Monday mornings had never been Kevin’s favourite time of the week. He had learnt that the most exciting things usually happened on Thursdays. Fridays had always been the day when he moved into his new families, and weekends were invariably the time when his foster carers struggled to find anything to talk to him about, or activities that he would enjoy doing. He didn’t think it was difficult. He considered himself quite an easy-going individual, as happy in front of a TV as any other child, but his favourite thing was exploring the landscape. He loved to go walking, foraging or climbing in the woodlands. But he had only had this opportunity with his adopted family, as his foster homes had been in different towns. There were no trees there, except scraggly ones which lined roads, and were much too high to climb. Every year the council would come and cut off the lower branches as they tried to grow, not wanting anyone to climb them.
But this Monday morning was even worse. He didn’t want to go to school. Another school with other children who singled him out as different, or who would want to know all about the details of his past. He couldn’t hide who he was, and he was tired of trying.
He trudged down the stairs and into the kitchen where Alastair was standing eagerly by the breakfast bar. He was wearing the strange collar on his shirt, but he was once again dressed in his woolly jumper. He waited until Kevin climbed up on the stool, then he grinned across at him.
“Will it be cereal, or will it be toast?”
“I’m not hungry,” Kevin mumbled. “I just want some juice.”
Alastair pushed a glass of fresh orange juice towards him. “You told me breakfast was the most important meal of the day. What’s happened?”
“I don’t want to go to school.”
“Why not?” Alastair asked, forcing a smile onto his face and trying to remember that he had to send Kevin to school. “Was that what you were worried about last night?”
“No,” Kevin answered, confused by the question.
Alastair nodded, realising that Kevin did not remember his nightmare at all. “Toast it is, then,” he continued enthusiastically.
“He’s sure he’s cursed.”
“I know,” she replied gently. “He told me he thought it was his fault what happened last Thursday. Is he so sure because of what happened to Liam Given? Surely he can’t remember it, he’d only have been two at the time.”
“It’s followed him round. But I’m trying to make him see that there is no curse. And I think he’s starting to believe me.”
“You don’t believe in curses?” she asked, a teasing light appearing in her eyes.
“No. I don’t.”
“Do you believe in luck?”
“Why do I feel like I shouldn’t answer that?”
“I believe in luck,” she replied, getting to her feet. “And I believe that you’re as lucky to have Kevin as he is to have you.” She collected her cup from the low table and walked towards the kitchen, where she turned back. “Any one person dying is terrible, but it can hardly constitute a curse. Liam Given wasn’t the only one, was he?”
Alastair shook his head, but remained silent.
“Is someone doing this on purpose? How many times has it happened?”
“Too many to be bad luck.”
Among These Dark Satanic Mills
The sun was setting when Kevin woke up, but it wasn’t that which first struck him. Tall orange flames were roaring up the chimney in front of him and he gave a small cry, leaping to his feet and running into the kitchen to find Alastair pouring sunflower oil into the fryer.
“What is it?” Alastair asked, setting the bottle down and wrapping his arm about the boy while Kevin gripped a handful of Alastair’s jumper.
“Fire,” he whispered.
“It’s ok,” came the soothing reply. “It’s our fire, and we’re in control of it.”
“Are you in control of everything here, Alastair?” Kevin asked in a small voice.
“Not everything. But I put my trust in God that He’ll make all things right.”
After a few minutes Kevin released his hold on the priest and sat at the breakfast bar, watching as Alastair tipped a generous portion of chips into the fryer’s basket. Next, Alastair collected a block of cheese and began grating it into a small bowl.
“I didn’t like school,” Kevin said after a time. “All the kids are strange.”
“All of them?” Alastair asked casually, trying to decide whether or not he was pleased Kevin was opening up about his day.
“Not Benji. But there’s a boy who just kept calling me a name all day, and everyone else laughed as though it was funny.”
“What sort of name?”
Alastair felt his hand meet with the razor-sharp grater and he looked down at the blood on the side of his thumb. Walking to the sink, he felt the cold water bring him back to his senses, but it was so sharply that his head spun.
“Who laughed?” he whispered.
Kevin turned to look at him. The calm smile had gone, and the vicar’s eyes flashed and flared as much as the fire in the sitting room. Kevin shrugged his shoulders, frightened by this change.
Reaching over to the phone, he listened to the alternating pitches of the dialling tone which told him he had a message.
Switching to speakerphone so he could tidy through the papers, he stopped abruptly as the message sounded. It was Kevin’s voice. He recognised it at once, almost second nature to him. There was no greeting, no friendly word.
“Remember, remember.” It was followed by a scraping, whirring sound and a sound like air gently blowing. Then it went dead. Alastair reached forward and pressed the button which allowed him to hear it again. There was something wrong with it. It took him a few renditions of the message to realise what it was. The two words were identical, in tone and inflection. It was as though the word had come from exactly the same moment, recorded and rerecorded.
He looked across at the photo of Leonard which rested on his desk, recalling Bonfire Night when he had found the same message on the frame. Suddenly, the monotonous repetition of the word was masked by Kevin’s excited voice, and he heard the boy push open the front door.
“Deleted,” the phone announced, as Kevin and Jilly walked to the study door.
He lifted one of the pictures, a school photograph from when Leonard had been seven, and ran his finger down his son’s face. How could anyone obscure and damage something so beautiful? Defiantly, he stood the photos up on the dresser again, propping them wherever they would stand. He would not stop looking at his boy simply because someone’s warped mind wished to destroy the happy memories which were all that was left to him.
He switched off the lights, deciding to leave the cleaning to the next day, and unlocked the door to the study. He carried the frames through, not wanting Kevin to stumble across them and discover any trace of negativity at the party. He set them down and looked at the picture of Leonard on the desk. Written across it in the same permanent marker as the others had been graffitied, he read aloud,