“The graveyard must end soon,” she thought, as she ran, not really looking where she was going, other than at the ground below, taking care not to run into anything in her path. She had made out a church in the distance; it had looked cold, but it would at least provide shelter from the wind and rain, maybe even some nourishment. As she darted between trees for cover she heard an explosion behind her. Turning her head, she saw that it had been some distance away from her; but in her footing missed and slipped on one of the roots of the old trees. She managed to catch herself, in part, as she fell, lessening any effects of a knock, she had hoped. As she stood herself upright, she saw lights coming on inside the vicarage beside the church, which was now a lot closer than she thought it would be, and as she approached, the door opened revealing a middle-aged woman. She didn’t care who it was right now, she’d been moving for hours, days even, and she just needed some respite.
“Come ‘ere, lassie, you’re soaked right through. What you doin’ out in ‘rain at this hour of the...” The woman abruptly stopped talking, but only for a brief moment, switching as she did so from her chastising manner to a more sympathetic tone. “Oh ya’ poor lass, come in and we’ll get ya out of these wet clothes and give ya’ a nice cuppa”
The comparatively young girl came in and wiped the rain off of her face. The older woman started boiling a kettle.
“Name’s Doreen, Abraham’ll be down in a second. Here, grab this ‘ere towel and take a seat over there.”
The girl turned to where she had been shown, there was a bench beside the rather old window, older than she would have expected for the house from what she had seen from the outside. She had entered in via what she presumed was the kitchen door. As she removed her sodden jacket, it fell to the stone floor, next to the bench. She sat, and began slowly towelling herself off.
“You’re lucky that we’s woken by a loud noise. Tea a’right by you? You wouldn’t know ‘owt about that would you? You look like you’re ‘bout’a fall over; whatever you doing running about in the middle of the night? Oh, don’t cry luv, not good for someone in your state. Ah, here’s the Reverend now”
As Doreen finished her sentence, the door in the corner of the room swung open, and a tall man dressed in a set of flannel pajamas walked in.
“I’ve got a brew on Abraham, there’ll be one for you too. This poor girl looks like she could do with one.”
“Does the poor girl have a name?” he said, in an accent that was distinctly not from this area. “or are we to call her ‘the poor girl’ all night?”. He spoke softly, with a hint of jest in his voice.
“Mmm... Mm.... Maa...” was as much as came out her mouth before her words fell to exhalations of breath and she began to cry again. The vicar hurried over to sit on the bench next to her, careful not to step on her jacket, now sat in a pool of water on the ground. He rubbed her back gently, as his wife came over with a steaming hot tea in a dainty teacup. “There there, you’re in safe hands here.” the girl turned and buried her face into the vicar’s chest “Doreen, will you go turn on the fire? I think our guest could do with a couple of home comforts.” The girl had progressively moved swiftly from crying to sobbing, as she heard the sound of the door that the vicar had come in from being closed. The vicar had taken the towel to dry her with, and was doing a remarkably good job; after a few minutes she was starting to feel a little less tearful. He put his hands on her head and began saying a prayer for her.
“Fire’s burnin’,” came the call from the other room. The vicar stopped rubbing, and motioned the girl to rise. Slowly she wrapped the towel around herself and rose to her feet. As she crossed the cold floor, she looked toward to the fire she could now smell burning away in the next room, a proper wood fire, just like her mum had when she was much younger, she thought. The prospect of a roaring hearth appealed; she started making her way over to the fire. Just as she reached the door, there was a rapping on the door.
“Police, open up.”
The girl started crying again, and started to run, almost without a thought to anything. Doreen crossed the lounge to her, and pressed her close. The girl wrapped her arms around her, the towel falling to the floor. The vicar turned to the door, and as he did so, the girl blurted out “Safe.... Safe hands. Pl..Please.“.
“OK, we’ll keep you safe. Doreen, can you take our guest here to the church, hide her in one of the safe places, I’ll see what the police want.”
The ladies left the room hurriedly, and the vicar started back toward the door. He stopped to remove the jacket from the floor, and put the teacups in the kitchen sink. “Just coming!” he shouted, as the door was thumped on again. “Good evening officers, what can I do for you?”
“We need to perform a thorough search on this building and ask you a few questions in relation to a suspect we are pursuing; we believe she may be hiding in this building or the church next door.”
“Certainly officers, do come in. Can I get you any tea or coffee?”
“Where is she! You’re up at 2 in the morning. You must know something.” The officer’s voice changed to a deeper, threatening tone.
“I haven’t the faintest of ideas what you are talking about. I’m awake because our dog went crazy about the same time we were woken by a loud noise about half an hour ago, and I’ve been trying to get him to calm down since”
“We? Who else you got here?”
“My wife, Doreen. She’s out looking for Max now.”
The officer who appeared to be in charge barged past the vicar, and his fellow comrades entered behind him. “Search the place, lads,” came his command. “What’s this wet towel doing on the floor?”
“Where we dried Max off, before he bolted again,” the vicar tersely replied. He picked the towel up off the floor and walked to the laundry room, hoping the officers bought the story and wouldn’t want to check the towel too carefully. He watched as the officers filed out of the kitchen and into the lounge.
“Cold night, vicar? That’s a large fire for warming the dog, wouldn’t you say. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s not telling us some lies here. Check upstairs boys, I’m going to have a word with the vicar here.”
“Now just a minute,” said the vicar in a more commanding voice, that caused the other policemen to stop in their tracks. “It’s the middle of the night, you’ve barged in here without any kind of permit, making wild accusations, and now you want to search the place for a woman who... have you even got a clue where she is? Have you?”
“And on top of that, you’re dragging mud through the house,” came the sound of Doreen’s voice as she walked in the kitchen door. “You can clearly see there’s no mud on the stairs.”
“You can go check out the church, that’s fine, but you can leave us alone until you come back with a permit, or I’ll have you arrested yourselves for unlawful entry.”
With that, one of the quieter officers leaned in to the ear of his commanding officer, whispered a few words, and the officers left with a little words as required.
“How is she?” the vicar asked as they saw the police head toward the church.
“A wreck. But a wreck that has hidden from the police before and probably will again.”
* * * * *
She saw Doreen grab a rainjacket as she was ushered out the back of the house. Outside it was still bleak, but at this time she knew her surroundings a little better. The church was reasonably close, she had someone who seemed willing to help her, although how much good that would do she didn’t know, after what had happened... she shuddered and kept moving. Doreen was a few paces ahead of her, and was about to enter the church through a side door. The church seemed old to her, obviously so, unlike the vicarage which looked a lot newer than it was. The church was a small parish church, a couple of stain-glass windows, maybe a spire or similar, but she couldn’t tell by the moonlight. Inside there were maybe 10 pews, a pulpit and a secluded section either side of the chapel for the choir and organ respectively. Doreen led her to the organ, where she pulled back the organist’s chair and a part of the carpet to reveal a trap-door leading to under the organ.
“Wait here, keep quiet, don’t do nowt, and I’ll get you something soft.” Doreen scooted off to the pews to retrieve some knee rests. Left alone and knowing the police were nearby, she knelt down to open the trap-door. She grasped the small handle, and pulled, but the door stuck fast. She tried again, and felt what she thought was the door giving some. After spending a couple of minutes pulling, she freed the door with an almost poetic falling backwards, as if it had been scripted from a cartoon. She looked up and saw Doreen over her.
“I thought I told you not to do anything, didn’t want you falling over again, although it’s too late for that I see,” she scoffed as she helped her up to her feet. “Now, in with ya, and keep quiet down there, here’s something to rest your head against, and the raincoat’s for keeping the breeze off you, can be nippy down there. I’ll come for you when the coppers are gone.”
With that, she climbed into the hide-away hurriedly. It was small, dank, made from more stone, and had a small opening in the wall for a window and some light. It looked like there had been hidden passages down here a long time ago, but these had been blocked by rubble. She looked up, and saw Doreen’s smile turn to a frown as she closed the trap door on her.