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I Belong to the Earth (Unveiled Book 1)

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Blue Stone Press

I Belong to the Earth Published by illusio&baqer, The Zharmae Publishing Press in

April 2015

Republished by Blue Stone Press September 2016

Copyright © J. A. Ironside 2014

Cover Art and design © J. A. Ironside

Cover Typography and layout M. E. Vaughan 2016

Cover Photograph © Elizaveta Lavrik

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, without prior permission in writing of the publisher and author.

 

Second Edition

There are things we do in life that we can’t ever take back. Bad things that follow us, no matter how we wish we could change them. So I needed to find him. See the man. And the monster.’

 

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jaironside.com

For Sarah and For Ella,

My sisters.

And For Allan:

Sine qua non.

“If I were in Heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable…I dreamt once that I was there…heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath…where I woke sobbing for joy.”

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte.

Title Page

Your Free Book

Dedication

Frontispiece

Chapter One – Chilled

Chapter Two – Watched

Chapter Three – Visited

Chapter Four – Warnings

Chapter Five – Intruder

Chapter Six – Secrets

Chapter Seven – Consumption

Chapter Eight – Flowers & False Sympathy

Chapter Nine – Crossfire

Chapter Ten – Honey & Voyeurism

Chapter Eleven – Forgotten

Chapter Twelve – Riddles

Chapter Thirteen – Questions & Answers

Chapter Fourteen – Triangle

Chapter Fifteen – Bound

Chapter Sixteen – Apologies

Chapter Seventeen – Cutting

Chapter Eighteen – Grave

Chapter Nineteen – Fury

Chapter Twenty – Fear

Chapter Twenty-one – Knowledge

Chapter Twenty-two – Distractions

Chapter Twenty-three – Betrayal

Chapter Twenty-four – Burdens

Chapter Twenty-five – The Jaws of Life

Chapter Twenty-six – Frenzy

Chapter Twenty-seven – Choices

Chapter Twenty-eight – Judgement

Chapter Twenty-nine – Light

Chapter Thirty – Rescue

The Visitor

Author’s Note

Friendly Fire – Free Short Story

Acknowledgements

More Books

About the Author

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I wasn’t asleep, not really. I just wished I was. The car’s engine droned and Amy’s head rolled slightly against my shoulder. She snored softly and if I hadn’t been so miserable, I’d be planning to tease her about it later. My head thumped with pain. I screwed my eyes more tightly shut. The accident had left me with fierce, blinding headaches but that was nothing compared to everything else that was wrong with my head since that horrible day. I wrapped my arms tightly around myself and gritted my teeth. The headache screamed up a notch but the pain blocked out a worse ache – the hideous empty space where Mum should have been. My whole family was in the car—Amy, Grace, Dad—but it was incomplete now and always would be. The countryside whipping by the car window grew wilder and more remote. I let it pass me by, listlessly focusing on the constant hum and motion of the car…

Metal shrieked against metal behind me. I jerked upright, eyes wide

The dragon-like jaws ripping into the car… the Jaws of Life… Amy!

Amy was no longer resting against my shoulder. The car door slammed shut and I jumped at the sound. We’d arrived. I must’ve dozed off after all. Dad and my sisters were already out of the car, stretching their legs and yawning. I squeezed my eyes shut and trying to re-inflate panic-locked lungs. The men from the removal company Dad had hired were opening the back of their van. That was all. Nothing was tearing into the car. The accident was months ago.

Get a grip.

“Emlynn? Em, are you coming?” Amy called. The gravel crunched as she moved away. It was tempting to stay in the car. Pretend none of this was happening. But then Dad’s temper wasn’t exactly even since the Accident. No more dawdling. I reached for the door handle and braced myself.

The first glimpse of my new home hit me like a punch in the gut. It was old. Really, terrifyingly old, not gracefully aged or quaint. Weathered grey stone and a slate roof. Bulging walls and a sort of lop-sided sagging appearance. The windows were small and dim, like mean, squinting eyes. I hated it. Not just because it was the vicarage or because I was being forced to live here. But because it was wrong. It was… hollow. Hungry. As though it was… waiting for something. Or someone. Cold and ravenous.

I tore my eyes away, shaking. I couldn’t go in there. I just couldn’t. What was Dad thinking? The moor rolled away in grey-green waves on all sides. My stomach lurched and I stared sightlessly down at my feet, heart pounding against my breast bone. It was too open. Too alien. Like I could fall off the surface of the planet. The house or the moor? Not much of a choice really. And I couldn’t just stand here. No one was coming to rescue me.

I grabbed one of the boxes littering the gravel drive, concentrating on its heaviness, the sharpness of its corners, on putting one foot slowly in front of the other until I was swallowed by the shadow from the porch. My stomach twisted sideways as I forced myself to step through the front door, trying very hard not to think of a huge, predatory mouth. The hallway was dim and musty. I wondered when anyone had last lived here and then the wrongness descended on me. The strongest feeling of something…out of balance I’d ever experienced, even since the accident had turned my weird extra sense up to full volume.

There was a cold spot on the stairs.

Even from here, I felt it drilling into my bones. My knees locked, forcing me to stop on the first step. There was something there. Something powerful. Something Dead. My hands shook, jiggling the box I carried.

Something terrible happened here.

The creak of footsteps on the landing overhead jarred me back into awareness. I glanced around in confusion. My hands were empty. The box I’d been holding was now six steps below me. I didn’t remember putting it down. Or moving. Somehow, I was now right next to the cold spot. How had I gotten so close? I couldn’t pull away. Couldn’t. I reached out with trembling fingers. No. No don’t…don’t touch…

The stairwell faded away before my eyes…

Despair, jealousy, rage…

A stumbling thud behind me jolted me back to the present.

“Ow! God damn it, Gremlin.” Grace always sounded annoyed. When she spoke to me anyway. She toed the box I’d left on the stairs. It felt like I was hearing her through fathoms of dark water. Grace shifted her own load from one hip to the other. “I could’ve broken my neck on that.”

“Suh suh sorry.” I snatched my hand back and cradled it to my chest. Pins and needles. My fingers felt like claws. I sidled back down the stairs, trying not hunch my shoulders defensively. “I was j-j-just…”

“I so don’t care, you are such a freak.” She curled her lip at me.

I seethed. The stammer was worse again and—well was it a big ask for Grace to let me finish a sentence?

“Come on then. Move it!” Grace nudged the box again, making it teeter on the edge of the step. Mum’s books! I snatched the box up in my arms, slanting a sour glance at Grace. My glare didn’t faze her. Not much ever did.

“What were you doing anyway?” Grace narrowed her eyes at me. “I called you twice and you didn’t even blink.”

Really? She’d called me twice? How long had I been…wherever I’d been before she fell over that box? She wasn’t paying any attention to the cold spot at all. How could she not feel it?

“I wuh-was j-j-just…”

“Just forget it.” Grace rolled her eyes. “And you better not let Dad catch you at any of that weird shit, freak!”

Rage, hot and pure, smothered me. Grace never used my actual name. Freak. Weirdo. Gremlin. I was sick of it. Sick of her attitude and thwarted by my own inability to speak. Snarky remarks jostled against bitchy replies in my head and I couldn’t say any of them. It wasn’t fair.

I shrugged and shook my head, before edging back up the stairs. Grace wouldn’t have the patience for me to stammer out the first few words before she got bored and wandered off, anyway.

“Whatever.” Grace barged past me.

I wobbled as she knocked me off balance. For a moment I thought I would fall right into the bone splintering cold. My stomach lurched and sweat prickled on my temples as I righted myself. Close. Too close.

“You really are beyond weird, Gremlin.” She flicked her glossy blonde hair over her shoulder. It swung behind her in a shining curtain as she stomped off to her new bedroom.

The cold spot tugged at me, demanding attention. I shuddered, pushing myself past it, and up the stairs.

Not my problem. Not my problem.

Not. My. Problem.

I don’t care who died here.

If I kept telling myself that, maybe it would even be true.

Maybe Grace was right. Maybe I was a freak.

Dad had told me that my bedroom was on the third floor. He hadn’t mentioned that it was the attic. The floorboards creaked as I put down the box of books and flopped on the bare mattress of my bed. My stomach churned. Cold dread and boiling rage. And no way of saying anything. I pressed the heels of my hands hard against my eyes, as if I could push all the bad feelings back. Squash them in. Compress myself back into the state of numb calm I’d lived in since Mum’s death. It was getting harder and that worried me.

I was behaving like a child. I knew that. Being freaked out by the house and Grace’s nastiness weren’t any excuse. I was here now, like it or not. Sulking would only make it worse. I opened my eyes and glanced round. To my intense surprise I loved my new room. It was warm and safe, which was weird given my gut reaction to the house. Something floral and sweet mixed with the faint whiff of dust in the still air. A scent that was familiar somehow. Dark wooden beams divided the plaster of the low sloping ceiling on one side. There were thick oak shelves on the wall opposite my bed. I might unpack my books, then I’ be able to torture myself on a regular basis by staring at the overstuffed shelves since I couldn’t read anymore. I stumbled across the uneven floor. There were more boxes to collect.

Another three trips up and down the stairs—keeping left on the way up and right on the way down— and I’d finally brought up all my stuff. It was a bit crowded with my Borsendorf upright, my violin and sheaves of sheet music but I felt better with my instruments and the sealed boxes of books around me.

I liked the deep window seat, with its lead-pane latticed window, best. A faint mildewy smell wafted from the elderly brocade cushion when I knelt on it. The window overlooked the stunted, ancient apple trees at the back of the vicarage.

Strange place to plant an orchard.

Beyond the vicarage garden, the moor stretched away to a darkening horizon. The same, unreasonable tug of vertigo I’d felt the first time I saw the moor, sent me spinning away from the window gasping. The earth spun beneath my feet. It should have been a stunning view; it was a stunning view. It was also wrong. Inexplicable and wrong. I swallowed hard against the bile in my throat and waited for the room to stop swinging around me. If I could only shake the feeling of…of well doom sounded a bit melodramatic but…

Breathe.

It was ridiculous to be frightened of the moor.

Or a cold spot on the stairs.

Silence.

Too still. Too quiet. I rummaged in a crate and came up with a battered CD player and a handful of CDs. Hitting play on a CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons made me feel a bit less jittery.

Stalling. You’re stalling. Coward.

The empty shelves felt like an accusation. Naked and exposed without my books on them. It couldn’t hurt that much to unpack my books, could it? Since the Accident I hadn’t been able to read at all. The specialists had thrown around words like ‘ataxia’ and ‘brain damage’. It might get better. In time.

Right after the Accident I hadn’t cared. Didn’t even want to look at a book. That was over eight months ago. I’d made no progress. I couldn’t speak. Not properly anyway. And now this; imprisoned in a nothing-place of a village, in a house that felt like it was swallowing me every time I walked through the front door, with a father who couldn’t bear the sight of me and Grace, who regarded me as if I was some sort of slime producing invertebrate.

I didn’t believe in past lives but ending up as the broken thing I was now, had me reassessing the theory. Making me wonder what I could have possibly done wrong in a previous life to deserve this. Classic survivors’ guilt, mixed with the need to assume control over uncontrollable events. I could practically hear my therapist’s voice in my head. But how else were you meant to make sense of it though? Because ‘bad things happen’ just isn’t good enough as an explanation. Being unable to read just confirmed my theory. When your mother dies and your whole world goes to hell, where else can you find solace except in a book?

I clenched my jaw and opened the box. Mum and I had worked through around half of her leather-bound classics. I even knew which book was supposed to have been next. I weighed it in my hand. Mum had said I was old enough to understand the layers of meaning in this one now. Then she’d died.

The aching, hollow feeling rose like a tide. It was like swimming in a dark lake; suddenly you’re out of your depth. The water drags you down and pours into your lungs. But you don’t want to fight. Don’t want to breathe. Because if you do, then you’re alive. And living hurts.

I blinked and slammed the book onto the shelf. My eyes burned but there were no tears. There never were anymore, at least not while I was awake. Not that crying would help. Mum wasn’t coming back.

“Emlynn?” Amy stood in the doorway, an uncertain expression on her face. “You ok? You’re really pale.”

“F-fine. Thinking.” I gave her a weak smile. Amy was the only person not embarrassed by my stammer. She was also the only other person there when the accident happened. So she understood, at least partly. I could have lost her as well. Then I really would have been alone.

Amy smiled back, reassured. “It’s cosy in here.” She gave my room a critical once over. “I thought with this dark little attic…and Dad is so unreasonable…but it feels like home.”

I didn’t need to reply. I loved that about Amy.

Her gaze lit on the top shelf. “Mum’s books. You did keep them.” She said in delight.

“O-of kuh course.” I forced another smile.

“I’m sorry Emlynn. That was really tactless of me.”

“Nuh not your f-fault.”

Amy’s delicate features contracted in a pained expression. “Why did she do it, Em?” Her eyes were over-bright. For once she actually sounded younger than thirteen, rather than much older.

I shrugged and held my arms open. She flung herself at me in a blind hug, her face buried in my shoulder. We stood in the fading light like two survivors on a life raft.

How could we ever begin to answer the question we lugged around like the chains of Marley’s ghost? If we had an answer, would it make any difference? We were stuck here now. Everything had changed. I missed Mum so much. I really did. And what good did it do to be angry…but, oh God, I hated her too. How could she…? How dare she leave us?

The question gnawed away at me, constant and silent.

Why did our mother try to kill us?

[][]

Dinner was uncomfortable. More so than usual. It was Grace’s turn to cook and the house move had done nothing for her indifferent culinary skills. Dad said a dour grace giving thanks for the dried out meatballs and lumpy sauce as we listened in silence. I prodded my plateful with reluctant stabs of my fork. Since the congealed spaghetti was unlikely to taste better cold, I choked it down, trying to pretend I was eating something more pleasant.

There wasn’t much conversation even though this was officially ‘family time’. Which was fine by me but I could tell Amy was bored. I don’t think any of us realized how much Mum was the glue that held us together, until she was gone. She would have found some way of getting us all to interact. Mum was so good at making people laugh. She would have even coaxed a smile from Dad. Without her, we just sat here like four strangers forced to share a table in a busy restaurant.

I peered up at Dad through my over-long fringe. Not that he was paying any attention. His expression was even grimmer than usual. I wondered again, what had made him choose here of all places? Why Yorkshire? Or, if he was set on dragging us away from every reminder of Mum, why didn’t he take that place in Keighley his friend had offered him? It would have been less remote and we wouldn’t be living without an Internet connection, in a draughty old house with sloping walls and uneven floors.

And a cold spot on the stairs.

Because something really awful happened here…

Oh stop it! Just ignore it. Leave it alone. Nothing to do with you.

But once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t tear my thoughts away again.

I didn’t expect anything to happen. Not really. And I’d always been a bit…odd. Ever since I was a child, I’d sensed things other people couldn’t. At least until it was shamed out of me at school. I’d almost forgotten about it until I’d woken up in hospital after the Accident. Whatever had switched my childhood stammer back on and killed my ability to read, had tuned that extra sense up to full intensity. There was no way I could pretend I didn’t sense the Dead anymore.

And that cold spot on the stairs was like an itch in my mind. It felt as though it was going to creep up on me.

Stupid thought. Over reacting. Freaking out.

Silence. Loaded with expectation. I jerked myself back to the present. Why was everyone staring at me? Amy raised her eyebrows and jerked her head towards Dad. Crap, had he been talking to me? What did he say? Dad’s brow knotted in irritation. He was clearly waiting for an answer. I had no idea what he’d said.

“Suh sorry, D-Dad, wuh wuh wha…?”

"I said have you set a meeting yet about going back to school in September to finish your A- levels? I also reminded you about helping with the flowers on Sunday." Dad's tone was laced with terrible patience. I simmered with resentment, keeping my face down. I hated it when people interrupted or finished my sentences. Like anything I had to say wasn't worth hearing because of the way I said it.

Fury tangled my tongue still further. I was choking on a reply when it hit me. When I was going back to school? Had Dad forgotten I couldn’t read anymore? Couldn’t read anymore yet, I amended fiercely. It would come back. It would. I glanced at my sisters. Grace had a smug expression on her face. Amy was anxious. Dad must be angrier than I’d thought. I seized on the least important part of his question.

“F-f-flowers?” That was the first I’d heard of it.

“Yes, flowers. For the church.” Dad laboured each syllable as if I was mentally sub-normal. “Three ladies on the church committee arrange fresh ones on Sunday mornings before the service. Since you don’t do the readings like Grace or Amelia, I’ve told Mrs Holden that you’ll meet them at the church to help.” Dad was drumming his fingertips on the table. Not a good sign.

Why did it have to be Sunday? I wanted to practise my music with Dad out of the way. I’d been counting on it. The thought had been keeping me sane through the whole horrible house-move. Now I would be walking into Arncliffe early on Sunday morning, to arrange flowers with old ladies. Fantastic. I wasn’t sure I even believed in God but I was pretty sure if he did exist, he didn’t need dying floral arrangements in a draughty stone building.

The part about reading stung. It wasn’t like it was by choice. Even if I could still read, I’d never be able to stand up and read in church. By the time I’d stammered through the begettings and begottings, half the congregation would have died of old age. My cheeks heated at the unfairness of it. I darted a reproachful scowl through my hair at Dad. He misunderstood my expression.

“Don’t worry. They know about your speech difficulties. They’ll practise with you while you work. 8.00am at St Martin’s then.” His tone dismissed me.

He’d told them? My ears were burning now. Insensitive…git. How could he blurt out my problems to strangers? Strangers he was making me arrange flowers with. I forced myself to meet his gaze. Please look at me. See me. Please. I willed him to pay attention. Dad sighed and shook his head. Something he never did at Grace. Or Amy. As if his disappointment wasn’t apparent enough every time he deigned to notice me.

I wanted to throw things. Instead, I sat in silence, boiling alive with resentment. I hated not being able to talk. Maybe it wouldn’t matter if I was as mentally slow as most people assumed I was. Unfortunately, my brain was always about six gallops ahead of my mouth, which could never keep up.

I would die with so much left unsaid, that a post mortem to find the cause of death, would tumble all the words clogged up inside me out onto the mortuary floor. The morticians would be knee deep in un-used anecdotes and un-spoken insults. I would be the first person to die of enforced silence. I blinked hot, stinging eyes – no tears, as usual.

Grace smirked. That did it. I started clearing the table to get away from them. Even Amy – I couldn’t bear her sympathy right now. I heard Dad’s study door close with a definite clunk. Parental duties over for the night then. A humourless smile tugged at my mouth. I wished again that Mum was here. I didn’t know how to do this. It wasn’t fair to rely solely on Amy. She needed a parent too.

I dumped the plates in the huge stone sink. The water was a rusty colour when I wrenched the tap on, then ran clear. My anger was ebbed away as I stacked the clean plates to dry. I was both sorry and relieved. Anger was exhausting but it was also armour against Grace’s sly barbs.

Grace. That was the problem. The tipping point. Dad and I had never been particularly close. When he went off on his first tour of duty, I was too young to really bond with him. When he came home, I would run and hide behind Mum or clutch Grace’s hand until I got used to him again. Grace had called me stupid, but held my hand and snuck me sweets anyway. Then Dad was sent to Iraq. When he came back, the laughing man who teased me out of my shyness was gone. Grace had held on to me then too. And that one time…that terrible afternoon when the vase had crashed to the floor. Shards glimmering with a milky sheen in a spray of sharp stars…the monster looming over me, a long leather strap dangling like a sinister snake. Screaming, and Grace leaping, leaping in the way…

I pressed my fingers against my eyes, breath hitching in my throat. Forget it. Forget. That was years ago. So what if Grace and I had been close once. Mum died and things broke. May as well face it. I’d lost my big sister.

Grace drifted past me and opened the kitchen door to the garden. I had the paranoid feeling that I’d somehow summoned her with my thoughts but she ignored me as if I was invisible. She left the door ajar. I was about to close it against the draught when I heard her cry out in surprise. Amy must have heard it too, because she glanced up from pan of milk she was warming on the range.

“What did Grace say? It sounded like ‘go away’?” Amy said, puzzled.

I hadn’t even noticed Amy come into the kitchen. I really needed some sleep. I shrugged in reply and we both darted out into the stunted orchard.

“Guh Grace?” I called.

“Oh shut up, Gremlin! I hate it when you stutter my name. You sound like porky pig.” She cast a hunting glance into the darkness of the moor, behind the garden. “There’s someone out there.”

“Well, yeah. It’s wide open, Grace. Lots of dog walkers and hikers and stuff.” Amy’s tone was reasonable.

“No. Not a dog walker. A…a shape. A dark shape. Watching the house. Watching…me…” Grace trailed off.

Gooseflesh raced up my arms. The cold spot. This isn’t safe.

“Wuh where?”

“There.” Grace took my arm and pointed so definitely, I was sure she really had seen something. For a moment it seemed that there was a shape in the dark. A tall, masculine shape. No, not a man; a piece of darker darkness in the shape of a man.

We were being watched.

Cold nausea uncoiled in the pit of my stomach.

“Nothing there.” Amy squinted into the dark. “Come on it’s freezing. We should go in.”

The skin on my neck felt horribly vulnerable when I turned my back on the moor. As we reached the kitchen door, I glanced at Grace again. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright.

“He wanted me.” She murmured this so low I almost didn’t catch it. “He wanted me.”

I shuddered. Whatever was waiting in the dark, Grace wasn’t scared of it. And she should be.

Somehow, I knew she should be.

[][]

Part of me knew it was a dream. Just a dream. Just the same stupid nightmare I’d had over and over for months now. But when I was asleep, it was as though I was there; living it all over again. I never woke myself up in time.

It began the way it always did. I just had time to hope it would be the short version. Just a flash of the accident. Not the director’s cut. Not tonight, please…I was sucked under waves of roiling dark and forgot I was dreaming at all.

“It’s all wrong.” Mum’s voice is strange, despairing. “This isn’t how it’s meant to be…”

“What do you mean? Mum? Mum!” I am terrified by the expression on her face. Empty, unfocused. We’d been arguing. Suddenly she had broken off and said that. It was eerie. Like it wasn’t Mum talking at all.

“Emlynn? What’s happening?” Amy’s voice is pinched and high with fright. She leans around my seat to peer at Mum.

“Amy put your seat belt back on!” My voice is a taut cable. Something bad is going to happen.

"But -"

“Just do it!”

I hear the snap of her seatbelt buckle slotting into place. I can’t look. I’m focused entirely on Mum’s face. Her eyes are wide and blank. I swear that her right eye looks bigger somehow…My gaze hits the speedometer. The red needle inches past eighty, faster…Mum just sits there, gripping the wheel, oblivious.

“Mum? MUM!” I reach over and shake her. Trees and dry stone walls are rushing past in a terrifying grey-brown blur. Mum doesn’t react.

“Mum stop! Stop! Slow down! You’re scaring us! MUM!” Can she hear me? It’s like I’m not even here. A sharp bend is galloping towards us. On the left behind a thin, scrubby hedge, the hillside drops away in a steep slope littered with chunks of granite.

MUM!” I scream. I lurch for the steering wheel. If I can just…She thrusts my hands away. Finally turns to me.

“Love you Emlynn. And you Amy. This is for the best. None of us has to suffer anymore.” She smiles faintly and slams the accelerator pedal to the floor. Takes her hands off the wheel.

The whippy little hedge hardly slows us at all. The edge of the drop rears up. For a moment we’re in glorious flight. Stomach, heart, lungs, all trying to escape through my throat. I can hear Amy screaming behind me and I want her to shut up because I can’t scream. I can’t breathe. Not happening…this can’t be happening…

The car comes down and flips. The world is a confused tunnel of rolling images and noise, turned over and over. I feel something in my shoulder give with a wet ‘pop’ as the seatbelt whips me back. My arm makes a muted snapping noise. Metal squeals…the car is screaming now…

Amy has stopped making any noise at all. But she’s alright. She must be alright because nothing bad can happen to Amy. Not to my little sister. Not to me. Or Mum…

The abrupt silence is worse than the screaming. I hang upside down…my arm dangles, useless…thoughts, slow and stupid. Smell of hot metal and burnt rubber. Metal taste on tongue. I twist towards Mum…

No no no no! I don’t want…not this…not again…

No!

I jolted upright in bed, gasping and covered in sweat. A long shuddery inhale and I palmed away the tears on my cheeks. This was when I cried now. When I had this dream. The nightmare clung in sour strands and I counted my breaths as I had been taught to do when I felt panicky.

Amy and I had never told anyone what Mum said right before the accident. We didn’t plan to keep it quiet, we just didn’t mention it. I didn’t want Dad knowing it was suicide. I didn’t know how to approach him anymore; he was so god-squad now. It had been bad enough when they were talking about divorce.

My sessions with the hospital counsellor had ended when we moved to Yorkshire. They hadn’t been much use. I had sat there trying to make coherent sentences. The counsellor had tried not to let his irritation with my stammer show. He hid it better than most people did. I had usually sunk into grey sullenness after half an hour of red-faced struggling.

It wasn’t like I’d wanted to talk about it anyway.

My pulse rate was almost back to normal. I saw there was a book lying open on my desk. Not just any book – the next one on Mum’s reading list. I frowned, sure I’d put that away without opening it. I just wouldn’t. Not one of Mum’s books. Not yet. Amy maybe? It couldn’t have been Grace. I snorted to myself. Kicking the tangled, sweat-damp sheets aside, I crossed the room. Moonlight poured in the open window like spilled milk. I slapped the book shut, slid it on to the shelf, and then paused.

I didn’t open the window.

And I definitely drew the curtains before going to bed.

I shivered. Colder than it should be, even with the window open. My sweat soaked T-shirt clung like an icy shroud. My breath hung on the air in silver ribbons.

I wasn’t alone.

The skin on my spine prickled.

Okay. This isn’t your first haunted house.

The first one I’ve lived in. And this is my room!

Yeah, well maybe the ghost doesn’t know that.

And really a few misty shapes and a couple of moved objects were more of an annoyance than something to fear, weren’t they? Weren’t they? Oh God, I wasn’t prepared for this. My gut was roiling as though I was motion sick. It was never this bad before the accident…

Don’t think about that now. You’re not afraid.

Yeah right.

Get it together. Close the window. Then turn on the light.

Sensible. So why wasn’t I moving? Black dots swam before my eyes. I gulped in a glacial lungful of air. Stupid, stupid. Forgot to breathe. Come on. Window.

I stepped toward the window seat. Not going to freak out. Not. Just close the window, that’s all. Simple. I half-recoiled as a dark arm slid across the glass, before I realized that it was a tree branch. With a shaky chuckle, I leaned from the window seat to grab the latch. It felt like I’d plunged my arm into ice water.

Part of me was shrieking that something was very, very wrong. The tiny part not having hysterics was gibbering ‘he’s here.’

He’s here?

What the hell did that mean?

I snagged the latch in stiff fingers to pull the window closed.

Something grabbed my arm. Something that wanted in. Two small, bone-white hands encircled my wrist. My mouth fell open, hard won air rushing from my lungs. It wasn’t just the cold. It was a dark, oily feeling. Cloying revulsion. Not real. Can’t be real. Wake up. Wake up now. Oh let go! Get off! Get off!

My heart thundered in my ears. Scream. Call for help. Quick!

Pathetic, wounded little “hmm! hmm! hmm!” whines were all I could force through my blocked throat. I threw my weight backwards, trying to yank my arm away from the window but I was pulling the cold, pale figure inside with me.

It mustn’t cross the threshold! A small, gibbering part of my mind, that just knew things, flashed.

Let me in! Oh let me! I can’t find him. I’ve been wandering so long. Let me in!

The voice vibrated through my bones. Disgust and fear made me want to lash out. To hurt the thing…hurt her. I smashed my wrist against the window frame again and again. The hands were knocked away. Free! Gasping for breath, I slammed the window shut and latched it. The glass rattled in the frame. I leapt across the room to my bed and switched on the lamp.

Nothing here. Nothing.

The room felt warmer. My breath no longer hung frozen on the air.

I pulled all my blankets into a heap and burrowed into them, shivering. I couldn’t get warm. There was something…familiar in what just happened. Not being grabbed. None of the Dead had ever touched me before. None of the weird things I could see or sense had even been aware of me before. No, something else.

What if she comes back?

The room tilted and then righted itself. I swallowed hard. Was it good I hadn’t been able to scream? Maybe. How would I have explained it, when no one was able to see the girl at the window? If she was really ever there. I clung to that thought. Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I was sleep walking? Maybe… it was no good. I knew it was real.

I sat shivering and wide eyed in my blanket nest until pale sunlight painted the room grey with dawn.

[][]

The bathroom was too bright. I wished I hadn’t looked in the mirror. I appeared sallow and ragged. Huddling in my over-sized dressing gown, I sank down next to one clawed foot of the old fashioned bath tub as it filled. Even the faint red rust stain couldn’t put me off having a bath; I was still shivering, as if all the warmth in my body had been drained by the visitor at the window. The scent of jasmine from my favourite bubble bath filled the steamy air. The thick, metallic taste on my tongue loosened. I wasn’t alright exactly. But I was calmer. And fairly sure that I wasn’t mad, however strange things were getting.

There was something else. A feeling I was almost too ashamed to pull out and examine. It curdled in my gut and made me shift uneasily. Shame. She didn’t try to hurt me after all. I could see that now I wasn’t loopy with fear. She asked for my help and I shoved her away. So what if she made my skin crawl? I knew what it was like to scream, for hours and hours, and have nobody come.

If she came back…I didn’t think I could just ignore this. Who was that little, cold girl? I sank into the hot water and let my mind drift.

The bath water was almost cold before I dragged myself out. I was slightly warmer at least. I dragged a comb through my wet hair. It hung damp and dark, twisting like seaweed, so I twirled it into a bun. I pulled on jeans and a jumper, checking my reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t my reflection. I jumped back, heart thudding. Breathing in the steam laden air, I forced myself to look again. Nothing. Just me. Pale and thin-faced. Wide, frightened green eyes. I thought… it was silly… But for a moment a different face looked back at me. Broad and plain, with small hazel eyes and coarse brown hair. An older face. I hesitated, then swiped the condensation away with my sleeve.

Just me. I really was losing it. Maybe some breakfast would help. I’d check the orchard afterwards. See if my night time visitor left any clues.

The smell of bacon frying wafted up the stairwell, as I went down, skirting the cold spot. It had to be Amy. Grace never cooked breakfast – unless you counted toast. Dad never cooked at all as far as I knew. My stomach growled. I bounded down the last few steps and into the kitchen.

Amy was almost up on tiptoe to reach the pan of bacon and eggs. Her shiny blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Music squalled from a tinny old radio. Amy bopped from side to side as she brandished a spatula and sang along.

“Where is my mind? Where is my mind? Waaaaaay out in the water…Eeee!” She jumped about a foot when she finally spotted me. The spatula made a graceful arc through the air before coming down in a spatter of grease droplets on the worktop. Oops.

“Muh morning, Amy.” I sniggered.

“I swear you just shortened my life expectancy by about a decade!” Amy leaned her hands on her knees and breathed out slowly, blonde ponytail flopping over one shoulder. She narrowed her eyes at me but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“S-sorry. Finding it cr-creepy here too, huh?”

“A bit. Couldn’t sleep last night. Weird not being in a town. I kept thinking about what Grace said in the garden last night – about someone being out there, watching – then I got all paranoid about someone creeping across the moor to the house. You know like ‘ Long Lankin’ in that song?” She returned her attention to the bacon and eggs.

I pulled a face. Amy’s disturbing astuteness was not helping me repress last night. I did not want to be thinking about a tall, dark figure going from room to room, committing silent and bloody murder. Especially after the incident with the window. I dithered over whether to tell Amy about it. I didn’t want to scare her. But I was dying for her to come up with a rational explanation that proved I’d imagined the whole thing. Or even that I was actually insane. Maybe later. I was so tangled up right now that really short sentences were the best I could manage.

When in doubt about the supernatural try something mundane. My stomach gave a sharp tug.

“E-enough f-for me?” I cast what I hoped was a pathetic, soulful look at the food.

“Yep. Knew you’d be down.” Amy grinned and divided up the contents of the pan.

Sometimes I thought Amy must also have a touch of the same weird extra sense I had. Maybe it worked differently with her. More subtly. Which meant she didn’t come across as socially inept as me.

We sat down at the scrubbed-pine kitchen table with bacon, sausage, egg and toast piled on our plates. I watched with queasy fascination as Amy squeezed tomato ketchup over everything. Even the bread. And that’s how you ruin a cooked breakfast.

Amy’s ketchup murder scene didn’t put me off for long. I was starving. It was good to think about nothing except eating for a few moments. Grace thought I should be a right heifer with what I ate. She probably thought the same about Amy too but didn’t dislike her enough to say it. I didn’t care. I’d take sausage and bacon over the way Grace winced through half a grapefruit every morning, any day. Her loss. Why Grace bothered to diet was a mystery. There wasn’t an ounce of excess fat on her. She was so pretty, I doubted anyone would notice if she did put on a few pounds. I glowered so darkly at the thought of Grace’s shining hair and neat figure, that Amy asked if my breakfast was okay. I smoothed my expression out and nodded.

I am jealous of Grace. I’d be an idiot not to realise it. She’s always been pretty and popular, and able to get through an entire sentence without straining something. Aside from the stammer, I was angular and gawky, and too tall and thin. It might all have been bearable if she didn’t regard me like I was an adopted howler monkey that she was forced to live with.

She was supposed be going off to university in October. I wondered what it would be like without her. After the accident, Grace’s year out hadn’t gone to plan. Mum’s funeral, and both Amy and me in and out of hospital. Especially me. She’d been so cold to me since the accident…

Does Grace think it was my fault?

I chewed mechanically but my appetite had vanished.

After breakfast Amy and I flicked soap-suds at each other as we did the dishes. Amy was squealing like she was nine years old again and I was chuckling because it was good to see Amy let go. She’d had to grow up far too fast.

A heavy tread on the stairs stopped us in our tracks. Dad. It was like spraying a couple of drunks with cold water. Aside from a few suds, nothing was out of place. Dad went straight into his study and shut the door without coming into the kitchen. We both sagged with relief. A small, hot kernel of resentment flickered to life in my chest. He could have said ‘good morning’ at least. Wasn’t that what dads were meant to do? Why was he always so distant anyway? What the hell had I ever done? I had balled my hands into fists at my side.

Amy jerked her chin in the direction of the back door. She was right. Any noise just now would not go over well with Dad. My anger dissolved and I let it go. It was too tiring to hold onto it. Numb was better. Numb meant not caring that he ignored me. Numb didn’t hurt.

And I had promised myself a search of the orchard.

I was so distracted, that when Amy thrust my coat at me and grabbed a door key I just stared at her stupidly.

“We’ve used all the milk, Emlynn.” She said with exaggerated patience.

“Oh.” I dug in my coat pocket for my wallet. “Guh guess we sh-should get some more then.”

"There's a little shop in the village. C'mon. Before Grace gets up and pitches a shit fit -"

“Luh language!” I half-frowned and flipped Amy’s ponytail into her face.

“Em! You know what she’s like…”

Shaking my head, I followed her out and locked the door. “D-don’t let Dad c-catch you.”

“As if!” Amy bounced on the spot, unable to keep still. She gave me a smug look. “Race ya!” She pelted off down the drive, enjoying her stolen head start.

I rolled my eyes but tore after her, my longer legs making up the distance. So what if Grace said I ran like a camel? Sometimes life was about fun, not what everyone thought. Or it should be.

It used to be.

I put my head down, pelted forward, leaving Amy puffing behind me.

The village shop was a low oblong room at the front of one of the ancient cottages, which lined Arncliffe’s main street. Since the village only had a street and a half at a push, ‘main’ seemed a bit optimistic to me. The brass bell above the door jangled as we went in. Amy headed towards a limp stand of magazines and newspapers. If she was looking for ‘National Geographic’, she was going to be disappointed. I was pretty sure this place didn’t stock anything except local papers and gardening magazines. The open-fronted refrigerators wheezed and clicked around blocks of local cheese and organic vegetables. I ignored the cashier who was watching us with narrow-eyed suspicion. For a moment the crazy image of a scene from dozens of Sunday afternoon spaghetti westerns flashed through my mind; the saloon door swinging as a stranger walked in; the silence as the conversation died and the piano player stopped mid-chord; the bar man wiping the same spot on the bar, while staring at the new-comer. I had a wild urge to giggle. Is that what Amy and looked like? Trouble from ‘off’?

I shoved a damp strand of hair behind my ear and went towards the milk. No skimmed. Grace would have to put up with half-fat. The brass bell over the door rang again. A short, portly man with a wild beard, who completely belonged in a Tolkien novel, leaned on the counter.

“Usual please, Gladdie.”

“Alright, Ern? You look peaked.” The cashier’s expression didn’t flicker but her knobbly knuckled, be-ringed fingers clutched at the newspaper and pouch of pipe tobacco as she passed them over the counter.

“No, Gladdie. All’s not well. Three dead hens this morning. The black ones.”

“A fox? Lucky you lost only three.”

“Tha’ knows damn well it wasn’t a fox.”

I watched as the man’s florid cheeks grew redder. His wiry grey eyebrows beetled over his dark eyes.

“You think then…?” The cashier let her voice trail off into a whisper. Her gaze fixed on Amy and me for a moment.

“Aye. He’s back.” His mouth clamped shut as if to stop any more words escaping.

I had drifted closer as they talked, milk grasped in one hand. The man’s words slammed home all the churning doubts and fears I had about my new home. I felt the phantom grip of two pale, cold hands on my wrist. I shivered. He couldn’t mean that there was something really wrong here? No. It had to be something else. Local legend or something.

“What is it you want?” The cashier snapped at me.

I mutely held up the bottle of milk. The cashier rang up the sale and shoved my change at me. She wanted us gone. Amy glowered at her.

“So rude…” she muttered

“Watch tha’self, lass.” For the first time the man looked at me.

I stared at him, heart starting to thud. He’s here. He’s here.

What do you mean?” Amy saved me from stuttering out a reply.

“Just you be good. Stay off the moor and you’ll not find out.” He turned his back on us, ending the conversation.

The cashier trained a basilisk glare on me before the door clicked shut behind us.

“That was seriously weird,” Amy said.

“Tuh totally.” The wind was picking up and my hair was falling out of its hasty bun into hopeless tangles.

“Alright, Em. Give. What are you so freaked out about? Was it that man?”

“Wuh what d-do you mean?” I felt a dull flush creeping into my cheeks, completely ruining my lie.

Amy raised a scornful eyebrow. “Oh, puh-lease. You can’t fool me. You’ve been seriously out of it all morning.”

I met Amy’s blue-grey gaze. “You w-won’t believe this…”

“Try me.”

“Okay.” I stared at the small slate-roofed cottages, at the more distant tower of St Martin’s church (Dad’s new workplace), at the dizzying roll of moor fading in to muzzy grey-green distance under the white spring sky. A lot of people would kill to live here. I just wished we were back at our old home. “Someone c-came to my window last nuh-night.” That didn’t even begin to cover it.

“Your window? But…Em you’re at, like, the top of the house.”

“I nuh know that. This p-person didn’t need anything to stand on.”

“Oh.” Amy nibbled her lower lip. “So it was like one of your non-alive type visitors?”

“Believe m-me, if suh someone had tried to br-break in I’d have scr scr…called out. Why br-break in through the huh highest wuh window anyway?”

“Good point,” Amy said, deep in thought. Her eyes snapped in to focus on mine. “Wait, was it a man? Was that why you were so freaked out by what that bloke said?”

“Nuh not a man.” I swallowed, last night’s revulsion creeping over me at the memory. “A g-g-girl.”

“I think you’d better tell me everything.” Amy’s tone was serious but there was a spark of excitement in her eyes. Oh she believed me alright. Secretly, I bet she even thought ballads about creepy murderers living wild on the moor were romantic. But this stuff wasn’t cool. And this time it felt dangerous. I hesitated.

Amy’s face fell. “Guess you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.” She stuck her lower lip out.

I rolled my eyes. I was such a sucker when it came to Amy. But then, who else was I going to tell? Haltingly, with many pauses as I untangled words, I told Amy everything. As we walked back to the vicarage, I felt the moor watching us.

Waiting. Weighing us up. Choosing.

Amy thought we should check out the orchard, then go to my room and search there. Even though I’d been planning on doing that anyway, when Amy suggested it I felt uncomfortable. Not annoyed exactly, more uneasy – like it wasn’t her job. Amy ran the milk in to the kitchen while I wandered under the apple trees. Tortured out of shape by the wind, a few were still bravely budding. I wondered who’d planted the trees here. It really wasn’t apple tree country. That was fairly low on my list of questions, however. I had new Dead things to worry about. Gran had once called it a gift. I had decided then, that gifts of the non-returnable variety should be treated with deep suspicion.

Every nerve was hyper-sensitive, singing with disquiet.

“You know what’s really weird?” Amy appeared behind me and I flinched.

“Aw all of it?” Was there anything about this that wasn’t messed up?

“Well yeah, but I meant specifically. I mean that whole scene at your window. I feel like I remember that from somewhere. Like a film or a book or something.”

“I’m n-not m-making it up!”

“No, I know that. But I really think I’ve read that exact same thing somewhere. I just can’t remember where.” Amy’s eyebrows drew together in concentration.

“N-not a phuh-physics text book then.” I looked up at the skeletal branches of the tree nearest my room. They didn’t go nearly high enough for anyone to climb; far too thin and whippy to bear weight where the top brushed my window. Definitely not an alive-type visitor last night then. What was I doing anyway? Since when did I help the Dead?

“Oh ha ha!” Amy started to say and then stopped.

I had heard it too. A laugh. Low and dark. We hadn’t got as far as the old out building yet but it came from around there.

“Was that Grace?” Amy’s tone of disbelief was justified. Grace never got up this early.

There. Again. A throaty, husky laugh but definitely Grace. What on earth was she doing? Amy and I exchanged a look, then we both set off towards the out building. It had once been a stable. Now one side was a converted garage. The other side was crammed with around fifty years’ worth of old junk. It must be full of spiders and mice and creepy crawlies.

A black motorcycle was parked by the old hitching post. A black stallion. All we needed now was the knight errant. A masculine chuckle came from the out building. Was Grace with a boy? I flicked a gleeful glance at Amy. Dad would freak out.

Then a tall figure dressed from boots to collar in black, slid out of the shadows of the old stable and I forgot everything else.

This was bad.

The cold struck first. Ice like knives in my stomach and chest. I was winded. So cold it hurt. Worse than dislocating my shoulder in the accident. Worse than Dad’s belt descending on me all those years ago. This was sharp and twisting and real. This was now. And all around oily shadow dripped and clung, ready to seep into the fresh wounds.

Air hissed out between my locked jaws. My mind was full of scared, rabbity thoughts. Run. Hide. Don’t be seen. Too late. Far too late. He had seen me. I felt he had seen me more clearly than anyone ever had in my life. As if he had peeled off my skin to examine my flesh and bones.

Amy shifted next to me, crunching the gravel. I shuddered back to awareness. Had it really only been a few seconds? Less than that? Couldn’t she see the shadows? I threw out an arm to stop her moving past me. She glanced at me in puzzled irritation, but the stranger’s sensual mouth twisted with a hint of a smile.

Tall, dark and handsome, my brain catalogued irrelevantly. Somehow that made him even more dangerous. His lower lip was full but it made his mouth look cruel. Black hair fell in careless tangles. His eyes were the worst. So dark…I was falling whilst standing perfectly still…

"You ok, sweetheart?" A half- smile. He knew what he was doing to me. Knew it and liked it. His lips parted and a quick tongue tip ran between them. Testing the air like a serpent. Tasting my fear. "Hey, Grace? These your sisters?"

Grace ducked cobwebs and joined us, an oil can dangling from one hand. “Oh.” Her voice was flat. “Yeah that’s them.” She made no move to introduce us. Her territorial ‘hands-off’ stance couldn’t have been clearer if it had been flashing above her head in neon. We weren’t welcome.

You know what Grace? You’re welcome to him.

I just wanted him gone. But Amy was winding up for a patented ‘Amy’ interrogation. And she shouldn’t draw attention to herself. Not safe.

Couldn’t stop her. Couldn’t breathe.

“I’m Amy. This is Emlynn.” Amy said.

“Wh wh who who…?” I wheezed. Pathetic. No words. Why now?

“God, Gremlin you sound like a retarded owl. This is Haze.” Grace smiled up at him. She had a smudge of dust on one cheek. It only made her look prettier. I’d never seen her so…kittenish. He nodded without turning to her, narrowed his eyes at me. Again that sense of being under a search light. And a pushing feeling in my head. As if my mind was a bubble and something…someone was trying to make it pop. I clenched my teeth and pushed back. No clue what I was doing.

Why couldn’t anyone else see what was going on?

“Haze is an odd name.” Oh not now Amy. “Haze as in foggy? Or Haze as in a prank?”

“Haze as instead of my given name, which I won’t be giving you.” He grinned, white and sharp.

Amy wasn’t charmed.

“Well you must have a surname. Only Rock stars and popes have one name. You don’t look like either!”

Not strictly true on the rock star front Amy but full marks for trying.

He threw back his head and laughed in a way that made me want shuck the skin off my back.

“Smart kid aren’t you?” He smirked.

Amy bristled. She hated being called a child. Grace’s cheeks were scarlet under the grime and her eyes sparkled with anger.

“Oh, Amy really is a very clever little girl.” Grace gave her a tight smile. “Almost like an adult.”

Amy went white. She was crushed. Whatever Grace thought of me she’d never cut Amy before. And never in front of anyone. I managed a full breath and lifted my chin. The ground beneath me was held me up. The earth hummed under my feet.

“Let the pr-pretty boy keep his s-secrets. Don’t care. Dad will though. W-when he finds out. Guh-Grace, you know that.” I locked gazes with my older sister, willing her to send Haze away. She scowled but said nothing. I forced myself to look at Haze. His dark eyes were speculative now. As if I’d surprised him. Unwillingly, I met his gaze again, braced against the feeling of falling. This time though, I was over whelmed with crushing loss and heartache that made me want to curl up with pain. So bad that my grief and betrayal over Mum seemed fleeting and small. For a moment those pitiless black eyes held all the sadness in the world. Then they hardened once again.

“Anything we c-can help you w-with?” I forced out the words. Even with my stammer my tone meant the exact opposite.

“No.” The smile flashed off his face like someone had flicked off a light. “You’ve all given me…exactly what I need.” His eyes met mine and I was sucked into screaming darkness without moving or making a sound.

For now.

The words scratched into my mind.

I was a set-back. A minor one.

He swung a leg over his bike and kicked it snarling to life. “Thank you for your courtesy.” He gave Grace the kind of smile that made me think we should all run away. Instead Grace’s eyes widened. Even from here I could see her pupils dilate. Her lips parted making her appear soft and vulnerable.

“Anytime,” she said, heartfelt as a promise and Haze nodded. He intended to collect. More was being said here than even I could follow. “Come again.”

Haze raised a hand in farewell. His Harley chewed and spat chunks of gravel as it roared down the drive.

I knew he would be back. The fear was huge inside me, raking at my stomach with blunt claws. Grace appeared different. Distant. I thought I’d already lost her but this was real. I felt her slipping away moment by moment. Amy made a worried noise beside me but I could only stare the way Haze had gone and shiver.

What did you promise him Grace? Did you even think before you promised it?

Gravel dug into my legs through my jeans. Sharp fragments were cutting into my palms. I didn’t remember sitting down in the driveway. Didn’t remember putting my hands out to stop myself falling on my face. The tide of adrenaline which had kept me upright and resisting Haze, had ebbed. So cold. Dizzy. I clutched a handful of gravel; the bite of pain cleared my head. Did I win or did Haze just withdraw from the field? I couldn’t understand why I was so tired. Couldn’t get up if my life depended on it. Like I’d run a marathon or been physically fighting. Didn’t Amy or Grace notice anything? The shivering that wracked me just wouldn’t stop.

“…the hell is wrong with you anyway?” Grace had been talking for a while, I realized. Amy was crouched beside me, one small hand resting on my back. A line of worry between her brows. I needed to get warm but the few yards to the kitchen door seemed to stretch in thousands of miles.

“Hello? Gremlin? Anyone in? God, you are such a freak…” Grace waved a hand slowly before my eyes. It blurred in and out of my field of vision.

“Oh shut up, Grace! Can’t you see something’s wrong?” Amy snapped.

“No kidding! You two were so rude. How do you expect to have any friends in ‘Arm-pit’ if you chase off anyone decent?” At least Grace sounded back to normal.

“Decent? He was a right prat.” Amy said.

“You’re such a child, Amy. What would you know?” Grace sounded even more frustrated than usual.

If only I could think straight…

“I know enough not to go all goo-goo eyed over the first pretty boy I see,” Amy spat back. “He was really up himself, Grace. And mean. And he was really rude too.”

I frowned, head pounding, as I tried to concentrate. I’d never heard Amy use that tone before. Amy never lost her temper. And Grace wasn’t stupid. She loved Amy. I knew she did. Grace had never been cruel to her. Why were they fighting? I forced my chin up to find them glowering at each other. Faces red and contorted in anger. They looked so alike in that moment. Not just as sisters but in their anger. It was like vertigo. Then I saw it. Slickly gleaming shadow, clinging to Grace’s arm. Dripping onto Amy’s shoe.

Haze had left something dark and wrong behind him. A bitter aftertaste. I noticed my clenched hand was in an oily pool and interrupted the argument by leaning sideways, and throwing up into the gravel. I retched and spat until my belly ached and my eyes watered.

My sisters were staring at me now, quarrel forgotten. Amy was distraught, Grace – completely grossed out. But worried. She caught my stare and the flash of concern on her face vanished. Her expression closed me out again

The residue of darkness was gone now. My superpower. Projectile vomiting. There would be a movie about me in no time.

Grace huffed with exasperation. “Take her inside, Amy. I’ll get a bucket.”

I wondered what good a bucket would do now. My stomach had to be empty. Then I heard Grace wrenching at the rusty outdoor tap. Oh. Grace was sloshing away the evidence of my digestive pyrotechnics with a bucket of water. She was helping. Grudging every second maybe, but still helping. I felt a flush of warmth towards my big sister. Which didn’t make what I was going to have to say any easier.

Amy heaved me into a chair in the kitchen and grabbed me a glass of water. I smiled a ‘thank you’ but it seemed to freak Amy out further. I must look hideous. I felt like I had flu. Feverish and shivery.

Grace slammed the kitchen door behind her and glared at me. “At least you kept that to yourself while Haze was here.” She folded her arms. “Though your ogling was bad enough.”

All my recent fond feelings for Grace evaporated.

Ogling? Seriously? I was pretty sure Grace wasn’t stupid, so how was she mistaking fear for desire? Whatever. No time for that now.

“G-Grace, puh promise me you w-won’t see Haze again. He’s b-bad nuh news. Really.”

“You’d like that! A chance at him yourself. Well, good luck. I bet he thinks you’re a stuttering freak, just like I do!”

Anger fizzed along my veins. That was harsh, even for Grace. And I was trying to help. Calm, stay calm. Explain. Stupid words. Doubling and knotting again.

“Nuh no! I d-don’t like him. He’s ruh wrong. C-can’t you s-see that? He’s truh-truh-trouble. Stay away from h-him. He’s duh dangerous. I f-f-feel it…”

“You and your feelings! I’d have thought you stopped playing that game years ago.”

“You know damn well it’s not a game, Grace!” Amy snapped.

“Really?” Grace rounded on Amy. “Asked the freak if she’s seen Mum yet, have you? I know you want to, as much as I do. In fact we’d all like to know what happened in that car crash. Your version had a few holes in it after all. Like why Mum had to swerve to avoid nothing at ninety miles an hour on a country road.” She paused, breathing heavily, but her eyes glinted with triumph.

My face was numb, lips nerveless. Grace couldn’t be saying what I thought she was saying. Or could she? How long? How long had she known? The answer was obvious. Since the accident eight and a half months ago. I glanced around for hints of shadow again but this time it was all coming from Grace. This was her darkness. And mine. Amy was as white as if she’d just been punched in the gut.

We never told Grace what really happened. I met my sister’s narrowed lapis-blue eyes and knew she was going to make me regret it.

"W-what do you m- mean?" My mouth shaped the words, following Grace's script.

“Just how stupid do you think I am? I figured it out. It wasn’t an accident at all, was it? Mum was trying to kill herself. Wasn’t she? WASN’T SHE?” Her lips curled back from her teeth.

I gave the barest hint of a nod. Grace clenched her teeth together with a snap, giving a short nod of her own. Tears hung on her eyelashes. Tight fury in the rigid lines of her body. I saw the emotional wreaking ball she was swinging my way and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. Because I knew, now, that she was right. Grace was right to be angry. Her gaze pinned me to the spot. She ignored Amy, who was sobbing softly.

“I waited a long time for answers. Dad just… left me in the waiting room. Did you know that? Went right off to the morgue and sod the rest of us. Then finally a nurse tells me you’re awake, Gremlin. Do you know what that’s like? Your entire family in hospital or Dead or just gone…” Grace’s tone was acidic, every word burned. “And you wouldn’t talk. Refused to tell me anything. The only one awake. The only one with answers. You left me in the dark, Gremlin!” Her voice had climbed a full octave.

“Nuh no…I cuh couldn’t…was huh hurt…” I remembered everything about that time. Waking up in hospital. Amy being unconscious still. Dad nowhere to be found. So he was in the morgue with Mum’s body the whole time? What about his daughters? The thread of anger was dull and too hard to follow. I remembered Grace being allowed to see me. But I hadn’t known what was real. The Dead were all around. I couldn’t even remember what Grace had asked me.

“Yeah, yeah. You were hurt. Poor you.” Grace had the oddest expression on her face. She was going in for the kill, but there was a strange, half strangled hint of hope there too.

“So, it was suicide. What I want to know is why. How about it, Gremlin? Pull some of your voodoo and ask her. Ask her! While you’re at it you can ask her if she just forgot about me, or if there was a special reason she wanted to take you two with her and not me!”

I gasped as her words sliced through me. What she said…it was all backwards. Twisted. But if that’s what she thought…no wonder she hated me.

I had to fix it. “No…p-please…Guh Guh Grace…”

GUH GUH GUH Gremlin!” She mocked me. For the first time she noticed her cheeks were damp and palmed the tears away. “You can’t do it can you? You can’t ask Mum anything!”

“Nuh nuh nuh…”

“Thought not.” She sneered, bitter triumph again. “If I was like you, I wouldn’t be trying to draw attention to myself with fake superpowers. I’d be trying not to be noticed.”

My jaw dropped at the blatant unfairness of that. Since when did anyone notice me? Not when Grace was around, that was for certain. And I couldn’t do what she wanted. Sometimes I saw the Dead but I’d never been able to summon them. Who would want too? They came on their own and I had no choice in the matter.

And Mum had never come.

Until Grace’s outburst, I hadn’t realized that I still hoped I would see Mum. The one possible good thing to come from my stupid gift. But hadn’t happened. Mum was gone and I felt a surge of hatred for Grace as that hope died. I couldn’t tell my sister anything at all now even if I wanted to, because all the words were quadrupled in length and doubled in size, and piled up faster and faster behind my eyes and around my tongue. My throated ached. My eyes felt like they had been sandpapered. It was too much. Last night and Haze, and now Grace. My head throbbed.

Grace jerked her chin up, irritated with my silence. “So, since we’re on the subject of truth, there’s nothing wrong with Haze. You’re just jealous. I’ll be friends with who I like and there’s not a single damn thing you can do to stop me.” With that she stalked out of the room.

Amy wept silently into her hands. I staggered to my feet, shaking all over. Didn’t matter. I had to make things right with one sister at least. I hugged Amy tight as she sobbed into my shoulder and I couldn’t utter a single word to comfort her.

I should have told Grace everything. As soon as I was able to talk, even if I had thought I was going mad. Even if I was flinching every five minutes at the feel of another death, stale or fresh, somewhere in the hospital. I should have told her. If I had, she might have listened to me now.

I might as well have pushed Grace towards Haze with my inept attempt to separate them. She could be totally pig-headed. And all the stuff about Mum…I didn’t think Grace would tell Dad. She was too smart for that. But if she told someone else and it got back to him…couldn’t think about that now. It felt like I might fly apart any second.

Amy had her arms linked tight around me, her hot, damp face pressed into my hair.

What was I going to do? Haze was bad. Not a ‘bad boy’ but bad as in evil. The words from the man in the shop earlier, echoed in my head; He’s back. He couldn’t mean Haze. I mean, Haze was only about twenty. The man in the shop made it sound like whoever he meant had been causing problems years ago. Then I remembered Grace’s words from last night—he wanted me. Haze, my visitor, Grace’s outburst— all twisted in my mind until I wanted to scream.

And behind it all, The Question; Why did Mum try to kill us?

I didn’t have the heart to do any more investigating after that.

Church flowers tomorrow, I thought glumly. What a waste of a Saturday today had been. I shoved all the grief and guilt and stress over Grace to the back of my mind, squashing my fear down on top of it. Giving Grace time to cool down would be best. I would try talking to her again …later.

I coaxed Amy up to my bedroom, asking her to turn pages for me while I practised. I doubt she was fooled. Everything I played, I already knew from memory. It gave us something to do that wasn’t connected to arguments or darkness or Mum’s death. Suicide. Call it what it is.

Even in three days I’d got slacker. Amy couldn’t tell the difference but then she wasn’t a musician. When she’d forgotten to turn the page for the third time in a row, I morphed Bach into a jazzy version of ‘chop sticks’, playing it with exaggerated concentration and studied poise. Amy laughed until she was doubled over. I snickered too but quit mid chord.

I was glad she felt better but there was an unhealthy edge to that laughter. It sounded just a bit too close to tears. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Amy was just thirteen. Sometimes it was easy to forget that she had lost her mother too. Grief is selfish like that. How much had I considered Amy in my misery? I hadn’t considered Grace at all. I wondered for the first time, what it was like to come back to an empty house on your nineteenth birthday, like Grace did, and find out that your whole family is at the hospital. And no, they’re not alright. I wondered if Dad even left her a note or if she waited and waited until she got anxious enough to phone around…Why had I never asked Grace about any of this? It burned like caustic when I thought about it. I was a white-bleached tunnel of shame, hollow and colourless.

I’d spent too much time trying not to feel anything to consider anyone else’s feelings.

No more thinking. In need of a distraction, I reached for my violin which I hadn’t picked up in a week.

“Oh no,” Amy said in alarm, laughter giving way to hiccoughs. “If you’re going to murder the cat up here, I’m gone. It takes you at least a week to get back into that horrible instrument!”

I grinned at her unflattering description. Her face was blotchy-pale but she sounded like her old self. Edge of hysteria gone. I set the violin under my chin as Amy beat a hasty retreat. As I brought the bow down across the strings, the tiny detail that had been nagging at me slotted into place. The book. I’d forgotten about it after the cold girl had grabbed me but what if it was important? A possible hint. Someone or something had taken down one of Mum’s books and opened it. Maybe it was a clue.

I would need Amy’s help since I couldn’t read it by myself. Later, after dinner maybe. No point calling her back now. I didn’t bother trying to play anything specific. I drew an eerie scream out of the violin, which made me smile. Amy wasn’t kidding about my aptitude. Mum could play your heart out of your chest. It didn’t come easily to me. I played for over an hour without really playing anything at all. Just banshee cries of anger and loneliness. By the end I was wrung out and exhausted but also calm. As though I’d exorcised my turmoil in horrible noise. Made the violin say all the things I couldn’t.

Half an hour spent untangling my hair and I wanted to wail myself. Next time I was going to dry it properly before going off to fight the forces of darkness. Not that I’d gone looking for Haze exactly. I shuddered at the thought of those clinging shadows. Shrugging off the creeping feeling of being watched, I pulled my hair back and found a clean pair of jeans. I wondered if dinner would be long. Amy was cooking tonight so it should be edible. I felt a twinge of guilt. I should have offered to help after everything that happened today. I shouldn’t have got so involved in my music. Maybe there was still time?

I bounded down the stairs, straight into the cold spot.

It swallowed me like an ice-aged cave. I opened my mouth to drag air into my frozen lungs but nothing came. My eyes flared wide but I couldn’t see the staircase anymore.

Or…I could…but it wasn’t the same staircase. It was newer…and occupied…

There is a girl blocking the stairs in front of me, her voluminous skirts and out-spread arms make passing her impossible. She has a clever, pretty face with a petulant mouth; Huge, dark eyes and elaborately styled chestnut curls. I don’t like the expression of narrow calculation on her face. I feel strange. Disconnected. I’m here but…I’m not alone. Not the only one here, in my body. I’m being shoved to the back of my own mind. I’m fluttering with panic but I can’t grip anything. Can’t even grip myself. I listen in horrified wonder as my mouth opens and words that aren’t mine come out.

“Now Miss, is it right to be playing off your mischief on me? I’ve a task or two to be about tha’ knows.”

Why the hell did I say that? And what am I wearing? Heavy skirts brush my ankles. Something tight winds around my waist and back. Coarse cloth rasps on my skin. Where am I?

“But Helen I need to know. What answer should I give?” The girl is twisting her hands in her skirts.

“How would I know? Watching you the past few months I’d have thought you meant to encourage just such a question from him!” I feel a tart sense of self-righteousness that is utterly alien to me. It’s Helen’s feeling, not mine.

But who is Helen? Why is she here? I throw myself impotently at whatever is holding me, reaching desperately for control of my own body. Both girls ignore me. I’m not sure they even know I’m here. Maybe today was too much. Maybe my mind has finally snapped.

“Don’t be so tiresome, Helen!” The girl is vexed and raises a hand as if to strike Helen – and me.

I want to move to avoid the blow but Helen stands her ground. I have no choice but to stand it with her. “I’ll have none o’ that, Miss, if you please! And I’ll thank you to keep me out of your business with your young men. It’s clear one will have a broken heart by you and I’d rather have none to do with it!” Helen says with asperity.

“Oh, you are hard!” The girl twists her mouth as if to cry but Helen is not deceived. “I’ve given an answer but I must know if it is right!”

“If you’ve answered already then your word is given and nothing I can say will help…” Helen says, relentless and unsympathetic. I make one final lurch for freedom. A moth rending its wings, pulling free from a spider’s web…

I was on the next step down. Spat out of the cold spot. There was no finely dressed girl. No Helen. Only dizziness and nausea. It felt like hours had passed. In reality, it was only a minute or so.

I had just been somebody who died years ago. Centuries if the clothes were anything to go by.

My head swam. I managed to totter into the kitchen and collapsed in a chair before I fell. Black spots danced before my eyes. I was cold again. Would I never be warm in this wretched place?

“Emlynn? You ok?” Amy’s voice felt like it was coming from centuries away. I pasted on a wan smile.

“F-f-fine. Just hungry I guh guess. That b-b-breakfast didn’t duh do me much guh good d-did it?”

“Dinner will only be twenty minutes. Lasagne and garlic bread.” Amy grinned impishly. “Actually you would have absorbed most of your nutrients before you spewed so…”

“Guh gross!” For someone so bright, Amy’s timing sucked when it came to talking about vomit. If there ever was a good time. My stomach rolled threateningly. “Wuh what did you d-do this afternoon?”

“Finished unpacking. It doesn’t look as good as your room.” Amy glanced at me.

“W-want help?” I could take a hint.

“Please!”

I decided to keep the latest episode of weirdness to myself. I didn’t want to think about it. Or scare Amy. Bad enough that I’d have to see Grace at dinner. I squirmed as the bleached feeling washed through me again.

As if she was reading my mind Amy said, “Do you think Grace is still mad?”

I shrugged. Actually I did think she was still angry. She’d been angry for the last eight months. She just hit boiling point this morning. I didn’t know what to do to change that. Especially since our last conversation went so well.

I had no illusions about Grace heeding my warning about Haze. She’d see him again if she got the chance. Sisters aren’t supposed to shop each other to their parents. Or Dad in this case. But Haze was dangerous. I had been wrong about a lot lately but I wasn’t wrong about him. I would wait and see. Grace might not do anything. Or I might get another chance to talk to her. I’d worry about telling Dad if the time came.

Dinner was even more cheerless than last night. Grace wasn’t angry though. Just distant, distracted. I watched her narrowly until she caught me staring. She gave me a poisonous glare and turned her back on me. Amy had been forgiven. I had not. Hungry as I was, I couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat. No one mentioned the argument. It was a miracle dad didn’t hear us shouting at each other earlier.

I shrugged, telling myself I didn’t care what Grace thought, as long as I kept her away from Haze. Dad only remembered to speak to me once. A reminder about the church flowers. I bit my tongue. Despite everything that had happened today, it still irritated me. I didn’t need any more drama so I just nodded. After today, getting away from the house for a few hours was probably a good idea.

It wasn’t until I was drifting off to sleep, that I remembered the book. I’d forgotten to ask Amy to help me. Tomorrow. My thoughts were muzzy with impending sleep. Amy must be asleep by now anyway. Tomorrow was soon enough.

I’m whirling, trapped in a tunnel of noise and pain. I stare into eyes a much prettier shade of green than my own. Flat, dead eyes. Mum…I’m dangling upside down. I feel the scream building and building…

I'm somewhere else. No. Some -when else. My attic room? But the walls aren't bulging and the roof doesn't sag…I feel the part of me that is Emily Lynnette drift. I try to claw a hold of myself without success… I’m Emily…I’m…

…I’m stood by the window, looking out at the apple trees. John were a fool. They’ll never grow here. Not properly with the wind blowing off the moor. A faint moon is shining through gauzy clouds, a silver coin in the sky. He’s out there. Watching. Waiting. He always knows where she is. And when He finds out: when she’s gone beyond his grasp? I shudder to think of the violence He will do.

“Helen?” Her voice is a mere thread of sound.

I glance towards the plain wooden bed. She’s so frail. I have little enough love for her but I was always helpless against her will. Her vitality. . Who would not admire her spirit and beauty? Now she is a more ghastly shade than the crisp white sheets. Except her cheeks, which flush with fever.

She raises a skeletally thin hand in poor imitation of her imperious manner. “Helen?”

I go and sit beside her. Take her hand. It is like holding a bundle of winter twigs. “Yes, Miss?”

“I’ve told you and told you to call me Kate. Besides I’m not a Miss anything anymore.” There is a trace of her old asperity in her voice. I like her the better for it. For not becoming good and meek in her last hours for surely they are her last.

“Has he come yet, Helen?” I know she doesn’t mean her husband. That poor spooney! I shake my head. “He will Helen. He will. We’ll be together, even in death. Nothing can part us.”

“Except you!” I snap. Curse the girl! Can she not see the damage she’s wrought even now? I want to bite my sharp tongue then, for one should speak only comfort to the dying. I expect her to snatch her hand away but she’s either too weak or too far gone for that. She smiles humourlessly. Stoic that I am, I still recoil from that ghastly expression. All teeth and fever bright eyes. Her skull peering indecorously through the flesh of her face. The consumption has much wasted her. She has a grimmer visage now than He ever had. I shudder again.

“Don’t fear, Helen. We’ve always said what we liked to one another, you and I, haven’t we?” Her lips whiten further as her smile widens. A crack on her dry lip opens and weeps.

“Because I’d have none of your nonsense, then?” How I wished that were so.

“Yes. Well I never really prayed, you know. Not when Papa made me go to church. Not when Mama died. Not when John would tan us with his belt for my speaking wicked impudence or force us to hours of kneeling and reading scripture. Nothing could make me pray. Until last night. I did then.”

“Well there’s some hope for you after all, Miss Kate! Shall I fetch your father? Or his curate?” Not meek perhaps but could she be good at her last hour? Could she be proper as she always should have been? She might even be sorry for all the grief she has caused me… Her next words undeceive me.

“Nay, stay still Helen. You shall fetch whomever you like in a minute. I prayed, while you dozed on that window seat. You do know you’ll never see him coming don’t you, Helen dear? Anyhow it seemed to me that heaven must be a dreary place indeed, and I shuddered at the thought of hell, though I am still not sure I believe in the latter. Do you know, Helen, I believe we make our own hells and we live them on earth before we die, and when we die if we cannot see where we went wrong, then we are doomed to live them for eternity….” She trailed off.

Her words make my skin creep. She raves, she knows not what she says. Yet, secret and deep, I think my mistress is more lucid than she has ever been before.

“You said you prayed…?” Oh, why ask? Did I wish to hear more of this lunacy?

“Yes. I am determined not to go to heaven, Helen. The only hell I believe in is an existence without him. So I prayed that I should never go to heaven. That I should never leave this place. Even if I were to wander the moors forevermore searching for him, that I should stay.”

I wrench my hand away. “Oh Miss! How can you speak such wickedness! Even now, at this hour!” I feel I could cry. She has vexed me much, and tormented me when it suited her as we grew from children to be mistress and maid. But never have I felt such fury for her as now.

“Do you fear for my soul, Helen, or your own?” She smiles with wickedness, just as she did when we were children. “Don’t put such stock in the rubbish John brays.” She looks away, towards the window. Towards the moor. “I should never have married Clayton. That is the only mistake I ever made. He will come for me though. I know he will. Before the end.”

Again, it’s not her husband she wants. It’s Him. The dark shape on the moor. The watcher… I can’t breathe… it’s cold… so cold… and…

…I’m Helen…

I don’t know who Helen is!

I’m Emily! Emily Lynette!

Like fabric tearing, I wrenched the dream apart, waking frozen and gasping in my bed.

The window was wide open. Moonlight streamed in. I didn’t need to look to know that the book was open on my desk again. I flicked on the bedside light. Shivering, I slapped the book shut and slammed it onto the shelf. A hint of scent—rosemary and violets—blew across my face, familiar and painful. I didn’t know why returning things to normal was so important. It just was. I had to regain control.

The window.

No way was I putting my hand out there again. The plaintive wailing of the cold girl drifted in.

I know I was going to help you but…I can’t. I really can’t.

The thought of that wintry touch had me gagging with revulsion. Not tonight. I grabbed a coat hanger and reached carefully through the window, snagging the latch to bring it close enough for a wild grab. My frozen fingers missed. One of my nails snapped off close to the quick but I was too cold to feel it yet. My heartbeat had taken over my whole body. Another swipe at the latch. Got it. Triumph, as I thumped the window shut. I dropped the latch and let out my held breath in a rush.

Slap. Slap.

I gave a strangled cry and jumped away from the window. A pair of small, pale hands were pressed against the glass. White starfish. Fingers crawling, clawing. Searching for a way in…

The room see-sawed around me. Breathing too fast. With no idea what I was about to do, I screwed up my will power and shoved it outwards.

Go away!

With a wail the hands disappeared into the night. I sank, shaking onto my bed. Pieces of a puzzle. It was all linked somehow. How many ghosts could one place have? They must be linked. Helen and the other girl—the dying one—Kate, as well. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill haunting. And I was being drawn in whether I wanted it or not.

I stumbled the mile and a half walk to St Martin’s church in a sick fog of exhaustion. I’d managed to tease my medusa-hair into a long, dark plait and put on my one skirt, mostly to keep Dad off my back. In his opinion jeans and church didn’t belong in the same time-space continuum. I was in a foul mood and not at all certain there wasn’t going to be an unfortunate incident involving gossipy old ladies and the font. Sleeping in the vicarage had become a health hazard. A mental health hazard, anyway.

By the time I reached the weathered-grey, iron-studded door of the church, it was past 8.00am and I still didn’t feel awake. There were voices coming from inside St Martin’s. The feted ladies of the congregation were already here, then. Was it possible to be a vicar’s pet? I grumbled to myself and pushed the heavy door all the way open.

“Ah, here she is!” A large, billowy woman was bearing down on me like a ship in full sail. I stiffened, bewildered and horrified, as I was enfolded in a fleshy embrace. The woman was dressed entirely in salmon pink calling up the mental image an over-enthusiastic ham. Her hand clamped on my arm and dragged me after her up the aisle. Maybe more of a lobster than a ham. Lobster-woman pulled me to a halt before two other ladies. One was paper thin and faded. She smelled unmistakably of mothballs.

The other woman was shorter with a large bosom resting on a larger stomach. Her ankles overflowed her orthopaedic shoes. She smiled, showing off gappy, yellowed teeth.

“This is Miss Greers.” The lobster-woman still had a grip on my arm. She flapped a hand toward the thin, faded woman, whose lips lifted in what might have been meant as a smile. “Mrs. Edwards.” The lobster’s hand was flapped at the shorter woman this time. “And I’m Mrs Holden.”

I decided that I hated all of them. And this stupid church.

A breathy laugh from one of the pews made my head snap up.

“Oh, and not forgetting Mrs Cranford, who came all the way down here to see if there was anything she could do.” Mrs Holden’s tone suggested that the best thing Mrs. Cranford could do was bugger off. I peered into the dimly lit pews. A little old woman with wispy white hair and fragile looking bones was eyeing me back. Her dark eyes were bright and snapping with intelligence.

“Doesn’t that young lady have a name too, Cynthia? I’m sure you were getting to it of course.” Mrs Cranford’s wispy voice was full of wry pleasure.

Mrs Holden’s pleasant expression tightened. “Of course. This is Emily Lynette, ladies. Our new vicar’s daughter.” They all mumbled pleasantries except for Mrs. Cranford who just continued to watch me keenly.

It was as mind-numbingly dull and confidence-shatteringly awful as I had expected. Being the youngest person in the room by at least forty years, I was sent running for water or up ladders or to carry anything heavy. The boring task of matching and arranging flowers definitely wasn’t helped by the women’s attitudes to me. Mrs Holden talked to me as though I was four. After half an hour I wanted to ram a carnation down her throat and see if she could still use that sickly-sweet voice.

Miss Greers went into absurd levels of detail over how to layer the flowers, finishing every sentence to me with ‘dear’. “Do be careful, dear”. “Place it here, dear”, “no not like that, dear.” Mrs Holden may as well have not bothered telling them my name. None of them used it.

Mrs. Edwards was the worst. She huffed her immense girth around, face purple with effort. She had no concept of personal space. Every time she exhaled I was bathed in a warm spray of halitosis. Mixed with the camphor smell of moth balls and the lavender water they had all splashed on with reckless abandon, on top of two sleepless nights, and my head rang like hammered iron. I was going to make village history by being the vicar’s daughter who spewed in the church.

What I hated most were their transparent attempts to get me to talk. Fire-engine-red with humiliation, I clenched shaking hands into fists while Mrs Edwards wheezed on about “not being embarrassed about your speech, dear.”

“We’re all in God’s house now. Practice speaking with us. I’m sure he will take pity on you,” chirped wafer-thin Miss Greers.

I wondered if I could drown them all in the font before one of them got away and raised the alarm.

I punished them in the only way I was able. Complete and absolute silence. I felt them exchanging glances behind my back. There might be trouble with Dad if this got back to him. Right now, I didn’t care. He’d dumped me in this mess without considering my feelings at all.

From her roost in the pews, Mrs. Cranford occasionally offered her opinion on one of the other ladies’ arrangements. I soon noticed that her remarks were designed to annoy and distract, instead of help. Her eyes glinted with mischief. After fleshy Mrs. Holden lugged a great urn of carnations and greenery up to the altar and then pink-faced as her suit, and huffing with effort, brought it back again because “no it really didn’t look right there, after all,” I decided I liked Mrs. Cranford. She caught my eye and gave me a slow wink.

Centuries later, the flowers were done. I thought I might wander outside for half an hour, and calm down before Dad showed up to give his first service, when Mrs Holden said, “And now, dear, you can set out the tea things for the group meeting afterwards.”

I considered screaming.

“Cynthia, I think you were right. I’ve over done it.” Mrs. Cranford’s voice was impish. “I think I shall go home.”

“Oh. Oh dear. But you’ll miss Reverend Matthews’ first sermon.” Mrs. Holden was distressed. Unreasonably so, I thought.

“Well, Cynthia dear, I’m sure you can tell me all about it. Emily would you mind helping me up?”

That was the closest anyone had come to using my name all morning. I would have given her a lot more than a hand. I held out my arm and she grasped it with unexpected strength.

She didn’t need my help at all. I narrowed my eyes.

“Emily will just walk me back as far as my house. Then she can run back in time for the service.” Mrs. Cranford said this as though there was no question of her being obeyed.

“Oh. Do hurry, dear,” Miss Greers called to me. “You don’t want to be late, dear.” They were all seriously taken with Dad as the new vicar. No wonder they wanted to get me talking. I wondered which of them came up with the fantasy of presenting me to my dad, stammer cured. The miracle of the talking daughter.

“I daresay your father will find a way to deal with the fan club,” Mrs. Cranford said as we went outside. I started. “Don’t look so surprised, Emily, I came to the church to meet you.”

I didn’t know how to reply to that. I stared at her in confusion. She nodded once as if deciding something. “Look here.” She led me across the small churchyard outside St Martin’s, into a part that had graves much older than the rest. “There, Emily.” She pointed to a great, archway shaped tombstone. I couldn’t read the engraving, of course. But for some reason I picked out the date.

1789.

Bile rose in my throat. My ears buzzed with white noise and I gasped for breath without knowing why.

Except I did. It was her. It was her grave. Kate.

“Yes. Kate. Exactly.” Mrs. Cranford nodded. I glanced at her. Had I said that out loud? “I think, Emily, that you and I should have a talk. You’ve been chosen to play the witness.”

“Wuh wuh witness?” I still couldn’t breathe properly. What was Mrs. Cranford saying?

“We’ll go to my house,” she said in the same tone that defied disobedience.

Not that I wanted to disobey. I was too confused to protest. I made a pretence of helping her but she didn’t need me. I was the one with wobbly legs. Her stick was just a prop. We stopped half-way down the village main street in front of a small cottage with a slate roof. She opened the garden gate and ushered me through.

“Yes, it’s you alright.” Mrs. Cranford pulled out a huge key for the front door. “And you’re not the first Emily to stay in that vicarage.” She fixed me with a dark, beady gaze. “It may give you more power than those unfortunates who came before you.”

There was nothing old lady-ish about Mrs. Cranford’s living room. I had half expected a clutter of twee knick-knacks and ornaments, antique china, crocheted anti-macassars and armrests on stiff, fussy furniture. Instead I was sitting in a comfy, overstuffed armchair with burgundy upholstery. The walls were painted alternately cream and terracotta. A brightly woven Mexican ‘eye of god’ was hanging on one wall, facing a large dream catcher on the wall opposite. Scattered amongst the books on the bookcase were an odd collection of items: a crystal geode, a wooden flute decorated with black feathers, a string of alternating amber and jet beads. There was a sleek black laptop lying closed on the coffee table, between the coasters. It looked out of place when so many of the objects in the room seemed…well…hippy-ish.

Mrs. Cranford came in carrying a tray with a tea pot and cups. “I don’t suppose you take sugar in your tea, do you Emily? But you should have some today all the same.” She used the delicate silver sugar tongs to drop two lumps into a cup and stirred. I winced, thinking how gaggingly sweet it would taste. She held out the cup and saucer without the slightest tremor in her tiny, bird-boned hands. I wondered what benefit there was for her in appearing to be weaker than she actually was. She had dropped all pretence now we were alone.

I braced myself and sipped the tea to be polite. To my surprise I immediately felt better. Warmer than I had for days. I raised my eyebrows at Mrs. Cranford.

“I didn’t put anything in it, Emily. It’s the sugar. You needed to replenish your energy and close your centres down. Were you taught nothing?” She gave me a piercing bright eyed look. “I thought you seemed drained.”

Centres? Energy? What was she on about?

“I duh don’t nuh know what you m-mean.” I confessed.

“Oh heavens! You’re a natural aren’t you? With no training at all.” Mrs. Cranford rolled her eyes heavenward as if asking for patience. “Well we’ve no time this morning. You’ll need to slip in after the service has started as it is. Your father won’t be pleased if you don’t show up.”

“Dad duh doesn’t c-care what I d-do. Ever!” I spat the last word out in defiance.

Mrs. Cranford pursed her lips. “Maybe so Emily, but you’re a clever girl. You already know this village is full of gossips.”

I nodded in defeat. Guess I wouldn’t be getting out of it. “It’s Em-Emily Luh Lynette.”

“That’s a mouthful. Even for me.” She smiled showing a good set of teeth and suddenly I had a glimpse of what she must have looked like at my age. “It’s a pretty name but I shall call you Emily. That’s who you are here in Arncliffe.”

“I p-prefer Eh-Emlynn,” I offered.

“An appalling diminutive. I never could stand nicknames. They take the power out of the real thing. No, you’ll forgive me but Emily it is. At least between us.”

Gran had called me that, until she died.

“Oh-kay.” I smiled for the first time that day. My black mood was lifting in spite of her strange warnings about witnesses and tombstones.

“That’s better. You’re a pretty girl, Emily, now you’ve got some colour back in your cheeks and you’ve stopped looking so sullen.” Mrs. Cranford said, demonstrating a knack for appalling honesty.

I blushed. I had been sulking all morning, though not without reason.

“If I’d had your morning I expect I’d have looked sullen too. Why ever didn’t you dunk Cynthia in the font? I could have done with a good laugh.”

I surprised myself by laughing. “I wuh wanted to,” I confessed. I helped myself to biscuits from the plate next to the tea pot. I was obscurely relieved to see they were arranged on a doily. Some evidence of her being a normal old lady. “Y-you said you wuh wanted t-to talk to muh me?”

“I did. But that was before I realized how little you knew. This isn’t going to be a short chat I’m afraid. Let me ask you a few questions, though.” She held up her little claw of a hand to forestall my protest. “You need to know what you’re dealing with. In order to help you at all, I need to know what you must be taught. I suspect it is too late to extract you from the Pattern now, for all it’s only been a few days. Have you seen Helen?”

I shook my head to clear it. I couldn’t keep up with her mercurial subject hopping. Panic and relief tangled together in my chest. I wasn’t mad. It was real. “I’ve b-been Helen.” It felt good to say it out loud to someone but goose-flesh prickled up my arms and neck.

Been Helen?” Mrs Cranford snapped a sharp look at me, her brows drawing together. “Whatever do you mean?”

I mumbled something inarticulate about seeing things through Helen’s eyes. Mrs Cranford caught the gist of what I was saying and her gaze went from sharp to laser-beam focused. “It’s huh-happened tw-twice now,” I finished

“Worse than I thought.” Mrs Cranford put down her cup with a clatter. Droplets of milky tea stained the cloth on the tray. “It’s happening much faster this time. I shouldn’t wonder if your sister isn’t already being dragged into the Pattern as well. Young girls in that house are never a good thing. And He’ll have been hungry and waiting for over thirty years now. That’s how long since the last one. It’s a shame our new vicar isn’t a bachelor like Reverend Ables. I’m not sure thirty years is enough time for him to weaken. And he must be stopped. Only how?”

I stared at her with my mouth slightly open. I was even more lost than I had been before. I wondered if Mrs Cranford was as together as I’d thought. I glanced at the bizarre collection of objects again, noticing a black stone Egyptian hawk god and an equal armed cross enclosed in a circle next to a corn dolly and a bundle of dried heather. Charms of protection. The thought passed through like lightening but I felt certain I was right. Who would need that much protection? Only one thing stopped me making an embarrassed and hasty retreat; Mrs Cranford knew who Helen was.

And the tea, I thought suddenly. She knew I felt physically ill after seeing the tombstone and how to make me feel better. If she’s crazy, so am I. And I don’t think I am. That settled it. I couldn’t deal with this alone. I picked one of the things that was confusing me, at random.

“Puh Pattern? W-what’s that?” Please tell me something.

“We really don’t have time now, Emily.” She compressed her lips.

I made a noise of disgust and she smiled that surprisingly young smile again. “Ah, I remember that feeling! Very well. But quickly. What we do in life casts shadows over what will happen in the future, sometimes long after we are Dead and gone. That vicarage, Arncliffe, the moors themselves are at the heart of a tragedy that keeps happening again and again. That is the Pattern. It’s always young girls. They start the Pattern and feed it. I’m afraid it’s already chosen you, Emily, to play the part of the witness.”

“Wuh witness?” All the calm I’d felt was disintegrating. “And who is Huh He?” Did she mean the watcher I’d sensed on the moor?

“He is a dark man. Dark in spirit. He made his own dreadful bargain, don’t ask me with whom or how. No one knows. No one living. All those other young girls merely pay the price.”

I did not like the sound of that. Denial looked very warm and comforting about now.

“Don’t worry. There’s still time to pull your sister out. There’s time to cheat him. Come to me on Tuesday. You’re not at school yet? No? Good. Tuesday then. I’ll try to explain more. I’d say tomorrow but my god-son is coming to stay for a visit. It’s ten past ten you’d better run to the church. Use the east door; you’ll be able to slip in through the vestry.” She hustled me to the door taking my tea-cup as she went.

“Th-thanks…”

“Best be quick”

I paused at the gate as Mrs Cranford’s breathy voice followed me.

“Emily? On Tuesday I’ll need to know the things you haven’t told me yet.”

I winced. That would be a fun conversation. Even if Mrs Cranford was an ally. I felt a chill creep through me at the thought of the watcher, remembering what Grace had said that first night. It would explain why I’d been frightened of the moor from the start. I didn’t want to believe I was already entangled in this Pattern, but something was going on. And it clearly wasn’t going to leave me alone.

I didn’t know where my sisters were. I was sure they’d been at church but I’d hidden behind a pillar after coming in late and hadn’t seen them. I’d thought I’d caught a glimpse of Grace as I tried to sneak out at the end. There had been a flash of golden hair near the notice board in the main entrance, and then a white hand reached up to the board. Putting a notice up? It couldn’t have been Grace, I decided, before skirting the outside of the church and racing home.

The vicarage was empty when I got there. Instead of worrying about it, I grabbed a glass of water and some biscuits before disappearing upstairs to practise. With the window open and the sharp spring air blowing in, my attic bedroom was a refuge. It was a relief not to think about anything except scales and arpeggios. This was a kind of lost that was safe. A protective bubble that shut out the shadows with silver notes. Whatever else had happened to me in the accident, I was grateful that nothing had injured my hands. I let my mind drift and the scale under my fingers changed into a haunting ballad:

Beware the moor

Beware the moor

Beware of Long Lan-kin.

Be sure the door is bolted well…

With a gasp I broke off playing. Dammit Amy, I thought. Thanks so much for putting that song in my head. That was it. No more playing today.

I was shocked to see how the light was fading outside. Stretching cramped and aching hands, I realised had been playing for hours. I just didn’t remember it. A sob of hysteria bubbled up my throat before a completely mundane thought chased it away. It was my turn to cook tonight. Crap.

I slammed the lid of the piano and hurtled down the stairs, skidding around the cold spot at the last minute. No more ghostly time-travel. Even if I was the witness. Whatever that was.

I slid to a halt in the kitchen doorway. Amy and Grace were already there. They didn’t see me at first because they were doing some bizarre dance routine to a song on the radio. Amy was giggling hysterically. Grace was grinning. I hadn’t seen her smile like that since before Mum died.

Watching my sisters, I felt a twinge of despair. It was so completely unfair. With Dad’s deep blue eyes and Mum’s curved, slender figure, Grace was lovely with no apparent effort. She’d pulled her straight, glossy hair back in some sort of twist but half the golden strands were coming down. It looked intentional not dishevelled. Grace had everything. Even Amy. Grace had time for Amy. Who could help loving Amy?

I hated feeling that way. Like there was a hot stone in my chest. Watching my sisters have fun without me…It was clear that it really was just me that Grace hated.

Amy was just Amy. Thirteen-year-old physics nerd. Late developer but just as pretty as Grace. Compared to my sylph-like sisters, I felt gawky and angular. Add my stammer and the fact that the Dead now had me on speed dial, and it was no wonder I didn’t fit in. And Amy had fun with Grace. I wasn’t needed. Had I been oblivious to the two of them getting closer for the last eight months? A sharp stab of annoyance at myself made me turn away. It wasn’t as if I’d strained anything searching for either of them earlier. We were all strangers in a new place but I’d only thought of myself. I always was a bit self-involved when it came to my music. Flushing with shame, I decided have any right to feel excluded.

“Oh. There you are.” Grace’s tone was even. I felt myself bristling defensively. Obviously she was up to something. “Dinner is on. If you just sort out the veg, we’ll be done.”

Huh. So Grace had cooked when it was my turn. Definitely suspicious.

“We knew you really wanted to practise,” Amy clarified, a little out of breath from laughing. “So we cooked.”

“You can take my turn tomorrow, Gremlin, then we’re quits.” Grace still sounded pleasantly neutral. For some reason that annoyed me further. “I’m going to set the table. Himself will be out of his study soon.” She sauntered off to the dining room. For Grace that was positively affectionate.

I raised an eyebrow at Amy. Explain.

“We had a talk after church. I think she feels really bad about yesterday.” Amy said sheepishly.

“Sh-she said th-that?” The words were sour on my tongue.

“Well, not straight out. You know Grace. But she did say she was sorry for calling me a child and being rude while Haze was here. She is trying to make it up, Em.” Amy was almost pleading. I wanted to throw something at Grace for getting Amy to do her dirty work.

“After all, we’re all stuck here together,” Amy concluded lamely.

It was my fault I couldn’t accept a third party apology that wasn’t even directed at me. Mentioning Haze just shredded the last of my rationality.

“Fuh funny, she nuh never said s-so to muh me.” I tried to keep my tone level but bitterness leaked into my voice. Amy squirmed, shoulders drawn up. I felt like a monster. But I couldn’t stop. All my frustration and helplessness and hurt were boiling over.

“Maybe if you just talked to her…” Amy suggested in a small voice.

“Fuh fat lot of g-good that did last t-time!” I snapped. “W-what’s she really pluh playing at Amy? What duh does she want?”

“Nothing.” Amy glowered at me. “For once can you just not assume the worst? Why can’t you two be friends?”

What could I say? Grace started it. She hates me not the other way around. She’s clearly after something. Grace never turns on the charm for nothing. I gnawed my lower lip. No. And it wasn’t fair to make Amy take sides.

“I duh don’t th-think she wants to be fuh friends, Amy.” I paused. “I’m suh sorry I sn sn…yelled at you.”

“S’ok. You had a crappy day. Were the flower ladies awful?”

“Yuh you have n-no idea!” I grabbed a vegetable knife and slashed into some carrots. “They all sm-smell of m-moth balls and luh lavender. And at l-least two of them are s-seriously stuck on dad.”

“Really?” Amy was appalled and fascinated.

“Ruh really. If they call round, I p-plan to be out!”

Amy giggled but it wasn’t the carefree laughter of before. Amy was about as good at lying I was. The hot lump in my chest flared brighter. She had more fun with Grace. I was no good to be around.

“Wuh what has Grace t-told you?” I tried to make my tone sound casual. And failed.

“N-nothing.” Amy was wide eyed, projecting innocence. “We just talked about yesterday, is all.”

"Hmm." No good pushing. Amy wouldn't break a confidence. I hoped Grace hadn't confided anything too drastic. Bet Haze showed up in that conversation more than Amy was letting on though. "Ay Amy? Stuh stay away from Huh Haze. Wuh whatever Grace says, he's b- bad news."

“Oh! So now you think I’m a child!” Amy whipped out, her sudden fury startling me. “I can make up my own mind, Emlynn. He might even be okay if you gave him a chance!”

“Amy! I duh didn’t mean… Luh look there’s stuh stuff you d-don’t know…” I was playing cat’s cradle with words. I didn’t know the next move, a hopeless tangle was coming.

“Really?” Amy raised an eyebrow sceptically. “More secrets? Unless you’re going to explain, I think we should drop the subject.” She folded her arms in an ‘I’m waiting’ gesture. I sank into a boggy silence. “Just let me decide for myself. He probably has nothing to do with your ‘visitor’. Maybe you spewed because you’re getting sick.”

I shook my head slowly. Everything I wanted to say was so straight and clear in my mind. How could it be such a knotted, incomprehensible mess in my throat? I wanted to protect Amy. I even wanted to protect Grace, for some reason. How was I meant to do that when no one would listen to me?

“Nuh no. There’s s-s-something going on. Something b-bad…” Urgh! Stupid stammer.

“You don’t trust anyone, do you, Em? Not since Mum died. Can’t you see that’s what caused your problems with Grace? We should have told her the truth. We never had the right to keep it from her.” Amy methodically filled pans with water. “And now we’re in a new place. We could really make a go of it. We both lost touch with our friends after the accident. It’s understandable but it’s not healthy. It’s like you’ve given up on yourself, Em.”

“Amy…” I paused, thinking about my mobile phone, which was somewhere in one of the boxes I hadn’t unpacked. I’d stopped bothering to charge the battery so it had been dead for months. All those texts and voicemails from Beth that I never answered. My stomach knotted with guilt.

“So,” Amy continued as if I hadn’t interrupted. “So today I decided. I’m going to make the best of this. I’m back to school tomorrow. It’s a chance to make new friends so that’s what I’m going to do.” She fixed at me with a level grey gaze, daring me to contradict what she was about to say. “That’s all that Grace is doing, with Haze. Maybe that’s what you should do too.”

I couldn’t answer Amy so I shrugged.

“Fine,” she said.

What had just happened? Amy and I never fought. Not ever. It lacerated me like hot wire. Amy was dead on about me not trusting anyone. Maybe she had a point there.

But not about Haze. Both she and Grace were wrong. How could I make them see?

We finished making dinner in strained silence. I wondered if this was all a carefully constructed put up job by Grace. Using Amy as a mouthpiece. Then I wondered if I was just paranoid. Possibly delusional. Maybe Mrs Cranford had had a day off her meds today or something.

No. Haze was something not right. I just needed to prove it.

Trepidation followed me to bed. Which wasn’t surprising after the last couple of nights. It didn’t matter. Amy’s words kept scoring themselves over and over into my brain. Each repetition burning them in a bit deeper. I needed things to be alright with Amy before I could do anything. Especially sleep. I heard a foot fall on the stairs below. Amy must be up. Maybe she couldn’t sleep either? I wouldn’t wait until morning. I’d go and apologise now. If we could just hug and make up, I’d be calmer. Maybe then I’d sleep.

I headed down the stairs, Amy was just out of sight but I heard her footsteps. I sped up and saw a flash of blonde hair rounding the corner to the kitchen. The cold spot trailed icy fingers over my skin as I edged past and ran after my sister. “Ay Amy…” I hissed. “Amy!” In the kitchen, the door to the orchard was standing open. What on earth was Amy doing?

Shuddering to think of Amy out near the moor in the dark, alone, I slipped outside, my bare feet painful on the freezing ground. She was stood gazing out at the moor in her nightdress. Moonlight gleamed on her pale hair. Was she sleep-walking? She hadn’t done that since she was a little girl.

“A-Amy!” I reached out and touched her shoulder.

As soon as my hand made contact I knew something was wrong. She felt cold, hard like the frozen ground. A smell like leaf mould and disturbed stale earth blew in my face. I gagged. Time had slowed down. Or my brain had sped up. Like a frame by frame reveal in an arty film she turned to face me. Before she was halfway round, I was recoiling because it wasn’t Amy.

Her hair was loose and fair. Her hands, white and small. Maybe she was Amy’s age when she died. But she was old. Very old. Black waves of revulsion crashed through me. No eyes. Just blank, empty sockets where her eyes should have been. She opened her mouth and the plaintive wailing I’d heard before, sliced into my ears. She reached towards me with bone-white, icy hands…

Adrenaline flooded my system in a dizzying metallic tide. I swiped her hands away and leapt backwards, half running for the door. I felt her nails graze the nape of my neck… Breath, heart and mind all stuttered – and I was through the door, bolting it behind me. Sharp gasps, fogging the air around me. In an ecstasy of terror, I pumped at the light switch. It wouldn’t come on. I was in the dark. Waiting for a pale hand to press itself against the window…

Nothing.

Was she gone?

The skin on my face tightened. It was still too cold.

I was being watched. It felt wrong here, in the kitchen. Rotten. Bad eggs and blocked sewers. I was filled with hate and jealousy. But it was not me. It wasn’t coming from me at all.

My heart punched my ribs like a fist. No escape outside. I had to go through the kitchen. Some primitive instinct stopped me trying.

Can’t stay here anymore. Just can’t. Let me go; faint; die. I don’t care I just can’t stay here

The garden? Edging towards the window to peer out…was the cold girl gone…? No one there.

Cold breath against my cheek made me twist stiffly from the window.

A figure stood beside me gazing at the moor. Bitter hatred rolled off him. It was a dark spear of poison flung at the moor, where an answering darkness watched and waited. He turned. Glacial blue eyes bored into me. I flattened myself against the sink, shaking and shaking. Here. The danger was here. Not outside. His face contorted in a mask of primal fury.

You were supposed to watch her, Helen!

“I…I’m nuh not Helen…” I rasped in fright.

He raised a fist. I flinched away, screwing my eyes shut, braced for the pain…

It didn’t come.

He was gone.

The atmosphere had lightened. There was nothing left now but the faint feeling of smug satisfaction coming from the moor, rolling on a dark under-belly of loathing. I braced my hands on my knees trying to whoop in enough air. The nausea was coming.

I’d been so busy thinking about the watcher outside the house, that I had completely missed the one already inside.

I hadn’t understood half of what Mrs Cranford had said earlier that morning but something niggled at me. Something I needed to remember. It all seemed small and dim as though years had passed. The palms of my hands were stinging and my hip throbbed where I had hit it on the sink. My slow, foggy brain was adding up discomforts and drawing conclusions. I was sprawled, in the dark, on the cold stone flags of the kitchen floor. My mouth was watering like I was about to throw up. The thought of my aching abdomen clenching in a spew attack, drew a groan out of me. I forced myself to sit up, swaying as small, white stars popped and flashed in the darkness behind my eyelids. I hurt all over. There wasn’t a hope in hell of being able to stand up, let alone getting to my room.

Whatever crossfire I’d just been caught in had left me limp and watery. One last thought sparked before I blacked out again. Sweet tea. Mrs Cranford made me drink sweet tea when I felt nauseous by the grave earlier. Filling the kettle was beyond me but maybe there was something in one of the cupboards I could use. I crawled to cupboard next to the sink. Searching by touch, I shifted bags of rice and pasta and various tins out of the way. My hand closed on a screw top jar. I brought it closer to my face and unscrewed the lid.

Honey. Perfect. No spoon. The cutlery drawer was too far away and everything was turning grey at the edges again. I dipped into the jar with frozen fingers and scooped honey straight into my mouth. It spread, summery sweet, over my tongue and soothed my throat. Strength trickled back into my limbs. Before I knew it I’d eaten almost half the jar. I twisted the lid back on and shoved it towards the back of the cupboard.

My legs were rubbery but I could stand now. I washed my sticky hands in the sink then chugged down a glass of water. Better. Not as shaky and cold. I glanced toward the moor. It was too dark to make out anything except the edges of the apple trees in the garden. It didn’t matter. I felt greedy eyes trained on the house. I remembered the rage on the man’s face – the man who had raised his fist – and shivered. I wouldn’t feel safe until I was back in my room.

I made decrepit progress up the stairs. The cold spot was a point of frosty light. I recoiled and inched past. I’d had enough for tonight. Forever in fact. Who were all these people? Who was Helen? What did it all mean? I wished I was seeing Mrs Cranford sooner. Maybe she was eccentric but she was the only one who seemed to know anything. Or maybe not. I remembered the man in the village shop. What if the whole village was in on it?

Okay, now I was beyond paranoid. He was probably talking about something else. Coincidence. Wasn’t that most likely? Even Amy thought there might be rational explanations for some of it. But then, I didn’t tell Amy everything so she didn’t have all the facts. If she had, would she still be telling me to give Haze a chance? Or was it better not to involve her further? I felt a stab of resentment that I didn’t have the sort of dad that I could tell things to. Someone who would take us all away because I asked, no matter how mental the reason sounded. Before it was too late.

Cold wind blew through the open window of my attic room. The book lay open on the desk. I had run out of fear. All I could summon up was exasperation. I slammed the book onto the shelf. I didn’t even care what it had to do with the cold girl or the watcher on the moor, or the man in the kitchen, anymore. I couldn’t read it anyway, so as clues went it was pretty useless. I caught a faint whiff of a familiar scent. It was more than my tired brain was capable of processing. But I knew it. Rosemary. Violets.

I grabbed the coat hanger and hooked the window latch close enough to grab. There was nothing outside. I swept the curtains closed again. I slouched on the bed and lay glaring at the row of leather bound classics on the top shelf. I didn’t want to turn out the light on the nightstand. It struck me then with awful irony. Mum gave me reading, like a gift. Mum was the one who took it away. Why? Why, why, why?! I screamed into my pillow, hitting it with my fists. Why Mum why? Grace’s right. Why did you leave her? Why did you try to take us with you? Why did you completely screw up my life?

If I could only cry…The tears built up and built up inside me like the words I couldn’t get out. The whole lot boiled into a poisonous witch’s brew of helplessness and rage. I forced myself to unclench my fists and lie back. And abruptly fell asleep.

“Emlynn? What do you think? We could go Thursday.” Mum smiles at me and flicks the indicator down.

“I really don’t think I’m good enough. I won’t get in.”

“Emily Lynette at some point you’re going to have to stop being such a pessimist! I know you can do it. You play beautifully. Yes, even the violin. Never mind what Amy says.”

“Won’t it be expensive? Especially now that Dad’s…” I can’t finish.

I don’t blame Dad for finding comfort in religion exactly. I really don’t. But I also don’t really understand. It’s weird trying to explain to my friends that Dad is a vicar now. It’s weird that we have to go to church on Sundays. And I know that things aren’t quite right between Mum and Dad.

Mum’s face tenses. She raises a hand to rub her temple as if her head hurts. She’s been doing that a lot lately.

“Emlynn, that’s what scholarships are for. I know you’re too young to apply just yet but why don’t you do this audition? There are all kinds of contests you can enter that will look good on your application. Think about it.” Mum raises a hand to shade her eyes. “Ah, here’s Amy now. Finally.”

The great thing about Mum is that she never pushes. She says what she needs to and leaves you to mull it over.

I’m not really here.

It’s a golden afternoon. We drive to the corner shop and get ice cream. I always have raspberry ripple. Amy has a ‘99 with two flakes. She still manages to get chocolate all over herself, just like she did when she was a kid.

This is all going to go wrong. In a few weeks Mum will drive you off the road…

I tease Amy about a boy in her class and she flicks a piece of cornet at me. We’re happy. We don’t even know how happy we are but the now is perfect. Normal. Warm. No shadow of the accident…

This isn’t real. I’m dreaming.

…that’s yet to happen. That will end in noise and blood. That’s in a future I can’t even imagine on this golden afternoon….

It’s a dream….

But I want it to be real. I want to be back in that happier time.

I struggled to stay asleep but it was useless. The dream shredded around me. I opened my eyes and gazed at the dark beams of the ceiling. For a moment I was choked with sorrow. My cheeks were wet and I couldn’t remember why I was so sad.

Then it crashed into me, an oncoming train of grief. It had been like this every day for months after the accident. Mum was dead. I was broken. I wouldn’t be going to the royal college of music. Or any college. I wanted to crawl back into the dream, the first good dream I had had in a long time, and just freeze us all there like insects in amber. Unchanging. Unbroken.

All I had was ash-grey now. Cold. Alone. The company of the Dead. A mystery to solve. Maybe dying in the car crash would have been a preferable option. I hated myself as soon as I thought that. I would never leave Amy. Even if she became embarrassed by me too.

I had to do something. Wallowing made it too easy to give up. Amy’s words came back to me with a sting. It’s like you’ve given up on yourself, Em. I winced. I had to do better. And the idea of hanging around all day alone, waiting for answers and dreading nightfall, made me lurch out of bed. Time to tackle this head on. I was scared of the moor so I would walk on the moor. Either I would find something or I’d prove to myself that there was nothing to worry about. The alarm clocks hands pointed out that it was 7.30am. Damn. Had I missed Amy going off to her new school on the first day?

Amy was giving her breakfast a queasily murderous glare, as though it was the toasts fault she couldn’t eat it. Taking in the school uniform, I suspected that was the real cause of her moodiness. Few people ever look good in school uniform. Amy looked like an eleven year old school girl. Which might not have mattered if she actually was eleven rather than thirteen. The pleated navy skirt, thick-soled shoes and navy blue blazer of Stonewall High weren’t designed to flatter anyone.

“A-Amy?” I felt awkward, wondering if she was still mad about yesterday evening. Either Amy had other things on her mind or she’d put it behind her. Her expression transformed from grumpiness into something more open. She was pleased to see me. Apparently I was forgiven.

“Emlynn! I thought I might miss you. My bus goes in twenty minutes.” She gave me a sickly smile, clearly more nervous than she wanted to let on.

“Suh Silly, you should have wuh woken me.”

“You haven’t been sleeping well. Was that you last night? I thought I heard footsteps outside my room.” Amy scowled at her untouched toast again.

“Yuh yes. I g-got a gluh glass of water,” I lied. It was a sign of how distracted Amy was that she didn’t call me on it immediately.

“I’d better go.” She glanced at the clock. “I’m glad I saw you though.”

“Wuh want me to w-walk you?”

“Really? But you haven’t eaten?”

“It’s fuh fine. I’ll eat wuh when I’m b-back.” I grinned. “As luh long as I w-won’t cr cramp your s-style.”

“Don’t be daft. Come on.”

The school bus left from the bus stop at the end of the village. We arrived in time, although Amy was the only one getting on there. I started to fade back so that any potential new friends wouldn’t see Amy with her older sister. Amy turned and gave me a fierce hug, oblivious of onlookers.

“See you later then.” She grimaced and got on the bus.

I smiled as she waved from the window. Then I was left standing at the bus stop alone. Breakfast was sounded appealing. I could still taste the emergency honey. No need to think about that yet. Just go back and eat and…what was that? The faint roar of a motorbike stopped me in my tracks. There had to be other bike enthusiasts around here. The road across the moors must be stunning – on a more summery day anyway. There was no reason for me to think it was Haze. But if it was and he was meeting someone…That was as far as I thought things through. I took off, over the stile in the hedge and across the lane after the sound of the bike.

It was madness. I’d never be able to catch up to someone on a motorbike. And if it was Haze, what exactly did I think I could do? Vomit on him? I was driven on and on, faster, faster until my breath grated in my throat. The pull was more than the sound of the bike. I was a hooked fish being reeled in. I didn’t notice when I left the foot path. Only that I was running flat out on the moor. The ground was uneven. Clumps of heather not yet in bloom and tangles of gorse stuck out sly branches, catching at my ankles with elderly fingers. I nearly fell twice but somehow my own momentum kept me upright. I had lost all sense of direction. All I could do was follow the noise of the bike. Follow it like a siren’s song.

It was getting louder or I was getting closer.

I sobbed for breath, my hair tangled thick and dark around my face. The bike’s engine cut out just as my foot caught in a hole. I crashed down into the gorse, scratching my face and hands, breaking my fall on my forearms. Whatever urgency had drawn me here had gone. My stomach twisted. I really wished I hadn’t come. Panting and overheated, I lay with one cheek pressed against the leaves and dirt, my hair caught on gorse branches. Small, early yellow petals rained down around me. I should leave. Now.

I started to get up but a voice sent me diving instinctively back into the gorse. It was him. My breathing was far too loud. If he found me… I shuddered. I would just lie here. He had to leave eventually, right? I mean he couldn’t live out here.

Or I could try and find out more…

I wriggled through the clump of gorse, thorns snagging at my skin, until I was able to peer down the slope. Twelve feet away, in a dip in the moor, I saw a black motorcycle heeled over on its kickstand.

“…knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.” Haze had his back to me but I the smile in his voice was unmistakeable.

 My skin crawled. How had I not noticed his voice before? It was silky-cruel, its timbre low and dark. Enticing. Repulsive. In a few words he suggested…possibilities. Things the hearer would never have considered until he spoke. That voice could incite you to murder and to do it gleefully.

 Shivering, I knew I didn’t stand a chance against him.

“What makes you think I was waiting here for you?” the second voice was husky and feminine. “I might just be taking a walk.”

“But you’re not.” Haze’s tone was derisive. “You came because I called you. Because I… need you.” He leant over the smaller figure and a flash of shining blonde hair confirmed my fears.

 Grace.

“How did you call me? I don’t understand.” Grace had lost the throaty tone and sounded annoyed. And frightened.

“We have a… connection, Grace. You’ll see that – in time.” He lifted a strand of hair away from her face and she gazed up at him. I wanted to scream a warning. He could snap her neck in one swift twist. I felt it in every line of those powerful hands.

Instinct kept me silent and hidden. Icy sweat soaked me, stinging in my scratches.

Grace’s eyes softened and lost focus. Like part of her was being yielded up. My stomach cramped with nausea. I shoved my fist in my mouth. Not now. Don’t be sick.

I was missing something. There was something here I wasn’t getting. Wait…what was that around Grace? A shadow… a flickering. Like candle flame but fainter. I blinked hard, trying to focus on two separate images overlaying each other and moving at the same time.

They weren’t alone. There was a third presence here.

Haze’s thumb glided along Grace’s cheekbone and her head fell back, eyes fluttering shut. The flickering around her grew brighter. Beating at the edges, forcing a way in.

“So… cold…” Grace murmured.

Haze gave a triumphant twist of his lips, closer to anger than mirth. He leaned in close. His upper lip brushed against her lower one. My sister let out a low moan of pain and desire. I’d never heard her make that sound before. It raised gooseflesh on my arms, even as heat flooded my face.

“…cold…”

The air was storm heavy. Electricity crackled around their entwined figures.

“Soon.” Haze breathed against Grace’s mouth. “You’ll be ready then.” His teeth sliced a white smile before meeting in her lower lip.

It wasn’t a kiss. It was a punishment for being Grace instead of who he desired.

It was a contract signed in blood. He would devour Grace because she was an obstacle, an appetizer before the course he wanted.

Feeding. That’s what it looked like. This wasn’t passion. Grace wasn’t the first. He had done this before. How many other girls? What happened to them? I was dangerously close to snapping.

A distant rumble broke my concentration. Haze released my sister and stepped back. For a second he considered her closely. Then he was astride his bike. Grace swayed where she stood. Her skin was blue-white. Her eyes were huge and dark in her chalky face. She watched Haze kick his bike in to life and ride away. She even raised a hand to wave. He was gone. My body unclenched. A car rounded a bend in the road and passed Grace.

I was cold and shaking with adrenaline as I shoved my way out of the gorse, and stumbled down the slope.

“Guh Grace?” I grabbed her shoulders. Blue sparks rose on contact with my hands. I felt a force, huge and focused, gather behind me.

WHUMP!

There was no sound but I gasped and let go of her. It felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. Doubling over I wheezed out. “G-Grace!” The air smelled of ozone and burnt hair.

Grace’s pupils were so dilated that her eyes looked black. Blood tricked from her lower lip where Haze had bitten her. Bright beads like poisonous berries. She swayed but I was afraid to touch her again in case I got zapped.

“G-Grace! Puh please!” Slowly recognition came back into her expression. She shook her head. Her pupils retracted to normal.

“Gremlin? What are you doing here?” She eyed me with suspicion.

“Luh looking for y-you.” I forced myself to stand up straight.

“Like that?” She took in my ratty old jeans and my sweat-damp hair full of leaves and dirt. “Why are you all scratched? There is a foot path, you know.”

She tossed her own immaculate hair. I was distracted from the stab of annoyance at Grace’s evaluation of my appearance, as I watched her hair settle back around her shoulders. Was it darker? I couldn’t be sure. Too much had happened. My mind was leaping from thought to thought like stepping stones in a treacherous river. I wouldn’t let her put me off.

“Guh Grace what was that with Huh Haze?” I struggled to keep my voice level.

“You were spying on me? Oh that’s rich! Were you hoping for something newsworthy to go to Dad with?” She sneered at me. I was almost relieved to hear her being snarky. “Well you’ll just have to report back that I stopped on my walk to give him directions won’t you? Poor Gremlin. No chance to be interesting today.”

My mouth fell open. No way. She couldn’t believe that. Didn’t she remember anything?

And directions to where exactly? You went up the road or down it. There wasn’t an intersection for miles. It was the only road. What really disturbed me was that Grace did believe what she was saying. She thought she’d only spoken to Haze in passing. What would she have remembered about this entire incident if I hadn’t arrived when I did? Words tangled around my tongue. I made a last valiant effort to make her remember something…anything.

“H-How did you kuh cut your luh lip?”

“What?” Grace’s scowl snapped off and for a second she looked rattled.

“Y-your luh lip is bluh bleeding. W-what happened?” Please, Grace. Please try. Think. Fight.

“Huh.” Grace wiped her mouth absently then stared at the dark red smear on her hand. “You must have knocked my mouth when you crashed into me. You’re such a stumble-fuck, Gremlin!”

“Grace, it wuh was Huh Ha…”

“Oh shut up! Look what you did. This is going to swell like an inner tube. Thanks a lot, Gremlin!”

“Wuh well if there’s nuh-nuh-thing going on than it d-doesn’t m-matter what you look like does it?” I flashed furiously, elbowing my way between doubling words. “Or are you kuh kuh kuh…snogging lots of strange men?”

“What would you know about anything! Who would ever look at you anyway? Skinny, flat-chested, sullen little freak! Even if they did, you wouldn’t get a second glance after they heard you open your tedious, stammering mouth.” The words were vicious, wrapping around me like barbed wire. Below the belt hits that only siblings are so expert in delivering. I didn’t care that she was cheese-pale and shivering. It didn’t occur to me that she was being illogical or that her hatred was loose and unfocused somehow. Every word stabbed.

My hand flashed out and slapped her hard across the face.

It would have been hard to say who was more surprised out of the two of us. I’m not a violent person. Okay so I’d thought about slapping Grace on a regular basis but I’d never done it. It was a pretty good blow. My palm was stinging. Grace’s head had snapped sideways. She turned slowly back to face me. Her eyes were furious through her dishevelled hair. Her lips skinned back from her teeth in a snarl. For a second I felt almost as afraid of Grace as I had of Haze a few minutes before. They were welcome to each other, I wouldn’t interfere again. Grace raised her fingers to her cheek, tracing the livid red mark my hand had left. Her left eye watered.

My eyes stretching wide, mouth gaping open. My hand was still raised as if I was owning up. Mea culpa. Breath came, light and fast. Around us, liquid shadow pooled and clung. Lingering stains of Haze’s presence. Just like before. But this time, more darkness was leaking from Grace.

The expression on her face was alien, almost inhuman. Her teeth glinted and I thought she might lunge at me. Snapping. Biting. Just like Haze. She didn’t look like Grace at all. Someone else was standing there in my sister’s skin. Then Grace’s expression smoothed out. She laughed, high and brittle.

“For you, that was a good come back, Gremlin. At least it was to the point, for once. Gets boring hanging around, waiting for you to finish a sentence.” She smiled maliciously, daring me to hit her again.

I stood, locked in place, dumb and wooden. Grace flicked a triumphant glance at me and then spun on her heel and strode unsteadily away.

I should have gone after her. She wasn’t well. I knew that, even if she didn’t. She might fall or hurt herself.

I didn’t move. I was shaking with fury, struggling against the tarry darkness that crept and clung to my skin. I wanted to hurt Grace. Hurt her badly. Every nasty thought I’d ever had about her clamoured in my head. Every petty meanness or hurt she had caused rushed back. But magnified. Three times as bad. Ten times. My sister deserved whatever she got. She was a hideous person. I wanted bad things to happen to her. Things that would make her sorry. Haze could have her…

What? Grace wasn’t that bad. I’d never hated her. The flat flashes of old-blood coloured hatred that I felt when we wound each other up, didn’t count. They were gone in a second and forgotten and…I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. But for a moment all I could think about was hurting her. Everything else had been blotted out.

I was standing in rancid shadow. Crawling things nudged and nibbled at my skin. My anger, my hatred for my sister, for myself, was feeding them…

I broke into a headlong run in the opposite direction to Grace. Away from the grasp of dark desires and hidden grudges. I couldn’t outrun my thoughts and fears. But maybe I could outrun whatever was feeding on them. The cloying shadows retreated. The road was far behind me. I flopped onto a clump of heather, panting. A mean little part of me still wanted Grace to fall flat on her face. Thought that Haze should be her problem, if she wouldn’t listen to me. It was normal sisterly spite. I wasn’t proud of it but I doubted anyone with a sister hadn’t felt like that at some point. When I hit Grace, I felt true hate. Bitter, undiluted, poisonous. Something that relished others’ pain. I saw with a bit more objectivity now I was away from the darkness Haze left behind.

Grace probably meant most of what she said to me. Probably thought it often. But I didn’t believe she would ever have said it like that. Not calculated to hurt me as much as possible, for her personal enjoyment. As for me, I’d happily slap Grace on a daily basis but I never wanted her hurt. I felt sick thinking of how I’d lost control. How I was shaking with the desire to do more damage. Gouge an eye or rip at her face. Something permanent and disfiguring. But I was sure that wasn’t really me. Or if it was, it was the worst version of me. My intuition prodded at me. We were being used. Sock puppets in someone else’s show. Something was seeping in through the cracks where we didn’t like each other very much. Where we didn’t like ourselves. Taking our basest desires, magnifying them, twisting them. How did you fight something like that?

I started walking again. No destination in mind, I just needed to be moving. I could rationalize as much as I liked but I still needed to calm down. I was a time bomb. There was too much negative stuff in me that Haze could work with. At that precise moment, I hated just about everyone. Petty, toothless hate but enough for his purposes. At least I was afraid it was. I walked and walked, oblivious to the wide, rolling beauty of the moor. I wondered if Haze was even human. If he really was doing that trick with shadow and emotions, I didn’t see how he could be. Then I thought about my own freakish ability. It was possible he was just a twenty-something-year old biker with a weird gift of his own. It made him no less dangerous.

Wasn’t it more dangerous still that I was doubting myself?

Distracted, I stumbled down a slope and put one foot ankle deep in a shallow brook. Urgh. I pulled my foot out of the thick mud with a horrible squelch. Decaying vegetation sent a wet, green reek up after it. So gross. I sat down and took off my wet trainer, pulling a face at the clammy, cold feel of my soaking-wet sock. Up-ending the shoe, I poured out a dribble of excess water. It was going to squelch, damp and spongy, around my foot all the way home.

I should have just gone home when Amy’s bus left. What an idiot I was for tearing across the moor after Haze’s bike. If anyone was keeping score, I was barely scraping one all against Haze. Grace didn’t even know she was under Haze’s spell. Had she met him before and forgotten? I felt a chilly certainty at the thought. It was part of the Pattern Mrs Cranford had told me about. Grace was well and truly caught and I didn’t even know what the Pattern was.

Under it all was the creeping dread that I would fail again. I’d lose Grace for real. Just like I lost Mum. Because I wasn’t strong enough. When I finally saw the Pattern for what it really was, would I even want to know? I didn’t want to know now. I had the sense of a huge, vague shape stretching over Arncliffe, the vicarage, me. The moor was too wide, too open, too endless. My breath was hissing between my teeth as I fought to keep a grip on the agoraphobic panic clawing its way up my throat.

“Didn’t know people still lived wild out here.” The voice was cheerily masculine.

I shrieked and whirled in a half-crouch.

A dark figure stood tall against the sky. It was him. It was Haze.

I was finished. I didn’t know how to fight him.

Spots danced in front of my eyes. My throat had shrunk to the size of a pinhole. Why couldn’t I just faint?

“Hey. Steady there.” Warm hands caught me before I could fall. Steadied me. The heat on my upper arms was comforting. I took a few deeper gulps of air. My vision cleared. No bone deep cold. No shadows. Not Haze. A boy I’d never seen before. Maybe eighteen or nineteen. His hazel eyes were flecked with gold and narrowed in concern. Sandy hair, in need of a good trim, flopped over winged eyebrows and into his eyes. I gawked stupidly at him. Mostly from relief but also because there was something about him that drew me. He wasn’t good-looking, not exactly, but he had high, arresting features at odds with a generous mouth. Those eyelashes were wasted on a boy.

He arched one swooping brow and I realised that he'd been talking the whole time. I hadn't heard a word of what he'd been saying. Heat crept into my cheeks. I noticed him surreptitiously scoping me out from head to toe. I flushed harder, knowing what he'd see. Skinny girl, mud- stained, tangled hair in a wild frizz, covered in scratches and holding one shoe in a limp hand. Probably couldn't have made a worse first impression if I tried. Although I hadn't tried to speak yet. I winced, Grace’s words were still too fresh in my memory. Peering up at him through my hair, I saw he was still waiting for an answer.

“S-sorry. Wuh what did you say?” I felt ashamed of the sound of my voice.

“I said ‘are you ok?’ You look like a…well you looked like you might be lost or something.” His low voice had a pleasant lilt.

I wondered what he was going to say before politeness made him change his mind.

“N-not lost. Wuh walking.” That wasn’t cryptic at all.

“Do you normally walk along stream beds? Because if not I could give you some pointers.” He smiled and a hidden dimple appeared at the corner of his mouth. I felt like I had stepped into a summer’s afternoon, though the breeze was chilly around me. It was impossible not to smile back. This lad carried light, not shadows, with him.

“Oh ruh really? Do t-tell?” I quirked an eyebrow back at him.

“Well, usually it’s best to take your shoes and socks off before you step in the stream, better balance on an uneven surface. Also you avoid that unpleasant squelchy feeling when you wear the shoes again later.” He paused, smirking. “Also if I were going to paddle barefoot upstream in Yorkshire, I’d wait until at least May before I tried it. But you go ahead, love. You’re clearly a Spartan lass.”

I sniggered. "Okay, I st-stepped into the bruh brook before I knew it was there. H -happy now?"

“Well, it’s a fool of a man who doesn’t appreciate an honest woman. My name’s Ciarán by the way.” He held out a hand. I wondered if he meant to shake hands but when I took it he just helped me up the bank. Kee-uh-run. I savoured the way he had said his name in that lilting accent.

“So you are Irish th-then?” I pulled my trainer back on, squelchy feeling, cold foot and wet vegetation smell included. Great. Not that he’d fancy me anyway but it would have been nice not to look like a complete lunatic. I sighed internally.

"No flies on you are there? Yep, county Cork. Staying with me Aunt Mary this summer in a little nothing of a place called Arncliffe -"

“That’s wuh where I live!” I said. Well obviously.

“It’s past my lunchtime and I’m betting it’s past yours. Shall we walk back together?” He held out an arm as if to gesture me forward.

“Sh-sure.” I slipped past him, trying to ignore the hideous squeaking made by my wet shoe.

“So, do you have a name?”

“Yes th-thank you.” I grinned mischievously.

Ciarán eyed me narrowly. “Fair enough. A name’s an important thing. Needn’t be giving it out to strangers.”

“It’s Emlynn.” I enjoyed a moment of triumph. If there is one word that stammerers can rarely get out, it’s their own name. Which is how I ended up with ‘Emlynn’. When I stammered as a child, I could only get out the first syllable of Emily and the first syllable of Lynette. It stuck. I liked it better anyway.

“How did you get so scratched up then, Emlynn?” He glanced at me uncertainly again.

I felt wildly like laughing. Too many swooping highs and plummeting lows. What a weird few days. Weird being a massive understatement. I liked the way he said my name though. Not two blunt syllables but a lilt that made it almost pretty. Em-i-leene.

"Cr- Crawling through gorse bushes." I took a perverse delight in answering his questions in a way that told him nothing at all. I'd never paid much attention to boys before. Maybe Grace was on to something after all.

“Crawling through gorse,” he repeated. “Part of your action girl antics no doubt?”

“Nuh no doubt.” I smirked again.

“So is Arncliffe the picturesque Yorkshire village it’s held up to be?” Ciarán seemed to actually want to talk to me. He must have noticed the stammer but he was acting like he hadn’t. I was profoundly grateful. Nearly everyone who heard me speak got ‘The Look’. The ‘poor dear’ look or the ‘must-end-the-conversation-now’ look. It was hard to value what I said when no one else did.

“It’s al-alright.” Lame. At least try to be interesting. “W-we only muh moved in last Friday. Haven’t s-seen much y-yet.”

“Never mind, we can learn all its secrets together. It’ll be nice not to be the only one from ‘off’ as that charming fishwife in the post office put it.”

I threw back my head and laughed properly. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed like that. It hurt but in a good way. I slipped the idea of us exploring together in the ‘empty chit-chat’ file though. He seemed nice but he was Grace’s age. Just being polite to a mad-looking, dishevelled girl he found on the moor. Don’t go getting the wrong idea, I told myself.

After nearly half an hour we reached the end of the lane to the village. The vicarage was off to the right up a long dirt track. I didn’t fancy walking through the village in the state I was in. Time to say goodbye. Nice while it lasted.

“This is muh me.” I indicated the lonely track.

“Really? What’s up there?” He peered over my shoulder in genuine curiosity. “Is there a house up there? You’re not a sylph or something that really does live wild are you?”

“The vuh vicarage is up there. My d-dad is the vicar.” Might as well get that off-putting fact out there now. Ciarán would hear it soon enough if he stayed in the village. I wondered if his Aunt Mary was as big a gossip as Mrs Holden.

“Is he now? You don’t look like the church sort somehow.” He pursed his lips. Very distracting.

“ I'm nuh not. I'm the m-make my own mind up sort. Eh- anyway. Suh see you." I started towards the track, wondering why I was trying so hard to give him the brush off.

“Hey now, bide a bit! When will I see you again? You can’t leave a poor lad dangling like that!” His look of bewilderment made me bite my lip to keep from laughing.

"Why would you wuh- want to?" The words were out before I could stop them. A rare occurrence for me. And now I would seem pathetically needy. Very attractive.

“Because I love a pair of pretty green eyes.” He grinned. “So I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“W-Wednesday. I’ll b-be in the vuh village.” I kicked myself for giving in. This wouldn’t end well. But Amy did say to make friends. At least, that was the excuse I was going to stick with.

“Excellent. Wednesday it is then.” He smiled even wider. “See you later green-eyes.” He gave me a mocking bow and sauntered off towards the village. How could anyone be that comfortable in their own skin? It was like he didn’t have any hang-ups at all. But that smile… I shook my head, trudging up the lane to the vicarage. Ciarán was far too charming. I needed to be on my guard.

Dad was in his study. The door was shut so tight it might as well have been a rat trap. I paused outside but I heard no signs of life from behind the door. I felt light and floaty. The hallway was swimming in my vision. In the kitchen, I chugged down three glasses of water in quick succession. The cold water gurgled and sloshed in my stomach before settling. A slight headache I hadn’t paid much attention to lessened its grip.

Feeling better, I rolled my stiff shoulders. All my aches and pains were now clamouring for attention. My leg muscles burned. I was becoming acclimated to the continual internal cold feeling. That probably wasn’t good but I couldn’t think about that now. What was I going to say to Grace? I was sorry I’d hit her but also not nearly ready to forgive her.

Almost 4:00pm. Amy’s bus would be in soon. I should try and sort things out with Grace before Amy got home at least. The last thing Amy needed was to be piggy-in-the-middle again. I put four large potatoes in the oven to bake and covered steaks in marinade, ready to grill later. Deciding that I really couldn’t put it off any longer I went to see if Grace was home. Pausing outside her bedroom door, I knocked tentatively.

“Busy!” She didn’t sound annoyed, just distracted.

“G-Grace? It’s Muh me. Kuh can we talk?”

“What do you want?” She opened the door just enough to stick her head out but kept a firm hold on the door handle.

“Suh sorry. About eh-earlier I m-mean.” I swallowed hard, staring at the floor. Tried to forget I was still angry with her. And hurt.

“Why are you apologizing? Did you break something of mine? You didn’t borrow my stereo did you?” She glanced behind her. Reassured that it hadn’t been moved she looked back at me. “What have you been doing? You smell like rotting vegetables and you look like you’ve rolled down a hill!”

The transparent sincerity of her tone threw me. She didn’t remember anything. Nothing at all. I glanced at the scabbed over bite mark on her lip.

“Wuh what happened to your lip G-Grace?” Talk about déjà vue. For a moment there was a flicker of memory, then her eyes glazed over again.

“What are you on about?” She touched her lip, then jerked her hand away. “Ow! I guess I bit it somehow. So what are you apologizing for? Hurry up I’ve got stuff to do.”

“Eh-earlier. On the muh moor. W we had a fuh fight….”

“Gremlin, I haven’t been out of this dump all day. Do you really think I spent my day wandering around Arm-pit and the countryside? Since when have I been a big nature fan?” She laughed at me.

“We were both o-out there. You s-saw Huh Huh Haze…” I may as well have been trying to run up a wall. The more I reminded her the less she remembered.

“I haven’t seen him since you mouthed off at him the other day. At least Amy apologized. Is that what you’re on about?”

“Nuh no! Earlier on the m-moor…” I pressed my hand against the door, as if by getting into her room I’d somehow crack open the locked cache of memories in her head.

“Enough. I haven’t got time to stand here and go senile while you try and spit out whatever game you’re playing. I haven’t been out today. End of.” She shoved back against the door, forcing me back a step.

“G-Grace your hair!” I cried in a last ditch attempt to get through to her.

“What? I got it cut two weeks ago. And I’ve brushed it, which is more I can say for you. Try personal grooming sometime, Gremlin.”

“G-Grace it’s duh darker! I sw-swear!”

Grace rolled her eyes. “Honestly? That’s the best you’ve got? It’s the same colour it’s always been. Dad would have a mare if any of us dyed our hair. You know that.” She flicked a strand of dark-honey toned hair. “See. Same as always. Now go away.” She shoved the door hard and I was thrown back. I heard the bolt slide to on the other side.

“But Grace you had l-light b-blonde hair…” I whispered.

“Emlynn?” Amy’s face appeared, pale and frowning, at the top of the stairs. “What was that about?”

“Were you guys fighting again?” Amy hovered at the top of the stairs, awkward and unsure.

“Nuh no, Amy. A-apparently n-not.” I shrugged and tried to smile. “Suh so how was your f-first day?”

Amy pulled a face. “They made fun of how I speak.”

“Wuh what? Why?” I said, bewildered.

“They said I sound ‘posh’.” Amy scowled. “Do I sound posh to you?”

I snickered. “You d-don’t have a Yuh Yorkshire accent. They’ll g-get used to it.”

“Really.” Amy said, flat and sceptical. “No one would believe I was in year eight either.”

“I’m s-sorry Amy. Wuh when they nuh know you better it w-won’t be s-so bad.” I grimaced in sympathy. I of all people knew what it was like to not fit in.

“S’pose,” she grumbled. Amy really looked at me for the first time. Her eyebrows rose in alarm. “What the hell happened? You look…Are those leaves in your hair?”

“I w-went for a wuh walk. Fuh fell d-down. St-stepped in a str-str-str…brook. W-wasted d-day in the end.” I shrugged. Understatement of the century. “M-met someone though.” I offered this tidbit as a distraction.

“Really?! Tell me! Tell me! Where did you meet him? It was a ‘him’, right?” Amy took the bait.

“Duh don’t you have homework?”

“Well….”

“Luh look, I have to shower and practise for at l-least an hour.”

“Oh, come on! You shower, I’ll make some tea and you can tell me everything. Then you can practise and I’ll do my homework. Pleeease?” Amy eyes were wide and hopeful. Well my distraction worked. I rolled my eyes.

“F-fine. But it’s not that exciting.”

“I’ll put the kettle on.” Amy tore down the stairs, racing right through the cold spot. I bit my lower lip and headed for the bathroom.

A horrifying amount of dirt and small twigs washed out of my hair. There was no way Ciarán could have really meant it when he said wanted to meet up with me. Maybe he was just a flirt by nature. Or worse, he thought I’d been in need of help and hadn’t wanted to leave me alone. How embarrassing.

It was true though – I had needed help. I’d been in the middle of a fairly major melt down. I was certain that wasn’t at all appealing to a boy. Not that I was in the market for a boyfriend or anything. Between the man in the kitchen and the watcher on the moor, not to mention Haze, I had quite enough men in my life to be going on with. It just so happened that they were all Dead. Or evil. Or both.

I wrapped a towel around my now clean hair and stepped out of the shower. Belting my dressing gown, I felt a chill breeze move past me. Completely out of place in the steamy bathroom. That’s when I saw the writing. A supple, cursive script in the condensation of the mirror. A flare of anger heated my chest.

“I kuh can’t bloody well r-read it, you stupid d-dead idiots!” I wanted to smash the mirror. I had had enough. Why wouldn’t they leave me alone? Fingers tightening painfully in the terry cloth of my robe, I forced the anger back. Two words on the mirror. The first one began with a ‘W’. I swiped them away with my sleeve.

“J-just tell me!” My breath hitched in my throat. “St-stop opening w-windows and muh moving books. I don’t nuh know what any of that m-means!” Books. For a moment something was almost within my grasp. Something to do with the cold girl. The writing I’d wiped away —had I seen that before somewhere? That scent. Rosemary and violets. Mum’s shampoo. But Mum wasn’t be here. She’d never come back…Never…

“Mum?” I felt stupid but so hopeful. Had it been Mum’s writing? “Mum?” No answer. Had I really expected one?

The scent was fading. Wish fulfilment. This was insane. Something else was playing with me. “Fuh Fine!” I snapped and yanked open the bathroom door. A flash of brown in the mirror caught at the corner of my eye. I looked again but the mirror was empty. I slammed the door shut behind me.

Amy was sitting cross-legged on my bed, holding a mug of tea, looking as neat as a cat. As I pulled on clean clothes, I told her about my day. I edited my meeting with Grace, saying only that I’d seen her with Haze again and that it worried me.

Amy was puzzled. “This is going to sound mega weird but until you said his name, I’d forgotten all about Haze. That’s pretty mental isn’t it?”

I held my breath. Amy was remembering. She’d forgotten but somehow now she remembered.

“Did we have a fight about him and Grace yesterday? I can’t think…It’s like something is fogging my memories.” She screwed up her face in concentration.

“Yes! Ay-Amy that’s ruh right!” I seized her in a hug. Whatever was messing with Grace’s memory wasn’t working on Amy yet.

“There’s something really off the wall going on here, Emlynn. I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this. Is there anything else you haven’t told me?” Her grey eyes focused on me sharply.

“Nuh nothing.” I didn’t know why I had to lie. But it seemed important to keep Amy out of it. Protect her. It was stupid to be relieved that I wasn’t alone. Amy would be safer if she didn’t remember. Haze didn’t appear to be too interested in her.

“Em, I can tell you’re not saying something. What is it? You can trust me. You know that.”

“Nuh not sure it’s relevant. Duh don’t worry.” I lied again.

Amy looked hurt for a fraction of a second then her expression shifted. “I think the minute I leave this room everything is going to get foggy again.”

“Wuh what do you mean?” I said, chill fingers trailing up my spine.

“I can’t explain it right. Feels like something is pushing at my mind. Telling me to forget.” She looked up at me, her light eyes very serious. “You’re different, Emlynn. I think you can keep it out. I’m trying but I’m not sure I can. Grace doesn’t want to.” As usual Amy had put her finger on heart of the problem. Grace didn’t want to fight. So she was completely unprotected.

I hadn’t told Amy half of what I saw today. Not just because the living shadows were too bizarre to even begin to describe. I didn’t want to frighten Amy but it was more that I didn’t want anyone to know how much I saw. I trusted Amy. More than anyone but… I was going on instinct here. Instinct was warning me to tread carefully. I ignored the small reasonable voice at the back of my head that argued that Amy couldn’t protect herself if she didn’t know there was any danger. I’d protect Amy. She didn’t need to know.

“Em?”

“Hmm?” I started. I’d been miles away.

“Haze is really bad, isn’t he?”

I couldn’t fault her on that one.

“Yeah, st-stay away from h-him.” I glanced at the clock. “Ay-Amy I’ve guh got to sort duh dinner!” I lurched towards the door.

“Wait for me! You haven’t told me any of the good stuff yet….”

She hurried after me down the stairs. I hoped the potatoes weren’t baked to ashes. Luck was with me. I got out plates and told Amy about meeting Ciarán. Including stepping in the stream. She was excited despite my repeated attempts to point out that he wasn’t likely to be interested in me. I heard Dad’s study door open. Another fun family dinner had begun.

If I expected Dad to say something about Grace’s darkened hair I was disappointed. He was even more abstracted than usual. Grace was lost in a dream world of her own and barely touched her food. Even Amy was distracted. Feeling thoroughly depressed, I stabbed my potato with a fork. If everyone started acting as if no-one else existed then I was in for a lot of long dinner times.

Tomorrow I’d be able to see Mrs Cranford. I wasn’t completely alone. I felt a flicker of hope. Maybe I’d finally get some answers.

I woke in the night, clammy from dreams of falling and dangling and dead flat eyes, to the now familiar voice wailing outside. The window was open again. I flicked on the bedside light but it shorted in a shower of sparks that made me squeak in surprise.

Great. I’ll just do it all in the dark then.

I was too exhausted to be really afraid.

Let me in…let me…

Without even looking I shoved the book back on the shelf. I hooked the window latch closer and made a desperate grab, heart thudding as my brain started to wake up. My hands were numb and clumsy with cold. I felt the graze of icy fingers graze over my wrist before I slapped the window closed. Breathing hard, I drew the curtains again.

Thunk. Thunk.

Let me in! I can’t find him…

I knew without looking that two pale hands were pressed against the glass. I dove back under my duvet shuddering. I pulled a pillow over my head to try and shut out the voice. No good. She was screaming inside my head and I was sick with revulsion again. Had I ever wanted to help her? Couldn’t think… I summoned a last shred of strength and pushed out against her like I had before.

Go the hell away!

I fell back into cloying sleep. Dreams clung and tore like cobwebs. In the dim early morning light it felt unreal. I was exhausted and unsure if I dreamt the whole thing. Only the blown light bulb was evidence. The glass from the rim had melted into the socket. The rest of the glass was just gone. Vaporised. The light filament was charred black.

Things were definitely getting worse.

I’d missed Amy by the time I’d showered and got down stairs. No sign of Grace either. I wondered if Grace even knew where she was – and shuddered. I ate breakfast, leaning against the kitchen sink, checking the moor every few seconds. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see. Somehow the quiet was more disturbing than the sense of greedy, watching eyes. I had no idea where Dad was. There was no reply when I timidly knocked on the study door. It was locked when I tried the handle. The silence was eating at me. I wondered if it was too early to go and see Mrs Cranford. Then I decided that I didn’t care.

I hadn’t noticed, before, how neat Mrs Cranford’s front garden was. The gate creaked as I closed it behind me. The air had a warm spring smell that made me think of sap rising in trees. A small pussy willow by the gate had fuzzy, grey-green buds on its branches already. I was abruptly glad that I’d made a bit more effort with my appearance today, digging out my good black jeans and putting on my favourite jumper, dyed in swathes of moss and sea green. I’d pulled my hair back in a ponytail, where fell it in loose dark curls between my shoulder blades.

Impatiently, I rapped on the front door a second time. It was painted a light blue, at odds with the pebble-dashed walls and slate roof. Knowing Mrs Cranford, there was probably a reason for that.

The door creaked open. Heat flooded my cheeks. I didn’t know where to look. Ciarán stood, yawning, in the doorway, wearing nothing but ragged jogging bottoms. The sun glinted in his sandy hair, picked out flecks of gold in his hazel eyes and gilded his bare chest. I swore I could smell warm skin and honey.

“Emlynn?” He peered at me from beneath his winged brows. “I thought I wasn’t seeing you ‘til tomorrow?”

“Yuh…you’re…nuh…not.” Oh brilliant. That cleared everything up. Stop staring, you idiot.

“I’m not seeing you today, or I’m not seeing you at all?” He was laughing at me.

I blushed harder. For someone who had just woken up, he was way too quick. “You’re not s-s-seeing me today,” I mumbled.

“So you’re a figment, are you?” He crooked an eyebrow at me, grinning.

My heart started galloping towards a distant finish line. Stupid heart. He uses that smile.

I gave up trying to look him in the eye and spoke to the top left corner of the door frame. “I’m here to see Mrs C-C-Cranford.”

“I doubt she meant 8:30 in the morning.” His grin broadened.

Git! I was hot with embarrassment and he was enjoying it.

"I c-can come back? When you're n- not here maybe?" I gritted my teeth.

I was annoyed enough now to lock gazes with him. Of course! He was Mrs Cranford’s godson. How many good-looking lads moved into this little nook of Yorkshire?

Not that he was good-looking. Not that I thought so anyway. I glowered at him, my cheeks still flaming.

“Easy. No need for the witch’s eye.” He backed up a step. “Aunt Mary is up. I didn’t know she meant you, when she said she had a visitor coming. Thought perhaps me luck had changed.”

“Duh don’t!” I warned, stepping past him.

“Don’t what?” He ran a hand back through his sandy hair looking bemused. It stuck up like ruffled feathers.

"S-s- smile at me. I w-was warned about boys like you." With my nose in the air, I sailed past him into the parlour.

“No-one can have warned you about me! I don’t know anyone here!” He looked more comically bewildered than before.

Recovering from the initial shock of seeing him, I was now enjoying wrong-footing him.

“My G-Gran said n-never trust a ch-charming man.”

“So you think I’m charming?” The grin was back on, full force.

I gave him the ‘I’m-not-impressed’ look, I reserved for the little boys I babysat for, before the accident. “She said the duh devil himself was a ch-charming man.” I hooked an eyebrow up, daring him to contradict me.

“I’m not sure that’s a compliment.” The grin faded was fading.

“Nuh Neither am I!” I sniggered.

“Ah you!” He threw a dainty cushion at me and I batted it aside.

“N-no come back? Pity. I like a lad with s-something to say!” I couldn’t help grinning. I was flirting. Me. I didn’t even know I could flirt. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t that bad looking.

At that point, Mrs Cranford walked in with a tea tray.

“Ciarán! Put some clothes on! For goodness sake. And throwing things at a guest too!”

“Aye, sorry Aunt Mary.” He nodded at me, like one fencer acknowledging a hit from another, and disappeared into the hall.

Mrs Cranford winked at me. “Do sit down, Emily. I gather you are the young lady, Ciarán was talking about, when he got back from his walk yesterday?”

Ciarán had been talking about me? I pretended I couldn’t feel the heat rising in my cheeks again. If I ignored it maybe I wouldn’t really be blushing.

“Y-yes. W-we met.”

“So to business. Did anything happen yesterday?” Mrs Cranford handed me a cup of tea. I raised an eyebrow in the direction Ciarán had gone.

“Oh don’t worry about my godson. He’ll have a shower and then go straight out, I expect. I told him I had things to do this morning.”

I felt a wave of relief and my stomach un-knotted. I really didn’t want Ciarán to hear how much of a freak I was, beyond what he probably already suspected. I could have done without Mrs Cranford talking about Ciarán taking a shower though. My thoughts had scattered all over the place, like a dropped bag of marbles.

Mrs Cranford watched me, waiting for me to finish ordering my thoughts. I braced myself. I could do this. I could be strong enough.

“Suh so.” I tried to smile but it felt strained, “Where do we g-go from h-here?”

Mrs Cranford pulled a shoe box out of a cupboard and put it in my lap. I stared at it in confusion.

“Open it, Emily.” Her tone was grim.

I slid the lid off and gingerly picked through the dry, rustling contents. A hot rush of shame spread up from my neck into my cheeks. My throat felt tight. I hadn’t told her I couldn’t read. What would she think of me? I dreaded the moment when her expression changed as she wondered why she had wasted her time on me. I would fake it. I glanced down at the box. Old yellowing paper, musty-smelling. Newspaper cuttings. Lots of them. Some had a strange, old fashioned font. Some had faded until they were tissue thin. I had no idea what this had to do with anything. My face grew hotter and hotter. In a moment, I would have to look up and Mrs Cranford would know I couldn’t read.

Then, just like the date on Kate’s tomb, a word caught my eye.

Killed.

I didn’t know why that one leapt out at me. The rest of the article may as well have been hieroglyphs. I thumbed through the papers.

Killed. Killed. Killed.

Over and over again, on almost every clipping, I saw that word. Then I noticed the pictures. Young girls, pretty girls. A different face on each newspaper cutting. Girls of about nineteen. My heart plummeted into my stomach, quicker than my brain was to work out the significance. Grace.

I met Mrs Cranford’s sharp gaze.

“There were others of course.” Her tone was matter of fact. “From before. I only started collecting those when I was a girl. There were dozens before then. God knows how many in the hundred or so years before that.”

I stared at Mrs Cranford in horror. Dozens? More? She couldn’t mean…she just couldn’t…And I thought of Grace’s bleeding lip and the way that it had felt as if someone else was there as well as my sister. And Haze. I shuddered. I remembered how he had hated Grace and wanted to devour her at the same time. It was exactly what Mrs Cranford meant. With a suddenness that made my head swim, fury at Dad flashed through me. He’d brought us here. Just to get away from Mum, he’d brought us to a…a cursed house.

“As you can see, those newspaper cuttings go back nearly seventy years.”

Well actually, no I couldn’t. I opened my mouth to come clean, no longer caring what Mrs Cranford would think, but she was still talking.

“It’s always young girls, you see. It has to be young girls in that house. I think that’s what he feeds on. What makes him strong.” Mrs Cranford’s voice was remote, as if she was helping me with a history project. “Our last vicar was a bachelor. There were no children. I thought that…well, without any girls to feed on…he’d weaken, fade until he wasn’t a threat anymore. But from what you said the other day, it’s happening again, even faster than before.”

“W-what’s huh-happening? What’s the P-Pattern? W-what did you mean by w-witness?” The questions crowded their way out of my aching throat. I wanted to be angry with her. It was cruel to drag me into this when I was already hurt and burdened. I wanted to ask her why she picked me. But my lips were numb and I already knew why. Mrs Cranford hadn’t picked me at all. Grace, me, Dad even, we’d all walked into a trap, moths flying into a web. I just happened to be able to see the web. “Why?” I wasn’t even sure what I was asking anymore.

“Tell me what you’ve seen first, Emily. I need to know how much time we have. Then I’ll try and explain. At least as much of it as I’m sure of.” Mrs Cranford clasped her papery hands together. Wondering if it was to stop them shaking, I took a deep breath.

“I f-found a cold spot on the stairs wuh when we m-moved in.” I half cringed. Mrs Cranford merely nodded.

“It’s often on stairs or other crossing places. They collect impressions or memories, like grooves in a record. I don’t suppose you really remember vinyl do you, Emily? But the grooves held musical code that was read by the needle on a record player. You’re one of those rare people who can act as a kind of spirit-needle and read places.” She gestured for me to go on.

It made sense but didn’t exactly reassure me. With a lot stumbling and stuttering, I told her about the first night in the vicarage. Trying to describe the revulsion I felt at the presence of the cold girl. I mentioned Amy’s comment about the scene seeming familiar. Mrs Cranford’s eyes narrowed slightly and my intuition flickered. Amy was on to something and Mrs Cranford knew what it was. The book, it had to be. We never did go back and look at it. I could have kicked myself. All those times I’d slammed it back on the shelf…

I told Mrs Cranford about following the cold girl, who I’d mistaken for Amy, into the orchard. About the book that kept opening itself on my desk. I choked out the best description I could manage of how it felt to be Helen and what I’d seen. Mrs Cranford’s carefully neutral expression tightened. Her lips thinned and her bright eyes disappeared into the wrinkles at the corners. She gripped the arms of her chair until her knuckles stood out like knotty, white roots. I told her about Haze, my face flushing again as I explained what I’d seen yesterday and how I’d slapped my sister. I finished with Grace’s apparent memory loss. I felt wrung out and exhausted but better too. Lighter. I waited impatiently for a response. Mrs Cranford sat with her hands clasped under her chin, still as a tombstone angel.

“Wuh well?” I rasped when I couldn’t stand it anymore, “W-what does it m-mean?”

Mrs Cranford looked up at me with haunted eyes. It was going to be very bad.

“Emily, I’m not sure what to tell you, so I’m going to tell you a story. It’s almost become folklore in these parts now. Lots of the older folk know the story but few put much credence in it. Doubtless because it hasn’t been backed by a death for nearly thirty years. This though, is where I think the Pattern began.” Mrs Cranford’s voice sounded even wispier than usual, without its normal peppery edge.

“Buh but you think? D-don’t you know?” I was counting on her to have answers.

“No, Emily. I’m afraid I don’t know. This is the best I’ve been able to make out and probably as close to truth as we can get, over two hundred and twenty years later.” She paused and worried her lip with sharp little teeth. Choosing her words carefully she went on. “There was a young girl who lived at the vicarage over two centuries ago. Catriona Elizabeth Weston. She was the only daughter of the vicar and a great favourite with everyone for miles around, for her beauty and her spirit. She was better known as—”

“Kate,” I breathed.

“Kate,” agreed Mrs Cranford. “She was a wayward girl. Her father was a hard man. He had been widowed young and had wanted a son. He didn’t much care about his daughter and she ran quite wild on the moor. She was said to fear nothing, not even death nor the devil himself. Though that may be embellished storytelling.” Mrs Cranford paused. I leaned forward in my chair.

“She grew up with a servant girl, who her father, in a rare moment of insight or generosity, had taken in. Yes, Helen.” Mrs Cranford nodded at my look of comprehension. “Helen was said to be the only one who would take no nonsense from her. I don’t know how true that is. Kate’s father, thinking his duty by his daughter done, turned the girls over to the care of his retainer, John, and a couple of kitchen women. Helen and Kate were playmates of a sort but only until the parish officials disposed of a young orphaned boy with a Mrs Mildred Greer. I don’t know whether she was ever actually married but Mrs Greer was the village handy-woman. That’s what they used to call the village midwife or herbalist. She helped with births and deaths. She seems to have been a solitary sort given to spending her wages on spirits. No one knew where the boy came from. He wouldn’t speak for a long time. That suited Mrs Greer, who had a sum paid her by the parish for the keeping of him. If Kate ran wild on the moor, then the boy ran infinitely wilder.”

“What w-was his n-name?” I couldn’t help interrupting.

“No one ever knew. Or if they did they never spoke of it afterwards. Mrs Greer called him Robbie but that wasn’t the name his own people had given him.” Mrs Cranford rubbed her forehead, eyes distant. “They grew up, Kate and Robbie, caring for no company but each other’s. Somehow Kate’s father got wind of her companion. He sent her for an extended stay with an aunt fifty miles away – a decent distance in those days. It was his hope that Kate would become accustomed to finer things and forget her vagabond playmate, for her aunt was very well off. Kate was there for over a year.”

Mrs Cranford sighed. I wondered if she had some sympathy for the pair. "When Kate returned, things had changed. She had a greed for the richer things in life. The boy, Robbie, had grown into a man. What might be mischief in a child is often wickedness in an adult and he had a cruelty about him that some would term true evil. Dark in more ways than one - that was the saying. Of course that may have been small mindedness over skin colour and his Romani ancestry. Kate was selfish and greedy. She wanted to keep her wild boy but she wanted wealth and fine dresses too. Her cousin was a foppish sort, weak and white- handed, but he had fallen in love with her."

“When she was seventeen, her cousin proposed. It was not only normal but encouraged to marry your cousin in those days if it was a good match,” Mrs Cranford went on, correctly interpreting my queasy expression. “That way they ensured that the wealth stayed in the family.”

She paused, bright-eyed and brooding. This wasn’t going to end well.

Perhaps it hadn’t ended at all but was somehow still playing. Like a record, eternally spinning just waiting for a young girl to come to the right place and act as a record needle. I shuddered at the image.

“S-so what h-happened?” My pulse hammered heart was thudding in my ears.

“She married her cousin.” Mrs Cranford looked grave.

“Clayton.” I nodded. Finally that attic death scene was made sense.

“Yes. The dark man—Robbie—swore a terrible revenge, so the story goes. He has waited and watched for her to come to him on the moor ever since.”

“B-but when she was dying…she th-thought he would come for her. She was sur certain. H-Helen was certain. She was afraid of h-him.” I felt the Pattern like a living thing. A root system on a twisted tree, seeking life by any means possible. “D-did he come? Wuh what about Clayton?”

“We don’t know what happened. I believe Robbie either didn’t come for her or he came too late. Either way, Kate, who had insisted on going home to the vicarage of her childhood to die, was found on the edge of the orchard one morning. Dead and cold. Helen, no doubt exhausted, had fallen asleep and not noticed her one time mistress was gone.”

“Clayton, who had brought Kate back to die at her childhood home, which was probably very distasteful to him, was in a fury with Helen.”

“He b-beat her.” I said flatly. I remembered those cold, blue eyes. The raised fist.

"It would seem so according to parish record – some diaries and papers kept by a curate -that Helen was too ill to attend church for a time. When she did appear in public, she never explained her bruises or her missing teeth. She kept quiet about the whole thing. But then, by the time anyone saw her in public of course, Clayton was dead."

“Wuh what?” I felt winded.

“Skull cracked, found on the moor. Some said he fell from his horse, some said he threw himself from a rock stack in his grief at losing Kate. And some said the dark man got him. We don’t know. Kate died from consumption. TB. It was common enough. You’ve seen her grave.”

“What d-does any of that have to d-do with these?” I gestured at the newspaper cuttings in my lap. “And w-why muh me? W-what can I do when w-we don’t even know for sure w-what happened?” I was sinking. I couldn’t see how to solve this, flung from having an incomplete jigsaw to having one with too many pieces and no idea which ones were important.

“Emily, I don’t think you know your own abilities. Not yet. I believe you can solve this in a way no one else can.”

“Why?”

“In time you may be able to guide the Dead as well as see them.” Mrs Cranford compressed her lips. “It’s a heavy burden and I’m sorry it’s come to you. As for those poor girls, read what it says about them. The marks on them. Killed by strangulation or broken necks or blood loss – though no blood was found around the bodies. All of them malnourished and sick. Isn’t it obvious what he’s doing?”

“The watcher on the moor you described is Robbie. He’s trying to bring Kate back. And I believe that if you don’t stop him, nothing on earth can make him stop, until he gets what he wants.”

I looked at the pile of cuttings before stuffing them back in the box. “I kuh can’t r-read these. I got a huh head injury in the accident. Now I can’t ruh read. B-brain damage.” That came out blunter than I’d intended

“Can’t you.” It wasn’t a question. Mrs Cranford gave me the slightly superior look of someone who knew something you didn’t.

“N-no I kuh can’t!” I bristled. How dare she sit there and act as if she knew how I felt! I sprang to my feet, scattering newspaper clippings like autumn leaves. My head whipped from left to right, seeking escape. I had to get out.

Mrs Cranford made pacifying gestures with her little bird-claw hands. I wasn’t listening to her anymore. Why hadn’t anyone done anything before? Seventy years? More? Why wait for me? It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t.

"Emily -"

“Luh-leave me alone! I don’t wuh want any more d-d-death!” I screamed at her before dashing to the front door and wrenching it open. She could just find someone else. I wanted nothing to do with this. Dangerous murderers who were dead and yet…not. I flinched and flung myself out into the daylight.

Mrs Cranford didn’t try to follow.

My mind whirled as I ran from the cottage. Barely stopping to close the gate behind me, I picked up speed and hit something warm and solid. Ciarán caught me as I bounced back off his chest, warm hands on my shoulders steadying me.

“Easy…” He held me at arm’s length, gaze moving over my face. “A walk,” he decided, based on whatever expression he saw there.

I nodded numbly. May as well. The only other place I was going was my attic. I didn’t see how sitting at my piano not playing it was going to help.

We walked along the main street through the village this time. I came round enough to clutch at Ciarán’s arm and hiss ‘N-not the ch-church yard!” I couldn’t face another attack of nausea at Kate’s grave.

“Course not.” Ciarán smiled but it lacked his usual devil-may-care ease. I wondered what he looked so worried about. We passed St Martin’s and without warning the village gave way to the moor. The breeze was cool on my clammy forehead. I took what felt like the first really deep breath since going to see Mrs Cranford. Then I realized that we’d just walked all the way through the village holding hands. My cheeks burned and I tried to pry my hand away. Ciarán pretended not to notice.

Mortified, I stared at my feet as they crushed through the heather. In reality it was probably the best way to lead me, since I was seriously spaced out. It didn’t mean anything. It couldn’t. No way he actually liked me. I doubted whether it looked that way to any observers though. Would it get back to Mrs Cranford? Or Dad? Oh hell.

“Are you hot?” Ciarán glanced at my burning face, tugging me along. “Nearly there.”

He led me down a small dip in the moor where the land formed a natural cradle. It felt good to sit on the slightly damp ground, like sitting in the palm of the earth’s hand. Comforting and solid. Slowly, I unwound, muscles relaxing. The breeze and the faint humming of the earth I swore I could feel beneath me, chased away the sour taste of fear in my mouth.

I gave Ciarán a grateful smile. I needed this sense of connectedness. It was the most peaceful I’d felt since we moved here. Funny to think I’d been afraid of the moor. There was no sense of vertigo now. Maybe it was always the watcher who frightened me. However little I knew about Kate and her dark man, I could see the appeal of running wild on the moor. Especially in a time where women were so constrained by social mores and manners. It must have been even more gossipy than it was now.

I felt a spark of admiration for Kate. She had done what she wanted and answered to no one. That was the crux of the whole problem, of course. I grimaced. Now my temper wasn’t flaring, I realised that I hadn’t asked Mrs Cranford anything I’d meant to ask. It was all very well for me to throw a tantrum and refuse to play, but I hadn’t been given much choice so far. Even if there was a way for me to break the Pattern, I needed allies and information. And Mrs Cranford hadn’t really deserved me yelling at her. I cringed internally. One way or another I owed her an apology.

“You still with me?” Ciarán smiled at me crookedly, one eyebrow raised in concern.

I nodded. The sense of rest was still with me, despite my discomfort over his god-mother.

“The old lady gave you a lot to think about did she?” And like that, the sense of peace evaporated. I yanked my hand away from him. Somehow we were still holding hands and I hadn’t even noticed.

“Yuh you w-were listening?” I said, horrified. On the off chance that he missed the fact that I was a stuttering freak, he must now either think I was mad or attention seeking. No way would he believe there was anything special about me. If seeing the Dead counted as special.

“Oh relax. Me mam has seen some rare strange things herself. I’m an open-minded lad.” His hand snaked out across the heather towards mine. I moved my hand away. I wasn’t at all ready to forgive him. He stopped and looked stared at his hand as if he’d never seen it before.

“Emlynn?” He peered at me. I scowled back. “Em? I’m sorry. I was curious.”

“Y-you nuh know what they say about eavesdroppers don’t you?” I muttered darkly.

“Ah, there’s no bad to hear about meself! Besides eaves is where all the interesting stuff is said.” Something about his slightly too innocent expression made me think he wasn’t repentant at all, as long as I wasn’t too angry. I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“Huh how much did you h-hear?” Oh God, did he hear about me not being able to read? I rolled onto my stomach and pressed my face into the heather.

“I only heard the bit that sounded like an old tale. You know the star-crossed lovers on the moor bit.”

“Ruh really,” I mumbled through a mouthful of heather.

“Really. I was in the shower…”

I burrowed further into the shrubbery. Still didn’t need that image in my head.

“…then I heard a bit about spooks and a curse and then it got personal so I went out of earshot.”

I raised my head an inch. “Wuh why?”

“I don’t pry on personal stuff. The legend though, now that was interesting.”

It’s muh more than a luh legend. It’s d-dangerous,” I warned.

“Then you’ll need my help,” he said irrepressible cheer and my stomach flipped over. No one should be able to do that to another person with just a smile. It wasn’t fair.

“I d-don’t know…” I began. I didn’t see how Ciarán would be in danger but surely it was better not to bring in anyone else. Propping myself up on my elbows I noticed two figures standing in an embrace down the moor from us. Apparently Ciarán and I weren’t the only ones using the privacy of the moor for a date. Not that we were on a date…

But no…Those people were familiar…

I recognized Haze even before the cold-dark gripped me. Which meant that the girl with him was Grace. I froze.

“Em? What is it?” Ciarán distracted me by sweeping a lock of hair out of my eyes.

“Luh look.” I pointed, trying to ignore the trail of warmth left by his touch.

“That’s your sister?”

I nodded.

“No time like the present.” He leapt to his feet and took off towards them.

“W-wait!” I cried in alarm but he wasn’t listening. “Bugger!” I stumbled after him. This was a bad idea. Look what happened last time I confronted Grace about Haze. And I didn’t want to face Haze at all.

The cold seeped into my marrow as we got closer. Neither of them looked up. They were in some kind of wordless communion that I couldn’t break into. The flickering presence around Grace was worse than ever. I could barely see her. Ciarán didn’t appear to see anything stranger than my sister meeting up with an undesirable on a motorbike. He had no idea what he was rushing into. This was wrong. I wasn’t strong enough to tackle Haze head-on. I already felt the shadows reaching for chinks in my mind, places to slip in and influence. Sweat prickled on my forehead as I pushed them back. With a wrench, I willed myself closed. It was strange. Like coating my mind in glass.

If only I knew what I was doing.

“Hey there,” Ciarán called in a cheery voice. “You must be Emlynn’s sister, Grace.” It was as though he didn’t feel the cold. Did this look normal to him?

Haze whipped his head towards us. His face was full of savage disappointment. His black eyes slid over me and the expression tightened. Then his gaze fixed on Ciarán and everything changed. If I was cold before, now I was plummeted into an icy lake of shadows. An absence, not only of light, but of everything. It had weight and form. There were things in the dark. Something old, with oozing scales that scraped heavily on the ground. And hunger…hunger beyond anything I had ever felt…

YOU!” The snap of Haze’s voice brought me back. My heart leapt in fright, blocking my throat. He wasn’t looking at me. His black gaze was fixed on Ciarán.

I darted a look at Grace. She was white and swayed on her feet. I didn’t like the blue tinge to her lips. Her eyes were dark and unfocused. The flickering had stopped, though. For now.

Oh God, her hair…

“Aye, me. What’s it to you?” Ciarán looked sneered scornfully at Haze. Their gazes locked eyes met and a crackle of electricity flared out and hit all four of us. Connecting us. Gathering us up, four beads on a thread. At least that’s what it felt like. I doubled over, winded. Even Haze staggered back a step, just as caught in the Pattern as anyone else. The thought flashed through my mind and then everything went to hell.

Grace groaned. Her eyelids fluttered. I lurched to her just in time to break her fall as she fainted. I knelt, cradling her head in my lap, her rich chestnut tresses spilled over my knees. I desperately want the colour to be a style change but I knew it wasn’t.

“You! You’ve a nerve showing your face around here! What have you done to her?” Ciarán’s face was unrecognizable with fury. His words made no sense and there was something wrong with his voice. His accent had changed.

“Nothing she didn’t want, I assure you. Nothing that she could have got from you.” Haze’s voice had too much hate in it to sound like a purr but the smug tone was unmistakable.

“She knows you are bad for her. Look at her!” Ciarán waved a hand towards Grace without turning. He didn’t know Grace. So why was he acting like that about my sister? Almost territorial. Proprietary.

In that moment I knew that whatever was going on, I had been forgotten. I tasted bile in my throat. The shadows finally had something to catch hold of. My glass shield disintegrated; the darkness rushed in just as I shouted, “Stop it both of you, now!”

Except I didn’t scream it aloud. I screamed it from my mind and sinew and gut. The moor rang with the soundless cry and something burst free of my mind. An invisible force blindly seeking targets. Ciarán broke away from Haze, folding in half as though punched in the stomach. He had grabbed the front of Haze’s jacket but something had pulled them apart. Haze rocked back on his heels, a look of surprise passing swiftly over his flawless face. He narrowed his eyes as though a blast of wind swept over him.

Barely three minutes had gone by. We were all frozen in the ringing silence. The air smelled of hot metal and ozone. Then I felt the shadows peel away. Ciarán straightened up clutching his head. Grace murmured, stirring in my arms. I looked up to find Haze’s eyes boring into me.

I was dead. Or I would be.

In that brief moment, I knew. He would let nothing ruin his chance this time. And he knew now that I was a threat. His full lips twisted in a sneer as he raked all three of us with his gaze. Then he swung onto his bike without further comment. Except to me. One silent communication. Thrown into my mind with savage speed that made me gasp.

Be seeing you.

When Grace and I were little, we played doctors and nurses. Grace always got to be the patient, while I was a doctor trying to figure out what was wrong. Grace was so good at lying still, that she often played at being a coma patient. She’d hold herself limp and unresponsive, while I tried frantically to revive her.

Until it didn’t seem like a game anymore. I would start to believe that Grace was really was unconscious. Maybe dying. Her breathing was so slow that sometimes I couldn’t tell if she was breathing at all and then I’d panic because what if she was really dead? What would I do without my big sister?

And just as I was about to cry, Grace would suddenly sit up and shout, “BOO!” I always yelled at her and punched her in the arm, because being angry that she had fooled me again was better than being teased for bursting into tears of relief that she hadn’t left me. And Grace would always laugh and tickle me until I laughed too.

The thing was, the game got kind of addictive. I hated the moments when I thought Grace had really died, but the relief that she was okay kept me coming back to the game again and again. I knew nothing about death then. Nothing about real loss. The fear of it just hovered on the horizon for me.

I wasn’t six years old anymore but looking down at Grace’s limp, blue-white form, for a moment I still expected her to leap up and startle me. Just pretending. Just like always. Situation normal.

But Grace didn’t move.

Her eyes had slid shut again. She was corpse pale and breathing so slowly…

Having a meltdown was going to have to wait. Grace was ill. That weird electric charge probably hadn’t helped. Like we all became part of a circuit that somehow got switched on, then blew a fuse. I still didn’t understand what Ciarán and Haze had been talking about, before I did…whatever it was I had done did. It sounded like they knew each other. Hated each other. More questions and no time.

“Wha…what happened?” Ciarán was still rubbing his head. “Why do I feel like I drank all of Uncle Bri’s home-brewed poitín? I’ve got the mother of all hangovers.”

I had no sympathy for him. Some help. He’d charged in and now Haze had marked me as a target. Ciarán had made everything worse. I’d been right to think that I couldn’t count on anyone but myself.

And I really didn’t like the way Ciarán was looking at Grace.

“Is she alright?” He brushed a strand of her hair from her pale face. I remembered his fingers brushing the skin of my face as he did the same for me ten minutes ago. I turned abruptly away.

“J-just fainted I think. Sh-she needs to get huh home and w-warm.” I didn’t care what Ciarán thought. I didn’t. We weren’t even really friends. I barely knew him. I swallowed past the blockage in my throat.

“She can’t walk like that. Is there a shorter way to your place? Away from the village I mean?” Ciarán didn’t seem to notice anything wrong. Dismally, I wondered what he remembered.

“Yuh yeah. We g-go up this w-way. Leads into the orch orch…Garden.” I kept my eyes trained on the ground. Moss, twigs, crushed heather, a smooth oval stone.

“Right then.” Ciarán scooped up Grace without much effort and started in the direction I’d pointed. She looked like a fairy-tale princess being rescued by her prince. I wanted to barge into them, knock her out of his arms. Maybe knock him down a slope while I was at it. I hated myself for feeling like this. Hadn’t I always known I couldn’t compete with Grace? It was only a matter of time.

I followed them, feeing jerky and ungraceful. A raw collection of joints and pulleys in need of oiling. Grace’s hair gleamed in the sunlight as it trailed over Ciarán’s arm. It had definitely changed—now a dark reddish-brown. The scene now like looked like a romantic painting of Romeo and Juliet. I gritted my teeth.

Grace didn’t come round until we reached the kitchen door. Everything was sharp and clear, as though the moment was carved from crystal. Buds had appeared on the fruit trees. One or two petals from early, wind-ravaged blooms drifted down. It smelled fresh and faintly sweet – a perfect spring day. I couldn’t enjoy any of it. It tasted thin and bitter now. I opened the kitchen door and Ciarán eased Grace into a chair at the table. She stirred.

As though he’d been here a hundred times before, he filled the kettle and found mugs and teabags. It was a different sort of cold I felt now. One that came entirely from me. Nothing supernatural about it. The cold of distance. Of warmth being taken away. I had no idea what Grace thought had happened and I didn’t care. I glanced up through my hair in time to see Grace’s face soften into a smile at Ciarán, who glanced back at her over his shoulder. She gave him a doughy look. He returned to the table with two cups of tea, one for her, one for himself.

I was completely invisible. I’d make my own tea then. Not that I wanted any. Not from him. Ciarán’s gaze ran over Grace’s face and hair. His expression grew wondering as he smiled at her. The last of the warmth disappeared from the day.

I hate her.

This time the darkness was all mine.

I had got Grace to go to bed with difficulty. I was trying to get Ciarán to leave. I wanted nothing more than to be alone for a couple of hours before Amy got home. I told myself that Ciarán didn’t matter. That I was being petty and selfish. With Grace out of sight, Ciarán was suddenly warm and attentive again. It was giving me whiplash.

“You ok, Em?” He went to sweep my hair out of my eyes like he had before but I jerked away. Did he think I was stupid? Or desperate?

“What? What is it?” Ciarán said looked bewildered. I wondered if I was I going mad. Was this some game? Was he a pathological flirt who had to attract the attention of the most desirable girl available? Didn’t he remember anything? Then I remembered Ciarán’s expression as he looked down at Grace and the memory tasted like cold ashes. It was a hundred years ago that we sat holding hands in the hollow on the moor. And it didn’t matter because I didn’t care.

“N-nothing. It’s nothing. Ju-just stuff to d-do.” I wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“Are you saying you want some space?” He looked wounded, unreasonably so in my opinion.

“J-just for n-now.” I couldn’t stand to have him here a second longer. Please, please just leave. I can’t have you here right now.

“Okay. I guess you’ve had a lot to take in. But Em?” He raised my chin with his hand so I was forced to look into his eyes. “I meant what I said. I want to help. I’m here. I’m a friend. You can trust me.”

I nodded against his palm, unable to speak and not believing a word of it. Anything to get him to leave now. I felt the same breathless shock I had when he’d answered the door this morning. I managed a half-smile but all the while an iron band was constricting around my heart. Because I didn’t mean anything to him and apparently Grace did.

“I’ll call for you tomorrow then,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “What was with that Haze guy anyway?”

He was gone before I could answer. I sagged, resting my back against the door. I needed a friend, but did I really need one who clearly had a thing for my sister? The house was too still, too quiet. I fled upstairs to my piano, throwing a hateful glare at the cold spot as I ran past.

I played Chopin. Over and over. The intricate fingering required left me no concentration for my growing stack of problems. By the time I was vaguely satisfied with my interpretation, the poisonous brew that had been boiling inside me had drained away. I could be objective. My embarrassment had got in the way of me getting answers from Mrs Cranford. I had to go back to her, to apologise at least. That didn’t mean I was taking on any weird missions.

I told myself that I didn’t have feelings for Ciarán. He was just the first person, other than Amy or Mrs Cranford, who had accepted me as I was since the accident. Any threat to an early friendship was bound to make me feel territorial. Even if…even if Ciarán chose Grace over me, it didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends. Considering everything, I needed a friend right now, far more than I needed a love life right now. It was sensible, really. Maybe if Grace got involved with Ciarán, she’d forget Haze. I wouldn’t have to do anything.

Good. Great.

Why did my chest feel so bruised then?

I crushed my wounded feelings down. It was better this way. I wouldn’t get hurt if I accepted things as they were, rather than put up a fight. Okay, Ciarán issues sorted.

Paranormal issues – pending. Whatever had happened earlier, I was clear on two things; one, whatever Haze was doing to Grace was causing long-lasting changes. Maybe even damaging changes. Two, Haze now believed I was a threat, thanks to whatever I’d done to separate him and Ciarán earlier. I didn’t think Haze could get to me in the house. He had never belonged here, I felt that instinctively. Outside was a different matter. I wouldn’t be safe on the moor. I had to be careful. Feeling more emotionally organised, I shut the lid of the piano.

Amy looked was less grumpy when she came back from school. She sat on a kitchen chair, swinging her legs and chattering about her new chemistry class and a friend she had made. I nodded and smiled, hoping she wouldn’t notice how distracted I was. I made dinner for the second night in a row. Grace was still weak and groggy, and said she didn’t want anything. I didn’t feel kind enough to push her into eating. It didn’t seem fair to make Amy cook when she’d been at school and I hadn’t. In the end, though, Dad never showed up for dinner. Amy and I took our plates into the barely used parlour and ate watching our ancient TV.

We had three and a half channels to choose from here in Arncliffe. Reception was poor not good for terrestrial TV. As the ancient vicarage was a listed building, Dad was supposed to ask permission to get a satellite dish. Of course, he hadn’t bothered. On a good day you could get channel five and decent reception on channel four too, or so Dad had said back when Grace and Amy whined about moving. I’d only managed to tune the set into BBC Cymru, hardly a bonus since I didn’t speak Welsh. Today was a ‘snow-day’ judging from channel four. Amongst our limited choices, we found a program by David Attenborough, who was on one of his BBC sponsored nature jaunts. It was blissfully normal.

We still hadn’t seen Dad by bed time but the plate of food I’d left in the oven to keep warm was gone. Apparently parental duties no longer stretched to every night. I shrugged. He was rarely completely present when he did eat with us. On balance it was more relaxing without him.

I lay awake, restless and dry-eyed, for a long time that night, unable to make my brain to stop whirring. I shouldn’t be thinking about Ciarán as anything but a friend. A friend should be enough. It was pathetic how attached I’d become in such a short space of time. Unwanted half-hopes dangled just on the edge of consciousness though. I forced those thoughts away. The familiar itch of the cold spot niggled at me instead. It had something to do with Helen. One of those imprints Mrs Cranford had mentioned. My eyes grew heavy finally, just as I remembered the book again. I kept forgetting it. Why was…

I am turned flipped over and over, battered in a tunnel of noise and pain. Screaming. Silence. Hanging. World the wrong way up. Blood runs…

… blood runs over my hands. I stare at it in shock. How very red it is. How hot. I watch Kate as she discards the pathetic, black- feathered bundle in a heap at our feet. Her hands clasp mine, the linen cuffs of her sleeves stained crimson and sticking to us both. She holds a fascination for me like the weasel does for the rabbit.

“You are not afraid of a little blood are you, Helen?” She gives me a close-lipped smile.

“Miss, you didn’t ought to have done that. When your father misses the hen…” I try not to look at the blood spattering my apron.

“Oh pish!” She tosses her hair. The sun glints copper on her chestnut curls.

“But playing at witchery! I’m sure you should not.” The devil will take me. The devil will take us both…

“We’re bound now, Helen. With blood.” She tightens her slippery fingers on mine.

Dark drops fall to the ground from our linked hands. Drip-pat. Drip-pat. I wish Mr Weston had never taken me in. Kate will surely go to hell and just as surely will she drag me in her wake.

“Bound?” I gulp back a sob.

“Yes, Helen. You shall never leave me now without my say so.” Her dark eyes gleam.

She means to frighten me. I know she takes delight in my uneasiness. Why do I play her games? Likely she will forget all of this. I will be the one to fret over our souls. My hands shake, sprinkling more blood. Drip…pat…drip…pat…

no…Emily…I’m Emily Lynette…

Not so red now. So dark it looks almost black…drip…

No…NO…Let me GO! I’m Emily…

Kate laughs, merry and provoking. Even now, when I fear her most, I can’t help wanting her to like me. Wanting to be as pretty as she.

“You wicked little beasts!” John’s roar startles even Kate.

I snatch my hands away but it is too late. He has seen. They are slick with blood. I start crying with fright. Kate casts a scornful glance at me before looking up at John, as pert as you please. I have never admired her more. Neither of us try to run away. We both know better. John may be past forty but he is much faster than a twelve-year-old girl and her fourteen-year-old maid. I wonder how much the switching will hurt this time.

It hurts very much, as John has us raise our skirts so that they will not cushion the blows. I cry and beg for forgiveness. Kate accepts the beating in grim silence. I never once heard her apologise for anything. She will take this as proof that she should be more careful in not getting caught, not that she had done anything wicked. Mortification of the flesh has no effect on Kate. When he has whipped us raw, John set us to read long passages of Leviticus as penance.

I watch him striding away down the hallway, holding the black hen by its cut and broken neck. It bounces back and forth to his rolling gait. If we have that bird for dinner tomorrow I shall be sick.

“Here, Helen, listen!” Kate’s voice is full of excitement.

“Hush! He’s not gone yet!” I cast a fearful glance after John.

“Oh, don’t be such a coward! He won’t tell Papa. He never does. Listen to this, “the way of all life is the blood…” It is in the passage John set us! Is it not sweet?” She laughed as if she hadn’t just had a switching with a birch at all.

I gaze at Kate in disbelief. Ordinarily the fact that she had found something to interest her in the bible would cause general outcry. That she had read any of the bible at all for that matter. But here we sit with sticky, blood spattered hands and skirts, our behinds and legs so sore we cannot kneel properly as instructed. We are denied food and water and warned that our immortal souls will be claimed by the devil if we should chance to die that night. Yet here was my young mistress and all she could do was laugh. I wondered for a moment if she was quite sane.

“Do you not think that you’ve caused us enough trouble? Laughing at the Word. Miss, I think you might be mad. I really do! Give me no more of your bloody sports. I won’t play ‘em.”

“I suppose the homily from John wasn’t enough for you? You had to add one of your own. What a vast, dull creature you are Helen! Such a little creep-mouse. Well, I’ll not be cowed!” She narrows her beautiful eyes in spite, “And you will play, for I’ve bound our souls now. If I go to hell so will you, no matter what you do. So be as pious as you like. It’s all one to me!”

I shiver with dread. I have a hardy fear of hell and its fires. There will be no entreating her now though, I can see. I will have to wait and nurse my fears in silence. At least until she un-bends and forgets her threats. An hour passes in dreary, grey minutes. Kate speaks not one word to me. I try to keep my attention on the bible but it is hard when anxiety and pain keep distracting me. I think I may have fallen asleep with my eyes open because Kate’s next words jolt me, sending me lurching to my feet.

“Who is that strange boy?”

I join her at the window. A dark, raggedy shape slips between the stunted young apple trees. He is a little older than us I think. Filthy and wild looking. And something else. Something that fills me with wordless fear.

“A gypsy lad?” I offer.

“Not him. He’s more than that. I’d stake my soul on it!”

“Miss, please don’t talk that way! About souls and such.”

“Oh, just go back to your bible and be quiet Helen, if that’s all you can say.” Kate gives me a look of deep disgust.

“There’s no point looking, for we’re not to know such a ragamuffin anyway!” I snap back, nettled.

I expect a slap at the very least for my outburst but it does not come.

“I shall know him,” Kate breathes. “I shall know him very well.”

I haven’t the faintest notion of what she means but I can see those fathomless black eyes, peering up at us from a dark face. Eyes that go on and on like the darkest pit. I shiver. Ada would say a ghost walked on my grave. I think it is something much more harmful than that.

emily…I’m Emily…Emlynn…

Kate presses a hand against the window…

LET ME GO…

I bolted upright in bed, heart thudding in my chest. I held out my shaking hands; clean, no blood. A dream…No. A memory. Helen’s memory. That wasn’t meant to happen. Not joining with Helen while I slept…I shivered. Maybe Mrs Cranford was right. Maybe I had no choice. What if I became Helen until there was nothing left of me?

I looked towards the open window. Pale hands reaching, reaching…I knew, now, she couldn’t get inside. The cold girl couldn’t get into my room. Not unless I invited her. I was crushed under the wave of nausea and revulsion. It’s not Kate, so who is it? Her plaintive wailing stabbed into my ears just as I stuffed a pillow around my head. I didn't have the strength to get up and close the window in the dark. My bedside lamp still had the half- melted remains of the exploded bulb stuck in it.

I couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t bear to hear her anymore. Just like earlier, on the moor, something unfolded within me, swifter this time, smoother. Like a muscle that grew stronger with use. GO! I pushed out. Go and haunt someone else, and leave me alone!

The hands were swept into the night. The window slammed shut. I fell back on my bed.

As the weight of exhaustion crashed down on me, I thought I could smell rosemary or was it violets? Everything went black.

I’d never been drunk and if this was what a hangover felt like, I was never going to get drunk. A hot band of pain tightened around my skull, pulsing along with my heartbeat. My eyes felt like poached eggs. I wasn’t sure which was worse; the repeated nightmares about the accident or dropping into the unknown and finding myself in Helen’s head. I swiped my sore eyes with the back of my hand. Pulling the duvet over my head and sleeping through the day was almost too tempting. Judging from the way the light filtered through the un-drawn curtains it was already late morning. The window was shut, though. I didn’t imagine that part. Somehow I’d banished the cold girl. Could I make the Dead go where I wanted? Is that what Mrs Cranford meant?

My brain was working on half power, fighting thick layers of exhaustion. Something niggled at me. Something I should have checked last night…The book! I forgot to see if it was open on the desk again last night. This time I wouldn’t put it away. I’d mark the page it was open at and then…

My desk was empty. No book. No message last night. Disquiet uncurled thin fingers in my stomach. It shouldn’t matter. But what if I’d been ignoring something important all along? Fine. Maybe I could find the passage myself. Maybe the book would just fall open at the right place. I could take it to Mrs Cranford or even Amy and have one of them read it…

The book wasn’t on the shelf. I knew it was missing because there was a clear gap where it should be. I hunted through my room for it, with increasing frenzy. I pulled all the books off the shelf in case I was wrong. I wasn’t. I knew the weight and feel and scent of that book. The one Mum and I would never read and discuss. I raked my gaze over the chaos of my bedroom, as if trying to make the book appear by will power alone. It was no good. It was gone. I sat on the window seat, staring at the moor, without knowing how I got there. The loss of the book was bad. Not just because it was a link to Mum but because I let myself realize now, how important it probably was. I should have looked at it before. If I hadn’t been so caught up in denial…I needed to go back to Mrs Cranford and hear her out. There was no one else with any answers.

The faint mournful scent of rosemary and violets hung on the air.

I dithered in the lane outside Mrs Cranford’s cottage. I hadn’t factored Ciarán into the equation. It shouldn’t matter if he was there since I’d decided we were just friends but…

Stomach sloshing with nerves, I forced myself to take a step forward. The disappearance of the book had unsettled me. My room didn’t seem quite so safe anymore. It felt like Haze had found a way to reach me when I was in the house.

And then I’d knocked on Grace’s door only to find her gone. Again.

Dad’s study was locked. Again.

I was alone.

At least Amy was safe at school.

“Emily? Are you going to stand out there all day, girl? We’ve got things to do.” Mrs Cranford’s tone was crisp but she sounded as though she’d been expecting me.

“C-coming.” I hunched my shoulders, braced for a telling-off from Mrs Cranford or a smile from Ciarán, not knowing which would be worse. Neither happened. Mrs Cranford made no mention of my tempestuous exit yesterday. Ciarán was nowhere to be seen. I had a brief mental image of Grace meeting up with him, than clamped down on my feelings. Didn’t matter.

“You’ve had a night of it,” Mrs Cranford observed from her armchair.

I nodded. “I’m s-s-sorry…”

Mrs Cranford waved a hand dismissively. “I pushed you too hard. And I am not above being wrong. I should have got the full story from you first. So tell me, what happened?”

“I’m n-not sure where to st-start.” I admitted.

“Start with your mother, Emily,” she said softly and I jerked my eyes up to meet her gaze. It was bright with understanding.

“W-what has that got to d-do with eh-anything?” I snapped, immediately on the defensive.

"Emily, you are blocking yourself. I don't pretend to have the talent you have -"

I snorted rudely.

Mrs Cranford continued as though I hadn’t interrupted. “But I do have some small abilities of my own. I’ll tell you about them, one day. It’s clear that something dreadful happened to you before you came here. Something far worse than the tragic early death of a parent. Far worse even, than being there when it happened. I doubt you’ve told a soul have you?”

“A-Amy,” I corrected dully.

“Your younger sister? No. She was there too wasn’t she? So you didn’t have to tell her.” Mrs Cranford gave me a shrewd look. “Neither of you even discussed it amongst yourselves.”

I looked stared into those bright, bird-like eyes and found myself nodding. She was right and suddenly I wanted to tell someone. An adult. I didn’t want to be the keeper of this terrible secret.

“Eh…it wasn’t an a-accident.” I sipped my tea, sweetened again, and told Mrs Cranford what I remembered. What came back to me in dreams. “Shuh…she tried to take us wuh…with her. She truh… tried to kuh…kuh…kill us.” I forced the words out past the tightness in my throat. “We d-don’t know why.” I let the words hang in the silence. It was a relief to have said them out loud.

“Hmm. There’s a piece of that story missing. No.” Mrs Cranford raised a tiny claw-hand to ward off my protest. “I don’t mean you’ve left anything out. I mean there’s a piece of the puzzle that you don’t have. I do know, from what you’ve told me about your mother, both directly and indirectly, that she would never have intentionally hurt you or either of your sisters. Never. Something must have been dreadfully wrong. I’m sorry, Emily, but someone is hiding the full facts from you.”

“R-really?” I shouldn’t have felt happy about the possibility of being lied to, but I did. “Buh…but we were arguing and th-then she just….” I hunched my shoulders, curving myself against hope or disaster.

“Emily, it had nothing to do with your argument. It had nothing to do with you at all. It’s terrible that you were in the car. Amy too. But it wasn’t your fault.” She gave me a dark eyed look of sympathy over the rim of her cup.

I couldn’t speak. Not because the words were damming up inside me but because a tremendous weight was lifting. I felt like I had been in a building that had collapsed, and, lying half-buried in the rubble, had had to tell everyone passing by that I was fine. And no one noticed that I was buried until Mrs Cranford said it wasn’t my fault. The rubble was gone, I could move again.

It wasn’t my fault.

I hadn’t even realized that I thought it was.

But I hadn’t I believed it? Deep down? I knew Grace blamed me. Perhaps Dad blamed me for not stopping Mum. Or for surviving when she died. I’d blamed myself for those same things without ever really stopping to examine them. I wished I could leave now. That I could go on feeling this weightless. I was certain the next thing Mrs Cranford told me would be my responsibility.

“Th-thank you.” It was hopelessly inadequate but I couldn’t say anything more. All of it was still too raw. Her gaze told me I she understood. In a flash of intuition, I wondered who she had lost. It didn’t seem right to ask and a more important question slipped out before I could stop myself.

“Wuh why…why do y-y-you think M-Mum k-k-killed herself?” I tightened myself against the answer.

Mrs Cranford gave me a very long look. “Have you spoken to your father about this?”

“N-no,” I mumbled. Of course not.

“I’m sorry, Emily. I really am. But I don’t know.”

“Huh how do you know eh-everything else then?” I knew I sounded belligerent but I couldn’t help myself. I needed answers. Amy needed answers. And Grace.

“I have my own strange…gifts, for lack of a better word. What you can do, what a few – a very few – others can do, what I can do – it’s called The Touch. I can pick up what someone is feeling. Sometimes I get the accompanying thought as well, if the person thinking it has a latent gift of their own.” She smiled wryly. “It’s not mind-reading as such. I’m just receptive if someone projects a thought clearly enough. Don’t worry. I can’t pry.”

She chuckled and then abruptly sobered. “And I can sense when things are wrong. With a person. With a place. The strongest sense I have ever had about a person, came from you, Emily. I saw your car go past the day you arrived and knew I had to meet you. I had to warn you. And then you turned out to be so much more powerful than anyone I had encountered before…” Her voice trailed off and my but my eyebrows hiked up in disbelief. Me? Powerful? Hardly.

“The Touch?” I said, frowning.

“Who knows where the name came from,” Mrs Cranford said with a shrug in her voice. “It can mean a lot of things. In your case it encompasses the rarest gift of all. An affinity with the Dead. Lots of people without the Touch see occasional glimpses of ghosts or get that prickling sensation of something uncanny being near. That’s normal. But you see, sense, speak and more strangely, hear them. The Dead do not speak, you see. They are silent.”

I snorted. They weren’t very bloody well silent around here. “How d-d-do you d-do that? The suh sensing thing?” Scepticism coloured my tone.

“How do you sense and see and speak to the Dead?” Mrs Cranford smiled faintly.

“D-don’t know,” I muttered.

“That makes two of us then.”

I guessed she had a point. “Buh but Mum-“

“Emily, I just don’t know. Nor can I find out. If anyone knows anything, it’s your father. ” Her voice was tinged with impatience.

Speak to Dad? Fat chance.

“I know this is hard but we need to talk about that young man your sister is involved with.” I snorted rudely and Mrs Cranford’s expression became more severe. “Grace is alive, Emily. A family member you can save.”

I winced. She was right.

Feeling ashamed of being rude all over again, I nibbled a strand of my hair. The whole situation was insane… but then I could see things that other people couldn’t. I had to get control over it. And the newspaper clippings held clues about the watcher and the Pattern. Maybe about Haze, though they’d looked too old for that. My face burned as I remembered blurting out how I couldn’t read.

With the trick she had of catching my thoughts, Mrs Cranford said, “Emily, humour me just a little longer. When did you discover you couldn’t read?”

I hated answering those sorts of questions. It hurt. But Mrs Cranford treated me like I was normal. She didn’t pity me.

“W-when I g-got out of hospital. T-too ill before. W-why?” I did not want to be talking about this. Not with anyone. Those dreadful hours when I’d first woken up and found that Mum was really dead and Amy was in a coma. When my head had hurt so much, I’d selfishly wished I was dead too, to get away from the pain. And from the nightmare reality I’d woken up too. Where Grace screamed at me, and Dad wouldn’t look at me and talked to the nurses as though I wasn’t there. And all around were the creeping fingers of the Dead. Oblivious of me but somehow demanding my attention… No. There was no one in the world I wanted to share that with.

My expression must have communicated some of this because Mrs Cranford looked sympathetic now, as well as implacable.

“One last question, Emily, and then I’ll propose a theory to you that you must make up your own mind about. When you used to read for pleasure – oh yes, I know you’re one who did. When you did read, when did you do it most often? Or rather with whom?”

“M-mum. Always w-with Mum,” I whispered.

“You don’t have to answer what I’m going to say. You’re not going to like it. I shouldn’t be surprised if you were very angry with me. Please just listen though…” Mrs Cranford seemed was hesitant.

“W-what?” She certainly had a knack for keeping me talking.

“I think it is very likely you did injure your head badly in that car accident. I think it more than likely you damaged a small part of your brain. Just enough that, while you were healing, it made reading too difficult for you to do. You may even have temporarily lost the ability to read.”

Mrs Cranford fixed me with a scalpel gaze. “We are not born knowing how to read, Emily. Did it never occur to you that if you had lost the ability, you could learn how to read again? Did no one suggest that might be possible?”

If she had looked at me with a shred of pity, I would have screamed at her to mind her own business. I would have walked out. But she didn’t pity me. I let her even, reasoned words sink in. A different kind of horror rippled through me: I’d completely accepted someone else’s assessment of my ability to recover without question. I’d given up on myself.

“I have a further theory, Emily. If you read and discussed books with your mother, then not being able to read might be your mind’s way of protecting you from further pain. How can you enjoy something you loved so much, when your mother is gone? How can you do anything that is so saturated with memories of your mother that you wouldn’t be able to avoid thinking of her? Because if you did think of her, you had to ask yourself why she did what she did. How could any young girl reconcile the two?” Mrs Cranford seemed to be talking more to herself now than to me, but her words struck me like stones, sending ripples outward. I was afraid of this new hope.

"The kuh consultant s-said I wasn't able to l- learn again." I desperately wanted her to contradict me.

“Did you ever try?” her voice was soft.

There was a heavy pause. Everything I’d learned today, Mum, the accident, reading. All of it would hit me hard and soon. I rubbed my eyes then looked up again. I hadn’t asked a single question I’d intended too.

“Who is Huh Haze?” I rapped this out, sharp with frustration. Mrs Cranford took the change of subject in stride.

“Who do you think he is? It’s you who stands at the centre of the Pattern, Emily. You are the only person who can see the whole thing. I’m sorry but you’re going to have to make your own discoveries. That is why the ability to read is so important. The book you mentioned is a new element. I have suspicions but I need you to draw your own conclusions first. I think it is a clue meant specifically for you. I can’t do this for you.” She compressed her lips as if that statement was not at all to her taste. “Though I wish I knew who was sending you clues.”

“Th-that’s just it. The b-b-book is gone.” I told her about last night; being Helen again; waking up to the cold girl; sending her away; searching for the book this morning. I skimmed over yesterday afternoon, just saying I’d seen Grace with Haze again and not mentioning Ciarán at all. It was a gutless thing to do but I couldn’t didn’t want her guessing my feelings for Ciarán. Even if I had decided nothing would ever happen, I wanted her good opinion too much.

And I didn’t want to think too hard about who Haze was. Dark suspicions were already forming.

Mrs Cranford was too distracted by worry to notice my hesitance. “That troubles me, Emily. You’re sure neither of your sisters would have taken the book?”

I shrugged.

“Try and find it. I agree with you. It’s important.” She lapsed back into quiet, staring into the middle distance.

"W-why sugar?" I blurted randomly. "Why d-do the Dead make me f- feel ill?"

“They don’t belong here.” Mrs Cranford’s eyes snapped back into focus. “Not on this plane of existence. It takes them a lot of energy to physically manifest. That is why it grows so cold. Especially to you. You are an untrained medium. A proper one – not a TV charlatan. If you want a comparison, you’re a sort of universal adapter through which the Dead can draw energy to manifest. Unfortunately they take a lot of your strength too. You don’t know how to be a gateway rather than a tunnel.” She said this in the same level tone she described my reading problems. It all sounded mental…except it all fitted completely with what I could do.

“C-can I l-learn?”

“It’s imperative to your success that you do learn, and learn fast.” Mrs Cranford gave me an owlish look. “There are too many things here, in this village alone, which would seek to use you. You must be careful. The best you can do is shut off as much of your ability as you can, except in dire need. At least until you have learned how to use it. The sugar is merely first aid. It burns a lot of energy having the Dead work through you or draw power from you. That’s what leaves you ill and shaking. The sugar just replaces enough energy to let you function. When you learn how to control your ability, you’ll stop the Dead taking your energy too.”

“Huh how do I d-do that?” If there was just some way… some way of stopping them from using me…Then I remembered the strange ‘coated in glass’ feeling I’d had yesterday when I was trying to keep Haze’s shadows out. That had to be part of it.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I’m not a medium. The Touch works differently with me.” She pursed her lips. Was she reluctant to teach me? It felt like it. I didn’t entirely believe that she didn’t know how to teach me.

“Isn’t th-there anything?” I pressed.

“Start by controlling your mind. Practise making it still, especially when you are angry or afraid – they can use that as a way in.” The strange reluctance lingered in her voice. “Practise making your mind clear before you sleep. And Emily?”

“Yes?” I was afraid of what else she might say.

“You must stop running from your gift. You don’t have much time, if Grace is to survive.”

I stared at her with wide eyes. Was she saying…?

“Killed, Emily. Those girls were killed.” She gestured towards the shoe box of cuttings on the coffee table. “I think you know who Haze is. And what your sister is facing. You must stop the Pattern. It’s too late to extricate her now.” For a moment I could have sworn her eyes shone bright with tears.

“Huh how?” The word was a lump of coal in my throat.

“The only person who ever knew enough to help us, is Helen. The original witness.” Mrs Cranford’s expression was looked grim.

“But sh-she’s dead!”

“Yes. And you’re a medium. Perhaps the first one strong enough to solve this.” She broke off and her gaze skittered over her collection of protective charms. I was certain that’s what they were now. “It can’t be a coincidence. That you’re here now. Perhaps you’re meant to redress the balance.” Her eyes were far away, looking at another time. I wondered again, who she had lost. Was that why she had never moved away from Arncliffe?

"M- Mrs Cranford?" I prodded hesitantly. She blinked hard. "H-how am I meant to do t-that?"

“Isn’t it obvious, Emily? You have to ask Helen what she knows. Make her tell you what happened in those last tragic days.”

I was back in my attic, pacing up and down, boards creaking underfoot. Find the book. The trouble was I had a gut certainty that I wouldn’t find the book because someone else had disposed of it. Someone who didn’t want me any closer to solving the mystery. I’d lost an important clue. And it was one of Mum’s books. The one we would never read together. Dull anger fought with hopelessness. I couldn’t control the dreams. I didn’t know how to talk to Helen. Or how to find a way to break the Pattern.

I kept glancing up at the gap on top shelf. Like finding a missing tooth and worrying at the space constantly with your tongue. There were connections and clues that I kept missing…Maybe Amy did borrow it. It was unlikely she’d take it without asking but possible. I would ask her when she got home. Or Grace. I scowled. Even more unlikely but I should probably check to see if she was back yet at least. I kicked the shoebox full of newspaper cuttings under the bed — Mrs Cranford had insisted on giving it to me — and went to see.

Grace wasn’t in her room but the door was ajar. I went all the way in this time. Her bed was unmade. I shouldn’t be in here prying but I couldn’t resist a quick look around to see if she’d taken the book for some reason. If she had, she’d hidden it well. I couldn’t imagine Grace taking it anyway. She was more of a biographies and real-life-stories reader. If she found me here though, there would be hell to pay if she found me here though. I perched on the edge of Grace’s bed. Hell to pay. I laughed softly, without humour. As I got up to go, a snatch of paper under the bed caught my eye. I pulled it out and unfolded it. A flier of some kind with one torn corner as if it had been hastily ripped down from a notice board. In my mind’s eye I saw again a slim, white hand reaching up to the church bulletin board and flash of corn-coloured hair. Maybe it had been Grace that day in church?

I hadn’t tested Mrs Cranford’s theory about reading yet. No time like the present. I flipped the paper over. There weren’t many words – most of the flier was taken up with a black and white picture – but they were a meaningless jumble.

No don’t just accept that, pick a line and work through it.

I scanned the few sentences. “February 27th near East Faire and… Ridhun?” No that wasn’t quite right. There was a word before that last one. But I could see they were words now. I felt a rising thrill of excitement. If I worked at it, I could get some of my ability this back. Okay, so I wasn’t ready for Tolstoy yet but… I could go back to school. Maybe…maybe if I worked really hard I could do other auditions. Build a music CV. Maybe I could study music professionally after all. I wouldn’t be good enough for the Royal College but if I could just go somewhere…My hand floated back to my lap as I disappeared into daydreams. The A4 sheet fell to the floor, flipping over before it landed.

I didn’t understand the thrill of horror to start with. My eyes had zeroed in on the picture, while my mind was happily contemplating escapes I thought were lost forever. Then my brain caught up.

Haze.

I snatched up the flier, flipping it back to the picture. A smiling young man astride a motorbike, wearing jeans and a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. His expression was one of open friendliness. His hair was light, maybe dark blonde or brown, not black. His skin was much lighter, not the swarthy olive-brown I’d seen. Even in the grainy black and white copy of the photograph, I could tell his eyes were light. Blue or grey. Not black and fathomless. It wasn’t just any old flier. It was a plea for help. There was phone number to call and a police code. I knew I would not be calling that number. A single word swam up from the text like a terrible fish.

Missing.

It wasn’t Haze in the picture. It was the body Haze was now wearing.

I dug around under my bed for the shoe box full of cuttings, with no memory of leaving Grace’s room and returning to mine. My outstretched fingers brushed a cardboard corner. There! I up-ended the box on my duvet and pawed through the contents. I would know what I was searching for when I found it.

Start with dates, you can read that much. I sorted the clippings into date order. The oldest dated back to 1921. I estimated that to be a good few years before Mrs Cranford was born. Most likely copies of old broadsheets she had acquired. There were a few sparse offerings from the years between up until 1943 when there was a clipping of a missing or dead girl for almost every year that came after. Sometimes more than one girl. The most recent cutting was dated 10th June 1984. Words and names danced under my eyes. Enough to piece a few things together.

I counted the clippings. Once. Twice. Nearly forty girls. All found on the moor, if they were found at all. All of them thin, malnourished, bruised and freezing cold to the touch. All with throat or neck trauma. Some had been found bloodless as well, though it took half an hour of struggling over the word ‘exsanguinated’ to work that out. I’d need to check with someone who could read better than I could but despite the very recent return of that ability, I was sure I had the main details correct.

I sat back stunned. All of those girls…why had nothing been done? Amy’s macabre interest in gory details meant that I knew all about the Yorkshire ripper. He had killed thirteen women and attempted to kill seven others over a fifteen year period. There had been a huge man hunt. Here were thirty-eight girls missing or dead in similar circumstances, over a much longer period and aside from a few newspaper articles what had been done? How many others had died before 1921? If this went back to Kate’s death in 1789, then there might be hundreds never found or reported as missing. Did no one think it was strange?

Maybe it had happened for so long, that it was accepted as part of the local folklore. Wander on the moor after nightfall and the Dark Man will take you. I remembered the man in the shop warning Amy and me, and shuddered.

I felt the weight of the sky over Arncliffe in its cup on the moor. A living space. A vast animal intelligence that knew things. We were smaller than fleas on its back. Or maybe bees, pollinating and perpetuating it. And all the while the shadows of past death trickled steadily into the cup, feeding the Pattern. Maybe feeding Haze. Where was Grace now? How long did I have before she never came back at all?

Numb and foggy, I put the cuttings away. My fingers paused on the flier of the missing boy I’d taken from Grace’s room. This was how he did it. The Dark man, Haze, Robbie — whatever his real name was. I wondered if anyone had ever bothered to count up missing young men. He used them to lure the girls to him. He wore their flesh and compelled them. It all made a dreadful kind of sense. Haze was the watcher on the Moor. The Dark Man. Helen’s orphan boy.

What had happened to make him such a monster?

I had to stop Grace seeing him. I shoved the shoe box back under my bed. I needed a fresh pair of eyes. Ciarán maybe? Though Dad would freak out if I brought him up here. And I cringed away from the idea of getting any closer to Ciarán. Grace first though. I was going to have to look for her.

I was about to dodge around the cold spot when I paused. I could almost see it, a frosty sphere hanging above the stair. Maybe what I needed was an old pair of eyes, not a fresh pair. If anyone knew where to find Haze, it would be Helen. And Grace would be with him. I gave it no more thought than that.

“Helen, if you care at all about ending this, about being free, help me…” I took a deep breath and stepped into the biting cold. This time I didn’t fight. I surrendered. Let myself drift…

Emily Lynette is tucked away inside. A passenger, frightened at how quickly this has worked. I ignore her. Foolish child. She doesn’t understand what real darkness is yet. Unlike that other Emily. She was fascinated by shadows. Her with her book. All that terrible violence writ down for any sordid soul to see. She were braver than this one though.

I put them both from my thoughts.

I continue down the stairs, where I had paused to eavesdrop. I knew now where Kate was going. I could find her easy enough. How I’m to fetch her back though, I don’t know. That girl has no care for anyone save Him. I feel a wave of spite. How would it be to strike at her where it would make an impression? She’d long since learnt not to strike at me anymore. I’d stopped that, right enough.

But I wanted more. I want her tamed and brought to harness like the rest of her sex. Like I was, with my endless round of tasks from morning ’til noon ’til night. There would be none who came a-courting me. I had no doubt on that. Though seeing what love did to a person didn’t endear the prospect to me. No, better I remain plain, competent Helen. Not a man’s wife. If I could be only sure of a continued comfortable life, I would bide. And I would watch.

At the orchard door I catch little Ada hanging on the frame, gazing with huge eyes toward the moor.

“Has Mrs Brampton no task for you?” My sharp tone makes her jump.

“Oh. Helen. I was to collect the eggs…” she twists her small reddened hands together.

“Be about it then. Go on!” I shooed her, when it seems she will linger still. “And stop your moon-calf gazing after what’s no good for you. Nor to any man nor beast!”

“I can look!” Ada mutters rebelliously.

“Not when you’ve chores as need doing. You’re a foolish child. You’d be safer making eyes at the devil himself!”

“Oh, I know how you’ve always hated him. He said as much…ow!” She claps a hand to the side of her head where I cuffed her. Her fair hair is spilling out of her cap.

“When did you speak with him?” I’m ready to cuff her again in fright. What has the little minx been saying to him? I seize her wrist and twist it. Tears spring into her eyes.

“Wuh when he was here with Miss Weston. Muh Monday last!” Ada sobs.

I let go of her wrist and she cradles it to her chest.

“You listen to me, Ada lass. That lad is nought but trouble. Far worse trouble than you can imagine. Miss Weston would have your hide off you if she knew you were making up to him.”

“I shall tell Mrs Brampton you struck me!” Ada still sobs, the tiresome girl.

“When you do, tell her why. She’ll no doubt have great interest in why her kitchen wench, who’s not yet seen twelve years even, is making up to the gypsy lad!” Ada scrunches up her face and I nod once. She’ll say nothing. Best a few sharp blows from me than have her fall to whatever game He’s playing.

“Be off for those eggs now.” I leave Ada scrambling for her basket, still sobbing. I walk with purpose across the moor. Kate has a good half an hour start on me but I know where they meet. There’s an overhang of limestone that forms a broad shelf; shelter for those underneath, against rain and wind. I pull my shawl tight and set my teeth. There’s a way to approach from above, concealed in gorse. I need to know if it’s as bad as I reckon on.

I crouch silent among the thorns. The wind is light today. I will hear everything. I edge out further above the den. Kate stands in the heather. Her locks shine in the sun like banked embers. She holds out her arms and spins and spins, laughing. Her loose hair flies around her. Unseemly. I take in her bare, dirty feet and stained rust-wool gown in disdain. But part of me watches wistful too. It is hard not to admire someone who refuses to be chained. It is hard not to wish for such a free and vital spirit for myself.

I rarely see a true smile on her face anymore. She is sarcastic, though wickedness still provokes her to laughter. Now she is transformed with joy. It is easy to see why she is a local favourite, beautiful as she is. He emerges from their shallow cave, and her joy quietens and intensifies. His grubby white shirt billows as the breeze freshens. His large hands are in her hair and at her waist, drawing her in as if she is water or air and he will die of deprivation without her. He covers her smiling mouth with his own.

I cannot look away. I wish I had not followed, not seen. It is as bad as I fear and worse. She is a month shy of sixteen. Two years my junior. If unchecked this will ruin her. As for him, Robbie the handy-woman calls him, though I know his real name is different, his love is fierce, cruel. There are fresh bruises faint on her flushing cheeks and neck when they break apart. Only her grip on him equals his, for ferocity. This cannot be real love. This is some devilment. Only who is the devil?

Kate is capable of mischief, ill temper, even wickedness. That dark gypsy lad is capable of cruelties no one sane would guess at. I shudder, recalling a time I did watch him. The snap and pop of the newly hatched chicks necks as he casually twisted them. One he had crushed into fluffy pulp in his huge hand. No this must not go on. I screw up my courage thinking of what I must do. I must speak to Reverend Weston.

There’s nudging in my mind… my passenger… I’m being swept back… The image flickers and changes before me. Skirts melt into immodest male clothing. A strange metallic horse leans nearby. It’s them. Kate. And Robbie… Har…

…I shoved Helen away. Crouched in the gorse, scratched and panting. My hair tangled and falling into my eyes. I had done it this time. I was out on the moor with only Helen’s memory for how I got here.

And Grace was below with Haze. He was cupping her face and tilting it up. For a moment his expression shifted and there was so much pain and longing in it my throat ached. How could anyone suffer so long and still keep hoping…

Idiot! He’s not even human anymore. Look at him. Look at what he’s doing to your sister! Grace’s hair glowed like embers, chestnut curls streaming in the breeze. Her skin was blue-white and her eyes were shut as he crushed his mouth down on hers again. The anguish I’d seen in him a moment ago was gone. There was no tenderness in the embrace. Only a vast gulf of frustrated passion. A fierce hunger that I no longer believed anything could sate. Blood appeared, shockingly red on Grace’s white cheek. Thread-thin rivulets that dripped from their joined mouths into the heather. I wanted to scream, to throw up, to run. Anything to drive the image from my mind.

Get out of here. It was the best option. I’d found Grace but I had no idea how to get her away from Haze. He was powerful, hundreds of years old, wearing someone else’s body… I shuddered, small and dirty and almost completely helpless. I was afraid but that wasn’t the only reason for leaving. While it seemed that Grace was his, Haze wouldn’t harm her. He needed her. If I stumbled in on them, I might force his hand. Why didn’t I think this through before I dived into the cold spot? I gritted my teeth and eased backwards away from the edge of the overhang. There was a small path to one side, or at least the undergrowth was beaten down there. It wouldn’t be safe to use but I had to pass it to get to the cover of further gorse bushes.

I tried to sneak by, but I was hampered by the ghostly memory of long skirts and petticoats I was no longer wearing. At the neck of the path, I tripped and crashed through the bushes, sliding on my backside to an ungainly halt at Haze and Grace’s feet. They both snapped their heads round to look at me, their expressions alien. Haze’s dark eyes were full of malevolent amusement. His mouth hooked in a cruel smile. Grace didn’t recognise me at all, then her expression shifted to a familiar one of scorn. Blood still trickled from the side of her mouth. Her lips were looked swollen and there were faint bruises on her throat and cheek. She looked as though she didn’t really fit in her own skin anymore.

I couldn’t think. Haze scratched at my mind trying to get in. Shadows crept closer, oozing like oil over the ground. Searching for cracks. I had to be strong. Mustn’t let him see how afraid I was. I had to get Grace away. Her face… it frightened me almost more than Haze did. I scrambled to my feet, swallowing hard against the sour taste in my mouth.

“G-Grace, it’s tuh time to go h-home.” I kept my chin high. No way was I letting Haze know how hard it was to keep him out of my mind. Beads of sweat prickled at my temples. “We have to guh go now.” I felt Haze’s eyes burning into me. I took two slow steps towards Grace, recoiling at the thought of getting closer to Haze.

“Gremlin? What the hell are you doing here?” She swiped the back of her hand across her mouth absently. She didn’t notice the streak of blood that striped her hand. His or hers? “Are you spying on me?” She sounded more like my sister with every word. I was too relieved to be annoyed. Grace was still in there. I just had to reach her.

“Duh does the whole moor belong to y-you now?” I forced my eyes to rake slowly over Haze, eyebrows arched in scorn. “Duh don’t think much of your t-taste.” I put all the disgust I could muster into my tone. Helen’s memories were still strong. All of her contempt for Robbie’s birth helped me now. I met Haze’s eyes and felt a giddy rush of adrenaline. Terror made me reckless. I ignored the cold. I shoved back at the shadows. If there was one part of Grace I could still reach it was her vanity, her confidence in her own appeal. And no one could irritate her like I could.

“W-when did you st-start fancying a bit of rough then? Th-thought s-sophisticated and well-groomed was more your th-thing.” I twisted my mouth into a sneer.

Rage blazed across Haze’s face. His stolen face. I shivered. And I thought I was only pissing off Grace. Too late now. I went for the coup-de-grace. “Guh guess you’re n-not interested in Ciarán after all. Not that you kuh could have him, even if you did w-want him.” If only. No this was more important.

“What?! What did you say?” Grace screeched.

I looked Haze up and down ostentatious with my distain. His hands curled into fists. I tried not to think of those hands digging into the soft flesh of a girl’s throat…

“Just who the hell do you think you are, Gremlin?” Fury sparkled in Grace’s eyes. “You think anyone would prefer you over me? That Ciarán would?!”

No not really.

“D-definitely.” I shrugged and started to turn away. “Can’t have them buh both.” I wasn’t sure why I tossed that behind me. It felt more like something Helen would say than me. No time for analysis. Grace seized my shoulders and whirled me to face her.

“Don’t you tell me what and who I can’t have!”

Her breath was sour in my face. I’d never noticed how white and sharp her teeth were before. “Don’t you ever tell me any thing! No one tells me what to do!”

Everything was spinning out of control. Kate’s feelings and thoughts, Grace’s voice and words. Both of them. They were both here. Strands of copper in her chestnut hair. Acrid spite in her dark brown eyes… brown… Grace’s eyes were blue. I stared at her in horror. Kate was inside Grace. Wearing her like a gown. That’s how Haze had been trying to bring Kate back. And that’s how he killed all the others.

But Kate wasn’t in control. Not yet. It might not be too late. Please don’t let it be too late. I just had to say the right thing, get Grace to follow me…

“You c-can’t have Ciarán. I buh beat you…” I gasped. My shoulders burned where Grace’s hands gripped me. Blue-white electricity played over her hands and through me. I wanted to throw-up with pain. I forced myself to concentrate on the clear, glassy shield around my mind until the pain receded. There was a flickering around Grace again. I could felt it tugging at my sister, pulling her back towards Haze. Grace was too angry with me to obey the pull. Her eyes seemed lightened in colour. She was fighting. Finally…

“Fine.” The flickering died and settled into Grace’s skin. She smiled with malice. “We’ll just go and ask Ciarán, then, shall we?”

I yelped as she seized my hand. Her skin was so cold it burned and electricity flickered over our linked hands. Biting my lip, I held on as she yanked me after her. Away from Haze. That was what mattered, right?

I hadn’t won.

A single backward glance over my shoulder sent a tremor of fear through me. Haze didn’t try to follow or stop us. His gaze was intent, focused. On me. There was no amusement left in it anymore. He looked straight into me and promised murder without saying a word.

Great plan. Brilliant plan. Now what? Grace was dragging me along so quickly, that even with my longer legs, I was struggling to keep up. Or maybe now I’d got her away from Haze, it was reluctance. I cringed at the thought of being dragged all over Arncliffe to find Ciarán in order to ask him which of us he preferred as girlfriend material. My stomach flip-flopped weakly. I didn’t want an answer to that question. I didn’t want him to guess I even thought of him like that. Why couldn’t I annoy Grace into fighting with something else? I could already feel a blush rising in my cheeks.

Somehow I’d hit on the only thing that could have made Grace leave Haze. She was besotted with him, it wasn’t just Kate’s insidious presence. Though why pretending I thought I could compete with Grace in a popularity contest had worked, I couldn’t imagine. Just look at us. There was no competition. I understood one thing —there were rules to this game. I couldn’t force Grace away from Haze, but I could lure her. Just as Haze had been luring her away from us. Grace made the final choice, not that she was thinking all that clearly lately. It wasn’t much of a win. Haze had demonstrated how easily he could influence Grace. Maybe because she wanted him too. I was stumbling in the dark and the dark was where Haze lived. All I’d managed was to buy some time.

The fight went out of Grace just as we passed St Martin’s. She let out a low whimper. The bruising grip on my wrist slackened.

“I don’t…I don’t feel…right. Gremlin? What are we doing here?” Her blue eyes were full of confusion. For a moment I thought I’d got Grace back. Then my heart sank. The flickering around Grace was increasing again. Haze and Kate were strengthening the pull. “I have to…to go…” Grace swayed on her feet.

“N-not yet. Ruh rest on the bench.” I tugged her over to a memorial bench in the church yard. Grace followed me without complaint which really frightened me. She folded onto the worn wood, looking pinched and white. I’d never get her back to the vicarage like this. I needed to make her fight long enough to get her home safely. I couldn’t break Haze’s hold…but maybe I could break Kate’s?

“Wha…? How did we get here?” Grace’s voice was muffled. She rested her forehead on her knees. Her skin was milky-blue. If she passed out I wouldn’t be able to carry her. Think. There had to be a way…I could felt rather than saw that frantic fluttering. The battle going on inside Grace.

“Gremlin why are we in the grave yard?” her voice was faint but acerbic. “This had better not be any more of your weird shit.”

“N-not. N-nearest buh bench.” My mind skipped ahead. I wonder…Does Kate even know she’s dead?

“Okay, this is boring. I’m going back now.” Grace straightened. Her eyes were growing darker again, dashing any hopes I had about her meaning home. Kate was winning.

“Just a s-sec. L-look at this.” I seized Grace’s hand and dragged her through the graves.

“Look at what? Gremlin I’m tired. You’ve already dragged me all over the moor.”

“One last th-thing…” I hoped this would work. I grabbed her shoulders, bracing myself against the blue jolt of electricity that scorched my palms. I spun my sister towards the arch shaped tombstone, wondering who was I holding, Grace or Kate.

I had no trouble reading the words this time. As though they were engraved on my mind rather than the weathered stone.

Catriona Elizabeth Lynfield

Born 5th May 1769 – Died 29th March 1789

The righteous shall go into life eternal

Matthew 25:46

Thy likeness shall endure unto all generations.

Psalms 102.

A chill passed through me. That under water feeling again, like peering through thick wavy glass. Helen rising up in my mind. Too late, I realized my mistake. I’d invited her over the threshold…

Kate stands before me. Her hair tangles around her. The hem of her gown is torn and spattered with mud. Heaven knows what she has done with her shoes. She is as close to crying as I have ever seen. Only with rage not sorrow. I take an involuntary step back. There is no knowing what she would do in this humour.

“You told him! You told Papa! You spied on us you shrinking, milk-livered poltroon!” Her eyes promise me that I shall be very, very sorry and soon.

“I did as I thought best. Your Pa’s remedy is nothing to do with me!” Curse my shaking voice. Can I say nothing to her but that it sounds like a dog’s whimper? I clench my hands in my apron to stop them shaking.

“He’s sending me away! Helen, he’s sending me quite away! What shall I do?” Her rage dies down a little in anguish and in spite of my feelings on her behaviour, I cannot help that my heart goes out to her in her distress.

“It mightn’t be so bad, miss. You’ll not be gone long. A year or so at most. Your father must know that you ought to have a lady’s example and influence. We’re none of us children anymore, miss. You might have harmed yourself a great deal if –”

“Oh spare me! At least spare me your sanctimonious prattle! I shall go. I don’t see how I can help it. But you, Helen, I curse you until the end of your days for your interference! May you burn and blacken and blister without end! May you walk ever without rest! You shall never know love as I know it, I say that to you now. Should I die tonight I will not go to hell as John declares. I shall walk at your side, dogging your steps until you are in the ground with me!” Her eyes gleam with malevolence. It does no good to tell myself that Kate talks out of anger. I have never seen a will so strong as hers. I believe she could do all she says and more besides.

“Miss, please… We have not always been friends but I meant well. Meant for you to have better. Not to wrong you. Take back those words, I beg you! Surely they will haunt you as much as they will me!” My lips are quivering.

“I shall not. I shall never forgive you for this Helen! If you want to avoid worse you’ll do as I say and take a message to Robbie. Tell him to wait for me. Tell him I’ll come back.”

“You curse me then expect a favour, is it?” My own temper, slow to rise, flares hot and bright. “Well, I’ll not do it! I’ll not. I will not speak to that son of a devil for anything. You may have my word on that.” I set my jaw.

Beyond words with rage Kate flew at me, fingers clawed. I screeched and tried to fend her off. Sharp, raking pain under my left eye…

…pain under my left eye snapped me back to the present. Grace had gone wild. Her hands were curled into claws. There was blood on her fingertips. My blood. She pulled her hand back as if to rake at my eyes again. I caught her wrist, yelping in alarm.

“G-Grace! Puh please…”

She wrestled with me, inhumanly strong. I was flung back against the tombstone, spine striking the hard edge with a crack. My lower back burst into a white flower of agony.

“Grace w-what…?” I held my hands out ready to catch her or defend myself at need. The first wave of agony had shifted into a sickening throb in time with my too-fast heart. Tears of pain doubled my vision and stung in my cut cheek. She really meant it. Grace really meant to blind me…

Grace’s now dark-brown gaze hooked on the tombstone as she rushed at me again. She stopped, knees locking like a startled foal. A wail of anguish left her mouth. The skin on my neck tightened at the sound. Everything felt cool and loose below my waist. Grace’s eyes rolled back in her head and she crumpled into a heap.

I felt Kate let go. A rush like white noise, like heat, passed inches from my face. I’d done it. I’d won. This round anyway. I’d lured Grace away from Haze and forced Kate to let go. For a moment triumph blotted out the pain.

Still breathing fast, I hobbled closer, dropping into a winded crouch by her head. Her pulse was fast but strong. Dead white though. And her eyes…Oh Grace. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t leave her. Couldn’t go for help. What if Kate came back before I did? Any second now someone from the village would come to see what the noise had been about. I hated the idea of any of them finding us like this but I needed help. As I cast around wildly I caught sight of a thin, shrinking figure. Was that Miss Greers?

“H-help!” I shouted. “Miss G-Greers, help us!” I was sure she had heard, her shoulders stiffened. But she turned away and went into the church as if we weren’t even there. I felt blood trickle sluggishly down my face. They weren’t going to help. The village wouldn’t interfere.

I was alone.

Okay. No need to panic. Run. Run to Mrs Cranford, she’ll help…My legs wobbled as I tried to stand. In a corner of my mind, that wasn’t entirely mine anymore, I felt Helen look down at my sister with smug spite. I tried a shaky step. No good. I wouldn’t get far. The church shimmered. No time to faint. I bit my lip hard and the fresh pain cleared my vision.

“Emlynn? You’re bleeding! And Grace—what happened?” Ciarán appeared, wonderfully warm and just as out of place as a shaft of sunlight on a snowy night. We’d found him after all. “You two didn’t get into a fight did you?” the flecks of gold in his eyes were dimmed somehow.

“N-not exactly.” Not a fair fight anyway. Definitely two on one. I raised a hand to my cheek, then stopped myself. It didn’t matter what I looked like. “Huh help me get her h-home?” I glanced at him. My heart squeezed in my chest. He gazed at Grace with that same tenderness as before. I watched him gather her up without a word, carrying her home for the second day running. Maybe he liked damsels in distress. Pretty ones anyway. Feeling thoroughly depressed, I staggered along behind them, legs and spine screaming every step of the way.

To complete my misery, Grace came round long enough to smile groggily up at him and say, “Ciarán, we were looking for you. Which of us do you like the best?” Her eyes fluttered shut again.

Ciarán chuckled softly, as we went through the front door. My face burned.

“Uh upstairs, please?” I kept my gaze trained on the flagstone floor.

Ciarán hoisted my sister higher in his arms and followed me up to Grace’s room. To get rid of him while I got her out of her dirty clothes, I sent him to put the kettle on. He complied as if sent to retrieve the Holy Grail. I was willing to bet it wasn’t for my sake. My eyes stung as I glared after him.

“You so owe me, Grace,” I muttered darkly.

Grace was breathing evenly, her eyes lightly closed. I pulled the duvet over her. Maybe I should’ve called a doctor or an ambulance. But then she wasn’t sick. She was being possessed. I pinched the bridge of my nose. It was all completely insane. No one would believe me. Not even Grace. Especially not Grace. I didn’t know what else to do. Hope she’d just sleep it off, like a possession was some sort of hangover? I shook my head. Kate had let go at the tombstone. Grace was safe for now. And I was tired and sore and heartsick. I stomped down the stairs. Embarrassment aside, I had no idea what to tell Ciarán.

I was surprised to find Amy in the kitchen. I’d lost all track of time. My stomach pinched. I was going to have to stop missing lunch. Or maybe Helen could take me back to a memory with food in it since I was trying to help her. I felt a faint hint of smugness that didn’t belong to me. Probably not then.

“Em!” At least Amy was pleased to see me.

Ciarán was standing in the middle of the kitchen, holding the kettle in one hand and looking confused.

“Is this Ciarán? She told me all about you.” For someone fresh from school, Amy was way too hyper. I wasn’t sure my face could get any redder.

“You’ll be Amy, then?” Ciarán smiled. “She’s told me a fair bit about you and all.’

“Only the interesting bits, I hope?” Amy bounced to the sink, swiping the kettle from Ciarán on the way. “Were you going to use this?” She didn’t wait for a reply as she filled it and set it on the stove.

“I’m not sure.” Ciarán’s eyes reflected some of the panic I felt. “How did I get here Emlynn?”

“Y-you helped me with Grace.”

His eyebrows relaxed from their frown. “Of course. This’ll sound crazy but I was stood here with no idea what I was doing and no idea how I got here. Talk about zoning out, eh?”

I gave him a sickly smile. Tell me about it, I wanted to say. Everyone is doing that to me lately.

“Anyway, how is she?” Ciarán’s gaze flicked over my face. “What happened to your cheek?”

I choked back bubbles of hysterical laughter.

Where to start? Well, Ciarán, thanks to your godmother’s advice, I’ve mind-melded with a vindictive ghost, who is apparently the only one who knows how to break this Pattern which Grace and I have been sucked into. Really, it’s a curse but all you need to know is that it leaves girls dead. Grace is disappearing inside her own skin and tried to claw my face off right before you found us. Then Grace conked out on Kate’s grave – we did cover her being Dead and possessing Grace, right? And you carried her home. Again. With that sappy look on your face. Again. But that’s ok, everyone fancies Grace. And now you don’t remember anything either. Oh and there’s another ghost that turns up at my window and tries to get in while I’m sleeping. No idea who that is. But hey the more Dead the merrier, right?

Nope. No way was I going to be able to get any of that out, even if it wouldn’t have made me sound like an escaped lunatic. We’d be here until next week.

“N-nothing. Luh long story.” I forced out. It was possible that I was cracking up.

Amy gave me a look of alarm and shoved a cup of tea in front of me. Without me needing to ask, she put the sugar bowl beside it. I glanced at her sharply. I’d never told her about that. She just knew I needed it, somehow. I bet she didn’t even realise what she was doing.

Ciarán wouldn’t be fobbed off. “What really happened?” He sipped his tea, one winged eyebrow rising into his hairline, as I added sugar to my mug with reckless abandon.

I shrugged. “M-more freaky st-stuff. Grace’s ok. F-for now.” I felt better after half a mug of too-sweet tea.

“Can I help?” Ciarán’s voice was warm and concerned.

I shouldn’t have been touched, but I was. It was hard to remember that he didn’t feel the same way about me, that I felt about him. When he looked at me like that, it was hard to remember that I shouldn’t have feelings for him.

“C-can’t th-think straight now. T-tomorrow?” My tongue was knotting itself up again. Ciarán’s warm, hazel-gold gaze didn’t help. I swallowed hard.

“Sure.” He broke eye contact with me and I remembered to breathe. “Need to be getting back. Nice to meet you, Amy.”

“Likewise.” Amy beamed at him. I couldn’t help smiling too. Not many people talked to Amy like an equal. She always warmed to those who did. Besides, Ciarán just had one of those smiles where you couldn’t help smiling back. This was hopeless.

“See you tomorrow then, Em. See you for more tea soon, Amy. You make a rare cuppa.”

Amy giggled. Not even she was immune to his charm. Then Ciarán’s expression changed and the rest of us ceased to exist. Grace was standing on the stairs in pale cream pyjamas. Her hair fell around her face in a swirl of chestnut. Her eyes were large and dark and bright. Her lips parted in a soft smile, completing the come-to-bed look.

“I just wanted to say thank you. For rescuing me again.” She dimpled. “You deserve a reward.”

“The pleasure was all mine.” Ciarán’s voice was breathless and intense. No longer easy-going and teasing. He stared at Grace with piercing ice-blue eyes as if he’d never seen a woman before. Like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time…

My heart fell out of my chest, hitting the floor, leaving me hollow again.

Wait.

Ice-blue?

Blue like Clayton’s eyes.

Oh hell. Ciarán was part of the Pattern too.

Helen merely shrugged in the recesses of my mind.

What to do? I ran my fingers back and forth, working on a tricky scale, hitting the keys harder than strictly necessary. I had no idea how Ciarán became part of the Pattern. It seemed that everyone I talked to about it got drawn in. I could go back to Mrs Cranford but she’d made it clear that without more information, she couldn’t do much to help me. And my information gathering wasn’t going well. Helen never showed me anything in sequence. Perhaps it was because time didn’t mean the same thing to her. Like dropping a needle on a different point of the record each time.

I changed keys and my fingers rippled up another scale. I wasn’t just practising. Helen wasn’t interested in music. I hadn’t banked on her setting up residence in my head and I didn’t want her listening to every thought I had. I didn’t like her very much. I certainly didn’t trust her. The memories she showed me were true, I felt that. They just weren’t the whole story. I thought back. The first time I joined with Helen on the stairs, both she and Kate were grown up. At least by the standards of the time. Kate had had to make a choice. Between Robbie and Clayton, I assumed. Then the dream, Kate lying sick in a bed, dying, regretting marrying Clayton. Waiting for Robbie. That had to be near the end.

That horrible episode with the sacrifice of the black hen, my hands…Helen’s hands sticky with blood. That seemed to be the earliest memory. Kate wasn’t quite twelve. Helen was fourteen. No question over who was in charge though.

I hammered through another scale, thinking. Then Helen finding Kate and Robbie together on the moor. They had become lovers–that was clear. I could almost taste Helen’s sour disapproval thinking about it. She’d meant to come between them or at least make sure they were separated. The flash of memory at Kate’s grave just proved that. Kate accusing Helen of telling Reverend Weston about Kate and Robbie. Helen had separated them. But why? Helen might say it was merely duty and in Kate’s interests all she liked but I didn’t buy it. She wanted to take something away from Kate and not because she wanted Robbie herself. She hated him even more than she hated Kate.

I broke off from playing, fingers going still mid-scale. Helen hated Kate. Admired her, wanted to be like her maybe. But most of all, really, truly hated her. Something nagged at my attention, something I’d missed. It just didn’t add up. Should I feel more sorry for Helen, trapped here with people she hated?

The image of the tombstone marking Kate’s grave rose in my mind. There was something not quite right about it. Something off…Kate had attacked me, or rather Helen, but she had collapsed at the sight of the grave. I felt sick thinking of Kate squatting inside my sister. Grace had even started to move like her – lithe, graceful, no longer the stiff, jerky movements of a puppet. Grace was being squeezed out. I needed more time. I had to stop Haze from completing the substitution, which meant keeping her away from Haze. Something I’d failed at consistently so far. I couldn’t do that alone. Time to take a leaf from Helen’s book. I squirmed at the thought.

And there was the question of the book, which was still missing. I had to ask Amy. She sounded harassed when I knocked on her door. Looking over her shoulder I saw books and papers spread everywhere. Homework, I guessed, and something that appeared to be an option form for which subjects she wanted to take as GCSEs. No wonder Amy was so distracted.

“I…er…i-is th-this a b-b-bad time?” Stupid question.

“It is a bit, Em. I’m supposed to hand in my subject choices next week and they’re trying to make me choose between chemistry and physics or just doing a combined science GCSE. I mean, seriously. Everyone knows that combined science just isn’t as good! I need to do both…” Amy’s rant trailed off into a wail of frustration.

“Suh slow down. Tuh talk to your t-t-teacher. Muh maybe they can p-put you in w-with the yuh year above for kuh chemistry or something.” I shrugged. “N-no need to puh panic. Just juh GCSEs.”

“Easy for you to say, you’ve already done yours. They’re the first major exams that give you a qualification. I want to do well and get A-levels and go to University. The good ones won’t take you without A-levels…”

“Y-yeah. I know.” I grimaced, thinking of my own half completed A-levels. “L-look, Amy. This isn’t the e-end of the wuh world. You’re br-bright. You do well at sk-school. You’ll be f-fine.”

“Really?” Amy said in a small voice.

“Of c-course you will.” I ruffled her hair.

Amy took a deep breath. “Okay, then.”

“A-Amy did you borrow one of Mum’s b-books?”

“Hmm?” Amy had already turned back to her clutter of papers. She wasn’t really listening. She wouldn’t have taken it without asking anyway. And she clearly had things on her mind.

Dad didn’t look right. I scrutinized him across the dinner table. He’d lost weight. Not that I could say anything. His stern expression was too off-putting. And I had bigger problems. I glanced over at Grace. She was dressed and sat eating demurely, dark-brown eyes downward-cast. A malice-edged smile played at the corners of her mouth.

I made a snap decision.

“Duh Dad?”

My father’s head snapped up in astonishment, as if finding out he had three daughters eating with him came as a great surprise.

“Yes, Emily Lynette?” he put down his knife and fork. I pulled a face at his use of my full name. He did it to cast distance between us, just as his overly patient tone was meant to make me think again about asking for any favours. Well tough. I was up to my eyes in trouble and we were losing Grace. He didn’t even notice that it wasn’t really Grace eating with us.

“I h-heard some things about Huh Haze that I d-don’t think you’ll like.” I carefully avoided looking at Grace who had also stopped eating. Amy had been falling asleep over her plate but jerked upright now and made frantic ‘don’t-do-it’ motions at me. I ignored them both.

“Haze? Who is Haze?” Dad’s eyebrows snapped together.

“A friend of G-G-Grace’s. Suh seen him? Buh black leather and a Harley. A big wuh one. He’s b-bad news. L-lots of girls m-meet with him on the muh muh…” On the moor. Before he strangled them anyway.

“Are you saying this person has been loitering around here?” Good. Dad was angry. Maybe he would ground Grace or something.

Grace had red flags of colour riding high in her cheeks. Someone who knew her less well might think she was embarrassed. Her sherry-dark eyes fixed on mine and I felt my scratched cheek throb. I screwed up my courage and rushed on.

“H-he likes G-Grace. I’ve suh seen them together a few times –”

“Together doing what? Grace?” Dad had half-risen from his seat.

“Yes, Dad?” Grace sounded cool and unruffled. The flickering shadows around her pulsed with fury.

“Are you involved with this person? With a boy?” Electricity of the strictly mundane kind crackled around Dad.

“Of course not.” Grace managed to sound bored. “He stopped here once for some oil. And I gave him directions the other day. I haven’t seen him since.” She turned indifferently back to her casserole.

“I don’t want you involved with a biker. Any of you. You’re all too young for boys anyway,” Dad huffed. Weird. Like it was the first time he’d been really alert since we got here. “Motorcycles are dangerous and irresponsible.” Was Dad being over-protective or calculating probable village gossip? Behind my eyes, the image of a belt swinging down towards my cringing flesh flashed past. I flinched.

“Of course not. I can do better than that when the time comes.” Grace laughed.

Dad relaxed. Hell, I almost believed Grace myself. My palms felt slick. This was not going to plan. He was supposed to forbid her from going out. I looked toward Amy, telegraphing for help. Amy shook her head once, lips compressed into a white line. An emphatic no. She wouldn’t get involved.

“Actually, Daddy, I wanted to ask if we could have a guest for dinner. Perhaps on Saturday?” Grace smiled.

“A guest?” Dad’s frown returned full force.

A guest? At our cheerless family dinners?

“His name is Ciarán. He’s staying with his godmother in town.” Grace’s eyes gleamed with dark amusement as her gaze met mine. “You remember him, Emily? He’s staying with one of the ladies you do the flowers with.”

No. I squirmed with discomfort. She wouldn’t. She just wouldn’t…

“He asked to meet you, Dad.” Grace’s words hit me like a physical blow. She was telling the truth. I knew she was. It didn’t matter if I’d decided I couldn’t have feelings for Ciarán. It wasn’t important if Ciarán was being influenced by the Pattern. My face was numb and my hands shook. I wanted to reach across the table, grab Grace’s throat and shake her.

Grace hadn’t forgotten one thing at least. She hadn’t forgotten that I said she couldn’t have him. Her expression was sweet malevolence. From Amy’s expression, I gathered I wasn’t hiding my feelings well at all.

“He sounds more suitable than a biker. You can invite him. I’ll meet him and we’ll see.” Dad’s forehead un-knotted. “I don’t want you seeing that biker fellow again though, Grace.” He added almost as an afterthought.

“Of course not, Dad.” She lied in a dulcet tone. It wasn’t Grace’s voice at all.

I was still fuming an hour later so I abandoned the washing up and stomped up to my room. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. It didn’t. I knew Ciarán liked Grace. It didn’t bother me -

“It isn’t true, Emlynn.” Amy stood in my bedroom doorway, pale and determined.

“Wuh what’s not?” I threw my pyjamas on.

“Ciarán doesn’t like Grace. Not like that.” She sat at the foot of my bed.

“Doesn’t m-matter en-anyway.” I laid back, staring at the dark wooden beams.

“It does! You like him. And he likes you. I saw how he looked at you this afternoon. I don’t know what Grace is playing at but don’t fall for it.”

“Yeah w-well you duh didn’t suh suh see what he’s like when Grace is around. He’s not so k-k-keen on me then.” My voice betrayed my bitterness. Not just over Ciarán, but over everything Grace had that I didn’t. I shoved thoughts of Kate and the Pattern to the back of my mind. Right now, I wanted to be angry with Grace,

“But Emlynn…”

“Amy please! L-leave it.” I hadn’t meant to snap at her. “Suh sorry. B-bad day.”

“It’s fine.” Amy said in a small precise voice.

“L-look did you borrow that b-book? The wuh one I told you about?” I searched her face for any flicker of recognition.

“What book?” Amy’s face was expressionless. She still used that precise little voice. “You know for once it would be nice if you remembered that not everyone is against you.”

"Amy -"

“I’m fed up with being piggy-in-the-middle between you and Grace. Sort it out.” Amy whirled and stamped off to her room. I stared after her, feeling more stricken than I had at dinner. I rubbed my eyes, pressing hard. Maybe it was better if I kept Amy at a distance for a bit. Until things with Haze fell out one way or another. A selfish part of me wanted to run after her. I squashed it down. Better if Amy didn’t know anything. And I’d hit a dead end looking for the book.

Heavy with exhaustion, I flopped into bed.

Anxiety over Amy kept me awake. My stomach twisted in restless knots. When I did sleep the dream was fainter than before. A hint of whirling metal and noise. I woke to darkness, unsure what had disturbed me. The last few nights rushed back and I braced myself against the cold. It didn’t come. The window was shut, the curtains still drawn. No cold girl. But…why? Wait. Was that the orchard door opening? I lurched to the window and threw it open myself.

Caught in pale fingers of moonlight, a small figure with light hair set off toward the moor. The cold girl, like I’d seen her in the orchard before. I wasn’t going to be fooled into following her again. Not after last time. Maybe she had nothing to do with the Pattern anyway. She didn’t fit. There must be other Dead in an old place like this that didn’t belong to the Pattern. I had several nights of broken sleep to make up for. I should just be grateful that she hadn’t dragged her nails over my window tonight.

I got back into bed but it was hard to rest easy. The absence of the cold girl at my window felt worse than the missing book. Clues were being snatched away from me. Something had come to my attention recently that was important. I just couldn’t figure out what. My head was fuzzy with sleep. If I stopped trying to grasp it, maybe it would come to me.

I dreamt that Mum leant over me, gently kissing my forehead. I sank further into the deepest sleep I’d had for months. The scent of rosemary and violets filled my room when I woke, cheeks wet with tears. Sorrow. Loss. A negative space that ached without voice inside me. I didn’t even have the right words to trip over, trying to describe it. It was a cleaner grief though. A scalpel cut rather than a ragged tear. For the first time since the accident, I wanted to be closer to Mum, think about her, remember her and not fight against it.

My violin was really hers. I needed to hold something that had been Mum’s. It was too soon to try reading her books. But the violin… I hadn’t played it in days. The house was quiet. Now would be a good time. I shoved thoughts of the Pattern and my absent visitor out of my mind. Right now, I needed a way of communicating without words. I shoved a tangled hank of curls out of my face and moved toward my violin case. Something splintered under my bare foot with a dry-wood crunch. The violin case was already open and empty. I cast about for my violin, a sick knot of dread pulling tight under my breast bone.

It was broken.

The air rushed out of my lungs in a ragged breath. I doubled over as if I’d been kicked in the gut. It couldn’t be broken. Not un-saveable. The world was spinning too fast and there was nothing to hold on to. Even the bow wasn’t mine: it was Mum’s most recent one. She had loaned it to me for the audition which caused that last argument. A good luck charm. Not that there’d been any luck, even before the accident. There had been no one to return it to afterwards, and Dad had just started getting rid of Mum’s stuff, so I’d kept it.

My eyes were hot, almost arid. I wished I was able to cry properly when awake like a normal person. Instead, I just stared and sobbed tearlessly as I shook with adrenalin. The splintered teak lay limp in my cupped hands. A few horse hairs held the remains of the bow together. It would never draw my voice, the real one that didn’t stutter, from my violin again. I gritted my teeth around a scream, screwing my eyes shut.

I couldn’t bear to look at my violin. It would be easier to look at my own dissected hand. I cradled the broken bow like a wounded bird. Only when I felt the bite of broken wood, did I realize I’d clenched my hands into fists. Sharp splinters drove into the pulp of my fingertips. Hot wetness as blood trickled from my hands. Drip…pat… Just like the hen Helen had watched Kate kill.

I abandoned any hope that the violin could be repaired. Another link with Mum broken. Its neck had been snapped off and shoved violently through the waist. The bridge was a twisted hole with one curlicue of an F-hole still discernible. The scroll had been stamped on; there were fragments of peg on the rug.

Not broken. Destroyed.

It was a warning.

You too can be silenced forever.

A fury, complete and all encompassing, swept over me. I’d heard and read that anger was red. The red mist. This wasn’t red. It was a darker colour like old blood, edged with black. I knew now how people in a rage could do murder. My hands still shook but not with shock now. I wanted to so badly to hurt someone that my head was light and black spots zipped past my eyes.

I had been battered in the accident, lost my parents through death or neglect, my voice, my health, my hopes for the future. I was losing my sister. I had had almost every tie with my mother severed with cruel indifference. I had been terrorized, bullied, ignored and shoved aside. And I had endured all of it like an abused donkey because I could not speak out.

And now this. Haze had sent a warning, hitting at me where it would hurt most.

That was stupid of him. Very stupid.

I didn’t stop to think who he had used. It didn’t matter. He had authored this. A calculated blow.

I moved slowly, methodically collecting every splintered fragment. I made a neat pile, teak match sticks and wooden shards. Then I shut down every thought and desire I had save one; I would destroy Haze for this. For trying to take Grace and for hurting me.

I had only wanted to stop him before. Now I want to wipe his memory from the face of the earth. This time the cold came from me, radiating in zig-zag waves. These shadows were mine. Haze had thrown down the gauntlet.

Fine. Game on.

I knew Haze wasn’t far away. I felt the slick, viscous shadows that surrounded him pulling at me. Seeking, sending out thin tendrils for a taste of my rage and hurt. I would follow them to their source. He would be sorry. If I had any control over the Dead at all, I would make sure of that. I stormed through the kitchen, out into the orchard. I thought I was heading for the moor but a thin leash of shadow led me to the old stable. There were voices coming from inside. He was here. On my land. My home. The world was full of diamond clear, crystalline edges. My fury was all the more deceptive because I believed I was thinking clearly.

For once the icy, dark feeling of Haze’s presence didn’t repel me. I pushed through it like damp net curtains, ignoring the fluttering of increasing panic coming from the corner of my mind where Helen squatted. Tell me something useful or back the hell off! I flared at her. Helen subsided, quivering.

I’d never been inside the old stable building. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then I saw him. An absence in reality. The shape of a man cut in negative space. My brain catalogued these thoughts while the rest of my mind focused my entire being on calling him out.

“Haze!” I was too angry to be afraid. I wanted only to hurt as I’d been hurt. “Robbie!”

“Those are not names of mine.” His gaze was a flat black warning.

“Oh?” I sneered at him. “Was it th-that no one ever gave you a nuh name? Or are you h-hiding something?”

His face clouded over with a rage that made my own anger look like a child’s tantrum.

“You have a single chance. Leave. Out of respect for Helen, I won’t harm you if you go now. She did me a favour once, though I doubt she intended to.”

“Wuh What favour?” My voice was still strong but my fury was slipping.

“That would be between her and me.” He smiled and my anger evaporated. I knew now how very foolish I’d been. Helen had shrunk back in my mind. She would be no help.

“Why? Wuh Why Grace?” I refused to look away. My heart stabbed at my ribs. His voice was doing things to me. I hated him. I hated his voice. But I felt hot and cold, and sick with desire. Sick in myself for feeling that way. Was that what it was like for Grace?

“Grace who?” He raised an eyebrow mockingly.

“My s-s-sister! W-what have you done with her?”

“Behind you.” He nodded over my shoulder and I whirled in spite of myself. Grace was there. Dark auburn curls lifting in a non-existent breeze. Her face was amused, calculating. Her dark eyes sparkled with wicked humour.

“That’s not Grace. That’s Kate! Luh Let her go!”

“She doesn’t want to be released. She doesn’t want to be alone anymore, poor lamb. She wants to belong. To belong to me. She’s not strong enough to want anything else. None of them were as strong as Kate. None of them were anything at all beside my Kate.” He was close enough to breathe the words into my ear. I shuddered. He aimed some of his power, his magnetism at me. I felt sick, twisting lust. The opposite of how I felt about Ciarán. There was nothing wholesome in this cloying need. It was all-consuming and at the same time I shook with revulsion. This was how he had pulled Grace in. This was how he caught them, made them do what he wanted. I pushed out blindly with my mind and that magnetic pull lessened.

Haze watched me, calm now. Deliberating. “It appears that you won’t learn with a gesture. Perhaps another lesson?” He gripped my forearm in his large hand. I cried out in disgust at his touch. He wasn’t hurting me but I couldn’t break free. And I couldn’t bear the creeping, slimy feel of the darkness that seeped under my skin where he grasped me.

“Luh let me go.” My voice quavered.

“Interesting. I’ve never met a real seer before. Old Mother Greer claimed to have the gift but she was far too sodden in gin most of the time for anyone to tell, even her.” The calculated scrutiny he subjected me to froze the blood in my veins. “She did teach me one thing. Pain makes a lesson stick.”

“Wuh what-”

“Now, Emily Lynette, you are not to interfere further or it will be the worst for you. Helen?” He peered deeply into my eyes. If I had been stood in front of him naked, I could not have felt more ashamed and exposed. “You are to tell her nothing.” He wasn’t talking to me.

“O-Okay. I g-get it. Luh let me go n-now. Puh-please.” I hated myself for begging but I couldn’t stand it. My mind was bending dangerously under the load. My breath rose in plumes. Never been this cold. Never. The cold is alive and I am dead inside it…

“Remember,” Haze said gently, then casually flexed his hand on my arm and snapped the bone.

The cracking sound made me scream long before the pain registered. My arm. He broke my arm.

“G-Grace?” I whimpered. The world was shaky, greying in and out around the edges. Grace watched as coolly as if Haze had just snapped a twig or crushed an egg. Her eyes were focused and sparkling. A small smile pulled at her mouth.

I dry sobbed in agony, hunched over with my broken arm cradled against my chest as the world slipped sideways. The floor rose up to meet me. Everything dimmed.

Grace is gone. My last coherent thought.

“It’s possible that you went a little far this time, Hardiman.” The sweet tone was conversational.

“Don’t call me that here and now,” he snarled.

A peal of laughter rang out, fading as they moved away. I fought for consciousness. No good. My grip was slipping. They could do anything to me, anything and I wouldn’t be able to run or fight them…

Remember.

Haze threw this last thought at me as I slid into the dark.

It was a garden. The sunlight was almost as yellow as our dresses. Amy snatched my doll. I made a grab for it but she dodged and ran away, laughing. I ran after her. Fast. Faster. So fast I was almost flying. Faster than a bike or a horse. As fast as a car. Too fast…No. Stop…I want to slow down

I’m in the car. Something terrible is about to happen. Mum’s foot shoves the accelerator pedal to the floor. The corner flashes forward in slow motion. Amy screams from the seat behind. Shut up. Shut up…can’t breathe. A moment of glorious flight… the car hits the steep slope with bone juddering force. Spun over and over, sky, grass, stone, sky… A tunnel of terror and noise.

A wet sucking pop and agony flares in my left shoulder. My arm won’t move right and dangles. Snap! It breaks. White stars explode behind my eyes, fading into blackness when my head hits something hard. A cracking thud, that seems to come from inside my skull.

Silence. Deafening silence. Why isn’t Amy screaming anymore? Hanging upside down, next to Mum. A pair of strange, dark fruit. One arm trapped by the seatbelt, the other dangles, useless. Try to turn. Pain like fire. But it’s ok. It has to be ok. Mum is here. Mum will make it better. I swing, a loose bag of broken bones. Can’t breathe can’t breathe can’t breathe. Mum? Slowly, agonizingly, I turn—Mummy? —green eyes, flat, greyed over. Dead. Her head hangs at an odd angle on her neck.

I remember now.

I want to bleach the image from my brain.

I don’t ever want to look away.

If I look away this will be true. Then Mum’s head creaks on her neck. Turning. I see broken bone protruding, shockingly white amidst the red. Her lips move. Shaping words I can’t hear. Something that starts with ‘ahhh’ twists into ‘orrr’ and ‘ffff’. Through the deafening horror I can almost hear the last syllable – ‘errrr’.

I scream and scream and scream…

A band tightened on my left arm. Puff, puff puff, wheeeeeze…Tighter and tighter.

Haze! I struggled to move but my body was too heavy. My right arm jerked but it felt like I was lifting a fifty pound weight.

“All right, honey, your blood pressure’s a bit low but perfectly normal.” The voice was female. This was familiar… I wasn’t in danger now. No one had hold of me. Haze had hurt my right arm, not my left. I struggled to find my eyes to open them. The band was removed from my left arm. A tearing noise. Velcro being pulled undone. I added up the information: a tightening cuff, sheets that crackled beneath me, uncomfortable pillows, that tone of voice.

I was in hospital.

My eyes snapped open. A nurse looked down at me, assessing. “Still with us then, Emily?”

“Yuh-yes…” My voice was tiny. I remembered the rest now. Scraps and fragments. Haze breaking my arm. Blacking out. Coming round to find Mrs Holden bending over me grimly, a casserole abandoned on the stable floor. And Helen. Leaving. Slipping out of my mind like a reluctant guest sneaking out of a party early. I was fuzzy on the details of how I’d got here, the hospital in Keighley. Then, right after my x-ray, I’d passed out.

Mrs Holden was still here, wearing yet another salmon pink concoction. I groaned. Not her.

“Do you need some pain relief, love?” The nurse looked concerned. Kind face with dark circles under her eyes.

“M’ok. Th-thanks.” I tried on a wobbly smile. The nurse wasn’t buying it. “Wuh where’s D-Dad?”

“Your father was here but he had to go back for a funeral service.” Mrs Holden was clearly keen to play messenger. The nurse’s expression said she was biting back whatever she wanted to say. I guessed Mrs Holden hadn’t shut up the whole time I was here. “Anyway, now I have all the news, I’ll head back to Arncliffe. I expect you’ll have some visitors tomorrow.”

“Tuh tuh tomorrow…?” Panic settled on me like hundreds of twitching, winged insects.

“Yes, Emily dear. Tomorrow. After your operation.” She sounded overly patient, as if I’d caused quite enough trouble without asking questions as well. “That’s only a back-slab remember?” She touched my bandaged right arm. I flinched at the contact. I didn’t want anyone to touch me, not after Haze had done what he did. I felt his cold fingers even now.

Mrs Holden frowned but withdrew her hand. “They have to put you under and reposition the bones before they can put a full cast on. So you’re to stay in for the night. They want to check you didn’t injure your head too.” She sounded positively thrilled with the detail. I was feeling too small and lost to rake up any anger at my dad. My surviving parent who hadn’t taken the time to see if I was ok.

“Whatever made you go climbing in that old hayloft anyway, dear? The boards are quite rotted through.” She tsked and the nurse rolled her eyes behind Mrs Holden’s back.

So that was the story. I’d done something stupid. I’d fallen out of the hayloft.

“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?” Mrs Holden asked with false solicitude, desperate for more gory detail. Perhaps something to run to the doctor with. Or Dad, more like.

“Nuh no. H-head fine.” My voice had gone all high and wobbly. I’d gone charging off to confront Haze with no plan and no power over him. Something stupid, alright.

I watched Mrs Holden’s vast salmon-pink behind retreat down the corridor. The cubicle curtains were drawn on either side of me. I should have been glad of the privacy. Instead I felt more trapped than ever.

I hated hospitals. I couldn’t believe I was back again so soon after the accident. As though, after nearly nine months away, I had been gestating new injuries to bring to birth. All of the helplessness flooded back. The tick-tocking rhythms of tests and observations and lights-out and shift changes.

I quivered inside. The smell: thick disinfectant, surgical spirit, faint metallic blood, other, worse bodily fluids, the lavender and aging flesh reek of the old ladies in the other orthopaedic beds. And cold. Soft, cold fingers of death, everywhere…

I overheard two doctors discussing my chart. They thought my fall might be the result of some sort of delayed effect of my original head injury. Bubbles of hysteria rose in my throat. What would they say if I told them what really happened?

The look on Grace’s—no, Kate’s—face as I lay clutching my arm. The look in Haze’s eye right before he snapped my bones. Not malevolent. Not cruel. Politely inquiring. Calculating. Vaguely interested in exactly how much pressure he needed to apply. There was no pleasure in causing pain. Nothing humane to appeal too. Only actions and results. In this case my silence. No more meddling.

Remember.

I shuddered. Haze’s touch was an ice burn, dark and sickening beneath my skin. He took all my warmth, my energy. The cold curled at the centre of my bones. The fear lay even deeper.

I was not allowed any food since I was having an operation in the morning. There was no way to replenish my energy. To shut down my ‘centres’ as Mrs Cranford had taught me. Night drew in but it was never really night-time in a hospital. Lights were still on, sly neon fingers slipping under heavy doors. Machines beeped reassurances that their charges were alive, stable. The swish and foot-falls of nurses walking the wards.

I shivered and shook, peering into the dim light, too afraid to shut my eyes.

I must have fallen asleep. Waking to the sound of voices, I gasped in fright. Kate’s dark eyes gazed down at me from Grace’s impassive face. My heart stumbled. Why was Kate here? I hadn’t done anything else. I hadn’t told anyone what happened. It had to be a dream…

“Emlynn? Em! It’s us.” Amy’s voice was higher-pitched than usual. I cracked my eyes open again. Amy was pale and puffy-eyed. Grace had the strangest expression on her face. Annoyance, of course, but mostly she looked…upset. Kate might be taking over but Grace was still in there. It was Grace who’d come to see me not Kate. Grace can still be saved. I was so muddled. Sick and cold. I didn’t want to fight anymore. I wanted someone to take care of me. Take this burden away.

It was so hard last time. Healing, building myself back up, struggling on after the accident and all without Mum. Mostly without Dad too. I didn’t want to admit it but Haze had hurt more than my arm. My courage had taken a beating. I wasn’t sure if it would recover. When I left hospital last time, I was determined that I was never going back. Not even for speech therapy or more tests to see if I could re-learn to read. I accepted the worst medical opinion available because then I didn’t have to try. I never realized how mortally terrified I was of being hurt like that again. Of being physically helpless. Haze had calculated his blow well. How could I tell anyone about him now?

“Em?” Amy’s voice wobbled.

“Duh don’t cry. I’m oh-oh-kay.” I tried to smile but it felt stiff and tight on my face.

“What happened Emlynn? Why were you up there?” Amy’s eyes were wide.

“I duh don’t r-remember.”

“Next time you do a pathetic cry for attention, Gremlin, can you do something that doesn’t involve a hospital? I’m starting to think you have a weird fetish for them.” It would have sounded vicious if Grace’s voice wasn’t choked and thick. She had turned away. Her shoulders shook. Was Grace crying? Over me?

“Okay girls, you’ll see your sister again later.” A different nurse from yesterday had arrived to take me to surgery. To my mortification, she had brought a wheelchair.

“See you later, Emlynn.” Amy hugged me carefully. I squeezed her gently back.

“Later.” It could have been a threat or a goodbye. Both Grace and Kate spoke the word.

I was still shaking by the time I’d got up on the operating table and laid down. I glanced queasily at the IV cannula fitted to a vein in the back of my left hand. There was a horrible symmetry with eight and a half months ago. That time it was my right hand. I didn’t want to be given general anaesthetic. There would be no way out of that drugged wilderness if my nightmares came. And if Haze came for me here…or Kate… I clamped my lips shut to stop myself screaming.

The only thing that kept me on the table was the thought of never being able to play the piano again if I didn’t have my arm fixed.

“It’s alright, love. No need to be nervous. Mr Roberts is very good.” The nurse stroked my hair.

“Rubbish, Sue, I’m the best.” The consultant gave me a conspiratorial wink. He probably was as good as he said. He seemed nice, for a doctor. I didn’t smile. I didn’t think I would ever be warm again.

The nurse fitted a mask over my nose and mouth and told me to breathe normally. Fluid was injected into the IV line.

“Count back from ten, love.” The nurse said.

I got as far as eight.

It was a magic eye picture. A twisting kaleidoscope of migraine-bright colours, shifting as soon as they started to make any sense. Fragments of images passed before I could grasp them. It didn’t matter. I relaxed. Mellow and floating. I couldn’t remember how I got here but it was a good place. Somewhere to rest. I’d been very afraid but since I couldn’t remember why, I decided it didn’t matter.

A scent blew across my face. Rosemary. Violets. In a rush I remembered the dream I’d had before. Mum. Her head turning on her broken neck. The hissing, inaudible words she’d spoken. I trembled, too afraid to turn around. The scent grew stronger. I stared fixedly ahead.

Mum?

Don’t be scared.

The words weren’t spoken aloud. It was Mum’s voice, though. As if she had spoken.

It’s okay, Emlynn.

Mum, I miss you!

I miss you too sweetheart. You’ve kept me away so long. My stubborn girl. But there’s something you need to see. We don’t have much time.

Now that I wanted to turn around, I couldn’t. A warm hand rested on my shoulder. The smell of rosemary and violets was strong and comforting.

Mum?

Hush. Watch.

The collage of twisting images solidified into the moor around Arncliffe. There was no sign of the road. Only a wide dirt track, winding through the hills. The lights from the distant village were too faint to be electric. They glinted like small change in the dark recesses of a purse. It was night but there were no stars overhead. Only a vast empty gulf where the sky should have been.

A figure moved through the darkness. Tall, broad-shouldered, methodical. Sweeping through the heather, searching, searching. I saw another figure making her way towards him. Her long skirts swept the ground behind her. She’d kilted them up in front. Long dark hair streamed around her face though there was no wind. She would see him in a minute. Or he would see her. I felt the rightness of them finding each other. Like a fundamental equation had been solved. A riddle of logic worked out. I waited for the reunion but it didn’t come. They moved right past each other unseeing. Not once but many times. Over and over again. My stomach knotted in anxiety.

Why can’t they find each other?

Keep watching, Emlynn.

So I did, and again and again they came within a breath of each other only to miss by fingertips. I saw the man’s lips forming words. Her name. He was calling her name. I couldn’t hear him but I saw the anguish on his face. It stabbed into me as though it was my grief, not his. I knew him. Oh god, I knew those black, pitiless eyes. I’d never seen them look so human. And the girl….I knew her too, didn’t I? She was screaming soundlessly for him.

Hardiman.

That was the word her lips formed. Hardiman. Where had I heard that before?

Now remember, Emlynn. The smell of rosemary and violets was fading.

Remember. His voice. Haze. Or Robbie. Hardiman…it was his real name. I was sure of it….

Mum?! Mum don’t go!

The scent was being replaced with a sharp, antiseptic smell.

“Emily? Emily, it’s time to wake up now, love.”

“Ungh?”

“That’s it Emily. Come back.”

I tried to raise my right hand but it was too heavy. I raised the left instead. My eyes flickered open. I blearily tried to focus, running my fingers across my cheek.

“W-why is m-my face wet?” I asked thickly.

The nurse looked at me with something like pity in her face. “You were crying in your sleep, love.”

Oh.

Remember.

I will.

When the doctor was sure I’d come round enough after the general anaesthetic, I was wheeled on a gurney back to the ward for observation. A well-meaning nurse brought me a magazine, not realizing that I shouldn’t be able to read it – maybe not everyone read the medical records of their patients. I was groggy and unfocused but also impatient. I still wasn’t allowed to eat which made me grumpy on top of everything else. But I felt warmer. Less soiled and put down.

I’d been given a rare glimpse into Haze’s mind. I had spent so much time and energy fighting him that I hadn’t fully understood that he was human once. Wanton and cruel perhaps, but also desperately, irrevocably in love. It had never occurred to me that Kate might be his weakness.

The rest of the day was utter boredom. I shook off the worst of the anaesthetic by midday and by then I was hungry enough to eat my pillow let alone the hospital food. The nurses wheeled the lunch trolley around to the four old ladies also on my ward. I watched enviously, begrudging them every mouthful of the unappealing mess that might be cottage pie and peas followed by rice pudding. That I was even contemplating rice pudding meant I must be dangerously hungry. My attempts to look pathetic and starved didn’t fool the nurses. Not until 5:00pm, I was told.

I distracted myself by practicing reading with the magazine. I kept losing my place on the page – the words seemed to leap around like rabbits. Maybe a side effect of the head injury I’d gotten in the accident. Following lines of text was hard though I could get through short sentences, even paragraphs now. Shame it was a copy of ‘Woman and Home’, I was bored enough already. Maybe Kate was right when she said hell was personal. I thought I might be in mine.

Finally, head and eyes aching with effort, I gave it a rest. Impossible to pay attention to the subject matter. And I needed something to rest under the line I was reading, a piece of paper or card, something to stop my eyes jumping about the page. Hope welled up despite my current frustration. Maybe I would never leap, facile and nimble, from word to word as I had before but books would no longer be a locked kingdom. If only I knew what had happened to that book. I closed my eyes. It didn’t fit with the rest of the Pattern at all. Neither did that creepy dream I had about Mum…

“Afternoon, Emlynn. Not your best attempt to hide, I must say.” Ciarán stood in the doorway. I stared at him in shock, the tell-tale heat in my face giving away my embarrassment. My hair! It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t like you.

Ciarán sauntered over ignoring the geriatric contingent. “Ready to leave this swinging joint, then?”

“Duh definitely! W-where’s m-my dad?” I already knew the answer.

Ciarán rubbed the back of his neck with one large hand. His sandy hair flopped into his eyes. “Er. Well… Aunt Mary asked me to pick you up.”

“Oh. Okay.” So not okay. I was now fluttering with nerves at the thought of being alone in a car with Ciarán, or I’d have been seriously pissed off at Dad. He was absent most of the last time I was in hospital. This time he hadn’t shown up at all.

Ciarán’s car turned out to be a battered blue ford fiesta. “Not exactly the babe mobile, I know.”

"Ih- is it yuh yours?"

“Nah. Aunt Mary’s. Hop in. You’re in charge of finding something good to listen to on the radio.”

I raised my eyebrows at him.

He glanced at the sling and full cast on my right arm. “That’s not going to get you out of it darlin’. You can still use your left.” He smiled his devil-may-care smile and my heart constricted in my chest. For God’s sake, get it together. I was furious with myself. Would I never learn?

The sun was bright in the cool spring air. I watched the passing scenery with interest. I’d missed the stunning roll and fall of the landscape, when we led the removal van up here a week ago. Even the skeletal, wind-tortured shapes of the odd stunted trees were strangely beautiful. You could touch the sky here. Become a bridge between heaven and earth. I laughed at myself.

The post-operative grogginess had lifted, leaving me feeling light and free. I couldn’t be afraid now. Not in the sunlight with Ciarán radiating warmth beside me and cheesy sixties rock playing on the radio. And I had learned something, well a potential something anyway. Haze’s real name. Hardiman. It sounded Romani, which would fit with Helen calling him the Gypsy lad. Grace-Kate had said it in the stables and he had reacted like it was supposed to be secret. Could I use that? Did names, real names, have power over the Dead? If there was a way to use it, Mrs Cranford would probably know. I glanced at Ciarán. I should ask him to drive me straight to his godmother’s house. I had information now. And I needed to talk to someone about Mum and that vision.

Deep down, too deep to share with anyone, I felt sure now that Mum had been trying to reach me all along. I just couldn’t separate out which strange things were Mum’s doing and which were part of the Pattern. Knowing that Mum was still with me somehow, made it all easier to bear.

My thoughts were clearer than they’d been in days. For the first time I wondered why Mrs Cranford had been so hell-bent on helping me. A small seed of disquiet lodged in my gut. Did she have an agenda of her own? I smothered the feeling. Mrs Cranford had helped me. I needed to stop being so distrustful. When I was back in Arncliffe, I was sure things would muddle again. I had to remember.

Remember.

Maybe Haze wasn’t just threatening me. Could he have been…warning me? Even if he instigated the Pattern, he was just as caught up in it as the rest of us. My flesh still shrank at the thought of him but maybe, just maybe I had a hook. A way in. There was something Haze wanted, maybe I could bargain with him.

“You’re quiet even for you, Em. Care to share any of those Machiavellian plans?” Ciarán raised an eyebrow.

“Nuh not just y-yet.” I gave him a lopsided smile. Every time I had things straight in my head about him, I saw him smile or crook an eyebrow, and all my sensible reasons on why I couldn’t have feelings for him seemed redundant.

“So you are thinking and scheming? Tell me more.” His eyes crinkled at the corners in amusement, but stayed fixed on the winding road.

“Kuh can’t. Not yet. S-sorry.” I couldn’t risk drawing him in deeper by talking to him. He might only be caught in the outer edges of the Pattern so far and I liked him too much to risk it.

“For real?”

“Wuh would if I could.”

“Fair enough then. When you’re ready.” He changed gears. “So, I hope this doesn’t seem interfering but…yer Da…are you not on good terms?”

“What a p-polite way of p-putting it!” I snorted.

“Ah love, you don’t want to let it make you bitter.”

“And y-you’d nuh nuh know would you?” I couldn’t keep the defensive snap out of my voice.

Ciarán was quiet for so long I worried that I’d offended him. His lips were tightly compressed. I was about to apologize when he spoke again.

“Me Da was a brute. Heavy with his fists. Me and me sisters, we all wore tokens of his affection at one time or another. For a long time I thought that was what fathers did. I was eight or nine before I knew it wasn’t. And me Mam… Don’t get me wrong, I love me Mam but she never stepped in the way.”

“W-what huh happened?” I was selfish and spoiled. Complaining because I had a father who had no time for us, especially me.

“He took after me with a cricket stump when he was drunk one time. Ma got in the way for once, he’d have likely killed me if she hadn’t. He was a mean drunk, full of rage. As it was he shattered me shoulder. Hit her hard enough to crack her skull. She packed us up as soon as he’d passed out from drink and left. She’s been better without him. It’s taken a long time to put it in my past.” His face looked older, even in profile. Set in hard lines of remembered pain. And there was something indefinable there that made me wonder if it really was in the past for him. If it were me, I would have always felt there was something unfinished.

Had he ever told anyone about this? "That suh sounds h- hard." What a stupid thing to say. I should have said I was sorry. That he had made himself a better person than his dad. Something like that. I'd only ever seen Ciarán's humour and quirkiness. It was easy to forget that we all dragged shadows of the past after us.

To my surprise he laughed. “I like that about you, Emlynn. You tell me true what you think. I feel I can tell you anything.” His smile faded a little and his great winged brows swooped down. “It is hard. It’s hard not to be scared of becoming him. I’ve a temper too. I’ve had girlfriends – nice lasses — but never anyone special. Someone I wanted to be with longer than a few weeks.”

My heart sank a little at the thought of ‘girlfriends’ plural. I shoved the thought away, impatient with myself. “In case yuh you get cl-close and h-hurt them?” I guessed.

“That’s about the size of it.”

“You n-never would, Ciarán.” Impulsively, I put a hand on his arm. “You’re guh good. A g-good person. You just never w-would.”

“You don’t know that. I don’t know that.” His voice was wistful.

“I nuh know.” Even I was surprised by how fervent I sounded. I’d only known him a week. How could I be so sure? But I was. And just like that, all the suppressed feelings and thoughts about my family came tumbling out in one long stammering stream.

I told him how Mum and Dad had been talking about divorce on and off for the last few years, though I wasn’t supposed to know, the accident, and the weird way Mum acted before driving over the edge, Amy’s obsession with science, and how Grace acted around me since the accident. We talked about how Dad had been different after he’d finally come back from Iraq for good when I was eleven, Dad’s confusing Damascan conversion to the Anglican Church, and how Dad couldn’t even bear to look at me now, I was such an embarrassment to him…

I stumbled to a halt mid-sentence, blushing. I was talking too much.

“Don’t keep me hanging, love. What were you going to say?” Ciarán had been listening intently as the little blue car ate up the miles back to Arncliffe.

“I’ve n-never talked this m-much about myself eh-ever!” I said. There was a note of pending hysteria in my voice but I also felt purged. All those mixed up feelings had been just scrambled up inside me – easy pickings for Haze to work on. No wonder I hadn’t been able to think straight sometimes. Getting rid of Haze’s chances of influencing me wasn’t why I’d opened up. Even if I couldn’t have him, I wanted Ciarán to know me. The real me, not the quietly seething girl, who sensed the Dead and had prettier sisters.

I fiddled with the edge of my sling, working a thread free. Emotional diarrhoea. How attractive. I looked up and Ciarán grinned.

“Knew there was a lot going on in there.” Ciarán ruffled my hair. “I think it’s time we had some fun.” He pulled the car over as we approached a look out spot, and switched off the engine.

“Where are we guh going?” I fumbled with my seatbelt.

“For a walk.” Ciarán helped me out of the car. “Come on.” He took my left hand, careful of the bruise left by the IV. His hand was warm and callused. I felt closer to him than I had to anyone in longer than I could remember. Closeness wasn’t something I took for granted anymore. A snarky little voice in the back of my mind told that I’d probably have followed him anywhere, if he smiled like that. That I was letting myself get in too deep. I should pull out now. Before I really fell for him.

Except that might already be yesterday’s news.

A pretty little beck chattered over smooth stones. The air was heather-sweet and warm. As we sat on the bank talking, I was tempted to take my shoes off and dangle my feet in the water. It would be freezing though, however tempting it looked. And it had taken me nearly ten minutes to lace my shoes with my arm in a sling. I let my eyes close. The sun painted warm fingers over my eyelids. Ciarán took hold of my good hand again. I smiled. If only moments like this lasted.

“Emlynn, I want to ask you a question but I don’t want to offend you.”

I shrugged. “Ah-ask away. D-don’t promise to answer th-though.” I opened one eye and peered at him. He chuckled.

“It’s about yer mam. You said she drove off the edge of a drop. You also said she sped up…”

“Yuh yes.” I knew where this was going. But it was okay.

“Did she drive off the edge deliberate like? I mean was she…” He sounded uncomfortable.

“Tr-trying to k-kill herself?” I looked into his gold-flecked eyes. “Yes. Sh-she was.” I said it and the world didn’t end. It was going to be alright.

“With you and little Amy in the car?”

“Sh-she intended f-for all of us to d-die, I think.” My voice was carefully neutral. There was an underlying prickle of annoyance though. I’d had a chance to ask Mum why, and I’d forgotten. It hadn’t seemed as important as the other things she’d shown me.

I was ready to defend my mum or attack her depending on what Ciarán said next. I felt a tightening knot of contrariness in my chest. Whatever Ciarán did was going to be wrong. Proving that I was right. No one was on your side.

“Was she sick?” His words undid the knot completely.

“I d-don’t think so.” Then I realized what he meant by sick. “Y-you mean w-was she muh mental? No! Of course n-not!” I was too upset by the idea to be angry with him.

“No, not mental. Depressed like. Or something… I dunno… affecting her brain. I can’t see why she’d try to take you girls with her unless something wasn’t working right, can you?” Ciarán was braced against my reaction though he hadn’t let go of my hand.

It had never occurred to me that Mum might be ill in some way. The scent of rosemary and violets came back to me, laced with the coppery tang of blood. The nightmare I’d had about the accident in hospital flitted into my mind. What if Mum had been trying to tell me why? Maybe she could only get through to me when I slept. She’d said I’d shut her out. And there’d been other dreams after all, good and bad.

“Sh-she said something.” I blurted. “When I was a-asleep in huh hospital.”

“What did she say?” At least Ciarán didn’t question my sanity.

“That’s just it. It d-didn’t make suh sense. I couldn’t really h-hear her. Just suh-see the shapes her lips made.” Haltingly I told him about the dream and the moment Mum turned her head on its broken neck. “And she suh said something like ‘aahhh… oorrrr… ffff… errrr.’ That’s what it looked like. Maybe it was just a dr-dream.” I concluded glumly.

Ciarán gently squeezed my hand. “But you don’t believe that?”

I shook my head. No I didn’t. I felt that Mum was trying to talk to me. Maybe I just wanted there to be one member of the Dead who wasn’t scheming to make me to join them.

“Aahhh… oorrrr ffff… errrr.” Ciarán tried out the sounds. “Not very informative is it? Ahhh… ask? Orrrr…no idea on that one. Ffff… Errr? Feather? No, that’s daft. Wait. Unless… Assk…yourrr…Fuhahh…errr. Ask your father!” He grinned, pleased with himself. “That sounds like the sort of thing a mam would say.”

“Ask your f-father? Ask Dad what? Dad b-b-barely talks to us at all. I th-think he’s spoken to me three t-t-times in the last week.” A thread of bitterness wove through my tone.

“Ask him why. Why she would do what she did. You need to make him talk to you, Emlynn.” Ciarán’s voice was still kind but it was clear that he thought I should have been trying harder. I hunched my shoulders defensively.

“Dad d-doesn’t nuh know it w-wasn’t an accident.” My voice was barely audible.

“Aw now, Em, that’s not right. He should know how his wife died. Why didn’t you tell him?” He frowned.

“Because h-he was so ruh wrapped up in ch-church stuff. If he nuh knew it w-was a suh suh…” I ducked my head in defeat.

“You think if he knew she killed herself that would change things? How he felt about her?” Ciarán’s hazel eyes were level and more serious than I’d ever seen them.

I nodded.

“I won’t say that I know your Da better than you, but I want you to chew over this. You said they were talking about divorce? That sort of thing doesn’t go over well with those priest colleges, does it? I don’t know what made your Da go down that road but he must be feeling powerful guilty now.” Ciarán’s hand was warm and steady on mine. There was no judgment in his eyes.

“Guh guilty?” What was he talking about?

“Think about it. He wants something and she wanted out. But that would have interfered with him getting what he wanted. Then all of a sudden, she dies. Like he ill-wished her or something. Doesn’t sound like they ever stopped loving each other. More that they couldn’t find each other anymore.” His eyes were far away now. Looking at a past I couldn’t see.

Was Ciarán right? We’d never been a religious family before Dad came back from Iraq. It had been a huge culture shock when he’d announced his intention to become a priest. We were all resentful at being expected to fall in line. I’d never once, over the last few months, considered what Dad must feel after losing his wife. That maybe shutting himself away and devoting himself to work in the community didn’t come from dislike of us. Dislike of me. But was a sort of penance.

Maybe Dad felt it was his fault, like I’d felt it was mine. In a flash I knew. Ask your father. Maybe Mum had been sick. Maybe she had told Dad or it had come out later after the post-mortem. And he had kept it from us, just as Amy and I had kept what had happened from him. There were too many secrets here. One thing I knew from spending time in Helen’s head, was that secrets went bad and rotted until they poisoned everything. I’d talk to Amy first, but it was time to come clean.

Feeling better that I had a least one mystery, if not solved, at least on the right track I turned eagerly to Ciarán. His hand had gone limp in mine. He was staring far away across the moor. Thinking of Grace?

“Kuh Ciarán?” I squeezed his hand lightly.

“Hmm? Sorry miles away.” He smiled sadly.

“Do you muh miss home?”

“Where’s home? Ireland you mean? Aye sometimes. I’m not sure I’d really call Galway home though. Too many bad memories. I could get used to Yorkshire. It draws the prettiest lasses up this way.” His was back to teasing and flirting then.

I wasn’t having it. He was supposed to be Grace’s dinner guest tomorrow. Or Kate’s. Oh, this was so confusing.

“So why did you say you wuh wanted to meet Dad?” I felt one eyebrow arching sceptically.

“Well, he seems like the sorta gent who’d appreciate that sorta thing if a lad wanted to get to know one of his daughters.”

“Oh.” I felt winded. I’d expected him to deny it. “Suh so you d-do like Grace then?” My voice was too high and tight to sound casual.

“I do. She’s a nice enough lass.” Ciarán gave me a look that was amused and exasperated at the same time. “Of course she’s not the vicar’s daughter I was hoping to get to know.” He said this slowly and clearly to ensure I get the point.

Heat flooded my face. “But why did you say yuh yes to Grace’s d-dinner invite then?”

“Were you planning to invite me yourself?” He was laughing properly now. “You’re a devilish hard woman to get hold of, Em. I thought I’d be better off sneaking in through the back door, like.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know where to look. My cheeks were on fire. His fingers were gentle under my chin as he raised my face to meet my gaze. The gold flecks in his eyes collected light and threw it back. There was a question in them. Whatever he saw in my face must have been enough of an answer.

He leaned in and pressed his warm lips against mine.

His large hands cradled my face with a gentleness that belied their strength. His thumbs traced along my cheekbones drawing heat after them. I was flushing wildly and I didn’t care. I leaned into the kiss—no—I fell into the kiss. My good hand trailed up Ciarán’s strong, hard body until I felt his heartbeat thrumming under my palm. He gave a muffled groan and I gasped, my mouth opening under his.

My lips moved in new ways, forming unknown shapes in a dance with his. His tongue darted along my lower lip and then his hands fell to my hips and he pulled me into him. After all the shadows and cold, I was filled with liquid light. I was flying and falling but it was impossible to be scared because Ciarán was holding me. And the only thing in the world that mattered was his mouth against mine.

Ciarán dropped me off at the vicarage. I floated through the front door, lips throbbing from this newly discovered use. My heart fluttered just remembering his kisses, his hands on my skin. I had a big stupid grin on my face that wouldn’t be folded up and put away. Amy glanced at me, did a double take, and then asked if I’d been given a big bag of drugs at the hospital. I laughed and hugged her. I would tell her everything. Just not yet. Not while it was so new. I wanted to hug it to myself.

A delicious secret.

I was brought down to earth with a bump when Grace walked into the kitchen. Her sherry-coloured eyes had a calculating gleam in them. All of my problems had not evaporated with that first kiss. Or the ones that followed it, no matter how much I wished they had.

“Feeling better?” Her tone was mocking and I bristled.

“Yes th-thanks.” I missed the cool tone I’d been aiming for and hit sub-zero.

“It was a good plan, Gremlin. Clever. Didn’t think you had it in you.” Her smile was sweet and spiteful.

“W-what plan? What do you m-mean?”

“Playing the damsel in distress card. Hurting yourself and then having Ciarán pick you up from hospital. It’s ingenious. We knew he was the white knight type.” Grace looked me up and down. “Somehow I never thought you were that conniving.”

Damsel in distress? After Ciarán had carried her, limp and fainting, back to the vicarage twice this week? And with Grace getting him alone to ask him to dinner? I was the conniving one? Really? I itched to slap that smug look off her face. Amy read the emotional weather in my face and jumped up.

“Come on, Emlynn. I bet you’d like to get changed out of those muddy jeans.” She tugged me towards the stairs.

“Yes, I wonder how they did get muddy.” Grace’s voice floated after us.

I spun back towards her but Amy grabbed me and shook her head. I’d gone from cloud-hoppingly happy to incandescent with rage. I remembered Grace’s blank and lovely face as Haze broke my arm. I wanted to punch her.

Bitch, I seethed to myself. Heading upstairs with Amy trailing behind, I didn’t feel like being fair.

So what if Kate was squatting inside Grace like a toad, using all her worst feelings, speaking all her most hurtful thoughts. I wanted to blame Grace and then dish some of it back in spades. Black spots swam before my eyes. I steadied myself against the wall and took several deep breaths. Calm down, calm. This isn’t you either. That thought sobered me up. It wasn’t just my anger I was feeling. I was an amplifier for all the negative feelings bound up in the Pattern. All that rage and bitterness.

I glanced to the side. Just passing the cold spot. If there was anywhere in this house that Helen lingered, it was here. Just as she had in life, eavesdropping. She’d had good reason to dislike Kate. An anger without outlet and focus. I couldn’t trust Helen.

But…but Haze had warned her not to talk to me, so Helen must know something. There must be more that she could tell me…more I needed to know. I weighed it up. Mrs Cranford now or try and make Helen talk to me first? On one hand shouldn’t I be keeping Mrs Cranford updated?

Or I could make Helen talk to me and go to Mrs Cranford with the full picture. As tempting as the thought of running into Ciarán again so soon was, I decided to try Helen first. I wanted this mission over with. The sooner I got to the bottom of it, the better.

I showered with my broken arm shoved awkwardly out through the shower curtain. After finally managing to do up my last clean pair of jeans one-handed, I pulled on an over large T-shirt with a baggy sweatshirt over the top. My hair hung in wet dark tendrils but putting it up was beyond me for now. Anyway my lack of a fashion plate exterior didn’t seem to bother Ciarán. I smiled secretly, feeling warm at the thought.

I trotted down the stairs, taking a deep breath before stepping into the cold spot. A blast of frigid air. A moment of horrified recognition that came from outside of me, then I was thrown backwards and out onto the stairs. My back hit the edge of a higher step along the same purple bruise line I’d gotten after being flung at Kate’s head stone. Pain flared and died to a dull throb. I gritted my teeth. I was getting sick of being battered about. And apparently Helen didn’t want to play.

Too bad.

I grimaced and pulled myself up, back and broken arm complaining. Fine. If Helen wouldn’t volunteer I would try persuasion. I summoned up that feeling of electrical force I’d flung out when Haze and Ciarán were fronting up to each other on the moor. Holding it in my mind, I stepped deliberately into the cold again.

Something battering at me furiously but I held my ground.

Go away! Leave! Helen’s voice. She’d never spoken to me before.

No.

He’ll find out. You don’t know what he’s capable of.

Really? I raised my broken arm slightly.

You’ll get worse than that. I’ll get worse.

You’re already dead! What can he do to you now? Please… show me. Show me the rest. What happened? And stop jumping around this time. I was fed up of trying to work out where we were on the time line of events. Show me in order.

You’ll wish you’d never asked for this.

Helen sounded as though she relished the thought. Before I had a chance to reply, she shoved me to the back of my mind. I didn’t fight.

I step down, taking a moment to shake my plain grey skirts straight. They rustle around my ankles. Kate was sent off by carriage yesterday and I had no word from her. She ignored me even as I helped her to dress. I can only hope the stay with her aunt improves her temper.

Ada waits for me in the kitchen.

“He wants you, Helen.” Her voice is subdued. Her eyes look bruised and wounded.

“Who wants me?” I feel a prickle on the nape of my neck. I fear I may already know.

“Robbie. He’s at the lower end of the orchard.” She turns back to the sink where she is scrubbing vegetables. Foolish girl. Jealous cat. Will she never see him for what he is?

Then my heart turns cold in my breast. There’s no question of not going to him. I should tell John. I should and then the gypsy lad would be sent off. But he would come back. Nothing puts him off for long. And I’m sure John is afraid of him too. Shivering, despite the warm day, I make my way across the dew soaked grass. The hens cluck their contentment. I can hear that new horse John bought, whinnying in the stables.

Robbie detaches himself from a patch of shadow by the wall. I stop a few feet away. Just out of reach.

“Well? I’ve come. Say your piece and be off. You well know you shouldn’t be here.” I clench my shaking hands beneath my apron.

“Where is she?” Robbie sounds reasonable. His black eyes promise violence.

“I don’t rightly know.” I take an involuntary step back.

“Stay! If I wanted to beat the truth out of your sneaking hide, my hands would already be about your thick neck. As it is you’ll tell me, I think.” He sounds very sure. I fear he is right. Why did I think to defy him?

“I’ve nought to tell you. Her father thought her under a bad influence here and sent her to live with her aunt and cousins. He means for her to be a lady. It’s over fifty mile away and they’ve grounds with dogs and men with guns, so you’d best not think you’ll be visiting!” My voice shakes badly.

He smiles without mirth. He can see through my assumed bravado.

“She’ll come back, Helen. She always does. Your meddling has effected more inconvenience this time that is all.” He pins me with those pitiless eyes. I swallow hard. “You’ll not be interfering again though will you, Helen? It’ll be the worst for you if you do.”

I shake my head, trying to repress the tears of fright that have sprung to my eyes.

“Say it then.”

“I…I won’t come between you and Miss Kate again…” I sniffle quietly.

“No you won’t. Nothing can come between us, Helen. Nothing. Go on now.”

“Will…will you wait for her?” I had not meant to ask that. “Only, you’re turning young Ada’s head. She is a child…”

“She is useful. Mind your own business on that score. As for your other question, heaven holds no appeal for me without her and hell is no torment if she is by my side. I will wait. Be thankful I don’t curse you for every day of waiting.”

I can feel blood draining from my face at the thought. I know his real name but not how to use it. I’ve no wish to be cursed by a Romani. Robert, he were called when Mrs Greer took him in and drank away the money for his keep. Robbie. But he was never christened and that other name still lingers underneath. Few know it. If there’s a man alive with one foot in hell already, it’s him. My nerve breaks. I gather my skirts and run.

“Remember, Helen…” His voice drifts after me.

It was the strangest feeling. I saw and felt what Helen saw and felt, but I could think as myself too. As Emily Lynette. Helen had paused, stumbling with fright over the centuries old memory. I couldn’t help a twinge of sympathy. It wasn’t easy to stand up to Haze, or Robbie as she’d known him. But this was getting me no closer to ending the Pattern for good. If I didn’t know that Helen was paralyzed with fear, I’d think she was playing for time. I had to get her to move on.

What then? What happened when Kate came back? I prodded, trying not to sound as impatient as I felt.

Miss Kate had changed. My plan worked. In part.

Why did you interfere? Yes, why? It just didn’t make sense the more I thought about it…

They were bad together…wicked…Just watch…

We wait for the carriage to roll up the long lane. It is far finer than the one Kate went away in a year ago. After my dreary, day-to-day grind without a mistress, I almost look forward to her peppery presence in the house again. Time dims memories of bad happenings. I forget, for a time, her vindictive temper. I am hopeful of some excitement and powerful curious to see the cousins who are to stay a few days.

I keep well back as the coachman pulls the matching pair of chestnut horses to a halt. A lone rider reins up nearby. He tosses his reins to the stable lad and opens the carriage door. A dainty white- gloved hand takes the rider’s outstretched hand and the lady descends from the carriage. I am glad I stayed back. I can feel the shocked expression on my face. Kate has grown very fine. She was always considered a beauty. Now she is a vision in a fine green traveling gown. Her hair is artfully arranged, with a few long glossy ringlets escaping from under her matching bonnet and half veil. In truth I have never seen her look so well.

She sees me and breaks away from the young man. She flings herself into my arms as if we are sisters who had been parted and found each other long years later. I return her embrace feeling like a sparrow next to her bird of paradise.

“Helen! I missed you.” She smiles into my face. She means it. And haven’t I missed her too? My life has been a series of dull grey minutes since she went away. Now spring has come. Now I am more alive than I have been these past eighteen months.

“And I you, miss.” I curtsy.

“Oh Helen, call me Kate. Please.” Wonderful solicitude this. I feel immediately as if I should be on my guard but I cannot resist her charm, any more than that young man who follows her can.

“As you wish, Miss Kate.” I cannot help smiling in return. Whatever may come I am glad to see her now. “I should never have known you, Miss. You’ve become quite the lady.”

“Do you like it?” She spins and her skirts swirl and bell around her.

I look on in admiration. I am not alone. Ada watches Kate with a kind of wistful hunger that makes me tense with disquiet. And the young horse-man watches her with a hot gleam in his eye. I suppose his person is pleasing enough. He is very fair with blue eyes and light hair. His features are regular and even. There is clear breeding in every line, yet, looking closer he has a rather weak chin, a narrow chest, long fingered hands that look white and soft when he removes his brown leather gloves. The disquiet grows but I quickly banish it. Looks are all very well but hardly the sum of a young man’s parts. I suppose him to be Kate’s eldest cousin, Clayton Lynfield.

I realise Kate’s gaze is fixed over my shoulder and a small tremor of excitement vibrates through her. I don’t need to see the glowing look in her eyes to know who she had seen secreted in the shadows under the apple trees.

Of course he would know when she came back. Curse him. Cannot he stay away? Cannot he see she is not for him?

A glimpse at the expression on Kate’s face tells me that it is not so clear a matter as I could wish. The day is warm but a chill passes over me. I shiver. This reunion will be a short-lived joy. Robbie will ensure he has his reunion later. I will have to watch Kate. Reverend Weston has made that clear. Kate’s father wants her to have no more to do with that vagabond. I glance around in irritation. Where is Reverend Weston? Could he not come and greet his daughter this once? Kate is indifferent to her father’s absence. The merry party makes its way in doors. Except for Ada, who gazes towards the orchard with hungry eyes.

Reverend Weston regards his daughter with a keenly. Kate stands pretty and demure under his scrutiny. Only I catch the wicked gleam in her down cast eyes. We shall have games aplenty before too long.

“So Kate, you’ve turned out a lady after all.” Mr Weston sounds approving, as well he might.

“As you see father. My aunt was very strict about some waywardness I had grown into. I am grateful to her for her guidance.” She smiles prettily at her Aunt Evelyn, a stout, well-preserved dowager of some five or six and forty. I watch and remember.

“And this is young Mr Lynfield, then?”

“How do you do, Uncle.” The young man bows. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance at last. Miss Weston has spoken much about you.”

If this surprises Reverend Weston he doesn’t show it. Perhaps he thinks all neglected, un-regarded daughters speak well and often of their fathers.

“Well you’ve turned her into a credit to me, Evelyn.” His attention for his daughter is exhausted. “Won’t you take some refreshment? Helen, bring us some tea.”

Helen, please stop dawdling! None of this was helping at all.

Very well. Her voice was stiff with irritation. Watch.

It is past midnight when I hear a footfall on the stair. Kate. Sneaking out to Robbie, like as not. Well, I won’t have it. I wrap my shawl about me and tip-toe down behind her. I pause on the stair listening. The orchard door opens and shuts. I hurry through the kitchen and out into the night. Cat-quiet I slip bare-foot through the trees, the damp ground chilling my feet. The pair are at the far end where John’s poor excuse for an orchard breaks onto the moor. I hear their voices and stop to listen.

“I waited for you all day.” His voice is flat without inflection.

“I came as soon as I could. Do you suppose I am not being watched?” Kate sounds defensive.

“I waited nearly two years.”

“I never forgot you for an instant.”

“Why won’t you take my hand then? Why stand so far apart?”

“I am not so far. But for one waiting for my arrival for so long, you might have…” Kate is oddly reluctant, it seems to me.

“I might have what? Washed in the horse trough? I see you think so. Has that besotted youth with pomade in his hair and milk-white hands turned your head then? My Kate would have been out to me and across the moor laughing the instant the carriage stopped!” He is savage with disappointment.

“Perhaps I am not your Kate! Yours indeed! I never before realized how ignorant you are. There are ways, Hardiman; ways of behaving in society that let one get what one wants…”

“Ah, it’s clear now. You always loved a game. You now play the games of fine folk.” Robbie’s voice is almost a snarl. Then anguish breaks through so that even I, who knows the depth of his wickedness, almost pity him. “Kate! Their baubles and trinkets can’t compare to what we have!”

I cannot see his face but he has seized her hands now.

“Come now. Come away. We shall laugh at them and be free and belong to no one save each other!”

“Hardiman are you mad? I’d as soon laugh at you! What? Do you wish me to run away in early spring wearing only my nightgown?” She pulls her hands free and laughs haughtily. It sends gooseflesh up my arms.

“When did you have a care for fine clothes? Or ornaments? If that’s what you want I shall get them for you. But don’t sport with me, Kate. I’ve waited. I know your heart as I know my own. You will never be happy without me.” This last he says almost like a curse. A vow.

“There are other considerations in life than love, Robbie. Other needs to meet.” Her voice is grave. “I have only just returned. I won’t leave just yet.”

He breathes out explosively. I think for a moment he will shake her. Then he collects himself.

“I will wait. You will come to me. I will wait.”

“I must go now.” She glances around and runs fleetly back to the house.

“You’ll come back, Kate. You’ll always be mine. As I am yours.”

From the outside, love looks curiously similar to loathing. At least to me.

I decide I ought to be back indoors too. I shudder at the thought of Robbie finding me here. I start back towards the kitchen. A glimpse of fair hair and white nightgown in the depths of the orchard makes me pause. Who…? A huge hand closes around my upper arm.

My breath catches like a blade in my throat. I try to scream but Robbie’s other hand clamps over my mouth. I see that glimpse of white again but pay it no mind. I am far more concerned about what Robbie might do, for surely he is in an ungodly rage.

“Good evening, Helen. You heard all of that, I trust?” Why does he speak so pleasantly when he is about to do violence?

I nod against his palm, eyes wide. How my heart pounds in my breast.

“I am going to release you. You will not scream and you will not run. Understand?” His breath on my neck. I shake in his grasp.

I nod again. His skin smells like earth and something coppery – for a moment I recall that poor black hen from all those years ago. He releases me and black spots swim before my vision, and then resolve themselves into Robbie’s face. Even now, I won’t call him by his true name. He watches me with fathomless dark eyes. I shudder.

“I’ll not hurt you, Helen. Not while she requires you.” His face is hard.

“You…you act at her whim then?” I bite my tongue. Fool thing to say.

“Or my own, if one doesn’t contradict the other.” He nods.

I search for anything human in his face, and fail to find it.

“What a good little spy you are, Helen. Does Mr Weston know what a devoted follower he has?” He mocks me now. A spark of resentment mingles with the fear. It makes me bold.

“I don’t act for him, though doubtless I should. What do you want?”

“Your services. I understand you’re quite the listener. Servants usually are. You’ve the wit not to speak on what you hear though, except to the right people.”

“What do you mean?” My heart has slowed a little. I watch Robbie warily all the same.

“You will come to me with your tales, Helen. No one else. You shall listen to that damnable fop of a cousin of hers and you will tell me what is said, what is unsaid, what is happening.”

“I’ll not spy on my mistress for the likes of you!” I say. His expression tightens and I quail inside.

“But you will spy on your own account?” Robbie’s voice is still pleasant.

“If I pass on nought then it’s not spying is it?” My voice trembles despite my best efforts.

“What curious morals. Very well. I have other spies. But you will spy on the cousin. Helen, come. It is by your own will that we have never been friends.” He gives me a mocking half-smile.

I think this laughable, since he cares for none save Kate. The best he can do for the rest of us is to ignore us. He reads something of this in my face, no doubt.

“I’ve no quarrel with you Helen. But you have set me back in my plans with your meddling. You will help to mend that breach.” The first hint of anger colours his tone.

“So she didn’t just fall into your arms after all?” I spit at him, foolish of my safety. For a moment I think he will strike me but he masters himself.

“It is superficial.” He grimaces then shows white teeth in a dark smile. “I’ve said I shall not harm you, Helen but you try my patience. Have you thought how many ways there are for a servant to lose her position? I need not bruise you much at all. No blame ever attaches to the man after all…”

Robbie lets his sentence trail off and I grow cold with horror. He leans in close so I feel his breath on my cheek.

“I’d not normally touch you. Too sour for my taste but you’re a bonnie enough lass…”

I jump back from him heart thudding once more. I am trapped. Once again. Trapped between the two of them. Kate and Robbie. They toss me back and forth for their amusement while they pursue their twisted romance.

“You’ll keep me informed, Helen.” It is not a request. Hardiman slips off into the dark as though he’s made of it.

I bow my head. I would. He can have no doubt of that. But I swear I will see them together in hell before I see them together on earth. I swear it by…

“Emlynn?!

a flash, again, of something white…

EMLYNN!”

someone running back to the house…

“Emlynn! What are you doing?” A small hand on my shoulder.

it’s not Kate…

“Emlynn!” A hand squeezed mine and I squealed in fright. Helen had gone. I was back, heart clenching. The hand was warm though.

Amy watched me, concerned. “Sometimes I really worry about you. Who were you talking to? Haven’t you noticed it’s raining?”

I peered up at the night sky through the apple leaves. Fat drops of rain water dripped onto my face, chasing the disorientation away.

(that last flash of something white…someone running…)

“Aren’t you supposed to keep that cast dry?” Amy sounded exasperated now.

(…it wasn’t Kate. Someone else listening. Important…)

“Yuh yes! S-sorry Amy. G-guess I’m st-still out of it from the juh GA.” Helen hadn’t snuck to the back of my mind but slipped away entirely. At the end, she almost let something important slip. I was sure of it. And that flash of something white… No good. I’d overdone it. My head ached in chorus with my back and arm. A concert of pain.

“Come on. It’s getting heavier. I’ve made hot chocolate.” Amy said. I followed her back into the house. The nagging feeling of missing something wouldn’t go away. But the more I chased it, the more it slid away from me. I admitted defeat for now. Tomorrow I would figure it out. Tomorrow when my head was clearer.

I bounced out of bed on Saturday morning, ignoring the ache of protestation from my broken arm. I didn’t see anyone else about as I headed for the front door, though the door to Dad’s study was shut as always. He might have been up and working already. I had other things on my mind than talking to Dad as I made my way to Mrs Cranford’s house. I had everything Helen had shown me, as well as Haze’s real name. Surely there was something in all of that I could use to defeat him. If only I understood my strange gift and how to use it properly. But maybe Mrs Cranford would be able to tell me more now we had something to go on.

I rapped on the pale blue door of Mrs Cranford’s cottage and waited. My palms felt slick and my stomach fluttered in an almost pleasant way. Of course I wasn’t really there to sneak in more time with Ciarán but if he happened to be in…

No one answered the door. Okay so they didn’t hear you the first time. I knocked again, louder than before. And then again. No answer. They couldn’t be out, not when I had things I needed to tell Mrs Cranford. She was waiting on me, wasn’t she? And where was Ciarán? Tension stiffened my neck and shoulders. An odd, helpless frustration. I raised my hand to knock again and found myself trying the door instead. I gave it a good shake. Locked.

“Emily?” I cringed. I knew that strident voice. “Emily what are you doing?”

I turned slowly, shoulders hunched and face hot with embarrassment. Mrs Holden was stood outside the garden gate gawping at me.

“Were you hoping to see Mrs Cranford?” Mrs Holden sounded suspicious but then she had just caught me trying to force someone’s front door.

I nodded, dry-mouthed and annoyed that she was interfering again. Why couldn’t she just go away?

“Well she’s gone out, dear. Her and that good-looking godson of hers.” Her expression melted from suspicion to amusement.

I swallowed my humiliation and forced out the question. “Wuh when will th-they b-b-b-be buh-“

“Back? This evening I expect.” I may have been imagining it but Mrs Holden sounded smug. “Didn’t they tell you?” Definitely smug.

“Nuh-no. Never muh mind. Th-thanks.” I turned away, walking in completely the wrong direction for the vicarage.

“How’s your arm, dear?” Mrs Holden called after me. I pretended not to hear, desperate to get away from the horrible woman.

Ciarán hadn’t said anything about going out today. Why hadn’t he told me? He knew I needed to speak to Mrs Cranford… except he didn’t, did he? I’d kept what I’d learned from him, worried I’d end up drawing him further into the Pattern. So it wasn’t reasonable to be annoyed if he acted as though there was nothing important going on. It wasn’t fair to feel that Mrs Cranford had abandoned me. But I did.

I’d reached the bus stop at the end of the village. I sat down and rested my head in my good hand. My good mood had evaporated. I was being ridiculous and I knew it. Ciarán didn’t belong to me – of course he had other plans as well. And why shouldn’t Mrs Cranford go out for the day. I hadn’t told her I was coming. I should have phoned her last night. I was just such a coward about speaking on the phone with my stammer. So really it was my fault. I needed some perspective. And anyway I’d see Ciarán for dinner later. We could see Mrs Cranford after that. Everything I’d learned could wait a few hours, couldn’t it? I went back to the vicarage and tried not to sulk.

Amy assured me that there had been no phone calls, when I got home. I hadn’t really expected any but it still annoyed me. Maybe it was time to dig out my mobile phone and charge it up. I winced at the thought of the choked voice-mail box and hundreds of unanswered texts from Beth, which were bound to be on there. I really had been a crap friend since Mum died. When this was all over I’d have to try and make it up to her, if she still wanted to be friends.

I was changing before dinner, trying to make a bit more of an effort since Ciaran was coming round, but nothing looked good with the huge white plaster cast. My favourite jeans need washing. Also Grace was cooking tonight. That was rarely a good thing. I hadn’t seen Grace all day. I still felt weak and drowsy but I should have tried to keep tabs on her. Just because things had been going well with Ciarán, didn’t let me off the hook in solving the Pattern. And I was no closer. Too many jumbled bits of information. I should be trying to keep Grace away from Haze, or Hardiman as he was really called. It was impossible to do that without help. Maybe I should tell Amy. But then I shuddered at the thought of putting Amy in harm’s way. My last encounter with Haze didn’t go so well. I glared vengefully at the cast on my arm.

All my plans with Helen had fallen flat so far and I wasn’t quite up to another trip back into her memories to see if she would again let something important slip. I needed to speak to someone outside the Pattern. Perhaps I could go to Mrs Cranford after church tomorrow. Perhaps Ciarán would come too…

The smell wafting up the stairs was far too appetizing to be Grace’s cooking. I wondered if she’d coaxed Amy into helping her. At least Ciarán wouldn’t be eating burnt pasta. Excitement and tingly anticipation made it impossible for me to sit still. As I skipped down the last flight of stairs, arm in sling bouncing lightly against my chest, I automatically avoided the cold spot. Strangely, it felt as though it also pulled away from me. Helen really didn’t want to tell me anything more. It was odd though because if I let my mind drift, memories which weren’t mine, rose up to the surface. I could almost reach them…

A laugh stopped me cold on Helen’s step. Or rather, the sound of mingled male and female laughter. Ciarán was here? Why hadn’t anyone called me? And he was alone with Grace in the hall…Of course there were any number of reasons why they might be there like that. No need to worry. Grace probably just let him in.

It was just that he laughed like that with me, only a day ago. I told myself I was being silly. I shouldn’t always assume life was going to crap on me. But it was very hard to continue down the stairs. I crept down, slow and silent.

They didn’t see me. I had a brief glimpse of them standing in the dim hallway. Grace laughed up at Ciarán, while he smiled down at her.

Then everything doubled. There was an extra layer of reality overlaid on the present.

Grace-Kate wears a sweeping green gown. Ciarán looks handsome in breeches and a greatcoat, as though he’s just got down from his horse. Her hair stirs in a gentle draught, glossy chestnut curls waving.

“So what say you, Kate? You have given me no answer.” It isn’t Ciarán’s voice. Isn’t really Ciarán’s face. Or not entirely. But my heart plummets anyway. “Tell me you will say yes? Relieve my suffering, I pray you.”

“It is too soon for me to go away again.” Kate is demure. I can see something sly in her expression.

“If I do not ask you now, you will forget me. Your father would like to see you settled.”

“You certainly know how to express yourself. First you say you must be sure of me now, for I am inconstant. Then you say it would please my father! I’ve a mind to refuse you on those grounds alone!” She tosses her head pertly.

“Oh Kate, forgive my clumsiness!” He seizes her hand in both of his. “I do love you. Desperately. I cannot do without you now. You like Larkacre don’t you? You enjoyed living there?”

“It is a most handsome house…” I can almost see the calculation in her sherry-dark eyes.

“Then say you will be mine? Give me an answer I beg you!”

Poor spooney never asked if she loved him in return. Helen’s thought cut in drily.

I miss whatever Kate says next but it has made Clayton happy. He is gathering her close and pressing his lips against hers.

See. See what men are? See what he is? Why interfere? Why endanger yourself?

The strange doubling effect lifted, leaving me watching Ciarán kiss my sister. A strangled sob escaped my throat. Ciarán looked up. His eyes were pale blue and blank; he didn’t recognize me at all. Grace turned; her dark eyes sparkled with malice.

It could be Grace doing this or it could be Kate. Right now I didn’t care. Ciarán kissed her. He kissed Grace.

I hate her.

I hated them and I never wanted to see either of them again.

I turned and stumbled back upstairs. For the first time, I locked my door. I refused to answer to Amy’s pleading tones or Grace’s harsher words. At last I was left alone. Pacing, boiling with rage and hurt. It didn’t matter that they were both caught in the Pattern. It didn’t matter that perhaps they wouldn’t have kissed otherwise. They had betrayed me. No, Ciarán had betrayed me. He was weak. Weak!

I didn’t care about breaking the Pattern anymore. I didn’t care about Grace. Had she had a single kind word to say to me since Mum died? No. She’d blamed me for Mum’s death. For not being able to speak to Mum afterward with a gift I had never wanted and could barely control. I paced faster.

The scent of rosemary and violets threaded through the air. A sense of anxiety fluttered at me, at my mind. It too, was weak. And if it was Mum, why the hell was she interfering now? I’d been deluding myself. I was an idiot. No one wanted me. Not Dad. Not Ciarán. Not Grace. Not even Mum, or why did she try to kill me?

Screw them all. I was done with it. I thrust out with my will, and the scent and sense of my mother was shoved away.

The effort left me breathless and empty. No, the room felt empty. Less safe. I didn’t care. I didn’t care! Let the Pattern just happen. Helen was right. It couldn’t be stopped. Why get in the way.

Save yourself, Grace, if you’re so much better than me.

The thought came out of no-where and I refused to take it back. A small reasonable part of me tried to butt in and point out that it wasn’t Ciarán’s fault. It wasn’t even Grace’s fault. But I didn’t want to be reasonable. I needed someone to blame. For the first time since Mum’s death, I’d trusted someone and let him in, and at the first opportunity he’d stabbed me in the back and kissed my sister. It didn’t matter if he meant to or not. He did it and now he’d proved me right: you couldn’t trust anyone not to let you down. Fine. I’d be on my own side and stay out of everything else.

Good. Helen’s voice was a whisper.

Good. The sense of the watcher on the moor was a dark note of approval.

Good, I replied to them coldly and switched off the light.

I’d thought about just staying locked in my attic like a Victorian heroine. Okay, so I was being melodramatic but I didn’t want to see anyone. The thought of Dad coming to drag me out sent me trotting down to Arncliffe, ready for another Sunday of arranging flowers with Mrs Holden and the rest of her coven. Everything felt pointless and I ached with emptiness. Shame would probably creep in at some point. I had behaved like a child last night. Though it was possible that only I knew what was going on. Grace and Ciarán might not even remember. I tried to find comfort in that without much success. There was no need to see Mrs Cranford now; if I was done with the Pattern I should be done with her. It was harder to hold onto my resolve now that the rage had passed.

Better if I didn’t see Mrs Cranford so I couldn’t be guilted into changing my mind though. I shied away from the thought that I was just avoiding Ciarán. Arriving early, I paced outside the church, restless again.

This was useless. I kept hashing over the same ground. It was just a kiss. Both times. With me and with Grace. For Ciarán, it was just a kiss. I shouldn’t have attached more importance to it than that. With effort I shoved myself back into feeling nothing at all. It was so much harder now. But numb was better. While the beauty of a fresh spring day was lost on me, so were the hurts of the last few days too.

“Emily? I wasn’t expecting you this week.” Mrs Holden, once again disguised as a boiled prawn, and wearing a slight frown, appeared with the keys to the church doors.

“D-Dad expected me to kuh come.” Well he would have done if I’d spoken to him. My voice was dull and lifeless.

“Are you sure you’re well enough?” Mrs Holden sounded almost concerned. I shrugged. “Okay then, let’s find you something to do.”

There was no sign of Mrs Cranford today. I was both relieved and disappointed. Until I stopped, I hadn’t realized how much energy I had devoted to breaking the Pattern. Now I was lost. I drifted from arrangement to arrangement, muddling the flowers and spilling water. Mrs Edwards huffed behind me trying to repair the damage. I knew now, how Helen felt when Kate was sent away. Losing something hated that nevertheless gave your life purpose. Dull, grey minutes slid away like apathetic slugs.

Miss Greer and Mrs Holden were having a whispered argument about a stall of some kind. I tuned in without much interest.

“…just not sure that you’re the best one to run it, dear.” Mrs Holden was nearly as pink as her suit.

“My family has been here for over two hundred years. My grandmother’s great grandmother’s great grandmother was the village handywoman!” Miss Greer sounded as acidic as I’d ever heard her normally soft voice.

“Yes, but the village fair? Really the history display should be run by someone with a broad knowledge of village history.” Mrs Holden was clearly intent on getting her own way.

A tour of the history of Arncliffe? That would take all of two minutes. I considered the urn I was currently disarranging.

“I suppose we could ask Mary Cranford then,” Miss Greer suggested.

“Hmmph, she’s rather too fond of other facts.”

I found myself listening harder in spite of my vows not to get any more involved.

“Well some of it is interesting. Famous visitors for instance. You know Emily Bronte stayed at the vicarage…”

“Puh pardon?” I whirled on the startled Miss Greer. “Eh Eh Emily who?”

“Bronte, dear. The writer. Not that I was ever a fan of that book. Such dreadful violence. Even the love scenes seemed…tainted.” Miss Greer was dabbing at the water I’d spilled on her coat.

“And sh-she stayed huh here?” I demanded with unreasonable excitement.

“So they say. Mary may have evidence. She lived in the vicarage as a girl.”

“Muh Mrs Cranford? In the vuh vicarage?” My mouth refused to close. My forehead crumpled in a frown of confusion. She hadn’t told me. Not once. She had ‘played the witness’ herself. She must know far more than she had told me. The clippings. No wonder she had started collecting them. I had depended on Mrs Cranford to be a rock in the middle of this mess. But she had been part of the Pattern from the beginning. And she had said nothing.

Surely she hadn’t meant to feed Ciarán into the Pattern? Numb bewilderment gave way to searing rage. She’d lied to me and sent me into danger, when she must have failed already herself!

“Emily, where are you going?” Mrs Holden’s voice drifted after me as I dashed out of the church, knocking over an urn of flowers on the way. I didn’t bother to reply.

It seemed only a moment later that I was stood at Mrs Cranford’s pale-blue cottage door. I didn’t remember knocking but seconds later it opened.

“Emily? Are you alright? You’re very pale. Ciarán told me that you weren’t at dinner last night.” Mrs Cranford stood back to let me in. I walked in to the parlour as though I owned the place.

“W-what else d-did he say?” I demanded.

“Nothing of note. I think he hoped to see you today. He’s out at present.”

“Guh good. I came to see you. W-why didn’t you t-tell me?” My eyes blazed down into hers. She met my gaze and her expression crumpled. She dropped, brittle and small into her armchair. At least she didn’t pretend not to know what I meant.

“I suppose you over-heard those cackling biddies at the church.” She swept her little claw of a hand over her eyes.

“I sh-should have huh heard it from you. Why didn’t you t-tell me you lived in the vuh vicarage?” My voice came out more pleading than angry.

“You’re right of course. I’m sorry, Emily. I was ashamed. I saw the Pattern first-hand not once but twice you see.” She paused then. I held my breath, afraid she wouldn’t continue. “When I was ten years old, we had evacuees from London to stay in the vicarage. Two older girls. More of an age with my older sister. The oldest girl died. She was found strangled on the Moor. I had seen her meeting a young man there but I was frightened and not allowed to wander by myself. Whatever her sister knew she kept to herself and then she went back to London. Later, when I was sixteen it all happened again. I don’t know how he is able to come back again and again but he managed it-”

“I nuh know.” My voice was grim. “Tell you after.”

Mrs Cranford gave me a beady look and nodded once.

“Very well. That time I was the witness, like you are now, Emily. I suppose you want to walk away from it as I did? Yes.” She nodded. “I did. And that is why my sister, Lily, died. It was never reported in the papers. There was no one I could tell. I might have been able to save her. To break the Pattern for good so you wouldn’t have to do this. I failed.

“My sister was very beautiful. I hated her like fire for that and for never having any time for me. I turned away from her. I let myself forget that no matter what else happened, we were sisters. There were things worth saving. Instead, Lily was used by the Pattern. She fed his desire to continue until he had brought Kate back. Everyone who died after that can be laid at my door.” The bird-bright eyes shone with tears.

I was stricken. I’d been thinking the exact same way that she once had. Was any of this really Grace’s fault? Or was I letting jealousy and anger take over? The last of my fury collapsed in cold ashes. I couldn’t walk away from this.

I told Mrs Cranford everything I had worked out so far, ending with the snippet of information about the other Emily.

“Ah, yes. I was hoping you’d find the book so we could examine it together but it sounds like it’s been taken from you for some reason.” Mrs Cranford smiled a little. “According to local legend, Emily Bronte did indeed stay at the vicarage briefly. It was a visit her father, Reverend Patrick Bronte arranged. She wouldn’t have been more than fourteen. In the end she was so homesick she was sent home. Young as she was, I believe she was one of the first witnesses.”

“Sh-she didn’t solve the Pattern?”

“Have you ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’?”

“Nuh no but if it was the b-book that went missing then it was the n-next one Mum and I were g-going to read.”

“Really.” Mrs Cranford gave me a piercing look. “That’s interesting. You see ‘Wuthering Heights’ contains many pieces of the Pattern that replays here. Not all and it goes on its own road with a second generation written in. But still, too many similarities for it to be a coincidence. I don’t know what you think of this for a theory but I believe Emily Bronte did try to break the Pattern with that book. She wrote the characters of Kate and Robbie into it as a way for them to be together. I think she took a lot of other elements too.”

“W-well it didn’t w-work!”

“Perhaps not. But then it’s possible she weakened the Pattern.”

I thought of the dream I’d had in hospital, of how Kate and Haze kept missing each other on the moor, and the same knot of anxiety I’d felt then tightened in my ribs. Mrs Cranford might well be right.

“W-why write about it?”

“I’m afraid I have no idea. Books have power though. If it was read by fifty people only, then that’s fifty people all wishing the lovers to be together. At the end there is a hint they might be you see. After they’ve both died. The trouble is that the book isn’t set here in this world.”

“It’s n-not?” I was now thoroughly confused.

“No. It’s hotly debated of course, but I favour the theory that it is set in ‘Gondal’. An imaginary world Emily and her sister, Anne, invented together.”

“Suh so it’s n-not real?”

“Never say imaginary is the same as not real. Extraordinary things can come into existence through the mind of a powerful writer. No I’m quite sure Gondal exists somewhere.”

“B-but where does that leave us with the puh Pattern?” I was determined to bring the conversation back to point where I understood what was going on.

“Until we know the origin of the Pattern, it leaves us nowhere. We need to know how it started. And the only one who knows is-”

“Helen.” I sighed in defeat. Only I could talk to Helen. I looked at the carriage clock on the mantelpiece. “I b-better go to ch-church.”

“Yes you had. Emily?”

“Yuh yes?”

“I had no idea Ciarán would be dragged into this.” Mrs Cranford’s shrewd eyes were pleading. “Please save him. Don’t let him go the way Clayton did.”

As the pale blue door closed after me, I remembered. Clayton had died in mysterious circumstances. I shivered as I ran back to St Martin’s. I wouldn’t let that happen to Ciarán. Even if he had meant to kiss Grace, I couldn’t let him die. I had no idea how I was going to do it but I was back. I’d bring Haze down. I would break the Pattern.

I just hoped I didn’t kill myself or anyone else in the attempt.

I slipped into St Martin’s through the vestry and took a seat in pew partially hidden behind a pillar. My mind churned over schemes and plans, each crazier than the last. It took a while for me to notice that the church was full of crackling energy. People were restless, on edge. That was odd. Dad could always capture an audience. I tuned into what Dad was saying from the pulpit and gaped in surprise. For all his faults, Dad had never been a fire and brimstone preacher. Now he talked about hell and damnation with such certainty, you’d think he’d seen them first hand. And he was off his mark. He wasn’t comforting the congregation; he was stirring them up. If he wasn’t careful he’d have a lynch mob foaming at the mouth to do his bidding. I glanced around. There was fanatical zeal on every face. It was eerie. Like the residents of Arncliffe had been hollowed out. What was going on?

Grace got up to do the reading. She was neat and pretty in her dark-blue dress, chestnut curls and all. Then I looked closer. It was that strange doubling effect, like last night. Underneath the exterior that Kate projected, Grace did not look well. Her skin was yellowing. Purplish shadows made her bruised her eyes. Her lips were white and pinched, bluish at the corners. Her hands had become skeletal. Her neck was a reed. She stood at the lectern and her hands shook with fine tremors. Her voice was clear but thin and weak.

Haze was killing her. He was sucking her dry. They both were. Between them, Kate and Haze were killing my sister. In a moment of absolute clarity, I saw myself for what I was. I was diminished; not the person I’d always thought I was. Was I going to let my sister die for my own wounded vanity? What had I been thinking? If she kissed a dozen boys I liked, it wouldn’t matter as long as she was alive. If Grace died, that would be it. One crack too many. My family would disintegrate. Guilt razored into my stomach. I couldn’t save Mum and that wasn’t my fault. If Grace died, it would be. I clenched my hands until my knuckles stood out white and my broken arm screamed. Was Grace still in there? Was I too late?

As if she’d heard my thoughts, Grace looked up. Her eyes locked with mine. It wasn’t Kate, it was my sister. For a moment she was really there. Her eyes were deep blue and frantic. It took me a moment to realize what she was saying as her tone never changed.

“…And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched….Help. I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody…The righteous shall go into life eternal. Thy remembrance shall pass on unto all generations…” Grace was fighting to breathe now. I saw the film of darker colour radiate out from her pupils. Sherry-brown and sparkling with irritation. “So sayeth the lord.” I heard Kate’s musical voice coming from my sister’s mouth.

I was close to despair but Grace has just told me, in the only way she could, that she was still in there. Kate had not won yet. I would have laughed if it wasn’t so horrible. Grace hated the Beatles. No faulting her choice of lyrics though. She did need help and not from just anyone. From me. And that last bit wasn’t part of the chosen reading. I’d seen those words before. Engraved in stone.

The electrical energy in the church cracked like a whip. A smell like ozone and raw sewage. Oozing shadows poured over everything and everyone. Hardiman was here. The Pattern was here. Kate walked demurely from the lectern, swaying Grace’s body like a master puppeteer. None of the worked-up congregation noticed her changes to the reading. Dad was scowled at her though. A dark expression he had never directed at Grace before. I shivered and memory roared through me.

I was nine years old. Dad had come back from Iraq for the last time. He was supposed to be sleeping that afternoon, he didn’t get much sleep at night. I’d heard him wake, strangling screams, two or three times in a night. Mum had had bruises on her arms where he’d grabbed her in his sleep. Mum was out that day. Grace and I were squabbling. I couldn’t remember what we were fighting over but I shoved her in anger. Being two years older than me, and stronger at the time, when she shoved me back, I fell over.

My pin wheeling arms caught a vase and sent it crashing to the wooden floor in a mosaic of porcelain splinters. I fell onto the broken vase and cut my knee on a shard of porcelain. I wasn’t badly hurt but when I saw the blood from the cut, my mouth went square in a fire-engine wail of outrage. Dad burst in. His expression was terrifying to see. Whatever he was looking at, was far away and months ago. It wasn’t us…In his hand his belt dangled, a sinister leather snake. He lashed it about in hard painful slaps. Now there was really something to cry about, all I could do was whimper as the belt came down on my out-stretched arms and shoulders over and over again.

With a snarl Grace threw herself at the belt wielding arm and tried to wrest it away. She was thrown off like an insect. As the belt descended towards me again Grace threw herself between me and the belt, shielding me with her body until the beating stopped. We’d fought and bickered and scratched all through childhood but Grace would have thrown herself in front of a car for me. How she must have hated it when I was hurt in the accident and she wasn’t even there.

What was it like for Grace when Mum died and it looked like Amy and I might follow her? To find most of her family in hospital? Maybe Grace’s bitchiness had been a cover all this time, the way my silence and refusal to take help had been a cover. Both of us trying to avoid getting hurt again. Grace never encouraged Dad to show her favouritism. It must really suck having to live up to his ideal actually. I was a complete idiot. Mrs Cranford was right. There were things worth saving. Screw my petty feelings. None of that mattered.

I had to break the Pattern.

With a snap I was back in the present. I was already getting to my feet when Grace stumbled and fell to her knees. She vomited copiously before the altar. And I had really thought I was going to be the one to do that. With a cry of horror Mrs Holden came running up the aisle toward Grace, trailing Miss Greer like a worn silk scarf. I looked at Dad and it hit me; it wasn’t just Dad standing there. Reverend Weston overshadowed him, a smudged fingerprint on glass. I remembered him from Helen’s memories. Dad had been dragged into the Pattern and had gone without a struggle. It was like a Tibetan prayer wheel; the more lives that were poured into the Pattern, the stronger it got and the further it reached. My family was being stolen.

I remembered where I saw the words from Grace’s reading.

I ran, away from Grace into the grave yard. To Kate’s grave.

The righteous shall go into life eternal

Matthew 25:46

Thy likeness shall endure unto all generations.

Psalms 102.

It was here all the time. Grace had given me the truth. The last line shouldn’t have said ‘likeness’ it should have said ‘remembrance’. It was a subtle change. People would assume it was a mistake, if they noticed at all. It wasn’t. It was a curse; the words that sealed the Pattern. That ensured that it repeated itself over and over without end.

Grace. So clever, even trapped inside her own skin. Grace had given me a clue.

The question was who set those words into the stone?

I wondered if I could I tug on this thread and unravel the Pattern? This was the key. I was sure of it. But who started the Pattern? I no longer believed it was Haze. While I knelt on the grave, the congregation poured out and the full horror and scope of the Pattern struck me. It wasn’t a small web encompassing a few chosen people. It used all of Arncliffe. The people who lived in the village were the weft of the Pattern – —each one carried a tiny spark of darkness. Haze, Kate, Grace, Ciarán, Clayton, Helen, even Dad…even me… we were the warp. Tangled on to the shuttle we were being woven back and forth to create the same tapestry of despair and heartbreak and loss. It was so much bigger than I had seen before, and all I had done was stand at the centre of the web and feed it my anger and frustration and jealousy.

I watched the people pack and mass, moving past me unseeing. I felt the web drawing closed. The Pattern was almost complete – I didn’t have much time. I needed to make Helen talk. Mrs Cranford couldn’t help me now. As the one witness who stayed, she had to stand apart from the struggle. I was on my own apart from Helen. I didn’t like Helen very much. And I certainly didn’t trust her. Then a thought occurred to me. On a burst of intuition, I dug my hands into the dirt of Kate’s grave. I glanced around. No one was watching. I collected what I needed, filling my pockets.

Walking home, my mind was as full as my pockets. Haze or Hardiman, would never have set the Pattern in place, I reasoned. He would never set a curse that prevented him from seeing Kate. This felt like revenge and while I didn’t for a moment believe Haze incapable of revenge, even against someone he loved, this didn’t feel like his work. It was careless. Messy. Haze would never have gotten himself caught in his own trap. He would never have had the words of a curse carved on Kate’s headstone.

I ticked off suspects in my mind; Kate died of consumption. She willed never to leave Hardiman but that didn’t account for the curse stretching over the whole village. Clayton fell, either by accident or on purpose, or maybe Haze murdered him? Possible. I felt the weight of my pockets and wondered if anyone knew where Haze was buried. I had the beginnings of a plan. A wisp of an idea. It seemed to me that everyone ever involved had tugged and struggled against the Pattern, and gotten themselves wrapped in the strands further. What if instead of fighting it we went with it? There was one strand that no one had tried to follow…

“Emlynn?”

I was startled out of my musings.

Ciarán ran up behind me. “Em did ya not hear me calling you?” One winged eyebrow climbed into his shaggy hair. My heart leapt and then sank lower than ever as I remembered what happened yesterday. I was trying very hard to separate out which actions were Ciarán’s. And which were Clayton’s. It was hard not to blame him, when I remembered his mouth crushing down on Grace’s. I shook my head. I needed to focus.

“Huh Hi.” I said, cool as glass.

“Are you feeling better?” Ciarán looked uncertain. A small mean part of me liked that. Another part was sorry and wanted to take his hand. Better not. No distractions.

“Wuh what do y-you mean?” I frowned. I’d thrown a tantrum. He must remember that.

“Yesterday? Dinner? You never showed up? I thought maybe your arm was hurting. I thought maybe you’d tell me yourself instead of sending little Amy though.” His hazel eyes reflected a hint of hurt. The gold flecks were less pronounced. He was unhappy

“W-what about Grace?” My tone was flat.

“What’s your sister got to do with anything?” Both brows swooped down over his nose to make a shape like a bird in flight. He sounded irritated.

He didn’t remember anything. I was torn between wanting to carry on as we were and needing to end this for good. I couldn’t bring Ciarán in on my plans and not just because he might channel Clayton or because I didn’t think I could deal with the jealousy the next time he touched Grace. I couldn’t bring him with me because Clayton ended up dead.

This time, the Pattern had more key players in place than ever before. Since the original tragedy, probably. It had more power than ever before and it wasn’t just Grace who was in danger. I wouldn’t admit how I felt about Ciarán until I’d broken the Pattern for good. Maybe then I would know whether it was really me he liked. I gave him a one-shouldered shrug.

“Nuh nothing.”

“So what are we doing today?” He grabbed my left hand, smiling. I crumbled under the weight of that smile. Shivers of happiness rippled over my skin as he stoked my wrist with his thumb. Soothing circles that didn’t calm me at all.

“I h-have things I to d-do today.” I pulled my hand gently away. An ache began behind my breast bone.

“Are you giving me the brush off?” The hurt in his face is unmistakable this time.

“No. N-not…J-just busy today.” My stammer was worse. My eyes began to burn and tingle. No tears, as always.

“It certainly seems like the brush off. First you never showed up last night, now you can’t wait to get away from me today.” Ciarán’s eyes were dark and wounded. No gold at all now. “When…when we…at the brook. Did I do something yer didn’t like? I mean…” He stopped but the vulnerability of the question cut me to the bone. This was torture. I could reassure him, stand here and hold his hand and be happy but it wouldn’t be real. It could never be real with the Pattern intact.

“No!” I cried, despite myself. “I …wuh what we… I mean when you kuh…kuh… It’s n-not that. P-promise. I w-wish I kuh could explain. P-please trust m-me.” Surprising myself I leaned forward and kissed his cheek. It was slightly rough with stubble. He smelled warm and musky sweet. “I’ll suh see you later in the w-week.” Hopefully. If none of us died when everything went nuclear.

He stared at me, bewildered and then I was walking away as fast as I could. Almost fleeing him and the temptation he offered.

It was close now. One way or another, the end was almost here.

After a few abortive attempts, Amy gave up trying to get me to talk. She retreated grumpily to the orchard and I let her go. Even if I could make her remember and keep remembering, she was probably safer if she didn’t. At least I had one person I cared about who wasn’t caught up in the Pattern. Exhaustion made my head spin with trying to keep everything straight. I needed to tackle Helen again but I wanted to wait until I wouldn’t be interrupted. Did Helen hear all my thoughts when I joined with her? I couldn’t hear all of hers, but then she left scraps of memory behind like old coins and shards of pottery in an ancient burial site. Kate pinching her to make her cry. Reverend Weston patting her head as a child. John, pious, heavy with his fists and overly familiar with his hands…What if I left bits of my life with her? I didn’t trust her not to use them. Didn’t trust her at all.

What Ciarán said about talking to Dad had been eating away at me. The old me would never have had courage to ask Dad anything. The new, tougher, more focused me knocked on Dad’s study door. If there was something about Mum that had been kept from us, I wanted to know. I would feel better if I solved just one mystery. I knocked again. No answer. I tried the door but it was locked. If Dad was in there he wasn’t coming out. My stomach was a churn of frustration. Fine. Later then. He couldn’t hide forever. I almost laughed as I thought it. Dad had been hiding. And all this time I’d been too timid to realise. Cursed village aside, I felt seriously annoyed with myself. Had I really paid much attention to anyone except the Dead since the accident? That needed to change.

Grace was asleep when I checked on her. Her eyelids were a pale lilac with deeper shadows underneath. Her skin was chalky and her lips were dry and cracking. She breathed fast and shallow like a cat. I was afraid to wake her. Afraid I would get Kate, not Grace at all. I quietly closed the door.

Lost, I drifted up to my attic. I wanted to get my thoughts straight before I tackled Helen again.

Haze didn’t set the Pattern. The more I thought about it the more certain I became. There was no real benefit in it for him – it had failed to restore Kate to him for two centuries. He did not act unless it benefitted him in some way.

Kate couldn’t have done it. She was already dead.

Helen was so afraid of hell and all the dogma instilled by John over the years, that even if she had been out for revenge, I doubted she would have ‘played at witchery’ to set it in motion. Or that she could. Who did that leave? Clayton? Ridiculous. Reverend Weston? Ada? None of them fit. They were all bit players. So who? Who?

My brain was on spin cycle, churning nothings. I needed a starting point. I couldn’t untangle anything without one. My head ached fiercely. I leaned my head against my pillow and shut my eyes, trying to will the pain away. If I could just think. I was missing something. I knew I was. If only I wasn’t so tired.

The scent woke me. Rosemary and violets. I was warm and peaceful. “Mum?” I whispered. I wished I had found that book. Wuthering Heights. Though I might never read it now, if I did. Talking about books with Mum always broadened their meaning. I missed that. I hated to think of one of Mum’s books being lost. “What happened Mum? Why did you drive off that drop? Were you ill?” There was no anger in my questions, just endless sorrow. The scent grew stronger for a moment and then faded. I swallowed but the grief was easier to bear now that it wasn’t twisted up with anger. I felt stronger. Maybe even strong enough to tackle Haze and win Grace back.

I stepped straight into the cold spot. Without even thinking about it, I pulled the sparking, electric energy around me like a cloak. Helen’s attempts to rebuff me were useless. How easy it was now. I wondered if I had made it difficult by fighting against what I was. Helen stopped swatting at me.

What do you want? She sounded wary, as though she was afraid of me.

To know how to stop this. To save Grace.

Why do you care? You recall how she treats you? Like you’re worth less than her. Like dirt.

Are we talking about Grace and me, or you and Kate? I said, annoyed. Why was she being so obtuse? Besides it’s not as simple as that. Things are difficult between sisters.

Are they? Anything you really want she will take from you and not give it a thought. Helen added slyly, I saw how you looked at that young man…

Not really any of your business. You’re dead. Are you going to help me or hang out on the stairs forever?

I meant well I’m sure. You canna trust men. Especially the handsome ones. Why bother with him or your sister? Or that black-hearted devil on the moor?

Just how long have you been stuck here to speak like that? I can trust Ciarán. I can trust Grace. If I can break the Pattern then the rest will sort itself out. If I’m wrong about Ciarán then it’s best to know without other factors clouding the issue. At least I’d know for sure.

That’s your reason? You’re as besotted as that young kitchen maid…

It is not the reason. I was truly angry now. Haze…Hardiman is killing my sister. I think he knows that but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how many girls die because one day he hopes one of them will be Kate again. Enough people have died Helen. Why won’t you stand up to him?

You think you’ve seen the worst of him, Miss. And Of Miss Kate. You haven’t. You’ll learn.

Helen! PLEASE! Help me! Tell me how Hardiman died. Where he’s buried. You must know!

That I don’t. And I wouldn’t meddle in that if it did mean eternal rest. Leave well alone Miss. Don’t tax me with useless questions again.

But.., but the Pattern…Grace…all of you trapped. Helen…more than just Grace will die this time. I’m sure of it!

I canna help that. There was no pity in her hard voice. It’s already begun. Too late to stop it now.

Helen? Helen! HELEN!

I stepped down onto the next stair. Alone. No Helen. No help. No answers. I whirled and charged back at the cold spot.

It was gone. Helen was gone.

A lump of dread dropped into my stomach. I doubled over, crouched on the now empty stair. My broken arm wrapped awkwardly around my good one. I didn’t realize I was rocking until I stopped and the staircase ceased moving. A thin layer of shadow lay over the stairs and hallway. It was transparent but I could see the shape of the vicarage as it was in 1789. It was growing thicker. Helen was right. It was already starting.

It can’t be too late. Helen had been right about everything else but I refused to believe she was right about this. The shadows grew too slimy-thick to tolerate. I fled upstairs. Helen’s words rang in my mind.

Leave well alone, Miss.

I sat on my bed, trying to take slow deep breaths. Every time I started to calm down, I would remember that Helen was gone. I had no one to ask anymore, no matter how unreliable. I had to think of something else.

The visitor at my window!

I never identified the cold girl. I had thought to begin with, that it was Kate, but she couldn’t be possessing Grace and haunting me at the same time. So it must be someone else. Maybe someone who knew something even if she wasn’t part of the Pattern.

I shivered. I found the pathetic figure, who begged to be let in, repulsive on a level I could not explain. But I was out of options; I decided on a plan and gathered what I would need.

Half an hour later, I looked dubiously at my ‘ghost trap’. It wasn’t encouraging. I’d drawn my curtains back and opened the window ready. A single pillar candle stood next to a box of matches on my bedside table. On my desk was the remainder of the jar of honey and a teaspoon. I had a spoonful earlier as a precaution. It had tasted so revoltingly sweet that I probably didn’t need it. It only seemed to taste good when I was already depleted. Maybe I should find it encouraging that my squabble with Helen hadn’t drained me. I had layered several baggy sweatshirts over each other, against the cold that always came with the Dead. I nestled down in them to wait.

As it grew darker, I lit the candle. I was surprised that Amy hadn’t come looking for me but I didn’t question it too much. I was running out of explanations. I let my mind drift and several pieces of the puzzle snapped together as if they’d been waiting for me to see them. My attic was protected. It had something to do with the scent of rosemary and violets. In other words, Mum was helping. Maybe she had been from the start. The book didn’t fit in with the Pattern. It was a clue though. Mum’s clue. She was the one who put the book out each time – before it went missing anyway. It all fit. It was Mum’s book after all. I should have made the connection earlier. Frustration welled up and lodged in my throat. I still couldn’t cry or get properly angry. Had I had a single honest emotion since Mum died? I had just pushed everything away, stacking my feelings up like logs.

No worse, like crates of toxic waste or barrels of gunpowder. Then I’d coated myself with a cotton-wool layer of numbness. I’d thought I was dealing with everything so well. Idiot! I should have been fighting not accepting. If I hadn’t just accepted the doctors’ diagnosis, then I might have been able to read in time to get Mum’s clue. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Mum used to say that. I ground my teeth.

Calm. Deep breath. Might be a long wait and I might not get another chance to question the cold girl. Breathe, deep and even. I had thinking time, waiting for my guest. So for the first time since the accident, I pulled down the barriers in my mind and looked back. Back at that awful day.

“It didn’t.” I slam the car door. Amy gets into the passenger seat behind me, quiet and wide-eyed.

“Emlynn, it wasn’t that bad. And even if you don’t place, there are all those other contests and auditions you’re signed up for.” Mum’s tone is reasonable, which just makes me angrier.

“Has it occurred to you that maybe I’m not cut out for this? Maybe I’m just not any good?”

“Emlynn-”

“Well has it? You saw what happened in there. I crashed and burned. Big time. The judges were laughing at me.”

“Emlynn they weren’t laughing. You didn’t even stay to hear the results.”

“Fine they were bored stiff then. That’s even better.” In the backseat Amy barely makes a sound, as though she is holding her breath. Shame writhes in my stomach. I hate appearing less than in control and together when Amy is around.

Mum taps her fingers on the steering wheel. Takes two deep breaths. Rubs her right temple as if it’s aching.

“Emlynn you’re being ridiculous. That’s the first time you’ve ever performed under such pressure. You did well. They placed you fourth. You didn’t get this audition but fourth at your age is still a big deal.”

“Mum, you don’t get it. I huh hated it!” Now I’d started to stammer again. I’d stammered as a child but I’d mostly grown out of it. It only came back now when I was upset or angry. Of course the fact I was stammering made me even angrier. “I kuh can’t play in fr-front of people. I kuh can’t cope!”

I stare out of the window at the blurry scenery. Nothing matters. It’s all meaningless jumble. All pointless. I’d been stupid to let Mum talk me into this. Stupid to think I had a shot at being a concert pianist or even at studying music. Tears well up, hot and humiliating, blurring the rushing landscape further.

I hear Mum sigh. The atmosphere in the car is heavy, oppressive. Somewhere between thunder and fog. We lapse into silence. I know that when I’ve sorted through all the anger and embarrassment and resentment all I’ll be left with is guilt over how I’ve acted. Which, let’s face it, is like a complete prima donna. I try to resist this by holding on to my anger but it’s already slipping away.

“This isn’t right.” Mum’s voice is strange, despairing. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be….”

“Wuh what do you mean? Mum? Mum!” Terror spreads wings in my chest at the expression on her face. Blank, unfocused. It’s eerie. Like it isn’t Mum talking at all.

“Emlynn? What’s happening?” Amy’s voice is pinched and high with fright. She is leaning around my seat to peer at mum.

“Amy p-p-put your seat belt back on!” My voice comes out low and urgent.

Something is going to happen.

“But…”

“Just do it!”

I hear the snap of her seatbelt buckle slotting back into place. I can’t look. I’m focused entirely on mum’s face. Her eyes are wide and blank. I could swear that her right eye looks bigger…My gaze hits the speedometer. The red needle inches past eighty, faster…Mum just sits there, gripping the steering wheel, oblivious.

I held my head with my good hand, remembering the moment I knew we were going to go off the road. The screaming tunnel of noise and pain and silence. Looking at Mum dangling beside me, a dark mirror of myself. Mum’s dead, empty eyes and the blood that had trickled from her face into our tangled hair. I remembered starting to scream. I hadn’t been able to turn and check on Amy. I was out of my mind by that point.

I didn’t know how long I hung there like the last apple on a tree, crying for help and screaming whenever I caught sight of Mum’s dead face. It felt like days. They said it was around an hours. All I know is that ice-ages can slip past unseen in the seconds we spend in hell.

I’d worn my voice out by the time someone found the car. The sight of a silhouette in the dusk outside had made me scream again, but weakly. Like a newborn kitten. My throat was so damaged that I wouldn’t be able to talk properly for a week, while it healed. After that, of course, I hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone. Even Amy. Only talk of psychiatric wards finally prompted me to speak again.

There was one last memory I’d been flinching away from. I forced myself to look at it.

I greyed out while the rescue services discussed getting us out of the car. They took Amy first as she was still unconscious. I was beyond reason at that point. Everything was muddled in my head, and I squirmed and struggled making animal noises to warn these predators off. I had to protect the contents of this twisted tin can, one dead, one barely breathing, one kicking mad. I failed – —they took Amy – —but they weren’t going to take Mum.

It had looked like a dragon’s head. Wide, sharp metal jaws chomping through the metal like paper through a shredder. I’d thrashed as it came at me again and again, tearing chunks from the side of the car. The hole was widened and then arms caught and held me. It wasn’t Mum they wanted after all. It was me. I went limp with failure. The last thing I saw was Mum hanging there, limp and blue-white, before I was torn away by the Jaws of Life.

I jerked myself out of my dark memories. It was almost one o’clock in the morning. Nothing. No visitor. Not even a drop in temperature, though the open window let a cold night breeze blow through. I didn’t understand. Where was she? Did I have to send a gold embossed invitation? I could barely keep her out before. She couldn’t really be gone; that would mean all my sources of information had dried up. No!

I ran to the window and leaned out. “H-Hello? Are you th-there? C-come back? Puh Please! Please, come in! I’m s-sorry I turned you away. C-come back!”

Nothing. No pale star-fish hands. No wail of despair. I’d used so much energy sending the ghost away last time I saw her that I’d knocked myself out. Now I’d almost be happy to let someone re-break my left arm, if she would just come back, at least long enough to give me answers. I didn’t know what was making the noise until the pain in my throat tipped me off. I was laughing in great hysterical rasping whoops. The kind of laughter that isn’t laughter at all, but something your body does when you cannot cry. I slumped on the window seat, defeated. Pulling a fleece throw around me, I lay down to wait. I wouldn’t sleep. I would wait, just in case.

When the sun tinged the sky pink, I closed the window. I was shivering but it was entirely natural cold. My eyes felt hot and gritty. I climbed under a heap of blankets on my bed, piling the duvet on top. I sleepily watched the sun rise, staining the sky red.

Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning.

A faint, shrilling woke me. I peered blearily at the clock on my night stand. It didn’t make sense. It had already been three o’clock. No. Not 3.00 am – —3.00 pm! Crap! I leapt out of bed and wobbled across to the door. The shrilling was coming from downstairs. The phone was ringing. I ran down the stairs, narrowly avoiding a broken leg to go with my broken arm, I was so uncoordinated. I couldn’t remember where the phone was for a moment, before heading for the parlour and fumbling the receiver from the cradle.

“Huh hello?” I sounded uncertain, even to myself. It had been a long time since I’d talked on a phone.

“Good afternoon, may I speak with Reverend Matthews please?” The woman’s voice was unfamiliar.

“I’m suh sorry he isn’t in juh just n-now. C-can I take a muh message?”

“If you could tell him that Rebecca Darle called, that would be great. He should already have my number, if not he can reach me at the school.”

“Sk-school?”

“Yes. Is Amy any better? We were worried when we didn’t hear anything further?” The question was gently probing.

“Yuh you’re Amy’s t-teacher?”

“Head of year.”

“Ay Amy hasn’t b-been at sk-school?”

“Not since Wednesday. I really do need to speak to your father. Are you Grace or Emily?”

“Em-hilly. I’ll t-tell him you kuh called.” I dropped the phone back in its cradle. Amy hadn’t been at school. Not for the last few days. So just where had she been? Where was she now?

I had been so wrapped up in the supernatural I’d forgotten the mundane. Amy bunk off school? She loved school. She’d probably move in if she could. She used to cry when she was little and there was a snow day when the school was closed. I couldn’t believe it. It was weirder than anything else that had happened here, and that was saying a lot. Was Amy just playing truant? Or was it something worse?

I paused outside Dad’s study. I thought I heard a whisper of movement inside but there was no answer when I hammered on the door. It was still locked.

“Y-you kuh can’t k-keep hiding, Dad!” I kicked the door hard. Bad idea. Solid oak door, bare foot. Crap that hurt. “Duh Dad! Come out! H-help us! F-for once!” No answer. Fine. I ran for the stairs. I wouldn’t normally do this but since I didn’t have a clue where Amy was I tried her room. The door creaked open before I touched it. My scalp prickled. The room was freezing. The kind of cold that sinks in bone deep. It was also a mess. Not ‘teenager messy’ but ‘a hurricane blew through here’ messy. Not like Amy. She was a total neat freak. There were scraps of paper everywhere.

I picked one up. It looked familiar… like a newspaper cutting. I realised what it was before I saw the mashed shoe box thrown into the corner. Mrs Cranford’s carefully collected newspaper cuttings of Haze’s victims. I hadn’t even realized the box was missing. The cuttings were torn and crumpled, and some had writing scrawled on them in a childish, clumsy hand. Red pen.

Hate her. HATE HER! Why should she have him?

I stared at it in disbelief. It wasn’t Amy’s neat, small script.

And another.

Deserves to die! Has to die! Then he’ll notice me

And another: says he’s toying with me. We shall see

My heart thudded, fast and frantic. I didn’t know how yet but Amy was part of the Pattern too.

Why hadn’t I seen it? Everyone else was. Why did I assume she was safe? It was my fault. If I had told Amy everything and been less concerned about not frightening her, keeping her safe… I sank blindly on to her bed. By not telling her I’d made her weak. How were you meant to defend yourself against a danger if you didn’t know it was there?

And maybe… maybe my intentions weren’t so noble. It had hurt when Amy said it, but she was right, as she so often was. I hadn’t trusted anyone since the accident. I hadn’t trusted Amy to believe me. I hadn’t trusted her to trust me.

I could lose her. I could lose her and Grace both.

The thought had me jumping to my feet. My heel kicked against something under the bed. Something hard. With a strange sense of premonition, I lifted the duvet draped over the side of the bed. There was something oblong there. Something bound in black leather. I pulled Mum’s missing book from under the bed with a strangled cry.

Wuthering Heights

I sounded out the title. A deep score was slashed in the leather across the front cover. Something sharp did that. I shivered. The tip of my little finger almost fitted into the groove. This was done in rage. I flicked through the book. Not reading. Looking for the clue. The one I was sure Mum left for me. I went through it twice. Three times. Nothing. Or nothing I had time to comb through a nineteenth century novel for. A thread of rosemary and violet scent wafted past me and out of the door. Picking up the book I followed. It led me to Grace’s room and stopped.

A claw of dread clutched my guts and gave them a twist. Even with the door shut the room felt empty. There was no one in there. I opened the door anyway, hoping against hope… Grace was gone. While I was hatching stupid plans for catching ghosts and over-sleeping, my sisters were taken away.

Not by the Jaws of Life this time.

Oh no. Not life.

Mrs Cranford. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. I ran as fast as I could, my broken arm bouncing and jolted in the sling, sending fresh waves of black-edged agony up my shoulder. Mrs Cranford was outside the Pattern. She might not be able to act but she would have advice. Something I might be able to use to get my family back. Even Dad, locked in the study. I forgot that Ciarán would be there. I forgot that I pushed him away to try and keep him out of the Pattern. To stop the Pattern gaining full power by having all the roles filled.

Only my sisters mattered now.

Which is what I thought, until I saw Ciarán sitting on the low stone wall, outside Mrs Cranford’s cottage, with his head buried in his hands. My heart flipped in my chest, a strange lurch that was somewhere between joy and nausea. Then my brain caught up with my crazy emotions. I tried to process the scene in front of me. A white and green van with flashing blue lights, parked up outside the cottage. The rear doors were open, displaying a series of neatly arranged packets and folded away equipment. It screamed the words ‘medical’ and ‘hospital’ at me. There was an ambulance outside Mrs Cranford’s house and Ciarán… Ciarán looked like someone had died…

“Ciarán!” I pulled his hands down from his face and gripped them hard, as much for myself as for him. “Kuh Ciarán ah-are you okay?”

He gazed at me blankly. For a moment I was terrified that it wasn’t Ciarán at all.

“Ciarán?”

“Em. What are you doing here?” He sounded as dazed as he looked.

“I kuh came to s-see Mrs Cranford. W-where is s-s-she Ciarán? W-why…?” My voice was shaking badly. I waved my good hand at the ambulance to complete my question.

“Aunt Mary had a fall. A bad one.” Ciarán’s eyes were bruises in his pallid face.

“But…”

“Yeah, I know. Steady as an ox on her feet. Never needed her stick, it was all for show. She went down the stairs in a hurry to the next life though. Only just missed that bus, if you get my meaning.” He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes.

“So sh-she isn’t… I muh mean she’s al-alright?”

“I heard something snap, Emlynn. Sounded like a shotgun blast it was so loud. I’ve never heard her scream like that. I’ve never heard anyone scream like that.” He stared, haunted, at something I couldn’t see, expression bleak.

“Kuh Ciarán…” I wanted comfort him somehow. Hug him perhaps, but he was a thousand light years away. His hands were cold in my one good hand.

“I was afraid to move her. Thought she might have broken her back…” He shuddered and tightened his grip on my hand painfully. “Em, it didn’t look natural. The way she fell… it looked like she was being pushed and pulled and yanked up in the air, all at the same time.”

I shook my head wordlessly. Should I tell him that someone wanted Mrs Cranford out of the way? Add to his problems now by trying to explain his part in the Pattern? Would he even remember if I did?

My fault. My fault.

It was a low chant I couldn’t escape.

“The paramedics, they reckon she’s broken her hip. It’s not good. She’s eighty-four, Em. What if she doesn’t get better? Old bones don’t heal well. What if she gets pneumonia in it? What if…”

"Ciarán st-stop thuh that! This isn't juh just anyone. It's y-your aunt M-Mary. Even if it is a br- broken hip it w-won't stop her for long. P-pull yourself t-together. You have to go in the am am amb…with her." I willed him to come back to himself. Slowly the gold flecks brightened in the hazel.

“You’re right, Em. I’m sorry. And she’ll be ok.” He shook himself and stood up still holding my hand. “What did you want her for? Are you ok? You’re upset.”

“It can w-wait.” Ciarán didn’t appear convinced so I settled on half the truth. “Ay-Amy hasn’t been guh going to school. She’s been b-bunking. I w-wanted some advice. Don’t know where she is.” I twisted out a wan smile.

Ciarán put his arm around me and pulled me to his side as a stretcher was wheeled out of the cottage. Mrs Cranford looked tiny strapped down under orange blankets. Her eyes met mine and she tried to say something. Her face was anguished, lines I’d never noticed pulling it in like a wizened apple.

“W-what? What ih-is it?” I moved closer. A paramedic barred my way. She had short blonde hair and a weary expression.

“Which one of you is the relative?” Her voice both sharp and kind.

“That’d be me.” Ciarán moved away from me. The absence of his arm around me left me chilled and alone.

Mrs Cranford was still trying to say something. Her voice, a little wisp of nothing, snatched away by the breeze. I caught the word ‘mirror’. The shape her mouth made next was less clear. Huh-something. Hardiman? Haze? And something else…I couldn’t make it out.

I nodded to show I’d understood – even though I hadn’t – and she lay back exhausted.

“I’ll v-visit w-when I can. Luh look after her. Let me nuh know.”

“I’ll call you later, we’ll talk about Amy then. And Em?” I looked up at Ciarán. A long way up. He was less pale and shocked now. “Don’t worry, she’s not daft. She’ll be home and you can find out what’s going on.”

I gave him a weak smile.

I know what’s going on. And I can’t accept your help. But thank you. Always.

He waved as the ambulance door slammed shut. It was a final sound. A farewell. The engine roared and the wheels spat mud and small stones at me.

I was alone. All alone.

The sky leaned on the earth. It had weight. It was the colour of tarnished silver with deep purple bruises in the underbelly of the clouds. A storm was coming. The air felt full of static and had a faint, metallic scent. There was a hushed expectancy to the rolling landscape. As though the moor itself waited for the end. It wouldn’t be long now.

Every door in the village felt locked and bolted. A couple of curtains twitched back into place as I passed by. No one was in the street except me. I could smell oncoming rain. My bones vibrated with the charge in the air and the answering hum in the earth. I was a connector, the last element waiting to be snapped into a circuit and light everything up. What could I do? There was nowhere left to go. Nothing left to try. I rattled along like a lone penny in the dark belly of a money box.

My feet took me back to the vicarage without conscious thought. I drifted from room to room. It was nearly 6:00pm. If Amy had been at school, she’d have been home long before now. If she wasn’t, she should still be back by now to keep her cover. Unless she no longer needed to.

She might still show up. She might be walking up the lane right now… I ran out of the kitchen door and around the stables, staring down the track. Willing her to be there. No sign of her. The atmosphere was oppressive and more charged than ever.

Something was going to happen.

The fine hairs on the back of my arms rose. A few drops of rain and I was back inside, putting the kettle on. Amy would be wet through when she got in… It wasn’t denial. It wasn’t.

Later and darker. Time passed in strange lurches and jumps. I had no memory of getting from one disconnected scene to another. I was in the kitchen forcing myself to eat as much as I could because I knew I would need the energy later; I was pounding and kicking at Dad’s study door, screaming at him to come out; I was picking up the phone, trying to think of people to call for help and putting it down, rejecting the choices I’d made or realizing I didn’t have the number.

It was past 8:00pm.

Dad. One last try.

There was an assorted ring of house keys in a drawer in the kitchen. I grabbed the motley bunch and went back to Dad’s study. One of them had to fit. I tried knocking without much hope. Silence. Fine. I glared at the lock; old fashioned, brass. I sorted through the keys that looked like they might fit and methodically tried them in the lock. Frustration was strangling hope, just as the fourth key caused the lock to give a ‘click’. I pushed the door open.

Dad had half-risen from his desk. For a moment the past overlaid the present and a tall, gaunt, grey-haired man stared at me in outrage. I wasn’t going to be put off this time. I needed help.

Putting my back against the door, I levelled a look at the man who might or might not be my father just then. “We n-need to talk.”

“Emily Lynette, I’m really quite busy right now-” He glanced around, dazed.

“Y-you’re always b-busy. And it’s Emlynn. D-Dad, something’s happened. Amy and G-Grace are in tr-trouble. You h-have to d-do something.” I pressed my lips together. I’d never spoken to Dad like this. If it hadn’t been for the dire situation, it would have been liberating.

Dad’s expression was perplexed. My triumph crumbled into ashes. He didn’t have a clue who I was talking about. In a flash of intuition, I realised that he wouldn’t remember me either, if I wasn’t standing in front of him. Think. What could I say to get him to remember? …Mum. I had to ask about Mum. It might be enough to shatter the Pattern’s hold on him.

“What do you want?” Dad backed away warily and sat at his desk.

“What was wr-wrong with M-Mum?” I demanded softly.

His grey eyes met mine and something gave way in his expression. The overshadowing of the past faded.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Dad replied too quickly.

“Y-yes you do. And pr-priests aren’t s’posed to lie.” I shouted. I took a deep breath and tried to go on more calmly. “Mum was suh sick wasn’t she?”

Dad stared at the hideous flower-patterned carpet as if it held all the answers.

“A brain tumour,” he said finally. My face went numb. I couldn’t feel my legs. The room was swaying from side to side… Then I understood – I was shaking, not the room. Dad didn’t notice any of this.

“It had been growing behind her right eye for years before we knew anything was wrong. It was benign in the sense that it hadn’t spread.” He swallowed hard.

I had become a pillar of salt. I couldn’t look away. Mum, rubbing her head as if it hurt. Mum, irrationally upset, her right eye seeming to bulge, like it was bigger than her left. Mum, who had kept all of this quiet and then driven her car off a steep hillside, with her children in the car.

Dad just kept talking. It didn’t matter that I was there.

“It was too far gone to operate on. And your mum refused Chemo and radiotherapy. The chances of it working were slim anyway. She made me promise not to say anything…” Dad’s voice was getting thick.

I wasn’t the only one who choked themselves off when Mum died. For a second his face was Haze’s face, was Clayton’s face, was my face…the expression belonged to everyone who had ever lost someone they loved. Anguish and grief were universal, and it didn’t matter if you tried to do good or not. You suffered just the same.

I would never fear my dad again. He was even more broken than I was.

“D-did Mum get d-depressed?” I had to know how this ended. I should be trying to get Dad to remember his other daughters but I needed to know. Amy and Grace deserved to know.

“It’s a common side effect of a mass pressing on the brain, apparently. Odd moments, when June would suddenly be happy or sad or just say odd things out of context that didn’t make sense.” Dad shook his head.

My last question came out as a whisper. “Suh suicidal?”

Dad rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It has been known. I wondered about the accident… sometimes a sudden shift in pressure in the brain can make a sufferer feel nothing is worth living for. In rare instances they see the world as a dark place. Maybe your mum believed she was being kind, sparing her loved ones further suffering by…by…”

“T-taking us w-with her.” My voice was flat. It was all so simple. So pointless. A stupid illness. Could have happened to anyone. Nothing supernatural. Nothing I could ever have fought. Mum would never have dreamt of hurting us, but the shift of pressure in her brain happened when she was driving. And Amy and I nearly died with her.

“I should never have let her drive. Not with you girls in the car.” Dad’s eyes were over-bright. It was as close to an admission of guilt as he had ever come. He really looked at me for the first time since the accident. “You look so much like her, Emily.”

He didn’t hate me. Didn’t blame me. I reminded him of the wife he’d lost.

With a strangled sob, I threw myself forwards, arms outstretched to hug him. He shoved my arms away. His expression was hardening. I was losing him.

“D-Dad?”

“What are you doing here? You know the study is out of bounds.” His voice was somewhere between his own and the creaking-wood voice of Reverend Weston, Kate’s father.

“B-but Dad-”

“Not another word. Out! Now!” He grabbed my upper arm and half threw me out of the study. I stumbled, whirled around, pushing against the door as he tried to close it.

“Grace! Ay-Amy! They’re muh missing…Dad!”

“Enough, Emily Lynette. Do as you’re told.” A final shove on the door, sent me sprawling on the hall floor. My hand stung where he had ripped the keys away from me. The lock clicked. The bunch of spare keys was locked inside.

“Dad p-please!” I thumped my fist on the door but there was no answer. I sat, panting, against the door frame. Dad had veered away from the pain of talking about Mum by diving back into the Pattern. He didn’t fight at all.

I was going to have to find Grace and Amy by myself.

I loitered in the doorway of Amy’s bedroom, reluctant to move forward. The air in there had a metallic scent, like heated copper. I found myself methodically picking up every crumpled newspaper cutting, without being able to explain why. I had an urge to destroy the evidence. As if by shoving these bits of paper in the parlour fire, it would undo the curse. Bring Amy back, breathless and laughing, shaking rain from her hair. The last piece of paper shook in my hand as I transferred it to the pile. Nothing. No clues at all.

I sank onto Amy’s bed. Who would ever want to hurt Amy? Think. Be logical. When did it start? Amy was herself right up until…Until Wednesday last week, when she stopped going to school. She was forgetting things but she wasn’t involved in the Pattern until then. My head throbbed. I closed my eyes, rubbing my forehead with my left hand.

An image bloomed in my mind. Crackling energy striking out from a figure on a bed. A light bulb imploding, melting into a lamp socket. A window slamming itself shut. And a high wail of despair growing distant.

Go! Go away and haunt someone else!

My own voice. Banishing the cold girl. I hadn’t seen my visitor since that night. What if she had done what I said? No, what if she’d done what I commanded? Oh god that was it – I’d set her on Amy. My little sister, who just might be sensitive enough to see a Dead entity if it was strong enough.

I lurched into the bathroom before I’d really registered that I was about to throw up. I vomited loud and long, then lay with my cheek pressed against the cold tiles of the bathroom floor.

My fault.

No more procrastinating. I had to go out onto the moor and search. In the dark. I’d been afraid of being out there in the dark, since we arrived. Deep down I’d known all along that I would have to do this. My sisters weren’t coming back. Without me, they wouldn’t be coming home at all.

Neither would I.

There would always be a part of me wandering on the moor looking for the sisters I had lost. Just like Mrs Cranford.

I had to go. Taking a deep breath, I pushed myself up off the bathroom floor. Scooping handfuls of water from the cold tap, I rinsed my mouth, dispelling the after-taste of vomit. Giving up, I held my mouth under the tap and chugged water down. So thirsty. Wiping my mouth, I glanced in the mirror. Froze. It wasn’t my reflection.

Mirror, Mrs Cranford had said. Like a flash gun going off, I knew she’d been trying to warn me. Had she seen something in a mirror before she fell? There was a mirror at the top of the stairs in her cottage…

Broad cheekbones in a solid featured face. Mouse brown hair combed plainly under a white servant’s cap. Eyes that would be pretty if they weren’t so hard. Helen. She wasn’t gone. She used the mirrors to watch, just as she used the stairs to listen. Instinct took over. I reached out my left hand and touched the mirror’s surface. It rippled like water. Helen curled her lip at me. Her expression turned to dismay as I grabbed her and pulled her towards me. Then through me. We’d joined too many times. It was almost too easy. I shoved her into a corner of my mind, using that strange electrical charge to pen her in. She struggled but I held firm.

No you’re coming with me. My sisters are in danger. I need you and this time you’re not getting a choice.

Let me go! Are you mad? Thinking you can tackle Hardiman? I won’t go!

You will. You’ll go where ever I go. I softened slightly. Helen do you want to stay stuck here? Watching this useless Pattern unfold again and again? Do you want to be a witness forever?

What are you saying? She sounded wary – but then I had just pulled her out of a mirror.

I don’t know exactly. But if you help me maybe I can help you. Help you move on.

To what? Do you really believe there’s somewhere to move on to? Helen sneered.

Don’t you? You’re dead and you’re still here. If you were going to cease to exist then you would have done it already. I felt like laughing. Not a good sign. Low on sleep and punch drunk. I had to get a grip. Did I have everything? Warm coat with loaded pockets. Small torch. Sturdy boots.

I had no idea where to look for Amy but I was sure Helen could find Kate. Which meant she could find Grace and Haze. Hopefully Amy would be with them. What I did when I got there was anyone’s guess. I was winging it big time. But then things couldn’t get much worse could they?

I reached the last step. The hall was in darkness. Hadn’t I left the light on? I saw a chink of light under Dad’s study door. Annoyed, I turned away. At least he was still alive in there.

A huge hand shot out of the darkness and swallowed my shoulder.

I shrieked in pain and fright as strong fingers bit into my flesh. A flash of white teeth bared in a snarl before I was shoved through the kitchen door.

“I told you to watch her, Helen.”

Breathing hard and fast. Air whistled through my throat, shrunk to a pinhole. The huge figure had my face mashed against the kitchen window. There was nothing for me to see. Even through my pounding heart and sobbing breath, I knew the hand that was hard on my neck. Ciarán. Or not Ciarán. Clayton. Ciarán was gone. My stomach lurched as I remembered what happened next. Helen had gone back into her own memories.

“..told you to watch her.” Clayton Lynfield says again, letting go of my neck.

I don’t think him so handsome now. He is as much a beast as Robbie ever was.

“I did… I fell asleep. It were only for a moment. And Ada were there too! Miss Kate… I mean, Mrs Lynfield canna have got down here by herself. She were too weak…” My voice dries up. Something in his expression makes me feel cold inside. I’d run but I cannot make my legs stop shaking.

They carried Miss Kate past a minute since. Her body that is. She was wrapped in a sheet but her eyes were still open, staring at something the rest of us could not see. They found her face down on the edge of the Moor. One wasted hand reaching. As if she might grab what she wanted off the heath itself.

“And where is your kitchen maid? Ada is it? Where is she now?” Clayton’s voice is mild. His expression is not.

“No one knows, sir.” I’ve backed up as far as the great stone sink. There’s nowhere left to run.

“I told you to watch her Helen!” His voice isn’t human. He raises his fist. In the second before it comes down I realize that all men are beasts underneath, fancy trappings or no. All deserve caging like the animals they are…

Ciarán raised his fist. I could barely see him with the past laid on top, doubling my vision. Pale hair. Ice blue eyes, white face, livid, contorted with grief and rage.

“Kuh Ciarán no!” I started to one side so the blow glanced across my cheekbone, sending me crashing against the sink. I clung on grimly. The world faded in and out, grey and white. I had never felt the full force of a man’s fist directed against me before. It was shocking. Bewildering. I literally didn’t know where I was. It didn’t even hurt at first. As if his fist had created a vacuum and it took a few seconds for pain to rush in and fill it. I tasted blood in my mouth. It blended with the thick metallic air. Then my cheekbone flared into white-hot agony. I stifled a dry sob, left hand raised in a loose cage of fingers over my cheek.

“Kuh Ciarán. Don’t! It’s m-me Em-Emlynn! P-please! I know you’re in there. Fuh fight it!” I braced myself against the sink. No question of me moving again. The kitchen was see-sawing around me. Ciarán’s fist whistled towards my nose. I screwed my eyes shut. Nothing. No extra pain. Had I been knocked out? I opened my eyes. Ciarán’s fist trembled an inch from my face.

His eyes were darkening to hazel. The icy colour was bleeding away.

“Emlynn?” His winged brows contracted in confusion. He looked at his hands as if they belonged to someone else. For a moment they had. “Em… what… how…” He gazed at me in horror. “No…” He breathed. “NO!” He whirled toward the open back door.

“Ciarán! W-wait!”

“Can’t. Fight it. Much. Longer…” With one last anguished glance at me, he disappeared into the night. I thought of the stricken expression on his face and wondered if he would ever forgive himself.

If we lived through this.

I should go after him. Help him. But my sisters were out there.

Ciarán or Amy? Ciarán or Grace?

Ciarán forgive me. Hold on till I get there.

I took two tottering steps and sank to the stone flags, the world tilted sideways and swam together.

That’s not how I was beaten.

Helen’s voice was flat. Like somehow I’d gotten off lightly by only taking one punch. I was shivering. The floor was freezing and an icy breeze blew through the back door. How long was I out? Not that long, surely?

Poor Ciarán. My face throbbed. My left cheek felt five times its usual size.

Why worry about him? He hurt you.

It wasn’t him, it was Clayton. What Clayton did to you was wrong, even if he was out of his mind with grief. But he shouldn’t still be stuck here doing it again. Or using other people to play it out. Can you see why we have to break the Pattern now?

I got slowly to my feet, stiff and aching all over. One hesitant step. Not too dizzy. I could do this. Better slow than not at all.

Helen was conspicuously silent.

Grief does strange things to you, Helen. You must know that.

I had a brief flash of memory; Mum dead, me refusing to speak or let anyone near to me for days afterward. Not until I saw Amy… I felt Helen curl her lip in disgust.

Haven’t you ever loved anyone Helen? Haven’t you ever cared enough that the world ended for a while when they were gone?

And who would I be caring for, Miss?

Helen’s sardonic reply gave me a chill for reasons I couldn’t quite define. I squashed my disquiet.

Never mind. Can you help me? I need to get to Grace and fast. Take me there?

She considered my request. I could almost feel her narrowing her eyes.

I’ll take you to where it all ends.

I felt a tugging in my mind. The direction I needed to go in. Between the throbbing of my face and the ache of my broken arm I forgot to be suspicious. My head was spinning and my stomach rolled. I blundered through the heather and scrub. The rain had stopped for now but my feet were soon soaked and numb with cold in my boots. There was a strange feeling to the moor. Expectant. Waiting.

I stumbled on, dizzy and scratched by gorse and bramble. I looked up to see if I could gauge the time. There were no stars. There weren’t any clouds either. This wasn’t the sky of my reality. Just an empty void. A great dome of absence that made me feel like a tiny insect clinging to the skin of the world. I shuddered. I was fairly sure this wasn’t Yorkshire. I could be in hell, heaven, Gondal or on another planet. Somehow I’d travelled the way the Dead do, slipping between cracks in the layers of reality.

I understood now, that this was what I was afraid of all along. This is where it would happen.

I kept my eyes firmly on the ground, on the earth which at least looked the same. I was scared that if I gazed into that wheel of starless night again, my mind would be sucked out into the void. I would be trapped here forever. There were things in the dark, which watched and whispered.

Don’t look. Don’t look.

Here. Helen was abruptly solid in my mind.

I pulled my gaze. A vague, masculine outline stood on a limestone outcrop over a twenty foot drop. My stomach flip-flopped weakly. I hadn’t been a big fan of heights since I went shooting off one at around ninety miles an hour. It took me a second to realize that the man wasn’t Haze. I looked around for Amy or Grace. They weren’t here.

Where have you brought me?

To where you need to be. To finish it. Helen tried to cover up her next thought but we’d grown too close.

I saw Helen, crawling on the kitchen floor, beaten and bloody. Three broken fingers. Two missing teeth. A cheekbone that had swollen her eye shut. Cuts and bruises all over her stout frame. Pain in her sides from her broken ribs. I saw her lying, fevered, on her bed, untended by anyone. She roused once to Reverend Weston standing over her.

“Take what time you need to recover…” Her heart swelled at this kindness and then broke at his next words. “We’ll say nothing of your foolishness. Forgiveness is divine. You’ll work to repay me, I know. And Helen? You will say nothing to anyone about what happened that night. You will never address Mr Lynfield again.”

The flash of fury and resentment belonged to me and Helen, both.

I saw Helen recover slowly, the bruises on her face fading. People in the village gossiped about her and her missing teeth. Helen was not well liked. I saw Reverend Weston give Helen a message for the sexton regarding Kate’s headstone. She was buried while Helen was in the fever. Helen waited until she was out of sight and read the message. I saw a look of calculation cross her face as she changed some of the words on the message. I saw her smiling her new gap toothed smile at the headstone, after it was erected. I saw her watching Clayton Lynfield, as day after day he wandered on the moor lost in grief. I saw her slipping through the heather toward him…

No! Helen slammed a lid down on the last memory. It was too late. I already knew how quietly she could move across the Moor.

You killed him. You killed Clayton by shoving him off a rock stack. That rock stack there. I sounded too calm. Even to myself. Haze didn’t do it. Clayton didn’t kill himself. You murdered him.

He was thinking about it. I just helped him along. Helen was sullen. He deserved far worse after what he did. That one now, he might well do it without help.

I recognized the figure teetering on the edge. Ciarán.

“No!” I stumbled forward.

Ciarán whirled and almost lost his footing. I saw him grow paler in the strange half-light.

“W-what are you th-thinking!” I screamed at him. “Guh get back fr-from there!”

“Stay away, Em. I swore I’d never turn into me Da and then… look at you…” He choked back a sob.

Remember what he did? Remember how he hurt you? Helen bombarded me with images; Ciarán kissing Grace; gazing down at her adoringly as he carried her; touching her newly chestnut hair. She threw the last image of his fist flying into my cheekbone at me with such force, it hit me like a physical blow. Remember! This is where we settle accounts. This is how it has to end. This is how we get justice. And he wants to go. It’ll be easy. One good push. Blood for blood.

Blood for blood?

I stared at my hands, both raised as if to push the boy in front of me. My broken arm groaned in its cast.

Blood for blood! The black hen. It all clicked into place.

With a mental scream of fury I shoved Helen back behind the electrical barrier she’d been slithering past.

No! No more death! Helen beat against me uselessly. I ignored her. Threw myself at Ciarán and almost unbalanced us both.

He caught me and for a moment his arm was a shield around me, keeping me from harm. Then his eyes moved over my face and he stepped away. I stepped with him.

“Don’t you understand Em? That man… Clayton… He’s still here! I might hurt you! I don’t ever want to hurt anyone again.”

“It w-wasn’t you. N-not your fault.” I entwined my free hand in his jacket and pulled him closer. I sounded very sure. I was. Ciarán would never hurt me. He would never lead me on or kiss my sister. He would definitely never hit me. It was Clayton, stupid, besotted Clayton, stuck playing out the Pattern all along. Why didn’t I figure it all out before? Because deep down I knew, I just never believed I was enough. That I was good enough. I smiled at Ciarán, face throbbing. He liked me. As insane and badly timed as this realization was, I was happy.

“Don’t Em, don’t…” His voice was tight with panic.

“Tell me you don’t care about m-me then?” I looked straight into his eyes. Hazel and dull gold. Clayton was weak without Helen to goad him on.

“I do. I do care that’s why…”

“I trust you, Kuh Ciarán.” It was true. I would never push him away again.

I pulled his head down and kissed him. Hard. I felt him struggling with himself. I felt him trying to resist. And I felt it when all his barriers came crashing down and he kissed me back. A tangled meshing of lips and tongue and teeth that gave way to something softer, sweeter, more gentle but just as fierce. He cared about me. More than cared. It was dizzying. His feelings might have been frightening in their intensity if I hadn’t felt just as strongly for him. His arms came up around me, hands warm, moulding me against him. And I was soaring. We were soaring together. In that one perfect moment nothing mattered except his lips moving against mine, his body warming me, the rightness of us being together. I laughed at myself, but gently. Who would choose being numb over this? All this time I had been hiding.

Finally I pulled away. Both of us were breathing hard. My cheek was on fire. Ciarán’s face was flushed. Brighter glints of gold appeared in his eyes. I touched Ciarán’s face with the tips of my fingers. He held still, eyes wide.

Let go now, Clayton. Rest. I coaxed the unhappy soul that blindly held on to Ciarán.

The gentlest nudge and Clayton stepped away. A brief glimpse of his face, lines of pain smoothed into relief before he melted into particles of light.

One down.

“Emlynn… I just… just saw…” Ciarán looked shell-shocked. Not that I blamed him.

“I nuh know. No t-t-time now.” I gave him a look I hoped was as piercing as Mrs Cranford’s. “I n-need your h-help. You can have your breakdown t-tomorrow, if w-we live!”

The ghost of a smile touched his lips. He squeezed my hand.

“Okay, where to?”

I shook my head. “W-we need to split up.”

Ciarán scowled. Not crazy about that plan.

“I n-need you to fuh find Amy. She’s not part of the main P-Pattern. I can’t go after her. I have to save Grace.”

“By yourself? I don’t think so!” The scowl deepened.

“I h-have to. Until I stop H-Haze the Pattern will go on. H-He doesn’t even know he feeds it. P-please fuh find her! Find Amy! She’s l-lost in this darkness!” I was close to tears.

“But…”

“Please? T-Trust me?”

He regarded me for a moment, then gave a short nod before looking away.

“Thank you.” I kissed his cheek.

There was more here than one kiss would heal. But he would be okay for now. He would make sure Amy was safe. I would take that and be grateful.

“When I find Amy, I’m coming after you. That’s non-negotiable.” Ciarán’s tone was final. Stubborn boy.

“Okay f-fine. Hurry!”

I let go of his hand and he melted into the dark.

Okay Helen, let’s see where Kate and Grace are.

You can’t save her. She’s probably already dead. Helen said sourly. So petty.

We’ll see. Being dead hasn’t stopped you from being a major pain in the arse, has it?

I wrung her like a wet rag and she screeched in my mind. Images dripped out of her like drops of acid. Always ignored. Always overlooked. Always manipulated. Exploited. Threatened and frightened. I’d have felt sorry for her if I didn’t know how many people she would let die just to keep a foothold here and now.

Yes, yes but where’s Grace?

Kicking and fighting all the way, she showed me.

I saw them, stark silhouettes against the starless sky; somehow emptier than the void overhead. That supernatural doubled vision was stronger than ever. I saw Grace, wasted and yellowing; over her, Kate was glorious in a sweeping gown, dark-reddish hair blown by the wind. Eyes very bright. Haze obscured the body he wore. It was just a poor lad, a bit older than Grace. Went biking over the moor in picturesque Yorkshire and was taken by the watcher as a meat suit. Hardiman. No amount of love could excuse what he had done. What he had become… could it? Uncertainty made me pause. I’d let Ciarán off the hook. Clayton even. Okay, so neither of them was a multiple murderer obsessed with love for one woman. But in a split second, I felt more kinship with Haze than I ever had with Helen. More kinship with Kate, even. Love, grief, loss—I understood. But not Helen’s motives. Of Helen, Kate and Haze, which of the three was worst?

Haze turned and I forced myself to hold his gaze. Never was good at speaking. Not when I lost my childhood stammer. Not when it came back even worse after the accident. I hated exposing myself emotionally. But force hadn’t worked, wouldn’t work on Haze. He knew force, understood darkness. He could manipulate it and the people who carried it. And we all carried some darkness. Fine cracks for those oily shadows to slip through. Spaces where we hate and resent and envy, and it festers like infection in a wound. That’s where Haze lived and operated.

The Pattern was hitched to the same weaknesses and hatreds. That’s why I’d thought it was Haze doing it all. I studied his face. Devoid of human emotion. Kate watched me with the closed, unblinking stare of a predator. It was almost impossible to see Grace now. Somewhere at the back of my mind, Helen was jabbering hysterically. I paid no attention to her. Too busy trying not to tremble.

I really hoped I’d guessed right.

“I c-c-came for my suh sister.” Good, almost steady.

“I told you not to interfere.” Bars of shadow fell across Haze’s face. He was so beautiful that it was inhuman. It was no good telling myself I wasn’t scared. Helen went suddenly still in my mind, a mouse in the shadow of a hawk.

“I w-want G-Grace!” I let anger colour my tone. Anything was better than fear.

“She is gone, you foolish child. Do you like your life so little, that you would throw it away to no good purpose?” He sounded almost curious.

“I can suh-see more th-than you. She’s still th-there. You’re killing her!” Grace was almost buried under Kate, who hung on like the grip of death. Pleading and emaciated Grace peered out through the invader. It no longer mattered what I’d done to her or she had done to me. She was my blood. She was bound to me, as I was bound to her. If I could just get hold of her… I inched forward.

Haze threw out his arm. I planted my feet and stood against the rush of howling darkness that pushed at me, pulling and pinching. Scratching for a way in.

Blood for blood. The one helpful thing Helen had said.

The way of all life is the blood… Kate had read that from the bible.

Images and phrases from the last two weeks flooded my mind. I remembered a younger Grace protecting a younger Emlynn from the lash of her father’s belt.

Chicken’s blood smeared on small girls’ hands and Kate’s voice saying “I’ve bound us together-”

Mrs Cranford’s face as she was wheeled into the ambulance light years ago. Her mouth forming a word. I had thought she was saying ‘Haze’. I watched it again from within the eye of the storm.

‘Help them…’

My heart went from a trot to a gallop. Help them? But that meant…

Helen threw herself at the barricade I had put around her. For a dizzying moment I was fighting a war on two fronts, within and without. Between the two was a light space. One I had never found before, though I knew suddenly that it had been there all the time. The place I had been searching for. All the answers were there; all I had to do was look…

The righteous shall go into life eternal

But Kate wasn’t righteous, at least by Helen’s standards. Didn’t deserve rest.

Thy likeness shall endure unto all generations.

Likeness… likeness… no. Remembrance. Thy remembrance…

Helen’s howling reached pitch that vibrated through my bones.

I had the answer.

“That’s it!” My words were so unlikely that both Helen and Haze stopped dead.

Deafening silence. No one moved. No one except Kate.

Her rush caught me unprepared. I sprawled backwards, winded by the hard ground. Old hurts and new all screamed at once. My head hit rock and I saw stars for the second time that night. Struggling for breath, even before the hands closed round my throat.

Grace was tightening her grip on my windpipe, weeping and begging to stop.

Kate strangled me, a look of vicious pleasure on her face.

Haze regarded us, sardonic but proud of his Kate.

Too much punishment. Knocked around too much lately. Consciousness was slipping away.

And then I would join the Dead. So would Grace. So would Amy. No!

Become a gateway not a tunnel…A gate could close…

Blind and deaf, I reached into my pocket and came up with a handful of dirt from Kate’s grave. With flagging strength, I flung it into her face. The effect was immediate.

She screamed and leapt back as if I had thrown boiling acid rather than dirt. Her gaze wavered between murderous and wary. I readied another handful of grave dirt while gasping air through my bruised throat.

“The righteous shall go into life eternal…” I gasped. By these words were you bound…

Kate swayed as if struck. Faint, her eyes widened in fear.

My nerves thrummed. The words of the second line perched on the tip of my tongue, birds ready to take flight. I could banish Kate. I knew I could. I might even get Grace back.

It wouldn’t work against Haze. I didn’t have any dirt from his grave, didn’t even know where he was buried. He edged toward me. His rage was a thick miasma of shadow around him. He would never let us live. In general, he killed only from expediency or focused revenge but he wasn’t above killing for spite. If I separated him from Kate, it would be the last thing I did before I heard my own neck snap in those powerful hands.

Help them. I really hoped Mrs Cranford was right. I gritted my teeth.

If I die, Mrs Cranford, I SWEAR I’ll haunt you myself.

“W-wait!” I staggered to my feet. I was dangerously unsteady.

“I have waited long enough!” Haze roared.

“Then t-two minutes w-won’t matter.” I pressed. “W-what do you want Huh Hardiman?”

He flinched at the use of his true name. Good to know.

“W-well? Y-you were in a huh hurry?” I raised an eyebrow at him as if he hadn’t just been about to kill me.

“We want to be together. As we should have been.” Kate’s voice was musical and sad without the venom it normally held.

“It won’t work l-like this. Grace isn’t str-strong enough. You’ll k-kill her and then you’ll b-be parted again”

Helen raged in my mind. I gripped her tighter.

Kate’s face melted into anguish as she acknowledged the truth of my words.

“What choice do we have? If we have to kill so be it. A few seconds together is worth any number of lives.” Haze was bleak. I hid my disgust. And my pity. What would I do, for a few more seconds with Mum?

“W-wasteful. And stupid.” I kept my tone business-like. “I kuh can help.”

“Help?” I tasted Haze’s scorn as it thickened the shadows.

“Yuh yes. L-let Grace go. Take muh me instead. I can carry you to where you need to go.” I met Kate’s gaze unflinching.

“You think to trick us!” Haze was too far away to strike me but he raised a hand as if he wanted to.

“No, my love. She does not.” Kate looked at me considering. She drifted closer.

“Take m-my hand…” I dropped the grave dirt and held out my empty palm.

Fascination in her sherry-coloured eyes, Kate’s hand brushed mine. She disappeared. Limp and light haired once more, Grace dropped in a faint at my feet. I saw her chest move. She was breathing.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” Haze started toward me.

I gave him a look of deepest scorn.

“What she w-wanted. Do you th-think she wanted to be trapped here in suh someone else’s body? Do y-you want to stay trapped in the puh Pattern?”

“I find the girl who fits, she comes back, we’re together. That breaks the Pattern!” He showed all of his white teeth. It wasn’t a smile. We were a long way away from charm now, he and I.

“You h-have had over two centuries to w-work this out and you h-haven’t got a cluh clue have you, Hardiman!” I laughed. Brittle sounds that hit my bruised ribs like glass goblets clinking together.

“Do not presume to call me that!”

“HARDIMAN!” I flung the word at him and he staggered, almost dropping to one knee. I felt a rush of triumph. I could stop him, weaken him just enough to make him consider my proposal.

“ Stop -”

“It’s your ruh real name, isn’t it? Answer m-me. Do you w-want to stay in the puh Pattern?” I took a deep breath. Now for the real test. Helen was beyond rage inside me. “The puh Pattern that Helen made to m-make sure you and K-Kate would never be together?”

“What?” Haze almost whispered. It was a fine line. He could kill me in an instant. But he was hooked, I just had to reel him in carefully.

“It’s tr-true,” I said, sounding much calmer than I felt. “I’ve g-got her here.” I tapped my temple. “You should ask her yourself.”

“Helen is dead and powerless.” Was that confusion in those pitch dark eyes?

“B-but not gone.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw colour coming back into Grace’s cheeks. Her eyelashes fluttered.

“Where is Kate?” He made an abortive lunge at me. I stepped back, out of his reach.

“In a pl-place where there are stars.” I looked at him sadly. Let myself feel all the pity I felt for him and for Kate. All the hurt and loss and longing that reflected my feelings for Mum, for Grace, for Ciarán. “Kate once suh said to Helen that no h-heaven would be a heaven without you. Th-that she already l-lived in a h-hell of her own m-making, because she married Clayton. Sh-she waited for you to come that l-last night.”

“I waited for her to come to me. I didn’t know she was ill. I didn’t know and then… I saw her dead. The servant told me. Stupid girl told me everything because I compelled her. But Kate… I should have taken her from him. Clayton. I let him live because she valued him. He didn’t deserve her. She was always mine.” Haze buried his head in his hands. Two and a half centuries and he never stopped loving Kate. Never stopped grieving for her.

I was so surprised that my line of attack worked, that I nearly missed my window.

“D-does it matter if you’re alive or d-dead if you’re together?”

Haze looked up at me with wet, black eyes, lashes starred together. “Of course not,” he said, low and savage.

“T-take my hand, Hardiman, and leave that poor b-boy behind.” I held out my right hand, pulling the arm he broke from its sling. Somehow it was right. A show of faith in love, however twisted it had become. We were making a new Pattern. I squelched my disgust at the thought of his touch. Hesitantly, watching my face for signs of a trick, Haze reached out, his fingers brush mine.

Haze’s frighteningly beautiful features melted and remoulded into the gaunt, wasted features of the missing biker. His eyes rolled up in his head and fluttered shut. The dark tangle of hair faded from black to light brown, shot through with streaks of white. The biker’s knees gave way and he collapsed at my feet. He was in far worse shape than Grace. I had no idea if he was still alive and no time to find out.

Everything winked out of existence.

I stood in the space between that I had glimpsed before. The light place… I gazed round. It was very light but there didn’t seem to be much of anything. I felt Haze’s fingers tighten on mine. No shadows here. It was safe though. The place I stumbled into earlier. Where all the answers were. Weird, I’d thought this was mine. I guessed, like darkness, there was light in everyone. There were three people with me.

Kate gazed round in wonder. I was sure it was only the presence of Hardiman that kept her from spinning off in search of adventure. Hardiman stared warily at the light. It was not something to be trusted.

And Helen. She had thrown off none of her own restraints. She cowered in her servant’s greys with her arms clutched tight around her. She wasn’t my prisoner any more but she was too frightened to move.

It worked. I was right. Bringing Kate through, dragged Helen after her. Blood for blood. Kate really did bind them with blood, when she sacrificed that black hen centuries ago. I wondered if that was why Helen stayed. Because she was bound to Kate. Or did she take pleasure in seeing the pair who had terrorized her thwarted? Or… worse than that; Helen believed in hell. Believed it with fanatical certainty and believed Kate would drag her there. How would it be, if all those girls who had died over the years, had been fed into the Pattern Helen had made, just to keep her rooted in the vicarage? Just to stop her going to the hell she so ardently believed in?

My sense of calm wobbled at the thought. I pushed it away. Deal with it later.

“Where have you brought us, girl?” There was fear as well as suspicion in Hardiman’s voice.

“To a place of choosing.” The words came naturally and fell without breaking into stammered pieces. “You can choose here, where to go.” I knew this was true. I just didn’t know how I knew.

Kate and Hardiman linked hands. From the wonder on their faces it was the first time they’d really been able to touch since Kate died.

Helen glowered at me with frightened eyes.

“You owe us an explanation, Helen,” Kate began in a silky tone.

“No.” I held up a hand. “You can choose revenge or love. Not both.”

“So she is to go unpunished after trapping us for two hundred years?” Hardiman glowered.

“She’ll pay.” I looked at Helen sadly. Her, I couldn’t help. “People who don’t love anyone, even themselves, are their own kind of hell. She’ll pay.”

“Hardiman, let us go! Why waste time!” Kate tugged at his hands, a wicked smile on her lips.

“Where? All this light…” He raised a hand to shield his eyes.

This was it. I’d brought them here—wherever here was—now what was I going to do with them? They had done horrible things. Unforgiveable things? I couldn’t just let them go free where they might cause more harm. I glanced at their interlinked hands and the vision of them searching for each other on the moor flashed through my mind again. I pictured the scene differently, with Kate and Hardiman together on the moor, as they always should have been before Helen separated them. There was a rightness to it. A feeling of coming home.

I felt their eyes on me. I needed an answer. Without knowing why, I trailed my good hand through the air in front of me. Instead of empty air I felt the fine, silky edges of layers of reality, stacked against each other like sheets of tissue paper. For a moment, I felt the full weight of my power here. I could send them anywhere. To paradise or punishment or simply to another version of reality… I could force them to do my will, break them for a change… I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding, grabbed the edge of one of the layers that just felt right, and gently tugged.

A view of the moor opened up around us. Summer time there, filled with purple and white heather in full bloom, bees buzzing lazily. I let go of the temptation to punish them. Who was I to stand in judgement? To use a power I didn’t fully understand for petty revenge.

“I don’t know if there is a real heaven or a real hell,” I said, meeting Kate’s eyes and ignoring Hardiman’s darkening scowl. “But I know you belong together. You belong on the moor, together, where nothing can separate you. I think you belong to the earth.”

“You’re sending us back?” Hardiman fixed me with his icy, black gaze.

“I’m offering you a choice. The next best thing. A… a plane removed from my reality. The moor but not my moor.” I met Haze’s eyes. “You won’t be able to affect anything in my world. You won’t be able to do any more harm. Maybe people will get glimpses of you but that’s all. You might even be the only two people there,” I concluded, forcing myself to be completely honest. If they didn’t take my offer…

“Is that all?” Laughing, Kate pulled Hardiman after her, into the summer’s day, out onto the moor. I watched the two of them fade as the doorway I had opened closed. Haze’s shadows made me think of it. I thought there must be good places as well as bad.

They went without thanks, without a look, without a word. Save one. One final thought that Hardiman flung into my mind. A parting gift, because his kind didn’t like to owe.

Amy.

I knew where she was. I had to get back. Now.

But there was one last thing I had to do here.

“Helen?”

Her expression was a mixture of fear and hatred.

“Helen can’t you let it go?”

"Never." She hissed. She reached for me, fingers clawed. Of course she couldn't let go. Her whole existence was invested in punishing Kate and Hardiman. Had been for centuries. What was she, if she let go of that? Breaking the Pattern made her nothing again. Worthless again. At least in her eyes. I took a step back and a blast of wind swept past. The scent of rosemary and violets was over powering, like piercing- bright light is on the eyes. The wind dropped. And Helen was gone. I was glad I didn't know what choice had been made for her. Glad I hadn't had to make it.

I sighed and stepped through a crack in reality back to my own moor.

“EM!” Someone was shouting my name. Someone I cared about. So tired. But there was something important I had to do…“Emlynn for the love of God!”

My eyes snapped open. I was cold and damp. Lying on the ground. Weird. Gold flecked eyes peered down into mine. I sat up so fast I clashed foreheads with the person leaning over me.

“Ciarán?” I winced feeling for a new lump on my head.

“Sweet Jaysus! You scared the shite out of me. I thought all three of you were dead!” Ciarán rubbed his own head, eyes watering.

I looked up. Clouds blowing in and the twinkle of a couple of stars. No blank void anymore. Haze, Kate, Helen—all gone. I glanced at Grace and the nameless biker. Both were motionless. They would only be getting colder. They needed help now and I didn’t have any time to lose. Amy!

“N-not dead. B-but they need hospital, ruh right now.” I noticed with apathetic dismay that the stammer was back.

“I’ll try my mobile-”

“Y-you h-have a phone?” I said. It was definitely handy to have Ciarán around.

“It is the twenty first century darlin’. Don’t you?” He quirked an eyebrow at me as he pulled his phone out and checked for signal.

“Somewhere.” I never had got round to charging my mobile phone. Or even unpacking it.

The memory Haze sent me flashed through my mind. Amy. Hurry. I scrambled to my feet and swayed like a wind tossed tree. More or less perpendicular I pushed myself into a trot, away from Ciarán and Grace.

“Where the hell are you going?” Ciarán was holding the phone to his ear.

"D-did you f- find Amy?"

“No, I was still looking when I found you…”

“Know where she is. H-have to go. Stay with them? Please?”

“Are you effing kidding me…”

Ciarán’s voice trailed away on the wind as I broke into a run.

Please. Oh Please.

Rain fell in hard, icy darts. The memory flashed into my head again. Haze’s memory. This time I followed it. Became Haze…

I wait for Kate as close to the house as I dare. I know she is there. Why has she not yet come to me? She knows this marriage of hers is foolishness. I wait for long hours. It grows dark and cold but still she doesn’t come. A light shines in the attic window. And there, at the kitchen door, a figure, a girl. My heart lifts in my chest. Nothing and no-one matters, other than Kate. I’ll even let that milk sop husband of hers live since she is fond of him.

But it’s not Kate. Her hair is yellow and streams from under her cap. It’s that stupid kitchen wench. The one I took such pains to charm. How I despise her. Cannot she see I only tolerate her for information on Kate? I can at least respect Helen, who is not stupid.

A message then?

“Robbie? Robbie?”

Stupid bitch-puppy cannot see me when she’s almost tripped over me. I rise from the heath and she squeals. Kate would never startle and squeal like that.

“What then, Ada?”

“I’m sorry. But Missus is dead.” Her cheeks are flushed and she is out of breath.

I stare at her blankly. Dead. I cannot have heard her correctly. I lay a heavy hand on her shoulder. She has bones like a bird’s. So easily broken.

“She’s dead Robbie. Miss Kate. Mrs Lynfield that was, died. Just now….Robbie you…”

Her eyes are bulging in their sockets. Her mouth opens and closes like a fish’s. I look at my hand dispassionately where it encircles her throat. It appears to be the reason little Ada can’t breathe. Her tiny hands claw uselessly at mine.

“Why did you not bring me word before?” Kate is dead. I tighten my grip convulsively and feel her neck snap. “Why leave me waiting here like a fool? Why?” I am talking to a corpse. I drop her in the heath.

“May you wander the Moor ever after, never finding what you seek.” I make my words a curse.

Without a glance I head to the vicarage. If I cannot see her in life I will see my Kate in death…

With a dry sob I ran on. Nearly there. Nearly. Oh Amy. In worse danger than I realised because of Ada… And I never noticed because Ada had fair hair and light eyes, there was no outward change in Amy to warn me. I never noticed because I was too busy being afraid or angry or jealous. All along Haze had continued to use Ada through my little sister. Not part of the Pattern at all. A single, separate curse Hardiman had set in place.

It was so dark I found Amy by almost falling over her. The rain was heavier than ever, soaking me to the skin, disintegrating the plaster cast on my broken arm. My broken arm screamed, adding a soprano note to the choir of aches and bruises. Doesn’t matter.

“Amy!” I dropped to my knees beside her. She was as cold as death to the touch. Her lips were blue. Was she dead? A racking sob tore out of my throat. “Amy, please…p-please be alright…”

I leaned over her but the wind and rain made it impossible to tell if she was breathing. So waxy-pale and still. “Amy…” I pressed my face close to hers. A faint warm breath against my cheek. Again. She was alive.

I took off my coat and wrapped it around her. No good. She was soaked through and my coat was drenched. Her pulse was faint and thready in her wrist. She was going to die of exposure if I didn’t get her inside now. I cast about uselessly. There was no help. We were at least a mile from the vicarage. Probably further than that from Ciarán and his phone. Why didn’t I bring mine? Why? Stupid. Stupid.

I had to carry her. It was the only answer. If it wasn’t so dark, if the rain wasn’t so thick, I’d be able to see the vicarage from here. It wasn’t so far. Even with a broken arm I could make it…

You cannot have her. The figure was Amy’s height with ashy-pale hair under a servant’s cap and great blank sockets where her eyes should have been. A necklace of purpled flesh ringed her throat.

“She’s my suh sister. I’m t-taking her.” I felt the familiar wave of revulsion and ignored it.

I’ll still be with her. You can’t stop that. The voice was childish, petulant.

“I’m s-sorry I t-turned you a-away, Ada.” My stammer was exacerbated by my chattering teeth. “But p-please, she’s guh going to die.”

I don’t care. No ‘un cared for me.

"I know. I'm s-s-sorry. But I c-care now. I d-do. It shouldn't have h-happened. What Hardiman…what Robbie did -"

I’m still here. No one found me. No one really looked. The wind and the rain don’t touch her.

I stared at her stupidly. “Wuh what do y-you mean?”

I’m still here, underneath. Ada’s smile was sly but also full of sorrow.

Oh God… she meant. Here. She was buried here. I might even be sitting over her bones… Stop it! Do not crap out now.

“It’s n-not you. N-not anymore. I c-can h-help you.” I tried to sound patient but Amy…

Help me? Help me how?

“Rest. Isn’t that wuh what you want?” I glanced at Amy in desperation. I was sure her breathing was slowing.

I was killed…The little, cold girl dissolved into sobs. I was alone… for years…

“Nuh not anymore.” She was bleached of all colour not just pale. I wasn’t afraid anymore. She only ever wanted help, poor lonely child. A weight of sorrow beyond words tightened my throat. Dead at thirteen because she fancied the wrong boy. A mysterious, older man. It could happen today.

It did happen today.

With a wrench I trusted the universe not to take Amy from me in the next few seconds.

“Huh here.” I held out my hand.

Hesitantly, as if afraid I’d snatch it away before she could catch hold, Ada took my hand. My whole body was plunged into ice water. I gasped for breath, rain running into my open mouth. It smelled like rosemary. And violets. I warmed slowly. And so did Ada. She looked at me with bright blue eyes filling the once blank sockets. The mottled flesh at her neck smoothed into a uniform cream colour. The smell of rosemary and violets grew stronger. A pocket of warmth in the storm. Mum.

“Ada, i-it’s time to guh go.” I smiled. The rain tasted of salt. Tears poured down my face, mingling with the rain.

Go? Where? Her eyes widened in fear.

“Huh home.” I said firmly. “We all have to let go in the end.”

But I can’t find the way!

“My muh mother will t-t-take you. She has to g-go too.” I stifled a sob. I knew as I said it, that it was right. It was time to let go. “We’ll buh be like sisters.”

I always wanted a sister… Ada’s voice was fading. The scent swirled around her. She smiled and sorrow speared through me.

I was left alone in the rain, with Amy, chill and pale beside me.

Goodbye Mum.

I wasted exactly three minutes sobbing into Amy’s small, still body. Real tears, finally coming after so long. There was no time to marvel. No time to grieve, for Mum or Ada. I took off the useless soaked rag that had been my sling, freeing my broken arm. I rolled Amy in my coat and managed to prop her against my left shoulder. Now came the hard part. I gathered my legs under me, holding onto Amy as tight as I could with my good arm. The rain made the heath slippery and treacherous. I slipped and fell, Amy crashing down on top on me. My broken arm jarred against the ground. An explosion of pain that made me sob out loud. I can’t do it. I can’t. Oh please, please…Sobbing through gritted teeth, I repositioned Amy again and managed to get to my feet, wobbling under the extra weight. Amy was light but awkward hanging over my left shoulder. My broken arm was next to useless and every time I took a step, my sister’s cold form slipped and I had to make a desperate grab with my good hand, and try to clamp her in place.

It was an endless nightmare of staggering, slipping, catching myself, pushing Amy back into place and slowly, slowly moving forward in the driving rain. Lurching heart as I almost fell, feet tangled in wet undergrowth. Wrenching pain as Amy’s weight dragged against my shoulder, my back, my arm.

I was over halfway to the vicarage before my legs crumpled under me. I couldn’t go any further. Physically could not make my numb hands close or my legs straighten. I started to cry again. This time in despair. Amy was going to die within a ten minute walk of the vicarage because I was too stupid to work out clues that were in front of me the whole time. Too stupid to remember my mobile phone.

A light swung back and forth in the dark. I watched, dazed, as it swept the ground, then my brain kicked in.

“Here. Over h-h-here!” It was barely more than a croak. I took a lungful of icy rain and coughed. Tried again, “HERE!”

“Emily? Emily, you found her.” A warm hand pushed my rain matted hair out of my face. Took Amy from me. Lifted her easily.

“D-Dad?”

“It’s okay sweetheart, I’m here. I’ve got you both.” Dad looked me up and down; coatless, mud-stained, soaked. “Can you walk?” He asked kindly.

“Y-yes.” I took his hand and got up. My legs shook but I kept up now that Dad carried Amy.

It seemed no time at all and we were back in the house I had hated. How oddly comforting it felt now. So warm. Dad phoned for an ambulance and wrapped Amy and me in blankets in front of the fire. He pushed a mug of hot chocolate into my frozen fingers. My hand shook and brown drips hit the floor. Dad didn’t say anything. Amy was still out cold but her colour was better. In the distance I heard sirens.

“D-D-Dad,” I said as he went to the front door. “How did you know? T-to find us?”

Dad looked more sheepish than I had ever seen him look in his life. It made him appear younger.

“A scent. Your mother’s shampoo. Rosemary for remembrance.” He shrugged in an I-know-you-won’t-believe-me way and went to the door.

The monitor beeped at regular intervals. It wove an odd harmony with Amy’s slow regular breathing. Maybe anything would sound harmonious now that Amy was out of danger. She was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her.

Glancing around and wincing, I knew I would never be entirely comfortable in a hospital. Along the corridor, down some stairs, around a corner, a faint cold thrill tugged at me. A memory, or Dead needing release? I couldn’t tell from here but I knew I would be following the trail of cold later to find out. To help if I was needed. There had been two others, ordinary lost Dead, since Amy had been brought in two days ago. The ability to sense the Dead was part of me, I accepted that now. I sat down quietly in a chair by Amy’s bed. I should have brought a book so I could practise reading. I was getting better.

I tried not to fidget but every time I looked at Amy lying there, the memory of that night hit me again. It was so close. What if I hadn’t chosen to help Hardiman and Kate? Would I have found her in time? Amy had been diagnosed with hypothermia and was being carefully observed. She must have been lying out in the rain for hours. If she hadn’t been found…If I’d found her just slightly later…If it hadn’t been me but someone who couldn’t see and banish Ada… What if… what if? It was pointless frightening myself with might-have-beens and useless to sit here waiting when I was feeling wound up.

Quietly, I opened the door and slipped out. Down one floor and around the corner, was Grace’s ward. Grace had come out of the Pattern in a better state than Amy. She was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, and something the consultant called ‘general malaise’, which I guessed was doctor speak for ‘you’re ill and we’re not sure why.’

Grace was dressed and sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed. A magazine lay open and forgotten on her lap as she looked around the women’s ward with disgust. I smirked to myself. Same old Grace—bored and wanting to be on the move. She was alright. Well, alright enough. She would recover.

Grace saw me lingering in the doorway.

“You coming in, Em? Not really enough of you to block the draught.”

“Hi G-Grace.” I smiled tentatively.

“Hi yourself.” She smiled back, wan with a spark of fieriness. “Please tell me you brought a pint of chocolate fudge sundae Ben & Jerry’s? Or even just a Kit-Kat? If any ever needed chocolate…”

“No guh go on the ice-cream b-but the nurse guh gave me a deck of c-c-cards. Gin-rummy?” I fumbled the pack open one handed and tried to shuffle. The cards sprayed all over Grace’s lap.

“Some magician you’d make,” Grace said, gathering them up and shuffling them expertly, but she grinned as she said it. She paused halfway through dealing the first hand.

“Look, Gremlin—”

“Grace…” I said at the same time. I stopped and waved a hand for her to go first. She gave me a wry look and finished dealing.

“I should have listened to you. You warned me didn’t you?” She put down a card.

“H-how much do you ruh-member?” I frowned slightly at my hand of cards.

“All of it, I think. It’s all messed up though. Nothing’s in order. Sometimes my life still seems like it’s a dream, y’know?”

I nodded.

“And Kate… I could write her biography. Seriously. I know her better than I know myself. She tried to kill me—or steal my life—my body at least. I should be mad. You know what I would do to someone who hurt any of us, right?” Grace’s eyes blazed blue up at me.

“I nuh know.” I nodded. Given that the amount of crap Grace took from anyone was less than zero, it wasn’t hard to imagine. And I was part of the ‘us’. No matter what. Seeing Grace and Amy in hospital had given me a new appreciation for how it must have been for Grace nine months ago. No wonder she had hated me for keeping quiet. I would have felt the same. But she’d never stopped loving me either. That was good to know.

“I can’t quite be mad at Kate though. She was… she was something else.” Grace struggled for words. I understood. I’d admired Kate too, selfish, spiteful, and high-spirited as she’d been. “Of course I want to kick Haze in the balls… where is he anyway?”

“S-s-sorry, sis.” I laughed. “Different puh plane of existence. Safer there.”

“I guess.” Grace snorted. Then she said softly, “Em? I know why you didn’t say anything about Mum. About her killing herself.”

“Sh-should have t-told you.” I watched Grace’s thin hands working at a loose thread on the hospital blanket.

“Some things are too hard to tell, aren’t they?” I met Grace’s eyes again. She understood. I gave her a wobbly smile. We would talk, about all of this. But in time. When we were all ready.

“So how’s N-Nick?” I asked too innocently, changing the subject. The biker, Nick Alden, had been airlifted off the moor with Grace. Thanks to Ciarán. He’d really come through for us that night. I touched my cheek where the swelling had receded into a nasty greenish bruise. Grace’s eyes tightened on it but she held her tongue.

“Don’t get any ideas, Gremlin,” she said. “The last thing I need right now is a boyfriend.”

“It’s juh just that I h-heard a st-story about a blonde girl, going in and sitting with huh him at night…” I let the sentence trail off suggestively but Grace refused to take the bait. She calmly discarded another card and picked one up from the pile of un-dealt cards between us.

“Can’t imagine who that was,” Grace said airily but there was a small smile on her lips and a wicked sparkle, worthy of Kate herself, in her eyes. “He woke up last night. They say he’s out of danger, although he’ll have to stay here for a few weeks.”

I was glad the boy Haze had taken over would be okay. So much had happened that I hadn’t really given him much thought. I wondered now, how he was going to live with having weeks of his life stolen from him. I caught Grace looking at me and something passed wordlessly between us. The understanding that sisters share. Grace would help him. Grace would pull him through it because Grace was tough and she was probably the only other person who really understood. They were going to end up friends. Maybe something more than that. Not that I would be sharing that thought with Grace.

A puzzle, something I hadn’t ever managed to figure out, occurred to me. I frowned at my sister, speculating.

“What?” Grace said, raising her eyebrows.

“I was wuh wondering why you h-h-had that flier. The one that said Nick was missing.” I thought of the grainy picture of Nick before Haze had taken him. I watched Grace carefully. To my astonishment her cheeks flushed scarlet.

“Are yuh you bl-blushing?” I demanded. I’d never seen Grace blush. Ever.

“No,” she muttered defensively. She glared at me from under her hair. “Oh, okay. That first time we met Haze, I had a feeling I’d seen him somewhere and then I remembered that flier on the church notice board, from when I’d dropped stuff off at church for Dad. I wasn’t sure it was the same lad. But you totally freaked out about him, so decided I’d try to find out who he was. Like you might chill out if he had a real name. I thought I could prove that he was ok— and then if he was the missing lad…” She snorted. “It didn’t go to plan. And I stole the flier because… because… well because I couldn’t help it, alright?”

I stared at her.

“I swear, Gremlin, if you give me any hassle about this…”

“Nuh no worries. Really.” Mystery solved. Which brought me to another mystery. One Grace needed to hear.

“I huh have to t-tell you… Mum d-did come b-back. Shuh she was there. At the end, and probably a lot of times b-before. I kuh couldn’t suh see her or feel her th-there. Because I was s-s-so angry with h-her. About y-you know.” I felt hot and uncomfortable but I needed Grace to know that Mum hadn’t just abandoned us.

Grace went very still and white, her eyes glittered. For a moment I thought she would explode at me. Call me a freak like she used to. Then her mouth twisted as if she was going to cry. She pressed an emaciated hand over her lips and blinked hard. “I see,” she said. There were no tears.

“M-Mum saved all of us in the e-e-end,” I said softly.

Grace shook her head but grasped my hand. Maybe she needed to be angry with Mum for a while longer. I understood.

“Wuh when do you g-get out?” I changed the subject.

Grace cleared her throat. “Later today. Maybe an hour or two—if they’d just get on with the paper work. I’ve said I’m fine.” She rolled her eyes.

“Wuh will be g-good having you huh home.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve missed my cooking?” She grinned.

“You g-got me.”

We laughed and our laughter joined together, uniting us for the first time since Mum’s death. Grace had buried me at the first round of Gin and we had started a fierce second round when a low, attention seeking cough came from the doorway. Dad was here.

After we had got Amy to hospital that night, when we knew she was out of danger, Dad had made an attempt to fade back into his study. I wasn’t having any of it. After everything else that had happened, Dad didn’t seem so scary anymore. To his credit he was trying. Visiting every day, saying the wrong things, generally bumbling. But being present and a parent. There was hope yet.

I smiled at him and left, muttering something about checking on Amy.

She was waiting for me.

“Emlynn?” Amy’s eyes were huge in her pale face. It hurt my heart to see her looking so small and frail.

“Amy. I’m gl-glad you’re awake.”

“Oh Em. It was all my fault.” Amy started to cry weakly.

“Huh hey. D-don’t cry. It’s ok.”

“It’s not. I let her in. The girl at the window. Ada. Only when I invited her in I didn’t know I’d invited her into me not just into the room.” Her small hands were shaking.

“I nuh know, Amy. M-my fault. I s-sent her away and she c-came to you.” There were tears in my own eyes.

“I started to lose time. I couldn’t remember where I’d been. But I remember now. Some of it anyway. She had me reporting to Haze and doing jobs for him the whole time.” Amy sobbed.

I hugged her tight. Slowly she calmed down.

“Please don’t hate me Em…”

“W-why would I hate y-you?”

“I took the book.” She said in a tiny voice.

“I nuh know.”

AND I smashed your violin.” Amy’s lower lip trembled. I felt a pang at the thought of the violin and then let it go. Both my sisters were safe and my dad was trying to act like… well, a dad. It was enough.

“It wasn’t y-you, Duh doesn’t matter.”

“I’m so sorry…”

“Amy, the only th-thing that matters is that you’re okay.”

She smiled back at me through her tears.

“Knock, knock!” I hadn’t heard Grace sound so cheerful since… well ever.

“Hi,” Amy and I chorused. We looked at each other and giggled. Grace rolled her eyes but she was smiling. I guessed she’d been cleared to go home.

“How’re you feeling, little-bit?” She asked Amy.

“Okay. Want to go home.”

“You will soon. A day or two at most.” Grace kissed the top of Amy’s head and dropped into the other chair.

“Wuh where’s Dad?” I asked.

Grace’s deep blue gaze flicked up to my face. “You want to tell us something. I can tell.”

“Huh how?” I frowned a little.

“Do you think you’re the only one in the family with freaky abilities?” She raised an eyebrow and grinned. “I can always tell when you have something to say, Gremlin. You have the worst poker face ever.”

And so I told them what Dad told me. About Mum’s brain tumour and what really happened. No more secrets. I had seen how poisonous secrets became when they were allowed to fester. No more Patterns for me or Arncliffe. All three of us hugged and cried about Mum together. I was doing a lot of crying lately but it was good crying. It was finally okay to love Mum even though she’d tried to kill us. It was okay to mourn her. It was okay to let her go.

I didn’t stop to knock at the blue door—‘haint blue’, Mrs Cranford had called it, meant to ward off evil spirits. Over the last six weeks, I had been to see Mrs Cranford so often that she had given me a key. She was far faster than she should be for an octogenarian with a healing broken hip but it was easier if I just let myself in. These days Mrs Cranford needed her cane, much to her disgust.

“Aunt Mary?” I called. Mrs Cranford had insisted I start calling her that. It was nice, when I got over the awkwardness. Like gaining family.

“In the kitchen, Emily.” She called back. I made a face and hurried down the hall. She probably wouldn’t try to carry a tea tray again… Not yet at least… Not after last time…

I found her loading a teapot and cups on to a tray next to a plate of biscuits.

“I’ll t-take that.” I said cheekily. Mrs Cranford gave me a sour look and moved aside. She followed me into the parlour. I thought she was leaning on her cane less today.

“Huh how’s the hip?” I poured tea into the cups as she settled herself into the armchair.

“How’s the arm?” She replied tartly.

“See for yourself.” I held up my right arm, the cast had come off earlier that day. It looked strange. Thin and pale. It didn’t feel as strong. I had exercises to do to build it up again. The joy at being able to play my piano again had turned to frustration at the weak notes my right hand produced. Worse, my hand had ached like fire after only a few sets. It was going to take time. Lots of things were going to take time.

We talked about inconsequential things. Mrs Cranford was always appalled at how behind I was on current affairs and took great delight in bringing me up to date. We practised the exercises she had taught me for strengthening my gift sometimes too. Some of these she had discovered years ago from a friend she had once known with a similar ability to me. The more bizarre ones I was sure she made up herself. They were all aimed at me learning to discipline my mind. There was a lot I had to learn.

According to Mrs Cranford, I had been ‘extremely reckless’, not to mention ‘very fortunate’, in travelling to and from the ‘between’ place. I was more or less under orders not to attempt anything so dangerous again. At least not until I was in complete control of my gift.

Mrs Cranford poured through journals and web sites with zeal, searching for anything that might be relevant. Privately, I thought I wasn’t going to need it too much. How likely was it that I would come across a group of the Dead, caught in a Pattern so complicated and lethal again? The quieter Dead, as I called them, were easy to send on their way. Like giving someone directions. The one time I’d voiced that opinion had earned me a thorough scolding from Mrs Cranford’s waspish tongue, so I wasn’t going to say that again.

Eventually I said, “He’s n-not here, is he?”

“No, Emily.” Mrs Cranford sighed. “He went out on the moor as soon as I was up.”

“G-guess I’ll f-find him there then.”

“Emily, he’s probably going to go home.” Her bird-bright eyes held sympathy for me. I’d never told her how I felt about Ciarán, but then you wouldn’t need to have Mrs Cranford’s ability for seeing the true nature of things to work it out. Grace was right when she said I shouldn’t play poker. I’d been expecting what Mrs Cranford said so it didn’t hurt as much as I expected. I smiled at her before I left.

“S-so you’re guh going back to Galway then?” I slipped down into the hollow next to Ciarán. I’d seen a lot of him over the last few weeks. We’d spent time together as friends. He seemed to welcome the company, but got edgy if I moved too close. He still didn’t trust himself. I was trying to be patient.

“Aye, it’s time I reckon.” He kept his gaze focused on the horizon.

“I’ll miss y-you.” I kept my voice steady.

“You know why I have to go?” He hung his head, staring at the heather.

I nodded. I did know. Hitting me, even though it hadn’t really been him, had left deep scars on his mind. He’d always thought he wasn’t like his dad. I still maintained that he wasn’t but he kept saying that there must be some of that darkness in him for Clayton to work on or he wouldn’t have become possessed. He wouldn’t have been weak enough to succumb to Clayton and the Pattern. I wasn’t so sure. I thought so many people were pulled in this last time, all with their own hates and envies and desires feeding it, that no one could have resisted it. That if Ciarán had been less strong, he wouldn’t have been able to resist it enough to stop himself hurting me worse. Long enough for me to release Clayton. None of that made a difference to him when I said it. I thought this might be a Pattern that he had to break on his own.

And I didn’t want to spend our last day together having the same old argument. The last six weeks had been weird but good. We had more in common that just initial attraction.

Of course I wanted to lose him even less now.

“I see them now, you know,” Ciarán said. “Not like you can but glimpses here and there.”

I smiled. I had seen them too. We had already had one tourist in the post office talking about the man and woman in old fashioned clothes he’d seen standing on a ledge on the moor. Hardiman and Kate might become quite the tourist attraction. Though I was at a loss as to how a show like ‘Most Haunted’ was going to document the entire moor.

Arncliffe felt different though. A shadow had been lifted.

“I br-brought you something.” I held out the package.

“Your Mam’s copy of Wuthering Heights? I can’t take this!” He said, wrapping the paper back around it.

“Call it a l-loan then. So y-you’ll have to come back.” I gave him a crooked smile.

He nodded, seeing through the present to the message. I had always liked the fact that I never had to explain myself to Ciarán.

I never found out what clue Mum was leaving me. I’d well and truly missed that. But when I went back to my attic after I knew Amy was out of danger, the book was lying open on my desk. Maybe because I knew Haze and Kate so well by then the passage leapt out at me, clear and sharp as diamond.

My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath…..He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.’

A love that was terrifying in its depth but all the more enticing because of that. I thought I understood. Love could be just a destructive as hate if it became poisoned or twisted. There was just a faint, lingering scent of rosemary and violets. Mum wasn’t there anymore. She’d moved on. I’d felt sad but it was a clean sadness. No poison in the wounds this time. I wouldn’t stop missing her, but I didn’t have to be wary about loving her either.

We sat in silence, Ciarán and me, thinking our own thoughts. His hand crept around mine without either of us saying a word. Perhaps Kate was right and some people were meant to be together in life or death. A small secret part of me hoped so.

“I’m going to miss you too, Em,” Ciarán said at last, his eyes very bright. “Sure you don’t want to read this?” There was a hint of his old teasing tone in his voice as he waved the book at me.

“Email m-me the high-lights.” I shoved him playfully, and then met his eyes.

I didn’t know which of us moved first but suddenly I was pressed against him with his arms wound around me, pulling me in closer, tighter. As if we could melt together and never be parted. His lips were warm, soft at first and then more urgent. We hadn’t kissed since that terrible night. Now I felt as if we might dissolve the bedrock beneath us. As if I might fly up in flames. My heart thundered again toward that distant finish line. Veins of fire ran over my skin where his hands touched me. He tasted of sweet heather and sunlight. And sorrow, because this was goodbye. I knew that. His sadness tugged at me but I would not give in.

I threw my soul into that kiss, smothering the future with the perfect now. Tomorrow didn’t matter. Living with everything you’ve got in the moment did. And the moment was full of Ciarán. His strong hands, his warm mouth, his hard chest beneath my hands.

Beneath us, I felt the faint, charged hum of the earth. Part of an even greater Pattern, just as we were. But that didn’t matter right now. I would hold on to this, hold on to him in this one moment. It would be enough.

“Be seeing you.” He whispered much later.

I nodded, not trusting my voice with the lump in my throat.

He would be back. After sorting things out with his mum. After he’d healed a bit. We’d stay in touch. And one day he’d come back. I would catch up at school. Play the piano and violin. Maybe even apply to university or go to speech therapy. I could wait. However twisted Hardiman was, his love for Kate, and hers for him, was real. If they could wait for over two hundred years, I could wait a few months.

The hollow cooled after Ciarán left but I sat there for a while, cradled by the heath. The evening sun warmed my face. There was a world of possibility out there and I wasn’t excluded from it anymore. For now I’d enjoy the moment. I’d savour the memory of that kiss. And I would live with everything I had in me, because I belonged to the earth too.

Arncliffe is a real town in Yorkshire, however it shares nothing more than a name with the fictional Arncliffe of this book. That village was entirely made up and to add insult to injury, I’ve played fast and loose with some of the geography of the region too, in order to facilitate better storytelling. The Yorkshire moors are very much as described and well worth a visit.

The four Bronte siblings, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne, spent a large proportion of their childhood creating stories set in imaginary worlds. Charlotte and Branwell seem to have moved away from this as they grew older and perhaps outgrew their imaginary world, Angria. Emily and Anne apparently continued playing with their imaginary world, Gondal, for much longer, until Anne took a job as a governess with a rich family. Emily Bronte herself is a shadowy figure and appears not to have had much time for people in general, preferring her animals, her siblings, father and aunt, and her writing (including Gondal) to anything or anyone else. There is still debate over whether her classic novel – Wuthering Heights – is set in England or in Gondal. For the purposes of this story I’ve allowed Mrs Cranford to theorize that it is the latter. I strongly recommend reading the book and deciding for yourself!

To the best of my knowledge and research, Emily Bronte was always extremely homesick when sent away from home and therefore left as rarely as possible. While it’s not impossible that she may have stayed with friends or relatives at a neighboring vicarage, it’s fairly unlikely given the little we know of her. I’ve taken a liberty in this book by stating that she made such a visit to my fictional Arncliffe, when of course she didn’t. Any more than ‘Wuthering Heights’ was inspired by a real ghost story when it was entirely Emily Bronte’s creation. As ‘I Belong to the Earth’ is in part a homage to ‘Wuthering Heights’, I hope I can be forgiven.

 

Unveiled 1. . 4

For Gareth, because he asked.

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go

Always a little further: it may be

Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow

Across that angry or that glimmering sea …

The Golden Road to Samarkand – James Elroy Flecker

The snow fell more heavily now. I could feel through the steering wheel that the old Peugeot sedan didn’t want to cleave to the road as well as it had before. Just a slight pause in response. A slipperiness. I slowed down, although it chafed at me. I should have been home hours ago. The girls would be wondering where I was. And there was midnight service at St Martin’s to attend to. Ordinarily poor driving conditions on the road that cut through the North Yorkshire Moor causing me to be late, or even to miss a church service, would not be the end of the world. But tonight was Christmas Eve.

Of course I was the one responsible for this. Not the snow, but certainly the inaccessibility of the destination. After June – my wife – died a year ago last September, I had decided a clean break would be best. Like the stern patrician father-figure in any pulp novel, I had gone slightly over board. I like to think I’m always honest with myself; on this occasion, the honesty had come a little late. I should have asked my daughters what they wanted. Not shipped them off to Arncliffe with no thought but to get as far away from the scene of the tragedy as possible. Ripping them away from everything familiar was cruel, even if it was done with good intentions at the time. There were mistakes there that could not be undone. What was it Churchill said? When you’re going through hell, the only thing to do is keep going? I snorted.

A shot of adrenaline hit my veins like iced espresso. The car skidded and fishtailed. Without even thinking, I steered into the skid, then away, then back and away again. A series of micro-corrections until the car was once again travelling evenly along the winter road, slick with black ice.

Almost came off there. The thought was idle, although the sudden cold sweat drying on my temples announced that I had experienced some level of fear. It was hard to tell what I felt these days. Had been for several years before June’s death – that had only lacquered the hard casing around my emotional responses. Since I left the SAS. Since I joined the clergy. Wasn’t sure which one had heralded the end of normal, easy human interaction. Maybe both. Maybe it was nothing to do with either. I slowed down even further. Sod midnight service, if it came to it. I was not leaving my children parentless on Christmas Eve.

The snow was heavy enough that I was sure it would start sticking to the road soon. The hedgerows all wore pale wigs as if in judgement of my past misdemeanours. The head lights on the sedan only shone so far in the whirling white blindness. I clenched my jaw in concentration. There. Movement.

I drove forward at a crawl, foot hovering over the brake pedal, expecting a fox or deer to break for the other side of the road any moment. It was a man. Youngish, bent into the wind, snow collecting on his fatigues and beret. There was a kit bag slung over his back. I didn’t have to look for the ‘Excalibur wreathed in flames’ on the sand-coloured beret. I just knew. And there was no way I was leaving a brother officer out walking in this – unless it was some kind of drill. I pulled the car up beside him and wound the passenger side window down.

“Can I offer you a lift somewhere?” I leaned over the passenger seat, so he could hear me over the gale.

He looked at me uncertainly, taking in the dark clothing. His eyes swept over the dog-collar. Some people have a funny reaction to the clergy. “You sure? I’m all over muck from this weather.”

“Get in, you daft bugger.” It was so easy to slip back into the camaraderie, the looser language of a bygone time. A time of brotherhood and desert nights.

“Alright.” A blast of frigid air as the passenger door opened and closed behind him. “Thanks, friend.”

I cranked the heat up. “D squad?” His fatigues weren’t immediately recognisable. Which should be impossible. There wasn’t a belt buckle I wouldn’t recognise as regulation or otherwise.

“A scrambler,” he confirmed with a grin.

Mountaineering. Made sense. He sounded like a Yorkshire born man. Although his accent was hard to place. A Yorkshire man who’d spent time with Etonians, perhaps.

“You’re a fellow Lad, then.” He nodded. “I can tell now I’m outta that blizzard. You’re…” He eyed me narrowly. “You’re special projects.”

I surprised myself by chuckling. “Good eye. But that information is classified.”

He laughed. “You have the look but I’ll keep me gob shut. Retired, is it?”

“For some years now.” Scrutiny normally made me uncomfortable, causing me to bark at whoever was doing the eyeballing. But there was nothing about this young man that felt threatening. Seemed a nice lad. Little raw and cheeky for the Blades but he was still a nipper. He’d learn. Must’ve learnt something already or he’d have washed out. One way or the other. “Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Moreton. On the ridge.” Twenty-five miles from Arncliffe and on the way.

“I’ll see you there. What’s your name?”

He straightened up in his seat and I realised I’d used my commanding officer voice. Bad habit. Did that with the girls sometimes. Made them think I was angry with them when I wasn’t. Soft skills were something I was still working on.

“Ackroyd, sir. Most call me Spud, though.”

“At ease – I’m retired, remember? Reverend James Matthews. Jimmy.”

“Oh aye.” He levelled that cheeky grin at me again and I rolled my eyes. Somehow driving through the snow didn’t seem so bad now. The car was clinging to the road better, despite the fact that the snow was settling on the tarmac. Not to mention the gusts that rocked us from side to side. Still, it felt easier.

“What were you doing out in this, Spud?”

“No one to pick me up from the station. Me folks don’t have a car. I’m on leave.” He said this last as if anxious that he should not be misunderstood.

“You walked all the way from Keighley in this?”

“Nah, Filey. What we do isn’t it?” Spud rubbed his hands together and blew on them. I turned the heat up another notch. The driving was easier but it had definitely got colder.

Filey? Had he just got off a boat? The boy was mad!

“Mind if I ask you about… that?” Spud chipped in before I could question him further. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him wave a hand vaguely at his own throat. “Why the priesthood?”

I found myself chuckling again at his frank and chipper tone. “Man’s got to make a living somehow. I’ve got three teenaged daughters. Well, two. Grace is twenty now. At University. She’s come back for Christmas.”

“You don’t look old enough somehow,” Spud commented.

“For the priesthood?” I laughed.

“Nah! To have three grown up daughters. Half grown up anyway.”

“They are not grown-up-” I started to say with a frown and checked myself. Because they were almost, weren’t they? Who did most of the cleaning and all of the cooking? Who really looked after them? I might bring in an income but they took care of themselves. Too much so, sometimes, although I was trying to change that.

“So what are they like? Your kids?”

Anyone else and I’d have frozen them out with a clipped word and silence, but Spud was different somehow.

“Grace would have made a good Desmond, actually. Takes lip from no one. Doesn’t let anyone push her around.”

Spud laughed. “My kind of lass. And she’s at university? Bright girl, then.”

“They all are. Amy’s the youngest but if you heard her talk you wouldn’t think so. Getting hard to keep up with her when she gets going. All quantum mechanics and particle physics.” I shook my head, shivering a little in the cold car.

“And the third lass?” Spud probed gently.

I felt a flicker of suspicion but a glance at Spud’s open, honest face made me lower my hackles down. “Emily Lynette,” I sighed. “Emily’s the middle child. She’s… not like her sisters.”

“How so?”

I shook my head again but more in puzzlement at how to explain Emily Lynette to a stranger. “She’s the spitting image of her mother, the other two take after me. Plays piano and violin like June too. Same way of slicing into you with melody, you can’t not listen to her play.” I paused. Why was I telling this boy anything? A cold, electric prickle started at the base of my neck. I swallowed and pulled my coat collar up. Slicing a look sideways at Spud, I said, “how old are you, son?”

“Twenty-one, Sarge,” he barked back. Must’ve used the commanding officer voice again.

“That’s young. Very young. I’m sorry.” The tiny seed of suspicion at the back of my mind sent up a frail shoot. Spud merely looked back at me. Pleasant. Friendly. There was a gauntness about his face I hadn’t noticed before. A hollowness about his eyes. “Do they keep you fed?”

A flicker of confusion passed over Spud’s face and then his expression cleared. “Much as they can,” he chuckled.

“I’ll tell you a story,” I said. “You’ll likely see why I joined the clergy. Then you can tell me one. We’ve a fair clip to go before we hit Moreton.”

“Deal,” Spud said, grinning again. “Since it’s Christmas will it be one of ghosts and goblins?”

“Ha! Someone’s been reading his Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale?” I smiled. It felt odd on my face. I needed to practise more.

“S’good thing about the Bard. You never seem to run out of it,” Spud agreed. He stretched his skeletally thin hands out over his kitbag, which rested in the footwell between his feet. I nodded, willing to bet there was a battered Jane Austen paperback or two and several spare pairs of socks in the bag too. I felt inexplicably sad. This boy would never be going home.

“Ghosts, perhaps. Maybe. Never made up my mind about them.” I paused, turned up the heater to full blast. It barely touched the glacial air. “I know that sounds strange, me being a vicar and believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing God. But the spirits of the dead coming back? That just stretched credulity.”

This smile did not feel odd. Which meant it was the bitter curve I’d worn so long. I’d thought I’d lost that. The bitterness. “When Emily was a little girl, five maybe six years old, she frightened another little girl so badly that the girl started not sleeping. Bed wetting too as I recall. The little girl – damned if I can remember her name, June would know – had lost her older brother to Leukaemia.”

“Jesus! I’m sorry,” Spud said, genuinely upset.

“Terrible thing that. Awful, bloody stuff cancer. Doesn’t pick and choose.” I swallowed. Maybe this was a mistake. Too close to the unhealed wound. “Emily told this little girl that there was a boy following her, who looked just like her. Same hair. Same eyes. But taller, older. She said he wanted to know his sister was okay. The little girl was terrified. Not that we got this from Emily. Not then. Not since. I wonder if she even remembers.”

“Christ alive, Sarge. You’ve brought me out in goose-bumps! Did you talk to your daughter about this?” Spud sounded fascinated. Why did the young love tales of death and ghosts s much? I could remember feeling that way, but I couldn’t remember why.

“No,” I said shortly. “But my mother did. Emily’s grandmother. She’s dead now but when she was alive, she had a strange way of knowing things herself. June was close to my mother and asked to speak to Emily about it. To this day I don’t know what was said. It did the trick though because there were no more complaints that Emily had been frightening the other children. No more parent-teacher nights where staff would covertly hint that they were frankly spooked by our middle girl. No. Things ticked on as normal for years. At least that’s what I thought.

“Then my squad were in Iraq.” I glanced sideways at Spud, ignoring the swirling white flurry ahead. We wouldn’t crash. The certainty sat still and right inside me, even as the cold in the cabin intensified. “You’re a Lad. You know there’s things I can’t say.”

Spud nodded, his pale, drawn face shadowed. With hunger and with regret it seemed. There should not have been enough light to see his expression but there was. As if he luminesced. His thin cheeks seemed to cling to his teeth. His eyes, so blue and lively before, were for a moment so dull and sad that it hurt to look at them. I wanted to tell him I was sorry all over again.

“It was near the end. Our troop happened to include the squad chaplain. Funny old sod. Skinny Scouse bugger we used to call Dabs – he was a ‘dab-hand’ at anything. Explosives, negotiation, linguistics. Mechanical engineering was his on-paper speciality. He was always having a laugh – when it wasn’t all business that is. He and I were close friends. Never had another like him. Never will. One of a kind. Anyway as chaplain all of spoke to him at one time or another. I heard the others say that Dabs had a way of making you feel better about life. Hopeful. Didn’t matter if you believed in God or not. For all his practical joking and his cheeky attitude, he was kind. Kinder than that life tends to leave you in you know what I mean?”

“Aye, I do,” Spud agreed. “So how did it happen? How did he die?”

Perceptive lad. “We were driving near the Kuwait border. They said afterwards that it was an accident. Part of me can even see how that happens. You put troops through rigorous training, put heavy duty guns in their hands…”

“And you tell them to wait,” Spud said, his voice grim. “’Course it’s the waiting that does you in. The waiting is a killer.”

I nodded. “Friendly Fire. One moment my best mate was laughing at some filthy joke, for all the world as if he weren’t an ordained minister of the Church. The next his brains had been sprayed across the cab.”

“Yanks?”

“Does it matter?” I stared at the road. Or rather at the darkness where the road should be. “I have to tell myself it doesn’t. That it was an accident. Or I go back to a time and place where I was someone else. Someone I don’t like to remember.” I swallowed again. “I was there for a long time. Lost, for a long time. Oddly enough it was getting a letter from one of Dabs’ mates from clerical college that set me on this path.” My turn to wave a vague hand at my throat. “Fellow vicar. Helped me sort myself out. Enough to decide on a life at least. Better for me. Better for the girls.”

Spud was silent for a moment. His pinched features troubled. A dark stain spread across his coat, bubbling from some place on his body that I couldn’t see. I knew what it was.

“So what does this have to do with your Emily?” Spud said, traces of his old humour back in his voice.

“My wife would tell me, once I returned home from that campaign, that Emily had awoken her by screaming in the night. Horrible, blood-curdling screams, June said. Apparently Emily had had a dream –a really bad dream. Was raving about the blood… all the blood and the poor man with no face. About fire.” I cut my eyes sideways to look at Spud again. His skin was greyish-blue in places. His shrunken lips bloodless. The hollows under his sunken eyes more pronounced. “June told me that Emily scared her half to death by screaming ‘Daddy? What happened to Daddy? Where’s Daddy?!’ Freezes my blood just remembering it. Didn’t take much synchronizing of watches to work out that while Emily was screaming herself awake from a nightmare no little girl should have, I was being shot at by our allies. And Dabs was dead.”

“Aw Sarge! And you don’t believe in ghosts?” Spud’s voice echoed slightly, as if it came from a long way away. The beam from the headlights swept through a parting in the falling snow, hitting a sign that read ‘Welcome to Moreton – please drive carefully through the village.’

“Looks like you’re home, lad,” I said. “Drop you off at the War Memorial?”

“I … er… I was meant to tell you a story…” Spud began.

“I don’t think there’s any need for that, son, do you?” I smiled at him, not letting the horror of what I saw register in my expression. God, how long had they left him out for crow’s to peck at? “In fact, how about I give you a summary, and you can tell me where I go wrong?” I knew the uniform now. Recognised those fatigues – century old fatigues at that. No beret on his head but a cap. How I’d ever thought he was SAS

Spud nodded, his eyes dim and haunted.

“There’s a few Ackroyds carved on that pillar,” I said conversationally, parking beside the War Memorial. “I remember now. So anyway, the summary. There’s a bright young lad from Yorkshire who somehow bucks the odds and gets into university. Oxford…?”

“Cambridge,” Spud said hoarsely.

I nodded. “Then the Great War came. The war to end all wars, ‘cept it didn’t. You know that now. And this lad joins up. Right thing to do. Serving his country and all the rest of the propaganda they spun young men’s heads with. Our hero discovers that there really is a hell, and he’s in it. But he waits. He tries to hold on. Nearly Christmas after all. He’s got leave coming. He’s a brave lad.” I watch Spud’s face. It’s fuller, rosier than it was a moment ago. Silent tears glisten on his smooth cheeks and drop off his chin to join the spreading dark stain on his chest. “And then the leave is cancelled. Our poor lad is half-starved, squatting in a trench, ankle deep in mud and filth in December. Maybe the order comes. Over the top! Or maybe it doesn’t. As you said, lad, it’s the waiting that kills you.”

Spud is watching me with the avidity of a hawk now. Breathless. His skin no longer so shrunken on his frame. His features, less wasted than a moment before.

“And so,” I concluded, “Our lad loses his head, just for a moment. Does he mean to do it? Probably not. But however it comes about, he runs the wrong bloody way and is shot dead as a deserter. How am I doing so far?”

Spud gave a strangled sob. “I can’t go home to ma and pa… the shame…”

“Easy, son. There’s no shame. You did nothing wrong.” He looked at me with desperate hope and I said, “Really. Things get pretty damn flaky in wartime, and that one was a doozy.”

“So… so I can…?” I realised that I’d never seen his lips move. Not once. He had not been speaking out loud during the entire journey.

“Spud, how long have you been walking home? How many years? Consider this your honourable discharge, son. Go home and get some rest.” I smiled as the black blood stain faded from his chest. As Spud sat up straighter, becoming briefly the man he’d been before he went to purgatory. Before he punished himself with this yearly walk. “Your duty’s over now, lad. You did your country proud.”

His smile was full and genuine. If he’d lived he might have broken many a young girl’s heart. “Thank you, Sarge. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Spud.”

He got out of the car and instantly the heater seemed to warm the air again. The cold prickle on my neck faded. “Sarge?” Spud peered through the still open car door. “Have you told her? Your Emily?”

“Told her what, son?”

“That she gets it from you. Her gift.”

I shook my head.

“You should tell her, Sarge. You should let her know. Thanks for the lift.” He shut the door. I watched as an expression somewhere between bliss and relief suffused Spud’s face. And then he drifted apart in sparkling motes of light in the whirling white night.

“Maybe I will, Spud. Maybe I’ll tell her. One day.” I started the car and set off home to spend Christmas with my girls.

Thank you for reading the second edition of I Belong to the Earth. If you’ve got this far I really hope you enjoyed it and are eager to join Emlynn on her future adventures – which you can find out more about at www.jaironside.com.

Writing is often a one-person endeavour but producing a book is almost always a team effort – whether certain people know they’re on the team or not. I could not have done this without the help and support of many people. Firstly, thanks to everyone who helped with the first edition. Danielle Romero for spotting potential in my story. Tonya Clary who was editor-in-chief during production. Special thanks to Emily Stanford for her superb editorial work, enthusiasm and for pushing me to tell a better story.

Big thanks to all the graduates of the Self Edit Your Novel course class June-July 2013 – if this book crosses your path, you can see I’ve put your feedback to good use I hope. Van, Ben, Karen, Voula, Ellie, Aneeta, Maggie, Margarida and Ed – you guys were the bes. To Emma Darwin, who ran the course, along with the fabulous and dauntless, Debi Alper, thanks seem a bit inadequate, so I’ll couple it with a dink next time I see you. Truly though, thanks for everything.

To my fellow scribblers, the amazing and talented Random Writers – without your support, encouragement and constructive criticism I would have stopped many times over. Thank you – you guys rock.

For my fantastic beta readers Kaz, Stevie, Matt, I really can’t express how much I appreciate your time and energy. Thank you all so much.

Biggest thanks of all and cake of choice to my writing buddy and fellow writer, Shell Bromley, who read so many versions of I Belong to the Earth that she probably knows the story better than I do, coped with my meltdowns, and pointed out that commas don’t like me and tend to troop off a page when I’m not looking. Every writer should have a writing buddy as great as mine (just so we’re clear you CAN’T have mine). Thanks, Shell, you’re one in a million.

Finally thanks and love to my family. To Sarah and Ella, for cheerleading, ongoing support and just being my sisters. Big thanks to Mum and Dad for leaving me to entertain myself with large piles of books from an early age – you gave me universes dressed in words, where the only boundaries were those of imagination. I may not have mentioned this before, but I always appreciated you looking politely away when I was being especially weird about books.

Last but never least, thanks to Allan, my boyfriend-creature, who knew when to leave me alone to get on with it, who put up with vague answers and vacant looks when I was thinking about plot, and who is the wall I bounce ideas off. Truly sine qua non.

Jules 2015

Additional: Madeleine (M.E.Vaughan), I doubt we would have met but for this book and for your own fabulous first book – The Sons of Thestian. I would be grateful for that if nothing else. However I am grateful for so much more. Thanks for being a great friend, a brilliant writing buddy and the ultimate podcast co-host. And seriously, thanks so much for helping with the cover for this edition! I’m so glad we crossed the streams –we’re on a great adventure.

Jules 2016

More Books by J. A. Ironside;

 

 

Unveiled Series:

 

 

Unveiled Book 2 – I am the Silence

 

My feet refused to move. I was going to die a horrible death right here, right now, because I could not run.

From the other side of the fire, a huge dark shape slunk forward. I gasped in smoke and hacked it out. The shape from my nightmares. I watched as its mouth opened, lips peeled back over teeth as long as my fingers. The beast snarled and sprang…

A year after breaking the Pattern, Emlynn no longer fights her gift. She’s become adept at sending the Dead on to rest. Perhaps a little too good – her overconfidence is about to lead to a fall…

Sent to investigate reports of a haunting, Emlynn finds herself facing a crushing embarrassment, and worse, a deep betrayal. Deciding it’s time to leave the supernatural alone for a while, she travels to Dorset to stay with her childhood best friend, Beth. The Milton Abbey festival of music should take her mind off everything; Ghosts, betrayals and disappointments. Except Beth has changed. She’s definitely running with a new crowd – a cooler, dangerous group whose leader, Rhys, has an unhealthy interest in Emlynn.

As if that wasn’t enough, Emlynn’s violin tutor turns out to be a young man she used to know. Lucas has definitely changed – hostile, volatile and rude, but also intense and disturbingly compelling. That’s one mystery Emlynn can’t leave alone. Torn between her connection with Beth’s troubled younger sister and the terrifying black beast that stalks Emlynn in her dreams, there’s no rest for the weary psychic. Facing the reality of what Beth is mixed up in, Emlynn may have finally picked a fight she cannot win…

Release Date 19th January 2017

 

 

Novellas

 

Unveiled 1.5: Amazing Grace

 

You should always play to your strengths. If you’ve got it, then you use it, that’s my motto.’

Grace is faking it. Her sister may have broken the Pattern but Grace often doesn’t feel like her body belongs to her – the memory of being possessed will do that to a girl. Not that Grace is admitting that to anyone because if there’s one thing she hates, it’s appearing weak. Besides, now that she’s in her second semester at University, things are going to get better. Especially since the University is a long way from Yorkshire. Of course there’s Nick – who is haunted by his own demons after carrying the other half of that ancient and twisted love story – but Grace isn’t worried.

Everything is going to be FINE.

While she may be able to fool everyone else, Grace can’t fool herself. There’s a voice beneath the lulling sound of the tide and Grace’s flat-mate, Laura, is acting weird. Much as Grace wants to avoid any further entanglements with the supernatural, she has a horrible suspicion that Laura needs help … and only Grace knows someone who can.

Just as Grace begins to feel that she may be on solid ground again, supernatural forces or not, she is pitched into a life and death struggle to save the one person she’s come to care for more than anything or anyone else. Grace is about to find that the cost of hiding how you feel is a higher price than she is willing to pay…

 

 

Unveiled 1.9: Amy’s Academicals

 

Sometimes it sucks being the youngest sister. I mean your scope for originality is totally limited. And it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll always be the baby of the family. Don’t get me wrong, my sisters are awesome…but every sidekick eventually wants to be the super hero…’

Amy is thrilled when she wins a scholarship to a summer-camp for young scientists in Geneva. Between Emlynn acting distracted, and more than slightly obsessive over her new supernatural duties, and Grace avoiding the vicarage entirely in favour of spending all her holidays at her University in Cornwall, things have been kinda dull lately. Amy is ready for an adventure of her own.

On the shore of Lake Geneva, gathered together with other brilliant young minds, Amy is about to find out that she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Almost exactly two hundred years before, another group of young and brilliant people gathered here – in the ‘Year without a Summer’…

As Amy is pushed and pulled between two new friends, she starts to wonder just how safe the camp really is. Strange things are happening. An inexplicable illness is striking down both teachers and students, and there are shapes in the night that stalk between the cabins and the lake shore.

Now that Amy is finally the heroine in her own mystery, is she strong enough to find the answers alone?

 

 

Unveiled 2.1: Ciarán’s Chance

There are things we do in life that we can’t ever take back. Bad things that follow us, no matter how we wish we could change them. So I needed to find him. See the man. And the monster.’

 

A year after the events in Arncliffe and Ciarán is giving up hope of ever being able to return. Marked by what he did that night, he is no longer the person he thought he was. Surly, directionless and irritable, he reconnects with an old friend whilst staying with his sister. Somewhere between friendship and hatred, he starts to pick apart the strands of whatever darkness hides inside him.

A trip to find his father and confront his past turns into a nightmare that dates back centuries. Because something hunts the men of Ciarán’s family. Something ancient that cannot be reasoned with or bribed. Amongst the O’Connors, the sins of the father really are visited on the sons. If Ciarán ever wants to be able to see Emlynn again, he must succeed where all his ancestors have failed and stop the creatures that have stalked his family for generations.

FREE and exclusive to [+ Jules’ Readers’ Group+]

 

 

 

J. A. (Jules) Ironside grew up in a house full of books in rural Dorset. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she’s not choosy and will read almost anything. It would be fair to say that she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week.

She mostly writes fantasy and sci-fi. Often this leans toward the dark fantastic or dystopian forms of fiction. Occasionally there’s some outright horror. Her passion for all things dark and dystopian stems from the fact that these narrative vehicles bring out the very best and absolute worst in people. She finds it endlessly fascinating to explore what it means to be human by—figuratively—putting her characters’ backs to the wall. Often they’ll even surprise her with the lengths they’ll go to in order to achieve their goals.

As a keen martial artist, Jules has studied several disciplines but is most accomplished in Goju-ryu karate, which she has studied and taught for over twenty years. Her favourite things include books (obviously), slippers, cheese, and surreal conversations.

She lives in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswold way, with her boyfriend-creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a God complex. Her first book, paranormal mystery novel I Belong to the Earth, was published by Illusio & Baqer in May 2015 and the second edition is now available from Blue Stone Press as an eBook and paperback.

 

Connect with me online…

 

Twitter: @J_AnneIronside

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DystopianIronside/

 

My website: www.jaironside.com

 

Tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/jaironside

 

Amazon Author Page

 


I Belong to the Earth (Unveiled Book 1)

Second Edition: Contains the FREE short story - Friendly Fire “There.” Grace pointed towards the moor and I saw it: there was a shape in the dark. A tall, masculine shape. No, not a man; a piece of darker darkness in the shape of a man. We were being watched. Seventeen-year-old Emlynn knows all about grief and guilt, not to mention secrets. Being able to sense the Dead wasn’t so bad before the accident which killed her mother. Now it’s taking over her life. Broken and shut off from the world, Emlynn is horrified when her father moves the family to a remote Yorkshire vicarage: a house that stands at the centre of a centuries-old curse born of betrayal, jealousy and poisoned love. A curse that feeds on the lives of young girls. A pattern about to repeat itself once more... When her older sister, Grace, gets involved with local bad boy, Haze, Emlynn knows she has to act fast. Somehow Haze is connected to the curse. Is Grace his next intended victim? Hurtling towards another family tragedy, Emlynn must find the strength to stop running from her gift, or risk losing the rest of her family for good. Only the dead have the answers she needs. If she can bring herself to speak to them...

  • ISBN: 9781370454594
  • Author: J. A. Ironside
  • Published: 2017-04-02 13:20:32
  • Words: 94877
I Belong to the Earth (Unveiled Book 1) I Belong to the Earth (Unveiled Book 1)