An adventure to another world, yet so much is similar. Or is it?
Martyn believes that he is either mad or dead when he wakes on a strange world. Then he believes the inhabitants are practical jokers. As some memories return, he also believes that he is a cruel husband, disliked by his family, and dying back on Earth. The parallels between his own and Sujane's family, a woman who befriends him, convince him that this is a dream. When he wakes in his damaged garage, he realises that the other world is real, and redemption lies with saving Sujane and her dying daughter from a man claiming to be a sorcerer. A man who sounds too much like his hated and traitorous missing brother-in-law, Sullivan. As he realises that he has discovered Sullivan's secret, he sets out on one final adventure to correct the wrongs in his life. Yet those parallels go much deeper. Martyn's bumbling progress across a strange land, while confronted by stranger creatures, shatters his beliefs and offers a second chance. However, the alignment between the worlds will last only four days. Sullivan is using these four days to terrorise Earth while stealing technology. Time is against Martyn. A humorous physical and mental fast-paced all-action adventure into the unknown.
Rumbling vibrations ran through the ground, the air, and his body. Either a low American fighter aircraft or thunder. However, it was the strange rhythm pounding through his brain that filled his thoughts and dreams.
“Wake up, my lord. Darkness is almost upon us. We must reach the village before night comes.”
Martyn heard the soft, lilting words as though from a great distance. The woman’s voice sounded beautiful, almost like she had sung the desperate plea. The voice, rather than the words, pulled him through the dark dreams of unconsciousness. He struggled to wakefulness and rubbed his eyes, trying to remember where he was and what had happened. His arm felt heavy and exhaustion dragged his eyelids downwards again.
“Please, my lord. Wake quickly, for we must be on our way.”
He rolled onto his side and rubbed his aching forehead. The strange rhythm still filled his body and only aggravated the headache. “I’m no lord, unless I missed the New Year’s Honours. I can’t even remember suffering Christmas yet. Anyway, who in hell speaks like that these days? You sound like you escaped from a Shakespeare play.” A wave of pain spread across his chest. Squeezing his eyes closed and pressing a fist against his left breast changed nothing.
“Your words are strange, lord. I know not your meaning.”
Sighing heavily, he looked at the woman for the first time and drew in a ragged breath at the oval face he could only describe as stunning. Her full lips and petite nose, untouched by make-up, faded to insignificance as her main feature filled his vision. The pair of vivid green eyes, still managing to sparkle despite the dim light, reminded him of a lime sorbet he had recently enjoyed, and they seemed just as large. His mouth closed on the angry retort. She looked familiar but he could not think of whom she reminded him. The hood of her cloak and the twilight hid all other details of her pale features, so he dismissed the niggling thought. His hand clutched something round and heavy and, while he stared at the torch, his uncertainty returned. He fought to stand, and only managed to stagger upright with her help. A shiver ran through him, and his clothes clung damply to his body where dew had soaked from the tall and drooping wet grass. Fear emanated from the woman and quickly transferred to him. His mind suddenly panicked. Everything around him seemed dissociated from reality and he could recall nothing from his past. Clamping his hands over his ears did not stop the regular rhythm that seemed part of him. Using all his willpower, he tried to ignore the distraction while looking deeper into his mind, searching for those illusive memories.
“Where are we? This isn’t Thorpe Astley, is it?” One glance at the trees, fields and hills, even in shadow, showed no resemblance to Norfolk.
Nowhere in East Anglia looks this brooding, he thought.
“This is Mirewood, my lord. In the Middle Plain. The village of Apelyard is yonder and we must reach it before full dark.” She tugged at his hand to emphasize the urgency.
Nothing made sense, and memories remained as elusive as a lost wallet in a marketplace. A terrifying screech, sounding like a young girl in deathly torment, came from the line of trees beside the rough track. His body hairs rose and his heart froze as though dropped into an ice bucket. He allowed the young woman to pull him along beside her, afraid of showing his fear. For the first time, he noticed the small figure who held her other hand. Gulping down his dread, he decided it was time he obtained some answers. He spoke quietly, not wanting to cause any more heart-chilling noises to come from the brooding forest.
“Please don’t call me ‘lord’. My name is Martyn.” His forehead creased in concentration. “Martyn Winthrop. Perhaps you’d be good enough to tell me who you are. Is that your child?” The thumb and forefinger of his left hand felt like they were on fire and he put them into his mouth to soothe the pain.
She tried saying the name, her enticing lips moving slowly to form the sounds. “Martyn.”
He had never heard his name spoken like that before, and his heart began to warm, although that could have something to do with the pain. Like city buses running in threes, his stomach began aching too. This quickly became a concentrated point of agony, feeling like a fiery needle trying to escape from beneath his skin. Despite that, he continued to stumble along beside her.
“A noble name, lord. I am Sujane, and this is my girl-child, Tamra.”
“I told you, Martyn is sufficient.”
“But your clothes are so fine. I have never seen such before, but once.”
He glanced down at his work clothes. Under the old and worn jacket was a hand-knitted pullover made by his wife, and a red-checked shirt. The jeans had spots of paint and oil on them, and the trainers were scuffed and dirty. He chuckled, wondering what she would think of his suit. Her voice helped his mind to recall memories. He studied her more closely but could now only see the dung-coloured cloak that covered her from head to foot. She was about six inches short of his five-foot-ten and he now realised why she had seemed familiar.
“You remind me of my wife. She’s about the same size as you but her eyes are brown. Same face, almost. Her hair is nut brown and shiny, like a conker.” It must be years since I told her that, he thought. Where has the time gone? And how can I say her eyes are brown? That sounds so plain and common. Her eyes were one reason why I married her. Khaki-brown, but not solid colour. More like a glowing density, fading to amber. My daughter must be nine, no ten now, and what time have we spent together? He noticed Sujane staring at him, and frowning as though he spoke a different language. “I have a daughter about the same age, too. Where’s your husband?”
“Hus...? What is huss bund?”
“Your man. The father of your child.” He stared at the forest hoping his loud voice hadn’t woken the screecher. The tall, prickly trees seemed to reach out towards him, their thick roots lifting from the hard ground as though struggling to run from the blackness beyond. He recalled the pine forest near Thorpe Astley where one could see for at least two hundred yards between the regimented lines of trunks. Here, the thick and tangled vegetation blocked out all sight of what lay within.
She smiled. “My life-mate? You must have travelled far to speak so strangely.” Her features tensed and she stared ahead so that he had to strain to hear her stern words through the noisy pulsing in his ear. “My life-mate is dead. My brother now shelters us and is awaiting our return. He would welcome a guest, and it is too late for you to travel farther this night.”
Stay with strangers? The idea would have been repulsive if anyone other than Sujane had offered. He felt comfortable with her, as though he had known her all his life. “Do you have a phone? I can soon get someone to pick me up. I only wish I knew how I got here and where my car is,” he added between painful gasps for air. He hoped they would quickly reach her home, or that she would slow their fast pace.
“Forgive me, but I do not understand what you say.”
“A phone, for God’s sake,” he said, holding a fist to his cheek.
Her eyes opened wide. “You speak the name of great deities easily. Are you a priest?”
His jaw jumped as he ground his teeth. “Of course not. I own a company and would appreciate a straight answer to a straight question.”
“What question, lor... Martyn?”
The anger disappeared and his limbs became weak. Just keep saying my name like that and we’ll get along just fine, he thought. “How did I get here?”
“All I know is that I found you asleep beside the road.” She frowned. “I was sure you were not there a moment before.” Her right arm lifted in a kind of shrug. “Perhaps the grass hid you, and I only noticed you when the thunder startled me.”
He could remember nothing immediately before first hearing her voice, especially any thunder. Then he recalled the momentary strange dream immediately before she had spoken. Yet he knew that he had never looked upon that forest before. Once seen, never forgotten. Just one glimpse could cause a month of nightmares. He looked down at the packed red earth beneath his feet, rutted where vehicles had past.
Red earth? Norfolk is sandy soil, he thought. “This is a road? It’s more like a track. Where’s the main road?”
“This is the only road through Apelyard. I know of no other.” She quickened her pace when they came in sight of a small flickering flame in the distance. “That is the village.” Her relief at being so close to home disappeared quickly and her voice rose in pitch. Martyn thought she might become hysterical. “They have lit the beacons already.”
His aching legs moved faster to keep up with her, and his lungs began burning with the unaccustomed effort. He had spent too much time behind the wheel of his car or sitting at his desk. Even a round of golf with clients had begun to take its toll on his resources recently.
It’s the business that’s killing me, he decided. The profits have steadily declined over the last three years, no matter how much time I devote to work. In the last few months, the pains in my stomach and chest have increased in direct proportion. I’m a mess, he thought grimly. All this weirdness is the last thing I need. Maybe I’ve had a nervous breakdown or something. That would explain it. I’m not really here at all, and this woman and child are really my wife and daughter. Christ, I can’t even remember what the little brat looks like.
The swift walk brought a sheen of sweat to his brow. Yet a shiver still passed through him as the last of the sun’s glow that reflected off the clouds disappeared like a switch turning off. But not before he had glimpsed the village. No windows seemed to break the plain wooden walls, although he guessed shutters probably covered them now.
“You’re not serious, surely? These are no more than pig pens on a farm.”
“The pens are on the other side of the village,” she answered, staring at him. “Can you see them through our homes?”
“I was talking about your homes. Nobody lives in huts nowadays.”
“There are not enough caves for everybody, and none near here.” She shrugged. “We build where we need.”
“Jesus, I must really have been on a bender this time. Been reading too many history books.” He thought about that and realised he had not opened a book in years. He spun round at the sound of deep-throated growls but the darkness had become absolute. Even the forest had disappeared, but that meant he sensed the evil more clearly. By tilting his head, he could hear the drumming sound better. As he started to swing the torch in that direction Sujane grabbed his arm and gave it a tug before he could turn it on.
“Run. Cur Few is nigh. The dog-pack chases us and will tear us all to pieces.”
He stumbled after her, fear overcoming the ache in his muscles. His self-congratulatory smile at moving so quickly as to keep up with her soon vanished when he realised she clutched her daughter to her chest. The girl’s legs hung limply and further impeded Sujane’s progress.
If I were a gentleman I’d take the girl from her, he thought. If I wasn’t so knackered, I’d be able to.
His lungs already felt as though they were ready to burst, and he could hear the pack gaining on them. The beacons still seemed a long way off. Too far, as though running men carried them. Each time his feet thumped onto the ground he tried forcing more power into his step. His muscles burned and his open mouth could not grab the extra air his body screamed for. The rough ground kept dropping away beneath him, making his heels crash down and jar his spine. He concentrated on the faintly-lit path, watching for deeper shadows that might warn of any obstructions. The steady pounding of the dogs’ feet showed that a stumble now would mean an agonising death. Every nerve in his back contracted when he thought of teeth ripping into flesh. His flesh. The growls changed from anger to triumph. His senses yelled for him to look behind. Willed him to see how close the snapping jaws were. He didn’t dare glancing behind. His heel kicked against something. A yelp close behind quickly followed the crack of contact. Tears of pain and effort blurred his vision. Then lights flashed on his retinas.
This is it, he thought. I’m having a stroke. It’s no use, I can’t go on.
Rigor mortis seemed to set into his leg muscles. Small sounds escaped his open mouth.