As with the previous part – eight years earlier than main story and spoilers.
Side Story One
They’d left the car at Tarr Steps and wandered along the side of the river until they reached Withypool, where they stopped for lunch. It was another glorious day and the forecast had mentioned no chance of rain, but as the path back to the car took them towards higher ground, Sonia’s stomach began to knot up again. The brief image of a rainstorm which had bothered her last night returned and she frowned up at the sky, but she saw nothing untoward.
I feel it too, Matt told her before she could ask. That thing from yesterday is looking for us, isn’t it?
Yes, But it hasn’t found us yet. I think we should try and get back among people before it does, Sonia replied even as something whispered in her head that it wouldn’t help.
Good idea. He looked over at where the kids were petting an Exmoor pony that had wandered over to them fearlessly. “Let’s pick up the pace a little. I fancy an ice cream from the pub, don’t you?”
The kids whined a little about having to leave their new friend, but the promise of ice cream meant they didn’t protest too much. Sonia grabbed Karen and Andrew’s hands and Matt took Daniel and Lydia’s as they began walking faster.
As they crested the hill that would take them back down to the ancient bridge where they’d started, everything went abruptly silent. The laughter of the hikers ahead of them, the singing birds and even the sound of the wind was completely gone.Â A wave of dizziness almost overwhelmed Sonia â€“ and from the way Karen and Andrew were whimpering, they felt it as well. SheÂ wanted to stop and hug them,Â but she didn’t dare. Instead, she tightened her grip on their hands and began walking faster. Neither of them protested.
“Mummy, why has it gone dark?” Karen sounded scared.
“I think it’s going to rain, sweetie.” Sonia tried to sound reassuring as she looked up at the sky. It was grey and leaden from horizon to horizon, when it been cloudless seconds earlier. There was no way that was natural. She knew it, and she suspected the kids knew it as well.
That’s not all that’s changed, Matt said. He was broadcasting calming vibes at the kids, she realised. That was good; panic would be bad right now.Â Where did everyone go?
What? She looked around and realised he was right. The landscape looked the same, but the hikers who’d been just ahead of them on the road had vanished. She gulped and looked down and the muddy path. Matt, we were walking on tarmac, right?
We were, he agreed. And the landscape hasn’t changed, so we haven’t been pulled in to a different world. IÂ think we’re in some kind of bubble.
We need to get out of it.I can probably break through if we can find the edge. Sonia winced. I’ll probably collapse afterwards.
We don’t have much choice, he agreed reluctantly as they started to walk briskly in the direction that the pub should be in the normal world. It probably wouldn’t be there in this bubble, though; it seemed to twist things so nothing of human origin was present.
None at all, she said. You know, it’s got dim both times they’ve come after us. I don’t think it likes light.
Right now,Â I don’t care, he said.
Sonia sighed and rolled her eyes at him. You should. For one thing, at least it puts you at an advantage, as well. For another, if it is photophobic we can use Karen to chase it off if push comes to shove.
That… I’d rather not weaponise our kids, even briefly. They’re too young to understand.
Who would? She sped up a little more and tried to ignore the fact she was getting another headache. But if it’s that or lose them…
Yes, he said. But only as a last resort. Now we’d better stop talking; you need your strength for when we find the edge of this.
We’d better hurry, she agreed. It’s getting closer. Her mouth went dry as she realised something. No, they’re getting closer… there’s more than one this time. That’s why it couldn’t do this yesterday, it takes more than one. She took a breath as the first fat rain drop hit her hand. I think we should run now.
Yes. He took off towards where the carpark ought to be, dragging Lydia and Daniel behind him. Sonia made sure her grip on Andrew and Karen was firm and raced after him.