Chapter One: Unseen Intruder
Saturday 15th December 2012 – Evening Time
‘Yes, Jane?’ I answered, shocked she was even speaking to me.
‘I want to go to the cliffs,’ she said, her expression blank.
I tried to read her, but it was fruitless. She’d been acting strange all day.
‘Not tonight. We can go tomorrow morning,’ I muttered, looking away from her to our cake. I realised I hadn’t helped Jane blow out the candles.
‘But, I want to see the stars before the snow comes. They might disappear,’ Jane reasoned, twisting her hands in her lap. She looked nervous like she had to go to the cliffs tonight or something terrible would happen.
‘Jane, they’re not going to disappear forever,’ I answered with a sigh. What was with her desperate need to see the stars? I shook my head. ‘I’m not going tonight,’ I said adamantly. Jane huffed but fell silent. She didn’t mention it again, but I know she wasn’t finished trying to convince me to go.
I looked back over at Jane and noticed she was staring glassy-eyed at nothing again. Something had been bothering Jane all day. I wanted to know what it was so I could help her. I wasn’t enjoying spending time with her… which is something I have never felt before. I usually wouldn’t refuse an innocent request to go to the cliffs, but something wasn’t right.
I nudged her gently in the side, and she turned those glassy, unseeing eyes towards me. There it was again… like she was looking straight through me. ‘What’s wrong, Jane?’ I found myself asking, feeling the worry creep in.
She looked away again, shaking her head. For a moment, I thought she was going to ignore me completely. ‘Nothing,’ she muttered after a few minutes.
I knew Jane was lying. She was the worst liar, and this had never changed in twenty-one years. She was acting strange, and I was treading on eggshells with her. With her current mood, I didn’t want to think about the type of reception I would receive if I pointed this out to her.
I decided to try and lighten the dark mood blanketing our table. ‘Look, I know you’re upset that I won’t go to the cliffs tonight,’ I said, touching her hand. I retracted it with a frown; her hands were freezing even though the room was warm. She turned to look at me. ‘I know it was one of the reasons you chose to come to Dover,’ I said, giving her a half-hearted smile. I didn’t know why, but the prospect of going anywhere near the cliffs made butterflies flutter manically in my stomach.
‘Sure,’ she answered, her tone emotionless. There was no light in her eyes, no excitement at the thought of exploring the town and its history.
I frowned, and tried to piece together why her attitude had become so dark. One minute she was normal, and the next was, dare I say it, like conversing to a wall. I may even get a better response from the wall. The night before she was excited, so what happened? Did she have another nightmare?
I glanced sideways at her, was that the reason for her mood? She’d had nightmares for weeks now, every night. But, she still woke up as Jane, and not… this stranger.
Had something happened this time? Did someone hurt her?
This robotic trance she was in was worrying the hell out of me. I knew she could become depressed, but it was never this bad. She would always snap out of it after a few hours. I put my hand on her arm, trying to show her what comfort I could. ‘I’ll let Mum and Dad know,’ I told her, and she didn’t even look up.
Was I the problem? Did I do something to upset her? I always considered us to be thick as thieves. No matter what happened, we would be able to talk it out like siblings should.
I sighed. ‘Are you going to tell me anything?’
She finally looked over at me… or looked through me would be a better term. ‘Nothing has happened, Sebastian. I’m fine,’ came her answer, the consistent lie she had been keeping up all day.
I turned in my seat, so I was facing her. ‘I know you’re lying,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘I don’t understand why though. I thought you could tell me an—’
‘Sebastian! Jane!’ I groaned mutely at my Dad’s voice. ‘Are you both enjoying yourselves?’ he asked us when he reached the table.
John, our Dad, was a lawyer. He was a pretty strict man, not just when it came to his parental duties.
‘Here,’ Mum said with a smile, placing two wrapped gifts on the table. ‘We thought we would give you your gifts now before more family and friends arrive,’ she explained, her eyes shining with excitement.
Our Mum, Ashleigh, was the most gentle, loving person I have ever known. Mum was a drama lecturer at the Rose Bruford College. She could be an actress if she wanted to.
I was still annoyed at their interruption, but it gave me a chance to gauge if they noticed Jane’s behaviour. I plastered on a smile for them. ‘Thanks,’ I said, pulling my gift towards me.
I ignored it so I could speak to Jane again. I heard a “hrmph!” from behind me, and winced. ‘Well? Aren’t you going to open them?’ she asked, frowning at us.
I sighed mutely; I didn’t want to deal with this right now.
I didn’t think Jane did either, but I saw a dainty hand reach towards the gift. She pulled it towards her, and peeled off the wrapping paper, revealing a jewellery box. Jane was the pickiest person I knew when it came to jewellery. Her expression was blank when she opened it, and inside was a beautiful silver necklace holding a heart pendant, an emerald embedded in the middle. A tiny smile graced her lips, and I smiled in relief.
She stood up, giving our parents an awkward three-way hug. ‘Thank you,’ she mumbled, sitting back down again. She ran her fingers along the silver chain, the smile still there. ‘It’s beautiful,’ she whispered, glancing up at them.
‘We know your favourite colour is green, so it seemed perfect!’ Mum gushed, and I rolled my eyes.
I observed Jane, and when her smile faded, my hope she was herself again died with it. She nodded slowly, deliberately, like someone ordered her to do it. I became increasingly aware that nobody else picked up on this. I felt unsettled, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling this was my fault somehow.
I shook my head and reached for my gift which was a bit bigger than Jane’s. I ripped off the paper, revealing what looked like another jewellery box. I frowned; I never received jewellery of any kind. I shrugged, deciding to open it anyway, and my mouth dropped in shock at what lay inside. It was a beautiful leather strap watch; different coloured stones adorned the face in place of the numbers.
I stood up and hugged my parents, and kissed my Mum’s cheek. ‘This is awesome! I needed a new watch,’ I told them, holding up my wrist to show the frayed watch I’d bought years ago. I took it off and placed the new one around my wrist, setting it to the correct time and date.
‘Well, we’re just glad you like them,’ Mum said, smiling at us. Her smile faded when her eyes settled on Jane, something which wasn’t lost on me. ‘Is everything alright with Jane, Seb? She seems very off today,’ she asked worriedly.
I shook my head. ‘I don’t know. I’m trying to find out,’ I answered quietly, trying not to draw Jane’s attention to the fact we were talking about her.
Mum walked over to Jane, kissing her head, which she didn’t even seem to notice. Mum frowned, trying to hide how much this bothered her. Mum took Dad’s hand and led him away towards the rest of the guests. My guess was this was her way of letting us have some space.
Before I could even open my mouth, Jane stood up quickly, like she’d been burned. Her movement startled me, and she started to walk away, but I reached out and took her arm. ‘Jane, come on. This isn’t like you. Please tell me what’s going on?’ I pleaded, which was not my style.
Jane never answered, but the look she gave me made me let go of her arm for fear of losing my own. She walked away, sitting next to our cousin, Isla, without a backwards glance at me.
I noticed Isla was doing all the talking while Jane stared out the window at the cliffs. So, it wasn’t something I’d done; she was just in a foul mood in general. Usually, this thought would make me feel better about the situation. But, something about this was not ordinary, making me feel worried and apprehensive.
I needed a cigarette, a habit I wanted to break, so I made my way through the restaurant towards the entrance. We were staying at the Marina Hotel, and the entrance opened out onto the beach. It was just a shame we were here in December. I fished a cigarette from my pocket as I navigated the tables and chairs. I glanced back over at Jane again to see if anything had changed.
I froze in my tracks and gripped the back of a high-backed chair in fear. There was a hooded, cloaked person standing in a dark corner of the large room. From my angle, I could see they were staring right at Jane, watching her. I moved towards the corner, trying to get a better look at them, but someone blocked my vision. By the time I reached the corner the person was gone.
My heart was beating thunderously in my chest. Who was that? Why were they watching Jane?
I tried to ignore my apprehension, and made my way towards the door again, looking back over my shoulder a few times to the corner. Did I imagine it? I gripped the door handle, staring across the room at the dark corner. I must have looked odd, and out of my peripheral vision, I noticed some people looking at me strangely.
I was shaking, and I was about to push the door open when a voice called my name. I turned to see Barry, my Uncle on Dad’s side. ‘Barry, long time, no see,’ I greeted him, shaking his outstretched hand.
‘It’s only been a few years,’ Barry said. ‘So, whose idea was it to come to Dover?’ he asked, taking a drink.
‘Jane’s,’ I answered, shrugging lightly. ‘I wanted to go to Bermuda.’
Barry nodded slowly, lost in his thoughts. ‘Well, it’s safer here.’
‘Safer?’ I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
‘Yes, there’s been disappearances,’ Barry answered, wiping his sweaty forehead with a napkin, and I couldn’t help grimacing a little. ‘If you’d chosen Bermuda I wouldn’t have come,’ he said apologetically.
Barry was a fanatic when it came to mysterious happenings in the world. He was obsessed with the unknown, and I wondered if Jane inherited this trait from him.
‘I came over to see if you’re okay. You’re acting a little strange,’ Barry said, frowning at me.
I didn’t want to think about it. Jane was acting like a complete stranger, and cloaked people were watching her. It was related in some way, but I couldn’t grasp what it meant. ‘I just thought I saw something,’ I answered, thinking it would be best not to leave Barry waiting for an answer.
‘As long as you’re sure. You looked pretty worked up.’
I smiled, trying to hide my shaking hands. ‘No, it’s nothing,’ I said with a shrug.
‘Well, I’ll let you get on, Seb.’ I cringed at the nickname my Mum and Jane gave me. I preferred my full name. Barry shook my hand again. ‘Good to see you.’
Finally, I thought. ‘Good to see you too, Barry.’
Barry turned and disappeared into the crowd. I didn’t recognise half the people my parents were talking to. My parents were good at attracting people for conversations. I shook my head; I would never understand where I got my reclusive nature from.
I opened the door, the evening wind made me shiver, and I wrapped my arms around myself. I moved to the left of the entrance where it was sheltered, and I could see all the way down the beach. I could see the docks and the cliffs which loomed over them. The wind whistling in my ears wasn’t doing anything to shake the apprehension I felt. My feet were cold above the snow which fell that morning. It glittered in the lights from the hotels front entrance, and I may have found it pretty if I wasn’t freaked out.
I lit the tip of my cigarette, feeling more relaxed. I hated crowds, even if I knew all the people there. I tended to greet them and disappear quickly.
I was shivering badly now and decided to walk along the beach to warm up. I reached the pier and looked up at Dover Castle looming menacingly in the darkness above the hotel. I glanced to my left to the cliffs, which were lit up by lights at the bottom in the sand. It was eerie but stunning. I finished my cigarette, stubbing it out in the sand, and turned to go back to the hotel, noticing another cloaked person making their way down the beach. They looked exactly like the other one; same cloak, same build, and they seemed to be in a hurry. I teetered on the edge of wanting to follow them and wanting to get back to the warmth and safety the hotel provided.
My curiosity peaked again, and I found myself following this potentially dangerous individual against my better judgement. It was too dark to see if I was following a man or a woman, and even if it was a woman I wasn’t about to underestimate anyone wearing a cloak. They could be carrying a weapon under there.
I reached the docks and looked around, but I couldn’t see them anymore. The boardwalk was long and straight, so they would have to run to disappear unless they were hiding behind one of the ships.
I was hit with the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. I turned back to the hotel, feeling like I desperately needed to get back quickly. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell what it was yet.
I reached the hotel, and headed inside. I was surprised when Jane headed over to me. Something was wrong with her. ‘Are you okay? You don’t look well, Jane,’ I asked her worriedly.
Jane smiled, but it was hollow, and her eyes were glassy. ‘I’m fine, Sebastian. I apologise for treating you so poorly today,’ she said, but it was too formal.
I pretended not to notice and put on a smile. ‘Okay, just take it easy. Maybe head to bed, and we can talk tomorrow?’ I said, trying hard to keep my voice from shaking. I felt like I was talking to a stranger.
Jane shook her head. ‘No, I’m fine,’ she answered, looking like she was gathering her thoughts. ‘I just need some fresh air. It’s a little… close in here,’ she said. I could tell she was choosing her words carefully. It was worrying me even more, and the apprehension I was feeling spiked.
‘Close?’ I asked her, raising my eyebrow, and I’m amazed I kept my composure.
‘Too many people. I need to get away from the celebrations for a while and clear my head,’ she said defensively, and I frowned at her tone.
‘Why don’t you go up to your room for a bit? Open the window to get some fresh air?’ I asked her, not wanting her to go out by herself, but not wanting to go with her either.
‘Yes, maybe…’ she trailed off, looking at the floor blankly.
‘It’ll do you some good. We can talk later, once you’re feeling better,’ I said, trying to walk around her. I wanted to get away from her, which was not like me at all. I felt like this girl wasn’t Jane, and she was an imposter who looked and sounded exactly like her. I tried to tell myself I was an idiot.
‘Wait,’ she snapped. She grabbed my arm with her icy fingers, and I shivered. ‘Please, can we go to the cliffs?’ She pleaded with me. I knew it hadn’t been over. Jane never did give up easily on anything.
I sighed. ‘No, Jane, not tonight. I said we’d go tomorrow.’
‘Yes, I know, but I want to see the stars tonight. We used to do it all the time as kids. I thought it would be nice to spend time together without… people,’ she said, and the way she said the word “people” made me shudder. It sounded to me like she detested people, which was not the case. She loved being around people.
She looked up at me, and her smile became a little warmer like she remembered a time when we did this. It was nice to remember those times, but Jane never pulled out the past in a conversation no matter how happy it was. She would say “memories are nice, but people make new memories every day”.
‘I know, Jane. Those times were fun, but I don’t want to go to the cliffs tonight,’ I told her, making sure there was a note of finality in my tone leaving no room to argue. I walked away from her before she could stop me again.
I managed to find Mum and stood with her. ‘You okay, Seb?’ Mum asked, looking around at the crowd.
‘Yeah, I’m just worried about Jane. She keeps asking me to go to the cliffs with her,’ I said, shaking my head.
Mum frowned at me. ‘She told me you were both going to head up tonight,’ she answered, and I froze.
The blood drained from my face. Dad chose that moment to come over. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Sebastian,’ he said with a chuckle.
I didn’t answer, but I turned my head to where I left Jane near the door. She was gone, and in her place, was one of the cloaked people. Under the hood, I could see their malicious grin. I felt sick; Jane had gone to the cliffs by herself, and these cloaked people were watching her for some unexplainable reason. I didn’t believe she was safe by herself.
I turned back to Mum and Dad who were looking at me worriedly. ‘No, I’m fine, Dad. Just need some fresh air,’ I said to him with a smile, before looking at Mum. ‘Jane must not have realised I meant we’d go to the cliffs tomorrow. She’s getting some fresh air, so we’ll just go tonight,’ I said to her, and Mum nodded, but her frown was still present.
I smiled at them, before making my way to the door. The wind hit me hard, but I was too wound up to care about how cold it was. I looked down the beach towards the cliffs, before turning my eyes back to festivities inside the warm, safe hotel. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be around people. I didn’t know why, but I was terrified.
Steeling my nerves, I made my way along the beach, trying to prepare myself for whatever was about to happen.