Extract

Toby knew she had come for him.

She had power. He felt it rippling about her like the chilling presence that surrounded him, in the house, in his room, and now here amid the darkness and the mist, a power that reached inside him and held him like a hand of ice. And he knew that this woman was the architect of that darkness and that mist, and of the deep despair swelling within him. He wanted to jump up and run but his body felt like a dead thing, a sack of bones and flesh no longer his but hers. He felt his mouth open to shout.

But no sound came.

She was moving closer now. He heard the squelch of her boots again in the slush, saw the grotesque body lean towards him. Then her face sharpened into focus.

He recoiled.

Not from the hideousness of it; he had seen that before, though from a distance. But only now was he close enough to see where the real terror came from.

Her eyes.

Suddenly he was on his feet.

Running.

Mist clung to him like a bag over his face. He heard his breath pounding against it.

The face emerged from the mist.

Dead ahead.

He blundered to the left, panting, his feet plunging deep in the mud.

It appeared again. Still ahead.

He turned and stumbled back the way he had come.

Again it took shape.

Always before him.

He staggered to a halt and stared, praying that the face was a trick, that it would fade into the gloom. Then the eyes moved, and beneath them, uncoiling like a serpent, the body thickened and closed upon him once more.

This time he did not run. He knew now it was useless. But he also knew that somehow he had to resist. He heard a growl deep in the woman’s throat, saw the mouth twitch into an obscene leer, like the smile of a dog.

He ran at her, fists clenched.

‘Leave me alone, you bloody witch!’

He threw out a punch. But it never connected.

A hand squeezed the breath from his throat and forced him back. He struggled but the grip only tightened. The other hand started to claw his body. Wriggling with revulsion he tried to squirm free. Then suddenly he understood.

The stone. She’s come for the stone.

But there was no time to think of that. Both hands were round his throat now, holding him in a vice that wrung all resistance from him. Then her eyes bore into his.

And that was the worst of all.

More than the jabbing beak of her demon-bird, more than anything she could ever do to his body, this was the worst. He saw himself suddenly, as though through her, a helpless bundle of fears, trembling, yearning, begging her eyes to release him.

But they did not release him.

Instead they spoke, with a dark inner growl he instantly comprehended. One word. One question. For the one thing this woman wanted from him.

Where? The eyes said, Where?

And as they drove down into him like a torrent, searching his mind for the answer, he felt deep within him the frail bubble of his secret stir and strain upward towards her, longing to give itself to her so that he could be free. But even as it rose, floating on the current of her will, he felt another part of him awake, a part he did not know existed, a part that reached out and snatched the bubble back.

He prayed that the defiance had shown in his face.

Her eyes blazed on, driving deeper into him until he no longer knew whether she had torn the secret from him or not.

Then she threw him to the ground and was gone.