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1 – THE VISITOR
I sit on my bedroom's window ledge, watching dusk settle over Cambridge. It's still light enough to see the drunken headstones through the holly hedge that separates our back yard from the cemetery beyond. Some people freak out at the thought of living next to a graveyard. My dad has always claimed it's the best place to live because we have quiet neighbours.
Well, they might be quiet to him.
A cool wind blows in, dispersing the steam that rises off my hot chocolate. My mongrel dog Spock lifts his muzzle from its resting place on my lap and growls. I hold my breath, waiting; not scared, but maybe a little apprehensive. I know what's coming, but it's the question of who is coming that makes me nervous.
A figure appears out of the darkness – a man, tall, quite handsome, wearing a tailored tweed jacket and tie. He smiles at me, kind eyes crinkling at the sides, and strides towards me.
Spock growls again and I push him back into my bedroom. I catch the look of uncertainty on the man's face as he draws closer. Who can blame him really? I'm probably not what he was expecting. I'm a teenager, my hair more resembles a chimney sweep brush because of the summer humidity, I'm still wearing the shirt I spilt gravy on at dinner and I'm wearing Scooby Doo slippers that don't necessarily match my torn black jeans, but hey, I wasn't expecting to meet anyone this late, was I?
'Am I in the right place?' the man says, cocking his head and glancing around.
'If you've got a message you'd like passed on, then yes,' I reply, then to put him at ease, 'I'm Noa.'
'Right, you're the messenger then? You don't seem particularly phased by any of this.' He flashes me a smile and it tugs at something inside of me. What a waste.
'You get used to it,' I say with shrug.
The man gives me a mischievous sidelong look and strokes his chin. 'Hmm, and there I was hoping to be at least a little scary after all the trouble I've gone through to get here.'
I can't help but laugh. I like this one already. 'You don't seem that phased either. Most aren't terribly sure about it all.'
'I was well-prepped. Apparently, I've only got one shot so I've got to make it good.'
Pretending to look serious, the man clears his throat and rolls his shoulders like he's about to take part in an Olympic swimming event. His eyes twinkle though and I know he's having fun. 'Okay. The message is for a guy called Ross, Ross Dwyer. He is – or was – my partner. Tell him…' He pauses, his smile disappears and his expression becomes genuinely grim. 'Tell him I understand now that you can't always trust those closest to you. That… that…' He sighs and rakes a hand through his short brown hair, looks at me, concerned. 'I don't know if I should say this. Can I trust you? Honestly?'
Still he hesitates. 'I don't know. I don't want to burden you with a truth that might put you in danger.'
I can't help myself. I'm even more intrigued than I was before. Spock pokes his head through the window and lifts a lip to growl and I automatically push him away. 'Danger's my middle name.' Actually it's Alessandra, named after my Peruvian aunt, but the mention of danger is like fresh blood to a shark.
'Okay,' he says. 'Tell him… sometimes those closest to you aren't to be trusted, I know that now. And that…' He looks at me, still uncertain, '…that sometimes seeing the cup half-full isn't always best.'
His message genuinely intrigues me. Most are fairly straight forward. This guy's is kind of cryptic. 'Is Ross going to understand that?' I ask.
He nods. 'He will, once he's thought about it a while. Besides, he enjoys puzzles. It's why he does what he does.'
'What does he do?'
An angry gust of wind blows through the yard and he looks away, anxious. 'I think I have to go. Will you give Ross the message? His address is 39 Limerose Road, Cambridge.'
The wind strengthens to a low howl. The sky darkens as black clouds blow over. I can barely make out my visitor.
'Wait!' I yell as he drifts away. 'You haven't told me your name.'
He gives me a last heart-melting smile. 'My name's Grant, Grant Fitzpatrick.'
Within seconds he's disappeared from sight. Spock puts his front paws on the ledge and barks at the empty yard, tail wagging, one ear cocked. I pat his head.
'He's gone, Spock. Well done, you saw him off. Brave dog.'
Spock looks proudly at me and licks his lips. I sit back against the window frame and take a sip of my tepid hot chocolate. The wind dies down to leave a peaceful twilight like nothing has happened.
I've sometimes doubted anything has happened myself, doubted my sanity even. I know Dad used to doubt me. He only doubts himself these days. Of the few memories I have of my mother my most vivid is of her sitting opposite me on the rug, her long legs crossed beneath a colourful gypsy skirt, and her telling me in that low gentle voice, 'You have a gift, carina, you must use it well.'
At the time I didn't know what she was talking about, I was young enough only to latch onto the word 'gift'. The only gifts I knew about were the ones I received on my birthday and at Christmas. Now I know better, I've grown up a lot since then. I had to really. I think of all the other kids from school who are probably out partying tonight or on a group summer holiday in Crete where nothing matters more than getting a good tan. I know I will never be one of them and sometimes I feel what I have is more of a curse than a gift.
You see, being able to see spirits does not make me the most popular girl at school; on the contrary – although I have been told by one "well-wisher" the sniggering has more to do with my choice of wardrobe than anything. So I don't follow the trends? So I have my own sense of style? Dad once told me that people only poke fun at others because they're afraid of what's different. I try to believe that that's true, even if sometimes it's hard to imagine those people are ever afraid.
But you know what, now that I think about it, I wouldn't have it any other way. Not really. Max doesn't care about what I wear. Goodness knows his wardrobe is somewhat dated… and limited. Max is my best friend, has been so since he first came into my life about eight years ago when I was eight. I thought of him as being so adult back then, but now I'm sixteen and he can't be more than nineteen, I realise my mistake. Max doesn't age, you see. He will be eternally nineteen, and no, he's not a vampire. That was just the age Max Templeton was when he was killed in a foxhunting accident on his grandfather's Cambridgeshire estate back in 1899.
Copyright © H.R. Aidan, 2017