Today, St Andrewgate bears little resemblance to the 16th-century street, although the church of St Andrew still stands. Apart from a row of lovely 18th-century houses, most of the homes are now blocks of flats built when the warehouses that used to line the street were pulled down, and it is just such a flat that has been provided for Roz in The Edge of Dark.
Here, she explores it for the first time after her unnerving experience with the necklace in Holmwood House.
It didn’t take long to investigate the flat: it had a living room with an open plan kitchen at one end, a windowless bathroom and a bedroom, all decorated in the same bland colours. So it wasn’t the most characterful flat in the world, Roz tried to talk herself into a more positive mood. It was dry, clean, central; that was all that she needed. She’d be going home to London at weekends, and for a moment the thought of she flat she and Nick had bought and decorated together stabbed her in the belly with such intensity that she covered her stomach with her hands.
Enough. Roz scowled at her own weakness. She could make this boring flat more homely. It would be fine.
Wandering over to the window, she pulled down the slats of the venetian blind – a pale, plastic grey – and peered out to see if the view was any more inspiring.
It wasn’t. No charming higgledy-piggeldy medieval houses met her gaze, just a courtyard paved in brick with some neatly parked cars and more pseudo-traditional apartment buildings.
Unimpressed, Riz was turning away when a drift of smoke below caught at the edge of her vision. Weird. Who would be having a bonfire here? She craned her neck anxiously to see where the smoke was coming from in case she needed to make a run for the stairs. Even before she’d understood why, she’d had a phobia of fire, and the idea of being trapped in a burning building was the worst fate she could imagine. Just thinking about it made her palms sweat.
But all was as it should be. She relaxed when she saw that the smoke was puffing out of the kitchen chimney. The narrow yard beneath her window ran past the kitchen, past the woodstore and the henhouse, past the apple trees and the scrubby patch of herbs to the thatched stable and the back gate that opened into –
Kitchen? Stables? Roz blinked as her mind caught up with what she was seeing, and the scene vanished. There was no smoking chimney. There were no trees, or outbuildings, just the cars parked in their slots and the bland block of flats behind.
Roz jerked back from the blind, and the snap of the slats rattling into place sent her heart lurching into her throat. ‘What …?’ Puzzled, uneasy, she stared at the blind. Through the slats she could see the top of the building opposite and some bruised-looking sky. There couldn’t be a yard below, but she could picture it so clearly: the way the smoke drifted in the damp air, the grey-green lichen clinging to the tree trunks, the trampled path to the woodstore, the hens pecking in the mud. The stable door had stood ajar.
‘What stable?’ Roz said out loud, her voice echoing queerly in the empty room. ‘How did I know that was a woodstore?’
Her head was aching, a dull steady pounding inside her skull, and she dropped onto the sofa, pressing her fingers to her eyelids. She must have imagined that scene. She hadn’t been sleeping well and she was tired, and it had been a strange day. Perhaps it had been a hangover from a long-forgotten dream? It hadn’t been real.
Lowering her hands, Roz lay back against the cushions and opened her eyes. She looked up at the plain white ceiling. Of course it hadn’t been real. How could it be real? There was nothing there. She should get up and unpack, make a cup of tea. Do anything other than sit here and wonder about what she had seen through the window.
Still, her eyes kept sliding sideways to the blind. From the sofa the slats looked secretive and enticing at the same time. Come and look, they seemed to whisper in the air. Come closer. You won’t be able to see unless you come really close. What do you think you’ll see if you do?
Roz knew what she would see. A car park. She didn’t need to look. She was going to put the kettle on instead. But when she got to her feet, the blinds shifted at the edge of her vision.
‘Oh, this is ridiculous!’ she said at last. Now she was going to have to check.
She stomped over to the window, ignoring the wild warning cry of instinct at the back of her mind, ignoring the throb of her neck where the necklace had lain. There was nothing there. She was going to pull up the blind and look out of the window, and when she found herself looking down at the car park, she was going to feel an idiot. There was no reason for the heavy thud of her heart, or the fear squirming through her belly. Good God, she wasn’t going to be able to hold down a job in York if she didn’t dare look out of a window!
Even so, she paused with her fingers on the cord. She’d meant to jerk the blind up, but instead she found herself sidestepping to the edge of the window so that she could ease the slats cautiously away from the glass and look outside once more.
Excerpt from The Edge of Dark © Pamela Hartshorne 2014.