Chapter Eight: The Finale

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It was lucky that Mac did not pass any speed cameras as she pushed her Beetle to its limits.  She retraced her route back past The Black Horse Inn, through Market Higham and then took the next right-hand turn, leading to Hatton Cross.

Hatton Cross was either a large hamlet or a very small village.  It did not have a shop of its own and its pub had closed its doors to the thirsty and the hungry a few years previously, Mac guessed from the state it was in.

Driving slowly through Hatton Cross, she scoured every nook and cranny for an envelope, a balloon or anything else that The Magician might have left for her.  It wasn’t until she had exited the village that she noticed a red balloon tied to a hedge.

Without looking for a place to park the car, she just stopped and got out, running over to the balloon to fetch the next, and hopefully the final envelope, which she opened as she ran back to the Beetle.

The end is in sight, Miss Jones.  Go to Flinders Forest.  Drive the car down the track into the woods and then pull over when you reach a fence that blocks your path. Then travel on foot according to the directions below:

N300, NE104, E54, NW276, W192, SE83

The gravestone marks the spot.

She picked the map up from the passenger seat and located the forest. She had approximately a four or five mile drive in front of her.  She started the car and went.  On the way she made one last phone call.

‘I’m on my way to the forest.  How long do I have left?’

‘Twenty two minutes.’

‘Is that all?’

‘I am afraid so.’

‘Is it enough?’

‘I can’t answer that.’

‘It isn’t is it?  You and your bloody game,’ she hissed.  Mac was the first to hang up this time.  It took all the strength she could muster to remain calm and composed as the thoughts of what her grandmother was going through threatened her self-control again.

Ten minutes later, she had parked the car by the fence and was looking at the instructions.  What can the numbers mean?  Think, Mac, think!  The only answer she could come up with was that the letters referred to compass directions and the numbers steps. 

She quickly paced out the first twenty or so steps to gauge the distance between one footstep and the next and then broke out into a run.

100 steps.

The trees were spaced quite far apart, which aided Mac in her run through the woods.

200 steps.

As she ran, she trained her eyes to look immediately at the ground in front of her to ensure that there was nothing to trip her up, and then back up and straight in front so she could see where she was going.

300 steps.

She stopped, turned to the north-east and started moving again. 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5...25, 26...

The incline increased slightly and she began breathing heavily.

71, 72, 73...100, 101, 102, 103, 104.

She stopped, faced east and again broke out into a run.

19, 20, 21...36, 37, 38...49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54.

Then north-west.

100...150...200...250...273, 274, 275, 276.

West.

 1, 2, 3...51, 52, 53...112, 113, 114...141, 142, 143...188, 189, 190, 191, 192.

She was almost there.  She wanted to call out to her Gran that she was coming, if she could only hold on, but the warning about talking to anyone other than The Magician or herself rang in her ears. 

She was now moving south-east, but the tree density was thicker here and she couldn’t see that far ahead.  She had to negotiate around tree trunks that blocked her path, and branches that wouldn’t let her pass.

38, 39, 40, 41...

She stepped around an old oak and resumed her path.

54, 55, 56, 57...

The forest was silent and the beating of her heart pounded inside her head.

71, 72, 73 - BANG! The echo of a gunshot reverberated all around her; birds were scared out of the trees and took to the skies.

‘No! No! No!  I am here!’ she screamed, counting out the last ten paces which brought her to a tree that had a red arrow carved on to it.  She turned to the direction it was pointing to and there, less than a hundred yards away was a gravestone.

‘I’m here, Gran!  I’m here!’ she called out, forgetting the rules and barely able to see through the tears that were flowing freely down her face unnoticed.  She reached the grave which had “Iphigenia” carved in gothic script across its face and fell to her knees.

She began scraping away at the disturbed mound of earth which lay in front of the headstone.

‘I’m coming,’ she sobbed, ‘I’m coming,’ trying her best to dig through the soil with her bare hands.

After what seemed an eternity she scraped the skin off the tops of her fingers as she hit wood and the top of the coffin.  She uncovered the edges so she could pull the lid off but was bemused when she found it was only two feet wide and three feet long.  Her confusion stopped her crying.

She finally pried off the lid, but now blood was trickling down her fingers.  She flipped the wooden cover back to find the box was empty, except for another phone and a letter.  She reached in to grab them, now feeling utterly exhausted, perplexed and yet thankful that her grandmother wasn’t lying there, dead.

The phone rang before she had a chance to do anything.

‘It seems you were not quick enough, Miss Jones.  Time ran out.’

‘Where’s my grandmother?’

‘Now, don’t get cross with me.’ The Magician paused.  ‘Your grandmother is safe and sound back in Bramblesgrove with the rest of your family.’

‘She’s at home?’  Mac started crying again with relief.  ‘She’s at home?  She was never here was she?  She was never in any danger?  How can you be so cruel?  All of this for your stupid little game?’

‘This is a warning, Miss Jones.  I like you, and for that you are lucky.  Iphigenia could so easily have been dead in that box.  Think of that next time you see your grandmother, and remember this kindness I have offered you.’

Kindness?  Kindness?  You have put me through hell.’

‘I spared your grandmother.  I didn’t have to.  You did not complete the challenge I set you in the allotted time and you are still alive because I will it.  The other contestants were not so lucky.  Be grateful.’  Then the phone went dead.

Mac then completely broke down. On the one hand she was so relieved that this hadn’t been The Game she had been led to believe back in The Magician’s lair, but on the other he had emotionally tortured her for nothing more than his amusement.

She didn’t know how long she spent curled up crying in the dirt.  When she calmed down she noticed the unopened letter in front of her.  Ripping the top off, she pulled out the expensive stationary and read the words written in the now familiar spidery hand:

Congratulations, Miss Jones.  The Game did not claim any blood sacrifices this time, but be in no doubt, you will hear from me again. The Magician

 THE  END

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Thank you so much for taking the time to read The Magician, An Andromache Jones Mystery.  I really appreciate it.  I hope you enjoyed getting to know Andromache Jones as much as I loved to share this short story with you.  As always any feedback or comments are warmly received, so do please let me know what you think.  Thanks again. Have a great day!

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