Isabelle- An Occult Thriller- Ch3

Book Cover
Book Cover


Isabelle

An Occult Thriller by Tony DeLorger © 2011

CHAPTER THREE

It was a clear, crisp morning. Both Adam and Isabelle were up early and Adam was trying to reassemble the sofa bed he had slept on; he wasn’t having much luck. When it came to matters of artistic endeavour, he was of course endowed with superior ability, but within the world of practicality, the mechanics of logic simply eluded him.

Isabelle was in the kitchen preparing sandwiches for the drive. It wasn’t so much her caring and nurturing nature that motivated her, but rather an attempt to remove herself mentally from the real purpose of the trip. Both of them had managed to place their fears in the recesses of their minds, simply to be able to go on. But fear remained ever-present, like a dark foreboding shadow. The consolation for both Adam and Isabelle was that they now shared their torment, and had somehow found a direction and a purpose. There was strength in numbers and for whatever reason, this strange circumstance had fatefully thrown them together, to transform them. Whatever they would discover, they both felt that it would be both timely and of ultimate significance. For all of its apparent disaster, this quest they were about to undertake seemed somehow right, and in that sense, welcomed.

Adam helped Isabelle with her bags and placed them on the floor next to the front door. As he set them down it suddenly stuck him that he was without possessions, save the clothes on his back. He had lost everything. Isabelle appeared from the bedroom with a heavy three-quarter coat in her arms.

‘This should fit,’ she said brightly, throwing it his way. ‘It looks cold out there.’

Adam just caught it. It was a heavy woollen, charcoal coloured coat, with those woven leather buttons that he had always liked so much. He put it on and stood there admiring himself; he could have never afforded such a coat.

‘Looks good,’ spouted Isabelle, returning with the sandwiches from the kitchen. Adam suddenly looked a little sorry for himself and Isabelle instantly understood.

‘Listen, don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of money. Look at it like this. Old Blaskin’s funding this expedition himself,’ she added, with a sly grin.Adam smiled sheepishly in response, but was suddenly distracted by the sound of a loud, rasping car horn from down in the street. He rushed to the window and parted the blinds.‘They’re here! And right on time. Hell, that’s a miracle for Ted.’Even Ted had responded to the urgency of the situation, for once forgetting himself. This was uncharacteristic for old Ted, but perhaps also he was trying to appease his past transgressions and to do the right thing by the people so close to him.Ted was sitting in the driver’s seat of his pride and joy, a 1967 blue, two toned Chevy. It had all the trimmings; white walled tyres, cream leather interior, gleaming and sparkling like the day it had come off the production line. This was Ted’s second love, as he would claim, which was debatable as far as Jenny was concerned. But Ted loved this car and had spent so much time with it, restoring and maintaining it, that it remained a far greater threat to his and Jenny’s relationship, than any single one of his past extramarital violations. But Jenny took it in her stride and accepted his love affair as the better of two evils.Adam and Isabelle emerged with the luggage, stepping out onto the driveway. ‘Nice coat,’ sported Ted, with a glint in his eye, obviously impressed. Adam tried to ignore his snide inference and placed the bags by the boot. With a flick of a button the boot popped up.

‘Don’t scratch anything!’ Ted added. Adam closed the boot with a pointed thud.

‘Take it easy!’ cried Ted. ‘They don’t know you like I do, Betty,’ he whispered.

‘For God sake, Ted. Just drive!’ snapped Jenny, her patience all but gone. With everyone in their seats, the girls laden with enough food for an army, Ted pulled out from the kerb and headed out into the traffic.

As the dust settled and the car disappeared into the distance, a pool of dark fluid sat ominously on the road, where Betty had been parked. As Adam tried to make sense of a road map and the girls stared vacantly out of the window, not one of them able to imagine what lay ahead.

Eventually they left the busy city streets and turned on to the freeway, leaving what they saw as reality behind. Ted sighed thankfully as he glanced up at the rear vision mirror to see the hazed city skyline sink slowly into the road behind them. It looked as if those huge cement and glass towers were being swallowed up by the tarred expanse of the roadway. As the clutter, noise and confusion of the city slowly became a distant memory, now surrounded by green undulating hills dotted with trees.

Isabelle sat staring into the hills, expressionless, the soft morning light lighting up her delicate features with a warmth that became her. Occasionally, the light was broken by the fleeting shadow of a passing light-pole. The rhythmic flickering was mesmerising and Isabelle was lost, wandering aimlessly through her past, retrieving memories, reliving moments, searching for answers. She remembered Amy and the day she left the home. It all came flooding back...

aAdam just caught it. It was a heavy woollen, charcoal coloured coat, with those woven leather buttons that he had always liked so much. He put it on and stood there admiring himself; he could have never afforded such a coat.

‘Looks good,’ spouted Isabelle, returning with the sandwiches from the kitchen. Adam suddenly looked a little sorry for himself and Isabelle instantly understood.

‘Listen, don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of money. Look at it like this. Old Blaskin’s funding this expedition himself,’ she added, with a sly grin.

Adam smiled sheepishly in response, but was suddenly distracted by the sound of a loud, rasping car horn from down in the street. He rushed to the window and parted the blinds.

‘They’re here! And right on time. Hell, that’s a miracle for Ted.’

Even Ted had responded to the urgency of the situation, for once forgetting himself. This was uncharacteristic for old Ted, but perhaps also he was trying to appease his past transgressions and to do the right thing by the people so close to him.

Ted was sitting in the driver’s seat of his pride and joy, a 1967 blue, two toned Chevy. It had all the trimmings; white walled tyres, cream leather interior, gleaming and sparkling like the day it had come off the production line. This was Ted’s second love, as he would claim, which was debatable as far as Jenny was concerned. But Ted loved this car and had spent so much time with it, restoring and maintaining it, that it remained a far greater threat to his and Jenny’s relationship, than any single one of his past extramarital violations. But Jenny took it in her stride and accepted his love affair as the better of two evils.

Adam and Isabelle emerged with the luggage, stepping out onto the driveway.

‘Nice coat,’ sported Ted, with a glint in his eye, obviously impressed. Adam tried to ignore his snide inference and placed the bags by the boot. With a flick of a button the boot popped up.

‘Don’t scratch anything!’ Ted added. Adam closed the boot with a pointed thud.

‘Take it easy!’ cried Ted. ‘They don’t know you like I do, Betty,’ he whispered.

‘For God sake, Ted. Just drive!’ snapped Jenny, her patience all but gone. With everyone in their seats, the girls laden with enough food for an army, Ted pulled out from the kerb and headed out into the traffic.

As the dust settled and the car disappeared into the distance, a pool of dark fluid sat ominously on the road, where Betty had been parked. As Adam tried to make sense of a road map and the girls stared vacantly out of the window, not one of them able to imagine what lay ahead.

Eventually they left the busy city streets and turned on to the freeway, leaving what they saw as reality behind. Ted sighed thankfully as he glanced up at the rear vision mirror to see the hazed city skyline sink slowly into the road behind them. It looked as if those huge cement and glass towers were being swallowed up by the tarred expanse of the roadway. As the clutter, noise and confusion of the city slowly became a distant memory, now surrounded by green undulating hills dotted with trees.

Isabelle sat staring into the hills, expressionless, the soft morning light lighting up her delicate features with a warmth that became her. Occasionally, the light was broken by the fleeting shadow of a passing light-pole. The rhythmic flickering was mesmerising and Isabelle was lost, wandering aimlessly through her past, retrieving memories, reliving moments, searching for answers. She remembered Amy and the day she left the home. It all came flooding back...

..................................................

Isabelle woke with a start, having been torn away from her blissful slumber by the sound of two girls fighting at the end of the corridor. Bleary eyed, she propped herself up on her elbows to see what was going on, just as Matron Best stormed through the dormitory. She wore that familiar scowl on her face that could part a crowd and send girls frantically for cover.

‘Amy Harris!’ bellowed the Matron, as she pounded the highly polished floor toward her. ‘How many times?’ she added, grabbing poor Amy firmly by the earlobe and marching her off. Amy’s squeals could be heard throughout the halls, the pained echoes of her indignant pleas eventually fading in the distance.

Isabelle shook her head with dismay. Amy was always in trouble; she just couldn’t help herself. Determined, stubborn and definitely not resigned to life at the home, she trod all too clearly on everyone’s toes. She blatantly refused to be dictated to, but unfortunately had found her match in Matron Best.

Thankfully, as far as everyone understood, Amy was to be there only temporarily. Her parents were going through a messy divorce and Amy had innocently become the fly in the ointment. They had fought endlessly and with great bitterness, over all of their possessions, Amy being one of them. Now, all of 14 years, Amy was dealing with her anger and frustration in any way that she could. Amy and the Matron were in constant conflict and in a perverse way, they both rather enjoyed the challenge.

For Isabelle, Amy was a heroine, she was bright and vibrant, and the rebel that Isabelle would never have the courage to be. But at times she felt a little sorry for Amy too, for all the turmoil in her life. But unlike Amy, Isabelle had accepted life at the home. It was the only life she had ever known and in a way, she was the institution within the institution. But life here hadn’t hardened her, as you would have expected.

Isabelle was 13 years old and had spent nearly her entire life at ‘The Lady Wilbourne Home for Girls’. Her mother had not survived Isabelle’s birth and after two years, her father, unable to cope with caring for his daughter, placed her at the home and was never seen or heard from again. Isabelle had no other life, other than the home; it was all she knew and with her acceptance, she had made the best of it.

Amy and Isabelle found solace in each other and many times after the eight o’clock curfew, the two of them, with torches, would sneak along the upstairs hallways, trying to avoid the many creaking floorboards. Giggling and taunting each other, they would find one of the walk-in linen cupboards, sit cross-legged on the floor and share their deepest thoughts.

One such night, their muffled laughter eventually subsided, and Isabelle became serious for a moment, looking squarely at Amy in the dim torchlight.

‘Do you think I’ll ever get out of here?’

Amy hesitated, for a second surrendering her unstoppable smile. Then, with lightning response, she snapped back positively.

‘Of course you will… when you’re eighteen.’

Isabelle smiled at Amy’s quick wit and caring nature, but she was right. Having a mother was just a dream- it had always been and probably would always be.

Amy placed her hand consolingly over Isabelle’s. ‘One day things will be different, for you and me- I just know it will. We’ll be fine.’

That was the last nightly escapade the girls shared- the hand of fate stepping in most unexpectedly.

On Saturday July 5th, 1981, the world did miraculously change for Isabelle Harding. Her dream suddenly became a possibility, and this unexpected glimmer of hope brought thoughts of promise and future to a soul who had long given up.

Some weeks prior, a couple had contacted the home wanting to become foster-parents. They were unable to have children of their own and as they were now in their fifties, they thought perhaps an older child could be a possibility. Being of high standing in the community, their application was accepted.

Their first appointment with Matron Best was unusual. After sorting through pictures of all the children available, they came across Isabelle. The man’s face simply transformed when he saw her sweet, innocent face. Under her picture it read, ‘Isabelle Harding, born 14thMay, 1968. Then in brackets, ‘Mother died during childbirth, Father listed as I. Harding, address unknown.’

Strangely, from that moment, and without question, that was the child he wanted, and although his wife was more than pleased with the choice, she thought his insistence rather odd. Having organised a time to meet Isabelle the following Saturday afternoon, the couple awaited their dream come true and Isabelle was called to Matron Best’s office to hear the news.

Isabelle stood to attention outside the Matron’s door and knocked ever so gently.

‘Enter!’ sounded a posh, businesslike voice. Isabelle slowly turned the brass handle, still trying to figure out what she had done to deserve being called up like this.

‘Yes, Isabelle. Sit down my dear, I have some news for you,’ told the Matron.

Isabelle sat quickly and quietly, her legs pressed tightly together with her toes pointed daintily toward the floor, her dress hanging with perfect symmetry, the folds radiating out from her knees. She clasped her hands together on her lap, as she gingerly looked up, thinking she was perhaps in for detention, at least.

‘I have some rather unexpected news, my girl. It seems you have some admirers, at least a couple who might consider you a daughter, if all goes well,’ the Matron began.

Isabelle couldn’t believe her ears and was suddenly tongue-tied, unable to utter a word. Matron Best rose to attention, having almost lapsed into some sort of emotional response. She straightened herself immediately.

‘Anyway, a couple want to be your foster-parents and if you want that to happen, you are going to have to be on your best behaviour. Do you understand?’

‘Why yes, Matron. But who, how... why me?’ said Isabelle, dumbfounded. The Matron turned and looked pensively out of the window.

‘An older couple, wanting an older child; the gentleman was taken by your picture. Let’s hope you don’t disappoint them. They are arriving here on Saturday at three, to meet you. I suggest you put on your Sunday best, that is, if you want to make an impression. That’s all,’ added the Matron, rather flippantly.

Isabelle was in shock. She rose to her feet and mindlessly left the office. Adoptions like this happened rarely, and including fostering were nearly always limited to the youngest children. Isabelle had long given up hope and now at thirteen, it seemed impossible.

Finally, after all this time, this might actually happen to Isabelle. She tried desperately not to wish too hard, in an attempt to shield herself from any further disappointment, but it was difficult. She lay awake on the Friday night, a million possibilities rampaging through her mind. She was consumed with excitement but also scared half to death. What if they didn’t like her, the way she looked, the way she talked? And what if they were nasty people, cruel and hateful? She tossed and turned all night trying to stop her imagination from running away with her, but to no avail. Come morning she felt confused but dressed in her best clothes and waited nervously for their arrival.

The prospective foster-parents had arrived early and Isabelle was brought down to meet them. As she walked down the stairs with the Matron, she dared not look up or search them out in the crowd, for fear of what they might be like. She shuffled along on Matron Best’s arm, and once outside, began to kick up the little pebbles on the pathway nervously.

‘Stop that! Straighten yourself girl!’ the Matron snapped under her breath.

Suddenly the Matron stopped and Isabelle felt like her face was about to explode. She swallowed uncomfortably and silently mouthed a prayer.

‘Well, Isabelle,’ said the Matron, nudging her forward. ‘This is Mr. and Mrs. Blaskin.’

Isabelle smiled nervously, and stepped forward a little more. ‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ she said shyly, her head tilted forward, afraid to make eye contact. Then, gathering courage she slowly and gingerly looked up to see Mrs. Blaskin beaming down at her.

‘She’s beautiful, Ivan,’ she said, gently touching Isabelle’s cheek. ‘More beautiful than I imagined.’

Mrs. Blaskin was glowing and clung to her husband’s arm, trying to contain her happiness. She was a stout woman, of generous proportions, with smooth, unblemished skin and flashing eyes. Her smile was warm and comforting and what Isabelle would have considered a mother’s to be.

They walked for a while, just the three of them, getting to know one another. As they talked, Isabelle began to feel less nervous and more at ease. Mr. Blaskin seemed a kind gentleman, but quiet and rather serious. It was obvious to Isabelle right from the start, that he was doing this for his wife, satisfying a longing and need in her life. It was giving him great pleasure seeing his wife so happy. Isabelle thought how wonderful it was that he loved her so dearly.

Mrs. Blaskin chattered noisily, wanting to know everything about Isabelle; what she liked, didn’t like and what she wanted for her life. The barrage of questions, all of which were opening unexplored possibilities, dazed Isabelle. Never had she thought of such a miracle happening and she found it difficult to give herself over to it, just in case it was all a dream.

Eventually the day subsiding into dusk and the flickering light through the trees outside danced across the office wall as the three of them sat, apprehensively awaiting the Matron’s return. Isabelle was fidgeting nervously.

Matron Best burst through the door. ‘Sorry to keep you,’ she said, throwing some paperwork into her tray and finding her studded leather seat. She leaned forward, her hands clasped in front of her on the desk.

‘Well,’ she sighed. ‘It appears as if you’ve all got along.’

Mrs. Blaskin turned to her husband with eyes wide and took his hand, then smiled at the Matron. ‘We’d like to go ahead, if that’s all right with Isabelle?’

Isabelle couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t a dream; someone actually wanted her. She sat there trying to compose herself, feeling as if she would faint. Then not being able to contain her emotions any longer, she leapt to her feet and overwhelmed Mrs. Blaskin with a warm embrace of gratitude. Mrs. Blaskin responded and held Isabelle lovingly, tears rolling down her plump cheeks.

‘As soon as possible,’ Mr. Blaskin followed, in his usual businesslike voice.

‘Of course,’ replied the Matron. ‘Of course.’

Some days later, after all the relevant paperwork had been completed, a long shiny black limousine glided ominously to a stop outside the main entrance to the orphanage. Isabelle, wearing her finest dress with matching lace gloves and carrying a small carry bag, hesitantly stepped forward toward it, overwhelmed. She had never seen a more magnificent and unexpected sight.

Matron Best stood alone on the step in her usual controlled manner, holding back her tears, for fear someone would see her. She hesitantly raised her hand and waved.

‘Good luck, Isabelle,’ she said, her voice strained.

Isabelle turned to take a last look at her old home. She peered up and saw Amy’s face framed by one of the upstairs windows, her brave expression holding back a thousand words and many mixed emotions. Isabelle smiled warmly and waved, then turned to the Matron.

The tears were now welling in Matron’s eyes; even she was unable to uphold her usual stiff demeanour. Isabelle’s bag slipped carelessly through her fingers as she raced to the Matron’s open arms. The two embraced warmly without speaking, words were simply inadequate, unnecessary. Matron Best was so glad for a happy ending, in a place where pain and anguish so often dominated life.

Isabelle, squeezed the Matron’s hand tightly, and with such hope in her eyes, returned to pick up her carry bag. She looked up at the chauffeur in front of her, now standing like a crisply starched statue, holding open the car door. With a furtive glance over her shoulder, she stepped into the car and sat quietly in the plush leather seat. The chauffeur gently closed the door and returned to his drivers station Then moments later, the tyres crackled over the pebbled drive and they headed off toward the front gate and out into the unknown.

She sat rather wistfully staring out of the tinted car window, watching nameless souls pass by. As they tended their business they at least were secure in the knowledge that to some extent, they knew what was ahead. Isabelle’s future was at that moment, a blank. Like a family photograph sitting in a darkroom tray awaiting development; the images blurred and illegible, only a hint of what the outcome would be. She prayed this new family would somehow work out and give her a place in which to belong, to be loved. But the niggling fear of disappointment remained in the back of her mind, forever present.

As she sat there the faces of all the souls in her past, drifted through her mind with clarity and warmth. She smiled at Amy’s outrageous antics and Patty’s relentless bed-wetting, little Phoebe’s carrot top and abundant freckles and chubby Enid Fry, whose accuracy with spitballs and a blowpipe was nothing short of miraculous. The smallest details of her years at the home, all drifted back to consciousness, with all the faces of who’d come and gone, jolting her memory and bringing the past back to life. There were bad times, certainly, but it was the good times that Isabelle chose to remember. Those funny faces, the smiles and laughter, a tear in Matron’s eye and Amy, her best friend’s soulful expression, was what she would remember most. Isabelle now had a chance to be a real girl, have a real life and live in the real world; she wasn’t going to risk that for anything.

Isabelle felt a bump under the car as it veered right and then went a steep incline. The gleaming limousine came to a rest and she apprehensively peered out through the tinted window to try to see the house. All she could see were bunches of bright yellow flowers, brimming from under a plump hedgerow next to the drive. They were beautiful, but she placed her face against the glass to try to see over them. The chauffeur had already left his seat and had walked around toward where Isabelle was sitting. With one gloved hand opening the door, the man bowed respectfully and gestured with the other for Isabelle to step outside. She nervously clutched her bag and swung her legs out and stood up on the driveway.

She looked up to the top of the stairs leading to the main entrance and saw Mr. and Mrs. Blaskin arm in arm. Mrs. Blaskin was grinning from ear to ear, barely containing herself. Isabelle’s eyes rose further upward to try to grasp in some way the enormity of this house. It was magnificent, appearing almost as vast as the institution, but fashioned of wood in the Victorian style, with iron lacework under the eaves. It seemed warm and inviting, a real home and Isabelle’s face turned from pained anticipation and shock, to heartfelt surprise.

She beamed up at the Blaskin’s and Mrs. Blaskin, unable to hold back any longer, simply glided down the stairs.

‘Welcome home, my dear. Welcome home,’ she cried, collecting Isabelle in a fervent embrace. She could hardly breathe amid the generous folds of Mrs. Blaskin’s ample frame, but giggled with happiness at her most exuberant welcome. Like a cat on a hot tin roof, Mrs. Blaskin grabbed Isabelle by the hand, hopping around excitedly.

‘I have so much to show you,’ she cried. ‘Your room is ready and waiting. I hope you like it. Come, my dear!’

From that moment, Isabelle entered a world of opulence and freedom. She learnt all the social graces, how to dress, how to eat and even think. Whatever she wanted was hers for the asking. The Blaskins’ showered her with gifts, the best of everything. They wanted her to have every advantage. Her life had had so little promise; they wanted to transform her, to compensate for her past.

But Isabelle wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned with money; she wanted only to be loved. And she was loved by Mrs. Blaskin, who wanted nothing more than to be Isabelle’s real mother and to fulfil her every need. Isabelle found herself in most unfamiliar territory, experiencing a way of life that she could hardly have dreamt, let alone lived. But as you would expect, she adjusted quickly and gratefully accepted every advantage given to her; but she never once took any of it for granted.

Isabelle’s new life was like a dream come true but she had no delusions about the Blaskins'. Ivan Blaskin was a strange man, rather cold and distant. He much kept to himself and rarely had anything to do with Isabelle. It appeared that he did love his wife, doing anything to keep her happy. But in a way Isabelle’s coming was more a pacifier, a distraction for Eve Blaskin, something that allowed Ivan to go about his business without interference.

Ivan Blaskin’s business interests had over the years amassed great wealth and demanded a certain lifestyle and social standing in the circles of power. Life together had always been socially satisfying for he and his wife, but of late Ivan’s interest in companionship had more than waned. This left Eve wanting for social contact, missing the acquaintances she had made through Ivan’s business dealings. Not only that, but he had suddenly become reticent for her to even leave the house, have any contact with the outside world. The man’s world seemed to be shrinking, forever receding into retreat, he, less and less willing to engage in a normal, functional life. He became more and more of a recluse, resolved to a life of complete privacy, wanting only to be left alone.

As time passed, the Blaskin’s relationship gradually crumbled. Eve was obviously under great stress and suddenly lost her natural enthusiasm for life. She loved Isabelle dearly, but now viewed her own life without value or purpose. She did everything to keep Isabelle’s life normal and away from the constant conflict, but Isabelle was no fool. She felt all of her foster-mother’s anguish and pain, but was powerless to do anything about it. Ivan was like their jailer, a malevolent force, not under any circumstances, to be reckoned with.

Ivan became more and more embittered; his scathing looks would send the house staff scattering for cover. Like a growling malcontent he wandered the house at all hours, often leaving without explanation. When questioned, he would indignantly claim business demands, but his lies were hardly disguised. It was made perfectly clear that whatever was going on, both Eve and Isabelle were to have no part of it.

It was early May and Isabelle was soon to turn sixteen. Unusually on a Friday night, Ivan was to dine at home and Elsa the cook had prepared his favourite roast beef as an incentive to be civil. Isabelle and Eve were already seated in the dining room, quietly awaiting the master of the house.

The room was large and rather sombre in tone. The mahogany furniture, highly polished on every surface sparkled in the dim light, the solid silver candelabrum on the table, illuminating the crystal glassware and giving warmth to the pristine, white starched tablecloth. The silverware, all lined up like regiments on either sides of the fine bone China, glistened, having been given two hours of polish, by Clara, the maid. All awaited the master’s pleasure.

Ivan suddenly stormed into the room and sat rather forcefully down at the head of the table. He was a broad, rather tall man with a heavy brow, dark piercing eyes, a narrow nose and a small, hard slit of a mouth. Of late his skin had become pale, and he didn’t look at all well. Eve had made the mistake of mentioning it and was of course immediately put in her place.

‘Elsa!’ bellowed Ivan, hoping not to have to engage in any senseless chitchat. Elsa hurried in carrying the carved roast on a silver platter, placing it down next to Ivan. She scurried away then returned moments later with an array of vegetables. Ivan helped himself then rudely began to eat. Eve and Isabelle glared at him indignantly; they may as well have been elsewhere, for all he cared. Elsa hesitantly approached the table and went to pick up the platter to offer it to Mrs. Blaskin, but Ivan grabbed her slender hand and looked up at her with contempt.

‘I haven’t finished, yet,’ he growled in a most threatening, guttural tone. Elsa’s hand began to tremble as she tried to step back, hoping Blaskin would let go. With his free hand Ivan skewered two more slices of meat from the platter, then scornfully released her. She lurched back clutching her now painful wrist, the fear in her eyes obvious. Ivan took another bite of the meat, then looked up rather pensively, as if nothing had happened. All three women were now staring at him and his eyes immediately hardened in response. They looked like two black, bottomless crevasses in his lined face. He nudged the platter carelessly and continued to eat.

‘Take it!’ he spat.

Elsa rushed over, removed the food and served Eve and Isabelle. Eve swallowed nervously and thought it fitting to try to somehow overcome this cold chill in the air.

‘Ivan? Our Isabelle has been asked to the school ball. I am so proud of her.’

Isabelle half smiled, in some way hoping for a glimmer of approval from Ivan. He ignored the comment for a moment, then looked up with a snarl on his face.

‘She will do no such thing,’ he scowled and continued to eat. Isabelle looked to Eve in a panic, destroyed.

‘But Ivan, it is a harmless school dance, that’s all. It will be chaperoned, of course. All her friends are going. Surely...?’

‘Enough!’ screamed Ivan rising to his feet. ‘She is too young. No pubescent upstart with filthy, probing fingers and raging hormones is going to interfere with this girl. Not now, not ever! Not while I’m alive.’

The white napkin, clenched tightly in Ivan’s white-knuckled hand, was suddenly released and fell limply to the floor. As his expression of anger turned strangely to a cold, rather bland, detached look, he turned on his heel and left the room, collecting his coat in the hall and didn’t even close the front door behind him.

Isabelle instantly burst into tears and Eve rushed to comfort her.

‘Don’t worry dear, he can’t mean it. I’ll talk to him. Everything will be all right. Shhh.…’ she whispered, consolingly. But Eve knew her husband, and knew he meant what he’d said.

As she held her daughter, rocking her gently back and forth, Eve felt a cold fear consume her. Ivan’s behaviour had crossed an invisible line, a point of no return. He was no longer merely an ogre, a man discontent with his life, he was now much more than that. For the first time, Eve feared her husband. His ruthlessness in business had suddenly translated into malevolence and Eve began to have real concerns about her safety. She of course said nothing of her misgivings to Isabelle, wanting only to protect her, keep her safe from any disharmony or strife.

On the night of the ball, Isabelle remained at home, forbidden to attend. She sat solemnly peering out of her upstairs bedroom window, watching the raindrops trickle carelessly down the window pain. As her tears mirrored the sadness of the darkened clouds above, a foreboding gloom consumed her thoughts and an unfamiliar emptiness began to taunt her broken heart. But Isabelle’s malaise was not without reason, as she was soon to discover.

It was a Monday, five days before Isabelle’s sixteenth birthday. It had continuously rained since Saturday and as Isabelle stepped down from the school bus, she pulled the yellow hood of her raincoat down hard over her face. It was teaming; torrents of water rushing down the gutters and making the roadway look more like a raging river.

Isabelle waited for the bus to pull out from the curb. Then with a furtive glance to make sure there was no oncoming traffic; she leapt across the torrent of water in the gutter onto the road and then dashed across to the other side. As she alighted onto the opposite footpath she looked fleetingly up toward the house, some hundred feet in the distance. She squinted to try to see through the watery deluge and gently pulled back the hood a little, the rain now striking her face. At the top of the drive, she saw flashing lights, the coloured beams cutting through the haze of falling droplets. An ambulance was parked outside the front entrance, its white and red paintwork just recognisable through the heavy rain. A rising panic suddenly shook her to the core and she was unable to move. Two men suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs carrying a stretcher, covered ominously by a white sheet. Someone was under that white sheet.

Isabelle screamed in a panic, dropping her school bag to the footpath and exploding into action. She ran as fast as her legs would carry her and as she ascended the drive she saw Ivan standing silently and solemnly next to the ambulance, the rain drenching him to the bone. Isabelle’s heart almost stopped as she arrived to see the stretcher disappear into the ambulance. Ivan’s eyes told her what she dreaded to know; Eve was dead. The doors shut with a thud and the ambulance glided down the drive and away into the haze of rainfall.

Isabelle was in too much shock to even cry. Ivan seemed void of expression and approached her, placing his arm around her to somehow give her comfort, but there was no comfort. After having finally found love in her life and having found a mother to sooth the pain of her past, Eve was gone, in the blink of an eye. Isabelle was devastated.

Mary, one of the servants had found Mrs. Blaskin slumped over in her reading chair in the library. A massive heart attack had taken her quickly, but what shocked poor Mary was the look on Eve’s face. It was as if she had died of fright. Eve’s eyes were bulging hideously, her mouth gaping and her hands strangely frozen, as if she had been reading a book; but there was no book to be found. The fear in Eve’s eyes was incomprehensible and Mary for one, had instant misgivings about the real cause of death. Dr. Briggs, the family doctor, had no such qualms and signed the death certificate almost without consideration.

Isabelle was now alone in a house with a man she did not trust. She didn’t fear him, but with Ivan Blaskin, something just wasn’t right. He seemed unmoved by his wife’s death, but afterwards things began to change. His midnight departures occurred with more frequency and he kept strictly to himself. Isabelle’s life continued as before with the house staff catering for her every need.

When Blaskin was home, Isabelle would often catch him glaring at her from a distance, his expression strange and indecipherable. It always gave her a cold shudder and an accompanying feeling of violation, almost making her sick to her stomach. She suddenly mistrusted his motives and as time went on, his attentions became more pointed and obvious.

Isabelle found herself in an uncomfortable and difficult situation, but she wasn’t about to sacrifice her life for Blaskin’s foolish and unnatural infatuation. She tried to keep clear of him but he in response, took more and more interest in her comings and goings. No longer could she have friends visit the house. He made it blatantly obvious that no-one was welcome. Blaskin watched her every move, studying her every breath and decision; he made her life impossible. But as she bent under the weight of Ivan’s strange and ill-directed attention, his desperation and rather pathetic condition saddened her. He was, as he thought, in love with her and in his strange way was trying to protect her from the world he was so bitterly trying to renounce. Ivan, in his vain attempts to win her affections, was stifling her, surrounding her with walls thicker and colder than the institution she had learned to accept. His love was twisted and wrong and the thought of it repulsed her.

Eventually, after a time, Ivan’s advances became inconsequential to Isabelle, who had somehow learned to tolerate his absurd behaviour. In response to Isabelle’s ambivalence, Ivan grew more and more desperate, yearning for some kind of recognition.

Isabelle was in her room, quietly finishing off a homework assignment, when Ivan knocked meekly on her door. Isabelle put down her pen, thinking it was Mary, the youngest of the maids and her favourite.

‘Come in,’ she said brightly. The door creaked slowly open and Ivan appeared, looking rather uncomfortable. Isabelle gasped at the sight of him and drew her chair back a little. He had never once come into her room, always having respected her privacy.

‘What do you want?’ she said nervously. Ivan looked down thoughtfully and took a step into the room.

‘I want to talk to you, that’s all,’ he replied sheepishly. Isabelle studied his expression, not for a minute trusting his motives.

‘I care about you Isabelle. Why do you despise me so?’

Isabelle shrunk in her seat, not sure how to answer. This was a side of the man she had never seen before and it was unnerving her.

‘I..I.....’ she stuttered, unable to reply.

‘You are my daughter. Is it not natural to hold one’s daughter, to show her affection?’ said Ivan, expressing his sadness.

Isabelle pulled herself together and looked up at Ivan. ‘You are my foster-father and I am grateful for all you have done for me. But I worry you see me as someone else, someone other than a daughter,’ she said bravely, edging back, not knowing how he would respond.

Ivan’s brow furrowed as if he didn’t understand what she meant, and then something caught his eye. Over on the bedcovers sat a pair of Isabelle’s panties, all scrunched up, having not found the washing basket. They were a white silk with a delicately laced front, as fine as a wedding veil. Ivan peered at them and his expression changed ever so slightly. A subtle change in the line of his mouth and a gentle upward curve to the centre of his brow gave him away. There was a longing in his dark eyes and it suddenly seemed like a savage blow to Isabelle. She snatched the panties from the bed and stood up rigidly, shaking with rage and feeling stripped of her dignity.

‘You’re sick. Get out!’ she screamed.

Ivan flinched and stepped back. ‘But I love you. I want only the best for you. You don’t understand,’ he said indignantly, pleading for understanding.

‘I understand perfectly,’ replied Isabelle, with such a bitter edge to her voice that Ivan hardened at the sound of it. ‘Don’t you ever touch me, ever!’ she spat.

Ivan clenched his eyes tightly shut, the pain of her words were tearing him to shreds.

A moment later when he again opened his eyes, they were cold and hard, their lack of any sign of feeling scared Isabelle half to death and she reeled, clutching at her heart. Ivan simply turned and walked out, closing the door gently behind him.

Isabelle fell onto the bed and curled up in a foetal position, shaking all over from anger, fear and a cold nauseous feeling. Then she heard crashing sounds downstairs. Ivan was in a violent rage, breaking furniture, glassware, vases and anything that he could get his hands on. Isabelle rushed to her bedroom door in a panic and turned the key to lock it, then, diving back onto the bed, she tried to cover her ears to block out his impassioned release.

Amid the banging and crashing that was now echoing throughout the house, there came another knock on the door. Isabelle startled, but realising it couldn’t have been Ivan, rushed to the door and edged it open. Mary’s sweet face appeared through the opening, Isabelle quickly let her enter and hurriedly resecured the lock. Mary’s concerned expression sent Isabelle immediately into her arms, the tears streaming down her face.

‘Don’t ya worry darling, Mary’s here now,’ she whispered in her soothing Irish accent. ‘Leave it to Mary. That beast of a man‘ll come to no good, as God be my witness,’ she added. ‘That good fa nothing, soulless excuse for a man.’

Mary stayed with Isabelle until the ruckus downstairs had subsided and old Blaskin had fled the house. Isabelle eventually began to calm down and as always, Mary made her feel safe and gave her strength enough to go on.

For more than a week, Ivan acted like a spurned lover, sulking childishly one moment, then erupting into violent rages the next. Isabelle spent most of her time in her room, too afraid to venture out and have to cross his path. But strangely after a week, Ivan’s behaviour miraculously changed again, replaced by an idle complacency. It was as unnerving, but in comparison, much easier to live with.

Life went on and Isabelle as always, made the best of it, trying to be positive and find some happiness for herself. Her enduring relationship with young Mary was one thing that made all the difference. Mary had stood by Isabelle throughout all these troubled times and had grown extremely fond of her. Isabelle was the only reason she stayed in Blaskin’s employ, she would not have tolerated him otherwise.

In many ways Mary was like a mother and Isabelle revered her. She was quick minded with a razor-sharp wit and she had managed to curb a natural mistrust of people and transform it into perceptiveness, clear and positive.

‘Mary was such a wonderful person. I can still see her little pixie face,’ thought Isabelle.

.....................................................

A sudden bump in the road finally brought Isabelle back to the present from her dreamy mental wanderings. The chill of being back there with Blaskin suddenly made her shudder and she forced herself to sit upright. Clearing her mind, she peered out of the window to survey the terrain but caught Jenny in her line of vision and smiled. Jenny, who was midyawn, leaned forward, her arm on the back of the driver’s seat in front of her.

‘How far to go guys, anyone know?’

Adam unfolded the map, made a quick rather expert evaluation, then clueless, guessed. ‘Not far now,’ he said confidently, folding up the map. He’d chosen the wrong folds and the map, instead of being flat, looked more like a poor attempt at origami. He looked fleetingly over his shoulder to make sure that no-one was looking, then stuffed it in the glove compartment, finishing with a little nonchalant whistle.

‘Hope there’s a garage soon,’ Ted murmured. ‘We’re getting low on gas.’

Jenny rolled her eyes in frustration. ‘Damned tank,’ she spat. ‘Why couldn’t we have a normal car like everyone else?’

Ted leaned forward and stroked the dash lovingly. ‘Don’t listen to her Betty, she’s just jealous. So ya like to have a drink, I can understand that.’

Adam shook his head. ‘You’re a real worry, you know that?’

They were all in good spirits and Ted was the perfect fall guy for all their taunting and jeering. The truth was he liked to set it up that way and in fact encouraged it. Being a writer he thought, gave him an edge when it came to banter and matching wits, but he was often sadly mistaken with his own dear wife, whose sheer tenacity and intellect often brought him undone.

Adam often thought that Jenny’s cranial aptitude might have well been the core reason for Ted’s extra martial sojourns. In a deep subconscious way, being married to a formidable partner was in some ways threatening to the man’s ego and the bimbo’s he so often played with, to him, were some sort of antidote. Anyway, as Adam saw it, Jenny would one day be Ted’s saviour and whether he now accepted it or not, it was hoped that he would somehow come to that conclusion.

No more than a couple of kilometres further down the road, the terrain changed to thick pine forests on both sides of the road. It seemed as the tall majestic pines interrupted the sun’s path. Then finally, just up further around a bend, a garage miraculously appeared.

‘Thank God for that,’ voiced Adam, with his knees together. ‘Bout time for a pit stop.’

Ted slowed down and pulled into one of the service bays, the purring of the Chevy’s motor suddenly stopped and a stark peacefulness prevailed. Only the sounds of a few crickets and quarrelling bluebirds in the forest, drifted intermittently across the roadside.

They stiffly scrambled out of the car. Adam headed immediately for the rest room, while everyone else stretched their legs and scoured the unfamiliar landscape.

‘Better check the oil,’ said Ted, yawning and stretching his back with a blissful, cat-like expression on his face.

He popped up the hood and leant over the engine, trying to remember where everything was. He’d restored his precious car meticulously to its former glory, but the mechanicals he’d happily left to someone else; nothing ever click with him in that area. Soon joined by Adam, the boys hung casually and confidently over the engine doing all the boy stuff; tending plugs and points, checking filters and the like, but having absolutely no idea what they were doing.

While the women adjourned to the rest rooms, Ted and Adam went about their task assuredly, checking this and that. They both peered into the mass of cables, hoses and metal thingummyjigs with a vacant abandon, knocking this, flicking that, until Adam saw something that captured his attention.

‘What’s this Ted?’ he asked. Pointing down to one of the finer hoses at the base of the engine block. Ted responded with a shrug, leaning over further to take a closer look.

‘It’s leaking; we’d better fix that. Know what it is?’ asked Adam.

‘No damned idea,’ replied Ted. ‘Better get someone over.’

Adam scurried off to get the mechanic, while Ted checked the hose connection. It seemed secure enough but there was a crack in the hose itself and it was leaking badly.

The mechanic, whose name coincidentally was Ivan, wandered over casually, wiping his almost black grease-soaked hands on an old rag. He was a big fellow, balding a little and wore the filthiest pair of overalls you could imagine.

‘What can I do ya for?’ he asked in a gravelly voice.

Ted leaned over the engine and pointed. ‘Got a bit of a leak down here,’ he said, trying to somehow act knowledgeable. The mechanic pulled up both sleeves over his elbows and reached down into the engine and felt the offending hose. It suddenly dislodged in his hand and dark fluid spewed out onto the driveway.

Ivan, with the hose firmly in his hand, took a close look at it. ‘Shit! Ya lucky bastard. It’s ya brake fluid.’ Another hundred yards down this road and ya would have been cactus.’

Adam looked at Ted in shock.

‘...’old on,’ said Ivan, inspecting the hose in a better light. ‘This damned hose has been filed,’ he added, puzzled. ‘I’ll be buggered.’

Adam stepped over and took the hose from the man’s hand and sure enough saw the file marks across the hose. ‘Another part must have rubbed it away,’ he suggested.

Ivan raised his eyebrows and roughly pulled Adam over and pointed down to where the hose had been removed. ‘Can you see any other movin’ parts?’

‘Shit!’ said Adam.

‘You fellas got some nice friends,’ added Ivan. ‘Won’t take too long to fix.’

Ivan strolled off to the workshop, beating the broken hose rhythmically on his thigh as he whistled on his way. Ted turned nervously to Adam.

‘It was only serviced last week,’ explained Ted, feeling somehow responsible. ‘Hell, we could have all been killed.’

Adam had turned pale, unable to conceive of why or what had just happened. However this could be explained, he didn’t have a good feeling about it, and the more he searched for explanation, the worse he felt. Ted too wasn’t feeling all that comfortable. The premise of this little excursion was bad enough, but facing real physical harm, put another slant on things.

‘Adam?’ asked Ted, rather hesitantly. ‘Ya don’t think it’s this guy do ya? I mean, it’s not possible is it?’

Adam’s reticence to answer sent a cold chill up Ted’s spine. ‘Shit! You’ve gotta be joking!’

‘Joking about what?’ interrupted Jenny, the girls having suddenly returned from freshening up.

‘Nothing,’ said Adam defensively, unwilling to share their thoughts. ‘Just a minor mechanical problem. Should be fixed in a jiffy.’

Jenny, sensing something was a foot, examined Ted’s rather uneasy demeanour for a moment then relented. ‘Isabelle and I will be down at the creek then. There’s ducks and everything, just behind the garage,’ said Jenny. ‘You guys can do what’s needed.’

‘Good idea,’ said Ted. ‘Won’t be long.’

Jenny, feeling like she had just been ‘dealt with’, gave Ted a subtle mistrusting look and turned on her heel, grabbed Isabelle by the arm and strolled off.

‘What are those two up to?’ she whispered to Isabelle, not comfortable. ‘Hmmm.’

When the girls were at a fair distance Adam moved rather conspicuously closer to Ted. ‘Look, I don’t think there’s any point in telling the girls. They’ll just worry.’

Ted edged back, his face displaying every bit of his concern. ‘They’ll worry!’

‘Sh,’ nudged Adam. ‘It’s for their own good.’

Ted mumbled under his breath and wandered aimlessly around the petrol bowsers, trying to calm himself.

Meanwhile Isabelle and Jenny were sitting quite comfortably on a grassy knoll overlooking the small creek. It was blissfully peaceful and the long flowing branches of the weeping willows draped elegantly over the water’s edge, while richly coloured wild ducks happily scavenged for food on the glassy surface.

‘I’m sorry for dragging you two into this mess,’ said Isabelle, feeling more than grateful for Jenny’s support.

‘Hey, this is the most excitement I’ve had in a long time, that is if you exclude my husbands little eccentricities.’

Isabelle frowned, not quite understanding her remark. Jenny bowed her head pensively, her expression suddenly souring.

‘You don’t mean the car, do you?’ asked Isabelle.

‘He fools around,’ Jenny admitted, without looking up.

Isabelle immediately felt uncomfortable but couldn’t resist asking. ‘How can you stay with him?’ she enquired.

Jenny leant back on her elbows and sighed. ‘Each time it happened, I said to myself that’s it, I’m out of here. But you know, I always think maybe he’ll change, maybe this time’s the last. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy.’

Jenny slumped back onto the grass and looked up to the pine tops. ‘I love the guy.’

Isabelle said nothing and lay back on the grass next to her, watching the soft plump clouds drift carelessly by and wondering what would happen on this little adventure of theirs.

Since she was a newcomer to this threesome of close friends, Isabelle felt an instant kinship with Jenny, some connection beyond the call of gender. She was a caring person that made Isabelle feel safe and somehow certain of her loyalty, even though they hardly knew each other.

When the repairs were completed, and the four refreshed, they climbed into the old Chevy and found their seats. Ted smiled as the deep hum of the motor filled his ears and he happily put his foot down gently on the accelerator and they quietly glided out on to the freeway to join the sporadic traffic. Ted and Adam sat quietly in the front, knowing now they would have to keep their eyes peeled, expect anything and trust no-one. In the back Jenny was pouring coffee while Isabelle unwrapped the cut sandwiches.

As the Chevy reached cruising speed and the breeze gently rushed through the open window a large traffic sign slowly came into view then whizzed by. It read ‘Bamfield 25km’. They were almost there and hopefully they would soon find some answers to all this craziness.

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