I looked at the clock and was surprised to see it was just past midday, the sun shining unimpeded through the bedroom window. Even if I’d drawn the curtains, their flimsiness wouldn’t have been much of a match for its brilliance. It was another beautiful, late summer’s day in Chanter’s Hide. I lay there wondering about my dream. Now I was fully awake, my earlier hope was dwindling as reality kicked in. The talisman I’d found in the shed contained an ankh, but I’d scrutinised it closely when I first discovered it and was certain it had no markings of any description. The dream was probably just a conglomeration of stuff in my head, as I drifted off. There was still something lingering though, some niggling trace of belief. I needed to re-examine Ted’s old pendant, at least. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it meant something. Whether that was just wishful thinking, coupled with desperation, I didn’t know. I guessed I’d soon find out.
I slid out of bed and got dressed. My stomach was growling, a spot of brunch wouldn’t go amiss before I paid another visit to my man cave. Or maybe, that was just another ploy to put off the inevitable. Nevertheless, I needed something in my stomach. I slid my feet into a pair of flip-flops and made my way downstairs. I’d expected to find Jan in the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. I called her name, panic beginning to set in and then I heard her voice. She was in the front garden, talking to someone. I heard her laugh and a chill ran through me when it was followed by the unmistakable sound of Drake’s guffaw. I bolted for the door, a mixture of anger and fear forming a heavy ball in my stomach.
“What do you want?” I blurted as I stumbled into the sunlight.
Jan’s expression was one of extreme embarrassment coupled with shock. Drake smiled and gave me a wink as Jan turned her death stare on me.
“Simon was just telling me a funny story,” she said through gritted teeth. “About his first day as vicar of Chanter’s Hide.”
I mentally cursed myself for my outburst and tried to rectify the situation.
“Sorry vicar,” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t sleep very well last night. I’d just nodded off and was having a terrible dream. Jan was being abducted by a serial killer. I guess I was still half asleep. Please – accept my apologies.”
Jan’s features softened and she came over and slid her arm through mine.
“It must have been a real nightmare,” Drake said with a grin. “A man must always protect his woman.”
“Indeed.” I put my arm around Jan. “And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Anyway, nice to see you again, vicar; have a nice day.”
“You too, Ben,” The look he gave me indicated that I wouldn’t be enjoying too many more. He turned his attention back to Jan. “You take care, Mum. Look after little Charlie.”
As he walked away, I turned to Jan. “I never mentioned Charlie to him, did you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t remember doing, but I suppose I must have.”
I took her in my arms and laid my head on top of hers. “I love you,” I said. “Don’t ever forget that.”
She pulled her head away and looked into my tear-filled eyes. “What is it, Ben? What’s the matter? You haven’t been yourself since we moved here. Are you missing London?”
I wanted to tell her everything. My heart was practically breaking. I wiped away the tears. “You know me,” I said. “If I don’t get enough sleep, I get weird and emotional. I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t regret coming here, do you?” she asked.
“Of course not, darling,” I lied. “How could I regret moving to such an idyllic place. Charlie’s going to love it.” I pulled her back into my arms and kissed the top of her head, choking back more tears. She hugged me back and I closed my eyes, wanting to stay like this forever. But I knew that wasn’t possible.
“I’d better get back to the garden,” I said. “It’s not going to clear itself.” I gave her a wink and walked back into the cottage before I said something I shouldn’t.
I went through the lounge and kitchen and out of the back door. I suddenly realised I’d been holding my breath again and let it out in ragged gasp. I gazed at the stumps and partially weeded mess but saw nothing. My mind was elsewhere. I walked slowly down to the shed, my steps echoing the apprehension I felt. I had never experienced such feelings of hopelessness before, never known the desolation that now consumed me. My earlier optimistic leanings had disappeared. I was in a blue funk. I opened the shed door and breathed in the stale and musty smell of Ted’s shrine. I took out the manuscript again, hoping it had translated itself into English overnight. It hadn’t. I opened the metal box and took out the pendant. I scrutinised it for a good ten minutes but found nothing. I cursed Uncle Ted for giving me false hope. I threw the ankh onto the useless pages and buried my head in my arms. I stayed like that for a while, my mind racing. I’d always prided myself in being a rather good problem solver, but, now, I was lost. I lifted my head and looked through the dusty, shed window seeing a prison instead of a cottage. Anger flared and I was about to dash the ankh and manuscript to the floor when the sun caught the eye of the ankh and I gasped. The pendant translated the script. It lost its hieroglyphic structure and became text. Unfortunately, it appeared to be Latin. I’d been educated at a grammar school and for the first year we’d been forced to learn Latin. Apart from – amo, amas, amat, though, I was lost. It had been a few years and I hadn’t taken much notice at the time. I could never see the point in learning Latin, unless you intended becoming a doctor or horticulturist, which I didn’t.
I yearned for the internet to come to my aid. I could certainly have found a site that translated Latin to English. I wondered if the power of the pendant might extend to things of a technological nature. I was clutching at straws but, nevertheless, went into the cottage. I could hear Jan singing away upstairs. She’d obviously managed to sort the ground floor to her satisfaction and now she’d turned her attention to higher places.
I picked up the laptop and fired it up. Once I’d signed in, I brought the pendant close to the screen, hoping to see the Wi-Fi symbol burst into life. Deep in my gut, however, was a heavy ball of pessimism. So far Drake had managed to thwart me at every turn. I stared at the laptop, willing it to show a connection, even if it was weak. I imagined the vicar’s bloody, beady eye in the sky, watching my every move. I must have sat there for a good ten minutes. I stood up and would have thrown the useless computer across the room if Jan wasn’t upstairs. That would be the icing on the cake, proving I’d really lost my marbles. Instead I lay it back on the coffee table and went back to the shed.
It was becoming more and more obvious that I was totally out of my depth and powerless to stop Drake taking my child, doing whatever he liked with Jan and disposing of me. I toyed with the idea of taking him up on his offer and joining his evil band. It would save Jan and I, but we’d still lose Charlie. I berated myself for even entertaining the notion.
I tried not to but couldn’t help wallowing in self-pity. Normally I would have been disgusted with myself for such behaviour, but now, I couldn’t see any future. I decided there and then, when it came to it and we were about to lose everything, I would end it. I would not let that bastard take my child and defile my wife. I wondered if Efram possessed a gun. I scooped up the manuscript and ankh and left the shed. I needed to see a friendly face and to ask him the dreaded question. He would understand, I was sure of that.
I went through the kitchen; Jan was still singing her heart out upstairs. There was no point in disturbing her. I let myself out of the cottage quietly and headed for Efram’s place. I wondered why I had brought the manuscript and Ted’s pendant and realised I was still clutching at that last straw. Maybe Efram was a secret linguist.
He answered the door almost immediately. I didn’t have to say anything, he could tell by the look on my face.
“I gather it’s no help,” he said, his expression matching mine.
“Unless you’re fluid in Latin – no.”
“You’d better come in.” He stepped aside and I entered his cottage. Peter was sat in one of the armchairs reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
“Pity Gandalf can’t pay Chanter’s Hide a visit,” I said to him. “We could do with a wizard on our team.”
“What about the manuscript?”
I shook my head. “Unless you can read Latin?”
“There has to be a way,” he said. “Good always triumphs over evil.”
“I’m afraid real life very rarely mirrors the novels we read and films we watch, Peter. You just have to look around the world to see that. Evil is everywhere, slowly smothering what good there is left.” I slumped down onto the sofa. Efram took the other armchair.
“Peter’s right,” he said. “We can’t just give up.”
“I handed him the manuscript. “If you’ve got any bright ideas, I’m all ears.”
He looked down at the strange language crawling like a demented spider over the pages. “This isn’t Latin – is it?”
“Oh no.” I took the ankh out of my pocket. “That translates it into Latin.” I gave him the pendant. “Hold the aperture over the text.”
“That’s weird,” he muttered.
“We’ve got to be realistic; we have no chance.” I looked at Efram and gave him a sad smile. “At least you won’t lose your child. You just carry on living your life the way you have been doing, keeping yourself to yourself.”
“I doubt if Drake is going to allow that to happen now. He knows we’re in cahoots.” He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid Peter and I will go the same way as Ted. We’re in this together – win or lose.”
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “If I hadn’t have approached you in the first place, you wouldn’t be in danger now.”
“No point crying over spilt milk,” Peter said with a grin. “Can I have a look at the manuscript?”
Efram got up and handed it to his son. ” It might as well be in Russian,” he said.
Peter took the pages and jumped in his chair. “Wow,” he said. “Can you get a shock off paper? Give me the pendant, Dad.”
Efram handed it over and as Peter took it, he sat up straight, his eyes bright, both hands trembling.
“You okay Peter?” Efram asked him.
I lay my hand on Efram’s arm and shook my head. “Wait,” I whispered.
The ankh began to glow in Peter’s hand, a shaft of light moving on the manuscript. Suddenly the boy began to speak – in Latin. The light moved over the lines of text, the pages turning by themselves as the beam reached the bottom of each sheet. I could tell Efram was becoming agitated as he watched his son, trance like, reciting the ancient text.
“I think this is meant to be,” I whispered to him fervently.
He glanced at me and then stared back at his son. “You’d better be right,” he said.
Peter rattled his way through the manuscript. When the beam of light hit the last part, the pendant lost its vitality and dropped into his lap. For a few seconds he remained bolt upright, eyes wide. Then he blinked, lowered the pages, and looked at his Father. “With faith comes power,” he said. “Those that have risen will be cast back down.”
Efram grabbed his son’s shoulders. “Peter?” He said softly, looking into the boy’s eyes, their faces mere inches apart.
“I’m fine Dad,” Peter said, and smiled. “We will win this battle.”
“What did you see in the text?” I asked him.
“The manuscript and the pendant are just keys,” he explained. “But there is one more.”
It was then I realised how elated I had been feeling. Peter’s last statement brought me back down to earth. “What do you mean? There is nothing else in Ted’s cottage, I’ve searched it from top to bottom.”
“The last key is on the island,” he said.
“The island? Do you mean ‘Smugglers’ Rock’? Efram asked.
“And what is it, this final key? What will it unlock?” I demanded, feeling that this was just another wild goose chase, engineered, somehow, by Drake.
“As to what it is, I’m not too sure,” Peter replied. “What it unlocks – is the force that separates Heaven from Hell. A power that may be used by either.”
“So, does Drake have access to this...key...or whatever it is?”
Peter sighed. “He knows of its existence and has been searching for it. So far, it remains hidden. Simply, we have to find it before he does.”
“Oh, that’s all right then,” I said sarcastically. “We’re practically home and dry.”
“Steady on Ben,” Efram said sternly. “There’s no need to take your frustration out on Peter. At least we do have a chance now.”
“So, what do we do? Swim over to the bloody island?”
Efram looked at Peter and they exchanged a smile. “Hopefully, we won’t need to,” he said.
“What? You’ve got a boat?”