Roald. She could not see him but his voice was close by. It did not sound like an: ‘I’ve just spotted you’ attention grabbing shout, more of a call in the hope that she might hear and answer.
“Jessica! I know you are going to be frightened, but it’s alright. I can protect you. Come to me, my princess, I’ll keep you safe.”
It was strange though, that his voice carried over the noise of the fairground music, the sirens that wailed about the start and end of the rides, the thunder of the machinery itself and the cheerful shrieks of the crowd. But despite the noise, his voice sounded clear to her. Almost as if she was wearing an earpiece. Then he was there. Right in front of her and she froze.
His skin looked grey in the stroboscopic brilliance and his eyes were sunk deep into his skull, mere points of reflected light, flickering like a candle just before it might gutter and blow out. And his skull itself seemed to be barely covered by flesh at all. The soft parts of the face, like the cheeks which connected the jaw to the rest of the skull, were fallen in. The outline of his teeth could be seen. His lips had blackened and looked withered, his nose sharp and beak-like. Only his hair seemed to retain its magnificence, long and lustrous.
Jessica felt her mouth open into a silent O. The same sense of paralysis that had gripped her when she encountered the youths by their fire, now seemed to seize her again. As if knowing she would not move, Annis let go of her hand and stepped in front of her. For a moment she thought Roald was actually recoiling from the child. Then he seemed to gather himself and stood his ground.
“There is a human woman here, she is mine. Have you seen her?”
Annis shook her head.
“Well, she’s not much use to you, is she?” Roald sounded almost contemptuous. “This place is very clever, I’ll give you that.But -”
“You go. Old One smell you. Blood Eater comes.”
Roald looked sharply to one side as if he had heard a specific sound over the noise of the fairground rides. Then he laughed, only it sounded more like the grating of sandpaper than his usual rich baritone laugh.
“You are lying. That thing is just a myth to scare the neonates. The Old Ones are long gone, or hiding deep in the earth. And you have seen the woman I can smell her on you. She is not what she seems – don’t be fooled by her looks, she has an ancient power rooted in her soul, enough to flambe you and your unfunny friends here.”
It was obvious, then, to Jess that in this dream, she was invisible to Roald. It made no sense, but then what dreamlogic ever did?
“Then why you want?” Annis was asking.
The creature called Roald smiled and a row of shark-sharp fangs could be seen as the withered. Black lips pulled back.
“I have an old debt to repay,” he said, the breath condensing from his mouth as if it was clouding into freezing air. One bony hand reached out and grabbed at Annis.“Now, tell me where – “
The cats had not been there and then they were, ears flattened, low growls and calls. Roald stepped back quickly.
“I don’t need your help anyway. She’s only human, she can’t hide in a place like this for long.”
“You go,” Annis said again, almost sounding urgent, as if she truly feared for him. “Old One find you. Blood Eater comes.”
“There is no -”
Somewhere below the earth something moved. Jessica could feel it through her feet, like a shock wave passing up through her body.
“No!” Roald said again, only this time in a very different tone, like a man waking from nightmare to find he’d dreamed true.
Then the world erupted around her and Jessica found herself falling.
From Maybe by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook
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