This is a most unusual crime mystery, and the twists are not as you would expect them.
Many crimes go misunderstood and unpunished. But not forever. It is these consequences which we do not always comprehend, or are not around to judge.
The young man is not sure how he died. Nor is he sure who to blame. But he is most certainly dead and not enjoying it, so he blames himself. He won’t allow those wretched shining do-gooders to tell him what he should be doing, but the flying gangs from the lower planes are no longer his friends either. Heaven is not the paradise he might have supposed, and now simply wishes to be left alone. After all, once dead, recriminations seem to bring small benefit.
There are many others and they all have their hopes, their histories and their failings to overcome. There is a great deal to see and the freedom to see it, but the young man chooses a life with the birds and shuns humanity. Until he meets Daisy.
Yet as soon as he is comfortable with Daisy, Wilmot arrives and unravels his composure all over again. He must, after all, face the circumstances of his death and the surprising truth of his life, leading to the final twist at the end.
The Brave’ directed by and starring Johnny Depp, is a fairly old film and it was never a blockbuster. But I was sleepless one night and ended up watching television. In the early hours of the morning the brain tends to drift into the realms of the imagination more easily so when this film came on, I was both moved and inspired. But it was not the plot with its dark examination of slasher films that inspired me, it was the background environment which caught me in the endless unchangeable dust, grit and colourless sands. It seemed a background of hopeless poverty and the challenge of man against nature. There was relentless sunshine and the long empty road which appeared to go nowhere. This entered my head in a dark and curious mystery story.
The film was highly symbolic, centring around death and how misleading the fear of death can be. This also coloured my imagination.
So Between was born. It speaks of life between lives and the memories of the one before entering the one present. A crime with a final solution but no hope.
There was a point during the writing of this book when I ended up in tears at what I was inventing. I loved my characters and did not want to hurt them. But the plot always wins and the mystery continues.......
He stood absolutely still, balanced and motionless, staring up towards the cliffs. The jagged shadows almost disguised the eagle’s flight. But something else was visible, coming from a much greater distance and flying faster.
The eagle and the other creatures would arrive at almost the same moment and that did not suit him at all.
“Shit,” said the man.
It was the first word he had spoken for almost a year and now the echo of the sound surprised him. So he repeated it, gradually remembering the use of his voice.
Georgia opened her eyes and knew she was dying.
The knowledge was at first confused, a vague awareness of the changes around her, the blurring of reality while clarifying her inner senses.
She was alone with the suffused light of the early morning chill, the cradle of her blankets and the dreariness of a bedroom long outworn. Her body was equally outworn. She was momentarily puzzled to find it no longer fitted her. All its sensations were tired and dulled while her real self was vibrant, refusing to be imprisoned by gravity.
The body and its ungainly weight were simply a hindrance. It had been a hindrance for many months with its plaintive demands, and its only gifts in return for all the time she lavished upon its needs, had been pain and degenerative disease. She shifted within its confines, loosening herself from its whimpering tyranny. And so the outer layer began to retreat, like the peeled skin of a stale and crinkled peach.
Primo stood high against the fog banked boundary, watching the shapes enlarge, swooping and spitting. It had been a year since the last attack and he had almost forgotten them. That had been the last time he’d spoken aloud, and he had more or less forgotten his voice as well.
From below, the eagle called, a high keeak like the calls it had always made whilst alive. The birds had not lost their voices as he had. This was a harpy, and had been hunting in the forests beyond the mountains, though there was now no need for food. Hunting was its nature and although it had taken him as companion, in all respects it remained true to itself.
Primo raised his arm and it perched there, preening its flight feathers. He was not conscious of its immense weight. Here nothing weighed, no thing automatically heavy, since gravity was an expectation and a habit rather than an unavoidable force. He scratched the bird’s head, feeling the familiar bony dinosaur skin beneath the crest, the bumps where its quills grew, and all its abstract satisfaction for the irritation he eased.
Then his concentration moved back warily to the other creatures, flying so fast that at first he thought they would pass him by. They wheeled, spiralling suddenly downwards and he realised they had come for him after all. They were harpies too, of a sort, but human ones, and they came from the plane below. Here by the cliffs they could impregnate the barriers and even the fogbanks didn’t stop them. Unable to travel deeper into the countryside beyond, they harassed the mountain and valley dwellers, flying over for sudden raids.
Georgia’s death was now utterly absorbing; the completion not of remission, but of renewal.
As the world of familiarities pushed her away, so her intensity of self bubbled like a fizzy drink within, a sudden Champagne of exuberance that swept her upwards. Her consciousness refocused as the recognisable pleasance of her room faded. Its usefulness, being over, the furnishings lost impetus. Life’s outlines, her perspective of nearly fifty years, altered, intrinsically, all about her.
She had slept fitfully that night, sharing her dream fragments with the faces of her past, old memories and sweet nostalgia. Perfumed fantasies. Then she had awakened to a pastel dawn through the thin curtains and a sudden, leaping excitement. Some discomfort remained, a sharp twinge stabbing at her spine where the greatest pain had concentrated in recent days. But the brightness, the promise of escape, was the stronger.
Georgia wondered about fear. She had expected it. Death had always seemed frightening before. Life’s greatest terror was always accepted as death. She waited a moment for the fear to reassemble, but it lay in the outer corners of her mind, almost obliterated by the tumbling awareness of new anticipation. So death, when death occurred, bred not fear, but utter thrill.
Primo strode down across the stony ledges of the foothills, carefully balancing the eagle, which gripped his forearm with claws as massive as a bear’s, tearing at the thick cloth of his sleeve. “Will you stay, and be my weapon?” he asked her, though he used no words. Telepathy was easier with the birds. She would stay. Battle suited her nature, and besides, she loved her man.
Once she would have seen further than he did, but here his sight equalled hers. They watched, two pairs of golden eyes, as the Lower Plane Creatures sped in towards them. The brilliance of the sky faded, Primo’s sudden hesitancy causing pale wisps of cloud across the rock peaks.
The raiders had grown masks and lengthened their own claws. At the first approach the whistle of the air confused Primo and the swirl of their leaf layered tunics. He could see only the fluttering, twisting colours, lifting behind and around them like huge wings. They bunched, tight closed formation behind the leader, and as they stretched their fingers and the teeth of their masks, they raked his face. He was spun by the force and fell to one knee. His harpy launched herself upwards, directly into the leader’s eyes. The bastard somersaulted arse over bulbous nose with a flurry of his imitation feathers, but the others came in behind. They scratched and bit, holding their victim down, pinning Primo’s legs to the rock and his face to their teeth.
Georgia’s whole understanding of life, its routine patterns, fine sharp lines and distinct colours, continued to blur. Reality now merged into insubstantiality. Eyes still open, she watched, with more curiosity than dismay as her surroundings disassembled. What had constituted the entirety of her belief in security and the safety of familiarity, was breaking its illusionary barriers back into a whirl of colourless atoms, denying solidity. Around her she saw the world’s collapse and she smiled, quite calm as the definitions of her past existence dissolved and became lost. Physical reality rejected her. She was instead embraced by promise.
Then she no longer knew if her eyes were open or closed for it made no difference. She was cocooned in golden light and a soaring azure infinity so intense it encompassed every colour and every shade, and sang of freedom and spirit.
If this was death, she thought, then living was a sad, cold coast. Now the heaving blue seas pulled at her. Leaving life was a more tantalising adventure than arriving could ever have been.
Primo did not bleed because he had no blood, but the pain was intense. High above the harpy and the alien leader still fought, each screeching, each intent only on the exhilaration of attack. Locking claws, spinning, each rending at the other’s trailing leaf and feather, they became ever more distant, furious whirling specks within the clouds of Primo’s hesitancy. He looked down again and into the faces of his captors. He remembered his tongue. “Bastards. Shitting bastards. Get off me. I won’t go back.”
“We’ll drag you back,” said Warl. “You’ll come with us if we say so. Snivelling coward. You should have stayed with us before. You were one of us. You had no right to move on.”
“Pissing moron. I didn’t run because I’m a coward,” said Primo. “And you know it. If you could move on, you would too. And if you drag me back now, I’ll leave again.”
“Need a bit of time to heal first, you will,” sniggered the smaller one sitting on his ankles. “Your face is a fucking gaping hole. I reckon I’ve bitten your nose right off. Can’t be all superior anymore without a nose, can you?”
“It’ll grow back,” muttered Primo, resigned.
The little one sniggered again and removed his mask. The huge wooden canines fell away and beneath, the real lips were drawn back in a snarl. He leaned forwards and dug the nails of both hands into the torn skin of Primo’s cheeks, ripping inwards and downwards. Primo screamed.
“Not too quickly I reckon it won’t,” smiled the little one.
Primo felt the ripples of agony swell out from his face down through his ribs to his groin and into his toes until he was drowned by it. He could usually ignore pain. It was commonplace where he lived, and after all, he knew it wasn’t going to kill him. This was different. He couldn’t ignore it. When he opened his eyes again, he counted the gang and changed his earlier decision. The easier way, going back with them, wasn’t the right way after all. They’d mutilate him and leave him on the cliff edge to heal as slowly as the passing fingers of fog. That would be weeks, even with the normal time-count, and every fucking minute of it would hurt like hell. He stared at the gang, which had once been his family.
There were nine of them, ten with the leader, all in their alien disguises like silly kids playing at superman. Tunics with leafy wings, long toothed masks and bear’s claws. And because these were costumes they grew with their own minds, the wings could be stretched out, and they could fly. But not far. Not very far at all.
Once Primo had been one of them. He’d never liked them much but he’d accepted that he belonged amongst them. Then gradually his mind had opened and he’d moved on and up. They hadn’t liked that. But he hadn’t moved far either, for heaven’s sake. Just to the boundary between the planes, across the fog banks. And for heaven’s sake was right of course, although there was nothing that seemed remotely like the heaven he’d ever expected. So now he’d have to fight the whole gang off after all. Primo shut his mind very tight against all other thoughts, and called.
Three hundred heard his call; the sea eagles of the ocean cliffs, the golden eagles of the snow peaks, the kites and kestrels of the fields and woods, the falcons of the long meadows and the lammer geyers of the mountain crags. The smaller birds heard him too. The ocean gulls came, and the petrels and shrikes from the beauty of their isolated islands. A lone heron came, like a pale streak of grey satin against the light. There was a flock of starlings as busy as a swarm of angry bees, and amongst them a cassowary which, since its death, had enthusiastically adapted to flight. The macaws, fury as intense as their glory and beaks like pincers, flew directly into the crowd, while a pair of sooty albatross hovered, beating their huge wings against the updraft of cold mountain wind, gouging at Warl’s neck.
Primo’s face hung in tattered loops, obscuring all but his far sight, but he sped upwards, immediately becoming part of the flock. The falcons moved aside for him, welcoming him amongst them. His plunge was as vital. As the birds did, he attacked, becoming speed and anger. The gang could not rise against the barrier of fierce battering wings. They remained trapped below and would easily have been killed, had they not already been long dead.
Primo spiralled and swooped downwards. He felt the wind in his hair and the sudden freeze spun through the holes in his face. All about him the birds sang, the whoops and raucous cries of their species, the gentle keening, the twittering excitement. Primo remained silent. He had energy only for a small focus now. He watched as the gang were routed. His harpy had disarmed the leader, now left huddled like a frightened child in a rock crevice. The others were running. Their imitation wings in shreds, their eyes crazed, they were escaping back to the fog banks. Some of the birds gave chase. The raptors and the macaws flew directly into one man’s hair, grabbing and lifting him, flinging him back down again into the narrow precipice. He tumbled there, sliding down, dislodging pebbles and sand.
Steadying his consciousness, sitting back carefully on the grass tufts, Primo rested on his heels, calming his mind. It was being calm and releasing the need for anger that had brought him into the higher plane, but at first the regular attacks tempted him back into fury. Now he was dizzy and the pain in his head thumped like knives and hammers. He began to faint.
It was reminiscent of the Halfway House where he had initially arrived after death. Now those same green muted memories wrapped him, sending him into sleep. The calm took him and he let himself go. No point fighting it, that had been an early, well learned lesson. Adapt, adjust, accept. Let go. All those things he’d refused to do when alive. He swung his head back, allowing the wounds to lie open and undefended in the breeze. Then he realised he was being carried. The birds had him.
He floated on wings. Eagle wings, buzzard primaries, parrot colours and the soft fluffy down of baby feathers. A host of sparrows, a skein of geese, the joyous humour of a Toucan eye beneath his mutilated ear, a cast of hawks, each one a recognisable friend, a chattering of choughs, chiaff, chiff, chiaff, the gentle, busy laughter. An exultant exaltation of larks around his neck like a collar, each bird supporting him upwards, away from the danger of the cliff edge. Primo closed his eyes and forgot he was dead. He entered sleep.
Georgia was still breathing, though the automatic pumping of air had become strangely reluctant, as if her grasp of life would become easier without it. She allowed the last trickles to gargle sluggishly, like foam left shallow on the sand after a receding tide. As the foam does, so the breath was absorbed back, first a translucent scum, then ebbing damp until quite invisible.
Her perceptions and her sense of identity remained alive and alert as the old habits of material life slumped, like the dull ache that they had usually been. She heard, though with sound that reverberated beyond the simplistic waves of noise she remembered ever hearing. With new ears she heard a pulse. It was not her own. Deep blue shadows rose like the billows of a pillow, holding her consciousness tucked safe within while breathing around and for her, beating with the new comprehension that welcomed her onwards. Then spirals of colour reached and engulfed her, gently, longingly sweet, the deepest satisfaction, as if now receiving all that she had ever wanted, yet had always been denied. Desire and reward became synonymous within one moment of vibration as the tunnel opened for her. Soothed, floating, cradled, feather light, she felt all the yearnings of her heart fulfilled, discovering, for the first time and at last, the irresistible meaning of truly going home.
Her surroundings fell further back into soundless irrelevance; the blurred spillage of all her pale memories, as the tunnel took her.
Warmth massaged her. She had never, in all the business of living, felt so safe. The boundaries of her entire existence had altered, her limitations were eliminated and her understanding of reality suspended, but she remained utterly protected and held secure by brilliance.
The tunnel vibrated, blue gold intensity, and she moved quickly into its womb, carried by a force she could not see, but could feel. Her consciousness no longer existed within the old body, the old bed, the room, the family, the memories. She was new born. She had entered life through her mother’s womb, but she left it through another.
The leaving was not instantaneous. The gradual development of each experience gave her choices. The tunnel widened and here, having entered its boundaries with such strength, Georgia hovered, as if waiting. Something held her still. She could, if she wished, go back. Words did not shape the offer and it was her own mind that told her, as it was her own mind that replied. She rejected the thought of continued struggle. The effort of living now repelled her. Instantly she repudiated the idea of any return to life.
She moved faster now, arrow straight. The light was blinding but did not blind. Then, although already transcendently luminous, the far end of the tunnel opened before her and its brilliance was climactic. A dazzle beyond gold now closed her eyes. She entered it, emerging from the womb in a blaze of warmth and unutterable happiness. She opened new eyes and gazed earnestly into the purity of the new world.
Faces were shaping in the haze, voices forming within the spangle. Someone reached for her hand. For the first time, Georgia heard words and the sounds were deliciously familiar.
“Come on,” they said. “You’re nearly home.”
Georgia found her own voice. It was hesitant and very young, though very much her own. “Home? But I don’t want to go back,” she pleaded. “Not any more. I’m dead, aren’t I? That’s what’s happened, isn’t it? Please don’t send me back.”
“Oh no,” said a voice she knew so well but could not immediately place. “This is home now. In a way, it always was.”