I had finished my mead and was just about to pull myself to my feet and make my way back to the comfort of my room when the bar woman returned. This time, instead of wordlessly moving through my corner of the bar, she paused and gave me a soft, if matronly, smile. The expression didn’t suit her face. Her sharp features appeared on the point of cracking as the corners of her mouth stretched upwards. I leant back in the leather armchair, ready to avoid the shrapnel, and felt the burst of pain in my back.
“Feeling better? stronger?” she asked softly.
“Yes, mostly. Who are the two gentleman over there?” I nodded toward the door where Rik, Shep to me, had entered.
“Oh that’s just Gerald and Rik. They’re staying here tonight. Rik lives right on the outskirts of the village and the weathers bitten in too hard tonight for him to make his way home. And Gerald,” She blushed slightly at a secret thought and her eyes glazed a little bit, “he often stays here.”
I nodded as if I hadn’t noticed any change in her demeanour and gave her what I hoped was an encouraging smile.
“Gerald is the local purseman, he used to work his ol’ da’s farm, but after a tough winter he sold the land off to a few of the locals and moved into the town. Set up this little charity venture to help the village out and other farmer’s who might suffer as he did. He’s a good man.”
“Oh Rik is just a sheep farmer.”
“Ooh, no. Don’t call him that, he can’t stand the name. He says if all he had to do was herd his sheep his job would be the easiest in the village. Between you and me, he’s not been doing so well of late. The weather’s not good for his flock and if he doesn’t do something soon I doubt many will survive.”
“They’ll survive just fine Mrs Hipsworth, thank you. I’ll be heading back tomorrow and I’m going to give their shed a little more insulation and see if I can’t think of a way to keep their water from freezin’.” I looked up at Rik. He was slightly redder faced than earlier and he kept sweeping his fingers along his moustache as if checking it hadn’t fallen off.
“I didn’t mean anything by it…” said Mrs Hipsworth hurriedly, stepping back slightly. “Have you met… our guest, Rik?”
“Not yet, What’s your name?”
“I…” I had nothing to say. I knew nothing about myself, not even my name. My legs twitched in agitation and I could feel my arms tingling as the hairs stood up. Three sets of eyes were staring at me, as Gerald shifted into the room to see what was going on. My face fell. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” said Rik with venom. Gerald knelt down beside me and he looked up into my eyes.
“Do you remember how you got here? What happened to you on the pine track?”
“I can’t remember anything, nothing till I woke up here.”
“What a load of bollocks, what are you trying to pull? What ‘s he hiding?” snapped Rik.
“You can’t remember what attacked you? What about where you were coming from?” Continued Gerald softly. “Anything you can remember would be interesting for us, to help us know what we are up against?”
“What do you mean what you are up against? Is it not a gang? I thought you were getting held hostage by a gang or something.”
“A gang?” said Rik, a dry laugh catching in his throat. “We are being held hostage, but not by a gang. No earthly creature could do what we have seen done to men. It is the work of the Devil, it is the mastery of Satan that keeps us cowering in our homes.”
“Rik, give it up. You’d be the first to laugh at talk of demons and devils. You know as well as I that we have no idea what animal is roaming the woods around us, but it is an animal. It has teeth and claws, it needs to eat. It must also need to sleep. We’ll find it soon, and we’ll hang its head above this pub’s door like the last beast which thought it had the better of Man.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Remembers-Nothing, here, hasn’t had something to do with it. I don’t trust him.” Muttered Rik.
“What could I have had to do with it?” I asked, glancing between the three of them with worried eyes. Possibly a little too worried for an innocent man.
“Nothing, nothing.” said Gerald diplomatically. He was still kneeling at my feet. His voice was like velvet and his eyes seemed to tell of a thousand sorrows that, if only you said or did the right thing, you could fix in an instant. “Anything you can remember would be very useful to me.”
I glanced away to break the spell of Gerald’s eyes.
The world flashed.
For the briefest of moments the world was bright pink and orange. I felt a headache swelling in the back of my brain. Mrs Hipsworth was staring down at Gerald, a softer, less face-tearing, smile on her lips.
“He’s like a confused little kid this one,” said Rik from somewhere in the room. He sounded far away. “I doubt he’d look out of place amongst my flock, perhaps a little less intelligent.” My head felt light and I was finding it difficult to focus on anything. Rik sounded like an actor rehearsing his lines several rooms away. I glanced back down at the man kneeling before me.
The world flashed. Pinks and oranges again.
I started to feel dizzy and lolled uncontrollably back in my chair. My back shouted out a cry of pain, but it felt distant. My whole body was suffering from pins and needles. I could see Gerald’s lips moving, but could hear no words. I spun my head back to Mrs Hispworth.
The world flashed, flickered, and then held steady.
I was stood on a veranda. Below me was a sinking valley of olive groves and Mediterranean farm lands. The steep slopes of the valley created a basin that, at its base, had a plain of corn or wheat. My hands were clutching a red wooden railing. It felt warm from the sun and the air around me was humid and heavy.
The sky was a deep blue and untroubled by clouds. I stood motionless, listening to a bird singing somewhere from down in the valley. The sun felt beautiful. I could feel my bones warming, I hadn’t realised how cold I had been in that tavern. Slowly my brain clicked into gear. The panic dampening shock drifted from my system. Where the hell was I? What had happened? How did I get here? A thousand familiar questions lunged into my mind.