Halton Cray (Shadows of the World Book 1)

BOOK: Halton Cray (Shadows of the World Book 1)
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

SHADOWS OF THE WORLD

 

∙ BOOK ONE ∙

 

 

HALTON

CRAY

 

 

N.B.
ROBERTS

 

 

All characters and events in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Copyright © 2014 N.B.
ROBERTS

 

The moral right of the
author has been asserted.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without prior permission in writing of the author, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition including this condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

Published
September 2014 by N.A.Beckham

 

Cover photograph © Andrea
Hübner / www.quadratiges.de

Cover design © N.B.
ROBERTS

 

ISBN
978-0-9930480-0-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Antony and Sophia

 

 

Contents

 

Preface
.
7

1.
      
APPEARANCES
.
8

2.
      
FOG
..
17

3.
      
QUESTIONS
.
25

4.
      
THE GRAPEVINE
..
39

5.
      
CREATURES OF THE NIGHT
..
48

6.
      
THE DUNGEON
..
65

7.
      
THE GOSSIP’S ADVOCATE
..
71

8.
      
PETER PAN’S SHADOW
...
83

9.
      
JEALOUSY
..
97

10.
  
THE STRANGER
..
103

11.
  
SLIMY UNIVERSE
..
115

12.
  
HE WHO RIDES THE PALE HORSE
..
128

13.
  
LATE
..
148

14.
  
STIGMATA
..
157

15.
  
THE ATTIC
..
174

16.
  
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PARTY
..
190

17.
  
BLIND
..
215

18.
  
A STAB IN THE DARK
..
228

19.
  
HEARTFELT FRIENDS
.
244

20.
  
SHOPPING CENTRE
..
251

21.
  
THERE ARE DEMONS
.
260

22.
  
LOVE ON ICE
..
282

23.
  
MIRROR
..
299

24.
  
THE PREMATURE BURIAL
.
317

25.
  
DEAD RINGER
..
332

26.
  
FATE OR NO FATE
..
345

27.
  
BUTTERFLIES
.
359

28.
  
DIARY
..
368

29.
  
PARTING WAYS
.
384

30.
  
MORTALITY
..
389

31.
  
MANHATTAN
..
402

32.
  
THE CEMETERY
..
417

33.
  
PLAYTIME
..
444

34.
  
ASHES TO ASHES
.
455

35.
  
LAST RITES
.
466

36.
  
EPILOGUE: HALTON CRAY
..
482

SHADOW
WORK
..
497

A
NOTE TO THE READER
..
505

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
.
506

ABOUT
THE AUTHOR
..
507

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She knows not what the curse may be

And so she weaveth steadily

And little other care hath she

The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot.

 

– Lord Alfred Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott

 

Preface

 

 

 

 

It took everything I had to
pull myself from him. He grabbed my hand firmly in his and turned me to face
the direction of Death’s approach. On the other side of the road, something
moved in and out of the shadows. The fog remained too thick for me to discern
any more than just the figure of a man. He crossed the road insouciantly
towards us, and seemed from here very ordinary; wearing a dark quilted down
jacket, zipped up, his hands buried in the front pockets. I did not expect a
robe & scythe and I wasn’t disappointed. His hood was up and drawn low to
obscure his face, though I could distinguish the outline of his eyes. As he
stepped up from the road onto the pavement where we stood, he unsheathed a hand
and drew back his hood to reveal who he was, or at least appeared to be. Though
a part of me expected to see this, I still took a step back in surprise.

 

 

One

APPEARANCES

 

 

‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’

 

– Matthew 7:1-3

 

 

Mark sat across from me
perusing the wine list like a compelling novel. I gazed at his good looks
openly – his olive complexion, chiselled lips, and clear green eyes – as he
continued pretending I wasn’t there. A search of his face revealed no clues as
to what had changed since our last date, nor why he’d bothered inviting me on
another.

‘Are you sure nothing’s wrong?’ I conceded to ask
again. ‘You don’t seem yourself tonight.’

‘No, nothing. I’m just a bit tired.’ He yawned
unconvincingly before glancing my way. ‘Have you changed your hair colour? Doesn’t
look as red as before.’

‘No; it’s my natural colour,’ I said, sipping on
my ice water. The restaurant was warm; my skin prickled with heat beneath the sleeveless
crepe jumpsuit I wore. Mark’s upper lip began to glisten with perspiration as
he continued on the subject of my hair –

‘Are you sure? It looked brighter the other
night.’

‘Really, it’s the same. Maybe it’s the lighting in
here.’

‘Maybe you’re lying,’ he countered sharply, before
adding with a forced smile, ‘Hey, just kidding! Your eyes are still blue at
least.’

I wished they were blue, bright like my mums,
rather than the dull grey-blue I’d inherited from my dad. But right now I was
more concerned over the bizarre allegation and Mark’s new attitude towards me. Where
had this guy sprung from? What happened to the funny conversationalist I was
dating?

The clock above the bar frowned at twenty past eight.
I caught Mark’s eyes dart apprehensively across the restaurant, as if to say
‘is there anyone here who knows me?’ before recalling my existence.

‘We shouldn’t have come here,’ he announced suddenly,
biting on his thumbnail.

‘Why not?’

‘This place, it’s
intimidating
.’ He downed
his JD and Coke.

Instinctively I glanced round Carnelian’s, a friendly
steakhouse near Covent Garden, which was half-empty and a bit outdated in
heavily red décor. I felt like saying ‘well, you picked the restaurant’ – but I
wanted to see him again and felt that throwing blame probably wouldn’t do me
any favours. Besides, by the way he shot me a look when pronouncing that word
intimidating
,
I felt
I
was the intimidator here. Why that was the case I couldn’t
guess. He couldn’t have meant physically; I was below average in stature.

Clearly I was on trial for something, and without
knowing the accusations I could neither defend myself nor confess. I headed for
the Ladies, doing my best not to make excuses for his behaviour.

Leaning against the sink, I stared pensively into
the mirror, expecting to find that pimple, or something else grotesque to
account for the way he didn’t like to look at me. It seemed a ridiculous
notion, but how could I guess what would offend him?
I ran my
hands under the cold tap before pressing them to the back of my neck. Had Mark
realised
what I knew all along? That next to him I was too plain
to pass for his girlfriend. Nothing else would answer it.
I felt
disappointment like a wet slap round the face. I really liked him, which made
it all the more hurtful.

A cistern flushed from a cubicle behind me. The
door swung open. Light heels clicking on the tiles gave way to a sudden screech

‘Alex!’ she squealed out my name. I looked behind
my reflection, surprised to see a familiar face gawking excitedly back. Since
school Stacey hadn’t changed a bit, internally that is. Externally her style veered
frequently from one trend to another. What mostly caught my attention tonight,
aside from the half-bottle of perfume she’d applied, was the thick black eye
makeup rimming her eyes like a panda. I hadn’t seen her for about three months.

‘What are you doing here?’ she clucked and then
proceeded to inform me of her life so far. ‘
I’m
here with my boyfriend.
It’s his birthday, his twenty-first! So I thought I’d treat him to dinner,
and–’

‘Um, Ben, is it?’ I asked, so she could draw
breath.


Eww
! No. That’s so over!’ She pulled a
face as if to vomit. ‘I’m with Darren now; he’s yummy!’ She smiled and twirled
her plum-coloured hair round her fingers. ‘I was thinking of growing my hair
long,’ she said, stroking mine as if to neaten it. ‘It’s just so difficult to
keep tidy.’

She was nearly always condescending, though it
never seemed intentional, just a little thoughtless.

Stacey wore a black mini dress that did her petite
figure justice, and she appeared to know this by the way she confidently moved in
it. A natural blonde with pale skin, the use of dark dyes reduced Stacey’s face
to a ghostly shade.

‘I’d better get back to him, Alex. He’ll be
wondering where I am. So what
are
you doing here anyway?’

‘I’d better get back too,’ I said evasively. ‘I’m
just having dinner.’

Stacey squinted at me and pursed her lips as she
searched for more information. She wasn’t going to be fobbed off that easily.

‘Well, actually I’m on a date, but don’t read more
into it, Stace, it’s not going anywhere.’

‘Is he good looking?’ she asked quizzically.

I couldn’t help being amused at her comment, as if
a pretty face can exonerate sins.

‘He was,’ I stated honestly.

‘Oh, you poor thing! I want to hear all about it. Let’s
meet up this weekend. Darren’s got to work Saturday and I’ve got a job
interview at Halton Cray,’ she raced on, while coating her lips in a syrupy
balm. ‘Remember when we used to hang out there all the time? You know that
little gift shop inside that sells all sorts of crap, you know, touristy things.
I’m going for a part-time job in there as a shop assistant.’

‘Really?’ I asked, stunned. – Stacey was not the
kind of person to get on well in haunted houses, given her delicate nerves. Moreover,
a girl working in that very shop went missing only a few weeks ago. I saw it in
the local paper where a photo of her mother pleaded for any information. Police
found some of her belongings at the Cray, indicating that she hadn’t run away.

‘Why did you say it like that?’ Stacey challenged,

really
, like you don’t believe me?’

‘Not at all, Stace. I just never pictured you
working in that kind of place. You wouldn’t even visit the London Dungeon with
me and Beth.’

‘That was years ago! And I’d visit the Dungeon
now. Anyway, Halton Cray is not the same kind of scary. But it’s not like I’ll
be there on my own or anything. That job would be perfect for me. It’s the
right hours and not bad money.’

‘In that case it sounds nice.’

If she was going to find out about the missing girl,
it had better come from her interviewer on Saturday. Then she could make her
own mind up without my interference.

‘I’ll be jealous of you, Stace,’ I sighed, ‘having
your lunch breaks in the beautiful gardens or the rustic old courtyard, while
I’m having mine in the crowded galleria in New Cromley.’

‘You still work in New Crom then– what do you do
again?’

‘Reception. I’d better get back, Stace, or he’ll
think I’ve gone out the window. I’ll meet you at the Cray after your interview
if you like?’

‘Oh, come there with me, Alex, please? I could do
with some support. I did ask Beth but she’s working. You don’t live far, or
have you moved?’

‘No. I’m still renting my nan’s place.’

‘Is she off travelling again?’

I nodded. ‘Spain, I think. She’s found another
group of walkers to explore with. You know my nan.’

‘I don’t know how you can live in that big house
by yourself.’

‘It’s a Victorian terrace, Stace, not a mansion.’

‘Still, it’s too spooky to live there on your own.’

Stacey knew that my great grandparents had died in
the house. The idea of ghosts never troubled me. The only thing that might keep
me restless of a night were the noisy foxes outside.

‘So will you please come with me Saturday? I’m
so
nervous! Then we can have a wander about.’

‘Okay.’ I smiled, making my way to the door. ‘Text
me the details.’

‘Thanks! See you Saturday!’

With that, she disappeared round a corner that led
towards the other side of the restaurant. I returned to my seat to find Mark
talking on his phone. It made me wonder if he’d arranged for some fake
emergency to have to leave early.

‘Sorry,’ he said, hanging up with no more
explanation.

‘No problem. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.’

As if I had, he was already a quarter way through
his steak-pie and mash. I made a start on my moussaka only to discover it was
quite bland.

‘I love this song,’ I remarked, pushing food round
my plate. ‘Well, this version anyway. He plays acoustic guitar so imaginatively.’

Mark replied drearily, ‘I have no opinion on it.’

Mentally I rolled my eyes, but smiled awkwardly and
asked, ‘Are you into any music?’

‘No,’ he said flatly, finishing his meal.

I lost my appetite. It was obvious that our date
could only get worse.

‘Actually, Mark,’ I said, closing the cutlery on
my plate, ‘would you mind if we got the bill? Only I have work in the morning.’

I snuck a look to that tardy clock. It was a quarter
past nine. But I felt that ending it early might allow us to try again some
other time when he was feeling more himself.

‘Sure,’ he said eagerly. ‘What about your wine?
You haven’t touched it.’

I hadn’t. It sat there growing stagnant as our
chemistry.

‘It’s so warm in here. I’m too thirsty for
alcohol. Do you want it?’

He shrugged an ‘okay’ and finished it while looking
out for the waiter. We soon had the reckoning in front of us. Mark eyed the
bill distractedly for a few moments. Fine dark hairs stuck to his forehead just
below his hairline where he’d not styled it up with gel for a change.

‘Shall we go Dutch?’ I asked.

‘Sure. That means split it, right?’

I nodded and put down a twenty-pound note; more
than half, but was all the cash I had in my purse. He added a ten-pound note
and fifty-pence piece, which squared the amount exactly. I had nothing more for
a tip and he wasn’t bothered about not leaving one. I cringed at the thought of
being miserly, so took the cash and paid with plastic.

I looked out in vain for Stacey as we left the restaurant,
hoping we might all walk to the station together. It was a cold early-September
evening; the crisp air a welcome pick-me-up after that sauna of a restaurant. Mark
barely said a word while waiting for our train, and showed a deal of reluctance
to sit next to me once we’d boarded. Whenever the train jerked and his leg
happened to brush mine, he drew it back with such force it left me feeling like
a leper. For the entire journey he sat there with his mouth a hard flat line, only
speaking in reply to questions. And the answers he kept short and curt, as though
the words were costing him money.

A few stations before our stop, a drunken man
wearing an offensive t-shirt staggered down the aisle from another carriage and
sat down. He pulled faces at passengers and belched proudly, coming across as a
little unstable as opposed to just drunk. After struggling to get up for the
next stop, he stumbled past us to the doors. At that moment Mark swung his head
round to me and muttered forcefully, ‘Shut your mouth!’ as if I was about to
say something terrible!

Did I mishear? I couldn’t believe my ears! Like a
bullet in the back, he had just told me to
shut my mouth
, during which
he looked more apprehensive than annoyed.

Shock rendered me speechless. I turned to look out
of the window in astonishment. Did he know the drunkard? What was it he thought
I was going to say, and why?

The train pulled into our station not a minute too
soon. Mark lived a few streets from me and I couldn’t wait to see the back of
him. I wasn’t going to ask what that was all about; he was as much a stranger
to me now as the drunk on the train. While saying goodbye he kept an obvious
distance, and then patting me on the shoulder quite hard – so much so that I stumbled
backwards – he said, ‘So, I’ll see you when I see you!’ before walking off.

I stared after him in bewilderment, noticing how
he stretched his arms behind his head, as if in relief to see the back of
me
.
Against my better judgement, my mind filled with guesses at what
I
had
done wrong.

Slowly I turned for home, a minute’s walk from the
station. By the time I reached my front door I concluded that I hadn’t done
anything to deserve that. Closing it behind me with a well-that’s-over shrug, I
wondered if I would ever find out what his problem was.

 

BOOK: Halton Cray (Shadows of the World Book 1)
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

House of Dance by Beth Kephart
Peril at Somner House by Joanna Challis
Gravity by M. Leighton
The Preacher's Daughter by Beverly Lewis
Cape Cod by Martin, William