Friday 6th May.
The package arrived simply enough. There were no heralds of trumpets, no ominous flashes of lightening as he signed his name for the postman.
He opened it to reveal a key and a scrap of paper. The key was an ordinary brass key. Normal sort of size and had no fob. It didn't need one. The instant it fell onto his hand, he knew what it was. Trembling slightly he looked at the paper.
“A. F. its your problem now.” Nineteen letters. Not bad, but twenty would have been better. Six Words. Six is a fix.
And it was his problem. Summed up in those six small words. This was the final straw, the last signature that handed control over to him and he could take no more.
In a panic he looked around the room, searching for something to cling to, something to anchor the moment in reality. The TV dark and brooding in one corner, the sofa recently moved to form a diagonal with the coat stand in the opposite corner, two book cases, one filled beyond bursting and the other, a whole shelf not used, the room looked like a nutter had randomly placed objects, not paying any attention to where they were needed and yet they all shouted, screamed that to move them would be wrong.
He sat on the floor and wept, the madness confined to the back of his mind for a fleeting moment while he surveyed the ruins of his life.
Marlin Cato was a freelance journalist. He wrote a column for the Saturday version of a daily and had written and directed a few documentaries. Nothing that would mark him as massively famous, but he lived a comfortable life and could work from wherever he was in the world.
He was born in a small village in Northern England and had a boring but comfortable upbringing, he didn't like to talk about it much. Not because he had a hidden past so much as he always thought that other people had more interesting childhoods.
He was an only child and what other family there was, faded away over the years. Grandparents all died when he was too young to really know what was going on and there were never many cousins aunts or uncles around.
He went to school a the local comprehensive and led an undistinguished, but better than average school life. He studied GCSE's and went on to study A-Levels in English Literature, Art and Drama. It was expected that he would go to University and he did, although after choosing A-Levels from what he enjoyed rather than with any career in mind, he picked one more at random than with any plans.
He went to Nottingham and studied Print Journalism. He passed, but spent too much of his time in the pub and at various clubs and societies to get a first and so settled with a 2:2. He applied for a masters, mainly so that he didn't have to join the real world, but with only a 2:2, no offers were forthcoming and he had to find work.
After a short and fruitless search, the first truly tragic event of Marlin's life. His parents were both killed in a car crash. It was a wet evening and they were driving on the motorway. It was late and there was an accident involving an overturned truck in high winds. The truck driver did what he could and according to the police, was alert and free of drugs and alcohol, but there was nothing anyone could do.
The numb shock of the next few weeks got Marlin through the planning and funerals and he decided that he would never live in his parents house again, so he took his few remaining possessions, some furniture, the big TV he had always liked and sold up. He left the house for the last time feeling bleak and silent. Not quite being able to remember the happy times that he had there, but knowing there were some. Regretting that there were too few photos to place them in his head again.
After seeing an advert in a dentist office, he applied for a postgrad course in America. The profit from the house and other savings were enough to cover the fees and he was accepted. It was hardly a prestigious place, but it was enough and he threw himself into it with more passion for the career he had fallen into than he ever had previously.
He passed and had also taken up photography while he was there, although he was never going to be famous for his photographs, he often found they placed the story in his head and he crafted better articles if he could back up his research with photo's he had taken himself.
He found a job shortly after finishing with a local newspaper and slowly climbed the ranks. Eventually, he was taken on by a national daily as a travel journalist and spent more and more of his time travelling around the world.
Saturday 15th May, one year previously.
The lights were on in the living room as he got home. He thought he had turned them off when he left, but as there wasn't a mysterious stranger stroking the cat when he opened the door, he assumed he has forgotten and as said cat demanded his attention, it slipped from his mind as these things do.
He had been out in town and had only been gone for the afternoon, he had booked an appointment with a numerologist. He wasn't really a fan and didn't really believe, but it was research. He had also picked out as many number related films as he could, knowing they were entirely fiction, but they would help put him in the mood.
It was a nice day out, the sun was shining and it was starting to get pretty warm, even for May. After searching online, there was a show on soon in town and so he decided to walk in for a change.
He was researching the depths some people sink to when confronted with psychic phenomena, specifically things to do with predetermination and fate. He had recently seen 'The Number 23' and thought there really are people in the world who buy into all of this and decided there was probably a story in it. You can find a coincidence in anything, but even Marlin had to smile when he saw the date of the show was Sunday 23rd May. He expected the usual mummery and suggestive questioning, followed by deep and meaningful explanations on why they had moved into 29 Acacia Road and so they should now wear nothing but Blue and Yellow. Still it should have been fun.
29 equals 11. Acacia Road is also 11. 11 is truth and revelation. 22 is the ultimate number. By this method, bananaman is the ultimate victor. (Bananaman also equals 7. Gifted with inner light.)
Sunday 23rd May (7 5 7 = 29 = 11)
The day started like any other. A lie in and then checking emails to see what the next job was. He was woken up by TJ, his cat who had decided he had already slept for far too long. The insistent purring and gentle face nudging brought him round to consciousness. After the covers had been moved into just the right position and therefore he needed nothing more, TJ promptly fell asleep.
He got up and checked his email, nothing new, so moved to the couch and Sunday morning TV to fully wake up.
The day passed without comment and he got ready for the evenings entertainment.
Camera in hand, he arrived at a Gothic looking theatre, straight out of film, the whole place looked old and damp. I took a few photos to jog my memory and went inside. The place wasn't that full, but of all the psychic shows, who can compete with 'America's most haunted' when you need a calculator to play along. I sat in the last row of people about half way to the back and decided the isle was a good place to get plucked out of the audience from, they can only clap for so long while you struggle over people and coats and step on Aunt Maude's half time cake, so I moved more into the middle.
The show started 20 minutes late, like all under attended shows, holding out for the last few stragglers that might have brought a friend with them, desperate to make the sales and pay for the act.
I later found out she was called Karen Baker and I can't quite bring myself to call her Mistress Azaldi, her stage name (Mistress Azaldi = 7. A Very Bad number). She started with the usual things, then started to talk about significant birthdays. Someone born in April will have all the joys of spring in there step, there was a knowing mutter around the room (our Beryl was born in April, couldn't keep a smile off her face) and other vagaries. Still, the crowd seemed convinced. After an hour, she retired to a little booth at the side of the stage and anyone who wanted (to pay extra) was welcome to come and visit her for a more private reading.
There seemed little point in coming this far and not going the whole hog, so I queued and paid my money. Once inside, full of Mysterious and Boding, with eyes fluttering, she asked me to write my full name and date of birth on the chart. I toyed with the idea of giving her the wrong date of birth for a moment, until she looked me full in the face and said “the eyes were too much for you, I get it, but do me a favour and at least put your real birthday?”
I laughed and dutifully wrote it down. “On your own?”
“You tell me?!”
“I'm not psychic, you already know that. Why are you here? Its not like you believe in this stuff?”
I paused for a moment , taken aback by her change in attitude.
“It doesn't take a lot to figure out you are not the usual crowd. They only come to make sure they will die happy in their beds at a ripe old age. Even then, I'm sure some of them think I'm psychic, so I do the routine and get paid. But that's not you. So talk.”
I told her about the article and my (so far basic) research. She stared at me for a long time before replying.
“It takes hold of people. There is something in the numbers that makes sense. More sense than anything else and it gets to people. I have seen it happen. You don't want a reading, it might tell you how this will all end.” She said the last with a faint smile on her ridiculously red lips.
“Come see me afterwards and I'll talk you through it. You can even see the next few shows, its not like I'll be turning away paying customers.” With that she ushered me through the curtain and brought in the next paying customer.
Karen taught me the basics of numerology, some of which I had already gotten for myself on the internet, but there are all sorts of hidden connections, extra inferences that you get from someone else looking at your numbers. Its the difference between being in a shop and seeing the backwards sign, or actually being outside and reading it the correct way around.
She was only in town for a few days and while she was a nice enough person, we didn't stay friends after she left. She showed me the start of something, but not enough for an article. I needed to find the line between a magic show and a consuming passion.
Monday 24th May (9 6 7 = 22)
The next day I started my search on the internet. Trawling endless web pages trying to sell me all the answers. The most amazing thing was that wikipedia seemed to be the only site with a consistent view, which is not exactly the best place to start researching anything.
There were a few interesting things I found. Automatic numerology readers, enter your name here and all will be revealed. Despite Karen's warning, I couldn't help myself and tried my name. My name number was 1. Apparently I know what I want and I know how to get it. Judging by my failure while looking through the plethora of websites, I really don't know where to get it. My soul urge number was 5. I am drawn to the mysterious and unexplained. With mystical connotations connected to the pentagram, I am often found seeking the occult. Having said that, one site called me pointless and weird, so we shall see.
The search resulted in much comedy, but no actual usable facts. I turned to the news websites instead. In retrospect, somewhere I should have started, but I think I just wanted to ogle at the nutters before I started any serious work.
There were the usual articles about people who use numerology. More than a few of them saying Michael Jackson was all about the number 5, but none claiming to actually have met him in life.
On a local news website I found a story of three local suicides. Two boyhood friends that had seemingly grown apart and a sister that had all thrown themselves from the same bridge within 18 months.
At first I couldn't see why they had been triggered on my search and then something caught my eye. All three suicides had been on major astrological dates. The police had even consulted a numerologist, but there was no evidence of anything unusual and the case was dropped. Something about the case intrigued me. There was no reason for the police to involve a psychic, much less a numerologist, but there was something else I couldn't quite put my finger on.
The next few days passed quickly, but the suicides were never far from his mind. Research into male beauty products was mind-numbingly dull, but it paid the rent. On the plus side, I wouldn't need to buy shaving gel for about a year.
Friday 11th June (9 2 5 = 16 = 7)
I finally managed to get back to my project. I had written to the local paper to see if I could speak to the journalist, but shortly after writing this article, his work had declined and he left the paper. They didn't have a forwarding address so that was a bit of a dead end. The inquest was public record, but the only thing of any note was that suicide in each case was the verdict. The bridge wasn't very high, but the rocky bottom meant that each victim broke limbs and then drowned. Not a pretty way to go.
There was only one thing for it, go and see the bridge and see if anyone remembers. I was only a year ago, so it would be delicate work. People don't like to talk about tragedy until it is long gone and they can view it with different eyes.
I set up the trip for the nest weekend. The weather was supposed to be good and it was only a couple of hundred miles away, so it seemed ideal.
Saturday 19th June (1 1 5 = 7)
I-95 is not that much fun when you are forced to sit and pay attention to the road. The weather was not all it was supposed to be and the grey clouds raced overhead while I trawled up the freeway.
Once I headed inland the scenery got better. The gentle hills and fields of eastern Maine spreading out either side of the road. This is where I will get very vague. I'm not telling you where it is. There is half a state to search at the moment and that is the closest you will get.
I made it to the bridge and it looked pretty ordinary. A road crossing a tributary to a larger river. There was noone about, so I stopped the car and looked over. There were taller buildings in the area and probably easier to get onto the top, if someone wanted to kill themselves, why choose the bridge?
I got back in the car, feeling a chill wind blow through me like the dead were watching. Warning me off.
I headed to the next town and pulled into the police station. I got out of the car and just as I was about to open the door, I couldn't remember if I had locked the door. I paused and almost went inside, it was a small town, the few people that were about didn't seem likely to try and steal it. I couldn't quite shake the feeling off though, so I went back. I checked the handle and it was locked. Still, I put the key in, unlocked it and locked it again. The satisfying clunk as all the locks turned together making me feel much better.
I headed back to the door and the incident was forgotten in seconds. An aberration of memory that happens to everyone.
The air conditioning was turned on and the station was too cool. I shivered as I waited at the desk for someone to appear. Stacks of leaflets littered the desk to either side in neat piles, some for police awareness drives and others for local events. I skimmed over the top of most of them, but a local photography group caught my eye.
The picture on the front was a landscape taken next to a small river. There was something familiar about it that I couldn't quite place. The place looked similar to the river this afternoon, but there was no bridge and no woods on the far side. I picked up the leaflet just as an officer came to the counter. I pocketed the leaflet and introduced myself.
I hadn't really expected to get very far and after a few minutes of polite but firm single word answers, I was kindly asked to leave. The case was technically still open and the police do not comment on open cases. Even if they do not expect any more information.
I left the building, pulling my coat around me and wondering where the warm June sun had gone. Before I left I had done a little research into the families of the deceased and they all still lived in the area. I usually try not to interview grieving families, but sometimes there is no other way. Besides, there was always the promotion of mental illness awareness which was the reason for the article.
The parents of the first victim only lived a few blocks away and so I walked. The trees lining the street were moving quite a lot, their leaves and branches weaving like snakes, hissing at me to go home.
I found the address ten minutes later and walked up the drive. The house looked dead and empty, the dark windows staring out from beneath the porch. I knocked but there was no answer. moving along the porch I peered in the front window, conscious of the way it looked to anyone who might be inside, but I needed to know if the place was still lived in.
One curtain was half drawn, the other sloppily tied back against the frame. There was a dark orange canvas couch, Very 70's. There were dirty plates on the coffee table and a mug sitting on the floor by the door. I turned around and found a smear of dirt on my hands where I had touched the glass.
There was no-one around so I headed back to the car, I figured I could pull into the drive and wait. It started to rain on the way back to the car.
Friday 6th May (9 6 7 = 22)
Thirty minutes later, the tears had dried up. I stood slowly, feeling the ache in my legs and back. I knew I had to go back to the field. Right then, but the thought of facing the stones was almost too much, tears slowly leaked from my eyes as I went and got my coat.
I checked the pockets, right, left and then inside and then all of them a second time, six is a fix. I pulled the door open and stepped out onto the porch, turned around and slowly pushed the key into the lock, counting the bumps as it went in. The cold metal clicking each time it slid farther in, ticking like a clock, measuring the seconds I was wasting, but not allowing me to move any faster.
Finally the key was all the way in, I turned it, checked the handle and tapped the door twice. Then slowly began to draw the key out again. This was the tricky part, sometimes in my haste, it would slip out and the count would be wrong. If that happened I would have to start again. If I did that I might not make it in time.
Tick, another notch out and finally it slipped free. 12. Good. The relief of being able to leave the house and know it was correct. Only one last thing to do. I stepped off the porch and began to count the windows, starting at the front and making my way around to the back of the house.
By the time I was sat in the car, I was thoroughly soaked. I had to see this through now I was here so I drove to the house and sat cold and shivering in the driveway with no idea when they might return. I stared at the house and it stared back, blank eyed and gormless. The rain got heavier and the darkness started to draw in. I shook myself out of the reverie and figured I must have fallen asleep.
The rain had eased, but was coming down in slow, heavy, saliva like drops. I stepped out of the car just as a pair of headlights flashed up the drive and pinned me to the front of the house. I shielded my eyes, waiting for them to kill the engine and turn off the lights. Instead I heard the car door open and someone got out of the drivers side.
“Can I ask what it is you are doing here?”
“Officer Gooding. The neighbours are becoming concerned.”
I took a few steps forward, trying to get myself out of the headlights. “Stay where you are for the moment, son. Just explain what it is you are after.”
A little shocked I stammered a reply “I'm a reporter. I'm doing a story on mental illness and links between suicides and psychics. After what happened I was hoping the Kiernans would tell me about their son. I'm hoping to...”
“You were at the station earlier today as well.” Very much an accusation
“Yes, I wanted the police to comment on why they brought in a numerologist.”
“Well, that's not going to happen. The Kiernans won't be back for at least a couple of weeks either. Time maybe you should head on and drop this whole thing.”
I moved towards the car, getting a look at Officer Gooding for the first time. He was a tall man, starting to go grey and looking like he had too many duties in the car. He stood leaning on the car door, right hand hooked into his belt.
“I guess so. At least for now” I said. I almost asked him when they would be back, but there was no way he was going to tell me, even if they had really gone away. “Were you on the investigation team?” I couldn't help myself but to ask.
“How big do you think the police force is in this town? Investigation team. Get out of here kid.”
As I got in my car, he backed out of the drive and sat on the curb. Pointedly waiting for me to move on. It was about 10 when I checked my watch. I pulled along side and shouted across, “Where is the nearest motel? Its a long way home.”
He scowled at me and drove off. I headed towards the outskirts of town and checked into a motel just for the night. I would try and see Mr Adkinson in the morning. He was the only other surviving parent and my last chance at finding out what went on.
The motel was basic, but warm and dry. I showered and went pretty much straight to bed.
Sunday 20th June (3 2 5 = 10 = 1)
The morning was sunny. The good weather that had been promised finally arrived. I streched and realised I had to wear the same clothes as yesterday. They were dry, but not ideal for making a good impression.
I drove to the other side of town and parked on the street. There was a truck in the driveway and an American flag hanging limply from the pole on the front of the house. I took a quick photo of the front of the house and then stepped out into the sun.
“Can I help you?” the voice came from behind me. I turned to see and older gentleman walking on the pavement, turning into the driveway as he spoke. He didn't look frail, but considered. He was thin to the point of being gaunt with short, neat hair.
“I am. Who might you be?”
“I'm a reporter. I know this might be difficult, but I want to speak to you about your son.”
“Yes, that might be difficult. You had better come inside.” He walked up the steps to his front door and took out his key. He had no key ring, just a single key on its own. He stood a moment before the door, his hand trembling. Almost as if he was making his mind up whether to throw me out then and there. I stayed still and silent, hoping whatever inner struggle was going on would turn out my way.
He slowly pushed the key into the lock, slow enough to hear each individual sound as the key slid in, snick, snick, snick. It was almost as if time seemed to slow down for him. Then the spell was broken as the key hit the door, he unlocked it and gestured for me to follow him in.
The hallway was shaded, but bright, painted plainly, but clearly well looked after. There were coats on the wall, too many to be just his. When I looked closer I saw a hoodie and a leather jacket.
We took a left into the living room and he waved me towards a couch. “I would normally offer you a drink, but I'm not sure you are staying that long yet. What is this about?”
“I'm sorry to disturb you, I know that losing someone close to you is never easy, but I wanted to know about the investigation.”
“You think the police screwed up? We may be a small town, but there was nothing to investigate, son. Chuck Gooding is a friend and I'll not have you digging into the past for some hyped up storey about nothing.”
“No sir, I need to know why they hired a numerologist. I'm investigating the links between mental illness and obsession. I...”
“My son was not ill. Not really. They hired the girl because of the other two. Odd folks they were. What they expected her to do is anyone's guess. She looked at their names and birthdays, the days they died, lots of numbers and nothing ever came of it. Its just numbers, they mean nothing.”
We sat in silence for a moment, I didn't want to stop the flow of his thoughts. It was obvious he still deeply grieved for his son and didn't understand what had happened. His hands were trembling again and he started to look frail and old.
“Did you notice any change?” I asked after five minutes. He looked at me and blinked, like he had been a million miles away.
“A little. He became withdrawn, silent. It was maybe three months before, before he... before he jumped.”
Adkinson paused again. I was about to speak when he looked at me again. With glassy eyes, barely whispering he asked me to follow him.
We moved through the neat house to the stairs next to the kitchen. I looked at the photographs as we climbed, some of his son, smiling in a fishing boat. One, towards the top, of the whole family.
The top landing was small, just three doors and a window at the end looking out onto the street at the front. All the doors were closed but they looked unused. There was a stale atmosphere as if the upper floors were no longer in use. I can't say what gave me that impression, there was no dust on the small table under the window, the glass seemed clean but there was something unmistakably wrong.
“This is Tom's room. Its not been touched.” His voice hoarse and faltering. “be sure to check the wall next to the bed.”
He pushed the door open, turned and went back down the stairs. I took the camera out of my bag and took a few shots. Just general shots of the room, nothing specific, then stepped inside.
A tingle passed through my body and I felt cold and damp. The sun was still streaming in through the bedroom window, but it looked somehow washed out. I took another step and started to feel a little faint. The colour drained out of the room and as the perspective slowly changed, the light faded too.
I came round a few minutes later, sweating profusely. I was sprawled on the floor, my arms pinned under me with the camera still clutched in my hands. I struggled to my knees, still feeling dizzy. I became very aware of how badly I smelled and as I sat there, framed in the sunshine and looking around the room, I felt stupid. I had barely eaten, slept badly in a motel and was wearing yesterdays clothes. It was time to leave.
I almost got up and left, just left the house, no goodbye's, no nothing, but then I saw the wall. Just next to the bed,clearly written by someone lying there was a series of numbers. They were not large and did not cover the room, they seemed innocuous enough, but something about them was wrong.
I got up slowly and still wobbling a little, moved closer to the bed. I took five photo's of the numbers, the camera almost seemed to slip in my hands each time, no matter how tight I gripped it. Eventually I wrote them down on a scrap of paper, my hands trembling like Mr Adkinsons.
I went back downstairs and Mr Adkinson was waiting in the living room. Just sat there on the couch, still as a statue.
“Are you okay? I heard banging.” He sounded almost embarrassed that he hadn't come to investigate.
“I'm fine, I just tripped.”
“You seem a little flushed, are you sure?” He started to get up but I waved him down.
“I'm fine. I got caught in the rain yesterday, I might be coming down with something.”
He nodded but said nothing, he was staring out of the window, lost in his grief.
“ I just have one more question. What was the name of the girl they brought in? It would be useful if I could speak to her.”
He turned his head, slowly as if it took great force to rip his mind away from the past. “Marylou Janz” He said. He blinked and then turned back to the window, a tear rolling down one cheek. I said my goodbyes, but he didn't acknowledge me a all, just sat staring out of the window and into the past.
When I got out of the house and into the sunshine, I was feeling much better. It was time to leave, if nothing else, I needed to get the film developed, so I jumped in my car and headed out of town. I left by a different route and by chance avoided the bridge altogether, soon I was back on the interstate and headed home at speed.
Getting back into the apartment was like putting on a warm dressing gown. It felt fantastic. I immediately started to run a bath and went to the freezer for the vodka. I had picked it up in Sweden a few months before and it was flavoured with blue berries. Apparently very different to blueberries, but it tasted good, so what do I care.
Between the vodka and the bath, I started to relax and think about the past few days. They were full of strange little oddities, it was almost as if the whole town was infected with strange behaviour. The anal way all the leaflets were laid out in the police station, the empty house that had just been left, dirty plates and all, the slow key manoeuvre of Mr Adkinson.
Tuesday 22nd June (5 4 5 = 14 = 5)
I was getting a cold. Possibly even man-flu. I tried to get up, but with my head pounding and face stuffed full of unpleasant fluids, I stayed where I was. At least I know why I fainted, I thought through the haze of the illness.
Wednesday 30th June (1 3 5 = 9)
Having mostly recovered from my cold, I set about trying to find Ms Janz. Not being the most common name, it wasn't that difficult to find her website, but it was pretty clear it hadn't been updated in a while. When I tried the phone number, there was no answer and no voicemail. I fired off an email, but with no expectations of getting a reply.
I tried directory services, but drew a blank. For someone who was in business for herself, she was not an easy lady to find. I went back to the internet and found the original article, it didn't have any further information, certainly nothing I could use to find Ms Janz.
I was about to give up for the day when my phone rang.
“Yes, who is this?” There was a pause before the reply came.
“This is Marylou. You wanted to get hold of me.”
“I did. I wanted to speak to you about a police investigation you were consulted on.”
“I'm not supposed to talk about police cases, Mr Cato.” If you are a journalist, you become very aware of people's psychology. If she had said she couldn't talk about it, there was little to no chance that she would. The fact she had said I'm not supposed to meant that she had probably told friends and, given the right persuasion, might just tell other people as well.
“I realise that, but its not directly about the cases themselves. Call me Marlin, please.”
“Well, what is it you want to know?”
“I just need to know why they called you in and what you made of the numbers on Tom Adkinsons wall.”
“They told you about that? That has never been released to the press before.”
“ I know, but I'm doing a story about possible mental illness and obsession. Cases where the victims have fixated on a particular phenomenon before they take their own lives.”
“I'm still not sure I should talk to you, they made it very clear.”
“Its okay, I understand. If you feel that you can't, then I won't pursue the matter any further.”
There was a pause as Marylou considered her options. This was the moment when she would either hang up or tell me everything.
“You had better come over, its not all that easy to explain, particularly if you want to know about the numbers.”
We arranged to meet the next week and she would go over the case.
Tuesday 6th July (5 6 5 = 16 = 7)
Marylou lived in the middle of nowhere. On a small road well out of town, down a farm track, there was a wooden two storey house, hidden amongst the trees. It was painted a pale green with dark green trim and played the part of the hippy house very well. The porch streched the entire front of the house and Dream-catchers had been hung all along it. There were two wind chimes hanging at either end.
I pulled into the drive and noticed an enormous satellite dish round the side of the house. Marylou came round the corner wearing dungarees and a straw hat. She had white wispy hair and a southern accent that instantly seemed to put me at ease. She saw me looking at the dish and commented “I live out here, but that doesn’t mean I have to miss out on the good stuff.”
“I suppose not” I said, “but its a bit of a trek to the supermarket. Marylou?”
“That's me, so you must be Marlin. Come in, I'm making soup.”
She led me up the porch and into the house. Marylou headed for the kitchen and I followed. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You can pick me some coriander in a minute, but for now sit down. I already know your name and I looked up your birthday too. What time were you born?”
“Err... I have no idea. Does that matter?”
“Sometimes, but probably not in your case.” Marylou started chopping the vegetables, the slow chop on the board beating an irregular time to the conversation.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, The reading was pretty clear cut. Changes made by your time of birth are usually only slight. They tell me if things will go one way or the other if I can't see the path, but yours is pretty straight forward.”
“Oh. Well that's okay then I suppose.”
“Don’t be too flippant about all this. I know why you are here and it has nothing to do with a reading for yourself, just you remember that. I don’t have to talk to you at all.”
“Why are you talking to me then?”
“You can end all this. I looked at your chart before I called you back. It’s time to sort this mess out once and for all. Pass me the basil. On your left.” She looked up at me and smiled.
“Just remember I’m a crazy old southern lady and you can be out of here soon.”
I laughed and the tension seemed to drain from the air. “You are one of the good guys, you can have some soup.” I found the basil and passed it over.
“I was told not to look at my reading.”
“Really? Now who told you that?”
“You are not my first numerologist I’m afraid.”
“Well, shoot. That’s no good. Who was she?”
“She was doing a show down in Boston when I was first looking into this. She said that it wasn’t a good idea.”
“But you came up here anyway.”
“I came anyway. Not for me though, I need to talk to you about...”
“Yes, yes, yes. You said all that. Besides, what you came here for was a reading, the other stuff is just an excuse.”
“No, I just need to know about the suicides.”
“Well darn it, you had to go and say it. They weren’t no real suicides and you know it. We’ll get to all that later. The soup needs looked after first.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I lapsed into silence. Marylou chatted about the planting this year, apparently slugs had gotten into the lettuce again. We chatted about football, although neither of us really followed it, but she seemed to want to fill the silence and it was better than brooding while she finished cooking.
After a while, a bowl was pushed in front of me and Marylou joined me at the counter.
“So. I guess we should do this.” She sighed and stared into my eyes. She had clear blue eyes, penetrating and knowing. It was like looking into the sky, feeling so small and then finding something looking back at you. I quickly became uncomfortable and after a moment and I looked away.
“Why did the police bring you in?” I said, breaking the silence and the spell of the moment.
“You saw the numbers, what do you think? I was living in town at the time. I made my money from doing readings at Bachelorette parties and the like. Easy stuff, tell them nice things and leave out the difficult choices, you know the stuff, I expect your ‘Other Lady’ did much the same.” She said ‘Other Lady’ with a faint grin on her face.
“The soup is great” I was taking time to regroup, and a little flattery is always a good lubricant.
“Basil. Good for the mind, releases tension.”
“What did you make of the numbers?”
“Not yet, ask the question you really want to know the answer to.”
“What did you mean, not real suicides?”
“Thats not the question, but you are getting closer. They were influenced. They were not in their right mind and they couldn’t see a way out, only this. Noone came to help them until it was too late.”
“You went up to town?”
“Just over a week ago. Why?”
“You must have seen it then. People do strange things for no reason. It’s almost as if the whole place is infected with a kind of madness. Didn’t you feel it?”
“Not really, I got wet and cold, fell asleep in my car and met a man destroyed by grief, but it all seemed pretty normal.”
“Hmm.. you saw it, but you don’t realise what you saw yet. You will. If you get involved in this, it will come after you to.”
“What will? This is crazy!”
“I’m a crazy old southern lady remember? Just finish your soup and you can go.”
There was a pause while we both ate. The craziest ones always act normal at first, its only later once you can’t get away that they turn out to be lunatics. I should have know that this was a dead end. Something in the back of my mind wasn’t so sure, something in my psyche was telling me to listen, so I stayed quiet. After a few minutes I felt much more calm. I looked up and realised Marylou was watching me.
“That’ll be the Basil. Like I said, releases tension.”
“You knew this wasn’t going to be a fun conversation?”
“Well, I know quite a bit about you. Not everything, the numbers don’t make me psychic, but they give me an edge and that’s all you need sometimes.”
“I’m not sure I can do this. I don’t believe in all this occult...”
“You can say it, you were about to say occult nonsense. It’s okay, you don’t believe now, but you will. The police brought me in to look at the numbers. Did you take any photographs?”
“I did. I haven’t got them developed yet though. I’m not sure they will come out. I fainted and my hands were shaking.”
“You fainted? You stepped through the door and it was like stepping through a sheet of ice. The room around you faded and you collapsed to the floor, right?”
“Something like that, I hadn’t eaten and had a bad nights sleep is all.”
“Maybe. Have you ever fainted before?”
“Not often, but yeah. Couple of years ago was the last time I think.”
“When you fainted, did it feel hot or cold? You felt odd before hand, right? This was different. This crept up on you and all of a sudden, hit you as you walked in the door, like stepping into the arctic. Did Mr Adkinson follow you in? Did he even put his hand across the threshold?”
“The whole thing was an ordeal for him, it was his son’s room.”
“True, but did he stay and make sure you left it the way it was? Or did he just leave?”
“He can’t stand it anymore. You only really faint the first time. Its as if the mind shuts down too quickly. If you go back in, you won’t lose consciousness, but the feeling of stepping into another world will be stronger. There is something living in that room. Tom knew it, but couldn’t get away. Mr Adkinson knows it too.”
“There is something living there?!”
“Inhabiting maybe is better than living. Whatever it is, its not good for people.”
“Okay, well, lets more on shall we?”
“The numbers called it. Those photographs won’t develop.”
“What about those numbers? Tell me what’s wrong with them.”
“Here goes.” At this Marylou reached behind her and got a notepad out of the cupboard.
“I had to do a little research, these are a little more complicated than I am used to. The first group, 999, has to do with The End, as in the end of everything. The next, 44, means dead and dying. 74 is a sure death. You keeping up with this so far? Its a little bleak, but basically, at the end of everything, when its all dying, there is no escape.”
“A little, but you wanted to know. These are the meanings that make sense to me, there are a million definitions on the internet, go try yourself and see if you come up with a nicer version.”
“Okay, point taken. I’ll keep quiet.”
“Next, 024. Everything easily dying and before you say it, yes they are labouring the point a little. 5328. This one was a little odd. Not alive easily prosper. Short of a zombie apocalypse, I think there is something here I am missing. 010 means inner self. 2 represents balance, 326 means luck, 2 is balance again, 53 is creation and then 999 again.
All together, At the end of everything, no one prospers, a balance between the power of the inner self and luck will cause things to be renewed.”
“Wait, renewed? Where did you get that from?”
“The repetition. 1000 is the start of something new after a long struggle. Tom’s number is 999 because he couldn’t get out, he restored the balance, but only succeeded in restoring things to the way they were.”
“How can these numbers call it?”
“You know, the number of the beast? 666, all that nonsense? Well, there is truth in it somewhere, in our forgotten past maybe.”
“I think it’s time I left.” I was just starting to rise when she turned over the page. My name was written in the centre with a series of numbers underneath. Spread around it were different numbers, some in different colours, some written over to make them bold.
“That’s my chart isn’t it.”
Looking up at me, Marylou nodded. “Its yours, but it is time you left. Besides, you were told not to get one done.”
“I didn’t get one done, you have just done it for me anyway.”
She smiled and said nothing. She clearly knew basic psychology as well as I did and I could do nothing but sit down.
Friday 6th May
Windows counted, I made my way to the truck and climbed in. I still wasn’t used to driving something that big yet. I swung out of the drive without looking and an angry beep from behind me showed I needed to be a little more careful.
As I drove, I was ever conscious of the ticking clock in my head, the inexorable snick of seconds being shaved off my life. I hadn’t got the time, it was so close, if I didn’t get there soon, it would be too late.
Suddenly a thought struck me, I didn’t have the camera. I pulled onto the side of the road and checked the back seat, I couldn’t see it. I had to go and get in the back to search properly. I stopped the engine and calmed myself by taking a breath. I could maybe make it if I did everything right the first time. Unclicking my seat belt, I opened the door and got out. I shut it, then opened it to make sure the belt was not caught, then shut it again, solidly, knowing it was properly shut. Then I locked the door and checked the handle, then unlocked the door. Just to be safe, I locked it again and unlocked it before I could get into the back seat. It felt all wrong, I should be walking away, I can’t just get into the back seat, but there isn’t time.
Shaking off the feeling I opened the back door and got in, locking it behind me. That also seemed to help. After a short search, the camera bag had slipped down under the driver’s seat, relieved, I threw it forward onto the passenger seat and reached for the door. I was about to open it when I stopped. The sequence was complete, if I went out again, I would need to start all over again. If I got it wrong, there was another three minutes wasted.
I clambered back into the driver’s seat from the back, scraping my leg in the process. Noone passed the car, but I was very conscious of this looking strange to any passersby.
Tuesday 6th July
“Your Soul number is 8. This is a very lucky number. It is related to power and sacrifice. Sudden fortune and opportunities. The constant loop symbolising the eternal struggle. In your case, it means you have the power to affect change. You have the ability to contribute significant accomplishments to the world in general.”
“You sound like you are giving me just the good stuff.”
“Almost. There is also sacrifice and the other side of the coin. Not all changes you create can be good. You may have great sacrifices to make before reaching your goal. Maybe even your sanity will be forfeit before the end of this. Be careful, but walk tall.”
“Your Destiny number is 7. This is associated with thought but also with completion. You will finish this quest, one way or another, for good or ill, but you will finish the cycle. Your thoughts will guide you along this road. Listen to your common sense, more than your heart. Pursue the truth behind everything.
Your Life Path is 5. This means change. Your life will be full of change and challenge. Normally you welcome it as a gateway to something new. You will become a defender. You will champion the underdog.
This month is very lucky for you, although I’m not sure I agree. You are 326 months old, a great number in Chinese numerology. You are just starting the second phase of your life, for this we have a number 5 and an 8. 5 meaning you are going through a time of changes. You need to cast off restraints and regain your personal freedom. You cannot run from these changes. 8 symbolises that you will be called to lead this change.
Your High number is 22. This is the sum of your core, pinnacle and challenge numbers. This is the sum total of your life.
22 is the ultimate number, it signifies total completion. Domination of character and perfect balance of your soul. You have the power to save or damn us all and by the end, you might be the one sitting on top of the pile.”
“What exactly does all that mean?”
“Keep hold of your mind. Balance your life and you can succeed. Or you can sit on the top of a pile of nothing. Its up to you.”
“None of this makes sense. I think I need to go.”
“You do. I have told you everything you need to know. Take this chart with you. You will find more meaning in it as time passes. Numbers speak to people. Sometimes they need a nudge to see the meaning, but sometimes they can jump out at you. The numbers found you and are reaching out. Don’t ignore them.”
“Well, they seem kinda hard to ignore when I’m sitting here.”
“When you drive out of here, that will fade away. You don’t believe in this stuff, remember? Its just a crazy old southern woman talking.”
“One last question, then I’m running away from the crazy, what did you tell the police?”
“What do you think I told them? The numbers are pretty random so thats what I told them they were. I can’t tell if the three of them were connected, walking into their houses was nothing like the Adkinson house. I suspect they were all into something, but I have no idea what. The others didn’t write any numbers that I could find, so that was that.”
“Really? They were really touchy about it.”
“The local papers wrote a few stories calling them stupid because they had to bring in a psychic to see if there was a connection. They are not too thrilled with the idea of someone raking through it all again I’m sure.”
“I suppose. Well I guess I should go.”
“I won’t see you again.”
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t let this drop, so it will touch you. I moved out of town to get away and you can’t bring it here, so don’t come back. Whatever it is, I want no part of it. Go see Tom’s psychiatrist, he can tell you more that I can, the police talked to him about the others too.”
“Well, thanks for the chat. And the soup, it was pretty good.”
“Stay strong and good luck.” With that, she took my bowl and turned to the sink, humming to herself so I left and went to get back into the car. I turned to look back at the house and saw her standing there on the porch. She lifted a hand to wave, looking sad and I could have sworn she had been crying.
The drive back to town was fairly uneventful. I had to stop myself adding up the numbers on the signs I passed when I was too busy adding up to notice a red light. I stopped barely in time, but managed to keep my mind on the road from then on.
There had been no mention of a psychiatrist in the original article and nothing else I had come across, wired though it may have been, made me think that this was the type of person who went to one. I checked the town directory and there were three listed. The difficulty was that these are not the type of people who will just tell me what I want to know. They deal with patient confidentiality all the time, the most likely thing was that they would call the police and that would be that.
I decided to try my luck with Mr Adkinson. He was clearly a broken man, but if he thought I could find out what actually happened to Tom, he might help me. He clearly didn’t think it was suicide any more than Marylou did.
I got home, unlocked the flat and dumped my keys on the sideboard as I usually did. I went straight to the phone, found Mr Adkinsons number and called him. He wasn’t there, so I left a message. I felt tired, it had been a long day, but even the relief of being home again seemed dulled. I got myself a light sandwich and went to bed, it wasn’t even 8pm yet.
The road was dry, dusty and seemed very hard. Almost too hard for a road that hadn’t been covered with tarmac. There was still a long way to go and with the sun beating down, it would seem all the longer, but I was in no hurry to get there. The heat was pulsing around us in waves, almost as if the wind itself was creating extra heat to torment us. I was glad that the others clearly had the same idea and were walking slowly. I trudged along behind a man who was older than me, but not by much, maybe four or five years. He walked stooped over and looked like he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a month, but then again, he probably hadn’t. His hair was full of dust as if he had rolled in it before starting out this morning, there were bald patches, not very big but red and sore all over his scalp.
About an hour later, they called a halt. We stood in the sun, stock still, waiting until they told us we could start marching again. Noone spoke. Speaking was a death sentence and we all knew it. After a few minutes, the line started forward again. I passed the body of a woman, she looked to still be breathing, but not by much. She was all skin bone and wiry muscle. There was almost no hair left on her head, ragged sores weeping with yellow liquid covered her head and neck. She would be dead within the hour. They had stopped to cut her loose from the line and leave her behind. I kept my eyes down, trying not to look at her. She didn’t cry out, didn’t make a sound or gesture to us. If we moved to help her, we would share her fate and she was dying, but still trying to protect the rest of us. One day that would be me. One day that would be all of us.
The city rose ugly in the distance, the palace brooding at the centre, barely visible through the dust and skyscrapers...
I woke with a start, sweat dripping off me and panting in ragged gulps of air. I felt hungry and abused, like I had actually been walking down that road, rather than dreaming it. I could still feel the dust on my tongue.
Wednesday 7th July (1 7 5 = 13 = 4)
I sat up and started to regulate my breathing, the dream fading away into the back of my mind. Lingering more than most, as I sat there, I kept recalling different details. The heat, the pattern of fabric on the man in front’s dirty t-shirt.
After a few moments I got out of bed and went to the kitchen. After a pint of water, I was feeling human again although very awake. I went to the bathroom and then lay in bed. I stared at the ceiling for a while. There was a bang from the flat upstairs and suddenly I couldn’t remember if I had locked the front door. I almost rolled over and went back to sleep, dismissing it as still feeling uneasy from the dream, but I couldn’t. When I got to the door it was fine, so I went back to bed and slept. No dreams this time, just sleep.
I awoke and felt drained. The night’s sleep had done me no good at all. I had to write today, there was a deadline coming up, so I had no choice. I had already spent too much time on research for my own curiosity, rather than writing for my job.
Friday 9th July (9 9 5 = 23 = 5)
5 is change apparently. According to some sources. I have found myself finding numbers and counting things that I never did before. I even check the date number, which is a little pointless as I don’t really know what any of it means. Mostly, I find it amusing. Especially as I can pick and choose which meaning from the internet to apply so that it fits my day, or alternatively, as I have done on occasion, find the best outcome for the given number so I can feel better about my day. It’s all horoscopes and magic, but it passes the time.
I was sitting in a coffee shop in the centre of town, just uploading my article before the deadline when my phone rang. It was Mr Adkinson.
“Mr Cato, you rang me?”
“I did. I wanted to speak to you about Tom’s psychiatrist.”
“I don’t know anything about him.”
“It’s not that, I just need permission from you to ask him a few questions. There is something going on and he might be able to shed some light on it.”
“If thats what you want. I’m sure the police talked to him already though.”
“I’m sure they did, but there are just a few things I need to check.”
“Okay. I’ll call them and let them know you will be in touch. I’ll do it now. Goodbye”
It was an abrupt ending and if anything Mr Adkinson was starting to sound very old. He can’t have been much over 60, but he seemed to be getting old very fast.
I decided it was too late to call the psychiatrist now, so I sat in the window of the coffee shop at looked out at all the people, it was quite a busy street right near the centre of town. I watched and saw lots of people wearing rucksacks, I sat there for half an hour, just staring out of the window and counting the rucksacks. It started to get busy with the after work crowd and I stopped counting when someone wanted my seat. There were 18 people wearing rucksacks. Mostly kids and teenagers, but still.
Monday 12th July (9 3 5 = 17 = 8)
I made an appointment with the psychiatrist today and called a friend of mine. I had some questions, but what I really needed was a look at the notes. There was no way on this earth that he would let me see the notes he made at the time unless I managed to get him out of the room for a few moments.
The appointment was at 2pm so I had plenty of time to drive up there. I took a change of clothes and an overnight bag in case I got stuck again, but was planning to go there and get back as soon as I could. I would have photo’s to develop hopefully. I took my small digital instead of the usual camera. Easier to hide.
I arrived a few minutes early and his receptionist asked me to wait. I sat in an entirely plain waiting room. The couch was comfortable but a plain beige colour. The reception desk held nothing but the computer on which the receptionist tapped away. Every few minutes, she gained a faint smile which betrayed the fact she was tapping away into facebook rather than work. I can’t imagine that there was much call for a small town psychiatrist.
A few minutes later, a fairly good looking, well presented gentleman opened the door and ushered me though to his office.
“Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, anything?” Asked Mr Tadfield.
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
“I know you have been speaking to Mr Adkinson, but I’m not sure I can help you. What exactly is it you want to know?”
“What was Tom coming to see you about?”
“The family had noticed some odd behaviour. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but then he assaulted a girl in a bar. It didn’t go far and in the end the girl dropped the charges, but the police recommended that he start to see a psychiatrist.”
“It wasn’t court ordered or anything?”
“No, like I said, the girl dropped the charges and Tom seemed positively stricken with remorse. He couldn’t believe that he had done it himself, so he agreed. One the victim heard this, she settled for an apology and proof of his treatment.”
“What was your diagnosis?”
“Tom was suffering from mild OCD, but he was trying to fight it. When they feel their neuroses starting to take over their life, patients can develop adverse behavioural problems. In this case, Tom became sexually aggressive. He got a little too close and when the girl tried to say no, he grabbed her arm and tried to pull her to the door. The bouncers saw it and tried to stop him, he became aggressive with them and was arrested. This is fairly common in the early stages.”
“Early stages? You think it was going to get worse?”
“It did get worse, this was almost six months before he died.”
“Obsessive Compulsive disorder is a complex disease. The patient knows what is happening, but has absolutely no control over the situation. They find themselves drowning under the volume of extra tasks that they have to complete each day. Being obsessively neat is not the only sign, and in some cases, is entirely absent.”
“There are usually three stages. The first is pretty mild and they often don’t associate it with OCD. Often there is counting of random things. Something specific, like brown shoes, but not red shoes. Then comes the touching and tapping. Sufferers will often tap a lightswitch before they can turn on or off the light. They may touch the hob to make sure they are turned off, even if it is obvious as there is no heat or flame, but without the touching, they know the gas is turned off, but they don’t know.”
“Then comes placing. Sufferers often see an order in objects that is not usually apparent and so will place objects according to this vision. They will rearrange rooms, sometimes even their own house. They may, in extreme cases, not be able to enter a room that is not placed according to what they need to see.”
“Sufferers will often perform little rituals, time consuming and pointless, but absolutely vital to the sufferer. Eventually it can become too much and unable to see a way out, they may commit suicide. As Tom did.”
“How long does this usually take?”
“Years can go by with the symptoms getting steadily worse. Usually people can snap out of it on their own, but if not, then it’s a steady progression until either the sufferer gets help, or attempts suicide. Often because of their meticulous routines born of the illness, they manage it easily. “
“You said Tom was only in the early stages six months before he died.”
“In Tom’s case, it seemed as if the disease was accelerated. I didn’t see him towards the end, so I don’t know what stage he had reached, but when I heard the news, there could only be one conclusion.”
“When did you last see him?”
“About three months before his death.”
“Did you think he was suicidal?”
“Not at that time. In some ways, he seemed to be doing better. He had trouble sleeping after he was arrested and he seemed to be better rested. I assumed he was starting to turn the corner.”
“He used to go walking out by the river. He talked about it a lot. A field with some stones in that he liked to go and sit by. He said that when he was there he didn’t need to think about anything or anyone, he could just sit and stare at the stones.”
“Is this usual? For someone to find a sanctuary like this?”
“Not really, but then again, if all of his counting, touching and placing is based on city objects, being in the country would take him away from them all, so it’s possible. Eventually, he would have found something to count, there would have been some trigger for the country as well, which is probably what happened. The sanctuary becomes a trap as the disease catches up with the sufferer and what they thought was a place of refuge, is another place they must visit to complete the task.”
“Do you think Tom would have spent much time by the river?”
“Towards the end, I suspect he was there almost constantly, but as I said, I didn’t see him towards the end, so I don’t know. Mr Adkinson can probably tell you that.”
“I don’t think I can ask him. He is still grieving quite badly. There is a man that could probably use your help.”
“I sent him details of a grief counsellor, but he never got in touch.”
With the interview ended, I left the psychiatrists office a little disturbed. It was probably nothing, but I realised I had been counting things recently. I figured it was because of the numerology thing rather than anything else, but it was still a bit too close to home.
I realised that there might be a way to find out Toms last movements. The truck at Mr Adkinsons place was most likely to be Toms. It was a new truck and would have satnav, so with any luck, the last few journeys would be recorded. I drove to Mr Adkinsons place, it wasn’t far from Tadfield’s office. Twice I had to stop myself adding up the numbers on the road signs.
I pulled into the drive and found Mr Adkinson on his knees in the garden. He looked up at me and a strange look crossed his face. He stood up, but didn’t say anything as I got out of the car, just stood there, weeds in his hand.
“Mr Adkinson, sorry to bother you. This will be the last time, I hope.”
“What is it you want, son.”
“I just want to look inside Tom’s truck. At the satnav, specifically.”
“Take it. I can’t use it, too big for me, I feel like a freak sat that high up.”
“I just need to see inside for a few minutes, I can’t take it.”
“Tell you what, I’ll swap then. You take the truck and I’ll take your car. You’ll be doing me a favour.”
“This is insane, the truck is worth twice my car is.”
“Don’t tell me I’m insane. You know nothing about it. Would you want a huge reminder of your dead son sitting on your driveway?”
“Okay, calm down Mr Adkinson, if that’s what you want, I’ll borrow it. When I’m done with all this, I’ll sell it for you and you can buy whatever car you want.”
He stared at me for a moment, then turned slowly and walked to his door. It wasn’t closed, but he paused on the threshold, almost as if he was stealing himself to go inside. He moved quickly into the house, just inside the door and pulled a set of keys from the table. He practically rushed out of the house and pressed them into my hand.
“Please. Take it.” He pleaded with me, a look of absolute sorrow in his eyes. I took the keys from him. There were two others on the bunch.
“You’ll need these house keys back.”
“They are not house keys. I have no idea what they are for. Just take them too.” He didn’t wait for me to finish, he just turned and went back to the garden and pointedly ignored me.
I transferred my stuff to the truck and after taking a look at Mr Adkinson, he had moved further round the garden but was still paying no attention.
“I’ll leave the keys in the hall,” I called. He didn’t make a sound, but kept pulling the weeds on his borders. I stepped into the house and left cold, despite the June sun outside. On my left I could see into the living room. There were blankets on the couch, neatly stacked along with a pillow. Almost as if Mr Adkinson slept down here now. I put the keys on the hall table and left.
I hoped the truck would start after this. It was a pretty good assumption it had been sat there for a year. After a moment, the engine caught and I gunned it to life.
Friday 6th May
I set off again, heading straight towards the field, no more detours, no more distractions. I knew the numbers on the signs off by heart, barely conscious of counting the numbers, I added them together.
I drove past a small strip mall and knew I was close and all of a sudden, there it was. I pulled into the track, just enough to be off the road, but a chain pulled tight stopped me driving any further.
I got out of the car and walked to the left end of the chain. It was suspended about two feet off the ground. A sign swung gently in the breeze reading ‘KEEP OUT’ in bold letters. Seven letters. A bad sign. I would have get that changed. I tried the key from the letter in the lock, it fit and turned smoothly. I shook off the chain and let it fall to the ground. I took the padlock with me and got into the car, I pulled it forward slowly, edging towards the tree line.
I got out of the car to lock the chain, felling very conscious of the fact it would slow my getaway. I did not want anyone else to stumble across the track and go for a walk. It had claimed at least three lives, who knew how many more. My hands trembling, I fumbled and dropped the heavy chain twice before I secured it with the lock.