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a Lords of Misrule story
Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Coda - June 1st
When he concentrated he could recall the woman looked oriental and the man had an eyepatch; left eye he was reasonably sure… And a beard; he wore a beard. They'd ridden motorcycles.
Stevens rubbed at his eyes with the heels of both hands. The incident had been marked by a profound confusion and it looked as if it had spread into his mind. He took another gulp of tepid coffee and returned to sorting the case papers spread across his desk. He paused with a part-one SOCO report withdrawn half-way from its manilla folder. Across his thoughts moved the ill-defined shapes of a dog and a bird...
Later the same day
'So we're looking for some Eddie Scissorhands copycat?'
Quiet descended. The ticking of the wall-clock picked up a rhythm with the intermittent dripping of a leaking tap. Porter looked at both detectives then back at the body.
First Canto – May 30th
The wording on the road sign read Stone Howe; the origin of the name long-lost, though a persistent rumour was that the Romans had mined copper in the vicinity. Howe apparently came from the Old Norse word haugr, which meant a knoll or a mound, and probably related to the spoil heaps produced by the miners. Stevens wasn’t that bothered with etymology; a dead body concerned him more than a dead language.
A collection of restored 16th to 17th century houses clustered about the village green and a duck pond, the latter boasting a yellow-painted duck house. No ducks though; just a half-dozen crows talking amongst themselves high in the trees and a solitary magpie on the branch of a willow. Beside the pond a solitary sarsen stone, not quite the height of a man, jutted upright from the grass. In cursive script the village name was repeated on a surface that had been polished flat.
The cottage was one of the latest tranche of refurbished buildings. Outside it looked newly built; stonework walls neatly pointed, slate roof immaculate; surrounded by empty shells of people’s second homes, all shining with the same newness, all with closed curtains and empty driveways.
Steven’s wasn’t sure what the room would have been when the cottage was originally built, maybe a smithy, possibly even an integrated cowshed, but now it was a scene of devastation. If you ignored the bloodstains on the carpet, no easy task given the coppery smell that still pervaded the air, the rest of the room had been trashed. It didn’t strike Stevens as the usual burglary disruption – drawers turned out, furniture over-turned – this was pure destruction; oak sideboard and desk splintered, curtains and rug shredded. He glanced at the initial SOC photographs he’d been given; debris lay on the body and none had been found beneath. Mr Jeffries had been dead or dying before the killer had set about the room. There was no obvious pattern to the damage; cut marks scored walls, floor, furniture, even the ceiling. Poised beside the blood stain, Stevens glanced about, shook his head; it almost looked as if something had tried to claw its way out of the room.
With his usual, deliberate methodology Stevens examined the study; it’d help make the clinical details of the SOC report come to life when he read through them later. Then, when the forensics team had deconstructed the crime scene he’d still be able to rely on memories as well as the written word. Carver’s approach was different; he relied wholly on the reports they’d receive, letting none of the atmosphere of the scene affect his judgement. He often said ‘impair his judgement’, but Stevens wasn’t sure Carver knew what impair actually meant. Regardless, and despite Carver’s mocking attitude toward his partner, they functioned well as a pair. Maybe not the highest clearance rate among the other detective teams, but theirs was a solid score sheet.
For nearly two hours Stevens wandered through the cottage, examining old photographs, the man’s CD and DVD collection, the contents of kitchen cupboards, drawers and wardrobe in the small bedroom, even the refuse in the bathroom bin. He thoughtfully considered the minutiae of the dead man's life, piecing together an existence that had been halted by unimaginable violence.
Second Canto – May 31st
The heavy oak door thudded shut behind him. Stevens glanced up at the weathered, hand-painted sign that hung outside the public house. Now only just visible, a muscular hand clutched a hammer, where it rested across an anvil. Hammer and Anvil. Very rustic. But not very busy and none of the ‘locals’ knew a thing. The majority were newcomers to the village; successive purchases and redevelopment by speculators had replaced the original inhabitants with new people. According to the recently-arrived landlord, the only original inhabitant of Stone Howe lived in a cottage on the outskirts of the village; an old woman called Berta Huldra, who had her granddaughter Maggie living with her.
Apropos of nothing, Stevens turned his steps toward the only un-renovated building in the village, almost lost among an over-growth of elder, hawthorn and ivy.
As he arrived, his black leather shoes now slightly damp from the wet grass of the overgrown path, Steven noticed a girl leaning on the cottage gate talking to an old man. Actually the man may not have been all that old, but his wild hair and shabby demeanour made it difficult to be precise. The girl was obviously young, she practically vibrated with restrained energy, even her feather-cut, black-and-white hair bounced as her head twitched about in short, quick movements, matched by her small, thin hands as they punctuated her speech. The older man, who held his right arm against the chest of his stained and patched greatcoat, suddenly lifted his left hand for silence, glanced toward Stevens and then hurried away, following the path where it passed beyond the Huldra cottage. He was abruptly lost within the gloom of the surrounding woods.
The girl remained by the brightly-painted gate. Her gaze was direct, though her head continued its small motions. Her fingernails, where her they clutched the top bar of the gate, were as black as the darker parts of her hair. Behind her the only original dwelling left in Stone Howe lay entwined in a bower of ivy and honeysuckle, its thatched roof green with moss.
Pulling his warrant card from an inside pocket, Stevens introduced himself. The girl’s eyes never broke contact. ‘And you are?’ he prompted.
Third Canto – May 31st
Not one to ignore an implied challenge, Stevens continued past the Huldra’s cottage and into the deeper woods. The trees wove a dense canopy and the ground beneath lay in shade; few flowers or plants, just a thick layer of leaf-litter and the occasional fallen tree trunk, the latter colonised by all manner of bracket fungi, moss and lichens.
When Shuck appeared it was from behind a tree to Steven’s right, not from the far side of the mound. He cradled a withered right hand.
‘Quiet brother, still your sound,
Stevens willed himself to remain calm. It seemed obvious that Shuck’s age and ‘vocation’ may have seriously affected his mind. If he did possess any useful information it might require patience to coax it from him. It was quite possible that he’d seen something given the ‘cage’ remark. Stevens just needed to wade through the knee-deep crap the guy kept spouting.
Turning from Stevens, Shuck began circling the mound the opposite way. ‘Time changes things, people, places, memories.’
A look of sadness passes across Shuck’s face. ‘Like all your kind you don’t listen. I’d expect more from someone whose profession is seeking the truth. But any truth, I suppose, must fit with the parameters of the society it serves.’ Shuck closed his eyes and faced toward the sun. ‘There are four mounds. One lies east of here. But the stone upon it is gone, torn from the ground by the last set of contractors who rebuilt the last few cottages.’ He stroked his good hand across the smooth sandstone surface. ‘They wanted something special to mark their passing; money in a bank wasn’t enough.’ A sad smile. 'Now their desecration wrings its own kind of havoc.'
His mouth opened to protest, but no words emerged. Stevens felt held in place; bound into silence. The isolation of his surroundings began intruding into his senses. No birdsong, no rustle of leaves though they moved. And then there were the shapes that cavorted in his peripheral vision, resolutely refusing to come into focus when looked at directly. Though Shuck had fallen just as silent, Stevens could hear other, low voices, sounding from nowhere and everywhere. The furtive movement among the surrounding trees became even more pronounced. Earthy smells that he vaguely remembered but couldn’t recognise played in the air about him. Despite their being no breath of wind the ankle-deep grass on the mound moved, as if disturbed by small feet. Pulse thundering in his head, Stevens became unaccountably afraid.
Still smiling sadly, his gaze now gentle, Shuck spoke again. ‘They were ancient when you’re ancestors learned to walk upright. The eldritch nurtured humanity; this world was so fecund, they were happy to share its bounty. But you’re too greedy.’
Fourth Canto – May 31st
When he awoke the sky was dark; even the stars seem dim. Sitting up, Stevens took out his mobile phone and glanced at the screen; past midnight; no signal. Damn. He scrambled to his feet and looked quickly around. He had no expectation of seeing Shuck, but, perhaps, whatever had been there earlier might still be present. The odd, child-like feeling had almost faded, and he tried hard to keep it within his mental grasp. The faint sound of the wind in the trees was all he could detect. An unaccountable sadness settled upon him and, with a final glance toward the now shadowed stone, he descended the mound. A part of him wasn’t surprised, when almost immediately, he encountered the now very obvious path.
Standing before him was the most entrancingly beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Dark hair reached to her waist, framing a pale and elfin countenance. The hair seemed to be in constant motion, as if a faint breeze were blowing through the room. Her eyes were large, slightly Asiatic; her lips thin, almost bloodless. But, whatever exotic blood she carried she was undeniably beautiful. Her delicate hands were raised, fingers describing curlicues in the air. Stevens let out a ragged breath. And the vision was gone, replaced by an oriental woman and, beyond her, a one-eyed, bearded man standing upright, though his unfocussed right eye suggested a trance-state, possibly drugged. A hooded, checkered coat hung to his ankles, front open, sleeves fallen back on his raised forearms. His mouth moved and the unfamiliar litany continued its cadence.
Intending to exit the building and look for a phone signal - this weird shit definitely required back-up - Stevens spared one last glance at the woman; to find her dark eyes staring back. She smiled at him, motioned him forward. Unable to say why or resist the temptation, he complied, drawn across the threshold to stand within the study, to find his feet encompassed by an elaborate circle chalked in white upon the wooden floor. As his eyes broke contact with those of the woman Stevens attempted to move, but found himself held once again, subject to the same sensations as he experienced on the grassy mound; sound amplified, so that the faintest movement of air roared in his ears. For some moments the bearded man’s voice was a torment, before suddenly dying away as another figure entered the room.
Shuck still stood just as stooped, his right arm pulled in tight to his chest, though now an aura of restrained power emanated from him; his face bore fewer of the deep creases and wrinkles that had marked it earlier. In his left hand he gripped a piece of blue-grey stone that reflecting the soft light of numerous tallow candles scattered around the otherwise dark room. Shuck held out the stone fragment to the man, who received it into both of his hands as if accepting something precious.
More thunderous heartbeats pounded within Stevens’ chest as the tableau held. As Shuck reached out his good hand to touch the bear Stevens flinched, remembering the blood and claw marks and expecting the same. But the bear turned its head and nuzzled the vagrant’s hand. Nodding to the man and woman, Shuck turned and led the shadow-animal from the room, its wide flanks passing through the wall surrounding the door through which Shuck walked.
Fifth Canto – June 1st
The light hurt Stevens’ eyes as he emerged from the cottage into bright morning. Dawn was spilling down over the village. He walked slowly to his car, trying desperately to make sense of what he’d seen, but the harder he tried to concentrate, the quicker the details bled from his mind, leaving him with only the vaguest recollection of the previous day’s events.
Thomas English and Koto Kannon will reappear in Nocturne, the next tale of misrule...
micheledutcher - tobiash wrote: Well written. Fine description of scenes. Exciting story but questions remain. Why was the victim killed? But all in all a good read.
micheledutcher - mark211 wrote: This is appropriately creepy in all the right ways and I particularly liked the figure of Shuck. You definitely have a good ear (if that's the right word) for producing chilling effects – something I personally think is generally harder to achieve in writing than in film/TV.
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