Read What You Wish For Online

Authors: Mark Edwards

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Crime

What You Wish For

BOOK: What You Wish For
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OTHER TITLES BY THE AUTHOR

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OUISE
V
OSS
:

 

Forward Slash

Killing Cupid

Catch Your Death

All Fall Down

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2014 Mark Edwards

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477825563

ISBN-10: 1477825568

 

Cover design by Jennifer Vince

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014938774

Prologue

The house was silent.

The wind caught the door and slammed it shut behind me. I couldn’t wait to tell Marie my news. She was the one who encouraged me to break out of the rut I’d been in. I was twenty-seven and my career was going nowhere until Marie came along and shook me up, told me to stop staring at the pavement and start looking at the stars. The bottle of champagne in my bag was still cold from the overpriced supermarket on our street. I was going to pop it open, raise a toast, take her to bed. Celebrate.

‘Marie?’ I called.

No response.

I stuck my head into the living room. No sign of her. In the kitchen I put the champagne in the fridge. I heard movement and turned, a smile ready on my face, but it was only our ancient cat thumping down the stairs.

Maybe Marie was having a bath. She spent a lot of time in there, lying back with her pale red hair stretching like tendrils around her, or sitting up with the laptop balanced on the toilet, watching one of her UFO documentaries. I ran up the stairs, past the damp patch I’d been ignoring for months. The house was Victorian, a ‘fixer-upper’ that I hadn’t got round to fixing up.

Maybe soon I’d have the money to turn this place into the home it could be. Somewhere to be proud of, and Marie and I would live here for years and years, and . . . and I’d ask her to marry me. I grinned as I took the stairs two at a time. I could just imagine her face if I proposed. We’d only been together four months. She’d tell me not to be an idiot. But in that moment, I felt like anything was possible, that happiness – a future filled with the stuff – was hanging like ripe fruit, saying, ‘Take me, have me, here – it’s easy.’ Optimism propelled me into the bathroom where I expected to find her, naked and smiling up at me from beneath the water.

She wasn’t there.

She wasn’t anywhere.

I went from room to room, my phone in my hand, trying to call her. It went straight to voicemail.

It was getting dark outside, the shadows from the trees drawing inwards, a half moon sharpening into focus. The house felt too quiet, too cold, making me rub my arms where goose bumps appeared. The cat was running back and forth across the kitchen, making strange noises. I ended up back in the hallway, staring at the front door, waiting for it to open, for her to come home, tell me she’d popped out to see one of her friends from college, why was I so worried? Why did I look so scared?

But the door didn’t open.

I was not superstitious. I didn’t believe
. . .
well, Marie complained that I didn’t believe in anything. Not ghosts or horoscopes or aliens or even destiny. But standing there then, I felt a terrible, ominous sense that by being so optimistic I had tempted fate. I could feel it, the emptiness around me, the damp patch on the wall mocking me, its shape – now I really looked at – like a face with a twisted, mocking grin. Something had happened here. I could sense it. It wasn’t rational, it didn’t make sense to feel this afraid.

But I knew, even before I knew, that she was gone. And life was never going to be the same.

PART ONE
CLOSE ENCOUNTER

 

1
FOUR MONTHS EARLIER

From
The 1066 Herald
, June 7th:

COUNTRY RANGERS SPOT LIGHTS IN SKY

Two local men spoke this week of their fear when they witnessed strange lights in the sky over the East Hill.

Barry Dane and Fraser Howard told The Herald that they had seen a cluster of red and blue lights ‘dancing over the country park’ where the men work as rangers.

‘We were on the night patrol in the Land Rover,’ said Dane, 38. ‘Fraser suddenly gripped my arm and pointed upwards. I couldn’t believe my eyes.’

The two men describe the lights as being in two triangular formations that circled each other repeatedly.

‘The red triangle of lights was larger and moved more quickly,’ said Dane. ‘It was eerie. I felt all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.’

Howard, 57, who is currently on sick leave, declined to comment.

There were no other reported sightings that evening. Experts say that the men could merely have been seeing the lights of aeroplanes, or lights from the attractions on the seafront reflected in the night sky.

I never wanted to be a photographer for a local newspaper. It just kind of happened. When I left college, I foresaw a future in which I would win prizes for my photo-journalism. I imagined myself dodging bullets in far-off war zones, not snapping pet hamsters at the primary school down the road from my house, the same school I went to. I hadn’t travelled a great distance in my life, professionally or geographically.

I remembered the day I had been carrying my camera home from the repair shop. It was loaded and I had planned to take a few arty shots of trees and suchlike on the way home, just to test it out, when a man came running round the corner pursued by half a dozen policemen.

As the man ran past me, I did what any self-respecting, law-abiding citizen would do – I took a photo. My advantage was that I had a DSLR rather than an iPhone.

The next day, when I was conducting my weekly hunt through the job pages, I spotted a competition in the
Herald
for amateur photographers. They wanted a dramatic action shot, with the theme of crime. I sent them my picture of the panicked thief and the puffed coppers, and the editor, Bob Milner, liked it so much he gave me a job.

Now, here I was, three years later, twenty-seven years old, on my way to take a photo of a bunch of deluded hippies who had camped out on the East Hill in Hastings, where I lived, hoping to spot a UFO. I wanted to be photographing blazing buildings, heroic deeds, distressed victims of circumstance. I wanted
excitement
.

UFO watchers
, I thought.
Give me strength
.

‘About time,’ said Simon when I reached the lift.

‘So nice to see your happy face,’ I responded.

We paid our fare and stepped into the lift, which was in fact a funicular railway that took tourists up onto the hill during the season. Nobody who lived in the town ever used it, except for overweight journalists like Simon. I looked out at the sea as the cable car ascended the hill, a journey that took less than two minutes.

Stepping out of the lift, I was reminded why I liked my hometown, why I had never put much effort into getting out.

Old Hastings nestles between two hills. We stood on the East Hill and looked across to where its western sister rose up, the ruined castle perched atop the cliffs. Between the two hills stand the crooked Tudor houses of the Old Town, where artists and fishermen share the narrow streets. The main road cut a path of modernity between the aged, pretty dwellings, with their dark sloping roofs and oak doors and window frames. Seagulls made nests in cracked chimneys; their high-pitched cries provided an omnipresent soundtrack to the days and nights; they swooped over the houses toward the beach and the fishermen’s boats and huts.

Simon noticed me surveying the vista. ‘Not too shabby when the sun’s out, is it?’

He pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of nose. Simon was a few years older than me, in his early thirties, six foot two and a little overweight. He had a loud voice and the demeanour of an overgrown schoolboy. To my perpetual astonishment, he also appeared to be highly attractive to women – or at least a certain type of woman. The type who like overgrown schoolboys. This wouldn’t have been an issue if he wasn’t married.

‘Where are these UFO nuts camped out?’ I asked.

Simon pointed and we made our way across the hill before descending the steep, grassy steps at Ecclesbourne Glen. At the bottom of the glen we began the long climb to the cliff top. By the time we reached the summit, Simon was puffing like a broken-down steam train.

I looked up and saw what we had come for. A pair of blue two-man tents were pitched behind a row of blackberry bushes. I waited for Simon to catch his breath and we strolled over to where two men were examining the tents.

The first man – tall, early twenties, goatee – stuck out his hand and said, ‘Good morning.’

He was American. Despite the heat he was wearing a leather jacket, which had WATCH THE SKIES spelt out in Tipp-ex on the back, below a crudely drawn picture of a UFO. ‘You must be the guys from the paper.’

We introduced ourselves. Richard Thompson. Simon Ryder.

‘Pete,’ he said. ‘Beautiful day, huh? And the forecast says we’re going to have clear skies tonight. Great watching weather.’

The other man – forties, receding blond hair and wire-framed glasses, a pair of expensive binoculars around his neck – looked us over. ‘I’m Andrew Jade,’ he said, as if he expected us to have heard of him.

When neither of us showed recognition, Andrew Jade went on. ‘I’m so glad you could find the time to come and talk to us.’ He spoke slowly, as if he was choosing his words meticulously. Maybe he was just wary of the press. I guess he was used to people ridiculing his beliefs.

‘Is it just the two of you?’ Simon asked. His breathing had just about returned to normal.

‘Oh no,’ replied Andrew. ‘There’s Fraser. And Marie.’

As he said this there was a rustling sound and a young woman of about twenty-three pushed her way out from between two bushes. She smiled and came over.

She had long, very pale red hair and was slim and small-framed. Her eyes were concealed behind oval sunglasses, and a tiny silver stud glinted in the side of her nose. She wore a plain black T-shirt and olive combat trousers. She offered me a slim hand. It was warm. Without speaking a word, she stepped backwards and sat down, apparently exhausted, in one of the lawn chairs.

Pete winked at Marie and I tried to tear my eyes away from her. She seemed unaware of my attention. She sat back in the chair and turned her face towards the rich blue sky. Because of her shades, I couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed.

‘Fraser’s gone into town for provisions,’ said Andrew. ‘He should be back soon.’

Simon looked thoughtful. ‘Fraser? Wasn’t that the name of one of the country rangers who reported seeing the lights?’

Andrew nodded. ‘That’s him.’

‘I thought he was meant to be off work, sick.’ He scribbled something in his notebook.

‘He’s frightened,’ said Marie. We all turned to look at her. She took off her sunglasses. She had large round eyes, the colour of blue light shone through frosted glass. She smiled. ‘He’s seen something he can’t reconcile with what he believes.’ She smiled, showing a gap in her front teeth. ‘He doesn’t realise there’s nothing to be scared of.’

Simon rolled his eyes. Usually, I would have done the same but there was an ironic lilt in her voice – like she was aware that others might find her words ridiculous – that stopped me from sneering.

Simon looked at his watch. ‘I haven’t got much time, actually. Do you mind if we get on?’

Andrew shrugged. ‘Go ahead.’

Simon asked them in a bored tone of voice about the lights – was this a common form of sighting? What were they hoping to achieve by camping out and keeping watch?

‘Are you expecting a landing?’

Andrew shook his head. ‘We don’t expect this encounter to go beyond the first or second kind. We’re not looking for anything other than a sign. I don’t know how deeply you want to get into this, but we don’t believe that the time is yet right for full contact.’

‘So you’re not expecting to meet any aliens tonight?’ Simon smirked as he spoke.

‘Of course not. All that we hope for is . . . some information. A sign.’ He held his hands out, palms upward.

‘I see.’ Simon scribbled. ‘Tell me, have any of you ever been abducted? Have you ever seen an alien?’

‘No, but I know a man who has,’ Pete sniggered.

Andrew ignored the young American. ‘I hope you’re not poking fun at us, Mr Ryder.’

‘As if I would do such a thing.’

I tuned out of the rest of the exchange and turned to look at Marie. She had leant back in the chair again and put her sunglasses back on. A gentle breeze stirred her hair. She was beautiful and . . . cool. Like one of the alternative, unattainable girls I’d fancied at school, the type who had boyfriends at university and hung around with rock bands.

‘—going to take some pictures? Richard? Wake up!’

I snapped back into the real world. ‘Sorry, what was that?’

Simon tutted. ‘I thought for a minute your brain had been abducted. I said, are you going to take some pictures?’

I looked at Marie, who appeared oblivious to this exchange. Perhaps she’d fallen asleep. I readied my camera and said, ‘OK. Can you stand in front of your tents? Actually, it might be better on the edge of the cliff.’

I decided that a picture of them with the open sea behind them would be most apt and dramatic. Pete and Andrew posed by the stringy fence with its faded red DANGER sign. ‘Marie?’ I said.

‘Leave her,’ said Andrew. ‘She won’t have her picture taken. She doesn’t believe in it.’

‘Oh.’ I shrugged, trying to hide my personal and professional disappointment. A picture with a pretty girl in it was a lot more likely to get a prominent slot in the paper. ‘I guess it will have to be just you two handsome guys then.’

Andrew frowned. Pete gurned. I took a few shots.

‘Right,’ Simon said, ‘I think that will do.’

I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to talk to Marie some more. Or just stand and look at her.

‘Are you coming?’

I was about to follow Simon when Marie spoke. Her voice seemed to come from a long way off. ‘Why don’t you come back tonight and help us keep a lookout?’

‘I’d rather not,’ said Simon.

‘Why not?’ I said to him, taking him aside. ‘It would be great for the story.’

‘This story is horse shit. I don’t know why Bob thinks anyone will be interested in it. Sorry, darling,’ he addressed Marie. ‘Thanks for the invite but no thanks. Come on, Richard.’

I looked at Marie. She leant forward with her chin cupped in her hand, her face angled towards me, that amused smile playing across her lips. I wished I could see the expression behind her dark lenses.

‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’ll come back later. Just think, if a UFO did come swooping down and a bunch of little green men came out to say hello and I wasn’t here to take their picture, I’d kick myself!’

‘Cool,’ said Pete, grinning.

Beside him, Andrew glowered. I guessed I shouldn’t have mentioned little green men. It was an interesting group. The earnest older man, the American with puppy-dog enthusiasm and the cool, beautiful young woman.

I looked at Marie. She nodded her head almost imperceptibly and sank back into her peaceful reverie, the sun warm on her face.

I didn’t give a damn about aliens and had no doubt this group would be disappointed later when the only thing they saw was the moon.

But I wanted to know more about her.

BOOK: What You Wish For
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