Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Must, I Must

Must finish my novel, must finish my novel, must finish my novel.......

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Day in the Life of...

I yawned, stretched, opened my eyes and looked around carefully. These days, one never knew who or what might have crept into one’s quarters while one was grabbing forty winks.
So far so good, the cleaner had been. The tray was glistening with fresh kitty litter and my bowl was full of feline supplement. I sniffed it cautiously – hm, number 79 if I wasn’t mistaken. One of my favourites. I snaffled a few pieces and then had a look around for my human.
Well, human is a bit of a broad stroke (feline pun there). My human is, apparently, a machine, but he strokes me like a human, and as long as I’m fed, what do I care? His name is Data. My name is Spot.
I have lived with Data for many years and he fulfils all my needs; food, cuddles and in depth socio-political conversations. Although he doesn’t seem to notice I am not all I appear to be.
I am not a feline, on the contrary I am a highly developed alien being sent to the USS Enterprise to observe humans at work and rest. A small clue is that I continually wear out my carbon based persona and have had three incarnations – but nobody on board has said anything, so I’m keeping schtum about it.
Not only have I had these three bodies, but have also assumed the body of a lizard – looking remarkably like that Jub Jub who featured in a 20C televised animation called the Simpsons. Even then, no one turned a hair, merely recognising me by my astoundingly bad taste collar! But then that was alright, because my friend Reg was a huge spider – so who was going to care about a lizard?
Anyway, enough of this rambling, off to find my human.

The red lights aren’t flashing - always a good sign on this ship! There are no loud klaxons or some woman giving us verbal abuse of the auditory senses. I slinked around the chairs, time to leave a few hairs here and there – nice to make the cleaners feel needed. No sign of my human.
I jumped delicately – what am I saying? Everything I do is delicate; I’m a cat!! – onto Data’s work place. The flashing lights were off and there was not even the teensiest vibrations coming from the console. No warmth to signify recent occupation either. I sniffed the air. Why do I still do that? Data has no scent……he’s a robot! Guess old habits die hard. Perhaps I could persuade him to start using aftershave – Lynx would be my preferred choice.
Anyway, no assault on my olfactory sense. Data taught me that word, Good isn’t it? So much more stylish than ‘smell’ …… or ‘nose’. And the old eagle eyes have spotted nothing out of the ordinary.
I leapt off the console, revelling in my solitude, and proceeded to do a little more chair-rubbing. I have to earn my feline supplement somehow, don’t I?
He’s not on the chairs………or the sofa……..or the desk…….. Sometimes I wish this feline persona had the power of speech, or at least that the Universal Translator spoke Cat, then I could ask that annoying disembodied woman where my human is.

Strolling past my bowl, I paused and munched absently on some feline supplement 79, and had a sup of water to wash it down. If Data’s busy, then I may not be fed again for a while. If he’s on an away mission, I may not get fed for days. Somehow, the other humans always forget about me – except Reg, and he doesn’t live here any more. The only other human to feed me was Woof. Big man, looked canine – Spot no like.

The door is firmly shut. To keep me away from the local toms, I presume. I am one fertile mama and the Captain thinks I should stop having kittens. He should try it sometime as the only female on a ship with twelve males!! Funnily enough, with twelve males and one female – there is no vet on board to care for us, and I’m damned if I’m going to go and see that human doctor……! Anyway, he knows full well my kittens saved the crew when Reg did his spider impersonation.
So, the only other option is the bedroom. Now this is not a room that Data uses a lot – being a robot like he is. The bed is pristine, so I jumped onto it and kneaded the coverlet into something resembling comfy. I nestled down and thought I’d just have twenty winks while I waited for Data, not the full forty, but twenty would suffice.

I awoke with a start. Where was I? Oh yes. On the bed. The coverlet was now mashed into a most cosy heap and there was plenty of fur around to show this was My Cosy Heap. I yawned, stretched and looked around – why does that sound so familiar…..?
I struggled to remember what had awoken me so suddenly. That dream. The same dream I have day in and night out. The ship is crashing and I’m calling to Data to save me but he doesn’t hear me. Then silence and the big lunkhead (his word, cute isn’t it?) finds me where I have hidden out under some metal stuff. The man cries – I mean, the Robot actually cries – gets my fur wet! – over my discovery. I tell him I’m fine, but I guess his newfangled emotion chip has gone into overdrive or is surging or something. Odd dream, but I’m sure Deanna would be able to interpret it – I mean, seven years on this ship, and I still can’t fathom her purpose. I am more use as therapy than she is! Nothing to beat a good stroking session to ease all those worries and concerns.

Still no Data. I padded out to the lounge room, so called because it is where I lounge around (another feline pun) and looked hopefully at my bowl. Still number 79. Shame, I was kind of hoping it would be number 126 by now, boy that 126 is tasty!
Where is that robot man? I’m running out of things to do; I’ve slept, eaten, hunted. I need stimuli, I need human interaction – well, robot interaction. I tried scratching the door, but the metal tastes nasty and I can’t make it swoosh no matter how hard I try.
I would jump up and look out the window, but a cat can only look at so many stars before she gets really bored.
I would bat my toys around, but they have been batted to a standstill, and no matter how hard I try, they do not look like juicy mice.
I would walk over the console, but I tried that once and Data called me a ‘varmint’ – not one to try again!
So here I sit. A lonely cat on a huge spaceship. Two thousand people……and me. Ffiteen decks and one lonely room.

Perhaps Data will be back soon. He may bring me a new toy. He may bring his friends home for some social interaction. He may sweep me up in his golden hands, tickle my chin, gaze at me with his cat-like yellow eyes and tell me I am a beautiful girl. He may sit pensively opposite me and recite his ‘Ode to Spot’ while I accompany him with some rhythmic purring. He may just sit at his console and work while I doze on his lap.
Whatever happens, I am a cat (for now anyway), and Data is my human. I love my human, and he loves me - in his own special way, of course…….

Friday, January 04, 2008

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Eighteen

As the gig rocketed towards the farm, the opportunity for the demon to reach Sarah unimpeded was dwindling. He cursed, and the thunder rolled about him. The rain stormed down and lightening lit up the sky, seeming to reflect his fury. The sky broiled with suppressed energy and the clouds continued to pile up darker and thicker. Then the creature rose up high in the sky and flew down at the gig.
Beatrice brandished the crucifix as high as her hand could reach and screamed in rebellion. But the demon wasn't going for her. He had a different plan of attack.
He swooped down faster than the eye could follow him and disappeared from sight, just leaving a small plume of sulphurous smoke trailing behind him. A horrendous crashing and explosive noise ensued and the entire gig lifted off the road as if being hoisted by an unseen hand. The little carriage shook and rolled. The harnesses broke and the poor horses fled, still trailing their traces, one of them still carrying James, hanging on for dear life. Brian toppled from the box as the gig was turned over as if in a hurricane, and Michael, Beatrice and Sarah fell out onto the path. The furious and frustrated demon wrestled with the gig in a fit of temper until it was no more than tinder, lying all around the two men and two women. Michael jumped up and grabbed Sarah.
'We have to get her to the farmhouse,' he panted, trying to get his breath.
Sweat poured from her brow as Beatrice staggered to her feet and reached for the silver medallion. It was gone. She dug her hand deep into her bodice. No crucifix. She howled in dismay and began feverishly rooting through the grass and vegetation near where she fell. The men helped Sarah up and they began to lope towards the farm, keeping Sarah between them and urging the terrified girl onwards.
'Beatrice!' yelled Brian. 'Leave it! We must get Sarah to the house. It's our only chance!'
Beatrice was about to give up the search when she saw a dull glint in the mud. She scrabbled furiously and pounced on the silver crucifix.
'Got it!' she yelled triumphantly. 'Run!'
With that, the two men broke into a sprint and almost dragged Sarah along with them, her legs desperately trying to keep up but hampered by her skirts.
Beatrice rubbed the crucifix on her skirt roughly and in one movement she turned and aimed the little silver icon at the demon who was once again preparing to strike. The demon screamed as the moonlight caught the medallion and reflected the light. A small mark appeared on his devilish face. He recoiled, at the same moment the wind whipped up and the sky drove down torrents of rain.
The men continued to run with Sarah, desperate to reach the farmhouse. The rain ran off their faces in rivulets and they could barely see where they were going. But they kept the path in their eye-line and unerringly headed towards the farm. Beatrice turned, keeping the crucifix aimed over her shoulder and sprinted after them, her other hand grasping handfuls of skirt and freeing her legs. The men saw her rapidly making up the gap, and they put a spurt of speed on too. The farmhouse drew closer. The flickering light was now discernible as a carriage lamp by the front door. The door was open; waiting for them.
But as they plunged through the night, they heard that unearthly scream again, and knew that the demon was preparing to strike again. But, through the screams they heard another sound. Galloping hooves. Risking a glance over his shoulder, Brian saw James Jenkins, still on the carriage horse, galloping directly towards the demon. His whip was brandished and there was something else being waved. Brian sneaked another look as he ran, not sure what he had seen at first.
It was Mike's head, strung from James' saddle, like a totem. And like the good man he was, the remains of Mike Jenkins seemed to make the demon hesitate. James swung the whip and it connected with the neck of the demon.
'Run,' he roared as the demon whirled around, uncertain who to attack. The others needed no further bidding and flew towards the welcoming farmhouse, while James continued to flail the demon. Admittedly, it was as if a fly was swatting an elephant, but it was distracting Philip long enough for the group of four to collapse in the doorway.
Lucy and Gloria rushed out from the house, accompanied by Edward, and hauled the family indoors. Beatrice tried to open the door again.
'Mother, no!' cried Gloria.
'I have to!' Beatrice screamed back. 'James is out there alone!' and with that she wrenched open the door, just in time to see the demon swipe at James. James fell from his horse only a matter of yards from the house.
'Brian! Michael! Help him,' she yelled as she, once again, pushed the crucifix into the air above her head, aimed at the essence of evil preparing to strike the fatal blow on James. He squealed and recoiled, long enough for the two men to step out and pull James indoors.
'Girls. Quick!' instructed Michael. 'There's not a minute to spare. Hold hands. The three of you! Now!'
With a puzzled look, Lucy and Gloria hoisted up Sarah and the three young women linked hands.
A scream reverberated round and round the house. The windows shook as the storm intensified even more. Each heavy raindrop threatened to break the glass, while the wind howled through every gap and put the entire building at risk. Lightning flashed outside and thunder shook the house. The storm swirled and battered the little house while the men caught their breath and the girls stood silent, in a small circle, holding hands.
James lifted his blood-spattered face and looked across the room. He saw the girls holding hands, eyes shut and faces set in concentration. Three women. The triumvirate.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Seventeen

Pastor Michael settled Sarah into the gig, with Beatrice and Brian. He looked over as Mike and James Jenkins arrived with their horses.
'So, I'll travel with Sarah and the Dennises. You two ride as outriders.'
Mike and James nodded silently, their lips bitten with nervous tension. They swung up into their saddles and reined their nervous horses into formation with the gig. Brian took up the reins and Michael settled himself next to Sarah, holding her hands tightly. His crucifix gleamed by the light of the vicarage carriage lamp.
'All ready?' yelled Brian. At the group 'aye' he cracked the reins and the gig set off with a sudden lurch. They pelted down the little road towards the centre of town, the outriders easily keeping pace with the two gig horses.
As they swung past the town gardens, there was a loud crack and a flash of light. Before anyone could do anything a figure appeared in the gig, clad in a flowing black coat.
His eyes gleamed red as he looked at Michael.
'You know I can't let you do this, don't you?' he asked, almost reasonably.
Michael gripped his crucifix.
'And you know we have to, don't you?' he growled back at the spectre.
There was the sound of unearthly laughter as the shadowy man leaned forward and took the crucifix from the Pastor.
'Huh! Piece of tin jewellery!' he cried dismissively and ripped the small cross from the pastor's neck. Pastor Michael was horrified to see his crucifix have no effect on the demon, he had been hoping it might buy them some time - or at least keep the evil one at bay for a while.
The demon studied the small metal cross for a moment and then flung it away. He grabbed for Sarah.
'Never! You'll never get the three!' he screamed above the howling wind.
Just as suddenly, Philip recoiled. His face turned deep red and he screamed, as if in pain. Michael looked around and saw Beatrice brandishing something.
'Tin, eh?' she cried. 'Try this!'
The gleam of silver was reflected deep in his red eyes, and it almost seemed at though there was a trickle of blood from them.
Beatrice kept the trinket held high between her and the demon as she pulled Sarah out of his grasp and pushed her down on the floor. Michael immediately covered Sarah with his own body. Philip gasped then tried to reach for Beatrice's outstretched hand.
From out of nowhere came an awful cracking sound, and as Beatrice felt the burning sensation of the demon's fingers brush hers, there was a scream and a furious yelling. Mike and James Jenkins had unsheathed their whips and were laying into Philip as hard as they could. Their horses cantered dangerously close to the carriage, but it was necessary as they were needed to distract the demon before he hurt Beatrice or stole Sarah. Withers beaded with sweat rubbed against the side of the carriage as Mike and James ignored the pain from their crushed calves and continued to flail on Philip from both sides.
A lucky shot from James got the demon straight across the face, drawing blood and breaking his nose. The demon roared in pain and, to the horror of the other combatants, began to shed his human persona.
'Stop him!' yelled Brian, still urging the horses onto the farm.
'I can't' shrieked Beatrice.
The demon spiralled upwards and then flew at Mike, sulphurous tendrils emanating from every part of him. Mike ducked low in his saddle, but it wasn't enough.
As he swooped over, the demon plucked Mike out of his saddle and dragged him up into the air with him.
'No!' screamed James. 'Let him go!'
The demon laughed maniacally and then proceeded to rent Mike to pieces. The absolute strength of the demon proved to be unstoppable, although Mike tried valiantly to fight back. When his head was wrenched from his body, the demon lost interest and dropped the corpse to the ground. He turned, his eyes burning with intense fire and glared at James.
'Come on!' James screamed. 'You want to attack an old man - come and get a young one!' and he brandished his whip at the demon. Philip laughed uproariously, as though James had made an exceptionally funny joke. When he recovered his composure, he threw a hand out towards James on his horse. A bolt of pure energy flew from his hand and jetted towards James. James saw the bolt just in time and threw himself sideways. The bolt hit his horse and the poor animal was stone dead in a matter of heartbeats. As his horse fell, James launched himself at the gig and managed to grab one of the harness traces. He hauled himself up and swung his leg over one of the carriage horses, urging it on to even more speed.
As if looking for the holy grail, Brian peered into the gloom and could just make out the farm. It seemed dark, but there was a light flickering. The girls were still there.
The demon was still furiously buzzing the gig with energy bolts and fireballs. Brian kept the horses galloping straight on while keeping his head down. Michael was still covering Sarah and Beatrice sat up continuing to brandish her silver crucifix, ignoring the pains in her arms and the sight of her old friend being rent in two.
The demon was howling in frustration, as long as that damned silver jewellery was there, he had no chance of getting Sarah out of the gig.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Sixteen

Brian and Beatrice had left the house with James in the gig provided by Mike Jenkins. Edward, the boy, had stayed to keep the girls company, as instructed. He was expecting there to be more people at the farmhouse, as he knew the Dennis family had five daughters, not to mention the other two labourers. Gloria explained that Natalie was at the house of the family of her beau for the evening, and the other girls, Ann, Maisie and Alexandra, were at the house of an old school friend in Ashton, and would be staying overnight. Edward was relieved. The thought of the burden of responsibility for six young women had weighed heavily on his shoulders as he had dashed to the farm. The knowledge that he only had two to protect, and that the labourers were only a stone's throw away, strengthened his resolve.
Gloria and Lucy were feeding the household animals, with the help of Edward. The other two men were feeding and bedding down the outside animals.
The two dogs and the three cats sat patiently waiting for their meal, apart from the young puppy who wound himself around Lucy's legs. She and the puppy had bonded from her arrival and he was often to be seen accompanying the girls on their walks across the fields. In the evenings he usually laid by Lucy's feet, more often than not with his chin resting on her foot or her knee, depending on her pursuit. If she was sewing, then he settled on her foot; if she was just chatting then he would lay his chin on her knee and stare longingly at her, hoping for a stroke.
Lucy liked all the animals, but she loved the puppy. He was a great help in her healing process. So much so that when she asked to name him the Dennis family were content for him to be named Charlie. Little Charlie, as he came to be known, was Lucy's constant companion, seeming to know, in that animal sixth sense, that she needed some comfort she couldn't get from humans; an unconditional love.
As the food went down on the floor and Little Charlie bounded over to find his bowl, there was a loud cracking noise. The girls looked at one another, and Edward got up hastily from the table.
'Stay here,' he commanded. 'And stay together.'
And with that he picked up a poker from the range, left the kitchen and went into the main house. The door swung shut behind him. In a split second, the yard door blew open and Gloria rushed to shut it. Her outstretched hand froze as a familiar figure walked into the yard, eerily lit by the carriage lantern over the stable.
'Ph..Ph..Philip,' she stammered. Lucy appeared at her shoulder and squinted out into the dark of the yard.
'Philip!' she exclaimed.
Gloria and Lucy looked at one another, and then both turned to look at the ghostly figure.
'Hello girls,' boomed a voice that filled the yard. 'I see you have met. Mrs Mantell meets Mrs Mantell.'
He strode out of the gloom and waited by the door for Gloria to move aside. She did so without a murmur, still looking at Lucy. Philip marched into the kitchen and sat on the edge of the table, his coat swathed around him. His face looked darker and more handsome than ever.
Lucy looked out into the yard, and then threw a glance at the kitchen door.
'Oh,' laughed Philip. 'They won't come.'
Gloria pushed her way in front of him.
'What have you done?'
'Well, the two luggoons in the barn? They won't bother you again, or me for that matter! And the child sent to protect you? Well, you can holler and scream all you want, but he can neither hear you or reach you!'
Lucy ran to the kitchen door and tugged on the handle. The door was stuck fast. She yelled as loud as she could muster, but there was no answering cry from the other side of the door. Edward was certainly not able to help.
As the girls clustered together, Little Charlie had been trying to get up the nerve to protect his new human friend, starting with some very threatening growling. Upon hearing Lucy yell, he lunged at Philip, teeth bared. Philip raised one hand, as if to ward off the blow. Charlie stopped in mid-lunge and was catapulted backwards and hit the wall, sliding down to the floor, concussed and very confused. Lucy rushed over to see to her canine friend, while Gloria approached Philip.
'Who are you?' she demanded. She looked into his eyes as if trying to read his very soul. His dark eyes burned with intensity - and something else she couldn't quite read.
'You'll find out,' he sneered. 'Actually, you'll find out sooner than you think!'
He raised a hand and the older dog fell over, frothing at the mouth. The cats were stricken and rushed to cluster and hide behind the range. The older dog heaved and struggled to breathe.
'Stop!' cried Lucy, who was still sitting with Little Charlie and watching the other dog suffer. She made to go to the dog, but as suddenly as it came on, the fit passed and the old dog got up shaking his grizzled muzzle in a confused fashion.
'Do you see yet, dear wives,' coaxed Philip. 'What I can do?'
Gloria and Lucy looked fearful. What on earth was this creature in their kitchen; this creature they had both so innocently married?
'I have to go and sort out the rest of this sweet family,' Philip said suddenly, rising from his temporary seat on the table. The cats hissed and the dogs growled. The yard door flew open and Philip strode out into the darkness, his coat swirling around his calves. He turned and frowned. In an instant all the lights in the house and yard blinked out, leaving the girls in complete darkness.
Lucy and Gloria huddled together, feeling the sensation of silk as the cats rushed past them into the black night and to freedom. Little Charlie was shaking his head, but seemed unharmed. The old dog was resolutely eating again, as though the temporary interruption was past.
'Bye, girls,' came a sibilant whisper and then they had the uncanny sensation they were alone. No footfalls dictated Philip's departure, but they were absolutely sure in the knowledge that he had gone.
Lucy groped around for the lantern and opened the range to light a spill, while Gloria tried the kitchen door again. This time it opened freely to reveal Edward in the hallway. He looked disconcerted.
'Have all the lights gone out? How is that possible?' he asked as he walked into the kitchen.
'Edward!' Gloria tugged on his sleeve. 'Did you hear Lucy call out?'
Edward shook his head. 'Nope. I just went out to see what made that banging noise, the lights went out and you opened the door. How on earth did the lights go out?' he mused peering up into the light mantles.
Lucy and Gloria looked worriedly at each other.
'You wouldn't believe us if we told you,' said Lucy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Fifteen

The wind whistled around the little vicarage as Michael and Sarah arrived. The storm clouds were lowering ominously and the temperature had dropped a significant few degrees. Michael ushered Sarah into the house and slammed the door.
'Maggie?' he cried. 'Maggie, are you here?'
His housekeeper leant over the small stair banister rail.
'Hello sir, tis turning into a wicked night' she commented.
'Maggie! Make up the spare room for this young lady please. Then knock her up something to eat. Warming and nourishing please. And stay with her. I'll be back shortly.'
'Yes sir' Maggie was used to short notice visitors. 'Where will you be, sir?'
'I'm running down to the hotel to speak to Mike. I'll tell him you're held up here for a while. I'll be back directly.'
Maggie nodded and came downstairs in a rush.
'Come on then, miss. Let's get you settled in.' and with that she took Sarah's little bag and led the way upstairs.
Michael waited a moment and, seeing the women getting on, he went back out into the lowering evening.
The storm was gathering pace. The darkening sky was almost purple and the clouds were thickening. There was an occasional rattle as the wind started to pick up. Michael sprinted the half mile to the hotel where he demanded to see Mike Jenkins. Mike came from the back rooms, rubbing his hands on a towel.
'Mike,' gasped Michael. 'I need a favour. Can you send a message over to the Dennis farm? Ask Brian and Beatrice to come to the vicarage. Oh, and James should come too - but only if the other lads are around to keep an eye on the girls!'
Mike looked nonplussed at the pastor. But it was unusual for Michael to ask for things for no reason. Obviously the out of breath pastor had something important to tell.
'Course,' he said and bellowed into the back for one of his handymen. He passed on the message and told the boy to take a horse and cart. He also instructed the boy to let Brian and company have the horse and cart, and he was to stay and look after the girls.
'Two birds with one stone,' he grinned at Michael. 'Can I be of any more help?'
'Can you come to the vicarage?' asked Michael. 'I think you're going to want to hear this too.'
'I'll be over shortly,' said Mike. 'Just give me half an hour to sort myself out.'
With that, Pastor Michael headed back out into the burgeoning storm, clasping his soutane around himself and ran back to the vicarage.
'Tea, Maggie!' he shouted over the rising sound of the storm. 'Strong and hot, please. And make a fresh pot, we have visitors coming over! It's going to be a long night!'

Brian and Beatrice sat together on the settle in the vicarage study, holding hands and looking scared. James and Mike Jenkins stood leaning on the mantelpiece as Pastor Michael ushered in Sarah. He made her comfortable in a deep cosy chair and poured her a strong cup of tea. As she drank, the cup rattled in the saucer.
Outside, the wind was becoming so loud that everyone had to shout. The sky was now inky black and the rain was falling in lumps. Michael had drawn the curtains, but everyone could hear the storm starting to rage.
'Everyone, this is Sarah.' Michael began. The assembled group all smiled wecomingly and encouragingly at the young girl. She coloured slightly.
'Sarah has recently had her baby taken.'
There was a second's silence and then everyone started talking at once. As the volume level rose, Michael raised his hand and they all subsided.
'I have been doing some research and I think I know what is going on.'
'Do you know how to stop it?' whispered Beatrice. 'These poor girls. Three of them. How many more are to suffer?'
Michael took a deep breath. He walked over to his bookcase and took down the old book. He opened it to the correct page and read aloud the extract he had found the previous day.
The words echoed around the room, seeming to push back the storm.
The most powerful of all life-giving properties is that of the blood from a demon's own child. This makes the procreation of children a vital part of the demon theology. However, the child has to be half human and it must not be conceived through violence. Demons believe violent conception lessens the effect of the blood. The child must also be nurtured by its mother for a set period before it is suitable for sacrifice.
Brian and Mike went white as they realised the implications. Beatrice fought the urge to faint, and James looked helplessly on.
'Sarah, my dear,' Michael turned to the young girl. 'What was your husband's name?'
'Philip.' Said Sarah with a puzzled tone. 'Philip Mantell.'
Beatrice fainted as Brian leaped out of his seat.
'The bastard!' he screamed, beating the will of the storm as his words came out. 'I'll kill him! The evil, lying, sneaky bastard!'
Pastor Michael went to Beatrice, while keeping a wary eye on Brian. This was the easy bit. Luckily his audience had come to the same conclusions he had.
'Brian,' he said gently. The storm seemed to abate enough so that the Pastor's gentle voice did not need to be raised.
'I believe Philip is a demon. Not only that, but I believe he is a demon that is seeking eternal life. He is ruthlessly marrying women, impregnating them and then stealing the babies.'
That was too much for Sarah, who also fell forward into a bumping faint. Michael rushed to her side at the same time as James stepped forward and the two men revived her. She sat, white-faced, as Michael continued,
'It goes without saying that we must stop him,' but Michael was immediately interrupted by five voices clamouring how.
'The secret is in the triumvirate,' he said, turning the pages of the book. 'Listen; The demon is the most powerful of all the creatures from other-worlds. It is almost impossible to kill demons without first weakening its power. The triumvirate is still the most potent way to weaken a demon. The Power of Three is a magical essence that will reduce the demon to its weakest and enable victory. We need to create a triumvirate. And I think I know how.'
Mike and Brian looked at each other. Beatrice blanched.
'Sarah,' she stammered.
'Sarah is our key,' nodded Michael. He looked at the terrified girl. 'Sarah, my dear girl, I am so sorry. You are the third girl. Your baby was the third taken. You complete the triumvirate.'
This was all too much for Sarah, her face turned the colour of chalk and she leapt up and rushed from the room. The men and Beatrice heard her stumble into the hallway and into the arms of Maggie.
'Feeling a bit sick, love?' asked the kindly maid, and was answered with sounds of retching. 'Not to worry, I'll have that cleaned in an instant. Let me take you upstairs.'
'No!' roared Michael. 'Bring her back in. We have no time. We must make plans!'
Maggie entered the room, supporting Sarah.
'But sir, the girl is proper poorly. She's just thrown up on your hallway rug!'
'Vomiting is to be but a part of this night,' said Michael harshly. 'Please sit down, ladies.'
Brian stood to make room for Sarah and Maggie to sit by Beatrice, Sarah in the middle flanked by the two middle-aged women. Each woman took a frozen hand and held it tight.
Michael took a deep breath. What he was about to ask these people, these friends, was something no man should ever have to ask.
'As I was saying, we have to create the triumvirate. But we already have one. Gloria and Lucy are two. Sarah is the third.'
He put his hand up to still the voices already rising in dismay.
'We can call Philip. We can use the triumvirate to get his attention.' He went on remorselessly. 'You hear that storm? That is no freak of nature. He knows the three girls are close. He can feel his power weakening. We must get them in the same place. He will attempt to stop us, and that is how we get him. We bait him.'
There was an agonised sigh from the room.
'Bait him?' asked Brian disbelievingly. 'Bait him with my daughter and these poor girls?'
Beatrice stood up.
'Pastor, you had better explain yourself. I am not offering up my daughter or any other woman as a sacrifice to a demon!'

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Fourteen

Sarah sat in her tiny house, the small blanket crushed in her hands. It had been two days since Matthew disappeared and she hadn't seen her husband either. She was devastated. She was also completely alone. She knew no one in Littleton, having moved here from several hundred miles away with her new husband. She had no one to turn to and no one called to see how she was.
The house was completely silent. She hadn't slept for two days and had spent most of the time tramping the streets of Littleton looking for her husband and her son. No one had seen or heard anything, but then very few people knew Sarah and her small family. She had even stopped at the local church and spoke to the Pastor. He was sympathetic and supportive, but couldn't help with actual information.
A sudden knocking at the door broke the painful silence. Sarah jumped and then rushed to open the door.
It wasn't her husband or someone returning her baby, but a pastor. He was a young sweet-faced pastor with friendly eyes and an out-stretched hand. As if in a daze, Sarah took his hand, it was warm, strong and comforting.
'My name is Pastor Michael,' said the stranger, guiding Sarah back into the little house and shutting the door.
'My name is Sarah,' she whispered as she showed him the way into the parlour.
'I was visiting my friend Pastor John. I don't know if you know him?' Michael glanced at Sarah who numbly shook her head. 'Well, he's the pastor you met yesterday and he told me a terrible tale of baby stealing. Was it you he was talking about?'
Sarah burst into tears. She had not cried one teardrop since finding Matthew gone, but now this nice man was here and seemed to care, she finally allowed herself to give way. Pastor Michael held her hand and waited patiently for the storm to abate. Eventually, the grief-stricken weeping gave way to hitches and sniffs. And between gasping sobs, Sarah told Pastor Michael how Matthew had gone from his crib, and to add to her pain she hadn't seen her husband in two days either. Pastor Michael listened carefully and mulled over what she told him.
'Do you need to stay here?' he asked gently. 'Do you have family in the area?'
'No,' she replied hoarsely. 'I had nothing here except my son and my husband.'
'Why don't you come back to my town with me? It's not too far away, and there'll be company and comfort there for you. I can start helping to search for your baby - Pastors know a lot of people' he winked.
Sarah considered. She had not heard a murmur from anyone in two days, even Pastor John has not called around. Despite all her questioning no one had seen or heard anything - or if they did they weren't telling. Perhaps it would help to have this Pastor on side, and she could certainly do with some decent company, and some sympathy.
'I'll come to your town,' she decided. 'I'll pack a few things and be ready when you are.'
'Good,' said Pastor Michael. 'I need to go and talk to John; we'll make sure your little house is safe. Then I'll come back for you with my gig.'
Michael left. The house was silent once more. But Sarah now had a mission. To go to Smyth with this understanding priest and let him help her find her child. She packed a few things and walked into the parlour. She picked up Matthew's blanket and held it close to her face, feeling the softness and smelling the baby smell that still lingered. She folded it and put it in her case.

Pastor Michael sipped the hot refreshing cup of tea in the sunny study of Pastor John.
'Do you think they are back?' John asked.
'It's certainly an explanation for the abductions,' replied Michael thoughtfully. 'But surely, if Philip was a demon, there would have been clues? As far as I know, he was a clean-living, decent young man.'
'But there is definitely something black afoot,' John said with a solemn expression. 'Do you still keep in touch with the Hunters? Perhaps they can help?'
'No,' Michael shook his head and put the empty cup down. 'The Hunters have moved on. They are needed elsewhere. Just because we vanquished the demons does not mean they cease to exist - which is where my train of thought started!'
'What are you going to do now?' John was intrigued. Despite mentoring Michael for many years, he had claimed to stay well away from all things demonic; preferring to leave that to the younger clerics.
'Well, the book talks of a triumvirate being the weakness. I told you about Gloria and Lucy - perhaps Sarah will complete the triumvirate and force the demon to make itself known.'
'And if it doesn't?' John asked the question that Michael had been avoiding.
'Then at the very least, those three poor girls will have company and friends to help out.'
'Very noble,' smiled John. 'And while we're on the subject of women - any sign of a wife on the horizon for you?'
Michael sniggered embarrassedly. 'No, my flock keeps me very busy. And I don't need a wife - I have a more than competent housekeeper!'
The two men chuckled over the joke and eventually Michael rose to leave.
'Michael,' said John tentatively. 'I love you like my own son. Don't do anything foolish, and if you need help, I'll be there - just call.'
Overcome with emotion Michael hugged his old friend close, kissed the top of his bald pate and then shrugged on his coat.
Leaving the comfort of the vicarage, he picked up his gig and went to meet Sarah as he had promised.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Thirteen

Lucy and Maisie approached the house. As they walked up the path, the door was opened and another girl stood silently in the doorway.
'Gloria,' said Maisie, hastening ahead. 'This is Lucy. I met her at the church. Pastor Michael thought you might like to meet her.'
Gloria looked solemnly at the stranger. Blonde looked at blonde. Their eyes met, blue on blue and there was electricity in the air.
'Hello, Gloria,' said the strange girl, Lucy. She was tired and dirty, but she smiled bravely.
Gloria held out her hand and Lucy took it. The two girls walked into the house together and went straight into the parlour, shutting the door. Maisie went to the kitchen and put the kettle on, explaining to her mother that they had a visitor and she was with Gloria.
'Nice cup of tea will set them both right,' said Beatrice, when Maisie had finished telling her about Lucy. 'God love us, someone out there stealing babies - it's horrible!'
Lucy and Gloria were sitting close together, their blonde heads almost touching when Maisie arrived with a pot of tea and cups on a tray. The girls looked up, blue eyes tear-filled.
'She was just telling me about Stephen,' whispered Lucy.
'Lucy told me about Charlie,' whispered Gloria. They sat, hand in hand, looking at Maisie, who was starting feel a little teary herself. She pulled herself together.
'Here's a nice cup of tea for you both. Lucy, I thought I would make you up a bed in Gloria's room - how does that sound?'
'That would be nice, thank you,' replied Lucy, still keeping a firm hold on Gloria's hand.
Maisie walked back to the kitchen still stunned. Her mother was peeling potatoes and Maisie picked up a knife to help.
'You're never going to guess what I've just seen, Ma,' she said as the peel came away from the white potato. 'Gloria is talking.'
Beatrice looked at Maisie in astonishment.
'She's not!' she stammered. 'How wonderful!'
So confused was the dear mother that the peelings went into the potato pot. Both women laughed and set about fishing them out.

Meanwhile the two young girls sat in the parlour and talked long into the night. That night Gloria didn't take her medicine, and she didn't sleepwalk either. Lucy slept in a put-you-up on the floor of Gloria's room, but some way through the night she got up and quietly crept into Gloria's bed, lying with one arm around her new friend. Gloria felt the movement and turned, put her arm around Lucy and they slept like children, entwined, right through the night.

No one could explain it. The initial spark of electricity between the two bereaved young mothers seemed to have fused them together. Not only were they never apart from that moment on, but they were stronger. Gloria and Lucy became one functioning unit, speaking for each other and working side by side.
Slowly Gloria started to get her colour back. She and Lucy bathed together, Lucy washed Gloria's beautiful blonde hair and brushed it to shining dryness in the afternoon sunshine. Lucy prompted Gloria to eat, and gradually Gloria started to enjoy her meals again. When they were both stronger, they worked out in the fields with Brian, the girls and the labourers, and they both filled out and benefited from the fresh air and exercise.

James Jenkins watched the girls as they worked side by side. He was a young lad of eighteen, working the farm in preference to staffing his father's hotel in town. Tall and blond with an easy grin, James was the strong silent type and completely devoted to the Dennis family. Each of the girls held a special place in his heart, but he had yearned for Gloria since they were children together. He watched her grow, meet the stranger Mantell, fall in love and marry. He was at the church the day Gloria and Philip exchanged vows, and he raised a glass of ale to them that evening. Never once, in all their years together, did James ever give Gloria the slightest hint of his feelings. Once she met Mantell there was no right time anyway, it would have been totally improper of him to approach a betrothed or married woman. Since the marriage collapsed and Stephen's disappearance, James was equally reticent, reasoning that the poor girl had enough on her plate without one of the farm workers throwing himself at her.
Now, as he worked he marvelled at the change in Gloria since the new girl, Lucy had arrived. She had some life back in her. Brian and Beatrice said she was talking again, albeit briefly, and she was getting some of her old energy back. But Gloria now went nowhere without Lucy and Lucy was equally tied to Gloria. Nobody understood the special bond between the two girls. They had both lost babies, granted, but they met as complete strangers and bonded in an instant of electricity. Instead of crying together in corners, they were preparing to take on the world - but always together, Lucy and Gloria came as a package now.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Twelve

In a small house in the poorer area of Littleton lived Sarah, her husband and her baby son. Sarah was a petite blonde with a startlingly pretty face, and deep hazel eyes. She was small and slim and carried herself with an aura of dignity that many better-bred women couldn't manage. Her son was named Matthew and he was the spitting image of his father. His hair was darkening now and his eyes gently turning from blue to dark brown.
The little house only boasted two rooms, a parlour-come-kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. But Sarah was an inventive and imaginative woman and the little house was as homely as she could make it. She had hand sewn all the curtains and cushions, even the bedding was handstitched. She had painted the walls and hung gay pictures to brighten up the little rooms. She had found old unwanted ornaments and polished them to a brilliant shine, placing them by the fireplace so they caught every warm flicker from the fire. Money was tight, she understood that, but Sarah came from a poor family and was well-versed in making every penny do the job of two.
She brushed her hair from her face and scrubbed the clothes. She was doing the laundry in the tiny back yard. They had no complaints, at least their yard was private - so many of these houses had shared yards, even shared privies. Sarah and her husband had managed to secure a house with its own yard and a small private privy. Her hands were red and swollen from the laundry and the vicious detergent. Her face sweated with the effort and her breaths were shallow and difficult. But this was the last item. She had washed the clothes and, feeling a sense of energy, had decided to clean the contents of her linen closet. In these little slum houses, nothing stayed clean for long, not even clothes carefully stored away in chests and closets. Eventually the fabric would start smelling stale, and her husband had complained a couple of times that his clean bed smelt like something had died in there.
Sarah straightened up, wringing out the last sheet. It would be so nice when this was all done, she thought. She ran the sheet through the mangle and strung it up on the homemade washing line she had constructed. The yard was filled with billowing white linen, drying in the warm April sunshine.
A cry came from the house. Matthew had woken ready for his feed. Sometimes it seemed the child was conscientiously aware of when would be a good time to cry. He never cried when his mama was busy, and he never, ever cried around his father. Only a few weeks old and the baby had learned selective attention seeking.
Sarah picked him up and held him close. The little man immediately started nuzzling for food. Sarah smiled and settled herself in the chair, freeing up her breast to her hungry son. While he drank, she played with his soft curly hair and admired his long dark eyelashes, which lay on his creamy cheeks. She had certainly created a beautiful child, however, it was easy to see where his good looks had come from. His father had the same curly brown hair and long, long dark eyelashes that contrasted with his creamy coloured complexion. Her blonde hair and hazel eyes were not to be continued on in this child, she mused, but perhaps the next one might be like me? Perhaps the next might be a girl? I'd like a girl, she thought as Matthew pulled steadily at her breast. Pretty dresses and ribbons for her hair. Sarah floated away on dreams of her future daughter.
A small wail interrupted her thoughts, as Matthew informed her that he had had enough to drink. He belched loudly and milkily, and then gazed at his mother with his huge eyes. She smiled fondly at him and he chuckled. Matthew was such a gentle baby, he rarely cried, he never screamed and he smiled at her constantly. Once full of milk he would gaze around for a while before quickly going back to sleep. Sarah was looking forward to the days when he was older, and taking interest in things around him. She couldn't wait to start showing him trees and animals and reading him little books. The countryside was only a short walk out of town and she had plans to take him out to the fields at least twice a week for fresh air and, later, exercise.
Matthew's eyes slowly closed, still trying to gaze around against the odds. He smiled gently in his sleep and Sarah knew that meant he would need a nappy change when he woke up. She put the sleeping child back in his basket. Space was at a premium in the little house, so her husband had managed to acquire a small basket, just the right size for Matthew. It even came with little sheets and a warm woollen blanket. Matthew snuggled into his blanket and small milky snores came quickly.
Sarah looked around her little house. It wasn't much, admittedly, but with her husband working away so much of the time, it was big enough for her and the baby. The single room downstairs was actually longer than it appeared outside and meant there was room for a little sitting room cum parlour, and also a kitchen area at the opposite end with a small table for dining. Upstairs, the bedroom was the same deceptively large size, so Sarah and her husband curtained off the back end and created a small nursery and their 'room' was the rest of the space at the front of the house. Being quick and dextrous with her hands, Sarah had fashioned quilts and curtains for the house from offcuts offered by the local haberdasher. The result was a room filled with a hundred colours and a dozen patterns - but somehow all managing to co-ordinate to create a colourful creation.
The little yard was neatly paved, a bonus as some were still bare earth. The privy was in the far corner of the yard, denoted by the cut-out in the door. Luckily, the privies in this street all drained away into the new town sewer system, so the days when Sarah would have had the job of cleaning out the privy were long gone. Other than the privy, the yard was completely empty, save for the washing line Sarah had managed to string back and forth between the roof of the privy and the back wall of the house. The yard was swept daily and it was spotless. Once a month Sarah even washed down the paving, so proud she was of her own yard. The windows in the house were clean and gleamed in the sunshine.
With Matthew asleep and a short while on her hands before starting dinner, Sarah pulled a chair into her yard, sniffed the smell of damp clean laundry and settled herself in the sunniest spot. She had no books and no music, but Sarah didn't need such things. She had perfected the art of removing her mind elsewhere, leaving the toils and worries and going to a magical place where her house had a garden and an inside water closet - and a proper parlour. Each day, in her mind, she visited her 'other house' and spent some time there, thinking up new colour schemes or mentally moving furniture to get the best aspects of the room.
She awoke with a start and looked at the sky. The sun had passed its zenith and was starting to fall towards the horizon. Time to start dinner. In the market that morning, Sarah had managed to pick up some pork chops and intended to cook those with some fried potato for her husband who was due home at dusk. Matthew, thankfully, slept on in his basket, but Sarah knew she would have to wake him before his father came home, in order he might spend time with his son, before he went to bed for the night. This was a routine that her husband was most insistent on, that he have half an hour getting to know the child and spend some quality time with his boy.
As good as his word, her husband walked through the door as the sun was setting over the horizon. The house smelled pungently of pork and fried potato, and Matthew lay in his crib banging a wooden spoon. Sarah had had a quick wash and was neat and tidy to serve her husband his dinner. While he spent five minutes with Matthew, she dished up the meal.
At the other end of the room, her husband peered over the crib, making noises at Matthew, who was chuckling back. What Sarah didn't see was the surreptitious nips from the hipflask, under cover of the crib. Several slugs later, he straightened up and strode over to his dinner.
'How is Matthew today?' he asked, chewing on a mouthful of potato.
'He is fine, better than fine!' Sarah replied with unhidden pride. 'He is so healthy, and hardly ever cries. He's eating well too!'
'That's good,' said her husband as he carved up his chop. 'Let me finish here and we'll have a nice peaceful evening in the parlour with our baby son.'
Sarah shuddered slightly as she started to clear up the kitchen. She was hoping he would be tired and fractious, but it would appear her husband would be in fine form for his usual 'fun and games'.
'Oh, I forgot to say,' he declared, waving the chop bone. 'I will be away late tomorrow, probably overnight. Don't wait dinner for me.'
'Yes, my dear,' said Sarah obediently, her heart lifting. An evening with just her and Matthew. All night with the bed to herself? No grabbing or kicking. She smiled slightly as she wiped down the range.
'You seem happy with my plans,' her husband commented. 'I've finished eating, let us go and relax in the parlour.'
Sarah put the cloth in the sink, gritted her teeth and followed her husband into the parlour end of the room.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Eleven

Pastor Michael sat in his study, his forehead furrowed in a deep frown. The arrival of Lucy had disturbed him very much, especially in light of the Dennis case. Something here didn't add up, or alternatively, it did add up and Michael didn't like the result. He was curious as to why two young babies had vanished in as many months, in such a small area. Child-stealing was rare these days, although it was prevalent during the War.
The War. Maybe that was the key. Pastor Michael had been very heavily involved in the support of the humans and also the Demon Hunters. He had run messages and held meetings to support the Demon Hunters. In fact, he was one of the original group who contacted the Hunters and requested their help. Pastor Michael knew more about demons than any human man should know.
He cast his eyes across the expanse of bookshelves, searching out a specific title. Finding the book, he pulled it down and opened it to a large colour plate. The picture showed an image of the eternal battle between human and demon. The demon was enormous, without its human form, and sulphurous smoke eddied around it. Large horns protruded from its devilish forehead and its red eyes glinted dangerously. Its hands were enormous with skin of almost a purple hue, which was reflected in his face, and long black claws. The face was a frightening sight. It had the required number of holes; mouth, nose, and eyes, but with the purple skin and horns, not to mention full beard, the demon's face was definitely non-human. It had the human child by the neck, dangling him a good three feet above the ground, and it was clear from the artwork that the child was being garrotted by the beast's hand. It only took one hand to lift the child, the other monstrous claw was digging into the victim's chest, clearly with an intent to disembowel. The picture was entitled 'Demon Meal' and the following article explained the background to the astonishing picture.

'The demon is predominantly and dominantly male. Most demons can take human form whenever they desire, adopting it and shedding it at will. It is recorded that demons live amongst humans for many years without being discovered.
However invulnerable demons may appear they do have weaknesses. Most demons cannot take alcohol or other recreational drugs. Some react with intense violence, some shed their human form involuntarily, and some expire.
Another weakness is the demon's addiction to fresh blood. Particularly when taken in conjunction with a desire to conquer eternal life. The Fountain of Youth, referred to many times in human literature, is considered very real in demonic circles and many demons feel they can gain eternal life from the consumption of the blood of children, particularly babies. The picture (overleaf) illustrates the desire of a demon for the blood of a child, and it excites them to such a degree that they shed human form before killing and drinking the blood. Killing is left to the last minute as demons believe the blood should be warm and still pumping when it is drunk.

Pastor Michael read on, although his blood was chilling with every brutal word. But he knew, almost instinctively, that this was where he was going to find the answer to the unasked question.

The most powerful of all life-giving properties is that of the blood from a demon's own child. This makes the procreation of children a vital part of the demon theology. However, the child has to be half human and it must not be conceived through violence. Demons believe violent conception lessens the effect of the blood. The child must also be nurtured by its mother for a set period before it is suitable for sacrifice.

Michael looked up from the book, his face ashen. Was it possible, he theorised, that there was a demon in their midst? He turned to a later chapter of the book, trying to find the answer to a question that was niggling at the back of his mind.

The demon is the most powerful of all the creatures from other-worlds. It is almost impossible to kill demons without first weakening its power. The triumvirate is still the most potent way to weaken a demon. The Power of Three is a magical essence that will reduce the demon to its weakest and enable victory.

Michael paused. The Power of Three. He considered the implications of the statement carefully. If there was a demon abroad, how would they create the Power of Three? It had to be a trio that had some meaning in the demon's existence. In order to create the Power of Three, one had to see into the life of a demon. Had Michael seen the demon? Had he touched or sensed the demon? Could he, a mere pastor, see into the life of a demon and create the Power of Three?
Michael began making plans to travel. Lucy and Gloria were safe at the farm, and he had some questions that needed answers. The only place he was going to get answers was from his old friend and mentor, Pastor John.

Monday, October 01, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Ten

Lucy rinsed her hands under the tap and rubbed them dry on the worn old towel. Charlie had been asleep for an hour or more, so she had a little more time to herself. She picked up her trug and went out into the warm spring morning, tramping across the garden towards her precious vegetable beds. The cold weather had passed and spring was here proper. A warm sun shone across the fields, making the grass shine and the new leaves on the trees glitter. She picked a fine selection of vegetables. A nice thick vegetable soup for dinner tonight. Her husband had said it was possible he might not be home that night, and he definitely wouldn't have time to visit the butcher, so Lucy decided to make a juicy vegetable broth and some warm fresh bread.
She re-entered the kitchen and put the trug by the sink, drawing cool fresh water to wash the vegetables. She crooked an ear, but there was not a murmur from the parlour. Charlie slept on.
An hour later, all the vegetables were prepared, the bread was proving in the larder and Lucy decided it was time to make sure Charlie woke for his feed. She walked into the parlour.
'Little man?' she cooed. 'Lunch time!'
'Charlie?' she said louder walking over to the basket. 'Mummy's here!'
She pulled back the covers to discover Charlie was missing.

Ten minutes later, Lucy was still sitting where she had fallen onto the settle. She stared into space. She shook herself gently.
'Don't be daft' she admonished herself. 'Babies don't disappear.'
She searched the parlour thoroughly and then went upstairs. Charlie's little colourful nursery was empty and silent, but she searched it anyway. Then she went to their room. She turned the room upside down, beginning to fever in her search. She even looked under the bed, as if Charlie could magically spirit himself upstairs and under a bed.
She walked out of the house, calling loudly for her baby.
Silence greeted her. The animals were peaceful in their fields and there was not a soul for miles.
Charlie had gone.
Someone had taken Charlie.
Someone would pay.

Lucy walked stiffly into Smyth. It was a long hike from her little house, but she had determinedly walked without stopping. She entered the Town Square and decided to rest her feet in the pretty gardens. On one side was a large hotel, Jenkins Hotel, and across the way was a picturesque little road with a signpost that declared 'Church'. As she rubbed her sore feet, sitting on the warm grass amidst all the flowers, she decided to pay a visit to the church. After all, she reasoned, the church is the centre of a community.
Aware she was unknown in Smyth, she put her head down and took five minutes to gather her thoughts before struggling to her feet and setting off down the pretty little road that led to the church.
The pastor was dusting the plain altar as Lucy walked slowly into the church. He heard the light tiptap of her boots on the stone floor and turned to see who needed the Lord.
He saw a young blonde girl, skirts muddy and face smudged. Streaks of long-dried tears lay on her cheeks under her blue eyes and her hands were shaking. She looked more than her years, and staggered slightly as she walked towards him.
The pastor rushed over and gave the girl his arm. She leant on it, as though twenty times her age, and the pastor gently led her into the vestry.
As he brewed a cup of tea on his little stove he began to speak, in a gentle, rhythmic way, not demanding any answers.
'My name is Pastor Michael. Named for the saint, don't you know? Saint Michael was a fine chap, led the army of the Lord against Lucifer. I always feel my namesake had a much more productive religious life than I am managing.' He stirred the tea in the pot, still chattering. 'I have been here for three years now. Apart from births, deaths and marriages, this is one very self-sufficient community, faith-wise.'
He noticed she stiffened when he mentioned birth, death and marriages.
'So, my dear girl,' as he passed her a steaming mug of tea. 'What is your name?'
Lucy took the cup and the hot fumes seemed to revive her.
'My name is Lucy. Can you help me?'
The pastor settled himself on the bench next to her. He took the mug from her hand and gently took her cold hands in his. His eyes searched her face.
'Anything I can do, Lucy. The Lord and I are completely at your service.'
Lucy finally looked him in the face. Pastor Michael was a sturdy young priest with a homely square face, reliable looking. His thick hair curled on his collar and he had warm friendly eyes. His soft brown eyes seemed to look into Lucy's heart and she felt the warmth of his hands creep into her heart. She sensed intuitively that here was a man she could trust.
'My baby is gone.' She said simply. Pastor Michael looked horrified. At his gentle urging she told him the whole story.
'Where is your husband?' he asked
'Travelling today, Pastor. He said he might be away tonight. I don't know where he travels with his work.'
Pastor Michael felt a sinking sensation. This sounded like the Dennis family. Two babies in one town in the space of only a couple of months? Just disappearing off the face of the earth without a trace?
As if he conjured her up, there was a small tap at the door and Maisie Dennis put her head around.
'Pastor? Are you there?' she called. Seeing Michael was busy she stammered 'sorry, Pastor. I'll wait out here. I was just here about the flowers for Sunday.' With that she gently withdrew and quietly shut the door.
Pastor Michael opened the door and motioned quietly to Maisie.
'Maisie, come in here, child,' he said in a low voice. 'We need you. This is Lucy. Her baby has disappeared - just like Stephen.'
Maisie walked slowly into the vestry watching the young girl cautiously.
'Lucy, this is Maisie Dennis,' Michael introduced the girls. 'Her sister's baby disappeared too. You two should talk.'
'Your baby is gone too?' Maisie asked disbelievingly. 'My sister's baby vanished about six weeks ago.'
Lucy looked up at the new arrival. Maisie was tall and dark, as dark as Lucy herself was blonde. She had a friendly face and looked bright, although a cloud had passed across her complexion when Michael told her the news.
'Maisie?' asked Pastor Michael, sensing a helping hand. 'Can you take Lucy to get something to eat? Poor girl must be starved, and I must finish cleaning the church.'
Maisie agreed and she led the little blonde girl out of the quiet cool church into the warm spring day.
'So, we'll find the hotel and have something to eat,' she said, tucking Lucy's arm into the crook of her own and setting a strolling pace down the little road. 'And you can tell me all about it.'

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Nine

The door rattled in its jamb and Gloria turned her soulless eyes toward the noise. Maisie walked into the room with a vase of flowers.
'Aren't these lovely, Glo?' she asked, setting the pretty vase on the coffee table. 'They came from Mrs Jones' garden, her boy brought them over this morning. My! How they do cheer up a room!'
Gloria looked at the flowers in the vase, but only saw greys and blacks. She couldn't see the beautiful petals, the vibrant colours and the dark green of the leaves.
She looked again towards the door.
'You know,' Maisie continued on as if holding a conversation. 'Daddy is back in town today. Mr Jenkins at the hotel says Philip has checked out. Daddy is looking for him.'
A slight shadow crossed Gloria's face. Philip? Gone? But she needed him.

Brian Dennis stood in the foyer of the hotel with Mike Jenkins. He was looking at a copy of Philip's bill.
'And he just upped and left, you say?' asked Brian.
'Yes, he gave us about ten minutes notice. We were completing his bill as he carried his bags outside,' said Mike.
'But Mike, he said nothing to us, nothing to Gloria,' persisted Brian. 'Do you have any idea where he went?'
'No, my friend,' replied Jenkins. 'He paid his bill in cash and said goodbye. Said he was moving on to find work.'
'I don't know what Gloria is going to do.' Brian was concerned. 'After all they had been through, it seemed Philip had turned a corner and they might make a go of their marriage.'
'He sure was over at your place regular,' mused Mike. 'His room never needed cleaning and the cleaning girl swears his bed was so tidy she joked he never slept in it!'
'Well, he's always been a tidy man - but a spotless bed? Are you sure he was sleeping there at night?'
'We did have our doubts,' said Jenkins. 'But with Gloria and all, we didn't like to ask. Didn't mention it outside the hotel neither, and swore young Maggie to secrecy. Your girl's got enough on her plate without added gossip from the town. Of course, James knows.'
'Mighty grateful, Mike' said Brian, looking at the bill again. 'You sure he didn't say where he was going? Or if he'd be back?'
'Not a word,' said Jenkins. 'Just upped and off. Gone in about thirty minutes all told. I saw him walking towards the wagon stop, but didn't see which way he went from the corner.'
Brian looked down from the hotel entrance. The hotel was right in the centre of town, looking over the town gardens. The town spread out from the hotel and from the doorway he could see all four roads disappearing into the distance. To his left was the road out of town to his house. Straight across was the road to the church. To the right two roads snaked off into the more built up areas, one leading to the wagon stop. But that road had a nasty corner, and one watched people slip around it and they were gone from sight.
'Cheers, Mike,' he said, handing back the bill. 'I'll have a mosey into town and see if anyone saw anything.'
With that, Brian set off down the road towards the wagon stop. Turning the corner he saw the grocery shop and the haberdashers. He went into each shop and asked the same question.
'Have you seen Philip Mantell today?'
The answer from both harried shopkeepers was no. Brian stood at the wagon stop, and pondered. Whilst he considered his next move the conductor jumped down from the wagon currently awaiting passengers.
'Help you, Sir?' he asked brightly.
'How many wagons have gone from here this morning?' asked Brian.
'Four, Sir,' replied the conductor. 'One to Cleveton, one to Ashton, and two to Littleton.'
'Four.....' mused Brian. He looked up. 'Where is your wagon going?'
'Cleveton, Sir.'
'How long do I have before you go?'
'About twenty minutes, Sir. I was just about to get my lunch from the grocer. The driver should be back in about ten minutes.'
'I'll be back,' yelled Brian as he sprinted down the street back towards the hotel.
Mike Jenkins agreed to run a message to the Dennis farm, and also lent Brian enough money for his plan. Brian sat back in the rocking wagon, watching the scenery flow past. Finally, he was doing something. The helpless feeling of this morning had been replaced with a feeling of intention and anticipation.
Brian was going to find Philip. And he was going to bring him home.

The message arrived at the Dennis farm in the shape of Mike Jenkins himself. Mike was a good friend of Brian's and he was close to Beatrice and the girls. His son James, having eschewed the life of a hotelier, worked as one of the Dennis labourers. The family looked at Mike nonplussed as he delivered the message. James stood silently at the kitchen door, wary of intruding, yet needing to show this close-knit family his support.
'Brian's gone? After Philip?' spluttered Beatrice. 'Does he know where he's gone?'
'ah, no,' said Mike 'But he knows that only four wagons left Smyth this morning. One to Ashton, one to Cleveton and two to Littleton. He reckons he can cover all three towns in one day and be back here by suppertime.'
'If you don't think he slept at the hotel,' pursued Ann. 'And he didn't sleep here - where did he sleep for the last three weeks?'
'Now that, as they say, is the golden question,' answered Mike exchanging a quick look with his son James. He was pretty certain Philip had not slept at the hotel, merely keeping his room as a bolthole. He was at the Dennis farm most of the day, then returned, changed and went out in the evening. Originally, the Jenkins' thought he returned late at night, but Maggie seemed insistent that the bed was unused.
Brian returned home late that night. He had no news. No one in Ashton or Cleveton has seen anyone resembling Philip, and Littleton was a very large town where no one paid any attention to anyone other than themselves. He had tramped up and down the streets of Littleton for two hours, visiting shops and stopping passers-by. He had even visited the sheriff's office and left a description of Philip with the officers.
They had reached an impasse. Stephen was still missing, Gloria was in deep depression and now Philip had disappeared.
As Brian was so fond of saying 'when you can go no further down, the only way is up'.
But 'up' seemed an unlikely and bleak prospect to the Dennis family as they prepared for bed that night. Gloria was given her medication and Ann decided to stay at her side through the night.
Brian and Beatrice retired to their room, filled with concern over what the next few days might bring them.
In the bunkhouse, James Jenkins lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling. He was aching for the family, having known Gloria since they were children playing together. He quietly swore that whatever happened in the Dennis family he, James Jenkins, would be there to support and comfort them.