Amyas Wheate cursed the last three miles he had travelled and cursed his pony for refusing to carry him any further. Amyas dragged the irascible beast by the reins through the two feet of snow that had fallen since noon the previous day. As he went he grumbled; this was a nook shotten place. All of it. Not just the parish of Bolingbroke. The whole county.
“Amyas you are ready. You could be no more ready.” The final words of Pedrek, his mentor, before bidding him farewell in Northampton. Amyas may have been ready as an unwitcher, though he had his doubts about that, but he was still a novice when it came to riding the back of a beast like Miriam. “She is a trusty old thing. But you must be patient with her. A good unwitcher is always patient.” Pedrek’s last piece of advice, just after he presented Amyas with the pony.
Miriam did not like snow. Amyas tried to be patient. He wanted to be a good unwitcher. As he stumbled again on another unseen stone he reflected that a good unwitcher, at least a competent one, would not have dropped their astral hexantic compass into a brook. It was a vital tool and he had lost it on his first assignment. His curses turned from Lincolnshire and back to himself. Miriam snorted behind him. The objurations soon became self-pity. Friday night, he reflected and winter solstice at that. He ought to have been in a tavern, by the fireside with bread, cheese and brandy. He would be, had his uncle not decided that unwitchery was the only option for Amyas, given the malady and distemper from which he suffered. His uncle put it down to the death of his mother and hoped unwitchery could give Amyas the direction that had been lacking. So here he was; without compass, trudging through the snow in a clot mired county like Lincolnshire.
Almost before he realised, Amyas came upon the remains of Bolingbroke Castle. It had been laid to waste in the years since the civil war and fragments of stone still lay forlornly in what had been the moat but was now a pestilent marsh. To Amyas it seemed that the troubled and diseased bowels of the earth itself could have excreted the whole thing from deep within its dark innards; it was exactly the sort of location witches would choose and a place that common folk would rightly avoid.
Looking upward at the waning crescent moon he wished for more light. Suddenly the enormity and the strangeness of the task struck him and he looked back to Miriam for encouragement. The pony looked unimpressed.
“Witches and their magic may no longer hold folk in fearful awe,” Pedrek had often said. “It does not mean their machinations do not persist; even if it be 1715. Their foul breath still flutters the veil that separates our realm from the other.”
The guild of unwitchers had received report of witch activity at the remnants of the castle. Arrival of the information had coincided with the completion of Amyas’ training and so, fortuitously for the guild, he was dispatched to investigate. Now Pedrek’s support and encouragement felt very far away. “Every unwitcher on their first assignment has their moment of doubt, like the darkness has swallowed them whole.” Amyas realised this was his. He refocused, ignored the cold that had numbed him and tugged forcefully on Miriam’s rein.
“Neither of us want to be here,” he told her. “So let us investigate the veracity of these stories and perhaps we will both be sleeping soundly and warmly before the dawn comes.”
The pony relented and both man and beast trudged closer to the castle. Any obvious paths were lost under the snow. After a short way Amyas realised they had gone through what would have been the main gate of the fortification. At this point the pony refused to go any further. Amyas could not blame her. What remained of the castle, a thick perimeter wall, was like a curtain drawn about the space so that the world outside of it might have disappeared. In the snow this sensation was heightened. The atmosphere within the walls was aberrant. The whole plot seemed to be corrupted and decayed; from what, the young unwitcher could not be certain. Amyas gently rubbed Miriam’s nose.
“I shall not be long here, I promise you. A quick exploration and then we shall leave. Wait here.”
He might have lost his hexantic compass but he still had his knife and importantly, his mother’s ring; he checked it was still on the chain that hung about his neck. On the first day of his apprenticeship as an unwitcher he was advised to find himself an amulet. Anything would have done, as long as it meant something to him and could gradually be charged with unearthly energies. In the beginning Amyas had clutched it tightly every night, channelling his newfound abilities into it. Feeling the ring now against his chest gave him the resolve to step further into the dead space of Bolingbroke Castle.
Amyas closed his eyes and tried to still his thoughts as he had been trained to do. He did not want to feel it, but it was there. Like a fog in his mind, Amyas felt the corruption of the place; a desecration of its vitality. How deep it ran, how strong its vibration he could not be sure. Pedrek would have known. His mentor too would have told him to not be fearful. Amyas breathed and let the dark fog touch him a little more. He felt drawn to a corner of the plot where one of the towers would once have stood. Amyas looked back at his pony. Miriam had already turned in readiness to leave.
As he began to walk toward the shattered tower, a chanting seemed to begin. The crunch of the fresh white powder beneath his boots grew, forming into a delicate low drone that Amyas began to pick out as intelligible noise.
the rise and fall of the pendulum swing, everything flows out and in;
first there is nothing, then it is limitless, bring next the infinite, light of the universe.
And so it repeated, a chorus of voices but how many he could not be certain; two three, perhaps four. The chant went round and round, louder from all directions. Before he had taken many more steps he saw her leant against a large stone untouched by the snow. She wore a dark robe that had blended against the rock. The witch smiled at him and continued to chant the words. She was not old and haggard, she was not young and beautiful. Her face had lines normal for middle years, its complexion rosy against the cold night. She looked about the age his mother had been.
The witch stopped singing abruptly. “So an unwitcher has been sent.” She spoke.
Amyas adjusted his weight and felt the knife stashed in his boot. “I am here on the authority of the unwitcher guild,” he told her, hoping he sounded commanding.
She spat on the ground. “We do not recognise that clan of fools.”
The chanting restarted from behind him. He stole a glance over his shoulder and saw two more dark robed figures walking toward him. On turning back the witch was at his side.
“Meddle no more,” she breathed at his ear. Amyas felt a blade penetrate his neck and saw his blood spray on to the snow. It reminded him of strawberries. As he fell he managed to grab his knife and before the woman could react he stabbed. She let out her own terrible groan when realising she too had been undone and her blood was merging with his on to the pure white crystalline ground.
The witch also fell to her knees. “Our spirits marry,” she told him desperately. “We die together.”
Blood was filling Amyas’ throat. It was not fair, he thought, to die so young at the hands of a witch. He heard the song grow loud again.
Bring next the infinite, light of the universe…
Jac7k Belmond dozed in an old deck chair. His cat Osman was curled up on the grass next to him in its shade. The patch of wild flowers planted back in March lolled on the lazy June breeze and the blue sky hummed with distant birdsong. He was just in that moment where sleep begins to take over when he heard the familiar chug of Robert Thacker’s Polo travelling up the track that led to the barn. As it got closer Robert gave two firm beeps of the horn to announce his arrival. Osman’s ears twitched. He stretched himself awake and decided to take himself back into the cool of the barn where he would not be disturbed. Jac7k sat up, a little annoyed that his peace was about to be broken.
A car door opened. “Try not to worry,” he could hear Robert saying to somebody. “I’m sure he can help.”
A moment later his friend appeared from round the corner of the barn with his mystery companion. Jac7k struggled from the grip of the deck chair and stood up.
“This is Chevette Simpson,” Robert said introducing a young woman of about thirty years of age. She wore a flowery emerald dress finished off with tan cowboy boots. Her hair was cut short, in a pixie like fashion. The feature that stood out most to Jac7k however, was the tired and pale demeanour of the girl as she tried to smile. “Chevette and I are old friends,” Robert explained. “We haven’t seen each other for about seven years but we bumped into each other this morning.”
Jac7k shook her hand gently. Even on such a warm day her anxiety had manifested itself in the coldness of her skin. “Chevette,” Jac7k smiled. “That is a delightfully unusual name. Very lovely.”
Robert pulled up two garden chairs and they all sat back down.
“Chevette was my dad’s idea,” she told the unwitcher. “I was actually born in a layby on the A57 outside Worksop. My parents had not expected such a premature appearance on my part and out I came on the back seat of their brand new car; A Vauxhall Chevette.”
“Chevette is concerned about her fiancé,” Robert told Jac7k. “I think it is something that you can help with. Perhaps a matter of possession.”
“Indeed?” Jac7k looked kindly at the girl. “I will do whatever I can to help.” Things had quietened down since their encounter with Gravestone Sam and Jac7k knew that Robert would not trouble him with something unless it was serious. “Tell me what has happened.”
“I’m not sure what it is.” Chevette suddenly felt exhausted. Her mind had been so agitated and jumpy but was now finally beginning to falter. “Terry,” she said trying to keep focused a little more, “my fiancé. I think he has become possessed by something. Spirits; angry spirits. Or maybe he’s just lost his mind.” She fought back tears and looked to Robert to help her find the words.
“Her fiancé is Terry Thornley,” Robert explained. “Have you heard of him?”
Jac7k shook his head.
“He was also known as the DJ, Terry T.”
Jac7k continued to look dumb.
“Terry T had a big dance hit about twenty years ago; Light of the Universe. It was a huge record in Europe. Anyway these days he lives round here. At Anderby Creek.”
Jac7k nodded. “I have heard of that. It has a lovely beach.”
“On Thursday night I went to see him,” Chevette went on. “He was high. From drugs. Psychedelic drugs.”
“Was that common?”
She shook her head. “Terry had been quite into that sort of thing. It was part of his lifestyle. We met nearly ten years ago and since then I’ve encouraged him to move away from it. I prefer meditation and yoga. I know he still dabbles now and again but he swears to me it is only organic stuff; weed mainly.”
Jac7k thought for a moment. “But on Thursday night he had taken something a little stronger?”
Chevette nodded. “He said he’d found a jar of dried mushrooms in the garage. Magic mushrooms. Terry had made it into a tea and drank it. I don’t know how powerful it was but I’ve never seen him react the way he did. Never.”
“Intense visions are not uncommon with the psilocybin compound found in mushrooms.”
She sighed. “I know but there is more to it than that, believe me. He talks to invisible phantoms, he screams and shouts like he is being taunted by something. I waited for it to wear off and tried to look after him. It didn’t wear off. After two days it was the same. I was going to take him to the hospital but then something happened.”
Jac7k could see she was genuinely spooked. “What was it?”
“I saw something too,” she confessed. “I hadn’t touched the mushroom tea but I began to see things. Blurred figures at the edge of my vision. I could not tell what; they appeared and disappeared. But for Terry it is getting worse. It’s getting stronger. I saw it too. Plates went flying across the room. Even the coffee table turned itself over. Terry told me to get away. So I did. I left.” She stopped, her body visibly trembling.
“I was just driving past six or seven miles from Anderby, on my way to Skegness,” Robert explained. “I saw her walking down the road in a daze.” It was the second time he had heard her story but this time it spooked him more. It was serious; Jac7k gave him a look that confirmed it.
Jac7k took hold of the girl’s hand. “I know you are exhausted Chevette, but you are safe now. Robert and I can protect you and we can also help Terry but we have to go back to him and you must come with us. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” she said, remembering the gaze of fear on her fiancé’s face as she left. “I hope it isn’t already too late.”
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