Alone, Lee stood by the window, looking out over the bleak hillside beyond. The moors around Dark were grim at this time of year too, but there were a hundred subtle differences. There—at Chy Lowen, at home—the land stretched out beneath the October skies with a wild, deep grace. Gave up its treasures of fox-copper bracken and the last scraps of gorse like an opening hand, to the wind and the rain-loaded sky.

Underhill Cottage was the last lonely outpost of a half-dead mining town. Of all the places in the world that should have provided a spectacular haunting for Jack’s camera and Anna’s production schedule, this should have been it: not only was there Gwen and Johnny’s dreadful tale, but someone had knocked down a chapel to plant the concrete-poured 1950s bungalow on its unprepossessing site. Gravestones still scattered the hill. Too old to find care among the living, too young to have acquired the mossy charm of the Kernowek-Celtic churchyards by the sea—Victorian at the earliest, marking the remains of the tin and lead miners who’d poured out their souls into the soil long before their mortal remains had returned there—they tilted at crazy angles, a tale of neglect and abandonment he could read like the remnants of yesterday’s newspaper, getting trodden underfoot in the rain.

He made a stern effort to stop. If the ghosts were giving him a break, no need to seek them out. Gid and Zeke would be here any minute, and it couldn’t happen soon enough for Lee. A quick dash up the A30, and they’d be home. Gid had taken an afternoon’s leave to shop and set up, leaving poor Sarah Kemp to try and keep Tamsyn’s cork in as well as Lorna’s, Jenny’s and Brad’s. The stove in the kitchen would be lit, and the living room’s big open fire. The huge old house, full of people and candlelight, would come into its own.

He glanced at his mobile. It was unlike Gideon to be more than five minutes late without calling. Then, with the signal dropping out like this... He gave the handset a shake. The reception bars were vanishing, right to left, leaving only one sad little nub that dissolved as he watched into a small red cross.

 

That was strange. The wifi had been good enough that afternoon for Anna to stream footage from the Spirits of Cornwall website. He turned away from the window, and a piece of paper fluttered from the ledge to the floor.

The sill had been empty, he was sure. He held still. He wanted to stride into Gideon’s arms, give and receive a bone-crushing hug and go home, not open himself to the no-show undead who had failed to turn up for his hard-working crew, but if somebody wanted to talk... “Hi,” he said uncertainly. “Sorry I called you a tosser. It’s been a long day, that’s all.”

Nothing. The vibe of the room remained undisturbed. If the Nancarrows’ story held any element of truth, he should have no trouble picking up traces of the entity that had harmed them. A raging bloody monster, that would be, churning up the psychic airwaves like a sea storm off Hagerawl Point. He picked up the sheet of paper, turned it over. “Wow. Are you writing to me?”

Neat typescript, from an old manual machine. A single indented paragraph. He read the first sentence, and broke into bewildered laughter. The talented young clairvoyant looked in horror around the room. “Thanks,” he said. “Is that what you want me to do? Why would I be horrified?”

He’d noticed a second door, although he’d have sworn that there was only one. A gut-clutching sense of evil emanated from the oblong frame. Before he could move or cry out, the second door flew open! An unseen force seized the gifted young psychic like a rag in the jaws of a hound! Helplessly it snatched him off his feet, and swept him into the darkness beyond the door.

“Gut-clutching,” Lee echoed wonderingly. “No, I... I’m not feeling it. You know, I think this might work better if you don’t insist on my age and my job title each time you mention me. The exclamation marks are a bit much, too. And helplessly applies to me, really, doesn’t it, not the unseen force?”

 

Now the atmosphere did change. Less a sense of evil than... pique, was the best way he could describe it. A kind of whole-house pout.

Before he could move or cry out, the second door flew open.

 

***

 

Gideon braked sharply to avoid a black cat that had just shot across the road, tail in a brush, left to right. A pumpkin rolled off the back seat and thumped into the footwell. Ezekiel glanced over his shoulder. “For heaven’s sake, Gideon. Half the Falmouth Halloween market seems to have come home with us.”

“I know. It’s great, isn’t it? And every scrap’s organic, biodegradable, recyclable or all three, so don’t look so po-faced about it.”

 

“I’m not commenting on your consumer habits. What worries me is...” He jammed a hand to the dashboard as another cat—not the same one, surely—whipped from verge to verge of the narrow lane, travelling in the opposite direction. “Really, whether you approach the matter from a godless Pagan angle or the heartless commercial rubbish we’ve inherited from the States, there’s not much in your planned celebrations tonight to feed our children’s souls or improve their moral outlook.”

 

“Wow, Zeke. Godless and heartless?”

“Not you and Lee personally, of course. But do you take my point? This is a sacred time of year, when we try to remember our martyrs and saints at Hallowmass, and—”

“You’re a Methodist. You don’t celebrate Hallowmass.”

 

“I suppose I ought to be impressed that you knew that. However, John Wesley himself was very fond of the day. We don’t make foolish fetish objects of our martyrs in the Church, but we do respect their sacrifice.”

 

Gideon drummed his fingers on the wheel. After his Midsummer crisis of faith, Ezekiel was more than back on form. The chapel in Dark had been rebuilt, and he occupied its pulpit with a kind of thunderous humanity. Gideon kept up a dutiful front of irritation, but in fact found his brother’s griping more of a reassurance than anything else. “Right,” he said. “I suppose that means your little Toby and Mike won’t be coming along tonight for their dose of candy and corruption?”

A sigh shook Ezekiel’s frame. “Eleanor’s bringing them over at six. They don’t even know what Halloween is, but they do know they want it.”

“Costumes?”

“Two little werewolves.”

Gideon smiled, though Zeke’s answer had given him a small, odd shudder. “You really aren’t the very best advert for Christian austerity, you know. Did you manage to get through to Lee yet?”

“No. It’s odd—we’re right beside the Trescowe moor mobile mast, but I can’t get a signal.”

 

“Keep trying. We’re gonna be late, and I don’t want him to worry.”

 

“If you’re lost, have the grace to admit it.”

 

“I’ll have the grace to wallop the back of your head, when I can spare a hand.” Leaning forward, Gideon tried to focus through the drifting wraiths of mist catching the headlights. “Great. It’s nearly dark. I thought I knew all the back roads around Gotheglos.”

 

“Perhaps we should ask a policeman.”

 

“I swear to God, Ezekiel...”

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.”