The mist cleared some more as we reached the river. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. I almost forgot about Jack. Trees dipped their branches in the water and fish swished and swam around the rocks. The remains of the mist swirled around the tops of the trees like smoke.
We had to jump onto rocks to get across. The water rushed under our feet and between boulders as we hopped from one rock to the other. I slipped, and Byron gripped my hand to keep me from falling in. My legs were unsteady as my feet touched the ground on the other side of the river. I breathed hard, and my lungs were on fire. We hadn’t even reached the halfway mark yet.
A troop of monkeys ran across the trail and bounded into the forest as Byron urged me onward. I could quite happily have throttled him.
“You’ll thank me when we get to the top. The view is amazing,” Byron said, as he patted me on the back. “And just think how good this will be for your muscle tone.”
“Isn’t that the same view that we have from our cabin?”
“No. It’s completely different. You’ll see.”
I was anything but convinced.
We carried on trudging deeper into the valley and crossed the river again. Then the ascent started slowly and painfully. The odd glimpse of a deer made the hike more bearable.
We were close to the top when I slid on loose stones. I managed to get my hands between my face and the ground in time and scampered the short distance to the top on all fours with my arse in the air like a monkey. Byron couldn’t stop laughing.
“You okay, Babe?” he asked between chuckles.
“I’ll survive,” I said while picking gravel out of my palms. Stretching my aching back muscles and legs, I turned and surveyed the view. It was spectacular.
“You see what I mean?” Byron asked. “Isn’t it worth it?”
“Not sure I’ll go that far, but it is a stunning view.”
The wind direction changed and became icy. I shivered. The mist that had been on the verge of dissipating reappeared in full force and enveloped us.
Jack’s face stood out in relief from the mist, like a cloud. He towered over us and picked Byron up by his throat. Byron’s legs dangled in the air, kicking as he struggled.
“Put him down, Jack,” I screamed.
He squeezed tighter. Byron’s legs kicked less as his struggles became weaker.
“Please, Jack,” I begged. “You’re killing him.”
“That’s the general idea,” Jack said between clenched teeth.
“Why?” Tears dribbled down my cheeks. “What did he do to you?”
“Do to me?” he shouted as he dropped Byron. “That’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?” I knelt next to Byron and checked for a pulse. It was weak, but he was still alive, unconscious, but alive. I sighed as relief flooded over me.
“Just get rid of him,” Jack shouted and disappeared, leaving me to deal with Byron’s unconscious body and a whole lot of difficult questions I would have to answer once he woke up.
Carol was getting closer. Another hour and she’d be knocking on Sarah’s cabin door. It had been so easy getting the information from Sarah’s gullible mother. Just a simple sob story and the old bag had given her the details of Sarah’s romantic little getaway.
“Where exactly do you think you’re going?” Jack’s voice hissed from the passenger seat.
“Why do you insist on asking a question when you already know the answer?” Carol refused to look at him. She focused on the pockmarked road in front of her. If she looked at him, he’d turn into someone or something vile. He always did that to her when she was driving. A few weeks before, he’d taken on the form of Uncle Martin and tried to convince her to plunge her Honda off an overpass onto the N1 South. She came very close to doing it. The thought of how many other people she would have taken with her and the chaos it would have caused on the highway had made it an exciting idea. Going out in a blaze. But what if she’d survived? It was that thought that had prevented her from plummeting off the bridge.
“I know I’ve been a touch preoccupied lately and I’m sorry if you’re feeling neglected. I’ll try harder to give you my undivided attention.” The sarcasm dripped with his every word. The warning was loud and clear. She was heading into dangerous territory, but she’d come this far. She couldn’t turn back.
“Carol, turn this car around before I get really annoyed with you,” Jack hissed. “And the ignoring thing you’re doing doesn’t work. Trust me. Smarter people than you have tried that and failed.”
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel.
“Fine. We’ll play it that way then.” Jack’s voice changed into that of her mother’s. “You’re so tense.” Fingers rubbed the back of her neck. It was a strange sensation. She knew the fingers belonged to Jack, but they felt exactly like her mother’s. They were rough and callused, just like her mother’s, whereas Jack’s fingers were smooth, snake-like and creepy. An unwelcome shiver ran up her spine. Taking a furtive glance towards the passenger seat, her breath caught. She regretted it the moment she looked. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She knew better. Jack was the exact image of her mother. He had her down perfectly, from the clothes she wore to the reproachful look in her eye. Her fingers kept massaging Carol’s neck in slow circles. That was the only thing Jack got wrong. Her mother would never massage her stiff neck.
“I know that, sweetie. I also know your one true wish is for your mother to love you and today your wish comes true.” His voice was honey laced with acid
Michael stared at the phone for a few minutes, while he decided what to do. The phone call from Carol’s father had been a shock. When a parent was worried about what a child might do to someone else, it was always wise to heed their warning. Carol had called her father in hysterics and told him that someone else held the key to her survival and that she was going to find that person and make them help her. Carol’s father hadn’t known who she meant, but Michael had a very good idea. He couldn’t stay out of it. He had to warn Sarah. Picking up his phone again he punched in Sarah’s cell number. The reception was surprisingly good out there, and Sarah never went anywhere without her phone. Maybe if he reached her in time, she could get out of Carol’s way or at least prepare herself for what was coming.
He waited for the sound of the cell ringing on the other end, but it didn’t ring.
“The subscriber you have dialled is not available at present. Please try again later,” a mechanical sounding woman’s voice said, and the line went dead.
“Dammit,” he said as he tossed his phone back onto the desk.
Standing up, he put his cell in his pocket and made his way across his office. His new assistant, a first-year psychology student, sat behind her cheap reception desk. He still couldn’t afford her but nor did he have the time to answer his phone anymore. Having her sit outside his office also gave him the veneer of a successful practice.
“Cancel the rest of my appointments for today and tomorrow,” he said. Ingrid started to protest. “Just do it,” he said putting his hand up to silence her. It was going to be an expensive exercise, and he didn’t have the energy to argue with a nineteen-year-old. He also didn’t know how he was going to explain to Mark that he was going to miss their anniversary dinner.
Lightning split the sky, illuminating the demonic figures standing in the deluge. Bael turned from his window with an empty Martini glass in his hand and found Gäap standing at the entrance to his chamber, watching him with an amused smile on his face.
“The Most High One sent me,” Gäap said with a slight bow.
“Oh,” Bael said, trying to stand up straight. “She let you leave her bed? Not performing your duties as well as you’re expected?”
“I’m going to ignore that. You’re drunk and don’t know what you’re saying. I’ll get straight to the point. She believes that we should let it play out. Let him carry on doing what he’s doing.”
“I see,” Bael’s speech was slightly slurred. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“Ours is not to question, but to obey.” Gäap examined his long, sharp nails. “She knows what she’s doing.” He shrugged. “She’s intrigued.”
“Is She? I sometimes wonder if she does the things she does simply to amuse herself, and we are merely here to entertain her.”
“I wouldn’t say that too loud or to someone who’ll take it seriously old friend.”
“Thank you,” he swayed but managed to stand upright, even though he could have sworn the room was tilted at a strange angle. He ignored Gäap’s snigger. It surprised Bael that Gäap was so forgiving. He was known for his sharp tongue – in more ways than one and not for his good nature. Nothing in the demon community made the mistake of verbally duelling with Gäap, The Most High One’s most trusted advisor and bed warmer.
Thunder rolled in the background as Bael tried to stay on his feet. He noticed a drop of water forming on the ceiling and then it fell onto his ancient Persian carpet with a splat. None of the buildings on this side of the veil were built for rain. The thought of what would happen made him stumble over to his bar and pour another Martini for himself and one for Gäap, who downed his before Bael had even managed to find the rim of his glass with his lips.