The Holiday Season is the season for TV and film marathons. Who doesn’t like to sit in front of the telly with a bowl of popcorn, their fave drink and totally veg out over blissful hours of telly favourites? The holidays are also the time when we love to curl up with a good read. With that in mind, I thought it was an excellent time for a marathon reading of my paranormal erotic novella, Demon Interrupted, which I wrote and ran as a serial on my blog over six months earlier this year. BUT at that time, I could only manage an episode every three weeks, so I thought it would be fun to make it more easily accessible.
For those of you who don’t know, Demon Interrupted is a Lakeland Witches spin-off story set in the fabulous landscape of the Lake District with the witches of the Elemental Coven. With the completion of Elemental Fire, I left my witches with so many stories untold, and they left me with so many mysteries I wanted to know the answer to that I felt compelled to return.
Starting today, for the next nine days I’ll be running a sizzling, chilling instalment of Demon Interrupted for your reading pleasure. Today I’d like to share with you chapters 5 and 6 of Demon Interrupted. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Thanks for joining for this Work in Progress. And if you want to know more about the Elemental Coven’s sexy adventures, check out the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy: Body Temperature and Rising, Riding the Ether and Elemental Fire. Enjoy!
Chapter 5 of Demon Interrupted
The Empty Spaces in Between
‘How the hell did I get here?’ It took Ferris a few seconds to realise that there was no one else in the SUV and that it was he who had spoken. He was no longer in his study at Storm Croft, He was no longer in Surrey at all, nor was Elaine with him. He was on the A 66 following a farm tractor, along with a half a dozen other vehicles, crawling toward Keswick. The sun was just going down, and the saddle-backed behemoth of Blencathera loomed large to the right of him still catching the last rays of light on its western flank.
She had killed her husband. The last memory Ferris had before coming back to himself in Cumbria was Elaine revealing to him that she had killed her husband, that she had been hanged for that reason. Surely he had misunderstood her. Surely there were extenuating circumstances, but he’d had no time to ask or at least he had no memory of asking. There had been long stretches of time of which he had no memory during the years he served Lucia, watching out for Cassandra. In fact, on occasion, it almost felt as though he could choose to shut down, like a computer when it’s no longer being used. Back then the lapses in memory, the loss of time, hadn’t seemed strange at all to him, nor had they mattered. But now things had changed. His life had changed. He remembered every detail of the time he’d spent with the Elemental Coven, and he would have wanted to miss none of it. Now, the loss of such a significant stretch of time and, at such an inconvenient moment, was more than disturbing. Surely Lucia was responsible. The tractor turned off near Threlkeld and Ferris sped toward Elemental Cottage, anxious to get home, and truly, Elemental Cottage felt like his home now. He didn’t know whether he was desperate to talk to Lucia or desperate to avoid her.
‘You’re just in time for dinner,’ Fiori called from the kitchen, as he walked in the door. ‘Sea bass, at Anderson’s request, of course.’
‘Is Tara around?’ He said, not wanting to ask specifically for Lucia.
‘She and Kennet had some errands to run in Keswick,’ she replied. ‘They should be back soon.’
Anderson and Cassandra were just coming down the stairs. When Cassandra saw Ferris, she threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek, the buzz of her energy making him feel like he’d just drank a couple of strong pints. ‘You’re back. We were worried you wouldn’t make it in time. How was Storm Croft?’
‘Same as always,’ he said, brushing the hair away from her face and nodding his greeting to Anderson. ‘The grounds are lovely this time of year, keeping the gardeners busy.’
For the first time he could remember since he’d arrived at Elemental Cottage, he didn’t taste the meal, even though he knew it was delicious. Fiori’s sea bass was spoken about in hushed tones, and it was always a favourite for Full Moon dinner. The new potatoes and baby carrots with peas were fresh from Tara’s garden, but he didn’t taste them. Even the white chocolate cheesecake with fresh strawberries was wasted on him. Neither did he hear the brisk banter and laughter that was always the best part of a meal shared at Elemental Cottage. His mind was on his encounter with Elaine — if it really had been an encounter. And surely it had to have been because he didn’t dream. Yet it would have been easier if she had been only a visitation from his dreamscape.
Later as he unpacked his bag before he showered for the Full Moon Circle, he discovered among the socks and carefully folded black shirts several dusty tomes about demons and several more about the history of Storm Croft. He didn’t remember packing them. He didn’t even remember having them on the shelves in the library at the great house. Most of the relevant volumes, Cassandra had brought back to Elemental Cottage when she had made it her permanent residence. The books were all leather bound and, from the looks of them, quite fragile. He would have never transported such treasures so carelessly, and yet here they were. Very carefully, he placed them on the bureau and grabbed his robe.
He could hear the rest of the coven milling about downstairs. He’d had no chance to talk to Tara, since she and Kennet had had a flat tyre on the way back from Keswick and had made it in time to eat their portion of the feast in the kitchen after where Fiori had kept it warm for them. As he joined them for the walk to the Dream Cave, he realized he really didn’t know how to approach Lucia. She had always approached him. Demons usually did what they wanted and in their own time. Just because she now resided in Tara, didn’t mean she was always there, present and accounted for. She needed flesh no more than she needed to breathe, but after Deacon’s defeat and Tara’s horrible sacrifice, no one was completely sure that Tara could now live without Lucia’s possession of her. In truth, Ferris was at a loss. There was no knocking at Lucia’s door, and he would just as soon the rest of the coven knew nothing about what had happened at Storm Croft.
‘Guess we’re together tonight, since you don’t dream and I’m not all that good at magic.’ Alice fell into step next to him as they made their way to the cave. Normally Full Moon was celebrated under the open sky whenever possible. Ferris had no idea why Tara had decided to do the circle in the cave.
‘Your magic is far better that you give yourself credit for, Alice, and you can hardly compare yourself to a coven of witches who were raised to it.’ Ferris and Sky had been tutoring Alice on basic magic. She really was quite gifted. She had only recently made her first forays into the Ether with Cassandra. It had taken her some time to overcome her fear of the place after Deacon had dragged her there, along with Ferris, as his captives. She would, indeed, be a huge asset to the coven when a little more emotional healing had taken place and she was a little farther away from those nightmarish memories of what Deacon had done to her. He laced his fingers through hers. ‘We’ll offer support this time,’ he said, giving her hand an encouraging squeeze. ‘It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.’
She smiled up at him. ‘It’s a safe job. Not so important to you, maybe, but then you’re not nearly as neurotic as I am.’
She had no idea, he thought.
When everyone was gathered and all of the candles were lit around the perimeter of the cave, Tim spoke up. ‘Why are we in here doing dream magic on a gorgeous night like this? I would have thought we’d gather down at the tarn.’
Tara, who had been speaking softly to Anderson, her second in command, looked around at her coven. ‘We’re here tonight because of a dream that Kennet and I had together. We, all of us, have suffered from what Deacon has done to us, and though there’s been a lot of healing, a lot of rebuilding those bonds that make us a family, we all know how much we’ve lost and how far we have to go.’ She turned to Fiori. ‘I know you’re still having nightmares, Fiori, and I know there are several others among us, maybe even all of us who are either suffering from nightmares or well … basically post traumatic stress.’
She looked right at Ferris, and he felt heat crawl up his neck and over his cheeks. Living in the cotton wool present that Lucia had created for him, he had never suffered from anything for very long. But things were different now. For all of them.
The High Priestess continued. ‘Our most intimate act, even more so than the sexual bond we all share, is the act of sleeping and dreaming together, is the act of allowing each other to walk our dreamscapes. In that there’s bonding. In that there’s healing.’
‘In that there’s embarrassment and humiliation,’ Tim groused.
Everyone chuckled uncomfortably. Tim was right, but so was Tara. She offered him an unimpressed look. ‘Nevertheless, Mr Meriwether, we will dream together.’
‘There are Swedish pancakes for afterwards,’ Fiori offered with a cheery smile.
‘Well that’s at least something,’ Tim said.
Tara glared at him. ‘I’ll feed your share to the dog if you don’t watch your mouth, Meriwether.’
‘We don’t have a dog.’
‘Harry Gibbons up the road does. Nice big collie. Loves Fiori’s cooking.’
Once the circle was cast, Ferris took Alice’s hand and pulled her down onto one of the sleeping pallets that ringed the cushions on which the main dreamers would dream. For maximum magic, tonight that couple was Tara and Kennet. They were the most powerful dreamers. But the coven was strong in dream magic. Tim and Marie, and Cassandra and Anderson also excelled in it. Ferris knew that was a good thing, and yet he always dreaded it, especially after his recent encounter with Lucia and what had happened to him at Storm Croft. But dream magic was sex magic, as was all of the magic the Elemental Coven practiced, so when Alice shrugged out of her robe and reached for him, he was fully erect and completely focused on bringing her to the brink of orgasm and keeping her there as long as possible. This, he could do, and this would keep his mind from wandering where it shouldn’t.
He was intimately familiar with Alice’s body, as he was with all of the Elemental Coven. Alice was a keen fell walker and he loved the feel of her hard muscles under soft feminine curves beneath his hands, beneath his lips, beneath his body. He loved the feel of her biceps as her arms encircled him. He loved the tensing of her pectoral muscles when his hands and his mouth found their way to her high, firm breasts with their nipples peeking candy floss pink at the flick of his tongue and the purse of his lips. The swell of them fit the cup of his hand and together formed a tight cradle for his erection to tunnel through as her tongue flicked over the anxious advance and retreat of the head of his cock.
He loved the way her stomach tightened and ridged in anticipation as he kissed down the slope of it, lingering to tongue her navel before descending to briefly rest his cheek against the softness of her pubic curls. Her strong fingers always fisted in his hair in a nearly painful grip as he shouldered open her strong thighs and continued his descent to kiss the Keystone, always distended and pressed in anticipation from beneath its hood. Then, to the soundtrack of sex all around him, he buried his face in the swelling depths of her, seashore-scented and wet.
As the magic built all around them with each thrust, each caress, each kiss, she groaned low and throaty and lifted her feet onto his shoulders, giving him better access, along with a view all the way back to the gripping clench of her anus, giving herself the leverage to bear down. He lapped the honey and salt taste of her with long strokes of his tongue and sucked and tugged at her inner folds as if he were starved for the feast she offered. She bucked and writhed against his mouth as though she were riding a horse in need of taming. He stroked and suckled and licked her open, relishing her mother of pearl arousal, sticky and warm on his fingers, feeling his own arousal surge and press outward above the achy weight of his full sac.
‘I need you inside me,’ she whispered, a whisper he felt more than heard. ‘I need you inside me, Ferris.’ He pulled away wiping his wet face against the back of his arm. As he rose above her to position himself, holding his cock in one hand and spreading her folds with the other, something flashed dark in his peripheral vision. It all happened so fast. He blinked, and as he thrust into Alice’s depths, the afterimage of Elaine danced across his eyelids. Distracted, he scanned the perimeter, but there was nothing. Alice lifted her legs and wrapped them around his waist thrusting up to meet him, and his full attention returned to the magic, to her pussy’s gripping, slippery caress of his cock.
And Goddess, his cock felt big! It felt big enough to fill the cave, and the ache in his balls felt molten hot and heavy. As Alice’s grip around his waist tightened and the tension rippled up her spin, up his, and as they reached the point at which he intended to hold her, the high plateau of arousal that would weave their own thread of magic into that of the rest of the coven, he marvelled at how tiny she seemed beneath him, how delicate she was in his embrace. He marvelled that he didn’t tear her apart with his need, with the violence of his thrusting. He marvelled that she cried out as she did, that her need matched his.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. It shouldn’t have happened. They had played their part in dream magic often enough to know how to control it, and yet he felt the clench of her orgasm grip his cock, he felt her heals kick against his spine, and he lost control. He lost control and emptied himself into her, coming in wrenching waves, growling like a wild animal, and he came as though he would turn himself inside out.
It was only in the last throes of his release that he realised her legs were no longer around him, her palms were hard at his chest shoving him, and the sound of her arousal was drown out by the sounds of fear. Over the buzz in his head he heard her breathless cries, ‘Get away from me! Get away from me! Where’s Ferris? What have you done to Ferris.’
It was as he moved to calm her, still struggling to figure out what had just happened, that he saw Elaine just beyond the periphery of the circle and, before he could stop himself, he shoved to his feet and ran toward her, feeling the protective magic of the circle as though it flayed him of all skin when he forced his way through without cutting a door. ‘Elaine!’ He called out. ‘Elaine, don’t go!’
‘What the fuck?’ Tim cried out. Someone else called Ferris’ name. Behind him he heard the shouts of the coven as the circle erupted in chaos, but his eyes were locked on the ghost fleeing toward the fells. It was only then that he realised he’d left his body behind in the circle on the cave floor.
Chapter 6 Demon Interrupted
Beneath the Weight of Shadow
‘I will go after the shadow and the ghost.’ Anderson helped Cassandra to her feet and moved to cut a door in the circle.
‘Not by yourself,’ Tara ordered. ‘We don’t know what this thing is. And Cassandra, you stay here,’ she called as the succubus joined him. ‘We need someone non-corporeal. Take Fiori.’
Anderson nodded his agreement, paused only long enough to brush a quick kiss across Cassandra’s lips then he and Fiori vanished from the circle.
‘Lucia? What’s going on,’ Tara called out as she scrambled to where Cassandra already knelt next to Ferris with his head in her lap.
‘He’s freezing, Cassandra said, pulling his robe over him and then reaching for a blanket at the foot of the sleeping pallet. She looked up at the coven leader as the others gathered around. ‘He’s not responding at all.’
‘Is he in the Ether,’ Tim asked. ‘Is that possible?’
The succubus shook her head. ‘He has no skills in the Ether, and no ability to go there unconsciously that I know of.’
Skye, who was trained in healing arts and had some skills in first aid, moved to his side and laid her fingers against his throat. ‘His pulse is faint, thready. Whatever that was –’ she nodded toward the cave entrance ‘– it came from inside him. Almost like it belonged there.’
‘Or like it didn’t,’ Tim said.
‘Goddamn it, Lucia, I need you,’ Tara yelled into the empty air, ‘Where’s the damned demon when you want her?’
‘She’s not known for being cooperative,’ Kennet said. He took a bottle of water from one of the rucksacks and handed it to Alice, who hunched trembling in the corner. ‘What happened?’ He sat next to her and pulled a Mackenzie tartan around her shoulders.
‘At first, I thought it was just a shadow,’ Alice said. She took a sip of water and wiped her eyes with a hand that was still none too steady. ‘It was like all of a sudden Ferris got … bigger … all over, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. I don’t know why it didn’t seem strange. It was so intense, so solid, nothing at all like shadow. And then when I … when I came, I knew. I could tell that whatever it was, it had taken with it Ferris’s essence.’ She shivered. ‘I’m sorry I panicked.’
‘You have nothing to be sorry for,’ Kennet said. ‘You had good cause.’
‘Cassandra, do you know anything about this? Has anything like this ever happened before,’ Tara asked. ‘You’ve known Ferris most of your life.’
She shook her head. ‘I knew Ferris possessed some magic, but honestly, until we came here, I’d never seen him use any of it. He was always there, but until we came here, I never really noticed him. Until we came here, he was … I don’t know. He was always there when I needed him, but it was almost like he didn’t exist the rest of the time.’
‘Lucia!’ Tara shouted again. ‘Where the hell are you?’ She turned her attention to her man. ‘What is it, Kennet? What’s wrong? I can see it on your face.’
‘Well –’ he moved away from Alice and laid a hand against Ferris’s chest ‘—the way that shadow left him, it reminds me of when Lucia possessed me, the way she left my body, at least when I was aware of her leaving.’
‘But you never lost consciousness when she left you, did you?’ Tara asked. ‘ I never have. Sometimes I don’t even feel it when she leaves, though I usually feel it when she comes back home.’
‘And speaking of the devil,’ Tim said. ‘It’s not like Lucia to stay away when she’s called. She never likes to miss a good party. How long can she be away from you, Tara, before … you know?’
‘Before I die again? I don’t think there’s a sell-by date, Tim. There’s some kind of connection inside whether she’s with me or not. I feel her absence, but not in quite the same way Kennet did, and certainly she never rendered me unconscious when she left, though I reckon she could if she were inclined.’
‘Wait a minute –’ Marie said, ‘– If you’re saying that Ferris is possessed by some kind of demon, we could have just sent Anderson and Fiori into danger.’
Just then Ferris’s body jerked hard, his back arched, and he began to convulse.
It was good that the moon was full. It made following the shadow and the ghost much easier. Anderson felt no threat from either of them. He did not know what the shadow was, though it certainly seemed to him that the thing might have been in possession of Ferris’s body. Because there was much they did not understand of the situation, he preferred as many of the odds in his favour as possible.
‘The shadow –’ Fiori’s disembodied voice filled Anderson’s ear, or what would have been his ear had he had form other than that of thought and will ‘– he was with Ferris the last time he made love to me.’
Anderson glanced at her and continued following the disturbance in the air through which the strange couple had passed. ‘Did you speak to Ferris of this?’
‘At the time I thought I only imagined it. I was groggy from a bad dream and he comforted me. I didn’t feel threatened. It felt only as though Ferris were suddenly a much larger man, different, but still Ferris. I felt full of him, full of his presence. The space around me felt full of his presence. I don’t know, we all have secrets, and none of us really knows Ferris that well.’
‘My dear Fiori, even Cassandra does not know Ferris well, and though it seems that Lucia has released him of his responsibilities to her, he does not wish to know his past. I think that rather odd. It seems to me …’ Anderson’s words died in the throat he did not at this moment have, and he halted their progress with nothing more than an act of will. At the edge of the tarn that glowed silver-black in the moonlight, the strange ghost with the noose around her neck threw herself into the arms of the shadow.
‘I found you. Thank goddess I found you. Oh Ferris, I was so worried. I thought I’d done something wrong. I thought that when you learned what … what I’d done, you were angry and you left.’
‘I didn’t leave you. I swear I didn’t.’ The shadow spoke in a voice that was quite recognisable as Ferris’s. With careful hands, he removed the noose from around her neck and gave it an angry toss. Anderson could see the angry ligature marks on the woman’s delicate throat, and the curse that Fiori uttered told him so did she. ‘I don’t know what happened,’ the shadow said, ‘but I promise I didn’t leave you intentionally.’
‘Ferris?’ Anderson spoke softly, not wanting to startle the couple, and eased himself into a form that was fully visible, but had no substance. He was not yet certain if, indeed, the dark entity was Ferris. But the shadow turned to face him, and he could see the likeness of a man broad of shoulder and clearly several inches taller that Anderson, who was, by no means, a small man.
The shadow, who still held the woman in his arms looked up at Anderson and nodded. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was soft, unobtrusive, as Ferris’s voice always was. ‘I don’t know what happened.’
Anderson took a cautious step forward and Fiori followed, her eyes locked on the woman. ‘You are aware that you have left your flesh unattended in the dream cave?’ Anderson asked.
‘So it would appear.’ Ferris looked down at the large hand that was not resting on the woman’s shoulder and released a long breath of which Anderson was fairly certain he had no need in his present form. ‘I … don’t know what happened,’ he repeated. Then he glanced from Anderson to Fiori and back again. ‘Lucia? Is she in the cave?’
‘She was not present when we left,’ Anderson said, ‘But it must be said that we did not linger to take attendance.’
‘Perhaps you might introduce us to your friend.’ Fiori took another step forward, her eyes on the ghost.
‘This is Elaine.’ Ferris did not loosen his hold on her. ‘Elaine these are my friends from the Elemental Coven, Fiori and Anderson.’
‘They’re both … dead,’ the woman said, catching her breath as though the realisation shocked her.
‘As are you, my dear woman,’ Anderson replied. ‘However, Ferris is not, and I cannot think it is healthy for his flesh to have him too long absent from it, so I would humbly request that we all return to the cave as quickly as we may.’ Almost before he finished speaking, the two vanished, and he and Fiori followed suit.
Alice let out a little squeal and crab-walked backward as the shadow-man, who had left Ferris’s body in such a hurry, materialised in the cave with the ghost of a young woman in his arms. Instantly Ferris’s physical body calmed on the floor of the cave.
‘What the fuck?’ Tim said, glancing from the couple to Ferris on the floor and back again. Then Anderson and Fiori materialised next to them.
‘This is Elaine. I am told she is a friend of Ferris’s.’ Anderson spoke as calmly as if he were making introductions at a dinner party. For an instant no one in the cave moved. All eyes were on the couple. Skye still knelt next to Ferris’s body with her hand resting against his throat and Tara and Cassandra knelt next to her. Tim and Marie and Kennet sat near Alice.
With a sharp catch of his breath, the shadow-man, who seemed much more man than shadow now, eased forward and stared down at the flesh that had only recently housed him. He did nothing but stare. The ghost, Elaine, did the same. But hers was a more fearful countenance, and Anderson thought it strange that she held no such fear for the shadow-man as she did for the unpretentious fleshly man now unconscious on the floor of the cave.
‘There’s still no sign of Lucia.’ Marie spoke to Anderson and Fiori.
Kennet growled. ‘Not much nightlife in Keswick on a Wednesday night. I suppose she could have gone to Penrith … or Birmingham.’ He shrugged. ‘Hell she could have gone to Bangkok for all I know.’
‘I’ve never heard of a demon clubbing,’ Marie said. ‘I can’t think it would be much fun without a body.’
‘I don’t know what she gets up to when she’s not at home,’ Tara said. ‘She doesn’t tell me and I don’t ask, but damn it, I hate it when she ignores me, and I know that’s what she’s doing.’
‘I fear it’s me she’s ignoring,’ the shadow-man said. ‘And I can’t say that I long much for her company either, but under the circumstances, I suppose it would be good to know what’s going on.’ He didn’t sound very convinced of it.
‘Are you some kind of demon?’ Tim asked. A ripple of tension passed through the room. Tim had a reputation for being blunt and saying what was on his mind, but the shadow-man did not seem offended. Instead he stood contemplating the idea. And the shape of him was beautiful, Anderson thought, much more like a god than a man, fit to grace the temple of Apollo, fit to kindle the lust of any libido. And yet in the shadow there was no flesh.
‘I can’t truthfully say,’ he replied to Tim, ‘As far as I know, I’m Ferris Ryder, and that –’ he nodded to the body on the ground ‘—is also Ferris Ryder, though I have no idea how that can be. I think that perhaps Elaine –’
Tara raised a hand to silence him. Carefully she came to her feet and moved toward Elaine, who stood just barely inside the entrance of the cave now and seemed to be inching slowly in that direction as the conversation unfolded. ‘Elaine –’ Tara’s voice was only slightly more than a whisper ‘—how is it that you suddenly wear the flesh?’
Instantly all eyes were on the woman, and there was a collective intake of breath, for she was, indeed, in the flesh. A fact that surprised even her.
‘Is it because of you?’ Tara looked up at the Shadow-man, who shook his head.
‘Apparently I can choose to be … corporeal if I want,’ Elaine replied. ‘Though in all honesty, I have no memory of even being a ghost until I met Ferris, who was wearing the flesh of Patrick last night.
‘Who the hell is Patrick,’ Tim asked.
‘He is Patrick,’ she nodded to Ferris’s body. ‘And how he now lives but is not Patrick, I do not know. I killed him myself. Of that I’m certain.’
A harsh choking sound drown out the coven’s murmured response to Elaine’s confession, and all eyes were once again on Ferris’ body, which went rigid, then gasped a desperate breath, and it was as though by doing so, he rendered the shadow-man little more than a wisp of dark smoke, which swirled in the air, then vanished into Ferris’s corporeal chest.
Elaine let out a little cry and her knees gave just as Anderson caught her against his chest.
On the cave floor, Ferris spasmed twice then sat up and looked around the chamber. Cassandra knelt next to him and handed him a bottle of water. He drank deeply and coughed.
For a long moment the only sound in the cave was his effort to catch his breath.
‘Ferris?’ Skye said, at last. ‘Are you back with us?’
He nodded, then his gaze settled on Elaine and held, but he did not speak. He only stared at the ghost in the flesh.
When the silence had stretched beyond the point of uncomfortable, Tara laid a hand on Ferris’s forearm and spoke, ‘How much of what just happened do you remember?’
He started to speak, then cleared his throat as though his voice had rusted from disuse. ‘Everything. I remember everything.’ With ease that belied what he had just endured, he stood, holding the blanket to him to fight off the residual chill from his unconscious state, and moved slowly toward Elaine, reaching out his hand.
When she cautiously moved to his side, he spoke, still not taking his eyes off her. ‘At least I remember everything since my arrival in Cumbria a few hours ago.’ He looked back at Tara. ‘Before that …’
‘Before that what,’ Tara prompted.
He released a slow breath that echoed in the chamber like a wind. ‘Before that there are … blank spots.’