DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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The Dances of Death
They all stared at the symbol that Simon had drawn on the large sheet of paper that was spread on the table before them. At first, it meant nothing, but it gradually began to form into a shape, or shapes, that were recognisable. They were looking down at this.
‘What on earth does it mean?’ asked Indira, wonderingly.
‘I’m afraid it’s not very good’, explained Simon apologetically. ‘It’s just based on what the skeleton scratched on the grave, as my computer saw it’.
‘Hold on! Skeleton? What skeleton?’ interrupted Morag. ‘Has there been a murder? If so, I should know about it!’
‘There will be, if you don’t stop interrupting’. muttered Simon, rather sourly.
They were all gathered around the long table in the meeting room of the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of the Hand, in a large secluded house off a narrow passageway in the centre of Brighton, the seaside city on the south coast of England, where they all lived. Everyone was there: Simon and Annie, Morag, their three friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko, Sister Teresa, Pat, Adrian the seagull, Sniffer the dog, and the Four Fingers, still looking rather shabby in their grey overcoats, the handles of their closed umbrellas hanging on the table edge, next to them. They were all puzzled by the strange symbol on the sheet of paper.
‘Is it a password, or a sign, or some sort of token?’ asked Mariko, rather sceptically. ‘It looks like one of those little images that you get on computers, you know, like a Pacman’.
‘There’s something about it I recognise’, said Pei-Ying, thoughtfully. ‘It reminds me of the Chinese symbol for heaven or sky’.
‘Perhaps it is! Cosmo told us that it’s our passport! retorted Annie, hotly.
‘Who is Cosmo?’ asked Pat, looking rather bewildered.
‘I think’, intoned Index Finger, the chief spokesman of the Fingers, ‘that Simon and Annie should tell us everything again, from the beginning’.
‘Yes, again, from where you first met Nicolas Flamel. Then we might make some sense of this’.
Simon and Annie looked at each other, then groaned .
‘All right, if you say so’.
One Week Earlier.
They were all gathered around the long table in the meeting-room of the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of the Hand. Everyone was in exactly the same place as they would be one week later. Simon and Annie had just finished their account of their meeting with the famous philosopher and immortal, Nicolas Flamel, during their holiday in Malta. But at this meeting, everyone was silent, thinking about the implications of what he had told them.
Pat stirred and stretched his long legs out under the table, putting his hands behind his head.
‘It seems to me, on reflection’. He paused, and they waited. Pat’s views were always worth hearing, even if he did take his time about it. ‘There are several very clear points that have come out of your discussion. Firstly, he has confirmed what little we know about other dimensions and portals, and we enter them at great risk, as Simon and Annie already know. But secondly, we also know that he created the talismans himself, that there are more of them, and that they are genuinely a force for good. That is wonderful to know in itself’.
Pat reflected again, looking absently up at the high-raftered ceiling, sill smeared with white droppings from Adrian’s seagulls.
‘Next, he clearly dislikes Doctor Wrist and his brood intensely, which makes him our potential ally. Fourthly, however, he also knows all about us, which may make him a potential threat. What might he do with that knowledge?’
‘That’s a good point!’ cried Morag. ‘Is he a reliable informant? Can we operate on his information?’
Unexpectedly, Simon wheeled around on his seat. ‘Leave it out, Morag! This is different now! We’re not working on police rules!’ He glared at Morag, who glared back.
‘Trust a copper to say that!’ Adrian chuckled.
Morag half-rose to her feet in fury. The tension in the room was a taut wire, stretched to breaking-point.
‘Stop it at once! We have all had to bear bad news before, without quarrelling between us!’
It was Index Finger, who, for the first time in their experience, had raised his voice in anger.
‘I suggest that we allow Pat to continue his admirable summary, without further interruption’. said Index Finger, in a more level tone.
‘Thank you’, replied Pat, looking around uncertainly. ‘I was going to conclude that I also believe that Nicolas Flamel knows that we are acting for good, against hostile and even evil forces. From what Simon and Annie have said, he made that perfectly clear. If their own parents set up that meeting, then they must trust both Flamel and his wife. We should bear that in mind’.
Annie looked around the faces in the meeting. She felt deeply disturbed and very worried. There shouldn’t be this anger in the air, she thought. What’s the matter with everybody? The Four Fingers looked tense and worried, as did Pei-ying, Indira and Mariko, who had sensed it also. Adrian was preening his feathers: Pat remained in position, gazing at the ceiling, Simon and Morag were still staring down into their laps. There was silence from Sniffer sprawled on the floor. Sister Teresa sat quietly, with a small smile on her inscrutable moon-like face. Annie decided to break through the frost of the atmosphere.
‘I think we should remember’, she began, rather timidly, ‘that Nicolas Flamel said we should consult the dead. He was going to send us a guide, but he didn’t say when. What does that mean? A guide for what? And where?’
‘I have a question also’. Sister Teresa said, in her deep, rumbly voice, that always sounded like a small avalanche of stones. ‘This Nicolas Flamel, you say he is immortal? Then he must know a great deal more than he has told you. You have raised the questions, Annie, of when, what, and where? Does he know what great mysteries there are, that we have barely touched? Is he hinting, when he said that he did not know, what a great mechanism there might be, whirling away somewhere, clanking and grinding painfully, without direction? I do not know, either. Please forgive me’.
She stared out at the sky, through one of the tall windows.
I say this, because’, she glanced down at her grey robes, ‘I do have a vested interest’.
Pat burst out laughing. Then everybody did, though not Simon and Morag, who stared sullenly at the table.
‘I suggest’. said Little Finger, wiping his eyes, ‘that we now adjourn this meeting, at least, perhaps, until Simon and Annie hear from this guide’.
The meeting broke up, and everyone left with a chorus of goodbyes. Annie stood waiting for Simon, and realised with a start, that he had already disappeared. He would normally wait for her, and they would walk home together. She suddenly felt very sad.
‘Try not to worry, Annie’, a deep voice rumbled in her ear. She turned to see Sister Teresa’s large bulk beside her. ‘This was not a satisfactory meeting. There are too many questions left unanswered’.
‘Not to mention the silly tantrums as well’. Annie muttered bitterly. ‘At this rate, we don’t stand a chance, if all we can do is argue with each other!’
‘Look over there’. Sister Teresa pointed back into the meeting room.
Morag was kneeling next to Sniffer, who was saying something earnestly to her. She was nodding, though Annie noticed that she was wrinkling her nose at the same time. Sniffer was not very good at personal hygiene.
‘He is reassuring her, about the Brotherhood. I think he has rather a soft spot for her!’ she chuckled. ‘Sniffer is a kind, shrewd and very wise dog. Never underestimate him. Or anybody else either’.
‘I don’t think I ever have’. Annie said sincerely. ‘But it’s my brother I’m worried about’.
Sister Teresa stared down hard at Annie. ‘He is frightened. Very frightened. More frightened than he has ever been before’.
It was evening by the time that Annie arrived home. The house was silent. Their parents were still away in London. There was a full supper in the fridge, but Annie wasn’t hungry. She decided to get everything ready to start the new term on Monday. As she passed Simon’s bedroom, she tapped gently on the door. He didn’t reply, though she could hear electronic sounds of combat and violence. He’s playing his video games, she decided. She sat down and began to put her notes in order for the new school season. Her small Commedia dell’Arte figurines, on her bedside table, smiled at her, to welcome her back.
A sudden scream of anguish echoed down the landing. Annie leapt from her desk, threw open the door and flew down the landing, thrust open Simon’s door, and stopped. Simon was sitting, frozen, his mouth open in dismay, in front of a blank computer screen.
‘What’s crashed? What are you talking about? I thought…..’
‘Someone’s hacked into me! How can they do that?’
‘Simon. I need to talk to you about Morag and things….’
He pointed dramatically at the screen. There was now a fuzz of white blotches, scuttering across the surface, and then it cleared into a vague picture of a figure, blurred by flickering lines, moving up and down at regular intervals. Then the screen cleared, though only to reveal a black and white image of someone looking out uncertainly from the screen, a small mobile phone clutched in its hand. Then it spoke, the voice very tinny through Simon’s small loudspeakers.
‘Yeah, can you hear me?’
‘Who are you! You’ve hacked into my machine! If you’ve done any damage….!
The figure blurred momentarily, then came back again though still indistinct, and grey in colour. The sound had begun to break up also, and all they could hear were a few words here and there, through the buzzing of the ether.
‘Listen…..’ the tinny voice faded, and came back again. ‘meet…..buzz, crackle…..Pier. Saturday……….game...crackle,hiss…..
‘Yes but who are you?’ shouted Annie, loudly.
Buzzzzz, crackle…..Old Nic…..hisssss……see you then’.
The screen went black and then white, and stabilised on a colour image of a great roaring demon, a huge sword grasped in each massive claw. Annie jumped back, startled.
‘It’s all right. It’s gone back to the beginning of the game I was playing. Nazi Demons versus Black Troglodytes. Thank goodness for that!’
He switched off the screen, and turned to Annie.
‘What do you make of that?’ he asked.
Annie was still staring at the screen. ‘It seemed to be a message. If I heard it properly, he wants to meet us somewhere on the pier on Saturday, at four. But what did he mean by “Old Nic”? And who is he?’
‘I think he must mean Nicolas Flamel. Perhaps that’s the guide he was going to send’. Simon swung his arm, and sent what papers there were on the desk flying across the room. He stared at the screen.
‘I suppose we’ll have to try to meet him to find out’. replied Annie quietly, and began to walk out of the room.
‘What was it you wanted to ask me?’ said Simon abruptly.
Annie stopped, her hand on the doorknob. She was silent for a few seconds, wondering what to say. She turned back, conscious of the corners of her lips drooping, and her eyes pricking with tears. She
‘Is it death you’re frightened of, Simon?
Simon still sat, staring at the blank computer screen. Somewhere, in the background, his I-pod began to play an guitar song: How Far, How Fast, by John Fahey. Simon’s voice was faltering.
‘I had a premonition. someone walked over my grave. I dreamt, about two days ago, that I woke up, and I was staring at Death!
It was a..a great white skull. I saw right into the black holes of its eyes! They seemed to draw me into this deep, dead emptiness! I couldn’t escape! It was like looking into my own face, when I’m dead! It was terrible! I don’t know, how I can still live with that!’
He began to sob gently, his head bent down. Annie felt her own eyes pricking with tears. A great wave of sympathy and tenderness washed over her. Impulsively, she crossed the room and clasped her brothers’ head against her standing body. Simon threw his arms around her slender waist, his tears wetting her shirt. She stroked his hair affectionately. The music played on, the rhythm becoming faster, faster and more dissonant, chords tumbling over themselves. Then the door slid over the carpet, closing gently on the brother and sister comforting each other.
The day was dark and damp, with a solid grey-blue blanket of cloud, suspended angrily over an equally ominous, steel-grey sea, muttering to itself over the glistening shingle of the deserted beach. A light drizzle fell continuously, so light that it could barely be seen, except in the wet glare of the pier lights, shining blearily down on the huddled figures under the shelters. The cacophonous sound of video machines and games, overlaid by the muzak of the tannoy speakers, was loud and shrill in the dim weather. Those people who had braved the misery of the rain, had all retreated inside the domed arcade in the centre of the pier. It was here, at the entrance, caught between the brash noise and colour inside, and the glistening, but invisible downpour outside, that Simon and Annie stood.
‘How are we ever going to find this guide in here? Annie complained, as they began to walk through the raucous, scintillating game and video machines. All around them, young boys and girls, and a number of older people, stood, or sat, totally engrossed in the flashing lights, and screams of anger and fury that emanated from the screens and consoles, illuminating strained, concentrated faces, pale and white in the lurid glare. ‘He could be anybody in here!’
They walked slowly and uncertainly around the neon-lit gaudy arrays, braving the quick stab of laser-guns, and the red flashes of destruction that signified both kills and scores.
‘Perhaps he’ll know us’. Simon suggested, shouting loudly above the mechanical din.
They turned around.
‘You Simon and Annie?’
They saw a small, extremely skinny young boy, scarcely older than they were, wearing a grubby pair of grubby tartan trousers, scuffed army-type boots tightly laced up, topped by an equally worn black leather jacket, that hung loosely on his thin frame. As he looked at them, they saw a slender, drawn face, still pockmarked with the remains of acne, two small shadowed eyes, and black hair cut short, but standing up from his skull in short straight tufts, some held in place with tiny silver rings. On one side of his nose was a large brass stud.
Almost immediately, he turned back to face the huge screen on which a battle was raging, snarling alien warriors leaping out from their battle-scarred city. The air was filled with screams and the sound of gunfire. Then two words flashed up on the screen. “GAME OVER”. The boy cursed loudly, and slammed the lethal-looking automatic rifle he had been using, back into its sheath on the console.
He leant on the machine and surveyed them.
‘You’re not much to look at, are you? Thought you’d be bigger’.
‘You’re not much to look at, either! Who are you?’ snapped Annie.
The lad shrugged. ‘Old Nic, I mean Nicholas to you, told me to make contact. He said to make sure you get in touch with the dead’.
Simon and Annie looked at each other, and burst out laughing. It was the first time Annie had seen Simon laugh for a few days.
‘Is there something funny?’ snarled the boy, who looked very angry.
‘No.’ said Annie, recovering herself. ‘It’s just, just that we weren’t exactly expecting someone like you’.
Yeah, I suppose that’s true’, sighed the boy. Simon was looking intently at the old off-white t-shirt that this unlikely guide was wearing under his studded leather jacket. It bore the words ‘Sex is Rotten’.
‘What are you looking at?’ the boy asked belligerently.
‘You. What’s your name? You already know ours’.
You’ll laugh. I know you will’.
‘No we won’t’.
Annie suppressed a giggle, but said solemnly, ‘that’s a lovely name, Cosmo. Whose idea was that?’
‘Me Mum. When she was sober, that is. I think she wanted to give me a posh name for later, if I became rich and be a stockbroker’. He said this bitterly, but with an oddly endearing mixture of truculence and shyness.
Simon was studying him carefully. They were now standing outside the dome of amusements, under shelter, but with the rain still drizzling down relentlessly.
‘You were a punk rocker weren’t you. Cosmo? I recognise your gear. Your gods were Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, and the Sex Pistols, and a lot of others. You were really rebels weren’t you?’
‘What if we were! We were rebels! Urban warriors, we were! Does it matter!’
‘No, it doesn’t, Cosmo. But we need to know where you’re coming from, and if you really are a guide from Nicolas Flamel. We need your word for that’.
Cosmo puffed out his cheeks irritably. ‘Look at that talisman of yours’.
Annie looked down. The talisman of her right hand was glowing brightly. She nodded.
‘We believe you, Cosmo. But I have one more question for you, if you want to answer it’.
Cosmo hesitated. ‘Depends what it is’. he said finally.
‘When did you die, Cosmo?’
His small figure crumpled. He folded his arms and stared at the wooden boards of the pier in front of him.
‘You know, don’t you? Nic, Nicolas, he said that you would know. They’re sharp, he said. Blimey, he was right!’
‘That doesn’t matter, Cosmo. Just tell us’. Annie said quietly. She had begun to quite like him. Cosmo pulled himself upright. The mechanical noise and turmoil inside the dome was still loud, but they were concentrating on his small, slender figure, as he leant against the wall.
Cosmo didn’t speak for a few moments. He looked down at the boards again, as he spoke quietly, so that only they could hear.
‘I died thirty years ago. It was just an accident. I nicked some wheels. It was really cool. then the fuzz showed up and I had to shift, fast. But I lost it. My sister was with me. She was telling me to outrun them, so I did, but we ended up round some tree. That was it. End of me. End of her. Story over’.
All three remained silent. A gaggle of giggling teenagers spilled out of the entrance next to them, laughing loudly as they swaggered off down the pier.
‘Where are you now, Cosmo?’ Annie asked quietly.
‘Where is that?’ Simon asked, equally quietly.
‘I dunno! It’s just somewhere where you get bored, play games and sit around, until someone gives you something to do, like now’.
‘Are you unhappy, Cosmo? Are you being punished for what you did?’
Cosmo wiped his nose. ‘No, don’t think so. Who’s going to punish me anyway? I’m dead. Shuffled off me mortal coils, haven’t I? Mind you, my sister won’t talk to me, not ever. Blames me, she does. Bit unfair. She was the one that got me to nick the motor in the first place. Anyway, do you want to contact the dead or not?’
‘How do we do that?’
‘Can you get out this evening?’
They both nodded.
‘Great. Meet me just outside that old churchyard at the top of Preston Park. About quarter to midnight. That’s where they’ll be having their dance’.
‘Hold on’, interrupted Simon, ‘who’s they and what dance? We’re not going to a party, you know’.
‘Oh yes, you are’. grinned Cosmo, showing a row of slightly crooked and yellow teeth. ‘The skeletons, of course. It’s called the dance of death’.
Simon abruptly turned around and walked over to the promenade rail, heedless of the rain still falling.
‘What’s the matter with him? Cosmo stared after Simon’s outline, leaning on the rail. ‘Not scared, is he?’
‘He’ll be fine’. Annie said levelly, though she looked after Simon anxiously.
‘Well, you two have been through a fair few battles, haven’t you? So Old Nic told me. Anyway, gotta go. See you tonight’.
‘Wait a moment, Cosmo!’ Annie shouted at his disappearing figure, as he slouched towards the pier entrance. ‘How are we supposed to contact them? And for what?’
‘Nic said you’d know when the time comes. See you later’.
He vanished in the gathering gloom of the day.
Annie shook her head in bewilderment. How on earth are we going to do that, she thought. Then she remembered Simon.
He was still leaning on the rail looking out over the leaden sea, lapping in front of the tall and multi-layered facades of the Brighton seafront, pale but sharp in the descending twilight. Annie leant next to him and rested her head gently on his shoulder.
‘You don’t have to come tonight, Simon. I’ll handle it by myself. Don’t think you have to, for my sake, honestly’.
‘No, Annie. I’m not letting you go on your own. I mean it. What is it they say, look death in the face, and laugh at it? That’s what I’ve got to do, otherwise I’ll always be scared’.
‘No-one’s free of fear, Simon. but I understand. We’ve been through so much in the past, but to confront the reality of death, face to face, is something we’ve never really experienced. Perhaps we’ll have to, tonight’.
Simon eased himself off the rail. Annie suddenly noticed how white his knuckles were, where he had gripped the metal tightly.
‘Why don’t we go back and have something to eat’. she suggested gently.
Night had long since fallen when they set out across the long green expanse of Preston Park. It had turned into a chilly October night, though the rain had long since ceased. But the grass was wet and cold, and squelched complainingly under their feet as they walked. The churchyard and cemetery lay at the other end of the Park, next to the small mediaeval church, now closed. Next to it was Preston Manor, that had belonged to the Stanford family, who had bequeathed the Park. Its long heavily remodelled bulk lay dim and white, in the dark. It stood in its own grounds, and to reach the church and graveyard they had to walk around it, through an overgrown enclosed garden, and several gateways.
Their minds were not on their journey, however. Both Simon and Annie were wrapped in their own thoughts and fears, shrouding them like blankets. They carried their own darkness with them, which only became heavier and more stifling as they came nearer to their destination. Both were trembling slightly, though not with cold. Neither spoke on their walk across the damp field, until they passed through the gateway into the large walled garden, to one side of the Manor.
‘I wonder where Cosmo will be?’ wondered Annie, out loud. The garden, overhung and dank, whispered and rustled around them. A small black shape darted across their path, pausing for a second. It’s eyes gleamed luminously in the light from their torches, before disappearing noiselessly into one of the large flowerbeds. They both jumped.
A cat’. whispered Simon, rather unnecessarily.
They continued to creep forward, their torches sweeping right and left, as they looked for the gateway towards the church. Annie looked up and saw its squat, conical roof as a darker shape against the deep blue of the sky. There was something cold and uncomfortable sitting in Annie’s stomach, like a toad that occasionally squirmed. Come on, she admonished herself. You’re frightened, but it’s not the first time. Perhaps its because you haven’t experienced this before, seeing death in reality….Stop it! All we’re going to see is some skeletons dancing! What’s the harm in that? I don’t know, but I am frightened. I’m going into the dark, not knowing what I’ll see! Get a grip on yourself, for goodness’s sake! But the toad still clawed inside her.
They passed quietly by the north wall of the church. The occasional rasp of the rough stonework against their coats reassured them. Something solid, at least, to hold onto. They came around the corner, cautiously. Something very large was half-blocking the gateway into the silent churchyard. Simon put out his hand and touched metal, cold and wet to his touch. He recoiled. Something clamped onto Annie’s arms. She shrieked.
‘Don’t make so much noise! I could hear you coming a mile off! Took your time, didn’t you? I’ve been here ages!’
Cosmo’s white face glowed in the light of Simon’s torch. He rather pointedly put on a pair of sunglasses.
‘It’s still only a few minutes to midnight’. replied Simon, in a pale voice.
‘Yeah, I know. If we get into this skip here, we’ll be able to see what’s happening’.
They realised what the large black mass was. Using a pile of bricks as steps they crawled, one after another, into the interior of the skip, half-filled with stones and rubble, high enough to sit on, and peer over the rim. It was uncomfortable, but they could see across the churchyard.
It was not a big place. In front of them was an open space, covered in rough grass, worn away in patches. Further back was a small stepped plinth, with broken steps to one side that ran down into the overgrown ditch. In front of that were a variety of worn and pitted stones, upright slabs and others inset into the ground and partly covered by the rough grass around them. Dark overhanging trees sheltered some of them, their heavy black branches sweeping close to the ground. Between the criss-cross of the foliage, a bright, heavy moon shone into the cemetery, a large unblinking eye suspended in the sky.
To their left, a tiny unbroken path, once gravelled, but now rutted and scarred, wound precariously between the rows of graves. One of them, a raised casket, drunkenly lay, sunken at one end. On the right, smaller rows of slabs lay horizontal in the ground, their presence lit only by the bright moonlight, that highlighted them one after the other, through the soughing branches of the trees above.
This was not an evil place, Annie decided, as she gazed upon it, but it was fearful. It carried secrets, unknown and deeply buried. It was truly a place of the dead, this little, neglected churchyard, with its weathered, tipsy stones, smothered and protected by the grass and vegetation in which they were embedded. The graves, both tombs and slabs, shone like jewels in the unpitying cold moonlight. What sadness, what memories of past lives lay here, she wondered. Stop being morbid, Annie. Perhaps something wonderful is going to happen here tonight. But I don’t know what to think, and I’m still frightened. I hope Simon’s all right.
They waited. And waited. It seemed as if it was forever. Then they all heard a sound. It was a small grating sound, stone upon stone. The slab on one of the tombs, nearby, was moving. It slid slowly sideways, so that a gap appeared. Inside was only blackness. Then, a long white hand appeared. But it had no flesh. Skeletal fingers, jointed and yellow in the moonlight, scrabbled at the rim of the vault. Then a figure rose upright. It was a skeleton, that stared around, as if blind, its eye-sockets black in its bony face.
Annie gave a little squeal. There was a sharp intake of breath from Cosmo. Simon said nothing but buried his face in his hands. The skeleton climbed out, and stretched, as if it had just awoken from a long sleep. Then it threw the shroud, a long dirty-grey cloth, in which it had been wrapped, onto it’s grave. The surrounding silence was broken by more grating sounds.
More skeletons began to emerge from the tombs, from the upright slabs, from the stones lying in the ground. One by one, they cast aside their winding sheets, leaving them carelessly across the graves from which they had just emerged. They began to gather together in soundless speech, their jaws moving up and down, their bony spines prominent. Some still wore long vestiges of blond, black and brown hair, still hanging to their skulls. Many of the newly arisen carried jugs, glasses and plates, that they set down in the centre of the open space. But they were all empty.
This was a skeletal feast. The bony figures sat or squatted around the empty utensils, but seemed to drink and eat. They became boisterous, one skeleton clapping another on the exposed vertebrae. Their jaws and teeth opened and closed in excited conversation. One small skeleton nestled into a larger, that wrapped its yellow-white arm bones around it. Another put his bony arm around the white shoulder-blades of another, one with strands of yellow hair. They walked with a clacking of limbs under the far tree, and began the semblance of a kiss, their teeth rattling against each other. One skeleton fell backwards, and lay on the ground, his fellows opening their mouths wide in apparent laughter.
Apart from the rattling and occasional crack of bones against each other, there was only silence, absolute silence. Annie was suddenly conscious of her heart pounding. She quickly glanced at her companions. To her horror, Simon was clenching his fists tight on the steel edge of the skip. He was swaying, his face clenched and tight. Cosmo was sitting with his back against the inside wall of the skip, his mouth moving soundlessly in time to the music he was listening to on the small phones plugged into his ears.
She stared despairingly at them, and then peered over the edge of the skip. There was something different happening. The skeletons had begun to form into a larger group facing the stepped plinth at the far end of the graveyard. Seated on it was another skeleton, with a strange, shapeless black hat, perched upon its glistening skull. It held what looked like a small brown violin against its naked pelvis, and a violin bow in its right hand.
On each side of him stood two others, one with what looked like a dulcimer, a kind of board, with strings across, that was supported by a strap around the skeletal neck. Held high, in its white fingers, were drumsticks. The other carried a large drum, slung around it, and, in it’s right hand, a long flute, or pipe. Then the skeletal figure with the hat drew a long note across his instrument.
It was the worst sound that Annie had ever heard. It screeched, like fingernails ripping across a blackboard. She cringed, and put her hands over her ears. Then the dulcimer joined in, its strings hammering in a discordant set of notes. The pipe began to combine with a screech and wail, and the skeleton began to thump savagely on the drum. It was unearthly, terrifying , that cut across every sound of music that they had experienced!
Then, it began to settle down into a slow stately rhythm. The skeletons began to form up into a line, in pairs. Slowly they began to march together, one step forward, another step back, but staying in time with the thump of the drum, and the squeal of the dulcimer and the pipe. They slowly marched across the open space, skeletal hands in hands, and then moved slowly back again, keeping in step all the way.
‘This is a pavane’. whispered Annie, in Simon’s ear. She could smell the fear in him, and she clasped his shoulder tightly. Cosmo seemed oblivious to everything around him.
‘How do you know?’ asked Simon, desperately, his fingers still locked onto the edge of the skip.
‘Mum told me. She and dad went dancing together. You know that’.
‘No, I didn’t’.
The slow, stately dance continued, in all its eerie, but ethereal beauty. Annie stared wide-eyed, at the scene. It is so dignified, she thought, and so proud. Then the music ceased. The figures reformed, their skeletal frames glistening in the shafts of moonlight above. They formed two lines, facing each other. Then the music began, only faster, the drummer beating out an urgent note. The skeletal dulcimer player began to hammer loudly on his strings. The skeleton on the plinth stood up and began to scrape away raucously on his instrument.
The music was appalling. The rhythm took on an urgent note. One after another, the skeletons danced towards each other, twirled each other around, and then retreated back to their line, their jawbones snapping in delight, though they made no sound. The music was now louder and more insistent, the skeletal couples breaking and spinning. one after the other. As the last couple in line whirled and returned, both lines closed to face each other, their skulls grinning in excitement. The moonlight gleamed on the white spheres of their heads, as they each clasped jointed fingers, with a harsh rattle.
The circle of skeletons began to skip first one way. then the other. As the drum continued to beat, they began to kick out their legs and feet in front of them, as the circle moved back and forth. Apart from the jagged, discordant music, there was no sound, though the skeletons were clearly laughing with delight, throwing back their heads, revealing their large, shining teeth. It should have been a scene of merriment, but it wasn’t. It was more like a waking nightmare.
Annie was gritting her own teeth in terror, her hand digging deeply into Simon’s shoulder, though he didn’t seem to notice. The constant rhythm of drum and pipe seemed to be burrowing right into her, and as she shook her head violently to stop the noise, she remembered, for some reason that this was what her mother called a “balade” She just wanted it to stop!
Then the music paused for just a fraction of a second, then started. Annie was hurled into the worst, screaming, hideous, nightmare that she had ever had in her life. The drum pounded faster and faster, kicking and echoing through the very inside of her own skull. The shrill bray of the pipe and the hoarse shrieking of the violin cackled and yelled alongside the vicious beating, a roaring chaos of sound, unearthly and unbearable!
As Annie peered over the lip of the skip, she had an instant’s view of the skeletons now cavorting and capering wildly, throwing their partners around in the air, kicking their legs out and leaping high into the air in a delirium of hellish delight. The mad bacchanalian scene imprinted itself in her mind. Sinking down inside the skip she pressed her hands over her ears and sobbed. Try as she might she could not shut out that dreadful music or the dance! Hordes of flashing white skeletons whirled around her, the skulls leering at her in frozen, manic grins. Behind them, the banshee scream of the music exploded into great roaring jags and chasms, yellow and black, that reared up and swallowed her, over and over! Without realising it she began sobbing and moaning ‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’ But it kept on, and on, and on for what seemed like eternity.
Then there was silence. It was almost as unbearable, a smothering leaden weight that draped itself around her still shaking shoulders. An immense silence. Annie raised her head slowly, and opened her tightly squeezed, closed eyes. Hardly daring to look, she peered over the rim of the skip. The skeletons sat or lay across the little amphitheatre, in attitudes of total exhaustion, as were the musicians. The leader in his black felt hat, sat on top of the plinth, his bright domed skull bowed low over his instrument.
The silence lay over the ground, holding the figures as black flies frozen in amber. Then the leader slowly began to move, his joints clicking and rattling, as he heaved himself laboriously to his feet. His skull looked up at the sky, then he pointed upwards, with a dramatic bony finger. Annie followed his direction, and with a start, saw the faint light of dawn in the sky. We must have been here hours! She thought, with a shudder.
It was clearly a signal. The other skeletons began to stir and get to their feet. They yawned and stretched, their jawbones opening wide. Then they began to move slowly around the open space picking up their discarded and scattered shrouds, and wrapping themselves once again in the dirty grey winding-sheets. Annie sat back on the hard stones underneath her, and gave a long trembling gasp. Never again, she thought. Fear and terror still gnawed inside her. She pressed her hands to the soft flesh of her face. It was wet, and she could feel the damp trickles of sweat that ran down her back.
‘Simon?’ she whispered. She looked down beside her. Simon was huddled against the steel wall, his hands clasped tightly over his ears. His eyes were shut tightly. She shook his shoulder gently, and he opened them, gazing at her blankly. He recognised her, and gave a faint grin, though he was still trembling. ‘Cosmo?’ She reached over Simon and prodded Cosmo, who was sitting, knees drawn up, mumbling and humming to himself, his head nodding up and down. ‘Cosmo!’
Cosmo gave a start, and pulled his headphones off. Annie could hear a faint tinny sound.
‘It seems to have finished’.
Cosmo reached down and switched off his tiny Walkman, then peered over the edge.
So they have. Great’.
Annie could hear the grunt and scrape of stone against stone, as one by one, the skeletons returned to their dark graves.
Cosmo turned around and saw their faces. ‘Oh, no. You didn’t actually listen to that, did you?’ he said, horrified. ‘Oh, no, you did. Crikey! What was it like?’
Annie struggled to find words, but couldn’t.
‘Indescribable’. she finally managed to answer.
Cosmo was staring at them both in reluctant, but undisguised admiration. ‘I’ve never known anyone who could watch and see a dance of death before! Old Nic was right. You really are good! Here, it’s not turned you loopy, has it?’ he added anxiously.
‘No’. said Simon with some effort, his voice strained. ‘Just very cold and a bit sick’.
Annie jumped, as another stone slab grated outside. Cosmo got up and peered over. ‘Yeah, they’ve all gone back to bed. Hang on though, there’s a straggler. Looks like he’s lost something’.
Annie and Simon struggled painfully to their feet, desperately cold, their arms and legs aching, and stared over as well. There was one skeleton left, but it was behaving curiously. It scampered about desperately, crouching down on all fours to look behind graves and tombs, then scampering wildly around to others, vainly searching for something.
‘Poor fella’. Cosmo said sadly.
‘Why?’ asked Annie sharply.
‘He’s lost his shroud thing. He can’t get back into his grave without it. Something, about, you must always have everything with you when you rise up, and bring it back to the grave. There’s no going back for him without it’.
‘But what will happen to him?’
‘Nothing. I mean, he will be nothing. He’ll just dissolve and melt away, as if he never existed, or never will exist. Soon as the dawn come up. Same for all his family, and all the generations behind him. They just won’t exist. He’ll just be a bit of dust that’s blown away and forgotten’.
Annie gaped at him in shock. ‘You mean, no-one will remember him or whoever he was?’
‘Yep. Gone forever. Just like that’. Cosmo made a cutting gesture across his throat. ‘Bit sad, isn’t it?’
‘It’s dreadful!’ said Annie in a hoarse whisper.
‘I know’, replied Cosmo, sorrowfully. ‘But he’s lost his shroud, and as soon as the dawn comes up, well, that’s it. He’s only got a few minutes left’.
This time Annie stood up and looked out over the graveyard. The skeleton seemed to have given up. It walked slowly up the little winding path, its bony feet dragging as it went. Then it sadly slumped down on the edge of the half-open raised tomb, one end sunk into the ground, that they had noticed before. It rested its fingers on the smooth domes of its kneecaps, the round sphere of its skull bent low.
A tremendous wave of pity and compassion swept over Annie, looking at that miserable, forlorn hunched figure, its naked shoulder-blades still glinting in the fading moonlight. This was once a living, breathing human being, she thought, who laughed and cried like us. Then she remembered. She saw the skeleton running down the path to join its fellows, casting aside the grey garment, where? Right next to the skip they were in!
Without a word, she began to scramble out of the container and down the brick steps onto the ground. ‘Annie!’ she heard someone call behind her, but she ignored it. She groped her way around the back of the skip, still aching all over, then, she saw it. A damp grey cloth, like a blanket, was crumpled on the grass, in the shadow of the giant wall of the skip.
Even the idea of touching it, something that had been wrapped around a body in the earth, for many years, made her gulp with nausea. She reached out her hand, and grasped its edge. It felt cold, clammy and stank of wet earth and decay. She slowly pulled it out, holding it at arm’s length. The stench of death was overwhelming, but she held it away so that it hung from her hand. Then she began to walk along the little path towards the skeleton.
I can’t do it, she wailed to herself. I can’t even take a shroud to a dead body! The talisman was dead on her finger, not even gleaming. She began to weep. Another hand reached out and grasped the shroud, pulling it away from her inert fingers. She heard another step, and then another, as hesitant as hers had been. She looked up, her eyes filmed with tears.
It was Simon, who held the cloth before him as she had done. He was walking, falteringly towards the hunched skeleton. ‘Simon!’ she tried to call, but her throat was too dry, and her legs refused to move. Simon moved on towards that dreadful bony figure, still crouched in a posture of misery. She fainted, and fell into darkness.
Simon walked on, in a daze. One step, two steps. Three steps. He found himself beside the skeleton, still crouched hopelessly on the edge of the grave.. He held out the decaying sheet towards it, and heard himself say ‘Sir, I believe this is yours’. He could hardly believe himself.
The skeleton sat, its bones hunched together for a few seconds, then it snatched the cloth from Simon’s hand and wrapped its folds lovingly, around itself. It looked up into Simon’s face.. Simon’s nightmare became reality! He was pulled into those two gaping, black eye sockets that sucked him in, travelling down those holes, that joined into one, against his will! He struggled against the smooth walls of the caverns that he was drawn into, faster and faster, forced down into an endless black eternity. It stopped suddenly. He found himself confronting two passages, but at the end of each was a small pinprick of light, just enough to focus upon. Then Simon was drawn back, through the dark, faster and faster!
He woke up. Somebody’s hands were gripping his ankles, tightly. He was staring at small, sharp blades of bright green, with dark-brown moss beneath. It felt wet and dank. The sharp smell of decaying overgrown vegetation filled his nostrils. He slowly began to realise that he was lying face down. Someone was saying something to him, but he didn’t recognise the words. Then he heard Annie’s voice.
‘Simon! Simon! Are you all right?’
He turned over, and began to sit up. His head began to swirl, and he rolled back to the damp but comforting grass and retched, the sharp pain cutting through his stomach.
‘He’ll be OK. Try getting him on his feet’.
He felt Annie’s hands pulling him upright. He knew them, her long slender fingers with more strength than he realised, shifting him onto his feet.. He stood, swaying, still unsure of where his legs were. Annie’s face appeared before him, her large dark eyes, that always made him feel she was more Spanish, than English, liquid with concern and dismay.
‘Do you know where you are?’ she asked gently. Simon looked around. He recognised the open space. He could see trees, and lots of strange grey stones. The graveyard, but now lighter. The black, interlocked shapes of branches were silhouetted against a brightening sky. Then a cock crowed, a bizarre sound in the dimly lit cemetery.
‘Hang on’, he said, in a cracked voice that he hardly recognised as his own, ‘there aren’t any cockerels around here’.
‘There are now’, said a distant voice. ‘That was the signal for the end’.
‘End of what?’ asked Annie still gazing anxiously at Simon.
‘The dance. The dance of death’. Cosmo replied, his voice still far away.
Simon groaned. Annie looked at his face in dismay. His jaw was sagging, and his face was pale, his eyes wide. Annie hugged him tightly, and on impulse, pushed the talisman, glowing brightly, into the small of his back. It had the desired effect. Simon gave a convulsive shudder, and began to relax as the warmth from the talisman gradually seeped through his body.
‘Hey, come and have a look at this!’
They painfully made their way over to where Cosmo was standing by the half-sunken grave. He pointed at the lid, now firmly back in place. They could see a diagram, in fact, two diagrams, both scratched furiously in the surface of the mossy stone, by long scrabbling fingernails. The first was recognisably an outsize human face, with a tiny stick-like body, crudely and schematically drawn. The second was clearer, though hurriedly done. It was an outstretched hand, palm outwards, that they both recognised immediately, as the emblem of the Brotherhood.
‘That, kiddies’, Cosmo said dramatically, ‘is your visa macabre’.
‘Our what?’ muttered Simon.
‘Your visa into purgatory’.
‘Purgatory! Why on earth should we go there?’
Cosmo looked wounded. ‘You want to find out more about this Wrist lot, don’t you? So that’s the place to go. Lots of gossip there. Not that I recommend it, mind you. Not exactly a tourist destination. But this means I can take you there. We’ve got a valid passport, thanks to that skeleton’.
‘You did him a massive favour. Thanks to you, he’s not consigned to oblivion. Quite useful, being on good terms with the dead. They can get you into places you wouldn’t think of. I’d better make a note of this. Then I can get all the paperwork sorted out’. He pulled out a scruffy little notebook, and an equally scruffy stub of pencil, and began to draw both diagrams. Simon and Annie were too tired to argue. Annie was still supporting Simon, who was slowly beginning to recover.
‘Here’, said Cosmo, tearing out a grubby sheet of paper. ‘I’ve made you a copy as well’. He pressed it into Annie’s hand, who reluctantly stuffed it into her pocket. ‘Right. I’ll be in touch. Same way, so long as the reception’s better. All the way from Limbo’. He grinned, showing his crooked teeth. ‘Have a safe journey home’. He walked away, and disappeared around the corner of the church. They stared after him.
‘I never asked him his surname’. said Annie finally.
‘He’ll tell us at some point. Annie, I really need to tell you something….’
‘Not now’. replied Annie firmly. ‘We must get back, before Mum and Dad wake up. Tell me later’. Simon was too exhausted to argue. They slowly plodded their way home, Simon still leaning heavily on Annie.
They were back in the headquarters of the Brotherhood.
‘And that’s who Cosmo is. And that’s what we saw. The Dance of Death’.
‘This little diagram is what the skeleton drew on the gravestone, when Simon gave him back his shroud’.
‘I tried to redraw it on the computer, so that it looked clearer. I know it looks funny, but at least it contains everything’.
‘The hand looks odd’, commented Mariko, quietly. ‘It’s a skeleton hand’.
‘No matter’, said Index Finger, leaning forward to examine both drawings. ‘It is still our emblem, and meant as such, even though it was made by the hands of the dead’.
They all stared silently at the two diagrams for a long time, feeling subdued and somewhat awed.
‘I think something truly wonderful has come from your experience’.
Sister Teresa spoke gently, breaking their reverie.
‘Excellent! Hear, hear! Great stuff! Fantastic1 Nice one! Jolly good! Right on! Brave as lions! Marvellous! Brilliant stuff! Really cool!’ They broke out in congratulations. Everyone was trying to outdo each other in eulogies of excitement and delight.
Simon’s voice was very soft, but it cut through their euphoria like a knife. Annie looked at him anxiously. She knew what he was going to say.
‘Something else is very important’, he began, his hands clasping and unclasping on the table before him. ‘You see, when I managed to give back that shroud, the skeleton looked directly at me, and I realised my worst nightmare’. His voice was steady, but with an effort. ‘Because….because, I was looking into the face of death itself’.
There was utter silence in the room.
‘I don’t know how to describe it. I was being swallowed up, and I thought that I was going to die. But I didn’t. I saw something that was beyond that’.
There was a sharp creak of wood. Sister Teresa had leant forward, her large brown eyes wide as she gazed searchingly at Simon.
‘What was it that you saw, Simon? Tell me. Tell me please!’
Simon looked up from the table, and looked at her large round face, tense with excitement.
‘It’s not about religion, or anything like that. It was just that…that I saw these two little sparks of light, Just like you see the daylight at the end of a very long tunnel. As soon as I saw them, I went back again. I came out of it. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to express it’.
Sister Teresa leant back with a great, gasping sigh, and looked up at the ceiling. ‘The little chinks of light through the stone walls of the prison cell’. she muttered, half to herself. Her face split into an enormous beaming smile. She looked affectionately at Simon and Annie who sat, somewhat moved, but totally bewildered, by her behaviour.
‘Bless you, my dear children! If you only knew how much comfort you have given me!’ she exclaimed in her deep rumbling voice.
‘I don’t get it! What does all that mean?’ squawked Adrian, flapping his wings in irritation.
‘It can be summed up in one little word, fluttering denizen of the sky’, beamed Sister Teresa. ‘Hope’.
They all sat and digested this, in varying degrees of bemusement, bewilderment and surprise.
‘Wot’s she talking about? Anyone got a clue?’
‘I think’, suggested Pat, hesitantly, ‘that our dear Sister has come to the conclusion that our odyssey, our little journey so far, has not been in vain’.
Sister Teresa chuckled. ‘Good try, Pat. Anyway, take no notice of a silly old nun’. She folded her brawny arms, and sat back, still smiling.
‘I’m glad it makes sense to you, Sister Teresa’, Simon said, tiredly, ‘because it doesn’t to me’.
‘It will, in due course’. she replied grandly, and made it clear that she was not going to say any more.
‘I think this is an appropriate moment in the meeting’. intoned Index Finger, ‘to ask what our illustrious young heroes intend to do, in the light of a potential journey to…..’ he hesitated, and finished lamely, ‘other lands’.
‘Are you really going to this…purgatory?’ asked Indira in fascination.
‘I don’t know’. said Annie frankly. ‘I’m not sure what it would achieve, and after what we’ve seen, I’m not sure about whether we want to go there or not’.
‘You’ll go’. said a muffled voice from under the table. They all knew it was Sniffer, in his usual prone position. ‘Your own natural curiosity will take you there, if nothing else. You can’t help it, We all know you too well’.
‘I suppose that’s true’, agreed Simon, reluctantly. ‘But it all still depends on when we hear from Cosmo. He said he was going to deal with all the paperwork and visas and so on, and then take us there’.
‘Do you really need all that stuff, all those documents, green cards, visas and passports, to get into this place?’ asked Pei-Ying, incredulously.
‘Apparently. Perhaps even death certificates’.
Silence dropped like a dead weight.
‘Sorry, Wrong thing to say’.
Little Finger said firmly ‘There is no question of anything like that. You are simply visiting this place. Hence all the paperwork. Let us hear no more of this’.
‘In the meantime, you must keep us all informed if and when your invitation arrives. Do not forget, you will be travelling as ambassadors for the Hand. We expect you to conduct yourselves with the appropriate dignity and decorum as befits our organisation. We need to show an example’. said Index Finger severely, and then ruined the effect, by bursting into laughter. Suddenly everyone was laughing merrily, even Simon and Annie. Gone was the atmosphere of tension and frustration of the meeting a week ago. There was now purpose, mixed with relief and delight at the outcome of the serious brush with death.
‘I think I’d better do some research on purgatory’. said Simon, more cheerfully, when the laughter had subsided. “I don’t even know what it means’.
‘You never know’. grinned Pat. ‘It might be a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of rest for mighty warriors like yourselves!’
A general roar of laughter.
‘In your dreams, Pat’. answered Simon, even more cheerfully, ‘I’ll let you know. If it is, we might not come back’.
‘Just wait till I tell Ragimund then’. said Annie very mischievously, ‘She’ll come and drag you back by your ear’.
Amidst the general exuberance, Index Finger pulled out his large and very ancient, gold fob watch and consulted it. There was a choris of ‘Oooohs’ and ‘Aaaahs’.
‘The time is now six o’clock in the evening’ he announced, rather pompously. ‘I declare this meeting adjourned’.
Everyone got up and prepared to leave. The Four Fingers went first, each of them shaking Simon and Annie’s hands, muttering polite words of congratulation. A wave of hugs and kisses came next, from Mariko, Pei-Ying and Indira, that Simon enjoyed greatly. In the midst of these, Annie felt a tug on her sleeve. It was Morag, the only one, she realised, who had said nothing during the meeting.
‘Can I have a word with you afterwards?’ she whispered quietly. Annie nodded, then was overwhelmed by Pat’s effusive kiss on both cheeks. ‘Bonny warriors!’ he cried, leaving behind a faint whiff of Irish whisky. Sniffer followed him, saying nothing, but giving them a nod and a canine wink from his bright black eyes. Sister Teresa leant over them both, her enormous grey-robed bulk blotting out what light there was in the room. She kissed them both on the forehead, much to their amazement, smiled down at them, and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’.
Last to leave was Adrian. ‘ Here’, he squawked, ‘is this place down ‘ere or up there?’
‘No idea, Adrian’. Simon shrugged.
‘Well, if it’s up there, give my regards to any of me mates you might see, won’t you? Tell ‘em, Ade sends his best wishes. Cheers’.
He cackled loudly, and then flapped out of the door. Annie had noticed Morag, the only other person left, give a start at Adrian’s remark. Simon sat back, feeling rather like a ruler being paid homage by his subjects. Then he, too, noticed Morag.
She was sitting on the bench, her shoulders slumped. She looked like a small girl that had been left out of a party. Annie slid over to her and squeezed her arm. She looked across at Simon who had sat down on the other side. He took the hint.
‘What’s the matter, Morag?’ he asked gently.
‘I feel ashamed. About last week, I mean. I was out of order. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to open my mouth, in case I say the wrong thing, and wind everyone up’.
They stayed quiet. Annie looked across again. She wanted Simon to do the talking. She didn’t know quite how to deal with it.
Simon was looking at Morag steadily. ‘There’s something more. Tell us’.
Morag looked down at her hands. She looks like an eight-year old girl, thought Annie, tenderly. All shy and awkward. Why?
‘I suppose you might laugh’. Morag twisted her fingers nervously.
They both shook their heads. This should be rather funny, decided Simon, but it isn’t.
‘Purgatory. That’s a place after death, isn’t it?’
They waited for her to go on.
‘Well……….’ A long pause. ‘Will you look for my mother for me? And tell her I love her very much?’
It had come out in a rush. Morag sat, her face crimson, her fingers still twisting mechanically. Poor Morag, Annie felt affectionately. She still can’t let go. She hugged Morag’s head to her. ‘We can’t promise you anything, Morag. We don’t even know if we’re going, or what this place is. We’ll do our best’.
Simon was thinking hard. How do I break this mood, he wondered. Then he leapt up. ‘I feel like a Indian take-away!’ he announced. ‘Then we can all go back to Morag’s place and wreck it’.
Morag sat up indignantly. ‘Why my place? Last time you lot all descended on me and got me totally drunk!’
‘Trouble with you, Morag. You’re such a spoilsport. Officious old copper, isn’t she, Annie?’
Annie grinned. She knew Simon was trying to break down Morag’s misery..
‘Absolutely, Simon. No sense of humour at all’.
‘She’s just jealous of us. Because we have more fun than she does!’
(Careful Simon that might not go down too well.)
‘How dare you, you little creep! I have lots of fun!’ Morag cried, hotly
(Oh, that’s better).
‘I suppose you have your moments. When you’re not feeling sorry for yourself’.
(I’m beginning to like your style, Simon. Slightly nasty, but softly delivered. I’d better rescue her, though)
‘Well, you have to admit, she does her job as well as she can. She can’t help it, really’
Morag turned and glared at her.
(Even better. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. Off balance. Cue it, Simon)
‘No, I suppose she’s not such a bad old stick’.
( Lovely. It’s set us up. Now for the ‘nice’ bit)
‘Come on, she can be quite nice really’.
‘I suppose so. I can see why people might find her attractive’.
(Whoops. Don’t push it too much, Simon. She’s on the edge. Keep it going)
‘I think she’s quite pretty. I wish she had more humour’.
(Go for it now, Simon. She knows we’re winding her up, and she’s flattered. Go for the compliments!)
You’re right. She is really pretty. I wish I’d noticed that before’.
(Excellent! She can barely stop herself laughing now. She knows we’re teasing her. Time for the coup de grace, Simon. As only you can!)
‘I have to say’, Simon said, slowly. ‘that Morag had got the most beautiful bum I have ever seen’.
‘Right, that’s it! I’m arresting you pair on the spot! Damn it!’ Morag struggled desperately with the strap of her large black leather handbag, that had somehow got entangled with the tall heel of her shoe. Annie and Simon ran to the door. They turned back and stuck their tongues out at her. ‘Come and get us, copperrrrr!’ cried Simon in an atrocious French accent. Morag pursued them down the stairs, still clutching her shoe in one hand and her handbag in the other. The laughter, from all three, echoed down the stairs.
Frank Jackson (19/10/10) Word count - 10283
The celtic cross can be seen in the background.