Working title; The girl in the Mist
I stare out of the window. The view is as beautiful as Bill said it would be when he wheeled me into the light. The sky is blue, with a strangely shaped cloud hiding the sun. A cloud that looks like the devil.
From here I can see other houses, dotted along the hillside, white, modern, unlike this one which has survived many generations. The families in these houses go out in the morning. Some take their children with satchels in their hands. Most don’t return till evening.
Maeve and Alasdair don’t leave the vicinity, though. They are retired and live in the next house along. I know because they arrived on our doorstep no sooner than we had unpacked.
‘We came to welcome you,’ said Maeve. ‘I knew you’d be tired after travelling, so I thought you might like to share our dinner. I always make plenty.’ Short and stout with wavy white hair and soft looking skin like a powdery marshmallow, she held out a casserole dish covered with a red and white checked tea cloth.
Alasdair, taller. thinner, wispy-haired with a small moustache and glasses, clutched two bottles of wine, one in either hand, white and red.
Bill hesitated. We had planned a quiet night, just the two of us, but then he asked them in. Bill would. He would consider it rude not to.
‘I hope you like wine,’ said Alasdair. His incredibly perfect teeth looked too big for his mouth and they clicked when he spoke.
‘This is my wife, Sally.’ Bill turned to me. ‘Look, love, I don’t need to cook after all.’
‘Thank you.’ I forced a smile.
Maeve’s beady eyes took in the wheel chair, the rug covering my legs. ‘Accident,’ I said.
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ she looked away quickly.
Bill removed the lid of the casserole. ‘Have you eaten?’ He looked at our guests. ‘Seems like there’s a lot of food here.’
‘I have more at home. I always make a full pot and freeze some, don’t I, Alasdair?’
But neither she nor Alasdair moved.
‘Then maybe you’d like to join us.’ Bill avoided my eyes which were pleading with him to shut up.
‘Oh, you don’t mind? We don’t want to be a bother. We would never be that, would we, Alasdair?’ Her soft white face lit up.
‘It’s no bother,’ said Bill, setting the casserole dish to one side and taking the bottles from somewhat reluctant hands. I guessed this wasn’t Alasdair's idea at all.
‘Were you badly hurt in the… accident?’ Maeve leant over and patted my shoulder.
‘She doesn’t like to talk about it.’ Bill spoke sternly, disapproving eyes meeting mine.
‘I’ll tell you sometime,’ I said, enjoying Bill’s discomfort.
By the end of the meal I knew all about everyone who lived in each of the houses nearby. ‘There’s the Simpson’s,’ Maeve’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Fiona and Ian. The big bungalow nearest ours. Two kids. Boys, eleven and twelve. Right little hooligans. Cheeky too. Aren’t they, Alasdair?’
‘I think they’re likeable enough, but yes, maybe a bit cheeky.’
‘The parents both work. She’s an estate agent and he’s a solicitor. Her mother lives in the next house along, the little cottage. She watches the kids after school and in the holidays.’ She chewed in silence for a minute. ‘The house below them, Maggie and Donald Pottinger. They’ve been here since they married, twenty-seven years ago. Three teenage kids. The oldest is in university, the second has a child of her own and she doesn’t work. The youngest, a lad, he’s about sixteen. There’s something not quite right about him.’ She tapped the side of her head with her forefinger. ‘Know what I mean? Then there’s that hippy chap from the cottage nearest the shore. He’s an artist or something. Has a boat. Long hair. Where did you say you came from?’
‘London.’ Bill answered filling everyone’s glass with the last of the red. ‘I must say, this is amazingly good stew.’
‘And what do you do?’ Maeve drained her glass and stared at the empty bottle.
‘I’m a headmaster of a primary school. We grew tired of the city. I’ll be starting a new job in Inverness next term.’
‘We’ve been here for two years now. Great place to retire to. Isn’t it, Alasdair? But the locals, they are a bit nosey.’ Her eyes fell on me. ‘And what did you do dear, I mean, before…’ She glanced at my legs.
‘A pole dancer. I fell from the top of the pole. Cracked my spine on the edge of the platform.’
Her face grew pink. ‘Oh.’
They didn’t stay long after that. Bill saw them to the door and returned shaking his head. ‘A pole dancer? Why do you do that?’
‘Would you rather I told them the truth? Anyway, she was doing my head in with her personal questions.’
‘They meant well, and the food and wine were good.’
I laughed. ‘You just couldn’t be bothered to cook.’
‘You do realise the whole neighbourhood will believe you were a pole dancer by tomorrow?’
‘Who cares? If anyone else asks, I’ll say I was a stripper. I don’t think she was stupid enough to believe me anyway.’
‘It was as good as saying ‘mind your own business.’ Not very neighbourly, Sally.’
I rubbed my head. ‘I want to go to bed, now.’
That was two days ago. I’ve seen Maeve scurrying around her house, throwing occasional glances towards my window, but she has not returned. I’m glad of that. I came here for peace, not to make friends.
Summoning all my courage, I wheel my chair to the door and out into the pale sunshine. I can do this.
Two boys are flying a remote controlled plane. It buzzes round my house then heads straight towards me turning up at the last minute and crashing into the wall above. They both run in my direction.
‘Sorry Missus,’ stammers the oldest. ‘We just got it. My little brother hasn’t got the hang of it yet.’
I assumed this was Fiona and Ian’s boys. The hooligans. ‘What’s your names?’ I ask as the elder retrieves the plane and inspects it for damage.
‘Stuart,’ says the younger staring at my legs. Without moving his eyes, he continues. ‘He’s called William. Why are you in a wheelchair? Did you fall off a pole?’
‘You don’t ask things like that. It’s rude,’ snapped William, his face growing pink.
I shake my head. ‘I’ll tell you, but it’s a secret.’ I beckon the boys closer and lean forward. ‘Promise you won’t say anything.’
Their eyes are open wide, they both cross their hearts and whisper ‘promise,’ in unison.
‘I’m a secret agent. I uncovered a plot to take over the British government, but I was shot while I was phoning for back up.’
Now the mouths were as round as the eyes. ‘Who…what…?’ begins William.
I hold up my hand. ‘I’ve said too much already.’
They look at each other. ‘We’ll never tell anyone, honest missus,’ declares Stuart. At that moment, Bill’s car drives up. ‘Is he a secret agent too?’
I shake my head. ‘He’s part of the plot. I’ve got him under surveillance.’
‘Thanks for letting us get our plane back,’ says William, grabs his brother’s arm and they turn and run down the hill towards their own house.
‘What have you been telling them?’ askes Bill. ‘That I’m the bogey-man?’
‘Just that I’m a secret agent and you’re one of the bad guys.’
Bill rolls his eyes. ‘Come on’, he says, ‘I’ve got lunch,’ and he wheels me indoors.