Below is an extract from my first novel – Portraits in Flesh – a paranormal thriller.
Annabelle has discovered she can instantly transport herself to the destination on her satnav. Although ghost like when she travels, her remarkable ability takes her from England to France, Croatia and beyond.
As she explores her potential it puts her life and the lives of those she loves in danger. and leads her into the path of an enigmatic and intelligent serial killer.
What will he do if he discovers Annabelle’s ability?
Some places were never meant to be visited.
Annabelle opened her eyes just as the severed hand landed on her windscreen: a gold band around the ring finger, a cheap watch around the wrist, no arm. For a moment, she thought the hand was made of rubber, a Halloween joke. How had got there?
Then the pain exploded in her head and tore all the way down her side.
In agony, she remembered swerving to avoid the lorry. She remembered a huge jolt slamming her body against the car door. And she remembered the thunderous sound as sheets of metal had rained down on her car. The hand was real; a small trail of blood dribbled down the cracked glass.
Everything was silent – except for the pain. It shrieked in her head and screamed in her shoulder. She couldn’t bear it, it had to stop. Annabelle wanted to die. Please let it be over, she begged.
Her mind fought back and an image of her daughter popped into her head. If she gave up on life now, she would never see Sarah’s face again. She would never see her on her first day at work or see her walk down the aisle on her wedding day. Annabelle had to fight the pain.
A terrible acrid smell wafted into her nose. Was something burning? Was she going to be roasted alive, staring at the gruesome hand waving a final farewell to her?
The watch slipped from the bloody wrist and slid down the windscreen.
It was 2:15.
‘What’s up with you, Churchie?’
Fiona Grayson looked over at the fat cat. She informally adopted the fluffy feline between the hours of two and four on the days she cleaned her local church. Her part-time job at St Mary’s was a life raft in the monotonous sea of retirement. Even now, after nearly twenty years, she still experienced a sense of serenity when she was alone in the old building. Strictly speaking she was not alone; Churchie was always around.
Except for a month in the summer, when Fiona guessed his owners went on holiday and put him in a cattery, their routine remained the same, week in, week out. Whenever Fiona jingled the keys in the lock of the imposing church door, Churchie would appear out of nowhere, curling around her legs. Once inside, he would hover around her feet while she locked the door behind her; she didn’t want anyone to sneak in and cause trouble. Hidden in her shopping bag would be a small thermos of milk, a bag of treats and two saucers. While Churchie greedily tucked into his meal at the back of the church, she would seat herself in the same pew, lay a small towel over the end of the cushion and wait for him to jump onto her lap for a quick fuss. When he decided he had received enough attention, Churchie would nestle on the towel and sleep, accepting the occasional stroke from Fiona each time she passed by him.
Today, however, while Fiona was waiting for him to finish his food, Churchie let out a long, menacing hiss.
Accustomed to the usually serene silence of the church, the alien sound made her heart thump. She had never heard him hiss before. In fact, besides the occasional impatient mew, she had only heard the therapeutic rumble of his purr. She heaved herself up and followed Churchie as he slunk behind a stone pillar.
‘What is it? What’s got you rattled, little Churchie?’
His real name was a mystery as there was no name tag on his collar and no-one knew who he belonged to. He had begun skulking around the graveyard about four years earlier, not long after Fiona’s husband had passed away. Very quickly ‘the church cat’ became known as Churchie to all the regulars. It helped that his fuzzy, grey face resembled a furry Winston Churchill.
‘What’s up with you, you daft moggie?’
Fiona peered at the normally friendly cat. Churchie didn’t move. He was crouched behind the pillar and appeared to be stalking an invisible quarry. She let out a small groan as she stooped to pat him then froze. Her certainty of solitude had vanished. The air in the church had changed, shifted somehow. A warm breeze wafted over her, carrying the faint smell of smouldering rubber. She sensed movement at the far end of the aisle. Despite being positive she had locked the door, she glanced over anyway. The keys were hanging motionless in the lock.
Fiona clasped her hand to her chest trying to stop her heart from hammering its way out and she peeped out from behind the pillar. The aisle was empty, but she was convinced she was not alone. There had to be someone hiding behind a pew, keeping their head down. Fiona kept looking; her eyes scanning every corner of the church. There was nothing–no movement at all.
Perhaps Churchie’s odd behaviour had put her unnecessarily on edge and she was worrying about nothing, but she wasn’t brave enough to investigate further. She had just decided to pop over to the vicarage and ask the minister to take a look around when she detected a faint wail. At first, she thought it was the wind outside trying to spook her a little more but the sound grew louder, digging its way into her head. It turned into such a tormented cry it brought goose bumps to Fiona’s arms.
Fiona flattened her back against the pillar and wished she could join Churchie, who had somehow squeezed himself into the tiny space between pillar and pew. Hiding in the shadows, the cat was silent now. His fear was apparent; with large black pupils and ears flat on his head, he looked like a feral creature, not her long-time companion.
Where was the painful cry coming from? Fiona struggled to keep composed. There had to be a logical explanation for the sound. Although she was coming to the end of her eightieth year, she was sure she still was in possession of all her marbles. If she was losing her mind, so was the cat. Despite considering herself a pragmatist, she had never ruled out the existence of the supernatural. Now she wished she could. She had no desire to come face to face with one at her time of life.
Gradually, but not soon enough for Fiona, the cry faded away to silence. She let out a small, controlled breath. What on earth had made that noise? Before she had time to speculate, she realised someone was running down the aisle. She wasn’t sure if she heard it or sensed it but there was no doubt that someone was racing towards her.
She longed to close her eyes, to block out the nightmare that was getting closer but it was impossible. Fear had frozen her. She pressed her back closer to the stone and held her breath, waiting for the intruder to reach her. Please don’t let him kill me. Please don’t let him…
A gust of air rushed her face making her squint. Something passed by her and headed towards the door.
Still terrified but also relieved that whatever it was hadn’t stopped in front of her, she inclined her head a fraction towards the exit. There was nothing there. Perhaps it was just the wind outside; maybe a window was open or there was a hole in the roof, but something had to be responsible for the eerie noise and strange breeze.
However hard she tried to convince herself that it was her imagination, aided by the spooked cat, Fiona couldn’t take her eyes off the door. She was convinced she was looking at something but her brain was unable to bring it into focus, much the same as looking at the scene from a great distance without her glasses.
As if her eyesight was correcting itself, the different shades on the door moved and flowed into a clear image. A woman was on her knees, resting her forehead on one of the old wooden panels of the door. Her white top was ripped and soaked with blood, as were her jeans. There was a ghastly wound on the back of her head; the blood in her hair glistened in the sunlight.
A whimper escaped Fiona’s lips and she tried to stifle it with her hands. A salty stench filled her nostrils and she realised that her blouse was drenched in sweat. Her legs were trembling so violently that she was afraid they would give out on her.
Fiona blinked and the image vanished. For a moment, she doubted she had even seen the strange figure. However, the detail and clarity of the apparition stayed with her and she knew it was not her imagination. She had seen something.
The atmosphere in the church settled and she sensed that the visitor was gone.
Despite being terrified that she was wrong and the woman was lurking behind her, Fiona edged towards the door, sidestepping the space where the kneeling figure had been. When she turned the key, the click of the lock released a surge of panic through her body. She yanked the door open and fled the building at a speed she hadn’t experienced for at least a decade.
Halfway down the path, her shoe caught on a stone and sent her tumbling to the ground with a grunt. Sharp pain shot through her foot and she cursed herself for being so clumsy.
A grey figure darted past her and she shrieked before realising it was Churchie racing along the path. The cat sprang onto the wall and vanished over the other side, apparently comfortable abandoning her to the terrors of the church.
Unable to stand up, Fiona dragged herself along the ground. Her heart pounded erratically and each breath scorched her lungs but she had to get out of the church grounds. She painstakingly crawled down the path, not caring about the stones scratching her legs and hands. She kept her eyes down, refusing to glance back in case the woman was staring at her from the doorway or worse, stalking her in the long grass between the headstones.
When Fiona finally reached the archway, she pulled herself over the boundary and collapsed on the pavement.
It wasn’t long before she was found and rushed to hospital.
Fiona told no one of her experience at St Mary’s, too afraid she would be labelled as senile. When the minister visited her in hospital, she told him she didn’t think she would able to return to work. She gave the excuses that the fall had been a bad experience–it had been; that she was afraid her ankle would be too weak to allow her to clean properly–it probably was; and that she was sorry she wouldn’t be able to go back–she wasn’t.
The minister nodded sympathetically and said she didn’t have to decide then and maybe she would change her mind when she was well again. She didn’t. She never set foot in the church again. Neither did Churchie.