Duncan walked through the dark and deserted park. The smell of rain-soaked earth and pavement wafted to his nostrils. The pale moonlight reflected off the slick concrete of the path before him. He was palpably and starkly alone.
These late night walks had been his habit of late. He needed them, almost. They were his only chance throughout the hectic day to be still and alone with his thoughts. His mind always ran to the two women he loved best: his girlfriend, Nicola, and his best friend, Gabby. Yes, he really did love them both more than anyone else in the entire world. They had even edged out his beloved little sister.
But there was a problem. Duncan had promised himself to Nicola on a cold December evening, months before the April night a week ago when Gabby professed her love for him. Before hearing those words, he could not have imagined anyone other than Nicola ever capturing his heart. Now he wasn't so sure.
“I’ve been chasing you for so long,” Gabby had said. “You’ve never noticed. So much time has passed me by, and it’s my own fault.”
It was true. In all honesty, he had never considered the possibility of a romantic future with Gabby before. The thought had never once crossed his mind. He hadn't even questioned this oversight until now, he who was once so desperate for love that not a single woman he met went unappraised. Why now was he so shaken by this person who, despite being the closest thing he had to a best friend, had never taken up more than the tiniest corner of his consciousness. Was it simply because he knew now that she wanted him? Was he really so shallow that this could be the reason?
Duncan’s thoughts were interrupted by a rustling up ahead. He thought he could just make out a figure concealing itself in a bush nearby. Terror froze him. He stood motionless, waiting for some indication of the other person's intentions.
The figure slowly stepped out from its hiding place. Footsteps clicked rhythmically on the pavement. Duncan could now see her, fully illuminated by the moonlight.
"Gabby?" he asked. Yes, there was no mistaking it was her, but what was she doing here? She lived across town, had long professed her fear of walking alone at night, and never had any knowledge of Duncan's walks. Duncan looked her up and down as he waited for an answer. She seemed pale. Her eye makeup had run, leaving dark streaks down each cheek. Her lips formed a pitiful frown.
"Gabby," Duncan said again. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
Gabby said nothing, but looked at him forlornly. Slowly, she raised her hand and pressed it to her chest just below her neck. She turned her head and began to shake as if she were weeping, but no sound could be heard. Duncan moved toward her, but she quickly held up her hands, stopping him midstep. Before he could speak again, Gabby darted back into the bushes.
"Gabby, wait!" Duncan called out. He followed, scrambling through branches and thorns. Sticks snapped. Dead leaves squished beneath his step. Before long, Gabby had led him out of the park and into the dark woods beyond. He struggled to keep up, always just barely keeping her in his sights.
"Gabby!" he shouted. A surprising wave of emotion rose within him. He was not usually such an expressive person, but knowing his beloved Gabby was in pain, and now running from him, filled him with something strong. Tears began to flood his eyes, blurring his vision even more. Now, all he had was the sound of Gabby moving through the forest to guide him.
"Gabby," he called out once more. "Stop, please!” He took as deep a breath as his frantic pace would allow. “I love you!"
Gabby's footsteps abruptly stopped. Duncan stopped running. The only thing Duncan could hear was his own labored panting as he forced the air in and out of his burning lungs. He stood doubled over, waiting for his heart rate to slow. When at last his chest stopped pounding, he straightened up and looked around. The sight that met his eyes made his blood run cold.
He saw a figure swaying in the breeze, hanging by its neck from a nearby tree. It was Gabby. From her color and stiffness, Duncan could tell she had been there for hours.
Written by Jdeschene