Part Seven - The Devil's Toy Box
It was seven thirty in the evening, Hector was busy in the laboratory at the PDA headquarters analysing all the residue samples he had collected from Brackley copse, the house in Mudder’s Lane, and the office of the Carfax standard. First Hector had performed tests on the mineral content using his microscope; further analysis using the density gradient test had revealed the final profile of the soil. Hector was used to performing these tests on soil. Using the soil samples as an identification marker he had concluded that all the samples originated from the same source, Brackley copse.
Hector’s mobile phone rang, he removed his nitrile laboratory gloves and read the screen, it was an unknown caller; he switched off the small CD player on the bench behind and decided to answer the call.
‘Hullow, Hector, who is this?’ A woman’s voice answered from a seemingly busy environment.
‘Oh hi, I’m sorry, Hector, I don’t have your surname, but I think you should know that your partner, a Mr Dan Taylor is currently in the Carfax general hospital, he asked us to contac…’
‘My god! What happened? Is he alright?’ Hector stood up from his bench stool; he swapped his phone to his other ear,
‘Dan is fine, he has some deep cuts and some bruises, but he is awake and almost ready to go home, he asked if you could bring him some clothes for the journey as his own were damaged in the explosion’
‘Explosion? I don’t understand!’
‘We believe there was a gas explosion at his friend’s cottage, it’s being investigated’
‘God, sure I’ll be right over, are you sure he’s alright?’
‘Yes Hector, don’t worry, drive safely, we’ll get him ready for you!’ The call ended. Hector quickly scooped up Dan’s spare key from a desk drawer in the office then grabbed his coat and hat and began his journey firstly to Dan’s flat on the other side of the town to pick up some of his clothes.
Dan stood outside the ward where Hilda Grantham had been brought, he was still wearing the hospital gown he had been given. Tentatively he pushed open the door and stepped inside. He walked past a row of beds whose occupants were all lying passively within until he reached the end bed by the window. It was dark outside and the blind had been closed. Hilda lay on her back, her eyes closed. She was wired up to a heart monitor as he had been hours earlier. Dan pulled up a bedside chair and took Hilda’s hand in his own. Instantly she opened her eyes to look at him, and then smiled.
‘Dan, it’s good to see you, so they have you in here too!’
‘I’m so, so sorry, I didn’t know, if I did I would…’
‘No, no don’t apologise, it’s not your fault’ Hilda gripped his hand tightly
‘It so is my fault Hilda, if I hadn’t come…’
‘I knew what I was doing, but don’t you worry I will be fine, the doctor, lovely man he is, he says I’m in good shape for my age!’ Dan looked at the frail old lady lying prostate before him; she looked anything but fine. ‘The others, though, Eddie told me they are all okay, just cuts and scratches, and little Wuffie, he’s okay too!’
‘Thank goodness. I don’t know what I would do if they weren’t’
‘You know they think there was a gas explosion! I lied, I told them I thought I could small gas minutes before! It’s best we say nothing; they wouldn’t believe us if we told them what really happened!’
‘You’re right about that! But I have to ask you Hilda, when that thing, whatever it was, when it was using you, did you get a feeling, or anything to suggest what it was?’
‘No I didn’t, all I do remember though was that it was completely malevolent, purely and simply evil! Leave well alone Dan, let it rest’ Dan noticed as Hilda spoke about the creature that had put them both in hospital her heart monitor was jumping out of rhythm. He decided to leave her to rest.
‘I will, I promise. I’m going home soon, I will look in on you, every day until you are back home’
‘You are a good boy Dan, you don’t need to do that, my daughter is on her way back from Spain, but thank you!’ She let go of Dan’s hand and closed her eyes.
‘Nothing would keep me away; I will come and see you, promise!’ Dan said as he made his way back along the ward towards the door.
Hector approached the desk of the ward nurse; she was busy scribbling down some notes on a form using a red biro. He coughed politely and she looked up.
‘Hi, I’m Hector Saint-Sanson, I’m here to see a Mr Dan Taylor’
‘Oh yes, I called you earlier, you’re his partner that’s right isn’t it?’
‘Yes, can I see him?’
‘Of course, if you follow me I’ll take you to him, did you bring him any clothes?’ Hector held up a holdall bag for her to see. ‘I expect he’ll be glad to see you, aww, do you know you were the first person he asked for!’ The nurse continued to speak as she led the way into the ward where Dan was waiting. ‘Have you two been together long?’ She asked.
‘Err, we’ve been partners for almost seven years’ He answered somewhat absent-minded whilst scanning the ward for Dan.
‘Oh really, that’s nice, I’ve been with my partner almost as long!’ She said happily.
Dan was already on his feet by the time Hector was guided to his bed. Hector put the holdall down on the bed and controlled a grimace as he eyed Dan’s wounds. The ward nurse left them alone and returned to her desk.
‘What on earth happened?’ Hector asked
‘I feel terrible, it was my fault, I put the whole Superphysical gang in danger! I only wanted to find out more about the witch’ Dan sighed as he rubbed a hand over his face, feeling the roughness of the stitches adorning his forehead. ‘I thought if Hilda and the gang could find a way to communicate with the witch, then we might be able to discover what it wants!’
‘You seem pretty convinced about the nature of what we’re dealing with Dan’
‘I am, really I am, I know it’s the witch because I saw it!’ Dan sat down on the bed and opened the holdall, examining what Hector had brought him.
‘You saw it? What do you mean exactly?’ Hector cheekily closed the curtains around the bed then pulled up a bedside chair and sat down.
‘Hilda Grantham was able to channel the witch, but in the end she could not contain it, I saw it Hector, Eddie saw it too, it’s very real!’ With the curtain for a shield Dan decided to rid himself of the loose hospital gown and dress himself in his own clothes from the holdall.
‘And you are sure that it was not some kind of illusion, a suggestion of something you thought..’
‘Hector for god sake, how long have you known me, am I open to that kind of suggestion! I know what I, we saw. I still can’t believe it’ Hector waited for Dan to finish dressing himself before he spoke again,
‘Okay Dan, I believe you, well my own investigations, of the tangible kind I must add, proved that we are dealing with a single entity that originated from Brackley copse. The problem is how to stop it?’
‘What did you always say Hector, how do you stop a ghost? You find out what it wants. I know what it wants’
‘Enlighten me Dan’ Hector had pressed his fingertips together in anticipation of Dan’s reveal.
‘It wants revenge, revenge on Carfax, more precisely, revenge on the descendants of the towns people who tortured and killed it!’ Hector thought about what Dan said for a moment.
‘The main thing in common up to now was that the victims were all in some way connected with the Carfax standard newspaper, I had a theory that somehow the witch, entity, whatever you want to call it could hide itself inside images, and use them as portals if you like to gain access to and from place to place. I took some pictures myself in the copse, I examined them but nothing. So I figured it was still lurking within a set of the original pictures that were taken by the unfortunate Mr Olsen the reporter. He was killed in his own house whilst he was working on his story, and then the editor of the standard, when he was trying to finish Olsen’s story was…’ Hector was cut short by Dan who grabbed his arm,
‘My god Hector you’re right, I took the printout with me, you know the picture that was stuck in the printer in Olsen’s room, it was a picture from Brackley copse, I had it with me when I went to see the Superphysical gang, when Hilda asked for something to focus on, I gave it to her, it was that picture that the witch used to manifest in the cottage!’
‘And where is it now, I think we have to destroy all the images and copies of images made by Olsen’
‘Don’t worry about that, the picture burst into flames before she…it, caused the destruction at the cottage!’
‘Look we have to get back to the PDA offices, I have to call Joe Welsh, we have to stop the Carfax standard from publishing any further pictures of Olsen’s, and I have to destroy all the copies I have, I a-hem, managed to retrieve a flash memory drive from the editor’s office, it contains Olsen’s original images, I think’. Dan winced as he pulled on a light zip-up fleece jacket. ’Dan you need to rest, I will get you home, I can deal with the rest don’t worry.
‘Nonsense, I’m coming with you!’ said Dan.
‘No I insist; you need to rest. This case has been a dangerous one Dan; it has taken its toll. You can come round to the office tomorrow if you feel up to it’ Dan nodded, and the pair made their way out of the ward. The ward nurse handed Dan a plastic bag with the remains of his torn clothing and belongings from his pockets. Dan thanked the nurse and they both left the hospital.
The following day Hector set to work. First he contacted Joe Welsh and explained in the most believable manner how important it was to prevent the Carfax Standard from reproducing any of Olsen’s images on either the newspaper itself, or in the online edition. Joe took some persuading but had known and worked with both Hector and Dan on some of the strangest cases in his professional life, he knew better than to question their methods.
So with the Carfax Standard nicely encapsulated by way of an injunction, Hector had only the task of destroying the flash drive he had purloined. Working in the laboratory-come workshop adjoining the main consulting area of the PDA offices, Hector first removed the outer casing from the flash drive, and then removed each of the drive components and clamped them into a mini desk mounted vice. Using a drill, he drilled first a small hole into the centre of each component, then changing the drill bit to a slightly thicker one each time he enlarged the hole until each component was reduced to dust. With a small dustpan and brush he cleaned up his work bench and tossed the dust and the casing into the roaring fire he had prepared in the consulting room. Hector flung himself down into one of the two leather Royal club armchairs that sat opposite the fireplace.
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ muttered Hector as he watched the flames dance around the red florid coals. Diane had almost finished sorting through the latest batch of administrative paperwork and excel files; she entered the consulting room and found Hector deep in thought staring at the fire.
‘I’m all done; don’t forget your appointment tomorrow afternoon with the mayor!’ Reminded Diane, and she placed a mug of coffee down on top of the red Chinese tea table next to where Hector sat. ‘I made you a coffee, looks like you could do with one’
‘Thanks Diane, you are a legend!’ Hector reached for the mug as the door opened behind them both. Dan hobbled inside, looking a little better for a day’s rest. Diane flung her arms around him pleased to see him.
‘Dan oh you poor thing, look at you! How have you been?’ She asked. Dan winced a little and Diane released him realising he was still sore from his injuries.
‘Well I can honestly say, I have felt better. Hello Diane, has Hector kept you working late again?’
‘Well I had to catch up on things, you know with being away lately’ she lied; she had actually stayed late hoping that Dan would show up, she had been worried about him. ‘Hey maybe when you are feeling better we can all go out for a drink, we haven’t done that for a while!’
‘Yeah, I’d love it, and I’m sure Hector could do with a night off too!’ Hector nodded in agreement.
‘I thought I told you to rest. What are you doing here at this time, it’s almost seven thirty!’
‘I knew you’d be here, working away in your lab, or sat in that seat pondering the meaning of the universe! Look!’ Dan held up a pink and white striped plastic bag, it contained two boxes of chicken Madras and two large Naan breads. ‘Hungry?’ Hector smiled.
‘Starving! I’ll get some plates’ Hector disappeared into the small kitchenette.
‘I’m sure this will stretch if you’d like to join us Diane, I would have got more but I didn’t know you’d be here’ Dan said apologetically.
‘No, it’s ok, you boys have a chat, you know I don’t like spicy food much, but remember what I said about us having a drink, I’d like that’
‘Me too!’ Dan smiled and Diane shouted a goodbye to Hector before leaving the room.
Hector and Dan tucked into their curry seated in opposing armchairs, a fire danced merrily between them.
‘Do you think we have dealt with the witch sufficiently?’ Dan said. Hector stopped eating momentarily, pondering on what his friend and colleague had said.
‘I think we have done all we could Dan, short of building a wall around the copse!’
‘I was thinking, we should investigate who actually owns that land, I mean we wouldn’t want it sold off to a housing developer or something would we!’
‘I thought of that, I had Diane poke around for me, it transpires that the Copse sits on land owned by a friend of the town Mayor. I’m meeting with him tomorrow.’
‘And all the photograph files and hard copies have been destroyed?’
‘Every last one!’ Hector rose from his seat and collected Dan’s plate and cutlery, ‘I’ll just take this out to wash’ Dan’s mobile phone began to buzz in his pocket as Hector went into the kitchenette.
‘Who on earth is calling me at this time?’ Dan wondered out loud as he reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone, the screen indicated that there was no caller. Dan then froze in his seat; the screen on his phone displayed the last picture its embedded camera had taken. Staring out from behind the indium oxide coated glass screen was the ageless senescent sneering face of the witch. The phone suddenly burned ice hot, Dan shouted out in pain and panic and shook his hand to rid himself of it but it was momentarily glued to his hand, a second shake sent it crashing to the floor. A frosty web radiated around it with the phone as its nucleus. Hector came rushing into the room.
‘What in heaven’s name!’ Hector exclaimed when he saw Dan almost fall over his own feet whilst trying to back away from the fallen phone.
‘The witch, my phone, I forgot, I took a picture on my phone moments before, before I…in the cottage!’ Dan screamed.
‘You did what! Dan you fool!’ Hector rushed over to see the phone twisting and turning on the ice covered carpet, black flame like projections were reaching out from within the phone. ‘It’s trying to draw the energy out from the room in order to manifest!’
‘How do we stop it?’ Dan asked his heart racing.
‘We need to put it into a low energy container, wait I know!’ Hector ran over to the fireplace, he picked up the coal tongs from the companion set and used them to pick up the phone.
‘Quick Dan open the refrigerator in the kitchen’ Dan hobbled past Hector and held open the door to the frozen compartment on the tall fridge freezer in the kitchenette. Hector followed him in, and thrust the writhing phone into the icy box using the tongs; Dan firmly closed the fridge freezer door. ‘That ought to slow it down a while, until we figure out what to do!’ The refrigerator began to rock back and forth. ‘Dan I’m sorry for calling you a fool’ Hector said with wide eyes,
‘No offence really, I was a fool, actually, a complete idiot! I just thought, well I thought if I left you something, you would know what to do. I took the image just before Eddie used the mirror to banish it!’
‘Mirror? What do you mean?’
‘Eddie, one of the Superphysical gang, he pulled a mirror off the wall, well the witch didn’t like it one bit, the mirror exploded but the witch had fled!’ finished Dan.
‘You know Dan there is an old saying that evil cannot stand to look at its own reflection. I wonder?’ Hector gazed off deep in thought for a moment. ‘Here hold the fridge door closed, I think I have one somewhere!’ Hector rushed into a back room off the kitchenette.
‘Have one what! Hector I’m not sure I can hold this thing still!’ Hector came back carrying a dusty leather clad box; he thrust it into Dan’s hands. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s known as a Devil’s box. Open the lid Dan’ Dan opened the top of the box, it was fixed with two old brass hinges, he peered inside, the box was lined with mirrors, sides, bottom, even the underside of the lid, Dan saw his own reflection staring back at him from multiple angles. ‘The witch I believe reduces itself to an electromagnetic wave, in the form of light. We know this because that is how it allows itself to be captured on photography equipment. Now we know mirrors can reflect light right! You must have held one mirror so that it faces another, and have you tried to peer at the image inside the two opposing mirrors? You see the mirrors own reflection, an infinite number of reflections, it looks like a dark tunnel but it’s not Dan, it’s not dark at all, it’s just that your eyes cannot see the infinite number of reflections. The Victorians believed a mirrored box such as this was a conductor for spirits, and once a spirit got inside, you had a trap!’
‘You aim to catch the witch in this box? Where did you get it?’
‘I acquired it in an old antique shop down in Castle Street. Always thought it might come in handy, now Dan, hold it open will you, I’m not sure this will work at all!’ Hector slipped on an oven glove and then gripped the freezer door with his bare hand. ‘Ready?’ Dan nodded. Hector flipped open the refrigerator door and using his gloved hand grabbed the phone. As soon as the phone was removed from the freezer it began to twist and turn in Hector’s hand forcing its way out of his grip.
‘‘Thou has’t no power ov’r me, I wilt killeth thee!’ screeched a low electronic voice from out of the phone. Hector regained his grip and dropped it into the Devil’s box. Dan shut the lid. The box vibrated for a few seconds, and then nothing.
‘It’s gone Dan, trapped for ever. It will keep searching for a way out of the reflection, but there is an infinite amount of possible exits, should keep it busy!’
‘So it’s over then?’ Dan said hoping Hector would agree, alas Hector shook his head.
‘Not until we take it back’
’This witch needs laying to rest Dan. Are you up for a spot of midnight digging?
The grey Austin A30 came to a stop. Hector switched off the headlights then turned to Dan sitting in the passenger seat; he was clutching a leather skin box secured with two very long black cable ties.
‘If you are not feeling up to this I can do it alone’
‘Nonsense, I’m coming, just lead the way!’
Hector pulled on his grey fedora and left the vehicle followed by Dan still clutching the box, he removed a small shovel from the boot and indicated for Dan to follow him. After a short trek across field and through the middle of Brackley copse they came to where the witches’ house once stood.
‘I think we will leave it here Dan, somehow it seems a fitting place’ Hector began to dig a hole about four feet deep, he took the box from Dan’s cold hands and placed it to rest at the bottom of the hole. About five minutes later the hole was covered over. Dan removed the old iron door of the Witches’ stove and laid it down on top of the covered hole.
‘This witch and house have stood so long, to these old woods they do belong!’ Said Dan
‘Huh? What are you saying?’ enquired Hector.
‘Oh the rhyme, in your book, it just popped into my head!’
‘Well I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for my bed!’ Hector smiled and Dan patted him on the back. The two of them slowly made their way back across broken branch and bracken, their silhouette picked out by the light of a waxing gibbous moon.