XXXIV

Kate dreamt again that night. In the midnight shadows on the beach something threatening stalked the darkness. She ran, glancing behind her over her shoulder, aware that the threat was growing closer and closer all the time. She could hear herself sobbing out loud as she tried to draw breath, pushing herself with the last of her strength as she felt the sand slip and lurch beneath her shoes. She was going to make it. She stretched out her hand, hearing the footsteps pounding ever closer behind her on the sand. She was home.

She reached out to the door and became aware suddenly that someone was standing in the doorway, holding out his hand to her. It was Jon. She saw his smile, saw his hand, felt the brush of his fingertips and then she stumbled. Her hand grasped at the thin air and the door began to close, with her still outside in the darkness, alone…

Kate awoke with a groan, her face wet with tears. Her head was hammering like a water pipe and her mouth was dry. She tried to sit up, groaned again and lay back on the pillow wishing she were dead. She lay still for several minutes then she realised she was going to have to get up to go and have a pee. Staggering a little, she managed to grope her way downstairs. The chill in the cottage told her at once that she had forgotten to stoke up the woodburner. Her face washed, her teeth brushed, and her hair combed, she felt only marginally better. She put the kettle on and then went through into the living room. Drawing back the curtains she found it was daylight outside – but only just. The sleet which sheeted down out of the east was backdropped by clouds the colour of pewter; she could feel the beat and push of the wind against the cold windowpane. She glanced down at the sill. The surface was quite dry. There was no sign of anything untoward lurking there.

Back in the kitchen she made herself a cup of black coffee. As she sipped it she lifted the phone and listened. Still no dialling tone. Still nothing but the strange interplanetary echo. Slamming it down, she winced slightly as the crash reverberated up her arm and through her skull.

She forced herself to get dressed, donning a shirt and thick sweater over trousers and two pairs of socks. Then she dragged on her jacket, scarf and gloves. Her boots were by the front door. Before she left she relit the stove and left it burning nicely in the hope of having a warm cottage to come back to. With a bit of luck someone would give her a lift back from the farmhouse.

Patrick opened the door to her. ‘Hi.’ He smiled, his face lighting up at the sight of her. ‘Come in.’

The thought that he was pleased to see her warmed her. ‘How’s Allie?’ She followed him into the hall and pulled off her boots.

‘She’s all right. A bit weird, but she’ll live.’

For a moment she wondered whether to ask him to expand on this rather cryptic reply but she thought better of it. ‘Patrick, could I possibly use your phone? Mine has gone on the blink again.’

‘Sure. There’s one in the study.’ He indicated the door on his right. ‘Phone away then come into the kitchen. The others are there. I’ll tell them to pour you a coffee.’

With a grateful smile at him she opened the door into Roger’s study. The phone was on the desk. Shaking her head free of her woollen scarf she made for it.

‘Can I help you?’ The quiet voice nearly scared her out of her wits. She swung round. ‘Greg! I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that there was anyone here.’

‘So I gather.’ He was sitting on the arm of a comfortable, shabby old armchair near the window, a sketchpad in one hand, a pencil in the other, the pale paper illuminated by one of the shaded wall lights. She couldn’t see his face in the shadow.

‘I wanted to borrow the phone.’

‘So. You don’t trust us, eh? Going to ring the museum yourself, were you?’ His voice was harshly sarcastic.

‘No, I wasn’t.’ Indignantly she glared at him. ‘I said I would do nothing until we had discussed it further, and I meant it. Besides, if I was going to phone someone about the grave I would hardly walk all the way over here through this foul weather in order to do so. I have in fact come to report my phone out of order again.’

‘I see.’ He gave her an amicable grin. ‘Well, I’m afraid you are out of luck. This one is kaput also.’

She was astonished at the sudden wave of fear which swept through her. For a moment she thought her legs were going to give way. She leaned on the desk. ‘Are you sure?’

‘See for yourself.’ He half turned away from her, going back to his drawing.

She picked up the receiver and listened. The sound was the same. That strange echoing silence which seemed to connect to distant spheres. Putting it down she found the palm of her hand was slick with icy sweat. ‘Have you reported it?’

‘I believe Dad is driving up to the village later. He will no doubt do so then.’ He glanced up. Her face, which had been pink and shiny from the wind and rain had gone white. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘It worries you that much? Not having a phone?’

‘Yes.’ She forced herself to smile.

‘You’re scared, out there on your own, aren’t you?’ His voice was very soft.

‘No. Not scared.’ She took a deep breath. ‘But I am inconvenienced. I need the phone for my work. I need to speak to my editor; and I need it for research.’

‘Busy lady.’ He put down the sketchpad and stood up slowly. ‘And of course you want to phone the man in America. Well, I’m sure it will be mended soon. The wiring is old. They are always having trouble with phones round here. Next year, I gather, our exchange will be updated to the space age. Heaven knows what will happen then. If they keep the same old telegraph posts and fraying wires it will still go off if it rains.’ He paused, eyeing her thoughtfully. ‘So, how is your book progressing?’

‘Do you really want to know?’

‘I would not waste time asking unless I wanted to know.’ He shaded in part of his drawing, the strokes of his pencil sure and firm.

‘Then thank you. The book is going well.’

‘Good.’ He glanced up. ‘Kate. You saw Allie, yesterday. You know the state she was in. Please use your influence to dissuade her from going on with this archaeological plan of hers. It’s upsetting her too much. She’s having nightmares – all kinds of horrors. She’s imagining god-knows-what monsters climbing out of the grave. You must see how bad it is for her. It’s like some awful horror movie.’

Thoughtfully Kate moved round the desk and took Roger’s chair. She leaned forward, her chin on her elbows. ‘It’s not knowing what’s there that is worrying her, Greg. If you cover it up and bulldoze it all into the sea the effect will be the same. It, whatever “it” is, will still be there because it’s inside her head. It would be much better to get some professionals in to look at it. They may say “Look this is all nonsense. This is no more than a spoil pit. There was no grave here,” or they may say, “Yes, this was a grave, an Iron Age cremation perhaps. Look. It’s all gone. There’s nothing left except a few shards and some metalwork”. Her worst fears would be laid to rest. And I am sure they would enlist her help. Help her with her project. Encourage her. Talk about it. That’s the best course of action, I really do believe it. The worst thing you could do is pretend that there is nothing there.’

‘Quite the psychologist, aren’t we.’

She refused to let herself be roused by his deliberately mocking tone. ‘No. I think it’s common sense.’ She stood up. ‘Patrick said there would be some coffee in the kitchen. Are you coming through to get some?’

He shook his head, not raising his eyes from his sketchpad.

‘Then, if you’ll excuse me, I think I will. It was a long walk through the woods and I’m very chilled – ’

‘Kate.’ He had put down his pad. ‘Tell me something. Do you think it’s all her imagination?’

She held his gaze for a full half-minute. ‘Not completely. No.’

‘That’s a little ambiguous, if I may say so. Do I gather you still suspect me?’

‘There is a particularly irritating phrase which is in this case I think suitable. If the cap fits.’

‘Obviously you think it does.’

Walking towards the door she shrugged. ‘I find it hard to make up my mind, Greg. Put it this way. If it isn’t you, then I think that maybe we should all be worrying with Allie.’

‘Let me show you something before you go and get your coffee.’ Greg stood up. He went across to the desk and rummaged in the bottom drawer under a pile of notebooks of his father’s. Bringing out a photograph wallet he laid it on the desk. ‘I had your pictures developed at Boots.’

She glanced up at his face then she felt in the pocket of her jeans for her spectacles. Reaching for the wallet she flipped it open and pulled the photos out. The room was silent as she studied them. When she looked up at him again her face was even whiter than before. ‘You could have faked these.’

‘Oh come on. I would hardly bother to go that far.’

‘Have you shown them to Allie?’

‘Obviously not.’

She looked down at them again. They had come out well in spite of the strange light. Every grain of sand was visible, every line of strata, every trail of weed and every shell. In three of them there was, clearly visible, something else, something which she had not seen when she took the pictures.

‘What do you think it is?’

Greg was leaning over the desk beside her. He pointed to one of the pictures. ‘It looks like something spinning: a dust devil; a whirlwind perhaps. What did it look like when you took the pictures?’

She shook her head mutely. ‘I didn’t see it. I didn’t see anything odd at all.’ She gave an involuntary shiver. ‘The light wasn’t very good. To be honest I didn’t think they would come out.’ His head was very near hers as they leaned towards the desk. She was surprised to feel a strange tingle of something like excitement as his shoulder brushed hers. Cross with herself, she moved away sharply. Taking one of the photos she carried it to the lamp where he had been sitting. The entire periphery of the photo was clear and fully in focus but about one third of the way down, slightly to the left of centre was a strange, swirling, bright mass. ‘Do you think my camera was letting in the light somehow?’ she said slowly. She held the photo closer to the lamp.

‘I don’t think so. The whole picture would have been spoiled. If you look at the edges of that thing you can see everything completely clearly. Here. Try this.’ He picked up a magnifying glass which had been lying on the desk. ‘You see, the thing, whatever it is, is clearly superimposed on the background. It was in front of it, blocking it off.’

Taking the glass from him she squinted through it. ‘What is your theory?’

‘I think it’s an energy field.’

‘And where do you think the energy is coming from?’ Her question was guarded.

‘The way I see it, there are only three possibilities. The first is a human source. You.’ He glanced up at her. ‘Could you have been projecting some kind of force field? Repressed anger, perhaps? Indignation? Frustration?’ He grinned. ‘I should imagine you’ve been feeling all three since you arrived at the cottage.’

‘Very probably,’ she retorted tartly. ‘But not in sufficient quantities I think, to create a whirlwind.’ He was standing very close to her again, staring down at the picture in her hand. This time she did not move away. ‘What are your other two suggestions?’ she asked.

‘That it was just that, a whirlwind, and somehow you missed seeing it. Or the energy came from the earth.’

‘The former is out of the question.’ She hoped he hadn’t noticed the sudden tremor in her voice.

‘And the latter?’

‘Earth energy? Like ley lines, you mean?’

‘That or perhaps from some external source in the ground.’

There was a long silence as she digested his words. ‘Greg. What are you trying to say?’ When she looked up at him his face was very close to hers. He was, she noticed for the first time, unshaven. The shadow of beard was a rich golden colour, far brighter than his hair.

He shrugged. ‘I’m just wondering whether perhaps it could come from something that is buried there.’

‘Something or someone?’

‘It is someone, I’m afraid.’

‘But we can’t be sure. And surely it is the best reason to try and find out.’ Again the slight tingle of excitement as his hand brushed her shoulder.

He reached for the photo. ‘I think we can be sure, Kate. Look at this other one. See what you think.’ He turned to the desk and shuffled through the prints. ‘Here. Look at that corner. On the sand face.’ His forefinger was smudged with a grainy smear of cobalt blue. Taking the print her hand accidentally touched his. He did not move away.

She stared through the magnifying glass, angry to find her hand was shaking suddenly. ‘What am I supposed to be looking at? There’s no sand devil on this one.’

‘There. Wait, let me point with a pencil. Look.’ The fine point also trembled slightly, she noticed. She screwed up her eyes, staring at the fine definition of the photo. The sand, the lines of peat, the shells, all were startlingly clear, and there, at the edge of the photo was something protruding from the sand face.

‘Dear God!’ she whispered.

‘It’s part of a hand, isn’t it,’ Greg said softly.

She looked him straight in the eye. ‘Did you put it there?’ Their faces were only eighteen inches apart.

‘No.’

This time she believed him. Suddenly there wasn’t a shadow of doubt in her mind. She could feel the fine hairs on the back of her wrist standing on end as it held the photo. ‘We have to go out there and see.’

‘Yes.’

‘What did you tell Allie about the photos?’

‘That I put them in too late for the one-hour service so they would be a couple of days. She seemed quite relieved.’

‘She’s terrified of the place. She wants nothing to do with it anymore,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘And yet she still wants it excavated. That’s strange. Dangerous.’

He nodded. ‘So, we are on the same side.’

‘Is it a question of sides?’ She shook her head thoughtfully. ‘No, Greg. The grave must be investigated, surely you can see that. If there is a body on the beach, a coroner has to be informed for a start, however old it is. Probably the police too, for all I know.’

‘It’s hardly a murder enquiry!’

He had said the words laughingly. Throwing back his head he took the print from her, all the anger gone, his thoughts a delicious mixture of clandestine intrigue with a bulldozer, coffee in the kitchen and the woman standing so near to him. She was, he realised suddenly, really very beautiful when she wasn’t being so stroppy.

The sudden drop in temperature took them both by surprise. It was as though someone had opened a freezer door nearby. For a second the atmosphere in the room was electric.

Marcus.’

The whisper came from Kate’s mouth. Without realising it she had clutched at his arm. ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, Greg, what is it?’

He shook his head. ‘God knows. Come on. Obviously we’ve touched a chord somewhere. Let’s get out of here. And not a word to the others. Not yet. Not until I’ve had a chance to think.’ Dropping her arm, he opened the door and ushered her through it into the hall.

She followed him, glancing back over her shoulder as she did so. The room looked perfectly normal. There was nothing there to frighten them; nothing out of the usual at all. The temperature, she realised as she closed the door behind her, was as warm as it had been before. Only one thing was different. The smell of paint and varnish and linseed oil had been eclipsed totally by an all-pervading smell of wet, cold earth.

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