Simon Parke  
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The longest night of the year

CHAPTER 24

In the last episode, no one was very obviously helped by anyone. Shit happens, as they say. (Rather too often perhaps.) Mrs Post went mad with the vicar; Jane avoided Rex as best she could; Rex found the gravestone unhelpful, and Dr Hafiz got a mouthful from Mrs Pump. Though in the end, Rex did get to bed happy, and Dr Hafiz seemed determined to be so – even when everything was utterly awful!

There were now only three residents of Misty Longings awake on the night after the Winter Fayre – Jane, Dr Hafiz and Rex.

Well, for a brief moment, we could add Alky to that list. He was stumbling around having just been woken by bad dreams about things thrown, and small girls hurt, and the smell of sick, and he just needed to get a glass of water from downstairs.

‘So why are you all so fucking sad?’ he shouted at his ancestors on the way back up, as they stared at him from their frames. ‘Move on! Get a grip! Whatever! But don’t scowl at me, like I’m some bad person! I’m not a bad person! You don’t know me – so why the big scowls? Fuck off! All of you – fuck off!’

He was soon back in bed, and with a small medicinal whisky, asleep again.

*

‘So what will we do now?’ asked Jane.

‘You will help me down into the hole. One of us must go down and rescue Azure.’

‘I’ll come too,’ said Jane. ‘After all, she came to get me – not you.’

‘It will be a difficult descent.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘Well let me at least go first.’

‘No, I’ll go first,’ said Jane.

‘Is that wise?’

‘I don’t know. But tonight, I’m giving up on wisdom.’

‘OK.’

‘It’s not OK, actually – far from it.’

‘Perhaps there’s an unopened present down there.’

‘More likely a dead cat.’

That was harsh, but for some reason, Jane was angry.

‘You know what you are doing?’ asked the doctor.

‘No, I don’t!’

‘That’s OK.’

‘And stop saying ‘That’s OK.’ It isn’t OK. And that’s precisely why I must do it. For the first time in my life, I really haven’t a clue.’

Fortunately, the doctor refrained from saying that that was also OK.

*

It was at this point in the night that another resident of Misty Longings joined the awake. Inky had just had a truly terrible dream, after which there was no going back to sleep.

He was putting on his trousers, over his pyjamas, because he was too cold to take them off, and anyway, they’d be another layer as he rode his bike down to Rose Cottage on this freezing night.

‘It was the most real scream I’ve ever heard in my life,’ he said to himself. ‘Cadbury’s scream in my dream was no dream. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t check.’

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ bawled his dad from the next door room.

‘Nothing, Pa – just checking something.’

‘Well stop fucking checking it, and get back into bed, you little arsehole.’

‘Sure thing, Pa – anything you say.’

Like anything his dad said was going to make any difference now; or indeed, ever again.

Was this to be the night he left home?

*

Jane’s descent down into the hole was relatively easy.

The village had now got what they called a ‘safety winch,’ with a simple harness, which the descending or ascending could wear. This was in case the police threw anyone else down the hole – or if someone just fell of their own accord. It made rescue easier.

‘It makes a hole lot of sense!’ Rex had said at the meeting, ever the safety campaigner.

No one had thought a cat might fall down, because cats famously have nine lives. But then she hadn’t fallen, had she? Azure had jumped; deliberately jumped – as Jane said.

‘Can you see anything down there?’ asked Dr Hafiz, as he pulled the harness back to the top.

‘Not at the moment. It’s all black.’

Jane’s voice echoed a little in the darkness.

‘You’re a very brave woman, Jane.’

‘It isn’t brave doing what you must do.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure,’ he said. ‘Many people don’t. I’m on my way now.’

Dr Hafiz slowly winched his way down inside the dark jaws, struggling with the pulley.

‘It is like descending into hell,’ he thought to himself. ‘Suddenly we are taking decisions we do not want to take; forced by circumstance, yet rushing into darkness.’

‘Are you all right, doctor?’

No, he wasn’t all right. Rarely had he felt less all right. And the pulley seemed to have stopped working.

‘I can’t move!’ he said. ‘The winch is jammed.’

‘Just take a breath – take a deep breath, and push your feet away from the side to change the angle of the rope. I think it may be trapped.’

Dr Hafiz wished he had worn gloves, for his hands were cold against the icy mud wall of the hole.

‘It’s no good,’ he said, finding it increasingly hard to contemplate movement. The longer he stayed still, the harder it was to start again.

‘Just push your feet away from the wall,’ said Jane, who could now clearly see the issue. ‘You will find all to be fine.’

‘I am not finding anything to be fine at the moment,’ he said, sweating in the cold. Sometimes fear came down upon him like a thick mist.

‘It’s a strong pulley, so you’re quite all right,’ said Jane, sensing his panic.

‘It’s not a strong pulley at all. It was acquired second hand and is a complete liability.’

High above them both, and way above the world, the clear sky looked down, fully starred and brightly mooned. Jane looked up into its vastness.
‘The stars agree with me,’ said Jane. ‘As does the moon.’

‘Everyone knows the moon is mad,’ said the doctor, ‘and currently, so am I!’

With those words, he pushed himself away from the side, released the trapped rope, and began to travel downwards again.

‘I think we are all right!’ said Dr Hafiz, swept through with relief. ‘Yes, I really think we may be all right.’

‘You were always all right.’

‘Easy for you to say, my dear Jane; but I may believe you in time.’

It was just as he landed alongside Jane, and like a parachutist began disentangling himself from the harness, that they both heard a noise to their right. And saw the mud wall moving.

*

Inky allowed a few seconds for his dad to collapse into sleep again, and then he slipped downstairs, crept through the kitchen, and left quietly by the back door. Even as he opened it, however, his dad called out again:

‘Inky! Inky!? You come back here, or feel my belt!’

But instead, Inky stepped outside, felt his way towards his bike, and began to turn the combination lock. It was jammed by the freeze, and his fingers hurt as he tried to force it. He knew he must go back inside to get the WD40 from the kitchen. He retraced his steps, opened the door quietly, entered the kitchen, found the drawer, pulled it open, and took out the can. And then his father appeared in the doorway from the hall.

‘And what the fuck do you think you are doing?’

‘I’m going out, Pa. I have to go.’

‘You’re going nowhere.’

‘I’ve had a dream; I have to go.’

‘I don’t think so, boy.’

Inky saw his father approach like he had so many times before, brandishing the belt. He felt himself wither inside, as if he no longer existed. But as he felt himself disappearing and saw the belt being raised, he saw also Cadbury’s terror, and heard her scream again. And everything changed.

‘We’re over, Pa.’

And with that, instinct reached out, grabbed the rolling pin and smashed it against the belt-wielding hand. It then came crashing down at the join of the neck and shoulder, and then hard against the lower arm, sending the older man sprawling, groaning and broken-boned.

‘Don’t ever come after me, Pa. Never. And take one more step now – one step toward me – and this rolling pin is for your head. Do you get me?’

His dad looked up at him with a deep hatred. ‘Your mother always said you were a shit.’

Tears welled in Inky’s eyes, but now was not the time.

‘Don’t wait up,’ said Inky. Pocketing the spray, whilst keeping rolling pin in hand, he slammed the door behind him, and stepped out into the night once again. Only this time, it was a new night – the first night of the rest of his life.

He had wasted too much time. His own danger was nothing to that which Cadbury was facing. He could see terror in her eyes.

*

Nothing, however, could match the terror currently felt by Jane and Dr Hafiz.

Jane had moved towards Dr Hafiz, as the strange noises to their right became something moving; something opening. Part of the hole’s side was an old wooden door, now being forced on reluctant hinges.

‘I knew we shouldn’t have come,’ said Jane.

‘But what choice did we have?’ said Dr Hafiz.

‘The choice to stay at home, and ignore the calling cat. I could have stayed at home!’

‘And wondered for the rest of your life – ‘what if?’ No, sometimes we have to go to the edge of existence and look over.’

As the wooden door opened, a blinding light spilled out, hard on their night eyes. For a moment, they could see nothing in the dazzle.

‘My God!’ cried out Dr Hafiz, as Jane clung to his side. And then a small figure emerged.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the Kid.

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