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.”
“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...”