Blackfeather Chapter 14

When Kate came down to the kitchen the following morning, Ash wasn’t there. She checked every room, then did a circuit of the garden, still in her nightdress and dressing gown, ignoring the cold and calling his name. Panic was rising; she’d known him less than a handful of days, but it felt like he’d been with her forever. What was she thinking, he had been with her forever, well, five hundred years at least. Now he had gone and she felt empty, alone. The way she’d felt before she’d met him.

“What’s wrong?” he said from behind her.

She jumped and spun to face him.

“Oh, thank God. You scared the crap out of me. Where were you?”

He held up a bottle of milk and a new box of cereal.

“But I didn’t think you ate anything.”

“I don’t, they’re for you.”

“Well, you could have left a note.”

She pulled her dressing gown tighter and folded her arms.

“I did. On the cupboard door, one of those bright pink, so easy to miss Post-its.”

Kate felt foolish.

“Isn’t sarcasm a sin?” she said, brushing past him on her way back to the house.

“Possibly, but it’s not deadly,” he said, grinning at her back and following her inside.

She ignored the pink square of paper, walking straight past it as though it wasn’t there and went to the door of the living room. Ash hung back and waited. Kate came running back, eyes sparkling with wonder, a huge smile spread across her face.

“How did you do that? That wasn’t there when I got up.”

“I know. It must be magic,” he said, laughing at her childlike reaction to his transformation of the living room.

While Kate had been out in the garden he had installed a huge, living Christmas Tree in one corner of the room, decorated it in her favourite colour, with cherry red baubles, gold tinsel and multi-coloured fairy lights and hung paper chains and swags of holly and ivy across the ceiling.

“It felt like something was missing,” he said, joining her in the centre of the room and admiring his own handiwork.

“Thank you,” she said, rewarding him with a quick hug. “I love it, it’s beautiful.”

She pushed her face into the tree branches and drew the fresh pine scent into her nostrils. He wanted to tell her she was beautiful, but didn’t.

“So,” he said, instead. “Any more nightmares?”

“No, as a matter of fact that was the best night’s sleep I’ve had all week.”

That was good. If she couldn’t remember last night it meant she was adjusting to the memories even better than he’d hoped. She danced around the room, reaching up to touch each of the decorations.

“And what do you have planned today?”

He could have watched her all day, marvelling at the tiny, exquisite, frosted snowflakes that hung above her head and wished he hadn’t said anything to break the spell when she stopped and became serious.

“I have to work today, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to take you into the office with me, especially since Brian will be there. So I’m going to collect my work and carry on from home.”

She gave him another hug and went to get showered and dressed.

“Probably just as well,” he said to himself as she left the room.

*  *  *

The sky threatened snow again as they walked along the cobbles of Stonegate. Kate, wrapped up in so many layers she resembled the puffed up pigeon that had roosted in the church and Ash, oblivious to the cold, wearing his usual sombre outfit, were still some distance from the office when Kate spotted Nathan and James standing on the pavement by the little black door. She stopped in her tracks.

“Wait here,” she instructed and continued on her own.

 

“What are you doing out here?” Kate asked as she reached the two men

“The door’s locked.” James replied.

“Well, where’s Brian? He should have been here half an hour ago.”

“You’re telling me, but he wasn’t and he’s not answering his phone.”

Kate fumbled through her bag for her mobile. The two men shuffled from foot to foot while she confirmed what they’d already told her. Brian was not answering his calls.

“You might as well go home then. I’m only collecting some papers.”

Her two colleagues couldn’t have been happier.

“Nice one, Kate. See you later,”

They loped away, patting each other on the back.

“If you hear from Brian let me know!” she called after them.

She waited until they were a good distance away then beckoned Ash to join her.

“I’m worried,” she said, unlocking the door. “It’s not like Brian not to show.”

“You think this is because of me?” Ash said.

“No. But something isn’t right”

Ash insisted she wait at the top of the stairs while he checked out the office. He walked slowly around each desk and when he was positive he sensed nothing, he beckoned her in. Everything looked as it did when she’d left on Friday. Nothing out of place, nothing missing, except Brian. It was odd that he wasn’t here when he was always so reliable. She gathered up the papers she wanted from her desk and stuffed them into her bag.

“OK, we can go.”

She locked both doors again and they walked back down the street. As they passed the Stonegate Devil she shivered.

“It gives me the creeps,” she said, nodding at it.

“It’s only a wooden carving.”

“I know, but I don’t like the way it grins at you as you walk past it.”

He laughed.

“Lucifer doesn’t look like that you know. He doesn’t have horns and a forked tail.”

“Lucifer’s real?” she said, in a voice so loud that the people on the other side of the street stopped to stare.

Ash waited until they had gone back to their own conversation, then nodded.

“What does he look like then?”

“Like me. Human, to all intents and purposes. He could be walking round town right now and no one would be any the wiser.”

Kate stopped short, peering more closely at the faces of the people around them.

“They’re just people,” he said. “I’d sense it if a demon was close by.”

The memory of him snapping a man’s neck down a dark alley got Kate moving again.

“Let’s go home,” she said and quickened her pace.

*  *  *

She rang the office, then Brian’s home number and cell again. Still no answer. She couldn’t remember Brian ever having a day off sick in the year she had known him. He’d never even had a cold. What worried her most was the way he’d ridden off at speed the day before. What if he’d had an accident on the motorbike on those twisty country lanes? He could be the one lying in a ditch, now.

Ash sensed her agitation and put his hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry about Brian. He can look after himself,” he said. “He probably just needs a bit of time on his own and is doing exactly the same as you and working from home.”

She knew he was right and pulled the sheaf of papers from her bag. She spread the family tree and her notes on the mahogany table in the dining room she used as a study and set up her laptop in the centre.

At a loose end, Ash pulled a book from the shelves on the opposite side of the room and disappeared into the living room to read. He could still see Kate from his position on the settee, but at least she wouldn’t feel as though he was watching her.

Kate remained hunched over her papers for over an hour then dropped her pencil on the table and stretched her arms up above her head, yawning.

“Need a break?” Ash said.

He jumped up and went to make lunch.

“I could get used to this,” Kate called after him. She got up and wandered into the living room, looking all about her at the beautiful decorations. She dropped into a chair. Something dug into her leg and when she felt down the side of the chair she found the journal. It must have slipped off the arm where Ash had left it the day before. She opened it and began leafing through the pages absent-mindedly.

“What are you doing?”

Ash stood over her: she hadn’t heard him come in.

“I thought I could read the next entry.” she said, smiling up at him.

“No, you can’t do that,” he said, stepping forwards and reaching for the book.

She pulled it close to her chest.

“Why not?”

He frowned.

“You don’t need to.”

“Oh come on,” Kate teased. “I know it’s your diary, but what are you afraid of?”

He scowled and shook his head, at a loss for words.

“Wasn’t reliving Catherine’s death enough? Don’t you understand that allowing more memories to surface could be bad for you?”

“If I’m going to figure out a way to send you home, shouldn’t I know everything?”

“What, you want to see how badly I screwed up? You want to know what a lousy guardian I am? You want to see every mistake I made that cost you your life, time and time again?”

His voice rose higher with each question and his eyes had become smoky with barely concealed anger. Kate shrank into the chair.

He snatched the book from her hands and turned his back to her. He stood for a moment, his eyes closed. How could he tell her his worst fear.

“What I’m afraid of,” he said, through clenched teeth, “is that you’ll hate me.”

He marched from the room, leaving Kate stiff with shock.

 

He tossed the book on the kitchen table and leant over it, eyes screwed shut, breathing hard and shaking.

Damn it!  he thought, hitting the table with his fist.

He hadn’t meant to scare her. He was only angry at himself. He sighed and picked up the journal. Whatever she thought of him, she had a right to know.

His voice was softer when he returned, but still hard-edged and she shrank from him. He hated himself for the fear he saw in her eyes.

“You’re right, you should know everything I’ve done.”

He laid the book on the chair arm and vanished into thin air, leaving the paper chains swinging overhead.

*  *  *

Kate was on the verge of tears. His reaction had scared her so much she didn’t want to read the book anymore. She avoided touching it and stood up to pace the room. Every time she started to forget what he was he did something that brought it sharply back into focus. He could do wonderful things, like put up Christmas decorations in a matter of seconds, make the crowds part like the Red Sea so she didn’t feel claustrophobic and make her feel incredibly happy with nothing but a smile, but he could disappear at will and killed demons without a second thought. You should know everything I’ve done, he’d said. What had he done that would make her hate him?

On every turn her eyes were drawn to the journal. She picked it up, put it down, paced again, turned, stopped and bit her nails. Finally, she snatched it up, dropped into the chair and turned to the next entry.

 

August 9th 1546

At last, she is here, but no matter how strong the pull to be with her is, I must wait. She is a tiny, helpless newborn and I will not risk drawing unwanted attention to her so early in her life. It is enough for me to know she has returned.

 

Kate did a quick calculation, he had waited sixty seven years for Catherine to be reborn. What he had done in the meantime, he had not made a record of. She glanced at the next date, 1566. That was another twenty years before he’d gone to her. It must have been torture staying away for so long. How long had he waited for her to be born? she wondered.

 

May 18th 1566

I have been with Isabel for five days now, watching her, longing to speak to her, not daring to give myself away. She is twenty years of age, a beautiful woman with hair that catches fire in the sunlight and emerald eyes that make my own seem dull. She lives in a tiny cottage with Agnes, the woman who took her in as a baby when her mother died in childbirth. At 78, Agnes relies on Isabel for almost everything.

Agnes has been the midwife and wise woman to the town of Chelmsford for most of her life, following her mother, her grandmother before her and so on. Without a daughter of her own, Agnes has passed on her knowledge to Isabel.

She is singing to herself as she stirs the pot over the fire. The door is open and a warm Spring breeze blows the scent of lavender, planted by the door, through the kitchen. She stops and raises her head as if listening.

“I know you’re there,” she says. “So you may as well show yourself.”

I look around, but there is no one else. She cannot possibly know I am there, yet somehow she does.

“Yes you,” she confirms it. “Come forward spirit, I will not harm you.”

I hesitate, but in the end I cannot deny her and allow her to see me truly. She looks me over, top to toe and nods as if in approval.

“Now, hand me that pot. You may as well make yourself useful.”

I do as she asks in stunned silence and she strains the liquid from the cauldron into the earthenware pot, covering the top with a piece of new linen and tying it tightly with a jute string. When she has finished, she tells me to sit and questions me until she is satisfied I am no imp or demon. By the end of it we are firm friends and I have slipped back into her life as though I never left. I can see Catherine in her, but she is no girl, she is a confident, self assured woman.

Each day, Isabel makes up the salves and remedies that Agnes sells to the villagers who come to her with their ailments. I help her, fetching the things she needs, water from the well, a cutting of herbs from the garden. Today it is willow bark and I have gathered a large bushel of it from the trees along the lane leading to the cottage.

She takes the pile from my arms, her fingers brushing mine, and then she looks at me with those languid eyes.

“Thank you for this,” she says, laying the willow bark aside. She leans toward me until our lips meet.

I know what is in her mind, but I dare not give in to temptation, no matter how much I want to.

*  *  *

Kate’s eyebrows raised. Was this one of the reasons he didn’t want her to see it? Was he embarrassed? Did he feel like this about her too? When he’d bent his head so close to hers, had he wanted to kiss her as much as she’d wanted him to?

 

July 15th 1566

A commotion in the village draws a crowd of onlookers, Isabel included. A man stands on a cart, about to address the people, and as he raises his head I see dark eyes beneath the wide brim of his hat. I recognise him immediately. He bears a different face in this lifetime and knows nothing of who he was, but within him is the reincarnated soul of Thomas Whittle. It is no coincidence that he is here. The influence of the book and dagger have led him to this place and his soul cries out to be reunited with those he has known before. He spies Isabel in the crowd and though he hides it well, the slight widening of his eyes tells me he feels the connection. I am hidden from plain sight, but he recognises that here he will find what he has been searching for.

He lifts the flap of the leather satchel hanging from his shoulder and takes from it a well worn copy of The Malleus Maleficarum. He waves it high above his head, making sure all have seen it well. This book, The Hammer of the Witches, has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocents across many countries. Within the bag I glimpse another book. The book that once belonged to Thomas Whittle and drove him to kill his own daughter. I would bet my soul that the dagger is in that bag too.

His words chill me. The new law, passed by Elizabeth in 1562, means that even wise women and those with a knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs can now be charged with sorcery, enchantment and witchcraft. I know exactly what this self-proclaimed Witch Finder plans to do to Isabel.

“There is a great evil spreading throughout this town. I have heard of terrible ailments befalling people, their animals fall sick for no reason, their children die in mysterious circumstances. But fear not, for The Lord has called me into his service. With the aid of this book and the approval of our Queen, I shall rid your town of the abomination of witchcraft!”

The people become uneasy at this, and murmurs travel through the crowd. They know nothing of the things of which he speaks. They need no Witch Finder in Chelmsford.

“The Lord has shown me the names of the witches in your midst. They will be brought to justice, tried and when found guilty, executed!”

There are gasps from the congregation, one or two dare to shout denials of his claims. I notice he says when, not if, they are found guilty. I try to persuade Isabel to leave, but she stands firm, waiting for him to reveal the names, knowing in her heart what is to come. One by one they are called and men move through the assembly, pulling out those accused and dragging them away. Among the names is one Agnes Parry, Isabel’s stepmother. She drops the flowers I have picked for her and runs for home.

When they come for her, there is nothing that either I or Isabel can do. She is made to watch as Agnes is carried from the house. When Isabel tries to follow, the Witch Finder steps in front of her and blocks her exit. He turns, trapping her against the door, his hands wandering over her young body. She struggles and I clench my fists to keep my anger in check or I will drag him from her. She manages to slip free, but he catches hold of her wrist and spins her to face him.

“Do those pain you?” she asks.

He looks down at his burn scarred hands.

“Agnes could have made a salve for you that would ease the aches.”

“I got them from a witch. She tried to escape from the flames. I couldn’t allow that,” he said. “I pushed her back in and held her there until God took her.”

Isabel sneers. The Witch Finder leans forwards and whispers in her ear.

“You can save her, you know. All you have to do is hand it over to me. If you do not, you will be accused also.”

When he has gone I appear beside her.

“What did he mean, I can save her?”

She paces the floor in the kitchen where she kissed me.

“What do I have that he wants?”

I answer with one word.

“Me.”

And she looks at me in horror.

“What? No one knows about you. Why would he want you?”

“He has a book. A spell book. In it is a ritual that will grant him immortality, but to succeed he must kill an angel.”

I watch her eyes as she thinks about this. I cannot interfere with her free will. If she chooses to sacrifice me to save the woman who has been the only mother she has ever known, I must let her. I pray she can think of another way to save us all.

“That’s evil,” she whispers.

“Yes.”

“So Agnes is lost?”

“Unless you…”

“Never! I could never do that to you.”

She runs into my arms and I hold her, kissing the top of her head. I had never really doubted her and I remember that Catherine’s fate was sealed with the same word.

 

 

July 20th 1566

For five days the women and men imprisoned in Chelmsford gaol have been subjected to questioning, sleep deprivation, starvation and worse. The Queen’s attorney has finally arrived and he has been presented with the confessions of all involved. Isabel has been denied access to Agnes, the only way she can see her is by going to the courthouse where they are to be put on trial.

She is disappointed. Agnes is not among the first brought out and the trials go on for hours. At the end of the day Isabel is glad Agnes isn’t there as four out of five are hanged. I try to stop her from attending the following day, but she insists on going. Afterwards, she is angrier than I have ever seen her. She begins brewing a potion and stirs it so furiously it spills onto her hand and scalds her. I take her hand in mine and heal the welt, taking away the pain.

“What are you trying to do?” I ask.

“I’m making a poison. I’m going to pretend I agree to his demands and then I’m going to put this in his drink.”

“Isabel, don’t do this,” I plead. “For your soul’s sake.”

“I have to. Someone has to do something. If not, he will kill Agnes and maybe even you too. I won’t allow that.”

There is no thought for her own safety, only for those she loves.

I pull her into my arms then and kiss her, something we’ve both wanted for a long time. Catherine’s kisses were nothing like this. She was an innocent child, Isabel is a woman. A heat spreads through me and I am acutely aware of the shape of Isabel’s body as she presses against me, her arms around my neck.

*  *  *

Kate’s jaw dropped as she read the last passage. Had he given in to temptation with her then? There was only one way to find out. A stab of jealousy made her pause. She wasn’t sure she wanted to read further, but she pushed the thought aside. She had been Isabel after all.

 

As we kiss she backs against the table, pulling me along with her. She hitches up her skirts and pulls me between her legs, wrapping them around me. I am all but lost when she breaks off the kiss and pushes me away.

“What if there’s another way?” she says, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes. “You say he has a book of sorcery. What if he’s also accused of witchcraft? If the book is revealed at the assizes he would not be able to deny it now would he?”

Breathless with anticipation, I am caught off guard by her change of direction until her words sink in and fear settles in the pit of my stomach. I am afraid that her idea will somehow backfire, but she is as stubborn as she is selfless and resolves to carry out her plan at the next assize court.

 

July 29th 1566

Isabel goes to the prison in the hopes of seeing Agnes and is once again refused entrance. The day’s trials are about to begin and The Witch Finder takes his place on the dais with Master Gerard, the Queen’s attorney. Isabel sits to one side of the court, a shawl pulled around her face to disguise her, and waits. When Agnes, beaten and incoherent from days without sleep, is dragged before the court to confess her crimes publicly, Isabel, distraught and angry, pushes her way to the front.

“Stop this!” she calls to the magistrate. “You must stop this!”

She is ignored as Agnes’ confession is read out and she is dragged to the dock.

Isabel is screaming now. Hands grab her shoulders and drag her backwards. These are people she knows, people who have been helped by Agnes. She kicks out at them, breaks free from their grip, turns on them.

“What is wrong with you? Have you no shame? All of you here have come to Agnes for help. Sarah, when you were in your birth pains, who was it delivered your baby safely into the world? William, who was it set your broken arm so the bones knit good as before? Who is it who eases your aches and pains through the Winter months, brings down the fevers of your children and eases the passing of your old folk? It is Agnes. Yet here you stand, condemning her as a witch. Will none of you speak out for her?”

There is silence. No one will look at her, no one comes forward. They are afraid that if they speak out against the Witch Finder, they will be next. Isabel turns once more to the platform on which Master Gerard and the Witch Finder sit. It is the Witch Finder who leans down to offer her his hand. He whispers to her as he does so.

“Do you wish to save her?”

“Yes I do,” she says, fire flashing in her green eyes. “But not the way you hope for.”

She pulls free of him and throws herself at the attorney’s feet.

“I have evidence to give.”

“You are too late, the prisoner has already confessed to the charges against her.”

“Not for Agnes, though it will prove her innocence also. Against him!”

She points her finger at the Witch Finder and gets to her feet.

“I accuse this man of witchcraft!”

Master Gerard laughs, and so do the onlookers. But he does not.

“You don’t believe me?!” she cries. “But I can prove it and if I do, will you let Agnes and the others go?”

The attorney laughs no longer. He is looking into Isabel’s eyes. I may never know what he sees there, but he nods in agreement to her demand.

“Show me this proof and I will let the old woman live,” he says.

It is part of my punishment, to watch the events that my arrogance and pride has brought to pass. I am responsible for the scenes which will play out through all the lifetimes of these two souls, no matter who or what they may become. I cannot interfere and must stand by and watch now, as Isabel instructs the gaolers to search the Witch Finder’s belongings.

The men are uneasy now. They have noticed that the Witch Finder lets no one else touch them, but the judge insists. The Witch Finder protests, he attempts to reach his belongings before them, but two men from the crowd, husbands of some of the women who have been condemned, take hold of him and restrain him. He is now at the mercy of the court.

It takes but a moment to confirm what Isabel has told them. The only one to hang this day is the Witch Finder. His eyes never leave Isabel’s until the final breath leaves his body. It is a strange justice for Catherine, and the hatred these two souls have for each other strikes sparks between them. I fear it will be many lifetimes before it burns itself out.

The prisoners are acquitted and released. It is a bitter sweet victory for Isabel. The stress has been too much to bear for Agnes and she dies soon after her release. Isabel is the one to whom the townsfolk turn for healing now. The black book and dagger have gone again and I am hopeful that Isabel can live out this lifetime without fear now. A whole life we can share together.

*  *  *

That should have been where the story ended, a happy ever after, albeit a temporary one, but there was one more entry at the bottom of the page.

 

September 1st 1566

I should have known there would be a price to pay. Isabel is gone and I am alone once more. Within weeks of the Witch Finder’s death a sickness spreads through the town. Isabel cares for the afflicted as best she can, but after treating a sick child, she contracts the disease herself. It is not in my power to heal this, though I stay by her side, easing her suffering until my beloved Isabel is taken from me. I have to wonder if there was something I could have done to stop her. Did I encourage her in any way? If I hadn’t been so besotted with her, could I have persuaded her differently? If not for me, would she have done the same thing? I waited sixty seven years for her to be reborn, how long must I wait until she returns again?

*  *  *

Split apart by a cruel turn of events when they could have been happy together, for a short while at least. It was so unfair. Kate brushed a tear from her cheek and looked round the room. She missed Ash’s presence. In the kitchen, the coffee he had made her still stood by the kettle where he had left it. It was stone cold.

There was no reason for him to be so angry, nothing he did with Isabel made me hate him, she thought, as she emptied the pot into the sink.

Something stirred the air.

“There’s worse to come,” Ash said.

She was relieved to hear his voice. He was leaning against the wall behind her.

“Ashrafel, you scared me.”

He liked the way she said his name. The corner of his mouth twitched, but it never made it to a smile. He hung his head, ashamed of the way he’d behaved and so afraid of what she was going to say he couldn’t bring himself to look at her.

He shouldn’t have said those things to her, she had every right to be angry at him, to tell him to stay away from her, that she never wanted to see him again, but instead she placed a gentle hand on his arm and reached up on tip toe to kiss his cheek. He could feel her warm breath against his skin, his eyes closed and a small sigh escaped his lips. At the last moment, he pulled away.

“Don’t,” he said, his voice low and husky.

She blinked and came back to herself. What on earth was she doing? There was an odd prickling sensation all over her skin and the room was spinning. Her hand searched for something to lean on and found the back of a chair. She didn’t remember crossing the room let alone reaching up to kiss him. Colour flushed her cheeks and made her hot.

She grabbed her keys, ran down the hallway and out of the house. She didn’t know where she was going and she didn’t care. Ash followed her to the door. He made no move to stop her, merely watched as she backed out of the driveway and sped away.

 

Back to chapter list                                               Buy me a coffee

Advertisements

Blackfeather Chapter 13

There were two items he did not remember buying, hidden beneath his other purchases from the boot sale. If he had left them in the box and returned them straight away things might have been different. But his curiosity got the better of him and he lifted out first the book and checked the spine and cover for title or author. There were neither. It was plain, worn and even cracked in places. He opened it at a random page and marvelled at the hand written text, in faded brown ink.

From the style of the letters it looked old. Very old. The pages were stiff and had a stretched, almost translucent quality. On closer inspection it looked like skin. From what kind of animal he had no idea.

These things are more often than not made of goat skin, aren’t they? he thought.

It felt far too fine and smooth for that and the fineness of the hairs were more like the ones on the back of his own hand.

He turned the foxed and mildewed pages one at a time, then held the book up to the light and peered closer at the dark brown spatter covering one entire page.

Is that blood?

If he’d shut the book at that moment, he might have been able to resist, but the book was already speaking to him.

This is old, rare and valuable. It won’t hurt to look, then I’ll drive back and return it.

Page upon page was filled with arcane words and occult symbols, the sort of stuff a Medieval alchemist would have been proud of and he found himself wondering if it was possible to try a few of the simpler spells.

In thrall to the book he had completely forgotten about the second item and it lay, silently waiting, at the bottom of the cardboard box.

Hours passed. With every turn of a page he had fallen deeper under the book’s spell and it continued to whisper to him.

Can I really bend someone to my will? Call up spirits to do my bidding? Bring someone back from the dead?

It looked like a prop from a Shakespearean play. But it couldn’t hurt to try, could it?

Dawn light filtered into the room as he finished the last page and closed the book.

I need sleep, he thought and staggered to his bedroom collapsing across the bed and into immediate oblivion.

When he woke, drenched in sweat and screaming, the day had gone. He sat up, on the edge of the bed, head in hands, the awful images of his nightmares still scratching at the inside of his eyelids. He had dreamed he was not one, but dozens of people, changing from one to the other at various stages of their lives. In each one he carried out acts of violence and debauchery so vile he shied away from the memory. He had tortured, raped and murdered his way through the night, with no feeling of remorse or pity for any of his numerous victims, until waking brought him back to himself. He felt sick. His empty stomach told him he needed to eat, but the thought of food, after the things he had seen, made him retch.

He lurched towards the bathroom, catching sight of his reflection in the mirror.

God, I look rough. I look ill.

He splashed cold water on his face and tried to shave, but his hands shook so much that he gave up for fear of slitting his own throat. After making himself a strong pot of coffee he approached his study.

The black book perched on the edge of the table, an innocuous item amongst the other, everyday objects that ornamented the room. He leaned against the door frame and regarded it from a distance, sipped his coffee and told himself he must take it back. Resolute, he downed the dregs from his mug and approached it. It was in his hands and poised over the edge of the packing crate when he noticed the box.

He laid the book to one side while he investigated the other item. He reached for it, caressing the smooth, plain wood. It was oak, judging by the rich honey colour. At first glance it looked like an artist’s paint box, but lifting the hinged lid dispelled that notion immediately.

The box was lined with blue velvet and shaped specially to hold its contents – a razor sharp, pointed silver dagger with an ebony handle.

He whistled at its lethal beauty, captivated by the symbols engraved on the blade and did what anyone would have done. He took it out of the box and touched the point to his finger. A bead of bright, red blood ran down the length of the metal and it was too late to save himself. He never even noticed the change as the dagger took him over.

 

Back to chapter list                                          Buy me a coffee

Blackfeather Chapter 12

For a moment she thought he would kiss her, and was hoping he would, but he backed away and her shoulders slumped in disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I keep forgetting you don’t know me as well as I know you.”

“So what happens now?” Kate said.

“Carry on as normal. Do whatever you would be doing if I wasn’t here.”

“I’d probably be working,” she stated.

“On a Sunday?”

She gave a guilty, apologetic smile and shrugged. He sighed.

“Actually, there is something I’d like to do,” she said.

“Go on.”

“Could we go to the church? To All Souls?”

*  *  *

He wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but he couldn’t deny her when she pleaded at him with those big, soft, brown eyes. He grabbed the car keys, ignoring Kate’s protests and proving her most decidedly wrong when she complained that it wasn’t possible for angels to drive cars.

When they got to the churchyard he watched her get out of the car, hands pushed deep into her coat pockets, her face pale. She stood at the lych-gate again, looking at the church with new eyes, then back at him for reassurance. He came alongside her and pushed open the gate, inviting her to follow him.

“Where do you want to start?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Are there people here I knew?”

He scanned the cemetery.

“Somewhere. They’ll be in the oldest graves. Hard to tell who’s who as the names have worn off.”

“I used to make up stories about them, you know? What they did, what they looked like. Gave them lives again.”

“I know,” he said. “And you were right about most of them.”

He laughed when she looked shocked. He continued along the path and then pointed across the churchyard.

“Thomas hung himself from the yew tree, but I don’t know where he’s buried. I never thought to find out,” he said.

Kate kicked a pebble across the grass and followed it until she stood under the tree looking up through its bare branches, trying to imagine a man hanging there. She shivered.

Someone’s walked over my grave, she thought. Literally.

Several people were arriving for the evening service and the sound of organ music drifted towards them each time the door was opened.

“At least I know why I played that game now,” she said.

Her attempt at cheerfulness was sucked away by the Winter wind.

“Do you want to see where you…” Ash couldn’t quite bring himself to say it.

She nodded and he led her back down the path and across the road to a wide circle of grass surrounded by modern houses and tarmacked roads. There was nothing unusual about it, no lingering echo of the horror that had been perpetrated there, but there wouldn’t be, would there, after more than five hundred years? There was no evidence that poor Catherine Whittle had ever existed at all.

Ash stood on the very spot of her execution, his head bowed, his hands folded in front of him as if in prayer. She stood beside him and closed her eyes to see if she could sense anything. No shiver ran up her spine, no voice from the past called to her. Looking back at the church, she tried to picture the mob and the man who had been her father. If there were ghosts here, she couldn’t conjure them up and she heaved a sigh and began trudging back towards the car.

“Come on, I’ve seen enough.”

She wished they hadn’t come at all now, it had made her feel miserable. Ash was glad to be leaving too.

As she stood by the car waiting for Ash to unlock the door, she saw him turn towards the church music.

“Do you want to go in?” she asked.

He nodded, the lopsided grin on his face. She was the one to give in this time and they walked up the path and entered the building, standing out of the way at the back. Kate hoped Reverend Pilling wouldn’t see her, and a quick glance down the aisle showed the broken flagstone had been replaced and the Christmas decorations were now in place. It was as though nothing had ever happened.

She glanced sideways at the profile of the angel beside her, singing without need of the hymn book and gave him a quick nudge, reminding him to keep his voice down before heads started to turn. No one would ever know what he was, unless he told them, or they stared too long into those hypnotic jade eyes, or he walked to the front of the congregation and extended those glorious, blue-black wings. She wondered what Reverend Pilling would make of that.

She closed her eyes and could feel him standing by her side. How long had she wanted someone to be there? Why did this feel so right? She was falling in love with Ash. It was exciting and deliciously scary all at the same time. But how could she be so sure of her feelings towards him in such a short space of time? It didn’t make any sense, unless you accepted that this was just the next stage in a relationship they’d begun five centuries ago.  Catherine Whittle had loved him from the first moment she had seen him, but that had been a childish love. He had loved Catherine too. He had fallen from Heaven because of his love for her. And what about the rest of the journal? Had she fallen so hard and so completely every time they’d met, in all the lives she didn’t yet know about? Had they ever acted on that love or had they always resisted the pull of their physical attraction? She had better put those kinds of thoughts out of her mind.

She was just imagining what it would have felt like if he had kissed her earlier when he turned to look at her and smiled. Her stomach back-flipped, she felt her cheeks colour and turned her attention back to the sermon.

“Are you OK?” Ash whispered, leaning closer to her than he needed to.

“Yes, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

She fixed her eyes on Reverend Pilling, standing in the pulpit, praying Ash hadn’t read her mind. She didn’t see the mischievous half smile on his face.

She’d forgotten for a moment why he was here. Even if she could figure out a way to do it, how on earth was she supposed to send him home to Heaven, when all she wanted to do was spend the rest of her life staring into his eyes?

They slipped out after the service, before the vicar got a chance to see them and Ash insisted on driving them home.

“Just in case the roads are icy again,” he joked.

*  *  *

They spent the rest of the day talking about Catherine and Thomas and how Ash had made the box. At the end of the day, Kate felt awkward broaching the subject of where Ash was going to sleep. She was tired and now it occurred to her that he must have carried her to bed and stayed in the house after she’d passed out.

“You can have my parents’ room again tonight,” she said, assuming that’s what he had done the night before.

“I don’t sleep,” he replied, matter-of-factly.

“What do you do all night then?”

He pulled the purple iPod from his inside jacket pocket.

“Listen to music, watch T.V, read.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll say goodnight then.”

He nodded to her, making a show of getting comfortable on the settee and putting the earphones in.  She left him to it and went up to bed. Twenty minutes later, he was standing guard outside her bedroom door. If she needed him he would be there in an instant, as he had always been. He chose a song from the list on the small screen and pressed play.

Several hours passed before she stirred. He’d known this would come. She had told him she’d dreamt of being Catherine and he’d watched her two days before as she slept on the settee, crying out as she relived the burning. He had risked covering her with a blanket and stroked her hair, then kicked himself for doing something so stupid. Of course she was going to notice, but it didn’t matter now. She knew who and what he was and for the first time ever, why he was with her.

It had never been like this before. Yes, he had told her what he was in other lives, but she had never known the whole story. It was part of his penance that he could never tell her, couldn’t help her to work out her part in his redemption. She had to do this on her own or there was no point, it would mean nothing and even if she didn’t die, if she lived out a full life until she was old and grey, he would only have to wait for her next incarnation and begin the whole thing again.

This change in the pattern worried him. What if he’d already broken the rules? He went over everything in his head, from her finding the diary to her going to bed a few hours before and he was certain he’d done nothing wrong. He hadn’t led her to the diary, he hadn’t translated it from the Angelic Script for her to read, plain as day (though he was sure his brother would have to face up to the responsibility for that one.) He hadn’t named her Kathryn, or reincarnated her in the very village she’d lived in five hundred years before, where it had all begun. He wondered if his brother had been right about God’s plan. If this wasn’t His doing, then whose was it – and which side were they on?

He sighed. That was something else he’d have to explain to her and soon. It was only a matter of time before the book and dagger made their presence felt and then all Hell could break loose. Literally.

He slipped into her room. Even in total darkness he could see perfectly. The wrought iron bed in which she lay stood against a wall decorated with a bold black and white floral print wallpaper. The mirror above it reflected the tiny points of light from the black glass Gothic style chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Wardrobes lined the other wall and on either side of the bed were a wooden desk and a small chest of drawers, where Kate’s alarm clock sat. There lay the silver casket containing Catherine’s ashes. The only other ornamentation in the room was a pair of framed photos of Kate with her parents, and two fluffy white rugs covering the wooden floor.

She moaned and twisted beneath the covers and he looked down in sympathy at her. In previous lives she had known nothing about her other incarnations. Reading about them in the diary now meant that old memories would be stirred up and brought to the surface. He could see the dream images forming in her mind, but they were already familiar to him. He had lived them, had caused them, was haunted by them. Here was his Catherine, just as he remembered her. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of her bright, innocent eyes.

He lay next to Kate on the bed and wrapped his arms around her. This was as close as he dare get. If she could work out what she had to do to send him home it would hurt to let him go. How much more would she hurt if they became lovers? His love for her had caused her nothing but pain and he wouldn’t make things any worse than they already were.

He closed his eyes, slipping completely into the image and acting out his part in Catherine’s life again.

“I will never leave you Catherine,” he whispered, his lips brushing against Kate’s cheek.

“I know,” she replied, from the dream, relaxing in his arms.

The angel allowed his aura to surround her once more, whispering reassurances, letting the events of the past assimilate themselves fully into Kate’s subconscious. He’d no intention of allowing her to read any more of the diary, but he suspected other memories of her past lives might surface naturally, now that they were together. They would need to be absorbed and accepted as part of her present. If they rushed this it could go very horribly wrong. He knew that from bitter experience. He had witnessed the result of multiple lifetimes forced upon the mind once before. It had caused the complete breakdown and utter madness of the individual and resulted in them committing suicide. He would not be responsible for that again.

He looked up towards the window. There was a presence nearby. It needed his attention, but it would have to wait.

Kate cried out once, in terror at the flames, but Ashrafel held her and talked her through it, right up to the point of her death as Catherine Whittle. She slept then, oblivious to the angel that wept silently beside her.

Before dawn, he crept across the room to the silver casket, lifted the lid and touched his fingertips to the dirty linen bag that lay within, then he slipped out, closing the door behind him, and went out into the twilight to meet with the presence that was becoming ever more impatient.

The sky was clear and the heavens were filled with brilliant stars that winked out one by one as the sun began to rise. His feet crunched through the icy crust on the snow as he headed towards the dark figure waiting at the bottom of the garden. He drew alongside the tall man and followed his gaze upward.

“Missing home?” Ash said.

The other angel smiled up at the stars.

“It is beautiful isn’t it? But no.”

He turned towards Ash, his face serious now.

“I came to tell you the dagger and book are nearby. I have felt them.”

“I expected as much.”

“We can shield you from him for a little while, but it won’t be long before he finds you.”

“We?”

The tall man grinned, his lapis blue eyes twinkling with mischievous mirth.

“Let’s just say there are a few of us here.”

“You know you shouldn’t interfere, brother. You’ve already changed the status quo.”

“Ha, rules are made to be broken, little bro. It’s no fun otherwise.” The angel patted Ash on the back. “Now, go make the most of what little time you have.”

He winked and was gone before Ash had time to thank him.

 

Back to chapter list                        Chapter 13                          Buy me a coffee

Blackfeather Chapter 11

She lay, fully clothed on the bed. It was Winter daylight, reflecting off the fresh snow that covered the lawn again, that made the room so bright. It hurt her eyes and her head throbbed. The smell of fried bacon wafted up her nose. It brought back memories of weekends with her parents, when they would be up at dawn for a hearty cooked breakfast before setting off to Church. She groaned; her parents had been in France for a year now, so who was cooking breakfast?

She stumbled down the stairs. She didn’t remember having anything to drink last night, but this hangover felt like she’d been to one hell of a party. She could hear the bacon sizzling now as she peered round the door to the kitchen.

The man in black stood at the cooker, juggling pans like an expert chef, cracking eggs into one of them and flipping the bacon in the other simultaneously. The toaster popped and two slices of toast were swiftly buttered and placed on a plate.

So it hadn’t been a dream.

“Sit down,” he called, over his shoulder. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”

It unnerved her, the way he knew she was there, even with his back to her and his earphones in. She wasn’t going to argue with him and watched as he dished up a generous helping of baked beans. He was humming a tune she knew well now and it sounded good. Good enough for a choir.

Choir of angels, said a voice in her head.

He placed the plate in front of her and poured real coffee from her mother’s best silver cafetière, then looked up to find her wary eyes on him.

“Sorry, I’ll try not to intrude.”

He sat opposite her and Kate tried to guard her thoughts.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Like I’ve been hit by a bus.”

He reached out to touch her face. Kate drew back instinctively, but his fingers brushed her cheek and her head felt much clearer.

“Better?” he said.

She stared at him and nodded, ashamed that she’d doubted his intentions.

“Thanks.”

“You should eat now,” he said, gesturing at the plate.

She felt ravenous, as though she hadn’t eaten for weeks. She picked up her knife and fork, took a mouthful of food and stopped. It tasted wonderful. Like food should taste, only better. She threw caution to the wind and tucked in.

“So what happened last night?” she asked. “One minute we were talking, then nothing.”

“You passed out. I think I overdosed you on my aura. It’s been a while since I tried that and I’m out of practice. It was shock too I expect”

“Where did you get all this?”

She waved the knife over her food. She hadn’t done any shopping that week and knew the fridge had been almost empty.

“Ah, I had to go shopping. Your freezer is full of crap and your fridge didn’t have anything other than milk and butter in it. You ought to look after yourself better, you know.”

Kate snorted.

“Oh yeah?”

He looked at her as if using words like crap and going shopping were perfectly normal things for angels to do. Stealing was out of the question, obviously. So, where did angels get their money from?

“I think we need to talk,” she said when she’d cleared her plate, scraping back her chair and heading for the lounge.

She paused in the doorway, returned to the table, poured another cup of the delicious coffee and walked away. Ashrafel smiled, then followed her.

Above all else, she needed to know one thing and got straight to the point.

“Why are you here?” Kate asked.

The angel cocked his head on one side, considering how best to proceed.

“You should never have found the diary,” he said. “But now that you have you need to read the rest of Catherine’s story.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now. It’s the easiest way to answer your question.”

Kate picked up the journal and tried to get comfortable in the armchair. She felt self-conscious with him watching her, but he nodded once, encouraging her to begin and she opened the book, continuing from where she’d left off the previous evening.

Ash leaned back into the settee, he closed his eyes and waited for her to finish.

 

September 12th 1479

It is days before Thomas speaks to her again. He comes every evening to leave a thin gruel for her to survive on. On the fifth day he crouches down next to her weakened body and strokes her hair.

“I have come to give you one last chance, Catherine. Summon the angel and kill him for me and your life will be spared.”

She has little strength but pushes herself up and looks into his eyes.

“Never!”

This one word seals her fate.

He lashes out so fast she never sees it coming. Her head snaps back and hits the wall behind; she loses consciousness. Thomas lifts her body in his arms and takes her from the cell. He climbs the narrow steps into the church and out into the bright, midday sun.

The whole town has gathered on the little green where their sheep are put to graze. They gasp when they see her and draw back as Thomas carries her through their midst to a barrel piled round with kindling. They make the sign against evil as he places her into it and she sinks into the thick black tar. The boy I stopped from harming her runs forward to pull the chain around her middle and secure her to the pole that someone has driven into the ground.

Catherine stirs and the boy spits in her face. Her arms are pressed to her body by the chain, preventing her from wiping the spittle away.

Thomas turns to the crowd. For the first time in weeks I see him in daylight. He has changed beyond all recognition. Unshaven and filthy, his eyes are red rimmed from the time he has been spending in the dark, reading the infernal book. He raises his arms as he addresses the crowd and his sleeves fall back, revealing his bare arms. They are covered in cuts where he has used his own blood for the dark rituals he has performed. He is beyond help.

“It is my sad duty to inform you that my niece has been tempted by the Devil. She has readily admitted to conversing with spirits and demons and refuses to denounce them and turn back to God. I have no recourse but to commit her to the flames for the crime of witchcraft.”

The crowd cheers. The boy who had chained her returns with a burning brand. Thomas takes it from him and thrusts it into the wood ignoring Catherine’s cries for mercy. The flame catches on the spilled tar and ignites the next branch and the next until the flames are as high as Catherine’s waist. The crowd surges forward to watch, caught up in the hysteria of the moment.

Thomas retreats to a safe distance and turns to watch as his daughter is consumed by fire. The village has never seen a burning before. Neither has Thomas. They have heard tales of people sent to the flames for crimes of treason and witchcraft but are unprepared for its true horror.

I care not for them, my thoughts are for Catherine and the agony she is about to experience as the flames blacken her skin and blood and fat runs, hissing and steaming.

I cannot save her from death, but I can shield her from the pain. I stand in the flames with her. She is fully conscious now and screaming with terror.

“Fear not,” I tell her as I wrap my aura around her. “I am with you.”

She feels nothing now, cocooned in the glow of my aura. I hear the people gasp as they see Catherine, radiant with angelic light, her face serene and smiling. Beyond the crowd I see Thomas, falling to his knees as the evil grip of the book releases him. It has no need of him anymore, its purpose is thwarted by Catherine’s death. Realisation of what he has done hits him at last and he begins to push his way through the crowd, but it is too late. Catherine is gone, and so am I.

My punishment is swift and terrible. I deserve no less.

*  *  *

“I’ve been dreaming about this.” Kate said, horrified. “Except in the dream I was the one burning.”

“That’s not surprising,” he replied, unable to look at her. “Keep reading.”

She frowned at his reaction, but did as he asked.

 

After my fall the first thing I notice is the smell, refuse and human excrement mixed with rotting meat and animal bones thrown by the inhabitants of the village into the little stream that flows past the village. After that, emotions. I had never needed any other emotion than love before, now I know what grief is, and anger, one after the other and back again. I do not care if anyone sees me as I sit and cry on the banks of the brook where Catherine and I used to walk, clutching at my chest, which feels like it will burst from the pain of loss. Loss of home, loss of love and worst of all, loss of Catherine. Then anger takes over again and I roar at the sky, fists clenched in hopelessness.

It subsides, eventually, but the pain remains. I look down and find myself wearing the clothes of a peasant of the day. The coarse linen and wool feels rough against my skin.

I am afraid to do so, but I must know and I try extending my wings. I cannot express the relief at the familiar feel of their presence and at the same time, the horror at their transformation. They are black!

I retch and experience the strange feeling of my own stomach trying to turn itself inside out. I didn’t need to eat, but I could if I chose to. There is nothing in my stomach but bile and it stings my throat as I vomit. It mingles with the other detritus and adds to the stench. I weep once more, then begin the slow, wretched walk into the village.

I find the place deserted. It is late, dusk, and the people have gone to their homes. I hope they are ashamed of what they have done. The anger wells up in me again, but I push it down. I must learn to control it if I am to redeem myself and return home.

I stand before the charred ground where Catherine’s remains mingle with the dirt, remove my shirt and use it to gather the ashes. Then, I go to find Thomas.

The terror in his eyes when he sees me gives me some small satisfaction. He is on his knees in the church. Just as Catherine was the day I let her see me for the first time. He is praying for forgiveness and thinks I have come to kill him. As angry as I am I will not disobey God’s commandments. I am still an angel, even if I am a fallen one.

When he sees how pathetic I am, he takes me into his home and offers me sustenance. I refuse it. I hold out my miserable package and am appalled when he tells me we cannot give Catherine a proper Christian burial on holy ground. He seems truly repentant for the things he has done, and takes me to another room where he shows me the sacks of gold he has acquired through his use of the black arts. He has a plan that he hopes will redeem him. He intends to build a great church on the site where the chapel stands, dedicated to the glory of God and he will perform acts of charity, using his ill gotten gains to make amends.

“I loved her mother. I loved Catherine,” he says. “I would have married her if I could. I wanted her to run away with me, leave the church, go where no one knew us and raise our child as man and wife.”

I nod and listen while he finally unburdens himself of the secret that has haunted him for so long.

“She kept her pregnancy hidden for as long as she could, but when the Abbess found out, she expelled Catherine from the convent. By the time she gave birth she was already gravely ill. The strain killed her. I named our daughter after her, to keep her memory alive.”

Thomas broke down in tears.

“I did what I could for our babe. My hope was that my brother and his wife would give her a comfortable life, but God even punished me for that. She already knew me as Uncle when I took her in, but I loved her as a daughter, even if she or no one else could know it.”

He reached out and gripped my hands.

“Was I wrong to love her mother? Was I wrong to love Catherine?”

“No, Thomas. It was not wrong.”

“Then why was I punished so harshly?”

“God did not punish you, Thomas. It was simply the harsh reality of life in these times.”

His wide eyes, wet with tears and full of remorse are desperate for some reassurance.

“So, there is still hope for me?”

“Yes,” I say. “There is always hope.”

 

For me, redemption won’t be so easy. I place Catherine’s ashes in a linen bag that I will carry with me, and leave. I go to York. In the city I find a silversmith and persuade him to teach me his trade in return for work. At the end of a year I have made Catherine a silver casket to keep her ashes in. I engrave it all over with the daisies she used to pick so often. In the centre of one I place a diamond, transformed by my own hands from a small piece of coal fallen from the scuttle. For every life she lives I will add one more.

When I return to the village, Thomas has begun work on his new church. He shows me a space beneath the floor that will form the chancel. It is a most sacred, secret space and no one will ever know that Catherine’s ashes are placed there.

I leave Thomas Whittle then. There is nothing more for me here and I must wait until she returns to the world. Where, I know not, but I will find her wherever she is and watch over her as I should have done.

*  *  *

September 12th 1489

It is more than a decade since Catherine’s death and still she has not returned to me. I come every year on this date to the village. Thomas is no longer here, but his new, grand church is finished. I am told by one of the villagers that he hung himself from the Yew tree in the churchyard more than a month ago. It seems that once his work was done he could no longer stand the torments of the demons that visited him nightly. I slip into the church and marvel at its grandeur. I say a prayer for both Thomas and Catherine before slipping away. There is no sign of the black book or the golden box with the dagger. They have vanished, but I know I will see them again and they will draw us all back together; to play a part in Thomas and Catherine’s lives to come, again and again.

*  *  *

So that was it, the end of Catherine’s story and the reason the angel was here, with Kate, now.  She had come to realise why he’d insisted she read to the end and why, in her dream, she had relived Catherine’s hideous death at the hands of a man she didn’t even know was her father. The last paragraph had confirmed her growing suspicion, but she still swallowed before asking the question to which she already knew the answer.

“Is it me?” she asked, her voice no more than a whisper.

He said nothing.

“Is she me?” she demanded.

The angel flinched and nodded.

“Or more precisely, you were her.”

 

An impatient loud knocking made her jump. She looked at Ash. He didn’t move; for some reason she’d expected him to want to hide, but why should he? To the uninitiated he looked like an ordinary man.

“It’s Brian,” he said, when she got up to answer the door.

She rolled her eyes.

Brian studied his feet as he stood on the doorstep, one hand tucked into the back pocket of his jeans, a biker’s helmet dangling from the other.

“You never called,” he said. “I thought I’d better make sure you hadn’t been murdered.”

Kate swallowed and thought about the body in the alley. According to Ash it would disappear, leaving no evidence it ever existed.

“Well, as you can see I’m perfectly all right.”

He nodded, looking her over to convince himself and then glared past her at the figure that stepped out into the hallway.

“So I see,” he sighed.

“You could come in, Brian. Get to know…”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m off for a run on the bike. I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

He thrust the helmet on to his head and turned to leave. She watched him ride off, tyres squealing, and shut the door.

*  *  *

 

The journal lay balanced on her lap and she leafed through the pages again. Where Catherine’s story finished there was a single blank page and beyond that more writing. Kate wanted to look at the next entry, but the angel stepped in, his hands closed around hers and took the diary from her.

“You can’t,” he said. “It’s too soon.”

She had no idea what he meant by that, but it didn’t matter. Looking up at his face, so close to hers, she was glad she was sitting down.

“I don’t understand. You waited for Catherine to be reborn so you could make amends for her death and go back to Heaven, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “It didn’t work out too well.”

“Why didn’t you save her from Thomas when you had the chance. You could have stopped him, couldn’t you?”

“Yes, I could have stopped Thomas, I could have killed him, but if I had I would have fallen forever and become a demon”

The pain she saw in his eyes told her he had wished many times that he’d done this very thing.

At last, he stepped away from her, releasing her from his gaze.

“But why are you here now? You haven’t done anything to hurt me.”

“Haven’t I?” He turned back to her, his eyes dark and hard.

Kate gasped.

“Have you never wondered why you’re so stuck in the past, Kate?”

She tried to protest but he raced on.

“When you were a child, where was your favourite place to play?”

He didn’t wait for her to answer.

“In the churchyard, among the graves of people you once knew when you were Catherine.”

It was true, she had even thought about it as she stood at the churchyard gate the day she’d found the book. He took her hands, pulled her up from the chair and went on. Kate tried to pull away, but he dragged her after him into the dining room which she used as a study.

“You took a degree in history, studying the past. The books you read,” his hand swept the shelves that held her library as he walked round the room. “Historical fiction, historical fact.”

Ashrafel strode into the kitchen and came back with a crumpled piece of paper.

“Every day, you spend your life in a career searching for long dead people and you shy away from any relationship, not just intimate ones, because deep down you’re afraid of being hurt in a way you don’t even understand. You won’t even go to your school reunion,” he said waving the letter in front of her.

She folded her arms and looked at the floor. Everything he said was true and she didn’t like the way he was exposing her so easily. He paused, letting his words sink in, then added more gently.

“It’s my fault Kate, and the longer it goes on the worse it gets.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I can’t tell you,” he said, stepping close to her and cupping her face in both hands. “You have to work it out for yourself. All I can say is that you’re the only one who can send me home.”

 

Back to chapter list                        Chapter 12                              Buy me a coffee

Blackfeather Chapter 10

The adrenalin rush subsided and gave way to tears. She knew she should call the police, but tell them what? A guy she’d met in a bar had put some kind of spell on her, made her fall in love with him, took her out for a meal and then killed a man in front of her?

She felt queasy again and ran to the toilet, reaching it in time to throw up dinner. She sat back, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Had she really seen what she thought she’d seen? Could it have been her imagination? Given the stress she’d been under the last few days she might have imagined it all, including Ash. He had seemed so nice, so likeable, so loveable.

Perhaps she should wait:, if the following day’s news reported a murder, then she would call the police. She staggered back to the kitchen for a drink of water. Her eyes settled on the brown cover of the journal poking out of her bag, where she had dropped it on the kitchen table. She picked it up and drummed her fingers on the cover. She needed to do something to steady her nerves and whether she’d witnessed a murder or not, she wasn’t going to sleep tonight.

*  *  *

She kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the bed with the journal resting on her drawn-up knees. She was tense, edgy, but after flicking through the book and seeing the  translated text again, her anxiety gave way to wonder and excitement.

“All right let’s start at the beginning,” she said aloud and turned back to what she expected would be the book’s title. Her face fell and the colour drained from it. The two words read…

For Catherine.

She sat up, alarmed at the sight of her own name. All right, it was a different spelling, but the chances were phenomenal. After everything else that had happened she could hardly dismiss this as a coincidence. She had two choices: read on or put the book down and forget it. Curiosity got the better of her and she turned the page.

May 12th 1479

So it was a diary and the date placed it a little earlier than the rebuilding of the church. Whoever Catherine was, it certainly didn’t mean her and Kate relaxed a little before starting again.

May 12th 1479

Catherine is on her knees in the little church. She is not praying today, but is scrubbing the stone floors. She is but fourteen years old and is daydreaming, again, about how she will one day meet a handsome knight, who will fall in love with her and take her to his grand castle, where he will make her his lady.

I see the images from her imagination as clearly as if they were my own. We are linked, she and I. I smile as she smiles. She doesn’t know it, but I have been with her since she first drew breath in this life and I love her with a deep abiding and unconditional love. She is a new soul and I have been chosen to watch over her.

She pushes a stray hair from across her face and looks up from her tedious work to a small crudely carved image of one of my brethren. It is Michael, I think. I doubt he would be impressed with the object, too feminine he would say. Gabriel, on the other hand, gentle Gabriel, would find it pleasing.

Catherine speaks aloud. Her voice is a sweet sound to me.

“I wish I could see a real angel, it might restore Uncle’s faith in God and I think would be more wonderful even than a knight.”

The priest is not my concern, it is the secret he keeps and not his faith that vexes him so. A secret of which Catherine is unaware. However, hers is an innocent request and I know others have been granted such visions, so I clothe myself in the form of the man she imagines in her romantic ideas of earthly love and grant her wish. Others would have run away, hidden their faces or fallen to their knees in prayer. Not Catherine. She smiles shyly, thanks God for answering her prayers and asks…

“Which are you? Knight or angel?”

By way of answer I display my wings. They are wondrous to behold and fill the little church with their white evanescence, but her smile is even more brilliant.

She wants to fetch the man she calls Uncle, the priest, but I explain that only she can see me and, for her own safety, this must be our secret. She readily agrees. I know she hopes to persuade me differently later, but for now she is content to obey.

We become constant companions. I hide myself when she is not alone, even though the others can’t see me. It is easier for Catherine that way. Less chance she will give us away.

Time means nothing to me, but for Catherine, days become weeks. Spring turns to Summer and we spend as much time as her chores will allow walking the fields and woods that surround the village. Away from the houses we can talk uninterrupted.

*  *  *

Kate paused. Angel books in the bookshop window, the dictionary of angels in the library, the poster for the festival and now this. This couldn’t be a diary, angels weren’t real, this was someone’s fantasy story.

June 30th 1479

A young man rides into the village. A stranger. The villagers flock to him, fascinated by the novelty of his appearance. His skin is tanned a rich, dark olive and his voice is a mixture of many accents, one layered upon the other, as though he has travelled the world spending many years in each place. The style and quality of his clothes mark him out as a wealthy man, possibly a merchant or squire. He takes a room at the inn telling all within earshot that he is on a business errand for his master. Catherine says he smells of rotting flesh, but no one else seems aware of this. The adults around her don’t notice or don’t care and are too busy doing his every bidding as he showers them with coins from his bulging purse. He throws his money around as if it were as plentiful as animal dung, but it gives him no pleasure to see the people scurry after it. For all his rich trappings and his youth, the stranger appears weary of life and when he catches sight of his reflection in the polished surface of his goblet he sneers at it and quickly looks away, as though he cannot stand the sight of himself.

On Sunday, he attends the evening service in the chapel and later comes to the house to speak with Catherine’s Uncle. She lays on the floorboards of her little room, her ear pressed to the gaps trying to hear what is said below us. I beg her to come away. I don’t know why, but the man frightens me. There is an odd darkness about him. He carries a book and a gaudily jewelled box that give off an aura of evil.

He stays late into the night at Catherine’s Uncle’s table and she must wait on them. I watch from the shadows, afraid for her. His hands are always reaching out to touch her pale skin, but my Catherine is too quick for him, avoiding his contact time and again. When at last she can retire to bed I stay to listen to their conversation. It is banal at first, pointless chatter about local issues and the politics of the day, but eventually the stranger brings out the book and pushes it towards the priest.

“What’s this?” asks Thomas.

“I’ve been told to gift this to you. The book will give you everything you ever dreamed of.”

Thomas smiles indulgently at the man as though he is a child.

“I already have such a book,” he says, waving his hand towards the Bible that sits on the table by the window.

“With this one you can amass great wealth, become Archbishop.” The man barks a short, sharp laugh. “Hell, you could even raise a loved one from the dead.”

The smile fades and now there is fear in the eyes of Thomas Whittle. Has this stranger guessed his secret? He draws himself up and shakes his head.

“How can that be? You speak of something only God could accomplish. This must be some kind of joke.”

The man rises from the table and comes to stand behind the small frame of Thomas Whittle. He leans over him, his hand on Thomas’ shoulder, pressing him down, hard into the bench. The other hand reaches for the book and flips it open. He thrusts Thomas’ face toward it.

“See,” he croons. “The book has wonders for thee to perform.”

Thomas’ eyes scan the page before him and widen with fear and disgust. Before him is the offer of eternal life itself.

“That’s blasphemy,” says Thomas, wriggling under the vice-like grip. “Why are you offering this to me?”

“Come now, we know your faith has left you, Father. God doesn’t answer your prayers any more, Thomas, but the book can, and my master thinks you deserve some reward for the suffering you’ve had to endure. He wants you to know that your anger at God has not gone unnoticed.”

Thomas slumps, recognizing the truth in the words the man speaks. It has grown more and more difficult for him to minister to the villagers’ needs and in the night, when he has thought himself alone, he has gone to the church to rail at God until, his prayers unanswered, his faith is lost altogether.

“And what do I have to do in return?” he asks.

“Ah, you’re a clever man, Father.”

He lets go of Thomas’ shoulder and stands back.

“In return for immortality my master requires that you carry out small tasks from time to time, such as the one I have performed tonight in bringing you the book.”

“And who exactly is your master?”

“Again, a very astute question.”

The stranger returns to his seat, pulls his saddle pack onto the table and opens the flap.

“He is a great prince, but you will never see him unless you accept the offer.”

Thomas suspects he already knows who the stranger’s master might be, but he is already wavering.

“And what must I do to attain this illustrious reward?”

“You must capture an angel, the book will show you how.”

Thomas has taken the opportunity to steady himself with a mouthful of wine. It sprays across the room, the droplets sparkling as they catch the light from the candles. He snorts in derision at the man.

“Don’t be a fool, man. Angels don’t exist, any more than God does.”

“I think you’ll find you’re wrong on both counts, Thomas,” the man says, pulling the jewelled box from his pack.

He lifts the lid and takes out a murderous looking weapon. A dagger sharpened to a wicked point, the hilt as black as midnight, the blade covered with glittering symbols of power. I am astounded at what I see before me, for though its form has changed, I recognise the weapon. Who among us could ever forget it.

This is Lucifer’s sword, from the days of the war in Heaven. When Michael disarmed him, flicking it from his grasp with the fiery point of his own weapon, it fell, plummeting to Earth where it split the landmass and formed the continents. From there it sank, through the depths of the great ocean, lost forever, or so we thought.

Lucifer must have gone to great lengths to recover it and he had altered its appearance, a dagger being less conspicuous than a sword. As an ordinary weapon it was a lethal object, but it had a singular property that made it more fearsome to me – it could kill angels.

“Then I want nothing to do with this evil,” Thomas says with as much conviction as he can muster.

“Oh no, Thomas, you can’t back out now.”

In one swift movement the dark man closes the gap between himself and Thomas and cuts both his own palm and that of the whimpering priest. He presses their palms together in a blood pact. Thomas struggles, the bench falls back with a clatter as he tries to fight off his assailant. His hand caught tight in the dark man’s hand, their blood mingling and dripping to the floor.

The man laughs again, pushes Thomas away from him and leaves him cowering on the floor.

“The book will tell you all you need to know to accomplish this task.”

He towers over the shaking form of Father Whittle, then crouches so their faces almost touch.

“When you have your celestial prisoner, you must kill him with this. Perform the ritual and bind the angel’s soul to the dagger. My master will come to you when you have done all this”

He flourishes the dagger one last time, then lays it back in the box and closes the lid, picks up his saddle bags and purse and walks towards the door.

“Where am I supposed to find this angel?” Thomas whines.

“Ask your daughter.”

His laughter is chilling.

“Ha, you have the wrong man, I have no daughter,” Thomas says, but his brow is beaded with sweat and his skin is a sickly pallor.

The stranger merely smiles a knowing smile and Thomas clasps his hands together to stop them from trembling. In all, four people were aware of Thomas’s secret and three of them were dead. He has hidden the truth that he is Catherine’s father from everyone. Her mother, a nun from the convent at Nun Appleton, died in childbirth. Thomas took the babe to his brother, knowing that his barren wife would persuade him to adopt the child as his own, but she died five years later and her husband, a loyal Yorkist, was killed fighting against Lancaster, less than a year later, at the battle of Tewkesbury. Catherine’s only living relative is Thomas. The man she believes to be her uncle.

Before he leaves the house, the stranger glances in my direction and sniffs the air. He cannot possibly know I am there, but I draw back all the same. I follow him and watch him enter the inn. I am glad when in the dead of night he saddles his horse and leaves, riding out of town without looking back. The book and box are left with Thomas.

I say nothing of the encounter to Catherine and the following morning the book and box with its hateful contents are gone. I pray that Thomas has somehow destroyed them.

In the days that follow, Catherine and I are too happy in each other’s company to notice the change in Thomas. I should have seen how he locked himself away, spending long hours alone by candlelight, well into the night, neglecting his duties in the church, but all I know is love, I have eyes for no-one but Catherine.

 

As I look back I see I was arrogant. I thought I could protect her from anything, but in the end I could do nothing. I was so naive as to be stupid.

 

Wow, thought Kate.

Whoever had written this must have had a fantastic imagination and they’d done their history. Thomas Whittle was a real man. He hadn’t just been the rector of All Souls Church, he had built it, though she couldn’t remember anything about him having a daughter. The story fascinated her and she had to read more.

 

August 15th 1479

Thomas has sent Catherine to the miller today. They need more flour to bake bread. She tells me the day is hot, but I have no sense of these things. I tell her the names of the flowers and birds that we see and hear on our way through the countryside. So engrossed am I in our game that I don’t sense the trio of boys sneak up behind us until it is too late.

They run forward and surround her, one tugs at her hair and calls her simple. He wants to know why she is talking to herself. She knows she cannot tell them and refuses to answer. The oldest boy raises his hand to strike her, but his fist doesn’t make contact. Something stops him. Something he cannot see. He falls backwards as if pushed by an unseen force and the other boys laugh at him. When he gets up and runs away the look he gives Catherine as he flees is one of fear and hatred.

The following day, as we walk along the streams edge, I sense another. A woman from the town watches Catherine. I am not visible to her, but I alert Catherine to her presence and the woman pretends to busy herself with work, then leaves. I tell Catherine we must be more careful, but it is too late and the damage is done. Events are now set in motion that even I cannot prevent.

 

August 20th 1479

It has been another perfect day in Catherine’s company and we talk in quiet whispers as she drifts off to sleep. We have been there for some time when the door is pushed open so violently it shakes on its hinges. It is Thomas who enters the room.

“With whom do you converse, child?” he asks, his voice stern with anger.

“No one, Uncle,” Catherine replies, pulling the blanket up to her chin.

“You lie.”

He strides forward, clutches at Catherine’s wrist and drags her from the bed. She yelps in pain as he shakes her, repeating the question. I stand there helpless, shocked, afraid for her.

“You have been seen Catherine, by the village folk, talking to a spirit. Goodwife Reve espied you at the well and the day before that, your demon struck her boy.”

I was horrified. We had been careless and now I understood what I had seen on the face of the fleeing boy. Now I could see it on the faces of all the villagers. Every time they had looked sideways at Catherine, every time they had crossed themselves as she passed them, every time they turned away from her or went inside when she was near. How could I have been so stupid?

Catherine is crying now.

“He’s not a demon Uncle. He’s an angel. I have seen him and you can too.”

What was she saying? I could not show myself to him. Thomas pauses, he seems to be considering something.

“Bring him forth,” he demands.

Catherine turns to me, but I shake my head.

“He says he cannot.”

“That is unfortunate,” he says. “You give me no option then.”

Suddenly, he has Catherine in his arms, his hand across her mouth. He marches her down the stairs and out into the night. I follow. He reaches the church and pushes open the door, strides down the aisle and takes Catherine down, under the church, through a small trapdoor. There is a small stone lined room here. He pushes her into it and slams the door, locking it with a great iron key and shouts through the door at her.

“When he is ready to show himself I will set you free.”

He leaves her, alone in the dark and damp. The walls ooze moisture. She shivers in her night dress and crouches against the wall, sobbing.

But she is not alone, for I am always with her. I will not leave her now. I try to comfort her, but it is useless.

Thomas does not return until nightfall the next day. Catherine has had neither food nor water, but I have kept her warm by surrounding her with my aura.

His questions are relentless. He wants every detail about me, my name, my appearance, what miracles I can perform. Catherine is defiant, she refuses to answer and he leaves once more. Night after night the scene is repeated. She is given meagre scraps to eat and a few sips of water. I can sustain her for a while, but her body will soon succumb to this harsh treatment.

After endless nights of this torture, Thomas cannot restrain himself any longer and backhands her. It is more than I can stand. If he wants to see me then he shall.

I appear before him, ablaze with blinding light and wings extended. He has planned this and is ready for me. He pulls the black book from beneath his robes and begins to chant some evil spell. My body feels heavy, I am drawn downwards, the light begins to fade. I don’t understand what is happening, but Catherine is cleverer than I. She rushes at Thomas, knocks the book from his hands and screams at me to depart.

I waste no time in argument as I realise Thomas’ intent and remember the words of the dark man.

Brave Catherine, faithful Catherine, lays beaten and bleeding on the stone floor when I return. I sit close to her. She knows I am there, but will not look at me for fear Thomas will sense my presence. His questions never let her rest.

“Conjure it,” he demands of her. “Bring forth the creature who will buy me immortality. It does your bidding, I know.”

“He has left me,” she lies. “He will not return again.”

Thomas storms out of the little cell, his plans in tatters, more angry than ever.

“I will never leave you Catherine,” I tell her, gathering her in my arms.

“I know,” she whispers, a tear slips down her face leaving a trail in the grime and blood. She loses consciousness, a brief respite, while I hold her.

*  *  *

 

There was a gentle knock at the door. Kate had been lost in the story, horrified at the turn of events and now, with a start, sat bolt upright. She held her breath and gripped the bed-covers.

“Kate, I need to talk to you. I won’t hurt you. Please let me in.”

She stifled a cry, it was his voice. The voice that made her melt. How had he found her? He couldn’t have followed her home.

“Kate, I know you’re there. Let me explain.”

As he spoke, Kate slipped off the bed and tiptoed out to the hall. She could see him silhouetted against the glass in the front door.

“How did you get here?” she blurted out. “How did you know where I live?”

“I always know where you are Kate, from the moment you are born. I could find you anywhere.”

His voice was calm, soothing, but if that wasn’t a threat…

“Kate, I know it looks bad, but I swear to you that I mean you no harm.”

“I saw you kill someone!” she yelled. “Do you think I’m going to let you in so you can kill me too?”

“Have you forgotten how I saved your life this week? Why would I want to kill you now?”

She thought about how she’d almost been run over and the near miss on the ice.

“So it was you in front of my car? Who the hell are you?”

There was a long silence. He seemed reluctant to answer.

“I wrote the journal.”

“That’s a lie!” Kate shouted, “You can’t have done! It’s five hundred bloody years old!”

She waited to see what he would say to that, but it had gone quiet and she could no longer see him through the glass. Maybe he’d given up and left. Kate crept towards the door. She screwed her eyes up, peering through the spy hole and listened for the sound of footsteps moving away from the house. It was silent.

“I know, but I can’t lie.”

Kate spun at the sound of his voice. He was standing in the hallway behind her, the journal in his hands.

Her world reeled, some invisible force hit her full on and she thought she was going to faint, but she was held in a bubble of warmth that took all her fear away. The man in black looked at the book in his hands, his face etched with sadness. His fingers stroked the cover. There were tears in his eyes as he smiled at Kate. She thought her heart would break.

“I’m the one responsible for this,” he said.

*  *  *

“I could have come in any time I wanted,” he said. “But I was hoping you’d answer the door.”

“Have you drugged me?” asked Kate.

They were now seated comfortably in the living room. Kate in a chair, Ash a short distance away on the settee.

“No, because I’m close to you I can calm you. It’s a bit like altering your state of consciousness. The way people do when they meditate. You know, a little like what you were up to at the bookshop.”

His words held a touch of reproach in them.

“Was it you they all saw?” she said. “And again with the tarot cards?”

“I had to do something to get you out of there. You shouldn’t be messing with that kind of thing. It’s dangerous.”

Kate’s head felt warm and fuzzy. She was so relaxed that she smiled at him.

“I know underneath this I’m practically hysterical with fear that you’re going to murder me, but for some reason I can’t seem to care at the moment.”

He laughed. It was the most wonderful sound Kate had ever heard.

“It’s OK, I’ll only do this until I explain who I am, then I’ll withdraw my aura.”

“Your aura?” she said, thinking of the girl from the journal, locked in the little cell.

He nodded.

“Did you kill the man in the alley?”

“No, he wasn’t a man.”

“It looked like a man to me.”

“So do I,” he said. “But I’m not.”

She was about to say something else but he cut her off.

“What you saw wasn’t human, they clothe themselves in human form, but they’re far from human. It was probably a spy, sent to find things out and report back to its master. By breaking the neck I sever the connection between its etheric body and what you see as a physical representation of a person. It sends them straight back to where they belong – Hell. I’m guessing it was looking for me.”

“Oh yes, and exactly who are you?”

“My name is Ashrafel,” he said. “I’m your guardian angel.”

It was Kate’s turn to laugh.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

In spite of what she’d read earlier she wasn’t crazy enough to believe it was true. He was clearly deluded and she would call his bluff.

“If you’re an angel,” she said, crossing her arms. “Where are your wings?”

She pushed out her chin and waited to see how he was going to answer that.

He stood and walked to the centre of the room. She tried not to laugh at him and waited to see what excuse he would have when nothing happened and he had to confess he was lying, but gradually she began to notice there was a change in the room. Everything seemed clearer somehow, like someone had turned the brightness up on a T.V. screen. She could see the floral pattern on the vase at the other side of the room in minute detail, the individual strands of wool in the carpet. The light seemed to gather where he stood, coalescing at the epicentre. He glowed with unearthly light. Then there was a rush of cool air, strong enough to push Kate back in the chair and blow her hair about her head. She had to close her eyes against the intense brightness. When she dared open them again the room was filled with wings. She was astonished, but couldn’t help reaching forward with one shaky hand to brush the feathers with her fingertips.

“They’re beautiful,” she whispered, awestruck.

“Thank you.”

There was something not quite right though. She looked up at him with a puzzled frown.

“They’re black!”

“I’m fallen,” he replied. “Exiled.”

There was no further explanation, but she believed him now. He was the angel that poor Catherine Whittle had loved and trusted and protected from her father, and if her dreams were true, he had got her burned at the stake.

He handed the book back to her. The wings had gone and he was just a man again, so sad, so beautiful, but she was still a little afraid of him.

 

Back to chapter list                            Chapter 11                              Buy me a coffee

Blackfeather Chapter 9

Kate’s head was spinning and she hadn’t even had a drink. The car seemed to fly home, hardly touching the road, and she floated into the house and up the stairs to bed, wriggled down into a comfortable spot and with the covers pulled up to her chin and a smile fixed on her face, she drifted off into sleep, with hopes of pleasant dreams about the man she’d just met.

“Ash,” she said, trying the word aloud.

She’d decided she wasn’t worried that he hadn’t asked to see her again. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for finding her. Something told her this wasn’t the last time she’d be seeing him.

The journal lay in her bag, forgotten.

*  *  *

She woke several hours later, twisted up in the covers, exhausted from the nightmare of the burning again, and massaged circles into her temples. In the dream she had glimpsed an image of her reflection in a pool of water and recognised the face of the girl she had seen in the mirror above the bookshop. She needed to know why she was having these dreams. Maybe Selena could help her make sense of this.

*  *  *

Ten thirty was too early on a Saturday morning, for Brian to be up. Especially after a night out like last night. He wanted to ignore the phone and go back to sleep. His head throbbed like the skin on a bass drum, pounding out the beat of a marching band.

To say he’d been drunk was an understatement. After Kate’s rejection the last thing he’d expected was for her to fall for his guilt trip and hold up her end of the bargain to go out on the date. He knew it was only offered out of sympathy and that’s why he’d got drunk before she turned up. The messages on her machine about standing him up were revenge for her pity. He’d been gob-smacked when he’d spotted her in the club, staring off into space like Selena in one of her put on trances. By then he was too drunk to care if he made a fool of himself again and thinking back, boy, had he done just that.

What the hell had he been thinking, telling that guy he and Kate were ‘together’? He should have known she wasn’t going to like that one bit. And then making it even worse by offering to fight him. How stupid could he get? But the guy was too pretty by half, exactly the kind that girls went all gooey for and Kate had obviously fallen for it.

He’d looked the kind to talk his way out of a fight, but Brian had got himself worked up by then and needed something to let his disappointment and anger out on. One punch and the guy would be out cold, Brian had been certain. It hadn’t turned out like that though. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure what had happened exactly, other than that the guy had been better than he thought and dodged his every move. After that he couldn’t remember anything else, apart from running away. Like a girl. He was never going to be able to look Kate in the eye again.

“All right, all right!” he yelled, falling out of bed and trudging to the phone. “What?”

“Brian?” It was Kate.

“Yeah?” he said, the aggression going out of him at the sound of her voice.

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Had this guy told her he’d run off?

“What do you want?”

“I was hoping you could ask Selena if she’d do a regression on me.”

*  *  *

Well that had been a turn up for the books. The last thing on earth he’d been expecting, especially from Kate. She was full of surprises these days. He had rung Selena as soon as he’d hung up on Kate, and arranged a time for later that afternoon. Selena seemed as eager as Kate to do this regression and he was on his way now to meet them both at the bookshop. He wasn’t going to miss this for the world.

*  *  *

Selena was waiting for him at the door. She tried to pretend that this was because she sensed when people were arriving, but he knew it was all an act. She did have the qualifications that he’d told Kate about, but there was nothing psychic about her. Whatever had happened with Kate at the group session was completely out of the ordinary.

Most of the people that went there, week in, week out, were just like Selena, searching for something, not sure what and mostly pretending to believe in ‘the other side’. They were, for the most part, lonely people who needed like-minded friends.

Brian did believe. He had been following a strict regimen of meditation for weeks now and he was starting to achieve results. Only the other day, he had felt himself slip out of his body and hover in the air, looking back at his prone self. It hadn’t lasted more than a few seconds before he slammed right back into his physical form again, but it was a start.

They were sitting at the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. Selena hadn’t sensed Kate arriving, he noticed, and waited for her to bring Kate up the stairs to the flat.

“Hello,” she said.

He nodded sheepishly at her. Selena poured them both coffee and Kate took off her coat. He was thankful when she didn’t mention his behaviour at the club.

“So, how can I help you?” Selena began.

“I’m not sure,” Kate said. “I’ve been having dreams, as you know, where I seem to be in someone else’s body, living their life.”

“You think the face you saw in the mirror is this person?”

She nodded.

“Possibly.”

Kate fidgeted with the mug in her hands, twisting it from side to side. Selena studied her body language.

“There’s something else,” Selena said.

Kate swallowed. Selena reached across the table and grabbed her hand, turning it face upwards and stroked her fingernails across Kate’s palm.

“A stranger has come into your life, you’re drawn to him, but you don’t trust him.”

Brian shifted in his chair.

“Err well, yes I suppose so, but that’s not…”

“He is tall, dark, has the most intense blue eyes you’ve ever seen.”

“No, actually, he’s blonde and his eyes are green.”

Brian huffed at the dreamy expression that crossed Kate’s face as she talked about the guy from the club. He folded his arms and looked away in disgust.

“Oh,” Selena said. “Well, you’ll meet this person too, soon.”

She dropped Kate’s hand and went to the kettle, poured herself a cup of strong smelling chamomile tea which made Kate wrinkle her nose, and leaned against the counter. Whilst she sipped at the tea she studied Kate. The attention made Kate squirm. After several minutes her attention was drawn to Kate’s bag. The corner of the journal poked out above the zip line.

“What’s that?” Selena asked.

Kate twisted in her seat to see what Selena was talking about. When she saw the journal she tried to push it out of sight.

“An old book I found. It’s nothing really.”

“May I see it?” asked Selena.

“Well, it’s very old, I’d rather it didn’t get handled very much.”

Brian turned back to face her again.

“Is this the book from the box?”

She nodded.

“I thought you said it was a Bible?”

“I thought it was. I don’t know what it is, yet,” she said, just then remembering the text had somehow been changed.

Selena returned to the table and gave Kate a broad smile that was meant to be reassuring. Kate bent to the bag at her side and retrieved the journal. She had misgivings about letting anyone else touch it, but passed it across the table to Selena. She took it with both hands, never taking her eyes from Kate’s and stroked the leather cover, turning the journal round and round. She closed her eyes and placed it against her forehead.

She began moaning and swaying in her chair. Brian rolled his eyes, convinced this was part of the act Selena used to suck people in, then she lurched bolt upright, shocking her guests as she flung the journal across the table at Kate, with a squeal of terror.

“Take it away,” she begged.

“What is it?” Kate asked, reaching for the book, but Brian got there first.

As soon as his fingers made contact with the journal he pulled back again, as if it had bitten him.

“What the…?” he cried.

Kate calmly picked the journal up from the table. The others shrank away from her.

“Please put it away,” Selena said. “That book is meant for no-one but you.”

With a shrug, Kate slipped the book back in her bag. Only when it was completely out of sight did Selena relax. Brian, still rubbing his fingers, scowled at her

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to regress you, but I will read the cards for you,” Selena offered.

With Kate’s agreement, she disappeared behind a swathe of chiffon drapes and returned with a large velvet drawstring bag. She pulled out a pack of colourful tarot cards and began to shuffle them. Satisfied they were suitably mixed, she placed the pack in front of Kate and asked her to cut them into three. Then she recombined the piles and shuffled them again.

Selena laid the cards out like a clock face, one card for every point on the dial with a thirteenth card in the centre. She turned them over, slowly and deliberately and laid each one, with a flourish, in its position in the spread. As she did so she either smiled knowingly or raised her eyebrows. At the last card she gasped.

Death!

Kate took a deep breath. Selena waved her hands over the cards and studied them for several minutes.

“This is very interesting,” she said. “The queen of swords represents you. There are a lot of swords in the spread. Dear me, so much conflict. You must learn to pick your battles. There is a cause to be won… or lost, the outcome depends on you.”

She raised her head and smiled at Kate.

“Ah, here, see, here is your knight, you can trust him, lean on him for support and oh yes, the lovers.”

Kate glanced sideways at Brian, his jaw was tightly clenched. She could see the muscles working as he ground his teeth together and wondered if that was because the knight on the card had blonde hair.

“How unusual,” Selena continued, “so many sword cards and ending in death.”

Noticing Kate’s worried frown she hurried on.

“Oh don’t worry, I don’t mean literally. More often than not, it is the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. I’m not sure how he fits in though.”

She held up a card depicting a man in long robes standing over what appeared to be an altar. The word on the card read, ‘The Magician’.

Brian stood up, there was a bright flash from the plug on the kettle, one of the angel plaques fell from the wall and the stereo in Selena’s lounge burst into life, with a song that Kate recognised immediately. She paled, gripping the table for support. Downstairs the shop bell began to ring and a breeze swept through the flat, picking the tarot cards up and blowing them off the table in a little whirlwind.

“Where did that come from?” Selena said. “The windows are shut and I locked the shop up.”

Her knuckles turned white as she balled her hands into fists. Her reaction said she wasn’t used to this kind of disturbance, for all her ‘experience’ of the occult.

Brian was the first to move. He bounded across the room, first turning off the stereo, then made for the stairs to the shop below. Selena checked the kettle.

“The fuse has blown. It should have tripped the safety so how come the stereo came on?”

Brian returned breathless.

“There’s no one there, the door is locked.”

Selena was staring at Kate, who in turn studied the table top.

“I think you should leave, now.” Selena said.

“It’s not her fault!” Brian shouted in Kate’s defence.

“I don’t care, Brian, I don’t want her in my flat. There’s something not right here and she’s connected to it. I should have known when I touched that book.”

“Come on, Selena, calm down,” he said.

“GET OUT!!” she shrieked.

Kate leapt off her chair. She grabbed her things and made for the exit, with Brian following close behind.

The door wouldn’t open. Her head began to spin and her sweaty palms couldn’t grip the handle properly. There was no escape from the leering pixie faces. The overstocked shelves and sharp edged crystals closed in around her. Brian pushed her to one side and turned the Yale lock, pulling open the door. She almost fell into the street, gasping for air. Brian helpfully scraped back her hair, holding it in a ponytail as she doubled over, clutching at her stomach.

“Are you OK?”

Kate’s eyes went round at the sound of that voice and she froze. She felt Brian stiffen beside her.

“She’s fine. I’m taking her home.”

“What happened, Kate? Are you ill?”

“Nothing happened,” Brian was speaking again, refusing to be ignored, his voice edgy.

Kate straightened and extricated herself from Brian’s grip. She looked up into peridot green eyes and felt herself melting again.

“I’m all right. I just felt a little queasy for a moment.”

Ash, dressed as usual from head to toe in black, reached forward to touch her, Brian shifted forward, a protective gesture, but Ash laid his hand on Kate’s forehead. Almost immediately the nausea dissipated and Kate felt more like herself again.

“You feel a little warm.” he said. “Let’s get you home.”

The mere sound of his voice was soothing.

“That’s exactly what I was planning to do,” Brian said. ”What are you doing here anyway?”

“It’s all right Brian, I’ll be fine now.”

She cringed, she hadn’t meant to make it sound as though Brian was surplus to requirements now that her knight was here. Brian stood his ground, his eyes fixed on Ash.

“Maybe you should go back and check on Selena,“ Kate suggested.

He felt like a child, but there was nothing he could do to protest. He turned and stormed back into the bookshop, slamming the door shut behind him so hard the bell almost jangled itself off its hook.

“What was all that about?” Ash asked her.

She shook her head. The last thing she wanted to tell him was that she was seeking supernatural counselling from a woman who had thrown her out for blowing the electrics. He held out an arm for her to take. She wondered if it would be wrong for her to pretend she was still light-headed and lean against him while he led her away.

“It’s all right, I can manage,” she said, horrified she’d even considered that last thought.

He shrugged and put his hand back in the pocket of his leather jacket.

“I was on my way to the festival. Would you like to come with me?”

“Festival?” Kate said.

“Of Angels.” He smiled, showing his immaculate white teeth.

If only she didn’t fall apart at the thought of all those jostling people.

“I don’t know, I get a bit panicky in crowds.”

“I’ll protect you,” he said. “Trust me.”

She hoped she’d sighed in her head and not out loud then found herself trotting alongside him, continuously protesting that she would be terrible company and he’d be better off without her. He countered every argument she made with a better one for why she should go along and in the end she gave in and let him steer her towards the town.

*  *  *

At first she had resisted, bracing herself against the inevitable pushing and shoving and stretching on tip toes to see over heads, and couldn’t believe it when the crowds parted every time they needed to pass through. She began to enjoy herself and was eager to see the next ice sculpture on the trail, surprised to find she was leading the way.

After several hours, Ash suggested they nip into a cosy restaurant for something to eat. Kate hadn’t realised how hungry she was until he’d made the suggestion, but the place he’d chosen was very popular, crammed with locals and tourists alike, and Kate hung back in the doorway.

“Don’t worry,” Ash said, taking her hand and coaxing her inside.

She wished he would keep hold of it, but he let go as they joined the queue for a table.

It didn’t look promising, the party in front of them were turned away. They stepped forward on their turn and were told a table for two had become available that minute and were shown to a quiet area away from the crowded main bar.

“See, not so bad, is it?” Ash said, handing her a menu and opening his own.

Kate looked at the list of dishes on offer then glanced over the top at him. He had already folded his menu and was watching her while she chose.

“So what’ll it be?” he asked.

“I’ll just have something light,” she said, laying her menu alongside his.

“Oh no you don’t. You haven’t eaten all day. Choose a proper meal.”

“How do you know I haven’t?” she said.

He looked flustered for a moment then frowned.

“Didn’t you say so?”

“No,” she said.

He brushed it off with a shrug.

“Then, I must have been mistaken. How about the steak?”

She nodded and he went to order, leaving her staring after him as he sailed through the parting crowds, his head a little higher than everyone else’s.

This wasn’t the first time he’d said something that hinted at him knowing more about her than he should. Selena was right, she wasn’t sure whether to trust him or not. Being gorgeous didn’t make you honest.

Her mobile rang, she fished it out of her bag and checked the caller ID. It was Brian. Her thumb hovered over the accept call button, but she decided not to answer and placed it on the table. Seconds later the voice-mail icon began flashing on the screen. Brian’s persistence was irritating; she had a feeling she already knew what he was going to say, but she listened to the message anyway.

“Kate, I know you don’t want to hear this, but please listen. You don’t know anything about this guy and I don’t think you should trust him, no matter what Selena’s daft cards say. It’s not like you to be all puppy-eyed, but that’s exactly what you’re doing. I know you think I’m jealous or I’m pissed off about the club, but I’m saying this because I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

He sighed.

“Just be careful, all right.” There was a pause. “Call me, let me know you’re OK.”

How stupid did Brian think she was? No matter his message echoed her own thoughts, she was a grown woman, had lived alone for over a year and didn’t need looking out for. All right, she did have feelings for Ash, but what was wrong with love at first sight? It worked for some people. She stabbed at the button, deleting the message. She didn’t want to call Brian, he was the one she couldn’t trust. He was the one dabbling in the occult after all. She recalled The Magician tarot card in the spread Selena had done for her. It probably meant him.

Whatever he said, Brian was jealous and in spite of the weird little exchange they’d had, there was no reason for her to doubt Ash. All the indications pointed to him liking her too, but maybe he was just being nice. And there she went again. Couldn’t she accept that not everyone had ulterior motives and let herself be happy for once? Her trust issues had ruined more than one relationship in the past. She rested her chin on her hand and sighed.

“Why so glum?” Ash said, putting a glass of Coke in front of her and sliding back into the seat opposite.

“No reason,” she said, sitting up straight.

Damn Brian and his paranoia, she wasn’t going to give in to it. She would put her convictions aside and try to get to know Ash better. With a bit of luck by the end of the evening he would want to see her again and if not, well – she didn’t want to think about that.

*  *  *

In the end, she’d told him more about her than the other way around. In fact, he managed to avoid telling her anything much about himself at all. So far he’d discovered where she worked, what she did there, what her favourite colour, film and book were and what did she know about him? Nothing. Not even his last name.

She had asked him if he lived in York.

“For now,” he said.

“What do you do?”

“I suppose you’d call me a bodyguard, of sorts.”

“For someone famous?”

“I couldn’t say,” he winked.

It was all very vague and Kate got the impression he was doing it on purpose. There were several times he didn’t even appear to be listening to the answers she gave to his questions, his head cocked on one side, as though he was listening to what the people on the next table were saying instead. He got up twice, disappearing for up to five minutes at a time, and then dropped back into the conversation as though he’d never left.

This had nothing to do with any issues Kate may have had, she wasn’t imagining any of this and by the end of the meal she had resigned herself to the fact that he probably wouldn’t be asking her out again. She glanced at his plate. He hadn’t touched his meal and now that she thought about it, she couldn’t recall seeing him drink anything either.

They left the bar and walked through the streets in silence, past the club where she’d first met him and back to her car. He seemed distracted. Kate’s breath fogged on the cold air. Ash didn’t seem affected by the cold at all. Her time with him was running out. Last chance to say something that would knock him off his feet and have him begging to see her again. She shook her head, what was wrong with her, this really wasn’t her at all, but she couldn’t help herself. She had to say something, anything…

“Err, I don’t suppose…”

His head snapped up and he stood stiff and attentive to some distant sound. Kate stared at him, eyes wide, mouth held open in her unfinished sentence.

“Shh,” he said.

He was statue still. Whatever he could hear, Kate wasn’t privy to it.

“Wait here,” he whispered. “Don’t move.”

He was off before Kate could reply, walking quickly across the road to the entrance of the lane that ran down the side of the Trafalgar Bay pub. He stopped for a moment then strode into the dark and out of view.

Kate waited by the car. She was shivering now and not just with the cold. She wasn’t sure if she was afraid of whatever it was he’d heard, or of him. He’d looked so fearsome as he entered the alleyway; someone you did not mess with, someone who meant business and could handle themselves in a fight. He’d seen Brian off, after all.

She waited for the tell tale noise of a scuffle, but it was dead silent. Too quiet for the centre of town on a busy Saturday night in an area filled with bars. Even more unusual was the absence of smokers outside the pub.

After several minutes she began to worry for his safety. What if someone had attacked him and he was lying helpless, waiting for her to find him. She didn’t want to disobey him, but she couldn’t wait all night. It had started to snow again.

She set off across the car park, cut across the road and pushed herself close to the wall, peering round it, down the length of Scarcroft Lane. A single street lamp threw a dim light across the alley and he was silhouetted in it. He was not alone.

Kate’s eyes grew wide at what she saw. The man in black, the man she was on the verge of giving her heart to without a second thought, was standing over someone knelt on the ground. The other man was limp, arms hung at his sides as though drunk or asleep, but Ash held him up, with one hand beneath his chin, the other behind his head. He bent down to whisper something in the man’s ear then his arms jerked, twisting the head to the side and the kneeling man fell forward, his neck broken.

Kate couldn’t stop herself from crying out, and clapped a hand over her mouth. Ash whipped round to face her and she turned to run. She could hear him calling out to her with that voice she wanted to fall into.

“Kate, wait. Please, it’s not what you think.”

She didn’t stop, reaching her car and scrabbling for the keys, but the key wouldn’t go in the lock and he was walking towards her now, like a scene from some horrible, low budget slasher movie. Except this was real and he was coming for her. Would he snap her neck too?

By some miracle the car door opened and she threw herself behind the wheel, slamming the door and popping the lock. Ash was still calling out to her, she had no idea how, but he was inside her head now. She realised with horror it was the voice she’d heard in her own kitchen after she’d found the box.

“Kate, I’m not going to hurt you.”

It took all her will to resist, turn the ignition and floor the accelerator. He was right up against the window as she sped out of the car park. How she avoided running him over she didn’t know, but she got past him and the other parked cars, acting as obstacles to her escape, without touching them. The Beetle screeched as she turned the corner at high speed and gunned it away from the city in the direction of home.

 

Back to chapter list                                 Chapter 10                          Buy me a coffee

Blackfeather Chapter 8

The car park was almost full, but she managed to find a bay in which to leave the Beetle. Music blared from the open doorway of the pub opposite where a couple of smokers huddled against the wall. They shivered as they dragged on their cigarettes then stubbed out the tab ends and went back inside. The sky threatened snow again. Kate pulled her coat tighter; it was only a short walk up the hill to the club.

The bouncer, guarding the doorway of the club, leered at her. It made her feel uncomfortable as she skirted round him.  The place was already packed with people. In honour of The Festival of Angels, the club was hosting an Angels and Demons night and everyone with a pair of novelty wings had turned up, but the girls dressed in tight fitting corsets and short skirts looked far from angelic, making out in dark corners with horned devils and vampire wannabes.

The prospect of making her way through the seething mass of people made her feel queasy. She took slow, deep breaths to steady her nerves and told herself she could do this without losing control. If she repeated the words like a mantra she could just about keep the dizziness and rising panic in check.

She groped her way forward, hoping to find a bit of space, squeezing through the gaps and stumbling out the other side into a tall man with shoulder length black hair. He turned from the conclave of girls that gathered around him, all staring up with something like adoration on their faces, and reached out to steady her. She could see why they were so captivated, he had the most unnatural piercing blue eyes and wore a long leather coat and angel wings that reached to the floor. Kate mumbled an apology and the man bowed to her, stepping back to allow her through.

The cacophony of sound from the dozens of shouted conversations and the thumping beat of the music vibrated through her body as she threaded her way to the edge of the dance floor. She turned a slow three hundred and sixty degree circle, searching the crowd for Brian’s familiar face, and stopped at a figure seated on a stool by the bar.

It was the man in black. He sat alone, his back to the bar, watching her.

The moment their eyes met Kate was transfixed. Her stomach knotted in that way that indicated pure physical desire. From the look on his face, he felt it too. She took a deep breath. She couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to. His gaze drew her in and held her spellbound. The air had suddenly gone from the room. The crowd melted away and time slowed to a standstill. He was bathed in light, she assumed, from a spotlight above his head. It made him appear otherworldly. His emerald eyes glittered. They were luminescent and his short blond hair formed a halo around his head. Kate’s heart pounded in time to the music which sounded so very far away now it was just a hum in the distance.

His intense gaze made her knees buckle. This was the moment she’d always dreamed of, but never truly believed would happen. Her long awaited, hit by a sledgehammer, love at first sight moment. The meeting of her soul mate.

Though technically she’d seen him before, this was the first time she’d seen him long enough and clearly enough to appreciate how beautiful he was.

This was the real reason she had chased him from the library. Motivated by an overwhelming attraction to him, she had needed to confirm what her subconscious had already registered, that he felt the same, that somehow they were connected. Though he had composed himself from that electrically charged split second when they’d locked eyes, carefully hiding his emotions behind a neutral facade, she got the impression he was smiling at her and the most incredible feeling of love and protection washed over her.

This is crazy, she thought as she floated in the stillness, I don’t even know you. Her cheeks were beginning to burn.

But I know you, came the vaguely familiar voice in her head.

The man in black didn’t move. He had stopped playing hide and seek with her, but however outwardly calm and confident he appeared, a whole range of emotions were conveyed in those impossibly green eyes; shyness, elation, yet at the same time, there was a deep, underlying sadness. It seemed an internal argument was being waged within him, should he speak to her, or leave; smile or turn away?

Kate wanted to stare into those eyes forever, but another face appeared in front of hers, blocking out the man in black with a huge grin and the spell was broken.

“Katie, Katie, am I glad to see you?” Brian said, his words slurring together.

He hugged her, making them both stumble. She tried to look over Brian’s shoulder, but yet again, the man in black had gone. He’d probably assumed Brian was her boyfriend and left. The sight of his empty stool left a black hole in her stomach.

“Oh Brian, you’re drunk,” she said.

“I had to do something,” he replied. “Someone stood me up.”

He pouted at her, then grabbed her hand and grinned again, his hurt quickly forgotten.

“Come and dance with me.”

He pulled a resistant and protesting Kate to the dance floor, earning a barrage of insults as he elbowed people out of their way. Brian turned, holding up his hands in mock apology and went careening backwards. Kate grabbed the front of his T-shirt, just in time to keep him upright. He draped his arms over her shoulders.

“I always knew you liked me Katie,” he said.

Kate sighed. She was having trouble standing up herself under Brian’s weight, and was trying to manoeuvre him off the dance floor when she heard another voice beside her.

“Is he bothering you?”

Kate shivered. The voice was as smooth and delicious as warm pain au chocolat. It drew attention to itself by the fact that it wasn’t shouting to be heard over the music. A quiet, well articulated voice that Kate heard as clearly as if it had spoken in an empty room. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She knew, without turning, who would be speaking those words.

She raised her eyes to his face, but dared not maintain eye contact for fear of losing herself again in the brilliance of those jewelled irises. At each glance she felt the room spiralling away from her.

“He’s my – friend,” she managed. “But he’s a bit drunk.”

Brian’s head snapped up. He tried to focus on the man at Kate’s side, but found it almost impossible. His eyes seemed to slide past him as though he wasn’t really there.

“Back off,” he said, with venom. “She’s with me.”

“Are you sure?” the man in black said. “I thought she was propping you up.”

“Well, she’s not. We’re together, so clear off unless you want to go outside and make something of it.”

Brian was standing by himself now, swaying back and forth, in danger of falling over at any moment and jutted his chin out at the man in challenge. Kate put her hand on Brian’s arm.

“Don’t be stupid, Brian.”

“OK,” said the man in black.

Kate shot him a disapproving look. He was grinning. Kate’s stomach did back flips, her knees were going again.

“Right,” Brian said. “Out the back then,” and he started to weave his way towards the emergency exit sign.

The man in black and Kate followed, him smiling, Kate protesting all the way.

“You can’t do this. He’s drunk, he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

The man shrugged. Brian was already outside by the time they reached the door.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt him.”

Still smiling, he stepped outside.

The door closed with a clunk behind him, leaving Kate open mouthed on the inside. She grabbed the handle, turned it and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. She rattled the door and pulled as hard as she could with no effect. It couldn’t be locked, she’d watched them go through it. Nevertheless, it was locked to her.

Outside in the alley, Brian stood with his feet wide apart in a desperate attempt to steady the spinning world around him. He put his fists up in front of his face.

“Come on then, let’s get this over with.”

He wasn’t impressed when the man folded his arms.

“Go home Brian and sleep it off.”

Brian’s head felt fuzzy, he heard the words deep inside his brain and he had to admit it did sound like an awfully good idea. After all, he seemed like a nice guy and he didn’t really want a fight. How did he know his name anyway?

It almost worked, but Brian’s pride wouldn’t let him back down so easily. He shook the buzzing from his head and took a swing with his right fist.

He missed!

Hang on a minute. He could’ve sworn he was standing closer than that.

A bewildered Brian screwed up his eyes and stretched them wide open again, taking a deep breath of cold, fresh air. He prepared for another strike and edged closer to the guy, who hadn’t even unfolded his arms.

The man didn’t move, but Brian caught sight of movement over his shoulder and as he watched something big and black grew out of the shadows. Brian had never run from a fight before in his life.

There’s a first time for everything, he thought.

“Jesus Christ!” he yelled, as the shadow coalesced into something impossible and he turned and fled down the alley.

“No, not even close, but if I see him I’ll tell him you said Hello!”

The man in black chuckled to himself and went back into the club.

*  *  *

Kate had been about to go for help when the door opened and the man in black stepped back through into the noisy club. He grinned at her. The intensity of her feelings towards him were confusing. She’d never felt like this about anyone before, especially someone she’d just met and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Dreaming about finding true love was not the same as having it happen, and life had always seemed so much easier to deal with on her own. On top of that, he’d thought nothing of going outside to fight Brian. That didn’t make him seem like a good prospect for a boyfriend.

Kate ignored her wobbly legs and scowled at him.

“Where’s Brian?! What have you done to him?!” she yelled over the music.

“Nothing, he wasn’t feeling well and decided to go home.”

Again, he didn’t have to shout to make her hear him. Kate frowned. She turned her back on him and took a step away, only to find him blocking her exit.

There was no time to wonder how he’d managed this because a moment later she found herself flying forwards, falling into his arms. He caught her, his arms around her waist and she remembered how he’d held her as he pulled her off the road, away from the van that had almost knocked her down. She felt the same sensation now. A kind of moving without effort, like taking the moving pavement at the airport, but faster and without going anywhere at all. This time she was looking into his eyes as he rescued her. She resisted the urge to wrap her arms around his neck and stepped back from his embrace.

The bouncer who had shoved past her was still struggling with the man he was dragging towards the exit and shouted a  none too convincing apology. The man, trapped in a head lock, caught hold of her bag and pulled it along with them, dragging it off her shoulder and spilling its contents over the floor.

She scrabbled for her possessions, trying to reach the book before any harm could befall it, but the man in black beat her to it. He had the book in one hand and held out the other with her make-up and keys. He was incredibly fast and agile. She took her things and threw them back in her bag then as they rose together, she held out her hand for the book.

“This looks interesting,” he said. “Is it your diary?”

“Err, no, it’s not really mine, it’s old,” Kate mumbled.

“Is it a good story?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said. “It’s written in some weird language or code.”

“Is that so?”

He began to flick through the pages.

“Looks like English to me,” he said, handing it over.

“What?”

Kate snatched it and tore it open, searching down the page for the symbols that were no longer there. Instead there were words she understood perfectly.

“That’s impossible,” she yelled, looking up at him. “Who are you?”

“My name is Ash.”

“And that’s supposed to explain it, is it?”

Kate glowered at his handsome face, annoyed by his attractive lopsided grin. She wasn’t going to let the butterflies that smile caused stop her from questioning him.

“Why have you been following me?”

“Have I?”

“Yes, you were in the café when the waitress spilled hot coffee on me, you were in the library this morning and now you’re here, tonight. So why?”

He mulled the question over for a minute.

“Was I in the café when you got there or did I come in after you?”

“You were already there,” she conceded.

“Well then, how could I possibly know you were going to go to that café?”

He carried on before she could answer.

“I like to read so I go to the library a lot and I believe I was sitting by the bar when you walked in here tonight. It’s not following you if I get there first, is it?”

Kate blinked.

“So it’s all coincidence then?”

“Do you believe in coincidences?”

She’d asked Brian that very same question earlier that afternoon. If she hadn’t known better she would have said he’d repeated it now deliberately.

“Do you ever answer a question without asking another question?” she said.

If he was going to mock her she’d do the same to him. He stopped smiling. Kate bit her lip. He seemed hurt and she didn’t like being the cause of it. She relented.

“I don’t know what I believe any more,“ she said, pushing past him and making for the door.

He followed her. They stepped out into the bitter cold of a December night.

She hitched the bag up on to her shoulder and held the book against her chest. Unsure of her bearings, she looked from left to right, then threw her head back and looked up in exasperation at the inky black sky. The stars, bright and clear, winked at her. The man in black, Ash, stood by her side. He smiled at her again.

“Come on,” he said, coming to her rescue once more. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

He walked a few steps ahead of her, then turned back, his hands pushed casually into the pockets of his leather jacket and inclined his head in the direction they were to go, inviting her to follow. Kate stuffed the book into her bag and hurried to catch up with him.

They walked without speaking down the hill, under the arch in the city walls and turned left onto Nunnery Lane. Kate searched for something to say, to break the silence and as an excuse to hear his voice again. They were almost there. He seemed to know exactly which car was hers without even asking her. She fumbled in her bag for her keys.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she said, unlocking the car door.

There was the lopsided smile again. It didn’t annoy her this time.

“Did Brian really go home?”

“Do you honestly think I’d…” he stopped himself mid- question. “Yes, I never touched him, he just went home.”

“Thanks.”

He reached past her and opened the car door, touching her arm and sending a frisson of pleasurable chills through her body. He held it open while she got in.

“Have a safe journey,” he said and shut the door.

Kate sat for a moment, incredulous. After all that, he hadn’t even asked for her number. There was nothing left to do but leave. She started the engine. He raised his hand in farewell and watched her drive away.

*  *  *

The man in black stared off in the direction she had gone, until another figure joined him.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said to the newcomer.

“Why not? You want her to read it, don’t you?” said the second figure.

“That’s not the point. She should never have found it.”

“Oh come on. Her being in the church was too good an opportunity for me to miss, little bro.”

Ash gave the tall man a sidelong glance.

“He’s going to kick my arse over this, isn’t He?”

“Don’t be so pessimistic. Maybe this is part of His plan.”

“ Whatever. She has the diary now and God only knows what will happen.”

“Exactly.”

Ash turned to say something, but there was no point, he was already alone again.

 

Back to chapter list                      Chapter 9                      Buy me a coffee