They slowed and turned onto a curving drive, gravel crunching under the tyres. Trees crowded in on either side creating a tunnel that ended in front of a white thatched cottage. A deep garden separated the parking area from the front door and bees and butterflies danced among a profusion of flowers.
“This is it,” Osiris said turning off the engine. She opened her door but paused before getting out. “So far you’re being cool about all of this, but I know you’re on the edge. Someone looks at you wrong and you’ll snap.”
“That’s not me,” Wyn said opening her own door. “I just want to know what’s going on.”
“You just lost everyone you’ve ever known,” Osiris said as she got out. Wyn walked around the car and paused by the path. She let her fingers play over the lavender flowers, picking one and breathing in the aroma. “Your entire world just got whipped off the face of the earth. You’re not cool, not really.”
“It was your world too, wasn’t it?” Wyn asked pocketing the flower.
“I left it behind long ago.” Osiris slammed the door and stepped up beside Wyn. She was a head shorter than Wyn but broad in the shoulder. “I need you to know that this isn’t what you think it is. There’s no threat here, no danger except for what you bring in with you. The people in there are my family.”
Wyn ignored her and took in the cottage. Roses, heaving with blooms, climbed the walls covering the ground floor and reaching to the upper windows. It was larger than she first guessed with wings set back on either side. Fruit-bearing trees grew close, their low branches concealing the rest of the grounds.
“If you’re going to lose it then call for me and we’ll go. But don’t—”
“Stop talking.” Wyn strode along the path and up to the pale blue door, paint peeling in places revealing the ancient wood beneath. Osiris brushed past her and pushed it open.
“Shoes,” Osiris said as she stepped into the long flagstone hallway and kicked her own off. She watched as Wyn pulled her boots off and stood in her damp socks.
“Who lives here?” Wyn asked.
Osiris headed down the corridor without answering. At the end of the hallway was a wide doorway, partially open and then a long courtyard garden. Osiris stopped and pointed to the left before stepping out into the garden and running barefoot along another lavender lined path.
Wyn watched as she tore her shirt off and threw it to one side sprinting towards a river and a dock. A group of children and adults sat at a table talking but one of them leapt to her feet when she saw Osiris.
“Gren?” Wyn pointed at the child.
Osiris took the girl’s hand and they laughed as they ran down the dock and jumped off the end. The water splashed high, and children ran after them shouting for Osiris to play with them.
“What the hell?” Wyn whispered as she studied the home, searching for answers. “What the hell is going on?”
There was an open door at the end of the hallway and the sound of a one-sided conversation coming from within. Books lined one wall while paintings and photographs took up the other. Storms across seas, sunlight breaking through clouds. A photograph of a group of people standing in front of a glass building. A sign above the door that read ‘CamAe’. Wyn lent in to get a closer look, drawn by a tall red-haired woman standing front and centre. She towered over everyone else and stared directly at the camera. A chill crawled up Wyn’s spine and she shook her head not wanting to believe what she was seeing. Her hand clenched and then balled into a fist.
The same woman was in other photographs, growing steadily older the closer Wyn got to the door. A wedding day, first hers and then others until grandchildren entered the frame.
Wyn arrived at the door and pushed it open with a finger. The room was long and wood beams ran the length giving it a cosy feel. The rear wall was taken up by bookshelves, scattered with ornaments and more photographs, but the far end was all glass with views over the garden and the river. Wet children ran around, chased by a giggling Gren and a whooping Osiris.
“And how do you feel she’s doing with the new routine?” a grey-haired woman asked from behind a desk covered in papers and notebooks. She held a phone to her ear and took notes on a pad as she listened to the answer. Wyn stared at the shock of red hair falling to one side of the woman’s face. She looked up, gesturing with her pen for Wyn to take a seat and then nodded into the phone.
“I’m glad to hear it. What’s important is that your daughter feels like she is making progress. It’s no good us just telling her she has to see it for herself.”
Wyn stared at the low chairs, deep cushions and high arms, dismissing the ones nearest the desk for one on its own at the end of the room with a view out over the river. She sat down heavily and closed her eyes.
Shouts filtered in through the open door, the cries of children at play. A dog barked in the garden and birds sang loudly from the trees. Wyn had never dared dream that such a place could exist. Concrete couldn’t make this, roads and cars and people screaming to live. This was what the phrase ‘room to breathe’ meant, this was what happened when people were left alone to dream.
“It will get easier, but she has a long road ahead of her. I’ll see both of you next week... I have you down for Wednesday morning at ten. Say hello for me...Bye.”
There was a click and then the rustling of papers.
Wyn opened her eyes and stared up at the trees. She had sunk lower into the chair until she could see a patch of blue sky.
“You’ll be asleep in minutes if you’re not careful,” the woman said coming to stand by the window. Wyn watched her from the corner of her eye.
“You’re Lisbeth Boucher, aren’t you?” Wyn asked lazily.
“I am,” Lisbeth said with a wry smile. “Are you able to accept that or do you require proof?”
“You killed my friends. I’d recognise you anywhere.”
“Even though I’m old and wrinkled?” Lisbeth stood with her back to the glass, her head above the top of the frame, and Wyn strained her neck looking up at her.
“Age doesn’t change the eyes.”
Lisbeth moved from the window to sit at the end of a couch, crossing her long legs and smoothing out the cream trousers over her knee. An arm at an angle and the fingers laced. A power pose, Wyn noted, an image of Jena coming to mind. She was the master of them, employing at least one in every meeting. It had become an inside joke with Wyn pointing them out whenever she did one.
“What are you thinking right now?”
“Me?” Wyn asked not taking her eyes off Gren as she climbed out of the water. A broad grin filled the girl’s face as she brushed her wet hair back and turned to help a younger boy out of the water. “That’s Gren isn’t it?”
“It is,” Lisbeth said. “A smart child, gifted even. Trusting to a fault though. That one would make friends with a tiger if only she could get close enough before it ate her.”
“Is Osiris the tiger?”
“Yes, detective, she is,” Lisbeth studied Wyn’s side profile, tracking her eye movements and the tendons in her neck. “Osiris was six when her parents joined the temple. But already she was bolder than the other children. I steered her towards Tay, knowing what they would mean to each other. At first, I tried to be impartial but there was something about Osiris. She was the stronger one in the pair, looking out for Tay but there was no one to look out for Osiris. Her parents were next to useless, so I did it, I took on that job.”
“You’re why she’s a psycho?”
“Far from it,” Lisbeth said shaking her head. “Osiris is a well-rounded individual. She cares deeply for people, too much in some instances. Look at her now, it was her desire to rescue Gren from the sector. She saw it as a final act of devotion to her sister. Is that the act of a cruel person?”
“Wait, you were at the Temple?”
“Yes. The Temple of the Peripheral was my creation.”
“Okay,” Wyn said and then sat forward to rest her head in her hands. She could feel a shake starting somewhere in her stomach. Lisbeth got up and walked past her chair, leaving her alone for a moment. Images flashed through Wyn’s mind, Bran in the metro, half his head gone, Auntie in her death bed reaching for her, unable to see through milky eyes.
Wyn took it without looking and sipped at the glass. It tasted like bananas and Wyn licked her lips.
“I apologise,” Lisbeth said retaking her seat. “I only had the children's variety in the cupboard but it’s all the same. You need rehydrating, just drink slowly. I would offer you a chance to rest but I imagine you want answers more than sleep.”
Wyn turned her head to stare at Lisbeth as she took another long sip from the glass. It left a slight moustache that she wiped away with the back of her hand.
“My name is Lisbeth Boucher. I was born in Cambridge in nineteen-seventy-four. I’m a psychologist. This is my home and those are my grandchildren.”
“Does Gren know that her brothers dead, that everyone she’s ever known has drowned?”
“I plan on telling her later but just to be clear her brother is alive.”
“Is he here?”
“No, there was an accident during his extraction. His companion started a gunfight with the soldiers, and he was shot in the exchange. He’s currently in the hospital recovering from his wounds. If all goes well he’ll be brought around and Gren will be reunited with him.”
“What then?” Wyn asked. She set the glass down on a side table, listening to the clunk and studying the reflection. “They can’t go home.”
“None of us can go,” Lisbeth said sharply.
“Isn’t this your home?” Wyn said taken aback by the tone. “You just got through telling me you were born here. Osiris called it home.” Wyn stood up and took a few steps towards the hallway. “You have photos of your life on the wall. Your grandchildren play here. If this isn’t home, then what is it?”
“You tell me. You’re the detective.” Lisbeth got to her feet and slipped into a pair of shoes at the door. “Do you feel up to a walk?”
“If you wish to go to sleep then say so. Answers can wait after all.”
Wyn strode to the door and then stopped. “I need my boots.”
“Leave them off. The path is smooth, and the tactile feel will help connect you. It isn’t far.”
“Lead on then.”
They left the house and angled across the lawn. Wyn could feel every undulation, every stone and blade of grass. Wyn stopped to stare at Gren.
“Gren!” Wyn shouted and the girl looked over. There was a look of confusion but then a smaller child took her hand and they both ran off to chase a wet dog.
“She doesn’t know you, but give it time. I’m convinced the two of you will be friends,” Lisbeth said smiling as Osiris ran over with another one of the grandchildren in tow. “Lead the way, children.”
Osiris let the girl pass through the gate and then took her hand as they walked along a towpath. Canal boats chugged along the river. People waved and Lisbeth waved back.
“Can I ask my questions now?” Wyn asked.
“You are in Cambridge, Trumpington to be exact. Further along is a path that if you take it will lead you into the centre, but we’re not going there today.”
“What am I doing here?”
“You survived the reset and we decided to rescue you.”
“I lost everyone.”
Lisbeth looked over. They were walking side by side. The child skipping ahead, bare feet in the long grass, Osiris far in front, her bare skin drying in the sun.
“I am hoping you will work for me, with Osiris and the others.”
“How are you Lisbeth Boucher, she’s a fraction of your age?”
“I promise you it was me. We all had our parts to play.”
“How though, the woman I saw was in her late twenties, while you’re?”
Wyn stopped walking and rested her hands on her knees, bare feet in the grass, a frog sat nearby watching her from under a dock leaf.
“Okay, okay.” Wyn straightened up and stretched her back. She needed to lay down, surrender to the weariness permeating her bones but Lisbeth was right, she needed answers. “Let’s deal with Tay first. What is she?”
“What and not who?”
“I know who she is, what I want to know is how she did what she just did.”
“I watched her from her birth, fed her when she was hungry, pushed her when she was lazy. She didn’t want to be anything, she couldn’t see it, she had to have faith in me, even when she hated me, she had to listen to me.”
They arrived at a bridge; a silent car swept past. The child ran to a gate at the end of the path.
“Careful, Mary,” Lisbeth called out and the girl slowed.
The child pushed the gate open but waited for Lisbeth to catch up. Osiris stood off to the right, keeping an eye on the road.
“Where are we going?”
“You want answers, don’t you? We’re going to the source. Watch out for the cars. I always preferred them with at least a little noise.”
They walked in silence for a while. A few cars swept past them, windows dark and engines whisper quiet.
“What do you mean you watched her? Are you working with Mr Wilkin?” Wyn winced as she trod on a stone, brushing it away before continuing.
“Mr Wilkin, who is he?”
“One of your lot from here. He was interested in Tay.”
Lisbeth looked back to where Osiris trailed a few metres behind them. Osiris shrugged.
“This is my work, but others seek to steal it,” Lisbeth said.
“You raised Tay,” Wyn stated. She was trying her hardest to bring her analytical brain to bear on the problem. “Tay was a heavy drug user. Raised by the temple. You said you were at the temple? Are you the Great Mother?”
“I am,” Lisbeth said and smiled at Wyn. “There’s a puzzle here and you can’t help but work at it.”
Horses grazed in a field, the child calling out to them as she skipped along.
“You pushed Tay to do whatever she did,” Wyn said. She was feeling cold despite the warm sun, goosebumps forming on her arms. “The rain and the flooding and, damn it, you were with Lancaster. You were playing both sides? The way I see it you killed several million people.”
“They aren’t dead,” Lisbeth said with a certainty that made Wyn doubt herself. It was the same thing Tay had said.
“I saw them drown.”
“You saw their bodies die but their souls live on.”
“Souls.” Wyn stopped on the path unwilling to go any further. “Is this heaven?”
Lisbeth walked a few metres on and turned. Behind her was a church tower poking out above a wall and flanked by ancient yew trees.
“And if it was?” the Great Mother asked.
“Don’t mess with her, Mum,” Osiris said as she passed both of them. She spared Wyn a sympathetic look. “I was Mary’s age when I took this walk. I don’t know if it’s easier for you or harder.”
“I just want to know what happened,” Wyn said aware of the tightness in her chest. She looked about for somewhere to sit down.
“Let me help you.” Lisbeth took Wyn’s arm bearing her weight with ease. Wyn recoiled but she held on. “The answer to all your questions is in the church. I can’t tell you, you have to see it to understand.”
“What if I don’t?”
Wyn leaned on her as they walked the final distance. Mary and Osiris took the gravel path, ignoring the stones but Lisbeth steered Wyn onto the grass and through the lichen-covered gravestones. Wyn stared at the names and the dates, old enough to be reassuring, memorials to those that lived rather than markers to open wounds.
Osiris opened the large wooden door, holding it to let Mary go in first. Lisbeth let go of Wyn’s arm and plunged inside leaving Wyn to find her own way in.
Stone blocks and gnarled beams blackened with age, red tiles under her bare feet, cold but soft to the touch. Wyn stood in the aisle staring at the columns and the plaques on the wall, hundreds of them full of names and dates. Stained glass windows cast colours onto the floors.
“How old is this place?” Wyn whispered.
“I’m not sure.” Lisbeth stared at the walls as if seeing the church for the first time. “I never really thought about it.”
“It’s over eight hundred years old,” Osiris said from a pew at the back. Her voice rang clear in the church, only the four of them. Mary whispered something in her ear and giggled.
“And how do you know that?” Lisbeth turned in her seat and the girls shared another conspiratorial whisper.
Both Mary and Osiris smiled as they pointed over their shoulders to a visitor board just inside the door.
Wyn sat down heavily in a pew but turned to stare at Lisbeth. “Are you going to reveal your secret now?”
“We all have to believe in something, don’t we?” Lisbeth asked but Wyn turned to face the altar and closed her eyes. “I was married in this church. We’d just graduated and knew that we were meant to spend the rest of our lives together. The cottage was a gift from my parents and the only home we ever shared. Were you ever married, Wyn?”
“No.” Wyn rubbed at her closed eyes, a headache forming in her temples.
“But you know what it is to love another person. Do you know what it’s like to lose them, to watch them waste away and not be able to help them?”
“Is this you telling me?” Wyn snapped as she shot out of her seat. She staggered to the end of Lisbeth’s pew and clung to the ornately carved endings. “I just lost everyone.”
“I promise you, you lost no one.”
“Then where are they?” Wyn’s voice echoed around the church, startling the granddaughter. Osiris put an arm around her and whispered in her ear. “Just tell me, please.”
“What can mere mortals do in the face of death?” Lisbeth’s voice wavered slightly. “Accept our fates, believe in an afterlife, the promise of being reunited in heaven. I couldn’t take the risk so I did what I could.”
“You’re trying to beat death? What’s that got to do with the sector?”
“You have something that I will never have.”
Wyn scoffed. “If you want mine you can have it. It's not worth much.”
Mary got up from the pew and curtsied in the aisle.
“When your aunt died did you wish there was something you could do to bring her back?”
“Of course... how do you know about her?” Wyn twisted around. Osiris was staring at her intently, the cocky grin gone.
“I know everything about you. When Osiris brought you to my attention, I made sure to learn what I could. Did you pray to God, begging him to spare her?”
“I did.” Lisbeth sat up tall staring boldly at the stained glass behind the altar. "My husband grew ill shortly after we were married. A degenerative disease that stole him from me, destroying his mind and leaving him a husk. I begged God every night to take me and spare him, but he never answered. He didn’t exist so I set out to make him.”
“God? Are you saying that Tay’s God?”
Lisbeth pointed to where Mary knelt in front of the altar.
“I created my children, why not a god?”
Mary reached into a shorts pocket and withdrew a marble, setting it on the stone altar before backing up and curtseying. She then ran down the aisle, her feet slapping on the cold stone.
There was a flicker of light as a golden orb sprung into existence, expanding until it was like a small sun hovering at head height.
“What’s that?” Wyn said shooting to her feet. Lisbeth reached out and gripped her arm.
“I nurtured Tay, even when I pushed her away, I was channelling her, steering her towards this end but I cannot take the credit. I blew into the sails, but it was her that did it. She found something deep within and brought it forth. She was the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega.”
Lisbeth looked her in the eye. “You played your part spectacularly; I am proud of you. You lent her your strength when she needed it the most.”
“What is that?” Wyn asked pointing at the miniature sun hovering over the altar, the light penetrating every corner of the church.
“That is all of them, that’s what Tay was always meant to be.”
Wyn let go of the pew, and walked down the aisle, her toes finding the grooves made by a thousand years of pilgrims walking the same path. The light grew brighter, and she shielded her eyes. A voice called out to her, telling her not to be afraid but to open her eyes and she did as she was asked, coming closer and falling to her knees on the first step as the orb drifted towards her.
“Is that really you?”
The orb stopped at arm’s length, but Wyn stared directly at it, letting its radiance fill her eyes.
“I’m so sorry I left you alone. I wanted to reach you, but I couldn’t.”
The light grew in intensity until Wyn was bathed in its warmth and she fell into its loving embrace.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.
If you did then please let me know, you all know the power of a like or a comment.
If not then hopefully next time:)