Summary : Someone is stealing bodies. Is it a job for the paranormal
detectives? Or for the ordinary
lot? And why is the date important?
It was one of
those shops. It was tucked into a side street,
almost invisible to the passing world.
You can find them in any large town, and a lot of small towns, too. The entrance is always deeply recessed, with
a small door that jingles a bell when it’s opened. It isn’t always clear from the window display what the shop is
selling. Sometimes you find that it’s
antiques, sometimes it seems more like musty old junk. Sometimes the place is filled with
speciality items such as musical instruments, or military memorabilia. Or things for railway enthusiasts. Occasionally it’s an old fashioned herbalist
with cabinets full of tiny drawers, the wooden fronts glowing from the constant
polishing of use and of beeswax, scented with the herbs and spices and strange
vegetable matter of years gone by. Of
centuries gone by. Sometimes it’s all
of these things.
of these different incarnations of The Shop might change, but if you look
closely, there’s always a similarity, as if they were struck from the same
mould, and then decorated to look different, just like the shop.
this shop was dealing in antiques. It
had done all of the above, though, and more.
Anyone who had patronised its various personas would have realised that
the owner looked familiar. Differently
dressed, perhaps; a different hairstyle and shaving habits, certainly; but
similar, nonetheless, although the man himself would have denied all knowledge
of The Shop before now.
current now, the man was reading a missive that had been pushed through his
letterbox in the hours of darkness. The
handwriting was crude, but its message was simple.
If you want to see the boy again, bring it now. You know where to come.
He pushed the
note into the pocket of his trousers and reached underneath the small counter
to press a hidden button there. As he
did so, there was a low click from the wall to his side, and a long
narrow panel opened, the wooden front sliding silently up. He lifted out a long, thin, cloth-wrapped
bundle. Tucking the bundle beneath his
arm, he walked out of the shop, turned the sign to read Closed, locked
the door and then stepped out into the street, and into the early morning haze.
frightened. He was only eight years
old, and he badly wanted to go home. He
wanted his mother and his father, and the comforting embrace of his
grandfather, even if he did always smell of snuff and cloves and brandy.
that he had been a bad boy. Because it
was summer, and because there were no busy roads to cross on his way home from
school, his mother had said that, on Fridays, he could walk home with a couple
of his friends who lived nearby. It had
made him feel very grown up.
though, he’d been in the school library, talking to his history teacher, and he
hadn’t realised that John and Peter had already set off without him. He’d had to walk home alone.
talk to strangers. Never, ever get into
a strange car. Never, ever take sweets
from a stranger. His mother had been
very clear about those things. And he
never did. Except that, as he’d walked
home alone, feeling very grown-up and strangely nervous, hitching his back pack
a little because his chest seemed tight, a man had called him by name. The man had told him that his grandfather
was worried about him, about why he was late home from school, and he’d been so
relieved to know that he’d been missed that he didn’t question why his mother
or his grandfather hadn’t come for him.
Didn’t ask why they had sent this strange man.
had got into the big, black car, and had accepted the toffee that the man had
offered him. The crinkly, shiny paper
that it was wrapped in had seemed so normal, just like the man. He’d started sucking the toffee, and then
he’d known nothing else, until he’d woken up here.
He had no idea
where here was, just that it was dark and cold. A single bare but dim light bulb hung from
the ceiling, and caused the pale walls around him to glimmer a little. An iron chain was fastened to a ring around
his ankle at one end, and to the wall at the other, and he’d pulled and pulled,
but he’d only made his hands and his ankle bleed.
So, he’d knelt
on the cold, damp floor, and he’d prayed as his mother had taught him, making
the sign of the cross and asking Our Lady for help. Then, just to be on the safe side, he’d prayed as his grandfather
had taught him. He’d placed his hands,
bloodied palms flat down, on to the floor, and asked the Great Mother Earth to
show her magic in this place, and to help him.
To send someone to take him home.
He’d stayed on his knees for a long time, like that. Then he’d curled up against the wall and
cried himself to sleep.
stood at the threshold. Once he crossed
over it, he would be committing himself to things that he abhorred. But what choice did he have? The child was here, his grandson, for want
of a better word. The boy was blood of
his blood, and now hostage for the bundle that was tucked beneath his arm. He’d sent the only plea for help that he’d
dared, and he had no idea whether it would be understood. He squared his shoulders and strode forward.
He found them
where he expected to. A large circle
containing a pentagram had already been drawn, with perfect proportions. Care had clearly been taken to get it
absolutely right. There were half a
dozen of them – there would be more soon, some human, some less so. A tall, commanding figure dressed in dark
clothes stood with his back to the shopkeeper, but seemed to be aware of the
man’s approach. In the act of turning,
before he could even have seen the newcomer, he spoke in greeting.
Now the two
were facing each other. Philip, the
shopkeeper, stared into the other man’s face, a pallid face, eyes a washed-out
colour that was neither green nor grey nor blue, but none the less intense for
their lack of definitive pigment.
Francis, for his part, saw an elderly, stocky man, grey-haired, dressed
in an old-fashioned woollen cardigan over a white cotton shirt, a tweed jacket
and brown corduroy trousers that had seen better days.
it, I see.”
the few steps that separated them, unwrapped the cloth bindings, and removed
the plain leather scabbard, uncovering a sword that gleamed softly in the dim
“Take it. Just give the boy back to me.”
no. You fail to understand,
Philip. You will wield the
sword. You will be part of this
great enterprise. Then you can have the
down the bitter taste that had flooded his mouth.
“Let me see
that he’s still alive.”
course. As soon as the trial run is
successfully completed, I’ll take you to see him personally. We’re just waiting for everyone else to
arrive, and for the rest of the, ah, requisites, shall we say? Then we can get on with it.”
It was the
best he was going to get. He wrapped
the sword back up again and went to sit down quietly, out of the way. Those gathered continued with their
There are many
names for her. Some call her Mother
Earth. Some call her Gaia. Some speak of a genius locus. There are many names, and many ways of
thinking about the living planet.
She may have a
heartbeat measured in centuries, and the patience of millennia, but whatever
she is, she is a mother. And she has
senses. She hears with a trillion
ears. They may be furry or fleshy, they
may be no more than pits in the side of a snake’s head, or lines on the side of
a fish, yet they all hear. She sees
with a trillion eyes. They may be
compound, or faceted, simple, camera or mirrored, yet they all see. And she feels, with the nerve pulses of a
trillion organisms, large and small, animal or vegetable or something in
senses… What can she sense? A gathering
storm? A confluence of events that
causes a ripple through the network of energies that overlies her skin? And although she has not the consciousness
of a human, does not react in the way that a human reacts, cannot be seen to
move in the way that humans move, nevertheless she turns her full attention to
the thing that has so disturbed her.
watches through every jewelled insect eye, feels through every beating
protozoan cilium, hears through every twitching ear. Something reaches out, through the nerves of every spreading
fungal mycelium and every forest root run; stretches with bones of granite and
sandstone, of basalt and chalk, sinewed by seams of quartz and gold, of silver
and lead. Then something sends out messages,
carried by air and fire, by earth and water.
through the rustling forest, the trees on either side of the broad woodland
ride seeming to bend over, their new leaves whispering to him, too low and too
many for him to catch their meaning.
Small, scuttling things go about their business in the undergrowth on
either side of the path, the remnants of last year’s dead leaves crackling
beneath their tiny feet in a susurration of grace notes that seem to him to
have replaced the essential melody, so that he cannot understand. Whenever he draws alongside these smallest
of forest dwellers, they seem to stop and stare at him, intent on imparting
some message that he cannot fathom.
some broader glade, he stops and presses his ear to the bole of a mighty beech,
and thinks he hears the pounding of its heart.
He’s missed the great systolic thump of early spring, and now it’s the
steady flow of rivers of sap just beneath the smooth grey bark that murmurs to
him. There is a pattern, but he cannot
the path, he has to push his way through ferns that have overhung the path, the
intricate architecture of their green lace suddenly as meaningful as any
demonic text, if only he could read it.
When he reaches
the stream that babbles alongside the ride for a hundred yards or more before
turning back into the forest, he sees tiny fish, and even tinier insect larvae
that have built for themselves houses of stone, glued together with spit, and
all of them seem to turn to him, to look at him with accusatory eyes,
condemning the slowness of his comprehension.
And then something rises up towards him from the glass-clear water. There is no accusation here. There is love, and a plea for him to
understand, in those moss-green eyes, those eyes as green as the cat’s, and
there’s a weight on his chest that he hasn’t felt for months and he seems to be
wrapped around with thorns, and he thinks that he may never be able to breathe
again if he doesn’t understand what these eyes are trying to tell him…
hard, Giles woke from his dream to find Zillah on his chest, staring intently
at him with Ella-green eyes. The cat
was kneading gently, just the very tips of her claws brushing against his naked
skin as her paws pressed down, and she was purring softly. Shaking his head in an effort to free
himself from the lingering threads of the dream, he reached out to stroke
her. She gave him one last stare before
blinking, then she butted her head against his hand, and became just a cat
again, a darker shadow in the dark greyness leading up to dawn. She leapt lightly from the bed with a loud
The cat. It had just been the cat. The cat that had once been Ella’s.
at the bedside clock. Four o’clock. The sun wouldn’t rise for three-quarters of
an hour. He huddled back down, but
every movement brought the rustle of clean bed linen, carrying words that he
couldn’t quite hear. As he tossed and
turned, the birds outside started to rouse themselves into the dawn chorus,
every trill and whistle meaningful if only he could understand. The house added its own dawn chorus, with
slight creaks and less identifiable noises as the old building continued to
cool down after the heat of the day.
Every last one of those noises seemed to be a call to him.
dawn, he gave up, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. He wished that Buffy and Angel were here,
perhaps to talk to, or more likely just to be company, but they were at the
flat in Bath, enjoying some time together.
He didn’t begrudge them that.
But he felt alone, amongst his ghosts.
the best part of the day in his book-lined study, vacillating between matters
spiritual and matters temporal, and periods of brown study, although for an
hour, just after lunch, he walked the grounds by the house. John was with him, and the time was spent in
animated conversation. From time to
time, John would make notes on a crumpled sheet of paper. The day was fresh and clear, with the westerly
wind bringing the scents of may blossom and fresh green growing things. He missed those when he went back inside,
and so he threw open the windows downstairs, and brought the spring day into
too, brought something to brighten the day, an invitation from the Westbury
Cidermen for a competitive evening with their archrivals, the Trowbridge Cider
Tankers. The invitation was for all
three of them. The Cidermen were
completely free of gender bias, despite their name. He wondered briefly whether they’d be free of species bias, too,
especially knowing how much Angel could drink.
No, not drink. A competitive
cider evening would be very little to do with drinking and all to do with
quaffing. You spill a lot more. He looked more closely at the
invitation. Oh, there was preliminary
work to do first. The Cidermen had
arranged several tastings, for the best cold cider cup. No doubt the Tankers
had done the same. When they were done,
each society would field one full barrel of their preferred recipe, on
Midsummer’s Eve. Recipe suggestions to
be sent to the Cidermen’s President, Mrs Lillian Groom.
He smiled a
little mischievously as he thought of what Buffy might make of the rather
roistering atmosphere in the cider barn – Angel, he was sure, would make
himself right at home – and Lisa would be there, of course. Perhaps Buffy and Angel could have a little
fun researching some really hard-hitting cider recipes, so that they could all
contribute to the mayhem of the Cidermen’s preliminary tastings.
But his mind
couldn’t hold on to any of the day’s happenings, as the dream wound itself
through every other thought.
evening, he lifted a strange little book down from one of the top shelves – Reaching
Across the Veil, not one he made much use of – and everything around him
seemed to fade into the background as he ran his hand over the cover. It was heavy black silk, faded now to a
rusty brown, stuck onto stiff card. The
binding was homemade, the pages and covers handstitched together, with no
spine, the folds in the sheets of paper left bare. Neither was there a title on the outside, just careful
old-fashioned writing on the title page.
The whole book was handwritten, the penmanship thick and heavy and in
obscure lettering, the ink a black that was almost as faded as the cover.
This had been
a volume loaned to him from the Watchers’ Library just before the acolytes of
the First had blown the Council Headquarters to hell. He’d had a boxful of obscure books sent over in the hope that
there might somewhere be a clue to defeating the First, or at least stopping it
from impersonating dead people. In
those days, Buffy had never been stronger, had never been more fragile, and
he’d been terrified that if the First started to impersonate Angel, it would
have been more than she could stand.
He’d wanted to stop that, if it happened. It was the last boxful of books that he’d had from the Council,
and this volume had held unexpected secrets…
It also held
dangers. The author of this book had
died in an asylum, or as much of an asylum as they had had in those days. It seemed that he hadn’t quite made it back
across the veil. Not all the way. With a mental wrench, Giles put the book
down onto a small side table, but he didn’t put it away.
That night, he
made a cup of cocoa for himself – always good for a sound night’s sleep – and
read a few pages of some instantly forgettable best selling thriller before
being claimed by soft arms that trailed the starlit clouds of Night.
He is here in
the forest, quite alone. Alone and
without human company, that is, yet there is other life in this place. He stands in the sunlit ride, and through
the silver-grey boles, he sees a red deer hart, poised and attentive. The deer’s every muscle seems to shiver, as
if flies troubled it. The head, lacking
all sign of antlers at this season, is turned a little in his direction, and he
can see the red membrane inside one nostril as it flares wide, trying to catch
a scent perhaps. A tiny trickle of
blood runs over the hart’s brow, as if its weapons have been taken by force,
leaving it emasculated. He sees one
large, liquid black eye, gazing straight at him, with an entreaty and a plea. Of the other eye, all that he can see is the
sweep of long, dusky lashes. The hart’s
ears are twitching, frantically testing all directions, trying to find whatever
it is that has alarmed it.
There is no
sound at all, and so it surprises him as much as the deer when he sees the
arrow standing proud of the russet ribs, just behind the deer’s shoulder. It has caught the animal in the heart, and
he sees the blood from broken lungs dripping from that one flared, red nostril,
all the brighter against the black muzzle.
The hart collapses, almost gracefully, falling first to its knees as its
strength fails. Then its hindquarters
give out, and it collapses to the ground, still upright, as if it were about to
sedately chew the cud. Inappropriately,
he wonders whether deer do chew the cud, and then the animal falls over onto
its side. It raises its head as it
makes one doomed attempt to rise, its legs flailing in an effort to find the
ground, and then it is dead. He doesn’t
need to go closer to the body to know.
Now, he is
aware of real silence. He had thought
that there was no sound in this place, but the only sound missing had been the
hiss of the arrow, and the thud as it hit flesh. It is as if the hart had stabbed itself. The ear of memory brings back to him the
sound of birdsong, and the whisper of the breeze through the new leaves and the
new grasses, the rustle and scuttle of the smallest occupants of the forest
floor, the music of the brook at his feet.
Memory’s inner eye reminds him of the trembling movement of the leaves,
the small flurries as birds delved among the foliage, the sheer colour of
butterfly wings in sunlight, and the shimmer and dart of tiny fish in the
water. All that has stopped, with the
death of the deer, and now there truly is nothing, nothing at all.
Yet, as he
stands, an alien noise breaks the silence.
As if they had appeared from nowhere, the body of the deer is now
covered with a new skin, a moving, buzzing, black, bristly pelt. Flies.
Millions of flies. There is a
sudden explosion of movement in all directions as the flies leave the body, and
he sees that all that is left of the hart is a glistening, heaving mass of
corruption and maggots. The flies are
everywhere. And then sound returns to
the forest. It is the sound of death as
leaves and birds and insects fall from the trees, tumbling against each other
to lie in an unmoving carpet amongst the mulch of last year’s finery. Every sound, the rustle of leaves, the tiny
rasp of insect carapaces on feathers, is an unheard message, each one standing
as his accuser. In the brook, the tiny
fish still shimmer, but they will never dart again, lying with their silvery
sides reflecting whatever light remains in this place, their mouths open in
that final gasp, as if they had given up trying to tell him anything at all.
He is rooted
to the spot, and he now sees that this is true in every sense of the word, as
brambles push up through the carpet of death, their tips circling, like dead
men’s fingers, looking for something to clutch. They have found him, just as they have found every tree in the
forest. The pliant stems have scrambled
up his feet and legs, then frozen into thick, immovable ropy canes, while the
greener tips still search out thornholds around his body. He raises his arms to fend them off, but the
thorns catch him from the rear, and he cannot stop them. The sound of the flies is like a rasp,
rising and falling, always louder. As
the brambles gain a stranglehold on the trees, he sees the smooth grey bark
split, and sap oozes out like golden blood.
Held fast, he
casts one last despairing glance at the stagnant stream that used to run past
his feet. Something is rising from the
depths, something that is as trapped by rank corruption as he is, as the deer
was. Bubbles of fetid gas and rotted
vegetation rise from the streambed and the stench clogs his nostrils. He wonders what it is doing to the creature
that is trying to free itself from the foulness of the water, whether it can
survive this; and then it reaches the surface.
All that he
can see is a pair of emerald green eyes.
Cat’s eyes. Ella’s eyes. The look in them is one of expectation. Then, the light in those eyes starts to dim,
as the brambles tighten their hold on him.
Slowly, the light is extinguished, and the eyes glaze over, and,
unseeing, are given over to death. His
shout rings out over the forest, over even the buzzing of the flies.
Giles sat up
in bed with the echo of that shout ringing in his ears, his throat hoarse, and
sweat running down his back. The
buzzing was still there, though, and the brambles. It was a few seconds before he was able to collect himself
sufficiently to understand that Zillah lay on his legs, her claws sunk deep
into the flesh of his thighs, purring in a loud, harsh voice that was unlike
her normal, gentle sounds of contentment.
Her green eyes, Ella eyes, were fixed on him. He remembered that cats also purr when they are hurt, and he
wondered if she was injured.
the remnants of the dream, he put a hand out to her, to disengage her claws,
and to feel for injuries. She blinked,
and her eyes were just Zillah eyes, and then she leapt lightly off the bed and
trotted from the room.
Giles ran a
hand over his face, and sat with his head resting on his bended knees for a
while, before he tried to sleep again.
When he did, he tossed and turned for a little time, but the pillow was
hot and void of all comfort, and the dream refused to fade, simply replaying
itself over and over again in his head.
So, he got up and made tea. It
was 2 a.m. He went into his study,
wrapping his dressing gown tightly around him in the chill of the spring night.
Across the Veil still
lay on the little table. He pulled
another book down from the top shelf.
This one was almost as old, but was properly bound, in dark brown
calfskin, much scuffed. It was called The
Keys of Enoch and, like the other book, it contained magic.
What he needed
to do seemed best done outside, open to the elements, to the sky and the
earth. Still in his dressing gown, he
drew the figures of power in flour on the ground. Flour for the staff of life.
Then he burned the proper candles, arranged just so, and he cast the
proper herbs, and he said the carefully constructed words of summoning. After that, there was nothing to do but
wait. The wind, more mournful now than
it had been in the light of day, soughed around the corners of the house and
through the branches of the trees, rustling the new foliage. A bird, perhaps startled from its sleep,
sang a few plaintive notes from the nearby hedgerow. A scudding cloud cast its shadow over the moon. Somewhere, a fox barked in alarm. There was nothing else.
He should have
expected it. Still, he went back into
his study and sat with eyes red-rimmed, until the first rays of the sun lightened
the eastern sky.
It wasn’t very
much past dawn when Giles arrived at Lisa’s stables. No one else was about as he saddled up Windsor, so he left a note
on the door, in case anyone thought that thieves had been there.
He spent all
day hacking around, pursuing a course across the downs to the southwest of
Westbury, and pursued in turn by memories of the dream. He was starting to think of it as The Dream,
and that had to stop. He missed Ella,
but after her death he’d never been haunted by her, not as he’d been haunted by
Jenny. As he rode, though, the whisper
of Windsor’s hooves in the grass, the sighing of the wind around him, the high
and plaintive notes of the larks, all seemed to carry codes and messages that
he was supposed to understand.
He stopped for
lunch at a free house in the tiny village of Codford St Peter, nestling into
the banks of the Wylye valley. St Peter
was now part of the larger village of Codford St Mary, but he always liked this
hamlet better, and gave it the historical identity that he preferred. There were plenty of people at the pub,
eating, drinking and laughing around the benches in the beer garden, and a
waitress brought him a ploughman’s lunch and a pint of bitter while he held
Windsor. He loosened the girth and took
the bit from the horse’s mouth so that he could graze, while Giles sat on an
out-of-the-way tree stump by the riverbank and ate with one hand, keeping hold
of the horse’s reins with the other.
Windsor was especially well-mannered, demanding only the whole of Giles’
bread and most of his salad. It didn’t
matter, because he wasn’t that hungry, so he made do with the cheese and the
When they were
both ready to travel on, he cut roughly northwards across the downs towards
home, taking a wide, looping course to avoid the village of Imber and the huge
tract of land surrounding it that was the dangerous Army firing ground. That way eventually took him up the steep
and narrow lanes that led to the Westbury white horse. A perfect representation of an eighteenth
century horse, and still shining white after its recent clean-up, he found time
to wonder about the original figure that had been cut into the chalk here. That had been a much more primitive thing,
until a long-dead steward of the equally deceased Lord Abingdon had ‘improved’
it. He liked the idea that the original
had celebrated Alfred’s victory over the Vikings over twelve hundred years
before, but it could never be known if that was true. He glanced up at the present-day figure, all grey cement and
white paint, and suddenly, the original sprawling figure, as he remembered
Gough’s drawing, seemed to overlie the later tamed beauty, and he thought that
he could hear the neighing of horses, and perhaps the clash of swords, and he
could almost make out the sound of human voices, shouting words to him that he
couldn’t quite distinguish. Then it was
gone, and only the stately figure remained on the steep chalk slope.
around that evening, but the long ride had left him stiff and a little sore,
and he went for a soak in the bath. He
didn’t want to listen to the sounds that might be contained in the running
water, and so he stood on the landing outside his bedroom, and watched the
last, long rays of the dying sun as they bloodied the landscape, before he
climbed into the hot water. Then,
surrounded by welcome silence and the ashwagandha-fragranced steam, he dozed a
He’s back in
the forest, and it is unharmed. He
trails his hand through the rippling stream, listening to the chuckling of the
waters. The tiny fish that he’d seen
before come and nibble at his fingers, tickling them. Somewhere, a bigger fish splashes as it takes a mayfly, perhaps
the last one before darkness settles itself over the forest.
hearing picks out the slither and munch of the tiniest denizens of the earth.
here is a language, and he doesn’t have the key. He cannot understand. In
frustration, he slams his hand into the streambed. All the tiny fish dart away, but even their leaving seems to have
a pattern to it, like the letters of an unrecognised script, and then
everything is gone.
awake to find that the bathwater was now cooling, and it was full dark
outside. He towelled off roughly, pulling
on his pyjamas over still-damp skin, and would have gone straight to bed
except… Except, he heard soft
voices. Were they real, or were they
more incomprehensible sounds in his head?
dressing gown around him, he padded downstairs. As he did so, the voices, still pitched low, became more
distinguishable, and he smiled in relief.
There was also a very welcome aroma drifting up the stairs. He found Buffy and Angel sitting in the
kitchen, drinking freshly brewed coffee.
They returned his smile as he helped himself to a mug.
It was Buffy
both had some really weird dreams, and we thought you might do the Joseph
It was early
afternoon when Angel woke up. Buffy had
already left the flat, and it wasn’t long before he was ready to follow
her. John had built an ornamental
covered pergola, a walkway that ran from the garage flat, along the shady north
side of the utility wing and to the courtyard door into the house. Giles had found, from somewhere, a series of
deep cisterns, some stone, some lead, all decorated, and all old. Angel suspected that some of them might be
old Roman coffins, but he’d said nothing.
These were placed against the uprights of this arbour, and already there
were climbing plants in them, ready to start cladding the structure. Thick trellis had been used overhead, with
loose wooden slats temporarily laid over it in a solid sheet. These slats would be taken away when the
evergreen ivies and winter flowering clematis had made a solid enough roofing
to keep out the sun. It was decorative
as well as useful, and Angel was grateful that it allowed him to come and go at
any hour. He’d already thanked John,
who’d carefully constructed it, with a bottle of fine Irish whiskey.
Giles were in the study, with Giles checking over his notes. They’d exchanged experiences last night, and
now was the time to try and make sense of it all. Angel took a seat a little away from the others, next to a small
table beneath one of the windows – this one faced north, and the other faced
east, so he was safe in this room for the rest of the day.
surprised that he’d had dreams that seemed to have something in common with
Buffy’s, and even more surprised that Giles had had a similar experience. The details for all three of them were
different, but the tenor remained the same: there was something they needed to
hear and understand. His had been the
most frightening of the three. There
had been the pattern of sounds as his flesh sizzled under holy water, the
crackling language of fire as it tried to consume him, the voices hidden in the
minute whisperings of soil-dwelling creatures as he’d waited to rise, and the
literal language of the heart as he listened to it pounding, then fluttering
and faltering while he drank his victims down.
Nightmare snapshots such as these weren’t unusual for him, but the
difference lay in the conviction that, this time, in all of these, something
was trying to speak to him.
alongside him, had had slayerdreams.
Now, it seemed that Giles had had watcherdreams, if there were such a
As he waited
patiently for the other two to finish their reprise, he moved aside some papers
to find the coaster for his coffee mug.
One sheet fell to the floor, leaving behind it a small pile of brochures
for stable buildings. Angel
smiled. The wreckage of the old stable
had been cleared from the front paddock, on the other side of the ha-ha, the
grass was coming through nicely now, and Giles had been able to acquire the
field just behind the house. It was
laid down to rapeseed at the moment, but when that was harvested, the whole
thing would be ploughed and harrowed and laid to pasture. With a new stable, and an extra field,
Giles’ horses could come home.
He bent down
to pick up the fallen sheet, and that was a surprise. It was lined out in John’s brusque hand, and it showed rough
plans for flower gardens around the house.
Angel knew that there had once been flower gardens, but as Giles’
parents grew more infirm, they’d had them levelled and laid to lawn, leaving
only some mature shrubberies and some trees.
Since Giles’ return from California, there had been neither time nor
mental space for him to reconsider the external layout of the house. Now, apparently, he was ready to do that.
As he looked
at the plans, Angel became aware that the other two had fallen silent, and were
looking at him.
Giles. Be good to see some colour out
there. I can take the night shift on
the digging if you like.”
He passed the
plan to Buffy.
“I can help,
too. Hey, do you think that this house
stands on some of those Roman remains that you seem to get around here? You know, some ancient villa?”
“I doubt it very
much, Buffy, but I’ll take all the help John can get…”
was spent in looking up dreams and portents.
“Forest. That means natural forces. Social activities of a happy nature. Ready
“Deer. Everything related to a deer is favourable. A long-lasting friendship, good business
affairs and fortune in love. I like
feel like that, Buffy. It felt more
like a warning.”
“Flies. You are feeling annoyed by friends and maybe
thinking of doing something foolish. There is a postponement of success. Angel, you aren’t going to be annoying, are
you? I mean, that dress was a real
up, his frown deepening.
When am I ever annoying? Did I
buy you a new dress?”
appreciating the fact that there was another helpless, clueless male in the
is more the thing. Insects. Overall, a dream of insects denotes
financial gains, abundant means, and also a mystery will be solved. Now that would be a good thing.”
on, trying to find a pattern, something recognisable, delving into ever-darker
books, until Giles tossed an ancient book down onto his desk. It was Slayer Dreams vol xviii 1547-1622,
a thick volume, its red leather binding crumbling to the touch.
“None of this
makes any sense.”
he hadn’t finished his thought yet, Buffy and Angel remained silent.
“None of it
has the right feel to it.
However we interpret what we’ve found about dreams and portents, the
overall tenor is wrong. It’s as if
whatever caused these dreams is using a different language. What do you think?”
nodded. There was nothing here that
seemed in any way to fit how they had felt in those dreams. They were in the process of discussing other
approaches when a car crunched over the gravel in the courtyard. Giles went to the door, and Angel recognised
the visitor’s voice as Detective Chief Inspector Collins. He was shown into the safety of the drawing
room – a very normal room this, with no esoterica, no ancient books, no
scrolls, and definitely no weapons of any sort. Ever. That was the safe
room for visitors.
A moment later
Giles put his head around the study door.
Collins. He wants to see all of us.”
was a tall man wasn’t hidden by the fact that he was lounging at ease on the
settee. His long legs stretched out in
front of him, casually crossed at the ankles.
He’d come in a suit, but he’d discarded the jacket, which now lay next
to him. Angel saw a man in early middle
age, still fit, dark hair just starting to grey at the temples, and a pair of
candid grey eyes.
As they seated
themselves, Collins reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an
envelope. He addressed Angel.
“I came to say
thank you for all the help you’ve given us with the murders at Corbett’s
farm. I’ve managed to get you some fees
as our expert witness. Standard rates,
but this might say thank you a bit more loudly than I can.”
He held out
“I had it made
out in the company name. I hope that
was all right? I thought that Accounts
could probably cope better with that than just a cheque for Angel, although it
might have been a near run thing.”
inside the envelope and then passed it to Giles.
you. That was thoughtful, although not
a little at that, and passed the envelope to Buffy, who was signalling her
impatience. When she looked at the
cheque, she saw shoes and a new summer wardrobe.
“And I came to
ask you something else.”
It was Giles
Collins sat up
and folded his hands together, suddenly uncomfortable.
being stolen. We’ve looked into the possibility
that people are taking them for their parts, so to speak, with some sort of
medical scam, but that seems unlikely.
I know that harvesting body parts illegally might be big business
elsewhere, but in this country, there isn’t yet an active black market, thank
goodness, and in any event, I gather they usually only take bits and pieces,
and leave most of the body.
that there are lots of other strange things that people can get up to with
corpses, so I just wondered if you’d heard of anything more… paranormal…
to a halt. He was essentially an
old-fashioned man, and didn’t like to detail some of the things that he’d
recently read about, especially in mixed company. And especially when the sole woman present was blushing rosy red
with embarrassment. Giles had bent his
entire attention on Collins, and it was Angel who answered.
said, his voice low and grave. “I do
hear that people can get up to all sorts of things with corpses.”
Buffy gave a
soft, choking cough and hurried out of the room. Collins started after her, a worried frown on his face.
okay? I didn’t mean to upset her…”
Angel reassured. “She’s fine. She… she’s had one of those summer
coughs. It’s almost gone now, but I
expect she’s gone for a glass of water.”
It seemed that
he was right, because Buffy returned just then, wiping her eyes with a piece of
kitchen towel. She smiled sweetly at
Collins as she sat down.
you were saying?”
“Yes, start at
the beginning,” Giles added.
wouldn’t actually have been anywhere near knowing what was happening if it
hadn’t been for a smart constable, and a lucky break. One of the Wessex uniform boys, with some aspirations to be a
detective, was off duty and using this instant messenger thing to a friend of
his in the Thames Valley force. The
friend mentioned that he was trying to track down a corpse that went missing
yesterday from Oxford, and that rang a bell with young Ronnie. One was lost in Bristol the day before. He ferreted around and he’s found four
missing bodies in total, all within the last week. All young men, all comparatively complete and healthy corpses –
if you know what I mean.”
Here, he threw
an apologetic glance at Buffy for speaking of such things, but she nodded him
it. No big auto crashes, no major
injuries, nothing to spoil the bodies.”
right. They’ve all vanished without a
trace, and before any sort of autopsy could be performed, so they really are
and they all waited for her to voice whatever it was that was troubling her.
“Did they have
any wounds? Any… animal bites? Severe blood loss?”
at all like that, on preliminary inspection.
I wonder, can you think of any reason?
Any weird festivals that I don’t know about, any strange occult
at Angel and Buffy in turn. They both
shook their heads. Well, they could
think of lots of reasons, but none that seemed appropriate here. None, at least, that they felt able to talk
about without talking among themselves first.
“Off the top,”
he said to Collins, “no, nothing comes to mind. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something, so we’ll get on it right
away. If we find something, we’ll give
you a call. We’ve still got your
number, I think?”
you. I hope you can come up with
something. They seem to have struck in
one place or another most nights. I’ve
got a few men watching mortuaries that haven’t yet been hit, but that’s blind
guesswork. I’d prefer to be a bit more
With that, he
took his leave, and the Project Paranormal team prepared to hit the books and
is the possibility that these are vampires, but I’d expect them to be much
closer together, not scattered at random like this. The bodies have none of the typical signs, and there are no
reports of associated clusters of deaths.
I don’t think the answer is going to be so simple. Apart from that, there are lots of reasons
why bodies might be taken. Scavengers
of one sort or another, although there’s no reason for them to want complete
bodies unless they’re making sure they get all their vitamins and minerals…
Then there’s necromancy, or necrophilia, or anything else beginning with
necro-. Zombies, of course, and some
other forms of the undead. Some black
magic rituals, although mostly they prefer their victims to still be alive. Where do you want to start? And how much do we want to tell Collins?”
“Why don’t we
start with a general trawl through, see whether there’s anything odd going on,
and whether there are any other portents we need to take account of. With a bit of luck, it really will be just
body part harvesting, despite Collins’ doubts, and the remaining cadavers will
turn up minus skin, corneas, chunks of bone, and whatever else they want. Distressing for the bereaved, but much
better than the alternatives.”
And so they
settled down to research, Angel on ceremonies and practices that required fresh
cadavers, Buffy on demonic feasts and festivals that fell at this time of the
year, and Giles on dreams and portents.
Every so often, Giles would make some telephone calls to contacts who
might know whether zombies were back in fashion. He found nothing but ignorance.
When she’d exhausted the merrymaking possibilities, Buffy moved on to
surfing the net to check for other clues to disappearing corpses.
They came up
with the Feast of Maiduif, thought to be held every two hundred and fifty
years, on 17 May. It had been
speculated that human corpses were involved in that, although there were no
surviving human spectators to confirm this.
found the Feast of Joan of Arc, celebrated by a few rare demonic sects claiming
to be the source of the voices in her head that had so inconvenienced the
English. They held their festival on 30
May, and charred bodies sometimes turned up afterwards. They’d all been female up to now,
though. Buffy countered that with the
Waccaran Mysteries, celebrated by Waccar demons on 5 June, about which very
little was known, hence the appellation ‘Mysteries’, but associated with the
disappearance of a number of humans.
the Agonies of Nilammon, on 6 June, in which captive humans were treated as the
sect’s founder had been – tortured to death over a long period. His next find was a ritual involving the
patron saint, Dymphna, an Irish girl who protected against possession by
demons. Her feast day was 15 May, and
had been known to provoke a backlash from young demons suffering an excess of
demonic testosterone, and looking for any excuse for some action.
None of these
were satisfactory, but they were the best that they had come up with. The only way of improving their chances of solving
the problem was to be able to get out in the field and ask questions, probably
using Angel’s patented burst of violence.
They had nowhere to start, though, and so they started here, with more
research. Buffy became more and more
impatient as the day wore on, and even Angel could be heard tutting under his
Much later, as
Buffy and Angel were crossing the courtyard to their own bedroom, she felt his
arm snake around her waist.
“So, you think
there are all sorts of strange things that you can do with a corpse?”
him in the ribs hard enough to make him grunt.
“That’s what you
said, not me!”
“You seemed to
find it funny – or was that really a cough you developed?”
help but laugh.
“Why? I thought we might go and explore some of
those strange things… And if you’re already wound up…”
“Ah, if you
mean that sort of winding up…”
the foot of the external staircase, and he unhanded her, but only long enough
to turn her towards him and to wrap both arms around her, pulling her in for a
long and satisfying kiss. Then they
went upstairs to explore.
He was back in
Hell, or so it seemed. He was bound,
and in the dark, and something was trailing across his skin in large, looping,
fiery scrawls. There seemed to be a
pattern, a shape that he should understand, and he thought he might, if only he
could see. With that thought, the
darkness lifted, until it was no more than a misty greyness. His naked skin was clear and unblemished,
but in front of him sat a large scorpion.
Its tail was held high and forward, as if it were ready to sting, but
the sting itself, a small drop of venom clinging to the very tip, was curled
At a distance,
it’s hard to see the head of a scorpion, sitting deep beneath the thick,
protective, carapace, and yet he was certain that the scorpion was staring at
him. He couldn’t move his body, but if
he moved his head, the scorpion skittered around until it was once more face to
face with him. He wondered whether he
was back in hell – ‘My father chastised you with whips…’ Been there, done that…
‘But I will chastise you with scorpions.’
Was that what this was? When he
spoke, his throat was dry and voice was cracked and hoarse.
“What do you
Foolishness. As if the scorpion could want
something. Yet, it gave an answer, of
sorts. Its tiny, clawed feet clicking
on what could only be a stone floor, it darted forward onto his thigh. There it paused and, raising itself high on
its legs, it leaned forward, its stare now intense. As he watched, it raised the sting, and slowly, slowly brought it
forward and down until it rested against his flesh. He could feel the coolness of the liquid seeping from the
tip. Then, there was a smarting prick
and a flash of fire as the sting was thrust into his flesh. The scorpion continued, again and again,
deliberately positioning the sting and then stabbing it sharply in. With each sting, it repositioned itself,
until the red, raised marks on his thigh formed a large, coiling pattern. It matched the way in which the arachnid now
held its tail high over its back. It
was the number 6.
She lay in the
sunshine on a grassy hillside. The
grass was short, close-cropped, and very fine-leaved. It felt springy, and although she didn’t remember coming, she
knew that when she had walked here, her feet had bounced on the turf at every
step. She should be getting back. There were things to do, urgent things,
although she couldn’t quite recall what they might be. And so she lay, enjoying the heat, and the
sun on her face, and the sound of birdsong, the singer too high for even slayer
eyes to pick out in the clear cerulean sky.
And then the
bird fell silent, and a huge bank of cloud loomed into the east, filling the
horizon. It wasn’t the stately white
cloud of an English summer downpour.
Rather, it roiled and seethed, a greasy purple colour, shot through with
red and black and orange, as if it were unaccountably on fire. It boiled over the sky, blanketing completely
everywhere it went. As she watched, a
ragged edge of the cloud, cleaner in colour than the rest, broke away and sped
in front of the heaving mass. As that
ragged edge passed over her, snowflakes as large as her palm fell all
around. They lay, pristine in their
lacy beauty for a heartbeat, and then melted away.
A solid shadow
fell to her left, and when she looked, Kendra was by her side. She wore a red choker around her neck. No, not a choker. The thin line, with delicate drops suspended from it, was the
gift of Drusilla’s fingernails. She was
studying a snowflake.
beautiful. We never get these at home.”
you’ve lost your accent?”
you lose, some things you gain. I’m
still me. I’m me in you. I exist in you now. I am what you want to remember, nothing
The red line
around her throat disappeared.
“Why are you
shrugged as she held out her palm for another snowflake.
dream. You tell me. It’s all here, you know. You don’t need me here to see it.”
Buffy’s hand in hers and held it out for a snowflake.
different and they’re all the same.
Look at them. Let them speak to
She traced her
finger around the hexagon, counting the sides.
“One, two, three,
four, five, s…”
Kendra was gone, and with her the grass and the sky and the snow. All that was left was the fire.
He was back in
the forest. The new beech leaves, still
the colour of young peas rather than the deeper, older green that they would
become, sighed and whispered in the breeze.
Then the breeze stiffened, and a blast of heat gusted through the
forest. In its wake the leaves,
shrivelled and seared around the edges, fell onto the path around him.
grey-barked trees were stripped of their new greenery, the young twigs browned
and withered, yet still they leaned towards him and murmured. The breeze sprang up again, eddying around
his feet is if it were confused, dazed by the violence they had just
witnessed. As it brushed past,
uncertain, now stronger, now fading, it whipped the leaves into small piles,
caught against the low undergrowth at each side of the path. The few that were left in front of his feet
had fallen into curving figures, a script scrawled along the woodland ride, a
never-ending repetition of the figure 6.
Giles was the
first one to wake the next morning, ready to start work on both dreams and
corpses. Almost ready. Angel and Buffy arrived as he was yawning
over his coffee in the breakfast room.
Angel shushed his love into silence until hot, buttered croissants were
ready for the two humans, and more coffee made for all of them, with a glass of
blood for him. Then she could be
contained no longer.
something to do with 6. We both had
weird dreams again. They both were
“So was mine.”
Angel took a
deep drink of his blood – strange how he no longer felt uncomfortable about
that in this company – and asked, “So, what do we know about the number 6?”
into the dining room. With its
west-facing windows, there was no need to draw the curtains yet, and none of
them felt like excluding the bright sunny day outside. Books and papers were spread around, and the
new bluetooth-enabled laptop brought in from the study. To the mystery of the disappearing bodies,
and the enigma of their dreams, was added the riddle of the numbers. They started with numbers.
guys? Did you know that as at now the
average UK home has 4.7 television sets?
So who’s got 3.7 of ours, and what do they do with them all?”
confused and Angel simply smirked at Buffy’s non-sequitur. Google had its limitations when given broad
search criteria. Then it was Angel’s
turn to look puzzled, as a thought struck him.
you sure that we weren’t seeing a 9 upside down? Easily mistaken?”
“I… I don’t
think so. I had no doubts when I was
dreaming. What about you two?”
Both of them
shook their heads, but the seeds of doubt had been sown.
continue with 6 for the moment, and then move onto 9.”
Buffy took the
laptop after their second cup of tea.
“Wow, look at
this. December 5th, 1664, a
ship sank in the Menai Strait, with just one survivor, a Hugh Williams. Same place, December 5th 1785,
ship sinks, one survivor, a Hugh Williams.
Same thing, 1860, and again a Hugh Williams hits the only jackpot on the
Menai Straits. You don’t think…”
up at two confused expressions.
looking for odd things. Maybe Hugh
lived a very long time! Is the Menai
Straits anywhere near here? Or the
Malverns? Look here… Are you interested in a mansion for sale
with fifty-five thousand books? Sounds
as though that would suit you, Giles.
Sorry, not a mansion. A
monastery. Or an abbey. Or something. Stanbrook Abbey. It’s got
too few nuns to keep going. They’re
selling up and moving to Yorkshire.”
showed a little-boy longing at the prospect of fifty-five thousand books, but
he sighed and continued with his work.
An hour later, it was his turn.
Angel, I see that a whole batch of the ancient laws imposed on Ireland to keep
the natives at bay are to be repealed.”
an eyebrow. Buffy moved to look over
Giles’ shoulder and started reading.
losing an Act of 1360 which makes provisions against people associating with
the Irish, using their language, or sending children to be nursed among
them. Aww, honey, we aren’t illegal
anymore. After six hundred and forty
and Angel looked puzzled.
“I’ll do this
one, Buffy. Also a 1366 Act which
forbids intermarriage between the English and the Irish. You’re American, Buffy, doesn’t say anything
“Me, me, me,
Giles… The 1181 Assize of Arms Act, which forbids Jews to wear armour. That one’s been around a long time.”
this one, Angel. The 1310 Act that only
those of the English nation are to be received into Religious orders.”
started to chuckle, and now broke into a full laugh.
“Are you two serious?”
we’re serious. It said so in a
newspaper about... um… oh, yes, two months ago, so it must be true. I imagine these laws must have been a great
burden to you as a young man…”
were twinkling as he said it, and it was Angel who put on the mock stare.
Oh, and the one about associating certainly was a great burden, more
observed in the breach, if you know what I mean. The one about Religious orders, well, what can I say? But, if we’d known the one about armour,
we’d have found some poor unfortunate Jew and dressed him up in a stolen suit
of armour. High spirits, you know… Still, good to see that armour can now be
the costume of choice.”
lunchtime before they’d all accumulated enough to start comparing notes. By that time, half of Giles’ library seemed
to be spread over the table and over the floor. Buffy pushed the laptop away with a sigh.
equilibrium, harmony, balance. That’s a
good thing, right?”
polarity, the hermaphrodite represented by the two interlaced triangles. The upward-pointing one is male, fire, the
heavens. The downward facing one is
female, the water, and the earth.”
reading the Da Vinci Code by mistake?”
“NO! I’m reading Beneath Mathematics, by
Arnold Spinker, and a very turgid volume it is, too! ”
“Oh. Well, this says that six is the symbol of
luck, love, health, beauty, chance.
That’s another good thing, right?”
it’s meditation and intelligence. There
were six days of Creation.”
it represents the Universe – four cardinal points plus above and below.”
Angel put his
book down. “There are three of us,
dreaming about sixes. 666. That’s the
number of the beast, isn’t it?”
Giles gave a snort
“ ‘Here is
wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it
is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.’
Rev:13:18. That the one?
“It’s more the
number of sensationalism and a lack of scholarship! It started with the study of gematria, in which each letter in an
alphabet is assigned a number. The
majority of people seem to think that the number 666 gives you the Latin name
of Nero, which it doesn’t unless you add another letter in, but you can also
get 666 from Bill Gates’ name, and from www.
Actually, I have some sympathy for that viewpoint, come to think of it…”
He shook his
head a little regretfully.
“But, a lot of
other people believe it means the Papacy.
No, the man who wrote Revelations lived when Nero was dead and
cremated. He thought in Hebrew and
wrote in Latin. He was writing about
the frailty of man, warning about greed and the lust for power. Six, in biblical terms, is the number of
imperfection. 666 represents a tripling
of imperfection, in matters religious, political and social. It’s the number of Man. I don’t think it’s any more than that… Mind
you, Nero died on 9th June; perhaps there’s something significant
about that date. It’s only about a week
away… Perhaps it should be 9 that we’re looking at after all.”
something like an awed silence for a second or two.
the Devil. Imperfect man is going to be
recreated into something perfect and beautiful and intelligent. Sounds like the sales pitch for becoming a
as he said it was impish, and Buffy wanted to hug him. He was showing his dry wit more often
nowadays, but it still wasn’t often enough for her. She gave her voice a tone of mock resignation.
“Oh, well, I
suppose it’s the time of year for another apocalypse.”
in mock disapprobation over the top of his glasses. “Not one more apocalypse.
I simply won’t allow it.”
He stared off
into space for a few moments.
I’ve just remembered that the 9th of June is the start of the World
Cup. That could be pretty apocalyptic.”
“Football. Or soccer to you, I suppose. Takes place every four years. Perhaps there’s some sort of esoteric link between
the death date of Nero, who used to like to play for the masses if you recall,
and the 2006 World Cup? Hm?”
be amazed at how important things like the World Cup can be to demons. The rivalry, the passions… the gambling.”
but it happens every four years. Why
should this one be special?”
then, and said more seriously, “Do we think that these dreams are in any way
related to the disappearing corpses?
Have we found anything at all useful on that? I haven’t…”
He trailed off
as a car drew up in the courtyard with a crunch of gravel. It was DCI Collins, and his sergeant, Gavin
They took the
policemen into the breakfast room and offered coffee. Collins looked harried,
to say the least, and Lincoln looked grim.
The sergeant ostensibly moved his notebook into his inside pocket. Collins pushed his mug to one side a little
and asked the question uppermost in his mind.
“I hope you’ve
got some news for me?”
you want to hear about zombies, vampires or Frankenstein monsters, not much,
I’m afraid. Or Bill Gates, I
suppose. Or even the World Cup. What about you?”
to try and lighten the disappointment, and the policemen looked puzzled. The moment passed, and Collins scrubbed his
hand through his hair before answering.
“We’ve got one
corpse back, and gained another.”
several sips from the hot coffee before continuing.
“A couple of
days ago, a man walking his dog found a body buried in a shallow grave in some
woodland in the West Midlands. This
morning, the identity was confirmed as the very first corpse to go missing last
to the trouble of stealing it and then just buried it?”
As she asked
the question, Buffy could feel her palm itching for a stake.
“No.” Collins seemed reluctant to continue, but
the others kept silent until he did.
“No, they didn’t just bury him.
He was badly burned over almost all of his body. The pathologist says that he curled up into a
ball to escape the flames, and he put his hands over his face to protect
“You mean the
man that was already dead?”
Giles took his
glasses off and gave them a polish, as he waited for the answer to his
“And the body
was… normal… otherwise?”
“So I’m told.”
that this was a natural occurrence, the result of the fire?”
“About as much
chance as England winning the Ashes twice running.”
“That would be
a no, then?”
the other body?”
was found washed up on the coast, south of Bristol. He was a middle-aged man who’d been beaten to death, but not
until after he’d been tortured almost to death. Coastguard thinks the current might have brought him from any
point east of Ilfracombe. Or he might
have gone in where he was found.”
“And you think
the body is linked to this case?”
“I think it’s
possible. In any event, he’s got your
name and address in his address book. He
was French. Ever heard of a man called Michel Benoit?”
“You think we’re
involved in this?”
question was more of a challenge.
was thin. He looked at the three of
them, such a strange assortment as they were.
A middle-aged librarian who had found time to be a world expert on some
ancient artefacts; a young woman who looked as though she belonged on a
California beach; and a cultured young man who could sense bodies in the
ground. He’d checked them all out, of
course. He’d got a lot of
background. A history of teenage
violence for the girl; a woman dead in Giles’ bed; a lot more that he’d still
got to look at in detail. And Angel? He’d found him at Angel Investigations in
Los Angeles, and that was all. No
record of entry into the UK. No other
information. Apart from the business in
Hollywood, it was as if the man had never existed. There would be other names, he supposed, and he would find those
out. But, at the end of the day,
although they all seemed to be involved in things that Collins would almost
prefer never to find out about, these were not people who would top his Most
“I’m not that
desperate. Yet. So, do you know Michel Benoit?”
question was directed at Giles, who looked down in thought.
“Yes, I think
I do remember that name… But it’s a
long time ago… yes, I was at a
conference with him, ten or fifteen years ago.
We corresponded on professional matters occasionally for the next couple
“What sort of
artefacts, but just for the moment, I can’t recall which ones. It will come to me. If you give me a few hours, I’ll check my
“Good. Please do that. Meantime, I’ll get back to sticking pins in maps to put people on
watch at mortuaries…”
“Why don’t you
look at the obits?”
familiar with obituaries – she’d used them often enough as a shortcut to
checking out new vampires due to rise.
Gavin Lincoln was slower to understand than Collins.
“They seem to
be after fresh young bodies without much in the way of injury. Check the obits and see who fits the bill.”
the obituaries won’t get into the paper until a few days after the death. That’s too late. They seem to want fresh bodies, and they take them pretty well on
the first night, before even an autopsy can be done. Thanks for the suggestion, though.”
Angel had been
deep in thought, and then he turned to Buffy, giving her a long look. He hoped she’d go along with what he was
going to suggest.
“If the obits
are too late, you need to give them some actual news. They seem to have a source of information about where there’s a
body that meets their specification.
Give them what they want – a newly-deceased, undamaged body. One whose whereabouts you know. And make sure the press know about it.”
“You mean I
should do a bit of police brutality in the cells?”
“No. You can give them me.”
When it was
over, Philip had a strong enough stomach not to vomit, but it had been a close
brought over to him the large black tome that he’d been leafing through, and
had seated himself on the bench by Philip’s side, for all the world as if they
were comfortable companions. The book
definitely spoke against the comfortable companions thesis. It was called The Book of Nativities,
which might sound innocuous enough, but it had a subtitle. Of the Earth’s
Cycles of Death and Rebirth, and Mastery Thereof. Francis had run his hand over the skin that formed the book’s
cover, and that simple act had made Philip shudder a little. Legend had it that one of the most powerful
demons in Hell had given the skin from his thigh to make this cover, and that
one day, he would claim it back.
“You know what
you need to do, Philip?”
nodded miserably, and wondered whether Michel Benoit had received his
note. He hated to think that he’d put
the mild-mannered archivist in harm’s way, but of the few people he could
trust, he’d been the nearest to the artefact that was his best hope of giving a
warning, and the man would surely understand the cryptic message that was all
he’d dared send.
Francis had seemed
satisfied that Philip would play his part, and watched silently as the
preparations were completed – the perfect drawing of a pentacle inside a
circle, the dark light provided by an outer circle of black candles,
interspersed with sprigs of yew and lilac, and bowls holding smouldering
chrysanthemum leaves, all plants associated with death and the Underworld. Philip found it all a little melodramatic,
and unnecessary, particularly since he didn’t think they’d got the fundamentals
right. He wasn’t about to tell Francis
They had laid
the body inside the circle, taking off the gris-gris as they did so, a small
cloth bag he’d hung around the man’s neck to keep the body fresh until it was
wanted. Philip knew that it worked
better than refrigeration in the short term.
It should do. After all, he’d
made them up himself, at Francis’s… request.
He normally didn’t like to associate his work with voodoun, but he
didn’t want to associate at all with what was happening here, and so he thought
of it as a gris-gris, as if that could assuage his conscience. He’d do anything, though, to get the boy
When the body
was in position, and the ritual ready, Philip had been called on to do what
he’d been brought here to do: the thing that he would have to do several times
more before this was over. Other than
Francis, the important people hadn’t been here today, of course, since this was
an experiment, a trial run, to make sure that everything worked smoothly ahead
of the big day. There had just been
half a dozen of the Initiates.
The spirit – a
small and insignificant one in comparative terms, although powerful enough to
act as a good test subject – had been summoned. Then it had all gone wrong.
The book’s author surely hadn’t written of the flame and heat that had
accompanied the demon, burning the dead man beyond any hope of use. Nor had Francis anticipated the reaction of
the body, curling away from the fire, trying unsuccessfully to defend himself. The movements of the corpse, the greasy
smell of burning flesh, and the sound as it sizzled – these things would live
with Philip for years to come. If there
were any years to come.
for what seemed like long hours, but were only long minutes. ‘They’ did not include Angel, in the sense
that Angel allowed all the arguments to sweep over him, with no visible effect.
“No, no. Angel’s right. You can give them him. It
will work. I think…”
“Have you two
It wasn’t a
Buffy expression. It was one she’d
picked up from Giles. She’d liked it
because it gave her a good visual, and it was doing that now. She couldn’t imagine what was going through
their skulls – were they going to share with two strangers, two policemen,
just what Angel was? She needn’t have
worried. In the face of the men’s
patent disbelief, Angel’s explanation was smooth.
some of the deeper meditation techniques, where you can bring your body’s
functions almost to a halt. I’ve been
taught by masters… By Eastern masters.
I can carry this off. They’ll
never know the difference.”
He hoped. If it was human business, he’d almost
certainly get away undetected.
Probably. If it was demon
business, that might be different, but he’d face that problem when he had to.
“No. I can’t endanger civilians like that.”
though, said that he’d liked the notion.
Buffy, for her part, breathed a sigh of relief.
During the rest
of that day, they followed dead end after dead end, as they threw themselves
back into research with a new sense of urgency. Now, the creation of zombies was back in the mix, with a
vengeance. They had amassed a
depressingly large amount of material but nothing that stood out. None of Giles’ contacts had professed any
knowledge of stolen bodies, other than the media reports, nor of any zombie
activity. There was definitely no
noticeable clustering of vampire activity.
They began to wonder whether bodies were being stolen here to use in
another country, but what would be the point of that? Bodies were always freely available everywhere. It was a law of nature.
wanted to go and hit something, to make the object of her attention tell her
the answers under penalty of extreme violence, and even the normally
imperturbable Angel was becoming impatient with their lack of progress. Yet
still they were in the maze, without even a thread. Not for the first time, Giles silently cursed the loss of many of
his old circle of contacts, and the dearth of new ones.
They worked on
into the not-so-small hours, before it was impossible to ignore the
fatigue. Giles was the first to
capitulate, tossing down a priceless incunabulum as though it were the evening
paper, which also lay on the table.
this page a dozen times in the last hour, and I haven’t taken in a word of
it. I need to get some sleep.”
Angel put down
the 18th century anthology of demonic festivals rather more
carefully, and Buffy pushed the laptop away from her.
“Yeah, just a
off as she thought of what might await her in those few hours. What might await all of them. Angel smiled, amused. Not at the prospect of dreams, or, rather,
Dreams, but at the way he could read Buffy’s fears like a book. He wished that he’d got as much from the
real books. He made his voice a
“ ‘To sleep:
perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub…’?”
nodded, and Angel started to sort through the mounds of books and papers,
stacking them neatly. He didn’t want to
remember the rest of the quotation.
Giles shook his head.
about clearing up, Angel. We’ll do that
interrupted by the telephone. They were
accustomed to phone calls at odd hours, but somehow the shrilling ring held
ominous overtones. Giles answered. It was Collins. He sounded weary and angry at the same time. Another body had disappeared, the loss
noticed only fifteen minutes ago, but no trace could be found. Was Angel still offering, and could he
really do it?
her arms around herself, hugging her ribs, looking down at the mass of
yellowing pages on the table. She
didn’t say a word. Angel looked at her
for a long moment, testing her scent, reading her body language, and then he
nodded to Giles. The assurance was
given. Collins would come before lunch.
If any of them
had dreams that night, they were the normal everyday dreams, the processes used
by the mind to rationalise and store what it had learned during the day. They slept in late, while their minds
processed. Martha, when she arrived the
next morning, saw the jumble of books, the laptop still running, the sinkful of
coffee-rimed mugs, and went about her chores as silently as she could, so as not
to wake anyone who might be sleeping in the house.
stupid, by any means. Far from it. Philip watched in silence as the old circle
was carefully erased, and something new drawn.
A double circle. Or, rather, two
circles that intersected in the pointed oval of the Vesica Pisces, one of the
most potent figures in sacred geometry.
Francis had learned.
Pisces. Symbol of the joining of
deities to produce offspring, and that thought was too dreadful for Philip to
contemplate. Vesica Pisces. A source of immense power and energy, and
exactly what Francis ought to have had in the first place. Perhaps the most powerful figure in
the Age of Pisces, and one that might have a desperate life of its own in
bringing that Age to a close.
lights were lit, supported by the bowls of sacred plants, and the Initiates
A new body was
brought to the chamber, and the gris-gris removed from around its neck. It was placed in one of the circles, and
Francis gestured to Philip. For the
sake of his grandson, the older man hid the reluctance that he felt, and did
what he’d been brought here to do. When
he’d finished, the body spasmed, and opened its eyes, fear and confusion
contorting its expression before it smoothed into blankness. The Initiates recommenced their chanting.
A new spirit
was summoned in billowing smoke and flame, but the heat of its passage was
confined to the far circle. The other
circle, together with the Vesica Pisces and the rest of the cavern, were all
protected by walls of power, walls of magic.
The living body remained undamaged.
As the portal receded, the summoned spirit, a dark, featureless, humanoid
shape, approached the lines of the vesica, but dare not go further. It looked hungrily at the body.
“Move it into
the vesica, Philip.”
Francis’ command, he held his hand out to the living dead and pulled it to its
feet, grateful that, although it had life, the creature’s soul was long
gone. The Initiates took up their
chanting again, a new spell this time.
As he pushed it forward into the oval space, the creature stumbled and
fell into the far circle. With a howl
of triumph, buoyed up on the words resonating around the chamber, the spirit
wrapped itself around the body and sank into the flesh. Then it was gone from sight.
chant terminated, and all those gathered in that chalk-cut cavern held their
The man in the
circle stood up and inspected himself closely.
As he spoke,
he looked at Philip, still standing in the other circle. Philip turned his back to hide his despair.
They all slept
well that night, without dreams, or at least without the sort of dreams that
you remember the next morning. Collins
and Lincoln were there half an hour before noon. As Martha let them in, they could see that the sergeant’s face
was set in a frown of disapproval.
There were no preambles.
you absolutely sure that you want to do this?”
Angel nodded, without
even looking at Buffy. Her scent
radiated her dislike of the idea, hidden to human eyes behind a bland exterior,
but he knew that she was resigned to it.
grateful. But if I had someone who
could do what you claim to do, I wouldn’t entertain using you for a
minute. This could be dangerous and, if
we go ahead, you’re going to have to do exactly as I tell you. Understood?”
again. There was no point arguing the
toss. He’d just do as he felt necessary
when the time came. Collins held his
hand out to Lincoln.
“Pass it over,
passed over a capsule.
“This is a
tracking device, and a very expensive piece of kit,” Collins explained. “It’s got a radius of two miles. We’ll be parked up close to the mortuary where
your ‘body’ will be kept, and as soon as we see the signal start to move, we’ll
be following. When we’re sure we’ve
ID’d the vehicle you’re in, there are three unmarked cars around the town ready
to trade places with us so they don’t spot us too easily.”
He held out
“You need to
swallow it. We’ll get it back in the…
natural… course of events, but it’ll stay in place for three days. We’ll have you back by tomorrow morning,
dubiously at the capsule. If he
swallowed it, they wouldn’t ever get it back, but more importantly, he was
pretty sure that demons and new technology would fail to co-exist. He was also pretty sure which one would
win. That wouldn’t help the tracking
unnaturally, Collins misunderstood his hesitation.
quite large, but it’s shaped to go down easily.”
“Okay. I’ll be back in a minute.”
stood, Buffy rose with him, but he shook his head and she sank back into her
seat. Once outside the drawing room, he
stepped across the hall and into the toilet next to the study. Bolting the door, he took out a pocket
knife, then pulled off his shoes and dropped his jeans. He braced his right foot on the toilet seat
as he opened the knife. It was a red
Swiss Army knife, given to him by John and Martha last Christmas. He’d been amazed that anyone would want to
give him a Christmas gift, amazed and oddly touched, and he always had this
with him. It had proved surprisingly
useful, although no more surprisingly than now. So far he hadn’t needed to use the implement for getting Boy
Scouts out of horses’ hooves, but this sharp little blade would be perfect.
handful of toilet tissue, he made a deep cut on the outside of his thigh,
wincing with the sharp flash of pain, and pushed the capsule in. He pressed down hard with the wad of
tissue. With his sluggish circulation,
he bled more slowly than humans, but he did still bleed. The cut was deep, and before he felt it
close over, he’d thrown the first blood-soaked wad into the toilet bowl, and
was on his second. The skin was
slightly lumpy over the capsule, but it would stay there, unharmed, until he
cut it out again. Or until his body
pushed it out, but that would be a while yet.
Flushing the bloody
tissue away, he dressed, then rejoined the others. It was Giles who told him what they had agreed – the plan that
the three of them had devised before the arrival of the policemen.
“Angel. We’re going to play it all for real. You’re going to die of unknown causes,
here. We will be out on some errand
while you enter your state of… erm… deep meditation. The ambulance crew will be summoned. We grieving relatives – you don’t mind us being relatives, do
you? - will refuse a post-mortem on the grounds of strongly-held religious
belief. There will be mutterings from
police sources about a judicial application for a post-mortem in case of
newspaper will find all this out, and it should be sufficiently interesting to
be syndicated at least across the South.
The truth won’t be known to anyone who doesn’t need to know. The Chief Inspector and the Sergeant will
leave in a few minutes, but will stay close so that they are the first to
respond. Buffy and I will take Martha
to the shops for something while you decide where to make yourself comfortable
– the hall, I suggest, or they’ll take chunks out of the door jambs with the
trolley – and we shall be suitably overcome when we arrive back and find you
suddenly and inexplicably deceased. How
does that sound?”
mysterious to me. Perfect.”
And so it was.
When Giles and
Buffy brought Martha and two rabbits back from the expedition to the butcher’s,
entering by the courtyard door, Angel stood in the kitchen doorway, waiting for
them. He moved forward and sat down in
his chosen spot. Buffy, seeing the
warmth glowing from his skin, bent over and whispered in his ear.
“A couple of
pints at body heat. I’m good for a
amused him with a girly shriek, dropped her own shopping of magazines and fruit
in a dramatic arc across the floor, 999 was duly dialled, and Angel lay back
and arranged his long limbs artistically across the tiles. The ambulance crew arrived with some speed,
Collins and Lincoln hot on their heels, and the paramedics pronounced life to
be extinct. Giles saw Collins
momentarily close his eyes in sheer relief.
The crew, with
some help from Lincoln, and a great deal of interference from a sobbing Buffy
and a few loose oranges, managed to lift the body onto the collapsed
trolley. Angel was swathed head to toe
in thick white blankets, strapped firmly onto the trolley, and taken out to the
waiting ambulance without so much as a telltale wisp of smoke, although Giles
thanked Providence for an overcast day and a sudden summer thunder shower as
the trolley was wheeled out of the door.
remained behind, and when they judged the ambulance to be halfway to the
mortuary, Lincoln used the radio in the car to instruct a police constable to
meet it there and alert the pathologist that the family had instructed that no
post mortem be held. The pathologist’s
advice was requested on whether it was appropriate to make a judicial
application for an autopsy. He rejoined
the others in the house with a grim smile of satisfaction on his face.
“If someone is
scanning police radios, or getting information from people in the chain,
everyone now knows that there’s a young, unautopsied body on its way to the
within half an hour, a reporter from the local press had arrived, and the
bandwagon was rolling. Buffy felt
afterwards that she made such a good grieving lover because she’d had so much
practice, but she only shared that thought with Giles and Angel.
It was past
nine o’clock and dusk had fallen. One
street away from the mortuary, a large, dark blue van was parked in the
brightening glow of a streetlight, apparently where the owner thought that car thieves
would be reluctant to risk being seen.
sotto voce argument was taking place.
Gavin Lincoln and a technician were huddled around a computer screen,
concentrating on the flashing point that was Angel’s tracer. Collins was arguing under his breath with
Giles and Buffy, who had arrived ten minutes before, as the last rays of the
setting sun had bloodied the rooftops.
“This is no
place for civilians. You should leave
the job to us.”
the words, and tried to make different sentences with the same meaning, but
this one had no more effect on Buffy than the others had.
“I want to
know what’s happening to my boyfriend,” she repeated stubbornly.
sighed, and Giles smiled at him with something approaching sympathy. He’d argued with Buffy before they came
here, although for different reasons, but she’d worn him down, too. And in truth, he felt that the operation
would be safer with her here. He couldn’t
tell Collins that, though.
now, and there’s no way to tell who’s watching. You’d better stay, then, in case someone sees you leave and it
blows the whole thing.”
They found a
place to sit in the crowded van and, from somewhere, Lincoln produced cups of
coffee for them. Then everyone settled
down to wait.
Angel lay in
the dark chill of the reception room for the deceased, simply waiting. Hours ago, he’d lost the body heat gained
with the hot pig’s blood, and even through his jeans and sweater, the metal
trolley was cold on his back. If he
stayed here much longer, he’d have no need to feign rigor mortis: he’d be stiff
as a board anyway. He was covered by a
dark green sheet, but he knew that there were two other bodies in the room with
him. They were both freshly received,
ready for work to begin on them in the morning. He hoped that wouldn’t include him. He’d had one scare already.
The pathologist had instructed the technicians to prep him moments
before the constable had appeared and stopped proceedings.
Apart from the
bodies, he was alone with the odours of disinfectant and death. The staff had all left for the day – in a
place as small as Trowbridge, there was no need for a night shift. For perhaps the dozenth time, he wondered
whether their ruse had succeeded. It
would be a waste of a perfectly good evening if it hadn’t.
When he heard
the snick of a door latch, he reckoned that it was about two in the
morning. It was highly unlikely that
the residents of Trowbridge were still abroad this late, even on a Saturday
three men. They took a look at the
other two bodies first, both closer to the door than he was, and both elderly
women. When they lifted the sheet from
his face, he heard one whisper, “That’s the one.” He was lifted from the trolley onto a stretcher, and the green
sheet laid back over him. The men at
each end staggered a little under his weight, but he soon felt the fresher air
around him. He heard the doors of a van
as they were pulled open, and his stretcher was quickly pushed inside, grating
on the metal floor. Something smelling
of strong herbs, and other things, was put around his neck, and then he was
The sound of
the engine told him that it was new and powerful and carefully driven to avoid
unnecessary attention. He thought they
were going westward, and hoped that Collins’ trinket worked, more for Buffy’s
sake than for his own. He’d been sure
all along that he would have to live on his wits as this unfolded. He could feel the pocket knife – the only
weapon he had other than those given to him by the demon – and then he cleared
his mind to listen for any clues that would reveal their destination.
Buffy put down
the evening newspaper that she’d been reading. It was the late edition, and it carried
a small paragraph that read, ‘A young man was found dead in mysterious
circumstances today at a house in a remote part of Westbury. Both police and relatives have made no
comment, but it is understood that the family are refusing to permit an autopsy
that would determine cause of death.’ A
chill ran up her spine, and she hoped that she hadn’t been foolish to allow
this. She was almost sure that Angel
would have backed down if she’d made an issue of it. Almost sure.
grabbed everyone’s attention, then, calling out softly to Collins.
“He’s on the
Then, it all
happened at once, and afterwards no one was able to agree on the exact sequence
of events. The best that they could
manage was that there seemed to be a soft implosion of air, everything around
seemed to glitter for a brief moment of time, as if there had been some
sort of summer lightning, and then the lights went out. All of them. The technician swore that someone jogged his arm, his coffee
sprayed all over the computer and the keyboard, and there was the lively sound
of frying electronics.
out savagely, “Get the bloody tracking system up and running now,” and
then let loose an even more savage expletive as Buffy wrenched open the van
doors and ran down the street.
“Lincoln! Get after her!”
outside the van by now, and saw Buffy disappearing into the darkness, her black
leather trousers and jacket melding into the night. He knew that it was useless to try and catch her, but he watched
Lincoln make a valiant attempt. The
sergeant, running as fast as he could, was left standing.
the mortuary door to find it locked and secured, and she paused briefly,
uncertain. But she couldn’t feel
Angel. She should be near enough now to
be able to feel that tingling she got when he was close at hand but
unseen. There was nothing. In one swift movement she broke the lock and
then pounded down the corridor, to the room where Angel had been left. There were two sheeted bodies and an empty
trolley. She ran back out, almost
colliding with Lincoln as he panted in her wake, but the street was as utterly
empty as it had been when she first ran into it. Lincoln’s voice behind her said it all.
Back at the
van there was a strained atmosphere and frantic activity. The technician succeeded in booting up a
laptop, and started searching for the signal.
Collins was on his mobile, issuing orders to the remote units. Look for any suspicious vehicle large enough
to hold a body, he told them, but he knew it was clutching at straws. The technician gave him more bad news.
trace of the signal, sir. It must be
out of range already.”
Giles put his
arm around Buffy’s slim shoulders.
fine. He can take care of himself.”
“Yes, but he
was relying on us…”
to them with a stricken expression.
“I… I’ve let
you down. I’m sorry…”
Buffy held up
a hand, refusing to listen to more.
sorry. Find him!”
They drove around
Trowbridge for hours, but Buffy could get no sense of Angel, and they could see
nothing out of the ordinary, no one acting suspiciously, except
themselves. In the end, with the sun
halfway over the horizon, they had no choice but to go home.
Buffy snatch a few hours’ sleep, the better to carry out the rest of their own
search. He didn’t bother going to
bed. He simply stretched out on the
couch. Sleep was a long time coming, as
the night’s events replayed themselves in his memory. He knew there was something that he was missing, but every time
he thought he might come near to remembering, his mind seemed to shy away, like
a frightened horse. When at last he
fell into an uneasy sleep, he dreamt of faceless body snatchers, of dead demons
and of magic.
woke, neither of them was refreshed.
Martha said nothing. She simply
produced coffee and a late brunch, and stood over them until they had eaten and
drunk. She took the remains back to the
kitchen, then went to the fridge to get more milk. Angel’s blood filled up one corner, shocking and accusing. She shut the door quickly, and blew her
nose. No need for tears just yet.
going for a walk. I shan’t be far.”
“Giles! Now isn’t the time for walking!”
over and patted her hand.
something in my head, Buffy, and I can’t quite grasp it. Every time I think it’s within reach, it
shimmers away, like a mirage.
Everything else is wrapped in cotton wool, anyway. I just need some fresh air.”
He wasn’t out
for long. The day was overcast again,
threatening rain. The clouds were the
huge Atlantic confections that promised summer storms, rising up like great
white chalky cliffs and grottoes, boiling out of the blue sky-sea. As he walked out onto the downland, he could
hear the rabbits thumping the alarm as they raced back to their warrens, and
some predator high in the sky sounding its lonely, whistling pee-oo. A buzzard, he thought, absently. I remembered that. Why can’t I remember the rest?
When he got
back, he’d made one decision. Aristotle
and Zillah were sitting in the hall outside the study door, one each side,
absolutely motionless, in their best Egyptian cat god pose. As he opened the door, though, they made a
rush to get into the room. Giles, with
the ease of long practice, stuck his leg out and caught them both. He closed the door firmly behind him. They were back in their guardian poses when
he came out, and he felt their eyes on his back as he went to find Buffy.
She was in the
family room, poring over some maps.
When she looked at him, her expression was fierce, as fierce as Angel’s
demon ever was, but he could tell that she’d been crying.
“I thought I
might get a sense of him, somehow…”
something that might help.”
He held out to
her the object retrieved from the study.
It was a polished crystal, a long piece of clear quartz, on a leather
She took it,
the one for magical finding. Tell me
what I’m supposed to do again.”
“Hold it over
the map, and concentrate hard on Angel.”
supposed to hold something of his?”
was small and wry, and made him look young and vulnerable.
“Tell me that you
aren’t something of his, body and soul.”
The smile she
gave him back was dazzling, and she settled down to concentrate.
Collins was in
a towering rage. So far as he was
concerned, there were no other cases on anyone’s desk today. Last night, he’d widened the search to
neighbouring forces, and technicians within a fifty-mile radius hunted for the
missing tracer. There was nothing. By midday, he had widened that to a one
hundred-mile radius. There was still
Lincoln had wisely
refrained from saying ‘I told you so’ and was busy co-ordinating the work of
the technicians. Privately, though, he
thought there was going to be hell to pay for this particular piece of
insanity. Collins was the best
detective he’d ever come across, but he was a rule breaker. Oh, nothing to do with planted evidence or
forced confessions – he’d have nothing to do with perverting the course of
justice. He was just…unconventional. Using a civilian in this operation was just
about par for the course. Now, it
seemed as if that civilian might turn up dead.
And then there really would be hell to pay.
hadn’t worked. It seemed as if the
crystal had tried to swing but the motion was immediately damped down. Giles’ temper snapped an instant after
Buffy’s. She threw the crystal hard at
the wall, just as he snatched the maps up from the table.
Buffy, let’s try something else.
were going, they got there before sunrise, but not by much. Angel was carried on his stretcher into
somewhere with the unmistakeable scent of underground. It wasn’t dank, like a badly drained cellar,
or foetid like the sewers. It was
simply earthy and cool. The further he
was carried, the less air circulation he could detect, even under his sheet,
and the more the place seemed to weigh on him, as if there were vast tons of
hillside above him. The journey seemed
to take forever. At one point, he heard
the rapid breathing of fear, coming from a few feet away, and thought he could
When at last
it was over, he’d seen nothing of whatever he’d been carried through, but then
he was lifted from his stretcher and placed on a cool but lumpy floor. The sheet was removed, and he almost
blinked. After a moment, his captors
left. When he was satisfied that he
could hear their footsteps receding into the distance, he opened his eyes. He was surprised to find that he could only
do that with some difficulty. He was in
a large, white-walled chamber – a man-made cavern hacked into pure chalk. There
were bodies in here, several, although he couldn’t yet untangle their
individual scents to do a head count.
They were fresh bodies, though, with no more than a few hours of decay
He could smell
more of whatever had been hung around his neck, and began to wonder if this was
something magical, to keep the bodies so fresh. At last, he was sure that his only company here were the dead and
he decided that he could risk movement.
That was when he discovered that movement was beyond him. As he struggled, he was unable to raise so
much as a finger. For the first time
that night, he felt real fear.
END OF PART
I’m not Dan
Brown, and while I’ve put in a lot of factual information about real places,
the only connection between any of them is admittedly only in my
imagination. I think. Here’s some more information on this half of
the story, if you’re interested.
hypothesized that the living matter of the planet functions like a single
organism and named this self-regulating living system after the Greek goddess
Gaia. But you knew that. More at Wikipedia:
2 Houses of stone glued together with spit
have this endearing habit. Caddis fly
larva are very good at it.
Giles’ girlfriend in season 1. She was a
witch, and she gave her life, together with the rest of the Coven, to save the
world in ‘Slayer’. And it wasn’t just
her life. Her very essence became part
of the organism we call the Earth.
4 Westbury Cidermen
Country is famous for producing cider and perry (perry is cider made from
pears). The cider that we are talking
about here is not the stuff you buy from the supermarket. This has the ability to crinkle paint, and
the roughest of it is called Scrumpy.
You can’t drink very much of it before getting legless. The best of it is excellent stuff indeed.
There has been
confusion, so I’ve put in a clarification.
This hart is nothing to do with Wolfram and. This is a red deer stag during the part of the year when it has
shed its antlers, and when it is properly called a hart. The term is also usually reserved for a male
over 5 years old.
6 Codford St Peter
The village of
Codford St Peter has been merged with the village of Codford St Mary, but I
couldn’t resist using the name. It’s
exactly where I said it is, but I’ve no idea whether it has a pub on the
river. Here’s information and pictures.
7 Free House
public houses are, roughly speaking, either tied houses or free houses. Tied houses belong to a brewery chain, and
sell that brewer’s beer and spirits.
Free houses are just that, and sell whatever they like.
8 Imber/Army Firing Ground
large chunks of Salisbury Plain have been given to the army, in several
discrete areas, and they use these for training exercises. The village of Imber is in the centre of one
such area, and is deserted, which is a good thing, since it’s regularly used as
target practice. Interestingly, the 700
year old church in Imber is the church of St Giles. It’s a Grade II* listed building, and decorated with 15th century
murals. You’d think someone would try
to do something about that, wouldn’t you?
The Army say they are doing a very good job of preserving wildlife in
their areas, and who would disagree?
Here’s information and pictures of Imber.
9 Westbury white horse
There are a
lot of white horses on the extensive chalk downlands in southern England, as
well as other chalk-cut figures. The
one at Westbury is real, and what I said about it is real. From something primitive that might be about
the spirit of horse, or might commemorate a great victory by Alfred the Great
over the Viking invaders, it was re-cut by the steward of the then local
landowner to be a rather pretty 18th century drawing of a real
horse, and is now concreted over to save the trouble of re-cutting it
This is used
in Indian herbal medicine – Ayurveda – for its ability to increase vitality,
energy, endurance and stamina, promote longevity and strengthen the immune
system without stimulating the body’s reserves. It also has the ability to
nurture the nervous system, counteract anxiety and stress to promote a calm
state of mind, and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, being a specific
for treating arthritic and rheumatic conditions. It is also supposed to be the
most potent aphrodisiac in the entire botanical kingdom. It’s properly called
Withania somnifera. Clearly, every
garden should have one.
11 Scorpions and whips
chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions’
1 Kings 12:14
12 Number of TVs in the UK
the time of writing, the average UK home currently has 4.7 TVs. I want to know who has my other 3.7, and can
I have one back…
13 Hugh Williams
appears to be true, according to Sandi Toksvig’s column for the Sunday
telegraph on 12 March 2006. Weird.
14 The Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union) Bill
is intended to repeal Acts of the English-run Parliament sitting in Ireland
between the Norman Invasion and the 1800 Act of Union, as reported in the Daily
Telegraph on March 13 2006. This is the
Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland.
Takes them a while to get around to this sort of housekeeping. Makes me feel better about the cobwebs.
written on Numerology. Here’s just one
16 666 – The number of the Beast
Here’s where I
got my details. Make of it what you
17 The World Cup and 9th June
soccer World Cup starts on 9 June. I
bet demons love it.
18 England and The Ashes
A series of
cricket matches held every two years between England and Australia, playing for
a trophy that holds the ashes of what is variously said to be a set of cricket
stumps or a lady’s veil. In 2005,
England won for the first time in 18 years.
19 Michel Benoit
When I was at
school, I had a French penfriend called Michelle Benoit. I’ve used the masculine form of her name
here – I hope she doesn’t mind.
20 To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s
This is part
of the famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, and the bit that Angel doesn’t
want to think about goes on:
perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that
sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have
shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us
21 Vesica Pisces
One of the
most important figures in sacred geometry.
There’s a lot written about it – here are three addresses to get you