Knaves over queens, p.48
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       Knaves Over Queens, p.48
 

         Part #26 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin

  ‘We were scared you’d leave and the world out there … It’s not for you, my darlin’. It’s full of bad people and if anyone found out what you can do … I dread to think what would happen. We were scared that if you ran away, you might kill someone by accident.’

  ‘Were you scared I’d tell the police what we’ve done?’

  ‘Yes.’

  She’d been expecting him to deny it. ‘Because they wouldn’t care if they were bad people or not, would they? We’d just be murderers.’

  ‘That’s right, darlin’, that’s right. That’s why your mum panicked like that. We were scared for you and for us.’ After another pause, he added, ‘We still are.’

  Kerry tried to imagine going to the police. How they might want to touch her, just to make her get into the car like she’d seen on TV shows. They always touched the top of the criminal’s head to stop them banging it on the frame of the door. If she went to a police station instead, what if they wanted to take her fingerprints? Would they believe her without seeing the proof of her curse with their own eyes?

  Even if she did make it through that without killing someone, it would end up with all three of them in prison. She’d be isolated. In a cell. Forever. Her throat started to close up again. ‘I won’t go to the police,’ she croaked. ‘I don’t want any of us to go to prison.’

  ‘Good. I want to open this door, Kerry. Can you come out slowly if I do that?’

  ‘Yes.’

  The tears had stopped, but not the shaking. There was too much to process, all at once, and she didn’t know what to do about any of it, but she was certain she didn’t want to stay in the cupboard a moment longer.

  ‘Move back from the door then.’

  It sounded as if a chair was moved away from the other side of it and then the door opened, casting a crack of horribly bright light across her and making her squint. Once he was sure she wasn’t about to jump out on him, her father opened it wide and stood back.

  Kerry stooped to get under the short door and was grateful to stand upright again. Her mother was standing at the far end of the hallway, face red and puffy with crying. Her father was still rather pale, his eyes red-rimmed.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Mum whispered, starting to cry again. ‘I didn’t mean to hit your head, just your back, to make you stop. Are you … are you bleeding?’

  Kerry looked at her fingertips and brushed the back of her head again to be sure. ‘No. There’s a lump though.’

  Her mother started to sob into her hands, saying she was sorry over and over again. Kerry stood there, unable to go and comfort her and not even sure if she wanted to anyway.

  ‘It’s done now,’ she said, hoping it would make her stop. ‘I … I just want to go to bed.’ She wanted to get away from them, wrap herself up tight in her duvet and try to work it all out. Not stand there, hurting, as her parents stared at her with frightened, guilty eyes.

  ‘We’ll talk it all through in the mornin’,’ Dad said, putting an arm around her mother. ‘Clear the air. When we’ve all had a rest.’

  ‘I don’t need to talk about it,’ Kerry said. ‘I just want you both to promise me there won’t be any more. No more people. No more animals. I won’t turn anything into stone ever again. Not for you. Not for Uncle Cal. It’s not right. Whatever way you want to think it is, it’s not. Not for me.’

  ‘Of course,’ Dad said but her mother looked at him with a frown and in that instant, Kerry knew her mother would ask her again. Not for a few weeks, but she would, and she would make it seem like saying no was unreasonable.

  ‘I’m goin’ to bed.’

  The last thing she had on her mind was to rest when she shut the bedroom door. She sat on the bed for a few moments, wiping her face and blowing her nose, wincing at the way it made her head throb even more.

  Wanting some fresh air, she went to her window, only to find it was locked. The tiny little key that usually stayed in the security lock was gone.

  Everything seemed to collapse into that one fact, that one missing key. They had locked her in. She looked down onto the roof of the studio and saw that the skylight was closed, no doubt locked, and the doors were shut too. It was night-time, she reminded herself, of course they were locked.

  Then why did she feel as if she were in a prison?

  A creak on the stairs sent her to the door of her bedroom and she pressed her ear to the gap between the door edge and the frame. There was no lock on her door, thankfully. She listened to her parents using the bathroom and when the footsteps approached her door she leapt into bed and drew the duvet right up to her ears. The door opened behind her for a few seconds and then closed again.

  Her heart pounded in rhythm with the thumping in her skull. After a few minutes she could hear the creak of her parents’ bed as they climbed into it and then the low murmur of a conversation.

  Taking care to avoid all the squeaky boards, she opened her bedroom door silently and went into the hallway to listen in on her parents.

  ‘I double-checked them all,’ her father was saying. ‘And I brought the keys up here.’

  ‘We need to put a lock on the bedroom door.’

  ‘I’m not lockin’ her into her own room!’

  ‘No, stupid, I mean for our room. I’ll sleep better.’

  They were afraid of her.

  ‘Wetherby said it would be half a million for the next one. If we wait another six months, it’ll go up to a million.’

  ‘That makes no sense,’ her father whispered back.

  ‘It’s a rarity thing,’ her mother replied. ‘The buyer in Dubai wants a male figure, something classical. They’re minted over there. I reckon we could get more if we offered Wetherby a better cut. Just an extra five per cent. Then it’s in his interest to make them pay even more, isn’t it?’

  Kerry pressed her lips tight together as her eyes welled with tears. She waited for her father to say something, to push back at last. ‘I dunno, Mel. I dunno if Kerry will do another one. I don’t know if it’s right. And we can’t tell her we’ll be gettin’ Plum back either, now she knows the truth.’

  It wasn’t an argument against. He just doubted her pliability.

  ‘We need to tell Cal she knows. Before she does. We need to keep him onside.’

  ‘How the bloody hell are we supposed to keep him onside after this?’

  ‘He’ll understand. He knows how dangerous she is.’

  Kerry went back to her room and closed the door with great care, tears running down her cheeks.

  Her uncle had known what they were doing. All this time, he’d never said anything to her, never once asked if she was happy with what her parents were asking her to do. He’d stopped pressing for news on allergy doctors before the first victim was turned to stone and now she knew why. Of course they’d had to tell him. He had access to the internet, he would have seen the news about her father’s amazing new life-sized human sculptures. He was just as bad as them. Nothing was going to change. They were never going to let her go.

  She stood, still as stone, feeling something shift within her. None of them loved her. She was just a freak to them, something terrifying to manipulate to make them money. Something to control.

  No more.

  All she’d thought about for years was freedom but it had been a nebulous daydream, little more than images of running across the fields to the boundary of the farm and not turning back to go home again. Of watching the TV whenever she wanted to. Of having her own computer and using the internet.

  Such childish visions of freedom. Her jailers had been so good at their job she hadn’t even noticed the real bars they’d put around her, made of the promise of love, rather than of steel. They’d convinced her that staying away from the rest of the world was all about protecting her when it was really all about protecting their income.

  She couldn’t stop thinking about the moment her parents must have told Uncle Cal what she was, and more than that, about the sculptures and how they were made. He must have s
at down with them, listened to the plan to save the farm and at some point nodded and agreed to it. He might not have liked it, but she couldn’t care less about any moral doubts he might have had. The day he had decided that getting the money for the farm was more important than her was the day he stopped being her uncle and became another jailer.

  Kerry knew that if she stayed in this house, this life, she would never be free. She could refuse but when they were desperate for more money what would they do to her? Hit her again? Deprive her of food? Water? She was dependent upon them for everything.

  Getting away from them felt like an act of survival, even though the thought of going out into the world terrified her. They’d kept her sheltered and ignorant and she would have to learn the differences between the real world and what she’d seen of it on TV very quickly. She’d have to avoid people, but somehow buy food, find somewhere to live and a way to earn money that wasn’t dependent on the death of an innocent creature or a human victim.

  But even if she could achieve all of that, she knew that as long as her parents were alive, they would never stop looking for her. If she got out, their secret could too. It wasn’t just about preserving their income, it was a matter of escaping justice too. But if she told the police what they’d done, she would be in just as much trouble, if not more. She’d been the one that actually killed those people, after all. They’d just be … what was the word? ‘Accessories to murder’. That was it. And on the police shows she was allowed to watch, it was always the murderers that were punished the most.

  Kerry went to the corkboard and took down the pinned notes, tearing each one into little pieces as she considered her options. She couldn’t go to the police. She couldn’t find somewhere to live and get a job without endangering the lives of others. She needed help and the only person she could think of approaching was Captain Flint, the one man she suspected would not only understand what she could do, but also be immune to her curse. He was already stone, after all. She had no idea how to find him, but if she could get onto the internet, perhaps she could find a way to contact him and ask for help.

  Even if she did find him though, she was only fifteen. Her parents would have the right to make her come home. They were her legal guardians and she’d never be able to explain why they shouldn’t be without incriminating herself.

  The idea of freedom began to take on a new form. As long as her family lived, this would never be over. Her father had tried to convince her that the murders were some form of justice. That those people would have got away with their crimes unpunished if it wasn’t for her. Just as they would, if she did nothing.

  She would bring justice to her family and win her freedom in the process.

  Kerry waited for over an hour until she could hear her father’s snore. There was a chance her mother was still awake, so she packed her rucksack with clothes and used a trip to the bathroom to test whether her mother was asleep. She knew, given the events of the evening, that if her mother was awake, she would move at the sound of the bathroom door and make their bed creak. But there was no such noise as she returned to her room. She stuffed her toothbrush into the rucksack and went back into the hallway.

  Kerry was surprised when she was able to open her parents’ door. She thought they would have barricaded themselves in, and a part of her – the weak, childish part – was disappointed they hadn’t. She crept inside the room that had always held a magical quality for her when she was young, before her card turned. She pushed aside memories of Sunday mornings when she would wriggle into the bed between them for lazy cuddles, and crept towards the foot of the bed.

  Her mother was deeply asleep, mouth wide open and drooling onto her pillow, as her father’s snore rumbled away beside her. Neither of them stirred during her approach.

  Her mother’s left foot poked from the duvet, her father’s right foot next to it. Both were within her reach, but she couldn’t move, assaulted by memories of happier times. But in each of those memories she was young. Normal. Still their little blessed child, born on St Piran’s day and brought home the same day that the daffodils bloomed. A little girl who sang in the school choir, who loved her dog, and made friends easily.

  That girl was gone. They hadn’t loved her the same way since the day she had killed Plum and she had tried so hard to ignore how they had changed. But now, when she thought of recent times, it was easy to recall the way they stiffened whenever she walked into the room, the way they seemed relieved when she said she was going over to Uncle Cal’s and how they tensed up when she returned. She’d stopped being their little girl years ago. And they had stopped being her parents.

  Reaching out, she touched both of the exposed feet, holding her breath as the chill of stone replaced the warmth of their skin. When she released the stale air inside her, they were a study in repose, two sleepers beneath granite sheets far too realistic to have ever been shaped by a stonemason’s tools.

  The bed creaked loudly and then something in the base snapped and they crashed to the floor, making her yelp and leap back. As the dust settled, she became aware of a pain in her chest, as if something was trapped, but she swallowed the sob down. She wouldn’t be sad for these monsters made into art. She wouldn’t let herself be weakened by grief. It was easier to imagine her heart was stone, incapable of misplaced love and loyalty.

  Kerry held up her hands, her thumbs at right angles from her palms, placing the statues lying on the floor in an imaginary picture frame.

  ‘“Freedom”,’ she whispered. ‘“A study in granite, by Kerenza Tremaine”.’

  The money was in the tin in Uncle Cal’s desk, as it had always been. She counted it out before folding it and tucking it into the wallet she’d stolen from her father’s studio. There was almost a thousand pounds in cash and the Rover’s diesel tank was full. It would get her out of Cornwall.

  She went back to her uncle’s bedroom to look at him again, just to be certain. Like her parents’ bed, the rickety old bedframe had broken, unable to support the weight of his granite body and the stone sheets covering him. She didn’t cry at the sight of him either. She’d promised herself she would never cry ever again. Her imagined granite heart was unfeeling, incapable of being fooled a second time.

  Her bag was waiting where she’d left it on her uncle’s kitchen table. The Rover was loaded with food and all the supplies she could think of. No teddy bears. No dolls. All childish things were behind her now.

  A newspaper lay on the table, the word ‘Flint’ visible just above the fold. He was going to be at a place called Ascot, guarding Queen Margaret, the article said, following threats to her life.

  Ascot. Where the horses raced, she’d heard of it. There was a map in the Rover and she knew how to drive well enough to get there. She would find Flint and ask him for help.

  She looked up Ascot on the computer, found a nearby hotel and phoned them, booking a single room for the next two nights under a false name.

  Thinking ahead, she grabbed the notepad and wrote a note, knowing that the security people around the Queen would never let her near, but they might pass a note on if she was persuasive enough.

  Dear Captain Flint,

  I am an ace. I need your help. I can turn people to stone and I have nowhere to go. I am staying at the Red Lion Hotel in Ascot for the next two nights under the name of Lisa Buckingham.

  My real name is

  She stopped, tapping her teeth with the pen. Not Medusa. She had to choose a name for herself before someone else did.

  Stonemaiden.

  The Visitor

  by Mark Lawrence

  Cambridge, 2017

  ‘I’d rather be dead than like that.’

  The new girl was very pretty, Angela thought. She had long blonde hair and painted nails. Sometimes Betty would do Angela’s nails and let her choose the colour. On those days she felt happy whatever happened, even if nobody noticed and nobody but Betty commented.

  ‘If I ever get like that, shoot me.’ The new girl
was called Jenny and she chewed gum as she spoke. She didn’t seem very happy to be at the home. She didn’t like her uniform or the smell of the place or touching the residents. Angela knew all this because Jenny spoke as if she weren’t there, complaining about one thing then the next. Angela wondered if maybe Jenny wanted to be in the movies instead. She looked as if she might have come from one with her highlights and make-up. She might have stepped into Carstons from another world where everything was better and more alive.

  When Jenny left the room to fetch a feeding tube for Angela, Sarah Regan, who stayed to change Angela’s pad, told her that the new girl was all silicone and hair extensions and only here because the job centre had sanctioned her benefits. Angela didn’t really know what any of that meant but she was very interested in Jenny and so she made an effort to remember. Silicone, extensions, sanctioned. It amazed her to think that at nineteen the new girl was just two years older than she was. She looked like a princess and Angela wanted to know everything about her. Maybe Jenny would even be her friend like Betty was. Betty was very nice but also very old. Sarah Regan said Betty was a bag of bones and should have retired ten years ago. Angela loved Betty, more than her own mother if she was honest, which she tried to be, but she would very much like to have a friend of her own age.

  ‘There, all done,’ said Sarah. ‘All changed.’

  Angela would have said thank you but talking, like moving her limbs or being able to eat, was a skill that had always escaped her. Her mother said that she had been broken before she was born and that it was all part of God’s plan but that none of us were clever enough to understand the plan and so often it looked like cruelty even though it was kindness. She would sit quietly after she said things like that and stare at her hands and her hands would be in fists with white knuckles. Angela preferred chatty people. When your side of the conversation is limited to smiles, eye pointing, and opening your mouth for ‘yes’ it’s much better if the other person can talk the hind legs off a donkey, like Betty could.

 
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