Read The Kind Folk Online

Authors: Ramsey Campbell

The Kind Folk (9 page)

BOOK: The Kind Folk
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Luke opens his mouth, which fills with silence. Eventually Sansom's daughter says "Can I ask why you're calling, Mr... "

"It's Luke, but it isn't important. I won't bother you any more."

"Will my father know you if I'm able to give him a message?"

"We've never met. Are you waiting to hear from the hospital? I'd better say goodbye in case they're trying to get through," Luke says and rings off.

He's ashamed to have used the excuse. How responsible is he for Sansom's condition? He already feels to blame for Terence's death. The Lexus shivers as a lorry several houses long speeds past, and he watches the vehicle shrink into the distance until the road is deserted. Can he really justify contacting people Terence mentioned in the journal when the effect on them may be as random as his search? He has no idea how dangerously unpredictable it may be—and then he sees his mistake. He shouldn't abandon the hunt quite so soon, and he gets out of the car to consult the journal.

THE LAST NAME

As soon as he has turned along the street Luke parks the car. It's the only vehicle beside either of the pavements shaded by trees. Cars are sunning themselves in some of the driveways of the large front gardens, where pairs of houses too individual to be twins stand together. He climbs out and shuts the door, not gently enough to avoid rousing the dog that runs to snarl at him through the bars of a gate. He has barely set out along the street, which slopes up to a steeper hill that overlooks the town, when he grows aware that a vehicle is creeping after him.

It swerves sluggishly away from him as he twists around. Its roof sports a peak emblazoned with a phone number, while its sides display the logo of the Pass With Patsy driving school. The driver isn't watching Luke—she's nervously intent on a hesitant three-point turn—but she has helped him feel like an intruder. He won't be deterred when he has come so far out of his way, more than twenty miles off the route home and along roads the map stretched a good deal straighter than they proved to be. Harold Yancey is the last person named in the journal, and surely this means he has whatever information Terence was searching for. If Luke feels as tentative and apprehensive as the driver on the road, that's because the man may be his father.

A wind sets the trees dabbing the pavement with shadow. A car on a drive shudders and begins to flutter, or at least its canvas cover does. It puts Luke in mind of an inflatable castle at a fairground where the Arnolds took him for a birthday treat—where the sideshow reminded him of a tale of Terence's about a castle that changed shape once you ventured in. He still has all his memories; he's recalling more every day. Meeting his real parents can't change the life he has lived, and he makes himself stride uphill.

He's several houses short of Yancey's when a woman wheels a pushchair out of her garden, and the toddler waves at him. "Hello," Luke says in the kind of voice people seem to use in such a situation.

She gives him a grin that exhibits almost a mouthful of teeth. "Who are you?"

"Luke Yancey." This sounds so odd, even though unspoken, that it comes close to robbing him of words. "I'm nobody in particular," Luke says.

"I'm sure you are," the woman says with a dutiful laugh. "Don't mind Trish. She's asking everyone that, even me."

"Who are you?"

"Now, Trish," the woman says but keeps her gaze on him.

"I'm Luke, Trish. My name's Luke."

"That's just a little name."

"Luke Arnold," he says mostly to the woman and with all the conviction he can summon up. "I'm looking for the Yancey residence."

"It's the one with the lamps," the woman says and points without looking. "Excuse me, we're in a hurry."

She didn't seem to be until just now. "Come along, Trish," she says and speeds the pushchair downhill as the toddler makes to wave to Luke.

The Yancey house is a grey stone building with elongated chimneys crowned by sooty spikes. Four lamps stand beside the gravel drive. They're equipped with sensors, which are so responsive that the lamp nearest to the pavement glares at Luke as he passes through the shadow of a tree. He won't let this make him feel unwelcome, but he could imagine that whoever lives here is anxious for light, as though the lamps are an extension of their nerves. The other lamps stay dormant while he strides along the drive and pokes the bellpush on a pillar of the stone porch. "There's the door," a woman shouts at once.

She sounds harassed and strident, and she could be Luke's mother. He wonders how she'll sound if she learns she is. In a moment he hears weighty footsteps tramping along a hall. As he takes a not entirely steady breath the panelled antique door swings open to reveal the man he has summoned. "What can we do for you?" the man says as though he hopes it's very little if anything at all.

He's quite a few years older than Luke, and might look more like him if his features weren't obesely blurred. Though he's dressed for a race—shorts and singlet—it's unlikely that he could be more than a spectator. He's the colour of a battered fish, and Luke suspects those may figure in his diet. One pudgy forearm is tattooed
BELLE
above a ruddy heart spiked with an arrow. Is Luke seeing his mother's name? Before he has thought of an answer he can risk giving, the man says "Do we know you?"

"I hope so." Having said that, Luke has to ask "Would you be Harold Yancey?"

"I wouldn't." At first the man seems content to leave it there, and then he says "I'm not the chap he married either."

"Oh, I see." Luke is seeing the reason for his visit disappear like a bubble. "Sorry," he presumes he ought to add.

"We're not prejudiced here." Just as truculently the man says "You're talking about my uncle."

"Ah. Well, good." Luke assumes it is and says "I believe he knew someone connected with me."

"Who was that?"

"Terence Arnold." When Yancey's nephew shakes his head Luke says "He was in demolition but he was into other things as well."

The man meets this with a hint of a grin. Whatever secrets Terence may have had, Luke is sure he wasn't gay, but perhaps he shouldn't make an issue of it when the man's responses are so unpredictable. Instead he says "Does Mr Yancey still live here?"

"He hasn't for a while."

"Could you tell me how I can get in touch with him?"

The implication of a grin reappears and vanishes. "What for?"

"Do you mind if I keep it between me and him?"

"Depends what you're keeping."

"It's to do with my past. I can't tell you any more."

As Yancey's nephew looks dissatisfied the unseen woman shouts "For pity's sake, Donald, send him up."

"That'll make him happy, will it?"

"It'll make him whatever it makes him."

Luke can't tell whether he's still under discussion, since Yancey's nephew has turned away from him. The man faces him to say "She says go up and see Harold. Nineteenth Avenue, number eight."

He's jabbing a stubby finger at the hill to which the street leads. "Thanks for helping," Luke says, but the man only shrugs and shuts the door.

The lamp at the end of the drive lets Luke pass unnoticed and then flares up to celebrate his departure. The blurred restless shadows of the trees mop at his silhouette as if they've resolved to erase it, and the outline of the draped car squirms vigorously enough to be groping for a different shape. The dog scampers to resume its yapping while the gate clangs like a dull bell. Luke starts his car and has to wait for Patsy's learner to execute another tortuous manoeuvre, setting out for the opposite side of the road before backing away with a series of hiccups of the engine and nervous blinks of the brake lights. At last she's facing the right way, and Luke drives uphill.

A row of imposing houses stands along the foot of the slope at the end of the road. A steep unpaved track called Church Lane leads to the top, where a hedge enclosed by railings stands against a scoured blue sky. Luke hears birdsong chipping at the afternoon, the chatter of a magpie that reminds him how the noise would make the air feel splintered when he was a child, somebody urging a dog to be quiet and lie down. A wind is bringing the voice down the hill, and he guesses that the hedge surrounds a park, where treetops have risen into view. "Quiet," the command comes again, "lie still," though Luke can't identify any noise the animal is making or indeed the gender of the speaker. As the car climbs past the highest building on the lane, the tip of a spire appears above the trees. It belongs to a church, and beyond the hedge is a churchyard.

Some distance away a wide road he didn't notice leads uphill to the gates. It isn't Nineteenth or any avenue, and the wide rough track bordering the churchyard is unnamed. There are no other roads to be seen; the one he's looking for must be behind the church. A drive broad enough for hearses extends past the building, and Luke eases the car into the churchyard.

The shadows of memorials don't quite imitate their sources. The silhouettes of headstones are reduced to black squares reminiscent of open trapdoors in the flattened mounds. Winged dwarfs crouch behind angels, and truncated dumpy crosses mark the spot behind each stone cross. Every line of graves is numbered with a plaque set into the drive.

Beyond the church are dozens of new plots and an unused grassy expanse that isolates the stubby shadow of the spire. There are no gates on this side of the churchyard. Having encircled the church, the drive turns back on itself.

Luke parks the car beneath a stained-glass window full of levelled saints and crosses the grass to look for the route to the streets down the hill. He has to drag the foliage apart to be sure of what he sees beyond the hedge. The land slopes gradually away as far as the horizon, and it consists entirely of fields. The town comes to an end at the churchyard.

He can't quite believe the trick Yancey's nephew appears to have played on him, but he trudges back to the drive behind the church. A plaque at the edge of the grass confirms that the newest row of graves is indeed the nineteenth. Most of the stones in the incomplete row are identical apart from their inscriptions. The eighth stone from the drive belongs to Harold Yancey, who died last year aged sixty-eight. The inscription says
HE FOLLOWED HIS LOVE.

"I hope you're both happy," Luke mutters, "wherever you are." He can't judge how much of his wistfulness relates to his having no reason to be here. "So you weren't my father," he says. "Why did Terence come to see you, then? Does anybody know?"

He's disconcerted to feel overheard if not watched. He glances around, but the presence at his back is just a sapling, one of several planted on this side of the church. If anyone were observing him they might take him for a relative who is praying for the dead. He doesn't feel like mimicking that role, and raises his voice. "Did you tell Terence anything? I wish you could tell me."

A wind sets the hedge creaking but falls short of him. Otherwise there's silence that he could almost take for a refusal to answer him. He finds himself recalling a day out with Terence—an afternoon they spent at the museum in Liverpool. Terence waited until they were alone with a shrunken head in a glass case, and then he whispered "He's got tales for you, Luke. Just ask him."

Luke can't remember doing so or what he said. Perhaps he didn't even speak aloud. It seems to have felt more like reaching with his imagination—reaching out and deep. He does recall Terence whispering "What can you see, Luke?" and how his imagination responded with a rush of images like a dream he was having while awake: fat vegetation sweaty with rain, firelight hemmed in by dark jungle and a clamour of night cries, an incessant irresistible drumbeat, a ring of virtually naked dancers prancing around the flames as though only exhaustion could end the rite... All this must have come from films he'd watched or books he'd read, however vivid it still seems, and yet some aspect of the memory prompts him to lean towards the grave and murmur "Can't you give me an idea? Show me if you can."

The hedge creaks again, although the noise seems closer and the wind doesn't reach him. He still feels watched, and straightens up, perhaps too fast, since his surroundings appear to brighten. He has the odd thought that the moon has risen, though it isn't due for hours. The illumination seems to fill his mind, lighting up a memory of Terence. But it isn't a memory, because he's with somebody Luke has never met, a man with a slumped decrepit face just sufficiently reminiscent of Donald Yancey's for Luke to deduce who he's meant to be. He's showing Terence a gesture or at least trying to demonstrate one, stretching the little finger of his left hand so wide that it's plain he would make a right angle with it if he could and then attempting the same feat with his index finger. Having failed in all this, he uses his right hand to complete the sign, poking fingers out from the palm of the left hand to approximate how it should look.

As soon as Luke recoils a step the impression is extinguished. It felt too much like reaching into the dark under the earth, and he could have imagined that the muffled creaking was there too. His surroundings feel brittle and look pallid, little more than a shell of themselves, presumably because the vision has unnerved him. Of course it drew on his encounter with Yancey's nephew—that was how he was able to visualise how Yancey looked—but for as long as it lasted the image reminded him of how he'd felt when he was so young that his mind wasn't under his control. "Sorry to have troubled you," he murmurs without having intended to speak. He's heading for his car when he hears the voice.

It's somewhere behind him—the voice he heard on his way up the lane. "Stay quiet now," it says. "He's gone." The dog and its owner must be in the field beyond the hedge, even if the command sounded closer, and Luke's soliloquy has been disturbing the animal. If a sapling beyond Yancey's grave appears to have more of a shadow than its girth warrants, that has to be partly a mark on the grass. Luke takes a pace towards it, and at once the illusion vanishes as though the mark has retreated into hiding. He won't let it trouble him any further, and he makes for the car.

A SIGN FROM THE PAST

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