WiP: Oakfield – chapter four

Work in Progress

Straight off my machine. Typos and all.  It’s a cyberpunk / horror story set in the South West of England and is a direct prequel to the epic novel God Seed.  Enjoy!

Start from the beginning: Chapter 1 here

Chapter Four

Dinner took place in the formal dining room situated off the hall.  Annabelle had found an indulgent silver service set, and laid a table worthy of a manor house.  Evening sunlight flooded in through large square paned windows.  Silver and crystal sparkled.  The white table linen gleamed.

Annabelle was able to prepare a decent meal from the items Hiram had left for them: pan fried chicken with rice and peas, served with boiled vegetables and a tasty sauce.  David opened a Condrieu, by Paul Jaboulet Aîné, a 2025, that he’d found in the cellar.  The wine aroused compliments from Annabelle and Robert.  Conversations revolved around the quality of the house the variety of opinions on many of the rooms.  James could sense his sister wasn’t relaxed.  The presence of Robert Briggs at the family table sending her into a mood barely held in check by politeness.

Anthony arrived late, having vanished not long after dumping his bags in a bedroom at the back of the house, on the first floor.   Sweating, and out of breath from some exertion or other, he grabbed a clean plate from the sideboard and piled on the remains of the chicken and rice from the serving dishes.  Plonking down in one of the six unoccupied seats at the far end of the table he got stuck into eating, ignoring the blatantly hostile glare from Robert Briggs. Annabelle, always soft on Anthony,  merely smiled and complimented her younger brother on his ability to time his return around the serving of food.

“Freakin’ awesome rock stack behind this place.”  Anthony extolled around a mouthful of chicken.  “It’s up through the trees once you get past the garden.”

“Is that where you’ve been?” David queried, pushing his chair back a little from the table to sit comfortably, one leg crossed over the other with the glass of wine perched on his knee.

Anthony nodded, strands of his purple-streaked, blonde hair falling loose from the polychromatic metal headband.  “I followed an old trail that leads up into some hills. There’s a bunch of no-trespass signs up there but that’s never stopped me before, right.”

“Are you going to jump it?” This from James, who observed with concealed amusement. Sometimes his brother was such a stereotype it made him realise where the stereotype came from.

“Yup.”

This invoked a rare disapproving look from big sister.  “I didn’t see you bring your parachute with you.”

More chomping. “It’s a rig. Not a parachute. And I scored some new tech before coming here. Seems like a great place to trial it out.”

“Well for God’s sake be careful. I don’t want to loose another member of my family here.”

Anthony grinned, a fusion of teeth and rice.

David cleared his throat, “It’s not really the same, Bella.  You barely knew the man. This whole inheritance. It doesn’t bring your history suddenly closer together.”

There was a pause, where it looked as though Annabelle was going to launch into one of her famous verbal tirades but it seemed the reality of her husband’s words prevailed. She conceded with a disgruntled twitch of pursed lips and began to study the food left on her plate.

“I would be careful about trespassing on property so close to this one, Anthony.”  The considerate and educated tones of Robert Briggs.

Anthony paused chewing and regarded Robert long enough to smirk and flash his eyebrows.  Robert looked at David.  David looked back, blank and impassive – took a sip of wine.

“Do you know who the land belongs to, above here?”  Robert asked, swivelling his attention to Annabelle.

“No. I don’t.  Sorry.”

“Kenzo Con-AG.” Anthony said, irritated, staring down at his plate and driving his fork through a pile of rice.  He looked up at Robert.  “It was on all of the signs.  What are you going to do? Tell them I’m trespassing?”

Robert’s florid face flinched at the petulant hostility. “No. I want to find out who they are.  It may have some bearing on Annabelle and whether she decides to sell the house or not.”

“I’m quite find making up my own mind, thank you Robert.”  Annabelle jumped in, a little too sharply.

The atmosphere in the room noticeably cooled.  James sighed and considered getting up to find the bar.  Robert gazed back at Annabelle and attempted a cordial smile.

David rallied to his business partner’s defence. “That’s not what Robert meant Bella and you know it. If you’re looking to pick a fight, then pick one with me later and not here. Okay?”

Annabelle’s hostility evaporated. David always had a way of punching the right spot. She glanced around the faces at the table and smiled in the way she did when she was feeling humble. She lifted one hand to the side of her head and small, child-like fingers absently brushed some of her long blonde hair back into place behind her ear.  “Sorry.”

Robert calmly raised both hands, palms exposed. “No, please. I’m sorry. I know you’d prefer I wasn’t here. It’s just that, well, David and I have some exceptionally important business to wrap-up. I promise it won’t take the whole week, and when we’re done, I’ll take an early train back to London. Leave you people to be together. As a family.”

Annabelle’s face registered a rapid mix of fright at maybe having caused offence, followed by relief and acceptance.  “That’s not necessary, Robert, but it’s a very kind gesture and I suppose…it would be appreciated.”

David smiled and leant over to squeeze Annabelle’s hand.  Annabelle squeezed it back.

Robert picked up the bottle of wine and poured the last dregs into his glass. Anthony scraped the final flecks of rice onto a fork, Sheffield stainless steel against some kind of fancy ceramic. Annabelle swung her eyes to James.  James flexed his eyebrows, breathed out, relaxed.

“Who was our visitor this afternoon?” David guided the conversation back onto an even track.

“Hiram Skyes,” Anthony stated, round boyish face cracking with sudden amusement, “A-K-A crazy old dude. I bet he’s growing weed down there on his cliff.”

David swiftly shook his head. “No there was somebody else. Later.”

Annabelle let go of his hand and eased back into her chair, glass of wine held by her lips with a thoughtful expression. “A Mr McKenzie.”

“Josh.” James chimed in.

“Josh McKenzie.”  She affirmed.

“What did he want?”  David enquired.

Annabelle narrowed her eyes at the rim of her glass. James realised she didn’t want to get into this conversation because of where it would undoubtedly lead: David would see an eager buyer as a golden opportunity not to be missed.

“He was the – welcome to Oakfield – contingent,” James responded before she could speak.  “Flowers and a small hamper to ease us in.”

“That’s very friendly.” David responded, picking up on Annabelle’s expression and trying to read it.

Annabelle smiled and clamped a hand around the back of her neck, elbow up, head angled away.  “It would seem Oakfield is a very friendly place.”

David switched his attention back to James. The two of them knew each other very well.  James didn’t give him any sign he was covering for Annabelle – which was an unusual thing for him to do anyway.  In many ways he was closer to David than he was to his sister.  Both had shared a lot of personal thoughts and feelings in the years David had spent married to James’ big sister.  James knew David was close to leaving the relationship: tired of her inability to see things from anybody’s point-of-view but her own.  Usually, though, their shared moments revolved around James talking about the frosty nature of the sibling relationship he had with her.

It hadn’t always been so cold.  Clinical, as James often described it these days. When he and his sister had been children they’d been inseparable.  The unbreakable bond and loyalty of blood.  But then he’d become a solider – and that seemed to change everything.  He wasn’t around when their parents became ill.  And when he was around he wasn’t good for much, coping with his own demons of war.  It had fallen on his sister to provide the care and support their father had needed after a degenerative brain disease robbed him of personality and wisdom, and later, when several serious strokes left him needing increasing amounts of care.   The day Jonas had died, to James it had seemed like a release.  He went through the tears with a sense of relief.  The man’s suffering was over.  And now their mother – and his sister – could get on with living their lives.

But less than a  year later their mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his big sister spent the next two years living with her and watching her die.

James had been there at the end.  All three of them had.  Their mother had lain in bed one final time, perfectly lucid despite being a handful of hours from death, and smiled at the knowledge of how lucky she was to have such fine children, and to have them all there with her as she passed over. It was surreal for James because he had seen so many people die.  People he called friends.  People he’d considered as close as brothers.  Some had died in a flash and bang of an explosion, torn into so many pieces of shattered bone and shredded tissue.  A few had gone in the quiet lull after brief battles, cradled in the arms of medics unable to save them or of fellow fighters, men and women who became like fathers or mother’s in those moments of passing, soothing away the fear, easing the passing. In those raw moments, he could never have imagined the same scenario playing out in the bedroom of his parents.  There were no beam-weapon burns, no slug-thrower holes, no lacerations from bladed slash and stab machines, or shrapnel, no concussion-wave trauma to limbs and organs.  But the cancer had savaged her worse than any Islamist drone or holy warrior.

His mother.

Annabelle’s and Anthony’s too. But still his mother on the dramatic personal level of the arena he found his emotions locked within. Annabelle didn’t seem to consider that fact.  It had always been about her – her career sacrifices, her time spent to stay with their mother and provide care.

James blinked.  He realised he’d zoned out.  Gaze gone glassy.  David had moved the conversation on: something about the business deal he was working on with Robert.  James didn’t feel embarrassed.  David and Annabelle understood his situation.  Long evolving psychological issues, not helped by the recent trauma.

Stop. Don’t go there.

                 He dry swallowed and shuffled his gaze to Anthony, who was listening to David talking with a cynical interest.  David tolerated Anthony.  Anthony seemed to have no real feelings for or against him.  The death of their mother was possibly the only time he’d ever seen his younger brother show genuine emotion: Anthony had been distraught at and for a few weeks James had been there for him.  He’d hugged him when he’d cried.  He’d listened to his fear and rants about how unfair it was.  He’d spent time with him.   And Anthony had demonstrated a mature, human quality that suggested he’d started to grow up. James had felt a bond forming between them.  But then Anthony went away with old friends on another Adrenaline Trip, this one to the Swiss Alps.

James breathed. Aware of the bud of tension expanding within his chest.  Anthony’s trip to Switzerland had cost a small fortune and he’d really tapped Annabelle for all she had – and she wasn’t working then.  He’d come to James’ when Annabelle had been unable to give him what he needed.  James had said no.  It had ended the trip there and then for him.

Anthony had come back with a callous ‘fuck the world’ attitude.  Anger and emotional walls his way of dealing with the grief, perhaps?

That had been less than a year ago now.

The thing that really stung James about that whole chapter was the money Anthony had drained from Annabelle, might, just might, have been enough to pay for the more advanced forms of medical treatment that their mother had been unable to afford.  It could have saved her life.

Maybe.

                But thinking like that was a certain route to bad feelings and James didn’t want to be like that.  Family, this was all he had left.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Annabelle was good with food, but when it came to desserts she was almost supernatural.  Tonight was no exception, despite the lack of ingredients; she threw together a sticky bread pudding laced with brandy.  Robert fetched a bottle of port from the cellar. A 1981.  The alcohol helped to smooth away tensions and keep the celebratory mood aloft.

It was a celebration.  Annabelle had described it as such after raising a toast to their late departed grandfather: Eustace Spaulding.

“So. What are you going to do, sis?” Anthony asked as he pushed away an empty bowl.

Annabelle darted a glance at David, then shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know yet. I had no idea this place would be so… special.”

David quickly slid a spoon out from his mouth. “You know my view, darling. You should sell. Before you become emotionally attached. It’s just not practicable to keep it.”

“I know that’s your view.” Annabelle looked at the spoon held in her small hands. “But that’s according to how our life is right now. What if wanted to change?”

David fired a quick look at James. James gave a ‘negative’ response with his eyes: he had never revealed David’s dilemma to his sister and he didn’t think Annabelle was referring to such a thing now.  David rolled with it, smiled, reached out and took her hand again, held it firmly, his atop hers.   “Do you want to change something about our lives?”

Annabelle grinned, a sheepish expression creeping through her smile and green eyes.  She was a little bit drunk and she knew it.  She shook her head, uncertain. “I don’t know.  I just wonder if this place, the unexpected way it has arrived into my life. I wonder if it isn’t meant to be mean something.”

“Uh-oh,” Anthony warned and chuckled, “Sounds like big sis has fallen for the place already. Sorry David. Looks like you’ll not be able to invest the money for the place in another war zone.”

David returned a shrewd look. The barest hint of a smile: touché. Robert bristled. Annabelle sighed, turned her face toward her youngest brother. “David doesn’t get any of my money darling.”

No, it all goes to you, James thought the words but kept his mouth shut.

“By the way David,” Robert piped up officiously, “There is absolutely no network signal out here.”

Annabelle nearly laughed. Her face creased and a sound gusted from between tensely smiling lips. She took her hand away from beneath David’s.  “I’m going to clear-up.”

David grabbed her hand back into his and held it firm. “No. I’ll do it. Robert can help. Sit there and enjoy this evening. You deserve it.  I’ll tidy up later.”

Annabelle stared where fingers played around the hard edges of David’s hand.  She looked at him.  There was a kind of healing taking place. “Okay.”

James smiled; a thin play of his lips.  Anthony noticed it and nodded, lips puckered, appreciating the moment.

“Coffee?” She asked, casting the question across the table.

Everyone murmured assent. Robert pushed his squat, rotund form, up from his chair and stepped away from the table.  The florid, overly-fleshy folds of his face seemed more red than usual. “I’ll make it.  I could do with some fresh air.”

James felt a small stab of pity for him.   He tipped a glance towards Annabelle. “You know, sis. You might be all for keeping this place. But I’d strongly recommend you find out what’s locked away in the basement before committing to the idea.”

Annabelle chuckled, picking up on his humorous tone. “Yes. Maybe a few rotting corpses hanging from the beams will change my mind.”

James tilted his head in a way that said: maybe so.  He saw Anthony craning forward with interest.

“What are you talking about?” his younger brother asked.

Annabelle quickly told him, “A locked door. Down in the basement.” Then switched back to James.  “Rather a formidable obstacle for all that we’re joking about it. I spent over an hour in Eustace’s study looking for a key that might open it.  I went through every drawer.  Pulled out a few books.  Nothing.”

David sniffed. “Well. I knew a few good people who could take the door out. If you can’t find the key for it.”

Annabelle gave him a half-serious look of horror. “Not your demolition people.  I’ll not have them within a mile of this place. God. No. If I can’t find the key I’ll go into town.”

“Hiram might have a key.” James suggested.

Annabelle nodded, considering it a possibility. “Actually I’d like to get all the keys he has off him.  I don’t like the idea of him using the place when we’re not here.”

Nobody made any comment.

Robert left to make coffee.  James asked Anthony to tell him about the jump he wanted to do.  David and Annabelle held hands and gazed at each other.

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