Hannah Browning winced and rubbed at the back of her heel in an unladylike crouch on the pavement on the way up to Hedge End railway station. She had her new shoes on and wondered if the GBP200 worth of fine Italian leather was worth the damage to her toes and heels. It would be worth it if Jack, the boss at work, noticed her. Well, more than he normally did.
She had only been at her first job for six months and already at eighteen she knew how things worked in the office and how people got on. Playground and college politics had been a skill she easily transferred to the workplace, where she knew when to be a bitch and when to be the sorry-I've-not-done-this-before new girl. She had seen Jack notice her. He was mid-thirties and still trim and handsome, but married. Not that that mattered much to Hannah. She knew her hazel eyes, long black locks and cracking tits, inherited from her Italian mother, would soon lure him in.
She had done it at school with Mr Hodges to give her a leg up with her exams, and then Mrs Bristow at college to get the tutoring and results she wanted. Her skirts had gotten shorter, her shoes higher and the buttons near her cleavage looser.
Hannah noticed a slightly podgy, geeky looking guy entering the small woods that ran beside the pavement and she vaguely recognized him from the train she caught every morning. Hannah was definitely not one for woods or the great outdoors in general, and she only ventured out in her garden to sunbathe on the rare days the sun ever shone in this country. Not for the first time, she wished she lived in her mother's birthplace of Milan and not this arse-end of the stockbroker-belt.
Today she did enter the copse, because the leafy paths looked dry and felt much softer to walk on and gave a bit of relief to her aching feet. A cobweb across her face made her vow never to take this path through the woods again, however painful her feet got. Give her cars and concrete every time.
She reached halfway into the small wood. At the deepest part the path led away from the busy road to her right. She could still hear the steady rush of traffic, but the trees, bushes and ferns blocked them from view. Hannah felt something wet on her right heel as she walked and she moved over to a huge oak tree that dominated right-hand side beside the pathway. She leaned against the tree with her left arm and crossed her right leg up to take off her shoe. Out of a blister of white skin, blood oozed and Hannah gritted her teeth in anger and frustration.
"Fer fuck sake!"
She gingerly placed her leg down again, unzipped her handbag and rooted savagely for a plastic bandage. She found a couple in a zipped pocket inside her large bag and then hitched up her skirt to her thighs and placed her right blood-dripping foot onto the edge of a low hole in the trunk of the tree, where many years ago a bough once protruded. Hannah used a scrunched up tissue to dab at the self-inflicted fashion wound and then popped the tissue inside the dark hollow, as if it were a handy bin that nature had provided.
Leaning forward, she opened the bandage and carefully placed it across the blister, her nose wrinkling in its pretty way as a wet, honey-like odour came from inside the guts of the tree.
She tossed the bandage wrapper onto the ground just as something with immense strength pulled her leg quick-fast into the dark hole of the tree. It happened so fast that Hannah bashed her head against the side of the tree and saw stars. She did not have even time to cry out in shock or pain as what felt like many small hands grabbed at her bare leg and pulled with bone-cracking might.
Her left leg flew up like a chorus girl's, with violent pain to her groin and pelvis. Her backside and tummy disappeared into the overly sweet smelling tree. Her leg stuck out of the hole, with her hands and face for a moment before that was dragged inside, the loud crack of her bones echoing in her ears, and she saw the sunshine framed like an oval in front of her as darkness and clawed hands covered her young body.
Sharp, biting and tearing teeth followed, and then death.