Excerpt from The Healing Shard – Chapter 3 - Departure
“I’m feeling much better now.” Leo’s mother settled back comfortably in the passenger seat. Another kick from inside reminded her that there would soon be another member of the Robinson family. Her husband reached across and patted her knee.
“Good.”, he said, his mood improving by the minute. They had left the party ten minutes earlier and were well on the way home now. He glanced down at the clock in the dashboard; he’d see the last half-hour of the football if they got a move on. Life wasn’t so bad after all. He pressed a little harder on the accelerator.
“It’s a lovely evening.” Carol went on, looking up through the window at the starry sky. “I wonder if Leo saw his planets, or comets, whatever it is?”
“That boy worries me.”, said Keith in reply. His wife looked across at him, surprised.
“Worries you? Why?”
“All this astrology and science – its not natural. A boy his age should be interested in sport.”, said Keith firmly.
“It’s astronomy, not astrology. Leo would go mad if he heard you say he was interested in astrology.” Keith scowled.
“Astronomy, astrology – its all piffle.”
“Just because he doesn’t share your obsession with football.”, said Carol, as they stopped at a set of traffic lights.
“He just shows no aptitude for sport at all.”, said Keith despairingly. He slipped the car into neutral and pulled on the handbrake.
“Sport isn’t everything.”, his wife replied.
“What sort of a job’s he going to get, with all this astrology?”, he went on. Carol sighed and turned back to watching the sky.
“When I was at school I was a member of the football team, the cricket team and I played tennis for the county.”, said Keith, oblivious to her sigh.
“I know.”, she said dreamily.
“And I was…. what’s he staring at?” A boy turned the corner and was clearly surprised at seeing Batman driving a Ford Focus. Carol started to giggle as the lights changed to amber and then green. They turned left and were soon heading out of the town. They had just a few minutes drive now, along a quiet country road. Keith loved this stretch. It was long and straight and if you needed to hurry along, well you could. Tonight he was being rather more careful as there was clearly frost on the ground.
Carol felt another kick.
“What shall we call him?”, she said suddenly.
“Who do you think?”, she said crossly, rising to the bait her husband had cast. He chuckled as he flipped the car’s headlamps on to full beam.
“We’ll call her Emma”.
“I don’t think it will be a girl.”, said Carol emphatically.
“How do you know?”
“Hmmm. A woman knows these things.” Keith smiled.
“A woman’s intuition.”, he said with mock seriousness. Carol nodded, suddenly sleepy.
“Something like that.”, she agreed, closing her eyes. Keith glanced again at the clock and eased the accelerator pedal a little nearer the floor.
“Well if it’s a boy, we’ll call him Algernon. Or Cuthbert. Or…Oh my God!” Keith stamped on the brake pedal as the figure of an old man suddenly stepped out from the shadows just yards ahead. His wife screamed as the wheels slipped out of control on the ice and they began to skid across the road. The figure stood motionless as the car slewed past him, missing him by inches. Keith wrenched on the steering wheel to try and regain control but it spun uselessly in his hands and the car careered across the verge on the opposite side of the road, smashed through the hedge, splintering wood and glass as the windscreen shattered and finally thudded hard into a huge oak tree at the edge of a copse. There was a loud hiss of steam as the radiator folded and burst. Keith Robinson felt blood trickle into his right eye and a searing pain in his right leg. Dimly, he saw his wife bent forward, her head on the dashboard, blood pooling on the floor beneath. He thought he saw someone moving outside too; a shadow against the stars. Then the darkness wrapped itself around his pain and he slipped into unconsciousness.
* * *
Every few minutes, Leo put his hand into his pocket to feel the strange, new thing he had found. Every time he was surprised at how it felt so cold. It was as though each time he touched it it drew energy from him. He quickly discovered that the jagged side was razor sharp and had to be treated with respect. The other side was as smooth as ice. He hurried along as fast as he could, both fascinated and a little scared. More than once he thought about phoning his father to tell him about it, but each time something made him change his mind.
Steadily, the star-filled black sky turned to a pale orange desert, as he returned to the town. At last, his back garden hedge came into view. Despite the cold, he was sweating. Usually it took him thirty-five minutes to walk back from the old barn to his house; this time he had done it in twenty-five. He scrambled through the gap in the hedge and walked up the path and along the side of the house. The Robinsons always locked the back door from inside, so he had to use the front door again.
As he came round the corner into the front garden he stopped abruptly. A stranger was standing a few feet from the front door. He caught sight of Leo immediately and the two stared at each other for a few seconds. Then the stranger spoke.
“Leo?”, he said uncertainly. Leo stayed where he was and put his hand into his coat pocket and felt for his mobile phone. He couldn’t see the stranger’s face clearly in the orange light from the street lamps but he was sure it wasn’t anyone he knew. He seemed to be dressed rather oddly from what he could see.
“Who are you?”, he said after a few moments. The stranger seemed ill at ease and kept turning around, as if he was looking for something, or someone. Leo moved a little further away from the house.
“What do you want?”, Leo demanded, tightening his hand on his phone. Then he noticed that the front door was slightly ajar, light from within showing a bright line of yellow down one side. He felt panic rise within him.
“What’s going on?” The stranger took a step towards him.
“I’m calling the police.”, said Leo, taking the phone out of his pocket and aiming it at the stranger like a weapon. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mrs. Goodman’s front door was open too. The panic turned into a chilling fear.
“Mrs. Goodman, where is she?”, he said slowly. The stranger stopped and Leo could see his face was that of a man in his thirties or perhaps forty.
“Mrs…. Goodman….”. The man seemed to be searching for the right word. “Mrs Goodman….. is… dead.” Leo stared blankly. Then he pressed the key to unlock his phone and started to key in 999.
“Don’t do that.”, said the stranger. Leo paid no attention. His hands were shaking and he mis-keyed. He cancelled and tried again.
“Please don’t”, the stranger repeated. Leo didn’t look up. This time he got it right. The blue display on the phone shone into his face. 999. He went to press the “Call” key.
“LEO!” The stranger’s shout made Leo jerk his head up. As he did so, it seemed that his hand became paralysed and, try as he might, he could not make the call. Then he began to feel dizzy and it felt as though the ground was pushing up through him and he in turn was sinking through it. It was getting darker and quieter. The display on the phone changed from a pale blue to a beautiful, deep ultramarine and the pale orange of the street lights deepened to red. The stranger seemed to elongate and smear in front of his eyes. The fear and panic disappeared and a peace and calm came over him. Then he sank into oblivion.
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