Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Lavender Witch: serialised part 3


‘I think I’ll explore that footpath as you are going fishing,’ Kitty stared out the kitchen window into the garden. A light breeze was blowing across the tops of the trees, and the sky was clear and bright apart from a few clouds scudding across the horizon. ‘It’s too nice to stay indoors.’
‘It is a lovely morning, that’s why I thought I would make the most of it before I go back to the grind tomorrow.’
‘What time are you going?’ she asked finishing the washing up and stacking it in the drainer.
‘Why don’t you use the dishwasher?’ he asked impatiently.
‘It’s only a few cups and plates, it’s quicker to do it like this,’ she picked up a tea towel and started to dry the plates.
‘What you mean is that you haven’t worked out how to use it yet.’
‘Well I didn’t want one, you’re the one who insisted on having the silly thing,’ she said calmly before pushing past him to pack the china away in the cupboards
Gordon sighed and started to put a few things into a lunch box. ‘I just thought it would make your life easier that’s all.’
‘But there’s just the two of us now Gordon, I could have done with one when the children were living at home, that would have been really useful.’
Kitty picked up the thermos she had prepared for him and handed it to him.
 ‘There you are, its coffee, is that alright or would you prefer tea?’
‘You didn’t have to do that, I’m quite capable of making it for myself,’ he said taking it from her and pushing it into the corner of his bag.
Kitty didn’t answer, she busied herself wiping around the new granite worktops and watched him packing the rest of his food into the rucksack.
 ‘What’s the weather forecast?’ he asked.
‘Fine all day and rain coming in tonight.’
‘Ah, that sounds okay so I won’t get wet while I’m out, I’ll be off as soon as I’ve found everything.’
Kitty folded her arms and leant back against the sink watching as he rummaged through the boxes in the utility room looking for his fishing reels.
‘Looks like you’ll be going next week then.’
‘Ha, ha,’ he said drily.
Kitty shifted and pushed herself away from the worktops. ‘I think I’ll get ready and go now, it looks so lovely out there and Nero needs his walk.’
The dog looked up when he heard his name and wagged his tail.
‘Which footpath?’ enquired Gordon.
‘The one just up the lane, I think it leads towards the hill.’
‘Isn’t that Castle Hill?’
‘I’m not too sure, but I’ll find out when I get there.’
Kitty put her boots and raincoat next to the front door.
 ‘Right my things are ready, how about you Gordon?’
He was pulling out different rods and examining them. ‘I think I will take this one today. Right,’ he said. ‘I have got everything I need so I’m going and I’ll see you later.’ With that he kissed Kitty on the top of her head and walked out of the front door.
‘Well, good luck dear,’ she called after him.

Kitty walked briskly up the narrow lane, it was little used and a ridge of grass had grown up in the middle of the road which was full of pot holes.
Nero trotted along in front pushing his nose in to all the interesting smells along the way, finding the rabbit holes that were hidden deep in the hedges. By the time they had reached the stile his head was covered in dirt and grass seeds and a few bramble thorns were stuck in his fur.
‘Well you’re in a state already and we haven’t got to the hill yet.’ Kitty was already panting from the steep climb up the lane.
The signpost pointing to the hill was lying half in the hedge almost covered by a tangle of flowering bindweed, the lettering faded and illegible. She found the stile buried deep in nettles and brambles. It didn’t look as though it had seen much use recently, the wood was rotten and the whole thing looked very rickety.
 Kitty tentatively pushed the prickly branches out of the way careful not to get snagged then clambered over while Nero managed to scrabble underneath.
It was difficult to see where the footpath led but Kitty made a guess and headed for a hedge that ran upwards to the top of the hill. It was the remains of an old moss covered wall from which over many years trees had sprouted and grown twisted and shrunken, their roots protruding from the wall like skeletal fingers.
Kitty reached the top of the hedge and paused turning to look at the view, giving herself time to catch her breath. She pulled down the zip of her coat and let the cool morning breeze blow around her. The hillside was bright with the morning sunshine and below her the river snaked its way through the green fields to the harbour at Seaton. The tide was out and the muddy flats stretched out on either side of the narrow channel of the river.
Cormorants and ducks waded about in the mud and Kitty caught sight of a white egret, a recent immigrant to the area.
On the horizon grey storm clouds were gathering, it looked as though the predicted evening’s rain was going to arrive early.
At the top of the hedge another stile led into a small rutted track that snaked around the side of the hill. Kitty followed it as it led upwards to top which was crowned in a small coppice of hazel.
Underneath the trees the air was cool and green dappled, she walked slowly following the dog snuffling along in the long grass. The path ended abruptly in a thick tangle of bramble, not deterred Nero pushed his way through regardless of the thorns.
‘Nero, where are you going? You silly dog,’ Kitty pushed through after him tearing her coat on the thorns and stubbing her foot on a pile of old bricks hidden in the tangled undergrowth.
‘Ouch,’ she cursed to herself. Why there’s an old building here she thought although there wasn’t much left of the structure, just four crumbling walls surrounding a stone slab floor. There were the remains of an old garden behind the cottage walls, very overgrown but a few robust rose bushes still struggled to bloom in the tangle.
Kitty caught the fragrance from some straggly lavender bushes lining a path that trailed off in front of her. The grass was surprisingly short in the clearing but then Kitty caught a glimpse of a small white tail disappearing quickly under the brambles. Nero bounded after the rabbit in hot pursuit, but it ran beneath the tangled stems and disappeared down its burrow. The stems of the bramble bushes were too thick for the dog to push his way through and he whined in frustration and started scrabbling in the sandy soil trying to dig the rabbit out of its hole.
Sunlight shone through the trees making the clearing bright and cheerful, bees buzzed around the lavender creating such a feeling of peace that Kitty perched for a moment on part of the wall.
Closing her eyes she lifted her smiling face to the sun enjoying the warmth. She lost all track of time sitting in the sun but gradually became aware of the sound of footstep approaching up the stony lane and the regular thump of a stick on the ground. Kitty’s eyes flicked open, the sunlight had faded and a chill wind sprang up and blew across the clearing making the dried stems of the lavender rustle.
Kitty shivered, suddenly aware how quiet and remote the ruined cottage was. Nero came trotting up to her, his tail down and ears drooping. He pushed his head into Kitty’s lap and whined.
‘Come on let’s go,’ she said quietly and stood up, the footsteps came closer, and she fancied she could hear the sound of breathing behind the tangle of brambles.
She walked quickly off down the path; outside the confines of the garden it seemed darker as though the storm clouds had already arrived. For a moment Kitty was reluctant to leave the warmth and light of the garden but a few stones rattled behind her so calling the dog hurried off through the old garden gate that was still hanging from its wooden post. A narrow path led off down the hillside and Kitty followed it, half running, eager to get off the hill and away from whatever or whoever was behind her.
The path widened as she got farther down but it became increasingly rough with stones and potholes, gullies that had been gouged out by rain water and then filled with silky mud and sand. Kitty scrambled  on worried that she would sprain an ankle, the thought of being stuck there with an injured ankle made her slow down and take more care. Glancing behind Kitty could see nothing but the feeling persisted that she was being followed.
Nero’s ears were still down and every now and then he would stop and growl back up the path.
‘Nero come on,’ she called impatiently, she had spotted a gate and on the other side of that was a narrow road. ‘There’s a road, hurry up.’
 Nero had stopped completely and was staring back up the path, his hackles were up and he was trembling. He started growling at the dark shadows under the trees as more stones rattled down the path after them.
The sound of a car driving down the narrow lane made her jump, Nero barked defiantly one last time at the shadows and came running over to Kitty’s side.
‘Come on.’
 Kitty hurried down the hill hopping over the potholes and reached the gate. She leant on it for a few minutes getting her breath and stared back up towards the hill; she still had a strange prickling feeling of being watched by unfriendly eyes. Kitty opened the gate and stepped out into the road, in the distance were a few buildings and she could just see the church tower. She followed the road downhill hoping to get to the village quickly and plodded on, her legs aching from the unaccustomed exercise but very relieved to be off the hill.  Kitty only glanced behind her once as she walked into the village, just to her left was the public house The Witch and Broomstick and even though it was still quite early there were already people sitting outside with drinks.
Kitty waved and called ‘good morning’ in relief. Turning right she headed back up the road to the cottage with Nero tucked in close to her side.
There was low rumble of thunder and the sun disappeared behind the dark clouds that Kitty had seen earlier. A gust of wind blew up the hill and whipped her hair into her eyes.
‘Looks like we timed this well, Nero.’
A few spots of rain spattered on the road. Her legs were too tired to hurry but they still managed to make it back to the house before the rain started to fall too heavily.
Kitty unlocked the back door and pushed it open.
‘Come on inside before we get wet.’
 Nero collapsed into his basket near the radiator with a sigh, his tail giving a few brief thumps.
‘Tired?’ she bent and gave the panting dog a reassuring pat. ‘That was an interesting walk wasn’t it!’ Kitty laughed nervously to herself. ‘I don’t think I’ll be going up there on my own again,’ on that thought Kitty locked the back door. ‘There! Now I’ll put the kettle on and calm down.’
Kitty had just finished making herself a sandwich when she heard a car on the gravel drive, a door clunked shut and there was her husband coming in the front door laden down with bags of tackle and fishing rods.
‘Well, I didn’t expect to see you for a while.’
‘I gave up, I was all fingers and thumbs today and nothing was biting. And the weather wasn’t looking too good so I decided to come home.’
‘Do you want a sandwich? I’m just making myself one.’
‘Please, I ate my lunch in the first hour, I was so bored.’ Gordon put his bag down on the table and gave her a quick kiss. ‘How was your walk?’
Kitty buttered some bread and started slicing some cheese.
 ‘I found a cottage up there, it was in ruins though and an old garden with roses and lavender, it was lovely. Except somebody else was up there and I got a bit spooked. Silly really but I didn’t hang around so I followed the lane down and came out near the pub.’
Gordon filled the kettle, turned it on and took a mug from the cupboard.
 ‘Isn’t the witch’s cottage up there, on Castle Hill?’
‘Perhaps it was her,’ she joked.
‘No, it was probably some farmer wondering what a middle aged woman was doing trespassing on his land,’ he sounded a bit short.
‘It was a footpath,’ Kitty said defiantly.
‘Well you don’t know who could be wandering around up there, you should be more careful.’
‘I took the dog with me.’
 They both turned to look at Nero who was lying on his back, legs in the air and tongue lolling out of his mouth. His legs were twitching and he was making whimpering noises as he dreamed of rabbits.
They both laughed.
 ‘Here’s your sandwich.’
‘Thanks, but stay off that hill Kitty.’
‘I’ll take you up there next time and show you the cottage.’
There was crack of thunder overhead and they both jumped, the kitchen grew dark as the rain clouds massed over their house.
‘Oh, here it comes,’ said Gordon, just as he spoke the heavens opened and the rain fell from the sky in a torrent.

It rained nonstop for the rest of the day but by the evening the skies had cleared and the first few stars had appeared.
Gordon took the opportunity to put the car away in the garage.
‘What a beautiful evening,’ he stood on the drive with his hands on his hips and stared up at the clear night sky. ‘Smells wonderful out here.’
Kitty glanced at him through the open door on her way to the sitting room, outside the shadows lengthened along the drive and she shivered.
‘Are you coming in Gordon? It’s getting cold in here.’
‘Umm, yeah, just coming,’ he looked around to the end of the drive where he heard a noise.
‘Evening,’ he called and raised a hand in greeting.
‘Who was that?’
‘Not too sure, there was somebody there, just passing I suppose.’
He pushed the front door shut and entered the sitting room.
Kitty was sat in front of the empty fireplace. ‘I wonder who used to live there?’ she pondered.
‘What? What are you talking about? Who used to live where?’
‘On the hill, it’s lovely spot but quite a lonely place to live.’
‘Ask Mr Beamish, he’s bound to know.’
‘Do you think that really was the witch’s cottage?
‘It’s just a story Kitty,’ Gordon sat down in the armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace, stretched his legs out and sighed. Yawning he glanced around the room. ‘That air freshener is nice.’
‘There isn’t one in here; I still haven’t found the ones I bought in the supermarket.’
‘Well, there’s a nice smell coming from somewhere, it must be you, dear.’
 He rubbed his neck and arms. ‘I’m really out of practice casting, my arm and shoulders are killing me,’ he said ruefully, he paused and cocked his head on one side.
Outside there was the sound of hurrying footsteps on the gravel drive followed by a sudden crash on the front door, making the glass panels rattle.
They both jumped and the dog started barking in the kitchen.
‘What was that?’ Kitty yelped.
 Gordon leapt to his feet, rushed into the hall and yanked the door open.
‘What is it?’ Kitty followed him out into the hall.
‘Nothing, there’s nothing here,’ He stepped outside and gazed around the outside of the house. ‘Put the outside light on.’
Kitty clicked it on and the light flooded the drive.
‘I can’t see anything,’ he said.
Kitty folded her arms tightly around her and shivered, it was very quiet and the pool of light made the shadows seem even darker.
‘Perhaps it was an animal, a rabbit or something.’
‘A rabbit? It sounded more like a rhino charging the door!’ he exclaimed examining the door. ‘Well there aren’t any marks on it...’
 He walked a few paces down the drive and peered into the dark shadows at the end of the drive.
‘There’s something moving down there,’ he exclaimed and crunched down the gravel to the road to have a look. Gordon stood looking up and down the road, it was very quiet and one of the resident bats skimmed low over his head, but there was no injured animal lying in the road that he could see.
Kitty watched him from the doorway; she could just see his white shirt in the darkness.
Watching him it seemed that the shadows started to lengthen and the circle of light cast by their lamp grew smaller.
‘Gordon,’ she called.
He didn’t answer and moved away following the road down into the village, she watched his figure disappear into the gloom and listened to his footsteps on the road. With a start she realised that the footsteps had changed, it was the same heavy tread and measured thump of a walking stick on the tarmac that she had heard that afternoon on the hillside. A feeling of chill and dread crept over her again. Kitty stepped back into the hall and slammed and locked the door, while chiding herself for being silly. Nero pushed his nose against her leg making her jump; she was surprised to see the dog still in the house.
 ‘Why didn’t you go with dad then?’  Nero usually followed Gordon everywhere and never turned down the chance of a last minute walk. ‘Are you a scaredy-cat as well?’
He started to whine gently which slowly turned to a growl, he put his nose to the crack under the door, the hairs standing up on the ridge of his back.
‘It’s alright, there’s nothing there,’ said Kitty trying to sound calm but she wasn’t too sure whether she was trying to convince herself or the dog.
The back door banged open making them both jump.
 ‘Gordon! Where did you go? I was getting worried here on my own.’
He came in and closed the door looking at her in surprise.
 ‘Why?’ he questioned. ‘I wasn’t gone that long, I walked to the entrance to the farm, and I thought I saw something disappearing down the lane but I couldn’t catch it so I suppose it couldn’t have been injured.’
‘What was it, a rabbit?’
‘No it was too big to be a rabbit, and anyway I couldn’t see it properly.’
Gordon put the kettle on and pulled out the biscuit tin from the cupboard, Kitty stayed in the hall looking into the kitchen.
 ‘Have you locked the back door?’ she asked nervously
‘What are you so jittery about?’ but he turned and locked the door. ‘There! Happy now?’
‘I’m not jittery, I was just worried that’s all,’ Kitty shivered. ‘I think I’ll go and have a bath.’
She walked out into the hall. ‘Do you think we should leave the outside light on?’
‘What for?’
‘Well just in case, in case it comes back.’
‘No, turn it off.’
Kitty switched the light off and made sure the front door was locked. Gordon watched her in amusement from the kitchen
 ‘Making sure the bogey man doesn’t get in?’
‘Very funny.’
She walked slowly up the stairs and was half way up when a slight fragrance reached her.
She felt a slight touch on her shoulder and yelped in shock, Kitty swung round to see who was behind, lost her footing and sat down with a bump on the stair.
‘What is it now?’ Gordon came out from the kitchen holding a biscuit. ‘I thought you were going for a bath, did you trip?’
‘There was somebody behind me on the stairs, there was somebody here!’ Her white face peered at him through the banister.
‘Don’t be daft, there’s nobody here. It’s just your imagination working overtime again.’
‘I wasn’t imagining it,’ she snapped.  ‘Somebody said my name and touched my shoulder.’
Gordon laughed at his wife’s upset face. ‘You’ll be saying the house is haunted next.’
‘Well perhaps it is.’

‘How can a new house be haunted,’ Gordon said impatiently.
‘Well perhaps it’s the orchard, perhaps something awful happened here years ago and the ghosts have invaded the house, like building on Indian burial grounds or something. Remember the film Poltergeist?’
 He looked at his wife in disbelief. ‘That was just a stupid film, this is real life Katherine, things like that do not happen,’ he said firmly.
‘Strange things do happen Gordon just because you don’t believe in them doesn’t make them untrue.’
‘You’re absolutely right..., perhaps there is a local tradition of burying young virgins under apple trees so tomorrow you had better go out into the garden and start digging under the trees. The spade is in the garage.’
‘This isn’t a joke Gordon.’
‘Oh for goodness sake go and have your bath and stop being so daft!’
‘You can be such a git sometimes Gordon,’ Kitty snapped at him.
 She stormed upstairs to the bathroom and slammed the door after her. Kitty angrily locked the door but checked in the shower cubicle just in case. She was just lying back in the hot scented water when there was loud bang on the door. Kitty lurched up sending water and bubbles sloshing out onto the bathroom floor
‘Are you alright in there? Do you want your back washed or is your invisible friend going to do it for you?’
Kitty lay back in the bath and shouted at the closed door. ‘Shut up Gordon,’ she could hear him laughing outside the bathroom door.  ‘That’s not funny!’

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