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Posts Tagged ‘gathercole’

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Smoke curled from the long ash of the Dunhill, twisting its way across the room like a fragment of grey silk until it met the draft from the cracked window, which finally shattered it. The cigarette sat, ignored, in Gathercole’s mouth as he hunched over the spilt guts of several radios. His hands moved from the Ersa soldering iron to the screwdriver, taking the radios apart and putting them back together time and again. Every now and again, he would stop, reference his scattered notes, and make the tiniest of additional adjustments.

Besides the valves, wires, copper spools and flexible solder, the table was littered with a bewildering array of minerals and chemicals, each in its own, little folded paper cup and labelled in Gathercole’s hurried scrawl. There was silicon, germanium, crystalline tin, iron pyrites, sulphur, red selenium, oxide of uranium and even a single, red-cast diamond. This last piece stuck in place with a gob of spirit-gum, just in case. Finally, there were a few little fragments of rock crystal, carefully marked ‘dig site’.

Gathercole finally remembered the cigarette and stubbed it out amongst its fallen brothers in his beaten-copper ashtray, and continued his work. One after another, he was testing the radios with different substances. Replacing one crystal with another, painstakingly tuning the radio and it’s power level, referencing his notebooks, making notes and taking it all apart again.

Crispin’s head appeared through the square entry to the attic, hair tousled, eyes bruised and watery, a childish pout upon his lips.

“William, chap, is there the slightest possibility you could cease all this infernal radio screeching. I have the most beastly hangover.”

Gathercole carefully set the Ersa to one side, ensuring the nib was not in contact with the table.

“I’m inspired, Crispin. I have to pursue this line of thought to its end, or I shan’t be able to rest.”

Crispin clambered up the ladder the rest of the way into the attic. “I shan’t be able to rest until you stop. What the bloody hell are you doing anyway?”

“Since you ask…”

Crispin groaned, too late in realising his mistake, and sat – in his pyjamas – on an old valise to endure the lecture.

“… I’m sure you’re aware that until recently radios used crystals as a rectifier.”

“I did not know that. Nor do I know what a rectifier is.”

“Well, for your sake we can consider it to be a sort of translator. Radio waves are translated by the rectifier, typically galena crystals, into a signal that can be resolved as sound. Valves and amplifiers have made them outdated, which means I picked up these old radios and their headsets rather cheaply.”

“Hurrah,” Crispin absently patted his pyjama pockets in a futile quest for a cigarette. “Lend me a Dunhill, would you?”

Gathercole obliged. “Well, there’s no reason why other semi-conducting crystals shouldn’t be used. We use galena for convenience. I hypothesise that certain types of crystal may be better suited to tuning into the energistic vibrations of the spirit plane and, thereby, translating them into sound.”

His lighter flicked and Crispin sat back, taking a long drag on the cigarette. “Hence all the shrieking, the very cries of the damned.”

“If only,” Gathercole sighed wistfully. “Alas, it only seems to be interference. No tones or voices, no signals from the beyond as yet. Despite amplifying the signal using the more modern technology and despite focussing on the signal range that seems to trouble the spirits the most when we use the radio pentacle.”

“Perhaps,” Crispin opined. “Perhaps the spirits don’t like that frequency, which is why they react so badly to it. In which case, they would hardly be transmitting at that frequency, right? We find middle C with C sharp above rather jarring and unpleasant, and so we don’t play it in our musical combinations. Unless one is deliberately perverse of course.”

Gathercole considered that for a moment. “You may well be right, in which case, I need to re-test all these samples.”

As Gathercole turned back to the radios and they began to shriek again, Crispin retreated back down the ladder. “I’m going to the bloody pub for a late breakfast and the hair of the dog, I intend to stay there until I’m sure you’ve wound up this infernal racket.”

Gathercole vaguely waved, not really paying attention.

Hours of hard work, breathing in the fumes from the soldering iron, fingers raw from the pricking ends and twisting coils of wire, Gathercole finally thought he heard something. Was it simply ringing from straining to hear anything? He was fixated upon even the slightest sound to the degree that his own heartbeat and the shifting joint of his jaw had already given him false alarms.

His hand moved, almost imperceptibly, on the dials. He clutched the headphones tighter to his head, closed his eyes and held his breath.

No, there was something, a voice, the faintest and most indistinct hint of a voice, buzzing and alien, but definitely forming syllables. Was it English or some other language? John Dee’s language of the angels, or something more esoteric? What would they speak in hell? English? German? Both?

He frowned furiously, eyes screwed tightly shut as he tinkered, gingerly amplifying the signal, turning up the power through his ersatz spiderweb of wiring.

…zzzilzzzeazzz…

Zil? Eaz? He was missing something, some crucial element. Could the spirits hear him? Past experience appeared to suggest that the abnatural world could perceive the natural one, without special equipment or capabilities. There was no harm in trying.

“Spirits! Can you hear me?” He called out, in a slightly faltering voice.

…zzzzonfirmedzzzz…

Confirmed! Clear as day.

“Do you have any messages for me?” Again he strained to listen, held his breath and closed his eyes so tight that patterns of phosphenes strobed across his vision.

…zzzdeathzzzzzundredzzz…

“Hundreds of deaths? Are you trying to warn me of something, ghost? Are you playing a trick on me? Who will die? How many?”

…zzzzzincesszzzz…

A princess? Perhaps Princess Elizabeth, barely more than a year old. Who or what could threaten royalty in such a way, let alone hundreds of deaths? Gathercole’s mind raced, scattershot, trying to imagine such a tragedy. Irish republicans perhaps, or some bomb-flinging anarchist. More likely, however, was the idea that the spirits were lying to him. Every witch-book and grimoire he had ever perused would suggest so, as would the very Bible itself.

There was a sudden creak, far louder than the radio signal, and Gathercole started, twisting his head towards the source. Crispin’s head, combed and neat this time, already smoking, stuck up through the attic’s hole.

“By Jove, are you still at it? Did you even have luncheon?”

Gathercole took off his headset. “No, I got lost in the work, but I am hungry now you mention it. I shall come down for some tea and something to eat in a moment. I want you to listen to this though, I think I’ve had a result.”

Gathercole proffered the headset and, with some reluctance, Crispin climbed the rest of the way in. He swayed – a little drunkenly – over to the table and put on the headset to listen.

Gathercole watched Crispin’s expression as he concentrated on the sound. At first, he simply looked annoyed. After a time there was a look of surprise, and then a more serious visage of concentration – eyes closed, holding the headset on with both hands.

Things continued in this vein for some time. Gathercole searched Crispin’s face for any sign, any recognition, any confirmation of what he had heard.

Crispin’s eyebrows shot up for a second time, but then – perplexingly – his mouth turned into a rather smug-looking smile. He listened still, for an agonisingly long moment and then slowly took the headphones off again.

“Do you hear it?” Gathercole was practically vibrating in anticipation, but Crispin wasn’t giving anything away.

“I need to show you something. Come downstairs. I’ll make you something to eat, you needn’t bother doing it yourself.”

Gathercole frowned but did as he was bidden, following Crispin down the creaky ladder and back into the more civilised parts of the house, away from the dust and electronic detritus, blinking into the light. Crispin led him, gently, into the kitchen and turned on the radio, busying himself at the stove with some bacon as Gathercole stood, at a loose end, beside the table.

“What are you showing me?” Gathercole frowned, twisting left and right and twisting his lips to one side of his face in consternation.

Crispin pressed his finger to his lips and then pointed to the radio, as bacon began to sizzle in the pan.

It was a news bulletin on the BBC, the usual dull goings-on in the world. Crispin was addicted to current affairs, forever burying his head in a newspaper or sat near the radio. He always had the worries of the world buzzing in his ear. Gathercole, for his part, found it far too distracting from his studies and experiments. He only showed interest in the worlds of science and the abnormal. The mundane progress of laws, or the threat of another war, that was unbearable.

Gathercole frowned as he listened, and then swore as it became clear.

“…Terrible news from Brazil. The liner the SS Principessa Mafalda, out of Italy, suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and sank, with the loss of some three-hundred souls…”

“Ah. Bugger,” Gathercole growled, now the hazy words from the radio made sense. Not spirits from beyond, but the BBC signal breaking through his slapdash improvisations and reconstructions. “Not everything can be supernatural, I suppose, failures are still results, and useful ones.”

“I know your pride stings William, you’re still the only spiritualist I know who isn’t a liar and a fraud. Here,” he set the little plate down on the table. “Bacon sandwich, no crusts.”

“Let me just go and turn everything off. Any chance of a cup of coffee?”

“Every chance.”

Gathercole trudged up back up the stairs and wearily clambered up the ladder, drifting around the room as he half-heartedly tidied up and closed the window.

“It’s getting cold!” Came a shout from below.

Gathercole stopped by the radio which was still humming and crackling, emitting the occasional noise. He held the earphones up one last time and gave the dial a slow turn.

…gzzzlazzz…

Half a word, ‘glass’ perhaps, then hideous piping, distorted and alien through the tangled mess of his Frankenstein’s wireless. He switched it off with a slight chuckle.

“Doesn’t do to become too persuaded of one’s own genius,” he murmured to himself, and then realised that he really was hungry after all.

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Gathercole awoke, slowly and stretched out his arm. The sheets and blanket always felt particularly heavy first thing in the morning, even without the eiderdown. The space next to him was empty and cool. How late had he overslept?

He’d stayed up rather late reading a manifestly disturbing article that been rejected from Scientific American. It purported to be written by one ‘Cecile Ambrose’ of Maine and discussed a reversal of Edison’s sketch of an idea that spirits might be able to influence delicate machines. It was the opinion of the writer that one could amplify spirits by a combination of human will and electromagnetism.

This ‘Cecile’ wrote with a very masculine voice, salacious and heavy with implication. While Edison barely groped at the possibilities Gathercole had uncovered, this ‘Cecile’ almost seemed to be a shadowy counterpart to his own studies. The article had left him disturbed and had given him a restless night, even though it was three in the morning by the time he finally joined a riotously snoring Crispin between the sheets.

He rubbed his face with both hands and slapped himself on the cheeks to rouse himself, summoning the energy to rise. After-images from his dreams still lingered, a big cat with blood on its muzzle, a mummified man, things that made little or no sense – as dreams seldom did. He threw on his blue-striped bathrobe and stumbled down the creaking stairwell to the kitchen.

Crispin was at the table in his wine-red pyjamas, his back to the stairs. He looked uncharacteristically tousled and hadn’t yet shaved. Gathercole couldn’t help but smile, seeing him in such a state.

“I do like it when you’re still here in the morning,” Gathercole smiled and stroked his hand across Crispin’s shoulders on his way to the electric oven.

He paused there, in front of the device. The toasting frames were sat atop the oven, smoking slightly. Crispin had been making him breakfast, so it seemed.

“You, ah, shouldn’t have,” Gathercole lifted one of the frames gingerly in a dishcloth. It was black on one side and completely pale on the other.

“Hmm?”

Gathercole’s attention slowly focussed. The blackened toast, the tea – no longer steaming in its cup. The darkened, congealed yolk of Crispin’s egg. He was just staring at the newspaper, barely responding.

“What’s the matter, Crispin?” Gathercole leaned forward and gently touched his hand. Crispin jumped.

“William, please, read this and tell me if I’ve gone mad.” His voice quavered as he tore out the page and handed it over.

Gathercole read it carefully, saying the words out loud.

“Obituaries… which one Crispin?”

“You’ll know.”

Gathercole’s lips moved slightly as he made his way down the list, before abruptly stopping. “Miss Ada Carter, lately of Birkbeck College, taken from this world on the 13th of July at the too-young age of twenty. A closed-casket funeral will be announced. Let her name be ever the household word that it always was.”

He paused a long breath, struggling to breathe and to maintain his composure.

“Ada’s dead.”

Crispin nodded.

“Our Ada, the girl from the university that we rescued.”

Crispin nodded again.

“But we rescued her!” Gathercole’s voice broke, and his legs began to shake. Crispin sprang from his seat, though he was as ashen-faced as Gathercole, gathering him in his arms and holding him tight.

“I know, William. We did our best.”

Gathercole wept, burying his face in his lover’s shoulder. “It’s not bloody fair. I should have known. I should have seen. I should have done more.”

“It’s alright, William, you did all you could. You couldn’t have known.”

Gathercole took a deep, steadying breath and stepped back a little, out of Crispin’s arms, though their hands lingered together. The tears stopped, and his brow furrowed as he fiercely thought.

“The thirteenth, of course, curse me for a fool. The Moon, Crispin. It’s the bloody Moon. We have to go back to the university. I know what we have to do.”

“Of course, William. We’ll make sure this never happens again, for Ada.”

“For Ada.”


“I can’t believe they wouldn’t let us in,” Gathercole smashed his hand against the dashboard of the car with a thump.

“Calm down William. How would you react if you’d had a bunch of ripe young minds and a professor killed, wouldn’t you be wary? Especially a man who, according to student prattle, had performed some sort of exorcism. An exorcism which, even if you believed in that sort of thing, didn’t work? Especially when he comes barging into the university demanding access to historical finds and uses the word – and I quote – cursed?” Crispin’s knuckles tightened on the steering wheel as he strained to keep his voice level.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Gathercole sighed and rubbed his temples with his fingertips.

“You’re the rational one, not me. You’re the brain, and I’m the heart. You’re the bile, and I’m the blood.”

“Lord spare me the dubious benefits of classical education. You can’t compare me to Plato or David, or even Diogenes? You have to compare me to pus? You call yourself a writer, an artist?”

“You know full well what I meant.”

Gathercole smiled and leant across the car to kiss Crispin on the cheek, smiling wider as he twitched away from his lips.

“Not in public. I know Crispin.”

“So what do we do?”

“If we wait for nightfall someone else might die who has handled the finds, but if we break in while the sun is up, we’re more likely to get caught.” Gathercole rubbed at his chin with his fingertips and considered.

“People are walking in and out all the time, it being a university and all. It’s not the getting in that’s the problem, it’s the being recognised and the police being called. Wouldn’t be the first time in a jail cell for me, but I’d rather it served a purpose.”

“Then we slip in the back, find the finds, we only need be there a moment, long enough to destroy the artefacts that are causing this. Then we can leave. Maybe nobody will see us, and we can deny the whole thing.”

Crispin turned his head and stared directly at Gathercole. “Bloody hell. That is not much of a plan.”

Gathercole levered open the door and swept out, leaning back in through the open door. “So, are you coming or not?”


Crispin trailed behind Gathercole, unsure and deeply uncomfortable, doing a terrible impression of someone trying to sneak.

“You have to promise me,” he hissed. “That we won’t be creeping around any more schools, at least any time soon.”

“I’m fairly sure it was this way.” Gathercole nodded to a confused looking student as they passed him in the hall.

“It has been a month Gathercole, surely they’ve packed them away somewhere by now, no?”

“You spent time in academia, surely you know better than that? Not to mention everyone who was really involved in this dig is dead. Remember?”

Crispin’s mouth turned down, and his brow furrowed. “You were joking and smiling. I thought you might be feeling a little better.”

“I’m not about to forget why we’re here.” Gathercole stopped and turned back to Crispin, looking him full in the eye. “We know there’s a life beyond death, of some sort. We’re privileged that way. It’s not her death, so much as its manner that upsets me. The pointlessness of it. The brutality of it. That, and I told her she was safe. These… spirits… made a liar of me.”

Crispin just mutely nodded, and as they rounded the corner of the next corridor, things began to look somewhat familiar.

“Here…” Gathercole twisted the handle. “Bugger, locked.”

“My turn then,” Crispin elbowed up the door and snapped the arm off his fountain pen, fiddling at the lock with the fragment of metal. “And to think, you disapprove of my scandalous ways. Where would we be now if I hadn’t kept breaking out of boarding school?”

“And into the other chaps trunks, to pilfer their tuck.”

“Guilty.”

The lock clicked, and they slipped through, Gathercole’s groping hand found the switch and the lights came up with dazzling brightness and a single ‘plink’ as the filament popped on one of the overhead lamps.

“Oh thank God,” Gathercole darted across the room to the crates and began to lever them open with his bare hands, rifling through the straw with a hasty lack of care. “They must be here somewhere.”

More warily, Crispin followed suit. Levering off the lids with another piece of wood. Together they sorted through the boxes one by one, picking up speed, setting the finds on the floor one after another, entirely out of order.

“Found them!” Gathercole scooped his hands under the straw and lifted out two heavy stones.

They were crudely wrought, angular and black, each the size of a pair of tennis balls, shot through with glittering veins of green and blue. Gathercole shivered as he stood, holding one in each hand. He lifted one arm and looked at his wrist, as the hairs twitched to attention.

“They’re cold. Very cold. I can feel the power in them.”

“So bloody well smash them, and let’s get out of here.”

Gathercole raised his arm over his head and stared at the floor, hesitating.

“WHIT THA HELL IS GAUN OAN HERE?”

They both startled. Gathercole dropped the wolf-head for a moment before awkwardly catching it.

“Sìol… it’s ye pair a scunners. Git th’ hell oot o’ ‘ere, afore ah call the polis!” The squat little man balled up his fists, his face turned scarlet from his cheeks to his bald pate, and he was a meaty fellow for a short professor.

Crispin interposed himself, sideways, between Gathercole and the angry scot. “Now, my dear fellow, there’s no need for an altercation here. We’re still trying to put an end to this.”

“Wi’ yer doolally nonsense aboot bogles’ n’ banshees’ n’ wolves? Awa’ an bile yer heid, ye bampot.” The short man tried to barrel past Crispin, a bundle of fury, tweed and pipesmoke.

Crispin laid his hand against the man’s shoulder and held him back. “Wee man, leave him to his work unless you want more deaths on your conscience. Mr Gathercole knows what he’s doing. It’s best to stay out of his way.”

“Ye gonnae stop me, ye wee streak a’ piss? Ah’ll be damned if some buggerer keeps me frae stopping ye.” The little man prodded Crispin repeatedly in the chest, forcing him two steps back.

“Fuck it.”

Crispin sucker-punched the Scotsman with a perfect and powerful right, sending the little man sprawling, hitting his head on the floor. “This buggerer,” he said, straightening his jacket. “Earned his stripe going toe-to-toe with the Bosch, trench raiding in Hohenzollern. Have a lie-down, you ghastly little man.”

He turned, wiping blood off his knuckles with his’ kerchief. “Smash the bloody thing William, before this turns into even more of a snarl.”

Gathercole shook his head. “I can’t, these things aren’t exactly evil, they’re old, and they’re something real, with genuine power. They’re a window into the past we’re just not ready for yet.”

Crispin paced back across the room to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Everyone who has handled them has been killed. If we don’t destroy them, this man will have a lot more than a bruised jaw, and you will die as well. Let me destroy them if you can’t. I couldn’t bear to see you die. It would shatter me to lose anyone else.”

Gathercole smiled, and the smile turned into a wide-eyed look of realisation. “What if we took them back? Where was it? Coldham? They’re all tagged with where, exactly, they were found?”

“It’s a hell of a drive.”

“Do you know the way?”

“There’s a map in the car, we’ll make do.”

Gathercole pointed towards the slumped Scotsman, who was snoring through his busted chops. “We need to bring him.”

Crispin sighed, and the pair of them stepped over to the unconscious man. Crispin wiped the blood from the man’s face, and Gathercole emptied his hip flask into his mouth and onto his tweed. “That should silence a few of the questions.”

Together they held him up, dragging his feet as they took him out of the university, the pair of malevolent wolf-heads safely ensconced in Gathercole’s bundled jacket.


The drive might have been pleasant if it were not for the sense of unease the wolf-heads created, or for the muffled cursing and writhing thumps of the bound and gagged Scotsman on the back seat. It was a balmy day and for all the drive was long, they made good time. The sky was finally starting to darken as the car bumped along the tractor trail that ran up to the Coldham field.

Finally, the back tyre fell deep into a rut, and with a scatter of gravel and sandy soil, the car ground to a halt.

“Well, we’re not getting any further without the help of a friendly horse or tractor.” Crispin had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, but there was nothing for it but to carry the angry scots professor and the wolf-heads the rest of the way on foot.

Twilight barely darkened the sky before the full Moon climbed in the stead of the sun. Away from the lights of the towns and cities, the Moon outshone everything. There was but a scattering of stars and not a sign of that great band of the milky way. The reflected light drained everything of most, but not all, of its colour, giving the landscape a dream-like quality as the air became heavy and damp.

“Blow this,” Crispin grumbled. “I haven’t sweated like this since the bloody war. This Scots bastard isn’t helping any with all his grousing and struggling.”

Gathercole stopped and leaned down to the bald professor’s level. “Professor Sievwright, I have my service pistol with me, and I assure you I shall have no compunction whatsoever about shooting you and burying you in a shallow grave to be found by some future archaeologist. This is a matter of life and death and if we do not get to the Coldham site in time, you will die anyway. Whether you consider us insane for our ramblings about ghosts and spirits or not is immaterial, if you’re going to die anyway, I should rather shoot you now than have to witness you being torn apart by wolves. Am I clear?”

The gagged man stared, wild-eyed, furious, but then the sincerity of Gathercole’s voice took hold and mutely, he nodded, and began to walk under his own steam.

“You should have been the poet, old man, not me.” Crispin chuckled, keeping a steering arm on the professor’s elbow.

Feelan’s copse appeared out of the field, a sudden dip in the land, untouched by ploughshare, coppice or crop. The way it sat, from a distance it seemed like gorse or other bushes, low to the ground, but when you came upon it, it was a grove of ancient trees, appearing like they sprang from beneath the earth itself.

England had forests and woods in plentiful enough number, but this was different. Barely an inch of the whole Island of Britain was untouched by man. Forests were managed, wood was harvested, gamekeepers and farmers cleared the deadwood, cut down the diseased trees, opened the canopy.

Feelan’s copse was different.

While its constituents were the same – trees and stumps, logs and fallen branches, brambles everywhere. Here they were a tumble, a tangle, breaking down and fighting with each other in glorious profusion.

Here were the ragged ends of dog violets at the edges, the first blooms of deadly nightshade, dog roses fighting with the bramble for supremacy, tall foxgloves aloof and swaying in the slight breeze.

There, deeper in, the flowers gave way to ferns and moss. Thick sleeves of cushiony green tamarisk throttling the ivy which, in turn, strove to strangle the trees from below, while the mistletoe choked them from above.

As they stepped through the undergrowth, the damp and dusty smell of the wood and soil was occasionally cut through with the sharp sting of alium.

“You can see why this place was sacred,” Gathercole ran his hands across one mossy trunk. “Everything they could possibly have needed, all in one place, and a place that is so nearly beneath the earth. A gateway to the underworld.”

Then they found it, the spot where the archaeologists had dug. Months of summer regrowth couldn’t mask it all, their digging had left a visible scar upon the land. Bare earth, with the first few weeds beginning to sprout, here the butt of a discarded cigarette, there a glass bottle of stout or ginger beer.

Gathercole unwrapped his bundled jacket, and placed the wolf-heads reverently on the ground, hunkering down to examine the note in the little moonlight that still managed to find a way through the canopy.

“If I can just figure out their grid system, we can put these back.”

“And then this will all stop?” Crispin called across the clearing, his hand still on the professor’s elbow.

“One can hope.”

The stillness of the night was split asunder by a distant howl. A pair of voices, twined like a rope, ululating over and above one another. They seemed to grow louder with each and every passing moment.

“Ungag him!” Gathercole cried, snatching up the wolf heads once more.

Crispin obeyed, yanking the spit-soaked sock out of the Scotsman’s mouth.

He took a moment, spitting into the ferns, red-faced and angry, glowering as he raised his own voice. “Let me gae, ‘n’ a willnae report ye tae th’ polis.”

Gathercole paced closer to him and held up one of the wolf heads, right before the professor’s bloodshot eyes. “Professor, that howling you hear comes from the guardians of these stones. I believe you are the next target for their ire, being the next person in line who handled and defiled these stones. To stop them, we must put the stones back, in the right place. Here’s the tag, tell me where that is.”

“Ah wisnae here oan th’ howk. How wid ah ken where is gaes?” The man shrugged and pulled at his ties. “Let me gae, ye pair o’ fuckin’ sodomites!”

No matter how hard he struggled, those ropes weren’t budging.

The howling came closer, louder than their conversation. The wind seemed to pick up, rustling the leaves, and a thrashing went through the wood. The sound appeared to come from everywhere at once. Twigs snapping, logs splintering as the giant, invisible beasts charged through the trees.

“Guess. You know how this works. We don’t. I think you have about thirty seconds to get it right. Crispin will untie you, so you can at least run, provided that you tell us.”

“Fuck. Ah dinnae ken. Thar, aboot six feet back fae whaur ye were before. Twa big sidesteps tae mah left.”

Gathercole hurried, kneeling down in the dirt, scooping with his hands, grubbing in the soil hurriedly. Crispin let go of the professor and hurried over alongside him. Standing between him and the onrushing sound of the spirits.

“I bloody hope you’re right about this.”

For a moment, the professor looked like he was about to run, but the sounds were undeniable now. It was a roaring snarl, branches swaying as the things came to the edge of the clearing. Instead of fleeing, he waddled on his bound legs to stay close – but not too close – to Gathercole and Crispin.

The charging sounds came to a halt, and at the fringe of the clearing, the shadows seemed to gather, to twist and turn until a pair of giant, shadowy figures seemed to pace and loom, red eyes glooming in the twilight.

“Jesus, whit th’ hell ur they? Whit ur thay? This cannae be real?” The professor fell back into the dirt, scrambling and squirming backwards in the earth. “Halp!”

“NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”
“NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”

Chanted the shades as they prowled, clawing the air.

“Latin, they understood Latin, didn’t they?” Crispin balled his hands into fists, interposing himself between the red-eyed spectres and Gathercole, who was pushing the soft dirt back over the wolf heads.

“Amici, uh… obsecro ira. Omnis conposui capitibus…blast… vestris!” Gathercole raised his filthy hands. “Pax! Pax! Iniuriam nullam… in animo… havi… no… habemus!”

“Your Latin is bloody terrible,” Crispin whispered through gritted teeth. “Let’s hope they’re not like my old Classics Master or we’re going to have sore backsides and skinned knuckles.”

Gathercole slowly stood and tugged on Crispin’s arm, sliding his hand into his and squeezing. “Come on, let’s get out of the way.” Together they moved back, step by step as the shades flicker-stepped closer, twining around each other, flowing in shape between wolf and man until they reached the fresh-turned ground where they stopped, crouching, touching the earth.

“BALLAGH LEAT!”
“BALLAGH LEAT!”

A pair of smoke-like arms stabbed fingers, pointing out of the woods, along the trail.

Between them, Gathercole and Crispin gathered up the whimpering professor and picked their way out of the woods on rubbery legs to find the comfort of the car, light, humanity and a drink at the nearest pub.

They’d raise a glass to Ada, together.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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Part Three: The Truth Will Out

The rest of the night passed with an air of tension between the men in the bedroom. Crispin couldn’t rest and would sit, brow furrowed for an hour at a time before springing up and pacing about the rooms at a furious pace. Gathercole would pore over his notes and tinker with his machines, offering sighs of frustration at each new failure to bring the aerials back to life. Hodgson, for his part, sulked, curled around himself in the very centre of his bed. Even though the radio-pentacle was defunct, he clung to the idea that it could protect him. It was as though he thought extending the slightest part of his body over the side of the bed would spell his doom.

It wasn’t until the sun rose that the sense of pressure and malevolence lifted – at least slightly. Crispin made fresh coffee. That and a bar of chocolate each had to compensate for the total lack of sleep. They were into their second cup of silent, brooding coffee before Hodgson dared show his face, slinking like a whipped cur into the messy kitchen and refusing both coffee and Cadbury’s on the grounds of an upset stomach.

Gathercole’s temperate nature had been stretched to its limit from the events of the night. His light features were oppressed by a stormy expression and he snapped, loud enough to make Hodgson start and knock a filthy saucer to the floor, breaking into shards.

Gathercole paid the crockery no mind.

“Mr Hodgson, you were not truthful with us. That manifestation was even more powerful than you had intimated and it was utterly fixated upon you, even to the risk of its own dissipation. You know this fiend, and it knows you. This is personal. If I am to save your life and bring an end to this apparition, I need the truth.”

Hodgson still seemed reticent, his lips tightened and lost colour, his tongue moved against his cheek as though considering his options, however few they might be. This went on more than a mere moment, far too long. His fingers twisting a golden ring around and around on his finger.

Crispin’s fist slammed down on the table, interrupting the wait and sending another saucer spilling to the ground to join its shattered brother. “For God’s sake, man! That horrific thing, that shadow, that fiend, will kill you and drag you down to hell! How can this even be a choice!”

Hodgson sprang back from his seat, spilling the chair, almost stumbling on a shard of crockery. Still wordless he pointed, mute, at the floor beneath the table.

Gathercole frowned a moment, but then a slow realisation stole across his face like an over-cautious thief.

“Of course,” he muttered. “I’m such an idiot, always fixated upon the supernatural, blind to the mundane. Here! Crispin! Help me!”

There’s was a shrieking grind as he shoved the breakfast table to the side, the rug gathered in a tangle and shifting with it, sending up a small cloud of grime and dust. Beneath the rug, there were bare boards, darkened and damp. Through the gaps in the planks, there issued a most frightful stench.

“God above,” Crispin thrust his sleeve over his mouth and nose at the reek. “It stinks like a trench.”

Gathercole rammed a filthy carving fork into the gap between the planks and levered, almost falling over when it lifted far more quickly than he had anticipated. The wood was damp, the nails were bent and had obviously already been pulled once before – recently.

“Fuck,” Crispin barked and darted to the already full sink, retching and vomiting into what little space remained.

Gathercole nodded, staring into space beneath the floor and nodded, very deliberately. “Yes, quite.” He drew his handkerchief from his top pocket and, folding it over itself, tied it in the manner of a bandit, its lavender scent guarding him some against the stench.

Hodgson – for his part – cowered in the corner of the dank kitchen, whimpering like a cornered fox.

Beneath the floor, there was the bloated, putrefying corpse of a woman. At least that was what Gathercole assumed, from the clothing and jewellery that was there arrayed. An attempt had been made to hide the very presence of a woman about the house. Every portrait, every piece of womanly attire, had also been stuffed beneath the floor. Perfume bottles had been emptied and deposited with the corpse in a doomed attempt to mask the stink.

“I should have known,” Gathercole muttered to himself as he leaned over the hole in the floor and investigated with his silver pen, poking at the liquefying flesh of the body. “A man of your age, your former station, it would beggar belief that you were a bachelor. The ring, of course, the size of the apartments, the feminine anger of the spectre that pursues you.”

“Have a care, she was a woman, a person. She deserves respect,” Crispin wiped at his mouth but could barely stand from his shock and horror. The same man who stood firm against the fury of the spirit brought low by a rotting corpse.

“The best respect that I know to show her is bringing this bounder to justice. An act that will also discharge our duty to the bounder in question by providing the spirit what it wants.” Gathercole stood up and edged around the hole, moving to where Hodgson was cowering.

With precise, cold anger, Gathercole struck him once, hard, across the face.

“How could you! A woman man! Your wife, presumably!” He gave the man another strike, sending him sprawling and blubbering across the floor.

“Doris, her name was Doris!” Hodgson babbled. “My wife! My God, I didn’t mean to. Married seven years and every day, from the first, complaint after complaint, pricking holes in my every triumph, crowing my every failure! I snapped once. I could not take another harsh word, and I snapped! The paperweight, my God, her head broke like an eggshell and…”

He was cut off, Gathercole had made a fist of his hand and applied it with liberal strength to the man’s mouth, sending him sprawling afresh.

“I will hear no excuse or justification from you, coward! What is a harsh word to you? Nothing! Gnat bites! Gallons of blood have been spilt for flag and country, against men just as devoted to ending their opponent, and you slaughter a helpless woman with a sharp tongue? You disgust me, sir. Where the devil is my pistol?” He cast about, but fortunately for Hodgson, the iron still lay on the floor in the bedroom.

Crispin laid hands upon Gathercole and wrestled him away, wrenching open the door, loaned strength by concern for his friend, and all but dragged him out by the ear into the road. “Pull yourself together, man!”

“He’s a damned murderer Crispin!” Gathercole hissed and spat the words, pacing back and forth in rapid agitation. “He deserves whatever fate that poor woman’s spectre has in mind for him!”

“No doubt,” Crispin offered, quietly. “But let him face the justice of man before he faces the justice of God, by God. You are no judge William, no jury, and certainly no executioner.”

Gathercole stopped short then, and for the briefest of moments that cold anger and fierce intellect gave way to the heart. “You’re right Crispin, you’re always right on these matters.”

“Should I get that in writing William?” Crispin smiled and shook his head slightly, then laying his hands upon Gathercole’s shoulders, placed a soft and lingering kiss against his lips.

Gathercole drew back at that. “Crispin, someone might see us, by God.”

Crispin smiled and gave a slight, cavalier laugh. “Ah, let them. Though perhaps you are right. We are a dishevelled pair after a night with ghosts and a morning with corpses.”

“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. We will get no rest yet if we do wish to save this murderer’s skin.”

“You know it is the right thing,” Crispin affirmed quietly, drawing his hands back from Gathercole’s shoulders.

“That it is,” Gathercole’s face was contorted in fierce concentration. “We shall have to take the motor-car, visit H. Curry’s and a garage. We need replacement radio parts, and batteries – so we can be independent of the house’s power.”

“I’ll fetch the car,” Crispin turned away and touched his own lips with his fingers. Things were back upon their proper course.

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