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She didn’t always walk this way home from school, but she felt like a change. It was a glorious sunny day, and just perfect for a leisurely walk along the river. This was one of the prettiest parts of the city. The houses along the quay were part of the old town, but had always been looked after properly and were still in fine condition. There was just one house right in the middle that had all but completely collapsed on one side; it was quite a tourist attraction.
The tide was out just now, and she stopped to watch the waders searching for food on the silty banks. She could stand here for hours; she always wished she could spare more time to stop and look around, but she really had so few moments to herself. With a sigh, she carried on walking towards the bridge.
There never seemed to be anyone around when she walked this way. The quietness suited her by the river, but made her nervous on the bridge. The tall twisting staircase loomed before her. She looked up to the top, and let her eyes be led across the bridge. She always preferred to check whether or not anyone else was walking across, or looking down. There was no-one there today; and a quick glance across to the steps at the other side told her that no-one would be approaching from there.
She began to climb the steps, fifty-three in total: she counted them every time. She always began the climb at quite a good pace, three, four, five. But she was never able to keep it up for long. Perhaps if she walked this way more often she might be a little fitter. Eighteen, nineteen, her thighs were already aching, and still how many to go? Twenty-four to go, but no, she’d climbed three more, so only twenty-one. No, she’d lost count now. That had never happened before.
She turned the corner – the steps doubled back now, and she could look down on those she’d just climbed. Was that someone at the bottom, coming up? It was. A tall, thin man, with a lot of curly blonde hair. He was looking up at her. Did he grin just then? She caught her breath, her stomach all of a sudden in knots. Despite her aching legs she picked up the pace again, and reached the top of the bridge. She quickly glanced back down the steps. The man was still looking up, and grinning. The sight of him watching her so deliberately made her gasp. She must get to the other side of the bridge as quickly as possible.
She set off, as briskly as she could without breaking into a run. She didn’t want him to know she was afraid, in case that made him run after her. She kept her eyes focused on the opposite end of the bridge: it had never looked so far away, and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Should she risk a quick look back, just to check if he really was following her? She glanced over her shoulder. He was just coming up onto the bridge, still grinning. Her heart missed a beat as he waved at her. She looked back to the wall at the end of the bridge, and tried to walk even faster. If she reached the wall she would be safe, she would be close to the main road, and there would be people around.
She was almost at the end now, just a few more metres. No, she could hear his footsteps pounding; he had broken into a run. She hadn’t been quick enough.