My name is Lee Tyack-Frayne.

My name is Lee Tyack-Frayne, and I live in the House of Joy, with my husband and my little girl.

Sometimes the mantras worked, sometimes not. Lee took a deep breath, accepting their failure today. He opened his eyes. In the mirror, his monsters continued their parade: the Fisherman, the Cornish Panther, Joe Kemp in tawdry costume as the Beast. Behind them, an infinite line, the smaller creatures who’d crossed his path all his life since his dubious gifts had come upon him—the cheats, the liars, the grieving and the lost, the wicked who wanted their hidden crimes unearthed so that they could believe in some power outside themselves once more, do penance and be free. The thousands who just wanted to be seen.

 

The mirror was an old one. He and Gideon had noticed it during their first visit to Chy Lowen—literally the house of joy, in the old Kernowek tongue—a year and a half ago. It occupied a huge space in the hallway, and its battered silver frame was full of shadows and mysteries at the best of times, even when it didn’t have Cornwall’s most reluctantly renowned clairvoyant standing in front of it, taking an unscheduled review of his ghosts. They’d talked about taking it down, but it was embedded into the plaster, and God knew it was beautiful, gathering what light there was even on a dark day and reflecting it out into the house. Their daughter loved it, and chattered away to her own unseen presences in its depths whenever she got the chance.

 

Lee pressed the palms of his hands to the table where he and Gid piled up their post. The mantras might not be working today, but still they were deep dear prayers, and they kept him connected to his world. The table was familiar, one of his own few contributions to their household furniture. For many years it had stood in the farmhouse kitchen at Drift, a favourite place of his dad’s to sit and muse with his newspaper and a cup of coffee. His uncle Jago had given it to them as a wedding present. Solid oak, worn to silk by time. In the House of Joy, where I live with...

One of the faces in the mirror parade was a blank. Not a mask: a silvery oval, into which you could fit any human face you chose. It shimmered and morphed like mercury, and all of Lee’s assembled monsters shrank away from it. Oh, I’m new, it said. I could be anyone, so you’d better keep looking, little prophet. I’m coming. I’m on my way.

He took two deliberate steps back. Sunlight from the open door to the garden swept across his field of vision, and when he looked again, all he could see was his own pallid reflection, and the hallway of the strange and beautiful house Dev Bowe had sold to them, accepting no offers but theirs—about a fifth of what the place was worth, and not a penny more. He and Gideon had talked to Dev’s solicitors, and sat up all through one long night debating the ethics of buying a house from a certified nutcase who persisted sanely on this point only. Finally they had accepted. The house was a piece of Cornish heaven, and they had a daughter to raise. Her childhood memories would be filled with orchards and sweeping moorland views. And if such a girl should ever need more space and privacy than the ordinary run of infants—well, a chance like Chy Lowen would never come again.

 

Lee and Gid had spent months now in a state of sheepish relief. Tamsyn loved her new home, but as far as her behaviour was concerned, they could have stayed in their flat in the middle of Dark. No storms of psychokinesis ever shook the cobwebs from the stately old ceilings. Books stayed on shelves, knives in their racks, and toys, even tempting ones...

Look again, the mirror said. Lee focussed on the reflected living-room door. In the sunny corner beyond it, he could see Tamsyn’s playpen, almost outgrown now but still in occasional use for containment purposes when her supercharged toddle began to threaten life and limb. She’d been worryingly late to walk, and these days seemed to be making up for lost time, stomping about the house as if she had a clipboard on her arm and a quota to meet. Occasional lapses into babyhood still overcame her: she liked her afternoon naps in the pen, facedown amongst her menagerie of stuffed animals.

Something was different. One of the animals was new. Lee turned away from the mirror and padded into the living room, breathing the mix of coffee and chrysanthemums and dog-hair that meant home, persuading himself by this and other sacred tokens that he was there, not trapped behind the mirror glass with the monster who could be anyone.

He leaned cautiously over the rail. There among the tangle of blankets, tenderly wrapped in a towel, was Gideon’s hideous replica model of the Bodmin Beast. Lee had only seen it twice before, both times briefly. Once in the parish house at Dark, on that Halloween night four years ago when Gid had first taken him home. The model had belonged to Gid’s former boyfriend, who’d set it up on the windowsill to frighten trick-or-treating kids. They’d both thought it had been lost in one of their moves, but somehow it had turned up during their unpacking here, and that had been the second time: Gid turning pale at the sight of it, ignoring Tamsyn’s hopeful grab and yowl. He’d stowed it away on the top shelf of the cupboard under the stairs, ready for their next batch of charity-shop donations.

The thing was made of plastic, and dyed phosphorescent green. Lee extracted it gingerly. “Well, little girl,” he said aloud to the empty room, “I suppose there’s just an outside chance that your dad gave you this to play with. But I really don’t think so.”

Laughter splashed into the room like bright paint. Two shades: his daughter’s manic sunshine, and Gideon’s rich gold. A moment later, Gid’s voice followed. “Lee, come on out here. You’ve got to see this.”

 

Lee pushed the Beast back into the cupboard and closed the door. His daily life asserted itself around him. Anything that made Gideon laugh like that, he couldn’t afford to miss, and he ran out into the light.

At first he couldn’t see either of them—just Isolde, ears cocked, panting as if in mid-chase. Then a strange little figure popped out from behind the most venerable and twisted tree in the orchard, which had rained down a treasure of sweet russet apples last year, so many they’d been giving them away by the bagful to Mrs Waite for her shop, and deeply wounded Daz Prowse’s feelings by catching him on the scrump and gladly sending him home with three times the weight he’d meant to steal. Another shriek of laughter rang out, and Tamsyn shot across the orchard again. She’d refused to be dressed that morning in anything but her Halloween costume from the year before, a tiger-striped romper suit complete with tail and ears. The dog bounded after her.

 

The trees rustled, and Gideon appeared from a patch of sunshine and shadows, his efforts to film the pursuit hampered by laughter. He saw Lee and stopped, holding out his phone. “You do it. She’s killing me.”

 

He was so perfect a sight there in the garden, like an orchard god in weekend jeans and shirt. Lee wanted to lift him and Tamsyn and the moment and bottle them somehow, keep them against rainy days.

Excerpt

(Rufus has finally arrived, on a very delayed train. Drusilla - now Lady Birch, of course - has brought them a festive gift, in the form of a huge stag's skull.)

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never had this.”

“What, my love?”

Archie swallowed hard. His heart was thudding in astonishment that Rufus would risk the endearment, here on the path where the yellow roses had closed over their heads in the summer, and the green leaves provided such sheltering shade. There was no concealment now, only thorns. His fingers on one hand were laced tight through Rufus’s. He had to wait before he could answer, and his words came through gritted teeth. “Waiting for someone. Long enough to wonder if they were alive or dead.”

“Oh, God.” Rufus turned to face him. He lifted his face, and Archie wouldn’t kiss him, not out here, but somehow their brows were resting together. Giles had discreetly vanished, all the noisy new arrivals briefly quenched. If the house itself had a power of protection, channelled through his transformed spirit and the watchful souls of Drusilla and Maria Nettles, they would be safe. “I’m so sorry. The railways seem to like to keep their most urgent work for the busiest time of the year, and...”

“And what?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“No, not nothing.” Archie picked up and followed the glimmering threads of unease, his keys to the labyrinth of his lover’s mind. “Why else are you late?”

 

“Oh, Archie. Someone jumped in front of the train. One of the reporters who... who went into Belsen and took all the photographs, the guard said it was. Another one.”

 

Archie closed his grip tighter. He said, for want of a wiser or more consoling word, “Fuck.”

 

“Sorry. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

 

Archie gave him a gentle shake. “Why on earth not?”

 

“Because I’ve come home for Christmas. And there’s nothing festive about...”

 

“A body on the railway line. For such awful reasons.” Quickly Archie checked around. He’d learned that one glance wasn’t enough, that observers could congregate without a breath or shoe-scrape of warning. He hated his vigilance, but he’d pay the price a thousand times over if it meant he could lay a hand on his lover’s face, give him that comfort right now when he needed it, not half an hour later when – knowing Rufus – he’d have found a way to choke the trouble down. “I’m so glad you did tell me. We’re being called post-war England, you know. I read it in the Times.”

Rufus pushed his cheek against Archie’s palm. He’d closed his eyes, and the relief of the loving touch at the right moment had softened the lines of pain on his brow. “So everything’s over, is it? Shall I break out my demob suit?”

“Oh, did you finally get one of those?”

 

“Yes. I shouldn’t have, really, because they more or less shipped me home in a bucket, and I never did get to trade in my uniform for civvies at one of the centres. Still, they issued me one, and sent it care of the museum because they didn’t have my address down here. It’s rather dapper, I have to say – pinstripes, with a little waistcoat to match. I should have brought it with me. It’s just that...”

 

“It’s just that for you, it won’t ever be over. Not for you, not for the Jews, not for anyone who saw what happened in the camps. Not for me either, and that’s the good part, dear Rufus – we don’t have to hide from each other. We never have to pretend that everything’s all right.”

 

Rufus let go of an unsteady breath. Then he looked up, and gave Archie a smile of such brilliance that for a moment summer returned, and the scent of golden roses. “But the strange thing is that... knowing you feel that way, everything is all right for me, somehow. Come along, Squire Archie. You’d better introduce me to your house-load of Christmas guests.”

 

“I didn’t invite any of them, you know. They just descended. And you mustn’t call me squire, love!”

 

“I suppose you shouldn’t call me love, out here in the open, if it comes to that. Ah, if you could have seen yourself, though – standing on the doorstep surveying your domain, and all the birds flocking to you for shelter!”

 

“For Mrs Nettles’ mince pies, is more like it. Very well, then – come on in, if I’m not to be allowed half an hour with you in the bike shed first.” He took hold of Rufus’s wrist, drew his arm through his own. “We’re allowed this much, aren’t we?”

 

“Yes. We’re allowed this much.”

 

Together they made their way into the house. Archie’s whole attention had focussed on the link between them, where human warmth had made its way through tweed and cotton and was sending up bright signals to his heart. He barely noticed the new shadow falling across the hallway: stopped with a jolt when Rufus did, clamping one hand tight to his arm. “Good Lord, Archie. What’s that?”

 

Archie followed his gaze. The huge stag’s skull had been hoisted over the archway that led to the kitchen, and expertly lashed into place there, tinsel and all. “Ah. Drusilla brought us that as a kind of Christmas gift, although she doesn’t hold with new-fangled modern festivals. He’s for Yuletide, I gather. I’ve no idea how he’s ended up there so quickly – although, having said that, the house is full of able-bodied young men at the moment.”

 

“Oh, really? Who have you got? Captain Meredith must count for one.”

 

“Several, if being an adoring husband qualifies him. Billy Prescott is around here somewhere, come to show off his constable’s uniform. And then of course there’s...” Their eyes met, and they both finished out the thought in rich amusement. “There’s Giles.”

 

Stifled giggles exploded from the living room. Archie’s reflexes weren’t fast enough to pull his arm out of Rufus’s grip, and damned if he would anyway: we can have this much, Rufus had said, and Archie was ready to defend their small permissions and privileges to the death. Straight-faced and steady, he turned to the source of the noise. “Ah,” he said, as urbanely as he could manage. “Rufus, I haven’t yet had the chance to introduce you to...”

Oh, hell. He couldn’t remember their names. Worse, he couldn’t think how to define them, these glittering, silk-clad apparitions. And that was ridiculous, because if they’d been men he’d have simply said that they were Giles’s friends. Distress began to shadow the younger woman’s face, and Giles, as if receiving a silent summons, shot out of the kitchen. He edged past Archie and Rufus, smiling, and went to put an arm around her waist. “My fiancée,” he said firmly, making her beam in pleasure and relief. “And this is her sister, Greta. Ladies, this is Dr Denby, the famous archaeologist I told you about.”

“Oh,” said Loretta, “I’ve read about you in the papers, Dr Denby. Ever so interesting. Such an honour to meet you.”

 

Rufus would always have trouble with women, Archie wryly reflected. Despite his wholly restored reputation and growing fame, he brought a shy charm to introductions which inevitably bowled them over. He had let go of Archie and was stepping forward now, hand outstretched. “I’ve made your acquaintance too, in a way,” he said, and Loretta took his hand and looked as though she’d have liked to kiss it. “Yours too, Miss Lombardi. Archie and I saw you in a film, the last time we were in London. Highly...” He paused, and no-one but Archie would have detected his brief struggle for a word. “Most diverting. It’s my great pleasure to meet you both too.”

Trust Rufus to remember the womens’ faces, to pick out the one link between them. Over time, Archie had learned how close he’d come to losing him to Alice Winborne, who even in her grief had come down like a weary dove in response to his diffident kindness. Greta’s mouth had fallen open. She said, in what might have been meant as a whisper but carried clearly across the room,”Oh, my God, Lorrie. I know what you said, but I can’t possibly choose!”

 

Loretta went scarlet. She grabbed her sister’s arm. “That was a joke,” she hissed. “A joke between us, and a private one, you fool!”

Archie and Rufus watched in bewilderment as she dragged Greta to the door, then out into the hallway. Their voices faded off in a series of yelps and snarls. Giles, left behind and blushing vividly too, turned to face them. “I’m very sorry, gentlemen,” he said. He really was the pink of post-war English perfection, Archie thought, with his handsome, open face and immaculately cut motoring gear. Again over time, the memories of his emergence from the pit beneath the church had begun to seem like a dream. “I’m very fond of Greta, but the truth is that she’s travelling with us because Lorrie is so keen to help her find a husband, and... well, when I told them about the two of you, they had their little joke about which of you Greta would prefer.”

 

“Oh,” was all Archie could think of to say, and was relieved when Rufus added a slightly more articulate, “Good grief.”

 

“I know,” Giles agreed, nodding fervently. “I’d be angry with her, only I do remember how it was when... well, when I was like her. A man in his thirties has the world at his feet, if he’s talented and hardworking, which she is, in her way. An actress that age has to look around her. Most of them jump out of the business to get married, you see.”

 

Archie rubbed his brow. “And... she thought to land here?”

 

“Not seriously. It’s my fault really. I talked to them so much about you both – how kind you were, and how good. One of you a country squire, and the other getting so well known for making all those discoveries... I suppose they’ve come to think of you as what they call a catch.”

 

But I’ve already been caught. Archie didn’t know why he didn’t just say it. He hadn’t dreamed the transformation in the pit, the turning castle where his lungs had been healed by Rufus’s kiss and Gillian had turned into Giles. He was certain that Giles knew. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, keeping a tremor of laughter out of his tone, trying to imagine either himself or Rufus pairing off with such a bird of cinematic paradise. “You and your Lombardis stay here for Christmas. And perhaps you can find a way of telling Greta that, lovely though she is, she’ll find better opportunities...”

 

“Archie, look.”

 

He swung round. For a minute or so he’d been aware that Rufus’s attention had detached itself from the discussion of Greta’s hopes and dreams. Archie was used to these shifts. They happened more and more often, as Rufus healed and regained the gifts that had put him in the archaeological spotlight before his terrible war. He was standing with his hands in his pockets now, to all appearances just a quiet man at the end of a long journey, but his eyes were shining. With one hand he indicated first the great stag’s skull, just visible through the doorway to the hall, and then the painting over the fireplace – George Mount, the vast hilltop labyrinth he had discovered, now visited by historians, folklorists and historians from all over the world. He caught and held Archie’s gaze, smiling. “Look.”

 

Archie couldn’t look anywhere else. After a moment, Giles said, quietly, “Thank you, then, Squire Thorne. Dr Denby. I’ll go and help the ladies unpack.”

 

He strode away. Archie allowed himself a moment to wonder at his powerful movements, the air of sheer masculinity that had brought his polar opposites, the flickering, glittering moths, to flutter around his flame. Then he focused on Rufus. “You’ve discovered something.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it strange? I could do this before the war, but only occasionally. Then when it all got knocked out of me, and I came to Droyton and...” His voice shook slightly. “And you put it back, you must have added something extra. Because now it happens all the time.”

 

Archie held himself stiffly back. Rufus’s gift for landscape archaeology, for picking out a site without so much as sinking a trench or turning a trowel-ful of soil, had flown them both off to all the round Earth’s imagined corners. Then he saw that Giles had carefully, lovingly closed the door behind him, and he crossed the lily-patterned carpet in four big steps and pulled him into his arms. “Rufus. Dear fellow. Thank God you’re home.”