Underhill; A Halloween Story – Harper Fox

“And so, as the Halloween dark draws in, spare a thought for Gwen and Johnny Nancarrow, who met such strange deaths in this ordinary room. I wish I could’ve found some answers for you tonight—but for now, at least, it looks as though Underhill House will be keeping its secrets.” “Right, cut. Perfect. Lovely.” Anna gestured to the cameraman, who gave her a thumbs-up. “Damn you anyway, Lee.” “What? Why?” “Spirits of Cornwall is doing really well, you know. I want all the shows I direct to be that good. So I try to work out what it is about your presentation style that pulls people in—because we don’t always have much material, and we’re so low-budget it’s scary. And there you are, with your hands in the pockets of your jeans, talking to the camera as if you were in your own living room. Wearing your pumpkin jumper.” She paused, looked him over critically. “You wouldn’t consider swapping that for a plain one and doing another take?” “Not a chance. Ma Frayne knitted this for me, and I swore I’d wear it on the Halloween edition.

All her friends in Roselands will drop dead of envy, she said—not literally, I hope.” “Don’t change the subject. I’d love to show my other presenters how to do what you do. But… you’re not really doing anything at all, are you?” Lee shrugged. He hitched up onto the window sill behind him. His smile, wry as it was, shed light on the bare little room. “I still get paid, though, right?” “Stop it. I really would like to know. You’re… quiet, modest. You’re the only genuine clairvoyant I’ve ever worked with, but you don’t throw your gifts around.

And you write your own scripts.” “That’s how I get all the best lines.” “You’re just being yourself. That’s what’s so frustrating. There’s only one of you, and I can’t reproduce your whammy anywhere else.” “I dunno, Anna.” Lee rubbed his eyes, an end-of-day weariness surfacing. “The whammy’s been in short supply today. Jack got some great background shots, and we covered the history of the place, but…” “The ghosts were a no-show? Didn’t you tell me yourself that not all violent deaths come back and haunt?” “Yeah. We’d be hip-deep in ectoplasm if they all did.

” He sighed. “No, poor Gwen and Johnny are long gone, God rest ’em. They’re at peace. I wouldn’t call them back if I could.” Anna frowned. “You see, you say those things—at peace, and God rest them—like an ordinary bloke. Like your preacher brother-in-law. And I know it’s not what you mean.” “Well—it is, in a way. Look, if I said they’d returned to the quantum magic of creation, by the power of the divinity within us and without us, I’d sound like a right twat, wouldn’t I?” Anna laughed, the sound of it oddly sad.

“Maybe. I prefer it, though. Is that what you believe?” “Not a matter of belief, is it? Not for me.” She hesitated. But Jack was busy with his camera bags, and there was no-one else to listen, alive or dead, in the grim house. “There’s something I’ve always meant to ask you, Lee. You remember when we got that amazing footage in the underground chamber at Drift church?” “Mm. The stuff they’re still picking apart in the labs to try and prove it was you, me and Gideon arsing around with torches?” “Yeah. It made me cry, for the first time in as long as I can remember, because I’ve never believed in—well, anything, really. The thing is, when I was a very young kid, my aunt was driving me and my brother to a football match one weekend.

And another car hit us at a roundabout, and…” She faded out. He was watching her quietly. His attention was entirely hers. He would have watched and listened all night, if she’d wanted, like a priest keeping vigil in a tomb. It was part of what he gave, one of the many reasons he was loved. And she knew he’d tried to build walls, seen a counsellor to show him how, but those visits had stopped. He was once more wide open to anyone who came to him in need. She didn’t know how he bore it, except… Except that he had Gideon. She pushed her fringe out of her eyes. “And you know all this,” she concluded.

“You have done for years. And I never told anyone—not even Jack.” “I’m so sorry, Anna. So sorry you lost them.” She opened her mouth to reply. A sob came out instead. Mortified, she turned away, but he had moved silently and was right there in front of her, holding out a clean handkerchief. She pushed it aside and briefly laid her head on his shoulder instead. The hand-knitted jumper must have been a hair shirt to him, its orange fibres scratching like brambles. After a moment she pushed him back, giving him a grateful kiss on the cheek before she let go.

“Okay. When I try to think about them going back to the… What did you call it? The quantum magic of creation?” “Something like that.” “I see why you end up saying things like God rest their souls instead. It’s easier to use the forms that people understand, I suppose.” “Sometimes, yes.” His gaze became distant. “Actually, there is something more I’d like to say about this house.” Both she and Jack were used to this. His visions could come on with full-scale poltergeist activity, or quietly as the opening of a door. Jack was already hoisting his Panasonic out of its case and back onto his shoulder.

Lee retreated to the window ledge once more. Anna gestured eagerly to Jack. “Ready?” “Got a lot of light behind him, but it looks good, kind of like cobwebs or wings.” “Right. Roll.” Lee cleared his throat. He laced his fingers together and cracked his knuckles, a frequent sign that he was about to get down to some serious psychic interaction. “To all the indwelling spirits of this place,” he began solemnly, watching some eerie point behind Jack’s head, “I have only this to say. What a time-wasting bunch of tossers you are! Drag my poor mates Anna and Jack all the way out here, will you, after a whole season of tireless, heroic, brilliant bloody work—on Halloween night, too, when doubtless they’ve got parties and places to go—for sweet fuck-all?” He paused, beaming, his loving silver-green gaze steady on the camera. “Shame on the whole undead lot of you.

” Anna shook her head. Jack was melting into snorts of laughter. “Thank you, Lee,” she said dryly. “We won’t be using that bit.” *** “Go on, you two. It’s getting late.” “Are you kidding? What would your Gideon do to us if we left you alone in a haunted house?” “You don’t have to worry. It isn’t one—not today, anyway. Nothing doing here.” “Well, if you’re sure, I did promise to help my sister steer her kids around the mean streets of Liskeard.

” “What about you, Jack? Partying with the Camborne zombies?” “Nah, that’s every other night. Rocky Horror at the Redruth Regal, full costume and props.” “Wow. You definitely don’t want to be late for that.” “Especially since a contingent from Kernow Glan Nowydh is turning up to boycott.” Lee’s eyes widened. Gideon and the Falmouth police had effectively pulled the teeth of the xenophobic Cornish Purity movement that summer. But nowydh meant new. Lee found it hard to believe that anyone would want to model themselves on a bunch of racist halfwits who shoved race, religion and orientation into the same bag, marked it foreign and walloped it with any stick they could find. Still, boycotting cinemas was better than throwing fertiliser bombs at kids in a Pride parade.

“Take care, mate. That lot can turn nasty.” “Born nasty, if you ask me. Don’t worry, I’ll watch my sequin-clad arse.” “Sequins? Columbia, right?” “You got it.” Jack grinned. “I bet you and Gideon have a wild night planned.” “Well, there’s no sequins involved, but we’re hosting a Halloween bash for our neighbours and their kids. Ducky apples, trick-or-treat, the lot. Tamsyn’s been hysterical about it for weeks.

” “Trick-or-treat?” Anna echoed, smiling. “I’m a bit disappointed in you. What about Allantide and Samhain and the ancient Pagan ways?” “Oh, we’ll do all that too. But tonight’s for costumes, sweets and a nice instructive tummy-ache. She has to learn about the forms people understand, too. And then, when she’s older, she can choose.” He looked at his watch. “Zeke and Gideon are coming to pick me up any minute now. Right, the two of you. Go party.

” Chapter Two Alone, Lee stood by the window, looking out over the bleak hillside beyond. The moors around Dark were grim at this time of year too, but there were a hundred subtle differences. There—at Chy Lowen, at home—the land stretched out beneath the October skies with a wild, deep grace. Gave up its treasures of fox-copper bracken and the last scraps of gorse like an opening hand, to the wind and the rain-loaded sky. Underhill Cottage was the last lonely outpost of a half-dead mining town. Of all the places in the world that should have provided a spectacular haunting for Jack’s camera and Anna’s production schedule, this should have been it: not only was there Gwen and Johnny’s dreadful tale, but someone had knocked down a chapel to plant the concrete-poured 1950s bungalow on its unprepossessing site. Gravestones still scattered the hill. Too old to find care among the living, too young to have acquired the mossy charm of the Kernowek-Celtic churchyards by the sea—Victorian at the earliest, marking the remains of the tin and lead miners who’d poured out their souls into the soil long before their mortal remains had returned there—they tilted at crazy angles, a tale of neglect and abandonment he could read like the remnants of yesterday’s newspaper, getting trodden underfoot in the rain. He made a stern effort to stop. If the ghosts were giving him a break, no need to seek them out.

Gid and Zeke would be here any minute, and it couldn’t happen soon enough for Lee. A quick dash up the A30, and they’d be home. Gid had taken an afternoon’s leave to shop and set up, leaving poor Sarah Kemp to try and keep Tamsyn’s cork in as well as Lorna’s, Jenny’s and Brad’s. The stove in the kitchen would be lit, and the living room’s big open fire. The huge old house, full of people and candlelight, would come into its own. He glanced at his mobile. It was unlike Gideon to be more than five minutes late without calling. Then, with the signal dropping out like this… He gave the handset a shake. The reception bars were vanishing, right to left, leaving only one sad little nub that dissolved as he watched into a small red cross. That was strange.

The wifi had been good enough that afternoon for Anna to stream footage from the Spirits of Cornwall website. He turned away from the window, and a piece of paper fluttered from the ledge to the floor. The sill had been empty, he was sure. He held still. He wanted to stride into Gideon’s arms, give and receive a bone-crushing hug and go home, not open himself to the no-show undead who had failed to turn up for his hard-working crew, but if somebody wanted to talk… “Hi,” he said uncertainly. “Sorry I called you a tosser. It’s been a long day, that’s all.” Nothing. The vibe of the room remained undisturbed. If the Nancarrows’ story held any element of truth, he should have no trouble picking up traces of the entity that had harmed them.

A raging bloody monster, that would be, churning up the psychic airwaves like a sea storm off Hagerawl Point. He picked up the sheet of paper, turned it over. “Wow. Are you writing to me?” Neat typescript, from an old manual machine. A single indented paragraph. He read the first sentence, and broke into bewildered laughter. The talented young clairvoyant looked in horror around the room. “Thanks,” he said. “Is that what you want me to do? Why would I be horrified?” He’d noticed a second door, although he’d have sworn that there was only one. A gutclutching sense of evil emanated from the oblong frame.

Before he could move or cry out, the second door flew open! An unseen force seized the gifted young psychic like a rag in the jaws of a hound! Helplessly it snatched him of his feet, and swept him into the darkness beyond the door. “Gut-clutching,” Lee echoed wonderingly. “No, I… I’m not feeling it. You know, I think this might work better if you don’t insist on my age and my job title each time you mention me. The exclamation marks are a bit much, too. And helplessly applies to me, really, doesn’t it, not the unseen force?” Now the atmosphere did change. Less a sense of evil than… pique, was the best way he could describe it. A kind of whole-house pout. Before he could move or cry out, the second door flew open. *** Gideon braked sharply to avoid a black cat that had just shot across the road, tail in a brush, left to right.

A pumpkin rolled off the back seat and thumped into the footwell. Ezekiel glanced over his shoulder. “For heaven’s sake, Gideon. Half the Falmouth Halloween market seems to have come home with us.” “I know. It’s great, isn’t it? And every scrap’s organic, biodegradable, recyclable or all three, so don’t look so po-faced about it.” “I’m not commenting on your consumer habits. What worries me is…” He jammed a hand to the dashboard as another cat—not the same one, surely—whipped from verge to verge of the narrow lane, travelling in the opposite direction. “Really, whether you approach the matter from a godless Pagan angle or the heartless commercial rubbish we’ve inherited from the States, there’s not much in your planned celebrations tonight to feed our children’s souls or improve their moral outlook.” “Wow, Zeke.

Godless and heartless?” “Not you and Lee personally, of course. But do you take my point? This is a sacred time of year, when we try to remember our martyrs and saints at Hallowmass, and—” “You’re a Methodist. You don’t celebrate Hallowmass.” “I suppose I ought to be impressed that you knew that. However, John Wesley himself was very fond of the day. We don’t make foolish fetish objects of our martyrs in the Church, but we do respect their sacrifice.” Gideon drummed his fingers on the wheel. After his Midsummer crisis of faith, Ezekiel was more than back on form. The chapel in Dark had been rebuilt, and he occupied its pulpit with a kind of thunderous humanity. Gideon kept up a dutiful front of irritation, but in fact found his brother’s griping more of a reassurance than anything else.

“Right,” he said. “I suppose that means your little Toby and Mike won’t be coming along tonight for their dose of candy and corruption?” A sigh shook Ezekiel’s frame. “Eleanor’s bringing them over at six. They don’t even know what Halloween is, but they do know they want it.” “Costumes?” “Two little werewolves.” Gideon smiled, though Zeke’s answer had given him a small, odd shudder. “You really aren’t the very best advert for Christian austerity, you know. Did you manage to get through to Lee yet?” “No. It’s odd—we’re right beside the Trescowe moor mobile mast, but I can’t get a signal.” “Keep trying.

We’re gonna be late, and I don’t want him to worry.” “If you’re lost, have the grace to admit it.” “I’ll have the grace to wallop the back of your head, when I can spare a hand.” Leaning forward, Gideon tried to focus through the drifting wraiths of mist catching the headlights. “Great. It’s nearly dark. I thought I knew all the back roads around Gotheglos.” “Perhaps we should ask a policeman.”

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