MACKENZIE'S COTTAGE: Part 4 (for parts 1,2 & 3 scroll down)
The storm seemed a lot worse in the wood; a continuous roar was coming from the trees, and bits of old twigs and grit swirled all around us.
"Which way?" I yelled back over my shoulder.
"Not sure." Johnny yelled back.
I stopped in my tracks. Dead.
Johnny collided into my back. Marty into Johnny.
I turned round to face them. To face Johnny.
"What do you mean?...not sure."
"I mean, I'm not sure. I've not been in here anymore than you have...but it must be that way," he pointed off to the right. "I'm certain the orchard's over there someplace."
Marty had been standing beside us, rubbing his brow where he had banged it hard against the back of Johnny's head. He stepped forward. "I don't think that's right Johnny," he said. "I think the orchard is more that way." He pointed to the left.
"Great." I said.
Lightning flashed, for a few seconds the trees around us stood out in bright sharp-edged relief before skulking back into the darkness. Johnny's eyes grew wide and he said something, but the words were lost in the loud clap of thunder that cracked above our heads.
I followed his gaze.
At first I could see nothing, the wind was blowing the dust into my eyes, blurring my vision.
Then I saw it.
It sat in the middle of a small clearing: more of a shack than a cottage really. Its walls were crafted from wood. Black roofing-felt, ripped from its fastenings, flapped at the guttering. Dull windows: broken and dirty. The front door lay flat on the ground, torn from its hinges.
I heard a sharp intake of breath beside me. Marty.
That's when the rain decided to fall. Huge drenching drops, ice cold. Drops as big as fifty-pence pieces and just as hard. Before we could blink more than twice the three of us were soaked from head to toe. My tee-shirt clung to me like an extra layer of skin and my jeans tightened up around my legs.
"Cosmic." I muttered. So much for beating the storm home.
Johnny turned to face me.
"There's only one thing to do," he shouted over the howl of the wind. "Shelter in the cottage 'til the storm dies down."
I shook my head. "Uh huh! No way Johnny. No frigging way." But I might as well have saved my breath, Johnny didn't even wait for an answer. He darted off across the clearing and the next second was swallowed up by the dark gaping doorway.
I turned to Marty.
He glanced at me, glanced at the cottage, shrugged, and followed Johnny, leaving me standing on my own in the wind and rain. Surrounded by the roaring trees. Roaring trees that at any moment might vomit up the shuffling hump-backed ghost of Algernon Mackenzie. His one good eye fixed on my face.
I bolted, my feet hardly touching the ground. As I burst in over the threshold, Johhny grinned. He was leaning against the wall beside the door, smoking the last of our cigarettes. "Nice of you to join us," he said. Smug.
"I do not think this is a good idea." I scanned the dim passage. "Not a good idea at all."
Marty was sitting on the small narrow staircase directly opposite the doorway. Shivering. Green eyes wide in his pale face, ginger hair plastered to his scalp. He looked as edgy as I felt.
"Aw, come on Pete," said Johnny. "We'd have got soaked if we'd stayed out there."
I gave a sharp derogative laugh. "Oh? Right? Like we're not already?" I tugged my sodden tee-shirt away from my chest and then let it go again. It slapped back against my skin with a cold squelching sound. I walked across to Marty.
"Budge over." I said.
Marty bum-shuffled up a couple of steps and I sat down in his place; three stairs up from the bottom, my feet resting on the first tread.
Over by the door Johnny was staring out at the storm. I noticed the container of bait he had been carrying tossed to the floor. The lid had come off and a few of the ragworm had crawled out. They pooled together in a writhing heap on the bare boards. One or two fell through a knothole into the darkness beneath. But no, that wasn't right. They weren't falling. They were being sucked in, much as someone would suck in spaghetti. I frowned.
Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked. With it came the ear-splitting scream of splintering timber. A tree must have been struck and felled. I covered my ears with my hands as the noise swelled to an unbearable crescendo. The step I was sitting on began to vibrate and I realised that the sound wasn't coming from outside at all.
It was coming from inside the cottage.
TO BE CONTINUED....