The Other Field

Declan explored the swollen lip with trembling fingers as he ran from the caravan. If Ruby shouted an apology, he was deaf to it. He squeezed through the hedge into a narrow lane, like an old railway track. The noise of the campsite became abstract, like a TV playing the soundtrack for a different channel. He wiped the blood – just a smear, really – onto his jeans. Despite his provocation, he was pretty sure she hadn’t meant to actually hit him, but he’d bear the wound his step-sister had inflicted like a campaign medal.

It was still hot, and the track was airless. His t-shirt, drenched with sweat, clung to him. He peeled it off and tied it around his waist. Dabbing at the cut, he felt a twinge of disappointment that the bleeding had stopped. He pressed harder.

The rhythm of his footsteps and the buzzing of insects lulled him into a trance. He stopped and looked back. Thin stands of trees and endless hedges; here and there a red tiled roof. The country here was so flat you couldn’t tell how far you’d walked.

Here was something, swooping over the field. It flickered in and out of view. A hen harrier? He lifted the bins and tracked it, a surge of excitement in his breast. It landed on a fence-post some fifty metres away. He stepped off the path to get a better look, breasting through bracken, broom, and rowan. When he looked up again the harrier had gone. Some change had come over the view, as if a cloud had covered the sun. The sky was still clear and the heat oppressive, but some indefinable thing had changed. The quality of the light, was it?

A noise behind him made him look. From low over the fields came a small but extremely noisy jet. Declan covered his ears as it flew overhead. It had long, very straight and narrow wings. As it came down, undercarriage exposed like a bird nearing its perch, he saw jets of flame from twin engines, one atop the other. Dad would love it if there was an airfield nearby. Through the bins he could distinguish, though he hadn’t seen it from the path, the unmistakeable shape of a control tower. A small radar aerial swivelled at speed on the roof.

Returning to the path he remembered the harrier, and reached for his notebook. His hand touched a soft bulge and he pulled out the contents of his pocket: a small hardback notebook, a bookies’ pen, and a lacy black bra, size 36D. Ruby’s. He’d filched it from his step-sister’s drawer the night before. It was petty, but it was revenge. Revenge for her hayfever, revenge for her music, her mobile phone, her habits, her attitude. She had declared herself too old – at sixteen – for a family holiday.

-I’m not a kid.

-No, you’re a pain in the arse, Declan had muttered.

-Declan! Dad fought valiantly, but the battle was lost: the step-siblings barely tolerated each other’s company.

He dropped the bra at the side of the path and noted the harrier in his book.

-That was quick, Dad muttered when he returned. The bonnet of the car was up, and Dad was at his happiest, trying to locate the source of a knocking sound they’d heard on the way back from the local market town that morning. The car doors and windows were open. It looked like a dog, tongue out and suffering in the heat. Linda, Ruby’s mum, slouched in a chair, sunbathing.

-Too quick. Ruby was inside the caravan, sipping juice through a straw and reading a magazine.

-Stop it! I’ve had it with you two. Had it.

-It’s not me, Ruby protested.

Declan ignored her, trusting that his lip was evidence enough to the contrary. He touched the cut gingerly.

-There was a plane, he said to his Dad. Looked like it landed nearby.

-A plane?

-It were a jet, like a fighter, military thing.

-Was it an emergency?

-What do you mean?

-It landed?

-At the airfield, yeah.

-I didn’t know there was an airfield. What sort of plane was it?

-Thin wings, pointy nose, stocky. And the engines at the back were one above the other.

Dad’s expression altered.

-Hold that thought. He went into the car and brought out a newspaper and a bookies’ pen.

-Draw it.

-I’m rubbish at-

-Just roughly. Dad sounded more excited than he’d been since the start of the holiday. Declan leaned on the car roof, taking care not to touch the hot metal with his bare skin, and drew as well as he could remember the shape of the plane. His art teacher, if generous, would have called it “cubist”. Dad squinted at it.

-You’ve got the idea, if that’s what I think it is.

-Come on then, I know you’re dying to tell us.

-That, son, is an English Electric Lightning. He shrugged. But it can’t be: they scrapped them years ago. When I was a boy. He made an expansive gesture with his arms. Lead on, Macduff.

-This way. And it’s “lay on”.

 

The journey was shorter second time around. Declan had to walk faster to keep up with Dad. He paused at the spot where he’d broken through the undergrowth.

-It went over there. He pointed towards the fence. He peered, but couldn’t see the control tower. Dad took a step, squinting at the undergrowth.

-Looks like someone’s bra, he muttered. Have people been having hanky-panky in the bushes?

Declan’s face burned.

-Can you see the control tower?

-No.

-Me neither. Maybe it was a different angle…

-If we keep walking we might be able to turn off the path and get a closer look.

They walked for a time, not speaking. Trees on either side arched over the path. The path stopped at a gate. Beyond it, a road.

-Left, I’d think, said Dad.

They walked along the verge. The grass was khaki and smelled new-cut. A building came into view; a pub, standing at a crossroads. On the wall facing the road hung an aircraft propeller.

-A clue, said Dad, pointing to it. Need a drink anyway. Dad ran a finger across his brow and inspected the sheen of sweat. Maybe we can ask for directions.

The pub was dark and cool and quiet, with few concessions to modernity. No music, no television, and few punters. Two men at a table in the far corner; another man, bald head reflecting the gantry’s halogen lights, read a newspaper on a stool at the bar. The barman himself was around Dad’s age, tall and skeletally thin. Dad bought a beer, and a cola for Declan.

-We should come here for a meal. The four of us.

Declan made a face. He was enjoying the silent, shared time, and the pub was their secret. Dad saw his expression.

-Come on, now.

-At home I can shut the door: here, you can’t avoid her. We’re never going to be brother and sister.

-I can see that. But…you like Linda, don’t you?

Declan nodded. He did. Linda had never tried to take his mother’s place. She had maintained a distance which had allowed their relationship to grow. Declan and Ruby were too close in both age and temperament.

-I do. Doesn’t mean I have to like her daughter.

-But you do have to live with her. Live and let live, son, eh?

Dad took a drink, finishing the beer in gulps. Condensation dripped from the glass to the bar. A series of linked circles marked each spot the glass had been set down. Loop upon loop. Dad caught the barman’s eye.

-Boy here thought he saw a Lightning coming into land earlier. Dad’s voice was loud in the quiet bar.

-I don’t think I saw it, I know I saw it. I just didn’t know what it was.

-A Lightning? The barman looked at Declan.

-Mm, Dad interjected. I told him you don’t see them any more.

-Don’t see any planes at all since the base closed down.

-Closed down? But there was an airfield?

-Yep. He pointed out the window, indicating the road whose end faced the pub. About a quarter-mile that way. All closed down now, has been, what, five years? He turned to the others in the bar for confirmation. Nods of assent.

-I told you, said Declan. I saw the control tower.

-I doubt it. They knocked it down last year.

-Looks like a blender, with lights on top.

The barman nodded. But like I say, they knocked it down.

Dad ordered another pint. Declan wanted to leave. He hated the smell of pubs, and felt uneasy in them. He made an excuse and went to find the toilets. The man reading the newspaper gave him a sour look as he passed. Along the far wall were prints of aircraft, so minutely detailed that Declan had to lean close to verify that they were paintings and not photographs. Aircraft in camouflage or gunmetal grey, with a potted history of the squadron to which they belonged in tiny print below. He couldn’t tell from the profile if any of them was the plane he had seen, but one of them indeed depicted a Lightning. It looked like someone had tried to build a pigeon out of metal.

-One of the fastest planes in the world, that was. Wonderful plane. Used to see that all the time. One of the two men at the table had spoken. He had a mess of jet-black hair, and despite the heat of the day, wore a jacket over a jumper. His companion grinned.

-Could I have seen one today? I saw a plane my Dad thinks was that.

The man shook his head.

-Not possible. I’d have heard it. With a finger he poked a large ear from beneath a straggle of hair. Both men laughed.

 

-That bald man at the bar was staring at me.

Dad shrugged. Some people don’t like kids in pubs. And some people don’t like tourists. You are currently both.

-He wasn’t looking at you, just me.

-Maybe he’s the former, then.

-He gave me such a look.

-You’re imagining things, Declan.

-I didn’t imagine the plane, if that’s what you mean.

They turned back onto the lane. The barman had told them it was an old railway line. In the far distance, the lines of perspective conjoined; somewhere in the singularity was the campsite.

-Take a photo, if you see one again.

 

All four of them left the caravan together. Dad and Linda walked ahead and quickly receded into the distance. They had met on a walking holiday, and were accustomed to setting a pace neither of their offspring was interested in matching. Ruby followed, stumbling occasionally, all attention on her mobile. Declan came last. He hadn’t brought his notebook: a mistake, he knew. Nothing was more certain to bring a hitherto-unseen species into sight. What was in his pocket, though, was another of Ruby’s bras. This one was white and without decoration. At some point she was going to notice, surely, or would she wear the same one indefinitely? How long did girls wear them for? Or would she borrow one of her Mum’s? Did they have the same size of breasts? Declan had never – ever – considered Linda’s cleavage, and knocked the thought from his mind like someone swatting a fly.

It would look suspicious if he disposed of it in the same place: Dad had already seen the first one. He threw it in as casual a manner as he could, to the other side of the path. Nobody looked around. Dad and Linda had reached and passed the place Declan had seen the plane. Probably Dad had forgotten where it was. Ruby, too, passed it. If she saw the bra, she didn’t realise – and why should she? – that it was hers. Declan stopped. The bra was still there, to his eye quite conspicuous, a rare landmark. He nudged it with the toe of one of his trainers, burying it in the undergrowth. He took a few steps to better conceal it, and when he looked up something had altered.

The light seemed different. All was silent, but for the churring of crickets in the grass. Prickles of sweat erupted on his scalp. A chill ran down his limbs. He leaned back; his family were out of sight – had they reached the road already? Surely not. As he turned his head a light caught his eye. The white light on the control tower. The radar aerial swivelled purposefully. This couldn’t be, unless the locals in the bar had been having a joke at the holidaymakers’ expense. But why make a joke that a five-minute walk – or a map – would easily disprove?

-Take a photo, Dad had said. Well, he had no camera with him, or his phone. But Dad could see it for himself. Just then a low rumbling spread from over the horizon behind him, rising to a growl that seemed certain to somehow damage the pristine sky. Above, landing gear down as it made its final approaches, an aircraft, the same as he’d seen that morning.

-Dad!

He stumbled backwards onto the path.

-I wondered where you had got to. Dad stood on the path; Linda and Ruby a little further along, both with arms folded impatiently. Declan blinked. He pointed skywards.

-Do you see it?

-See what?

He followed the direction of his own outstretched arm. There was no plane, nor was there now any sound of aircraft engines.

-I…I thought I saw a plane.

Dad adjusted his stance. Declan knew that little fidget.

-If you want to keep this up, fine. But leave us out of it. Are you coming?

Declan looked along the path. Ruby had turned away. In disgust, presumably.

-No.

-You’re not coming for a meal?

-No.

-Fine. Dad reached into the pocket of his shorts, and thrust the caravan key at his son.

-You’d better change your tune tomorrow, my boy.

Declan shrugged.

-I’ll see you later, Dad grunted.

Declan watched him join the two women, and kept them in sight until they dwindled to a coloured speck in the distance. Part of him wanted to go, and he took a few steps. What he saw, or rather couldn’t see, brought him up short. Minutes before, the control tower had been in plain sight. Now he couldn’t see it, yet nothing stood in the way. He scanned the horizon: it simply wasn’t there. He walked back along to his earlier spot; the grass here was flattened now, the place easy to find. Still no control tower. Was there a trick of the light, like a heat mirage making something distant appear closer than it was? He edged into the bushes.

 

Declan strode across the field, at the far end of which he could already see the high fence. Beyond it, ground-level lights picked out the runway, past which he could see the dull grey form of a Lightning – recognisable now he saw it in profile – move in front of the control tower. He glanced up at the sky, senses on alert: the sun seemed brighter now than when he’d left the caravan. But the light seemed somehow deadened, colourless and flat as trampled grass. Behind him, the roar of a jet. There was a tiny nub of fear gathered in an unreachable part of his chest, a nervous itch he could neither locate nor expel. As the engine noise faded, the only sound was the grass stems whipping at his shins. He stumbled down a grassy banking and almost into a ditch. He leaped over it, wobbled a moment before he found his balance, and scrambled up the other side. Wary of the fence, he clasped his hands behind his back.

The entire airfield was before him. He stood at one end of the runway, which broadened into an octagon; a space wide enough, he supposed, for planes to turn around. Runway lights receded to the horizon on the flat plain. Hangars stood on the far side of the runway, and Lightnings – like models at this distance – stood lined up outside them. Men in green overalls scrambled across them. Refuelling, perhaps, or repairing. There was no smell of kerosene, such as he knew from airports. Declan felt oddly detached from it, regardless of the chicken-wire fence. It seemed to be a performance, somehow unreal. Maybe that was it: like those battlefield re-enactment groups. He dismissed the thought, closed his eyes for three, four, five seconds – how slowly time passed with eyes shut – but when they opened nothing had changed. The sensation persisted. Feeling like a non-paying spectator, he turned away. With a final glance, he jumped over the ditch.

Across the field, the path. But as he started towards it a girl – a young woman, really – burst through the hedgerow and into the field. An older man came hard in pursuit. The girl’s blonde hair bobbed as she fled. As Declan watched, the man caught her with one hand, the other raised and clutching something metallic: a hammer, perhaps, or wrench. It glinted in the sun. He heaved her to the ground. The girl cried out once, and the man’s arm came down. Declan didn’t move.

Declan crept back to the ditch, his eyes on the couple. Sweat coated his back and buttocks; his palms were soaking. Rapid heartbeats throbbed in his throat. He didn’t have his phone, nor could he risk shouting for help. An eight-foot fence cut off escape behind him. Keeping low, he scurried along the banking. He tripped and slid before he judged himself to be far enough away to look.

His mind felt all abuzz. Should he go to the campsite and raise the alarm? Or go to the pub to find Dad? Would Dad believe him? Either way, the first thing he had to do was reach the path without being seen.

He raised his head above the rim of the ditch. The girl lay still, but the man had gone. Surely he’d come back. Expecting him to appear every second, Declan sprinted across the field.

As he crashed into the nettles, he glanced back to make sure he’d escaped. The girl’s body had vanished.

Declan skidded to a halt, shins and knees burning from nettle stings. There was nowhere she could have gone; nor time for her even to have stood up. One moment she had been there; the next, she hadn’t. Declan ran to the campsite without stopping. This time, he didn’t look back.

 

It was late when they returned. Dad and Linda appeared first; Ruby no doubt dawdled behind. Declan could smell the alcohol off them. It filled the tight space of the caravan in seconds. Nonetheless, he was glad of their presence. Linda slumped onto the bunk across from him and closed her eyes. She groaned the groan of a full stomach.

-Did you have a nice time?

-Yes, thank you, said Dad. Good food and lots of it.

Declan nodded. Sorry, he said.

Dad shrugged. You’re a teenager. Can’t help being a nuisance.

-How very patronising.

Dad sniggered.

-Where’s Ruby? he asked Linda. Don’t like the idea of her being on that path at night. Barman told us a story, he said to Declan, sitting down next to his son. Declan put down his book, open on the same page for the last hour. A girl went missing there, apparently.

Declan’s stomach leaped; acid burned his throat.

-I know, I-

-Forty years ago, he said, Linda, wasn’t it?

-Mm.

-What happened?

Ruby appeared in the doorway, a tissue to her face. She sneezed twice.

-They never found her.

-I wish I’d known that before we came here, said Linda.

Dad threw his arms wide, knocking Declan’s book to the floor.

-Every place has its history.

Dad turned the TV on and Declan’s peace was ruined. He glanced towards Ruby, rummaging through her clothes drawer.

-Mum, have you got any of my bras?

 

He woke early, mobile waking him on vibrate. He dressed without washing, and quietly unzipped the awning. The morning was cool; thin high cloud hazed the sunlight. The path was loud with birdsong. From the blanket of noise he could unpick threads of blackbird, great tit, chiffchaff and yellowhammer. He found the hidden bra and walked a little further, to where he estimated the attack had taken place. There would be some sign of disturbance, for sure. He picked his way carefully through the undergrowth, mindful of contaminating the scene.

There was nothing. The grass, though short, showed no obvious signs of trampling. Nor was there blood, footprints, scraps of clothing or any of the other signs he expected from crime dramas on TV. Bewildered, he peered across to the point from which he’d seen the attack. Behind it was the fence but beyond that, no control tower or airfield lights. He jogged towards it to warm himself up, scrambled over the ditch and up to the wire.

What few buildings stood were abandoned. A couple of portacabins occupied the spot near where, yesterday, Declan had seen the control tower, seen – counted – aircraft being serviced. Today, a single white van, and a man in a dayglo vest beside it smoking a cigarette. A slow-dawning unease crept over Declan. He felt it in his legs, his bowels, and as a tightness in his head, like vertigo. He’d stumbled into something the day before and he was suddenly relieved he’d stumbled out. He ran back to the line of bushes and shoved through them onto the path. He walked back a little, deep in thought, until he reached the spot he’d originally entered the field from. Treading on the bra, he pushed through the sweet-smelling broom and into something else.

The heat came over him in a wave. He was reminded of the time he’d stepped off an aircraft when Dad had taken him to Florida, after Mum had died. From coolness to intense heat with no in-between.

The sun was mid-afternoon high, the sky clear. For a moment or two he watched the runway lights shimmering in the heat. Then, as he guessed it would, from behind him came the slowly-growing roar of a jet engine. Within seconds the Lightning came in, undercarriage down, exactly as it had before. Quickly, he stepped back through to the path. In an instant the temperature dropped. The sun was low in the south-east. And in the distance, where he had just seen the airfield, a building site. This was cool. Weird, but really cool.

-Where have you been, you idiot?

Ruby was ten paces away, advancing on him with a face like a crumbling sandcastle.

-None of your business.

-It is when I have to come and find you. We’re off to the beach, so it’s an early start.

-No-one told me.

-Well if you didn’t act like a child and had come for tea last night, you’d know. Come on, its breakfast.

Declan waggled his mobile, thinking.

-I’ve just got something to do; I’ll be right there. You go on.

-What have you “got to do”?

-Rare bird; I’ve got to get closer to it to make sure.

-You’re a freak. She turned and charged along the path.

In the other field, it was afternoon. The Lightning came in for its final approach. Declan made for one of the few trees nearby that was large enough to offer shelter, and hid behind it. Then he waited.

 

-What was it, then? Golden Eagle? Dad asked, dropping a rasher of bacon onto a plate.

-Mm?

The caravan, even with the windows wide open, smelled of cooked pig. A thin blue haze of smoke danced before Declan’s eyes.

-Ruby said you’d seen some rare bird. What was it?

-LBJ. Declan hadn’t realised how hungry he was, and devoured his breakfast.

-What’s that then? Lesser-bollocked jube-jube?

-Lyndon B. Johnson? suggested Linda.

-“Little Brown Job”. Catch-all term for something small and brown: they all look the same. To some people, anyway.

-Should we report it? The twitchers might flock here.

-I don’t want anything else disturbing this holiday, said Linda. She looked pointedly at the teenagers.

 

It was Dad who first saw the hovering falcon. He called Declan to the caravan door.

-What’s that? A peregrine?

-Kestrel.

The kestrel dropped, like something let down on a string and pulled up short. Declan passed Dad the binoculars. The bird hung just above the level of the trees.

-It’s head doesn’t move at all; even in the wind. Dad sounded awed.

-The calm poise of a killer.

The bird plummeted, talons extended, out of sight.

-Gotcha! Dad handed the bins back.

-That girl who was murdered, Declan said.

-What girl who was murdered?

-On the lane.

Dad shook his head.

-Disappeared. They never found a body. It was the last place she was seen, according to the man in the pub. What about her?

-Nothing. I were just thinking about her.

-It was a long time ago. Soft lad.

 

Declan thumbed awkwardly through the texts in Ruby’s outbox. He was nervous, and her phone was fiddly to use. He was certain Linda had seen him take it, and there would be trouble when he returned. But they could search him; the phone would be gone. He’d found the ultimate rubbish bin, in which things were deleted with a finality possible nowhere else.

What he wanted was ammunition: something to have over her; a secret, some detail he could use. There was nothing. Angered, he searched in vain for some reference to himself.

Her indifference stung, more than evidence of hatred would have. Was he that low on her radar? How mean-spirited he seemed by comparison. He could recall word-for-word certain texts he’d sent his own friends about her taste in music, clothes, friends, boys, anything. He checked the remaining credit on her phone. Plenty for his experiment.

At the tree he used her mobile to dial his own number, and laid it on a branch. He accepted the incoming call on his phone, satisfied himself that there was a reception, and hurried back to the path. Once through, his hands slick with sweat, he pressed the phone to his ear. Now he would discover if it really was a loop, cutting off after a certain time, or a parallel space which continued indefinitely. Either way, Ruby’s phone was now gone. He glanced down at the undergrowth where he had first dropped the bra. That had gone too, scratched from being.

He pressed his mobile to his ear. The Lightning should have passed, but all he could hear was the rasp of the breeze and the odd rook. In fact, pretty much what he could hear without the phone. He moved away from the gap, and pushed through the scrub. In the deserted airfield, a van was reversing. The mobile relayed it’s tinny beeping at a millisecond’s delay. At the tree he placed his hand on the spot where, in a different time, Ruby’s mobile transmitted the sounds he could hear right now. Abruptly, the connection was cut. He checked the length of the call, and added on the time before he’d dialled. A seven-minute loop.

 

Five minutes.

The stopwatch was running and, engrossed, he’d forgotten about the fatal couple. She startled him, crashing through the bushes. They passed almost within touching distance; the ground thudded beneath their feet. He watched, reminded of a school trip to see a performance of Othello: the action so close he could hear the actors’ breathing. He saw the wrench – for wrench it was, glinting in the light – strike the back of the girl’s head. So much blood. Declan gaped, fascinated; appalled; fascinated.

Six minutes thirty.

He squatted by the girl’s prone body, reached a tentative hand out and drew it back, superstitious. What to touch? He reached again for her shoulder – innocent enough – but there was a noise in his ears, whose nature and source he couldn’t pinpoint.

Six minutes forty.

It grew steadily louder. This wasn’t a jet, and it seemed too close, as if it came from all around him, as if every noise in the loop were happening simultaneously, and jarring, like a stuck CD. Very quickly he grew scared. He edged into the bushes. Two steps, one, from safety. The noise intensified. Every movement he made, the sound changed up a pitch. It was like his movements were placing an intolerable strain on reality.

Seven minutes.

He turned the stopwatch off, the movement of his thumb painful and sluggish. The beep of the mobile hung in the air unending, adding its tone to the cacophony.

He looked up. The world was unravelling, the horizon lost to sight in a haze. To move was a struggle, and with effort he took a step towards the path. Colour bleached from sky, trees, grass, like a Polaroid photo in reverse. The airfield was a blur, seen through a rain-streaked window. Sweat gathered on his skin but didn’t run. He tried to fall forward through the bushes but this sliver of time resisted, its borders sudden and tangible. He thrashed, fingers splayed as if to scratch a way through. Finally, his head spinning with vertigo, he toppled through the broom and into the evening coolness of the old railway line. His ears rang, skull a bell repeatedly struck. Where his skin was exposed, it was a mess of tiny scratches. He dabbed at his face and neck and his fingertips came away spotted with blood. From somewhere, incongruously cheerful, came the familiar breathy call of a cuckoo.

 

-Aren’t you hot? Linda asked. They sat around a table outside the pub at the crossroads. Dad was inside paying the bill. Above them, the propeller on the wall. Declan wore his light jacket – packed for the holiday in case of rain, and not removed throughout the meal – and a pair of jeans. The scratches below itched like papercuts.

-Not really.

-Too much birdwatching given you heatstroke? She touched his forearm, and he gave an appropriately weak smile. Dad returned and they readied themselves for the return walk to the caravan.

Over the fields, the setting sun turned the sky a dazzling peach. Towards the sea it was already growing dark. It was an end-of-holiday moment, and Declan felt melancholy. Like all holidays, it had developed an existence of its own, separate from normal life. In 24 hours it would exist only in memories and jpeg files, a frozen past; like a snow globe, like…

-You’ve spent the whole week in that field. Have you seen much you’ve never seen before? Dad asked.

Declan nodded vaguely.

-I’d no idea this part of the country was so interesting, he said.

Dad and Linda strode ahead. Declan and Ruby followed, a few feet apart. Ruby seemed lost without her phone. She glanced at her surroundings in disdain, as if wishing she could be back at the caravan without having to make the effort herself, the journeyed unaugmented by technology.

-No sign of your phone? Declan adopted a tone of conciliation. He didn’t expect for a moment that she would believe him to be sincere.

Ruby’s usual response when occupied by her mobile was a grunt. Bereft of the distraction, she let out a bewildered sigh. The skin around her nose was raw from nose-blowing.

-No.

-Have you looked in the car?

-In the car, the caravan, the awning…everywhere. You haven’t seen it, have you?

-Not for ages, he said. Which was true, in a way.

-Do you have a tissue? Her voice was low, as if hoping nobody overheard her asking him a favour.

-I think I might- Declan reached into a zipped pocket of his jacket and began to absently tease out an expanse of white cotton.

-That’s-you! It’s you, stealing my underwear!

Declan flexed his hands uselessly. His gaze darted about, unable to settle on anything. Denial was pointless; the truth, after the miniscule step forward their relationship had just taken, would be suicidal.

-You little pervert; your step-sister’s undies.

It was the little that set off a certain train of thought, one he must on some subconscious level have entertained before.

Ruby was almost skipping with glee; glee far worse than righteous anger, so much more insidious.

-Oh, this will be good. I know lots of people who’ll love this. Your friends as much as mine. She shook her head. That’s really twisted.

Declan, despite the panic he felt bubbling over like a shaken soft drink, had mastered himself enough to realise where they were. His voice trembled nonetheless.

-I know where your phone is.

Ruby was nodding.

-I can believe it. Little fetish, was it?

-No; I know it doesn’t change what I’ve done-

-Change? It just adds to it. Jesus!

Declan unclenched his fists. A sudden and terrible calm entered his voice as he parted the undergrowth beside the path.

-Look, there’s something I want to show you.

 

 

 

© Paul Gorman 2017

Also available: Behind the Scenes at the Puppet Theatre e-book for Kindle. Just 99p!

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