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Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’

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 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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