Hallowed Manor spiralled away beneath me. I disappeared into the clouds, and I was glad that I had lost sight of that building - and Kiera, too. I loved the girl, but she drove me half-crazy most of the time. How could someone so beautiful be such a pain in the arse at times?
With the wind rushing over me, I banked left and sped away. It felt good to be flying again – doing what I was meant to do. I couldn’t be stuck on the ground for too long – that was another thing that drove me fucking nuts. Since coming back from the dead I felt...I dunno...how did I feel? That was the problem. My head was a shed and I couldn’t think straight. It didn’t help that I’d been trapped like a caged animal in that manor for the last six weeks or so. I’d had to listen to Kayla’s whining, Isidor’s stupid comments, and then there was Kiera. What was her problem? Not for one moment did I think coming back from the dead would be like living in an episode of the Walton’s – but Kiera had gone cold on me – shoved me aside.
I’d really hoped that now that Luke was dead, we would have become closer. But we hadn’t. It felt as if we were growing apart. But the thing that really pissed me off was that feeling I had inside again. Those gut-wrenching feelings I had felt when Sophie had told me to fuck off. That feeling as if I wasn’t any good – a monster, a freak. Maybe I was? But I hadn’t expected Kiera to go cold on me and that hurt more than Sophie’s rejection. Sophie was scared of me because I was a monster beneath my flesh – but Kiera was like me – well, almost. She was a monster too – so having her turn her back on me at night, roll away to the furthest corner of the bed, pissed me off.
To lie next to Kiera and not be able to have her drove me insane. And it wasn’t just a sex thing, to be close to her, to hold her in my arms, to feel her soft black hair against my chest, had made coming back from the dead liveable. I felt that with each passing day, Kiera was growing further and further away from me, and I didn’t know how to hold on. And she was keeping secrets, too.
The cracks – yes I had seen them as I spied through the gap in the bathroom door one morning a few weeks ago. I watched her strip naked and I had to stop myself from kicking the bathroom door open and grabbing hold of her. But, it was as I wrestled with my cravings for her that I saw those cracks appear in her skin. I had seen some weird stuff, but nothing like that. Her skin had turned old-looking, like it was covered in a web of wrinkles. Kiera’s soft white skin had turned grey – the colour of stone. She looked like an ancient statue that had been left standing for hundreds of years in the baking sun. Her skin looked dry, cracked, and as rough as sandpaper.
Before Kiera caught me spying at her through the gap in the door, I had sneaked back to bed and pulled the sheet over me. I didn’t want her to know that I had been spying on her – she would have made me pay for that. But, with the sheet over my head, I wanted to shut out those images of her. They reminded me too much of that statue I had seen in the grounds of Hallowed Manor.
And where in the freaking hell had that come from? What was it? Was it really a girl made from stone who was somehow moving around the grounds of the manor when not being watched, like Kiera believed it to be? The world had been pushed – but that was taking the piss.
The world wasn’t the same one we had left. We had come back to one that was similar, but different. I understood Kiera’s desire to want to find out why we had been brought back, but running around the place like Miss Marple on crack wasn’t the way. The only way to find out what had happened to the world while we had been dead was to leave the manor and push back.
With no sense of direction as to where I was heading, I drifted through the clouds. My wings stretched out on either side of me, and the need for the red stuff was that one constant itch that I just couldn’t quite scratch. Lot 13 helped – but not much. There was nothing like the real stuff. How long I could keep going on that pink shit Ravenwood had dreamt up, I didn’t know – but either way, it was soon going to run out. Kayla and Isidor were drinking it like it was going out of fashion. And what happens once it’s gone?
Another reason to push back - and fast. But where would I find the answers? I didn’t know anyone in this world anymore. I’d only really had one true friend and that had been Murphy, but he was dead now.
I circled in the air, the clouds dampening my skin and hair. Everything seemed so quiet up here. It was the peace I had been looking for. I’d had plenty of time to think lately, sitting alone by the fire in the gatehouse; but away from the manor, my thoughts seemed clearer somehow.
The gatehouse had become my hiding place away from the others. It was where I sat, smoked, and looked into the fire. I thought of my past life and wondered why the Elders had brought me back from the dead. Sometimes, as the fire hissed and spat in front of me, I felt like screaming over and over again. The crazy stuff about the world being pushed I could take to be honest. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what Disneyland was now called – but I knew things ran deeper than that and if I needed any proof of it, I thought of Kiera standing alone in front of that mirror – her flesh cracked and smashed-looking.
“You are an angel now, Sean Potter,” the Elder had whispered from the blackness.
“Potter,” I whispered back, feeling totally disorientated and hung over. “People call me Potter.”
“Gabriel is your new name,” a voice had said, and this time it was different from the last – a different Elder. In the Dust Palace, their voices had sounded like kids, but here, in the utter blackness, their voices were deeper, rasping, and old-sounding.
“Give me a break,” I had whispered, my throat feeling dry and scorched.
“We are giving you a break, Gabriel,”
another of them spoke.
“Potter,” I cut in.
“We’re giving you a chance to go back,”
the first Elder told me, its voice so deep that my whole body seemed to rattle.
“Go back?” I asked, straining to see through the darkness. I couldn’t see or feel anything. It was like I was weightless. “Go back where?”
“Above ground,” one of the Elders thundered.
“Kiera will need you.”
“Kiera?” I said, trying to move closer to the voices. “Where is Kiera?”
“On a mortuary slab,” one of them said, and I was sure that I could hear the faintest sound of a chuckle come from one of them.
“A mortuary slab?” I groaned with fear.
“The post mortem is nearly done,” the first Elder said, its voice now taking on some urgency. “You don’t have a lot of time.”
“Time for what?” I pushed, just wanting to stand up. Was I lying down? I couldn’t be sure.
I could’ve been wandering around with my thumb up my own arse for all I knew. I couldn’t feel anything.
“You want to help Kiera, don’t you?” one of them whispered in my ear, and I flinched away.
“Yes, what do you think?” I tried to snap, but my throat still felt raw.
“The others are ready to go with you,” it whispered again, but this time in my other ear.
“What others?” I asked. Then added, “Not her mother, she killed me, right? I think that puts the whole interfering mother-in-law thing into perspective. I don’t think we’re going to see eye to eye you know, especially...”
“Even in death you’re a wise arse,”
another of the Elders boomed.
“So who are these others?” I asked.
“Friends,” the Elder replied its voice softer now.
“I don’t remember having many of them,”
I said, not trying to be funny this time around.
“Kayla Hunt and Isidor Smith,” the Elder who was hovering around my ear whispered.
And how ever much I wanted to make a flippant comment about them, I couldn’t. They were my friends. I tried to fight it, but I couldn’t help but feel a spark of excitement in my stomach at the thought of seeing them both again.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Outside the mortuary, ” one of them said. “They are waiting for you.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” I said.
“Best get me up there before Isidor tries to blow the place up and Kayla drives everyone to suicide with her constant whining.”
Then, as if I were being dragged backwards through a tunnel, a wall of wind rushed past me. But I wasn’t actually moving anywhere; it was the Elders swooping around me, hidden beneath their flowing robes. As they flew close, I could smell them, and they smelt old, like meat that had been spoilt. They smelt dead. Like my eyes were being opened for the first time, I looked upon the faces that hovered just inches from mine.
Their flesh stank and I could see why. Beneath their hoods their faces were a crisscross patchwork of scars. Some were open and raw-looking and others had been crudely stitched closed. Whoever had done it must have been freaking blind. The thick, black stitching had been weaved not only into their cheeks, lips, ears, and eyelids, but had been sewn into the fabric of their hoods. The wounds looked rancid, and oozed thick, gloopy puss like tears onto their disfigured cheeks.
Their eyes were white, like they had been rolled back into their sockets.
A wind blew hard around us, causing their robes to fly open like tattered-looking wings. I caught a glimpse of their pale bodies. Not much made me want to puke ever, but what I saw beneath those robes caused hot bile to gush into my mouth, like I’d been sucking the acid from a car battery. The two male Elders’ chests were open, held together with lengths of black cotton.
Their upper torsos looked like an old boot which had had its laces tied together loosely. Through the stitching, I could see their hearts, and they were black and withered, like prunes that had been sucked dry. They pulsated slowly, beating behind a ribcage that was covered in stringy pieces of dead flesh.
“You like what you see, Gabriel?” one of the female Elders asked, reaching out and dragging one gnarled finger down the length of my cheek.