Dory’s Avengers Taster

It is now less than a month until the launch of my début novel DORY’S AVENGERS on 29 August 2013. I’m constantly looking to market my book as well as possible, and am very receptive to ideas courtesy of Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc. One comment that seems to crop up more than any other is: ‘Please may we read a sample of Dory’s Avengers?’

Of course you may! There are two ways to provide this sample.

  1. Attempt to work out how to activate the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.
  2. Share a taster on here.

Choice number two it is then. Here’s the prologue and chapter one. I hope you enjoy them!

DorysAvengers Cover Art

[title]Dory’s Avengers

[author]Alison Jack

Prologue: The Beginning of the

Sponsorship Scheme

Success came naturally to William St Benedict. Having been born into a life of wealth and privilege, he had grown up with an unshakable sense of his own infallibility. At the tender age of twenty-three, William had taken over the running of the St Benedict family business following the death of his father, and his ruthless determination had transformed the already successful company into the country’s dominant building firm. This would have been achievement enough for many people, but not for William. Having tasted power and found that he liked it, William wanted more. In short, he wanted to be the most powerful man that the United Kingdom, and perhaps even the world, had ever known. It was this ambition that led to William creating the Sponsorship Scheme.

Doubt wasn’t an emotion with which William was familiar, but even he was surprised by the phenomenal success of the Sponsorship Scheme. Within a year, sponsor endorsement became synonymous with success, and the various sponsor groups were inundated with applications for Sponsorship from all over the country. Conversely, being Unsponsored began to carry a stigma too horrible to contemplate, and the Sponsored became increasingly terrified of losing their status.

Eleven years before the end of the millennium, when the Sponsorship Scheme was in its fourth year, William St Benedict was driving home through the dirty remains of the winter’s first snowfall. The weather in London was bleak and cold, and it was already getting dark despite only being three o’clock in the afternoon. This didn’t dampen William’s spirits in the slightest; the five years since he had taken over St Benedict Construction had gone very much according to plan, and he was feeling extremely pleased with himself. Switching on his car radio, William was just in time to hear some news that compounded his happiness.

‘This just in, folks!’ said the radio DJ, his voice full of enthusiasm. ‘It would seem our very own William St Benedict, founder of the wonderful Sponsorship Scheme, is widely believed to be getting an honour from Her Maj when the New Year’s Honours are announced. Sir William would be appropriate, don’t you think? Or maybe Lord William; no title befits this fine gentlemen better than a lordship, hey, guys and girls? Am I right or am I right?’

William was still dreaming about receiving an honorary peerage from the Queen when he arrived at his luxurious Kensington home. The founder members of the Sponsorship Scheme were already enjoying hot cups of tea and the warmth of the drawing-room fire as William paused briefly to look in on the family room. William’s first child, eighteen-month-old Rosanna, was shrieking happily while her nanny, Marie, hung ornaments on a vast Christmas tree. Rosanna was already a beauty, with golden curls framing her pretty face and light-brown eyes, so like her father’s, sparkling as she toddled over to receive his embrace. William’s wife, Isabelle, uncurled herself from the easy chair by the fire and crossed the room to greet her husband.

‘Hello, dear,’ she said, kissing William lightly on the cheek. ‘Our guests are already assembled in the drawing room. I’ve asked Mooreland to supply them with refreshments.’

‘Then let us go and join them, darling,’ replied William, passing Rosanna back to Marie and taking his wife by the hand.

‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,’ said William a few minutes later, entering the drawing room with Isabelle and greeting the people who had helped to pioneer the Sponsorship Scheme. ‘Thank you for making the journey to my humble abode in such inclement weather. Owing to the fact that the festive season is almost upon us we will make this an informal meeting; in fact, I would like to start proceedings with a cause for celebration.’

William paused at this point to hug Isabelle closer to his side, before announcing, ‘Isabelle and I are expecting a second child. He’s due at the end of June.’

‘I can’t guarantee a boy, Will,’ said Isabelle, laughing at her husband’s certainty. ‘He so wants a son and heir,’ she continued for the benefit of the assembled company, who were rising as one from their seats to offer their congratulations.

‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’

‘Splendid news!’

‘Marvellous! A little brother or sister for the lovely Rosanna.’

Hugs, kisses and more congratulations followed. Brian Mooreland, the head of the St Benedict household staff and beneficiary of the Sponsorship Scheme, appeared with chilled bottles of champagne, and toasts were offered to the parents to be.

After the champagne and the congratulations, William called for a short period of calm in order that business could be discussed. As promised, William kept the proceedings informal, and the meeting was more a mutual back-slapping session as one by one his colleagues reported success after success.

‘We now have all the major banks on board,’ Mortimer O’Reilly, head of Finance Sponsorship, reported proudly. ‘One or two were a little suspicious to begin with, but the obvious benefits of endorsement have persuaded them to join in our venture.’

‘That is indeed great news,’ said William. ‘We can’t have too many allies in the money world. Fiona, I hear things go from strength to strength in the medical branch of the Professional Sponsor Group.’

‘Absolutely right, William,’ replied Dr Fiona Turnbull, placing her glass on the table. ‘The Turnbull Health Centres are spreading far and wide across the country, with new centres due to open shortly in Oxford, York and Glasgow. Pro Spo now sponsor over one and a half million families, with some promising medical students due to graduate in the summer. The Best Friend veterinary surgeries are also highly successful countrywide, and I’ve been working with Steph to ensure a Feathers and Fur shop opens adjacent to each Best Friend  premises.’

The Steph mentioned by Fiona was Stephanie Rogers, head of the Retail Sponsorship Group. William had the greatest respect for both women, admiring their professionalism and dignity. He recalled the day that the Scheme had been born, when Steph had taken on the running of Retail Sponsorship.

‘Jolly good,’ he’d said in response to her eager acceptance of the post. ‘I have no doubt you’ll excel in the role. After all, you women do love to shop!’

‘Indeed,’ Steph had replied smoothly, ‘almost as much as you men love to stereotype.’

For over three years now, Stephanie had never failed to deliver even more than William could have hoped. She was currently busy sifting through the multitude of applicants wishing to open stores in St Benedict Construction’s brand-new development: a high-class shopping arcade in the fashionable Docklands area of London.

‘Lysander,’ said William, addressing the memorably named Lysander Trevelyan, ‘Leisure and Fitness?’

‘What about it?’ replied Lysander, blue eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘Oh, do you want a report? I was enjoying a rather pleasant little snooze here by the fire.’

‘Of course he wants a report, you imbecile,’ snapped Mortimer, astounded that anyone would have the nerve to give any backchat to William St Benedict.

‘Relax, Morti old chum. William knows I like a little joke, don’t you, WSB?’

William regarded Lysander and Mortimer with some amusement. The two men couldn’t have been more different. Mortimer: red-faced, anxious, slightly plump; undoubtedly a genius with figures but lacking somewhat in social skills. Lysander: confident, athletic and handsome; his blond hair attractively tousled, clothes always well-fitting and immaculately stylish. That the pair despised each other was plain for all to see; they never missed an opportunity to score points off each other, the quick-witted Lysander usually emerging the winner.

‘I hate being called Morti…’ whined the money man, but he was interrupted smoothly by Lysander.

‘Leisure and Fitness, though I say so myself, is fantastically successful. People these days work hard, and we encourage them to play equally hard. The people we sponsor have grasped the concept with enthusiasm; forgive me for not having exact figures for you, but as of November we were sponsoring well over three million. It is a figure that is swelling all the time, with youngsters all over the country keen to train as fitness coaches, beauty therapists and hair stylists. There are waiting lists to join all our gyms and sports centres, and the health farms are fully booked at least until the end of February. We at Leisure and Fitness are working in conjunction with David and Julia of the Sport Sponsorship Group to meet the ever-increasing demand for top-quality sport and fitness facilities. We will, of course, keep you posted every step of the way.’

‘Lysander; I don’t doubt it, nor do I doubt for a moment your ability to meet the demand levelled at you. David and Julia, your success with the sportsmen and women is already reaping its rewards with that nice trophy the country celebrated so wildly in the summer.’

‘Yes, that was fabulous, wasn’t it?’ replied David Foster. ‘But I’m afraid to say the little problem of which we spoke a few weeks ago is far from resolved.’

‘Ah yes, the stubborn young footballer. You may speak freely in front of my wife; she is aware of the situation.’

A roomful of curious eyes turned upon Isabelle St Benedict, who kept her expression neutral despite the sense of foreboding she suddenly felt.

‘My gobby little brother?’ she said lightly. ‘I’m sure he’ll grow up soon and learn to keep his silly ideas to himself.’

‘Who is this person?’ asked Mortimer O’Reilly, who didn’t follow sport. ‘Is he a threat to the Scheme?’

‘Elliot Farrell,’ replied William, ‘promising footballer and Izzy’s brother. Not only is he resisting Sponsorship, but he is rather vocal in his condemnation of the Scheme.’

‘Why not drop him then?’ asked Mortimer.

‘Because he’s damn good,’ said David. ‘So good he’s widely considered to be the most talented footballer this country has ever produced. Too good to ignore.’

‘What’s he been saying?’

‘He reckons the Sponsorship Scheme stifles individuality,’ said Isabelle before anyone else could reply. ‘He thinks we’re creating a brainwashed society. Silly boy, he’s only young. I’ll speak to him again, get him to see sense. He’ll listen to his big sister!’

William took his wife’s hand and smiled at the company gathered in his huge room, bringing the formalities to a close as Isabelle’s pulse rate gradually returned to normal.

‘That’s settled then. Yes, my friends, we can all look forward to the New Year happy in the knowledge that the Sponsorship Scheme continues to go from strength to strength. Now, unless I am very much mistaken, dinner is imminent; so if you would all care to make your way to the dining room, I shall join you just as soon as I’ve kissed my daughter goodnight.’

Later in the evening, after everyone had enjoyed a magnificent dinner and most had departed for home, William invited Lysander, Mortimer, Steph and Fiona to join him in the drawing room for a nightcap. William would probably have named these people as his particular friends among the committee of Sponsors; even Mortimer, although not an obvious candidate for such an accolade, made the Scheme so much money that William regarded him as an integral part of life.

Isabelle St Benedict joined her husband and their friends in the drawing room after having helped Marie to settle a fractious Rosanna. As Isabelle sat down next to Steph and Fiona with her Persian cat on her lap, Mortimer O’Reilly decided the moment had come to make his prediction.

‘Unlikely though it may seem, I have the gift of second sight,’ announced Mortimer, nodding solemnly. ‘I am a seer.’

‘You’re a what?’ asked Lysander Trevelyan. ‘A deer? Good grief, we haven’t just eaten your brother for dinner, have we?’

Mortimer bristled, as much at William’s ill-concealed amusement as at Lysander’s words.

‘I am a seer; a seer, you fool! I have the gift of second sight, although sometimes it feels like a heavy burden… Trevelyan, just shut up! Shut up, will you!’

‘OK, OK,’ said Lysander, controlling his laughter with a tremendous effort. ‘What have you seen?’

‘You’ve never liked me, have you?’ shrieked Mortimer.

‘Is that it? Doesn’t take a psychic to see that, does it? I’ll tell you without the aid of crystal balls – I think you’re a tosser of the highest order.’

‘Lysander, button it!’ snapped William before Mortimer had the opportunity to reply. ‘Mortimer is a highly valued member of this committee; his financial expertise is second to none and has put the borrowing and lending of money in this country pretty much entirely under Sponsor control. I also consider him to be a personal friend, and would ask that you treat him with some respect. Mortimer, please continue with what you were saying. It sounds very interesting.’

As Lysander inclined his head in deference to William’s words, Mortimer cast him a triumphant look before continuing:

‘There are powers afoot, mystical powers that no mere mortal can comprehend. I always suspected I had the gift of sight, and now it has manifested itself at a time when it is most useful. It has given me a warning, a warning pertinent to us all…’

Lysander let out an almighty snort of laughter.

‘Sorry, WSB,’ he said, eyes watering. ‘Sneeze.’

Shaking his head slightly at Lysander, William himself pondered the possibility that a full moon lurked behind the clouds outside. The three women could barely contain their amusement. Heads bowed, they made a big show of fussing the ecstatic cat while listening intently to the conversation going on by the fireplace.

‘I’m sorry, Mortimer,’ said William, ‘but an intelligent businessman such as yourself doesn’t seem a very likely candidate to believe in all that hocus-pocus claptrap.’

‘Please, William; you must listen to me. You must ALL listen to me; our very future may depend on it. A child will be born in the north of England before the year is out. A blond child who will grow up to bring about the downfall of all we hold dear, a fair-haired boy-child who will plot the destruction of the Sponsooorrrssshhhiiippp… …’

Never one to miss an opportunity for melodrama, Mortimer’s voice degenerated into a wail. Expecting yet another outburst of amusement from Lysander, William was unprepared for what happened next. All mirth gone from his eyes, Lysander walked over to Mortimer and pretty much spat his words into the money man’s face.

‘Well now, Mister Seer, as you well know, my first child is due to be born any day now. Let’s SEE, shall we, if Nikki has a boy-child. Given that my wife and I are both fair-haired, I think it would be safe for Mister Seer to ASSUME our child would be born equally fair. Now if you’ll excuse me, Mister SEER, I feel rather aggrieved at your mystical prophecy, which I regard as a feeble and unwarranted insult to my family. For me, all pleasure has gone from what has, until now, been a very pleasant evening.’

Turning his back on Mortimer, Lysander addressed the other occupants of the room.

‘WSB, Izzy, as ever your hospitality has been of the highest quality. Thank you both. Steph, Fiona, it has been a pleasure to keep you company once again. I bid you all goodnight.’

Lysander’s departure was followed by a prolonged and uneasy silence, finally broken by Brian Mooreland asking whether further refreshments would be required. As the party spirit had died with Lysander’s stinging words to Mortimer, the remaining guests politely declined and started getting ready to leave. As he said his farewells, Mortimer made one last attempt to appeal to William.

‘It’s true, William. I did have a vision of the future. Of course, you’re an intelligent man of the world, but don’t disregard forces beyond even our comprehension. If my vision did indeed refer to Trevelyan’s child, then he needs to be watched closely. What harm could it do to be cautious?’

‘What harm indeed,’ replied William, patting the neurotic Mortimer on the arm. ‘Thank you for having the courage to speak to us on this matter, and please try not to worry. The Sponsorship Scheme is growing stronger every day, with the full backing of the government.  Indeed, I met with the Prime Minister only two days ago, and she is delighted with the order that has come to society since we introduced the Scheme to the UK. By the time this child of whom you speak has grown old enough to be any threat, he will soon find he is taking on a formidable opponent.’

Once Mortimer, Fiona and Steph had departed for their homes, William turned to his wife.

‘What do you make of that, Izzy? Rather an unusual turn of events.’

‘I think Mortimer may have been at the herbal cigarettes again, Will. He certainly gave us girls a good laugh.’

‘Yes, I did notice,’ said William, still looking thoughtful. ‘However, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on Trevelyan’s family, especially if the child is a boy.’

‘I suppose not, darling,’ said Isabelle, her light tone and pretty smile masking the return of her unease.

By the end of the year two significant events had taken place. It turned out that the radio DJ had been spot on concerning the New Year’s Honours List, and the head of the Sponsorship Scheme began the final year of the decade as Lord William St Benedict.

Two days after both the DJ and Mortimer O’Reilly had made their predictions, a baby boy was indeed born in the north of England. He was a healthy, if slightly unusual, child. It was only when Louis Trevelyan entered the world on a frosty day shortly before Christmas that Lysander and Nicola, his parents, discovered they both carried the albino gene.

Chapter One

In Cumbria, the north-westernmost county of England, lies an area of outstanding natural beauty known as the Lake District National Park. The ancient landscape is enjoyed to this day by a variety of people, from the keenest walkers climbing to the high summits to those who prefer to explore the souvenir shops and quaint cafés of the towns nestling in the valleys. Dry-stone walls border lanes and paths, deep lakes charm visitors with their timeless beauty, and pretty meadows sit below majestic mountains. The air is clean and pure, the pace of life relaxed. Sometimes the only companions a solitary walker will have throughout the day are the ubiquitous sheep and the birds flying above. Those who have fallen in love with the Lake District are drawn back time after time, and it is a love that will be with them for life.

Lying beneath arguably the most stunning of the mountains, or fells as they are often called, is the little village of Applethwaite. Tucked in a hollow it is not visible from the main road into the national park, and surrounded as it is by woodland, affectionately known to the locals as ‘’Thwaite’s Wood’, it enjoys a sense of isolation envied by the better-known Lake District towns. Only the most dedicated of walkers will attempt the difficult descent from the fell into Applethwaite; but those who do are rewarded with a warm welcome, a pint of fine ale and, if required, a comfortable bed for the night in the village’s White Lion Inn. The village enjoys a tremendous sense of community, and is an oasis for those who like to live their lives in peace and tranquillity.

Louis Trevelyan was someone who dearly loved to live his life in peace and tranquillity, but he was beginning to feel more than a little stressed as he viewed his surroundings from an unusual angle. Body inverted, his arms held him solid above a pair of parallel bars while his muscles increasingly screamed at him to give them a rest. Although the day was bright and sunny outside, none of the sunlight found its way past the heavy curtains covering the windows, and the electric light was dimmed to its lowest setting.

‘Gideon,’ said Louis between heavy breaths, ‘can I stop now?’

Silence from his companion.

‘Gideon? Are you asleep?’

More silence. With a fluid movement, Louis righted himself and dropped gracefully from the bars to the floor. Crossing to the light switch, he simultaneously turned up the light and placed dark glasses over his eyes, before turning to the slightly built man in the wheelchair.

‘GIDEON!’ yelled Louis, his face inches from that of his mentor.

‘WHO THE BLOODY HELL TOLD YOU TO GET DOWN?’ roared Gideon in reply.

‘You did,’ said Louis, smiling as he opened a bottle of water for himself and handed one to Gideon. ‘You talk in your sleep.’

‘You were rubbish today,’ grumbled Gideon, accepting the water with barely a grunt of thanks.

‘So why continue to teach me then?’ asked Louis, not for the first time. ‘I’m never going to compete in the Olympics or anything, so what’s the point?’

‘You’re damn good, that’s why, Trevelyan; and I for one think it’s only right to nurture a talent such as yours. You’re damn lucky, and I’d thank you to remember that not all of us have the gift of movement.’

Long used to Gideon’s strange moods, Louis settled himself on one of the large window seats and squinted out into the street below.

‘Do you want to go for a walk, Gid? It’s a gorgeous day out there, and I’ve got my sun block…’

‘Three things, Trevelyan. One, no to your question. Two, never ever call me Gid again. Three, you’re late.’

‘Shit!’ Louis’ head snapped round and he looked, cross-eyed, at the clock above the door. After watching Louis failing to focus on the clock face, Gideon finally said, ‘It’s nearly three, Louis.’

‘Shit!’ said Louis again. Grabbing a towel he headed for the studio’s showers, and by the time he had showered and dressed there was no sign of Gideon.

‘I’ll lock up again, shall I, Gid?’ said Louis to the empty room. ‘Shall I, Gid? Gid! Gid!’

Giggling childishly, Louis made sure the studio was secure before donning a wide-brimmed sunhat and heading off to Applethwaite Primary School. It never occurred to Louis to ponder the fact that Gideon Wallis, once world-renowned gymnast until a freak car accident confined him to a wheelchair seventeen years previously, had moved to Applethwaite simply to train Louis. Gideon had bought and equipped a studio with high-quality bars, pommel horse and rings simply to train a gymnast who, although talented as Louis undoubtedly was, would never compete in any tournament. Even had Louis’s natural shyness not been enough to prevent him from entertaining the idea of performing publicly, it was not something that Gideon ever encouraged. Although Louis often questioned the older man’s reasons for continuing with his daily training, the question was always intended only to goad Gideon into paying Louis one of his rare compliments. Louis didn’t question the strangeness of the situation because he didn’t actually find it strange. It was the only thing he had ever known.

By the time Louis arrived, breathless, at Applethwaite Primary School’s gates, the lessons had been over for a good ten minutes. Jenny Trevelyan, Louis’s six-year-old sister, was waiting patiently for him to arrive. Blonde and pretty, although not as fair as her brother, Jenny was extremely proud of the gap where her two front teeth used to be and the imminent arrival of ‘grown-up teeth’. Waiting with Jenny was the Trevelyan’s neighbour, Jane Radcliffe. Good old Jane, Louis thought. He could always rely on her and her little girl, Jenny’s best friend Alex, to wait with Jenny whenever he was running late.

As Louis reached the school gates and his weak eyes finally focused on the scene before him, he saw that Jane and Alex had already departed for home, and that Jenny had actually been keeping company with Abilene Farrell.

Abi Farrell. Smooth skin. Long, dark hair. Slim figure, beautifully toned thanks to Abi’s love of sport. The fragrant, the lovely, the unattainable Abi; smiling at Louis as she explained that she’d offered to wait with Jenny – Jane had to rush off, sponsor paying a visit, really not a problem…

‘Er, thanks, erm, Abi…’ Louis managed, blushing frantically and attempting to hide beneath his huge hat. Oh yeah, Lou, he thought, great look. Flustered albino in ancient sunhat pulls exotic Mediterranean beauty. Never going to happen!

‘Are you OK, Louis?’ asked Abi kindly, laying a hand on Louis’s arm and unwittingly reducing him to a jabbering wreck.

‘Thank you, yes I am, thank you, Abi – sorry I’m late – Gideon, track of time, erm…’ Louis’s gabbling made him feel a bigger fool with every passing second, while Jenny grabbed his hands and attempted to turn somersaults.

‘Really, it’s not a problem,’ said Abi. ‘Jenny and I have been having a lovely chat; haven’t we, Jen?’

‘Yes!’ replied the little girl. ‘Miss Winter made us all draw a poster for the Sponsors’ Fair on Saturday, and she said mine was the best. Abi liked it too.’

The child grabbed Abi’s hands and jumped up and down with excitement, while the two young adults smiled at each other over her head. It was a rare moment of ease for Louis while in Abi’s company, and he silently thanked Jenny for breaking the tension.

‘Well, thank you once again, Abi,’ said Louis. ‘Say thank you to Abi, Jen!’ he continued, finding it less daunting to speak to Abi through his little sister.

‘Abi, come and have tea with us! Sarah won’t mind,’ said Jenny unexpectedly, and Louis returned to his previous state of panic.

‘I’d love to, Jenny, but I can’t today,’ said Abi, stroking the child’s hair. ‘My Uncle Chris is picking me up soon and we’re going to make some poorly animals better.’

‘OK, Abi, see you another day. Will you be at the Sponsors’ Fair?’

Abi frowned darkly and briefly, so briefly that had Louis not been staring rapturously at her he would have missed it.

‘No, darling, I won’t be there, but I’m sure I’ll see you soon. We’ll have tea together one day very soon, I promise. Bye, Louis. Take care.’

Dragging Louis behind her, Jenny headed off in the direction of the Trevelyan family home. The child’s chatter washed over Louis as he continued to think about Abi long after she had disappeared from sight. He wondered why mention of the Sponsors always seemed to dampen Abi’s mood. As a trainee vet she must surely benefit from Professional Sponsorship, or Pro Spo as it was affectionately known. He knew that Christopher Farrell, local veterinary surgeon and Abi’s uncle, was endorsed by Pro Spo, and as Abi practised alongside her uncle when on leave from university she must come under the Pro Spo umbrella too. Then there was the prestigious veterinary college that Abi attended; Louis knew for a fact that this college was endorsed by both Pro Spo and Academic Sponsorship. Louis realised he rarely thought about the Sponsorship Scheme, despite the fact that his father worked for Lord William St Benedict. Indeed, Lysander Trevelyan was in charge of the highly regarded Leisure and Fitness Sponsorship Group; a position that afforded, among other things, the beautiful house in which Louis and Jenny lived so comfortably. It briefly crossed Louis’s mind that he never really got much chance to talk to his father about anything, and that it may be a nice idea to ask him about Leisure and Fitness next time they met.

Within minutes Louis Trevelyan – highly talented gymnast, head over heels in love with Abilene Farrell and more than a little scatty – had forgotten all about Leisure and Fitness in the pleasure of being home again. Home was a large, slate house in an exclusive little lane leading out of the village towards ’Thwaite’s Wood and the fell beyond. Surrounded by mature gardens bordered by an old stone wall, the grand house sat proud in its seclusion. Inside, a large hallway led to a magnificent staircase; to the left of the hallway lay the cosy family room into which Jenny and Louis now headed, behind which was the kitchen and the kindly Sarah. To the right of the hallway were the more formal rooms of the house – the sitting room with its huge, ornate fireplace, and the dining room, only used when Lysander was at home and entertaining. As Lysander being home was a rarity, the dining room spent most of its time cold and empty; Louis and Jenny preferring the informal comfort of Sarah’s kitchen.

Louis would never have considered his childhood to have been an unhappy one, but he was blissfully unaware that it was a very unorthodox one. His father had been a virtual stranger for his entire life; a handsome, charismatic man who appeared every so often with an ever-changing flock of admirers in tow, only to vanish within days for another long period of absence. Louis wasn’t sure how he was meant to feel about Lysander. He admired his father, it was true, and wished that he could emulate Lysander’s easy confidence and ready wit, but beyond that his feelings were sadly indifferent.

Louis and Jenny’s mother, Nicola, was equally strange to her children, but this wasn’t due to her being absent from the family home. Although she shared the large house with them, Nicola was usually to be found drifting around in a drug-induced world of her own. Nicola’s bedroom was situated over the rarely used dining room, so it often felt to Louis as though the left-hand side of the house was filled with love and warmth, while the right was cold and silent, haunted by the ghostly presence of his mother. Today she was sleeping, not an unusual state of affairs as lack of proper sustenance made her constantly tired. Her children barely registered her absence.

Unlike both of their parents, Sarah Lonsdale was very much a part of the youngsters’ lives. For as long as Louis could remember it had been Sarah who cared for him, looked after him when he was ill, kissed him better when he was hurt. The loving arms around him following childhood nightmares were always Sarah’s. The hand on to which he clung, terrified, on his first day at school was Sarah’s. His tears at cruel taunts from other children were mopped up by Sarah; she rejoiced with him at sports day triumphs, tended to his occasional sunburn and reprimanded him for being foolish enough to forget his sun block, fed him, clothed him and gently guided him into adulthood. That Sarah loved the Trevelyan children was beyond doubt, as was the fact that the feeling was mutual.

Once again, having never known any different, it never occurred to Louis to question who Sarah Lonsdale actually was, where she had come from, and why she never visited or even spoke of her own family.

Later on, following a hilarious conversation over dinner about a walk in the countryside involving a very vocal donkey, every type of weather imaginable and a group of walkers making weary attempts to climb over a style, Jenny was finally persuaded into her bed. Louis’s favourite time of the day was spent at the child’s bedside, reading stories to her as her breathing slowly deepened and she gave in to sleep. He often sat for a while after Jenny had disappeared to dreamland, lights and dark glasses both off, watching his beloved sister as she slept. Jenny had been an unexpected addition to the family, a very welcome addition as far as Louis was concerned, although he remembered his constant worries over his mother’s state of health during her pregnancy. Still at school himself at the time, he had relied even more than usual on the protective eye of Sarah Lonsdale. Happily, when Jenny had been born just over six years previously, she was totally unscathed by her mother’s unhealthy lifestyle. Louis absolutely adored his sister and made sure that Jenny’s life was as full of as much love and fun as possible.

Louis felt quite chilled by the time he finally roused himself from Jenny’s bedside. Must be because I’ve been sitting still for so long, Louis thought as he opened the bathroom door with a view to warming up in a hot bath.

When Louis recalled the next few moments of his life it seemed to him as though time slowed to a virtual standstill, so shocked was he by the scene that greeted him. Instead of the big, friendly bathroom with its freestanding bath and antique iron fireplace, so familiar to Louis all his life, there was a room he’d never seen before. It wasn’t an unpleasant room, but that didn’t make it any less alarming to Louis. It wasn’t his family home’s bathroom where his family home’s bathroom should be, and that shocked Louis to the core. Luckily for the sake of Louis’s delicate eyes, still unprotected by their dark glasses, the room was as dim as the unlit landing behind him.

Glancing back over his shoulder Louis found that, yes, the landing was still behind him.

Glancing again into the space that should have contained the bathroom, Louis was dismayed to find that the room was still as unfamiliar as it had been a few seconds before. Never renowned for his decisiveness, Louis remained where he was, clinging desperately on to the doorframe as if that were his last connection with reality, while his shocked brain made a valiant attempt to take in the scene before him.

As already mentioned, the room was not unpleasant; indeed, it looked rather luxurious. Beautiful silk curtains framed two large sash windows. Deep, exotic rugs covered sanded and sealed floorboards on either side of a large four-poster bed, and the furniture in the room was clearly of the highest quality. All this impressed itself into the back of Louis’s mind, but the luxury of the room dimmed into insignificance at the sight of the young man on the bed. Tall and slim, he was laying sprawled on top of the quilt, eyes closed and forehead creased in concentration. Louis took in light-brown, shoulder-length hair and well-defined features before the man’s eyes opened and he looked directly at Louis.

Louis had a moment to notice two things about the other man’s eyes; they were exactly the same colour as his hair and they were filled with anger. Almost as soon as Louis’s eyes made contact with those of the stranger, the scene faded from view, and the Trevelyan family bathroom was back in its rightful place.

Half an hour later Sarah came up the stairs to check on the frail Nicola Trevelyan, and was surprised to find Louis clinging to the doorway of the bathroom.

‘Louis, darling?’ said Sarah, laying a gentle hand on Louis’s shoulder, her eyes widening in alarm as he jumped violently. ‘Are you feeling OK, love?’

‘Sarah,’ gasped Louis, finally letting go of the bathroom doorframe and grabbing hold of her soft arms instead. ‘Have you ever seen anything…er…weird in the bathroom?’

‘Weird, love? What do you mean by weird?’

‘Well, has it ever turned into a room that’s not the bathroom? With a bloke it? Looking cross?’ Even as he spoke, Louis realised how ridiculous his words must sound to the down-to-earth Sarah.

However, Sarah’s reaction was not the one Louis would have expected. Instead of teasing him gently and telling him not to be so silly, she asked him exactly what he’d seen, her usually cheerful expression full of concern.

‘Well, it was a right nice room, with all t’stuff the toffs have, velvet and silk and that,’ said Louis, his northern accent thickening in his anxiety to express himself to Sarah. ‘There was a fella on t’bed, and he looked proper fed up…Sarah, what the bloody hell’s happened to me tonight?’ Louis’s voice trailed off as Sarah continued to gaze at him in concern.

‘I’m not sure, love,’ said Sarah finally, ‘but I’m glad it’s me you told. Sometimes it’s wise to be a little cautious about who you trust. Now,’ she continued, regaining her composure, ‘how about I run you a nice hot bath?’

Louis looked fearfully back into the bathroom, which remained the familiar room he’d known since childhood.

‘I’m not sure I’m up for spending too much time in the bathroom tonight, thanks, Sarah. Think I’ll leave it until the morning.’

‘OK, my love. How about I go and check up on your mam, then we’ll have a chat over some hot chocolate. Oooh, I made some ginger biscuits today too; we could give them a try. I hear you saw Abi today; how is she getting on…?’

Louis adored Sarah. She always knew exactly what to say to make him feel better no matter what life decided to throw at him. By the time he finally went to bed, full of biscuits (Gideon would not have approved!), he drifted quickly into a sleep filled with dreams not of strange rooms and angry men, but of laying in sunlight that didn’t burn his skin, running his fingers through Abi’s sleek hair.

The next day dawned warm and sunny; and even Louis, who had good reason to fear the sunlight, felt his spirits rise at the glimmer of light around the edges of his curtains. Jenny and Sarah were singing happily as Jenny got ready for school in the bathroom, which was clearly still a bathroom, and Louis felt unusually at ease with the world. The strange happenings of the previous evening seemed totally unreal in the light of a new day, and even the thought of another punishing training session with the grump that was Gideon couldn’t dampen his spirits. In actual fact Louis liked Gideon a lot, and he had a feeling, despite Gideon’s permanent bad mood, that the feeling was mutual. After all, why else would Gideon invest so much of his time in a reasonably good but totally unambitious gymnast?

Even in the reassuring light of the morning, Louis had no desire to spend too much time in the bathroom, so he showered quickly then grabbed his kit and hammered down the stairs two at a time.

‘Goodness, Louis, where’s the fire?’ asked Sarah, laughing affectionately at the young man’s haste.

‘No fire, just a ghost in the bathroom,’ replied Louis, returning Sarah’s laughter. ‘Don’t look so worried, Sarah, I’m joking…’

‘Eat! Now!’ said Sarah, swatting Louis’s arm. ‘I’ve no doubt that Gideon won’t think to feed you.’

‘Well, I’m lucky that you do think to feed me then. Oh, hello, Mam,’ said Louis, entering the big, cheerful kitchen and noting with surprise that Nicola Trevelyan was sitting at the table, sipping coffee.

‘Hello, dear,’ said Nicola. ‘How’s the training?’

‘Good thanks, Mam. How are you?’

‘Oh I’m fine, fine,’ said Nicola vaguely. ‘What is this stuff, Sarah?’

‘It’s toast, Mrs Trevelyan,’ said Sarah, her voice unusually disapproving. ‘Eat some; it’ll do you good!’

‘Or some Happy Pops, Mammy?’ said Jenny, offering her favourite cereal to her mother. Sarah noted sadly that both of Nicola’s children had so little contact with their mother that, whenever she appeared, they both did all they could to please her.

‘Oh, thank you, Genevieve, but I think they’re for you. I’ll have some of Sarah’s, um, toast.’

‘Mammy! No one calls me Genevieve any more, not even Miss Winter.’

‘What do you like to be called then, my little peach?’ asked Nicola, smiling weakly.

‘Jenny, Mammy. I’m Jenny, everyone knows that!’

‘And now I know too.’

‘Time for school, Missy,’ said Sarah, shunting Jenny upstairs to brush her teeth, and leaving Louis to attempt conversation with the stranger who was his mother.

‘So, how’s the training, Louis?’

‘As good as it was last time you asked, Mam,’ replied Louis patiently. ‘Why don’t you come along and watch today?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so, darling. That Giddy bloke scares me; he’s always so cross.’

The idea of anyone calling Gideon ‘Giddy’ to his face was so funny that Louis couldn’t help but laugh.

‘OK,’ he said impulsively, ‘at least walk with us to Jenny’s school! She’d love that so much.’

It was a high-spirited group that set off into the sunshine towards Applethwaite’s little primary school, Nicola having unexpectedly agreed to accompany her children on the short walk.

‘Sun block?’ yelled Jenny at her brother, following their usual morning ritual as the group prepared to leave the house.

‘On,’ replied Louis.

‘Sunhat?’

‘On.’

‘Dark glasses?’

‘On my nose, Miss Jenny!’

‘Why do you need them?’

‘Because of the sunlight – it burns my eyes!’ Curling his hands into claws, Louis let out a growl worthy of the most fearsome monster and raced off in pursuit of his delighted sister.

‘They’re so happy,’ said Nicola, watching her children with interest.

‘Indeed they are,’ replied Sarah. ‘They’re lovely young people, both of them.’

‘I know this, Sarah, and you must take credit for that. Heaven knows, Lysander and I have never been much use as parents!’

Not sure how to answer this, Sarah changed the subject.

‘I’ve got to nip off now, Mrs Trevelyan, but I’ll be back shortly. Louis always sees Jenny to school; they like it that way.’

By the time Louis and Jenny returned, still at full pelt and the pursuer now the pursued, Nicola was standing on her own.

‘Louis’s a rubbish monster; I’m a much better monster,’ yelled the child happily. ‘I’m ever so much more scary. Sponsors’ Fair this weekend, Mammy; will you be there? Daddy will!’

Full of energy, Jenny headed off once again at a run in the direction of Applethwaite Primary, leaving Nicola wondering why her daughter’s train of thought had jumped from monsters to Sponsors so readily.

‘Work it, Louis!’ yelled Gideon, fully alert today. ‘Work it, hold that, hold STILL, boy! Good. Very good.’

‘Enough?’ Louis asked breathlessly, having ‘worked it’ for what seemed like decades. To his surprise Gideon, in an unusually good mood, agreed.

‘Yes, that’ll do for today, Louis. Grab yourself a shower!’

‘Will you wait here, or am I locking up again?’

‘Questions, always too many questions. Get in the shower!’

Having fallen foul of Gideon’s mood swings many times in the past, Louis did as he was told.

‘Oh no, not you again,’ said Louis in dismay, opening the shower room door and stepping into the luxurious room he had found in his family home’s bathroom the previous night.

‘WHAT?’ Gideon yelled from behind him.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ Louis called hastily, looking over his shoulder to where all was normality, before stepping a bit further into where all was not.

The view of the room was different this time. The bed was directly on his left, and sunlight was streaming in through the windows beyond. Discovering to his surprise that he didn’t need the protection of his dark glasses in this weird otherworld, and that his eyes functioned perfectly well for once, Louis found his gaze drawn to the view beyond the window. Tops of clearly mature trees framed the uppermost storeys of a large, red-brick house on the opposite side of what Louis deduced to be a wide street. Wherever this room was, it was obviously a very affluent area. Looking around him for the young man, Louis found him sitting at a desk in the corner of the room.

‘Who are you?’ he whispered.

The young man was clearly aware of Louis’s presence, as he turned and looked directly at Louis. However, as soon as the two men made eye contact the scene once again faded, and Louis found himself in the shower room of Gideon’s studio, the harsh light burning his sensitive eyes.

Having showered, with the lights off, Louis found that Gideon was still sitting in his favourite spot in the corner of the studio.

‘What the bloody hell were you talking to yourself for? You going mad like your mother?’ asked Gideon rudely.

Louis gazed steadily at Gideon, deciding it would be futile to try and defend his mother’s honour. Impulsively, he decided to trust Gideon as he’d trusted Sarah the night before, his desire to make sense of his visions overriding his fear of looking a fool.

‘Gideon, I keep seeing a room I don’t know with a man I don’t know in it.’

‘That makes even less sense than most of your puerile utterings, Trevelyan. Stop gabbling or stop wasting my time!’

Louis was undeterred by Gideon’s bad temper, having encountered it so many times before.

‘OK, I’ve started telling you so I may as well finish…’

‘BLOODY HELL, TREVELYAN, YOU’RE NOT PRESENTING MASTERMIND!’

Still undeterred, Louis told Gideon. He told Gideon everything, slowly and clearly, about the previous night’s occurrence then the scene that had just played out in the shower. Louis had been expecting a number of reactions from Gideon – disbelief, mockery maybe, anger. What he hadn’t expected was to be believed. Yes, Gideon was angry, his face crimson as he reached out and grabbed Louis’s shirt, but clearly he believed what Louis had told him. Pulling the younger man close, he said urgently,

‘Don’t you ever, ever blab about this! Don’t you tell a soul!’

Shocked by the unprecedented physical contact with his mentor, Louis found refuge in humour.

‘Actually, Gideon, I was thinking of telling as many people who will listen. Crazy albino has visions…’

‘Do not treat this lightly!’ Gideon cut in, his quiet voice actually far more impressive than his usual full volume. ‘Don’t tell a soul! Trust no one! You haven’t told anyone, have you?’

‘Well…’

‘Who, you bloody idiot? Who have you told?’

‘Only Sarah, Gideon. If I can’t trust her, who can I trust?’

Gideon regarded Louis steadily for a few moments before replying.

‘Yes. You can trust Sarah, but I’d still ask you not to talk about this. Be careful, Louis, and do not go looking for the room or the man you have seen.’

‘You believe me then?’ asked Louis, eyes wide behind his dark glasses

‘Yes, I believe you. If this man appeals  to you again, ignore him. It’s not safe to follow these visions, not safe at all. Don’t put yourself at risk, Louis, and DO NOT talk about this idly!’

‘You almost sound like you care about me, Gideon,’ said Louis, laughing nervously in a bid to break the tension.

Gideon didn’t reply.

***********************

So there you have it. The beginning of DORY’S AVENGERS. I hope you enjoyed it; and who knows? I may sneak chapter two on here some time between now and 29 August.


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