A Short Story:
By the time the three of them had finished their argument, they had all forgotten who it was that had suggested they take a long weekend break in Cornwall. In England. In the month of October?
“It is going to be cold.”
“I bet it rains, it always rains.”
“Nowhere will be open, so we'll have nowhere to stay at night.”
And so on. And so on. And so on...
Each of them had made a negative contribution, they couldn’t remember who had actually said what. It did In fairness, raise the question, “what the hell were they doing here at all?”
Janice, Roger, and Sarah had taken many hiking trips together before. It was their 'thing.' In the last few years although they always went in the summer. So far in the sunshine, they had done some parts of Italy, a bit of Switzerland and quite a lot of France. Mostly because it those parts of Europe were near-bye. A quick train ride and there they were. The other places they hoped to walk over were regrettably a long flight away and except for Roger, neither of the two girls could take that much time off work.
Whichever one of them suggested Cornwall, knew there was a four-day weekend at the end of October, so he, or she had suggested a short ramble through the open parts of Cornwall. “It'll be lovely.” All of them remember that being said.
At this particular moment they were, according to the map, three miles from the sea, five miles from a small village and there should be a quite high hill, near a small woods. That is if the map was being read correctly. Oddly enough, Janice was the map reader. Oddly? Because Roger always harbored the belief that she couldn’t find her back-side with two hands. Although he also whispered to himself, it was large enough and should have its own place on the map.
Roger became friends with Janice a long time ago, the two them had a brief “encounter” as Janice describes it, but instead of falling out afterward, they actually became tight friends. Sarah is her best friend.
So the three of them became quite close.
Naturally, Roger felt he had a license to say such things to Janice because they had “done it.” A misconception carried by many men, apparently. He was not quite so brave with Sarah though, who apart from being a bit of a feminist, was also a very capable martial arts combatant. Roger didn’t want to get beaten up by a girl. Especially not Sarah.
Avoiding the inevitable argument about, “where the fuck are we--- really?” They all crouched around the map and watched as Janice pointed to the various, not too obvious, landmarks. As they all stood up and looked about, they couldn’t see one single thing that resembled the marks on the map.
“Now come ooo'n,” Janice was looking distinctly crestfallen. Her map reading was actually very good, but she had to admit something was very wrong here.
Roger took the map from Janice and turned it over to the side where the county and the region were clearly marked. It was the correct map. It was also ordnance survey, which meant that with the skill Janice had, along with a compass she could put them within just a few feet of where they stood. Usually.
“It's the right map,” said Roger, to no one in particular. “Is it possible we have drifted off a tad?” he asked them. “After all, the land here does look pretty samey, whichever direction you look.”
“No, I really made a point of checking our route before we left the last stop,” Janice was looking more worried than she ought, after all, it was not the end of the world.
Sarah picked up on her distress and asked Janice, “what's up Jan? Don't look so upset, I'm sure we'll get back on track.” Sarah stepped over to Janice and patted her on the small part of her shoulder not covered with the huge rucksack she carried.
Janice gave her a slight grin. Then took the map back from Roger and once again laid it down on the ground. She squatted down and put the compass down on the map too. Once the compass settled to magnetic north she tried to orientate the map as she thought she had read the landmarks.
“There, you see,” she gestured for the other two to join her. “We left here.” She pointed to the last stopping place they had been. “Then we walked along this track, clearly marked, here.” Janice ran her finger along the clearly marked pathway. “Now,” Janice prodded the map petulantly, “ we are here. Except, we seem not to be. According to everything around us we aren’t even close, no high craggy hill, no woods and well, actually nothing, it all looks totally different. Not one thing that the map says should be there.” Janice stood up, shrugging out of the shoulder straps of her rucksack.
Roger and Sarah, stared at each other. They had been on many such walking trips before and yes, they had been unsure of their actual location before, but never on any of their trips had they become totally lost.
“Well, we have still a few hours, before it gets dark,” Sarah tried to sound cheerier but failed rather. It sounded more like “it's going to be dark soon, so we had better do something quickly.”
“Look, out that way,” Sarah pointed toward the distance, “is that people? I can't quite make it out. Do you see guys?”
They each put their hands to beside their eyes, making a binocular shape with their hands. “Ah yes, I think I see them,” Janice who had the best eyesight brightened.
“Wow, what a piece of luck, if they have just come from the village we are making for, we are looking good.” Janice was almost bouncing with joy.
“They are still an awfully long way off aren’t they?” Roger made his usual half-arsed remark, not really being helpful at all. “It'll take an hour before they reach us here, shall we make a start and move toward them?” For once Roger did make some sense.
The three of them shuffled back into their packs, then with a more optimistic step got into line and began walking toward where they saw the shape of people coming their way.....
* * * *
After thirty minutes, it appeared they had not really gained that much distance between themselves and the people they were walking toward.
The landscape around them looked more or less the same too.
All three of them knew that Cornwall was fairly barren and that it was craggy, with a few scattered, discarded tin mines here and there.
This, however, was something else entirely.
The ground around them looked to be green and very healthy plants grew everywhere. Hardly a tree in sight though, unless they were trees on the horizon in the other direction.
Guarding their thoughts, the hikers marched on toward what they still thought must be people. The shapes had become more distinct as they kept walking toward it. The evening was drawing close too, which made a misty, fuzzy dimness all about the distance.
“Is it possible those people aren’t actually moving, but just standing or milling about where they are?” Janice who was leading called over her shoulder.
“Could be Jan.” Replied Sarah, who was still squinting her eyes, trying to make a clearer vision of what she saw.
“Anyhow,” Janice went on. “we should be with them soon. I hope it doesn’t get dark too early around these parts, or it will be dark just as we arrive. Then we have to make a decision to stay with them or move on in full dark. Not my favourite choice, walking in darkness, here, to be avoided I would say.” Poor Janice was trying very hard to sound as flippant as she could.
No one spoke after that. They tramped on with a feeling of determination to reach these people and to do it as soon as they could.
The afternoon had passed, they had not seemed to notice it go. Even so, they can not have been walking that long, it felt only an hour or so. How strange.
Roger was about to say something, probably negative, which was his way, when out of nowhere came a sound like someone calling. It was a fairly high pitched sound more like a hooting than a call.
Nevertheless, they stopped where they were and each cocked an ear, trying to hear better.
They stood stock still, hardly breathing.
“Did you hear it?” Roger ventured his comment, which was met with...
“Shhuusssshh” from both the girls at the same time...
“Listen,” Sarah whispered.
Actually, there was not any sound; at all.
Then they heard it “Hellooooooo” it was nearer this time.
Janice, was the one to answer, “Hello?” She called, her voice a bit gravelly.
“HELLO?” bellowed Roger, “IS ANYONE THERE?”
Roger then said to the girls, “well you have to make them hear you.” He smiled his stupid smile, as if everything he did was misunderstood, but was really, so obvious.
They stood and waited. Looking all about themselves, they noticed now that it had become almost full dark.
“Shit and biscuits,” Janice was rummaging in her side pocket. She was still wearing her pack, so reaching back was not achieving her aim.
“Sarah, sweetie, will you dig my flash-light out of my pouch for me, that one there?”
Now with the flashlight Janice could point it in the direction they thought the sound had come from.
Sweeping back and forth across a small ark, suddenly Janice stopped on one spot. “Hello, are you there?” She called in the direction she was pointing the light.
“You won't find us like that.” A voice from behind them made them all jump.
“I mean I'm not over there, none of us are over there, as a matter of fact.”
Janice spun around trying to shine her light upon where she heard the voice.
As all three of them turned, they almost jumped out of their skin.
Standing right there, with them were two people.
“Even-en' to yea.” The one who had spoken before was grinning all over his face and made a slight bow. “Tis a lovely even-en' for it, is it not?”
“Erm, good evening to you,” each of the three mumbled, as they tried to take in the sight of the two people.
“A lovely evening for what, exactly?” Roger asked, as friendly as he could muster at present. “We are a bit off the beaten track, it seems. We would be grateful if you could direct us to the nearest village.”
“Twod be our pleasure,” said the odd looking man, for it must be a man, judging by how he was dressed. “I'll do better than that, I'll take you there - ma' self.”
Both Sarah and Janice smiled, trying to think passed the how oddly this man was dressed. “Jostling and stopping, then starting again the two girls, trying to express how that would be kind, very kind, but could he tell them where they actually were? Maybe point it out on the map.” Somehow, between them, this all got said and the man looked at each of them and gave out a cry of laughter.
“Why yes, to this and yes to that,” he chanted, “I shall show you where and I'll show you when then if yer like I'll bring yer back ag'in”...
Taken aback by this outcry, both the girls stepped closer to one another. Janice reached out for Sarah's hand. Roger trying to be more macho than his nature allowed, also came a bit closer to the girls although he stopped at holding their hand.
“So you know where we are and will help us?” asked Roger. He looked at the silent one then, it seemed to be a woman, but Roger couldn’t really tell as the person wore a deep hood which concealed the face entirely.
“Well, I'm Roger, and this is Janice”—------ “and this is Sarah” the strange man finished his sentence for him.
All of them reacted as if the moment had been frozen in time.
“ Now that's ENOUGH !!”
All of them spun round to look at the other figure. Still hooded, it was a female voice and a very annoyed one by the sound of it.
Having won their attention, the voice from the hood continued, more gently this time. “It is not our way to make you feel uncomfortable, my young friends.” She raised her hands to the rim of her hood and slowly lowered it down to rest on her shoulders.
Roger took an involuntary breath, the two girls were equally surprised.
The woman was beautiful.
None of them had seen a woman THIS beautiful, not like her, ever.
The woman smiled a warm and very alluring smile.
“My name is Caolan, and this rambunctious man is Fen, which is short for something, but it can not be important, or he would use his full name.”
Fen's face dropped as if he had literally been melted.
As he did so he looked particularly odd, quite ugly, but even stranger than that.
Only Janice saw this. She gulped back another reaction. When all of a sudden as if it had never happened, Fen's face was back to being a smiling, almost normal looking man again.
This actually worried Janice more than what she thought she had just seen, which was becoming confusing to her the more she thought about it.
Caolan was speaking again.
“There is, or there are, a few things you should know, dear children,” Caolan said this as if she were addressing infants at school.
Janice, Sarah, and Roger, did perk up a bit and paid full attention. Somehow they couldn’t help themselves.
“Since you have seen my face, you will now find yourselves being calmer, less confused and above all unafraid of what is happening around you. Perhaps, just a short time ago, you felt you were lost in this beautiful land. Your maps didn’t tell you what they should and the distance from us to you seemed never to become shorter.” Caolan looked at each of them in turn. Still smiling. She lingered a short time with each, as she looked one by one into their eyes.
As she did so, Janice, then Sarah and finally Roger thought Caolan had continued speaking. Except for this beautiful woman with the hypnotic voice and wonderful green eyes, had spoken personally to her, or him, alone.
“You are welcome to join me for the night. Our small village is not three miles from where we stand. We have some transport which will lighten your burden, please remove your packs and follow me.” As Caolan finished she began to turn then over her shoulder she called to Fen, “be sure their packs are brought too, safely now Fen.”
Fen, with his grinning smiling face, merely nodded and easily picked up all three of the packs from the ground and followed the others.
* * *
Having arrived at the village it was clear or appeared to be clear, to the three of them that it had been a smooth pleasant journey. One which had them passing through tall vegetation that had a sweet aroma, even though it was dark, the views were still in their mind's eye.
Equally, it became clear that all three of them had similar memories, which didn’t really bother them at all.
Janice kept feeling an odd knowing. But like the feeling of trying to remember where you left the car keys, finding the actual sweet spot of recollection, evaded her. She saw Caolan staring at her, she looked back, more confidently than she truly felt and smiled sweetly.
Caolan just nodded once, then went back to her conversation with two other people who had appeared just as they entered the village.
Janice looked around herself and found Sarah doing much the same thing. Sarah caught her eye and they were drawing closer to one another when each of them stopped in their tracks. “You should stay apart for a short time” Both Janice and Sarah heard the voice but neither saw who spoke. It must have been Caolan. Who was now looking in their direction.
As one, the girls nodded their understanding and stayed exactly where they were.
Roger, was nowhere in sight now. Even though the girls both felt a strangeness they were partially aware of what had been, a few hours before. Although more than that was becoming a little hard to fathom.
Sarah and Janice were some twenty feet apart when the annoying man appeared between them, he gestured to each of them, first to Janice then Sarah to follow him. He called out to them that a small dinner would be laid out in the big house in the middle of the village. “It'll do yer good after yore journey,” he said.
Sarah said, “why after just three miles, why should I be so very hungry?” she looked toward Janice for confirmation.
“I agree, why is the journey the cause of such need?” asked Janice.
Fen was paying little attention he just scampered ahead as if it was his most important task of the day.
“If you ladies would like to wash and change, your rooms are at the top of the stairs, a maid will be there to assist you. Anything you need, simply ask the maid and she will provide it for you.” Fen had opened the door and swung his arm to direct the girls inside.
Sarah had noticed the very large house as they approached. The top part, the parts she could see in the poor light, was covered with moss and ivy. The windows were very small but there was a warm light melting through each of them.
The flint stone of the walls seemed very old and the door, when they passed inside was thick oak, with a small peek hole, it had enough space to just pass a hand through. On the massive door nob at the lower center of the door, were the strangest faces Sarah had seen in her whole life...
As the two of them passed inside, the hallway and the surrounding doors were all closed. The stairway which was several feet from the front door was very wide and after only a few steps formed a small landing, at the rear of which was a tall coloured glass window.
It was full dark outside so the reflections were all from the huge candelabra which hung overhead in the hallway. The landing at the stairs then split into two separate flights of stairs, one on either side, turning back upon itself at the left and right of the house.
Janice was the first to speak, “wow, Sarah, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
“Only in films, and then; only the very old ones, which were in black and white.” Sarah was also standing with her eyes glittering in the yellow light of the huge candelabra. “I wonder why no-wax falls down on the floor,” Sarah thought. Then dismissed it as being a rather silly thought, realizing they would hardly put so many candles into such a thing, only to drip hot wax on anyone who walked through the hallway...
The girls held hands, as they stared all about at the surroundings, especially the ceiling which was wonderfully ornate and very colourful. The rose, where the candelabra was fixed to the ceiling, had large mouldings, these represented serpents, three of them, eating each their own tails.
Very creative in a disturbing sort of way.
Neither of them said much as they took this all in. When a maid dressed in very austere black appeared from somewhere concealed beyond the staircase. Sarah could not see where she had come from, but as the maid approached both Janice and Sarah let go of their hands and straightened up.
“Good evening Mistress Janice. Good evening Mistress Sarah.” The maid spoke as if she had all the time in the world. “Never using just one word, when four would be better.” Sarah's mind was racing again...
Why these thoughts kept running through her mind, she couldn’t imagine, unless she was a lot more nervous than she liked to think.
“If you ladies would follow me, I will take you both to your rooms.” The maid did not smile, she did not even wait to see if the girls were following, she turned and began toward the stairway.
Without pause, the maid climbed the steps as easily as if she did nothing else all day long. For Sarah and Janice who were even now feeling a little stiff from this mornings walk. Was it this morning? The day seemed far away to them now.
Janice could tell that she was feeling much the same as Sarah at this moment, she couldn’t say exactly how she knew this but the feeling kept coming and going with varying intensity.
Janice glanced at Sarah as they climbed the first part of the stairs. When an outrageous thought must have struck them both. “I know, I'll race you to the top landing,” Sarah, could hear her self-say this and felt as if she was a little girl again.
Janice was laughing too, “I go left, you go right, see who reaches the top first.
R -e-ady. Steady, GO,” with that the two of them scampered up opposite stairways, thumping and slipping as they half ran to the top landing. Squealing like children all the way.
This would have been odd, even if they had been able to control their outburst. More odd was that the maid, who was still plodding up the right-hand stairway, didn’t bat an eyelid.
Not breathing any differently than when she began the climb up the stairs, the maid simply asked them to follow her. Again not waiting to see if they would. It was taken for granted.
“This is your room Mistress Sarah,” the maid knocked three times on the dull blue door, which was to the right of the new corridor. It opened immediately and Sarah was ushered inside.
“Mistress Janice, you will be next door,” the maid actually said this to Janice, which was the first time she had addressed her personally. At least she had looked at Janice, which was almost the same thing.
Sarah had entered her room, once again struck by the old-world charm. So many candles were burning, the room appeared quite bright. It was wonderfully warm too, the fire was small, but Sarah guessed that with so many candles burning they must warm the place too.
It was then Sarah realized two maids were standing there, expectantly, waiting for her to fully enter the room.
“Hello,” Sarah gave the usual youngster short arm wave, as she said it.
The two maids replied with “Good evening Mistress Sarah” in complete unison.
“Wow,” Sarah said, “did you practice that for long?”
This time only one of the maids answered saying “sorry Mistress Sarah, we do not understand, what do you mean?” Both of the maids cast their eyes down to the floor as if they were ashamed.
“Oh please, I was just trying to be funny, I meant that you spoke at the same time, almost as if you only had one voice.” Sarah smiled sheepishly at the two maids, feeling as silly as when she had run up the stairs.
“What is the matter with me? She thought to herself. “Am I really losing it? I'm not behaving totally like myself?”
The maid who spoke before, broke the conversation in Sarah's head, asking if she was ready for her bath?
“A bath? Oh yes! I am super ready for a bath, show me where.
And, what are your names?”
The maids looked at one another, then as before, exactly together, said, “Ginny and Jenny, Mistress Sarah.” The two of them almost tugging Sarah into a side room, which Sarah had not yet seen. Sarah was still fighting herself Not to say “You’re kidding, right?” but by then; “Your bath Mistress,” the maid who spoke dipped her hand into the shiny copper bath, “it is just right for bathing now, Mistress Sarah.”
“Why thank you, so much. This really is very nice.” Sarah began stripping out of her clothes. As she did so, the other maid, the one who Sarah still didn’t know was Ginny or Jenny began collecting each article as Sarah discarded it.
Naked, Sarah felt free, not just of her clothes, but something else seemed strangely different. She stepped into the bath, which was indeed wonderfully “just right.”
“Ooh; that - is – nice,” Sarah crooned... “Oooooh yes.”
As she lay down in the balmy water, she felt her whole body melt into something? What? Sarah couldn’t decide if this was THE best she had ever felt, or not.
If it was not, then it came pretty damn close...
She closed her eyes and felt like humming, but didn’t quite have the energy.
“I'll hum later“… was the last thought she had.
* * * *
Janice just knew, somehow she felt it, that Sarah and she were in safe hands.
“After all, who would make such a fuss of two stray girls, only to do them harm? Well, all right, there were those who might.
Those monsters were men, usually; not beautiful women with impeccable manners.
A Bath and super dresses, my god, I am sure we are safe.” Janice finished her mental debate and left her room.
Without any planning, on their part, the two of them had arrived at the top landing; exactly at the same moment.
Bathed, full makeup and dressed to the nines.
“You look just incredible, wonderful, beautiful.” Said Sarah.
“My goodness Sarah, you too, shall we?”
The girls, all their silliness was forgotten now. They linked arms and descended the staircase together.
Bells of the ball; and then some.
They both looked absolutely stunning.
They had not seen from the top landing, the two rows of finely dressed men at the foot of the final staircase. Six of them in all. Their dress, however, was very oldie world, as Sarah would describe it. Actually, not just quite old but ancient.
Incredibly smart; unusually handsome, the men looked as if they were all waiting to be interviewed for a top models magazine.
Janice gave Sarah a sideways glance, which said volumes.
“Behave,” Sarah whispered. “None of that, not now and not later, OK?”
Janice just gave a sort of snort as if to say, “ah-yes like you would pass up the chance with any one of them.” The snort would have to suffice.
Two of the of the men stepped forward, one from Sarah's side and one from Janice's. In the most courtly manner, each took the hand of their lady and positioned themselves, Janice and her escort leading, Sarah and hers behind.
The remaining men had already taken positions at the door, the other two were some few paces ahead of Janice and her escort. As they reached the doors, the two men sprang forward, opening the twin doors in perfect unison.
The leading men had almost reached the Table; the most lavish and ornately dressed table either of the girls had ever seen. (Even in the films that Sarah had made mention of earlier.)
Before them, the carpets had been laid in such a way as to form an inverted Y which gave the two couples a perfect runway to each side of the extremely long table.
About a third of the way to the far end were places set, which obviously were for Janice and Sarah. At the far end of the table in a throne-like seat, looking even more beautiful, if that were possible, sat the lady Caolan.
“My children, welcome.” Caolan made no effort to stand, but she gave a kind of elaborate gesture, which was; and understood by the two girls, as being the same thing.
“Err, Good evening, Caolan,” Janice spoke as if from the very top of her vocal range. Now she felt even more embarrassed.
This obviously warned Sarah that nervousness can make you sound odd, so she delicately cleared her throat and ventured her own greeting.
“Good evening Caolan, how beautiful this all is; thank you so much for the loan of the dresses, they are truly wonderful.” Sarah had no sooner finished her words when she felt a chair being gently nestled into the backs of her legs.
“Please sit, both of you, make yourselves comfortable.” Caolan had seen that the girls were a little ill at ease and attempted to soften things a little.
“Are you hungry now?” Caolan went on, “something to drink? We have the most wonderful cellar here.”
Caolan nodded at the two men who had recently planted Janice and Sarah into their chairs. Without a single word, the men left the room.
The two at the door, almost like magic, closed the door behind all four of them and they were gone, just like that, not a sound of the door closing.
The room now was quite silent.
The three ladies sat, smiling slightly, embalmed by the silence.
Surprisingly, it was Sarah who broke the thickening ice, “I can not help but wonder, Caolan, how can you be such a good hostess to total strangers?”
Sarah gave a small shrug to illustrate her feelings, then went on to ask, “Well, I mean, the bath and some food, would have been great, but honestly, this is, like, huge...”
Sarah stopped talking. She could see that Janice fully agreed with her and even though Janice still had that Odd feeling and her perceptions were running amok; she did manage a, “yes I agree, Caolan, this is really too much, I mean, in a good way of course.”
Now both the girls sat and stared at Caolan.
By way of a response, Caolan reached forward and took the tiny bell which was placed before her dinner setting. The ringing was, tiny, like the sound Sarah recalled that frozen peas made, when they fall into the best pan she has.
Instantly the doors opened and again two men appeared, one of them holding a large silver tray, in the way only waiters seem to master.
Upon the tray were two carafes and a bottle of wine. The man who had only a white cloth draped over one arm took the bottle and showed it to Caolan.
He did not wait for any instruction, he opened it, wrapped the cloth somehow around the neck of the bottle and placed it on the side table.
By now the glasses already in place on the table were filled and Caolan, sat with her glass in hand, in the position of “a toast”.
Janice and Sarah picked up their glasses and followed suit.
“After so long, so very long, I welcome you my dears. Caolan raised her glass to her lips, took a sip, then another; she put down her glass carefully and looked at each of the girls who had turned quite pale. Caolan smiled, very slightly, “Ah, yes, you will be surprised, forgive me, dear children, I thought we should begin straight away, the night is advancing and we would not want to miss a single moment, would we?”
Janice and Sarah were truly robbed of words.
“W- w-what d-do you me-mean, are you going to hurt us after all?” Sarah managed to splutter these words. Then began crying.
“My dears, no one is going to hurt YOU” Caolan was genuinely amused, “if you compose yourselves, I shall tell you everything you must know,” Caolan picked up her glass and drank more deeply.
This time the girls did the same. Actually, Sarah managed to finish hers. Which again as if by magic was refilled so quickly, by the almost invisible man who had been lurking, she thought, just out of sight.
“So you feel less distressed, which I am certain that you are,” smiling still, she saw that the two, were sitting slightly less bolt-upright now, so she continued, “People, most people, give thoughts to the future. Especially about their own lives, wondering what will be, how things will happen and so on; people also think about what happens, even further into the future, when they are no longer alive.”
Caolan waited to see what reaction this may have upon her two guests.
As Caolan continued speaking, Janice saw that the food had already arrived, she and Sarah had somehow eaten most of it, both of them drank quite a lot of the wine and yet, even though in the back of her mind, an hour at least, must have passed, Caolan still speaking, was just about to make another important point.
“What was it Caolan had said?” Janice had that strange feeling again. She looked across the table at Sarah, who up until now had been far more down to earth about everything than she had. Sarah was looking at Caolan, she was listening, but something else too.
Sarah was not just listening, she was talking with Caolan, about, what?
Janice tried to catch up on the conversation. She was still staring at Sarah, with a stupid expression on her face.
Suddenly Sarah, who had been speaking, became silent. Looking back at Janice, Sarah said, “ah dear sister, you have come back to us, I was just saying to Caolan that you are the thoughtful one of us,” Sarah gave a small giggle and went on; “How do you manage dear Haefina, to keep everything so close to your chest?” Sarah stopped, looking quite startled at Janice. “What?”
“You called me by another name, Haefina, not Janice, how? Why? What is HAPPENING... Janice fell to the floor, sobbing and crying.
Only her noises; as neither of the other two women could see her under the table.
Sarah sprang to her feet and raced around the table.
She took Janice in her arms, as they both sat on the floor, rocking her like a baby.
“There, there” Sarah kept rocking Janice and spoke very slowly, her words seemed more familiar to Janice, than ever before, the things Sarah was saying also began to become clearer in Janice's mind.
“You see dear sister, for Caolan, has reminded me of it, we have been sisters for a very, no extremely, long time; our names are not, I should say were not, Janice and Sarah.” Sarah paused, taking her friends arms turned Janice toward her so she could look into her eyes.
“You are Haefina, my sister. I am Maewen;” we lived here in this house, hundreds of years ago. This village was mostly able to survive because of our parent's wealth. Do you feel it Haefina? Can you let yourself free of the 21st century and remember?” Sarah had tears in her eyes now too. Partly from the memories and partly because her dear sister, could not remember as she could.
“Get me up, please, help me to my chair. Maewen, yes, it is coming into my mind; I have been feeling strange ever since we met Caolan.” Haefina now sitting back at the table, drank some more wine. Taking several gulps, she continued, in a monotone voice, which even surprised Maewen.
“I can remember my room, the pictures, and the staircase, we grew up here, did we not?” Haefina, gave a smile, one of happiness lost. Then she said, “I remember now the races we had up those stairs, my word, we could not have been more than eight, or nine years old.” The more she spoke the more she remembered.
“Then we were taught how to do all those boring things, remember? English, reading, writing, deportment. Oh, how we hated our tutor. But, what then? We could not have been much more than sixteen, maybe seventeen, my mind is screaming to remember, but I can not get past tha'-that night... “ Haefina suddenly looked shocked and went as white as the tablecloth.
“NO. Noooo, Oh My God, it can not Beee.”
Caolan, who had been sitting as still as death, made a motion with her hand, both Haefina and Maewen turned toward her at once, straightened and sat, waiting.
“My dears, you now both remember, yes; it is horrible to remember such things. It is why I am here to help you, guide you, for tonight, tonight is the five hundredth year anniversary, of that night. Rare are the times that such events as those coincide with the opening of the vale. The opening of the place where dead and living can for a very brief moment, mingle.” Caolan was clearly speaking to the girls, but her mouth was no longer moving. She was, once again, speaking directly into their minds.
Neither of the girls gave any sign that this was so, they sat still, very still and listened.
Caolan's voice was like a smooth silk glove, soothing their troubled minds.
She continued, “from the beginning, the night of your death, your souls have been waiting, lingering in the places where you could hold on and be transported by each new life, as it became necessary passing into a new birth; as soon as a baby was born and lived, your soul would move into it and thrive.
You have done it all this one night; for tonight, souls and the living mix together.
Nothing could prevent this night, you being here on the moors, on the very night the vale opens was our plan, our doing. This will not happen again for another five hundred years. Now, is the time for your revenge, dear Haefina, dear Maewen.” Caolan stopped speaking and again she rang the small bell.
No wine on a tray, this time.
All four of the now not so well dressed men entered, dragging a fifth person into the room.
Haefina and Maewen, no longer remembered this person's new name, they could only see him as he has always looked, always been in his rotten soul.
The man tried to speak.
Like a striking cobra, a hand struck him hard across the face.
“You will remain silent,” Caolan's command was finite. Nothing further was said. She gestured to her men, who diligently assisted the two girls, Haefina and Maewen up from the table; escorting them to a set of chairs at the rear of the room, close to the fireplace, where long metal pokers were sticking into the very lively, very hot burning fire.
“This,” Caolan went on looking toward to man, “This thing, this person, as was, came to me many times, begging to be allowed across. I should explain my dears; you see before you, not a ferry-man, as your silly human fables tell. I am the being, an old, old soul, the one that allows, or not, the dead, or their souls, to cross to the other side. The other side of existence.
The places where I and my faithful servants linger, is not the other side of everything, only of living, which is DEATH. And that, for only a very short time. Unless, you see my dears; unless, an act of such brutality, such horror has taken place. I am she who decides. NO! I made that decision; NOT this one, not this soul ever.. not EVER; my dears. This thing, this person, this soul, is something he liked to call a person called Roger. Now we all see him as he really is.”
Caolan just nodded, nothing more than that; and the four men began.
Haefina looked at her sister; Maewen was actually grinning.
“At last, at long long last,” Maewen gave a sigh, almost of ecstasy as she watched what the four men were doing with? With? With... FAECRA, I remember now, you-you, BASTARD...” Maewen shuddered as the memory registered.
“Faecra, the Raven... How you were so proud of that name. You raping, torturing murdering swine.” Maewen stepped forward until she was close enough, then spat straight into his eye.
Haefina had also recovered herself. Her feelings were now racing, any last lingering links to the 21st century were now gone; just as her sister had, Haefina, stepped forward and kicked this Faecra creature, hard, right between the legs. His scream was brief but the obvious pain it caused was exceedingly rewarding, Haefina smiled her small victory.
This interruption was brief.
Caolan, knowing she had explained just enough for the sisters to understand, now went on to provide a choice for young women to make.
“My dear children, just as you both have done, so many times yourselves; this Faecra, this raven, as he liked to title himself, has been inhabiting peoples bodies for so long he almost forgot the soul, he really was. This is the choice you can make. Faecra can feel; everything a body should feel. We can also cause him such agony, that even his soul will know of it.
However, his soul, his one and only soul, on this night, this unique night, in hundreds of years of nights, can be killed too.” Snapping her glare toward Faecra, Caolan spoke directly to him for the first time.
“Faecra, raven, man, dead-man, rotten-soul; you are doomed to be the plaything of these sisters tonight; those who you wronged beyond need. You wronged them, hurt them, for your own gratification; everything you did will come back to you tonight, ten-fold. Only then, Faecra; when in the darkest corner of your mind you believe it to be over: I, yes I Caolan, lady of the “Crossing” will put you Not Across, to that place of infinity, I shall instead send you where few have gone. Even I have been loath to send souls to That place. Torment is a word too insignificant to describe simply being there; skull splitting agony will be your daily bread; reprieve, hope, and any future will all look exactly the same to you. Not many have been able to imagine such a place even exists. Living people call what they believe to be such a bad place, Hell. Ha-ha .. Confine yourself to this thought Faecra. Hell, would be the mattress upon which you would make sweet love. This place is one thousand times more wretched than your small mind can imagine. Finally, know this, Faecra; it will be your soul I am sending there; no flesh to harm, no hair to burn, not bones to break; just your soul, which will feel, every single thing; suffer without forgiving, no dying to shut it off, no going insane to escape into somewhere else. You will feel everything, every single moment. Moments, in a place where time does not exist, is a very, very long time indeed. BEGIN.”
Caolan had concluded.
Her next command to the men was adhered to immediately.
This was the longest Haefina and Maewen had heard Caolan speak, even inside their heads. She said all this out loud so they all could hear.
Maewen who, just like the body she uses in the 21 century, was far more outward than her sister. Even so; Maewen was actually beginning to feel prickly beads of perspiration. The visions that ran through her mind, imagining an eternity of agony, gave her a moment's pause. She was pleased that she got over it quickly.
This bastard man, this rotten soul; Faecra had done more than enough to deserve the end he is about to receive.
Caolan, asked the girls, if they needed to be shown, or reminded of his crimes; as difficult as it may be, to be reminded, in such detail.
Maewen could remember quite well, Haefina was trying to block it out.
She could not blame her sister for that.
“ Very well,” Caolan said, as she took each girl by the hand, “now hold your sister's hand so that we are a circle.” Each of them now held a hand and the memories began to skip through the girls' minds. Caolan had told them it would be brief so that only a fast ride past the awful events would be glimpsed.
True to her word, events unfolded and flashed through their mind, from one to the other; Instantly, it is October 30th, 1512 tomorrow is the festival, welcoming the harvest, saying goodbye to the summer sunshine. The girls were happy because it was a fun day. They waited for their father to come home, he always brought gifts. Mother is telling the servants to prepare the house it is alive with people buzzing all about. It becomes late, the darkness is creeping over the moors. Father is late, he is never late.
Men are banging on the heavy front door. Faecra is there, he does business with father? The servants open the door, the men all burst into the house. Mother screams, the men-servants are struck to the ground, dead. Now some of the women servants are screaming too. A body being dragged into the house it is father, bleeding and his clothes torn almost gone. Faecra, again Faecra shouting “he will have it all, he would not wait another week.” Haefina is grabbed by the hair, two men pulling at her arms, Maewen too, is now beside her sister, both being punched and stripped. Mother screams again, this time the men hold her against the floor and they are...; she screams louder, this time one man took his knife, no that can not beee…..; Mother did not scream again. Haefina screams she is now completely naked, Maewen is tied to her sister by one wrist. Two men, then two more, so it wrong, the girls scream and then, Faecra. He is kicking Maewen, he kicks her over and over again, in her body and head. He turns toward the door, father was still on the floor, alive. Still alive. Men dragged him over near Haefina. “You will, or you die now” suddenly fathers head is gone, a man stands sword in hand, grinning like a fool. Haefina screams, men picked her up off the floor, holding her legs and arms. Faecra is laughing, standing between Haefina's legs held tight by his men, Faecra sings out loud, as he raped her again. Haefina screams once, her head rolls to the floor. Two men jumped on Maewen, jumping on her tiny flattened, very small body. Maewen's head is flat, squashed. Faecra turns his head looking up at the sky, howling, like an animal.
The Memories flashing in their heads stopped. As quickly as they began.
One evening of mayhem, torture, rape, and murder. It was crystal clear to the girls now. Loving family, sisters united in hatred, one man. Faecra.
The girls took a poker each from the hot fire. “It is unlikely you will be able to remember the agony you caused, Faecra, but let us help jog your memory just a little” with that said, Haefina pushed the almost white hot poker into the right eye of this foul creature; while her sister was cooking his private parts, to let him understand the meaning of pain.
By the time the girls had finished, not much of the body could be recognised as Faecra, Roger, or anyone, anything else, for that matter.
Caolan, Took the girls by their hand, “it is almost time, I must say goodbye, very soon, dear souls. I shall be taking this,” Caolan pointed at the wreck of Faecra, “with me, and his soul of course, which will not be coming back.”
“What of his body now, I mean in our time, of our Janice and Sarah bodies?” Maewen was quite concerned, “will he be gone, or will it look as if we did something to him, even killed him, you know that Roger?”
“Do not worry,” Caolan was comforting, “it will be as if he never was, which is true, is it not? He will cease to exist, then and now”
“But, is that not also true of us?” asked Haefina
“ My dear, you children still have your souls, whereas this Faecra, in one hour will not. Do not trouble yourself with these details.” Caolan smiled and began to fade. So too did the six men and Faecra. Faintly they heard Caolan “live long and prosper, farewell my children.” Everything shimmered, a strange mist took their sight and their awareness... The fire died down, became ash, both girls, dizzy, looked about themselves, it all faded.
Janice slowly opened her eyes, she felt the brisk air of the morning, they were in their sleeping bags, at the place where Sarah had asked: “are we lost, or what?”
“Whose stupid idea was it to come hiking in fucking October?” asked Janice, “I'm bloody frozen.”
“Come in here with me then,” Sarah unzipped her sleeping bag and as the morning light seeped over the land around them they could see the cops of trees on the small hill in the distance...
“See?” Said Janice, “I told you we weren't lost. There are the trees”
“You are a genius Jan, but I can't help thinking I've forgotten something.”
“Yeah, I felt like that too, hey, its nothing, I know I've got the map and the compass, what more could we want?”
“Move over then, hurry its cold out here,”
Sarah, shifted, just a little as Janice started sliding into the warm sleeping bag.
“There is one thing I want.
“What's that?” asked Janice.
“I want you to get your cold feet off my bum, now, or the warmth sharing is canceled.”
“Sorry, but you move over a bit more.”
“Aha,” Shouted Sarah, “I remember what it is that's been nagging me; I forgot to tell my mum to feed the cat.”
“Oooh, is that all?”
“Forget it,” said Janice, “it was Halloween last night and we were stuck here in bloody Cornwall, all on our own, with nothing going on. I bet the damn cat didn’t even go out either....”