Cedars Upper Odyssey, episode four
You can read the previous episode of this story here.
The Creeper tilts his head to one side and listens hard, but no answers come to him out of the big blue beyond. All he can hear is the birds, singing loudly, and too cheerfully by half. He shouldn’t have been expecting anything, not really, should he? It’s not the first time he’s asked for guidance - not by a long chalk - but as usual he’s left to muddle through on his own.
Should he, or shouldn’t he kill her? There’s such a big part of him that wants to. It would be so easy, and of course he’d take the body with him and no-one would ever find her.
Just as these thoughts are running through his head, the little girl jumps up, and runs over to a group of children just down the way. Out of reach. Lost her.
But it’s not the end of the world. For now he can see another girl coming up the way. She’s walking along the river and she doesn’t look quite all there, now he thinks on it. But that’s all the better, really, isn’t it? He’s seen her before, seen her several times over the past couple of days actually, to-ing and fro-ing from the forest, holding that book to her like it’s some precious object. She’s an older girl, that’s for sure, but there’s something about her that looks vulnerable. She looks ripe for the plucking.
The Creeper choses a bench that’s right in her pathway and sits down, opening his book across his lap. They’ve even got books in common. Now all he has to do is wait a while.
* * * * * *
Serié walks beside the river just as dusk appears over the horizon. She’s not thinking at all. She’s just placing one foot in front of another and walking onwards. The regular soft sound of her feet hitting the pathway is strangely calming. She could just keep walking, just keep walking, and before long she will find her destination, she’s sure of it. Her mind is like a blank page, waiting for something to be written.
The book in her arms begins to feel heavy. There’s a bench just up ahead, perhaps she should stop for a few moments, and rest a while. Maybe even see if the book has anything new written in it. Any clues for what she should do next.
Serié doesn’t even notice The Creeper sitting on the bench. She sits right down next to him, and opens her book.
She has been staring at the bank page for several minutes, before she hears his voice.
“Do you like reading, girlie?”
Something in the way he says it makes the hairs on the back of Serié’s neck stand up. All of a sudden the strange fogginess that has engulfed her since she found the book in her bed has lifted. She finally realises where she is. She finally realises that she’s in very grave danger indeed.
* * * * * *
Snow pulls her hand back from the mirror, but it’s too late. Her fingers where they touched the glass are cold, so very cold. The cold spreads up her arm and through her whole body. And then, somehow, she is pulled through the mirror, pulled away from the bright woodland clearing and into the darkness beyond.
Snow’s legs give way and she collapses onto the cold hard ground. Her legs, her poor legs have brought her this far but she can go no further. Sow beats at her legs in frustration. It hurts, but focusing on the physical pain puts the other pain - the pain of her past - further away, somehow.
When she stops beating at her legs her mind seems a little clearer. Now she can think, take stock, work out what to do, work out where she is. The darkness surrounds her, engulfs her. It takes some moments for her eyes to adjust.
She’s no longer in the clearing, that much is plain. She’s on cold, hard cobblestones, outside a building. In the gloom she can just about make out a tall spire, reaching up and blocking out some of the stars. It’s the church spire, the church in town. But, apart from the spire, nothing else is the same. There’s no streetlights, no other big buildings. And it’s quiet. So very, very quiet. No traffic noise, no people spilling out from the pubs. No nothing. Just the darkness.
But now Snow hears a scraping on the cobbles. Standing in front of her is a man. By the light of the moon she can see that he’s dressed like something out of her fairytale book. He’s looking down at her. And he’s holding an axe.
* * * * * *
Nathan recognises the river Lovente, even all these years later. He follows it around and down into Leestone. He pulls his hood up closer around his face. But there’s no-one around, which is strange indeed. He would have expected to see a few people, even at this hour, but Leestone looks deserted. He heads for the church. They had been still building the spire when he ran away but now it’s finished, and points straight heavenwards, clearly visible for miles around. He’s been following the blood beast all these years and he never expected that it would lead him back home.
Just for a moment he thinks he sees someone, two people. Two people, sitting side by side on a low seat together. The next moment they’re gone, and it’s just two rocks, a trick of the moonlight and this eerie night, doubtless.
But the blood beast is somewhere near, he can feel it.
At the church he sees a body, lying on the ground. As he goes closer he sees that it’s not another victim of the beast. It’s a girl, and she’s very much alive. What is she doing here, at this time? And garbed so strangely?
She looks up at him with fear in her eyes and he realises it’s the axe, that she’s afeared of. Not him, he’s a stranger to her, and she wouldn’t know to be afeared of him.
He lays the axe on the cobbles and crouches down towards her. Is she hurt? She looks battered, bruised. Can she walk? It’s not safe here, not for long. The blood beast will be hunting them, he knows it.
“Nathan” he says, tapping his chest. “Nathan”. It’s been so many years since he’s spoken, and he is hoping he sounds friendly enough.
“Snow,” she says. “I’m Snow. Like Snow White.” She smiles at him.
At that moment, an awful roaring howl echoes around the buildings. The blood beast has found them just like he knew it would. But he can’t stand and fight it, not with this girl - this Snow - here. He must help her.
Nathan shoves the axe handle through a loop on his leather belt and then bends down and picks up Snow.
To his relief the entrance to the tunnels is still there.
* * * * * *
The girl with the tree necklace stares out to the other side of the clear wall in front of her. It’s not completely dark, on that side. The sky is lit with a strange, multicoloured light, and the stars are shining down brightly. She can’t see anything of the landscape, but here and there a shadow darts from tree to tree. Or perhaps more than one shadow, it’s hard to tell.
A howl, on the other side of the glass comes to her, but muffled. It must be a deafening sound on the other side, though, because she can feel the wall - if that’s what it is - vibrate under her fingers.
The howl comes again, nearer this time, but it’s another sound - from behind her - that makes her spin round in a panic.
The door from the hut behind her slams open, crashing against the outside wall. A man comes through carrying something - a girl, she can see that now - in his arms. He’s strangely dressed, she realises that straight away but doesn’t stop to think about it, because the girl looks familiar, like someone she might have passed on the street more than once or twice.
The girl in his arms holds her hand up to her eyes, as if the daylight is blinding her. The man looks all around him, silently, stunned, but then finally he notices her, standing a little way off. He puts down the girl, who staggers a little, then reaches behind his shoulder and takes out an axe.
A tingling sensation creeps through her. This man knows something, something important, something about her, she’s sure of it. She is desperate to find out what he knows.
* * * * * *
Kylie has walked for half an hour or more before she realises that something is very wrong. It’s got awfully dark, all of a sudden, and the forest has fallen silent around her. She has come right to the edge of the forest and there should be a road here, she’s sure. But there isn’t a road. Just a track, leading down to a collection of buildings, and a church. No lights, no cars, no people. She must have got disorientated in the forest, taken a wrong turning, somehow. She’s never seen these buildings before, although something about that church spire looks familiar.
She’s got to keep going, got to keep moving forward. So she heads for the church. It’s as good as anywhere else.
Then she can see him, up ahead in the gloom. The man with the axe. He’s crouched down, talking to someone, or something, on the ground.
At that moment a sickening howl comes from somewhere behind her. It sounds like something out of a movie, or a nightmare. Not the kind of howl you would expect to hear in the middle of England, that’s for sure. Then the howl comes again, and this time it’s closer.
Kylie runs down to the church. The man has disappeared but she rushes to the place where she saw him outlined by the moon, and finds the entrance to a tunnel. She can hear his footsteps in front of her, and there’s a light up ahead too.
When she steps out into the daylight she takes in the scene in an instant. The axe man and a girl are standing just in front of her, and it’s broad daylight again. How can that be? Another girl is walking towards them, with a strange mixture of fright and excitement on her face. What’s going on now?