A bath, a spell, a doll
“Got your necklace?” Gwen asked as Lily skipped out of the front door behind her. She trotted over to the landrover to tug impatiently at the passenger door handle while Gwen closed the door.
“Yes,” she groaned, tugging at an oval-shaped ruby pendant around her neck. Gwen had a matching one, a gift from Aunt June that helped amplify the girls’ powers. “Since when do I ever forget?”
Gwen locked the door, giving her a smirk that said, many times, often enough to warrant the reminder. She unlocked the old car and started the ignition, backing out of the gravel driveway once Lily had slammed her door shut.
Dougie lived by himself in a tiny rented cottage near Don’s place. It was a typical youth’s digs, with poor heating and a temperamental electricity system, but Dougie was a resourceful lad, mostly solving the problems himself – without his landlord’s permission, typically.
It was a twenty minute drive from Gwen’s, and when the landrover pulled into Dougie’s driveway, Lily hopped out of the car before Gwen had properly parked. She was impatient to see inside.
Gwen tutted at her as she followed at a slower pace, meeting her at the front door.
She passed her large palm over the lock, and Lily heard metallic clicking from inside. Another of Gwen’s affinities was mechanical workings, like clockwork, and she was rarely barred by any lock. A skill wasted on her, Lily thought – Gwen wasn’t nosy enough to make any worthwhile use of it.
This time, though, both girls were about to snoop farther than either of their curiosities had dared before. Lily was so excited.
Gwen pushed the door open, and the girls stepped inside.
The musty air hit them immediately. The smell was more of a problem of the old house and the man who lived there alone, unbothered to clean regularly. It was cold, despite the sun outside, and dark with no-one left needing to keep lights on in the house.
Gwen made a face. “He was in the kitchen,” she said. “We’ll start there.”
They passed through the silent house, and Lily found herself stepping gingerly to reduce the sound of her boots on the carpet. An ominous aura of death seemed to permeate the house, but Lily suspected that had more to do with her imagination. Walking through a house where someone had just died was always going to feel spooky.
Gwen led her into the kitchen, which was filthy – dishes piled up on the sink, takeaway containers strewn across the counters.
Lily snorted. “So I’m guessing Dougie didn’t like cooking. Or washing dishes.”
“Nah,” Gwen confirmed. “Look in the cupboard, you’ll see he started using paper plates eventually. He was not, uh, a domestic type.”
Lily picked through the dirty dishes. “Hey, Gwen,” she said. “The silver’s missing.”
Gwen snorted. “What?”
“The silver. The stainless steel’s all there, but half the cutlery’s gone.”
Gwen frowned, and began rummaging through drawers. “You’re right. There’s nothing metal in here at all, except the steel, the cast-iron, and pots with copper bottoms.”
She opened the fridge, and made a surprised sound. “The milk’s empty.”
Lily laughed. “If Dougie was a slob, then it’s probably not weird that the milk’s empty. He probably just never bothered to throw out the bottle when he finished it.”
“No, Lily, look,” Gwen insisted. She held up an empty milk bottle, which was totally clean. It was as if Dougie had rinsed it out, or as if the bottle had never been full to begin with.
“He wouldn’t have bothered to clean out the bottle and just leave it in the fridge,” Gwen said. “That makes no sense for anyone, even Dougie.”
Lily raised her eyebrows. “Missing silver, missing milk,” she said. “Weird things for someone to steal.”
“Hmm,” Gwen agreed. She left the kitchen, inspecting the living room. Not that Dougie appeared to have kept much in there, but the living room was also oddly devoid of anything metal.
The bathroom was even stranger. Lily squeaked as she stepped into a puddle of water, skipping back out to avoid ruining her boots. She peered inside, and saw the floor rippling with water, dripping over the sides of the overflowing bath and sink.
Gwen hummed curiously and stepped into the bathroom, looking around.
“The taps are gone,” she said. “So are the razors – anything silvery, or chromed. So the water isn’t running from the taps, but it’s obviously coming from somewhere.”
“The pipes?” Lily suggested. “Up through the drains?”
Gwen nodded and pushed up her sleeve, thrusting her hand into the sink. Water surged over the sides, splashing around her feet, and Lily winced – the water was freezing, and her cousin was up to her elbow in it.
“Yeah, there’s a current coming up from the drain,” Gwen confirmed. “How weird. Why would water be coming up from the drains?”
They inspected the rest of the house, but didn’t find anything else – other than missing silver and more shoddy plumbing. It was very weird to find so many plumbing issues in the house of a man who’d fixed their own plumbing so often. Lily felt strangely elated when they returned to the landrover.
“So why do you think the silver’s missing?” she asked. “And the water, and the milk?”
Gwen shot her a glare. “You know exactly why,” she said. “You just want me to say you were right.”
Lily beamed. “Well, a little bit. Go on.”
“Fairies, obviously,” Gwen sighed. She pulled out of Dougie’s driveway, heading back to their house. “Not sure what type specifically, but definitely from the fairy realm. Maybe nymphs, or sirens.”
“Because of the water?”
“Partly, though that’s a sign for any fairy.”
“Why would a nymph or siren want to kill Dougie, though? And how?”
Gwen shrugged. “No idea,” she admitted. “Well, maybe he met a siren at the pub and insulted her, somehow. They’re fond of disguising themselves and hanging out in human haunts, and knowing Dougie, it doesn’t take much for him to piss any girl off. Then again, petty revenge is more of a nymph thing. And nymph or siren, I still don’t think either of them have the ability to kill someone without any trace.”
Lily hadn’t met any fairies, though she knew Gwen had a stunning knowledge of fairies. That was partly Aunt June’s teachings, and partly a result of growing up in the Scottish Highlands, where fairytales ran deep in the bones of the hills.
Gwen was still terrified of horses as a result of an incident where her father dragged her away from one as a child, berating her for approaching strange horses grazing near rivers. Lily wasn’t sure if Gwen actually believed in kelpies, but the fear seemed to have stuck all the same. Superstition was second nature to the Scot, taken as seriously as road rules, and in this wild land, it even seemed sensible.
Especially when, thanks to June’s letters, both girls knew fairies existed quite definitely, though maybe in a different form to the banshees and brownies Gwen had grown up avoiding.
June’s fairies were entirely otherworldly; creatures from another realm, which June said was best understood as a parallel universe. This world was inhabited by a huge spectrum of sentient, colourful creatures who lived and breathed powerful magic that made the girls’ powers seem like party tricks at best.
Nymphs with their multiple wings and intergenerational memories; sirens with their shape-shifting powers and hypnotic abilities; the vampires who had closer connections to fairies than Lily ever realised; the tall goblins who could have stepped out of a David Bowie inspired tabletop RP game; even smaller creatures, like the hive-minded buzzing sprites and pixies. All of them fascinated Lily, while scaring her a little bit. They were a far cry from the pink, glittery flower fairies in her picture books from when she was a kid.
June believed that a proportion of fairy legends came from visitors from this separate realm, who explored the human world much like tourists, and so inspired legends and myths with their antics and adventures.
The most they shared in common with Gwen’s fairies, though, was their tricky malevolence. Lily remembered watching Gwen grow quite pale the first time June gleefully told them all her Highlander superstitions were rooted in real dangers.
Lily could see Gwen was less than happy about finding fairy involvement even now. Her lips were pursed and she was tightly gripping the steering wheel.
“So, do you want to find out how they killed Dougie?” Lily asked as casually as possible. The look Gwen shot her in response could have melted glass.
“No,” was all she responded with. “I told you, the minute we find evidence of fairy activity, we keep our noses out. The last thing we need is to attract fairy attention.”
“True,” Lily said. “It’s a shame, though, isn’t it?”
“What is?” Gwen asked through gritted teeth.
“We’ll never know how he died, will we? I mean, maybe even looking at the body might yield some clues. Would be a shame to stop when we’re so close already.”
Gwen made a groaning noise not unlike one of Don’s birthing cows. “You’re a little shit, Lily.”
Lily beamed, gently nudging Gwen’s shoulder. “Come on. We’re not meddling with fairies if we’re just, you know, passing by the morgue.”
“We’re not breaking into the city morgue, Lily.”
“We won’t be. We’ll just be passing by, stopping for a break. And technically, if the doors are all strangely unlocked, then we’re not even breaking in, are we?”
Gwen breathed out hard through her nose. “No.”
“‘No’, we won’t be technically breaking in?”
“No, we aren’t going anywhere near the morgue and messing with my old workmate’s dead body. Out of the question.”
Which, of course, ended in Gwen parking the landrover outside of Aberdeen morgue, with Lily gleefully hopping out the passenger side, a package of latex rubber gloves from the glovebox in her hands.
“It’ll be fine!” she assured her glowering cousin as she snapped a pair of the gloves on. “We’ll be in and out quicksharp, before anyone can notice – human or fairy. Besides, we’re not interfering or anything, just looking at the body – it’s not like we’re pulling his teeth or fingers or stealing organs.”
Gwen shuddered, taking the glove package. “We may as well be,” she said darkly, pulling on her own rubber gloves. “Messing with the dead is worse than messing with fairies.”
Lily clicked her tongue. “We’re not messing with anything,” she insisted. “Just looking around!”
Gwen reluctantly let them into the morgue, and the pair slipped inside.
The morgue was grim and depressing, as much by way of its nature in dealing with the dead as well as its state as an obviously underfunded part of the hospital. A necessary evil, morgues were, but that did not make governments inclined to spend much on them. Besides, why would the dead need well-maintained beautiful facilities? The morgue’s clients were not inclined to complain about shoddy interior design or grim fluorescent lighting.
The pair slipped past living family members sitting forlornly in the front, silent and bored medical officers, and past offices and surgeries. Lily couldn’t help glancing curiously into the surgeries, glimpsing white sheets and purple toes. Gwen grabbed the back of her collar and pulled her promptly along.
“We’re not here to indulge your morbid fascination,” Gwen snapped. “And yeah, I remember your Goth phase in Year Eight. Grow up, we’re here for a reason.”
Lily held her hands up defensively. “Hey! You know how bad I wanted to study medicine as a kid. I still find this stuff really fascinating. I’m not trying to be morbid, it’s just interesting.”
“Yeah, well, try not to look so delighted,” Gwen muttered. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“You know, if either of us didn’t grow out of the Goth phase, it was you,” Lily grumbled. The pair turned a corner, and found themselves in front of the door of a refrigerated room. ‘No Entry’ was marked in large red letters on the door.
“Is this seriously the only cold room here?” Lily asked. “You’d think a city morgue would need more storage.”
“There’s more, probably down other corridors,” Gwen muttered. “With any luck, we won’t have to search too many.”
She hauled the door open, and the girls slipped inside the cold, silent chamber.
Lily counted through the names labelled on the drawers – she wasn’t sure what they were called, but she’d seen enough crime shows to know the bodies were stored in long drawers, like a huge and morbid dresser.
Gwen found Dougie first, tapping on the label. “Look – his last name, male, aged twenty five. That’s Dougie.”
They hauled the drawer open between them, and Lily winced when the body emerged. “That’s Dougie, alright.”
Gwen shuddered. “God,” she said in a small voice. “He looks… little, somehow. He’s six bloody foot, but he looks small.”
She turned away, and Lily rubbed her shoulder, letting her cousin collect herself. Lily hadn’t known Dougie well, but she had to remember that he was very nearly a friend to Gwen.
“Sorry,” Gwen said in a muffled voice. “I feel bad. For his family.”
“Yeah, me too,” Lily said. “But, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? To figure out what happened. Kind of, like, finding justice.”
Gwen snorted. “Well, it won’t be any help to his family – we can’t start raving to them about fairies. They might never know.”
She sighed, a deep shuddering breath. “We’re ruling out human foul play,” she said firmly. “That’s it. That way, at least we know he didn’t get murdered by some awful serial killer, or something. The rest… well, we’ll just have to make do with knowing fairies were involved, and so in that case, there’s nothing anyone could have done. You don’t get in the way of fairies.”
Lily nodded. She wouldn’t argue with Gwen on that.
The pair took deep breaths, and turned back to the body.
“What are we even looking for?” Lily asked. Gwen shot her a heavy glare.
“Signs of injury, or magical interference,” she said. “You know what that looks like, right?”
“Depends on what it is,” Lily mumbled. She gingerly looked over the body, but in all honesty, there was no sign of anything.
“Open his eyes,” Gwen said. Lily stared at her. Gwen shrugged. “You wanted to go to medical school!”
“Yeah, wanted – past tense,” Lily hissed, reaching down reluctantly. “I’m still squeamish.”
She managed to slide open one eye, and Gwen sucked in a deep breath.
“Blue,” she said. “Dougie’s eyes were brown, not blue.”
Lily blinked. “That’s the same colour as the eyes in the woods,” she said in a small voice.
The body’s eyes hadn’t totally clouded over yet, and sightlessly stared out with a bright turquoise blue colour. The sort of colour Lily might have expected to glow.
“Spellbound,” Gwen breathed.
The colour was a clear indication of magic. Fairy spells turned eyes a pale turquoise blue when they affected humans – ‘fairy blue’, as June called it. It was harder to tell if the person already had blue eyes to begin with, but Dougie’s eyes had been a dark, warm brown.
“You’re sure it’s not contacts?” Lily asked hopefully. Gwen pursed her lips.
“Go ahead and touch the eyes,” she snorted. “If the blue slides around, they’re contacts. Or if they don’t, then, you know, you’ve just poked a dead man in the eyes.”
Lily shuddered. “Nah, I believe you. Spellbound. What kind of spell, though?”
“A killing one, clearly. But what kind of death? I’ve never seen fairies do this.”
Spells that killed usually corrupted the body, acting like a poison that messed with the nervous or respiratory system. Spell deaths usually looked like poisoning, or an anaphylactic reaction – closed off airways, vomiting, dark blood vessels showing under the skin. They were typically explained away as such, even despite toxicology reports that always came up mysteriously clear. But Dougie still had no official cause of death, and the usual death-spell signs weren’t there. He looked like he’d just fallen asleep and his heart had stopped beating, and the girls had never seen a death-spell that did that.
“We’re leaving,” Gwen said, her voice high-pitched and wavery. “What did I say? If we find signs of fairies, we’re leaving it alone. Dougie was killed by fairies and we can’t do anything, couldn’t have done anything. If we keep prying, we’ll get ourselves in trouble.”
Lily nodded, and the pair slid the drawer back in, hastily leaving the cold room. Lily peeled off her gloves and dropped them in a trash can as they retraced the corridors. Her hands were sticky, and she wasn’t sure if it was from being trapped in the latex, or if it was from nerves.
They left the morgue and climbed back into the landrover. Gwen was silent as they drove home, eyes darting across the road.
It was late afternoon when they got home, and the sun had disappeared behind heavy clouds. Lily hopped out of the car, and followed Gwen into the house.
She blinked. “Do you smell cotton candy?”
“You mean fairy floss?” Gwen snorted. “Maybe it’s one of your bath bombs. Do we have enough milk, or do I need to go to Tesco’s?”
Lily checked the fridge. “Milk’s low, and so’s the doughnuts.”
Gwen scoffed. “We don’t need doughnuts.”
“I need doughnuts,” Lily insisted. “I swear I didn’t eat all the doughnuts either, they’ve just disappeared!”
Gwen chuckled. “Alright,” she said. “Milk, doughnuts, anything else?”
“Nothing I can see,” Lily said, rummaging in the cupboards. “We’ll be alright until next grocery shop.”
Gwen nodded. “Good,” she said. “Water the garden while I’m gone, will you?” she asked, and Lily nodded.
Outside, Lily unspooled the hose, testing the gun attachment on the end and adjusting the pressure. Gwen didn’t like the water pressure to be too strong, in case it blasted off any rosebuds.
Of which, there seemed an incredible number. Lily marvelled at all the tiny folded blossoms as she ran water over the thick, knotted stems of the roses. She wondered if a new fertiliser Gwen had used was the reason, but the rest of the garden had an average number of flowering buds.
She stayed well clear of the fence at the bottom of the garden, though. Glancing into the dark forest still made her skin crawl.
When water was beading in little crystals on all of the shrubs and plants, Lily turned the hose off and returned inside the house.
Something on the table caught her eye. A tiny human figure, made with straw. It had a little skirt of whole ears of wheat, and a woven braid on each side of its head.
Lily blinked. It looked like something that Gwen might have bought or made, perhaps for a spell. She’d seen Gwen make similar figures, though not out of wheat – she was fairly sure the little figure on the table was called a corn dolly. She left it on the table, resolving to ask about it when Gwen got back.
When she went upstairs, she found the toilet was blocked, the water dangerously close to overflowing. Another thing to ask about – she grimaced when she remembered their usual plumber was dead on a slab in the morgue, now.
She heard the landrover pull into the driveway, and returned downstairs.
Lily entered the kitchen to see Gwen inspecting the corn dolly. “Hey,” Gwen said. “Is this yours?”
A weird prickle went down Lily’s spine. “No, I thought it was yours.”
Gwen frowned. “That’s not good,” she muttered. Lily swallowed hard.
“You re-warded the house, didn’t you?” she asked. Gwen nodded.
“Of course, but they don’t keep everything out,” she said quietly. “I think it’s time we gave Aunt June a call.”
The dolly was left on the table – Gwen feared discarding it would make things worse. Lily pulled out her laptop, and Gwen dialled June’s phone number.
“Hi – June? Aunt June?” she called into the handset. “It’s Gwen, I – yes, we’re fine! We actually – yes, we got your letter, we actually wanted to – no, she’s not, no boyfriend – June! It’s urgent, we need to talk to you.”
There was a pause, and Gwen nodded. “Alright, we’ve got the laptop out, we can’t – are you sure you downloaded the updated version of Skype? Okay, well, we’re online, now, so –”
“June’s online!” Lily said, and Gwen sighed.
“Alright, we see you online, I’m hanging up the phone now,” Gwen said, as Lily clicked the dial button on the Skype program.
Gwen hung up the phone, and a blurry image appeared on the screen. Pixels coalesced to form a jerky image of a woman wrapped in heavy colourful shawls, curly purple-rinse hair pulled into a long braid over her shoulder. Behind her, the window was dark, but candles filled the room with light, reflecting off mirrors and glass objects. The room was full of clutter, all the chaos that the witch preferred to surround herself with.
The woman beamed out at them. “I can see you girls!” she called delightedly in an unnecessarily loud voice. “Goodness, this is novel. Can you two hear me alright? Technology is magical, can you believe this? My other girl, Kirsty, she’s been teaching me how to use all of this and I still haven’t got my head round it. There’s a right knack to it, I think.”
A teal-haired girl passed behind June, and she glanced back to smile at the camera. Her eyes were oddly silver and reflective with catlike slit pupils, and her teeth were sharp and pointed.
“Half siren,” June said delightedly, jabbing her thumb over her shoulder towards the girl. “Her mother brought her down so she can learn to get a handle on some of her powers. She’s a bit different to us lot, you know. Siren magic is a bit wild in this world, so she’s had a bit of trouble, but we’re getting there! Aren’t we, Kirsty?”
“Bit by bit!” the girl called in a musical voice. June beamed.
There was a whine and a yelp, and a sleek grey head popped into the camera’s view. June cooed and scrubbed her hand over the dog’s head, scratching behind its ears.
“Here’s my new baby, Toby!” she crowed happily. “He won’t respond to it yet, but he’ll learn his name soon enough. I think he prefers Kirsty over me.”
“Aunt June, if we could talk to you about something,” Lily said halfheartedly. “We, er, we’ve been finding some weird things.”
“What kind of things?” the woman asked, still scratching the greyhound’s head. “My darling, you’ll need to be a little more specific. The term ‘weird’ is a rather subjective one, and I’ve been cleaning fish scales out of my windows all week.”
“Well,” Lily said sheepishly. “We, uh, might have been looking into a recent death…”
“One of the boys on the farm I work at died,” Gwen said. “It was a mysterious death, and Lily suspected fairy involvement. Lily insisted we snoop around, and we found a lot of evidence pointing to him being killed by a fairy. But the spell that killed him is strange, not one I’ve seen or heard of before. And, well, we found this when we got home.”
She reached across the table and picked up the corn dolly, holding it in front of the webcam so June could see.
June peered over her half-moon glasses. “Oh, my. Lovely craftsmanship.”
“We don’t know who – or what – left it here,” Gwen said. “I’ve had wards up, but…”
“Oh, dear.” June frowned, peering closer. “Hold that closer, darling.”
Gwen held it close to the camera, and June tutted slowly.
“I’ve seen farmers find those before their babies were swapped for changeling infants,” she said grimly. “It’s very rare in our days, but it still happens on Skye, unfortunately. I see two changelings a decade still, poor things, they don’t live long out here. But you have no children, do you, my darlings?”
“No, it’s just us two,” Gwen said. “And neither of us have kids, Aunt June.”
“Good, littl’uns are far too much trouble,” June snorted. “Liable to attracting fairies. Especially redheads. You were a terror, my dear.”
Gwen flushed. “So why would we be left a corn dolly if we’ve got no kids to steal?”
“The dolly is a warning,” June explained. “I can’t tell you what left it, but I’d be very wary, my dears. One of you may be about to be stolen.”
“We’re a bit old to steal,” Gwen snorted, and June shook her head.
“Meddling in their business is dangerous, darlings,” she said. “Comes with consequences, I’m afraid. And wards won’t necessarily be enough, so you two need to stay on very high guard until you know who sent you that dolly, and why.”
“How do we find out?” Lily asked.
“You wait,” June said. “They’ll reveal themselves in their own time, darlings. But don’t go looking or snooping. They hate that.”
“In the meantime, get some iron about you,” June said. She’d started rummaging, looking through the books and papers piled around the desk she’d evidently perched the computer on. “Iron and copper are dangerous to them. And salt! Especially that kosher stuff, they hate that. If you have any crosses, too – religious symbols don’t agree with them.”
“I don’t like this, lying like fattened pigs for them to hunt us down,” Gwen mumbled.
“You’re not lying like fattened pigs,” June scoffed. “At worst, you’re well-defended fat boars, with tusks and all. You’re both witches, remember. I didn’t raise you two to doubt your abilities.”
“You didn’t raise us at all,” Lily pointed out, and June snorted – she actually swiped the side of the camera, like she was cuffing Lily on the ear.
“Maybe not, but I taught you two everything I know,” June scolded. “You’re both more than prepared to take on any fairies. Otherwise I’d be on the ferry and heading east right now. As if I’d leave my girls defenceless against fairies!”
She clapped her hands together – knotted, bony fingers mottled with pink and black, long nails like burned claws. June had always said it was the hands that gave away a witch, and she had the witchiest hands Lily had ever seen.
“Now, it’s dinnertime for the puppies,” June said. “But I’m only a phone call away, my girls. If you run into any problems, or one of you gets stolen, call me at once and I’ll see what I can do. Don’t be afraid to ask me for help.”
“Never,” Gwen said. “Thanks, Aunt June.”
“Not at all, darlings,” June said, making a kissy noises and gesturing with her hands as if blowing the kisses through the screen. “Take care, and no more fairy meddling! Keep your noses out, lest a nymph take offense and grow warts on it. Those things are a pain in the arse to get frozen off.”
June cut off the Skype call, leaving the two girls staring at Lily’s laptop screen.
“Well,” Lily mumbled. “Does Don have any spare horseshoes?”
“We’ve got loads of salt,” Gwen said, frowning. She pulled out a heavy book filled with scraps – most of them from June’s letters. She pointed out pages as she flipped through it. “Garlic – traditionally wards off vampires, but they get their weaknesses from fairies, so that might work for us too. Um, copper – we’ve got some copper-bottomed pots, don’t we?”
“Rowan and oak wood,” Lily pondered. “Didn’t we make a bunch of charms with rowan branches over Christmas?”
“Yeah, that’s right, I’ll go find them,” Gwen said.
Gwen busied herself with fairy-proofing the house – salting the windowsills and hanging garlic on the curtain rods, putting up the rowan-branch decorations they’d made for Christmas, and searching for all the copper and iron in the house.
She laid circles of salt around their beds, and gave Lily copper coins to keep in her dressing-gown pockets. The iron fireplace tools were laid in cross shapes in front of their bedroom doors.
By the time Gwen was done, Lily actually felt significantly safer.
“You give me a yell if you hear any weird noises, yeah?” Gwen said before they went to bed. “Don’t assume it’s just squirrels or something. And don’t go outside! Especially if you see any more weird stuff in the forest!”
“Okay,” Lily said meekly. She couldn’t help but feel like this was somehow a little bit her fault, even though it wouldn’t have mattered whether she’d encountered the forest creature or not – Dougie would still have been dead. And maybe they would have attracted fairy attention even if they hadn’t snooped.
It was hard to sleep that night, but she eventually drifted off into an uneasy sleep filled with strange dreams. And in all of her dreams, there was the constant sound of running water and pairs of glowing eyes in the peripheries of her vision.
Early the next morning, she was woken by birdsong. Nothing out of the ordinary; being next to the forest, and with Gwen’s bird-feeder attracting local wildlife, birdsong was a common part of the background sounds in the house. But all the same, Lily jolted awake, nerves on edge.
She looked around; Gwen’s salt circles were still intact, and the garlic was still hanging from the curtain rod.
She padded across into Gwen’s room, relieved to see her cousin’s lanky form folded into her own bed.
Gwen started awake when Lily entered, sitting up groggily. “Oh, it’s just you,” she mumbled sleepily. She scrubbed her fists into her eyes, absently pushing red hair out of her face. “Didn’t sleep well.”
“Me either,” Lily said. “We’re both still here, though.”
“Yeah.” Gwen stood up, pulling a plaid dressing gown on over her nightshirt. “Weird dreams. You too?”
“Yeah. It’s been a weird couple of days.”
The pair made their way downstairs, where Lily’s laptop and the corn dolly still sat on the kitchen table. They’d left the lights on downstairs; the house had felt too creepy when it was left dark that night, though now Gwen quickly turned the lights off so as to not keep wasting electricity.
“Well,” Lily sighed. “Breakfast, I guess.”
She took the kettle to the sink to fill it with water, but the tap gurgled pathetically when she tried it. No water emerged.
She blinked. “Weird. The taps aren’t working.”
Gwen groaned. “Of course all our plumbing goes to shit right when Dougie dies,” she grumbled. “I’ll go check the well. Let me get changed.”
“I’ll come with you,” Lily said. Something about their plumbing mysteriously acting up was making her deeply uneasy.
Lily threw on a black dress with bishop sleeves and a peter pan collar, and black tights, fastening her pendant around her neck. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt like she might need it, with all the weird activity in the house.
As she left her room, Gwen emerged as well in black jeans and a burgundy turtleneck, long red hair pulled into a ponytail that revealed the shaved section in the right side of her head. Lily had suggested it when Gwen had threatened to cut all her hair off once. She had on her pendant, a pocket-watch tucked into her jeans with the chain clipped to a belt loop, and one of her many black trench coats.
“Sure you don’t need a jacket?” Gwen asked, lacing up calf-high boots. “It’s chilly out.”
“I’ll be alright,” Lily said, pulling on her own boots. “We’re just checking it out, aren’t we?”
“Yeah,” Gwen agreed. The pair left the house, trudging past the garden into the forest. Lily felt her skin crawl as the pine trees swallowed them, reminding herself that she had Gwen with her this time.
“We’ll have a look, and if I can’t find any problems, I’ll call an actual plumber,” Gwen said. “It’s a cost I don’t want to have to shell out for, but I think we’re just going to have to – jesus!”
The well was a round stone one built over an ancient spring, and was invisible under heavy layers of moss and leaf litter. Gwen said it was supposed to have been drunk at by Robert The Bruce, hence it was known as Robert’s Well. While the story couldn’t be proven, it gave an idea of how old the well was.
Every few years the leafy buildup had to be cleaned out, making it look like a real manmade structure for a couple of months, and then the forest would swallow it up again.
Today, the well was very evident even covered in moss and leaves, because it was overflowing.
Water poured over the sides, carrying brown leaves with it, carrying them in a small stream that had begun to run down the slope of the forest, trailing between the trees.
“What in the hell,” Gwen muttered, approaching the well. “This is ridiculous. I didn’t think this thing could overflow!”
“Maybe there’s a blockage?” Lily asked.
“Not in the well,” Gwen said. “I was expecting blockages in the pipes taking the water to our house, or a problem in the pump. But this? This shouldn’t happen.”
Lily peered into the water, pushing aside leaves with her hands. “This is so weird. Why would the well start overflowing?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Gwen said. “Something in the geology? Tectonic stuff? I have no idea – Lily!”
Lily turned, and froze. A pair of pale, shimmering hands had emerged from the well.
Gwen swore and grabbed Lily’s arm, just as the hands stretched up out of the water. Lily caught a glimpse of silvery reflective eyes, as six-fingered long white hands strong as steel gripped her shoulders, dragging her into the well.
The last thing she heard was Gwen shrieking, cutting off into a burble as she was also dragged into the water. Lily realised they were being pulled under, deeper into the well, and she shut her eyes.