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Hush! . . . its story time.




Copyright 2000 by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims

An owl floated softly on a gentle downwind, its ghostly white under feathers a reflection of the half moon suspended in a flawless dark night. So silent was its flight, and so pale its appearance that it might have been the only cloud in an otherwise smooth black sky, or it might have been some long lost soul, confined to solitary nocturnal habit, haunting the lanes and thefields of an English countryside.

It swooped and rose, as the breeze and its hunger dictated. Crying out just once, as it plunged into the field of wheat, it's plaintive sound ended abruptly as it gripped its victim, and the creature it believed it had captured turned, and became the captor.

In the morning the field was silent, the wheat flowing like waves on a sea in the dawn whisper of wind. The wheat was coming ripe for harvest, the fat ears almost ready for the plucking, the field all but prepared to yield its annual crop. On one side woods ran down to the brook by the meadow, the trees marking the far boundary. On the near side of the field,the lawns of Moreton Manor grazed the wheat, the manicured green edges an attractive counterpoint to the yellow corn, and the nettles, cowslip, and daisy that grew amongst it.

Sarah Lamb turned over in the double bed, forgetting in just a moment of regret, that she was alone. She had left the warmth of a sleeping companion behind when she had left London the previous night. Perhaps she would entice Amanda back into her bed, and her life, perhaps not; it was too early for predictions after the betrayal.

She stood from the bed, the sheets dishevelled from her waking anger rather than a disturbed sleep, and walked to the window. She had no idea why she had come here, though when she needed some peace and solitude to reflect and make her next move, this would always be the place she chose.

The surroundings were quiet enough, and the scene she contemplated as she sat on the window seat seemed ideal for the restoration of injured spirit.

In the distance the woods, a symphony of birdsong evident even from this far away. Once she would have been able to distinguish the different species, the sparrow, the lark, possibly a woodpecker, the swallows, but now she heard only the beauty of it without the knowledge of the lost memory. The field, of course, was still here, its growth and death each year a memory she would never lose.

She could see the Manor house itself; seventeenth century with later additions and modernisations, all kept with immaculate precision by a team of local people maintained on a contract of necessity. The house had about ten bedrooms if she remembered correctly, with countless rooms downstairs of which the main drawing room, and the dining room - well banqueting hall was a more apt description - were the most used ones. The weathered red brick of the walls of the main house were pleasing to the eye, and were complemented by the aged yellow brickwork and darkened timbers of the smaller outbuildings where various farm machinery and motor vehicles were kept, unless habit had been changed dramatically since she had been away. The grounds immediately surrounding the house were of pristine gravel, neatly tailored flowerbeds, and carefully maintained lawn. She had been allocated one of the guest suites in one of the outbuildings.

Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she looked for its source. It was some moments before she saw him, walking, long legs striding purposefully through the wheat field. He looked as if he had spent the night there, his ivory coloured shirt and trousers crumpled and stained, and yet he still looked as magnificent as the first time she had met him.

It was ten years ago, and she was on the brink of leaving University for a career in something vaguely artistic. He had been in and around a group at her art classes, yet whenever she tried to get near to him, to speak to him, he was gone. Of course Kim got to know him, ‘very well’ as she once boasted, but then Kim always had to have whatever was considered favourite, at the top, or the trend of the moment.

Sad - though Sarah had considered it poetic justice at the time - that Kim had lost her ability to translate her talent for painting when the road crash left her paralysed. The exhibition was Kim's great, and as it transpired only, moment of artistic triumph. Easily the best creative talent in her year she had been granted a one person show at a small gallery in central London, quite a coup even then. As Sarah wandered around, gazing enviously at the canvasses, bold colours and abstract patterns being the basis of most of them, shecouldn't help wishing she possessed just a modicum of the freedom of expression to commit her feelings to public view.

“It's merely a case of conquering your natural inhibitions.” It was him, the man she had seen but never met.

She smiled enigmatically; even then able to cloak her emotions with words, “Am I inhibited?”

His smile was more restrained, as if it was a physical reflex he was still learning. “Kim isn’t though is she? Or at least that’s what her paintings suggest.”

They were standing in front of a huge abstract nude in purple and yellow. “You'll be telling me next this is Kim.”

He turned away as if to leave her. She was amazed at the stab of pain that simple action caused her. Then he turned and beckoned to her. “No actually it's me. Stylised to an extent of course. Kim was naked as well, she painted it after we made love.”

Sarah blushed, which made her angry, and with her anger came a sudden rush of resentment. “Is she uninhibited in bed as well?” She tried to sound blasé but failed. His hand on her bare arm felt warm, and the warmth seemed to flow into her veins, causing her head to spin a little. “No, her true openness she shares with her canvasses. You, however…”

The hotel was not quite seedy, but would never be considered up market. The room was clean, and the bed freshly made. If inhibition was the subject they both passed with flying colours. Sarah felt his hands on parts of her body she had yet to speak openly about. She took him in her mouth, and lavished positions of wild display upon him. Their nakedness was natural and without a mask of coyness; but it also lacked true passion. He was athletic and demanding, yet his ardour seemed as if it had been learned, and was still being tested. It was something acquired rather than an emotion to be experienced.

Sarah shivered and pulled the window closed. The field was empty now, David Helmore had disappeared from sight just as he had disappeared from her life ten years ago, their one afternoon of delights repeated, it seemed move for move and never a position deviated from, on six more occasions over the next year, and then nothing. They stayed in touch, and she was able to follow his progress, but there was nothing more intimate between them. He never explained, apart from one grudging, “We are both still growing. You need to find who you really are.”

“What about you? I suppose the-in-control David Helmore knows who he is?”

“I know what I am going to be, and what I need to get there. Who isn't important. We are all the sum of many different parts. Don't you agree?”

It was a glorious day outside. The sun shone through the curtains of her room, making shadows play and dance on the wall behind her. She owed Mary Moreton an explanation for her sudden appearance last night, and a thank you for the grace with which she was unquestionably given a room. She dressed quickly after a shower and went down into the courtyard.

She had known the Moreton's for years. They had been friends of her parents, both running small farms in the Devon heartland, and after her parents' death in a boating accident off the Salcombe coast she had been as welcome to stay at the Manor as she had been at her own family home. Mary and her husband Bill, were old-fashioned in many ways but they had helped and guided her through many difficult decisions, not least of which was her setting up home with Amanda. Sarah knew her parents wouldn't have been so stoical about it. Yet Mary and Bill had calmly discussed the good and bad side of setting up home with anyone, and the social and emotional issues they handled rationally.

The flowerbeds were crammed with roses, fuchsia, clumps of perennials, spreading cotoneaster, whilst the walls of the buildings over flowed with clematis and vines. The edges of the lawns were neatly clipped, meeting the gravel paths with almost military precision. Bill's work Sarah smiled; Mary would always aspire to a more informal approach.

She opened and went through the main front door, knowing she had no need of the formalities of knocking or ringing the bell. The predominant smell was of rich furniture polish. Fresh flowers were collected in crystal vases on an oak refectory table in the centre of the main hall. From the hall, the floor a lake of polished wood panelling, doors led to the rooms of the house. It was from one of these that Mary Moreton appeared.

“Sarah!” She exclaimed with genuine delight and hugged the younger woman to her, in a display of what Sarah realised later, was a desperate plea for help.

A trifle breathless from the embrace Sarah held Mary's shoulders in her hands to enable her to look at her old friend. She had lost weight, and the years seemed to be hanging heavily upon her. In fact Sarah was quite shocked at the difference in Mary's appearance since she had last seen her, only six months or so ago, as spring blossomed.

Mary sensed the effect her appearance had on Sarah, and she tried to make light of it. “Now don't fuss dear. After all it's you we need to attend to, sort out whatever it is has brought you home in the middle of the night.”

Strange that even now Sarah thought of Moreton Manor as her home. In a way even when her own family home was somewhere she could visit, before the accident and the farm was sold off, she would still naturally gravitate here. The reason was Mary Moreton herself, and her refreshing lack of disapproval at the events that struck Sarah’s life.

“You don't look well, Mary. Is everything all right?”

Mary turned away, a trickle of a tear in the corner of one eye. Involuntarily she glanced at a photograph, framed and hanging on the wall. It was of a middle-aged man seated astride a huge hunter, the pair in unison as they leapt a hedge and ditch combination at the county fair.

Sarah saw the glance and knew at once that the trouble concerned Bill Moreton. “What's happened?”

Mary sighed. “He's not been right for a while now. The fall from the horse seems to have knocked the stuffing out of him. You know Bill, always falling off the blasted animals, but always getting back on and riding off.”

Sarah laughed. “He once said he felt more comfortable in a saddle than in an armchair.”

“Well, he won't be riding again.”

Sarah was shocked. To a man like Bill Moreton that was the last thing he would concede. “What happened?”

Mary recited it as if it was a liturgy learned at school. “He was showing David some moves, they were both on horseback, they galloped out of my sight and I got on with potting the bedding plants. Then David came back, and Bill didn't. He had fallen at the entrance to the woods, where the field narrows and there's that gully, you know the one. The ambulance men said he needed to get to hospital, and the tests showed it was his back. Broken and twisted in a way that means…well he may walk in time, but not for a while.”

The full impact of what Mary was saying wouldn't hit Sarah until later and for now all she could say was inane. “When I saw the gardens I smiled. It's all so neat, just like Bill likes. I assumed he had done it.”

“No, David had helped out. He's been a blessing.”

The name stabbed at Sarah in a way she had forgotten. Although she had seen him earlier in the field, and was somehow not surprised at seeing him, she hadn't known he would be here. Why should he be? His presence was fate in a kind of way. She was running from one relationship and here he was, the man she had never really recovered from.

Before she could ask Mary about him, Mary was saying, “David has helped with the horses as well. He's as good a rider as Bill now, so at least Bill taught his last pupil well.”

Apparently Bill Moreton had suffered a bad night and was still sleeping, so Mary and Sarah breakfasted together in the west conservatory and the conversation skirted any important issues as they both seemed to want to cosset themselves with some warm safety for a while.

Eventually Sarah grew restless and as ever Mary picked up on her mood. “He's in the stable barn, we converted it into a studio for him in the winter. The light is perfect so he says.”

“How long has he been here then?” Sarah couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. She had imagined that like she David was just passing through.

Mary drank some tea, which from the look on her face was cold, or bitter. “Oh, forever, my dear.” A sigh. “Forever.”

As she got nearer to the old stable barn, Sarah could see that the recent renovations that Mary had mentioned had turned it into a far more grand building than she remembered. The roof had been completely removed and replaced by glass panels through which the early morning sun was shining as though on the righteous. The glass panels were held in place by metal struts that seemed to be stainless steel. One whole side of the barn was now glass too, although a blind had been drawn across it, for privacy or protection from the sun's rays, Sarah couldn't tell. The remaining walls had been improved so that the crumbling brickwork was repaired but still looked aged, and the wood had clearly been enhanced so that it retained its appearance of age, but was solid resistance now against the elements.

Though they had not enjoyed a conventional relationship since their early years, Sarah had maintained contact with David to the extent that she entered the barn comfortably enough without knocking. He stood by a washbasin, naked; water that she knew would be ice cold, flowing over his shoulders. She watched as he, unaware so she thought of her presence, moved his hands swiftly and economically over the muscles of his back and legs. When his hands moved to the front of his body she coughed, a smile playing on her lips.

He turned then and in the rays of light reflected through the glass ceiling, and with dust motes, and the thin smoke from incense sticks on a table, it seemed for an instant as if his body was covered in fine downy fur, rather than skin. The hard musculature that she had seen on his back was less pronounced on his chest, where, obscured by the movement of his body and her unclear vision, the impression was of a pale white smoothness.

As soon as the impression was in her mind it was gone again as he casually folded a towel around his waist and approached her. He kissed her cheek, offering a quick embrace, and the skin of his chest, and the rest of his body was as she remembered it, but more so.

If he was surprised to see her he gave no indication. He seemed to revel in her uninhibited survey of his body, turning in different positions to her, even forming a mock model's pose on a couple of occasions, a smile on his face. That too seemed different from her memory. The face was his but there seemed to be softer lines in it, a slightly less hooked nose, hair that flopped down on the forehead in a more easy style than before. There were features of his face that reminded her of someone else. It was as if he had the best bits from two different faces, his own and… “So, Sarah, has the little liaison filtered out?” He always mocked her relationships with women, and the one serious one, with Amanda, he allowed full range of sarcasm and amused pity.

Sarah tried to be as casual as she could but it was obviously an act. It was never easy maintaining her composure in his presence. In equal measure she wanted to slap him and sleep with him. There was an arrogance about him that offended her but attracted her. His words were cruel but alluring, and she knew why she had stayed within striking distance of his life for so long, seeking out mention of him in newspapers and from friends and acquaintances.

She picked up a sketchpad; its pages turned and dog-eared. “Is this why you're here? For the inspiration?”

He pulled the towel from his waist and used it to ruffle his hair. “Her style lasted for a while, but it got a little repetitive; all those colours and patterns, so eighties. One has to expand ones talent, darling.” He affected a mock critical tone and even though her name wasn't mentioned Sarah knew whom he meant.

“Do you ever see her?”

“What ever for? No, I have no need to see her these days. She gave me what I wanted. Oh, don't look so shocked, I gave her what she needed at the time, and I don't mean just a hot few hours in a sleazy hotel.”

The anger flashed in her eyes before it found voice in words. “At least I never gave you anything of mine, at least nothing lasting. Not like Kim.”

He smiled and pulled on a pair of linen trousers. “Time is infinite Sarah my love.” He poured some water into a kettle and lit a match under the gas. Then he busied himself with cups and saucers.

She flicked over some canvasses leaning against a dresser. The style was instantly recognisable as the firm direction he had taken Kim's earlier ideas and woven from them a mood of his own, which had gained him international applause.

“What are you doing here, David? Mary tells me you've been staying a while.”

The kettle boiled noisily and he poured it into a large pot. “They've been wonderful. They are wonderful, but then you know that of course. I can't thank you enough for introducing them to me all those years ago. Your surrogate parents weren't they? I can see why you'd think that.”

He handed her a cup filled with sweet smelling tea. “A Chinese blend. I get it from London.”

“Did you have anything to do with Bill's accident?” The question was out of her mouth before she could stop it, and once loose it filled the whole room.

If he felt any emotion it might have shown itself in the slight rattle his cup made in his saucer but that was all. “My dear, either you have come to know me too well, or your ability for the ingenuous has not progressed over the years.”

“Never mind about me. Did you hurt Bill?”

The smile was a fox smile, a predator's smirk before the kill. “The farm was getting too much for him, for both of them. I think they welcomed the opportunity to sign it over to me. The accident was merely the catalyst.”

She couldn't believe what she was hearing; the farm, her safety net, signed over to David? It was unfair, she knew she was being selfish, but she had always imagined she would be the one to inherit, when the childless Moreton's retired.

“You bastard.” She said quietly to him. She deliberately dropped the cup on the floor, the hot liquid scorching her ankle.

He placed his own cup and saucer neatly onto a table. “We all have something to give, Sarah, and all in return something to take.”

The silence in the barn seemed total, the air suddenly motionless. Sunlight streamed in through the ceiling illuminating two people as they tore at clothing, mouths pressed desperately together, bodies linked in a tumult of giving and taking.

Thrown back onto the bed, Sarah opened her eyes for a moment as David loomed over her. At that moment he wasn't David. She didn't know who he was, or what he was, but he was not the David she knew, not even the self-centred, arrogant man she knew him to be. Then she knew whose face his had reminded her of earlier. She had read in one of the columns about David Helmore, renowned artist, and his alliance with Frankie Parker the actor. Frankie was not often complimented about his acting abilities but his good looks had kept him in employment since RADA with television, theatre and then films. As always with his relationships David was modest and unassuming in his comments, praising his new friend. If Sarah recalled it correctly David wasn't in the country when the fire ransacked the studio where Frankie was rehearsing. The burns unit saved his life but there wasn't a great deal of his face left.

Sarah felt the thrust of David's body upon her but she screamed out and pushed him away. He fell back onto the bed, as she stood awkwardly, brushing down her skirt.

“Do you ever see Frankie Parker these days David?”

“What the hell? Have you had him as well is that it? Something I did remind you of him?”

Sarah smiled with more confidence than she felt inside. “You look like him don't you? Not completely, you still have your own face, but he's in there isn't he? I don't know how you did it – plastic surgery of some kind. I…”

She rushed from the barn and as she ran to the Manor she could hear his laughter echoing behind her.

Bill Moreton was sitting up in bed, Sarah seated primly on a chair by his side. Mary had fussed over her husband, and to a lesser extent over Sarah as well, conscious that a visit to David would have upset her. Now she had left them alone and the conversation was stagnant.

Eventually Bill said, “I know we've let you down Sarah, don't think badly of us.”

Able through the long cocoon of their relationship to forgo unnecessary false courtesy Sarah said, “Why? Why sign it all over to him?”

He looked at her as though he hadn't seen her before; it was a look that frightened her. There was an element of David in it. “You know how persuasive he can be. He's been a great help since the accident. I don't know what I would have done without him to help Mary…”

Sarah knew, she didn't know how, but she knew that David had taken what he wanted from the Moreton's, as surely as he had taken Frankie's face, Kim's talent, and God knew what else and from whom over the years. How he did it she didn't know; some kind of hypnosis? It was useless to try to speculate, but she knew she would find out.

Bill was slipping into a half-sleep as she left his room. With the day's light faded and the opportunity to paint gone, David, she reasoned, would perhaps go for a walk or pursue some other activity. Maybe he would be trying out his newly acquired skill with the horses. Wherever he was she would find him and once and for all find out what he was up to.

As she left the Manor by one of the side doors, she remembered something she had left in her car the previous night. She went round to the outbuilding where she had left her car and was surprised to see another car parked there next to hers. She felt the bonnet, still warm. A few minutes of searching brought her round to David's barn, how quickly she had begun to think of it all as his, and there they were David and Amanda, sitting at a bench under an oak tree sipping long drinks as the sun slowly set over the woods on the horizon.

“Amanda,” Sarah said brightly. “You should have let me know you were coming.”

“That's not the impression you gave yesterday, Sarah.”

David appeared an amused bystander, but Sarah was prepared to gamble he had added his spark to Amanda's flame. “How did you know I would … no okay, it's obvious I'd be here. Start again.”

Amanda laughed without joy. “Now that would be attractive if we hadn't already tried that route.”

Sarah looked her full in the face. “I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“Oh please.” Amanda looked at David with a half smile. “Sorry you have to be a witness to this.”

Sarah sneered. “Don't apologise to him. He'll find something in this he can take.”

Amanda seemed uncertain what she meant but David sat up straight on the bench. It seemed to Sarah that for the first time since she had known him David was viewing her with something like respect. She didn't know why but it was something she had said, something she suspected about him taking things from people. Perhaps he was some kind of conman and she had guessed his game.

“Don't get too interested David, unlike me Amanda is strictly ladies only, so there's nothing of hers you would want.”

David smiled. “Everybody has a talent, a skill, or a possession of some kind Sarah, even you.”

Amanda said too loudly and too brightly, out of an onlooker's embarrassment, “There's no talent I possess, dear. Apart from loving the wrong person.”

It was the first time Amanda had admitted a love for Sarah and for a second it drowned all other thought.

David stood. “It seems you two have some catching up to do. I've finished for the day. Why not join me for dinner, in say an hour? I can use the open stove in the barn.”

“Of course you can David. Like everything else it belongs to you”

“It all will Sarah, eventually.”

Amanda, typical of her, hadn't brought many things. She took one small bag from her car, and no more. Sarah let her wash in her room and then shared her clothes with her. They talked and cried. Hugging each other but the closeness was absent, possibly permanently. They both felt it and tried to disguise it.

“He's quite handsome, I can see why you've stayed in touch all these years.” Amanda said, as she pulled a black dress over her head.

“He's handsome enough, and talented, and rich as well now. But its all false, none of it real.”

“What do you mean? Here zip me up will you?”

Sarah fumbled with the zip, bending to hold the hem of the dress for leverage. “I can't explain. We had a mutual friend, years ago when I was at college. Kim, a painter; but she had an accident, she couldn't paint anymore, but David could, and can. The poor Moreton's; another accident and suddenly David owns all this…” she spread her arms to encompass the Moreton estate. “Even his face…oh I can't explain it, but even his face is partly someone else's.”

Speaking through lips to which she was applying lipstick, Amanda asked, “So what is he, some kind of thief?”

Sarah hopped into a pair of cotton trousers, pulling them up over her hips. “A thief of people's lives. Not simple theft, that I could understand, especially in Kim's case. Everyone he comes into contact with gets hurt, really hurt, and David always gets something out of it.”

She buttoned her shirt over a vest top and glanced out of the window. The night was drawn in now, a few wisps of cloud shrouding the stars, making a natural frame for the moon.

The smell of cooking was tempting as the two women walked, side by side if not yet hand in hand, to the barn. The courtyard in front of it was floodlit, a wrought iron table and chairs laid out with plates, cutlery and glasses. “You've been busy, “Amanda called into David admiringly.

“Help yourself to some wine, it's in the cooler”.

Sarah poured three glasses and sat at the table. Amanda wandered down to the edge of the field, peering through the darkness at the moving mass of wheat. “It's glorious here isn't it?” She said wistfully.

David emerged from the barn, dressed all in black. “Yes, we're very lucky.”

Sarah felt herself prickle immediately. “More than luck David wouldn't you say?”

David laughed. “You really have developed a perception since we first met haven't you Sarah?”

“I have to take something in return, you know.”

The smile dropped away from his face, and the look that replaced it was ancient and entirely evil. “Oh no, that isn't in the plan at all. Nothing in return.”

Amanda walked back to the table. It was clear there was a hardening of the atmosphere and she didn't like it. “What's going on? Sarah?”

Sarah drank some wine, and fingered some of the label of the bottle. “It's taken me too long to work it out David, but I think I have now. You take from people whatever it is they hold dear. You can't experience emotion for yourself so you steal other peoples'. The farm wasn't a possession for you; it was what it meant to Mary and Bill. Frankie's face was more than an occupational tool to him, it was his whole life, and you wanted that feeling.”

David began clapping. “For a quick fumble a decade ago you've made mighty progress little Sarah.”

Sarah shook her head. “But that's where I run out of ideas.”

David took his glass and drained the wine in one swallow. He poured another. “You can't decide what I wanted from you.”

She nodded her head. “I gave you sex, but you could have got that anywhere. What else have I given you?”

Before he spoke David turned his head upwards as if listening. On the soft breeze they all heard the faint echo of an owl, far away it seemed, but getting closer. As he listened so his body seemed to swell slightly, from within, as if he was puffing out his chest. “What did I want from you?” As he spoke he still seemed distracted, as if his attention was partly elsewhere. “I wanted then the same thing I want now.”

Amanda gripped Sarah's hand. “And what do you want?” Sarah asked.

“Your life Sarah. I don't have one of my own you see, not in this world. Don't you remember I only seemed to exist when you saw me with your friend Kim at University? I wanted your friendship, the one you enjoyed with her. Then I needed to learn how to love a woman, and we learned well together didn't we? I don't have a family here so yours sufficed; boating accidents are as easy to arrange as horse riding mishaps, or car crashes. >You always spoke so fondly of the Moreton's; what more natural evolution for me to want that emotion you felt, but which I had not? The farm as a possession doesn't interest me at all, you're right, but the love, the feeling, that's different.”

Amanda couldn't keep the scorn out of her words. “My God, what kind of monster are you?”

Without moving his body David turned his head to look at her. He turned it in a complete circle, around on his shoulders. Amanda screamed.

Sarah stood from the table; still gripping Amanda's hand and pulled her away. “Why now David, after all these years?”

His body began to bunch up, the shoulders lifting into the head, the chest filling out, and the legs drawing up from the knees. His voice when it came was beginning to sound shrill. “Ten years, since we met. In that time I've taken small things; your knowledge of the countryside, your friends, a feeling here an emotion there. But now there's something quite tangible I can have isn't there?”

“What do you mean?” As she spoke the words she knew what he meant.

“It's the cycle Sarah, I need to take or I don't exist; it's not personal, don't be too upset. Amanda doesn't know about the baby yet does she? But then it's only early days isn't it Sarah? Only just had the test. You can remember whose it is though, the unborn baby I can enjoy?”

Sarah picked up the wine bottle and swung it at his head. It caught him a savage blow to the temple. He fell to the ground, blood beginning to seep from the wound.

“Come on,” Sarah said to Amanda. “Help me tie him up.”

Amanda pulled away. “No, I …”

Sarah turned to David but he was on his feet. His body was contorted now into paroxysms of pain, the limbs drawing into the body, the head sinking into the torso. His clothing was tearing at its seams, and the flesh beneath was revealed as pale and shining, like soft feathers.

He pushed Sarah out of the way and ran, stumbling, away from the light. He ran into the field of wheat. Sarah ran after him, but stopped when she got a little way into the field. She had always been afraid of this field, where the wheat would grow and then be cut down. She had always thought it to meant more than it did, to her it was real, and when the wheat was cut down she expected someone she loved to die.

In the middle of the field David stopped, his body crouched down, barely visible in the dark, above the swaying stalks. His body seemed to enfold upon itself, like a rose bud about to burst open. It swayed in rhythm with the wheat, growing tighter as the skin impacted on itself, the clothes now torn and discarded, the pale flesh now shown as the fur and feathers it was becoming. The body folded into a small ball, hugging itself. Then it opened in a violent cascade of movement, with a flapping of gigantic wings, and the wrenching of bones into new shape.

With a wild screech it soared into the night sky and was lost in the darkness.

Sarah turned to Amanda but she was already walking towards her car. In the morning Sarah and Mary searched the wheat field, and found David's body, which they buried there, after the crop had been harvested.


BEWARE THE BECKONING STRANGER is Copyright 2000 by Maynard & Sims, and is published at feoamante.com and Feo Amante's Story Time with the author's permission.

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