The Truth Will Out
Inside, the feeling of warmth enveloped Chloe. Her tense body relaxed and whilst there were still many people drinking, eating and generally enjoying themselves, the two of them were able to slip in without being spotted or subjected to inane questions.
“Come upstairs,” Elizabeth whispered. “It’ll be quieter there.”
The two girls tip-toed upstairs and into Elizabeth’s bedroom, closing the door quietly behind them.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Chloe said.
Elizabeth shrugged, taking her cloak off and flopping on the bed. “I couldn’t let you stay out with nowhere to go, could I?”
“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Chloe chuckled, her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.
“Of course,” Elizabeth said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. “As if.” She glanced up at Chloe, who was trying to suppress a giggle, but failed and both girls laughed.
“Seriously though,” said Chloe, perching on the very edge of the bed. “What do I do now? I mean, I don’t know where I came from and I don’t know where I need to go to.” Tears started to roll down her face. “I feel so alone right now.”
“You’ve got me,” said Elizabeth comfortingly, putting her arm about Chloe’s shoulders and pulling her close. “It’ll be alright, you’ll see.”
With that Chloe broke down and the tears turned to full-on sobbing as she wrapped her arms around Elizabeth and cried like a baby.
“I-I’m sorry,” Chloe said, breaking the hug. “I shouldn’t have...”
“Shouldn’t have what?” Elizabeth asked; a stern tone to her voice. “If I were in your position, I’d feel the same.”
“Really?” Chloe sniffed and wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of a finger.
“Totally. Now I think it’s time we got some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll have to try and figure out what to do about this mess.” She paused, looking a little sheepish. “That is if you don’t mind sharing the bed.”
“Er…” said Chloe, looking away and hoping she wasn’t blushing.
“Look. It’s not that I’m asking you to come to bed like ‘come to bed’. It’s just that…” she added hastily, twiddling her fingers and trying not to look at Chloe.
There was an uncomfortable silence between them as Chloe for one certainly didn’t want Elizabeth to know that she would willingly jump into bed with her; to be close to her, though truthfully apart from the kissing bit, she had no idea where to go after that, and right there and then, she was probably too tired to keep her eyes open anyway. More to the point, she felt safe with Elizabeth and would do nothing to jeopardise that.
Elizabeth went to a drawer and took out two long t-shirts, clutching them to her chest and eventually spoke. “So what do you say?”
“Alright, I mean, like you said, it’s not like we’re going to be doing anything, is it?”
“No…” replied Elizabeth, her eyes slightly downcast. “Of course not.” She threw the t-shirt to Chloe. “Here, put this on.”
Was there a note of disappointment in Elizabeth’s voice? Chloe wondered as she settled on her side of the bed, ensuring that no part of her was touching any part of Elizabeth. It seemed that Elizabeth was as far from her as it was possible to get - given the bed’s size. Was that by choice or was it that she was acting, like her, out of fear?
However, it was more difficult to keep out of Elizabeth’s way than Chloe realised. Elizabeth was asleep in moments, her soft, gentle breathing rhythms said so and as she slept, she spread out, getting closer and closer to Chloe.
Chloe so desperately wanted to be as close as humanly possible to her friend; feel her warmth, her smooth skin against her own, but it could not be, but she was running out of room to escape - without getting out of bed altogether that was.
She moved across as far as she could, clinging to the edge of the bed, clutching the pillow and straining to keep away from Elizabeth, but tiredness took hold and soon, she too was dead to the world.
She found herself in a place where despite a fire roaring in the grate, the room was still cold. She went to the window and watched for a moment. A long line of torches, emitting a ruddy glow, lit up the tree-lined backdrop of the narrow track with a kind of surreal light as it undulated snake-like, moving up the hill towards her house.
“So it’s really happening?”
“I warned thee, witch,” said a man deep within the shadows of the room. “Thou hast brought this upon thyself with thy satanic rituals and thine evil practices. Thou should'st know that I have been praying for thy salvation yet, thou hast confounded mine attempts with thy continual and blatant disregard for all that is holy.”
She turned, her face hardened by the man’s accusations.
“Holy? How can’st thou think that I have been unholy? I have done nothing wrong. I use herbs and roots to make poultices; make decoctions and infusions from leaves and berries to cure ills. How is that unholy?”
“Thou knowest to that which I do refer,” he spat. “Thy poultices and so-called decoctions, infusions and other ‘remedies’ are naught but a smoke-screen to hide behind. I know what ist really occurring hereabouts.”
“I intend to see that thee payest fully for thine indiscretions.”
The woman took a deep breath and sat down, the sound of footfalls outside becoming clearer. The folk with their torches could only have been minutes from her door now. “This is not about that, is it?” she asked.
“Thou art perceptive, witch,” the man said with a mocking laugh. “I cannot take the risk of thee turning people against me - and thou wouldst, were thou to be given the opportunity. Therefore, I need to ensure that thou art no longer a threat to my plans.”
“I shall not forget this, Edward Ellsworth. Thy confession disgusts me. Thou hast already given me the appearance of a hag - why else would I live alone on this lonely hilltop. However, whatever it is that thou hast done to me, I cannot cease the help I have ever given others - more than I can say for thee. Thou seemest to be more interested in lining thine own pockets than putting thine abilities - thy gift, to good use.
“My gift - for it is a gift - is for everyone. It is a burden, of that there can be no doubt, but it is a responsibility I take most seriously. Yet thou art of a mind that I derive some evil pleasure from digging up certain roots or fungi in the dead of night so that the blacksmith’s horse can be cured of its canker, or that a woman in childbirth can be offered some meagre respite from the pain.”
“Most noble dear lady,” he said with heavy sarcasm, “but that is not how history will remember this I’m afraid.”
“Thou cannot cheat history.”
“Can I not?” he asked, the mocking tone even more evident in his voice than hitherto. “I fear thou hast underestimated me, Elizabeth - as always. That is why I shall continue long after thou art nought but ashen waste at the base of a burned-out pyre.”
“Thou art truly evil, Ellsworth.”
“And thou art too kind, my lady.”
There was a knocking on the door.
“Elizabeth Knotts?” said the voice of a man. “Open up.”
The space that had not moments before, been occupied by Ellsworth was now vacant and taking another deep breath, Elizabeth stopped, picked a packet from the table and slipped it into the pocket of her pinafore. Straightening herself, she opened the stout wooden door.
Standing outside was Gilbert Morris, a good man whose family - especially his wife - had often asked for her assistance. She liked the Morris family and Gilbert didn’t look at all happy with the situation.
“I’m sorry, Beth,” he whispered. “But I have my orders.”
“It is not thy fault, dear Gilbert. Neither is it the fault of any of these goodly folk. I shall accompany thee to the village square.”
Gilbert looked astonished.
“Well, don’t just stand there with thy mouth open, catching flies. Lead on!”
“Of course, Miss Knotts.”
In the blink of an eye, they were at the square and Chloe found herself tied to a stout tree-trunk atop a large pile of tree limbs and kindling. It was clear that this was no trial. The outcome had already been decided and stood next to Gilbert was Edward Ellsworth, better known perhaps as the town’s mayor.
“Hast thee anything to say before I do mine duty and pass sentence upon thee, witch?” he asked.
“Only that thou shouldst remember that I am not at fault here and soon enough all the good people of this town shall know the extent to which their mayor will go to assure himself of his goal.”
Edward laughed. “They do not hear thee, witch. I have seen to that. They shall remember only that thy semblance has been taken from them and thy vileness has been forever removed from their sight.”
“I feel sorry for thee, Edward. Thou hast stooped so low as now to require looking skywards to see so lowly a creature as an ant. Thy deception will come to light - I shall see to that. Thou art a mark-ed man, Edward Ellsworth, and mine only prayer is that I shall not have to wait too long before this travesty of justice shalt be undone.”
Edward almost bent double with laughter. “Thee?” he demanded. “Canst thee not see that thou art in no position to attain any such thing. Thou art dead, witch. Dead to all of these people and any others whose misfortune it has been to know thee, like thee or even love thee.”
“That is what this is really about is it not?” she asked. “Thine advances towards me and my refusal to...”
“Do not flatter thyself, hag,” he replied, angrily.
“Alright, Ellsworth, thou hadst better get on with this farcical display and don’t take all day about it.”
Suddenly to Chloe’s surprise, hundreds of people seemed to file past, throwing their burning torches into the pile of wood beneath her, the flames licking ever higher as the timber pile caught light and the heat started to rise; the smell of burning strong in her nostrils.
She panicked, seeing the red, yellow and orange of the flames, leaping, licking ever higher and the thick smoke that rose in twisting tendrils. A deafening scream pierced the crackling of the burning lumber, which seemed to come from her own lips and for a moment everything went black.
When shapes and forms started to reappear, it was like looking at something from Alice in Wonderland. Cards seemed to be fluttering around her like moths, sometimes flying directly at her. The incessant flap, flap, flap of their ‘wings’ near to and sometimes often touching her face was terrifying as she flailed her arms about to try and beat them back.
* * *
Elizabeth was awakened by Chloe’s cries and a blow to the head from her elbow.
“OW!” she cried, sitting up to find Chloe waving her arms about like she was drowning or something.
“Hey, hey, hey,” she said, trying to catch hold of the girl’s arms and quieten her down.
Eventually, having taken more blows to the shoulders and arms, Elizabeth got Chloe under control and pulled her to her, spooning in and wrapping her free arm around her protectively.
“Wh...?” Chloe muttered opening her eyes.
“You were having a nightmare,” Elizabeth whispered.
“It was the witch,” said Chloe, blinking the sleep from her eyes. “I know what happened - I think.”
“Well, you can tell me all about it later can’t you? In the meantime, go back to sleep. Nothing can hurt you now.”
Within seconds, Chloe’s slow steady breathing told Elizabeth that the girl was asleep. She kept hold and although it was meant to be sisterly, the smell of Chloe’s hair, her closeness, made it difficult for Elizabeth not to think about nuzzling into her neck, stealing a kiss or dreaming of something she wasn’t sure could ever be.
They were still locked together sometime later when a knock on the door woke Elizabeth.
“You awake?” said Lynne from the other side and without waiting for a response, she opened the door.
“What in God’s name...?” she exclaimed, nearly exploding on the spot.
“It’s alright Auntie Lynne,” she said with exaggerated patience and particular emphasis on her name and title. “Nothing happened. Chloe just stayed here because she couldn’t get home last night.”
Lynne’s face was a picture of surprise and disgust. “You should have asked first.”
“What? With you in the state you were in last night? I’d have had more luck talking to mum.”
“How dare you talk about your mum like that.”
“What?” Elizabeth demanded angrily.
“You know very well what I mean,” Lynne said, her face red with anger. “Now both of you - get your arses downstairs - this instant.” The door slammed shut as Elizabeth’s irate aunt stormed off down the stairs; her footsteps sounding like an entire football team in lead boots.
Elizabeth lent Chloe some clothes. “There’s no way you can wear in any of that stuff you had on last night. You’ll freeze,” she’d said and found her a bra, panties, socks, some jeans, sweatshirt and a pair of boots.
“This is all my fault,” Chloe said as she pulled on the boots - red Kickers with a white sole, which went well with the jeans and sweatshirt. “I shouldn’t have stayed.”
“I’m glad you did,” said Elizabeth, pulling on a pair of fleece-lined suede boots that went over the outside of her jeans.
Chloe had watched surreptitiously as Elizabeth scooped herself into those skin-tight jeans, her heart in danger of beating so loudly, she had to look away.
“Auntie Lynne has been like that ever since…” she paused and Chloe looked up to see her friend looking decidedly melancholy. “Anyway, it makes a change to have someone else here. Kind of deflects the crap and certainly makes things easier.”
“What did you mean when you said you’d have more luck talking to mum?”
“She’s dead,” Elizabeth said simply, her face filled with sadness.
“Oh shit. I’m so sorry. I...”
“No sweat. It’s not like I haven’t got used to it.” Elizabeth stood up and smoothed herself down, twirling on the spot. “How do I look?”
“Good enough to eat,” Chloe responded, then realising what she’d said, she added, “You’ll have the boys flocking round you.”
“You’d better believe it!” Elizabeth responded, flashing Chloe a wide, toothy grin.
Chloe smiled back, though in her heart she was disappointed. Of course she wasn’t expecting undying love in response, but she was hoping for something of a lifeline in that last remark.
Was she kidding herself though?
She didn’t think so. The feeling of Elizabeth’s hot breath on her neck as she dozed off earlier, the feeling of her actually getting closer, pulling her tighter and almost purring - or was that just wishful thinking?
* * *
Lynne was in the kitchen with Steve’s mum when they arrived downstairs.
“Good morning, Ellen,” Elizabeth said pointedly ignoring her aunt.
“Good morning, Elizabeth. You don’t know what happened to Steve do you? I think you were the last person to see him last night, I thought you might know. I ’phoned home last thing last night and again this morning, but I got no reply either time.”
“I haven’t seen him since he did that thing with the cards. He didn’t look very well and I asked Auntie Lynne to look in on him, but I think she got distracted.”
“I don’t remember that, sweetheart,” she said, continuing to bustle about the kitchen.
“Ooh!” Ellen growled. “When I get hold of him, I’m going to...”
“Anyway, aren’t you going to introduce your friend?” Lynne asked, cutting Ellen off mid-sentence. “I know the two of you are already very well acquainted, but this is the first time I’ve laid eyes on her.”
“Ellen, Auntie,” said Elizabeth. “This is Chloe. Chloe, this is my auntie, Lynne - you may remember her from the party last night - and this is her friend, Ellen. Steve is her son who was in the basement reading the Tarot cards. He was pretty good at it too.”
Ellen turned to face the girl. “Pleased to meet you...” she paused, looking carefully at the pretty, shapely young girl with the long mousy hair. “Have we met?” she asked. “You look very familiar.”
“Perhaps she knows Steve - a friend of his perhaps,” Lynne suggested as she filled the kettle.
Chloe sensed that Lynne’s interjection annoyed Elizabeth. She could almost see the “She can speak for herself,” behind her tight lips. “I’m sorry,” she said before Elizabeth could put her thoughts into words. “I don’t know him. I’m sure I’d have remembered.”
The four sat or stood in silence until Elizabeth spoke - getting the ball rolling, although Chloe was sure she wished she hadn’t.
“You wanted to see us, Auntie Lynne?”
“What? Yes I did. When I agreed to look after you in after your mother...”
“Jacqui,” Elizabeth corrected. “She was your sister as well as being my mother, remember?”
“Whatever. When she died and I started taking care of you, her absence didn’t mean you could come and go as you please. There are rules, you know and you should have asked before you had your friend to stay.”
“I would have done, but you were in no fit state to ask. After all, you can’t even remember my having asked you to look in on Steve or meeting Chloe, even though that was way before we came back.”
“Then that should have meant that you couldn’t have her stay over then, shouldn’t it?”
“What and leave her - a fifteen year-old girl - wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning? I don’t think so. I notice Ellen stayed though.”
“That’s my business, young lady, not yours and it’s my house. Just ask in future, alright?”
“Actually, Auntie, dear, it’s my house - unless you’ve forgotten.”
“I’ll tell you something, young lady,” said Ellen. “If you were my daughter...”
“Yes, well thankfully, I’m not, am I?” said Elizabeth, more annoyed at being told off in front of Ellen than being told off at all, but nevertheless, wondering why Ellen felt she had the right to say anything. “I’m not hers either. Now if you two have quite finished, we’re going out.”
Chloe could see two things registered on Lynne’s face: The first was anger; probably at being spoken to that way, and the second was hurt. This was definitely one of those times when she wished that she wasn’t there. Having to stand and watch while a dysfunctional family aired its dirty laundry in front of guests was something that didn’t sit well with her.
“Well don’t be late back. I want you here before six this evening - before I go out; is that clear?”
“No problem. Chloe will be coming back with me.”
“I don’t know…”
Elizabeth shot her aunt one of those looks.
“If her parents say it’s alright, then fine, do whatever you want - you normally do.”
They went upstairs and Elizabeth grabbed a coat giving Chloe the quilted jacket she’d worn the night before. “This one alright for you?” she asked.
“Fine. What exactly are we going to do?” asked Chloe as she followed Elizabeth down the stairs.
“Who cares,” she replied. “I’ve just got to get out of this place.”
They marched off down the road and Chloe had difficulty keeping up with the obviously stressed Elizabeth.
“Hey! Slow down,” Chloe called as her friend almost ran down the road. “What’s the hurry?”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth replied, stopping. “I get like that after Auntie dearest gets all holier than thou. Do you know she wouldn’t have anywhere to stay if it hadn’t been for my mum dying?”
“I know, but it’s the truth. Lynne’s always had a bit of a penchant for the booze and tends to get a little bit forgetful. She gets all into the moment and has been known to spend money she can’t afford.
“Her last landlord was going to throw her out and then mum… well, mum passed away and left her to look after me - on the understanding she was going to get her habit under control.”
“Has she? I’m assuming she hasn’t.”
“Well, she’s better than she was, but there are times when I have to dip into my money to eat.”
“Will you stop saying that? It’s not your fault.”
“I know, but I feel that there ought to be something I could do, yet you’re the one doing for me.”
“Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?”
“If I didn’t want to help, I wouldn’t have.”
There was no arguing with that.
They continued on their way, this time at a more leisurely pace. There were lots of things running through Chloe’s mind. The first was where she came from, but then that had been pretty much at the forefront since last night too.
Next was what she was going to do. There was only so long that she could stay with Elizabeth, whether the house was hers or not, especially if it meant sleeping in the same bed; that part of things was bound to get tiresome pretty quickly, for Lynne if no-one else.
Then something hit her.
Elizabeth had said that Steve had been in the basement reading the Tarot cards, which was exactly where she found herself.
An entire regiment of ‘what if’s’ went through her head.
Supposing the cards had changed him into her?
No. That was too daft to even contemplate otherwise there’d be thousands of things of all shapes and sizes that used to be people hanging around and Tarot cards would be banned.
What sounded more sensible was that perhaps Steve and she had changed places and maybe, just maybe Steve was where she should have been. Then again, wouldn’t he have ’phoned home?
Perhaps he was in the same state as she was - no memory.
“Can Tarot cards cause weird things to happen?” she asked as they continued their way towards town. “I’ve heard Ouija boards can and Tarot cards are pretty much the same aren’t they?”
“Don’t know,” Elizabeth replied. “Why d’you ask?”
“Well, it’s just that, well, the first thing I remember from last night was waking up at a table covered in Tarot cards.”
Elizabeth stopped in her tracks. “Anything else?”
“No, not really. I know I was pretty freaked out though. In fact, now you mention it, I can’t remember anything from before that point - nothing at all. I can remember a witch, but I can’t remember why.”
“What brought this up?” Elizabeth asked.
“Well it’s just that you said that Steve was doing Tarot readings for people at the party and now he’s vanished. I wouldn’t have linked the two together, but that’s where I first found myself.”
“Let’s go and get some breakfast,” Elizabeth suggested.
They found a table in a small café and Elizabeth ordered them some bacon, eggs, grilled tomato, toast and tea.
“It’s a bit far-fetched don’t you think?”
“You may well be right, but it seemed a bit too much of a coincidence. First Steve gets ill and you go to get Lynne. You get back and instead of meeting him, you find me. Meanwhile, I doubt anyone saw me arrive or Steve leave. Now however odd or improbable this sounds, it’s making more sense than anything else I’ve considered.”
“What about your memories and stuff? Surely you would have remembered something about being Steve, wouldn’t you?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” she said, suddenly feeling all the momentum of what should have been a brilliant idea, slowing to a crawl.
Over Elizabeth’s shoulder, Chloe could see a mirror and in it, she saw the face of a man who had not only appeared out of the blue the night before outside Elizabeth’s house, but had appeared elsewhere.
He was staring at her, studying her and above all, making her feel most uncomfortable. More distressing was not being able to place him anywhere other than at the gate to Elizabeth’s house, even though she knew she had seen him since.
“What’s up?” Elizabeth asked, after a mouthful of egg and bacon.
“It’s that man from last night. I thought I just saw him again.”
“Where?” Elizabeth’s head snapped from one side to the other trying to see what Chloe had seen. “Are you sure?”
“Oh, I’m sure alright. It’s just that I know I have seen him somewhere else, but I can’t remember where.”
“I’m sure it’ll come to you. It’s like dreams. Sometimes it takes something to happen during the day to remind you.”
“That’s it!” Chloe exclaimed.
“My dream,” she said jumping up and hugging Elizabeth across the table, narrowly missing getting egg on her jacket. “He was in my dream.”