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Chapter Seven

Morning described Cheta cabbage-green. She was stowing the heavy canvas bags, much folded, in her coat pockets. Carlo stood by, and behind him the gas cooker shone in the cabbage-sea windowlight.

Youll be coming with us again, Miss Rachaela.

Rachaela nodded. Yes.

Maybe she slowed them down, Too bad.

They set out along the path, and went away from the place where the evil steps led to the cove and the remains of Sylvian in the water.

It was a hard, sunny, icy morning, the mufflers and sunglasses did not look so incongruous on them.

Crystallized bars of sunlight hit the landscape. Birds sang in the bushes as before. The heath was the same, lit and bleak. The prospect of the long walk enervated Rachaela and at the same time eels of tension slithered in her stomach. She carried the black shoulder bag casually. It weighed on her.

They passed through the dragon areas and came to the empty road. As before Carlo and Cheta walked at its centre. There would be plenty of time to hear anything coming, but nothing ever came. Some type of thistle was bursting out of the asphalt.

They went between the hedges. Rachaela longed for the landmark of the gutted farm, but it did not come for an age. Her whole body ached as if she had not walked for weeks.

Finally, at last, the road ran over and the valley opened like a dirty green basin. There were the rusted cars, sunken fields and stony houses.

Cheta and Carlo, as previously, had not spoken.

Rachaela could not help herself. She said, The van will be here today?

Oh yes. This is the day he always comes.

And Rachaela realized that in her cunning struggle to keep hold of time, its minutes and hours, afternoons and mornings, she had lost the days. What day was it? If she asked Cheta, would Cheta say? Rachaela could not bring herself to try.

They walked down the street and passed the dismal pub with the creaky sign.

On the slope of open ground the blue van sat just as before. And in the background, unmended, the vandalized phone box.

No one else was there, as usual.

In the back of the van the fat man was reading a paper. He seemed definitely to be waiting for Cheta and Carlo.

The skinny woman was knitting something pink and fluffy.

Rachaela took particular notice of them on this occasion. She saw the wedding ring among the chilblains and that the womans eyes were a faded-jeans blue. Hairs poked from the mans nose and under his anorak he wore a jumper, perhaps knitted by his wife.

Here you are, said the man, as he had before. Almost given you up today. What can we do you for?

Cheta handed over the list. And the lady will want some things.

No, said Rachaela, I dont need anything today. She smiled stiffly at the man, who looked surprised. Many more stops for you after this one?

This is the last, said the man. Then back to town and put me feet up.

The skinny woman sniffed. And thats when my work starts.

A womans work is never done, said the van driver, clearly pleased at this adage which shored up years of male indolence and buck-passing.

The cans of oil were coming out for Carlo, and some petrol. Of course, they had used up a lot of petrol on Sylvian.

Seeing Carlo tote the cans, Rachaela recollected him hoisting the merman off the rocks, lugging it over the beach.

Cheta, her bags loaded with soap and soda, dettol, oatmeal, said, Did you bring the brandy?

Could only get one bottle. Just a tick.

The man squeezed into the back of the van, slightly displacing his knitting wife like a stack of cornflakes, and returned with the black bottle.

Stephans drink. Doubtless the abstemious consolation of some of the others. The Scarabae were not great drinkers, but they liked their little comforts.

Couple of books too, for the missus, added the driver, giving to the preposterously laden Cheta a parcel tied, old-fashionedly, by string.

Cheta produced the roll of brown notes.

Rachaela thought of the envelope of brown and turquoise notes in her own bag.

Any chance you could give me a lift into town? said Rachaela, bright, innocent, an offhand request.

At her side Cheta altered, it was impossible to be certain howastonishment, alarm or menace.

Well... Its a small van, this one.

Id be happy to pay.

As she had expected, easy money tempted him.

What do you say, Rene? Shall we help the girl out?

Rene folded up her knitting. Its all one to me.

Ill see you later, Rachaela said, lying, brightly, innocently, to Cheta.

Cheta and Carlo stood on the slope, saying nothing, doing nothing, their blank faces and bloomed-over eyes quite fixed. She had gambled they would not make a scene before the van driver and his spouse, and she had been right.

The facility of her escape went to Rachaelas head. She got in at the front next to Rene, who was instructed to squash up on the long seat. The van man shut the van and came around to fill up the cab.

It would not be a comfortable journey, but she had never thought it would be.

Longish drive, said the van man. Have to ask you for a fiver. Its the extra weight and the petrol, he explained rather sheepishly, bulging Rene and Rachaela almost off the seat.

Rachaela looked back from the open window as the van started. She saw Carlo, the great cans in both hands, bowed and leaning forward, staring after her as she was borne away. Growing smaller.

The van man and his wife talked incessantly during the drive. Rene asked Rachaela to close the window, and the van became hot and stuffy, dense with the smell of groceries and washing powder. Behind them things bumped and shifted like ogres balancing in the back.

There go those Knights Castile. I told you they wasnt properly secure, said Rene.

Their accents were not local, but London, like a signpost, perhaps.

Rachaela tried to keep her mind set on what she was doing, but the flight had made her queasy and excited, and the constant chat and questions distracted and wore her out.

And I could just fancy a nice bit of silverside for dinner, said the van man, at intervals.

Its fishfingers or go without, snapped Rene each time. You dont mind me saying, she said to Rachaela, but they must be a funny old lot at that house. You working there?

Thats right, said Rachaela.

Must be a real pain, stuck off up there. What do you do, then?

How do you mean?

I mean what work they got you doing?

Im typing a book, said Rachaela, at random.

Oh God, you dont mean to say they do books.

Memoires.

Oh, memoires.

How much did they know of the house? Not much.

Odd to see servants, int it? This day and age. Whod do a job like that? Demeaning. Just two or three old ducks and them servants running round.

A cow passed in a field, only one, and not a house in sight.

See that cow? I could just fancy a bit of silverside.

Its fishfingers or go without.

Eventually the desolation of the countryside was filled by villages, not derelict and malign like the place of dead cars, but quite pretty, with gardens and ivy in baskets, washing, here and there a swing or a child on a lawn playing with a dog.

The fields were sown, neat and kempt, with windbreaks of tall trees. Hedgerows lined the road which had changed to something broader. After an hour, now and then a car passed them, and once a country bus.

At length a broad highway received them. Houses followed the road, stone, but also plaster and pebbledash, bright red front doors, driveways with motorbikes.

What road do you want? asked the van driver.

Just the town centre.

We dont go there, said Rene quickly.

Ill let you off at Market Street, said the van man, its simple enough from there.

She paid them their fiver and the van pulled up in a wide, ordinary street, dominated at one end by a high, brown cathedral tower.

Just go towards the church, said the van man, whom Rene had never liked enough to name aloud. Glad to get a bit of time to yourself. See some new faces.

Yes.

Rachaela got out, her heavy bag, holding all necessities, on her shoulder. She stood bewildered in the street as the blue van closed like a clam and made off up the road. Well she was a funny one.

Not much to say for herself.

Close-mouthed bit.

I could just eat a bit of silverside.

Fishfingers.

The plan was straightforward. To reach this town, and from here to retreat to London. There was nothing to stay for, everything to avoid. It was true that London posed problems, for nothing was secure there, no flat, no job, money in a state of levitation. But it was what she knew. It was away from the Scarabae.

She had been crazy to come anywhere near them.

And the first part of the plan had worked better than hoped for. For the van driver might have refused her, or Cheta and Carlo seized her like warders.

So, she was free.

Free, and here.

Rachaela felt agoraphobic, almost afraid. The street, the town, were now alien. She had been shut up so long in the coloured dark of the house, only the sea and the heath for exercise.

The street was long, and over its sides crowded other roofs going uphill.

People hurried by with baskets and carriers and prams. Cars drove to and fro.

There was a sensation of movement in all directions, as if the ground shifted underfoot.

It would be incredibly stupid to be influenced by any of that.

Rachaela began to walk towards the tower of the cathedral or church.

There were shops, and crowds on the pavement. A child screamed and a chocolate bar went skidding by her foot. Sammy I told you!

The street turned and gave on another. The tower canted aside. It was on the left now, and no route through.

Rachaela nerved herself. She must ask the way. At the centre of the town information would be available.

Excuse me. How do I reach the church from here?

The woman looked at her as if she were an imbecile. Just go down there and then across and up.

Thank you.

Rachaela crossed the road and took to a tiny alley. The crowd pushed up the alley against her, overtaking her. A minuscule post office offered picture postcards of the town. Two or three off-season visitors pondered the cards, congesting the alley further.

Rachael emerged. There was a zebra-crossing and a street running uphill. The tower and pieces of the church roof appeared over houses.

The crowd wandered, and shoved.

And I said to him youll have to hang it.

What does he expect.

Unlike the van people, the town had its accent. Perhaps Rene and the beef-fancier had lived here years, still ostracized as foreigners.

The street ended in a public library, grey stone and firmly shut. The street ran both ways below the church tower which was partly hidden again by intervening roofs.

Rachaela turned to the left and walked along the street. The shops were quaint here with bow windows and jolly holiday wares, painted milk jugs and carved animals, and the first crop of Easter eggs.

A policeman idled along the road. Rachaela mistrusted uniforms but that too would be stupid. She was lucky to find him.

Excuse me.

Yes, madam.

Is it possible to get a train from here to London?

Why no, madam. Youd need to change at Fleasham, she was sure he said fleas, and then at Poorly, on to the London line. Not a very regular service, Im afraid.

Who after all would wish to leave here for a spot like London?

The other station by which she had arrived would have been easier, only one change involved, but it was out in the wilds and she suspected, being unable to give them directions, no car firm would locate it successfully. Unless she found the original car firm which had picked her up, and she could not recall seeing their name. Besides, the Scarabae might assume she would attempt that station. They might send someone to intercept her, as once before. Here, there were the crowds, the out-of-season holidaymakers.

Her eye went back to the Easter eggs. Would it soon be spring? Would spring provide a camouflage?

Can you tell me the way to the station?

I can, madam. But I can tell you, too, theres no train connection at Fleasham to Poorly today. Not until Friday.

Dare she ask him what day it was? No.

Where is the station, anyway?

Top of Wagon Street. Over the river from St Bees. She was sure too he said Bees, as if all the names here were toytown names, designed to confuse and ridicule.

And thats the church, there.

Yes, madam.

Ive been trying to get to the church. Did it matter now? Yes, she must find her bearings.

You go down there, take a left at The Bakers Arms and youll come to it directly.

Thank you.

She did not believe him.

But he might watch her, and so she set off the prescribed way.

The manner in which he spoke of Friday indicated a long wait. Surely the van would not visit the desolate village on a Sunday, day of rest? Nameless murmurs of a beef dinner were cravings, not symptoms of a Sunday lunch. Was it Monday then? The crowd was thick, female and male, and often sluggish, and it was by now one oclock, early afternoon. Saturday?

She reached The Bakers Arms, a pub of crocodile green from the interior of which fruit machines flickered. A narrower road, tree-lined, led out into a cobbled square. It seemed likely. She went down it. At the streets end the square spread out, rimmed by even quainter, cuter shops bursting with curiosities and furry toys.

The church-cathedral faced modernity across the cobbles, a brown-and-molasses structure pocked by carving and warted by gargoyles who leaned precariously towards the earth from their heights.

Across the square stood a hotel. It was too smart and would cost too much, but it made her think along the proper lines. She must find shelter, until the day of the train.

That was settled then, her plan augmented but not broken.

At four oclock Rachaela had located a small hotel which offered bed and breakfast. It lay in a warren of streets behind the church, a whitewashed Georgian building, joined to others, another symbol of her goal: London. She was, by the time she found it, at the end of her tether. Empty of food, tired beyond belief, she sank on the lean little bed and lay with her eyes shut.

She would have to go out again for anything to eat. They had refused her a sandwich; only breakfasts were presented in the rooms between seven-thirty and nine.

Already the dark was coming, the glittery day closing itself in leaden cloud.

From her window, Rachaela could see a yard, drainage pipes, a window opposite veiled in white curtain, which obviously gave the same view as her ownyard, pipes, window.

That was immaterial. She had found out the day from the hotel register. It was Tuesday. Only two days then of this. Then the train to Fleasham and so to Sickly or Poorly or whatever, and the capital. Where she must lose herself for ever to the Scarabae, with their eccentric intimate burnings of corpses on the shore. Lose herself to the man who claimed to be her father, whose own black fire had seared her, set her running.

She tried to breathe more easily, her chest was so tight it was sore.

No longer excited.

But there was nothing to fear.

How could they find her? She had muddled even herself, twisting and turning about the ghastly town, asking in shops, sitting down once in a caf'e but unable to drink the tea or eat the bun.

She must calm herself. She had succeeded.

Nothing to fear.

She went out at eight oclock, entered the little caf'e down the street, ordered an omelette and chips and was able, with the glass of wine, to eat some of it.

Rachaela did not want to return to the featureless cramped room but she had no choice. Neither did she want to wander again the peopled town.

There were floodlights on the churchSt Beesby night. The cars had white eyes flashing and ducking. The inhabitants and the visitors walked about, laughing and gesticulating.

She was in another country.

She had forgotten what the world was like.

What had he said? The house is my prison. Two years out of my prison and I hated them... I needed to go back to earth.

But she did not want the prison of the house.

No.

She had left all her books behind, but two. Her choice had been profligate, frantic. Books that meant something, difficult to get hold of, perhaps the wrong choices. She might in the future be able to prize her abandoned possessions from the Scarabae. Or would they incarcerate those, lacking her? Surely she would never have any contact with the family again.

What had truly caused her to run?

Sylvian, or Adamus? Or some other, more insidious thing?

The lamps would be alight now, and the candles.

Anna and Stephan would be dining. Fricassee of seagull. A gift despite everything, the bird Eric had dropped in Sylvians pyrethey might have eaten it.

What would Anna and Stephan say?

Rachaela is gone.

Had she smitten them a terrible blow?

She would not think of them.

Rachaela went back to her room at the small hotel.

The bathroom was down the hall but she had been told, at this time of year, there were no other guests, she would have it to herself.

She ran a bath. She shaved her body and washed her hair, worried all the while that someone would come knocking, despite the reassurance.

Finally she washed out her underclothes and took them back to her room to dry.

The central heating in the room was tepid.

She got into bed. She was cold.

It began to rain on the town, and she was glad. All those pub crawls and pizza suppers spoiled by a dousing. The sound of wet cars slashing through puddles came ceaselessly.

At midnight she heard the church clock chime.

The clock agreed with her watch, and this was Tuesday. In the mirror over the chest she might see herself.

She lay coiled into the foetal position, shivering in the icy bed.

Sleep well.

In the morning the dustmen woke her, crashing and bellowing at the front of the hotel.

It was seven-thirty.

She got up and dressed, and at eight a grudging breakfast, rolls and warm coffee, was brought to her by a pasty, lipsticked girl.

Even warm, the coffee was a pleasure. Yes, it was.

Now, what to do with her day.

She could hide, of course, like a spy in a novel, but the thought now of a further ten or so hours cloistered in this bedroom brought her to the point of mild hysteria. Besides, they would want to do the room, and anticipated that guests would absent themselves.

She must absent herself.

Rachaela put the heavier articles from her bag into the chest drawer. Her toothbrush and paste, her cosmetics and other items stood along its top like toy soldiers. She fought off the urge to take everything with her.

Outside the day was grey and yellow. Umbrellas marched on the pavements. There was no lessening of the crowd, men with shoppers and women with pushchairs, babies zipped in polythene environments, staring with contempt at the buffeted and unprotected adults they were due to become.

Rachaela walked carefully, trying to hold a half-formed map in her head.

She went into the shops, and inspected fifty-year-old antiques, woolly coats, blue ducks with flowers on their backs.

At lunch-time she went into a snack bar and ate a dry salad with drier ham. But she had not tasted ham in some while. It was salty, fatty. She had forgotten ham was like that.

At sea. It was all right. Only today, and one more day, and then she could take the train.

She should try to find the station. Behind the church, over the river, Wagon Street. She had memorized the address of the hotel and could find her way back.

There were Roman remains in the town. She had looked for them vaguely, and not found them.

The station was more important.

She got to the river, wide and yellow-grey as the sky. Boats went up and down, slick and trim or rusted and moribund. A bridge humped over the river, and beyond, the streets sprawled and flared into and out of each other. She asked the way twenty times. It was certain, there were those in the town who sent you on a wild-goose chase. Baiting an alien.

Finally, at a quarter to four, she came into Wagon Street and saw the brick and iron facade of the station like El Dorado.

She hurried up and went inside. It was very clean and plastic, with litter bins, and lavatories labelled in the London way, the woman with only one leg.

No one in the ticket office. No one on the wide windy platform where the darkness now began to fold its wings.

At last she knocked on a Staff Only door. But nobody answered.

It was as if the station was a sop, merely. A ploy to prove it was feasible to get away, but inoperative in fact. Who would wish to leave?

No trains went through along the shiny tracks. No lights changed. The lavatories did not flush and the litter bins were devoid of mess.

Never mind. The station existed. It was there, and could be used. On Friday she would come very early, before eight, foregoing her lukewarm breakfast if need be. She would wait and if she had to, she would question the driver of every train that stopped. Fleasham, Poorly. The great sightless, careless city that sucked one in and buried one. To be buried. That was it.

Rachaela made her way back cautiously from the phantom station. The sun was setting in a slum of cloud.

On the streets the umbrellas still glided.

She was lost three times before she reached the street with the hotel. Nevertheless she reached it.

Her possessions were in place, her bed had been made with mindless starched precision, and tucked in like a straightjacket.

She had jettisoned Wednesday.

Now there was only the evening, the night, Thursday.

She could cope with those.

At the house, they would be lighting the lamps.

They were carrying him down to the beach. There were no steps, but a long slope. Carlo and Michael had him between them. Camillo walked behind, his long white hair dancing on his shoulders. Alice had a mouse in her hat.

You mustnt cry, Anna said to her.

But she was not crying, shedding no tears, sloughed of everything.

They would burn him. His slim mans body, the clever hands, the face of bones, the rope of black hair. Fire in his eyes for sure.

She would need to look at his skull, after the fire, before the sea claimed it. She wanted to know. Only his skull could tell her.

They were on the beach. Adamus lay among the driftwood and the logs. Michael and Carlo hauled the piano over the rocks towards his body.

Rachaela woke.

It was the middle of the night. The cars were quiet. She almost heard the mechanism of the church clock turning silently over towards morning. It rang only for noon and midnight.

She fumbled after her watch and by a dim non-light through the window read off four oclock.

Why had she dreamed Adamus was dead?

Because she feared him. His death would be an apt solution.

She had felt something terrible in the dream, not grief or loss. Worse than those.

She composed herself to sleep again and lay until it was seven-thirty and the green rat light came creeping to the window.

Rachaela shopped pedantically. She bought a beige sweater, a packet of new cotton panties, tights, a paperback book. She bought a large black bag to put everything into. She would have to buy clothes, books, a radio, in London. When she was settled. There were some funds left. She would find another job. Anything would do.

As the days in the town had passed, even so few, the urgent city had grown remote. When and if.

She had to get there first.

The day listed by, toppling slowly from hour to hour. She ate another salad at the snack bar, which was cheap, and later walked out and sat by the river. The afternoon was clear. There were ducks on the water, she had not noticed them before. Bread for the ducks and the warm hand holding hers. It was almost a memory, invented and out of time.

She came across a cinema and went to see the film. It was meant to be funny, and sometimes the old-age pensioners in the front rows laughed querulously. How unlike the Scarabae they werehow much younger. Cracked and bent, warped and wounded. Pitiful. The Scarabae were not pitiful. Not even Sylvian on his pyre.

Rachaela left before the film ended.

The church clock and her watch gave evidence it was five oclock. Thursday was almost done with. She braced herself with the idea of Friday now. She felt a little sick when she thought of it. A tearing of the strong cord. A scissors-cut. When the train pulled out the parting would occur. How would she feel then. My prison. Gone to earth.

In the evening Rachaela carefully packed the new black bag with the sparse items of her getaway. Then she went out again and ate a watery spaghetti bolognese at the caf'e. The wine was like vinegar and did not help her to eat, but it made her quite tipsy for half an hour, during which half-hour all the recent events became funny. This passed into depression in time for bed.

She tried to read the paperback but real life was omnipresent and she could not suspend her personal consciousness.

Did Adamus know she was gone? Had they told him? How had he reacted? Probably with relief. It was all a ritual, something the house coerced him into doing. Those singeing moments before the firehad she imagined that as his intent, or was this the ritual too? How could she think of him as a fatherhe had never been one. He was a stranger, and the phantasm of her daydreams. It was her fault. She had provoked it. If it had happened.

She slept and dreamed of Sylvian under the sea, full fathom five, with fish swimming in and out of his eyes. The dream was peaceful.

She woke up and saw the sense of what they had done. He was dead. What they did to his body did not matter. And anyway they had cremated him. Very hygienic and modern. After all she was running away not from the burning on the beach, or from the man and what had been about to happen with the man, but only from the constriction of the house. Running actually from security. Her clothes and radio and books left behind. Like a six-year-old leaving home.

It was Friday.

She had paid her bill yesterday evening. Now she had only to rise and dress and go.

She did not want breakfast, her stomach churning. She drank some water, which tasted of chemicals, visited the uneasy bathroom, and was ready.

At a quarter past seven she went out into the street.

The morning was rainy again, the streets shining like wet sealskin, a streetlamp or two still bewilderedly alight in the dark day. The cars sloshed and splashed up and down as usual. The shops were blank. People began to emerge like agitated rabbits, going early to work, and lighted buses streamed into the streets.

She knew the way. She crossed the dappled river with confidence and climbed into the skirl of streets above. She mistook a turning, but only once, then came to Wagon Street. It was ten past eight. Surely the only connection of the week to Fleasham would not leave so prematurely? She had not judged the time properly. She hastened into the station building.

Thank God there were people on the platform, on both platforms indeed, standing as if for execution in bowed resignation among the dripping umbrellas, soggy papers.

In the ticket office was a man.

What time is the Fleasham train?

He looked at her, frowned. Which?

Fleasham. It only runs today. The connection to Poorly. I want to get to London.

Oh thats Bleasham you want. The man produced a Bible and consulted it.

It might run at six oclock tonight for all she knew. Never mind. She could wait.

Thats at ten forty-five am.

Rachaela smiled. Then I havent missed it.

The man laughed confidingly. Well, in a manner of speaking you have. It goes on a Tuesday morning, not a Friday. Its the Fletchers Junction that runs today.

Is there any other way, she said, I can get to Poorly?

Not by train. And theres no London connection at Poorly until Tuesday. Tuesday or Thursday. Eleven-fifteen.

The day she had asked the policeman. That had been Tuesday. And he had told her Friday.

Her circumstances struck her like a weight of bricks.

She had nowhere to go and four more days to wait.

Well, she would have to wait them. What else could she do.

She did not thank the beaming man, radiant with his bad news. He would say to his mates, Some bloody woman here wanted the Bleasham for Poorly, and shes expecting it to run to suit her on the Friday. I told her. Nothing till next week.

She would find another bed-and-breakfast hotel; not, not the same one. A waste of valuable cash, but there. And she would waste away the days, the horrible noisy Friday, Saturday, the deadly church-bell Sunday, and on Monday it would only be one more day. If what this one had told her were actually true.

Outside the station a hot pulse of fear came over her. It was not fear of the house of the Scarabae, or of their pursuit. It was a fear of the town. Its streets and people, the cars, another institutional room overlooking drains and glaucoma window-nets.

Dont be a fool Its all right.

But it was not. She had had enough. The world seemed in a plot to mar her escape. As once before.

Rachaela had gone into a caf'e and tried to eat some toast, drink some coffee. She had managed the coffee. Then she had to look for another, a different hotel. She was not successful, and gradually her road led her back into the cobbled street before the cathedral-church.

She stood and looked up at the gargoyles.

It was easy to picture the men working on the church, clad in medieval garments, on scaffolding. The making of the devils and demons, the grotesques, the foremans face used as a model, or the local old woman supposed to be a witch.

Looking up made her giddy, the gargoyles swung out, ready to leap down on her.

The thought came that she might go into the church and sit down, out of the street and the way of the crowd, without the need to eat anything, pretend anything.

Rachaela carried her two bags in under the carven porch, through the wooden door.

Inside, at once familiarity swept over her, oppression, an undeniable sense of relief.

It was the coloured windows. A great dim space filled by polished wood, a stone floor, and light trapped in cages of red and viridian and indigo blue, then scattered in pieces over everything. Even the smell of incense was not unfitting, like the powdery smell of the house.

Rachaela made her way to a pew and sat down. The whole interior softly murmured like a shell, or as a shell was meant to.

There seemed no one else in the church, not even visitors to peer at the organ and the choir, squint at the windows.

No one even praying.

There were embroidered cushions for the knees.

Rachaela had an urge to kneel down and pray. For what? She remembered school prayers, for which she was increasingly too late, Our Father which art in Heaven, the propitiation of a bad-tempered and jealous deity called always compassionate and with a need for praise worse than an insecure adolescents.

Was there any God? Logically not. No one to lean on then. No one to understand or to be implored. She was on her own as usual.

Rachaela leaned, instead, achingly on the pew. Her whole body seemed to have been racked, her back and neck were stiff, her head held red-hot wires that wound and bound.

Four days. Oh God, nonexistent father, four days.

She watched the scarlet sunlight break through a cloud beyond the window. The pictures were not insane here. Christ changed water into wine and infants were set afloat not drowned in the reeds. And the lion would lie down with the lamb.

There was a leopard in the church.

It moved so quietly, kept so still between steps she had not known. She had been lulled.

But now it came towards her and she scented it, not knowing what scent betrayed it, heard it, hearing nothing.

She did not turn her head.

Through the blue reflection of the Virgin, the leopards shadow passed and put out the light.

He was here.

Of course, where but here would he wait for her, away from the sun, under the shadows. Where she must come eventually. Or had he known to the moment, her hand on the door, her body slumped upon the wooden pew.

She turned after all, and saw Adamus standing above her.


Chapter Six | Dark Dance | Chapter Eight