She sits on the headstone, claws flexing, wings furled, as she has for almost four centuries.
The people of Byre live in fear. A centuries-old evil that grows stronger with each human sacrifice threatens their village. If all goes according to her plan, the Village Witch will unleash almost four hundred years of resentment, hatred and homicidal rage on the town.
Tim Galton, an ex-special forces soldier, Professor Alexander Hall and his daughter Susan, paranormal investigators, and a few, brave villagers are all that stand in her way. Can they prevent the Village Witch from setting the evil free? Or will it destroy them and everyone else in Byre?
She sat on the headstone, claws flexing, wings furled, as she had sat for almost four centuries.
She felt the stirrings of her strength returning.
The priest screamed for his God as his eyes were gouged from their sockets.
Through burning agony, he heard the laughter of his torturers, the jeering, the mocking.
Barely conscious, he felt the cold sharpness of the knife at his throat. The searing pain of the blade slicing through flesh, muscle, windpipe. The heat of his blood pouring forth. The final, dark, smothering approach of death.
And at the very end he doubted his faith. Doubted a God that would allow a faithful servant, who had worshipped Him his whole adult life, to suffer in this way.
A shroud of icy rain fell across the village of Byre.
Death was here. It hung in the air, almost palpable. Tim Galton felt that if he closed his eyes, reached out his hand, he could touch it. Death. At least, the memory of death.
He hurried past the locked library doors and sheltered under the concrete overhang, a single wooden bench stretched along the wall, not quite out of reach of the weather. Ignoring the acrid stench that came from the adjacent public toilet, he huddled down into a relatively dry corner and smiled at his own misjudgement.
He should not have sent the taxi on ahead with his suitcases.
He’d had a sentimental, perhaps morbid, desire to encourage the memories that had returned with such force as he crossed the boundary into Devon. To remember his parents, to find nostalgia in the countryside of his youth. Now it was nearing midnight and he was still over a mile from his new home, sheltering from the rain alongside the most pungent lavatory he had ever encountered.
Twelve years he had been away. Twelve years of army life, of sweating and freezing in some of the world’s most inhospitable and dangerous places, of facing well-armed, well-trained and, at times, suicidal enemies, and the English weather had him running for cover.
He smiled, an easy, broad smile, in the dim light of the solitary lamppost at the road’s edge. The irony amused him as he rubbed his hands together for warmth and peered out at the dark sky, blinking as rain ran from his sodden, short black hair down his forehead. He stroked thoughtful fingers over his chin, feeling the unfamiliar bristles of the goatee he had cultivated on the journey home.
Give it another few minutes and I’ll start walking. To hell with the rain. I can only get wet.
A flash of lightning ripped through the overcast sky with a suddenness that made him flinch. The roll of thunder that followed some seconds later was distant. His smile returned.
It was all so unbearably Gothic.
He laughed, pulled his short-length cotton jacket closed across his chest and, hunching his shoulders against the rain, stepped out from the slight cover of the library.
“Come on Tim, almost there.”
He hardly heard his own words as they were dragged away from his lips by a sudden gust of wind.
Sheet lightning ran across the underside of the clouds, pulling his head up, his eyes away from the pavement, and a memory tumbled into his thoughts.
The field on his right in mid-summer, misty with insects, itchy with the heat, and his mother and father leading him across it. His mother, with a bag slung over her shoulder, heavy with sandwiches and drinks. His father, with his sunglasses and a sweater clutched in his hand. Always a sweater, however hot the day, because you never know what it’s going to be like later.
Thunder rumbled, pulling him back to the rain-sodden field of the present, boundary hedges nothing but faint silhouettes against a storm-heavy sky, and he was suddenly aware that the home he was now heading towards was not his real home at all. That building lay a mile or so on the other side of the village. Empty.
The Big House.
His father had been proud of the house handed down through generations of his family. Proud of the size, the aged splendour, the history. His mother was usually less complimentary. He remembered arguments: his mother shouting about not being able to afford the maintenance, his father insisting the house was part of his family, his history. He would never move, he said. The work needing to be done must be done however much it cost. The arguments had become more frequent as the house and its occupants grew older. Not that Tim minded the age of the house, or noticed the wood-rot, the damaged plaster, the rising damp. The size of the house made it an imaginative child’s dream, a huge maze of corridors and rooms to populate with imaginary friends and enemies. Mostly he was too young to see or understand the problems, but he hated the arguments.
They had been arguing in the car moments before the crash, so eyewitnesses said.
Tim had been in his final year of Grammar school. They pulled him out of Geography to give him the news.
Another flash of lightning illuminated the signpost in front of him and he was not sorry to leave the memories behind.
It had been too good a bargain to pass up. An old Wesleyan chapel, deserted in his childhood, now converted into a home and available to rent. Once, he and his friends had dared each other to look in through the old, black-leaded windows at night, their imaginations filled to overflowing with tales of ghosts and monsters. Any deserted old building in a small village like Byre would attract such stories, but add that it was once a chapel and it became a paradise of adolescent fear and bravado. Now it would be his home.
Dripping with rain and shivering with cold he hurried down the narrow road.
Across the street from the library, a curtain shivered with the presence of a hand then dropped.
Katrina Bayley knew everyone in the village well enough to recognise them, even in the dark and even at such a distance. The man sheltering from the rain was a stranger, although there had been something tantalisingly familiar in his gait and presence.
Katrina turned from the window, a smile lifting one corner of her lips.
“No Mark, no trouble. Just a stranger across the way.”
Mark Bullough shuffled nervously on his feet in the centre of the dark living room, the lamp on the telephone table casting his shadow over the armchair he had been sitting in moments before.
“We don’t need a stranger screwing things up now, not when we’re so close.”
Katrina closed her eyes, counselling herself to remain calm and patient. Mark was almost ten years her senior but, at times, she had to treat him like a frightened child.
“No one is going to screw it up Mark. It was just a stranger taking shelter from the rain before carrying on out of the village.”
“The way you hurried to the window I thought…” He let the sentence trail off.
For a moment, Katrina said nothing. It amused her that, after all these years as her follower, Mark still did not like talking of her abilities, her power. She knew he loved her, was devoted to her, but he was still afraid of her. She liked that.
“I knew there was someone out there, that’s all. I was curious.” She forced a patient smile. “Just a stranger. Nothing to be concerned about.”
I sensed something familiar.
Mark sat back down, his movements slow, uncertain, perched on the edge of the leather armchair. He was always uneasy.
Katrina turned away in case her expression revealed her thoughts, good as she was at masking them. How much longer could she put up with Mark’s doubts and fears? There had to come a point when the liability outweighed the usefulness.
To calm herself and lift her spirits, she stepped towards the far corner of the room where the lamplight barely reached the deep shadows.
There, slumped like a broken, discarded rag doll, sat a bruised and bloodied body. Fresh blood dripped from the gash in its throat. Black gouged eye sockets looked back at her, sending shivers of excitement through her stomach and between her legs.
Her eyes focussed on the blood stained priest’s collar lying at the foot of the corpse and she felt satisfied.
Aello would be pleased.