Look what I found this morning….
A wonderful poster, created by Amy Elisabeth Miller (AEM) @magicalworldweb to celebrate the arrival of her incredible review for Anita’s second book, Simple…
A wonderful poster, created by Amy Elisabeth Miller (AEM) @magicalworldweb to celebrate the arrival of her incredible review for Anita’s second book, Simple…
Jack Holland couldn’t shake the image of the old woman from his mind. The way she had looked at him replayed repeatedly in his head, making him believe she knew what he was about and what he had done. Normally, he had the greatest respect for old age. If you made it that far, he thought, you must be worth something. She had looked at him knowingly and he didn’t like it.
What if she mentioned him to Kate? She might just assume some old women sometimes create suspicion in order to make their lonely lives more interesting, but the seeds of worry were growing.
Could she have seen anything else? One sighting might be dismissed, but had she seen him on other occasions too?
He prided himself on always being vigilant on his frequent visits to Kate’s flat, but the idea of a nosy old woman unable to sleep at night who might have been at her window had not occurred to him.
Now it ate at him. The woman’s face haunted him; sneered at his stupidity until he was convinced she would tell Kate everything and ruin his chances. He couldn’t have that. The thought of Kate finding out and running away from him again didn’t bear thinking about.
It took careful planning to keep both women under observation and not be seen by either of them and in a way, he was enjoying himself. He imagined he could be a secret agent on a mission of grave urgency. Down to him to do whatever was necessary to put the world straight.
His world, that is. Nothing would be allowed to get in the way of his quest to get Kate back to where she had always belonged.
The fact it had been so long now and Kate had shown no sign of missing him, had not entered his mind. It had tried to, and he had dismissed the thought as unworthy of a man in his position. He had to get her back, nothing else would do and he was so desperately tired of waiting. He was also tired of all these interferences and still fervently believed he would win in the end, once he had eliminated every distraction. He would make her need him again, one way or another.
He had invested in a small ex-electricians van, complete with a colourful logo on the side in which to conduct his surveillance. Nobody looked twice at a tradesman’s vehicle and he felt less conspicuous than he assumed Kate’s brother did, in his shabby old car. He could sleep in there if the need arose. It was a convenient arrangement and quite fitted his image of detective-hood.
She was a sweet old woman, he thought. She kept herself busy, popping up to the shops several times a week. Remarkably agile for one of her age, although he suspected she could be a nasty piece of work should the need arise. He had witnessed the way she treated the postman when he tried to post an armload of junk mail through her letterbox. He kept getting a mental picture of one of those small annoying Jack Russell dogs, busily tearing a rabbit to shreds, reminding him he had to be more than careful with this one.
Having to watch two people at the same time was a new experience for him and was proving to be exhausting, as he had no idea what either of them would do. The strain was becoming annoying and he knew he would have to take a risk soon, as he had visions of sitting in the van forever and that wouldn’t do at all.
The right time arrived just when he was prepared to risk everything by forcing the situation his way. It was Saturday morning and Kate had gone out. The old woman’s front door opened and she came out with a bucket in her hand and started to clean the windows.
It was the perfect scenario, he couldn’t have wished for better. He casually crossed the road, looking out for any nosy parkers and slipped inside the open door.
When the old woman came back inside and closed the door, she didn’t seem at all surprised to see him sitting in her living room. She just stood quietly in the doorway, waiting for him to speak.
He was in no hurry to tell her anything, in fact, he might not say anything at all. Pointless anyway, she couldn’t possibly understand just how important his mission was. He noticed she was nervously plucking at the handle of the bucket, trying not to look at him. It was almost as though she knew why he was there, and that was ridiculous.
After what seemed like an eternity, the old woman finally moved. She walked past him to the kitchen and he heard her rinse out the bucket and put it away.
He stood up and followed her, grabbing her by the elbows and throwing her to the floor. He had no real plan of action, no thought as to how to be rid of her, but he had no idea how strong an old woman could be. He had fantasied that the mere sight of him might have done it, but she was looking up at him, fiercely defiant blue eyes determined to see through whatever was coming. He took her head in his hands and contemplated crushing her skull. It didn’t feel strong. Her hair was soft against his fingers and he paused for a moment.
‘Shame about this, old girl, but no good ever came of being nosy, now did it…hmm?’
Then the sweet old woman with the soft hair and defiant eyes became an obstacle once more, something that had to be removed.
He closed his eyes and lifted her head away from the blue patterned lino. Her hands were clutching desperately at his sleeves, fluttering like birds wings. He thought of Kate, and how much he missed her, and the familiar mist seeped into his brain as he pounded the woman’s head against the floor repeatedly until her eyes closed and she stopped breathing. He left her lying there and went back to his van…
Out of Time
Kate’s life, her mind, is out of time
A savage wind took all
But the brush from her hand.
Her thoughts crash like a wild storm.
She no longer has the will to speak
One last blow to strike
A fake wedding planned by Detective Snow
To trap the beast that waits without.
Will Jack be snared or run again?
The snowman, as Kate calls him,
Will stay with her until the end…
Excerpt from Out of Time…
Kate sat at the table in the Vestry with her head in her hands. She couldn’t believe Jack had found her again, in spite of all the Snowman’s security. She kept seeing the ivory roses, blood dripping from the petals, laid on the altar like an offering. Only Jack could have thought of something that macabre.
The blood reminded her of what had happened to her beloved Dylan, her silver tabby. Jack had ripped him apart in her kitchen, strewing blood and fur all over the floor for her to find. At least this time, she wouldn’t have to clean up the mess.
Why had Michael gone outside?
She knew he was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that their relationship was over. After all this time it must have been a bitter pill to swallow. But going against David Snow’s specific orders was foolish and irresponsible. Maybe his depression had grown bad enough to warrant taking such a risk. Or had he wanted to die?
The voice disapproved. ‘I did ask you to try and be kind to him, Kate. Even though you couldn’t love him, you, of all people, should have treated him better than that…’
It was true; she could remember feeling that bad. Jack had that effect on most people. Just knowing he was out there somewhere had made her suicidal in the past, and the feeling wasn’t too far away at the moment.
The Snowman should have let her see Michael, her imagination couldn’t be worse than the real thing. Right then, it didn’t seem real, and she kept expecting to see him come through the door at any minute. She wished with all her heart that she had run away the first time she suspected Jack was back on the scene. Michael’s sudden reappearance had reawakened all her old desires and dreams, rendering her incapable of thinking straight.
Fate was too cruel. Why had it conspired to bring Jack back into her life at that particular time? If he hadn’t arrived when he did, her brother would not have died and the chain of destruction would have broken.
She wanted to run away but suspected there was no point. Jack would find her wherever she went. The knowledge sunk in that none of them were safe anymore, if they ever were. What would it take to be rid of Jack for good?
Kate heard the door open but realised the noise had come from the wrong side of the room. As she raised her head to investigate, a damp, sweet-smelling cloth covered her face. She struggled against it, but he was too strong.
The room went dark and then faded away…
‘He said that they’d let me go on purpose. That they could easily find me if they wanted to. He said that they didn’t want me. That I was too much trouble. He said if I went to the cops, he’d know. If I told Sonya, he’d know. If I talked to friends or teachers, he’d know. He told me to pretend it didn’t happen. He told me to consider it a compliment, that I was too strong. His last words to me were, ‘Just forget’.
Troubled teen Faith Marsden was one of several girls abducted from Crawton, a country town known for its picturesque lake and fertile farmland. Unlike the others, she escaped, though sixteen years on she still bears the emotional and physical scars.
Zoe Haywood returns to Crawton to bury her estranged mother Lillian, who has taken her own life. As she and Faith rekindle their high-school friendship, they discover notes left by Lillian that point to two more young women who recently disappeared from Crawton. But Lillian’s confused ramblings leave them with more questions than answers.
As Faith and Zoe delve deeper into the mystery, they become intent on saving the missing women, but in doing so are drawn into Auckland’s hidden world of drugs, abduction and murder.
And then Faith decides to confront the mastermind – on her own.
A brilliant opening prologue, the story opens in a foster home in 2001.
Faith Marsden had been in worse places, but a late night escapade finds her in somewhere much worse…
Sixteen years later, Zoe Hayward, a teacher at a boys school, is unfairly sacked because of an incident with one of the boys. Her mother, who she hasn’t seen in years, dies and Zoe must return home to arrange the funeral, so she is unable to stand her ground over the dismissal.
Zoe is just doing her duty regarding her mother but gradually becomes involved in the mystery of the missing girls in her hometown. The authorities seem to want it all to disappear, but she isn’t about to let that happen.
Fast paced in the beginning, the thread of this story alternates between the characters and their chapters, which vastly increased the tension.
Such a complicated and skilful plot, you really need to be on your toes with this one. The story unpeels like an onion, each layer full of frustrating clues and red herrings. By the time I was just over halfway through, the tension had built to an almost unbearable level.
The story slowly descends into a gruelling hell as the author describes the extent of the missing girl’s trauma with painful precision.
The climax of the story begins when Zoe makes an important discovery, triggering one of the best finales I have read in a while…
Her eyes began to burn from staring unblinkingly into the dark. She shut them tight again. Her hands wandered further, cautiously, off the edge of the mattress. A concrete floor, chilled and unforgiving. She stretched her hands out either side. One side touched hard wood. Shelves maybe? The last time she remembered any contact with people was sitting in Garth’s office at the Crawton Tavern, having a few drinks after work on Sunday, with … who?
She stood on shaking legs, the dark playing with her balance. She hardly knew which way was up, and a whimper escaped her lips. The sound, desperate in the stillness, chilled her. She edged forward, hands in front of her, hesitant, not knowing what to expect. After she’d counted six steps from the mattress her hands found a door. She had performed the same actions days or hours ago. She knew what the result would be but grasped the handle anyway, daring to hope, and turned it.
She stumbled to the side and her foot kicked something. A bucket? It skidded across the room. She knocked her elbow on what she guessed was more shelving. Rubbing at it the tears came, wretched, choking sobs that echoed around her prison. Her head thumped as she tried desperately to piece together what had got her here. They’d taken her like she knew they would. She’d told herself what she’d overheard was nothing, even when Tania disappeared. Deep down she’d known she was in danger.
But there hadn’t been anywhere else to go.
Snow has a target on his back
A female finger on the bow.
He may not have long to go
This life a clock ticking fast.
Blood and sand made of paint.
Does Kate still factor in his fate?
Alas, she is taken by the wind
A new female wants her pound of flesh
With arrow poised, she lets it fly
Snow is hit, his trap undone
Ruth has fled, now on the run…
‘Do you know why we have brought you here today, Ann?’
Ruth thought she would ease her way in, rather than accuse her straight off, for triggering any hostility wouldn’t get them anywhere.
The woman stared at Ruth, her pale, colourless eyes searching for clues. ‘Nah… but I ‘spect you’ll get to it pretty quick…’
Ruth indicated a brown paper bag on the table beside her. ‘We found a pair of work boots at your house, Ann. According to your husband, they’re not his. Are they yours?’
Ann Taylor glared at Ruth. She seemed to be enjoying the interview, her arrogance showing through the previous nervousness. ‘Dunno, can’t see them can I?’
Ruth undid the bag and placed the dirty boots on the table. Most of the mud had dried and fallen off, but still didn’t seem like the kind of boot a woman would wear. ‘Are these your boots, Ann?’
Without looking at the boots, she shook her head. ‘Nah, I don’t think so.’
Ruth looked at Snow, but not for confirmation. She wondered why he was choosing to stay silent. What was the point of sitting in if he wasn’t going to contribute? Not that she cared, one way or the other. She had only looked at him to signify inclusion.
She looked back at the woman. ‘Are you quite sure, Ann?’
The woman shrugged her shoulders and refused to speak.
‘For the benefit of the tape, Ann Taylor has refused to answer.’
Ruth decided to read out the coroner’s report, detailing every bruise and damage to the child’s body. When she read the part about the boot imprint on the child’s back, she slid the photograph across the table in front of the mother.
‘Did you do this, Ann?’
When the woman didn’t answer, Ruth decided it was time to play the ace card, and she looked forward to it. This cold-hearted bitch of a woman was about to be arrested, but not before Ruth had enjoyed herself. ‘Are you aware that the person who wore these boots would have left significant DNA inside them?’
Ruth paused, watching as the realisation sunk in. ‘And are you also aware that we have tested your DNA and it has been proved that you are the owner of these boots?’
The fear and shame were beginning to show on the woman’s face, and Ruth watched, wondering what she would do now. She didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Ann Taylor’s face seemed to implode, as the terror of being found out took effect. ‘I swear I don’t remember that part… I know I were angry, but when she fell over and banged her head, I thought she was dead…’
‘So what did you do then, Ann?’ Ruth knew what had happened next, but not which one of them had done it. ‘Were you aware that Amy was still alive when you dropped her into the canal?’
The horror was all-encompassing, as the woman realised the enormity of what she had done. She looked around the room, just once, before she started screaming…
Jack wished he could have been there to see the look on her face when she found what he had done. Imagination was a powerful thing but no substitute for being there.
It wasn’t planned either, he had originally intended to wreck a painting or two, just something to get her a bit rattled. When the blessed cat had started hissing at him the minute he opened the front door he just saw red, quite spoiling his appreciation at finding Kate had not changed the locks.
He managed to corner the animal in the kitchen and picked it up, stroking its head and ears until loud purring ensued. Such a pretty little thing, with its silver and black fur and green eyes. It was enjoying being petted.
‘Where has all your anger gone now?’ he asked, his voice soft and soothing. ‘Why aren’t you afraid of me anymore, hmm?
The animal looked up at him, green eyes gently opening and closing in some kind of feline ecstasy. When it stretched up and pushed its head against his hand, some secret switch flipped in Jack’s mind and he slowly tightened his grip around the animal’s neck. In no time at all the animal was a limp rag in his hands and he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop there.
He laid the limp body of the cat on the floor and stared down at it while he decided what he wanted to do. For some inexplicable reason, he decided he wanted to keep the fur so he undressed, removing all of his clothes and making a neat pile of them on the kitchen counter. He found the sharpest knife in the kitchen drawer and tried to teach himself to skin an animal. He had never done it before and didn’t manage to remove the skin cleanly or in one piece. There were lumps of fur and blood all over the floor; his hands, arms and legs were glistening red. Who knew a small animal would have so much blood?
It turned out to be quite invigorating, as it happened. The sight and smell of all the blood stimulated him to a frenzy and he thoroughly enjoyed making as much mess as possible.
He knew she thought a lot of the animal, always did have a soft spot for anything small and furry, so she should be suitably distraught. Might just cause another heart attack if he was lucky. He was still kicking himself for not having enough time to finish her off when she was in the hospital last time.
All things considered though, he didn’t want her dead. It was so much more fun to make her suffer and even more fun to watch. Pity he couldn’t rig up a camera in here, he thought, looking around the bloodied kitchen. Should be something, pity he wouldn’t get to see it. It did, however, give him plenty of new ideas for the future.
He stood up, the frenzy long gone now, replaced by the satisfaction of a job well done. He glanced at his clothes; quickly deciding a shower was in order and walked to the bathroom. He would have to be quick, as he had no idea how much time he had.
He didn’t want her to find him there, as he wanted this game to go on a lot longer. He was nowhere near finished with her yet.
As he left, he noticed an old woman in one of the houses opposite eyeing him suspiciously. That was all he needed, a nosy neighbour. He turned on the full extent of his favourite icy glare and she shot indoors like a frightened rabbit.
He smiled, slightly amused he still had the power to frighten old women, but he had a sneaking suspicion he might have to take care of this particular woman before she ruined all his plans…
Kate had welcomed death from an early age. With no family to speak of and a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away.
It speaks to her. Teases her, yet will not come for her.
Death takes those around her, making her desire for it greater than ever.
She wonders how much longer it will take for her time to run out…
On the way home from her walk around the park as she approached the bakers, she wondered idly if they had any doughnuts. The sight of her old friend and neighbour Janet standing at the counter made her walk inside the shop.
‘Hello Janet, I wondered if I would see you today. How are you?’
Janet was buying a small loaf of bread; she was so short she had to stretch to pay the woman. ‘I’m fine Kate, though I could do with a box to stand on in here. This counter is far too high for me.’
Kate held out her hand for Janet’s change and asked, ‘Have you heard a child crying near us lately?’
Putting the change in her purse, Janet shook her head. ‘No, can’t say I have. Someone might have visitors… has that silly cat come home yet?’
Kate shook her head and bought two doughnuts. As they walked to the door of the shop, she realised it was raining heavily. Janet fished an umbrella out of her shopping bag and with a quick wave; toddled up the road looking like a little pixie in her boots and raincoat.
Kate made her way home, looking in every doorway and behind all the bushes and bins. There was no sign of Dylan. Tears ran down her face as she willed the missing cat to appear. It was as though she knew he was gone for good, and she would never see him again.
Once back indoors, Kate had to change her clothes as she was soaked through and cold. She didn’t want to turn on the central heating, so she wrapped herself in her old fleece dressing gown and rubbed some of the water from her hair with a towel. She wandered into the kitchen, intending to put the kettle on for a cup of tea to go with the doughnuts when something about the cat flap made her stop short.
Something dark was smeared all over the plastic flap. It looked like blood, dripping down the door into a puddle on the floor.
She didn’t want to look, but knew she must and edged closer. The blood seemed to be all on the inside, she would have to open the back door.
She reached out her hand, but it refused to grasp the handle or the key that was in the lock. She stood, frozen, for what seemed like an age. Desperately wanting to run away and knowing she couldn’t, not yet.
It began to filter through to her brain that someone had been in her flat again. Her stomach dropped to her knees, what if whoever it was, was still there, hiding somewhere?
She couldn’t do this. Her knees had turned to jelly and there was a real risk of her falling to the floor right where she stood. The smell of the blood was making her feel sick and she knew if she didn’t open the door soon, there was a great possibility she never would.
‘Get a grip, girl, what’s the matter with you?’ she said angrily, reaching out for the handle once again. This time she managed to unlock the door and open it, stifling a scream with both hands as she saw what was on the other side of the door.
There was more blood and a lot of blood-soaked silver fur scattered over the doorstep. She knew what it was, but there was nothing she could identify. Just bits and pieces as if he had been hacked to pieces.
She stood there staring, not knowing what to do, so she shut the door, hoping her brain would come up with some plan of action all on its own. She should start by checking the flat; although if she found anyone, she knew she could quite easily kill whoever it was. The shock was wearing off, being replaced by an incredible sadness and anger. Who could do such a thing to a defenceless animal, and more to the point, why? What reason could they possibly have?
The voice sarcastically remarked that the cat had run out of lives too.
What was all this nonsense about lives?
She finished checking the flat but there was no intruder, just the faint smell of cigarette smoke in the living room. Danny! Why would he do this?
She was not looking forward to cleaning up what was left of her beloved old friend. As she willed herself to move and take charge of the situation, she knew her life had just changed dramatically. There was no way she could stay in the flat any longer than was necessary.
She filled the bucket with hot soapy water and walked towards the back door. The sight of the blood turned her stomach over and she just made it back to the sink, heaving up nothing but bile. She retched so many times her muscles began to cramp. With an extraordinary effort, she tried to pull herself together. Dylan deserved that much of her at least, she thought, splashing her face with cold water.
Clearing up took a long time because she had to stop so many times to wipe her face and blow her nose. There seemed to be far too much blood for one little cat. It was so unfair, he was her friend, probably her only friend, as Sam didn’t count, being work-related. She would have to tell her soon she would be leaving, and it was going to be awkward, as Kate didn’t want anyone knowing where she was going. She thought of just leaving and not telling anyone but that felt wrong somehow. Sam was relying on Kate to produce exceptional art for her new gallery.
Anyway, Kate thought she could trust Sam. She had proved herself a good friend in all kinds of circumstances. Depending on where Kate moved to, their relationship would be tested to the hilt. Sam wouldn’t want to work with someone who wasn’t conveniently located.
Kate tried to make a cup of tea, but her hands were shaking so much most of the tea and sugar went everywhere. She gave up and sat down on the kitchen stool, her head spinning. She did feel ill. The room was slowly revolving and she thought there was a chance she might faint. Everything she looked at seemed strange. What was that thing you supposed to do, she thought, put your head between your knees?
The thought of bending over or moving in any direction didn’t seem like a good idea at all, but she managed to pull herself together and walk to the bedroom. She slammed the door behind her, the loud noise triggering something inside her, and she collapsed on the bed and sobbed her heart out…
Amazon Review:Suspenseful Story
Kate is an artist who’s had a very painful life and a few close calls with death. After a heart attack, Kate tries to go on with her life, however trouble lurks in the form of her vindictive ex-husband. One by one Kate’s friends and loved ones meet mysterious deaths and Kate, fearing she’s next runs for her life.
Adding to Kate’s dilemma is a the mysterious voice that’s been plaguing her her entire life, which at times proves to be more of a nuisance than of help.
At times Kate comes across as standoffish, but after reading about her history and the tragedies she suffered in the past, gives you a better understanding for her attitude. After reading about her past, I was wishing she’d find the peace that she wanted.
The story is very mysterious and suspenseful, and I was left wondering if Kate would escape the murderer. The mysterious voice plays a big part in the story and the ending does a wonderful job of explaining the voice and it’s purpose in Kate’s life.
Fresh out of college, Charlotte is running the Wayfarer’s Inn, a castle in the middle of farmland that gives humans the chance to vacation amongst mermaids, centaurs, elves, and dwarves. The guests don’t know that the magic is real, but Charlotte does. For now. She hasn’t developed powers like her father, so now she must either marry into the magical world or have her memory wiped and live on her own.
What’s a girl to do?
Her parents throw her a last chance ball to find a suitable husband within the magical world, but the dancing is interrupted. Join Charlotte and many magical characters, old and new, as she ditches the ball gown, picks up the quarterstaff, and begins a journey that will expose the secrets her family has kept from her.
Secrets that could kill.
I haven’t read a book in the Fantasy genre since Lord of the Rings, but something about the book description for Phoenix Incandescent captured my interest immediately. I found it to be well written and full to the brim with enchantment, dragons, elves and all manner of mystical beings in a fascinating world to rival Middle Earth!
I especially liked the passage at the start of every chapter, such a clever addition to the story.
Charlotte Locklear has not inherited her parent’s powers, so will have to marry into their world or be banished forever. Her parents arrange a special coming out Ball so Charlotte can choose a partner. But along with the suitors, dark forces are present, intent on causing the maximum mayhem and destruction.
Her friend Beau, a magnificent bronze eagle/man does his best to keep Charlotte safe, and I soon fell in love with him.
The amount of unusual characters is staggering and I found it hard to keep up with at first, but the author handles them all perfectly and I felt at home with them all in no time.
This story is so easy to read and I slipped into the Magani world as though I belonged there, such is the power of the author’s imagination. It has every magical element you could think of and the struggle between good and evil will have you on the edge of your seat.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as LOR, but to be honest, where LOR can be hard work and too focussed on war, Phoenix Incandescent is thoroughly exciting and delightfully easy to enjoy from start to finish.
The ending more than prepares you for the next book in the series, and I for one, cannot wait to read it!
Excerpt from Phoenix Incandesent
There was an increase in fuss over her presence until Triton smashed his trident into the ground and a geyser of water shot out of it. “Let the Dane-weaver speak. Most of us have watched her grow up. It is completely fair that she speak on behalf of her family.”
Charlotte looked at him and gathered strength from the acceptance in his eyes. “Thank you, sir.” The room settled down, and she spoke again. “While I may not have power or gifts, I can help us when we need things from the Dane world.”
Many in the room shook their heads or rolled their eyes.
“It is the truth! And I can give you my heart.”
“You aren’t part of the magical world!” Somebody shouted out. “You can’t fight!” Another argued. “You are a child!” Yelled a voice in the back of the room.
“I’m as much a part of the magical world as anybody else here is.” Charlotte argued back. “What I don’t know, I’ll learn.” She scanned the room. “I can’t do anything about my age, but I’m willing to bet that my age could also be an asset.” She smirked. “How old are some of you in here? I’ve heard your knees creaking up our steps.”
Laughter filled the room. “Let her be.” A woman cried out. “She’s got spunk.” “If she wants to be a foolish woman-girl, then who are we to stop her?” A man near the front said.
“Then let it be so,” said Barnabas as he stood up by Charlotte. “If you wish to remain in the castle, please check in with Josef at the front desk. We will meet again as soon as we hear from the group we sent out.” He bowed to the room. “For the Alliance!”
“The Alliance!” The room echoed him. Charlotte stepped down from the stage. It was good, this joining of the magical community. But she still felt left out. Would they really let her be part of it? Would that extend far enough to let her keep her memories? She watched Barnabas roll her father out of the room. She took a step forward. It was time for answers…
About the Author
Child Wrangler by day, Word Wrangler by night. AEM resides in central Oklahoma with her husband and four children. She hangs up her apron in exchange for the laptop she “borrowed” from her husband. Her book notes have recipes for play dough and drawings by her children. Her husband brings her books rather than flowers. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
This canvas is turning out well, she thought, casting her professional eye over the composition. She had tried to capture the glory of a sunset on a calm sea, and the flood of colour across the water was almost right. She put down her brush, needing a cup of coffee.
While the kettle boiled, she thought about what the voice had said about her needing company. It obviously didn’t know her at all, for she had always preferred her own company. Pity, she hadn’t remembered that when she met Jack. Michael too, come to think of it. Why had she broken her own rules so many times?
She had always attributed her momentary lapses to plain stupidity, for who knew better than she there was no Mr Right lurking about anywhere.
She went back to her studio, still thinking about how badly their marriage had turned out. She had often heard women discussing how men would change once they put a ring on your finger, and surely there must be some kind of clue, some sign you were making a mistake before you walked down the aisle? If there was, she never saw it.
Jack must have been one clever bastard, that’s all she could think, for she fell for his charm like a ton of bricks. The first time he had spoken to her as if she was the worst woman he had ever met had wounded her deeply. After Michael, she didn’t think she could be hurt like that again, especially by someone like Jack. She had been so wrong.
He had literally become someone else, someone she didn’t recognise at all. He became rude, sarcastic and moody. He started to instigate rough games, which always resulted in her getting hurt. Even now, her hip hurt most days where he had viciously kicked her off the bed.
The one thing that broke her heart was the way he treated her son, David. He had promised to be a good father and seemed to care for him before the wedding, but that changed, along with everything else. He did still play with him sometimes, but he played rough and she was terrified he would hurt him the way he usually hurt her.
She increased the intensity of the orange paint near the horizon so that it seemed the sun had just slipped out of sight. The dying light streamed across the sea, spreading shades of peach and salmon pink that gradually faded into the cobalt sea. Kate nodded to herself, finally satisfied the sunset before her was as splendid as she could make it.
Something made her think of Sam’s face appearing in one of her other paintings. What was that all about?
The voice was talking about Sam, asking if Kate really knew her at all.
What was it going on about now? Of course, she knew how she felt about Sam. She was a good friend as well as a big help with her art, and there had been the time when it was all a bit emotional. She thought at the time they would have to go their separate ways, for Sam had become so upset by her relationship with Jack. She was simply being overprotective, wasn’t she? After all, Kate knew by then he was a bastard, so Sam was right.
And what was all that about her suddenly vanishing?
She thought of Dylan, and it suddenly felt as though her stomach had just dropped to the floor.
Kate awoke with another splitting headache. The night had been full of nightmares, bloodied babies, cats screaming in agony, and the angry face of a man she didn’t recognise. She nearly gave up in the early hours and thought about getting up, but she must have gone back to sleep again. Not that she felt at all rested.
She staggered into the kitchen and switched the kettle on. While it was coming to the boil, she looked for some painkillers. She hated taking pills of any kind and only conceded with the antacid tablets because she usually ended up being violently sick if she didn’t.
Kate remembered Sam’s raised eyebrows when she couldn’t convince her she had been taking her medication after the heart attack. She couldn’t help it, she just didn’t remember. She didn’t see the point in prolonging the inevitable, always assuming she would die one day anyway. She hoped so. When she was younger, the thought of living forever seemed like a great idea, but not if you couldn’t drag yourself out of bed. Something which was getting harder to do, pills or no.
Every bone in her body ached, and mysterious shooting pains were starting to worry her. She should be taking the pills after all because she wasn’t quite ready to shuffle off just yet.
Right now though, she was having trouble deciding what she was going to do today. She wasn’t completely happy with the first canvas she had done, and she should do some housework, the place was filthy.
She suddenly felt emotional, tears were not far away, as she remembered how much she was missing Dylan. Where was he? She couldn’t bear to think he might be hurt or shut in somewhere. Oh for a crystal ball, she thought. Wouldn’t that be handy?
The next thought to push its way past her emotions was Danny, smiling at her with that soppy grin he always thought was cute. Why had she suddenly thought about him?
The voice blamed Danny for being in her flat, and it could have been him, remembering the smell of cigarette smoke. He would be stupid enough to smoke in her flat. The thought of him, nosing around in her belongings was making her skin crawl. He was her brother; she shouldn’t be feeling like that about him. It might help a lot if she knew why she did, and the truth refused to escape from the dark recesses of her brain.
After a shower, Kate went to her studio. Housework had been voted against, after all, no one would see the place so what did it matter?
She studied both canvases, trying to be objective. The sunset was good, but the dark, edgy one was not. It would have to be done again. She had the idea in her head of a magical lake scene with mist rising from the water. It wasn’t a seascape, so Sam might not like it, but it was what she wanted to paint and wouldn’t be able to move on to the next one until she had transferred it from her head to the canvas.
With the day planned and the problem solved, she set to work; suddenly realising she could hear the child crying again. It seemed to be more insistent now as if it was alone, uncared for, and wasn’t helping Kate concentrate.
During the morning, the crying intensified and Kate began to feel as if something was wrong. She couldn’t remember David ever crying like that. Quite the opposite, he was a happy child, infuriatingly happy most of the time. As he grew older, the moods and bad tempers began to take over. Which puzzled her at the time, for weren’t children supposed to take after their parents?
She couldn’t blame everything on the crying child. The flat hadn’t been the same since the break-in. She wondered if it might have happened before. Not that she had noticed anything anyway as she was not the tidiest person on the planet.
The feeling the flat was no longer her special place was growing stronger, almost too strong to ignore. She knew she would have to move, even though the thought of doing it all over again filled her with dread. She was too old to move house again.
The voice changed tactics, saying she should stay where she was. That whoever had broken in would find her wherever she went.
Oh, no you don’t, she thought. ‘Quit using reverse psychology on me, I’ll do what I want, not what you think I should…’
She stopped mid-rant, realising she was shouting at something that wasn’t real. She should check herself into the funny farm, that would solve most of her problems, wouldn’t it?
Oh get a grip, she thought. She moved house before and thoroughly enjoyed it, she could do it again if she had to; of course, she could.
Suddenly, the need for fresh air was overwhelming. She had to get out of there if it was only a walk around the block.
Once outside the front door, Kate didn’t know what she wanted to do or where she wanted to go. The green Vauxhall was still parked outside number ten and didn’t appear to have been moved. It couldn’t possibly be Danny’s, could it?
She contemplated dropping in on Janet to see how she was, but her need for fresh air was more insistent. She began to walk, hoping something would occur to her as she made her way to the High Street.
Dark clouds were slowly building into a menacing mountain, not just rain if they had anything to do with it. It matched her mood perfectly, so the thought of getting wet didn’t bother her at all…
Death has been visiting Kate all of her life, leading her to imagine she has nine lives, like a cat.
With nothing to live for, no family, just a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away when her lives run out.
Death continues to speak to her, teasing her, yet will not come for her. When people around her begin to die at the hands of a serial killer, she hopes to be next.
Has she finally run out of lives? Will she find a reason to live after all, before it is too late?
Kate tried not to think about Dylan that evening, and it was hard. He had been such a comfort for so many years; the thought she may never see him again was creating a big dark hole in her life, one she could not afford to fall into.
She made a start on the first canvas, but instead of the tranquil moonlit scene, she had planned, angry waves were starting to build, almost without her permission. Like any artist, Kate firmly believed the materials she used controlled the magic. Writers say the pen almost seems to write on its own and Kate understood why this happened more than most people. There were days when she knew something had taken over the brush and done its own thing, something for which she was eternally grateful.
The evening was turning out to be one such occasion. The hours flew by and before Kate was aware of it, it was late. Her body was aching and she knew it was time to stop. In her youth, she had sometimes painted all night, and Kate knew from experience her old bones would not let her do that anymore. She put down her brush and focussed on the canvas in front of her.
What she saw made her gasp. What had she done?
The image in front of her was quite dark, the ocean at night. Instead of the calm moonlit scene she had envisioned, the waves were churning angrily. There was no moon, so the tips of the waves were just visible. You just knew something was lurking and you had the distinct impression a storm was brewing. Did the painting need something else, like a lighthouse?
It wasn’t bad, she thought; but was it good enough for Sam? She cleaned her brushes, determined to save the final judgement until the morning. Closing the studio door, she checked all the other rooms for Dylan but he was nowhere. She checked there were enough food and water in his bowls just in case he came home hungry.
Wednesday morning arrived, and Dylan had not, his food untouched. Kate made her way to the kitchen to put the kettle on, conscious of how empty and hostile her safe haven was becoming. The urge to run away had not diminished, and she kept pushing it to the back of her mind. She had so much work to do for Sam’s new gallery, any thoughts of moving house would have to wait. There was always the possibility she was too old to run away anymore.
It was getting harder to think outside the box and she seriously wondered if she had the energy to do anything other than paint.
She took her coffee to the studio and put a fresh canvas on the easel. She was in no mood to be objective, so decided to tackle another seascape and see what happened.
For some reason, the thought of running away made her think about Jack. He had come into her life at another turning point when she had finally convinced herself she had to move out of John’s house. She was bored with being an unpaid housekeeper, bored with wondering whether Michael would turn up again.
Michael had turned up on two more occasions, using every trick in the book to try to seduce her into running away with him. She was flattered and tempted, and something always held her back.
On that last visit, John had come home from work and found Michael sprawled on the carpet, playing with David. Kate had never seen such anger in any man and remembering that day she felt scared to death. It wasn’t directed at her, just his son. The older man never said a word, just grabbed Michael by the arms and tried to evict him from his house. They fought like madmen and Kate had to grab David and retreat to the comparative safety of the kitchen.
It was terrifying and heartbreaking to watch a father and son in such a battle. John didn’t speak and Michael kept saying ‘dad’ and ‘please?’ over and over again but it wasn’t having any effect at all.
There was an almighty crash and the sound of glass smashing. Kate didn’t want to look but knew she must. John was standing by what remained of the living room window and there was no sign of Michael. There was a sound at the back door, and Kate turned just in time to see a dishevelled Michael stumble into the kitchen. There was blood on his face and she took a step towards him, but he put his hands up and shook his head as he walked past her, not stopping until he slammed the front door behind him.
John had never spoken of it, and the incident with Michael had made Kate more uncomfortable than ever. So when she met Jack again he managed to convince her that life would be so much better if she was with him.
She had originally met him at her old friend Eileen’s wedding. She was instantly attracted to him, probably because he was so different from Michael. He had blue eyes too, and that was where the similarity ended. His hair was a dark blonde and he reminded her of a young Clint Eastwood. He was also charm personified and seemed to adore David. Kate was glad to have found someone who seemed too good to be true, someone special. As their relationship grew, he convinced her he would take care of them both and be a proper family.
He was true to his word, at first. She left John’s house one day when he was at work. She didn’t want to experience any more of his bad temper. It had been incredibly sad to be leaving the first home she had ever created, the house that was full of her endeavours and experimentations.
Her failures were there too, the cupboard that never did stand straight and the carpet stains that refused to come clean, along with the bitter memory of Michael’s betrayal. She had considered leaving John a note, and there was nothing to say. Goodbye was inadequate, for there was nothing good about her leaving, even though she was supposed to be moving on to better things.
Her life didn’t settle down to a perfect existence, and she kept the fact she still loved Michael a closely guarded secret. She had married Jack, knowing she was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. What had made her disregard her misgivings and ignore the warning bells?
Kate put down her brush and stretched, realising she was starving. It was time for a break. Before she could move, the voice filled her head and she sat where she was to listen. It was going on about making yet more mistakes, and it was right, of course. It was always right, but that didn’t mean she was about to toe the line this time. It kept nagging at her to leave this place, to forget everyone and everything, but it didn’t feel right.
Kate knew it couldn’t hurt her, if it could it would have done it by now.
Sometimes she managed to convince herself that none of it was real and she was going mad. In the cold light of day, there had to be a logical explanation for the fact she accepted this voice as a natural part of her life. It had always been there and it would be impossible to imagine something for so many years, wouldn’t it?
If it was real, what did that make her?
The fact she might be special in some way never quite managed to be believable. Surely, her life would have been different? Hell, her life should have been wonderful, shouldn’t it?
Her stomach grumbled, making her glance at the clock. It was past lunchtime. Where had the morning gone? At least this canvas was a bit more promising than the last one. It could have been a photograph of the Cornish coast with rocky cliffs and wild outcrops; with wild grasses and those little tufts of pink Thrift that seemed to pop up everywhere. The sea itself was relatively peaceful, with gentle white tipped waves and a couple of seagulls gliding across the view.
Kate wondered again, how she came to paint scenes like this when her mind was usually miles away on something else. She stopped for a quick lunch of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and when she sat down to eat, her mind went straight back to the problems she had with Jack. When she had married him, she finally seemed to get a family of her own and someone to take care of her. What a bitter disappointment it turned out to be, for she hadn’t expected to discover all the petty arguments and the anger. Something had to be wrong. Hadn’t he promised everything would be different with him?
She remembered her old friend Eileen’s family. They argued all the time, but you never had the feeling they hated one another, quite the opposite in fact. She always thought the way they were together was touching and the perfect definition of a family. Whenever one of the children was old enough to get a job, the first thing they did was to treat their mum to something special. They would usually do some DIY in the house too. So whenever a spring clean and decorating session was going on, you just knew it was because another youngster was spreading not just their wings but a lot of human kindness around too.
That was the advantage of having so many children, and it worked well.
Eileen’s mum and dad never seemed to be overly affectionate, but then there was no discord between them either. Kate remembered thinking there was a lot to be said for peace, for too much emotion seemed to lead to an equal amount of trouble in her experience.
Her relationship with Jack was a case in point. She thought he was the perfect gentleman, but he turned out to be a control freak. It was remarkable how quickly the romance wore off once the wedding and all the promising to love, honour and obey were over.
Were all men Jekyll and Hyde in disguise?
Kate laughed softly to herself, remembering the handsome waiters from yesterday’s lunch. What would they be like, she wondered, once you took the time to get to know them?
The voice interrupted her thoughts, going on about Kate needing the right sort of company. She just knew it was referring to Dylan being missing. Did it have something to do with the cat’s disappearance?
She shook her head. No, that wasn’t possible. It couldn’t do anything like that; it was just a voice in her head, wasn’t it? But her brain thought differently, coming up with incidents it might have had control over. There were so many inexplicable times, far too many to be a coincidence.
The thought it might not be just a voice was making her edgy, almost scared. She remembered all the comments over the years about her not dying. Sometimes it had sounded annoyed, almost angry as if it knew it couldn’t do anything about it, and that was good to know…