by Jan Mitchell Rogers, 18th February 2021
A supernatural tale that's a love story to Mid Wales
An Essex girl by birth, Jan Mitchell Rogers has been a part of the fabric of Montgomeryshire life for over 40 years. Together with her husband Clive, she ran a hardware store in the North Powys town of Llanfyllin for 21 years before retiring in 2019 and finally fulfilling her dream of becoming a published author.
Reaching For The Light tells the story of a family tragedy that has caused long-standing damage to friends and family of the deceased. Enter Amy Rae, who sets up shop in Shrewsbury as a psychic consultant and who attempts to help resolve unanswered questions blighting the lives of those who survived but are now racked with guilt and responsibility.
"It's the beautiful scenery of Mid Wales that has provided a lot of my inspiration," says Jan. "My novel, in part, is a love story to this part of the world."
And we've got the entire first chapter for you here.
REACHING FOR THE LIGHT
by Jan Mitchell Rogers
It was a good time for new beginnings, Amy told herself, as she pulled up the blinds and opened the office window to let the April breeze blow in. The sunlight sparkled on the amethyst ring she wore on her left hand in memory of Matthew.
The winter had been changeable, some very cold weather in January, followed by unseasonably warm weather in February. March had brought heavy rain and dark skies. Amy was tired of the winter lethargy. The bright April day offered rejuvenation and hope. The March floods had abated, the river level returning to normal, and Shrewsbury was beginning to get back to its best now in the Spring sunshine.
Luckily the flood water had not reached her own property, the lease for which she had taken out in January. She rented a small two-story terraced former cottage, situated on a rise a short way from the river bank and between the town and The Quarry. The quiet street was lined with trees and there was a footpath down to the river bank and through to The Quarry itself. She loved the location as it seemed to offer the best of both worlds; quick access to the town on one side, and the benefits of the natural world - birds, trees and trim parkland - to the other.
She stepped out on to the pavement to review her handiwork. She had finished the exterior painting two days before but just needed to polish up the door furniture.
“You’ve made a good job of the decorating.” Rob, her neighbour from two doors down, was leaning against his front door, admiring both her handiwork and the young woman in front of him. With her red-gold curls and green eyes she could have walked out of a pre-Raphaelite painting, he thought. He was beginning to get to know her quite well now. He had helped out with carpentry on some of the internal changes she had needed to make.
She had reconfigured the cottage so that there was an office downstairs and a small one-bed flat on the first floor, which meant she had needed to change the layout of the stairs and move the kitchen upstairs. She had just left a small cubbyhole to hold a sink and worktop for a kettle and the like on the ground floor. One of the two upstairs bedrooms had been made into a small lounge, with a galley kitchen in a recess on one side, and the other retained as a bedroom which was just big enough for her small double bed. Rob had fitted shelves into the office area downstairs, and had built in some cupboards in the lounge and bedroom to help with storage which was something of a problem. Luckily the cottage, although fronting directly on to the road, had a small courtyard back garden which contained a sturdy shed, ideal for keeping those of her belongings which would not fit into the office or the flat.
Rob was in his late twenties and was an actor by profession, with a few TV appearances to his credit and some small theatre roles. But in between ‘proper’ jobs as he thought of them, he would take on carpentry and other handyman jobs to supplement his erratic income. He’d enjoyed getting to know Amy as he worked on renovating the building. She’d grabbed his attention from the day she took over the lease on the property and he hoped he might have a chance to get to know her even better. She did seem withdrawn though, as if wrapped up in her own little world, and he didn’t want to ruin the chance of a relationship with her by rushing things and frightening her away. As for Amy, she assumed that anyone with his tanned good looks, brilliant blue eyes and well-toned body must be already spoken for. For this reason she’d not even considered he might be romantically interested in her, and was still far too involved with Matthew to consider him a potential lover.
“Thank you.” Amy shook the hand he held out to her, surprised and flattered by his praise. She couldn’t help agreeing with him though. She’d redecorated the outside of the building and was proud of her efforts. This had been her dream, to set up her own business and make full use of her gift. To be fulfilling that dream before she reached thirty was wonderful.
She’d resigned from her job at the museum at the end of December. The New Year felt like an auspicious time to start her new venture. She felt excited but anxious. In the past, her gift had been her hobby not her livelihood and now she couldn’t help being apprehensive. She didn’t doubt her ability to communicate with ‘the other side’, but quite how useful paying clients might find that communication was debatable. She might not be able to actually make a difference for people, and if she was being paid on results that could be a problem.
She had no doubts whatever about her gift. From a very early age she’d seen figures that had been invisible to other people. It had been confusing at first and she’d learned not to talk too much about these encounters as they made those around her uneasy.
When she was seven, her parents had been killed outright when their car was shunted between two lorries on the motorway. She’d been in the classroom at school at the time and knew instantly what had happened as they both appeared beside her in the room.
“Don’t be too upset, Amy. We’ll both still be here whenever you need us.”
When her Auntie Susan arrived two hours later to collect her, mascara streaked down her cheeks and her eyes were newly wet at the thought of telling Amy what had happened. She and the teacher were amazed at her calmness. Several days later Aunt Susan had taken her to the local surgery.
“We’re really worried about her – she hasn’t even cried since she heard the news.”
The doctor had talked to her gently but seemed satisfied with her answers.
“I don’t think she’s been damaged by the shock,” he said. “Children can be very resilient. She may just have a very calm nature.”
Young Amy, listening to his comments with interest, thought he could not have been more wrong. There was nothing calm about her inner life. She was always being disturbed by other entities and voices trying to gain her attention. It was only the cast-iron certainty that her parents were still looking out for her that gave her any peace. Gradually she’d learned to screen out as many of the voices as possible, like tuning a radio, and only paid heed to those she wanted to hear.
Rob realised her thoughts were miles away and turned back to his own cottage, muttering a quick farewell. She nodded “goodbye” distractedly as he went, and carried on polishing the brass plate she had asked him to fix to the wall next to the front door.
She’d not known quite how to describe her gift but thought this description would at least attract the curious if nothing else.
Her previous experience had been mainly giving tarot readings to friends and acquaintances, and appearances at charity events where she’d do readings and split the proceeds fifty-fifty with the charity concerned. She was always conscious of the need to keep things light on such occasions. No-one wanted to be frightened silly at a charity fundraiser. For this reason she used a tarot deck from which she’d removed both the Death card and the Devil, which most people found really terrifying.
It was mainly women who came to her for readings, concerned with events in their emotional lives. Here she didn’t worry about removing any cards as she felt many of the others gave the same message in a less frightening way. The Full Moon could be interpreted in much the same way as the Death card, and there were those that could read in a similar way to the Devil.
She’d also give readings based on astrology and star signs. The women who came for tarot readings tended to be interested in or curious about all aspects of the paranormal. Many of them were seeking to resolve dilemmas in their lives and needed some kind of push to move things on from a situation that seemed to be stuck in some way.
Occasionally she’d do a reading for someone who made no connection with her whatsoever. Perhaps they were blocked themselves or didn’t want to share any of their inner life in any way. When nothing came to her she’d usually start the reading with the stock phrase, “You are at a crossroads in your life.” It was amazing how the barriers would then go down and she could ‘get through’ to her client in a much more open way.
She’d placed ads in the local newspapers, giving her office address, landline and mobile phone number, and hoped word of mouth following her charity appearances would help get the business off the ground. She was still working on a website which she hoped would eventually lead to more business.
I just have to get on with it all now, she thought.
The office looked established and professional. She’d been sourcing furniture from local antique shops and managed to find a heavy mahogany partner’s desk with green leather top that she felt made a perfect centrepiece for the effect she was trying to create. She’d also found a solid oak bookcase on which to keep her box files. She had her multi-purpose laptop which fitted neatly on top of the desk, with a printer stowed on a table in the corner of the room, and the wi-fi box perched on the top of the bookcase with the landline phone. But she still believed, particularly in her line of work, that paper records would be important as points of future reference if required. She also collected cuttings from newspapers on strange or paranormal events as background to her work.
Two ladder back chairs and two armchairs, rescued from someone’s skip and recovered in antique brocade by her own efforts, made up the rest of the furniture, and the curtains framing the window were in the same burgundy and silver fabric.
Paying three months’ rent in advance, redecorating and furnishing the office had taken up much of her available budget. The upstairs flat was furnished with items from her previous home, a bedsit above a local newsagent on the outskirts of the town. At least she had the small double bed and some storage for clothes, but decorating and furnishing it as she would like would have to wait until she’d earned some income. Rob had helped her with the more tricky tasks but most of the redecoration work had been by her own efforts. She’d enjoyed putting a lot of herself into the fabric of the business, in terms of creativity and expression.
Over the years, since her parents’ death, she’d gradually put a little distance between them. The idea had probably come from them, she thought. They thought she deserved to live as normal a life as possible. If she was still too close to them it would prevent her enjoying other relationships. She’d got on well with Aunt Susan, who’d brought her up and formally adopted her. It must have been hard for a woman with no previous experience of children to suddenly have a seven year old to deal with, she thought. Aunt Susan had certainly tried to be a good guardian but she was sadly lacking in imagination and couldn’t cope with any of Amy’s ‘nonsense’, as she called her contacts with the ‘other side’. Amy had grown up learning not to talk too much about her gift, and it was only after meeting Matthew that she felt she could really discuss it with another living person.
Once she had distanced herself from her previously ever-present parents, Amy had begun to form other relationships in the ‘solid’ world, as she called it. Three years previously she’d met Matthew, her lecturer at night school, and he’d understood better than anyone else in her life what her gift really meant. He’d encouraged her to give tarot readings and one-to-one consultations at charity events to broaden her profile, and encourage her to interact with other people in a meaningful way.
“You shouldn’t waste your gift,” he told her, “It could be of real help to people in need if you use it wisely.”
This whole venture was due to Matthew, she realised. Although she was only renting the property, it was the legacy he’d left her that enabled her to give up her day job at the museum, and start to take her gift seriously. His money would at least tide her over for the first few months’ expenses, and if all else failed the museum had said they’d be glad to have her back again.
She’d met Matthew through a further education class years after leaving school. She’d wanted to get her tech skills up to date and had enrolled for an evening class of which Matt was the lecturer. He was twenty years older than her, but they’d hit it off straight away. What attracted her to him most of all was his open mind. He was prepared to accept things he might not be able to see, and was intelligent and very well-read.
She did fancy him too, she recalled with a smile. His silver-grey hair hung quite long over his collar in an arty kind of way, and he had the kindest hazel eyes she’d ever seen. He’d tried to keep their relationship light at first, but she knew he was ‘the one’. Something told her that they had known each other before. In a previous life? It was possible, although Matt was sceptical. She just knew that whenever she saw him she started to smile, and if by chance they met away from the college, unexpectedly, it would light up her whole day.
For several weeks they went for a drink after the class had finished. They’d talk about books they had read, music they loved. They both shared a passion for Les Miserables and Puccini, and their taste in fiction ranged from crime to classics, with everything from Neil Gaiman to Hilary Mantel in between.
Amy was anxious to move the relationship on but Matthew seemed strangely reluctant. Worried about the age gap, she wondered, although she knew that wouldn’t be a problem for her to deal with. Finally, after the last evening class of the term he suggested they go back to his flat.
“I have something to tell you,” he said seriously.
She was hoping this was the chance to take their intimacy further, but his expression worried her.
At the flat he poured her a glass of her favourite red burgundy as they sat in the sparsely furnished living room. Bright and airy with a turquoise scandi-style three-piece, a small pine dining table with two chairs and a pretty Monet print on the wall above the log burner, it made her feel comfortably at home.
“What was it you wanted to say to me, Matthew?” she took a sip of her drink, her long artistic fingers twisting around the fluted stem of the glass.
“Well, I thought you should know, before we take our friendship any further – I have a long-standing health problem. That’s why I changed careers and started teaching adult education classes. There is a problem with my heart. I might go on for years but I might drop dead in five minutes’ time with no warning. The doctors are unable to say which is the more likely.”
Amy took his hand in hers reassuringly. Somehow the news didn’t come as a huge surprise. She’d intuitively picked up something from his manner. Perhaps it was her unconscious sensitivity to his condition that had generated her attraction to him in the first place.
“We mustn’t let that bother us,” she murmured. “Part of a satellite could fall out of the sky on top of us at any time as we walk down the street. We can’t put our lives on hold just in case something awful happens. Think of all the joy we would miss if we did.”
She didn’t tell him of the many times she’d had to suppress flashes of prescience, things that might or might not happen in the future.
Matthew laughed. “I suppose you’re right. We should just make the best of the time we do have.”
She pulled him up, and led him into the bedroom, laughing.
Amy came back to the present with a shock, a sudden shower of rain beating against the fresh green paintwork of her front door. She hurried back into the office, closing the door tightly behind her and shutting the open window. With a smile she remembered his tender love-making, so different from her previous, younger lovers. Although athletic, the younger ones had always made her feel as if she’d had a work out in a gym, whereas with Matthew she felt truly loved, body and soul.
It had been over a year now since he’d passed away, but his legacy had made all this possible, and in some ways she felt closer to him now that he’d passed over than she did before. She did sometimes long for his physical presence, but at least she could still talk to him and confide in him even if it was all just in her mind.
She spent the rest of the morning sorting out her office. She filed away the notes of the few cases she’d investigated on a semi-amateur basis, giving private readings at charity events and advising her former colleagues at work. At 1pm the telephone rang, and she jumped in surprise. Her gift had not forewarned her of that, she thought.
The male voice on the end of the phone sounded quite young, which surprised her a little. Most of her previous clients had been women on the wrong side of middle age, wanting to make contact with elderly parents or partners who had passed over to the other side.
“Hi, is that, um, Amy Rae? I’m Sam Johnson. I wonder if you can help us.”
She listened as he outlined the case. A young girl with ‘an invisible friend’.
“Yes, I think I can help.” She didn’t want to sound too eager. “I could come out to you next Wednesday if that’ll be okay. Although it might take me at least two days to discover what’s going on.”
“How much do you charge?” He sounded hesitant.
“I’ll email you with my terms. You can email back if you agree and I’ll then put Wednesday in the diary. As I’m still building up a reputation, I won’t bill you until you think the matter has resolved, or at least improved.”
As she put the phone down she hugged herself. A case on her first day of working professionally. Let’s hope it all works out, she thought. She didn’t doubt her gift but sometimes it could let her down. Happenings ‘on the other side’ were rarely straightforward.
She turned and glanced out of the window. The rain had stopped now, and the freshly washed street was sparkling in the cool sunshine. The pansies in the window box she’d placed outside glowed yellow and purple with the hope of spring and summer to come.