Go back to previous chapter
The cell was a long, narrow room with bare brick walls painted white. A lavatory and a wash-basin were situated at the far end, and two iron bedsteads (one large, one small) were in the middle. A small, wood-burning stove was opposite the cell door.
"You'll find it is possible to build a life for yourselves here", said the guard, in a bored, well-rehearsed monotone "If you abide by the rules and don't cause trouble. As time-crossers you stand a good chance of being released within a year or two".
A year or two! How glibly it rolls off the tongue, and yet how it deadens the heart of the newly-imprisoned. At times such as this one, a "year or two" stretches ahead to infinity, rushing to meet old age and death in unseemly haste.
"Do we get let out?" asked Joby "for exercise I mean".
"No", said the guard "You have a balcony for fresh air".
And then the guard left, locking the cell door behind him.
Adam meanwhile had already pushed open a window above the smallest bed, and hauled himself outside. The balcony was large enough to walk around without touching either side, but beyond the boundary was a forbidding drop of several hundred feet. The view was dreary. Nothing but the granite mountains and gorse-ridden patches where once, centuries ago, meadows had been. The distant coastal horizon was blanketed in fog.
"Not so bad on a nice day", Adam commented, mournfully
"Bloody depressing on an horrible one", said Joby "and I spect there's a lot of them here".
A year or two, thought Kieran, with a shudder. He dreaded to think of what the impact of the situation would be on them when they fully realised what it meant. A year or two of never seeing anything but this balcony, and the austere brick room behind them. Of never hearing from home. When would Amy give him up for dead? Several years, he thought comfortingly, she wasn't a girl to give up easily. She probably wouldn't give him up for dead unless she saw his corpse first. That bleak thought contained a few meagre crumbs of comfort.
"I told you both ages ago", he said, in exasperation "we should've done something else for a living. Ghost-hunting, I ask yer! Nosing round ley-lines. Look where the fock it's got us".
"You always said you wanted to fall through another time-cusp", said Joby.
"I was a pillock then wasn't I! We should've done the sensible thing and accepted Podden's theory but ..."
"But we kept getting employed by people who wouldn't give up on the idea of life after death", said Adam "And time travel itself still has elements to surprise us".
"You can say that again", Joby commented, morosely.
"I did think we'd be alright with the future. I don't know why, but after what you two went through when you regressed to Medieval Scotland I thought nothing could be worse".
"Aargh Jobe, see he does care really!" Kieran sniggered "Well all I know is this is another fine mess you've got us in Stanley".
"What do you know about what we went through on that trip anyway?" Joby snarled at the older man "We nearly died and it proved nothing. Not a fucking thing".
"Yes it did", said Adam "It proved you've survived worse situations than this. This cell, for all its faults, has to be an improvement on Sawney Beane's cave. After all, I don't think you're likely to get eaten here".
"That's about all you can say for it".
They set about settling in. Adam was designated the smaller bed. Kieran and Joby, who had spent several weeks chained together naked in a cave, and thus had few secrets from each other, took the larger one. The blankets were grey and scratchy, and the pillows had their ticking exposed. The bedlinen hadn't improved with the centuries, that much was obvious.
When Adam awoke in the early dawn he was pleasantly surprised to find himself lying in a pool of sunshine. It was greatly reassuring to know that Henang occasionally had nice weather, as what little he had seen of the place hadn't been very cheering in any other respect.
He had slept like a baby. In fact he couldn't remember a time when he had slept so well. At home he was plagued by nightmares of his past, usually to wake and find he was plagued by the even greater nightmare of having to see people in the present. It had been an intolerable strain, one that he had lived with day in and day out for years, whilst at his heels snapped the demon drink, bullying him to let go again and submit to its temptations.
And now suddenly it seemed, that with that dawn, it had all gone. The society of being nice and fitting was light years away, on the other side of a time-cusp. In an alternative universe. He was now in a place where he had no need to earn a living, and no need to be civil to people he didn't particularly like. He would never have dreamt that he would ever have wanted to be back in prison. But it seemed ... well everyone was always saying that it was a funny old life.
He stretched out an arm and held it up so that the sun glistened on his hairs. He was looking at his own body, for the first time in years. And he was doing so without drawing a sharp intake of breath.
He realised at once the reason for this unexpected feeling well-being. He was away from Susan. That bossy, know-all cow with her golden hair and long legs. The efficient old bag who had rescued his firm of psychic investigation from a trough of despair and elevated it to a brisk, pseudo-scientific organisation that incredibly made money. Susan Pontleby, his business partner. The golden girl of Jensen-Pontleby Paranormal Investigations, adored by all ... all except him that is. No doubt she was already writing his obituary for the staff magazine, he thought snidely. The champagne would be cooling in her refrigerator ... or perhaps that was a bit extreme, as doubtless she would be devastated about "the boys", as she referred to Kieran and Joby.
She had reproached Adam bitterly for mishandling the Scottish Incident last year. For letting "HER boys" (that was a damn cheek when he thought about it) go off alone to Benane Head together, and then subsequently disappearing. After Kieran and Joby had seemingly risen from the dead several weeks later, she had been mortified by their state of emaciation and general physical ill-being. She reproached herself and Adam tearfully.
"Sawney Beane was a cannibalistic murderer", she had cried "you and your time-cusps! They could have been eaten!"
Her last comment had been so funny that he had nearly laughed himself sick in her presence. Not quite though. The disappearance of "the boys" had shaken him more than he had cared to admit. When they finally returned he had been so distressed by their ordeal that he had closed his ears to tales of their misadventures in Beane's cave, but aspects had still leaked through to him. Chained to a wall, with Beane labouring under the mistaken belief that he could fatten them up enough to eat, like Hansel and Gretel. But dysentery had put paid to that. That and the sight of Beane's multitude of children chomping on strips of human flesh, which would have killed the appetite of a gannet, however hungry.
Kieran and Joby had time-crossed back again eventually, and had walked from Benane Head to Edinburgh, where they had collapsed at the Scottish branch office in a state of severe exhaustion and hunger. The scandal had reverberated for weeks. The press launched a campaign to try and get paranormal research centres banned, and people were once more warned of dabbling in the unknown.
Gradually the scandal had died, and Joby and Kieran shook off the limelight. Susan carried on blaming herself publicly (although resignation seemed to be out of the question, Adam had tartly noted). He in turn had blamed himself in private, and this was far more damaging to his nervous system, which had never been strong at the best of times. His bouts of sleeplessness grew worse, and food became abhorrent to him. Up until then it had all seemed a game, a harmless way of earning a living.
Kieran had then married Amy Sinclair, of the Edinburgh office, soon after, which had saddened him even more. Even so he had found it hard to be jealous of Amy, as she was the first woman he had met who hadn't seemed to recoil from him in horror at his approach. She showed no fear of him, called him an idiot when he was in a mood, and generally treated him as a human being. It was all such a refreshing change really.
And Kieran had, to everyone's complete and utter astonishment, stayed faithful to her. This was good news for Adam, who had formed the irrational belief that whilst Kieran stayed faithful to Amy, he in effect stayed faithful to him. There would be no more petty jealousies of the Irishman's latest paramour, no more black pits of despair. Prior to his marriage Kieran had had itchy pants. In spite of his small stature he was a very attractive man with a charming personality. Women had fallen for him in droves. In Adam's opinion one brainless cabbage after another had aired their sheets in his presence. The other staff had laughed about Kieran's sexual exploits, and because of his boyish charm, forgiven him everything. Adam had hated hearing about it.
Kieran wasn't arrogant or particularly self-confident. He had simply accepted the attention as a fact of life. He liked people and trusted them to like him, and he had rarely been disappointed. His lack of ego had also enabled his marriage to work. To be unfaithful to Amy would be to hurt her, and that he couldn't contemplate. He knew how devastated he'd feel if she did it to him.
He had viewed Adam as an oddity, as someone who hated life and all concerned with it. Ordinarily he would have tried befriending him. After all, he wasn't such a lady's man that he was uncomfortable with his own sex. But Adam unnerved him. There was an intensity about his feelings that made him wary of him. He was a man who would never accept the joys of life at face value, he would always go digging below for hidden meanings, and that Kieran simply couldn't understand.
This particular morning though, Adam had woken with a lightness of heart he hadn't felt for a very long time. True, the prospect of a long incarceration terrified him, but there were bonuses. No Susan, no staff to shrink from him in terror, no accountants to be nice to, no decisions to make that concerned the future of other people besides his own, in fact there were none of these worries at all. It all been taken from him. And bloody good riddance to it!
Opposite him was the other bed. Kieran lay on his back, his eyes closed, his breathing steady. Joby was next to him, his face turned away. His left hand clutched Kieran's right hand like a lifeline.
Adam groaned in pain.
"When did all that start then?" he asked, as Joby shook out his grey blanket on the balcony.
"When did all what start?"
"All this handholding in bed".
Joby looked like a man who had been falsely accused of multiple child-murder. For a moment his mouth gaped like a goldfish, and he visibly blanched. He eventually collected himself enough to reply.
"It's got nothing to do with you".
"Of course it has, if I've got to sleep opposite you".
"Don't sweat", Joby said, wearily "We're not fucking bent ... unlike some I could mention".
"Oh you would cuddle up to everyone in bed would you?"
"Got used to it didn't we?"
"Don't tell me, in Beane's cave?"
"If you know, then why ask?"
"That place has got a lot to answer for", Adam turned and made for the cell.
"And don't go thinking of upsetting Amy when we get back", Joby shouted after him "She knows all about it. I mean, it's not as if we make a habit of sleeping in the same place, only on some jobs when it's necessary".
"How very enlightened of her", Adam snarled.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site