'Into The Shadows' is a romantic suspense, woven with mystery and family drama. It is one woman's journey to take a brave step to change herself and her situation, literally going into the very shadows of herself, and by doing so drawing others own shadows out as they are intricately pulled in
Extract from 'Into The Shadows', available to buy on Amazon...
I've never really been an impulsive person, daring to try new things. I'm not the girl you would secretly admire, dream, envy you were more like. No, I'm the one whose doing the dreaming, the envying, the desiring. In my whole twenty nine years to date, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never, not once, leapt into the big unknown; ready to grasp whatever was hurtling towards me.
I live a very tidy, organised and, yes, bland life. I know that, I'm so aware of that. I wish my days were full of multicoloured lights and pictures and moving spheres. I wish for ... oh I don't know, just to feel something, anything. Dare I even say it… love? And yet, just saying that word aloud, and I'm breaking out in a cold sweat. The thought of that uncontrollable emotion getting ahold of me makes me literally shudder all over.
So, taking all this into account, brutally accepting what I am, I'm now having to face the stark, simple truth — I've lost control of my mind. I must have, completely, to be even contemplating this, to allow this idea to gain momentum to the point I have this crazy tingling excitement coursing through my body.
Because you can't exist, you can't. The idea is preposterous, ridiculous! No, I need to push this insane urge away, reject it out of hand. Be grateful for my safe, predictable world I've safeguarded around myself.
I feel this … pull to you, a complete and utter stranger, and it's so strong I'm not sure how I can resist it. And that is a very new phenomena for me. It's like I can hear you calling out to me to return, come back, and I'm finding myself obeying you. My goodness, is this what crazy, irrational behaviour feels like, this trapping of your mind?
I'll come. I will. I'll try and help you... if you want me too.
But I'll be honest with you. I'm sitting here, feeling so inadequate. I'm scared, even, of my own shadow, for pity's sake. I wish, oh how I wish I was stronger, more confident, more sure of myself. I have no idea why you've chosen me. I don't get it, I really don't. Do we know each other, from some distant time or place? I definitely don't recognise you ... but maybe that's just down to my appalling memory.
I do have to secretly confess to something — this feeling of being driven to do this is quite intoxicating, liberating even.
So this is me, right now. I'm confused, yet clear-headed. Irrational, yet focused. I'm packing my practical navy suitcase, while looking down amazed at what my own shaking hands are doing. I'm nervous, but … excited. So excited. As if I'm waking from a long dreamless sleep, where up to now I've been conducting my life. That until this moment, I have been hovering in the safety of the sidelines and now, finally, I am stepping out towards centre stage.
So wait for me, please, because I'm coming.
The last of the sinking sun was slanting through our dusty venetian blinds, as we stood together at the kitchen sink. I need to clean them, I thought absently as I dutifully took the next plate from Nina, my flatmate, all the while aware I was about to be lectured in grand style.
And yes, here it comes. Eyes round as saucers, mouth dropping to skim the floor, a stare that could burn holes into the plate I was holding.
'Sorry ... sorry I think you need to repeat that...because just for a moment there it sounded like you were “on a hunch'',' here, Nina's soap covered hands flapped wildly around her, spraying us both with sparkling bubbles, 'taking unpaid leave, packing a suitcase and heading back to Dingle. And this very sudden, and frankly insane idea, is because of some random photo you took there last month, on some beach I can’t remember the name of-'
'Inch beach', I supplied, in a voice not quite my own.
'Riiigght ...so good to have that confirmed.' Came the sarcastic shot back at me, her eyebrows raised so high they were practically swallowed up by her fringe. 'Where was I? Oh yes, to find some unknown woman who appeared like some genie on your photo. About right?' I nodded, biting my chapped lip. Can her eyebrows reach up any further, I wonder?! I bit back the hysterical laugh trying desperately to force its way out.
Nina was not done. Not by a long shot.
'So when you are back in this cloudy, damp Irish town, what exactly are you planning to do? Seeing as, and correct me if I'm wrong here, you don't know anyone, have no-one to call on, no starting point as to who this “girl” is, in fact nothing concrete to go on at all… Shall I continue?' She demanded, hands on hips, all pretence of washing up entirely abandoned. The still unwashed plates stared forlornly back at me from where they were perched, haphazardly, next to the drainer.
'No, no, that's okay .. think you've about covered all the major points there.' I rushed out, deliberately keeping my back to her as I put the last clean plate into our cupboard, before making a quick, cowardly bolt for my bedroom.
In truth, Nina's words were worming their merry way into my already hesitant mind, after my somewhat extraordinary, and frankly insane, decision taken early this morning. I was bottling it, to put it bluntly. It actually felt quite comforting to feel this typical, normal reaction to anything new trying to barge its way in. My eyes fell upon my open suitcase with my neatly folded clothes, looking like rows of soldiers preparing for battle. I couldn't tell if they were praising or mocking this bold decision of mine.
I heard Nina come up behind, roughly wiping her hands on our checked tea towel, before throwing it in the vague direction of our kitchen. I literally itched to go pick it up and rehang it on our oven door.
Nina paused for a moment, taking in my betraying, shaking hands as I attempted to squeeze shut the case. Her small sigh filled the air. Then her hands reached down and covered mine, stilling me, before coaxing me to sit down beside her on the bed. Her pupils were large and fixed entirely on me. I fought against a strong urge to pull away. I really didn't want to hear her common sense words, particularly as it was usually me dishing out the sensible advice; not the other way round.
'Lily, my lovely lovely friend Lily. We've shared this flat, lived together for... my goodness, I don't know, for at least two years. I know I've always relied on you. You're the one who makes sure our bills are paid on time, there's always milk in the fridge, and all those other million things you do that I, shamefully, don't notice. And it's inspiring, really, I wish I could be like that. So this …this…' She paused, then threw up her hands, 'I’m actually at a lost for words and that, as you know, is truly staggering.'
A short reluctant laugh escaped me. Nina half smiled before grabbing my hands again, a little harder this time. 'So please, please tell me. Why are you really doing this? Are you in trouble? If you are-'
'No, no, I’m not,' I hastened to reassure her, 'At least, not in any physical or money kind of way…. though maybe within my mental state,' I mumbled too quietly for Nina to catch, shaking my head a little, as if hoping it would clear my buzzing mind. I forced myself to pull my thoughts together, to try and explain it as rationally as I could. 'I know how this looks, I know what I must sound like, believe me I do! I can feel my normal self trying to kick away this new, very irrational Lily.' I sat up straight now, my voice earnest and intent.
'But when I saw her, this woman, in my photo, when I would stake my very life on the fact she wasn’t standing there the day I took it, something weird happened within me. It was like .. like she was calling me, pulling me towards her.'
My eyes were holding Nina’s firmly now. My resolve and determination was strengthening with every word. 'I have to go.' I quietly confirmed, 'With complete and utter certainty, I know I have to go. She needs my help.'
My amber green eyes pleaded with her to understand. I knew how easy it was to still talk me out of this. Yet Nina's demeanour told me, very loudly, that she wasn't at all convinced by my argument. I couldn’t blame her, not really.
She sighed again, gave a small despairing shrug of her shoulders, before finally letting go of my hands. I gave them a small discreet rub to ease back the circulation.
'Okay, if you feel that strongly, I guess you must go. But please, phone or text me as soon as you arrive so I know you’re safe.' Her voice left no room for negotiation on this.
I smiled, a little in sheer relief, a little in trembling fear.
'I will. I promise.'
The room grew darker as day inevitably turned back to night. I now sat hunched over my laptop. My bulging suitcase was determinedly shut, waiting patiently by my bedroom door.
My eyes felt tired and itchy, but I still couldn't pull myself away from staring, and staring, at the photo in front of me — where this complete and utter madness had begun.
Inch Beach filled the screen with all its beautiful clear waters and warm flowing sand. Even though I was sitting miles away here in my dingy room, I felt its calmness and serenity reaching out and physically touching me. In the distance, I could just make out the emerald green rolling hills of Slieve Mountains, before the landscape dipped unseen into the Dingle Pennisular.
I'd travelled over to Ireland about six weeks ago, desperate for a short break, a change of pace from the relentlessness of my solicitor's office, where I worked as a legal secretary. My mum had once or twice mentioned Dingle in passing, though vague on the details of when we'd gone there as a family. Maybe it was nostalgia, maybe a stronger pull, but something had motivated me to book a flight to Kerry, then hire a car to drive to this fishing town.
And it was here, on this beach, on a quiet uneventful Wednesday morning that my heart had literally flipped over in joy as I stood on its calm, flat surface. The cold, driving rain, which seemed to have dogged me for the previous two days, had quietly drifted away, leaving a magnificent deep blue sky streaked with brushstrokes of white.
The tide was out; and it allowed the sky to perfectly reflect the beach below, creating this striking mirror image … to the point it was almost impossible to tell where the sky ended and sand begun. To me, on that day, standing there, it felt as if heaven itself had revealed herself in all her splendour and beauty and it had literally taken my breath away, in a way that rarely happened to me in the everyday.
For a while, absorbed in the here and now and not wanting to let this moment slip me by, I had pulled out my barely used compact digital camera my mum had given me a couple of Christmases ago, and began to snap away, finding I didn't actually need too much skill – the land was doing the framing for me. Then came this overwhelming urge to simply sit and take in the view before me, imprint it into my memory. I felt a peace drift over me like soft silk..... like I'd finally come home.
I was so reluctant to walk away that day, resisting until cold and hunger finally drove me off, and, in fact, in leaving Dingle itself the following day. Of course, while I'd been there I'd kept myself to myself, apart from chatting to my Bed and Breakfast lady, too shy as ever to introduce myself to any of the friendly locals. Yet, still, somehow I felt this strange “pulling back” sensation I'm so keenly feeling right now.
I'd tried to shrug this off, I really had. I fell back into my predictable job in our bustling Brighton office, sorted out the chaos Nina had left in the flat, phoned my mum, caught up with a couple of close friends. I know I would have carried on in this way, cosseted in my safe little world I'd so carefully constructed around me... had it not been for that photo.
They say, don’t they, you can't fight your destiny, whoever “they” might be. But do we really, truly, believe that, here in the real world? I'm not sure. But I am having to accept that there are bigger things at play even I can't control.
It was quite a few weeks later when I had finally got round to downloading the photos from my camera onto my laptop. I felt excitement race through me as they began to flick up on my slideshow. Almost immediately I searched out, with breathless eagerness, the ones I'd taken that day on ‘Inch beach’.
My eyes pounced immediately on it. Almost instantly, it was like being transported back to that very moment I pressed the shutter release button, knowing breathlessly, instinctively, that this would be the one I would frame for my bedroom wall.
But hang on…what's that black blot? Oh no, please don't tell me I had a scratch on the lens, or some sand stuck on it maybe.
Fighting a gut sinking feeling and holding my breath, I zoomed in onto the photo. The small dark form became a little larger. I continued to zoom again, and further again … until finally it took shape, became real. Became alive.
A sharp gasp escaped from me, my hand flying to my mouth in staggering shock.
For there, unnervingly clear on the enlarged photo, was a young woman’s face – and she was staring directly at me. Her eyes were dark and compelling and there seemed to be an aura of … despair.. yes that was it ..despair surrounding her. Her hand seemed to be half raised towards me.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her, though my mind was frantically trying to explain, apply some kind of reasonable logic. Perhaps I'd been mistaken? Perhaps I hadn’t been alone that day after all? Maybe I just hadn't spotted her.
I quickly enlarged the other Inch Beach photos, to see if she appeared again, my eyes scan- burning them in a frantic rush. But no, all the others were as I remember — a deserted beach. A calm, serene 'giving no cause for alarm' image.
She drew me back to her. Of course she did. I was hooked, utterly hooked and couldn't look away.
'Why are you there?' I whispered out loud, my finger slowly stretching out to touch her as she stared back at me from the screen. 'Are you trying to ask me something? How on earth did I not see you?! I mean, are you even real? I don’t get this... I really don’t get any of this.'
I couldn't let it go, couldn't let her go. And I really tried to. But over the next couple of days she disturbed my dreams, my sleep, my conscious working day. It was like she wouldn't let me rest, or allow me to forget her. I had to do something, anything, before I drove myself mad with it.
So that's what I'm doing. Come tomorrow, as the restless night finally comes to an end, I’m going to board a plane back to Ireland and see where this craziness takes me. And if it takes me nowhere then no-one, except Nina, will ever know the embarrassing truth. Thank goodness.
My feet felt strange, leaden, as if there was a huge weight pulling them down, like sticky glue plastered all over my bare soles.
Confused, I looked down. I couldn't even see them properly; they were too covered in the wet sand, my toes curled deep within its sinking depths. My gaze slowly travelled down, as if seeing my body for the first time. I was wearing bright pink flower shorts. My favourite, I smiled in recognition. That's it! My mum had brought them for me when we first arrived here, unprepared as we were for the unseasonally warm May weather.
I froze, frowned, my young girl's mind perplexed, as I heard what I thought was the faintest sound of my name being called.
I looked around, yet couldn't see anyone. The wide stretch of sand suddenly seemed lonely, daunting. I became aware that my hand was clutching a plastic orange bucket decorated with colourful fish, splattered with sand, seaweed and what looked like a few broken shells.
'Lily! Lily where are you? We can't find you!'
I swung my head up at the demanding, exasperated voice, screwing my eyes up to try and spot in which direction it came from. The sun had peeped out from behind the cloud, dazzling me with its blazing glare. I blinked hard.
Then just as I was growing frustrated, annoyed even, three figures appeared as if from nowhere, scampering over the sand dunes. At first, they were small and faint, an unrecognisable dark mass, but then they began to take shape and turn into two unmistakeable boys of similar heights, and a smaller sized girl whose hair flew wildly around her.
'Oh at last! We've found you ...we thought you were never coming back to us!' I caught her words as they flew over to me in the gentle breeze.
I found myself smiling in delight and expectation, launching myself to run towards them.
But...wait...help... I'm stuck! I can't move!
My body began to shake and panic as I frantically tried to lift my feet. But the sand was sucking me down further, further, dragging my legs down now, then my hips, my torso... The piercing scream propelled itself out of me -
It took me several terrifying moments to realise I was sitting bolt right in my bed at home, that it had been my scream which had dragged me out of my nightmare.
My heartbeat was racing, my body sweaty, my duvet almost suffocating me within its tight hold.
Frantically kicking it away, I fell slowly back against the bed, closing my eyes, taking in deep shaky breaths to try and calm myself down.
What had that dream meant? They'd felt so real. Who were those children?
Who were they?!
I gazed out of the miniature cabin window, as the plane began its final descent, unconsciously holding my breath until we had broken through the mass of suffocating cloud. A surprised smile lit up my face as I suddenly found myself blinded by a ray of sunshine bursting through the clouds, though it did force me to turn reluctantly away from the window.
Once the plane had finally landed and the usual craziness of everyone jumping up scrambling for bags and overhead luggage was over, I descended the metal stairs, stepping down onto the worn tarmac. We were guided across into Kerry's small airport terminal, the whiteness of the building glaring bright in the clear air. I couldn't resist stopping, closing my eyes for a moment, letting the unexpected warmth touch my face. It felt like a good omen and quite frankly I was happy to take that, as ridiculous as that may be.
Once through EU customs, which was fairly painless, I tracked down my car hire desk and before I knew it, was efficiently delivered to a Nissan Micra, an old fashioned paper map spread before me which was bearing all the hallmarks of constant use. I headed out onto the R561 Castlemaine road. My confidence grew as familiar sights popped up along the way, including a neglected roadside cafe I had stopped at last time, reassuring me that I was on the right route.
I felt shivers of excitement race through me as the moving scenery quickly became more impressive. I was dying to see Dingle Bay, and every once in a while it teased me with a glimpse of it. The bay nestled on the South West side of Ireland, with nothing but the wide open Atlantic Ocean beyond it, no land then in sight until the sea finally flowed onto American soil.
Just as the bumpy, potholed riddled road joined the N86 towards Dingle, I finally, finally caught a glimpse of Inch Beach. Without pausing to think, I pulled the wheel sharply over to the kerb; screeching the car to a shuddering stop. There was a loud, angry beep from the driver behind me, causing me a little twinge of guilt... but not for long, because I was too caught up in my eagerness to jump out of the door.
It was worth every worry, every anxious thought, every doubt over the last few days; to stand here now, the sun warming me while my eyes drunk in the view before me. Inch Beach, exactly as I remembered it, its stunning shape of a thumb stretching out from the main hand of Dingle itself. Its waters sparkled up to me, its deserted sand as smooth as cool marble.
I dared to peer ever more precariously over the rocky steep cliff edge; trying not to think about how high up I was. I smiled, laughed a little in delight, unexpected and welcome peace settling my slightly frayed nerves.
I stood for another precious moment. Took a mental photo. Breathed out. Then straightened up.
'Okay... okay. I’m ready.' I declared out loud to the birds gliding high and free above me.
With lighter feet, I returned to the car and happily drove the remaining few kilometres to the fishing town of Dingle itself, cranking up the scratchy radio to let the music blare out louder then I ever would have in England.
As I passed the town sign welcoming me to Dingle, I looked across to its bay, shaped in a perfect horseshoe. Many fishing boats of all sizes and conditions bobbed on the gentle lapping water, their mix of pristine whites to dirty browns, from bright red to dull greasy green. Shouts from fishermen mingled with the laughter and squeals of tourists hiring a charter for the day.
I turned into Strand Street and then Main Street, the heart of this small, proud fishing town. My eyes briefly touched on bustling shops targeting the tourists, to quiet tucked away bookshops rammed full of old dusty treasures. People were spilling out onto the road, the narrow pavements not coping with the demands put upon it by shopkeepers and pub owners sneakily leaking out from their establishments.
The road began a steep ascent and I encouraged the reluctant car, in the lowest gear I dared to use, to reach the top. We both sighed a breath of relief when we felt the road level off and I could turn left.
And there it is! I drove slowly into the car park, gazing up at the sign “Ciara’s Bed and Breakfast” proudly emblazoned over the door of this pretty, yellow house that told you “Welcome!”
Ciara must have seen me pulling in, for the door flung wide open just as I was climbing out of the car. She stood, a smile lighting up her pretty face. I tucked a stray lock of brown hair behind my ear, breathed out, then walked up to her.
'Well now, when I saw your email a couple of days ago I couldn’t believe it! Back so soon! Missing our emerald isle, were you now?'
I laughed, despite my nervousness, as her warm Irish lilt flowed like warm liquid over me. 'Something like that … and of course your lovely Irish breakfast.' I added with a touch of mischievousness.
Ciara grinned, encouraging me in. I could see her eyes were full of curiosity, but the polite hostess in her prevented her from giving voice to her questions bursting to get out. Which was not a bad thing right now, as I had no more understanding of what I was doing here then she did.
I discreetly looked at her as she insisted on taking my bag from me, wondering in almost awe and reverence as to how she kept so smart and elegant. I mean, there is hardly a hair dislodged from its immaculate bob style, unlike my somewhat frizzy, and definitely thick unruly own.And how is it she's single; someone as stunning and easy going as her? Maybe this place doesn't give her time to pursue romance. Anyway, who am I to pass judgment, the original “spinster” girl herself?
'Let's get you settled in. I thought you'd be liking the same room again.'
'Oh, that would be lovely, thank you.'
'And when you've unpacked, why don't you come down and find me for a cuppa… or maybe something a little stronger, if you catch my drift!'
I smiled, nodding. 'Thank you, I will.'
I made my way up the carpeted stairs, the iron key pressed tight into my hand.
It didn't take long to unpack my suitcase. I almost wished it had, for now I had no excuse in lingering within this safe haven. The room was tastefully decorated in pale peach, the wooden floor saved from being too cold by a beautiful large cream rug. I indulged my feet in its softness for a few blissful moments, before walking across to the bay windows. My bedroom was right at the top of the house, practically in the attic, and so offered me a fantastic view across the rooftops and chimney stacks to the distant harbour beyond.
After a few moments of absorbing, trying to empty my racing mind as I did, I turned away and sank down onto the soft bed.
Right, okay so I'm here... now what?
Mmmm, a good question. With no easy answer coming. But don't panic yet.
First thing to consider — can I trust Ciara? Confide in her? Will she think I'm totally insane... well of course she's going to! Let’s face it, girl, you would too if the shoe was on the other foot.
But who else is going to know all the locals like she does? She might know this woman instantly! Oh how incredible, amazing, would that be...
And, anyway, what other options do I really have here, given I've only got the vaguest knowledge of the area, and some unreliable childhood memory I dreamed a couple of nights back; that may or may not be connected to all of this.
So come on Lily, stop sitting here, biting your already gnawed nails, talking to yourself like some nutter, trying to put off what you know you have to do. Pep talk over.
I drew in a deep shuddering breath.
Then slowly I stood up.