Authors: Heather Atkinson
By Heather Atkinson
Copyright Heather Atkinson November 2014
The idea for this novel came from the stunning work of the artist Vega whose painting, Electric Light, takes pride of place above my fireplace. I would like to thank Vega for inspiring me to write this novel, as well as my mother, Stephanie for proofreading, my sister and fellow Indie author Suzanne Clark for her input and as always my lovely husband Paul for his support. Also to my daughters Charlotte and Sophie for being cute and cheeky and a general delight.
Heather Atkinson November 2014
“There hen, is that all better?” said Fred, tucking his wife into bed.
Joanie had to wheeze in a breath before she was able to reply. “Much Fred, much.” Her hand groped for his face, struggling with her failing sight.
Fred took her wrinkled, liver-spotted hand, the network of veins clearly visible beneath the paper-thin skin, and kissed it.
“I hate being so old,” she said.
“You’re not old.” He picked up the photograph of them together on the steps of the church on their wedding day, both young and beautiful. “You haven’t changed in fifty five years.”
She released a wheezy gasp that Fred knew was a laugh. He felt sad that her light musical laugh had been reduced to that and he experienced a savage rage against mother nature for dismantling his lovely wife bit by bit. The cancer had taken hold and refused to let go. One day it was going to steal her away entirely and he was prepared for that day. After she was gone he was going to lie down beside her and overdose on the antidepressants he’d been stashing away from the supply his doctor had prescribed for him. He was determined they were going to go together. For now he was savouring every moment with her.
“Water?” he said, pouring her a glass when her laugh turned into a hacking cough.
She nodded, unable to catch her breath, taking a sip of the cool liquid when he pressed the glass to her lips.
“Better,” she breathed, the coughing subsiding. “So tired.”
“Get some sleep,” he said, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead.
As he placed the glass on the bedside cabinet there was a tinkle of glass and Fred’s head snapped forward. He stood rigid for a second, eyes wide with surprise, mouth moving soundlessly, a drop of blood sliding from the ragged hole in the centre of his forehead before falling face down on the bed, unmoving.
“Fred,” Joanie croaked, unable to work out what had happened. She hadn’t been able to see without her glasses. She’d heard glass break. Had he dropped the water glass and hurt himself? Why wasn’t he moving? Bewildered, she placed a withered hand on his shoulder and attempted to shake him awake, but he didn’t react. Realising there was something warm and sticky on her face she touched her fingers to her cheek. Her hands shook violently when she saw the red smears staining her fingertips.
“Fred,” she wept, understanding dawning that her partner of fifty five years was dead and his blood was on her face, although she couldn’t comprehend how it had happened. All she knew was that it was something to do with that tinkle of glass.
Her rheumy eyes focused on the window opposite her bed and, although she couldn’t see the hole, she could feel the draught on her face, hear the wind whistling through the gap. Something had come through that window and killed her husband, but what?
“No,” she whispered, tears cutting a path through the mess of blood and brain matter stuck to her face. Fred was dead and gone so she finally relinquished her fight against the cancer that had been slowly eating away at her body for years. What was the point in struggling anymore?
Frantically she groped for his hand, sobbing out loud when she couldn’t find it. As her hand closed over his she felt a little calmer. He was still warm. She stared at the window determinedly, knowing whatever had killed him was coming for her.
“What are you waiting for?” she said, willing it to happen so she could catch up with her husband.
The last thing she heard was another soft tinkle of glass.
Freya clutched nine month old Petie tighter as there came the sound of the front door swinging shut and footsteps approaching. The living room door burst opened to reveal a grinning Craig.
“Hello wee man.”
Freya put Petie down and he rushed towards his daddy as fast as he could toddle, taking hesitant, awkward steps, throwing his legs forward in a way that made both his parents grin. Craig scooped him up and he squealed with delight.
Freya smiled as she watched the two of them together. Petie was a miniature version of his dad, right down to the thick dark hair and brooding grey eyes.
“I wasn’t expecting you back so soon,” she said, planting a kiss on her husband’s lips.
“I’ve finally got a couple of days off,” he replied, sinking onto the couch with Petie on his knee.
“It’s about time,” she said, excited at the prospect of a full weekend with him.
“We’ve had a lot off sick but two came back today, so I can finally get some rest.” Craig was a detective sergeant at Glasgow West End station and his hectic work schedule meant he was out of the house a lot. With a bout of flu making the rounds he’d been working even harder lately.
She sat beside him and nuzzled into him, his arm sliding around her shoulders, Petie playing with his toy car between them.
“Do you want to go out or would you prefer a cosy afternoon in?” she said.
Craig looked into her sparkling green eyes and smiled. “Definitely the cosy afternoon in.”
“This means you can come to James and Veronica’s for dinner tonight.”
“I can,” he replied, looking forward to an evening relaxing with friends after how hectic work had been recently.
“Are you hungry?”
“Lasagne sound good? I made a fresh batch this morning.”
“That sounds fantastic.”
Craig was incredibly content as he sat on the couch in front of the telly with Petie on his knee, listening to Freya moving about in the kitchen, a delicious aroma wafting into the room. This was all he’d ever wanted in life and finally he’d got it.
Little Petie nestled into him happily, sensing his father’s satisfaction. Petie’s birth had given them all a bit of a fright. He’d come three weeks early, suddenly and buttocks first. It was fortunate they’d been at James and Veronica’s house when Freya went into labour, if he’d been on his own Craig would have gone into a flat panic when Freya started screaming in agony. Yes he was a police officer used to dealing with emergencies but it was a different matter when it was his own family. James and Veronica - both hospital doctors - had realised what was wrong immediately and arranged for her speedy arrival at the maternity unit. Freya had undergone an emergency caesarean and both she and Petie had got through the ordeal safely and with no lasting complications. Craig would freely admit it had been one of the most terrifying moments of his life, he’d been convinced he was going to lose both his wife and son but that hadn’t happened, thank God, they were so precious to him.
While Craig demolished his lunch Petie fell asleep in Freya’s arms. She put him down in his cot for his afternoon nap as carefully as she could, doing her best not to disturb him, hoping he wouldn’t wake for a couple of hours at least. She desperately wanted some private time with her husband.
“Mission accomplished?” smiled Craig as Freya tiptoed back down the stairs, cringing on the last step when it creaked loudly. She hesitated, straining to hear her son crying, but all was quiet.
“Yes, I think so,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Come here gorgeous,” he grinned, patting the space on the couch beside him. Freya had never relinquished her love of everything goth, her clothes were still black, her fingers covered in rings. No matter how busy her day and how exhausted she was, she always sported her trademark thick black eye make-up, which made her brilliant green eyes sparkle.
Instead of sitting on the couch she jumped on top of him, her mouth clamping down on his. Frantically he cast the newspaper and remote control aside and gripped her to him tightly, his body immediately responding to the feel of hers.
“Oh no,” groaned Craig when the phone started to ring.
Freya leapt up and made a dash for it, snatching it up before it could disturb Petie.
“Hello?” she snapped breathlessly, not bothering to disguise how irritated she was by the interruption while Craig folded his arms across his chest and pouted. “Hi Nora, how are you?” Craig watched as Freya’s eyes filled with concern. “Oh no. Are you alright?”
“What’s wrong?” he said, getting up to hover by her shoulder.
“Your mum’s had an accident,” she said, holding the phone out to him.
He took it from her. “It’s me Mum. What happened?” As he listened guilt crept over him. Both he and Freya had refused to return to Blair Dubh where they’d been born and raised after John Docherty had escaped from prison and tried to kill Freya. Before that Martin Lynch - local GP and serial killer - had tried to kill her too. Before that when she was just eleven years old she’d seen another serial killer bury her mother alive. Small wonder she didn’t want to go back there.
He listened to his mum explain and his heart sank. He had no option. “I’ll be there tomorrow morning.” Craig hung up and turned to his wife, dismayed by the fear and fury in her eyes.
“You’re going back there?” she said in a cold, hard voice.
“I have to. Mum fell down the stairs and hurt her ankle. I can’t not visit her.”
“I suppose,” she muttered.
“You and Petie could come with me.”
Freya furiously shook her head. “No way. We’re staying right here. If I go to Blair Dubh something bad will happen, it always does.”
“Okay,” he said gently, rubbing a hand up and down her back.
“I’ll give you some photos of Petie for them all to see instead because he is never going to that bloody village.”
“Fair enough.” Craig fully understood his wife’s reasons. Freya thought that every time she went to the village she unleashed something dark that dwelt there, something that wanted her dead. Everything bad that had happened in her life stemmed from that village and after her last near miss she’d sworn never to return and that their son would never set foot on Blair Dubh soil. She wasn’t willing to risk either of their lives.
“I’ll go in the morning,” he said. When she started anxiously wringing her hands he took them in both of his. “Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’ll be fine.”
She looked doubtful.
Craig planted a kiss on her lips. “We’re going to have a nice meal tonight at James and Veronica’s this evening. I’ll leave for Blair Dubh in the morning. Let’s just relax tonight.”
“I won’t relax until you’re home safe.”
“I’ll be back before you know it.” He nuzzled her neck, making her smile. “Don’t worry. Now, Petie’s going to be awake in about an hour so let’s…”
Before he could say another word she’d pushed him back onto the couch and straddled him. God he loved his wife.
A heavily pregnant Veronica opened the door to Craig and Freya, looking radiant in a light grey full length maternity dress, hair and make-up perfect as always.
“How do you always manage to look so amazing?” said Freya. “When I was that pregnant I didn’t even have the energy to comb my hair.”
“Tell me about it. You made me do it for you, and cut your toenails,” smiled Craig, carrying Petie inside.
“Speak to James for me will you Craig?” replied Veronica. “I can’t get him anywhere near my feet.”
“Because, despite how glorious the rest of her is, her feet are terrifying,” interjected James, appearing at the door, looking suave in a dark green shirt and black trousers.
“I beg your pardon?” retorted Veronica, tossing back her head.
“You have to admit it’s true,” he smiled, kissing his wife on the cheek. “Freya, Craig, good to see you both,” he said, turning his attention to them before she could reply.
After their coats had been taken Freya and Craig were seated in the elegant living room with drinks while Petie was set down to play with Veronica and James’s son, Fraser. Despite the three and a half year age gap the two children were the best of friends. Fraser treated Petie like a little prince, sharing all his toys with him and doing everything in his power to make him giggle, which pleased their parents, who were very close.
“So, you’ve finally got some time off Craig?” said James, sitting down in the armchair by the window nursing a whisky while Veronica disappeared into the kitchen to finish dinner.
“Yes, thank God. I’ve got two days and I have to spend one of them in Blair Dubh,” he ended, smile falling.
In response James’s smile fell too. “Why on earth do you need to go there?”
“Mum’s hurt her ankle.”
“I see,” he said.
It disturbed Freya that James looked so troubled by this news.
“I leave tomorrow morning. I’ll only be staying one night then I still get a full day with Petie and Freya.”
“Just be careful, won’t you?”
“Don’t you start too James. Freya’s already warned me.”
“I can’t say I blame her after what you’ve both been through in that village.”
Veronica walked in. “What village? Not Blair Dubh? Please don’t tell me you’re going back there Craig.”
“I have to, my mum’s hurt herself.”
“Oh, well, in that case I suppose you do.” She glanced at Freya, noted how tense she’d gone and gave her a sympathetic smile. “Dinner’s ready if you are?”
As they headed into the dining room James pulled Freya back. “Are you alright?” he asked with concern.
She was so relieved this man was still in her life. They’d met as young teenagers when Freya had been temporarily fostered by his family. After embarking on a secret relationship she found out she was carrying his child. Not considering her good enough for their only son his parents forced her to have an abortion before throwing her out on the street. She’d ended up living rough, a hopeless alcoholic while he’d become a respected doctor. He’d found her again when she’d been brought into the hospital where he worked, dying of liver damage and saved her life. He’d helped her through her rehab and she wouldn’t be alive if it hadn’t been for him. Despite the love they’d once shared they were just friends now, so close they were almost like brother and sister but that was the extent of their relationship. Both Craig and Veronica were well aware of this so they harboured no jealousy with regards to their friendship. Once she’d thought James was the love of her life but now she knew that was Craig.
James understood her so well that lying to him was pointless, he’d see straight through her. “No James, I’m not. I’m scared for Craig.”
Sympathy filled his gentle eyes. “I can understand that.”
“What can I do? He feels guilty enough that we haven’t taken Petie to visit his mum, we both do. I can’t object to him going to see her when she’s hurt herself. I’ll just have to grin and bear it.”
“I’m afraid you will. Besides, can you see anyone getting the better of Craig?”
“No, not really,” she replied with a small smile.
“There you go then. He’ll be fine.”
“Actually I think he will because I won’t be there.”
His expression became severe. “Freya, I really must dissuade you from thinking like that. Curses and ghosts don’t exist.”
“I wish I was as scientific as you, then I’d be afraid of nothing.”
“I’m afraid of things. I’m afraid of muggers, murderers and terrorists, but not ghosts and myths.”
“When you put it like that it does sound silly.”
“No it’s not. In fact it’s logical after everything you’ve been through, just don’t let the demons take hold. It’s hard to shake them off once you do.”
“I know all about them.” She took his arm and steered him in the direction of the dining room. “Let’s forget all about that village, we’re here to have a nice evening and talk about normal things.”
They walked into the dining room to find Veronica and Craig settling the children into their highchairs, Fraser banging his spoon on the table, making Petie laugh.
James and Freya looked at each other and smiled.