In the story so far, Jim has lost his girlfriend Saz and Martin his wife Marian in a clearing in the woods near the village of Normanton. Strange for trees have appeared in the same clearing. Both men set out for the village, seemingly drawn there. Meanwhile Patrick Novel has followed his daughter to the same clearing hunting his wife Wanda. When he sees what appeared to be a face in the latest fir tree he faints while the face winks at the little girl.
The village of Normanton fully fitted the description ‘sleepy’. Indeed ‘village’ rather overstated the actuality. Once there had been a range of shops, now whittled down to a prefab store attached to the Code Breakers, the one surviving public house.
The pub’s name gave a clue to the area’s recent history. For centuries a mix of farmland, mostly arable, and forestation it had housed a small and extremely secret decoding establishment, first set up in 1915 and expanded in the late 1930s. As the Cold war took hold the main centre for listening and code breaking moved west to the outskirts of Cheltenham and the facility appeared to fall into disuse. In fact, the centre remained active but its level of security was such that less than a dozen people knew of its continued existence. The authorities put it about that certain radioactive materials had been used at the centre which meant the grounds were still unsafe to enter and that the people who visited on a regular basis were merely ensuring the still polluted areas remained secure. Since the exact whereabouts of the centre wasn’t known and the locals not disturbed by the few vehicles that passed through, generally in the early hours, it barely rated a mention.
Next to the pub sat the village hall. It was to this squat red brick building that Martin and Jimmy headed. They had fallen into step with each other shortly after Patrick lost sight of them but had not exchanged a word as they walked steadily on. They both stopped under the ornate shield that sat over the village hall’s door. The Shield displayed the crest of the landed family which had owned Normanton Hall until 1937.
Inside the village hall, a jumble sale had just opened. The villagers were nearly all inside, only Doris Flannagan and Patricia Sopes sat outside, manning the table where they collected the 50 pence entrance money. The two ladies were in face twin sisters, born prematurely and each disabled, neither able to speak. When they saw Jimmy and Martin they nodded and pointed towards the back of the hall. Two doors indicated the male and female toilets. Between them the door to the accessible toilet began to swing open. Jimmy and Martin nodded to the two women, smiled and headed for the cubicle.
Both men’s gazes were fixed on the door so they didn’t notice the villagers who moved to one side as they passed. They failed to spot that each villager had some form of disability – one missing a limb, another blind, or deaf, two more with mutism. All except one woman who stood in the middle of the balcony and beadily followed the path the two men took. As the door swung shut behind them and the villagers began to talk again as they circled the tables of second hand clothes and shoes, toys and books, she lifted her wrist to her mouth and, speaking quietly said, ‘He wasn’t with them. I’ll go and find him.’