They ate in an atmosphere of surprising companionship and Annis was surprised to see that humans could be mannerly and tidy in their eating habits. Jessica finished her bowl of soup and her share of the flat bread.
“Where do you get…”
Jessica twined her fingers together and Annis picked up her nervous confusion.
“Not worry. Ask.”
“I’ve been here hours, and by my reckoning it should be morning by now. Why is it still dark?”
“Night is long here…”
“And what is your name? And what was that thing? And why do the cats obey you? And why is the vampire following me? And what are you doing here? And why did you help me? And…”
Annis waited until she finally wound down before showing her teeth in a grin. The female was less passive and stupid than she had seemed, this was good.
“I one question. Then tell.”
“Why you lie?”
“What do you mean?”
“You say not know what boys do. You know. You fear.”
One single tear rolled down Jessica’s cheek.
“You’re right. I do know. It happened to me before. And it broke me. Inside. And outside too.”
Annis looked into the tear-drenched eyes and felt an emotion she didn’t understand. We might call it empathy or pity. She put out a hand and patted Jessica’s arm gently.
“I name Annis. Been here always. Me and cats.”
She was about to say more when the sound of hurdy-gurdy music split the air. Music from a hundred directions, followed by the sounds of laughter and the smell of oil and burnt sugar. Jessica cringed, and Annis took her hand.
Annis pulled open the rough wooden shutters and the two women stood shoulder to shoulder looking down on the fairground as it must once have been. It was a world of flashing lights and pressing bodies. The sense of excitement was so strong you could almost taste it, as the punters were drawn in by the magic of the fairground at night.
“Look,” Annis pointed and Jessica could see Roald walking among the shades with a puzzled expression on his handsome face.
CHAPTER THREE: JESSICA
It was when Annis opened the shutters and let in the night that Jessica finally began to realise that this was not anything ordinary. Up to that point, the unreality of it had left her cushioned to the strangeness, and she had heard the girl speak of vampires, blood eaters and old ones, but not really felt it was real. Even the huge felines, part of her was convinced were just large dogs she was misperceiving in the dimness.
But then the shutters were open and the night marched in, a grotesque danse macabre of vision in which Roald stood out like a three-dimensional solid against a painted background. The people were there, but not there.
Jessica closed her eyes and counted silently to ten, then opened them again. The insubstantial crowd still jostled its way through the park and Roald had vanished from view. She looked at the girl – the child, Annis and for a moment thought how like the scene outside she seemed. Then the strange dark eyes shifted their gaze to look at her and the illusion vanished.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore are we?” Jessica said, pushing a smile onto her face. That was met with a slight frown, as if Jess had used a foreign language.
“Shelley’s,” the girl insisted.
She seemed a very literal child. Jess wondered if she might have Asperger’s or something similar. It was the kind of mundane thought her mind always came up with when faced with something too difficult. Like the day she had been told her parents were both dead. She had heard the words, then looked at the shoes the policewoman had worn and wondered why there was mud on the side of one of them. Catching herself in the act this time, Jess looked back out of the window and tried to take in what she was really seeing.
Part 8 of Maybe will be here next week…