by Linda Tyler
The young woman steps off the bus, its last passenger, and into the winter night. The driver calls goodnight, take care. Concern flickers in the man’s eyes; perhaps he has a daughter of her age. The door closes with a sigh and she watches the bus move slowly along the Great Northern Road, until its comforting glow disappears.
A full moon emerges from behind the clouds, the light bathing a snow-covered landscape. Alabaster pavements and sleeping buildings stretch silently ahead. In the distance a dimly-lit hotel appears to ride a white-capped sea like some ghostly ocean liner.
She knows that all her life she will remember this night.
The cold pinches her face and she shivers; she must complete her journey. Sliding gloved hands into pockets, her fingers touch the firm surface of her purse; she brought nothing else, wanted nothing else, when she slipped from her parents’ house.
Her footsteps are as soft as velvet as she turns and crosses the bridge in the blue-tinged moonlight. Snow begins to fall again. Glancing back, she sees her footprints are already disappearing. The way ahead is as fresh as her new identity.
Cold white flakes caress the nape of her neck then slip down her skin. She turns up her coat collar and fights back a wave of panic edging into her fluttering heart. The high stone walls of University Walk press in; birches reach long skeletal branches towards her hurrying figure.
Closer now stands the tower where she is to wait, its crown soaring into the sky. The silvery cobbled path opens into the High Street and she hesitates, standing like a spectre which has strayed into a medieval city.
Clouds cover the moon. The chimes of a clock cut softly through the winter night. She counts the strokes. Twelve o’clock; she is not late. Icy cold, she hugs her coat to her thin body and crosses the shadowy quadrangle.
In the doorway of the Chapel she waits, her heart thudding as the snowflakes swirl.
A dark figure hastens round the corner and into view.
‘Catriona.’ The man’s breath fogs in the frosted air.
She smiles at him. He takes her hand, gently rolls back her woollen glove and kisses the inside of her wrist. She looks down at the melting snowflakes on her warmed skin.