Read Refuge Online

Authors: Kirsty Ferry

Refuge (5 page)

                ‘It were Robbie, Sir. He just went in,’ said one of the men. ‘I saw him on the top. There were someone with him. And then he went. Sir, I’d say he was mebbe pushed...He just went all floppy, like. Then kind of folded up and went in. Then the flames started.’

                ‘Who was with him?’ asked Kester. ‘Who witnessed it? Did the inspector see it? Where is he?’ The noise from the kilns was deafening, the flames still shooting up into the sky as the man’s body was incinerated within.

Kester looked around for his fellow passenger, but the man he was talking to shook his head. ‘No inspectors here today, Sir. Nobody we were expecting. Don’t know who it were up there with Robbie. Was that him, do you think? He was a stranger – didn’t recognise him. Looked like he were dressed differently to us...’ The worker gabbled on and Kester stared at him.

A sickening suspicion began in the pit of his stomach, and the horror crept up through his body. ‘This man, this stranger you saw. Where is he now?’

‘Dunno, Sir. What we going to do about Robbie, Sir? He’ll be gone – no doubt about it.’

                Kester shook his head helplessly. ‘Your foreman? Could he help? Where is he? I will find him and speak to him.’

                ‘He went around the back, Sir.’ The man indicated the shore. Kester turned and ran along the track, towards the rolling waves of the North Sea.

                ‘Please let me be in time,’ he prayed as he ran, ‘please let me save him.’

***

Kester rounded the corner and began to scramble through the sea grass and debris around the lime kilns. The shouts of the workers were still echoing around the area, mixed with the hissing and fizzing of the giant flames leaping out of the kiln. Quicklime was used for destroying infected bodies and slaked lime was used to disguise the reek of decaying flesh in mass burials. It had a power of its own – but Kester knew that something else on the Island that day was also dangerous and powerful. He ran, his heart pounding in his chest, until he saw the figure of the manager striding along in front of him.

He yelled at the man to stop. ‘Hey! You, Sir! You are needed at the other side of the kilns!’ he cried. ‘There may have been another accident.’ He thought quickly. ‘A rogue spark – I believe it may have landed in the crowd. Your men, Sir, they need you!’

The foreman paused and turned around, his face white with shock. ‘Pardon me?’ he said. ‘Another accident? But...’

                ‘Just go. Go and see them,’ gasped Kester, bending double as a stitch ripped into his side. ‘Please,’ he finished. He pointed vaguely in the direction he had just come from. ‘You’re needed....’

The foreman looked towards the sea. ‘But there’s a man – he might have seen something...’

                ‘And he might not have done. I will find him,’ said Kester, straightening up. ‘I will deal with him.’

                ‘If you’re sure Sir,’ said the foreman. He turned and began to hurry back to the crowds of workers. Kester sent a prayer of thanks up to God and prayed for forgiveness for lying to the man. It was for the greater good, though. He had probably just saved the foreman’s life. Catching his breath again, he began to run towards the sea. He rounded a corner and the man who had travelled across the causeway with him appeared from behind a broken-down fisherman’s shack. Kester stopped suddenly, inches from the man. Their eyes met, a mutual hatred registering between them.

                ‘You should not have come here,’ said the man. His face was still smeared with blood from the original kill – the man who had allegedly fallen into the lime kiln. ‘You will be next. You know more than these folk do.’ He bared his teeth in a snarl and Kester started as he saw the fangs. His courage must not fail him. His fingers closed around the hilt of the dagger.

                ‘
You
should not have come here,’ Kester replied. ‘This is a holy place. There is no room for creatures such as yourself.’

                ‘A holy place! Ha! I have travelled here from London town. I have killed in the very churchyard of St Paul’s in Knightsbridge, just streets from my home. Holiness does not matter to me.’

                ‘London?’ said Kester, unable to stop himself. He remembered Summer, desperate to go to the family house in Grosvenor Square.
Life is more exciting there
, he remembered her saying,
I have friends there
.

The man laughed. ‘I do not have to make conversation with you,’ he said. ‘You are worthless. I shall kill you, then kill the inhabitants of this pathetic little island one by one. The lime kilns can hide so much. The sea can wash away dead bodies. And maybe, if there is too much feasting to be had for myself alone, I shall summon my friends. Then, as I sit in my comfortable house replete, I might recall this little place fondly. I might even consider visiting another desolate, cut-off place. I hear the Scottish Isles are sparsely populated. I can spend quite some time there without drawing too much attention to myself.’ He laughed. ‘It is unfortunate, perhaps, that you have discovered me. Maybe I was rash. But I was hungry.’ He shrugged his elegant shoulders. ‘As I said, the time for conversation is over. It is time for you to die...’ He lunged at Kester, who swiftly ripped the dagger out of his waistband.

                Kester felt the breath of the vampire on his face and smelled the rusty odour of metallic, salty blood as it came near to him. But he was quick. He raised the dagger, just as the creature’s hands grabbed his shoulders. Kester plunged the dagger into its body and threw himself to the side as the vampire screeched, disintegrating into dust only inches away from him.

                ‘I’m not here for conversation,’ Kester said. He stared at the ash on the ground. At least he had killed this one. And the other one in London. He knew he could do it. And he felt a trip to Knightsbridge was imminent.

***

Kester’s family had a house in Grosvenor Square, in London. Situated in Mayfair, it was one of the most prestigious addresses in the Capital. The Lawson’s owned a relatively small property in the Square, but it was still Grosvenor Square. Dukes, Duchesses and Members of Parliament were their neighbours. Summer had often been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the place. The carriages that rolled past the windows of the house transporting beautiful ladies and smart gentlemen had her in raptures. The houses seemed to swarm with servants, and the Lawson’s servants always seemed pleased to welcome the family, especially when they went to London for the Season. It still tugged at Kester’s heart strings when he remembered how excited his sister had been about her coming-out ball. It was to be held in London, and there, it was assumed, she would meet a young man – hopefully titled – and live happily ever after. She had never experienced that. The sisters of their friends had fussed and preened and danced the Season away with scarcely a thought for Summer. Kester had been flirted with, cajoled and flattered, and had finally stopped attending the balls, much to his mother’s despair. He had no interest in any of the girls. His sister should have been there. She had deserved to be there. He was just incidental.

                Grosvenor Square, however, was not too far from St Paul’s in Knightsbridge. It made Kester’s skin crawl to think how close he might have been to that creature and his ilk every time he visited the City. Perhaps the vampire had seen Summer from the windows of a carriage? Perhaps the thing had even walked past their house in the Square, or lurked around the theatres, waiting for people to leave so it could follow them? It said it had killed in the churchyard. Kester, looking out of the window and staring at the Square’s gardens, shuddered. The City could be seething with vampires: who would know? They walked amongst the people, looking and acting like humans, all the while searching for their next victim. Well, he had a lead, he supposed. He would start at the Square and wander through Knightsbridge. Sooner or later, he would come across something to help him; he had faith. One of the tall, graceful houses in that area held a secret, and he wasn’t quite sure how he would discover which house it was. He looked about the airy, high-ceilinged room he stood in, and sipped the cup of tea a servant had brought him. People ventured in and out of these houses all day – ladies visiting other ladies, gentlemen calling in on business, nannies escorting numerous well-groomed, polished children... perhaps a vampire’s house would be set apart by the
lack
of day to day activity? The vampire would probably live alone, surrounded by the wealth he had accrued over the decades. He might have servants; but perhaps they wouldn’t act like normal ones. Would he have people calling on him? The vampire on Lindisfarne had mentioned that he had friends. What would his friends look like? Kester sighed. The words needle in a haystack sprang into his mind. There had to be something he could look out for. He might just have to walk the streets, watching the houses for a while. It was fortunate that the time of his visit did indeed coincide with the Season, so anything out of the ordinary in that respect would be worth looking out for, he reasoned. The Season generally lasted from April to August. It was now May. He had a little while yet before he outstayed his welcome in London.

***

The next day, Kester decided to begin his quest in earnest. He would start, he reasoned, with a walk through some of the most prestigious addresses of the capital, down towards Curzon Street, perhaps. The area around Curzon Street was a hub of wealth and beauty; things these vampires seemed to possess in great quantities. The roads around Grosvenor Square were busy, with carriages darting here and there and horses weaving between one another. Summer would have been in her element looking at the gowns the ladies wore, watching the people ride out towards Rotten Row in Hyde Park. Kester walked down South Audley Street and looked to his right. He could just see the Park through the streets, and once again felt the annoyance bubble up inside him. She had been just sixteen years old – a child. She should have been married now with several children. He walked faster, determined to find the house that this vampire had made his home. He walked up and down the side streets, back and forwards, staring at the houses; but nothing in any of them seemed out of character. Kester fought back a feeling of desperation. He couldn’t give up now, that was inconceivable, but he really, truly, didn’t know what else he could do. He rounded the corner and found himself on Curzon Street. He stopped. Where now? There wasn’t exactly a convenient square or communal garden he could linger in. He would cross the road and walk slowly along the street, he decided, and see if anything unusual struck him. Failing that, he still had several miles of Mayfair and Knightsbridge to cover… all was not lost, he supposed.

                The houses on Curzon Street were typical Mayfair residences; tall, elegant townhouses. He tried to look in the windows as he passed – one advantage of being on foot and the houses opening straight out onto the street. Through some of the windows he caught glimpses of family life. In one, a cat sat on the windowsill, until a small boy in an Eton collar pulled the animal away and hugged it to his cheek. In another, the front door opened to admit a young man twiddling his hat nervously between his hands; no doubt a suitor to a blushing young lady who was probably, at that very moment, having hysterics over what dress to wear to greet him. One house had a maid in the window, dusting furiously. Her sharp little eyes darted to and fro along the street, maybe looking for her own suitor. And there he was, acknowledged Kester – an errand boy cycling furiously past. He slowed down as he passed the house, and took his hands off the handlebars, tucking them in his pockets, showing off to the maid as a smile broke across her pretty face and the boy winked at her in passing. So many lives, with so many little things happening: so many people unaware of the horror that resided in this city.

                Kester continued ambling down Curzon Street, checking the houses as he went. His heart skipped a beat near the end of the road; one house in particular looked very interesting. It had dark drapes at the upstairs windows and the curtains at the front were almost closed. Kester paused and bent down as if he was fiddling with his boot fastening. He watched the house out of the corner of his eye and tried to catch a glimpse of the people who lived in it. Nothing seemed to be happening in the house. It appeared to be closed up and empty – highly unusual in this area during the Season. If a house wasn’t owned by a family, it was rented out to one. Kester straightened up and looked at the house again. That was one to consider, he thought. He continued to the end of the street and nonchalantly turned around, ready to retrace his steps. He walked more slowly this time, his eyes on the closed up house with the apparently darkened rooms. A couple were walking towards him, the woman linking arms with the man. Neither was speaking and they seemed rather aloof. Kester’s eyes narrowed. He slowed his steps even more and watched the couple turn and walk up to the front door of the shuttered house. The man rapped on the door smartly and they stood for a moment waiting for the door to open. Nothing happened. The couple looked at one another and the man rapped again. Still nothing. Not even a maid or a butler appeared to allow them access; even if the family were out, someone should have been in to answer the door, reasoned Kester. The couple stood for a moment more and the man leant down to the woman, whispering something in her ear. She nodded slightly and the man dropped what looked like a sealed envelope through the letterbox; then they turned around and stepped onto the pavement. They glided past Kester and he stood aside. A chill ran through his body as they passed him. The woman had lowered her head, but too late; Kester had already seen that her eyes were a deep shade of red. 

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