Paternoster Tales: Chapter 32

Have you ever been on a ‘last minute’ holiday? They’re always difficult. Difficult to get right, because they weren’t planned. Difficult to enjoy, because after the first day you wish you hadn’t been so rash and had waited to book a different and better holiday. And difficult to sustain, because after all the exhausting forcing-yourself-to-be-jolly, it’s hard to enjoy being somewhere you don’t want to be, doing things you don’t want to do and doing them with people you wish you’d left at home.

Lucretia had taken herself off on a last minute holiday.

‘Taken herself off ‘ is perhaps an understatement. It was more of a rushed flounce – the red cheeked, tail-feather fluttering, swooshing prance of an ostrich caught with it’s beak in the jam – accompanied by considerable panic and a large dollop of sulkiness. She was finding the holiday extremely difficult.

Waifs find each other. To another waif they’re easier to spot than a black panther on a mountain covered in snow; or a redcurrant in a bowl of rice pudding; or the last chocolate in a box of chocolates. Waifs get inside each other’s heads unless the one that doesn’t want to be found concentrates so hard that she conjures up a blizzard to conceal the panther; drowns the redcurrant in milky rice, and persuades a mouse to eat the last chocolate. Lucretia was having to concentrate harder than the hardness of a stone at the bottom of a river bed. With, all the time, the water threatening to wash away her resolve.

She was determined that Paternoster wouldn’t find her. Not before a few days had passed. Not before the pug incident … and the abducting a little girl incident … and the pigeon-taming incident had receded into the swamp of Paternoster’s brain.

Lucretia was scared of Paternoster, so it helped to imagine his actual, non-existent brain as a boggy, gassy, overgrown, murky swamp. Then, she remembered that things sometimes bubble to the surface of swamps and she shivered and imagined Paternoster’s angry face and for a moment stopped concentrating. And that let Paternoster find her.

Poor, guilty Lucretia.

As for Molly – dear Molly. Hide and seek Seeker and loyal friend.

Silas found her.

Silas really hated me. I know this because he opened up his mind and let me watch what he did to Molly. I didn’t want to watch. Especially, when I saw what was coming; before she did. Silas didn’t give me a choice.

If someone tells you on no account to look inside a small, leather box sitting on top of a pile of books, in a dimly lit room, and then departs, it is inevitable that most of us will resist the urge to disobey for varying lengths of time before giving in and taking a peak. Admit it – you’d look. I know I would. It’s the same if we’re told not to watch something; even when the person telling us not to watch is ourselves. We watch because we feel helpless and because we are afraid of missing out. I watched Silas taunting Molly because I couldn’t not watch and because I needed to know her fate. I had put her in harm’s way. I had to see what that harm would do to her.

Silas was waiting for her when she entered the tunnels at Holborn station.

Molly always was a trusting soul. And she didn’t know not to trust Silas. Yes, I’d told her to watch out for him. And I’d told her that he would be angry with me. And that he might take that anger out on her to punish me. But I don’t think she believed me, or only partially did. I was always telling her to be careful and to watch out for less friendly waifs. But usually, things turned out alright for her. She’d never come across a waif quite as unfriendly as Silas, so she was like a butterfly caught in a storm.

The storm he chose to hit her with was a West bound tube-train with nine carriages full of fidgety youths on their way to a concert. He started screaming at her as soon as their eyes met and continued as he chased her across the platform and onto the train.

Molly was trapped.

Silas wouldn’t stop screaming.

Molly panicked and started to ‘run.’ She fled towards the whispering void between the heads of two girls dressed in identical, red and black, shiny jackets. As she approached, the smaller of the two shot her hand up to her ear to reposition the ear-plug of her headphones. Molly collided with her little finger and smelled cinnamon and orange as she squelched through her. Bright lights exploded behind Molly’s eyes and a man’s voice swore loudly in the girl’s memory. Tears felt cold against the girl’s cheeks and money … something about lost money … And Molly was out! Disorientated; weakened, a little, but free. She searched for somewhere to go, as Silas’s screaming wrenched the air from her ears. Legs – there’s more room down there.

She weaved between knees as the train slowed and stopped at the next station.

No-one got off. More people squeezed on. Molly bounced off a bag.

As the train started to move again, something waved in the air, too close above her head. Silas’s hand. Surely he wouldn’t touch her. No, not that! It reached down towards her. She froze as the index finger unfurled slowly and pointed along the floor. “Go!” shrieked Silas.

Molly went, slaloming between legs. Pitching against the edges of seats, the floor and people’s bags. She was moving faster. Beginning to slide. The train slowed down lacerating her rhythm and she tumbled into an elderly man. The lights in him were less bright and the squelch revealed pages and pages of numbers … and a cold room … and a crying baby … and an old dog waiting at home. Molly drifted out of the old man and hung limply in the air above the lap of a boy wearing the same red and black shiny jacket as the orange and cinnamon girl.

Silas stopped shrieking and laughed. An unpleasantly taunting laugh stuffed with barbs that pricked her ears. She had squelched twice. She had no energy left. She wasn’t going to run.

She held Silas’s stare.

“Barny Boy’s not up to it then?” Silas sneered, spitting out my name. “So not up to it he’s sent a snuffard. Eh? A measly snuffard!”

Molly said nothing. Silas made sure I saw the pain in her eyes.

“Barny Boy must be scared of something … me?! – to send a snuffard down ‘ere. Either that or he don’t want you either, Mol. That makes ‘im a murderin’ coward – don’t it – like the coward who made you a snuffard?” He laughed. “Who was that? … Oh – I see-ee … your Dad!” Silas paused to scrutinise Molly’s face, expecting tears, seeing none. “So you wasn’t a Daddy’s girl then? I wonder what you did to make ‘im hit you … Show me – I SAID SHOW ME!! … Aargh! … She’s stronger than she looks Barny Boy.”

Molly said nothing. Her blank face stared back at Silas.

“Is the snuffard deaf? Or just don’t know what to say? I’ll tell you what you can say. He leant in so his face was close to her’s and she could feel the icy hoar of his breath. “Beg me to let you go,“ he whispered. “C’mon – beg me! – I can’t hear you. I – CAN’T – HEAR – YOU!”

Molly wasn’t begging. She was dream-scaping for me. I saw and I could do nothing. My mouth formed the word ‘no’ but I couldn’t make her hear.

Silas, furious, lunged at her. I saw her reach out. And catch his hand.

The dream-scape ended abruptly – an unfinished letter from a dear friend etched with a fine needle into my memory.

Both waifs – Molly and Silas – were Disappeared.

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