Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Sixteen: Escape) Wuthering Nights: Inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Sixteen
Escape – Present Day
   ‘Breakfast!’ Greta called to the inhabitant upstairs. Heath was hurriedly dressing and came bounding down the stairs looking like a much younger man with his riding boots in hand, ready to go out.
   ‘Not going to the office this morning?’ Greta asked as she handed Heath his coffee which he hurriedly gulped down.
   ‘I’m going riding, if the stables are still standing.’
   ‘Well, the storm stopped about a week ago, but it’s been raining ever since so I’m not sure it’s the best weather for riding. Mud everywhere.’
   ‘It’ll be fine,’ Heath assured her. ‘Oh, I see we have a visitor.’
   ‘Yes…your, er… niece, Katarina. She seems to have become quite fond of her cousins.’
   Heath looked at Greta blankly. ‘Where are they?’
   ‘They’ve left already. Katarina and Linus went out to find props and attend a dress rehearsal for the play. What are you getting yourself into Heath?’
   ‘Nothing I can’t get out of. She has a right to know her cousins. They have a right to know her.’
   Greta raised an eyebrow. ‘This isn’t more…vengeance, is it Heath? Because, you know, you already fought that war.’
    ‘Did I Greta? I’m not so sure.’ Heath, in a rare show of affection (he was in a surprisingly good mood this morning), leant over and pecked Greta on the cheek.
   ‘Don’t worry so much Greta. It’s time I had some more young people about me. The place seems a lot sunnier this morning.’
   ‘Oh, you and your “young people”, Greta smiled. ‘You don’t look a day over twenty-six. I wish you could give me the secret to your eternal youth.’
   ‘You don’t know the half,’ It was a strange comment, Greta thought, since Heath had shared his secret with her long ago.
   The wind had flattened the heather outside. A slight trick of sunlight shone across the park turning the other side of the field gold.
   Greta shrugged. ‘Trying to stop Heath getting involved in something he wanted had been almost pointless, from the time he was a little boy.’ She wrote in her journal. ‘I knew I could do nothing to persuade him against his plan…’   
    Twenty Years Ago
    Kate crept into Hareton Hall when it was way past dinner the night Heath had proposed to her. There was lightness in her step as she moved upstairs to pack her things. In the dark, she heard breathing. At first she thought it was just Frances, who had fallen asleep soundly on the couch but it was also her older brother, Harrison. He flicked the switch on above the couch and all of the chandeliers shone at once, creating a halo above Kate’s head. Her brother stared at her menacingly from the corner of the drawing room.
     Meanwhile, Heath was delayed. He’d taken the horses to the stables to wash them down.   Kate dodged Harrison and wandered over to pat Hinton’s head and carry him to his room. He was curled up asleep in a lounge chair with his puppy and she hesitated to wake him. Hinton was always content to play with his animals. Today it was a new pet, but as often he picked up a lost kitten outside in the garden and took it inside to feed. There were always small creatures that found their way into Hareton Hall and Hinton’s menagerie.
     Hinton stirred awake just as Franny, snuggled into Harrison’s shoulder, opened her eyes. Kate realised her sister-in-law must still be delusional about Harrison’s true nature.
     Harrison had, these past few days, mostly ignored Heath and tried to curry favour with Kate. Greta wrote in her diary that she wondered what new scheme he was planning. 
   ‘Kate,’ he said out of the blue. ‘Welcome home. You’ve returned.’ He nudged Frances. ‘Franny wondered if you’d like to go on a shopping trip with her…to Paris.’
    Kate tried to ignore Harrison’s bribe. 
   ‘Dearest Kate, I want you and Frances to be friends. Paris is close to Switzerland where Franny and I will be skiing. The trip is on me.’ Harrison had decided it would help to have Kate on side, less hassle when he needed her to sign legal documents.
    ‘Next week.’
     Kate nodded, although she and Heath would be far away by then.
      Since Oxford, Harrison had worked at the family firm and in the weeks since her father had died, Harrison had taken over not just her finances, but control of the entire estate. Until she was eighteen, he had all the power. 
    ‘I’ve been thinking, Kate… and your mother agrees, it’s time for you to go back to school.  Father would have wanted you to complete your education.’
   ‘And Heath?’ Kate added.
  ‘Oh, well, that’s up to him.’
    Harrison basically ignored the question. ‘That boarding school in Scotland was always useless. It’s where I went after all and I doubt things have improved and…I’m concerned that you spend too much time doing nothing meaningful there. You can finish your studies in Switzerland, visit your mother and also learn something useful at the same time.’ Harrison looked at the kitchen disdainfully, ‘like how to cook for your future husband.’
     Frances smiled as Harrison sniggered.
     Kate knew without asking that he did not factor Heath into his statement and their plan would have to go into full swing. Kate was angry, however, and she couldn’t resist a retort.
    ‘You went to university. Why shouldn’t I have that opportunity?’
    ‘Dear Kate, you will be rich. What do you need university for? You’ll only marry and have children like all the women before you. Oh, and let me give you some advice, no man wants a wife who… talks back.’
    Kate couldn’t believe Harrison’s disturbing psychological argument. It was the 1990s after all. Harrison had always been poison; she should never have even bothered trying to reason with him.
    ‘And to be honest, Kate, father’s contacts helped me achieve, not my marks at school. We don’t have him to help us anymore,’ Harrison said, just to rub it in.    
    Meanwhile, Greta stirred the pot in the kitchen, going over her written instructions to the cook regarding the lunch for the meeting of twelve Board members that Harrison had called. Heath was still in the stables grooming the horses. Greta raised an eyebrow.
     Harrison continued. ‘As you know, you are not yet eighteen, so you are still legally under my care. The truth is Kate, unless you want to be out on the street, you have no choice but to comply with my wishes or…’
     ‘If you run off with Heath, I’ll call the police and have you both brought back and the “charity case” arrested.’
   ‘On what grounds?’
   ‘Oh, I’ll make something up. I’m far more creative than you realize. I have friends in high places. I’m sure we can accuse him of something…freakish or financial. Dipping into charitable funds? Being a vampire? That could keep him detained… for a while.’  
   ‘You have no proof.’
    ‘My suspicions are enough to make an awful lot of trouble for you both…besides, you are under age…’
      ‘By three months…’
       Harrison’s wife, who had been curled up in the corner of the couch, stretched and went upstairs. Before she left she kissed her husband’s cheek, oblivious to the shouting or his true nature. After all, she had a family fortune to protect as well and the merging of both family companies could only be profitable for both families. As Frances left, she smiled at Kate with an almost pitying look. In that moment, Kate realised she was all but alone. If she ran to the stables where Heath was washing the horses and they went away somewhere with what little funds they had, they would be running forever if Harrison had his way.
    Well, they’d just have to take that risk.
   ‘I don’t want to go to Switzerland, Harrison.’
   ‘It’s all arranged Kate. The driver will take you to the airport in about ten minutes. Don’t worry, Franny will meet you in Paris the first weekend. Mmm…I sense your hesitation. I feel Heath has brought you quite low in the world. You are to leave this afternoon. Go upstairs and pack your things. Oh, and don’t fret. The Hunts have a chalet for the holidays. You are invited to stay for the season. You should be happy. Six months will go in six weeks. Then, when you’ve finished school, if you want to throw your life away on the charity case, who am I to stop you?’
  ‘No. Father would have wanted us to stay together.’
  ‘Father isn’t here now. I’m the head of this household and you have nothing unless I give it to you. Learn to obey me Kate, at least until you can earn your own living.’ Harrison looked around him and added as an afterthought, ‘although the women in this household have never been very good at doing that.’
   ‘Maybe that’s because the men in the family refuse to educate them.’
   ‘Excuse me?’ Harrison said.
   ‘And Heath?’
   ‘Heath is eighteen at midnight Kate. What he does is no business of ours. I have sent a messenger to encourage him to leave the property at once. I shall send him packing with plenty of cash, Kate. No need to worry.’
   ‘That’s a lie! You’ve always been jealous of him!’ Kate yelled at her older brother from the top of the stairs.
   ‘Even so,’ Harrison said coolly. ‘We’ll see who has the last laugh now.’
   ‘Where is he?’
   ‘I have a police officer outside in the stables waiting to explain his rights to him. I expect he will choose to leave sooner rather than…later. He should have turned eighteen by the time he…chooses to go.’
   ‘Another lie…he’d never leave without telling me…’
   ‘Well, after he’s been told about your decision, he’s sure to want to leave. It’s almost midnight after all. What were you both doing out in the park so late? Never mind, don’t answer that.’ Harrison said smugly. 
   ‘Heath knows it would not be my decision…that I didn’t have a choice.’
    ‘Mmm…’ Harrison said with a smile. ‘Well, we didn’t really explain it to him like that.’
    ‘I will not leave without seeing him.’
     ‘Heath took his bags and left a few minutes ago. He’d be half way down the road by now.’    Kate moved to the front door but Harrison warned her with his words. ‘If he wants you, I’m sure he’ll write. I must tell you Kate, this teenage passion you have for him seems to me to be very one-sided.’
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘Well, I have it on good authority…’
    ‘Edmund Hunt’s since you’re so interested.’
   ‘What has he been telling you?’
   ‘Well, he happened to mention to the son of a colleague of mine, that Heath and his sister had been quite close…’
   ‘Another lie.’
   ‘Is it?’
   ‘You know Heath can’t stand her.’
   ‘Really? Well in my experience where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Go and pack your bags and stop behaving like a moron. A few months in Switzerland will do you the world of good. You can leave in the morning. And I’m warning you, Kate, you don’t actually have a choice.’
   Kate turned to go up the stairs, holding back tears.
  ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’
   ‘Say thank you.’
   Kate ignored him. She ran up the staircase. When she reached her bedroom Kate looked through the windows. The stables were quiet, the horses almost silently eating hay. Heath was nowhere to be seen. He must have been dragged off the property. Kate moved through the connecting door to the playroom, the place in which she once gained many hours of solace. The door slammed shut and Harrison locked it behind her.
    Screaming was useless. Instead, she leaned against the door, slumped to the carpet and cried.
    After a few minutes, Kate sighed. Harrison had not barred the windows. She was wrong to try to reason with her brother. This was all her fault for not running away sooner.
    The girl picked herself up, went to her secret hiding place under the floorboards and found the documents she needed. Quickly, she threw her passport and some belongings into a bag and crawled out of the window like she used to when she was a child. She scraped her arm sliding down the scaffolding outside the building, flung her things into the car (she’d hidden a spare set of keys in the stables), and sped down the road towards the intersection. She was sure Heath could not have gone too far; then she remembered how fast he could run. The car shuddered and ground to a halt. The petrol gauge came up empty. Harrison must have emptied most of the tank, suspecting she’d try to escape. She would have to go by foot across the heath.