“What do you mean?” I quizzed.
“My wife and daughters are still alive here,” he said, and looked away into the distance.
“I’m not, I’m dead. But they are alive, not very far from here.”
“How do you know?” I breathed.
“Just like Kiera wouldn’t be able to resist, I had to go and see them for myself. It’s okay, they didn’t see me. But to watch Chloe, Meren, and Nessa, broke my fucking heart. Knowing that they were alive, but unable to go to them was enough to drive me insane. I’m Chloe’s husband and Meren’s and Nessa’s dad. But not here. I might look like him in every way, but I’m not him and they’re not mine. If I were to have contact with them, they might start to remember how they truly died, in that hospital, hidden in the attic at Hallowed Manor. Would their dreams become haunted with images of them as half-breeds? And what of Chloe, she had died – would she die here, too?”
“But if we push the world back, then won’t your daughters go back to being half-breeds – aren’t they dead in our world? Aren’t we all dead?”
“This world wasn’t meant to be, Potter, that’s why I believe the other is trying to seep through,” Murphy said, pumping grey clouds of smoke from his pipe. “It’s like it’s trying to right itself in some way – but with disastrous consequences.”
“So why did the Elders do this?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head.
“Was this their plan? Did they intend for this to happen? Or was it a mistake?”
“What did they say when they brought you back?”
“Basically they said I was a prick for trusting Jack Seth, and an even bigger prick for releasing him from prison,” he moaned. “And I guess they were right – just like you had been.”
“So they are punishing you for that?”
“So it would seem,” he said thoughtfully.
“But maybe none of this is a punishment; maybe it’s a test, or perhaps even another chance.”
“Another chance at what?”
“At not screwing up again,” he half-smiled at me.
I looked down at Kiera’s grave again, then staring back at Murphy, I said, “I don’t like this – I’m not happy about keeping secrets from Kiera.”
Then, staring hard back at me, Murphy said, “So you’re gonna be telling Kiera how you met up with Sophie again?”
“That’s not fair!” I snapped.
“I guess that’s exactly what Kiera would say if she ever found out,” he said back, and then added, “Sometimes it’s best to keep a secret. Not because we want to deceive those we love, but because we just want to protect them.”
Tipping out the ash from his pipe, Murphy turned and headed away. I glanced one last time at Kiera’s grave and went after him. Beneath the tree with the black knotted roots, I looked at my friend and said, “Although I feel as if you’ve just shit on me from a great height, I’m glad that you’re back. I know the others will be knocked out to see you again.”
“I’m not coming back to the manor with you,” he said. “You can’t tell them about me.”
“Why aren’t you coming back?” I frowned.
“I’ve got work to do,” he said. “I’ve wormed my way back into the police, into a position where I can perhaps figure out a way of sorting this mess out.”
“Why can’t I tell the others that you’re back?”
“Because it could blow my cover. The fewer people that know my true identity, the better,” he said.
“But they wouldn’t tell anyone about you if you asked them not to,” I tried to convince him.
“Not willingly, perhaps,” Murphy said, “but it would only take one of those Skin-walkers to do that thing with their eyes, and Kiera and the others wouldn’t have to say anything.”
“So why show yourself to me?”
“I hadn’t planned to, but when the girl Sophie told me that she had seen a girl with flaming red hair and a guy with a crossbow, I knew who she was talking about. And if Kayla and Isidor were back, then I knew you would be somewhere close by.”
“So?” I said. “That still doesn’t explain why you came after me. You haven’t gone after Kayla, Isidor, or Kiera.”
“Like I tried to explain earlier, just like Kiera wouldn’t be able to resist searching for her father if she knew he was alive...” then, looking as if he wanted to continue but couldn’t, he looked at me and said, “I’ll be in touch.”
Murphy opened his wings, looked at me one last time, then shot into the sky. Within seconds, I heard a rumble of thunder, and I couldn’t be sure if it had been caused by Murphy speeding away or by an oncoming storm.
I flew away in the opposite direction to Murphy and headed back towards Hallowed Manor. When I was a few miles away, the menacing clouds, which swirled around me, started to shed their rain. I rolled over, flying on my back, enjoying the feel of it against my face. I clutched the rucksack in one hand and it buffeted from side to side in the wind. Once I could see the manor on the horizon, I dropped through the sky, soared low over the moat, and landed in the wooded area not too far from the summerhouse. I ditched the scarecrow’s coat and let the rain wash the Skin-walker’s blood from my chest, arms, and hands.
Taking shelter beneath the willow trees, I propped myself against a trunk and lit a cigarette.
I breathed in deeply and then blew out the smoke which lingered beneath the overhanging branches of the tree. I opened up the rucksack and removed the picture of Kiera and her father. They looked so happy together in it. As usual, Kiera’s beautiful hazel eyes stared out of the photograph, and although I thought I was looking at Kiera, I knew I wasn’t really. I had never met this Kiera and even if I did, she wouldn’t know me? That felt weird.
Was there another Potter out there somewhere? I hoped not, but chances were that there was. Did I want to find him? No. One Potter was enough for anyone, I smiled to myself and smoked my cigarette.
I felt bad that I knew Kiera’s father was alive, and although I had kind of got my head around the reason why I couldn’t tell her, it didn’t make it easier. I placed the picture back in the rucksack and closed it. Then, I remembered I had Sophie’s iPod in my pocket. I pulled it out and switched it on. With the earphones dangling from my ears, I scrolled through the music tracks. I found the song Fix You by Coldplay and hit the play button with my thumb.
Leaning against the tree, I sat for a while, smoked, and listened to the song. As I sat there, I spied Kiera pass by on the other side of the overhanging branches. With the music still playing in my ears, I followed her. She made her way through the trees, unaware that I was there. I had been right when I’d told Sophie how beautiful Kiera was. She was more than beautiful, and for someone like me, it’s so hard to explain how I feel about her. But one thing I did know – one thing that I could put down in words – I knew I never wanted to be without her.
Kiera stopped by the summerhouse and headed towards the statue which had appeared on the grass there. Did Murphy know about the statue? I knew that as always, there was going to be tough times ahead for me and my friends, and Kiera would be a big part of that. But whatever lay ahead, I would be at her side, shoulder to shoulder.
The music stopped. Thumbing through to the settings function, I wiped the iPod’s memory, and with it, Sophie from my life once and for all.
Placing the iPod back into my trouser pocket, I thought of Kayla and decided that I would give it to her as a present.
I threw the bag over my shoulder, stepped out into the rain and headed towards Kiera, who stood examining the statue in front of the summerhouse.
I woke with a gasp. Where was I? It was warm and I could feel the sun on my face. There was a buzzing sound. I looked to my right and could see a wasp hovering beside me. I swished it away with the back of my hand. I pulled myself up, only to find that I had been lying in a ditch.
There was a wide open field on one side of me and a wall made of slate on the other. I could smell the scent of freshly cut hay and it was wonderful. I pulled myself to my feet, and brushing mud from my dress, I looked over the wall. There was a road and it was then I remembered being hit by a car. How had I ended up in the ditch, I wondered, and where was Potter and that other guy? What had been his name?
Wondering if they had gone back to the farmhouse, I made my way back across the field.
Butterflies flittered back and forth. The last I could remember was that it had been cold, it had been winter. But now it was summer, how had the seasons changed so quickly?
As I made my way back up the hill, I soon realised the weather wasn’t the only thing that had changed since being hit by that car. The disused barn that had once been burnt down now looked as if it was under construction. On the naked beams of the roof, I could see a well-built man in a checked shirt hammering corrugated sheets of metal into place. Keeping low so that he couldn’t see me, I headed along the wall on the other side of the barn. I peered into the field and could see several tents and small caravans. It looked like the field had been turned into a small campsite. Still in search of Potter and his friend, Murphy, I continued upwards towards the farm. Just like before, the farmhouse was hidden from view by a small crop of trees. I took shelter from the sun in the shade and looked at the farmhouse. I was amazed to see that, although it still looked run down, it wasn’t the derelict building that I could remember.
How had everything changed so much, I wondered, feeling confused and lost. Then, as I watched the farmhouse from beneath the trees, I saw a young girl appear from behind the front door. She strolled outside, wearing a yellow T-shirt and a short blue denim skirt. She couldn’t have been any older than seventeen, and she was already very beautiful. I watched her flounce away down the path that led to the cliff edge. No sooner had I lost sight of her, when a boy with a baseball cap wedged on his head snuck from behind the front door and followed the girl down the path at a discreet distance.