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For International Men’s Day (November 19th), I am interviewing a few other men I know who, similarly, have mental health issues. I’m trying to get a perspective on male-oriented mental health needs in our society today. I have edited this interviewees comments a little for clarity, readability and grammar.

Q1: Please tell us a little about yourself. How old are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

I am 47 living in London and now a (sort of) full-time artist. I’m married with a 12-year-old step-daughter, but am currently staying with local friends because the people we lodge with have a two and three year old. Plus I do not want my current mental condition to be around my step-daughter constantly.

Q2: What mental health problems do you suffer from, and how long have you been diagnosed for? Do you attribute them to any particular cause?

I have been diagnosed with BPD, EUPD (essentially the same thing and a catch-all for those that do not quite fit standard issues). Along with Social Anxiety, Chronic suicidal depression, and tentative diagnoses of other more complex issues including PTSD. 

As to cause, I think I have always had these problems. It is more to do with running out of the mental and physical energy to continue to cope.

Q3: What, overall, has been your experience with the mental health system in this country? What resources have you accessed?

Complicated and everything from utterly terrible to extremely good, sometimes on the same ward, during the same admittance.

Night-staff, in general, were the worst and tended to not follow the rules about certain things, like the escalation of emotional behaviour or ignoring patients. Sometimes they were actively rude to patients, including me.

Outside of ward, I found that, generally, the Home Treatment Team were useless other than for bringing medicines. However, places like the SUN Group, which is a twice-weekly mutual support session for sufferers of a variety of mental health issues, have been extremely useful. ADAPT (once they sorted out my Care Coordinator) has also been helpful.

I also undertook Art therapy while on-ward, during the most recent admittance, and also managing emotions as a sort of therapy/workshop. This was, personally, less useful as it told me things that I have known since childhood, but it worked well for the support of others. 

The art therapy is set to continue as soon as a long term placement is available.

Q4: Do you agree that the mental health approach needs to be more tailored to both the individual, and to men as a group? If so, in what ways?

Regardless of gender, there needs to be more money spent on mental health issues. They are closing aspects of the system down quietly, without informing the public. While I was on-ward, the “rest area” for potential patients to wait for beds was scrapped, which would have been a good thing if it had been replaced. Now mental health sufferers in need of admittance have to go to A&E at the main hospital.

Also scrapped was the Day Treatment Team, which normally organised activities and was in charge of running therapies and care groups. Those tasks have now fallen to HTT, more precisely the well-trained ones that are overburdened already.

So the simple answer is more money, more training for staff, better wages for front line staff, and more ward space available countrywide.

Q5: How do you feel the mental health system in this country currently fails men?

There are minimal resources and activities, particularly catering for male patients.

Q6: Why do you think it is that men access these services less frequently, despite being the majority of suicides and other negative outcomes?

Toxic masculinity meaning that males tend to grow up with less confidence to talk about and express the worries they have about mental illness.

Q7: What do you think could have helped intervention, or seeking help, earlier in your illness?

The need for GP doctors to be better trained in spotting mental health traits, particularly in the young and teenage population. Also, active encouragement for men to go to their GP for mental health issues as well as physical problems.

Q8: What have been the positives in your treatment through the mental health system?

I have found new friends in unlikely ways. I have actually encountered some forms of therapy that have the potential to at least help me cope better. Finally, medicinal help which at least partially seems to be of help

Q9: What would your idea of a perfect mental health system look like?

I am not sure, but probably utopian and universal, and as interlinked to each person as education and general health care should be. 

Q10: What has given you hope and pulled you back from the brink? 

Relatives, friends, other people that have shown such unconditional love and care to me. Globally, the continuance of possible care that could make this all easier to cope with, and striving to keep being creative and to push myself to do projects

For International Men’s Day (November 19th) I am interviewing a few other men I know who, similarly to myself, have mental health issues. I’m doing this to try and get a perspective on male-oriented mental health needs in our society today.

It would be unfair to conduct these interviews without answering the questions myself. If you would like to contribute, anonymously of course, feel free to contact me at grim AT postmort DOT demon DOT co DOT uk.

Q1: Please tell us a little about yourself. How old are you, where are you from and what do you do?

I’m in my mid forties, and finally look it. I’ve felt older than I was for a very long time. I live in a small village in the South of England, very pretty, very rural, proper hobbit country. I am a ‘creative person without portfolio’. Primarily I write and make (analogue) games, but I’m doing more video and design work as time wears on.

Two interesting and relevant tidbits of information for you.

First, rural suicide rates tend to be higher. It’s hard to single out why. It might be difficulty of access to services and support. It might be social isolation. It might be the way in which old, rural ways of life have changed or ended.

Second, while the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype is well known, apparently it only significantly correlates with writers. Such is my luck.

Q2: What mental health problems do you suffer from, and how long have you been diagnosed for? Do you attribute them to any particular cause?

I have been diagnosed with moderate to severe depression (with suicidal episodes) since 2007. I can’t remember when I got my other diagnoses, but they include anxiety and dependent personality disorder. My anxiety is mostly social anxiety, which is in a really lovely tension with the anxiety.

Q3: What, overall, has been your experience with the mental health system in this country and what resources have you accessed?

Mixed.

I have been fortunate in that my local doctors have been pretty good and fairly well switched on to mental health issues compared to those of many others. On the other hand I have found the huge waiting lists for mental health provision a constant frustration, and the one-size-fits-all approach in UK mental healthcare provision to be next to useless.

I was able to afford private assistance for a while, with the help of family, but that had diminishing returns in terms of help. I also tried accessing the charity MIND, who were useful in pragmatic but not therapeutic terms, and iTalk, which is convenient but disruptive and has long waiting lists.

After years of illness I finally sought financial aid and it took over a year to finally get any. I’ve also suffered societal suspicion and hostility for even seeking aid. Even without the problems around ATOS (Independent Assessment Services) and others, our society at large is innately hostile to people who need help.

Q4: Do you agree that the mental health approach needs to be more tailored to both the individual, and to men as a group? If so, in what ways?

Yes, which is why I asked the question to others!

I appreciate that the NHS operates a triage system, and that mental healthcare is expensive and long term, and so – brutally put – not great value for money. It is, however, a huge problem and while the NHS as a whole needs more money, we do need to focus on mental healthcare and cost-effective preventative care.

I am not, by any means, a conventionally masculine dude. Being a thensitive artitht and all, but the system as it stands did not suit me, and I have seen how it doesn’t suit other men even more. It’s not just stigma, it’s personality differences (in aggregate), mindset and something as simple as time. Men take more time to open up, so standard appointments for talk therapy, simply aren’t long enough.

There’s other examples, and approaches that could help and do exist on smaller scales, but it’s hard – politically – to get help for men as a group.

Q5: How do you feel the mental health system in this country currently fails men?

Timing, stigma, the lack of tailored provision, the fixation on talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. Things I’ve already mentioned.

I have also found that while people like to blame things like ‘toxic masculinity’ that becomes a blaming of masculinity in general. I also find that while people say they want you to open up and be vulnerable, or more generally that they want men to, the reality is that many people react with disgust at seeing a man be vulnerable or weak. Others exploit your weakness, pretend you’re not ill or are using it for attention.

I think men, in particular, also feel the stigma of incapacity, of reduced or removed ability to work, more. There also seems to be a little more hostility to people with mental health issues and men (not that there’s much in it) when it comes to seeking financial aid and assistance.

Q6: Why do you think it is that men access these services less frequently, despite being the majority of suicides and other negative outcomes?

All the reasons I’ve already stated. We say one thing, we encourage people to open up and then we punish them for it. We discourage people from taking medication or seeking help, we punish them when they do. Family and friends might not, but society as a whole does. Unless you have that direct connection you’re part of that amorphous ‘scrounger’ other.

Self reliance, toughness, stoicism, these are good things, but they’re also being demonised as toxic. As a man, you’re caught between all manner of different expectations and prejudices from all sides and – if you do seek assistance it’s less likely to be helpful.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Q7: What do you think could have helped intervention, or seeking help, earlier in your illness?

My initial symptoms were more like exhaustion, chronic fatigue and so on. I also really, desperately, didn’t want anything to be wrong with my mind – of all things. I’d never been particularly strong, charismatic, good looking or much else, but I’d always been able to rely on my brain.

Feeling like I was losing my mind was devastating more, perhaps, than it could have been for others, because I felt that it was all I had. It also made me very resistant to taking antidepressants, which also affect your mind.

Better to be foggy and alive, than clear and dead though, right?

A more dogged, persistent and forceful doctor earlier on could have helped more, but all things considered I was lucky.

Q8: What have been the positives in your treatment through the mental health system?

Everyone – other than assessment services – really cares and really does their best within the limitations of the system to help you. If you can afford to go private you can find specialised care and different approaches that may help, but it’s just not there as part of the NHS.

Q9: What would your idea of a perfect mental health system look like?

If the system we have were more varied, more tailored and better funded I think we’d just about be there. Cognitive behaviour therapy and talk therapy just isn’t enough and we need individuated care.

Changing societal attitudes is a longer struggle and it’s not really something you can impose.

Q10: What has given you hope and pulled you back from the brink?

Friends and family, and pure stubbornness. Having pets and people who depend on me one way or another. Close run thing, but has been the most effective lifesaver.

Part Three: Blood on the Windows

Gathercole and Crispin marched out of the university building with a purpose, energised by the revelation of another death. The young lady, Ada it turned out, was their sherpa, aiding them to find the exit. It was a shock to them when they stepped outside. The air was fresh and cold, and the sky was dark.

“Bloody hell. How long were we stuck in that bloody office for?” Crispin exclaimed.

“The Moon is out already,” Gathercole remarked, taking note of it. “I wonder…”

Ada hugged her arms around herself for warmth, though the shaking was as much from shock as the abrupt cold. She led them on, though the crowd, down the road, though the shouts of police officers and the rumbling of a crowd could be heard streets away.

‘Willy’ it seemed, had rather pleasant and expensive lodgings off Russell Square, not the sort of neighbourhood to be used to such bloody goings-on. Ada hung back, and Crispin begged off arguing with the police to stay with her. Gathercole, in contrast, marched forward to where the police were holding off a crowd of agitated students and residents with bellowed shouts and red faces.

“I say! Excuse me, officer?” Gathercole pushed his way between a couple of obstreperous young men to reach the front.

“Sir, I’m just going to tell you the same thing I’ve been telling these nosy scallywags. Until the detectives have finished examining the scene and the ambulance has taken the body, you’re not getting in. I will, however, take your name and any statement you might have to offer as a witness.”

“My name is William Gathercole. I’m a consultant on this case for Detective Constable Wentworth. If he’s present, he’ll confirm my bona fides. Please be a brick and ask him.”

The constable gave Gathercole a hard and sceptical stare, and then nodding to his companion went in through the glossy black door and disappeared from sight.

“Alright! Back you lot until the other constable returns! Let’s have some order!” Shouted the other constable and prodded Gathercole in the chest with the tip of his truncheon, pushing him back into the jostling embrace of the crowd.

Gathercole lifted his gaze the several stories of the building. It was at the very top where shadows were flitting, as though several men were moving about. There was even the occasional bright flash of a photograph being taken, and a puff of smoke from the slightly cracked window. The curtain was drawn, but even so, there was a russet splash of drying blood against the pane, the distinctive shape – even from here – of a tremendous dog-like paw print.

The constable reappeared. “Detective Constable Wentworth says to admit you, Sir. I’d best stay to deal with the crowd, you can find your own way up. Stairs on the right, all the way up. Hope you’ve a strong stomach, Sir.”

“That I do,” sighed Gathercole and made his way inside.

It was not so different from the Professor’s house, save for the fact that the body had not been removed. The detectives were so out of sorts from what they saw – unused to animal attacks of any kind in this country, let alone the city – that they barely noticed Gathercole enter.

One, however, did.

Wentworth was even whiter than usual and a little green about the gills to boot, it made his freckles much starker, and the blood on the lampshades picked up the red of his hair and the bloodshot patterns in his eyes.

“Gathercole, you can’t be here!” He whispered. “I only called you up because you’re less trouble here than out there, and maybe I can reason with you. You can come back later.”

“Charlie, I need to see it fresh. I need a feel for it. It’s no good coming after. Is it the same?”

DC Wentworth nodded, grimly. “Torn to pieces, blood everywhere. Bites and claws but no sign of the beast or beasts that did it. Hard thing to stage.” He tapped out a cigarette from its packet and lit it from one hanging out of his mouth.

“Witnesses?” Gathercole leaned around Wentworth, making furious notes in his pocketbook.

“Nothing direct, we had to break the door down. There was a fellow next door, but he’s not exactly coherent.”

“I need to talk to him.”

“I don’t think that’s a…”

“I need to talk to him,” Gathercole insisted.

Wentworth heaved another sigh and blew the smoke from his cigarette up towards the ceiling. “Alright, but then you have to leave before I get into trouble.” He led the way back to the door.

Gathercole paused a moment and crouched down, using his pencil to measure a bloody paw-print on the cream carpet. “Hmm, bigger than a wolf, smaller than a bear.”

“How in the world do you know these things?” Wentworth hung around the door, waiting.

“You think only people leave ghosts?” Gathercole stood again and followed him through.

The witness was another student, huddled in another cramped garret. A full ashtray sat before him, and he was taking frequent nips from a hip flask. He seemed shaken in the extreme, trembling as he sat on the edge of his camp bed, sweat staining the armpits of his shirt – and it wasn’t from the heat.

“Mr McLeod? This here is Mr Gathercole, he’s an… ah, consulting detective with us. Something like Mr Holmes from Conan-Doyle’s books if you will. He specialises in cases like this, the peculiar ones. Would you mind answering a few of his questions?”

The lad nodded slightly, and Wentworth bowed out, leaving Gathercole with McLeod. Gathercole took a moment and then offered his own hip flask. “I’d lay good odds this is better than whatever you’re drinking, help yourself.”

The lad took a sip, then a longer drink and wiped his lips on his sleeve, steadying slightly.

“McLeod eh? Islander?”

He nodded and spoke, though his accent was of a gentler mould, educated Edinburgh more than the highlands and islands. “Yes Sir, though I must say I much prefer city life. I did at any rate, until now. It’s a rum do Mr Gathercole, very rum indeed.”

Gathercole lit one of his Dunhills and took a long, thoughtful drag.

“I want to reassure you, young MacLeod, that I am not the police. If you’ve held anything back from them for fear of seeming mad, or anything the police might not approve of, you needn’t fear that of me. I have seen many uncanny and ab-natural things in my lifetime, and I’m not even talking about the war. I want you to be perfectly honest.”

“I was resting, smoking, reading by the window. It can get stifling up here with the heat from all the other rooms rising up to the roof. I was taking a little break from my studies when all of a sudden, I heard the most terrific crash from the other room. Then screams, snarls, roars, howls and… and poor old Willy shrieking like billy-o. Then it went quiet, terrible quiet Sir.”

“You didn’t go to check?” Gathercole stooped over the ashtray and plucked up one of the newer, fresher butts.

“Not right away, Sir, I was terrified, you see.”

Gathercole lifted the butt to his nose and sniffed slightly.

“Mr MacLeod, I told you, I need you, to be honest. I will neither judge you nor turn you over to the police. Muggle-head or not.” He pointedly dropped the butt back into the ashtray. “Unless, of course, you continue to dissemble.”

The lad hung his head and sighed. “Fine. I was smoking marijuana out of the window when I heard the sounds. That much I haven’t omitted anything about. I did go to the door, though, without thinking, and I looked out.”

“What did you see?” Gathercole leaned closer in anticipation.

“The stairwell was like mist or smoke. I could smell the blood and the way the smoke moved… it was like seeing a face in the clouds. A man, or a wolf, or both. Wolves I mean, men. Two of them. Then they faded away. I blinked, and they were gone. I couldn’t tell the police that.”

“No. If I were you, I still wouldn’t tell them that. Mr McLeod, you’re not mad. Certain vices have a way of opening the mind to other planes of existence, at least for a moment. You saw something real, you saw something true. Just keep it to yourself around the constables. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave you to your recovery.”

Gathercole swung open the door and stepped quickly out.

“Anything useful, Will?” Wentworth called after him.

“Very!” Gathercole hopped down the stairs two at a time and back out the front.

Crispin forced his way to the front of the crowd. There were no regrets at the hisses and tuts from his elbow digs. “Progress?”

“Progress,” Gathercole took Crispin’s hand and let him pull him through the crowd. “Methinks it is like a weasel.”

“So, are we hunting some monstrous ghost-weasel or has The Bard himself returned from the grave to torture me for not appreciating Romeo and Juliet in my literature class?” Crispin let his hand linger against Gathercoles and then drew it away, a little too fast, with a nervous glance towards the constables.

“Neither. A witness, a muggler, saw smoky, ghost-shapes fleeing the scene. We need to find young Ada post-haste, we need to know who else was close to the Professor. It’s like they’re being picked off one by one.”

“Fan, as I am, of the Turkish vice, it doesn’t make for reliable witnesses. Ada’s still around somewhere, she should stand out in this sea of handsome young men. Ah, there she is.” Crispin pointed, and the pair of them marched on over.

Ada startled at their abrupt arrival. “It’s horrible, two people I know, dead! I can’t get any sense out of anyone. An animal attack? Both of them? The Professor’s locked house? The attic here, without disturbing anyone else? It’s simply unbelievable.”

Gathercole rested his hands on her shoulders and looked Ada full in the eyes. “Ada, I want to help. Whatever or whoever this is, it’s clearly targeting people who knew the Professor. People who worked on the Coldham site would be my guess. Did you find something there? Something special? If so, who was it that found it?”

Ada leaned back against the wall and lowered her head, fingers to her temples. She stayed like that for a long minute, and Crispin was about to open his mouth and prompt her, but Gathercole quickly waved him down. It was another thirty seconds before she spoke.

“We hadn’t found much that would excite anyone but an archaeologist, until the second to last day. We found coins and jewellery, offerings more typically found in bogs or wells, but much more interesting to find here. Then we found a pair of idols. Wolf heads, carved from stone. The Professor found them I mean, and he and willy conferred over them. I cleaned and catalogued them. That’s what we all have in common. The dig and the heads.” She looked up, crying without sobbing, her make-up running down her cheeks.

“That’s the order? The Professor dug them out, Willy handled them, and then they passed on to you?”

“Yes, and then the porters and staff, I’m sure. I lost track after cataloguing.”

“The professor died last night, Willy tonight…” Gathercole held her gaze.

“Oh, Lord. I’m next, aren’t I?”

Gathercole nodded slowly. “Ada, I know you’re of a scientific mind, but you can’t deny something strange is going on her. I can help, but I need you to trust me and to entrust yourself to me. Myself and Crispin will do all we can to keep you alive and please, believe me, the constabulary are powerless against an enemy such as this.”

Ada simply nodded and took his hands in hers.

***

“Well, this is a much nicer place than the male student’s rooms,” Crispin observed, meandering back to where Gathercole was setting up his radio-pentagram, symbols and wards with his characteristic care.

“A woman’s touch,” Gathercole murmured, checking and rechecking the circuits and the battery charge.

Crispin sniffed, dismissively. “Quite attractive, our Miss Carter, wouldn’t you say?” He nudged the battery pack with his shoe.

“Ada? Perhaps. Quite the ‘bright young thing’ I’m sure.”

“Yes, I thought you’d rather noticed that. Young girl, togs, showing off her legs and all. Probably a bulldyker if you ask me, dressing up like a young man.”

“Crispin!” Gathercole snapped, looking up. “Now is not the time for one of your fits of jealous pique. Yes, she’s an attractive young woman and yes, despite your best efforts, efforts which are very much appreciated, I am still attracted to women. I also like both roast beef and ice cream, but I can’t eat both at once, and I’m rather enjoying my beef. Now, can we please give every effort to saving this young woman’s life?”

There was an awkward silence.

“Fine.” Crispin stalked out, lighting a fresh cigarette.

“I say, is everything alright?” Ada appeared from the tiny kitchenette with a fresh cup of tea, which Gathercole accepted gratefully.

“Crispin is a wonderful man and a loyal friend but given to tempers which he is ill-equipped to express. So, he lashes out. Still, I wouldn’t have him any other way.”

Ada leaned against the wall, nibbling at a biscuit, swallowing and looking away. “The love that dare not speak its name?”

“Oh,” chuckled Gathercole. “I dare not speak it. We have other things to worry about.”

“I’d rather think about just about anything else, rather than this doom you seem to think is coming for me. It would fit the pattern, and I’m given to understand the constabulary are questioning the animal trainers at circuses and zoos. Your ghost story almost seems more plausible.”

Gathercole turned the switch on and closed his eyes a moment, listening to the barely perceptible hum before he snapped it off again. “Miss Carter, whether you believe me or not, I firmly believe you’re safer with two strapping men standing guard than you would be alone.”

“You are not wrong there, and I imagine with you and Crispin I’m even safer on that score.” She poked her tongue into her cheek and quirked an eyebrow.

“Ha! I like you. Can we keep you?”

“I think that depends on your tomfool contraption, don’t you?”

“My tomfool contraption, magic words, garlic oil and the eight signs of the Saaamaaa Ritual.”

“Well, that makes me feel so much better.”

“It should,” Gathercole said with such utmost sincerity and seriousness that Ada fell mute and took her place in the centre of the antennae.

***

Time flew past, the sun set. Crispin got over his fit of pique and returned to help with the preparations, warding the windows and doors with garlic, silver dust and blessed water. He even warmed to Ada, as much as he was able, finding a mutual love of lewd jokes to chuckle over while Gathercole refined his machines.

As soon as it was dark enough to switch on the electric lights, Gathercole became all business.

“Ada, into the circle and please, do not leave it, no matter what. Crispin, please, stay back. I suspect this may be a Saiitii manifestation, stronger than anything we’ve faced before. I do not want to see you hurt.”

Ada scurried into place and sat down, cross-legged in the middle of the chalk, symbols and antennae, seeing how serious they both were. Crispin frowned but backed away, holding Gathercole’s service pistol loosely by his side, for all the good it would do.

Gathercole snapped on the switch, drawing power – for now – from the mains supply to the room. The antennae began to hum, barely discernible against the background noise of the city beyond the claustrophobic walls. The tone changed slightly as he adjusted and tuned, trying to anticipate the precise frequency he would need.

“Anything?” He locked the switches into position with a click.

“Nothing yet,” Crispin crisscrossed the room, pacing, staring into every shadow and every corner in nervous anticipation.

“That gun will likely do no good you know,” Gathercole tapped his thermometer and voltmeter and rechecked his dials.

“It does the good of making me feel better,” Crispin swallowed, drily. “It’s something solid, heavy and real, something I understand.”

“There!” Ada pointed toward the door. “That shadow, it moved!”

Gathercole and Crispin turned as one, Gathercole lifting his flashlight and flicking it on, but there was nothing there that he could see.

“Wait…” Crispin pointed now, inside the room, where the wall and floor joined at the skirting board.

Gathercole saw it then, it was the most peculiar sight that set the creeps twitching across his shoulder muscles and made the hair on his nape stand up.

There was a shadow, as though cast by a light in the very centre of the room. There was no light. Just the side lamps and the shaded bulb hanging from the ceiling. Still, the shadow moved, slunk, spreading across the floor and ceiling wall, distorted like some horrifying shadow puppet.

It was unmistakably a wolf, and it grew and spread like a storm cloud, across and up the wall.

“Another one!” Crispin pointed with the barrel of the pistol towards the other wall where a second great shadow was spreading across the wallpaper, flanking Ada between them.

There was a smell, like a wet dog and a slight mist seemed to fill the room. Gathercole stared in disbelief as the carpet before him appeared to collapse upon itself. There was an indent in the shape of a gigantic paw, then another, and another. The room echoed with a savage growl, resonant and choral between the two shadows, and then a great howl that all but deafened them, forcing them to slap their hands over their ears.

The shadows didn’t attack though, they seemed to pace around the periphery of the antennae, and there was a slight shimmer in the air and a crackle of electricity whenever they got too close, the increasingly familiar stink of ozone briefly filling their nostrils.

“They’re not attacking,” Crispin brought down his arms and shifted the pistol from hand to hand as he wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers.

“It’s the radio-pentagram, they can sense it. They show intelligence, incidental physical effects. I’ve never even heard of anything like it! Not like this. Malevolence, yes, but problem-solving!”

“I’m glad you’re having fun.”

Ada was whimpering, curled into a tight ball, as close to the centre of Gathercole’s markings as she could cram herself. Eyes screwed shut, refusing to even look at the shadow spectres that stalked around her.

As Gathercole and Crispin watched, one of the shadows reached out, and its shadow form seemed to solidify as it’s paw grew closer to the radio-pentacle, darkness and smoke in the shape of an enormous claw. It was like trying to push together two powerful magnets, no matter how hard the creatures pushed – and they saw them manifest as they did, in sections, like a mad jigsaw of giant wolf parts – they could not penetrate it. The lights flickered, the improved cabling taking the strain, but it was a stand-off, and that was not enough, Gathercole returned to his instruments.

“They’re changing!” Crispin called out, raising the pistol again in a shaking hand and pulling back the hammer.

Gathercole looked up again and there, against the invisible field of the radio-pentacle were the two shadow beings, part man now, part wolf, straining against and exploring the field, straining the gear to its limit. The antennae were beginning to glow and wilt from the strain.

“Can’t we dissipate them? Like the Hodgson affair? Lure them in and power the thing back on?”

The sounds of growling and snarling forced Crispin to raise his voice, and one of the things turned to ‘look’ at him when he did so.

“No! it would tear her to pieces in an instant!” Gathercole’s hands moved to the controls, his eyes flickering around as he visualised the circuit diagrams in his head, grasping for a technical solution. “Maybe the batteries as well as the power…”

Gathercole’s head rang, and he swayed away. The report of the pistol was like a punch to the ear, and it brought a momentary flash of the trenches that completely replaced the supernatural scene before him with more mundane horror and familiar horror or yellow-green gas and thunderous artillery.

He shook his head and snapped back to, his heart smashing against his ribs like it wanted to burst out. Crispin was screaming his name as the pistol rang the room like a bell until it clicked on an empty chamber. The shadow-shape that he was aiming at staggered with the blows of the bullets, but didn’t stop. One by one the slugs dropped to the floor, from mid-air, as though the air itself had at first thickened, and then dissipated to allow them to do so.

He breathed in, he breathed out and looked to Crispin, saw his mouth moving, yelling, screaming something at him that he couldn’t read or hear. Until he could.

“WILL! DO SOMETHING! WE’RE NOT PROTECTED!”

He turned back to the Bakelite case and with shaking fingers, turned down the dial.

Sensing the weakness instantly, the shadow became the wolf again, entirely, and leapt, striking the weakened field with a tremendous fizzing crackle like a thunderbolt, the pair of them beating against the invisible pentagram with such ferocity that the floorboard shook and cracked.

“DISTRACT THEM!” Gathercole screamed.

“HOW?”

“SPEAK TO THEM!”

Crispin knew a smattering of many languages, he dropped the useless pistol and clutched his hands to his temples, struggling against his own panic.

“Ah, damn… listen to me! Listen to me, wolves. Ah…” He stumbled over his half-remembered words.

“B-Bleydhes, goslaws orthum!”

Nothing.

“Madadh, east reeum!

Nothing.

“Bleiss, selaouam!” Nothing. They continued their assault on the field.

“Bleiddiaid, grandwich arnay!” He could barely make himself heard over the snarling and electric hum.

“Wearg, heeran mi!”

Then finally, in desperation. “Lupi, audite me!”

The assault stopped, just for a moment and the shadowy figures turned. A great snarling shout filled the room with a force that staggered them both.

“NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”

 “NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”

It was the momentary distraction that was needed. Gathercole slammed the dial and switches over, dumping the power from the batteries into the system and creating a new wave of force. The shadows shook and thinned but did not melt.

Then Gathercole spoke, quietly, the Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual and finally, the wolves gave way, like smoke in the wind.

That sense of pressure vanished, the relief like the breaking of a storm. Gathercole physically staggered and flipped off the switches and dialled. He and Crispin crawled, exhausted, across the floor to hold Ada between them, whose sobs were now ones of joy and relief.

Through the ringing in his ears, Gathercole leaned close to Crispin and asked: “What did they say?”

“They called us, the Invaders.”

Part Two: A Failure of Imagination

“Good Lord, this is tiresome.” Gathercole closed the cover of yet another archaeological journal and placed it face down, reaching to the pile for another. “Are we sure this is everything?”

“Everything that’s been published.” Crispin was still in a state of dudgeon from the early morning, but he was dutifully ploughing his way through his own share of the journals.

Gathercole stifled a yawn. “We are looking for something meaningful, something singular, something that speaks to ritual or ab-natural forces. This Professor Bradley seems driven to paroxysms of near sensual joy by a few fragments of pot.”

“Why couldn’t he be interested in the Romans or the Greeks? What I wouldn’t give for a plate illustration of a saucy mosaic or a wall-painting of Apollo about now. Instead, it’s pieces of pot, animal bones and the occasional rusted lump that might, perhaps, in a certain light, be a cloak pin.”

“This is like finding hen’s teeth,” Gathercole harrumphed and turned back a page, having lost focus.

Crispin raised a finger. “All chicks have a special structure on their beak called an egg tooth, which they use to breatk their shell. So a hen’s tooth would be much easier to find than this.”

A white-haired librarian woman with thick glasses appeared around one of the stacks. “Would you mind keeping it down, gentlemen? Students are trying to learn.”

“I do apologise madam.” Gathercole inclined his head slightly.

“Oh, Professor Bradley’s work? Poor man. We’re all quite distraught to hear of his passing. One wonders who could do such a thing.” The woman tutted and shook her head.

“Or what…” Gathercole opined before Crispin gave him a sharp look. “I’m sorry, we’re assisting the police in the matter of his passing. Is this all his work? We’re hoping we might find some clue.”

“Oh, yes, this is everything. Everything that has been published at least. I pride myself on a complete catalogue, at least as it relates to the university and the record of work relating to it.”

“So there is unpublished work?” Gathercole leaned forward in the soft, yielding leather seat, which resisted his efforts.

“Yes, it can take a long time to make revisions and so forth to get published. There’s two or three papers he’s been working on, and everything relating to the Coldham dig site of course.” She couldn’t help herself, and she bent down to tidy the chaotic stacks of journals they had left strewn over the table.

“The Coldham dig site?” Gathercole was standing now, and Crispin reluctantly followed him up to his feet.

“Feelan’s Copse, find of a lifetime he said. Forever harping on about the amateur archaeologists of the past stamping around like elephants. This place was unspoilt, he said. They finished the dig not too long ago.”

“And his work on this site would be where?”

“Well, in his office.”

“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful!” Gathercole strode away on his long legs, leaving Crispin to offer the librarian his hurried apologies before he gave pursuit.

The Professor’s study wasn’t in a position of particularly good standing, tucked away in a warren of rooms and corridors, far from the light of the sun and thick with dust. There was nobody to stop them, and it wasn’t locked, but the state of the room left a great deal to be desired. The police had, clearly, already been here and while they had methodically swept the room for clues, they had not put everything back in the precise order that, presumably, the Professor had kept things in.

Gathercole began to methodically work his way through the papers and notes while Crispin half-heartedly leafed through bits and pieces and ran his fingertips across the folders on the shelves, not entirely sure what he was looking for. It took hours, and even Gathercole’s tenacious and analytical mind began to fray a little around the edges.

“Blast it, Crispin, there’s nothing here about Coldham or Feelan’s Copse other than this near illegible note begging the bursar for some funds. Another blasted dead end.”

“Hmm?” Crispin had fallen asleep a while go, in the battered arm chair that was the only other furniture in the room.

“You could have at least pretended to help for a little longer,” Gathercole snapped at him, reproachfully and got up. The study chair rolled back on its wheels into a stack of books and Gathercole yanked the door to the study open. He almost got a punch in the face, a pair of young men were standing there, one mid-knock upon the door, almost overbalancing as the door opened before him.

“Good Lord!” The first student gasped. “I’m so sorry!”

Gathercole gathered himself with a slight cough, straightening the lapels of his pale suit. “Quite alright young fellow, can I help you with anything?”

The first man looked a little crestfallen at the question, his friend, in a rather natty straw skimmer with a band in the university colours, burgundy and black, spoke up. “We are students of Professor Bradley, old boy. Were, rather, I should say. We’re trying to make do until we get a new Professor and we drew the short straw to look up the lesson plans and the last papers we handed in.”

“Who are you exactly?” The glum-looking, hatless student looked up.

“We’re consultants for the constabulary,” Crispin spoke up as Gathercole was lost for words for a moment. “We’re investigating his death, supplementing their work.”

“We may be able to help you with the papers and lesson plans, we’ve gone through this whole office. One moment.”

Gathercole ducked back into the office and tugged the papers from the shelf, holding them out to the students.

As the hatless young man was about to take them, Gathercole pulled them back, as though changing his mind. “Perhaps you could help us in return? It seems like a lot of the records are missing, particularly about the most recent dig?”

“Ah,” said the skimmer-wearer. “Well, that was only just finished, it’s all still in process. Laid out in one of the storerooms. It’s going to be a bit of a task to get everything in order without the Professor. He was a frightful stickler for doing things properly, the blighter, but a wise old head on matters scientific.”

“You can show me where these finds are?”

“Of course sir, happy to.”

Gathercole gave over the paperwork, and the two young fellows led them through the impenetrably labyrinthine corridors of the university.

Crispin trailed along beside, still thoroughly bored, though he’d seemed to have lightened up a little in the company of the student boys. “This is starting to take me back a bit Gathercole, pair of handsome of bucks like this, almost enough to make me miss it.”

“You’re incorrigible, Crispin.” Gathercole gave him an affectionate biff on the arm as they followed the students into the storeroom.

Electric lights brightened as they warmed up, a series of overhead metal lamps that gave the cement floor and brick walls an even more stark and unforgiving look than they would already have had. All over the floor were crates and boxes of finds, trinkets, broken cloak-ins, pieces of broken pottery, coins, carved stones with spirals upon their surfaces and more.

Gathercole began to move through the finds, mentally cataloguing them as he did, searching for the ineffable something that smacked of the ab-natural.

“The Professor recorded where everything was found in these notebooks, we’d begun double-checking everything. The low numbers are the outer finds, the high numbers are the inner finds. Letters indicate what manner of find it was, roughly most significant to least significant, ‘A’ through ‘Z’. Everything’s labelled too.” Said skimmer-boy.

“I say, William, this crate’s still closed. The label says one-‘A’,” Crispin called out. “I say, fellows, what’s in this one?”

“That’s the chap who was buried in the mound. Fragile skeletal remains, some grave goods. We hadn’t finished indexing them when what happened, happened.” The hatless lad was still rather dour and sad.

“Can we open it up?” Gathercole moved to the crate and rested his hand upon it.

“Na ye bloody-well kin nae open it up!” They all turned and the bellowing shout. It was a short, bald man in red-brown tweed, with a robust scots accent. He puffed on his pipe and growled around it, giving him the appearance of a rather red-faced steam locomotive. “Grey, Winston! Explain yersel, who oor thaese men, eh?”

Skimmer spoke up. “Sorry Professor Sievwright! They’re working with the police on Professor Bradley’s death. They asked to see the finds.”

“And did yae ask for their credentials?” Sievwright’s accent faded as his fury abated, though clearly, it took effort.

“No, sir.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Away wi’ ye, and as for you two gentlemen. Gae oot!” The accent came back as quickly as it had faded as his face reddened again.

“Sir, if we’re to solve this case we simply must…” Gathercole strove to be diplomatic, but they were all interrupted a second time.

This time it was a young woman, togs and boots, a flowy blouse, a tam on her head, she cut quite the modern figure. She was white as a sheet, though, and her voice was all a-quiver. “Professor, Winnie, Flusher, there’s been another death. It’s Willy. Like Bradders, at his boarding house. The police won’t let anyone see him!”

Gathercole and Crispin shared a glance, that settled it. There were more urgent things afoot than a box. The scots guard dog could wait.

Hypione’s shop squats in a tangle of alleys on the edge of The Briers – an abandoned area where the streets went sour many years ago. The rent is cheap, The Baron often overlooks taxes, and it has the vibrancy of many a poor district in the Infinite City. All this despite its proximity to the poison, horrors and byblows of streets lost to the darkness.

It’s an odd little place, her shop: a schizophrenic space that is neither one thing nor the other.

In the one half of the grubby little storefront, there is a menagerie of creatures — nothing anyone would want as a pet, perhaps. There are insects, rats, mangy curs and battle-scarred cats from the alleys, the occasional lice-infested pigeon. Well cared for, considering, but caged.

On the other side of the store, there is gleaming gold and brass, shining silver. It sounds out with a cacophony of tick-tocking that creates a background hum like the thrum of a cockchafer’s wings. This half is neat and ordered, the smell of oil stronger than the smell of piss, dung and musk from the animals.

It’s not the sort of place you’d necessarily expect to draw children, but there they are every day. The honey-cakes and sweetmeats of the other shops are beyond the street children’s meagre earnings; the other shops are esoteric, obscure, dull or ‘grown-up’. Hypione’s menagerie, and the gilt contents of her glass cases, on the other hand, are endlessly fascinating.

For her part, Hypione welcomes the interruptions, recruits the urchins who genuinely seem to care to feed and help care for the animals. Her few, well-paying, customers are not much company, and the children remind her of her sons, one killed by road-pirates as a child himself, one long gone to find his fortune in the far districts. She more that tolerates them, she loves her little visitors, though she never shows it. She also tolerates their shenanigans, or at least most of them.

Hypione is sat upon her high stool one morning, behind her countertop. She swaps her spectacle lenses back and forth, increasing magnification and clarity. She tinkers with the fine-tooled device in a near-trance. Her tools are even more delicate than the brass-and-silver thing held in the clamp, almost microscopic. All the while, she resolutely ignores the street children as they chase and play about the store.

Then Hox, one of her regular visitors, does something that even she, old and blithe as she is, cannot stand for.

A spider, fat and glossy and beautiful, barely the size of her little fingernail, descends from the ceiling on a fine gossamer thread. She alights on the counter, where Hox notices her. She preens with her forelegs and Hypione is momentarily distracted. In the magnification of the lenses, the little creature is more beautiful, not less, and for a moment she is lost in the predatory perfection of eyes, jaws and carapace.

Then Hox snatches up the tiny seamstress. “Ew!”, and before Hypione can react, he has plucked off one of the spider’s delicate little legs.

“You little fucking beast!” Hypione cries out. “Let that spider go this very instant and get out of my shop!”

Hox jumps almost out of his skin, dropping the spider and fleeing from the store, in shock that Hypione should swear, which she never does. The other children follow in a frenzied train, all flapping rags and chattering.

Hypione picks up the delicate little spider; her legs all curled in against her body. She takes a moment to shut the door and flip the sign before she gives her little sister a closer look.

Her little sister’s carapace is cracked. She leaks a tiny amount of fluid. One of her legs is gone, another has been snapped and is dangling. In the magnification of the spectacles, Hypione cannot fool herself that this tiny creature is meaningless, that it isn’t suffering, that it is just a pest to be stomped or swatted.

“This shall not do little sister. Your weaving keeps the flies from my food and the silverfish from my stores. I apologise for the way my house guest has treated you.”

She carries her little sister back into her workshop and, moving swiftly, immerses the tiny creature in a vat of sparkling, glutinous fluid.

The spider’s carapace begins to melt away, but she is not dissolving. Not completely. As the chitin, muscle and lymph dissipates into the fluid, what remains is replaced. A delicate filigree, as fine as any web she had ever spun, a sapphire net of her ganglia, nerves and brain.

While her little sister is stripped back to her most vital essence in the fluid, Hypione finds an empty shell. A clockwork spider carapace, no bigger than her thumb. Chip-emerald eyes, a body of platinum, palladium with jaws and toe-tips of tungsten.

She unscrews and opens it up with a deft and precise hand. She cleans it, oils it, winds the mechanism until it begins to tick – the only winding it will ever need. She swabs it with a delicate touch, a thin sheen of alcohol removing the oil from her fingers and evaporating into the air, leaving her wanting a nip. Not yet, though.

Tweezers lift the sapphire net from the tub, a squirt of water strips the gel from what remains. She holds her breath as she sets the spider-net on her bench and teases out the hardening sapphire thread to replace the missing and broken legs.

A pair of rubber-tipped, minuscule tweezers lift the little sapphire and nestle it into its body. The faintest dab of glue on the tip of a needle fixes the glittering blue weave in place.

A few twists of the screwdriver and the case is closed shut. Then the switch is clicked into place. The silvery spider flexes its legs and twists over onto its front with a twist and a kick.

She stands there a moment, staring up at Hypione, though there is no way such a little thing can know gratitude.

Tick-tick-tick.

“Gods speed your way, little sister.”

Then the ticker-tack of tungsten feet on hardwood, and she is gone. Scurrying away into the darkness of the workshop.

Hypione heaves herself out of her stool and pauses a moment, running her hand across the front of a much larger tank of the glittering goo.

The size of a child

Part One: The Fate of Nyctimus

The door creaked open, swollen slightly in its frame from the wet of the summer storm. The petrichor scent was still rising from the hot streets, strong enough that it even masked the copper-rust smell of the room.

“I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m fresh out of ideas, and this whole affair made me think of you.”

He was a tall, lanky man, surprisingly graceful and topped with a shock of red hair that – other than its colour – wouldn’t have looked out of place on a negro. It was – somewhat haphazardly, pushed down beneath a rolled derby and otherwise, his appearance was impeccable.

“I’m flattered Detective Constable,” Gathercole smiled slightly and picked his way over the threshold like a ballerina en pointe, careful to disturb little.

“I’m off the clock old boy, call me Charlie,” said the detective, following in Gathercole’s wake.

Gathercole paused and covered his hand with the bright blue handkerchief from his breast pocket, quite the contrast to his pale cream jacket. So protected, he flipped on the electric light and revealed a shocking scene.

The rooms were of impeccable taste, a fascinating – but balanced – the contrast between the old and the new.

There were shelves, heavy with books and ornaments, some of which seemed like nothing but rubbish. There were fragments of broken pot, pieces of stone, a few old coins. These were presented just as proudly as the modern clock on the mantle, or the standing lamps in the shape of half-naked dancers, scandalous – but rendered slightly more tasteful by the angular form of their sculpting.

The furnishings, similarly, were tasteful and modern, sleek and angular. This sense of tension between the old and new, the tastefulness of the décor, the stylistic ornaments, the artefacts upon the shelves, it was all disrupted by just one interrupting element.

Everything had been splashed with blood. It was as though some geyser of gore had erupted in the centre of the room. Blood splatter reached as far as the ceiling, and despite the best efforts of the police thus far, there were still fragments of viscera dashed about the place with the liberal abandon of wedding confetti.

Gathercole picked his way across and around the room, taking everything in with cold and precise detachment. A magician’s flourish and his notebook and pen appeared, conjuring the chicken-scratch shorthand of his notations across the page.

Detective Constable Wentworth held back, letting Gathercole work, following him with his gaze as the man in white went over the room with methodical, mechanical precision.

Finally, Gathercole stepped back to the detective, and his pen paused against the page.

“The body has been removed, but it is clear that this was a particularly violent death. One that would put a frenzied butcher to shame. The room tells me surprisingly little about the victim, though I would guess that they were a man,” Gathercole glanced to the standing lamps. 

“A man who did not hurt for money,” He continued. “I note that the poker is missing from the fireplace and not to be found, suggesting that they grasped it to defend themselves and that it has been removed from the scene with the body.”

Gathercole moved past Wentworth to the door. “I can’t say I’m much of a fan of open-plan living, though of course, the upper floor is more private. A general-purpose room all but directly off the front door suggests certain things about their character, but I do hate to speculate. The windows are all fastened, and there is no sign of damage, at least down here. The front door, however, is a different matter. I see the wood has been snapped where the door has been forced. There are deep scrapes in the carpet and on the back of this kitchen chair. That suggests that it was barricading the door when it was forced.”

“Ah, that was us Gathercole. He had to force entry to get to the corpse.”

“I see,” Gathercole swiftly crossed out several lines of shorthand.

“In which case, I see no sign of forced ingress on this floor. Wait here.”

Gathercole carefully stepped across the bloodstained room and disappeared into the back rooms for a time, then – leaving his shoes behind – he made his way in stockinged feet up the stairs. It was some time before he returned, sitting on the stairs to re-tie his shoes before he continued.

“No forced windows upstairs, no signs of struggle there. Nor at the back door, though another chair is braced against the rear door. They certainly knew something was coming for them. No soot, so nothing got in down the chimney. What can you tell me about the victim?”

Wentworth fetched his own notebook from his pocket and thumbed through the pages. “Professor Noel Bradley, forty-four years of age, the presumed victim as this is his residence and he hasn’t been seen today. A professor of archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London. This only happened last night, so we’re still phoning around and gathering statements.”

“What can you tell me about the state of the body?” Gathercole’s pen paused again.

“Well, since I know you’re not squeamish… the poor bugger was torn the shreds. Throat ripped out, guts torn open. There were bite marks all over him. Now, I’m something of an amateur naturalist, and to me, I don’t think this was any dog I’ve ever seen. Not at that size and with the shape of the jaw. If it were anything, it was a freakishly gigantic german shepherd, and personally, I’d put money on a wolf.”

“Not your typical murder weapon, d’you have any theories?” Gathercole screwed the cap back onto his pen, tucking it back into his pocket with his notebook.

“Those sorts of things are well above my rank old boy, but between you and me nobody has the slightest clue. So I called you.”

“I think you were right to,” Gathercole stepped past Wentworth and out onto the damp flagstones of the path. It was steamy and humid now outdoors, and he loosened his tie, blinking at the bright sun.

“If anyone asks, you didn’t hear anything from me. Honestly, though, it seems to me that it would take something unnatural to sneak a dog or dogs into a closed house like that anyway, let alone not to leave any paw prints or hair. It’s all yours.”

Crispin was waiting by the Bedford, smoking a cigarette and frowning slightly against the sun.

They climbed into the car and started it up, Crispin tossing his cigarette out of the window to concentrate on turning the wheel. “Something for us then?”

“I think so, though we’ll have to play it carefully. The police aren’t the most understanding of my experiments.”

“Except Charlie there. He seems quite open to your ideas. How do you know him anyway?”

Gathercole glanced across the car and smiled slightly. “Drag ball near White City, you wouldn’t think it for those sideburns, but he makes a halfway decent flapper in the right dress.”

Silently Crispin’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, and the car began to pick up speed.

Part Four: Freedom Bound

Upon returning to the apartments, the first order of business was to prepare fall-back protection, no matter how inadequate it might prove. Gathercole had trained Crispin in the basics, and inscribing a protective circle was a matter of drafting skill and practice – not a mystical talent. Crispin drew the signs and symbols around Hodgson’s bed and applied the waters and the garlic oil in the way he had been instructed. While he did this, Gathercole set to, breaking apart the radios and the boxes of his devices and working at them in a feverish state of technological possession.

It took almost every moment of the day, a lot of coffee, a great many biscuits and some of Crispin’s special tincture to get the radio-pentacle fixed.

“Má huáng,” Crispin explained, as he so loved to do, though Hodgson was barely paying attention. “Friend of mine in the war was a recruiter for the Chinese Labour Corps, swore by the stuff. Keeps you awake, keeps you sharp, stimulates the senses. Saved my life at Cambrai…”

“Friend, hmm?” Gathercole looked up from the intricacies of his wiring and valves with an arched eyebrow. “Why are you making nice with the uxoricidal spectre bait?”

Crispin paused, mid anecdote. The pause drew on a fraction too long.

“It means wife-killer,” Gathercole broke the silence. “Though how you can forget with the poor woman’s corpse still down there in the floorboards I do not know.”

“Like you, I saw enough death in the war. It’s a familiar friend,” Crispin muttered, resentfully.

Crispin dropped into a sullen, pouting silence after that, grumpily handing over screwdrivers or pliers as Gathercole demanded.

In the end, though, the task was done. While the boxes and aerials of radio-pentacle were not as neat nor as tidy as they once had been, they held a charge and hummed reassuringly. The power to the house had been restored with a judicious re-wrapping of fuse wire. The restored power ran into a rack of squat-looking batteries which, in turn, powered the peculiar devices.

Gathercole sat back on his haunches, legs akimbo, either side of the boxes of exposed wiring, valves and crystals.

“The bloody thing should work again now and should be able to carry more of a charge. If we lose power, the batteries will hold everything together, and I’ve grounded the whole thing more. It’s as good as I can get it in the time we have.”

Crispin checked his pocket watch. “By the almanack, we have about half an hour left before sunset is fully upon us. Is that when the thing will manifest again?”

Gathercole nodded sagely and began to move the radio-pentacle into position, stepping carefully over the chalk pentagram and the symbols and signs that had been employed in the absence of power to secure Hodgson’s person against the spectre.

Hodgson, for his part, had not slept a wink – and without the aid of coffee or tincture. As the sun began to dim and the light through the cracks in the curtains turned a honeyed, smoky yellow his agitation became worse and worse, shaking in terror on the bed he had not left all day.

They checked and re-checked everything, took another dose of the tincture and settled in to wait, standing this time, alert to every creak and rattle of the house as the cooler air of the night set in. Crispin started at every sound, chewing the inside of his cheeks with tension. Hodgson had regressed to the state of a terrified child, huddled under his sheets and blankets, shaking like a bicycle on cobblestones and whimpering from his huddled ball. For his part, Gathercole stood firm, fixated upon his dials and needles, distracted from fretfulness by a screen of numbers, readings and calculation.

Slowly that same sense of pressure and weight filled the room, the sense of an oncoming storm, the air drew tight and oppressive, stuffy. Crispin reached out a hand and squeezed Gathercole’s shoulder, they shared a nod and as a pair swivelled their heads to watch the bed.

Slowly, imperceptibly at first the shadows lengthened, the light dimmed. Coloured bulbs had not been found in time, so they had replaced only a few fittings in the other rooms with the original bright bulbs. They began to flicker and to seem to dim and then virtually the only light remaining was that of the kerosene lamp. Flame, at least shielded flame, seemed resilient to this ab-natural power.

“The flame isn’t electromagnetic, d’you see?” Gathercole whispered to Crispin, who had taken his hand. Gathercole squeezed it, but then unwound his fingers to rend to his dials.

The shadows gathered about themselves in a manner painful to the eye. Not just an absence of light, but a sort of ‘anti-light’ that seemed to pull the very ability to see from one’s eyes. Gathercole swallowed and looked away.

“Crispin, tell me, in as much detail as you can manage, what is happening. I must tend to the radio-pentacle.”

“It’s darker, like smoke, gathering, perhaps more like a storm cloud. Right at the edge of the pentacle.”

Crispin carried on, raising his voice against the increasing hum of the machine and the stifling, leaden air of the room that robbed every sound of its treble.

“It seems more powerful than before, denser.”

“We need more power,” Gathercole twisted the loose, newly installed dials all the way up.

The aerials crackled and sparked, a sickly, violaceous aura surrounded them, flickering and waving like a flame and giving off the stink of ozone that had become all too familiar.

Crispin carried on, in uncharacteristically terse prose, concentrating on the task in hand – his words – much as Gathercole centred himself upon his technical wizardry as a way to displace the creeping horror of facing the ab-natural.

“THOMAS HODGSON! I AM MURDERED! AT YOUR HAND! YOU MUST PAY! YOU DASHED MY SKULL AND PACKED ME IN THE FLOOR THOMAS!” The spectres voice was deafening, shrill, unaffected by the leaden state of the air.

The shadows gathered into a ball of absolute blackness and smashed into the invisible boundary of the radio-pentacle. The violet aura became a crackling blue halo with each strike, and Gathercole feverishly worked his dials, tuning the frequencies against the resistance, finding the frequency of this ab-natural force, finding the settings – as much by art as science – that would most strongly interfere.

For all its hate and anger, this time the force was more methodical, probing in every direction in all three dimensions, but finding no weakness in Hodgson’s protections. Now though, even the chalk and garlic oil were heating up, making their eyes sore with the allium sting and drip tears down their faces. Gathercole dabbed, one-handed, with his blue silk handkerchief as he continued his work.

“It’s stopped,” hissed Crispin, squeezing Gathercole’s shoulder again.

Gathercole looked up, the creeps were stealing over his shoulders and up to his neck. There was the most peculiar feeling of being watched, though the black cloud of ab-natural darkness had no eyes or features.

There was a pulse, like the quake of an artillery shell. It wasn’t heard, but felt, in the thoracic cavity. It robbed them of breath like a punch to the gut, and in that same instant, every bulb shattered, and the aerials of the radio-pentacle glowed red and began to sag.

But they held.

“I think we’ll be alright,” Gathercole allowed himself a smile to Crispin, and at that moment the aphotic force turned on him.

Gathercole was lifted, almost out of his shoes, by force. In an instant frost rimed his suit, spiderwebbing its way across the pale fabric from every crease. He slammed against the wall, against the blood that was drooling from the cornices.

Crispin leapt to his defence, but the spectral form was as insubstantial as smoke, save where it wanted to be. The cold was bitter, though, turning the first joints of his fingers blue. He tried, numbly, to drag Gathercole down from the wall, but there was simply not the strength.

Gathercole clawed at his throat, collar-button flying, gasping, choking, wheezing out with all the volume he could muster, “Turn it off!”

Crispin froze, but then it dawned on him. He snapped the switch off, and the hum of electrical power instantly stopped.

Gathercole fell from the wall, a puppet with his strings cut, gulping for air like a landed trout.

The force moved like lightning, passing through the empty air that had been crackling with occulted electric energy just moments before. A pillow exploded, filling the air with smouldering feathers, the sheets tore. A screaming Hodgson was hoisted into the air and smashed into the ceiling in a shower of plaster.

Gathercole tried to speak, but over the emasculated shrieking of Hodgson, he couldn’t make himself heard. He crawled, past Crispin’s legs as his friend covered his ears with his hands and shrank away from the violent scene.

Suspended on nothing, Hodgson’s helpless body was slammed from wall to wall, leaving dents and impressions in the plaster and paint, splintering boards. His shrieking became more of a frothing wheeze, blood foaming at his mouth as his ribs gave way. With a terrific thud, he was driven down into the bed, so hard that the frame buckled and the mattress was bent and pushed down into it, clear to the floor.

Gathercole hauled himself up the table he had set his machines upon and slammed the switch.

Power surged back into the aerials of the radio-pentagram and Hodgson was dropped. The stygian force rammed against the barrier from the inside. It was unable to pass, though the antennae began to glow and sag once again. Every strike it made it weakened, dissolving, shrinking, losing its mass until finally, feebly, it seemed to fold back in upon itself and disappear.

It was like the moment a storm finally breaks. There was a palpable sense of relief and released tension. Tentatively Gathercole flicked the switch again, turning off the device.

Nothing happened.

Crispin helped him up the rest of the way and cupped his face, kissing his head again and again. For once, Gathercole relaxed into his attentions and threw his arms around him.

“You did it, William! You only bloody well did it. You’re a rum cove William, but by God, I love you for it.”

Hodgson groaned and gasped from the wreckage of the bed.

“What do we do about him?” Crispin’s tender hold of Gathercole’s face hardened in anger before he drew his hands away.

“He’s not going anywhere. We call the police from the first call box we see, tell them he engaged us to cover his behaviour and that we found out the truth. I doubt they’ll question too closely that we beat a wife-killer, but father can intercede if need be.”

“And the poor woman can be put to rest,” Crispin glanced back towards the kitchen.

“Along with her soul. This has given me a lot to think about. Let’s go home, Crispin. I am quite exhausted.”

The End