She let herself relax, felt her breaths come more slowly and deeply, and then began to focus on the circle of vibrant blue she conjured up in her mind, with its shimmering golden rim and its heart of deepest violet.


The healing power of it flowed into her mind and her veins.


She fell asleep.


Earlier, Sandy had accidentally knocked Debbie’s handbag off the kitchen table and, in hastening to apologise and pick up the spilled contents, had found the card for her second appointment with Dava.


‘Oh, Debs.’


‘Thanks, I can manage,’ Debbie said stiffly, almost pushing her flatmate out of the way, afraid that she would find the other cards and scoff.


‘Look, it’s none of my business –’


‘Right.’


‘OK, but … and there is a but and you know it.’


‘I haven’t taken anything, I haven’t got any more ointment if that’s what you’re worried about.’


‘But you’ll have to pay another bill, won’t you?’


Debbie pushed the last couple of things back into her bag and zipped it up with a sharp rasp. Her defiant expression said everything words did not. Sandy sat down at the table and looked at her.


‘I worry about you, Debs, I’m concerned about you, I care about you for goodness sake.’


‘No need. I’m good thanks.’


‘Well, you weren’t.’


Debbie hesitated. Sandy’s voice was full of true anxiety. She did worry, she was a friend. Debbie sat down opposite her.


‘Can’t you see how much better I am?’


‘That’s Dr Deerbon’s tablets, isn’t it? Come on.’


‘I don’t mean my skin. I expect you’re right on that, but I mean me. I’ve only been to see him twice and he’s changed everything, Sandy, he’s changed the way I think and feel and the way I am about myself. I’m not unhappy any more, I want to get up in the mornings, I’m going to look for a part-time job soon. I am just learning so much. You haven’t got anything to worry about, honestly.’


Sandy sighed. She was still frowning. ‘It’s costing so much though. I just wonder if you can’t get some sort of counselling on the health service.’


‘It’s not counselling.’


‘Well, what is it then?’


Words swirled round Debbie’s head, Dava’s words, the words on the cards, words that were new to her and meant something impossible to convey to plain-speaking, clear-thinking, straightforward Sandy. Harmony … aura … vibration … energy … peace … protection … angel …


She could not say any one of them out loud, for fear of sounding stupid, of being mocked, being misunderstood. The words had become sacred, like words from the Bible or prayers in church, they were not words to be passed casually between them across the chipped Formica kitchen table of the flat.


‘I promise I’m fine. I know what I’m doing. If it hadn’t felt right and if it hadn’t made me so much better I wouldn’t have gone again. But thanks anyway. I mean it. Thanks.’


She had gone round the table and given Sandy a hug, and hoped that everything was right between them and that Sandy wouldn’t go on at her again. Because there really wasn’t any need. She knew what she was doing. Things were fine. Really fine.


*


Her alarm buzzed on low vibration at six the next morning. She was anxious not to wake Sandy. Through the kitchen window she saw only darkness but it was not raining and when she opened the back door, she felt mild air blowing in gently. She had a glass of orange juice to avoid putting on the kettle that whistled so shrilly when it boiled, ate a soya yogurt and put two Penguin biscuits in the pocket of her fleece jacket. She clicked off the light softly, and even more softly closed the back door. Out in the street, she paused and looked back. The flat was still in darkness. She thought fondly for a moment of Sandy, neatly asleep in her pretty primrose-and-white bedroom, with the fluffy bedside mat and the two Dutch dolls in their primrose-and-white gingham caps and aprons, sitting on the small shelf with their wooden legs dangling down. She saw Sandy’s make-up exactly lined up on the dressing table which had a yellow-and-white frill around its base, her magazines stacked in date order between yellow wooden bookends on the shelf, Sandy’s frame of photographs on the wall, each in an individual oval frame within the whole – Sandy and her sister as babies, as toddlers, as angels in a play, as Brownies, on ponies, in bikinis on a sunlit beach, Sandy’s parents, Sandy’s various cats and dogs. Every Saturday morning, Sandy cleaned, dusted, swept and polished her room and rearranged everything precisely as before on the furniture, on the shelves. One day, she would make a fantastic married home, for which she would personally sew every curtain and flounce, paint every wall, stencil every border, following ideas cut out of her magazines. Suddenly, Debbie felt a flutter of panic. It would happen, of course it would, sooner or later Sandy would leave for that new home, having met an Andrew or a Mark, a Steve or a Kev or a Phil, and when she did, Debbie would be by herself. She had no idea how she might cope.


The streets were empty, just as before. Away on the main road, there was the noise of light traffic, the occasional lorry, the first bus, but she saw no one else walking along the pavements or even riding a bike to an early shift somewhere. Two of Dava’s special cards were in her fleece pocket and she carried a small torch, the size and shape of a credit card, but which had an intense beam that shone a surprising distance ahead of her. She had seen it in a gift shop in Starly when she had been buying a scented candle which Dava had said would purify her room and help to concentrate and focus her thoughts.


She scarcely needed the torch through the avenues and crescents towards the path, but once she was on the track at the foot of the Hill she switched it on, determined not to be caught out and frightened half to death by a rabbit or a stray dog like the last time.


But nothing about this morning was like the last time. The air smelled soft and fresh, the feel of the ground beneath her feet steadied her, and she climbed easily up the track. As her torch beam picked out the Wern Stones, she went happily towards them and when she reached one, put out her hand and touched its cold damp surface, then ran it down to where there was a slight unevenness and roughness. The ancient stones had been there aeons of time, nobody knew how long or why they were there, but Debbie imagined them being in place maybe even at the beginning of the world. She felt its heaviness pressed into the earth and how the strength of ages was coming to her through it. How could she have been afraid that other time when she had been in the charmed circle of the Wern Stones? She turned and looked up at the sky. There was a thin line of light at the horizon. She felt suddenly excited. Imagine how it must be at Starly Tor or Stonehenge at dawn on the midsummer solstice. Well, she would discover in June when she would be there with all the others, dancing and celebrating the birth of the light. From somewhere below, she heard a faint whistle. The dog walkers came here early too, but it was still too dark to make out any figures.


She climbed on, past the bushes and undergrowth where she had been so terrified before, but this time, pointing her torch beam right into them and seeing nothing but innocent twisted roots and branches, briers and brambles and scrub and rabbit holes. On and up. She was getting out of breath now. Dava had told her that she must learn to feel when her body was right, her weight in tune with her height, her emotions, her spirit, learn to sense everything about herself for herself. Since going on the organic wholefood diet she had already lost a few pounds, though she had not been able to give up the chocolate bars or biscuits yet, and felt for one now in her pocket, stripped down the metallic wrap and bit deep into it. Dr Deerbon had said she had no idea and nor did anybody else really whether chocolate made a bad skin worse, though she had suggested Debbie try and cut down the amount she ate gradually. OK, so she had cut it down. Well, a bit.


Now the light was strengthening steadily. She had almost reached the top of the Hill, where the great circle of ancient oaks stood, a landmark for the whole of Lafferton. The bare branches stirred slightly, making a dry noise and the breeze moved Debbie’s hair. There was a stone bench, just a slab placed across two other slabs and she sat, turned towards the east and the lightening sky, now tinted faintly rose red in a thin line where it joined the dark earth. She was acutely, thrillingly conscious that this was her own special time, when she was most keenly in tune with the forces, the universe, the natural world, the harmony of the spheres … things she did not fully understand but which she was sure she could now sense. She would always find this time her strength and her solace, she would recharge her energies and plan for the future, place herself in the guiding hand of the light. She could hear Dava’s voice as he had spoken on and on so softly in her ear as she had lain on the couch, like a stream flowing and never pausing, never changing its rhythm.


The light filled out in the sky, creeping over the darkness and dissolving it, and then the rim of the sun and the rose-red flush came gradually up over the edge of the world. Debbie held her breath. From somewhere just ahead of her in the trees a bird began to sing, though she had no idea what bird it was. Later, in the spring, she knew there would be a chorus of birds and that people came up here just to hear them. She wasn’t sure if she would like that. She wanted this place, in her time, to herself.


Somewhere on the lower slopes, far down, she heard a whistle. She could make out the cathedral clearly now, the stone tower touched by the rising sun. It was amazing. The world was being recreated before her eyes, as if it had been dead and was coming back to life, or like a picture that was being painted by some invisible hand as she looked on.


She took out the cards and read them, then read the invocations aloud, though quietly, feeling slightly foolish.


‘My time,’ she said joyfully, ‘this is my time.’


Sandy would be getting up now, pottering into the bathroom in her crisp lemon-coloured dressing gown, turning on the dodgy hot-water heater for her shower. The ordinary day was beginning. For ordinary people, Debbie thought suddenly, because she had a sudden, strange sense of not being ordinary, not being like others, all those people in their little houses and flats and cars and bungalows below her in Lafferton, but being different, chosen, picked out for special knowledge, given special, privileged insights. She was not the same old overweight unhappy Debbie Parker with a bad skin, she was Dava’s chosen one, a hand had been laid on her and she was transformed.


She wanted to sing.


She was also hungry and needed to go to the loo. The dawn was up, her special time was over. She slipped the torch in her pocket and headed joyfully back down the track.


At the bottom, as she turned on to the path, she recognised the white van, parked at a funny angle across it. Her heart lurched. She was sure, sure, this was the van that had been driven by the man who had come to her rescue, the one who had driven away and vanished, not human but angelic. She stopped.


Someone seemed to be half slumped on the front seat, almost hanging out of the open van door. There was no movement at all.


Either the man was leaning in to fiddle with something down near the foot pedals, as he might if the van had broken down, or he was hurt or had been taken ill.


She went nearer and pushed herself between the open van door and the bushes, thinking quickly, wondering if she should run for help or shout, whether she knew how to give first aid. That she ought to help him she had no doubt, just as he had helped her. He had come to her rescue, and seen her safe and now she had come to his.


The branches of the hedge fell back and she was beside his legs as he lay across the front seat of the van, but then he moved, pulling himself quickly backwards with a single strong movement. So it was the van then, not him. She felt very relieved, realising that she had been dreading what she might have found, blood, or him dead of a heart attack.


He stood upright and looked straight at her, smiling. It was him.


‘Hello, Debbie,’ he said.


She didn’t stand a chance, caught by surprise and off balance as he knew she would be. One minute she was standing there, full of concern, about to speak, the next he had her in a swift and powerful armlock. He bent her neck backwards, tipping her off her feet in the same well-rehearsed, confident movement. Debbie felt a moment of astonishment, a second of excruciating pain, and then the sky was a black vortex filled with burning stars and her body was rising and falling again, rising and falling. The pain was everything she was and the darkness something to fall into. One thing she did not feel, had not had a chance to feel before everything happened, was fear.


Three minutes later, her body was cooling in the refrigerated container section of the van, as it was driven away at a careful, steady speed, off the path, and out on to the main road.


The Whipple Drive Business Park on the outskirts of Lafferton had been built just over a year previously and contained well-designed and spaced-out units of various kinds, including fully equipped offices in two-storey blocks, together with some smaller storage units and lock-up garages. The whole was pleasantly landscaped, with sloping lawns and newly established rowan trees.


The white van drove down the still-empty service road, and turned right at the far end, to where the block of cabin units gave out on to the perimeter fence and beyond, to the waste ground leading to the main railway line. The last unit was the largest, and had its entrance at the side. There was a small office in the front and a large area behind, to which the van backed up. The doors were opened, then those of the unit, revealing steel runners on to which the refrigerated box containing Debbie Parker’s body was rolled straight to the back. Then the doors were closed and double-locked again, and the van driven into the garage.


From there an inner door led through to the unit.


In the office, with its door marked FLETCHER EUROPEAN AGENCIES, he switched on the fluorescent overhead lights, and then the percolator.


While the coffee was brewing, he slipped off his jacket and shoes, opened a metal locker, and took out a set of green overalls and a pair of rubber overshoes. The cream slatted blind was permanently pulled down, hiding any view of the office and its occupants from the path outside, though there were rarely any passers-by.


He sat calmly at the desk drinking the hot, arabica roast. It was seven ten. He had an hour in which he could do some preliminary work and before he would have to leave the unit for the rest of the day – work which he could not wait to do. That was partly why he went through the ritual of making the fresh coffee, to spin out this first excitement, as well as to calm himself after the dangerous few moments on the path at the bottom of the Hill. Here he felt safe, here he was on his own territory, in charge. There, anything might go wrong, within split seconds; nothing much ever had, though the young mountain biker had been difficult, strong and agile. That one had made him sweat.

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