DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
Annie sat in the garden, on a gentle sunny, morning in April. She held a letter in her left hand, but she was too pre-occupied to read it again. Instead, she stared out at the trees that surrounded her. Birds whistled, unseen, and the day was filled with all those small whispering noises that marked the passing of unknown small animals and insects going about their everyday business, that a new morning always brought. Annie wasn’t listening, but she was thinking about the new problem that this, legal, letter contained.
‘What’s that you’re reading?’ asked Simon as he came and sat down on the garden bench beside her, still munching greedily from the bowl of cornflakes he carried. Annie felt the bench groan as he settled on it. ‘It’s a letter, addressed to both of us. It’s from Mr Cuttle’s solicitor. You’d better read it’. Simon put down his bowl of cornflakes and took the letter, frowning as he did so.
“Dear Messrs Simon and Annie Wheeler. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that the lately deceased Mr Albert Cuttleworth, has bequeathed to you, as legatees ( what does that mean?) his library of rare books and manuscripts. The deceased stipulated that you would find it important to you for the future. The collection itself consists of….”
‘Five thousand volumes!’
‘Exactly. Where are we going to put it?’
Simon read the rest of the letter. “ The library consists of many learned, though esoteric, volumes, concerning the subjects of magic, the supernatural, and other related arts. If you wish, we can be of assistance in disposing of the said repository, by sale, to other possible collectors. Please inform us at your convenience as to whether you wish to pursue this, or whether you wish to keep such a collection. It can be collected at the abode of the late Mr Albert Cuttleworth until the 31st of this month, when it will be disposed of, and the proceeds, minus commission, will be dispensed to you. Yours faithfully….”’
‘We’re not getting rid of it’. said Annie, firmly. ‘Mr Cuttle wanted us to have it, because he thought that it would be useful to us. Whatever happens’.
‘Despite that, we’re going to have to talk to Mum and Dad about this. It’s too much for us to deal with’.
‘No!’ said Annie, sharply.
‘Why not?’ asked Simon, surprised.
‘Because, at the moment, I don’t trust them’.
Simon was silent for a moment. ‘Why do you say that?’ he said quietly.
‘Because they lied to us. Because they pretended to not see what we can see, because they seem to know more than they should do, and because they don’t seem to wonder what we’re up to. Does it occur to that they’re always out of the way, whatever we do? Why?’
Simon was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking hard.
‘I don’t know’. he said, frankly.
‘Which is why I don’t want them to know what we’re up to. We need to talk to the Brotherhood. They might know where we can store all poor Mr Cuttle’s things. Perhaps Pat, too. He might be able to think of something’.
Simon pulled out his mobile phone. ‘I know their private number. It’s unlisted. I’m going to ring them, now’.
He walked down towards the end of the garden, but he stopped and hesitated. ‘Annie, I think you’re right. But where does that leave us? With no-one to trust?’
He turned and went down the garden, speaking into his mobile as he walked.
Annie remained, sitting on the garden bench, her mind full of turmoil. What if she was wrong? Simon was a long time returning, but when he did, he sat down, his face a picture of trouble.
‘What did they say?’ Annie asked anxiously.
‘Well, first, they said that we shouldn’t have anything to do with it. then they said, if you’re going to keep it, it should be lent to someone else for safe keeping. They were a bit furtive, and Index Finger said that it should not be traced on any account. I didn’t understand what he meant by that’.
‘And then what?’ demanded Annie, impatiently.
Then they suggested we contact Pat, so I rang him. But he sounded quite worried as well. But, in the end, he suggested that a friend of his, someone called Chris, would be able to take Mr Cuttle’s library. Pat said that he was a great scholar and friend, and he would be able to put the whole thing into his garage, where he keeps a lot of old books. He gave me his address. Look.’
Annie looked. It was close by where they lived.
‘I phoned him. He said to organise to have the books delivered tomorrow morning, but he also said to come around and see him, to tell him whether he should just store them, or sell them for us. But he did say that he needed to speak to us about it’.
‘We’d better see him then. I would hate to see Mr Cuttle’s collection just disappear. We owe it to him. Apart from that, he said that it might be useful to us, in some way’.
They both nodded in agreement. Simon got up from the bench, and looked down at Annie.
‘Why don’t you trust our parents?’
‘I don’t know. I just think there’s something wrong’.
Simon shrugged, and tried to put his hands in his pockets, though, because he was still wearing a dressing-gown, he didn’t have any.
‘You haven’t told them, have you?’
Simon sat down again beside her. ‘No, I haven’t. Why are you so worried?’
‘Let’s just go and see this man about the library tomorrow. All right?’
Next morning, they walked down to Chris’s address. It was a large Edwardian house on the corner of the main road, surrounded with a luxuriant garden of palms, shrubs and herbs. As Simon pressed the bell, they heard footsteps inside, and the door opened. Chris stood there, a large, avuncular man, with short-cropped hair, glasses and a benign smile.
‘You’re Simon and Annie, aren’t you? My friend, Pat, told me about you. Come on in’. They stepped into a large hallway and followed Chris around a corner into a large kitchen, which in turn led to a large bright conservatory, overlooking a small but beautifully kept garden. As they sat at the table in the conservatory, Annie looked around her with amazement and delight. The hall was filled with paintings, prints and drawings, and even here, large colourful prints and engravings covered the walls. She had even caught a glimpse of the sitting room, filled with books of all shapes and kinds. This is the house of a scholar, she thought.
‘Right then’, said Chris, as he brought in mugs of steaming tea. ‘Tell me about this collection’.
They sat and talked about what they knew of Mr Cuttle and his collection. Chris did not ask them about themselves, for which they were grateful, but he was interested in why Mr Cuttle had collected so many books, and about his interests in magic and mystery. Then the doorbell rang again. ‘That must be the Cuttle collection arriving’. laughed Chris. ‘I’ll get them to bring it round to the side door, so we can put it into the garage. I’ve cleared a space for it in there’.
They followed him out to the garage, and peered in through the small open door at the side.
They gasped. There were shelves and shelves of books and magazines, hundreds and hundreds of them! At the back of the garage was a large space, with empty shelving around the walls, and more shelves in the middle. The removal men were already stacking huge tea-cases crammed with books, outside the open door.
‘Chris’, Annie stammered awkwardly. ‘I’m so sorry! I didn’t realise there were so many of them!’
‘No worries. We’ll just shelve them for the time being, and then we can catalogue them properly later. Chris pounced on two or three of the books in the top chest.
‘Hallo, this is interesting. “Satanism: A Beginner’s Guide”. Hmmm. Here’s another one. “Janet and John meet the Occult” That might be one for both of you. And another one. I haven’t seen this before. “The Ladybird Book of Alchemy”. It must be a new one in the series’.
rest of that morning, they worked at emptying the tea-cases and loading
the books onto the bookshelves that Chris had prepared. By two o’clock,
they had finished.
‘Nonsense!’ Chris said cheerfully. ‘I collect books! A few thousand more won’t harm me. But you will need to help me catalogue them. You might find useful things in them to help you, in whatever it is that you might be engaged in’. He looked at them sharply. ‘Like gloves, for instance’.
‘Why gloves? asked Simon curiously.
‘Because gloves can indicate who or what a person is’. answered Chris. ‘You wear them, and they can reflect your personality. When gloves were worn frequently, they showed what kind of person you were. Poor, rich, mean, generous, kind, or vicious’. Annie shivered at the last word. She would remember that in the future. But they thanked Chris, and promised to come and help him catalogue the books.
‘Do you really think those books are going to be of any use to us?’ Simon asked on the way home. Annie thought about it for a moment. ‘I’m not really sure. But he must have left them to us for a reason. Don’t forget, when we first met him, he did look up things for us, which were useful. I wonder why Chris mentioned gloves?’
‘No idea. Let’s eat. How about some fish and chips?’
It was not until the next morning that Annie came to remember the idea of gloves. She yawned and stretched, then got out of bed, putting on her dressing-gown. Still sleepy, she went downstairs and opened the front door, to collect the milk. Nobody in the house was stirring. As she bent down to pick up the milk-bottles, she saw something lying on the front doorstep.
It was a long yellow glove. Old-fashioned in style, it was long, to cover the wrist as well as the hand, and had buttons at the bottom for the wearer to fasten. The glove lay sinuously, by the milk-bottles. It looked innocent and charming. Annie picked it up. It was made of incredibly soft leather, so thin and supple that it could melt and soften around the wearer’s hand. It was a lovely thing. Annie noticed too, that the glove was left-handed. No other glove was to be seen. It lay seductively across the palm of her hand.
Annie picked up the milk bottles in her other hand, and took them into the kitchen. Then she laid the glove out on the kitchen table and stared at it. Why had it appeared so suddenly on their doorstep? It was not the kind of glove that anyone wore nowadays. It seemed older, more like the time when the child, Rosamund, had been born. But why had it turned up here? Annie was now suspicious. Perhaps it was time to ask the four fingers. She turned to put on the kettle to make hot water for tea. She looked around. Had it moved? Perhaps not. It still lay there. It reminded her of a discarded snake skin, something shed, but which contained something still of its previous owner. It made her feel uneasy, but she couldn’t understand why. Imagination? Maybe.
‘What do you make of this?’ she demanded, as Simon came into the kitchen, sleepily. Simon looked at it.
‘It’s a glove’.
‘I know that! But what was it doing on our front doorstep, this morning?’
‘It may have had a bad night, and decided to go for a walk’.
Annie groaned in exasperation.
‘Why should it turn up here? Who leaves a left-handed old glove around?’
‘Lots’ of people. They always lose things. What does it matter?’
‘No, it was left here for a purpose. But why I don’t understand at all’.
The glove lay there, as if it was a woman’s body.
‘Look, if it’s troubling you, I’ll take it down to the four fingers this morning. I’ll call them. Do you want to come?’
Annie shook her head. ‘No’, she yawned. ‘I just want to go back to bed. You can tell me what they said later’.
Simon picked up the glove and tucked it into his small backpack.
‘See you later’.
He stood at the bus-stop and waited. Buses in Brighton always seemed to be late. He leant on the bus-stop post and stood, bored and impatient.
No-one else was in sight. He hummed to himself, and thought about his favourite rock band.
The glove eased itself underneath the cover of Simon’s backpack, between the straps that held it. Then it dropped silently to the ground. It stood, poised on its fingertips, waiting, not moving. Simon finally saw his bus. It was moving along the main Ditchling Road, behind a huge six-wheeled truck, that was gradually beginning to pick up speed. Both vehicles came closer and closer, beginning to loom in size. Simon stood up straight, ready to hail the bus as it came. The glove began to tense itself.
The truck became bigger and bigger, with the bus just behind. Simon could see the driver behind the steering wheel. He was looking ahead at the road. Then he felt a tremendous push in his back, and he fell forward, in front of the huge wheels of the truck! His head hit the surface of the road, with a flash of pain, and he knew no more.
Annie took the call from the hospital. Panic-stricken, she rang Indira and Pei-Ying. ‘Simon’s at the hospital. He might be badly hurt. Can you come with me?’ She had no idea where her parents might be, up in London, and now she didn’t care. She frantically dialled for a taxi. Indira and Pei-Ying arrived a minute later, looking anxious and pale.
‘What’s happened?’ they asked, almost at the same time.
‘Simon’s being run over by a lorry. At least they think so. He’s in the hospital now. They think he’s going to be all right, as far as I can understand. I can’t find my parents. They don’t know, and I just can’t find out where I can get hold of them. I hate them!’
She said this so vehemently that Indira and Pei-Ying looked at each other sharply. ‘Why don’t we all go over to the hospital to see Simon? Indira said, gently. “It’s always best to find out’. added Pei-Ying. ‘And stop looking so miserable!’ Annie glared at them both, and then laughed. She knew they were only trying to help. I’m so selfish, she thought. Simon’s hurt, and all I can do is think of how I can cope without him. ‘Let’s go’. she said firmly.
They found Simon sitting up in bed, with a bandage around his head. Annie was suddenly full of emotion. She stepped forward and hugged Simon hard. ‘Get off!’ spluttered Simon. ‘You’re ruining my chances with my nurse!’ The nurse, standing nearby, a slim and attractive girl with dark hair drawn up in a pony-tail, giggled. So did Indira and Pei-Ying.
‘Where’s the glove?’ Tell me what happened’.
‘Well, all I know is that this truck was coming along on front of the bus, and then I got pushed really hard in the back. I nearly went under it. But I rolled back, and it just missed me. The truck-driver got up, and was really upset. The bus stopped too, and the driver got out to see what the problem was. But I had this big whack on my head, and to be honest, I didn’t really know what happened. I was just so dazed! Then the ambulance came and I was taken up here. They said I had concussion or something, I don’t know what. Why are you asking me about the glove?’
‘Do you remember where it was? Seriously, Simon. Was it in your back-pack?
‘I think so. But I don’t remember very clearly. I’m sure it was’.
Annie saw his back-pack in the corner of the room. She went over and opened it. There was the glove, tucked up demurely in the corner, fingers clasped around its waist. She closed the back-pack again. ‘It’s there’. she said. I’m going to ring Mum and Dad to tell them what’s happened’. Simon was busy talking to Indira and Pei-Ying, so she slipped out into the corridor, and dialled on her mobile. ‘Simon’s had an accident. He’s all right. Just thought I’d let you know’. There was a silence on the line. ‘Is he ….hurt?’ came her mother’s voice. ‘No, he’s fine. We’ll be home when you get back’. Annie snapped the phone shut.
She walked down the corridor. As she turned the corner, she suddenly met Simon’s pretty dark-haired nurse, pushing a trolley full of medicines. ‘Is it all right if my brother comes home now? Only it’s just that our parents are in London for the day, and they’ll be anxious about him’.
‘No, that’s fine’. exclaimed the nurse, gaily. ‘The doctor’s cleared him, so you can take him off. He is a bit of a flirt, though, isn’t he?’
He certainly is, thought Annie grimly.
She found Simon sitting up in bed, still chatting with their friends.
‘Get up. Simon. We’re going home’.
‘She’s so horrible when she’s angry’. Simon explained to Indira and Pei-Ying. But they were both quiet. They could see from Annie’s face that she was not only angry, but frightened. They ordered a taxi, and went home in silence, dropping Indira and Pei-Ying off as they went.
‘Simon, go to bed!’
‘But I haven’ had anything to eat yet. And besides, our Mum and Dad are coming home soon. So I’d better see them’.
‘Clear off, now!’
‘Don’t you ever tell me what to do! Never again!’
Annie stood up and glared across the table. Simon had already stood up, and he was glaring at Annie too, his hand gripping the tea mug he was holding. He threw it down hard on the table, where it smashed into fragments. They stood, confronting each other. Then they both sat down. Simon sat with his head bowed. Annie began to sob, her tears splashing down on the table between them.
Annie cried for a few moments. Then she felt Simon’s hand reaching across the table and holding her hand tightly.
‘It’s all right. I’ll be fine’.
‘No, it’s not all right, Simon. You were pushed. What happened? Was it the glove that pushed you? This isn’t funny’.
‘Well, there was absolutely no’ one behind me. I’d have known. All I remember is that something, or someone pushed me in the back. Definitely an assassination attempt’. he said proudly.
‘Who would want to kill you?’ Annie stood up accusingly. ‘Have you made any nasty enemies? It wasn’t that nurse, was it?’
‘Don’t be so silly. Anyway, she was in the hospital since her shift started, at nine-o’clock this morning!’
‘Well, it might have been her’. Annie said defensively.
Simon sat bolt upright. ‘Of course!. I can see it now ‘Don’t you realise what’s happening, Annie?’
‘It’s Doctor Wrist. He’s doing a horrible thing. He’s trying to drive a wedge between us, trying to set us against each other. That’s what his plan is. I think he’s using the glove in a way that I don’t know about. He’s fooled you, Annie. I didn’t realise it until I lay in hospital. But I can realise it now!’
Annie stared at him, open-mouthed in shock.
‘But why can’t I see it?’ cried Annie desperately. ‘If that’s true, why couldn’t I see it!’
‘Because your mind was still about that family in the photograph. You’ve always felt strongly about that. Annie, tell me now. It’s really important. Is it about Rosamund?’
Annie looked down at Simon’s hand, still holding her own. She decided to tell him.
‘Rosamund died in the battle with the daemons. I closed her eyes’.
Simon was very quiet, and then finally said’,
‘That’s why you didn’t tell me’.
‘How could I!’
Simon sat, staring at their two hands held together.
‘I’m so sorry, Annie. About Rosamund’.
Annie shook her head. ‘Go to bed, Simon. But I’m really going to find out about this glove, and what it has to do with Doctor Wrist’.
Simon paused at the door. ‘Don’t you think that Doctor Wrist might have some help? Somebody who might be an accomplice?’
‘I don’t know. Where’s your back-pack with the glove in it?’
‘Over there. Be careful, Annie’.
Simon went off to bed. Annie sat thinking about Rosamund. The young laughing girl, holding a camera, taking a photograph of her friend. How she had lived, and how she died. She began to think about the mystery of the glove. Were they connected?
Their was a noise at the door. She suddenly realised that it was now early evening. Where had the time gone? Their parents had finally arrived back. ‘Annie! Are you all right, Is Simon all right?’ her mother asked in an agitated way. ‘Simon’s not hurt, is he?’ asked her father anxiously.
‘Simon’s gone to bed. He’s perfectly fine’. Annie said coldly.
‘Perhaps we’d better go up and see him’. suggested her father.
‘There’s no need. Anyway, as if either of you care! Good night!’
She walked out of the kitchen, leaving their shocked faces behind her, and slammed the door. In the hallway, she stopped and took a deep breath. Behind the door she could hear her mother crying, and her father gently trying to console her. ‘It’s all right’, he was saying, ‘she’s upset, that’s all’. Annie literally stomped up the stairs, filled with rage. She hated them!
She went into her bedroom, and sat down on the bed. For a long time she stared at her bedroom cupboard.. Her parents had gone into the living-room, where they were probably talking about her. So what? Annie had never know so rage and fury in side her before. It was about the battle, it was about Mr Cuttle, it was about the dragon Smeffin, it was about Rosamund, it was about her Japanese friends who had been hurt, and about her brother. It was about her friends, Indira and Pei-Ying. Who had never questioned why they were there, but had gone to fight with her in that terrible battle. The fury rolled up into a giant ball, and then it stopped. What had happened, had happened. There was nothing more that she could do about it. There were things to do.
She remembered Simon’s back-pack. It was down in the kitchen She picked it up and carried it back up to her bedroom. Then she opened it.
The glove lay in there, still clasping itself. She pulled it out, stretched it, and laid it on the bed. It looked like a beautiful woman, reclining, the fingers outspread, lying across the cover. But Annie was not fooled. She sat down on the bed next to the glove, and looked down at it. She looked very hard, and finally she made up her mind.
She picked up the glove, so warm and soft. Slowly she began to put it on. It slipped over her fingers and then down to her wrist. She began to fasten up the buttons. It felt wonderful. It was soft and gentle as she could ever imagine.
She lay down on her bed, still with the glove on. She began to feel drowsy. The glove was still on her hand, soft and smooth. Then it started to creep up towards her throat. Softly, softly, very softly, the glove moved up. It’s fingers crept towards her, very gently as they worked their way up towards her exposed neck. Slowly creeping, slowly creeping across her stomach and over her chest. Slowly creeping, on it’s finger-tips.
The fingers reached her face. Annie still lay asleep, her face now gentle and relaxed. Her skin was softer, without the hard lines that had marked her features over the past month or so. The glove gently moved over her lips, and her cheeks, caressing them, and moved up to stroke her dark hair. The glove moved wistfully, and quietly, with warm fingers that had now filled as if they had a moving, breathing hand inside them. It quietly moved back down, one finger running across her cheek, and paused. It moved over Annie’s lips again, as if in sadness.
The glove finally reached silently down towards Annie’s throat. The thumb and middle fingers gently pressed her bare skin, and then tightened hard.
Simon, lying in bed, heard a muffled scream from Annie’s bedroom. He was playing Mario on his gamephone, so he was somewhat irritated at the interruption. She must be having a nightmare, or something, he thought. He settled down to his game again.
Annie was fighting desperately for her life. Her right hand was trying to pull away the glove from her throat. But it’s grip was like a vice, slowly throttling her. She tried to scream but all that came out was a suppressed gurgle. She threw her hand desperately across the bedside table, sweeping away all her china ornaments and the alarm clock, that fell with a clatter onto the floor.
Simon groaned as he heard the noise. I bet she’s having a tantrum. I’ll let her get on with it. Oh, no, I was just at the third level too. Now I’ll have to get Mario started again. He began to finger the tabs on the small console.
Annie was thrashing wildly on the bed. Try as she could, the glove’s fingers had tightened around her neck. She began to feel her consciousness slipping away, as those fingers kept their grip on her throat. They were alive, the glove filled with living fingers! She tried to cry out, but she had no breath. Instead she fought desperately, the darkness beginning to gather around her.
Simon yawned. I suppose I’d better go and see if she’s all right, he thought. Not that she’d thank me. Oh, well. He stood up and put on his dressing-gown, then went across the landing, and knocked on Annie’s door.
‘Annie, are you all right?’ he called.
There was a strange kind of crashing sound inside. If Simon but knew it, it was Annie trying to crawl off the bed, the glove still around her neck, tightening it’s grip. But the darkness was now descending on her, stifling her consciousness and her life.
‘Annie, come on! Answer!
‘Annie, for goodness’s sake! I’ve heard of tantrums, but this is ridiculous!’ Open the door!’
Annie had lost consciousness. She was dying, she knew it. She was sinking into a black hole that she would never come out of again.
Simon tried the door. It was locked. With a strength he thought he never had, he kicked it hard. It slammed open. Annie lay half on the floor and half on the bed. She looked as if she was dead.
Simon ran to her. Annie lay, her face blue, with no sign of life. He heard a scuttling sound behind him. There was the glove, slithering outside the door behind him. He looked at Annie, lifeless, then at the glove slithering down the stairs. The rage in him was enormous.
He ran down the stairs after the glove, hoping to catch it before it got to the front door. But it slipped underneath the lintel of the door before he could reach it. Desperately opening the lock, he ran down the street, forgetting that he was still in shorts and T-shirt, and was barefoot. It was pouring with rain outside, but Simon didn’t care.
The glove was skittering along, on its fingers, and moving very quickly, though it was skidding in the damp and pouring rain. Simon ran after it. They were running down the main road where the pavement and gutters were awash with rain, flooding down towards the bottom of the road, where he knew there were rain-gutters that received all the water that flowed down. The glove, still running on it’s fingers was beginning to slip and slide as it ran down the steep gradient.
There was something so eerie and terrifying about the glove as it ran. It was no longer a glove, but a living being. A glove which had tried to kill. It was no longer seductive, but desperate. Simon ran after it, determined to catch the thing. The glove was no longer the hunter. It was fighting for itself. Simon thought he was beginning to catch up with it, but it moved so quickly until… it reached the bottom of the hill, but the rivulets of water that ran down proved too much.
It skidded off the pavement, and into the road gutter, itself roaring like a small torrent towards the drain at the very end. The glove was carried along like a limp small thing, no longer alive. It was swept in between the bars of the gutter by the water, and disappeared. Simon reached the gutter, panting. Then he saw its fingers, reaching out through the bars. It struggled to hold its grip. For a few seconds, it tried to hold onto the metal bars of the gutter, two of its fingers reaching upwards through the bars of the drain. Simon knelt and tried to grab it. But, in a moment, the glove lost its grip, and disappeared into the dark, swishing water below.
Simon knelt there for a few seconds, gasping, and trying to catch his breath. Then he remembered Annie. He jumped up, and began to run back up the hill towards their house. He had to stop several times to catch his breath again. The rain was still coming down in sheets, slapping and bouncing on the road. He briefly noticed Chris’s house on the way, and wondered whether he should call there for help. But he was too frightened to do anything but carry on, through the driving downpour, to find his sister. He was cold and wet, but he took no notice. All he could think of was Annie.
He threw open the front door, without caring whether it closed or not, and ran upstairs. Across the landing into Annie’s bedroom. She was still lying there, her face cold and pale.
‘Annie!’ he shouted.
He pulled her back onto the bed and started pushing up and down on her chest, trying to remember what first aid he knew. Then Annie opened her eyes. They were dim and blank. She opened her mouth, and tried to gesture towards the bedside table. ‘Talis,,,,’ she whispered. Simon pulled open the door of the small table. There was the small box that Annie kept the talisman in. He opened it. There it was, pulsating, in an agitated way. He picked it up, and slipped it on Annie’s right index finger. The talisman began to vibrate, gleaming in short flashes.
He sat next to her for what seemed like an eternity. Then her face began to lose it’s paleness, and a pinkish colour appeared in her cheeks. She suddenly sat up and began to gasp and choke, breathing deeply between coughs. At last, she turned and looked at Simon. ‘I think I’m all right now’. she said rather faintly. Then she realised he was crying. She put out her hand, and stroked his hair. Suddenly remembering that that was what the glove had done, when she was half-asleep, she drew her hand back.
‘Simon! You’re soaking wet’. Annie said gently. ‘Go and wash and put some more clothes on. I’ll be all right’.
‘You’d better not tell my friends. Or else!’.
‘Oooh, I might. Don’t worry. I won’t. But I don’t know what you were trying to do. I’m bruised all over!’
‘I was trying to….what was it…..resuscitate you’.
‘Thank you very much!’
‘Well thank you, for getting you out of your near-death experience. But look at your neck, Annie. That’s how close you were’.
Annie picked up her hand-mirror, as Simon went to the bathroom.
Her throat was covered with red bruises, which were probably going to turn to yellow and brown tomorrow. The glove had really meant to do its work.
She was still looking in the mirror when Simon came back.
‘Thank you, Simon. Thank you very much. I really mean it’.
She had never realised until now, that he had saved her life.
‘Can I give you a big sisterly hug?’
‘No, you can’t’ indignantly. ‘Anyway, don’t you want to know what happened when I chased the glove?’
‘Yes, I do’.
Simon told her. Annie sat with her knees drawn up, her hands wrapped around them.
‘ I think I know now. Simon, you were right about Doctor Wrist having an accomplice. I think I know who it is’.
‘Not yet. I don’t even know that I’m
right. I need to sleep now.
I still feel a bit shaky. By the way, where are Mum and Dad?’
‘They went out this evening. They’ll be back later’.
‘That figures’. Annie said sourly.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Never mind. Look, Simon, I’m going to wear the talisman tonight. I’ll be fine. The talisman will look after me’.
Simon looked at the talisman, still glowing brightly.
‘All right’. he said.
Annie lay awake for a while, after he left. The bruises on her neck really hurt. But she still kept wondering why the glove had been so gentle and caressing, at least, before it tried to kill her. She also thought about what she had discovered when she had first tried the glove on. But that will wait until tomorrow, she thought. Then she fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, Simon sat at the breakfast table, sneezing every now and again, from his soaking the night before. The best way to stop a cold, he thought, is to eat a lot. So he did. Annie appeared and sat down beside him, reaching out for the cornflakes. She wore a long cotton scarf around her neck, and she moved her head slowly and painfully.
‘How are you, Annie?’ he asked.
‘Sore. But I’m all right. When are we going to meet the brotherhood of the Hand?’
‘About twelve. I rang them this morning. By the way, they sounded very concerned, and asked if you were OK. They said that Adrian and Sniffer would be there too, and Indira and Pei-Ying. So it’s a full house’.
‘Nice of them to show such concern’. Annie commented drily. ‘ I wonder why the talisman is so quiet today? It’s not even glowing’.
Just then, their mother came in. ‘Hallo, why are you wearing that scarf, Annie? Are you all right?’
‘Just feeling chilly. Might have a cold coming on’. Annie turned back to her cornflakes.
Simon saw a flash of something in his mother’s eyes. He didn’t know what it was, but he thought he recognised it.
‘Well, keep warm. We’ll be up in London again today, your father and I. We’ll be back this evening. Not late though. See you soon’.
Neither of them replied.
Later that morning they set off to meet the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood, as Annie firmly reminded Simon) at their usual beach café. They walked down the hill together, in a warm, pale midday sun. Instead of taking their normal route, through Sydney Street, and Kensington Gardens, they walked on, along the Ditchling Road, southwards, towards the seafront. Then they turned off into Gloucester Street, and walked along until they came to a little covered passage that led towards a pub named the Basketmakers. There was no particular reason for them doing so, apart from not particularly wanting to hurry to their meeting.
‘A murder was committed here, you know, years ago. In this tiny passage. A man was stabbed to death. So I heard’. Simon remarked.
‘Thanks for cheering me up’.
It came like lightning. A small pale shape launched itself at Annie, knocking her aside. As Simon turned, the glove hit him hard in the face, with a clenched fist. They both lay sprawling on the ground. The glove skittered away, back along the passage. They were both too dazed to follow it.
Simon got to his feet, and bent over to help Annie onto hers. She stood, leaning against the wall, gasping. It had all been over in a moment.
‘Simon, your nose is bleeding!’
Simon wiped his face with the back of his hand. It came away covered in blood.
‘So it is’.
‘Here’. Annie pulled out a clean tissue from her small handbag. She began to dab carefully at Simon’s face.
‘Ow! You’re not usually so tender’.
‘Oh, shut up!’
‘I knew it was a bad idea to come down here. That filthy glove! I thought it had disappeared altogether! I might have guessed!’
Simon was cross. Nobody likes being bashed on the nose.
‘ I just knew it was bad luck, mentioning that murder’.
‘It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get to our meeting!’
‘What do you mean! I’ve just been conked on the nose by a rotten glove!’
‘Just move, Simon, now!’
They limped off past the Basketmakers, and down the little road towards the seafront.
They found the others sitting at their usual table. Indira and Pei-Ying ran towards them, and threw their arms around Annie. The four fingers stood up, their faces in consternation. Even Sniffer raised his head from his usual bowl of guiness. Adrian cocked his head.
‘Been in the wars again, ‘ave we?’
‘Shut your beak, Adrian’. Simon glowered at them all,
rather jealous of all the attention being lavished on Annie. After
all, he thought, it was me that told them about Annie’s attack.
And it was me that got my nose bashed. But he sat down and glared at
the table instead.
So Annie told them about what had happened the night before. About
how she had been nearly strangled, and Simon had pursued the glove,
and how they had been ambushed in the little passageway. The four fingers
sat, crossing and uncrossing their hands in amazement and surprise.
Simon began to feel rather better, now that Annie had told them about
his heroic pursuit of the evil glove.
‘Nice one, mate’. he said sincerely, for once.
Annie began to tell them about how the talisman had helped her to recover, and looked down at her right hand. She shrieked with horror. The talisman was not there! It was gone!
‘That horrible glove must have taken it when it attacked us this morning! Oh, no! I’m so sorry, so terribly sorry’
It all became too much for her. She began to sob, and put her head in her hands and began to weep. Indira and Pei-Ying put their arms around her for comfort. The four fingers sat there, their faces immobile with shock. Adrian covered his head with his wing and groaned. But Sniffer raised his head again.
‘Reckon you’d better tell ‘em, lad’. he said to Simon.
‘I know’. he took a deep breath, and then put his hand in the pocket of his anorak. ‘It’s here, Annie’, and took out the talisman, that was glowing gently in his hand. ‘Put it on’. He laid the talisman gently in the palm of her hand. The talisman lay there gleaming. It was the talisman. Annie gazed at it in utter wonder and delight.
‘Hey, how did you know, Sniffer?’ asked Simon, enjoying his moment of triumph.
‘I could see the smirk on your face when Annie thought she’d lost it’. Sniffer explained with a grin on his hairy face. ‘I thought, aye, aye, he’s switched it somehow. So we’ve still got it. As our mate Adrian said, “nice one”’.
The four fingers clapped in applause. Even Adrian flapped his wings in delight. Indira and Pei-Ying both gave him a hug. Simon had forgotten about his bloody nose. But Annie was looking at him in a searching way.
‘How did you do that, Simon?’
‘Let me explain. After you were attacked, Annie, by that filthy glove, I came in afterwards to check and see if you were all right. You were still wearing the talisman. I wondered then whether it might be the talisman the glove could be after, as well. I bought two rings on Brighton Pier when you were…still saying good-bye to Rosamund. Remember? I went to the pier, and you stayed on the groyne. The rings looked quite like the talisman. Not quite, but near enough. I don’t know why I did that, but for some reason I thought that they might be useful’.
‘I was so worried about you, Annie. So I thought it might be better if I took off the talisman from your finger, and replaced it with a duplicate, or as near. That’s what I did. I kept the talisman until now, and was going to give it back to you. It wasn’t a joke, Annie, I was really upset. I stayed up last night watching over you, just in case the glove came back, I thought it might come after me, if it knew that it wasn’t the talisman. But I didn’t realise that it was going to attack us again. I really thought that the glove had disappeared down that drain’.
He fell silent. No-one moved.
Annie spoke, very quietly, so that everybody had to strain their ears.
‘Thank you, Simon. You really are a good brother to me’.
She raised her voice slightly.
‘But how did you take the talisman from my finger? It’s always stayed there. It wouldn’t move’.
‘It let me’.
Annie lokked down again at the talisman.‘I’m very glad it did’.
Again, there was a silence around the table.
‘I’ve got other news for you’, Annie said unexpectedly. ‘And it’s not something you’re going to like in the slightest’.
They all groaned. ‘What is it now, Annie?’ said Index Finger wearily. ‘Somehow, I think you are always the bearer of bad news’.
‘That’s because we’re better than you are!’
The four fingers bridled in indignation.
‘I really think that that is somewhat uncalled for!’ began Middle Finger.
‘Be quiet and listen!’
Annie waited for their full attention.
‘One of the things I discovered about the glove, was that it was old, but very beautiful. It also had something that would identify it’s owner, so that if the glove was lost, it could be returned. I found something, just inside the glove, just above the buttons, that gave a clue to who possessed it. Something like this’.
She began to sketch something on the table, dipping her hand into her glass to make wet marks on it’s surface. This is what she drew.
V - Mine
They all stared at it.
‘What does it mean?’ asked Third Finger.
‘Who do you think? Who else would have that embroidered on the inside of a lady’s glove? Who would have the arrogance to do that?’
They all looked at each other. Then they said it at the same time.
‘But how could it be?’ asked Middle Finger.
‘That rotten bitch! She pinned me up to the wall, she did! With her nasty little darts! Wait till I get my beak on her!’ burst out Adrian, furiously.
‘Aye, and she gave me another war wound on top of me old war wounds!’ snarled Sniffer, his head raised in fury.
‘Filthy witch!’ cried Indira and Pei-Ying in unison.
‘I’m going to strangle her myself!’ yelled Simon in anger.
Little Finger raised his hands to placate everybody. ‘I take it then, that we don’t like her very much’.
‘Please wait! Annie shouted.
They all subsided into angry silence.
‘Please listen. I don’t know, but I think that Venoma and Doctor Wrist are working together. How or why, I’ve no idea. But if I’m right, then we have two enemies, rather than one. Don’t you think you should consider that?’
Annie sat down again.
‘But there is no proof, no evidence of this’. said Index Finger mildly. ‘As detectives we need motive, lack of alibi, time, and evidence to show how a murderer might commit an offence. There is no proof’.
‘No, but it is deduction from a detective’s point of view’.
‘True, but it is very little to go on. I sincerely hope that you are wrong, very wrong. As they say, in detective fiction, we must be on our guard, at all times. Once Ven… or whoever the owner of this glove is, discover that they have stolen something which is quite useless, they are going to be very angry indeed’. Little Finger stopped, nervously.
Adrian gave a loud squawk of laughter.
‘I bet! If it is this Venoma, that she’s going to go through the roof!’
‘Off her trolley!’
‘And looking for revenge’. added Index Finger, gently. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I declare this meeting closed. But we must all keep each other informed of anything out of the ordinary that we see or hear’.
‘Fine’. said Annie. ‘Now, Simon, are you going to escort three beautiful young girls home? You’ll be the envy of your friends’.
Simon looked at her suspiciously, but Annie’s face was a picture of innocence.
‘Let’s go then’. he said, secretly pleased at being able to maintain his reputation as a ladies’ man. They disappeared up the steps to the promenade, laughing and giggling.
Sniffer raised his head and watched them. ‘I hope they’re going to be all right’. he said softly to himself.
The glove lay stretched out on the silk coverlet of the large bed. Two feet away, lay another glove, right-handed this time. The walls of the bedroom were papered with a subtle pattern of leaves and tendrils in blue and green with a pale yellow background. Grey light glimmered through the two large windows, on one side, opposite a single carved wooden door on the other. There was no other furniture in the room, apart from a small and rather elegant table on the left-hand side of the bed. There was no sound.
Then the left glove moved. So did the right glove. They began to fill out and expand, as if there were living fingers inside them. Two slim bare arms began to appear, spreading upwards towards elbows, upper arms and shoulders. The upper part of the body slowly materialised, moving inch by inch downwards. It was wearing a low-cut, silk dress, the green of which matched the wallpaper perfectly. The dress began to form around a body, from the bosom, towards the slender waist, towards the hips, and then the legs, covered by the long skirt.
Finally, the feet appeared, wearing a pair of bright red shoes with high stiletto heels, that jarred violently with the surrounding atmosphere. But the body lay inert, as yet with no head. After a few moments the neck began to appear, long and straight. Then the chin, small and pointed. The lips, almost as red as the shoes, partly open to show the small glistening white teeth. The nose, slightly up-tilted. The eyes, closed but dark, with small black eyebrows, carefully plucked. The small forehead, and then a wild range of red hair, that lay around her. She was complete. Her eyes opened: wide but slitted, like a cat’s.
Venoma yawned and stretched, arching her back in a feline manner.
She lay back on the bed, her gloved hands clasped above her head, and began to talk to herself in a low, sibilant whisper, as if she was a cat snarling.
‘That was a nice little trick you played on me, brats. You will pay for that’. Her voice became softer. ‘You are not the only ones who have made alliances’. Her voice grew hard again. ‘By the time I have finished with you, those decrepit old fingers will be dancing like puppets, capering on the strings that I pull! You, brother and sister, will, as stupid policemen say, be “eliminated from our enquiries”. Oh, yes’.
‘I must confess, Annie Wheeler, that when I nearly did away with you, I did feel some emotion’. Her voice sharpened. ‘A moment of weakness! That will not happen again. Enjoy what is left of your short lives!’
She yawned and stretched again, then closed her eyes, a beautiful young woman lying outstretched on the bed.
Frank Jackson (25/02/10)