"…And the stormy spell shows no signs of letting up…."
The crackly radio broadcast dissolved into static and then went dead as another fork of lightning lit up the sky.
"Oh, great." Molly Parker sighed. "Just what I needed to hear."
Lights ahead indicated a car coming in the opposite direction, so Molly pulled her car over into a muddy lay-by. From what she had already seen of the few Range Rovers and sports cars she had encountered, the local people didn't slow down much for traffic coming the other way.
A 4x4 rocketed past and blinded Molly with a flash of full beam. Muddy water splattered all over the windscreen and a rock clunked against her door.
"Arrogant sod." Molly considered hooting the horn but decided against it. The 4x4 was probably a mile away by then.
Molly picked up her phone from the dashboard and checked the time. Half past seven. And no reception either. She sighed again, then leaned over to the passenger seat to pick up the map. If you could call it that.
"God, it'd help if he'd drawn it in something readable." Molly frowned at the faint pencil.
There was no point going back the way she'd come. She knew for a fact that she would drive back into the village, and she clearly needed to go the other way. She studied the map for a moment, then tried to prop it up on the dashboard. It fell to the floor.
"Oh, for God's sake."
She revved the engine up, but failed to pull away. The unmistakable sound of her wheel spinning in the mud met her ears even through the downpour.
The lamplight glinted on the huge sapphire ring on Veronica Allen's finger as she spread the cards out on the table. She sat and contemplated the cards for a moment. Should she be doing this? She had always been superstitious but it seemed as if she was tempting fate to be asking about something like this. Spending a few days filming at a remote country manor house with a few actors was an ordinary enough thing. But Veronica was worried. Worried that she wouldn't be a success.
She moved her hand slowly across the table and gingerly turned over the first card.
The Queen of Coins. A possessive, bitter woman. Suspicious, mistrustful.
Veronica breathed in sharply and her heart began to beat faster. She shakily reached for the second card.
The Tower. Crisis, loss, trouble, shock, unavoidable events. Destruction.
Veronica threw the card down and withdrew her arm as if she had been burnt. With a sweep of her arm she scattered the cards on the floor and backed away from the table.
A fork of lightning lit up the sky.
For a split second, Molly thought she could see chimneys through the trees.
"Oh, please, God."
The trees growing either side of the narrow lane thinned out suddenly and Molly found herself able to see the sky. She pulled up. The rain was pouring down heavier still and she had to have the wipers on full speed just to see a few feet ahead. She shivered. She had wrestled with the tyre for half an hour and was soaked to the skin.
Another flash of lightning illuminated a huge, forlorn shape at the side of the road and Molly drew breath.
With relief, she remembered something she had read on the map, leaned down and scrabbled around on the floor among her several pairs of shoes and picked up the crumpled sketch. The directions on the back were even harder to read. Shining the light of her phone on the paper, she managed to make them out.
"'Half a mile from the gnarled oak at the side of the road.' The gnarled oak? Jesus, what's he trying to write, a fairy story?"
She pushed her wet hair back off her face and drove on.
Sure enough, half a mile down the road, back in the trees again, Molly pulled up at a narrow, dark track, visible only because of the great stone pillars either side of it.
"He expects me to take my car in there? Bloody hell."
The lane was very narrow, and Molly had to do a considerable amount of reversing and turning before her car was facing the entrance. She set off slowly, not wanting to drive over some rut and damage her car. After a quarter of a mile, the track widened out and Molly found herself driving on tarmac.
Lightning glinted on huge gates a little way ahead, and as Molly followed the curve of the tarmac, her lights picked out the intricate wrought iron pattern.
"I suppose it's too much to ask that someone might be here to open them."
Molly drove right up to the gates. No sign of anyone. Not even any lights. Nothing.
"Oh, for Christ's sake."
Molly got out of the car and went up to the gates. They towered a good twenty feet above her. Some kind of gryphon stared down at her as she gazed up, the rain soaking her through again for the second time. She fumbled with the huge wrought iron catch, and was surprised when the huge gates swung open as if motorised. Not a squeak. It didn't take her long to get back in the car.
She had been driving a good five minutes before she had her first glimpse of the house. The lightning flashed and for a brief second, the brooding Waverleigh Manor was outlined against the sky.
The radio crackled and suddenly came back to life. "……..and advised her to give up all hope……."
"Oh, shut up." Molly leaned over and switched it off. It couldn't have been more on cue if she had written it in one of her own scripts. The flashes of lightning, the huge gates, the old house, the apt snippet of radio broadcast. It was all so typical that Molly couldn't help but smile.
Molly's lights lit up the manor as she swept up to the front. It was a huge place, with numerous gables and chimneys, and black and white timbers. The howling gale blew the climbing plants against the leaded windows. as she swept up to the front. It was a huge place, with numerous gables and chimneys, and black and white timbers. The howling gale blew the climbing plants against the leaded windows.
In another flash of lightning, Molly thought she saw a figure in the huge porch. She backed her car up and turned it round slightly so that her full beam was fixed on the porch. She saw the familiar figure of Simon Hall, director and one of Molly's close friends, shielding his eyes from her lights. Smiling, she turned her engine off, picked up her phone, jumped out of her car, and ran up to the porch.
"Molly!" Simon's warm, dry arms enveloped her. "Bloody hell, you're soaked!" he let her go. She laughed.
"My tyre got stuck." she said, trying to catch her breath. "I pulled up to let some maniac pass, then started to read the map, but the problem was that it was such an awful map and it took me so long to read it that my tyres sunk into the mud. God knows who drew it."
Simon smiled his usual wicked grin and punched Molly lightly on the shoulder.
"Molly, meet Mike Piper." he moved aside, and a young man stepped forward from the shadows of the porch. "One of your fellow actors."
"Hi!" Molly held out her hand. "Sorry, I didn't see you in the dark."
"Hi." Mike shook her wet hand.
"Molly's the writer I've told you about." Simon said.
"Oh, so you're the fantastic writer I've heard so much of." Mike smiled just as the lightning flashed and lit him up. Molly was taken aback. Almost six feet tall and with a pleasant, amused look on his handsome face, a slight shadow of stubble and short dark hair, Mike was the handsomest man she had ever seen. His hair was wet and tousled, and his eyes were dark, although she couldnt quite see the colour.
"Oh, I dread to think what Simon's been saying about me." Molly was glad it was dark because she was very aware of the fact that she was blushing.
"Oh, it's all good."
Molly caught a quick glimpse of his beautiful smile again in the darkness.
"Well, are we going in then?" she said. "Why are you two hunched out here in the dark and wet?"
"We, um, we can't get in." Simon laughed.
"Can't get in?"
"Well the guy who looks after the place was meant to meet me here with the keys but he never showed up."
"Oh, you're joking!" Molly shivered.
"We've been hunched out here for the past half an hour." Mike said.
"Where are your cars?"
"We parked round the back." Simon said. "The guy with the keys - Gus, I think his name is - told us not to park at the front, so I went round the back, found Mike waiting in his car, and we both came round here to wait for Gus, and neither of us wanted to go back round to the cars to wait when he didn't show up."
"We kept thinking that he'd be here any minute." Mike added.
"I said that as soon as we went back to the car, he'd be bound to turn up." Simon laughed. "So we thought we'd better stay here and avoid getting wet again."
"Well have either of you got a phone number for this Gus?"
"No reception." Simon said.
"Oh, great." Molly shivered, and put her arms round herself to keep warm.
"Here." Mike put his coat round her shoulders.
"Thank you." Molly smiled, and couldn't help averting her gaze as the lightning lit up Mike's beautiful eyes again.
"I can see lights." Simon pointed.
"Oh, maybe this is him." Mike sounded hopeful.
"God I hope so." Molly said. "I need to go in and change out of these wet things."
Five minutes later, a small, old car spluttered up to the front of the manor and parked next to Molly's car.
"Wait for it." said Simon. He put on a silly voice. "I thought I told you to park round the back!"
"Oh, stuff that." Molly said.
Mike and Simon laughed.
A figure got out of the car and hurried over to the porch.
"God, I thought I'd never get here!" Ann Wilkes's voice was familiar to Molly. "Damn weather, damn car, damn awful map!"
"Ann!" Molly stepped forward.
Molly and Ann hugged each other.
"Hi Ann." Simon smiled. "And what do you mean - damn awful map?"
"Wow, long time no see! I didn't know you were going to here this week!" Molly grinned.
"Ditto!" Ann pulled her jacket closer round herself for warmth. God, it must have been a year since we worked together!"
"So come on then Simon, who else you got for this?" Ann asked.
"I don't think you know any of the others. Marcia Walker, James Pearson, Veronica Allen, David Campbell. David may be late, he rang me yesterday; he's got an audition and workshop till quite late today."
"No, none of them ring any bells."
"Didn't think they would."