I am the Lincolnshire beast. I am. Its heart beats within me, now its blood has mixed with my own and runs through my veins also. My veins and my blood do not end with me either – like roots of a tree they push down deeply into the rich earth. I know that Lincolnshire is alive; there is a heartbeat in the soil.
“So go out then,” he tells me. “When it is dark. First of all you must find dead animals. From the roadside.”
His voice is like static. When I close my eyes I imagine an old TV without a signal and its chaos of black and white squares constantly shifting. That is what his voice sounds like. Male. Like a stone, the coldness of a stone, made smooth by water. There is no accent, no burs or rough edges. Just a voice that speaks to me.
“Dead animals?” I suppose there is doubt in my voice.
“At the roadside,” he confirms and then he is making me repeat a phrase, like a song lifted from somewhere. There is a melody but the kind that you forget straightaway.
Rabbits run and foxes hunt and crows peck
at soft flesh fluttering on a dead bird’s breast.
“Now repeat again. And again.”
“Rabbits run and foxes hunt and…”
“Find dead animals,” he says talking over me. “Cut them up. Open them out and scrape their skins clean with your fingers. I want their dead flesh under your fingernails so that you can chew on it like an extra meal.”
“…flesh fluttering on a dead bird’s…”
“Then dig a pit in the ground. Out in the woods. Do this on the new moon. Throw the offal down and burn it. Dowse it in petrol and burn the guts down to black. You understand?”
“That’s good,” says the voice. I know then the voice, his voice, my master, can be everywhere. I know this because I can hear his voice everywhere; when I drive along the rolling hills and the telegraph wires hug the contours of the fields. Those wires hum, amplified by the rich, beating soil. The humming of those wires is the humming of his voice. It’s talking about those dead animals again; rabbits and foxes and crows. It’s repeating over and over about the guts and the burning. Most of all though it tells me I am the beast. The Lincolnshire beast.
Sometimes I drive out to a high spot. Somewhere I think I can be alone and escape him because it scares me. At first it scared me. Even out in the middle of nowhere I could look up and see things in the big blue sky. Vapour trails from passing planes that spread slowly like butter. Those dying lines are messages in the sky. I can read them like I can read the telephone wires. Sounds, images, the land itself, has the same message for me. It reminds me of the beast beating away in my chest. I find myself waiting at traffic lights, absently biting my fingernails, then tasting blood and soil and lighter fluid.
I do it. I do everything that his voices tells me to. With every action I am more and more the beast.
Then one evening almost a lunar month after this all began, the voice came through more insistently and loudly than before. It was a branch growing through my skull; thick fibrous, inflexible growths pushing harder at my brain. Fleshy buds whispering to me. The voice said to go back to the woods where I had cut open the dead animals. I was to find more road kill and stitch the skins together. Once more I obeyed.
I got in my car and drove. I clicked the radio on and from the speakers came a crackling and whistling. Its discordance harmonised with the bumps on the tarmac and swelled with the sluggish growl of the engine. Everything swirled about my head. I felt a pain in my heart. The pain of loss. Something basic and good about myself had crumbled. I gripped the wheel and cried. Inside me now was something that couldn’t be repaired. Its corruption would cling like sludge. Such is the beast.
My hands were covered in the moist remains of what I had scoured from the road kill’s skin. Some animals had been unrecognisable to begin with, some vaguely rabbit or badger. I had begun to stitch the skins with sinew as well as twine I had found in my car, when I heard footsteps through the trees. It was an agile step yet made heavy enough that it wanted to be heard. I looked about but with only a thin moon hanging in the sky, all I could discern was a smudge of ink dissolving into the mess of bracken. The shape seemed to quiver in the darkness.
“I am proud of you.” The voice in my mind was suddenly out in the world. “You show great skill in your work.”
“But how can you see?” Although startled I couldn’t say I felt surprised. This meeting seemed ordained.
“I see everything,” came the reply. “It is a part of who I am.”
“And who are you?”
“I am that I am.” The voice seemed to laugh. A marble cold chuckle. “I’m your boss,” he said in a more direct fashion. “That’s all you need to understand.”
“I work for you?” Part of my head was screaming curses – at him, at me, but another part was relieved to not be in the woods alone. I knew I wouldn’t come to any harm. Here was my boss.
“You understand don’t you?” He sounded pleased. “You understand things without me having to tell you. Don’t you? You’re mine. Yes?”
I nodded at the shimmering figure, melting in and out of the shadows.
“What should I call you?”
For the first time he did not seem to have an answer prepared. He hesitated. “For now let us say you will call me Gravestone Sam.” He seemed satisfied with this choice of name. “I have something for you,” he said. “A gift from a boss to his employee.” He threw something and it landed at my feet.
“What is it?” In the dark I could not see.
“Something to finish off your attire. A mask.”
I picked it up and could make out its pair of antlers as I drew it closer. The mask itself was the skin of some poor creature, not one with antlers – they had been firmly stuck in place. It smelt awful, like the skins I had been stitching.
“What was this?” I asked.
“Let’s just say it was a dog that didn’t like me very much. I want you to wear it and the costume too. I want you to wear it when you work for me.”
“Doing what?” A ball of vomit wretched its way into my mouth. I swallowed it back.
Gravestone Sam hesitated again but not because he didn’t know what to say. He was staring right in to me. That much I could tell. “Magic,” he said with a lick of his lips. “Magic, mayhem and blood.”
I wait and I wait until finally the purring sequence of tones is interrupted and the receiver at the other end is picked up. I feel relief followed by a kick of anxiety.
“Yes?” The voice is wary like it’s not supposed to answer ringing telephones.
“Is that Jac7k Belmond?” I ask just as warily. “The unwitcher?”
“From where did you get this number?”
“Pizza Uno,” I tell the voice. Male. Croaky.
“Yes,” he confirms and clears his throat. “I did leave one of my business cards there.” It sounds like he’s talking to himself. “They make good pizza. I also noticed they had that VAD magazine. Interesting. It felt like the sort of place I should leave my card. So I did.”
“That magazine,” I tell him, “is mine. I wrote it. I need your help.”
“You saw my card?” I’m not sure if he is glad or irritated. “You understood it?”
“I have it here: Jac7k Belmond.” I begin reading the words on his card back to him. “Unwitcher. Curses, spells, possessions cured. Issues of the arcane dealt with.” Truth was I didn’t really understand it but I was desperate.
“And you wrote that Astro Dirt magazine?” he confirms
“Yes.” I recognise a tension in my voice and can feel a headache returning. I’m stood in a phone box on the edge of the marketplace. It is deserted but I still feel like I’m being watched. “I have a problem,” I tell him. “I think it might be the sort of problem you can help with. I think I might be the Lincolnshire Beast.”
“The beast that you wrote about in that Astro Dirt thing?”
“What makes you think you are the beast?”
“Because when I checked my emails today,” I tell him, sounding more desperate, “I had an email from myself. I sent it last night. The message said, ‘you are the Lincolnshire beast.’ I had attached an image; a selfie of me stood in my bathroom wearing some sort of hooded shawl with antlers, stitched out of dead animals.” My breathing has become quick and shallow. I wait for his response.
“Sounds interesting,” he said. “You’d better come and see me.”
So I went. Somehow I managed to find his place out in the wide space of the Wolds; a breeze block barn with an arched corrugated roof. It looked as if it had been constructed during the war and left to grow wild in its field. A stove was burning in the corner as he ushered me in and plonked me down on a sofa occupied by a sleeping cat. The scraggy thing saw me, hissed, got up and walked away to some other quiet spot. Jac7k himself was a little more friendly. He had long unkempt hair, black but with threads of silver running all about it and wore a dark coat covered in barn dust. My immediate thought was he had escaped from some kind of institution and was now lying low.
“All you need to know,” he said by way of introduction and as if knowing my thoughts, “is that I said goodbye to an old life some time ago. I have been here in Lincolnshire since; waiting; taking in its space, its anonymity. Recently, I have felt it is time to start practicing again. Hence my card. Hence you. I may be able to help with your problem,” He nodded at me. It was my cue to start talking.
I told him about my meeting with the man called Jeff who claimed to have seen the Lincolnshire Beast. I explained Jeff’s second encounter with the beast which, it seemed, had killed him from the shock. I went into more detail than the story that appeared in the zine.
While I talked, Jac7k paced. A kettle was on the stove, slowly coming to the boil. “And it wasn’t until your meeting with Jeff that you began to think it could be you who was the beast?” he asked, searching my face.
“I suppose not.” I wanted to sound certain but wasn’t. “Everything has been so confused in my mind.”
My vision had adjusted to the dimness of his burrow. There was a small upper deck, accessed by a wooden ladder. I suspected it was where he slept. On the ground floor was the sofa on which I sat and opposite, an armchair. Empty bottles with eruptions of candlewax were dotted about. There were some cupboards fixed to one wall and along the opposite side ran shelves filled with books and boxes and a variety of mechanical detritus. At the far end was a work table covered with more books and an ancient looking electronic unit with silver dials and blinking lights.
“My CB radio,” he told me, following my gaze. “I monitor things.” He looked self-conscious for a moment then seemed to shrug it off by pacing about again. I began to feel hopeless. My head felt like it had been stuffed into a plastic bag and shaken around.
“I wrote the zine you saw,” I went on, “to try and make sense of things and to see if anyone else out there had seen the creature.”
“What was the response?”
I sighed. “Just nonsense. People telling me they were the beast or that they had seen it too, but each description I was given was different. Nothing was the same.”
“And you have no memory of taking that picture of yourself, dressed in that outfit?”
“It’s made of animal skins,” I told him shaking my head, “raw skins stitched by sinew and hairs.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“In my car.”
On the table the radio started to crackle and beep and faint, electric voices drifted on the static. The kettle began a slow, deep whistle, its lid starting to clank. “It smelt of blood and dirt,” I told him. “Just like Jeff had said.”
“Try to stay calm,” Jac7k told me. “I can help you.” He went over to the shelves and picked something up. A small object made of wood with brass cogs and spindles. He held it out toward me in the palm of his hand.
“What the fuck is that?” I demanded starting to feel sick.
“A wooden astral hexantic compass; an essential tool of the unwitcher,” he said turning a cog. “And it’s suggesting you are indeed under an enchantment. Of what kind I cannot tell.”
“You have to help me,” I demanded. The whistling kettle began to scream as the static on the radio rose to a crescendo. The sounds made me shake, made my innards feel like they were ballooning; I was certain organs were enlarging inside me, my brain too felt like it was beginning to leak through cracks in my skull. “I’m changing,” I cried, falling from the sofa to the floor.
He threw his compass down. “You have control over whatever it is within. Fight back.”
It was impossible. The noises were so loud. The kettle’s siren was sending needles into me, riding in on the sludge brown wave of static from the radio. I leapt to my feet, screaming. “I’m cursed,” I snarled. “Get away from here before it’s too late.”
“Nonsense!” Jac7k came toward me but I leapt at him, sending us both backward, clattering into his shelves of junk. The last thing I clearly remember was being on my feet, stood above the long haired, burn out. He was no more than a fool to me then and something inside me commanded that I show him how foolish he was. I looked at Jac7k Belmond’s face and everything turned red.
A warm pool of my saliva had collected on the fabric of the sofa where my head rested. I was covered over, still clothed, in a warm, soft blanket. Slowly I pulled myself up to a sitting position, rubbing and pulling at my face with my hands in order to clear the fogginess away.
From the other end of his burrow, Jac7k Belmond saw me stir. He pulled a set of headphones from his ears and clicked off the CB unit he had been fiddling with.
“Oh good,” he said getting up, “you’re awake. I made you soup.”
I did not say anything. I couldn’t. My mind was still trying to put itself back together. Although disorientated, I felt safe; I was the ignorant tourist that had been pulled from a mountainside after a storm had come in. I looked at Jac7k and understood he had been my rescuer.
“Thank you,” I managed, uncertain of my voice.
Jac7k ladled a thick broth from the stove into a bowl and brought it over to me. “It is a recipe of my mother’s,” he smiled. “Very good.” He sat down in the armchair opposite.
It was night and my host’s junk filled barn had taken on a different quality. It was a place of warmth; candles fixed in bottles flickered on every surface. Outside a wind was nuzzling the corners of the shelter, creating the melody of an oboe being played low. I felt protected.
“How long…,” I stuttered. “What time is it?”
“After midnight,” he said gently. “You have been resting for quite a few hours.”
I tried to speak again but my breath only came in a strangled croak.
“Eat,” Jac7k told me. “You will not have tasted soup like it.” He rested his arms on the chair and clasped the fingers of his hands together. “What I can tell you at this point is that you should not worry. You are not cursed and what has been done to you can be undone. I assure you of that.”
“Did I attack you?”
“You tried,” he smiled. “But a good unwitcher is always ready to face attack.”
I took a spoonful of the soup and Jac7k grinned as my expression changed.
“I told you it was good,” he said. “And it will help you to feel normal again.”
I nodded and took another mouthful.
“You were about to pounce,” he went on. “But I got your legs out from under you fairly easily. Then I just put you out with what I believe is a starter motor from a Leyland 272. Not the most reliable of machines but it certainly did the job on this occasion.”
I had just begun to notice the throbbing of my head. “I don’t even understand what it is you do,” I told him. “How can an unwitcher help me? How do you help anybody?”
“An unwitcher can help anybody who has been set upon by the darker forces that often find themselves on this side of the veil.”
“The veil?” My head definitely did not feel right.
“The veil that separates our reality from the next. In this world people tend to think of ghosts and magic and all manner of demons and sorcery as belonging to that other realm.” Outside the wind seemed to deliberately whisper in a mournful key.
“And do they?”
“Yes. Most quite happily.” He thought for a moment and frowned. “But as with anything else there are always a few awkward bastards. Imagine an actual veil. There are some things from the other side that like to get a little too close, or they are coaxed into it – they’re like mould growing on that veil and they grow such that we can see their dark stains on this side; people that care to look see it, at any rate. An unwitcher is someone who is good at spotting mould on nice white veils. We are also good at getting rid of that mould.”
“You’re a cleaner.”
He shrugged. “I know my way around a mop and bucket, I’ll say that.”
“I see; is it like being a magician or something?”
He looked at me with a little dismay. “A magician is something else entirely. They seek to transform reality, to bring energies from the other realm into this one and to make use of them. Magicians and witches are the same thing. I am an unwitcher.”
“You look after the veil,” I offered, trying out my understanding.
“I clean it,” he agreed. “I patrol it but you must understand I do not police it. I have no mandate or authority in that way. I am an unwitcher; that is all.” He cleared his throat. “There is light, there is dark. There is something, there is nothing. An unwitcher does not fall into this simple dichotomy. That is perhaps why we are not recognised by history. And we are all the better for it.”
“I see,” I told him, still feeling ignorant.
“But none of this is directly relevant to your situation,” he said getting up. He went to his work table and brought back a cardboard box. I recognised it as the box that had been in the boot of my car. Jac7k sat back down and put it on the floor between us. “This is your costume. Whilst you were resting I decided to poke around in your car. I went through your pockets and found your keys. I hope you don’t mind.”
“So you are going to help me?” I put down the soup.
A smell of dead leaves and dirt had begun to drift from the box. Jac7k tapped it with his foot. “Yes,” he said looking down at its contents. “I want to help. There are things I can tell you now if you feel ready. Perhaps you want to rest a little more?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Let’s get on with it.”
Jac7k nodded. “This has been carefully stitched.” He gestured down at the costume. “It looks to me like these animals are road kill that have been collected. Do you have any memory of that?”
I closed my eyes and tried to focus.
“You’re safe here,” Jac7k reassured me. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”
“I just don’t know,” I told him. I tried to take my mind back to the last few weeks but nothing was clear; one image did not fit the next or the next. It felt like I was trying to return to a house that had perished in a fire. I was determined to walk through the front door but there was no door, only burnt and blackened fragments that could not be pieced together. I tried to explain it to Jac7k but only sounded more confused.
“I don’t understand it.” I was angry with myself. “How can I not remember any of this? Why didn’t I notice this before? What’s wrong with me?”
“You have been made to not remember. It is your mind that has been deliberately cluttered and confused. It has been primed to be like that.”
“What do you mean, primed?”
“Something has deliberately altered and controlled your mind. A part of your mind at least. Most people would think of it as hypnosis, and that is a fairly accurate description. But there is a magical element too.”
“You’re saying I’ve been hypnotised? Not cursed, just hypnotised.”
“In a way yes.”
I looked again at the box containing the costume and thought about the picture I had emailed to myself. I remembered the eyes that stared out from the mask. They were mine, I was certain of that, but there was something different about their gaze. They were frightened, empty. Something was missing. “How has this happened? How does this relate to the veil?”
“No,” he said flatly, shaking his head. “This has nothing to do with the veil. This relates only to our world. Remember there are always awkward bastards – and this is the work of one of those. In my estimation a particularly loathsome and unpleasant bastard. You have been primed by an individual; they have controlled a portion of your mind, chiefly within the limbic system. I would imagine that the odious person that has done this to you will have done it to several others. That may account for the variety in sightings and descriptions of the Lincolnshire Beast. If it is any consolation, you are probably not the only one.”
It wasn’t. I tried to stand up but immediately felt dizzy. “How could this happen? Who would do this?”
Jac7k had gone back to the far end of his hideout. “My guess,” he said collecting something from his work table, “is an angry individual. They have some magical powers but are relatively inexperienced. Do not try to move,” he added. “I have adapted my mother’s soup recipe and added a mild sedative.”
“But why pick on me?” I clutched at the blanket and pulled it about me.
“You must not fight your mind now. Just listen to me.” Jac7k sat back down in front of me. “Look at this.”
He placed something in my hand. “A cassette tape.” I said, trying to focus on it, though my eyes were beginning to blur. The tape box was blank save for a small circular symbol in the bottom right corner. “I don’t understand,” I told him. “I think I’m concussed.”
“You will be fine,” he said dismissively. “It is the soup.” He took the cassette box from my hand. “This is how your mind was infected. From this tape. I found it in your car. You had been listening to it.”
“But I’ve never even seen it before. I’ve been listening to a mix tape of Fleetwood Mac.”
“I’m afraid that is just not the case. Your mind is clouded. Fake memories mix with real ones and your recollection blurs. Some of your memories would have been deleted entirely. Whoever has primed you has tried to wipe their fingerprints from your mind.”
“What the hell did you put in that soup?” I demanded. My vision was starting to fog and black dots were appearing and disappearing at random. “I don’t understand how I got the tape. How did any of this happen?”
“Do not been afraid. You see this sigil?” he pointed at the mark in the bottom corner. “This is a magical mark. The creator has charged it with his will. It symbolises their desired outcome. That is to control your mind. This is the magical element.”
My breath had become erratic. I could hear Jac7k speaking. His voice was beginning to sound like it was coming through a drainpipe. “You’ve got to help me,” I begged him. “I don’t feel right; perhaps you should take me to a hospital.”
“As soon as you saw this mark,” he went on, “even just a casual glance, it began working in your mind; telling you to listen to this tape. You would have succumbed quite quickly. Once you began listening your fate was sealed.”
“What’s on the tape?”
“I have been listening to it. It contains a random assortment of noises and all kinds of frequencies. It has been put together very carefully. Can you still hear me?”
I think I managed a nod of my head. Something at least flickered across my face to indicate to Jac7k I was following him. Trying to follow. Had I really been undone by some tape in my car stereo? I felt sure I had been listening to an ancient copy of Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac; it was the only thing that the knackered old tape player hadn’t chewed up.
“There isn’t much time.” Jac7k snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Look at me and focus. Earlier when you thought you were becoming the beast, I noticed that it was noise that seemed to prompt your spasm. The noise of the kettle and my radio unit. The frequencies they created seem to correspond with some of those on the tape. Being in here with those noises was like being shot with a pure dose. Then the part of your mind programmed to respond came rushing to the fore. When this happens you believe that you are the beast.”
My vision had begun pulsing, in and out of tunnels and the sound of Jac7k’s voice shifting from an echo to a whisper. “Can you get this thing out of me?” I was already wondering if I’d have the balls to kill myself should his answer be no.
“That is what I am doing now.” Jac7k checked his watch the way a doctor might while taking your pulse. “The tranquilizer in the soup is going to act like a steroid for your brain’s delta waves. It’s going to catapult you into a different kind of consciousness. One that you won’t have experienced before. Just focus on my voice.”
He pushed me back in the sofa, lifting my feet and swinging my legs round to rest on the arm. “I’m going to be with you so don’t panic.”
“I’m not in a position to control that,” I told him.
“Absolute fear is not uncommon before entering the void. Try to remember you are really just lying on the sofa. Osman shall be keeping watch on us.”
“Osman? The void?” I tried to get up.
Jac7k thrust his finger out at me. “Don’t try to get up. Lay down. If you want to extricate yourself from this situation you must listen to me, do not doubt and do not believe that you know better.” He took his dusty coat off. “Osman is the cat. Should there be any problems here I have every confidence he will wake me.”
I could not see Osman anywhere but my vision had become blurred entirely at the outer edges. I tried to keep Jac7k in the dead centre of my view.
“The void,” he went on, “is the realm that exists before consciousness. It is the thread that the veil itself is made from.”
“I don’t understand,” I said interrupting him.
“I know,” he replied, almost kindly. “The void is where all thought, all reality springs from. It cannot be understood. Only experienced and even then it will not be its purest form. I will be in the void with you.” He lifted my hand then let go and appeared satisfied when it dropped straight back down on to my lap, “But,” he went on, “so will the beast and with luck so too will be the fool who has put the beast upon you. We must be watchful.”
I tried to speak again but before I could, Jac7k had stretched his arms apart then hurled them together, his hands meeting out in front of him. Instead of a great thwacking sound there was nothing. Everything went white and silent and stopped.
We were moving.
Was it pain or something far above it, like complete clarity of thought? I could not tell. I could tell that we were moving, and fairly fast. On opening my eyes I realised that any pain in my head and my body that I had been previously feeling had gone. There was clarity in that, a relief that made everything sharp like I had brushed my synapses with a toothpaste that tingles.
“Your headspace will readjust soon enough.” Jac7k was trying to sound in control and calm but with the new keenness to my thoughts, I could sense the fear and agitation just below the surface. He was in the driver’s seat and momentarily peeled his eyes from the road to me.
“You’re fucking right I’m agitated,” he said jerking his thumb toward the rear window. “Take a look what’s behind us.”
“You can read my thoughts?”
“It’s the void,” he shouted over the noise of the car. “I have experience in this vagarious little mind twister, and I can pick up on your thoughts, in a limited fashion.”
“This is my car,” I blurted as I recognised the boxy plastic dash of the 1984 Volkswagen Polo.
“I realise that,” he says as we fly over a sudden dip in the road. “The void is unpredictable to say the least.”
There is a sound of something hard and determined slamming into the back of the Polo and gripping hold of it. I turn to see the rear window buckle into hundreds of popcorn sized pieces. Through the rectangular gap where cold air is tumbling through, is pushing the head of something I recognise straightaway. It is the face of something I remember from a picture I took. Antlers. Snarling dog like face. Eyes of fear and rage. The Lincolnshire beast was gripped tight to the Polo and began clawing its way inside, easily destroying the parcel shelf and back seat with its fist, clenched so tightly it resembled a hoof.
“I’m going to try shaking it loose,” Jac7k said already jerking the wheel left then right but it was no good. The beast had already pulled itself further into the car, flooding it with the putrid smell I was familiar with. I was too busy staring in panicked horror at the beast scrambling toward us to see the road ahead was about to disappear.
“Grab hold of something. Quickly.” Jac7k sounded more annoyed than fearful. “And hold my hand,” he said reaching out to me. “Otherwise we could be separated.”
I glanced forward to see the black ribbon of road was about to melt into a grey slush and then fade out into a wall of white nothingness. A nothingness I couldn’t be sure was solid like packed ice, or thin like paper. Jac7k was not slowing down, just muttering to himself and then the wheels lost contact, the engine’s strain gave out and the whiteness pulled us apart atom by atom and thought by thought.
“It’s the nature of the void,” Jac7k’s voice told me.
“Visions melting in and out. It’s like a cloud of smoke. Pure forms before the porridge of consciousness takes form. Eastern philosophies have sort of tapped into it; they’ve got close to it anyway.”
“I can’t see you?”
“Things will coalesce soon enough. Who knows what or where, but the beast will be with us. I guarantee that.”
There is nothing but my voice and Jac7k’s. It feels like my thoughts are taking up the space of everything that is about me, which is nothing. Void. “What is the beast?” I blurt.
“It’s you. Something in your mind. In honesty there aren’t the words to describe where or what we are in this moment. Try to hold on to the thought that you are really on my sofa in the barn. Believe me this is not best practice and any unwitcher would tell you so, but it is the most direct way in which to confront the beast within you.”
The soup of emptiness suddenly jerked and began to swirl as if it were bath water and the plug had been pulled out.
I am the Lincolnshire Beast. I am. And Jac7k Belmond will not stand in my way or the way of my master, Graveyard Sam. He is close by. I sense him and I know he wants Jac7k destroyed. Magic, mayhem and blood, he tells me. I come to in a wood, its trees black and leafless. There is a dank quality to the air. I am the beast; the stitched skins of dead animals cover me and my breathing is heavy beneath the dog-like mask with its antlers. Jac7k needs to be killed, otherwise he will kill me. Everything is instinct with the beast. It does not listen to my cries that come from some way down, dark place.
“You’re the beast now.” Jac7k tells me this. He is stood a little way in front of me, looking as if he had been dragged along the floor of dead leaves and mulch to get here. “I am only here,” he goes on, “to destroy the part of you that is the beast.”
That makes me laugh and I hear the sound as an animal snort. I remember the last time Jac7k and I faced off. I want to hurt him. I want to show him I do not need his kind of help.
“That’s it.” Graveyard Sam is chuckling. “You should hurt him. I’m telling you to hurt him, for bringing us to this place and for condemning our magic.”
Bowing my head, my antlers point at Jac7k and I charge him. I’m quick this time and catch him wrong footed. I sense he is trying to adjust his weight, to move away from my charge, but I adjust too. I aim my antlers for his head. I want them to make flesh tearing contact then feel the dull thud as they fracture bone. I don’t get the satisfaction. Jac7k’s hands clamp about my headpiece and begin twisting with a strength I had not anticipated. I smell blood though. He is cut yet still twists and heaves and manages to throw me as if hefting a sandbag onto a riverbank. I don’t roll far and before I get up he is on me, punching at my face with bloodied fists.
“Believe me,” he says through gasps. “I’m not really hurting you. I’m helping you.”
Now I hear the breaking of bones. It is my jaw and my eye socket. I can feel them slipping out of place, beginning to float loosely on a sea of pain. My mask is twisted about my head and neck. I’m gulping for air because it’s hard to breathe and with every gulp I suck warm metallic blood down my throat. My own blood. Now Jac7k’s face is just a blur to me, obscured by the mask and the pain. I manage to free my arm from where it is clamped beneath his shin. I swing it out wildly and make contact with the side of his head. It is enough to knock him off of me. Suddenly I can breathe freely but I can’t open my lungs with a breath that can clear the fuzziness from my mind.
“Get up you useless bastard,” Gravestone Sam is screaming. “Ignore the pain and get up. I created you to be strong and to obey me. So get up and fight.”
I claw at the dirt as I try to pull myself erect. I can feel that the shape of my face has slid away from the bone that held it in place, or more accurately the bone has been broken into several pieces. In any case everything has slipped the way snow slides from a rock face with the thaw. The pain has brought a clarity. I think it must have shut off the part of my mind that Gravestone Sam had control over. I see Jac7k coming toward me and I no longer feel hate. I no longer feel a desire to please my master. I only want to be free of pain.
“You’re pathetic,” Sam tells me. “You were my best beast and still you fail when it counts.”
Jac7k is smiling. He pulls off my mask and throws it on the ground by my feet. “You’ll be out of here soon,” he tells me. “I have to do this. I’m sorry.”
I try to say that it’s ok but I can’t even manage that so I just shrug at him and nod. Then his hand is at my throat. It feels surprisingly cold as it begins squeezing. Automatically I resist but not for long. I fall back on to my knees and his hand grips tighter.
“You shouldn’t even be here.” Jac7k looks over his shoulder toward Sam.
“You have no authority here,” Sam scoffs in return. “And certainly no authority over me.” My boss seems indifferent to me now. He is a punter, coolly watching the horse he had backed being shot. “I’m not some second rate bumbling apprentice,” he goes on. “If I was do you think I would be here, in the void, with you?”
“I know you are powerful,” Jac7k told him. He sounds tired. My vision is fading now. I’m spinning into a dark tunnel and sounds are getting further and further away.
“Then you should be wary of me Jac7k Belmond. My magic is powerful and I intend to continue using it.” Gravestone Sam took a last look at us both. “We will meet again Jac7k. That much is certain.”
As he walked away through the trees, for me everything went black and silent and stopped.
I opened my eyes to find Osman sat on my chest, staring at me with an air of indifference. On seeing that I was conscious he stretched and leapt onto the back of the sofa then dropped to the floor and sauntered off. I looked around to verify my return to the reality I expected: Jac7k’s barn. Jac7k himself was already up on his feet, pointing his astral compass thing at me, as he had done before. My body felt fine. So too did my head.
“According to this,” he said by way of a greeting, “your possession seems to have been vanquished. It is no more.” He put the compass down and looked at me. “I think you did very well.”
“You strangled me.”
“And killed the beast,” I clarified. “Thank you.”
“Indeed. I appreciated your following my instructions. It always makes things easier.”
I looked about me again. Everything was the same as before. I was satisfied the beast wasn’t going to appear from some dark corner.
“The void is not a place one should visit too often,” Jac7k sat in his armchair. “But in this case I thought it worth the discomfort. If you check your watch you will see we have only been in trance for no more than a few minutes.”
He was right. Outside it was still dark but through the grimy windows I could see dawn now beginning to dilute the gloom.
“I know who did it,” I told him. “I know who put the beast in me. In the void I finally recognised him. Somehow it was clearer in there.”
“The void,” Jac7k said, tapping the side of his head with a crooked finger, “is only in here. It is the silence between your thoughts.” He let the words hang in the air for a moment. “So who is he then?” he said picking up the box with the beast’s costume inside. “I think we should return this.”
“I can take you to him.”
We got in my silver Polo. I took a moment to savour the wonderful dreariness of being behind the wheel once more. It was suddenly tangible that the beast was no longer with me. It felt good.
“Your car was cleaner in the void,” Jac7k observed, strapping himself in. “Remarkable.”
I dug a hand down into the Polo’s murky wasteland beneath my seat and straightaway found the Fleetwood Mac cassette I thought I had been listening to. I put it in the tape player. As we jerked our way down the gravel farm road, away from the barn, Black Magic Woman burst out from the speakers. Jac7k seemed to silently nod an approval.
Outside the village of Ollisby, on the edge of the Wolds, there is a Middle Age churchyard with a stout, weathered church at its centre. Beyond the gravestones on one side is nothing but the sky and idly rolling Lincolnshire fields. On the other side of the road is a small garage and filling station. Dawn had come and the sky was light enough to indicate it would be a cloudless morning. Jac7k and I waited under a yew tree in the churchyard.
“Samuel’s Garage, Ollisby.” Jac7k read the dowdy sign, its blue paint peeling in the corners.
“Owned and run by two brothers,” I told him as a light flickered on in the shop. “Derek, the older brother is the friendly one. Nice guy. But his brother, Keith, is the oddball.”
“And that’s Gravestone Sam?”
I nodded. “In the void it just came to me. Somehow I just knew it.”
“I can see where he got the idea for his name.” Jac7k looked about at the silent, crumbling headstones. “And I suppose he would have opportunity to place that tape in your car.”
“I usually stop here once a week.” I told him. “Sometimes Keith even fills up for me. I’ve given him my keys before.”
Jac7k grabbed the box with the costume. “Let’s pay a visit then.”
The lights of the shop were fully on and we could see Derek at the counter. We left the Polo parked at the churchyard and crossed over the road toward the forecourt. An electric buzzer sounded as we walked through the door. Derek looked up, a little surprised. His face had about three days of worry on it but when he saw us it tried out a smile. I offered my good morning and introduced Jac7k as a friend.
“We’re looking for your brother,” Jac7k asked him directly. “Is he here?”
Derek looked from Jac7k to me, anxiety returning to his features. “No, he isn’t here. I haven’t seen him for about a week. I think he’s taken off. Is there a problem?”
“Has he disappeared before?” Jac7k’s eyes casually swept the shop.
“What’s it to you?”
“We just want to return something he gave me a while ago,” I told him indicating the box. He was jumpy and I guessed he had been awake all night.
Derek looked at me for a moment, probably wondering why we were trying to return something at six in the morning. Especially something with such a pungent odour. He gave a defeated sigh and his eyes fell to the counter top. “Well we argued,” he confessed. “I mean I was concerned. You know what he’s like; in his own world most of the time. It ain’t fair on me, trying to do everything while he just grunts and mopes about.” His face had coloured red. “And he can’t stand Wrench,” he added.
“Your dog?” I clarified.
“Alsatian.” Derek nodded. “One day I caught him flicking oil at the poor thing. I mean, who does something like that? Anyway, we argued one night and he left. Not seen Wrench since either; he’s got out before but he’s always come back after a day or two. When Keith appears I’ll bloody murder him. If he’s touched Wrench, I swear.”
“I can see this is a difficult time for you,” Jac7k said more softly. “We’re sorry to have bothered you so early.” Still holding the box he indicated for us to leave. I apologised also and wished Derek well. He remained at the counter, gazing forlornly at us stared as we drove away.
“When we get back to the barn,” Jac7k told me, “we’ll make a bonfire and burn that box and the tape too.”
“That mask,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road ahead, “it’s the dog isn’t it? Wrench.”
“I believe so.”
“What about Gravestone Sam?” Saying the name again gave me a shiver.
“He isn’t going back to that place. Keith Samuel is someone else now. He’s transcended to Gravestone Sam.” Jac7k looked solemn. “And he’s out there somewhere.”
The sky was light enough now to reveal morning mist hanging over the fields that stretched away all about us. I imagined Gravestone Sam trudging along some empty backroad.
“What does that mean?” I asked him.
“Mayhem,” he said flatly. “Mayhem and blood.”