That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He punched me hard in the face. My head bounced against the back door causing stars to dance before my eyes. Grabbing my hair, he dragged me through the small kitchen, my feet or I should say heels couldn’t hold traction on the wet floors. Shopping bags flew out of my hands across the room. I was sure that if I hadn’t grabbed his hands, he would have pulled my hair out by the roots. Then everything went to mush, as he punched me again before throwing me to the floor. With one last hard kick to the stomach I sunk into darkness.
Waking up sprawled across the sofa, I had heard my mother’s voice echoing in my head.
Morgan! It’s time to wake up. Morgan wake up! MORGAN WAKE UP!
MORGAN RUN! NOW!
I had run and now I was sitting in my VW on the side of Torbay Road staring out into the darkness. There were fields beyond, with no moon there was only blackness. Tears streaming down my bloodied and sore face. I thought he had only hit me twice in the face but I think that he had hit a few more times along with a few more kicks after I blacked out. It hurt to cry but then it hurt not to. I wasn’t crying because of the pain even though I should be. It was the thought that I alone had allowed Joe to manipulate and threaten me for so long. I could fight and would no doubt have been able to defend myself if it hadn’t been for those damned high heels, rain and the unexpected first punch. In all the time, we had lived in that house he had never lifted a hand to me. He had spouted off at the mouth many times, and he got back as much as he gave. Allowing myself to be complacent was why I was angry with myself.
An owl hooted in the blackness of the night. I held my phone arguing with myself whether to call Ula or sit and wait for a more respectable time. If I did, what are the chances that Joe would find me, or someone would happen upon me who knew him. Joe Lockmeadow the local country cop, a reputation of fear and intimidation.
I was still holding the phone in my hand. Oh, what the hell. I took a deep breath and rang Ula’s number.
“Hello.” came the sleepy voice of Ula.
“Ula it’s Morgan. I have left- “before I could say anything further Ula’s voice shrieked through the phone.
“Morgan, are you, all right? Where are you? Love, you have to come here.”
“Yes, I’m coming. I have just turned into Torbay Road and pulled over to call you.”
“Keep coming down the road to Dimmer Lane, we are on the right towards the end. You can’t miss it. Sloane will open the gates for you. Drive straight in and park around the back of the house, Morgan don’t stop for anything, or anyone.” she implored whilst shouting at her husband to get out of bed and hurry to open the gates.
“Ok, I will be there soon.” Relief swept over me, worried at the sinful hour I was calling. I clicked the phone off, threw it on the passenger seat and started the car, hesitantly turning the headlights on. If I could have driven the car without them I would have done so, but with no light or moon, I had no choice.
When Ula had begun working at the store, Joe had harassed me to invite her home for dinner. Experience of people that Joe thought I was friends with, and how fast they had vanished or withdrew through fear or intimidationwere lessons well remembered. I convinced Joe that I had no wish to begin a friendship with Ula. She was a colleague and no more. One of the few times I had witnessed a smile, no a smirk edge across his lips.
With the raid on my store looking for the non-existent escapee I was thankful for having Ula there and of course Sloane. What the over zealous police officers did not find though was the room with the bookshelf as a doorway.
I had only shown the room in the last few weeks to Ula, feeling that I could truly trust her. She hammered me with a barrage of questions after I gave her a welcome to my training room. A long room with the wall behind the door holding an array of crossbows, archery equipment and swords. At the far end were targets lined up ready for the next assault of weaponry. There were pulleys along a steel cable suspended half way up above stationary target boards.
I showed Ula the control panel on the back wall that made it possible to move the target boards side to side, slow or fast, back and forward. She stood with hands on hips and her mouth framed a silent O.
“You can use these then?” she had stammered. I nodded at her.
“I trained from the age of four. It was something my mother had insisted upon. It was Duffy who took my training on. He taught me the crossbow, archery, and sword.”
Further conversations with Ula covered the topics of how and when I first began at the emporium. How Duffy himself had thought up the ingenious and intricate mechanical device of opening, and locking the door and the pulley systems. All Ula could choke out was a question of how good was I? So, I had shown her, which brought the O back to her mouth and a resounding “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
It also brought me to entrusting her with the information that Duffy had passed away three years earlier while he was in Egypt seeking new business connections. Duffy had left me the Antique Emporium in his will. How I had kept that small piece of information from Joe and his mother, I will never know. I stared wide eyed at Ula’s acceptance as if she knew. She promised however, to keep what I had shared confidential.
“Well you sure know how to keep a secret Morgan. Nine months I have been here and didn’t know it was there.”
It took fifteen minutes to reach the farm house. There was no mistaking which house it was. it was the only one at this end of the road. A two-story stone mansion. An historical beauty. Ula was out the front waving like a crazy woman in a daisy covered nightgown and pink bunny slippers. Why was I not surprised by her choice of night wear?
I turned my car into the gravel driveway past the gates. Sloane was standing beside them to close them once the car was through, waving as I passed. Driving around to the back of the house Ula ran waving her arms frantically. By the time I got out of my car she crashed into me seizing me in a whopping embrace. A somewhat painful embrace, but one I desperately needed. Oh how I loved Ula’s hugs even when I was sore.
She pulled back to look at me, like a mother would with a hurt child and caught her breath as she saw the full impact of blood, cuts and bruises. Her face changed from happy to complete horror.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What has that bastard done to you? Oh Morgan, your beautiful face!” She cried. “Look Sloane, look at what that animal has done!” tears now whelming up in her own eyes. Sloane came into view his eyebrows furrowing with anger when he caught sight of me.
“Aye he be a foul scunner beast. There’s no call to be hitting a lassie that way. He’ll no be laying his paws on yer wee body agin lass.” Sloane bristled with anger wrapping me in another embrace. I had not felt so much love since my mother has passed.
“Come inside love, the kettles on, don’t worry about your things Sloane will get them for you, give him your keys. He will park your car in the shed out of sight.”
One thing I loved about this woman was how fast she could talk. I had never met anyone that could say so much in such a short amount of time. It annoyed some people, me I didn’t mind at all. Her memory and ability to remember details always astounded me.
Ula steered me through a small mud room filled with coats and wellies. At the other end were three steps that led up to the open door of the kitchen. Sitting me down she fussed like a mother hen.
Scanning the room, I was in awe of the exposed beams, earth coloured slate floors and rich red granite tops. A cream and black Rayburn set into an inglenook fireplace at one end kept the room warm. Masses of herbs hung near the window, their scent wafted to every nook and cranny. Baskets galore filled the area at the top of the cupboards. It was an enchanting room; the homeliness was amazing. Ula placed a large, and a small pot of tea on the table with three cups. She poured the small pot into one cup adding a spoonful of honey stirring it before pushing it towards me.
She said with a desolate smile. “Here love drink this. It is a special blend to help you feel better. You know how I am with my teas. I have a tea for every occasion and every injury.”
“What is it?”
“Just a wee blend of herbs love. Drink now it will do you well. Now tell me why that bastard did this to you and leave nothing out Morgan.” The angst on Ula’s face was as painful as my face and body felt.
“It’s ok, it isn’t as bad as it looks.” Although it felt like I had a broken nose, and my left eye was near to closing all together, and I wasn’t sure if I had a cracked rib or not.
“You look like you have been through the worst of wars. You have cuts, a tear in your lip and look at your eye. Oh, if I get my hands on that piece of shite, I will rip his fucking head off, the bastard.”
Trust Ula to be frank and forthright. She was as blunt as a bag of wet mice. No wonder I loved her so much. I gave her a brief explanation of what happened. She listened while sipping her tea. Shaking her head every now and again. I had never told Ula of how Joe and I married or the missing days of memory. I did so now.
As I finished recounting the events that led me to their door, Sloane walked in and sat down. He slid the car keys across the table towards me. Ula poured him a cup of tea from the large pot. His face set with concern.
“I’ve parked ye wee car in the shed, so nigh will see it if’n they come by.” He took a sip of his tea, black and unsweetened.
“Thank you, I so appreciate…I just-”
“Haud yer wheesht lass. Dinnae fash yerself, we’ve been waiting for ye to come.” Interrupted Sloane.
Ula added. “I told you we are happy to have you here Morgan. So, don’t be worried none about putting Sloane and me out.” She filled her cup from the pot.
I held the cup to my lips just then realising what Sloane had said. They were waiting for me to come. I was confused, maybe I didn’t hear him right. I was in so much pain, not just with my cuts and bruises but over everything. I couldn’t believe how things had escalated so quickly.
Sloane continued as he sipped his tea. “He’ll no be finding ye ere lass, even if he comes calling”, we have a few surprises for him if’n he has a mind to, and he’ll no get past me, and he’ll no get past her.” Sloane waggled his bushy eyebrows at Ula.
Ula would have laughed at the way her husband waggled his eyebrows but this was no time for laughing. She worried her bottom lip, if only she had known the bastard would have resorted to violence she would have been more urgent in her requests in getting Morgan to come to them. Guilt bit into her for not being able to foresee the future like her sister Cumina. No, Ula was a healer not a seer. She knew it had to be Morgan’s will that brought her to their door.
My tea tasted bitter even with the honey in it. I sipped slowly holding back the grimacing my face wanted to make at the taste. I appreciated Ula’s knowledge of herbs and trusted that she had given me something to help. I wasn’t however, sure what Sloane had up his sleeve, what he had in store for Joe should he turn up. I felt more tired than I could recall, whether it was the ambience of the room, the tea or the events of the past twenty-four hours I couldn’t say. I did however, feel safe with the only two people that I had come to love. I now wished I had come here sooner.
“Now Morgan when you’ve finished your tea I will take you to your room. By the looks of you, you could do with a hot soothing bath and a good night’s sleep.” Ula said. “I have just the right blend of herbs to put in the bath for you too. They’ll help to take the sting and soreness out of your poor body.”
I took a last sip of tea, ignoring the biting taste. Getting up wincing at the tenderness I felt over every inch of my body, I thanked them both again. Sloane lifted his cup with a wink.
I had expected Ula to take me through the house to a staircase that would lead to an upstairs bedroom, but instead she led me through the mud room and out the back door.
“Ula where are we going?”
Ula linked her arm with mine and led me around the yard to the garage. She simply smiled, saying not a word. I felt so weary that I let her lead me on. Surprised at her quietness. She seemed to know where every rock and twig lay on the ground with no moonlight to see by. I caught each one of them as I shuffled and skidded over them beside her. When we reached a small door at the side of the garage, Ula opened it and stepped through pulling me along with her.
“Sloane parked your car in here.” she said flipping on the light switch just inside the door. The building, large in size, held a tractor and a multitude of farming equipment at the right side. A gravel floor, and a single light above, dim by normal standards cast eerie shadows over the interior.
“I don’t see my car.”
“Oh, it’s here. The back wall is a false wall.” she pulled me to the left side of the building.
Ula went over to a large shelving rack attached to the left wall. It held rusty tins and jars of nails, screws, hand tools and pieces of metal from the top shelf to the bottom. She cranked something behind the shelves before pulling them to the side. The whole shelf section slid open revealing a doorway.
“Oh, my lord! You have a secret room too?” I wondered if this was built after Ula had found out I had a secret room, or if great minds think alike.