No one could survive a fall from this height. You’d have what, three seconds? Four at the most. The man peered over the edge of the waterfall and counted. Four seconds - maximum - then it’d be Game Over.
Looking down had been a mistake. His new perspective caused the world around him to sway sickeningly.
Even in the darkness of the early hours, he could sense the unstoppable power of the water as the river plunged over the precipice. He could hear it in the tremendous roar that blocked out all other sound, feel it in the vibrations rumbling up through his feet, and taste it in the spray of mist against his face.
Curving smoothly over the edge of the falls, the water seemed unaware that anything had changed, and for a few moments it continued trying to be a river. But soon enough gravity took hold, tearing it apart and remaking it into a churning, unstoppable torrent, before slamming it into the rocks far below.
The man shuddered. If it tried the same thing with him, he would split open like a piece of overripe fruit, his vital, secret biology exposed to the uncaring night air in a spray of crimson.
A splash of cold water soaked through his shoes. He ignored it. Given his current situation, it hardly mattered. Instead he carefully lifted his gaze towards the stars.
Swallowing, the man blinked away a sudden swell of emotion. No matter how many times he looked at the night sky here, he would never become accustomed to it. Arching above him, fragile veils of dust twisted and rippled through the void. Distant supernovae blossomed before his eyes and died in an instant. The stars were astonishingly bright and shone with a purity that illuminated the dark places in the man’s soul.
Reminded of his insignificance in the unimaginable enormity of the cosmos, he returned his attention to the present moment. Thick glassy ropes of water slid past reflecting the hard, cold light of the stars. To either side, rocks, like the one on which he stood, protruded from the surface of the water like crenellations on a drowned castle. Each one green and slick with algae.
The horizon tilted again, and the man staggered a step to the side, as another nauseating wave of vertigo broke over him.
But all was not as futile as it appeared, because the man teetering on the edge of the world knew a secret.
Forcing himself to take deep calming breaths, and keeping his attention locked on the horizon, he patted at his jacket pocket. A reassuring solidness, the reason he was here in the first place, met his touch. The weight of the stone briefly returned the man’s thoughts to his dangerous journey along the lip of the waterfall to reach this precarious position.
A chill ran across his back. Was that movement – out there, in the dark across the water? Was it possible he wasn’t alone out here? The man twisted around carefully, looking back over his shoulder. Could he have been followed? But as hard as he tried to focus on the thought, it seemed intent on eluding him. Anyway, what did it matter if anyone had seen him? There was only one way he was getting out of this situation. Let them follow him.
He slipped his hand into his pocket and closed his fingers around what lay within. Withdrawing it, he gazed adoringly downward and sighed as a feeling of utter contentment flowed through him. The jewel loved him. He had stolen it from where it had laid, for thousands of years for all he knew, and yet still it loved him.
Had there been anyone else present to observe the thief at that time, they would have seen him close his eyes and smile, his face bathed in the aquamarine glow drifting languidly from the gemstone.
Then they would have seen him step off the edge of the world and plunge into the abyss.
The face of the woman, who had just run her finger somewhat seductively across Jacob Trevorrow’s cheek, dissolved away and was replaced by the harsh glare of a sodium lamp. Jacob struggled to make sense of this bizarre transition as he gradually surfaced nearer to wakefulness. The soft caress he’d been enjoying resolved into a rivulet of cold water running down the side of his face.
Jacob closed his eyes again and curled into a tighter ball. Just a few more minutes, then he’d wake up and deal with whatever was happening. He was still close enough to sleep to believe this could all be solved by simply returning to the delicious world of his dreams: a world where he was warm instead of shivering; where his back didn’t ache; and, most importantly at the moment, a world in which his pillow didn’t feel like a rock.
But it was already too late. Rationality was seeping through his mind like water through worn shoes, asking inconvenient questions about why his clothes felt damp and pointing out that simply going back to sleep wouldn’t actually change anything.
Scowling, Jacob half opened one eye. The flat, starless sky reflected the yellow glow of the lamp on the top of Liskeard’s fountain. The fountain - what a bloody joke - a dull monument to some engineer, nothing more than a drinking fountain. The whole scene was tipped over onto its side.
Granite pressed hard into the side of his head, and reluctantly he raised himself up onto one arm. His chilled muscles protested at the movement. The fountain rotated into its more usual orientation, and Jacob shivered as night air flowed into his lungs, unexpectedly cold and fresh. Shit - he’d been sleeping on the ground in the centre of town again, and for quite some time by the feel of things.
Staggering to his feet, Jacob grasped the edge of the fountain for support. The act of standing up brought new areas of clothing, not warmed by his body heat, into contact with his skin; the night’s rain had soaked him through. Still, at least he was dressed, which was an improvement on the last time this had happened.
As full consciousness returned, new worries clamoured for attention. He’d obviously been sleepwalking again. What if someone had seen him? How long had he been out here? Had he locked the door? Had he even closed it?
Fucking great. His family were already regarded as freaks, thanks to his dad banging on about Liskeard being a gateway to another world - this was all he needed.
Jacob turned in unsteady circles. The town was eerily quiet and empty. A glance across the road towards Pike Street, dropping away opposite him, allowed a good view of the illuminated clock face on the Guildhall tower. Three thirty in the morning - that was good - not much chance of anyone being around at this time. He shouldn’t attract too much attention, not now he was up off the ground, and especially since he was fully clothed.
Shivering, Jacob folded his arms tightly across his chest and tucked his hands under his armpits. Christ it was cold! How long had he been lying under the fountain? A double espresso, and a particularly intense game of Call of Duty, had made it a late night. It had been at least one o’clock. So… what? A couple of hours?
Okay, damage limitation time. The quickest route back to the flat was... straight across the road, down the hill and then right along Fore Street. Jacob moved out into the road.
Shit! Movement! There, at the far end of the road. Who the hell was that? Dropping to his haunches behind a granite flower planter, Jacob squinted into the distance. A relieved smile spread over his face as the rush of adrenaline faded. He’d be safe enough, just so long as he kept out of sight.
It was only the Queen of England.
The Night When Everything Changed
Afterwards, Peter Trevorrow would wonder why he hadn’t been more unsettled by the strange and, in retrospect, rather disturbing events that were to occur that evening, but the only ominous thing about the morning had been the sound of heavy rain lashing against the bedroom window. Parting the curtains a crack, so as not to wake Catherine, he peered out at the farm cowering beneath swollen, black clouds.
After a miserable day labouring in the sodden fields, wishing he was somewhere — anywhere — else, Peter returned home in the late afternoon, leaving just enough time for a quick shower before he had to head out again for his shift at the pub. The income from the farm was never going to be enough to support a wife and two children.
As it turned out, he didn’t mind working at the pub. It was a quiet sort of place, there was rarely any trouble, and every now and then a band would be booked to play which made the evening more interesting. There was no band playing that night though. In fact, there wasn’t really much of anything going on, the rain had taken care of that. Peter couldn’t blame his customers for staying at home; if it hadn’t been for work, he wouldn’t have gone out either.
By nine-thirty the bar was empty, and Peter was alone. Well, alone if you didn’t count the man in the hooded sweatshirt, and his presence was odd in itself. Peter couldn’t recall him coming in, and with so few customers tonight he was fairly sure he would have noticed. And, now he came to think of it, the corner of the room he was occupying wasn’t usually in shadow either, a bulb must have blown. Still, the firelight from the hearth did make it look rather inviting. Perhaps that was why the stranger had chosen to sit there.
How long the man had been there? Long enough to suggest he consider buying a drink? That was what customers in pubs generally did, wasn’t it? Summoning up his best barman’s voice, Peter leaned forward, placed both hands firmly on the bar, and then blinked in surprise. The table in the corner was empty. Peter shook his head and blinked again. The man in the hoodie was now standing on the other side of the bar. Weird, admittedly, but at least it was one awkward conversation Peter no longer had to worry about.
Now that he was out of the shadows, Peter could see that the man wasn’t wearing a sweatshirt after all. It was more like a hooded cape — the sort of thing a highwayman would wear, or an elf from one of those video games his son was always playing.
Did you even still get highwaymen? There probably wasn’t much call for them these days what with motorways and fast cars and such. By the time the shout of stand and deliver had gone out any car would be little more than a memory. Peter rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand; his mind was wandering, and his eyelids were starting to droop. These long workdays must be getting to him. And as for elves, everyone knew there were no such things.
“Care to join me for a drink?” said the man in the cape. Bizarrely, his words were a deep shade of indigo, and mostly soft curves but with hidden barbs that would bite deeply and hold before you even noticed.
“Sorry,” said Peter, “I’m feeling a bit strange all of a sudden. What did you say?” The man smiled. Did his eyes just flash orange? Orange wasn’t a normal eye colour was it? Perhaps it was.
The man lowered his hood and leaned in close across the bar. “I said that you look like you could use a drink.”
The man had a point. Peter was pretty sure he did need a drink, although for some strange reason he felt as though he should have been the one asking the question. He smiled at the thought, he had no idea where it had come from, surely the man must know what he was doing.
“Yeah,” Peter said, “you’re not wrong.”
Peter blinked and shook his head to clear it, his mind had been drifting again. He focussed on the man on the other side of the bar. Those pointed ears certainly suited him; you don’t see ears like that too often. In fact, Peter wasn’t sure he’d ever seen any quite like those. The intricate line of silver tracing the upward sweep and extenuating the tip must be some kind of jewellery, although he couldn’t see how it was attached. And those odd tattoos curving across his cheekbones, that was some high-quality ink-work. Must be some new kind of dye to change hue like that with each word he spoke.
“Sorry, what?” said Peter.
“You will need a glass. Only a small one.”
“Oh yes, of course.” Peter reached down below the bar, found two shot-glasses and placed them onto the counter. From somewhere within his cape, the man produced an engraved silver flask and unscrewed the lid.
“Go easy with this my friend, ’tis powerful stuff.” He leaned even closer to Peter and decanted a dark ruby liquid into each of the glasses. Gazing into it, Peter was reminded of documentaries he had seen of life in the deep oceans; all alluring, glassy iridescence, and lethal, needle-sharp teeth. A chill crawled across his back. Peter shuddered and snatched his gaze away from the drinks.
The man in the cloak stared intently at him, and without breaking eye contact he lifted one of the glasses and consumed the contents in a single swallow, daring Peter to do the same. The man smiled, and Peter was struck by his fine features: perfect white teeth; high, sharp cheekbones; flawless skin and those startling orange eyes. Peter was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Mentally retreating from his unexpected distractions, he picked up his glass and drank. The man was right about one thing; the drink was very strong.
The rest of the evening proved even more difficult to maintain contact with than the first half. Peter was dimly aware of flickering firelight, drinking more of the dark liquid and of listening to the man’s musical voice. Oddly, when he thought back on the events of the evening later, these vague memories were interspersed with flashes of moonlit forest tracks, of moving at a graceful run through the night between dark stands of trees, of dancing along branches high above the ground and of drifting ribbons of fireflies.
At the end of the evening, Peter had reached for his wallet to pay the man only to be reminded that he should be the one receiving payment. That was right wasn’t it? The man in the cape produced a coin and clicked it down onto the bar. Peter staggered sideways, grabbing hold of the counter for support, as the pub rotated back into place around the coin. It was as if he’d had been looking at the world from slightly the wrong angle all evening, and all he needed was that one familiar sound to re-orientate himself.
When he looked up again the man was gone. In all probability he’d never really been there at all. Peter reached down to slide the coin off the bar, his fingers brushing across the illegible markings that might have once been words. That was the point when everything changed.
Suddenly Peter was aware of a connection between this world and, well, somewhere else. He couldn’t see as such, but it blazed in his mind like a guiding star, and he knew where it was. Right now, it was in a secluded dell somewhere outside the nearby village of St. Keyne. There was no way he’d have time to get there and back during the working day tomorrow; any investigation would have to wait.
Over the course of the next few days Peter found that although the location of the gateway, as it seemed most convenient to think of it, wasn’t always in his mind, he could summon it at will. He also noticed, that while there was only ever a single gateway, it couldn’t be relied on to stay in the same place. Rather frustratingly it relocated frequently enough that he was never able to find enough time to reach it before it moved on.
For the remainder of the following week, Peter followed his evening routine of waiting for the regulars to drift off to their homes, before collecting his car, and driving back to the farm. He didn’t do that on the Friday. Instead, he walked the short distance through the town to the Pipe Well, which for the preceding ten minutes had been the location of the gateway.
Of course, that had been years ago. His children were grown now, Jacob even had a full-time job, and Catherine… well, Catherine was long gone.Buy on Amazon