As with the previous part – eight years earlier than main story and spoilers.
Side Story One
A startled yelp from Lydia and a loud splash brought her awake with a start. She looked around in time to see Matt fishing their red-haired daughter and her net out of a particularly deep rock pool.
“We told you to be careful,” Sonia scolded Lydia once Matt brought her back to the deckchairs.
“I was being careful!” Lydia protested. “I slipped because something grabbed me!”
“What?” Sonia said. She paused in towelling her daughter off to glanceÂ at Matt questioningly.
He shook his head slightly. I didn’t see anything. But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.
I know. Sonia knew he was listening, so she let the words float to the surface of her mind rather than thinking at him. “What grabbed you, sweetie?” she asked gently.
“I don’t know!” Lydia shuddered violently. “I couldn’t see it, but when it grabbed my arm it was all bony and had claws-” She broke off with a convulsive sob. “And really cold and slimy… and evil! I could feel the evil-” She gave some more ragged sobs and gasped for breath. Sonia smelled smoke and looked down quickly. The edges of the towel were beginning to smoulder.
“Hush, Lyd. It’s okay. You’re safe with us.” Sonia pulled her daughter into a hug, shot a desperate look at Matt and risked pushing a thought at him â€“ even though she still had the ghost of the headache from their last telepathic conversation. Will you calm her down? I don’t dare try in this state.
Of course. She felt his mind wrap around them both in a calming blanket. After a moment Lydia stopped hyperventilating.
“What’s wrong with Lyd?” Daniel asked. He, Andrew and Karen had abandoned their work on the sandcastle as soon as Lydia fell in to the pool and now were watching her and their parents with big, frightened eyes. “Did something really grab her?”
Karen looked around nervously. “Perhaps we should go?”
“Nonsense!” Matt said briskly. “I didn’t see anything, and nothing is going to grab you while we’re here.” He glanced at his watch. “Anyway it’s lunchtime.” He cast a glance at Sonia. I’m sure whatever it was is long gone since I didn’t sense it when I got there, and I’ll keep a mental eye out just in case.
Sonia just nodded and looked at Lydia. “Are you feeling better, sweetie?”
“Hmm.” Lydia nodded and smiled. “Much…” She trailed off and a puzzled frown crossed her features. “I don’t feel scared any more. It just went away.”
She’s sharp to realise she calmed down too quickly, isn’t she? Matt sounded inordinately proud of her. And I need to work out how to teach them the emotional control they need without telling them anything.
Definitely. If she has a panic attack like that when we’re not around she’ll burn something down. Sonia opened the picnic hamper and laid the blanket they’d brought along out on the sand. “Who wants what?”
The sight of the sandwiches, cakes and other picnic goodies seemed to dissolve the last of the other three’s lingering apprehension about Lydia’s story and they descended on the food and began to fight over their favourites. Lydia hung back for a moment, then grabbed one of the salmon sandwiches. She sat down on the sand by Matt’s deckchair and began to munch on it.
“Something really did grab me, mum,” she said between mouthfuls. She scowled up at the rocks where she’d been rock pooling. “I wonder what it was.”
“I believe you, sweetie,” Sonia said before turning to separate Karen and Andrew, who were squabbling over the cheese and pickle sandwiches.
After they finished their lunch, Matthias cast a critical eye over the sea and sighed. “It really is time to go now. The tide’s coming in. Who wants to go on a steam train this afternoon?”
That suggestion was greeted with a chorus of cheers from the kids, so they packed up the hamper and headed up the cliff path to where they’d left the car. It was a lovely, sunny day and Sonia hadn’t noticed any clouds, but as they climbed the cliffs a gloom seemed to surround them, dimming the light and chilling the air as if it was clouding over. She frowned and glanced up at the sky. It was still clear blue and the sun was blazing down from above. Lydia was nearest to her, so Sonia swallowed, grabbed her hand with her free one and sped up slightly. Matt had both hands full with the deckchairs but she felt him put out mental tendril to keep contact the other three, so he’d noticed it as well.
The walk to the top through that gathering gloom seemed interminable. Lydia had shrank against her and Sonia could feel her daughter’s rising panic.
“It’s okay, Lyd,” she murmered soothingly. “I’ve got you. We’re nearly back at the car. Just take deep breaths. Daddy and I won’t let anything get you, I promise.” She kept up the low-voiced stream of reassurance until they reached the car park on the clifftop, then helped Matt bundle the kids into their SUV before dumping the hamper in the boot.
As she walked around the back of her neck prickled and she looked back towards the cliff edge. There was no one there, but she could feel a malevolent presence watching her. After a moment the presence faded and the gloom lifted with it. She climbed in and looked at Matt. He was staring intently into the rear view mirror.
What was that? she asked.
I don’t know, and I don’t like not knowing, he replied. But it really has gone now. Let’s get to the steam train to distract the kids, we’ll figure out what do do later.
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