Before She Falls: A completely gripping mystery and suspense thriller

Prologue

September

Depending on the tides, Louise Griffiths either walked the beach or up along the cliff path at least twice a week, rain or shine. She always parked in the Dunraven Bay car park and dressed accordingly. Today, the tide was in and so the beach was out of bounds. It was late September, the day cold and blustery, and Louise wore an anorak, hat and gloves. Toby, her energetic cocker, preferred the beach because the cliff top meant he’d have to stay on a lead. Louise had read lots of horror stories about dogs chasing birds and jumping off viaducts and mountainsides in pursuit. Southerndown Cliff was two hundred and ten feet high when you reached the top. It wasn’t worth the risk. Toby would just have to wait until they reached the other side and the river mouth to run amok.

Unlike Toby, Louise preferred the cliff path. Though it flanked the Bristol Channel, this far around it was an almost west-facing coastline and open to the Atlantic. It made for a bracing stroll, and more often than not, Louise would stand at the very top and wonder at the view. To the south, she’d look out across the channel towards England. Below, at the bottom of the cliff, was the beach, though the rocky limestone shelf and the lack of sand barely qualified. Still, it made for a spectacular landscape that went a long way towards explaining why this spot was such a popular location.

The sharp easterly whipped up the surf and Louise took a handkerchief to her running nose before turning back towards the path to continue her walk, through the second car park at the top of the rise and out on to open common.

There was someone else approaching on the path and Toby looked up, his tail already in overdrive, ready to greet a fellow walker. A smile formed automatically on Louise’s lips and her brain formulated a greeting: a mutual appreciation of nature and the weather that had become her standard gambit over the years. But it froze halfway as the girl came closer. No, strode closer, because there was a determination about this walker that, as she neared, seemed out of place. She would have seen Louise. There was no way of avoiding that, but there was no happy reciprocal smile on her face. As she neared, the girl put her hand up to her forehead and kept her face lowered so as not to make eye contact.

Louise was no psychiatrist, but she’d taught at a local comprehensive for almost fifteen years, so she knew when things, with girls especially, were wrong.

‘Are you OK?’ Louise asked.

The query triggered a reaction. The girl looked up briefly. Louise flinched and felt something, a mixture of shock and alarm, ripple through her. It wasn’t only the girl’s lost, hopeless expression but the large mark on her face that made Louise start. A dark stain like the curved rays of a black sun, obtrusive and obvious, designed to startle. The exchange of looks lasted the briefest of seconds before the girl passed by on a spur that left the main path and headed towards another viewpoint.

‘Hello,’ said Louise to the girl’s back, her voice taut and urgent.

But the girl took no notice. She walked on to where the land began to fall away, where earth started to crumble.

‘Hello?’ Louise said again, but she got no further.

The girl hesitated, half turned and let out one shuddering sob before swinging back to face the sea and, without warning, running towards the edge of the cliff where she dropped, like a stone, into the void.

Something imploded inside Louise and she fell to her knees. Toby barked, unnerved by the strange emotions he sensed, but his voice was drowned out by another’s.

Louise’s anguished wail was lost amidst the sound of the gulls and carried off by the wind into an uncaring sky.