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Bad things always came in threes so it was going to end in disaster. Elisha was certain about that as she peered through the rain streaked window pane towards the Reciter’s Tower, which stood on the edge of the Village Green.
Lighting forked across the night sky above the Second Dimension, illuminating the tower with an eerie glow. She flinched. A few moments later the distant rumble of thunder rolled in from the north.
‘Come away from the window.’
Jennifer lay stretched out on the quilt watching several blue lights pulsate in the darkness just inches from her face. ‘Can’t see any change yet.’
‘It happens all of a sudden,’ Elisha said rotating her bracelet three hundred and sixty degrees.
Jennifer winced. The stiffness in her shoulder had become unbearable and she lowered her left arm to ease the pain. ‘I always seem to blink at the wrong time and miss it.’
‘That’s your problem. Try and stare at it too long and you will.’ Elisha lay down on the bed and counted each segment, her unease growing more intense with each passing moment. Without warning, the fifteenth flashed blue. ‘Mine has changed.’
‘Mine too,’ Jennifer gasped, her eyes locked on her bracelet. ‘It’s taken me twelve years to see that happen.’
Elisha rested her head back on her pillows and sighed. ‘I’d give anything to be twelve again.’
‘The odds against are better this year.’
‘I know, but that doesn’t make it any easier. If it all goes pear shaped today promise me you’ll look after the others.’
Jennifer glanced at her guardian and hid her own apprehension well. ‘Nothing will go wrong.’ She stretched out her arms and yawned.
‘You need to get some shuteye, my girl.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ Jennifer said, got to her feet and shuffled across the bare wooden floor to the door. ‘You try not to fret anymore and get some sleep too.’
Elisha relished the thought, but didn’t hold out too much hope. She pulled the quilt over her head and snuggled down hoping she’d drift into the sleep she craved.
Six hours later the cock crowed and anxiety, which had gnawed away at her all night long, was still winning the battle of wills. If I don’t get some sleep, I’ll look like death. She yanked the quilt back over her head as the rooster called reveille a second time. Just one more time Henry and you’re going in the pot.
Oblivious to her threat, he voiced his wake-up call once more.
‘Oh, this is futile,’ she moaned and threw back the bedclothes in frustration. A second later her legs swung over the side of the bed and her feet hit the floor.
She paused a moment to gather her wits and then slipped off her nightgown and pulled on a fawn, woollen dress. Its fibres scratched her back, reminding her why sheep always seemed happiest at shearing time.
Jennifer and the others would still be asleep so Elisha picked up her worn leather shoes and tiptoed across the room, her eyes raking the floor boards for the one which always moved. It’s the one with the big knot. CREAK. Oh bother, it’s this one.
Any attempt at being quiet now seemed pointless, but on the off chance she hadn’t woken anyone else she crept downstairs.
Set against a kitchen wall was a black cast iron stove. She opened its door, took logs from the hearth and pushed them inside to rekindle the flames. With so little light to see by, she left the door ajar and went over to a pine dresser where the crockery was stored. The plates and bowls she needed to lay out for breakfast weren’t there. They languished in a stone sink; unwashed.
‘Fiddlesticks,’ she cursed as her temper flared. ‘This isn’t going to be my day.’
Jennifer’s hands massaged her shoulders. ‘It’s down to fate so it’s no use worrying.’
Elisha toyed with her bracelet; all but one of its sixteen segments now an iridescent blue. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘I heard Melanie get up.’
‘She’s not in bed?’
‘No. Isn’t she downstairs?’
‘Melanie.’ No response, so Elisha walked through to the living room. She scurried back, wearing a frown and shaking her head.
Jennifer headed for the back door. ‘Maybe she’s outside.’ A minute later she hurtled back into the house. ‘I can’t see her anywhere.’
‘Get Wilfie up and search the village, I’m going to the Lower Meadow.’
‘She won’t have gone there by herself.’
‘Four year olds are daft enough to do anything,’ Elisha shouted back as she hurried out of the front door.
With a racing pulse she dashed along the lane to the Green, passed by the Reciter’s Tower and made her way towards the South Gate.
When she arrived several watchmen were handing over their duties. Her feet scrunched on the gravel and alerted a ginger haired boy with freckles. He glanced over his shoulder and nudged his pint sized comrade in arms. ‘Here comes another one.’
Maggot looked round and shrugged. ‘It’s that time of year. Anyway as I was saying ---’
‘Melanie’s missing,’ Elisha panted. ‘Has she been this way?’
Abel Smith laid his staff over one shoulder. ‘Not so I’ve noticed. Maybe she’s around the village somewhere.’
‘The others are checking, but if she’s gone anywhere near the forest there’s no telling what might happen to her.’
Alarm bells rang inside his head. Not another one. ‘Steve, you take Maggot. Call out the Watch and search north and west. Phil, go with Joe and look east. Elisha, follow me.’
She didn’t need telling twice and hurried after Abel to search an area southwards leading to the Lower Meadow. This seemed the most logical place to check as she’d often taken Melanie there.
They came upon Rakia outside the palisade, gazing across the meadows at the forest beyond. Soft curls spiralled through her long auburn hair and for a moment their...