GP Taylor is a New York Times best selling author. His works include Shadowmancer, Wormwood, Tersias, The Curse of Salamander Street and The Tizzle Sisters. He lives on the banks of a river in the midst of a dark wood, an arrow’s flight from the Prince Regent Hotel near the ‘town at the end of the line’. He spends his days writing and collecting firewood. You can find out more at his website http://www.gptaylor.info/
THE DOOR OPENED and Clinas stepped outside. He looked perturbed, his brow was wrinkled and a flick of long black hair trailed over his face. Jago could see that what mirth he had was now no more. He nodded to Bia, who was standing by the shuttered window, allowing the thin shafts of sunlight to dance across her hand.
‘Jago is going to the library,’ Clinas said to her as he pushed Jago in the back.
‘The library?’ Bia asked. ‘He’s not coming with me?’
She sounded concerned, as she stared at Clinas.
‘He’ll be fine – we’ll get on with what we have to do. Be back in the kitchen for midday, Biatra. I’ll show Jago the library.’ Clinas tried to sound convincing. He glanced at Bia as she walked back along the corridor without a word. ‘She’s a good lass – shame about her mother,’ he added.
‘Disappeared?’ Jago asked as Clinas walked ahead of him along the corridor, then opened a panelled door in the wall that led to a flight of narrow wooden stairs.
‘You’ll hear all sorts of things about that, Jago,’ Clinas said as he went ahead and lit a small lamp with a Zippo lighter. ‘Her mother hasn’t been the only one who has gone missing. There’s talk that only last night a woman vanished on Church Street – nothing to say she had even been there. Since the comet came back, six people have vanished. Just like before.’
‘Before?’ Jago asked a he trooped on behind, taking each step as carefully as he could in the shadowy gloom.
‘A hundred years ago, one person vanished every day it lit up the sky,’ Clinas said. He opened a small door that led on to another dark landing. ‘It’s expected – rumours spread and if someone goes missing they blame the comet. They say it makes people go mad – up there always looking down on them like the eye of God.’
‘Do they ever find them?’ Jago asked as Clinas lit another lantern that hung on the wall with a brass stand.
‘Sometimes,’ he said slowly. He thought how much to tell Jago. ‘There’s a tradition that if someone goes missing you always give them a funeral the next day – even if you can’t find the body. Started with the sailors, when they were lost at sea. So many empty coffins in that churchyard, all with a headstone.’
‘Why?’ Jago asked.
‘People need somewhere to go when they’re grieving – especially for those lost at sea,’ Clinas replied as he got to the library door.
‘So where did they all go – these people who disappeared when the comet arrived?’ Jago asked.
‘I did hear that they found a boy once, but he was all messed up and could have fallen from the cliff. Could be they are still alive and just left the town. Whitby does that to some people.’ Clinas pushed open the door and looked inside. A cold, icy chill rushed through the doorway and filled the corridor. Clinas shivered. ‘Never come up here,’ he said. He stepped inside flicked the wheel of the lighter and held the flame above his head. ‘Must be a candle somewhere?’
‘What about opening the shutters?’ Jago asked.
‘Can’t do that – never. Mr Draigorian wouldn’t like that.’
‘But he’s not here,’ Jago replied.
‘Can’t take the chance. The light will burn his skin. We only open the shutters at night, and now with the blackout we don’t even do that.’ Clinas found the candelabra on the table and lit the candles one by one. ‘It is inherited. His skin blisters.’
As each light grew in brightness, Jago could see more of the vast room. It disappeared into the distant darkness and its oak-ribbed vaulted roof made him feel he was inside a whale.
Shelves of books stretched from floor to ceiling. Each was crammed with volumes and volumes of novels, journals and other books. Their leather spines were dull and dusty, as if no one had to come that place for some considerable time.
Clinas looked uncomfortable. He shuddered every now and then as he looked around to check if they were alone. It was the distinct smell that Jago recognised more than anything – the sultry, musky odour was the same as that in Cresco’s apartment. It made him feel at home.
‘Where do I start?’ he asked Clinas as he walked to the fireplace and looked at the smoke-stained portrait that hung on the only piece of wall not covered by books.
‘He gave you the job and not me,’ Clinas replied cautiously as he backed from the room. ‘You sure you know the way back to the kitchen? I’ll beat the dinner gong for you to find us.’
‘I should be fine,’ Jago said as he looked to the highest shelf. ‘One book to find in all this?’
‘Mr Draigorian is not the man he once was. He becomes forgetful. The book might not even be here. Which one has he asked you to search for?’ Clinas asked.
‘The Book of Krakanu,’ Jago answered.
Clinas shook his head as he stepped from the room. ‘Never heard of it – not something I would read.’ He laughed nervously. ‘Better be off – jobs to do.’
Clinas said no more. He closed the door quietly as he left the room. Jago listened as his footsteps echoed along the corridor and then down the dark stairway. He was left in a cold, bleak silence with just the light from five candles in the centre of the long table that seemed to run the length of the room. Thick curtains that trailed to the floor covered the window shutters blocking out the light. Jago did not dare open them for fear of what could happen to Draigorian. It was clear the library had not been used for some time. A fire was set in the iron grate ready and waiting to be lit. Two leather chairs stood as sentinels, their claw feet gripping a shabby and threadbare rug. It was as if the room had just been left and that someone was reluctant to return.
‘Some job,’ he said out loud to break the silence. He took several books from the nearest shelf and laid them on the table.
Jago had decided to clear a shelf at a time. He would stretch them and examine each one before returning them to their place. He knew it would take some time, but as Draigorian had said, he had all the war to do it. Being in the library was better than cleaning and at least this way he would be alone with his thoughts.
It wasn’t too long before he had cleared one shelf and neatly placed the books on the table. He checked each title as he replaced the books and searched the back of the deep shelf. After fifty books, his fingers became numb with the cold. Jago rubbed his hand over the candle flames. Then, taking a candle, he lit the tight rolls of paper beneath the wood and coal in the grate. It was something he had seen his mother do so often. Jago didn’t want the memory. It was painful how an action in everyday life could lead the mind to a place it didn’t want to be.
As he watched the flames he thought of his mother and wondered if she could still be alive. Jago had tried not to give way to the thought, but it flooded in and he could not resist. The fire burnt quickly; the tinder took light and flames licked the back of the grate. Shadows danced across the ceiling. Jago could see more of the room. High above were cornices of gold in the shapes of animal heads. White plaster filled the gaps between the long crooks of oak beams. He could see how this insalubrious room had once been grand and inviting – but there were no echoes of the past, now it was dust ridden and dirty. The long curtains were moth-eaten and broke away from their hems.
Jago warmed himself by the fire and when his hands could again move he filled the shelf and then started on another. It was as he pulled the third book from this upper shelf that a small picture slipped from inside the cover. It fell to the floor onto its face, leaving the bold writing for him to read.
1861 London PD.
Jago turned the frail old photograph. There was Crispin Draigorian just as he was now. He was no younger, no older. In his hands was a small chalice. It was identical to the one given to him by Cresco.
‘The Cup of Garbova,’ Jago said, realising what the man held. ‘But how?’ He looked again at the date. ‘Eighty years ago? That makes him over a hundred – it can’t be . . . PD – Pippin Draigorian . . . never . . .?’ There was a sudden dull thud as a large volume fell from an upper shelf and landed on the floor. The book burst open and pages fluttered to the wooden boards. Jago jumped back and looked for a moment. The book then closed by itself and slowly moved towards the table, sliding across the floor. ‘Who’s there?’ he asked, believing there was someone in the room.
The book stopped. In the light of the fire, Jago watched as the cover opened. It was as if someone invisible was casually browsing to find an item of interest. He stepped back towards the door. In his mind he knew he should run, find Clinas and tell him what he had seen. Jago didn’t care if they didn’t believe him. All he knew was that books did not have the power to move by themselves.
Just as he touched the brass door handle, another, smaller book fell from the highest of the upper shelves. It seemed to float like a small bird. Jago was mesmerised by the flapping flight of the book that winged its way toward him. There was another thud as a third book crashed to the floor and then the sound of laughter coming from the darkness at the far end of the room.
He tried to turn the handle. It wouldn’t move.
‘Who is it?’ he demanded.
There was another crash of a falling book and then the silver candelabra that Clinas had taken so much trouble to light began to slide away to the far end of the room. Jago watched as his breath faltered. He could feel the pulse beat in his neck and his leg tremble.
‘Show yourself – come out! Bia, is that you? Clinas?’
The elaborate candlestick slid further away until it came to rest at the far end of the table. And now Jago saw what he had not seen before – a high-backed mahogany chair, and on the table was a solitary dinner setting of silver cutlery. He pulled on the door handle again, but it would not move. Jago was trapped.
The fire dimmed in the grate as a breeze of chilled air was sucked into the room. He watched helplessly as one by one the candles were blown out until all that lit his sight was the dull glow of the fire. He could not be sure, but now he thought he could see a shape in the chair. It was the outline of a man with a hollow void where the face should have been. There were no features, no contours, just blackness.
‘Who is it?’ he asked again, his voice cracking in his dry throat.
‘Find me,’ said the voice from the shadow. ‘Will you find me, Jago?’
‘Who are you?’ Jago asked, backing away.
‘Who do you want me to be – your mother – father – who?’ The voice was shrill and caustic, it mocked in its words.
‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
‘You came to me – you are searching for that which is not yours.’
‘I’m looking for a book,’ Jago replied, wondering what he was talking to.
‘If only that were true,’ said the voice. Then the shadow began to fade until he could see it no more.
‘Where are you – what are you?’ Jago demanded in the silence of the room.
Everything was still. The shadow had gone. Quickly, Jago searched the room. His hand still trembled. He took the candles and lit them from the fire. The light was warm. Holding the candelabra above his head he looked about and checked all the dark corners. He could find no one. The chill of the room began to lift as the warmth of the fire took hold again. Jago sat at the end of the long table and wondered if he was going mad and had dreamt it all. He looked at the photograph. It was Draigorian. Jago tried to make sense of all that had happened. He knew he was not dreaming and that the shadow was real.
It was then, just as he stood from his seat, that another book fell to the floor. He swallowed hard and gripped the candlestick in his hand.
‘Did you think I had gone?’ said the voice from behind him.
Jago could not move. He could feel the cold gasp of someone or something breathing on his neck. He stood as still as rock. In the reflection of the candelabra he could see a dark shape. It was close by, so close he could feel it touching him.
‘What do you want from me?’ Jago asked.
‘Did you sleep well last night?’ the shadow asked. ‘You saw Strackan take that woman from the street and did nothing.’
‘I was dreaming. There was nothing I could do.’
‘You could have stopped him and saved her life,’ it said in a whisper of cold breath.
‘I was asleep – if I could see him, then . . .’ He thought for a while. ‘He was in my dream.’
‘No, Jago. You were in his reality,’ the shadow replied as he felt it come closer. ‘How would you like to die?’
Jago could feel the hand tighten on his neck. Its fingers dug into his skin. He stood helplessly, not knowing what to do.
‘Why kill me?’ he asked.
‘I can feel you shaking – is this what fear is like? Can you taste it?’ the shadow asked.
Jago placed the candelabra on the table and tried to stare at the light. The hand gripped him tightly. Whatever the creature was, it had human form. He could feel it press against him. He could feel the grip of its hand. Jago felt he could not escape.
‘I don’t know you,’ Jago said as the shadow pushed him forwards.
‘Do you have to know who I am?’ it answered.
‘Are you Strackan?’ asked Jago.
‘Something far worse,’ it whispered.
Jago slid his hand into his pocket. He could feel the pyx that Cresco had given to him. ‘Tell me one thing,’ he said as he undid the lid. ‘What good will my death be?’
‘You don’t know who you are, do you, Jago? You don’t know what you are?’ the poltergeist said as Jago smeared his fingers with the thick resinous gel.
‘I won’t die,’ he said as he took the hand from his pocket. ‘Not without a fight.’
The shadow laughed. Jago turned quickly, breaking its grip, and lashed out with his hand. He ducked and struck a blow across what should have been its face. There was a loud shriek as the shadow broke into fragments of mist. Jago lashed out again at what remained, his hand slipping quickly through the air.
Again, Jago thought he was alone. Then, one by one, books began to tumble from all the shelves. They smashed to the wooden boards. Jago grabbed the door handle to get from the room. It burnt his skin.
‘Going somewhere?’ he heard the voice say as a book struck him in the chest.
Jago turned. Another book hit his shoulder, then another and another. It was as if the whole room was alive. Everything danced in the air as if on strings pulled by invisible hands. The long table up-ended and stood upright like a baying horse. The chairs gathered around him and pressed in as if they were a herd of pigs biting at his legs. Even the two sentinel chairs by the fire rattled on the carpet like angry dogs.
The candelabra slid from the table, but instead of crashing to the floor it flew towards him. Before he could move, it stabbed into his chest, the candles burning against his leather coat before the flames died. The clock from the mantelpiece shot across the room and hit him in the face. Jago fell backwards, stumbling over the chairs and falling to the floor.
Everything in the room began to clatter. He prayed that Clinas or Bia would hear the sound. No one came. The chairs stamped at him as they pushed down like the spears of a trident. One pinned his coat to the floor whilst another chair beat him across the back. The fire burnt brightly in the grate, roaring angrily up the chimney and filling the room with acrid, choking smoke.
‘No!’ Jago screamed as he pushed away and got to his feet, just as a fire iron sped across the floor and impaled itself in the skirting board.
Dust billowed like smog as the wind shuddered through the floorboards beneath him. All the while he heard the laughter like that of chattering children.
‘Give it up, Jago,’ the voice bellowed from inside his head. ‘You can’t escape me.’
Jago dived and gripped the hem of a curtain. A hand grabbed his ankle to pull him back He twisted to get free as he dragged himself towards the window.
Reaching out with his hand, he gripped the bottom of the shutters.
‘If only I can –’ he gasped as another fire iron flew through the air, just missing his head.
Jago held on to the shutter as tightly as he could. His fingers pushed the catch upwards. He could feel himself being dragged back towards the table that was now moving up and down like the blade of a guillotine. The whole room was shaking. Jago gripped the handle as tightly as he could. He wanted to cry, wanted to give in, wished it would all end.
The tips of his fingers gripped the catch as he was lifted from the floor and pulled backwards towards the thumping table. The shutters held fast. Jago could hold on no more. The long table rose in the air and held itself as if waiting to slice down on him. His hand slipped from the catch as Jago flew backwards towards the fire, but just as the table was about to crash down upon him the shutter gave way. Sunlight flooded the room. It was blinding, bright and white. It filled every corner of darkness. The table hung in the air momentarily like an axe about to fall. Jago crashed to the floor. The table tilted and dropped on top of him, its long clawed leg smashing into the board next to his face. Everything in the room that had danced through the air suddenly fell. Chairs, books, candlesticks and pictures were strewn all around him.
He lay panting and out of breath. The sunlight bathed his face. Jago rolled from under the table and got to his feet. The room was devastated as if it had been struck by a tornado. He knew the light would keep away the shadow and that it could not come again.
Jago pulled the chair to the window and looked out. Far below the house he could see the wooden huts that lined the riverbank. A group of men in long grey coats snaked their way towards the factory as a horn sounded.
In the room all was still. Orbs of dust floated through the thick air. Every book from every shelf was thrown to the floor. Pinned to the wall by the fire iron was the photograph of Crispin Draigorian. The charred poker pierced his heart.
Jago set about the room. Within an hour he had stacked what books he could back on the shelves and straightened the table and chairs. By the far wall, in the part of the room that had been consumed by darkness, was a gilt frame. It looked as though it had fallen from the wall years before. It had been covered in a muslin cloth held in place by a stack of books. He lifted the picture and turned it to the sun before stepping back to see what it depicted.
The canvas was old and marred by smoke and dirt. Jago looked in surprise. The painting was of two men. They were dressed in the fashion of a much older time. Both wore frock coats. The younger held a long sword proudly at his side. Each man was smiling, their jeweled fingers clasped in friendship. Both men wore the same ring on their smallest finger, a wide band of gold cut through with a woven trellis. Jago had never seen anything so beautiful before. He stared at the men. Their eyes were bright and shone from the painting as if they had discovered a wonderful secret. In the distance on a small hill was a woman holding an apple with a snake at her feet. It was a strange and eerie portrait of another land, a faraway, forgotten part of the world with mountains and forests.
Jago knew from his looks that one of the men was a Draigorian, that he was sure of. The other made his stomach turn and a cold shiver run down his spine. He hoped he was wrong but every detail, every mark on the man’s face, he had seen before. Jago had studied that face for hour upon hour since he was a small boy. He had looked in those deep, bright eyes and even wondered how he had been scarred on his brow. There, in the painting that was done so long ago, was every detail exactly as he had last seen the man, days before. A rush of panic filled his beating heart.
‘Cresco?’ Jago asked as he looked at the man. ‘It can’t be . . .’
(C) G. P. Taylor 2010
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.