When he pulled up his Honda Civic in the village, he noticed that there seemed to be an air of trepidation, of suspicion. It would not have surprised him if the locals were watching him from behind their curtains. Especially with him being a total stranger, and the first time he had ever been there, or been so far out of his area. As a reporter for the Lincoln Chronicle, he had been sent here to investigate the ongoing story of people going missing, and before he left his vehicle, he could see two notices featuring different people attached to lampposts.
In this small, Lincolnshire borough, which barely even registered on some local maps, people were simply vanishing. It was approximately around once a week, and in the Lincolnshire area as well, but not as concentrated as it was around this village. The police were suspicious, but as usual, were too busy wrapping themselves up in red tape to concentrate properly on the investigation.
Already three detectives had been assigned to the enquiry, and they had paperwork to fill in, superiors to meet, permission to seek, money to discuss, and the officers also deigned to assist also had more pressing matters to attend to, such as Mrs Howell’s feelings in a nearby bank since she had been called a fat old walrus by an anonymous email. Whoever had sent it was in serious trouble. The police also had litter louts to fine, and CCTV to survey to see who was putting their feet up on the seats of trains. It all meant that the investigation was very slow, and as a consequence, the main area of suspicion was void of policemen, but David Lawrence had hopes of being the one to crack the case, to grab the story that would make the front page news, not just of the Lincoln Chronicle, but the nationals.
He knew that the local pub was always a good place to start, but in past experience, the inhabitants seemed to band together in their collective amnesia. Most people not knowing anything about anything, when David knew very well that nobody wanted to be seen as a ‘grass’.
As in prison, there are only a few things that are worse than being seen as this. However, in private, secure in the knowledge that they are anonymous, some people begin to remember. They remember things about their family, their close friends, their poisonous words hiding behind a mask of inscrutability. So whilst it was tempting to seek out the local drinking nest, perhaps to sample some of the local brew, his conscience told him, and maybe ask one or two questions, incase people were drunk enough to start giving answers, he thought that he would probe a few of the citizens, then maybe pass by the pub to seek solace in the bottom of a pint glass as relief in having solved the case, or in sorrow at ending up back where he started with nothing.
Armed with a rough notepad and pen, and with a typical reporter’s resolve to seek out the thread that would solve the case, he left his vehicle and locked it, deciding to head for the nearest shops where rumours start, perpetuate, and evolve.
He entered a salon, and found that there was a woman in her late fifties sweeping the floor. He wondered just how much business a place like this did out here, but then that thought vanished as he realised he didn’t care.
“Hi, excuse me,” he said, as the door slowly closed behind him.
The woman continued brushing for two more seconds before turning to look at him. She nodded slightly to herself as if he was exactly what she had expected, as perhaps lately, she had come across others like him.
“You’re a reporter,” she said, as a statement. David nodded, his pen poised over his pad.
“Can I just ask you a few questions?” he said.
“No,” said the woman, “as it’s not me you should be asking. It’s the person responsible. The last house you pass as you leave this place on the right. It’s her. I’m sure of it. She’s a witch. Who knows what she gets up to. That’s who it is. Remember?“ She pointed in the general direction of the road he had just driven along, away from the village. He scribbled a note on his pad.
“That way, on your way out of this place. As you leave, the house there,” He caught her antagonistic tone of voice, but decided to risk one more question.
“Why do you believe this person to be responsible?” He looked up at her and saw that she had turned away from him, and was sweeping the floor again.
He left and decided to try this house she had mentioned. It was only a two-minute walk along the road, but he decided to drive, and soon pulled up outside a semi-detached house, beyond which, a small cluster of trees bordered a forest. It was an unkempt place, left to decay. If a small hurricane or storm was to sweep over it, it would probably collapse.
He left the vehicle, opened the rusty gate, and crossed to a cream-coloured, flaking door. He knocked, but there was no answer. After a futile repeated attempt, he walked around the back of the house but found a red-painted wooden door blocking his way. He pushed it, but found it to be locked from the other side.
Suddenly, he heard bolts slide back on the upper and lower parts of the door, and it then swung open slightly. There was nobody there who could have opened it. David stood there for a few moments, not knowing what to do. If I go in, he thought, it might slam shut behind me. I have a chance now to escape.
The reporter in him helped boost his confidence enough for him to decide that it was worth pursuing. If the police weren’t doing their job, and there were missing people here, then he felt a sense of duty, a duty to society, and to his superiors who would spray him with as much kudos as they could, with a promotion and a lot more money, he hoped.
When he had crossed the threshold, the door closed quickly, and the bolts slid back into place. In panic, he tried to pull the bolts back, but they wouldn’t move at all. With rising fear, he turned and walked into the backyard.
It was fairly large, all concreted and bordered with angry-looking bushes. In the middle was a sturdy wooden post. A chain led from it to the collar of a doleful looking Rottweiler. It sat amongst pieces of bone and flesh, the concrete splashed in scarlet and purple. The dog went to walk towards him, but the four-foot chain stopped it. David could see fear in its eyes, even a thread of hope, and he guessed that it was not responsible for the feast that surrounded it. It was a meal.
He then saw large pawprints leading to and from the backyard door, accompanied equally by a human footprint. David did not understand what he was seeing, and slowly made his way to the door. Fear surged through him, and he wondered if he should just try to escape, get as far away from this place as he could, but he knew that he couldn’t do that. What if I solved the case, he thought. I cannot come this far only to run away. He wondered about knocking to announce his presence but thought that maybe it might not be such a bad idea if nobody knew he was here. It might mean that no questions are asked with regards to his story, but if he found those missing people, he could probably ask such questions from the safety of a prison interview room. Gripping the handle, he slowly turned and pushed it.
A grinning face made him stop. A woman who looked to be in her mid-forties, wearing a dark dress and a multitude of jewellery stood there smiling.
“I was expecting you,” she said. David didn’t know what to do, or say, but after a few seconds, he stood back, and was about to speak when she spoke again.
“I must thank Barbara for sending you to me. Usually I have to go out and bring people in. I take it you’re here to investigate the disappearances. Well, there’s one.” She pointed at the dog.
“That’s a dog,” said David, some of his fear subsiding. He poised his pen over his pad, and the woman walked out into the yard, but did not go near the animal, as it looked at her with absolute hatred.
“Mr Gregory, who owned a bakery several miles from here is the latest to go missing, and that’s him. He’s food for my Morgan. My husband. I keep him in the basement, See? I can tell you all this because I know you’re not getting out of here. If I brought the missing people in, then folk would get suspicious as to why they weren’t leaving. So if I turn them into animals, who is going to ask questions as I bring them through the front door? Maybe somebody will think: It must be a zoo in her house, but that is not grounds to call the police, is it? Or the press.”
David’s pen was still poised over the pad, nothing written.
“Is it true you’re a witch?” he asked, pandering to his own scepticism, whilst subtly revealing it to the woman.
“It certainly is, but I’m not fully converse with it as yet, but I’m learning. See, I can turn people into animals, but my husband, well, he’s not totally complete.” She looked genuinely saddened.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Iona,” she said.
“Iona,” he repeated, writing it down. “Do you really expect me to believe that you can turn people into animals and use them as food for your husband who you keep locked in the basement?”
“I never said he was locked there. It’s his own choice. He can wander the fields if he likes. In fact, sometimes he does at night. See, he cannot face what he is, what I have made him. I didn’t want to make him like that. It’s the way it happened.”
“Can I see him?”
“Oh, you’ll be seeing him alright.”
“There are no missing people here are there?” David said, matter-of-factly.
Iona didn’t answer.
David continued, “What I see here is a lonely woman who plays out bizarre fantasies, and imagines herself as a witch. I’m guessing you don’t have any kids, or perhaps any family.”
Iona smiled. “You don’t think I’m a witch? Explain how the door locked behind you”.
“Trick machinery? Going to put that in your paper, are you?”
“No, this is not even worth a few words in a side column on page ten, in fact, it’s time for me to leave.” Iona held out her right hand towards him, then slowly lifted it up. David suddenly felt his feet leave the ground. He struggled as he rose, and ended up almost level with the roof. Iona withdrew her hand, and David fell to the floor, his notepad and pen flying away.
“Ahh, what the hell are you doing? And what are you?”
“Never call me a fake,” said Iona. She turned and walked into the back kitchen.
“Come in,” she said. David slowly got to his feet and composed himself. He reluctantly walked into the kitchen where he found Iona opening a trapdoor.
“Morgan will be glad to see you,” she said. David saw wooden steps leading down into blackness. He stood there for almost a minute, staring at it.
“Can’t he come out?” he asked.
“Yes, he could,” said Iona, "but I don’t think he’s going to. He’s turned himself nocturnal, you see? I suppose because he can be free at night”. He heard shuffling coming from down there and scraping.
“Ah, he’s awake,” said Iona. She knelt down a reached down in the side of the trapdoor and flicked a switch. Light flooded the basement, but David couldn’t see anything except more steps leading down, and in a surge of confidence, he walked down until he reached the bottom.
He found that the basement was quite small, about half the size of the backyard. The floor was covered with straw. Something lying against the back wall made him stop and stare. It was eight or nine feet long. Its right half was feline in appearance, the face melded into the features of what could only have been a sabre-toothed tiger. The other half of its face was human, but completely pale, bloodless. One six-inch tooth protuded from its large mouth. Where a right human arm should have been, there was a front right leg of a tiger. The other arm was human. Light brown fur went down his right side to its leg, which was feline to its human left side, even though the foot of that leg was almost a paw.
Iona walked down the stairs behind him, and suddenly a thin, liquid, transparent substance surrounded him, like an oval bubble.
“What’s this?” he yelled, and tried to break free from it, but it would not tear. He was trapped. Iona walked across to Morgan and knelt beside him.
“What’ll it be?” she asked. The hybrid looked at David for a moment, who was still trying in vain to break free.
“Snack,” he said. “A snack please.” Iona stood up and looked at David for a few moments.
“I got the spell wrong,” she said. “He wanted to turn into a Smilodon, believing that I could use the spell of reversal to turn him back, but because the spell was not complete, or correct, the reversal spell cannot work. I hope one day to work out the spell specific to this that means it can be reversed. Still, he enjoys his meat.” Iona waved her hands in the air, closed her eyes, and muttered incantations that seemed to be from another language.
David suddenly felt himself contorting and shrinking. Pain tore through him as bones snapped and reformed, and organs twisted into other shapes. A scream tore from his throat before his vocal cords contorted. At a height of around two feet, his hands became rodent paws, and his eyes became black.
After a few more moments, the transformation was complete. Iona opened her eyes a saw the terrified looking rat in the large transparent shield. She crossed over to it and waved her hands the correct way to dismiss the bubble. Reaching down, she picked up the rat by the tail and looked at the petrified creature. David was conscious of what had happened and tried in vain to escape.
“Quite apt, I think,” said Iona, “you shouldn’t feel much different, considering your profession.” She grinned, then swung him underarm to her husband, who caught him in his gaping maw. He chewed and swallowed in three seconds.
“I’ve got a rottweiler for you to have later,” she said. Morgan nodded, and went back to his makeshift bed. Iona walked back up the stairs, switched off the light, and closed the trapdoor behind her.