Seeing Red

Paul is angrier than he's ever been: angry at his surroundings for having changed; angry at his family for being uncaring and abusive and angry at himself for deeper reasons. He is trapped, his life spiraling out of his own control and into the hands of others.

Then he finds the knife. The knife that allows you to kill once, twice, three times and more. Suddenly, he's got the power to change everything in his life, to unleash his anger on those deserving of it in a safe way that hurts no-one. After all, can something be said to have happened if no-one remembers it?

Paul's about to find out that every action has consequences. But before then, blood will flow...

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4. Chapter Four

The corridors are cold and lifeless – once beautiful flowers are now collections of dried petals floating in vases of stagnant water. The night is closing in, aided by the oppressive blanket of cloud that hangs over the land. The moon that previously lit my way is now vanished, leaving me to try and navigate the myriad passages in the dark, alone.

I do not know where I am when I find the rooms, but I realise that I have walked quite a way to get there and that it is far from the wing of bedrooms where everyone else is undoubtedly at. I take a left turn and face a corridor, plain doors set into either side. They’re separated by equal increments of space. I turn the antique doorknob on one and push the door open. It swings open easily. It’s a room – and a plain room at that. It has bare, cream-coloured walls and none but the simplest furnishings: there is a single bed in the corner covered with a thin mattress and scratchy-looking sheets, a small dresser at the bedside, a chest of drawers and a writing desk with a chair tucked beneath it. I can only guess that this is the servant’s quarters. I make a quick count of the number of doors along the corridor. There are seven: seven rooms for seven servants. But not all of the staff would stay overnight, I’d wager.

I check each of the other six rooms to find that none of them is a bathroom. At this point I’m too tired to care where the servants washed themselves and brushed their teeth. I simply stumble back into the room I’ve opened, drop my bags and crash out on the bed. I’ll find a better room tomorrow, I suppose. For now, it’s too late and I need to sleep. I pull the covers over my still-clothed bodily and fall asleep, surrendering my mind to the dark, allowing it to be carried away by the tides of night to the serene seas of sleep where I should have been half an hour ago.

*

I wake up to find the sunlight leaking through the hopelessly thin curtains. The pitiful things are in dire need of replacement, not to mention dusting – I think that perhaps one of my ancestor’s ashes was scattered over those curtains.

Despite the apparent appearance of the sun, it’s freezing cold. With some reluctance, I relinquish my place in the bed and dive into my bag. Soon I am warming up a little – thank God for hooded jumpers.

I cross to the window; fling the curtains wide. There is little or no change in the light level inside the room. I get the feeling that the curtains were installed for privacy rather than to help people stay asleep. I look out the window, and am struck by a beautiful sight.

Frost glitters on the lawn, a diamond dust that reflects the glorious light of the new day. The azure skies are all but devoid of cloud, giving the sun free rein. Across the grass, the trees stand skeletal, swaying slightly in the breeze, their branches waving and twigs trembling. The hills stand purple against the sky, magical shadows playing across the barren mountain’s faces as the sun does its best to warm the cold rock. From here, I have the perfect view. Scotland’s beauty is made clear to me now.

Perhaps this place isn’t going to be as bad as I feared.

I rub the sleep from my eyes as I start to make my way back to the dining room, the corners of my mouth curling up in a smile. There is a spring in my step as I retrace my somewhat winding path. A notion has been planted in my fertile mind, and it is germinating into a thought: Perhaps today will be a good day, I think to myself.

I check my watch as I stroll, an eyebrow rising up my forehead as I realise that it is only just past seven o’clock.  A sight for sore eyes, indeed: a teenager rising early – and of his own accord, too. Perhaps miracles do happen.

Returning to the dining room is almost too easy – my brain pays more attention to what I do than I do, it seems. The very fact that I make it there with only three wrong turns is amazing. Laid out on the table is a selection of breakfast cereals and bowls. Milk sits in the carton. Spoons lie beside their respective bowls. Back home, this used to be the everyday arrangement. The touch of normality feels soothing. It tells me that our location has changed, but nothing else has. But where just yesterday I would have thought this in the most negative sense, now it feels like a good thing.

A new smile shimmers on my lips, and it warms me more than any amount of layers ever could.

I pour myself some cereal and help myself to the milk carton – still cold, I see. The frosted flakes feel good in my mouth, swimming in a sea of milk. The familiarity is strange. It’s almost like I actually want to accept this place as my new home.

I’m reminded of what we left behind in England: friends and family, buildings and places. I miss my friends the most; the guys I’ll probably never speak to again. The worst part is that they probably don’t even miss me. I feel a surge of frustration towards them. I’m wasting my time thinking of them. What do they do for me? I’m almost certain that they aren’t returning my thoughts. I’m a memory to them now; I’m the guy who isn’t there anymore. I may as well be dead in their minds.

The milk turns sour on my tongue, the cereal now sickeningly sweet. I swallow, but I didn’t want that mouthful. The bowl, still containing half my breakfast, stares balefully up at me. Revulsion grips me – I can eat no more. I push the bowl away from me and myself away from the table. The very idea of food is repulsive. I feel sick in my stomach.

I’ve realised just how alone I am, here in the middle of Scotland.

I turn on the dining room and pass through the house. The walls feel like they’re closing in on me. I need to get out, need to get away from the memories of home, to get some fresh air. I hurry down the stairs and into the lobby, snatch my coat from the hat stand come coat hanger, haul the length of wood away from the iron brackets and heave open the door.

The bitter cold is like a knife, slicing through my windbreaker and passing by the multiple layers of clothes that I wear. My breath crystallizes in midair, a puff of pale vapour. Everything is covered in a thin layer of white. Ice crystals coat everything – the stone steps, the grass, the wooden door. The rain from yesterday has frozen, puddles glazed over with a film of clear solid.

I walk cautiously down the steps, careful to avoid the icy patches that make them a veritable minefield of slippery patches. The gravel driveway has not escaped the weather’s grip either. Each stone, every granite chip, is encased in a forest of tiny ice trees, fractal patterns in the crystals quickly escaping sight and fading into the microscopic. I feel like I am in a wonderland – a winter wonderland.

The biting wind is at my back as I stride off across the lawn. It occurs to me that now would be the ideal time to explore the forest. It would provide a welcome distraction – a time to be alone with my thoughts. Blades of grass crunch underfoot as I make my way towards the naked trees, their leaves long gone with the autumn. They look fragile – so very fragile – those immense guardians of the land, standing to protect the country and its animal inhabitants. As I approach them, finer details emerge – the twist in the trunk of the oak, the long dead yew’s startling shape, the roundness of the shrub at the foot of a log. The forest is taking on a personality as I observe.

I reach the tree line where the lawn stops short as the grass ceases abruptly. I stop a moment to listen. No birdsong echoes from the depths; no animals cry out. There is only the ever-present rustling of naked branches shivering in the winter air, their green coats shed as they turned to brown. A sense of foreboding permeates this forest. I feel unwelcome. But I cannot stop now. I do not want to go back inside – I cannot go back. I must escape: escape the huge but empty house; escape the labyrinthine array of corridors and halls; escape the company of those I loathe so intensely. I need to escape my life.

I step into the forest.

The ground is frozen solid beneath my feet, and I feel it through my shoes as I walk. The forest floor is uneven and lumpy. Roots poke out from the rocky soil and small boulders litter the ground. Rabbit holes are treacherously difficult to spot. Long grass hides logs and patches of nettles. The act of keeping track of where I am keeps me alert, but slowly I slip into a sort of trance. Soon I am doing it automatically, my mind adapting to the situation at hand. I find my thoughts wandering and turning to the weather.

It is dreadfully cold old. Had I known sense, I would have swapped my trainers for my walking boots. Instead, I tread softly with slowly freezing feet. My toes are numb with cold.

That’s probably why I don’t feel it when I trip over the root.

I’m approaching a slope when it happens. I’m preoccupied with thoughts of the winter still to come – it is, after all, only October. Suddenly, my foot snags on a root that arches from the ground, and then I’m tumbling helplessly down the slope, rolling head over heels down the incline. I taste dirt in my mouth – cold, loose dirt. Then, silence. I’ve stopped.

It takes a moment for my head to stop spinning. My head aches – I think I bashed my head on a hidden stone. I blink heavily, staring up at the thin canopy of branches above me. Beyond the twigs, the blue sky spreads out.

A throb of agony pulses through my head. Ouch, that really did hurt. I sit up painfully, the action triggering a shooting pain up my back. I put my palm against my head and remove it; a dribble of red stains my hand. I try standing up, but I still feel dizzy. Nausea stirs in my stomach. I groan. I really don’t want to see my breakfast again. My legs collapse from under me, and I kneel on the ground, clutching my head in both hands.

Slowly, the pain subsides. A little while later, I can stand up without fainting. I get up cautiously, not trusting my legs to hold me. When I am sure of my footing, I look around. The realisation of where I am is shocking.

I stand in a bowl, a dip in the earth that follows a perfect curve. No tree or plant grows within the bowl. The ground is covered in the detritus of ages: leaves, twigs and other decaying material litter the ground. But what really strikes me is what stands at the centre of the bowl.

The circle is huge – impossibly large. It’s certainly not natural. Ten tall, rough stones stand in a ring, their bases buried deep in the soil. The monolithic structures are covered in colourful lichens. Each stone is at least three metres in height and must way many tonnes. Yet they are quite obviously ancient, come from an eldritch time before the chronicles of man were begun.

I stare at the stones in fascination – all ten stones are arranged in a perfect circle, each an equal distance from those on either side of them. Their weathered faces have been filed down by time. It is possible to see the pockmarks and scars that time has inflicted upon them – eaten by moss, whipped by the wind, thrashed by the rain. Yet here they stand, testament to those who put them here.

When I take my eyes from the stones, I spot something that should have been obvious from the start. There, in the centre of the circle, stands a table.

I cross to the table. Frowning, I run my hand across its surface. What I know to be a table is a slab of thick rock laid atop two smaller blocks of stone, driven deep into the ground. The rock is cold and rough beneath my fingers, unforgiving and uncaring.

A strange, primal fear stirs within me as I feel the surface of the rock, a race memory from far before this country existed. I back away slowly, fearful of this place I find myself. Every fibre of my being screams at me to leave. A sixth sense tells me that this is an evil place. This place has known death, of this I am sure. A deep urge to leave strikes me, and I know somehow that if I stay here any longer then I shall fall victim to some nameless horror.

I whirl around, ready for flight. I’m highly strung, prepared to flee this awful site. I take a first step. My foot encounters resistance on the ground. There’s something underneath my foot.

I tell myself that it’s only a twig, a piece of branch put there by a long ago gale, but I’m curious all the same. I lift my foot, and there it is, lying in the grass: a knife.

I crouch down to examine the object. The knife isn’t anything to write home about – its rusty blade is around four inches long and attaches to a short handle of wood. It looks to have the remains of leather straps clinging to it. It has no hilt. It is, in all honesty, a piece of junk. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something special about it.

I pick it up and hold it in my hand, scrutinising it carefully. The blade is unusual – it’s roughly triangular, with a groove running down the middle on each side of its browned blade. Time has not been kind to it – the entire thing is rusted beyond believe. Metal flakes away at my touch. Yet something about it captures my attention.

A twig’s snap breaks the silence. My head whips up and instantly begins to throb once more. I ignore the sensation of pain and straighten up. I look around – nothing. There is nothing there. Nought but empty air occupies the space around the bowl.

“You are not supposed to be here.”

I twist around and look up. There, on the edge of the bowl, stands an old man. Tweed jacket and trousers make him seem out of place in this rural setting. In one hand he clutches a walking stick, which he leans on heavily. The other hand is stuffed deep into his pocket. His head hides under a flat cap the same colour as his other apparel. From under it hangs white hair, plastered against his pink forehead. His skin is a bright pink, his jowls a flushed red. His gaze holds an intensity I have never before known. It is a look that adds a serious tone to his words.

“Who are you?” I return, trying to inject confidence into my tone to mask the fright I feel. His sudden appearance has startled me, and it obviously shows.

“You must leave this place,” he says, his voice full of meaning. He ignores my question. “Leave now.”

“Why?” I ask. This time, the stranger affords me an answer.

“Those who visit here befall a terrible fate. Go home, now, lest you suffer the same way they did. Go, or beware the consequences!”

I feel a cold feeling blossom in my chest, and I recognise it as a deep dread. I cannot explain it, but I determine his words as truth. I start to back away from the old man, to climb the steep walls of the ancient bowl.

“Do not return,” the man warns, following my progress. “Not if you value your life, and the lives of those you love.”

I reach the top of the basin and roll over the top. I gather myself and start to make my way back the way I came. Ha! I think laughingly. I don’t love anyone. I turn to tell the old man, but as I open my mouth to call to him, I am struck dumb by surprise. The man is no longer there.

He is gone.

I search for any sign of his existence, but find none. I’m starting to get scared. This is too creepy for my liking. I back away slowly, keeping my eyes on the spot where he had stood. All of a sudden, I turn and flee. Faster and faster I run: I have to get away from the ring of stones. The circle, the table, the old man – I have to get as far as possible from it all.

As the chill air rushes past me, I am aware of the weight in my pocket bumping against my leg with every stride. For there, in my pocket, is the knife.

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