“Where is Ash? Where is Ash? Where is Ash?”
There was nothing he could do but play out his part in her nightmare.
“I’m here, beloved.”
He repeated the words he had spoken in this very room over one hundred years before. The echo of Sebastian mocked them from the shadows.
“Why don’t you show her what you really are?”
Kate’s eyes grew wide as the angel revealed his true nature to her, her hand reached out for a knife that was no longer there.
“Kill him, Evelyn. All you have to do is plunge it into his heart and we can be together forever,” Sebastian whispered to her.
She leaned towards Ash and kissed him.
“You could have told me the truth, beloved.”
Then she made a stabbing motion towards herself and crumpled to the floor.
Ash held Kate in his arms, his tears splashing on to her face as she lay limply against his chest.
“Come back to me Kate, please. I should never have brought you here.”
The tear-drops made her flinch; at first she thought they were drops of blood, but as they ran over her lips she tasted salt. She couldn’t breathe, it caught in her throat, she opened her eyes and looked up into the face of her angel. He lifted her off the floor and cradled her in his arms. The sudden movement made her gasp, air rushed into her lungs and she was coughing and spluttering, but she was alive.
For a long time they sat huddled together, oblivious to the filth around them. The atmosphere in the attic had changed in a subtle way. It was far less menacing and oppressive and seemed lighter somehow.
“Are you OK?” he said.
“You wait all that time between lives to be with her for such a brief time, only to watch her die again,” she said, trying to hold her voice steady. “How could you stand it when you loved her so much?”
A fresh tear slipped down her cheek.
“You mean when I love you so much?” he said, wiping it away. “I can’t bear it. I hate watching you die, but that’s better than not being with you at all. I have to stand it because you’re all I have. All I want is to fix the wrong I did, to give you peace and the freedom to live out your lives without all this hanging over you and to allow you to make your own choices, knowing that you’ll be safe and happy, but I can’t change anything, I’m helpless. It’s just another part of my punishment.”
“Well it doesn’t seem very fair. It wasn’t really your fault. It wasn’t even Sebastian’s”
His muscles tensed and she looked up at him, worried she’d said something wrong. He searched her face, waiting for her to continue, but she didn’t know what else to say and then the moment passed and he relaxed.
“It’s going to be all right,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Come on, Let’s get you out of here.”
He jumped to his feet, pulling her after him and was about to kiss her once more when he stopped and cocked his head, listening. Below them he could hear the rattle of keys. He put a finger to Kate’s lips to stop her from speaking and waited. The front door opened and closed and footsteps echoed down the hall.
“Someone’s here,” said Ash.
Kate squeezed his hand tightly.
“What do we do? Is it him?”
“I don’t know. Whatever happens, try not to let the past take over. If you touch that knife and Evelyn manifests, it’s all over. You’ll lose control and won’t know what you’re doing.”
“Evelyn knew what she was doing.”
He shook his head.
“Evelyn had lost her mind.”
“Maybe, but I think she did what she did knowing it was the only thing she could do to save you.”
She paused before adding, “She must have loved you very much.”
He knew what she was trying to say and smiled.
“It wasn’t the only thing she could have done.”
Kate opened her mouth to speak, but he hushed her again. The steady beat of footsteps echoed up the stairs and paused on the landing below. A male voice made some muffled exclamation and then began the climb to the attic.
A dark figure filled the attic doorway, bobbing its head to fit beneath the low frame.
“Who are you, what are you doing in my house?” it said.
It wasn’t the voice Kate expected to hear from an evil, psychopathic Satanist. Not unless he had a cold. The figure stepped into a patch of light and straightened up.
He was short enough to stand upright beneath the beams and very thin and wore jeans, a cagoule and tan loafers. His hair was short, greying and Kate guessed he was aged between forty five and fifty. It was Kate who spoke first.
“Are you David Markham?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said and sneezed.
“I’m Kate Lowry. I’m researching your family tree.”
* * *
When the introductions were over they had trooped downstairs to the parlour. Ash, unable to lie, had left Kate to explain how they’d entered through the already open back door, thinking he might be somewhere in the house, and after finding the other rooms empty had wandered upstairs to the attic as the last place to search.
“But how did you get in to the attic? No one’s been able to open that door since the place was last lived in.”
“The cold weather must have shrunk the wood,” Kate lied.
Ash looked on with something like admiration for her quick thinking replies.
“It’s a beautiful house.”
David Markham’s wariness at the two intruders melted away and his eyes softened at the thought of what the house would be, once the renovations were complete.
“You’d never know it, looking at her in this state.”
Kate knew David Markham would not believe what she had seen earlier. She could see he was passionate about restoring it and wished she could share the images of the house in its original state with him.
“So why are you here?” he said, pulling a crumpled handkerchief from his jeans pocket and blowing his nose.
“I was here to do some research into your tree and thought it would be nice to see the house. We called in on the off-chance you might be here to show us round.”
“That’s it?” he said. “You wanted to see the house?”
“Yes, I find it gives me a feel for the people I’m researching. I’ve gone back quite a way with your side of the tree and should be writing up a report for you soon.”
Kate was edging out of the room, trying to make as quick an exit as possible.
“That would be great. Mr Sharpe said you were his best researcher.”
“Really? That’s very kind of him.”
They were almost at the front door now.
“I suppose we should be getting off. Long drive, you know how it is.”
David Markham nodded. He opened the front door and ushered them outside, gushing goodbyes as they almost ran down the steps and out of the driveway. He watched them cross the road and disappear out of view behind the trees at the bottom of the garden before closing the door and turning to stare up the stairs, perplexed at what had just happened.
* * *
Kate couldn’t get away fast enough and had broken into a run.
“I guess it’s not him then?” she said, panting.
“No, and I was so sure it would be. I’m out of ideas now.”
It was Ash’s turn to catch up with Kate, but he had other ideas.
“Wait, Kate, please.”
There was something in his voice that pulled her up short.
“There’s one more thing I need to do,” he said.
He turned and walked past the house to a small path leading into the park. He waited for Kate to join him and knew she understood when she smiled at him.
“I used to stand here, day and night, watching the house, watching over you.”
Evelyn had never been aware of his level of devotion, until now. He could explain it to Kate and thereby to Evelyn, though of course it wouldn’t change things.
They meandered down the winding path, stopping beneath the bare branches of an oak tree that stood sentinel in the fairy dell where Ash and Evelyn had met in secret all those years ago. The waterfall splashed into the small pool where they had sat on more than one Summer’s day, dangling their feet into the cooling water.
They turned to face each other. Kate wrapped her arms around Ash’s neck and stood on tip toe to kiss him. As he responded, pulling her close and almost lifting her off the floor, they heard the distant yapping of a small dog.