There was someone behind her. She was convinced of it now. She could hear footsteps. Muffled and indistinct. Like someone was trying to step on the pavement without being heard. Slow and silent yet quick enough to keep up with her. Whoever it was kicked an empty can or some other piece of trash. The footsteps stopped after a brief shuffle, confirming her worst fears. She was being followed for sure. Nicole knew that whoever it was had darted further into the shadows. Hidden further in case she had turned at the sound as she had done before. Whoever it was had moved away from what little light there was in the alley. Trying to avoid being seen. But Nicole did not turn. She could not bring herself to this time. She was too busy focusing on her breathing. Trying to keep it under control so she could hear whoever was behind her. Trying not to scream. Trying not to hold her breath for too long. And trying very hard not to run for her life. She wanted to bolt ahead. Make a dash for home. But she knew that if she did whoever was following her would know she had heard them. There would be a pursuit. Rather a treacherous one given the condition of the icy streets. Following that would no doubt be a fumbling of keys when she reached her home. Keys which, in her panicked haste, would not go into the lock of her front door. Whoever it was would catch up. Would catch her. So Nicole forced herself to keep her pace as calm and regulated as she could while she listened harder than ever.
It seemed that whoever it was had spooked themselves kicking over the empty tin can in the alley. Nicole could no longer hear anyone behind her. Although she still could not bring herself to look behind her just in case, she began to feel a little more at ease however she was still rather tense. She was focused on each step she made. Trying not to step on anything which would make a noise in case it masked a sound from behind her. Or in case she misplaced her footing altogether and stumbled or tripped, as the threat of ice was ever present. In the dim light, she powered on towards home as fast as she dared. Nicole knew she did not have much further to go before the alley opened out into a wider road. One with proper street-lights. And witnesses, should anything happen. She told herself not to think like that. Someone would see her. Hear something if something happened. Which she also tried to convince herself was not going to happen. As she approached the last half a dozen steps before the alley became the bright, well-lit street ahead she heard the footsteps behind her again. This time much louder. And faster. Much, much faster. Not worried about the noise. They were running. And running towards her. Nicole’s imagination kicked into overdrive.
She bolted forwards. If she could just make it to the road she just had to believe that someone would be passing despite the cold which drove everyone indoors. Someone else would be making their way home and see her. And if someone saw her then she would be safe.
Her heart pounded and the remaining four or five steps seemed to stretch forever as she felt a hand grab her shoulder. She could not help but scream. A primal scream, ripped from the depths of her very being, stopped short as a hand snapped over her mouth clamping it closed. Her legs turned weak with terror. The body behind her pressed close to her, the hand on her shoulder sliding across her body to the other side, further down her abdomen, holding her close, stopping her from moving forwards.