The new novel from A H Jamieson.
One large figure and two small stood in the darkness and rain atop a lonely hill. Dark Oak waited at the bottom.
"Wait here,” the hooded figure said.
The hooded figure had a womanly shape.
The rain beat down soaking their skins.
Two made their way towards Dark Oak.
"What about Perfidy?" the little girl asked. Her tears mixed with the rain on her cheeks.
"You will be safe here."
"What about Perfidy?" she asked again.
"You will see her soon,” the hooded figure lied.
"You must stay here for a little while. It's no longer safe for you to be with me. I will come back for you soon." The woman thumped the door with her fist. The rain fell.
"But, I will miss Perfidy. I don't want to leave her,” the little girl said. She was no more than five. Her blue eyes shone through the darkness and her wet black hair clung to her cheeks.
"You won't remember her or me my child. Drink this." She handed the little girl a small gourd. She thumped the door again. This time a large woman answered.
"No children tonight,” she said gruffly.
"Please reconsider,” said the hooded woman handing her a pouch of gold coins.
"You had better come in,” the large woman said.
“No!" said the hooded woman.
"Take down your hood so I can see your face,” the large woman said.
“No!" came the reply.
"What's her story?" the large woman asked.
"She has none,” the hooded woman replied.
"What about the wretch you left on the hill?" the large woman sneered.
"Her place is elsewhere,” came the reply.
The hooded woman bent down and whispered in the little girls ear. "I will send a friend to find you when the time is right." She kissed her gently on the cheek. The little girl looked groggy.
"Does it have a name?" the large woman asked.
"Her name is Verity."
Chapter 1 - Dark Oak
‘Three things cannot be hidden, the sun , the moon and the truth.’
Dark Oak Orphanage for Girls was quiet.
Twenty to midnight.
Verity lay in her bed wide awake. She had a slim curvy face and had been told she was beautiful although had never once felt it. Her raven black hair lay on her shoulders like silk. Her face was pretty, her skin was pale and unmarked other than a small dark mole on her cheek near her nose and her blue eyes would have pierced the bluest sky. Her frame was slender but strong. The room was still. A small shimmer of moonlight crept through a crack in the thick brown curtains casting a velvety pale shadow across the wooden floor. Verity scanned the gloom to see what she could make out. The only two shapes in the room looked like strange versions of what they really were. The wardrobe and the small wooden chest of drawers made soft shapes and were splashed with tiny dabs of moonlight. She enjoyed this time of night. She thought of her friend Frances who hated the darkness, “It creeps me out!” was her favourite phrase at the moment and the “things that wait in the dark” definitely gave her the creeps. Verity did not share this feeling. When the darkness came she felt a strange sense of peace. The noise and worry of the day melted away and she could think clearly, without stupid girls or annoying adults bothering her. The only one who didn’t bother her was Frances. Verity had every reason to dislike the inhabitants of Dark Oak Orphanage for Girls as they were a beastly crowd. She remembered reading somewhere that girls were supposed to be like sugar and spice and all things nice. Well whoever wrote that had clearly never been to Dark Oak. Life was tough and was made worse by the fact that the Carers were nasty and spiteful, led by the Matron Ms Krankle.
Verity closed her eyes gently and listened.
She could only hear the rise and fall of her own breathing which was peaceful and calm.
Fifteen minutes to midnight.
Verity started to relive the events of the day. This is where her and Frances differed. “When I go to bed, I go to sleep,” Frances would say, “not to fret and worry about stuff you can’t change anyway.” Verity was often jealous of this ability to fall asleep as she often found her head whirling in the darkness, it was as if the thoughts would not let go until she had thought them away a hundred times. Today had been dominated by Briony Grime. She was one of the older girls, two years older than Verity and had been in the orphanage for years. She was a large girl, both tall and broad and she used her size to bully the other girls. Her hair was dirty blonde, shoulder length and always tangled. She never wore tights and usually had dirty knees in the middle of her lumpy legs. Her mouth was small and puckered as if she had just sucked a lemon, and her eyes were sharp and wicked. The only person who had ever stood up to her was Verity and she despised her for it. There had been a problem at lunchtime. Briony had taken young Martha Tweet’s tray and tipped her lunch on the floor in order to establish fear in the little one which had worked brilliantly until Verity had stood between them. Her large blue eyes stared hard at Briony. Briony, livid, picked up a glass and raised it with the purpose of smashing Verity over the head when Ms Krankle finally decided she should intervene.
In the dark Verity was troubled. Not because an unpleasant thing had happened. She didn’t care about Briony and she wasn’t scared of her. That was the problem. She wasn’t scared. She had stood in front of Briony and looked in her eyes and watched her raise the glass. She had not moved a muscle and her heart beat as calmly as it did in the peaceful darkness now.
Ten minutes to midnight.
Verity sat bolt upright. The silence was broken. Quiet at first. A scuffling, a snuffling, scratching, scraping outside the bedroom door. Verity listened hard. The doorknob started to turn. Whatever was turning it was doing it achingly slowly. Verity breathed deeply and fixed her gaze on the door. Her muscles tensed. The door creaked open a fraction. Whatever was opening it didn’t want the sleeper to wake it seemed. The corner of Verity’s mouth curled into a smile. They picked the wrong room tonight she thought. She slid out of her pale green duvet and moved like a cat effortlessly across the floor and positioned herself behind the door that was still gently creaking open. A shadow started to form on the floor from the light on the landing. A figure crept in. A hand first, followed by an arm, then the shape put a leg through the door. Verity waited patiently, quietly. The figure made its way into the room and the door slowly creaked shut behind it. Verity’s voice cut through the darkness, “Don’t you know it’s rude not to knock!” she pounced towards the figure and tumbled it onto the bed.
“OWWWW!” it cried. Verity recognised the voice and let go. “You really do give me the creeps!” croaked Frances.
“What on earth are you doing?” whispered Verity.
“The dark was giving me the creeps so I came here, although goodness knows why!” grumbled Frances.
Verity looked at her friend. She wore glasses which she was now trying to push back on to her nose. Her red hair was always untidy but never made her look scruffy. Her nose was dotted with freckles and her green eyes were warm with kindness. Her mouth was the thing that fascinated Verity most of all and was what had drawn her to Frances. It was always smiling, always happy. Verity was in awe of that mouth. How could she smile so much when life had been so cruel to her? Her parents had been lost in a car accident. The family were driving down the motorway; Frances and her big sister Abigail were in the back. A lorry driver didn’t look and the car ended up smashed at the side of the road. The doctors said it was a miracle Frances lived. Frances was told her parents were gone and she ended up at Dark Oak; nobody would speak to her about her sister.
“If crusty old Krankle catches us we are for the chop. I already have litter duty for a week after the Briony thing,” said Verity.
“I know, I’m sorry. That was so unfair, you didn’t even do anything. Lots of the girls are on your side you know. They hate Slimy Grimey,” Frances replied.
Suddenly, the clumping of Doc Martin boots could be heard. That could mean only one thing, KRANKLE.
“Which dirty little urchin is up at this time of night, I will make them pay for interrupting my beauty sleep!” she muttered. Krankle would need to sleep for a thousand years to start making a difference to her beauty. She was horrible inside and out. A big round woman with piggy little eyes. Her hair was jet black although everyone knew she was as grey as a mule and she dyed it with boot polish. It was scraped back and tied in the tightest bun it seemed possible to tie. She only dressed in grey. Her trousers were way too tight and she had a blouse that defied the laws of physics to hold her massive upper half in. She carried a cane which she was fond of using to scare the children. There were rumours that she once lost her temper with a girl called Sara Butler and lashed her so hard she had to go to hospital and she never came back.
The footsteps stopped outside Verity’s room. “This little wretch is always causing trouble,” she spat the words out in a whisper.
Verity acted quickly. She put her hand on the back of Frances’ head and shoved it down into the mattress, then in a wink she swirled the duvet over them both and lay down as if asleep. Krankle strode in flicking the light switch as she did. “What exactly is going on in here child!” she bellowed.
Verity rolled over and squinted as if just wakened. “Mrs Krankle?”
“It’s Ms Krankle to you, child!” she shrieked.
“Oh sorry, I keep forgetting, over and over again,” Verity delivered with a sickly smile.
“I heard noise, I know it was you.” her attitude changed, “If you admit it, I won’t think badly of you,” her words were hollow.
“No noise from here MS Krankle, not from here,” said Verity.
“NOT FROM HERE! NOT FROM HERE! Then what is this little worm doing in your bed!” with that she tore the covers off to reveal a sniffling Frances. “You are going to meet the cane girl!” Krankle sneered at Frances. She raised her right hand and the cane was ready to strike. Frances cowered and managed to let out a whimpering “Please!” the cane was raised in the air and was about to beat down when a cry filled the room, “STOP!”
Krankle, who had been holding the cane above her head, slowly brought it down.
Her gaze was fixed on Verity. “The reason you are about to give better be phenomenally good child,” a small amount of spit dribbled down her chin as she spoke.
“It’s my fault miss. I mean, I tricked Frances. I went to her room and told her you wanted to speak with her and that you were here and she came. I thought it would be amusing.”
“Amusing! AMUSING! You have landed yourself in a world of trouble girl!” she pointed a crooked finger. “You, Frankie!”
“It’s Frances Ms.”
“Don’t correct me child, back to bed, NOW!”
Frances looked at Verity with those big green eyes and Verity gave her a knowing nod. She sloped off the bed and scurried out the room. The door closed.
Three minutes to midnight.
“I’ve been watching you.” Krankle’s friendly tone was almost scary, “You came to us in quite mysterious fashion. Your guardian brought you and told us not to ask questions. No family, no past, no story. She did have another little girl with her but she only wanted to leave you. We could not accept a child under those circumstances you understand but she was very persuasive."
“I don't want to be here,” Verity was cool and calm.
“Perhaps not, but here you are, and I want to make sure you have the most miserable time that I can! You sit there with your pretty face and your sneering looks. You have always been different from the others. You think you’re better than us don’t you, I can see it and I’m going to take great pleasure in using the next five years to beat it out of you!” her mouth twitched at the edges as the words splurged out.
Verity’s dark eyes looked at her carefully. Her blood was boiling and every fibre of her body was telling her to stand up to this bully. She knew however that it would do no good, when did kids ever win against adults.
“Hold out your hand!”
Verity did as she was told. The cane made the air crack. It split her hand. “Could I have another please?” Verity blurted, she was determined to show it didn’t hurt. The blood ran off her palm.
“Ha, why don’t you clean that, and don’t you dare get any on your sheets!” Krankle was smiling as she left and shut the door. Verity was glad to have the darkness back.
One minute to midnight.
Verity pressed down hard on her palm with her washcloth. She was annoyed. She hated herself for not standing up to Krankle. Her hand stung and made her eyes water. She was able to wrap and tie the cloth tight round it. It hurt but it also felt good to have the pressure on it. She flopped back in her bed. What a day! What else could go wrong?
The dusty old grandfather clock that stood in the hallway began to chime.
There was a scuffling, snuffling, scratching scraping outside Verity’s door. Frances! Verity leaped out of bed. She was in no mood for ‘the creeps’ now. She was ready to make her red headed friend understand it was time for bed and she didn’t mind using bad language to tell her. She pulled the door open and was ready to rant but all she was met with was an empty hallway. She was wondering what was happening when she heard a scuffling, snuffling, scratching scraping noise coming from behind her somewhere in the room. Spinning around she caught sight of a shape that dived into her bed. Her hand trembled a little as she closed the door and tried to make her eyes adjust to the dark. There was a lump in her bed. A small child sized lump under the duvet. Verity slowly moved towards it. Something was on the floor, she tripped and the shape from the bed jumped on top of her. She was on her back and the shape was sitting on her tummy. She squirmed and wriggled. She managed to sit up and push the shape across the room. She clumsily clambered on to her bed and clenched her fists. “You picked the wrong room!” she croaked.
“Messenger,” came a voice. “messenger,” came again. It was a frightened voice, “Messsssssenger.” it was holding something above its head. Verity moved closer and grabbed what was a piece of paper. The paper was crunchy. She scrambled to her bed light and switched it on. The messenger covered its face and dived beneath the bed. Verity held up the piece of paper; it was yellow and torn. It simply read,
I know where she is…
That was it. Verity was shaking. She reached under the bed and grabbed a handful of furry flesh and dragged the small creature out. The creature was light and Verity lifted its face to hers and growled “Who is SHE?”
The creature splurged and gurgled its words,
“She is your sister!”