Penny followed Reverend Joseph down the path and into the street. She gaped at the sight the sleek black Jaguar that waited by the curb, purring, its tinted windows reflecting the slowly nearing sunset.
“Job pay well then, does it?” muttered Penny. She thought she had said it quietly, but Reverend Joseph stopped and turned to face her. He shot her a challenging smile and opened the passenger door for her. There was a rucksack on the seat, a leather rucksack that looked identical to the one Penny had in her bedroom.
“Where did you get that from?” she asked, picking up the bag. She yanked it open and almost dropped it on the floor; it was filled with a selection on her clothes, her purse and her old tattered Bible.
“You should not make that face, Penelope Sloan,” said Reverend Joseph, watching her with interest. “It was an act of kindness on my part to pack your belongings for you. I could have just left you with nothing but the clothes on your back.”
“That’s beside the point,” said Penny. “When did you do this? How did you get my clothes?”
Reverend Joseph’s smile deepened. He walked over to his door and got into the car. Penny shot in after him, eager for the answer.
“I plan ahead,” he said. “You cannot possibly believe you were going to stay in this village forever? No, no, Penelope Sloan. You have long outstayed your welcome.”
“But …” she was shaking again, “how did you get in the house? Do the Sloans know you waltzed into my room and took my stuff?”
The Reverend’s smile faltered. His dark eyes rolled towards Penny and bored deep into her hazel ones. Several minutes passed, in which time his frown became more prominent. By the time he spoke again, his expression was so dangerous that Penny was sure he was going to kill her.
“Do no ask such questions. They are not of your concern.”
She said nothing more, but clipped her seatbelt into place and faced forward, her eyes hard and angry.
Reverend Joseph bowed his head and spoke in some unknown language, his hands clasped together. Then he started the car and sped off into the distance. Penny guessed he must have been reciting a travelling prayer, but didn’t bother asking him about it. She was still angry at everything and couldn’t be bothered with another admonishment.
They soon arrived at the Holy Borders. The branches from the trees hung low, shaped like talons which scraped the top of the car as if trying to prevent their escape. Once the trees realised it was futile, they made a break and granted them passage. The pair remained silent throughout the journey, even when they were on the M6, and the roads were packed and filled with noise. Penny looked wistfully back at Cumbria, at the fells, the rolling hills and the sea of grass and trees and bushes. She thought about the wild animals and the kooky shops – ones that she had bought her many horror novels from. Penny thought about her bookcase at home and felt a pang in her stomach. Where will she get the money to replace them?
“Your parents came to me about their child problems,” Reverend Joseph said so suddenly that Penny jumped, “when Richard found out it was … well, in his words, ‘his fault’, that they couldn’t have children, he was beside himself. He felt inadequate that he couldn’t give Caroline the family she always wanted. So, they asked me what I would do. I told them I didn’t know, that I would pray about it, but children … family. It makes people irrational. They lose sight of God, they become clouded in their own importance, their own needs; they forget the bigger picture, they become corrupt.
“They searched for adoption agencies, but it was hard work. It eventually led them to an orphanage in London. Your parents wanted to help an unfortunate child.
“I advised them against it. Nothing good can come from London. They didn’t listen. They found Sunny Oaks, and then they had you soon afterwards. When I looked in your eyes, I saw the Devil.”
That’s nice… thought Penny.
“I told Richard my concerns. He couldn’t see it. So when you began to act in this way … started to display a liking for the occult, I was not surprised, I am aware people of your kind are wont to practice voodoo and curses. I had been expecting it, and had planned your departure from then.”
“So you’ve been turning everyone against me so that they wouldn’t question you when you kicked me out, and what do you mean, my kind?.”
“Do not tempt me, Beelze -"
Anger boiled inside her and she almost threw the door open to get out, remembering only too late that they were speeding down the motorway at ninety miles an hour.
“The sooner I get you out of my car the better,” said Reverend Joseph. “Only God is protecting me at this moment. I can only thank Him for his mercy, for protecting Richard and Caroline for all these years.”
Penny scoffed and threw her hands up in the air. When she closed her eyes from the last rays of the sun, she noticed a dull pounding in her temples. By the time they got to the city, she had a killing headache.
They were met by bright lights and 24 hour shops, packed streets, high-rise flats, cranes and glassy sky scrapers. Hundreds of cars cruised past them, music blasting through the windows. Penny frowned at the city-dwellers. They had their faces covered in veils, sunglasses and hoods and scarves. They kept their heads low. They pushed past one another on the street, as if they couldn’t see anyone else but themselves. Whereas in Lockview no one was a stranger, it seemed as though London was home to the anonymous.
They arrived at a busy district with plenty of young revelers ambling across the street in mini skirts and high heels. Penny looked out of the windows, her nose pressed against the dark glass, utterly dumbstruck. She couldn’t remember seeing so many people in one place before, even with her weekly forays outside the Borders. The scantily clad girls and hyper party boys reminded her of all the warnings she had been given as a young teen in Sunday school, about Sodom and Gomorrah, and how the cities were filled with such parties. The sight of it first-hand only made her more excited, and she yearned to get out of the car and join in.
Reverend Joseph hissed beside her. Penny looked in the direction of his snarl, and the string of youth with bottles of alcohol in their arms, dancing in front of the car.
“Devil spawn,” he spat, and hammered his foot down on the gas. The group screamed and jumped out of the way. Penny heard several members swear after the car. The Reverend slowed down at an alley way and emerged again into the epicenter of London Bridge. Penny saw flashes of the train station, the distant spires of Tower Bridge further down the river, before the Reverend turned into the tunneled underpass of Holyrood Street. After switching off the car, he uttered another short prayer. After that he turned his fog lights on, illuminating the space before them. Penny peered through the gloom and could only just make out what must have once been a house on the other end of the underpass. There were the remains of a foundation. It was charred and dusty. A holey roof coated with ash was above it, along with a metal sign that swung downwards, the last letters of Orphanage painted onto it.
Penny got out of the car and stumbled towards the building until she was close enough to touch the wooden planks. She bit down on her lips hard, until she could taste blood, but that didn’t stop the tears from spilling onto her cheeks. She wiped her eyes and winced as her injuries were aggravated, but that didn’t stop her burying her head in her hands. She didn’t even know why she was crying. This place didn’t mean anything to her; she was too young to remember it, but something about its location, its poor, destroyed state, made her feel hopelessly alone. Was a bit of guilt also kicking in? The thought that she actually owed something to Richard and Caroline Sloan hammered down on her shoulders. They had taken her away from poverty. How on earth had the other orphans managed to survive?
There was a screech of tyres. Penny didn’t bother turning around. She waited until the noise of the car was far into the distance before walking away from the orphanage. She found her leather bag on the ground with a bundle of fifty pound notes with an elastic band wrapped around it. Penny pulled the bag on her back and picked up the notes begrudgingly, then walked into the main street, not entirely sure where she should go. She tried not to worry about it; there were many times when she had got lost out in Cumbria, and if anything, that was much worse; London had plenty of street signs and maps at the bus stops to provide her with support.
The homeless man looked up at her with watery, bloodshot eyes. Penny shrugged and tossed the wad of notes in his lap.
He jumped to his feet as if he had just been splashed with water, searching Penny’s face with suspicious hope.
“Take it,” said Penny. “I sure as hell don’t want it.”
Then she turned away from him and carried on walking in a random direction. She saw the main London bridge up ahead. A brown square building marked No. 1, London Bridge loomed over her on the right, and the skyscrapers in the distance stood tall and proud, their many lights illuminating the shorter buildings around them.
She leaned over the railing of London Bridge and looked out into the distance, where Tower Bridge stood proudly doused in a bright, white light. She could see cars zooming along it through the blue railings, and the tiny figures of people watching the lights bouncing off the surface of the river with awe. It all looked too beautiful. The apprehension she had had two minutes ago was gone. It was invigorating, if anything. Wasn’t this what she had been dreaming of for years? Freedom? An escape from Lockview? Why complain now that she had it? A snicker escaped her lips, and before long she was bent double with laughter. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Penny started when she saw the cloaked man standing next to her.
“Oh, sorry,” she said.
“Don’t apologise,” he said.
Penny was rather taken aback by the man. He was undeniably handsome; his face looking like it had been sculpted by an artist. When he smiled, his grey eyes twinkled. They seemed to illuminate the space within his dark silk hood.
“I’m surprised you’re laughing, really,” he said, coming to lean over the railing with her, “what with those injuries and all.”
“Yeah,” said Penny. “But I guess I need to celebrate something.”
“Really now?” He smiled again. “What’s your name, love?”
“Penny,” she held out her hand.
“I’m Blythe,” he shook it.
Penny looked out at Tower Bridge again, smiling warmly.
The malicious glee on Blythe’s face went unnoticed by her.