All along the dark road back through the forest, none of us had anything to say. Even Seeward sensed that there was something sadder in the back of that chip shop than he understood. The professor was dumb. I had my head in my hands, dumb and blind to everything, beyond sadness.
Suddenly, at the end of the narrow ribbon of road in front of us, we saw two motorbikes coming towards us. They stopped a short distance ahead of us and one of them gestured to Seeward to stop.
“The Forestry Police,” said Seeward, stopping the vehicle.
The two policemen leant their motorbikes against two tree trunks, and came to the car.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Seeward,” said one of them. He had three stripes on his sleeve. “We’re on or round. Is there anything to report?”
“Nothing, Sergeant,” said Seeward. “Everything looks very quiet.”
“Splendid. Who are these men with you?”
“A relative of mine, and a friend.”
“Have they got permits to come into the forest?”
“They should have.”
“I’m the Deputy Chief Inspector of this forest, and they’re with me. Isn’t that enough?”
“It isn’t, I’m afraid. We’ll have to bring them in. And you too, Mr. Seeward.”
“What did you say?” said Seeward.
“They have broken the law by coming into the forest without an official Government permit, and you have broken the law by bringing them. This is going to cost you dearly, Mr. Seeward. Your job, I’m afraid…”
“Now, look here…”
“Out of the car, please. Constable, will you call Car 33X on your radio? It should be near Ruin 21…”
As soon as the sergeant turned his head, Seeward started the car and mved off. The constable jumped out of the way. Then I heard shots. The car swerved to the right and left like a drunkard, and then stopped.
“They’ve shot the wheels,” said Seeward.
We heard the sound of the two policemen running after us.
“If I lose my job,” said Seeward, “my life won’t be worth living. And as for you two… goodness knows what they’ll do to you. There’s only one thing for it.”
He leapt into the back of the car, and pulled a shiny tool out of its socket. I saw the bold letters: DEATHWIND.
“No, Philip, not that,” said the professor.
But Seeward had opened the back door of the vehicle. I heard a sound like a hiss of wind, then a scream. I turned my head, and the two policemen were writhing on the ground. I put my hands over my eyes.
When I opened them, Seeward was staring back and forth between the two dead bodies on the road and at the deadly dispenser in his hand, like man who’d lost his mind.
“You’ve… murdered them?” said the professor.
“Don’t say that word!” barked Seeward. And then. More quietly, “You don’t know how much murder goes on in this country nowadays. Everyone has the makings of a murderer these days. And everyone’s in danger of being murdered. It’s a country that’s gone mad, and I’ve had enough of it. And I’ve had more than enough of this damned forest. It dehumanises everyone who works here. And I wouldn’t have tried to rise to Inspector unless an Inspector was safer than an ordinary worker. Or so I thought.”
“What will you do, Philip? They’ll catch you.”
“They will, probably. But there’s one way out. There’s a group of us, a secret group, formed a few years ago in case any of us might be in danger. Almost everyone important, in a senior job, is a member of such a group. If I can get to a particular place near Harlech in time, I can get the submarine or the plane to Ireland. And both of you will have to come with me.”
“There’s no ‘but’. Come on. Help me.” Seeward jumped out of the vehicle. “Powell, you take those two motorbikes and throw them somewhere in the trees. I’ll try to hide the bodies.”
At the time I felt neither terror nor shame at the fact I was helping a murderer. I was too afraid to do anything except obey. I took the two motorcycles one at a time into the depths of the forest, and gathered a heap of branches and pine needles over them. It was a clumsy hiding job, but at least the shiny metal couldn’t be seen from the road. When I went back to the vehicle Seeward was dragging the second body into the forest.
He came back shortly afterward.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “There was a pool of water, deep enough to cover them… Now, what about this vehicle?” He examined the wheels. “Luckily only the back wheels got it. I have two spare wheels. Help me, Powell.”
The few minutes it took us to change the wheels felt like a lifetime. Seeward looked over his shoulder every minute in case someone came. If anyone had seen us there, whether a worker or a policeman, it would have been enough. It would have been over. Completely over. I sweated as I waited for Seeward to make the final turns on the wheel nuts.
At last, the job was finished. The three of us got into the car, and started off. Seeward drove like a maniac.
“If we can be in Dolgellau in five minutes,” he said, “and show ourselves, that will make an alibi for us.”
The car shot through the trees, and I prayed that nothing would come to meet us. To the right here, to the left there, and the wheels screeched on the corners. Then, another long ribbon of road, and when we rounded the corner at the end of it the gate to the forest came into view. Seeward slowed down so as not to arose the guard’s suspicions.
The guard came out of his hut, saw Seeward, and saluted. The gate opened before us, and as we slipped out onto the highway I gave thanks that, whatever else was waiting for me, I was out of that hellish forest forever.
A moment later we were in Dolgellau. I didn’t have time to look closely at it, and I didn’t have my wits about me enough to lament any changes there had been to it. The only thing I noticed as we dashed through the town was a big poster on a wall, advertising a film: No Release From Hell.
Seeward stopped in the square.
“We made it in six minutes,” he said. “Now, we need to show ourselves. Uncle, you go to the Post Office to buy a stamp. Powell, you go over to the chemist shop over there to buy a box of cough sweets. Have you got any money?”
“Not a penny.”
“Hold on. Here you are. And I’ll go to the Forest Police office. They won’t know what’s happened, and boldness is the best policy. One more bit of advice. Be leisurely, as if there’s nothing on your mind. But don’t waste time. Come straight back to the car, and we’ll be in Harlech in a wink. Go now.”
I went, as Seeward had ordered, to the chemist shop over the road with the money in my hand. I opened the door and looked round. A full shop, similar enough to a chemist shop in my own century. And then, I stood like a man who’d been shot. Behind the counter, with an accounts book in her hand, looking at me, was Mair Llywarch.
I stood for a second with my back against the door to regain my composure. Then I crossed over to her.
“Mair, my dear love, I’ve found you at last…” I said in Welsh.
She stared at me, with a hint of fear in her two big eyes.
“Who… who are you?” she replied in English.
I put two and two together. Of course, she couldn’t understand a language that had died. She couldn’t speak Welsh, any more than anyone else could who lived in this nightmare. But Mair she was, I had no doubt of that. She had Mair’s voice.
“Mair, I’ve been searching everywhere for you… You are Mair Llywarch, aren’t you?”
“Certainly not. My name’s Maria Lark, although that’s no business of yours.”
“But you are Mair. I’m positive you are. And I love you…”
Like lightning, I saw her reach below the counter, and I heard a bell ringing in the street outside.
“What’s that?” I said.
“I’ve just rung the burglar alarm. I don’t know whether you’re a burglar or just plain mad, but we’ll soon see.”
“But you are Mair…”
At that the door opened, and a policeman was standing there.
“This man’s molesting me,” said the girl. “Will you take care of him?”
The policeman crossed over towards me, and while I was still stunned by the suddenness of everything he put cuffs on both my wrists. He went through my pockets and pulled out my temporary identity card. He stared at it and asked me to explain. I explained that I was from the twentieth century…
“Stop lying,” he said. “Let’s have the truth.”
I insisted that I was telling the truth. But he didn’t want my truth.
“We’ll get it out of you, don’t worry. Come on.”
“Officer…” said the girl.
“I don’t really think I ought to have called you,” she said. “I don’t think he meant any harm.”
“Oh, you don’t? Well I do. Come on, twentieth century!”
As the policeman pushed me through the door, I turned my head to look at the girl again. She was so like Mair. In her eyes there was some… some sympathy. She was sorry, I could tell. She looked more like Mair than ever.
The policeman dragged me after him across the square. I saw Seeward and Professor Richards in the car waiting for me, and staring. I took no notice of them, for fear of casting suspicion on them. I heard the car start up, and my two hopes drove away leaving me to my fate. I couldn’t blame them. Their danger was, after all, greater than mine.
After more questioning in the police station, the policeman took me down to the cells. He threw me unceremoniously into the only empty cell there, and the door locked itself. There was something terribly final about the sound. I had nothing to do now except sit or lie on the hard bench and listen to the moaning and groaning of the prisoners in the cells either side of me. Nothing to do now, except wait.