She couldn’t hear them anymore, the only noise was her heavy breathing and the steady pounding of her feet on the pavement. She didn’t look back, she didn’t pause. She knew that somewhere they were there, behind her, hunting her. She had only one chance and that was to get home. She looked straight ahead as she ran, there was no help for her here on the empty streets. The streetlights elongated the shadows, making them reach out for her as she passed them by. Around here were houses, their dark windows staring at her. She knew it would be pointless to seek help there, she had already tried. Pounding on doors and screaming for help, but no help came. She was alone, completely and utterly alone.
Her breathing was coming in great, ragged gasps now, her lungs burning, her legs screaming. She still had so far to go. She was beginning to slow and she knew it. So did they. Their laughter had died off, it was no longer just a game to them, it was serious. They hunted her on foot, she only knew that as she wouldn’t have gotten this far otherwise. Something brushed against her hair, a shriek of fear managed to rip itself from her lungs and a burst of speed propelled her onwards, behind her there was a ragged giggle. Tears were streaming down her face, turned cold by the wind, she’d never get there, she knew it but she couldn’t give up, she had to try. A hand grabbed her wrist, vice like, and pulled her back, she jerked backwards with a cry, another hand grabbed her other wrist before she could fight back, her chest heaving, trying to get air. She pulled at her arms, trying to wriggle free, the hands on her wrists were gone, replaced by a set on her back, she stumbled forward, skidding onto the pavement. She could hear them, above her own breathing, panting heavily. She moved her arms under her, planning to scrabble to her feet, but a foot connected with her stomach, driving the air out of her, sending flashes of pain through her. She collapsed to the ground again, whimpering slightly as another kick landed on her thigh. She rolled onto her stomach and started to drag herself forward, she had to get away. Hands gripped her ankles and dragged her back, their breathing was slowing now, becoming steadier, still they didn’t speak. Not that it would have mattered, she knew who they were and they wouldn’t let her escape. Another kick, this time to her ribs. Hands on her body, rolling her over, onto her back. She was sobbing now, from pain, fear. She took a deep breath, her last chance, last hope, then she let out a scream, as loud as she could. A fist connected with her jaw, dazing her and stopping the scream. Her head was flung to the side, her vision starry. A brief thrill of hope welled up inside her, before dying completely. She could see the house, she was just at the end of their garden. In the large window she saw someone looking through a gap in the curtains. They caught her eye, then, the curtains twitched closed. Another kick, another fist. Soon they and the pain blended into one. She drifted in and out of consciousness, still praying that someone, anyone would stop this.
It was all over the news, Ashley Smith, 15, raped and beaten to death on a local street, lined with houses. The woman whose house it happened in front of tearfully told the cameras that she hadn’t heard a thing, that she didn’t know.
The milkman had found the body, early in the morning. Officially there were no suspects, but everyone knew who did it and no one was truly surprised. It went around the town in whispers and gossip, spread over backyard fences and in barbershops, each time ending with the refrain, “Someone ought to do something about it.”
Of course, no one spoke of their own involvement in it, after all, it’s not like it was their fault and they didn’t really do anything, did they? After all, at the time they thought it was a fox calling into the night, or just drunks on their way home, lost and banging on doors, laughing as they went. No, it wasn’t their fault.
As the days went on the anger at the lack of evidence and suspects began to spread throughout the the town as one by one they forgot their own involvement. Rallies were held, vigils and protests, but nothing was happening. Nothing at all. They knew the perpetrators would get away with it, that no one would stop them. What if they did it again? What if it was their own daughter that was attacked? Their sister? Their mother? No. That couldn’t happen. Wouldn’t happen. They’d make sure of it.
Afterwards, no one knew where exactly the mob had started, or who exactly had started it. They marched down the streets, growing as they went. The crowd yelling and shouting, pushing each other along, riling one another up. The walked with candles, shouting slogans. Later the police would claim that it had begun as just another march, but it had gotten out of hand.
At the first house, his parents stood aside. They knew they stood no chance against the mob and they had other children to think about. The watched as the mob dragged their screaming, crying son away and did nothing except hold each other. The next day they would deny being home, they would say they were out for a drive at the time, coming home to an empty house and would who ever took him please just return their son.
At the second his father tried to intervene, trying to reason with the crowd, but they were beyond reason. He was knocked unconscious, his body broken and trampled on. He would spend two months in hospital recovering.
The final house appeared empty, but the crowd knew their quarry was nearby, they could feel it in the air. The fire started slowly until someone threw a canister of petrol through the front window. Then it truly caught. They stood around the building, circling it, making sure no one could escape. They caught him crawling from the basement window, arms and legs burnt. They pushed a bike in through the small window, jamming it in. They ignored the screams from the basement. The next morning it would be reported that four members of the family perish in the fire. Both parents and their four year old twins, their teenaged son was still missing.
The crowd moved on from the burning house, leaving it behind them, after all there was no hurry, no rush, there would be no sirens that night. They knew where they were going, a place known colloquially as Justice Grove. The boys were tied up and dragged behind the crowd, people jeering at them, spitting on them, kicking them occasionally. The roar of the crowd drowning out their screams and pleas of innocence.
When they arrived they got to work quickly. It wasn’t the first angry mob this place had seen and it didn’t seem like the last either. Plenty of people had been strung up in the branches of these trees, some guilty, some not. They were strung up quickly, the crowd screaming and yelling their pleasure as the bodies jerked and twisted on the rope. The noise dwindled and died, a silence coming over them all, the only sound was the gentle creak of the trees around them as the body’s swung back and forth slowly. The crowd looked at the bodies, then looked at one another, then, as one, they dispersed.
No one knew who was part of the mob, no one had seen any of their friends or neighbours. Few people had looked out, for fear of being targeted, you see. The bodies weren’t found for three days, though everyone knew where to look.
Slowly, people forgot about it, it just became an awful tragedy, something that got out of hand and no one could stop it in time. It became something that was whispered about, an open secret. But everyone knew it wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened in the town and it wouldn’t be the last.