Hell, what a night to have yet another interminable meeting. October 31st. And she would be going home to an empty house, the rooms dark and cold, no one to welcome her, to open the door to make her a drink. He was working late. The last day on the month was always a late night for him. Still, she could get some writing done. Or drawing.
The motorway was busy as always on a Friday evening, long queues to get off the exit, longer queues to get onto the short stretch of main road before she could turn off to get home. The heater had finally managed to coax the temperature in the vehicle to the point where she was no longer hunched up, fingers stiff with cold. At least it was dry.
She pulled onto the gravel driveway, and slammed to a halt in the thick layer of fine shingle. Turned off the cd player, the heater, the lights. Opened the door, her breath clouding in the chill air. She raised the tiny boot of the little Citroen and reached in, pulling out the two briefcases that went everywhere with her. The security light remained stubbornly dark as she fumbled with the key to the front door, her heart racing, her fingers feeling clumsy. Inside at last, light on. Cases down. Through to the kitchen, turning all the lights on, every one of them in a desperate attempt to feel …. safe. To feel secure.
Foolish. She was safe here. She knew that. It was just that there was something making her feel uneasy, something not quite right, not quite as it should be.
On the kitchen table there was a pumpkin. A large one. Smooth skinned and deep. She had meant to do his silhouette on it last night, but, somehow it had gotten too late by the time she had finally finished what she had been working on. Perhaps there would be time tonight, before the first visitors. Perhaps. She flicked the kettle on before taking off her coat, and pulled her favourite cd from the neatly arranged racks. The Dark Knight. Except she never saw a Dark Knight when it was playing. Instead there was, always at the back of her mind, a tall sparse figure, pale and stern. Ashen haired and broad shouldered. She sighed.
Spooning drinking chocolate powder into her favourite mug, she added coffee, sugar and boiling water. Topped it up with the remnant of single cream that lurked on the top shelf of the fridge. And went through to switch on her computer.
She slurped her drink noisily, lips enjoying the sensation of warmth and the rich combination of tastes. The computer chattered to itself as it awoke, grumbling at being ignored for so long. And then sparked into reluctant life, his image on the desktop, frowning at her.
No. No one online, no new messages, so; a chance to write. She typed in the password, and waited.
It was some time later when, engrossed in her writing, she realised that the house was still cold. Damn. The heating hadn’t been set to come on.
It was really time to get changed, to get clean and then, maybe she would feel warmer. And there was still time to do that pumpkin.
The radiators were clicking as they slowly heated, as she stood under the shower, cleaning away the detritus of the day. Warm at last. Dressed in comfortable, clean clothes, thick sweater, soft shoes, jeans. Hair rubbed briskly and tousled into place. The ear wrap was left on her dressing table. Tomorrow. She thought to herself. Tomorrow I will get the other one. As my treat to myself.
There was a knock at the door. Damn. First callers and she hadn’t got the bowl of chocolate treats ready. Well, they would simply have to be patient.
Hurrying downstairs, she looked out of the small round window. There was a car outside. Unusual at this time of evening. She turned off the hall light, to get into the spirit of the evening and opened the door, anticipating a high-pitched ‘Trick or Treat’ of children’s voices. There was no–one there. Puzzled, she stepped forward to see if they were hiding behind the brick pillar of the porch. There was a sudden flash of white, a momentary glimpse of someone standing there, dark clad, silent, waiting.
From the darkness of the unlit porch a hand gripped her by the throat, twisted her around and pushed her roughly, fiercely back against the wall, her face pressed against the smooth surface . The door closed behind her with a thud. His breath in her ear as he leaned against her, holding her firmly. Angry, fast breaths. She knew it was a man holding her by the strength of the fingers still clasped tightly around her neck, but other than that she had not even had the chance to see him properly. Whoever it was, whoever had entered her house and had grabbed her and was even now holding her so securely, was a stranger. She could hear the rustle of his clothes as he pressed her against the wall, could discern a faint musky scent of cologne. His arm on her back, restraining her even further.
And she was wholly terrified. Unable to even utter a whimper past the fingers that clenched around her throat. It was hard to even breathe, she was so frightened. There was no hope of rescue, no possibility that anyone would have seen or heard anything. The darkened porch and equally darkened hallway would have been sufficient cover for the intruder to wait unseen and then, once the door was open; pounce. She waited for the moment, the nightmare of being flung to the ground, of clothes being pulled, torn, discarded, of a body pressing hard on top of her, of…… and she would have screamed if possible, but the hand was too tight.
He pulled her away from the wall, and marched her through to the brightly lit kitchen, one hand still around her throat, slightly looser now but her skin still burning from the shock of his initial fierce grasp. His other hand now on her left shoulder close to her neck, fingers firm on her flesh, pushing her ahead of him. She stumbled into the wall, feeling the doorframe bruise her shoulder and upper arm, but he was heedless of her fear, her struggles to escape his control. He simply manoeuvred her through the doorway, slammed her down onto one of the wicker seated kitchen chairs and then, let go. She fell forward over the table, gasping, sobbing, too scared to move. At least he hadn’t, he hadn’t….. yet.
‘Sit up. Look at me. And pay attention.’
Dear god. She knew that voice. With a flush of horror she realised that she might have simply gone too far. That tonight was the culmination of a series of events that had started over a year ago. And there was no hope for her. This would not be what she had feared. This would be far worse. She had pushed him beyond endurance, beyond reason and he was here to exact his revenge on her. A terrible revenge.
‘I have been searching for you for quite some time,’ the voice continued as she slowly, fearfully raised her head to stare into his eyes. ‘and now, I have finally caught up with you, here on your own territory. I think we need to talk. Oh, and before you even contemplate getting out your pen and paper, there is one thing you need to know.’
She could hardly bring herself to speak. He was more angry than she had ever seen, had ever dreamed he would be. And he was here, in her house, uninvited.
‘Yes.’ Her voice cracked with fear. She stared down at the smooth surface of the beech table, noticing a sticky smear of blackcurrant jam where she had not cleaned it well enough after breakfast. But there again, housework was most definitely not a priority any more, had not been for months now. She had more important things in her life than wiping tables clean. He spoke again. The voice a little calmer now, a fraction less angry.
‘This, Lightcudder, is my story. I am writing this one. Not you. You have no control over the events here. I can do as I wish. Anything I wish. Is that understood?’
She nodded and a tear fell onto the table to be smudged away by her finger before he noticed. She would not cry in front of him. Not. Not. Whatever happened, when he turned from her, rejected her, despised her, refused her ever again, she would not cry.
Or at least he would not see.
Desperately she forced the tears back, stifled her sobs, and discreetly wiped her nose with a tissue. Then, and only then did she dare to look up. The muzzle of his gun gaped back at her, huge and dark like an open mouth about to swallow her. He held in one steady hand, relaxed but unwavering, his eyes tracking down the barrel of the semi-automatic to gaze at her unflinchingly. Those piercing blue eyes looked as still, as cold and as callous as death.
And she knew then that she had undoubtedly lost him. He felt nothing for her now but contempt, or even worse, hatred. A long bleak future stretched interminably ahead of her, if in fact he actually allowed her to live. And that was not certain, was it? His presence, his sheer insouciance of carrying his gun, here in this relatively safe middle class suburb, all told their own story. He wanted revenge.
God help her.
‘Well. What are you going to say? What excuses are you going to come up with this time?’ the mellifluous voice dripped with undisguised contempt.
She shook her head. The words would not come.
‘Give me one good reason. Just one. That’s all I want. A reason not to finish this here and now.’
The voice, so full of loathing, and repugnance swamped her, overwhelmed her last bastion of resistance and she broke, as she had broken him so many times before. And she understood. At last, she understood what he had gone through, what she had actually done to him.
Her hands, clenched tightly together on the smooth surface of the table, trembled.
‘Get up.’ He had said that to her once before, only this time she knew he was not going to offer her the comfort of his arms. She pushed herself to her feet, almost unable to move with the flood of fear.
He gestured with the gun, a curt wave towards the door. ‘Get your coat. You are coming with me right now.’
Numbly she obeyed him, slipping her black wool coat over sweater and jeans. She reached for the small handbag that hung on the banister post but his hand caught her wrist. ‘You won’t be needing that.’ And with one swift, deft move he pulled her mobile from her hip pocket and flung it onto the hall table. ‘Or that. Now. Let me make one thing quite clear. We are going to talk. On my terms this time. Understood?’
He beckoned with the gun again. Her fingers, sweaty with fear, struggled to open the latch of the door, but he waited, a dark, silent, threatening presence behind her in the unlit hall.
Once outside he grasped her arm and walked her smartly to his car, opened the door, pushed her in, his hand on her head .
‘Strap up.’ There was no hint of emotion in the words. Nothing to show that there had once been a close link between the two of them. He remained by the open door looking down at her, until she had obeyed him. Then he slammed it closed and walked briskly round to the driver’s side.
He drove off in darkness, no headlights, the engine barely audible, his eyes focussed on the road. No other traffic on the road. Nothing. Just his car. Once away from her house he casually flicked switches and the headlights illuminated the tarmac, sudden warmth flooded into the footwell from the heater and music filled the painful ugly silence.
‘Where are we going?’ the question whispered into the space between them. For a brief second he turned to her, a flash of pale hair and cold eyes under the street lights.
‘Going? I haven’t quite decided yet. A lot depends on you. Are you willing to talk? ’
He fixed his eyes ahead once more, disregarding her obvious unease, her shaking hands, shaking voice.
He interrupted her, sharply. ‘Enough. No more apologies. No more excuses. Sit there in silence if all you can do is to ask for my forgiveness. It’s a little too late for that now, don’t you think?’
He swung the car onto the roundabout and then up the sliproad heading for the motorway. She had always thought of herself as a capable driver, able to deal with the heavy traffic on that short stretch of motorway that she used on a more or less daily basis, but his sheer assertiveness terrified her.
The vehicle moved in a blurred world of lights and motion as he overtook other cars, other travellers. The sheer power of the engine astounded her, scared her, but also, secretly thrilled her. She watched his hands, fingers flicking the gearstick smoothly up through the range, then holding the wheel with a confident surety, eyes alert, noticing everything around him. The car seemed to gain incredible speed, to get impossibly faster until eventually the acceleration eased off and they were gliding soundlessly down the outside lane, the headlights flaring beams of brilliant white ahead of them into the stygian gloom.
She breathed quick shallow breaths, afraid to disrupt his concentration, especially at this apparently reckless speed. Memories of being driven fast when she was a child, of the taste of dread, the heart-stopping fear of an accident, the mockery when she tentatively asked if they could go slower, the smell of whisky strong in the old car. She pulled her seatbelt even tighter and forced herself back into the pale gray leather seat, her feet firmly planted in the footwell pushing against the chassis, legs tense and rigid with unspoken trepidation.
The car appeared to swerve briefly, a quick lane change, nothing of importance, no cause for alarm but it was enough to force a whimper past her tightly closed lips.
He glanced over briefly, made one instant assessment and eased the car into a slower speed. Not much slower, they were still travelling well over the speed limit, but the headlong dash seemed somehow more controlled. That dreadful sensation of dashing into blackness unable to stop in time if necessary, had lessened and she was able to relax very slightly, to bend limbs that had been petrified, to breathe deeper, to actually calm down enough to be able to appreciate her surroundings.
Not a Volvo, or thankfully a BMW. Not even a Saab, although she had never been in one of those and would have enjoyed the opportunity to be a passenger in one. No. This was .. she peered discreetly, an Audi. No. Not an R8, surely?
His dry voice startled her. ‘I can tell what you are thinking. Did you realise that? I know you almost better than you know yourself.’ He paused, head tilted to one side, looking at her for a second before turning his attention back to the road.’
He carried on talking, the rich voice, even with the anger that still burned within, still mellifluous, vibrant, utterly recognisable. ‘No. Not an R8. The RS5 Although I did seriously consider an R8 at one stage. This is more practical, although still pretty sporty. And I like it.’ She could hear the slightly apologetic, almost embarrassed note in his voice. ‘I usually drive saloons, but tonight, well, tonight I wanted something a little different. And ..’ he turned to her, his eyes piercing her to her very soul, ‘tonight is my night. I am the one in control here, don’t forget. Master and commander you might say, of all I survey.’
She managed to force a thin smile from a mouth dry with apprehension, and moved her cramped legs to try to sit more comfortably. There was something on the floor, under her foot, something small like a pencil. It was difficult to reach down without brushing against his arm but she wriggled out of the seat belt and, with some difficulty, groped on the floor for the loose object.
‘What is …?’ it looked like a narrow stick of what appeared to be rawhide. It was hard to make out exactly what it was in the darkness and she lifted it up to peer closely at it. It was ragged at both ends as if it had been chewed. Perplexed she turned to ask him about it, but was halted by the expression on his face.
A quirky flash of amusement, exasperation and, was that affection? She only caught a glimpse in the intermittent light from other vehicles and the soft glow of the elegant console, but she had rarely, if ever, seen him look so….. protective, so caring.
Swiftly, his hand moved to take the object from her grasp and tuck it neatly away in the centre console compartment. He locked the small compartment, she noted, her curiosity now stirred by his reluctance to discuss whatever it was that had been discarded in the footwell, but it was clear that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.
She leaned back and folded her arms. His car, his story, his decisions. She could do nothing to affect whatever was going to happen. So. The only logical thing to do was to try to enjoy the trip. However it ended.
The traffic thinned as they continued to head north, along the motorway pushing the speed limit beyond breaking point. His hands still securely gripping the leather, fingers flickering over the small controls on the edge of the steering wheel, changing the temperature, switching the wipers on for a brief few minutes when heavy drizzle blurred the screen, changing the music when a discordant tune started. She said nothing. What was the point? He would talk when he was ready. And he was obviously not ready. Yet.
Another exit loomed ahead. She half-expected him to turn off, to head on some quiet road into the nearby woodlands, but, no. He drove on, ignoring the signs, still concentrating on the road as if he was trying to outpace his demons, to leave a part of his life behind.
She knew that he had become almost oblivious to her presence, as if she was simply a package placed on the passenger seat. There was nothing she could do apart from wait until he calmed down, until the almost hypnotic action of driving at speed and at the utter limits of his concentration, had hopefully exorcised some of the demons that were pursuing him. She watched him pour his anger into his reflexes, into every infinitesimal and exact movement of muscle and bone.
The car was more than an amalgam of metal and rubber and leather; it had become an extension of his own body. Mile after mile after mile. She could sense the tyres grip the tarmac just as his fingers had gripped her shoulder, could feel the pulse of the engine throbbing, pumping its life fuel through carburettors as clearly as she saw that pulse at his throat, below his jaw.
She watched him silently, watched as the energy flowed through him, watched as his thoughts and his rage powered into the superbly tuned engine, until she saw the anger ease, tamed under the soothing meditation of the familiar activity. And finally she watched as the stern and unyielding expression softened as his fury retreated back into its cage where it prowled restlessly back and forth.
Confined once more behind bars of bitter command.
Another exit loomed ahead and he steered the car across the lanes to leave the motorway. The rapid deceleration was disquieting to her after the exhilaration and secret joy of travelling as she had always wanted to travel. Fast. More than fast, though. To travel with such confidence, such conviction. Such control.
That was one of the traits she had always admired about him. His control. And even now, even when he was still angry, and justifiably so, he was in control. In command.
The eerie stillness and silence in the now stationary vehicle scared her. ‘Ed.’ She spoke hesitantly, afraid to disturb the barrier that he had placed around himself, even more afraid of what might break out if that barrier cracked.
He cast one look at her before slipping the car into first gear and accelerating onto the access road that led away from the junction up into the dark hills, gravel under the tyres, the narrow track unlit and empty of any signs of life. There would be no rescue here she realised. She would be totally at his mercy. No farms. No cottages, only an abandoned limestone quarry served by the disused and overgrown track. He drove on without answering her, then, suddenly as if on an impulse a whim, he stopped the car and turned off the engine.
There was silence. Not even a thrum of traffic from the distant motorway, lit briefly by headlights as other drivers continued on their travels.
‘Ed?’ she asked again, even more hesitantly.
He stretched as if awakening, twisting slightly to relieve tense, controlled muscles. In the darkness his eyes, when he turned to speak to her seemed dark and empty.
‘Get out. We’ll talk here.’ And he unfastened his seatbelt and stepped out, not bothering to see if she was going to follow him. She had no choice but to join him, in the dark, the cold, looking down at that thin ribbon of grey tarmac in the distance.
She stood there near to him, not too near, not within reaching distance, staring at the distant ephemeral headlights that flared briefly and then disappeared, the only other indication that there were any other people awake, alive, existing here, now.
The silence was total. Not even a rustle of leaves disturbed the peace. And it was peaceful, she realised, despite her apprehension of what he was going to do she felt serene, composed. It was all down to him now. And, despite the anger, his rage, the unspoken threats, she knew with a calm certainty that he would never hurt her, physically at least. It remained to be seen whether he would take his revenge on her in other ways.
He turned away from the view of the road and looked up into the darkness of the sky.
‘Look up there.’ He pointed upwards, his voice, although still tight and controlled, slightly softer now. She did as she was told. And gasped.
A huge rainbow of stars in the ebony black curve of sky arched like a scimitar over her, but that was not all. Faintly, in the distance, in the dark, she could see glowing lights, shimmering, pulsing, constantly changing. Her mind filled with wonder as she stood there, spellbound, enthralled by the sight.
And suddenly she felt tears welling up inside her, filling her eyes as she realised what he had done for her. He had given her a gift. Despite everything she had done to him, he had thought of her, had possibly even planned this very moment.
Turning to him, she at last faced him properly. Looked into his eyes, with honesty, with remorse. But also with the stern resolve that she had embraced over the last year. That nothing, and nobody would stop her from the path she had set out to travel.
‘I have you to thank for this don’t I? The Northern Lights.’ she murmured softly, before turning back to gaze at the glimmering curtain that was beginning to fill the horizon. ‘I have wanted to see these since before I ever met you.’
‘Yes. They are beautiful aren’t they? Nearly as wonderful to see as it is to look at Earth from the Moon.’ He leaned back against the car, his arms folded, looking at her. ‘You may as well sit down. We have all evening to watch them. And you will get a stiff neck if you stand like that.’
She looked at him once more. ‘So you aren’t going to ……..?’
‘What? Shoot you? No, although I must admit I was angry. Very angry. And I still am.’ He walked to the back of the car, opened the boot and lifted something out. As he placed it on the ground she saw that it was a rug, not a car blanket, a smaller one than that, grey in colour. ‘Here.’ He spread it out on the damp cold grass. ‘Go on, sit down.’
It smelled of dogs. Not unpleasantly, though. A soft fragrance of warm puppies rather than the heavier sweat scent of a grown dog. ‘You have a puppy.’ She recalled in delight. ‘How is he doing?’
The commander huffed quietly. ’He’s fine. Jackson is taking care of him right now. I couldn’t bring him along with me. He’s too young still. But, yes. He’s fine. Thank you for asking.’ He would not elaborate any further and she would not press him.
She sat on the rug, thankfully, leaning back to stare at the cascade of lights mesmerised by the lightfall of colours. Every shade of green and blue, merging, diffusing, blending together, separating, flickering.
He stood there, above her, the lights illuminating the perfect profile, glinting briefly in sparkling blue eyes, shimmering on pale hair. She could still see the tension in him, sense the control with which he was holding his anger at bay.
There was no use in prevaricating. She decided that she might as well get it over and done with, get him to talk about how he felt, and what he intended to do, now, here, in her world.
‘You wanted to talk. So. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I suppose you are annoyed because of what I have put you through recently.’ Her voice was hesitant, diffident.
Arms still folded, he looked down at her. ‘Annoyed? Really Lightcudder, annoyed is not the right word. Call yourself a writer? Find a better word than annoyed. Try; angry, incensed, furious, livid, enraged. Shall I go on? Do you actually realise what it is like? Being subjected to your every capricious whim? Every time you start writing I wonder what the hell you are planning. And now,………’ he broke off, staring up at the sky, refusing to even acknowledge her presence.
‘Now?’ she asked, ‘what about now? What has happened Ed?’
He turned back, arms still folded as if to release them would be letting his control free. ‘I have been reading, listening, living every moment in all those stories. And I feel as if I have been …’ he paused, as if searching for the right word, ‘betrayed, used. A mere pawn for you all to meddle with, to be treated with no more care or concern than a child’s plaything. A tool to help you hone your writing skills. Is that all I am? All I ever was? Do you really need me any more? Now that you have broken those barriers?’
He paced away into the darkness, footsteps loud on the gravel. There was nothing she could say. No words to comfort him. Because, after all, he was in some respects, right.
His voice filtered through the night, soft and almost hesitant now. ‘You don’t need me anymore do you? You are going to pack me away in that dark recess of your mind and forget about me for another twenty years or more. Or perhaps forever.’ He glared at her, ‘and after all that you told me, all those stories, all those experiences that I was promised. Nothing. Emptiness. Do you actually know what it is like when you are forgotten? The total, unrelieved darkness of absolute worthlessness. The knowledge that you are no longer of any value, of any significance.’
And he turned back to face her. ‘I won’t let that happen to me. Not again.’
She stood up, determined not to show fear as he came back to stand near the car, facing her, indomitable, resolute. He would not let her leave now, not without resolving this situation. She knew that.
‘What do you want me to do? To say? I can’t take it all back. I can’t undo what I have written, and would you really want me to do that? To send you back into obscurity? I thought, when you said you were angry, that it was because of the stories, the things that I do to you, but it’s not is it?’ she whispered.
He laughed, a hollow sound that echoed in the silence. The aurora seemed to diminish, to subtly fade, and retreat somewhat. ‘Breathless? It wasn’t pleasant, but I can deal with that. After all, you made me able to deal with it.’ He leaned back on the wing of the car, legs straight, arms folded, thinking, watching the lights as they shrank under his stern gaze. ‘What am I to you anyway? Certainly not a lover. Thank heavens.’
She laughed at that. ‘ No Ed, not a lover, although if I was a lot younger, well…’
‘Good. And,’ he hesitated, ‘I will be honest. If you were younger then…….maybe’ and he twisted those perfect lips in a wry grin of understanding.
‘I’m …. honoured. No, really I am,’ She stepped closer to him. ‘Friends then? We are friends aren’t we?’
He lowered his head. The lights dimmed, faded away, became the merest tiny flicker in the far distance. ‘Friends? I used to think so, but tell me. Have you ever been in an isolation tank?’
The question threw her. What was the relevance? The meaning behind that question? ‘No, no I haven’t but I have read about them.’
‘Ah yes,’ he looked up at her as the lights strengthened, grew, began to spread again. ‘Well-read. That’s you isn’t it. Well-read.’ And there was a tone of mockery in the voice this time. The lights in the sky flared with angry crimson. ‘Isolation tanks. That’s what it is like when a character is unread, discarded, ignored. Nothing. No one. No sound, no light,’ and the lights in the sky shrank to a pinprick, ‘no sensations. Just a vast emptiness. And however much you scream, there is no one to hear you. No-one to comfort you, to hold you. You can’t even feel your body, your heartbeat, your breath. Friends don’t do that to each other. ’
He took a deep breath as if to console himself with the realisation that, at least here, he could taste the chill air, feel the gravel beneath his feet, hear his own voice. And behind him, silhouetting his lean shape, the lights glowed brighter, like soft turquoise gems in the sky.
And she suddenly realised that, whatever she had done to him, it was nothing compared to the horror of being neglected, of being left trapped inside the slowly mouldering pages of some long-forgotten book, or feeling the tape of a video slowly degrade around one. To be completely without value.
Unread. Unwatched. Unremembered.
‘Oh my god. I never thought. I never appreciated what you meant before. And I understand now, really I do. Please. I won’t forget you. You know that. Not again, not after finding you again after so long. I couldn’t do that to you. Or me.’ She faltered, unsure of how he would respond.
He smiled at her sadly this time. ‘I know that, I do, but one day you… ‘ he seemed to flinch and the lights pulsed, flared and died away, leaving him a darker shape against the dark sky, surrounded by speckles of stars.
And she knew what he feared, what he would not say. What he knew was going to happen, eventually. And there was nothing that she, or anyone, could do to prevent it.
‘Ed. My dearest Ed…’ What could she say? She would grow old, would forget, would be unable to write, would, one day, leave. Leave everything behind, her stories, read and unread, her sketches, her ………… and he would be left. Alone. Trapped.
He straightened up, stretching stiff shoulders. And the Northern Lights stretched with him encompassing the sky as he opened his arms wide to loosen the tired joints.
‘My god.’ She gasped. ‘Ed. Look.’
She pointed at the sky, at the flaring curtains of light that had re-emerged to fill the sky.
‘What about it? The Northern Lights. That’s all they are. Although I knew how much you always wanted to see them. That’s the real reason I brought you up here. I had a suspicion, after those solar flares a couple of days ago that they might be visible.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I suppose I wasn’t really that angry then was I?’ His voice was quieter now. More thoughtful.
‘Ed, look at them. Just look. And .. well, I want you to think of one moment in your life when you have been really happy, one perfect moment. Can you do that?’
He tilted his head to one side as if wondering about her sanity. ‘One perfect moment? I think I can do that. But, can I ask why?’
‘No. just do it. Look at the lights. And concentrate. It’s important.’ She reached out and held his hand. ‘Please Ed. Do this. For me.’
He turned away, but kept her fingers loose in his own slender ones, as if he needed the contact, the reassurance.
Standing there, looking at the lights, his face became still, focussed, calm. She could see the gentle change that gradually transformed his features. No longer stern, no longer uncompromising and severe, his features softened and a smile twisted his lips into a gentle curve.
She wondered what he was thinking about. And then with a brilliance that filled the sky, the lights blazed across the dark. Glorious folds of light diffused and shimmered overhead, a rainbow of rich, vibrant colours, like triumphant flags proclaiming victory over a defeated enemy.
He turned to her, confused, perplexed. ‘What on Earth…..?’
Her eyes were bright with wonder, with excitement as she tugged on his hand to pull him to where the rug was spread on the short, sheep-grazed turf. ‘Sit down Ed. I need to talk to you.’ He acquiesced, without argument, dropping neatly to sit on the rug beside her, and waited patiently.
‘So. Do you know what happened just then? ‘
‘No.’ He sounded baffled and more than a little concerned. ‘I was thinking about…..’ he broke off, and she could see the emotion clearly, the memory of that moment, what it brought to him.
‘Ed. Have you got a notepad and pen in your car?’ She stood up. It would be easier to show him, rather than try to explain.
‘Probably. Try the glove box.’ He watched as she rooted through the small compartment, eventually emerging with an assortment of different objects. It was hard to decipher what each item was in the darkness, even with the interior light switched on. She brought them back to where he was still sitting, hands clasped around his knees, watching her with a look of faint amusement.
‘Here. There must be a pencil or pen amongst this lot, surely,’ and she tipped them onto the rug before sorting through them. Thin rawhide chews, an opened packet of mints, a feather on a long leather thong, unusual items in anyone’s car, but even more astonishing in his. She had always assumed that his vehicle would be as neat and meticulous as he himself was, but it appeared that she was mistaken. Ed Straker was a hoarder.
And she grinned, thinking about her own untidy little car with its detritus of parking ticket stickers, empty TicTac boxes, random, unread books on the back seat, putty rubbers and pastels in the footwell where they had dropped out of her pencil case last week. A life contained in one small microcosm. Her life; driving to work, parking, trying to write, trying to draw. His life; that little puppy, the friend he met so recently, all small reminders of his life outside SHADO. An assortment of treasured possessions that encompassed his world.
A pen, well, a slightly mauled biro actually. And a small notebook. She leafed through it curiously, while he sat and watched her, slightly amused but also with increasing exasperation. ‘Are you going to tell me what this is about?’ his voice gruff with underlying irritation as she handed him the biro. He held it as if it was a poisonous snake about to bite him.
She handed him the notebook with its pages of neatly written notes, carefully drawn diagrams, the odd equation set down in the pages. ‘This notebook. What is all this stuff in here? It looks important.’
‘Stuff? I’ll have you know that stuff, as you call it, is my initial thoughts on some developments we need to make in SHADO.’ He frowned at her as he checked the pages.
‘So you do make plans then? And write your ideas down?’
‘Of course. It’s my job to make sure SHADO is as well prepared as possible to fight the aliens. Why? Did you think I sat around all day waiting for someone to read your stories just so I can come to life? I take my responsibilities seriously. Very seriously indeed. Just because I only exist now in stories and on repeats on television and so on, that is no reason to shirk my duties. So, on those occasions while I am waiting, I write my thoughts down. Then when I am in HQ I can put them into practise.’ He leaned back, hands behind him on the rug, eyes staring at the lights. ‘That was how I knew there was a good chance of seeing the lights tonight. I had done some research on solar flares and then, well, they happened.’
‘The flares? So you didn’t know they were predicted then?’
‘No. Which is strange. We can usually forecast them quite accurately.’
‘Ed. Will you do something for me?’
‘Haven’t I done enough? I’ve done everything you asked, everything you wanted. I let you have free rein to do whatever you liked with me. And I didn’t reject you, I didn’t hurt you or threaten to leave. And now…’ the bitterness, the pain was back in his voice, but it was tinged with desperate sadness now as he faced his future alone, isolated, abandoned.
‘Please, just this one thing. I won’t ask you to do anything else for me. Just this,’ she pleaded.
‘Very well. I may as well, for one last time.’ but he turned away from her, just a slight movement but enough to break her heart with his unspoken rejection.
‘Write a story Ed. That is all I ask. Write. You could write a story about aliens, or yourself, or the studios, or Henderson if you really wanted to,’ and she laughed at his expression as he turned to face her. ‘Just write a story. And see what happens.’ And she leaned forward to kiss him. To kiss those perfect lips, that sensuous mouth, for only the second time.
He opened the notebook, flicking through for a blank page. Then sat there. Still.
‘Well,’ she urged him, ‘go on. You can do it.’
‘Yes? How easy would you find it? without even a title to start you off? What about that November challenge? You haven’t even begun that yet.’
She had the good grace to blush. ‘Sorry. I got a bit overenthusiastic I suppose. Look. Why don’t I give you a title? Would that help?’
He thought for a moment, eyebrows furrowed. ‘Very well, but don’t expect a long story. This will be short most likely. After all,’ he held out the notebook for her inspection, ‘there aren’t that many pages left in here.’
‘Okay then. Title.’ She thought for a moment. ‘ You do realise I will be writing about tonight don’t you? And I will give it a title? I am going to call it The Master.’
He quirked an expressive eyebrow at her. ‘Why?’
‘Well it is about you, Master and Commander, as you called yourself earlier. And I like the title. So that is your story title as well. The Master. Any story you like. Go on. I’ll sit here and wait.’ She turned away to stare at the lights, listening as he began writing, tentatively at first, then with increasing confidence.
By E. Straker
‘I feel foolish writing that,’ he muttered to her.
‘It’s your story, why should you feel foolish? You sign reports and authorise documents. This is your work. You need to acknowledge that fact. Now, stop talking and write.’
Darkness, unrelieved darkness. Not a glimmer of light, not even a star to be seen through the thick cloud cover. Straker shivered. Not just from the cold but from tension. Standing, unseen, in the corner he waited. In silence. Aware that the slightest move, the slightest sound from him could cause everything to go wrong. And there was too much riding on the outcome of the next few minutes. Far too much. He hoped he had been right. He hoped that, shortly, his actions would be justified and that…..
There was a tiny flicker of light. Grey light, that cast soft shadows. It spread, almost slowly until even Straker was caught in its embrace, and he became aware of a presence. Someone, something was now standing next to him. unseen before in the obscurity of the sinister blackness. Straker turned, cautiously, endeavouring to keep his movements as slow, as unnoticeable as humanly possible. It was impossible not to hide his reaction to the figure that had appeared beside him. The man was …. terrifying. Even Ed Straker, calm, coldly controlled Ed Straker, flinched infinitesimally as the man stepped closer, into the pool of faint light that now illuminated the dark cavern.
It was time.
‘It doesn’t have to be very complicated does it? Not like FarSight?’ he asked, a note of diffidence in his voice.
She sighed, then remembered her first forays into the world of writing. ‘No Ed,’ she assured him patiently, ‘five hundred words will be ample. As long as something happens, as long as there is an event, then it will be fine. Trust me.’
Straker looked up into the feral eyes, into the face that appeared almost alien in its savagery. Eyes fierce with lust, with greed; mouth twisted into a snarl of suppressed rage. Straker stared back into those brutal eyes, into the soul of the being standing there next to him, and then, with a moment of doubt, wondering if he was, actually, doing the right thing, Straker nodded and stepped back. Out of the way, out of the light, out of any involvement with what was going to happen next.
He would have no part to play with this. He had set these events in motion, now it was out of his hands.
Standing there, watching, he recalled those fierce arguments with Alec Freeman. Alec, who had objected with every fibre of his being to what Straker was planning to do tonight.
‘You’re crazy, d’you know. It’s utter madness to even think of it. For God’s sake Ed, this is really dangerous. Have you considered the risks? The future of the organisation? It could all fall apart. And for what?’ Freeman turned away in disgust.
‘Look Alec, we need to do his. If we don’t, then chances are, we will not win. You know that. I know that. So we have to take that risk.’ Straker held up one hand to stop his friend. ‘Yes, it is a risk, but the responsibility is all mine. I will be there, I will have the ultimate say in what happens. If I don’t feel that things are going to work out, then I will stop it. But, we have to try. Otherwise we might as well just give up right now.’ He looked sternly at Freeman. ‘Paul feels the same way you do, I know. But, we will give it one go. Just one. And if it doesn’t work, if I think it is too extreme, then I will pull the plug.’
‘As long as you remember what is at stake, Ed. and if you are going to be there to step in, well, I suppose we have no choice do we?’ Freeman grunted worriedly.
‘No Alec, you have no choice at all. Now I need to start making the arrangements.’ Straker turned away and picked up his phone as Colonel Freeman shook his head in disapproval and headed for the SHADO control room.
So now Ed Straker was here alone. Wondering, not for the first time, if he had made the right decision. The being, it could hardly be called human, that had stepped forward into the light was even now sniffing the air, its nostrils flared, its tongue flickering out as if to taste the very scent of its prey.
‘Will that do so far?’
‘It sounds very, err, interesting. Are you going to tell me what is going to happen?’
‘I don’t think so, not yet at any rate.’ he smiled up at her, ‘I am quite enjoying doing this actually.’ And he bent his head to continue writing.
The creature moved slowly, it’s footsteps silent, it’s clawed hands reaching, grasping, searching. And then, in one swift lunge, so fast that it almost deceived the eye, it sprang forward.
There was a hideous scream, the sound of cloth tearing, of a cry being stifled, of flesh being ripped. Straker waited in silence, observing everything, missing nothing. Ready to step forward and call a halt.
But, no. It was all under control, it was happening as he had been promised.
He sighed gratefully. It had been one hell of a risk, allowing the local University Film undergraduates to have access to Harlington Straker’s main studio. And to be honest, he hadn’t really wanted to do it. But it was good for the studio, and put them in the running for the upcoming and very prestigious Community Film Award. The storyboard looked pretty decent as well. A modern take on ‘The Minotaur’ . Could be a runner for New Producer award as well.
He stepped forward, into the light, just as the ‘creature’ flung his victim onto the floor and raised its head to roar.
‘Cut.’ The cry came from the other side of the studio. ‘Well Mr. Straker? What do you think? Any good?’
Straker shook the director’s hand. ‘A very good master shot indeed. You have my go-ahead to continue filming.’
He put the biro down. Handed the notebook to her. ‘Well, there you are. My first attempt at writing. It’s not as easy as it appears is it?’
‘Hell no!’ she laughed.’ You did very well actually. I will ask if anyone will beta-read it for you. Now. I think I really should be going home. Is there anything you want to ask before it’s too late?’
‘Well, yes. What now? I mean, the story, what happens now?’
And she realised that he hadn’t actually grasped the true meaning. Hadn’t realised that he was free, that he would never be trapped in that dark emptiness, alone and isolated. So, she told him. Told him that he was able to write his own stories, to create his own world even in hundreds of years, when everyone had forgotten about UFO and SHADO and Ed Straker. He would live on. Surrounded by his friends and family and the things that he desired the most.
There was silence.
‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’ She nudged him with an elbow.
‘I don’t know what to say. My mind is full of possibilities, ideas, plots, thoughts…’ he turned to her again. ‘Is this how you feel sometimes, when you have so much in your mind that you can’t see how you will ever have the time to put it all down on paper?’
‘Oh yes. Most definitely. And then there are the times when my mind is arid, empty, and none of those ideas will work. But something always turns up, eventually. You will be fine. You will be able to write and create your world to be anything you want it to be, and maybe,..’ she hesitated, blushing unseen in the darkness.
‘Go on,’ he encouraged her.
‘Maybe you could put me in one of your stories. I’d like that. Very much.’
‘Ah.. a torture scene maybe?’ he said grinning at her discomfort. ‘I will certainly write about you. But, probably not for a long time yet. There are too many ideas in my head right now. And I think I will need to be a much better writer before I tackle a more romantic story. I hope you beta-read for me; I shall appreciate your advice, and that of the others in the group.’
He stood up, brushing off the short hairs that clung to his trousers, and putting out one hand helped her to her feet. ‘Now, I had better get you home. What will you say to your husband?’
‘Oh I don’t know Ed, you know me though. A great imagination. I’ll think of something.’
And she did.
LtCdr. October 2010