They heard the doorbell going the next morning at eight o’clock.
‘Oh Gawd,’ Auntie Jo said, peering out from under her duvet, which was a lurid pink and covered in teddy bears. ‘If that’s your friend Ranajay, tell him to come back later. I’ve still got to phone your parents and tell them what’s happened.’
‘Why?’ Kerry asked, getting up. ‘We’re OK now.’
‘Yes, but I don’t think they’d be happy to know that their dearest, darlingest little daughter won’t be visiting them in a week as planned because we’re hiding in a bunker somewhere.’
‘We’re not going to be hiding in a bunker,’ Kerry said, wandering into the dining room. On the back of the door there were some hooks, and there, for some unknown reason, hung a silky dressing gown. She put it on while her aunt rummaged in her bag for her cigarettes.
‘But still. And I’ve got to go to work as well. Pub won’t run itself.’
‘I’m sure we’ll still be allowed outside,’ Kerry said matter-of-factly. This morning she was feeling decidedly calmer about the whole situation – although the idea of answering the door to Ranajay in her shorts did not appeal, hence the dressing gown.
The doorbell went again.
‘Go and answer that, then,’ Auntie Jo said, lighting up.
Kerry went to the door and let Ranajay in.
‘Are we really going now?’ she asked him. He was wearing a blue jumper.
‘We are, yes. Maybe I came too early.’
‘Well, yeah. We’re still in our pyjamas, really.’
They came into the living room. Jo was already puffing away at her cigarette. Ranajay noticed an odd-looking ashtray on the table next to the sofa.
‘Mum made it,’ Kerry explained. ‘She used to take pottery courses.’
‘Was it fun?’ Ranajay asked Jo.
‘Hmmm? Oh, I’m not her mum. I’m one of those eccentric aunties you read about; I look after her.’
‘I see,’ Ranajay said, shaking Jo by the hand as she stood up. ‘And you are?’
‘Joanne White. Jo, you can call me.’
‘Jo,’ Ranajay said, as if mentally storing the information. ‘You two should pack. You’ll have to stay at this place I’m taking you until I can track down Dorus and send him on his way. I suspect he’s been driven insane by a Wraith’s touch. Sometimes they choose not to kill, just... debilitate.’
‘This is all very bloody dramatic,’ Auntie Jo said, slipping into her heels. ‘Am I going to be able to buy fags where we’re going?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Where are we going?’ Kerry wanted to know.
Ranajay looked at her. ‘We’re going to stay with an old acquaintance of mine. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but he’s reliable and trustworthy, and he has plenty of space. I’m sure he and his wife won’t object.’
‘Hmmm,’ frowned Auntie Jo. ‘I’m not so sure about this.’
‘You might get on with him,’ Ranajay tried. ‘He has a cactus called Truman.’
‘Oh. I’ll get my things then.’
Shortly after Ranajay had helped Kerry and Jo lift their cases out the door and into the back of his car – dark blue, one careless owner, rusted around the edges – they set off down the dual carriageway.
Jo sat in the front. It was obvious she was still feeling dubious about this whole thing from the way she kept pulling the threads out of the olive-green shawl she had hung round her shoulders.
Kerry sat in the back, now wearing a pair of jeans, her red fleece and a shirt bearing the legend, ‘I’m out of bed, what more do you want?’. The fleece of course, had been dyed that colour, as very few sheep have been born with red fur. Kerry did remember a children’s story her father had read to her when she was much younger, about a man who, by some bizarre accident, managed to dye his sheep all the colours of the rainbow. The sheep went on to attract all manner of attention from the media, although it was difficult to get photographs of the sheep together, as they often clashed.
Kerry didn’t read as much as she used to. But she still liked curling up on a seat in the library with a good book. It wasn’t the same as in primary or even secondary school, of course. At college, the library was full of reference books and foreign languages texts, so she had to bring along her own fiction to devour.
At home, she’d had shelves full of books. In going to live with her aunt, Kerry had only managed to bring a boxful. If she wanted to read now, it had to be something from the box, or one of Auntie Jo’s selections of pulp fiction and magazines.
All the windows were rolled up, and Ranajay had the radio on. He turned the volume down as Jo made a call to the pub asking someone to take over her shift for a few days because she wasn’t feeling well.
‘Which isn’t far from the truth,’ she admitted to Kerry, turning off her phone again.
Kerry sat back in the seat and watched the trees and bushes blur past as they approached the motorway. Other cars zoomed past on the right side of the car; fields full of cows and horses rolled over the landscape on the left.
Then Jo needed another cigarette, so Ranajay kindly pulled over onto the hard shoulder. Kerry got out too, to keep her company.
‘One time,’ her aunt told her, taking a drag, ‘I was travelling in a car on the way back to uni from this party. And we were on the motorway. So we stopped on this bit, like we’re doing now, just for a cigarette and a bit of air, and then the car stalled and wouldn’t start again.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I had to humiliate myself by walking around the car with my skirt hitched up, teetering about in heels, trying to look like I don’t know which end of the car the engine’s in.’ Auntie Jo demonstrated, mincing around in a comic fashion.
‘Ha ha. Did it work?’
‘It certainly did. Two cars pulled over, both men, and one of them got us going again.’
‘I hope you never end up like your auntie,’ Jo said, taking another drag. ‘Your mum was always the smart one. She got a proper degree. I took English Literature and dropped out in the second year to start running a pub.’
‘Well, at least you’re pursuing a dream,’ Kerry said. ‘Mum married Dad and got a job in a library. What you’re doing is much better, I think.’
Auntie Jo shrugged and stamped out her cigarette. ‘I suppose so. Let’s get back in, I’m freezing.’