Summerhouse land, p.35
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       Summerhouse Land, p.35

           Roderick Gordon

  ‘No,’ she says emptily.

  ‘We’ve got to get back into the valley, and soon.’ The minutes pass and there’s no sign of Takahashi. ‘What’s he doing in there?’ Sam wonders, then he spots the man coming out of the entrance pushing a wheelchair. ‘Action stations,’ Sam says, opening the car door.

  He hurries across the road. Stopping on the sidewalk with the wheelchair, Takahashi glares at Sam because he hasn’t done what he’s been told and waited in the car. With her dressing gown around her, Rachel appears so small and shrunken as she sits in the chair, her face a sickly yellow and not a hair on her head from the chemotherapy. A bag of cloudy fluid is suspended from a support on the back of the chair. Sam sees the label and knows what it is. They’ve put her on morphine, so she must be in a very bad way.

  It takes Rachel a moment to recognize who’s in front of her, then her face lights up with a smile.

  ‘Sam! I don’t believe it!’

  ‘Hi Rachel.’

  ‘I haven’t seen you for ages. I kept asking if you were coming in. They said they didn’t know.’ Then she registers that his appearance is so different. ‘You …? The growths …? You look great! How did they do that?’

  ‘It’s a long story.’ Sam indicates the car. ‘I want to take you somewhere to show you something. It’s important.’

  ‘Show me what?’ she asks, but Takahashi is already pushing her across the road. ‘Is my father here? Who’s that in the car?’

  ‘No, but he said it was okay, and that’s a friend I’ve brought with me.’ Sam looks at Rachel in the wheelchair. ‘You trust me, don’t you?’

  ‘Of course, I do, Sam.’

  ‘Well, just let us take you somewhere. Just for a short time, then we’ll bring you back.’

  Rachel nods.

  Damaris gets out and mumbles a hello to Rachel without looking at her, and Sam and Takahashi lift the girl into the back seat. Rachel’s clearly in pain as they do it, but Takahashi takes care to hook the bag of morphine on the car pillar so she’s still receiving a steady dose. It’s evident he’s done this before.

  Sam can see how even the act of being lifted into the car has taken its toll on Rachel. ‘It’s my hip,’ she says, almost in apology. ‘They’re going to have to cut more of it out.’

  ‘I’m so sorry,’ he replies. ‘But you just wait.’

  ‘Wait for what?’

  Sam slides in beside Rachel and puts the seatbelt on her as Takahashi pushes the wheelchair to the side of the sidewalk and simply abandons it there.

  ‘It’s a surprise,’ Sam says.

  ‘I can’t believe how well you look … all the tumors have gone from your head.’

  ‘I’ve still got a few,’ Sam tells her truthfully, showing her his wrist.

  ‘Yes but that’s nothing, and you’re so much taller than when I saw you last time! What treatment did they put you on?’

  ‘I’ll show you,’ Sam says.

  With Damaris huddled up in the front seat across from him, Takahashi starts the car and they begin to head north. Sam steers his conversation with Rachel onto things they’ve done in hospital, usually because they broke the rules, and also other children they’ve met in there over the years.

  ‘Where exactly are we going?’ Rachel asks abruptly.

  ‘This incredible place,’ Sam promises. ‘You’re going to see my home too.’

  Rachel is frowning.

  ‘You have to trust me,’ Sam says again, and she falls silent, now and then giving Damaris a glance.

  Finally they turn into Sam’s road. ‘Park here,’ he tells Takahashi who brings the car to a stop.

  Rachel looks confused.

  ‘That’s where I live,’ he tells her, then asks Damaris for the photograph. Without any explanation, he passes it to Rachel who holds it by her window so she can see it in the light from the streetlamps.

  ‘Is that me?’ she whispers, shaking her head. ‘No, it can’t be – my hair’s too long and I seem sort of … older.’ She leans closer to it. ‘But it does look like me.’ Then, as she notices a ring with a blue emerald on her hand in the photograph, she lifts her finger to glance at the same ring that she’s wearing right now. ‘But it is me. Where was this taken … when did I go to that beach? Why do I look so well again?’

  ‘Just like me,’ Sam tells her. ‘And I want you to have the same … for as long as you want it.’ He pauses, not sure how much he should say. ‘There’s nothing for you if you stay here. You know how it’s going to go.’

  Rachel looks up from the photograph. She’s concerned now. ‘Where’s my father?’ she asks Takahashi who’s turned to face them on the back seat. ‘Does he know about this?’

  ‘Yes,’ Sam cuts in before Takahashi can reply. ‘Yes, he does – see what he’s written on the back of the photo.’

  Rachel flips it over and squints at it. ‘I don’t read Japanese well, but that’s his writing and his signature.’ She nods. This seems to help calm her misgivings, but then Damaris speaks up.

  ‘We should go,’ she announces in her flat voice, without bothering to look around.

  ‘What do you mean? Go where?’ Glancing in Damaris’s direction, Rachel is becoming very concerned again. Frightened.

  ‘Really not far. Just over there,’ Sam tells her, indicating his home. It occurs to him then that Rachel might be thinking they’re kidnapping her, with assistance from her father’s fixer.

  Rachel takes in the illuminated windows of the house. ‘Sam, I’m not sure …’

  ‘It’s all right,’ Takahashi butts in. ‘I’ll be watching out for you. I’ll be with you all the time.’

  ‘Um, no, you won’t … you can’t go with us. That’s not what happens. Just Rachel,’ Sam says hesitantly to the man. ‘Look, if you wait here in the car, we’ll bring her right back in a couple of minutes. I swear to you.’

  Sam isn’t lying when he says this to Takahashi, because of what Curtis explained to him. Whether Rachel decides to stay in the valley for a week or for a million years, Sam will be able to bring her back to the same moment in this world. Or, at least, a few minutes later, so they don’t bump into the earlier versions of themselves.

  So even if Rachel, once she’s healed, lives the equivalent of a thousand lifetimes in the valley, she can still cross back at this approximate time, to Takahashi waiting here in the car. And as far as the fixer is concerned, she’ll have only been gone for minutes. That’s Rachel’s destiny, as it’s currently written and as confirmed by her parents to Sam in the hospital, unless somebody manages to put a spanner in the works. And that somebody’s in the car with them. And he’s determined to have his way.

  ‘Don’t worry. I’m not letting you out of my sight,’ Takahashi assures Rachel.

  ‘No,’ Sam begins.

  Takahashi fixes the boy with a stare. ‘I’ve played along with you this far, but it’s my duty to Mr Nishio to protect his family. Enough is enough.’

  ‘But …’ Sam splutters, trying not to lose his temper, when he notices that Damaris has swiveled around in her seat. She’s looking at Sam now and actually meeting his eyes, which she hasn’t been able to do for some hours.

  And though Takahashi doesn’t see it, she’s pointing with both index fingers at her ears as if she wants Sam to do something. To block them.

  He does.

  Damaris rotates her head toward Takahashi and opens her mouth wide.

  Sam can feel something, as if the whole of the interior of the car is flooding with energy, vibrating. It’s that feeling when a tuning fork is dampened after it’s just been struck but stronger, so much stronger, it’s resonating through every cell of Sam’s body.

  And although Sam has stuffed his fingers into his ears, he can still hear the tiniest traces of the tone that’s filling the car. It’s the oddest sensation, as if someone is tightening a hand over his mind and squeezing it so hard that he can’t move, all his senses being shut down.

  Damaris closes her mouth.

flops sideways against his door, unconscious. And Rachel is out for the count too, slumped forward in her seatbelt.

  Damaris jerks her chin up, indicating that Sam can remove his fingers.

  ‘What …?’ he asks, rubbing his eyes because his vision has gone a little fuzzy.

  ‘Okay?’ Damaris asks.

  Sam’s ears feel as though they’ve just popped and he can’t understand what she’s saying. He swallows several times and his hearing improves.

  ‘Are you okay?’ Damaris tries again.

  ‘I think so. But what … what was that?’

  ‘Needs must,’ Damaris replies, looking at Sam but hardly seeing him. ‘I forgot I was able to do it. It’s been such a long time.’

  ‘You haven’t killed them, have you?’ Sam touches Rachel’s arm then leans forward to Takahashi. He prods the man on the shoulder but he’s well and truly out of it.

  Damaris has turned around again to face the front of the car. ‘Not killed them, no. In my previous life, it’s how I defended myself. In the woods.’ She takes a breath. ‘Perhaps if I’d been able to think clearly at the time, I’d have used it on the thugs who drowned me.’

  Sam is shocked to hear this from his friend. She’s never spoken about her death before, but now is not the time for questions. ‘We’d better get going before somebody decides we’re burglars and phones the police. They’re like that round here,’ he says, already opening the car door.

  Moving quickly and keeping low in case anyone happens to look out of a window at that particular moment, they hurry across the drive at the front of Sam’s house and go straight to the side door. Sam can hear the television is on in the sitting room – that’ll be his mother. His father might be in there too or, at that time of evening, he could be in his study. And Jesse should be asleep, although there’s no guarantee that’s the case.

  Nobody has discovered that the side door is unlocked and Damaris opens it to let Sam through first. He’s carrying Rachel but it’s not much of a burden because she’s so emaciated. And he’s actually very glad she’s unconscious as he carries her; if she’d been awake the movement of her ruined pelvis would have been excruciating. Particularly because he pulled out the intravenous drip from her forearm so she’s not getting any morphine.

  As they pass along the side passage, a dark shape flits in front of them, coming to a stop right in their path.

  Sam and Damaris freeze.

  ‘Oh crikey! It’s Maxie,’ Sam says.

  They’re greeted with a bark, shattering the still of the night.

  Maxie is a useless guard dog because he’s so friendly, but he can certainly raise the alarm.

  Another bark.

  ‘ShhhMaxieshhh,’ Sam hisses, his words coming out in a gush. ‘Here! Over here! Now!’ he orders the dog, squatting down with Rachel still in his arms as he does everything he can to coax Maxie to him. The dog takes a step then raises his head as if he’s going to bark again.

  ‘No. Shhhh. Quiet, boy, it’s me,’ Sam says, extending a hand toward the animal. Maxie begins to trot forward, hesitates, then covers the remaining distance in slow uncertain steps.

  He’s close enough to have a sniff at the proffered hand. He immediately recognizes who it is as his tail wags wildly and he licks Sam’s fingers. ‘Hello, you silly old dog,’ Sam says, ruffling the fur on his head and trying to hug him with his free arm. ‘I’ve missed you so much.’

  Maxie begins to race around Sam until he takes an interest in Damaris and starts toward her.

  ‘Shall I deal with him, too?’ she asks quickly, holding her arms out of the way as if she’s going to be savaged.

  ‘No,’ Sam says. ‘He’s harmless. Just don’t let him bark again. If you see his ball anywhere, throw it for him, will you? That’ll keep him quiet.’ Sam gets to his feet, then edges toward the corner of the house.

  ‘C’mon, boy,’ he whispers to Maxie, wondering if the dog is alone in the garden. He scans for the tell-tale red tip of a cigarette to make sure that his father isn’t secretly indulging his habit out there. There’s no sign of him, so Sam and Damaris tread silently across the terrace and descend the steps between the twin rose beds.

  That’s when Sam spies something farther along the lawn that makes his heart skip a beat. Shuffling ever so slowly as if it’s walking on thin ice, a nebulous shape is heading toward the old garden bench.

  And it’s him!

  The earlier version of himself is swathed in a blanket. At the same time Sam realizes what night this is. The night he’d sneaked out into the cold air for some relief from his migraine and had apparently fainted.

  Only he knows now that he didn’t faint because of the migraine.

  ‘Take me … er … him down. Do what you have to!’ Sam tells Damaris, pointing. And Sam doesn’t have to be told what to do as he drops to his knees and puts Rachel beside him on the grass, then rams his fingers into his ears.

  Keeping to the side of the lawn, Damaris has crept closer. The blanketed figure has no idea what’s about to hit him as she opens her mouth wide and emits the strange tone. The earlier Sam has only just sat down when he simply keels over onto his side on the bench.

  Grabbing Rachel up, Sam runs toward Damaris.

  ‘Was that okay?’ she asks.

  ‘Perfect,’ he replies, looking around for his dog. He sees Maxie trying to stand at the other end of the lawn. The dog repeatedly attempts to get up, but each time flops drunkenly over. Maxie hasn’t quite been knocked out because he didn’t receive the full force of Damaris’s voice, but it’s still enough to have had an effect.

  With hardly a glance at the previous version of himself slumped on the bench, Sam runs under the copper beech. He lays Rachel gently on the compost heap by the fence as Damaris stands beside him, watching.

  ‘I’ll help you over first, then pass Rachel to you,’ he says. ‘She doesn’t weigh anything.’

  But when he makes a move to give Damaris a leg up, she shies away. ‘I can’t,’ she snaps. ‘Don’t touch me!’

  ‘You can. Come on,’ he urges her.

  Despite her aversion to being touched, Damaris relents and allows Sam to help her. He can feel how tense she is. Then he hands Rachel over to Damaris. The girl is still out cold. Next Sam hauls himself over the creaking fence. He quickly unlinks the crown from around his neck and checks the setting on the controls before he puts it on his cranium. Then he retrieves Rachel from Damaris.

  ‘Push the button to lock it to my head,’ he says to Damaris. ‘Hurts like a ...’ he grumbles, as she does what he’s asked and the pain makes his eyes water. They’ve just begun down the lost gap when Sam remembers something. ‘The rope! We need the rope! I left it around here.’

  Damaris goes back and feels the ground by her feet until she finds it. She hurriedly loops it around both Sam and Rachel and draws it tight to bind them together, then knots it around her own wrist.

  They’re about to resume toward the ivy-covered tree when a woman’s voice rings out in the garden.

  ‘Sam, lovey, are you there?’ Mrs White calls.

  Without thinking Sam shouts back, ‘Mum! I’m here!’ He gasps as he realizes what he’s done. ‘Oh no!’

  ‘We have to go,’ Damaris spits.

  Mrs White calls Sam’s name again.

  He’s unable to move, glued to the spot. Hearing his mother like that tears at his heart and all he wants to do is to shout back to her again, to speak to her. But instead, in a small choked voice, he says, ‘Mum. I’m right here, Mum.’

  ‘Don’t you dare answer her!’ Damaris growls, yanking on the rope. ‘You’ll ruin everything.’

  After a moment Sam comes to his senses. ‘Yes, we should go,’ he says to Damaris. He can’t let her, Rachel or, for that matter, Curtis down. He has a responsibility to all three of them. Making sure he’s linked hands with Damaris and that he’s gripping Rachel’s arm tightly, he starts down the lost gap.

  Mrs White is still calling his name as they push into the ivy-cove
red tree, forging their way through into the endless darkness where, for a time, time doesn’t exist.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Tumbling out of darkness and into light.

  As Sam’s feet hit the ground, he managed to twist around and avoid falling on Rachel. Disoriented and blinded by the dazzling sunshine, for a second he didn’t stir.

  ‘Can’t just lie here,’ he said, urging himself into action. He set about removing the crown and was reassured when the bleeding from the incisions in his head stopped almost before he’d reattached the polyalloy band around his neck. Sam also noticed that the symptoms he’d been developing back in the world had all but gone; his headache was nothing more than a distant echo and, as he felt his wrist, the bony protrusion was hardly discernible.

  Next Sam worked off the rope from around him and Rachel, then made sure she was in a comfortable position on the bed of ivy that covered the ground under them. Rachel was so thin and wasted that as he straightened her skeletal limbs, he had a terrible image of her as a corpse and not a living person. This was quickly dispelled as he noticed that she was beginning to twitch and make small movements despite still being unconscious.

  ‘Go on, do your stuff. Fix her,’ Sam implored the valley, as if this would bring on its healing powers. It was unnecessary because within moments white vapor was rising from the girl to such an extent that it engulfed them both. This was accompanied by the sound he’d heard when he first crossed through the cliffs. Similar to the low hum of a thousand bees, he would never forget it – for Sam it was the sound of a second chance.

  He tugged on the end of the rope that had been tied to Damaris. Alarmed to find it was loose, he immediately staggered to his feet, trying to locate her through the vapor. ‘Damaris, where are you?’ he shouted.

  There was no response – only the report of his voice from the cliffs as it faded into the constant symphony of birdsong in the meadows around him.

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