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This was first posted on Silk Screen Views.
PART TWENTY-ONE – BACK IN ENGLAND
Tamsyn came to on ground that felt cold and wet, with a chill wind blowing over her face. She heard the rustling of leaves nearby and kept her eyes closed, allowing herself time for all dizziness and mental fog to clear and for her to recover and gather her wits together. There was no muttered litany of names this time, and when she squeezed her eyes tight a tear slipped from under her lashes.
She resolutely pushed away all thoughts of Perry and stood up, checking herself. The first thing she noticed were her feet: bare, but strangely small and hairless – unnaturally so in her hobbit-adjusted mind. She touched her ears, and they too felt human again. She was wearing a similar shift-like dress as she had done when arriving in the Shire, and once again Radagast’s spell had not stretched to providing underwear.
With a sigh she looked around for the wizard. When she didn’t see him she called, and he came staggering through the underbrush towards her, sagging to the ground at her feet.
“Are you okay?” she asked, kneeling beside him.
“It was no easier the second time, even though I was stronger,” he wheezed. “I’ll still need to recuperate.”
“Don’t worry,” Tamsyn said, looking around again. “As soon as I’ve managed to get in touch with Andy we can get things sorted.”
She draped his arm around her shoulders and heaved him up, momentarily confused at the fact that he was now only slightly taller than her. “Any idea where we are, which way to go?” she asked.
Radagast shook his head. “The spell only works within one mile of the portal, and once it activates it takes you to anywhere within a one-mile radius on the other side.”
Tamsyn grimaced. “I guess we should be glad there’s not a lake nearby,” she muttered, then picked a random direction and started walking.
Five minutes later she encountered a fence, and after following it for another ten minutes she saw familiar landmarks and could get her bearings. By the time she reached the site office she was as good as carrying Radagast, and he looked close to passing out when she settled him on the ground by the cabin. To her surprise and confusion the site office was locked and empty, and the site itself was deserted, even though work should have started by now.
“Radagast,” she said, gently slapping the wizard in the face. “Stay with me a little longer.” He focused his eyes on her and she crouched before him. “I’ll get you to a bed, but I don’t know where, when or how. If I’m not there when you wake, don’t worry. I need to know though – do you need to stay close to the portal or can I take you anywhere?”
“Anywhere,” he mumbled. “Be fine.” Then his eyelids drooped and she knew he would be out for the next few days.
“Fucking great,” she muttered, for a moment at a loss for what to do. She had counted on being able to use the telephone in the site office. Then she scratched her head and looked at the door thoughtfully. It was only a portacabin, not built for strength or decades of durability.
It took three kicks – and she worried that she might have fractured a bone in her foot – but she got the door open and limped inside. To her relief the phone was working and she called Andy’s mobile, thankful for the fact that it was the one number she knew by heart.
“Hello?” his voice came after the third ring.
“Andy, it’s me, Tamsyn.”
The receiver almost exploded in her ear. “Tam! Oh, Jesus H fucking Christ, you’re back! Where are you? Where have you been? What happened? What–”
“Andy,” she interrupted him, “one question at a time, and not now. I’m at the site office and I need picking up. Where are you?”
“At a hotel near the site, but Tam, what happened? You just disappeared and–”
“I said, not now. Please, just come and pick me up. Bring a change of clothes for me, including underwear. See you soon.”
He continued to splutter out questions, but Tamsyn hung up, both unwilling and unable to answer any of his questions right then. She went outside again and paced around in the chill wind while she waited for him to arrive, keeping a wary eye on the sleeping wizard and wishing there was something, anything she could be doing, for with the inactivity came thoughts of Perry. She wondered whether he had found her braid yet, and hoped it would give him some comfort. She herself had none.
When she heard a car approach she whirled around and watched as Andy drove up to the fence. Before it had even rolled to a stop the door opened and Andy barrelled out, fumbling with the key to the padlocked chain that held the fence shut. Tamsyn ran towards him and reached him just as he managed to open the gate, and he caught her in a fierce, relieved hug.
“Oh, thank God you’re safe,” he breathed. “I’ve been worried sick, I thought I was going crazy… Are you okay? Where have you been?” He let go of her, took in her appearance and added, “and what are you wearing?”
“That’s why I needed the change of clothes. Have you got them?” Tamsyn evaded the question.
“Yeah, on the back seat. Want me to…?” He cocked a thumb over his shoulder, staring at her in bewilderment, and she nodded, then turned back to the cabin.
Andy trotted over a few moments later with a small bundle. “Tam, what’s going on?” he asked. “You just… disappeared and you’ve been gone nearly a week. What happened?”
“Later, Andy, I promise. I need you to answer some of my questions first.”
He stared at her again, then did a double-take when they passed Radagast. “Hey, isn’t that the guy who… who…” He faltered, clearly unsure of what it actually was that the wizard had done, then peered at him more closely. “Is he… dead?”
“Asleep,” Tamsyn said. “Don’t touch him, he’s important. Come.” She took the bundle of clothes, went into the cabin and started getting dressed. “Hey, this looks like what I was wearing when I left,” she said, surprised.
Andy stared at her with something akin to fear in his eyes. “Tam, it is. It was left behind. You just… you just disappeared out of your clothes and left them behind.”
She nodded and pulled on her bra. “Right, first things first,” she said, still ignoring the questions burning in his eyes. “Why is the site deserted?”
“I shut it down when you disappeared. I–”
“Good. Did you involve the police?”
He hesitated. “Well…”
“Well what?” Tamsyn snapped as she buttoned up her blouse. “Yes or no?”
“No,” Andy admitted, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank God for that. Come, give me a hand.” She started walking away and Andy stared in bewilderment at her shoes, still on the floor.
“Tam, you forgot your shoes?” He pointed, confused.
She shook her head. “No shoes.”
“I said, no shoes!”
Andy finally snapped. “Tamsyn!” he shouted, and his voice was so full of anger, confusion and plain fear that Tamsyn stopped and sighed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, turning around and hugging him. “I know you’ve been frightened and worried, and that you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I promise you that I’ll explain everything as best I can, when I can, but I can’t do it yet. Just know that I’ve been fine, and safe, and that I’ve not come to any harm whatsoever.” At least not physically.
“Okay,” he said hoarsely, “but… I thought I was going crazy, you know. When you disappeared and left your clothes… Tam, for several hours you had me believe in the Rapture, and I kept looking around for others to start disappearing too. Only when there was still nothing on the news after a few hours did I lose faith again. You almost made me religious!”
He sounded so sullen that Tamsyn managed a half-smile as she hugged him again. “I’m sorry for making you believe in God for several hours.” Then she sobered. She would have to try and make him believe in something far more ludicrous, and her resolve in her ad-hoc plan hardened.
“Come, give me a hand please,” she said, and left the cabin.
Between them they hauled Radagast up and deposited him on the back seat of the car, where he started to snore. “Deep sleeper, isn’t he?” Andy remarked.
“You have no idea,” Tamsyn muttered, and settled in the passenger seat. “Did you bring a laptop? With an internet dongle?”
“Yeah, it’s in the boot. I’ll get it for you.”
She booted it up as he drove off and impatiently tapped her fingers while it went through the start-up sequence. Familiar as the technology was, it felt strange to use it, strange to sit in the car and move around without using her own two feet. She absentmindedly ran a finger along the edge of the screen, and when it was ready she brought up a webpage and started typing.
“You seem different, you know,” Andy said quietly.
“Do I?” she replied automatically, her thoughts elsewhere. Then the statement registered and she said, “Yes, I imagine I do.”
She offered no further comment, and after a minute or so Andy nodded at the laptop. “What are you looking for?”
Andy’s knuckles went white on the steering wheel. “Tam, I know you’re sane. You don’t need to convince me.”
She shook her head. “All you know is that I was sane a week ago. What do you know of what happened since? You’ve already said I seem different; for all you know I might have Stockholm syndrome or something. And if there’s one thing that’s vital, it’s that you are one hundred percent convinced that I’m sane before I tell you what happened to me.”
Andy stared at her for a second, then jerked his gaze back to the road. “Jesus, Tam, you’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry. It’ll all become clear, I promise.”
He was quiet for a second, then gave her a tentative smile. “I reckon you’ve passed the first test anyway. Somehow I don’t think crazy people worry about finding tests to prove that they’re sane.”
Tamsyn pulled up a corner of her mouth. “No, I suppose not.”
At that moment they pulled up at the hotel. Tamsyn got out and opened the back door, then scratched her head as she looked at Radagast. “Any suggestions on how to get him inside without people asking awkward questions?”
Andy gave her a confused look. “Can’t we just wake him up? He can walk inside, can’t he?”
Tamsyn gestured. “Be my guest. Wake him up.”
Several minutes of shaking, prodding and tentative face-slapping later, Andy admitted defeat. “Wheelchair?” he suggested.
“Brilliant, let’s hope they have one.”
Tamsyn fabricated a story about an elderly grandfather with a sprained ankle, and five minutes later they wheeled Radagast into the hotel lobby, a blanket draped over his legs and his head lolling as if he had simply fallen asleep after an exhausting journey. They reached Andy’s room without trouble.
Can Tamsyn make Andy believe what has happened to her? Find out in part twenty-two!