They had wandered around the park for a while, revisiting the places Evelyn would have known and a few she never saw in her lifetime. They had marvelled at the palm house that was still under construction in 1873 and visited the statue of Anteros before returning to the car and setting off for home. On the way they stopped off to get Kate something to eat, lengthening the journey by an extra hour, and it was now after midnight.
“The more I’m with you the more this seems different to other incarnations,” Ash said as he pulled into the driveway of Kate’s home.
“I’m not sure, but there are too many crossovers, that’s never happened before. I mean, here we are back at the place it all began, your name is the same, there was that whole thing with your great, great grandfather at Mons and now Evelyn is in the picture. It’s as though all the separate strands of the cloth are finally weaving together.”
“Is that good or bad?” she said, getting out of the Beetle and slamming the door, looking over the car’s roof at him.
“I don’t know. It could go either way. It all depends on you.”
The face she pulled made him laugh. Kate didn’t see the funny side of this, in fact it made her feel sick. Ash’s mood had lightened after leaving Evelyn’s house; the further away he got the better he seemed to feel. Both were relieved that Evelyn’s great, great nephew had turned out not to be the enemy they feared, but that still meant they were clueless as to who they were up against and Brian was still unaccounted for. The earring they’d received in the post earlier that day had been a clear warning that evil was hot on their trail – it would confront them soon, and what was Kate supposed to do then? She was faced with three choices: find the answer to sending Ash home and ending the curse, kill whoever came after them, even if this was someone she knew, or let them kill her. She had no clue how to go about the first option and the other two didn’t appeal much either. Of course, there was one other choice, she could give him over to Hell, but that was no choice at all.
Ash took one look at her worried, tired face and came to her side.
“Come on, let’s get inside, get a good night’s sleep and talk about it tomorrow.”
She nodded, bleary-eyed, and linked her arm through his as they walked to the front door. She leant against him, her eyes already half closed, but they flew open again and she was alert in seconds when she felt his muscles tense. The door was ajar. They exchanged glances, both knowing the door had been locked when they’d set off for Liverpool.
Ash stepped in front of Kate and pushed open the door with his fingertips. The house was in darkness, the hall empty. He groped behind him for her hand and stepped through the door. Moving down the hall to the kitchen, he kept stopping and listening for any sound or sense of an intruder. He shook his head at Kate’s inquisitive expression.
Nothing was out of place in the kitchen, it was only when they entered the living room that everything changed. Furniture had been overturned, the fabric of the settee was ripped and the stuffing spilled out like the guts from a road-kill. Ornaments were smashed, even pictures were strewn across the floor, torn from their frames.
Whoever had done this had taken great delight in wrecking the Christmas decorations, the delicate snowflakes were smashed to tiny pieces and the tree had been toppled, its branches ripped from the trunk. Every last beautiful glass bauble had been broken and crushed. Kate’s lip trembled. Who would do such a thing?
They could see through the archway into her study that the mahogany dining table had been broken in two and Kate’s research was littered all over the floor in shreds. She ran into the room, horrified, her precious books had been tumbled off the shelves, pages torn cruelly from the spines and tossed to the floor. Her laptop had been swept off the desk, the screen smashed.
“Why? Who would…?” But she already knew the answer.
She turned to Ash, but he wasn’t behind her, he had dashed from the room, up the stairs to what she now termed their bedroom. He came down much slower, his face pale, his eyes blazing with such fury she was afraid to ask him what was wrong. That they’d left no room inviolate was clear. She followed him back to the dining room, where he stooped to the floor, tossing aside debris, searching for something.
“They’ve taken that too,” he said, his voice an angry murmur.
“What, what did they take?” Kate was stumped at first, until he raised his head and spoke words that chilled her.
“They’ve taken Catherine’s ashes – and the diary.”
No wonder he was furious. He stood in the midst of the wreckage, his fists clenching and unclenching, his chest heaving with every breath. Then he shook his head, stooped down again and continued looking, just in case. Kate wandered away in despair. She stood at the French Doors gazing at her own tearful reflection in the glass.
“Are you sure we left it in here?” Ash called from the archway, picking his way over broken china and tipping back the upturned settee.
“Yes,” Kate said. She peered closer to the glass. Something beyond didn’t seem right.
The ornamental cherry tree had lost its blossoms and was once again a bare branched tree in the depths of Winter, but…
Was she seeing things? She rubbed her eyes; the stress must be playing tricks on her now. For a second she’d thought she’d seen a flash beneath the tree, like sunlight glinting off something metallic, but there couldn’t have been anything there. It must have been the reflection of the broken baubles. As she tried to focus on the area, it happened again and the darkness began to move.
The sound of furniture being pushed to one side continued behind her as she lifted her hands to the glass and cupped them to the sides of her face, blotting out the light from inside. What she saw made the breath catch in her throat.
“Ash,” she said, her voice a whimper.
He didn’t answer, his attention focussed on finding the diary.
“Ash,” she tried again, a little louder this time.
“I don’t care what the consequences are,” he was saying behind her, oblivious to the fear in her voice. “When I find him, I’m going to kill him for taking those ashes.”
“ASH!” she screamed, finally bringing him up short.
She didn’t turn round, she couldn’t because she was rooted to the spot with fear at what was gathering outside. He sidled up behind her and turned her to face him.
“What is it?”
“Not me,” she said, putting a hand on his cheek and pushing his head to face the window. “Them.”
As he stared out through the glass, the clouds pulled back from the moon and the garden was drenched in silver light.
“Shit!” he said.
Kate screamed, he pushed her behind him, his head doing a quick calculation of the numbers of demons coming towards them across the grass. They all looked like ordinary human men, but he could see beyond their outward appearance.
He turned to Kate.
“Get in the back, stay out of sight. Whatever happens, do NOT come after me.”
Tears spilled down her cheeks.
“You can’t go out there.”
He didn’t speak, simply smiled his lopsided smile and kissed her once, then he was gone. When she saw him again he was on the other side of the French Doors, facing down an army of demons.
Kate wasn’t about to leave him out there alone, she didn’t care what he said about hiding. She pulled the handle: it was locked again. She had no choice but to stay and watch as they advanced towards him.
Ash raised his arm to the side in a slow arc. His hand opened and there was a flare of blue light. In his grip was a sword that burned with blue fire. They rushed him, the only thing Kate could see was the sword slashing back and forth through the dark mass of demon bodies. They were thrown to the sides, but as soon as one was cut down three more took its place.
She knew he was going to be overwhelmed, it was inevitable, but he fought to keep them from her as long as he could. There was a brief flash of fire as the cherry tree exploded in sparks of red and blue flame. It blinded her for a moment. The next thing she knew, the French Doors exploded inwards and she was knocked backwards as Ash was flung off his feet.
The last thing she saw was his face swimming in a blurred haze before her as he was grabbed and lifted, kicking and screaming from her.
“Don’t follow me!” he shouted out loud and then the words were in her head. “Please don’t follow me!”
And then it all went black.