faint smile. Her mouth contorted to a grimace as she held back the tears.

‘You remember your friends, don’t you?’

She took a sip of her tea to control her quivering chin, her eyes resting on the pictures before glancing to the mirror.

‘We’re alone,’ he assured her.

In her dreams she could still feel them. Remember their touch, their smell. Her focus was drifting.

‘Will you tell me what happened to them?’ the detective asked, pulling her attention back into the room.

‘They’re not my friends,’ she whispered. ‘They’re my family.’

* * *

Feeling young, he walked as though floating through Oxford’s Botanic Gardens. The sun was warm and glowed in a way he’d never seen before. The water was cool, the fruit was ripe and the grass shone with beautiful shades of green.

Finally all scores were settled, and never before had he felt so content.

He took in the arrangements of flowering plant life; they were breathtaking this time of year. The gardens were laid out in an array of elegant flower beds linked together under a soft carpet of grass lawns and pebbled footpaths – the polished result of four centuries of lavish attention.

A small flock of hummingbirds sang whilst nesting in the branches of an old English Yew tree. They held his gaze for a moment before it passed above the tree line to take in the famed Magdalen Bell Tower, watching over the gardens as if it were keeping them safe.

Pausing next to the rose garden, he took a deep and full breath. It had been years since he last came here and he’d chosen the perfect day to enjoy the gardens in April’s spring.

It was a moment to savour and yet somehow the smile on his face began to fade. His expression changed from contentment to a pensive fear; something troubling grew inside of him. Something dormant and elusive but he could feel it building in the back of his mind, an inner pain rising to the surface.

He lifted his right hand to his temple, wincing as the pain gradually grew with intensity.

With a jolt he began to shake uncontrollably, a look of uncertainty and panic washing over his face. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a mobile phone, but it was too late, his hands had begun to spasm and he dropped the phone onto the gravelled footpath beneath him.

A young couple holding hands by the water fountain watched in disbelief as they saw a man suddenly cry out in pain and fall to his knees. The scream echoed through the gardens, freezing its visitors like statues.

For a brief second there was only silence, but it soon broke, followed by the shouts of concern and the crunching sound of running feet on gravel.

He lay down on his back, staring up at the clear blue sky as the heads of strangers circled above him, their voices muted under the throbbing agony.

His eyesight was beginning to blur, the feeling in his legs had left him. As he felt his body slowly turning numb he closed his eyes in acceptance of his fate. There were no regrets, for he knew now that this was how it had to be.

Everything was as he had dreamed.

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David P. Philip

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