Simon Parke  
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Night lights

CHAPTER 25

In the last episode, Alky had a midnight row with his ancestors after troubled dreams; Inky had a row with his father after troubled dreams; and Jane and Dr Hafiz found themselves in a bit of a hole. Before the dazzling light took hold.

The Longest Night of the Year was not without incident in the village of Misty Longings, and in this episode we will focus mainly on a boy on his bike, pedalling like a madman through the crisp early hours. He was pedalling towards Rose Cottage and away from the home he’d never had; and would never now return to.

Yet even away from the village, Misty Longings occupied someone’s mind in these early hours of Sunday. So let us travel briefly to the hospital known as Needing General (or by some as ‘Needing Repair’!). As Lord Jo lay in his hospital bed, he was coming to some pretty big conclusions.

‘Who ever got a good night’s sleep in a hospital?’ he said to himself. ‘Apart from the nurses, of course.’

Yet as he lay in the half-light of the general ward, surrounded by groans and the smell of excrement, he had time to think; time he hadn’t had in years. He’d always been too busy making a living to pause and reflect; too busy destroying everything which got in his way, and being angry 24/7.

And he still was angry, of course. He was angry with the nurses who were all lazy cows. He was also angry about the cheese, and he would get to the bottom of that. Whoever messed around with the Double Gloucester at the Winter Fayre should not anticipate a long and happy life ahead of them. But most of all, he was angry with the hole – because ever since the hole had appeared, things in the village had gone the way of the pear.

‘There’s no doubt things have gone pear-shaped since the arrival of the hole,’ he said to himself.

He’d been assured action would be taken: ‘The authorities are looking into it,’ Mrs Post had said, which would have been funny, if it wasn’t a bloody farce.

Yet all the time, he’d looked the other way, busied himself with other things; let them talk their drivel. And why? Because he didn’t like the idea of a hole in his village – simple as that. It was a sign of something not quite right; a sign of weakness in a village that should have no weaknesses. He’d come to Misty Longings because it was the most beautiful village in England, and he was going to make sure it stayed that way. First thing tomorrow, on his return, he’d mobilise his diggers and dumpers, mixers and fillers, and have the hole filled in.

End of story. Though as The Kid, the Doctor and Jane now stood together in the hole, with light bursting forth, some would say the story was just beginning.

*

Inky had just reached the start of Long Lane when his worst fears were confirmed. He could see the fire, and didn’t need telling which house was ablaze. As he got nearer, he saw the thatch alight, throwing wafts of smoke billowing into the night sky. Had it been treated with petrol or something? And then the voice which he’d never forget; the words he’d heard in his dream, ringing out again across this winter scene:

‘Help! Rescue me! Please!’

Inky jumped off his bike, and as he opened the garden gate, saw Cadbury’s face, framed in the window, and a picture of fear.

‘Don’t worry!’ he shouted. ‘I’m here now.’

‘Help me! I don’t like the flames!’

‘I’m coming in!’ he shouted, as ran up the garden path and smashed open the front door with a large garden stone.

Once inside, he ran straight out again, overcome with smoke.

‘Don’t go!’ screamed Cadbury.

‘I’m not going anywhere!’ he shouted back. ‘But you must keep your door shut! Is your door shut?’

She nodded, but he didn’t know if she’d understood.

‘Pull yourself together, Cadbury!’

But Cadbury had fallen apart some time ago, and Inky could only hope those weren’t the last words she’d ever hear.

Inky took two big breaths of night air, another for luck, and then jamming a hanky over his mouth, ran inside the inferno once again. He moved quickly up the stairs and reached the landing, just as a large smouldering roof beam crashed down on the floor behind him. The fire was making its way inside the house and they hadn’t got long. But which door was Cadbury’s? All the doors were shut.

‘Cadbury!’ he called out, but choked as he tried, and there was no response.

He threw his weight against the first door and found himself in the bathroom. He ran out, and then remembering his bearings, reckoned Cadbury must be the door across the way. Above him, the ceiling paint was bubbling, visibly disintegrating before his eyes, and the heat –

*


They saw the dead body of Azure almost immediately. She had struck her head against a rock on landing.

‘She was a beautiful cat,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘I know she was only mine in name – but she was beautiful.’

‘She was everybody’s cat – the village cat. She knew no boundaries,’ said Jane.

‘Just the smell of tuna.’

‘And the best sun traps.’

‘She visited me too,’ said The Kid.

‘And where do you live?’ asked Dr Hafiz.

‘In the abbey ruins. She’d come and visit me there.’

‘I was told you couldn’t speak,’ said Jane.

‘So was I,’ said The Kid. ‘And you begin to believe people after a while.’

‘But you know something, don’t you?’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘Azure brought us here for a reason.’

‘Maybe. What we have here is something very beautiful – but also very fragile; very fragile indeed.’

Jane and Dr Hafiz looked at the glow beyond the wooden door.

‘You could say that Misty Longings is built on a fault line,’ said The Kid. ‘Or you could say it is built on heaven. Shall we go inside?’

*

Inky crashed through the door and saw Cadbury by the window. As another beam fell from the ceiling behind him, it did cross his mind to tell her to jump. But he feared for her falling and grabbed her instead, pulling her towards the door.

‘Here, take your shirt,’ he said, picking it up from the chair, ‘and hold it over your mouth.’

Cadbury, in only her nightie, did as she was told, before Inky could say there were other things to do first.

‘But first take as big a breath as you can,’ said Inky. ‘Oh, and put on your dressing gown!’

Her dressing gown was hanging behind the smoking door.

‘It gets smokier outside – much smokier. So take a deep breath here, and then hold it as long as you can. Do you understand?’

Cadbury nodded, as Inky grabbed her hand.

‘Right. Big breaths!’

Cadbury breathed in deeply.

‘Now shirt to face, and hold on! And do as I say!’

Again Cadbury nodded. She was happy to do as people said, especially now.

‘I had a dream,’ said Inky. ‘I knew something was wrong. I was meant to be here; meant to come and save you.’

A big smile stretched across Cadbury’s face.

‘I’m not scared anymore,’ she said. ‘Nothing will scare me now!’

And with that, the two youngsters stepped through the door, and out onto the landing, now without a ceiling, and furious with smoke and burning timber. Inky pulled Cadbury along the stair rail, towards the top of the stairs. Red hot debris rained down, scorching their shoulders and necks, whilst smoke burned their eyes, and sucked oxygen from the air.

The stairs were beginning to smoulder.

‘Walk on the edges!’ shouted Inky, before choking terribly.

Cadbury went first, Inky followed, but still holding hands. Inky glanced upwards to see the main roof beam, a huge chunk of old oak, becoming loose from its moorings. Fire was ripping into its joints, and if that were to fall…

Cadbury slipped, and Inky couldn’t hold her. She reached for the stair rail, as the rail fell from the wall, and Cadbury fell with it, tumbling forward, tumbling down the burning stairs like a rag doll. Inky watched in horror, and then horror increased. The main beam above him was finally evicted by fire, falling, falling, and Inky knew he must leap. The flaming beam brushed the back of his neck as he sprung forward, trusting only his knowledge that if he stayed where he was, he was dead.

*

‘This is very remarkable,’ said Dr Hafiz at last. They had stood in silence for who knows how long? Time broke down in the circumstances. ‘Does anybody else know about this place?’

‘I don’t think so,’ said The Kid.

‘An unopened present. Then we shall see what we shall see,’ said the Doctor.

And for the moment, that seemed to be that.

‘It is perhaps time to go home,’ said Jane, too overwhelmed for anything.

‘Yes, we must reflect on these things,’ said the Doctor. ‘It takes time to make sense of such amazement.’

‘We will meet again perhaps?’ said the Kid.

‘Certainly,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘I sense we have barely begun.’

They walked back to the wooden door in the wall.

‘Will you come with us?’ asked the Doctor, stepping once more into the darkness.

‘I might stay a while’ said the girl. ‘I feel very peaceful here.’

‘Quite.’

‘But I’m glad you came. I didn’t know who to share it with.’

‘It seems Azure knew.’

‘Yes, it does, doesn’t it?

‘Do you have a name?’ asked Jane. ‘I mean, a real name?’

*

Inky carried Cadbury out of the front door as Rose Cottage finally gave up the ghost. It had withstood the seasons since Cromwell’s times. Autumn had become winter; winter, spring; spring, summer, and summer, winter, year after year after year. But by 3.00am on this particular night, the longest night of the year, it could stand no more. Like a tiger overwhelming a gazelle, the fire savaged the cottage until it gasped and died, dancing in death like a tired and cackling marionette.

Severely scorched, the freezing air blessed them both. Inky put Cadbury down, and then shunted her down the path.

‘We must get away,’ said Inky. ‘The building’s a bomb.’

‘We must get away,’ repeated Cadbury. ‘Right away. Where shall we go?’

‘Shall I take you home?’

‘I don’t have a home. Shall we go to yours?’

‘I don’t have a home either.’

‘Then where shall we go?’

It was a good question. Where do you go, when you have nowhere to go? Nowhere on earth to call Home.

‘I have an idea,’ said Inky. ‘I have a very good idea.’

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