Continuum Episode 8 – Celeris

The story so far:

Wth a clear notion she must escape the Consensual City, Alanee sets out into its nightlife, determined to find the aerotrans port and Dag, her friendly pilot.  She is unaware she is being watched, or of the plotting that surrounds her.In the throng on the avenues, Alanee finds her concentration ebbing.  A gift of music from a goblin creature elates her, then leaves her irresolute and alone.  A bystander, sensitive to her distress, asks if he can help her…

“Thank you.”  Alanee finds words “Could you tell me where I can find the aerotran port, please?”

The man who has introduced himself as Celeris does not hesitate.  “I can do better.  It would be an honor to guide you, Lady.”

What is it about him that disturbs her?  “You’re very kind, but I don’t want to break up your discussion.”

Celeris looks puzzled for a moment.  “No, no.”  He casts a glance over his shoulder at the assembly he has left:  “They won’t even realize I have gone, I promise you.  Come, please!”

The hand he offers seems so finely-boned and fragile Alanee is afraid to grasp it lest it crumble, but his grip is firm and surprisingly confident.  “I shall look after you.”

He leads her by avenues and gardens, away from the nightlife of the City.  He leads with a purpose, but Alanee notices that no-one greets him as he passes, or acknowledges her.  She feels almost as though she is elsewhere, afloat on a different plane.

 “And you are Lady…?”

“I’m not sure you should call me ‘Lady’.  My name is Alanee.”

Celeris stops instantly, “You are undoubtedly a lady.”  He declares.  “I am privileged to know you, Lady Alanee!”

They continue walking. “You are not from around here, are you?”

“Are you?”  She returns.

“I?   Very much so, yes – all  my life!”

“Why does no-one know you?  At least, they don’t greet you, do they?”

His eyes engage with hers, though he does not stop walking.  “I’ve noticed that, too.”  His smile is impish.  “What brings you to the City?  You are far too beautiful for this ravening horde – they can hardly be restraining themselves.”

“I was brought, but no-one will tell me why,”  Alanee replies.   They arrive at the platform of a large door-less elevator which, its sign declares, is ‘descending’, threading their way into some free space between a small huddle of passengers who mostly wear flyers’ uniforms, similar to that sported by Dag when Alanee met him last.  There are one or two gold helmets among the crowd too, but although Alanee scans their faces, she cannot see her erstwhile pilot amongst this group.

“They’re being mysterious about it, are they?”  Celeris nods.  “The High Council are like that.  They relish a drama, a bit of mystery.  Don’t stand for it, Lady Alanee: demand to know your fate!”

“How do you know the High Council have anything to do with it?  I didn’t say that, did I?”

“Why no, you didn’t have to!  It is only by the invitation of the High Council that anyone may enter the Consensual City.  Such invitations are rare, so you must be someone quite important, I think; don’t you?”

This is not the first such challenge to leave Alanee floundering.  She does not reply.

At a warning chime the elevator slips downwards; an angled descent of about thirty degrees, through levels of various decoration and population.

At the fifth such level the aerotran deck declares itself.  Five large High Council aerotrans pose in orderly file while drabs fuss around them – one is clearly ready to leave, forcing Alanee to suppress an insane urge to run in case this should be Dag’s aerotran – in case she should miss the dark pilot whose face remains so fresh in her thoughts.

Celeris shows Alanee that she need only follow the general throng, for almost all the passengers on the elevator have disembarked here, and there is a general migration towards a suite to the right of the deck.  Once inside this unimposing area, however, most disperse:  speaking quietly among themselves they take stairs to upper levels, or filter through doors, leaving Celeris and Alanee alone in a dingy foyer with rushes for a floor and lackluster paint on its green walls.  As bland as the décor, a clerk at a scuffed wooden desk barely acknowledges their approach.

“I want to talk to an aerotran pilot!”  Alanee breaks the silence boldly.  “His name is Dag.  Could you tell him Alanee would like to see him?”

The clerk is writing something.  “Dag?  What makes you think he works here?”

“He’s an aerotran pilot!  Isn’t this where aerotran pilots work?”

The clerk gives her a sour look.  “Don’t be funny!  There are cargo pilots, and there are official pilots – oh, yeah, and there are taxi pilots.  They don’t all work from here.”

“Let us assume this one does?”  Celeris, until now content to be in the background, advances, speaking in clipped tones.  “Lady Alanee would like to speak with him.  Now.”

It is as if somewhere within dark halls of the clerk’s mental anatomy a light has been switched on.  His tone lifts a half-octave.  “He may be in.  I’ll just check for you, Lady Alanee.”

A screen on the shielded side of the desk flickers into life.  The clerk scrolls with his left hand, tracking the lines of script as they pass with his right forefinger.

“Yes.  Yes, you must mean Master Pilot Dag Swenner.  I’m afraid Master Pilot Swenner is on outward flight at the moment, Lady.  He isn’t due back until the day after tomorrow.  Would you like to send him a message?”

No, Alanee sighs, no message.  A forlorn hope, anyway, she convinces herself:  why should a man who did no more than ferry her once be the salvation she seeks?  But still, she would have liked to see him, and the thought of him out there alone makes her sad.

“I’m sorry your friend is away.”  Celeris says as they take the ascending elevator.  “A master pilot, too.  You have excellent taste in friends.”

“Well, not my friend, really.”  Alanee admits; “Just someone to talk to.”

Celeris moves so he stands directly facing her, letting her have the full force of his incisive stare.  “Talk to me.”

She demurs, “Oh, you don’t…”

“But I do!  Lady Alanee, I want to know everything about you.  Come now, indulge me!”

And so Alanee does.  Shyly at first, she tells him of her home in Balkinvel, and the warm Hakaani plains that roll like an ocean swell in the morning mist, recalling the afternoon when she was lifted from everything she loved and knew to be brought to this strange place.  At the use of the word ‘strange’ Celeris laughs (a soft sympathetic laugh) and nods approvingly.

“Strange indeed!”

“Very.  I bought this dress.  It took every credit I had.  I thought it looked good but now I’m wearing it I don’t know.  Everyone stares at me.  It’s OK, apparently, if some revolting little monstrosity publicly tries to stick his hand on my breast, yet if I show any leg I’m a harlot or something….”

“Stop, stop!”  Her companion raises his hands defensively:  “You mustn’t heed the ways of the city, Lady!  Your dress perfectly frames your beauty:  it is that they stare upon.  They are filled with regret because after seeing you they will have to go back to their wives!”

He speaks over the throng (they have returned to the humdrum of the avenue where they met) “Lady Alanee, would you do me the honor of dining with me?  There is a diner near here where the food is superb, and I would really enjoy sharing it with you.”

Alanee would politely decline, but she is quite hungry; and this oddly child-like man makes a charming companion:  so she says:  “Why thank you, Sire Celeris!  The honor would definitely be mine!”   

So, behind another green door, in another honeycomb of warm, confidential spaces and comfortable upholstery she comes to be pouring out the rest of her story.  She tells it all, or nearly all, from her interview with Cassix and Remis at the Terminal through to the moment Celeris, appeared to her out of the crowd.  She withholds only two things, the details of her interview with the High Councillors (Sala has warned her not to discuss such matters) and the reason for her quarrel with Sala.

Food has been placed before them; a sort of spicy fish steak in a sauce so intensely flavored it takes Alanee’s breath away.  As they eat Celeris listens, nodding once in a while.  When she lapses at last into silence, her story done, he asks:  “And what do you think of our city?  Apart from ‘strange’, I mean?”

“I think it is a very grand city.  If I were a city girl, I would love it.”

“But…?”

“But I’m not.”

“So this Dag, he is your means of escape?  You hope he will take you back to your home?”

Alaneee bites her lip.  Should she confess?  He seems so kind, but what if this Celeris is some high official, who will turn her in?  “No!  No, Celeris, I see that I must stay here.  Perhaps when I understand what is being asked of me, things will feel better.  For now, I just need a friend.”

Celeris reaches across the table and rests his hand on hers.  Though his touch is cool the vibrancy of his whole being pulses within it.  “Would you consider me a friend?”

Alanee thinks of the one she had hoped to reach tonight.  She cannot help comparing Dag with this enigmatic creature.  Yet he is listening well, he understands.  Sometimes it is only necessary to be there.  “You’re very sweet.  I think you’re already my friend.”

Celeris radiates delight.  The squeeze of his hand is like a static shock that sends arrows of warmth through Alanee’s whole body.  “Thank you!  I know we shall be great, great friends!”

They eat and talk, talk and eat:  and the hours pass, and evening becomes night, and in no time at all it seems that midnight is upon them.  Celeris takes Alanee’s hand to walk her home.

“How will I find you again?”  She asks, adding hurriedly:  “If you want me to find you?”

“I will show you how this is done.  Have you your summoner?”

Alanee has long forgotten the miscellany within her clutch-bag.  She rummages.

“This?”

“Yes.  It’s your link to all who know you within the city.  If I press my finger upon this pad – so – I join that happy society.  There, see?  My name upon your screen.”

“I live here.”  Outside her door, Alanee does not want the talking to end, does not want to be alone.  Were she bolder she would invite Celeris in, just so they could talk some more; just so she is not alone…

“I’d better get to bed.  I’m sure they’ll want me early in the morning.”

“Of course.”  Celeris bows ceremoniously.  “Good night, Lady Alanee.  I have so enjoyed this evening.  I hope we will meet again very soon.”

He has taken her hand, brushed it lightly to his lips.  Alanee watches him go, striding along the avenue with a purpose that belies his stature.  Later, when she lingers at the door of sleep, trying once more to center her mind on the prospect of escape, she will realize that all the talking through the hours has been about her.  She knows nothing about Celeris at all.

#

Of the gathered High Council, only Trebec notices Portis as he enters the Council Chamber.  The florid man’s face is etched with care.

“Are we all present?”  Portis asks.

“We await Sire Calvin, I think…no!  Here he is…”  Trebec’s voice is strained.

“You know more than I, clearly – what’s amiss?”

“You will learn.”

The Council is called to order by the Domo.  Slowly, for these are men and women of advanced years, chairs around a vast polished mahogany table are occupied.  “Sire Cassix.  I believe you requested this summons?”

Cassix rises to his feet.  The Seer is not among Portis’s closer acquaintances:  to Cassix’s mind Portis always looks hungry, as though he is anticipating his next meal but knows he will have to negotiate to get it.  This evening he looks especially starved.

“I bring grave news.  Sire Carriso, I know this should have reached you first, as Councillor for Dometia, but such is the urgency I thought it best to deliver this report to the whole Council.  Please forgive me.”

Cassix draws breath, drawing his shoulders back, aware that all eyes are upon him.  “This afternoon a little after 4.00 pm I sensed a disturbance of immense size from the direction of the Kaal valley in central Dometia.   It was of such proportions I could not clearly define it at first, but upon checking, I discovered that the foundry at Takken ceased production at that time.  Shortly after, a distress call from Kaalvenbal, the principal town of the region, spoke of the River Kaal as ‘boiling’.  Subsequently, a high static electrical charge in the air began to burn the citizens of that town. Our last report, an hour ago, spoke of ‘buildings alight, people suffocating’.  Thereafter all communication ceased.  I have received no news from Kaalvenbal since then.”

A rising murmur of consternation threatens to drown Cassix’s voice.  He pauses to allow the substance of his report to sink in.

“How?”  Carriso asks, distressed:  “How has this happened?”

Cassix shakes his head.  “I cannot say.”

“You are the Seer.  If you can’t…”

Cassix’s heart goes out to the young Councillor.  “I know how you love your people, Carriso.  If I could comprehend this myself I would tell you more.  It’s completely outside my experience.”

Portis swallows hard:  “Do you have any ideas, then; any theories, Cassix?”

“Not as such.  You will recall I made reports last year regarding a disturbance in the eastern sky I have referred to as the Continuum.  There may be a connection.”

A suppressed ‘harrumph’ comes from Councillor Selech’s end of the table.  Selech heads a group Cassix calls the ‘Continuum Skeptics’.

Cassix continues; “Three days ago I became aware of a significant increase in the size and activity of the Continuum.  I mentioned this at our last gathering.  I have been diverted since then so I have not had an opportunity to check it again.”

This suggestion instigates a clamor of dissent.  The Domo raises his hand.  “Sires, let us have quiet.  Cassix, how large an area is affected by this event?”

“The only evidence so far is anecdotal:  an aerotran pilot delivering plasma supplies to Kaalvenbal called in:  he spoke emotionally of a ‘cylinder of fire without heat’ rising several thousand meters into the air.  He seemed to think its girth was at least forty miles, but…”

“But what?”

“He was overwrought, disoriented.  We lost contact with him afterward, and his aerotran does not respond to our sensors.”

“He’s dead, in other words,”  Trebec mutters.

The Domo’s fat fingers drum upon the table’s polished wood.  “Speculation avails us nothing.  We will send a second aerotran to survey the extent of this enormity.  Carriso, you must organize medical facilities; we will send the supplies and specialists the Dometians need.

“Trebec, make Braillec your base to prepare a surface expedition to the scene.”

Sire Calvin, most ancient of the Councillors, intervenes in his high, piping voice:  “Sire Domo: all this electrical activity….is it possible that for a while these citizens might be deprived of The Word?”

The Domo nods, casting a worried glance in Carisso’s direction.  The Dometian’s skin is drained of all pallor.  “Sire Trebec, maybe you should despatch a Legion from Braillec to escort your expedition, just in case?”

“NO! No, Sire!”  Carriso finds his feet, impassioned.  “You think I don’t see what you intend?”

Calvin tries to placate him:  “They are our people too, Carriso.”

For a moment no-one speaks.  Carriso, watched with pity and concern by every member of  High Council, stands motionless, then, with a sound akin to a sob, the Dometian Councillor rushes from the room.

The Domo sighs heavily:  “Gentlemen, that will be all for tonight.  We await more detail.”

Slowly, and by diminishing pools of earnest conversation, the High Council disperses.  In an antechamber, Calvin takes Cassix to one side.  He speaks quietly.

“Cassix, is it possible your thoughts add up to more than your lips divulge?”

The Seer nods.  “I am already considered eccentric by two-thirds of the Council, downright dangerous by the rest.  That does make restraint the wiser course.”

“Well, I consider you neither, so I am to be discounted.  Speak, man?”

“Very well.”

From across the room, Councillor Portis watches as Cassix and Calvin converse in low, confidential tones.  As words float between them, he sees the ancient Councillor’s parchment skin pale more than his years dictate.  When they part, he thinks he detects tears on the old man’s cheeks.

#

Nearly two thousand miles to the south and east of the Consensual City a malefic red orb of a sun is rising, glowering down upon the blackened valley of the River Kaal.  Its early glare flows across naked rock like fresh blood – the dark, arterial blood of departing life. 

No more the village, Kaal-Takken is nothing but charcoal twigs ready to topple in the first breeze:  no more the people, for they are gone – just gone.  And no more the river where the sweet Saleen swam in gentler light.  The river is dry.

#

By the habbarn where the child slumbers his Mother watches.  She gazes fondly upon his sleeping face, recalling happy hours of love and games so innocent they brought her own childhood again into her life.  And she grieves for those times, knowing they have passed.

The child is a man now, or soon to be.  His games have changed, their naive simplicity become more sinister, their nature destructive, their consequences far-reaching. 

Oh, she has missed none of the physical changes; longer face, broadening shoulders, bold, self-confident stance.  Although she may not undress him now, she is too close to him not to notice his obvious manhood, which frequently embarrasses him because he does not understand.  She would explain to him, he needs to know, yet this defensive wall growing between them somehow prevents her.

He called her ‘Mother’ tonight, not ‘Mummy’.  It was the first time.  And he would not permit her to tuck him up, or kiss his forehead as she always did.  This, she knows, is natural change:  the end of one thing, the beginning of another, but she hates it!  And when she looks into their future – her future, Hasuga’s future – she sees only fear.

Tonight the fear shall not be hers alone.  It will waft like a contagion through the splendid avenues, the trysting alleys, the tall trees and waters of the park.  Its insidiousness will seep into the greatest minds of the City, and the least suspecting; for all will succumb to that first shred of doubt.  Something a thousand miles away has served them notice, and it must not be ignored.

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Fifteen.         An Audience with Amanda

Day would have to pale the room before Karen could study Patrick’s sleeping head on the pillow, letting her fingers lightly trace the livid bruise on his cheek.  Then the tears would rise as she faced the sheer immensity of her feelings for him, and her sorrow for the loss she was certain must come.

 

Since the fox’s cry she had not slept, but lain awake in commune with her demons, wondering how next to proceed.   Her heart had made a number for the days before the hammer fell.  Three.

Pitifully few.

Pitifully few but she could count them.  She felt she knew him now, this enemy – how he thought, how he acted.   Today would be his day of finding out; where she had she moved and with whose help?  So he would be processing information, just as she, in the course of her profession, would expect to do.   Perhaps he had not troubled to discover where Patrick lived:  today he would learn.  If indeed he did not work alone, there would be those awaiting his reports with whom he must talk today.

Tomorrow?  Karen quietly slipped from the bed, parting those dramatic curtains to peek out at the red rising of a beneficent sun. All the grounds of Radley Court were spread before her, still wearing their monochrome cape of night.  She braved the chill air of the opened window, relishing the liberation of nakedness – for Gabby’s nightdress had been discarded long before – without fear of a town’s thousand windows and prying eyes.  Not so tomorrow, for tomorrow he would be out there, somewhere, watching, planning.  Tomorrow she would feel his eyes upon her.  That was how it had to be.

He had plans to make – support to be organized, because this time he must be sure he would not fail – when and where, and with what to strike; how to get away.  That was her third day.  Beyond it there was nothing.

At breakfast, Karen wanted to compliment Gabrielle’s taste in clothes, but Patrick’s sister was not at the table.

“She’ll be out riding with Mum.  They exercise the horses early on mornings like this.  Paul and Dad will have gone to work, by now; which just leaves us.  I think we should give Petra the chance to help you walk off all that food.”

Karen seemed to have discovered a morning appetite previously unknown to her.  So far she had dispatched a bowl of cereal, an egg, fried bread and two rashers of bacon.

“Oh, Pat! (suddenly mortified) Am I being a pig?”

“Worry not.  I always had a soft spot for pigs.”

Petra was an enthusiastic companion who chased every stick as if it were the last stick on the planet, and ran perpetually.

“Like a rhinoceros on purple hearts?”  Patrick offered, citing a stimulant drug popular in Caleybridge that year.

Beyond the lawns, Radley Court’s grounds consisted of well-tended woodland, of deciduous oaks, beeches and stately elms that soon concealed the lovers from the blank, glazed stare of the house.  They walked arm in arm without the embarrassment of discovery while the creatures of the wood preserved them from silence; a disaffected red squirrel raging from a sweet chestnut bough, a stonechat chipping out its lonely proclamation to the mate it had yet to meet, redpoll and blackcap competing for the best of the treetop villas and crows far above them wheeling and squabbling.

Rhododendron bushes veiled the way ahead, so the sudden appearance of a lake surprised Karen.  The tree cover opened out to a vista of blue sky and there it was, nestling amid a gauze of willows that drooped tragic fronds into the shallows.

“It’s more of a big pond, really,” Pat said modestly.  “And before you think about stripping off for a swim, it’s bloody cold in there at this time of day!”

To Karen it was a lake – a serene, romantic mirror to the morning sky into which Petra, to whom it was no surprise, dove like a porpoise.  She had no fear of the cold, although she would not swim for long without regaining the shore and shaking herself vigorously.  By this means Karen discovered the temperature of the water for herself without needing to swim in it.  There was an old bench beside the lake which had already been found by the sun.  They sat there together.

“I could get used to this,”  Karen said, meaning it.  A couple of moorhens emerged from the foliage in front of them and swam away, more irritated than alarmed.  “You live in a very special place.”

Pat nodded.  “I can imagine how it must seem.  I wouldn’t deny its beauty, although I see it a little bit differently, I suppose.”

“How so?  This is a piece of paradise, isn’t it?”

“Well, custom and habit may play their part, but no, it isn’t that.  My dad doesn’t have a major shareholding in African mining, or his own oil concessions.  He has to work for every penny he gets, and this place – well – it isn’t the cheapest prize.  I rarely spent time with my father as I grew up.  As soon as I was old enough I was packed off to boarding school, and when the holidays came he was always working.  He still is.  Nothing’s changed.  Oh, he has all this charm and charisma; certainly.  He charms people, and he loves to do it:  that’s the secret of his success.  But when It comes to Gabby and me, or even Sprog, we don’t get a look in, I’m afraid.  You know what they say of us, we ‘nouveau riche’?  That we are always looking over our shoulders.  It’s true.  We are.”

“I haven’t met Sprog,”  Karen said.

“Consider yourself fortunate.”

They sat in silence for a while, and she contemplated Pat’s words until the haunting of last night’s conversation and its unanswered questions filled her.  The chill that visited her raised goosebumps on her arms.  This was day one.

“Let’s go back.”  She said.

Patrick saw the shadows of fear painted on her face.  He took her arm, drawing her to him, and over brushed them with a kiss.  “Stop thinking about him, love, alright?”

“I could eat you!”  She murmured.

“See?  Pig.  I knew it.  I feel a nickname coming on…”

“Oh no, don’t you dare!  This is so unjust! I’m a fat sow, condemned to live with my ugliness…”

“Karen, darling, you’re beautiful – and you know it, so no sympathy-milking; it does not become you.  Now, where was I?”

Their play, hidden in the protection of the trees, might have reached a more fervent level were it not for Petra who, seeing them engaged in such a fun wrestling game, joined in with her usual gusto.  Petra had been swimming.  Petra was very, very wet.

Their ardour dampened considerably by Petra’s attentions, the pair walked or ran the three hundred yards of open lawn between themselves and Radley Court.  Out of respect for the hall carpet they harried their four-legged companion around the east side of the house, intending to use the back door and kitchen for a ceremonial paw-drying.

“What’s in the barn?”  Karen asked, referring to an ancient brick building so positioned at the north-east corner of Radley Court as to be hidden by trees from the main driveway. The same gravel which surfaced the forecourt led up to its doors.

“I’ll show you.”  Patrick said.  “We’d better see to old sog-dog first, though.  It’s a no-Petra zone.”

Passing the loose boxes Karen was made to giggle and curl a little because Patrick was kissing her neck and his hands were getting extremely expressive.  In danger of being pinned against the tack room wall she wrenched herself free and burst, laughing, through the kitchen door with Petra and Pat in pursuit, to meet the slightly disapproving stare of Mrs Buxham., who was cleaning ‘her floor’ at the time.  They towelled Petra, a ritual she relished, before leaving her in Mrs B’s reluctant care.

“It was the original stable block,”  Patrick explained, as he led the way back to the barn.  “Dad gutted it a long time ago – before I was born, I think.  And he got into a lot of trouble because it’s a protected building, or something.”

“I still think it looks like a barn,”  Karen said.

Patrick persuaded a pair of wide doors sufficiently apart to provide entry.  In the darker space within the stable building Karen had to blink to accustom her eyes in the subdued light, then blink again to believe what she saw.

“This is where the mower lives,”  Patrick told her.

It was not the mower, a ponderous machine with gleaming brass controls squatting at the end of the building, that drew a gasp of wonder from Karen, nor was it the orderly rank of machinery occupying space to its right; a big lathe, a bench saw, an industrial drill and two other large fixed tools the purposes for which she did not understand. Neither did the amazing array of spanners on the walls, or a rack above her head supporting block and tackle catch her eye.

“Wow, Patrick!”

No, it was the three cars parked with their rear bumpers to the wall on the opposite side.  The first, and nearest was a gleaming white sports car.  Beside it, and looming imperiously above it, were the statuesque carriage lines of a fine old luxury saloon, complete with great brass lamps and a ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ mascot at its prow.

“Dad’s pride and joy,”  Patrick said, sounding reverential.  “He thinks they’ll be worth a lot of money one day.  The one at the back..”  he waved a hand at some skeletal remains Karen would not have recognized as a car… “That’s a Vauxhall Tourer, or at least what’s left of one.   He’s restoring it.”

“Did he restore these?”

“I think so.  He restored the Jaguar XK120 – the white one – anyway.  I think he did the Silver Ghost, I’m not sure.  When Gabs and I were younger he used to take us to Harterport in that.  It was slow but we loved it!  You’re really high up in there.”

“Show me?  Are we allowed to touch?”

“Each other or the car?”  Patrick gave Karen a suggestive look.  “There’s no-one here to stop us.”

Her hand was cool.  He took it in his to guide her past the white Jaguar, witnessing her nervous fingers as they stroked its sensuous curves.  He opened the big door of the Rolls Royce for her then supported her on the step.

“I feel like a queen.”  She announced, settling back into the seat.  She laughed.  “I thought these seats would be soft, Patrick.  They’re really hard!”  Then she caught his eye, saw the purpose in it.  “Dare we?”  She asked.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of feasible alternatives,”  Patrick replied.  He repeated her phrase:  “Am I allowed to touch?”

“Are you serious?  In the back seat of a Rolls Royce?  Sir, you are about to fulfil one of my most treasured fantasies!”

At midday, Jackson returned for lunch, so the whole Hallcroft family were gathered.  Karen and Patrick had returned to their bedrooms to change by that time, but they still met an array of very knowing glances as they entered the breakfast room together, forcing the blood to Karen’s cheeks and evoking a rich, low chuckle from Gabrielle.  They even achieved Gewndoline’s wry smile, in spite of those misgivings Karen was certain she inwardly retained.

The surprise of that party, if surprise was the word, was ‘Sprog’, Pat’s younger sister.  Amanda Hallcroft-Smythe (she insisted upon the full title) bore her nickname with equanimity, though she showed tolerance for little else.  Gabby introduced her.

“Amanda, this is Karen, Patrick’s friend.  Karen, this is our youngest.  She is eight years old.  Don’t let her put you off childbirth, will you?”

Amanda advanced upon Karen.  She was small and dark with wide green eyes, and relatively stocky, her mother’s build, although she affected elegance to the best of her ability.  She extended a limpid hand.  “Eight-and-a-half, actually.  How do you do, Miss Eversley?  I have heard so much about you.  Do you ride at all?”

Karen looked down at the stubby fingers, wondering for a moment if she was expected to kiss them.  “How do you do, Amanda? I’m afraid not. I take it you share your family’s love of horses?”

“Not horses, Miss Eversley.  Riding.  You see, one cannot love a horse.”

Pat snorted:  “Therein lies a tale!  First names, Sproggy, please?  Can you stop trying to act like a duchess, at least for lunchtime?”

Amanda glared at her brother, then gave Karen a brilliant smile.  “As you see, my brother is capable of extreme vulgarity.  I am sure the two of you will get on very well with each other.”  And she stalked back to her chair.

Over lunch, while his little sister at the far end of the table was relating the details of her night’s sleepover with a fashionable friend to anyone who cared to listen, Pat confided in Karen. For one of tender years, Amanda had a very firm opinion of her place in the world.  It was a world peopled only by desirable acquaintances and littered with the trappings of comfort.  Her conversations were achingly rich in references to ‘Oinks’ and ‘Trogs’ whom she perceived as a constant threat, and to the consumer comforts she either already enjoyed or would acquire in the future.  Her mother dismissed Sprog’s pretentiousness as a ‘passing phase’ which, in Patrick’s mind, was only an excuse to avoid dealing with the problem.  True, Gwendoline was a little put out to discover her youngest daughter’s professed ‘desperate love’ for riding was superficial (which meant Bella the Shetland that had been bought specially for her led a very leisurely existence) but rather more vexed when Amanda proclaimed that she saw herself seated upon nothing less than a Palomino or a stallion of eighteen hands, and took the amiable advances of little Bella as a personal insult.  There ensued a regime of particularly nasty teasing of the animal and when eventually she was persuaded to mount Bella, the creature had developed a negative attitude which she expressed by depositing Amanda in the mud.

Bella became, therefore, a particular blemish upon Amanda’s clear vision: the pony wasted little respect on the child and did her best to bite her whenever she ventured near enough, which was rarely.  Bella was not Amanda’s only source of disquiet, though, for she equally did her best to avoid Mrs Buxham and Mrs Beatty, neither of whom had time for her opinionated eight-years-old ways and pronounced her a very rude little girl.  Privately between themselves, they used more definitive terms.

Amanda had reached a natural break in her discourse, which involved taking a breath.  She thrust a look loaded with daggers down the table.  “I assume you are discussing me?”

“Yes.”  Pat said brusquely.  “There’s a lot to discuss.”

“In prerogative terms, no doubt.”  Amanda pronounced.  “Miss Eversley, I hope you will think better of me than my brother’s slanders suggest.”

“I will, I promise.”  Karen said, trying to ignore sniggers from Gabby.

“Oh, that is most satisfactory!  I think we could be friends, you know?”

“I’m sure we shall be.”

Patrick nudged her.  “You sound like Elizabeth Bennet.”

In some curious fashion, Amanda contributed to the conviviality of that meal with her family, who had a unique way of accepting oddness and making it comfortable.  The cold platter of salads and meats ebbed upon a tide of conversation until only the plates were left.  Amanda was first to break ranks, declaring a need to ‘continue with her studies’; after whom one by one the diners excused themselves and dispersed.

Gwendoline and Karen were in the hall when the telephone rang.  Gwendoline picked up the receiver, then, without saying a word, covered the mouthpiece with her hand.  “Karen?  It’s a male voice; asking for you.”

Patrick had entered the hall.  “You haven’t told anyone you’re here, have you?”

Gwendoline said:  “I’d say he seems to know.”

Karen glanced back at Patrick.  His face was pale.  “No.  No, no-one.”

“Don’t answer it!”  Patrick warned.

“Someone was bound to find out,” Karen replied.  “I think I have to.”

Hand shaking, she took the receiver from Gwendoline.  “Who is this?”

“Miss Eversley!”  The voice on the line was not unfamiliar.  “I’ve been looking forward to receiving your progress report.”

“Mr Purton?  I’m afraid I don’t have much for you yet.”

“Really now?  It’s been a week, hasn’t it?  And you’ve been asking lots of questions of a lot of people. I seem to remember impressing upon you the sensitive and confidential nature of the matter.  Miss Eversley. I trust you with this work, and when I place my trust in someone, I expect results.”

The formal note – the reversion to her surname – did not escape Karen.  “I’m not alone here, Mr Purton, so I can’t discuss your case.  When I complete the picture rest assured I shall present it to you.”

“I believe I shall need an interim report!”  Purton snapped.  “I suggest we meet tomorrow – say my office at three?”

“I’m away at the moment,”  Karen said cautiously.  “Perhaps next week?”

“Not a considerable distance to travel, Miss Eversley, is it?  Eight miles?  I’ll expect you.”

The line went dead.

Karen replaced the receiver slowly, her mind full.  “He wants to meet at his office tomorrow afternoon.”

“It’s a trap!”  Patrick said.

“At the council offices in working hours?  He can hardly have a fatal stabbing in mind,”  Gwedoline was circumspect.  “Nevertheless…do I gather you believe this man to be implicated in your stalker’s affairs, Karen?”

“I didn’t.  It’s true the case I’m investigating for him seems tied up with Boulter’s Green, but we can’t prove any direct connection.  He wants a report on that tomorrow, and he isn’t happy.  There was something else in his voice, though.  I’d almost say he was panicking, you know?”

“The thing is, sweetie,”  Gabby said.  “What do you want to do?”

“I think I want to go and see him,” Karen said.  “It sounds almost as though someone’s putting pressure on him, and I’m curious.  If he is involved in something more complicated, maybe I’ll find out.”

To her surprise, Patrick agreed.  “I’m due a bandage change tomorrow afternoon, and I promised I’d pay Jacqui a visit. So we’ll kill three birds with one stone – or would that be two?”

Gwendoline frowned.  “Can we explain how this man knows you are here, Karen?”

“No.  I suppose someone saw Pat and me together.  With Pat working at County Hall, it would only be a matter of looking up a home address.”

“If that someone was our Mr Nasty,” Patrick reasoned.  “It would all link up rather conveniently, wouldn’t it?”

His mother pursed her lips thoughtfully.  “It seems rather an odd telephone call; not one I imagine this Purton man would have been comfortable making. Karen, if you’re agreeable, I have a suggestion…”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Fourteen. A Cry in the Night

 

 The back door of Radley Court opened onto a cobblestone courtyard that was partly surrounded by the main house on two-and-a-half sides.  Opposite Karen and Gabrielle as they emerged from the kitchen stood a shortened two-storey wing, its smaller four-paned sash windows conveying none of the hauteur of their counterparts on the front of the house, but twice the mystery.  To the right of this stub of building and divided from it by a path, a fenced paddock was tenanted by a single, depressed-looking Shetland pony.

“Her name’s Bella,”  Gabrielle explained.  “She has problems, poor sweet.”

She led the way beside the kitchen wing, past a tack room to the final single storey portion of the wing, which consisted of loose boxes.   Here, against a muted background of culinary industry emanating from the kitchen, she allowed her enthusiasm to bubble over.  She was certainly passionate about her horses – all four of them, though she unashamedly favoured a bay with a white blaze.

“This is the absolutely best horse in the world!”  She planted a kiss on the horse’s nose.  “He’s called Chuffy and he’s utterly fab, aren’t you, darling?”

Chuffy reciprocated by tossing his head and showing off outrageously.

“Then this is Shiner,”  Shiner, a strawberry roan, surveyed his two visitors stoically for a moment, before sidling forward to be greeted.  “You’re Mummy’s horse, yes, sweetie?  You don’t do anything unless there’s a treat at the end, do you?  ‘What’s in it for me’, that’s Shiner’s philosophy.”

The last box was occupied by Percy, the Suffolk, huge and amiable.

“Mums bought him on a whim because nobody wanted him, and now we know why.  He has his breakfast delivered on a lorry!”

Karen, who had never ridden, learned more about horses in an hour that evening than she could possibly want to have learned, while her friendship with Gabby deepened to the most personal and conspiratorial level.

“Patsy gets awfully serious sometimes.  I expect you’ve noticed?  Oh, and have you caught him doing that thing with his tackle?  He seems to get dreadfully muddled up down there, bless him!  Gosh, I shouldn’t have asked that, should I?”

Within a space of a few precious hours Karen had discovered new friends, each of whom had some special quality she found endearing.  Gabby’s enthusiasm, Paul’s gentle, ambling sincerity, Jackson Hallcroft’s mesmeric charm, and Gwendoline, who disguised an incisive intelligence with the overt appearance of a hopelessly disorganized human being.  Patrick acquainted Karen with the truth.

“Didn’t I say?  Before she married Dad she was a solicitor.  She could have had quite a career, apparently. Don’t play chess with our mother, she’ll wipe the floor with you.  Oh, and she loves horses as much as Gabs, unfortunately.”

Dinner was augmented by lively conversation and a friendly interrogative process to which Karen submitted willingly enough, because it was right that the Hallcrofts should know all they wanted about her and she found herself actually wanting to tell them.

With night came rain, which stimulated a bustle of activities; Patrick braving the elements to cover his car before joining Gabrielle in her routine around the stables, Paul assisting Jackson in stowing away garden tools.

Karen joined Pat’s mother in the kitchen to ‘clear away’, a feeble contrivance which lost credibility the moment they switched on the lights because the working surfaces, cupboards and shelves were pristine and the washing up, left in the hands of Mrs Beatty, already done.  That good lady was in the process of finishing her day as they entered, donning her coat from a hook by the outside door.

“I’ve left the breakfast stuff in the fridge, tonight, Mrs Hallcroft.  Mrs B will sort that out in the morning.  Good night to you.  And to you, young lady.”   She gave Karen a smile that was uncomfortably close to a smirk.

Karen was taken aback and perhaps did not disguise it.  When she came to herself she realized Gwendoline was watching her.  “There’s another Mrs B?”  She asked, by way of a diversionary tactic.

“Mrs Buxham, she does mornings.  You have to be on your mettle, though.  She has a way of making your bed while you’re still in it.  Do you like espresso coffee, Karen?  I’m afraid I can’t get the machine to work.  Would you care to try?”

An espresso coffee maker glowered defiantly from one of the kitchen’s less cluttered corners.  Karen admired it.

“I have this aversion,” Gwendoline explained while Karen tinkered, “to kitchen machinery.  It utterly defeats me, I’m afraid.  You mustn’t mind Mrs Beatty.  She can be very – how shall I say – direct?”

Karen weighed her words carefully. “Thoughts once harboured are better expressed.”  She said.  “Where’s the coffee?”

“Third from the right, bottom shelf.  One might hesitate, sometimes, for fear of causing offence, don’t you think?”

“I think I’m not easily offended.”  The filter in the machine looked as if it had been there since it left the factory, so Karen scraped it into a bin.  “Have you any more of these, Mrs Hallcroft?”

“Gwendoline, please – or Gwen.  Do you know I’ve no idea?  Try the shelf above the plate rack.  Although when the subject is one’s own son, I suppose it might be necessary.”

Karen tracked down the filters in a lower cupboard.  “It should work!”  She said brightly.

“What do you think?  I ask, because I find this a peculiar reversal.  Isn’t it usually the father who seeks assurances from his daughter’s suitor?  And here I am…should it be making that gurgling noise?”

“It’s heating the water.”

“Ah!  That’s obviously where I have been going wrong.  We’re very fond of him, you know.”

“Of course you are.  And so am I.”  Karen replied, adding:  “In spite of myself.  Cups?”

“Oh, yes – I’ll get some.  That looks awfully interesting.  Is it working?”

“Absolutely!”  Karen exclaimed, borrowing Gabby’s favourite word.  “We simply have to intercept the outcome…”

The cups arrived just in time, and in the slightly panic-driven process of producing the miraculous beverage, the main thread of conversation was lost.  It would not remain buried, however.  As they sat at the table, tasting their success, Gwendoline said:  “In spite of yourself?”

“I think I anticipated this conversation.”

“And…”

“And I wasn’t sure how I would answer the charge.”

“He is very young, you see.”

“Yes.”  Karen acknowledged.  “I’m the older woman – not by much, but still enough to be frowned upon, especially where our differences in fortune are concerned.”

“Do you know, this coffee is quite delicious?  Well done, Karen!  He is very gullible at times.  He can be easily led.”

“I’m not the one who is leading, in that sense.”

“You’ve slept with him, of course.”

“Oh, now!”

“There is no better way to lead a man, is there, Karen?  Men think with their balls, dear.  Don’t tell me you are unaware of that.  In your bed they’ll promise you anything…”

“Please stop?”  Karen begged.  “You’re beginning to make me sound like a fortune-seeking harlot and I’m not.  Believe me I’m not!  You’re laying out all the reasons I’ve given myself for ending our relationship, not my scheme for tying him down.  The truth I face is that I’m very fond of Pat.  I wanted to walk away, I really did – still do, perhaps.  But…”

“It’s happening very fast, Karen!”

“I know; I know.  And I keep trying to hold back, but everything just seems to conspire to keep us together.  I don’t mind about money – if you cut him off and we had to live in a garret it would be alright.  It would be heaven.  Oh, god, what am I saying?  I thought it was uniquely your husband’s gift to inspire fits of verbal irresponsibility, but you’ve got it too…”

“Have I?”  Gwendoline laughed.  “I wonder though if we always find the truth.  How shall I phrase it – have you ‘found something special’ with Patrick?”

With all her self-erected barriers tumbling before her, Karen suddenly found she needed to admit it.  “Yes,” she murmured. “I believe I have.”

“And this has nothing to do with his protecting you, or shared danger, or good old-fashioned lust?”

“It may.  But it’s real, nonetheless.”

“Well then, we’ve finished our coffee, haven’t we?  Perhaps we should go and find out what your boyfriend is doing, and sort out some night things for you.”

Karen could barely hide her incredulity:  “Is that it?”

Gwendoline studied her fingers.  “A long time ago, when I was a junior in chambers, a large, very attractive man with a legal issue caught my attention.  We were married within a month of meeting one another.   That was twenty-six years and three children ago, and we’re still together.  Love?  Yes, I love him.  But love is always a frantic, emotionally turbulent thing to begin – it’s what is left when the embers start to cool that matters: whether friendship is there, after all the fury.  You have to wait at least ten years to find that out.

“So, what can I do as a mother?  If what you have is a week or two of passion, I will see it flare out.  If you are ‘meant’ to be together, I don’t want to be the one to stand in your way, either of you.  All I ask is if you have to break his heart, be gentle, will you?”

#

Neither parent was present when their children accompanied two bottles of wine to a small room at one corner of the house that they referred to as the den.

“Mother retires early with her books and Dad goes to his study in the evenings,”  Patrick explained.  “He’s working.  He’s always working.”

Either by neglect or intent, the den had no electric light.  Its rich, sand-coloured walls danced with candle shadows, choreographed by standing candelabra as old as the house itself.  In winter the room would be induced to warmth by the flickering of a small wood fire, but tonight the hearth only promised, its fire-basket of logs waiting to be lit.  Patrick lounged upon an old overstuffed couch against the window wall with Karen at his side.  Paul and Gabrielle sat on a similar couch across the room, leaving space between them on the seat which was quickly claimed by Petra.

“Pat.”  Karen decided to broach the subject that troubled her most.  “You believe you were attacked because you ignored that note…”

Pat blinked at her, owlish in the subdued light.  “Yeah, this note.”  He sat up,  foraging in his pocket and producing the piece of paper he had found on his car windscreen.  “It’s a bit smudged but you can read what it says.”  He passed it to Karen.  “I kept it specially.”

“Mr Nasty put this on your windscreen sometime in the afternoon of the stakeout?”

“Maybe.  It was wet when I found it,  Look.”

“So it would have been Mr Nasty who was responsible for what happened to you this morning.”

“It seems logical.  I can’t think of anyone else who would hate Jacqui or me that much. But I don’t think he did it himself.”

“It could have been him.”

“Possibly; I didn’t see anyone.  Here’s the thing, though.  Whoever attacked us had detailed inside knowledge:  no-one outside the offices would be familiar with our routine – we don’t exactly publicise it.”

“So who would know?  Who could know?”

“Someone studying us pretty closely – spy, rather than spymaster.  Get the facts, report them to someone, get paid, maybe…”

Karen winced.  “I’m beginning to feel completely paranoid!  When I think of it, the man knew I would be walking home, the night of the storm – which route I would take, what time I would be at the bridge…it would have to be that policeman told him that.  The police couldn’t be behind it all, surely?  I know they don’t like me, but…”

“No.  In on it, yes, instigating it, no.  Who first set you off on the Boulter’s Green goose chase?”

“Frank Purton, I suppose.  Oh and Wilson, who said Gasser was last seen near there.”

“We were talking about this, this afternoon in visiting hours, and remember that was before your last contretemps with your hide-bound friend.  It’s even more certain now, to me, at least.”

Paul said:  “Karen, I asked my olds about Boulter’s Green and it has quite a reputation among local psychics.  There have been, reputedly – nothing certain, never is with these things – ‘events’ associated with the place; visions of a ‘dark angel’, things that disappeared, and so on?  You seem to have stumbled on Ghost Metropolis.    Oh, and incidentally, the ruins aren’t cottages, they never were.”

“No?  So the address on the Turnbull letter…”

“A complete fabrication.  Originally, the meadow the ruins stand in was ‘Boulter’s Field’.  In mediaeval times it was part of the Driscombe estate, and there was one building upon it, their family chapel…”

“A church?”

Paul nodded.  “A small one, yes. Matthias Boulter A mining prospector,  bought the meadow from the Driscombes.   He must have given them a good price because they redefined their estate borders at the river and built a new chapel, which still stands at the North end of the house.  Boulter never mined the land – lead prices dipped, maybe, or it proved to be a false hope.  Anyway, the second ruin is the remains of an office or a shed for tools.  Now, am I good, or what?”

“Brilliant!”  Karen enthused  “The fact it was a chapel could explain those graves.  But we still haven’t made a connection with my stalker.”

“You’re supposed to be the detective.”  Patrick reminded her.

“I know, but I never said I was a good detective.  Indulge me.”

“Could it be that your Mr Nasty is being employed by these people to hurt you, or wreak revenge for something…?”

“…Or kill me, you mean.”

“Yes, alright.  I was trying not to say that.”  Patrick grimaced.  “Could you have done something to offend some high-up in the town – or could you maybe have information that might do damage if it got out?”

“Not that I know of.  But kill me?  Bad as they are, the police could never be implicated in something like that.”

“Rub you out, darling,” Gabby contributed. “They do that all the time.  I’ve seen it in the movies.”

“Thanks, Gabby!”

“Don’t mench.”

“Shut up, Gabby!”  Patrick growled.  “Unlikely as it seems…listen, Karen love, we think this whole Gasser thing is designed to push you in the direction of Boulter’s Green.  Not because it’s connected to anyone’s disappearance (Gasser’s probably just lying low somewhere, maybe even being paid to) but because it’s somewhere nice and quiet where their nefarious designs are unlikely to be disturbed.”

“Which, in the case of Mr Nasty…”  Karen shuddered.  “I can’t think of what he would do to me.  Oh, Pat?”

“I know, love.  We won’t let anything happen to you, honestly!”

“He’s not a hitman in the Charles Bronson mode, though, is he, my dark angel?  He’s no ghost, either.  He seems a tiny bit mad.”

“A contract in a small town?  Not likely to attract Bugsy Seigel,  is it?  I know you think I disbelieved you at Boulter’s Green when you told me about the skinny old man; I actually suspect he was there to help get you.  You were in the right place.  If I hadn’t reappeared things might have been very different.”

“He vanished, Pat.  I must have dreamed him…”

Pat shook his head somberly.  “I’m not so sure.  I don’t know how he managed it, but I think he was real all the same.  So that’s why you’re here with us, until we sort this out.”

“Sprog will be back tomorrow,”  Gabby, now stretched out with her head on her boyfriend’s lap, changed the subject.  “My grotty little sister,” she reminded Karen.  Paul and Patrick groaned in unison.

Conversation became drowsily relaxed, interspersed with comfortable silences.   Midnight passed, the candles guttered, sufficient wine had flowed.

“And now my head really aches.”  Patrick complained.  “I’ll let Petra out, and then it’s bed for me.”

Karen’s room was a large, comfortable space.  Hangings of middle-eastern origin adorned walls of eggshell blue; there was a fireplace that had been lamp-blacked until it shone, a kidney-shaped dressing table draped in chintzy peach with hairbrush and hand-mirror neatly arranged, and a large double bed that grunted amiably when she lay upon it.  Floor length dragon-print curtains added drama, concealing a high casement window which, when she raised its sash, admitted a hint of honeysuckle.

With one of Gabby’s thinnest, lightest nightdresses to clothe her, Karen settled on top of the bedcovers, happy to accept the warm breeze from her window and pleasantly ready for sleep.  In the corridor beyond her door sounds of the household gradually dwindled into silence.  Somewhere out in the darkness a nightingale sang.  Listening to its music, and thinking or dreaming of the day’s events she drifted happily, eyelids heavy, towards slumber.

The clatter was loud and startling:  the language that immediately followed could only be Patrick’s.  Her idyll shattered, Karen leapt from the bed, rushed to the door.  Patrick met her there.

“Pat, what on earth?”  She hissed in an open whisper.  “Are you all right?  What happened?”

“No, I’m not alright!”  Pat let himself into the room.  “And there’s no point in whispering.  I should think the whole house is awake now anyway.”

“What happened?”

“I kicked a bucket, that’s what happened.”  Patrick sat himself down on the edge of her bed, massaging a foot.  “Somebody left a bucket in the middle of the landing.”

“Oh, you poor darling.  Mrs Buxham?”

“You know about Mrs Buxham?  No, not Mrs Buxham; someone much younger, I’m fairly sure; someone with a particularly warped sense of humour.”

Karen caught his drift and, cruelly, began to laugh.  “Oh no, I don’t believe you!  It was probably just carelessness…”

“Yes, probably.  Like the piece of string stretched across the landing tethering it to the bannisters was probably accidental too.  I’ll kill her!”

“Never mind.”  She discovered his bare leg in the darkness and stroked it affectionately.  “It is rather sweet.  Were you coming for me?”

“I always pace the bloody ramparts about this time of night!  What do you think?”

“I think it would be nice if you stayed.  Especially since it seems everyone knows you’re here now.  It’ll help them to find you if they need you in the morning.”

“What about you?”

“Me?  Oh, I need you tonight.”

“My foot’s sore.”

“When I say I need you…”

“I know – you aren’t thinking specifically of my foot.  My head aches as well.”

“Oh, your poor head!  But I wasn’t thinking of your head, either.”

“All the same…”

“I promise I’ll be gentle.”

Later, much later, when their genial conversation with the big old bed had reached a hiatus and they had both dropped into exhausted sleep a vixen’s cry, long and agonized, rose from the outer darkness, wavering and weeping as it departed on the wind.  Its sound dragged Karen from her dreaming so suddenly she jumped and sat up.  And just as suddenly, the air froze about her shoulders as if icy fingers had clutched her heart.  Her dark angel was reaching for her; she heard the sound of Suzanne, her sister’s voice lifted in warning, her sister’s tears.

Patrick stirred, coaxed her back to him.  “Hey!  Don’t be alarmed, you old townie.  Haven’t you heard a fox before?”

“It isn’t the fox,”  She admitted.  “Oh Pat, darling, he’s out there, isn’t he?”

“He?  Mr Nasty, your dark angel?  No, no.  You’re safe from him here – you are, seriously.  He can’t harm you.”

“I can feel him.  I can feel his hands crawling over me!  Wherever I go, whatever I do, he’s going to find me, Pat, I can’t escape him.  He’s going to find me!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content