Search for a Missing Person

Dramatis personae

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 Snifer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. There is also Sister Teresa, a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic with a mysterious past. They are about to embark on a search for Morag, a half-faery policewoman and also a member, who has mysteriously disappeared. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.



Her phone rang quietly but insistently by her bedside. Annie groaned, stirred and looked across at the alarm clock. It was two o’clock in the morning. She picked up her mobile phone that she had forgotten to switch off, and looked at the screen. There was no name of a caller on it at all. She held the phone to her ear.

‘Who’s this?’ she said wearily.

‘Hello, kitten’.

She sat bolt upright in bed, shocked. It couldn’t be!

‘Are you playing a joke? She demanded. ‘If so, it’s not funny  at this time of night!’

‘Oh, no, kitten. It’s not a joke’.


‘Aren’t you perceptive, kitten’.

‘It can’t be! You’re dead! I killed you!’

‘No kitten, you didn’t. Though you very nearly did, back in that filthy sewer! I’ve still got the scar from where you stabbed me!’ The voice was low and vicious.

What do you want?’ demanded Annie, still stunned.

‘Just to let you know, kitten. I have a little friend of yours in  charge. Now, what was her name? Oh yes. I remember. Morag Wren. That’s right. What a pretty name!’

Annie gripped the phone tightly, fear suddenly running like a trickle through her.

‘Where is she?’ she cried. ‘If you’ve done anything to her….’

‘Call you tomorrow, kitten’. The phone went dead. Annie stared at its blank screen in horror. Then she leapt out of bed, threw on her dressing-gown and ran out of the door. She banged on Simon’s room frantically and then walked in. Simon, to her amazement, was still up, sitting at his computer, watching enthralled as he watched his trireme cutting through the waves, its golden ram rising and falling through the water.

‘She’s got her!’

‘What!’ He looked around at her. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Morag! She’s got her! She’s holding her hostage! I mean it, Simon! She really has got her!’

Simon looked at his sister’s face. She was desperate.

‘How do you know? And who’s “she”?’

Annie sat down on his bed close to him. ‘Because I just got a phone call from……’

‘Who?’ asked Simon, now thoroughly dismayed by his sister’s despair.

Annie stared at him. ‘I wish I didn’t have to tell you this’. she said, miserably.

‘Who! For goodness sake, Annie, tell me!’


Simon looked absolutely shocked. ‘It can’t be! You killed her! You killed her in the sewers, where she belongs! You killed her, Annie!’

Annie took a deep breath, to fight off her own panic. ‘Apparently I didn’t, Simon. She rang me just now! It was her, Simon! I knew her voice! I’ll never forget it! She called me kitten!  No-one else calls me that! It was her! Dear God, Simon, it was her! I know it was! I swear it!’ She looked at her brother, His eyes had turned a hard grey.

‘If she’s harmed or injured her in any way…..’

Annie knew how deeply fond of Morag that Simon had become. She had become an elder sister to them in many ways. She felt the deep faery rage beginning to descend on her also. She shook her head, and tried to think as clearly as she could.

‘Don’t lose it, Simon. Not now. We’ve got to think this through. Please, for Morag’s sake!’

She could see that her brother was deeply and utterly shocked and frightened. His face was pale. But he could see him gathering his thoughts together.

‘All right’. He said finally. ’Tell me exactly what that filthy bitch said’.

Annie told him. He listened quietly, though she could sense the emotions surging inside him like a tide of anger.

‘I don’t think she’s harmed her’. Annie said quietly, though inside, she was still deeply frightened. ‘Why else would she bother to ring me? She just wanted to gloat. I know her, Simon. I know her better than you. I think she’s using Morag as a hostage to get at us’.

‘How do we know she’s even got her?’

‘By going around to her flat to see. I’m going now!’

‘Wait a moment, Annie!’ as she got up. ‘How are you going to get into her flat at two o’clock in the morning?’

Annie sat down again. ‘I don’t know’. she said miserably.

‘But I do. Morag gave me the code to her entrance door. Come on Annie! What are you waiting for? Get dressed!’

She ran back to her bedroom and threw on the nearest clothes she could find, full of that agitation and panic that one always feels under stress, and joined Simon downstairs at the front door. They were both, by now, deeply worried. They closed the front door quietly, to avoid awakening their parents, and then ran quickly down the road, turning left by the “Red, White Rose” off-licence, then through the streets, down the “cat-creep,”  a long narrow set of steps that led down to Morag’s street, until they stood outside the three-storied Victorian flat, stucco-faced building where Morag lived. Simon punched in some numbers on the panel next to the main door. It buzzed and opened. Then they ran up the stairs as quietly as they could, until they reached Morag’s door. It was ajar.
They crept quietly in, and Simon switched on the light. There were signs of a struggle. Broken cups and saucers lay on the floor. Morag’s only armchair lay on its side. The small flat was forlorn and empty. Annie knelt down and picked up two fragments of a small porcelain jug, something that she knew Morag had been especially fond of.

‘It’s broken, Simon! It was a gift from her mother! The bitch!’ she spoke savagely. He looked around.

 ‘She must have put up a fight’. he said quietly. ‘Knowing Morag, she would have done. Morag, where has she taken you?’ he cried, in real anguish.
Annie knew how close that Simon and Morag had become.They had formed a genuine friendship, that Annie occasionally felt jealous about.

‘There’s nothing we can do here, Simon’. she said quietly. ‘At least, we know now that Venoma wasn’t lying. She really has taken her’.

‘But where?’ He looked around the room again. ‘We have no way of finding out!’

‘Look around! See if there’s a clue somewhere! Something that she might have left to tell us where she is!’

They searched carefully around the small flat. It was small: a living-room, a bedroom that opened off from it, a bathroom, and the tiny galley kitchen. But apart from the broken crockery, there was nothing to tell them where Morag had gone.

They sat down around the small table in Morag’s living-room. Annie was close to tears, but for some reason, she found that she couldn’t cry. Her brother looked around him. ‘She must have let them in. The door’s not broken or forced. But she must have put up a struggle, at least initially. It must have been someone she knew, or at least had no reason to distrust’.

‘Of course!’ Annie cried. ‘It must have been Venoma! Remember when we first met her, lying in the street! She looked so different then! She’s so clever at disguising herself, Simon! She could have dressed as a charity worker or something! Morag let her in, and while she was off guard, probably looking in her handbag, to give a donation or something………’

‘That might explain that, then’, he said, looking at Morag’s  shoulderbag that was lying in the corner. He got up and picked up the large black leather handbag that he always recognised. He had never understood why she carried such a large one. He used a hanker-chief to carry it over to the table. ‘Forensics’, he explained. ‘Have a look in it, Annie, to see if anything’s missing. You’d better do it. I don’t like looking in girls’ handbags. But use a hanker-chief or tissue to avoid contaminating evidence’. He was not at all comfortable with the idea of searching through Morag’s things.

Annie carefully searched through its contents. She held up a small spray can. ‘Mace’ she said, quietly. ‘She was certainly prepared. But everything is here, Simon. Her wallet, her money, her keys, and all the little womanly things that we all carry around with us. It’s all here. Whoever it was, wasn’t interested in robbing her or anything. They just took her’. She gazed sadly at Morag’s shoulderbag. ‘Why did they take her, Simon! Is it to get at us? It’s just not fair!’

‘What about her mobile? Does that have anything on it?’

‘No, I’ve checked. No calls either yesterday or today’.

Simon leant his elbows on the table and ran his hands through his thick fair hair. ‘I think, and I’m not really sure, that they took her, because they know she’s our weak spot. Someone we really care about. Someone who lives on their own, not like the others. That would have been too difficult. Someone we’re really close to. That’s why, Annie’. He turned and stared around at the room again. ‘I think this is Venoma’s work’. he said finally. ‘In fact, I’m sure of it. Tell me again what she said to you’.

Annie, now deeply miserable, told him again. ‘Why should she abduct Morag? And why now? What does she gain from it?’

‘Power. Over us. By taking someone we both really care for, she’s got what you call a bargaining chip. I truly don’t know what she’s up to, Annie. I really don’t. But she’s playing a game’. He looked around the room yet again. His eyes had turned a hard grey. ‘I don’t think she’s actually harmed her. But she knows she’s got a rather nasty advantage over us. Bitch!’ he almost spat the last word out.

‘What are we going to do now?’ Annie put her face into her hands for a moment. When she looked up again, her eyes were a deep grey. ‘If she’s hurt her in any way, I’ll….’

‘You’ll what, Annie?’

‘I’ll finish her off. Once and for all. And this time, I’ll make sure!’ They stared at each other.

Annie spoke first. ‘What’s happening to us, Simon? We’re feeling that faery rage, that bloodlust coming on us more and more. Remember, we had our swords up at our own allies’ throats in Hyperborea! I can’t believe we did that!’

‘They had theirs at ours’.

‘I know. But we’ve never had that rage before! There’s something wrong with us, Simon! I don’t know what it is. But we’re suddenly both capable of killing now! I mean it!’

‘That’s another problem we’ll have to face later. But what do we do now? Should we call the police?’

‘How can we? We don’t actually have much proof that she has been taken!’

‘They won’t do much anyway for a few days, even for one of their own. They can’t, without any evidence’. Simon looked down at the table for a few moments.

‘Listen to me, Annie’, he said finally. ‘Venoma said she was going to call you tomorrow. You must find out what she’s planning and where Morag might be, You must keep her talking and find out more. At the moment we haven’t a clue where she is. She might be in another dimension for all we know. But you’ve got to try, Annie!’

She could hear the desperation in his voice, and tried to think. ‘I have an idea, Simon’. She thought ahead to what she might say to Venoma, if she did call again.

‘Venoma had a sister. She said “sister” almost as her last word, before she fell into that sewer. But she said it pleadingly, as if she was imploring me! I’ll always remember that! Perhaps we can make a bargain with her, Simon. I just don’t know whether it might work. But I think that if this sister exists, or did exist, then that would be Venoma’s weak point, wouldn’t it? Perhaps we can use that. But I just don’t know’.

‘All we need is a clue as to where Morag might be. I can’t bear to lose her, Annie’.

‘Nor can I’.

They were both silent again for a few moments. Finally Simon spoke.
‘We need to tell our parents. They are Watchers. Perhaps they might have some idea of where she might be. We also need to tell Indira and Pei-Ying. They’ll be concerned as well. Also the Brotherhood. They might have some ideas of where she is. We’ve just got to try all avenues. After all, Morag’s one of us, isn’t she?’

‘You know she is. I’m not going to school tomorrow, Simon. I don’t think I could face it, not until I know where she is and what we can do about it. I can’t rest until I know she’s safe and unharmed’.

‘Same here. We’ll pretend to be ill, and get in touch with the others. It’s not as if we’ve taken any days off before now, is it?’

They got up sadly and left, taking care to lock the door behind them, and went back home, both of them lost in their miserable thoughts.

A few hours earlier

They walked down from the hill-fort above the golf-course, now just the four of them. They had said their farewells to Pereas and left their horses with him. It was a chilly night. They could see Brighton below, the bright street lights glittering in clusters towards the sea front, and the sea, still visible as a dark ribbon in the distance. They were all still thinking of Mariko, who had chosen to stay in Hyperborea, the land they had just left. The portal, a wooden doorway, strangely set in a vast tree-trunk, had miraculously delivered them on the hill-fort where they had first encountered the faerys. They had felt that shimmering coldness as they passed through into their own dimension.Simon suddenly stopped dead, and turned around to face them.

‘Just to set your minds at rest, Ragimund will look after Mariko. She promised me. She will be a sister to her. Just so that you know. She won’t be alone’.

‘That’s brilliant’. Indira said, looking relieved. ‘I was beginning to get worried about that stupid little sod’.

‘Indira!’ Pei-Ying said sharply. ‘But that’s really good news’.

Annie smiled at her brother. ‘Thank you, Simon. And thank Ragimund for me when you next communicate with her. That’s set my mind at rest, at least. Stay for supper,’ she added, looking at Indira and Pei-ying. ‘Our dad will drive you back home, afterwards’.

‘Oh, yes. Home’. Indira said sarcastically. Simon and Annie looked at each other, then followed her down the hill. Annie rang the front-door bell. She felt desperately tired, and she couldn’t be bothered to get out her door-key. Besides, she wanted their arrival to be formal. Her mother opened the door almost immediately, looked at them and then hugged Annie to her tightly, then Simon, who looked embarrassed. Indira and Pei-Ying giggled. ‘Mummy’s little boy’. whispered Indira. Simon heard her and glared at her furiously.

‘Home from the wars, as they say’. John, her father, said from inside the hallway. ‘Come in and have some supper’. Unloading their bags in the hallway, they followed him into the kitchen. Christine, their mother, had prepared a large supper, which she began to extract from the oven and cooker, placing it on the table. Then she stopped suddenly, a look of alarm on her face, still holding a plate of roast chicken in her hands.

‘Where’s Mariko?’ she demanded in dismay. ‘She hasn’t been….! No! Please don’t tell me that she’s….!’

‘No, Mum’. Annie said quietly. ‘She’s perfectly well’.

‘Then where is she?’ her mother cried frantically. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘She’s not coming back’.

‘What on earth do you mean, she’s not coming back!’

‘She’s chosen to stay in Hyperborea. For good’. Simon said, gently.

‘But why? What about her family! She can’t leave them just like that!’

‘Mum,’ Annie said very softly. ‘She hasn’t got a family. It was all a pretence. She's been so lonely all this time. And we didn’t know!’

Her mother looked around at them, and saw the sadness in their faces.
‘I see. We will miss her very much’. she said quietly. ‘What will she do there?’

‘Use her skills and talents to good use. Don’t worry, Ragimund will look after her. She promised’. Simon paused. ‘We stopped a war, Mum’.

‘We know’. their father said, standing in the doorway. ‘The faerys have kept us informed, as Watchers’

‘We couldn’t stop that battle, though!’. cried Annie, bitterly. ‘We couldn’t stop that bloody battle!’ She got up and ran to the door. They could hear her feet going up the stairs to the bathroom, and the door slamming behind her.
Their father, John sat down heavily at the table. ‘Go on, start eating. She’ll be back shortly’. They looked at each other uncertainly, and then began on the platefuls of food. They realised they were seriously hungry. Their father and mother watched them eat ravenously.

‘It was bad, wasn’t it?’ John, their father, said quietly.

‘Yes, it was!’ said Annie from the doorway. She had come back down again quietly. She sat down at the table, though she didn’t feel like eating. Instead she looked hard at her mother and father. ‘It was slaughter! I’ll never forget that sight! Why couldn’t we have stopped it? We could have got there earlier, rather than waste time sightseeing!’

‘Annie’, her mother said quietly. ‘It was inevitable. There was no way that you could have done so. It was going to happen. The Barbarossi were intent on it. The faerys  reacted in the only way they could. It was deliberately planned, Annie, for what you might call, base ends and evil purposes’.

Simon, across the table, stared at them both. ‘Did you know it was going to happen?’

‘Yes’. His father replied, sadly. ‘We are Watchers. But we were powerless to prevent it. All we could do was observe’.

‘But you helped prevent a war, and to find a peace between the faerys and the Barbarossi. If it took one battle to do that, then perhaps it was worthwhile’. Her mother, Christine, said softly.

‘It’s never worthwhile!’ snapped Annie. She remembered her utter sorrow as she looked out over the battlefield, and saw the heaped bodies, the bodies of people who would never see their families again, and the same families scarred by grief and misery for the rest of their lives. ‘No’, she said, looking down at the table. ‘It’s never worthwhile’.

‘Wait a moment!’ Simon cried out suddenly. ‘What about Mariko’s letter?’

Annie looked at him, startled. Then she remembered.

‘Of course!’ She rummaged in her bag for the letter. She found the others too, that Mariko had given her.

‘Oh, no! I should have remembered! Dad, please will you post these for her?’

She began to peel open the envelope that held the message that Mariko had wanted to give them. There was a single sheet of paper inside, with Mariko’s very neat and precise handwriting on it.

‘Read it to us, Annie’. Simon said quietly. She looked at it, and then began to read slowly.

Dear Annie and Simon,

I want you to know that I will stay here in Hyperborea. It is not my country, but I feel truly at home here. I know that I will be able to do so much good in this world. Please, do not hate me or despise me for doing this. I truly love all of you, because you have done so much for me. I am frightened because I am changing my life forever, but I know that you will always be there for me. Please, please come back and visit me. I will miss you all so much. I hope you will forgive me. I feel so ashamed at letting you down. I was too proud, and at the same time ashamed, at not letting you know how I felt. To see my friends go away to see their families, and knowing that I did not have anybody , was one of the worst things anybody could experience. I knew you were there for me, but I was too frightened to ask.

Please forgive me. I want you to know that I give you all my deepest love and best wishes.


There was total silence in the kitchen. Everyone was deeply moved and shocked at this small letter from a lonely child.

Indira burst into tears. She cried unashamedly and miserably. Pei-Ying put her arm around her shoulders and pulled her tightly against her.

‘Stupid little sod!  Why couldn’t she have told us! I would have taken her in! I’ve not got much, but I would have!’

Annie looked at her mother. ‘We all comforted her, Mum. We really did. We just didn’t  know’.

‘I understand’. Christine said softly. ‘We would have taken her in. She would be part of our family’. She looked across the table at Indira, who was still sniffling noisily.

‘You have a great and generous heart, Indira’. she said, gently.

‘Didn’t do much for Mariko, though, did it? Wish I’d known!’

You must all go back to Hyperborea as soon as you can’. Their father said calmly. ‘For various reasons. But above all, for Mariko. You owe it to her. She is one of your own.’

Indira sniffled again, noisily,

‘Christine’, asked Pei-Ying suddenly. She wanted to change this sombre mood. ‘Have you heard anything from Morag? We all thought she was coming later to join us, but she never did’.

‘No, nothing at all’. John replied. ‘Don’t forget that we’ve only been away for a weekend, though for you it will have been several weeks. We had made arrangements with the faerys to meet her and take her into Hyperborea, but we’ve heard nothing. It may be that she did have to work the whole weekend after all. By the way, I printed these off for you’.

He passed around several sheets of paper. ‘What are these?’ Indira asked.

‘What you did when we all went to London for the weekend, remember? Just so that you can tell your parents what you did on your phantom trip. Just remember the details, and then destroy them. Just to keep up the subterfuge’.

‘The what?’

‘The pretence. That you were where you were not’.

‘Oh, that!’ Indira said bitterly. ‘They won’t ask anyway. Lucky if I ever get noticed at all’.

Christine suddenly noticed Indira’s scar on the back of her left hand.

‘Where did you get that, Indira?’ she asked, sharply.

Indira instinctively covered up her left hand with her right, dropping her fork with a clatter.

‘Just an accident. That’s all’. Indira said, defensively.

‘That looks like a knife wound to me. What happened?’ their father asked, quietly.

‘There’s a lot to tell you, but not now! Leave her alone!’ Annie snapped.

Their mother and father looked at each other, and then shrugged.
They continued their supper. Their father drove them home later on in the evening. Simon, Annie and Christine sat around the table in silence.

‘I was desperately worried about you’. Christine said finally.

‘We’ve learnt how to look after ourselves’. Annie said, bitterly. ‘We haven’t had much choice, have we?’

‘Annie’. Simon said, warningly.

‘I’m going to bed’. She got up. ‘See you in the morning’.

‘So am I. Goodnight , Mum’. He kissed her on the cheek.

Christine continued to sit at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. She knew how deeply traumatised they were, and how powerless she was to help them. But she had sensed that there was something else, that they were not telling her, and that she had no knowledge of. She stared sadly down at the table, and wished there was something she could do.


Next Morning

‘We’re not going to school today’. Annie said firmly. ‘We need to consider what we can do, and call a meeting with the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Hand. I want to see what they can suggest’.

They had told their parents at breakfast about Venoma’s phone call, and Morag’s disappearance. Their father had immediately got up. ‘I’ll alert other Watchers, and see if they have any knowledge of her whereabouts’.

‘I’ll call the school, and tell them you’re sick, or something’, their mother volunteered. ‘I suggest you arrange a meeting with the Brotherhood here, especially if you’re supposed to be ill’.

‘I’ll do that now’. Simon got up and disappeared into the hall. They could hear his determined voice. ‘No, you are coming this afternoon. No, it doesn’t matter if some of you can’t come. Just do it, right!’

‘I’m sorry, Annie’, her mother said gently. I know how difficult it must be for you and Simon to come back to normal life’.

‘Normal! What’s normal?’ Annie snapped, furiously. ‘Tell me, where does normal start, and where does it finish? Don’t give me any of your platitudes! We’ve looked death in the face, mother dear! Not once, but many times! You tell me what’s normal! She turned and stormed out of the kitchen and upstairs. Christine looked after her, deeply shocked, and now frightened. Just for an instant, she had seen her daughter’s eyes turn from their normal deep brown into a hard grey. She knew what that meant.

At two o’clock, that afternoon, the doorbell rang. They were sitting in the kitchen, in preparation, thankful that at least there was something to do. They heard their father’s voice, greeting the visitors, who came in to the kitchen. It was the Four Fingers of the Brotherhood of the Hand, elderly men of varying heights, wearing their rather shabby, old-fashioned grey suits. Annie wondered, as she had done before, whether they wore them as some kind of uniform, or whether they were really trapped in a kind of time-warp. They greeted Simon and Annie with excitement.

‘We are so delighted to see you back! cried Index Finger. ‘Your parents have told us something of what you have achieved!’

‘Congratulations!’ said Little Finger,the shortest of them all. His plump little face was shining with delight. ‘You have stopped a war!’
‘But not a battle’. Simon said, sadly. ‘I didn’t hear Caliban’. Caliban was the Fingers’ enormous car, in which they normally travelled. It was renowned for its ferocity and snarling size, and normally could be heard from half a mile away.

‘No we came by taxi’. Middle Finger spoke. ‘Caliban is in for a service today. He was’, he hesitated, ‘in a very bad mood. He does not like being serviced, to say the least’.

Annie looked hard at the four elderly men. She had just realised that they didn’t know anything about them. They seemed to have plenty of money, and were dedicated to the Brotherhood, and in their own way, were both genial and affectionate towards them. But neither Simon or Annie even knew where they lived, or indeed anything at all about them – their lives, their background, or even what their activities were.

Simon was wondering the same thing. ‘Tell me’, he said curiously, ‘What make of car is Caliban?’

They all suddenly pursed their lips. ‘That, we cannot tell you for certain’. replied Middle Finger, the tallest of them. ‘He is a composite, a hybrid, mainly American, I believe. He is rather unique’, he added.

‘I know’. Simon thought of the roaring great beast that terrorised every other car and motorist on the road. ‘Seeing Caliban, in the rear mirror, coming up behind you in the fast lane, would be enough to frighten anybody!’

‘I hope the mechanics will be safe’. said Third Finger, mournfully. ‘There is only one garage that will take him in for maintenance, and even there we have to pay them extra money for the risk involved’.

‘I’m not even sure he’s a car’. Simon said. ‘More like an armoured personnel carrier’.

‘With a terrible temper’. Little Finger muttered.

There was a thunderous knock at the front door. ‘That must be Sister Teresa’. their father said, as he rose to his feet. ‘I don’t think she bothers with doorbells’. A few moments later, a huge grey figure blocked the doorway.

‘Simon! Annie! I am so happy to see you, my children!’  She boomed in her loud rumbling voice, her large brown face beaming at them. Simon and Annie smiled back at her in return. They genuinely loved Sister Teresa. She was, at first view, very intimidating. She was a Jamaican nun, her long grey robes flapping around her, that threatened to sweep away any movable objects in her path, her great dazzling smile framed by her wimple. She had great powers, not least the ability to fly. Simon had, in secret, nicknamed her “the flying nun”. But they both knew that she had one of the kindest and gentlest hearts in the world, and she had protected them in the past. They had great affection for her.

‘Where are the others?’ Annie asked, as Sister Teresa crashed down on a chair beside her.

‘Ah, well’. said Index Finger hesitantly. ‘We cannot locate either Pat or Sniffer, and Adrian has apparently gone on holiday’.

‘On holiday!’ Simon gasped incredulously. ‘Since when did seagulls go on holiday?’

Sister Teresa let out a great roar of laughter, that echoed and filled the kitchen.

‘Nonsense!’ she cried, still laughing. ‘He is about to become a father!’

‘What!’ They both stared at her.

‘Oh yes’, Sister Teresa said wiping her eyes from tears of mirth. ‘His mate, Gerry, has finally laid down the law. Even as I speak, she is sitting on her eggs, and she has insisted, no, commanded, Adrian to stay with her. For once, she has put her webbed foot down’.

Simon shook his head. The thought of yet more little Adrians unleashed on the world rather alarmed him.

‘I hope they don’t hatch with the same offensive, sexist attitude of their father’. Annie said, feelingly. ’But I’m glad to hear it’.

‘As for Pat and Sniffer’, Sister Teresa went on, ‘I don’t know where they are, but I strongly suspect that they are on a bender in some local hostelry. You know what those two are like’.

Annie sighed, ‘Yes we do’. Pat, the likeable, Irish academic scholar, and an expert in ancient Celtic languages, with a fondness for drink, and Sniffer the unbelievably filthy tracker dog, who could be described at best as a scruffy doormat, had formed an inseparable friendship.

‘So much for the noble and brave Brotherhood’. Simon replied. ‘We’re hardly the knights of the Round Table, are we?’

‘Brighton isn’t exactly Camelot either’. Annie added. ‘So they can’t be bothered to attend’.

‘None of us are without sin, Annie’. Sister Teresa rebuked her sharply. She looked hard at them. ‘Even you’.

They both flinched at that. They knew that Sister Teresa was kind but also very shrewd.

‘As for Morag’, Index Finger said, ‘We cannot contact her at all’.

‘That’s what this meeting is about!’ Annie looked at Simon, who nodded. ‘You go on, Annie’.

She took a deep breath. ‘Morag’s been kidnapped. We went around to her flat last night. There were signs of a struggle. Where she is now, we don’t know’.

‘Who has she been kidnapped by?’ interrupted Little Finger. He looked shocked, as did the others.

‘Late last night’, Annie went on slowly, ‘I received a phone call, from someone I never expected to see or hear from again’



The Four Fingers looked at each other, amazed. There was a hiss of indrawn breath from Sister Teresa. Just for a brief second, they saw a flash of absolute fury on her face, before it resumed its normal placid features.

‘That’s…..that’s impossible!’ cried Little Finger, clearly agitated. ‘You killed her, Annie! You told us!’

‘That’s what I thought’. Annie said calmly. ‘But she was there. I know that it was her. How she survived, I don’t know. But she did. She’s got Morag’.

‘Has she been harmed?’ Sister Teresa asked quickly.

‘No, I don’t think so. Otherwise why should she trouble herself to ring me in the middle of the night?’

‘What does she want?’ asked Index Finger. Bright spots of red had appeared on his otherwise pale face.

Annie looked at Simon. He looked back at them. ‘Us’

‘This is her revenge. But I won’t know until tonight. She said she would call me, that is, if she keeps her word’.

‘And will she?’ Sister Teresa asked gently. Annie hesitated. ‘I think she will’. She paused for several moments, thinking, her mind ranging back over everything she knew. ‘You see, I think Venoma and I have a kind of relationship’.

‘Based on mutual hostility!’ her brother snapped.

‘No! It’s not that. I just don’t know how to describe it’. She stopped for another moment or two. ‘It’s like, we have a mutual fascination with each other. We hate each other, yet there’s something else. It’s almost as if we were, somehow, sisters. We can’t let go of each other. There’s something that draws us together. I can’t explain it properly, but there’s something she needs from me, but I don’t know what. It’s as if we’re opposites, but there’s something that links us in a way’. She turned in her seat and looked at Sister Teresa.

‘Sister, do you believe people can be totally evil?’

Sister Teresa’s face was creased in a frown. Then she smiled. ‘No, Annie, I don’t. Even the most evil people that have ever been known, had something in them, in their past, in their background, where once, what they had loved, and perhaps lost, was broken, and trodden underfoot. To lose something that you cannot ever retrieve and has gone forever, is a terrible thing. You replace that loss by hate and anger, by attacking the world around you, and even more so, those that still possess what you have lost and will never have again. Does that help you, Annie?’

‘Yes it does, Sister Teresa. Yes, it does, very much. Thank you’.

She turned back to the others. ‘If Venoma keeps her word, she’ll call me again tonight. We’ll have to rely on that’.

‘What if she doesn’t?’ asked Middle Finger, practically.

‘I don’t know. But we must find Morag!’

‘And then what?’ asked Little Finger, clearly very troubled.

‘We bring her back. If she’s still alive. If not, then….’

‘You will find her’. The voice came from the doorway. They all turned, and saw both Indira and Pei-Ying, in their casual school uniforms standing there, their father behind them.

 ‘I saw them coming up the road, when I was looking out of the window behind you. So I got up and let them in. You were so busy that you didn’t even notice. I have told them what has happened’.

Pei-Ying and Indira came in and sat down at the kitchen table. ‘That filthy bitch! I wish you had killed her, Annie!’ cried Indira furiously.

‘Indira! Stop it!’ Pei-Ying said sharply. She looked at Annie. ‘If there is anything we can possibly do to help, please tell us. We know this is serious’.

‘First Mariko, now we’ve lost Morag! At this rate of attrition, we won’t have anybody left!’ Indira burst out. She was clearly boiling with rage.

‘Don’t say that!’ Annie said sharply.

‘Sorry. But both Pei-Ying and I are rather fond of Morag, too’ Indira said, more quietly. ‘Besides that, she’s one of us. I don’t like the idea of her being abducted like that. It rather annoys me, in fact’.

Pei-Ying looked directly at both brother and sister. ‘If you need any help from us, anything at all, you know we will be there for you….without fail’.

‘I know, Pei-Ying. Thank you’. Annie said sincerely. She knew they would, after what they had said to her on the walls in Hyperborea. ‘We trust you. You know that’.

‘We’ve covered for you at school. We told them you’ve both gone down with summer flu’. Indira added, glancing at Pei-Ying disdainfully. ‘As from now, you are highly contagious and might well be away for the rest of the week. I did think of inventing other illnesses you’re suffering from, but Pei-Ying wouldn’t let me’.

‘You would not wish to know what disgusting diseases she thought up for you’. Pei-Ying added. ‘You are a disgrace’. she said to Indira, accusingly.

‘I’d rather not know’. Simon replied with a shudder, knowing Indira’s fertile imagination.

‘So what are you going to do now?’ Sister Teresa asked, gently. She was troubled by something in them. There was a hardness, a volatile anger in them both, that had not been there before. She could detect it. But there was also a new empathy between them, as if one knew what the other was thinking. But that anger still worried her.

‘We’ll just have to wait to see if Venoma does call back’. Annie said quietly.

‘Then we’ll play it by ear. It’s all right, Sister Teresa. We do have some kind of strategy. We need to find out where Morag might be, if we can’. Simon added.

‘And what if you can’t?’ Sister Teresa said, directly.

Simon looked at his sister. She stared back at him.

‘We will’. He stated, flatly.

‘Then that is what I want to hear’. She chuckled loudly. ‘I know you two. You will find a way’. She arose from her chair. ‘May He who lives upstairs bless you, and help you on your path. I must go to look after my old folks’. But she stopped and turned around in the doorway of the kitchen, her robes flapping against the sides. She seemed to fill the entire space.

‘Whatever happens, you must look after yourselves’. she said in her characteristically deep rumbly voice.

‘We can look after ourselves, Sister Teresa’. replied Annie.

‘I know. I was not referring to that. I mean that you must look after yourselves not just from the outside, but from the inside too. I think you know what I mean. But bring back that lost child. She is special to you’.

‘She’s not a child, Sister Teresa!’ Annie cried, sharply. ‘And neither are we!’

‘Yes, you are’. Sister Teresa smiled at them, her large white teeth gleaming in a broad smile. ‘You are all my children’. She disappeared through the doorway. They heard the front door open and close again. There was a silence in the kitchen.

‘What are you going to do?’ asked Pei-Ying, quietly.

‘Wait’. Annie said. ‘That’s all we can do’. She suddenly reached out and turned Indira’s hand over. The fresh white scar was stark and ugly against her light brown skin.

‘How did you explain that to your parents?’ she asked, very softly.

‘I didn’t. They didn’t even notice. Try being part of a large family, Annie! It’s really wonderful!’

Both Annie and Simon heard the bitterness in Indira’s voice.

‘Don’t go down that path, Indira’. Annie said, gently. ‘It was a sacrifice you made, which you should never have done, if it wasn’t for me’.

‘Don’t blame yourself, Annie. It was my choice!’

‘Indira, forget it! Our priority now is to get Morag back safely! Isn’t that right, Annie?’ Pei-Ying had spoken very sharply.

‘Yes. But all we can do now is wait. There’s nothing else we can think of’.

Indira spoke again. ‘If you need us, just call. We’ll be there. As Pei-Ying said to you a while ago, where you go, we go. We mean it, Annie’.

‘We know you do. We won’t ever forget that, Indira. Believe me, we won’t’.

‘Bring her back, Annie’. This was Pei-Ying. ‘Bring her back, safely’. Pei-Ying said this in a soft voice. ‘If you want us to come with you, we will. All you have to do is ask’.

‘I know that, too’. Annie replied, gently. ‘But we’ll have to wait until tonight, first’.

‘Give that bitch a good kick up the arse for me!’ Indira said furiously. She looked at Annie hard. ‘If you need us, we’ll be there. That bloody cow doesn’t take one of our own without getting a good thumping!’

Annie laughed. ‘I take your point, Indira!’

Indira looked back at her as she left. ‘Find her, Annie. If you need us, we’ll be there’.


Annie was sitting by her small table in her bedroom. Her mobile phone was lying amongst the small figurines of the Commedia dell’Arte that she had lovingly collected over the past few years, between the two figures of Harlequin, in his diamond-patterned costume, and small dark mask, and Columbine, who held up her skirts, coquettishly, as she flirted with him. Annie smiled at them. She loved these small porcelain figurines, that seemed to her to embody all the human vices and virtues that gave life such meaning.
There was a small tap on the door, and Simon walked in, carrying two large mugs of tea. ‘I thought you might need some sustenance, dearest sister. Any news yet?’

‘Thanks, Simon’ she smiled at him gratefully. ‘I bet that she won’t ring until about two o’clock. Just when she thinks we’re at our most weary and vulnerable. I know that bitch!’

‘I’ll keep you company, Annie. I’m not moving until I know Venoma is talking to us!’

‘Thank you, Simon’. She was genuinely happy that he was there with her.

‘She means a lot to you, doesn’t she, Simon?’ Annie said quietly.

‘She means a lot to both of us. She’s, well, rather like an older sister to us both, isn’t she? I just can’t bear the thought that she’s lost and imprisoned. Perhaps, in some other dimension, lost, lonely and afraid! I can’t bear it!’

‘We’ll find her, Simon. I know we will. Even if we have to go to hell and back to do it’. He stiffened as she spoke and his face became tight. For a moment, she wondered why.

She looked at her phone. She was desperately tired. ‘Simon, will you do a very brotherly thing and put your arm around me? I’m just feeling, well, very miserable and upset, because of Morag. I know we don’t do soppiness, but I would really appreciate it. Just this once. Please’.

‘Just this once, Annie’. She leant her head on his shoulder. ‘I’m sorry. But I can’t bear it either’.

‘We’ll get her back, Annie. A promise, to ourselves’. They leant against each other in warm affection. ’Let’s wait’.

‘You know something? Annie said, after a while.

‘What’s that?’ her brother said sleepily.

‘Morag hasn’t got any family either. Just like Mariko. She’s got no brothers or sisters, or any immediate family that we know of. She’s got no-one at all, Simon. Her mother’s dead, and her father, well, he’s disappeared as well.
I’ve sometimes wondered about that. What did happen to her father? From what I remember, he just disappeared from her life when she was about five. She has no recollection of him. Don’t you think that’s mysterious, Simon?’

‘Yes. All the more reason for finding her, Annie. After all, we’re all she’s got. We’ll be her family, just as we’ve become Mariko’s. Do you agree?’

‘Absolutely. We’ve got into a habit of adopting all our destitute friends’.

‘That’s unfair, Annie. We will, because we love them’.

‘That’s true’.

They fell into an uneasy doze, still sitting upright, but nestled against each other.

The phone rang at exactly two o’clock in the morning. It rang with the tune of “Greensleeves”, a sad, soft little melodic melody that Annie had always liked and loved. The phone vibrated, bumping against the figures of Harlequin and Columbine, still engaged in their romantic dance on the table-top. Simon and Annie were instantly alert, Simon clutching a notebook and pen in his hand.

‘Answer it, Annie’. he said quietly.

She picked the phone up, pressed the receive button and held it to her ear.
‘Yes?’ she said.

‘Hello, kitten’.

Annie asked abruptly. ‘Well, I never. So it’s you. Where is she?’ She was hoping to catch Venoma off guard.

‘Who, kitten?’

‘You know perfectly well who I mean, Venoma’. Annie said quietly. She felt calm, though her heart was racing. She signalled with her hand to her brother to keep a note of everything. Simon already had his notebook and his pen ready.. He scribbled a quick note and passed across to her.

Don’t tell her I’m here. I’ll brief you as we go. Just you and her. Ok?’

Annie nodded. ‘Where is she?’ she asked again sharply.

‘Why should I tell you that, kitten?’

‘Because if you don’t, my brother and I will personally hunt you down and destroy you, wherever you may be. It won’t just be you, but every single one of that disgusting little nest of vipers, you call a family! Every single one of you, Venoma! Every one! We won’t rest until every member of that family is removed from the face of this world. I mean it, Venoma! Every single one of you!’

Simon stared at his sister in utter amazement. He had never heard her speak with such viciousness, such venom before. He was genuinely shocked.
There was a long silence on the phone. Then Venoma spoke.

‘Well, well. So the kitten’s got claws at last’.

‘This kitten’s got claws, all right. This kitten will use them to rip your throat out. When we find you’.

‘If you find me, kitten’.

‘We’ll find you, Venoma. Only a matter of time. Now, I’m going to ask you one last time. Where is she?’

‘I don’t think I can tell you that, kitten’.

‘Can’t or won’t?’

‘Let’s just say I’m not altogether certain myself’.

Simon sat bolt upright. He scribbled furiously on his notebook, then ripped it off as quietly as possible, and passed it to his sister. She stared at it.

She’s escaped! She’s got away! That’s why she’s so evasive! She’s let her get away! Use it, Annie!’

Annie nodded. ‘Oh, dear, Venoma, you really have slipped up this time, haven’t you? You can’t tell me where she is because you don’t know yourself, do you?’ She paused. A sudden sense of instinct had caught her.

‘And the rest of the family don’t know, do they? I wonder what nasty things they might do to you if they realise you’ve let a prisoner escape? As my brother would say, if he were here, you are in deep shit. Bad luck, Venoma. Morag’s a faery. She knows how to get herself out of trouble, unfortunately for you’.

‘Well then, kitten, you’ll never see her again. What a shame’.

Annie felt herself beginning to boil with rage. ‘Don’t threaten me, Venoma. I mean it. There’s something else you should know. My brother and I have become faery’. Simon looked at his sister in amazement, again.

‘You know what that means, don’t you, Venoma?’ Annie said, very calmly. ’There’ll be no quarter, no mercy, when we catch up with you and the rest of your evil family’. She remembered Thursday’s expression.’ Your days are numbered.’

Simon frantically scribbled another note. ‘Don’t overdo it, Annie! Just keep her on the back foot! Remember, we’ve got to find Morag!’ She nodded.

‘I’ll ask you one more time. Do you know where she is?’

‘I’m not sure that I can answer that, kitten’.

‘Then she can take own bloody chances! Go to hell, Venoma! Where you belong!’

She pressed the end button and threw the phone down on the table. The little figurines shuddered.

‘What have you just done, Annie?’ her brother cried, his eyes wide with horror.

Annie turned on him savagely. ‘I hung up on her! What do you think!’

‘You’ve just signed Morag’s death warrant!’ Her brother stared at her, furiously. ‘You just can’t play games with peoples’ lives, Annie! Don’t you understand that! Morag’s precious to us!’

‘I know that!’ Annie snapped at him, He suddenly realised that her eyes had turned grey. ‘I know what I’m doing! You said yourself, keep her on the back foot! That’s exactly what I’m doing!’ She took a deep breath. ‘Venoma doesn’t know where Morag is. She’s got nothing to bargain with. That’s why she’ll ring again! When she does, I’ll make a deal with her. Trust me, Simon. I want Morag back safely, every bit as you do. But I’ve got to do it this way, Simon. I know her, in a way that you don’t!’

‘Dear God, Annie, I hope you do. Because if she doesn’t  ring back, we’ll never see Morag again!’

‘She will. Trust me! She will!’

They sat together on the bed, Simon’s head bowed in fear and misery. Annie stared at her little figurines. She reached out and turned the figures of Harlequin and Columbine so that they faced each other, rather than flirtatiously turning away, the mobile phone between them. She could feel her heart racing, but she continued to gaze at them, seeing the affection and love between the two little figures that they were always so careful to disguise. Several minutes passed like hours. Then the phone rang, once more vibrating and bumping into the two little figures. Annie waited until it had rung twice, with that same little melody of “Greensleeves”. Then she picked it up.

‘Hallo again, kitten’.

‘I think you and I should have a little talk, Venoma’.

‘What about, kitten?’


There was a pause. ‘What about them?’

‘Did you use to call your sister “kitten”, Venoma? Or did she call you that?’

There was another pause. ‘I do not have a sister’.

‘Oh, but I think you did, Venoma. The one that you lost, when you were a young child. What happened to her, Venoma? Was she taken away from you? The only thing in your sad little life, that you ever cared about? Is that right, kitten?’

This time there was a long silence, but the line was still open. Annie could hear the slight hissing and whistling as if it was a long line, and the signal was uncertain.

Simon passed a note over. She read it quickly.

‘Keep her on line, Annie! Keep her talking! She must have some idea of where Morag is!’

Annie nodded. ‘Well, Venoma?’

She prayed that Venoma would not hang up. ‘Are you still there, Venoma? I hope for your sake you are’.

‘I’m still here, kitten’.

‘Good. Do you remember what you said to me before I thought you died?’

‘When you stabbed me, you mean, you little cat!’

Simon passed another note over. She looked at it.

 ‘She is seriously worried! She doesn’t  really know exactly where Morag is! But find out some idea of her whereabouts!’

Annie took another deep breath. ‘We want our sister back. You know that already. We won’t rest until we do. But listen very carefully to me, Venoma. I think you want something back, too. You want to know that you had a sister, and she was one of the the most precious thing to you in the world. I know you, Venoma. In some strange way we are sisters, but we are opposites. You never knew what happened to her, did you, Venoma? You need to know. Isn’t that true, Venoma?  Just to know’.

There was another long silence. Annie could hear the hissing and the crackling of static on the line.


The word was spoken so softly, that Annie could barely hear it.

‘This is what we can do, Venoma. Give us back our sister, and we will, in return, find yours for you. You are human, Venoma. We can find her for you. But we want Morag back alive and unharmed’.

Simon thrust another scribbled note at her

‘What are you doing? How do we do that?’

Annie glared at him but held the phone tightly to her ear. ‘Do you agree, Venoma?

She waited, breathing hard, praying for a reply.

‘How do I know you will keep your word?’

‘Because I will make a promise to you, A faery promise, You know as well as I do, I cannot break it! Now tell me where Morag is!’

‘Very well. But you will have to come and find your sister yourselves’.

‘We will. Where is she?’

‘You will keep your promise?’

‘I will, as long as you tell me’.

Simon was looking at her in shock. Then he began to write again furiously. He tore the sheet off, again very quietly, and looked at Annie expectantly.

She listened, waiting in silence, to the static down the phone.

‘She is in the sixth dimension’.

‘That’s not good enough! Where is that?’

‘Where I am, at this very moment’.

Annie breathed hard, and tried to keep calm. ‘Listen to me, Venoma. I am not playing games. No faery plays games. Now tell me more about where she is!’

‘My, my, kitten, are we getting cross?’

‘No, we are not. But my faery rage is mounting. Believe me, Venoma, if I come after you with the faery bloodlust on me, you will never see the light of this earth again. Do you understand me?’

There was another crackling silence.

‘Oh, yes, kitten, I understand. But I don’t really know myself. But you like mysteries, don’t you, kitten? I’ll give you some clues. She’s in a place that you have been to before. Even better, she is in a place that is very close to you. I’m not going to tell you any more than that, because…’ There was a crackling pause of several moments. ‘I’m not sure of where I am myself’.

Simon could hear everything, since Annie had turned up the volume on her phone. He was scribbling again furiously. He passed another note over to his sister.

That’s the best we’re going to get out of her! But why is she there, and she doesn’t know where? She’s lost, herself, Annie!

Annie spoke again. ‘What a shame, Venoma. You’re lost yourself, aren’t you? So you’ve abandoned poor Morag to find your own way back to wherever you came from’.

There was another long pause, the static still stuttering in the background.

‘I am telling you the truth, kitten’. Venoma’s voice was soft this time. ‘I really don’t know how we got here. You’ll just have to find the way yourself’. Her voice sharpened. ‘Now you keep your promise’.
Simon pushed a note over to Annie, who looked down at it and caught her breath.

‘Venoma’, she said gently, ‘I need some information from you, if I am to find a sister, if you have one’.

She looked down at her brother’s note.

If we have to trace her sister, we’ll need at least the following information.

First name


Date of birth

Place where born’

‘What was your original name, Venoma?’ she asked, quietly. ‘It’s vital. I can’t find this sister, if you don’t tell me’.

She could hear the sharp intake of breath on the line. There was a very long pause. Annie waited, not knowing what might happen next.


The reply was so quiet that Annie could barely hear it. She mouthed the name silently to Simon, who wrote it down quickly.

‘That’s a lovely name’. She said, still gently. ‘Far better than Venoma’.

There was only silence on the line.

‘What was your surname, Venoma, I mean, Isabelle? You have my promise that this is really important’.

‘Elderton’. Again this was barely a whisper. Annie mouthed the word again to her brother.

‘The next thing I need to know is when you were born’.

‘You want everything, don’t you, kitten?’ This time the voice was louder and sharper. Simon pushed another note over.

Don’t antagonise her, Annie. The more information we have about her, the better!

‘Look, Venoma, I mean, Isabelle, I need this so that we can trace whether you still have a sister. Do you want to find out or not?’

‘Yes’. No more than a whisper again.

There was a pause of several moments. Annie could still hear the hiss and crackle of static.


Annie gave an involuntary gasp. That meant Venoma, or Isabelle, was only nineteen!

‘Where were you born, Isabelle?’

‘Why should you need to know that?’ This time the voice was sharp and snappish. Annie sensed that Venoma’s patience was running out.

‘It’s essential. If I’m going to find your sister. If she exists, I need a starting-point. This is the very last piece of information I have to know’. She was uncertain now to think what name to use.

There was another long silence.


‘Thank you, that’s  all I need’.

‘Are you sure, kitten?  Nothing else?  How tall I am? How much I weigh? You find out if I have a sister! You promised!l I kept my word, you keep yours!’

This time Annie was silent for a few seconds.

‘There is something else. Something which has always puzzled and, I suppose, saddened me’.

‘Well, I never. And what’s that, kitten, that causes your lovely little face to frown?’

Annie suddenly snapped. ‘Don’t patronise me, you filthy slut, you dirty tart! You disgusting little slapper! How dare you insult me! You’ve done nothing in your miserable little life, except destroy and murder! At least, I’m grateful I’m better than you! Far better! I should have finished you off in the sewers!’

She caught her breath, feeling her brother’s restraining hand on her arm. His face was horrified. He could see that Annie’s eyes were grey. Then he let go, and scribbled another note, which he held in front of her face.

What’s come over you? You just lost it! Don’t do anything to jeopardise Morag’s safety!

She nodded, feeling her rage begin to subside.

‘What’s the matter, kitten? Nerves on edge?  Getting angry, are we? What a little temper we have! I’m beginning to think that you’re getting a little bit, how shall I put it, demented? Hysterical? Or just insane?’

Simon scribbled a note desperately to his sister, her eyes turning grey again in fury.

Ignore it, Annie! She’s trying to provoke you! Quick, hit her with something to get her off guard!’

Annie breathed hard to get her rage under control. Then she did think of something, that she had often wondered about.

‘Isabelle’, she asked, as  gently as she could, ‘Why did you become Venoma?’


Annie could sense, almost feel, Venoma’s shock, at the other end of the line.

‘You heard me. What turned you into this evil creature? You see, Venoma, someone once told me that nobody is totally evil. I think that once, when you were a very small girl, you smiled and laughed and played like other young children. Then something happened. Something that was very precious to you, your sister, perhaps, was suddenly taken away. You were told to forget about her, as if she never existed. All that was good and happy in your life was just ripped away from you. That’s when you started to become what you are now. Is that what happened, Venoma? Losing the only thing that mattered to you?’

She was speaking softly, even gently, her previous fury forgotten. There was only silence at the end of the line, punctuated by the occasional buzz of static.

Simon was sitting intently, his pen poised over his notebook, listening. She looked at him, but he shook his head. He had no messages to write.

Something else occurred to her. She wanted to break that awful silence.

‘Venoma’, she asked softly, Can you remember a time back in your childhood when you were really truly happy? Some wonderful afternoon, perhaps? Something you have always remembered and cherished? Something that you’ve kept locked up and put away in some dark attic, that you bring out and look at? Something that you can always return to, and remember?’

There was still silence on the phone. Annie waited patiently. She knew Venoma was still at the other end. She just waited.

‘I had a doll once’. The voice sounded tired and wistful, almost childlike. Annie suddenly realised. This was Isabelle, not Venoma. ‘She was small, and she had red hair, and she had this little blue dress on, and a little apron. And she had a little blue hat, and little blue shoes. I combed her hair for her and made her pretty. And I used to take her around the big garden and show her all the flowers, and tell her what they were. And she used to talk to me and say how wonderful they were, and I would always be her friend’.

The voice had now become a child’s, soft and tender.

‘Did your sister have a doll, too?’

‘Oh, yes, Mine was Lucia, and hers was Carla. But Lucia was prettier, much prettier. I always love combing her hair, such long red hair…’

The voice was even softer now and almost dreamy.

‘What happened to her, Isabelle?’

The sudden fury in the voice startled Annie. She held the phone almost instinctively away from her.

‘They smashed her! They took her away and smashed her! They made me watch! Then they told me that I was never to have dolls again! They smashed her! They smashed her!’

‘I’m truly sorry, Isabelle’.

‘What?’ the voice was startled. Then there was a silence. Then she heard the voice again. But this time it was Venoma, her voice cold and hard.

‘You’ve been playing games with me, kitten, haven’t you? Trying to find my weak spots! It won’t work, kitten. You find your bitch of a sister, and you find mine, if I have one!’

‘Wait! How do we contact you?’

‘I’ll be in touch, kitten. Don’t you worry’.

There was a sharp click. This time the phone was really dead. Annie looked at but the screen was empty. There was no trace of a caller.

‘She’s gone, Simon. That’s it’.

‘So I gather. Why the hell did you have to lose your temper like that, right in the middle of the negociations? Don’t you realise we might have lost Morag for good? You stupid cow!’

‘Don’t lecture me, you bastard! You’re just as bad!’

Annie stopped, shocked at what she had just said. She saw her brother was shocked too, at what he had just said.

‘I’m truly sorry, Simon. I really am. But I just keep flaring up all the time! At anything, anything that triggers me off!’ She stared at her brother. ‘Simon, what’s happening to us? We never used to be like this!’

‘I know, I feel the same way. We’ll have to find some way of dealing with it. Perhaps’, he paused, ‘perhaps we really have been through too much, and this really is post-traumatic stress disorder, or whatever they call it’.

‘Or it may be something else. But whatever’s wrong with us, we still have to find Morag’.

‘Don’t forget Venoma’s sister, too’.

‘That can wait. At least we know more about Venoma now’. She looked at the mobile , now back on her bedside table. ‘I felt such sorrow for her’.

‘For Venoma? I certainly don’t! She’s tried to kill us, Annie, in case you’ve forgotten!’

‘I haven’t. But at least I feel I understand her more now’.

Simon just stared into space. ‘I don’t really think that matters at the moment. All that should matter is that we find Morag. I’m not leaving her out there, all alone! I’m thinking of Mariko too. We failed her, Annie. We should have realised!’

‘Simon, are we really up to this?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that we’re not in control of ourselves any longer. I can’t cry any more! I can’t even cry!’

‘We’ve got to, Annie’.

‘How? How can we find her? She’s in another dimension! All we’ve got are a few clues!’

Her brother’s face had a small sly grin.

‘Yes, we can. You see, we both know someone who can guide us’.

‘I don’t understand!  Who?’

‘In the morning, Annie, first thing, we’re going shopping’.


Frank Jackson – 17/08/2011 (Word count- 10802)