Kate had spent another restless night dreaming of faces that morphed from one to another and shadowy figures that tailed her wherever she went. She didn’t feel like going into work at all, except for the fact that she would be alone for the day if she didn’t. What she needed was to be around people, the more the merrier.
She hurried past the bookshop this morning, her head down, not looking at anyone, and turned off towards the library which housed the York archives. It would have been easy enough to have done her research at the office, but in the archives she could get on with her work, no bickering from James and Nathan and no unwanted attention from Brian.
There were few people there at this hour, which meant there were plenty of spare computer terminals on the fourth floor reference area. When the monitor had blinked into life, she opened a browser window and entered the URL for the General Register Office. It was part of her job to order birth, marriage and death certificates for every name on a family tree. The client would want a copy of them all. With luck it would take her all day and she wouldn’t have to face Brian at all.
She’d been at it for maybe half an hour when she looked up to give her eyes a break from staring at the screen. From her desk by the balcony, she could see parts of the floors below and all the way down to the entrance on the ground floor. The door was pushed open by an elderly gentleman who paused and held the door for someone behind him. Kate had lost interest and almost looked away before something made her turn back.
A young man stepped into the reception, he bobbed his head in thanks and the old man shuffled off out of view. Kate leaned forward, she couldn’t see his face, just the top of his head, but she recognised him instantly this time. It was the man in black again.
He stood for a moment, admiring the huge Christmas tree, decorated in blue and silver baubles that filled some of the space in the vast library entrance then crossed the hall to the reception desk. She was too far away to hear what he said to the librarian, but his eyes followed her pointing finger as she gave him directions up the staircase. Kate ducked back, afraid he’d seen her. She waited a few seconds, then risked another peek. He was on his way up the stairs. When he turned off onto the floor below she realised she’d stopped breathing and let the air out of her chest in a long sigh. She’d been worried he was looking for her, but how would he have known she was there? Apart from that brief encounter in the café he didn’t know her and she didn’t know him, no matter how familiar he seemed. Now, if she could think of some perfectly rational explanations for the other times she’d seen him…
She could barely see him now, scanning the shelves in the aisle marked Religion, so she craned her neck for a better view. Was he a student at the university? They ran courses in Theology and Religious Studies. He reached out and pulled a book from the shelf. The title wasn’t large enough to read, but there was a picture of clouds on the front. The man in black took it to one of the reading areas and sat down in a large green leather armchair.
His upper half was obscured from view, but his crossed legs and the open book were still visible. Kate was fascinated, not only by what he was reading, but she found herself wishing she could get a better look at his face.
He turned the pages one by one but didn’t appear to be reading the text. After a few pages he began to skip whole sections, then snapped the book shut and laid it on the table in front of him. He took the earphones from his pocket, put the plugs in his ears and looked straight up at Kate as though he’d known she was watching him all along.
She let out an involuntary yelp and pushed herself back from the balcony. Her stomach lurched. What if he was on his way up to her? When she dared to look again he had gone. She searched for him on the stairs, on the floor below, and finally caught sight of him striding purposefully towards the exit.
Grabbing her things, she pushed back her chair, bumping it against the one behind, and realised someone was sitting in it. She apologised, wondering when they’d arrived. She’d been so mesmerised by the man in black she’d not noticed the library filling up with people. How long had she watched him? It couldn’t have been longer than a few minutes, surely? Where had everyone come from?
There was no time to think about it now, she was desperate to reach that book before someone else cleared it away. She slipped into the seat he’d occupied, the leather was still warm. Heads were turning, her cheeks burned with embarrassment. She picked up the book and read the title, “A Dictionary of Angels.” What was it with everyone and all this angel stuff all of a sudden?
She shook her head and returned the book to the table. If she hurried, she might be able to catch up with him. What she would say to him when she did, she had no idea.
On her way out, a poster pinned to the wall at the left of the doorway caught her attention. It was an advertisement for the “Festival of Angels”, that weekend.
Coincidence, she told herself and left.
The man in black was probably long gone by now, but she looked anyway. He could have gone in either direction, but she chose to turn left, where York Minster stood at the end of the street. She headed towards it. It wasn’t long before she spotted him, sitting on the wall on the opposite side of the road, almost as though he’d been waiting for her. No sooner had she seen him than he got up and walked away, under the avenue of trees, though he hadn’t once looked in her direction.
She was convinced he was following her now, but she was more excited than scared and set off after him, determined to find out who he was. With her eyes fixed on the tall stranger, she dodged the other pedestrians, but no matter how hard she tried, she never seemed to get any closer. Without thinking, she ran out from the corner of St. Leonard’s Place, oblivious to the oncoming traffic. She was sure the road had been clear, but now tyres screeched and a horn blared right beside her.
A pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist and she was lifted and pulled backwards onto the kerb. The driver of the white van made a rude gesture and mouthed an obscenity as he sped off. Kate spun round, breathless, expecting to find her rescuer, but there was no one there, except for an old woman, whose wide eyes stared out at her from beneath a blue paisley scarf. She was swamped in the oversized raincoat she wore and clutched her shopping bag tightly in the crook of her arm.
“You were lucky there, love. I don’t know where that young man came from, but one minute you were on the road and the next minute he had hold of you. It’s a shame he rushed off like that.”
“Did you see where he went?” Kate asked.
“Up there, love,” she replied with a nod of her head. “If you run you might catch him.”
She looked in the direction the old woman indicated and caught a glimpse of the man in black, disappearing out of sight around the corner of a building. Kate had known it would be him. What she didn’t understand was how he’d got behind her when she’d been running after him. He had been in front of her, in the distance, and then, with no time for blinking, he was behind her, pulling her out of the way of a speeding car. There was no way he could have reached her in time.
* * *
Half an hour later she stood pale and shaking in the office doorway.
“Are you all right, Kate? You look like you’ve seen another ghost,” Brian said.
“Or something like that,” she murmured.
She sat with her elbows on the edge of the desk, her chin resting on her hands, staring over the rim of the coffee Brian had made for her whilst she explained what had happened. She had to have been mistaken, it couldn’t have been the man in black she’d been following, she must have confused him with someone else. How could it have been him? No one could move that fast, or be in two places at once. Either that or Brian was right and she had seen a ghost.
It didn’t take long for her to realise how stupid this was. For one, ghosts did not use earphones and for another, she’d felt his arms, strong and protective around her as he’d pulled her onto the kerb. They were as solid as the table she was sitting at. It was a shame he hadn’t stuck around to be thanked: it wasn’t every day an attractive guy turned out to be your knight in shining armour.
For over an hour, Brian tried to concentrate on the intestacy case he was working on, but he found it increasingly difficult with Kate pacing the floor behind him. When she asked him if he believed in fate and destiny or coincidence he began to think her strange non-accident in the café and her near miss with the van had sent her over the edge and suggested she leave work early. It was Friday after all, and even though James and Nathan were supposed to be out interviewing relatives, he suspected they’d knocked off at lunch time and were probably sitting in a cosy pub somewhere making an early start on the weekend.
He sighed with envy.
When Kate started rambling about the supernatural, Brian threw down his pen and stood up. He took Kate’s coat from the peg and held it out for her. Without thinking, she pushed her arms down the sleeves and let him steer her towards the door.
“Kate, go home. You’ve had a stressful couple of days and are probably suffering from shock.”
“I’m fine and I have work to do,” she insisted, pulling on her hat and wrapping the scarf round her neck.
Brian stared her down until she relented.
“Get something to eat, have a hot bath and relax.”
He ushered her to the door.
“And don’t worry, after our – misunderstanding, I’m not holding you to our date tonight.”
She’d forgotten all about it and although she was glad of a way out of her promise, Brian’s glum expression made her feel guilty. He had done her a favour after all.
“Look, we made a deal and I’ll stick to my half,” she said.
His face lit up.
“OK, I’ll meet you at eight outside Monty’s Rock Café.” He patted her bottom. “You know where that is right?”
She rolled her eyes and nodded. His puppy dog eyes had duped her into saying exactly what he wanted. This was going to be her worst nightmare.
She had a safe and uneventful drive home, but couldn’t shake the sensation she was not alone. Not until she was home, the doors locked and bolted did she allow herself to relax. After Brian had more or less forced her to leave, she had wandered down the office steps and out into harsh daylight, her head full of questions about the man in black, the journal, and the strange occurrences she’d experienced since finding the box in the floor of the church. Turning to her right she had been confronted with the ominous word Ghost, merely an advertisement for some trendy fashion designer repeated three times on the clothes shop window and a few feet further down the street, struggling against the tide of tourists and shoppers, she’d been jostled to one side, where she came face to face with the Stonegate Devil. He grinned at her from his vantage point under the eaves of what was once a 16th century printer’s shop and Kate had almost broken into a run, eager to get away from the silent watcher.
She flopped down on the sofa, and her bag, with the journal still inside, dangled off her knees. She took a deep breath and fell back against the cushions. Within seconds she was asleep, exhaustion and delayed shock overwhelming her.
It was dark when Kate opened her eyes, confused and disoriented, unsure about where she was, but also who she was. For a few seconds she had been clawing her way out of flames – again.
The dream had been so intense and real she’d had to push back the blanket and feel beneath her clothes for what she was sure would be cracked and blackened skin. Her relief at finding everything normal was replaced with confusion.
Where had the blanket come from? It had not been there when she’d collapsed onto the settee. Was it possible she had taken it from her room without thinking and been so tired she’d forgotten, or had someone else covered her with it as she slept? She clicked on the table lamp and took a good look at the room.
Nothing missing, she thought.
As if a burglar would cover his sleeping victim anyway. She glanced at the clock and swore.
“Oh shit! Brian.”
She was supposed to have met him twenty minutes ago.
She leapt up from the settee, thrusting the blanket to one side and bounded across the room to the phone. The light blinked on the answering machine. She pressed the button to replay the messages and winced at the sound of Brian’s voice.
There were four messages, all from Brian, each one a little more impatient than the last, until he yelled, “Thanks for standing me up. That’s the last time I do anything for you!” in the final call and hung up.
Kate picked up the handset and dialled his number. Brian’s phone rang and rang, then switched to voice mail.
“Hey Brian, if you get this I’m sorry. I fell asleep. I’m on my way now.”
She wolfed down a bag of crisps and a can of Coke, the first thing she’d eaten since breakfast, took a quick shower and changed into clean black jeans and a white skinny rib vest top and boots, grabbed her coat and keys and slammed out of the house.