Jack Olsen switched off the engine on his Skoda Superb and applied the handbrake. He looked at the clock on the dash, it read 15:56. He reached across to the passenger seat to retrieve his satchel that contained his camera, dicta-phone and note book, He looked out of the driver’s side window and grimaced, the drizzly rain was gently pattering against the tinted glass, ‘Oh well, better get this over with!’ he spoke out loud and opened the car door.
The walk down the muddy path towards Brackley Copse didn’t lighten Jack’s mood, his shoes were getting filthy and the relentless fine rain was beginning to penetrate his thin tweed sports jacket causing his shirt to dampen beneath. The wind was getting up as Jack saw the copse come into view; he opened his satchel and removed his camera placing it around his neck via the strap. He wished he was out some place glamorous, such as a celebs birthday bash, but he always ended up with these jobs, his editor, Neil Trenchard, didn’t like him very much, but Jack was determined to prove himself and get a better job on the paper, even if it did mean meandering across fields, and bracken in all weathers just to take pictures and write a report on some supposed haunted wood.
Jack had taken multiple photographs of the copse; there was very little inspiration for someone with Jacks photographic talents, he’d once won a prestige photography competition for a glossy popular travel magazine, he’d hoped that would be enough to set him on his way as a professional creative photographer, alas not, although he was paid quite handsomely, the work never led on to anything, so now he had to make do with his job on the Carfax evening standard, even if it did mean writing reports on missing pet dogs, eccentric local boffins, or even haunted woods.
Jack was in the middle of the copse now, he couldn’t fail to notice how chilly it had become, he wished now that he’d packed his overcoat in the car instead of his flimsy jacket. Jack took some more photographs of the peculiar dead trees, he’s seen dead trees before of course but usually there was a reason, trees could get suffocated by ivy, or even become host to a parasite or to some disease or other, but there was something different about these trees, they looked almost petrified, and there was something else, no birds, no sound from any wildlife. Jack reached out and touched a low hanging branch; it broke off with the lightest touch and almost turned to powder. As Jack watched the powder fall to the dark rich soil below he heard a twig snap as though somebody had stood on it.
Jack spun around expecting to see someone, a local villager, or a farmer perhaps. There was nobody there. Jack felt a prickle travel all the way up his spine as the wind began to whip up about him. The copse did have a reputation, the locals believed it to be a haunted place, there were tales of the Brackley witch who some of the locals claimed was seen occasionally, flitting about through the dead trees, when the moon was full and the mist was near the ground. Jack didn’t believe in such nonsense of course, but now standing in the copse with the inclement weather and wind blowing in his ears he could not help but see the faces of his work colleagues when he told them where he was off to today, all but Neil said that he should forget it and wait for a better story to come up. Now standing here with the tips of the trees beginning to silhouette against the darkening early November sky Jack thought that they were perhaps trying to tell him something, to warn him.
Jack shivered as he slammed shut the door to his Skoda, he started the ignition and pushed a CD into the slot to cheer himself up a bit, he was not a fanciful man, but he had allowed his imagination to run away with him a little in Brackley Copse. He tossed his satchel on the back seat and adjusted his interior heating controls. Jack saw that the copse was only just visible now in the twilight as he pulled away making his way back home.
Jack’s home was a late Victorian two up two down town house on the outskirts of Carfax. He had set up the guest bedroom as a study for his work on the Evening standard. When he got home from his visit to Brackley Copse, Jack had poured himself a glass of scotch and sat himself down at his desk, he started uploading the photographs he had taken of the copse onto his computer, whilst he waited for them to upload he sipped his drink, even though he had his heating on, he felt a definite chill about his shoulders.
As soon as the photographs were uploaded Jack started to scan through them searching for one good picture he could use for his story he still had to write about the copse; He studied picture after picture of dead trees unenthusiastically whilst the whisky started to make him feel woozy, he was about to shut down his computer calling an end to the day when something caught his eye.
Jack blinked and wiped a hand across his eyes trying to shake off the effects of the whisky, he stared at a photograph that was illuminating the screen of his computer, the photograph depicted a dense clump of the twisted dead trees, and standing between two of them was...something.
‘Well I’ll be damned!’ Jack spoke aloud; quickly he zoomed into the middle of the photograph. ‘I don’t believe this!’ Jack continued.
Staring out at him from his screen was a human figure, it had a head, a face of sorts, but the rest of the body was misty and slightly blurred, but it looked like it was wearing a long hooded cloak. Jack zoomed in further until the head of the figure filled the screen. Its face had features that looked female, the eyes were dark hollows, and the mouth, looked almost to be smiling
As Jack studied the image the figure within seemed to blur out of focus.
’No,no.no! Jack cried as he used the mouse to click on the print function. Suddenly the figure was gone, vanished from the photograph. ‘What in god’s name?’ Jack used the mouse to scroll through the rest of the pictures, slurping now at his whisky whilst trying to find another image of the figure between the trees.
There was a crash against the window in the bedroom, Jack dropped his tumbler and the remains of his whisky spilled out over his desk. He left his broken glass and went over to the window; there was an imprint of a bird on the glass pane, illuminated by the yellow sodium street light below. Jack looked down and saw the lifeless body of a crow lying on the stone ledge beneath his window, as his gaze lifted he saw her.
The sight of the cloaked woman staring up at him from the pavement below, encased in a surreal cocoon of rain and mist gave Jack a series of palpitations that made him seek out a chair in which to fling his weakening body. When he had recovered he immediately raced over to the window. Like in the photograph on his computer screen, the figure had gone. Seconds later he heard the crash of his front door downstairs.
Before Jack could open the bedroom door to see who or what had just entered his house he could hear the heavy footsteps of someone or something slowly ascending his wooden stairs. It took all the strength he could muster to rush over and turn the key under the knob locking the door. When the final footfall hit the top of the stairs, Jack backed away from the door; his heart was pounding again inside his chest. He heard the shuffling sound of feet moving across the landing towards his bedroom door.
‘Leave me alone! Go away, go away do you hear!’ Jack cried out. Under the bedroom door Jack could see shadows cast from the landing light bulb from something on the other side of the door. ‘Please, for pity’s sake, leave me alone, I-I-I won’t go back, do you hear, I’ll leave you alone, in the wood, please, I won’t go...’
Before Jack could finish, the door knob began to turn and shake violently. Jack was so scared, he feared whatever was behind the door, that dreadful awful thing in the woods, would soon be in his room, he dashed over to the door and gripped hold of the knob hoping he could keep the door firmly closed. The knob was so cold it burned his hand and made him cry out in pain, suddenly the door knob stopped turning. The shadows beneath the door had gone.
‘Thank you, oh god thank you, thank you!’ Jack spluttered whilst massaging his unruly hair with trembling hands. As Jack let out a long breath he could see it start to freeze in the air before him, as though he was breathing inside a vast refrigerator. The sound of crackling was coming from all around the room, Jack turned his head and saw the walls and windows were turning brilliant white with glistening frost. He lent against his desk touching it with his hand and his hand stuck to the corner glued by icy frost. It was then that he saw her, coming for him, all teeth and nails, and those black hollow eyes, the last thing Jack would ever see.
Dan Taylor, one half of the Paranatural Detective agency, placed a silver tray containing a tea pot, and three cups down upon a red antique Chinese tea table positioned between two leather Royal club armchairs. In one armchair sat superintendent Joe Welsh, his bulky figure filled the armchair, and his ruddy complexion matching the shiny rough leather.
‘Milk and no sugar I believe?’ queried Dan.
‘One, sugar thanks Dan’ replied Joe who took the cup and saucer from Dan and began to stir the hot beverage tapping the drips off the spoon as he finished and placing the spoon neatly to lie on the saucer next to the white china cup. ‘No Diane today?’ Joe enquired about the absence of Diane Appleton, secretary for the agency.
‘No, she had to go and spend time with her mother, she is a bit poorly’
‘Oh, sorry to hear that, Diane makes a lovely cup of tea she does!’
‘Yes she certainly does Joe, but until she returns we will just have to make do with my efforts!’ Dan studied Joe’s delicate slurps from the teacup with mild amusement.
Sorry, where did you say Hector was again?’ asked Joe, who was pondering the whereabouts of the other half of the PDA, Hector Saint-Sanson.
‘Oh, he is out collecting payment from a client, in fact he should be back any time soon’ answered Dan as he eyed the mantle clock perched over a dormant fireplace. ‘You know you can always tell me of the business that’s brought you to our agency, I can fill Hector in later’.
Joe placed his cup and saucer back down onto the tray, then leaned forward in his chair.
‘Well you know it’s been a while since I last visited you, remember that little business with the decomposing man!’
‘Ah, yes’ Dan grimaced and he rubbed his stubbly chin as he remembered a not too distant rather grisly undertaking of the Paranatural Detective Agency.
‘Well something’s come up, and to be honest it has got us flummoxed!’
Before Dan could inquire any further into the nature of Joe’s business they heard the front door crash open along the hallway, a merry loud whistling echoed along and entered the office study, shortly followed by Hector Saint-Sanson.
‘Dan, I am so terribly pleased that we have cleared that last case, and Mrs Wiggins has paid the full bill with a little more thrown in too!’ Shouted Hector, he removed the tartan scarf from around his neck and flung it over in the direction of a hat stand missing it completely, then he removed his black Crombie style overcoat in somewhat of a flourish and sent it flying in the same direction of the preceding scarf. It was then that Hector noticed his old boss from his and Dan’s days working at Carfax police headquarters. Joe Welsh was sitting in the armchair. ‘Good heavens Dan you should have told me we had company!’ said Hector casting a microsecond smile over at Joe.
‘Afternoon Hector!’ said Joe courteously.
‘I take it you have something for us eh? What dreary business is it this time Superintendent, has someone died of a gypsy curse again! I know, old Mr Dullet has seen that fairy in his garden again, the one that reappears each time he spends his pension money on bargain stout down at the Spar!’ Hector continued, he threw himself down into a third rather shabby dining chair in the corner of the room whilst he fished about in a bookcase for something.
‘Well I do have something you might be interes…’ Joe was cut short by Hector’s returning whistling. ‘I said I have something you might be interested in Hector!’ repeated Joe loudly.
‘What? Oh, you do marvellous, yes very good!’ Hector was in a world of his own and was busy making notes in a small hard-backed notebook.
‘Go ahead Joe, what is it that’s brought you to see us today?’ Dan asked whilst pouring more tea into Joe’s cup.
‘Well you see, it’s one of those types of cases I think you’d be rather interested in!’ said Joe whilst looking over at Hector’s general direction. Hector continued to write in his notebook, crossing something out with a pencil. Soon Hector became aware of the Pause Joe had created in order to gain his attention. Hector raised his arm and circled his hand in a gesture for Joe to continue, but never taking his eyes from his notebook.
‘Well we got a call from a local milkman who discovered a body four days ago in an upstairs bedroom down in Mudders Lane, on the outskirts of the town.’
‘A milkman? How exactly would a milkman discover a body in a bedroom?’ Dan probed, slightly confused.
‘Well he told us he went to deliver the milk as he usually does, when he approached the door it had been broke inwards, he called into the house to see if everything was alright, he didn’t like to leave it you see so he goes inside and looks around a bit, eventually he went upstairs and that’s where he found him!’ finished Joe.
‘Him?’ questioned Dan further.
‘Joe Olsen, a local reporter, for the Carfax standard. He was lying all twisted on the floor, someone had gone to town on him a bit, his face was all scratched, his eyes, well, they were ... removed!’
‘Sounds rather grisly’ added Dan.
‘Yes it does, but what has this got to do with us, why are you brining this to us Joe?’ Hector asked now replacing the notebook back on the shelf and selecting another.
‘Well, you see, there’s an oddity, according to the pathologist the body had been frozen slowly!’
’You mean, the unfortunate victim’s body had been stored some place, in a freezer Joe?
‘No, and this is the really odd thing, you see the forensic report said, and you’d probably know about this sort of thing, it said that the body had not been moved, he died where he fell, and at some time either just before or just after he died he had been in a frozen solid state!’
‘That is odd Joe, I take your point. What do you think Hector?’ Dan asked
‘Extraordinary, yes very extraordinary, but I’m sure there is a logical explanation somewhere!’ came Hectors reply.
‘Well the team of forensic experts and pathologists can’t find one. And here’s the thing, we talked to his boss, the editor of the standard, a mister...’ Joe paused whilst he fished out a small black pocket notebook; he licked a finger and hurriedly used it to flick through the notebook. ‘Trenchard, Neil Trenchard, he told me that he had assigned him to report on the legendary witch of Brackley copse!’
‘What!’ Hector sprung from his chair, replaced the book he had been musing over back on the bookcase, he clumsily ran a hand over his dark greying hair pushing it back away from his forehead. ‘Joe, tell me everything again, I’m so sorry, start at the very beginning, you have my full attention!’ Hector flung himself down on the small rug near to where Joe was sitting, and began to stare at Joe intently.
‘Right then Hector, as I was saying...’