THE WINDMILL by K Lewis Adair
K Lewis Adair
A pungent smell of wet earth pervaded as the dampness reached deep inside to scrape at their bones. An unbearable coldness numbed their legs as they crouched low in the shallow, mucky, water-filled ditch. Their eyes strained, searching in the darkness for shadows and silhouettes. Farther down the trackway, balls of light emanated from torches, arching from one side to the other, scanning intently for something or someone who must be found. All her senses were alert as she concentrated on every movement. Her chest pounded, and she experienced such anxiety, never felt in her life before, knowing she must keep control, not for herself but for the sake of those beside her. She tenderly squeezed the arm of the child beside her, sensing his heart quicken.
‘Be strong,’ she whispered as she listened to the faint voices gather around the light on the track. The whimper of the child next to her told her it was time to move on. These conditions would not allow them to stay here much longer and the danger was imminent. She bent forward, feeling for the hand of Freya, and fumbled until she touched her face, drawing her near.
‘Comfort the children. Keep them quiet, no matter how cold or uncomfortable they become; this is imperative for their safety.’ She took a deep breath to evade any signs of nervousness. ‘I’m going further up the ditch on my own.’
‘No argument, Freya! For the sake of the children. I know what I must do. Stay here whatever happens and at dawn creep back into the coppice. Follow the treeline and do not come out. Do not go on the trackway. Move quietly and quickly. Do not stop until you reach the edge of the forest. There, seek cover but remain alert and wait, no matter how long… until you are safe. Do you hear me?’
Her breath shallow, she nodded in compliance.
‘I will see you again… someday, I promise.’
With those final words, she reached over once more, this time to kiss her on the forehead, whilst letting go of her clenched hand.
The young boy next to her had attached himself to her, his hand encircling her arm as if in an iron vice. He only relinquished his grip as she prised open his fingers and placed his hand in Freya’s and patted his shoulder to comfort him. Aware of his tears and the fear he exuded, she kissed him softly. The emotion rising inside her was becoming overwhelming, and she turned and thrust her hand into the bitter cold water of the ditch before any of the other children would notice; the striking pain tore away at any sentiments of weakness that would have broken her only a moment ago. Not only for their sake, she did this, but for her own sanity.
Numbed by the gelid conditions, her legs and feet, almost paralysed, would not respond. One after the other, slowly she moved each limb, trying to be quiet; she needed to cause a distraction, but not here… further away.
At last, her limbs, although still leaden, were able to function without her dragging them and she grabbed the edge of the bank, digging her nails into the drenched grass, and cautiously pulled herself up. From here she could again see the light from the torches in the distance. The mud-sodden trackway appeared empty. With all her might, she heaved her listless body out of the ditch and scrambled to her feet. Still awkward and clumsy, she managed to cross the track.
On the other side, the ditch wasn’t as deep or wet and she manoeuvred herself into it, aware that behind her was a steep climb up through the trees. The view from here gave a better vantage on what was materialising, and she became alarmed at the proximity of the torchbearers to the location of the children and Freya.
A sudden commotion started amongst the searchers, and the shadows appeared to advance up the track. With no time for hesitancy, there was only one thing to do, and her body surged into action, pumping adrenaline through her, forcing her to launch herself without care onto the trackway and stand in the darkness. Through the mist she viewed the silhouettes congregate near the ditch, opened her mouth to scream… nothing.
Desperate and with no control of her panic, she took another breath and let forth a soul-terrifying shriek born of true frustration.
And it worked.
Surprised at the cry exploding from her, soaring down the track to catch the attention of the intent searchers. Frozen to the spot now, unafraid; defiant, she refused to move. The swathes of light stabbed in the darkness as bursts of sound reverberated up the track… within seconds the pursuers converged around her.
Relief came to her in this moment, knowing she’d drawn them away from the ditch. For the sake of the children, she remained standing exactly where she was, determined. Not seeing anything… but the lucent, blinding light.
SATURDAY, 13TH AUGUST 2005
Panic rose within, her heart quickened; motionless she was aware of the lights that travelled towards her, bringing with them an impending sense of danger…
A loud noise awoke her as she stirred, alert to a physical sensation of fear that remained in her body; trying to focus, she listened. The knocking emanated from the hallway.
‘Hold on… coming.’ Today was a day off and, happy in a sound sleep, Ginny pushed back the quilt reluctantly and draped her listless body on the edge of the bed. The rapping on the door continued.
‘Wait a minute.’ In desperation, she shuffled around the bedroom on one leg, trying to co-ordinate the other into her grey jogging bottoms. She pulled on her blue T-shirt with the shimmering motif of ‘Sexy Babe’ broadcast across the front of it, clipped up her hair and shouted, ‘On my way,’ as the knocking persisted.
Plodding up the hallway, she saw the silhouette of a person through the frosted glass of the door. Letters lay halfway along the hall floor. Ginny opened the door to reveal a grumpy, bearded postman, pointing to a brown envelope.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
He glanced at her T-shirt and Ginny felt a little embarrassed by her ridiculous nightwear.
‘Sign here for this,’ the postman snorted in a disgruntled manner.
Rather bemused, she peered at the mail as well as him.
After a few moments fumbling in his sack, he presented her with a half-mauled biro to scribble a signature.
‘Gee, thanks.’ She handed the sad implement back to the disinterested face, bid a hasty retreat and slammed the door.
The remainder of the projectile post she picked up and headed to the front room.
A warm, gentle breeze agitated the living-room curtains as it ebbed through the open window caressing Ginny’s face. The summer air smelt sweet to her as it teased loose a curl from the rest of her shoulder-length blonde hair. Still holding the other post, she now dropped them on the table, as she was in no rush to open these; she knew what they would reveal: the bank statement telling her she did not have enough money and the electricity bill needing to be paid. Predictable! But then she paused, noting the postmark on the brown envelope. Curious, she thought, then yawned. Before dealing with this one she sensed her faculties needed to be recharged; she required a stimulating drink.
The previous evening Ginny had been excited to catch up with her friends Megan and Alistair, having not seen them for ages, not since her grandmother’s funeral. Both of them worked and lived in Glasgow, where she had met them at university.
At her suggestion they arranged to meet at The Hogs Head pub in town. Whilst sat waiting she remembered an old chap – said he went to school here in the 1940s. How strange, Ginny thought, you could buy a pint in it now. The memories for him were different to hers, but the building still endured.
Each enjoyed the time catching up. Meg and Al were like a brother and sister to her. With no siblings of her own, this greatly comforted her. What a trio they were. Although sometimes Ginny admitted being a little envious of their relationship; it was clear they were so in love. So far lasting romantic partnerships had eluded her.
As the evening came to a close, they promised they must do this again. It had been such fun. On arriving home, she had switched on the television in search of a good old black-and-white film, which she loved, and it was three o’clock in the morning before she got to bed.
The lid plunged down on the cafetière, exuding such an aroma of coffee to her senses, her taste buds tingled with anticipation. This was one pleasure in her life and her mother often commented on her insatiable thirst for the ‘awakening fluid’. Now content, she turned her attention again to the curious letter as she sauntered into the living room.
The franking mark on the letter showed it came from London, Cartwright, Appleby & Sons. Perplexed, Ginny could not think of anyone who would be sending her mail from London. She ripped open the envelope. Inside, she could see a formal letter, carefully folded into three. Opening it, the address revealed a solicitor in Amsterdam: Stelling, Olly and van Horst, Rembrandt House, Westerdoksdjik. It stated that Miss Virginia Faulkner had been bequeathed a property in Hampshire:
Pound Green Lane,
‘What? Never heard of the place!’ Also, the letter added, the person bestowing the property was a Miss Florence van Hassel. Ginny gazed at it in astonishment, muttering to herself in complete disbelief.
‘Who the hell is Florence van Hassel?’
Further down, she recognised her grandmother’s name: Edith Bartlett! What was she doing here? And her maiden name: née van Hassell.
Ginny hadn’t known her grannie’s maiden name. Was it really van Hassell? If so, she must be related to this Florence?
On reading further, the property had been left to her on the death of her grandma. Ginny stopped as her memories flooded back to the sad day.
In May that year, on her eightieth birthday, Grandma Edith had looked and felt great, a strong, fit woman, who always said the women in this family were ‘tough old girls!’ Her sudden and unexpected death a few weeks later came as a surprise to everyone. Edith’s condition had deteriorated; she relapsed, suffered from another heart attack and slipped into a coma, one from which she would not recover. That evening, as the rain splashed against the hospital window, she’d passed away.
To stop the rising emotion, Ginny swallowed hard and carried on reading. Edith Bartlett had been a trustee for the property. She was still unable to comprehend this; nobody ever mentioned any house in Hampshire. What did Grandma have to do with this?
It was all so bewildering. The name van Hassel she considered with curiosity whilst re-reading the letter.
‘What is Grandma’s connection to this name, to this Florence?’
As she sat with these thoughts mulling around in her head, she recollected an unusual conversation at the crematorium. Although, at the time it made no sense, she overheard an elderly relative saying to someone, ‘What a shame Edith never put the past to rest, and “you know who” just vanished that spring all those years ago.’ Of course, this had sounded like complete nonsense to Ginny, who thought nothing of it, but now, on further thought, could it have something to do with this Florence? What did they mean by not putting the past to rest? There were more questions than answers at the moment.
‘I’ve been given a property by someone I’ve never heard of. This can’t be happening.’
Struck by something not yet absorbed, she looked again at the information. Part of the inheritance was dependent on her birthdate. Not the year, but the actual date 7th March 1975. And it stated, the estate should only go to the beneficiary if their date of birth matched this criterion. How very odd, she thought; it would appear her birthdate had more to do with her receiving the property than an actual preference for her.
The rest of the letter explained, in legal jargon, she had only fourteen days from the receipt of the letter to notify the London solicitors of her intentions. If she did not contact them or collect the keys to the property, the house would go back into a trust until the Dutch solicitors received additional instructions. In signing for the registered mail this morning, Ginny, without realising it, started the clock ticking.
Stunned, Ginny stared over at her lamp as a myriad of colours caught her eye as the sun’s rays refracted through the Tiffany-styled lampshade. She remembered it was a special purchase. In fact, the first item she bought on moving in to the red sandstone tenement apartment in Glasgow.
Three years ago, she decided to put down roots. Now she was secure in her job as assistant archivist in the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, a job she had been fortunate to get. Her many voluntary hours working as an undergraduate, and an excellent first-class degree in Anthropology and Ancient Studies, had assisted her in acquiring the post.
She adored what she did but had to admit it may have put a strain on her relationships. Although she was fond of her partners and cared for them, they never worked out. Something deep down was always missing. So, at twenty-seven, she’d purchased the flat. Now thirty, it was her pride and joy.
On moving in, the place had been run down, but with careful planning and hard work, Ginny decorated her home the way she wanted: in contemporary art deco style. The period was so inspirational to her, but she did not know why; so, she returned the apartment tastefully to how she thought it wanted to be. Ginny believed in a synergy with things in life. Such thoughts brought back happy memories for her.
However, this morning’s post required her mother Annie’s input to help explain things, so she decided to call her.
After a period, the phone transferred to voicemail. The monotone voice sounded in her ear. ‘The person is not available now; please leave a message after the tone.’
‘Hi, Mum, only me… just calling for a bit of a catch-up. How are you? I’ll ring again later. Oh, and one thing I need to talk to you about, is that I received a rather unusual letter today, which I don’t really understand… Chat to you soon. Bye.’
Confused by this morning’s events, Ginny walked through to the kitchen. To work something out, the apartment usually got a good clean, and thrashing around scrubbing, polishing, washing, bleaching and vacuuming helped her to organise her head.
After an hour, it would be fair to say her home shone. However, she had still not arrived at any conclusion – none whatsoever. This day had proven so far to be perplexing. Nothing about the correspondence made any sense at all. Her confusion was now intermingled with the smell of cleaning products. Odours of bleach and polish followed her, and she elected she needed a shower.
A little while later, refreshed and smelling far more fragrant, she pulled on her skinny jeans. Comfortable, her long slim legs suited them. She threw on a black T-shirt and a little make-up – usually a small streak of black eyeliner which highlighted her green eyes. Before putting on her sandals, she brushed her blonde hair, then slung her bag over her shoulder, checking for her mobile phone and keys. She pulled closed the front door and headed down the stairs, through the tenement Close and emerged into the sunshine of the street.
SATURDAY, 13TH AUGUST 2005
Annie threw her keys on the kitchen worktop and placed her shopping on the floor. She slipped off her shoes as she made her way to the fridge.
‘Yes,’ she said, reaching in with anticipation, and grabbed the cold bottle of Bombay Sapphire. She poured it into a tall glass, then added the tonic. With crushed ice and a chunk of lime, the job was done. So refreshing after a long day shopping; she looked at an array of many-coloured bags sat on the floor.
‘Crikey, what have I bought?’
Earlier that morning, Annie caught the train into London from Hemel Hempstead. She had arranged to meet her dear friend Heather outside Selfridges in Oxford Street. Thank goodness, as Heather always knew what to wear and for all the right occasions.
First stop had been Oddono’s café for that essential cup of tea.
‘Why are we shopping today, Annie?’ Heather asked. ‘What’s the occasion?’
‘Well, after this stint away with his business, Ben promised to take me on holiday to the South of France. “Let your bohemian heart run free,” he said, “but remember you might need a few more conventional outfits to eat out.”’
Heather gasped. ‘In all the years I’ve known you, Annie Bartlett-Faulkner, I can’t believe my ears… conventional, you!’ And thus, the shopping spree had begun.
Annie strolled into the dining room, opened the French doors to the garden, and placed her drink and crisps on the patio table. Sitting down, she swung her bare feet onto the table. The sweetness of the juniper berry was inviting as she sipped her drink. Ben was away and she rarely drank, but tonight she thought, Why not? He wouldn’t mind. No one could have cared for her and Ginny like he did; he was the best husband ever. Conservative at times, but nobody ever loved her as much as he did – she knew this.
Total Words: 2993.