Chloe followed Elizabeth out of the café, her head in a whirl. So much seemed to be going on in her mind that it was difficult to separate fact from fiction. The sudden appearance of Edward Ellsworth brought her head back into the present.
He stood very close and looked directly at Chloe, his lips curled into a snarl. “We meet again,” he said. “You’re looking well, Elizabeth.”
“What makes you think I’m Elizabeth?” she asked.
“It is not who I think you are, witch; it is who I know you to be.”
“Well, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. She’s Elizabeth,” Chloe retorted, poking her chin in Elizabeth’s direction. “I’m Chloe.”
Elizabeth pushed past her friend. “Look, mister,” she said, a note of irritability in her voice, “I don’t know or care who you are, but you’re starting to piss us off. Why don’t you just go stalk someone else, before I call the police?”
“It’s alright,” Chloe said, gently laying her hand on Elizabeth’s forearm. “I can handle this idiot.”
“So you are Elizabeth,” Ellsworth said.
“Not a chance, I’m Chloe - I told you that. You don’t scare me, even though that’s clearly what you’re trying to do. Arseholes like you should be locked up and they should throw away the key. I suggest you bugger off and leave Elizabeth and me alone.”
Edward looked annoyed - angry even and reached out, grabbing Chloe by the arm. “I would not be inclined to be quite so flippant, witch. I do not believe this subterfuge, I can feel who you are. I have defeated you more times than I care to remember. This time will be no exception,” he said between clenched teeth.
“I see from your reaction, you recall some of our previous meetings,” he said smugly.
“No, actually I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you are hurting me,” she said, struggling to get her arm free from Ellsworth’s vice-like grip. “Let go of me.”
She swung her free arm and slapped his chest. A mark appeared the same shape as her hand. Much of it twinkled in reds and gold’s, spreading outwards from the centre as thin wisps of smoke rose through the material. She wrenched her arm free of Ellsworth’s grasp and took two steps back, looking at Elizabeth, whose eyes were just as wide as Ellsworth’s.
Edward grabbed at his chest, terror showing on his face as he patted and rubbed at the ever-increasing smouldering patch. He started to panic as smoky, blackened particles fell around him; people looking on, some showing concern and others laughing as he danced around, patting himself whilst ‘ow-ing’ and taking sharp intakes of breath as he tried in vain to extinguish the garment.
“Youlied!” he exclaimed. “This isn’t over.” Then, turning on his heels, he disappeared into the tide of people, most of whom were now at least smiling at the exchange, probably unaware of what Chloe had actually done.
Chloe approached Elizabeth after Ellsworth had gone and was shocked as her friend shrank away from her. “What the hell did you do to him?” Elizabeth demanded, shock showing on her face.
“I don’t know, it just happened,” was all Chloe could say, shaking from the ordeal.
“I thought I knew you,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head and continuing to back away any time Chloe tried to get nearer to her.
“You do know me - as well, if not better than I know myself.”
“Obviously I don’t know you as well as I should then,” Elizabeth said, giving Chloe a look that showed her fear and disappointment.
She said nothing to Chloe after that. Her brow seemed permanently furrowed and she muttered frequently, though Chloe didn’t hear what she was muttering about. Each time Chloe tried asking, she would look away.
The one person Chloe felt she had any kind of bond with was in the process of rejecting her and she felt that at any time, Elizabeth could say goodbye and that would be that.
“Please say something,” Chloe pleaded. “You haven’t said anything for hours and all you have done is mutter and stomp about.”
“Are you surprised?” Elizabeth retorted.
Chloe could feel the tears well up; the lump in her throat getting bigger alerting her to the fact that sobs were just moments away. “We...ell, yes, I am.”
“I thought you were my friend,” Elizabeth said accusingly. “I shouldn’t be scared of my friends, but right now and after what you did, you scare me.”
“What have I done to you? For God’s sake, Elizabeth; I would never do anything to hurt you. That thing with Ellsworth? I don’t know how it happened - it just did.”
“What you did to him wasn’t normal, Chloe. That was freakish and knowing you did it without even thinking is just scary - so not right.”
“Elizabeth, please,” Chloe begged. “I would never hurt you.”
“How do you know that? You can’t know that. If you did that to him without knowing, what might you do to me?”
The tears began to flow as Elizabeth stormed off, leaving Chloe staring at her hand, the hand she’d hit Ellsworth with; a hand that appeared to be perfectly normal - nothing special, but how had she done that?
She wiped her eyes and ran after Elizabeth. “Wait up,” she shouted, but Elizabeth just kept going.
Chloe wove her way through the shoppers and eventually caught her friend.
“Get away from me, freak,” Elizabeth snarled and with that, she turned and left Chloe standing, watching as she disappeared into the crowds.
“Now what do I do?” Chloe asked herself, taking a seat on one of the ornate cast benches.
* * *
Elizabeth arrived home in a right old mood.
Her friend - her best friend, had turned out to be a freak - a scary freak at that. Whatever she’d done to that man wasn’t natural and if she’d done that to him, wasn’t it possible she could do something like that to her?
“Oh!” said Lynne, obviously surprised, but nevertheless pleased to see Elizabeth home. “I’m glad you’re back. I need to go out early.” She looked around. “Where’s Chloe? I thought she was coming back with you.”
“Don’t know and don’t care,” she replied, not sounding overly convincing as she flopped on the sofa with a deep sigh.
Lynn looked taken aback. “Oh. Well, er, whatever. I have to go out early and I haven’t had the time to clear up downstairs. Would you mind?”
“Off to the pub are you?” Elizabeth said with a sneer.
“Probably not actually, but if we do go, it won’t be until much later,” Lynne replied without rising to the taunt. “Ellen still hasn’t heard from Steve and both of us are worried. The police haven’t heard anything either so we’re going to the police station to give a detailed description. Are you sure he didn’t say anything to you?”
The fact that her aunt was focussed on something other than partying elicited a note of sympathy from Elizabeth. “No, nothing; I’m sorry.”
“It was worth asking. There’s some lasagne in the fridge that will take five minutes in the microwave. I’ll be going back home with Ellen. She’s beside herself with worry. Will you be alright here?”
“Yeah. I’m just going to watch some telly then I expect I’ll go to bed.”
Lynne stood over Elizabeth, looking down at her sad-looking niece. “What really happened today?” she asked, sitting on the arm of the sofa.
Elizabeth’s eyes started to brim immediately. “I don’t know that I can describe it exactly, but let’s put it this way, Chloe’s not the girl I thought she was.” She began to cry. “I thought we were friends. I thought she liked me.”
“I’m sure she does. I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
“Well if she liked me, she wouldn’t scare me would she?”
“Sometimes people do things that scare us. Look at Steve. He’s never done anything like this before and he’s certainly scaring Ellen half to death. I’m not far behind.” Lynne looked at her niece and gently stroked the hair away from her face. “It doesn’t mean she loves him any less though - or he, her for that matter and I’m sure that there’s a very good reason why Chloe did what she did, but it doesn’t mean she likes you any less or would want to harm you, does it? Anyway,” Lynne whispered. “I expect it’ll all come out in the wash.”
Elizabeth sat up. “Do you really think so? She really frightened me down at the precinct. I should have just let it go, but I didn’t. I know she wouldn’t hurt me, but...”
“...Don’t worry about it. These things have a way of working themselves out.”
Lynne gave Elizabeth a peck on the forehead. “I’ll see you later. If not, tomorrow morning.”
“Good luck, Lynne,” she replied.
Lynne stopped dead in her tracks, spun round, probably looking for a sneer or a face being pulled, but there was nothing. “Thank you,” she said.
Elizabeth sat on the sofa. She hadn’t even made herself a cup of tea or coffee, got a soft drink, a sandwich, snacks or anything and after about and hour of flicking through the countless channels of pap on the television, she decided to go downstairs, simply to take her mind off possibly the biggest mistake she’d ever made.
“So this is where it all began,” she said, looking about her.
The walls were still bedecked with the little figures of witches on brooms, skulls with daft grins and other things that glowed in the dark or went bump in the night, while at the foot of the stairs, stood the table. The cards were still laid out in exactly the same place as they had been and as she began collecting them up, she felt a strange tingling sensation running up from her hands. Then, before her very eyes, up popped a woman who looked for all the world like a real witch. Her steely grey hair, long pointy chin and the wart on the end of her equally pointy nose just screamed ‘witch’. Strangest of all, was the fact that if she concentrated, Elizabeth could see straight through the figure of the woman, to the empty plant stand on the other side of the room.
“You’re not my pretty one are you?” the apparition said. “Not that you’re not pretty, you understand. In fact, you’re very pretty, just not the one I was expecting - or rather hoping for.”
Elizabeth dropped the cards as if they were hot coals and the image vanished.
She stood there for several moments, wringing her hands and not quite knowing what to do. Eventually, she picked the cards up and again, the tingling sensation returned.
“Please don’t do that, I don’t know how long I can keep this up.”
“Who are you?”
“Elizabeth Knotts - at you service,” the apparition said, bowing floridly.
This must be the Elizabeth, Edward Ellsworth thought Chloe was she thought. “Um, the boy who was here last night using these cards - do you know what happened to him?”
“The pretty one?” the apparition asked, nodding. “Oh yes. I changed him.”
“You did what? Why?”
“That is none of your concern,” said the apparition, with a hint of steel in her voice.
“It’s not?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “It most certainly is. My best friend just touched someone and they started smouldering. I thought he was going to burst into flames. What’s to say that she couldn’t have done something like that to me? Surely, that makes it my concern.”
“She did what?” asked the apparition, looking shrewdly at Elizabeth.
“She hit this bloke on the chest and it left a blackened handprint which smouldered and smoked. I thought he was going to catch fire.”
“Who was this man?” her face was thoughtful and her eyebrow raised.
“I don’t know. Some weirdo who thinks Chloe is me - or you.”
"Yeah, well, she doesn’t know who she is - amnesia or something - and she thought that if she had a name, it would help her feel better about the situation; just till she gets her memory back.”
The apparition sat down heavily on a chair. “Oh dear.”
“What now?” asked Elizabeth, beginning to get a little exasperated by the apparition’s reluctance to be forthcoming with any information.
“Who chose that particular name?”
“She did. She liked it and although I didn’t think it fitted her, it’s starting to grow on me. She thought it was perfect.”
“It is,” the apparition said, her voice softening and her eyes taking on a faraway look. “It couldn’t be though.”
“Couldn’t be what? Come on, enough with all the cloak and dagger stuff. What’s going on?”
The apparition took a deep breath. “Chloe was my companion - before all this happened.” She shook her head and sighed. “Must be over five hundred years ago now. She was murdered right in front of me by a warlock who...”
“Warlock, girl. Now don’t interrupt, we’re running out of time and talking about half a millennium of history here.”
“Precisely. Anyway, Chloe and I lived in a house left to me by my parents and together we were very happy until a man named Edward Ellsworth...”
“Ellsworth?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “That’s the name of the man Chloe burned earlier.”
“Hmm. I thought as much.” The apparition nodded. “He started making overtures towards me. At first I was flattered, but I wasn’t interested in the slightest. I found him to be the epitome of what I didn’t like in a man - or anybody else really. I tried to let him down gently. It didn’t have the desired effect however, and the more I told him I wasn’t interested, the harder he tried.
“Then one day, I discovered that he had announced our engagement. I was livid - as you can well understand. I never agreed to marry him and went to confront him. All he did was take on the arrogant stance of someone with whom I would never spend a moment longer than was necessary. He said, ‘you will marry me Elizabeth Knotts and you’ll enjoy every moment of it.’”
“Sounds like a right arsehole,” said Elizabeth, remembering what Chloe had called him.
“I like that,” the apparition said, smiling. “In fact, it’s perfect.”
“I thought so too when Chloe told him that in town earlier.”
“Anyway, I told him that there was absolutely no chance that I would consent to marry a blackguard like him and he slapped me. ‘You will learn to be more respectful, woman,’ he said and I ran, got into my carriage and drove home as fast as I could, crying all the way.
“Chloe was there to meet me and once inside, I broke down again. Chloe did her best to comfort me and pretty soon we were in an embrace with Chloe telling me how I would not have to marry him and that it would all be alright, but whilst she and I embraced, he appeared, his face like thunder.
“We stared in fright as he appeared in the doorway, a tower of rage. ‘Get away from her,’ he bellowed, snatching Chloe from me and dashing her to the floor. She cried out as she landed, which just seemed to anger him further. He raised his hand, sending a bolt of what looked like lightning across the room, hitting poor Chloe in the chest. I ran to her and cradled her in my arms, whispering ‘I love you, I love you,’ but it made no difference. My Chloe was dead.”
“Blimey!” Elizabeth gasped. “Couldn’t you zap him back?”
“I didn’t know how to back then, but even if I could have, I was stricken with grief and not thinking clearly. It was the first time I had admitted to anyone, least of all myself, that she was the person I loved and just when it was too late, it stared me in the face; I had accepted it, but she was dead. It was too late.
“He just laughed. ‘That should make it easier now, shouldn’t it? Marry me and I can make all of this go away.’ Without thinking, I screamed ‘NEVER!’ and ran at him, scratching at his face, but instead of backing off as I’d hoped he would, he just got more angry, throwing me to the ground on top of my beloved, raising his hand again and engulfing me in a kind of fog.
“When the fog had gone, he laughed out loud. ‘If I can’t have you, then from now on, no-one will even want you.’ When I saw what he’d done, I cried solidly for weeks. He had turned me from a fair maiden to what you see now. He threatened to tell the townsfolk that I had killed Chloe; that I was a witch - unless I left there and then. What could I do? I fled.”
“Where did you go, I mean all that time ago, it can’t have been easy?”
“It wasn’t. I just ran away from everything and everyone. I was so embarrassed by what he’d done to me and how he’d made me look, I just made my way deep into the forest, trying to scrape a living from the land, keeping out of everybody’s way, but I couldn’t survive on my own. I was found there by a woman named Ursula. She saw through the outer ugliness and took me in.
“She taught me the Wiccan ways and after four or more years with her, I had learnt to temper my desire for revenge as well as keeping my true identity from the rest of the townsfolk. The fact that we lived outside the main town was helpful and no-one recognised me anyway, so I was able to live something of a normal life, although continually haunted by what Edward Ellsworth had done to both Chloe and to me.
When Ursula died, I took the mantle of looking after the needs of the people in the same way she had, but then things went awry. The man who had killed my beloved became the town’s Mayor. I knew it was him and although I tried to avoid him and remain incognito, he found me and told the townsfolk what I had done - even though in reality, it was he who had been the perpetrator of that heinous crime.
“I was tried in a mock trial where everyone present, except me, was under his influence and as far as I know, they’re still there, fixed in time, but I got him. I dragged him along with me and it’s been a fight ever since.”
“When we met Ellsworth outside here last night and in town this afternoon, I thought it was me he was after, but now I realise it was you,” said Elizabeth - the younger.
“You must get Chloe back here with all haste, my girl. I don’t know how much strength I have left, so win or lose, this is likely to me my last showdown with that - what was it you called him?”
“Yes; that arsehole! If I lose, the repercussions will be felt all the way through history. I must stop him. There’s no telling the damage failing will do.”
Elizabeth - the younger was just about to put the cards down on the table.
“Just how long have you known Chloe?” the apparition asked.
“Since last night.”
“And you have already slept with her?”
“How the...?” Elizabeth began, then realised she was talking to a woman who at the same time as not really being there, how not really been there for over five hundred years. “It wasn’t like that,” she argued, blushing furiously.
“I see,” the apparition observed. “And when did you know that you were in love with her?”
“I’m not!” Elizabeth stated. “She’s my friend… She’s my best friend, but that’s all.”
“Of course it is,” said the apparition. “But remember not to make the same mistake I did. It was too late when I came to admit my feelings. I would hate to see the same thing happen to you.”
“Well it won’t, will it?” Elizabeth said somewhat pugnaciously. “It’s not that kind of a relationship.”
“Of course it isn’t. Now go get her before Edward does and we all fail.”
* * *
The wind had freshened and was blowing freezing gusts from the north-east, making people scurry in all directions, whilst pulling their collars up and fastening their coats, jackets and anything else they had on, tightly around them.
Chloe had wandered around the big department store slowly, trying to stay out of the cold for as long as possible. However, they were closing and she had to leave, but where was she supposed to go and what was she supposed to do?
She stepped out on to the cobbled street as the smiling man said, “We’re open again at nine tomorrow,” and closed the door behind her, the keys clinking against the glass.
Darkness had already draped itself over everything, which only made it seem colder than it already was. With no money and no idea where to go - other than Elizabeth’s house - she sat back down on one of the cast stone seats, taking a sharp intake of breath as the coldness threatened to draw every last degree of heat through her bum.
“It’s not nice out here is it?” said a voice that Chloe recognised immediately.
“Elizabeth?” she exclaimed, jumping up and wrapping her arms around her friend, hugging her tightly. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“Whoa!” Elizabeth replied, trying to suppress a giggle. “Easy tiger.”
“I didn’t think you’d come back.”
“I nearly didn’t, but let’s just say this was on the cards.”
* * *
The two girls walked back up the road towards Elizabeth’s house and Chloe listened while Elizabeth told her about Ellsworth and Elizabeth’s namesake.
“So she was real? I wasn’t just dreaming about her or Ellsworth?”
“It seems not and from what she was saying, this encounter between her and Edward could be the last.”
“She’s been growing weaker with every encounter and she doesn’t think she has it in her to make it through another.”
“Anyway, we need to get you back home as soon as possible for the next round.”
“Um, just a minute,” said Chloe as a metaphoric light blinked on over her head. “What do you mean get me back for the next round?”
“Well, you’re involved - kinda crucial actually. She can’t do it without you.”
“Nuh-uh. I could get hurt… or turned into some form of vegetable or something.”
“Can you hear yourself, Chloe? You started a fire on a man just by touching him. If anything, he should be scared of you. Elizabeth wouldn’t have changed you if she didn’t think...”
“Yes, but none of that was me. It was Elizabeth - the witch. She must have put her ‘fluence in me. I can’t fight Ellsworth. I’m just a girl.” Another metaphoric light flashed in the dim recesses of her slow-moving mind. “She changed me? What d’you mean, changed me? Changed me from what?”
Elizabeth suddenly realised that she was possibly about to send Chloe off into an apoplectic fit.
“A boy,” she said quietly, her head bowed as if it were her fault.
Chloe blinked. “She did what?!”
“Look, Chloe. There’s something bigger than me or you going on here and we have a chance to be a part of it.”
“Who did I used to be?”
“Steve, but that’s beside the point. The last five hundred years of history could be rewritten if you...”
“Was he nice?”
“Was - he - nice?” Chloe said slowly.
“Yes, I suppose so, I don’t really know. I was only with him for about ten minutes, probably less actually and then you were there. She had to do it because otherwise, the whole history from Elizabethan England onwards...”
“Did you like him?”
“What do you mean? I told you I was only with him for ten minutes, if that.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Okay!” she said irritably. “I liked him. Are you happy now?”
“More than me?”
“Did you like him more than me?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Well,” she replied. “If you were Steve, you’d never have stayed over last night for a start. You certainly wouldn’t be wearing my clothes and I doubt very much whether we would be having this conversation.”
“I see. So which of us do you like best?”
“That’s the same question you just asked. How can I answer that? Just drop it okay. I like you, isn’t that enough? I mean, why do you want to know anyway?”
“Because apart from the fire bit, I’ve really enjoyed today and wonder whether you’d have done something like this with Steve.”
Elizabeth didn’t know what to say to that. She too had enjoyed their day - apart that was, from the incident with the burning, but knowing that Chloe wasn’t wholly responsible put that into a different perspective. There was also the point that boys rarely liked shopping - well, from what she’d heard they didn’t, not in the way girls did, and Chloe had been happy pootling around the shops. She doubted very much whether Steve would.
Then there was this morning.
When she awoke, okay, Chloe had clobbered her with her elbow, but being so close to her was intoxicating, thrilling and that was without doing anything too. She thought she wouldn’t have been interested in girls and she still didn’t think she was - but being near Chloe was an exception.
Elizabeth had been - albeit surreptitiously - checking out other girls while they were in town and not one of them ‘did’ anything for her, but Chloe? She was a completely different matter and even before she knew that she used to be Steve - who she’d also been attracted to - Chloe just did something she couldn’t explain.
Of course, she couldn’t tell Chloe that...