His father, Charles, and his grandfather, Wilhelm, had taken his wife, Elizabeth. Marvin Wallis could still smell her sweet scent in the small oceanfront flat they’d called home for less than a week.
The surf of the North Sea sounded in angry regularity at his back as he raised the garage stall he shared with his neighbor, John Kelly. They’d taken his car too. But, John’s cab was there.
John was a good chap, a local, and a family man. He glanced at the sun. It was past midday. He left the garage open, walked the short distance to John’s door, and knocked.
“Aye, good man Marvin, figured I’d be seein’ ye at me door.” John had answered quickly, as if he’d been waiting. He was forty years old, had gray in his beard, a paunch over his belt, and the skinny legs of someone who sat all day.
“You see what happened?”
“Right tootin’. Had me hand on the ringer to alert the constable, but seeing as how the sirs looked mighty fine in their suits and how they looked like your kin, I figured a family squabble was in the makin’.”
“How long ago?”
“N’more n’ an hour.”
“Can I rent your cab?”
“Supposed to cost ya on a Sabbath, but seeing as how the kids are gone out with friends until tonight’s festivities I don’t figure there’s a need for the extra bite on ye purse.”
“Charge me what you will, John. I need you to take me up Wallis Highland Road.”
John recoiled and Marvin noted the warding hand gesture John made.
“What’s a Moore to do with that blasted highroad?” Marvin had given his name as Marvin Moore to the port authority upon renting the property. To the world at large that was his birth name. It was standard Wallis family procedure.
“John, you don’t want to know.” Marvin couldn’t look this fine fellow in the eye. “I really need to get up there.” He studied the worn 2×2 baseboards of the entryway.
“But… Why don’t you…” John knitted his brows and tugged at his beard. Marvin wasn’t proud of the position he was putting a man he’d call friend if he were allowed the freedom to choose such a thing.
John blew out a sigh. “You’re a good man, Marvin. I’ll take you up the dreaded way a pace. I make no guarantee, mind. A man’s gots limits on…” He made the ward again. Marvin took a step back.
“Right,” John said, patting his pockets. He glanced around the house. “Everything’s set to rights here. Wife’ll be back a’for long.” He scratched out a note and left it on a vanity next to the front door. “You’d be in a hurry. Let’s be gone.”
The town of Hargrove sat at the mouth of a loch river in Northern Britain. John, the town’s only cabby, sat the driver while Marvin rode shotgun. The smell of seasoned leather, oiled metal, and burnt petrol filled the old 16hp Albion Tourer.
Through town took only minutes. The four or five blocks were tight-packed for easy access during cold months. Out of town the road got rough. Evidence of neglect and shabby repair increased with every passing mile. John slowed down.
The town golf course sat on the right hand side of the road. The greens were meticulous. Golfers turned and stared at the car as it passed, but not one of them waved.
Marrel’s farm sat on the left, opposite the course. The land lay fallow. The fields were stripped bare of their harvest. Dark earth lay primly in the afternoon sun.
After Marrels the road turned left and hugged the river. Gradients became palpable. The air turned colder and smelt a pungent contradiction to the sea. To the right rose the highlands; immediate and rippling, like a yell to the sky.
The forest didn’t start right up. Trees came in tight bundles of no accord in random places to crowd the road. Their upper branches touched in a tunnel passages with increasing frequency. Darkness came and went in ever increasing regularity like the pulse of some giant beast too vast for the mind to grasp.
“Never thought I’d go this far,” John said.
“You’re doing well.”
“Had a pappy who told me that these little wood have names of their own.”
“Old yarns keep the world interesting,” Marvin said, all the while thinking, ‘There goes Torne, up ahead is Kilph.’
“Aye,” John agreed. “Keeps a man’s spirit alive.”
The road cleared for a larger space. The river to the left lay like an angry beast tearing at its banks. Its course was a series of switchbacks. The waters were black. Sandbars of pure white dissolved into the raging waters. To the right the ever undulating highlands loomed. Up ahead lay the greater darkness of the ancient forest.
The forest swallowed the car. The road began to buck. John slowed. Trees passed by slowly. Sounds of the forest were audible over the gentle roar of the auto. The trees glistened with blue-green moss covering their lower trunks.
They passed some wood that looked younger than the twisted trunks they’d already passed. The trees looked planted in rows. The underbrush looked manicured. Wide pathways sprouted off into gray oblivion on either side of the road. They passed a great, fog covered mansion or castle.
“It is Kildon. Do not stop, John.”
They crossed a bridge and entered an even darker wood. The wild returned. The fog thickened and the trees grew broad. The road, always at an incline, took on an even sharper slope.
Marvin had John park below the family castle well within the cover of trees.
“Wait for me John, if you will. An hour, no more. Then we can go.”
“Hurry, good man.” John’s voice shook.
Marvin jogged up the road. He didn’t slow as he passed the stone archway with its ten foot manicured hedge. Two great stone wolves with eagle heads flanked the oversize steps of the castle entryway. He paid them no heed. The massive iron wrought door swung inward on noiseless hinges. He smelled her here. He ignored the foyer and walked up the winding marble stair. No servant made an appearance. A closed in quiet surrounded him.
He passed the second floor and tread up to the third where his elders were. The power and vitality of the third floor stuck to the roof of his mouth before he reached the landing. He picked up on a coiled vibration. That had to be Grandfather Wilhelm’s contribution. The old woodsman loved his lore.
As if thinking of him had summoned him the old man appeared. Wilhelm Wallis’s suit looked new but uncomfortable. Marvin lost a step as he gaped at the broken stick figure of a man. Grandfather looked more powerful in his forest robes.
The old man smiled at him with large white teeth too big for his sunken cheeks. Marvin rushed him, grabbed him by his surly surcoat, and threw his frailty toward the vibration. Grandfather began uttering a guttural enchantment, but it was cut short when he passed through the vibration. It was an open doorway. He had some sort of barrier set up there.
“Marvin, how dare you harm your beloved grandfather?” His Father, Charles, sounded truly sad. Marvin whipped around to see him standing in one of the other open doorways extending down the hall.
All the pent up rage of years willed away and wasted twisted Marvin’s face into a bug eyed leering sneer. He pulled a single shot revolver from the inside of his business jacket and pointed it at his father’s chest.
“Go see to him.”
Charles, high intelligent forehead shining and a slight muscle clench to the severity to his jaw, took a moment’s pause to judge his son’s seriousness before doing as he was told. Marvin followed him with his gun.
Grandfather was still trying to get to his feet. Charles sighed and stepped through the vibration.
“Shut the door.” Charles closed the heavy door slowly without a sound, though he did shake his head.
His fingers tingled as he walked down the steps to the second floor landing.
She came at his call, a smile on her face. His returned smile was automatic. She smelled wonderful.
“Marvin,” she clasped both his hands. Her brown eyes reminded of him of rich forest loan. He took a precious moment to gaze at her face then rubbed her swollen belly.
“Everything’s fine,” she said.
“We’re leaving tonight, as planned.” The freckles across the bridge of her nose darkened. Her eyes got a little tight around the edges. He kissed her cheek. “Pack whatever you like, but don’t go upstairs.”
“Why were your father and grandfather so insistent that I come to the castle?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged off the ominous possibilities. “I’ve a car. I won’t be long. Please hurry.” He hastened down the steps then exited through the still open great door. The sun was close to setting. Her scent was strong in his nose.
Marvin gazed on the coming twilight, his back to the beauty of the setting sun. The stars would come early tonight. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Behind him he heard Liz in sharp whisper telling the castle porter what to load into the cab.
The air had an edge. Autumn was bucking into an early winter. He hoped the ship hadn’t been delayed. He’d paid the American, Blaine Gantry, handsomely for the voyage. He’d met the man while visiting Edinburg on family business and, in a stroke of luck, had found a way to safely escape his mistake.
He turned back to Liz and the car, rolling his signet ring around his right index finger. He could see her concern. How he hated to see such refinement marred; the fair skin, her high cheekbones with freckles, her natural red lips, full with a slight overbite, her large brown eyes, deep and rich as freshly turned earth. Her auburn hair was created for sunsets. The evening dress she’d chosen, green upon white, did nothing but enhance her delicacy. She was more of a pawn than he. He’d brought her into all this.
She rubbed the swell of her belly. He went to her and took her hands in his. Her hands were as soft as his though hers were longer in the fingers.
“Hurry along Liz, Dear. We mustn’t dally. I’m quite ready to quit this place.” His voice was a harsh whisper.
“Yes my Love.” She said softly as if she didn’t wish to excite his mood. He kissed her hard. Such a good woman, such a strong woman, deserved the best from her man.
Elizabeth, maiden name of Targent, born in the year 1913, with hair color, height, weight, temperament, eye color, heritage… all of it, as described and preferred by his elders. He’d followed every rule, undergone every scary ritual thrown at him by his Fathers… all except one. He’d been weak.
The porter coughed. “Stay off the upper floors for the rest of the night,” he told the man as Liz got into the car. He patted his vest pocket to check the time. He’d lost his pocket watch somewhere along the way. There wasn’t time to conduct a search.