The months and years which followed the closure of the last crossing to Lyndesfarne were a time of considerable change for Kevin. He sold his little flat in South Manchester, getting a surprisingly good price for it considering its diminutive dimensions. He used the resulting capital, and some of his not inconsiderable savings, to put down a substantial deposit on a large and rambling farm perhaps twenty or so miles from the site of the now defunct Lyndesfarne crossing.
The old farm was a collection of grey stone-built buildings, etched here and there by lichen although generally in a reasonable state of repair. It was set in a slight valley offering a little shelter from the prevailing winds, with views over the low hills towards the east. It was just possible to catch sight of the sea in the far distance on particularly clear days.
Kevin felt comfortable that he would be able to cover the mortgage payments and the local taxes from the proceeds of his continuing consultancy work. He found that there was a regular demand for his services in the civil engineering industry, even in the absence of his rather specialist – and now entirely redundant – experience of the world of Lyndesfarne.
Kevin also found that he had a fair amount of spare time, much of which he spent restoring and improving the farm buildings in a comfortable and welcoming – even homely – fashion. It was all very different from the cool modern format he had adopted in the Manchester flat; indeed, it was a style that he thought would have appealed to Tanji.
With some professional help, and a fair bit of heavy machinery, Kevin had a large area around the house and buildings landscaped and planted as a garden with a large patio area at the rear. The perimeter he had set with hedges and fences and shrubberies, both for privacy as well as to act as a windbreak – at least, they would be properly performing those functions when the plants had fully established themselves.
Other works Kevin undertook around the grounds included renovating the main barn, repurposing it as a large garage and equipping a section as a workshop, with a stout bench and a wide variety of tools. He also refurbished the stables, although he did not acquire any animals except for a semi-feral cat which seemed to have adopted him, rather than the other way around, although the creature would never come indoors. Yet other outbuildings he renovated as a workshop and tool shed, and he erected a small greenhouse in a sunny spot not far from the main house.
Kevin found himself undertaking more gardening than he expected, and enjoying it more than he expected, too. He spent many hours in the lighter months of the year pottering around the gardens in a state of increasing tranquillity and relaxation. He even came into possession of one of those combination tools known as a “Gardener’s Friend” presumably because, in addition to having numerous sharp instruments for pruning the foliage, it also included both a corkscrew and a bottle-opener.
Kevin also acquired a new car, another Volvo, quiet and spaciously comfortable without being unnecessarily flashy and with discreet four-wheel-drive to cope with slippery road conditions in the winter months. He paid a contractor to establish a block-paved area for vehicles at the front of the garages, although his lone car looked a bit forlorn on the wide expanse of paving.
The extensive refurbishment – which had already cost a significant amount of money – continued inside the house. Kevin established a study downstairs, with the books and journals from his old library, and furnished it with a large desk and several comfortable chairs set around the original fireplace. He equipped the study as a professional office, including a discreet but powerful laptop computer and all of the technological accoutrements necessary for him to be able to do most of his work without leaving home. He also obtained the fastest internet connectivity that could be acquired in this remote spot.
Elsewhere in the house, Kevin installed a couple of Scandinavian-styled wood-burning stoves in the spacious living area formed from what had at one time been the smaller barn and the stables. This heat source was backed up by a modern automatic and highly efficient central heating system, so that he did not always have to attend to the supply of logs in person - a fact important to him since he still expected to be away from home for professional reasons for many days at a time.
His architect training and his own natural inclinations led Kevin to apply special attention to tedious items such as loft insulation and thermally-efficient glazing. The arched doorway which had one time allowed the passage of farm wagons was now filled with double-glazed french windows looking out over the patio and which let in a great deal of sunlight and warmth in almost all seasons.
Kevin had applied everything he had learned about architecture and interior design to the main suite of rooms on the ground floor. This area was open plan, split over two levels - by necessity, given the original separation of farmhouse and adjacent barn. He had knocked through the wall between the two buildings and decorated the resulting space in a spare yet comfortable style. It had hardwood floors decorated with thick rugs, a generous dining table and chairs in the corner next to the kitchen, and soft leather sofas and easy chairs in brighter and more vibrant colours that he might hitherto have chosen.
Upstairs - the stairwell required a degree of caution to navigate in order to avoid low beams in a couple of places - the space was divided into several bedrooms, two of which had adjoining bathrooms and another one of which was now re-equipped as a small gym. In all of the bedrooms he made sure there were plenty of cupboards and other storage spaces, even though his own clothes filled barely a fraction of the volume available.
Kevin also carried on the comfortably rustic theme in the kitchen, where he had installed an oil-fired Aga oven which contributed significantly to the warmth and comfort of the entire house. The kitchen was indeed the old farmhouse kitchen - the biggest room in the original building - and now equipped with numerous modern units and appliances, the latter carefully concealed behind oak doors. He had laid the floor with brown stone flags and placed a large and exceptionally solid wooden table in the centre of the room, surrounded with too many matching wood chairs with soft seat cushions.
Off the main kitchen, Kevin had included a separate larder with ranked shelves and an old-fashioned black slate top to keep food cool and fresh. This was not the only food storage and was in fact augmented by a large modern fridge and freezer combination positioned in the main kitchen so that the heat from the refrigeration did not unnecessarily warm the larder. He also equipped a separate laundry room, with machines for washing and drying, with easy access to a paved area to hang out clothes to dry.
He regarded the newly-fitted kitchen as a place to be creative, rather than a space for drudgery, and he found himself using it more than he had expected. He planned and cooked recipes he imagined Tanji would enjoy almost every day, even though the food he prepared was only for himself.
In actual fact, Kevin was making a careful and completely conscious effort to reproduce the homely and comfortable ambience he had experienced in both Bret’s family home, and at Tanji’s Aunt and Uncle. He thought about Tanji a lot, asking her – or at least an internal mental model of her – whether she would prefer this item or that, this position or that layout, several times a day.
During this time, he occasionally wondered if he was being watched, monitored discreetly by some remnant of the interlocking organisation which had run the crossing between the Worlds for so many millennia. There were occasional hints of movements in his grounds late at night, noises which might have been caused by a fox or a badger. Sometimes, there was the suggestion of a shadow in the street or a car following behind him when, in the course of his professional responsibilities, he visited a place he had not been before. But there was nothing concrete, and it could all have been put down to his own overactive imagination or even just mild paranoia.
He supposed that any such monitoring would be to detect any case of a lapse of the secrecy he had promised when he had left the world of Lyndesfarne. He had no hesitation in giving such a promise. After all, there was no-one he would want to communicate with, in any case, and he strongly suspected that any attempt to sell a story to even the most sensationalist newspaper would result in him becoming a laughing-stock. Even the faintest suggestions of surveillance seemed to disappear after a year or so and Kevin soon relaxed, surrounding himself with a sense of calm privacy.
During these years, Kevin lived quietly, distracting himself with both his work – which continued to be both technically challenging and moderately lucrative – and with his projects to renovate house and grounds. He committed great care and attention to every little detail. Frankly, he wanted it to be perfect, to be somewhere that the ghost of Tanji – and he himself – could feel at peace.
In truth, he missed her terribly. Her image was constantly in his mind, the sound of her voice always in his dreams. He fervently wished that somehow he could undo the separation of the Two Worlds for a moment, and bring her back. But he knew - he had been repeatedly told by Bret and Eosin and the Ferryman - that this was impossible, that once the last crossing was closed, any attempt to open a new path between Worlds would join a different and randomly-selected parallel universe, selected from countless possibilities. In short, it could not possibly happen.
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