DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
The lost Prisoner
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. But Morag has been abducted by their enemy, Venoma, and now they have to find her.
‘This is hopeless’. Annie said miserably. ‘How are we ever going to find him?’
‘Just trust me’. Simon said with more confidence than he felt.
They looked around the menswear department of Marks and Spencers in Churchill Square, Brighton, England. They were looking for somebody, or something, in particular. Their policewoman friend and sister was missing. Their only hope was to find a guide to lead them to her. But Annie still felt miserable. She thought of Morag, trapped in some other world, another dimension, and all they had to go on were a few clues and her brother’s own intuition.
Simon looked around at her. ‘Keep searching, Annie. It’s the only hope we’ve got’.
They were searching for the male mannequin, the Glasskeeper, as he was called, who had led them out of previous worlds in the past, though not without some pain. But they could see no sign of him. It was only just after opening time, and there were few other customers in the store. One of the assistants looked at them curiously. She had only just come on shift, and she wondered why these two young teenagers were standing there, looking around in rather a desperate way.
‘Can I help you?’ the assistant asked, a rather plain woman in her mid-thirties, who had mousy brown hair and glasses. She wore a frown as she looked at them. ‘Can I help you with anything?’ She was not sure what they were there for, so early in the day.
Simon smiled at her, beseechingly. ‘Excuse us. We’re doing a school project on body posture and gestural movement, and we were looking around at all these dummies you have, as an expression of human body language. Sorry, that’s the sort of things they make us do. Are all your dummies out here, or do you have a store for them or something?’
‘No they’re all out here. We just move them around and put different clothes on them. That’s a strange project’. The woman said curiously.
Annie sighed to herself. Simon always used that excuse for their often bizarre behaviour.
‘Do you have one with its arms folded’. Annie said abruptly.
‘I’ve no idea’. the woman replied sharply, annoyed at Annie’s rather blunt question. ‘You’ll just have to look’. She marched off, in the direction of the sales counter.
‘You have such a way with people, don’t you?’ Simon said bitterly.
‘I’m just worried about Morag. She’s all alone out there somewhere!’
‘Do you think I don’t know that! Her brother snapped back. They stared at each other.
‘I’m sorry, Simon’. Annie said quietly She knew that her brother had a genuine sympathy with Morag, because of her mother’s death, and partly because of his empathy with the young girl, Annabelle, who had died so brutally, long ago. She realised how desperately anxious he was. ‘Let’s keep looking’.
They wandered around the menswear department, looking hopefully at each mannequin as they passed, clad in the latest autumn fashions for men. The assistant, thankfully, they saw, was now behind the sales counter on the other side of the store.
‘This is hopeless, Simon. He’s not here. They must have ditched him or sent him to another store!’ Annie cried, despairingly.
‘No they haven’t. He’s over there’. Her brother pointed to the far side where the suits were. She saw a mannequin, his arms loosely folded, clad in a smart black suit, with a white shirt and a red tie, black brogues on his feet. They stood in front of him. His moulded face, with its moulded smooth hair, was impassive. Like the rest of the mannequins, his eyes were blank. He stared at nothing in particular. It was those blank eyes that always frightened Annie. She liked the mannequins that were made to look lifelike with glass eyes and wigs, but this one was simply, remote, as if removed from any semblance of humanity at all. She shivered, remembering the last time they had encountered him. He had treated them brutally, but totally without any emotion in any way. He, or it, had just been……neutral, as if they were just objects.
They stood in front of the plinth where he was posed. Simon looked around, to make sure that no-one else was near. ‘We need your help’. He said quietly. ‘Our friend is missing and we know she’s being taken into the sixth dimension…wherever that is. We want to ask you to take us there, so we can bring her back. That’s all we want to do. Can you do that?’
The mannequin simply stared with its blank eyes, and remained totally immobile.
Simon looked around. There was still no-one near them. ‘Please’, he said, desperately. ‘We’ve got to find her! She’s precious to us!’
But the mannequin remained exactly as it was, eyes blank.
‘It’s no good, Simon!’ Annie cried bitterly, ‘This is just a waste of time! Come on, let’s go home and try to think of something else!’
She pulled at his arm. They began to walk away. But Simon turned around again. He was determined to have one last try. He faced the mannequin again, looking up at that bland, empty face.
‘She’s a trespasser! She’s on your territory where she shouldn’t be! Do you hear me! She’s a trespasser!’
The mannequin remained still, its suit looking strange around its white, dead fibreglass body. Simon sighed and gave up. As they turned back to leave, they heard a rustle of clothes behind them. They both turned back again. The mannequin had unfolded its arms and stepped down from the plinth.
‘Follow me’, it said in its dull mechanical voice, devoid of any emotion. Then it walked into the tall glass mirror on the column next to it. The glass shivered as it walked through.
Simon stood amazed for a second, then he went to the mirror. He looked back and saw his sister’s terrified face. ‘You don’t need to come, Annie. I’ll find her’.
‘No! I’m coming, too!’ She grasped the back of his small rucksack tightly as they followed the Glasskeeper through the mirror, which dissolved, rippled, and hardened behind them into its normal reflective surface.
She screamed out involuntarily. The darkness was so black that she had lost her bearings, and if it were not for her hold on Simon’s rucksack, she would have lost her nerve entirely. But gradually her vision cleared and she could at last see where they were. Small shafts of light came down from the ceiling above them, though it was lost in shadow and darkness, and so far away, she could not even imagine how far above it was. It was a great cavernous interior , lined with giant stone walls built of huge slabs, so large that she could not even imagine how anyone could possibly have lifted or hoisted them into position.
The Glasskeeper led them onwards into this great soundless place. They could hear their own feet echoing in the great vaults above, and as their eyes adjusted to the gloom, they could see other things around and above them. They were moving through an enormous vaulted labyrinth. High above them were huge wooden beams stretching out from the walls for no apparent purpose. Even further above, were stairs that seemed to lead nowhere, except to the large wooden walkways that crossed the great space above their heads, one above the other, crossing and re-crossing the dank, dark space high above. Giant chains hung from metal hooks on the walls, glinting in the darkness as they passed.
‘Glasskeeper, what is this place?’ Annie cried. Her voice echoed loudly around this huge space.
‘It was a prison’. The Glasskeeper replied in his dull voice. ‘Follow me’.
She shivered. She could imagine prisoners shut in this place forever, their spirits crushed by the implacable stone walls and the terrible darkness. Simon could feel her trembling behind him.
‘Just hold onto me, Annie’. he said quietly. He knew how terrified she was of other dimensions, of things and places that she could no longer trust. They followed the Glasskeeper through the labyrinth, constantly looking above them at those dark, dead stairways and wooden balustraded walks.The whole place smelt of damp, rot and mould, as if it had never been used for a long time. It was a fearful place.
As they walked across the cracked and broken stone floor, more light shone in, though they still could not even see the vaulted roof above. But they could see stairways of wood, suspended at all angles, not even meeting each other, suspended by thick, blackened, tarred ropes. There was simply no order to this chaotic maze of darkness and sinister intent. More thick ropes and pulleys hung and dangled from the darkness above, for no purpose that they could see. A small circular structure stood on a giant column ahead of them, a single small window gaping in its surface. A large brass lantern, unlit, hung from a bracket on one side of it. And still, there was no sign, nor sound of this dreadful dungeon being inhabited. It was like a giant sepulchre, a frozen monument to those that had been imprisoned here. It was a dead place.
They went on and on through other great chambers, all similar, all equally dark and terrifying. At the centre of one lay a large wooden wheel, suspended on a giant iron hub, with protruding, foot-long iron spikes along it’s metalled rim. Some of the spikes were darkened black, and encrusted. Simon heard his sister whimper with fear, and reached behind him to grasp her hand tightly. There was just no sound at all, except for the sound of their footsteps as they passed through this great derelict prison.
Then the Glasskeeper stopped. He stood in front of a large mirror, discoloured and clouded. It was encased in an ornate gilt frame, now tarnished with age, set into one of the great stone walls. ‘This is the way’. he said, in his dull voice. Then he plunged through the glass. After a second or two they followed, thankful to be out of that terrible atmosphere.
They stood at the entrance to what appeared to be a giant wooden entrance to a cathedral. But the great wooden walls that extended each side were grey, weathered and petrified. They stared down the long vaulted tunnel, that was vaulted like the nave of a church. At the far end, was an arched wooden door. Dapples of what seemed to be sunlight, flickered over the ancient and gnarled wood, worn and irregular in shape. Looking up, they could only see this petrified wood stretching up higher and higher, and a dense mass of leaves and foliage, literally hundreds of feet above. The nave or passageway was a narrow entranceway into this strange world. Annie reached out her hand to the surface of the entranceway. It looked like natural stone,, but it was warmer then stone , though just as hard.
She pulled back her hand, ‘It really is wood, Simon! But it’s enormous! What kind of place is this?’
‘It’s like we’re entering an enormous forest of tree-trunks! Come on! The Glasskeeper is waiting for us by that door!
They both ran down the long corridor. The floor was smooth, but it didn’t echo. It also seemed to be made of wood.
‘Come’. said the Glasskeeper. He turned the handle of the arched wooden door, built of brown, hardened planks. They followed him through.
Annie really did scream this time, though not loudly. But she stood, swaying for a moment in blind panic. They door had opened into a narrow open fissure which ran out onto a worn narrow ledge, at the top of what was a huge wooden face of rock, that stretched upwards and downwards as far as they could see. One each side, the wood-face, as it seemed to be, curved away and around horizontally, so they couldn’t see where it went. Nor could they see how far down this wood-face descended. Simon suddenly grabbed his sister in panic. She was sweating and tottering as she experienced a terrible vertigo. Her face was panic-stricken and white, and her could feel her trembling.
‘It’s all right, Annie. Just stand still for a moment’ She stood there for a few seconds, with her eyes closed.
‘Where do we go now, Glasskeeper?’ he said quietly.
‘Down there’, the Glasskeeper stiffly nodded his head. ‘There are steps we may use. Follow me’.
He stepped out over a raised whorl of wood, turned around and then began to disappear from view over the edge.
Simon gripped his sister’s arm.
‘Come on! We daren’t lose him!’
She gulped , and nodded. He crawled over the hump of the knoll, not daring to look down. He did notice the curious way in which here, the wood had taken on a strange undulating pattern, formed in layers, as if had once been a frozen sea, turned into something else But his feet found a set of steps carved into the wood that led down to a long, dark, narrow fissure on his right, in which the figure of the Glasskeeper was standing, his arms folded impassively. He moved down step by step, and then swung himself sideways into that dark crevice. Annie came into view, hesitated, and then swung herself towards him. He caught her and pulled her into the darkness. They were both panting with fear, their hearts beating loudly. They were both desperately aware of the enormous drop below them, down to the unseen green depths below.
‘Come!’ the Glasskeeper said sharply. ‘We must continue to descend’.
Neither of them could speak. They followed him along the dark, winding narrow passage. It seemed to continue for a long time, and then suddenly they emerged into light. Annie cried out again. This time they were standing on a broader undulating platform, looking across at a tumbled surface of knobs and whirls, that protruded outwards, lined and striated with cracks and holes, as if they were the tumbled bones of giant animals or beasts. They both made the mistake of looking down.
Far, far below they could see the jumbled trunks and boughs of this ancient woodscape, partly obscured by branches of waving leaves, that even at that distance, appeared huge. It was as if they had suddenly, without warning, found themselves in the trees of giant gods, climbing through wooden mountains, high in the sky. They both felt a wave of giddiness, and without even speaking, turned and dug their fingers into the holes and crannies of the cracked bark and weathered grey wood behind them. For a few seconds neither spoke, then Annie looked along, very carefully, still not daring to look down.. There was a safe kind of gnarled platform some way across. She remembered that these were the diseased parts of ancient trees, called boles, corrupted perhaps by insects or other things. But in between, there was a jutting smoother branch, that bowed out in an elbow-like shape from the main surface, to form a terrible obstacle. To reach that bole-like platform, they would have to traverse it, crawling around and clinging desperately to any handhold available.
‘This way’. said the Glasskeeper calmly. He began to crawl and inch his way along the narrow fissure that led from the narrow platform on which they stood, directly towards that jutting branch.
They looked at each other. They were now both terrified, each of them fighting down the panic.
‘Let’s watch him! He must know a way around it! We can do the same!’
‘Simon, he’s a mannequin! If he fell, he’d probably just bounce off the ground and pick himself up. We’d just end up as a little splash of broken flesh and bone! Like crushed insects!’
Simon was watching the Glasskeeper carefully. The mannequin paused, as it reached the jutting trunk, then reached out for some invisible holds, and inched carefully but effortlessly around it. A few moments later, he reappeared on the boled platform on the other side and folded his arms, looking across at them with his blank eyes.
‘ Let’s be human spiders, then, Annie. Annie! he cried out in alarm.
Annie’s eyes had turned grey. ‘I’m really pissed off with that dummy! Faery courage, Simon! I’m going first!’ She began to crawl along the narrow ledge. Simon followed, amazed at his sister, whose mood could turn from downright fear into furious courage. She reached the sloping area just before the trunk, a desperate hazard itself.
‘Simon! There are crevices carved into the wood! They’re handholds and footholds! Not very big, but you’ll see them when you get closer!’ She reached out and found a handhold straight away, then a foothold, then another and another, around the trunk itself. She slowly edged her way around the trunk, face pressed against it, slowly and cautiously feeling for more gaps and crevices to cling onto. She could smell the oldness of the timber itself. She edged painfully around until she was close to the edge of the platform on the other side. Then her foot slipped.
‘Noooo- oooo!’ she cried, in utter terror. She was hanging on desperately by her fingertips, her feet scrabbling desperately against the trunk trying to find another foothold. She felt her fingers in the crevices beginning to lose their grip.
‘Annie!’ her brother screamed in panic.
Then she felt something very hard grip her arm, She screamed in pain as she was hauled bodily onto the safety of the platform by the Glasskeeper. She collapsed, gasping at his feet, and then sat up, nursing her bruised wrist. She remembered that grip from the last time they had met the Glasskeeper, who had forcibly returned them to their own dimension.
‘I’m all right!’ she shouted.
There was no reply. Annie began to panic, and then saw her brother slowly and cautiously edge his way around that dreadful grey trunk, until he reached the platform. As he stepped down, he swayed dangerously backwards, but Annie snatched at him and pulled him back.
Annie turned. ‘Thank you, Glasskeeper’. she said quietly. But the Glasskeeper was already climbing down a steep slope of fissured wood on the other side. They looked at each other’s broken and bleeding fingernails.
‘I don’t suppose they have manicurists in this dimension, do they?’ Simon said finally. They both burst out laughing. They had come so close to death, that the only way was to make light of it. They began to follow the Glasskeeper down, slithering and slipping down the angled giant trunks of grey wood, downwards into the rustling greenness far below them. The climb became shallower , and now they were beginning to be swallowed in great leaves above their heads, translucent green and moving gently. Annie looked up at one as she passed below it. She recognised it vaguely, broad, tapered, but was simply too tired to remember what species it was. The sun, high above, shone though it, revealing the central stem and the veins running out from each side. It was beautiful, and also shady. She was very thirsty and almost exhausted.
‘Glasskeeper! She called out. He was some way ahead of them, but he stopped, and turned, with the same blank eyes.
‘Glasskeeper! We need a rest for a few minutes, so that we can have a drink!’
‘I need a pee, as well’. muttered Simon.
‘So do I. Glasskeeper! Just for a short while!’
He did not reply but simply folded his arms and turned around again, looking at their downward path.
They gratefully pulled out their water-bottles from their small rucksacks they had been carrying, and drank greedily.
‘I don’t suppose he needs a drink, as well?’
‘I doubt it. Let’s perform our ablutions. You go that way, I’ll go this’.
They rejoined the Glassmaker a few minutes later. He was still standing motionless on what appeared to be a downward path, alongside the enormous fissured wall of the great trees above. ‘You will follow me’. He said dispassionately. ‘We will be leaving this dimension soon’ He set off at his usual brisk pace. Now that they had nearly reached ground level the path was easier, They walked under plants, whose sudden shade was cooling, though the broad leaves above were too big to be natural. Or so they thought. They became increasingly of a great hum of noise around them, scurrying, whistling, the creak of a plant-stem. A shrill scream here, a sharp croak there, in another direction. There was a whole world of hidden things around them, unseen and invisible, apart from the sharp cries and the sudden loud rustle. They had never been so aware before of the intricacy of natural things, the texture, the substance the very feeling and smell of soil and earth. Every sound was magnified, distorted and utterly mysterious. They looked nervously around them. They had begun to realise the complexity, the strangeness, of the nature of things, to walk and climb through a world where one was lost and all was unknown.
There was a loud crashing through the tall vegetation on their left. A great large shape, black, with horns, and an armoured carapace, ran straight at them! They threw themselves aside as it careered across the path and into the great plants on the other. They heard it crashing though the stems, under the broad leaves that sheltered their path. The sound of it gradually disappeared. Annie stared at her brother, wide-eyed.
‘What was that!’ she gasped.
‘A bloody great stag-beetle! I recognised it by its horns! What kind of world are we in, Annie?’
Annie was still shocked.
‘We’ve been miniaturised!’ she cried out. ‘We’re in a dimension like our world, except that we’re only three inches tall! That’s why we can’t even recognise it properly!’
‘Either that, or this dimension is so large that it makes us look tiny!’
They both realised that the Glasskeeper was turning off the path and walking waist-deep through grass to the left of them. Without saying anything, they followed him, ploughing through the stalks and blades, moving towards something they could now see dimly in the distance, though neither of them had any sense of perspective or scale any more. They could feel the warmth of the bright sun above them, and a blue sky, but they were more intent on listening to the rustlings and murmurings of grass they were wading through, and the tiny living world of creatures hat they were now so much more close to. After a few minutes more of walking through this green vibrant sea, alive with sound and movement, they caught up with the Glasskeeper, who was standing motionless in front of a strange object, from which a bright gleam came.
‘This is the portal from this world into the sixth dimension’. the Glasskeeper said. They stared at it in amazement. The gleam came from a rectangular mirror, supported, or perhaps more accurately clasped, between the branches of two identical trees, one on each side, though in fact they were more likely to be twigs. The mirror was enclosed within a simple wooden frame, and in its surface they could see the reflection of the great ancient trees from which they had just descended. A small wooden ladder led up to the mirror itself, propped against the supporting branches beneath. Without a word, the Glasskeeper mounted the ladder and disappeared into the mirror, its surface rippling as he passed through. Simon and Annie looked around for the last time at this strange giant world, and then passed through. The mirror rippled and dissolved, and then became a mirror again, still reflecting the ancient huge trees.
They found themselves standing in an open courtyard. It was night, and they could hardly see, There were no lights around, though they could hear a dog barking furiously, and the sound of laughter and voices somewhere nearby. There was a smell of rancid animal fat, and rotting vegetables, of urine and human shit, and the sharp smell of blood. They gazed around, their eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness. They could hear the sound of a human argument, a man and a woman shouting viciously at each other, though they couldn’t make out the words.
Simo turned slowly around. The place, even in darkness, seemed familiar to him. ‘Glasskeeper, are you sure that this is the sixth dimension?’
‘Of course’. the Glassskeeper replied quietly.
Annie was peering through the gloom, thinking back to what Venoma had said. Somewhere where they had been to before? Then she caught the odour of fresh blood and saw the high wall, and the small dingy row of cottages, from which the sounds of a furious row came. The dog started barking again. She smelt a particularly bad smell that seemed to come from a rotting pile of rubbish close by. The memory of that brought back a strong recollection.
‘Of course!’ she cried out. ‘I know where we are!’
Her brother stared at her. ‘Do you?’
‘Yes! This is Oxford Court in Brighton, but back in the thirties before it was demolished! Don’t you remember, Simon? There’s the slaughter- house and yard, and there’s that filthy old rubbish heap we landed in when we came here last! That’s what Venoma said! Somewhere where we’d been to before! This is it, Simon! It’s exactly as it was!’
‘But how did she know that? Simon exclaimed, impatiently.
‘Remember? We saw the Wrist family in that pub! We peered through the window, only that that ugly barman spotted us and we had to run for it!’
‘But that still doesn’t explain how she knew that. Remember, Annie, we’ve only got her word for that! Just that Morag’s in the sixth dimension, in a place we’ve been to before! How do we know that we’re in the right place?’
‘This is where the portal is’ said the Glasskeeper. ‘You have been here before. I had to eject you’.
‘But why did she bring her here, of all places? She could have taken her to any number of other dimensions! Why here?’
Annie took a deep breath, smelt the rottenness of the place, and immediately regretted it. ‘Because Venoma doesn’t know the dimensions any more than we do. This is the only place she could be sure of finding!’
‘It’s nice to know that bitch doesn’t have a clue sometimes. But,’ he went on slowly, ‘this is the place where we saw the Wrist family. I’m going to make sure’. He made his way to the narrow covered entrance to the court they had been standing in, tripping over bits of rusty metal and pipes as he did. He looked out. There was the dingy little pub across the road where they had glimpsed the Wrist family. That time, there had been four of them. Now there were only three. Apart from Venoma, who Annie had thought dead.
‘You’re right, Annie’, he said, quietly. ‘That pub, such as it is, is the one we saw last time. But how do we know Morag’s still here? It might all be a cruel trick. Just to get us here. It might be an ambush, Annie. You know Venoma hates our guts. Morag just might be a pawn in her own vicious little game!’
‘No, I think that it was an abduction to gain power over us. But I think, for some reason, it went wrong. Morag’s got to be here somewhere, Simon! I know it!’
She looked around again, desperately.
‘Where is the trespasser?’ the Glasskeeper said. ‘I must apprehend trespassers’.
Annie glared at him. ‘Morag!’ she shouted. ‘Morag! Where are you! Morag !’
A door opened in the cottage from where the sounds of the row had come from.
‘Shut that bloody row up, you cow!’ a man’s voice yelled. The dog started barking again. Annie took no notice.
‘Morag!’ she yelled. The dog continued to bark.
‘Morag! It’s me, Annie! And Simon! We’ve come to take you home! Morag! If you’re here, try to tell us where you are! Morag!’
The door in the cottage opened again.
‘Shut that row, or I’ll give you a smack around the chops, you stupid tart!’ the man’s voice shouted back.
Simon felt his temper rising. ‘You shut your mouth, pal, or I’ll come and kick your door in and give you a good thumping!’ he yelled back. The man cursed and slammed the door.
‘Simon, don’t! It won’t help anything!’ Annie cried despairingly.
She tried again. ‘Morag!’
They waited in silence. Even the dog was quiet. Then they saw a rustle of movement in the far corner of the court. A shadowy figure rose up from where it had been crouched against the wall.
‘Annie?’ it asked, hesitantly.
‘Morag!’ Annie cried joyfully. She ran towards the tall, slim figure that had been hiding against the wall, heedless of the bits of rubbish that she kicked over and trod upon. ‘Morag! It is you, isn’t it?’ Simon had run after her, fumbling in his backpack for something. ‘Morag, are you all right?’
They came to a halt in front of the figure. Simon switched on the small lighter he always carried. The small flame flickered, but the light was enough to see the figure more clearly. Annie leapt forward in delight, and then recoiled, stepping back hastily. It was Morag, but not the Morag they knew. This Morag was filthy beyond measure. Her normally long glossy, silky hair was matted and stringy with dirt, her face was smeared with soot, and her clothes stank, covered and grimy with muck and other things. They could barely recognise her.
‘It is you! It really is you! I’m so happy! I thought I was lost forever!’
Morag put her equally dirty hands to her face, and burst into tears.
‘I kept telling myself that you would come and find me, but I didn’t know whether you knew or not whether I was missing, or where to search for me! I thought you might still be in Hyperborea, and you wouldn’t even know!’ she sobbed.
Don’t be silly, Morag. We’d always find you’. Simon said affectionately.
Annie glanced at him sharply. She knew there was a genuine bond of sympathy between Morag and her brother, about which she felt occasionally jealous. But now, she was too full of relief.
‘Is this the trespasser?’ the Glasskeeper asked, in his usual impassive manner.
‘Who’s that!’ Morag gasped raising her face from her hands.
‘He’s our guide. He brought us back last time’.
‘What! Is he the one that hurt you?’ Morag had suddenly forgotten her tears. She glared at the Glasskeeper.
‘I had to forcibly remove them back to their own world. They were trespassers. So are you’.
‘You bastard!’ Morag remembered the state that Annie and Simon had returned in, on that occasion, and how angry she had been.
‘Morag! What happened?’ Annie said quickly, anxious to head off any hostility. They were absolutely dependent on the Glasskeeper to get them home.
‘Well, this charity worker rang the door. I didn’t think at the time that she was anything but that. But she put me out with some sort of spray or something. Next thing I knew I woke up in some bloody little garret up there’. She pointed up to the small structure that ran across and roofed the entrance into the court itself.
‘But then what, Morag?’ Annie asked urgently. She still felt very emotional that they had actually found Morag, but she was desperately curious about what had happened to her.
‘Well, I woke up , and thy were arguing outside the door, and…’
‘Who was arguing? Simon asked urgently
‘Well, whoever kidnapped me, and someone else. Look, does it matter! I just want to go home! Please take me back!’ Morag burst into tears again. ‘Just take me home! I can tell you all this then! Please!’
‘All right, Morag. We will’. Annie said gently. ‘We’ll go now’.
They followed the Glasskeeper towards the entrance to the filthy little court they had been in. Opposite them was the dingy little pub that they had seen before.
‘By the way, that lot are in there’. Morag said, glumly.
Simon stopped short.
‘What lot?’ he asked quietly..
‘The Wrists or whatever you call them. At least I think so. I suppose that murdering bastard that killed my Mum might be in there as well! Can we go home, please!’
But Simon was already taking off his backpack, pulling something out and beginning to unwrap it. They were all standing in the entrance to the court, just below where Morag had been imprisoned. The only light cane from a dingy street-light across the road on which it opened, and the dim yellow light from the lighted pub window opposite. But even in the gloomy atmosphere, Annie could see that her brother’s eyes had turned a hard grey.
‘What are you doing, Simon?’ she cried, in sudden alarm.
Her brother didn’t reply, but there was a soft snicker of steel as he withdrew his short sword, a companion to the longer swords that they had carried. Its blade shone and flickered as he hefted it viciously in his right hand.
‘I’m going to finish them. Once and for all’. he said.
He began to move towards the entrance to the road. Annie stood squarely in front of him.
‘No, you’re not. That would be murder. Put it away, Simon!’ she said savagely. ‘We need to take Morag back! That’s our priority! Not revenge!’
Get out of my way!’ her brother replied, equally viciously. His short lethal sword was now aimed at her throat. Annie saw the grey of his eyes, and knew that the fires of rage had mounted inside him. He did not even recognise her any more. Her foot struck something, and she quickly bent down and picked it up. It was an iron bar, rusty and about two feet long. She held it slightly behind and above her head, ready to bring it down in a blow. She felt the fires of rage beginning to mount inside her.
‘Get out of my way!’ repeated Simon he moved closer, the sword still aimed at her throat. He began to crouch slightly, ready for attack.
‘Come any closer and I’ll break your arm!’ She gripped the iron bar harder. Her eyes had turned grey, and she could feel the same fires of rage beginning to mount inside her.
‘What the hell’s going on? What are you doing? You’re turning on your own sister!’ Morag cried out, She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Brother and sister confronting each other! How could they?
She lunged out, trying to get hold of Simon’s sword arm. But she was on his left and his sword was in his right hand. Without warning, Simon whipped out his left arm in a vicious swipe and literally threw Morag against the wall behind her, knocking the breath out of her. She sank down it in pain and shock.
‘Get out of my way!’ Simon said again, the short sword gleaming in the light.
‘I said no!’ Annie readied herself for the attack.
The Glasskeeper stood immobile at the entrance his arms folded. His blank eyes looked at them impassively. Behind them, the dog began to bark again, frantically.
‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Please, for God’s sake stop it! Stop it ! You’re brother and sister! Stop it! Stop it, please!’ Morag shouted desperately, from where she lay against the wall. ‘Just stop it! Please!’
The dog continued to bark. Morag saw this terrible tableau of brother and sister poised, to fight each other. She could see, even in the dim light, their eyes flickering from brown to grey and back again. It lasted for several seconds. Then Simon lowered his sword. Annie lowered the piece of iron pipe she was gripping. And it was over.
But Simon still held his sword. He looked over towards the pub where the arch-enemies were gathered.
‘Why not, Annie!’ he shouted at her desperately. ‘They’re in there! Why don’t we just finish it, and give ourselves some peace!’
‘Because it would be downright murder’. Annie said quietly. ‘That’s not why we’re here, Simon. We came to bring our sister home’.
Her brother sighed deeply, then sheathed his sword, and replaced it in his rucksack. Then he turned and looked at Morag and held out his hand. ‘Come on, Morag. Let’s take you home’.
‘Get away from me!’ Morag cried, her eyes staring. ‘Get away! I don’t even know you any more!
‘Morag!’ Annie said sharply.
‘Just lead on! I’ll follow. I’d rather have you two in front of me!’
Simon looked at her sadly. ‘As you wish’. He turned to the Glasskeeper. ‘Can you lead us out of here?’
The Glasskeeper turned and led the way out of the covered entrance of the court and into the street turning left . As they passed the dirty little pub, with its rectangle of yellowed light, her brother glanced at it, and she stiffened in anticipation. But he walked on behind the Glasskeeper. Annie and Morag followed behind, Annie noting sadly that Morag was keeping well away from Simon. They crossed the empty, dimly-lit main road, heading towards the large plate-glass window opposite, that Annie suddenly recognised from when they had been here last.
‘Where are we going?’ Morag suddenly asked, fearfully.
Through there’. Annie pointed. As she spoke, the Glasskeeper simply walked through the window that shimmered and broke into ripples. Simon followed. ‘Come on’. said Annie, and led Morag through the portal. They felt a wave of coldness as the glass shivered and dissolved around them, and then they stood, blinking, and disorientated for a moment on damp grass. They realised where they were. They were standing among the trees and bushes on the east side of Preston Park. At least they couldn’t be seen there. ‘I must return’ said the Glasskeeper. He turned, shimmered and vanished, completely, before they had a chance to thank him.
‘Where did he go?’ Morag asked, bewildered.
‘Back to Marks and Spencers, I assume’ Annie replied.
‘What?’ Morag stared at her.
‘Doesn’t matter. You’d better come back to ours, Morag. You can’t walk through the streets in the state you’re in. Besides, we locked everything in when we checked your flat. You can clean yourself up and pick up the spare set of keys you left with us. Come on’.
They followed Simon as he led them by a circuitous route back up to Fiveways and their house. By keeping to the shadows, and moving quickly, they managed to avoid any curious walkers on the roads. Annie felt desperately tires and worn. The journey to find Morag had taken its toll, and she just wanted to get home. But she felt curiously empty and miserable. Things had not gone according to plan, and she was desperately worried at how Morag and Simon carefully avoided each other. The bond of sympathy between them seemed to have disappeared, and they were now distrustful, even hostile towards each other. She was grateful when they arrived at their front door, and Simon rang the bell.
Their mother, Christine, stood silhouetted in the doorway. ‘Thank God!’ she cried, ‘I wondered what had happened to you! It’s nearly midnight! Where have you been?’
‘It’s a long story, Mum’. Annie said wearily. ‘We’ve brought Morag back’.
‘What!’ She peered at the filthy figure standing on the front porch, and then stepped back as she caught the noisome smell. ‘Morag! What’s happened to you!’
‘Sorry, Christine’. Morag said sadly. ‘Would it be possible to use your bathroom?’
‘I think that would be a very good idea’. their mother said pointedly. ‘I’ll come and help you get cleaned up. It looks as if’, as she sniffed Morag’s odour, ‘that this might be a long job. By the way, Annie, Indira and Pei-Ying are in the kitchen and had supper with us. They were keen to hear any news from you. A pity you didn’t contact us’.
‘Where we’ve been, Mum, there was no way we could have done’. Annie said wearily.
She and her mother flashed a moment of understanding between them. ‘I see’. Christine said quietly. ‘Come upstairs to the bathroom, Morag. I can fumigate you better up there’. She had noticed that Morag and her son were carefully avoiding each other, and was deeply troubled. But for the moment, there were other considerations. She took Morag upstairs, who seemed silent and preoccupied, taking care that she went before and not after her, where the stench was strongest.
Indira got up as they walked into the kitchen, rushed around the table and hugged Annie hard. ‘Where have you been? We’ve been dead worried about you!’
‘Tell you in a minute. Where’s Dad?’
‘In London. Doing some mysterious research, Oi! Come here , loverboy!’ She grabbed Simon as well and hugged him. Simon laughed for the first time since they had come back.
‘You, Indira, are what they call irrepressible!’
Pei-Ying remained seated, but she was smiling. ‘It’s wonderful to see you both back’ she said sincerely. ‘And with Morag, too’.
‘Bloody hell, she stank! We could smell her in here! I thought cops were supposed to be clean!’ Indira giggled mischievously. ‘Fancy a cup of tea?’
‘Love one. Desperately’. Annie sat down at the table, and looked at her friends affectionately, who had been through so much with her. ‘I love you both’.
‘Love you too, babe’. Indira giggled again. ‘Here’s your tea’. Annie smiled. Indira could be guaranteed to lift anyone’s spirits.
‘Annie, Simon. Will you tell us what has happened? We are your friends. We would like to know’. Pei-Ying said quietly.
Annie looked at her brother. He nodded. ‘We should. Not all of it’, Annie knew what he meant. So together they began to tell the others what had happened that day. But they left out the last part. That was something they had to discuss themselves.
‘Bloody hell!’Indira said savagely. ‘I hope bloody Morag’s grateful! She bloody well should be, after all you’ve been through!’
‘Indira!’ Pei-Ying said urgently, ‘don’t forget she is probably in shock and traumatised’.
Indiraa stared at her. ‘What do you think we’ve all been through in the past, Pei-Ying? All of us! We’re the ones that have been traumatised!’
‘I know’. Pei-Ying replied, quietly. ‘But others can be as well’.
‘Let’s just leave this out’. Annie said softly. She was beginning to be worried about the antagonism that was building up. Just then, Morag walked into the kitchen. She was wearing a sweater and jeans of Annie’s, but now she looked clean and her hair, though still damp, was brushed back behind her ears. Her face was pale and tired.
‘Have you got my keys, Annie? She asked. Even her voice sounded tired.
Annie got up and unhooked Morag’s flat keys from the hook by the Aga cooker. She tossed them across to Morag without a word.
‘Thanks’. Morag said.
‘I’ll drive you back, with Indira and Pei-Ying’. Christine said. ‘John’s in London. He rang up just now. He’s very relieved to know you’re all back’. Indira and Pei-Ying gave them all a hug, but Morag and Simon carefully avoided each other. Christine gave Annie a careful look. She had noticed. They left.
‘Annie, I’m going up to bed. I don’t want to be here when Mum comes back. She’ll just want explanations and I’m in no mood to do that now’.
‘I know, Simon. But we need to talk urgently with each other. Will you still be up?’
‘I’ll wait for you’.
Annie sat at the kitchen table, cradling her half-full mug of tea in her hands. Everything was falling apart, she thought miserably. The Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Hand was beginning to unravel. Its members were becoming hostile to each other. She suddenly decided to see her brother, to at least talk. Anything was better than this misery she now felt. She went upstairs and tapped softly on his bedroom door. There was no reply. She opened the door softly and went in, treading carefully over the littered floor. Simon was sitting on the bed, staring into space. For once his computer wasn’t on, and there was no music. She sat down beside him.
‘I didn’t mean to hurt her, Annie’. he said, very softly. ‘I would never hurt Morag. But I did’.
‘The rage was upon you. Annie replied, equally softly. ‘You couldn’t help it’.
‘It was if I couldn’t even recognise her anymore, or even you. You were just enemies, standing in my way. It was just red rage, Annie! As if a great fire was burning inside me! I couldn’t control it! I just couldn’t control it!’
‘Stop it, Simon!’ She put her arm around his shoulders. ‘We’ll find a way. We always have. We brought her back, remember? If we can do that, we can do anything!’
‘Can we? We’re only human, Annie! Sometimes, we might fail!’
‘We’re not going to fail, Simon! There’s faery in us! We both know that!’ She got up from the bed she had been sitting on. ‘Don’t give up’.
Her brother put his head in his hands. ‘I’ll have to tell Ragimund that I won’t be able to see her again. I can’t trust myself. I can’t do that to her’.
Annie stared at him in horror. ‘No!’ she shouted furiously ‘You can’t do that! You love each other! You can’t do that to her, or to yourself! I’m not going to allow to do that, Simon!’
‘Then what do you suggest! I threw Morag against a wall, and turned on you as well! Just as we both turned on our own allies in Hyperborea! How do we get over that, Annie?’ He looked down, miserably. ‘What’s happened to us?’
Annie stared down at her brother. She saw the grief and misery in his face. ‘Wait’ she said, finally. ‘I need to think.’. She sat down again, and cradled her head in her hands, her normal posture for thinking furiously.
‘The only thing I can think of is this’. she said finally. ‘I need to ask Morag if she knows anything that her mother taught her, that will help us’.
‘Will that help? Her brother asked, sadly. ‘This is inside us, Annie. If it was an enemy that was attacking us from outside, I could fight it. But’, he shook his head. ‘I can’t fight this. And nor can you. It’s just in there inside us, lying dormant, like a volcano. We can’t trust ourselves any more’.
‘I’ll go and see Morag tomorrow morning. I want to see how she is, and I’ll ask her’. She paused. ‘It’s best that you don’t go’. she said, gently.
Simon nodded. ‘I know’.
Annie leant over and kissed him on the forehead. ‘We’ll find a way, Simon, she whispered. ‘We will find our way back’. Her brother kissed her gently on the cheek. ‘We can try’. he said. ‘At least we can do that’.
Morag heard the knocking on her door at about eleven o’clock the next morning. She was not pleased by the interruption, having spent an umcomfortable night. Her back was bruised after having been thrown against a wall by Simon the night before and she still remembered how brother and sister had turned on each other. So she did not feel particularly happy to open the door and find Annie standing there.
‘Can I talk to you, Morag?’ she asked quietly. Morag shrugged and left the door open. Annie followed her in and shut the door behind her. Morag sat down at the table in her small living-room. Annie sat down opposite her.
‘What do you want, Annie?’ Morag said, sharply.
‘We need your help, Morag ‘.
‘Help? After what your bastard brother did to me ! And after you pair turning on each other like that! I saw you. Annie! Your brother’s a bloody psychopath! I don’t want to have anything more to do with him!’
Whether it was the word “psychopath” or whatever Morag had just said, it triggered Annie. Her eyes turned hard grey, The red rage descended, the fire blazing furiously in a second inside her. She got up, moved swiftly around the table and hit Morag with her right fist so hard that it knocked Morag off her chair and sent her sprawling on the floor. Annie hauled her up, her hands around her throat and banged Morag’s head viciously against the wall! Then her hands tightened savagely around Morag’s throat. Morag, dazed, and shocked, tried desperately to struggle, trying to prise Annie’s hands away but Annie was too strong. ‘You bloody bitch!’ she screamed in Morag’s face. ‘How dare you call my brother a psychopath! You bloody ungrateful cow! She slammed Morag’s head against the wall again. Morag felt her head swimming and the blackness of oncoming unconscious descending upon her. She was gasping and choking, losing strength. Then Annie let her go, suddenly. She slumped to the floor still gasping, feeling the pain in her face and the back of her head. She heard Annie’s footsteps towards the door, and then a terrific slam as the door bounced back again and was left ajar. She groaned with pain and shock.
Annie walked down the corridor from Morag’s door and leant against the cross-wall that led to the stairs. She pressed her forehead and the palms of her hands against it, still breathing hard, It was cool to her touch. She felt the raging fires inside her gradually subside and then flicker away. She had been there for several minutes. Now she felt utterly drained and empty.
‘What have I done?’ she muttered to herself. ‘What the hell have I done?’
She pushed herself off the wall, and took several deep breaths. Then she turned around and walked back to Morag’s door, which was still ajar, and walked in. Morag was sitting at the table her head cradled in her arms. She was sobbing loudly. Annie sat down opposite her, and watched her for a minute or so. Then she spoke, quite softly.
‘Morag, I don’t suppose there’s much point in telling you how truly sorry and ashamed I am for what I did to you, is there?’
Morag didn’t speak for some moments. Then, without raising her head, she spoke in a muffled voice. ‘Get out. Just get out!’ Then she raised her head, her left eye puffy and swollen. ‘Get out! Now!’
But Annie didn’t move. Instead, she clasped her hands together on the table , her head bowed.
‘It’s killing us, Morag’. she said quietly.
‘What!’ Morag raised her head again. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘The rage. The red faery rage that we have. We don’t know where or why it came from. It’s inside us , Morag. We can’t fight it ourselves. We don’t know how to. Please help us, Morag. Please!’
Morag stared at her incredulously. ‘You really expect me to help you, after you’ve just beaten me up, banged my head against the wall and nearly throttled me! What kind of world are you in, Annie?’
She suddenly lunged across and slapped Annie hard across the face. But Annie didn’t flinch, or even put a hand up to her face. She just looked at Morag impassively.
‘You can hit me as much and as often as you like, Morag. I won’t resist. You have the right after what I’ve done. I’m not asking you for just my sake, Morag, but for my brother’s sake, as well. I know what he will lose forever, if we can’t try to find the source of this rage! Please, Morag! I’m not asking you. I’m begging you! Please, Morag!’
Morag stared at Annie’s bowed head. ‘Look at me, Annie’.
Annie raised her head. Annie’s eyes were large and dark brown, but what Morag saw were two large deep pools of misery and despair. Her shoulders were drooped. She looked broken and forlorn, like a lost doll. That was when she decided.
‘Go and get the bag of frozen peas out of the freezer! I need to cool my bruised face! And get the Arnica, from the bathroom!’
Annie got up obediently, and fetched them back. She sat down again, at the other side of the table. Morag pressed the cool bag against her face. She looked again at Annie, whose face was crumpled in misery. Her lips were trembling.
‘I can’t cry, Morag. I can’t even cry any more’
‘Call your brother and tell him to come over here now. Then stay there and keep quiet. I need to think’.
They sat silently on each side of the table. Annie’s head was still bowed, but Morag noticed that her fingers were clasping and unclasping each other in agitation. But Morag’s mind was racing back, literally overturning boxes, opening chests, in her memory, to find anything that might be useful. Then she began to remember the discussions and talks that she had with her mother as they walked sometimes through the countryside, all the secret wisdom that her mother had given her, all the instruction and the demonstrations that she had shown her. Morag was a small girl, but she had drank in this knowledge. ‘You must remember all this’, her mother had said to her softly, ‘for one day you may need it, if not for you, but for others. All this is yours, but it is there to help and give comfort, nothing else’.
There was a gentle knock on the door. Then it opened, and Simon was there. He came in, and stopped dead as he saw Morag’s bruised and swollen face. ‘What’s happened, Morag? Who’s done that to you? He cried our furiously.
‘I did’, Annie looked up at him. ‘I did. I hit her and nearly strangled her. I did it, Simon’.
‘You did what!’ Then he realised. ‘Oh, no, please! It was the rage , wasn’t it, Annie?’
Annie nodded. ‘Not again! he gasped. He looked at Morag. She could tell he was struggling to keep his temper.
‘Sit down next to your sister’, Morag said quietly. ‘Don’t come near me. I mean it’.
Simon, without a word, pulled his sister’s head onto his shoulder, and gently stroked her hair. They clasped their hands together. Morag suddenly felt deeply moved and touched by the love and affection that brother and sister were expressing to each other. But she had remembered something. She closed her eyes, moving back through her memory, trying to find a way of searching. Then she found it. Something she and her mother had done together, but she had never done on her own. She opened her eyes.
‘I know how to do this. I know how to find out what the source of this rage is. But you must trust me. Will you do that?’
They both nodded, without speaking.
‘What are you going to do, Morag?’ asked Simon, somewhat mystified.
‘I’m going to send a sprite to find out what the source of this rage is’.
‘A sprite! Don’t you mean an avatar or something?’
‘Call it what you will. I call it a sprite, as my mother did!’
‘All right, Morag. We trust you’.
Give me your hands. Your left hands!’
They extended their hands across the table. Morag held each of their hands firmly in hers. ‘Whatever I do, don’t let go! Stay silent! If this is going to work, you have to do what I say’.
They both nodded. Morag closed her eyes and became motionless for a few seconds. Then she began to murmur words, words that they could not understand. It seemed as if she was speaking the ancient faery language, Morag was conjuring up her sprite, the one that would search for the source of their rage. Then she spoke one sharp word: paetrysti!
Behind her closed eyelids, she saw her sprite appear. It was a small, naked image of herself, and semi-transparent. She whispered a few more words to it in her native faery language, that her mother had taught her, and then it was gone, on its search. It ran effortlessly through streets and avenues, over hills and trees, skipping lightly over the treetops and mountains. It moved without effort, through time and space, constantly searching. It paused momentarily in all the places where its host had instructed, the dark house and its unseen moving furniture, the space in Blaker’s Park where the brother and sister had fought their unseen battle, around every place that they had been, through all their previous battlefields.
Morag was trembling and jerking as she relived, through her sprite, what Simon and Annie had gone through in the past two years. She saw them fighting desperately against unseen things. She relived the dreadful struggle under the pier, and the desperate fight on the groyne when daemons had attempted to invade. She saw everything. Simon and Annie looked at her in growing alarm as she cried and trembled. But she held their hands even more tightly as her sprite sped on its quest, constantly searching….searching.
The sprite passed through the dimension into Purgatory and saw them with it’s host’s mother. (Morag cried aloud ) It ran on like the wind and passed into Hyperborea. It saw the terrible battle of the west wall. But it was now moving towards the goal of its quest. It stopped and paused outside the House of Poseidon. It saw Simon walk up to the door and pass through. It waited. It sensed the sound and echo of gunshots inside. It could not hear, but it felt the vibration of bullets through the air. It sped swiftly in. It saw the brother lying in a pool of blood, below the smiling water-god, and the sister, crying, holding her brother, her face and hands smeared with his blood. It saw the talismans being pressed against his wound. And another borne by a small figure who had darted in. Three talismans. The talismans. The talismans!
Morag cried out as her sprite rejoined her. She gasped and sobbed as the sprite told her its news and then dissolved back inside her. She suddenly let go of their hands, and burst into tears.
‘Morag! What’s wrong? Annie cried in alarm. ‘Simon! Get her a glass of water, or something’
‘No! Morag sobbed. ‘Oh, God.. I never realised! Oh, God! The things you’ve been through! Please! I’m sorry! I never realised! Oh, please. I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! Please forgive me! You had to find me after all that! I’m so sorry! Please forgive me!’ She began to sob again.
‘Morag!’ Simon sprang up, but Morag waved him back, and his sister pulled him back onto his chair. Morag gulped and took several deep breaths before she spoke.
‘Give me your talisman, Annie. Give it to me. Now!’
Confused, Annie took off her talisman and passed it across the table to Morag, who took it, and laid alongside her own talisman, still on her finger, on the table surface. She stared at it.
‘This is what is causing the rage in you’. she said finally. ‘It’s the talisman’.
‘What!’ They both looked at her incredulously. ‘It can’t be!’ Annie cried. ‘It’s healed and protected us! Nicholas Flamel created them for good purposes! How can it harm us?’
‘Nicholas Flamel was an alchemist, right? He may have created them to do good in this world, but he also used different elements And nor did he say how he created them! My sprite told me that he used a faery element, to enhance their protective powers, But he used the dark side – our dark side – to do that. He probably didn’t realise that, but the dark side in the talisman is overpowering you. Every single time you use it, either of you, it strengthens the rage! That’s why I’m not letting you have it back, Annie, at least not until we can find out how to prevent what’s happening to you’.
But what can we do?’ asked Annie in real anguish.
Morag looked down at the talismans again. So innocent, she thought. And yet, so deadly.
‘Nothing, either of you. I am. I am exercising my responsibilities as your elder sister. It’s about time I did’.
They both looked at her in astonishment.
‘You are not going to like this’. Morag continued, rather sadly, ‘But it is essential’.
They looked at her forlornly. Once again, Morag realised how broken in spirit they were, and felt a desperate surge of affection and sympathy for them. She spoke slowly, but with emphasis.
‘Firstly, you are not to use this talisman again until I contact Nicholas Flamel and find out what he can do. I’ll talk to your parents about that, and I’ll take responsibility for doing so. Secondly. I don’t want you anywhere near the Brotherhood. You are not to contact them or they with you, for the time being. I mean it. I’m trying to save your lives’.
They looked at each other, aghast.
‘But why?’ asked Annie, now shocked.
‘Because’, Morag continued quietly, ‘I’ve now learnt from my sprite how much you’ve both been through in the last two years. It’s too much, Annie. I’m not letting you continue to do that’
‘But…Simon asked, anxiously, ‘Why?’
Morag sighed. ‘This is my human side speaking to you. You’re battle-weary. You’re tired, exhausted. You’ve been through far more than any soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan could experience. You are both suffering from what we now call “ post-traumatic stress disorder”. As I said, I’m trying to save your lives’. She paused, and looked at them both directly, at least as best she could, with her swollen eye.
They sat wordless. She continued. ‘That’s why I don’t want the Brotherhood putting down other little missions on you. You need a rest. It’s gone too far. I can see it in your faces, and your eyes. I’m going to take responsibility for you, until you get yourselves sorted out’.
‘Thank you, Morag’. Annie said sincerely. ‘I’m truly sorry about what we did to you’.
‘I don’t blame you, Annie. I should have realised long ago. You see’, Morag’s eyes began to fill with tears. ‘I‘ve become very fond of you. No, I haven’t. You’ve become very dear to me. Oh, sod it! I just love you both!’ She started sobbing again.
Anniie looked at her with sad eyes. ‘We love you dearly, too, Morag. You are very precious to us. That’s why we came to find you and bring you back. Neither of us would have thought of doing anything else. How could we?’
‘Annie, that’s enough. We don’t do soppiness, remember?’
‘No you’re right. We’ll do as Morag says. Do something normal for a change’. She said bitterly.
‘No, we don’t have to!’ Simon said more excitedly. ‘Why don’t we indulge ourselves in some good old-fashioned detective work, and find this missing sister of that bitch Venoma, whom you so rashly gave a faery promise to?’
‘I had to! We had to find Morag, don’t forget!’
‘Wait a moment!’ Morag interrupted to stop them losing their tempers.
‘Yes. We need to talk about that, but not now, Morag. But I promised to find her sister, and I will keep that promise’.
‘Ok, you do that, to keep you out of mischief. Oh, hell, I’m even beginning to sound like the bossy elder sister now! Anyway, clear off, I’ve got a meeting to set up with the Brotherhood…and Sisterhood. We’ve really got to change that title, you know’.
They both got up and then, at the door, Simon stopped and turned back.
‘Morag, there’s something I have to tell you. Something really important’.
He sat down again. Annie joined him. looking at her brother in surprise. She hadn’t expected this.
‘It’s about your mother, Morag’.
She suddenly stiffened. ‘What about her?’ she asked quietly.
‘Doctor Wrist didn’t kill your….mum’.
Both Morag and Annie stared at him in shock.
‘Are you serious?’ Morag exclaimed. ‘Then who did?’
‘You said there was an eyewitness, when your mum was shot, didn’t you?
‘Yes’. Morag hesitated. ‘But she wasn’t reliable, because she had bad eyesight. All she could remember, was a red bushy beard and hair. Nothing else’.
‘Yes , there was. There was nothing wrong with her hearing, was there?’
‘No. What do you mean?’
‘What did she hear?’
‘She said she heard him give a loud sort of cackling laugh’. Morag said, wonderingly.
Simon looked at his sister. ‘Annie, do you remember the only time that we ever saw Doctor Wrist face to face?’
Annie nodded. ‘It was during the battle under the pier. When we took the talisman away from him. He had red hair and a beard, but his hair was tied back in a sort of ponytail. He had these silvery eyes. And he laughed at us. It was a sort of horrible, long, shrieking laugh. Oh!’ She suddenly realised what Simon was saying.
Simon turned back to Morag. ‘It was Grandfather Wrist who murdered your mother, Morag. But he’s dead. He’s gone. I killed him, Morag. That night in Hyperborea when he shot me’.
‘And he nearly killed you!’ Annie cried, venomously. ‘God, I really thought I’d lost you, Simon!’
He was still looking at Morag, who was looking down at her hands in front of her on the table.
‘I’m sorry. Morag. It only occurred to me last night after you said that the murdering bastard who killed your mum was in that pub. That’s when I realised. Morag, it was self-defence. He’d shot me, and he was going to finish me off. I had to do it, Morag. But he’s gone, Morag. He’ll never hurt anyone again’.
‘Like your poor Annabelle, over a hundred years ago, and Rosamund’s family, and Morag’s mother, together with others’. Annie said very softly.
‘We’re truly sorry about what we did to you, Morag. We really are. It will never happen again. Please forgive us’. Simon added, also very softly. Then hesitantly, he spoke again. ‘I hope that it might give you some sense of closure, perhaps’. His voice was sad. ‘I know it won’t bring your mother back’.
‘And some peace of mind, Morag. We hope it will, for your sake’. Annie added, equally sadly.
Morag continued to look at her hands. ( Dear God, I owe my brother and sister so much!) She raised her head. Her eyes were brimming with tears.
‘Of course I forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive. Thank you, Simon, for telling me. At least that’s another murderer off the streets’.
Annie motioned that they ought to go. But at the door, Simon paused and looked back.
‘What are you going to tell the Brotherhood? he asked.
‘I don’t know yet’. She looked at him and smiled a slightly sly, somewhat wicked little smile. For a few moments, the bond of sympathy and the empathy between them was restored.
‘But I think that I might really rather enjoy it’.
Simon smiled back, and followed his sister.
Frank Jackson (09/10/2011) Word Count – 11351.
Entrance to the giant forest.
The route down through the giant forest.