Roberta has battled ancient and evil forces before, but after conquering her latest demon, she believed that life could finally get back to normal. However, after surviving the terror lurking in Ridgewood’s forest, she comes to discover that her troubles have only just begun.
Removed from the friends who aided her quest before, Roberta is now alone in a foreign world with no idea how to escape.
Roberta gasped as cold air rushed into her mouth and stung her lungs. A hand gripped her arm tightly, pulling her along through the gloom as fast as her feet would carry her, the hold of strong fingers encircling her wrist. Whilst there was an impenetrable mist all about them, Roberta’s companion seemed to know where he was going, and though she stumbled several times, he continued in his plight, unaltered in his pace as Roberta stumbled, her arm twisting tighter in his grip. As they weaved their way through the towering trunks of fir trees, the moonlight from above hit and bounced through the mist. It created a white sheet that surrounded them, that obscured objects which loomed into sight giving Roberta only mere seconds to avoid them. Far from feeling like a safety blanket, the mist only blinded Roberta’s path and she awaited fingers to appear out of the gloom at every ducked branch and hurdled stump.
The night was perfectly still, and apart from the sounds of the duo’s footsteps, Roberta’s heavy gasps for fresh air and the dull drone of the ever tolling bell in the tower which she knew rose above the misty layer, the night was quiet. No shouts, or screams or roars carried through the air to Roberta’s side, just the methodical toll of the giant bronze bell.
“Watch out,” Barry said ahead of her as he leapt over a gnarled root that curled like a writhing snake out of the forest floor. Roberta had little time to comprehend the upcoming hurdle due to the speed at which she was being dragged along. Within seconds, her foot caught underneath the living noose and Roberta was thrown to the floor, her face landing with a thud against the pine needled carpet. There was a wriggling in her pocket, alongside a pitiful mew and Roberta quickly remembered that she and Barry weren’t the only ones careering through the dark woodland.
Taking a moment to adjust herself and realise that though bruised and battered, she was fully functional, Roberta pushed back onto her knees and gazed blearily around. She opened the flap to her pocket carefully, and saw the tiny blue eyes of Faithful; the white kitten who was stowed in her pocket. As soon as he had he looked at her and felt the chilling cold snap of the winter air, he pulled his head deep down into her jacket pocket again, and through the quietness of the night Roberta heard the faint sound of rumbling purring.
“Roberta, come on,” Barry urged, his gruff voice showing a lack of compassion as he thrust his arm down to grab her. “We haven’t got time to linger, we must be away.”
Roberta pushed his hand from her arm, noting that his dirty and chapped fingers were also cracked and blistered. She didn’t need the help of a man she’d met only minutes earlier, a man who she’d thought probably to be dead just half an hour before.
“Am I dead?” Roberta said, making a point of pushing herself to her feet and taking a stance to indicate that she wasn’t about to go anywhere with an answer.
Barry kept his hood up, the dark cloth covering his face so that Roberta could only see glimpses of his chiselled jaw as he turned and scanned their surroundings.
“Answer me,” Roberta demanded as her companion failed to say anything. He put his finger to his lips and looked sideways into the mist.
“You’re not dead Roberta.” His voice was quieter and softer than before, “but we both will be if we don’t move, now.”
“But, my body?” Roberta thought back to where she’d fallen lifelessly from the cliff edge, her body shattering as the impact with the boulders below splintered her bones. She’d awoken only to realise, to her horror, that she was standing over her corpse. Her arms and legs twisted in contorted angles, a trickle of blood running from her mouth and nose. The eyes, wide open and blank. There was no way that she couldn’t be dead.
Barry leaned into Roberta so that she could see each individual bristle around his weathered face.
“They’ll collect your body and keep it safe. If there’s one thing not to worry about in Gathin, it’s whether your body’s OK.”
“Who’s they?” Roberta questioned, shifting on the spot as she saw her breath curl in the air.
“We haven’t got time for this, if they catch you, then the Ridgewood you know and love will be gone forever.”
Instead of gripping Roberta’s wrist as he had done before, Barry offered his elbow to her. “We mustn’t get separated, stay close. Do you trust me?”
“Do I have any other choice?” Roberta questioned, suddenly aware that the bell toll had become louder and that its sound had been joined by a throng of howls. The eerie, whining sounds caught in the white mist and echoed from tree trunks, surrounding the duo as if a noose was quickly closing on them.
Barry didn’t need a seconds notice to once again turn on his heel and flee but this time, rather than being dragged along, Roberta held the nook of his elbow so as not to lose her way. Though their fast paced journey had initially been on flat ground, Roberta felt the forest floor beneath her feet start to incline, and the pair were soon staggering up a steep cliff side. Little rocky outcroppings jutted out of the ground, leaping out from the mist and causing Roberta to constantly fear tripping and slicing her legs apart. The stones looked sharp and menacing, and Roberta feared that if she fell, the man leading her through the forest would disappear and leave her to fend the howls from her soul. Whilst being on a steep hill, trees still littered her surroundings and their needles carpeted the cliff side in bronze, the rough and chipped trunks disappearing towards the skies. They gave Roberta momentary relief as she wrapped her fingers around the bark and hauled herself upwards, reaching out for the next column as if they were rungs on a ladder.
The pair came upon a particularly steep incline, where soil turned to solid grey rock, and Roberta’s previous climbing frame became instantly absent.
“Where do we go?” Roberta said anxiously as she realised that though the bell toll had quietened, the howling had become even closer than before.
“Here..” Barry beckoned Roberta forwards and lifted her towards the small cliff. It was only about 10 metres high, but was enough of a challenge for Roberta’s small frame so that she could never scale it on her own. She managed to find a ledge for her fingers to cling to whilst her feet scrabbled for a foothold below. The cold bit into her extremities, worrying Roberta that her fingers would slip and she’d fall, but her pink and numb hands clutched at the rock like claws, ensuring that she was steadfastly stuck to the rock. Once she was sure of herself, Barry removed his grip on her waist and hauled himself up onto the first ledge, appearing swiftly by her side as if he’d done it a thousand times before.
Roberta caught Barry’s face glance behind them, his brown eyes momentarily caught in the moonlight. His face was old and lined, but his strength on their race through the woods countered all thoughts that he wasn’t fit.
“Climb,” he said again with added urgency, looking into Roberta’s own eyes and showing the intensity of his words. Roberta glanced into the woods behind them and peered through the sheet of white. On the cliff side it seemed diminished slightly, though the soft curls of vapour still caught about the rocks and tree trunks. A ferocious howl that sounded within mere metres filled her ears, and out of the mist lunged a huge and snarling wolf.
With renewed vigour, Roberta hastened up the cliff wall as if she’d been rock climbing all her life. The wolf growled and spat at the base of the rocky retreat, and when Roberta looked back once before she’d reached the top, she saw that the lone creature had been joined by several others. They were immense, not the size of an average wolf, but more the size of a large bear. All bar one were a dull grey colour, their eyes a pale blue in hue. The beast directly beneath Roberta’s feet was as dark as a starless sky, its fiery golden eyes glinting up at her with intelligence and causing her stomach to flip.
Roberta and Barry crawled over the edge of the small cliff and lay gasping upon the ground. There were howls from beneath them, and Roberta turned on her stomach and peered over the edge. The pack of wolves were pacing back and forth below her, their eyes shining, their lips curled and wet with saliva. The larger, black individual growled angrily before launching a penetrating bite into one of the other wolves’ flanks, causing it to whimper in pain. Then, the black beast circled backwards, looked up at where Roberta lay and launched itself towards the rock face. It scrabbled momentarily as its claws caught upon a small ledge and Roberta pushed herself away from the precipice for fear that the creature might be upon her.
“Come,” Barry said from behind her. “Luguolo and his troop can’t scale the wall but they can go around. It won’t take them long to be find our tracks again.”
“What were they?” Roberta asked as the pair once again took off through the woods. “They weren’t like any wolves I’ve ever seen.”
“They’re bigger, stronger, better in Gathin,” Barry replied, his voice showing no indication of breathlessness. “They’ve been bred over thousands of years to be the largest and most dangerous hunters in these woods. They just haven’t figured out how to climb yet.”
Roberta was sure that she saw a small smile on the edge of Barry’s lips, but he turned away from her so quickly that she wasn’t sure whether it was a smile or a grimace.
“How much further?” Roberta asked, the brief respite on the cliff top not having managed to stop her chest pounding.
“I must have thirty years on you, yet still you complain,” Barry said, avoiding her question. “Less speaking, more speed.” He offered Roberta his elbow briefly, before taking off again, though not as fast as he had initially done. Roberta was sure that he’d reduced the pace for her needs over his.
Though Roberta was thankful to move at a slower pace, she still found it difficult to catch her breath. Whilst the winter night was freezing, her body radiated heat from her exertion. It caused a burning sensation to radiate across her fingertips and face as the pumping energy from her body was stripped away by the icy air. Whilst the sounds of the wolves had faded into the background of the night, the bell continued to toll heavily, reminding Roberta with every brassy thud that she was running for her life.
After a short while Roberta saw that the trees were thinning ahead, and the pair emerged onto a dirt track road. Barry turned left onto the path and followed the descending track which was lit up by the clear sky above. Now that they had passed from beneath the protective canopy of the trees, Roberta could once again see the moon shining amongst the heavens. A moon which momentarily caused her to forget that she was no longer in her own realm but somewhere entirely different. Ridgewood was so far away, yet here, standing and staring towards the familiar night sky, Roberta could easily have placed herself only minutes from her own warm bed. She looked back to the path as Barry slowed ahead of her, peering cautiously into the dark as he did so.
“We need to go around,” he said, before pulling Roberta into the trees on the other side of the track from where they had emerged. They continued running downhill until Roberta heard the rushing of water in the distance, and soon the pair stood on the banks of a river. It looked familiar to Roberta, and she realised that the swirling waters were reminiscent of the muddy ditch that she’d stumbled across in Ridgewood. On closer inspection, it seemed exactly the same in direction and locality, though the ditch was a mere puddle compared with the strait of water that she was now stood beside. It meandered into to the night, drawing her gaze with it, until the darkness cut off her vision and shrouded the water’s true direction.
Without hesitation, Barry plunged into the water, wading out until the river lapped at his thighs. He turned and beckoned to Roberta, and she realised with horror that he expected her to join him in the torrent. With her panting breath still catching in the air like spiralling clouds, Roberta was far from ready to throw herself into a freezing forest river.
“Is there no way around?” Roberta asked, pulling her icy pink fingers into the sleeves of her jacket in an attempt to retain some warmth.
“Would I be in here if there was?” Barry looked irritated, his beard bristling as he clenched his jaw.
“But, we’ll freeze!”
Barry looked downstream and sighed, before turning to Roberta and starting to wade back to the river bank. The muddy shore was frozen in the winter temperatures and where water met shore, brown and icy shrapnel splintered. Barry was easily able to heave himself out of the water, droplets spraying off his soaked trousers as he lifted his first leg. Roberta leant Barry her hand, feeling guilty that he seemed to have put himself in danger to come to her aid after she’d fallen from the precipice and through the gateway into Gathin. However, the guilt subsided instantly as Barry’s fingers gripped her own and pulled her close.
“I’m not about to spend another decade in here on my own. You’re coming whether you like it or not.” He snarled angrily, before he dragged Roberta off the shore and into the watery depths.
It was the agonising coldness of the water which actually caused Roberta to cry out. The tight hold on her wrist meant that Roberta stumbled into the water far less elegantly than she would have done if wading in on her own, and icy water splashed over her thighs and above her hips. The forest behind them was full of howls again as the wolves in chase reacted to Roberta’s scream and began hunting her down in earnest.
“Run,” Barry said quietly to Roberta who gasped as the pain of the water failed to subside. “Don’t look back, just run.”
“Where?” Roberta managed to stutter through chattering lips.
“There!” Barry barked at her, pointing downstream with his hand. His eyes were almost furious, and he had to push Roberta away to initiate any form of movement.
The moment that Roberta turned and started to wade downstream, she understood the urgency. The distant howls of the wolves were gone, replaced with snarling and snapping as the great beasts tore between the trees towards the duo in the river. Their cunning had prevailed, and the wolves certainly had managed to make up a lot of distance in circumnavigating the small wall that Roberta and Barry had climbed to initially escape the fangs.
From the river bank the current hadn’t looked fast, but Roberta could feel the speed of the water between her legs, threatening to pull her off balance if she placed a foot wrongly on the stony riverbed below. Behind her, she heard that Barry too was wading quickly downstream, attempting to put as much distance between himself and the growling wolves as possible. With every step Roberta felt a new surge of icy pain as water increasingly seeped into her clothes and inched its way higher up her chest.
Ahead of her, the river began to widen, allowing Roberta to put more distance between herself and the riverbank. Whilst the place where they had entered the river had been thin, and the great muscle of wolf could have probably leapt the width easily, the distancing banks offered a small degree of comfort. That was until Roberta caught movement in the corner of her eye and looked around to see the pack come hurtling through the trees. Fronted by their huge black leader, the wolves arrived upon the bank of the river and jostled for position, the smaller creatures in danger of being thrown into the waters by their large and fiercer pack members. Snarls and snorts came as spit frothed on the curled lips of the predators, revealing large fangs ideal for ripping muscle and crunching bone.
Roberta saw one of the large grey wolves move forward and gently paw the water, testing its iciness. Her pounding heart gave Roberta the energy that she needed to push forwards through her watery realm, and she made her way towards the centre of the river where, though deeper, she felt safer from the creatures that were now racing up the riverbank on her and Barry’s left. The anticipation between the wolves was increasing now, and they were now lost in their bloodlust, all pack conformation gone as they tried to close in on their prey, to sink their teeth into their juicy quarry.
Without prior warning, one of the grey wolves bounded towards the bank and leapt into the air. Roberta let out a yell as she waded away, struggling as the water around her kept her from moving swiftly as the kitchen knife sized claws flew towards her. She dashed forward, not caring for the icy water which sprayed up to her face, her only thought being to not allow the creature to land within easy reach. Stepping out, Roberta gasped as her foot found no contact with the bottom and she toppled forward into the icy depths of the river. She managed, just, to hold her breath as her face submerged and she felt the water close above her head. The current was strong, and with both feet having lost their foothold, she soon found herself being dragged along. Roberta’s hands snagged on stones caught in the riverbed, and she felt her knuckles being skinned as the rocks previously beneath her feet shared no compassion for her tender flesh. Managing to gasp as she came up for air, Roberta was horrified to see that the moonlit water about her seemed to be flooded with red. It flowed around her body in a thick red slick, before being diluted into the icy waters, leaving just a small stream of scarlet coming from upstream. The second time the current bounced her to the surface she looked frantically around for Barry before once again being dragged under. Barry, her companion, the man who had come to her aid, was nowhere to be seen.
Roberta’s flailing body was swept downstream, and between panicked gulps of air, her eyes strained into the night for a glimpse of the man. There was no sight of him above or below the murky waters, and in the limited light of the night it was hard to place herself, let alone search for a companion. Water splashed into her mouth and nose resulting in coughs and splutters, and there was not enough air in Roberta’s lungs to scream or cry out. Though, even if she had had the energy, Roberta may have thought twice for fear of attracting unwanted attention from the beasts that chased her. As this thought crossed her mind, she realised that the snarling of the great wolves from the riverbank had stopped. The wolves had gone, vanishing back into the night from where they’d come.
Ahead of her, Roberta noticed that there seemed to be a hairpin bend in the river and as the current tumbled her ever forwards, she reached out and grabbed a fallen branch which jutted out from the edge of the bank. It was just thick enough to give a moments release from the swift water, and Roberta found that she was able to place her feet on the stony riverbed after a few minutes and inch her way to the edge. Where the tree had fallen there was a small bay in the bank, the waters calming as they lapped at the small stony shore.
Roberta collapsed, half in and half out of the water. The adrenalin that had previously pumped through her veins had gone, sapping all of her remaining energy with it. She was absolutely shattered, and though the sound of the predatory beasts had vanished, she knew that should they arrive upon the river bank once again, there was no energy left to run. It seemed strange that so much energy could be expelled when being carried downstream by a river current, but Roberta now realised why so many people drowned; thrown into an icy torrent of water, any life force simply drained away in the mere minutes of trying to stay alive.
Lying on her side, Roberta felt a small tickle on her hand. She looked up and inwardly smiled as the green glow of a golf ball sized moth shone about her fingers. This creature, along with around 40 others, had aided her through the forest of Ridgewood when she’d most needed it. At a time when the deadly Ammokra curse had taken over her soul, they’d guided her through the towering pines in the middle of the night and showed her the way to the precipice, the way into Gathin, and ultimately, had saved her life. Without these little insects Roberta was sure that the metallic mist of the Ammokra would have found her far removed from the cliff edge and would have shattered her soul into the winds rather than allowed her to fall through the gates into Gathin itself.
On her hand, the creature cautiously put out a small spindly leg and fluttered its wings. It seemed far from graceful as it removed itself from the air and instead crept around her hand with movements more akin to a spider. Roberta thought of Elrick, the fat purple spider who Mrs Peacock had used to open the mirror through which Roberta had ventured into Gathin for the first time. It seemed that there had been a large variety of creatures helping her on her path. With a horrified realisation, Roberta remembered the stowaway in her pocket, the little ball of feline fluff which had been happily purring away. Her fingers crept across her wet clothes with painstaking slowness, until she managed to push their freezing tips into her coat. A soggy and frozen lump made her heart sink, and just as she was about to sadly pull the bedraggled corpse of Faithful from her pocket, there was movement. Somehow, against all odds, this kitten had managed to survive. Again.
Without warning, there was a sudden slap against her hand as the rugged palm of another being came crushing down upon the moth. Its glow faded as a green liquid oozed out of its broken body. Barry gripped one wing with his fingers and flicked the creature off into the river leaving a sticky mess on Roberta’s numb hand.
“What the hell are you doing?” Roberta said angrily as she looked up and saw Barry standing over her. “Those moths saved my life.”
“And I haven’t?” Barry replied, offering a hand so as to help Roberta back to her feet. She took it begrudgingly, and pulled her aching frame up. “Look, things are different in Gathin, Roberta, you have to understand that.” Barry pointed to the place on Roberta’s hand where the moth had been scuttling about. “They may have saved your life in Ridgewood, but here they’re venomous little buggers which will inject you with poison.”
Roberta looked to her hand and saw that where the moth had been, was a small red lump which was already beginning to itch. Barry raised an eyebrow.
“What happened in the river?” Roberta said changing the subject. She could feel her body starting to shiver and even as she spoke, her teeth began to chatter uncontrollably.
Barry pushed back his coat to reveal a short but thick knife that was plunged into his belt. It had a curled brass handle, and though the blade was stowed away, Roberta imagined that the wolf must’ve been repeatedly stabbed to stop its attack.
“It doesn’t bode well to be walking Gathin without protection. There’s one less wolf in the pack, and more bloodlust than before now I’ve killed one of their members. Come, we need to get out of these clothes.”
At this point Roberta was unsure whether she could walk, let alone run, and she was glad to see that even Barry was fallible to the cold. He didn’t even attempt at leading her off in a run, and instead the pair of them stumbled through the eerily quiet forest. Roberta felt as if she’d been in the woods for an eternity, and leaving her home back in Ridgewood seemed as if it had occurred in another lifetime.
The pair had been continuously trekking downhill, and ahead of them Roberta saw that the woods were once again opening up. As they came to the edge of the trees, Roberta saw that the patch of woodland park in front of them was a mirror image of the one in Ridgewood. A roughly cut patch of grass was hidden beneath snow. The past season’s thistles and nettles were sparkling with icy crystals from the freezing night, and Roberta could see the dirt track which she’d run up only the other evening after she’d crashed the car, smashed the gates and assaulted Susan. Only, there was no sign of the car or gate at all; it was if they’d never existed.
In front of her, the small town of Ridgewood spread out. Whilst most of the windows were dark to the night, Roberta could see that there were wafts of smoke billowing out of chimneys, indicating that whilst not awake, the homes did indeed have occupants. They were the same homes that Roberta knew from her own world, and Gathin seemed to be a very similar place, but with some obvious and dangerous twists.
“Keep low,” Barry whispered in front of her as he slowly crept out across the white plain before them. He inched his way forwards slowly, though Roberta wondered why as they were far from concealed due to the frost and snow about them. It did little to hide two dark clothed individuals. Their feet crunched as they stepped through the fallen inches of frozen water crystals, and with every step Roberta’s feet became so numb that she could hardly feel them. She hunched over, her teeth chattering and her limbs starting to shake violently as hyperthermia started to creep its way into her tissues.
Once past the open land without a problem, the pair were amongst the houses of Ridgewood, and Barry’s pace quickened as he wound his way down several streets. They kept themselves to the shadows and followed dark alleyways where possible, and the medievally narrow paths helped conceal them wherever they scurried. After about five minutes, where Roberta blindly followed Barry’s fast and well trodden path through the maze of small roads, Barry crept upon a single stone house standing on its own. The gate creaked open gently, sending the ridge of snow which had formed on its wrought iron top pattering to the white ground below.
“The snow will cover our tracks,” Barry said as he looked at the sky which was heavy with dark grey clouds. Roberta could hardly focus on his words now, and watched his lips as they moved in front of her without making much sense. He reached forward and took her arm, pulling her through the gateway into the small front garden of the property, down the side alley and into a small and precarious looking lean-to at the back. It was filled with a random assortment of boxes, with a wood pile in one corner. Snow and frost had broken its way in; nature’s way of reclaiming the land for itself.
Going to the window, Barry placed one hand on either side of the frame and nudged the pane of glass, rolling the window up. Roberta felt the blast of heat instantly and warm air rushed out of the house and sparred with the freezing temperatures that were all about her. Pulling her towards him, Barry hauled Roberta onto one of the upturned boxes and pushed her through the window. She crumpled into a heap on the floor and felt the vibration of Barry’s feet landing next to her as he too climbed through the window and rolled it back down to its former position.
The room in which she lay was filthy. The house was very dark, but from the small space that she could see in front of her, Roberta noted that the carpet was thick with dust and grime. She was lying beside a table, the legs of which she saw were covered in thick spindly cobwebs, and though there was a tablecloth hanging from the edge of a wooden dining suite, the fabric was stiff with age and dirt.
Above her, Barry leaned down towards her face and put a finger to his lips. Very gently and quietly he lifted Roberta to her feet and pulled out a lighter from his pocket. He flicked it quickly, causing an orange flame to leap out of the metal canister and provide the pair with the tiniest amount of vision. The door to the room was ajar, and the pair inched their way past it into a narrow and equally as filthy hallway.
“The second step is rotten, the seventh creaks,” Barry whispered as he led Roberta to the bottom of a staircase whose white balustrades look ghostly in the faint light. Roberta used all her focus to stop her numb feet from accidently landing on the second carpeted step of the stairs, but miscounted due to her blurry vision and seemed to fill the entire house with noise as her heavy limbs came down upon step seven. Barry looked around, and though his face was clouded by the dark, Roberta was sure that it would be flushed with irritation.
At the top of the stairs Barry led her directly down a thin hallway into a backroom, before helping to push her up a thick wooden ladder into a small loft space. The warmth here relieved Roberta’s skin, pricking her hair follicles and giving a sense of pleasure and pain in almost the same instant. Roberta couldn’t stop shaking from the bitter cold that her body was experiencing, and though she tried to stop her chattering teeth, her best efforts stiffened her lips only momentarily before the convulsions began again. Though her face and fingers burned, her core shuddered uncontrollably, and it was only thanks to Barry that she managed to move at all. He closed the hatch to the attic behind them and hauled her to a clump of jumbled sheets and bedding, before covering her in a quilt and letting her finally close her eyes.
Roberta awoke and felt coarse fabric brush her skin. She nuzzled into the blankets which she had made warm with her body heat before realising, with rising anxiety, that she was naked. She was swathed in blankets, quilts and pillows, and her modesty was protected, but as she opened her eyes with a squint, she saw that Barry was sitting on a small chair opposite her, gazing in her direction.
“Seen it all before,” he said gruffly, answering her question before it was made. “You’d have been dead already in those clothes.” He cocked his head towards the chimney breast that rose up through the attic space, and Roberta saw that her clothes were hanging against the brickwork. Alongside them hung several items, which she thought to be Barry’s, also drying on the warm wall. There were several bricks at floor level which had been removed, allowing both small amounts of heat and smoke to escape the flue and fill the room.
Looking around the small space, Roberta saw that there was a small window on the wall at the opposite end of the room to the chimney, and beyond the faded and loosely hung net curtains, a bright blue sky shone through the dusty glass, illuminating her surroundings.
“How long have I been here?”
“Couple of days,” Barry replied. “Thought I was gonna lose you at several points. Hyperthermia ‘an all. But, you’re a strong one, I’ll give you that.”
Roberta prepared to sit up and lean forward, but was reminded of her nudeness as she shifted her body and felt cold pockets of air reach her skin. Instead of the huge stretch that she craved, she pushed herself into the corner of the bed and pulled the sheets up around herself.
“Thanks for looking after me,” Roberta said quietly as she looked back to Barry’s still and uprightly sitting frame.
“No, no, none of that,” he said gruffly, rejecting her thanks and putting a hand to his face to scratch the greying whiskers that were creeping over his face. Barry eyed her suspiciously, his chiselled jaw firm and his eyes narrow. “How you made it through I don’t know. It’s not easy, that’s for sure. Had help I bet?”
Roberta nodded. Having awoken from a deep slumber, the last thing she wanted to recount was the horrifying turmoil that her mind had taken as she attempted to enter the gates of Gathin. It all seemed so distant now, even though it was a mere few days earlier. Faces floated into her mind, and she caught Sam’s smile in her consciousness ever so briefly, before it faded away again. Her mind was complete again. No surging anger. No turmoil. No loss of concentration. Yet, Roberta still found it hard to recall the people who had helped her fend off the Ammokra’s attempts to take her life.
“There were some,” Roberta said at length as she continued to reach out to the faces in her mind. She glanced around the dusty attic again, before turning her attention back to Barry. “Where are we?”
“It’s one of my hideouts scattered about town. Crippled woman lives downstairs. Can’t get up here. Almost blind. Deaf. How she survives I don’t know. Still, provides me with a place to hide when I need it.”
“I need to get out of here,” Roberta said, looking directly at Barry as she sat up and clamped the dirty sheet under her arms to protect her modesty. “I need to get back to normality and sort out the mess I’ve left behind.”
“Normality?” Barry questioned, “There’s none of that. You can’t just waltz outta here and back to Ridgewood. You think I’ve been locked here for 10 years out of pleasure?”
He pushed himself out of the uncomfortable looking wooden chair and stooped underneath the low roof. “Normality is something you’ll never have again, and you best put the notion out of your mind before it really takes hold.” Barry’s voice was rough and uncaring, and it started to dawn upon Roberta that getting out of Gathin could prove harder than getting in.
“You’ve been the only one keeping me going haven’t you?” Barry said, so quietly that Roberta almost didn’t hear him. Roberta made to speak, but realised that Barry wasn’t talking to her at all, and she saw him move towards a spot on the wall where a small photograph was hung. He pulled it off the rough timber frame and into his hands, his thumb making only the slightest of caresses to the image.
Curiosity overcame Roberta, and she lifted herself gently off the bed, still wrapped in sheeting, and swept across the floor.
“Martha,” Roberta said, as she neared the spot where Barry was turned away from her and saw the youthful picture that he was holding. Instinctively she drew close, trying to see in image with more clarity in the dim light.
“Keep away from that,” Barry said aggressively, pushing her hand away viciously. “You don’t touch this, do you hear? If I find you near her, we’re done. I’ll throw you into that cold ridden street myself and let the wolves rip out your innards.”
“I’m sorry,” Roberta said quickly, shrinking away from the man who towered over her, shocked by the outburst. “Martha never gave up, Barry, she was there when I fell. She knows you’re still alive.”
Barry turned upon her quickly, his face boiling with anger. “You leave Martha out of this. She’s nothing to do with you. Why do you spread such lies?”
“It’s true,” Roberta pleaded quickly. “She was there, with me and Susan Lingly. I didn’t realise until the very end, but it seems like they were almost one step ahead of me the entire time.”
“Lingly? The dead girl’s mother?” Barry questioned, his flushed face subsiding a little as his brow furrowed.
“Yes, the meat before you. I didn’t know that Martha knew the mother,” Barry mused.
“They work together in Susan’s bookshop,” Roberta said, trying to ignore the fact that Barry had described Vanessa Lingly as meat. She noticed the cold, and moved back towards the bed. Barry tacked the picture of an extremely youthful looking Martha back onto the wall, before moving to the chimney breast and fingering his way through the drying clothes.
“I’ve missed a lot,” Barry said quietly. “To think that she was so close, after all these years.”
He broke off and the room quietened, the only sounds coming from where Barry’s hands felt for moisture within their previously river drenched garments.
Taking a moment to let the atmosphere cool a little, Roberta huddled herself amongst the sheets in an attempt to get her body heat filling up the cold spaces underneath the material. The bed was close to the chimney breast, and she could feel that there was some slight warmth which must have emanated from a fire on lower floors. However, the winter coldness which penetrated the attic vanquished what little warmth there was into the bitter air leaving little comfort.
“Barry,” Roberta said softly, “How do we get home?”
“With difficulty. You were brought here for a reason, and all of Gathin’s looking for you now.”
Barry snorted slightly and looked in Roberta’s direction. “Yes, brought here. You don’t think you stumbled upon that corpse accidently do you? There was a reason you were guided to her, to the Ammokra. Why all doors were locked that night, leading you through the dormitories.” He smiled as he saw recognition upon her face. “They have a plan for you Roberta, so getting out’s gonna be more difficult than ever.”
“But how do I get out?” Roberta asked, a darkening feeling already descending to her stomach.
“You kill,” Barry replied. “You take down as many as you can, and you hope to God that you make it out in time.”