Faerie - Chapter Two
Here, for your delight and delectation, is the second chapter of my book entitled Faerie. You can read the first chapter here.
This second chapter begins sixty or so years after the first chapter. We do not know what has happened in those years, and none of the characters know much more than we do. The boy I have introduced in this chapter is charged with finding out what happened to Hesther, and solving the mystery. After the mystery is solved I think I might stick in an epic sort of battle, kill off some of the characters and leave the whole thing on a cliffhanger, ready for a second book. I think that's how it's done, is it not?
Well, here it is. Do tell me if you think it's hideous. I've tried to avoid clichés, but might inadvertently have peppered the whole story with them. They're difficult to avoid when one is dealing with a genre that has been done to death. But I like a challenge, and I wanted to bring faeries back to life, as it were.
Faerie - Chapter Two
Thomas screeched to a halt at the edge of the forest. He adjusted the bag strap across his chest, and pulled the zip on his jacket right up to his chin. He had delivered all of the papers on his round in the village, and now he was wishing that he had not saved this one until last. They had never ordered a paper before, so he had never had to worry about coming this far out of Stone, and so near to the forest. This morning the wind was so strong coming in from the sea, that as it buffeted against him he had to fight just to keep from being blown off his bike.
What if he just ditched the paper and turned round and went home? He was already teased enough at school for being the new boy, and for being shyer than anyone had ever been in the history of shyness, but he would be ribbed about this forever, the kid who couldn’t even make it to the gate. No, he had his pride actually. He had to do it. And anyway, there probably wasn’t even anyone in, he could just post the paper and then leg it and be home in five minutes.
He put his head down and set off, pushing down hard on the pedals to fight his way through the gale to the front gate. His legs and arms strained with the effort and he thought that some body part of other might explode before he made it. But finally the plain wooden latched gate was before him and he jumped off the bike and lay it down on the ground. He walked up to the gate, and pulled the newspaper out of the bag, folding it in half a couple of times in readiness to post it through the letter box as quickly as possible. He took a deep breath in, and blew it out as though cooling a bowl of soup, as he looked up at The House on the Hill. It was monstrous, tall, and spiky, with bits falling off it and parts of the roof caving in. One side of it had collapsed long ago, leaving just a few sections of wall standing precariously. There were no trees or flowers around to soften it, so it just stuck up out of the top of the hill, looking like a gnarled and twisted, hideous claw. Clive, the papershop owner, had told him that no-one remembered who lived here, the inhabitants, as far as anyone could tell, never came down to the village.
Before he realised what he was doing, Thomas felt his fingers on the latch. The momentum took him and he pushed open the gate, knowing that it was now or never; if he paused for even a moment he would be straight on his bike haring it back to the village without so much as a second thought.
Unfortunately for Thomas the hill was now protecting him from the brunt of the wind, and he was able to walk up it at a brisk pace, leaving no excuse for turning back. He followed the gravel path up to the front door, and then he just stood still, unable to move, either forwards or back down the hill. He could see the whole of the building now, and it was even more monstrous than he had thought; it really did look like it had been lifted out of a book on Transylvanian vampires. He could see the full extent of the damage to the house now: large parts of walls were crumbling away, windows were boarded up. The few windows that were still intact were draped on the inside with filthy net curtains, so he could not see into any of the rooms at all.
Thomas was now, almost involuntarily, walking up the steps of the veranda towards the front door. He reached forward to push the paper through the letterbox, but the door swung open suddenly, creaking cacophonously on its hinges, and crashing into the wall in the hallway. Thomas shrieked and cowered, instinctively holding his arms over his head to protect himself from whatever horrors should fly through the door. Then a woman spoke, in a soft yet impatient voice,
‘So, you’re here. About time too.’
Thomas looked up tentatively, and was shocked beyond belief to see the diminutive figure of a white haired old lady pad forward on beslippered feet. She was dressed head to toe in black, in clothes that looked as ragged and old and as dirty as she did. She did look old, somehow, but yet the skin on her face and hands that he could see was as smooth as his own, albeit rather unwashed.
‘You’d better come in then,’ she said, moving to one side to allow him to pass. Her voice was surprisingly deep for such a small person.
‘Er…I’m not…er,’ Thomas stood rooted to the spot. The woman was obviously mad to think that she had been expecting him, and as he came to his senses he knew that he was not going inside that house with her. What on earth had he been thinking, to come right up to the house. Images of this little old lady turning into a grotesque and sabre-toothed nasty thing flashed across his mind. The woman tutted impatiently,
‘Boy, you are late. Get inside.’ Still the strange gentle tone, but with the shaky threat of psychosis just under the surface.
Thomas took a step back from the doorstep. ‘Er…got to…er,’ he glanced over her shoulder, wondering if she had a shovel or a pick-axe ready inside, to do him in with once he stepped through the doorway. That was much more likely than vampires.
‘Oh, for pity’s sake, I know who you are Thomas, now just come inside. It’s brass monkies out there, even if it is the middle of July.’ She turned her back and shuffled off into the house, ‘the kettle’s already on.’
Thomas did not know what to do, as he was still not sure whether his life was in danger or not. The woman had gone off into one of the back rooms, presumably the kitchen, so he could just leave. But she knew his name! How could she know that? He stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, thinking that he should probably just go; but he realised that he was actually intrigued. If he left he might never find out who this woman was, and what she wanted with him.
He jumped as she shouted through, ‘shut that door, you’re letting in a draft.’ But he could see the back door open from where he was standing, why didn’t she shut that one as well. ‘I can’t shut the back door, the faeries need a way to get out.’ Oh right, the faeries, of course! But how did she know what he was thinking? Oh, this was too strange. He grinned. Just the thing to make the summer a little more exciting.
He chuckled, making a mental note to ask his mum to get his head tested, then stepped over the threshold and into the hallway, and closing the door behind him. His heart was pounding as he gleefully muttered to himself, ‘what am I doing?’
He followed the way the woman had gone, and found that she was in the large kitchen. She was busying herself with cups and spoons as she waited for the kettle on the stove to boil. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of modern appliances, the room looked like it had just been transplanted from a history book. It was dark, mainly because there was only one small window covered by those heavy net curtains, but also because of the dark brown fronts on the cupboards. Thomas had never seen anything so old-fashioned, and he had never seen anything so dirty. There was a layer of grime on every surface, and he could see crumbs all over the worktops and the table, mixed in with dust bunnies and hair balls. He wondered if the woman kept cats, and if they might be lurking under the table, ready to scratch his legs to bits at her signal.
The old woman looked at him knowingly, and said ‘now, I know you’ll be wondering how it can be that my house is so clean, considering the state of the outside of it? Well, I’ll tell you: I keep a Brownie in the attack, and he cleans it for me,’ and she turned back to the tea things. Thomas was stunned at this comment, and if he had not already been silent, he would now have been lost for words. ‘Now then, sit down lad,’ she said, without turning round to face him, ‘d’you want tea?’
He sat down as lightly as he could on one of the crumb encrusted chairs around the dark wooden table. ‘Er…I don’t really…er…drink tea.’ In actual fact, he did drink tea now and again, but he was hoping to avoid having to drink out of one of her dirty cups.
‘Well, I’ve nothing else, so it’ll have to do,’ she said.
She turned and padded over to the table, bringing a plate of home-made biscuits which she laid infront of him. They seemed to be filled with currants, but in this house he did not dare to try them; currants sometimes looked rather like bluebottles, or mouse droppings perhaps. ‘Help yourself, they’re not poisoned,’ she said, and her face broke into an unexpected virtually toothless grin, and she cackled!
She is a witch, he thought. He tried to smile back, to disguise his unease, but he only succeeded in baring his teeth rather pathetically.
‘What’s up with you boy? You look petrified out of your wits,’ she shook her head as she went back to the stove. The kettle was just starting to whistle, so she turned off the gas and poured water into the teapot. Thomas felt as though he was expected to say something to explain his lack of courage at this point, but his mind was completely blank. He had never really been shy, unless he was expected to speak to a room full of people, and he was fairly certain that if this woman had been at all nice he would have been able to speak to her very comfortably. But she was far from nice.
The woman came back to the table with a tray of tea things. She sat down next to him and started to make the tea, plopping three lumps of sugar into each cup without bothering to ask if he wanted any. This was the most bizarre thing that had ever happened to him.
‘Right then,’ she made him jump again: it was amazing how loud this little woman’s voice could be, ‘you’ll want to know why you’re here?’
‘Ahem…er, yes…I suppose,’ Thomas muttered.
‘Oh for pity’s sake, where’s your blummin’ backbone boy? Do you want to know why I brought you here or not?’ She slapped her palm down on the table, and looked him in the eyes.
He answered immediately, ‘yes, I do,’ and sat upright, as if she’d ordered him to do so.
‘Right, now listen to me carefully. I’m going to tell you a story. Then I’m going to give you something to take away and read, and then I want you to do something for me.’ She paused, evidently waiting for him to catch up. He had no idea what she was talking about.
‘Er…’ He was about to respond, when,
‘Oh my word, stop doing that! “Er…” all the time. Just out with it boy, speak, say what’s on your mind, ask me questions, but for pity’s sake, stop saying “Er…”! Where’s your blummin’ gumption boy?’
‘Right, yes,’ he blushed, he hated feeling this pathetic, he was just not used to it. ‘Er…’ he said, and the woman rolled her eyes and shook her head in despair; he carried on, ‘is this, erm, going to be like an exam or something, Miss?’
‘What? What are you on about?’ She frowned, and looked at him as though he was the strange one. ‘No,’ she sighed, and took a gulp of her tea. Then she took a huge bite of shortbread right before she said, ‘I’m going to have to start right at the beginning, and go very slowly,’ crumbs flew in all directions as she spoke with a mouthful of biscuit, ‘as I can see you’re a little slow on the uptake. You might be no good to me afterall, but we’ll see, we’ll see.’ Thomas tried not to stare at her as bits of biscuit landed in her lap, and flew across the table. If a crumb landed on him he didn’t know what he might do, but he would probably embarrass himself by reacting hysterically.
She was looking at him again, as though disappointed, scowling in fact, while she munched on the shortbread.
Thomas blushed again, but she’d managed to spark a little anger in him. He was treated enough like this by Liam, but he didn’t put up with it from him, and he didn’t have to put up with it from her either. He was about to get up and storm out, when she said, ‘I’m your great-great Auntie Beatrice Grey.’ He stared at her, his mouth wide open. She must be making another joke.
‘No, I’m not joking Thomas,’ she smiled, and seemed to be enjoying herself, as she took another huge bite of shortbread. Did she just read his mind? ‘Your Great-Aunt Grace, who’s just left your mother the house, was my niece, once upon a time.’ Thomas looked right into the woman’s eyes: how did she know about his family being left the little house? She was right though, Thomas, Liam, Hannah and their mum, Rosie, had moved to Stone from the nearby town of Wheeler only three months ago. The house had been left to them at exactly the right moment, as Rosie had lost her job and couldn’t afford the rent and the four of them were about to be made homeless.
He shuffled about in his seat, making himself comfortable: he had a feeling he might be here for a little while. He composed himself and then spoke, forcing himself to speak loud enough for her to hear properly – he hated the embarrassment of having to repeat himself for people who couldn’t listen properly. ‘I’m sorry for asking, but why didn’t she leave the house to you? We didn’t even know her.’
‘Because we haven’t spoken to each other for nearly fifty years, and I wouldn’t want it anyway. It was best she left it to you, you needed it.’ She showed no trace of being sorry that her niece had died so recently; but in any case, Thomas could not imagine how this woman could have been Grace’s aunt, since he knew that Grace had been nearly seventy, and this woman did not look very much older than that.
He decided to change the subject. ‘You know my mum then, you know Rosie?’ He spoke without stumbling over the words; strangely, he did feel a little less awkward suddenly, as if knowing that he might be related to this woman had made her seem a little less alarming somehow.
‘Yes, I do, though I’ve not seen her to speak to for years, since she was a girl. And I was an old woman even then.’
‘I’m not being funny, but Mum’s never mentioned you.’ Perhaps this woman, Beatrice, had made stuff up to prevent herself from getting too lonely up here away from the rest of the village, and now she believed her own stories to be true. In any case, he didn’t mind finding out a bit more; it was Saturday, so he didn’t have to rush off for school today.
‘Well, no, that’s because she probably thinks I’m dead. I did actually die, to all intents and purposes, a very long time ago.’ She took a gulp of tea, as if she had said nothing out of the ordinary, then topped up her cup.
‘It’s a little complicated, and it doesn’t really matter boy. All’s you need to know is that I’m the old aunt of Hesther, Grace and George. You knew George, your grandfather, yes?’ Thomas shook his head, ‘No, well, of course you didn’t – he died well before you were born, poor lad.’ She gulped her tea again. ‘I didn’t really think this through. Just let me see…’
Thomas sat patiently, nodding and trying to disguise his bewilderment for some minutes as Beatrice rhymed off a long list of relatives’ names that he’d never heard of. She told him who was related to whom, by blood and by marriage, as if she was trying to prove her identity to him in order to give credence to her story. He forgot every name that she mentioned as soon as she said the next one, and just as he was beginning to wonder if she’d ever stop, she said,
‘But it’s really not important. One of your relatives, who lived in the village a long time ago, is called Hesther Grey. She’s Grace’s sister. You follow?’
Thomas nodded slowly, ‘Ye-es, Hesther Grey...’ he said, wondering if all of the other relatives she’d mentioned would have any bearing on the story at all.
Beatrice looked up to the ceiling, trying to figure things out, ‘she is your … let me think ... yes, she's your other great-auntie.’
‘She is my great-auntie? Where does she live?’
‘Somewhere else, but I’ll get to that.’ She frowned at him, ‘is there something wrong with your tea?’ Thomas looked at his cup, embarrassed again, and shook his head. ‘Well drink it up then.’ He took a drink, the tea was luke-warm already and so sweet that he was sure he could’ve stood his spoon up in it, but he felt obliged to drink it so he polished it off in three gulps.
‘Right,’ Beatrice seemed to be amused at his awkwardness again, and she didn’t try to disguise her chuckle as she poured him another cup. ‘Hesther is my niece, and what a rare bird she was in those days.’ She smiled, but more warmly now, as she thought back on old memories. Her face completely changed: she looked much younger, and not at all intimidating, and she didn’t seem to mind Thomas seeing this side of her.
‘Hesther used to come up here whenever she could get the chance, and she’d tell me stories. Oh, we had a glorious time, her and me, we were real pals. I was the only one who’d listen to her tales, see? No-one else in the village believed a word she said, of course, but I knew that everything she said was true. Hesther never told lies.’
Thomas wondered sceptically why he’d never heard of this side of his family before. Perhaps they were never talked of because they were all doolally. ‘What were her stories about, er, Auntie?’ Yet again he blushed, he didn’t know what to call this woman he’d only just met.
‘Beatrice’ll do just fine boy – that’s what Hesther called me,’ she chuckled again. But her expression quickly became more serious as she said,
‘I’m well aware that you might think I’ve gone batty, but I haven’t. My thinking is crystal clear, I’m not senile, right?’
Thomas nodded, and he stared at her, quite transfixed.
‘I’m telling you that because I want you to stay and listen. I don’t want you to dismiss all this as the ramblings of a mad old woman. I want you to keep your imagination open and free, I don’t want you to close yourself off to what I’m about to tell you.’
He nodded once more, now rather solemn, and feeling that he might be about to hear some horrifying story from his family’s past – if, indeed, these people were his family; he was still not quite convinced.
‘Hesther’s stories were about the Fae.’ Beatrice kept her eyes firmly locked onto Thomas's, as though she was trying to read his reaction, but he didn’t quite know what to do as he had never heard of a Fae, and this was obviously some kind of delusional episode that the woman was having.
‘Erm,’ he smiled lopsidedly, apologetically, ‘what’s a Fae?’
‘A Fae? A Fae?’ She tutted again, but at least the intensity of her stare had diminished. ‘It’s The Fae boy. The Fae are a race of supernatural beings, who exist on another plain.’ She smiled enigmatically. ‘Some people might call them Faeries, boy. I prefer the more elegant name of Elves.’
Well, that was that then. He was wasting his afternoon, listening to a senile old woman who believed in faeries. Now, if only he could think of a way to get out of this house without upsetting the woman, he could get back home and do something more useful like help unpack some of the boxes that still hadn’t been emptied.
‘No boy, NO!’ Beatrice slammed her fist down on the table, evidently sensing his lack of belief. ‘I told you that I am not mad – I can see plain as anything that you think I am.’
Thomas shook his head vigorously, afraid now after all that this might be the moment when she would change into something hideous. ‘No, honestly, I don’t think you're mad,’ he lied, ‘it’s just a little hard to believe, that’s all.’
Beatrice frowned, ‘I know that boy, but that’s why I asked you to listen to me first. Don’t just make up your mind before I’ve even told you it all.’ She leaned forward, staring again, ‘I didn’t believe it at first, when she used to come round telling her stories. But then I began to realise that there was truth in her eyes, always. She believed that every word she said was true – stands to reason boy, if she wasn’t lying, and she wasn’t mad, it must be real. And I can tell you that she wasn’t mad or lying.’
Thomas looked down at his tepid tea, and wondered what he should do. ‘What happened in her stories?’ he asked.
‘Ah,’ Beatrice relaxed back into her chair again, ‘well, she had so many wonderful adventures. You see, she was able to enter Faerie, the world the Fae inhabit, by means of a magical portal.
‘But one day she disappeared off into the forest, and never came back. No-one ever saw her again. There was a search, with police and everything, but we never found a trace of her.’
Thomas scratched his head. ‘Did, er … did Hesther die, Beatr…’ he was about to say her name, but he didn’t feel comfortable with it at all. He glanced around the room as discreetly as he could, to see if there was a clock visible.
‘You want to leave, don’t you boy?’ Blimey, she didn’t miss a thing, this woman! He smiled apologetically again. ‘Yes, alright. You can go … but just let me tell you one more part of my story.’
He had started to pull up out of his chair, but he sat back down, suppressing a sigh, but she noticed that too. Tutting again, she said,
‘Have some patience boy. You’ll be on your way home in a minute. But has it not even occurred to you that you might actually learn something from me? Something interesting, even important, something a little different from all that television and computer nonsense you bury your head in all the time?’
Thomas bristled, ‘I read books actually,’ he snarled. He hated that people always assumed they knew everything about him just because he was young. ‘I don’t watch much telly.’ He kept his head down, scowling, and desperate to hide his blushes from her again.
She was silent for a few moments, but when she spoke her voice had changed once more. ‘My, now that is interesting,’ she said, thoughtfully. He looked up, a faint trace of the scowl still visible on his red face. ‘It seems you do have something about you … spirited, aren’t you, when pushed?’
He shrugged; he’d had enough now, he wanted to go home.
‘I can see something of Hesther in you boy.’ He wished she would stop calling him boy. ‘But you asked me a question – The question, as it happens. “Did Hesther die?” you asked?’ She smiled, evidently enjoying building up the suspense.
‘No, she did not die.’ She sank back into her chair and folded her hands across her ample stomach, smiling at him through half-closed eyes, looking as though she’d just revealed something astonishing.
‘Oh,’ Thomas said, ‘well … does she live round here now then?’
Beatrice turned back into the crabby old woman then, seemingly disappointed that he wasn’t piecing together her bits of information fast enough.
‘No! She doesn’t live round here boy. Could you not have used your imagination, and guessed where she might be?’
‘Oh…sorry. Er…is she…’ he felt stupid for even saying this, because the whole thing was just ridiculous, ‘is she in Faerie?’
She clapped her hands together and laughed gleefully, like a child on its birthday morning, ‘Ha ha! Give the boy a prize! Yes, she is! Hesther is in Faerie – stuck there I believe, as she has been for nearly sixty years.’
‘Sixty years?’ He looked at her, not bothering to hide his scepticism this time. ‘That’s just stupid, I’m sorry!’ He wasn’t great at maths, but he was quick enough to now see that Beatrice would have to be about eighty, or maybe even more, to have been Hesther’s aunty sixty years ago. That just blew her whole charade apart, he concluded; of course, she just wasn’t old enough to be his great-great aunt, why had he not realised that before?! Unless, she had been an aunt when she was very young of course, that could be it. Callum in his class at school was an uncle, and he was only thirteen. Nevertheless, he said ‘you’re not old enough for her to have been missing for sixty years.’ Mrs Collins next door to his family at their old house was eighty, and Beatrice didn’t look as old as her.
She looked amused again. ‘Oh, am I not?’
‘Well, I can’t see how you can be, unless your brother, Hesther’s dad I think you said, was a lot older than you when she was born. But then she wouldn’t have just been telling you the stories, she would have been taking you with her, to…er, Faerie…wouldn’t she?’ Thomas blushed, yet again, at his boldness in chattering on about a subject he knew nothing about.
Beatrice lifted her chin, and looked down her nose at him. ‘I’m one-hundred-and-eight years old boy.’
He couldn’t stop a little snort of laughter escaping, but he quickly put his hand over his mouth to hide the smile.
‘Oh,’ she said, still looking pleased with herself, ‘don’t believe me eh? Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it right now. You’ll see everything clearly soon anyway. But it's enough for you to know this: I believe that magic still leaks out of the portal that Hesther used to go through, and I believe it's that that keeps me young.’ She eyed him carefully.
The little bit of laughter had calmed Thomas's temper remarkably, and he was feeling quite at ease with the old woman. 'Okay, if you say so.' He laughed again, and she did not seem to be offended; apparently her temper had eased also.
‘I do need to go soon, I’ll be missed,’ he said.
‘Of course, yes. Right. Just wait a minute.’ She got up from her chair, and went out of the room. He could hear her shuffling papers, and opening a drawer in another room.
‘I’ve got something for you to take away,’ she shouted through. ‘Come out here boy.’
He jumped up out of his chair, and went out into the hallway.
‘In here,’ she shouted from the room opposite the kitchen. He went in, and saw that it looked like a kind of study, with bookcases full to bursting, and books and newspapers piled high on the floor. In one alcove was an old writing desk, also covered by papers and books. Beatrice was just pulling a large old book out of one of the desk drawers when he came into the room.
She glanced up at him and smiled, then looked back at the book, her eyes looking rather glassy as though she was holding back tears.
‘It’s all in here boy. Hesther wrote it all down,’ she sniffed to hide the fact that her voice had cracked a little, and gestured for him to approach. In her hands she held a heavy looking leather-bound book, with uneven pages sticking out at angles, it looked as though extra sheets had been added, and seemed stuffed full to almost bursting. The whole thing looked very old, and older than sixty years, and it also looked as though it might fall to pieces at any moment. Beatrice held the book out to him. He didn’t move to take it straight away.
‘Er…’ His jitters had not returned, but he didn’t know what to say in response to this obvious act of trust on Beatrice’s part.
‘Take it boy,’ she smiled, ‘what’s the matter with you?’
‘I just don’t want to spoil it, that’s all, Beatrice.’ He almost choked on her name, but he did manage to say it.
She chuckled gently, ‘well, I trust you to take care of it Thomas,’ so she could remember his name. ‘The fact that you mentioned not wanting to spoil it tells me that you’ll look after it.’
He moved forward and took the book from her carefully. It was heavy, and he could smell it immediately, scents of dust and oak from the desk, but also something of the outdoors, of grass and trees. He held it up to his face and took in a deep breath through his nose. He loved the smell of books, new ones, old ones, books from the library, books from charity shops. But this one did not smell like any he had smelled before, it was bewitching, and he wanted to dive into it straight away.
He looked up when he realised that Beatrice was staring at him, but he didn’t blush this time; instead he smiled. She had won him over with a book, the easiest way to his heart. Rosie had always bought him books or given him book tokens every year at Christmas and on birthdays.
She looked as pleased as he did when she said, ‘now, I can see you’re itching to get off and have a look at that there treasure trove,’ she chuckled, ‘so off you go. Read it all, and see that what I’ve told you is true.’ He didn’t know about that; faerie stories were just that, stories and nothing more. But he would enjoy the book nonetheless.
‘Thank you,’ he said, smiling again.
‘Well,’ she waved a hand at him, as if brushing away his thanks, ‘thank me by coming and seeing me again when you’ve read it. I want you to help me find Hesther.’
His smile disappeared. ‘You what? … Beatrice, I’m only thirteen, I can’t …’
‘You’ll understand soon enough boy. I’ve told you enough to be going on with.’ She started to wave him out of the room, and clutching the book to his chest he went out into the hallway. He turned to say goodbye when he reached the front door.
‘Now, you come and see me after you’ve looked at that book for a few days, and then tell me if you still don’t believe in the Fae,’ she said, and winked at him knowingly.
Thomas just stood and stared at nothing, his eyebrows drawn together in a thoughtful sort of frown, as he tried to recall some of the bewildering things Beatrice had just been telling him.
‘Well boy, what are you waiting for?’ A hint of her impatience returned.
‘Oh, er … sorry, yes. I’ll go now then,’ he stammered, and he opened the front door and went out. ‘Bye then,’ he said without looking back, too unsettled by what she’d just said about finding Hesther to focus on good manners.
After he had carefully put the book in his bag he cycled home in a daze, left the garden gate open and let his bike just fall onto the lawn, and went straight in the house to find a quiet place to read.
So there it is. I'm not letting you see any more. You'll have to wait for the book to be finished, and published. Apologies if I've missed any anomalies - I've changed Thomas's name to Simon and back again a few times, so if he's accidentally popped up as a Simon here and I've missed it, I'm very sorry. Please let me know, and I'll fix that.