Water Water – episode sixty five

[start at episode one]

No good news

 Edgar had gone scampering ahead while Cara walked with Laura, happy to have a chance to chat to the lady from above once again. Laura smiled when the girl admired her clothes as even by her own standards they were plain and dull – whatever would she think if she saw Rani? They reached the lit part of the Riverways, and before long they were approaching the Margrave’s chamber. He was waiting for her with Edgar beside him, and though he greeted her politely he was obviously concerned.

 “It is lovely to see you again Laura, but you should not be here. Joseph told me you were somewhere safe.”

 “Have you spoken to him?”

 “Not since he left here with you, but I have been kept informed as you know.”

 “Of course you have, it was you who gave permission for me to go out for lunch.”

 “And now you are out once again.”

 “So it would appear.” Laura tried not to sound too annoyed. “And I have come here to get some answers please.”

 “Then I think we should sit together,” the Margrave gestured for her to follow him into his room.

 Laura nodded gratefully when he asked Edgar and Cara to fetch something to drink, but remembering what there had been to eat at the Gathering, she declined the offer of food. Edgar soon returned with two glasses of something red and sweet smelling. She didn’t know what it was but drank the cool, refreshing liquid anyway.

 The Margrave asked Edgar to leave, and shut the door behind him. He didn’t take the seat behind his desk, instead settling himself into one of the two armchairs. Laura sat in the other and got straight to the point.

 “I need to know what’s going on. Joseph has disappeared off who knows where and no one seems to have heard from him,” she paused, “you haven’t, have you?”

 The Margrave shook his head and Laura continued.

 “I’m not stupid, I can see something is happening to the water, it’s starting to smell like the Sussex seaside out there. I get that you thought I was in danger and that those, those others would come for me again, but they haven’t. I made it here safely enough, and I want to know what’s going on. I know about their deadline, is it something to do with the full moon? When is that exactly, and what did it all mean, what’s going to happen?”

 The Margrave sighed heavily. Laura had never seen him look this way, a downcast figure dwarfed by the big old chair, and it chilled her to the bone, but she looked him in the eye with her steady gaze. After thinking for a moment he decided to talk to her. Why not? There was no one else, and no time left for it to matter.

 “You are right Laura, the water is changing. This is all part of their intention, their plan to take the inland waters and make them their home. They will come at full moon, which is not tomorrow night but the one after.”

 “What will happen when they come?”

 “They tried to call it a Rising, when our people will have their time again, but it is not just they who will rise.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “In order for this to happen, the waters must rise too.”

 “I remember, they told me. Will it be like a flood?”

 The Margrave nodded, “more than a flood.”

 “But how?”

 “They will cause a tidal surge to push up the Thames, like the Severn Bore only many times higher. It will be sudden and unexpected, the city will be inundated.”

 “And its population decimated.” Laura’s heart was beating wildly and her mouth was dry. “What will happen to you, when your friendly cousins do this?”

 “They are not our friends, not any more. One or two of us may survive, adapt, rediscover how to live the way we used to under the water, but only a few.”

 “And the rest?”

 “We will drown with you.”

 The Margrave looked small, and old and utterly defeated. It would be the end of him and his community for ever as the city above them, her city, faced annihilation.

 “Is there nothing you can do? Talk to them, persuade them?”

 “I’m afraid it has gone beyond that now. I sent a legation, Jorn and Arne, to try one last time to reason them but they have not returned, perhaps it was a mistake to think they could travel such a distance.”

 “Or perhaps they got there and it didn’t turn out well. I take it you haven’t told the rest of your people?”

 “No. What could I say to Edgar and Cara and the rest. I have failed them and I am bringing the end.”

 “But it isn’t your fault.”

 “Isn’t it? If I had done more when they first approached us, helped them to find a safe haven, then it would never have come to this. As they see it they are simply trying to save themselves.”

 “But at what cost?” 

 Laura pushed herself up out of the chair. The Margrave did not get up, he just stared bleakly ahead, his hands clasping and unclasping in his lap. She had got the information she’d come for, but it was not what she’d wanted to hear. Now what?

 “I’m so sorry,” he said finally. “Edgar will show you out, just call for him when you leave.”

 “Good bye then,” she took the Margrave’s cool hand in her own and clasped it tight for a moment. What else was there to say?

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Water Water – episode sixty four

[start at episode one]

Return to the water

thamesLaura felt like such a fool, why on earth hadn’t she tried this before? But perhaps they would have tried harder to stop her before, maybe now all this time had passed the threat to her really had receded. Replaced, she thought as she headed for the nearest tube, by a much bigger threat to them all.

Laura knew where she was going, sort of. She had looked up the Thames tide timetable online, and worked out how to get from the flat to the river.  She emerged from the Underground in a street she recognised from her drive into the City with Joseph. How long ago that seemed now. Undeterred she made her way to the riverside and the pier. It was still early and there was a while to wait for the first tourist boat. She bought a ticket with money she’d borrowed, stolen really, from Mrs Patterson’s purse, and felt horrible for doing so, but needs must she told herself. Now she stood on the pier, looking down at the water through the gaps between the wooden slats.

 “Don’t look down, you’ll get the fear!”

Laura jumped at the voice, but it was only the attendant trying to make a joke. She smiled weakly at him, relieved to hear his walkie talkie crackle into life with some unintelligible instruction that sent him scurrying back into up the ramp to the ticket office. She watched the river warily but there was nothing moving on the water until the riverbus came into to view. There weren’t many tourists at this time of day, and she was able to sit in the same seat as when she’d been on it with Joseph. She wanted the view to be the same, to be sure of recognising the place she was looking for.

The boat made steady progress downstream, and Laura remembered lots of the sights that passed by the window. She remembered too how she and Joseph had chatted, how he’d taken her into his confidence and told her about the world of the Riverways. And look where that got me, she thought, but then she sat up and cupped her hand against the water streaked glass to try and see better. Yes, that was definitely the place, there was the wooden jetty with its stretch of exposed muddy beach beneath. She stood up and made her way to the front of the boat, ready to disembark at the next pier on this bank. The stop couldn’t come quickly enough, and she was thankful to be the only one getting off.

Once she’d reached the road, Laura paused for moment. They had hailed a taxi last time, but she’d only taken a small amount of money from Mrs Patterson, so she would have to walk. She may not have spotted the alleyway from a moving vehicle in any case, it was narrower than she remembered and she almost missed it even on foot. At the bottom was the wrought iron gate. She felt through the bars for the catch but her hands were not as strong as Joseph’s and she couldn’t move it at all. Frustrated she kicked at the wall beside her, and then looked up. The gate wasn’t that tall, ten feet maybe, and she could squeeze her feet between it and the wall and stand on the hinges. The mortar was worn away between the stones of the wall creating some perfect hand holds. With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure she was unobserved Laura started to climb, and in a couple of minutes she was astride the gate. Realising at this point that she hadn’t fully thought the operation through, she was forced to simply drop down on the other side and landed awkwardly on the top step, grabbing the gate so she didn’t fall.  

She steadied herself and wondered fleetingly how she’d gone from the quiet confines of the British Libray to this. The steps led down to the muddy shingle where they’d found Edgar and Cara. A few yards to the right was the drainage outflow and the tunnel into which Joseph and the two youngsters had disappeared leaving her to collect the van. This meant, or so she hoped, that it must be an open entrance to the Riverways. Laura was determined to find some answers, and it seemed to her that this might just be the only place she was going to get them.  

Sitting on the bottom step while she plucked up the courage to make her next move, Laura wondered what was different to the last time she’d been beside this stretch of river. They had been in a panic then of course, racing against the sun, but that was not it. She took a deep breath and then she realised, it was the smell. It didn’t smell the same, and now it reminded her of something, a distant memory from childhood. Closing her eyes she let her mind wander and then it came to her: holidays in Littlehampton – she could smell the sea.  

Laura stood up at once, there was no time to lose.  The river was not as low as the last time she had been down here, and the little beach was narrowing as the tide came in. She didn’t really want to have to wade across, so it was now or never. She jumped down from the step onto the mud which was firm below her feet, and cautiously picked her way across to the tunnel entrance. 

It was cool inside and dark, getting darker with every step away from the opening. She walked close to the wall, her hands brushing the smooth Victorian brickwork and keeping her steady. Soon she couldn’t see anything at all, but she continued slowly, placing one foot in front of the other and using the wall as her guide. Could that be a faint blue glow ahead? She wasn’t sure, but then the wall beside her suddenly stopped and she almost stumbled. Reaching out with her hands she realised that a side tunnel was branching off to the right. What should she do now? She had no idea which way to go so there was only one thing she could do.  

“Hello? Is anyone there?” 

Laura turned slowly in a circle, calling in all directions, but the faint echo of her own voice was the only response. Then she realised that spinning around in the pitch dark had been an error: she now had no idea which way she was facing, and if she’d wanted to retrace her steps she couldn’t.  

“Hello?” she tried again, “anyone, hello?” 

There was not even the faintest glimmer of light, but then she heard a noise, could it be footsteps? The hairs on the back of her neck stood up in alarm as she had the sudden sensation she was no longer alone and this had probably been a terrible mistake. Pointlessly she closed her eyes and whispered into the darkness. 

“Hello?” 

“Laura, is that really you?”  

The voice was right beside her and she leapt back with a startled yelp, straight into six inches of cold water and banging her shoulders against the wall. There was a bit of a kerfuffle and then a welcome pool of blue light glowing from a torch.  

Once her eyes adjusted she could see it was Edgar holding the torch, Cara beside him, both of them staring at her curiously.  

“What are you doing here?” asked Edgar. “Father said you’d gone away.” 

Laura climbed out of the drainage channel without daring to look at exactly what she’d stepped into.  

“I had, sort of. It’s your father I’ve come to see. This was the nearest way in I thought I could find. I remembered it from when…” she tailed off.  

“From when you and Joseph had to rescue us,” Edgar finished the sentence for her.   

“We were in such trouble,” Cara grinned. “Sorry if we frightened you Laura, we’re not really supposed to be down this way but we like to keep an eye on things and we thought you might be an intruder.” 

“Intruder?” 

“She’s trying to make it sound exciting,” Edgar said, “when what she actually means is that we were just checking for blockages, and animals.” 

Laura looked suitably alarmed. 

“But don’t worry, we didn’t find any. Come on, we’ll take you from here.”

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Water Water – episode sixty three

[start at episode one]

Laura makes a move

Laura had been watching the new moon grow larger with each passing night, and finally she made a decision – she was not going to stay in this gilded prison any longer. It would be full moon again in only a few days and she wasn’t going to sit around and wait for Joseph to ride to the rescue. She was going to do what she should have done in the first place, sort it out herself. Laura turned her back to the window and faced the bed. What a waste of time it had been clinging onto that night as if it meant something, it was up to her to get on with it, on her own.

 At first light Laura packed a few things into a small bag. She’d charged her phone (just in case) and deleted all the messages that had accumulated on it. No she didn’t want to upgrade, buy more minutes or phone a friend for free. She knew of course that Mrs Patterson could not physically restrain her, but up to now her mere presence had been enough to keep Laura in the flat. Not any more, and though she didn’t think Harry or Colin would have the nerve to try anything, she’d have to be quick and decisive just in case.

 At seven she opened the door of Mrs Patterson’s bedroom and peeped in. She couldn’t leave her without saying anything, she would worry, maybe blame herself, and that wouldn’t be fair.

 “Mrs P? Are you awake?” The old lady stirred but did not wake.

 Laura took a small step towards the bed and tried again. 

 “Mrs P, wake up, it’s me, Laura.”

 “Are you alright?” Mrs Patterson struggled to wakefulness and tried to sit up. She reached for her glasses and saw Laura in the doorway, silhouetted against the light from the hall, fully dressed and holding a bag.

 “What are you doing?”

 “I’m so sorry, but I just can’t stay here any longer. I have to get out there and try and do something.”

 “No you mustn’t, please my dear. Joseph asked me.”

 “But Joseph isn’t here is he? He’s nowhere to be seen or heard in fact, so I really don’t think what he says matters any more. I don’t want you to worry, but there’s nothing you can do, I’m leaving.”

 Laura turned away from the bed before she could see the look on Mrs Patterson’s face. Her landlady just watched her go in silence – she knew couldn’t stop her, and in truth she had half expected this moment.

 Neither of the guards was on the landing outside the flat so Laura knew they must be down in the lobby. If she called the lift its wheezing and clunking would wake the dead, let alone Colin and Harry, so she hunted for the stairs. The first door she tried opened straight onto a ten story drop. Laura swallowed hard and closed it again, very carefully. Heading down the corridor she passed several more doors that she presumed were for the other flats, and then finally at the end one with a little green sign alleging that it was the emergency exit. She opened the it very gingerly and was relieved to see stairs. 

 Reaching ground level she spied Harry, sitting on a stool, head leaned back against the wall and eyes closed. Not asleep though, a polystyrene mug of coffee steamed beside him and a newspaper sat on his lap. Laura tiptoed past, feeling like a naughty schoolgirl creeping out of a dormitory.

 “Where do you think you’re going?” Harry opened one eye.

 “Out.”

 The other eye opened. “Come on Miss, you know you have to stay here.”

 “You can’t make me.”

 “No, I can’t.”

 “Exactly.” Laura was slightly taken aback. “Exactly,” she repeated. “You have been protecting me I know, and that’s very nice, but I am leaving now.”

 “He said this might happen.”

 “Who did?”

 “Never mind. Can I come with you?”

 “No you can’t. I’m sorry.”

 “I’m sorry too Miss. Please be careful.” He tore a corner from the newspaper and scribbled on it with a stubby pencil. “This is my mobile number. Just in case.”

 “Thanks. Will you look after Mrs Patterson for me?”

 “Of course. She will be staying here for now I think, for when you come back.”

 “Right. Bye then.”

 “Good bye Miss.”

 And that was it. She was free.

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I’m back…

autumn-209479_1280After a summer where the closest I got to fiction was the succession of small untruths that I told my son (not much further / I haven’t got any money / it’s closed today) I’m ready to get going again.

Now, in this season of mellow fruitfulness and back to school optimism, I’m steeling myself for the Big One. I’ve already confessed to writing a novel, that was the whole point of all of this, but why did I bother if no one gets to read it? I can’t keep procrastinating, it doesn’t need any more work, no really, it doesn’t. It should be seen, and possibly even heard – is there a reading aloud genre on I-Tunes?

I’ve dipped my toe into the murky waters of agents and publishers and had one near miss and one very definite absolutely not. I’ll keep trying, but it’s a slow process and I’m bored already. So I’m going to release my magnum opus Water Water on the world in instalments instead, twice a week, starting on Friday.

There, I’ve said it now, so it’s got to happen. See you Friday…