Ryan Malin had made a name for himself as the author of a very successful series of guidebooks on supposedly haunted houses. But there was always one that had been off-limits to him – Hewitson Cottage.
That was until he was approached by the alluring Kelley Stranack. She and her fellow university lecturer promised a whole weekend of exclusive access, all expenses paid. Naturally, he jumped at the chance.
Of course none of the places he’d written about were actually haunted, but this place… well, it had a history worth investigating.
But why had a cash-strapped university chosen HIM, paid all his expenses and who had paid for the cottage to be refurbished for their trip?
This delightfully spooky tale sits neatly in our paranormal series and meshes cunningly with the other stories whichever order you read them
The first draft of Into Dust opened with a scene which the editor removed in order to help align the story arc and characters the others in the series (The Threads which Bind Us, the Wolf Inside us, The Calico Golem).
We felt that it was too good to waste, so here it is for your reading pleasure.
Deleted Intro Scene
The white Ford Transit van parked on Stoker Avenue South and the driver – dressed in a brown suit with a white shirt and red tie- removed the key from the ignition and placed it in his trouser pocket. He cleared his throat and glanced in the rear view mirror. Heterochromia had given him one green eye and one brown. It didn’t bother him in the slightest; he was used to second glances or people using the differing colours as a conversation piece, but now was not quite the time to allow somebody else to notice them… He was working, after all.
The clouds were grey and threatening rain, yet he reached into the glovebox for the sunglasses he had put in there and was already wearing them when he stepped out of the vehicle. No other vehicles were approaching; pigeons had already returned to the centre of the road. An elderly woman making her way to the Tesco supermarket nearby didn’t even look to him for a moment. This was exactly as he wanted it.
He looked to his watch and saw it was nearing 10:00 a.m. Ideally, there would be a good half hour before any students from the local college were given twenty to thirty minutes of recess. Thirty minutes, yet he walked quickly down the street until he turned onto Gifford Road and came to the local café. A sandwich board placed near the entrance revealed the soup of the day and nothing at all out of the ordinary. The glass front allowed him to look within before entering, knowing not a single customer was inside.
A small bell sounded as he pushed the door open and entered. Six vacant tables with chairs; a counter towards the far wall with cooked pasties and pies on display behind a glass cover. He had barely noticed that on the other side of the counter, a closed door stood between the worktops. The door held his attention until she quickly rose from behind the counter. Her greying hair was chopped short, covering the ears as if it were a helmet and her swollen cheeks had him wonder if she were currently suffering or recovering from some form of infection of the gums. The large and unflattering oval spectacles she wore had her resemble an owl of some kind and she dressed the way she may have done throughout the Sixties.
She smiled. He returned the smile and began his approach to the counter.
“I’ve not seen you ‘ere before,” she said in a greatly exaggerated northern accent, hoping to humour him.
“I’m usually in the Costa,” he said as if mildly embarrassed, “but I’ve heard good things about your coffee.”
She smiled all the more at his response.
“I’m glad you’ve decided to give it a try. Flat white,” she asked, “or something more continental?”
“A flat white would be excellent.”
“Take a seat,” she said turning to a machine of polished chrome, “I’ll bring it over.”
He smiled, glanced briefly at the clock on the wall and saw it was already five past ten. Removing a chair from underneath the closest table, he sat and – hoping to appear perfectly ordinary – reached across for the tabloid newspaper that had been left on a neighbouring table. There would be nothing of interest to him inside. He knew that the instant he saw how the front page was dedicated to Zayn Malik’s sudden departure from pop group 1 Direction, but he knew he needed to appear natural and so he began to turn the pages and scan the headlines until he knew his coffee was being brought over.
She walked as if she were in dire need of a hip replacement and smiled as if it were a cup filled with the Ambrosia of the gods she brought to him.
“One coffee,” she said lowering the drink down onto the table, “freshly made.”
“It certainly smells good,” he said, because it did. It smelled of something long lost to the earth, now uncovered.
“That there is a proper drink,” she said, insisting on a return to the northern accent. “That’ll put hair on your chest.”
It tasted good and going by the way she smiled after he had taken that first mouthful, she knew he enjoyed it. “How is it?” she asked regardless.
“Can I get you anything else?”
He appeared to blush following her question and his reaction only increased her interest. “There is something,” he said, “I was wondering if I could have a word with Diana.”
“And who are you,” she asked, stepping away from him. “Are you the health inspector, or something?”
“No. I work in insurance, actually… My name is Patrick,” he said, “Kyle Patrick. A colleague of mine told me how a lady named Diana works here, and she gives amazingly accurate palm readings.”
She became visibly relaxed hearing his answer and said, “I do my best with the gifts I was born with.”
“You’re Diana?” he asked excitably.
“I am. And if you think my coffee is impressive, wait until you try a reading.”
“What if it’s another form of service I’m interested in?”
She looked to him quizzically and asked, “I don’t think I quite get you…”
“A curse,” Patrick blurted out. “I want you to put a curse on someone.”
Diana tilted her head to one side and smiled as a mother may when trying to comfort a troubled child. “A curse? Why would you want to talk about something like that?”
“Because they took everything from me, and I will gladly give anything for their lives to become miserable,” he said. “Anything.”
Diana smiled all the more.
“I’m going to fix myself a nice cup of tea,” she said, turning to head back to her place behind the counter. “Why don’t you lock the door, so me and you can have a nice chat?”
Patrick swallowed and didn’t take his eyes from her back as he rose slowly from his chair.
“You’ll do it?” he inquired, cautiously tracing his steps back to the glass door he had so recently entered.
Diana rose once more from her place behind the counter, holding a fragile teapot. Ever smiling, never once taking her eyes from him, she filled it with water and leisurely stirred the contents. “Tell me all about your troubles,” she said encouragingly, “tell me all about who has managed to get you in such a state.”
He felt for the lock without taking his eyes from her. His fingers located it and his wrist flicked to one side, sliding the bolt into place. “Do you need a name?” he asked as she filled a small cup with hot tea.
“I’ll need every bit of information you could imagine and maybe more,” she smiled, placing the teapot atop of the counter before lifting her drink.
“Well, everything was fine until he arrived,” Patrick began, and Diana looked to him with sympathy as she took the first mouthful of her drink. “Craig Thomas,” he said as if he were both embarrassed and enraged, “I thought he was a friend.”
Diana took another mouthful from her cup. “And what did he do?” she asked. “Steal your girlfriend? Your promotion?”
“Both,” Patrick almost snarled as he returned to his table. “This must sound trivial to you.”
Diana smiled. “Not at all,” she said, and she took one last drink from her cup before glancing so fleetingly to what remained. Her smile broadened. “Go on,” she advised, “believe me when I say that I am still listening… I just have to get a few things.”
She didn’t take her eyes from him – not for a moment – as she placed the cup beside the teapot and reached behind her, taking hold of the doorknob at her back. “Go on,” she said, “carry on.”
Diana opened the door, just enough to disappear into the darkness, and pulled it shut in front of her – leaving the man alone. It was peculiar. Patrick found a lot of things peculiar, but this was of the scale to keep him from reclaiming his chair. He slowly moved forward, approaching the counter with silent steps.
“I know you might think there are plenty more fish in the sea,” he said, “but Cheryl was rather special. I met her at college,” he claimed, stepping behind the counter, hearing nothing from behind the closed door. “And Craig was–”
He froze for a moment, seeing the cup she had been drinking from; how the shredded tealeaves had left a pattern she had clearly examined before leaving him here.
Of course, it possibly meant nothing at all. Diana could be gathering a number of impressive-looking items. Still, he reached behind his back and removed the handcuffs from his waistline before continuing all over again… Handcuffs of solid silver.
“Craig was supposed to be my friend,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. “Craig was supposed to be my trusted workmate…”
Patrick quickly pulled the door open and, for a second, was taken aback. Through the darkness he could see a lightbulb on a wire floating like a balloon from the ground, as a steep staircase descended along the ceiling. A most unsettling feeling struck him before he suddenly found himself flung upwards, back crashing against the stairs.
This makes no sense, he told himself, looking down at the lightbulb. Don’t fall for it, damn you!
He closed his eyes tight, steadied his breathing and opened his eyes once more. He was flat on the stairs, looking up at the lightbulb suspended from the ceiling. It had been a cheap trick. It shouldn’t have had him perspiring, and yet he was.
Patrick took hold of the banister with his free hand and pulled his weight up onto his feet.
“Diana,” he called out to the darkness, “are you still here?”
He took the steps one at a time, the old and grey wood groaning as he did so.
“Diana,” he said once he reached the dusty stone floor and the impenetrable darkness it held, “are you down here?”
The sound of scurrying footsteps came from his back. He turned, looked up the stairs he had so recently descended, only for her to step out from the darkness before him. She swiped at him with curved talons, the blow causing him to stumble back onto the stairs, and then she was hidden by the darkness once more.
Patrick did not need to touch his cheek to know she had drawn blood – the wound had already begun to sting due to his sweating.
He swallowed. The banister, the stairs, maybe both, creaked as he pulled himself up all over again.
“Diana,” he said, already breathing heavily, “I only want to talk.”
Those same, scurrying footsteps brought his heart racing. He prepared himself, looking to the impenetrable darkness at his left, only for her to appear from his right – long enough to strike him once again before retreating into the shadows.
The blow pushed him off balance. He fell back against the stairs, taking hold of the banister with the hand not in possession of the silver handcuffs, and blinked rapidly as both sweat and blood found his eyes.
She cackled as he wearily pulled himself back to his feet all over again. The sound enraged him a lot more than he cared to allow.
“Diana,” he sighed, “you’re making this–”
The footsteps came rushing from his back once again and he turned, knowing full well he would be looking at an unoccupied staircase. He stood looking until the steps were almost right on him – that was when he turned and swung his free arm, the witch’s head finding itself in his elbow joint. He used her momentum to push her in front, wrapped his forearm at her throat to get her in a choke hold. The two tumbled onto the stairs, Diana trying to struggle free from his grasp with inhuman strength. She managed to pry his arm away and sunk her teeth into his hand. He screamed in pain but used the adrenaline racing through his veins to push her forward once more as he pulled one arm behind her back.
She screamed as the first silver cuff locked around her wrist. Patrick noticed the smell of burning meat before she had dropped to one knee, her strength rapidly betraying her.
He tried not to smile as he pulled her other arm back and successfully handcuffed her, both hands behind her back. She howled at the touch of silver and the howl became as a defeated whimper. Patrick fell back, panting and covered in perspiration, but knowing she had lost control of the situation.
He took his mobile phone from his jacket and dialled the number he knew to memory. His call was answered on the third ring.
“Cheryl, it’s Patrick,” he sighed. “Tell Marcus I’m in need of a collection for the bitch,” and with that, he ended the call. He simply remained on the cold ground, staring up at the darkness.
“You went straight for silver,” she said from her place on the stairs, “no religious symbol or text… You’re a man of facts and evidence, not beliefs and wishful thinking.
“Are you really going to remain here with me, until it is dark enough for them to come?” she asked, a sound of humour clear in her tone.
The hand she had bitten was throbbing. He removed his tie to wrap it around the wound, but it did nothing more than stop him from bleeding all over himself.
“Tell me,” she asked, “when did you first notice you were getting a little slow on your feet… That your strength wasn’t as reliable as it had once been? I bet your vision isn’t even what it used to be…”
“If I must,” he warned, “I’ll shove a sock down your throat.”
“What if you’re right – that there is no great power in the sky? That you’re right to be frightened, when you think each assignment could prove to be your last?”
“I’m not scared of you.”
“No,” she laughed, “you have more pressing things to fear at night. What if this really is nothing more than a world full of worry, and you have given your life for nothing?
“Now,” she cooed, “what if I could make you richer than you would ever have imagined, and all you would have to do in return is say I managed to escape?”