Crouching on the grass, her heart pounding fast, Vicky slowly opened her eyes and blinked. She brushed her long auburn hair away from her face and with a mixture of reluctance and curiosity she stared at the distant window again.
No one there. Curtains hung at the sides, revealing a dark expanse in the middle. She got to her feet and looked down at her Photon Lock09 DSLR and tripod spread across the grass. Hoping that nothing was damaged, she gently picked up the camera and examined it. Visibly, there appeared to be nothing wrong with it. She blew softly on the large zoom lens. It didn’t look scratched, so she peeked through the viewfinder. All seemed okay.
She clicked the power button to “off”, put the lens cover on and pushed the camera into the camera bag.
What the hell just happened? Vicky scratched her head and thought back.
Several things seemed to have occurred at once. After the lengthy decision on the framing of her subject, to capture more light, she had set the Photon to a higher aperture and chose a slow shutter speed, so that the building didn’t turn out too dark against the setting sun to the left of it. The perfect “golden hour” shot. She pressed the shutter release while still looking through the viewfinder when suddenly, for just a fraction of a second, a blinding sun flare constricted her vision. And then she saw it – a pale face looking directly at her from that distant window. She had gasped and tripped sideways, knocking the tripod and camera to the ground.
Confused, she glanced back at the window. The mansion had been closed for a couple of hours so there could not have been any visitors there. Unless it was the staff? But it was just so odd. Nothing there. And then suddenly, a strange face.
Yes, she still felt a bit light-headed from lack of lunch and having that ale last night, which she didn’t even like.
She struck her palm to her forehead. Why didn’t she check the photo? Maybe the face would be on the image. Slightly apprehensive, she went to unclip the camera bag when Vivaldi’s Summer started playing from the inside of her jeans pocket.
Vicky retrieved her mobile.
‘Where the hell have you been?’ a male voice said.
‘Um, I… I’ve–’
‘It’s past seven. I’ve been trying to call you, but it kept getting diverted.’
‘I know, sorry.’
‘Kate and the girls have already eaten, we’ve been waiting for you, but you didn’t show up. Where are you?’
‘I’m sorry Nick, I got lost.’
‘I wasn’t sure where I was, until I found the mansion. So I think I know where I am. I just wanted to stop and take some more photos and–’
‘Get your arse back here now. Why do you always do this? I was worried sick. You said you’d be back by five.’
‘Alright! Stop shouting at me, I’m not a child.’
‘You’re behaving like one. Disappearing like that.’
‘Look, I’m already walking back. I won’t be long, bye.’
Without waiting for Nick’s response, she ended the call.
She picked up her tripod and turned in the direction of a path that she was sure would lead her back to the campsite.
She wished she was on that beach holiday with her friends, like they’d originally planned. Both her friends had cancelled at the last minute, so she had to submit to going camping with her brother Nick and his family. Of course she loved him and Kate, and their two young daughters were fun to be around with. But being stuck together for now over a week in a tent barely designed for a small family – the tension was starting to get to her. As always, his overprotective behaviour increased during trips. Being nearly a decade older than her, he often made her feel like a child rather than a sister.
Vicky walked along the overgrown path, taking in her surroundings. The precious solitude was going to end soon.
Stretching out her left arm, she let her fingers caress the tall sunlit grass as she passed a field. It took strong will-power not to stop and take some more nature shots. Even though the sun was quite low now, she knew she could get good results with the right shutter speed.
She half wished that they would stay here for longer so she could go back to this field again. They had been moving from campsite to campsite nearly every day, with Nick wanting to visit as many historical places around the country as he could. It was so difficult for him and Kate to get their holidays off together, they had to cram everything in.
In the distance she could make out a tall sturdy figure. The unmistakable silhouette of her brother walked slowly towards her and then stopped. She rolled her eyes.
‘Finally,’ he said, exhaling when she reached him.
‘Go on then. Tell me off some more.’ Vicky pulled on a long weed until the purple flowers broke off. ‘Next time I’ll just go camping with mum and what’s his face. At least that way I’ll expect to be bossed about.’
Nick shook his head. ‘Do you really think I like doing this?’ His eyes met hers and there was a search for understanding. ‘I know you’re bordering twenty, in fact it won’t matter if you’re thirty or whatever. A lone girl lost in the woods… and the weirdos who hang around looking for the opportunity–’
‘You’ve been watching too many horror films. It’s not that bad.’
‘Just stop, okay?’
A guilty lump seemed to have lodged itself in her throat.
‘I wasn’t lost for that long and I did try to call you. But I couldn’t get a signal.’
Watching the setting sun, he spoke seriously. ‘I don’t want you wandering off on your own anymore.’
‘Oh. But…’ She bit her lip.
‘No. That’s it.’
‘Well, how am I supposed to take any decent shots? I’ll fail my summer project. You know why I wanted to come.’
‘I don’t care. Anyway, you’re better off taking photos of something interesting, like history and buildings. Not weeds and macro shots of grass.’
The guilty lump had vanished as if it was never there.
‘And what do you know about photography?’ Seething, she gripped her tripod tightly and walked off ahead of him, towards the campsite.
It was not until they reached their tent that the two of them were on speaking terms again. Kate and the girls had made it difficult for them to ignore each other.
Alice and Helena were noisily playing cards on their folding table as Vicky and Nick ate the remainder of the barbecue.
‘So why didn’t you eat?’ Vicky shot a glance at him.
‘Oh, you know he’s not hungry when he’s worried,’ said Kate, sipping her white wine. ‘He was a right mess when Alice was born. Remember?’
Nick considered his wife, smiling, then cleared his throat.
‘I’ve decided,’ he said. ‘We’re staying here tomorrow as well.’
With the queen of hearts in her hand frozen in mid-air, Alice frowned. ‘But what about the beach, daddy?’
‘You two and mummy can take the Jeep to the beach tomorrow for the day. It’s not that far.’ Finishing his dinner, he stretched and picked up his beer. ‘Me and Vic will go and visit the mansion. I think the girls would be too bored with it.’
‘But why can’t you come with us?’ Kate said as Vicky leaned forward.
‘Yeah, I wanted to go to the beach as well!’ she said.
‘Macro shots of sand can wait until another time. I want to keep an eye on you.’
Vicky put down her unfinished plate in disgust and crossed her arms.
‘You’d be off at the first opportunity, climbing sea cliffs or something. All for a silly photo.’
‘We did agree to skip the mansion and go to the beach instead,’ Kate said.
‘I know, but I just found out they’ve got a da Vinci section and also Queen Victoria stayed there. I really want to see this place.’
Kate fiddled with her honey-blond hair impatiently, but said nothing.
‘This way we kill two birds with one stone,’ he said. ‘Oh come on Vic, you can take photos of Helena’s sand pit at home.’
At this Vicky stood up abruptly, nearly knocking her cup off the table.
‘Where are you going now?’
‘Club!’ she said, marching off. ‘And you’re not following me.’
‘Are you kidding me?’
She thought she heard him get up but then Kate’s voice trailed off, ‘She’ll be fine, it’s still light. Leave it.’
Luckily, Kate had a fair point. He could not have a serious moan at her going there. All the facilities, including a swimming pool, a small shop and a club, were secluded within the security of the campsite with hundreds of people about, and children running around in the massive playground.
Crowds of drinkers sat outside the club, chatting and laughing loudly; some of them shifted to stare at her. She walked towards the entrance, busy planning how she could escape unnoticed from the boring mansion tour and perhaps get to that field to take some shots of the flowers, when she noticed him. A dark-haired guy stood against the wall on his own, his mobile in front of him, and his big blue eyes on her.
He quickly looked away as though caught at doing something he shouldn’t, and continued fiddling with his phone.
The long bar, stretching the entire length of the rectangular building, looked very busy as she approached. She would have to wait for ages. The loud, tuneless music pierced her ears. Vicky turned towards the source, squinting at a young girl who was shrieking into a microphone, while an excited group of kids danced below the stage.
Typical, she thought. Karaoke nights were one of the perks of camping clubs.
‘Can I buy you a drink?’ The cute guy from outside nervously rubbed his neck, but was determined to hold her gaze. ‘I um… I’ve got a mate behind the bar. I can sneak in quicker.’
She thought that sounded a bit fishy, but then nodded and asked for her favourite Irish stout.