ELVIRA - ANNA GOES TO GRIMNEY (Ongoing Story) (updated 30/05/11)
This story is rated 4 stars (6 ratings).
Something tickled persistently against her nose and she sleepily waved her hand across her face to stop it. The tickle moved off to her cheek where it quickly became obvious that whatever it was had legs, and far too many of them.
Spider! The thought hit her feet first and dragged her body behind it almost as an after thought. Hands spasmodically patting her head and face as if putting out a fire she stumbled about, eyes clenched shut in case the spider tried to run into her eyes. She knew they could, she'd seen it in a documentary once.
She scrubbed at her eyebrows a few more times before risking a look in her mirror.
Her eyes were now wide open and she froze, and just stared.
That wasn't her bedroom wall. And that definitely wasn't her mirror.
She looked around. There was a her sized, body shaped indentation in the long grass nearby. She looked harder, as something shiny caught her eye. A broach. She picked it up. A silver willow tree. Pretty but not hers. Then she saw more spiders moving in the grass and hurriedly backed away.
Strange knotted trees grew to her left, grass and fields to her right. In the distance she could see mountains, purpled by distance. She turned. More gnarly trees.
She shielded her eyes against the sun. There was definitely a wooden fence over there though. Man made. Which meant there'd be people around here somewhere.
She breathed out, relieved. Anna knew she was pretty clever, her dad was always telling people. She's a good girl our Anna, got her head screwed on that one. Been smarter than me ever since she was little. Always beats me at University Challenge, haha!
That bit wasn't true. She'd got five questions right once which was, she knew, pretty good for 12; but she didn't mind her dad exaggerating. It made her feel good he was so proud. But she wasn't sure she was smart enough to work out what was happening to her now. She'd gone to bed like normal, well, a bit later than normal because her Uncle Steve and his strange new wife had come over; she'd read for a bit, gone to sleep and then woken up here, in her pyjamas. She was glad it was the long blue winter ones, the yellow ones would have been freezing! So, it was unlikely this was just a dream. No, impossible. She didn't have flu or take drugs so she probably wasn't hallucinating. Everything felt pretty solid, there was a sun, and a breeze.
So, Fact. Somehow she'd been transported from her bedroom to wherever here was in her sleep.
She shrugged, pinned the broach to the top pocket of her pyjama bottoms and decide to follow the fence for a while. She hoped that her dad hadn't discovered she was gone yet. He'd really, really panic. She started to trot. The quicker she found someone, found out where she was, the quicker she could get back home.
She followed the fence for quite a while. It ran between the fields and the trees. The ground sloped gently down and walking was easy. The trees were really odd though. Some were her height, some much bigger. Their bark was scarred, their branches twisted. Purplish green cobwebs dripped, no not cobwebs...were they leaves? She'd never seen trees exactly like them before. She peered into the wood. It looked very dark in there. She shivered and looked away, eyes scanning ahead of her for signs of life. Then the ground dipped again and a group of farm buildings came into view. Excellent! She quickened her step, imagining what she would say when she got there. There was no need to overcomplicate things was there?
She decided on 'can I use your phone please, I'm lost and I need to call my dad.' Closely followed by 'can I use your bathroom?' Then 'can I have a glass of water and maybe an apple or something, if it isn't too much trouble?' That was the thing about bodies, they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and there wasn't much you could do about it.
She walked up to the farmhouse door and knocked. And waited. Then she knocked again. Frowning she walked around the side of the building. There wasn't a back door and curtains were drawn across all the windows. She went back to the front door and tried the handle. Locked. She ran over to the dilapidated sheds nearby. The doors were open but the sheds were empty.
'Hello?!' she shouted, feeling self conscious now and a tiny bit scared.
'Be sensible' she mumbled under her breath. Then she pulled a face at herself. In that case... and she hurriedly found a bush to hide behind.
Seconds later, her call of nature completed, she was startled to hear a door bang in the wind somewhere nearby. She jumped up and was well on her way towards the sound before it occurred to her that there really wasn't enough wind around to be banging doors.
She slowed to a walk as she rounded the corner of a barn, sidled past a cart and some barrels, and there across a deserted courtyard was the source of the sound. It was a swing, of sorts. Wood and rope hung in front of a porch, banging against the beams as if someone had just jumped off it. She ran up the porch steps.
'Hello? Is there somebody here?'
She banged on the door, which swung wide open.
'Erm, hello? Is there anybody here? I really need to use your phone please?'
Her mind wasn't sure she should go in but her feet guided her inside. She couldn't see a phone anywhere. There was a wooden table, a couple of chairs, a dresser of sorts and in the corner a pile of wooden toys, a train, a toy monster or a man, she couldn't tell which, and a little cart. Well, whoever lived her definitely had a little boy. Maybe that was who had been playing on the swing. But where was he now?
She shouted again.
'Hello?! I won't hurt you, I promise. Please won't you come out?'
She felt rather than saw something run past the window and down the steps. She ran outside, squinting, but there was no-one in sight. The sun was hot in the sky and a faint mist was starting to form over the dry soil.
'Come on, this isn't funny you know!' she yelled.
'I'm lost and I just want to get home.'
The word home was barely out of her mouth when she felt hands push her from behind and she fell.
She scrambled around but there was still nothing to see.
'Keep calm Anna' she thought.
And then she saw him, standing on the porch, looking at her. He looked so sad.
She stood slowly, so as not to scare him. He looked about the same age as her brothers, maybe 7 or 8 years old. The mist was swirling around his feet and flowing down the steps.
He watched her for a minute then turned and walked inside. She followed.
She wasn't really surprised not to see him once she was back inside again.
Carefully she sat down in one of the chairs and put her hands on the table.
She waited. And suddenly he was there, sitting in the corner, holding the little wooden train in his hands. The mist flowed in and around the room, piling up around him like a cloak. Her mind was working overtime. There was something very wrong about this boy.
'Look, are you alright' she asked in her best big sister voice.
'Only, where's your mum? Is she about here somewhere?'
He looked right at her as tears fell down his pale face and evaporating into the mist. He shook his head, pointing at the doorway.
A chill ran down her spine.
'She's gone? Is she, is she gone?' she asked.
The boy picked a wooden ball up out of the mist and held it to his lips. He seemed to be fading as she watched. Then he threw it at her. lt fitted perfectly into her hand. The whole corner of the room was filled with mist now, she could hardly see the boy.
'You're not real are you' she whispered.
He smiled then, a little smile, and pointed again at the door.
She looked, and when she looked back he had gone, faded into the mist as the mist was now fading into nothing.
Shaken, Anna went outside into the sun and sat on the steps. She stared at the ball in her hand, turning it over and over. It had something painted on it. A willow tree.
'Anna?! Anna, come on, we're late!'
He shook his head at the usual lack of reply, crunching his toast hurriedly.
'ANNA, don't make me come up there!!'
He stared up the stairs, into the silence. Then a door opened. Mollified he stuffed more crust into his mouth, returning to the kitchen just in time to catch the weather forecast.
'..change to the past few days with rain covering the whole of the region by midday,' announced the perky girl on the TV.
'No need to sound so pleased about it,' he told her, and choked in mid chew as she suddenly stopped talking and stared right at him.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Then the picture jumped and he realised that the signal had momentarily been lost and of course the woman wasn't really staring at him.
'MATT?!' The shout reverberated down the stairs and bounced around the kitchen.
That was his brother, loud and, well, loud.
'Where's the towels mate?'
He sighed and took the stairs two at a time, snatching the airing cupboard door open.
'Same place they always are Steve; Anna, are you up yet?'
He banged on her door as he spoke, glancing over his shoulder as Grace raced out of the spare room.
'What's the matter, what's happened to Anna?'
'Nothing's happened; she's rubbish at getting up is all,' he said, banging on the door again.
'Oh thank God, I thought something terrible had happened!'
He watched her lean against his brother her eyes wide and worried and something tight and unpleasant crawled into his stomach. Why did she think something had happened?
'Anna, stop messing now. Look, I'm coming in,' and he opened her door.
He knew she wasn't just asleep. He knew that because she was lying on the floor as if she had fallen from her bed, the duvet tangled around her legs. He knew because her skin was grey. He knew because she was covered in ice and soil and grass. He knew because her knew.
He heard Grace gasp and felt his brother push past him into the room, but he couldn't move.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Outside, the storm clouds gathered.
He watched in silence as Steve gathered his daughter from the floor, checking her pulse, her breath, her eyes.
'Mate, she's breathing, her pulse is fine.'
Steve gently wiped some soil from her face, eyes darting from Grace to Matt.
He picked some ice from her forehead. It cracked.
'But I have no idea what's going on with this.Did she go out last night?'
Matt shook his head.
Steve gently took his brother by the shoulders and started to guide him out of the room.
'We'd better call Jack, he's a doctor. He'll know what to do.'
He glanced at Grace, 'Stay here?'
It was some minutes after they'd left that she noticed how tightly clenched Anna's left hand was, but despite her best efforts she was unable to remove the silver object she was holding.
She looked at her face, the ice had reformed.
And then Grace noticed the purple tendrils caught in Ann's hair. Oh no. There was only one place..
The magic whispered through the rain. She smelt it.
It was the only explaination.
Tick, tick, tick.
Now all she had to do was find a way of bringing the girl back before...
Shouting she ran from the room.
Anna jumped when the shouting started. Whoever it was sounded paniced, repeating a single word over and over,'leave,' or maybe 'breathe,' Anna couldn't quite make it out. It was coming from the direction of the farmhouse. She headed back that way, her stomach rumbling. There was still no reply when she banged on the door again even though she could hear the womans voice inside.
'OH COME ON!!' she yelled, 'I know you're in there! Why won't you answer?'
She pounded again and again until suddenly, with a dry snap the door swung inward.'Oh well' she thought, 'nothing for it now,' and in she went, mumbling 'sorry' under her breath. Everything was covered in dust. A lot of dust. Where her feet touched the floor clouds of the stuff billowed upwards, making her eyes water. It was so cold, her breath was a mist. She scanned round the room; no phone. Hurrying out of another door and along a dim corridor she sidled past a flight of narrow stairs into what turned out to be the kitchen. The chairs and table were overturned, broken crockery on the floor. And it was dark, the dingy curtains blocking out most of the light. She looked around for a light switch. There wasn't one. She doubled back along the corridor. None there either. Or in the first room. In fact, no lights, no lamps, no TV. No phone. What kind of people lived here?
And then she heard someone saying her name. It whispered down the stairs, soft and menacing. Then the footsteps came, pat, pat pat, above her head. Behind her a clock stated ticking; big dry ticks that sucked in the air and left her dry mouthed and afraid. The stairs creak, creak, creaked...She turned to run, but was shocked into stopping by what she saw. Scrawled all over the wall behind her in huge, red, dust-covered letters were four words GOTHAR LIVES. GOTHAR LIVES. Were they written in blood?!!
She grabbed hold of the door handle but the door wouldn't budge. She pulled and pulled, fingers slipping. She whirled around. Behind her the doorway was darkening, a shape looming from the stairs...'Annaaaaaa.....' No, no no, no, this was not happening! Think, think!! The door was stuck, how else to get out? In a cold panic she grabbed the wooden ball from her waistband and threw it at one of the windows. Air rushed in with a hiss. She grabbed a coal scuttle and hurled it after the ball, scrambling up on to a table to follow it out. She felt long fingers wrapping around her ankle. Kicking wildly she pushed herself forwards, ignoring the shards of glass cutting into her skin. She landed badly, a shriek rising behind her. Sobbing in fear she ran into one of the sheds. Behind her she heard the door being slammed back on its hinges. Something howled and she shoved her fist into her mouth to stop herself from screaming. It was dark in the shed and she tripped. But as she fell, many small hands grabbed hold of her, pulling her down, covering her mouth, her eyes. She thrashed in terror, her mind crying out for her dad to save her, please save her, Dad, Dad!! And then it all went dark.
They laid her down with infinate care, covering her with straw, protecting her, hiding her from the evil in the house. The remnants of the other children, they buried her and fled back to the woods. To hide, and wait. They had tried. they'd given her the charm and the ball. If she survived, if she made it through the night, they'd come back. If she made it through the night maybe she would help them. If she made it.
Anna fell through the darkness. Eventually she stopped screaming. She couldn't hear her own voice and her jaw was starting to ache. She fell and she fell. It got colder. She fell faster. Her skin was freezing, her breath catching in spikes in her lungs. Pressure was building in her ears and tiny points of light started flickering and dancing before her eyes. Panic flared as the sensations built. What was happening to her, Was she dying? And then there was no time to worry about anything as she slammed to an abrupt halt, the force of the impact knocking all the breath from her body. Her eyes flew open and she shouted in pain, at least she would have if she had she been able to. She sent urgent signals to her throat, to her hands, her legs; but her body wasn't listening. She could see and she could hear but that was it. Her heart was beating so fast it deafened her. And then through the panic she heard her name being whispered oh, so softly, and a hand stroked her cheek. DAD!!
'I'm OK, dad, I'm OK, I'm back!' was what she tried to say. What happened was nothing. She screamed at her body to just DO SOMETHING, move, come on, move!! Nothing. She was trapped in her own flesh.
Matt groaned as he saw tears roll down him daughters cheek.
'Grace, she's crying. My baby's crying. What am I to do?' His voice broke.
'Get her to a hospital that's what. It's been 2 days and she's still staring at the ceiling!'
'Not yet Steve! Haven't you listened to anything I've said?' shouted Grace angrily.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Something terrible from somewhere terrible, that might or might not exist, is trying to steal her soul to do something terrible but you don't know WHAT. You know this because someone told you a story once and you think it's coming true! Anything about that strike you as EVEN SLIGHTLY PLAUSIBLE??'
'Steve, shut up will you? It was my best friends sister it happened to and it was exactly the same thing. Exactly. And I know it's hard to accept but you have to trust me on this. If we don't get her back from this place she will stay in a coma for ever. And if you take her to a hospital now that is exactly what will happen. Just let me get my friend, please. If I can get her to come here she'll be able to help, I know it.'
Steve started to reply but Matt interupted him.
'Steve, this is my Anna we're talking about. My Anna. Now, you might be right. Some doctor might fix her. They might. But they might not. And I'm not risking it. Not after....Not after...'
'Mum' thought Anna. 'Not after Mum.'
'Go get your friend...' Matt paused.
'Karla. She's called Karla' said Grace.
'OK. Go get you friend Karla. And give her this.'
Anna felt him touching her hand, gently pulling something out of her grip and immediately her focus began to slide and blur. She could feel herself dropping, as her grip loosened and quietly blackness enfolded her once again just as Matt handed Grace the silver broach. A shiver shook him from head to foot.
He turned back to his daughter. Her eyes were closed again. He sat down next to her and he wept.
Very quietly Grace and Steve left the room.
'I'll drive you' said Steve.
Grace looked at him in suprise.
'I thought you didn't believe me?'
'I don't believe you love,' he said 'but you believe you. And so does Matt. So I hope you're right and Anna gets better. If you're wrong and she ends up in hospital it'd kill him. So let's go get your friend.'
Grace drove. The rain pounded on the roof of the car like angry fingers tapping. By the time they arrived it was getting dark. Steve raised an eyebrow as they passed a discrete sign half hidden in the gloom.
'Willow Court Care Home? I thought we were coming to see your friend?'
Grace nodded. 'We are. Come on, she'll be waiting.'
They didn't see a soul as they walked through reception and up the stairs. Grace led the way, suddenly stopping in front of a door that looked exactly like all the other doors they had passed. She turned to Steve as she knocked.
It was dark inside the room and a faint smell of roses lingered in the air.
'Who is she Grace? Is she one of yours? They said there was a new one.'
'It's my niece, Anna. She's 12 years old. It's happened exactly like Emily.'
'2 days,' said Grace, 'and it took me this long to get here. Sorry.'
The light went on suddenly.
An angry looking old woman stared at them from across the room. And then Karla smiled and her face transformed. The decades fell away and for a brief second she looked like the young woman she must once have been.
'I'm glad to see you though Grace, even under these circumstances. I'm sure we have a little time to spare.'
She nodded at Steve.
'Is this him?'
Grace smiled, 'It is. Steve, this is Karla, my best friend. Karla, this is Steve, my husband.'
Karla smiled again but this time it didn't reach her eyes.
'What does he know?'
'Hardly anything. He didn't believe me.'
'Well you can't blame him Grace, until you've seen Grimney you can't believe it. Unless it believes in you of course.'
'How old do you think I am?' she asked Steve. 'Go on, I won't be offended.'
'I don't know,' said Steve, 'sixty five?'
'Good guess but no. I'm twenty nine.'
Grace, will you get my papers please?'
Steve stared hard at the passport and driving licence he was handed.
'But that's impossible. You can't be this person. They're fake aren't they?'
'Of course not! Look at the pictures man!'
Steve looked. But how could that be? How could she be the same person? She was old.
'Are you ill?' he asked.
Grace sat down next to him, her hand resting on his.
'No Steve,' said Karla, 'not ill. Old. Old before my time. Old, but not dead, thank god. And I could have been. Oh so easily could have been.'
And between them Grace and Karla told him their story.
How, two years ago, Emily had been taken. She was eighteen years old. She had been found in her bedroom, flat out on the floor, covered in ice and bits of plants and mud. She was still wearing the dress and heels she'd been wearing the night before. Karla had been visiting her parents and had seen her sister come home. They had chatted before bed. In the morning they couldn't wake her up. Their parents had Emily in the hospital before the ice had melted. A stress induced coma the doctors said. But Karla couldn't accept that. And neither could Grace when she told her what had happened. Together they started to research, on the internet, in medical journals, everywhere they could think of to look. And Karla found something. A woman who claimed her daughters soul had been stolen by demons. She could, she claimed, visit her daughter in her dreams, talk to her, but she couldn't bring her back. She described the world her daughter now inhabited, calling her a tree spirit. The womans daughter had been in a coma for the last 6 years. They found out where the woman lived and went to visit her. She told them stories of a world between worlds, a place created by an almost god group of beings called the Zoriat who wrote and painted the place from their dreams into existance. A place full of wonderful creatures and terrible evils. A place that could be reached sometimes through dreams, sometimes through places whether time and the other dimensions had worn thin, a place that could sometimes reach out and take for itself. And of an evil that had awakened. She had heard it's name whispered. Gothar. She didn't know what it was, only that it was collecting soals to undertake a terrible magic. It's demons had reached into her daughters dreams and taken her. Sazra, that was her name. She was ten years old when it happened. There were other children there too she said. She named at least 9 of them. Grace wrote their names down. When time came for them to leave, the woman had cried. Over the following months they found all the families. The same thing had happened to all of them. Seven of the children were still in a coma, two had died.
Karla had never remembered a dream. Ever. So she had to learn how to dream. She experimented with downers, alcohol, chemicals, until one day, cradled in Grace's arms she dreamt her way to Emily. Emily, what was left of her, trapped in the woods by dark magics. Emily who was too weak to leave. She was broken when she came back. Something in her mind had found a thin place between the worlds and blocked it open.
Now when she dreamt she had to remember to come back. Without Grace to wake her she might not have. And then Karla hatched a plan. To find another in Grimney to undo the magic that held her sister. To loosen the bonds long enough for her to dream her away. She memorised everything they had learnt about Grimney and began to explore. Eventually she found herself in a place called Holmes Tavern where she met a woman called Kara Jarina who warned her to take great care. She didn't listen. And then she met Ulrik. He had power, and he would help. One cold night, despite Kara Jarinas warnings, they went to the woods and Ulrik began to cast his spell. It went wrong so fast her sister hardly had time to scream a warning. Gothar sent a wraith that tore Ulrik's magic from him. The wraith took his life then it tore her soul free and swallowed her whole. Had Kara Jarina not arrived when she did, with the men she did, she and Emily would have been no more. As it was she fled with only a few years of life and the tatters of her sanity remaining. It was Weeks later, as she adjusted to her new situation that she had her name changed to Karla, in honour of the woman that had saved her life, and who, over time, would become her very good friend. Now Karla lived in Grimney as much as she lived in this world. She was trapped between, never again to be at peace.
Over the last two years Grace had documented everything. They had volumes of material and knew a great deal now about the enemy they faced. They believed they could help find Anna and as long as they could keep her safe from Gothar, they believed they could bring her back.
Steve looked at them both and let out a long breath. He looked at the books in his hands and thought of his niece and his best friend. He looked at Grace again and squeezed her hand. Hard. And he knew that he belived.
He swallowed and smiled, which made him look as if he was going to be sick and Grace laughed at him.
'so you believe us then?'
'Alright, say I do? Tell me how you're going to find Anna? Is she in the woods with the other children?'
Karla shook her head.
'No, that's the lucky thing. The children sensed her coming and managed to get a couple of totems to her. A big of jewellery I think, and a toy. Anyway, so far they've managed to keep her safe. As long as she has the totems, Gothar and his servents will find it harder to track her.'
she frowned at Grace and Steve, who had both gone white.
'What? What is it??'
Silently Grace put her hand in her pocket and pulled out the silver willow.
'It was in her hand Karla.'
'Then you must put it back in her hand. As soon as you can. She's not protected!'
Karla pulled herself upright.
'Go Gracie, get back as quickly as you can. Every second matters. Go, GO!!'
'It's alright girl, go' shouted Steve, 'I'll get us a cab.'
'We'll meet you there Grace, I've things we need.'
'OK,' said Grace, and pocketing the broach she fled.
One minute she was floating in the quiet darkness, the next she was sucking in the stench of something rotten and wet. Anna gagged and then froze as her memory slapped her into attention. Nearby the thing shrieked and she was terrified to hear how close it was. Unconsciously her hand moved to check on her broach. But it wasn't there. Grace, she thought, 'bring it back, bring it back.' And she thought the thought so hard that the breath stuck in her throat and the world wobbled.
Suddenly the thing went quiet. For long, long minutes nothing happened, and Anna began to breathe again. It was must have gone. She strained her ears into the silence. Still nothing. She waited. Surely it must have gone by now. It was too quiet. Nothing that big could stay still for that long. She turned her head off the ground so that she could see in front of her. It was still pretty dark and it took a while before she could see enough to make things out. Just straw. She took a deep breath and scrabbled carefully to her knees behind the straw. Feet poised to run she counted to three and peeked out. Nothing. There was nothing. Gingerly she climbed out of the straw and crouched in the corner of the barn. She had a clear line of sight across the yard. It was dark. Black shadows on black shadows. she strained her eyes and ears until all she could hear was the blood pounding in her head. She was wasting her time. It was either out there, or it wasn't. She couldn't be certain. But she knew for certain that if she was still in this shed when it got light it was all over.
'Ok Dad' she whispered, 'Here I go.'
Then she was running, running as fast as she could. She flew out of the barn, ankles jarring on the uneven ground.
The wraith saw her as she came out from underneath the roof on which it squatted. It raised its head and screamed into the night.
Anna screamed back, terror tripping her, feet slipping. Palms down she hit the ground. The wraith behind her screamed again, the sound driving her to her feet. She ran past the house, head turning, desperate to spot the monster at her back.
She should have been looking for the monster to her front. Had she not fallen again it would have had her. she felt the air above her head shake as it howled. Clawing on the ground with desperate fingers she dragged herself upright and pounded backwards. The first wraith blocked the barn, the second wraith blocked her escape. There was only the house left. No choice, no time. she ran.
Grace gripped the steering wheel in frustration. It was dark. The ran was torential, the traffic hardly moving. Matt wasn't answering his phone. She could taste metal again and knew the magic was on the move. She had less than a mile to go and time was running out. She could't afford to wait. Swerving the car to the side of the road she stepped out into the night and started to run.
Anna ran. Through the first room, along the corridor. Up the stairs, the muscles in her legs shaking. Her own breathing filled her ears, deafening her. At the top of the stairs she made herself stop, standing flat against the wall. She held her breath, listening. But the wraiths were silent. Tears spilled in the dark and for long seconds she cried. Pointless. Tears never solved anything. she remembered her Dad telling her that when her mum died. Tears were just tears. It's what happened when the brain gave up. Well she hadn't given up then and she wasn't going to give up now. She wiped her eyes and carefully started to edge along the wall. The first door she came to was locked. The second opened into a tiny bathroom. It smelt bad. Slowly she edged back towards the stairs, listening hard. There was another door in front of her. She took a deep breath and half jumped past the stairs. The floor creaked sickeningly as she landed. Grimacing, she pushed the door handle and the door swung inwards. In she stepped. It was a bedroom.
Or rather, it had been. The bed was broken in half, the dresser on it's side, drawers smashed to pieces, bits of clothes and ornaments strewn all around.
But all this faded into insignificance when Anna realised what was leaning against the far wall, propped up underneath a large, empty picture frame. They were dead, obviously. The skin drawn tight, dessicated, skeletal. 'Like mummies' she thought. A man and a woman. They couldn't hurt her. Carefully she crossed the room. They were holding hands, legs drawn up together. Mouths open. Dead. The thought was a heavy one. It seemed obvious to her. This must be their house. Those things outside must have killed them. And the boy. Had they killed him too? Would they kill her? What were they?? There were no clues. She looked up at the empty picture frame. Even in the half light it looked odd. She couldn't quite focus on it properly. She crossed the room, don't step on anything, and pulled back the curtain. The meagre light made the dull gold of the frame shine like oil. She squinted at it. Even the wall inside the frame seemed to be moving. Fascinated her hand reached out to touch it...
Grace ran on. She was soaking wet and the broach was burning in her hand. She rounded the end of the road, panting, eyes focused on the house where Anna lay, only steps away now.
The snap of fire as her fingers brushed the metal threw Anna backwards. A sound like the shattering of glass rang out and the wraiths screamed in reply. The door burst inwards, torn from it's hinges. In they surged, all dark light and rage and horror. Anna screamed and screamed.
Grace hammered on the front door like a mad thing, pushing her way past Matt when he opened it, taking the stairs two at a time. She smashed her shins against the top step as she slipped in her haste, the broach flying from her hand across the carpet. She scooped it up, the pin pricking her finger.
The sound was deafening, the air boiling. Anna was trapped. There was no way out. Except. The window. It was a chance. Better to risk it than die in here. No more thinking, no more fear. She jumped to her feet. The wraiths were on top of her now, she could feel her back burning in their breath. Screaming she ran, her arms up in front of her head and smashed through the glass. Falling, falling.
Grace fell through the bedroom door onto her shoulder, the broach in her hand. Momentum carried her forwards on her knees. Anna was completely covered in ice. Grace clenched her fist and snapped it down against her arm, shattering the ice. She thrust the broach into Anna's palm, forcing her frozen fingers to close around it.
Anna hit the ground hard, the force of the impact snapping her left ankle. The pain was beyond anything she had ever felt. White heat suffocated her mind. She tried to stand. Hopeless. But as she fell her fingers slid across something smooth. The broach! Panting she pinned it to her top and then the wraiths were flying from the window. She crawled towards the wall of the house, pressing herself flat against the ground. Something hard and round was digging into her stomach but she didn't dare move.
Matt pulled Grace from the floor without a word. Together they watched in amazement as the ice once again began to melt.
Anna could hardly believe it. They had come so close to her she could have touched them, but they didn't see her. They searched and searched. And then came a roar from the sky, a sound like thunder. A flash, a light and they were gone. She breathed in a sob. Time to go. Or not. The shock of pain when she moved her leg made her throw up. She dared to look at her ankle and nearly fainted when she saw bone. But she couldn't stay here. They might come back. Like a snake she started to drag herself away from the house, the movement dislodging the thing she had been lying on. The wooden ball. Almost smiling she tucked it in the back of her waistband. Hers.
They watched her from the woods, amazed. No one had ever escaped the wraiths. Ever. As one, they moved towards her.
Anna saw them coming through the dust and the dirt. Drifting like fog across the ground. The ghosts. The children. This time she wasn't afraid. They touched her, soft as snow, smiling, soothing. Gently they pushed her into sleep before they took her broken little body and carried it away to the safety of the trees.
The house sat in darkness as Steve helped Karla out of the taxi. He paid for their ride and then helped her and her bags full of who knew what into the hallway. It was uncomfortably quiet.
'Where is she?' whispered Karla, 'up there?'
She look at the stairs.
'Afraid so, come on, I'll help you.'
The room was quiet, Grace and Matt sitting at the foot of the bed. Grace looked up as they came in, her face grey despite her smile of welcome.
'Are you OK? What's been happening?'
Grace told them about the ice.
'So we had to change her clothes, the bedding, everything. And that's when we found the bruises. Her ankle, her wrists, her hands, her legs. Her back looks like she's been burnt.' Her voice cracked.
'I got the broach back as fast as I could, I promise. I ran, there was so much traffic. I didn't know what to do Karla.'
Matt patted her hand.
'It's not your fault Grace. I'm the one that took it from her in the first place.'
He look at Karla.
'Can you do anything to help her? She's all I've got now.'
'I'll do what I can. Will you get me a chair? And one for Grace please. And some tea? Strong, two sugars. Steve, will you help him please? And bring me the small green bag.'
A short time later, Matt and Steve were effectively banished from the tiny bedroom.
Karla sat next to the bed, facing Anna; Grace sat facing them both.
'Ten minutes only Grace. Ready?'
Grace watched. And waited. Her job was to make sure Karla returned. The stop watch on her phone started to count down.
Matt and Steve sat in the kitchen. Matt staring at the cup in his hands. Steve stared at Matt.
when Matt spoke his voice was a whisper.
'Am I doing right Steve? Am I? What if...'
He swallowed hard.
'Maybe we should call Jack. Maybe this is just too much. Just too much.'
He stood, the chair rasping.
'I feel so goddamn helpless!!'
He sat down abruptly, head in his hands, whispering 'Keep her safe Jules, keep our little girl safe.'
Steve shook his head. Matt was loosing it. Talking to his dead wife now. There was a crash and a shout from above. He looked at the ceiling and then once again he was running up the stairs.
Steve took in the situation at a glance. Karla was on the floor, Grace struggling to help her back onto a chair. He stepped in, ignoring Karla's flapping hands.
'No time, no time' she said. 'We have to act, we have to get the girl to help. The children are terribly frightened. Listen, Emily told me, this is what happened...'
It came down to this. Karla had to go to Grimney, find Kara Jarina and get Anna to someone who could heal her body and save her mind.
But this could take time. Days maybe. Karla had to be somewhere comfortable and secure. Steve and Grace insisted. It made sense to take Anna to their house. It was large and secluded, set in it's own grounds. And moving Anna would protect her. She's been found in this house. They didn't want to be here when the bad things came looking for her.
Steve did his best to explain to Matt what was happening but Matt wasn't listening. He replied to questions that hadn't been asked and ignored ones that had. He didn't seem to know who Anna was. He avoided looking at anyone. Steve knew he was in serious shock but there was nothing he could do. He was almost grateful when Grace sent him to collect their car.
When he had gone Grace packed a bag of Anna's things. Then she packed a bag of Matt's things. Then she packed a bag of things for the sake of it. She was ready and waiting by the front door when Steve returned. Now they were grateful for the darkness and the rain; it meant the streets were empty as Steve carried Anna to the car. Grace and Karla sat in the back with Anna inbetween them, Matt sat in the passanger seat, mumbing under his breath. Steve sighed. It was going to be a long drive.
Two hours later Steve and Grace were sat at their own kitchen table, a bottle of single malt whiskey and two glasses between them. They'd given Matt a couple of sleeping pills and wrapped him up in a duvet in the downstairs guest room.
Anna and Karla were in the twin guest room.
Karla had left them with instructions and warnings. Tomorrow they had things to do. But for now they raised a glass to each other and drank deep.
'Bed' said Steve.
'Maybe when we wake up this will all have been a bad dream.'
'Maybe' said Grace, 'but I wouldn't hold your breath.'
Karla held her breath on her way through to Grimney.She knew her body was lying on a bed in Grace's house, but somewhere on the way through she would aquire another one, and she wanted her first breath to be one she'd brought with her. Superstitious maybe, but Grimney was a place where superstition might save your life. She found herself, like last time, on the edge of the wood. Carefully she made her way to where she'd dreamt Emily. Anna was half hidden on the ground. She was pale and still, but breathing.
'Karla! You really came!'
'She smiled in welcome as the ghost-like echo of her sister appeared in front of her.
'Of course I came Em, I said I would didn't I?'
Emily smiled back.
'You did. And look at you! You look just like, well, before it happened.'
'I'm lucky,' said Karla, 'especially after seeing what's happened to Anna. Her real body's pretty messed up too. I didn't know that could happen.'
'Well I didn't know anyone could hide from a wraith, or survive a wraith attack, but she did,' replied Emily.
'Only just survived Em, and if we don't get her some help soon she won't survive much longer.'
Another child had appeared next to Anna while they were speaking.
'Karla, hurry.' she said.
'The others can sense them. They think they're coming back.'
Karla stood. '
OK Sazra,' I'm going. Emily, be careful. If they come, hide. All of you, hide. Promise me.'
Holmes Tavern didn't appear to have changed much since her last visit. The light was low like the ceilings, but the glow from the fire was welcoming; for a given value of welcome. She remembered too clearly some of the dangerous characters she'd come across in here and hoped none were present. She moved past the erratically placed wooden tables to the huge bar, hewn by all accounts from a tree trunk split length wise by a bolt of lightening from the hands of one of the Zoriat. She kept her eyes focused confidently straight ahead yet carefully avoided eye contact as she went. Her cloak was set high around her head. It was unlikely anyone would recognise her but she wanted to avoid attention. The air smelt faintly of pipe weed smoke, slightly sweet and musky. It was early though, the later the hour the thicker the smoke got. Holmes Tavern was always open and always had customers. The ale was high quality and plentiful, the assorted spirits were strong and the food was plain and flavoursome. Also, there was nowhere else to go. There was less than a dozen people in the tavern at the moment and reassuringly all seemed sober. Karla reached the bar and waited. She was pretty sure he'd be here. He was always here. He'd built the place. Sure enough, some minutes later with a laugh like a grizzly bear Urat Holme surged through the tavern's large oak door, two spindly youths trailing after him, laden with bottles.
'Stack them over there boys,' he commanded, waving underneath the bar, 'and don't tarry, you're needed back in the kitchens.'
He moved and spoke like the king of all he surveyed, which, in fact, he was.
He stopped to speak to a man as he crossed the room and Karla watched him frown, then laugh again; his great beard shaking with mirth. He was still chucking as he reached the bar and leant across to take her order.
She ordered an small ale, feeling his eyes on her face.
'It's been a while since you were last here. Truth be told I hadn't expected to see you again.'
He poured her drink.
'Truth be told I heard you were dead.'
'She nodded back.
'I nearly was. I've been...convalesing.I'm all better now.'
'So what brings you back? Not the some business as last time?'
Karla sighed.'Horribly similar.'
She sipped at her drink, glancing round the bar.
'No offense Urat but the less you know the better. I've learnt my lesson. Least said and all that. Where can I find Kara Jarina?'
'You can't, she's not here,' said a voice just behind her left shoulder.
'But if you stand me for a drink I'll tell you where she is.'
Karla shook her head and took another gulp of ale.
'Darius Kane. How's the family?'
'Good, yours? Oh, sorry; dreadfully thoughtless of me. Bit of a suprise seeing you again, I heard you were dead.'
'Happy to surprise you. Look, why don't you forget you saw me.'
'Gladly, you look like trouble. Kara Jarina really isn't here though. Riverfleet I heard.'
Urat nodded. 'She'll be back in a few days.'
Karla finished her drink and put a pile of coins on the bar.
'See you both then. Darius, there's a large one for you there.'
But as she got up to go Darius touched her shoulder.
'Look; if you need the kind of help you needed last time there is someone here that might be able to help you. She's a witch. A good one. There's actually three of them now but the other two would likely eat you or hex you. She'll help you, if she can, as long as you're straight with her. Don't cross her though, she'll have your eyes.'
'OK. Does this witch have a name?'
'She's called Nydas. I expect she'll be in later. Look out for a pale, pretty one with white blue eyes.'
He grinned, scooped up the coins with a florish, bowed and walked back to his table.
Four hours later and she was having trouble controlling her impatience. When the witch finally arrived Karla almost dragged her to the bar, whispering in her ear as she moved. Her impatience made her careless, her hood falling from her face. And she was seen. And she was known. The man stood, nodded to his companion and slipped out of the door. The Spymaster must be informed. This would be worth coin, he was sure of it.
Nydas listened to Karla speak without interruption, calmly sipping her drink. When Karla stopped speaking she stood and took Karla's arm, her grip steely.
'Come,' she said, 'I need some air.'
She walked Karla over to the trees, the air crackling before her as she moved.
'And now for the rest of it woman. Spill it. I can see you, but you're all wrong. You exist, but you don't. Your story makes no sense. What are you and what are you really doing here?'
© Elvira 2011