Richard Pierce


Day 123

The mystery of the coffee machine is solved. Each pod has a bar code on it, and the machine has a bar code reader right where you put the pods in. How far technology has come since I started working for a business in 1985 that had a whole separate clean room for a 20Mb hard disk as large as a street-side telecoms cabinet. Good coffee, too.

This morning I turn the news on to hear that leaks suggest that the US Supreme has voted to overturn the Roe vs Wade abortion law. For a long time I have been so angry that women’s control over their own bodies continues to be threatened by the patriarchy, because, let’s be clear, this is what this is. Men in power have always felt threatened by women – trace a line directly from this leak back to witch-finding and back again to the continuing normalisation of men’s murders of women, and the objectification of women.

I have tried, always, to instil in my daughters the importance of being independent women, and in my son to instil respect for women and their independence. It’s not always easy, and I have fallen at many hurdles, especially when my mental health was at its poorest and started to threaten my own relationship with M. But my belief in the independence of women, the rights of women, has always been there, even through those rough times. That’s why all my novels have as their main characters strong independent women who fight their corner, fight for their rights. But that’s fiction, and however many universal truths fiction may carry, it’s still just fiction, and the reality is painfully different.

Because the reality is that women are once again being threatened with disenfranchisement, that women have never been given true equality, that women have never been able to draw breath in this fight against the oppressive patriarchy. There is tragedy as well as irony here; it is a well-established fact that if women had more power and more influence, the world would be a much more peaceful place.



Even Aggie’s eyes can’t see anything. She holds her breath, strains her ears to hear. ‘Are you all still there?’ she whispers, holds out her hands. ‘Come to my voice if you still are.’

‘Why wouldn’t we be?’ Zav says, touches her shoulder.

‘It’s like when the cathedral disappears,’ she says. ‘I need to know.’

One after another, they huddle around Aggie. She touches each of them lightly, counts them out loudly. ‘Marit, Katharina, Anna, Zav, Robert.’ She feels no claustrophobia to be so surrounded.

‘What now?’ Robert whispers.

‘Anyone got a torch?’ Anna says.

‘We got rid of all our phones,’ Marit says.

‘Wait,’ Robert says, and they hear his jacket rustle as he rummages through his pockets. ‘That’s no use.’

‘Shh.’ Aggie. She pushes them all behind her, puts her body and long arms between them and the sound she has just heard, beneath Robert’s rustling. Whispers. ‘Stay. Get down. Behind the tomb.’ She opens her eyes more widely, wills them to adjust to this screen of blindness, detects a slight image on her retinas, moves silently and swiftly, one foot gently in front of the other, a rapid glide across the floor. The sound doesn’t move. The shadow stays still. A familiar shape. Valentine. Aggie takes another step, a huge step. Right next to the shadow. A familiar scent. She reaches out. Sees her hands, like disembodied pincers, stretch towards the unmoving solid object. And pass straight through it. Gone now. Emptiness between her fingers. Someone, something, faster than her. It’s an impossibility. She leaps. Falls through empty air into another void beyond it. The darkness switches off, and the gloaming blinds her. Just for a second. Vision returns. She rolls onto her feet. A wooden box next to her, a small wooden box. Nothing else.

‘Got it,’ Robert calls, strikes a match, lights one of the candles by the tomb. Its flickering light shakily illuminates the crypt, and scattered shadows creep up and down the walls. The floor seems to tremble.

Aggie steadies herself, bends down and picks up the box.

‘Stop,’ Robert says. ‘It could be a bomb.’

‘Who’d put a bomb in here?’ Zav says.

‘Valentine?’ Katharina says.

‘And how would he have got in and out so quickly. And known we’re here?’ Zav says.

‘He can do impossible things,’ Robert says, lighting more of the candles with the first candle he lit.

‘Why didn’t you think of that when we walked in?’ Katharina says.

‘I’d forgotten I had them,’ Robert says. ‘Especially as I only smoke my pipe outside the front door of my house. And very rarely. An unadmitted vice.’

‘The shape looked familiar,’ Aggie says.

‘You saw something?’ Anna says, looks at Aggie questioningly, her eyes wide open, pupils distended. ‘How?’

‘I just did,’ Aggie says. ‘And I smelled something I knew.’

‘That doesn’t make sense,’ Anna says. ‘Just like your fit upstairs doesn’t make sense.’

‘We have to stop with this obsession with the supernatural,’ Zav says. ‘There’s a rational explanation for everything.’

‘Says the philosopher,’ Anna says, her voice softer than it should be.

‘Philosophy is all about the rational,’ Zav says. ‘That’s the whole point.’ He looks at Aggie. ‘What did you smell then?’

Aggie is still holding the box in her hands. There’s a tiny lock on it. It looks new, which was not what she’d expected. ‘Perfume,’ she says.

‘Female then?’ Zav says.

Aggie nods. Hesitates. ‘I’ve smelt it before. In the house.’

‘Cassie?’ Robert says, sways.

Aggie nods again.


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