Gareth slammed the car door shut and activated the central locking system. It was later than he’d hoped; the sun was setting, a flock of birds wheeling up into the sky before turning back on itself and settling in the trees surrounding the village church. Almost pretty, he thought, turning on his heels to take in the rest of the scene. Almost, but not quite… Good God. He cleared his throat. Tim wasn’t going to like this. “Well, there it is, I think. Somewhere in there,” he said.
“What? That?” Tim followed Gareth’s gaze across the road. “No! Look at the place!”
The gate squealed in protest, as if it hadn’t been opened for decades. The sun had almost disappeared, the tops of the trees surrounding the house now brushed with a pink glow and the garden beneath consumed by shadow.
“I suppose it could have been beautiful once upon a time. It’s a little overgrown,” Tim said.
“Adds to its charm.” Gareth hoped he sounded convincing.
“Erm, not sure charm is the word you’re after.”
“Let’s take a look. Reserve judgment until we’ve seen inside the place.”
With Tim a footstep behind, Gareth made his way up the path, negotiating crumbling concrete and easing past rampant shrubs. Beside the front door, a plaque was just visible through the ivy clinging on to the building. He pried the stubborn stems away from the wood to read the carved words beneath.
“Well, that’s reassuring, Gareth. Harbinger of doom, and all that.”
“Curious the place isn’t called that on the deeds…just 20 Willow Green.”
Gareth slid the key into the lock and turned it. There was a moment’s hesitation before the catch clicked and the door eased open an inch, as if the house wasn’t quite ready for them. He smiled at Tim and, with a dramatic flourish, gestured for him to enter first. Tim shook his head.
“After you. The place is yours.”
“Ours, Tim. It’s ours.”
The warning cry from the rusting gate ripped his senses awake, but his mind was slow to follow. All Luka was aware of at first was the agony of sound and the warm trickle of blood from his ears. His muscles stretched as he moved, tendons almost tearing from the bone as he unraveled his body from its fetal position. He wailed with the new pain—a feeble echo of the metal against metal outside. His first intake of breath rasped down his throat and burned into his lungs. He clamped his mouth shut and breathed in deeply through his nose. The house was different—the odor of dust and mold and damp was still there, but something else too. The protesting gate had heralded the arrival of new flesh. He could smell it.
A river of cold air flowed across his pain-wracked body, caressing his arms, his chest, his legs—the outside world finding a way through a crack in his prison and reawakening his nerve endings to remind him of what he had been without for so long.
Touch. Skin against skin. Breath on skin…