CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
On the night that Ben Santiago arrived in Bramston and received his dream briefing from Silus Flax his nemesis, Jonathon Postlethwaite, emerged onto its silent, frosty streets. The icy weather that the town had experienced for days had intensified with the coming of the night, the temperature had rapidly to well below zero and transformed the pavements into glittering slippery surfaces Jonathon found hard to negotiate in Scoggins’s unsuitable footwear which he had commandeered.
Shortly after he had left Rislo and the Turkanschoner he made his way warily toward the lights of the town beyond the cemetery. He had been standing by the church wall shivering in the unfamiliar cold and taking in the scene from the alien world in which he now found himself, when a softly humming machine, its headlamps blazing, had glided to a halt beside him and the window wound slowly down.
The man’s harsh voice had taken him by surprise, but he was relieved that the occupant of the machine was in fact human. Astonished that the driver seemed quite normal he had stared in disbelief for a few moments unable to cope with his request which was presented in a language he understood but was confused by an accent.
Normally it would have only been a matter of moments before he got a grasp of what the man asked by delving into his mind, but when he did the familiarity he found there shocked him further. Silus Flax was there! His spirit tainted the man’s thoughts, but there was more. Those very thoughts were like those of the monster he detested, this stranger’s soul was also a yawning abyss like Flax’s. Jonathon recoiled and shook his head dumbly in disbelief and then probed his mind again for conformation. This time the grey haired man felt his psychic scrutiny and feared him.
Anger suddenly exploded in the man’s mind, a vicious coiling serpent that lashed out toward Jonathon. But it wasn’t Ben Santiago’s anger. It came from beyond him. From the mind that had summoned him here and protected the key to his conquest of Dubh.
Jonathon retreated and forced up his mental barriers. The black snake in the mind of Ben Santiago did not have the ability to pursue the intruder beyond those confines in which it currently dwelt and in which it had always had a physical root.
The car’s engine screamed and roared off into the silent streets, leaving a gasping Jonathon to continue his search for Flax. But the chance encounter had give him further confirmation that Flax was close. He had felt his powerfully protective presence in the driver’s mind and the man had asked for directions to a Cross Keys Public House, whatever that was. That was a clue. All he had to do was find this place and he woudl find who he looked for.
He wandered the rapidly chilling streets hoping for some further psychic clue, a communication between Flax and the man, so that he might eavesdrop and find direction but none came. After an hour or so and no closer uncovering Flax’s whereabouts here, he realised that he needed to find food or shelter or he would freeze to death.
Sucking his fingers and stamping his feet to bring some feeling back into his numbing extremities, he decided his task was hopeless and he should return to the cave and pass through the dimension door, if it was still there, and return again after he had recovered from the effects of the cold and eaten.
He made his way back to the church easily, using its floodlit spire as a guide through the maze of narrow streets. As he approached the market square he was startled by the activity that was now taking place there. Two brightly coloured vehicles with brilliant blue flashing lights were parked by the roadside. The beams of dazzling lamps arced around the shadowy gravestones as the dark uniformed men searched for the body of a man, who they had been told, had been murdered there.
The courting couple stood at the church wall with a man in a black uniform and a high domed hat. Jonathon slipped into the shadows and watched as more uniformed men arrived with excited, barking dogs in a large white van.
Jonathon shivered, not only because of the cold, but because of their resemblance to Flax’s High Hats, and edged his way into a darkened alleyway at the back of the square.
Tall buildings rose either side hung over him and above the ancient cobblestone street which reminded him of Dubh. Perhaps that was why he felt strangely close to the City here he tried to persuade himself, that and the strange men in the square who looked like High Hats. Yes of course, that was why he felt the way he did.
As he shrank back into the enveloping darkness of the alley way, away from the men with their howling dogs, he came across a pair of large wooden gates which stood ajar. Turning, the smell of baking pastry reached his nose. It came from the yard beyond the gates. The smell made his mouth water and he became acutely aware of how hungry he actually was as he realised it was nearly two days since he had eaten in the well shaft below the Castle of Lepers with Rislo.
Jonathon’s hunger led him through the wooden gates which groaned in protest as he pushed through the gap. He glanced around the empty yard and then, his hunger overcoming him, he dashed to the shadows below the rows of blank windows and crept towards the door this mouth-watering smell was emanating from.
The door was open and the faint blue light from the gas oven illuminated the room. For a bakery it was untidy, to say the least. Half completed pies and empty bottles littered the worktop and the floor. Dirty knives and unclean plates and bowls lay everywhere. Jonathon closed the door gently behind him and shut out the freezing air.
The gas oven heated the room quickly and the feeling returned throbbing to his fingers and toes. Jonathon opened the heavy oven door and a blast of hot hair hit him. He realised that the baker had forgotten to switch it off, which was not surprising if he had been solely responsible for consuming the vast quantities of alcohol from the many empty bottles which lay around the floor and were lined up in regiments on the worktops.
After trying various switches on the oven the blue flames eventually disappeared and the hungry youth reached in and extracted a hot pie. The sizzling meat had a strange taste and burned his tongue, yet it filled him stomach and warmed him from the inside out. Six pies later and a couple of bottles of beer, which the baker had overlooked in the crates in the corner, and Jonathon yawned as fatigue overcame him. He sat down wearily in a corner and, like those in the Cross Key Public House above and around him, fell into a deep sleep.