Jeff Clulow

Tales of Mystery, Magic and Myth

Chapter One

The End

She was old. And this was her wedding day.

As it always had been.

A day of devotion and promises.

A day of endings and beginnings.

She only had to make it to the rock. The bright isle.

She wore her dress as before, the veil across her face. Silk voile, translucent, moved against the dryness of aged cheeks.

When she was young she walked upon moors like these.

When the thorn-trees bloomed like cherry-flower, when the sun shone and the winds were mild.

She had walked in the shadows of ancient tors and marvelled at the empty sweep of rust-coloured downs. Her head against another´s shoulder.

Now, this was no landscape she recognised.

It was a corruption, a nightmare that might drag a devil from its sleep.

Above, the sky churned; blood stirred into boiling pitch. It swirled in maddening eddies of purple, crimson and black.

Stunted trees of wych-elm and hawthorn, bent and beaten by the wind, hung uprooted in the air, revolving slowly – dark shapes trailing dark roots.

Behind the brooding clouds the lightning flashed.

The wind was filled with whispers. A chorus of the damned hissed curses in her ear.

She lifted a leaden foot in the direction she must go.

Sharp fingers of gorse and briar clutched at her hem of white silk.

Her bare feet slid in cold mud, her soles numb and bleeding.

Then, through the mist of the veil, she saw it gleam in the distance. From a sapphire sea the island rose. Towering cliffs of granite sparkled with black mica. At the very top a rounded space of thick grass shone in blinding sunlight.

There her love, her betrothed, waited: feet suspended above green grass, a hand beckoning.

There it was, the holy place. She saw the tumbled stonework and the altar of the anchorite. The place of joining.

How far? One mile? Ten?

From her throat she hitched a sob, stepping onward.

I follow,’ she said. Her eternal promise.

From behind, a voice called her.

Emma!’

He comes! She felt the pall of fear spread over her, weighing her down, dragging her into black mud.

He comes!

She stumbled forward, listening for the thunder of his monstrous footsteps. He was the Tormentor, the Father of Lunacies and he would refuse her again. He meant to stop her, as he always had. He wanted her for himself.

Panicked, she stepped forward and the world tilted. Rearing up, it struck her hard against the head and shoulder. She lay on her side in the wet briar and marsh-grass while energy, strength and hope ebbed.

Emma!’

The voice was not his, but another´s. A voice she knew and trusted. A kind voice. Dr Passmore?

She felt warm hands around her own. Comforting hands. Electric torchlight flickered all about. More voices.

Dear God Emma, what have you done?’ begged Dr Passmore.

She lifted a finger towards the shining vision in the distance.

I follow...’ she said.

Her final words were stolen by the cold night. Her last breath escaped her in a long, low susurration.

Then in her ears and on the moor, the whispers in the wind fell silent.

Chapter Two

‘There's Something Wrong With You’

In the kitchen Suze found an open bottle of cabernet and poured herself a glass. Then, under the kitchen tap, she carefully topped the bottle up to its former level and replaced it.

She looked towards the ceiling.

They must be asleep by now, surely?

In bare feet, she crept up the stairs and opened James´s door. The boy was sprawled across his bed, the covers pulled back. She tiptoed inside and arranged the sheets and blankets over him. Closing his door, she walked along the hall, straightened one of the limited edition Hockneys on the wall, and peeked inside Juliet’s room. The little girl’s doll-like face was framed by ringlets, her eyes closed. She was fast asleep.

Suze ran herself a bath. She placed the wineglass on a white vanity and moved to the master bedroom. The immense, walk-in wardrobe was hung with gowns and dresses. She thumbed her way through them and selected an evening dress in greys and blues. She studied the label: Lagerfeld. Draping it across the bed, she undressed, returned to the bathroom and slipped into the body-length tub. Her muscles began to unlock. She took another sip of the red wine and felt it numb her. After, she dried herself and cleaned the bathtub. As she turned to leave she noticed the tiniest drop of red on the white vanity. She shook her head, chiding herself, and wiped the droplet away with a piece of toilet paper.

Half an hour later she was back in the bedroom, sitting at the dressing table in the Lagerfeld dress. She´d chosen a pair of earrings with golden gemstones. Topaz? Citrine? They set off the colour of her grey-green eyes.

The hot bath and the wine had brought a flush to her face. She felt warm and sleepy. Suze checked her wristwatch. She had time, and if she was really tempted, she could always stretch out on the bed for a while. She glanced over at it. It looked comfortable, inviting.

Suze drained the last of the wine from the glass and lay down.

Then she closed her eyes.


***


The slap landed hard across Suze´s face, waking her in an instant.

Panic clawed at her.

How could she be so stupid?

The woman’s face hovered above, purple with fury. Suze could make out the swollen veins in her neck and forehead, the dishevelled curls of her coiffure, matted and stiff with hairspray. Her breath stank of wine and cigarettes.

Suze´s ears rang from the searing impact of the blow. The woman above her was screaming. Her mouth moved and Suze felt the spray of spit, yet the woman’s voice was elsewhere, raging in a vacuum of silence.

Another blow landed. Sound rushed in, a runaway train, a meteor falling from the sky. It exploded in Suze’s hearing.

‘Get off my bed, get out of my things, and get the fuck out of my house!’ screamed the woman, stabbing a scarlet fingernail at the bedroom door.

Suze sprang from the bed, cheeks burning, and reached for the zip at the nape of her neck. Pulling it in haste, the zip jammed. She tried again, wrenching it without success. Suze took a breath now, trying to calm herself before another attempt. The woman responded to this lack of action by grinding her teeth and raising her hand to strike again. It was then Suze remembered the small hook and eye at the collar of the dress. She unhitched it and the zip ran free. Suze peeled the Lagerfeld dress away and let it slip to the floor. She stepped from it and looked up to see James in his pyjamas, standing in the bedroom doorway, rubbing his eyes.

‘What’s all the noise?’ asked the boy, his voice thick with sleep.

‘Back into bed darling…’ said the woman with feigned nonchalance, then, lifting her voice to the ceiling she shouted, ‘Harv, get up here, now!’

There was a clumping of footsteps on the stairs and a man wearing a tuxedo and an expression of alarm appeared in the doorway behind the boy.

‘Harv, look after the kids!’

‘But what’s happening?’ insisted the boy.

Harv swept James up, explaining. ‘Nothing sport. Just grown-up stuff, that’s all.’

As they walked away, Suze saw the boy grin over the man’s shoulder. ‘But why’s Susanna got no clothes on?’

The woman now pointed at Suze and shouted. ‘For God’s sake, she’s even wearing my underwear!’

Without thinking, Suze reached for the elastic of the knickers. The woman glowered, considering the dilemma, then she detonated with rage once more. ‘Just keep them and get out!’

Suze ran to the corner of the bedroom and pulled on her T-shirt and jeans. She gathered her coat, boots and bag. No time to dress any further, she needed to be far away from here.

The woman came at her from across the room in a storm of bristling chiffon and vehemence. ‘And the earrings!’ she shouted.

Suze had forgotten. With one hand she held her things while with the other she tugged the clasps from her ear lobes. She held them out to be snatched away then thrown onto the bed. Suze felt a hand grip her outstretched wrist, fingernails like a dog-bite. She was dragged from the master bedroom along the hallway, past more Hockneys and hauled from landing to landing down the staircase. She stubbed her toes against the Poggenpohl kitchen and ran her shins against Parker Knoll furniture all the way to the front door. The woman released her grip to struggle with the locks for what seemed like an age, then flung the door open to reveal the cold night beyond. ‘Out!’ she commanded.

Suze escaped through the doorway.

‘Stop!’ ordered the woman.

Suze did as she was told and turned back. The woman had retrieved her handbag from an antique lowboy beside the door and was now rummaging through it. She produced a purse, opened it, and began pulling out banknotes, one at a time. Each of these she screwed into a ball and threw at Suze.

‘I’m paying you for looking after the kids tonight because I want everything square,’ spat the woman.

With her clothes in one arm, Suze caught a five-pound note and a couple of ones. The rest were snatched away by the chill October breeze.

‘But I’m calling the agency first thing Monday,’ declared the woman. She stood for a time at the threshold with a judgemental expression, chin lifted, eyes narrowed in scrutiny. ‘I never liked you,’ she said. ‘I always knew there was something wrong with you.’ Then she slammed the door so hard that the Hockneys rattled.

Suze padded down the stone steps of the terrace in bare feet. She crossed the road, splashing in shallow puddles. The wind cut through her thin T-shirt. The sharp crescent of a new moon was a grin in a cold, cloudless sky. She’d put her coat and boots on later. She just wanted to be out of range. She’d avoid the exposure of streetlights and hug the shadows all the way to the Edgeware Road. From there she’d take the night bus home; to her draughty attic flat in Finchley. And to consequence.