(1) paperback copy of Birth of a Destiny by T.R. Milne open Internationally
There is a time just before a storm hits when everyone is lulled into a false sense of security, so that when the storm arrives, the splendour of its power weakens knees. Rose was in that moment – the summer air was saturated with heat, the sky bruised, the light bursting its final golden shower; everything felt suspended – like a time that wasn’t supposed to exist. It was beautiful, yet deep down and against every bit of logic, Rose wanted no part in it – she wanted it to be over, she wanted the storm to unleash itself upon her.
And, then it did.
The light faded across the open field as a grey wall of clouds prepared for battle. Rose raised her eyes as lightning punctured then tore across the sky. Thunder replied by rumbling and stomping through the trembling valley. Then the rain came, falling softly at first, but soon pounding the steaming earth. Her body stung from the rain’s assault and woke her from a daze.
‘Claudia!’ she yelled, but the wind arrived and blew away her words. Running forward into the downpour, shielding her eyes from the rain, she searched the bushes around her. She couldn’t see more than a foot in front of her. How could she possibly find her cousin?
‘Damn it!’ she cried out.
She knew, in the place that told the truth, something was terribly wrong. Claudia hated storms with a passion and if there was any way she could have made it back to the farmhouse she would have.
As she ran toward another group of bushes, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, illuminating a dark shape that seemed to be looming over something – or someone. She stopped running; causing James to run into her and push her flat to the ground, landing so hard that the wind was knocked out of her. She swiftly rolled over, gasping for air.
‘Are you okay?’ James leaned down and touched her cheek, asking, ‘Are you hurt?’
Rose pushed his hand away, annoyed at how her face tingled where he had touched her. She tried to sit up, but couldn’t quite make it, so made do with leaning back on her elbows.
‘What do you think you were doing?’ she gasped, still struggling for breath.
‘I was running behind you, and then you just – stopped, and I ran into you. I’m very sorry.’
The memory of the dark figure in the bushes rushed into Rose’s mind. She lurched forward, trying to stand up, but it was too soon and she started to fall back down.
James stopped her fall and yelled through the rain. ‘Hey, what are you doing? What’s the matter?’
‘I saw something,’ she pointed to the bushes where she had seen the figure, ‘when the lightning flashed – I saw a dark shape over there.’
She felt James’ warm hand find hers. For a split second it felt so natural, but then she remembered, and immediately pulled away.
‘Let’s go check it out,’ she said, walking slowly toward the bushes.
With each step forward, she felt as though the darkness she kept locked inside was being released and spreading through her. Somehow, James’ hand had found its way back into hers and now she clung to its warmth.
A scream ripped through the rain, Claudia’s scream, and the story it told reached in and squeezed Rose’s heart. Letting go of James’ hand, Rose lunged forward. Two steps further into the bushes brought her to Claudia huddled into a ball against a tree and staring, transfixed, at the rain-shrouded figure in front of her.
‘Oi!’ Rose shouted. ‘Leave her alone!’
‘Get away from her!’ James roared in a voice Rose didn’t know he possessed.
Lightning filled the sky, exposing the creature, for that is what it was. Covered in a black cloak from head to foot, the only thing she could make out was a face that appeared shrivelled upon itself, with skin so thin it was transparent; revealing no blood in the veins beneath it. The mouth was an ebony pit filled with a red tongue that licked at crumbling teeth. The nose, long and narrow, hooked downwards.
But, it was the creature’s eyes that told his story – black holes that spoke of a thousand years spent in the darkness with only hatred, evil, and death for company. Every part of Rose’s being was sickened and repulsed, yet she knew that the thing possessed a dark power beyond any she had ever known. She knew they were lambs before a wolf.
The dark creature turned and moved toward Claudia.
‘Get away from her!’ Rose screamed. It didn’t hesitate. ‘Claudia, RUN!’
‘Rose!’ Claudia called out her.
‘Run!’ screamed Rose.
‘Rose, wake up!’ yelled Claudia. ‘You’re having another nightmare.’
With a jolt that left her breathless, Rose awoke.
‘Are you okay?’ asked Claudia. ‘What was it about?’
Rose sat up, drenched in sweat.
‘You were lost in a storm and I found you, but then I saw the creature.’
‘The creature,’ said Claudia. ‘What kind of creature?’
Rose knew they were safe, but she couldn’t stop her heart from racing as she remembered the creature’s face as it stared at Claudia like she was his prey.
‘It was from another world,’ said Rose, and as she said the words out loud she knew them to be true.
‘From some far-away magical land, was it? Where your ghosts live?’
The hot room they shared suddenly felt suffocating. ‘What do you mean, where my ghosts live?’
‘You think this is the first time you’ve talked in your sleep?’ said Claudia, hopping back into her bed.
‘What did I say?’
‘It’s more a question of what haven’t you said. All I can say is you have one hell of an imagination. Magical worlds. Creatures. Ghosts. As if.’
Claudia turned away in a huff and pulled her sheets up to her neck. In seconds, she was fast asleep.
No doubt dreaming of sunsets, ice creams, and beaches with palm trees. If only she knew!
Rose threw off her sweaty sheets and stormed toward the French doors that led to the veranda. Sleep, which came so easily to Claudia, was no longer a friend of hers.