Heartweed: Chapter 16

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 16

The chirp of her phone intruded through the rippling drumbeats and startled Artie out of her meditation. She pulled her headphones from her ears and opened her eyes. She was in the woods. She was still in the woods.
It had been a long shot. For the past four evenings she had been spending hours out here looking for… something. A way through. A way back to that crumbling mansion where her brother’s killer lurked.
Four evenings of searching through the woods, looking for a way into fairyland: through a ring of mushrooms; through a group of oak,  ash and hawthorn trees; through sheer force of will. Nothing worked. Four evenings of trying to prove to herself that it hadn’t all been a dream. False memories produced by trauma. Whatever.
Tonight was the second time she had tried meditating, focusing her mind on where she wanted to get to, on the crushing shadows that were the way there. Today, just like yesterday, her mind had refused to comply. It tore around and around in circles showing her the same images again and again: Alex’s body flying through the air; March’s face as he watched his wife kissing Alex; March’s twisted smile as he met her eyes across the road.
Artie just ended up angry at herself and her failure, while her memories of March and Faerie just seemed more and more unreal each time she revisited them, like a word that when spoken too many times in a row lost all meaning. In her mind March’s face had blurred to the point that all that was clear to her was his smile, hovering in nothingness like the smile of the Cheshire cat.
Artie rubbed her hand over her face and reached into the bag looped over her shoulder, careful not to cut herself on the stainless steel kitchen knife in there. They didn’t like steel, or so the internet said. She pulled out her phone and read the single line of text from her mum. “Dinner. 15 minutes.” She dropped the phone back into her bag and stood up, stretching and twisting to get the kinks out.
She emerged from the trees a few feet from the spot where Alex had stepped to his death. On the opposite side of the road her father stood. A half drunk bottle of beer drooped from his hand.
“Dad?”
His eyes drifted upwards to stare through Artie. For a second it seemed as if he didn’t recognise her, then he blinked as if she had suddenly snapped into focus.
“Hi, love. Your mum sent me to fetch you for dinner.”
Artie nodded and crossed the road to his side. When he didn’t fall into step beside her she stopped. His eyes were still fixed on the road; he took a long drink.
“Coming?”
He nodded absently, but still didn’t turn. “Found out today. That kid plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter.” Artie flinched at the harshness of his voice. “Drunk – it should have been murder. Whatever he gets it won’t be long enough.”
Artie muttered: “It wasn’t totally his fault.”
“I know you said that Alex,” there was a hitch in his voice when he said his son’s name, “that Alex walked out in front of him, but that’s no excuse. If he hadn’t been drinking he would’ve seen him earlier, been able to brake.”
His hands tightened into fists. Artie was afraid that he would crush the neck of the bottle into his hand. “I went out there. The next day. No skid marks. not until after the point where Alex was hit. He didn’t even touch the brakes, not until after he took my boy away. I hope my son’s murderer gets the punishment he deserves.”
Artie’s dad drained the last of the beer and turned towards the house. “Let’s go in to dinner.”
“Dad?”
He turned back to look at her. “What, love?”
“It wasn’t his fault. He was just used.” The story that she had tried to tell the police came spilling out of her again. Her father just stared at her, his face getting redder and redder, except for his lips, which were pressed together so hard that they went through white and into blue.
“What the hell are you talking about?” The angry words burst out. “A fairy. Do you mean a queer?”
“No,” Artie closed her eyes. Believe me, please believe me, she thought. “A real faerie. I know this sounds crazy, but he used some kind of magical, mind control-”
“Mind control! Magical! Yes, Artie, that is crazy.” He ran his hands through his hair until it stuck up in clump. “Is this what you told the police? They said that you were hysterical. Raving about someone else being there, but there was no evidence and no one else saw…” He stepped close to Artie, the desperation in his eyes bored into her. “Was there someone? Who was it? Who killed Alex?”
“There was. A faerie, Lord March, he-”
Her father turned his back to her in an abrupt motion. The empty beer bottle flew from his hand towards a nearby waste bin. It hit the edge of the bin awkwardly and shattered. The sudden violence of his actions shocked the words from Artie.
“No more talk like that.” His voice was deadened. His shoulders were hunched and shaking, as if with the effort to keep something in. Then they eased. “I’m sorry.”
He turned back towards her, trying and failing to form his face into a composed expression. “Your mum and I, we’ll get you anything you need, any help you need for this… PTSD, or whatever. Anything you need. Just tell me. Was there another person there.”
Artie heard the faint inflection on the word person. She shook her head. “I’m sorry Dad.”
“It’s OK.” He stared past her. “Just try not to say anything about fairies or another person being there in front of your mother.”
He turned away from her and lead the way back towards the house.

Continue reading.

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