Heartweed: Chapter 3

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 3

The slow scrape of a door. Artie opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. She stretched her hand out to the side of the bed and flailed it until it made contact with her bedside table. Her fingers walked the surface to her phone. It woke up long enough to tell her that it was 1.17am, then flicked its screen off again.
The brief light made the darkness even darker and the residue of the numbers danced on the back of her eyelids. Artie’s mouth gaped in a yawn. Ready to turn over and push her face into the pillow, she paused. What had she just heard? Movement, from Alex’s room.
Her ears followed his steps onto the landing, down the stairs, through the house. Her brain struggled to follow. Interrupted sleep crowded in, trying to pull her back under again. As the heaviness descended a stray thought nipped at her. Sleepwalking.
Alex was sleepwalking again. Artie pulled herself upright, blinking and shaking her head to clear it. In her hurry to the door, her toe slammed into the door frame. She cursed. Loudly.
The rattle of keys in the back door. Artie swore again. She grabbed for the pair of trousers that she knew she’d find on the floor. Crossing the landing in pitch black and while hopping and tripping into her trousers slowed her down. When she reached the garden it was empty. The gate swung on its hinges. Alex must be sleeprunning, not sleepwalking. She slipped on a pair of grimy trainers and followed.
Alex was on the other side of the common, violin in hand, moving with purpose. Artie ran after him. The unlaced shoes slopped around her bare feet and tore at the skin of her heels. When she reached the place Alex had been, he had disappeared into the woods on the other side of the road.
Artie bent at the waist and caught her breath. She glanced left and right along the road and then crossed to where she thought that Alex had vanished.
Her night vision was kicking in and it was lighter outside than in the house. The moon leered around the edge of a clumpy cloud and an orange streetlight glowed a few hundred feet down the road. Still she could barely see a thing as she stepped into the woods. Tree trunks were visible as a very dark grey against black. There was no sign of a path that Alex might have followed.
Artie closed her eyes and strained her ears. No sound of him moving through the undergrowth. No violin. She held her breath. A low murmuring sound – voices. One of them was Alex’s. She turned in the direction of the voices and opened her eyes. The patch of forest in front of her was as thick as any other. With her eyes open she was less sure of the direction that she had heard the voices in, but it was all she had.
Artie ducked under a tree limb and moved deeper into the trees. The orange stain of the street light seeped away. With the moon back behind its cloud, Artie found herself using her feet and hands to feel her way through the trees. It was slow going. Artie had lost track of the sound of voices. She paused and leaned against a tree to listen again. Nothing.
Her ears detected nothing, but as she stood there staring int the distance her eyes picked out two shapes in the trees. She peered closer. It was two standing figures, not just an effect of the shadows. The last of her doubts dissolved when one of the shapes moved.
Artie crept closer one slow step at a time. Every step rattled and rustled all of the plants within three feet of her. Every twig that came under her feet shattered explosively. She gritted her teeth. Surely they could hear her coming, but neither figure turned.
She recognised Alex’s build in one of the silhouettes. The other…  It was taller than her brother. Its shoulders high and pushed back. Its head oddly-shaped: too high, too pointed. Fear fluttered in Artie’s throat like a trapped bird. Despite this she took an involuntary step forward, trying to make out more of the strange figure’s features. Something crunched under her foot.
this time the figure did look around. The moon swam from behind a cloud and lit up its features. A fox-like face with skin so pale that it appeared to reflect more light than fell on it. Its sharp nose angled up as if to scent her out. Not that it needed to, Artie knew she had to be lit up in the spotlight of the moon.
His hair, Artie was sure it was a male, just as she was sure that is wasn’t a man – not a human man, his hair was built into a high elaborate style. This was what had given the head its strange shape. In the cold light it looked the colour of blood.
Every inch of Artie’s skin contracted and weakness washed through her legs. What was this thing with her brother? Alex stood in front of him staring dumbly through Artie.
The creature’s lips curled back from his teeth in a greedy smile. One hand latched on to Alex’s arm. The other flung an insult of a wave towards her. Artie started forwards. The air surrounding her groaned into an oppressive weight. Around Alex everything rippled: trees, ground, air, sky. Alex and the creature vanished. Shadows ran into the space that they had left, like waves running into a hole dug in the beach.
The weight lifted from Artie and she found herself breathing again. IN front of her the woods stretched, unperturbed and empty. As if neither Alex nor his abductor had ever been there.
Artie turned and set off in a stumbling run back towards her home.


Continue reading here.

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