“Members of the security services are already beginning to suspect your existence and the work of your organisation,” Wolsingham said. He gave a sneering laugh. “Mondial. But they are unaware of mine and I need it to stay that way.”
“It is my understanding that there is a specialised agency dedicated to bringing you down.”
“Not for much longer,” Wolsingham replied. “As no one else knows about them, their demise won’t even make page 11 of the Evening Standard.” Wolsingham finished his tea, dabbed his mouth with a serviette and got to his feet. “I need the writer taken care of. In return, my people will provide assistance when you need it. I hope you gleaned everything you needed to with this visit.”
“I did,” Hoyer smiled. “And Jason Rybak will be dead before his first book charting the exploits of your people hits the internet.”
Six drove hard, sticking to quiet country roads, As it started to get light again, he skidded to a sudden halt. Without saying a word, he grabbed his phone and spent ten minutes tapping away at it with a frown on his face. Then he handed it to me, telling me to flick between a map and what looked like a live camera feed of the inside of a house. He drove on and a couple of hours later, parked in the garage of a cottage on the edge of a village close to London.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“Safehouse. Officially it’s a holiday home. No one will think it’s strange that we’re here. We’ll be safe for a couple of nights and we can plan our next move.”
I recognised the interior from the camera feeds I’d been watching.
“This belongs to your emplyers? Won’t they look for you here?”
“No. It’s mine. No one else knows about it.”
Six wouldn’t answer any more questions. He set about checking his many hidden security measures and reported that no one had been there. I knew we were safe – for the time being at least.
It was about twenty-seven hours later when I realised that someone had been in the house while I was asleep and left things for us. There was a laptop containing every note and every manuscript I’d left behind in our crashed car.
My eye was drawn to some material I didn’t recognise – titled “URGENT”
It showed what else ShadowAspect had been up to recently.
The first incident sent a chill up my spine.
Six turned and ran for it. I scrambled to my feet and followed. I felt dazed and a little delicate from being hit, but I just shook it off as I ran.
The farm was further away than it looked. Running in the darkness towards the shape of a group of buildings, I didn’t dare slow down. Glancing over my shoulder, it didn’t look like anyone was following.
Eventually we reached the farm and hid behind the wall of a barn. I collapsed to the ground, my lungs burning. My legs screamed in pain.
“Who the hell were they?” Six uttered. He wasn’t even breathing heavily.
“Dunno,” I gasped.
“They weren’t like ShadowAspect,” he thought out loud. “They were more like the woman who dodged my bullets.” He peered around the corner. “We need to get out of here before any of them see what car we’re driving.”
Six led the way and I staggered after him. He found a barn by the lane leading out of the farm and hauled the door open.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. Car doors unlocked in front of me. The lights came on inside the Ford Focus sitting in the barn.
Six jumped in the driver’s seat. I sank into the passenger seat. He accelerated and drove at breakneck sped out of the farm.
I pressed my back against the cathedral wall to hide in its shadow and make sure no one could creep up on me. Across the space I could just make out a couple of streets that led away from the cathedral.
Everything was silent.
A movement caught my eye. A shadow. A figure emerging from a street at the far end. It was too big to be Six. Whoever it was took a look around them and disappeared.
Then my ears caught a sound. A faint sound coming from the street the figure had emerged from. It was a silenced gunshot.
I edged along the wall, fixing my gaze on the street entrance, but I couldn’t hear or see anything.
Then a noise behind me made me start.
Before I could turn, a black hood was shoved over my head.
The background noise grew as I wandered down a street with a few bars and restaurants. A young couple headed out and walked past me, hand in hand. I didn’t recognise them. They weren’t on the bus. But once I couldn’t see them, I felt both pairs of eyes burning into my back.
My heart pounded. It took everything to not run, but to wander as casually as before. Suddenly it wasn’t just the couple I’d passed on the street. There were more of them. I kept moving. I turned a couple of corners, but I could feel more eyes on me, following me. They were stalking me like prey.
I couldn’t see anyone. There were no footsteps running up behind me. But I knew I wasn’t being paranoid.
They were still watching me. What were they waiting for?
My next question was a more dangerous one, but I couldn’t help myself. It had to be asked.
“So who else out there would know about you?”
Six’s jaw set. He scowled.
“Seven. Nine. Eight.”
“But there must be someone else out there from your old life. Family? Parents?”
“I don’t know,” Six shrugged.
“Wouldn’t your parents have missed you when you disappeared and joined your employers?”
“No,” Six said shortly.
A text arrived on my phone.
“I’ve eliminated seven of them,” Silas texted. “Three of them have no digital footprint at all, no presence on social media – not even a single photograph. The same three hiding in every photo you took.”
Once Six was busy studying the photos again, a second text arrived: “Had a good look around for your friend Six. There was nothing. No missing persons or anything. If someone out there is missing him, they’ve never said so.”
When had I last left my flat? I had no idea. It had been so long since I’d spoken to or had any contact with humankind, I was starting to feel like a different species. What if I wandered out and they saw right through me?
With a hat on under my hood, I ventured out under cover of darkness and lingered among the crowd watching the fireworks. I could feel every passing glance, every curious gaze in my direction. But all they saw was one guy in a hood standing alone in the night.
I ran out of food. Now I would have to leave my home during daylight hours. I showered thoroughly and tried to make myself look normal, certain that everyone out there would be able to see me for who I really was.
I took the long way, wandering around some other shops, beginning to believe that I belonged among humankind again. I could feel every time someone noticed me, but no one found me interesting enough to look at me for more than a second or two.
But when I left the supermarket, my eye was drawn to a car on the opposite side of the street. A pair of eyes inside the car lingered on my face like an itch. Shooting the odd glance, I couldn’t see through the tinted windows. I picked up the pace.
I stopped down the road from my flat and pretended to tie my shoe lace. The same car was parked at the top of the street.
I hurried up to my flat and made sure the door was locked and bolted. I peered through the window. The car was gone.
Of course it was gone. No one was following me. It was just my paranoia. Being Watched will do that to you.
But I’ve discovered the identity of the fantasy being stalking me. I’m writing now. I’m working with him. I’m safe, right?
After days of hard slog with ShadowAspect looking over my shoulder, my book was finally finished. I let him take it back to his cave while I prepared to publish.
I didn’t sleep very well that night. I woke up with a jolt in the early morning and realised what was nagging at me. I could see it in my mind’s eye without even looking at the page – something I didn’t like. And the effects of one alteration on one page would ripple through several more.
After a recall and a halt to publication, I made the changes with ShadowAspect pacing frantically behind me and sent him back with it when I was satisfied. I’m not sure I’d dare do that again. He might just beat me to death with my laptop.
Atticus Crayle: The Accidental Spy is available as an e-book on Amazon.
I was ready for him. I didn’t even try to sleep. All I could do was run through my plan in my mind again and again, rehearsing and preparing for every possible outcome. What choice did I have? I can’t let this torment continue.
He melted out of the shadows. I sprang out of bed fully clothed and leapt at him. He moved so quickly. In a flash, he grabbed me while I was in midair and slammed me to the floor. Pain shot through my body. I lay helpless on the carpet. He crouched over me. I looked up, waiting to finally see his face.
There wasn’t one. He had no distinct features. He was just the vague shape of a man. A three-dimensional shadow. I waited for him to make his next move, to reveal what he wanted with me. But he stepped away into the shadows and vanished.
This is my story. Fictional, of course.
I was a struggling writer – working a normal job by day and writing by night. But I had a secret. I was being watched, followed by someone who never left any evidence of their presence. I never saw them, but I knew they were there. And there was nothing I could do about it. I moved. I changed jobs. It made no difference.
Everything changed when I discovered my stalker was connected to the worlds and characters I was writing about. They weren’t as fictional or as imaginary as I’d thought. And they did not want me writing about them.
I can’t show you my face. I can’t tell you where I am. I’ve been moving from place to place. I wouldn’t say I was running away – not yet anyway. But I have to be prepared for the day when I need to disappear without anyone knowing who I am or where I am going. I know that day is coming.
My name is Jason Rybak. I am the Writer on the Run.