Primrose by Andrew J. Muller

by Andrew J. Muller

Tuesday, 8th January

Alan brought the steaming cup of tea back to his desk and fired up the computer. It was taking him a long time to get used to being back at work; he’d just taken off the Christmas/New Year holiday in Switzerland skiing. London seemed grey and dark compared to the snow-white brightness of St. Anton. He’d got into work a bit early today, although the Tube had ensured he wasn’t as early as he had intended. It was quarter to nine. He had 15 emails, a quick flip through ensured most of them weren’t important - they were all work-related, nothing from any friends.

He’d taken only one sip of tea before Eve came in. Her normally quite pale features were flushed and she looked perturbed.

"Hiya Eve, how’s tricks?" had seemed a fairly innocuous enquiry at the time.

Eve’s answer was a little non-committal, something along the lines of "Erm, okay, yeah, not bad." But she had her back to him and he could see how tense she was as she shed her big coat, scarf and gloves. She turned back to him and he could see in her eyes that ‘not bad’ was really nothing more than an evasion.

"Are you sure?" he asked, concern creasing his brow.

Eve sat down heavily and switched on her computer. She took a breath and looked up at Alan.

"No, I guess not. I think someone’s been following me across the Hill." Eve walked into work, across Primrose Hill down to the office in Camden.

"Following you? Shit. Where from?" Alan crossed around to Eve’s desk.

"I think he turns up somewhere around St. John’s Wood. I haven’t seen him before then, but he seems to follow me down to Regent’s Park and then he’s gone." She was shaking slightly, she’d been keeping this inside and now it was all just coming out.

"He’s not very big or anything like that, but he just sort of hangs back. He always looks the same, he’s in some kind of track suit thing. He never really gets very close to me, but I can feel him watching me…"

Alan listened to Eve as she told him about the man who seemed to be stalking her. Then he went to make her a coffee. When he came back they arranged that he’d meet her at St. John’s Wood Tube Station the next morning.

Wednesday, 9th January

It was freezing cold, Alan’s breath turned into clouds of vapour in the air before him. He stuffed his gloved hands into his pockets and huddled as best he could. Eve emerged from the Station behind him and they started to trace her normal route towards Primrose Hill.

A little way down Acacia Road, Eve lightly touched Alan’s arm.

"He’s here." She whispered. "No, don’t look, he’s across the road."

Alan glanced as best he could without turning his head. There was a man in a running suit of some kind, light blue. He was average height and build, and had fairly unremarkable brown hair of an equally unremarkable length. All in all he didn’t look particularly out of the ordinary and certainly not like Alan had imagined Eve’s stalker might be…no wide eyes or wild hair. Still he was smaller and slighter than Alan himself which was quite reassuring in case the situation got out of control. Alan was hoping that the sight of Eve with a man might dissuade the man in the track suit.

They walked as calmly as they could up to the edge of Primrose Hill and then began to walk over it. The man kept a distance from them of about 40 feet, unwavering and keeping in step. The morning was very cold and only a few people were on the hill. Alan wasn’t displeased that Eve took his arm.

They crested the hill with the man still behind them. Before them lay the whole of London, misty and grey like something out of a Basil Rathbone film. They walked back down the hill and out into the streets of west Camden. As they did so they noticed the man following them was nowhere to be seen.

Later at work Eve and Alan arranged to meet at the same time the next day.

Thursday, 10th January

That morning was a little brighter, but there was a frost on the ground and if anything it was colder. Eve got to St. John’s Wood before Alan and had skulked around inside the Ticket Hall, not wanting to go outside and possibly face her tormentor. For a while Alan stood outside, before she eventually poked her head out and saw him waiting there.

"Sorry, Alan," she said giving him a little hug, "I didn’t know you were here."

Alan, who had been getting a bit grumpy waiting in the cold, just smiled at her and made the most of the hug. They set off down Acacia Road to replay their steps of the previous morning.

This time Alan kept an eye out for when the man first appeared. He turned out of Ordnance Hill, across the road from Alan and Eve. The same pattern as the previous day repeated itself. The man in the track suit stayed about 40 feet away and kept almost uncanny pace with them. They set off up the hill. As they reached the top, Alan turned to Eve.

"I’m going to try something. Let’s stop here and sit down for a few minutes."

"Are you sure that’s a good idea?" Eve asked.

Alan allowed a slight smile to cross his face. "No, not sure, but we have to do something."

They arrived at one of the ring of benches at the top of the hill, overlooking the City below them and, although it was rather cold and a bit damp, they sat down. Somewhere at the back of Alan’s mind he was aware that Eve had sat down very close to him and his subconscious smiled to itself.

It was a lovely clear day and you could see the Thames snaking its way through the City, silvery in the low sun. However, Alan and Eve weren’t really looking at the view, as inconspicuously as possible they were keeping an eye on the man in the light blue tracksuit. He came to halt as they sat down and stood at one side of the path, partially obscured from their view by the girth of a plane tree, but still visible.

Alan and Eve sat on the bench for about five minutes, the moisture from the damp wood slowly seeping through their coats. When the cold started to become unpleasant they both stood and continued their journey. The man emerged from his semi-shelter and once again began to shadow them. Just like the previous day he stopped at the edge of Primrose Hill, but this time Alan watched as they walked away and he saw the man standing at the iron railings, half hidden by a thick clump of bushes, watching them until they turned the corner. There was something odd about him, something melancholy, not what he would expect from a stalker or potential maniac.

At lunch time Alan and Eve decamped to the "World’s End" and over their baked potato lunches discussed what the next step would be. It was decided that Alan would stay over at Eve’s that night and they would prepare to confront the man.

Friday, 11th January

The previous evening Alan and Eve had gone through all the versions of the mornings’ events over and again. Was the man a pervert? A drug addict? Something even more sinister? Would he run, or make a stand? Would he have a knife? Or a gun? They discussed whether to take a knife, but decided that that could be asking for trouble, and anyway, what if they were stopped by someone. How would they explain carrying an offence weapon around. Eventually they decided not to take any form of weapon, but just to be armed with readiness.

At 8:00 they left Eve’s flat in Dollis Hill. After she had locked up Eve planted a quick kiss on Alan’s cheek, but turned away before he could say anything. They then took the Jubilee Line down to St. John’s Wood.

The routine was much the same as before. The man in the track suit turned the corner into Acacia Road in the same place and began to follow them. However, this time there was to be a difference. As they turned into the park area of Primrose Hill they were for about 40 seconds out of the sight of their pursuer, so Alan quickly ran ahead and positioned himself behind one of the larger trees. He held his breath and pressed himself against the cold, hard bark. Eve walked past him, managing not to turn and look at him or acknowledge his presence in any way. Alan could feel his heart thumping away inside his chest like a frenzied troop of flamenco dancers. Surely the man would notice he was no longer with Eve? A surprisingly short period after Eve had passed him the man in the track suit walked up the path.

Alan allowed him a safe few feet before emerging from his hiding place and stepping into the path behind the man.

"Okay, mate," he said, "I think you owe us some explanation." Up the hill he saw Eve turn and head back towards them.

The man in the track suit was obviously startled and he turned quickly around to face Alan. He was so ordinary looking, he didn’t seem angry or threatening. He just looked very very sad.

Then, as Alan stared into the man’s pale blue eyes, he slowly became opaque and then vanished completely, revealing Eve coming down the hill behind him.

Alan and Eve had spent most of Friday discussing exactly what they had seen that morning. Despite the fact they were both perfectly sane, logical thinking individuals they came to the joint conclusion that they had in fact seen a ghost of some kind. Quite what they could do about it was something else again. They decided that they would try to communicate with the man, perhaps be less confrontational, and discover why he had started following Eve.

Monday, 14th January

That morning the weather had reverted to type, and it was a regular grey and drizzly January morning. Alan had neglected to bring an umbrella and so was gradually getting wetter waiting for Eve outside the Station. He would have gone inside, but the Jubilee Line was down again and the Station was closed, the shutters drawn across. Eventually Eve came down the road, huddled under her umbrella, having got off the train at Swiss Cottage and walked. With the dreary weather and the Station shut there were few people around that morning.

Eve greeted Alan with a grin, "Do you think ghosts like the rain?"

Alan joined her under the umbrella, taking it from her so he could hold it above both their heads. "Don’t know, but I know I’m not too keen."


"Yeah, well it’s not your fault is it, bloody London Underground."

United in their disgust at the state of the capital’s transport network they headed off down Acacia Road.

Ghosts, it seemed, did not mind the rain at all as, regular as clockwork, the man in the light blue track suit turned into Acacia Road and began to trail along behind them. Alan wasn’t quite sure, but he seemed to be a bit closer today, and less furtive, as if - having been discovered - he no longer needed to skulk.

Primrose Hill was deserted this morning, not a soul was to be seen. Eve and Alan slowed their pace as they moved towards the top of the hill. When they reached the top they stopped and both slowly turned towards the man following them. He stopped dead, but didn’t hide or vanish. For a few moments both parties watched each other warily. Then Alan, with deliberate slowness, raised his arm and gestured for the man to come to them. The man didn’t move, so Eve repeated the gesture. This time the man started to walk slowly towards them with a measured pace.

Alan and Eve glanced at each other, a slight smile passing over her face and relief in her eyes. When they looked up again the man was standing in front of them.

For a second they were startled, and then Eve smiled at the man, trying to put him at ease. "Hello." She said.

The man didn’t respond, he just watched them both carefully. He seemed to be flickering slightly, like a bad quality video that had been copied and copied until the picture definition deteriorated.

"Why have you been following us?" Alan asked. The man immediately walked back a few paces, his expression changing to one of concern. Eve put a hand on Alan’s arm, silently suggesting that he left all the talking to her.

"It’s okay," she reassured the man, who no longer seemed menacing, just sad, "Can we help you at all?"

The worried look on the man’s face changed back into his neutral expression and he looked at Eve intensely, as if trying to read her thoughts or, perhaps, her motives.

"I was just worried, that’s all, a man following me everyday. It was scary." Eve went on, trying to get some reaction from the man. "I don’t know why you’re following me…but if there is a reason and we can help then we will." She smiled at the man, trying to push down the knot that was growing in her stomach for no culpable reason.

For a few moments it seemed that no reaction was going to be forthcoming again. But then the man walked past them and began to move down the hill in the direction they had taken every morning. After a few feet he turned and beckoned them to follow him.

They looked at each, and Alan shrugged. When they looked back up the man was standing down by the same clump of bushes from where he had been watching them walk away the previous week.

"I wish he’d stop doing that," Alan muttered as they began to walk down the hill.

The man was staring at the bushes when they reached him. He didn’t acknowledge their presence in any way, as if they weren’t there. Eve was about to ask him what they were supposed to be looking at when he raised a hand and pointed into the thick scrubby growth. They looked but couldn’t see anything, but the man was now looking at them with an expectant expression on his face.

Alan moved forward and began to move some of the foliage aside. After a few seconds he stopped and Eve heard him whisper "Jesus shit." Then he straightened up and came back over to her.

"Eve, can I borrow your mobile?"

She fished the phone from her handbag and passed it to Alan who dialled a number and held the phone to his ear. Eve peered over his shoulder at the small clearing he’d made in the bushes. Her blood ran cold when she saw a hand protruding from the fallen leaves and mulched muck of late winter. The fingers were blackened from hard frost and curled up as if trying to grip the frigid air. Dimly Eve was aware of Alan talking to the Police on her phone. She turned to look at the man in the track suit. He smiled at her and mouthed "thank you" and then slowly turned misty and vanished.

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