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The Sister

by Max China 

Posted: 02 May 2013
Word Count: 8188
Summary: Cornwall, England 1967. Two children witness a murder. One, a young Irish clairvoyant, views it from miles away, the other from fifty yards...

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The Sister is a novel of around two hundred thousand words and as such, with only a half dozen chapters uploaded, I feel it is necessary to provide a further brief synopsis as below:

Cornwall, England 1967

Two children witness a murder. One, a young Irish clairvoyant, views it from miles away, the other from fifty yards...
Seven-year-old Bruce Milowski wanders from a family picnic into nearby woods. He sees a man disposing of a girl's body.
Vera Flynn, the young seer, sees it from her home in Ireland.
More than just clairvoyant, and sent to Rome for investigation, Vera becomes 'The Sister', recruited by the Church to expose deviant priests.
Forty years later, 'The Sister' hides, sought by the Church, and hunted by a sinister cult that wants her gift for themselves.
A tragic teenage accident changes Bruce's life forever, his name changes too. Now known as Miller, he specialises in finding missing people. The search for a teenage girl, leads him into the path of a serial killer. A detective on the case vanishes.
Forming allegiances with a police chief, a beautiful journalist, a psychiatrist whose unwavering belief in the afterlife is tested, and his secretary, who needs faith to believe in its existence. Can Miller really trust any of them?
Can he protect those closest to him, and find the missing girl before it is too late?
The killer is still out there,
Drawn ever closer by destiny, and a bond formed in 1967, what will happen when Miller and The Sister finally meet?

The Sister is a multi-faceted story, more than just a detective story, more than just a drama; it is mysterious and suspenseful, thrilling and thought provoking. The Sister poses among other questions: Is there life after death?

The story arcs out widely, before coming back together around a central storyline that brings the killer onto the radar only after a cold case Crimewatch reconstruction.

Chapter 1

Midsummer 2007

He had always stayed away from deep water, it scared him, but this time was different, he went in to save someone; his efforts have exhausted him. He can't swim.
Did you save her?

Stripped of every thought that used to matter, he struggles, snatching a desperate breath before going under again, he presses his lips tight, clamping his last breath inside, he sinks lower. Pressure builds; charging his head with ear splitting pain, the sound of his heart grows louder. Deeper down, the murky water blankets the light filtering through. He closes his eyes.
Oxygen drains from his blood and lungs; every signal from every nerve attacks his ability to stay calm. His chest bucks against the urge to gulp. With only seconds to spare, his feet touch the bottom.
The brute will to live kicks in, and survival mode takes over - diverting every ounce of strength into powerful thighs. Driving up, he surges through the water - a human missile shooting for the surface. The initial burst of acceleration stalls against the mass of water. Without technique, desperation alone gets his face out into the air. He sucks in a quick shot, before sinking again.
A Japanese mantra starts in his head. Mushin no shin - empty mind - all thought must disappear.
The instant he feels the lake bed underfoot; he drives up hard again, a bubble about to burst.
Although his mind is empty, he knows that if he doesn't make it this time, without rescue he is finished. He flails his arms and legs, his frantic actions get him higher, he pushes his mouth up to clear the water. Just another inch…
The effort in vain, the chance missed, he slips down again.
His heart sinks. He'd always known that when the end came, it would come by water … the end of living on borrowed time.
Someone's words spring to mind: You know at the end you don't see your whole life flashing by, but if you're lucky … you get to make some sense of it all.
Reflex takes over. He gags on the first influx of water. Watching the huge bubble of displaced air break for the surface, he sees a distorted world within it. You should have learned to swim...

Chapter 2

North Cornwall - summer 1967

Halfway across a sloping section of the woods, in a well hidden clearing, a boiler-suited man was about to light a fire. Next to it, already prepared, a small stew pot filled with rabbit meat. The discarded body parts, skin and offal, lay a few feet away. A cloud of black flies swarmed around the unwanted refuse. The noise irritated him. Scooping the pieces up, he swung the shovel over his shoulder, catapulting them with ease across the space between him and the water; they plopped in through the chickweed releasing an unpleasant, sulphurous odour. With the remains gone, the flies dissipated and silence returned.
As the match he struck fizzed into life, he heard voices. He blew it out. Moving low and keeping under the cover of the scrub, he peered out through the bushes.
A young man came into view crossing over the ridge on the path below. He was dressed in khaki and wearing a leather bush hat. With him, a rangy dark-haired girl, who stood almost as tall as he did. Both carried rucksacks, sleeping bags and climbing gear.
They were heading his way.

As they came into earshot, he kept back out of sight.
"You told Lei you were coming here?" the girl said. "Are you sure she won't get lonely and come down to join you - us?"
"No. Lei won't come here. Like I said, we argued and we're not talking. Besides, she's scared of places like this, what with all those old stories..."
"What old stories?" The girl stopped and looked at him, hands on hips. "You're scaring me now." She frowned. "You didn't say why you'd argued. You haven't told her about us, have you?"
"No - Now come on Christina, let's get this tent up!" He laughed and pulled her in for a kiss.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, the man unfolded the two sets of new boiler suits he'd fetched from his car and laid them out by the streambed. He took the left hand sleeve and the left trouser leg and twisted the ends, joining and knotting them together, repeating the action on the opposite side to form two 'handles', with the main body of the suit becoming the 'bag' in the middle. When he’d finished, he had two bags made from the boiler suits. He unzipped the top of each one, and prepared them to receive their cargo of ballast.
The trek to the car in the heat, and his latest exertions left him sweating profusely. A mass of flies trailed him, while he collected fist-sized rocks from the dried out edges of the nearby stream.
He counted fifty-four stones, dividing them into two equal piles and loaded twenty-seven into each boiler-suit. The number was important to him, the product of three, multiplied by itself three times - the ultimate lucky number. After checking the number of stones a third time, he zipped them in and hauled them up to the pond, putting the modified suits on the bank, near the water.
Mixed with dirt and sweat from his forehead, his straw-coloured hair stuck to his face. He drew his fingers across it, and down his cheeks, wiping the sweat away, giving him the appearance of wearing light camouflage.
A few minutes later, outside the tent, he moved closer, listening to the growing sounds of passion. The sounds inside ceased abruptly.
His shadow cast itself across the tent wall. Damn! He'd seen it too late. Moving in the opposite direction, careful to keep the sun in front of him, he stood perfectly still, head tilted, an ear cocked close to the orange fabric. The sun shone through the tent from the other side, he could see their silhouettes quite clearly, frozen in position, the girl with her knees drawn up, the man between, on top.
She whispered urgently, "I saw someone."

"What? Jesus!"
"Thomas - there's someone outside."

The stalker held his breath, expecting the top shadow to extricate himself, and come out to look. They remained locked together.
"There’s no one out there, relax." Slowly at first, the dark profile of his buttocks resumed thrusting.
Outside the lover's nest, the man moved silently towards the entrance.

Chapter 3

July 15th 1967

The Milowski family walked much further than they intended to find the ideal picnic spot, choosing a wide open meadow where Bruce could play with little chance of hurting himself. From where they sat on a spread of blankets, the field of vision was uninterrupted for hundreds of yards. When they had finished their food, Bruce said he wanted go and explore. His father and grandfather were deep in conversation, his mother busy with his two year old baby sister.
"Well can I?" He said.
"Yes you can, Bruce, but I want you to stay where I can keep an eye on you." His mother said.

Over the course of the next few minutes, Bruce edged out, further away.
"Don't go any further, Bruce!" Mrs. Milowski called out.
"I won't!" Bruce called back.
Looking back to gauge her reaction, and waving to reassure her, he managed to inch his way towards a fence separating the meadow from another field, a hundred yards away. The vegetation in this one, quite different from the one he was in now. He stopped by the fence and looked once more at his family. Bruce's sister was crying and his mother had her back to him, soothing the little girl, his father still engrossed in conversation with his grandfather.
Bruce dropped to his knees and slid under the barbed wire, careful not to catch his clothes.

When Mrs. Milowski realised that Bruce had vanished, she cried out, panic rising in her voice. "Bruce, where are you? I told you not to wander off. Bruce!"
Both men stood up, their faces registered immediate concern as they scanned the meadow, looking in all directions. "What are you talking about? Where was he when you last saw him?" His father asked.
She pointed over to the edge of the field, to where she'd last seen him, the little girl sensed something was wrong and began to cry, Mrs. Milowski hugged her tight, soothing her.
"Find him." She told the men, clasping the child's head to her shoulder, she bit her lip, keeping her face hidden and her eyes squeezed shut. A large tear rolled down her cheek.

The men sprinted to the fence where Bruce had been just a few minutes earlier. His father vaulted the wire and crossed to the other side of the field calling his son's name. Bruce's grandfather bent to pass between the strands of the wire, standing upright the other side. He watched his son a hundred yards away, charging in and out of the trees, wasting his efforts. The young … they have so much energy.
Eyes half closed, he stared through the ferns, the reduction in visual light, enabled a sharpening of focus, and in this way he was able to dismiss the animal runs at lower level, and pick out the fronds bent by the shoulders of a child.
"Wait, I have found his path!" The old man waded through the undergrowth with a speed that belied his seventy-five years of age.

He pointed through the trees. "Bruce went that way..." A startled look crossed his face. "Mother of God! We must be quick - he is in danger!" Bursting through the undergrowth, driven by fear for Bruce's safety, the two men followed the trail only the grandfather could see.

Chapter 4

The girl in the seersucker purple dress climbed all the way up, just to come down the same way she knew he would have. At its highest point, Lei stopped to admire the view. She rested herself on a rock smoothed by wind and ages, and imagined three weeks ago he might have stopped there too, taking a drink after the long climb, rucksack at his feet, while he surveyed the valley below.
The valley sat between two rocky escarpments almost a quarter of a mile apart. The landscape changed from rock to shale, dropping away sharply, before becoming a gentle slope with patches of yellowish grass and scrub that grew wherever the roots could take hold, getting greener further down the hill where it flattened out around the stream.
A student in geology, she took in the extent of the flood plain and the displacement of rocks and deposits; it told her how, during heavy rain, it became a fully-fledged river. She imagined the roar of the water, white and foaming, fed by the fingers of channels funnelling off from the slopes. The waters would swell, spilling out over bends that could contain it no more. Before settling back when the rains ceased, becoming once again, a thin ribbon of water surviving the summer’s drought, to gurgle its way over smooth pebbles, around rocks and boulders, before disappearing into a wooded glade.
The woods concealed the site of a tragedy, a system of workings and shafts, where thirty-nine miners lost their lives during one black day, in the summer of 1857. A combination of freak weather and poor engineering had caused the mine to flood and then collapse. Soon after the deluge, downhill from the mine’s entrance, a large swallow hole appeared in the ground and filled with water; silt plugging its fissures and cracks over the years, until eventually the pond became permanent. Ferns, nettles and blackberry bushes plugged the gaps between the variety of trees that grew up around it over the years, encircling and completing its concealment.
Seen from high above, the body of water resembled the shape of an eye, the texture of the vegetation forming the warty upper and lower lids, completely shaded and utterly black; like the open eye of a giant, perfectly camouflaged, prehistoric creature.

A buzzard circled lazily, against the silent backdrop of a cloudless blue sky. The mid July sun beat down without mercy.
In the meadow below, the girl was only visible from the waist up.
Lei stopped to unhitch her rucksack, allowing cool air to pass over her back, and then untied her jet-black hair; she shook her head, allowing the glossy mane to cascade almost to her middle. Flexing her shoulder blades she resumed walking, carrying the sack by the straps. The weight of it made her change hands frequently. Her fingers trailed through the dry tips of the long grass without a sound, but every stride whispered and rasped against the serrated leaves, scratching the skin, stinging, as the sheen of perspiration found its way into the tiny cuts. At first, she thought some kind of insect was biting her. She looked down to below the knee; the skin was red and blotchy. Already she'd hiked around seven miles, and sensing she was close to her destination, she took the map from her rucksack to check.
The shock disappearance of her boyfriend and the guilt she felt, had left her a little unstable and more likely to take risks. She had already traversed a ledge further back, that she should never have tackled without equipment, but she no longer cared.
Lei was breaking the cardinal rules she had set for Thomas; rules she always emphasised whenever he went off on one of his adventures: Always tell someone where you're going, and when you'll be back, never take chances and lastly, because of the inherent dangers of the places he would explore, she told him he was never to go alone.
Thomas was a caver and disused mine explorer. When he told her he was going to explore the site of an old mine disaster, she refused to go with him. They had argued about it and he told her if she would not go with him, he would go alone. She didn't believe for a minute he'd carry out his threat. Lei was sure he'd find someone else to go with, but the next thing she knew, he'd disappeared. It turned out that he had gone alone, and she felt incredibly guilty. If she'd only gone with him...
And now she was going there anyway. The derelict mine complex down the valley. The last place he'd still been alive.
In her heart, she knew he was dead, but she was convinced that if his spirit lingered, it would linger there. A rescue team had found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. The tent was empty, his equipment missing; they concluded he must have decided to sleep in the mine, although the reasons for that, were not clear. Perhaps the humidity outside was a factor. The team was unable to find any trace of him; a few hundred yards into the mine, a fresh roof collapse rendered the whole section unstable, making it impossible to search properly. In places like that, a single cough would be enough to trigger a further collapse; he wouldn't have stood a chance. It was now his grave.
It took her a full three weeks to recover enough to summon the strength to go there to pay her last respects, going on impulse when she realised the date, and what day it was. She'd been listening to the weather forecast on the radio, the presenter remarked that it was St Swithun's day, she had no idea what that was, but it prompted her to remember it was Ghost Day. Her Chinese origins meant she believed that just for one day, the gates of Heaven and Hell opened, allowing the dead to be reunited with the living. Thomas hadn't had a proper ritual send-off, to do it on this day was a God given opportunity. With little time left to prepare, she phoned work to report in sick. She didn't tell anyone she was going.
The rucksack contained food for offerings, paper lanterns for lighting to guide his spirit, and because she worked Saturday mornings at a florist, it contained scissors, string and a poem. She made up a wild flower bouquet as she went along; she would build a rocky shrine and place them inside, light candles and joss sticks, place food and the poem she'd written, in there too. After today, she would return home to Hong Kong, where she would learn to live without him, but she would remember him most especially on this day, every year into the future.
Three years together, gone - just like that. Her throat tightened at the thought.
Over to her right, at the bottom of the hill, some scattered trees marked the edge of a densely wooded area.
Eager to get into the woods and out of the sun's direct heat, she quickly crossed a field of swaying ferns.
At the margins of the wood beyond the canopy, many shades of green allowed dappled light to drop through, making a patchwork of light and shade on the ground below. It looked so cool. She wandered in deeper.
So peaceful and quiet, only the occasional buzz of a fly and the gentle gurgling of a brook broke the silence. She went down to the water's edge. In the curve of a long looping bend, there was a place where the banks flattened, making an expanse of pebbles like a small beach.
Her new, dark brown Doc Marten's must have been the most comfortable walking boots she'd ever worn, but they made her feet hot. Lei removed them, along with her socks; she couldn't wait to dip her feet in the cool water. Crunching unsteadily towards the water with her boots in hand, the stones hurt her feet, so she skipped and jerkily tiptoed to get there quicker.
Nearer the water, where larger, smooth grey boulders sat in the margins, she stepped in something slimy; the mud below oozed and released a sulphurous odour. Lei found a rock with a flattish top, hitched her dress up and sat down, dangling her bare feet in the cool stream.
As she rinsed the black mud from between her toes, she decided to put the boots back on before crossing the shale again.
The sound of gravel crunching behind made her jump. Heart thumping wild and afraid - chest tight - she turned around sharply. Nothing there!
She sighed with relief. Turned, and then froze.
A stranger stood before her.
The rank odour of sweat and stale cigarette smoke assailed her nostrils.
His eyes made his intentions clear.

Chapter 5

The stranger didn't give her the chance to scream. He clamped her mouth with a powerful hand, and fastened the other at the base of her skull, pressing against it hard. The force of the grip made her eyes bulge, filling them with fear.

Afterwards, he smoked a cigarette, thinking about the girl he'd just met.
If she'd come by tomorrow, she would have missed him, it was his last Saturday, he'd finished the demolition contract he was working on, and he was pleased about that. Never stay too long in one place.
He couldn't explain it, but he just knew there would be one more. Things happen in threes. Was he really to blame if the Devil sent them his way?
He'd already committed the girl to his memory. That was the thing about a photographic memory; you kept it all in your head, and because of that, he took no trophies from the women he killed. Nothing to trace back, though he did take something from the man the other day, but that didn't matter; he could have found it left behind on a beach, or at a jumble sale. How would they find you, if you told no one, and left no trace? They'd have to catch you in the act.
He took a long last draw on the butt of his cigarette; then flicked it into the water.
At the edge, she waited for him.
Stooping, he picked the body up in one smooth, effortless movement, heaving her over his shoulder, and then squatted to gather her possessions in his free hand. He was now ready to take her beyond and into the woods. Her lifeless arms trailed limply down his back.

A scraping of pebbles close behind, stopped him dead.
What the...!
The man dropped her roughly to the ground, turning and looking in the direction of the sound in one fluid sequence of movement.

A small boy had slipped over on the rocks; stunned, he laid still for a moment, before recovering enough to scurry for cover.

Not quick enough kid ... I seen you! You've given me no choice, but to get rid of you. This is going to be easy. With his last victim's body left unattended out in the open, the last thing the killer needed was a chase.

“Comin' to getcha.” The killer mumbled, starting towards him.

* * *

Bruce scurried across the shale until he reached the cover of the low scrub that grew in patches along the bank. After fifty yards the bushes ran into a huge boulder - a dead end. He had to make a choice, run, or gamble on staying put. He was in two minds, and one of them didn't seem like the mind of a seven year old. An inner voice told him to stay still. The urge to run gnawed at his legs, making them twitchy, his ragged breathing deprived him of oxygen, and left him close to panic. He wondered if his parents or grandfather would find him in time.
He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. Stay put!

Where are you dad? He remembered taking the car to be fixed with his father one Saturday morning. The mechanic wore the same style of clothes the man looking for him now was wearing; a garage suit covered in grease, black where it should have been blue. The garage man kept a guard dog, which got out while Bruce played in the storage area behind the workshop. Freed from its cage, the dog attacked a group of people who'd come in about a car, in the chaos and confusion that followed, the dog evaded capture, and then it saw Bruce. The animal advanced on him, emitting a low growl, it seemed wary of him. Bruce closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. His hand closed over his seashell and he pulled it from his pocket, holding it out for protection. Where are you dad?

He felt the heat of the dog's breath when it opened its mouth, saliva flew as it snapped its jaws at empty air, driven back by a mighty kick. It was his dad! His father snatched him up in his arms; a group of men managed to keep the dog contained. The shell, it is magic! It brought his father to him.

The tramping of heavy boots sent loose stones skittering, clattering across the hard packed surface between the rocks nearby. The sound of footfalls stopped abruptly. There wasn't a sound in the air but his heart beating heavy in his ears, and his breathing. Bruce fought to control it. In ... out ... in ... out. He heard the rasp of a match, three quick sucking sounds. A waft of cigarette smoke drifted into his nostrils, the urge to cough insuppressible – he did it inwardly, without opening his lips, his small body jerked at each attempt to keep the sound inside. The tiniest rasp escaped.
Oh no! Did he hear that?

A spent matchstick dropped out of the air and onto the ground next to him.

* * *

The boy shut his eyes tight, mouthing a silent prayer.
"Your God doesn't scare me kid!"

At that the boy produced a seashell from his pocket, and held it out at arms length, eyes closed, holding it blindly in front of him like a talisman to ward off evil.

"What's that, huh? You're gonna need more than that, kid!" The killer was about to snatch it out of his hand, when he heard voices. Men calling out, at least two or three of them, and they were getting closer.

"Bruce! Bruce Milowski!"

"Mother of shit!" He cursed under his breath, eyes burning into Bruce. "Listen to me kid, today's your lucky day, but if you tell anyone what you saw ... I'll find you and I'll kill you all, your mum, your dad ... you got that, Bruce Miloffski?" The boy nodded.

The killer turned about sharply, rushing back to where she lay, he scooped her up again. Despite his haste, he checked the ground carefully to ensure no trace of her remained.
His powerful arm clamped her body down onto his shoulder and he carried her out of sight.
Hidden by the dense vegetation, the killer worked fast, faster than he would have liked, wrapping the arms and legs of the weighted suit around her, he knotted them together. The voices were getting too close for comfort. He gathered her up for the last time, and heaved the human parcel into the pond, throwing the bag and flower bouquet in after her; the wicker bag filled with water, and then sank. The poem she'd written in memory of her boyfriend, floated up to the surface and unfurled, the blue ink blurring as the water soaked the paper, an epitaph for a missing person, penned by another, who herself would remain undiscovered for a long time.
On the bank, he found only one of her boots. Frantically looking for the other one, he mentally backtracked - he was sure he'd picked up both - he knew he had. He jammed a large stone into the boot he was holding, and then lobbed it into the dense water. His search for the missing one failed. It’s got to be somewhere in this long grass!

There was no more time to look, the killer gritted his teeth and spat a curse at the kid, and the men who came for him. The boiler suit containing the stony ballast was only half tied to her body, he wasn't worried about that, it was secure enough, but the boot was a trace of her, and if anyone came looking, and if they found it ... It would confirm that she'd been there.
From where he was watching, he saw the younger of the two men examine the kid's head where he'd banged it, pulling his hair back to look deep into the hairline. When he'd finished, he ruffled the boy's head, apparently satisfied there was no serious injury. The older man squatted next to the boy, deep in conversation with him. The boy was nodding his head.

The older man got up and moved away from the other two, and stared down towards the edge of the wood.

The killer knew he couldn't see him hunkered down in the shady darkness beyond the bushes, but he seemed to stare exactly in his direction. Had the kid told him? He backed away silently, deeper into the shadows. The stench of sulphur, the smell of hellfire, was thick in his nostrils, and drifted on the slight breeze that picked up, blowing among the dry leaves that spun around in small whirlwind circles, blown, as if through an opened door. The breeze swept particles across the dusty surface and carried on up the slope, before subsiding at the feet of the men and boy, exhausted of its driving force. A few drops of rain began to fall.

* * *

Bruce's grandfather turned in the direction of the rattling leaves, and stood with narrowed eyes focused on the darkness beyond the tree line further down the hill.
Something was in the shadows.
His old hackles rose, sharpening his senses. A cocktail he last tasted during the Second World War on his lips again. The flavour was familiar. It was the taste of fear.
His memories carried him back to the horror once more. You do not ever forget how it feels.
Three wars he'd fought and survived, developing the necessary instincts, attuned to minute changes in the atmosphere, to the unnatural silences, the sensing of danger's presence, a sight more keenly honed than that of his compatriots, and sensitivities forged by the burning desire to stay alive at all costs.
The scent of death lingered with the fear in the sulphurous air, and hanging alongside, was the faint whiff of cigarette smoke.
With his focus concentrated on the tree line, he walked slowly backwards, afraid that if he turned his back, something would hurtle out without warning, and take them all. Only when he rejoined the others, did he turn round again. Spreading his arms symbolically, they came under his protection, he shepherded them away. "Come on, we'd better go."

Chapter 6

From the direction of their retreat up the hill, the killer knew that wherever they'd come from, they wouldn't have hiked all the way in with a kid that age in tow, meaning they couldn't have parked anywhere near where he'd left his vehicle.
It started to rain, big heavy splats crashed through the leaves, spotting his back, dotting the ground around him. He fished his cigarettes from a pocket outside his overalls, took one and lit it, then not wanting the packet to get wet, replaced them further inside his clothes. When he'd finished smoking, he packed up his gear, and headed off to retrieve his car from the rusted tin barn he'd been sleeping in for days. It cost nothing, and apart from that, the big advantage over staying in contractors digs, was he didn't have to talk to anyone. He didn't like people.
The barn was at the end of a potholed dirt track, and now disused. Aside from him, no one else went there.
He heaved open the door. It thundered noisily on its runners. Four hundred yards away, a flock of crows flew up. Could I have disturbed them? Or is someone else over there? No time to look now.
Jumping into the car, he started the engine, and turned up the track, the car rode more like a camel, as it bumped and rolled on its suspension. The wipers smeared across the screen before finally cutting through the accumulated grime. After ten minutes, he was relieved to turn onto the smooth tarmac of a country lane.
A short distance later, he turned out onto a bigger road in the middle of a bend. Deep in thought, he didn't notice the white and green Lotus Cortina car hurtling up behind him, it swung out at the last possible moment, overtaking him on a bend, horn blasting as it went by. That idiot is going to kill someone driving like that! The killer was outraged, something inside him flipped, and flooring the accelerator, he gave chase, flashing his headlights at the car in front.
The young man slowed.
The killer caught up close enough to see the colour of the other man's eyes looking back at him in the rear-view mirror. With his crew cut hair, shorn at the sides, the shape of the young man's head annoyed him. His palm smacked hard down onto his hooter, holding it down continuously, angry, as if pressing it harder would make it louder. Cortina man aimed a two finger gesture into the rear-view mirror, and to reinforce the message, stuck his right fist out the window and rotated it up and down - before accelerating away into the distance.
A few minutes later, further up the road, were some unmanned road works. The traffic light was red. Cars coming from the opposite direction blocked the reduced lane.
Cortina man stopped. With no place to go, he adjusted the mirror nervously, watching as the battered car rattled in to a halt behind him. In his head, an imaginary scene unfolded. The driver behind would get out and approach him. He would jump out of his car ... What do you want man - you want some of this, eh? Well hold on to that! He knocked the other man down with a single punch, then kicked him around in the pouring rain ... He watched in horror as - just as he'd imagined - the other man got out, but the fantasy evaporated when he saw the size of the figure approaching in his mirror. Cortina man lost his nerve. He pushed the door lock down with his elbow.
The man stopped by his window, all he could see looking out from the driver's seat, were the man's hips and mid torso. The distinctive brass buckle on the leather belt caught his eye, it was a skull and cross bones. It looked like it had remnants of red paint on it.
How can you take someone seriously who dresses like that and paints blood on his belt buckle? It was all a show! Who the hell does this guy think he is - some kind of Hells Angel?
‘Hells Angel’ tried the door handle. A completely different perspective dawned on the man in the car. He's trying to get at me - with no further time to draw conclusions, the contorted face of the other man appeared and pressed against the window so hard, one eyeball almost touched the glass, the crazed eye locked onto him. The car leaned over, tilted, as if it pushed by a Rhino. Cortina man shrank into his seat, compelled by fear into looking straight ahead as the big man's lips parted, releasing a shout so loud it hurt his ears. "OPEN IT!"
Cortina man turned and looked at the white foamy spit mixing with the rain on his window. Outraged at this blemish, he shook his head defiantly, his new found defiance held back the rising apprehension. His mouth felt dry, but at least he was safe in his car.
Abruptly, ‘Angel’ stood upright and leaned his hip against the door. From out of sight above the roofline of the car, the voice has become calm, the contrast to a moment before welcomed. Cortina man tilted his face and pressed it against the window, to try to see him better.
"You really should be careful who you stick your fingers up at, you know?" 'Angel' said.
At this point, he was giving him a chance. He really should have just put a hand up and mouthed sorry through the window, from the safety of the car. But he didn't, the sight of the spit on his window combined with his fear, making him erratic; he heard himself say, "Oh yeah, why's that then?" For the second time in as many minutes, he knew what would happen next. He cursed his stupidity. The response came not in words, but in an action so swift and decisive, and without concern for personal injury. A single punch exploded straight through the glass of the window driving small rough cubes of glass deep into his face, as the fist connected.
The last thing he heard, because it trailed him into unconsciousness, was 'Angel's' reply. "Why? Because, my finger happy friend, next time I'll kill you!"
'Angel' marched quickly back to his own car, climbing in just as the lights turned green; he floored the accelerator, spinning the wheels and headed off down the wet road, narrowly missing the stationary vehicle.
The police found the driver of the Cortina slumped in his seat two hours later. When the driver recovered, he was unable to recall what had happened. Despite an appeal for witnesses, no one came forward.

Chapter 7

Southern Ireland. 15th July 1967

Miles away across the sea at Celtic Deep, a thirteen year old girl hovered between light and darkness, the fever that had burned her up the past two days, at last broken. She opened her eyes, the light though dim, stung them as she blinked to focus. Her mother smiled at her, the relief clearly visible on her face. As she reached to turn the flannel on her forehead, she thought Vera's eyes looked greener than usual. Such a pretty girl...
"Praise be to God, you've come back to us..."
Vera simply looked at her and said. "It’s not safe outside."
"What’s not safe outside Vera? You're here - safe with us - there’s no need to worry about outside."
"Yes there is ma, I saw... There’s a man..." Vera turned her head on the pillow, cutting eye contact, staring with consternation at some point beyond the wall. Her mother's questions faded from her consciousness, as she closed her eyes once more.

Vera became withdrawn and moody, sleeping for hours during the day, then wandering restless in the night.
The family doctor advised Mrs. Flynn to keep her off school for two weeks. Her convalescence took longer than that. Vera was a pale sickly child, the only one in the family to have ginger hair. Her mother thanked the Lord it was only pale ginger, but even as it was, the other kids taunted her mercilessly. Vera refused to leave the house, even when she'd recovered, and she would not say why.
Finally, her mother lost patience with her reluctance to venture out, so one Sunday morning; she got her out of bed and announced she was taking her to Mass. Despite her protests, Vera got dressed anyway, but when the time came to leave, she would not go. Her mother dragged her outside, screaming and kicking all the way to the church. Once inside, she fell strangely silent. They sat at the back in the only available pair of seats together. Vera shivered, her teeth chattered noisily; she made a grrrr-ing sound as she shook, her mother looked at her, half of her thought she was faking something to get out of church. Suddenly, Vera’s leg shot out in a spasm, striking the seat in front with a dull thud.
"Vera - what are you doing?" Her mother hissed under her breath. Her leg shot out again, her whole body trembling, Vera went rigid, her backside off the seat as her back arched, then collapsed between the row.
"What’s the matter with her?" One of the men asked.
"I don’t know ... she seems to have had some sort of fit."
The men got her outside. A small group gathered around her prone body.
"Vera? Vera love - are you alright?"
Vera turned her face slowly round, it had blistered so badly, the whole group around her gasped as one.
"Holy Mary! Somebody fetch Doctor David."
Vera managed only a thin voice, as she said, "I told you it wasn’t safe outside."
They got her back inside the church.
Doctor David - a Welshman with the same surname as Christian name – arrived. After a brief examination, he offered no immediate diagnosis. "I believe it's an allergic reaction. Her recent illness has weakened the body. I'll prescribe something for her skin. In the meanwhile, let's get her home. She is to rest, get her drinking plenty of fluids." The doctor offered them a lift back to their house. Once inside, he scribbled out the prescription and handed it to Mrs. Flynn.
"Call me if you need me. I’ll be back in a couple of days..."

Her newly healed skin was smooth and pink. It became clear she’d be unable go outside, whether the sun shone or not. The smallest amount of ultra-violet light would trigger severe burns. The doctor was mystified, and took blood and tissue samples, there was no medical evidence to support any known ailment. Dr. David suspected she had somehow triggered a psychosomatic illness in order to avoid going out. Forbidden to leave the house until someone came up with an effective solution, Vera made sense of things from her bed. She resigned herself to a past she couldn't alter; she looked at ways she might bring about a change in the future.
It came to her suddenly. To do that, she would have to be outside, and in order to do that, she'd have to cover herself up completely during the day - but mostly she would go out at night, while the rest of the house slept. It was on one of those nights, that she wandered down to the beach. The sea was silvery in the light of the moon, it was then she saw it for the first time - in amongst the millions of other stones on the beach - this one glowed in the moonlight, its blackness exposing it just as surely as if it were white. Vera stooped to pick it up. At first, she thought it must be a black marble. She knew straight away that it was unlikely to be glass, because although perfectly spherical, it had the heavy weight of some kind of metal. Even at her young age, she knew the chances of such an object occurring naturally would be almost non-existent. She held it up in front of the moon between her thumb and forefinger, amazed that such a relatively small thing, could, when placed at a precise point in her line of sight, blot out the moon - eclipsing it. For one second, she had the feeling that both the moon and the stone were within her grasp. The moon seemed to lay a pathway across the water to where she stood. Vera remained spellbound, giddy and incredibly light on her feet until a passing cloud broke the spell and allowed the return of her senses. But in that moment of insight, she saw that by altering her perspective on life, by moving her standpoint – she’d make herself bigger in the grand scheme of things.
She had seen a way into the future, a way to make things safe, to put things right, she had seen the difference she could make. All she needed to do was work out how. The stone in the palm of her hand - blacker than the night - held the moon in miniature, reflected in the dark curves of its own black skies. She felt like an astronaut looking down from outer space onto a distant world. The night had never been fresher, or more alive.
There’s something special about this stone... At only thirteen years of age, she had all the time in the world to find out what it was.
Closing her hand over it, Vera slipped it into her pocket, and turning, started the long walk home.

* * *

The following Thursday, Mrs. Flynn announced. "We're going to mass this Sunday, come hell or high water," Mrs. Flynn paused, expecting resistance. "So, we'll be taking you to confession tonight."
"What for ma? I've done nothing wrong."
"I know that child, but you've not been to confession since I don't know when – a long time now. I'm wondering if it might help with things, you know…" She took Vera's hands in hers. "And I want God's light to shine for you; you've spent so much time out of the light of day. I'm afraid that darkness may take you."
Vera didn't respond.
"We'll go tonight. It's Father O'Malley. I always feel so much more cleansed when I confess to him, more so than the other one…" she snapped her fingers several times in quick succession, "What's his name, I can't for the living bejesus, think what it is … can you Vera?"
At last, Vera answered. "It's Father Hughes."

The church sat in the middle of a graveyard surrounded by dry stone walling, its windows half aglow with dim light.
Mrs. Flynn pulled the door and it creaked open, there were already half a dozen people lined up along the pew awaiting their turn. For some of them, it was a chance to socialise while they waited, they whispered among themselves in hushed tones.
Vera sat one from the end of the seat, leaving a space for her mother.

The women on the bench had perfected the art of speaking so that no one else could hear what they were talking about, the odd word was recognisable, but without a context to put against it, the rest was meaningless.

Vera's mother would go in after her and she was already running through the little things that she'd done since she last confessed. Is eaves-dropping a sin? It didn't matter she'd add it to the list anyway, and Father would tell her.

This last thought raised some concerns for Vera. At last, it was Vera's turn. She went in and closed the door behind her.

"Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been sometime since my last confession because I haven't been very well. Since then I think I have been good, but sometimes I catch myself listening in on other people's lives, and their thoughts. Worse than that though, the other night I dreamed the doctor died, and then he did."
"Doctor David? I saw him not half an hour ago – I can assure you child, he is not dead."
"But he does die father."
The priest sighed, "My child we all have many dreams and sometimes they are strange, but purity of thought leads to purity in dreams. You cannot control what you dream about, so how can it be a sin? You have spoken what was on your mind, and through me, God has listened to you. I can't see that you've sinned at all, but since you're here, pray to our Father, and pray to our Lady that they both continue to guide you."

She made her way up to the front row before the altar to wait for her mother so they could pray together. After her mother joined her, they both kneeled, and crossed themselves. Vera whispered her prayers aloud, her mother kept silent, keeping the number of Hail Mary's and Our Father's a secret. Vera chose not to intrude on what she'd done, but judging from the length of time her prayers took, it must have been something a little bit bad.

On the way home, with only the moon to keep the darkness at bay she asked her mother, "What is contraception?"
"Where did you hear that word?" Her mother demanded.

Uneasy at the tone of her mother's voice and afraid she'd land herself in trouble, Vera told a white lie.
In her mind, she was at her next confession already.
A white lie is not a sin is it Father?

She would not go to mass that Sunday with her mother.

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Comments by other Members

Bald Man at 23:38 on 10 May 2013  Report this post
Max, I read six chapters, and will finish the last another time. Overall I felt this was a strong and engaging piece of work. The opening chapter is very good - you certainly captured the panic and desperation of the drowning man, and it was an excellent 'hook' for me.

Your chapters are short and active, which encourages continued reading. You effectively present the demonic menace of 'Angel', although I thought the 'Hell's Angel' tag was taking the analogy a little too far. But the introduction of this character in Ch. 3 was very well-crafted, and in particular I liked the way you linked his meal - with its "discarded body parts, skin and offal," - to the nature of the man himself and his subsequent actions.

There were some excellent similes. One that I particularly liked was:

Seen from high above, the body of water resembled the shape of an eye, the texture of the vegetation forming the warty upper and lower lids, completely shaded and utterly black; like the open eye of a giant, perfectly camouflaged prehistoric creature.

Although I felt that sometimes you needed to rein the adjectives in a little; examples that stuck out for me were:

She crossed a sea of swaying ferns to get there, out of the unrelenting hot sunshine, and ...acrid grey cloud of burning rubber smoke..

These seemed to me to be rather piling on the metaphors,tautologies or adjectives.

Some other things that struck me (all with the usual IMO tag):


In the morning, he asked his mum if he could learn to swim. "It's important." He told her.

"We'll see." She said.

The mother's reply was surprising in its ambiguity, and I felt the chapter would be stronger ending on the current penultimate sentence.

Ch. 4

Christina makes an appearance in Ch. 3, but is not mentioned again. It is assumed by the rescue team that Thomas has been killed, so I wondered why there appeared to be no mention of a search for Christina, as it seemed she was associated with him and appeared to know Lei, e.g. "You told Lei you were coming here?"

Nitpick: The early July sun beat down mercilessly. However, the given date at the start of the chapter was in mid July - the 15th.

'...she realised the date, and what day it was. *Ghost Day!* I didn't understand what you meant by 'Ghost Day', unless I am missing something obvious here?

Ch. 5

he took no trophies from the women he killed. Nothing to trace back...

This presents Angel as a ruthless and cunning killer. He knows that Bruce has seen something incriminating, and is foiled from killing him too, by the arrival of the men. So I would have thought he would want to get away quickly and discreetly from the scene before Bruce alerts the adults to what he has witnessed. I was surprised, therefore, that he would want to draw attention to himself and his traceable vehicle, close to the murder scene, in the way he does in Ch. 6. The Cortina driver would certainly remember the encounter with him!

The smell of sulfur - the stench of hellfire... [And later in the chapter]
The smell of death lingered with the fear in the sulfurous air, and hanging alongside, was the faint whiff of cigarette smoke.

I wasn't sure where the smell of sulphur was coming from; I usually associate this with volcanic areas, and as Angel had only just killed Lei, would there be a 'smell of death' that quickly? I usually associate 'smell of death' with decomposition.

Spreading his arms symbolically, they came under his protection, as he shepherded them away. "Come on, we'd better go."

You tell us in the introduction that Bruce 'sees a man disposing of a girl's body', so I would assume that he would tell the men who arrive on the scene what he had just seen. The old man's reaction, above, was surprising then, it that he doesn't say, 'we had better call the police', or something similar.

Hope this helps; come back fighting if you disagree with anything, or want to present your intended perspective/point.


Manusha at 17:24 on 11 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Max,

Welcome to the group and thanks for posting your story here. I'm happy for people to post stories of any length, but saying that, yours is pretty long for a full 'intensive critique'. I see that Colin has already commented (he is after all very generous), but others might not be able to find the time to comment on the entire piece. To encourage further comments perhaps you could mention that you'd be happy for people to comment on a section only. I should also say, that due to the lack of participation of some previous part members, not everyone will be willing to comment on a part member's work. It would be helpful then if you could promptly reply to any comments on your work and, more importantly, comment on other peoples work too. This will ensure the pleasing flow of give and receive that the health of any group relies upon.

Kind regards, Manusha.

Max China at 18:11 on 11 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Manusha,

Thanks for the welcome, Colin mentioned the piece was a bit lengthy for a full intensive critique. Where would the best place to mention I would be happy to receive partial reads? I will following this introduce myself in this groups forum. I am a full member of the site, do you mean I'm a part member of this group. I will of course engage in some reads very soon.



Manusha at 20:19 on 11 May 2013  Report this post
Where would the best place to mention I would be happy to receive partial reads?

Dear Max, the summary is the best place to request the level of critique you would prefer. If you wish, the summary can be updated by using the edit function on your 'My WriteWords' page.

I am a full member of the site

Please excuse me, I've been juggling too many things in my mind and completely missed the fact that you have now become a full member. Given that, you are most certainly a full member of the group.

I will of course engage in some reads very soon.

Me - you - best friends!

billy p at 22:11 on 11 May 2013  Report this post
Hello Max,

I must say, it's a great idea for a novel. I'd like to read more of this.

I read it through twice, and my immediate impression was more or less reinforced with the second reading.
The first chapter was the stand out favourite, -really good. The next three followed close behind. However, I thought it stuttered over the next two chapters before recovering a little in the seventh.

My issue with Chapter Five was the character of the killer. It may be just me, but he seemed too 'American'.(Of course, that may well be the case). To clarify; given that the action takes place in Cornwall, I was anticipating a home grown 'baddie'. But he did seem to have stumbled from a Dean R Koontz novel, in that his dialogue/inner dialogue was, IMO, a bit clichéd.

The next chapter seemed implausible to me, given that the last thing a serial killer would want, is all the attention that his actions would have drawn.(I'm not speaking from experience, of course!). This chapter also seemed a bit clichéd.
I see Colin also thought his(the killer's) actions were a bit odd. Although, I would disagree with Colin about the over use of adjectives. I think sometimes a picture needs painting in great detail, to create the right atmosphere.

The seventh chapter was almost back to the level of the beginning, and the only criticism I would give would be to suggest that it seemed a bit 'rushed' initially. Although it recovered towards the end.

As always, this is just my opinion. Feel free to it with a pinch(or fistful) of salt.



I meant, of course to take it with a pinch of salt!

Max China at 23:03 on 11 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Billy,

I've revised several of my chapters and switched what was chapter two into a later one, just for clarity and to streamline things, to make the interplay between the killer and Bruce hopefully more exciting. Thank you for your comments, some may have been already dealt with within the rewrite. The killer is a complex character, what he is at the beginning is one thing, how he evolves is another. I had to paint him as a little raw and implausible, even, at the beginning to make him work. He learns from the few mistakes he makes. As for Americanised, or his style, you are quite right, but there is a reason for that and should you ever chance to read the whole story, it would become clear.

Thank you for your review. I will read and comment on some of your work tomorrow.



Artificer at 23:08 on 12 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Max, I read this a couple of times and found it compelling and very well written. Only a couple of sentences jarred for me:

"Afterwards, he smoked a cigarette. The killer thought about the girl he'd just met."

I had to read it twice and wondered if you could say it better in one sentence, for instance: "Afterwards, he smoked a cigarette and thought about the girl he'd just killed."

Otherwise I thought it was extremely good and wanted to know what happened next.


Max China at 05:38 on 13 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Eleanor,

Thank you for your positive comments, and thanks for pointing out those two mismatched sentences to me - I thought I'd weeded them all out!



eve26 at 18:24 on 31 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Max

I read the first few chapters here. Sorry I didn't read more, but will try and come back at another pont. I like your writing. There's no doubt you're a techincally able writer and some of the metaphors you use are lovely.
I really enjoyed the opening chapter. I was, however confused by
Did you save her? *
I'm not sure who this is talking to him? I'm guessing its a internal thought, but I'm not quite sure why its there.

The chapters are very short and of course other thrillers use this form. I gues the risk is the structure can be quite jumpy. There is an interesting discussion about this in the forums.

I do think the idea is very interesting, but I just wonder whether the action is a little choppy. But that could be just me.

Max China at 19:00 on 31 May 2013  Report this post
Hi Eve,

Thanks for your comments. I wanted to introduce an element of mystery early on. Did you save her?
She had to be important to him, or he'd never have gone into the water. So we don't know who he is other than he was prepared to give his life for her.
The end of the short prologue is supposed to give a clue to where we're going. You know at the end you might get the chance to make sense of it all. Then we flash back forty years.
It is a little jumpy at first, settles down around chapter eight or nine. The whole story is 200k words, so i wanted not only mystery, but to start with a bang too.

Thanks again for your time, I appreciate it.


Account Closed at 21:34 on 09 June 2013  Report this post
Hi Max

I have read this and have a few comments to make - not many, as I enjoyed this and read to the end without feeling I wanted to stop. Hubby is nagging me atm, so I'll comment tomorrow, but I wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this.

Max China at 20:14 on 10 June 2013  Report this post
Hi Sharley,

Thanks for your comments, I will consider them fully in due course. It's funny in a way that you provided a link to emmadarwin.typepad because I discovered the site through a happy coincidence only this morning. Interesting stuff indeed. I'm glad you enjoyed te story so far, at around two hundred thousand words, it is a bit of an epic, I have already trimmed off around a third, agonised over whether or not it should be two books - and changed the opening chapters several times. At the moment, the prologue is supposed to set up the rest of the story in that in his last moments the drowning man is lucky enough to get to make some sense of his life. I don't make it obvious, it is supposed to be a mystery as well as thriller/drama/crime And the intention was to keep the reader unsettled at the beginning. I know I run the risk of losing some because of it, but if you can get through to the end of chapter five, everything begins to become clearer (I hope)

Once again, thanks for your input. If you'd like me to look at your work, please advise which you'd prefer.


Account Closed at 20:25 on 10 June 2013  Report this post
Hi Max

As I said, I did enjoy it and I had no difficulty reading through to the end of the exerpt, which is great.

Emma's blogs are very useful and it was on her course that I learned about psychic distance, etc.

Don't feel obliged to read my chapter two. Only if you have time or the inclination. It's early draft stuff, so will need work.

Max China at 20:47 on 10 June 2013  Report this post

Thanks for the italics tip. The latest revised version is above, I've added a scene at the end, which you might enjoy. I will look over and comment in due course, probably tomorrow now.


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