XXXVI.

They looked out over the hillside, their backs to the shed, and chatted in whispers. They didn't know why they were whispering. Perhaps it was that laugh that had seemed disconcerting and out of place. Suddenly the trio felt that they had no business to be there disturbing the silence. It was not just Carla who felt that uneasiness.

The talked for several minutes, during which time Jessie declared that she had passed her Grade 3 ballet exam with distinction, and gloomily Rosetta revealed that her parents didn't like the idea of her being an only child, and another had been ordered and would be delivered in due course.

"I wasn't very pleased when they told me, having been an only child all my life," she confided, "so I asked if I could choose the name."

"What did they say?" Carla queried with a grin.

"Oh, they agreed as long as they liked my names," she replied airily, and Carla's jaw dropped. "If it's a girl she'll be called Sonya, and if it's a boy he'll be called Aaron."

"I'd have said Jenna for the girl because I like the letter J," Jessie said. "And Jacob for the boy's name."

"I'd have said Philippa for the girl and Cyril for the boy," Carla said.

"That sounds prehistoric! They're practically ancient Greek names," Jessica reproved.

"Actually, they both are ancient Greek names," retorted Rosetta smartly. "Or they're from the Greek."

Even Carla stared. "You're right, of course. Philippa comes from the Greek elements philein, to love, and hippos, horse. And Cyril is from the Greek kyrios which is lord. But I know that because they're practically my favourite names. How did you know it?"

"Most names are from Greek of Latin," Rosetta said smugly. "And names are one of my hobbies. I knew about Philippa and the horse-lover thing, and Cyril sounds Greek enough. You could say I know these things."

Carla snorted, and Jess turned on her at once.

"Well, would you really call the poor kid Philippa?" she jeered.

"I'd call her Phil or Pippa for short."

"I like that even less, if it's possible!"

Then Philly, only I'd spell it the horse way with an F because it's ironic. Filly; I quite like it."

"I still prefer my Sonya."

They laughed.

"The baby is due in March," said Rosetta. "That gives me six or seven  months left of being an only child. I have known for a couple of weeks, but I didn't say anything."

No one protested at this. Rosetta was perfectly capable of keeping certain private thoughts and feelings to herself, and frequently did so, and her friends knew it. Theirs was not the frienship to demand that any and every secret be told. Consequently no one knew quite what to say, and they were silent for a few minutes.

"I dropped the rhubarb-and-custards back in the shed," realised Jessica. "We can't do without them."

She ran off, Carla giggling behind her. She knew how Jessie adored rhubarb-and-custard sweets.

Rosetta called quietly, "Remember to turn the torch off when you come out. It overheats quite badly."

The pair sat there, still, as an owl called across the silent landscape. Carla was beginning to feel a little cold out on the hills. The air was warm for a night, but it was not warm enough to heat the small people sitting on the old stone railing. They sat in darkness, apart from the moon. It seemed more natural, more normal, and even safer to be sitting ithout a torch. That way their eyes were used to the darkness. A torch's light needed adjusting to. And a torch's light was forbidding to the tranquil night. It kept the peace out.

A fresh breeze swept the site of the house as another owl called back to the first. The second owl was across a hill, and its call was deep, rich and mellow. Somehow it was more comforting to Carla than the first one. Though closer, the first owl's call had been ominous and looming. As Carla sucked on a jellybean. she stared at the moon. Its brightness grew and her eyes dimmed and all she could see was that huge yellow circle, growing, engulfing her. As it grew impossible to tear her eyes away Carla saw stars flowing past her eyes. Stars turned to water, to ice, to fire, and the image seemed to overwhelm her. For a fleeting moment Carla's eyes seemed to sink inside her head as she feel forward into terror and desperation.

Then all of a sudden she was back on the hills staring at the moon, with placid Jessica sitting beside her on the stone railing, chewing noisily at her rhubarb-and-custards. The tree canopy was shining into her eyes, glowing strangely as it reflected the moonlight, yet darkened by a haze of blackness that must be smoke. Night felt unfriendly and dangerous, and yet so dazzlingly peaceful...

Carla blinked again as the bright circle began to disappear from her eyes. She felt as if she had been hypnotised.

The End

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