“How do you know?” I asked.
“You’re sleeping on the couch, aren’t ya?”
he said with a grin.
“I’m glad that the fact my life is in fucking ruins amuses you,” I said, looking down at the mug of coffee and taking a sip. My throat still felt sore.
I looked at my trembling hands as they gripped the mug of coffee. The cracks were back, like faint, watery veins beneath the skin, but they were there.
Slowly, Murphy came back towards me, and leaning against the wall by the door, he said, “Okay, I’m sorry, Potter. What really happened?”
“Not a lot really,” I said with a shrug. The room felt cold. My coat was on the floor so I put it on, covering my bare chest and arms. Then reaching into the pocket, I pulled the last bottle of Lot-13 out. “I think I’ve truly blown it this time.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” Murphy tried to say in his own unique way to comfort me.
“Look at it like this, Kiera is still here, isn’t she?
She hasn’t split on you.”
“She’s only tagging along in the hopes we will find Kayla and Sam,” I said, unscrewing the bottle cap. “Once we’ve reached the Dead Waters, I think she’ll be gone.”
“We’ll see,” Murphy said thoughtfully.
“Perhaps I could talk to her for you?”
“No thanks,” I said, tilting my head back and taking a gulp of the red stuff. It tasted bitter and I grimaced. I handed the bottle to Murphy.
“Why don’t you want me to talk to her for you?” Murphy asked.
“Because somewhere deep inside of me, I hope there is a chance, however remote, that we might get back together. I don’t want you fucking things up for me,” I said, pulling back the curtain, peering out of the caravan window.
“Thanks,” Murphy grunted, then drank from the bottle.
“Save some for Kiera,” I reminded him.
Murphy took the bottle from his lips, and replaced the cap. A third of the gloopy-looking stuff sloshed around the bottom of the bottle. I took it from him and placed it back into my pocket.
“So what’s the plan, Sarge?”
“We head for the Dead Waters,” Murphy explained. “If the snow holds off, we could make it by nightfall. Some of those mountain passes are going to be treacherous, so our progress is going to be slow in places.”
“Couldn’t we just fly?” I asked.
“You know it’s too risky,” he said. “We’re all slowly cracking up. Flying could be dangerous.”
“Any more dangerous than navigating those roads in the snow?” I said, looking back out of the window at the snow-covered world beyond it.
“It’s not just the cracks that bother me,”
Murphy said, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
“What then?” I quizzed, taking a cigarette from my pocket and lighting it. A thick fog of smoke settled over the room like a low-flying cloud.
“The statues,” he said, looking at me through the smog. “I think they’re following us. I think they always have been, ever since we got pushed here.”
“Even more reason to up, up, and away then,” I said.
“No,” Murphy grumbled. “I think, like us, they are trying to get to the Dead Waters. I think that’s why they are following us.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ve taken a good, close-up look once or twice, and although they are as solid as a pervert’s hard-on, I think there is a living soul inside.”
“Kiera thought she saw one of them move,” I told him, taking down a throat full of smoke.
“Where?” Murphy asked, sounding startled.
“Back at Hallowed Manor,” I explained.
“What did this statue look like?”
“A statue,” I shrugged.
“I know it looked like a fucking statue!”Murphy barked. “What kind of statue? Male?
“A girl,” I said.
“A girl?” Murphy said, fixing me with a hard stare. But it was like he was looking through me rather than at me.
“Kayla said she was chased by one on the grounds of Ravenwood School,” I continued.
“Another girl?” Murphy pushed.
“No, a boy, I think,” I told him.
Murphy looked slightly disappointed on hearing this. It was like he had a secret theory about the statues, and by me telling him that one of them had been a boy, it had shattered his beliefs somehow.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“We don’t fly,” he said, looking at me.
“We drive and take it slow. If my hunch is right, then we don’t want to leave any of the statues behind.”
He didn’t answer. Murphy pulled open the caravan door and headed outside. I followed him to the doorway then stopped. Way off in the distance, I could see Kiera heading out across the field which stretched away at the back of the campsite. Her head was bowed low against the wind, her hands thrust into her coat pockets. I knew at once she was looking for an animal – she was going in search of some of the red stuff. As I stood and watched her, I had a sudden idea. I would have to be quick. Working fast, like a blaze of shadows, I put my plan into action.
I had been up early. I had hardly slept at all. What little snippets of sleep I had managed to find, had been haunted by Potter. So I gave up with the idea of sleeping and had got up at first light. I had taken the opportunity of having another shower, and once dressed, had left my caravan.
Just like it had been for days, there was a chill wind, but it had stopped snowing at last. With my hair blowing about my face, and my hands thrust into my coat pockets, I headed towards a small, wooded area which circled the land at the far corner of the campsite. The skin covering the backs of my hands, arms, shoulders, and back had started to crack again. My flesh felt taut and brittle. I knew that if I didn’t get hold of some red stuff, and soon, it would only be an hour or two before I completely turned to stone. I knew there was only one bottle of Lot-13 left in Potter’s pocket. I wouldn’t go to him for it. Not because I was stubborn or didn’t want his help, but why should I have it? Wasn’t his need as great as mine?
As I had lain curled beneath my wings during the night, I had decided that I would no longer fight with Potter. I wanted the little time we had together to be happy – not fraught with bad feelings and tension. We wouldn’t be lovers again, but we could be friends. So I wouldn’t put upon him, I would find some of the red stuff for myself.
Reaching the treeline, I knew I could easily find a squirrel, muntjac, or rat to feed on. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than feeding on a human. I would never do that.
“Are you looking for some of this?” I heard a voice say.
I turned around to find Potter standing amongst the trees. He was holding up a bottle of Lot-13. I could see that it was a third full.
“It’s all we have left, but I saved the last for you,” he said.
Although I felt the sudden urge to run to him, snatch it from his hands, and swallow down the last of the thick, sticky liquid, I stopped myself and said, “It’s okay, I can find some of the red stuff for myself. You have it – you need it as much as I do.”
“Suit yourself,” Potter said, unscrewing the cap.
I watched him lift the bottle to his mouth and drink the last of it. He tossed the empty bottle into the undergrowth as he stood in a shaft of white sunlight which cut through the branches high above. The tails of his long black coat flapped about his legs. The coat was open down the front, revealing his naked upper body. I looked away.
There must be some kind of woodland animal nearby. I tried to focus, set my senses straight, but with Potter standing only feet away, I just couldn’t concentrate.
“Did you listen to the song?” he asked, taking a step closer to me.
“Yes,” I whispered, continuing with the pretence that I was looking for food. “It was nice.”
“Just nice?” he asked, edging his way closer, the sound of his feet crunching over broken twigs seemed almost deafening.
“It was nice,” I said again. What did he want me to say? Did he want me to tell him I’d spent the night crying my eyes out at the thought of him being in the arms of Sophie? Is that what he wanted to hear? Did he want me to tell him how the words of that song had broken my heart?
I couldn’t tell him that.
“So is it over between us?” Potter asked, his voice suddenly so close I could feel his warm breath against my cheek.
I shuddered. “It has to be,” I whispered.
“It can’t be over,” he said, so close now that I could feel him brushing against my back.
“Why not?” I breathed, scared of turning to face him.
“We never had that date we always dreamt about,” he whispered into my ear.
“It’s too late for that now,” I said softly.
“Come with me,” he said, taking my hand gently in his and guiding me deeper into the woods.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked, letting him lead me away.
Without saying a word, Potter led me into a small, open area surrounded by tall pine trees. I couldn’t help but gasp with delight. In the middle was a tree stump. On this, there was a glass, which had been filled with a fistful of wild woodland flowers. I could see beautiful white snowdrops, star-shaped flowers coloured blue and mauve, and bunches of sweet violet. There was one more glass and this was filled with a deep red liquid which looked like wine. A blanket had been laid over the snow before the tree stump.
“It’s not much, I know,” Potter said, leading me into the secluded patch. “But it’s the closest I could get to a date in the middle of nowhere and at such short notice.”
“It’s wonderful,” I murmured as he guided me down onto the blanket. “Where did you get all of this from?”