A girl nobody can remember. A terror nobody can forget.
Trapped in the besieged village of Darrow's Fell, Alec has to come to terms with a whole world he doesn't understand, full of magic, conspiracy and terror. And all the while his best friend, who ventured too deep into the darkness of the dead, is seeming less and less like the man he used to know.
Something is stalking the residents of the village. Something that whispers to you in the dark.
Don't look in the mirror.
‘Why are all the mirrors broken?’
She looked, and pointed, and died.
No, wait, sorry. It started before that. My head's all over the place. Let me go back to the beginning.
It wasn’t even dawn. Darrow’s Fell wouldn’t let me sleep. I lay in the dead man’s house, on the dead man’s sofa, his ghost haunting my mind.
My brain has a fine capacity for remembering facts. Always has. I’d never had much use for remembering images though. Playing back little mind-movies of things you’d seen had always struck me rather like books with pictures: completely superfluous. But now, in the long hours of darkness in that unfriendly northern village, I could relive the last seconds of Edward Hantel’s life with perfect, vivid accuracy. I could see his murderer's fat, broken lips curl upwards as he speared poor Edward’s foot to the floor and broke his leg. I could feel the cold prickle across my skin as the knife sliced open Edward’s throat. I could hear the dying babble of his voice as he realised his murderers knew who his daughter was and what they planned to do. I could taste the metallic tang of adrenaline. And every time I played back the scene in my head, I stayed crouched on the stairs, hidden in safety as Edward was butchered. I remember Edward’s glasses bouncing onto the floor, their empty lenses staring at me, the accusation breaking my heart. I was a coward.
I sat up, Edward's tartan blanket slipping to the floor and tangling my feet. Horses and hunting dogs looked down on me from the paintings that Edward had crammed into every conceivable space on the walls. The dark furniture and walls soaked up what little light was leaking in from outside, but those paintings shone with a ghostly light. Or more likely it was my imagination.
Outside the window, Edward still watched me. His torn neck, his broken glasses, his accusing look.
'Why weren't you there?' he asked without words. 'Why didn't you help?'
I rubbed my eyes again and rested my head in my hands. I had no idea what time it was. I considered getting up and making tea, but doubted my ability to find my way quietly around the unfamiliar kitchen and didn't want to wake the others. Poor sweet Cassie, alone and hiding for three years, waiting for a man who never quite came back. And poor Sam, all rage and bellow, hiding her hurt from the world because the man she'd followed all the way here didn't exist any more. And in the place of these men was Elliott Holt, but not quite Elliott Holt any more. Whatever time and the machinations of Quentin Dalrymple had done to his mind, he wasn't the same any more. Whatever had got inside his head, whatever he'd been struggling with ever since I'd arrived was slowly eating away at the man I'd known.
Did we all love him? I laughed at myself, sat in the dark, the accusing ghost of the murdered man on the edges of my vision. The very idea.
There was a tremendous thump that shook the walls. I stood, turning my head to try to work out which direction it had come from. It was followed by another, then a shriek, then a whole series of thumps. My slow night-brain took a while to recognise the sound as someone falling down the stairs on the other side of the wall.
The light in the hall came on. I went out to meet Elliott rushing down the stairs, yanking on a shirt that I didn't think was his. Though I'm not sure why it surprised me that he would have raided poor dead Edward's wardrobe since we had already commandeered the man's house and, until the small hours of this morning, his whiskey.
'What the hell was that?' Cassie mumbled, emerging bleary-eyed from her room wearing tartan pyjamas that were too big for her.
'You stole his pyjamas?' I exclaimed, bewildered, not for the first time, at my companions' utter lack of respect for the dead.
'Sounded like someone falling down the stairs,' Cassie said, ignoring me.
Sam marched out of another room, buttoning her coat. 'It wasn't.'
Elliott had passed me, crossing to pick up his own coat from the hook by the door.
'Didn't you hear the glass breaking?'
'No, not down here,' I said. Why was I always playing catch-up?
Elliott pulled open the front door and nodded in my direction. 'Come on.'
I slipped on my shoes. Quentin's little grid of protective letters was still scratched into the surface and I found myself feeling reassured by it until I pulled myself together and remembered that all of this was hokum. When I caught up with Elliott outside he was pressed up against the kitchen window of the neighbours' house, trying to see any signs of movement inside. The lights were on in the attic room, but the two lower floors were dark. The thumping had stopped.
'Anything?' Sam asked, appearing at my shoulder.
'Not yet,' Elliott answered, throwing all his weight against the front door, which didn't budge.
Sam rolled her eyes. 'Men.' She went to the side of the house and disappeared through the gate.
'What's going on?' Cassie said, coming out of Edward's house, wrapped in a thick, expensive dressing gown.
'Would you all please stop stealing Edward's stuff?' I pleaded.
'Alec, priorities,' Elliott said, nodding towards the house. He gave up on forcing the front door and turned to me. 'Do you have a hair pin?'
It took me a moment to register what he was saying. 'What? A hair pin?'
'Yes, so I try picking the lock.'
I looked to Cassie and then back to Elliott. 'Elliott, there's a girl standing right here. Why are you asking me?'
'I don't have a hair pin,' Cassie said.
'Well neither do I!' I snapped.
'Grumpy when you're tired, aren't you?' Elliott said, standing back in the street to get a wider view of the house. 'It's gone quiet. I don't like it.'
'Elliott!' Sam's voice came from behind the house. There was a desperate urgency in it that made me catch my breath. Elliott and Cassie were already dashing through the side gate and I limped after them, my battered leg twinging painfully in the cold. When I got to the garden at the back of the house, I again seemed late to the party. Sam rushed past me with a curt 'Out of the way, Brains,' and leapt up onto the garden wall, then spun deftly and leapt across to grab onto the metalwork of the first floor balcony. Elliott was kicking in the glass patio doors. And Cassie was stood in the centre of the lawn, somewhat surreal in her old man pyjamas and dressing gown, looking up to the balcony above.
'Leave her alone!' she was shouting. I followed her gaze upwards.