I have only written one novel (so far) set in a real location; Flipside which I published in 2013 is set in a small village on the outskirts of Oldham in Lancashire. In the scene which I am sharing below, although the flat above the shop where the main character Jaz lives is a complete fiction, everything else is a real location – the story is set in the early 1990’s so I guess some things might be different now if you went to visit it! However the little road leading down to the country park, the bridge and the bank are all true!!
Jaz is in a relationship with David, her brother Kiran’s partner. For an unknown reason, Kiran has fallen out with both Jaz and David but David has agree to meet him in the hope of patching things up. Jaz is alone in her flat when she hears the sound of someone moving around in the empty shop downstairs.
There was definitely someone moving around downstairs. It must be a relation of Miss Minnishin’s looking at her property. I left my work, pulled on my trainers and hurried downstairs and out and round to the front of the empty shop. The blinds were still down, there was no light and the door was locked.
I knocked without expectation of anyone hearing. They were probably in the back where there must be store rooms and perhaps an office. I walked back down the passageway, past my door and round into the alley. The windows in the back wall had bars across, everything in darkness. There was a bell push but I could hear nothing when I pressed so I rapped on the wooden door. I knocked again but there was no sign of life, whoever it was had gone without bothering to see me. The rent was paid until April and by then who knows where I might be.
The alley was cobbled but grass and weeds were everywhere, and judging by the number of empty cans this was a favourite haunt of local youth. It was cold and damp and I hadn’t bothered with my fleece. Chilly now, I gave up and walked back and turned the corner to go inside.
Someone was standing in the entrance of the passageway between the shop and the disused spiritualist church next door. He was outlined by the oblique light from the street lamp on Thomas Street, silhouetted in the orange glow. I stopped, startled and then alarmed.
It was David. I was dismayed he was back so soon, things hadn’t gone well with Kiran. I called his name but then he was gone. Things must have gone disastrously. I ran up the passageway and turned into Thornbrook Street but he’d vanished.
I was frightened. He was alright when he left the flat, so what had Kiran said or done? I ran past the shop front to the corner and glanced up and down Thomas Street. It was deserted, but I saw David moving away from Lees down past the cemetery.
He was walking swiftly, head down. I only hesitated a second and then began to run after him. I was out of breath by the time I passed the other deserted shop on the corner of Spring Lane, but I had to catch him. I trotted down the uneven pavement past the row of houses on the other side of the road, and then the big red brick house which had some connection to a vanished mill. I couldn’t see him as I came to the end of the cemetery wall and Hopkin Mill Close. I passed the old cottages which looked down over the pasture where horses grazed.
We’d walked down here a couple of times, holding hands and he’d told me about disappeared mills and farms and dairies and the history of this little green pocket.
I walked as fast as I could. It must be bad, it must be really bad. There were lights on at the farm, the house was on one side, a barn on the other; I continued down the narrow, pitted lane, taking care of the rough bumps and deep pot-holes in the unpaved surface.
I wasn’t going to catch him unless he stopped but I couldn’t leave him while he was so upset. I was nearly at the ford and I was the only one out on this foul damp night, not a single jogger or dog walker. I was very cold.
It was hopeless. I’d have to go home and wait until he came back. Why had he run away from me? It could only be that something so awful had happened between him and Kiran that he couldn’t face me and I wondered how fragile he really was.
I wearily stepped onto the little metal footbridge over the stream, the small beginning of the River Medlock. There was no sign of him continuing up towards the main road or striking either way along the footpaths through the Medlock Valley. I stood shivering, feeling sad and alone. I was overwhelmed with grief and lifted my face to look up into the misty sky as if to seek some comfort. All my feelings of loneliness and desolation returned and I had an urge to go back to the flat, pack a bag, find a taxi and go to the nearest station to flee south.
I turned back. Standing in the middle of the road staring down towards me was David. Suddenly, unaccountably I was frightened, I was frightened of David. Things Kiran had said, scraps of venom which had seemed impossible, unthinkable rushed into my mind. Angry, violent, frustrated, trained to kill.
I called his name again but he didn’t answer, just stood staring at me. I was really scared; he was so still, so motionless, standing ready and alert, on the balls of his feet. He stood beneath a light but I couldn’t see his face, shadowed and hidden by his hood.
Hood? David hadn’t got a hood on his jacket, I couldn’t think of anything he had with a hood. He only wore a cap and had gone to meet Kiran bare-headed.
This man wasn’t David, I could see now that he wasn’t. He was slimmer, perhaps even taller, but his legs were thin.
He’d been in the shop, or round the back, or in the hall leading to the stairs up to the flat and he’d stood looking at me standing in the passage. He’d hidden somewhere and watched and followed, and now he was standing in the road, staring at me.
I looked round. The road continued up towards Holts Lane where there were houses with lights on. I couldn’t run up there, even if I was being chased, it was too steep. I didn’t want to leave the road, it would be madness to follow the footpath by the stream, there were bushes and trees to be dragged under. Anyone out on the open grassy areas at this time of night in this miserable weather wouldn’t be bothered by a man and a woman, even if he was chasing her, or had hold of her, even if she was struggling and crying out for help… I was weak with fear, petrified, frozen, unable to move or run anywhere.
The silence split with shouting and raucous laughter and on the sky-line a group of youngsters were running around shouting, yelling, chasing, they must be from Holts Village. The headlights of a car bobbed down Sunny Bank, silhouetting the waiting man, illuminating me.
I leapt off the end of the bridge and into the ford and splashed along the stream and slipped and slithered my way up the bank. I ran up towards the noise of the teenagers, a welcome racket in the night. Falling and stumbling I struggled up steep steps towards them.
“Help! Help me!” I screamed.
Here is a link to Flipside – you can find out what happens to Jaz, and to David!