Disclaimer: See Chapter 2
“Dreaming permits each
and every one of us
to be quietly and safely
insane every night
of our lives”
- William Dement
Her eyes streamed with tears and her breathing was ragged and shallow, as if she couldn’t gather in enough air to make her lungs function fast enough. Whip-thin branches snagged at her hair and snapped viciously against her face leaving a myriad of thin cuts across her face and hands as she tried to ward them off and protect her eyes. Tiny beads of blood welled up from them and the red blended with the dark green and black camouflage cream she had applied only hours earlier.
It almost seemed as if the very forest itself was trying to hinder her escape. It wilfully placed bushes and thorn thickets in her path and threatened to send her flying with some bulbous tree root that really had no business being above ground at all.
Her flight was haphazard and it felt like her combat boots had turned to solid iron; they clumped across the ground tripping over things and weighing her down when what she really needed was speed.
And all the time she could hear the relentless thundering of her pursuer’s feet accompanied by the smashing of branches and vegetation seemingly just behind her. Once or twice she thought she could even feel the hot fetid breath, reeking of a recent blood fest on the back of her neck. The eyes of her instructor, milky in death, found her and pierced her soul with reproach. The bloodied mouth, that by rights should speak no more, opened and spoke in a dry whisper like the rustling of dead leaves.
Avenge me. Avenge us!
“No, no, no, no”. She heard a high-pitched voice that she vaguely recognised as hers. “Don’t think about that; don’tthinkabouthim, don’tthinkabouttheothers. Just don’t think at all!”
There was a light ahead, something that glowed ethereally in between the thick tree trunks. Was it her imagination or was the forest growing more trees by the second? Soon she wouldn’t fit between them at all. She obviously needed to be much thinner. Hysterical giggles bubbled up inside her until she thought her chest would burst unless she let them out.
Head for the light. The thought popped entirely unbidden into her mind. Isn’t that what those medium types always said? She spotted a gap in the trees, veered off her flight path and stumbled into a small clearing. A small sob escaped her as she recognised the place. She had been running around in circles.
“Pen tithen, dartho”
The voice was so soft she wasn’t actually sure she had heard it and at first it seemed that there was nobody there who could have spoken.
The clearing was bathed in a soft luminous glow. It wasn’t a bright and painful light yet she still found that her eyes were stinging and having trouble focussing. Was that a figure in the middle of the clearing; someone with a nimbus of light surrounding them? She wiped her sore eyes on the sleeve of her combat jacket and blinked furiously.
Slowly a more solid form began to coalesce through the glow. The sounds of the crashing and guttural grunting drew closer and she felt a spasm of panic in her gut. She had to go, dallying here was not a good idea no matter how pretty the light show was. Beyond the trees lay safety and sanity, a respite from the madness surrounding her and that threatened to swallow her whole.
She blinked as the tall, lithe figure of a man stepped out in front of her. Her eyes widened as she saw that he had the face of an angel. Bright eyes, lit from behind with captured starlight regarded her with both sorrow and consolation in their depths. His face was slender and so fair that she would have been hard put to describe it adequately in mere language and was framed with a heavy mass of gold hair that hung nearly to his waist. Her mouth gaped in awe at his beauty and by comparison she felt small, ugly, dark and primitive.
He placed one hand over his heart and bowed to her in matchless courtesy and she was about to ask him who he was when the crashing noises solidified into her pursuer and her heart froze solid in her chest. However instead of charging at her swinging its sword in an arc that would instantly kill her, it turned to face the golden man, dark eyes glittering with bloodlust and triumph. For a moment the comparison between perfection and imperfection was stunning in its clarity.
The creature reached out one large bloodstained paw and grasped the golden man by his shoulder. At the same time it let out a bloodcurdling, ululating cry that froze the marrow in her bones. Seconds later an answering cry came from the surrounding woodland.
She tried to scream at the golden man to fight, defend himself, but although her mouth opened nothing whatsoever came out and when she tried to move she found she was rooted to the spot. A sob escaped her as the golden man allowed himself to be bound and drawn away by a noose around his neck. He looked no more at her, but turned and was led away. However, as he followed his captor, she quite clearly saw something fall from him, as though it had been loosely concealed about his person and had just been waiting for the right time to make its escape.
It fell with a soft thud at her feet and when she looked down she saw a shining dagger with a golden hilt as bright as the gold of its’ owner’s hair and a shining curved blade that reflected the starlight of his bright eyes lying on the ground.
She bent down and picked it up. Even to her untutored hand the balance felt just right and despite the gold of the hilt it was virtually weightless. It was a thing of beauty which possessed a warmth that belied the cold metals it was manufactured from and thrummed with a small power entirely of its own. She turned it over in her hand and examined it in fascination but her scrutiny was disturbed by the sensation of someone else there and her heart leapt with fear as she recalled her dire predicament. She looked up expecting to see one of the creatures turning back to kill her, but instead the bloodied form of the instructor, back on his feet and head in its proper place stood in front of her.
She started back in horror as the bloodied mouth opened again.
Avenge me. Avenge us!
Other forms materialised out of the thick trees, all covered in blood and hands outstretched in entreaty. Their mouths echoed the first cry for revenge and their icy cold, clammy hands pulled at her clothing and touched her face. Suffused with horror and disgust she sank to the ground, holding her arms protectively over her head. A keening wail issued from her throat.
Gary Matthews had been dozing in a chair by Kim’s bedside since trying to talk to her a few hours earlier. The discussion had been fruitless because the sedative the doctor had given her made her very muddled and prone to dropping off to sleep in the middle of a sentence. He had eventually given up with a sigh and the Inspector had left to visit the crime scene with a strict admonition to Gary that he wasn’t to talk to Kim without the constable outside the door or himself being present.
Consequently he was feeling a little muddled himself when the sound from the bed resolved itself into a wail worthy of an air raid siren. He jumped up and immediately tried to calm her down. “Sgt Freeman. Kim, it’s okay, you’re safe. Whatever it is, you’re just dreaming.”
By this time the young constable had come into the room. “Is she all right sir?” He looked as bleary-eyed as Gary felt.
Kim was now sitting up in the hospital bed heaving huge gulps of air in between ragged gasps and sobs. A sheen of sweat clung to her pale skin. “Th..the knife, the dagger, where is it?” She groped blindly on the bedside table, nearly knocking over a glass of water, which Gary rescued in the nick of time before it crashed to the floor.
He gently took both of her hands. “The police have it Sgt Freeman. It’s evidence.”
She looked blankly at him. “Evidence? Evidence for what?” In a flash remembrance and the horrifying reality of it flooded her consciousness. “Oh god.” She let out a whimper and lay back with her eyes closed. The tears squeezed out from under her eyelids.
Gary indicated that the constable should sit in the other chair. He then handed Kim a wad of tissue which she clutched in her hand. She turned her face to the pillow and sobbed as if her heart was broken in two.
“Should I get the nurse?” The constable whispered.
Gary shook his head. “I don’t think there’s anything she can do except give her another sedative. Personally I think this is better out than in. We need her compos mentis and calm so we can talk to her.” He grinned at the young man. “I didn’t get your name.”
The constable grinned back. “I don’t think anyone thought to make a formal introduction.” He reached over the bed and held out his hand. “Police Constable Jim Moore.”
Gary took the proffered hand. “Major Gary Matthews. I’m the Adjutant for Sgt Freeman’s unit for my sins, which are obviously many!”
Kim’s sobs had started to die down to a series of sniffs and hiccups. She blew her nose and stared at the two men with tear-washed eyes. “None of it is a dream is it?” Her voice was forlorn. “They’re all dead, aren’t they?”
Gary glanced over at Jim who now had his notebook and a pencil out. “Yes.” He said quietly. “We believe they are. We’re just waiting for the forensics to finish up, then we’ll know a bit more, but we need to hear your side of the story as well. Do you feel up to talking about it?”
Kim sniffled again and stared across at the window. Shafts of pale sunlight were trying to steal through chinks in the curtains. “What time is it?” She asked.
Jim answered her. “It’s eight in the morning.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Since about nine yesterday evening.” Jim said quietly. “You were brought in by the local Whitecroft copper after you stumbled into somebody’s garden and tried to beat their door down.” He gave a faint smile. “At the same time as waving around a lethal looking dagger. I think the elderly couple thought their last hour had come.”
He managed to wring a tiny smile out of Kim and Gary sent him a grateful look.
“How…how many did they find?” She asked quietly.
“I’m afraid they didn’t find any of them alive.” Gary replied gently.
“What about the blond man? Was he among the…dead?” She spoke the last word with a grimace as if reluctant to admit that any of her colleagues had died.
Gary’s raised an eyebrow. “Blond man?”
“Yes, a really gorgeous looking bloke with long blond hair. He was the one who dropped the dagger.” A small furrow appeared between her brows. “No.” She said slowly. “That can’t be right, because I dug the dagger out of the ground. Unless he came later, after WO2 Irwin was…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears again.
“WO2 Irwin was?” Gary prompted carefully. “What happened to him Kim, do you know?”
Kim licked her lips and stared up at the two men under her lashes then she looked down and picked at a loose thread on the coverlet. “That thing killed him. It chased him through the woods and then it killed him.”
Thing? Gary looked at Jim who shrugged. “What do you mean by thing? It’s very important that you give a description so that the police know who they are looking for.”
Kim’s reaction to this was extraordinary to say the least. She burst into helpless giggles. “Description? I don’t think I’ll have a problem there.” She managed to blurt out between snorts of laughter. “It was a thing, sort of human, but not human, like primitive. It was wearing armour and heavy metal boots and it came out of the bushes and chopped WO2 Irwin’s head right off with a huge sword in front of me, then it picked up the body and marched off with it.”
“He didn’t see you?”
She shook her head. “No, because Mr Irwin threw me into a thick bush before the thing caught up with him and told me to stay down. He said it was an order. So I stayed down, but then I looked. There was lots of blood.” She stopped laughing and her bottom lip began to wobble.
Jim was writing furiously and Gary put a gentle hand on her arm. “Take it easy Kim, you’ve been through a lot. Give yourself some breathing space.”
“I can bring in an Identikit officer and an artist.” Jim said. “Perhaps they can cobble together a reasonable likeness.”
Gary nodded. “Do it now if you want, I promise I won’t ask Sgt Freeman any more questions till you get back. And see if there was another body amongst the soldiers. A tall man with long fair hair.”
Jim nodded and left the room.
Gary turned to her with a question in his eyes.
“I don’t think the blond man will be with the dead. I think he’s still alive and we have to go and rescue him.”
“How do you know?” Gary asked curiously.
“Because…” She bit her lip and looked towards the window again. “Because I can feel he’s still alive. I didn’t seemhim in the clearing with that thing and Mr Irwin, but he was there, either before I got there or after. They captured him, but I don’t think they want to kill him. They need him alive.”
It was beginning to sound like she was rambling again, so Gary decided a little officer-style firmness wouldn’t go amiss. “I think you should get some more rest Sgt Freeman. We can talk some more later.”
She recognised an order when she heard one, but the truth was that her head was swimming and she knew she should close her eyes. It was just that every time she did she saw the reproachful faces of the dead demanding vengeance. She felt guilty that she was still alive and that she owed them.
“We need to rescue him.” She said sleepily.
“We will.” Gary soothed her. He wasn’t sure what else to say.
“We need to give him his dagger back.”
“We’ll do that too.”
Her breathing grew soft and regular, so he decided to take the opportunity of stretching his legs out in the corridor. Perhaps some kind nurse would offer to make him a cup of tea. He managed to get as far as the door when her tired voice stopped him.
Gary sighed. “What now Sgt Freeman?”
“The blond man. I think he might be an Elf sir.”
Gary was nonplussed. “An Elf? You mean like leprechauns and faeries and stuff? For god’s sake Sergeant what did they give you last night?”
A gentle snore was all he got by way of an answer.