I felt hollow and broken inside. Exhaustion was making me delusional, and I had gone past crying to the point where an empty void filled my heart. Gemma had been raped… I couldn’t comprehend it. Sweet, kind, caring Gemma and it was all to hurt me. If it wasn’t for me, she would be safe. I loathed myself to the ninth degree, I had had dark thoughts during the night. Considering suicide, if it would stop the pain, and free Gemma and Lucy. It had got to the point of me pulling out a knife I had hidden in my bag, before I snapped out of it. Flinging the thing out of sight, I had clutched my knees, in a desperation to hold on to my sanity. I pulled out an apple from my bag, eating it slowly, but it was tasteless and my throat closed up, so I couldn’t swallow. I put it down and decided some fresh air would do me good.
As I opened the warehouse door and the cold air hit me in the face. I winced as the bright white blinded me. Snow? I tried to think of what the date was, but I had lost track of time. November? It was a bit early, but here it was. Covering the ground in a light fluffy powder, my car white capped sat in the drive. Then I frowned.
The snow was perfectly untouched in most places, as I had entered before it had fallen, and not many came here. But then from the right of the building, a small trail of footprints, leading to the warehouse and back again were well trodden in, as if it had been walked many times. Curious, I followed the tracks down a winding road to a lay-by where a land drover was parked.
It was, like my car, dusted with snow, which meant it hadn’t been driven since the recent snowfall. I looked inside, and saw the engine was running, the keys in the ignition. The radio was on, and the heating on full blast. In the back seat there was a vacant sleeping bag. Whoever owned the car hadn’t been gone long, and the footprints lead from it. At no point did the footprints veer off… that meant whoever owned the car was in the warehouse. And I had a feeling who it was.
I jogged back to the warehouse, meeting no one on the way; and as I entered, I slammed the door behind me so it echoed through the empty building.
“Come out, come out wherever you are!” I shouted to the silence, walking slowly forward, scanning the warehouse for any small movement “Show yourself!”
No one came out.
“Nate? Is it you? Where are you, you coward!” I heard a slam behind me as the door shut. I swore and run out, to see someone running away in the distance. I knew it was pointless to follow, they weren’t far from the car, and I couldn’t catch them. But I was sure it was Nate. It had to be!
I returned to the office, to check Ricky hadn’t called, but there was nothing. Then I saw a piece of paper on the desk. Picking it up I read the short message scribbled upon it.
Go to the village church. Call your girlfriends number when you get there, he’ll tell you what to do.
I pocketed the letter and, putting on a coat I went back out into the snow. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but it was important whatever it was. It was probably another of Ricky’s plans, but if I didn’t go through with it, he’d hurt Gemma or Lucy, or both of them. He’s already hurt Gemma, I’m not going to give him any excuse to do anymore harm.
The car took a while to start, but soon the engine roared to life, and I was rumbling down towards the village church. As I drove into the village, I was assaulted by more reminders of my youth; the houses, the town hall, and the pub. I actually stopped outside the pub briefly, staring at the wooden door that remained unchanged from when I went in there all that time ago. I couldn’t bear to go inside, so I drove on to the end of the street towards the church. The steeple rose from behind a knot of trees, standing proud in the chilly sky.I stopped the car, and got out, my feet sinking into deep snow. I locked the car quickly, and was dialling Gemmas number before my nerves took hold.
“Harry!” Ricky picked up on the first ring. It was still uneasy to ring her phone and hear him.
“I got your message” I said through gritted teeth.
“You did? Ahh good! So you’re at the church?”
“Yes. But what are you planning?”
“Oh it’s a surprise, but I would like you to open the gate and go inside. You have no need of going inside the church”
I did as he asked and pushed open the rickety iron gate, walking into the snowy graveyard. A small robin perched on a tree branch above me, chirping at me curiously, and then with a flap of it's wings took off out of sight.
“Cold weather we’re having at the moment” Ricky said in a chit chatty way.
“What now?” I asked, ignoring his attempt at conversation.
“Are you outside the church?”
“Good, well then. You will see the graves, yes?”
I looked around at the various graves, ranging from decaying old slabs, slanting at dangerous angles, to small neat and clean headstones of a pale white.
“You may notice that a few have a blood red rose at the foot” Ricky said, and as he spoke I saw four, no five graves, matching his description.
“I see them”
“Good now, go look at one”
Perplexed, I walked through the snow to the nearest grave.
“Susan Walters, died age 27” I said reading the name.
“Yes, now another”
Again, I walked to the next grave.
“Peter England, died age 29?”
“Very good, and the next”
He made me go around all the graves, including two side by side, sharing the same name. I noticed that each died young.
The last grave was furthest away, and was marked with two roses, crossed.
“This one has two” I said.
“Ah, whats their name?”
“Natalie Morgan, died aged 22”
I waited and Ricky did too.
“Nothing?” he asked a moment later, and I grunted in frustration.
“What’s this about?!”
“Oh dear you don’t remember? The ones with a single rose Harry, are the ones you killed”
My heart leaped into my mouth as I scanned the graveyard, taking in the marked graves. There seemed to be so many, each a huge stamp of my guilt and evil. I cringed away from them, and my eyes fell on the grave at my feet.
“What about the Natalie? With the two roses?” I said my voice shaking slightly.
“She” Ricky said, relishing every word “she, is the one who was in the pub that night. The girl who, I believe, locked you in a toilet?”
A rushing feeling spread around me as I stared at the grave.
“No…” I whispered. “It can’t be…”
“Yes. It very much can”
I dropped the phone then in the snow. Kneeling down in front of the grave, staring at the name. I lightly trace the letters with my fingertips; muttering the words in a low voice.
“Natalie Morgan, died aged 22, March 21st 1986 to January 29th 2008. Much loved friend, sister and daughter”
I go to each grave in turn, muttering apologies, and prayers of forgiveness over each. Until I return back to Natalies. Drawn by it, I slump in the snow, staring at it miserably. I pick up the roses, and gently pull off the heads, so instead of the sinister cross. It is a sprinkle of rose petals. Like drops of blood in the white snow. I swallow hard, and look into the trees at the end of the graveyard.
I see a figure, pale and sinister. It slowly walks from under the trees, lifting it’s head. I cry out in alarm as Natalie’s ghost, or spirit looks at me. She whispers, but even from this distance I hear every word.
“I’m dead because of you”
“No! I didn’t mean to!” I call to her, holding my ears to cover the sound. But her words are clear in my
“You killed me, you killed all of us!” she spits, gesturing across the graveyard.
“No! I didn’t, Ricky killed you! I didn’t want to kill, you know that! You helped me!”
I cringe away from her, closing my eyes tight.
“And this is how you repay me?!” she shrieks, and as I open my eyes, her face is in mine. I yell in
alarm and stagger to my feet. As I stand, she is gone. Panting, I look around for a sign of her but she is nowhere to be seen.
I think of the disturbed dreams, and realise I was hallucinating. I collapse onto a gravestone, and then pull away, worried I would arise more spirits to plague me.
I sat down, and began to cry. I thought I had run out of tears, but this proved me to be wrong. I was trembling uncontrollably, so I curled myself up in a ball waiting for it all to end. If only I could guarentee Gemma and Lucy's safety so I could just die here...
"Son? Are you okay there? Can you 'ear me?"
I opened my eyes, realising I had fallen asleep. It had gotten dark, and I was freezing from lying in the snow.
"What are you doing down there for 'eavens sake lad?!" a mans voice said. It was low, and carried a heavy scottish accent.
"I-- I fell asleep" I muttered, sitting up yawning.
"Aye, I can see that" he laughed "come with me, I can give you a wee bit to eat. The mrs 'as got a soup cooking, and it'll be piping 'ot by now." he gave me his hand, and I looked at it wearily "Come along lad"
I accepted his hand, and let him pull me to my feet.
"You know Natalie?"
"I did" I say sadly.
"She's still here you know. Just watching us" he says, but instead of comfort this causes me to look back at the dark trees, but her ghostly representation was nowhere to be seen."Aye, a good girl she was, there ain't a lot like 'er" he continued.
I said nothing as I followed him from the graveyard, and silence fell.
Eventually the man broke it "A friend of 'ers were you?"
"Yeah, something like that" I said, my voice hoarse.
"I never seen you around 'ere, but she saw a lot of people in that damned pub. Roughians and rogues mostly" he sighed, as we walked down the street. I brushed some of the snow off my coat, and thrust my frozen hands into the pockets, my breath steaming in a huge cloud in front of my face. He led me to his house, and as I stamped my boots in the porch, he opened the door to a warm and cosy home. I longed to stay here, but I knew that I would haveto make my excuses and leave. But what was the harm of having a little something warm before I left? I needed it after all.
"Lilian? Lilian, we've got company. A friend of Natalies, I found 'im asleep by 'er grave"
A chubby round faced woman came bustling in with a strong waft of chicken soup.
"Oh, in this weather?" she said in the same strong Scottish tongue "Oh come 'ere son! You must be freezin'!"
"I'm okay really" I said as she bustled over, putting her hands on my face with a motherly air.
"No, by god! Your as cold as ice, come sit by the fire hun! That's it, I'll get you some soup!" she said, pushing me down into a large armchair before the harth, and rushed out of the room again. The man, now clearer in the light smiled. He had a big wispy beard and twinkling eyes that reflected the light of the fire.
"She'll always look after a friend o' me daughters" he said soft naturedly.
"You're Natalie's parents?" I ask, shocked. Feeling more uncomfortable by the minute. Particularly after the scene in the graveyard, but I didn't feel like being alone in that warehouse just yet, incase she came back.
"Aye, that we are. The name's Ted" he said, and I felt like I should say something about how she died, but I just couldn't get my lips to move.
"Harry" was all I could force out. But he seemed satisfied as he nodded and smiled.
"Here pet" Natalie's mother came back with a steaming bowl of soup which I sipped gratefully, cupping it between my chilled hands.
"Thank you" I told her and she smiled warmly. Ted helped himself to the soup and both sat down at the table, but they insisted I stay by the fire to warm up.
"So what were you doing asleep at 'er grave" he asked in his rough but kind voice.
"I was visiting, I didn't mean to fall asleep. I've never been to her grave before" I admitted and they both smiled fondly.
"Were she a good friend of yours?" Lilian asked.
"Not really, I only met her once. But she was very kind, and she helped me out of... a sticky situation. I owe her a lot, but unfortunately I was never given the chance to repay her" I explained and Lilian seemed to brush away a tear.
"She died too soon. She were far too young. Far too young" she sighed, and eyed me.
"You must have been very young yourself when you met her, how old are you now?"
"I'm nineteen. I was fifteen when I met her"
"Fifteen" she sighed. "so young" she repeated again, and Ted reached forward to squeeze her hand.
I sat awkwardly, then finished the rest of my soup. I felt warm and stronger than I had been over the last few days. Perhaps a warm meal and some company could help fight away the delusions, gloom, and depression pressing in on me.