“You tried to escape from the police car,”
he said matter-of-factly. “In the struggle, you managed to take my gun from my belt. You shot the driver in the head - by accident or deliberately, I don’t know. The car crashed and you climbed free. I came after you and you shot me with my own gun.”
“Please don’t make me do this,” I pleaded, tears now rolling freely down my cheeks.
“You’ve got to do this,” he pushed. “I can’t afford to be unmasked.”
“Please...” I started.
The gun firing was like the sky being torn apart by thunder. I flinched backwards and the gun flew from my hand and clattered onto the road. The cop crumpled before me.
“Christ that hurt,” he groaned as he dropped onto his back.
With my hands covering my face, I peered through my fingers at him. The cop pressed his hands against his thigh and I watched as blood gushed between his fingers.
“Why?” I murmured, not knowing what else to say. I felt numb, sick, and so scared. I had just shot a cop and he was now lying bleeding to death at my feet.
With his face as grey as the clouds above us, the copper stared up at me from beneath his cap. His eyes rolled with pain. Then through gritted teeth, he said, “Run, Sophie Harrison. Run and don’t stop – not ever.”
“But...” I started.
“Run! Run! Run!” he roared at me.
Snatching up the holdall, I looked one last time at the cop as he lay bleeding in the middle of the deserted road, then turning, I ran.
For three days and nights I ran. On the morning of the fourth day, freezing cold and near exhaustion, I came to a small town named Beechers Hope. The sun was just a pink slip of a ribbon on the horizon, so I made my way through the desolate town. The streets were narrow and cobbled. There was a small town square with a library. I cut across the square and made my way along a tiny coastal path that spiralled upwards.
There was a white-washed signpost that was partially covered by bracken. Careful not to tear my hands on the thorns, I brushed the bushes aside and uncovered the sign. Black Hill it read, and next to it was a faded black arrow that pointed up the side of the hill that I was climbing.To my right, the path fell away. I looked over the edge and there was a sheer drop down the side of the cliff face to the jagged rocks below. Dark green waves crashed against them, and seagulls screeched as they circled above me.
The wind was ice-cold and had a salty taste to it.
My thick, brown hair blew back from my shoulders and I shivered. I didn’t know for how much longer I could go without proper rest. My feet were aching and I felt filthy. I had snatched a few hours’ sleep in outhouses and barns that I had discovered as I’d made my way across the country. After what had happened with those cops, I was desperate to keep away from main roads and the bigger towns. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about what had happened. During the short periods of sleep that I had managed, it had been haunted with images of that copper’s head bursting open like an overripe tomato. Then there had been the other one, the cop who had forced me to shoot him, and when I would wake, the smell of gunpowder wafted on the cold air around me.
I knew that copper had set me up. He obviously had his own agenda and reasons for wanting to know about the young woman – this Kiera Hudson – who had come back to life in my mortuary and fled into the night. What was so important about her? Had what Marty discovered about her blood been true? How would I ever know now? That cop had stolen it from me. As I crossed the barren fields and navigated my way through tight valleys, I saw Marty in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t shake those images of him standing in the bedroom clutching that tube of blood. I would never forget the fear I had seen in his eyes as he’d told me the blood had come from a vampire bat. But I knew that couldn’t be true. I had seen it being taken from the corpse’s arm.
But then again, she had sat bolt upright on the slab. I’d watched as her face and fingers grew back. Had she been a vampire? No, they weren’t real. That was the stuff of stories – myth and legend. Just like some people believed that ghosts haunted old houses, there were some who believed vampires lived underground. I hadn’t believed in any of it...but now...I didn’t know what to think.
I had been raised to believe that there were only two dominant species on the planet – humans and Skin-walkers, and neither liked each other very much. Like all children, I had learnt the history of the Treaty that had been signed at Wasp Water. I had been lucky as I’d grown up, the wolves had never come to my home town, so I hadn’t been taken from my parents to be matched.
I’d heard stories though – that those children who had been matched were never the same. Although they looked the same, they were different once they had a wolf living inside of them. I’d never trusted a Skin-walker. It felt difficult to know that they had taken over the soul of a human, stolen their skin. It was like they were wearing a mask.
All of them had something to hide, I figured. But they were a part of society – the Treaty said they had to be. They were cops, doctors, priests, politicians, generals – they had worked their way into every level of society. What had happened to me had only gone to prove that my distrust in them had been justified.
I reached the top of the coastal path to find myself standing in front of a deserted-looking farmhouse. Off to the right there stood the gutted remains of a barn, which looked as if it had been set on fire at one time. The house itself looked pretty derelict and parts of the roof had collapsed inwards. The windows were covered in thick, yellow grime and the white front door looked warped in its frame. I crossed the small area of overgrown grass in front of the farm and pushed the door with my hand. It gave a little, so I leant against it with my shoulder. The door groaned then flew open, throwing up a shower of dust and cobwebs. I didn’t need to call out to know that no one was home. The place was covered in dust, and the walls were covered in black spots of mildew. It smelt musty, and as I closed the door, I was grateful to be out of the freezing wind that screamed about the eaves.
I placed the holdall on the floor, and looked about the room that I found myself in. It was small and poky, with a fireplace set into the wall. There were some dry-looking logs piled beside it. Turning around, I could see an open door that led into a kitchen. A wooden table and four chairs stood around it. There was a staircase, and slowly, I climbed it. At the top was a short landing and four doors led from it. I pushed open the first one that I came to and immediately covered my nose with my hand. The smell was repulsive. It smelt as if someone at one time had decomposed in the room. It was a smell that I had come accustomed to after opening up the dead in the mortuary. There was a double bed set against the far wall, which had a mattress on it covered in dark brown stains which looked similar to dry blood. At the foot of the bed was a wooden chair.
There was a dresser against the wall, and this was covered in half-melted candles. I could also see a box of matches, which I took, along with one of the candles.
I closed the door to the room and crossed the landing. Pushing open another door, I found myself peering into what I guessed was once a girl’s bedroom. There was a small bed and a faded pink blanket covered it. Next to the bed stood a nest of drawers and on top of them was a photograph and a book. I crossed the room and could see that the book was Wuthering Heights by Thomas Hardy. I thumbed through the pages, which were yellow and dog-eared. In the front, written in pencil, someone had scrawled the words, Happy seventeenth birthday Andy – Love, Dad. Maybe I’d been wrong and perhaps the room had belonged to a boy after all. I picked up the picture and wiped a thick covering of dust from the glass to reveal a faded photograph of a young girl and a man. She was very pretty, with light blonde hair that rested on her shoulders. Her eyes were perfect blue and she had an impish look about her. The man, who I suspected was her father, was a giant. He was solidly built, with massive round shoulders. His forearms were so muscular that they looked like something Popeye would have been proud of. He had black hair that was just starting to turn grey above the ears.
Unlike the girl, he didn’t look happy. He looked sad – troubled – as if he had the weight of the world bearing down on those giant shoulders.
Looking at the picture caused a rush of gooseflesh to race down my back, and I put the picture back where I had found it. Wondering what had happened to the girl and her father, I left the room and went back onto the landing. I pushed open the third door and found another small bedroom. This was empty apart from a small narrow bed and a wardrobe in the corner, which looked more like a locker. Closing the door, I stepped back onto the landing and pushed open the remaining door.
I could have screamed with joy when I spotted the small bathtub in the corner. Without hesitating, I raced across the bathroom and twisted on the taps. There was a thumping sound from behind the walls as the pipes rattled to life.
Then, a thick stream of brown coloured water gurgled and splattered from the taps and into the bath. As I waited for the water to run clear, I pulled off my dirty clothes and kicked them into the corner of the room. I filled the bath with water, and although it was barely warm, I sank myself into it.
I never thought I would ever be so grateful for a tub full of clean water. I sunk below the surface and let the water run through my hair.
It felt as if I were being cleansed in some way.
How long I stayed in the water I don’t know; but when I finally climbed out, the skin covering my toes and the tips of my fingers was all wrinkled.
Heading back down the landing, I went back into the room with the bed and the faded pink blanket. I wrapped the blanket around me and lied down. The bed was soft beneath me and I closed my eyes.
He crawled up the bed towards me, brushing his lips over the flat of my stomach and over my breasts. Although his eyes were jet-black, like two onyx gemstones, they sparkled and that smile of his crept across the lower half of his face. My heart raced and I breathed deeply. He brought his face over mine and I could feel his breath, warm against me. My whole body tingled and I felt more alive than I ever had before. He always made me feel like this. He lowered himself slowly over me and his lips caressed mine. I kissed him, but not fully. I knew he wanted me to, but I wanted it to last – I didn’t want to rush. I wanted our lovemaking to be slow. He groaned as if I were teasing him in some way. I wasn’t -