NZ Forest Native Birds
Extract from Riders of the White Unicorn by Laraine Anne Barker

Chapter 2
Girl Trouble

“I’m sorry Lisa. I don’t remember saying anything like that.” Mark didn’t look up from working on his bicycle, but there was a note of desperation in his voice. He’d lost count of the times over the past three months that Lisa Marksby had insisted he’d said something at her birthday ball that he couldn’t remember. The trouble was, he thought bitterly, that he couldn’t remember anything about the evening at all. It was terribly embarrassing. Although he had gone out of his way not to be rude to Lisa, he found her persistence in seeking his company almost unbelievable.

     Mark could all but feel Lisa’s gaze on the back of his headwas very much aware that she wanted him to stop work and give her his full attention. “It’s Bill, isn’t it? He’s been at you again. He gave you that black eye, didn’t he? He’s changed so much. He used to be quite anti violence. Now he’s nothing but a great big bully. But you don’t have to put up with it, you know. You’ve only got to stand up to a bully to make him back down.”

      Mark wished that she’d lower her voice. His mother was out in the garden weeding, and the concrete-lined walls of the garage magnified every sound. He stood up and looked straight into Lisa’s lovely blue eyes: eyes full of the hurt, bewilderment and fury of rejectioneyes starting to fill with increasing scorn. Anger now joined Mark’s embarrassment. He considered he didn’t deserve her scorn.

      “Do you think I let his fist give me this shiner?” he hissed. “And, in case you haven’t noticed, Bill’s a bit too big for me to stand up to.” He drew in a deep, steadying breath. “I think it might be a good idea, Lisa, if we stopped seeing each other altogether.”

      “But that’s just itwe haven’t been ‘seeing’ each other,” Lisa cried, stamping her foot. “Every time I’ve asked you to go out with me since my birthday you’ve had something more important to do. After the good time we had at my ball I thought you liked me. What’s changed your mind? Aren’t I pretty enough? Or are you sorry all those other girls have cooled off?”

      Mark’s desperation and embarrassment increased. He strove to think of something to say that would get him off the hook while not adding to that dreadful hurt look in Lisa’s eyes. “Of course I like you, Lisa. And you’re prettier than most of the other girls I know. It’s just thatwell, I promised not to tell anyonebut ... there’s ... a girl ...I don’t see very often. We-we’re sort of engaged.”

      Mark didn’t know why he told such a ludicrous lie. The trouble was it didn’t seem like a lie. And his mind’s eye could even see the girl he was talking about: hair fringed in front and reaching unfashionably past her waist in shining blue-black waves; large dark eyes in a pale-complexioned faceeyes that were both haunted and haunting in the intensity of their gaze.

      Lisa stared at him in astonishment. “But you’re too young to get engaged. You’re not even sixteen!”

      Mark gave a little grimace like a half-smile. “And she’s only about fifteen.”

      Lisa carried on staring at him. Mark tried to meet her gaze with a steady one of his own, all the time reminding himself that his mother could always tell from his eyes when he was lying.

      “What’s her name?” Mark suspected at once Lisa wasn’t really interested. She was merely testing him.

      “Esmé Lazarone.” He didn’t know where he got the surname from, but he had always known that Esmé was the name of the girl who had been haunting him night and day for more than two yearsthe girl who made all other girls appear boring and plainwho was the reason he didn’t want to date anyone else. I must remember that name, he told himself, but promptly forgot it.

      Lisa continued looking at him steadily. Mark hadn’t hesitated in giving her the girl’s name, she reminded herself. He couldn’t have so convincingly made up such a strange, foreign-sounding name on the spur of the moment. Her own pride wouldn’t let her consider, however briefly, that he might have had the name ready. As she couldn’t trust herself to make an answer, she turned on her heel with a toss of her short, blonde hair and walked out.

      She didn’t hear the rather uncertain “Hello, Lisa” that Mark’s mother gave her as she marched out of the garage and up the drive: she didn’t even hear the greeting and her eyes were too full of hot, angry tears to see the speaker. From now on, Lisa decided, she would snub Mark Willoughby. When she was a grandmother she would probably look back on this incident in her life with amusement, and wonder what on earth she had seen in Mark to make her chase hima boy a whole year younger than herselfwith a lack of shame so much out of keeping with her character.

      But right now she couldn’t believe how badly it hurt. Had all those other boys whom she had refused to go out with felt as bad as this?

Mark spent the rest of that Sunday afternoon in misery, expecting at any moment to get a ticking off from his mother for his apparently obnoxious treatment of a girl for whom Mrs Willoughby had developed great affection. However, it wasn’t his mother but his older brother Adam who entered his room before dinner while he was reviewing his homework. Adam put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and asked gruffly, “What’s the matter, kiddo? Girl trouble again?”

      Mark looked up at Adam rather resentfully. Adam, it seemed to him, had never had “girl trouble”. His fiancée Julie had been his girlfriend for as long as Mark could remember. “Mum put you up to this, didn’t she? She heard Lisa and me talking in the garage and thinks I treated Lisa badly.”

      “She and Dad are worried about you. You’re getting into a lot of fights lately. For obvious reasons she thinks it might be girl trouble and that I’d be the best person to talk to you. Goodness knows why. I never had the girls falling all over me they way they fall over you.”

      “It’s not funny!” Mark protested. “Ever since her birthday ball Lisa’s been chasing me and her brother Bill seems to think I’m encouraging her.”

      “Oh, so that’s where you got that black eye. I did wonder.” Adam frowned thoughtfully. “Bill used to be quite a likeable sort, but he’s changed into a hulking great bully and has the strange idea that every male who looks at his sister is after her, and that the only answer is fisticuffs. Shall I have a word with himwarn him that assault is a criminal offence and if we have any more trouble from him we’ll report it to the police?”

      “No! No!” Mark cried in panic. “He’ll stop giving me trouble now. Lisa won’t be chasing me any more. I told her I thought we shouldn’t see each other again and she flounced out on me.” He hadn’t put it very well, Mark thought as soon as he had spoken. It made him sound thoroughly callous.

      Adam just looked at himand it was difficult to read how he interpreted Mark’s statement. “It seems a shame to throw away the friendship of a girl like Lisa because of a bully like Bill Marksby. I still think we should let him know if he comes near you again we’ll tell the police.”

      “I’d rather you didn’t,” Mark insisted.

      “What if he gets it into his thick skull that throwing his sister over is even worse than apparently leading her on?”

      “He won’t.” Mark silently prayed that he was right. “I’m sure Lisa will tell him she threw me over.” He hoped that this would satisfy Adam. But he should have known better. Adam could be very persistent when he set his mind to it. “Mum said Lisa was very upset when she left this afternoon. What on earth did you say that made her ‘flounce out’?”

      Mentally Mark drew in a deep breath. Well, here goes, he thought. “I told her there was another girl.”

      Adam looked surprised. “And is there?”

      “Yes. But I don’t want to talk about it.” Mark averted his face from Adam’s shrewd glance.

      Adam looked as though about to ask another question but apparently thought better of it. “All right. But promise me you’ll let me know if Bill Marksby bothers you again.”

      Mark gave a watery grin. “Okay, I will.”

      Adam returned the grin. “Beats me what you’ve got that I haven’t,” he said as he opened the door. He went out laughing, neatly dodging the book that Mark threw at him.

      Mark looked at the closed door. He didn’t echo Adam’s laugh. He didn’t even smile.

      “A great, hulking, evil wizard. That’s what I’ve got that you haven’t,” he said in a whisper. And even as he spoke he saw Ignarius’s facethe black hair and beard streaked with silver, the white teeth showing in an evil grin, the dark eyes with their triumphant gleam. Mark blinked and the apparition was gone as quickly as it had come, leaving him shaken. For a moment the face had seemed so real. He rubbed his eyes. It was only a dream: I must have nodded off, he told himself. Resolutely he went back to his homework.

After dinner in the evening Mark often went down the road to the home of a friend who had managed to save enough money to buy himself a computer. They told their parents they were working but most of the time they simply played games on the machine.

      This Sunday evening seemed no different from any other. The road where Mark lived was usually busy but at this time of the week there was little traffic around. All the same, he was too busy concentrating on getting across the street safely to notice the figure slouched on a wall at the bus stop. It wasn’t until the figure slowly uncrossed its long legs and started walking towards him that he realised there was anyone else around. His heart lurched as he saw that the figure approaching him was Bill Marksby. But it was too late to do anything about itBill was already blocking his path.

      “Going to see your precious girlfriend, the imaginary Esmé Lazarone?” Bill taunted with a sneer.

      Mark gaped at him. “How did you know heroh, of course. Lisa told you.”

      Bill grabbed the front of Mark’s tee-shirt and knotted the fabric around his hand. He pulled Mark so close that his twisted, furious face all but filled Mark’s range of vision. He spoke through clenched teeth. “Lisa tried to make out she walked out on you. But I know better. She’s been crying all afternoon.”

      Bill drew his free hand back towards his shoulder and balled it into a fist. But he never threw the intended punch. Mark saw his eyes widen in horror as they both felt the ground fall away beneath them. Then Bill’s fingers were torn from his shirt and they were thrown off their feet.

      Earthquake! Mark’s mind screamed at him as he felt himself slide downwards. At any moment he expected great chunks of pavement to close over his head, crushing him and bringing darkness. Neither came. But he couldn’t believe how quickly the ground opened up. In less than a second he found himself sliding on his back in what seemed a very wide holea hole that surely hadn’t been made by an earthquake in a suburban main street.

      The world that he knew must have been many metres above him, for the sky, suddenly covered in white cloud, looked like a strip bounded on two sides by a stony slope. Then, as soon as he took this in, he realised he was no longer at home. And there hadn’t been an earthquake.

      Before he could quite work out where he was he saw two small, white faces peering down at him. Both were framed in hoodsone white and one blackand beneath the hoods he could see cloaks that reached almost to the ground. The two figures looked unreal, like something from a dream.

      Mark’s heart gave a lurch as he began to remember things he’d forgotten. He scrambled to his feet. Slipping and sliding on snowdrifts and loose rock and scree, he started to make his way towards those two still, waiting figures. He heard Bill behind him doing the same.

      Mark’s memory of Esmé and Lazaronia came back in a flood. And he knew there could be only one reason why he’d been called back. But there was, he thought, something strange about the way he’d been summoned. It had certainly been very unpleasant. And something was definitely wrong. For surely he shouldn’t have brought Bill with him?

      Anxiously he scanned the faces of the two cloaked figures. Esmé obviously hadn’t recognised him yet. She seemed to be staring into space. Ilsamere was looking past him in rapture. She must have taken a shine to Bill’s blond good looks, Mark thought dryly. Then he looked back at Esmé. She still hadn’t recognised him. She was, in fact, looking straight past him. It was almost as though he wasn’t there.

      Then the figure in black was running recklessly down the loose scree with outstretched arms. She ran past both Mark and Bill as though they didn’t exist. And when Mark turned in open-mouthed astonishment he saw the wizard standing at the bottom of the slope.

© L A Barker Enterprises
All rights reserved

Did you enjoy this complete chapter? After I’d written it I did something very stupid that lost me the whole chaptermore than two weeks’ work! I had to write it all over again. That was a long time ago and I now have a special recovery program for when I lose work before managing to back it up. It has happened sincemy own stupid fault again, of coursebut at least I didn’t have to rewrite the lost file.

To send your comments or questions email me.

Third extract from Riders of the White Unicorn

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