The Kirkbride Plan: Chapter One
When Chloe awoke, the first thing she registered was pain. It radiated in waves from the back of her head and forced a sob from her throat.
“Ssssssh, there now,” whispered a voice.
It was cold where she lay, and dark. Her face pressed against a slab that felt like stone or concrete. The voice that soothed her was a child’s and unfamiliar to her.
“I didn’t think you’d wake again. It would’ve been better if you hadn’t,” the young boy said.
Chloe tried to turn on her side, and cried out as a fresh bolt of pain caused white lights to explode across the darkness.
“Lay still now, it won’t be long,” he whispered.
She had no choice but to lay still. Every movement hurt. Her memories came back in fragments. There was a graveyard with headstones covered in snow and crawling ivy. She had tried to follow someone, and found something… a name she remembered from somewhere.
There was nothing after that.
A dim sort of light came from somewhere, and as her eyes adjusted she could at last make out shapes in the darkness. She lay on a cold, hard marble floor. She was in a very small stone room, perhaps a chapel. What appeared to be an altar rose above her. The walls were the same cold stone as the floor.
As her eyes frantically searched the room for some small clue as to where she was, they at last fell upon the boy.
She recoiled in shock, causing fresh waves of agony to pound their way across her body.
The boy was small, solemn-faced…and entirely transparent. He seemed to fade in and out, as though he wasn’t quite in tune with the world around him. Chloe moaned and tried to roll to her other side, away from the ghostly apparition.
“Be still,” he repeated. “I have been watching. You bleed less when you don’t move.”
The boy was focused on arranging tin soldiers in straight lines. He didn’t look up as he spoke.
“They tried to stop you, those strong ones that can come and go. They tried to stop you from following that man. They know him. It’s too late now. No one shall come for you. You are too weak, and you become weaker ever minute. It’s not so very bad. Perhaps you can stay. Some do, you know, sometimes they stay. You might tell me some new stories if you do. Stories with cars in them, I should like that.”
Chloe moaned and reached up to feel her head. Her arm felt strangely heavy. She tried to touch the place on the back of her head that burned so terribly, but couldn’t hold her arm up. What had happened to her? What was going on? Maybe it was a dream, just an awful nightmare and she could wake up. It’s just that the pain seemed very real.
“It isn’t so bad,” the boy repeated. “At least you shan’t be alone. I shall stay with you until it is done. I promise, I shan’t leave you, miss, and then, maybe you may stay on with me. We can play at war. You shall be the French, and I shall be the British.”
Chloe’s vision blurred as hot tears trickled down her face. She knew where she was. The cold stone room was the inside of the crypt, the one she had been so excited to find. Her head hurt where the boy who had stalked her through London, had struck her.
She was dying. If she could actually see the dead, then it might already be too late. Soon her body would lay cold and rigid on the floor of a tomb half a world away from Birch Harbor and everything and everyone she cared about. Seth would never know what happened. She would never come home, and he would never know why.
The ghost boy smiled at her, and held up a tin soldier on a horse.
“You see? This is my favorite. Mother brought them for me. She couldn’t see me, but I could see her. I wish she’d come back. Maybe she could bring me cars. Do you suppose—”
And then, from outside, came the faintest noise. It was a familiar crunching sound, and it steadily grew louder. Her damaged head finally registered the sound of someone walking through snow. Someone was walking close by, coming ever closer to the tomb. The little boy froze, cocking his head to one side.
Chloe tried to scream for help, but it came out as a low moan.
The footsteps stopped. For a moment, there was nothing, and then came a jingling sound and the grind of metal on metal as a lock turned. A second later, fresh cold air blew across her, and the fading daylight sent dark shadows racing to the corners of the room.
The silhouette of a man was framed by the doorway.
“Well, that’s just brilliant. Dead is whut William said. Over and over, he said it. Oy, no worries, she’s dead that one! I’ll rip ‘is face off when I gets back.”
It was Jack, the bartender from the Rose and Cross Pub. Chloe tried again to speak, but coughed on the salty liquid that ran down her throat.
Jack looked her over once more, and then, shaking his head, walked back outside.
Come back! She screamed inside her head, Don’t leave me!
“I know where he’s gone,” the boy whispered, as though concerned that the man might actually overhear him. “He’s gone to find a rock or a stone. I had a puppy once. His name was King. We were playing in the garden, and he chased a cat across the lawn and into the street. A carriage hit him, and he was bad hurt. Father yelled at me to go inside, and I did, but I watched from the window. I thought Father would fix him, but he picked up a large stone. He picked it up and stood over King and then he… then he… he killed him with it. Father said he couldn’t be fixed.”
Chloe gasped. The boy who had followed her and Jack knew each other. They were together, both a part of Abraham’s Men. They saw her as a threat. They thought she was the enemy. She had to get away.
Her arms flailed wildly as she tried to find something to grab. There was nothing but cold smooth floor. She pressed her hands down hard and tried to drag herself away from the door. Every nerve in her head seemed to twist at once and a small airless scream finally escaped her lungs. She could barely drag herself. Her hand slid in something cold and sticky. Bringing her fingers close to her face, she could see that they were covered in blood… her own blood.
There was only one thing left to do. Jerkily, she moved her hand across the floor, attempting to sketch the symbol that might be her last chance. A shadow fell across her, and she was able to turn her face enough to see that Jack had returned. As the ghost boy had warned, he carried a large rock.
“Oh, be still would ya? Stop it. It’s not like I fancy doing this sort of thing. I’m not that sort, never offed anybody in my life. Whut would you do, eh?”
The ghost boy materialized behind Jack. He lunged for the hand that held the rock, trying to hold it back, but his tiny fingers went right through Jack’s arm. He slapped at the rock, trying to knock it away, but his barely visible hand went through it as well.
Unnoticing, Jack hefted the rock above his shoulder and stood poised uncertainly over Chloe’s body. Chloe shook her head.
“Look, I’m sorry about this, I really am. You shouldn’t a come by yourself anyhow. Whut were you about?”
With all her might Chloe slapped the floor, and pointed to the blood symbol. Jack’s arm dropped, the stone smashed to the floor.
“Whut’s all this, then?” he whispered as he crouched to get a better look at the star. “That’s us! That’s the symbol for Abraham’s Men. How do you know it? What do you mean by it?”
Chloe slapped her chest and stared hard at him.
“No! No, I don’t believe you! There aren’t anymore. It’s just us, we’re all that’s left. You’re one of them! You were seen with them! You’re a bleeding alchemist, and they’re a tricky lot, I know that. I can’t trust you.”
Please, Chloe formed the word with her lips. Her eyes blurred again, as tears ran from the corners and down the sides of her face.
“Oh, stop, please stop,” he said, his forehead wrinkling piteously. “I need to think. I need to think this through. I don’t want to do this, alright? Hundreds of years we’ve kept it from them, and I can’t be the one to blow it.”
Jack began pacing in short tight loops, watching her the whole time, like a tiger in a cage. Chloe tried to keep eye contact. In her head she willed him to believe her, she begged and pleaded for her life with her eyes.
“Alright, here’s whut I think. I can’t kill you outright. I just can’t. I can’t take you nowhere for help because I’ll be seen with you. If I go out and close the door, then you can die nice and peaceful like…but I can’t do that either. Look ‘ere, if I was to take you in the car, and just leaves you somewhere… someplace not out in the open, but wheres somebody might happen to find you, that’s fair, right? I mean, chances are you might die anyhow. It’s a bit of a risk for us if you live and you’re lying to me about being one of the Men, but whut if you’re telling the truth? If you’re one of us, and they find you, you’d keep your mouth shut about all this, yeah? Say some strange bloke bonked you on the head and took yer money, right? Well? That’s fair. Fairer than them at any rate.”
“You can’t walk, of course,” he sighed. He bent down and slid his arms under her. “It’s a bit of luck that you’re not as fat as most Americans, I guess.”
When he lifted her, her head fell back and the pain turned the world an angry red before everything went mercifully black.
* * *
Debra Adams stepped out of the taxi, dragging her suitcase behind her. She hadn’t been in London since she was in her early twenties, maybe a year or two older than Chloe, but everything looked exactly the same. The Rose and Cross Pub was closed, as she had assumed it would be on Boxing Day, but that wasn’t where she was headed.
Gaspard’s flat was nearby. She had stormed out almost thirty years ago, swearing she’d never return, while Gaspard stoically watched, nodding his head as though agreeing with an illogical toddler. Yet here she was. Like an evil, bloated spider he had drawn her right back into his web, her daughter the struggling bait.
She passed the Rose and Cross without a glance and hurried down the street, her feet certain of their destination. The sun had passed behind the buildings and the night was close on its heels. The road was mostly abandoned. A car drove past, splashing slush across the sidewalk. Debra walked through it without noticing.
She should have been jet-lagged and exhausted. The sickness that made her reach for the drink was already causing her to shake. Yet stronger than this was the desire to murder Gaspard with her bare hands before he could hurt Chloe.
A few blocks down and she was staring at the white door with its gleaming brass numbers. He was still there. Still behind the same door. The voices assured her of it, but she didn’t need them to. She could feel him, radiating evil. She banged on it, not stopping until she heard the footsteps coming down the stairs.
When the door cracked open, she threw her body against it, knocking down the person on the other side. She raced through the door, leaping on the figure still struggling to stand, going for the throat. She realized at once that the body was not Gaspard’s, but this only served to heighten her desperation. It was a young man, but she knew this was still Gaspard’s flat. It smelled the same, the same mirror hung by the door, a framed black and white photograph opposite of it. The house was Gaspard’s and so too must the young man belong to him, and it was essential that she make the best use of the element of surprise.
His face was slowly turning a deep red. He struck out at her, and she buried her head against his chest, protecting her face. He struck her head and her back repeatedly, but she held on to his neck, choking him as hard as she could, pinning him down with the weight of her body. He was gurgling, attempting to speak or to scream. She wouldn’t kill him, just wait for him to pass out, and then there would be nothing to stop her from getting to Gaspard.
The young man’s blows became weaker, but now she could hear footsteps approaching the landing above.
“William?” called a creaky voice she knew only too well, “William, who is it?”
William flailed beneath her, a last effort to throw her off and then lay very still. She released his throat, and prepared to bolt up the steps.
Glancing up, she made eye contact with Gaspard. The skin around his watery blue eyes crinkled as he smiled. He held a gun, pointed directly at her.
“Well, come in Debra, and for heaven’s sake close the door,” he said calmly.
* * *
The next time Chloe awoke, she realized first that she was moving and second that she was warm. She was staring at the ceiling of a car. It was fully night, and the car was dark and mostly quiet. She could hear muffled voices from a radio turned down low. Bars of light passed across the ceiling as they drove through the city. She could see the back of a man’s head in the front passenger seat. There seemed to be no one in the driver’s seat and yet the car was moving. It made everything seem very dreamlike. For a moment the dream merged with a memory. She was drowsing against Seth’s shoulder as he drove. He was talking about the Mackinaw Bridge and how it was built. The radio buzzed with the same low comforting voices, NPR turned down just low enough to make out a few words here and there. She wanted to tell him that her head hurt, and that she shouldn’t have left, but it didn’t seem necessary. She was much too comfortable, and he knew already, didn’t he? He always seemed to know just what she was thinking.
When the car stopped, the dream fell away. It was Jack in the car with her, and he sat in the front on the wrong side, because that’s the way it was done in London. There was no Seth, but she was still alive, and that was something anyway. She wondered how long she would have to wait for help.
Jack opened the door and grabbed her ankles. He dragged her across the back seat, dropping her feet to snatch her arm and haul her up into a sitting position. Her head lolled weakly to the side, but she was able to keep her eyes open.
“All right?” he asked “Just about sorted, now. Look ‘ere, you’re back in your own ends. We’re maybe two or three blocks from there is all. There’s a park. All you’ve got to do is put your arm around me so it looks like we’re coming back from a piss up and you’re a bit rat arsed, right? Come on then. Someone will come walking, they’ll see you from the sidewalk.” He hauled her up.
Chloe hung limply from his side, her feet brushing the ground. She tried to move them in an imitation of walking, but they didn’t seem to belong to her. She could barely feel them. Somewhere close, a woman laughed, and the sidewalk underneath her useless feet turned to grass. They were getting close to where he would leave her, and then she would have to stay alive long enough to be found.
“Here now,” he whispered. “Bit of cover, this’ll be faster.” He stopped to pick her up, and then hurried along. To Chloe, the farther they moved from the sidewalk, the less likely it seemed that anyone would find her. What could she do?
“STOP!” commanded a man’s voice. “You there, stay where you are.”
Jack muttered a curse word under his breath and then spun around. Jack stopped, but the sky did not, it seemed to keep spinning.
“Oh, thank God!” Jack yelled. “I need help. This girl is sick, I think. Found her passed out on a park bench and I was afraid she’d freeze to death out here.
“Oh no you didn’t,” the stranger countered. “I’ve just come through the park, and then around the back way. I’ve been through that park more than a dozen times today…looking for her. Indeed, we have a veritable army of people looking all over London for her right now, so don’t let’s start by lying.”
His words were a comfort, a warm blanket around her soul. She knew this man. He sat across from her in a small pub in her head, telling her about jellied eels and mad houses. He called her Ms. Adams always. This was her teacher and friend. This was Dr. Willard!
“Alright, see the truth is…” Jack paused uncertainly, “I met her in a pub. I chatted her up and everything was going brilliantly, until she zonked out. I figured I’d bring her round to my place and let her sleep it off, that’s all. I haven’t done anything to her- I wasn’t even going to.”
“REGINALD!” called another voice. Jack swore again and took a step backwards.
“Stay where you are,” Dr. Willard repeated. “I have a gun and I’ll use it.”
“Reginald, you’ve found them!” The new voice was closer now, “I’ll call the others.”
Jack took another step backwards.
“I said don’t move,” Dr. Willard snapped.
“I’ll kill her,” Jack hissed. “She’s almost dead now, I can snap her neck in a second.”
“Don’t let him get away, Reginald! I’m calling the others right now, we’ve got them! We’ve got them at last!”
“I won’t go!” Jack threatened, “you’ll have to shoot me.”
The other man was talking excitedly on the phone now. Chloe could barely hear Dr. Willard over his chatter.
“You’ll set her down now, very gently,” he ordered, “or I’ll shoot you. I’m a dead shot.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Reginald. We need him! He isn’t going to hurt the girl…at least not any worse than he already has. He’s probably bluffing anyhow. Look at her, she’s dead already.”
“Set her down and step away,” Dr. Willard said.
Chloe knew what was coming next. She knew by the way Jack’s body tensed, by the way he was slowly adjusting his hold on her. It was going to hurt something awful.
No, please no! She pleaded silently. There was no way to warn Dr. Willard. Time seemed to slow down as Jack flung her with ounce of strength he must have possessed. For a moment, she was weightless, arching through the air almost comfortably, and then her body hit the wall of pain that was Dr. Willard, sending them both crashing to the ground.
Her head hit the frozen dirt sending agonizing splinters of light directly into her eyes. She was blinded by the excruciating pain. In fact, for all she knew, her head might have rolled right away from the rest of her body, as it was all she could feel.
She could hear the pounding on the ground as Jack ran, and the other man calling to Dr. Willard as he gave chase.
“Up man, and after him! We can’t let him get away! Hurry Reginald.”
Dr. Willard did not get up. With one hand, he pressed two warm fingers against her neck, and with the other cradled the back of her head. She wanted to tell him that he shouldn’t touch there, that his hand would get all bloody, but she had long since given up trying to speak.
“It’s alright now, Ms. Adams. Keep breathing, child. You’re going to be okay, just keep breathing. Keep breathing, and I’ll do the rest. Ms. Adams, I promise that you shall not die. I give you my word.”
Chloe tried very hard to focus on her breathing, in and out, in and out. It seemed to take a great deal more effort than she had ever remembered. She listened to the sound of her lungs drawing in air and expelling it over and over, She could no longer see or hear. She was alone with the sound of her own breathing, and then there was nothing. She never heard the phone call, or the shots that rang out across the park, never saw the flashing lights. She was not aware when they lifted her onto the gurney, or that in the back of the ambulance, Dr. Willard watched over her, pressing her hand between both of his.