Vanished

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Chapter One

 

 

Loveday Taylor wrestled the back door closed in a game of tug of war with the wind. It had certainly picked up since she’d come home, and weather reports were advising people to stay inside. Hurricane Hilda was about to blow into Southern England from the Atlantic after causing all sorts of damage, first in the Caribbean and then North America. Loveday and other volunteers from town prepared all day for its arrival—a reluctant welcome wagon.

 

In the afternoon they hoofed sandbags up to the Crane River, known to swell and breach its banks on occasion, sometimes flooding all the way up to the main road. Loveday’s back was sore and her hands chapped from lugging the rough, heavy bags. She would have liked a hot bath and a quiet evening in front of the fire with Claude, her ginger cat. He was the reason she’d opened the bloody door in the first place. He’d bolted through straight away—a pleasant change from his usual MO. Normally he’d stand at the door, sniff the air for a bit, and generally get on her last nerve before he strutted inside, completely ignored her, and headed for his food bowl. Skinny, dirty, and with dried blood crusted on his torn, lumpy ears, Claude turned up on her doorstep one day and never left.

 

Two years later he had the appearance—and carried the weight—of a healthy, if slightly overindulged, tomcat. Loveday adored him, and in his own stand-offish way, she thought he probably quite liked her too. She shook some biscuits into his bowl, startled into pouring out near enough the whole box when lightning cracked overhead, followed by a peal of thunder that rattled the window in its frame. Loveday looked down to see Claude watching the storm. His intelligent orange eyes didn’t flick to his overflowing bowl even once. He blinked, yawned, stretched, then went to his food, brushing against Loveday’s leg on his way past.

Claude was pretty much unflappable, and that was good because Hilda looked like she meant business tonight. As if to prove it, a flurry of rain hurled itself violently at the window, and the wind picked up, howling and tearing through the trees outside. The kitchen lights flickered, dimmed, then went out. * * * Ellery Jackson was in the veterinary clinic finishing up the last of her paperwork in her office when she was plunged into darkness. Rocky the Jack Russell started to cry and howl before the generator kicked in and the lights came back on. According to the staff, he hated the dark. Ellery knew just how he felt. She’d sent her staff home early, just about the time the wind began to kick it up a notch and the sky turned a dark and ominous grey. Being alone here, no traffic whizzing past on the road outside—it was normally busy this time of the evening with the commuter traffic—left her feeling uncomfortable. Not that the town was especially lively, but they had a decent high street and a handful of restaurants.

 

 

Being so close to a motorway meant that more and more people were moving here, attracted by the green landscape and cheap property prices. The veterinary clinic had been converted from an old barn, and the high ceilings, open-plan layout, and myriad of windows amplified the emptiness. She could easily believe she was the only person left in the world. Except for Rocky the dog. Ellery swivelled in her office chair and looked out the window.

A fork of lightning lit up the night and rain hammered down. Usually she liked a good storm, but this one made her uneasy. Rocky was restless too, and maybe that was it. She had a way of picking up on what animals were feeling—a kind of vague interspecies telepathy, she thought with mild amusement. It had been with her since childhood. It was most likely what made her a good vet, and probably the reason she was eternally single. Ellery always found animals so much easier to deal with than people. Their needs were obvious to her, and they were free from the many layered and messy complexities of human beings. Like any vet in a semi-rural town, Ellery dealt with a fairly even mixture of domestic pets, like cats and dogs and hamsters, and farm animals.

The other day she’d helped an alpaca give birth. Admittedly, most of her farm animals were cows, pigs, sheep, and horses, but Dave Randell had a penchant for the slightly more exotic.

 

Ellery managed to talk him out of adopting a flock of flamingos last year. Ellery sighed and rubbed her eyes. It was getting late, and if she didn’t leave soon, then she never would. Rocky had gone quiet again. She wouldn’t leave him here alone for the whole night though. She planned to go home, have dinner, then come back and stay with him. The storm was supposed to be a big one, worse than most of the remnants that usually blew over from the Atlantic.

She wouldn’t let Rocky deal with it alone. Ellery stood, stretched out her back, and groaned in pleasure as her spine popped. She’d sat for too long, and her office chair was hard as concrete. Sarah, the head veterinary nurse, kept telling Ellery to buy a new one, but most days she wasn’t in it long enough to justify the expense. She walked back to the cages where they kept the furry patients and smiled as Rocky stood on his back legs, tail wagging like mad, and began to scratch at the bars. “Hey, boy, how’s it going?” she asked softly, kneeling to stroke his head and tickle his chin. Rocky licked her hand and whined, as if to say I’ve been better. His owner—Jill Wood, who ran the local grocer’s—brought him in, sobbing her eyes out, after he’d tangled with a wild pony in the forest. Nosy Rocky got a little too close, and the pony kicked out, bruised a couple of ribs, and broke his front leg. Rocky was most of the way healed, apart from his broken leg which would stay in a cast for a few weeks yet. He would probably be allowed home in the next few days. All in all, Rocky was lucky. “No more making friends with wild ponies, eh, Rock?” Ellery smiled and gave him one last stroke. Rocky chuffed and lay back down in the corner, his intelligent eyes still on her. “I need to get my dinner. Promise I’ll come back, though. Okay?” Rocky dropped his head onto his paws and closed his eyes. Back out in reception, more lightning flashed, ripping the night in two, and Ellery thought it sounded a bit too close for comfort.

Thunder rumbled and clapped so loud she thought it might crack the windows which ran along the front of the surgery. They shook and rattled but held firm. Rain lashed down and the wind howled, kicking up the leaves outside and throwing them against the building. Ellery decided she had left it too late to go home after all. She mentally sorted through the contents of the staff-room fridge and figured it would be biscuits and an overripe banana for dinner. At least there was the generator to power the lights. Outside, the town was dark, and Ellery guessed everyone had lost their power already. 

 

Loveday rummaged around in the kitchen drawer trying to find the torch. “Give me a hand, would you, Claude? I could really use your night vision.” Claude ignored her and continued to crunch his biscuits.

The loss of light didn’t bother him at all. Finally, she felt something hard and plastic and solid. She moved her hand along its shaft until she located the button. She clicked it on. It emitted a sickly beam of light, and Loveday chastised herself for not replacing the batteries ages ago. She’d kept forgetting about it, one of the mundane tasks she would do tomorrow, then tomorrow, until it slipped her mind altogether. Well, that would teach her, wouldn’t it? Loveday sighed and went into the living room.

She knew she had some tea lights around here somewhere—it was just a case of finding the bloody things with this crappy light. After what seemed like an eternity, Loveday found them in a box on the shelf with a lighter—thank God—and proceeded to light several and place them around the living room. She kept back four or five because they were only small and wouldn’t last very long. Another flash of lightning ripped the sky open. It was close. Loveday hoped everyone was safe inside. The tea lights weren’t bright enough to read by, and the TV obviously wouldn’t work, nor would the heating, which ran off the electric, and it would soon get cold. She decided to get a fire going in the hearth and try to doze in her chair. She put as much wood as she dared on the fire—the last thing she wanted was to start a blaze—and dragged the sofa closer to better feel the heat. Loveday checked her phone and saw she didn’t have much battery left.

She turned it off to preserve as much as possible in case of an emergency. It wasn’t as though anybody would try to get hold of her. She had no family left and hadn’t been in the town long enough to form any friendships. She’d moved here three months ago and mostly kept to herself, easy enough when you were a writer. This town was a big change from London but a necessary one. Loveday couldn’t stay after everything that happened there. The wisps of memories made her feel like she couldn’t breathe, like she was drowning in murky water. She quickly pushed them from her mind, before they properly formed, and concentrated on the flames, on the pop and hiss of the wood as it caught. Claude sauntered over to the fireplace and stretched out his long limbs. He yawned, then flopped down in front of the hearth and closed his eyes, oblivious to the storm raging outside.


 

Author Eden Darry
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