Stanley Part 1 - Return

1907


Gracie lay still on the ground listening to the low gathering moans of a bitter wind. A thousand or more icy fingers crept across the exposed skin of her spindly arms and legs and scratched her awake.

She tried to open her eyes a little; it was so dark that she was unsure whether or not she had succeeded. Slowly, her eyes grew accustomed to the murky darkness and she was able to make out a few scattered stars in the inky night sky above.

Though uncomfortable, the damp ground beneath her petite frame felt reassuringly solid. Hesitantly, she turned onto her left side and recognised the eerie silhouette of Heyleigh Stones, standing upon the barren moor, as if they had been specifically formed to greet her when she woke.

Gracie was relieved to discover that she was in one piece. The relief departed even more quickly than it had arrived when she remembered that she was supposed to have met up with her brothers, Alan and Bunny, and they should all have arrived home together in time for tea.

No doubt her mother would be worried sick after she had failed to return home as planned. Gracie could easily picture her siblings being read the Riot Act before being sent to bed without any tea. She definitely was not going to be in anyone’s good books after this.

Despite her eagerness to leave Hades Hill and return home, Gracie decided the best way forward would be to let common sense prevail and stay where she was until it was light. She really would be risking life and limb if she tried to make her way down its rugged slope in the darkness.

***

Alan Regan entered the kitchen of the small terrace house and rubbed his arthritic arm furiously, as the cold temperature wrapped around him. He swore and walked over to the black cast iron stove. A medium-sized liver and white mongrel dog left the place where it had been sleeping and joined him. It watched intently as he struggled to get the stove going, and cowered nervously as colourful language, and flying objects, peppered the room until a weak orange flicker appeared.

Alan retrieved a half-smoked cigarette from behind his ear. He lit it upon the now robust open flame and then placed a heavy kettle on to boil. The dog lied down to share the heat source, seemingly relieved although not entirely relaxed. He rested his head on his paws and looked up surreptitiously as his master inhaled the cigarette through pursed lips whilst rubbing his aching lower back with both his hands for several minutes.

The dog leapt up and darted to the rear of the room a split second before the cigarette tip and tube of ash dropped onto his master’s threadbare jumper.

“Basket!”

Swearing and half-demented with rage, Alan swiped at his chest and inadvertently stubbed his toe on the cast iron stove. This time he shouted out in pain and hopped around the room like a possessed frog, rubbing his injured foot.

The latch on the back door rattled, and the wooden door opened and closed firmly behind him. Alan ceased his administrations and reached for two pint-sized, blue and white hooped pots which were on hooks above the wooden kitchen drainer.

“Eh! Talk about timing! Kettle’s on.”

With his back still turned to the rear door, Alan limped over to the pantry and reached inside for some tea.

The mongrel growled and backed as far away from the visitor as possible.

“Shut the fook up!” Alan growled back at it with venom. “It’s only our kid! What the hell’s up with yer?”

He looked from the dog to his younger brother. The small bag of tea fell from his hands and onto the slate grey floor. A shower of black tea leaves fluttered to the ground and settled over and around his bare feet. He continued to stare, his mouth agape and a day’s full growth of whiskers standing to attention on his chin.

“Where’s me mam?” Gracie asked wide eyed, trying to catch her breath from the sprint down the street.

“Mary, Joseph and Jesus!” Alan managed to squeak before reaching for support from the kitchen table.

The latch rattled once more and the door barely had time to creak before the frantic hound dashed out of it and into the distance beyond.

Bernard ‘Bunny’ Regan stood rooted to the spot, the freshly baked loaf of bread he had been set to fetch, clutched tightly to his chest and mangled by his left hand. The only thing holding him upright was his other hand firmly fastened to the iron latch of the open door.

His questioning eyes darted back and forth between his older brother and sister. The two years between them had increased by a lifetime. Gracie’s physical appearance had not aged a single day since the last time they had seen her -- twenty years earlier.

“What?” she cried out, suddenly looking frightened and frantic.

Bunny closed the door then fell back against it. He covered his eyes with one of his hands leaving only a shock of red hair and his mouth and chin visible. He removed the hand and gulped audibly several times before he managed to get a word out in answer.

“Mam’s dead...,” he announced with tears in his eyes. “Dad and our Katie too...our Alan looks out for me now.” He nodded toward the other man in the room.

A perplexed Gracie frowned at the two men.

“It’s been twenty flaming years, Gracie!” A purple faced Alan shouted furiously, shaking the tea from his feet and searching behind his ears in the vain hope of finding another cigarette stashed there.

“What are you talking about? Stop larking around!” Gracie cried, her temper clearly rising and a fight brewing within her.

Bunny, now standing beside her, nodded his head in affirmation as Gracie looked to him for reassurance.

“He’s right,” he confirmed verbally. “Where the heck have yer bin?”

***

Gracie sat on one of the rustic kitchen stools and searched the sparsely furnished room as if looking for answers in the plaster cracks or splintered wood, but finding none.

The tea Bunny had made her cooled within its chipped cup. Alan stared at her with disdain, as though she was one of the bottled specimens in the travelling circus, which visited every autumn. She had no doubts that the man leaning against the wall glaring at her was her older brother. She was, however, finding it difficult to come to terms with the way both Alan and Bunny had seemingly aged overnight.

Bunny knelt down on the cold, hard floor and took her hands in his. They were old and calloused, more fitting her granddad than her younger brother. She studied his face. In the shadow of the man he had become, she could still clearly see the boy he had been.

“Did me mam find yer? She said she would,” Bunny said excitedly.

Alan scoffed behind him. Gracie shot him a disapproving look. He stared back at her with empty eyes. He was even colder and meaner than he had been yesterday.

“What a load of shite,” Alan snarled, filling the kettle and putting it back on the stove. “It can’t be Gracie! Think about it, soft lad. It’s probably some kid dressed up to look like her. Some sick idiot down at the pub trying to put the wind up us!”

Bunny looked hurt. Gracie instinctively reached out to ruffle his hair then pulled back.

“Have yer been away with the fairies?” Bunny asked enthusiastically, taking her by surprise with his change of mood.

Had she been away with the fairies? Gracie tried to remember what had happened on Hades Hill after she looked through the hole in the stone. The only thing she could remember was waking up last night and longing for morning to come so that she could return home.

Gracie tried to hold back her welling tears and failed. She reached into her pocket for her handkerchief and as she pulled it out, something cream-coloured and almost egg-shaped plummeted to the floor, spinning off in the direction of the stone kitchen sink. Alan reached it first. Creaking with arthritis he bent over to retrieve it.

“No!” proclaimed Gracie, rising to her feet and holding her right hand out. The object shot forwards and fell effortlessly into her palm with a slap.

“What the hell?” exclaimed Alan, walking menacingly towards Gracie and Bunny.

Bunny started to tremble.

“Keep yer distance,” warned Gracie, stepping in front of Alan and grabbing hold of Bunny’s hand firmly. Alan continued towards them and stared in amazement, as well as into space, when Gracie and Bunny suddenly disappeared into thin air.

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3 Comments:
  • At 11 May 2010 at 13:46, Anonymous Melissa said…

    I LOVE THIS!! What a brilliant scene! So much to love, too -- Gracie waking up and the frozen fingers of the air, the cold solid ground, the rocks standing like the were there to greet her. And the *whole* scene in the cottage was outstanding. Love all the details (and that's too funny that there's a "shite" in it, lol). Two of my favorite lines: "Alan stared at her with disdain, as though she was one of the bottled specimens in the travelling circus," and "He was even meaner than he was yesterday." Cannot *wait* -- more please!!

     
  • At 11 May 2010 at 16:33, Blogger Charles Gramlich said…

    For some reason your feeds don't seem to be coming through to my google reader. I'll reload the address.

     
  • At 12 May 2010 at 15:27, Anonymous Miladysa said…

    @ Melissa - *squeal* I LOVE your comments! Did I ever tell you that before? I think I may have :)

    Yep, I thought the fact that you quoted from this chapter BEFORE you even read it was funny too. Also, when you wrote about "pearls" last week I though *twilight zone* LOL

    Fingers crossed you enjoy the next one just as much :)


    Charles - Please let me know if there is still a problem - I may have to resync the feed or even start a new one. Thanks :)

     

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Whituth's living can't see the dead but psychic Elizabeth Whyte can see everyone: living humans, delayed souls, fallen angels, vampires and fae. She helps maintain the fragile peace between light and darkness in her work with RoYds, an unworldly refuge. But that peace has suddenly become fragile. Whituth's carefully maintained balance is tipping toward darkness. Now Elizabeth and her angelic allies must discover who or what is threatening both town and refuge before balance is lost forever

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