Anja

Out of breath and exhausted Anja was almost at the police station, The trauma from just a few minutes ago kept replaying before her eyes and reminding her of the terrible images she had witnessed further back down the road.

It was Anja’s worst fear and so she ran.
The night closed in around Anja Shivani as she fled through the sleeping high street. Angry threatening voices pursued her, accompanied by heavy footsteps echoing in the hollow midnight silence. Her friends and neighbours slept soundly in their beds, oblivious to her plight while she nightmared, unable to wake. Fear and panic seemed to reach out of the shadows as her world collapsed around her. The amber glow of the streetlights cast the sticky red stains on her blouse in a brownish hew. Not the chestnut brown of her skin but the muddy brown of fresh blood spilled after dark. Although it was not her blood, Anja’s giddy mind whirled as shock threatened to paralyse her limbs. She was disorientated, like running in a dream. Although recognisable, her hometown appeared to be different, altered somehow to her startled mind.
Usually Ringwood’s old market square had an enchanting magical quality to it. The rich history and character is what attracted visitors in the day time. Hundreds of years’ worth of history and ghosts pressed into this intimate part of town. Secret alleyways hidden throughout the high-street would tempt customers to discover new treasures in charming little shops. The wistful magic was usually dispelled as the tourists and visitors left when the sun went down. For most evenings Ringwood was like any other small town at night; quiet with rarely any excitement. But that was not the case tonight. Tonight the town was filled with monsters from her darkest nightmares. The small quaint shop fronts that were usually so inviting and friendly were now dark and foreboding, uninterested in her plight. The secret alleyways were now filled with menace, warning her to stay away.
Anja rounded the corner by Greyfriars Community Centre and the Fire station. She had to keep going. If she could just make it to the safety of the police station she would be okay.

Anja had often punished herself for her lack of ambition and motivation. She should have moved out of Ringwood years ago. She had imagined a life of travelling the world and immersing herself in a myriad of different cultures in exotic countries. Anja had wanted to go out and explore the world but she always found an excuse to stick with her comfortable familiar routine. If she was honest she did have a fear of leaving the UK. The idea of traveling was appealing but the reality was filled with the horrors of robberies, attacks, kidnappings and murders. As a result of her fears Anja had remained in Ringwood; languishing here in her home town since leaving school. She never really found the time to arrange anything and as the months went by she found herself working more and more in her family’s restaurant; The Indian Tree. Life was passing by and Anja found herself working almost every day. This wasn’t how she had imagined her life would be. The routine and inertia of staying here and working in the restaurant was sapping her motivation to do anything. She feared in her quiet moments that she would spend the rest of her life working there. If she had left then this would not be happening now and she would not be desperately running for her life. She might even be safer in some third world country miles away from civilisation she pondered. Security was her main concern: Anja had always felt safe in her hometown, safe but uninspired. Her quiet life had changed however, when the lovably nerdy yet enigmatic YAshAr (pronounced Yar-shar), from the city of York had come to town.
Anja hardly knew YAshAr, didn’t even know his last name so YAshAr-from-York had to suffice. A polite stocky and proud Persian, YAshAr worked as an IT consultant for a national company. He radiated an incongruous blend of tranquillity and intenseness that immediately caught Anja’s attention when he entered The Indian Tree for lunch. Carrying a laptop bag over one shoulder and wearing glasses that appeared very stylish despite the obviously thick lenses, he could be in no other profession than IT. He explained he was here for only two weeks to help a business on the industrial estate set up a new computer system. Lunchtimes at The Indian Tree were often quiet and Anja was only too pleased to have someone to talk to. The following day he had asked Anja out for a drink and they had spent a wonderful evening together in The White Hart Inn, where he was staying. From that night onwards YAshAr would meet Anja from work every night when the restaurant closed and either walk her home, take her for a drink or they would go for a walk around the town. Their conversations flowed so naturally, whisking away the hours so it felt there was never enough time to be together. They would talk about everything from Persian history to the right way to prepare a parsi curry. However, the topic of the group England for The English became a frequent point of discussion. The ultra-right-wing group were coming to the South Coast for a protest march against what they called the UK’s ‘lax’ immigration policies.
England for The English or E40 as they were more commonly known were a group whom, to Anja, hated everyone who was not white, not straight, not Christian and not conservative. Their numbers were growing; with their main power base in the north they wanted to spread their poison in the south of the country, starting in Bournemouth this weekend.

Behind her, the sound of a vehicle speeding away jarred Anja back to the present with a force like whip-lash. Without daring to look back she knew they were still after her. She didn’t know how many were chasing her but last night they had been threatened be three thugs belonging to E40.
Anja had the night off work and had gone to meet YAshAr at The White Hart. As he and Anja came downstairs into the bar area Anja had detected a strangely tense atmosphere in the pub that she could not see a cause for at fist. Then she spotted the three men sat staring at them from a table in the corner. The first was a large thuggish-looking man with pin-prick eyes that were too close together staring out from beneath a shiny bald head. The man to his right had a large tattoo snaking up his neck and had very short dark hair above a cruel face. The third man was shorter than his friends, idly playing with a cigarette lighter he had taken from the pocket of his green army jacket. Anja sat uncomfortably, trying to pretend they were not there but she couldn’t help her eyes being drawn to the trio every few seconds. The men glared back at Anja as if the sight of her and YAshAr sitting together was offensive to them. Other regulars in the pub shifted uncomfortably, keeping their distance from the men. This shouldn’t be happening in here, Ringwood is a nice pleasant place Anja protested to herself. You’re not supposed to feel nervous here.
The intimidation continued for another few minutes and Anja was going to suggest leaving when a cigarette lighter clattered across the wooden floor, stopping next to Anja’s seat. She looked down at it and then glanced up at the men. It had come from the one in the army jacket and they scowled back at her, daring her to pick it up. The tension filled the bar like a pressure cooker threatening to explode. The bald man whispered something to his friends and they all laughed at the unheard joke which was undoubtedly at YAshAr and Anja’s expense. YAshAr calmly looked at down at the lighter and asked if they had dropped anything. The thugs’ laughter immediately snapped into poisonous unspoken accusations, outraged that YAshAr had addressed them. Anja watched YAshAr calmly smile back at them, but she couldn’t believe what he did next: YAshAr pursed his lips together to blow a kiss, deliberately goading the thugs. It was like a match lighting a touch paper: All three men sprang to their feet shoving back their chairs and slopping beer over the table in a frenzy to answer YAshAr’s insult. Anja didn’t have time to react, but as the last thug was straightening up, YAshAr was already on his feet standing between the men and Anja, like a knight ready to defend her honour. He had reacted so fast Anja never saw him move, his face was frozen with an intensity Anja could never picture on such a calm considered person as YAshAr.

Behind her, the sound of a vehicle speeding away jarred Anja back to the present with a force like whip-lash. Without daring to look back she knew they were still after her.

Thankfully, before anything could happen, the bouncer, who could easily be mistaken as the twin brother of the singer Meatloaf had seen the tension brewing and waded through the bar. He approached the two tables straightening his heavy black coat as he went. Anja didn’t catch what was said but the three men left the pub. The bald one was almost snarling as he threw a look over his shoulder at Anja and YAshAr.
“What did you do that for?” Anja asked.
“It’s important to live in the moment” YAshAr replied patiently like a teacher explaining something to a student. “Otherwise you’re denying yourself the full experience of each moment and becoming less connected to the world around you. Besides, they were going to start some trouble anyway so we might as well do it on our terms instead of theirs”. YAshAr laughed apparently un-phased by the incident. He had quickly returned to his usual inoffensive nerdy self and led Anja back up to his room in the inn. They sat on the sofa with a bottle of red wine and reflected on the differences between instinct and impulsivity. After a couple of glasses YAshAr asked if he could try something with Anja, something he had been taught a long time ago. He turned to face her taking hold of her hands and closing his eyes in deep concentration. An echo of the earlier Jekyll and Hyde changes crossed his face as if he were chasing an elusive memory or half-forgotten dream. Suddenly his eyes opened wide and he stared into the middle distance. “Soon, Anja, your life is going to change” he prophesised in a faraway voice.
“That’s nice” said Anja, the wine having washed away her earlier fear.
“Whether the change is good or not, I cannot say but it will be significant” He tried to explain: “It’s as if you’re standing at a crossroads in your life and you will have to make a choice very soon. One choice will take your life in one direct and the other choice will…” YAshAr trailed off and looked deep into her eyes, still holding her hands. Anja gazed back seeing herself reflected in his deep brown eyes. The world and everything in it seemed to stop for a moment. Then YAshAr leaned in towards Anja as they shared a long kiss. YAshAr smiled shyly “You’ve got to live in the moment” he grinned but became serious again. “I can help to make the choice easier for you, give you what you need when the time comes. All you have to do is accept this gift”. As a warm sensation that was only partly due to the wine, bloomed deep inside Anja and she heard herself agreeing to accept the gift.
It was something very special; YAshAr had advised and had promised he would explain more about it the next night when they had more time together. Anja was confused as to what it was or what she was supposed to do with it. She waited until the next evening but she never did find out what it was for.

Out of breath and exhausted Anja was almost at the police station, The trauma from just a few minutes ago kept replaying before her eyes and reminding her of the terrible images she had witnessed further back down the road.

YAshAr had met Anja from work as The Indian Tree closed and they stepped out into the empty street. The only sound was the muffled beeping of the restaurants alarm being set. The beeping receded as they walked out onto the high-street into the night. They were about half way down the road when from behind them a white van noisily sped down the road. It mounted the pavement and braked sharply in front of them. The front doors were flung open and two of the men from the previous night jumped out to brandish their hatred on YAshAr. They viciously fell on him without warning like dogs fighting over a bone. There was shouting and swearing but Anja couldn’t tell from whom it came. Anja shouted at them to stop and YAshAr stumbled away from them into Anja, his face twisted in agony, and a dark patch of blood blossoming over his shirt. “Run” he spluttered as two of the men pulled him back and threw him to the ground. “I’ll find you late…” he called before a wet thump cut him off. Anja didn’t see what happened next. Panic flooded her mind and she turned to run but the third man, the biggest one leered up behind her his bald head shining in the streetlight. Anja shrank back as his strong clammy hands took hold of her above her elbows and began dragging her towards the back of the van where the doors hung menacingly wide open. Anja couldn’t see inside the dark gaping interior but she knew if she went in there she would never come out. She struggled desperately screaming and kicking out at the man. One lucky blow caught him between the legs. He released his grip and doubled over with a grunt of pain.

It was Anja’s worst fear and so she ran.

The rustic, Lamb Inn sailed past her, followed by the reassuring presence of the Salvation Army Hall on the corner of the roundabout. She had nearly reached her goal. Anja crossed the road but as she turned the final corner to the police station her resolve crumbled. She had made it this far but there was no help for her here. Any last elements of hope drained away as she looked up at the silent empty police station. It was just as dark and quiet as the rest of the town. In desperation she ran to the bottom of the path that led to the front door of the station but it was no good. There was an emergency intercom by the door but no one would be able to get to her in time. It was useless. This was it, it was all over. Her flight had been for nothing and the thug would catch up with her. Anja turned. No, she thought to herself. I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got to tell someone about YAshAr.
Anja turned back, but where could she go? The thug was crossing the roundabout just meters away from her, relentlessly closing in. She could hear his ragged breathing as he stalked her, determined to finish what he had started and knowing there was no help for the girl. No one would come to her rescue. Anja searched around, she couldn’t keep running, she needed somewhere to hide. Anja hurried across the road, down the dark lane and onto the gravel track where the old railway line used to run many years ago. She sprinted into the anonymous blackness of the footpath. There was a gate at the bottom of the lane that opened into the nature reserve and if she could reach it she could silently move through the grass and hide in the bushes where he would not see her. Then hopefully he would eventually give up and abandon his search for her. She ran on tiptoes, wincing as the sound of the crunching gravel betrayed her every step. She could sense her attacker closing like the spectral figure that sometimes haunted her dreams. She needed to go faster. She had nearly made it. Anja was just feet away from the gate now. She reached for it but just at that moment strong hands reached out of the darkness and grabbed her shoulders nearly knocking her over.

Panic flooded her mind and she turned to run but the third man, the biggest one leered up behind her his bald head shining in the streetlight.

The brute towered over her as he spun her around. The moonlight highlighted his lustful features as he leered down at her. Anja shrank back, catching the stale smell of alcohol that wafted into her face. His heavy breathing became throatier as he looked her up and down with evil intentions. With a sickening certainty Anja knew what he intended and her dread, like a fist of ice squeezed her insides tightly. Not usually one for religion, Anja found herself praying for help; pleading with some higher power for salvation. At that moment her prayers were answered as a thought leapt to the front of her mind and she remembered the gift YAshAr had given her. She had been confused when she first accepted it but now understanding dawned like an early August sunrise, melting the ice of terror and waking her from her nightmare.
Anja stood taller surrendering to her instincts as YAshAr had explained and feeling a new confidence reinforce her posture. A change was coming over her, subtly transforming her both physically and mentally. “I know what you want” she said matter-of-factly stepping back and beckoning her attacker closer. He hesitated, momentarily confused by the new self-assurance in her demeanour. It lasted only a moment though and he mumbled something in a horse whisper and came at her.
“Come here, and I’ll take you to heaven” Anja whispered, reaching out, pulling him into an intimate embrace. As he towered over her, dominating her with his sheer size Anja stood her ground tilting his head down and to the side and as her needle sharp teeth broke the taught skin of his neck she knew she would never be made to feel scared again.
The man struggled as his blood flowed out into Anja’s open mouth but it was too late for him. He could not hope to free himself from Anja’s impossibly strong hold. Before long he stopped struggling and when Anja had taken her fill of his life blood she threw the body to the floor and looked down at the man. Anger boiled within her and she kicked him hard in the stomach for what he had intended to do to her. She kicked him again for what they had done to YAshAr. Then a third time for everything that E40 stood for. When she was finished she looked down at her victim and realised her life would never be the same again. She was at her crossroads and she had chosen her path. She couldn’t stay here any longer and with no more excuses and no more fear to hold her back it was time for Anja Shivani to travel and explore the world.

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