Extract: Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge
The last thing Tom Campbell remembers is camping in the New Forest with his girlfriend, Melissa. Now he is helpless, alone and consumed by fear, hunted through the woods by a sinister, masked figure…
When Tom’s body is found, displayed with grisly relish, Helen Grace takes the case. But before she can catch her breath, a second victim is taken – a serial killer is on the loose. Something dark and deadly stalks the forest. Helen and her team must race against time to catch the perpetrator before more blood is shed.
But the hunt will take Helen back into the eerie twilit woods – and this time she might not make it out alive.
Read on for the first chapter of M J Arlidge’s new book!
Down to the Woods
M J Arlidge
She reached out, but found only emptiness. The silky fabric was cool to her touch, which confused her. Where there should be a warm, sentient being, there was just… a void.
Unnerved, Melanie Walton hauled herself upright. Immediately she regretted it, her burgeoning headache slapping into her forehead. Every time she and Tom went camping it was the same. Plans for a relaxed, restrained evening soon gave way to unbridled hedonism – a roaring fire, loud music, then the inevitable bourbon-fuelled sex. In truth, Melanie wouldn’t have it any other way – she could still feel Tom’s presence on her skin, which made the emptiness next to her even more confusing.
Their tent was old and cramped – a poky two-manner Tom had picked up in a clearance sale – and Melanie was used to having her fiancé’s reassuring bulk next to her. True, he snored, but the bourbon helped block that out and she loved the feeling of the pair of them snuggled up together under the stars. Usually the thought made her smile, but not tonight – as she craned around to peer through the darkness, the sight of Tom’s empty sleeping bag confirmed what she already knew. She was alone.
Darting a look to her right, she saw that the tent flaps were open, swaying gently back and forth in the breeze. Immediately she felt a stab of irritation – it was just like Tom to stumble off to the toilet block and forget to close them. She’d taken him to task about it before. She wasn’t naturally fearful, but they weren’t the only people on the campsite and anyone could wander in. The fact that a zipped-up tent provided little protection against a determined intruder was beside the point – she just didn’t like the idea of someone being able to see into their little sanctuary.
Melanie stayed seated for a couple more minutes – listening for signs of Tom’s stumbling progress, rehearsing a good-humoured barb for his return – but it remained doggedly quiet outside. Cursing, she gave up the wait, tugging on her jeans and flip-flops, before crawling out of the tent.
It had been a warm summer’s day, but the cool night air made her shiver as she emerged from her cocoon. It caressed her shoulders and neck and she wrapped her goose-pimpled arms around her, as she scanned the campsite. Earlier the place had been lively – it was the first sustained period of good weather and dozens of campers had abandoned Southampton to pitch tent at this New Forest site – but now it was deathly quiet. All that could be heard was the murmuring of the breeze and the occasional satisfied snore.
Her gentle plea drifted away on the wind. Where was he? Often during his night-time ablutions Tom would hum to himself, the refrain of earlier tunes cannoning around his brain, but tonight she could hear nothing. Nor was there any light coming from the toilet block.
‘Tom? Are you there?’
Louder this time – her anxiety overcoming her fear of disturbing others – but still there was no response. Was he playing a trick on her? Waiting to jump out and surprise her? It was not his style – normally he was dead to the world at this time of night – but what other explanation could there be?
‘If this is supposed to be funny…’
She was careless of her volume now. She just wanted to find him, give him a bollocking, then return to the tent. Their night, which had been so pleasant, was swiftly turning sour.
‘I mean it, Tom. If you’re there, if this is some kind of trick…’
Her voice quivered, distress and fear mastering her. If it was a game, surely Tom would have brought it to an end by now? He wasn’t cruel or hurtful. He was sweet, loving, kind…
‘Please, Tom. You’re scaring me,’ she continued, tears pricking her eyes. ‘Where are you?’
But her words fell away, dying quietly in the darkness.
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