In honour of Halloween, an American holiday Britain has embraced with increasing enthusiasm in the time I have lived here, I submit another extract from my YA Fantasy novel The Circle of Lost Sisters.
Shelley Baderman and Jude Henley purchased Bayley Farm near St Agnes Kirkmore twenty years ago. It was originally a subsistence farm but it was much more than that now. The orchard boasted rare varieties of apples, pears and a berry patch. They kept bees, rare breed chickens and a goat. They transformed a former cow shed into a popular Farm Shop where Shelley sold jam made from the berries, honey from the bees, eggs from the chickens and even some of Tyra’s home-made pots and bowls. The orchard was a Pick Your Own and one of their friends made wine, cider and perry from their fruits which they sold in the shop. Everything was, of course, organic.
They had devoted the large, back field to a campsite, popular with fell walkers until Tyra became a werewolf two years ago. They couldn’t advertise: Pitches Available Except During Full Moon or Establishment Not Responsible for Werewolf Injuries. Pitch at Your Own Risk. The field lay vacant now. It was open and it was secluded. The perfect place for werewolf battles.
All week-end the pack took turns fighting their new werewolf brother and each other. They soon grew desensitised to the intoxicating effect of Finn’s scent. Except Freya. The disciplined Alpha kept losing focus and Finn regularly tripped over things trying to impress her. This might have irritated Holly—but she was too anxious about the up-coming Parent’s Evening to spare much thought for Finn and Freya.
‘Don’t understand what you’re wound up about,’ Finn insisted.
He sprawled on the floor beside Freya, who was almost asleep. It was past three am on Saturday night/Sunday morning. They had just finished their last training session until after the Dark Moon. All the werewolves felt drained by the waning phase. They draped around Tyra’s sitting room trying to work up the energy to go home.
‘S’just school really,’ Finn added. Freya jabbed her elbow into his ribs feebly then yawned and let her head fall on his shoulder. Holly looked away.
‘Ditch it,’ Rowan encouraged with an exhausted gesture and a yawn.
‘No one’d bat an eyelash,’ added Ingrid.
‘Hirst would,’ Holly insisted darkly.
‘Miss Hirst is on the war path against evil doers,’ agreed Freya wickedly. ‘Sorry, Holly,’ she added too sleepy to smirk. Finn laughed. Holly gestured rudely.
‘Something not right about her,’ Ingrid murmured from the sofa before she could stop herself. She hoped no one had heard her but she was in the wrong company for that. .
‘Whatcha mean?’ moaned Tyra.
‘Not sure,’ Ingrid struggled. ‘She just looks…’
‘Out of place,’ supplied Rowan.
‘Gonna skive,’ decided Holly. ‘S’on the Dark Moon. Be too tired anyroad.’
‘You don’t actually have to be there. Hirst wants your Mum not you.’
‘As if I’m going to let a bunch of teachers talk crap ‘bout me behind me back—’
‘Just a suggestion…’
‘I’ll go with her if you like,’ offered Finn.
Holly saw her brother give Freya Thornton the same kind of dreamy-eyed, dope-faced gaze she had seen most of the male (and female) population give Miss Hirst since her arrival. Freya blushed. Holly gagged. The sound of vicious barking cut off her planned insult attack.
‘Dog wants in,’ Ingrid slurred into a sofa cushion. No one moved then Tyra suddenly leapt to her feet and bolted for the door.
‘Joxer?’ Tyra called.
More barking. It grew steadily louder and more insistent. Tyra called again firmly but the dog did not obey. Then Joxer unleashed a ferocious series of threatening noises. The Pack and Finn ran to join Tyra in the empty chicken yard.
‘What’s going on?’ Freya demanded.
‘Dunno. He’s not usually like this.’
‘S’probably a fox,’ dismissed Holly wearily.
‘It’s not a fox,’ insisted Ingrid looking carefully at Joxer. ‘That dog is terrified.’
‘Smell that?’ Finn asked.
Everyone turned their faces up to take in the odours whipping around the night breeze. The pack instantly recognised it. It was the same smell that had surrounded the White Hell Hounds: the dark and icy scent of ashy death.
‘What’s wrong?’ Jude appeared suddenly behind Tyra. ‘Is Joxer hurt?’
‘Jude, get back in the house,’ Freya ordered sharply. Jude obeyed. Then Freya turned to Tyra. ‘Did you spread salt everywhere?’
‘Aye,’ Tyra assured her shakily.
‘How far did you go?’
‘All around the house. Ma said put it on thresholds and windows.’ The sharp, sound of broken glass cut the silent air.
‘It’s in the shop,’ Freya whispered. Tyra gasped in horror.
‘I didn’t think of the shop!’ Joxer continued to bark madly at Shelley’s beloved Farm Shop though he kept his distance from the door. Finn moved protectively to Freya’s side.
‘Some sort of beastie in’t shop then, love.’ he clarified. ‘Got a plan?’ he whispered almost teasingly in her ear.
‘Always,’ she grinned back managing not to show her nerves. No one saw the swift kiss Finn planted on the back of Freya’s neck. She shivered slightly then galvanised control.
‘Tyra,’ Freya addressed in a tense, low voice. ‘Do you have an iron skillet?
‘Got a Dutch Oven,’ Tyra whispered back after a moment of thought. Sensing Freya’s confusion she added: ‘Big iron casserole dish with a lid.’
‘Get it,’ ordered Freya. Tyra glanced at her Ma lurking beside Jude in the doorway, and Shelley vanished from sight.
‘Because now is the perfect time to make Hot Pot?’ Holly asked incredulous.
‘She’s going to knock it out,’ proposed Finn confidently
‘Not if it’s a ghost,’ Rowan whispered.
‘We don’t know what it is,’ admitted Freya.
‘Sounds like it’s throwing a party in there,’ added Holly under the noise of more shattering glass. Tyra snarled. Shelley re-appeared cradling a cooking pot that looked like a witch’s cauldron. She held it out for Tyra behind the safety of the salted threshold.
‘Iron and salt.’ Freya reminded them.
Tyra carried the heavy iron pot in one hand, the lid in the other and presented both to her Alpha. Freya grasped the handle of the lid and held it to her chest like a shield. When Tyra handed her the pot as well she pushed it back at her.
‘Use it to guard the rear. We don’t know where this thing might come at us.’
Freya advanced toward the shop entrance iron lid held aloft. Finn followed closely behind her. Rowan took her place on Freya’s right, Holly on the left. Ingrid and Tyra guarded the back of the formation each holding one side of the pot. They felt a bit stupid—like they were preparing to catch rainwater or waiting in case the thing they were about to face needed to throw up or have a wee. The smell of death grew stronger as they drew closer to the shop. Freya’s eyes watered. Joxer roared and howled. There was another sound of smashing. Tyra flinched.
‘If that was the oak leaf bowl I will rip out its throat myself,’ she growled.
‘Stay together,’ commanded Freya.
As the girls huddled between their iron defences, a ripple of power surged through the pack. Even Finn sensed the energy radiating around the human-formed werewolves: Ingrid tingled, Freya hardened, Rowan shuddered and Tyra heated. Holly felt a cold force form first around herself then around the entire group. She laid her hand over Freya’s on the iron lid. Freya looked at her quizzically.
‘Anything comes at me I’m taking this off you and bashing its head in.’ warned Holly with a defiant toss of her wild, red hair.
Joxer’s stopped barking. He backed away from the door of the shop alternately whimpering and growling. His fear warred with his protection duties. The sounds of rattling and crashing stopped.
‘It knows we’re here,’ Tyra whispered. The pack tensed. Finn stepped away from Freya and assumed a defensive crouch between her and his sister.
The door of the shop burst open in a gust of foul wind and Joxer bolted. The werewolves waited for a figure of some kind to follow it but none appeared. An invisible presence pushed toward them in forceful swirls of reeking air which singed their senses. Bourne on these waves of wind were tiny particles of broken glass, splinters of wood and scraps of paper—the detritus of its destruction in the shop—and an additional odour of fermented fruits. Apparently this particular evil spirit required spirits. It had knocked over the entire shelf of homemade wine and cider.
Freya and Holly thrust the casserole dish lid shield toward the source of the swirling odours and rubbish. Holly felt the iron freeze under her hands as if frost were forming along the edges of the lid and creeping toward her. She sucked in air tightly through her teeth as the handle turned so icy it burned her skin. Rowan sent an extra wave of energy and Holly did not let go of her iron weapon. Tyra cried out as the fury of the unseen apparition filled the night around them and consumed Tyra’s far too open heart.
Ingrid saw nothing in the spirit tornado but Holly’s shield as a visible thing: a bright silver glow arcing in the dark around them. Frightened as she was Ingrid could not fail to appreciate the beauty of it. It was as if they were all under a dome of pure moonlight—an image parallel to the blazing half of the pale moon hanging low behind them on the horizon.
The gust of rubbish strewn wind retreated suddenly. It whooshed away from them with a horrible, sucking noise like a very ill person attempting to inhale. Then the particles of glass, wood and paper formed themselves into a full-lipped mouth which opened and spoke.
‘I… lost you…so dark…so…hard to see…the way.’
With every word the shattered mouth opened and closed unnaturally at inhuman angles. Its voice had the same quality as the creature’s breath. It rasped, rattled and sucked in air so often that the speech pattern was as broken as the glass around it.
It was a female voice but deep and harsh. The more the spectre spoke the more it revealed traces of itself in eddies of crushed glass, wooden splinters and tattered paper labels. First it was only the silhouette of a body then a swirl of long hair then two hollow eyes. But always it returned to the shape of the over-large mouth.
Tyra trembled with anger. She was simply furious and gripped her side of the pot tightly. Particles of iron flaked under her touch, embedded in her skin. A low growl grew in the back of her throat. The spirit sensed Tyra’s strong response and acted.
Like a crashing wave it struck Tyra’s side of the formation. Holly’s protective arc did not allow the swirls of wind past its silvery borders but it had no effect on the bits of glass and wood. They sliced across Ingrid and Tyra’s exposed skin with razor sharpness. As the two girls screamed in pain so did the spirit presence. Holly’s iron-enforced shield seemed to have damaged it, which made it even angrier. It had not expected to be challenged. A furious shriek ripped through the fading night as the whirl of wind whooshed away from them in a quick intake of deepest breath.
It was silent for a moment, save for Ingrid and Tyra’s soft whimpers. No one relaxed. They could tell the evil apparition had not been vanquished, only injured. Tyra sensed its rage building at the pack’s defiance. A furious rush of wind and another terrible scream interrupted the quiet night as the ghostly creature prepared a frontal assault against the source of the shield. This time it carried large shards of rock, several snapped tree branches, a thick length of rope that whip-cracked in the gale and (bizarrely) a meticulously hand-painted and rather girly looking garden gnome.
‘Mr Bobbins!’ Tyra called to the gnome with a distraught cry.
‘I …will drink…you!’
The ghost mouth directed her energy and hatred straight at Holly and Freya who clutched the handle of the iron lid. The rest of the pack ducked low behind them while Finn poised himself to leap in front of anything that threatened either girl. He tried not to imagine a scenario in which he might have to choose which girl. Like a fire breathing dragon the ghostly mouth inhaled, preparing to unleash a storm of scavenged shrapnel in Holly’s direction. Everyone braced for impact.
Before it could attack a strange sound echoed around the night and captured the thing’s attention. The new sound had a kind of music to it. But it was too loud and too high pitched. It shrieked like the ripping sound of heavy fabric a hundred times magnified.
As the spirit turned toward the sound she revealed herself more fully: a hazy form collected from the night itself: dark in substance but outlined and highlighted with the slivery glow of moonlight. Her wraith’s eyes blazed as the noise crescendoed. It appeared to cause her pain. The weapons she collected swirled around the top of her form like tendrils of hair. Her piercing shriek cut through the ripping discords as the farmyard detritus fell around her. In a swirling gust of focused wind like a funnel cloud she shot upward then plunged into the earth below leaving a trail of screams behind her.
Everything went still and silent as a hazy dawn rose.