These are the first pages of The Hollow Sword. I hope you enjoy them….
West Cornwall – Early Twentieth Century.
The nineteen lichen clad stones had stood solid and undisturbed in the field for around four thousand years, but shortly they would stand no more.
A small crowd of people from the nearby village had gathered at the edge of the field to witness this momentous event. They were fidgeting and whispering nervously to each other. Some wished they had not come at all but were unable to tear themselves away. Yet everyone felt this event must be witnessed, whatever the cost to themselves.
It was said the stones were alive. Two of the stones had been dislodged in the previous century but had somehow returned to their places of their own volition.
Now World War One raged across the English Channel and food shortages meant that every spare field was needed for food cultivation. The new landlord was adamant. This local superstition must end. The field would be ploughed today whether the villagers liked it or not.
The tenant farmer was uneasy but dared not disobey the landlord. He walked up the lane leading his team of horses with his elderly labourers following reluctantly behind.
When the horses were harnessed and finally in place the farmer gave the order to begin. The horses moved slowly forward, attempting to uproot the first stone.
Suddenly the lead horse, a healthy young bay gelding, dropped to its knees between the plough shafts. It was dead before it hit the ground.
There was a horrified gasp from the crowd. Then they all fell to their knees, furiously making the sign of the Cross and praying for protection. It was enough for the farmer. He signalled to his men to take the remaining horses back to their stables. Whatever was causing this he wanted none of it.
The stone would stay put. If the landlord wanted the field ploughed, he could come and do it himself!
The stones were alive, he would swear it.
Jake threw the book down on the table where it landed with a satisfying thud. He was standing in his school library trying to find something interesting to read and it was proving a much harder task than he had anticipated.
“Now what?” His mate, Rob, looked up from further down the table where he was struggling with his maths assignment.
“It’s like sooo stupid!”
“What is?” Rob tossed his pen down on the table, sighed and pushed his stringy blond hair back off his face. With Jake in this mood, he was extremely unlikely to get any work done at the moment.
“These books!” Jake nodded in the direction of the book before flopping down onto a chair opposite Rob.
“What’s wrong with the book?”
“It’s a romance novel about vampires, that’s what! I thought this was supposed to be an educational library, too!”
“It is an educational library.” Rob picked up his pen. “It might help if you stopped looking in the girls’ fiction section. Besides, some of us are trying to get some work done.”
Jake was unrepentant. “I’ve read the entire boys’ fiction section several times over. I’ve finished my assignments. I’m entitled to some chill time.” He nodded in Rob’s direction. “You still doing that maths assignment?”
Rob took a deep breath. “I’m trying to…”
Jake reached across the table. “Give it here! I’ll do it for you. Then we can hit the mall.”
For a second Rob was tempted to let Jake, the star pupil in his year, finish the assignment for him but decided against it.
“No. Thanks mate, and all that, but I need to work it out for myself. Otherwise I’ll be stuffed come exam time.”
Jake shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He pushed back his chair and walked around the room picking up books from the arranged displays, reading the synopses on the dust jackets, before tossing them back down on the table again. Having reached the last pile he picked up a thick volume. After examining the cover photograph, he turned it over and read “Emilia is shocked to discover that her boyfriend is a werewolf…” Jake snorted with disgust. “Who’d be so stupid as to go out with a werewolf anyway? She’s asking to get eaten if you ask me!”
Rob gathered his papers and slammed his file shut. It was obvious that he was not going to get any work done. He stood up, reached for his backpack, stuffed the bulging file inside, and struggled to get the zip to do up over it.
“OK Jakey you win. We’ll go to the mall.”
Jake grinned and slapped him on the back. “Good man! You know it makes sense!”
As they walked out of the library, Jake’s voice could still be heard saying, “Vampires! Werewolves! In all those books! Anyone would think they really existed!”
Rob sniffed loudly and surreptitiously wiped his nose on the arm of his fleece. “They say that truth is stranger than fiction.”
Jake laughed. ” Yeah, right! As if.”
Three weeks later Jake found that it was.
Jake turned his hot pillow over and thumped it in a vain attempt to get to sleep. His mind was racing. As hard as he tried, he could not stop thinking about the last few days. He seemed incapable of turning his brain off. He could not seem to get comfortable either.
He missed his father.
He missed his father terribly.
A tear rolled down his face. Angrily he wiped it away. He would not cry.
Now, lying on Rob’s Mum’s lumpy sofa, he was trying to make sense of what had happened to him over the past few days.
It had all started one afternoon a couple of days before, when he had been called out of his class at school and taken to his headmaster’s office. At first, Jake thought nothing of it. Being keen on practical jokes, he was no stranger to old Brinksy’s office but he sensed that this time it was different.
He was right.
When he entered Mr Brinks’s office, a policeman was standing there. A shiver ran unbidden down Jake’s spine; surely he was not going to be arrested was he?
“Sit down Jake.”
Well at least old Brinksy did not look cross. That was something. Jake breathed a sigh of relief. It was short lived.
“Jake…” The head cleared his throat and looked across at the policeman, who nodded. Brinksy swallowed and tried again. “Jake. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Your Father has had an accident and has been taken to hospital where he is now undergoing an operation.”
“What sort of accident?” Jake’s voice came out like a croak.
“A car accident.”
Jake’s mouth fell open. “Dad’s a really careful driver. How did it happen?”
The policeman shook his head. “We don’t know yet. Your Father’s car was found lying in a ditch near the road. The road was straight and dry and no other vehicle seems to be involved. The road was busy but there don’t appear to have been any witnesses.”
“Nobody knows what happened then?” asked Jake. The policeman paused. “No. However, there is one theory. Loads of black feathers were found all over the road. It’s possible that your Dad drove though a massive flock of flying birds, possibly crows, and became disoriented and drove off the road, but we don’t know anything for certain yet.”
Brinksy stood up. “This police officer is going to take you to the hospital Jake. I have telephoned Rob’s mother as I know you and Rob are friends and she will meet you there.”
“What about his mother?” enquired the policeman, nodding at Jake. “We couldn’t find any contact details for her.”
“You won’t. She’s dead,” whispered Jake, “She died when I was little. I don’t even remember her.”
“Ah.” The policeman placed a hand gently on Jake’s back. “Come on lad. Let’s get you to the hospital.”
Jake was led away into the waiting police car. He felt as if this was not really happening to him. He watched the countryside spin past in a blur. He felt numb. Numb and sick. Very sick.
The car pulled over just in time for Jake to open the door and get out before he was horribly, horribly sick by the side of the road.
Afterwards he leant back against the car and rinsed out his mouth with a bottle of water provided by the policeman. Jake became aware of a crow, sitting on a telephone wire, watching him closely. Was it a bird like this that had caused his Dad’s accident? What was the name for a group of crows? Jake could not remember.
The policeman saw it and went to wave it away.
“Shoo! Horrible things!”
The crow did not move. It just sat there staring at him. Suddenly it took off, cawing loudly as it passed him. Out of the blue Jake remembered the word he was looking for. It was a murder of crows! All of a sudden, Jake’s blood ran cold.
Jake did not remember arriving at the hospital. His next memory was of sitting in a waiting room with Rob and Rob’s Mum and feeling sick again. After what felt like several days, but was probably only hours, the surgeon came to update them on his Dad’s progress. The operation had been touch and go but Dad was now out of the operating theatre and in intensive care.
The surgeon sat on the arm of the sofa next to Jake, who noticed that he looked exhausted.
“We’ve done everything we can for him Jake. It’s up to your Dad now.”
“Can I see him?”
“Yes. For a short visit. Then go home and get some sleep. Only remember, the next few hours will be critical.”
Jake felt so helpless as he looked at his Dad’s bandaged body lying on a bed in the Intensive Care Unit. He bent down and gently kissed his Dad’s bruised face. Despite his misgivings, Jake let himself to be led away by Rob’s mum.
Jake’s Dad died that night without regaining consciousness.
Jake had wanted to go home but he knew that he would not be allowed to. There was no one to take care of him and as a 14-year-old boy there was no question of him living alone or fending for himself. Although Rob and his Mum had him to stay in their flat for the first few days, he knew this could not be a permanent arrangement.
Their flat was too small for one thing. Rob already shared his room with his elder brother, so Jake had to sleep on the sofa. Rob’s Mum was also very keen on housework and Jake spent most of his time dodging furiously moving vacuum cleaners and dusters. He knew he could not stay here much longer but he did not know what was going to happen to him or where he could go. Just when he feared that he would be taken to live with foster parents, his aunt Cara had appeared on the doorstep and announced that he was to come and live with her, in Cornwall.
Jake had not even known that he had an aunt!
Cara was brisk and to the point. Sitting beside him on Rob’s Mum’s sofa, she opened a battered, leather handbag and removed a large brown manila envelope.
“I’m afraid that we don’t know each other Jake and I’m the first to admit I’m not good with kids. I’m not going to patronise you and treat you like a child, so this is going to be a steep learning curve for both of us.”
Jake nodded. He had no idea what to say.
“I’m now your legal guardian Jake,” Cara said, getting a formal document out of the envelope and handing it to him to read.
Jake stared at it, not really taking it in. Incredibly, the thought that ran through his head was how much he hated the typeface. Jake unfolded the document and rested it on his knees, noticing that his name was on it. Cara’s name was on it. His Dad had signed it. Everything looked in order.
He turned it over and blanched when he realised it was his Father’s will. As Cara said, she was now Jake’s legal guardian. He folded the document up and handed it to Cara.
“Can we go home, now?” Jake asked, hopefully. “All my things are there.” It was OK at Rob’s but he really missed his own home.
“Yes, for a few days,” said Cara, “But after that we’ll have to talk.”
Jake swallowed nervously. That sounded ominous. That’s what adults said when something nice was going to be taken away or there was something horrible coming up, like a visit to the dentist.
During the next few days Cara arranged the funeral. It took place quietly with just a few people present. As Jake followed his Dad’s casket into the church he felt completely detached, as if he were watching this happen to somebody else. Then he became aware of the overpowering smell of the lilies, which were on top of the coffin, competing with the damp, musty smelling chill of the church. Then he glanced to his left and saw Rob looking awkward, standing in a pew next to his Mum. Irrationally, Jake tried to work out whether Rob felt awkward because he did not know what to say to Jake or because he was wearing a suit!
Then the service began. Jake was amazed that Cara knew so much about his Father’s wishes. He could not have arranged a better service himself, and it was not soppy either. At least he had managed not to cry which, in his opinion, was a very good thing. After the funeral, Cara had organised a small wake at his house and Jake went to say thanks to Rob for coming.
“Cheers mate.” They fist bumped, then Jake handed Rob a diet coke and they went out into the garden. It was a dull day with a chilly wind.
“Lookin’ good!” Rob nodded at Jake’s suit. Jake shrugged. Once the day was over, he was never going to wear it again. Of that, he was certain.
“Can’t wait to change,” he said, opening his coke and taking a long swig.
“Nor me!” admitted Rob. They stood around awkwardly, neither of them knowing what to say next. Jake felt completely numb, as if his heart had frozen. Rob tapped his foot on the grass, before looking across Jake.
“When you coming back to school?” he asked.
“Day or two, I guess,” replied Jake vaguely. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
Rob nodded as if losing your Dad was the most normal thing in the world.
They were saved from making further small talk by Rob’s Mum, who came across and kissed Jake on the cheek, leaving a shiny orange imprint from her lip-gloss.
“We’re off now. Drop in any time Jake, don’t be a stranger now.”
Jake forced himself to smile.
“I won’t. Oh – thanks for… oh, you know… everything.”
“You’re welcome Jake. See you soon, then.”
Jake nodded and watched Rob and his Mum walk up the garden and go out of the side gate. He wished everybody would go home. Soon. Even when the sun came out it could not defrost his heart.
Later, after Jake had changed into his favourite jeans and hooded top, and they were sitting alone on the sofa, he asked Cara how well she had known his Dad.
“We were very close, once,” she told him. “In fact we were twins but I’m afraid we lost touch until he wrote to me a couple of years ago. After that we spoke on the phone every week.”
Jake’s mouth dropped open. His Dad was one of twins! Nobody had ever told him.
“Why did you and Dad fall out?” he asked.
“Oh… he didn’t agree with my lifestyle,” replied Cara airily, “When I was sixteen, I left home to live in an artist’s commune in Cornwall. Our parents didn’t approve and your Dad sided with them.”
“Why did Dad get in touch with you again?” asked Jake. “I mean I’m glad he did but I’d just like to know why.”
“He asked me if I would look out for you. In fact, he was worried about just this situation,” said Cara briskly, reaching for her handbag. “If he died, he asked me to take care of you and to give you this.”
She handed Jake a letter. Cara got up off the sofa. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.” She went out, closing the door softly behind her.
Jake saw his name on the envelope, written in his Dad’s familiar handwriting. The tears he had spent all day holding back began to fall.
After a good cry, Jake blew his nose on a tissue from the box Cara had tactfully left on the coffee table and opened the letter.
“Dearest Jake,” it began, “If you’re reading this then I must be dead. Sorry to be so blunt but that’s about the truth of it.
In the case of such an event, I’ve made Cara your legal guardian. Please do as she asks and do not give her a hard time about this, it’s not her fault. I know it’s not your fault either & having lost both your parents now I understand that this must seem doubly hard on you.
I honestly believed that all this was over. I thought we could escape our destiny. I truly thought I could keep you safe from this. I now know this is not true. My misjudgement of the situation has put you in severe danger. For that I can never forgive myself.
I’ve told Cara to take you to live at her home in Cornwall. These are dangerous times and I want you to be safe. Tell no one where you are going; if anyone asks you, even someone you consider a friend, do not tell him or her ANYTHING. The house is to be let out until it becomes yours on your 25th birthday and the income will come firstly to Cara and then on to you. It should take care of university costs and expenses should you choose to follow an academic career. Do not argue with Cara about this. This is my decision and it is in both your interests.
Finally, I have entrusted Cara with a small token I want you to have. Again, tell no one else about this and show it to no one. I inherited this from my father, your Grandfather, and I want you to wear it always. If you can’t wear it for any reason, carry it safely about your person. That’s very important Jake, so I’ll repeat: I want you to wear it always.
Perhaps if I had worn it as I was told to, you would not be reading this letter now – it’s THAT important. Don’t make the mistake that I have.
Please forgive me.
I love you Jake.
Suddenly, it was all too much for Jake and the letter fell to the ground as he sobbed and sobbed.
After a few minutes, Jake felt slightly better and went to the downstairs loo to flush away the wet crumpled tissues, blow his nose again and splash his face with cold water. As he rubbed his face dry on the towel hanging by the basin, he looked at himself in the mirror to see if he resembled either his Dad or Cara. His moss green eyes, flecked with gold, looked out from thickening brows, which gave character to his freckled face. His thick, light brown hair was tousled as usual. His hairstyle could always be described as shaggy. He had a strong nose that he had not quite grown into yet but his lips were well proportioned. Jake peered at his reflection; he decided he had his Dad’s untidy hair and Cara’s eyes. As Jake folded the towel and placed it to dry on the towel rail, he felt comforted to think that part of his Dad would always be with him.
When he returned to the sitting room, there was a mug of tea on the coffee table beside his folded letter. Next to the letter stood a very old, battered, small, black leather box. Curious, Jake opened the box and stared inside.
A small gold cross, attached to a fine gold chain, lay on a bed of what had once been black velvet but was now threadbare. The cross was quite wide, but narrowed considerably towards the bottom. Jake could see that it had once been covered in writing but the cross was so old most of the lettering had worn away and what was left was completely illegible.
With a shaking hand, Jake lifted the cross from the box and held it up. It caught the last rays of the evening sunshine and gleamed. With a trembling hand, Jake undid the clasp and placed it round his neck, hiding it beneath his shirt as his Dad had instructed him to. He closed the box with a snap as Cara came back into the room carrying her own mug of tea.
“Bit better now?” she asked, sitting down on the sofa next to him.
Jake nodded. He could feel Dad’s cross pressing against his chest. It felt warm against his skin and comforted him.
“Good. Drink your tea. We need to have a serious talk and then we’ve got work to do.”
Jake took a sip from his mug and winced as the strong, sweet tea burned its way down into his stomach.
“Right,” said Cara, leaning forward and placing her mug on the coffee table. “I expect Dad told you that he wants you to come and live with me in Cornwall?”
“OK. He also told you to make a complete break with the past?”
“Yes, but why?”
“He seems to think that you’re in some sort of danger.”
“Danger?” Jake was astonished. He was just a kid. Why would he be in danger? “Is it something about the way Dad died?” he asked.
Cara shrugged. “I don’t know Jake.”
“Was my Dad murdered?” a chill ran through Jake, followed by rising anger. “Was he?”
Cara shrugged again. “I don’t know Jake. We have to leave that to the Police to discover.”
Jake felt he wanted to investigate himself but had the sense to keep that quiet, as he knew Cara would not approve. Even so, he did not expect what came next. Dad’s letter was strange, but he couldn’t deal with thinking about that now. It wouldn’t bring Dad back – that was certain. He folded the letter carefully and put it safely in his pocket.
“Give me your phone please Jake,” Cara held out her hand.
“My phone! Why?”
“Give it to me. Please.” Cara stared at him. “It’s what your Dad wanted.”
“Why? I need to talk to my mates, and keep in touch with them on Facebook.”
“No, Jake. Your Dad specified a complete break. That means total. I need to take your phone and anything else that might be traced to you at this address.”
“But my phone! What harm can it do?”
“Your Dad reckoned it’s traceable. We’ll get you a new phone but that one goes. Now.”
Jake reluctantly handed it over.
“Thank you,” said Cara, taking it. “Oh, one more thing Jake. No contact with any of your mates. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing. They are not to know where you are going to live. Got it?”
Jake’s mouth set in a firm line. “No! That’s too much! I’ve lost my Mum, now I’ve lost my Dad as well. I need my mates.”
“Jake, I know it’s tough on you, but it’s necessary.”
“Why? I’m prepared to take a risk, if there really is one.”
Cara sighed. “Jake, if your mates know where you are they are also in danger.”
“Oh. I never thought of that.”
Jake tried his final argument. “What about school? I can’t get behind with my studies, can I?” He crossed his fingers behind his back. This line of reasoning usually worked with Dad!
“No Jake.” Cara shook her head. “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work. Besides, we do have schools in Cornwall.”
Cara’s hand covered his for a second. “Look Jake, I know it’s tough but you really need to do this. Right?”
Jake sighed. “If you say so.”
“I do. Remember, it was what your Dad wanted.”
Cara hated using that argument. It made her feel really mean, but she had to get Jake to agree to the move. To cover her discomfort, she leaned forward, reached for her mug and took a swig of tea, then pulled a spectacular face. “Ugh! That’s cold!” She replaced the mug on the table. Jake picked up his mug and drank. He did not mind cold tea.
Cara settled back on the sofa. “Well, Jake we’ve to get our skates on as I need to be back in Cornwall as soon as possible because I’ve got an exhibition coming up in the summer.”
Jake sighed. He was well and truly beaten and he knew it.
“How soon do we need to go?” he asked.
“Oh.” Jake did not like the sound of that at all.
If he had not seen it with his own eyes, Jake would not have believed just how ruthless Cara could be. During the next couple of days, as the house was sorted out, Jake was told to pack his bags and any personal belongings he wanted to take with him. All the other things went into storage; the house was stripped of all signs of occupation and cleaned from top to bottom by a professional cleaning company.
Cara arranged for flowers to be sent to Rob’s Mum as a thank you for taking care of Jake and Jake brought Rob an iTunes gift card, which Cara put through the door on their last night, well after Rob and his Mum had gone to bed. She kept reminding Jake that no one must know where he was going, so it was best that he did not see them himself in case he let something slip. Cara also arranged for a local estate agent to let the house and early on the following Saturday morning she dropped off the keys en route to the motorway. It was done. They were on their way.
The journey to Cornwall that Saturday seemed to take forever. As they journeyed towards the South West Jake listened to his iPod, feeling totally detached, as he watched the countryside rush by. First, they travelled through the chalk downland that stretched across Southern England. It was the first time that Jake had seen Stonehenge and, although he was disappointed that it looked so small in real life, he was amazed to find he was drawn toward the circle in a way he had never been to any other ancient monument.
As they passed the stones, the cross on his chest began to burn his skin. Instinctively, he scratched his chest, his eyes sweeping the ancient landscape. It was littered with strange shapes. Some were long and some were round. Intrigued, Jake pressed pause on his iPod and removed his earphones. “What are those weird shapes?” he asked Cara.
Cara gave the landscape a quick glance before quickly refocusing on the road ahead. “I believe they’re called barrows. They’re Stone Age burial mounds.”
Jake grinned. “Gosh. Have they really been here since the seventies? Are there skeletons inside wearing tie dies and loon pants?” This was a reference to a photo of Cara as a teenager he had found in an old album in the sideboard drawer when they were clearing the house.
Cara raised her eyebrows. “Oh that’s very funny! Just remember you’ll be my age one day and children will be taking the mickey out of you!””
Jake shook his head. “Never, Dude! I’m far too cool!” He scratched his chest again. Cara looked across at him, “Jake, are you OK? Are you allergic to anything?”
“No, Cara! I’m fine!”
Cara suddenly looked alarmed. “You haven’t got scabies or anything horrible have you?”
“NO! Like I said, I’m fine!” Jake pointedly turned away from her and raised the volume on his iPod. Apart from losing my Dad, my mates and home within a couple of weeks he thought, in a rare bout of self-pity.
The downland soon gave way to the flatter, fertile farmland of Somerset and then on to the red soil of Devonshire. They stopped at Exeter for lunch and to buy a few items that Cara thought Jake might need in Cornwall. There was a thick warm fleece, zip off cargo trousers, a waterproof jacket and over trousers, thick socks, hiking and Wellington boots, a map of the area and compass, swimming trunks and a towel, a good quality torch and spare batteries. With each item, Jake’s unease grew. He was used to living in a city where he rarely had direct contact with the elements. Where on earth was he going to need all this stuff? The back of beyond?
“Where is it that you live?” he said to Cara, “The jungle or something?”
Cara laughed. “No!”
“Why do I need all these?” Jake gesticulated at all the carrier bags they were both holding.
“Your life will probably be a bit more outdoor based than you’re used to,” replied Cara, striding purposefully towards the parked car, “I just want you to be prepared, that’s all.”
“Look at that!” said Cara staring at her car, “That’s a sight you don’t see very often.”
Jake looked across at the car and saw a large crow strutting around on its roof.
His blood ran cold.
Cara ran towards the car waving her bags of shopping about and shouting, “Get away! Get away, you horrible thing! Don’t you dare poop on the roof of my car!”
The crow looked at her lazily before flapping its wings and taking off into the air with a large caw.
“Ugh!” Cara shivered as she unlocked the boot. She looked across at Jake who was white faced and trembling.
“Are you OK, Jake?”
The crow settled on a nearby tree and watched them beadily. Jake nodded but he felt sick.
After they had put the shopping in the car, Cara said that she needed to go to the bank, so to take Jake’s mind off the incident with the crow, she handed him some money to get something to read in case he was bored. As they parted, Cara called after him, “Jake, don’t get any DVDs. I don’t have a player.”
“That’s OK; I can watch them on my PC. Or download them from an on-line store.”
Cara shook her head. “No Jake. The power is unreliable and the Internet is slow. You’ll keep the computer for serious study.”
Jake sighed. What could she mean? Everybody had Internet now. She could not mean that she only had dial up? Nobody now had dial up. Everybody had broadband, and wireless broadband at that! She could not mean no Internet at all could she? And what could she possibly mean by serious study? Enough! He shook his head to clear it. He surreptitiously counted the money Cara had given him. Maybe there was enough to buy a cheap DVD player. Jake knew his consumer rights, once he had bought one he could not take it back unless it was faulty! He shook his head again, feeling totally baffled. How could anyone live without a DVD player? It was an absolute essential in his eyes. Just like a TV, computer, game console and iPod and his smart phone. Oh hang on; he did not have his smart phone anymore!
Jake finished counting his money. No, unfortunately there was not quite enough money for a DVD player. Hell! It would have to be books. He could be a voracious reader when he was bored, but lately he had become lazy and preferred to watch a DVD instead, only reading books when no other alternative was available. He could not stop thinking that living with Cara out on the moors would be one of those occasions when he would be seriously bored.
Jake wandered down the street and into the nearest bookshop. It was a small shop and bookshelves lined three sides of the shop. More books were piled around the walls, as well as displayed on small tables littered around the shop. The whole effect was higgledy-piggledy – but in a good way.
An elderly woman stood behind the counter at the far end. She looked up and smiled at Jake, then went back to what she was doing, content to let him browse. Otherwise, the shop was empty. He went over to a display of books about vampires. They were a tie in with a popular television serial that just about everyone was watching now. Jake had watched a couple of episodes himself, thinking it was quite good. He went over to the table, picked up one of the books and read the blurb on the back. ““The Sylvania von Fangburg Episodes” Jake read, “Sylvania, the vampire with a heart.” Jake gave a loud sigh and replaced the book on the table. What rubbish! Everyone knew vampires did not have hearts. They were dead for goodness sake. Then he stopped. But were they dead? No! They were undead, weren’t they? Moreover, they must have hearts because didn’t vampire hunters have to drive wooden stakes through vampire hearts at dawn to kill the vampire?
Jake shook himself. What was he doing treating rubbish like this as if it were fact? Everybody knew vampires did not really exist; writer Bram Stoker had invented Dracula, the original vampire, in Victorian times. Vampires definitely did not exist! He picked up a book about ghosts from an adjoining pile, read the back cover before tossing it back down with a disgusted snort. The whole supernatural scene was complete fiction. Utter rubbish. The cross burned again. It was really beginning to bother him; he must get some cream from the pharmacy on the way back to the car. As discreetly as possible Jake scratched again and wandered over to a display of spy fiction. Now this was more like it! He quickly selected a couple of novels and went to walk up to the counter to pay when a book of West Country legends distracted him. The cross burned again. Quickly, Jake picked up the book and added it to his pile. Then he noticed a history section and he picked up a book on stone circles.
Jake paid for his books and, after stopping off at a pharmacy for some cream recommended by the pharmacist, he discovered it was time to meet Cara back at the car. To Jake’s relief the crow was nowhere to be seen but he still felt shaky even thinking about it.
If Cara was amazed at his choice of reading matter, she did not let it show. She rummaged in the boot and produced a large plastic bag, which she handed to Jake.
“Just a couple of small presents.”
Jake looked in the bag. Inside there were two parcels, one small and one medium sized. He opened the smaller present first. It was a new waterproof watch that had all the bells and whistles. Jake was thrilled, it was much better than any his mates had. They would be like, so jealous. Then he remembered that he would not be seeing them for a while. He would have to make new mates. He strapped the watch onto his wrist and undid the other parcel before depression could settle over him again. Unfortunately, it did not help. It was a wind up radio. Jake looked at Cara amazed. Why on earth had she got him that? Cara would not quite meet his eyes. “Now you can keep listening to Radio 1 or whatever station you listen to,” she said vaguely.
Jake continued to stare at her. Had she gone mad? “I don’t need a wind up radio to do that Cara. I can do that on your radio or on my computer. Most of the stations I listen to are only on the Internet.”
Cara grimaced. “Um, Jake, it’s just that where I live is quite remote and the electricity is connected via overhead cables, not underground like it is in a city. When there’s a storm, sometimes the gales bring down the electric cables or the lightning strikes them and it takes a while for the power to be restored. This way you can always listen to the radio and find out what’s going on in the world.”
Jake groaned. “Cara, please don’t make me live there. It sounds so primitive, I’ll never stand it. Let me get the train home tomorrow. Please. We can work something else out. I can live with Rob and his Mum in our house or something.”
Cara leaned across and patted his knee. “Now, Jake, you know that’s impossible. This is what your Dad wanted. You know there’s no other way. It’ll be fine, I promise you.” Cara leaned back and grabbed her seat belt. “It is possible to live without computers, iPods and DVD players you know.” She started the ignition, put the car into reverse and backed out of the parking space. “Your Dad and I lived without them quite happily – but then it was back in the Stone Age!”
“Yeah,” thought Jake rebelliously, “and you ran away the first chance you got!”
“Life in Cornwall can be fun,” said Cara pulling out into the traffic. “We have beautiful, dramatic countryside, wonderful beaches and, of course, the sea.”
“Duh” said Jake, plugging in his iPod, noticing that the battery needed recharging. Hell! How would he manage without it? He wished he had bought a solar charger for it. He would have to get one. He could check the Internet later. But that was the Internet Cara did not have! “Duh!” he said again. He fully intended to sulk for the rest of the journey. Life in Cornwall might be fun, if you were a digital Luddite who liked reading books by candlelight! Jake just did not plan on staying there long enough to find out. He began to plan his escape. The sooner the better as far as he was concerned.
They had been on the road for about 30 minutes when Jake was suddenly distracted from his thoughts of escape by the very impressive landscape on his left. As far as his eye could see, there was a pattern of fields, which he recognised from his geography project as ancient Celtic field systems. This was followed by rolling hills that looked breathtakingly beautiful, stretching into the distance and silhouetted by the late afternoon sun. Out to the West, Jake could see a bank of dark clouds stretching to the horizon. It looked very dramatic.
“Where are we, Cara?” he asked.
As Cara pulled out to overtake a lorry, Jake’s view of the landscape disappeared for a second.
“We’re just to the north of Dartmoor.”
Cara moved the car back into the slow lane and Jake stared at the landscape again. It looked amazing. Suddenly, something in the distance caught his eye. It was a strangely shaped hill with a pointed top. Balanced precariously on the top of the hill was an old building that looked rather like a castle.
“What’s that castle?” he asked, intrigued.
Cara turned her head briefly. “Oh, that! No, it’s not a castle. It’s a church.”
Jake squinted against the light, trying to get a better view. “It’s a strange place to put a church, right on top of a hill.”
Cara smiled. “It’s dedicated to St. Michael and it’s perched on top of a volcanic outcrop. It’s very old too; it was first built in the twelfth century. Some believe a ley line runs beneath it.”
“A what?” asked Jake.
“A ley line. Some people think that a series of powerful energy runs through the earth linking many sites of historical and religious importance.” Jake raised his eyes cynically as Cara continued, “In the 1920’s a man called Alfred Watkins, an amateur archaeologist, was out in the Herefordshire countryside riding a horse. Watkins was used to studying maps, and he noticed the land was criss-crossed with lines of energy. Although his vision only lasted a minute or so, when Watkins got home and studied the map, he realised that straight lines, that were ancient footpaths, linked many important religious and sacred historical sites. He believed that these sites were situated on lines of psychic energy which run through the earth’s crust.”
Jake snorted. “What a load of rubbish!” Nevertheless, he could not take his eyes off the church. He felt strangely drawn to it. Unconsciously he scratched his chest.
Cara smiled. “That’s as maybe. But a lot of people believe it. In fact that church is situated on the St. Michael line that begins at St. Michael’s Mount near Penzance, then through the Hurlers stone circle in Cornwall, runs on here then turns north east to Glastonbury Tor, on to the Avebury stones, on to Bury St Edmunds Abbey and out under the North Sea.”
Jake rolled his eyes. “Lines on the landscape? Yeah, like, right!”
“Actually, that’s a very simplistic explanation.” Cara continued, “But many of the places the line passes through were sites of worship by the ancient Celts. I think I have a book that belongs to your Granddad, which tells you all about it, in one of my bookshelves. Remind me and I’ll look it out for you.”
Jake looked at her, surprised. Fancy Granddad being interested in that old rubbish! Well, he could read the book anyway. At least it would be something to do.
“Cool.” Fascinated, Jake turned his head and watched the church until it disappeared behind a distant hill. Then he shrugged his shoulders, plugged in his headphones ready to listen to his favourite playlist on his iPod before the charge ran out. He pressed ‘play’ before settling down in his seat and closing his eyes. By the time the car crossed the River Tamar and entered Cornwall he was sound asleep.
Jake awoke a while later to the noise of wind lashing rain against his window. Looking out in to a darkening world, he saw that a much starker scene had replaced the soft rolling farmland of Devon. Dry stone granite walls bordered the fields and the fertile land seemed to have disappeared altogether, replaced by the occasional stunted tree bent in a crouching position by the prevailing wind. The odd pinprick of light signified a cottage tucked snugly into the remote folds of the moor. In the distance, hills rose from the stark landscape. Some of them were littered with large stones and boulders. The sky was dark grey and angry looking and low cloud scudded quickly past him in the opposite direction. It was bleak to say the least. Cara switched the windscreen wipers on to double speed to cope with the driving rain. She turned to him briefly “Hi there sleepy head. Welcome to sunny Cornwall!”
Jake groaned inwardly. The weather just about matched his mood. If all of Cornwall was like this, and, by the look of it, it probably was, Cornwall would be as bad as he had thought it would be. Moorland stretched as far as his eye could see. In the middle of the landscape were a couple of hills with deep lakes next to them. Even in the wet, at twilight, the hills seemed to be sparkling under their green vegetation. Jake had never seen anything like it before, was he in Switzerland?
Cara smiled at his puzzled face. “China Clay!” she said, “The mineral kaolin. They used to mine it here. They get most of it from Brazil now, even though there are stocks here to last another fifty years. The St. Austell area to the south used to be known as the Cornish Alps.”
“What’s it used for?” asked Jake, interested despite himself.
“Oh, nothing much,” said Cara nonchalantly, turning her attention back to the road, “Just paper, china manufacture, making toilets and washbasins, sinks, craft pottery, loo roll, even in medicines for upset tummies!”
Soon they were across Bodmin moor and the landscape became gentler but it still held a ruggedness that Jake had never seen before. Stone walls, with strange fern like plants growing on the tops of them, divided the fields. Jake thought he saw a large wind farm in the distance. Occasionally they passed ruined buildings with tall chimneys. He recognised them as old engine houses for the tin mines that had been Cornwall’s main economy up until a century or so ago. As they drove westwards, the ruins grew more frequent.
Cara turned to him. “We’re just bypassing Redruth and Camborne. We’re not too far from home now. This area,” she indicated the landscape around the road that was littered with old mine workings “was once the industrial heartland of the tin mining country. Cornwall is rich in minerals. Tin, copper, silver, zinc even arsenic were once mined in the county. They’ve recently found gold at South Crofty Mine near Camborne.”
Jake grunted. Like he was interested.
His attention was taken by a large hill that had a dip in the middle. On each end there was a building. On one there was a monument shaped rather like a large Celtic cross. On the other side, there was a floodlit building that looked to Jake like a castle. Jake squinted to get a better view.
“Is that a castle?” he asked Cara, who nodded.
“Yes. That’s Carn Brea castle, it’s an old hunting lodge. It’s a restaurant now. I had lunch there once. The view from the carn is outstanding, it’s like having two thousand years of history spread out right before your eyes.”
Jake watched as the carn vanished behind them. “Not long before we turn off and drive towards St. Ives.” Cara flicked her indicator deftly. “Once we’ve skirted the town it’s only a short distance to the moors where my cottage is.”
Jake shivered as the darkness closed in. The whole place looked as bleak as hell. The road went over a viaduct that spanned a steep valley and the strong wind buffeted the car. As the country fell away beneath them, Jake looked down and saw the shapes of houses below. Some of the cottages had lights in the windows making it look like fairyland.
As Jake watched he was conscious of his chest burning; he could not wait to get to Cara’s so he could go to the bathroom and rub in some of the cream he had bought earlier. He did not want Cara to see that his chest was bothering him. His father had brought Jake up to believe illness in any form was weakness. Dad had said that women always made an unnecessary fuss about ailments. Dad believed fresh air and a brisk walk cured all ills, not harping on and making a fuss. Jake sighed inwardly. He felt tired and lonely and just wanted to be left alone. He definitely did not feel up to a fuss.
The car sped westwards through the gathering dusk. Cara briefly turned her head toward Jake saying, “There used to be a sign here which said “You are now entering West Penwith”. Jake looked at the rain sheeting down in the car’s headlights and shook his head imperceptibly in the darkness. What was it with Cara and this place? A grown woman wittering on about a road sign? Like he cared! He sighed quietly, if the sign had read “Abandon Hope All Ye That Enter Here” Jake would not have been at all surprised. He closed his eyes and felt himself drift off to sleep again, lulled by the warmth and movement of the car, only to wake suddenly a few minutes later as Cara changed lanes at a roundabout.
Jake shook himself awake and watched as the lights of St. Ives faded into the distance behind them. He had an odd feeling as if he were travelling back in time. Only the occasional car on the opposite side of the road showed they were in the twenty first century. Jake sighed to himself. Would this journey never end?
Sure enough, about twenty minutes later, Cara turned off the main road and drove down a narrow lane. After a minute or so, she pulled into a makeshift driveway and then onto a rutted muddy track which ran parallel to a house. After a bone shaking ride, she parked in front of a small garage, stopped the engine and, throwing open the car door, closed her eyes and breathed deeply for two or three seconds, oblivious of the rain blowing in on her. Slowly opening her eyes, she smiled at Jake.
“Well, we made it!”
“Unfortunately,” thought Jake staring out into the darkness. Apart from the ticking of the hot engine, there was absolute silence. They could have been the only two people left on the planet. He got out of the car and felt a fine drizzle on his face. At least the wind appeared to have dropped.
He could see the cottage looming in the darkness about ten metres away.
Cara got out of the car and flung open the boot. “Well, Jake! You’re here! Welcome to Cornwall, land of myth, magic and artists!”
Jake scratched again and sighed. He supposed it was good to stretch his legs and he had pins and needles so badly in his bum it had hurt to climb out of the car.
Jake forced himself to walk until some degree of feeling returned to his bum. As he looked around, he really wished he was not here at all and he secretly vowed to return home at the earliest opportunity.
Jake walked around the car until his circulation restored itself. His misery must have shown on his face because Cara enveloped Jake in a huge hug. “Cheer up! It’s not that bad here, I promise!” She opened the car boot and lifted out her overnight bag. Jake took his computer, his backpack and the shopping they had bought at Exeter. “We’ll unload the rest of your stuff tomorrow,” said Cara, slamming the boot closed and pressing a button on the car key to lock the doors.
“Tomorrow! Won’t it get nicked out here?” queried Jake, turning pale at the thought of losing his stuff.
“No!” laughed Cara, “We’re a small community here. Everyone looks out for each other. If a stranger turns up in the village, believe me everybody knows about it in minutes!” She was still laughing as she led the way down a slate path to the cottage, inserted a large key into the door and turned it. The door swung open and Jake followed Cara into the cottage. They both threw their luggage on the floor and Jake looked around, taking in his new surroundings.
The front door opened directly into the dining room. A large scrubbed pine table occupied the centre of the room surrounded by six chairs. The table was laid for supper and a vase of daffodils stood in its centre. A handmade cast iron candelabra hung from the ceiling. A pine dresser, covered in brightly coloured pottery, flanked one wall opposite an inglenook fireplace filled with a wood burning stove, which burned merrily. An old-fashioned phone rested on a cushioned window seat and in the corner, a staircase led upstairs. A glass door led through into a conservatory that Cara used as her studio.
Cara threw her keys into a brightly coloured bowl on the dresser and shook her wet head like a dog.
“Brrrr! That awful mizzle gets everywhere” She opened her eyes and gave Jake an enormous smile, showing beautifully strong white teeth. Her shoulder length brown hair hung in strands around her heart shaped face, which had weathered into a light golden brown, setting off her sludgy green eyes which, like Jake’s, were flecked with gold. In her home environment she looked completely different. Jake watched her, fascinated. She looked much younger than he had imagined, certainly years younger than she had that morning even. It was strange, but perhaps she had relaxed because she was at home now?
“I see my friend Zelah’s been in and made the place look welcoming!” said Cara, “That was nice of her. From the smell I think she’s left us some hot food, too!” She nodded at Jake. “Get out of those wet things while I put the kettle on.” Cara disappeared through a door next to the painted dresser.
“Well, this is nice,” Jake said politely. He pulled off his damp fleece and looked around for somewhere to hang it, before seeing a hook on the back of the front door.
He had just hung it up when Cara came back into the room. “Glad you approve!” She pulled out a chair and flopped down. “Kettle’s on. You must be dying for a mug of tea after that journey.”
Cara looked across at Jake. “Oh, do you want tea Jake, or would you rather have Coke?”
Jake looked up from the pottery bowl he was examining. “Oh, Coke please. Did you make this?”
Cara smiled. “No, a potter called Bernard Leach did about seventy years ago. Lovely isn’t it?”
Jake nodded. It was beautiful. So old and yet smooth to the touch. He gently replaced it on the dresser.
“Do you like art?” Cara leaned back in her chair, watching Jake intently.
Jake shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve done some at school. It’s OK, I guess. I’ve never really thought about it.”
Cara got up and moved towards the kitchen. “It’s just that you instinctively picked up the best bit of pottery in the house. That’s not something I would expect a fourteen year old boy to do.”
Jake followed her into the kitchen, where a red oil-fired Aga that dominated the room gave out a warm glow on the chilly spring evening. A kettle boiled on the hot plate. Cara picked it up, closed the lid and poured boiling water into a teapot on the scrubbed pine kitchen table.
“Before you start going on about the planet,” she said to Jake, “The Aga is the only cooker to work here when the power goes out. It heats all the hot water, too. We don’t have gas out here in the country. Also, I don’t have central heating but the Aga and the wood burners keep the cottage snug and warm. When the electricity goes off we can always have a hot meal, a hot drink and a hot bath!” Jake nodded. He was not sure he believed her but he felt it would be rude to argue with her. At least, not yet. Anyway, he did not plan to stop here long.
Cara grabbed a pottery mug from the Welsh dresser and placed it on the table, before opening an ancient fridge and taking out a jug of milk. Sniffing it, she pulled a face and poured it down the sink. “The water is pumped up from our own spring in the garden and is lovely and cold to drink.” She indicated the brass taps over the white ceramic sink in the corner. She disappeared into a slate floored larder, reappearing a second later with a carton of long life milk. She deftly snipped open the top of the carton and poured tea and milk into the mug before handing Jake a cold Coke from the larder. As Jake turned to get a glass from the dresser, he heard a soft clicking sound. Intrigued, he turned round and saw a young German Shepherd dog padding gently towards him, its tail wagging gently.
Cara smiled and patted the dog.
“Oh, and this is Grace my dog.”
Jake backed away. He was unsure about dogs. Correction. He was very unsure about dogs. Especially German Shepherds.
“I didn’t know you’d got a dog.”
Cara bent and patted Grace’s head. The tail thumped. Cara took a casserole out of the Aga, stirred it with a wooden spoon, tasted it and replaced it in the oven, then she stood up and placed the oven cloth over the Aga rail.
“In point of fact I didn’t get her. You could say that she got me. I was driving back over the moor when I saw her standing by the side of the road. I thought she’d escaped from someone’s garden, so I phoned the Police and Dog Warden to report her as found but no one claimed her. So I kept her.”
She patted Grace’s head. Grace was a very striking looking dog, quite stocky with a semi longhaired coat that was coloured black and gold. Her most notable feature was a triangular white blaze on her nose with the apex facing a pair of very expressive grey eyes.
Jake forced himself to stroke Grace. Her tail thumped gently on the floor. Jake squatted down on his haunches and gave Grace’s chest a tickle. Grace obligingly rolled over, her tail still wagging away.
“She’s so happy!” he exclaimed, looking up from his position on the floor. His chest began to itch. Unwittingly he scratched it. Cara frowned. Jake removed his hand from his chest but not before Cara had noticed.
“Oh, heavens,” She said. “You’re not allergic to dogs are you?” Jake shook his head.
“No. Don’t think so.” He stood up quickly.
Cara bent and placed a couple of plates in the oven to warm, before saying, “Your Dad loved dogs. He was always on at our Mum and Dad to get us one, but they never did.” She straightened up. “I suppose you’d like to see your room now.” Jake nodded and followed her into the dining room, picking up his damp luggage as he passed it.
Cara nodded at the stairs, “Your room is first on the left at the top of the stairs.”
Jake climbed the stairs from the dining room up onto the landing. Passing a bright white bathroom full of plants and pictures he opened the door into his room and turned on the light. It was a lovely room and very welcoming. A large stripped pine bed sat squarely in the centre of the room, covered with a warm blue quilt. The ancient thick stone walls were whitewashed, making the room feel light and airy. Cornflower blue curtains were drawn against the inhospitable night outside. A stone chimney breast ran through the room and a bright seascape hung upon it over the granite lintel of the old, and now disused, bedroom fireplace. A pine night table with a lamp and an overstuffed old white armchair, covered with a blue throw completed the look. The room had a very comforting feel about it. It felt ‘right’ somehow. But not for him.
Quickly he threw his backpack on the bed and found the tube of cream he had bought. He went along to the bathroom, squeezed out a couple of inches of cream and rubbed it thoroughly into the marks. He squinted into the bathroom mirror. It looked as if the marks were healing up. Jake sighed with relief.
“Good!” he whispered to himself.
Relieved, he washed his face and ran his fingers through his hair before going downstairs. As he stood on the landing, he heard his Cara’s voice. He paused to listen. Then he realised that Cara was talking to Grace!
“Well Gracie. I don’t know about this. I don’t know about this at all. I hope I’ve done the right thing bringing Jake here. It’s a big upheaval for all of us.” Her voice died away to nothing. Not wanting Cara to know he had heard her, Jake crept back into the bathroom and pulled the chain on the old-fashioned loo.
Hating himself, he flopped down on his bed. Suddenly, he felt terribly down. He could not understand why. The cottage felt lovely. How Dad would love it. Well, Dad would have loved it. Grief overwhelmed him. It was an effort not to cry. He heard a gentle clicking of Grace’s claws on the bare wood as the dog came upstairs. The door opened and Grace’s face appeared around it. She trotted up to the bed and gently licked Jake’s hand before sitting down with her back resting against his leg.
Jake stroked her head gently for several minutes. Then Jake unexpectedly felt strength flow into him. His grief began to lift and he started to feel better. After a while, he began to unpack. By the time Cara called him down into the dining room for a supper of casserole and baked potatoes, he was feeling a whole lot better. (Even if the casserole did have vegetables in it!) He had gone on feeling better until he went to bed and being overtired, grief had consumed him again and he had been unable to sleep.
As he lay in bed trying not to cry he heard Grace’s claws clicking. Then the bed depressed and he could feel a solid lump pressing against the back of his knees. Grace had come to comfort him. Jake held out a hand in the dark and felt a rough lick on the back of it. He settled down to sleep, comforted. Another fat tear fell from his eye but he was asleep even before it soaked into his pillow.
When Jake finally surfaced the next morning, he climbed out of bed and drew back the curtains.
Brilliant light poured in through the wooden sash window. Looking out across fields, he saw a blue strip of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. The light was so bright it made Jake squint. Quickly, he dressed and went downstairs.
“Hi there Sleepy!” Cara called from her studio, where she was slapping paint on to a canvas. She was wearing an old shirt, with a thin belt around her middle, and faded jeans. Both were covered liberally with smeared paint. She looked up from her palette. As she did, Jake noticed it tilt and freshly mixed paint dripped all over her battered trainers.
Jake pointed at the palette. “Cara! You’re dripping!”
“What? Oh blast!” Cara quickly straightened her palette before looking back at Jake. “Thanks! Are you hungry?”
“There’s bacon, beans and fried bread keeping warm in the bottom oven.” She mixed more paint vigorously on the palette, now cradled in her left arm. She looked up mischievously. ““Or cornflakes in the larder if you prefer?”
Jake grinned. “Bacon sounds great!”
“Help yourself. And use the oven glove because the plate will be very hot! And don’t expect this every morning! It’s new boy’s treat!” Cara called after him.
Jake removed the plate from the oven and placed it on the kitchen table. Then he poured himself some juice, sat down and ate. He was hungry and the food tasted good. Rob’s Mum said cooked breakfasts were bad for you and gave them muesli that tasted like sawdust and stuck to his teeth. He could not remember when he had eaten such a good breakfast as this one. He finished eating, picked up his dirty plate and looked for the dishwasher. There wasn’t one, just a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Should he wash them? He decided he would. It would be polite and besides, he did not have anything else to do. As he finished, Cara came into the kitchen and put on the kettle.
“Oh, you didn’t have to do that,” she said to Jake. “At least not today! Come on, I’ll give you the guided tour.” He followed her into the dining room.
“Sitting room’s through here.” She opened a pine door into a large room that ran the length of the house. Two large pale blue sofas faced each other in front of an inglenook fireplace with a large wood burning stove. A low pine table, covered with art magazines, stood between the sofas. A small TV stood on a bookcase in the far corner with an ancient stereo next to it. A vivid blue and white painting of a beach hung on the exposed granite chimneybreast. Jake was intrigued.
“Where’s that?” he asked. Cara looked at the picture. “Oh, that’s Godrevy Lighthouse. It’s quite near here, the beach nearby is wonderful. We could go there one day if you want.”
Jake nodded. He was not planning on committing himself to anything at the moment.
The cottage’s thick, stone walls had been whitewashed before being covered by pine bookcases. The books alone must number several thousand. Two large freestanding cast iron candelabras stood on either side of the wood burner. A rose pink wool rug covered most of the bare wooden floor. That incredible bright light flooded in from two windows at either end of the room, which had cornflower blue curtains hanging from them.
Cara indicated the cream table lamps positioned around the room. “The electricity supply here is erratic to say the least! The slightest storm and it goes off. That’s why I have all these candles and books. You have to be able make your own entertainment here.”
Jake looked out of the window into a wonderfully overgrown garden, full of wild honeysuckle and wild roses that were both coming into small rosettes of leaf. There were daffodils that seemed to grow in almost every Cornish hedgerow, bobbing their golden heads in the breeze blowing in from the ocean.
“What a lovely view,” he said.
Cara looked and nodded. “Isn’t it?” She opened an old door that Jake had not noticed before as it was hidden behind a curtain and they went out into the garden. Cara extended her arms, pointing her fingers at the countryside.
“In that direction is St. Ives, where I spend most of my time when I’m not here.” She gave a quarter turn, “that way is Lands End and beyond it America.” She gave another quarter turn. “That way’s Penzance.” She gave one final turn. “That way is England where the emmets and foreigners come from, as they say here!”
“Emmets?” asked Jake, confused.
Cara smiled. “It what the Cornish call English tourists. Emmet is Cornish for ant.”
Jake grinned. “I thought you were English?” Cara smiled and tucked her hair behind her ears. “Oh, I am but I think of myself as Cornish. It’s a vain hope. As I wasn’t born here I’ll never be truly Cornish.”
“Adopted then?” queried Jake.
“Yep,” said Cara, wiping some spilt paint from her shoe onto a clump of coarse grass. “That’s about right. I love it here. I could never live anywhere else.” She inspected her shoe and turned to go into the house.
“Damn! The kettle will boil dry if I don’t take it off the hob! Come in when you’re ready!” she called over her shoulder as she disappeared.
Jake walked around the house to the front. From outside, Cara’s cottage looked homely. A traditional Cornish cottage, made of granite with a slate roof, it sat snug and protected in its own hollow about half a mile from the nearest village. Ancient granite walls topped with blackthorn and fuchsia bounded the garden and two of three small hawthorn trees sheltered the house from the prevailing southwesterly winds. Fields surrounded the cottage. A wooden bench, bleached by years of exposure to the weather, stood against the side of the cottage.
Starting at the carved wooden gate, he walked towards the soft green door that sat squarely in the middle of the cottage. It reminded Jake of houses he used to draw when he was very small, with four oblong windows and a front door. Two large chimneys squatted on each end of the house, straddling the apex of the slate roof. The whole effect was warm and welcoming. Above it the sky was blue. The salty breeze gently ruffled his hair. In the distance a seagull cried and was answered by another.
Suddenly, Jake felt a cold nose against his hand. Looking down, he saw Grace standing there wagging her tail.
Cara came out of the house, carrying two steaming mugs of tea. Handing one to Jake she nodded at Grace. “She is such a happy dog.”
Jake nodded. “She always looks as if she’s smiling!”
Cara nodded. “She’s really taken to you. That’s great as you can take her for walks instead of me. Especially in the wet! The weather here can be foul. You have been warned!”
Jake laughed. “Cool. I’m getting to like dogs.” His hand was licked again.
“If you finish your unpacking this morning, this afternoon we’ll go out for a drive. I’ll show you the fleshpots of St. Ives! Once you get your bearings you’ll be able to explore more easily on your own. Feel free to make your room your own. Put up posters if you want.”
Jake nodded. This was not the time to say that he would not be staying long. Cara went back into the house to finish her painting. Jake sat on the old wooden garden seat to drink his tea. Grace settled down at his feet. For the first time since Dad died, Jake felt at peace. Maybe it would not be so bad here after all, for a short time anyway.
Jake loved St. Ives. He was intrigued by the little town that had become a haven for artists because of the wonderful quality of light there. He also loved the fact that it had five beaches to choose from when he wanted to go swimming in the summer. He could not remember the last time he had swum in the ocean. Cara had bought him a surfing magazine before they left home and he was longing to learn to surf as well.
He and Cara spent the afternoon exploring the town on foot. Pretty cottages lined the narrow streets. Jake loved the Mediterranean feel along the seafront with the cafes and bars. He bought ice creams for himself and Cara. They sat on a seat in front of the harbour whilst they ate them.
Cara licked her ice cream greedily. “This is a very touristy thing to do, but I don’t care! This ice cream is gorgeous. It’s years since I had one.”
Jake munched at the chocolate flake in his 99. Cara was right. The ice cream was delicious.
While he was pondering on the difference between Cornish ice cream and the ice creams sold up country, Jake had to dodge a hungry seagull who tried to snatch the remains of his cornet straight out of his hands. When Jake outwitted the gull, it showed its extreme displeasure by pooing over Jake’s new trainers. He shook his fist at the gull. Cara roared with laughter as if it were the funniest thing in the world. After a while, Jake began to see the funny side as well. Blinking birds! At least gulls make a change from crows, he thought.
After he had cleaned up his trainers and washed his hands, he followed Cara into a small gallery. Whilst Cara chatted with Ted, the gallery owner, Jake looked at the paintings on the walls. There were a lot of seascapes; some Jake liked, others he was not so sure about. Bored by the abstracts, Jake turned his attention to the rows of pictures that lay in rows, propped against the walls, but resting on the floor. Again there were even more seascapes and view of the harbour, but his attention was grabbed by a small picture that had its face turned against the wall. Lifting it up and turning it round, Jake realised it was an old engraving of a stone circle. As he studied it, he scratched his chest without thinking. He was so engrossed in the picture, he did not notice that both Ted and Cara had stopped talking and were watching him intently.
“Sorry! Are you waiting for me?” Jake shook himself back to reality and replaced the picture. Ted smiled.
“You like the Maidens?”
“The maidens?” Jake looked left and right. He did not understand. They were alone in the gallery; he could not see any maidens. What was Ted on about? He looked at Cara blankly. “What maidens?”
Ted grinned. “The picture of the Merry Maidens. You know. The one you were just looking at. It’s a stone circle over Penzance way. Shame really,” Ted continued. ““Someone cut that engraving out of an old book and framed it. I hate it when that happens.” Ted leaned on the counter and continued, “I don’t even remember how I came by that picture. Must have been mixed up in an auction lot or something. It was like one minute it wasn’t there, next moment it was. Funny that!” He shrugged. “I’d never have bought it otherwise. Books should be left alone, not dismembered for their illustrations to hang on the wall of some themed bar. The only time anyone will stop and look at it is when they’re standing in the queue for happy hour.” Ted shook his head sadly.
Cara handed Jake her spare set of car keys. “I won’t be much longer here Jake. I’ll meet you back at the car in fifteen minutes. You can go and get a Tide Time Table from the bookshop if you want to go exploring local beaches on your own. You will need one, it’s very easy to get cut off by the incoming tides if you’re not careful,” she called as Jake left the gallery.
Still in a daze, Jake walked back to the seafront. For some reason he could not get the Maidens out of his mind. He walked along to Porthmeor Beach where he sat and watched the surfers riding the waves; their dark wetsuits, gleaming in the late spring sunshine, reminded Jake of the newts and slow worms he had studied in biology. Surfing did look like fun. He would definitely try it and perhaps treat himself to a few lessons. With his mind full of positive thoughts, Jake turned to walk back to the car when he realised he had forgotten his Tide Table. He ran back to the bookshop and managed to get a Tide Table just as the shop was closing for the day. Then he jogged back to where Cara was waiting for him, listening to the radio.
She turned it off as he got in. “Hi, stranger! I thought you’d got lost!”
Jake shook his head. “No. Sorry, I was watching the surfers.” Cara nodded as she started the car. “I know. I could spend hours watching them. I’m sure it’s addictive.”
When they got back to the cottage Jake went upstairs to set up his computer. As Cara had predicted the internet access was dire. Eventually Jake gave up, closed his laptop in disgust and decided to rearrange his room. Meanwhile, Cara fed Grace and let her out into the garden. Hearing the sound of furniture being dragged around in Jake’s room she winced, thinking of the care she had taken decorating and furnishing that room. She hoped that having Jake here was going to work out OK for both their sakes. When her brother had asked her if she would be Jake’s legal guardian, Cara had agreed thinking that it was something she would never have to do. After all Jake had been twelve then and in six years time would have legally come of age. Her brother had waited twelve years before asking her and she figured that it would be unlikely that anything dreadful would happen. But, of course, it had. Cara liked a simple life based around her painting and the gallery in St. Ives where she worked part time, and could do without all the histrionics that life with an adolescent boy might entail. Guiltily, she poured herself a glass of wine, slammed a loaf of garlic bread into the Aga, and prayed that she had done the right thing for both of them.
“Supper’s ready!” Cara called up the stairs. Jake went into the bathroom and splashed some water on his face before going down to the dining room just as Cara carried in two heaped platefuls of pasta. As Jake sat at the table and popped a can of Coke, Cara put his plate in front of him and passed him a bowl of grated cheese, before sitting down on the opposite side of the table. She reached down to pick something up from the floor. Jake wondered if she had dropped her napkin. As she straightened up, she handed Jake a flat parcel, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
Jake reached across and took the parcel. “Thank you! What is it?”
“Open it and see!”
Intrigued, Jake tore off the wrapping and to his amazement found the picture of the Maidens. “Cool! Thanks Cara!”
Cara smiled. “Don’t thank me, thank Ted. It was his idea. Think of it as a welcome to your new home present.”
Jake carefully placed the picture on a spare chair, where he could see it as he ate. He could hardly take his eyes off it for a second. Suddenly doubt hit him – should he really be accepting a present from a strange man he did not know? Dad would have gone mad but Cara knew him and thought it OK.
Cara second-guessed his thoughts. “Don’t worry Jake! Ted’s OK. I’ve known him for more than twenty years.” She ground black pepper over her pasta. “He thought it would be nice if the Maidens went to someone who would appreciate them. Ted is a very keen amateur local historian. He likes to think that future generations will preserve Cornish heritage for posterity.” She nodded at Jake. “Now eat up! I’ve been slaving over a hot saucepan for at least half an hour!”
Jake took a mouthful of pasta. It tasted delicious. He suddenly realised just how hungry he was, and began to fork it up furiously. He was amazed that he liked the grated Parmesan cheese. It really tasted cheesy. The tubs of ready grated that Dad had brought always tasted like sick to him. “This is, like, seriously good! I didn’t know that you could do proper cooking.”
Cara took a sip of wine. “Glad you like it. When I was at college, I worked in a restaurant in the evenings. I learnt a lot from the chef there. Just remember that you won’t be getting this sort of treatment every day, as I have to work. You’ll have to get used to fending for yourself a bit during the week and maybe at weekends when my exhibition is imminent. I thought I’d keep a full fridge, freezer and store cupboard, so if you can cook a bit you should be OK.”
Jake ripped off a hunk of garlic bread and took a gulp of Coke.
Cara put down her glass. “OK. Here’s how it works. Once a month we’ll do a big shop at the nearest superstore and stock up the freezer. In between, say for bread, milk, fresh fruit and vegetables I’ll put some cash in the biscuit jar on the kitchen dresser and you can go to the farm shop down the lane.”
Jake nodded, his mouth too full of garlic bread to talk. This way he could conveniently forget the fruit and vegetables, which he hated. He wiped a large chunk of garlic bread around his empty plate, gathering up smears of the delicious sauce. His tummy felt comfortably full, he burped gently. Cara looked up.
Cara smiled, “Don’t tell me, a sign of appreciation I suppose? That’s what your Dad used to say when we were kids”
Jake nodded. “Yes he did!” At the mention of his father, Jake became subdued.
Cara noticed and mentally kicked herself for mentioning her brother. She leaned across and patted his hand. “It will be OK Jake. You’ll see!”
Jake nodded curtly as if he did not really trust himself to speak. Finally, he managed to open his mouth. “OK. That dinner was lovely Cara.”
Cara stood up and gathered the empty plates. “It’s not over yet! Can you find room for Apple crumble and Cornish clotted cream?”
Jake nodded. What a silly question. Of course, he had room for pudding, even if it did have fruit in it. He thought he could get used to Cornish cream. It was delicious.
Later, Jake lay in bed looking at the picture of the Maidens hung on the chimneybreast where Cara had suggested he put it. Grace lay curled up on the rug by the bed sound asleep. Moonlight streamed through his uncurtained window, throwing patterns against the far wall. He felt better. It felt as though the whole world was safe and peaceful tonight. It was a good feeling. As Jake drifted off to sleep, he felt glad he had come to Cornwall.
Over the next few days, Jake gradually adjusted to his new home. Encouraged by Cara, he blu-tacked a couple of posters of his favourite bands up in his room. After several attempts, he finally gave up trying to connect his computer; as Cara only had dial up Internet Jake found the slowness of the Internet frustrating. He found it hard not being able to reconnect with his old friends on Facebook, via email and on his usual forums and games sites, but Cara was very clear on the matter. For his own safety, he must not let anyone know where he was. As Jake lay on his bed, he wondered what all the fuss was about. First Dad, now Cara. All this seemed to have blown up out of nowhere. One day he was an ordinary boy mucking about with his friends with hardly a care in the world. Now he seemed to be living some rather top-secret existence! Idly, Jake pondered what Rob and his old mates thought about it all. He hoped they did not think ill of him for just disappearing like that without a single goodbye. Although he had sent an iTunes voucher to Rob, he did not even know if Rob had received it.
Realising that moping around the cottage all day was doing him no good at all, Jake travelled into St. Ives with Cara one day. After Cara had gone to work, Jake made for the beach to sit and watch some of the surfing. He loved the way the surfers rode the waves in their dark, glistening wetsuits. Jake found he could spend hours watching the waves and he was looking forward to trying out some surfing himself and sort himself out with a few lessons when he saved up some money from his allowance. After all, it would give him something to do whilst he planned his escape.
Then Jake saw a group of boys about his own age come out of the water, walk up the beach and throw their boards down the sand while they rubbed themselves dry with colourful beach towels. Jake decided to go over and ask them the best way to learn about surfing. It would be good to find out how they had learned. Perhaps they might even offer to show him how to do it. He could even end up being friends with them. Much as he enjoyed Cara’s company, he missed people of his own age and would like to make new friends. As he approached the group, a small, dark haired boy looked up.
“Watazzawant?” he sneered. Jake looked at him astonished. He thought the boy rather rude but decided not to say anything. His Dad had always insisted on polite behaviour, even when provoked.
“I was watching you surf and I thought it looked fun and I was wondering if you could give me some pointers?” began Jake.
“Ooooh! Pointers!” sneered the dark haired boy, looking around to see if he had an audience. Sure enough, his friends had stopped changing and were listening with amusement. “Posh boy here wants pointers.” The group began to laugh.
“I can point you in a certain direction!” said one tall, gormless-looking boy pointing out to sea, “Just swim out in that direction and don’t come back!”
Jake began to feel angry. “I’m only making friendly enquiries. There’s no need to be rude!”
“Oooooh!” called the group collectively, “Someone’s getting their knickers in a twist!”
“I’m not!” spluttered Jake, who to his utter shame could feel his cheeks flush red as they always did when he was embarrassed.
“Oh look! He’s blushing!” mocked the small dark haired boy.
“I’m not!” lied Jake, angry now. “I’ve just caught the sun! Oh never mind. Forget it.”
Furious, Jake put his hands in his pockets and strode up the beach to a chorus of catcalls. As he reached the top of the beach, he sensed rather than felt a stone whizz past him. A second later, a carefully aimed pebble caught him squarely on the back of the head.
“Ow!” Jake turned round still rubbing his head to see the dark haired boy standing about ten feet behind him. “Don’t do that! It’s dangerous! You could have had my eye out!”
The dark haired boy just sneered. “Eye in the back of your ‘ed then Lord Snooty? Go home Emmet. You posh city boy! We’ve had enough of your sort here! Buying our houses for second homes and turning our villages into ghost towns.”
Jake almost shouted that he was not posh but then decided not to bother. He would only be adding fuel to the fire. He walked up onto the pavement and strode along the harbour wall, fighting back tears. It was not fair! He did not want to be here! He had no choice in the matter. After walking for a while, Jake felt calmer, went into a café, and treated himself to a hot chocolate. As it was late in the afternoon and not yet holiday season, the café was nearly empty and Jake was able to grab a table by the window that looked out over the harbour. Jake loved the view northwards up the coast especially at dusk when he could see the lights of Godrevy and Trevose lighthouses flashing in the distance. After he left the café, Jake walked a bit more and bought an old book on shipwrecks he found in a charity shop. He was amazed to read that a coast as beautiful as Cornwall’s could be so cruel and provide so much horror and loss of life over the years.
Jake spent several afternoons in St. Ives and grew quite fond of the small town. One afternoon, after walking around the town it began to pour with rain so Jake visited the Tate Gallery, which delighted Cara who had started making suggestions about him taking an art class. Jake did not feel ready for that yet and managed to stall her, to his great relief. After his experience with the local youths on the beach, he did not want to expose himself to any more ridicule. Cara sensibly let it be. If she sensed that Jake was having a problem making friends she did not show it and gradually Jake began to accept his new life in his adopted county. Grace became very attached to Jake. She slept in his bedroom at night and followed him everywhere. At first, Cara felt a little jealous as Grace was her dog but she soon got over it, realising that the dog was giving Jake comfort and companionship he sorely needed. The only thing Jake did not like about Cornish life was the thunderstorms. He experienced his first late one night. He lay in bed listening to the massive claps of thunder and watching the flickering lightning as it made eerie patterns on his bedroom wall. Jake had never been scared of thunderstorms at home and had often slept right through them but here he grew to dislike the way the thunder rolled around the valley, echoing off the granite cliffs. Grace did not like it either and curled up under Jake’s bed, unable to relax until the storm had passed. Even worse, when Jake got up the following morning there was no power. At first, Jake could not comprehend what had happened and kept flicking the bathroom light switch up and down waiting for the light to come on.
Cara called up from the kitchen, “No power city boy! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Now I’ve made coffee and toast on the Aga! Come and get some breakfast!”
Jake pulled on some sweats, padded downstairs and sat at the table.
“Morning Jake!” said Cara who was sitting across from him and reading the local paper.
Jake grunted as he poured himself some coffee and reached sulkily across the table for the butter. “Oh come on!” Cara looked at him over the paper. “It’s not that bad! Power should be back on before tonight!”
Jake dropped his knife in astonishment and it clattered onto his plate. “Tonight?” he croaked. How would he get though the rest of the day without electricity?
Cara turned the page of her paper, “Yes, tonight. Tomorrow at the latest!”
“Why do we have to live out here?” grumbled Jake, “Why can’t we live in a town like normal people?”
“We are normal people!” Cara skimmed the paper and turned to the next page, “I chose to live here because I like it!”
“How can you like it with no electricity? It’s like the stone age!”
Cara put her paper down and pushed her glasses on top of her head. “Go outside on at night when the sky is clear and you will see the most fantastic panorama in the skies above; stars, planets, galaxies, the whole nine yards. The longer you look at it all the more you see. It’s simply wonderful. You’d never see all that in a town with light pollution. Even the reflective light from St. Ives makes a difference. If the power’s still off, and you’re not glued to the TV or a computer tonight, we’ll try it. You’ll love it, I promise.”
“I’d rather use my computer!” mumbled Jake, picking up his knife and digging deeply into the butter. He was finding a life without modern technology hard. Sometimes his fingers literally itched to text someone. He missed the Internet dreadfully.
Cara stood up and stacked her plate and cup together. “What a fuss you make Jake! I don’t know why, it’s almost summertime too! Never mind, it’s far worse in the winter!”
“Oh, great!” said Jake rolling his eyes and reaching for the last slice of toast. “Thank goodness I won’t be here then,” he thought as he plastered on butter and marmalade.
They did go outside that night, taking plenty of warm rugs, a flask of hot soup, a torch and a star chart. As Jake lay flat on his back and stared into the starry sky, he was amazed at what he saw. Cara lay next to him and Grace between them, occasionally going off across the moor in pursuit of rabbits, only to return shortly to curl up between them again.
After a while, Cara sat up and poured out hot soup, passing a mug across to Jake who sipped it gratefully. Cara wedged her mug securely against the heather and stretched her arms out towards the sky. “Ah, I feel so much better for doing this! I hadn’t realised just how much my forthcoming exhibition is stressing me out.” Suddenly a shooting star flew across the sky. Jake watched it in amazement before laying back down to look straight up into the sky. He felt humbled as he stared into the wonders of the universe. It certainly put many things into perspective. Why had he never done this before? In a strange way Jake felt connected to the land. It seemed like it was alive beneath him. It was a weird feeling but Jake was not scared. It felt almost as if earth energies were pouring into his body for some reason he did not yet understand. Dad’s necklace was warm against his skin and it comforted him. When he eventually tore himself away from his view of the heavens to go to bed, he slept better than he had for weeks.
Jake’s life fell into a happy pattern. He woke early and after a quick breakfast was up and out exploring the nearby moors with Grace at his side. He began to love their solitude and beauty. Sometimes they were so desolate, he felt that he was the only person alive in the world and he never tired of watching the light change as the clouds passed over the sun. Now he realised why Cara had insisted on him bringing maps and a compass with him. It was easy to get lost and the area was littered with abandoned mine workings. Although some of the old shafts had been capped with concrete and some had metal grids bolted across the shaft opening, it was still possible for the occasional shaft to be exposed. As these old shafts were sunk deeply into the earth some reached a depth of several hundred metres. Jake learned to take extreme care out on the moors and to keep a close eye on Gracie lest she tumble down an uncapped mine shaft. One morning, as Jake took Grace for her morning walk, he decided to explore an old mine engine house. He had explored there before, briefly, and he knew the shaft was sealed so there was no danger of Grace falling down it. Jake let her off the lead and smiled as she ran around chasing rabbits to her heart’s content.
“You’ll never catch one Gracie!” he called to her. “They can go underground and escape you easily!” Grace looked across at him. Her tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth and she wagged her tail. As he watched, another rabbit dashed across the moor and Grace disappeared in hot pursuit.
Jake laughed and shook his head. Dogs! Would she never learn? He turned back to the mine and tried to imagine what life here would have been like when the mine was working and providing a living for the local community. The sun was warm on his shoulders and he began to relax as he walked around the ruined mine workings. He stopped to examine a fern growing out of the broken stonework. Out of the corner of his eye Jake saw a black shape appear. Instinctively, he turned towards it and noticed a crow sitting on the top of the mine chimney. As Jake watched the crow, it was joined by another, followed by another and another.
Jake turned around.
Within seconds, crows had covered the ruins!
He was in the middle of the circle of crows!
Everything Jake could see was black with crows! Every surface was covered with them.
Just sitting there.
A murder of crows!
Suddenly, Grace appeared. She ran to Jake and faced the crows barking noisily.
One of the crows cawed loudly and, as one, the entire flock took to the air and flew off.
Jake shook his head.
Surely, it must be a coincidence.
It couldn’t be the same crows!
The murder of crows that had killed his father!
Now they were after him!
Grace ran to him and licked his hand to check that he was OK. Jake bent and rubbed her chest.
“Good girl Gracie!”
“Woof!” Grace barked softly.
Jake expected Grace to run off after rabbits again but she stayed closed beside him, almost as if she was guarding him against something dangerous. A minute later the sun went behind a cloud and the wind got up. The ruins that had seemed so benign a minute ago now felt sinister and unwelcoming. Jake shivered and patting Grace gently on the head, they turned quickly for home.
In the days that followed, Jake explored close to home, but consciously avoided the mine. Occasionally taking the bus into St. Ives, he grabbed a lift home with Cara when she finished work. Later he began to venture further afield, catching the small bus that ran down the coast road to Lands End. As the bus made its way down the snaking road, Jake watched the sea. It still fascinated him so much he had trouble taking his eyes off it. There was a lighthouse on the cliff, which stood out against a vivid blue sea. Jake got off the bus and walked down to get a view of the lighthouse. As he looked at the sea it appeared to be boiling while it swirled around the reef of deadly rocks. Jake shivered before turning and walking back up to the road. He felt glad to board the next bus and watch the landscape slip past.
His attention was grabbed by what looked like a series of humps on the horizon far out to sea. Jake did not know whether they were really there or whether he was imaging them. An old woman sitting opposite him smiled. “That’s the Scillies, my handsome!”
“The Scillies. What we call the Scilly Isles. They are 28 miles out into the Atlantic. If you can see them, you know it’s going to rain. When you can’t see them it’s raining!” She laughed, showing several missing teeth.
“Come on, Dolly,” called the bus driver who had overheard the conversation, “You know that’s not true. Stop teasing the lad.”
“That’s not strictly true,” he called to Jake. “A lot of the time you can’t see them from the land and it still going to rain!” They both laughed loudly. Jake smiled. Something about the hazy humps of land fascinated him. He made a mental note to ask Cara about them when he got home.
Jake was rather disappointed with Lands End. It was full of grottoes and had a modern hotel on it, which was not what he had expected at all. He bought a hot pasty and a can of cold Coke at the complex and sat down in the sunshine to eat them. He was somewhat surprised to find he was being mugged by a sparrow that kept flying at him quite aggressively. Every time Jake took evasive action, a bit of pasty dropped onto the ground and was snatched up by the sparrow and his accomplice, a large herring gull, which had sauntered across intent on a piece of the action. It watched him beadily from a distance. Jake found the herring gulls quite alarming; some of them were so large they were almost the size of small ducks. At least it was not a crow!
“What’s wrong with this place?” thought Jake, “Is every bird in the county starving?” Defeated, he threw the rest of his pasty on the ground and watched the birds gobble it up. After the gull had finished it threw back its head and gave a large cry before flying off. The sparrow went off in search of richer pickings. Jake put his face to the sun closing his eyes and enjoying its warmth. It was peaceful here now and he felt himself relax. After a while, he finished his Coke, threw the can in the recycling bin and went for a walk along the cliff towards Sennen Cove. He spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the beautiful sandy beach there before catching the bus back towards St. Ives.
“I saw the Scillies today,” Jake told Cara later over dinner, “What do you know about them?”
Cara sipped her wine, distractedly. She had not eaten or drunk much and had oil paint smears on her face. Her exhibition was fast approaching and she was worried about not meeting her deadline. “Not much, I’m afraid. What do you want to know?”
“Just a bit of general information really,” said Jake.
“Have a look in the bookcase. If I’ve got anything on the Scillies it’ll be there.”
Jake picked up his dishes and dumped them in the sink before going into the sitting room and scanning the first bookcase eagerly. An hour later, he had a crick in his neck but he had found one book, a general guide to the Islands. He was about to take it up to his room to read when he caught sight of the abandoned dinner table and the heap of dirty dishes in the sink. Cara was working furiously in her studio and Jake’s conscience began to trouble him. He looked again at the table with Cara’s half-eaten dinner and virtually untouched glass of wine. It was not like her to leave the table like that; she must be really worried about this exhibition. Maybe he should pull his weight a bit more? Cara was good to him, she was looking tired, and he knew her opening night was stressing her out. After all, his being here must be as big an adjustment for her as it was for him. He put the book down on the table, carried the dirty plates in the kitchen and began to wash up.
When he had finished the washing up, he cleaned the kitchen, wiping all the surfaces and emptying out the bin. He washed the floor and put down fresh food and water in Grace’s bowls. On a roll now, he went upstairs and cleaned the bathroom. Then he came back down, dusted the two reception rooms and vacuumed the floors. Perhaps he should do his bedroom, too. He did not even want to think about doing Cara’s. He knew her studio was effectively out of bounds to him as well. He looked at his watch. It was way past midnight and he was shattered. He would clean his room tomorrow. He made Cara a mug of coffee and poured himself a glass of water. He took the coffee in to Cara’s studio and put it on her desk. Grace was curled up in her basket against the wall. Her tail wagged as Jake came into the room.
“Thanks,” said Cara, who was totally absorbed in her work and not taking her eyes from the canvas on the easel in front of her for a second. Jake smiled to himself and shook his head gently. Cara was in her own world, away with the fairies. Well, lost in huge swirls of paint. Absently he wondered if Cara would even remember the coffee was there, let alone drink it.
“Night,” he said.
Cara did not answer. She was completely absorbed in her painting. Jake drank his water, rinsed out his glass and then climbed the stairs to his room. He undressed, fell into bed and fell asleep the minute his head touched the pillow. He did not even notice when Grace curled into the crook of his knee an hour later.
Cara was still working when Jake got up the next morning. He showered and, catching sight of himself in the mirror as he dried himself, he was pleased to see that the marks on his chest had disappeared. Cheered, he went downstairs, made some tea and toast, and put it on the table. Before he could call her, Cara came out of her studio looking exhausted and flopped down in her chair.
“Finished! All done! Finito!” she said triumphantly, pushing lank hair away from her face and tucking it behind her ears. She rubbed her temples, using circular motions with her fingertips as if she were warding off a headache. The paint smears on her face were still there, with some additions, making her look a bit like a demented Native American.
“You look knackered,” exclaimed Jake, truthfully.
Cara gave a spectacular eye roll. “Thanks for that Jake! That makes me feel so much better!”
“Seriously,” Jake said, “You need food and sleep.”
Cara smiled as she reached for the teapot and filled her mug to the brim. “You’re not wrong there, Jakey boy!” She sipped her tea and took some toast. “This is good. I’m starving!”
Twenty minutes, five slices of toast and four mugs of tea later, Cara sat back in her chair. “That’s better. I almost feel human again.” She looked around the room as if she had not seen it before. “Jake have you been cleaning?”
Jake shrugged. “Just a bit, I thought I’d better pull my weight a bit and you were busy.”
Cara smiled and shook her head. “Since when did we swap places Jake? Suddenly I feel like the child, not the adult, in this relationship!”
Jake stiffened. He was not a child. He was a young adult. How dare she call him a child? He was only looking after her. Cara seemed to realise that she upset him and hurriedly changed the subject.
“I’ve just got a few more days to the opening of the exhibition and then I thought we’d go exploring? Maybe even take a short trip to the Scillies later in the year? I’ve never been.” She picked up the guide that Jake had left the previous night and not had time to read and flicked through it. Jake nodded, partly mollified. He knew this was Cara’s idea of an apology.
“Jake, could you do me one more favour?” she asked.
“OK. What is it?”
“Mike the framer is coming across to drop off some of my framed pictures for the exhibition. Can you make sure that he takes those canvases away with him as they need framing, too?” Cara indicated a pile of canvasses stacked by the door. “Only tell him not to take the wet one, not yet anyway! He should be here this afternoon around three.”
Jake nodded. He knew it was Cara’s afternoon to work in the gallery in St. Ives and he did not have anything planned. Truthfully, he was bored and a bit lonely. It was too early in the season for him to swim in the sea or lie in the sun. It would be nice to have someone else to chat to. Cara went upstairs to have a couple of hours sleep before work. Jake had been meaning to tidy his room and log on to his computer, but he did not want to disturb Cara. He could hear the water running in the shower so he decided to make himself scarce. Besides, it was too nice a morning to waste indoors so he made the decision to take Grace for a walk. Jake tied a fleece around his waist as the wind was still chilly, whistled to Grace and they both set out. Grace ran ahead, she knew exactly which path to take across the moors. Jake never tired of watching the wildlife and the landscape. It was both primitive and beautiful.
On his return, all was silent at the cottage. Jake fixed himself a snack and sat down with his guide to the Scillies. It was a tourist guide and the contents were light, so did not hold his attention for long and he flung it down on the coffee table in disgust, where it lay next to one of Cara’s sketchbooks. Curious, Jake picked the sketchbook and flipped through it, feeling a bit guilty as if he were looking at Cara’s diary or something. There were sketches of many places he recognised and even a newcomer to art could see that Cara had an extraordinary talent for capturing the landscape. Jake turned the last page of drawing in the book and stared at a blank sheet of cartridge paper. His fingers itched for a pencil. He got up and went into Cara’s studio, found one on her desk and went back to the book, picked it up and, to his complete amazement, he found he was drawing! He had never been able to draw before. In fact, his efforts had been embarrassing to say the least. One effort had been so bad he had even felt like apologising to the paper for wasting it! That certainly was not the case this time. Jake watched, amazed as his fingers flew across the papers. He could swear they were moving themselves. He watched, fascinated, as they created a drawing of some standing stones that looked very familiar.
“Jake! What the hell are you doing?”
Jake jumped. He had been so absorbed in his drawing that he had not heard Cara come downstairs after her sleep.
“Just drawing, Cara.”
“On MY sketchpad! How dare you! Don’t you know my sketchbook’s private?” Cara snatched her sketchbook from him. “Don’t you dare ever do that again!” She looked at his drawing in silence before looking up at him. “That drawing’s good. That is seriously good.”
“What is it?” he asked, puzzled.
Cara looked at him, amazed. “What do you mean, what is it? You’re drawing it for goodness sake!”
Jake stopped. He did not have an answer. Suddenly his chest was burning. He scratched it through his tee.
Cara suddenly laughed. “Oh, you’re good!” She picked up her bag, grabbed her keys from the bowl on the dresser, and made for the front door, still laughing. “You’re very good! I’ll tell Ted that his picture of the Maidens has borne fruit and there’s a new artist in town!” The door slammed behind her, leaving Jake standing in the middle of the room totally shocked. The Maidens! Of course! He was drawing the Merry Maidens! Strangely, the drawing that he had done was a completely different view of the stones to those in the picture Ted had given him. Stones he had never seen in real life. Weird. Jake looked at his hands as if he hoped to find an answer written on them. He turned them over. No, nothing.
He was still trying to puzzle things out much later when there was a brisk knock on the door, which opened immediately afterwards, and the tanned face of a middle-aged man appeared. He had dark, curly, collar length hair, grey eyes and the whitest teeth that Jake had ever seen. He was wearing old grey patched cord trousers, a navy fisherman’s jumper and he had a green and pink long silk scarf knotted around his neck.
“Jake?” he asked.
“I’m Mike.” He held out a large calloused hand. Jake just stood there frozen, like an idiot. Then realisation dawned.
“That’s me! Hang on I’ll bring buggers in.”
Jake followed him down the path to the lane where a battered van was parked, completely blocking the way through. Two cars were already waiting to pass and their drivers did not look like happy bunnies. Ignoring them, quite oblivious to their discomfort, Mike opened the van’s rear doors and started unloading canvasses swathed in bubble wrap and parcel tape into the road. One of the drivers reversed, did a three-point turn and headed back the way he had come. He was local and had experienced Mike’s tactics before. The other driver was an incomer who clearly had no manners. He sounded his horn. Loudly. Mike took no notice, disappearing into the back of the van. “I know ee’s in here somewhere.”
The horn sounded again; this time for longer. Jake felt very uncomfortable, standing in the lane hopping from foot to foot in embarrassment. “Please do not let me be caught in the middle of a confrontation,” he prayed silently.
The horn blasted again. The car driver rolled down his window and shouted something Jake could not hear. What if things got nasty? Jake had read about road rage and it looked as if he were about to experience it firsthand. To his surprise, the van’s passenger door opened and a girl who looked around his own age climbed out and walked around to the back doors. She called into the van. “Mike!” There was no answer. Shrugging her shoulders, the girl started to climb in. “Mike!”
“What?” shouted Mike from the depths of the van.
“You need to move the van. Now!”
A muffled swear word issued from inside the van. The girl grinned at Jake, showing amazingly white teeth. “I’ll tell Zelah you said that!”
The girl climbed out of the van, went the car driver’s window and said something that Jake could not hear. At the same time, Mike jumped out of the van and reloaded the pictures. He slammed the van doors loudly before climbing back behind the wheel, starting the ignition and revving the engine noisily so that it produced lots of smelly exhaust gas. The car driver closed his window quickly.
Mike looked out of his window and shouted to Jake. “I’ll take ee down the track, then.” Without waiting for Jake to answer and totally ignoring the girl, Mike drove about a hundred yards before swinging the van off the road and along the track. The van’s suspension creaked alarmingly; the queued car moved on gratefully. Jake and the girl were left standing by the side of the main road, surrounded by a cloud of exhaust fumes.
The girl grabbed his arm. “Phaw! That stinks! Come on! Let’s get out of here.” They walked back to the cottage through the pretty garden. Jake was aware that the girl was watching him sideways through long black eyelashes.
He held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Jake.”
The girl blushed. Now that the situation was defused, and she had nothing to occupy her, she seemed shy somehow. Finally, she looked up, smiled, reached out and took Jake’s proffered hand. “Anna.” She removed her hand and snatched at a long leaf of couch grass, stretched it between her thumbs and blew down it, trying to make it whistle. When that failed, she threw it down and transferred her attention to the cuticle of her right thumbnail before looking at him again.
To break the silence, Jake asked, “How do you know Mike then?”
Anna laughed. “He’s my Dad.”
Jake smiled back. He thought she looked pretty when she laughed. Anna had long blond hair that reached down to her shoulder blades and curled over gently at the ends, an ivory complexion, rose pink lips, a smattering of freckles across her nose and the most amazing amber eyes he had ever seen. She was almost as tall as he was and quite thin. She was wearing a long slate grey fleece top, skinny blue jeans and old, scuffed ankle boots. She had a blue-grey silk scarf tied around her neck. It was a striking and original look.
Jake raised his own brows. “Your Dad? But you call him Mike! Isn’t that like, well, weird?”
Anna shrugged. “Not really. We all call him Mike and we call our Mum Zelah.”
“It’s her name!” Anna stopped walking and looked at him crossly. “Well it is!”
Jake stopped too, holding up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “OK! OK! I’m sorry, I just find it just unusual, that’s all.”
“What do you call your parents? Mum and Dad I’ll guess.”
Jake did not know what to say. He swallowed uncomfortably. Anna was clearly waiting for him to continue so he did.
“Actually I don’t have any parents. They’re both dead.”
Jake waited for Anna to say “I’m sorry” as people usually did, but she did not. She did not say anything, so Jake continued, “I find it strange that you call your Mum by her Christian name and Zelah is quite an unusual name, too.”
“Her name’s Zelah ‘cos that where she comes from!” Anna walked on towards the cottage. “Zelah and Mike don’t see us as kids. They see us as people.”
“Sounds cool,” said Jake.
Anna shrugged. “Yeah. It can be, but we have adult responsibilities too. Mike and Zelah reckon that if we want to be treated like adults we have to behave like adults. Sometimes it’s cool. Sometimes it sucks.”
“I see,” replied Jake. He did not, but he did not want to look unsophisticated so he quickly changed the subject.
“We’d better go and see Mike,” he said. “Cara’s got some more pictures she wants him to frame and I have to make sure he gets them.”
“OK,” said Anna. “But he won’t go without me anyway. Zelah’ll give him hell if he leaves me behind again.”
They returned to the cottage where Mike had unloaded Cara’s pictures and Jake showed him the ones that Cara wanted framed. They watched while Mike tested them for dampness before fetching a large roll of bubble wrap from the van, gently wrapped the canvasses as if they were delicate china, and placed them in racks in the back of the van.
Grace treated Anna like a long lost friend, rubbing her back against Anna’s legs and looking adoringly up at her out of huge grey eyes. Anna got down on her knees, cuddled Grace and received a large lick in return.
Jake watched them and smiled. Then he remembered his manners. “Would you like some tea or coffee?” he asked, politely.
Mike bit off some parcel tape using his strong, white teeth. He nodded. “I’ll drink a cup of nettle tea, if you’ve got some.” He returned to his work leaving Jake completely baffled. Anna laughed at Jake’s bewilderment.
“It’s in here.” She went into the kitchen, and opened the larder door and disappeared inside for a minute, reappearing with a battered tea caddy. “There are tea bags in here. Cara keeps some just for Mike.” Jake took the caddy from her and opened it. The contents smelt vile. “Just put the bag in the mug, cover with hot water and stir, like ordinary tea, but don’t add any milk or it’ll taste disgusting.”
“OK.” Jake privately thought nettle tea probably tasted pretty disgusting anyway but was too polite to say so. He made the tea and carried it through to Mike who nodded curtly. Jake set the tea down on the flag stoned floor and returned to the kitchen.
“What would you like?” he asked Anna, hoping she would not say nettle tea.
Anna requested a glass of water that she poured herself and drank thirstily. Jake took a Coke from the fridge and flipped the can open. He felt Anna’s eyes on him as he drank.
“That stuff’s very bad for you,” she said, finally. Jake shrugged. If she thought he would start drinking nettle tea she was mistaken. He set the can down and glanced at his watch. He was beginning to find Anna a bit heavy going. Silence settled on the cottage except for the sound of Mike unrolling parcel tape covering the canvasses with wrap. Jake was very relieved when he heard Cara’s key turn in the lock and she appeared in the dining room.
“Hi Mike, Hi Anna. Sorry I’m a bit late. I see Jake’s been looking after you. Ah, Mike, I see you’ve found the canvasses and Jake’s made you some tea, too.”
Mike nodded and carried on with his work. Cara smiled at Jake. A little too brightly, was Jake’s private thought. “I see you’ve met Anna, Jake. Good!”
She threw her keys in the bowl and bustled off into her studio. Jake followed her in.
“You knew Anna was coming?”
Cara looked a bit uncomfortable. “I thought it would be nice for you to have some young company.”
Jake felt both angry and indignant. He had had plenty of mates at home before Dad had selfishly got himself killed and left him to live down here in this hellhole with Cara, who obviously thought he was a child to be found a playmate. That was what he was to her, a poor little lonely boy, unable to find any friends of his own. The cheek of it! Anger rose deep within him and he exploded. “I don’t need someone to feel sorry for me. I can find my own company. Thank you.”
“Keep your voice down! She’ll hear you!” Cara hissed at him.
“I’m quite able to find my own friends. I don’t need you to nanny me Cara!”
Before Cara could answer, Jake turned on his heel and walked across the dining room, past Anna who was passing through the room carrying a wrapped canvas to the van. He stalked upstairs to his room slamming the door behind him. His face burned red with indignation. He walked to the window and opened it. Leaning out over the sill he took several deep calming breaths, as he surveyed the landscape below. Gradually he calmed down. He could hear the murmur of voices coming from below as Cara and Mike concluded their business and later he heard Mike’s van start up and drive away. Even Grace had deserted him. Jake could see her down in the garden with Cara holding her collar so she would not run after the van.
He flopped down on his bed and looked across at the picture of the Maidens. Looking at it calmed him further and he began to feel ashamed of his rude behaviour. Cara had meant to be kind and he had behaved appallingly. He had not been too polite to Anna, either. She must have been hideously embarrassed. He knew he had some apologies to make. And soon. Jake’s tantrum had exhausted him and he fell into a doze, not waking until his stomach told him it was time for dinner. The first thing he did was go immediately to Cara’s studio where she was working and apologise. Cara pointedly ignored him. Jake sighed inwardly. This was going to be more difficult that he imagined. He apologised again.
Cara put down her palette and looked Jake straight in the eye.
“Jake, I can understand that you want to choose your own friends and that you don’t want me to interfere, but when I arranged for Anna to come over this afternoon I was really thinking of her not you. Mike is very worried about her as he thinks that she is having problems at school fitting in with the other children and is becoming very isolated. He thought it would be good for her to make friends with you.” Cara picked up her palette and mixed paint vigorously with a brush before beginning to paint again. “I know you’ve been through a hell of a lot in your life Jake, but you have to realise right now that life in general does not revolve around you. Anna was almost in tears after your outburst and the poor girl’s gone home with an even bigger complex than ever.”
Jake hung his head. He felt terrible. What must Anna think of him? He looked up. “I’ll go and apologise tomorrow,” he said. Cara nodded, “Yes, I think you should. In the meantime, you can sort us out some supper. Perhaps a large helping of humble pie for you?”
Jake suppressed a smile as he headed to the kitchen.
The following afternoon, having discovered where Anna lived, Jake set off across the moors. The weather was wet and it was blowing a gale. Eager to postpone the meeting with Anna for as long as possible, Jake had originally decided to walk to Anna’s home near St. Ives, but as soon as he ventured out of the cottage he realised that it was a bad idea and he walked into the village to wait for the bus.
As he perched on the stone wall waiting for the bus, Jake’s eyes scanned the ancient landscape, which seemed to him like it was humming with powerful energy. Jake felt vaguely disconcerted by this feeling. Sometimes the landscape felt positively alien. Today, despite the terrible weather, it felt friendly and welcoming. Jake shook his head in bewilderment and was rewarded by several large rain drops that had soaked his hair and now proceeded to make their way down his neck and soak his tee shirt. Jake smiled to himself; he must remember to do up his jacket properly at the neck. He was not used to the outdoors at all and he could not decide if Cornish rain was more penetrating than up country rain. He was glad when the bus arrived and he was able to start his journey toward St. Ives.
Anna and her family lived in an old converted cow barn on the outskirts of St. Ives. It was so hidden away in a secret corner of the downs that if Cara had not given him detailed instructions Jake realised he would never have found it. Like Cara’s cottage, you had to walk down a long rutted track to access it. When Jake walked around the final bend, he saw the old barn in front of him. Mike was obviously doing the renovation work himself, as plastic sheeting, which flapped noisily in the prevailing wind, covered most of the barn.
Mike’s van was parked in front of the barn together with an old mini that was painted various bright colours and had seen much better days.
Jake took a deep breath and ducked under the plastic in search of a door. When he discovered one he knocked. After a short wait, he heard a bolt being drawn back slowly and the door opened about three inches. To his horror, he saw the dark haired boy from the beach standing there!
“If it’s not the posh Emmet! Whatcha want now?”
Jake felt like turning round and going straight home again. He realised he had played directly into the boy’s prejudices by being so perfectly horrible to his sister yesterday.
“Is Anna in, please?” asked Jake.
“Pardon?” said Jake, feeling very confused.
He was saved from further embarrassment when the door suddenly opened wide and he saw a tall, thin, woman standing there. Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she wore old clay stained dungarees, and a cotton lumberjack shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Wet clay slurry covered her forearms. She held out a mucky hand to Jake then laughed at his horrified expression before withdrawing her hand, wiping it on her mucky dungarees, and extending it again. This time Jack took it and shook. She smiled broadly at him.
“You must be Jake!”
Surprised, Jake nodded. “How did you know?”
“Well,” she said, “Firstly, Anna’s mentioned you and I can tell from your accent that you’re obviously not from round here! I’m Zelah, Anna’s mum and this is Anna’s younger brother Dris.” She nodded at the dark haired boy with the incomprehensible dialect whom Jake had met on the beach. Dris, who had the same curly dark hair as his father, mouthed the words “rich Emmet” and stuck out his tongue rudely before sauntering outside with his hands in his pockets, whistling “Shall Trelawny Die.”
Jake felt uncomfortable. This was awkward. In fact, things could not be worse. They must all know what a pig he had been to Anna yesterday. Jake knew he had played right into Dris’s prejudices. All Jake could do was to be suitably contrite and brave it out. After all, if they had a verbal go at him about his behaviour yesterday he fully deserved it.
“I-I-I-I’ve come to see Anna,” he stammered.
Zelah shouted over her right shoulder. “Anna! Door! Jake’s here!” She opened the door wider. “Come in!”
Jake crossed the threshold and entered the barn. Inside it was very basic. Although it was partitioned into rooms, the external walls were made of stone. The largest room, in which he now stood, had a large multi-fuel stove, which glowed red and gave out a comforting warmth. Jake walked across the room and stood by it. He hoped his wet clothes would not begin to give off steam, as that would be extremely embarrassing.
As he waited, he heard the sounds of a car approaching. Through the window, Jake saw an ancient Volkswagen Beetle pull up by the barn. The car was a work of art in itself; it was covered with bright swirls of colour. Magentas clashed with lime green, sky blue and orange. This was topped with yellow and black circles that reminded Jake of snails. It was quite simply an amazing riot of colours. Jake had never seen anything like it.
The engine stopped and the driver’s door opened and, as Jake watched, a girl of about eighteen climbed out before turning round and pushing the driver’s seat forward. She pulled an old, battered, artist’s portfolio out from the back of the car and then slammed the car door closed behind her.
As the girl turned, Jake caught his breath. He had never seen beauty like it. He was mesmerized. This girl was a goddess! Jake had no idea how long he stood there, but the front door opened and the goddess entered. As she came into the house, the end of her portfolio caught on the door and the portfolio spun around, pinching her finger between the portfolio and the doorframe.
“Ouch!” she staggered slightly, before dropping the portfolio and sucking her bruised fingers as her drawings tumbled out all over the floor. Jake sprung forward to pick up her portfolio and gathered some of the drawings from the floor. Jake suddenly realised that the drawings were of naked people! His cheeks burned with embarrassment as, trying desperately not to look at them, he quickly picked up the drawings and handed it to the girl who smiled at him.
“Thanks!” She reached out and grasped the drawings with long, slim hands. Jake was still mesmerized by her beauty, her golden tanned skin, large green eyes and naturally pink lips. Her long, straight blonde hair reached down to her waist and, despite the wet weather she wore brightly coloured bell bottom trousers, a black top and flip flops. She had a lot of sliver bangles on her arms and they tinkled together when she moved.
The Goddess held out her hand. The bangles jangled. “Hi! I’m Daisy!”
Jake suddenly realised that his mouth was open. He shut it. Quickly. He realised the goddess was laughing at him.
“Hi,” he croaked holding out his hand. “I’m Jake.”
“Nice to meet you Jake!”
As Jake stood there, his hand clasped with the goddess’s, he felt time stand still. Then Zelah cleared her throat and Daisy let go of his hand.
“Working tonight, Dais?”
Daisy shook her head and her damp hair rippled down her back. “Yeah, Zel, I’m going to grab a shower and get changed first.”
Zelah nodded. “You’d best get going then.”
Daisy looked at Jake as if she found the situation amusing. “In a minute, Zell.”
Zelah smiled at Jake. “I see you’ve met my elder daughter,” she said dryly. Jake had forgotten that Zelah was there. Anna suddenly appeared, as if my magic. Jake jumped. He had no idea where she appeared from. One minute she was not there and then she was. How weird was that? Anna stared at him; she was wearing a long, pink sleeveless cotton dress that reached down to her ankles, topped with a maroon velvet shrug. Her striking amber eyes appeared enormous in her heart shaped face.
“Hi, Jake,” she said, so softly Jake could barely hear her.
“Hi,” said Jake, still aware of the goddess standing next to him. “I’ve come to say sorry. I was really horrid to you yesterday and you didn’t deserve it. I was upset with Cara, not with you. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression.”
Anna said nothing, just stared down at her bare feet. Her toenails were painted black and the polish was quite badly chipped in places. Irrationally Jake wondered if it saved her having to wash her feet. She did not look up at him.
“Oh hell,” thought Jake. “How hard is this going to be?”
Anna lifted a hand and twirled a lock of her hair between her fingers. She appeared to be thinking deeply. Almost in a world of her own.
“Anna?” Zelah said, encouragingly.
“Oh, go on Shrimps,” joked Daisy, “Don’t make the poor guy suffer any longer. It’s cruel!” Jake’s face burned.
Anna looked up and across at Jake. She could not believe that Daisy had called her Shrimps, a childhood nickname that she hated, in front of Jake who she did not know very well. Was he laughing at her?
“OK,” was all she said, before turning on her heels and walking away towards the door at the far corner of the room. Jake sighed. It looked as if he had blown it. Well, he had done his best. He had made the effort and apologised. If that was not enough, well, tough. He started to turn to leave when Anna turned around and looked him straight in the eye.
“Coming?” she asked, indicating towards the doorway with a movement of her head. Jake was so surprised he just nodded.
Zelah looked pleased. “Good, I can get back to my pottery.” She turned and walked into another area of the barn. Daisy gathered up her stuff and made for the stairs.
Jake followed Anna out into a garden overgrown with brambles and long wiry clumps of grass. A goat was tethered half way down the garden. It bleated as they passed. On the left of the back door, a long rope clothesline stretched from an old concrete pole to the corner of a Nissen hut at the far end of the garden. Jake assumed the hut was Mike’s workshop, as there was the sound of hammering coming from inside. Sopping wet, dripping clothes hung on the line. Anna ducked beneath it and made her way to an old summerhouse on the edge of the garden. The door was quite swollen and stuck but she gave it a hefty pull and it finally opened. She motioned for him to follow her in, pulling the door shut behind them.
Jake looked around him intrigued. “This is cool! Do your Mum and Dad let you use it often?”
Anna smiled. ” Yes. I come here every day. It’s mine. It’s my secret space. Zelah says everyone should have one.”
“A summer house?” queried Jake.
“No, silly. A secret space! Zelah makes pots in hers. Daisy has one too. Don’t you have one?”
Jake thought for a moment. “I guess I’ve got my room at Cara’s.”
“Oh, I’ve got a room, but that’s not the same thing at all.”
It all sounded a bit odd to Jake but he wanted to look cool so he nodded. “Figures.” He looked around.
The hut was a lot bigger inside than it had initially appeared, and at the far end, Mike had installed a small stove that was burning gently, keeping the interior snug and warm. There was little furniture as such, but there were two large floor cushions on top of a threadbare rug. A low table stood in front of the stove and it had several old sketchbooks laid on top of it. There were also some bits of charcoal Anna had been using for drawing. In the far corner, an old standard lamp cast a warm glow over the room. Old mismatched curtains framed the door and windows. It was an odd set up but Jake could see that it was a special place to Anna.
Jake walked to the window at the far end of the hut and gasped. The view across the moor was amazing. It was all he could do to tear his eyes away from it. No wonder Anna spent so much time out here.
Anna signalled to Jake to sit of one of the large cushions. Jake sat awkwardly as the cushion was overstuffed and rocked alarmingly when his bum made contact with it. He would much rather have remained standing but he thought that, after yesterday, it would be a good idea to be on his best behaviour. He finally managed to find a comfortable position although he was perching rather than sitting and he felt that at any moment he was going to land in an undignified heap on the floor. So much for being cool!
Anna looked across and grinned. “You can sit on the floor if you’d rather. You don’t look very comfy there.”
Jake took her up on her offer and sat crossed legged on the floor by the table. “I feel if I’m about to take a yoga class,” he thought. Anna remained standing. For something to do, he picked up one of the sketchbooks.
“May I?” he asked politely. After all, sketchbooks were private, like a diary. Cara had told him that in no uncertain terms when he had looked through hers yesterday.
Anna shrugged. “If you want.” She turned away to look through the window, her attention on the moor outside. Jake thought she was aloof; in reality, she was very embarrassed. Jake seemed more sophisticated than the village boys did. They just threw stones at her and called her names because they sensed she was different and that was way beyond their understanding. She hoped Jake was not going to try to kiss her; she really was not ready for that. She also knew that he was very taken with Daisy but then she was used to Daisy being the centre of attention.
Jake flicked through the book. Anna’s sketches of the local landscape were very good indeed. “These are brilliant.”
Anna shrugged again to hide her embarrassment. “They’re pretty average. I can do a lot better.”
Jake returned to the book. “You must know the countryside here fairly well. What’s your favourite place?”
Anna considered for a moment. “What for? There are so many round here. You can have different favourite places for different things.”
“Like what?” said Jake.
“Well, some places energize you, some places calm you. I know places that fill me with peace and some that scare me so much I won’t go near them before or after dark.”
Jake nodded impatiently. “But your favourite place?”
Anna put her head on one side and tapped her bare foot as she carefully considered her answer.
“It’s Place, of course!”
Jake shook his head. He hated people who spoke in riddles.
Anna tried to explain further. “My favourite place is called Place!”
Jake shook his head dismissively. “Whatever!”
Anna realised that Jake did not understand her but did not feel like explaining. If she got to like him, she would maybe take him to her favourite place. For now, if he was irritated, it was just too bad; she was used to that anyway. She drew a deep breath and continued, “Well, each place is special to me, I don’t really have a favourite. I do love all the moors. I especially like the way that the light changes the texture of the stones.”
Jake looked blank; he did not understand. “As the days lengthen, the quality of the light changes,” Anna explained. “It happens as well at different times of the day. The sun is low in the early morning and evening and higher during the day,” she continued. “That can change the whole appearance of the stones. I love the feel of the moors, too. The wildlife is incredible, I love lying on my back and watching the buzzards circle in the sky above. I can do that for hours. Don’t you love watching them, too?”
Jake tried not to blush too much. The first time he had seen a buzzard he had panicked and run indoors thinking it was an eagle, much to Cara’s amusement.
Anna sat down across the table from him tucking her knees under herself carefully. “Cara says you draw well.”
Jake shrugged nonchalantly. “I draw a bit. Ouch!” His chest began to burn painfully. He rubbed at it. “To be honest, I’ve never drawn so much a line in a sketchbook before I came here,” he confessed. “Now I find I can draw quite well and I’ve no idea how it happened or why.” If he expected Anna to laugh, he would be extremely disappointed.
“Sounds cool,” she said before changing the subject. “Would you like a drink?”
“Yes please,” said Jake, pleased his chest had stopped burning. “But I’d rather it wasn’t nettle tea if that’s ok.”
Anna giggled, “No, that’s OK. I don’t like it either. Hot chocolate OK?” She scrambled to her feet.
Jake nodded. He would have much rather had a coke but he did not think Zelah would have any in the fridge.
Anna disappeared into the rain and reappeared five minutes later carrying a tray with two mismatched mugs of hot chocolate and a plate with two pieces of damp, heavy looking vegetable flan on it. Jack politely got up and opened the door for her as she expertly manoeuvred the tray inside. They both sat and drank some of the chocolate. Jake had to suppress a grimace; it was made with goat’s milk. Then, at Anna’s invitation, Jake took one of the pieces of flan. As he had suspected, the pastry was wholemeal and very dense, but the flavour was surprisingly good and he was surprised just how hungry he was. Anna chewed on her flan and swallowed. Then she looked up.
“It’s OK you know. It doesn’t bother me.”
Jake chewed and attempted to swallow the pastry. What on earth Anna was going on about now?
“What?” he spluttered.
Anna looked at him. “That you like Daisy. Everyone always likes Daisy.”
“Really?” Jake tried to sound nonchalant.
“Oh yes. Dris’s mates have all got the hots for her.”
Jake coughed as a piece of pastry went down the wrong way. He felt shocked. It was the last thing he expected Anna to say. “Excuse me?” he spluttered.
Anna watched him from beneath long dark eyelashes. “You know what I mean. They, like, fancy her!”
“Oh! But they’re only about ten!”
Anna rolled her eyes. “Tell them that!” Anna took another bite of flan, chewed and swallowed before continuing, “Daisy wouldn’t look twice at them anyway. She’s going to be a famous designer when she goes to college in the autumn.”
“Is she still at school?”
Anna shook her head. “Oh, no. She’s on her gap year. She goes to art classes during the day to increase her portfolio and works as a waitress in the evenings. In her spare time she studies psychedelia.”
“Psycho what?” Jake looked puzzled.
“Psychedelia. Well, actually she loves psychedelic art. It’s like big swirls of bright colour. Rather like a kaleidoscope. You know; those toys we had as kids. Psychedelia was very big in the 1960s, but that was drug inspired and Daisy’s not into drugs, she just likes the art and the music.”
That would explain the artwork on the Volkswagen, thought Jake. He licked his index finger, picked up crumbs from his plate, and transferred them to his mouth.
“Did you know she draws naked people?” he looked up at Anna.
“Oh, yes. A group of students organizes her life drawing class. They often take it in turns to pose as it saves them having to fork out for a model.”
“Oh,” said Jake. “I see.” He did not. He thought it very strange. They must all get very cold, too. After they had finished eating, Anna gathered the empty plates and mugs and stacked them on the tray. Jake looked at his watch and saw that it was much later than he had realised.
“I’ve got to go,” he said scrambling up and brushing crumbs off his jeans. “Or I’ll miss my bus back.”
Anna stood up, “I’ll walk up to the bus stop with you.”
Jake thought quickly, this could be embarrassing. Anna was quite worldly in some ways compared to him. She was also quite pretty. She might expect him to kiss her or something and he was not ready for that yet. “No, that’s OK. I’ll be fine. Please thank your Mum for the food and drink, it was really nice.”
Anna felt both relieved and alarmed by Jake’s hasty exit and shrugged her shoulders. “OK. See you around then.” She busied herself with the tray, deliberately looking down to hide her burning cheeks.
Jake smiled at her and set off briskly, skirting the side of the house. As he passed under an open bedroom window, he heard loud rock music. Either Daisy or Dris was playing some seriously weird music. Jake increased his pace, as he did not want to run into Mike. He thought he saw Mike’s face in the lighted window of the Nissen hut but he could not be sure as there were some cobwebs clinging to the window that obscured his view. He quickened his speed and broke into a jog until he had passed the bend in the middle of the track and could see the main road beyond. When he was halfway down the track his bus whizzed passed without stopping. Jake ran to the end of the track but the bus had disappeared around the bend in the lane. He looked at his watch. He was in good time but the bus was ten minutes early! He checked the timetable. It was also the last bus of the day!
Jake swore silently. Now what would he do? He would have walk home. He got his map out of his jacket pocket and consulted it. He looked at the main path before realising that it would take too long. It would be pitch dark before he was even half way home. He would have to find another path. After finding the quickest route, he set off across the moors. He had not given a thought to the weather. Not only was the path sopping wet and slippery, but there were also more dark clouds rolling in off the Atlantic and it was getting darker by the minute. He did not have his torch with him either. He thought about going back to Anna’s home and phoning Cara, but he still felt too embarrassed to face Mike after his outburst yesterday, so he forced himself to keep going.
After about half a mile of negotiating the slippery path, he saw a light in a deserted cottage in the middle of the moor. Jake wondered if he should go and ask to use their phone. It was almost dark and the area that he was walking in was well known for being littered with abandoned mineshafts. Some were around 800 metres deep and he was uncomfortably aware that not all of them were capped with concrete. He must stick to the path. He wished he had brought Grace. She would have known the way home, but he had been nervous about taking her to someone else’s house in case they did not like dogs.
Suddenly, a thick fog descended over the moor and completely obscured Jake’s view. He felt the fog cold and clammy against his face. Jake felt it push and probe against his nose and mouth almost as if it were trying to gain entry to his body, so he covered them with his hands. He could not even see five centimetres ahead. He turned around in a panic. As soon as he did it, he instinctively knew that it was the worst thing he could have done. He had now left the path and he could not see well enough to rejoin it. He had also completely lost his sense of direction. Even worse, the fog had developed thick probing fingers that appeared to prod him and then swirl away again. It almost felt as though it was laughing at him. Jake fought down an intense feeling of panic as he tried to think what to do next.
While Jake was thinking about all this, he moved around in a circle trying to regain a sense of direction and see any trace of the path. As he considered his options, something, which felt like a large crow, flew into his face. Jake could feel its feathers brush across his forehead. Panic stricken, he beat at the bird with both hands and it flew off, uttering a large caw. As Jake sighed with relief, he was suddenly overcome with giddiness. He stopped concentrating, caught his foot on a small piece of protruding granite and fell heavily, injuring his ankle. As he fell Jake realised he had startled another bird in the fog as he became aware of a small, fast flying object darting out of the heath and flying low across the moor, giving out a sharp ‘kee kee kee’, obviously the bird’s alarm call. Jake tried to stand up but when he attempted to put any weight on his ankle he cried out in pain. There was no way he could walk on it.
Jake slumped on the ground in the dark and groaned. Here he was, enveloped in thick fog in the middle of the moor, soaking wet and unable to move. Even worse, no one knew where he was. Even he did not know his exact whereabouts! If people did look for him, they would have no idea where to begin, even if they could find him in this fog. He could be here all night, cold, wet and injured! Instinctively he put his hand to his chest and felt for his cross. It was freezing cold so he let it fall back against his chest. He was, as his Dad used to say, in a right blooming mess. The thought of Dad, along with the pain and shock of his fall, finally overcame him and he burst into tears. He sobbed and sobbed. When he finally finished crying, Jake wiped the snot off his face with the back of his hand in a very unlovely way. He sniffed loudly and took a large gulp of air through his mouth as his nose was still blocked. He shook his head from side to side, as he remonstrated with himself. He must get himself together and decide what to do, he was really too old to lie here and cry like a baby.
“At least no one can see me,” he reassured himself out loud.
“That, young man, is where you are completely wrong,” said a deep voice from behind him.
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