THE HAUNTING OF JESSICA RAVEN: AN EXTRACT
After school, she went to the garden. It was a frosty
The chestnut trees were leafless. Their branches hung down
despondently, curving up at the ends like mastodon tusks. The sky
was a cold pale blue. As usual there was no sign of a gardener, but
someone had swept the paths clean of dead leaves. The water plants
around the fountain had died back and been cleared away. Jessica
read the inscription on the stone base: but it was just as
puzzling now that she could read it all. From the fig tree learn
its lesson. When its branches become supple and put out leaves,
then you know that the summer is near... I wonder what it means,
He wasn't there. She'd always been afraid it would end like
this. He would vanish the way he'd come into her life, and she
would never know what had happened to him. Her dream companion,
her beloved friend. It didn't matter that she was fourteen -
nearly- and he was adult. In the worlds of the garden she was no
age and every age; and for him it was the same. She was Jessy and
he was Jean-Luc, the years between them meant nothing.
She was crying. She put up her hands to cover her
face. Something rustled. She looked down. She was wearing an
apple-green skirt with sprays of gold embroidery, looped back over
a hooped petticoat of dull gold. Creamy lace frothed at the low
neckline of the bodice. She could feel the tight boning round her
ribcage, that was making her stand straight as a dancer: if you
slouched in a dress like this, you'd suffocate. A dark green
velvet cloak fell from her shoulders. It was lined with yellow
taffeta. She could feel the weight of the folds that dropped
nearly to the ground.
She took a step backwards, her hands spread on the uncanny
skirts, icy chills running through her. "What's happening? What
it this time? This is too much! Stop it!"No one answered. The fountain
had vanished. She was standing on a velvety green lawn. In front of
her there was a house. It hada brown-tiled roof and large chimneys.
It was built of timber beams and lath-and-plaster, like an Elizabethan
house in England. It was already old. The roof had a comfortable slight
sag in the
middle, and the timber and plaster had mellowed. She went up
to the house and let herself in, lifting the latch on a dark little
door as if she'd been living here all her life. A passageway led her
to a room with windows that overlooked the lawn. The walls and the coffered
ceiling were panelled in dark, polished wood. The floor was tiled in
marble squares, in a black and white geometric pattern. The windows
had small leaded
panes. She saw that it was summer out there. The flowerbeds were
in late-summer bloom: red-hot pokers, delphiniums and japanese
poppies. Evening sunlight gilded the surface of the river that ran
by at the foot of the lawn.
Jessica heard marching feet: a sound that brought
soldiers in uniform rank on rank. Through a doorway beyond the
flowerbeds, she glimpsed a street. There was a fat, curvy old car
parked by the kerb... A car? how did that get there?A table stood
in the middle of the room: dark wood again, with a runner of green velvet
down the middle. Straight backed chairs with studded leather seats stood
round it. Jean-Luc was sitting in one of the chairs.
He was dressed in blue and rose. Gold cord trimmed
pockets and the lapels of his full-skirted coat. The cuffs of his
breeches were gold-laced too. His stockings were white silk, a
slender sword hung at his side. His hat, which was trimmed with
more gold, lay on one of the chairs. A glass pitcher filled with
yellow wine stood at his elbow. He didn't seem to know Jessica
was there. He was working hard, writing or drawing something with great
concentration. A sheaf of papers lay in front of him, some had spilled
onto the floor. She took off her cloak: bent and picked up one of the
of paper. All the drawings were the same but she couldn't quite
make them out. When she tried to look closely, the lines dissolved.
"Jessy." He had noticed her: but it was
different. She'd never seen him look so hard, so concentrated. His grey
like chips of silver in his tanned face.
"Is this how you were?" she asked him, gesturing at the rich,
elaborate clothes. "Were you an aristocrat in those days, when
lost the treasure?"
"An aristocrat?" He shrugged. "Maybe I felt like that,
and was ashamed... We were all rich and secure, in their eyes. But we
were poor enough,and not safe, God knows." He gestured impatiently
with the handthat held the quill pen. "Jessy. You saw it once,
couronne. You must describe it for me."
"How do you mean? It was made of jewels, fitted
He was trying to conceal his anxiety, but he could not. "You
must tell me! Each piece of the puzzle must be precisely the right shape,
or it will not fit in its place."
She wanted to help, but she was fascinated by the details of this fantasy,
or dream, or whatever it was. She touched the silvergilt ringlets that
lay on her shoulder. She noticed that she was wearing rings on her fingers:
an emerald in brilliants, a ruby surrounded by tiny sapphires. And it
was all amazingly real! She arranged her gold-sprigged skirts: "But,
don't you know?"
"I knew." He struggled to keep his voice calm. "But I
have forgotten. It is lost, somewhere in my mind, among my memories."
"I could try to draw it," she offered. She thought she could.
It was true, as she had told him once: she remembered every
detail. "I'm good at mentally imaging things, everyone says so.
It's a knack. I do good diagrams. If you had a computer with
graphics software, that would be better- "
But the marching feet were coming nearer: slam, slam, slam. She knew
that the clothes they were wearing were from the eighteenth century,
the time of the French Revolution. Was that the mob of peasants coming
to storm the castle of Rochers?
Jean-Luc had leapt up and was fingering a panelled wall, his ear against
the wood. He muttered: "Ha, got it," and a sheet of wood slid
away, revealing dark space. "Up here, quickly."
There was a staircase in the thickness of the wall. It was very narrow.
Jessica bundled her gold and green skirts in front of her. They climbed
until she was breathless. "You know all the secret passages,"
she gasped. "But that time, when you left me and Paddy in the oubliette,
the caretaker who got us out said there wasn't one- ."
"What night?" He opened another secret
door, into a shadowy room: he looked back. "Rochers has many secrets.
They don't know everything."
Something moved. A shadowy figure fell on Jean-Luc.
hand groped instinctively for a weapon. She found a knife hidden
in the boned bodice of her dress. But by the time she'd pulled it
out the fight was over.
"Quickly..." Jean-Luc grabbed her arm. He looked back at the
fallen body. "That was another dream," he whispered. "To
fight in darkness, a young hero. It didn't happen-" They crept
on again, past rooms in which men were talking earnestly and sometimes
angrily. Sometimes there were guards posted at the doors, and Jean-Luc
pulled her back into shadow and found another way. They reached the
top of a flight of stairs, Jean-Luc wrestled with a hatch-cover overhead.
"Up!" He lifted her, she grabbed a dusty sill and pulled
herself through. Jean-Luc followed. They were in a narrow crawl-space
between two floors: lath and plaster above and below them.
"Be very careful," Jean-Luc warned her, tenderly. "Put
your weight on the joists, not between them, or we'll fall through the
ceiling! You will have to wriggle, you see, like a little caterpillar."
She wondered why he was suddenly talking to her as if she was a child.
He wormed in beside her, his head between his shoulders and knees up
by his ears. It would have been funny if he hadn't looked so desperate,
and if he wasn't smiling in that weird, terrified way, as if he was
reassuring a child in a situation where there was nothing reassuring...
"A little more," he coaxed. "And you will be safe. Don't
be afraid, we will look after you. All's well."
She remembered he had said that before, but all was not well. Nothing
was well... "What about the treasure?"
"Won't you try to be a little caterpillar? Please?"
They wriggled and crawled. There were people moving
below. Jessica nearly slipped at one point, and lay with her cheek against
a length of rough wood, her heart thumping. She didn't know what fate
awaited them if they were caught, but her mouth was dry and she was
shaking with dread. They came out of the crawl-space into a loft that
hay. A woman was there, alone. She hid something, quickly and
calmly, as Jean-Luc and Jessica tumbled in on her. When she saw
Jean-Luc, she spoke to him and led them down through the quiet
house. It was night, and everyone else was asleep. "Doucement,"
she said:softly! Then she said, "Bonne chance, p'tite,"
luck, little one- and kissed Jessica.
But her face, in the light of the single candle that lit that closely
shuttered house, was pale and cold. The eyes were sunken in bruised
pits, there was blood around her mouth. She lifted her hand to wave
goodbye. Her arm moved strangely, as if it was jointed in extra places.
She's dead! thought Jessica.
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