I hope this chapter comes off as I intend! Much love x
Jenny jolted awake suddenly, a yelp being wrenched from her lips as she wrestled with the tangled bed sheets to free herself. Breathing hard and shaking from head to toe, she flung her legs out of the side of the bed and staggered over to the wall, fingering frantically in the dark for the light switch. Blinding light blazed in her retinas harshly and she squinted, her eyes darting around her bedroom as her breathing slowly began to steady.
There was nothing there. It had all been a dream. A horrible and deeply disturbing dream.
I suppose I should be used to them by now, she thought with a sigh as she made her way to her bathroom. It wasn't exactly the first time she'd dreamt about that bloody Gorgonopsid. In fact he'd been a frequent visitor in her dreams for a week. At least.
With another deep sigh, she leant over the sink as she allowed the panic to dissipate slowly. She could feel that she was still trembling slightly, and her chest was damp with cold sweat. Was she ever going to get a decent night's sleep again?
Glancing up at herself in the mirror, she double-took immediately, her already fragile heart palpitating again. Her hair was a deep shade of auburn. She blinked in confusion at herself again, tilting her head to the side and drinking in her appearance with wide eyes. Then she shook herself mentally, almost chuckling. Her hair had always been auburn. And her name was Claudia – heaven knows why she had thought of herself by that other name . . . she didn't even know anyone called Jenny for goodness sake.
A sudden pain shot through the side of her stomach and she doubled over with a groan, clutching at her side. What the hell was going on with her? Then as quickly as the ache appeared, it vanished. Breathing steadily, cautious in case the mysterious pain re-doubled upon movement, she straightened and slowly pulled her vest top up to view the tender area.
There was nothing there. No marks, no swelling, nothing.
"God, you need a good night's sleep Claudia," she mumbled to herself as she let her top fall back over her pale stomach.
She reached forward and turned the tap on, cupping her hands to catch the icy water and splash it over her face. The shock of the coldness seemed to make her slightly more alert, although she still felt that something was amiss. She remembered it was only yesterday that she'd confided in Nick that she hadn't been sleeping well, but the nightmares were only part of why she felt disconcerted. Even now, she couldn't seem to shake off a disturbing feeling that something was wrong.
She glanced up at herself in the mirror again, expecting to see her dripping wet reflection starting back at her, but with the same jolt of panic that she had experienced twice before in as many minutes, she instead found herself staring into glistening shards of light twinkling where her image should have been.
An anomaly. In her mirror.
With a gasp of horror she staggered backwards until her back hit the shower cubicle, clapping her hands to her eyes. It's not real, she told herself, the same way she had when she had seen the it in the home office mirror merely hours ago. You're just tired, her mind insisted, it's just your brain playing tricks with you . . .
Forcing her breathing steady and convincing herself that she was imagining things, she let her hand fall away from her eyes and looked into the mirror again. She saw only her own tired and scared-looking reflection staring back at her.
The Forest of Dean felt crowded around the anomaly, soldiers carrying equipment here and here, and the team milling around talking quietly in small groups. Claudia made a point of standing away from everyone, preferring her own company than standing within any proximity to Helen Cutter. Even thinking about her as Helen 'Cutter' made her stomach squirm with what she was fairly certain was jealousy. The fact that she shared a last name with Nick tied her to him in a way that she could do nothing about and acted as a constant reminder that the man she was rapidly beginning to fall for was already married. And not to some ordinary housewife – oh no, Helen Cutter was Nick's type through and through. Adventurous, daring, exciting – everything Claudia was not. They seemed made for each other. How could she herself compare? Any yet . . .
It was you he kissed, a perilous voice piped up in her head. It's you he stares at when he thinks you're not looking . . .
She glanced around and saw that Nick was walking up to her, wearing that same haunted smile he so often donned. Helen really hurt him, she thought as she returned his smile with an uneasy one of her own. She doesn't deserve him. Perhaps he knows that.
"You alright?" he asked as he stopped in front of her, his voice seeped in the same comforting tone she had long since associated with him. He did have a way of putting her at ease, even in the most hopeless situations. And for some reason, what they were about to do seemed to fill her with more panic than she had felt even when they were trapped in the golf hotel by the prehistoric birds.
Claudia nodded untruthfully. "What happens if it closes whilst you're on the other side?" she asked, trying to sound unconcerned, although she could tell by the knowing smile he gave her that it hadn't quite come across as she'd hoped.
"We wait until it reopens," he answered simply.
Oh yes Nick, because it's really going to be that straight forward isn't it? she almost said, but she held her tongue and nodded, not wanting to seem like the only one with concerns.
"I think we should get going," Helen's obnoxious voice piped up as she shouldered her backpack, her cold eyes glancing at where Cutter and Claudia stood.
Fighting the urge to utter an extremely descriptive profanity at the woman, Claudia looked back up at Nick. He gave her a small smile and turned to follow his wife towards the anomaly, but as he did so, a complete and utter feeling of dread came from nowhere and washed over her. This was wrong. They shouldn't be going through with this. They were messing with things they didn't understand.
"Don't go," Claudia blurted out wildly, reaching forward and grabbing his arm to halt him in his tracks. He turned, looking pleasantly surprised by her outburst. "Stay," she pleaded, aware that people were staring at them but at the same time not caring. "This is a mistake," she insisted, trying to make him understand that something wasn't right. "I've got a really bad feeling about this."
"It's going to be fine," he said reassuringly, reaching forward to lightly touch her arm. "I'll see you soon," he added in a falsely cheery voice.
No you won't, she thought hopelessly as she watched him turn and walk away from her. Someway . . . somehow . . . she knew that if he went through that anomaly with Helen, she'd never see him again.
"Do you think I should make a speech?" Lester asked sarcastically as he walked up behind her, as usual hiding his agitation under a thick layer of snarky comments. "One small step for man . . . that kind of thing?"
But Claudia was barely listening. There was something she needed to do, and she couldn't help but think it might be her last chance to do it. "Maybe some other time," she replied, distracted as she marched forward.
She caught Nick as he was about to walk through the glittering light and wheeled him round. It was complete and utter madness – dozens of people were looking, one of them her boss. But at that moment, it didn't seem to matter. She grabbed the collar of Nick's jacket and pulled him to her until his startled lips met hers. She held him there for a few seconds before she realised that he wasn't responding. Mortification setting in, she pulled back, but before she could catch her breath his lips crushed into hers again. He pulled her close, his hands travelling up her back. She wrapped her arms around his neck as the kiss intensified, completely and utterly lost in him. His lips, his touch, his smell . . . it was like nothing or nobody else in the world existed.
But it was over all too soon and the harshness of the world set in again as she pulled back, her eyes fluttering open. Nick was watching her, his expression as hard to read as ever, but she was certain that she could see a mixture of surprise and elation in the deep pools of those blue eyes. But far from being happy about the prospects that kiss had just opened, a deep and terrible sorrow set in as she turned to walk away, her hand slipping slowly from his.
Four hours had passed since Cutter and Helen had lead a team through the anomaly, and Claudia was pacing up and down, her dread mounting with each passing minute. She glanced back at the rest of the team to see Abby and Connor talking in quiet, hushed voices and Stephen holding out the compass to check that the anomaly was not growing weaker, a concerned look on his handsome features. Lester was talking with a couple of the soldiers – issuing them with orders no doubt – and everyone else stood around, their postures stiff and apprehensive. She could practically hear all of their worried thoughts buzzing in her head, and it was becoming too much for her to bear.
Nibbling as her bottom lip nervously, Claudia glanced around at the forest surrounding them, feeling the strange sensation that the trees were pressing in on her. Claustrophobia setting in, Claudia turned her heel and walked away into the distance, needing some space away from the tense atmosphere or else she was going to go stir crazy. Nick had been gone a long time. With no way to contact them, the rest of the team had no choice but to wait and wonder what was happening on the other side of the anomaly.
Her shoes crunched dully on the thick layer of leaves and sticks on the ground as she wandered on aimlessly, finding the peace and quiet of being alone calming. Had they found the future anomaly yet? Surely if they hadn't they'd be back by now . . .
All of a sudden, a surging pain struck her in the chest and she doubled over with a yelp. It was as though she'd been hit in the sternum with a sledge hammer. Disorientated, eyes watering with the pain, she staggered against a tree; her vision clouding as she clutched at her chest. She tried to cry out for help, but when she opened her mouth no words would come out. It was like someone had stolen her voice. Panting with the effort it was taking her to keep breathing, she caught a glimpse of her hand as she tried to keep herself upright against the bark, and she noticed with a sickening stab that her fingers looked as though they were fading. She gasped, raising her hand up in front of her face to study it further. The invisibleness appeared to be creeping steadily up her arm, making her flesh melt away into nothingness as she watched, powerless. Choking back the tears, she looked around frantically . . . the trees seemed to be closing in on her . . . suffocating her . . .
Another stabbing pain shot across her chest and she screamed. She didn't know what was happening to her, only that she'd never been in this much pain in her life. Her knees buckled and she felt herself falling into emptiness.
Jenny's body jolted violently as she was shocked for the second time by the paramedics in the back of the ambulance. Cutter looked away, tears stinging in his eyes and bile rising in his throat. The defibrillator hummed with electricity as the medic held out the paddles; his eyes busy studying the ECG screen for any sign of a heartbeat.
"Again!" he shouted once it was clear that shock had had no effect.
"Charging two hundred," the other paramedic replied, fiddling with the machine.
The paddles were placed on Jenny's chest again and she surged fiercely, the sight as horrifying to behold as it had been the past two times.
Cutter looked away again, squeezing his eyes shut against the painful hole in his chest. Guilt flooded into it, squirming inside him as though it was a living thing . . .
Then he heard the words that he'd never in a million years thought to hear, but that he would have given the world to hear all the same.
"There's a heartbeat."