Part Five - Brackley Revisited
The clock on the dashboard of Hector’s Austin A30 read 09:09. Hector turned off the engine and wiped his brow, he was perspiring due to the fact that he had driven all the way from the office of the Paranatural Detective Agency to the outskirts of Brackley Copse with the heating turned full on; he had been so deep in thought at the prospect of revisiting the place that had placed so much fear in his heart all those years ago. Hector took out his hip flask, it was half full with spiced dark rum, he really needed a slug right now but thought better of it and tossed the flask onto the passenger seat instead. Hector scooped up his mobile phone from a shelf in front of the passenger seat and left the vehicle.
The wind was beginning to blow a gale; Hector turned the collar up on his Crombie overcoat and pulled down on the brim of his fedora; He looked at the ominous sight of the dense clump of thicket in the distance and slowly trudged towards it.
The stream that encircled the wood was partially frozen; the temperature had dropped considerably during the night; Hector unknowingly used the same blocks and stones to cross the stream as he had done so all those many years ago. On the other side of the stream Hector felt as though he had suddenly entered a forbidden lair, the wind pushed against him as if to show him how unwelcome his presence was, nevertheless Hector continued onwards into the veil of twisted wood and bracken.
It took Hector some time before he was able to identify the area where the shack had once stood. The elements had done a good job at removing the old hovel, at some point it had collapsed in on itself. Only two walls now stood, but the original hearth was still visible. Hector walked over to the old iron stove, thinking of the rats that once teemed from within, he used his shoe to kick shut the door of the decaying relic.
Hector kicked about in the soil and tangled mess of dead bracken; his foot struck against a rock; leaning down he picked up the rock, turning it around in his hand a pair of hollow eye sockets together with a sepulchral bony grin revealed it to be a human skull. As a ten-year-old boy Hector would have dropped this bony noggin in disgust, but over the years any disgust for such macabre artefacts had been replaced by endless curiosity. Hector blew into the eye sockets to remove the crispy dead leaves.
‘I wonder what happened to you my friend!’ Mused Hector and he rested the skull on top of the stove and gently patted its crown. A little rummage about in the dirt revealed more skulls of varying sizes; the remains of that grim chest he thought.
Hector stood up straight and examined the area about him; there was something new, a feeling, a smell. Toadstools had pushed through the old leaf litter and had ripened with their blood red pigment. Small birds could be heard twittering about in the tree tops, in fact some of the nearby trees had even sprouted new growth. Brackley Copse was no longer a petrified dead zone, life was beginning to re-emerge. For Hector this could only mean one thing. The Witch had gone. Hector pondered on the thought. Why after so long had the witch left the wood? How had the witch been able to leave, and what did it want?
Removing a small digital camera from his pocket, Hector began to take random photographs of the wood, the remains of the shack, and even the pile of bony remains lying on the ground. He had a hunch that somehow the energy of the witch had been captured in the photograph that the dead reporter had taken. Alice Washington was a gifted psychic medium, on many occasions she could look at the image of a person and tap into the energy of the photograph to make connections to that person, she had been able to accurately pick up details about their career, their personal life, and even forecast a future event. Hector had asked Alice how she was able to do it; she had answered by saying that she simply tapped into the energy of the person in the photograph. Hector had assumed that she had in fact formed a psychic link with the subject in the photograph, a kind of remote viewing, but now he wondered. What if there was energy captured by the camera and held within the picture, what if the thoughts of old tribes and civilisations such as the Native Americans for example were true and the picture did indeed capture the soul, or at least a tiny part of it.
‘Come on out you old hag! Say cheese!’ Hector shouted as he snapped away. Walking around the remains of the hut Hector finished his photography and switched off his camera replacing it inside his overcoat pocket. He crouched low and collected some soil samples and old leaves placing them into an array of plastic sampling tubes he carried with him, as he stood up he could feel his mobile phone vibrating in his trouser pocket; he answered the call.
‘Hector, it’s me Joe, do you have a minute?’
‘Superintendent, good morning, how can I be of service?’
‘There’s been another development, on the murder of the newspaper reporter in Mudders Lane!’
‘Go on Superintendent’
‘The editor of the Standard was found by his secretary this morning, murdered in the same appalling fashion!’
‘Are you at the office of the Standard now?’
‘Yes, could you come over?’
‘Give me half an hour!’