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the first Thursday of
each month at
The Biffa Room,
St. Mark’s Church,
(off Avon Drive),
Bedford, MK41 7UY
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Round Robin 4
Harbingers of doom
Chapter 1 by Muriel Waldt
‘As the worst blizzards for fifty years sweep the country, police are urging people to stay at home, unless their journey is absolutely essential.’
Kate switched the radio off and dropped onto the sofa, breaking out in an icy sweat as the news reader’s words brought back harrowing memories. Thankful she was on her own, she felt the carefully constructed facade of composure she had built up over the past three years disintegrating, like so many crumbling bricks, as vivid flashes from that terrible night, passed before her eyes. Her fragile hold on the present slipped away as she recalled, with alarming clarity, events she had done her utmost to forget.
Winter had come early that year, as she set out for a concert near Leeds where she planned to meet up with fellow members of the string quartet with whom she played violin. Kate had ignored severe weather warnings and set off, in delightful anticipation of a packed concert hall. After the barrenness of the motorway the last fifteen miles across country were her favourite, starkly beautiful even in this inclement weather.
It seemed to Kate afterwards that the weather deteriorated within minutes for, in no time at all, shards of icy sleet pierced the air and battered the car with menacing fury. In the hedgerows that marched beside the road, the inverted, elongated triangles of fat crows clung tenaciously to skeletal branches swaying amidst the louring skies: harbingers of doom, they dispersed in a flurry of harsh screeching, at one with the menacing clouds. Panic gripped Kate as the wheels began to slide beneath her on a bed of rapidly freezing mushy autumn leaves and, around her fragile car, an evil wind charged angrily, tossing high brittle leaves, bony twigs. With increasing strength it howled through the naked tree tops, effortlessly snapping solid branches and tossing them high in the air with reckless abandon.
Seeing a cottage not far ahead Kate knew she would have to ask for shelter until the storm abated. Staying in the car with all the debris flying around was simply not an option. Relieved to see lights on, she grabbed her bag, ran to the door and banged loudly; when no one replied she ran around the back, now soaked to the skin and bitterly cold. Still getting no answer she tried the door handle, and as it opened, blessed warmth reached out and pulled her in. The sight that met her eyes was one that would stay embedded there forever, together with two thoughts that crossed her mind at the time. Firstly: she was aware that she would sell her granny for a farmhouse kitchen like this one with its free standing pine units and aged terracotta tiles, and secondly: the body that was slumped over the pine table with a large knife protruding from its back, still had blood seeping from it; which could only mean that it was freshly dead and the murderer close by.
Kate fainted clean away onto the much coveted terracotta tiles.
Chapter Two by Veronica Sims
Kate awoke to find herself lying on a chintz-covered sofa being energetically fanned with the Radio Times by a woman who looked a whole lot like Theresa May. Her terror returned. What on Earth was happening to her? Murder! Now Madness.
‘The door was wide open, so we came in. You appeared to have fainted. Do you know where Ian has got to? The woman’s voice was clipped and without much expression.
Kate struggled to sit up: ‘Have you seen the body?’ she asked.
The woman frowned. ‘Body, body…what are you talking about? Who are you anyway?
‘I just came and knocked on the door; because of the weather; to ask for shelter. The body was in the kitchen.’
‘Are you completely insane? There is no body in the kitchen. Do you know whose cottage you have invaded?’
‘I haven’t invaded: the door was open.’ Kate was beginning to feel irritated by this May lookalike. When I came into the kitchen there was a man’s body splayed across the kitchen table with a knife in his back.’
‘My dear young women I have been in the kitchen and there certainly isn’t a body in the kitchen,’ the woman sneered, her lips twisting with contempt. ‘In fact, the only person we found in the whole of the house, is you…a complete stranger.’
Kate struggled to sit up. She was sure she hadn’t imagined the body. How long was I out of it? she asked herself. ‘Who had moved her to the sofa?’ She pushed by the woman and opened the door to the kitchen.
Nothing…no sign of the body. She moved nearer the table. The surface was wet, clean. The woman followed her into the kitchen.
‘As you can see, no bodies.’ Kate was about to comment on the wetness of the table top but then thought better of it. She became aware of a sharp discomfort in her right arm, looking at it she saw a pinprick. Now she knew why she had been out of things long enough for the body to be removed and the table cleaned. Next question: what part had this woman played in the murder? It seemed unlikely that she would have survived if this female; sour as she might be, were in on the crime. Kate decided that it was time to leave, return to her car, forget the whole experience.
‘Has the storm blown over?’ she asked.
‘I’d better get on then. I have an important business meeting today. They will be alarmed if I don’t turn up.’ It felt ridiculous being so matter-of-fact when only moments ago she had been telling the woman that there was a body in the kitchen, but now she knew she had to escape from the house.
‘Well I don’t think I can let you go as easily as that,’ declared the woman, ‘After all, we found you in Ian’s cottage. Unconscious. Then you declared that there was a body in the kitchen. We have no idea who you are and there is no sign of Ian.’ Kate started to push past her. She just wanted to get out of the cottage and back to her normal, unremarkable, everyday existence.
by Andrew Stock
Kate was determined to make good her escape as she pushed angrily past the woman who showed no more than a mild look of surprise on her face.
“You will not keep me here.” Kate yelled more from fear than anger “I am not sure what you are up to but I will not be party to it.” Without stopping for a reply Kate pulled open the door and flung herself outside pulling her collar high on her neck against the chill. The expected chill never arrived, instead a blast of warm summer sun stopped her in her tracks. The grass bloomed with summer flowers, trees hung heavy with fruit and birds chirped and called as they flew overhead darting to the hills in the distance.
“What… Where… But?” It was all she could say, for now where there had once been the cold winds of the storms battering the 21st century surroundings of Leeds, was what her mind could only describe as summer in Bronte country. Kate slumped to her knees feeling the thick green grass dry against her fingers. “But this is impossible. It must be the drug.” Yes that was it she thought, the drug she had been given by the woman had totally screwed with her mind. She pulled at her sleeve to study the puncture mark of the needle but it had gone, as had the sleeve of her coat. Kate groaned feeling her brain pushing hard against her skull. Gone was the sensible black trouser suit and white shirt, the standard uniform of the orchestra. No more was the padded fleece ski jacket, an expensive bargain at 100 pounds. Missing were the very comfy but quite inappropriate Ugg boots. Kate was now dressed in attire more suitable for a Victorian cow girl. Kate tried to speak, tried to make sense of all that was happening, but her mouth could form no words, her mind made no logical response. With a small whimper she rocked forward and lay motionless on the grass feeling the sun on her back, hearing the babble of the brook that ran nearby. Fighting to control her breathing she slowly pulled herself to a sitting position and looked back towards the house. Whoever was in that house would have the answers; they would be the answer to this. Once again Kate felt her world lurch sideways in a tumble of confusion. The house was no more but, in its place, stood a small workman’s cottage with thatched roof, a low door and two small shuttered windows, and the figure of a man tall, shirtless smoking a long clay pipe.
“Kate my love ‘tis no good ye laying in the sun all aglow. There be the carcass on the table to butcher and our baby son will soon be awake. Best you get your tasks done before ye think of resting, eh girl?” He took a long suck on the pipe, “Now I’m away to the master’s to finish that wall of his. Up and on with it now for I shall have a raging hunger on my return.” The figure grabbed for his shirt that had been lying over the small stone wall that surrounded the cottage and strode away without a backward glance. As tears began to run freely from her tightly clenched eyes Kate realised that she could take no more, she really could take no more. Just at that moment the crows in the nearby trees began their barking call and the baby from inside the house started its wailing response.
By John Broadhouse
“The answer has got to be in that cottage”, thought Kate. “It’s as though I’m in a time warp. A moment ago I was in the 21st century, now I’m somewhere in the past. This can’t be happening.”
She looked at her right arm again trying to reassure herself that the administered drug was the cause of a hallucination, but again she noticed there was no pin prick. Bursting into tears as her emotions overcame her rationality, she felt her mind losing control.
Edging her way towards the cottage, Kate stopped momentarily as something caught her eye. Just for a brief second the large bush to the right of the cottage shimmered into an image of her car and that brief moment convinced her: she must be in a time warp.
Entering the cottage she glanced around the interior looking for clues to get her back to the 21st century. The door led into a lounge/kictchen area with another door on the far side, but the wailing child, the deer carcass and the damp musty odour made her want to vomit. She went outside and took a deep breath.
Entering once more with a hanky held over her nose, Kate walked to a low table near to the cot with the wailing child who was watching her every move. She picked up a small framed portrait and was shocked to see the resemblance to herself and the inscription “to my darling Kate.”
Kate’s eyes focused on the baby who had now stopped wailing and had a broad smile, “is this my baby?” she mumbled to herself. “The man who called to me, is he my husband, where is this place, who is the master he’s working for? Maybe this chest of draws will reveal clues.”
Opening the top draw revealed a well-thumbed notebook that recorded notes on a daily basis, work schedules, family matters, all detailed and the dates. ”My God,” gasped Kate.
Back in the 21st century, the Mary look-alike woman is pushed to one side as a tall man exits the front door of the cottage, “Where is she?”, he shouts back in anger. “Whoever she is, she holds a secret, a link to the past. We need to find her and find her now”.
“She just disappeared into thin air, just where you’re standing, I couldn’t do anything about it, you’ve got to believe me Doctor Roberts”.
Mary and Dr Roberts walked to the kitchen where Kate had entered. Mary noticed a set of keys under the kitchen table: “this looks like that woman’s car keys, they must have fallen out of her jacket when you struggled with her.”
“Had to inject a sedative, she was hysterical, kept pointing to that chair saying there was a body with a knife in its back,” replied Dr Roberts. “I couldn’t see one. Anyway, the sensors on my equipment went berserk when she entered this cottage. I knew we were onto something big; all my years as a Psychic Investigator I’ve never come across a presence as strong as this”.
“This cottage is supposed to be haunted by a female called Kate Trenshaw who was hung for murdering Sir Ian Blackstone on the 12th of November in 1845,” replied Mary. “Many said at the time she was innocent and was tried by a kangaroo court: I suppose we will never know.”
Kate looked at the date again in disbelief: the 12th of August 1845.