Lukas all but glared across the room. "I am not going to see a doctor; at least, not yet' He glowered at his sister. "I've had more than my fair share of leeches lately, thank you.'
If Helen was bothered by either his look or his outburst, nothing showed in her set expression. "Well, that's just too bad, isn't it?' She told him. "Because you're going. Tomorrow; if I have to drag you there.'
"I am not.'
"We'll see, little brother.' Helens tone put an end to the argument. She raised the newspaper, abruptly cutting herself off from any further discussion.
"Oh yes; that's really mature.' Lukas snarled at the newspaper. There was no reply; just a slightly increased sense of determination from behind the paper. Lukas rose, as quickly as his injured leg would allow.
"I'm going for a walk.' He muttered.
For a moment, there was no response. Then; "Good idea.' The newspaper dipped slightly. "You haven't been out of the house in days. And, we need milk, if you pass a shop. Want me to come with?'
"I can manage.' Lukas grunted noncommittally, and headed for the hallway. He considered taking a coat, but decided that it was mild enough outside to warrant not needing it. He also considered slamming the door on his way out, but resisted the impulse at the last moment.
It was unfair of him, he told himself, to blame Helen for caring. And that's all it was; caring. Helen cared for him; worried about him. Loved him like a sister.
"Damnation.' He muttered. He half turned back towards the house, hand raised as if to push open the door, but some deep stubborn streak stayed his hand. He had never been good at apologizing, even when he knew that he was in the wrong. Maybe he could cook her a nice dinner, when he got home. Lukas brightened at the thought. There was a small shopping area, near to the park; he would stop there on his way back, and see what he could find.
Lukas cheered up to the extent that he actually made it all the way down the path to the road, before he realized that he had left his walking stick behind. He stopped, and looked back. From this perspective, the driveway looked almost insurmountable. The thought of negotiating the incline, after walking to the park and back, almost forced him back up the slope, but once more the small stubborn voice piped up.
After a moments internal struggle, he turned resolutely towards the small road that led out of the cul-de-sac. The park wasn't all that far, and, after he had been into the shops, he could always call a home. He checked that he had at least, remembered his cell-phone, and that it still had charge in it, before he took his first solo steps outside since arriving in Lancaster.
Williamson Park was a ten minute walk away from Helen's home, but it took Lukas almost thirty long minutes to arrive at the wrought iron gates. He collapsed gratefully onto a bench just inside the park gates. He resisted the temptation to rub his aching leg; refused to give it the satisfaction of knowing it had almost defeated him.
As he sat, waiting for the throbbing to subside a little, and, he suspected, the color to return to his face, he looked idly around, taking in the sights and sounds of an early summers weekend morning.
Lukas enjoyed parks; the cultivated spaces tended to be safe - usually spirit free - zones that offered some relief from the towns and cities. Williamson Park; a space that Helen had told him covered some thirty eight acres, not counting the Fenham Carn area seemed to Lukas to be a fairly calm and placid area. Not, he told himself wryly, that he was able to tell anymore.
Despite the relatively early hour - it was only just after nine o'clock - the park was already fairly busy, at least, from the relatively little Lukas could see. From where he sat, the path followed a fairly straight line into the park grounds; bordered on the side he sat by ornamental hedges, that separated the path from a small grassy picnic area. Across from him, the park opened up towards the north and east, rising gradually towards the monument that dominated the surrounding area. He studied the bullet shaped Ashton Memorial for a moment, thinking it was probably one of the most ostentatious looking buildings he had ever seen.
His gaze wandered on, following the graceful line of the low hills before his eye was caught by a small billboard. It was about fifteen or so meters away, on the other side of the road, and Lukas was just about able to make out the image of the Ashton Memorial in the center of several highly stylized designs.
The throbbing in his leg had, by this time, decreased to the extent that Lukas was fairly certain that, if he tried to stand, the damned thing would at least stay attached. He felt around in his pockets for a moment or two, before locating the box of paracetamol he knew was somewhere in one of them. Although useless against the sort of headaches Lukas used to get, he had found the painkillers invaluable when it came to the aches and pains of his various broken bones.
He dry swallowed a couple of the white pills; something that he had learned to do since his accident, and made Helen grimace, and gag theatrically. Then, pocketing the box, he forced himself to stand.
It wasn't as bad as he thought it might have been. Lukas took a couple of experimental steps; then several more. The leg held, and Lukas allowed himself a small grin of victory, and a mental pat on the back. He considered going back home, or maybe to the shopping area along the road, but his stubborn streak, long submerged, took this moment to reassert itself. Setting his sights upon the sign further up the road, he began to walk, an obstinate, stiff legged gait that slowly ate up the distance.
He made it to the sign, and stopped, allowing his good leg to take the lion's share of his weight. The pain in his leg was actually beginning to lessen, thanks to the painkillers, and Lukas was almost able to ignore the complaining limb and enjoy the park.
The sign was an advertisement. A free jazz and folk festival, dubbed the Concert in the Park, was scheduled for the following Sunday. An all day event, it was to feature local musicians, along with surprise guest appearances by persons unspecified. It was going to be held in front of the Ashton Memorial, and was to finish with a firework display.
Lukas brightened visibly. A big jazz fan, he felt an anticipatory thrill at the thought of the festival. He was sure he could convince Helen to come; although her musical tastes ran more to gothic metal, he knew she liked folk music. It would do the both of them some good; as long as the weather stayed fine, they could make a day of it.
Lukas turned away from the billboard, elated that his walk had produced an unexpected benefit. He began walk slowly back towards the gate, suddenly eager to tell his sister about the concert.
He had covered less than half the distance, when a sudden cold sensation washed upwards from his lower abdomen, and shivered its way up his spine, to his neck.
Lukas felt the hairs on the back of his neck fly to rigid attention, and the skin covering his scalp at the back of his head contract and tighten. He froze in his tracks; shocked into immobility. His thoughts seemed to slow, and freeze, as if caught up in the arctic wash of sensation.
Something was behind him, and coming closer.
He knew; without having to look, and without knowing how he knew.
Something evil - and it was somewhere not too far from where he stood, he was certain. What that something was, he had no idea; just that it was something bad.
Lukas was petrified; terrified as he never had been. Not even during his worst experiences with the dead, had he experienced such overwhelming terror as that which gripped him now. His thought processes were in stasis; he was unable to think, to contemplate escape. Even his heart felt stilled, within his chest.
Lukas desperately wanted to turn and face this unknown threat, but the soles of his shoes were locked against the graveled pathway; the muscles of his legs . His eyes were fixed upon an area of gravel some five or six meters in front of him.
Although the prospect of death itself held no fear for Lukas, the concept of having little or no control over the manner of his passing disturbed him more than he would, or could, admit, even to himself. Despite the debilitating terror, Lukas felt the first stirrings of a deeply rooted anger
"I will not go like this!' The thought was a catalyst; his circulation resumed, sluggishly at first, then faster, as his heart began to beat again. Volition began to return to his limbs. His eyes came up, though his sight felt as if it had a physical weight, and he dragged his vision round slowly.
A wheel rolled into the periphery of his vision. Seconds later, a pram, propelled by a young woman slid past him. At her one side, a young child waddled, one chubby hand grasping a section of the pram. At her other side, and talking animatedly to her, was a man, of indeterminate years.
As a couple, they were nothing special, or out of the ordinary. They were, presumably, taking the opportunity of the mild weather to go for a stroll in the park; maybe take the toddler to the playground. The young woman was pleasantly plump, blonde, and pretty, her companion was a head taller, maybe a little older, it was hard to tell. His hair was thick, and as dark as the woman was blonde. As they passed, the man glanced curiously towards Lukas, presumably wondering why the man was standing, stock-still, in the middle of the pathway. For an instant, his eyes met Lukas's.
Time suddenly stopped for Lukas, as he fell into those dark eyes.
The park around him disappeared. Instead, he found himself standing on an irregular rocky ledge. An incalculable distance below him, an irregularly ochre, barren landscape undulated into the distance. Above, a dirty cloudscape that was spattered with black, and tinged in places with red streaks, the color of fresh blood, obscured whatever lay beyond.
Lukas gazed slowly around. He appeared to be somewhere on the side of a mountain. The ledge he found himself on was about a meter or so wide, and curved around the mountain, thinning as it bent away. Behind him, the cracked and pitted rock face stretched away in all directions, growing into immensity. If he was any judge of size, Lukas thought bemusedly, the mountain was huge. The summit disappeared into the pockmarked clouds, giving little clue to its true height. The air around him was heavy and warm, seeming to blanket any sound.
From somewhere below him, heat washed up the side of the mountain, bathing the medium in a warmth that was, just barely, this side of uncomfortable. On an impulse, Lukas stretched out a hand, until his fingers were protruding past the edge of his perch. Immediately, he drew in a pained hiss of heated air. He pulled his fingers rapidly back, and gazed in disbelief at the reddening tips.
Lukas had once filmed a special episode of his show in a supposedly haunted foundry. The opening sequence had required him to stand in front of a blast furnace, as the molten slag had been poured. The heat he had endured back then, was a pale shadow of what lay past the edge of his spurious sanctuary.
His attention was dragged away from his scorched fingertips by a sudden movement. For a second, he thought it was just maybe just an eddy of superheated air, distorting the landscape. Another movement; Lukas twisted, vainly trying to catch the movement, but it was gone. There was another, and yet another - silent, faint and evanescent.
As more and more faint wisps of distorted air congregated around him, Lukas was more able to track their movements. Their gyrating flow led his eyes upwards, towards the clouds. He noticed that the cloud layer had dropped; less of the summit was visible than when he had first arrived. Then he realized that the clouds were moving, shifting; snakelike bands of cloud, that intertwined with each other, in a sickeningly organic orgy of motion.
The nauseating snaking coils reminded Lukas uneasily of entrails, as they writhed endlessly above him. As they moved, wisps of almost transparent air fell silently towards the earth.
Instinctively, Lukas sensed that these specters " apparitions, or whatever they were - were linked in some way to the black river that had passed through and across his bedroom several nights previously. There was an unsettling familiarity in the way these things moved, that reminded Lukas of the migration he had witnessed. This place was either where they originated, or inhabited, or both.
Why they had brought him to this place was a mystery, but it was clear that the thing, or things, whatever they were, had a purpose.
Whether it was the blind instinct of a predator, or the calculated cunning of an insane killer, Lukas sensed that, whatever their purpose, it boded ill for whatever these things had set their collective will upon. Lukas looked towards the lowering sky.
"Can you hear me?' His voice sounded distant to his ears. The words flew weakly, falling far short of their intended target in the sky. Lukas cupped his hands around his mouth, and tried again, putting all of his energy into the call.
"What do you want with me?'
A low hissing rose, building rapidly into a roar of sound, that forced Lukas to his knees, one hand on the rocky surface of the mountain in an attempt to take the weight from his injured leg. The pressure on his eardrums and eyes built in intensity, until he was certain that they could take no more.
The pressure popped abruptly; ephemeral as a soap bubble. For a few seconds that stretched away to almost a minute, Lukas remained on his knees, trying to draw breath. Then, breathing heavily, he struggled painfully back onto his feet.
The silence was once again absolute. The wisps had also vanished. Lukas looked up, into the roiling sky. The clouds were lower now
Lukas had the feeling that he was, somehow, being watched. That he was being observed " studied " by whatever inhabited the skies of this hostile environment. After a few seconds pensive thought, Lucas opened his mouth, to try one more time to communicate with whatever had brought him to this place.
Before a word could leave his lips, and with no sensation; either of time or motion, Lukas found himself back in Williamson Park. Lukas blinked rapidly, looking around.