XXXV.

Carla woke at seven minutes past eleven on Saturday night. She was woken by her stopwatch, which had an irritating habit of beeping on the hour, and had somehow got out of time. It did not usually wake her, but tonight she had deliberately put it on her bedside table. She had been woken up about six minutes past ten earlier, but had fallen asleep again instantly.

Carla dressed silently, thanking her stars for a room of her own. She tied up her hair in the mirror and opened the window. Quietly she climbed down the trellis and jumped the last few feet to land softly on the dewy grass. The night was clear and warm. It was extraordinarily light for a night, but Carla felt very uneasy as she saw the dark road lit at intervals by street lights. She took up her bicycle. If she were caught...

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. It would take her only a minute to get to the shed, and yet... The area had a brilliant reputation for lack of crime and there were no gangs for miles around. In fact the place was mainly governed by families with young children under twelve and elderly couples spending their retirement in the hills of North England. Even so, Carla felt quite scared, for her, to be faced with a ride away from home in the middle of the night. She shuddered as she rode down the road.

She went slowly, partly because of her fears, partly because of her reluctance to be going so far from home at such a time, but partly because she now found herself to be afraid of the dark. Not very scared of the dark, she hastened to tell herself; just a tiny bit anxious about tripping on the kerb or something. At least her bike had been fitted with lights, a requirement for her cycling proficiency at school.

At last she was at the shed at twenty minutes past eleven. There was a light in the shed. That meant that Rosie and Jessie were already there. Carla approached the shed and went inside, at once greeted with a volley of questions. Blinking in the yellow light of the torch, she told them her story.

"You took a risk," remarked Rosetta with horror, or was it awe? "Jess came for a sleepover at mine tonight so we came down together. But you were alone."

She pronounced this last word with the terrifying emphasis of a death sentence, making Carla shiver. Jess chuckled. "Don't be such a dramatist," she accused laughingly. "Your imaginations must've been doctored!"

"Or rather you have no imagination," replied Rosetta, not in the least afraid of her own joking superstitions.

"We had to discuss all this without you yesterday, seeing you declined to answer the phone," Jess carried on.

"It's a pity we couldn't ask Vienna," Rosetta said.

Carla sniffed. The sniff was born more of force of habit as opposed to true distaste, but the girls, including Carla, didn't perceive that.

"She was probably spying on you while you were talking," Carla said pettishly. "Then she will come anyway." She had still not entirely forgiven her second cousin for reasons she knew to be false. Or else she had not entirely forgiven herself. Carla found it hard to change her views and admit herself to be wrong, so perhaps making herself feel ashamed was her way of punishing herself, even though it involved the abuse of Vienna, who certainly did not deserve it.

They brough a small collection of sweets and chocolate each from the shed, and proceeded to sit down on the stone balcony railing which felt warm even at this time of night.

"It's not like we'll finish all this food," Rosetta said, and the other two acknowledged their assent. "We'll leave the rest in the shed for other times when we're hungry."

"I eat chocolate when I'm not hungry," protested Carla, bringing forth a ripple of laughter than sounded too loud as it echoed in the eeriness of the still night.

An owl called its haunting note and Carla trembled again. What was wrong with her tonight that a sense of foreboding disturbed her so?

The End

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