Lucille and Henry Harper-Hodge’s marriage was, contrary to appearances, in free-fall. She had persuaded him to buy the blood red house in Midnight Falls because by that time she had already planned to kill him.
As a witch she was well aware that Midnight Falls was a haven not just for those practising the dark arts but more importantly for those way past the practising stage. The spell of forgetting would turn most mere humans away and discourage the authorities from asking awkward questions. Black magic involved a small and very select breed of creep willing to go quite that far and Lucille was a girl who would go all the way.
It also explained why the Harper-Hodges lived here. Humans occasionally did and of those that did, most were completely insensitive to the aura of the place. These folk wouldn’t have known they were in a village of weres if one gnawed their leg off and started hitting them over the head with the bloody stump. The others were like Lucille: not only in love with the gothic horror of the place but actively seeking to harness it.
Touching the doll I saw her face; lips moving silently as she pierced the surrogate Henry’s heart with her sewing pin. The after shock of her rage was a flash fire that roared around my skull taking all before it. She had spent a long time out there in the garden under a full moon; casting the spell with infinite care, setting up her unloved one’s death with more malice aforethought than if she’d just taken a gun and shot him in the head. She knew that Midnight Falls of all places gave its inhabitants a free get out of jail card. She had wanted to get away with murder and now she had.
And what I saw through my little glass darkly was not just the why of it, but the how.
It had been the oldest and most obvious reason in the book: good old Henry was fooling around with another woman. You could never really predict how someone would react when you screwed them over (or in this case, someone else) no matter how well you thought you knew them. Spurned wives ran the gamut between cutting out the crotches of their husband’s trousers and cutting off the offending body part itself. You couldn’t even know for sure how you were going to react yourself, until it actually happened. You may think you are a mild mannered sort of girl but then find when push comes to shove that for sheer blood lust, you made Sweeny Todd look like a lily-livered vegetarian powder-puff.
Yes, two-timing a common or garden woman was risky enough, but doing it to a practising black witch was just off the scale.
Poor old Henry. Maybe he hadn’t known his wife was a witch. If he’d been a witch himself that might have given him some protection, even so that was a big maybe. The glass showed me the sad sequence of events and my psychic connection provided the Technicolor and surround sound. The only thing missing had been the pop corn.
The unhappy couple had had another row and he was sitting downstairs in the living room while she was sulking in the kitchen. The telephone rang and he cut across the caller’s shrill tones:
“Yes, I’ve told her. But she already knew about us. I’ve no idea how. Look Tamsin, I’ve done what you wanted me to do and now I’m handling it my way.”
A short silence ensued while he listened to the piercing voice on the other end and then a quickly muttered:
“Yes, yes, me too. I’ve got to go.”
Clearly not very happy with any of the women in his life, he made himself a drink unaware it was to be his last and wondered mindlessly to the window to look out through the French windows to the garden beyond. It was early afternoon, but a hint of the day’s demise was foretold by the darkening grey clouds massing on the horizon. He was tall, blond and a little overweight, trousers fighting a losing battle with the onslaught of his gut. A blond fringe flopped over a florid complexion that was only in part due to the drink he’d already consumed.
He stared, unseeing, out into the garden, until a small movement caught his eye. Attention caught he focussed this time, but nothing untoward materialised. He made to turn away from the window and that was when he heard it: faint, but steadily growing louder the unmistakable sound of an accordion playing a jig. There was something about the music that commanded his attention because he opened the French Windows so he could hear it better. A smile hovered round his lips giving a glimpse of the handsome young man he’d been and that maybe Lucille had even loved; until the rot set in. And then he sealed his own fate: he stepped outside.
The garden was easily a couple of acres at the back and he wandered down its length towards the wood, glass still in hand. He didn’t seem to notice the bitter, freezing wind, or the fact he was in his shirtsleeves. Inane grin in place, he went to his death.
“Please come out. I promise I won’t bite,” he laughed loudly as though it was funny.
The music stopped the instant he spoke:
“Please. Let me see you.”
I wondered what magical compulsion was in the spell and soon got my answer. Three scantily clad young women with rippling long, blond hair and black eyes appeared. They all had an eerie sameness about them as though they had been manufactured from the same mould that tried and failed to simulate humanity, producing instead a vaguely distressing mutation. The bodies were convincing enough: lush and slender in all the right places emphasised by the flimsy white shifts they wore. But the vacuity of the bland formless features held nothing human, nothing that could be reasoned or bargained with and I was reminded of shop mannequins come to disturbing life. Henry didn’t mind in the least, or maybe he hadn’t gotten as far as their faces.
One of the girls giggled, a high pitched, fluting sound and Henry reacted as though he’d been given a sexual charge.
“Please, play your music again. I won’t interfere – much!” he said grinning like a loon. Another giggle and then one of the girls produced an accordion out of nowhere and resumed playing while the other two danced with each other; an incongruously sensual series of movements that sat ill with the old fashioned music that nevertheless had Henry rivetted. But the faint ridiculousness of the scene: the jarring discord between dancers and music; the uncanny Stepford appearance of the women themselves; and the sense that whoever had engineered the scene had got it subtly but distinctly wrong, made it all the more disturbing. There was a nighmarish inevitability about this death dance because that’s what it was. This particular three-headed spider had felt its helpless victim tug on the web and was now moving in for the kill.
One of the women dancing glanced toward Henry and motioned gracefully for him to join them, which he did without a second’s hesitation. No, I had whispered stroking the glass as though that would have made a difference to how it had to end.
Henry threw himself into the dance with delirious abandon and was in the middle of a clumsy, lumbering jig, when the blond with the accordion abruptly stopped. She glided over to him and took hold of the front of his shirt in both hands and pulled sending a spray of buttons in motion and demolishing the last of Henry’s restraint. He began to tear off his clothes making a moaning sound deep in his throat. The women watched him impassive and silent; the mask of humanity discarded with the main event about to unfold. Finally he stood before them stark naked having strewn his clothes carelessly around without so much as a shiver of his ruddy flesh or a doubt in his mind. There was a moment where nothing moved and only the brittle susurration of the wind through the remaining leaves of the trees could be heard.
They fell upon him with claws the size of daggers and fangs the colour of old bone, great gouts of saliva soaking their shifts. They gouged and bit off hunks of his flesh, laughing at his screams and impotent thrashing. After one of the three twisted his leg out of its socket with a wet, tearing sound, he wasn’t able to do so much of that anyway. Just at that point Lucille appeared. She stood as close as she dared and called his name. He managed to turn his head, obviously hoping against hope this might mean rescue. That hope died stillborn when he caught the look on her face which was the last thing he ever saw because that’s when they took his eyes.
I looked away at the sound of sharp claws grinding bone. What I couldn’t shut out was the hysterical screaming and wet ripping sounds as though someone was tearing cloth. The three tore him apart while he lived, literally limb from limb, with a cool, dispassionate competence, careful to protract his suffering. And when he had been reduced to nothing but a slab of mutilated meat with nothing to indicate that it had once been a sentient being with hopes and dreams, whose only crime was to have had a white wedding to a black witch, they let him die.
One by one the creatures drifted off into the trees, white shifts stained black in the dusk and Lucille was left at the scene of the crime where she lingered, savouring the moment.
“You always said women would be the death of you Henry,” she said, smiling. Then she spat on the pitiful remnants, turned on her heel and left him to the infinitely tenderer mercies of the creatures that inhabited the wood at the end of the garden.