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. Yeah, four seconds. Max. And then it would 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. He could feel it in the rumbling that vibrated up through his feet, and he could taste it in the spray of mist against his face.
Curving smoothly over the edge of the falls, the Ebronndir seemed unaware 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. He could well imagine what would happen if gravity tried the same thing with him. Splitting him open like a piece of overripe fruit. Exposing his vital, secret biology to the uncaring night air in a spray of crimson.
A splash of cold water soaked into his trousers. He ignored it. Given his current situation, it hardly mattered. Instead he carefully inclined his head heavenward.
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 clear, 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 reluctantly 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.
Another sickening swell of vertigo broke over him. The horizon tilted while he struggled to regain his balance.
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..
Hadn't there been... something? Out there in the dark, as he picked and slipped his way across the stones? 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 slipped away from 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 smiled 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 that he had been enjoying resolved into a rivulet of cold water running down the side of his face as the midnight drizzle coalesced into droplets on his chilled skin.
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 that it 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 would not actually change his situation in the real world.
Jacob scowled and half opened one eye. The flat, starless sky reflected the yellow glow of the lamp on top of Liskeard's 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. Fuck! 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. His body still some way behind his head in its return from sleep. He swore and groaned as the act of standing up brought new areas of clothing that had not been 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 began to clamour 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 - this was all he needed. People already thought his family were freaks, ever since his dad claimed to have found a gateway to another world. Getting a reputation for sleepwalking through the town was hardly going to help.
Jacob turned in unsteady circles, at least there was no one around. The town was eerily quiet and empty. A glance across the road towards Pike Street, dropping away opposite, allowed a good view of the illuminated clock face on the Guildhall tower. Three thirty in the morning. That was good. The chances of anyone being around at this time were remote, and even if they were, now he was up off the ground, and especially as he was fully clothed, he shouldn't attract too much attention.
Shivering, Jacob folded his arms tightly across his chest and tucked his hands under his armpits. How long had he been lying under the fountain? A late evening double espresso, and a particularly intense game of Call of Duty, had contributed to a late night. It had been at least one o'clock. So, what? A couple of hours at the most?.
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! Who the fuck was that? Movement. There, at the far end of the road. Dropping to his haunches behind a granite flower planter, Jacob squinted along the road. A slow 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, Peter didn't return home until 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 in the pub. Well, alone if you didn't count the man in the hooded sweatshirt. Which 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, perhaps a bulb had blown. Still, the firelight from the hearth did make it look rather inviting, perhaps that was why the stranger had chosen to sit there. Peter was trying to work out how long the man had been there, and thereby determine a reasonable time to wait before suggesting he consider buying a drink - if he was planning on staying that was, when he realised that the man in the hoodie was no longer at the table in the corner and was instead now standing on the other side of the bar. Well, that was one awkward conversation he no longer had to worry about.
Now that the man was out of the shadows, Peter could see that it was not a sweatshirt he was wearing 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 loved to play. 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 shook his head; his mind was wandering, and his eyelids were starting to droop. These long days working must be getting to him, and everyone knew there were no such things as elves.
"Care to join me in a drink?" said the man in the cape.
Inexplicably the words the man said 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 violet? Violet wasn't a normal eye colour was it? Perhaps it was.
"I said," said the man as he lowered his hood and leaned in close across the bar, "that you look like you could use a drink."
Peter had to concede that the man had a point. He was pretty sure he did need a drink, although for some bizarre 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."
"Glass?" 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. The intricate line of silver tracing the upward sweep at the back and extenuating the tip must be some kind of jewellery, although he couldn't see how it was attached. And those 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'll 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, it's 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 on television of the life that lives in the deep oceans; all alluring, glassy iridescence and lethal, needle-sharp teeth. Was that something he should be worried about? 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 violet eyes. He was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Mentally retreating from his thoughts, he picked up his glass and drank. The man was right about one thing; the drink was strong.
The rest of the evening proved even more difficult to maintain contact with than the first half had done. Peter was dimly aware of flickering firelight and 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 picked out in silver, of moving at a graceful loping run through the night between dark stands of trees, of dancing along branches high above the ground, of crossing walkways strung between the trees 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 placed it onto the bar. As it clicked down onto the counter everything seemed to snap back into place. It was as if Peter had been looking at the world from slightly the wrong angle all evening, and he had suddenly got a fix on something that he recognised, and the rest of the world rotated back into place around it.
When he looked up again the man was gone. In all probability he had never been there at all. Peter reached down to slide the old worn coin off the bar, his fingers brushed across the illegible markings that might have once been words. That was the point when everything changed.
Suddenly Peter was aware of a connection, some sort of a portal between this world and, well, somewhere else. It was not something he could see as such, but it blazed in his mind like a guiding star, and he knew where it was. And right now, it was in a secluded dell somewhere outside the nearby village of St. Keyne; far enough away that he would not have time to investigate during the working day tomorrow.
Over the course of the next few days Peter found that his newly acquired awareness of the location of the gateway, as it seemed most convenient to think of it, wasn't always in his mind, but that he could summon it at will. And also, that although 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.
Until the evening that it appeared at the Pipe Well, only a few minutes from the pub.
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