Summary: This is a real place, and a real
mystery. But is the answer quite as
simple as it seems?
“I… I guess.”
Cryptic Guy. Just like that? That really feels nice?”
around to make herself more comfortable.
“So now you’re
going to explain why it feels good?”
always the right words, you know.”
better be the right words for this. You
said you’d open up a bit more. Talk
a bit more about, you know, what you feel, as a... a va… Well, you
said the ‘v’ word and although they were talking about Angel’s ‘v’ feelings,
she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.
Especially not when he seemed so very comfortable. She relapsed into silence, waiting for the
space to be filled. Angel lay on his
back, his eyes closed, his head pillowed on his arms. He really didn’t want to talk about things like this. But he’d promised.
“It feels… It
gives me a nice glow inside. And it
makes my skin tingle. I feel… strong
and… and good… Buffy, this is so hard!”
The last bit
came out in what he felt was rather a whine, but it was too late to take it
back. She took hold of his hand and
sunbathing,” she encouraged, trying to get him to say more.
He turned his
face to the brightness of the full moon, and felt it wash over him, a cool tide
of radiance. It might only be
second-hand sunlight, but whatever use it had had before reaching him had made
a hell of a difference to it.
“No, not like
sunbathing, not even like sunbathing for a human. That’s hot and dangerous, and takes you back to your beginnings
under the African sun.” He squeezed her
hand in apology. He knew about the
first slayer. He wasn’t the only one
who’d promised to talk a bit more. “It
reaffirms you as living humans, and feeds all the different hopes that humans
have in the light of day. As well as
producing vitamin D, of course…”
A tiny gurgle
of laughter escaped her at that but otherwise she stayed silent, as he tipped
his face to the silver moon again, and then turned onto his side, to look at
“This is like
bathing in a mountain stream, perhaps, cold and refreshing. And… and it feeds the darkness in me,
somehow. It makes me want to hunt, to
stalk, and to chase, the way the sun makes you want to play, and to picnic, and
him in the ribs at that, and then she followed his lead and turned towards him,
settling into the sheep-nibbled grass again, and putting her hand up to his
He rubbed his
face against her hand, like a cat, and then he turned away, suddenly, and froze.
“Shh!” He paused again, and then jumped to his
feet. “Something’s happening - at the
allotments, I think.”
She stood up
more slowly. Damned vampire
hearing… And then he was off and
running, heading towards the Long River Road allotments. Allotments, she thought. Such strange and wonderful things you could
find, in England. She jogged off after
him, heading towards the area of land given over to individuals so that they
could grow things that couldn’t be squeezed into a garden. Each of them with forty square rods, poles
or perches to make a square rood allotment.
As she reached
the gate to the allotment plots, she heard the screeching squawk of terrified
chickens, and picked up the pace. The
sounds of panicked poultry were louder now, coming from a small and dilapidated
shed on one of the central allotments, and interspersed with definitely human
oaths. At the open doorway, she saw
Angel’s dark bulk, with a bundle of white feathers at his feet.
And then she
saw what he held.
forefinger and thumb of his right hand, he grasped a long streak of russet and
white fur, about a foot long, nose to tail tip, as slender as a withy. It writhed desperately, coiling around
almost as bonelessly as a snake. Its
mouth was open, the gape enforced by his grip on the scruff of its neck, and
its small, white teeth – very sharp white teeth – glinted in the
moonlight. The black shoe button eyes
glittered with menace.
stoat,” said Angel. He took hold of the
hind legs with his left hand, stretching the little beast out so that she could
chicken killer,” Buffy amended.
down at the sad bundle of feathers that had once been a White Orpington.
another dead one inside. If we hadn’t
come, it would have had the lot.”
at the tiny killer.
“See? Size doesn’t matter. And we were here to save the day.”
She closed the
distance between them and reached up to pluck a stray feather from Angel’s hair. Then she brushed off the wood shavings
clinging to his coat.
“So? What are you waiting for? Just kill the slaughterer of helpless
chickens, and let’s be on our way.”
scrutinised the dead body on the doorstep.
“Do you think
Martha would like a freshly killed chicken?”
“Buffy! Besides, she’s got babies. They’ll starve without her.”
“Martha? Oh, the stoat. How do you know? That’s
not a ‘v’ thing as well, is it?”
“No, no ‘v’
thing needed. She’s still feeding
over the captive stoat. Her white belly
fur was stained, in two rows of small pinky-brown patches, where the babies
were suckling. She scowled.
better ideas, oh mighty hunter?”
Now it was
Angel’s turn to frown. Then he held the
stoat up until they were face to face, eye to eye. And he put on his demon face.
The stoat squirmed frantically, trying to get away from the larger
predator. He hissed at her. She hissed back.
growled, deep in his chest. Buffy felt
the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
With any other demon, she would have been reaching for her stake, but
she loved it when her vampire made that sound.
didn’t. Her bravado gone, she redoubled
her attempts to escape. He growled
again, longer and louder, and at last she gave in, lying limp in his grasp, her
eyes closed. Buffy envied her.
come here again,” said Angel. “She
understands this place isn’t allowed.”
own bravado in place, to hide the fact that her knees were still weak, Buffy
snorted in laughter.
stoat, now, do you?”
definitely a whine.
She crowed in
delight as his lips pursed in disapproval.
The surviving chickens in the hen house clucked in alarm.
silly.” He bent down to scoop up the
dead Orpington. “Shut the door, will
and she peered into the darkness,” this other dead hen? Martha?
Or are we having the one you’ve got?”
Angel gave her
a mock scowl, and she returned a mock glare.
“I know, I
know. I’m just teasing. Giles is kind of getting me into this whole
getting paid for what-we-do-naturally gig.
Do we just leave these here?
England doesn’t have coyotes…”
“No, but there
are foxes. The hens – and this plot –
belong to Bert Stainby. He’s not got
much as it is. This one will be a meal
for him, if he can bear to eat it.”
He found a
spare onion net, and hung the bird on the henhouse door. Even one-handed, still gripping the stoat,
he moved with grace and purpose. She
saw him write STOAT on a scrap of paper and shove it into the net with
the corpse. Then he was done. She latched the hen house door and ran after
him. He was already at the entrance
“One for him,
one for us, then?”
He gave a
little snort of laughter – as if Buffy would ever bring herself to eat carrion
– and put the second dead bird down.
“You’re in a
giddy mood tonight. Something wrong?”
there be? The full moon, Mr Tall Dark
and Handsome, the springing of, well, Spring. Oh, yes, and I could do with a
change. Something exciting. Something to get our teeth into. Literally, in your case, maybe, but not in a
‘v’ way, of course. Or maybe a
holiday. What do you think?”
warmly. Buffy had grown to love their
new home here, but sometimes she definitely got fidgety. So did he.
what we can come up with.”
placed the stoat on the ground next to it, stepping back quickly. The stoat lay motionless for long moments,
and then her eyes opened. She looked up
at him. Quickly, before he could change
his mind, she sank her teeth into the upper part of one wing, and made off
towards her nest, laboriously dragging the chicken behind her.
and slid her arm around Angel’s.
know how to please a woman, don’t you?”
The smile that
he returned was toothy, and she stroked his brow ridge. His eyes were amber in the moonlight.
mighty hunter. You can put it away
now. Just for the moment, though,
He did put it
away, and they started to walk back towards home. Buffy frowned in thought, suddenly serious.
“I can take
Bert some Meals on Wheels, if you like.
While I’m standing in.”
was on holiday and Buffy had stepped into the gap, as she usually did when one
of the Meals on Wheels ladies was unavailable.
Angel’s grin was a knowing one.
“Would he eat
it if you did?”
herself to her full height.
Hetty Cowthorpe gives hers to the dog…”
“Why does she
still have them if she says they aren’t fit for human consumption?”
it very much, might I say… In fact that dog could do with dropping a few
Then she let
go the mock indignation and became serious.
it means that once a day someone checks that Hetty is still alive. I think that probably goes for all of
them…” A thought struck her. “Angel, we aren’t providing meals on wheels
for stoats now, are we?”
“No. There are plenty of rabbits. She was just… tempted.”
tempted, Giles seems to be tempted a lot of late, don’t you think?”
His grin was
just as brilliant if less toothy than it had been before.
“You mean he’s
putting it about a bit?”
They were back
on the chalk lands, now, right on the top, with Summer Down spread out before
them, sloping away in the distance to the forbidden village of Imber. He pulled her back down to the short-cropped,
springy turf. She resisted only long
enough to pick a piece of hay from his collar.
Buffy, Giles has had two terrible tragedies in love, and not so long ago at
that. He may never be ready to commit
fully again. Even if he does, it might
take a while to find the right woman.
He’s doing the right thing…”
field?” she interrupted.
he echoed. “He’s not ready yet for
someone who wants to live in his pocket.
He needs some adult relationships.
If one of those is right, he’ll know.
But just now, it’s fun he’s after.
A… a change from the perils of life as a paranormal detective, and from
playing gooseberry between the two of us.
He’s not deceiving anyone. He’s
not saying anyone is exclusive.”
you’re right. Where was he going to
theatre, the Clog and Rhubarb. They’re
showing the Terry Pratchett play-of-the-book, The Fifth Elephant. I don’t know whether he’s remembered it’s
got vampires in it. And werewolves.”
out loud, and nestled into his arms.
trying to give Angela a hint!” She
shook her head, bewildered. “The
Clog and Rhubarb… Where the heck do
the English get these names?”
“It’s from the
two men who run it – friends of Walter Satterthwaite, I gather. They’ve moved down here from Yorkshire. One of them comes from a family of rhubarb
growers, and the other from a family of shoemakers.”
come here to open a theatre? Not a
movie theatre, though?”
“No, a theatre
for staging plays. Nice isn’t it? You know, Giles asked me if we wanted to go
with them, tonight, but I said no. I
thought he’d do better on his own.”
call. I’d like to go, though, sometime,
if Giles gives it a good press.”
He nuzzled at
“Good job I’ve
got tickets for tomorrow then, isn’t it?”
It was mid
afternoon when Buffy got back to Summerdown House. As she put together a sandwich, definitely not assisted by Ari
and Zillah, she heard, above the cajoling miaows of the cats, the sound of
voices coming from the study. Male
voices. Plate in one hand and coffee
mug in the other, she made her way out of the kitchen, the cats weaving beneath
Giles were looking over some papers.
There had been more mail than usual, after the Spring Bank Holiday
everyone got oak branches hanging from their doors?”
Giles arched a
people. A few of those I’ve just
“Giles! So what?”
“It’s the day
the Byzantine Empire came to an end.”
even splutter. She’d got a mouthful of
Wiltshire ham, and it was too nice to splutter. Angel grinned and Giles relented.
“Okay, I think
I understood the bit about the Byzantine Empire better. Oak apples?”
galls produced by a wasp grub, look exactly like tiny apples.”
“I know,” she
said, impatiently. “We poor colonials
have oaks, and we have apples, and surprisingly we have oak apples, too. But you have a special day for them?”
sniggered, earning a look that promised a painful time to come. Giles sighed.
Buffy. People gather branches that have
oak apples on, to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II,
and the day that he hid from Cromwell’s Roundheads in an oak tree. It’s not done much, anymore. People used to wear sprigs of oak, and if
you didn’t you got whipped with nettles...”
around the legs.”
choked with laughter as her boyfriend allowed his face to fall. Giles missed the exchange, and
true! Wessex is always a bit more
traditional than other places, and we carry those old things on… Besides, I think it was really just a
continuation of pagan tree worship…
Although I think the nettle thing has stopped, even amongst the young.”
haven’t we got a branch on the door?
having Meals on Wheels? That’s a good
she definitely isn’t. I gave her one
the other day, and even the cats wouldn’t eat it. It’s grocery day. Oh,
yes, she said she’d run out of adder’s tongue for her evening tisane. Even the deli won’t have bits of reptile,
in amusement. Even Alice, his old
primary school teacher who had turned out to be a Silarri in a human guise,
wouldn’t drink bits of venomous reptile.
He hoped. She was housebound,
just now, because her camouflage was failing, and they were helping out as best
tongue is a fern, Buffy, not an actual tongue.
It’s good for wound healing.
I’ll pick some up for her. Is
peachy. She thinks that her normal
washing powder is irritating her scales, so Martha’s going to get her some pure
soap flakes, or non-allergenic stuff.
Something like that. Everything
else is fine.”
in thought, and then looked up at Buffy with a smile.
“Thanks. And you, too, Angel. Alice may be in seclusion, but at least she
isn’t alone anymore.”
lovely old lady… demon… whatever, Giles.
Explains a lot about you!
Anyway, about this oak bough…”
hah. Now, do you want to know about
these new jobs we’ve got in, or not?”
Buffy took a seat. Within an hour,
they’d divided up the requests for services between themselves. As Angel went out to get more coffee, Buffy
leaned back in her chair.
“How was the
play last night, Giles?”
good. We both enjoyed it.”
the puckered brow for?”
no, nothing wrong… I was just
remembering that we talked to Stephen and Peter, the two men who got the
theatre going. I think they’re having
problems with one of their sponsors.”
Buffy looked a
question mark at him.
obviously didn’t have enough money to renovate the old Playhouse properly by
themselves, so they had to tout around for grants and loans and gifts. One of their backers is Walter Paveley, and
I think he’s making things difficult for them.”
“Paveley? The guy who lives in the Manor House?”
up to take the cup that Angel offered, as he waited for Giles to answer his
“What? The Lord of the Manor?”
that Giles was actually going to make Angel’s growling sound deep in his chest,
when she asked that.
“It’s just a
conceit, Buffy. It’s an obsolete
title. It means nothing. My father was going to buy the title, just
to stop that little turd from getting it, but he couldn’t bring himself to sink
so low. Anyway, what are we going to do
like the man?”
he’s an obnoxious bully.”
“How come we
haven’t run into him, then? Sounds like
just the type we might run into?”
at the Slayer.
most of his time abroad. I think he’s
been in the Caribbean for some years.
Anyway, he seems to have blotted his copybook, wherever he was, and he’s
come back here. We can only hope he
takes himself off again soon.”
“Well, if he
doesn’t, I’m positive we’re going to run into him, and possibly not in a good
way for him. We can’t have people
“Thank you for
fighting my battles, Buffy, but let’s try and fight some others, shall we? Now, what are we going to do about these
things in the post?”
pleased, though, as they responded to their clients, and made appointments to
visit. They’d just completed their list
when the phone rang. It was Nick
Hunt. Giles switched to the piece of
technology that he had just grudgingly acquired: the speakerphone.
Nick. We’re all here.”
timbers, me old hearties!”
“I beg your
pardon? Have you been watching the Pirates
over to Buffy and said, in a stage whisper, “Pirates of the Caribbean,
more like.” Buffy giggled.
“And is that
our two young things? Rupert, why don’t
you get one of these video thingies? Then we can all see each other.”
what you mean, Nick,” Giles muttered.
“This thing is modern enough for me. Now, what’s with all the nautical talk?”
like to go on a nautical trip, Rupert?
I’ve only managed to get two tickets, and jolly lucky at that, but the Waverley
is doing a special sailing, Bristol Channel to Loch Lomond. Some celebration or another. Just think, Rupert, the Waverley! Going all the way up the Irish Sea! England to Scotland via Ireland and Wales…”
look in Giles’ eyes exactly matched the excitement in Nick’s voice. Buffy looked at her menfolk in confusion.
“It’s the only
sea-going paddle steamer in the world,” Giles replied.
“Ah! Boys’ toys…”
Buffy.” Nick’s voice boomed over the
speaker. “Boys’ toys! Even we have got to have some fun, you
“When is it?”
“We leave on
Friday morning, mon brave! Ship
was patently obvious.
“I can’t! I’m booked to give a talk on Friday
night. To the Westbury Heritage
Group. The History of Celtic Myth.”
off, Rupert! Just give a jaunty wave of
your hand and tell the old fogies you’ll talk to them some other time.”
“I can’t. It’s been booked for a year. Damn!”
no offence, Buffy, but perhaps I can persuade Angel to come instead?”
“Not if you
don’t want to be speaking falsetto, Nick,” Buffy replied sweetly. She wore a genuine smile, though. Teasing about Nick’s attraction to Angel was
part of every visit.
“Dash it all,
have I got to go and suborn someone else?”
regret, Nick’s offer was turned down, and Giles brooded about it for
hours. Still, there was work to do and,
over the next few days, the three of them evicted demonic squatters and ghosts,
cleansed a couple of ramshackle buildings, and helped a slightly eccentric
young woman to understand that the cat yowling outside her door was merely the
local tom seeking access to her calling Siamese queen, and not a manifestation
of Satan seeking access to a new Eve.
loved her visit to the Clog and Rhubarb, and the play that had vampires and
werewolves in the cast. Returning home
that night, on a promise, Angel wandered over to the main house to restock his
blood supply. He wanted to be warm for
her. Well, there were lots of things he
wanted to be, but warm came first.
Giles was in the kitchen, scrubbing at a stained mixing bowl. Angel observed the bowl with a whimsical
look on his face.
definitely going to have words to say about that.”
grunted. ‘Tetchy’ was written through
every nuance of that wordless sound.
Then he dropped the bowl and scouring pad back into the sink.
expect it to come out so… green.”
“What are you
“I’m trying to
get something for Alice, to help control her rescaling. That last one is helping, but not
enough. And it’s no good in her hair. Makes it look as though she needs an
anti-dandruff shampoo. This was
comfrey, marigold, avocado, olive oil, royal jelly, St John’s wort, fumitory
and wintergreen. And a tiny bit of
tincture of orris, to enable it.”
“Needs a bit
more work, Giles, unless Alice is going green in more ways than one. What about adding some peony root and lavender,
and Fauchard’s blanching powder?”
“I’m out of
Fauchard’s. I’ve never done much in the
way of cosmetic creams, and I let my last bag go. If you’re doing a spell, generally it doesn’t matter what colour
you anoint things with.”
“We’re off to
Bath tomorrow. We can go into Bristol
and pick some up from the importer, if you like?”
“Thanks. You know, Angel, I’ve been doing some more
research on Silarri. Alice is really
too young to be showing such signs of ageing.
I don’t know whether she’s been stuck as an old lady too long, and it’s
all in her mind, or whether something is triggering it. But the source material is poor. Maybe it varies, from individual to
“I don’t know,
have known what to do.”
found anything in her notes?”
back to scrubbing at the bowl. Angel
got his blood in silence and started back to the flat. On his way out of the kitchen, in the
doorway, he hesitated, and turned, as though to say something. Giles’ back was towards him though, a wall
of silence, and so he left.
Angel had had
lots of things in mind for making love to Buffy that night. Playful things. Instead, his lovemaking was intensely tender, possessive, and
needy, and she followed his lead, unsure of what had changed since he’d gone
for the blood, but determined to reaffirm what they were to each other.
And so, Friday
came and went, together with Giles’ visit to the Westbury Heritage Group, and
the sailing of the Waverley.
Giles consoled himself on Saturday by taking Angela to the new
gastro-pub, the Leek and Lettuce. Buffy
and Angel went to the flat in Bath for the weekend.
returned on Monday night, Giles was still railing against all things
gastro-pubby, and about molecular gastronomy that definitely had the first part
right, because it came with food portions the size of a molecule. After a very expensive dinner, not that
Giles minded the cost, he grumbled, it was just that he and Angela had come
back here and had to raid Martha’s emergency rations for something to actually
eat. It had been either that or the
fish and chip shop. Buffy delicately
refrained from asking what Giles and Angela had done next. Angel didn’t need to ask. He knew that Angela had been there all
to have to be careful with names, Giles.
We could get easily confused.
Angel tossed a
cushion at the grinning Slayer. He
thought of Angela Brewster, great-niece of the postmistress, maker of beautiful
jewellery from silver and seashells and corals and semi-precious stones. A woman who looked for brains as well as
pretty, and who, not long ago, had wielded a cudgel as if born to it. The thought made him grin, too.
afternoon, they settled down in the study once more, to work through the post.
Unable to lean her elbows on the desk because of the clutter, Buffy ruthlessly
pushed the oldest pile of papers off the far side of the desk and onto the
windowsill behind it. One piece slipped
down the tiny gap between the desk and the wall, and, tutting, Giles waved at
the other two to give him some room, then scrambled down into the keyhole to
retrieve the sheet from the floor. As
he did so, the phone rang, and he banged his head in his haste to get up.
greeting silenced his muttered protest.
“Lisa? You’re where? And you’re with who? Are you having a good time? Oh.
Oh, I’m sorry about that…”
She talked for
several minutes, blithely ignoring the hand that Giles kept thrusting at her,
demanding the phone, and his attempts to switch the thing to speaker. She wrenched the stray piece of paper from
Giles’ fingers, scribbled down a number on the back, and then hung up. Angel pushed his chair back.
“I’ll go make
some coffee. I think we might need it.”
want to hear what Lisa said?”
to. I heard it all.”
He left for
the kitchen to a muttered imprecation of ‘damned ‘v’ hearing’ and ‘why didn’t
you let us all hear?’ By the time he
got back, Giles was almost foaming with impatience. He looked at Angel, in appeal, one man to another.
“I can’t get a
word out of her. She just sits there
with a smug look on her face. Make her
tell! Oh… wait! You’re smug, too.”
out the coffees.
the human, Buffy.”
theatrical sigh, she settled down to her tale.
“Really? I didn’t know she was planning a holiday…”
“Giles! She’s in Scotland, with…” She paused for dramatic effect. “Nick!”
I wouldn’t have thought… Still,
they’ve got to know each other quite well, haven’t they?”
just be friends, Giles.”
course, Buffy. So, she rang to say
she’s in Scotland? Does she want
anything doing at the stables?”
“No, she’s got
plenty of help there, I imagine. It’s
nothing like that. They’re staying in a
B&B. The farmer who owns it has
just lost his champion sheepdog over the side of a bridge, and he’s in a real, now
what did she say… puther, that was it.
He’s in a real puther about it.”
terribly sad, Buffy, but accidents happen.”
but apparently this place is noted for it.
And some people think it’s a thin place between the dimensions.”
that Giles’ ears would prick up, like a dog’s, or like a Sapproth demon,
although in the latter case, ears weren’t just for hearing.
“Where is this
Dumbarton, Lisa said. Overtoun Bridge.”
to get a late flight from Bristol to Glasgow, late enough to be safe for
Angel. Giles, concerned, had suggested
that Angel stay in Westbury. Conditions
in Scotland were almost as bad is it was possible to be, for a vampire, with
sunset at about 10.00pm, and sunrise before 4.30am. After all, this was dogs leaping off a bridge, not earth-shaking
stuff. Angel had refused.
Now, they were
ensconced in the Holiday Inn opposite Glasgow airport – handy for the M8, Loch
Lomond, the Trossachs, the West and the Islands, and five minutes from some of
Scotland’s finest shopping, as the brochure proudly informed them. When he read about the shopping, Giles tried
to hide the leaflet, unsuccessfully.
Angel merely looked resigned, as he dropped their luggage with a sigh of
relief. One very large bag contained
books, and notes of all the information they’d gleaned about the Overtoun
Bridge mystery in the few hours before their flight. It had been almost as heavy as Buffy’s suitcase.
extracted his own suitcase, and the book bag, from the pile on the floor, and
Angel carried the rest through to the interconnecting room. He left Buffy hunting out essentials for the
overnight stay, to find Giles hunting in the refrigerator.
“I thought we
could do with a nightcap, before turning in.”
He brandished two small bottles of Scotch.
So, when Buffy
returned, her men were comfortably sprawled, one on the bed one in a chair,
each nursing a generous glass of liquor.
She frowned at
Angel as she settled into the remaining chair.
Calmly, he reached down to the floor beside him and lifted up a glass of
Babycham. Medicinal purposes only.”
He passed it
to her. She wrinkled her nose, but took
said, approvingly. “Why’ve you deprived
me of this up to now?”
Giles exclaimed from the comfort of the bed.
“Less arguing, more reviewing of what we know.”
What they knew
was that, since the 1950’s, dogs had been apparently committing suicide by
leaping off Overtoun Bridge. There had
been over fifty of them. Even worse, a
man had thrown his baby off the bridge, declaring that it was the Anti-Christ.
was said to be a thin place, a place where the walls between dimensions
were thin, where Earth and Heaven might touch.
It was that, more than anything, that had brought them here.
her hours on the laptop that afternoon.
stupid sites about the dog suicides said that the thin bit comes from Celtic
mythology, but I couldn’t find any references to it on anywhere more reliable.”
“No, I suspect
that bit is made up, Buffy. I can’t
find it in the books, either, although if we’d had the Watchers’ library…”
lamented the lost library, and the knowledge it had contained. Its loss in that past explosion cut him as
deeply as the burning of the library at Alexandria.
across at Angel, apparently engrossed in some obscure text.
think it’s anything to do with, you know, what we did…”
Buffy. The reports that this is a thin
place have been around for decades. It
isn’t anything we did when the other slayers…”
trailed away. He was reluctant to
finish that thought, for the pain it would cause. Angel didn’t turn a hair, or show by so much as a blink that he
had heard. That was how Buffy knew that
the memory had cut deeply, the memory of how they’d had to rely on the ‘v’ part
of his nature to save the day. Not the
soul part. Only the ‘v’ part had been
up to the job. He hated what he’d had
to do, and he hated the fact that his soul and his good intentions hadn’t been
enough. Only the part that made him
Angelus had sufficed.
said, brightly, “do we think this is natural or supernatural, or do we think
it’s time for bed?”
intention for the next morning had been that Giles and Buffy would go to
Overtoun, to meet Lisa and Nick, while Angel stayed at the Holiday Inn and
carried on with the research. Lisa and
Nick had long known that Angel had ‘a disorder’ that meant he must keep away
from direct sunlight. In addition, Lisa
had seen… something… of Angel’s demon face when he’d been in the clutch of the
Syriak, although it had never again been mentioned. Nick knew that Angel in some way appeared to be dead. That, too, had never again been mentioned. After the last meeting of the Sophists,
Angel had asked Giles whether Nick ever pressed for more information.
no,” Giles had replied. “Nick’s
old-fashioned – like me, I suppose. He
would consider that to be extremely bad form, poking his nose in where
information wasn’t offered. Doesn’t
mean I don’t see him looking at me sometimes as though he would like to ask,
but he never does.”
Angel had been
relieved, and Buffy too. Lisa and Nick
– and Collins, that dour chief inspector of police – were friends. Or, for Angel and Buffy, acquaintances
making the transition to friends. Angel
didn’t want them to know more than they already did. He couldn’t bear to see the disgust in their eyes, as he’d seen
it in other people’s. Anything they
might have seen could be a trick of the light.
Or a trick of the mind. And so,
the three of them were careful never to remind anyone of Angel’s
differences. Of Buffy’s, either, come
And that was
why they had planned to split up, in the light of day. But, they had reckoned without Glasgow. It lived up to its reputation of providing weather. The next morning, it was bucketing down with
rain. Torrents of water sheeted down
the outside of the windows, and even Angel could stand by the glass and watch,
without risk of harm.
“They say it’s
going to be like this all day, more or less.
Rain like stair rods.” That was
Giles, hanging up the phone from his call to the Met Office.
at Buffy. “No chance of bursting into
flames, then. They’d just sizzle right
And so, they
all went to Overtoun together, the normality of it only belied by the fact that
very few other idiots had braved the driving rain. Huddled into mackintoshes and overcoats and equipped with
umbrellas, they ran across the concrete and shrub frontage of the hotel. Giles had parked the hire car as close as possible,
but it was still a good distance away, especially for a soaked vampire out in
the hired Discovery just as the rain started to drip off the umbrella spokes
and down the back of Buffy’s neck.
whatever we’ve come up here to see is aquatic, that’s all I can say. I thought Wessex could be bad enough with
Ocean plus Gulf Stream plus prevailing westerlies equals rain, I’m afraid,”
said Giles. “And a lot of it. Scotland’s noted for it, on this western
side. About ten feet a year, I
believe.” He cast a morose glance
outside as he fiddled with his seat belt.
“Although not usually all in one day.”
The journey to
Overtoun was short, as they crossed over to the northern bank of the Clyde and
then drove west towards Dumbarton, turning off at Milton after a couple of
miles and then climbing north into the Kilpatrick Hills. Another two miles of road-turned-to-river,
and a narrow, overgrown road at that, eventually becoming no more than a track,
and the granite bulk of Overtoun House loomed ahead. Before they reached it, though, another right turn took them
towards a reservoir nestling among the hills.
Buffy could have sworn that the low-flying clouds were skating over the
surface of it, lending the water their own shades of grey. And then they saw their destination, a
single-storey white cottage that, even in the downpour, managed to look cheery
Buffy heaved a
sigh of relief, looking meaningfully at the men’s woollen overcoats and
muttering about the smell of wet sheep.
Clustered beneath their umbrellas, they ran to the door just as Lisa
swept it open and stood aside.
remember to bring your wellies and waterproofs? Never mind, there’s something
hot in the living room. If you want to
freshen up, or dry off, even, girls to my room on the left and boys to Nick’s
room, on the right.”
hot’ proved to be hot chocolate, French style, and warm, buttery
croissants. Even Angel decided to partake,
but only of the dark chocolate.
On his second
croissant, and feeling much revived, Giles essayed, “I didn’t know you were up
here on holiday, Lisa?”
woman twinkled at him. “Oh, no. Nick had a spare ticket, which I gather you
all refused, and I’ve always wanted a ride on the Waverley. Never managed it before.”
like a small boy. “What was it like?”
considered this, as Nick sat back to await her answer with the others. “Like being on a sea-going steam train, although
a lot slower. But it was enormous fun!”
as though he really wanted to ask more, but then he almost visibly shook
himself, and got back to the matter in hand.
“Do you want
to tell us more about what happened at the Bridge?”
thought Keith would do that.”
McKechnie. The farmer who lost his
dog. He’ll be here in a little while.”
McKechnie arrived just as the downpour increased its intensity. No one had thought that possible, but they
opened the door to find that visibility was down to about ten yards, and beyond
that was just water.
a dour man, with deep-set eyes and sunken cheeks over a long jaw. He looked about fifty. He had a dog with him, a black and white
border collie, which clung timidly to the calves of his legs, its tail tucked
low and its ears back. Its eyes darted
to and fro as though afraid of attack.
Angel took a few steps backwards, deliberately. The dog was clearly terrified, and he
thought that it could only be of him.
pointed the dog to a spot in the porch, where the worst of the rain couldn’t
reach, but Lisa wouldn’t hear of it, and so they wrung as much water from its
coat as they could, and then stood away from the inevitable shower as it shook
slipped out of his waterproof on the threshold, giving it a couple of sharp
shakes, and then he spread it on the floor.
The dog curled up on it, and lay trembling.
Flag. She’s been like this since Folly…
went over the edge. She’s a braw, bonny
dog. She’ll be fine in time.”
It was Buffy
who made him a mug of strong tea, while Lisa brought a bowl of water and a
couple of digestive biscuits for the dog, and it was the men who settled
McKechnie into a chair. And it was
Giles who subtly coaxed Angel back into the group, from where he’d retreated,
into a corner.
slow to start his story, his voice a slow burr, but not too accented to
understand easily. It was Angel and
Nick who noticed, but didn’t remark on, the way man and dog continually cast
the same anxious glances at each other.
farm bordered the Overtoun estate. This
cottage was his, let to holidaymakers to help eke out the slim revenues of a
sheep farmer. The dogs were well known
throughout Dunbartonshire and neighbouring counties, champions at the sheepdog
trials. He didn’t say any of that, but
he didn’t have to. They’d done their
Flag and Folly
were litter sisters, he said, five years old, and had never been
separated. They worked the sheep on his
farm, and they lived with the family, himself, his daughter, and his grandson,
still a baby in arms. Yesterday
morning, he’d walked into Milton with his dogs, as he often did, and when his
errands were finished, he’d walked back home.
They’d got as far as the bridge, and Folly had stopped, ears pricked,
nose searching, and then she’d simply leapt over the parapet, clearing it in
one great bound. On the other side was
a fifty-foot drop to the Overtoun Burn.
He’d found her lying half in and half out of the water. She’d snapped her spine. She’d licked his hand before he broke her
They asked him
Ay, he kenned
well some of the other dogs that had gone over. Scent dogs, not gaze hounds, for the most part. And the man who’d thrown his baby over? Ay, a local man. He’d known him a little, but a difficult man, often full of
flights of fancy. It had been a
terrible business, near fifteen year gone, now. Two-week old Eoghan dead, and young Kevin sent to a mental
a deep breath.
“Yon Nick and
Lisa told me that ye might ken whatever is doing this, and ye might be able to
stop it. I know that might be a fond
and foolish hope, but the Bridge has taken too many now. Please.
Do what you can.”
“We will. I promise that we’ll do whatever we
can. As soon as this rain stops, that
is… Can’t see much when it’s pouring
stood, and his dog stood with him, wrapping herself around his ankles as he
shrugged into his waterproof.
true. Too dangerous to be scrambling
down into the Burn now. And the Burn
will be overfull, with all the water come off the hills. But it’ll be over by six o’clock. The Burn will run high for a few hours
at the vista outside, where everything was consumed by a blanket of grey cloud
and sheets of falling water.
sure?” he asked.
“You mark my
words. Over by six, clear by seven.”
McKechnie and Flag were gone, devoured in the never-ending rain.
suggestion, they went to Overtoun House for lunch. It was occupied by a charity, giving shelter and counselling to
young people, but they took in visitors for bed and breakfast, and had a
tearoom, and the income from visitors supported their main work.
The Tea Room
was closed, but another room had been temporarily pressed into service. The Angel Room. Nick was grinning broadly when he disclosed that, and led the
group into a confection of plaster mouldings and painted cherubs. Buffy sniggered, but only a little.
enquired, there were two free guest rooms.
Buffy and Angel inspected them, and found them vampire-friendly, and so
it was decided that Giles and Buffy and Angel would decamp from the Holiday
Inn, and move up here. Before they left
to collect their bags, Angel took this unlooked-for opportunity of seeing the
Bridge in daylight. He wouldn’t hear of
the others coming out in the rain and so, swathed in his wet coat, and with a
large umbrella, he walked out of the House and onto the Bridge.
The Bridge ran
directly to the House, the road – no more than a trackway, here – continuing on,
but Bridge and House were built of the same pinkish granite, the House on one
side of the deep valley in which the Overtoun Burn flowed, and the Bridge
spanning that valley in a massive arch of turrets and parapets, the same
architecture as the House.
from what McKechnie had told them, the rough whereabouts of the spot where
Folly had jumped. There was nothing
obvious, just a vista of a two-horned reservoir of grey, cloud-wracked water,
and dense conifer forest marching away in all directions, to be swallowed by
the mists. The falling rain carried
away all trace of any scent there might be.
he was, the sodden slope down to the Burn was treacherous, and he left the
umbrella hanging from a branch at the top, so that he could use both
hands. The surrounding trees and the
Bridge’s bulk offered him enough shade from whatever light managed to penetrate
the air-borne waterfall. He made it
down without mishap, but there was nothing to see. The Burn, risen well above its normal level, had swept the banks
clean. To go under the Bridge would
mean being waist deep in a raging torrent of peaty-brown water. That could wait. And yet… there was something.
Something that he couldn’t quite identify. A trace of scent, perhaps.
A feeling… He would come back in
the cover of darkness, whenever it stopped raining.
surprise, McKechnie was right. By seven
that evening, it had stopped raining, and the sky had become a washed-out
blue. It would be almost three hours
until sunset, though, so Buffy and Giles met Lisa and Nick on the Bridge,
leaving Angel ploughing through whatever original source material they had with
before them, they could see nothing to explain the canine suicide leaps. As they peered over the side of the Bridge,
with the parapets at breast height, they saw only a rather pretty view. It was still too slippery to safely
negotiate the slope down to the Burn, to examine beneath the arch of the
Bridge. They’d almost made up their
minds to simply go for a walk and enjoy the evening sun, when they saw
McKechnie coming along the road towards them.
He had Flag with him, and a dark-haired young woman wheeling a pushchair
holding a sleeping baby that could only be a few months old.
reached the group, he introduced his daughter, Morag, and his grandson,
Bruce. Giles noticed that Morag wore a
wedding ring – as did McKechnie – and he wondered what tragedy had marked this
family, because his instinct told him that this was so. He had no intention of asking, though. Not unless he had to.
The girl was
in her early twenties, and quiet.
Placid, almost. But, there was a
sadness in her that Giles thought he recognised.
“You’re a man
short. No trouble, I hope?”
“No, Mr McKechnie,”
Giles answered. “No trouble at
all. He’s researching. We brought some books and things up, and
they might be able to tell us something.”
McKechnie, nodding. “He’s one for the
book learning, is he?”
He said it as
though it was something alien.
things, Mr McKechnie, among other things.”
was talking to Keith McKechnie, Buffy and Lisa were talking to his daughter,
and Nick was crouched down cooing at the infant, who had woken up to find
himself surrounded by a forest of strange legs. Morag could tell them nothing that her father, or their other
researches, hadn’t told them. As long
as she had lived, dogs had jumped off the side of the bridge, but never, never
one of their own before.
half-remembered the tragedy of baby Eoghan, but the Bridge had always been just
that – a bridge – to her. Now, with the
loss of Folly, she’d wondered whether there might be some ancient evil there,
but she wasn’t a person taken to such fancies.
Generally, bad things could be seen and named. Still, she had a chilly feeling on the back of her neck, and
preferred not to stay here too long.
Besides, she had young Bruce to get to bed. They’d just come down here for a walk in the evening sunshine,
and to see whether there was anything more they could tell the investigators.
were just taking their leave when Lisa tugged at Giles’ sleeve. She pointed to the other side of the bridge
from the one that Folly had leaped over.
The slope was a little less steep, there.
something going on with those sheep…”
A tiny flock
of sheep, no more than a dozen ewes with their lambs, were grazing the upper
slopes of the Burn. As they did, they
kept shaking their ears, and there were blurs of colourful movement around
their heads. McKechnie leaned over and
stared, narrowing his eyes against the setting sun.
Belle’s band…” Then he gave a genuine smile.
“Och, but those only be waspies.”
“Wasps? They look a bit big for wasps. I’ve got some binoculars not unpacked
yet. I should go and get those…” Giles trailed off as he turned towards the
“Nay, not wasps. I dinna ken what they’re properly called,
but they’re some manner of dragonfly.
They’re black with yellow bands.
So, I’ve always called them waspies.
They like the Burn here, the water’s right for their young.”
think that dragonflies attacked sheep?”
“And that they
don’t. Yon waspies are eating those
things that do. They be longer than my
thumb. They’ll take anything that
flies, except birds and bats. I’ve seen
them take hornets. They patrol around
livestock, to catch the biting insects that plague them. They’re always welcome here. We have to go now, with the bairn. I’ll look in tomorrow.”
He nodded, and
left the group to their own devices.
They decided to take a walk of their own, to weigh up the
surroundings. As the sun sank below the
western hills, Nick and Lisa made their way back to the cottage, and Giles and
Buffy went back to Overtoun House.
Angel was just shrugging into his coat.
“I thought I’d
take a walk around the Bridge…”
“End of the
day shift, start of the night shift, huh?”
Buffy grinned at him. “Want some
He grinned at
her. “Sure, if you can stand
with his unpacking, they headed out again.
They scrambled down the slightly less steep slope upstream of the
bridge, where Belle and the other sheep were still grazing. Buffy related the tale of the
dragonflies. Angel stopped and moved a
few grass blades aside.
one, you mean?”
Clinging to a
stalk, positioned to catch the first rays of the morning sun, and to benefit
from their warmth, was the long body and flat wings of a dragonfly. It was over three inches long, black, with
golden rings around its body. Its head
was black and yellow, like a wasp’s, but with fearsome jaws. Clasped in those jaws were the remnants of
its latest meal, something unrecognisable, but covered in small plates that
looked almost like silver metal.
recognise what it’s been eating…”
insects, Mr McKechnie said.”
unconvinced, but allowed himself to be moved on.
“We used to
call them the Devil’s Darning Needles… The dragonflies.”
“You and …
“No. Before her.
When I was… human.”
“Why were they
The words came
out hastily as Buffy sought to cover over any pain caused to him by that
recollection. He simply shrugged.
After a pause,
he said, “I think they must have been dragged in to a legend about their
smaller relatives, the damselflies. It
was said that if you fell asleep on the bank of a stream, the damselflies would
use their bodies to sew your eyes shut as a punishment for indolence.”
thought about that for a moment. “You
never… I mean, him… he never…”
hesitated before he replied.
“It gave me
some ideas, yeah.”
the rest of the way in silence.
The level of
the stream had subsided a little, but it was still fast-flowing and
swollen. With his night-sharp eyes,
Angel could see the tumbled rocks that made the burn foam and boil. He took off his shoes and coat, and gave
them to Buffy. She objected.
“I’m not just
here to hold your coat, you know!”
“No, but I
remember how much those boots cost, and you definitely aren’t going paddling in
them. If you ruin them, I’ll never hear
the end of it. If there’s anything
interesting, I promise to save some for you.”
And then he
slid into the thigh-deep burn and melted away into the darkness beneath the
was a mixture of silt that squeezed coldly between his toes, and rocks that he
seemed to find with bruising accuracy.
Always there was the pressure of water against his thighs, threatening
to knock him over. Strong as she was,
Buffy was small and slight, and he was glad she hadn’t insisted on coming with
bridge was a natural hiding place, an ambush point, if there had been any prey
here for him. Around the stone piers,
the rocks were tumbled and heaped, large and small together. Still, there was nothing pressing itself
back against the stonework, hiding or waiting, or ready to pounce. Nothing to see, at all.
But, there was
something to smell. The scent was
pungent, musky, territorial. He grinned
as he remembered what it was. If only
all their cases would end as easily. He
thought about dealing with them, but the swollen burn was no place to be
hunting such agile creatures. He
reconnoitred thoroughly though, and once he thought he saw the faint gleam of
eyes, deep down in the boulders. He
started to shift the loose rocks, and a slim, brown animal darted out and bit
his finger. It dropped into the burn
with barely a splash, and was gone.
waded back to where Buffy waited, sucking at the wound.
“Got it,” was
all he would say.
Giles had been
waiting up for them, and Angel had announced his findings with a great deal of
satisfaction, then gone to get changed out of his wet clothes.
“What does he
“I’ve no idea,
Giles. He’s said nothing, he just had
that smug look on his face, all the way back.
And he was sucking his finger.”
and then relented.
“Oh, well, I
suppose we could start looking up mink while we’re waiting.”
returned, he brought with him a large glass of blood.
eat before you went out?”
“Yeah. I just felt really hungry again. Must have been the cold water.”
between meals goes to your hips, you know.”
He felt there
was a definite whine to his part of the exchange, and he shut up. She grinned, and looked back to the laptop.
what’s this about mink? We’ve found
that they’re a member of the weasel family…”
you, Giles, Musstellydee. They generally
live by the water, are very, very territorial, the territories of females might
overlap with males, but two males won’t tolerate each other. American mink were kept for fur farming, but
a lot have escaped since the nineteen-fifties.
They’re vicious if cornered, and oh yes, were there enough for a nice
choked on his blood.
“You said you
wanted a holiday, not a fur coat! Loch
Lomond is just over the hill. Now that
we’ve cracked the case, we could go there, spend a few days, see if the boat
trips on the Loch can be done at night…”
Lomond? Does that have a Loch Ness
monster, too? Because we did that one…”
Lomond is very romantic. No
monsters.” Angel thought of the T-shirt
that Buffy had made him pack. I’m
the scariest thing at Loch Ness.
“Well, not until we get there, anyway.”
to the banter between the two of them with an almost paternal smile. For years, their relationship had been
marked by intensity. Intensity of love,
intensity of grief… Now, they were secure enough to banter, like any normal
young man and woman, and he was glad of it.
Their lives really had started anew.
though, he reminded them of his presence.
the last of his meal and sat down at the coffee table they were using.
“Yeah. The Bridge is the meeting point for a number
of territories, upstream and downstream from there. There are a lot of old scents, but currently three different
males have territories that come together there, as well as four females.” He looked at Buffy. “Definitely not enough for a coat, as if you
would wear one…”
He pulled a
piece of paper across the table, and started to sketch.
“This is how I
think they join. It’s just on the side
of the Bridge where the dogs jump over.
There’s that big stone parapet, so they can’t see over it, but they can
smell. There’s a lot of musk down there
when the males are fronting up to each other.
When’s the breeding season?”
through his notes.
now. And what have the weather
conditions been like when the dogs went over?”
quite a lot more shuffling paper.
conditions for carrying scent. Seven
mink territories meeting is going to create a lot of scent. I’m sure that’s it. Mink, and a badly disturbed young man.”
that’s all it was? Something perfectly
natural? We came all this way and
there’s nothing to stake?”
Angel took her
hand to mollify her mock pout.
“Mink can put
up quite a fight, you know, if you want to get wet.” He held up his finger, on which barely a tooth mark
remained. “There was something else,
another weaselly smell. I couldn’t
place it, but it was faded and weak.
Might have been an otter or a badger, I suppose. But I’m sure the dogs were scenting the
mink. And if we don’t have to fight
anything, we can start that holiday more quickly.”
that night, self-satisfied, in the knowledge of a job well done.
morning they had coffee in the Angel Room with Nick and Lisa, and told them of
their findings. Part way through, Keith
McKechnie walked in, and so they started again. On this brighter day, the farmer had shed his waterproofs, and
wore an old grey tweed jacket, and brown corduroy trousers. Flag wasn’t with him.
outside, with Morag and young Bruce.
They dinna want dogs in here, ye ken?”
When he heard
the team’s findings, he shook his head slowly.
eh? Well, they’ve been around here a
while. It didna sit verra well with me
that it might be something unco bad under the bridge, but I could nae do
nothing after Folly died, so I’m glad for what ye’ve found.”
someone can deal with the mink for you?”
Giles cast an anxious glance at Angel and Buffy. If there wasn’t, they might have to get out
into the water after all.
“Ay. There’s a mink hunt over to Balloch. The little beasts can create havoc around
Loch Lomond, so they try to keep them down.
“Good. Then our work is done! Buffy and Angel were thinking of a holiday
at Loch Lomond, so that’s all worked out very well.”
“So were we,
Rupert, so were we. Shall we all join
Nick beamed at
all around him. He was enjoying himself
hugely. McKechnie stood to go.
you’re all welcome to use the cottage for as long as you wish, with my
goodwill. The Loch’s no so far away.”
There was a
chorus of thanks, but it was Angel, mindful of the difficulties a group holiday
might cause, who said, “Perhaps Buffy and I should stick around here until the
hunt has been? Make sure that there’s
no further trouble this year? They’ll
have to check it every year, or it will just start up again. The rest of you could go on to the Loch.”
cottage is yours till you tell me you’ve finished.”
In a very few
minutes, Angel was left to finish his coffee alone, as the others went outside
to see Morag and the baby. He felt the
first pang of new hunger. He was
definitely going to run out of blood at this rate. He did a quick internal inventory, just in case. No, everything was fine. The mink had been just a mink, and not even
rabid. Must be all this nearly-Highland
air stimulating his appetite. He
thought about his options for restocking.
Back at the
Long River Road allotments, the grass quivered slightly as a small, russet
brown body slid through the lengthening stems.
She’d left the clucking things alone since That Night, but hunting had
been difficult and her family was growing.
He had forbidden her this place, but, in the shadowy light of early
dawn, she saw the hopping things eating the green things that had been claimed
by him. They would do, and he would surely
along the grassy path, her body flowing through the stiff stalks, until her
prey looked up from its feeding. Then
she began her dance, writhing and twisting in graceful, sinuous motion. The hopping thing stood, mesmerized.
came as part of one shimmering blur of movement. In the blink of an eye, a young rabbit lay dead, and the stoat
started the long task of getting her kill back to her den.
been said, and Lisa stood back to allow the pushchair room to get past. As she glanced over the parapet, she saw
Belle and the other sheep surrounded by a cloud of colourful insects, darting
here and there.
but those waspies are busy,” she said, to no one in particular.
dragonfly,” Giles added, having looked them up, “but I prefer waspy. Suits them.”
looked over at the sheep. “Ay, it’ll be
the biting midges they’re after, but those’ll be a wee bit early this year,
then. I wouldn’t expect them for
another two or three weeks.” He
frowned, as he watched the activity that had caught Lisa’s attention.
Then he and
Morag and young Bruce set off back to their farm, leaving the friends to enjoy
out that night, after everyone else was asleep. He took the hire car and drove into Glasgow. He’d done his research, and his destination
was the blood donor centre. He felt
ashamed of what he was about to do, but it wasn’t the first time, and he was
sure it wouldn’t be the last. And he
Pig’s blood or
cow’s blood was all very well, but they weren’t quite good enough. Every so often, he needed the real
thing. It was a bit like a vitamin
deficiency. His current diet lacked some
of the nutrients that his body and his demon required. He’d no idea whether they were mystical
elements, or actual physical nutrients, he just knew that sometimes he had to
have human blood. It happened rarely,
but the hunger was overwhelming when it did.
was better than the alternative. He was
almost sure that Giles and Buffy knew.
Almost sure. Nothing had ever
been discussed, though, and he recoiled from the thought that, for Buffy, this
might now come under the heading of ‘v’ things that Angel ought to share.
He knew that
the mink bite hadn’t harmed him, and so he could only think that the increasing
hunger was a sign of his deficiency disease.
He got in
easily enough, through a skylight, and it only took moments to find the store
of blood, even through the miasma of intoxicating scent that permeated the
building. This was always a dangerous
time, surrounded by so much long-denied nourishment.
searched through the fridges, the stacks of bags, sorted by type, gleaming
seductively at him like outsized liquid rubies. He found some that were almost out of date, and knew that he
would feel less guilty if he took those.
But, if what he needed were the more transient elements, then the
fresher the better. Trying not to feel
disgusted with himself, he filled his bag with an assortment of the freshest
stocks. He didn’t know how much he
would need, this time, and he didn’t want to have to come here again.
Overtoun House, he emptied one of the stolen bags into a glass, and then he
pushed the rest into the fridge, behind the box of pig’s blood. After he’d fed, he went out into the night,
and sat on the banks of the Burn until dawn drove him back to the shelter of
On the way, he
saw the words carved into the walls of Overtoun House. ‘Fear God and keep His commandments’. It was far too late for that.
Nick and Lisa
sat in companionable silence, enjoying a nightcap. Nick, thought Lisa, was a man to feel safe with. Large and physically imposing, almost
white-blond hair, a round the year tan, and a face like a Greek god. And not interested in women.
about this trip, but she’d needed a break, and Nick was a very good companion.
she wondered why Nick was hiding away in Scotland, and why he seemed happy to
stay for a while. Eminent surgeons had
plenty of surgeoning to keep them busy.
She rolled the brandy around her glass, and thought of her own reasons
for being here. One thought led to
another… And they’d had more than one glass of brandy.
“Nick, did you
have some reason for coming to the wilds of Scotland?”
“My dear girl,
it’s hardly the wilds, yet. Glasgow is
only about twenty minutes away. And
that’s if a herd of sheep get in the way.”
“It’s a flock
parliament of owls, a theatre of surgeons, an unkindness of ravens, a… a
treachery of deceivers, a thicket of idiots, a pinhead of angels…”
“Ha! I’d like to see Angel dance on a pinhead…
Wait, what did you say? A treachery of
deceivers? And you didn’t answer my
“Which one was
hiding out up here.”
Nick took a
sip of brandy, and then sat staring into his glass. She thought he wouldn’t answer, and when he did, his voice was
soft, and she almost missed it.”
“Do you want
to talk about it?”
talk about, my dear.”
“Yes, I think
take no for an answer, do you?”
looked at him sternly, and he wilted.
“I met a
certain young man, and he looked a little like…”
“Have you no
pity? You have to have it all spelled
out?” Nick sighed in mock
surrender. “Yes, not unlike our young
friend. One must look elsewhere if what
one wants is truly unavailable.”
down at her hands, and her empty glass.
Then, ever practical, she stood up and refilled both glasses, rather
more generously than she might normally have done.
“So, you met
this man? And were deceived?”
There was deep
hurt now on Nick’s face.
“Yes. And so here I am.” He smiled at her suddenly, a bright, brittle smile. “And to have a ride on the Waverley,
silence again, but it was Nick who broke it this time.
“He was a liar
who only wanted my money. He was a
parasite, a leech.”
“No, not at
all like Angel!”
drained his glass and then walked into the kitchen. When he returned he carried two cups of coffee.
about you, my girl. Why are you content
around with her cup, taking a small sip and almost burning her mouth on the hot
liquid. He refused to break the pause.
“You have a
husband? You’ve kept him secret, the
“We split a
long time ago, but we never divorced.
He’s Catholic, you see… he wants
to come back to me. Or he’ll settle for
half of what I have, the house, the business, and give me a divorce for it.”
“The scoundrel! What are you going to do about him?”
She shook her
head. “I… I don’t know. Apart from murder him, that is…”
at her, and motioned slashing his throat from ear to ear, and then pushing a
body from a great height. She couldn’t
help but laugh.
told Ian about it, yes? Well, not the
wanting to murder him part. He’ll
surely see the chap off?”
were riveted to her lap, and her fingers juggled the cup round and round.
“No, I haven’t
Nick looked at
her with sympathy and understanding.
not the one?”
She shook her
“My dear girl,
the inhabitants of Summerdown House are cruel to us, are they not? Veritable monsters, wouldn’t you say? We don’t seem to stand a chance with either
of them. They hardly even notice us…”
She looked up
at him, and couldn’t help smiling at the self-mockery in his voice.
miss a trick, do you, Nick? Well,” she
said, gathering up the glasses, “we’ll simply have to carry on being the
unnoticed and faithful occasional sidekicks, then, won’t we?”
“That we will,
my dear, that we will! You wouldn’t
like me to give Giles a nudge for you?”
She looked so
fierce that he pretended to quail. He
stood to clear away the coffee cups.
“If you want
my advice, my dear, you should tell our pet Detective Chief Inspector about
your scoundrel of a husband. It seems
to me that our Ian is totally focused on dealing with bad men, which sounds to
me like atoning for a guilty conscience on his part. Just leave out the murdering part. You’d get no fear or favour from him!”
She threw a
cushion at him, on her way to the bathroom.
arrived the next day, late in the morning, a throng of humans walking up the
track from Milton, in heavy boots, breeches tucked into long socks, and tweed
jackets, and all leaning on long staves.
They were accompanied by an assortment of strange-looking dogs.
“Giles! They’re walking hearthrugs. Where are the horses? And the red coats?”
wryly at Buffy. Her face was
shaggy ones with the floppy ears are Otterhounds. Hunting otters is illegal, so they’ve been retrained to hunt
mink. The little wiry ones are
terriers. The ones with the short legs
and fluff all over their faces are Dandie Dinmonts, and the others are Border
terriers. There are no horses. It’s all done on foot, and largely in water,
too. The red jackets, which I think
you’ll find are called hunting pink, not red, are for foxhounds.”
“What do you
think about it?”
silent for a moment.
“I think that
you and Angel would do it much more efficiently, but there’s no reason why you
should. The American mink here are a
real danger, and need to be got rid of.
And apart from tempting dogs off this Bridge, they’re exterminating some
of our native animals. The water vole –
Ratty, from Wind in the Willows – has suffered badly, and I gather
they’ll kill any other predator in their range, including our stoats and
weasels. The war is probably lost in
most places, but this spot will have to be protected permanently now, by
whatever means, or more dogs will be lost.
Let’s leave it at that.”
up at the House, and saw the pale shape of Angel’s face at an upstairs
window. She waved, and then she and
Giles walked away, to join Nick and Lisa.
Lunch beckoned, and then a trip to the Burrell Collection – or had they
decided on the Kelvingrove Museum? She
wasn’t sure and didn’t really care.
Their job was done, they were on holiday, and she was off to see some of
the sights. And possibly even to shop.
the Hunt as they beat the banks of the stream, dogs and men wading through the
water as well as scrambling around on the slopes. He’d always preferred to stalk his quarry, sometimes in the
shadows, sometimes in the crowd, and sometimes in plain view.
something about the thrill of the unsuspecting prey as complacency turned to
unease, and unease to wariness, and wariness to fear and panic. He could prolong any of those stages, if he
wished, for as long as he wished, or he could squeeze them together into a few
he hadn’t been much attracted to this mass pursuit. Maybe he’d missed a trick, there. Even from here, he could chart
the heartbeats of hunters and hunted, follow the adrenaline rush in men and
dogs, and almost touch the pheromones of fear and aggression as the mink tried
to hide or flee, or to turn on their attackers. That was when their strength became their weakness. Even in flight, they stayed within their territories.
He tried to
suppress the thoughts and longings, to cage them up so that he wouldn’t have to
think them, but it didn’t work. Nor
could he seem to tear himself away from this window. His nails dug into the palms of his hands as he fought through
his self-disgust, and yet he continued to watch.
Half the pack
hunted up stream and half downstream, and he could hear the halloas as the
quarry was sighted, and the eager singing of the hounds and yapping of the
terriers. Within an hour, the two
halves of the Hunt were wading and scrambling back towards each other, and the
Bridge. He counted the small bodies as
they held up their prizes to show the others.
Seven, he had said, and they’d killed five. Two more to go. That
would be right, he thought. The two
males beneath the Bridge. Those would
be the ones that tempted the dogs to jump unto the unknown, or he wasn’t a
The Hunt began
the backbreaking job of shifting the boulders around the piers of the
bridge. Once they’d done, they’d have
to put them back again. Those boulders
acted as starlings, protecting the piers.
They also acted as perfect dens for mink.
lithe brown body broke cover. One of
the terriers was on it in a heartbeat.
came with the seventh.
There was a
small crowd of onlookers, peering over the parapets of the Bridge, and standing
around the banks of the Burn. He could
just see Morag McKechnie close to the large ash tree that grew at one end of
the Bridge. She was holding Bruce
carefully in her arms, the pushchair by her side. Suddenly, the men and dogs under the Bridge scrambled out of the
water and ran up the slope. Those on
the Bridge couldn’t see what had happened, but Angel could. The last mink had climbed the ash tree, skittering
up as though it were born to it, the ancient, craggy bark no obstacle at
He frowned, as
he tried to resolve the details more clearly, but his eyesight was adapted to
night vision, not to broad daylight.
The day was largely overcast, but the light was still overwhelming, and
he could see only a little better than a human.
And then he
saw the mink, paler than the others had been, longer in the leg, and altogether
bigger, run along the top of the parapet.
With her free hand, Morag reached out for it, acting simply on instinct,
he thought, but she simply wasn’t quick enough. Or perhaps she was too quick.
The creature lunged at her, she jumped back, and then blood was dripping
from her arm.
But the lunge
had brought the animal down from the parapet and onto the roadway, straight
into the jaws of the pack. When the
huntsmen got there, there was nothing left but shreds.
In the end,
they went to none of Glasgow’s museums.
Nick whispered something to Giles as they got into the car, and Giles
grimaced. Obediently, though, he drove
them to Princes Square.
From the first
sight of the wrought iron entrance gates, almost fluid in form, Buffy and Lisa
Lisa, gazing in delight at a shopping mall that was five floors of liquid
curves, flowing wrought iron and stained glass, “I’d heard they’d made a really
good job of this, but I hadn’t thought it would be so beautiful.”
indulgently. “It’s designed around Art
Nouveau and the Tree of Life. It’s
meant to be the new Rialto. You know? The place in old Venice where everyone met
to gossip and do business? Something a
bit different, eh? Shall we try lunch
first? It’s on me.”
They did, and
the Square’s boast that it only housed the very best was amply borne out. Afterwards, the designer shops were too much
of a temptation. Even Angel got to
benefit from some Calvin Klein underwear.
They’d split into two groups, Giles, and everyone else. While Giles contented himself visiting the
two art galleries, Nick escorted the ladies and carried their bags.
jewellers, Nick bought a lovely Rennie Mackintosh set, with earrings, a pendant
and a bracelet, in silver with pink enamel roses, in the artist’s own Art
Nouveau style. Buffy wondered who it
was for, until Nick fastened the pendant around her neck. As she protested the extravagance, he
brushed away her refusal.
“Giles told me
that he certainly isn’t going to send Keith McKechnie a bill – he knows hill
farmers have little enough cash as it is.
So, since Lisa and I called you in, take this as your fee. And my pleasure, because it looks pretty on
refuse, but she noticed with amusement that Nick bought a similar set, Rennie
Mackintosh tulips this time, for Lisa.
Back in the
car, a high outcrop of rock behind the cathedral caught her attention.
Giles, “I think we have time to call in there.”
It was the
Glasgow Necropolis. Lisa and Nick
seemed to think that it was normal to visit a cemetery, and when she saw it,
she understood why there was even a tourist trail around it. Sunnydale would have been proud of some of
these monuments. Her palm itched for a
stake, but she felt the presence of nothing that needed her serious attention,
giving Giles a small shake of her head in confirmation.
The views over
Glasgow and the surrounding countryside were spectacular, and she thought that,
if she squinted hard, she could see the mixture of land and water to the west
that were the islands and sea lochs and other complicated bits of geography
with romantic names like kyle and mull.
She wished Angel could be here to share it. One day, perhaps.
No. One day, definitely.
Back in the
car again, with long hours to go until sunset, Nick suggested driving on to
Balloch, on the southern shore of Loch Lomond, for dinner.
To Buffy, he
said, in a carefully neutral voice, “I don’t suppose that Angel would wish to
She shook her
head, but with real regret, looking out of the window at the overcast sky.
Nick, although I know he’d love to.”
Lisa and DCI Ian Collins, had been told that Angel had a rare skin condition
that could prove fatal in direct sunlight, and so he simply nodded his
acceptance. She wondered whether he was
totally fooled, because he was far from a fool. Same applied to the other two.
On the way out
of Glasgow, she saw a sign to Paisley.
“As in the
pattern?” she asked.
“As in the
pattern,” Lisa confirmed, “and as in the birthplace of Dr Who.”
challenged Nick and Giles, almost in synchrony. “That was Gallifrey,” Nick added.
“No, no,” Lisa
protested. “Not the real Dr Who, the
man who plays him. Born in Paisley.”
shook her head.
silently watched his daughter clear away the remnants of supper, the bandage
crisp and white on her arm. He’d
offered to do it, but she’d snapped at him, and so he’d sat down again. There was something about her. Something different. A sharpness, and not just in her voice.
by his side, began to growl, a sound that came from the ancient wolf in
her. Morag whirled round.
damned dog out of here, before she goes for the baby!”
Flag cherished young Bruce as though he were her own puppy, McKechnie grabbed
his coat and flung out of the house without a word. Morag went silently back to the dishes, but now she had a secret
smile on her face.
was everything that had been promised.
After a dinner in which Buffy had sampled clams wrapped in bacon, Loch
Lomond duck, and the sweet sharpness of raspberry-laden cranachan, they sat on
the terrace of the Kilted Skirlie, overlooking the water and the drowsing glen,
and they watched the sun sink into the west.
The Maid of the Loch sparkled with her restored paintwork, in her
berth at Balloch pier, and small sailing boats tacked back to their own
moorings. With a clear blue sky and a
warm breeze, it was idyllic.
As they sipped
their coffee, Buffy asked, “Why does everyone up here speak a foreign
language? This is England, isn’t it?”
choked on the mouthful she’d just taken, and Nick let out a loud shout of
laughter. Giles frowned.
don’t let anyone hear you say that! The
Scottish National Party would have to take you in for re-education!” Then he stared at her innocent expression.
speaking a foreign language.”
then. “English in England is derived
from a lot of languages – Latin from the Romans, Germanic languages from the
Angles and the Saxons and other assorted tribes, Norse languages from the
Vikings, Norman French from William the Conqueror and his ragtag army. Those are just examples. Up here, in Scotland, not all those
influences made it this far north, although the Vikings certainly did, but the
dialects here include many Gaelic words instead. It’s complicated. But,
these aren’t the hard core Scots speakers, you know.”
He pointed up
“See how, over
there, you get much bigger hills? That’s
the start of the Highlands. Here, and
in Glasgow, we’re in the Scottish Lowlands.
To a Highlander, people who live here are almost as much Sassenachs as
we are. Up there, some of them speak
much more Gaelic than English.”
contemplated that. Eventually, she
said, “I liked Glasgow. I didn’t expect
to, but I did. I thought it would be
just a sort of grubby industrial city.”
It was Nick
who answered her. “A few years ago, it
was the European City of Culture. When
Britain had an empire, Glasgow was the second city of empire, which arguably
made it the second city in the world.
And yet it’s Glasgow that has given us the deep-fried Mars Bar…”
He trailed off
mournfully amid the amusement, and eyed the westering sun.
“Time to head
back, I think, or Angel will assume we’ve got lost.”
her small flock of sisters and nieces and daughters, was at her favourite place
for grazing, close to the bridge. Here,
the grass was mingled with tasty wild thyme, bird’s-foot trefoil and rock
rose. And there were great swathes of
burnet saxifrage, which helped her to produce milk for her two growing lambs.
dragonflies were using the last of the light to snap up the others. She didn’t know what to call them, but there
were usually some around the place-that-glittered. Flying things, looking like a lizard might be if it was the size
of a bumble bee, and covered in silver scales.
As she grazed, she often saw the glint of fallen scales, down in the
There had been
many of the flying things in the last few days, and the place under the bridge,
the place-that-glittered, seemed to her to be getting bigger, to be smiling,
like a fox. To be dangerous, like a
fox. She understood, in her own sheeply
way, that it could mean nothing but trouble for her small family.
definite ‘baa-aa’, she led her flock away, while there was still enough light
to settle the lambs down for the night.
they weren’t lost. He knew from Buffy’s
call that they were only half an hour away.
But he had missed them. More
often than not, he was content in his own company. Sometimes, he was even relieved to be alone, away from the noise
and the expectations and the rush of blood and the heartbeats. Not now, though. He needed humanity around him, friends and loved ones, to drive
out the demonic thoughts that had been triggered by the hunt. There might be a dishonesty in keeping the
truth of himself from those who befriended him, but he needed their simple
acceptance as a man, to reaffirm what he strove to be.
He was glad to
hear the car drive up. It was a quarter
to ten, with only a few minutes to sunset, so he finished the glass of AB
negative he’d been drinking – a very rare and desirable meal outside Japan and
China – and strolled down to the door.
The long Northern twilit evenings were uncomfortable for him, but no
more than that, once the sun had gone.
He met four
happy but tired people. Nick was laden
with bags, but from the names and their general girliness, Angel guessed they
were Buffy’s. He could see more
sticking up in the back of the car, presumably Lisa’s. The retailers of Glasgow had done well. Grinning, Giles took the bags and carried
them up to their rooms, and Nick went with him, in need, he said, of a
bathroom. Lisa stared hard at him, but
she could see no guile in his innocent demeanour. Buffy ran after them, on the same errand.
And so it was
just Angel and Lisa, strolling out to the Bridge, to enjoy the fading view, who
saw Morag McKechnie running down the road, her baby clutched in her arms, the
white of the bandage shining out in the gloaming. Bruce was screaming. Not
the sporadic crying of a fretful infant, but the screams of terror or pain or
absolute need. There was something very
wrong. They both knew as much,
instantly, and hurried towards her, Angel reluctantly slowing his pace to that
of a normal man so that Lisa could keep up.
leaning over the parapet when they got there, staring down into the Burn. Lisa stopped a few feet away and followed
the girl’s stare. The level of the
stream had fallen, and the water now cascaded over and through naked rocks
glassy black in the failing light. When
Morag turned to her, Lisa’s hand flew to her mouth, as she gasped in
shock. The softly waving dark hair and
the gentle curves of her face were gone.
Her features were sharper, almost as though she were developing a
not-yet pronounced muzzle, and her hair seemed straighter, coarser. When she turned to Angel, behind her, her
once-green eyes were hard and dark, shining like the eyes of a rat, Lisa
thought. Or the eyes of a mink.
Morag hissed. “Go away. This is no your business, you hear?”
to talk to her, small inanities because she didn’t know what to say. The water, the view, the gathering
darkness. Over on the far lawns of the
House, she pointed out the indistinct figures of some of the residents, playing
a game that she couldn’t quite make out.
She asked Morag what they might be doing.
“Get away, you
Morag pulled herself up to straddle the parapet, with more agility than Angel
would have expected, given that she had the baby in one arm. Lisa moved towards her, making soothing
nonsense sounds, as she would with a frightened horse. Morag looked at her with pure malevolence,
and then she threw the baby off the Bridge.
To Lisa, the
world turned to slow motion for those few precious seconds. She saw Bruce, his tiny arms waving as his
shawl started to unwind, as his body followed a rising arc out over the Burn,
as the inevitable descent followed. She
saw Angel leap up to the parapet from a standing start, the leap of a supreme
athlete, his right foot landing firmly on the weatherworn stone and then
pushing him off into a graceful arc that followed Bruce. She saw him reach out and take the baby from
mid-air as deftly as she would pluck an apple, and then she saw him twist like
a cat, holding the child securely to his chest as he fell onto his back,
hitting the tumbled and broken rocks of the Burn. Where his head struck, she thought she saw blood fly. And then she saw Morag pushing herself over
the edge, screaming imprecations as she did so. Lisa herself leapt, as time snapped into joint once more.
When Buffy and
Giles and Nick left the House, they had only been separated from Lisa and Angel
for a few minutes. Now, they walked out
into a world gone mad. In the dying light,
they saw Lisa struggling with a girl who clung to the parapet, as half a dozen
of the residents ran up and pulled both women back onto the Bridge. The girl – they could see now that it was
Morag, albeit an altered Morag – shouted to the small crowd.
“Did you see
her? Did you see the hag? She tried to push me off the Bridge. She was pushing and shoving me… And the
other one, he’s taken my baby…”
And her litany
went on. Close by, the Administrator of
the House spoke urgently into her phone.
She’d called the police. Of
Angel, or the baby, there was no sign.
The police, in
the burly forms of Sergeant Willie MacLachlan and Constable Malcolm Campbell,
duly arrived and tried to understand the situation that confronted them. One of their own, Morag McKechnie, said she
had lost her baby to a southerner, a man, and that an Englishwoman had tried to
push her off the Bridge. The
Englishwoman was hotly denying the accusations, and the man was missing. Three more Sassenachs were butting in and arguing
Willie gave up
all hope of a quiet night and started to take statements. With only a tiny twinge of guilt, he sent PC
Campbell to look in the Burn. He would
have gone himself, if he’d had no other option, but he was relieved not to have
to. It was a benighted spot. Privately, he thought it belonged to the Devil.
got the statement forms from his car, and he certainly hadn’t settled all the
strangers into sitting down and not aggravating him, when Malcolm came back,
with a dripping, blood-streaked man who was as white as the shawl wrapped
around the baby he held in his arms.
The bairn was safe, and dry, and quiet, though, looking around him with
“He was under
the Bridge, Sarge. Unconscious. Want me to call an ambulance?”
The man shook
off the restraining hand on his arm, and refused the offer of medical
help. Morag ran up and snatched the
baby from him. The child started to
scream, beating at her with his tiny hands.
Willie was already nursing a headache from earlier that day, from the
identical screaming of his teething twins, and he couldn’t bear it.
than he intended, he started issuing orders.
No one could leave the House until he said that they could. He would start with Miss McKechnie’s
statement. In the Angel Room. Now.
Would someone look after the bairn until that had been done? Constable Campbell would take statements
from the Administrator and long-term residents, in the Administrator’s
office. Everyone else should consider
themselves detained, and there would have to be a report to the procurator
fiscal. And could someone find a pot of
tea, brewed strong. Now.
Angel was in
their room, getting cleaned up.
Everyone else was in Giles’ room.
A flood of questions was welling silently up, threatening to overwhelm the
dam of shock. Until it did so, and
until Angel joined them, Buffy asked about the small piece of flotsam that had
bobbed to the surface.
coroner and public prosecutor,” Giles replied.
“Unique to Scottish law.”
“Told you they
didn’t speak English,” she said, disgruntled.
A phone rang,
then, and they all looked at each other, thinking that one of them was being
called to see the formidable police sergeant.
Angel opened the door onto that little scene.
through her bag. The police sergeant
had had a few special words for her, unnerving words, before she followed her
friends out of the lobby. Attempted
murder was viewed as seriously in Scotland as in England, he had said.
At last, she
“No, no, it’s
not too late to ring at all. I’m sorry,
I… I haven’t been at home for a few days…”
nothing’s wrong… Well, except, I think I might be under arrest.”
“Scotland. What for?
Um, attempted murder, I think.”
a few more words, and then she put the phone away.
“He said he’ll
be up here on the first flight.”
For a wonder,
Collins managed to catch the very last flight of the day, although he had to go
on with the caterers. The hour and a
quarter flight time gave him more than enough opportunity for
introspection. He took that option
rather than going to sleep. He was
afraid that if he went to sleep, it might be hours before he woke up. He’d had no sleep the night before, and the
last few days at work had run him ragged.
There’d doubtless be repercussions about him sloping off like this without
a word to anyone, but he was the best detective in the Wessex force, and his
superintendent, Dennis the Menace, knew that.
And so he drank coffee, and tried to think of this new problem, tried to
stop circling the mental wagons around his existing ones. He thought about Lisa.
He didn’t need
his status and experience as Detective Chief Inspector to know that Lisa’s real
interest lay elsewhere, although she’d never made him feel it. At first, he’d worried that she was
interested in Nick. The man was
moneyed, and an eminent surgeon and, after all, every time the guy came down,
he went to Lisa’s for a riding lesson.
A proper one, with a horse, admittedly.
He’d even seen them doing it.
But he’d worried. Until, that
is, he’d understood about Nick.
He’d never had
a friend who was, well, you know… But Nick was… unusual. Still, everything about Summerdown House was
unusual. And he was certainly starting
to think of Nick as perhaps something other than a mere acquaintance, even if
the word ‘friend’ hadn’t quite made it yet.
The thought would have made him smile, if he hadn’t been feeling so
And then he’d
truly understood about Nick, and where the man’s heart lay. With Angel.
about Angel, too. After all, much as he
hated to admit it, and even with the man’s rare disability of intolerance to
sunlight, Angel was the sort to make women go weak at the knees. Not that he seemed to know that, to be fair
to him. He was almost always quiet and
reserved, and stayed in the background, except when he was with people in whose
company he felt comfortable. That didn’t
seem to happen much. And Angel had some
very odd abilities, Collins had no doubt of that. He was perhaps more open to odd abilities than most policemen
might be, but these were seriously strange.
Still, in his experience, those who had lost out in some ways were often
gifted in other areas, and he tried not to worry too much about it.
thought that Lisa might be infatuated with Angel, he’d felt sorry for her. Angel was entirely focused on Buffy, in a
way that seemed almost inhuman. Saintly. Verging on the obsessive. There sometimes wasn’t a lot of obvious
difference between saints and demons, he thought. A saint could be just as scary as a demon. Luckily for Angel, the obsession was
hadn’t been it, he’d soon realised.
No. Instead, Lisa had a thing
for Giles, and Giles was supremely oblivious.
Giles treated Lisa as an old and valued friend, just as Lisa treated
Collins. Most of the time, anyway. Those few times when she’d almost treated
him as something more had made the rest of it sting, and lent him sympathy for
her, and for Nick.
He knew all
about eternal triangles, thank you so very much. But this… this wasn’t any sort of eternal triangle, it was more a
multi-faceted eternal polygon.
himself, it only made him angry, angry with himself for being such a fool. He took a tighter hold on his temper, and
hadn’t it been too many years now, that he’d had that iron grip on
himself? But, he’d met Lisa when he’d
been more than vulnerable. When, in the
continual warfare with Sheila, he’d thought he’d never see his children
again. He’d thrown himself into his
work, as he always did, but he’d found that he needed the human touch,
too. And Lisa brought him some peace.
He ripped his
thoughts away from such self-pitying maunderings, and concentrated on the
matter in hand. He knew almost nothing,
except that the inhabitants of Summerdown House were always neck deep in
affairs that shouldn’t concern them.
They should leave police work to policemen, that’s what policemen were
And yet, said a small part of his psyche, did
they really interfere in police work?
Or did they do work that Summerdown House was for?
that idea savagely. Civilians were
civilians, and should stay that way, and now they’d got Lisa dangerously
involved in something that she should have been kept well away from. He blamed Summerdown House. He blamed Lisa. But most of all, he blamed himself, although what he could
possibly have done about it, he failed to examine.
of the pre-landing announcements came just in time for his temper.
they’d never get some privacy, but now Nick was being interviewed, and Lisa had
asked for some time alone. Giles had
taken her to Angel and Buffy’s room and, after a few minutes, had come back.
“What the hell
“That’s what I
just asked, Giles, but he refused to answer until you got back! Come on, Angel! Why are we all sitting here being interrogated like criminals? We’re the good guys. We found the jumping-off-the-bridge thing,
but now we’re the bad guys?”
up against Giles’ pillows, put her arms around her knees and hugged them to
her. She glared at Angel, waiting for
an answer to her question.
didn’t,” he said. “We found part of the
cause, but there’s something else. I
should have known. There was another
scent. There’s something else under the
He told them
about Morag and the baby.
“So Lisa was
trying to stop her?”
“I don’t know,
Giles. I’d cracked my head open on a
rock by that time. But I guess so.”
“Why do you
say there’s something else under the bridge?” Buffy asked.
scent that’s very like the scent of mink.
And stoat. But different. Paler, in comparison, more fleeting. I can’t describe it. And when I was knocked unconscious, I
definitely saw stars, but I don’t think they were in my head. I think there’s a rift under the
bridge. We have to get back down
headache wasn’t getting any better. The
initial statements were all taken, and now he’d have to report back. As yet, he’d no idea what to make of it.
He knew Morag
McKechnie, slightly. He knew her father
better, but he’d talked to Morag before.
There was something about her, now, and he couldn’t put his finger on
it. There was something he felt he
should see, but every time he tried, his attention kept sliding away from her.
And the others
had seemed so convincing. Except, how
could the man called Angel – and what sort of name was that for a man, anyway?
– how could the man have fished the bairn, dry and unharmed, out of the water,
which is what he said he’d done, and then slipped and cracked his head on a
rock? And why did the woman say he’d
jumped, after Morag had thrown the baby?
He shook his
head. It was a pity the residents at
the House hadn’t seen that. All they’d
seen was the two women struggling by the parapet. As Willie gathered up his papers, Campbell stuck his head round
McKechnie at the station, Sarge. Drunk
and disorderly. Thought you’d want to
know. He’s sobered up a bit now.”
It was a long
time since McKechnie had got drunk. Not
since… Well, no use thinking about that.
“Tell them to
put him in a car and send him up here.”
thinking of leaving it there?”
disappeared, to be replaced in the doorway a moment later by a tall middle-aged
man with dark hair just touched by grey, and a sour expression.
It was a
statement, not a question.
“Aye, and who
The man held
out a warrant card. Detective Chief
nae jurisdiction here. Sir. The local plods can manage well enough.”
“No,” said the
man, mildly. “I know I haven’t. I’ve just come to see if my friends need any
still talking to Sergeant MacLachlan when Keith McKechnie was decanted out of a
police car. He looked a bit green
around the gills, but at least he could walk.
The dog didn’t look much better, thought Willie uncharitably, as the two
were ushered into the small office. In
as few words as possible, Willie told McKechnie what Morag had said.
shock, or worry, McKechnie’s face showed derision.
ye used to hae a brain on top o’ them shoulders. Those folk nae hae done anything to Morag. The girl’s goin’ soft i’ the heid. Hae ye seen her? Did you look at her?
She’s obsessed wi’ that bridge.
They come up here to help, after Folly went over the edge. They specialise in that manner of thing,
haunted bridges and such like.
Collins. “Haunted bridges? Now why didn’t I think of that? I really should have known.”
The irony of
the man’s tone wasn’t lost on Willie.
them involved in this before, sir?”
like this, Sergeant, but close enough.
And they have been… helpful.”
his papers and stuffed them into his pocket.
“If that’s the
way of it… I’ll bid you goodnight. Keith, look to your lass.”
to Campbell, he was off, relieved to get away from the fou and the mad.
Collins was on
his way to give a number of people a piece of his mind, when he met them all
coming into the lobby. There was the
sound of a baby crying, and then another door opened, and Keith McKechnie came
out with his daughter. His dog hung
behind, trying to keep her master between Morag and herself. Morag’s shawl was over her head, and her
face was in shadow so that he couldn’t see her, but the baby in her arms was
screaming frantically. When they got
outside, McKechnie took hold of Giles’ arm.
“Ye’ll do what
ye came here to do? Ye’ll end this?”
“We’ll do our
best, Mr McKechnie.”
wasn’t satisfied, though. He pushed
back Morag’s shawl. When he spoke, his
accent had become a thick burr, hard to understand.
“Luik at ma
dochter. What’s ta becam of her? Jus’ luik.”
were shocked. Collins swore savagely,
but Lisa had seen the Syriak demons, and Nick had seen a coral statue where
three living people had stood.
of the change was rapid, now. Her teeth
were slim, sharp daggers, set in a muzzle of sparse russet fur, her eyes dark
and beady. Even McKechnie seemed taken
aback, as though she had changed in the last few minutes since he’d pulled up
her shawl. Suddenly, she made a dash
for the Burn, where it flowed beneath the Bridge.
her, and willing hands helped to hold the girl back. Collins lifted Bruce out of her arms, and the baby quieted, but
Morag started to curse in words that they couldn’t understand. Flag turned away from her, and fled.
“Take her to
the cottage,” Angel said, “while we decide what to do. I’m going to have a look under the
Bridge. Then we’ll talk.”
“Do any of you
have any idea what time it is?” Collins
asked, grumpily, exhaustion taking its toll.
He wanted a few hours sleep before they tried to unravel this particular
tangle, and before he had to consider the possibility of a woman turning into
something weaselly. More, he couldn’t
seem to find any sensible question to ask.
to sunrise,” Angel answered. “And this
Buffy moved to
go with him.
Buffy. They’ll need help with her. She won’t go quietly. I don’t want her coming at me down there.”
happy, but she saw the sense in it, and ran back to the group as they tried to
get Morag into Giles’ car. Angel ran
down to the Burn.
The stream was
no more than knee deep, now, but he balanced on the tumbled rocks of the
starling, and kept out of the water.
Beneath the arch, shockingly out of place, a small square of dim red
light hung over the water, like a surreal picture. It was, in a very literal sense, a window onto another world, a
world in which a giant red sun was sinking past the horizon. He put out a hand and felt the familiar
sting. Snatching his hand back, he
plunged it into the cold water, bending down to do so, and it was that motion
that probably saved him. From behind, a
weight threw him forward, and he saw the gleam of metal over his head.
He and his
assailant fell forward into the water.
He twisted around, and found that the other was no longer there. And then, as he rose, steel glittered again
in the darkness, and a line of red fire blossomed on his neck. He ignored it, as he threw himself
backwards, looking for the attacker. Quick
as he was, this thing was quicker, and he couldn’t locate it. As he fell, his hand passed through the
portal, and something on the other side clawed at it, catching and holding
it. He felt teeth sinking in, and then
the pain of the fire, as his hand stayed too long in the sunlight, but it was
that same, sudden fire that made the second beast let go.
And then his
attacker was at his front, and a long, slim knife jabbed down towards his
throat. Suddenly, a black and white
form lunged at the knife hand. Flag. The attacker hissed, but it was
distracted. Surging up from the water
with a roar, Angel knocked its arms apart, and he hurled the beast bodily at
the stone wall of the Bridge. It hit,
with a sickening thud, and slid down onto the starling.
movement behind him, and he whirled round.
Another one of the creatures was halfway through the window. He flung himself through the water and
grasped it around the neck. With a
twist of his hands, the slender spine snapped, and it fell limp. He pushed it backwards, to its own world, to
find a dozen or more staring at him from the other side of the rift. He couldn’t go over there, into the
sunlight, and he didn’t want them over here, in a pack.
And so he
stood in the window, blocking it, ready to break anything that tried to come
through. Mink were about territories
and aggression. If there were any link
between these beings and the mink, perhaps he could use that. Displaying jagged fangs, he growled deep in
his chest, as he had done to the stoat.
As he had done, once, to a werewolf.
hesitated, looking at each other, and then hissed at him. He growled again, louder.
chattered to each other, then turned and ran.
went back to the one he’d smashed against the wall. It was quite dead, its skull cracked and bloody. He picked up the knife, and thrust it into
his belt, saying a word of praise to Flag.
Then he examined the body. These
creatures were nothing he’d seen before.
It looked as though a mink had decided to become human, and yet was
still recognisably a mink. It was
human-sized, but much more slender, much more lithe, much more agile, and with
a mouthful of predator’s teeth.
the changes in Morag. These must be
poisonous teeth. Or worse. He looked at his hand where the one on the
other side of the window had bitten him.
It was red and swollen around the site of the bite, over and above the
burns from the otherworld sun, and there was an intolerable itch. And then the swelling and the itching were
gone. The bite remained, but it was
just a bite to him, no more than that, and would soon be healed.
his demon had the upper hand, in this at least, he lifted the creature onto his
shoulder, and set off at a lope for the cottage, followed by the sheepdog. He knew now what had to be done, but he
really didn’t like it.
He left the
body outside, discreetly hidden. Flag
refused to cross the threshold. Inside,
Morag was in a corner, snarling.
Another hour or two, and there might be nothing of her humanity to
salvage. Speed was going to be of the
both Giles and Buffy, and looked at Nick and at McKechnie.
with Morag is poisoned blood. She was
bitten, and whatever she was infected with is spreading through her body. What she’s turning into… she’ll stay like
that, I’m certain. She’s becoming
another type of being.”
He could see
that they wanted to deny what he said, but the evidence of their own eyes
antidote?” Nick asked.
It was Giles
who replied. “We don’t even know what
she’s becoming, or what the infective agent is. She doesn’t have time for us to spend weeks finding out.”
Morag began to sniff the air, and with a howl, she ran for the door. Angel caught her, and McKechnie went to
“I canna do
naught and see ma dochter ta’en fra me.
What would ye say needs ta be done?”
“She needs a
complete blood transfusion. She needs
the poisoned blood flushed out, and she needs it done now.”
Nick gaped at
Angel, but McKechnie’s shoulders straightened in determination.
well. Then that must be done.”
just take her, like that, to any old outpatients! We’ll all disappear into some government facility!”
“Nick! I didn’t know you were a conspiracy
theorist?” Collins, still holding
Bruce, and looking surprisingly competent at doing so, was trying to come to
terms with events. He was never at his
best when he was exhausted.
“Dash it all,
I’m not! But will you look at her? You think we can take her to a hospital and
just ask for a total blood replacement?
Perhaps we can leave her outside, and just ask for one to go, while we’re
what we’re going to do, Nick,” Angel said, quietly. “You’re a surgeon. We’ll
do it here.”
mad! Stark raving mad!”
Angel soothed. “It can be done. It has to be done, or she’ll be lost to us.”
“If you can do
it, then I’m beggin’ you to give my Morag back to me. Please.”
didn’t look like a man who would beg for very much at all. And Nick knew there was no other choice,
provided Angel was right. Suddenly
decisive, he turned to Giles.
bag, in that bedroom, fetch it for me please.
Now, the one thing this cottage has a severe lack of is spare
blood. I suppose you have a plan?”
a small and tight thing.
blood bank in Glasgow.”
“Oh, and I
suppose that we’re just going to go and knock on the door and ask for a bagful,
“No. Buffy and Giles are going to steal some.”
up from the baby with astonishment, but said nothing. Nick, though, looked grim.
“And just what
sort are we going to steal, might I ask?
Mr McKechnie, I don’t suppose you happen to know her blood type?”
shook his head. Nick frowned.
guess would kill her, so we’ll have to take the safest choice. O negative.”
quiet, but calm, cut through the silence.
“How can you
know?” Collins sounded rattled.
“Just trust me
confirmation, and Buffy took Angel’s hand.
Nick remonstrated, “AB is the rarest blood group. Only one percent of people in this country are AB.”
“I know. But she is. And negative.”
looked helplessly around.
Angel’s opinion,” said Giles, “you should believe it.”
With a shrug,
Nick started to rummage in his bag.
cannulae… yes… tubing… Rupert, bring that coat stand and put it over by the
couch… And what are you doing still here, if you have blood to steal? We can’t start until you get back, you
“Yes. We can.
I’ve got three bags of AB negative.
Buffy, they’re behind the others.
Could you get them, please? I
seem to have my hands full with Morag.”
To say that
Angel became the centre of attention was an understatement, and the look that
Buffy gave him was particularly old-fashioned.
He knew she’d be asking questions later. For now, he preferred not to think about later.
warming, Buffy, if we don’t want a cardiac arrest,” Nick called after her, “but
not in a microwave, mind…”
was to lay Morag on the couch, and work from there. Morag had her own ideas, though, refusing to cooperate in any
way. When they tried to push her down,
and hold her, she screamed and kicked, with surprising strength.
to her father and saw the distress on his face.
“Keith. There are… strange things happening under
the Bridge. We need to be sure that
nothing comes here that we don’t know about.
Would you and Flag go and watch the road? If you see anything, don’t try to stop it yourself, just come
straight back here. Can you do
that? We’ll make sure that Morag and
the baby stay safe.”
hesitated, and then nodded. He left
without a word.
the baby down in one of the bedrooms, and even with all of them trying to
restrain Morag, they made hard work of it.
Eventually, though, Nick had the cannulae in place, one for the new blood,
and one to drain her poisoned blood.
returned with the three bags, Nick glanced at the label, and then looked hard
at Angel. He decided not to ask,
though. Not yet. He hung a bag from the coat stand, to start
“As much blood
as you can get, Giles. I may need to
flush her out more than once. Unless
any of you know better?”
None of them
did. Nick set the process in
at the tableau in the centre of the room.
Angel and Collins holding Morag down, Lisa tending the bowl that held
the flow of blood from Morag. It looked
just like ordinary blood. Red. Liquid.
Angelfood. She nodded to Giles,
and they started for the door.
outburst was filled with frustration, as he turned off both cannulae. Morag, grinning, renewed her struggles,
knocking over the bowl of blood to spread accusingly over the carpet. Her face was almost unrecognisable now, and
there was a scent of musk in the room.
“What is it,
Nick? What can’t you do?” Giles walked back over to the surgeon as he
around the room in entreaty.
“We can’t do
it this way! I’m going on faith that
Angel is right, although I don’t know why I should. But even so, I need to keep the inward flow of blood as equal as
possible to the outward flow, and I have no means of measuring that. I have no equipment… It needs a hospital…”
Giles laid a
hand on his arm. “What are the
consequences of getting it wrong Nick?”
much. If I let her blood pressure get
too high, just blindness and stroke. If
I let it get too low, organ failure and multiple clots.”
“And the risk
of that is worse than this?”
to the stricken girl. Nick shook his
head, uncertain. Ian Collins looked
around the people in the room, all of them now silent in the face of the
“If we ask
McKechnie whether he’s prepared to take those risks for his daughter…?”
hotly, “That’s still not fair to Nick!”
Angel, his voice pitched to soothe.
“No, it isn’t fair to Nick. Or
to Morag. We can do it differently. Nick, take out the drain. You won’t need
to him, startled. Buffy grabbed his
hand. She was afraid she knew what he had
you sure about this?”
Buffy. Her life’s at stake. It has to be done.”
poisoned…?” She didn’t want to say too
much, but she didn’t want a weasel for a boyfriend.
“Do you want
me to wait for a few minutes… before…?”
nodded, too grateful to have her with him to begrudge the small delay, and then
he settled himself against the arm of the couch, behind Morag. He pulled her back against his chest, and
held her tightly as she struggled to be free.
He tried not to feel the thrill of the impending feed in the warmth of
her body against his, in the movement of her ribcage beneath his arms, in the
steady pounding of her heart as he held her in this position most favoured by
the predator in him. It had been such a
long time… His very nature, denied to him… He felt the rush of saliva in his
mouth, and swallowed hard against it.
“Nick, you can
start the blood up again. I’ll take
care of everything else.”
“But… But if
we don’t have a drain…”
Buffy moved to
stand behind him, protectively. She
knew what was about to happen, but what she didn’t know was how these people
would react. These people, who they’d
come to call friends. She didn’t mind
so much for herself, but for Angel…
understood, now, and he walked back from the doorway to stand next to
Buffy. He hoped it wouldn’t come to the
three of them against the ordinary humans whom they otherwise protected. But he was prepared for it, if it did. He
was sure that Buffy was, too.
body screamed of frustration.
“But how? What do you think you can do?”
back as Morag’s struggles overturned the bowl that she’d found in which to
catch the blood. They had what looked
like three pints of blood – and she definitely wanted to ask why those
were part of Angel’s baggage – and so, thinking logically, she’d found a
four-pint bowl in the kitchen. The
small coffee table had been perfect, but then Morag’s foot had lashed out, and
both table and bowl had skittered across the room. There couldn’t have been more than a few tablespoons of blood in
it, but when it came to red, a little went a very long way. Now, a scarlet patch was unfurling on the
otherwise nondescript oatmeal carpet.
Ruby drops still slid down the inside of the transparent plastic tubing,
clinging briefly to the end, and then surface tension yielded to gravity as
they joined their fellows. That was
going to be a bitch to get out.
She ran to
retrieve the bowl, but Nick had turned off the cannula, and when she got back
to her place, the tubing showed only the odd globule still adhering to its
inner walls, refusing to be birthed.
the conversation, after Nick had declared that he couldn’t, but now
Angel was sliding onto the settee, arranging his legs around Morag, and holding
the girl in his lap. Jealous desire
spiked briefly through Lisa, a momentary feeling of pure lust, before she
started to wonder what Angel thought he was doing.
Lisa looked at
Buffy. How would she feel about her
boyfriend in such an intimate embrace with another woman? If Morag could still be called a woman, that
is. Buffy and Giles moved to stand
behind Angel, and somehow Lisa understood that, with or without the sand, a
line had been drawn in it. What the
line denoted quite escaped her, until Nick spoke.
“But how? What do you think you can do?”
changed. There were other, more subtle
changes that might not be noticed, except by someone used to sizing up the
physical attributes of the animals she worked with, but the face was the only
thing that she immediately registered.
She knew she’d
seen it before. Only once in reality,
of course, when Angel had been almost lost in the embrace of what he had called
a Syriak, and it had been dark then.
Dark, as in the darkness of the countryside, where there were no
streetlights, and even the lights from her house and from the stableyard didn’t
penetrate. Dark, in the way that city
people no longer understood. They’d
been down in the lower outdoor school, the one where horses were afraid to go,
the one that was rarely used and so it had no lighting. There had been only starlight and moonlight,
but even so, she’d seen the horror that was sucking the life from Angel. That scene had replayed over and over again
in her waking mind, and then in ever more bizarre repetitions in her dreams.
And each time
she replayed that scene, she’d see the gibbous winter moon sail out from behind
a ragged cloud, its icy light shining down on the tableau before her, and
Angel’s face had seemed… fiercer, in those harsh black and white shadows. She thought she’d heard Buffy say, very
quietly, ‘Angel, you’re doing demon…’
understood, and no explanation had ever been offered, but she’d understood
enough to know that Angel was… different.
months since then, she’d seen that picture in her head a thousand times. More.
And each time, she’d thought that her own imaginings were making
something of Angel’s face that had never existed, except in those darkest of
sweat-dripping dreams. And even if
there had been something, it paled into insignificance beside the memory of the
And it had
certainly paled into insignificance when two men carrying one of the long-dead
corpses from the field, long-dead but not long enough, had slipped in the mud,
and the corpse had fallen free. She’d
seen the face of corruption there, and she didn’t think she’d ever stop seeing
that nothing could shake her now, except her own memories, and then Angel had
What she saw
had no darkness to hide it, or moonlight to make her think it was a trick of
the shadows, no Syriak to upstage it.
There were only humans for comparison.
She looked at
the fangs, and at the amber eyes, deep set under the swollen brow ridge, and
protected by sharper, harsher cheekbones.
She didn’t know exactly what he was, but she knew a predator when she
saw one, and a tiny part of her hindbrain, something that millions of years ago
had belonged to a small furry animal, screamed at her to RUN.
know what he was, and yet, and yet… she did.
Not exactly, but she carried in herself the species memories from a
million moonless nights, and it hadn’t only been wolves and cave bears that
And so, as
that small, primitive, insect-eating prey animal within her chattered at her to
RUN, something only a little less ancient spoke to her in the velvet
tones of seduction. It was as though
fingers of desire pressed against her, cool on her skin, but bringing a
thrilling heat wherever they passed. In
response to the imperative summons, she started to bend her neck.
And then, as
soon as it had come, the spell was broken when Buffy moved, putting her hand on
Angel’s shoulder. Lisa looked at
Angel’s other face, and she was not afraid.
She remembered that he was still Angel.
Buffy clearly thought so. Giles
thought so. Remembering what she knew
of the things that Angel and the others had done, Lisa found that she thought
was going to tell her what the hell was going on. When all this was over, she’d
bloody well make sure of it.
was a strong man, but he thought he’d bitten off more than he could chew,
trying to hold Morag down. And that was
with help from Angel. The girl was as
slippery as an eel, and much stronger than she looked to be. Add to that the fact that her body seemed to
twist where there shouldn’t be any joints capable of doing what she was doing,
and the sheer awkwardness of the sofa, and he was beginning to think that he
should go find a length of rope to tie her down with. But that would leave Angel coping with her on his own, and he
didn’t think that one man could do that.
thinking all these thoughts, he knew, because he was trying not to think about
the patently obvious thing that was almost punching him on the nose. Her face.
All of her,
really, but her face was… It was something he’d never seen before, except
perhaps on road kill, and he was pretty sure he never wanted to see it again on
anyone. It was half weasel and half
human, and all nightmare.
what he thought he was in. A nightmare. An hallucination, perhaps. This was his second night on the trot
without any sleep at all, and he was definitely feeling light-headed.
covered himself with anything like glory tonight. Bad enough that he’d been useless so far, but worse, he seemed to
be trapped in some sort of surreal hell dimension. Until they’d asked him to help hold Morag down, he’d done nothing
useful except take care of the baby.
Once the local
plods had gone, he’d thought that was it.
Job done. But that had only been
the start of it. A man, a stranger,
with an accent as thick as haggis, had pushed a shawl off a young woman’s head,
and it hadn’t been a young woman at all.
It had been this… thing.
he’d come here to help all seemed to be part of the situation, part of the insanity,
and what had he done? He’d stood there
making stupid remarks about what time it was.
And the madness had continued.
He’d taken charge of the only normal thing, the crying baby, so like
young David… No. Don’t go there. And they’d been talking about blood transfusions and government
facilities, and he was already afraid he might finish up somewhere like that,
and so he’d asked about conspiracies, and held the baby, and stood apart, not
knowing whether he was simply asleep on the plane. The warmth in his arms had suggested otherwise, though.
Nick and Angel
had argued, and Angel had won. Somehow,
Collins thought that Angel might always win, if he put his mind to it. And then Angel had talked of stealing blood,
and what had he, the policeman, done?
Nothing. He simply hadn’t
believed what was happening, his sleep-deprived brain sluggish, useless, so
much gelatinous waste matter. Like him.
understood any of the rest. Angel knew
the girl’s blood group. How? Why?
Angel had human blood in his room.
Again, how? Why?
a follower. He’d never been a
follower. If he had, he might now be
something more than a Detective Chief Inspector, and he was lucky to have that,
when you thought about his clashes with authority. That had been one of the things that fuelled the rows with
Sheila. But only one of the things.
questioned, he made his own decisions, he didn’t follow. And yet, he’d let go of his sheet anchor in
all the lunacy, the baby, laying it on the bed to sleep, and he’d followed the
rest in holding Morag down. Then they’d
all been given other surreal tasks.
Tend the bowl to catch the blood.
Steal more blood. Only he and
Angel were left holding the thing that a young woman had become, and then Nick
had seemed to come back to reality.
He’d stopped what was happening and said ‘I can’t’.
come to wonder then, as one does in a surreal nightmare, whether the characters
around him would now, one by one, revert to simple normality, and whether he’d
then be able to take the necessary step back into everyday reality. He’d looked around, waiting for that to
happen, waiting for the things around him to shimmer and fade, and for
something real to take their place.
had positioned himself with the weasel woman in his lap, and Collins had
thought, with sinking dread, that the unreality was going to get worse, and
that he’d now start to imagine orgies where none existed. Just because he wasn’t getting any right
But things had
gone way beyond that type of nightmare.
Nick had said,
“But how? What do you think you can
And Angel had
If Morag was a
nightmare, what Angel became was the cause of the nightmare. The thing under the bed. The horror in the closet. The creature in the shadows on the darkest
nights, when you sense it at your back, feel the solidity of a presence, the
reaching fingers, the carnivore’s breath, and you twist round as quickly as you
can, and there’s nothing there. But you
can still feel it behind you, in the tiny, vestigial hairs on the nape of your
neck. In that unseen margin of personal
space that we call our own.
The face that
Angel showed was a thing of glistening fangs and harsh planes and angles, a
parody of humanity, but with a terrible beauty.
to arm himself, to find a blunt instrument to lash out with, anything to defend
against the thing on the sofa. He
tensed to rise from his crouched and vulnerable position, and found that he
couldn’t. Like a rabbit, he was
watching the dance of the stoat, and he was paralysed. He felt the rush of adrenalin, felt it scour
through his body, as the instinct for self-preservation screamed at him to get
up, to run, to do something, because here lay sure and
certain death, but he remained frozen in place. Even as his muscles refused to answer to him, though, the
adrenalin cleared his mind, and everything around him gained pinpoint clarity.
He might be in
a fantasy, but it was all real. The
woman was a monster. The occupants of
Summerdown House didn’t seem at all surprised.
Angel, the man
he’d shaken hands with, often, was a monster, and Buffy and Giles seemed even
less surprised about that.
walking down the cellar stairs at Corbett’s farm. He remembered the ill-defined feeling he’d had then, of shadowy
terror at his back. Angel had been the
one behind him, on the stairs. Had he
worn that face? Those fangs?
Collins remembered other faces that Angel had worn during that terrible search
for bodies. Horror. Infinite sadness. And he remembered Angel, down in the old tunnels in Westbury,
shielding Martha and John and Giles and Buffy with his own body. He remembered the man he knew.
ancient part of him was wrong. Whatever
he looked like now, Angel was a man, not a monster.
But, by God,
he’d be damned and broken back to a constable if someone didn’t tell him
exactly what was going on. Exactly. As soon as there was time.
angry. And frightened. As he turned off the cannulae, his ‘I
can’t’ was a mixture of both those emotions. And more. He was a
surgeon, and he’d seen some terrible things.
Even in a general way, with both surgeons and cooks, once you’ve seen a
body from the inside out, pretty well nothing much can turn your stomach.
nothing. Not absolutely nothing. There’s always a threshold. One of his specialisms was a wicked and
cruel disease called fibrodysplaysia ossificans progressiva, which turned a
body to living, ossified bone, leaving its victims to die lingering and
dreadful deaths. Even that hadn’t
prepared him for the sight of three people turned, in a very literal blink of
the eye, into a dead coral statue. At
least, he’d been assured they were dead, which was something of a relief in the
circumstances. Sometimes, death can be
a valued friend.
Giles had told
him of the Gorgons. Well, he’d already
known about Gorgons, naturally. He’d
studied the classics as a boy. There’d
been no option on that, at his school, and he’d enjoyed all the rambunctious
mythology. What they’d never told him
at school, though, was that the Gorgons were actually real.
And so Giles
had explained, in very rough terms, what had happened, and Nick had nodded, and
said the right things, and put it all to the back of his mind. And he hadn’t asked questions
afterwards. Sometimes, he’d wanted to,
but Nick was graced not only with the looks of a Greek god, but also with a
formidable intelligence. He knew that
to ask questions would mean accepting that what had happened had truly been a
Gorgon turning herself and two young lovers to stone.
ready for knowledge like that. He
didn’t think he’d ever be ready for that.
And so he hadn’t asked.
And then he’d
discovered that Angel was, in some way, dead, which was probably a good thing,
considering that, at the time, the back of the man’s head had been smashed in
and his legs almost severed.
knew that he had sublimated the information, once the crisis was over. He was a phlegmatic soul – after all, the
British were noted for their stolid, unexcitable calm – and he thought that if
he had really, really confronted what he knew, then he would have run
screaming. That would be bad for the
image. And probably for the sanity.
His work alone
gave him bad dreams. You can’t see the
suffering that he saw without some of it sloshing into your unconscious, he
thought. Even so, those bad dreams now
had a deeper, darker edge to them. In
some ways, it was a good job that Angel wasn’t free, or wasn’t attracted,
because if the case were altered, Nick would have had to open his mind, and
face the razor’s edge of knowledge that waited for him. Knowledge that waited to slice him open and
examine his very soul, and possibly even his innards.
So, he had
never asked questions, never probed, never sought to know more than was freely
offered, and there was very little of that, and occasionally he had marvelled
that Angel was so full of life for a dead man, so perhaps death wasn’t all it
was cracked up to be. And he’d started
to consign the terrifying supernatural to the sock drawer of memory.
Now, he was
faced with a woman turning into a weasel, and memory’s sock drawer stood open
And he was
expected to believe that a total blood transfusion would save Morag, and that
Angel could possibly know what blood she would need. To accept that Angel carried bags of human blood in his luggage. Nick was used to responsibility, for pity’s
sake, but he was flying on blind faith here, in the face of an horrific
transmogrification from human to mustelid, and in the light of disturbing
revelations about a man he admired. The
terrifying supernatural lay beneath his hands, daring him to disbelieve this.
It had all
become too much. ‘I can’t’ had
been wrung out of him as anger and fear fought for control with sheer
frustration that he had a patient whom none of his hard-won knowledge could
begin to help.
tried to calm and reassure him, and Lisa had leapt to his defence, for which he
was profoundly grateful. But nothing
had pierced the fear and the anger, because Morag was only the tip of the
iceberg. The horrors were out of the
sock drawer, and, willhe nillhe, Nick would find out whether he could bear to know.
touched the fear and anger, that was, until Angel spoke. It was the voice of the siren, enslaving men
to its will, the voice of the abyss that seduced men to their deaths, the
velvet voice of desire that so often meant tears in the morning, but that was
impossible to resist now.
As he tried to
fight his way out of its honeyed coils, he saw Angel settle himself on the
couch, wrapping his long legs around Morag, and pulling her back towards
him. Some small part of Nick wanted to
rip her throat out.
Angel told him
to remove the drain and, as Nick fought the seduction of that voice, the
imperative to simply obey, he found enough coherence to ask, ‘But
how? What do you think you can do?’
A mental sock
drawer could never contain this. Even
the darkness of an entire closet would never be enough. Nick gazed into the face of the abyss, with
its amber eyes and its glittering fangs, and, in the words of the philosopher,
the abyss gazed into him.
And Nick found
that he was not afraid. He looked,
really looked, at the creatures in front of him, and remembered the rest
of the philosopher’s words.
He who fights with monsters might take care
lest he thereby become a monster.
wasn’t the case here. Perhaps it was
the other way round. Perhaps a monster
had decided to fight monsters, for who else could hope to understand a woman
turning into a weasel? Who else could
hope to remedy that?
Now that he
had come out of the other side of fear, into that calm space where anything is
possible, he saw the shocking beauty that was Angel’s monster, the perfection
of a predator. He wanted to know
more. To touch, to examine, to
understand the changed anatomy. To
Later. There was time for that later. Angel was waiting for him to do something now. Angel had shared something with them,
something kept secret and hidden, and Nick knew a thing or two about direful
secrets, about the need for evasion and lies and concealment. Knew about the consequences of
discovery. Oh, yes, indeed. But Angel had trusted them with this, for
That was not
the action of a monster.
And then Buffy
moved her hand, and the spell that had kept them all frozen in time was
shattered, in the blinking of an eye.
As he spoke
that single word, Angel allowed the demon to surface, and the syllable lisped
through the ragged, glittering fangs of the vampire. Secure in the knowledge that Buffy and Giles were at his back, he
looked at the people he’d come to call friends, waiting for the cries of
horror, the repudiation, the calls for his destruction. The taste of his expectation was as bitter
as bile in his mouth. Motionless, he
tested the air, to see what that could tell him, but he was temporarily
overwhelmed by the scent of musk from the woman in his lap, and the scent of
blood from the scarlet patch on the carpet.
And by the scent of love from the woman behind him.
absolute and utter silence, even from Morag.
Everyone in the room remained frozen in place, as long seconds ticked
by. And then Buffy put her hand on his
shoulder. That one small movement
seemed to break the spell of eternity, of paralysis, and Nick, with a shaky
sigh, turned the cannula on.
asked, his voice not quite steady, “could you help Angel hold her down, stop
no need of that,” Angel said, swallowing back the bitterness, hoping that the
other two could do what Nick had just done, at least until Morag was
saved. “She’s still human enough. There’ll be no struggling.” He didn’t want anyone else too close, not
now, not near enough to really see the perverted pleasure he would take
in this. And he most certainly didn’t
want to see the expressions of disgust and horror that must surely follow, when
they saw what went with this face.
Nick looked at
him steadily, his hand hovering over the tiny tap that would stop the flow of
whatever you’re going to do, get on with it, man! Get on with it!”
her hair aside and pressed his mouth against her neck. He was looking for the steady stream of the
jugular vein, chosen so that he could interrupt the flow of exhausted blood
returning from the brain to the heart before it was sent on its next journey
around the body. He would be able to
tell when the blood from her brain ran pure.
And he hoped that by using venous, exhausted blood, he wouldn’t get such
a taste for it.
He found the
almost silent thrum of the returning blood, and bit down, gently. The tender, virginal flesh parted for him,
seeming to give way in willing surrender, allowing him access as his sharp
fangs entered her, probing for their target. He hadn’t lost the knack. He could never lose it. His right incisor just nicked the vein,
giving a wound he could control. Saliva
filled his mouth, for even vampires have conditioned reflexes, and he felt the
hollow place in his belly where the hunger’s bite was as deep as his own. He’d been doing this for a hundred and fifty
years, after all, and that made for a lot of conditioning.
struggled a little, and whimpered at the sudden unaccustomed sting, but then
the thrall of the feed overcame her and she nestled back against him. Now, all his attention was turned to taking
out the blood at a steady pace, matching the incoming flow, listening to her
heartbeat, feeling for the pressure in her arteries, sampling the signs of
distress that would prompt him to change the pace.
thought that living on bagged blood must be like living on tinned food. What came in bags was just blood. What he swallowed now contained all the
excitement of life.
The taste of
her, even in this used-up blood, was hot and exhilarating, coating his tongue,
sliding thickly down his throat, rich and sensuous, the alien tang of the
mustelid heavy and musky, and it was all oh so delicious, as he lost himself in
through his shrunken veins, filling him with burning desires. The prey, unresisting in his arms, like all
those caught in the thrall of the feed, pressed back against him, silently
begging for the ultimate ecstasies, and his body responded. The demon, surging into the ascendant,
pressed itself upwards, grinding against her, even as he fenced it round with
images of blonde hair and tiny, wonderful hands. He thought he might have groaned.
filling his domesticated flesh, returning coveted potency to his tamed
muscles. No matter how strong he was on
his diet of dead animal blood, this vital lifeblood strode through his body,
bringing him back to his true self, restoring his full demonic vigour.
real and mythic power of the vampire, roaring through him, invigorating and
thrilling, every part of his body answering to its call. It was an intoxicating, addictive power, a
power that he kept caged and gentled, deep down, but never deep enough. Never forgotten. Always missed. Always
there, seductive, beckoning… The thrall
of the feed cut two ways.
A small part
of his mind, fighting to keep control, reminded him that this was a ‘v’ thing
that he could never share with Buffy, never explain, as Morag’s life slipped
down his throat, and he craved more, yearned to do this every day, to steal
life for himself, instead of subsisting on death.
Even now, he
managed to pace himself to her heartbeat and her blood pressure. It wasn’t hard. He’d done this before.
Not often, but it had amused him occasionally to see how long he could
keep feeding before his prey could no longer live. Of course, the equipment had been clumsier in those days of
rubber tubes and glass bottles… And it
hadn’t always been blood that he’d returned to the veins. Wine had been good. One redhead had gasped like a fish, the
liquid in her veins so thinned and diluted, as he’d enjoyed the long draughts
of claret-laden blood, and still she’d swooned in his arms, waiting, craving…
Buffy’s hand tighten on his shoulder.
professional, sweetie, or you’re a dead man.”
There was a
hushed beat, in which he silently blessed his lover and pulled together the
shreds of his self-control. The blood
was still hot and tangy, smooth on his tongue, feeding the darkness within him,
but now he kept in his mind’s eye the image that he longed for. Himself and Buffy, alive and in the
sun. The darkness gone. The blood, gone. Redemption and humanity.
And he was
Angel once more, in a demon face. Nick,
even in his fear and shock, had been able to call him a man. If he could, perhaps the others could,
too. That was what he strove to be to
them, and he must earn that trust and so he thrust everything else down into
the depths of his own private hell.
He heard the
pragmatic Giles say, “Someone had better clean up that spilled blood, before
anyone else gets infected… And close all the curtains, please.”
And then the
room seemed to come back to life again.
Out in the cold light of dawn, something screamed, a high-pitched sound
of anger and distress, coming from the direction of the Burn. But nothing came up the road to the cottage.
miles further south, on her way back to her den, dragging her early morning
prize of a half-grown moorhen chick from one of the local ponds, the mother
stoat suddenly stopped and scented the air.
What she had sensed wasn’t in the air, though. It was in her blood.
They were back, were they? Knowledge of them, bred in the blood
and passed down from mother to daughter, made her pick up the carcass and run
faster, to the safety of the den.
goodness it’s Sunday, Giles. Do they
have a lot of churchgoers up here?”
up and down the empty street.
we’re safe for an hour or two, Buffy.
I’m not aware of any early Kirk services.”
Scotland. Just get in and out as
quickly as you can.”
the bag over her shoulder and ran to the rear of the building. She’d have a harder time getting to the
skylight than Angel had had, but not that much harder. She hoped.
Inside, it was
much as he had described, and she found what she wanted quickly enough. She emptied the shelf of AB negative. Who knew how much it would take? She thought about moving some other blood
across to cover the deficiency, but didn’t like the thought of the
consequences, and so she left the accusing space on the shelf.
They were back
inside the hour. For a wonder, everyone
was still alive, and no one had succumbed to hysterics, although there were no
smiles or jokes. She had no doubt that
there would be some hard questions, but for now she simply blessed their
She gave her
bag to Lisa, who had taken charge of blood warming, and dropped a kiss onto
Angel’s prominent cheekbone. An amber
eye glanced her way. For now, she
refused to think about how this would affect him. There would be time for that, later. In the present, she had something to do.
down under the Bridge.”
frantically to her with one hand, and she heard a muffled ‘Buffy!’ She walked back to him and leant over.
considered polite to talk with your mouth full!”
She could have
sworn that Lisa smiled, although she didn’t think she’d said that loudly enough
to be overheard. He gestured again, and
she gave him a handful of tissues, which he pressed against the wound. Surprisingly little blood had escaped his
feeding, but his lips were ringed with scarlet, all the more incongruous as he
changed back to his beautiful human face.
Morag, languid in his embrace, for which Buffy was tempted to strangle
her, started to stir, reaching out for her lost enchantment.
tonight. Until I can come with
you. Please. They’re very fast.”
grip, so that his left arm held Morag steady, and his left hand held the
tissues against the wound, he reached down to his belt and pulled out the
knife. It was almost a short sword.
armed with these.”
She took the
knife from him.
“And now I’m
armed with one. I’m fast, too.”
might be as fast as me. It almost had
me, more than once. And their bite is
down at Morag.
“So might mine
be. I’m going.”
“Giles! Talk to her!”
He didn’t like
the whiney sound of that, but he wasn’t in much of a position to argue.
“Are they day
dwellers, or night dwellers?” Giles asked.
I think. But definitely more night than
day, I’d say.”
up. I’ll go with her, and drag her back
if we run into trouble.”
Angel yielded. He described what he’d
found, the window on another world, told Buffy about the fighting abilities of
the mustelids, and told them where to find the stashed body, so that they could
see what they faced. He hoped she would
He was very
wrong. So wrong that, as he sank back
to Morag’s wounded neck, Collins carried a bucket of hot water in from the
kitchen, to warm the blood bags, and said to Buffy, “I’m coming, too.”
around the room, from Buffy, from Giles and from Angel.
You three clearly live in a world that I don’t understand, a world that
I don’t even know about. And yet it’s
part of the world that I live in, too, in some strange way. Ours is a world worth protecting, which is
why I do what I do, and Nick does what he does.”
He looked over
at Lisa, who was calmly putting some of the chilled bags into the bucket.
“And there are
people worth protecting. So, do we have
any more weapons between us?”
The answer was
no, apart from Buffy’s supply of stakes.
Giles was adamant.
“No one goes
there without a weapon.”
not be deterred. He strode into the
kitchen, and came back with a large carving knife.
“A lot of
people have been murdered with these,” he said.
to be added to their number, are you, Ian?”
Lisa asked, sweetly. Her tone
sharpened. “All of you, use your common
sense, will you? Do you want Angel to
have to do this all again with each of you?”
Buffy, grimly. “And I don’t want him
doing this with walkers, hikers, unsuspecting tourists, and half the population
of Overtoun House, either. We deal with
careful.” Angel said no more, but worry
was written all over his face. Buffy
was touched to find that, as he brought out the demon, the worry could still be
seen. Apparently, it was evident to
after her, Angel.”
There was a
snort of amusement, but no one owned up to it.
after them, his voice savage with fear.
“Just don’t come back in the same state as Morag! Once a day is quite enough for me, thank you
so very much.”
Lisa laid a
hand on his arm, and they both looked down at Angel and Morag, a tableau of
deadly eroticism become something else through the thin red line that snaked
down into her arm, delivering life as Angel took it away.
yet?” Lisa asked.
It was a
couple of hours after sunrise, about 6.30, as they walked down towards the
Bridge in silence. The body of the
mustelid had given them pause for thought.
There was no one else about, except for Keith McKechnie and Flag,
positioned just out of sight of the cottage, guarding the road.
he asked them.
comfortable,” said Giles. “And she
hasn’t got any worse.”
looked down at the dog, and then back up at the three of them.
“I ken well
why ye wanted me awa’ fra the hoose. Ye
thought ye would hae tae murther her.”
closer to him.
her? No, Mr McKechnie. We’re about saving people, and not just when
it’s convenient. If this doesn’t work –
and I’m sure it will – we’ll keep looking for a way to return her to you. You have our word on that. We’ve faced worse.”
she saw tears glisten in the shepherd’s eyes, and she deliberately turned away,
so that he wouldn’t know that she had seen.
tae the Bridge?”
McKechnie. You need to take care of our
people in the cottage. Stay here, and
watch for anything that gets away from us.
Please. And Morag might need
He nodded, but
he was clearly torn. As they walked
away, he leaned over and spoke to the dog.
Flag got up, and hurried after them, her tail tucked between her legs.
the blood to flow more freely now that he had a real supply, and Angel
feasted. His every sense was alert to
Morag’s condition. For himself, he knew
that the blood was poisonous, as a drug addict knows that he faces life or
death with each fix. Every mouthful
coursed through him, trying to transform him.
He could feel the heat in his veins, the itch to be something
different, but his demon held firm. It
didn’t even break a sweat, because this particular magic was no match for
it. He hoped he’d be able to say the
same in another twelve or fourteen pints.
pint went in, and pint after pint came out, every drop feeding his
addiction. It was a virtuous circle for
her, and a deliciously vicious cycle for him.
And then, the taste started to change.
She was sweeter, with less musk.
Less of the mink. He clamped the
handful of bloody tissue back onto her neck, and took a look at her, swooning
in his lap.
The muzzle was
smaller, the teeth receding and flattening.
He looked up at Nick, forgetting for the moment his altered face and his
bloody mouth. Nick was concentrating on
his patient, and he was smiling.
Angel! It’s really working!”
He looked at
the vampire, then turned around.
Accepting the rebuff, Angel swallowed hard, and prepared to bite down
again. But Nick turned back. He was clutching a handful of clean tissues.
got a bit of a smudge… just here…”
He rubbed his
finger down his cheek towards the corner of his mouth.
“It must be
from when you were talking…”
diffidence, he handed over the tissue.
Angel scrubbed at his cheek.
Angel scrubbed at the other side.
better. How many more pints do you
get on, then. Um. Did anyone ever tell you you’ve got a
rarely blushed in vampire face but, with the hot blood coursing through his veins,
he did so now, as he bent towards Morag’s neck. He fervently hoped that Nick hadn’t seen, but he allowed himself
a tiny smile.
fresh pint of blood, the taste now changed, until at last all he could detect
was sweet humanity. He took a few more
deep, unnecessary draughts, to be sure, he told himself. To be absolutely sure. And because it was going to be a cold day in
Hell before this came his way again.
Then, he lifted his head. Nick
stood looking down at him. He could see
Lisa in the bedroom, feeding the hungry baby with a little warm milk from a
And Morag was
human. Absolutely and normally
human. He nodded at Nick.
off the cannula and walked away. He was
back in moments, carrying a wet towel, and young Bruce. The towel he tossed to Angel, who sank his
face into its cleansing folds. He
stayed like that, almost unwilling to show himself again.
lifted his face up, his vampire face.
Tentatively, Nick reached out and touched the demon, the ridges and
angles of bone, and the changed texture of the skin.
And then he
placed the sleepy baby down into its mother’s arms, where Bruce was content to
stay. Lisa stood in the doorway,
“Yes, I think
you’re right, Angel. It’s done.”
Nick held out
a hand, helping Angel up from his cramped position. His grip was strong and firm, but when Angel was on his feet,
Nick snatched his hand back, as though he’d been scalded. Somewhere, something howled. Pressing a dressing onto Morag’s torn neck,
Nick wondered whether that had been him.
But it hadn’t, of course.
They found the
window beneath the Bridge. Even from
their position on the banks of the Burn, beyond the Bridge itself, it looked
bigger than Angel had described. It
showed a sky that was a deep and lurid purple, thickly scattered with
stars. Three small moons sailed across
it, in close formation.
that Collins was holding up to this new world view remarkably well, and he
wondered, with a pang of conscience, how things were going up at the
cottage. Perhaps they should have
stayed with Angel…
And then there
was no time for reflection, as they saw movement in the shadows. Buffy hefted the knife in one hand and a
stake in the other. Collins and Giles
hefted stout tree branches that they’d picked up on the way, and Collins
reassured himself that the carving knife was still in his belt. Flag sat by Buffy and whined, her tail
Giles to the far side of the Bridge. In
that direction lay the cottage, and she reckoned that if they were going to
make a run for it, they would do so in that direction. Giles was more used to this than the
Collins to guard this side of the Bridge, and not to let anything out.
“Now just a
minute, Buffy…” Collins expostulated.
“You aren’t going under there…”
“Yes. I am.
Don’t get in my way, or I’ll take that tree branch off you and club you
skipped onto the stones of the starling and walked into the shadows. The purple of the sky in the window seemed
to be lightening. Dawn, then, over
there. Wherever there was. Crepuscular, Angel had said. On the way down, Giles, without being asked,
had explained that it meant twilight.
Dusk and dawn. Deer. Rabbits.
Ferrets. The ones on the other
side of the window would be getting active, now. Would they come over here, where it was full daylight? Or would she have to go to them?
She got the
answer as something reared up in front of her.
It walked on two legs, but it was elongated and much more slender than a
human could achieve. Its face had the
sharpness of a mink, fading into the softer lines of a human. Its hand, a hand with a fully opposable
thumb but also a fine pelt and definite claws, held a knife exactly like the
one she had.
When it came
at her, she saw that Angel was right.
These things were fast. And it
could move in a way that a human being simply couldn’t achieve, not even a
Slayer. It wove past her, and a burning
red line bloomed on her sleeve.
said, conversationally, looking down at her jacket. “Have you any idea how hard it was to get one of those in my
spoke back, a musical warble that might have come from a bird.
told it. “No instant translators.” And she delivered two hard kicks to the
chest, as she pressed herself hard against the stone of the Bridge. She’d prefer not to finish up in the water
flew backwards, writhing as it did so, and landed in the Burn. But it was upright, and ready for an
attack. Then it surged forward and was
on her. Mindful of the teeth, she
punched it hard, knocking the head backwards.
There was a cracking sound, and it fell limply at her feet.
There was no
respite, though, as another creature leaped from the window, straight onto the
starling. It didn’t attack her. It turned and charged straight for
Collins. Flag, crouched at the
policeman’s feet, barked and ran forward.
The creature hesitated, just long enough to allow Collins to swing his
impromptu club in a wide sweep that caught it in the elongated midriff.
It landed at
Buffy’s feet, and was up and on her before she could blink. With no thought, she swung the over-long
alien knife, and the head fell onto the starling and bounced, rolling into the
water. The body collapsed onto the
rocks, blood still pumping.
In the ensuing
silence, she turned to Giles. He was
fine. Untouched. Then she turned to Collins and Flag. The dog was crouched, ready to spring, her
tail wagging furiously. Collins stood
with his branch raised, a few green leaves still attached at one end. He looked shocked at what he’d done.
looked down at her second kill. The
blood had stopped spraying out from the neck, now, and the head had snagged
between a pair of rocks on the edge of the Burn. She picked the body up, surprisingly light for its size, and
tossed it into the window, and then did the same with the first one to
die. She leaned down to retrieve the
head, grasping it by one ear. As she
did so, she picked up something else from the water next to it. It was an oak twig, with a few leaves and a
small cluster of oak apples, broken from Collins’ branch.
said. “Beheaded kings in oak trees
always get their revenge.”
Giles called out, “the beheaded one was the one before.”
She tossed the
head through the window.
where I’m standing. Right, Giles, what
are we going to do about this window?”
Giles made his
way around to the other side of the Bridge, not trusting to the scant footing
of the starling. As he jogged down the
bank, Buffy joined the two men, hopping and skipping over the tumbled
rocks. She held up the knives, the one
that she had brought with her, and the two from her assailants.
set. One each. Want me to see whether I can get one for
you didn’t have to,” said the policeman, fervently. “And what are you going to do about that… that window?”
sky, almost a lilac colour now, was heavily streaked with red. Collins said he could see a giant red
sun. Buffy had to stand on tiptoe to
see it labouring over the horizon.
“Where is that
place?” Collins stood rapt, and Buffy
had to remind herself that this was all very new to him. She let Giles answer.
“No idea. An alternate Earth, maybe, where, the
mustelidae rule? I’ll do some research,
but if it’s not in any extant records…”
She knew that
he was thinking of the lost Watchers’ Council library.
like that window closed, Giles. I
definitely don’t want to have to go in there and take them all on. Angel’s right. They’re very fast.”
She tugged at
the bloody slash on her sleeve, to stop it sticking to the wound.
“And I need to
get this sorted.”
off his tie, and made to wrap it around her arm, as a tourniquet. She smiled at him, touched.
Ian. Keep your tie. It’s not much more than a scratch. If only Giles could rustle up a spell to
mend the jacket… Angel’s not going to
be happy, you know. It took him hours
of hunting round shops to find this, and you know how he loves shopping.”
smiled. “Ah, yes, part of your
Christmas box, as I recall. But Martha
says she’s found a woman in the next village who does invisible mending, and
it’s the closest thing she’s seen to magic.”
“Um. The window?” Collins asked, bringing them
back to what he thought was the most important topic just now.
don’t know. Shutting off these
dimensional rifts takes a lot of power, and we haven’t had that since…”
going to say ‘Ella’, but he didn’t. He
thought that perhaps Collins didn’t notice, although he knew that Buffy would.
rifts? There’s been more than one?”
them,” said Buffy, dismissively. “Maybe
we should ask the Queen?”
Queen?” Collins almost choked on the
question. “What the hell has the Queen
got to do with it? Don’t tell me that
you’re By Royal Appointment!”
her head, interested. “We could be
royally appointed? That would be a
change, instead of being royally screwed…”
out loud. “Not our Queen,
Ian. This is a very different one
there was a flurry of movement on the other side of the window. A gang – that was the only word that Giles
could come up with – a gang of armed warriors marched over the otherworldly
hillside. No, not marched. Flowed. Their sinuous bodies simply flowed over the landscape, heading
for the window.
being royally screwed…” he muttered.
out the knives.
“I’m going to
the window. Only one at a time can get
through. If they get by me, it’s up to
you two.” She looked down at the eager
Flag. “Three,” she amended.
lightly down onto the rocks, as the two men scrambled after her, more clumsy on
the treacherous footing. Flag stood on
the edge of the Burn, almost as though she had appointed herself the last line
gang stopped. She heard that warbling
speech again, frantic overtones clear even to her. And then the whole pack let out a frenzied, screaming howl, and
the window snapped shut.
back to Giles and Collins.
“Might that be
something to do with Morag?”
nodded. “I think it’s done, Buffy. Let’s go and find out.”
As they walked
back, it started to rain. Hard.
The six of
them had gathered around a table in the corner of the Lower Bar, on the paddle
steamer Waverley. Everywhere
else on this boat made for spectators had entirely too much glass. So far, they had the Bar to themselves. It had turned out that Keith McKechnie’s
nephew worked on the Waverley, and had access to tickets. Tickets had been provided, in
gratitude. Giles and Nick thought it a
fair trade for services rendered.
known quite how to get Angel on board, but the rain had pounded down, just as
it had on that first day, and so he had simply walked on in the shelter of a
large, black umbrella, like most of the other passengers. And then, miraculously, a few miles south of
the Clyde, the sky had cleared, and the sun had shone, and now they had the
Lower Bar to themselves as the other passengers occupied the upper levels to
see the sights.
Nick, leaning back against the polished wood, “a vampire, then? I thought that Bram Stoker invented those?”
Buffy made a
moue of distaste, which made Angel smile.
say he invented a lot of things, and that gave certain parties ideas above
their station,” he replied.
Nick took a
taste of his single malt whisky.
you’re not a… a… vampiress, then?”
choked on her latte. Angel answered for
her. He couldn’t keep a note of pride
out of voice, and he really didn’t try.
“No. She’s the Slayer.”
Three of the
company turned that around in their heads.
slayer?” asked Collins, anxious to confirm what he thought he’d heard.
“Not ‘a’. The.
The Slayer. The Vampire
Slayer. There’s only one. ‘Once in every generation’.” His brow furrowed, as he sought to be
truthful. “Well, apart from Faith, that
“Faith?” Now it was Lisa’s turn to wrinkle her brow.
“We picked up
an extra one along the way. That time
when Buffy died. And brought another Slayer into being.”
Nick turned to
Buffy put her
“Only once or
twice!” she said, indignantly. “Well,
scratched his ear.
“Let me get
this straight,” he said. “Angel’s a
vampire, and Buffy’s a Vampire Slayer? I bet that’s made for an interesting
absolutely no idea.”
“But you never
slayed him? Or only in the
knock-him-dead-with-look way?” A
silence followed Lisa’s teasing question, and it was Angel who broke it.
dead, too?” Nick asked, all too aware of something unsaid that he didn’t understand.
“I’m dead all
the time, Nick. But yeah, once or
twice. But who’s counting?”
Lisa looked at
“And you? What are you?” She smiled as she asked, but she nervously fingered the Rennie
Mackintosh necklace that Nick had bought her.
explained that he was just an ordinary human, the research end of the gig.
When he had
done that, he looked at their three friends.
“Are you all
alright with this?” he asked. “It’s a
lot to take in, and it’s not something you can ever share with other people.”
at Ian and at Nick, and then she smiled impishly.
“I think we
might say ‘Better the devil you know’…”
groaned, but their camaraderie was established.
As the boat
beat steadily southwards, large confidences were shared, although larger
secrets were held back. By the time
they arrived in Bristol, three people understood that there were more things in
Heaven and Earth than they had dreamed of.
They didn’t know the half of it.
The sun had
disappeared into the west by the time the boat docked, and it was Angel who
hefted the heavy bag in which was stowed, securely wrapped in black plastic,
the body of a being from another dimension.
He also carried the book bag.
And Buffy’s suitcase. And his
own more modest bag. Buffy had charge
of the knives.
drawing the mustelid in Giles’ journal.
That was what they had decided to call it. A mustelid. They’d found
no record of it anywhere, and once more, Giles bemoaned the loss of the
Watchers’ Council library.
“Is it a
demon?” Buffy asked.
“No. Maybe it’s parallel evolution. On their world, perhaps the mustelids
evolved to take the place occupied by humans here.”
up from the book he was ploughing through.
Phantasmagorical Beings Revealed in Dreams, by Lemuel
Sparks. Leave no stone unturned, that
was his motto, but this was just the ravings of a madman.
“Do you think
they helped that evolution along?” he asked.
human hybrid?” Buffy wrinkled her nose
at the thought.
asked, “you said that you saw Morag bitten by a mink, but it was different from
the others? It wasn’t one of these mustelids,
right,” Angel confirmed.
silently for a moment, before continuing his thought aloud.
“You know, I’m
wondering whether they’re a social species, like bees or wasps, or ants. Whether they have different castes, perhaps. Warriors.
Workers. Queens. Just a thought.”
they were looking for a new queen? A
queen to bring more human blood to their line?”
in the face of Angel’s question.
expect we’ll ever know.”
Among all the
rest, one thing definitely worried Buffy.
This was something close to home.
“Why… why did
it make you hungry? You never stopped
eating! And why did it make you want
It was Angel’s
turn to shrug.
was just coincidence, Buffy.” He girded
his ‘v’ loins. “Occasionally, I just
need something extra that I only get out of human blood. When that happens, I’m always hungry. Or maybe it was pheromones. If it was all about a new queen, maybe I
just picked up on something in the air.”
remembered the Grand Rut of a couple of years ago. It made sense.
“What if the
window opens again, Giles? I know Keith
is looking after it, and he’ll tell us if anything odd happens, but that might
be too late. There’s a whole world of
them over there.”
Buffy. We don’t even understand the
reason why it opened in the first place.
Did they deliberately open it, and then close it again when they lost
Morag? Is it really just a thin place
that opens at random? We’ve no idea.”
“I don’t like
at her. “We’ll go check it out from
time to time, if you like. It was nice
going out in the rain. You don’t get
rain like that very often.”
and then went back to chewing her lip.
Lisa and Nick and Ian? Are you… okay?”
“I think we
can rely on them.”
And he really
morning, a young rabbit was found on the doorstep of Summerdown House, cleanly
killed by a bite to the back of the neck.
It was fresh
and unmarked, and so Martha made it into a rather nice fricassee.
In the not so
small hours of the morning, Angel lay wakeful, holding Buffy loosely in his
arms. He watched over her sleeping
form, knowing that there would be no rest for him tonight. No healing sleep. The remembered taste of hot, living human blood was in his mouth,
and the sound of it was in his ears, sliding easily through his woman’s veins
to the gentle throb of her heart. If he
slept now, who knew what dreams would come?
It was nowhere
he hadn’t been before, he told himself, like a mantra. Nowhere he hadn’t been before. He leaned forward and kissed her temple,
gently so as not to wake her. Still
sleeping, she turned into the kiss, stretching out her neck for him. So pale.
hadn’t been before. Nowhere he hadn’t
miles further north, Belle led her small flock back to their favourite
grazing. There was no hint of danger,
All about her,
the golden-banded dragonflies hawked around, picking off the strange flying
things, as they always had. Not one of
the oddities escaped their attentions, as they patrolled that small place where
the fabric of the Universe had apparently dropped a stitch. There was good eating to be had here.
Holding & Allotments Act 1908 requires local councils to provide allotment
gardens where there is demand, and gives the council the power to compulsorily
purchase land for that purpose if necessary.
Unfortunately, the fall off in demand for allotments in the last two
decades meant that many fertile plots of land were sold off to developers. It’s an old story. However, there is a real increase in demand now, as people move
to a greener, more home-grown lifestyle.
Act 1922 defines 'allotment gardens' as 'an allotment not exceeding forty poles
in extent which is mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of
vegetables and fruit crops for consumption by himself or his family'. Most current allotments are 10 poles, but
Westbury is old-fashioned, and has kept 40 pole plots. And all for about £20 a year, even in the
real world. Amazing.
1 Rod/ pole /
perch = 5½ yards
40 sq poles =
4 roods = 1
Is it just the
mad Brits who have this arrangement of allotment gardens? Write and let me know.
2 Meals on Wheels
(Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) has a lot of services to help older people
stay independent at home. Meals on
Wheels is one of these. I have
shamelessly insulted the quality of their meals, and for that I apologise. But the story of the woman who always gave
hers to the dog is entirely real.
3 The Clog and Rhubarb
One of my
gardening students, aged about 85, told me of a cinema in Wakefield that she
used to frequent as a young woman. It
was the Clog and Rhubarb, and owned exactly as I have shown in the story. How could I resist? I’m just about 60 years too late. I don’t think we make clogs in Yorkshire
anymore, but Wakefield is still at the heart of the Rhubarb Triangle, the best
place in the world for growing rhubarb.
They have an annual festival for it.
Wakefield and Rhubarb
4 Terry Pratchett’s The Fifth Elephant
readers will know that I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. It’s quite clear from his books that Terry
Pratchett is a huge Angel fan. That’s
alright, then. Read The Fifth
5 Oak Apple Day
May. Customs are just as I’ve shown
them, except that, in this heathen day and age, no one seems to observe them
any more. Except in Westbury, of
6 Lord of The Manor
dates from mediaeval times, and is quite defunct, although a lot of people seem
to be able to con gullible foreigners and nouveaux riches into paying
money for a ‘vacant’ one.
Lord of the Manor
The Lord of
the Manor used to be able to exact taxes and fines from their peasants. Anyone trying that today would have their
tyres slashed. There are, however, some
real remaining elements. For example,
in some places, the holders of the title are still required to contribute
towards repair of the local church, or of roads. Caveat emptor.
7 The Waverley
sea-going paddle steamer in the world.
I’ve taken a bit of a liberty with the actual excursion, but the
Waverley does travel in all the areas I’ve used, and more.
8 Molecular gastronomy
latest thing. It includes such delights
as snail porridge. I rest my case.
9 Overtoun Bridge
This story is
based on a real place, and real events, and a real possible solution. There are many websites about it, and this
is just one. As for the proffered
solution for why dogs jump off the bridge, we all know, do we not, that in this
‘verse, things aren’t always as simple as they seem.
regular flights from Bristol to Glasgow.
I’ve just tinkered with the timings.
At the time of writing, the last flight appears to leave at 7.30pm. What use is that to a vampire, I ask you?
11 Brandy and Babycham
champagne perry, was the original girlie drink. Confession time. When I
was a teenager, I cut my alcoholic teeth on brandy and Babycham.
12 Library at Alexandria
Founded at the
beginning of the 3rd century BC, and once the largest library in the
Library at Alexandria
13 Glasgow weather
The west of
Scotland gets the full force of the Atlantic weather. That usually involves rain.
This first site gives an overview of Scottish weather, including the
fact that, on the west coast of Scotland, only 5 to 10% of days can be
classified as sunny. The rest are
overcast, or appallingly wet.
Here are some
facts and figures for Glasgow. None of
them mention the deep-fried Mars bar.
lies about half an hour north of Glasgow, at its southern end. There, those few miles from Glasgow, the
rainfall is 5 ft a year, rising to 12 ft a year at the northern end of the
loch. Now you know why to take wellies.
14 Overtoun Cottage
If there were
any justice in the world, this would be close to Overtoun Bridge. It’s actually about twenty miles south and
west, in Rabbie Burns country, but it was pretty, so this is the cottage that I
used where there isn’t one.
15 Scots words for Sassenachs
Dinna – don’t
Braw - brave
Ken - know
Burn - stream
Unco – strange and bad
Sassenach – from Saxon
Fou – stupidly, leglessly drunk
16 Overtoun House and The Angel Room
House, a 150 year old Scottish Baronial house is now run as a Christian Centre
of healing and hope. They do offer
B&B to tourists.
There is an
Angel Room, and at the time of writing, it was being used as the tea room,
during the restoration of the real Tea Room.
the walls of the House, at the time it was built, are the words ‘Fear God and
keep His commandments’.
17 Golden ringed dragonfly
It really exists,
and it really can take insects as large as a bee.
18 Mink + Mustelidae
is the family that contains stoats, weasels, ferrets, otters, martens, minks,
badgers, wolverines, etc.
Mink has made itself at home here.
19 Loch Lomond
One of the
most romantic of the lochs, and very beautiful when it isn’t very wet, Loch
Lomond marks the boundary between the Scottish Lowlands and the Highlands.
20 Mink Hunt
illegal to hunt mammals with dogs.
However, in Scotland, where laws are different, there seems to be a
provision to stalk and flush from cover using a dog. Whilst the prey ought to be shot when flushed, it isn’t an
offence if the dog kills it in the process of flushing. I’ve walked a fine line here, but I didn’t
want to introduce guns to PP. At
all. Not even for pest control.
Scottish Law on Hunting
The UK is free
22 Highland midges
Midge is a frightful thing. The females
need blood for each brood of eggs.
Strangely, the first blood meal comes from draining their own wing
muscles, but after that, they have to look elsewhere.
23 Blood banks
blood banks find it more useful to centrifuge almost all their blood down to
its component parts. That is no help at
all to a vampire, so I’ve allowed a little licence here.
24 Wind in the Willows
The much loved
book by Kenneth Grahame. Ratty, in Wind
in the Willows, is really a water vole.
Water voles have been almost exterminated in many parts of the UK by the
invasion of American mink.
The real wild wood of Wind in the Willows
25 Glasgow’s Museums
thirteen museums, some of them very good indeed.
26 Princes Square
has always been famous for shopping, but now there is Princes Square.
27 Charles Rennie Mackintosh
designer from Glasgow. He was an
architect, he designed furniture and fabrics, he painted and drew.
28 Glasgow Necropolis
unexpected place. One of these sites
actually mentions how appropriate this would be for Buffy. There’s a tourist walk through it.
Glasgow Necropolis 3
29 Paisley and Dr Who
and wonderful, Dr Who is David Tennant.
He comes from Paisley.
30 The Kilted Skirlie
This is really
a restaurant in Balloch. I’ve treated
it rather more generously than the reviews of its food have done.
31 Procurator fiscal
In Scotland, a
local coroner and public prosecutor.
32 Blood Groups in the UK
33 The philosopher
He who fights with monsters might take care
lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the
abyss gazes also into you.
34 By Royal Appointment
are handed out to suppliers of goods and services to the crown (Her Majesty The
Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales, HRH The Duke or Edinburgh and the late Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother).
Warrant holders are allowed to display the Royal Arms together with the
words ‘By Appointment’ on their stationery, buildings, vehicles, advertising