Parmenion books brings you an extract………
Tilda feeds another log into the Rayburn in the kitchen and
is yet again thankful for a solid fuel stove. Having spent a
candlelit night at the cottage, she was surprised to find she did
not miss the tele vision, the radio, or even her music, but was
content to read until the daylight and candle were insufficient
for the print of her chosen novel.The memory of Mat attempting
to convert her to an e-reader prompted a wry smile.Why
not go to bed when the sun did? She was an early riser anyway,
preferring to run with the dawn.
Early to bed, early to rise. Who needs watches to tell us when to
do something, or lights to stop us going to sleep?
In addition, the quiet and gloom seemed to help her sleep,
so that, for once, she has slumbered long past daybreak and done
without her morning run. Since knowing the insomnia that
so often keeps grief company, she cannot remember waking
feeling so rested and refreshed. She knows, though, that an
electricity-free house would quickly lose its charm were she not
able to make a morning cup of tea. The kettle begins to sing
softly. Tilda finds the low light of the kitchen strangely soothing,
and realizes she has forgotten to put in her contact lenses.
The less light there is, the less need she has of them, after all.
But they have long been a part of her daily disguise, her defence
against prejudice and fear. Her colourless hair and her pale skin
don’t cause too much interest. Eyes that have only the tiniest
hint of blue pigment, however, so that they appear pink, unnerve
people. They are what make people stare, and look away, then
look again. Tilda is accustomed to a range of reactions to her
albinism. Perhaps alone on the hill she will have to deal with
them less. She leans against the stove and regards the shaggy
shape of Thistle, who remains curled upon the inadequate
cushion, watching her new mistress’s every move.
‘You don’t look ready for a run yet,’ she says to the dog. ‘Still
sore?’ She wonders briefly if she should have taken the animal
to see a vet, but quickly dismisses the idea.The nearest veterinary
practice would be in Brecon, ten miles away. How would
she get her there without a car? She crouches down beside
Thistle and ruffles her fur gently.
‘Not exactly on a bus route here, are we girl? You’ll be okay.
How about some sardines, eh? Would you like that?’ Tilda
gropes in the cupboard for the right shaped can, opens it, and
kneels on the floor to empty the contents into what has
become Thistle’s bowl.The dog gets stiffly to its feet and comes
wagging over.‘There you go. Better than dog food any day,’ she
says, reasoning the animal must be on the mend if it has a good
appetite. At that moment Thistle stops eating, lifts her face from
the bowl, and stares hard into the half-light of the hallway.The
whole dog tenses. The fur on the back of its neck stands up.
Tilda is aware of her own heartbeat racing. Thistle does not
move or bark, but begins to emit a low, menacing growl. It is
such a raw, basic sound that it transforms the dog from domesticated
pet to potential killer in an instant. Tilda listens and
squints into the gloom of the hallway, but she can neither hear
nor see anything.
‘What is it, girl? What’s wrong?’ she asks, her voice a whisper.
The loud knocking on the front door is so unexpected that
Tilda lets out a small scream. Feeling foolish, she walks briskly
down the hall. ‘Just a minute,’ she calls out as she wrestles with
the aged key and the bolts, which have become sticky through
lack of use. When at last she gets the door open, she finds a
wiry-looking man in a cycling helmet standing on the doorstep.
On seeing Tilda, surprise registers minutely on his face.
She is accustomed to watching the reaction of strangers to her
appearance. Used to seeing herself seen for the first time.Time
and time again. Seeing the curiosity. The unasked questions.
Sometimes even a little fear. She remembers that she is not
wearing her lenses, and so is impressed that her caller does so
well to mask his feelings. He even manages a smile.
‘Sorry,’ he says, unbuckling his chin strap,‘I should have gone
round the back. I’m Bob,’ he offers her his business card.‘You
called me about your fuses.’
‘Oh! The electrician. Of course. Somehow I didn’t expect
you to arrive on a bike.’
‘I like to cycle when I can, if I’m going somewhere I can
manage without my ladders.’ He shakes his head, gesturing back
toward the track.‘Mind you, it’s quite a climb you’ve got there.
Think I’ll bring the van next time.’
Tilda lets him in and shows him to the fuse box. Thistle
slinks in from the kitchen to inspect the visitor, decides he is
not a threat, and returns to her cushion by the Rayburn. Tilda
fetches Bob a cup of tea and hands it to him when he has
finished checking the system.
‘Well? Is it hopeless?’ she asks. ‘It’s bound to be ancient, but
we had a survey done when we bought the place, and I don’t
remember reading that it would need replacing.’
Bob shakes his head. ‘It’s not in bad shape, really. Must have
been rewired fairly recently. Someone did a pretty good job of
it.’ To make his point he throws the main power switch and
light is restored.
‘So why does it keep tripping out?’ Tilda finds herself
blinking, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the new level
Bob shrugs. ‘Must be something you’ve got plugged in.
Something you’ve installed.’
‘There isn’t anything I can think of. Only my kiln, but I
haven’t switched that on yet.’
‘Be careful when you do. Have you got it on the right
circuit? Those things are pretty heavy on power.’
‘Yes, the manufacturer sent someone to set it up.’
They both stand in the hall, waiting. Tilda finds herself
almost wanting the fuses to blow again, just so there is something
for Bob to actually fix.
‘Now I feel stupid,’ she says. ‘Seems like I dragged you up
here for nothing.’
‘No problem.’ Bob finishes his tea in a few gulps. ‘The ride
down that hill will be worth it.’
‘What do I owe you?’
‘Nothing too terrible. I’ll pop an invoice in the post. Call
me if you have any more trouble.’
She watches him descend the lane with increasing speed. It
is still early, and there is a fluffy mist sitting over the lake today.
The mountains beyond rise up through the froth of white, their
peaks dark and sharp against the lightening sky.Thistle pads out
to join her in the front garden. She wonders if the dog will be
well enough for at least a walk in a couple of days.
‘Well, if either of us is going to be up to exercise, we are
going to need some proper food. Come on, let’s see if I can’t
magic up groceries on the Internet.’
Back in the kitchen Tilda switches on her laptop and starts
to feel quite excited at the prospect of fresh fruit, meat, interesting
salad, perhaps some sinful puddings, and a bottle of her
favourite wine.The computer chirrups encouragingly, displaying
the home page so brightly she is forced to dim the screen a
little. She is just on the point of selecting a supermarket
offering deliveries in the area when the screen goes blue, then
grey, then, with a pathetic whirring sound, darkens completely
and falls silent.
‘Damn.’ Tilda slumps back in her chair with a sigh. Before
she has time to do more than shake her head there is a sharp
bang and all the lights fail again. Seconds later she feels her leg
being nudged and looks down to see Thistle, who has tiptoed
over to stand beside her. The dog nuzzles her and wags its tail
anxiously. That the animal should be so sensitive to her emotional
state touches Tilda.
‘What a pair we are,’ she says, gently stroking the dog’s
velvety ears.‘You all lame and creaky, me unable to get on with
the simplest things.And both of us living in a house that doesn’t
seem to want to have electricity in it anymore.’ She takes a deep
breath and snaps shut the lifeless laptop. ‘Okay, we can’t go on
like this,’ she tells Thistle. ‘You stay here and . . . well, get
better. I’m going for a late run that’ll take in the village shop.
I promise I’ll return with food.We can have a proper meal, and
then I’m going into the studio to do some work. That sound
like a plan to you?’
Thistle answers by padding back to her bed and curling up,
nose on paws, tail on nose, clearly settling for a nap.
Outside the air is fresh in the sunshine but drops several
crucial degrees to become chilling once Tilda descends into
the mist. Even though the hour is later than her usual run
time, there are no other walkers out braving the damp and
gloomy conditions along the lake-side footpath. Tilda falls into
the rhythm of running, finding solace in the repetition of easy,
fluid steps. Footfalls crunching on fallen beechnuts. Step, step
breathe. Step, step breathe. Heart strong and steady, lungs
No need to think. No need to feel. No need to remember. Just here
and now. Just this. Only this. You are strong. You are strong.Tilda loves
to run. Tilda needs to run.
She takes an unfamiliar route, but follows a clear path.To her
left, set back among the marshy side of the lake, she can just
make out a small, dilapidated building, so overgrown it is almost
entirely hidden by ivy and brambles. The closer the path gets
to the water, the denser the fog becomes, so that soon she is
running as if within a narrow tunnel through the miasma.
Sounds become muffled and distorted. A cawing crow, its voice
flattened and stretched, flaps from a low branch, the movement
of its wings disturbing the swirling milkiness around it. Some
way off, a tractor rumbles across a field, one second sounding
close, the next very distant.Tilda can make out the honking of
geese upon the water, but visibility is limited to a few yards, so
that she can only see the reedy shore and the shallows of the
lake’s edge. As she runs on she notices that her eyes are struggling
to make sense of the floating landscape around her. Low
branches across the path seem to stretch out like so many arms
reaching for something unseen. The gritty track beneath her
feet appears to rise up and fall away as she strides over it.
Among the sounds of birds and the tractor she can discern
something new. A noise from the surface of the water, rhythmic
and fluid. Splash, swoosh, splash, swoosh.
Oars. Someone is rowing. In this? Why would they do that? Can’t
be for the view. Fishing? Are they fishing?
The sounds grow a little louder. Stronger. Closer.Tilda stops
and peers through the murk toward the body of the lake.
Slowly a shape begins to form, as much of the mist as out of
it. She squints and tries to refocus her unreliable eyes. At last,
she can make out a small boat containing three shadowy
figures. The vessel is wooden, low in the water, and of a
curiously rustic construction.Two of the people in it are rowing,
sitting with their backs to Tilda, pulling toward the shore.
The shape and clothing of the third person are indistinct still,
yet suggest a woman. Tilda blinks away the droplets of mist
clinging to her eyelashes and wipes her face with her hand.
Into her watery vision, as she stares harder, come the striking
features of the passenger in the boat. Now Tilda can see that
this is a young, beautiful woman, her hair concealed beneath
twists of leather and some sort of animal skin headdress. Her
skin is pale, but the light is too poor, the air too disturbed with
mist, for Tilda to make out her eyes or her expression. What
becomes clear is that all three in the boat seem to be dressed
in some manner of costume, as if decked out for a historical
reenactment, or a scene from a movie.
But why on earth would they do that now? Here? On their own?
They are so close now Tilda could call out to them easily.
She raises her hand to wave, but something stops her.
Something causes her scalp to tingle and the breath to catch in
her throat. She can hear drums now, coming from farther
around the lake. Suddenly the mist parts, clearing in seconds,
so that she can see the expanse of water before her and even
the far shore. But things are not as they should be. Instead of
the low roof of the visitor’s café on the north side of the lake,
she can see huts, clustered together, and smoke rising from small
fires. And horses. And cattle. And strange figures moving about.
There are no cars. No motorboats. No trailers loaded with
canoes. Nothing is as she knows it to be.
Tilda’s heart starts to pound, although she is already beginning
to feel cold from standing. Her mind is spinning.
Am I dreaming? How low must my blood sugar be? I must be
dizzy from running and it’s making me see things?
The sound of oars being raised from the water and shipped
snatches her attention back to the oarsmen. The boat has
reached the shallows and the reeds, and the men are allowing
it to coast as far in toward the shore as it will go. Every instinct
in Tilda is telling her to turn and run, but she finds she cannot
move. She is transfixed by what she is witnessing. By the
impossibility of what her eyes would have her believe. And,
most of all, by the strange figure now standing in the prow of
the boat.The woman is tall and her movements graceful.There
is such a quiet strength about her. As she waits for the boat to
come to a halt she turns her head, slowly, scanning the shore
as the mist melts away before her steady gaze. Tilda holds her
breath, sensing the inevitability of what will happen next. She
wants to move, to flee, but she can no more run than fly as the
phantom woman continues to turn, until at last, unmistakably,
her gaze falls on Tilda.
There is an instant of connection. A moment where all else
seems not to exist, nothing but that moment of seeing and of
being seen. It is both wonderful and terrifying. Something
inside Tilda snaps and fear galvanizes her. As she spins on her
heel and sprints away she hears shouts. Clear, loud, urgent
shouts, as those in the boat alert each other to the presence of
a stranger. There is a short silence, quickly followed by several
They’re getting out of the boat! They are coming after me!
Now Tilda runs. She finds a speed and power she did not
know she possessed and pounds along the path. She can hear
heavy footsteps behind her. She can feel the shuddering of the
earth as the runners begin to close the gap. Frightened beyond
reason, she increases her speed still more, even as the trail twists
away from the lake, even as the mist returns to swallow up the
fields to her right, to shorten her view to a few yards once
more. Still she runs, blindly, wildly, though she can no longer
hear her pursuers. And as she rounds a narrow corner she all
but barrels into a tall, solitary figure standing firmly in the
centre of the path.