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Excerpt for The Secret of V by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



THE


SECRET


OF


V



A N O V E L L A





BY

Wispian Grey


Contents



Chapter 1 ~ Behind The Gap


Chapter 2 ~ Returning


Chapter 3 ~ The Shack In The Woods


Chapter 4 ~ Upshot Of The Knock


Chapter 5 ~ Goodnight Forever


Chapter 6 ~ The Red Book Of Secrets


Chapter 7 ~ Unanswered Questions


Chapter 8 ~ Down Into Darkness


Chapter 9 ~ The Black & The Gold


Chapter 10 ~ Searching V


Chapter 11 ~ The Handover Of Power


Chapter 1

Behind The Gap


AT THE GAP in the wall they stand, all three gazing blankly. Behind them, a steep rampart-like slope inclosed by jagged rocks. Above, impossibly high, grey daylight peeks in through a natural skylight.

"We should go back," says V.

"I'm not climbing that ladder again," says O, scratching behind one of his knees.

"I agree," says Y.

"With whom?" says V.

"With him," says Y. "I agree with O. That ladder scared the pants off a me. Climbing up was bad enough. Going back down would turn me inside out. Me arms are jelly. Look!" He waves and flops his arms about like a confounded octopus.

V beholds Y with concealed disdain.

O discharges a snide cough before moving closer to the gap in the wall of rock.

"We can fit through," he says feeling into the moist cleft. "I'm sure we can. It looks to me like it leads somewhere."

"How the hell do you know that?" says V. "It could lead anywhere. Or nowhere. Or worse still to a place we won't be able to get out of. It'll be black as pitch in there. We'd never be able to see where we're going. If one of you duffers hadn't dropped the flashlight I'd probably hazard a look. Let's go back."

Ignoring V, O edges into and through the gap.

"I'm going in as well," says Y following O. "It's shimmy time, boyo."

Internally shaking his head, V watches as Y (like O) shuffles from view.

Hands on hips, eyes narrowing, V thinks: Why am I always surrounded by fools? Not one but two! … Maybe I should go? Get the hell outta here. Leave them to it. (Go-go-go, just go!) But I promised I would … Damned impetuous fools!

Feeling responsible and somewhat left out - at heart he's an adventurous soul - V moves reluctantly to the gap. "You two," he says, "what's in there? What can you see?"

- No response.

"What's it like in there?" says V.

Again silence from his two out-of-sight companions.


Fleet memories of a storybook V read as a child, in which a flame-haired girl is duped by a trio of dirty-kneed boys: Ruffians she called them: Ruffians n' ragamuffins. And as a consequence of the smiling boys' duplicity, the girl falls into a river and nearly drowns, only to be saved by a mysterious benevolent creature. - Memories of a childhood fairytale floating subconsciously in the depths of V's mind, too faraway to focus into a picture of forewarning.


Sighing, his heart-rate escalating, V grudgingly sticks a leg and an arm into the beckoning gap.

H e s i t a t i o n

He looks back, then, tentatively, he edges through …

After three maybe four steps into the still darkness on the other side (three maybe four steps) his right foot fails to find the ground (it fails) and emitting a truncated howl the person labelled V plummets into what can only be defined as a black void.


He plummets,

blankly,

into the mute terror

of abysmal nothing.


A short mesmerizing silence … followed by sharp whispers and nudging movements … until one after the other O and Y sneak like escaped shadows back through the gap in the wall, returning to the space with the rampart-like slope inclosed by jagged rocks.

"Got him," says Y coldly.

"Yeah," says O looking up at the natural skylight. "It worked."


Chapter 2

Returning


AT THE BASE of the ladder O retrieves the flashlight he had hidden prior to the three ascending to the upper chamber.

Pinching the skin near his Adam's apple Y says: "There's no way he could … you know …"

O shakes his head. "The old man said the hole goes down for miles. Some kind of internal gorge."

"I wonder what's at the bottom," says Y.

"Don’t worry your noggin about that," says O. "I'm sure our miserable buddy is custard. What a tedious slug he was."

"He reminded me of a bulldog crossed with a toff," says Y.

O smiles.

"If the hole goes down for miles," says Y, "maybe he's still falling."

O laughs. "Yeah." Then more seriously: "Don't talk daft."

The flashlight's silver beam leads O and Y back to where they had hatched their plot. A hushed tête-à-tête while their victim-to-be snoozed was all it took.

Dear reader, I saw them, I heard them, almost every word, I knew what they were about to do before they did it. And now I see them again: self-satisfied, triumphant, their devious minds pleasured by a dose of simple evil.

From protective shadows I watch.

Y is young, scrawny, barely a man.

O's form is perturbing, insect-like, almost alien, his unmistakeable gait reminiscent of … some kind of … oh I can't think! - (my attention is too preoccupied with advantageous designs).

They pass me.

The sweet smell of sweat.

Unwholesome auras.

Dark, skittish minds.

Troll-like flesh and bone.

I watch.

I listen.

"We go back to the old man," says O. "Tell him what's happened and get what's ours."

"D'you think the old goat will keep to his promise?" says Y.

"He'd better," says O, his accent strangely effete.

"Maybe we could … you know … once we get what's ours we could …"

"No you twisted goose!" says O, sneering playfully.

The archway of the exit reveals itself as a rugged semicircle of almond light. I observe the two silhouettes as they re-enter the declining day.

Internally I am nodding my head. Or am I shaking it? Whichever. It matters not now. But there is no need to rush. No imperative to follow them without delay. I know where they are headed. I know. This vague terrain has become to me like a home from home. I have labelled it my Soul Zone. Don't ask me why. Let's just say I enjoy inventing labels for things, and Soul Zone is a workable label for this isolated place, this vague terrain, this dark internal region.

In my shadowed alcove I stand, my back against primordial rock, the fingers of my right hand turning over a small chunk of amethyst crystal.

The old man they mentioned, the so-called old goat, what could he have promised those two no-marks to make them do what they have just done?

V is for Victim.

Y is for Young.

O is for …

Oh let's not pretend. I'm writing this account after the event. Not only after the event (viz. the subtle and cunning execution of the unfortunate V) but after everything.

Everything? you say. What do I mean by everything?

Everything after the Change.

Everything after the Event.

Everything after I got my hands on "it".

That is what I mean by everything.

Dear reader, dear faraway curious reader, no doubt I am confusing you with my abstract words … Yes, I can sense your puckered brow. I apologise. But what I want to do now is place myself back there as though the bulk of my escapade has not yet occurred. I want to revive and relive the recent past in the present. I desire to exploit the memory of my greatest discovery one more time. It's a simple desire, one which I feel inclined to do.

And so I shall.


Reignite the memories

Relaunch the visions and the voices


O and Y returned to the old man. Of course they did. I followed in their wake, not seeing them once.

The disused viaduct - they traversed it.

(So do I.)

The sculptured hills - they descended them.

(So do I.)

The buttercup meadow - they stomped through it like disgruntled soldiers.

(So do I.)

The whispering wood - they entered it.

(As do I.)

My reader, it was and shall forever be an almond-grey evening, as still as a sleeping witch sated and spent after unutterable foulness. And I see it, I feel it, for there it is: the candlelight in the little square window of the old man's secluded shack. Once again I am here.


Chapter 3

The Shack In The Woods


CUT ME DOWN! cries the tree next to a pile of rotting junk - car tyres, bed springs, rusting hunks of metal, snarls of fabric and planks of wood - some of it partially burnt, most obviously an obliquely lodged tallboy and several archery targets.

Cut - me - down.

With a sympathetic palm I pat the tree's wizened trunk before concealing myself behind it.

I will wait, I will watch, picturing myself as a dark-eyed misfit, which, it should be noted, is what I am. That's a straightforward label for a straightforward down-to-earth outcast, insightful and beautifully ignored. A Dark-eyed Misfit: the loose thread on the frays of this peculiar immersion. And while the sun undoubtedly sets behind the mantle of close cloud, half-truths and presumptive fragments flutter through my mind like pale butterflies …


tis August

unyielding summer

the third of the eighth38

deep summer in England

the old man

the old goat

is he English?

what's his name?

what's he doing out here in the sticks?

(in the boondocks)

what does he look like?

does he resemble the image in my head:

wiry charcoal beard

thin crooked nose

puffy sacks under the eyes

hair so wild you could brush the floor with it

(or start a fire)

he greets the returning scoundrels O and Y

he nearly jumps for joy

his wrinkles

his missing teeth

his leathery neck

his bad back

his Rumpelstiltskinian knees

(his what?)

he croaks like a roused toad:

That boy was the scourge of my life!

The bane of my existence!

He beat me!

Tortured me!

Was sucking out my soul!

The stinkard was devouring me!

I'm so glad he is gone!

Amen!

Thank God!

I don't believe in God but happy days!

He's gone!

Banished!

The curse is over!

Huzzah!

Thank you, thank you!

Here!

Take it!

It's yours!

The reward!

Take it, take it!

the bounty

the booty

the glittering prize

the motivation for manipulation and murder

the incentive to do-away with V

what is it? (this bounty, this booty)

what's in it?

what is it for?

question marks flutter hither and thither

(like pale butterflies) …


Nightfall. The candle flame behind the small thinly veiled window casts amber smudges into the descending dark. The tired tree creaks. A sudden uncanny feeling excites shivers.

Huh? … A burst of tinny music blaring from the shack's inside. Short-lived. The vision of what lies before me incrementally sharpens. I watch, I see, I hear a sustained yet muffled baritone note. Burrrrrrrrrrrrr. It commingles with an assertive hand heralding the opening of the door.

O appears first, that unmistakable gait almost clawing into the gloom. He stops to light a cigarette. A long, deep drag followed by a flood-flow of exhaled smoke.

Y emerges with a screwed-up face muttering this and that. (Gabble.) I can't make out what he's saying.

I watch, unseen, as the two miscreants set off with earnest strides into the young night, the silvery dancing beam of their flashlight leading the way.


Chapter 4

Upshot Of The Knock


WITH A FURTIVE bearing I manoeuvre myself from the tree to the door, where for several seconds I pause considering my strategy and the possible consequences of knocking.

What if - (etcetera, etcetera) - no need to repeat the mundane.

For several seconds I am frozen near the door of the shack, the front of my brain throwing about concerns to do with my strategy and the potential consequences of knocking, which I inevitably do - knock-knock-knock - like that, in the common, slightly unsure mode.

(SIDE NOTE. The door is ridiculously flimsy. If I so chose I could easily elbow it open or kick a hole in it.)

Reversing time I eventually knock on the door.

tap

tap

tap

Wondrous moments of twilight stillness, of crepuscular deadlock, until -

"Yes?" says a voice from the other side. (The old man, the old goat.) "Yes?" he says a second time. "Who's there? Who's out there?"

[Deep breath]: "What did you give them?" I say with a calm yet daunting intonation.

A short tantalizing silence.

"Who's there?" says the old man's voice from the other side of the flimsy door. "Who are you? What do you mean? What do you want?"

"As payment for doing your dirty work," I say, "what did you give them?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says. (Strains of panic, fear, bewildered anger.) "Remove yourself from my property at once!"

"Come on, goat-boy," I say changing tack, "just tell us what it was you gave the two shitheels and we'll leave, we'll go."

Another short silence.

(Good use of us and we, I thought, but shitheels … did I really mean to use that word!?)

Unconvincingly the old man responds with a mumble.

"What?" I say.

"A key," he says limply.

"A key for what?" I say.

"A box," he says.

"What kind of box?"

"Just an everyday ordinary box," he says.

"What's in it?" I say.

"What's in what?" he says.

"The box," I say.

"Something precious," he says.

"How precious? …"

- No reply.

"Precious enough to motivate someone to kill somebody?" I say.

"Maybe," he says (faintly).

"Where is the box located?" I say.

"Who are you?" he says.

"Tell me where the box is located and I'll leave you alone, I'll go."

"You've said that already," he says.

"Just give us the info, goat-man," I say. "Just tell us where the box is and all will end well this night."

The shadow of a head fluctuates briefly at the curtained window.

I hear a snapping sound: a clunk, a click.

Precautionary (and sagacious) sixth sense sidesteps my form once to my left.

"Why you asking all these galling questions?" the old man says, almost growling. "Who the devil are you? Get the hell away from my house!"

"Or what?" I say goading the escalating grudge.

Snarling uncertainty from the old man.

"Just tell us what we want to know," I say, "and we'll keep your dirty secret. We won't tell a soul. Not a dickie-bird. Where's the precious box? Where are the two scoundrels going with that key?"

A tense, threatening silence.

(What next?)

I'll tell you what - BANG - an almighty blast from behind the door, which shudders on its hinges. Seconds later, the door sheepishly creaks ajar.

!?

Leaning back, steadying myself against a water drum, I encourage the door to open further with the tip of my right boot.

Not a toot from the old man.

Not a sound not a sigh.

Forward motion and my vision penetrates the threshold.

Buzzing dust - capricious sparkles - a short spellbinding lull.

Dear oh dear.

Um. I thought so. I guessed as much.

Ogh, terrible.

The blast was from a shotgun.

More specifically from a backfiring one.

Ouch.

Big malfunction.

My visual apparatus beholds the shack's proprietor lying supine on the dusty floor, the right side of his body decorated with blood.

Rich crimson. Shiny carmine.

Stepping over a fallen broom and some decaying apple peel, I enter the small abode, the home of the potentially dead old man.

I enter, as quietly as a giant mouse, softly closing the flimsy undamaged door behind me.


Chapter 5

Goodnight Forever


HE ISN'T WHAT I expected, the old man, appearance-wise. He's stocky, quite muscular, bald with a thick grey moustache. On the left side of his face there's a sickle-shaped birthmark.

(Is he dead?)

I check for a pulse, for the beating of a heart …

Nothing. After much feeling and listening I fail to detect either.

But man he's ugly.

No, that's cruel. I don't mean it.

Actually, on second thoughts, perhaps I do. His chin looks as though it belongs to another person, and his ears are like bizarro vegetables. He's ugly alright. Butters, as the chavs might say. His face reminds me of a squashed sandwich. I don't consider myself to be particularly judgmental when it comes to a person's exterior but the vibe coming from his motionless form twists my insides. The pre-expiry indignation is palpable. This guy's escaped energy is the type that'll turn into a festering ghost. Gah. The phrase ugly-as-sin comes unavoidably to mind. There's a lot of sinning gone into the making of that face. But is he really dead? I find it hard to believe that he is. The wound seems superficial. Maybe his heart just stopped? Zoot - the shock. The shock of the gun backfiring. The shock must have done it. Yes. Suddenness can kill. And by the looks of this old sinner, it just has.

Say it again so I won't forget.

SUDDENNESS CAN KILL.

SUDDENNESS CAN BE A KILLER.

Twice in the space of a few hours I have seen it happen with my own eyes.

Two deaths in one day.

One exceptional day.


So he gave them a so-called key as a reward for leading the unfortunate V to the so-called internal gorge through that gap in the wall of rock. A key to a box. Just an everyday ordinary box with something precious locked inside.

Exactly what kind of box I wonder …

A safety deposit box?

A buried box containing money?

A treasure chest?

A puzzle-box, a music box?

Hm.

I should get back on the trail of the two scoundrels, O and Y. They will lead me straight to it.

With keen eyes I scan the shack's interior … Bed, chest of drawers, cupboard, a small table and chair, other stuff - all neither here nor there (on the face of it).

I failed to coax the necessary information out of the old man. He did himself in before I could syphon the location and contents of the alleged reward box. In hindsight my strategy was too menacing … too abstract … too … I should have been friendlier. I should have precooked a back story. Maybe if the untrusting fool had opened his flimsy door to me I … Oh lingering here any longer is pointless!

On the small table my scanning eyes fix on a book.

On the small wooden table near the bed I see a dog-eared book entitled Shaking Off The Dust Of Fate, authored by Felicity Rose Black.

Who's she?

Never heard of her.

Shaking Off The Dust Of Fate: some piddling self-help guff. Quasi-religious psychobabble for godless god-hungry kooks.

Fruitcakery.

New Age fiddle-faddle.

Hocus-pocus hanky-panky.

I take the book from the table, open it at the middle and place it pages-down on the old man's writhen face.

The printed words soak into his broken-down mind.

"Goodnight forever," I say, daring to care.


Chapter 6

The Red Book Of Secrets


WITH A TREMBLING finger on the door's latch, something stops me. That sixth sense again.

I look back. The candle's flame dithers. Uneasy shadows bend and sway. I let go of the latch. What's that? protruding from beneath the pillow on the bed …

Giving the old man a wide berth (in case he is merely playing dead) - an unlikely scenario I know, but I don't want to be tripped up by the inexplicable suddenness of an outstretched grasping white-knuckled hand. Suddenness can kill, remember. I've seen it happen twice already. Two dead in the space of a day. This has been one helluva day.

But what is that, just there, poking out from beneath the swollen pillow? That's the something that stopped me. That's it, right there.

I reach for it, and in the same movement sit on the bed's pale woollen coverlet.

What is it? … Hm, a little book, with a red jacket, a diary of sorts, full of scribbled memoranda and abstruse sketches … (A key. A box. A key entering the keyhole of a box. A box lid opening. A big smile of teeth ascending. Har-har-har. Gnash-gnash-gnash.) - Oh my, do I have a second chance to examine the old man's intimate thoughts? Is this where I uncover the concealed?

My impatience leads me to the last pages and the last entry:


When the deed is done

When he is a goner

When those nitwits have lived out my wish

I will pay them with the key

The key to the box - !!

Then I'll return to the scene of the crime

And take it

Twill be mine!

I'll take it from the dread fool's corpse

Soon it will be in my Hand

Soon soon soon

Soon oh soon!

Soon soon soon soon soon soon soon!!


I stand, eyes closed, sensing an incredible victory.

What serendipitous boon awaits behind the gap in the wall of rock? - the scene of the crime.

The old man had a plan, a duplicitous stratagem to rid himself of V by using O and Y to perform the deed with the promise of a bogus reward.

Then he was to return alone to V's corpse and take "it" - whatever it is.

What could it be? …

The old man needed V's dead body to be somewhere safe, somewhere out of sight and (supposedly) out of reach, so he could return there at a later hour and retrieve "it" - whatever it is.

I wonder what it could be? …

He persuaded O and Y into doing away with V beyond the gap in the wall with the promise of revealing to them the secret location of the so-called box, which, as he told me, contains something precious.

"I have the key," he probably said to O and Y. "All you need to do is lead him" (V) "through the gap in the upper chamber. As long as you don't take more than three steps you'll be fine. He, however, won't know that. Tis dark in there. Dark as the necromancer's heart. Just make sure you ain't got anything on you that will illuminate the internal gorge. The shadows must blindfold him. With any luck he'll take one step too many and … yes, my brothers, he'll plummet like a sack of stones into a black eternity."

Standing near the bed in the old man's ramshackle den, my blest face being teased by the candle-flame's uneasy motions, I open my eyes sensing - yes! - an incredible victory.


Chapter 7

Unanswered Questions


THE GAP IN the wall: five words I have grown to love. I return there armed with a makeshift torch, a bottle of turps, a box of matches and an apple, all snaffled from the dead old coot's cluttered closet.

Outside, a starless sky and not a whisper of wind: as still as a sleeping witch sated and spent after unutterable foulness. (I've used that line once already. No matter. Is not repetition the simple mode of normality?) But it's warm, dear reader. As warm as fresh abundant nature: deep summer in England: ah, mysteriously romantic, wistful, fey, lush. Wondrously I'm on tenterhooks. I can almost hear the pensive adagio of some neglected symphony …

My anonymous form moves purposely through the charcoal night nonchalantly munching the stolen apple. It tastes good, like victory. Sweet, tangy, juicy, crunchy. That's the flavour and texture of triumph, my curious friends.

O see my merry form gliding dreamfully through the enchanted night. (Am I Puck? Robin Goodfellow? Shellycoat? Pandora? on my way to mischief, munching my red apple of deceit …)

Near the entrance to the caves I uncork the turpentine and dowse the rags I've wrapped round a sturdy stick.

The sweep of a match against the sandpaper strip brings forth delicious light.

With the rags lit I truly have a flambeau, and suddenly I feel like an ancient explorer. Truly I do. "Press on, spelunker," I say to myself facetiously. "Press on, bold adventurer. Grave secrets await ye …"

Climbing the ladder to the so-named upper chamber proves (as usual) to be an arduous task. Thirty-eight rungs in a narrow shaft, sprinkles of grit all the while falling into my hair and mouth. One slip could mean curtains, so I dampen my disquiet by speculating (no fantasizing!) about what the "it" could be situated on the goner V's person beyond the gap.

What is it that made the old man hatch such a pernicious plot? What could it be that the stranger I call V has with him at all times? What makes it so precious, so secret and so desired?

I have questions, questions.

I need answers, answers.

I fantasize …

(Those fantasies have long been forgotten. The mind-boggling truth of this matter instantly erased them from my memory.)

At the top of the ladder I throw the flambeau ahead onto the ground so I can heave myself out of the shaft. Almost immediately the flame dies and I'm plunged into darkness. Struggling somewhat (read: fumbling on hands and knees, panicking slightly) I quickly regain my composure to strike a match. Ah, once again the gorgeous orange-gold combustion restores vision.

But I'm shaking.

T r e m b l i n g

A tad unsteady.

Fear and excitement is a potent mixture, yet I tell myself I am an ancient explorer, truly, unfeignedly, and there it is, brave sir, a few paces away: the gap in the wall of rock.

It grins at me grimly like a black vertical mouth. I could kiss it, penetrate it, blast my appreciation into its clammy cracks.

What lies beyond?

What awaits this adventurer's curiosity and courage?

Questions questions.

I need answers answers.

I waste no time in finding out.

Like O and Y before me, like V himself, I edge sidelong through the mysterious gap.


Chapter 8

Down Into Darkness


THE OLD MAN'S notebook has informed me of three crucial details.

The first: Once through the gap in the rock-wall, do not take more than three steps.

Duly noted.

Second: The internal gorge is in fact a crude pit, roughly thirty to forty metres deep.

Got it.

And the third: There is a ledge on the left side that leads to a slope by which one can descend to the bottom of the pit.

Understood.

Right then, let us continue.

-

On the other side of the gap I comprehend where O and Y must have crouched while awaiting V's naïve attendance before he fell like a stone. - And there it is … the dancing light of my flambeau illuminates the treacherous precipice no more than a few feet before me.

Creeping forward I crane to peer down into the abyssal silence.

Black.—Void.—Chilling.—Blank.

In order to plan V's untimely end the old man must have stood on this very spot many times. Half closing my eyes I sense the residue of his deviant machinations, his wraith-like imaginings and his conniving conceit … ( - a warped psyche hellbent on something unexpected and unique, something perplexing and dark-hearted, something incomparable and inexplicable!)

Again I comprehend where O and Y must have hunkered like unsavoury schoolboys as they awaited V's presence before he took the fatal fall.

Their devilish treachery disturbs me: Sick to the core, bad to the bone - this is what I'm thinking as (turning left) I cautiously make my way along the precarious ledge.

Gingerly does it.

Gingerly, gingerly.

Never more than a couple of feet from the precipice, my attention is manically fixed on the golden-black rock beneath my boots.

My right fist grips the flambeau, which is extended in front of me like a flaming sword. The other hand steps (as though a duck's foot) upon the cold uneven mass of rock to my left. I'm shunting along wondering how wide the circumference of the pit actually is.

Surely the old man wouldn't lie to himself, or delude himself, or …?

No, of course not. How stupid. What frantic and illogical thoughts, for look, there is the promised slope, its beginning troubled by what I spontaneously label a nuisance dip.

I negotiate this awkward decline by sitting down and dropping to the start of the slope proper. Balance is everything. If I were just a smidge drunk like I was yesterday (and the day before) (and the day before that!) I'd probably be a goner (like V). This is what I'm muttering to myself as I progress down further. The pit is inches to my right. Inches!


B L A c K

V O I D

C H I L L I N g

B L A N k


Down I go, as slow as slime.

Down into darkness, into the inner mysteries of this outlandish happenstance, intensely in love with every raw and rare second.


Chapter 9

The Black & The Gold


IT'S A MAGICAL thing, finding oneself adventurously alone, armed only with a primitive light-source deep within the daunting silence of a secret place …

A magical thing, dear reader. I pray you will one day know it as I have.

The floor of the pit is surprisingly flat. Underfoot it feels like sand, or perhaps not unlike thousands upon thousands of tiny ball bearings. For a moment I fret about the possibility of becoming stuck or sinking.

- An irrational thought.

Useless!

Unhelpful!

I sharply dismiss it by tapping the top of my sternum.

Get back to reality, jitterbones.

At the vanishing point of the flambeau's glow I espy a dark mass. - Is it him, the one I named V? … He. The one. V for victim, V for varmint. I believe it is.

I approach, slowly, every step closer revealing more of his disagreeable impact with the forgotten pit's Stygial base.

The poor lost soul - blotted out.

After pushing the flambeau into the damp grainy dirt so it stands on its own, I look up into the wavering bronze shadows. It must have been a terrifying descent. A quick second to death. Goodnight forever.

So what is it? What is the thing on him that the old man was so keen to get his nefarious mitts on?

I touch V's coat.

I pull at it so he rolls over onto his back.

Soundless exclamations flash.

Oh.

His face is a mess - a terrible, ghastly mess - crushed on one side like a deflated football. And his neck looks hideously snapped.

For a long moment I wince and almost cower. What an atrocious and horrific sight …

Breathing deeply I step over him in order to nudge his legs so they are aligned with his upper half. One of them, his left leg, it's … argh. Let's just say that if it wasn't for his trousers you could probably tug it away from the lion's share.

Clearly and sternly I reiterate my purpose for being here.

What is it? What is the "it" that the scheming old rat of the woodland shack was so eager to get his paws on?

I touch one of V's cold lifeless hands. Rigor mortis is plain.

Dear faraway reader, none of this is my doing. None of it. Remember that. If there's an innocent party here, it is I. They all brought it on themselves. Even V, who according to the old man was a tormentor and an emotional parasite … (Or did I make that up?) -

Um, yes, whatever. Never mind. None of that matters now. I got lucky. Fortuna smiled on me. In the golden darkness I should have praised her name and offered euphoric thanks.

But two are dead and the other two are long gone in search of a box that contains nothing but a worthless reward.

Those murderous no-marks deserved a wild goose chase. I hope they're happy with their miserable lot. They should suffer for what they did, even if their perfidious actions made it possible for this dark-eyed misfit to gain something magically unique.

I imagine they returned to the woodland shack like a pair of angry geese only to find the old man as dead as their fetid dreams. Bitter justice, brothers. Live with it.

Letting go of V's hand I say to him respectfully (and sincerely): "I'm sorry, cold friend, forgive me, but I must now molest your corpse."


Chapter 10

Searching V


IT'S A PRIZE worth killing for. This is what I'm telling myself as I delve into the pockets of the fallen man's coat. And as I do so, you, esteemed reader, are perhaps thinking: Who is this sinister person? this opportunist, this perverted explorer, this strange intruder, this interfering loner? Where does he come from? What was he doing out there in the first place? What made him notice that something out-of-the-ordinary was happening in these off-the-beaten-track hills? Who is he, this sinister, voyeuristic, unsympathetic opportunist?

I laugh. Ha. Hear me - Ha-ha-ha.

I'd love to cackle like a mad crow, but I haven't the voice for it. Though allow me to introduce myself. - I am A. Person A. The foremost Fabergé in this egg-tale of discovery.

A for Anon,

for Anonymous,

for Atramentous,

for Androgynous. More he than she, though to call me a man wouldn't truly be colouring in the whole picture.

Ah. Stop it there. I've said too much. I must keep myself blurred. So for now that's all I'm willing to tell. Just think of me as Person A. Anonymous. Androgynous. Atramentous. Pleased to meet you. Despite there being a great distance between us, I feel as though a part of you knows me in some small intimate way.

Hm. What's this? in V's breast pocket … Cigarettes. A packet of. Almost full. Seventeen out of twenty. An uncommon brand. Filter-less. That's harsh, and may I say perfect for this extreme situation.

Reaching over the corpse I carefully light one on the topmost licks of the flambeau's heat, and while easing a hand into one of V's trouser pockets, I take a long draw …

Man alive, the only thing better than tobacco at a time such as this would be a shot of whisky.

God … Why does the throat want to be abused so? Why does it beckon the hit of tobacco smoke and the burn of a spirit?

(The cold stranger's trouser pockets are empty.)

Oh what could it be, the "it" that the dead old man wanted so badly? … What!

I take out the demon-red notebook and again familiarize myself with its final entry.


When the deed is done—when he is a goner—when those nitwits have lived out my wish—I will pay them with the key—the key to the box—then I'll return to the scene of the crime—and take it—twill be mine—I'll take it from the dread fool's corpse—soon it will be in my Hand—soon soon soon (etc)


It must be something precious.

It must be.

But what?

Rings on the fingers? - (check): negative.

A pendant around the neck? - no.

A wrist watch? A bracelet? Earrings?! - nope, nothing.

Dear curious reader, can you guess what it was? At this stage of the grim inspection when frustration and annoyance (and just a little dose of fear) brimmed at my eyes, can you hazard a guess as to what it was that incentivized the old man to make O and Y lead V to his death?

Yes?

No?

In all likelihood I suspect you cannot.

Well let me fill you in.

It was tucked under his belt. I spotted it while meddling with his tatty shirt. There and then I didn't realise that this item (tucked under his belt) was "it", though when my fingers found it, straightaway I was struck by its normal unusualness. Those were my exact words. Normal unusualness, or unusual normalness. And why did I think those words, dear reader? Well …

There was only one. Usually they comes in twos. Furthermore it was summer, deep summer in England, I've mentioned it a few times already, and in warm weather we tend not to wear these things that usually come in twos.

Got it yet?

Yes? - No?

Well let me tell you.

It was a glove. A single glove. A black glove to be exact. Leather. The fingers were tucked under his belt.

A lone black glove for the left hand.

Had the other one gone astray during the sudden fall or the gruesome impact? Shakes head. There was no trace of it. Had it, perchance, slipped down his trousers? No. (And let me confirm that I did indeed check.) This glove was it. The "it" the old man hankered for. The "it" the malevolent schemer instigated murder for. And speaking frankly with hindsight and knowing, I can fully understand why.


Chapter 11

The Handover Of Power


STANDING UP I slap the glove against one of my thighs before wriggling my fingers into the black suppleness. I do it impulsively. Looking back I don't even know why I deigned to put it on. Yet I find myself observing it on my hand: its shiny blackness reflecting sublimely the gold of the close-by flames.

And nothing happens. Of course not. Why would it?

Yet it feels good - on my hand - my left hand - it feels … familiar.

But nothing happens. Of course it doesn't. Why on earth should it?

The left hand of darkness, it's in the black glove, and the black glove is on my left hand, yet nothing happens, not a thing.

Time turns …

I wriggle the gloved fingers …

Time turns … as does the glittering galaxy within …

Until, dear reader, until … (let me emphasize that word): until I think, or should I say visualize, quite spontaneously, the gap in the wall of rock.

Instantaneously I am there! Flit. A split-second flight from the bottom of the pit to the top!

I gaze at the glove dumbfounded, suddenly not in golden darkness but enveloped by dizzy grey half-light - (moonbeams had found the natural skylight).

Wow.

How could …

How did …

In my mind's-eye I unintentionally see the old man's shack - flit -: with a pleasant almost effervescent jolt I am there!

Amazement.

Confusion.

Excitement.

Alarm.

Stupefaction!

A cacophony of close whispers afflict me. Why oh why. O why oh why. O and Y: at the moment their monikers mentally manifest I'm standing before them on a dreamlike road, their pale silhouettes purposefully marching.

"This is what you should be after!" I shout unthinking, waving my gloved hand in the monochrome air.

They glare at me bemused. Faraway behind them a copper moon floats like a stale balloon.

Processing this new and staggering madness I turn from the two wastrels and activate a dash, which promptly turns into a sprint.

As I accelerate upon the dreamlike road I attempt to remove the black glove from my tingling hand.

Running: Don't look back!

Running: Don't think of anything!

Running: Don't look back! Don't look back!

Running: (the black glove is off my hand).

I stop - God - near a glowing red post-box, out of breath, almost out of my mind.

Consciousness spinning.

Question marks throbbing.

Teleportation or hallucination - ?

Bilocation or freaky phantasmagoria - ??

Seeing the headlights of an approaching vehicle I panic and slip the glove back on. The person driving doesn't notice my panting form.

"I'll put this … I'll put this to the test," I say. "Once and for all I will prove this!"

Perspiring and shaking I close my eyes to visualize - (It's miles away!) - to visualize - (Just do it!) - to visualize … my home.

In a blink I am there, upstairs, in the redolent shadows, seeing my sister in her room through the half-closed door.

She's nearly naked, her skin blushed soft cerise by a shaded lamp, her dark mane tied and knotted in a surprising style. I haven't seen her for years. She's seated at the dressing table staring at herself in the mirror. Gorgeous. My sister has grown up fine. A perfect picture of elfin beauty.

As she moves to stand up I avert my eyes and - think of V.

Once again I'm back, at the bottom of the pit, the so-named internal gorge.

The flambeau's flame is dying.

I remove the glove and attempt to ponder the significance of its miraculous power.

Questions?!

Comprehensions!?

Limitless pathways open up amid the mind's bedazzled eye.

In a haze reminiscent of drunkenness I take the bottle of turps and sprinkle what's left onto V's remarkable corpse.

With every last drop dispelled from the bottle I pull the flambeau out of the ground and lower its struggling flame to the dark dead mass.

Gently it catches fire.

Stepping slowly back, smiling tensely, cloaked in a warm fever of golden obscurity, I coldly watch the body burn, disbelievingly knowing that within these nameless hills a special and peculiar freedom has secretly passed from he to I.





Copyright Wispian Grey 2017.


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