Marlowe and Ced were in the high street, the cars rumbling down the busy road. Marlowe suddenly realised he was still pushing Ced. “Hold on, we ain't going uphill any more, you can sort yourself out.” The pair of them had been let out of school, with strict orders to complete the geography project they had been set.
“Sucker!” Ced smiled. They both stopped, looking up and down the busy high street. The traffic nearly drowning out the sounds of the seagulls fighting over the bins on the front. Ced picked up the clipboard he was carrying. “So, what are we meant to be doing?” He asked
“Counting the traffic,” said Marlowe, “How many buses, cars, bikes, and that.” He looked up and down the bland grey shop fronts. “All the shops suck in this town.” stated Marlowe, “I mean where are all the big named brands? All the fascist burger joints, and faceless chain stores?”
“Dunno,” said Ced, “Still, we have Goguls department store, they have everything there.”
“You are jesting right,” said Marlowe, “that place is more like a museum. Have you seen their computer section? Really, and I'm serious here, I didn't even think you could buy that stuff any more. I asked the woman behind the counter for a mp3 player, and can you believe it, she told me that she had never heard of them, and that they don't even exist!”
“So, why were you off school, the other day?” asked Ced, ignoring his latest rant.
“What is it with everyone? Can't anyone be ill around here without, like, a thousand questions?!” Said Marlowe. He looked down at Ced, who gave him a look, and tilted his head to one side. Marlowe always felt a bit guilty, being, or faking being ill around Ced, he could have got a loyalty card from the hospital. He decided to lie, just a bit. “Okay,” he began, “I reckoned I was poisoned.”
This perked Ced's interest, “No way!”
“Yes way! I think that Jenkins cow slipped me something. I'm telling you, I was not in good shape. I barely left my bedroom!” which was true, but only due to the long and hairy intruder in his trousers.
“What a psycho!” said Ced, “I bet she fancies you.”
“Right. Now I am going to blow chunks!” Said Marlowe
“Straight up, it’s all psychological, and that. Girls are mental, it’s a way of attracting your attention or something. I bet she was trying to cast some kind of spell on you.”
“Really,” said Marlowe getting flushed
“Yeah, her Nan is completely hardcore, you would not want go to messing with her”
“Why what is she into?”
“I'll tell you sometime,” said Ced. “We had better do something, or we'll be right in it with Mawby,” he added looking at the unmarked paper, and marking down twenty seven buses, four cars, and a dozen bikes.
Tibs had gone back to the books. He was rooting about in the reference section of Broadcliffs, this time in the regular opening hours. It was peaceful, and comfortable between the high wooden bookshelves, the heady aroma of old paper and facts making his head feel comfortably numb. He looked down at the scrap of paper that he written the reference he had found on the old photo. '129.001b', he put his finger on the edge of the shelf and ran it along, checking the numbers.
“Can I help you, Mr Soames?” came a voice form behind him. It was Ms Pulasso, the librarian. “And pray tell why are you not at school this morning, young man?”she asked.
“End-of-year exams,” Tibs replied. He liked Ms Pulasso very much, “They don’t trust us to keep quiet. So we all get the morning off,” he added.
“Very wise. So how can I help you this morning, Tibs?”
“Well, last time I was in, I found a reference to something. Something in the library, I think. But I’m not sure what it means.”
“May I have a look?” Ms Pulasso was a short, intensely delicate woman with the most fantastic hair; it grew like an enormous grey cloud. She examined the printout, through her small gold-rimmed glasses. “The 129.001 is obviously a Dewey reference. Dewey being the system by which we organize the non-fiction books.”
“I had guessed that, but what about the ‘B’? What does that mean?”
“That refers to the item being with the basement stock, we have some items from the local history museum down there. I think it's one of theirs” she said, then, scrutinizing him, added, “Tibs, if I may, could I ask you where you found this?”
“Sure. I came across it while looking through some old newspapers. It’s for a local history project, and I found it noted in the margin of a picture I was looking at.” Tibs anticipated her next question. “I was researching the life of a vicar of St Luke’s, a Reverend Enoch Sykes.”
“Ah the good Mr Sykes,” She said, although Tibs got the distinct impression, that when she said the word 'good', she didn't mean it.
“You've heard of him?” said Tibs surprised.
“Quite the infamous character.”
“You mean all the stuff on the moors, and his brother killing him,” said Tibs
“No, not really. I was thinking more about the poor woman he killed.”
“At the séance, you mean? But that was just an accident.”
“Seance? I suppose you could have called it that. The misguided fool did not understand how this town works. A clash of cultures, throwing his weight around like that, and him a man of the cloth. When you meddle with things that you have no idea about, accidents will always happen.”
“But still, you have to feel for him. His wife dying like that, then his brother turning up, killing him then all those children.”
“His brother you say?” Ms Pulasso frowned, and looked at him over her trendy pair of spectacles, “What Enoch unleashed that night of the 'séance' still echoes in some of the darker part of this town.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, “In the beginning there was nothing. But, the problem is 'nothing' liked it that way. I think I know where I might find what you’re looking for Tibs. Please take a space at the table, I'll go down to the basement, and fetch it for you.”
Tibs arranged himself at the table, and took out his notebook and pens. He had paid the basement a couple of unauthorised visits in the past. It was odd down there. Even though Tibs knew his way around a library, every time he looked for something in the basement, he had come away empty-handed and a bit confused. Nothing was in the correct place, and strangely he would keep forgetting what he’d been looking for. He had the distinct feeling the basement was a repository of secrets.
Shortly Ms Pulasso returned. Tibs could have sworn she was leaving a trail of dust in her wake. In her hands was an ordinary, if old and a dusty, black box file. The petite librarian blew the thick layer of dust off the box; the dust motes briefly danced and swirled in the shafts of light that cut through the tall rounded windows.
“I found it!” she whispered triumphantly. She slid the box in front of Tibs, and handed him a pair of latex gloves. “I suggest you put these on, and whatever you find inside, treat it with the utmost care, it’s ever so old.”
“I certainly will, thank you very much!” Tibs rapidly pulled on the gloves as instructed, feeling nervously excited, as though he was opening a surprise present.
Tibs opened the box. Inside, on white marbled lining paper, lay two books. The first was a black leather bound Bible, the gold leaf lettering on the front worn with age. He opened it, Enoch had written his name and address on the inside cover, but as Tibs went to flick through he found that as soon as the scripture started the pages were blacked out, as if someone had dyed them, solid black, page after page, although somehow the beginning and end pages had escaped. It gave him the creeps a bit, and he delicately placed it back in the box, and moved on to the next item.
The first thing that caught his eye, was a gold chain that was hanging out of the second, like a bookmark. He opened the book to the marked page, and found that the chain was connected to a golden locket. He pressed the small clasp on the side of the locket. It opened to reveal the face of a woman, underneath the picture was the simple inscription, 'Rachel'. Tibs took a moment to examine her face, she looked kind, and then Tibs though about how she died. He closed it, took a quick look around the Library, and then slipped it into his pocket, 'Might come in handy,' he thought.
He looked down at the page, it was dated the twenty second of September, eighteen fifty five, Tibs guessed that it must have been Rachel's Diary. The open page was an account of the night of the séance. Enoch had heard about this event that was planned, something darker that the normal card readings and ouija boards. So he had decided, for the spiritual health of Broadcliffs that it must be stopped. Of course, as Tibs already knew, things didn't go to plan. Rachel had been with him, and described the flash of light, and the soul chilling scream of the medium, as her heart must of given out, and how Enoch collapsed. It went on to tell how she and a handful of Enoch's followers managed to get him back to the Rectory, and how worried she was that Enoch might not make it through the night. Tibs read on, as Rachel wrote in great detail of how she nursed Enoch, staying by his bed through his hot sweats and his night terrors, describing how he kept screaming out. A few days later, between the records of his temperature, she noted that marks begin to appear on his chest, at first she thought they were burns of some kind, but she started to see that the scars began to take forms, like that of geometric shapes, circles, triangles, and parallel lines. She wrote about her relief when Enoch finally did awake, but it was not long before she saw the stark change in his character, he had become moody, and had taken to 'dark humours', as she put it. She began to write how she would find him talking to himself, heated conversations. Then she mentioned Willoughby, hoping that he would soon return from the war in the Crimea, that how she needed his strength, and courage. She started to talk about the epidemic that hit the town, and the plight of the poor. It was Rachel that set up the orphanage, she left a detailed account of the organization, but it was Enoch's idea to put it all the way out on the moors, 'that isolated spot' as she called it. As every paged turned she became more worried about Enoch, even mentioning once that she caught him trying with a knife, trying to cut something out of his chest. She went on to talk about how affairs were getting strange at the Mill, she spoke of something not feeling right, and how she was worried that one of the children might be stealing things. In the last entry she mentioned that she was beginning to feel unwell, feeling tired, and complaining of flu-like symptoms, then nothing. The empty pages spoke volumes.
Tibs closed the book to find Ms Pulasso looking at him, “Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked.
Tibs blushed, the locket burning a guilty hole in his pocket, “Yeah, thanks that was very interesting.” Tibs looked to his wrist where his watch should have been. “I was wondering if you knew the time?”
Ms Pulasso pointed to the clock over the door of the newspaper cupboard. “Exams, or no exams, shouldn’t you be back in school by now?”
“Yikes!” he gasped and started to pack away his belongings in a rush. “Thank you, Ms Pulasso,” he said as he threw the last of his stuff into his old leather satchel. “Thank you very much.”
Ms Pulasso watched him disappear down the staircase. “What a very nice young man,” she commented to herself. “What a very polite young man indeed.” And she tidied up the contents of the box, and went off to file it back in the basement.
Marlowe was standing in the middle of the empty school corridor, back from wandering the streets of Broadcliffs, and still happily free of a tail. Two things were going round and round in his head. The first thing was whether Eydie had told him to meet her in the lower or upper corridor; and the second was why on Earth did they always keep having these clandestine meetings? Hadn’t anybody, other than him, heard of texting?
“Oh, hi, Marlowe, I’ve been looking for you.” the sound of the voice made Marlowe’s flesh crawl, as if someone had dragged a cat across a blackboard. It was Suzy Jenkins.
Marlowe’s first instinct was to crack her on the chin. Images of Suzy coming to a violent end flashed happily through his mind. Weighing up whether it was worth doing a nine-to-twelve stretch in prison for Suzy, Marlowe decided on another sort of revenge, the sort of revenge that was best served cold.
He turned to her. Surprisingly her henchmen were nowhere to be seen. “Oh, Suzy!” He forced out a smile. “I’ve been looking for you too!”
“Really?” she said, an overly smug grin on her face.
“Yes, I have, Suzy . . .” He stepped closer, “Suzy, I want to tell you something. I need to say to you . . .”
“Yes, Marlowe . . .”
“Something I want to say from the bottom of my heart.”
“Yes, Marlowe . . . what is it, Marlowe?” She moved nearer.
“Something I’ve been yearning to tell you for a while, Suzy.”
“Tell me, Marlowe! Tell me!” She pleaded.
“Suzy . . .”
“Yes . . .” Their heads were so close she could feel his breath upon her cheek.
“Suzy, I want to say . . .”
Suzy looked at Marlowe, her eyes full. “Say what, Marlowe?”
“To say that you, Suzy, are without doubt the ugliest girl in the whole of Broadcliffs! In fact, I’d bet if there was a ‘Ms Ugly’ UK, without doubt you’d win! And not just that, you’re thick with it! Ugly and thick: what a combination! I bet you break a mirror every day; it must cost you a fortune!!”
“MARLOWE!!” Suzy howled. “Oh, Marlowe, how can you say these things?”
“Easy, I just open my mouths and the words come out. Ugly!”
“MARLOWE!” Suzy screamed.
“And thick. So why don’t you just bug off! You.. . . . you Stinky Minky!”
Suzy covered her face and ran down the empty corridor, howling as she went. It surprised Marlowe that revenge didn’t feel as good as he thought it would have.
He felt a hand grab the collar of his shirt. With a yank he was pulled into a dark janitor’s closet. Eydie pulled a cord and the light blinked on. Tibs was there too. Somehow the three of them squeezed into the cramped space between the mops, brooms and the various cleaning implements.
“Let her down easy, Mr Lover Lover!” Eydie commented.
“Do you think I upset her?” Marlowe asked.
“Yeah, and it ain't finished there neither, I think I'd better have a word in her shell like too. She's getting a bit too big for her boots,” Said Eydie.
“OK. That’s enough of that,” Tibs said, “let’s get down to business.” He started to relate what he’d read in the library. “And I found this.” Tibs took the small golden locket, he had found in the tin, and showed the others.
“Where did you find that?” Eydie asked
“It was in the box with the rest of the stuff,”
“You nicked it!”
“No, I borrowed it, I thought it might be a clue.”
“Let’s have a look,” asked Marlowe, Tibs passed it to him.
“Hmm,” began Eydie in a disapproving manner, “A clue, my . . .”
Marlowe interrupted her, “check it out!” he had been fiddling with it, and the clasp had opened, “Look it’s a picture of some woman!”
“Its Rachel Sykes, the Reverend’s wife,” said Tibs
“I'll look after that,” said Eydie taking it off Marlowe, “I'll give it back to whoever really owns it, when the time is right.” Tibs shrugged. Eydie summed up, “And that just leaves one other thing to do! Tibs, I don’t suppose you know where this Reverend Sykes is buried?”
“Well . . .yes . . . he’s got a fancy crypt around the back of St Luke’s.”
“Eydie . . .” Marlowe looked serious. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?”
Eydie’s eyes gleamed. “Marlowe, give Colin and John a ring. We might need some help with this!”
“No, Eydie, you’re joking, right?” Marlowe demanded.
“Right, that’s settled,” Eydie said, ignoring him, “meet up at the back of St Luke’s tonight, and bring a shovel!”
An owl screeched between the tombstones, hunting for an unfortunate mouse in the dead of night.
“What was that?!” asked a panicked Marlowe.
“An owl,” Tibs replied.
“That was never an owl, mate!” Marlowe stated. “I’ve seen the movies! Owls make a ‘twit-to woo’ sound.”
“Only in the movies!”
“Shhh!” Eydie hissed. “Are you sure you know where he’s buried Tibs?”
“Here he is!” Tibs whispered.
The four of them stood in front of the marble tomb. “Blimey! It’s a big ’un!” Colin pointed out. The tomb was the size of a shed. Moss-covered angels glared menacingly at them through the rusted iron railings.
“Tibs, gissus them bolt cutters,” Eydie demanded.
“On the scale of bad ideas, marked between one and ten,” Marlowe said, “I’d say this is about a fourteen!”
“Oh, Marlowe!” Eydie said. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“Where it should be! Back at my house playing my computer! I mean, what are we expecting to find anyway?”
“A clue!” Eydie said.
“OK, so there’s that! I still don’t think it’s right. Have we considered the fact that maybe we just might, you know, upset his ghost, and he might . . . well, think about it, be angry and come after us?”
Eydie turned to Marlowe, hands on hips. “The dead can’t hurt you, only the living!”
“The dead can’t hurt you, only the living!” Marlowe mimicked sarcastically. “Brilliant! What about zombies, then?!”
“Well, they’re dead and they like to eat brains!”
“Well, yes . . .” Eydie began
“And poltergeists,” interrupted Tibs, “they’re dead too, and they can do a whole load of damage!”
“OK, zombies and . . .”
“Vampires!” Colin said. “They are, like, totally dead, and you wouldn’t want to bump into one of those!”
“That’s it!” Eydie exclaimed. “Enough with the army of undead killers! What’s the matter with you lot? Are you tomb raiders? Or girl guides?”
“Tomb raider,” Tibs said meekly.
“Tomb raider.” Colin looked shamefully at his feet.
“Girl Guide!” Marlowe said. “Where’s me woggle!”
“Shut it, Marlowe!” Eydie snipped the chain with the bolt cutters; it fell to the ground with a loud clatter. “Right, now for the door. Pass me the crowbar, Tibs!” Eydie boldly marched to the ivy-covered metal door; the others followed with an extremely nervous Marlowe bringing up the rear. She wedged the bar between the ancient lock and door, and yanked it for all she was worth. A loud clang echoed around the graveyard.
“Could you be any louder?” Marlowe asked. “Someone down on the front couldn’t hear that!”
The door creaked open. Eydie switched on her torch. “Steps” she told the others. The beam of light revealed a set of stone steps leading down into pitch blackness. “Come on” she beckoned, heading into the crypt.
“I’ll tell you what,” Marlowe said, “I’ll wait right here, and keep an eye out.”
“OK, if you want,” Tibs said as he and Colin followed Eydie down the stone stairs.
“Right, Marlowe’s keeping guard,” Marlowe said, finding himself all alone among the tombstones, “just Marlowe here now . . .” he shined his torch around him illuminating the empty cemetery, “. . . with all these dead people. Little old Marlowe all by himself in the spooky boneyard.” The owl screeched, passing him once more, briefly silhouetted in the moonlight. “Hold on, guys, wait for me!” Marlowe sped down the short stairwell, to find the others standing in a small underground chamber, in the centre of which stood a stone coffin.
“I thought you were keeping an eye out?” Eydie flashed her torch in Marlowe’s face.
“It’s OK,” he explained, “nobody’s there!”
“I’ve had a good look around, Eydie, and I’m sure there are no secret panels in the walls,” Tibs said.
“That means . . .” Eydie said, as everybody shone their torches on to the cold granite sarcophagus, “. . . what he took with him, must be in . . . there.”
Colin brushed the thick dust from the lid, scrawled on the surface was strange intricate symbol, “Hello,” he said, “What have we got here then?”
Tibs peered over his shoulder, “Looks like some kind of protection glyph.”
“A what?” Said Marlowe
“Ward off evil, that kind of thing,” explained Colin, “If John was here, he could tell you.”
“Yeah 'bad back', my arse,” said Eydie, thinking back to John's excuse for not turning up.
Colin spat on his hands. “OK, then, let’s see if we can get this lid off!”
“On the count of three, then . . .” Eydie instructed.
“One . . . two . . . three . . . heave!” And with a loud scraping of stone against stone the heavy granite lid slid to one side. It titled over the edge and crashed into the floor, splitting into two.
The four of them peered into the coffin. “Quick, let’s get some light on this,” Eydie ordered. Inside lay the white bones of Reverend Sykes; in the same position as the day the undertaker had left his corpse there all those years ago. All the clothing had long since rotted away.
“What’s that?” Tibs asked, pointing to a piece of what looked like a large piece of brown leather lying on the skeleton’s rib cage.
“Looks like a scroll,” said Marlowe. Somehow, the fact that there were only a few dried bones inside the coffin made him feel braver. He had been expecting worse, much, much worse. He reached in and grasped the document. “I think it’s got some markings on it,” he said.
“Another glyph?” suggested Tibs
Colin peered at it. “None like I've seen”
“Funny kind of paper though,” Marlowe remarked, holding it up to the torchlight. “It’s tough . . . but look, light passes right through it!”
“Er . . . Marlowe,” Tibs began, “I don’t think it’s paper.”
“No, really? What do reckon it is, then?” he asked, waving it around.
“I think it’s skin!”
“Maybe, but skin of what?
“His skin, Marlowe. It’s made of his skin! It’s human flesh!”