CHAPTER 6 – TORN

148 Appleton Street was one of a trio of identical buildings set out in a horseshoe around a small residential car park. The door leading into the complex had a passkey and the path leading up to it led through a neatly trimmed lawn that separated the building from the street by more then fifteen feet.

So even though Appleton Street was deep in the heart of Blackbridge it almost felt like the other side of the world to its inhabitants.

Sebastian “Ash” Densmore lived in Flat 6 up on the forth floor a living room window that overlooked the car park; and it was this window that Ash was sat looking through at the same moment as a woman with no memory was awaking across town.

Ash had no knowledge of this, and he never would have, but their fates had been bound together before either of them had been born; and in the woman’s case this was a very long time ago.

Ash’s attention was on a different woman altogether.

The novelty grandfather’s clock that stood next to the TV read three thirty.

Ash rose and made his way to the small kitchen and prepared what would pass for their dinner.

Day was almost a memory to him now; night had replaced it almost entirely. She worked the early hours of the morning, sometimes almost until dawn, sometimes – like tonight – it was earlier but regardless she always got back home before the light of the daylight hit the streets.

Ash’s own life had suffered considerably because of this.

Work had been hard to find.

It didn’t help that his waking hours had become so unusual.

So Ash helped out here and there, a few nights working alongside Jack, the bouncer at the Inferno nightclub, had opened up work across town from pubs and clubs that needed casual help behind the bar or on the doors; so he found he could get by.

He opened the oven and slid out the small chicken that had a streak of dark brown along its breast, signifying it as typically overcooked in his usual style. With a large knife he split the thing in half and placed each on a plate.

He added vegetables, including surprisingly well cooked asparagus, and was just mixing instant gravy when he heard the keys in the door.

She had changed so much in the months that he’d known her.

Anetta took off her jacket and dropped it over the back of a chair, her keys clattering across the coffee table where she’d carelessly tossed them.

Bad day..?”

Ash hadn’t looked up, but he didn’t need to see her face to know the night had been a difficult one.

It’s okay… just a long night…”

The weariness in her voice drove a fist into his stomach, and he couldn’t help but wonder when her moods and whims would stop affecting him so deeply.

He slid the two plates of food onto the kitchen table and Anetta disappeared into the bathroom. Without waiting he started to eat, listening to the water rush from the bathroom faucet and then the splashes as she quickly washed.

Things had been difficult; but they were good.

He was half finished by the time she sat, her clothes changed and her skin scrubbed.

He watched in silence as she started to pick through the food on her plate.

She moved the food around, selected bits and then cut them into small equal pieces before she ate them. Methodically she worked through one item before moving onto the next, never mixing the food and never moving on until one was finished with.

Ash knew that he should be irritated by this; but he wasn’t.

Over the last few months he had suspected why he was reacting this way.

He guessed that if anyone were watching them, they would have known the reason long ago.

Ash ate his way through the chicken leg, chewing through to the bone.

Have you ever been back to the store?” He asked.

She looked at him, her brow furrowed and a fork stuck between her lips.

The music store… have you ever been back there?”

You know… no, I haven’t. I think I left the lights on…”

She speared another piece of asparagus, her absolute favourite food, and smiled around it as she chewed.

Why’d you ask?”

Ash rose and began scraping the dinner plate’s remains into the waste before he answered.

How much of your life is the same now?”

Now…?”

Afterward; moving in here, all that.”

He watched as she lowered her eyes to the table, her chewing slowing to a stop.

The Inferno, Jack, you; that’s about it…”

Would you go back to it?”

What’s this about Ash…?”

Ash turned on the hot tap and filled the washbasin. The drumming of the water, steam rising, soothed him. Foam spread across the waters surface from the washing up liquid he’d added.

Behind him Anetta had stopped eating, instead she was waiting.

Ash…?”

He slid the dirty plate into the water, slipping between the soapsuds like an aircraft through the clouds.

Talk to her damn it!

Are you listening to me? Ash berated himself. Will you talk to her!

I wouldn’t want you to…” He began, then stopped abruptly; what did he intend to say to her?

What are you saying?”

I wouldn’t want you to feel bad about this, I wouldn’t want you to leave; but…”

Close your mouth Ash.”

But he couldn’t, he felt like doom was approaching with every word, but he couldn’t.

..But there’s something I’ve got to talk to you about.”

Ash, you need to stop talking…”

I do need to stop talking, he thought, and then talk he did…

My feelings for you are…”

The dinner plate shattered on the linoleum flooring, the remains of Anetta’s dinner a Pollack painting. He almost screamed, the sound of it twisting the knot in his stomach to the point where it surely must snap.

He felt sick.

He couldn’t look at her; he knew it would hurt too badly.

He heard her curse, muttering to herself in sharp tones, and then he heard a cupboard door open and the sound of the shards being swept up.

I’ve got to get some sleep; I need to get up in the morning.”

He knew what he was about to say when he said it, his brain had shut down for the night, something in his heart had too. He needed to close the door on it all, shut out Anetta and her beauty and all the feelings he had grown for her.

Without seeing he walked from the kitchen, through the living room and down the short corridor to his bedroom; closing the door behind him.

Anetta shook, her hands trembling with a powerful palsy that made the dustpan drum on the floor with a rumble.

What had happened? She didn’t understand what just happened. One moment she was eating and the next it seemed the world was over.

Melodrama much..? She thought.

No… She answered herself. This was not melodrama, it was just life.

Was he about to say what she thought he was?

Had things changed so much?

Or had it always been like this?

She wondered if everyone, in moments such as this, felt the need to destroy something. To deface and hurt something until it resembled what they felt inside.

Overhead the kitchen light flickered, and then died entirely.

Four stories from the street the flat was too high to be lit from streetlights, so the darkness was nearly complete.

Anetta stood slowly letting her eyes adjust as much as they would.

She began to see the faint glow of the white tile and the cream kitchen counter.

That was enough, she moved through the obstacle course that was the living room picking her way through to the corridor to the bedrooms. Ash’s door was on the right, she twisted the handle and for one moment was convinced it wouldn’t open, but open it did.

She opened her mouth to speak his name, his new name, the one she had given him but something told her not to. Something was wrong.

No it was just the night, just the argument and all the things it implied.

No, something was wrong, something beyond squabbles.

The room was even darker than the rest of the flat. The bed a black mass in a block of dark grey, in the corner was another huddled mass like a person trying to hide in the shadows.

No, it was just a coat, or the guitar that Ash was learning how to play.

No, something was wrong, it was a person waiting.

She moved to the bedside opposite the black hulk in the corner and shook Ash’s shoulder. Her eyes darted back and forth between the slumbering figure in the bed to the unnamed thing in the corner. For a moment, just like the door, she felt he would not respond; that she would be alone against whatever was coming for her.

But the figure moved and a hand took hers.

She almost sighed in relief, but it caught in her throat.

Something was wrong.

It had been screaming at her all night.

Even though she rarely spoke to the spirits, they always spoke to her; and the spirits were yelling “run!”

Ash..?” She nearly whispered and in the corner something moved.

Her eyes darted to it, the huddled thing, the black thing, the unseen thing; it moved, it definitely moved.

Then the figure in the bed moved too.

The hand that clutched her wrist tightened and an arm darted out, wrapping around her dragging her down.

Ash..?” She cried out, a call for help or a warning? She couldn’t tell.

Ash… No, stop, Ash, God NO…”

The figure in the bed rolled over on top of her, pinning her to the sheets and absolute panic caught a steely grip on her. Everything was forgotten, all that she was dwarfed by the terrible violation she felt.

She lashed out, clawing at him, reaching out to find some purchase, some weapon.

Blindly she grabbed the curtain and pulled at it, ripping it free from the rail.

The moon was full that night and it flooded the room with a blue tinged glow.

What she saw almost stopped her heart.

“Merciful Gran Maítre; Cain, no…”

He was larger than life, a monster…

In the corner Ash struggled sluggishly, blood seeping from a fresh wound above his ear, a gag across his mouth.

Cain planted a knee on her chest between her breasts and pressed down, forcing the air from her lungs. Moments later her head began to swim, the room tilting lazily and the sounds around her muted; she began to lose consciousness.

She remembered old Mama Lucrease; she remembered the huge leather bound book she had bequeathed her and then she remembered the first spell she had ever performed.

Her lips made ancient words, a whisper without air.

She opened her eyes and stared at a spot inches in front of Cain’s face.

With the crack of a firecracker light flooded the room and a ball of flame no bigger than a thimble popped into existence inched in front of Cain’s wicked face. It slammed into him, catching the bridge of his nose and setting fire to his eyelashes, his eyebrows caught next, then his hair, and then he fell backward while he beat at his own face with the palms of his hands.

Anetta rolled backwards, towards Ash, and landed in a heap. Her lungs dragged air in, burning with the effort. Her sausage fingers vainly fumbled with the knots of torn sheet that bound Ash.

Across the room something else caught fire, flames a foot high licking against the wall. It would not be long before the place was ablaze. Cain kicked and rolled, one foot slamming against the bed and driving it into Anetta’s side.

The pain drove her into sudden focus.

Ash’s hands were free.

Ash rolled to his feet, stumbled then dragged Anetta with him as he moved from the room, colliding with walls like a pinball. Inside the bedroom’s wallpaper caught fire and within seconds the room seemed filled with flame.

Naked but for a pair of bower shorts Ash wrenched at the flats front door and they both fell into the corridor followed by a cloud of black smoke.

They half crawled down the corridor, climbing to their feet once relatively free of the smoke around them; they bolted for the stairs.

Before they got to the ground floor they could already hear the wailing of a siren, someone had woke and had triggered the fire alarm and around them people were evacuating their homes. Some were dressed in nightclothes, some wrapped in dressing gowns, and others wore little but underwear they slept in; but it seemed that all were getting out safely.

Except for one; Cain could not be found.

The lawn felt wet and cool as they all fell upon it like thirsty men at an oasis.

High above the windows of Ash’s apartment shattered, flames licked up the side of the building and the crowd screamed as one.

All they could do was watch as they waited. The cold night hardly felt through the fear and adrenalin. Families had huddled into their groups and here and there people were crying shocked tears.

Somewhere above something exploded and another room caught fire, the blaze travelling from Ash’s apartment to its neighbour.

Before long the whole place would follow suit.

It didn’t take long for the emergency services to arrive, but it was still too late for most of the buildings inhabitants, everything they owned had already turned to ash.

Turned to ash, Ash thought.

He sat in the rear of an ambulance with a wad of gauze pressed to his skull, the bleeding had stopped long ago, but they had their job to do so he let them do it. Someone had wrapped a tinfoil blanket around his shoulders.

Arcs of water converged on the building from the matching set of fire-trucks.

Ash felt oddly detached, everything he owned was gone, literally down to the shirt off his back.

He looked back to the woman sat next to him, wrapped in a similar tinfoil blanket to his own. She was dusted in soot, dishevelled and worn out; but she was still beautiful.

It was nearly dawn when they had been released from the hospital and allowed on their way. Anetta was still dressed in the dirty work clothes of the previous evening and Ash was wearing a pale blue pair of trousers with matching shirt. It made him feel like a nurse and he was expecting to be approached any moment to aid in surgery.

The Inferno nightclub stood like a silent cathedral, it rose three stories into the air and two basements deep, and many said that in the distant past the building had been even larger. Anetta knew that there were doorways in the long forgotten corners of the cellars that led to even deeper places under the city.

Ash followed her down the broad alleyway that led to a dead end that was a home to a duo of large wheelie bins and a battered Volkswagen. Large windows ran the full length of the Inferno’s wall, each covered with a steel grating securely bolted into place.

From where he stood these oppressive additions to the otherwise picturesque old building offered some peace of mind.

But he was dead…

Ash shuddered and Anetta stopped, the keys halfway to the lock, peering at him.

He shook his head and smiled a clumsy smile.

The keys drew back the bolt and the door swung open.

Everything seemed too loud.

Ash followed Anetta inside the huge building and waited for her to lock up behind them. The corridor they stood in ran the whole length of the back of the building, from the day-bar that everyone called the Red Room to the private room that was used as a Green Room for the bands that sometimes played.

They turned left, towards the Green Room, but then took the stairs up past the first floor to the second.

Here they passed the piles of chairs and folding tables, then the boxes of Christmas decorations and rolled banners as they took the same route as they did on the floor below, this time in reverse.

Ash had never seen this part of the building before, it had never occurred to him that there was a third floor he had never visited. He knew of the sub-basement and he knew that there were rooms on the first floor that were never used, but to leave a whole floor unused seemed strange.

He guessed that the door they eventually stopped at led to a room directly above the Red Room downstairs.

The light flickered on.

Inside was a pair of single beds either side of a tall narrow window, each had a nightstand and either side of the door which they both were walking through was a tall dressing table.

It looked exactly like an old hotel room.

Anetta swung the door closed behind them and dropped the keys to the building on one of the dressers.

Ash sat on the one of the beds, he felt something press against his side and reached into his pocket. At some point during the chaos he had taken the ring of keys that had been entrusted to him. He didn’t remember where he had gotten them, or when he had rescued them from the blaze, but while the doctor had tested his papillary response and tended to his head wound Ash had felt something cutting into the palm of his hand.

They were there and it marvelled him how, out of all the things he could have thought to rescue, that these were the only things he had.

Anetta disappeared into an adjoining room and a moment later he heard water running.

What is this place?”

Ash immediately wished he hadn’t spoken; it was like talking in a tomb.

For a time she didn’t answer and Ash was beginning to suppose she had not heard him when she finally did.

The Inferno used to be a hotel, back in the 40’s I think; there’s still a couple of rooms left that survived the fire…”

What happened?”

The splashing of water stopped and Ash knew without looking that Anetta was probably looking at herself in the mirror that was surely set above the basin.

She’d be wondering what he meant, whether he was talking about the fire back then, or the fire they had both experienced hours ago.

He didn’t know himself. How much did he want to know…?

He was dead Ash…”

He wanted to tell her to shut up, but instead he…

But that was him wasn’t it…?”

..Asked the question he really didn’t want the answer to.

She walked back into the room, a towel pressed against her face, her hair still wet.

She still wore the same clothes but she was no longer smeared in the soot of the fire.

The other bed squeaked and groaned as she sat, the whole thing shifting slightly under her meagre weight.

Get comfortable…” she said with a great deal of weariness weighing down her words. “I have a story to tell you…”

The town of Rose Heath consisted of three roads, Oak view, Bridge Street, Oak River and encompassed one hundred and thirty souls when Lucrease and her mistress moved into the country home.

It had taken some time to find the place, a great deal of divination and calculation had gone into it; but Lucrease and her mistress were sure that Rose Heath would grow into a place of great power. Without seeing it they knew something was buried in the earth beneath their feet and it would only be a matter of months before the miracle was sure to happen and they would discover whatever it was.

What they didn’t know was that they were destined to find much more in the small village. They would find Gweniveve DeuVo and through her they would both find purpose.

Lucrease’s mistress was anything but what the title implied, but in the year or so they had searched this land they had both learned that people of Lucrease’s colour could own little and bore no power. So their friendship of convenience underwent a transformation that became more real as the time strolled on.

Lucrease was no slave, but the illusion of it weighed heavily enough on the teenage girl.

The country home had been bought on the proceeds of Lucrease’s conjuring and not on the non-existent fatherly benefactor that the mistress of the house had told others they met. So Lucrease had found herself banished to the large cellars while the whites chattered and laughed their nasty high pitched laughs at the small housewarming: a small seed of resentment planting itself against her once-friend.

Their purpose was once the same, but it increasingly occurred to Lucrease that her once-friend had become lost in this land of plenty and power.

Perhaps she had forgotten the true powers?

Never mind; it did not matter, the true powers did not require belief or obedience.

In truth, just for them to “be” was enough.

Lucrease collected the makings of the spell as she ruminated on the changes that had invaded her life. The spell was not a difficult one to make, though it was difficult to maintain and it may take considerable time before anything came of it.

She did not know; but it would and did, months passed and every night at the same time she collected the makings and conjured the Finding Spell, narrowing the focus little by little until she felt comfortable searching through the night with her bodies eyes.

So when the sun slid over the horizon and the towns people slumbered Lucrease set out with pick and shovel to a useless plot of rocky land between the edge of the town and the farmland beyond. Here she selected a place and dug, some nights she managed no more than a few feet, her hands torn from moving the sharp edged rocks. Other nights she hit a pocket of clay and so did better time; but it was never easy.

One such night she had set out only to find her normal route to her dig site cut off by a small make shift encampment. Lucrease slid into the undergrowth and watched as a family huddled around a small campfire.

She sensed the difference in them before she saw anything untoward.

The strange had been drawn to the strange.

There was a mother and father, and two children, one little more than a baby. The father seemed normal, if the word ever meant anything of note, but the woman and children all had oddness about them. Lucrease could feel the eyes of the smallest child, the little thing could not speak and as time moved on it transpired that she never would, but Lucrease knew the little girl was aware of her presence.

The family fascinated her and over the coming months, more time paid to the quest that she had made her own; Lucrease visited the family’s camp and said a silent hello to the tiny child. With each visit someone new had taken up residence and in Lucrease’s daylight hours, hours that meant little to her now, she heard the towns folk mutter about the ever growing group of travellers on the town limits.

Almost two years passed in this way. Lucrease’s distance from her old friend growing, the pit in the earth growing deeper and the unwanted group of travellers growing larger still; a race between each that drove Lucrease on with ever growing purpose.

Her second summer arrived and it was on one sweltering night that the pick axe broke through into an underground chamber. Lucrease muttered ancient words under her breath and flicked forefinger against thumb. A spark of light appeared in the air, growing in intensity as it descended into the darkened chamber below.

Carefully finding footholds Lucrease followed it.

A labyrinth of catacombs wounds its way across the land in the rough direction of the Oak River near which Rose Heath was built. With each step Lucrease could feel the descent of the uneven rock under her feet. The cavern widened and as the ground sloped downward the caverns roof fell into darkness.

With a moments concentration the hovering light that lit her way grew in brilliance, its circumference growing from that of a thimble to that of an apple. It rose higher into the air, its glow illuminating further into the gloom.

Lucrease sensed the animal’s before she saw them, then the glint of the sphere of light caught the eyes that watched her. Suddenly it was as though the caverns had disappeared around her and the stars of the night had filled the chamber. The unseen animal’s blinked and scattered almost as one. The woman continued, barely missing a step; in the distance she should hear a dull sound, a rumble or a rush. The sound reverberated off the undulating surface of the walls, distorting it beyond any recognition until it sounded like the sleep whispers of a giant.

Anticipation uncurled in Lucrease’s stomach, her breath deepening, something beside the dark creatures was down here with her; something that slept.

Something she knew should stay sleeping.

Either side of the walls of the cavern were now far enough away to be lost in darkness and if it were not for her careful steps Lucrease would have stepped over the sheer edge of the ground beneath her.

Lucrease hummed a sharp note and listened.

The hum returned, bounced back from the far wall but the wait seemed far too long for Lucrease’s comfort.

The cavern she now stood in was huge.

Lucrease turned away from the cliff before her and carefully made her way back to the world above, inside her mind she mulled over the problems she knew she would face.

She was alone now, her former friend lost in a world of plenty and her own kind far too far away to be of any help. Her mind moved to the ever growing travellers camp and to the feelings of Rose Heath in regard to them.

When she returned to her rooms under the house she slept a restless sleep.

The next day she left without a word to her former friend. In truth the two of them had not spoken for months and both had moved deeper into their respective worlds. The basement rooms had their own entrance and Lucrease had everything she needed down there and as long as the woman above did not run out of the money she increasingly needed there was no need for them to bother each other.

Lucrease was aware of the looks that some of the townspeople threw her way, she could clearly sense the open distaste against her as well; though she didn’t understand it, neither did she care. The world is littered with small minds thinking thoughts too big for them, like children playing in their parents clothes.

Over her years, which were plenty as she was a great deal older than she appeared, Lucrease had realised something about many people that had crossed her path. Evil rarely reared its head in them, despite what many of them thought. Almost all human wrongs could be traced back to their need’s and desire’s and most of these could be traced to a needing to belong. It was true that there were aberrations amongst them, but even then the actions perpetrated were those of broken people and broken people were no more evil than a broken cart or door hinge.

People used the word “evil” without knowing the meaning of the word.

But then children often did.

The small town was behind her and the road on which she travelled wound in a gentle curve towards the hills to the north. It was said that in those hills once lived a dragon, the last of his kind who watched over the land with benevolent interest.

One day she would travel there and see for herself, but for the moment she had a more immediate meeting to arrange.

When she crested a small hill just to the south of the makeshift camp she paused and took in the surroundings. What had been a single family some months ago had grown to something much more substantial. This was a village now, not merely a camp, and just from observing it over the previous few weeks Lucrease had seen a definable structure to its authority.

Once she entered the tiny village it didn’t take long to find its hub, and the person sat on the proverbial throne to the community.

It did not surprise Lucrease one bit that this was a matriarchal society, nor did it surprise her that that matriarch in question was the first woman she had seen; the special woman with the special children.

Lucrease and the Matriarch sat on thick carpets under an intricate woven awning beside one of the caravans. The sun shone through the fabric and Lucrease could pick out threads that ran through it, curving and swooping impossibly for a woven cloth.

The Matriarch poured tea from a copper kettle and they began to talk.

The dreams had started with her youngest child and then it had worked its way through all the women in the family. The husband, it went without saying, was immune and took some persuading; but when the remarkable similarities in the dreams came to light he found that his arguments carried less and less weight.

Lucrease also believed that the Matriarch’s ability to talk her husband around could not be underestimated, in a time when males were considered the lords of the world it was obvious that this woman would see nor accept any lord over her.

The two women liked each other instantly but more importantly they seemed to share a mutual respect and, even more significantly, a trust that transcended words.

The dream had sent the family on the road, as it turned out it sent many families on the road, but they were not to discover that until they felt drawn to follow a certain river to a particular town; and now they waited, for what or who, they did not know.

Though it was apparent to all that Lucrease’s arrival would change that.

How many of the village were… different? Lucrease asked, to which the Matriarch smiled. Almost all, was the reply.

Then it was obvious why they were drawn to this place, Lucrease explained. Oddness was drawn to oddness after all, and it was just such oddness that had drawn her here as well.

She explained about her former friend and the seductions of the high life, she explained her own quest; not for power but for something more substantial.

Purpose is what Lucrease craved, a reason for her suffering and an explanation of sorts for that of others as well.

Finally she told the Matriarch about the caverns that spread under the land, a huge network of hidden capillaries under Mother Earths skin and between them the two women hatched their plans.

So as the Matriarch organised her people a strange kind of paranoia began to grip the towns people of Rose Heath. Some had seen Lucrease leave town and others had seen her approaching the travellers camp; yet still more had witnessed the travellers bartering for arable land off the surrounding farms.

Something was happening, and what frightened the towns people was that they did not understand it. What began as a sub-conscious grumbling became town gossip and before anyone knew it the “gentleman’s” equivalent of a lynch mob grew.

Lucrease was dragged from her bed, her former friend looking on, and was taken to the town mayor. There were no accusations, Lucrease doubted there were any accusations to be given, doubted that any laws had been broken; but she also knew that the people felt threatened and threatened people closed ranks.

Lucrease’s former friend had become one of them.

The woman did not even seems to blink at what came next.

The lash of the whip tore quarter inch furrows into Lucrease’s back and even through the mantra she muttered to dull the pain each strike cut her more deeply than she could ever tell.

She had though herself a slave before, had fancied that she understood the pain of being owned; but she now knew different. Being owned was more than being held for sale, more than having no voice, part of it was only having the worth that someone else bestowed upon you. If they took it, if they decided your worth was nothing, you ceased to be.

But Lucrease wood not cease to be.

While Lucrease suffered her unfounded punishment a group of men approached the edge of town, cresting the hill that overlooked the travellers camp.

They stopped almost as one.

All that remained of the travellers camp was flattened grassland and extinguished fires.

It was days before Lucrease found her way back to her basement rooms, and it was weeks before she made it back to the caverns under the town; but when she did it was a different world to what she had imagined.

A craftily constructed cover for the entrance had been fashioned, a conical shield made of willow wood and fabric had been doused in tree sap and coloured sand. Lucrease found that from anything less than a few yards the shield effectively made the entrance invisible. Under it a guard stood in the pit of earth next to a thirteen rung ladder to the surface. Inside the mouth of the cavern another ladder led into the depths.

The depths were no longer dark however, lanterns had been lit every ten feet, a string of them leading into the chasm that Lucrease had found months earlier.

Despite herself Lucrease could do nothing but stare.

The sounds of excavation echoed back and forth across the seventy foot chasm as walkways were being cut from the very rock. Already many natural caverns had been linked by carved stairs and walkways but there was still so much work to be done.

Lucrease approached the edge of the subterranean cliff face and peered down it.

The torchlight did nothing to alleviate the blackness, allowing her a view of no more than twenty feet. A barrier separated her from the sheer drop, wooden beams that had been slid into carved holes in the stone and hand-woven rope strung between them.

As far to the left and right as she could see the chasm continued curving slightly from south-west to north-east, the barrier following for much of the distance and along it people busy with the work of creating a home in this unseen place.

Families huddled around cooking fires, the light dancing over their faces as older children teased their younger brethren and mothers scolded them for it. Groups of men heaved around huge logs that others sawed into planks. Buildings were built and the ground was cleared, barrels were rolled and stored and everyone seemed to have their purpose.

Lucrease’s decision to move into this new place was never made, but a long time had passed before she realised that she had decided already. The burning of the welts on her back had died down, then the welts themselves had faded to scars before Lucrease had realised that she had forgotten what the sun looked like.

The people of Downtown needed her, without her the ailments that the dark and damp encouraged could not be so easily tended, nor could they defend against the Black dogs.

The community of Downtown continued to grow, a new face here and a new family there and it turned out to be fortuitous that Lucrease did not leave them to their own devices when something even stranger than the strange finally called for a visit.

 

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