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Blood harvest, p.1

Blood Harvest, page 1

 

Blood Harvest
 



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Blood Harvest


  Blood Harvest

  S J Bolton

  but welcome. Someone seems to be trying to drive them away-at first with silly pranks but then with threats that become increasingly dangerous, especially to the oldest child, ten-year-old Tom Fletcher, who begins to believe that someone is always watching him.

  The adults in Tom's life are trying to help, including his parents; the vicar next door, younger and more dashing than you'd expect a vicar to be; and a therapist, Evi Oliver, who believes him more than she wants to. But there are other clues that something isn't quite right in Heptonclough, including the mysterious accidental deaths of three toddlers over the last ten years. It is not until Tom's siblings, two-year-old Milly and five-year-old Joe Fletcher, go missing in turn that the little village's evil secret turns the Fletchers' dreams into a nightmare.

  With Sacrifice, Awakening, and now Blood Harvest, S. J. Bolton displays time and time again her remarkable talent as a beguiling storyteller, a master of thrills, and the mistress of her own brand of modern Gothic tale.

  S J Bolton

  Blood Harvest

  The Fletchers' beautiful new house is everything they dreamed it would be. Built between two churches in Heptonclough, a small village on the moors that time forgot, it ought to be paradise for this young family of five, but they barely have a chance to settle in before they find that they're anything

  Copyright © S.J. Bolton 2010

  For the Coopers, who built their big, shiny new house

  on the crest of a moor…

  ‘Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’

  Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844-1900)

  Prologue

  3 November

  IT HAD HAPPENED, THEN; WHAT ONLY HINDSIGHT COULD HAVE told him he’d been dreading. It was almost a relief, in a way, knowing the worst was over, that he didn’t have to pretend any more. Maybe now he could stop acting like this was an ordinary town, that these were normal people. Harry took a deep breath, and learned that death smells of drains, of damp soil and of heavy-duty plastic.

  The skull, less than six feet away, looked tiny. As though if he held it in his palm, his fingers might almost close around it. Almost worse than the skull was the hand. It lay half hidden in the mud, its bones barely held together by connective tissue, as though trying to crawl out of the ground. The strong artificial light flickered like a strobe and, for a second, the hand seemed to be moving.

  On the plastic sheet above Harry’s head the rain sounded like gunfire. The wind so high on the moors was close to gale force and the makeshift walls of the police tent couldn’t hope to hold it back completely. When he’d parked his car, not three minutes earlier, it had been 3.17 a.m. Night didn’t get any darker than this. Harry realized he’d closed his eyes.

  Detective Chief Superintendent Rushton’s hand was still on his arm, although the two of them had reached the edge of the inner cordon. They wouldn’t be allowed any further. Six other people were in the tent with them, all wearing the same white, hooded overalls and Wellington boots that Harry and Rushton had just put on.

  Harry could feel himself shaking. His eyes still closed, he could hear the steady, insistent drumbeat of rain on the roof of the tent. He could still see that hand. Feeling himself sway, he opened his eyes and almost overbalanced.

  ‘Back a bit, Harry,’ said Rushton. ‘Stay on the mat, please.’ Harry did what he was told. His body seemed to have grown too big for itself; the borrowed boots were impossibly tight, his clothes were clinging, the bones in his head felt too thin. The sound of the wind and the rain went on, like the soundtrack of a cheap movie. Too much light, too much noise, for the middle of the night.

  The skull had rolled away from its torso. Harry could see a ribcage, so small, still wearing clothes, tiny buttons gleaming under the lights. ‘Where are the others?’ he asked.

  DCS Rushton inclined his head and then guided him across the aluminium chequer plating that had been laid like stepping-stones over the mud. They were following the line of the church wall. ‘Mind where you go, lad,’ Rushton said. ‘Whole area’s a bloody mess. There, can you see?’

  They stopped at the far edge of the inner cordon. The second corpse was still intact, but looked no bigger than the first. It lay face-down in the mud. One tiny wellington boot covered its left foot.

  ‘The third one’s by the wall,’ said Rushton. ‘Hard to see, half- hidden by the stones.’

  ‘Another child?’ asked Harry. Loose PVC flaps on the tent were banging in the wind and he had to half-shout to make himself heard.

  ‘Looks like it,’ agreed Rushton. His glasses were speckled with rain. He hadn’t wiped them since entering the tent. Maybe he was grateful not to see too clearly. ‘You can see where the wall came down?’ he went on.

  Harry nodded. A length of about ten feet of the stone wall that formed the boundary between the Fletcher property and the churchyard had collapsed and the earth it had been holding back had tumbled like a small landslide into the garden. An old yew tree had fallen with the wall. In the harsh artificial light it reminded him of a woman’s trailing hair.

  ‘When it collapsed, the graves on the churchyard side were disturbed,’ Rushton was saying. ‘One in particular, a child’s grave. A lass called Lucy Pickup. Our problem is, the plans we have suggest the child was alone in the grave. It was freshly dug for her ten years ago.’

  ‘I’m aware of it,’ said Harry. ‘But then…’ He turned back to the scene in front of him.

  ‘Well, now you see our problem,’ said Rushton. ‘If little Lucy was buried alone, who are the other two?’

  ‘Can I have a moment with them?’ Harry asked.

  Rushton’s eyes narrowed. He looked from the tiny figures to Harry and back again.

  ‘This is sacred ground,’ said Harry, almost to himself.

  Rushton stepped away from him. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he called. ‘A minute’s silence, please, for the vicar.’ The officers around the site looked up. One opened his mouth to argue but stopped at the look on Brian Rushton’s face. Muttering thanks, Harry stepped forward, closer to the cordoned area, until a hand on his arm told him he had to stop. The skull of the corpse closest to him had been very badly damaged. Almost a third of it seemed to be missing. He remembered hearing about how Lucy Pickup had died. He took a deep breath, aware that everyone around him was motionless. Several were watching him, others had bowed their heads. He raised his right hand and began to make the sign of the cross. Up, down, to his left. He stopped. Closer to the scene, more directly under the lights, he had a better view of the third corpse. The tiny form was wearing something with an embroidered pattern around the neck: a tiny hedgehog, a rabbit, a duck in a bonnet. Characters from the Beatrix Potter stories.

  He started to speak, hardly knowing what he was saying. A short prayer for the souls of the dead, it could have been anything. He must have finished, the crime-scene people were resuming their work. Rushton patted his arm and led him out of the tent. Harry went without arguing, knowing he was in shock.

  Three tiny corpses, tumbled from a grave that should only have contained one. Two unknown children had shared Lucy Pickup’s final resting place. Except one of them wasn’t unknown, not to him anyway. The child in the Beatrix Potter pyjamas. He knew who she was.

  Part One. Waning Moon

  1

  4 September (nine weeks earlier)

  THE FLETCHER FAMILY BUILT THEIR BIG, SHINY NEW HOUSE on the crest of the moor, in a town that time seemed to have left to mind its own business. They built on a modest-sized plot that the diocese, desperate for cash, needed to get rid of. They built so close to the two churches – one old, the other very old – that they coul
d almost lean out from the bedroom windows and touch the shell of the ancient tower. And on three sides of their garden they had the quietest neighbours they could hope for, which was ten-year-old Tom Fletcher’s favourite joke in those days; because the Fletchers built their new house in the midst of a graveyard. They should have known better, really.

  But Tom and his younger brother Joe were so excited in the beginning. Inside their new home they had huge great bedrooms, still smelling of fresh paint. Outside they had the bramble-snared, crumble-stone church grounds, where story-book adventures seemed to be just waiting for them. Inside they had a living room that gleamed with endless shades of yellow, depending on where the sun was in the sky. Outside they had ancient archways that soared to the heavens, dens within ivy that was old and stiff enough to stand up by itself, and grass so long six-year-old Joe seemed drowned by it. Indoors, the house began to absorb the characters of the boys’ parents, as fresh colours, wall-paintings and carved animals appeared in every room. Outdoors, Tom and Joe made the churchyard their own.

  On the last day of the summer holidays, Tom was lying on the grave of Jackson Reynolds (1875-1945), soaking up the warmth of the old stone. The sky was the colour of his mother’s favourite cornflower-blue paint and the sun had been out doing its stuff since early morning. It was a shiny day, as Joe liked to say.

  Tom wouldn’t have been able to say what changed. How he went from perfectly fine, warm and happy, thinking about how old you had to be to try out for Blackburn Rovers to… well… to not fine. But suddenly, in a second, football didn’t seem quite so important. There was nothing wrong, exactly, he just wanted to sit up. See what was nearby. If anyone…

  Stupid. But he was sitting up all the same, looking round, wondering how Joe had managed to disappear again. Further down the hill, the graveyard stretched the length of a football field, getting steeper as it dropped lower. Below it were a few rows of terraced houses and then more fields. Beyond them, at the bottom of the valley, was the neighbouring town of Goodshaw Bridge where he and Joe were due to resume school on Monday morning. Across the valley and behind, on just about every side, were the moors. Lots and lots of moors.

  Tom’s dad was fond of saying how much he loved the moors, the wildness, grandeur and sheer unpredictability of the north of England. Tom agreed with his dad, of course he did, he was only ten, but privately he sometimes wondered if countryside that was predictable (he’d looked the word up, he knew what it meant) wouldn’t be a bad thing. It seemed to Tom sometimes, though he never liked to say it, that the moors around his new home were a little bit too unpredictable.

  He was an idiot, of course, it went without saying.

  But somehow, Tom always seemed to be spotting a new lump of rock, a tiny valley that hadn’t been there before, a bank of heather or copse of trees that appeared overnight. Sometimes, when clouds were moving fast in the sky and their shadows were racing across the ground, it seemed to Tom that the moors were rippling, the way water does when there’s something beneath the surface; or stirring, like a sleeping monster about to wake up. And just occasionally, when the sun went down across the valley and the darkness was coming, Tom couldn’t help thinking that the moors around them had moved closer.

  ‘Tom!’ yelled Joe from the other side of the graveyard, and for once Tom really wasn’t sorry to hear from him. The stone beneath him had grown cold and there were more clouds overhead.

  ‘Tom!’ called Joe again, right in Tom’s ear. Jeez, Joe, that was fast. Tom jumped up and turned round. Joe wasn’t there.

  Around the edge of the churchyard, trees started to shudder. The wind was getting up again and when the wind on the moor really meant business, it could get everywhere, even the sheltered places. In the bushes closest to Tom something moved.

  ‘Joe,’ he said, more quietly than he meant to, because he really didn’t like the idea that someone, even Joe, was hiding in those bushes, watching him. He sat, staring at the big, shiny-green leaves, waiting for them to move again. They were laurels, tall, old and thick. The wind was definitely getting up, he could hear it now in the tree-tops. The laurels in front of him were still.

  It had probably just been a strange echo that had made him think Joe was close. But Tom had that feeling, the ticklish feeling he’d get when someone spotted him doing something he shouldn’t. And besides, hadn’t he just felt Joe’s breath on the back of his neck?

  ‘Joe?’ he tried again.

  ‘Joe?’ came his own voice back at him. Tom took two steps back, coming up sharp against a headstone. Glancing all round, double-checking no one was close, he crouched to the ground.

  At this level, the foliage on the laurel bushes was thinner. Tom could see several bare branches of the shrub amongst nettles. He could see something else as well, a shape he could barely make out, expect he knew it wasn’t vegetation. It looked a little like – if it moved he might get a better look – a large and very dirty human foot.

  ‘Tom, Tom, come and look at this!’ called his brother, this time sounding as if he was miles away. Tom didn’t wait to be called again, he jumped to his feet and ran in the direction of his brother’s voice.

  Joe was crouched near the foot of the wall that separated the churchyard from the family’s garden. He was looking at a grave that seemed newer than many of those surrounding it. At its foot, facing the headstone, was a stone statue.

  ‘Look, Tom,’ Joe was saying, even before his older brother had stopped running. ‘It’s a little girl. With a dolly.’

  Tom bent down. The statue was about a foot high and was of a tiny, chubby girl with curly hair, wearing a party dress. Tom reached out and scratched away some of the moss that was growing over it. The sculptor had given her perfectly carved shoes and, cradled in her arms, a small doll.

  ‘Little girls,’ said Joe. ‘It’s a grave for little girls.

  Tom looked up to find that Joe was right – almost. A single word was carved on the headstone. Lucy. There could have been more, but any carving below it had been covered in ivy. ‘Just one little girl,’ he said. ‘Lucy.’

  Tom reached up and pulled away the ivy that grew over the headstone until he could see dates. Lucy had died ten years ago. She’d been just two years old. Beloved child of Jennifer and Michael Pickup, the inscription said. There was nothing else.

  ‘Just Lucy,’ Tom repeated. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

  Tom set off back, making his way carefully through long grass, avoiding nettles, pushing aside brambles. Behind him, he could hear the rustling of grass being disturbed and knew Joe was following. As he climbed the hill, the walls of the abbey ruin came into view.

  ‘Tom,’ said Joe, in a voice that just didn’t sound right.

  Tom stopped walking. He could hear grass moving directly behind him but he didn’t turn round. He just stayed there, staring at the ruined church tower but not really seeing it, wondering instead why he was suddenly so scared of turning round to face his brother.

  He turned. He was surrounded by tall stones. Nothing else. Tom discovered his fists were clenched tight. This really wasn’t funny. Then the bushes a few yards away started moving again and there was Joe, jogging through the grass, red in the face and panting, as if he’d been struggling to keep up. He came closer, reached his brother and stopped.

  ‘What?’ Joe said.

  ‘I think someone’s following us,’ whispered Tom.

  Joe didn’t ask who, or where, or how Tom knew, he just stared back at him. Tom reached out and took his brother’s arm. They were going home and they were doing it now.

  Except, no, perhaps they weren’t. On the wall that separated the older part of the church grounds from the graveyard that stretched down the hill, six boys were standing in a line like skittles, watching. Tom could feel his heartbeat starting to speed up. Six boys on the wall; and possibly another one very close by.

  The biggest boy was holding a thick, forked twig. Tom didn’t see the missile that came hurtling towards him but he felt the air whist
le past his face. Another boy, wearing a distinctive claret and blue football shirt, was taking aim. With quicker reflexes than his older brother, Joe threw himself behind a large headstone. Tom followed just as the second shot went wide.

  ‘Who are they?’ whispered Joe as another stone went flying overhead.

  ‘They’re boys from school,’ Tom replied. ‘Two of them are in my class.’

  ‘What do they want?’ Joe’s pale face had gone whiter than normal.

  ‘I don’t know,’ said Tom, although he did. One of them wanted to get his own back. The others were just helping out. A rock hit the edge of the headstone and Tom saw dust fly off it. ‘The one in the Burnley shirt is Jake Knowles,’ he admitted.

  ‘The one you had that fight with?’ said Joe. ‘When you got sent to the headmaster’s office? The one whose dad wanted to get you kicked out of school?’

  Tom crouched and leaned forward, hoping the long grass would hide his head as he looked out. Another boy from Tom’s class, Billy Aspin, was pointing at a clump of brambles near the little girl’s grave that Joe had just found. Tom turned back to Joe. ‘They’re not looking,’ he said. ‘We have to move quick. Follow me.’

  Joe was right behind as Tom shot forward, heading for a great, upright tomb, one of the largest on the hill. They made it. Stones came whistling through the air but Tom and Joe were safe behind the huge stone structure, which had iron railings around the outside. There was an iron gate too and, beyond it, a wooden door that led inside. A family mausoleum, their father had said, probably quite large inside, tunnelled into the hillside, with lots of ledges for generations of coffins to be placed on.

  ‘They’ve split up,’ came a shout from the wall. ‘You two, come with me!’

 
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