Present Imperfect is the sequel to Captive Echo, and once again finds TV writer Peter Wozniak and Janice Gale investigating strange phenomena that ultimately threaten all mankind. This time the past, present and future collide in quite unexpected ways…
Janice was the first to rise. As was her way she carried a laundry basket into the kitchen.
“Old habits die hard.” She’d said when Wozniak first mentioned this propensity of hers. “Once a house-keeper, always a house-keeper. In any case – you wouldn’t want me turning into a slob, would you?
Wozniak wasn’t usually so quick off the mark. He finally stumbled into the kitchen well after the sun had risen so high that it blazed though the venetian blind, and made watching the small kitchen TV almost impossible.
Connor was the next to arrive.
“Morning – ah, Peter is it? I can’t tell you Wozniaks apart.” He said as he looked around the brightly-lit room. “Hello Jan.” He added as she appeared from behind the open fridge door.
“Hello, Connor.” She replied pleasantly. “Are you looking for something?”
“Ah yes,” He tousled his hair and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “I appear to have lost my wife.”
“Most tardy.” Wozniak replied as he shot a look at Jan.
She was clearly thinking along the same lines as he.
“I expect she’s popped out for a walk in the lovely morning dew.” Janice offered.
“Amanda?” Connor scoffed. “Dew’s wet: it’d play havoc with her heels. No the only water that Amanda’s interested in comes out of a soda siphon. But in her evident absence I’ll bow to your logic, and go look for her in the garden.”
No sooner had Conner closed the kitchen door behind him and disappeared into the herb garden, Wozniak was on his feet.
“Just checking something.” He said as he departed into the hallway.
Tom was laying face down upon his single bed when a rap came at the door.
Opening one eye he called out:
“If it’s room service – tell them that I’ve died in my sleep.”
He wasn’t particularly surprised when his brother entered. He was surprised however by his subsequent behaviour as the big man looked first beneath the bed, and in the wardrobe.
“Has there been a bomb alert?” Tom mumbled into his pillow. “Or are you searching for the long-lost golden potty?”
“Amanda’s missing.” Wozniak replied curtly. “Connor’s gone looking for her.”
Tom may have been feeling the effects of the previous night, but this brought him to full attention.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” He said.
“Until I checked that she wasn’t with you, I wasn’t too concerned.” Wozniak replied seriously. “Now I’m officially worried.”
“Is this the Causality Merchant speaking here?” Tom inquired.
“The weird thunderstorm. The dead dog. Now we have a missing person. That’s too much of a coincidence for me.”
Tom was pulling on his trousers.
“You think that she might have been whisked off into some alternate realm from under our noses?”
“I’ve seen stranger things happen.” Wozniak countered his brother’s apparent scepticism.
Tom crossed the room and pulled back the curtains. His window looked out over the
“There you go.” He spoke triumphantly. “Their car’s gone. She’s gone off to indulge in a spot of retail therapy I imagine.”
Wozniak looked out at the driveway. His brother was correct: The Browning’s car was indeed absent. A smile spread across his face.
“You don’t know how relieved I am.” He said.
Connor Browning wore a puzzled expression when he came off the hall telephone.
The others were watching from a discrete distance in the adjacent kitchen.
“That’s odd.” He said as he turned to look at them, “I’ve tried our home phone; her mobile; and the car phone: she doesn’t answer any of them. Nanny says she hasn’t been home either.”
“Maybe she’s in a dead spot.” Tom offered. “There are a few of them about in this hilly countryside. I couldn’t get The Peaks from the motel, remember?”
Connor nodded his apparent agreement with Tom, but his next words betrayed his true opinion.
“Tom, I know it’s a bit of an imposition – but can I borrow your car? I need to get home – if only to satisfy my morbid fears.”
“You don’t think she’s come to harm?” Janice sounded shocked at the idea.
“I always think she’s come to harm.” Connor replied in a tone that suggested long-suffering. “A woman as vivacious as Amanda is always at risk of harm. She’s a terrible flirt, and her self-confidence is legendary. She has no fear. You should see her drive: unbelievable. She’d give a professional racing driver a good run for his money, I can tell you.”
“You don’t think she’s had an accident, do you?” Wozniak stood as he spoke. “Perhaps we should call the police.”
“And Accident and Emergency.” Janice added.
Tom fished out his car keys. He tossed them to Connor as he entered the room.
“You go find Amanda.” He said. “We’ll call around. If we learn anything we’ll give you a call straight away.”
“Thanks Tom.” Connor tried to smile, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You have my mobile number?”
“Logged on my own.” Tom assured the town councillor. “Now scat.”
It was ten minutes later when Tom replaced the telephone receiver upon its cradle.
Wozniak and Janice looked on in expectation from their seats around the kitchen table.
“Nothing.” Tom said as he re-entered the kitchen from the hallway.
“Well that’s a relief.” Janice responded with an accompanying sigh as she stood and carried an empty cup to the sink. “At least we know that she’s not laying somewhere in a coma, or locked up in a cell.”
“She seemed in good spirits when they went to bed last night.” Wozniak observed. “I wonder what got her up so bright and early – to disappear without a word to Connor?”
“She’s an odd sort.” Tom said quietly as he lowered himself into Janice’s recently vacated chair.
Wozniak expected Janice to react to this. He knew full well that his fiancée did not approve of Tom’s illicit affair with Amanda, and was surprised when she said nothing. Turning in his seat he realised that her attention was elsewhere as she gazed out through the kitchen window.
“What is it?” He inquired.
“Those wasps we had.” She said as she maintained her attention upon some distant
place. “They’re back.”
“You’re kidding me.” Wozniak strode to the kitchen window to confirm Janice’s observation.
He then informed Tom about a recent plague of wasps that had taken over an extinct wasp’s nest in the hollowed trunk of an ancient Yew tree beside the ornamental fishpond. It had effectively made that area of the grounds off-limits. Only the loan of a bee-keeper’s outfit from a neighbour, and several canisters of insecticide courtesy of a local fruit farm, had solved the problem. Now, it appeared, the wasps had returned.
Amanda apparently forgotten, Tom joined them at the window.
“Really?” He said. “I’ve always wanted to see a real wasp’s nest. Where did you say this Yew tree is?
“I wouldn’t advise it.” Wozniak warned his brother. “If they’re anything like the last lot, they’re a bolshy little bunch of bastards.”
“I’ll wear my old coat.” Tom assured Wozniak. “It has a hood and elasticated wrists. If they get bolshy I’ll just pull on the drawstrings, and make best speed for the house.”
“Are you sure it’s worth the trouble?” Janice questioned. “In any case – where is this old coat of yours? I didn’t see you wearing it when you arrived.”
“I go country rambling.” Tom replied. “I keep it in a tote bag in the back of the car with Wolfgang.”
A look of sorrow crossed Tom’s face for a moment.
“Bollocks,” he said, “I’d forgotten about Wolfie. Poor old chap. I suppose we’d better see a vet sometime today.”
“And the police.” Janice added. “I’ll make a call to the village police house later. Maybe P.C Duncan can shed some light.”
Tom brightened abruptly.
“Good idea.” He said chirpily. “You do that, and I’ll go introduce myself to the local wasp population.”
With that Tom made straight for the front door. He didn’t bother to close it behind him, and both Wozniak and Janice watched as he strode into the driveway. He paused for a moment as he realised that his car was absent. Turning around he returned to the hallway. He wore a shame-faced grin.”
“Getting forgetful in your old age?” Wozniak chided.
“If I am, you’ll be following suit soon.” Tom countered. “We were born only twenty minutes apart, remember?”
Any further banter was interrupted by the arrival down the stairs of a bleary-eyed Gwen. She ambled into the kitchen without acknowledging her employer, and looked by far the worse for wear.
Spotting Janice she managed a brief half-smile.
“Oh Janice.” She whispered, and winced at the sound of her own voice. “You don’t have something to stop this cavalcade marching up and down inside my head I suppose?”
“Coffee?” Janice suggested.
“In the absence of a miracle cure that would be lovely.” Gwen replied as she dropped into a table seat and held her head in her hands in an effort to stop it exploding.
“I see you don’t have your brother’s capacity for alcohol.” Wozniak said as he tipped his head on its side – to peer into Gwen’s anguished face. “Probably a good thing: You won’t die of sclerosis of the liver.”
“Right now I’d gladly swap.” Gwen groaned as she turned in her seat to regard Tom in the hallway, and the empty driveway beyond it. Sentience abruptly blossomed. “Tom – where’s your car?”
“Lent it to Connor.” Tom replied. “Gwen, you didn’t happen to unload my tote bag
when you brought Wolfie in from the car, I suppose?”
Gwen was forced to think for several seconds before she could reply.
“I did. I left it in the hall – in that funny little cupboard with the telephone on it. It was a bit pongy, and I didn’t want to soil the country air.”
“You’re an angel.” Tom said as he made for the telephone cupboard.
“No,” Gwen replied quietly as she stared into the cup of black coffee that Janice had just placed upon the table before her. “just a fucking good Personal Assistant”.
Tom had decided to open the tote bag outside of the house, and duly marched through the kitchen into the herb garden, where he unzipped the offending item.
Wozniak went with him, and like his brother detected no particular aroma when Tom eased the rolled up parka from the bag of hiking equipment. He said as much.
“What?” Janice exclaimed as she fanned the air before her with a hand. “It reeks.”
Without a thought Wozniak took the coat from Tom as he unfurled it, and begun to shake it out. Putting it to his face he inhaled deeply.
“Nope – not a thing.” He said with a perplexed smile upon his face. “I don’t know maybe it’s the country air – but I seem to have lost my olfactory senses.”
Janice joined the two big men. Gwen stumbled to the door, and leant heavily upon the doorjamb. Taking the coat from Wozniak – Janice attempted to sniff the garment, but was repulsed by the stench.
“Really – you can’t smell that?” She inquired incredulously.
“I can smell it from here.” Gwen complained. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Wozniak took another deep breath. He was about to repeat his appraisal when a sudden tightening in his scrotum stopped him. He tried to speak, but found himself so overwhelmed with sexual desire for Janice that he couldn’t. He turned towards the dowdy Gwen, and felt his erectile nerves spasm.
“Jesus.” He managed.
Then, with a Herculean effort, he cast the coat aside as far as he could throw it. Deliberately avoiding contact with either woman, he rushed into the kitchen – where he liberally doused his face with water from the cold tap.
Janice rushed back into the house after him.
“Peter.” She whispered in alarm. “What on Earth is it?”
Wiping his face on a tea towel, and avoiding line-of-sight visual contact with either Tom or Gwen, Wozniak indicated his groin.
“Whatever you do – don’t touch it.” He whispered. “It’s liable to explode.”
Janice was taken aback. “What?” She managed.
“I’ve got a God-almighty hard on.” He continued to whisper. “It happened when I smelt that coat. I think there’s some sort of super-effective pheromone on it. Either that, or I’m the horniest man in Britain, and I get off on smelly parkas!”
Buy now the others had joined them.
“What’s with the weird behaviour, Pete?” Tom inquired. “Are you having a funny five minutes?”
Gwen then spotted the bulge in Wozniak’s trousers. Her eyes opened wide. Then she moved smartly to the door to regard the coat that lay upon the path several metres distant.
“That coat did that to you?” She pointed at Wozniak’s groin, and stared in amazement.
“You may be hung-over, Gwen.” Wozniak was regaining control of his higher functions, “But you are still a very smart lady. Now would you kindly look elsewhere”
The situation was less clear to Tom.
“What exactly just happened?”
“Something on your coat, Bruv.” Wozniak replied as he finished drying his face and neck. “It must be the most powerful aphrodisiac on the planet. When did you last wear that coat?”
It took a moment to Tom to assimilate this. Then he began to think.
“A few days ago.” He said. “Maybe a week and a half. No – two weeks ago. I remember it was on a cross-country ramble in support of some charity that the Brownings were into.
Wozniak felt a sense of unease.
“Brownings?” He asked.
Tom was a little evasive at this.
“Well not the Brownings exactly.”
“Would I be close if I were to suggest that it was Amanda’s charity that you were supporting?” Wozniak said as he dropped into a chair. “And further, would I be correct in assuming that you and Amanda were together throughout the walk?”
“And further still,” Wozniak continued, “might it be possible that it was whilst engaged upon this charity walk that the two of you began your little tryst?”
“Okay, you’ve got me officially shit-scared.” He said as he sat opposite his brother across the table.
Janice indicated herself and Gwen. “And us two very confused.”
“You’re right about Tom’s bisexuality.” Wozniak said to Janice. “It’s pretty dormant, but he can perform with women if the conditions are right.”
“Excuse me,” Tom became indignant, “but since when did my sexuality become open to debate?”
“Since Amanda Browning used some sort of super-pheromone on you, Tom.” Wozniak replied. “If I’m right – this whole affair that you’re having with the good councillor is far from natural. I think you’re a pawn, Tom. I don’t know for what purpose, but I think she’s using you as some sort of sex-toy.”
Tom scoffed, but could produce no actual counter-argument.
“Maybe she wants your children.” Gwen offered. “Maybe Connor isn’t firing on all cylinders.”
“No it can’t be that.” Janice argued. “Don’t you remember that they had to call their nanny last night: she has children already.”
When Tom spoke it was in a tone that suggested utter defeat. They were the words of a man who was suddenly certain that the situation in which he now found himself was far worse than he had previously imagined. A man for whom the gallows awaited.
“They’re both adopted.” He said. “They don’t have kids of their own.”
“Haven’t they heard of IVF?” Janice asked.
“Tried it.” Tom replied. “Didn’t take. She’s barren apparently.”
“Then why the need for so much sex?” Janice asked in frustration.
“If Connor finds her, perhaps we can ask.” Wozniak said grimly. “But something tells me that isn’t going to happen.”
“Peter.” Tom spoke like a member of the living dead. “What’s going on?”
Wozniak didn’t reply immediately: instead he rubbed the back of his neck unconsciously. Eventually he spoke:
“Honestly?” He said as he looked up at his brother who now towered above him, but somehow managed to have the helpless look of a small boy about him. “I don’t know: but I have the nastiest feeling it has something to do with those mysterious thunderclaps last night, and the untimely demise of poor old Wolfie.”
Janice decided to assume the role of reason in an increasingly unreasonable situation. “Isn’t that being a little presumptive?” She asked doubtfully. “I mean – there’s hardly a good case to connect the three events. I don’t see a shred of evidence to support that statement.”
Wozniak’s grin was mirthless, but somehow loving at the same time.
“But you believe me all the same, don’t you?” He said.
“Absolutely.” Janice replied. “This is the follow-up to our little trip into the unknown that you were expecting, isn’t it?”
Gwen was clearly confused. She said, “Trip into the unknown?”
Neither Wozniak nor Janice knew quite how to respond to this inquiry. They chose to prevaricate. Tom, though, came to a quick decision.
“I think its best she knows what we might be up against.” He said to Wozniak.
“You do?” Wozniak said incredulously.
“Well we can hardly send her off to some place of sanctuary – and hope that she gets so drunk that she forgets everything she’s seen so far, or everything we’ve just said.” Tom argued.
Although Wozniak had wanted to avoid Gwen’s involvement, he recognized the possibility that it was already too late.
‘Should have suggested that she stay with Wallace’, he thought to himself. ‘Too bloody late now though. Better think a bit quicker next time. You’re getting sloppy, Wozniak’.
“You always said that two heads are better than one.” Janice broke into his ruminations. “How about six? We can bring Dave and Judith up to speed – when they finally show their faces, that is.”
Gwen wasn’t about to be treated like wallpaper:
“Hey.” She spoke up. “I maybe the worse for drink, but I am here. How about talking to me – rather than about me. What am I supposed to forget?”
Wozniak’s smile wasn’t the usual charming kind when he turned it upon Gwen. He looked as though he’d swallowed one of the wasps that were currently plaguing the ornamental pond area.
“Gwen,” he began – then following a sigh he added, “you might be surprised to learn that until the day before yesterday you didn’t actually exist.”
Gwen had no idea how she was supposed to react to this.
“Is that right?” She said on virtual autopilot.
Janice seated herself beside Gwen, and took her hand.
“Yes it is.” She said gently. “Would you like to know how such a preposterous statement can possibly be true?”
Gwen looked to Tom for guidance. He nodded minutely.
“Well if you must.” She said in confused surprise.
At first Gwen had refused to believe a word that the others had spoken as Wozniak tried (in vain initially) to convince her that their tale of alternate worlds and time travel was the truth. And indeed she may well have remained a confirmed un-believer had Dave and Judith not descended from their room in the warm afterglow of sex, and confirmed everything that the others had said.
To her credit she received the information well. But she also understood that no matter that it was the absolute truth, she also knew, with utter certainty, that she had lived the life that she knew so well, and she recalled – as accurately as anyone can – every facet of her existence from childhood until this moment.
She had also decided to re-visit her brother, and talk of ‘old times’ with him, and in this way perhaps discover some flaws in her memory. She didn’t like the idea of just springing into existence out of nothingness, but was willing to accept that if in fact
this was the case, she needed to discover it for herself.
After being apprised of the morning’s events, Dave and Judith volunteered to visit the local police house to speak with the village ‘Bobby’ – P.C Duncan – about the apparent attack upon the Rottweiler/Doberman Cross.
“You never know,” Judith reminded everyone, “It’s possible that we’re barking up the wrong tree entirely – excuse the pun – and we really have nothing to worry about.”
But no one was really convinced.
Dave and Judith’s offer spurred the twins into volunteering to retrieve the remains of Wolfgang and place them in the garage – where, they hoped, the police officer would visit them. This left Janice alone in The Peaks.
Wozniak looked back briefly at the kitchen window as he trailed his brother into the orchard. Already Janice had begun washing the breakfast utensils. He smiled at the sight of his beloved in (what he jokingly referred to as) her natural habitat.
“Strange.” Tom, who was several metres ahead of Wozniak, said loudly.
“What is it?” Wozniak inquired as Tom began trotting.
Tom stopped abruptly at the spot upon which Wozniak estimated the cadaver lay.
“He’s gone.” Tom exclaimed in surprise.
Wozniak also broke into a run, and within moments stood beside his sibling. Looking at the disturbed grass at their feet, both men could clearly see that of Wolfgang’s body no sign remained.
“Do you think a fox might have carried the carcass away?” Tom inquired.
Wozniak gave him a sideways look.
“Not unless he was on steroids or could drive a fork-lift truck.” He replied.
Tom wasn’t about to give up his hastily formed theory too easily:
“They live in packs, don’t they?”
“Tom.” Wozniak grew instantly annoyed. “They’re common-or-garden Red Foxes ‘round here: not bloody Timber Wolves. If Wolfie’s been carried off – it was by at least two burly men. He was a big bastard alright. Now look around for signs of dragging.”
It was Tom who first discovered the signs to which Wozniak referred. He’d strayed off the main path through the orchard, and had noticed an old lichen-coated garden shed – complete with rusted garden implements that seemed to ‘grow’ out of the long grass and brambles that surrounded the ancient structure.
Tom once more called to Wozniak. As his brother joined him he pointed to some traces of recent blood upon the mouldering doorframe.
At the sight of this Wozniak remained silent at first. Instead of speaking he immediately tugged free a rusty garden fork from the thorny embrace of nature. He handed it to Tom. He then fetched an equally rusty spade for himself.
“Do you plan to tunnel inside?” Tom joked. “We could try the door first.”
“I don’t think so.” Wozniak said as he nodded towards the door handle.
It had the appearance of recent acid burns, and the door itself was two centimetres ajar.
“If whoever could carry off a Rottweiler/Doberman cross is still in there, I want something in my hand that I feel fairly confident will stop him if he gets a bit lary.”
Tom’s slightly amused expression fell away.
“Perhaps we should wait for the local fuzz to arrive.” He ventured.
“He’s probably out doing local ‘Bobby’ kinds of things.” Wozniak countered. “I know him quite well: I doubt that Dave and Judith will find him home until lunchtime.”
“So what do you propose we do?”
Wozniak grinned at this. “You kick the door in, and I’ll clobber him on the head with this spade.”
Tom tried a grin of his own:
“You were always the more intellectual twin. Alright – here goes.”
With that Tom gave a mighty lash at the door with his huge right foot. The door didn’t give way: It splintered into a thousand larch wood shards, and disintegrated – tossing clouds of woodworm dust into the air, and forcing both men to back away from the choking results.
“They don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore.” Tom said as the dust finally settled, and both men could peer past the remains of the doorframe.
“No.” Wozniak said as he dusted off his shoulders, “now they’re made of plastic, and will probably outlast the wheel of time. See anything inside?”
Tom brought out a small wind-up torch – turned the handle several times and unleashed a paltry beam of bluish light inside the building. Both men reeled backwards at the sight of dog entrails that lay scattered across the rotting linoleum floor. Wozniak pulled himself together and entered. He came back out again only moments later with one of Wolfgang’s hind legs in his hand.
“Fuck me, Tom – what have we got ourselves into?” He asked, but didn’t expect an answer.
Tom took a few moments to respond. “It must be a big cat.” He finally said. “A fucking big cat. You don’t keep a lion in the grounds I suppose?”
“I don’t think so.” Wozniak said as he tossed the leg to Tom.
Tom refused to catch the bloody body part, and instead allowed it to fall at his feet. He immediately understood Wozniak’s meaning: It was obvious that the leg had been hacked off using a reasonably sharp implement. This observation was confirmed when Wozniak picked up half of a broken pair of shears. The blade was rusted, but had obviously been inexpertly sharpened recently.
Wozniak read his brother’s thoughts. He indicated a partially collapsed bench – to which a barely functioning grinding wheel was attached.
“Looks like someone was seriously hungry.” He shuddered as he said the words. “And ill-equipped to dine alfresco.”
Tom turned and quickly scanned the orchard. He could find no movement amongst the stand of fruit trees.
“Well I hope he’s buggered off for good.” He said after breathing a sigh of relief. “Meeting a nut-job with half a pair of rusty garden shears is not my idea of a good time.”
Wozniak wasn’t about to argue.
“Maybe we should get back to the house.” He suggested. Then a thought occurred: “Do you have your ‘phone on you?”
Tom delved into his jacket pocket.
“I’m a businessman.” He said as he produced the small electronic device, “I can’t conduct business if no one can speak to me.”
“I’m going to mooch around a bit – see if I can find any trails or whatever.” Wozniak informed him. Then he suggested that Tom snap off a few photos of the scene for future reference.
So whilst Tom began moving around the immediate area taking photographs with his mobile phone, Wozniak back-tracked to the scene of Wolfgang’s death. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he felt certain that if something appeared out of place or incongruous he’d recognise it when he saw it.
He eventually discovered the incongruity he sought when he reached the highest part of the grounds – immediately against the tall flint wall that separated The Peaks from a neighbouring property. Wozniak had wanted to see over the wall, but, built in excess of three metres high, it was beyond his capabilities, and the presence of ancient bottle glass embedded into the masonry atop the wall made him loathe to try climbing it. Then he noticed a compost heap that had been placed against the wall several years earlier. Clearly a previous owner had wanted to be ecologically friendly and had constructed the walls of the compost heap from the green wood of saplings that presumably someone had cut down whilst coppicing or clearing the land. Time and the damp English climate had then taken their toll, and now the flexible green wood had become brown and brittle, and was in an advanced state of decay. It seemed that nothing more than the compost itself and a hastily knotted length of fading baling string was holding it all together.
But this was not what caught Wozniak’s attention immediately: It was the metre-wide circular scorch mark in the surrounding grass. The soil beneath appeared to have been baked to the consistency of clay; but it crumbled to dust when he ran a thumbnail across it. He also noticed that the circle was incomplete. It was intersected by the garden wall, which obscured approximately one fifth of its circumference.
Standing up, and backing a short distance away, Wozniak noticed that the embedded glass appeared to have melted in two places upon the top of the wall; and an old rusty hook had been sheared off completely – with only it’s tip remaining, which lay in the long grass at the foot of the wall. He wasn’t in the least surprised at the result as he
calculated that these three locations matched perfectly with the circular scorch mark. He then turned his attention to the compost heap itself, and this time he was surprised. Two distinct footmarks could be seen in the soft loamy material that had once been grass clippings and discarded vegetable matter. In fact so clear were they that he could tell that the owner of the feet had stood there without shoes on. Closer inspection surprised him further. Although the feet were undeniably human, the indentations suggested that they possessed claw-like nails at the end of each toe. Wozniak drew an instant conclusion. To him it could mean only one thing.
“Haven’t they heard of nail clippers where you come from?” He joked with himself as he tried to slow his suddenly over-active heart rate.
He then tried to find any traces of where the owner of the clawed feet might have landed after jumping from the compost heap. He had to look considerably further afield than he’d first expected before he found such signs. And these signs came in the form of blood that had dried upon the bottle glass above the compost heap that lay outside of the scorched circle and a number of fresh scratch marks in the ancient mortar. Wozniak wasn’t certain, as he peered from his vantage point upon tiptoes, but the spacing of the scratch marks appeared to match the toe indents in the compost perfectly. He tried to imagine the physical appearance of a clawed being capable of making a vertical jump of such magnitude. He didn’t like the image that his mind created. Suddenly he felt decidedly uncomfortable alone.
“Tom.” He called. “Can you bring your camera up here?”
Janice didn’t immediately recognise the tall figure that stole from the orchard in a manner that could only be termed as ‘furtive’. The kitchen window through which she was looking had steamed up whilst she was washing the breakfast utensils, and she was forced to wipe the glass with her tea towel. Her view slightly clearer now, Janice could tell that the figure was a tall man who appeared to be wearing some extremely shabby gardening clothes. She wiped the glass again, and pushed her face closer to the moist pane. She wasn’t certain, but he appeared to go unshod too. Suddenly nervous she moved to the back door, and threw the heavy bolt shut. She then resumed her place at the window. The figure had come closer now, and was only a few metres short of the house. The man appeared to be looking back along the way he’d come – as though fearful of being followed. Janice’s sense of alarm increased.
‘That’s where Peter and Tom are!’
Then the man turned his face forward once more, and Janice could finally see it clearly.
“Peter?” She said in confusion as she returned to the door and pulled back the bolt.
She had just enough time to open the door before the figure arrived. She smiled through a puzzled expression as he came closer.
“Peter, why are you dressed like that? Those clothes look like they’ve been hanging up in a shed for ten years. What happened to yours?”
Then the man was upon Janice. Without a word he took her in his huge arms, and pulled her close. She was about to complain that he was hurting her when she heard a gentle hiss as he pressed his face against the side of her neck. A split second later all civilised, intellectual thought ceased, and she began tearing at the ragged clothing that dressed the man who looked exactly like Peter Wozniak.
“Upstairs.” She managed to utter through a growl as he tore her blouse from her body, and carelessly tossed it aside.
Lacking the patience to unclip her bra, she merely pulled it off over her head. Whilst doing so she failed to notice the sudden red wheals that the stranger’s fingers left upon her unprotected skin as he pawed at her in his attempts to lift her off her feet. Her breath ragged, she managed to indicate the door that led to the stairway as her small hands fought with the side zip of her skirt. She only ceased her struggles with
the recalcitrant garment when the large man threw her over his shoulder, and dashed
for the door.
Despite her now overwhelming desire Janice somehow still retained sufficient intelligence to point the stranger in the direction of her bedroom. Neither of them paused long enough to open the door. Instead a clawed foot kicked the door open, and within a heartbeat Janice found herself thrown upon the bed – where she quickly removed the remains of her clothing. Then sprawling herself across the bed, her legs wide and inviting, she opened her eyes towards the window in anticipation of greeting her mate. What she saw was a naked Peter Wozniak – but not Peter Wozniak. Whereas her lover was a large, well-developed man – this Peter Wozniak was something else. His face remained familiar, but his body had altered. Its musculature was far more defined and sinewy. It appeared to contain an animal power within its totally hairless human shape. But Janice cared nothing for any of this: They were less than incidental details upon the periphery of consciousness. She desired sex and nothing else could be considered. Then a cloud passed before the sun and the faux Wozniak’s face was thrown into darkness where it seemed to subtly alter. It was the face of an apparently clean-shaven, bald-headed man of indeterminate age. But when he produced a sudden avaricious smile he revealed the teeth of a carnivore. And when he turned his gaze upon the expectant naked form of Janice, his eyes stared with the intensity of madness. Had she the wit and awareness Janice would have seen that those eyes possessed neither whites nor irises. Instead his huge pupils appeared like two featureless black holes in his head. But her mind, such as it was, was unaware of these facts: she was already reaching out in anticipation towards his approaching genitals.
©Paul Trevor Nolan
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