I hadn’t know what to expect, that summer had felt like a life time ago. As I came to the bank of the lake, I saw a small boat half sunk in the reeds. The breathe caught in my throat. It couldn’t be the same boat from last year.
I made my way over. Nature had grown back but the pathway was still there. Something waved at me in the overgrown grass and I looked down and saw some rubbish. Moving closer though, I saw it was faded police tape.
Forgetting to breath, tears pricked my eyes and a mix of emotions rained down. Memories swamped my mind but I forced them back. It was still to surreal to think about them.
Going on, I made it to the boat and though I’d hoped it wasn’t the same, it was. The boat was a single seater, for two people but more like two children. The oars had gone and water lay dirty in the bottom.
She would sink if I took her out, though it might be a struggle to move her as she looked stuck fast to the mud bottom of the lake.
We had moved her once though. One too hot, bright summer’s day when the sun reflected on the glowing water and nature called for us to enjoy her beauty. The two girls had got in wearing bikinis and we, three boys, in our swimming trunks, had shoved the boat off then tried to scramble in too.
The girls had pushed us away, laughing that there was no room. We had splashed water at each other. The sun had shone through and sparkled the falling spray.
I had swam away, loving the coolness on my warm skin. I left them playing, their voices growing distant. I floated, thinking like all teenagers that this summer would last forever. Each day would be golden and never ending.
Loud splashing and screaming broke through my drifting. I looked back and saw the boat had tipped over.
I swam back, laughing alongside them and helped them to right the boat again.
‘Where’s Levi?’ Louise asked, her brown hair turned dark by the water.
‘Properly getting ready too -,’ Jake began then jumped on her and began tickling her.
‘Really though,’ Betty spoke, she had climbed back into the boat and was twisting her red hair dry.
I trod water and looked around for him. I didn’t see him. Diving under the water, I looked and saw little in the disturbed mud view.
‘Where is he?’ Betty asked me as I came up.
Shaking my head, we looked around. Betty called over to Lou and Jay to stop and they did so. The lake settled around us and we looked around for Levi.
‘Dive down again, John,’ Betty said to me.
I did so and this time felt around more then looked. I spotted Jay doing the same though the cloud of discolour and floating things. Levi didn’t seem to be there.
We rose to the surface again, dragging deep breaths in. We reached for the boat and clung to it. Betty had helped Lou climb back in and they had been looking on the bank to see if Levi had got out.
‘I don’t think he would have done without us noticing him,’ I said.
‘Then go back down again!’ Lou cried.
Jay and I did, going deeper and further then before. My fingers brushed something and I grabbed it and pulled. It didn’t move. I came up and tried to keep my feet on it’s place but I couldn’t.
I waved my arms and got the girls to row over. When Jay popped up he joined me and together we dived down and pulled Levi up.
We all dragged him onto the boat and then hurried to the shore.
Someone called for help whilst we tried to wake Levi. One of the girls did CPR and Jay ran for help. Then nothing began to make sense. It was like I had left and wasn’t taking things in anymore.
People asked me to do things or to answer things and I did so.
They took Levi away under a white sheet and we were all driven home in towels, holding our bundled clothes.
At his funeral, I thought it was dream, how could my best friend be gone?
He had though and that summer turned to black, the lake washed all the gold out of my life.
Tsujigiri – crossroad killing. A Japanese samurai with a new katana to test attacks a random defenceless passer-by at night.
The single track road was dark. Touches of light cast from the houses of the edge of the town kept the night at bay but wasn’t enough to really see by. There was a low murmuring of animals, a dog whined somewhere and horse let out a long neigh. People’s voices faded as the doors of the tea houses shut, leaving only the gentle lapping of water to break the silence.
Hiki sat as if he was a drunk who had fallen asleep by the side of the road. His black helmet with the forked stag like horns on top was pulled low to cover his eyes. The rest of his black lacquer armour was back in his room. Hiki hadn’t needed it for this. Instead, he was dressed in black bellowing robes and saddles which made him fit in more of the town’s people and also the growing night.
At Hiki’s side, laying in the long grass so it was hidden but still in easy reach was his new katana. The sword was unsheathed in preparation and Hiki’s right hand was resting next to the black lacquer handled.
This afternoon when he had received the katana, he had practised with it to make sure the balance was right. Hiki had demanded of the swordsmith that the sword be lighter then normal, so it could almost be wielded in one hand. The blade was to be sharp on both sides and the curve more pronounced. The handle was to be left plain so Hiki could dress it himself and that was going be in the traditional black and white diamond pattern of ribbons.
Firstly though, the katana had to draw it’s first blood and kill it’s first victim. Which was why Hiki was sat outside the town pretending to sleep. He couldn’t fight just anyone for the katana’s first outing. This thing had to be done just right and Hiki had found the perfect setting.
He had been observing the town since he had first arrived and during the wait for the katana to be made. The town was no stranger to samurai and produced good weapons and armour. There was a steady flow of people coming in and out with supplies, even by night they travelled because the roads were free of dangers thanks to the numbers of samurai.
The sounds of cart wheels and a horse clopping along, sent a thrill through Hiki. His fingers twitched towards his katana and held the handled lightly. Trying to remain still was hard but he controlled his breathing and cleared his thoughts. He couldn’t get up too soon, the timing had to be just right.
He peeked out from under his helmet and looked at the patch of road he could see. He didn’t turn his head towards the sound. He knew when he saw the horse come into view that was his signal.
Time seemed to slow, Hiki counted each breath and listened as the horse got closer. Hiki’s hand tightened on the katana, his legs twitched as they got ready for action. Soon, it would be the right moment.
The horse came into view faster then Hiki realised. He shot up, his body that had been laying like a scarecrow coming to life and with the grace of a dancer moving through the darkness. His katana swooshed through the air like falling cherry blossom caught on the wind and the head of the cart man went flying through the air.
Hiki let out the breath he had been holding. The horse cried out, reared in fight and shot down the road. The body of his master slide off the cart’s seat and tumbled into a ditch. Blood dripped down the katana as Hiki lowered it and listened to the sound of the running horse and trundling cart fade.
Slowly, Hiki walked over to the cart man’s head and picked it up by the top knot. The head swung, dripping blood and trails of the inside. Hiki inspected the katana’s work in the dim light and he was satisfied by the cleanness and sharpness of the cut.
A rainbow lit up the dark sky as I watched from my dad’s new boat. He had always wanted to live on a boat and travel around. No attachments, an easy life. It suited him and he was doing much better.
I smiled and spoke the colours of the rainbow. When I was younger, mum and I had always said them together. Now, all rainbows reminded me of her. She had passed away four years ago but it still felt like yesterday to me.
‘What you calling your boat, dad?’
‘The Spirit of Joy,’ he replied and chuckled, ‘seemed fitting.’
‘Of course! Mum’s name,’ I laughed, ‘she’d have liked that.’
All stories start with something and this story starts with an apple. It was a normal apple, bright red and ripe for picking. I twisted it off the tree and with a quick look around, I slipped it into a pocket in my underskirt. It was the first apple I had ever picked and the first thing I had ever stolen.
I was wearing clothes that were not my own; an old, patched up blue dress with layers of grey skirts and stays for my growing woman’s shape. On my feet were falling apart brown leather shoes, worn down from all the walking and work. My hair, dirty and unwashed for days like the rest of me was a cherry red colour which shone gold in the full sun or moonlight. It was tied in a bun under a strip of cloth that covered my head.
I carried on picking apples all day. Stopping only a few times to sip ale and nibble mouldy bread. The other workers didn’t speak to me, energy was wasted by talking and there was too much to do. Also, they all thought I was a mute. The apples in their wicker baskets were loaded onto a cart and taken into a stable to be sorted. Some apples were to be sold at the markets and others made into cider.
The sun set and some of us retreated to little huts the farmer had given us for the harvest season. The rest of the workers went to houses or other places they had in the surrounding villages. We ate a weak stew then in a haze of peat smoke, pipe tobacco and sleepiness, I slipped outside.
A few feet away was my hidey hole. It was a little nook in a tumbled down animal shelter. I had made a seat out of some of the wood and placed straw on the floor. There was a holder for a small candle and a worn blanket. I wrapped myself up and lit a candle. I listened but there was only the sound of the wind and animals.
I took the stolen apple out from my pocket. I had eaten apples of course but not for a while now. Not since I had left my Sisters. I rubbed the waxy surface of the apple then bought it to my nose and breathed in deeply of the fresh, sweet and fruity scent. I bit into the apple, the flesh and juice were too sugary and crisp. It all returned me to my past.
The memory of my Sisters made tears prick my eyes. I had been born into them and grew up not knowing anything else. I had learnt many languages, to read and write them. I had learnt potion making of all kinds, casting, calling, spells both defensive and inflicting, herbs by all their names and their many usages, prayers and songs, baking and mending, romance and the weakness of men and monsters, plus so much more.
We lived in large groups in many cities, towns and villages. We had Temples which some of us also lived in though most preferred houses with their families and or other Sisters. My home was a white Temple in a fine old city. We had a patch of land that was a small farm where we grew fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants. There were also animals; chickens, cows, rabbits, bees, dogs, cats, ravens and owls.
We had been in harmony with all peoples and nature. We had been looked upon for help in a whole range of problems; sickness, death, childbirth, crop and animal failures, wars and feuds, blessings, future readings, advice, teachings and lots more. Then something had happened four years ago, some turning of the tide that caused the Sisters downfall.
War had knocked upon us. The people rose against us declaring us bad and forgetting all we had done of them. The Sisters fought back but the enemies were numerous, over powering and driven by unquenchable rage. We were torn apart. Our homes and Temples burnt with some of us still inside, the rest put to the blade or their deaths on show. We were hunted down like scared deer, not understanding why we had been turned upon.
I had been lucky, being only a girl of twelve I had escaped with some others into the crypts below. There our Fallen Sisters lay at their never ending rests. Their bodies wrapped in white sheets and tied with red ribbons. They were placed on stone shelves on top of each other with carved wooden symbols of our faith; bell, book, candle, crested moon, bunches of herbs, cats, ravens and owls.
In the middle of the crypts were the highly decorated marble sarcophagi some of which had effigies on them and there were also statues of the High and Supreme Priestess or Sorceresses. Candles, incense, fresh flowers and prayers were constantly supplied into the crypts and long Fallen In Memoria ceremonies took place day and night down there.
When we escaped, we were meant to stay together but in the darkness and vastness of the jungle we lost each other. I had wanted to go back, I had tried hard to but somehow I had never been able to find my home again. Perhaps it had been a spell cast by the Sorceresses to keep all the novice witches safe? I would never known.
Needing shelter, food and places to hide, I found work on farms. Hard work but at least no one saw me as anything other then an orphan girl on the run. I was too traumatised to speak for a long time and the label of ‘mute’ stuck to me but I found it easy to wear this mask. I didn’t have to answer any questions and say anything which might reveal or create suspicion to what I was.
Novice Sisters didn’t get the tattoos, clothes and jewellery of the faith until they became of age at sixteen then they were called Practitioners. Once everyone could see what you were it was too late to hide. That’s why only the girls had escaped and hardly hunting though I bet innocent girls had been put to fire or to water or just slain by swords.
I had the last bite of the apple and sat with the core in my hand. I thought about practising some magic on it, I still tried often to do things I had been taught. The risk of being caught stopped me. It was all a part of me though, I couldn’t forget or ever stop it no matter what I did. Magic and faith flowed through me like blood.
I transferred the light of the candle to another I had brought. I could have cast my own light but that was asking for trouble. Blowing out the first candle, I made the long way to the pig pens. There was no moon or stars in the sky, clouds were banking up there but I knew it wasn’t going to rain tomorrow. It was going to be another hot and dry autumn day.
A fat, pink pig happily took the apple core from me then snuffled back to sleep. I was half tempted to crawl inside his wooden house within him but instead I made my way back to my own bed.
I slipped through the door and into my cot. Pulling the harsh wool blanket over me, I tried to sleep. Around me, in other cots or chairs were ten or so people all fast sleep. There was snoring and mumbling, sounds of breathing and tossing, it all reminded me of the dorm room I had slept in at the Temple.
The fire was low, only a whisper of heat left within it. I could have brought it back to life and made it everlasting with no need for fuel. I could bend the flames to my will, ask them to burn this hut down, the farm and the apple trees, the people too if I wanted.
I could command the wind to fan the fire more, to blow a gale, destroy everything in its path. I could call water from the well, from the stream and the sky to cover everything and wash it all away. The earth would answer me if I whispered my wants to it, the ground could shake or spilt up and swallow everything.
Plants would be my allies, I could encourage them to grow fast, to wrap around and suffocate everything. I could speak to animals, bargaining with them to do tasks; to bring me food, to help me kill someone, to be my eyes and ears in another place.
There had been other Novice Sisters in my classes who could do things with energy from furniture and other things, pull out memories from minds, whisper thoughts into your head, make objects move and more. We each had our own gifts and talents, our favourite things to work with. Some found the powers easier to work with, others hard and some not at all.
I fell asleep and dreamed about one of those girls I knew, her name had been Aenwyn. For years, she didn’t show any magic abilities no matter what she did. Some of the other girls laughed at Aenwyn but we were friends and one day we were talking as we picked herbs. The smell of those things was heady, mixed in with strong wild garlic. Bees were buzzing in the air gathering honey for their hives. It was a hot, dry summer day.
‘Elenora, what will become of me?’ Aenwyn asked me.
‘Why Aenwyn,’ I answered, ‘you’ll get the best job of all! You’ll become a Matron. You’ll get to look after the Sisters, their daughters, you’ll work in the gardens, with the animals and in the kitchens too. You like baking bread and tending the rabbits, don’t you?’
Aenwyn nodded, ‘but I’d rather be like you, Elenora! You’ll become a druidess.’
‘Maybe, but I’d rather be an elementalist,’ I said, ‘imagine what you can do if you can bend elements to your wants?’
Aenwyn shook her head, ‘it is too great a power.’
I laughed and picked a blood red beetle off one of the baby leaves of sage. I shut my eyes in concentration and called upon the air to fly the beetle away. My request was granted and the beetled was lifted away and over the walls.
Aenwyn opened her mouth but her words were drowned out by the Temple bells, it was time for afternoon prayers. Then we would read the books of our faith before washing and changing to go for evening meal. Afterwards, we would finish our daily tasks, put the animals to bed then change and wash again for the nighttime chants and prayers then it would bedtime as the sunset.
We had lived by the callings of the bells, the tasks set to us by Matron Sisters, Tutor Sisters and Dorm Sisters. Our lives were structured, we knew what to do within each hour by heart. We knew our duty, our destinies, the powers within us until everything was uprooted by the war against us.
Someone was shaking me awake. The faint ringing of bells from my past in my ears. Waking, I saw an old woman, half her wrinkled brown face was covered by long, ragged, white hair, her simple peasant dress too loose around her wasting body.
The sun had rose and brought another day of apple picking with it.
It was cool on the moor today, despite the sunshine, blue sky and spring singing in the air. I hadn’t meant to go out for a walk, I had too much to do but all day the moors had been calling me like an old friend begging for a visit.
The evenings were growing lighter now, so I thought an hour before the sunsets around seven, would be fine. Some fresh air and exercise might be good, it would help to clear my head and make me tried enough to sleep.
I changed into warm and waterproof clothes and boots, I packed a bag with a few supplies, made sure my phone was changed then set out. You never knew when things might change on the moor or if you might fall on a boggy patch of ground or trip on a rocky edge. I knew from experience what it was like to be stuck out there with nothing.
I walked straight, no direction in mind, just going where the first path took me. There was low cloud cover over some of the higher hills in the distant, the clouds were all ready turning dark with the evening light. There too where dots of sheep with early lambs nesting in the bushes. There was purple heather coming up and a few wild flowers but nothing much else grew out here.
At one high point, I stopped for a breath and some water. The air was turning colder, threatening a frost in the night. I was glad I had wrapped up. I played with the gold chain around my neck then moved on to the multi-coloured shell that hung from the links. I could name all the colours on the shell without looking; red, orange, yellow and green.
It had been a present. The last birthday gift my son had ever given me. Then a few months later, he and my husband had died in a car accident. I had barely escaped the wreak and had no memory of what had happened.
The moor helped me forget, that’s why I had moved here. It was so easy to lose yourself either staring and walking upon the moor. The seasons and weather were ever changing and there was all ways something new to see or smell or hear.
I had my escape on my doorstep and I was grateful for it.
Dawn was in the sky but it was still dark enough that we could hide if needed. Though I don’t think anybody cared. We pulled up in the empty motel parking lot and the headlights flashed across the keep out signs and the flapping yellow police tape.
The boss turned off the engine and the lights. We sat listening and watching for a few minutes. The power was still on here; lights inside and out were on. There was glass, furniture and other debris scattered around. There were tags of graffiti on the walls telling us that the vandals had moved in.
We got out of the car and slowly walked around. If there was anybody here waiting to give us trouble they’d been in for a shock because there was four us and we knew how to gang fight. Also, at least two of us carried guns and we all had knives.
Glass and rubble crushed under our boots. Birds and crickets were making a racket but nothing else came from the motel. A creepy feeling lingered, almost like we were walking into an empty grave. I felt my hair and skin rise, something was off about this place.
There were many in ways and after checking a few, we went into one of the rooms and began stripping it. Copper, other metals, anything that could easily be scraped with no questions asked. We moved through, doing as much as possible in the little time we had.
‘Not been abandoned long,’ Reggie mutter.
‘Few months at most,’ Ben hissed back.
‘Something went down here though,’ I added.
‘Double murder,’ the boss cut in.
We all looked at him, hands stilled on our work.
‘Owners hacked to death by one of their employees.’
‘Ah, I saw it in the news,’ Ben answered, ‘he buried them in the woods out back there then claimed the Devil told him to do it.’
‘Devils,’ Reggie repeated and shook his head.
Boss snorted, ‘let’s get on.’
When my turn for look out came – because always one of us has to keep an eye and ear out- we were close to the owners’ offices and apartment. I kicked the leg of a chair out of the way and looked at the still tied up police tape.
Beyond, the office looked a mess, someone had done a grand job of turning it over. I stepped closer, just wanting to confirm that no one was hiding in there. I had a small flashlight, that helped me not trip over anything.
I scanned the beam across a window then came to a stop. There was a bloody hand print on the glass.
‘Look at this,’ I called in a low voice.
Ben was closet and came over, ‘what?’ he whispered.
I nodded to the window and my light where we both then looked.
The bloody hand print was gone!
‘But…there was a…’
I shone the flashlight around, looking hard to see if maybe I had just moved off the print but no, the glass was clean.
‘Is there anything worth taking in there?’ Ben asked.
‘I’ll check it,’ I uttered, still trying to process what had happened.
Walking carefully forward, I tore the police tape down and went to the door. It opened easily and I stepped into the office. Papers and stuff were scattered around like a hurricane had blown in. The reminds of police things lay mixed in; a white glove, finger print dust, a vial.
Stepping on things, I looked around and spotted nothing worth taking. A door was blocked by a desk but a second door in the opposite wall was wide opening and leading through to the check in area.
Not enough light was entering there so someone could be hiding. Going on, I had the instinct to clutch the handle of my knife in my jacket pocket. The feel of the black, hard plastic helped reassure me.
Something crunched loudly beneath me and I looked to see it was a computer keyboard. Shaking my head, I nudged it away and carried on.
A groaning sound stopped me. I felt my breath hitch. Maybe, it was just the wind?
Under the counter something flashed and I went back to it. There was a plain gold ring on the floor. Bending down, I went to pick it up but a hand whipped out of the darkness and grip me!
I cried out and tried to break free but the fingers dug into me and I felt sharp nails leaving marking in my skin. With an unbelievable strength the hand pulled me down, causing me to lose my balance and I almost fell onto the counter top.
Dropping the flashlight and seizing my knife, I slashed out with the blade. I felt my hand released. I tumbled back, falling and landing heavily. Breathing deeply, everything screamed at me to get away and I tried to get up but then I saw the hand laying by itself.
It was the size of a man’s. The fingers were curled up and all bruised looking, the bloody, jagged nails were clutching at the carpet. The skin was yellow and brown, clearly dead. A small pool of dark blood was leaking around it.
There was no way I could have cut through bone.
Shaking, I fumbled for the flashlight and aimed the beam beyond the dismembered hand. There under the counter curled two figures. They were the size of small adults and dressed in stained clothing, one was a man and the other a woman.
They were kneeling and clutching each other as if desperate to hold on. The woman’s long black hair was covering her face which was pressed to the man’s shoulder. There were deep gashes all over her arms and legs. Her white dress was ripped up, blood and dirt stained. She had no shoes and her feet were cut opening as if she had been walking on glass.
The man had his face shadowed by the woman’s and his left arm was also hidden by her body. He was wearing a white shirt and black pants, both blood splattered and covered in dirt. Also, his bare feet were muddy and he was missing a hand.
One of them moaned then something like a word came out.
I felt the panic fade and my senses coming back. They were clearly homeless and drug users. They must have been so high or low that the man hadn’t felt his hand getting cut off. They also smelt. The stench coming off them wasn’t just sweat but something else, like rot and putrid waste.
My hand pressed over my mouth and nose but it did little block out the smell now I was aware of it.
‘What are you doing here?’ I demanded.
Again with the mumbled word and the man moved his face. His skin was dark with something smeared across and his jaw looked to be hanging loose. The woman turned slightly and went as if to move her stringy hair but most of it stayed on her face.
‘What?’ I spoke, feeling my angry growing.
‘Help,’ the man’s rasping voice answered.
Frowning, I fixed the light on there close together faces and felt vomit raise in my throat. Their eyes and noses were gone and their faces were rotting away. Bones were showing through peeling skin. There were large chunks of them missing as if someone had cut off parts of their bodies and I could see things that were meant to stay on the inside.
‘Help,’ the man said again and raised the stump of a wrist at me.
He let go of the woman and reached his other arm out too. The woman followed, bloody arms parting the air and fingers searching. Their hands hit the floor and using this, they tried to pull themselves up and crawl towards me.
I shuffled backwards, my mouth opened and closed but no words came out. Both my hands shook. The flashlight that had been my guide and the knife that had been my protection temporary forgotten.
The woman let out an awful gurgling cry and lunged at me. As her hair flew back, I saw she had no jaw and the rest of her mouth was just a black open hole. A tooth dropped to the floor, clicking away into the darkness.
She grabbed my boot. I screamed, swung my knife automatically and lashed her across the face. Then I kicked at her and felt the force go through her spongy and brittle head. She let go, yowling as best she could with half a mouth.
The man reached for her, feeling his way and drew her back to him. They held each other like frightened children as the curled back under the counter.
Panic shot through me, I scrambled to my feet and tumbled out of the room. Slipping and trapping across papers and rubbish, I threw myself out of the office and screamed into the early morning air, ‘Go! Go!’
Bolting for the truck, I slammed into it and scrambled to open the door. From behind me, came running footsteps and shouting voices. I found the handle, yanked it and clambered in. Distantly, I heard other doors opening and shutting, the truck engine starting and the rumbling of the vibrations as we pulled away.
‘What was it?’ Reggie spoke.
‘Was someone in there?’ boss questioned.
‘Chad, you OK?’ Ben asked, ‘what did you see? A ghost?’
I didn’t hear him. Clutching my knife in both hands, I stared into the blade. There was no blood marking the shinny surface but the rotting face of the woman was reflecting back at me.
My car’s windscreen wipes struggled to clear the heavy snowflakes away. I turned them all the way up and that helped somewhat. Everything around me was either white, grey or black like I had entered an old fashioned movie dead of colour.
I clutched the steering wheel tighter and listened to the faint rock music from the CD player. A glance at the Satnav and it didn’t looked like I had moved much. The time of arrival kept going up instead of down and I gritted my teeth.
If it had been anyone else but my dying father, I wouldn’t be out here now driving from my honeymoon in this snowstorm. I rounded a corner and saw in the beam of my headlights two stark trees clawing at the grey sky.
I had to pee and my ankle was cramping.
Pulling over under the trees, I got out but left everything running. The worse thing right now would be the car to breakdown.
I went behind the tree and got up real close as there wasn’t much cover here. I unzipped, aimed and relieved myself. Feeling better, I pressed my head against the tree and took a few deep breaths of frozen air.
Then for a few minutes, I walked about and stretched. The conversation with my mother came back to me as it had been doing on repeat since I had hung up the phone this morning.
‘Christian, your father is really sick. You should come to the hospice.’
‘I know but there’s a snowstorm and I can’t leave Jan up here alone.’
‘Bring her with you.’
‘And have us both stuck in the snow? No. I’ll come.’
‘I think it’s almost time…’ mother sniffed down the phone.
I rolled my eyes, she and father had been saying that for the last three months. It’s why Jan and I had brought the wedding forward but still dad hung on. I didn’t want to leave my wife in our honeymoon cabin in the magical snow covered forest, but there was no other choice.
Feeling the chill sinking through my thick coat, I got back in the car again and drove once more. Still the snowfall. It was like a blanket on the bare land softening the hardness of winter.
There was no other cars on this country road, sensible of everyone but it also meant the road wasn’t gritted and the wheels felt like they were sliding. I took it easy, watching all the time for dangers because there was also the gloom of night looming.
I thought of Jan and how she would be curled up before the fire, reading and waiting for me to call. Had I done the right thing leaving her behind?
‘I don’t mind either way,’ she had said, ‘do you want me there when he passes?’
‘He won’t pass. He’s too stubborn. This is just another false alarm.’
‘But you are still going?’
‘Yes. For mother’s sake more then his. He’s out of it most of the time anyway thanks to the drugs.’
‘Christian, it’s really coming down outside. Will you be okay driving?’ Jan had asked.
‘I’ll take it easy.’
I hugged, kissed her and said, ‘I love you, wife.’
Jan giggled and replied, ‘I love you too, husband.’
Now, I regretted leaving her and I wished I had told my mother no but what if dad was finally going and I wasn’t there when he died? I couldn’t have forgiven myself to that.
The snow became blinding and I had to slow further. I couldn’t stop though and turned my thoughts to how when I reached the main roads and motorway it would be easier. I tried to relax and just concentrate on what was ahead of me though that was only about a few inches.
Was that lights ahead? I frowned and and squinted. It looked like just one light. A motorbike then? But who would be insane enough to drive a motorbike in the middle of nowhere, in a snowstorm?
A creeping feeling raised the hairs on my arms and had the strange urge to pull over. Why? I couldn’t say. I wrestled with myself for a minute then despite not wanting too, the steering wheel was turning and I was bumping off the road into a low ditch.
Confused, I let go of the wheel and sat there, listening to the wind howling and the car engine rumbling. Where was the light I had seen? I waited for something to pass me by but nothing did. Had it been a reflection off something? I had read somewhere that snow could cause something like that.
Shrugging, I went to pull back onto the road but the steering wheel wouldn’t turn.
‘What the hell?’ I uttered aloud.
I turned the wheel this way and that whilst pressing on the pedals but the car didn’t move. The engine revved then fell into it’s comforting rumbling as I stopped trying.
‘I don’t need this! I really, really don’t need this! Come on! God damn it!’
I hit the steering wheel with my palms and threw my head back into the head rest. I shut my eyes and breathed angrily. Thoughts went through my head and I decided to get out and see what the problem was.
Opening the door, I walked around but could see I wasn’t stuck in the mud as I was frozen ground. The ditch also was only slightly lower then the road. I opened the bonnet and looked inside. Everything seemed fine in there.
I got back in the car, snow melting off me. I picked up my phone and saw I had no signal.
‘Typical! Just typical!’ I shouted.
I blared the horn in anger, got out again and slammed the door shut. I walked up and down, blaming my parents, the cancer, the snowstorm, the car, myself until my legs and arms felt frozen stiff.
Getting back in the car, I looked at the Satnav to see if there was any civilisation nearby. Perhaps, there would be a helpful farmer? Or maybe I was close to the village? The Satnav came back empty, just showing the red lined road I was on and nothing close by.
I turned off the car engine. Not sure what else I could do.
Sitting for a few minutes, I watched the snow burying my car and strangely recalled how one summer holiday my dad had let me bury him in sand at the beach. Mum had taken a photo as we had all laughed. Then we had got fish and chips followed by ice cream. Dad had then carried me back to the hotel as I dozed in his arms.
I smiled and began to recall other favourite memories. Finally, I came to one about my first diving lesson and how I had scared my dad as I had almost hit a wall. We had laughed about that long afterwards and he still wouldn’t get in a car with me driving today.
Shaking my head and laughing, I turned the engine on and the car started up. Handbrake down, foot on pedals, gear in and turning the steering wheel, the car obeyed me and pulled back onto the road.
‘What was all that about?’ I cried.
Unsure, I carefully began driving. Everything felt normal and like there had been no problems back there at all. Shrugging, I carried on my journey.
Two hours later, I arrived at the hospice and went to my dad’s room. He was sleep with the blanket pulled up to his chin. My mother was sitting beside him, face hidden in a tissue.
‘I made it,’ I whispered.
Mum looked up her, her face tear stained and eyes red, ‘he’s gone,’ she stuttered and threw her arms around me.
‘When?’ I asked.
She mumbled the time and as I held her I cast my mind back.
He had died at the same time I had seen that light and my car had stopped working.
Returning from dropping the grandchildren off at school, I sank into my armchair and looked out the window at the storm I had just battled through. The wind was as strong as a car speeding on the motorway and it was driving the heavy rain and hailstones into you like shards of glass.
I turned the TV on, then left some daytime game show sounding in the background. I changed into slippers and a warmer jumper. There was housework to do but it could wait until later.
Sitting down again, I looked at the collection of photos on the mantel and the wall. There were many of my husband who had died six years ago, we had been married for fifty-two years. He had been in the army and though the idea of being an solider’s wife had worried me, I had enjoyed the travelling and many experiences.
There were photos of my only child, my daughter, Victoria and also her husband, Danial. Both had died in a car crash, five years ago. Then there were my grandchildren, ten year old, Beth and seven year old, Alex, smiling brightly in every photo.
I got out my knitting, feeling the need to relax. My joints were aching because of the cold and I couldn’t get warm enough. The joys of old age and having to look after young children once again. I would soon feel some energy back then I could do some chores.
A banging upstairs stilled the clicking of my needles. I looked up at the ceiling, listening as the bang came again. The wind was swinging a door about, that was all.
I got up and climbed the stairs, feeling pain in my hips and knees. At the top, I saw Beth’s door moving and banging against the frame as the wind blew about.
‘She didn’t shut her window probably, that child!’ I uttered.
I went in, closed and locked the offending window. Outside, the wind carried on raging away, leaving the bedroom freezing cold. Turning the heater up, I went to head back downstairs and put the kettle on.
Something white moved out of the corner of my eye and I turned to it. Was it a bird? No..it was something else….The shape seemed to grow and become more solid, yet still see through. The white colour became more cream and I saw the outline of a long dress drifting.
The more I stared the more the ghost took form before me until a young woman was standing before the bed. Her long hair was down to her waist and her face was full of sadness. As she looked around, confusion frowned her face then she went to the window and looked out as if she was lost.
‘Hello? I said gently.
‘I can see you, ghost,’ I added.
The woman turned and looked at me slowly.
‘What are you doing here?’
She sighed and softly, almost in a whisper answered, ‘looking for my child.’
‘Are they here?’ I pressed.
‘No,’ she uttered, ‘the strong wind blew me into your house. I am sorry.’
‘It’s okay, pet. Would you like to stay until the weather passes?’ I asked, ‘some company meet be good for you.’
The ghost took a moment to think then nodded. She turned, taking the room in again.
‘This is my granddaughter’s room. Come down into the living room,’ I spoke.
I went back down and the ghost followed me. A cold draft trailed around her and her dress floated on a wind that seemed to be a part of her.
Settling in my chair and picking up my knit, I tried not to watch the ghost hovering around.
‘They have passed,’ she muttered after a few minutes.
I looked up and saw her before the photos, ‘yes, pet,’ I replied, though there wasn’t a need too but it did open a conversation, ‘you lost your child?’
‘At birth. I followed a day later,’ the ghost answered, ‘and I have been searching ever since.’
‘That’s why you are still here,’ I added.
‘Yes,’ agreed the ghost. She give a long moaning sigh and stirred the leaves of a pot plant.
‘Where do you think your child is?’ I questioned over the clicking of my knitting needles.
The ghost was quiet and thoughtful.
‘At your house?’ I pondered after a few minutes.
‘If she was, she is no longer,’ the ghost woman replied, ‘that is why I had to leave. I cannot rest without her.’
I nodded and fell to thinking. Soothed by the sounds of the TV and needles, it was easy for my mind to drift.
‘You know, pet,’ I said, ‘stillborn babies probably go straight to heaven.’
‘Do you think?’ the ghost gasped.
‘Yes. They are innocent and have no reason to stay here. Maybe, that’s what has happened?’
‘Has it?’ whispered the ghost.
‘And perhaps, it’s not the search for your child that keeps you here but the grieve of the loss?’ I concluded.
The ghost let out a low moan.
‘Have you tried to leave?’
‘No. I did not want to,’ the ghost replied.
‘Try and see what happens, pet,’ I responded, gently.
‘Am I scared.’
‘I know but there’s nothing to worry about and your child will be waiting. If not, I shall help you.’
‘You will? Oh! Thank you!’ the ghost cried and she smiled.
‘Now, try to go to Heaven, pet.’
The ghost nodded and after a few moments, she began to fade away.
‘I am going! I am going!’ she shouted, ‘I shall be united with my child.’
‘Yes, dear. Go, go! Find your child and be at peace.’
With a finally smile, the ghost woman vanished.
Her cold spot lingered another minute or two then warmth took over once more.
I lent back in my armchair, knitting abandoned on my lap, looking at where the ghost had stood. Then, I turned to the photographs and said, ‘if I was her, I would have done the same. Mothers and children should always be together.’
We should never have returned to the dead planet. And yet, it was full of resources. The colony need supplies for its continuance and there were people who’d pay us well for a rare item or ancient artifact.
As I walked over a wooden beam, distracted by fixing my orange radiation mask, the beam give way under my weight. I tumbled into a dark shallow pit. The sounds of falling earth deafening me as it showered down.
I lay still, trying not to panic and stay calm. I had fallen underground before and soon my team would be here. The waterfall of noise faded and I heard distant voices calling. Then a powerful light came on from above and I saw what was facing me.
The empty eye sockets of a human skull were staring back at me. The dark pits of those hollows questioning and demanding answers.
I shuffled backwards and heard the rattling of bones as my hands and feet skittled across them. There were more skulls surrounding me, their empty sockets seemingly watching me as well.
There were too many! Far too many to be a normal burial place. This was a plague pit!
I tried to fight down the firing panic and the hint of vomit in my throat. I had to stay still and in control. Repeatedly telling myself it was okay, I shut my eyes and breathed heavily into the mask and air ventilation systems.
A rope bashed my helmet with a thud. I reached for it gratefully and let my team pull me up. Scrambling to the surface once more, I lay down and just breathed. A fine mist fell then a cloud of white drenched me. I was being decontaminated.
This plant was dead for a reason and I didn’t want to become it’s next victim.