||Meredith Havelock and the Isle of Wights
By John Rivers
Meredith felt the wind knocked out of her, as the Wax Bishop punched her in the gut. Doubled over she staggered back two steps before she looked up in the Bishop’s dead plastic eyes and called him a bastard.
Still bent over, she launched herself at the Wax Bishop’s waist and knocked him flying into a pile of discarded arms, legs and heads. Dust and cobwebs covered the abandoned corner and Meredith stifled a sneeze as she pushed herself up from the collapsed body of the Bishop. Bunching her black leather clad hand into a fist, she struck him square across the nose, shattering the pale pink plastic face. His collapsed nose revealed an empty shell inside. He screamed at her.
Before Meredith could strike him again, the Bishop drove his own fist into her side. She screamed as she was pushed off of him, rolling onto a floor littered with broken arms and feet. This time the Bishop with the shattered face rolled on top of her. Her glasses were now covered in dust and Meredith had to blink several times before she realised he was on her. He seemed to weigh nothing at all and yet his strength was pinning her to the floor. The Wax Bishop’s cold, artificial hands closed around Meredith’s throat. Meredith cast her hand about the floor trying to grab a weapon. Finding an arm that had once belonged to Prince Albert, Meredith swung it and once more found the Wax Bishop’s face. Both the arm and face splintered into slivers of pink. She felt his grip on her neck slacken and Meredith once again pushed the arm into his face. By now the Bishop had lost half of his face, and one of his eyes was rolling on the floor like an enthusiastically cast marble. He was weakening and so Meredith reached her left hand to the rest of his face and began to dismantle it. Breaking the plastic and crumbling it in her hand, the Bishop began to jerk. The more she broke away the slower he became. It was, Meredith considered, rather like puncturing a chocolate Easter egg.
As the back of the Bishop’s head crumbled away in Meredith’s hand he shuddered once more and then crashed down on his side. Propping herself up Meredith looked at the headless wax body, in its simple medieval bishop’s robes. On the pile of arms and legs lay his discarded mitre. Meredith briefly considered wearing it as a trophy.
Dusting herself off and still a little dazed, Meredith stood over the Wax Bishop and kicked the body with the toe of her black leather boot. It remained still. Satisfied, Meredith considered the wrecked storage room of the abandoned wax museum and its rather forlorn looking contents. The body parts were piled high in the corner she had rugby-tackled the Bishop into. Above that a tiny window poured a little of the September evening sunlight into the room showing up the unsettled dust. A stack of old costumes that had once adorned wax figures from history were hung up on the shelves opposite in case they were needed again. Meredith paused watching them carefully. It was unlikely that the spirit that had taken over the Wax Bishop would return just yet. Rather she hoped she’d shamed it enough so it had sloped off with its tail between its legs.
“Yes,” said Meredith to no one in particular. “It probably would have a tail.”
Still a little unsteady on her heeled boots, Meredith Havelock, forty two years old and a witch, stepped out of the derelict Wax Museum, thought to be the oldest building on the Island, took one last look at it with some considerable disdain and hobbled in the direction of Brading High Street.
The way Simon had explained it to Meredith was that Brading had been undergoing a protracted period of haunting. Naturally she had been sceptical. Tourist towns often needed to re-invent themselves, to find new attractions; and promoting the now-defunct wax museum – spooky enough in its heyday – as a supernatual hot-spot was an obvious way of drumming-up cash.
This said, Meredith was not one to dismiss Simon’s investigations out of hand, he was her primary source of income, passing her various academic jobs from his University which allowed her to maintain her modest cottage. A trip to the Isle of Wight, made all the more attractive as the schools had recently gone back, seemed like a good idea. At the very least it would be a good opportunity to see how the Island was fairing. Shanklin had until recently received a certain level of mystical protection from a faery called Tobias. At least this is what Meredith had been assured at a Wiccan conference in Bournemouth. It was one of the few mildly diverting moments of a tedious day out which she’d only attended because of the free drink and the opportunity to pick up an impressionable young man. Sadly no man was to be found and she’d ended up telling two opinionated female practitioners from Scotland that there was no magic there on account of government cutbacks. The next morning she blamed her nonsense and headache on the six vodka and tonics she’d had without dinner. The headache was made worse by the offensive email she’d received from the Scottish Wiccans.
This time, at the bar of the Dark Horse, Meredith went for a straight double vodka. She brushed dust off her curly blonde hair, polished her glasses on her red sweater and flicked pieces of splintered wax from her worn black leather trousers. Her entrance had aroused the interest of some of the bar’s older patrons. She smiled at them and raised her glass, before downing the lot. A small, elderly gentleman with large ears sat at the end of the bar gave silent applause.
Turning about she looked to a darkened corner of the pub where the evening sun had cast long shadows to see her friend and sometime employer Simon Emsworth sat next to a pile of guidebooks, a tablet computer and a half drunk pint of bitter. His white hair was neatly parted to one side, matching the colour of his shirt and framed by his dark green corduroy jacket. Opposite Simon was Gavin, the young man who had called them and invited them to the island. He was barely in his twenties and kept his sports jacket buttoned up underneath his chin. Introductions had been made (“I’m Gavin, amateur ghost-hunter, trainee electrician.” “Meredith Havelock, professional nuisance.”) and having seen Meredith not half an hour earlier looking impressively commanding in black he was surprised to see her covered in bits of plastic, a fresh scratch on her chin and hair tousled.
“One sec!” Meredith told them and asked the barmaid for another double, this time with tonic. She walked, still a little unsteady, over to the table.
“SNAFU, Meredith?” asked Simon as she plonked herself down in the chair next to Gavin.
“SNAFU, indeed. Evil bastard as well. Caught me by the hair on my way in. A waxwork dummy of a bishop, would you believe?”
Gavin looked puzzled. “I’m sorry, but ‘SNAFU’?”
Meredith raised her index finger. “You’ve got a phone, Google it. I was genuinely attacked by a waxwork dummy in there, punched me in the gut and tried to throttle me. I had to break his face in half.”
While Gavin fiddled with his phone, Simon clasped his hands together. “That sounds like a pretty serious manifestation.”
“It amazes me how you can say that sort of thing with a straight face. Pretty serious is right, Simon.” Meredith pinched her gloves off her own hands and began to examine them for any more signs of injury. “Powerful and really angry. It buggered off once I’d removed the head.”
“Ha!” said Gavin, having found the meaning of SNAFU. The rest of Meredith’s words then seemed to sink into the less water-tight areas of his brain. “Wait… You had a fight with a wax work dummy?”
Meredith’s eyes caught Simon’s for a second and then he looked sympathetically at Gavin. Meredith knew the meaning of the look was ‘you never used to listen either’. She sighed and turned to Gavin.
“Darling, I just decapitated a demonic entity that was animating the waxwork body of a medieval bishop inside an abandoned museum. These should be most shocking words you’ll hear for ten years to come or hence, they’re up there with: ‘You’ve passed’ or ‘I’m pregnant!’ Long story short, you’re right, there is something supernatural and screwy going on here. You were right to call Simon here and he was right to bring me. Now, you tell us everything while Simon goes to the bar and orders me some more painkillers.”
It didn’t take long for Gavin to recount the ghoulish occurrences of the past two months. He was a ghost hunting enthusiast, and had impressed Simon enough with a log and map of events. Having spread out the Ordnance Survey on the table, Gavin pointed out the recent history of sightings.
They had begun on the road between Bembridge and Culver Down in late June. Several people driving the road in the evening had reported seeing a woman and child, both in ‘period’ costume (every description seemed vague enough to place the long skirt and shawls worn by both anywhere between late Medieval and Edwardian). They were walking the coastal path next to the road and, apparently, stepping into the road too. Two calls to the police were placed that night concerning the wayward pedestrians (“Travellers! A drunk mother!”), but despite the best efforts of a car and two officers sent up from Shanklin station nothing can be found of them.
It was almost a month before the next occurrence, when for four evenings running a young man was spotted in nineteenth century clothing propping up a gate on a fallow field on the road to Hillway. This time the ‘man’ was engaged briefly in conversation with a farm hand who was out to lock the gates. The first time the farm hand had offered the young man a cigarette, but the young man had refused, slung his jacket over his back and told him he would see him at The Duke’s Arms that night. The man then disappeared into the hedgerow behind him. This performance was repeated for two nights when, on the third night the farm hand remembered he had his phone camera with him. Before reaching the young man he took a picture from a distance of the man resting his arms on the gate as he had done previously. When he checked the picture no man stood there, when the farm hand looked up, there was the man.
The farm hand, a Polish immigrant who had worked the farm a few summers and had a sensible head on him reported this strange appearance to his boss, he elected to come with him on the fourth evening. The farm manager was convinced it was some local kids bored and playing pranks after their exams had finished. Sure enough there was the young man, dressed in his dark brown trousers, white shirt and braces, jacket resting on the gate. All three men exchanged pleasantries and the farm manager remarked what a fine evening it was. The young man nodded and then his expression turned sullen and he grimaced. When asked what was wrong, he simply replied that he was “Very, very sorry for you all” and the he would not be returning. The following evening he did not appear.
Then in August the lights over Brading began. At any time after two am but before sunrise, the lights would creep into the windows of the shops and houses on the High Street as trapped reflections from a car’s headlights fading in and out of existence with no discernible source for the light either inside the buildings or out. After a few nights of villagers blinking, confused through their bedroom windows, a small group decided to stay up and observe the lights from outside. It was as if the High Street had become the canvas for an elaborate projected light display of auburns, ambers and crimsons, floating across and sticking to the white fronts of the buildings.
The lights especially liked the Old Rectory, gathering and pulsing there in slow-motion. Each fade in and out seemed to take ten or so minutes, the effect was that light looked blended together in such a way that you could never be sure if it was genuinely there or a trick of the night. Many remarked that the Old Rectory would look yellow and then later a deep red, only no one could put their finger on seeing it actually change.
Each night the crowds on the streets of Brading grew bigger. Lining the s-bend of the High Street and outside the Old Rectory as the light show played. It was usually between four and five in the morning when the display faded. A plethora of videos soon appeared on Youtube, a few even lasting the full length of the display, with psychedelic ambient soundtrack to accompany the light show. After eight nights of the activity Meridian ran a piece on the evening news using the internet footage and the presenter quickly decided the whole affair was a clever piece of viral marketing from an ailing tourist town.
In an effort to generate interest for his own group, Gavin emailed the County Press and declared that the ‘flattened orbs’ were definitely supernatural. The paper printed the email and within a day he had been called by the Hillway Farm manager and told of the appearance of the young man a few weeks before.
After ten nights, the show stopped. Everyone agreed that it must have been a publicity stunt – but no-one was complaining, as takings in the pubs and shops of the village had been the best all season.
While Brading got back into winding-down the last few weeks of summer, Gavin had kept his eye on the Old Rectory. It was a genuinely creepy place, the owners of the former waxwork museum had given it a suitably macabre look and over the years the attractions had become increasingly gruesome (“You’ve gotta keep up with stuff like the London Dungeon” you’d hear villagers remarking at the latest, sensationalist exhibit). Yet Gavin was smart enough to see through the stage-blood and had kept a vigil on the Rectory for two nights a week since. While he could only justify spending a couple of hours each night watching the building, he would indeed catch glimpses of the ephemeral lights that had been the talk of the town.
In his log he recorded each of the incidents of the spectral glow and during the day he would peer inside the cracks, keyholes and shuttered windows for signs of lamps or a projector. Inside, however, all he saw were piles of mannequin body parts and cobwebbed costumes.
“This was the icing on the cake,” said Gavin and fished out of the rucksack that had nestled between his knees a large red plastic box with a coiled red wired and a red and black plastic prong at each end. “Voltmeter. I took it right around the building and even found a couple of sockets for outside lamps I could test. Nothing, there’s no electric going in or out.”
Meredith look at Simon who nodded and smiled. “Good thinking, Gavin, certainly a more thoughtful approach than breaking into the back door without having listened to you first.”
Wincing, Meredith took another sip of her vodka tonic and pointed at the map. “Woman and child spotted here, then our mysterious man who’s sorry for us here, then right over here at Brading, ELO in concert.”
“Do you think there’s a significance?” asked Gavin. Simon peered at the map as Meredith frowned.
“You see, Gavin, that thing I fought in the museum, wasn’t normal, by any stretch. I mean your phantoms on the road and in the field, odd certainly, especially since there seems to be no recorded tales of it happening before, but full-on possession of an inanimate object, is outside the usual realm of supernatural…” Meredith struggled for the word she wanted. “…stuff. I think someone is attempting to summon a thing or things here and from the activity you’ve seen it’s not going to be a nice thing.”
“So, what do they need to summon something?” asked Gavin.
Meredith chuckled “Well sometimes all you need is a candle, a needle and a promise of a good night out, but on this scale… Ritual and all ritual needs theatre and theatre needs a stage.”
Simon jammed his finger a little to the north of where Meredith was holding hers on the map. It landed in a roughly oval area of woodland. “So what do we think the seats are like here?”
“Centurion’s Copse,” read Meredith. “That would seem likely.”
Gavin shivered and readjusted the zip on his coat. “Perhaps more likely than you’d think.”
Tired and a little woozy from her fight and the alcohol, Meredith had requested her room at a nearby B&B. Gavin dropped her and Simon off and they parted for separate bedrooms.
Sighing, she sat on the edge of the bed and discarded her jacket and top. The Wax Bishop had caused some bruising judging by the dark red marks on her body. She approached the sink and mirror for a closer look. Meredith frowned at her reflection. Yes her body wasn’t bad (bruising aside), but there was still great deal to be said about a woman her age chasing ghosts and boys less than half her age. She smoothed the crowsfeet by her eyes and pulled a face. “I’m a cou-gar,” said Meredith. It was a spell of convincing that was she wasn’t falling for right then. She began to fill the basin.
As the water trickled into the sink Meredith suddenly considered a different approach. They could go traipsing into Centurion’s Copse tomorrow looking for signs of ritual activity, or she could get a sneak preview. Meredith let the water in the sink fill up, luke-warm. Once it had reached a few inches from the top, she turned off the taps, rested both hands on the basin’s sides and took a deep breath.
Hydromancy, divination through water was not an exact art. Most fantastic depictions of scrying usually involved an image appearing on the surface of a still pool, summoned or dismissed with the wave of a hand. Meredith’s version was a little more direct.
Plunging her head straight into the water, Meredith stared into the blackness at the bottom of the basin. Her body was blocking out any light from the room, but within a few seconds was confident that the magic had taken effect. The bottom of the bowl, the black plastic plug faded from view and the water suddenly had depth. Meredith pushed her head forward, staring into the blackness. Visions could arrive quickly or sometimes not at all. If they did appear they were often disjointed, leaving you to fill in the blanks. If you lost your house keys you were better off calling a locksmith. Slowly, the witch breathed out, the bubbles fluttering past her eyes causing her to blink. There was something there. A grey form, oval shaped, undulating in the mirk of the water. It appeared to be formed of two white bridges, one the reflection of the other, viewed length-ways drifting slowly towards her. As the definition increased it looked like three white pincers, slowly opening in front of her. Meredith narrowed her eyes, was it a claw, it looked too broad, too smooth, the pincers weren’t sharp enough. It opened wider. Oh gods – it was a mouth.
The split second Meredith pulled her head back out of the sink, the mouth came after her. She pushed herself back from the sink and fell onto the floor. The mouth pushed its way out of the sink as far as it could. The two bottom pincers formed the lower part of the jaw, the third pincer, the top. They prised themselves apart in the narrow sink basin and cried out, like a man screaming in slow-motion, low, strangulated, deep. The smell of rotting flesh overwhelmed Meredith as she covered her mouth, choking into her arm. The mouth tried to twist, but could only move jerkily from side-to-side within the confines of the sink. The painful moaning continued for a few seconds more before the mouth, gleaming white and wet in the dim bedroom light pulled back into the tenebrous depths of the sink.
Meredth wiped her face down on her arm and stood up. Glancing into the sink she saw only the plug at the basin bottom. Gingerly she hooked the metal plug cord out and quickly stepped back. The water drained away as Meredith opened her bedroom window, buried her head into a towel and collapsed on to the bed. Her last thought before passing out was that the vile stench of decay had been tinged with something else – it smelled like the sea.
The following morning Meredith met Simon for breakfast, in an empty dining room, with one solitary table set for them. Meredith had checked the sink thoroughly for signs of anything else emerging over night.. She described in detail to him the encounter with the mouth and Simon stared into the bottom of his tea cup.
“I wouldn’t try reading the tea leaves if I were you,” warned Meredith, half-seriously.
“I don’t have your gifts, Meredith, but it is slightly disturbing to know that something seems determined to give you grief. First the Bishop, now the Mouth.” Despite his concern for his friend, Simon shook his head at the nonsense he was speaking. Putting the tea cup down, he looked out of the window that faced towards Brading. “Did you use any magic to get into the Wax Museum?”
“Buzzed the lock, yes,” Meredith pointed with her finger at Simon who was expected to believe lightning had shot from it.
“An admittance charm then.”
Meredith rolled her eyes. “Fine, I wrapped the lock in cowslip and oak fern.”
“Still it is magic and it looks like that’s attracting the nasty things.” Simon drummed his fingers on the white tablecloth. “Are you armed?”
Nodding, Meredith took a gulp of coffee.
“Good. Let’s go for a walk in the woods.”
Gavin picked them up half an hour later. Simon and Meredith decided not to tell him about the mouth in the sink, instead they asked Gavin to remind them of the stories around Centurion’s Copse.
The Copse, Gavin explained, was about four hundred metres across to the east of Brading next door to Bembridge Airport. The name itself was a mystery. Remains of a Roman pottery had been found by Victorian antiquarians and had drawn the conclusion that a centurion has once resided there. The name itself went back further than that with eighteenth century maps documenting Centurion’s Copse, as well as other related geographical features. Older records however suggested the site had been home to Saint Urian’s Chapel, now disappeared.
“Well that’s easy,” said Meredith. “‘Saint Urian’ became ‘Centurion’ as the centuries passed.”
“Yeah,” replied Gavin, turning into the dirt track that lead to the west end of the Copse. But it gets better…”
According to canon there is no ‘Saint Urian’, Catholic or otherwise. The closest named saint was ‘Saint Urith’ who had appeared in the seventh century and came from Barnstaple in Devon. She had been persecuted by her own pagan stepmother who hacked her to death with a scythe for her Christian beliefs.
Simon nodded as Gavin related the tale. “That sort of legend might be too tempting to resist.”
“Orgies in the woods?” asked Meredith hopefully.
Simon snorted. “Who knows? Though they rarely summon anything apart from a trip to the health clinic.”
Gavin, who had gone a deeper than usual shade of pink, coughed and asked “So what should we be looking for?”
Simon leaned forward to look at the Copse as the car drew nearer. “Signs of ritual activity, animal carcasses, that sort of thing.”
Gavin brought his car to a stop on the edge of the Copse next to a footpath and the group got out. Simon organised them to stand about fifty metres apart and to comb the Copse from west to east. He told them all to take slow, deliberate steps and keep their eyes peeled for clues.
The woodland was cool and shaded, occasional shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy and created angular designs on the bracken underfoot. Meredith picked her way through as her eyes roamed left to right. She was still feeling bruised from the previous day’s encounter and remained unsettled from her scrying attempt. Her mind turned to thoughts of the ferry timetable.
Having progressed around a hundred metres inside, the woodland seemed unusually thick. The ground was uneven and the sunlight played at angles that made the tree trunks out to be mirrors. Meredith swore at having left her prescription sunglasses at the B&B and shielded her view with her hand. Up ahead she could make out Gavin who had stopped. He had his back to her and wasn’t moving. Meredith watched him for another thirty seconds and then called out for him.
Again he didn’t move. Deciding something was wrong she picked her way through the bracken towards him. This time she called for Simon, who emerged from a thicket off to Gavin’s right and saw that Meredith was half-running half-stumbling towards him. The pair converged on Gavin at more or less the same moment.
“Gavin, what’s-” began Meredith, but Gavin just pointed straight ahead of him.
The three stood on the edge of a small clearing in the centre of which was a tree stump. Wedged, or rather fused into the stump was an elongated piece of dull white bone, eight feet in length and curved upwards like a pointed scimitar.
“Oh-kay…” said Meredith.
“Could be an attempt at folk art,” said Simon who had walked towards the standing bone for a closer look. He leaned in and examined the structure. “But this is definitely bone.”
“You said animal carcasses, “ replied Gavin. “But that must belong to an elephant or something.”
“Or bigger,” said Simon, who then grasped the bone in his hand, not being able to close his fist around the thickness.
“Whale,” said Meredith. “This and last night. A whale.”
“What happened last night?” asked Gavin, but Simon and Meredith ignored him and looked closer at the bone.
Simon rapped the bone with his knuckle. “So what is it? Focal point? Transmitter? Altar?”
“Could be any and all of those things.” Meredith reached out her palm and stroked down the bone slowly. “Or a way point…”
Simon began to pace around the structure. “I’m no expert, but presumably getting hold of a bone like this must be pretty difficult, but it’s definitely been brought here and driven into the stumps. The roots are the tree beneath are pretty substantial.”
“If you get one, a whale, that is, washed-up then you have to notify the council, if it’s dead it goes to the Natural History Museum. They’re usually pretty big to miss,” said Gavin. Simon stopped next to him.
“And you haven’t heard of any being washed-up recently?”
“No, but I could ask around. Some of mates will know guys who work on the beaches and that.”
“Do that, please, Gavin,” said Simon, he turned back to Meredith. “What now?”
“Well… I don’t feel anything from it,” she said. “I suppose we could hang around here and wait and see if anyone turns up to worship it.”
“Back to the car then,” said Simon, striding purposefully back to the edge of the wood, leaving the upright bone where it stood. Gavin was already calling-up his friends, Meredith rubbed her fingers after touching the cold bone and followed.
It didn’t take long for Gavin’s friends to deliver some rumour and hearsay that sounded just right.
As May had refused to deliver summer and continued to give out storm after storm there had been a couple of particularly violent nights that whipped across the Isle. During one of these nights the RNLI at Bembridge had been called out to one eventually turned out to be a false alarm out of the Isle’s eastern waters that bled into the Portsmouth to St Helier ferry lane. On the boat’s return two of the crewmen had sworn they had seen a large black shape rolled on to the shore near Culver Down. The storm however had increased dramatically by then and the lifeboat was forced to head back in to Bembridge. The crew checked for any other sightings, found none and resolved to investigate once off-shift. The following morning, there was nothing to be found at Culver Down on the beach and the crew decided that it must have been a phantom shadow from the storm.
As it probably wasn’t worth returning to Centurion’s Copse until sundown (where Meredith declared they’d either find some devil worshippers or the Isle’s hardcore dogging scene), Gavin drove them down to Culver Down where a girl named Rowena met them. She stood on the bank of grass a few metres from the cliff-edge that swept down to Shanklin towards the west.
Rowena was a few years younger than Gavin and looked like her diet consisted of tourist toffee boxes and sausage rolls. Her brother, Geoff, had been on the lifeboat that night. Together the group walked down to the path edge, at the top of the cliff.
“Are you ghost hunters, like Gav?” asked Rowena, her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets.
“We’re… from the council,” replied Simon.
“Whatevs,” said Rowena, who then pointed down at the beach. “There it was, Geoff reckons. He swears it was a beached whale, I reckon it was his contacts, he puts them in backwards sometimes.”
Meredith looked along the beach and then up to coastline. Benches were evenly spaced throughout the long grass of the cliff-top looking out to sea. There would have been plenty of opportunity to get a look at a whale washed up on the beach below. Beyond where the cliff curved around she could see orange warning tape and the top of a bright yellow digger. “Let’s take a walk around,” she suggested.
“Well I got to get on shift,” said Rowena. “Happy ghost hunting, Gav.” She turned to Simon. “My mate Danika thinks he’s alright, but I don’t get it.”
As Rowena walked back towards the car park, Simon frowned and then shook his head. He started off after Meredith and Gavin.
It took the trio around twenty minutes to walk in the early afternoon sun, the cliff-top breeze whistling past their ears along the path to the orange tape. Meredith had harboured ideas that the tape would be some sort of archaeological dig, the sort of thing that might throw up a whale bone to conjure with. Instead, nestled in a dip some hundred metres from the cliff edge was a new house.
The house was red brick, but modern with a large living room window overlooking the sea and a balcony above that. Bedrooms presumably lead behind, while a kitchen ran off to the right at ground level. Cement bags and a mixer still stood in the driveway. The digger, a compact version of a JCB was parked alongside an estate car. An abandoned child’s trike sat forlornly on its side outside the front door.
“We might as well as them if they saw anything,” said Meredith and made for the front door. “We’re from the council if anyone asks.”
At the door, Meredith knocked sharply twice. It only took a few seconds before scampering feet ran up the hallway. A small figure could be seen behind the frosted glass, that could just about reach up and open the door.
Meredith took a step backwards when she saw the girl, who she believed must have been six or seven years old. It wasn’t that children made Meredith uncomfortable, despite having none of her own, it was rather the reminder that she was carrying a loaded Beretta M9 semi-automatic pistol stuffed into the back of her leather trousers. She took a moment to tug her jacket down.
“Hello, welcome to our home,” said the blonde haired girl, smiling up at both Meredith and Simon. Gavin kept his head down at the back.
“Oh, hello!” said Meredith. “Could we speak to your Mummy or Daddy please?”
“Hello, welcome to our home,” came a voice from behind the girl. Looking up, Meredith saw a man with neatly combed brown hair and a blue sweater come towards them.
“Ah, is this your, Daddy?” asked Meredith, smiling.
The girl didn’t reply, but instead skipped behind the man and said “Welcome, welcome!”
“Hello, yes, I’m Daddy, well Mr Fulbright, to you, can I help you at all?”
“I’m really sorry to disturb you, but my name’s Jane and I’m afraid I’ve dragged my poor father out here on a wild goose chase and now he’s desperate for the loo,” and with that Meredith firmly clasped Simon by the shoulders. “Could he possibly use yours? It won’t take a moment.”
Before Mr Fulbright could react Meredith manhandled Simon over the step of the front door and into the house, nearly pushing his down the hallway. “Oh this is lovely!” she said. “Wait out there, please, Gavin.”
Gavin nodded as Mr Fulbright quickly followed them down the hall. “I’m afraid that-”
Meredith and Simon stood in the living room. There was a cold, grey concrete floor and no furniture. A blanket lay in the corner, covered in dust next to a few candles. The walls were unpainted, the plaster haphazard and blotchy.
“You’re still finishing the place off, Mr Fulbright?”
Mr Fulbright paused for a few seconds and then replied “Yes, yes. We’re finishing. It’s all down to my wife you see. She needs to finish the place off.”
“So is there a bathroom we could possibly use?” asked Meredith, her eyes scanning the room, left to right.
“We’re still finishing, including the bathroom.”
“Mummy says we’ll soon be done!” said the girl, throwing herself proudly down onto a dust sheet.
Meredith gently guided Simon around who quickly added “I’m so sorry to be a nuisance,” and had managed to position herself by the hallway door once more.
She quickly let go of Simon’s shoulders and hopped back into the hallway and jogged up the stairs. “Sure there isn’t a bathroom up-” By the ninth stair Meredith had stopped. At the top of the stairs was a concrete wall, covered in cement. There was no landing, no doorway at the top, the stairs just stopped. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she gripped the bannister. Slowly she backed down the stairs and turned around, only to come face-to-face with Mr Fulbright.
“We’re still finishing,” he said.
“As I can see. You have a long way to go.” Meredith took a deep breath. “Well, so sorry for disturbing you, we must be leaving. Come along, Daddy!” She glared at Simon as she strode quickly down the hallway. He nodded and followed her out. Meredith turned once more to look at Mr Fulbright and his daughter and nodded. “Good day, this way, Gavin!”
Startled at how quickly they had exited, Gavin immediately asked for an explanation.
“Just keep walking, get beyond the tape.”
“What’s wrong, Meredith?” asked Simon.
“Just keep going! Gavin, do you have that voltmeter, that thing you used for testing electricity?”
“Yeah it’s still in my rucksack,” he thumbed to the pack behind him.
“When we get back behind the rim here, I want you to turn around and go to the back of the house. Find any wire, anything going in or out of the house and test it.”
As they got to the crest of the estate edge, past the orange tape and out of sight, Meredith waved Gavin off on his mission and then crouched down in the cliff-top’s long grass. She pulled Simon down too. He looked at her, she had gone pale and was staring in the direction Gavin had gone.
Another minute passed and Simon had noticed that Meredith’s right hand was positioned by her hip, as if ready to reach for the gun. A few seconds more passed and Gavin ran back towards them half ducking as he ran back through the grass. As he approached she stood up and helped the increasingly worried Simon to his feet again. She ushered them both to walk back down the coastal path.
“Let me guess, no electric?” she asked.
“Not a thing,” replied Gavin.
“Dammit!” Meredith stopped and stamped her black boot in frustration.
Simon rounded on her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Will you please explain what happened there?”
Meredith looked into his eyes. “It’s an Un-house. The stupid, bloody idiots decided to try and build an Un-house right here. Christ, not even Crowley was mad enough to attempt one of those!”
“What’s an Un-house?” asked Gavin.
Meredith turned to him “A sort of anti-house. Houses give warmth, shelter right? An Un-house gives the illusion of those things, the illusion of rooms, of space, of purpose. It’s a device used to encourage things not of this world into our world. I thought the girl and Dad were creepy, with their lack of furniture and repeating everything, but then- then, when I walked up the stairs and they went nowhere. That’s encouragement of void, the absence of life, movement. It’s… it’s diabolical architecture at its finest.”
Simon digested the information slowly and nodded. “They kept saying Mummy would finish it.”
“Hang on,” said Gavin. “What about the whale? That’s what we came here in the first place.”
“I think there was a whale here. I think the Un-house drew the whale on to the shore and that it was alive when it was beached. It’s then entirely possible that they sacrificed it during the storm that night.”
Simon’s eyes widened. “Oh my God. A sacrifice of that size…”
“Puts your little house here on the map, as it were.” Meredith turned to face the sea. “We need to see the mother- well, I do anyway. Come back here and talk to her.”
“And if she won’t be reasoned with?” asked Simon.
Meredith felt the gun, heavy and cold at her back. “She has a family, she’ll see sense. Come on, we need to get back to the car.”
Gavin had wondered if they should have gone to the police in Shanklin, or rather should he have done given that since Meredith had arrived she’d indirectly involved him in breaking and entering and trespass. As it happened though he found himself walking back through Centurion’s Copse carrying a hacksaw.
The plan Meredith had devised was somewhat short on detail, but involved using the Bone Monument in some way to reverse the magic that Mrs Fulbright had supposedly used. The hacksaw was the largest, rustiest he could find from his Dad’s garage and he doubted it could cut through the whale bone lodged in the centre of the Copse.
While Meredith had gone to look for ‘useful herbs, that sort of thing’ Gavin and Simon had been given the task of felling the bone. There were so many things Gavin wanted to ask him, mainly about Meredith and where they’d begun investigating. Simon, however, was light on responses. He simply told Gavin that Meredith had been his student at University. As Gavin knelt beside the Monument and begun trying his luck with the hacksaw, he felt he really wasn’t getting the whole story.
Simon raised his hands to shade the sun which was now lower in the late afternoon. The whole hue of the Copse had shifted to a richer amber. Through the dense woodland he couldn’t see Meredith, but then squinted when he thought he saw a cow pushing its way into the edge of the wood. He squinted and realised the white shape coming towards them wasn’t a cow at all.
The woman was tall and thin, clothed in jeans, brown boots and a thick green sweater. In her right hand she carried a long white staff, curved and bleached. On her head- no, Simon looked again – on her shoulders sat a giant whale skull, gleaming through the greens and browns of the trees.
There was no head.
“Oh my God.” Gavin was now looking up at the figure striding toward them.
“Keep sawing,” said Simon. “We may need that bone.”
Steadying his hands, Gavin continued to saw as quick as he could, the bone feeling like concrete as the saw screeched across it.
Swallowing, Simon took a couple of steps forward and walked out in front of the woman’s path. “Mrs Fulbright?”
Even though she was still almost fifty metres away, Simon could see that Mrs Fulbright didn’t have a human head. The skull was hollow, the bone stayed locked to her shoulders through no visible means. She stopped as he walked towards her and the skull tilted to one side in consideration. “Mrs Fulbright, we just want to talk to you.”
The skull opened its mouth to speak, the whale jaw bones flexing downwards to move muscles that weren’t there. Simon felt her speak through his feet. No words, but the ground rumbled beneath his shoes and the tide began to pulse in his ears.
The pulsations of air and ground increased and suddenly unsure of his footing, Simon took a step to the left. The skull threw itself back in mock laughter and Mrs Fulbright tapped her bone staff on the woodland mulch. In Simon’s ears he was being hauled underwater, the smell of brine, of dead flesh, dead seaweed and dead shores assaulted his nose and he began to gag. His right leg gave way as the vomit rose up inside him and he swallowed trying to keep focused on her. He coughed and shook as the vibrations trembled his legs and the woodland shimmered. He closed his eyes trying to summon the strength back to his legs.
The gunshot opened them again.
“Enough!” cried Meredith. She strode forward holding the pistol in front of her and aimed squarely at Mrs Fulbright’s whale skull. “Enough theatrics – enough animated bishops, enough ghosts, enough lights in the sky.”
Mrs Fulbright’s stance had changed as she considered Meredith. The skull pointed forward to her, like a snake considering its prey.
“I can see that you’re powerful, Mrs Fulbright. Your influence has spread far in a short time. I’m very impressed, but I still don’t think you know what you’re dealing with.”
The skull opened and hissed.
Meredith’s gun didn’t waver though. “Building that Un-house was a very stupid thing to do. Forces that even the keenest practitioner wouldn’t deal with visit there. Your master has done a very good job at convincing you you could handle it.”
The bone staff smacked into the ground once more and it was Meredith’s turn to stumble. She just about managed to stay on her feet as the brief shaking subsided.
“How about I just shoot you in the leg and we see who hits the ground first?”
It took only a second for the intense burning to reach her hand holding the pistol and too late for Meredith to do anything about it. The gun began to glow bright orange and Meredith screamed, falling to her knees and clutching her outstretched palm, red and bloodied and burned. The gun fell to the woodland floor glowing red and then blue as the heat crippled and twisted it.
Mrs Fulbright ran for them and Simon charged forward. She side-stepped him neatly and his shaken legs carried him forward into a roll, she brought the bone staff down onto his shoulder, he hit the ground with a dull thud.
It was while Mrs Fulbright had raised her staff to strike Simon once again, that Gavin took his chance. He had managed to saw the bone monument free and raised it above his head. He closed his eyes and brought it down hard onto the skull.
The crack as bone met bone sounded out across the Copse and caused a low hum that grew in pitch like someone moving a tuning fork. This time Mrs Fulbright fell down onto one knee, the skull drifting from side-to-side as if stunned, her body limp, though her hand grasped the staff. Gavin stood there stunned at his own strength and through the ringing in his ears made out a voice:
“No need to strike it again.”
Meredith turned to look up, to see where the voice had come from, her own face contorted with pain from her burned hand, however her nerves were now coping with a new shock.
The girl was dressed in a simple white smock with one thick, bloodied line drawn across its middle. She was fair-haired, though the edges were ragged and singed. She was at most only fourteen or fifteen. Frowning she looked about them, at the broken bone stump in the trunk and the smoking lump of gun-metal.
Gavin’s eyes flicked from the Girl in White to Mrs Fulbright, still on her knees, the skull nodding back and forth. Simon had rolled out of the way, onto his back and propped himself up with his elbow.
Meredith managed to stand, her burned palm held up in greeting. “My name is Meredith Havelock, Miss. We apologise if we’re trespassing.”
“All are welcome,” she looked around her. “All were welcome, I mean. It has been many years… Yet recently I heard the echoes, far away and I reached out and like the chapel bell- bone on bone, I heard you.”
“Then thank you for attending us, Miss.” Meredith stepped forward,
The Girl in White made a sad expression and pointed at Mrs Fulbright. “Even when young I could spot evil. This is… pronounced though. There is no woman left here. She is a parasite plagued with parasites. She is consumed.”
Mrs Fulbright’s skull moaned and tilted back to look at the Girl in White.
“You can’t help her then?” asked Meredith.
The Girl in White smiled again. “I can. Tis no barter. A straight trade. She has a house by the sea, does she not?”
Meredith nodded slowly. “She does, but you’ll need to take it down and start again.”
“This I have done before. Come, Witch, you will be the vessel. Your burned hand will not hurt in mine.”
Walking slowly over to the Girl in White, Meredith gently reached out her red palm and the girl slipped hers over it. She then grasped Mrs Fulbright’s wrists as it clung to the bone staff.
The trees in Centurion’s Copse sighed as the skull vanished. Where the demons left Mrs Fulbright, Urith entered.
“Actually,” said Meredith. “My plan was to drive the digger through the front door of the Un-house and I’m a bit miffed I didn’t get to do it. Not half as miffed as I am losing my gun. It’s not like you pick those up off eBay, you know. Well, not often.”
“Personally,” replied Simon “I’m glad we’re alive.” He slumped back in his chair at The Dark Horse, the enthusiastic curiosity of the previous night seemed to have left him.
Gavin returned from the bar with the round. He maneuvered the glass around the large whale bone that lay across the pub table. “What should I do with this?”
“Throw it in the sea,” said Meredith. “It’s where it belongs. I doubt there’s any magical value to it now. Mrs Fulbright was the centre of everything and she’s… changed. Likely the husband and daughter have changed too. Job done.”
“So no more ghosts or lights?” Gavin, supped thoughtfully.
“I shouldn’t think so. She was testing the limits of her power, the Un-house only half built. The Bone in the Copse amplified that power.”
“But where had she been hiding?”
Simon straightened up a little. “It’s possible there was a basement we didn’t see in the Un-house.”
“Yes,” nodded Meredith. “When I arrived in Brading, she must have sensed me, sent the Wax Bishop during my investigation of the Museum. Then pinpointed me when I tried scrying. She couldn’t risk a fight at the Un-house and so followed us to the Copse.”
Gavin nodded. “So you do this for a living then?”
Simon frowned. Meredith coughed and took another sip of her drink..
“It’s more of a hobby,” she said.
Photo from Naturenet