Schemes and Dreams
In a night of troubled dreams, Francine could manage only fitful sleep. Her heart could not allow her to forget the warmth of Arthur’s enfolding arms, or how natural it had seemed, even though the mere recollection brought a flush of embarrassment, that she should seek refuge there. Her head was filled by murmurings, strange conversations in words she could not quite detect, invitations that defied all reason in their insistence. They called to her, awakening her time after time, growing ever stronger as the night passed. In the early morning while all but a few of the servants in the house were still asleep she yielded to them at last: she rose from her bed and slipped stealthily through the corridors of the Guest Wing, out into the darkness.
Once out of doors, the sounds in her head left no doubt: they emanated from the place in the park where the old oak had been blown down by a storm. Oblivious to the dangers of the lingering darkness, she found her way on slippered feet through icy April rain back to that great overturned giant, The first vermillion glow of sunrise broke through the clouds to discover her at the brink of the wide pit left by the uprooted tree, staring down into the abyss and its exposed foundation rock. Now so close, the urge to find union with that unyielding stone was irresistible. Francine began to clamber down, an enterprise that, even had it been pursued with caution would have proved impossible on feet wet from the grass. She had no thought of caution. Within seconds her balance escaped her and she fell. She fell so her head cracked against the stone and her arm doubled under her.
There was pain; a searing scream of protest wracked her injured skull; but it abated almost immediately. Neither did her twisted arm complain for long: where she lay against it the rock’s warmth, if that was how it could be described, flowed into her like balm, inducing her to seek more from its embrace. This, it seemed to tell her, was the place she was meant to be. She did not question it. It offered the solace she needed so badly.
She had been lying there how long? Who could know? The rain had ceased and the sky was becoming light, a morning chorus of birdsong surrounded her, yet she did not hear it: all she heard came from beneath her; from the rock itself. Words, indistinguishable at first, then drifting around her head like those that had invaded her sleep; so much stronger now, so much more assertive. So much like those strange utterances she had shared with Arthur at the Bleanstead lighthouse as the sea beat in upon them that wild morning, when she had spoken of their experience as being ‘real’. These, though, were not her own words; they were the words of a young voice, a female voice:
“Wow! Are you weird or what?” Some other unintelligible words in the same voice, then a male response.
“I so did not! I was a bit freaked, that’s all…”
Peter, his mind still filled with visions, had been ushered back to the room where he and Alice had first met. Vincent had parked him on some cushions as a seat and Alice, kneeling in front of him, was trying to engage his eyes. She did not seem quite as furious as before. “Do you know where you are?” She asked him.
“I don’t.” Her hand was on his knee. He didn’t like it: there might have been no threat, but those fingers, those tentacles were like a cat’s claws, ready to dig into his flesh. “There seems to be a clock. I keep seeing a clock. I can’t read the time from it – it’s all liquid and sloshing about…”
“Town, city? Like London? Like Big Ben, or something?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just a clock face, only it’s old; like, ornate hands and everything…”
Vincent was further across the room, pacing. “A street on its end, part of a big place like a city, a clock. Don’t worry about it Pete, it’ll come through. Describe the people you saw.”
As he told his host of the woman whose pain had reached into him, the angry man and the black figure of despair, Peter felt a return of sensation, as if, his head gradually clearing, something new, something dark was revealing itself. He began to view Alice differently – there was an elusive part of her he had to reach, and for a reason, although he could not grasp what the reason was.
“It’s a strange thing – I never had this happen before. I’m really sorry!” He said humbly.
“No, mate, you don’t need to apologise!” Vincent was magnanimous. “I’d like to say it could happen to anyone, Pete, but that wouldn’t be true. Listen, I think we should take you home now: I’ll get my bloke to bring a car round.”
The red Aston Martin which arrived at the great doors to take Peter back to the mainland was impressive enough to allay his regrets at leaving. Alice stood beside Vincent under the Arch, watching him leave. Again, as he said goodbye, Peter experienced that urge to say something left unsaid. But there was a menace in Alice’s beauty which deprived him of speech, and after a few hesitant mumblings he withdrew into silence.
Alice watched him go, ignoring the faint churning she had felt in her stomach when she caught his parting look. “A street on its end? A clock which could be from anywhere? A woman in some sort of trouble and a big sad guy? Okay, Vince, how am I going to explain that to my people?”
Vincent hugged her shoulders: “You’re not, are you? This is very much our bird, innit? Look, darlin’, I told you he was special, didn’t I? And I was right, yeah?”
“So why, if he’s that special, are you just letting him go? Vince, this is really urgent! We don’t have any time!” Alice spelled the words out to him, slowly, as if that would penetrate what she saw as density in his head: “If there is something there, I need to know it now! Why not just get him back and sit him on that rock until he sorts out what street, and what city, and who the hell is the giant guy?”
“You get so, so uptight!” Sighed Vincent. “Just now you were accusing me of abducting a minor, now you want me to! If we put him through that again now, he would probably go insane. He doesn’t understand what is happening to him yet. Maybe he never will. But I know this much – if he comes to the answer, he’ll do it in his own way, and his own time. We can’t rush it. Besides, I don’t think he’ll be working alone.”
“How do you mean?”
“I didn’t say he had to be the only one, did I?”
Peter sat holding his breath as the man he had met at the gate, now his chauffeur, steered them carefully through Crowley’s tunnel. He felt he was still too close to everything that had happened to even try to make sense of it all: maybe Mel would help him do that if they could meet up on FB tonight. Meanwhile, Vincent’s parting words to him still reverberated in his head. The rock guitarist had gripped his shoulders so as to make him look straight into his eyes as he said them. Vincent was being ree-ally serious.
“Listen carefully Petey, alright? Sort out that dream, yeah? And when you have – when you can tell me what it means, or even if you’ve got an idea of what it might mean, whatever time of night or day, you call me immediately. Doesn’t matter if it makes no sense to you, if you just feel like it’s an answer, ‘phone me. I’ll be waiting. Now, here’s my number. Keep it safe, yeah?”
Avoiding college that afternoon did little to improve Peter’s cataclysmic sense of something that was just beyond his range of vision: something black and somehow threatening. He wandered aimlessly through the remains of his day, unable to concentrate, frightened to revisit his dream. The recurring image of the dark man, so all-consuming and melancholy, loomed like a thunderhead over everything.
“Petey?” His mother looking in through the door of his room, gently concerned, seeing that something was wrong, but wise enough not to intrude. “Are you ill, love?”
“No mum, I’m fine.” Lena did not persist. “If you need us, you know where we are.” She closed the door.
Mrs. Cartwright: Lena. Graduated from ‘The Slade’ with a fine arts degree, met Robert Cartwright at a ‘Varsity ball in Cambridge when he, a student of theology and a little younger, was still an undergraduate. Lena had been a mysterious, introverted companion; given to sudden outbursts of exhibitionism which were the more remarkable for their unexpectedness. Bob was as radical then as now, by no means a convinced student of the conventional theologies, or, as he would put it: ‘Trotskyite religion’. They remained friends, she painting and establishing a reputation for herself as a graphics artist, he a struggling Anglican whose worldliness was forever in question. Nevertheless he achieved his Doctorate and, when the Levenport living was offered to him, proposed to Lena. She gave up a promising career to become the wife of an irascible and altogether unconventional priest. They were, with certain reservations, dutiful parents, doting on each other and upon their only son: but they rarely showed, and never spoiled, with their affection. Peter was who Peter was: a lonely child but a well-adjusted one. Robert was a faintly dysfunctional father, perhaps, possessed by demons of a practical nature: Lena at times very much the artist – self-obsessed, demanding, often terminally depressed. Yet she still painted: it was the income from her art, rather than Robert’s living, which kept their lifestyle ticking over.
Once he was sure that he would not be interrupted, Peter turned his computer on and used the keyboard to text Melanie, describing everything he could remember of his day. She called him back at once. “Wow! Are u weird or what? Did you, like, throw up on his carpet or anything?
“I so did not! I was a bit freaked, that’s all.”
Melanie thought Alice should have impressed him, “What was she like? Describe her for me. Was she sexy?”
“Alice? What care I what Alice was like! Tall, black hair – could have done with a comb…
“Heavy eyebrows, big nose, sort of long?”
“Not that big!”
“Alice Burbridge!” Melanie cried, triumphant, “I bet it was Alice Burbridge! She’s dead famous, Pete!”
“Yeah, right! I kind of thought she was going to stab me, some of the time. Tell me what you think the dream – vision – whatever. was about. You’re good at these things.”
“I think it was about too much happy cake.”
“Mel, serious, please?”
“Okay, okay. There was a street, you said?”
“Yes, but on end. I’m falling down it instead of walking. The pavement’s vertical, and I fall into the sea at the bottom.”
“Was there anything else about it you remember? Like the name on a shop, or something?
Peter searched his memory, “No, nothing. It all happened too fast. Vincent thought it might represent some sort of code, you know? With the clock and everything?”
“I don’t see that. I think it may be a series of clues. Dreams draw on your experiences, don’t they? Peter, try this. Is there somewhere in your past – a place you visited that was so special…”
“…that I didn’t want to leave? Like the West End, you mean?
“Right: London. What made you think of that straightaway?”
“Dunno. I sometimes remember it. Kensington; went there with olds when I was, like, five or something. Wicked day. We did the Natural History museum. Tiny kid, big skeletons; I was well impressed.”
“You didn’t want to come home?” Melanie asked.
“No. I wanted to stay longer, but you know my dad, he’s time-obsessed. He kept lantering on about missing the train….Oh shit, the clock sloshing around!”
Melanie was triumphant, “Yep. Your dad is the clock, and the large place is one of those museums, or maybe just London. Now, the street; are we looking at this the wrong way round….can u remember falling down, or anything?
“What, on that trip? No.”
“Ha ha. Or panicking? Did anything make you frightened? You were only five.”
Peter shook his head, “I don’t think so.”
Melanie sighed, “Well, we’ve got London, anyway. Where else did you go, do you remember?”
“Not really. I mean, we probably did the tourist places, like the Tower and things, but I don’t think they mean anything.”
“\I can’t, honestly. I just think that this – whatever it is – I’m supposed to be seeing, should kind of stand out, u know? Like really obvious, if you know what I mean. Thing is, Vincent made it sound so urgent and important; I feel like I’m letting him down, yeah?”
Melanie made a face. “I think he needs a big slap, giving you puff and putting you in this position. I’ll keep working on it, but I can’t think of anything else right now. Tell him London. Maybe that’ll help? See you at coll tomorrow, if you’re coming, that is.”
“Sarcasm now! Yep, I’m coming. Come round here, if you got time, we’ll go in together.”
“Half-eight then. ‘Night babes.”
“I should have said something to Alice.”
“Dunno. Just something.”
Peter closed his call with Melanie before he tapped out Vince’s number.
Alice was at home in her Lancaster Gate apartment when Vincent called:
“It’s London.” His voice said.
Alice was not feeling charitable. “Great!” She growled: “That’s just great! That narrows it down a lot!”
“Alright, alright! We still have four possible days when this could happen, don’t we? Give the lad time, Al.”
“No time.” Alice told him, with resignation in her voice. “If – and I do say ‘if’ because I don’t believe this whole cockamamie thing with visions and stuff anyway – if it is London it’s going to happen in the next eighteen hours, because tomorrow night the whole circus is moving on to Manchester, then Newcastle. It flies out from Newcastle on Friday, doesn’t return to London; and I’m not supposed to be telling you this oh Jesus what’s the matter with me!! We don’t have any time at all, Vince!”
“Well, do you know the itinerary for tomorrow? That might help a bit, yeah?”
“Yes, I do. And no, I can’t tell you, because that’s top secret. You know we aren’t disclosing any details of his schedule. I’ve already said far too much.”
“I’m not a bleedin’ spy!”
“If this goes belly up you might as well be! If they discover I’ve been feeding you information the Court’s ‘ll mince us, Vincent. So you’d better pretend you don’t know me for a while, okay?”
Salaiman Yahedi rose early as a matter of habit. Six o’clock was, for him, the best time of the day. When he strolled in the Park, joggers, deliverers and carriers, all with a head-down purpose of their own, would scarcely notice him. If he now and then acknowledged a stranger as they passed, there was no inquisitiveness on either’s part: no-one studied faces; no-one noted, specifically no-one noticed him. Yahedi was an expert at these things. Salaiman Yahedi, who was wanted in almost every country in the western world, might, you would have thought, have been happier in the crowd, losing himself in a host of faces, but no: he preferred the few to the many, the early-morning people who were lost in their own world as much as he was lost in his.
Those who placed barriers for an event later that day were not security men, they were just workmen with barriers. They had no interest in who was around, who might be attending to the detail of their work. So Yahedi was able to wipe the dew from a bench and sit watching them for a while, just casually. None but the most discerning could have seen that, whilst he sat there, he was sizing up the relationship between those barriers and a certain window on the third floor of a prestige hotel across Park Lane. No-one else could see (for Salaiman was satisfied that he himself could not) the small, circular hole he had so painstakingly incised in all three layers of glazing in that window; working for hours into the previous night.
Yahedi relaxed, enjoying the morning. There was no smell quite like that of English grass before the day had bullied and bruised it. It offered some compensation for the eternally low temperatures, the ever- present threat of rain. Curious, though, that on a morning so fine there should be flocks of seagulls as far inland as the Capital: he assumed the weather on the coast must be less kind. Salaiman amused himself as he watched their wheeling, spiralling flight for a while, before he returned to his hotel for breakfast. His day’s work would not begin for a couple of hours yet. He stood up, preparing to do battle crossing an already busy Park Lane, and in a moment’s carelessness nearly collided with a woman in a red tracksuit who was jogging past.
“I am very sorry, excuse me!” He apologised.
“It’s okay.” The woman seemed preoccupied, troubled. As she ran on, Yahedi watched her retreating back thinking how beautiful she was, so tall and with such a shock of black hair, and how he would relish practising his very specific arts upon her. Some would always escape. There was nothing he could do; unless, of course, they should run across each other again….
© Frederick Anderson 2021. 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.
Header Image: Stefan Keller from Pixabay
Dinosaur: Harald Matern from Pixabay