Little Bone Horse
Terry Denby grinned at the camera briefly before reverently taking the small object in his gloved hands. There was still soil on the item that seemed too impossibly tiny to have been noticed amongst the rocks and far more spectacular objects.
“And here we have ladies and gentlemen, a real insight into what life must have been like here in the village. That someone had taken such time to carve something for the child that this had once belonged to. It seems strange to think that this had once been a well loved toy, so well loved… that it had been buried with its owner. Not quite the mindless savages that the Roman’s would have had us believe eh?”
The camera panned down to focus on the object in question. It was made of bone, still in one piece but now yellowed and browned from its time in the earth. There was no doubt that it had been a child’s toy so very long ago. Someone, perhaps their parent, had indeed taken time to shape the piece of bone into one fluid image of a horse.
The picture on the television screen disappeared as the set was turned off. The Terry Denby of the present rose from his seat to pour himself another drink. Why he had decided to take a peek at the most recent episode was beyond him. It had been just another week freezing his balls off in a field in the middle of nowhere while the archaeologists around him got excited that one piece of rock looked slightly different to another piece of rock they’d found earlier. Still, he couldn’t complain about ‘Unearthing Britain’. It was certainly filling his pension pot.
“Here’s to all those very interesting pieces of rock!” he raised the glass of scotch to himself, the rest of his flat as empty as it always was.
He knocked the drink back in one, feeling the ice cubes press against his lips while the alcohol burnt his throat. There was a break between this series and the next at least. He had a small time allotted to him to enjoy his flat, friends and food before he was transported about the country. More B and Bs with their terrible full English breakfasts, dated wallpaper and paunchy owners. More time with cardigan wearing weirdos.
As he crossed into the kitchen he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, unfortunately reminding him of the fact that just like the things they found in the ground, he wasn’t getting any younger. His hair was still mostly dark brown though his green eyes were more bloodshot that he would have liked. The least said about the wrinkles the better. If it hadn’t have been for the niche of program he’d found himself presenting he would have considered getting work done.
Terry jerked his head away, steering himself back to the kitchen. There had to be something edible in there that could keep him awake a little longer, there had to be something decent on the T.V. tonight. Still, the producers had loved that little speech, really tugged on all the heartstrings of those parents on a Sunday afternoon. Not that he would know.
He awoke the next morning to his phone ringing on the bedside table while he was still asleep in front of the T.V. Rubbing his eyes briefly, he turned off the cookery show that was now playing. Had that really been on all night? He laughed to himself at the idea of being concerned over wasting power as he walked over to his mobile. Glancing at the name of the caller he saw it was Stella, the monologue loving producer.
“What the hell are you ringing me for this early Stella? You know I like to lie in…”
”I know Terry, I know… it’s just…” she sounded hesitant, something you didn’t like to hear from someone like Stella.
“Dear god, we’re not getting cancelled are we?” he felt unexpected panic tighten in his chest for a moment but it faded away as she laughed quietly.
“No, no. Nothing like that”
“So what is it then?”
”It’s just something weird… something weird happened last night while I was out”
”So why are you ringing me about it so horrendously early in the morning?”
”I’ve got meetings for the rest of the day. This woman was asking about you, about that episode last night. I couldn’t even remember which one it was that was showing”
“It was er…” his mind stretched back and suddenly he felt as though he was holding the horse in his hands again, how smooth it was. “The one with the mass grave. I did that bit to camera about the toy horse”
”Oh” she paused for a moment. “Right I remember. Yes that was a good episode, powerful… the way we teamed it with the analysis of the skeleton…”
“Are you going to get to the point on this Stella or not?” he grumbled and walked back into the living room, rubbing his forehead.
“She was very intense. Very interested in meeting you. She said that she was a big fan of the program, owned some old country house somewhere and that it might make an interesting program”
“She said that after last night’s episode you were the only one who she wanted to discuss it with”
“Huh” he picked up the tumbler and knocked back the watered down remnants of last night’s drink. “And you think this is a good idea?”
”That’s why I’m speaking to you”
”Pass her details to Gordon, he’ll sort something out in my busy, busy schedule” he laughed to himself only to hear Stella join him.
”Enjoy it while it lasts Terry”
As he set the phone back down on the small coffee table in front of him he rolled his eyes, wondering why he didn’t ask Stella what this woman looked like. Stretching, he remembered that women weren’t too keen on being asked such things about other women. Probably felt like betraying the sisterhood or some such bollocks. His first wife had been very much into that kind of thing.
That night he went out with a few old friends to an upmarket bar not far from his flat. They had met each other over time on a number of different sets and programs; they all understood how T.V. worked. The grime that didn’t lie too far beneath the glamour. Still, when it was all said and done they were just the same as any other bunch of guys in their late fifties. Setting the world to rights over some micro-brewed real ale, just like all the normal people who tuned in to watch him each week.
There was something about that night however, that wasn’t as comfortable as usual. A prickling feeling on the back of his neck. He dismissed it at first as simply his age and then that someone had obviously recognised him. Terry tried to glance about the bar as best he could without seeming paranoid. He saw no one that was out of the ordinary, no one that was staring.
“You alright?” his friend Gareth jabbed him playfully.
“Yeah, yeah sorry” he turned his gaze back onto the others who were all looking at him with bemusement.
“Beer gone to your head already?”
”No…” he shook his head, his hand unconsciously moving up to rub the back of his neck. “Bit of a draught in here I think…”
The more Terry tried to focus on his friends the worse the feeling seemed to get. It was no longer the feeling of being recognised, it had turned into something more intense. Someone must be staring at him somewhere, he just had to spot who it was and find out what their problem was.
As he left the bar the feeling of oppression finally lifted and this reprieve allowed him to feel more than a little irritated. It was difficult, however to find someone to direct it at. His night with his friends had been ruined. What time he hadn’t spent trying to focus directly on his mates had been spent on attempting to find the source of the gaze. Trying to get them all together in one place was like herding cats and he knew it would be some time before he could have a good laugh with the lads again.
Emerging from his taxi he paid the driver, remembering to tip him decently enough. Thankfully the man didn’t seem to be among his viewers or if he had, he hadn’t recognised Mr Terry Denby when he wasn’t being rained on in a field. He pulled a carton of cigarettes from his pocket, removing one and lighting it. A sound caught his ear not far away, glancing over he saw a couple talking between themselves. Whatever it was it seemed to be intense, a conversation about to boil over into an argument. The figure he could just make out to be female went to stalk away and in his direction but it was pulled backwards by a male hand and the argument intensified. He smirked to himself as he entered the passcode that let him into the apartment block’s lobby. Better shot of that sort of thing altogether.
To his relief the horrible feeling didn’t return. His agent Gordon called later the next day to say that he had set up a meeting with the woman in question who had passed his patented ‘psycho, groupie and wannabe’ test. Terry continually pointed out that the middle option was certainly not grounds to be excluded from a meeting but his agent of 25 years insisted that he knew best.
“So what’s she like then Gord?”
”Well I only spoke to her on the phone” there was the trademark Gordon pause which always meant he was smoking a cigarette. “Nice voice though. Probably bought this posh place she’s living in off the back of it if you know what I mean”
”Like the sound of her already”
”She might be a hundred years old Terry, voices aren’t everything you know”
”Did she say anything about why she wanted to see me? I mean I don’t have a say in the locations…” he paused “Stella said it was something to do with… with that Roman era dig we did”
”Yeah…” he paused “She said it was the way you’d treated it”
”Oh right?” he frowned, slightly bemused by the whole thing.
”You know what women are like. You probably made her blub over her Sunday roast”
”Yeah, probably…” he felt his body go hot while his stomach turned cold.
“You alright Terry? Nigel said you were a bit off when you lads met up”
”I’m fine. Going down the flu or something…”
”Get on that Echinacea Terry! I keep telling you!”
“I’m on it, I’m on it…” he shifted a hand through his hair, moving to open the window across the room. “What are the details then?”
”Saxon Hotel, the one in the square. Got a private room sorted for you, number 6. It’s at nine p.m. on Saturday”
”Nine at night?”
”She said she was busy during the day and I knew it wouldn’t interrupt anything on your end…” he paused, dragging on his cigarette. “Don’t screw this up Terry. She described her place, some sort of Elizabethan manor originally but it’s been occupied and altered ever since. Sounds in good condition”
”What’s her name?”
”Sounds foreign” he snorted slightly at the idea of some foreign aristo having bought a piece of historical property like that. It was more than likely just a holiday home or something as terrible. Perhaps she was getting it all turned into apartments and wanted the publicity.
”Sounded English enough to me”
“Well I’ll find out for you when I meet her… see if I can’t pull on those heartstrings again”
”Or something else eh?” Gordon’s laugh turned into a hacking cough for a moment, Terry decided to end it there rather than wait for his friend to recover.
“You know it Gord, you know it…”
As he ended the call his eyes were drawn to the small wooden drinks cabinet that he had sat next to the fake fireplace. It was a decent antique but not nearly big enough for the job it had been built for in Terry’s opinion. It did however; serve a very useful new purpose. Terry crossed the room and set his hand on the top, his brow creasing for a moment as he debated opening it. There was something about this meeting that didn’t sit right in his gut.
He nearly jumped a foot in the air when his phone rang again. Rolling his eyes, he walked past to it before flopping down in his armchair. People kept telling him to watch his health and then did things like this! Glancing down at the phone he saw Stella’s name again.
“Hey Stella. You’ll be pleased, I’m contacting that woman”
“What woman?” she paused and then batted the question to one side. “Look I haven’t got time for this Terry, I can’t play agony aunt for you, Phillip is dead and the entire catalogue from the show last night is gone. Do you understand me? Gone”
“What… what do you mean what woman?” Terry heard his voice, it sounded so quiet before the confusion and irritation boiled up within him. “What do you mean Phillip’s dead? Why the hell are you telling me about the catalogue?”
”They found him last night… he’d been stabbed in the archive in the museum… He was working on the pieces from the dig we did a couple of months ago. The police think someone saw the show and thought it might be worth something…”
”Phillip…” an image of a round, ginger man with red cheeks flashed before his eyes. Quiet Phil, who liked spending time analysing and examining. Dear God, he wouldn’t have hurt anyone and yet someone had found it so easy to hurt him.
“Dead” Stella’s voice slowly turned from anguished to cold. “And you know what’s funny Terry? They went over everything ten times and there was something missing”
”Missing?” Terry thought he was going to be sick. “Well of course something was missing, someone stole it all!”
”Missing as in never catalogued. Never catalogued as in never written down in the record of things found on that dig”
”So I’m a detective now? Why are you telling me this?” he could feel himself sweating under his shirt, his clammy hand could barely hold the phone. “And you still haven’t told me what the hell kind of practical joke you’re playing! Is this part of it? You tell me there’s some woman who needs to meet me! Gordon rang her for god’s sake! I’m meeting her! Jog your memory does it?” Terry snapped at her, his heart pounding.
“What? Terry I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What woman?”
“You rang me on Monday, told me there was a woman you met in a bar that wanted to speak to me, said it was a lead”
”I… I did speak to someone but we didn’t talk about you Terry”
“Then how the hell did she get Gordon’s number? I told you to give it to her!”
“Stop shouting at me damn it! Hold on! Hold on…” she sighed angrily as she moved away from the phone. He could hear buttons being pressed on her end. “Well I’m…” she stopped abruptly. “What? But I didn’t…”
“What?” Terry snapped at her.
”My call log… it says I called you on Monday morning…” she paused, stuttering. “I don’t understand… I don’t remember…”
”Well it was you on the damn phone Stella. It was your number that came up on my phone. Maybe lay off the vino after midnight” he sneered at her and hung up the call.
Terry’s heart was pounding in his chest, he felt physically sick. Thank god Stella’s mistake had been so obvious. His eyes flicked back to the drinks cabinet. He paused for a moment before he strode across the room, crouching slowly to save his knees before he opened the small carved door. His fingers reached blindly to the back of the cabinet and he found the familiar smooth corner.
With one tug, the shelves and back panel of the cabinet came away in his hands and he set them carefully leaning against the main body. He took out a small metal lockbox with a combination lock on the front, removing it from the dusty shelf almost reverently. It had to be moved somewhere else. Stella wasn’t going to be distracted by digs at her alcoholism for long.
There was no way that they could say it was him. For one, his main accomplice was dead. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the panic-produced sweat making his body feel freezing cold. Poor old Phil. He had been more than happy to have a payout to turn a blind eye to things going missing. Things that no one would care about once the credits rolled. All until the police suddenly had to take a look into things at a closer level.
“Damn it!” Terry snarled and grabbed a glass from one of the cabinet shelves, throwing it against the wall. “DAMN IT!”
He felt his heart thumping in his chest again and checked his behaviour at once. A life time of smoking, drinking and mingling in showbiz hadn’t done wonders for his body. Terry had always felt cheated that they decided all the things he’d indulged in were unhealthy long after he’d been consistently indulging in them.
“Calm down Terry… no point loosing your head now is there? Nothing pointing to you…”
The metal box suddenly seemed to draw more attention to itself from its position on the floor. Nothing pointing to him except the box but then it was just a box. His first instinct was to throw it away, it could be disposed of easily, thrown in a canal or buried somewhere. He laughed to himself for a moment at the idea of some futuristic version of himself digging it up out of the archaeological dig of a 21st century car park.
He put a hand on the box and frowned at how old and wrinkled that hand was getting already. Something else to blame on the job, even if he did wear gloves his hands and face were aging faster. As he felt the cool metal under his palm he could almost sense the objects inside the box and Terry Denby knew that he couldn’t just throw the box away, he hadn’t gone to all this trouble for nothing.
He couldn’t stand the idea of hiding the box somewhere, it was worth too much for one. He needed to get away from the flat, he needed to be away from anywhere that there might be a reporter lurking around the corner wanting to get a quote from him. Distance was what was called for. The press office could make their nice, safe and sanitised official statements and he could keep his mind together.
Terry replaced the back of the cabinet, glancing over at the spot where the glass had shattered against his wall. Chewing on his bottom lip, he pushed himself up from the floor and slowly made his way back to the sofa. His hand reached for the phone.
”What’s wrong Terry? Missing me already?” he laughed and spluttered before hearing the long pause on the other end. “Jesus what’s wrong?”
“Philip’s dead. You know, from the archives for ‘Unearthing Britain’?”
”I remember him; he was one of your mates wasn’t he?”
”Yes… Stella just told me” he paused. “I’ve been invited over to the Lake District for a couple of days. I thought it would help sort my head out”
“As much as I know you were mates Terry you need to make that meeting. From what that woman said there’s enough history around her place for a whole series, she might even give us some funding”
“I’ll be back in time for that meeting, don’t worry…”
”Good chap, ring me when you’re feeling yourself eh? You sound shaken up”
”I will do Gord, thanks…”
”No worries Terry”
As Terry ended the call, his thoughts remained fixed on this mystery woman. Ms Epona. There had been something about Stella’s voice. She had sounded just as scared as he’d been at that moment. He snorted for moment, enjoying the mental image of Stella’s horsey face as it was completely bewildered.
He took no time in scouting about his flat for what he’d need to pack to take with him. He had the perfect alibi in the form of Philip’s death. He laughed to himself briefly as he packed his bag, good old Phil, still being useful beyond the grave. That was surely the sign of a true friend.
Once his trusty suitcase was packed, Terry headed downstairs via the lift and exited in the car park. He didn’t have a car as it always seemed a bit redundant. The show required him to go such long distances and he sure as hell wasn’t driving himself all the way up to Scotland. Not when the production company could pay for him to travel in style.
He calculated the number of days he had left with what would be a comfortable amount of money to use to keep his head down, just to keep him nicely out of the way while the storm blew over. He withdrew it and then caught the tram over to the Saxon hotel that Gordon had mentioned. Well he was certainly a keen one, turning up days early for his meeting.
Terry found himself giving his false name at the hotel with a surprising amount of ease. It was simple really, wait out in his hotel room until the meeting and then he could ring back Stella with a great idea that he himself had secured for the show. Philip’s death would have been sorted out. Other than Stella’s personal suspicion there was nothing even linking him. He had always paid Phil in cash and always from one of his little accounts that he’d started up after the divorce of his first wife had taught him a fine lesson.
As he opened the hotel room door he had to sigh to himself. Here he was on his holiday and he was emulating the usual routine. There was a complimentary copy of some free newspaper or another on the small writing desk in the room but he knew there was no point looking. If Stella had rung him then he would have been one of the first people to know, the news wouldn’t break until the next day.
Unzipping the suitcase on his bed, he systematically unpacked his clothes and hung them up on their headless coat hangers in the small wardrobe, slowly uncovering the metal box. Glancing down he saw the familiar sight of the tiny hotel safe. It would have to do; he couldn’t have the box in the bedside drawer where any maid could get to it.
The first night he spent trying to distract himself with the rather large, flat screen TV. There was certainly something to be said for his agent, he knew what hotels his clients would find suitable. Even when he’d had to stay in B+Bs that were a fraction from being a family home instead of a guesthouse the people had been decent.
The distraction would only work for so long before his mind would start reminding him of the reason he was watching it from a sterile bed and not his home. The reason that he had nearly had another heart attack earlier on in the day.
He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment that he had fallen asleep but all he knew when he awoke was that it hadn’t been restful. Terry hissed for a moment at the ache in his neck from where he had fallen asleep in some god awful position. Rubbing the muscles slowly with one hand, he pushed himself up with the other and shuffled over to the hotel room door.
Sure enough, outside was the small chrome tray with a few slices of toast, a large glass of orange juice and an apple which was holding the latest edition of the paper in place. He tried not to snatch up the tray as he picked it up and quickly closed the door to his room.
He set the tray on the desk and ignored the food in favour of unfolding the paper to see what was on the front. Any hunger that Terry had felt evaporated as he saw the headline stare up at him in unapologetically large letters ‘UNEARTHING MURDER AND THEFT’. There was a picture to the left of the main body of text, one of the press shots they’d taken of the mass grave that they’d found on the show that had aired a few days ago. He breathed a small sigh of relief that it wasn’t a picture of him, that much was good at least.
Terry quickly scanned the article which mentioned the death of Phillip Travers (45) who had worked behind the scenes of ‘Unearthing Britain’. Someone had broken into his work in the museum archives where he had been cataloguing and examining the items found on their last dig of the series. They had not only stolen the grave finds such as small beads and a few pieces of jewellery but the bones as well.
He felt his brown furrow with confusion. Terry knew that he could understand what value the objects they’d found might have to someone somewhere but who the hell would want the bones of a load of ancient Britons? There was no mention of any reason. It wouldn’t have been like they would have needed to sweep everything into one bag, the more precious items would have been stored separately…
Shaking his head, he realised that he had been ignoring the most important fact of all. Apart from the mention of him as the presenter of the show there was no other link there, there wasn’t even a mention in the article about the other missing items. Of course the police were investigating but the murder would take precedence and he certainly hadn’t got anything to do with that! He had over reacted and he had to laugh at himself for it but it was better to be safe than sorry.
The next few days he found himself becoming something of a hermit but even hermits had their rituals. When he woke he would hungrily grab the newest edition of the paper from its tray and scour it for any hint of what had happened but nothing further was mentioned. He would try to distract himself with whatever happened to be on the television or the internet and then escape for a few hours to allow housekeeping in. He’d head to a pub that was dingy enough for no one to recognise him and then he’d go back to his room and abuse the mini bar.
The ritual was a form of comfort that he needed to attempt to block out his thoughts. However, no matter what he did he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched in the evening and at night. Terry put it down the fact that he had even less interaction then, there was less to distract him. There was also the constant preoccupation his mind had with the bones. Why the bones? What would someone do with some ancient bones?
Saturday morning came at long last and Terry found himself opening the door before he’d even fully woken up. He kicked it shut as he brought the tray inside, setting it down next to him on the bed. He unfolded the newspaper and started scanning it. Since the original report about Phil’s death there had been nothing else mentioned in the papers but this time on page four he caught a glimpse of Phil’s name. It was in such a small section of the already cramped newspaper that it would have been easily unseen.
He nearly fell off the bed when he read the next line. They had arrested someone on suspicion of the murder. The paper was sketchy on anything but the basics. The suspect was a man in his early fifties of ‘no fixed abode’. Terry shook his head, shifting a hand into his greying hair and gripping it there. Why the hell would some vagrant break into an office and kill Phil? Why the hell would they go for something so specific? There had to be more. He snarled to himself as he knew he was missing something.
Terry read the rest of the paper slowly to absorb some of the time. He had to admit that he was excited about the meeting as mysterious as it was though a part of him was terrified. Stella had lead this woman to him, he still wondered whether he would open the door of the meeting room to find police.
“They have nothing to go on… she has no evidence… none” he muttered to himself, his eyes straying to where the small metal box was currently hidden inside the hotel safe. It hadn’t been out of his sight in days and was now starting to feel more like a millstone around his neck than his box of treasures.
He closed his eyes and sighed wearily, trying to remember why the hell he had wanted it so much but the answer came easily. It wasn’t just the look of the thing; it was the feel of it. There was something about the smooth lines of the ancient shape of the horse underneath his fingers. It had been made with love, he hadn’t been bullshitting about that at least.
Terry continued his now traditional daily activities for what he hoped was the last time. Everything should have died down by now, surely in time for Phil’s funeral which he knew he would be attending no matter what. On top of that, if he played his cards right, he would have got an important new contract for a new show in the next series.
The sun went down and he found himself pacing in front of the television. It seemed like every five seconds he checked his suit, picked off a new imaginary piece of dirt and then checked his watch again. He didn’t want to be too early but he knew it wouldn’t do for this Ms Epona to turn up and find out he hadn’t got the key yet.
He went to reach for the doorknob and then suddenly remembered the box. He could hardly take it into the interview with him. He considered his briefcase before he realised he hadn’t brought it with him and it was too thick to have fitted in any event. Terry felt himself start sweating at the idea of leaving it vulnerable in the hotel room, even sat in the safe. What else could he do? How else could he explain an ugly looking metal box?
Terry crossed to where the squat safe was sat in the small wardrobe and checked that it was locked. Swallowing, he forced himself to stand upright again just as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He knew he was being watched. He darted over to the window and looked outside frantically as he tried to stop his heart racing. He tried to spot someone from another window or even another rooftop looking at him but could see no one amidst the dark. He pulled the curtains shut quickly and found himself clutching at his shirt at the level of his heart.
“Jesus Christ, get it together Terry. There is no one watching you… it’s all in your head. Nobody knows. The only man that did is dead. Nobody knows…”
He found himself repeating the words like a mantra as he smoothed down his shirt and checked his appearance in the mirror one last time. He locked the door to his hotel room and made his way down to the reception, picking up the key for meeting room six.
Terry pushed open the door of the small meeting room and rolled his eyes. For the price that Gordon had undoubtedly paid for it they may as well have had the meeting in his hotel room. Mind you, that just didn’t sound right. He laughed to himself slightly, feeling his body slowly relax by degrees. It was good to laugh again, even for a moment, at the idea of inviting some prestigious client to meet him up in his room.
Thankfully there were some complimentary wafer-thin pads of paper and pens already set out on the small table that seemed to be used to seating four people. It was far too formal for his tastes and so he pushed the table and chairs back, pulling two small armchairs forward. He was sure that he could balance the pad of paper on one of the thick arms.
Terry was just finishing putting the small water jug near the two chairs when he heard the door open behind him. Ms Epona was more beautiful than he had pictured. Long, sleek black hair framed her pale face and fell down her back slightly past her shoulders. She looked in her late twenties, dressed in an extremely well fitted suit that complimented a classically stunning figure. The suit itself was obviously not an ‘off the rack’ item. It was, however, her violet-grey eyes that stopped his greeting in his throat.
“Mr Denby, I presume?” the voice came from the upper classes, making Terry feel slightly ashamed of his roots.
“I… ah yes. You must be Ms Epona”
“Yes” her lips curved in a small smile. Her eyes scanned the room, ignoring him for a moment. “You’ve made it less…” she paused to find the right word “corporate. I will thank you for that at least…”
”Well I’m sure if you’ve seen our show you’ll know that we’re probably as far from corporate as you can get” he laughed and didn’t hear her join him. He could feel himself sweating and mentally forced himself to get back on track. The fact that she wasn’t some dried up old spinster didn’t mean anything changed.
“I can imagine…” she spoke quietly, her tone somehow colder. He frowned to himself and wondered where he was going wrong with this woman. Usually his doddery charm worked pretty well.
“Well… please take a seat Ms Epona” he smiled again “I’m intrigued that you wanted to meet me personally by the way…” he sat down in the chair, setting his piece of paper and pen ready, as attentive as a little dog.
“There is nothing intriguing about it Mr Denby” she fixed him with her eyes and he felt cold again. “I saw your show and… I knew that there was something more to you. I knew that you were the exact person that I would need to speak to” she paused again “I am sorry about your colleague…”
”What?” Terry froze for a moment, the mention of Phil snapping him straight out of the comfort zone he’d only just started enjoying. “Oh… yes I know. I didn’t really know him very well, not as well as I would have liked anyway. You only know these things after it’s too late…”
”Indeed…” she spoke quietly again, her voice seemed to gain and loose strength so suddenly.
“You liked the last episode I understand? At least that’s what Gordon told me” he tried a smile only to be met by her eyes, staring at him.
“No. I did not”
”What?” he found himself flummoxed again. “I’m sorry… I just thought that was one of the reasons…”
”Oh it is” she nodded and then sat back in chair, her posture impeccable. “I will have to be honest with you Mr Denby…”
”Okay… but at least call me Terry” he frowned slightly, wondering what the hell this was about. Surely Gordon would have picked up on the fact that she was a psycho, surely he had vetted her.
“Fine, Terry…” his name seemed to be offensive to her “Your last episode distressed me…”
”Was it the bit with the toy horse?” he looked to her curiously, trying not to seem as keen as he felt to get to the bottom of what this was about. With the mention of the horse her eyes snapped back to him.
“Why would you say that?”
”Women get emotional about that kind of thing”
”Yes” her voice was emotionless “Women do”
“Look, I was under the impression we were here to discuss your home…”
”As I was just about to say Terry. I have to be honest with you”
”Go on then” he frowned, his tone becoming shorter by the second. He’d gone through enough this week without being messed around by some posh model.
“This is about the truth of me Terry, something I’ve been avoiding for centuries… millennia… because I thought it was buried. Things that are buried have a tendency to go undisturbed and I thought…” she paused, her voice sounded tight in her throat. “I thought…”
He watched her, fascinated as well as baffled as she rose from her seat and moved over to the small window, looking out into the night. She was speaking nonsense of course, no doubt as mad as a box of frogs but somehow he didn’t want to interrupt her.
“I never thought I would see it again… I never even…” he heard her cough, her back was to him and she remained silent for a moment, long enough for him to become irritated with her again.
“What the hell are you saying? That you planted it there?”
”I was taken. I was gone and I never wondered what they did with the bodies… I just assumed…” he could barely hear her and had no desire to hear much more. He stood silently and kept his eyes fixed on her as he tried to quietly back towards the door. Enough was enough. “I never went back… I never even considered it. I couldn’t face…” the silence seemed to fall heavily now. She spoke without turning. “Stop where you are Denby…”
”What…?” he found himself stopping dead despite himself. She was facing him in an instant, somehow in the blink of an eye she had moved from the window to an inch from his face.
“I don’t even normally watch television you understand… I just happened to be visiting a friend and there you were…” her beautiful, cold eyes narrowed. “There you were. I recognised the hill first… the landscape is the only thing to really stay relatively consistent and yet it wasn’t exactly as I remembered….”
“What are you on about you mad bitch?” he practically shouted the words, feeling himself back up further until his spine was resting against the door. He had expected a slap or perhaps some further mad mutterings but received the opposite. Ms Epona was still, so still that she almost looked like a statue. He rubbed his eyes for a moment, unable to believe that she was living; nothing that had to breathe could stay so motionless. “…what are you?”
”A rare occurrence for you Denby…” she seemed to gather her resolve once more. “I am an eyewitness…” she sat down, smoothing her skirt and regarding him as though nothing had happened.
“An eyewitness to what exactly?” he remained by the door, he found himself too confused and too terrified to reach for the door handle.
“To the events of your last episode…”
”And how, pray tell, have you survived the last two thousand odd years in such good condition?”
“Strength of character” she locked eyes with him and suddenly seemed a little less human. She smiled coldly, displaying two long, sharp teeth; her skin seemed even paler in contrast to her dark hair.
“Wh…what?” he paused for a moment and then burst out laughing. “You can’t expect me to believe this? Jesus, who put you up to this? Is it Stella?”
”No but she was very helpful. Without her I doubt I would have been able to peak your interest and put my proposal to your agent” as she spoke the words, her form seemed to shift before his eyes and her voice changed subtly. Stella was standing before him; even her outfit became one that Terry recognised.
“This isn’t real… something in my drink, something I…” Terry felt cold sweat beading on his brow and dampening his shirt. “Just stress…”
”I suppose I confused her, poor thing. I did chat to her for a little while, just enough to get hold of her phone. Just long enough for me to speak to you from her number” she spoke in Stella’s voice, there was no doubt it was her and yet… the stance wasn’t quite right, her mannerisms weren’t there.
”That… that was you…” he watched her, trying to tell his brain that it wasn’t Stella standing before him. Then, as if to aid him, the woman slowly became what she had been, reclined back in the chair. “Stop doing that!” he panicked just from the edge of hysteria in his voice. “What do you want? What do you want from me?”
”In all the time you spent prodding bits of bone with trowels, unearthing ‘grave finds’, cataloguing. How often did you think of the person that was once there? The soul that made those bones move around, made that body laugh and cry and breathe?” her eyes were locked onto his once more, forcing them to stop staring at her teeth, her fangs. She was a predator whatever she was. He had done enough looking at skeletal structures to know you didn’t have teeth like that to eat plants. “Never. Why is that Denby? Why are human remains an item that has to be numbered and catalogued and tested?” she hissed at him. “Because no one remembers them?” she stood and he felt his body trying to press its way through the door. “I remember. I remember them Denby. Every bone that you dug up was a member of my family, my tribe, my people. Those I loved, I hated, I supported… those I saw slaughtered” there was a rage and a fire in her eyes, something darker than tears welled there. “My children…” her voice faded into nothing and he watched in terror as bloody lines slowly coursed from her eyes. Was she crying? “My son…”
Silence filled the room for a moment as her gaze seemed to slip through him and away to another place. Terrified though he was, some part of his brain seemed to have some sense left and slowly inched towards the door handle. It stopped dead as soon as he heard her voice again.
”And there you were… there you were, Mr Terry Denby, holding that item in your stubby, gloved hands. That thing that I could remember every millimetre of, that I had seen when it was just a lump of bone… that he must have held so tightly till the end…” her body shuddered, her arms folded around her chest for a moment before she straightened. The thing that called itself Ms Epona stared at him accusingly and as if a veil had been lifted, he saw her age in her eyes then. The fearsome weight of nearly two thousand years of existence. “There you were, holding his favourite thing… making some speech, some horrendous contrived speech to try and make me feel something…” her voice sounded suddenly too inhuman. “You do not know the truth of what I feel, what I felt on that day…”
“Oh God…” his words were little more than a whisper.
He knew somewhere in the back of his brain that she was going to kill him. How could he escape a creature like this? Was this even real? His mind raced in an all too human way and tried to work out how to escape none the less.
“So… so…” he forced himself to think coherently, gasping the words out as best he could. “So you want… me to apologise?” he looked at her desperately, suddenly feeling on the verge of tears as her gaze intensified.
“I want to bury them” she shook her head slowly and then laughed. It was a laugh without humour and only mockery and despair. “I want to bury them as they were… but I don’t even know the rites. I don’t know the words anymore… no one will…” She rose slowly, in one flowing movement. “I doubt the Romans showed them any kind of decency in death… and now you have dragged them up from their resting place. Cleaned the earth from their bones… for what?” she glared at him. “To store them? To put them on display! To put a road over their resting place!”
“Oh God…” the terror in Terry’s mind had left it almost free of any clear thought, so that the sudden realisation slid in without competition. “It was you… you stole the bones… you killed Phil…”
”I. Stole. Nothing” she snarled at him, showing her horrendously sharp fangs. Terry felt his legs buckle beneath him and collapsed on the floor sat upright, he knew that if she attacked him now he would be too frightened to move. “You. You are the thief” she looked down on him with a mix of hatred and contempt.
“I… I didn’t…” he even surprised himself with his denial. The thing in front of him was powerful beyond comprehension and there he was trying to lie to it.
“He told me” the three words were the signature on his death sentence. He knew it.
“You killed Phil…” he tried to imagine poor bumbling Phil being met by this once beautiful woman. He wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“I…” she closed her eyes for a moment, summoning some composure back. “I was too full of wrath, too angry… I could not be reasoned with, not even my closest friend could dissuade me. It was quick” she returned her gaze to him. Something told him that he wasn’t going to have a similar end.
”And now you’re going to kill me…” he heard himself say the words and felt his heartbeat race further. “But, but I just present the show! I don’t choose where we go! I don’t unearth them! It’s not my fault!”
”No. You don’t unearth them. You just steal their favourite toys…”
”Oh God…” Terry felt his own tears running down his cheeks. “Please… please don’t kill me…”
“I want to bury my people in their land… I want to do so with what little they were left with once their lives had been taken. I want his little bone horse” she watched him as a human would watch a disgusting slug, letting it live the last few seconds of its slimy life before it was slowly crushed underfoot.
“It’s in my room. God, it’s in my room, in the safe. I can get it to you. I can give it you!”
Terry almost screamed when they appeared in his room. One second ago he had been in the meeting room and now they were five floors up. He was no longer huddled against the door but the bed instead.
“How… how did you…?”
The woman ignored him and crossed the room, wrenching the wardrobe door off its sliding track with a brief flick of her wrist before she bent down to the safe. For a moment he waited for her to ask him for the combination but no question came. He heard the heavy metal door open and the sound of the lockbox being removed.
Pulling himself up with what strength he had left, he watched her as she snapped open the lid. Her pale, elegant hand reached inside; shifting the protective wrapping he kept in there. It rooted through the other items in the box before it located the item in question. Her eyes closed tightly as she dropped onto her knees, her fist clenched so firmly that he wondered if he would see more of her blood. She opened her hand, a finger stroking the long elegant lines of the horse, her eyes not fixed on it as it was in the present but as it had been some time ago.
“What happens now…?” Terry heard his voice speak in a whisper, his eyes transfixed on her.
The woman didn’t answer him for a moment but rose slowly, unfolding her body from where she had been on the floor. She kept the horse in one hand, pressing it against her solar plexus as she looked out of the window into the night.
“Now… I return them back to the earth. I loose them again…”
”…I… I meant about me…” he stammered. She turned to look down at him, as though he had suddenly appeared out of thin air.
“You remember Denby… you ensure my message is conveyed efficiently…”
There were reports of the former beloved presenter Terry Denby being found covered in blood in a hotel room. Some speculated that he had tried to take his own life, others that he had been attacked by a crazed stalker. There was mention of a heart condition. All that was certain was that there was a metal box in his hands when he was found. It contained items that had been immediately recognised as stolen trinkets from previous excavations, ones that had been reported lost or damaged in transit or not at all. Stone, bone and pottery toys.
What wasn’t reported became something of a legend surrounding the man’s death. He had been found by the maid the morning after he had last been seen entering the meeting room that his agent had booked for him. The maid had screamed and gone running for the first official she could find and even then he still had just an ounce of life left inside him. As the manager had bent down over the blood soaked and corpselike figure of Terry Denby, he had grabbed her head, pulling her close enough to whisper horribly in her ear.
“They… remember… them… they… watch…”
In the pitch black night that can only be found in the hills of the countryside, figures slowly and silently made their way to an unremarkable field. One by one, they converged upon a sole shape that had been there hours before, just as pale as themselves. They watched in supportive silence as the wrapped bundles were deposited in the earth one by one. They listened to each unfamiliar and archaic name that was pronounced to the air in an accent that had not been heard in two thousand years.
Only she remembered.
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