The not-quite-penultimate chapter!
Bolting along the corridor, Leddy and Sandy kept turning round to keep track of who might be after them, although Sandy remained unimpressed.
“I’ve had enough of all this running! Please, let’s just get out of this place and find the others.”
“You don’t think I’m trying to do that? God, this place is like a maze, we’ll never get out of here!”
With every few galloping steps they took they had to violently halt to turn a corner, and they almost fell down or crashed into various flights of steps, some small, some large.
They had nothing to guide them along except various paintings hung wearily against the bright, white walls that rose high into the air. Each painting seemed worn-out, almost unconscious, as if no-one had stopped to gaze at them for years and years. Once multi-coloured canvases had turned to a faded grey with the ages and even though no-one seemed to care about these poor characters, they didn’t seem to care for Leddy and Sandy. They appeared as though to laugh and jeer at them as they tore through the corridors that suddenly looked as though they were getting narrower and narrower.
The more the two of them ran, the smaller everything became, the walls slowly closed in on them, squeezing their arms, and the roof came lower and lower, until they began to feel it brushing against their heads. The more they ran, the more it felt as if there was no way of escape. Until finally, as Leddy and Sandy clung to each other for comfort against the imposing forces…
“Y’know, if it’s not too much trouble, it would be nice if we could get back to reality and move the plot along.”
“Yeah, you’ve just left us running around like lab rats and gone off into your own little world!”
I’m sorry; I just like seeing the two of you thrown together in a situation of uncertainty and danger! It’s what makes a good read!
“You know what also makes a good read? Keeping them interested and keep the story moving, which isn’t what’s happening now!”
Well if you’re so smart maybe you don’t need my expertise after all!
“Oh for god’s sake, will you two just shut up! Please, just get us out of here and carry on with the story.”
Oh very well. As Leddy and Sandy swerved violently round a particularly tight corner, they spied a small, wooden door straight ahead of them.
“This could be our way out, c’mon!” Sandy grabbed Leddy by the hand and, with the other outstretched ready to push the door open, ran as fast as she could. Bashing the door in, the two of them found themselves standing in a room that looked as though it hadn’t been used for years. Several grubby windows let in some moonlight that gave the room a cold and damp feel. Several pieces of furniture stacked either against or on top of each other were caked in cobwebs and dust. They all seemed to be limp and dejected in the dank light. And in the middle of the room, floating gently in the still night-time was a great ball of fire. Sandy initially gave a shriek, but Leddy moved closer to the flame, slowly and thoughtfully.
“Leddy, come back! What are you doing?”
“It looks sad.” said Leddy caringly.
“Leddy, how the hell can a fire look sad?”
“Well, it just looks all depressed and unhappy,” he edged closer still, “and it sounds like it’s sobbing slightly.”
Sandy let out a moan of despair and brought her hands to her face at the same time.
“Right, well when you’ve managed to cheer that thing, up, I’ll be waiting for you outside.”
She ran off to where another small wooden door stood at the other end of the room. Opening it ajar, she saw that it led back onto the landing of the mansion. At the far end of the landing, she could see Arthur talking with several guards, who stood around him in a circle.
Sandy slowly and quietly shut the door behind her and crouched down behind a soaring pillar that rose all the way up to the roof, keeping a watchful eye on what Arthur was up to.
Meanwhile, Leddy was now convinced that the ball of fire was indeed quietly sobbing to itself. He sat on the floor with his legs crossed and clasped his hands, fascinated by what he saw.
“Erm, hello?” he asked the flame, after a moment’s silence. “How are you doing?” he inquired, adding an air of friendly confidence to his voice. The flame merely sobbed away. Then a light came on in Leddy’s head, as he remembered where he had seen this poor creature before. “Hey, you’re that fire from downstairs, when Arthur had us all in the library!” The flame let out a small whimper of confirmation. “Did we disturb you, or something?” Leddy asked. The flame gave another whimper of confirmation. “Oh I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to. Fact is, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all got a little bit out of hand. I was just trying to make things right between me and this girl, trying to show her how helpful I can be. But instead I’ve just made things worse, and now I suppose I’ve upset you too.” The ball of fire hovered over next to Leddy, extending its flame to create something akin to an arm and wrapping itself around Leddy. “Aw thanks, you’re a real sweetie.” The ball of fire gave a small gurgling sound of appreciation. As the two of them stood there, their backs to the window which continued to shine its dull, murky moonlight, Leddy then looked up to the ball of fire with a smile. “Hey, I tell you what, do you want to have a bit of fun?” The ball of fire gave an enthusiastic response. “Okay then, here’s my idea…”
While all this was going on, Sandy was listening in intently to what Arthur had to say.
“Those two kids can’t do much damage while they’re here, they can’t get out without getting past you fine boys.”
The guards beamed with delight, but one of them scratched his head, and turned to his neighbour.
“If they can’t get out without getting past us,” he whispered, “shouldn’t we be down near the exits in case we do come across them?”
“Shut up, the boss is talking.” his neighbour snapped back.
“The best we can do for now is carrying on with the production line. We’ve got enough to last us well into the night and Simon and his boys are digging out the last of the diamonds from Doris’s place, so not long to go now.”
“Wouldn’t this information be more useful to the workers?” piped up the inquisitive guard.
“If we told them now, they may demand some kind of reward for all their hard work, which they shall be getting anyway in the shape of a sprucing up of their village with the money we make from this little venture. I want them to wake up to that sprucing, what a sight that will be for them!”
“But if you spend the profits on the village, how much will we have left-over?”
“Oh quite enough, I promise you. I’m not planning on spending millions on this dump. A new lamp-post here, a new tree there, that ought to keep them amused.”
Sandy lay still, absorbing all that she heard.
“You rotten bastard,” she whispered under her breath, “You won’t get away with this; especially if you won’t have any workers doing your dirty work.”
Slowly getting up, she kept as discreet as possible and began to make her way downstairs. Her plan was to tell the villagers all she heard and get them away from here as far as possible. Every step she took along the landing was as precise and delicate as the last. As she began to turn the corner, her heart began pounding harder than before. She would soon be in full view of Arthur and his men, but as long as she could stay quiet, there was a chance she would make it.
Suddenly, a great ball of fire came crashing through the wall behind her, and it swirled its way all through the landing before blasting off high into the ceiling, setting anything it could on fire. Arthur and his men were taken completely by surprise and fell to their knees, not knowing what was going on, nor did Sandy. But then she felt a hand grab hers and she soon found herself being pulled through thick grey and black smoke down the mighty staircase. Down below, the fire had reached the ground floor, and she heard shouts and screams from people pouring out from various rooms and making their way towards the main entrance.
The smoke grew thicker and blacker and she had to close her eyes and hold her breath as she ran. Then she felt a cool breeze flow through her hair and she found herself outside with many of the residents from inside. Looking around, she saw several familiar faces from the village, all checking and comforting each other from the shock of what had just happened. Looking at the villagers bonding in such a way, Sandy felt a warm glow flow through her body; even some of the guards whom she recognised from earlier were tending to the villagers.
Then she brought her gaze to a smiling individual who stood right in front of her. It was a face that thought it had done well, but even after knowing Sandy for so much time, could not account for the anger with which it was about to receive.
“Leddy, you idiot!” she flew a punch straight at him, and he toppled over, falling to the ground.
“How did you even know it was me?!” he said, rubbing his face delicately.
“Oh please, this has you written all over it!”
“I was just trying to help out that ball of fire! Listen…”
“Oh shut up!”
She shoved him out of the way and raised her voice as loud as she could.
“Listen everyone; you don’t have to do this anymore! Arthur was never going to make out village better! He was just going to take the money and run! And you should do the same!”
Suddenly, she felt herself being grabbed from behind, as did Leddy.
“There’s no need to panic, my dears.” said Arthur, walking past Leddy and Sandy, slightly burnt but still in once piece. “These two children are only here to cause trouble. We will attend to anyone who may be injured. In the meantime, please excuse us as we dispose of these miscreants.”
But the villagers hardly heard a word Arthur said and, swarming through the trees like headless chickens, they headed up the hill that surrounded the mansion and away from the rapidly burning building as fast as they could. The more they looked up as they clambered up the steep hill, the more the sky seemed to turn from a smouldering, faint orange to a fiery, snarling red.
Arthur failed to even notice the villagers running for their safety as he stood before his once great home, his palace, and had his great plan come together, surely would have become his empire. But all was not lost. As he stood, watching the flames turning a repulsive yet captivating blood red, he felt someone violently grabbing his arm and spinning him round.
“Sir, we’ve got to get out of here now!”
Arthur turned his head to face the mansion for the last time.
“Fetch my car.” he said, still facing the building.
The man hurried off to where the remaining four guards stood, a good majority of them having either now been burnt alive or had followed the logic of the villagers. Two of them were hanging on tightly to the struggling Leddy and Sandy.
“Right men, fetch his car, we’re getting out of here, and now!”
One of them headed towards the garage, leading the two guards that had Leddy and Sandy tightly in their grip and the remaining two guards following behind. The garage was located to the right of the house, the opposite way to where Gary and Fiona had managed to escape. As the cavalcade made their way, several explosions resulted in planks of wood and slabs of concrete from the house blasting off into the sky and falling in all directions, some landing where the group were hastily making their way. Having to turn in all directions to avoid being bombed by flying debris, the journey was made longer than one would have thought.
Arthur remained staring at his once beloved home, before lighting a cigarette, taking one long drag of thick, white smoke, which got lost in the ensuing fire, and then the cigarette followed suit. Placing his hands in his pockets, he sighed as he watched the cigarette sink into the flames never to be seen again.
He then spun round suddenly as a resounding crash rang out into the darkness and several screams did likewise. Looking at his men and Leddy and Sandy, he saw several pieces of freshly blown-up rubble just in front of where Leddy and Sandy were, but no guard in front of them. Or rather, he was in front of them, but the rubble had claimed him for their own needs. Leddy and Sandy gazed in shock at the pile of concrete with a couple of bloody arms and legs sticking out from beneath the rubble. The remaining guards also looked on in amazement, before turning to Arthur like scared puppies would turn to their master in hope of comfort.
Arthur gazed at the rubble, then his men, and began to make his way down the steps that once led into the mansion.
“Must I do everything myself?” he muttered under his breath.
Picking up from where the lead guard had left off, Arthur strode silently, ignoring the falling debris that flew all around him. As he came to the garage door, he turned round to face his men.
“Wait here.” he ordered, and was gone in a flash.
“But sir,” called out one the guards at the rear, “you’ll need these!” and he jangled a set of keys in the air, but to no response.
Inside the garage, Arthur switched on the lights. They shone brightly down on a handsome, black Rolls Royce. There was no way the fire would claim this as well as his home. He ran his hands along its smooth yet cold exterior, before suddenly feeling a sharp twitch enter his body. Finding the nearest chair, he sat down rapidly, his whole body shaking, his palms becoming plump, pale and sweaty. Reaching inside his jacket pocket, he drew forth a small bag of white powder and a long, thin straw. With no time to set out the powder properly, he simply opened the bag, plunged the straw deep into it, and snorted away. Within 10 seconds, half of the contents of the bag had been consumed and Arthur lay back into his chair, feeling peaceful once more, his mouth hanging open slightly.
“Oh yes…” he mumbled to himself, dreamily, “all will be well…”
Meanwhile outside, the guards were growing restless.
“Oh, this is ridiculous!” said one of the rear guards, and stormed off towards hill.
“Where are you going?” asked the second rear guard.
“I’ve had it with Arthur and all his bullshit! This has gotten too far out of hand! I’m getting out of here before I get killed!”
But inside the mansion, the fire had reached the underground level, where the electricity, gas and water were run and kept in check. The flames spread all around the darkened rooms where several controls, switches and levers lay asleep to the danger that had engulfed them.
As the flames filled the room, they looked around themselves hungrily. Aside from the various controls, switches and levers, much of the underground was empty. The flames let out a crying moan of hunger, still not satisfied with what it had already consumed.
At last, giving into temptation, the flames engulfed all that they saw, leaving every control, switch and lever swamped in a fiery blaze of hunger. The resulting explosion tore through the remains of the mansion and shook the ground where the group on higher ground stood.
As the runaway guard collapsed in a heap, he looked up and saw the mansion in its full burning glory. Dazed and confused from the fall, the mansion seemed to turn into a dragon breathing fire, when in fact the underground explosion had sent a raging flame shooting out of the main entrance.
Looking up, the other guards and Leddy and Sandy could see that the explosion was the final straw for the mansion. Cracks galloped through the walls and pillars, sending great slabs of brick plummeting gracelessly towards the ground.
In panic, the guards finally gave up their futile efforts in obeying a master who cared little for them and ran in any direction they could. But before Leddy and Sandy could do likewise, Leddy jumped for one of the guards whom he had kept a watchful eye on earlier. Landing on his back and bringing him to the ground, he pinned the man down whilst fumbling inside his pockets.
Sandy looked back one she noticed Leddy wasn’t with her and let out a cry that got lost in the sea of pummelling explosions, crackling flames, and crumbling concrete. Leddy finally sprang to his feet and dashed to join Sandy.
“What were you doing?” asked Sandy as Leddy grabbed her hand.
“Hitching a ride.” answered Leddy.
Tearing towards the garage, they charged their way in through the side door and found Arthur, still in a deep trance and almost asleep.
“Let’s get going!” said Leddy, running round to the driver’s seat whilst Sandy took the passenger side.
Starting the engine up, Sandy suddenly turned wide-eyed as she noticed something important.
“Who’s going to open the garage door?!” she asked hysterically, having to shout over the revving of the engine.
Leddy turned to her with that reckless smirk she had seen many times before.
Letting the handbrake down, Leddy put both feet on the pedal and shot his head forward to enjoy the ensuing crash even more so. However, he was at first surprised to notice that Sandy’s head had also shot forward. He was even more surprised to notice that instead of driving closer to the garage door, they were driving away from the door.
“Bloody hell, this doesn’t look right!” screamed Leddy.
The ensuing crash did indeed ring out, but not in the way Leddy had anticipated. Shelves fell instantly to the floor, bringing with them various paint pots and toolkits which rather wrecked the back of the car, but none more so then the branch. Failing to stop as soon as they had mangled their way out of the garage the wrong way, Leddy drove the car into the hill and a low hanging tree with several protruding branches, one of which smashed through the back window and snaked along all the way to the front of the car. Even when the car came to a stop thanks to colliding with the tree to which the branches belonged, Leddy still had his foot on the accelerator.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Sandy took it upon herself to wrestle with the gearbox until the right gear was selected. And even when it had been selected, no amount of firm seatbelts could keep Leddy and Sandy in their seats the car surged forward raggedly, its back end now completely screwed. Not knowing which button turned on the headlights, Leddy allowed the fire to light the way along the drive and up the hill.
As they mounted the hill at breakneck speed, Sandy looked back at the mess they left behind. As they drove, she could see that the flames were rapidly spreading to the trees, and not only that, but the flames seemed to be chasing after the car.
“Go faster Leddy, the fires catching up with us!” Leddy looked behind to see for himself. “Oh God, don’t look back, look forward you idiot!”
Regaining control of the wheel, Leddy drove through the densely laid out forest. At first, their journey was smooth enough, albeit for Leddy’s limited driving skills, but soon they felt themselves driving on uneven terrain and constantly driving into, and running over, the various pure and innocent features that Mother Nature had so carefully grown all by herself.
“Why did you go off the road?!” shouted Sandy.
“I was using the fire to see my way, but now we’re moving away from it and I can’t see where the hell I’m going!” shouted Leddy in reply, slight louder than Sandy’s original cry.
“Oh you just love that fire don’t you?” shouted Sandy, deliberately louder than Leddy, “Why did you have to go and mess everything up like you always do?”
“I knew exactly what I was doing!” retorted Leddy, picking up on her raised voice and retaliating with his, “You’ve never trusted my judgement at all!”
“Oh, like that time we were in Brazil,” shouted Sandy, again, deliberately louder than Leddy, “and you said I should try shaking hands with all those electric eels?”
“That was different!” shouted Leddy, again, deliberately louder than Sandy, “You were absolutely lampshaded off your head! You’ve only yourself to blame for that!”
“You could’ve stopped me! If you really cared about me, if you really loved me!”
“Oh please, you would’ve done exactly the same thing if it was me shaking hands with an electric eel!”
“No, I wouldn’t!” they had broken free from the forest by now and found themselves ploughing through a field of corn. “I would’ve saved you because I loved you, you idiot! You idiot, idiot, idiot!” as she let out those trilogy of words, she proceeded to thump Leddy on the arm with her fist.
Leddy suddenly stopped the car instantly, turned off the engine, and turned to Sandy.
“What… what did you say?” he said, completely perplexed by her outburst. Sandy turned away from him, letting her head hit the headrest and looked up towards the top of the car. For a moment, there was silence as tears slowly began to swell up in her eyes. “Hey c’mon now Sandy, you can’t just leave me hanging like that! I told you I love you enough times, so how come you never returned the favour?”
Sandy let her head down, wiping away the tears which were brimming on the edge of her eyes. Once they were cleared away, she turned to him, her voice slightly shaky.
“Leddy, I couldn’t tell you because, well, oh God. Because you’re just, well… you.”
“What does that mean?”
“I mean, well, look at you! You’re so carefree and laid-back. You don’t worry about anything or anyone and you never let anything get you down. I was afraid that if I told you how I really felt, then it wouldn’t mean anything to you.”
Leddy lent in a little closer, taking her hand.
“I always worried about you.” he said softly, “I was always worried about us because, whenever I said I love you, and you never said it back, well, how else was I supposed to feel?”
“Did you really mean it?” Sandy asked, her voice quivering even more.
“Every time.” answered Leddy, taking her other hand and clasping the two within his own hands.
Sandy let go a small, whimpering smile.
“Well,” she said, “shit.”
“Tell me about it.”
The two of them sank back into their seats, both of them slightly relieved that the truth had finally managed to be said.
“So,” began Sandy, straightening herself and leaning closer to Leddy, whilst looking up at him hopefully with slightly tear-stained eyes and a stronger smile than before, “what do we do now?”
Leddy looked behind him, where a faint glow could be seen shimmering away in the pit, growing brighter by the second.
“We should probably find Gary and Fiona, and then call the fire brigade or something.”
He started up the engine whilst Sandy settled back into her seat, somewhat crestfallen, the smile now gone.
“Idiot.” she said. But her voice was drowned away in the revving of the engine and the crushing of corn as Leddy, at last finding the headlight switch, made their way back to the winding, gravelly road which led back to Doris’s restaurant.