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.