Extract - Three Mile Drove

McPherson looked in the bathroom mirror and saw the thin wrinkles beneath his eyes. He hadn’
t slept well. He couldn’t get the damned abduction off his mind, he kept seeing a picture in his
sleep; he kept seeing it over and over again. There was a young girl lying on an old blue
mattress in the upstairs of a derelict house, a threadbare blanket lay beside her. The young girl
was unable to move because someone or something was holding her down. But that was the
part of the picture McPherson had been unable to see, try as he might, all night long.
He sighed, reached over for the gel and lathered his face for a shave. In reality the girl wasn’t
there, but to hell, everything else had been - the old mattress, the blanket and the ankle sock.
Okay, so they’d found no DNA, no traces on anything, he’d nothing to go on to establish the
sock’s origin, though it had been the clothing of a young child; possibly the clothing of the
missing child. Alright, so he had other things on his plate, new crimes had been dropping on his
desk that were beginning to transcend the search in terms of importance.
But not if he could get some real result, perhaps not to stumble blindly across the missing girl
but to find a substantial clue, and it would need to be a substantial one, something which would
warrant him scouring every inch of fenland between Littleport and Ely; something to justify the
cost of such an exercise.
He needed to go back to the house; it was the only source of hope as far as he was concerned.
He needed to go back that very morning despite what other pressing matters might lay on his
He stopped only briefly at the police station, to check his e-mail and messages before driving
out to Bramble Dyke. The fog, which had descended the following afternoon, hadn’t lifted a bit;
in fact it was thicker if anything, causing McPherson to curse beneath his breath at the necessity
to reduce speed to a crawl.
He almost drove past the place in the gloom, pulling to a halt just as the twin chimneystacks of
the old house reared up out of the fog, like eerie funnels of a ghost liner. They sent a shiver
down his spine, just for a moment. Right now, this fenland wilderness might have been a
hunting ground for lost souls. Giant, shapeless forms that swayed over him like dark shadows in
the grey swirl might only have belonged to the grey conifers bordering Tomblin’s property to
his right, but it would have been easy to think of them in a much more menacing light.
The house was in such a woefully neglected state that McPherson found it difficult to imagine
how it could possibly have provided a comfortable and respectable abode for a family, though
he knew that at some early stage of its existence it must have fulfilled the function. He paused
before forcing the front door open, taking a deep breath to combat the musty, sweet and sour
smelling odour he knew would sweep over him the moment he did so.
Inside the gloomy interior he could see footmarks on the bare boards. He felt his heart rate
begin to increase, just a minor acceleration, but noticeable, because the marks were fresh, and
they tracked in only one direction – up the stairway towards the bedrooms.
He heard a creaking sound just as he reached the staircase; it came from the upper floor.
Perhaps it should have served as a warning, a pointed reminder that to go in search of the cause
was foolish, that he should summon assistance, and summon it now. But he knew that assistance
would be several miles away, and he wasn’t prepared to wait even though he knew he was
disregarding the old fashioned cliché, “whatever goes up must come down,” and in that same
instant he thought he saw a movement, a quickly moving shadow merging with the poor light.
He crept up the stairway towards it, his adrenaline beginning to surge, but even as he did so any
suggestion of activity above seemed to melt away, as if what he’d thought he’d seen had been a
product of his fuelled up imagination. But the footmarks weren’t, and that much alone was
enough to propel him forwards, his lanky legs ascending the stairs two at a time. Then with the
speed of a rapier convincing him that fact wasn’t fiction, the sound of heavy feet rampaging
down towards him stopped McPherson in his tracks, an unsteady hand shooting instinctively out
to grasp the railing for precarious and tenuous support. But it was too little and too late to
enable him to withstand the impact of the human avalanche that came rushing into him and
through him in a frantic fury. He was flung backward as the figure surged over him, the back of
his head meeting the stairs with a crunch, and then the sensation of tumbling down the three or
four stairs he’d climbed only an instant ago, like some unwilling incompetent acrobat. Then the
lights went out.
It seemed to him, as he rose gingerly to his feet, that he’d been in the twilight world for an age,
though in all probability it was just a few short seconds. But by the time McPherson had
lurched along the passage like a disorientated drunk, dimly registering the fresh set of footmarks
that lead towards the main door, the intruder had disappeared into obscurity, leaving him with
an aching head as a legacy.
He blinked as he came to terms with daylight, that no matter how bleak and foggy, still
contrasted vividly with the internal gloom, so that tiny daggers of pain shot their sharp points
into his head as he struggled to focus on the patch of rain soaked bog for any sign of tracks. But
they had submerged readily into the rain-drenched earth and in any case he was no longer in a
fit state to pursue the intruder. Instead, he rested for a moment, the flat of his hand against his
throbbing forehead, his other hand clasped tightly around the door jamb, before he returned to
the dingy interior and began to stumble up the staircase, hoping against hope that the disturbed
intruder had left him something to go on. He reached the halfway point and arched his painful
head upwards at the dark gap, which had suddenly seemed to emerge from the ceiling above the
landing, like a tiny window on a star-less night.
Only it wasn’t a window and he wasn’t staring into the darkest recesses of the universe. The
attic was open, its cover drawn back so that the peeling plaster covered the landing like crisp
snowdrops. The one place he’d never given thought to, but then why should he when the rest of
the place had been stripped threadbare and left to rot. But now it stood gaping at him, like open
invitation to sample the secrets of a dark Aladdin’s cave. Something had caused the intruder to
search it; either that or he’d been about to. Now, McPherson needed to know why. He didn’t
relish the prospect of forcing himself up through the hatch in his present condition. He wouldn’t
have relished it if he’d been fully fit, but he had to be game for a try. He stretched his lanky
frame so that the muscles at the base of his neck seemed to scream at his already painful head,
moulding into an agony that he struggled unsuccessfully to blot out. He placed his hands flat
against the hatch rims and levered for all he was worth, swinging his legs up and placing them
against the walls in one swift but anguished movement, their contact lending his overburdened
arms valuable support as he wrenched himself through the narrow opening. Scrambling to his
feet, his lungs searing at the dusty odour that invaded them, he did something he should have
done when he first encountered movement on the stairway – he fumbled in his pocket for his
torch and shone it around the enclosed space. There was the sound of urgent flapping spreading
around the rafters, resounding around them like crazed jumping jacks, and from the gaps in the
eroding roof he could see that he had disturbed a hoard of bats. But even as his pounding heart
began to relent upon realisation that he had not entered a live arsenal of fireworks, his torch,
aided by long, thin fingers of daylight, rested on a low, shifting shape in the corner; his heart
had begun to pound again.
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