Katalepsis

by

Hungry

no nook of english ground - 5.1

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We’d been southbound on the M1 for about an hour when I nodded off in the back of Raine’s car.

She let me sleep until we stopped at a service station on the outskirts of Leicester. Evelyn got out to stretch her muscles in the early December cold and glare at the world; climbing in and out of the car wasn’t the easiest thing for her. We all bought terrible petrol station sandwiches and a huge bag of cheese and onion crisps to share. Praem stayed in her seat with her hands folded in her lap, though when we squeezed back into Raine’s beaten up old car and pulled back onto the road, the doll-demon turned her head to stare at the passing farmland and skeletal winter trees.

There wasn’t much else to see on the motorway, the endless asphalt ribbon carrying us out of the North. I wondered if Praem saw what I did, the pneuma-somatic spirit life infesting every nook and cranny, tentacled masses of flesh dragging themselves along underneath the concrete overpasses, leering wolf-things loping down the hard shoulder, towering giants cresting the horizon between the towns and villages. At one point a moth as big as a bear alighted on the roof of the car in front of us. It watched the sky for a second, antenna twitching, then took off again in a blur of wings.

“Look at that lad, that is a hell of a car. Wonder how much all those mods cost him. Absolute beast. Hey, there’s a slogan etched on the back window, what does that say? Heather, you’ve got the best eyes here, can you read that from back there?”

“ … ‘The Piewagon’, it says.”

Raine burst out laughing. She slapped the steering wheel.

She’d kept up a heroic one-woman effort at conversation while she drove, and I did my best to help, but Evelyn brooded in dark silence. She’d spoken less than a dozen words all day.

At first it had all seemed an adventure, as we’d taken the winding route out of Sharrowford’s warren of streets that morning, and the grey rotting city had receded in the rear view mirror when we hit the motorway. This was the kind of adventure that university students were meant to have, a road trip in a rickety but reliable old car, a few changes of clothes in the boot, and the company of real friends. Stiff legs from sitting too long, cold hands tucked up into my sleeves, on a journey together that was neither dangerous nor suicidal. Normal. Explicable. Safe.

I didn’t understand the first thing about cars, but even I could tell that 270,000 miles on the clock was rather high, even for what Raine had affectionately called an ‘old banger’. But her driving made me feel perfectly safe. She was defensive, deliberate, decisive. If Raine said it was safe, it was safe.

Safe, yes. Raine was making me feel a lot of that, this last week.

And not much else.

I tried not to think about what that might mean.

Long car journeys were all bad childhood memories for me. Trips to or from the mental hospital, rocking and crying to myself at the things I’d seen following the car. Between hallucinations and blackouts my parents had quite understandably vetoed me learning to drive. My father had driven me up to Sharrowford at the beginning of fresher’s week in August, the start of term, and spent a whole day checking out the university with me, making sure I was settled in, that I wasn’t on the verge of a relapse. Cars were just another extension of the medicalisation of my life.

Except this trip. This was a road trip with my smoking hot girlfriend, our rich best friend with a family home in the country, and a demon possessing a dubious internet-bought sex doll.

At least, that’s what I reminded myself, while the car filled with the tension of Evelyn’s black mood and my inexpressible sexual frustration.


==


Evelyn had stewed in her foul temper for days, ever since Raine and I had returned from the unexpected confrontation with Amy Stack.

“You did say you’d think about it,” Raine had said to her, lounging in a chair by the kitchen table. “And we both know you need some real down time, as much as Heather does. You’ve been running yourself ragged for weeks now, and yeah, guilty as charged, I’m sort of responsible for letting you do that. Heather won’t let me live it down if I don’t stage an intervention sooner or later.” She glanced over at me with a grin. “Right? I promise, one hundred percent I won’t hold it against you if you disagree. Don’t you think we all need five minutes out? We should get out of the city, just for a few days.”

“I … ” I was lingering by the doorway, caught between the desire to support my girlfriend and an urge to flee the threatening storm clouds on Evelyn’s face. I was still frazzled after the ambush in the library, my mind still on Stack and Alexander, on giant zombies and my missing friend, my Lozzie.

Hadn’t quite adjusted yet to the implications of visiting Evelyn’s family home down in Sussex.

Evelyn glared from behind a thin barricade of dirty mugs. I believe she was dreaming up ways to murder Raine. Hunched down in her seat, glowering silently, she reminded me of a crocodile lurking beneath the water.

“I’m not so sure,” I said eventually, tried to put some steel into my voice. “What if Lozzie tries to contact me, or comes to visit? She won’t know where I am.”

Raine paused and nodded. She took me seriously, but Evelyn rolled her eyes in a moment of incredulity, one that would needle me for days before I admitted it.

“She can find you in dreams, can’t she?” Raine asked.

“I guess she can … ”

She hadn’t so far. Not so much as a peep.

“We could leave a letter for her as well, right here,” Raine patted the tabletop, then caught Evelyn’s glare again. “Loosen your grip for five minutes, Evee, I’m serious. Come on, we won.”

“We had won,” Evelyn corrected with a snap. “Until you two were accosted by an assassin in the bloody library.”

“Hey, she’s only an assassin when she’s doing the assassinating. Today she was a messenger. A crap one at that.”

“From another mage, in my city.”

“Apparently not in the city, like I said,” Raine spread her hands and smiled. “That’s good news, right?”

“You never cease to amaze me. Your stupidity is matched only by your credulousness.”

Raine shook her head and laughed without humour.

I risked Evelyn’s ire by clearing my throat, forced myself to speak when she turned that glare my way. She seemed equally as irritated, no special softening for me. “I think I agree with what Raine said earlier.”

“My condolences to your brain cells,” she grunted.

Evelyn.” I put some gentle scold into my voice

She looked down at her lap with a long suffering sigh. “My leg hurts,” she muttered, scooted her chair back, pulled up her skirt to the middle of her thigh, and set about removing her prosthetic leg in full view. I blinked, taken aback for a moment, unsure if this was a passive aggressive gesture or if she really was in pain.

“Evee, hey,” Raine said, leaning forward, apparently unperturbed by the sight of Evelyn rolling the rubber socket down her thigh, and wiggling her stump out of the black prosthetic knee. “I know why you don’t want to go visit home, and-”

“Do you?” Evelyn snapped without looking up. “Do you really?”

“You two need to stop. Both of you,” I said. “Maybe we can all take a step back and … ” But Raine raised a finger toward me and I trailed off.

She stared at Evelyn. I shut my mouth, frowning and fuming in silent protest - what was Raine pushing for here? The silence stretched out as Evelyn massaged the muscles in her truncated thigh. I thought of a dozen excuses to leave the room. An explosion was brewing.

Eventually, Evelyn glanced sidelong at Raine.

“Yeah, I think I do know why,” Raine said very softly.

“Oh yes,” Evelyn snapped back. “Because my father is just going to love seeing you at the house, isn’t he?”

“S’not about me,” Raine said, just as softly. How she kept her cool in front of that razor tongue, I don’t know.

Evelyn glared for a moment longer, then she finally broke, a hard swallow making her throat bob.

“Hey, it’ll be fine, I promise,” Raine said, that beaming smile slowly breaking across her face. It didn’t seem to work on Evelyn. “We scoured that house from top to bottom, you know it’s probably the safest place in the whole country-”

“Safety there is not the issue,” Evelyn growled.

“And Heather and I are gonna be with you the entire time,” Raine continued. “It’s not like you’ll be by yourself, I’d never make you do that, I’d never even suggest it. I wouldn’t let you even if you wanted to. All three of us, together. Take Praem too, for insurance, or if you need a bed-warmer. It’ll be fun, and we don’t have to linger there for long. We can swing by Heather’s parents’ afterward - hey,” she turned to me with a big smile. “I gotta meet your mum and dad sooner or later, haven’t I?”

“Oh.” The bottom dropped out of my stomach. That was far worse than Evelyn’s glare. “Um, I suppose you should. You should.”

“The answer is still no,” Evelyn said.

“And we need to show Heather the map,” Raine said, as if it was an afterthought.

“Ah. The - the map,” I echoed. “I’d forgotten.”

“Evee’s map of the universe. Gonna have to do it eventually, so we may as well kill two birds with one stone. We can peep the map and then chill out, do whatever we want. We don’t even have to stay there more than one night. I promise.”

Evelyn let out a heavy sigh, mood sinking rapidly. “Is that what this is really about? The map? You two go if you must. I’ll call ahead and tell my father you’re coming, he can show you the blasted thing himself.” She shot a dark look at me. “You’ll come running straight back to Sharrowford, trust me. Won’t even make it through the front door.”

Raine laughed. “Evee, Evelyn, I love you, and there’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here alone.”

“Then I’ll invite Twil to stay for a week. How’s that, hmm? Does that satisfy you?” Evelyn snapped. “Will you allow me to drop out of your absurd trip then?”

“Twil’s got school, Evee.”

Evelyn waved a dismissive hand. “I am not leaving Sharrowford when there’s still these vermin infesting my city.”

“We’ll only be gone a few days,” Raine said. “Your spiders have got this house on lockdown, nobody’s getting in here uninvited short of a driving a tank through the front door. You know that, come on Evee. Stop deflecting.”

“Alright!” Evelyn exploded in Raine’s face. I flinched and could have sworn I jumped six inches back. “I do. Not. Want. To. Go. Alright?” She punctuated each word with a jab of her fingertip against the tabletop. “Is that what you wanted to hear? I don’t want to. God. You got me out of there, why make me go back again? I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

Raine adopted an expression I remembered all too well, one I associated with the most emotionally comforting moments of my short life, that unconditional compassion and penetrating understanding, the look she’d used with me in that dirty Sharrowford cafe on a cold and lonely morning. The look that had won me.

If I’d known what she was about to say to Evelyn, I would have hidden behind the door.

“Maybe visiting the grave will help,” she said.

Evelyn’s glare sunk into frozen darkness. For a moment I thought she was about to hurl her prosthetic leg at Raine. I opened my mouth and did my best to save them both, the only way I knew how.

“Evee,” I said her name as confidently as I could. “Don’t listen to Raine, she’s bullying you and I don’t understand why. You don’t have to come. Twil can keep you company.”

“Heather, I’m not bullying her,” Raine laughed it off. “She-”

Raine,” I scolded.

Evelyn turned that abyssal glare on me. Oh dear, I thought, that was not what she needed to hear. I’ve completely misread her and I’m a terrible friend. Her mouth snapped open to bite my head off and I stiffened, ready to take the abuse, let her shout at me - but she stalled at the last moment, trailed off, left it all unsaid.

She seemed to shrink, retreat down inside herself. She covered the stump of her leg with her skirt and stared at the cold mugs on the kitchen table.

“Of course I have to bloody well come. You’ll fry your brain without me,” she muttered.


==


The vibration of my mobile phone woke me up again, just as we were turning off the M25 to take the long dual carriageway down into Sussex, as the London greenbelt sped past under the fitful clouds of the afternoon sky.

I blinked at my phone screen and rubbed my eyes, then started as a follow-up message made it buzz in my hand. I clicked the phone onto silent with an embarrassed glance at my friends in the front seats.

“Why not give her a call right now?” Raine asked, without taking her eyes off the road. “You could pass the phone forward, I’ll say hi.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. She didn’t even need to ask who it was from. “You’d say a lot more than just ‘hi’. I’d die of embarrassment.”

“No way, I’ll be on my best behaviour! I could introduce myself, we’ll get all the awkward stuff out of the way on the phone. By the time I actually meet your parents they’ll be totally adjusted to the idea. I’m serious, call them back.”

“I see that grin. I know what that means.”

Raine took one hand off the steering wheel and mimed speaking into a phone. I rolled my eyes as she put on her best good-girl voice.

“Good afternoon Mrs Morell, it’s lovely to meet you. I’m Raine, yes. Your daughter calls me mommy too.”

Raine!”

I blushed terribly and wanted to thump the back of her seat. Raine laughed out loud, but the mirth didn’t last, drained away by the tension in the car. Evelyn didn’t tell us to knock it off, she didn’t even snort with derision or tut under her breath. She just ignored us, staring at the road.

Deep down I knew Raine was trying to help. My stomach churned again when I reread the text messages from my mother.

‘Let me know when you get there, dear, and send me the address,’ the first message said. The second continued: ‘I do wish you’d have told me about these friends earlier. You know how you can get.’

I closed my eyes and resisted the urge to rub the bridge of my nose. Thinking about Raine meeting my parents felt almost as bad as hyperdimensional mathematics.

Two and a half weeks ago I killed an invincible wizard with the power of my mind, and now I was scared of telling my parents I was gay.

“Who cares what your mother thinks?” Evelyn grumbled from the front passenger seat. “She can like it or she can keep it to herself. If your parents won’t accept their own daughter they can … ” She trailed off and muttered something under her breath. I think it was ‘go fuck themselves’.

That was the most Evelyn had spoken all day. Raine glanced over in obvious surprise. “Hear hear,” she added.

I braced for a follow up, but Evelyn folded her arms and slipped back into silence.

“I don’t think they’ll have a problem,” I muttered. “It’s just … ”

All very well in principle, but what exactly was I supposed to say to my parents? That I was a lesbian? Okay. That I’d known I like girls since I was eleven years old? So far so good, sure. But that confession was far less daunting than presenting them with Raine. Here’s my girlfriend, and yes, you may indeed notice she’s obviously and vastly out of my league, and I still don’t comprehend what she sees in me, except that having a person to protect appears to press all her buttons. Why yes, I’m regularly overwhelmed like I’m standing next to a raging inferno of pure sexuality.

Oh, that gleam in her eye? Please ignore that she’s probably a psychopath, and occasionally kills people for me. Why yes, I have watched her shoot a man in the head, how did you guess? In fact, in my most private moments I get turned on by the memory of how she moved when she’s beating monsters to death. But we haven’t had sex in nearly two weeks because suddenly she’s handling me like I’m made of spun glass and won’t-

My own thoughts juddered to a halt. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the trees and fields passing by outside the car.

Won’t what? What did I want from Raine?

Did I want her to be Lozzie?

No, no it wasn’t that. I didn’t want Lozzie. I wanted Raine, oh yes, I knew that much, that was easy. Raine was treating me exactly like a responsible person should treat a trauma victim, so why did I feel this way? I couldn’t put it into words.

I thought I felt Raine’s eyes on me - my guilty conscience - but when I glanced up at the rear-view mirror she was concentrating on the road, still being a sensible driver, doing what we all needed. I sighed inside. I didn’t deserve her.

Then I flinched.

Praem was the one I’d felt staring.

The demon-doll was staring down at my phone, reading the message from my mother. Could Praem read? I’d never thought to ask. The phone screen chose that moment to fade to black. Praem tilted her gaze to meet my eyes, wordless and without expression, then turned her head away to watch the landscape roll past.

I didn’t find Praem creepy or off-putting, not in the slightest, though I knew I should have. I’d volunteered to sit in the back with her, to give Evelyn more legroom up front. I hardly needed the extra space, I was scrawny enough. I still felt a deep gratitude toward the taciturn demon, for when she’d turned up in time to thwart the cult’s attempted kidnapping.

Her inexplicable changes had made it progressively more difficult to keep in mind that she was not a human being.

Ever since we returned from the Sharrowford Cult’s pocket dimension, Praem had been changing colour, like a ripening fruit. Evelyn had repaired her wounds with epoxy and wood filler, and Praem’s exterior tactile glamour had fully reasserted itself - but her skin had continued to shift toward fresh healthy pink, her otherworldly blue now a mere underlying pallor. The icebound shade of her hair had lightened into a cold blonde.

Evelyn had spent an evening or two locked away in the ex-drawing room with Praem, trying to bring her to heel or bind her with stronger magic, but it obviously hadn’t worked, and Evelyn wasn’t talking about it now. The little human-like tics and gestures had only increased in frequency.

Was Praem modelling herself on Evelyn? Aesthetic osmosis?

I chewed on the idea for a while, glad for the distraction, and wondered if Praem was capable of selecting her own clothes. She was dressed for the trip in a turtleneck jumper - which left little to the imagination, she was too busty for it and I did sneak a guilty glance - one of Evelyn’s skirts, and some big boots. Her hair was pinned up in a loose bun to keep it out of the way, Evelyn’s only concession to humanising her.

Praem must have sensed me staring, because she turned to look at me again with those blank milk-white eyes. Even without pupil or iris I could somehow tell she was looking right at me.

I smiled at her.

“Yes?” she intoned, voice like the resonance of a gently struck icicle.

“What was that?” Evelyn snapped, twisting in her seat to frown at the demon.

“She speaks!” Raine laughed. “How you doing back there, Praem?”

“Doing,” Praem echoed.

“Sorry,” I said. “It was nothing. I only smiled at her.”

“Then don’t,” Evelyn tutted. “And you keep your mouth shut,” she added to Praem.


==


“Almost there, aren’t we? I don’t remember this junction.” Raine squinted through the car’s windscreen, at the lichen covered road sign by the village crossroads. “Left at the green, then we take the road out toward Little Ropley? S’that right, Evee?”

“Mm.”

“Hear that, Heather?” Raine said over her shoulder. “We’re almost there. You awake?”

“Quite awake, yes.”

No more sleeping for me, I was all napped out. Besides, after we left the main roads the landscape had become too enthralling to miss.

We’d wound through tiny little villages and clusters of houses clinging to the base of the downs, the ridge of hills which dominated the skyline, and then plunged into the deeply wooded parts of the county.

On a map the woods didn’t seem like much, not a real forest. They broke and crested, thinned out and reformed around towns and villages, or opened out entirely into the fields between, strung along ridge tops or huddled in dark copses. One was never really that far away from civilisation anywhere in England, especially in the South, but as tall trees crowded the road they penned the sky into a ribbon of dying light overhead; I could entertain the illusion of being deep in some mythical uberwald full of werewolves and fairies.

Of course, I knew the real werewolves shopped for video games in Sharrowford town centre.

Perhaps Raine had been correct, this was exactly the sort of decompression time I needed, to take my mind off Lozzie, off killing Alexander, off everything. But I felt guilty for enjoying the woods, the soft blanket of lowering dusk between the trees, the strange hidden places one might find in the undergrowth.

Evelyn was so obviously dreading our arrival. I could hear the tight hitch in her breathing, feel the discomfort radiating from the seat in front of me as she brooded. We turned off down a country lane between high banks of packed earth, and I leaned forward.

“Evee,” I said, softly. “We’re both here for you. You’re not alone, okay?”

A moment of silence. She shifted in her seat.

“You are not in my good graces right now,” she hissed.

“ … me?” I began to say.

Then the trees broke like a wave. The Saye estate loomed out of the gathering gloom, and took away all my words.

Weeks ago, Raine had described it as a ‘great big old farmhouse’, and I’d taken that description to heart. My subconscious had summoned images of thatched roofs and twee little windows, smoke rising from a chimney, set amid neat fields and picturesque hedgerows. Somehow I hadn’t internalised the darker implications - that as a teenager Raine had climbed a wall to get inside, that Evelyn had spent years imprisoned here, that this had been a fortress and magical atelier for more than one generation of her family, that it had once brimmed with monsters, and worse.

It was part mansion, part restored farmhouse, part rich man’s folly in the cleared woodland; vast expanses of discoloured pale brick between black oak beams the width of whole trees, topped with water-stained slate roofing. Two sprawling stories, plus cramped attic space, of double-winged structure like a hunched toad, pockmarked with tiny staring windows, much of the glass set in ornamental metal latticework.

“You are joking,” I murmured.

“Wheey, told you it was impressive,” Raine said, as she turned the car onto the sweeping driveway of poured tarmac.

The house itself was set far back from the road, and the driveway crept through an opening in a wall of irregular bare stone, probably once meant to look fashionable, now crowded by creeping weeds and draped with overhanging trees from the encroaching woods, the mortar crumbling away in wide patches. Black iron hinges stood bare, the gate itself long since removed.

Outbuildings crept into view as we approached, a squat garage with three automatic doors, a couple of tucked away sheds in once-tasteful stained wood, probably filled with groundsman’s tools and gardening equipment, and a dilapidated structure off to one side which had once been a stable, now abandoned to the elements.

A beefy silver four by four was parked by the house, the only other vehicle present.

Wide lawns and a sketched attempt at a garden stretched off behind the house, falling toward a dark expanse of still water barely visible in the failing light, and a dense tree line at the edge of the property.

Even in the falling dusk it was obvious the gardens weren’t really maintained anymore. Somebody had made a paltry attempt at fighting back the overgrowth, but roused little beauty from the threadbare lawns and thick moss.

Old stones, old money, old secrets. On an intellectual level I’d always known that Evelyn came from wealth. She lived in a family-owned house while she attended university - but she lived like the rest of us. She loved her much repaired comfortable clothes, watched Japanese cartoons on her beaten up old laptop, never turned her nose up or acted too good for anything. The most expensive thing she owned was her own leg.

Raine pulled the car to a stop in the semi-circle of tarmac in front of the house. She killed the engine and turned to grin at me.

“Amazing, isn’t it? No wonder I wanted to burglarise the place.”

I stared up at the looming bulk of the house, only the very top of the roof still lit by the setting sun.

“Heather? Told you you’d love it, didn’t I?”

I nodded, a little numb. “It is … impressive. Sort of beautiful. The architecture, I mean.”

Of course, they couldn’t see what I saw.

The place was crawling with spirits - or Servitors, left behind by Evelyn’s mother and grandmother.

Dark hunched things with spindly grasping claws and shuddering leathery wings dotted the roof and walls of the estate, sunning themselves in the dying light or retreating into the shadows like sleepy lizards. Scuttering shapes darted and cavorted beyond the tree line, imitations of woodland animals, half-glimpsed hide and bristly hair peeking out of the darkness and then hiding again as I peered back. Something like a squid made of bark and stone sprawled inside the ruined stable building, blinking six huge eyes with incredible slowness, drifting tentacles through the air as if becoming more plant than animal.

Raine popped her door and climbed out, stretched her arms, rolled her shoulders, and took a deep breath. The chill air crept into the car, but that wasn’t why I shivered.

“Let’s get in then. That your dad’s car, right?” she asked Evelyn, thumbing toward the big silver four by four.

“I assume,” Evelyn grunted.

Getting myself out of the car wasn’t as difficult as it might have sounded; at least none of this pneuma-somatic life was paying me any attention. And I wanted a better look at the monstrosity crouched over the house’s main entranceway, guarding the steps up to the front door.

It was a spider-servitor, kin to the one outside Evelyn secret occult collection in Sharrowford University library. That one had been bad enough, big as a horse, an encounter I would never forget.

This spider was the size of a fire engine.

It was also visibly much older. The armoured black body was mottled and greyed in places, flaking and ridged like the rusting hull of a great ship. Two of its legs - thick as trees - ended in ragged stumps, and the servitor’s carapace was covered in pits and gouges, old battle scars. The bio-mechanical vent stacks on its back lay cold, emitting no whisper of heat, and the giant stingers were wrapped around itself in the way a tried, aged cat might tuck its body into the crook of its tail.

Many of the spider-servitor’s crystalline eyes were dark and extinguished, but I felt a vast cold attention, felt the servitor stare back at me as I looked.

The passing scrutiny of an old hound. Though it was completely, perfectly still, I somehow felt it lose interest in us and settle back into its borderline coma.

This old creature, to borrow a phrase from Raine, had no more fucks to give.

“Didn’t you call ahead?” Raine was saying. “Your dad is home, right? We’re not blundering into the place when only his weekly cleaning lady is here or something, right?”

Evelyn straightened up as she clambered out of the car, steadying herself on her walking stick and massaging her leg with one hand. She shot Raine a silent glare.

“Hey, I’m serious,” said Raine. “We don’t wanna freak out some poor maid.”

“I haven’t been back here in almost two years,” Evelyn snapped. “How would I know? If he has a maid he’s probably screwing her.” She frowned at Praem through the car window. “Get out.”

At least the house was lit - well, some of it. A handful of the windows in the middle portion and the right wing glowed with soft light from behind closed curtains, and a porch light glowed above the main entrance, only a little obscured behind the bulk of the giant spider-servitor clinging to the front of the house. The old tarmac beneath my feet was crumbling and cracked, but in other places it had been patched recently.

Something sleek and small slipped around the edge of the house, then stopped and stared at us. For a moment I thought it was another spirit, but then I recognised that wonderfully curious vulpine face. It was a fox - a countryside fox, well fed on woodland prey, bold as it stared me down. I smiled to see the thing, then felt my smile die as the fox bounded away, replaced by one of the hunched servitor things as it crawled down the side of the house.

I shivered in the cold air and slipped my hands deeper into my sleeves.

As Praem got out of the car and Raine busied herself hauling our few bags out of the boot, Evelyn eyed me with a sidelong look. She didn’t need to say a word, she knew what I must be seeing.

“Maybe … maybe it’ll look better in the daylight,” I said.

Evelyn snorted.

“What? What’s wrong?” Raine asked, peering around the open car boot.

I shook my head. “It’s no worse than Sharrowford. At least everything here seems … quiet.”

“Hey, anything gives you trouble, I’ll swing for ‘em.” Raine said, then turned with a grin and talked to the empty air, to the spirit life beyond. “Hear me, fuckers? Don’t mess with my girl.”

I managed a token laugh and a little roll of my eyes, but Evelyn didn’t see the humour. She was staring at the house, and I’d never seen her look so small and hunched, so grim-faced, so unapproachable.

I started to realise what we might be doing to Evelyn by dragging her here.

“Evee, I’m- I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she grunted.

Then the front door opened, spilling light across the steps, and a giant strode out to greet us.

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