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HomeSupernatural StoriesBlack Dog - Chapter 17

Black Dog - Chapter 17

Imogen was flitting from room to room, chatting giddily with Lizzy and the other household ghosts, when she encountered the first of her guests. She found him snoring in a chair in the corner of the drawing room, where he'd been for who knew how long.

"Oh," she said, flatly, having been deprived of the little thrill of meeting her first guest at the door. "Am I to take it this is the illustrious Theo?" she asked Verity, who was lying in front of the fireplace, shirking her pre-gathering responsibilities and reading a book.

Verity looked up at the sleeping man. "Lord no," she said. "That's Malcolm." And at a second look, Imogen could see he was too old for Verity, and too plain, with his early receding hairline and rabbity teeth. Verity got up, frowning at the sleeper. "Wake up," she snapped, then added, to Imogen, "Don't mind him, he's been working the graveyard shift."

"Literally, or figuratively?"

"At the hospital. Malcolm!"

He grimaced and opened his eyes. "All right, all right," he muttered, "I'm awake. What do you want?"

"Pleased to meet you, Malcom," said Imogen.

He didn't seem to see her, although she was standing right in front of him.

"A little to your left, Malcolm," Verity prompted quietly. "Imogen just said she's glad to make your acquaintance."

His eyes, very blue, searched the air for someone he couldn't see. "Nice to meet you too, Imogen." His right hand twitched as if he'd been about to offer it and remembered just in time.

"He's not dead, is he?" said Imogen, feeling quite annoyed.

Verity looked guilty. "In his defence, he may not be like us, but he's always been very helpful."

"Can't see ghosts though," said Malcolm, his voice slightly too loud. "Sorry. Or hear them."

Imogen regarded him sceptically. What harm could it do to give him a chance? She perched on the arm of the chair beside him, and he didn't seem to mind when Verity gently turned his head so that he was looking in Imogen's general direction again. If anything, he enjoyed the attention.

"So, dear," said Imogen. "I hear you work at the hospital. Are you a doctor? Oh! Where are my manners! Have you had a cup of tea? Anything to eat?"


For a while, Olivia wandered around upstairs, finding odd jobs to do that really could have waited. More and more she could hear the sound of voices downstairs, people walking about. Eventually, she washed her face, dragged a comb through the knots and snarls of her hair, and braved the living room once more.

There she found Grace rearranging the furniture in an effort to provide all the coming guests with a place to sit.

"Hello again. It's good to see you up and about," said Grace cheerfully, putting her shoulder against the end of the sofa.

"Here, let me help you with that," Olivia offered, quickly moving to assist her, since nobody else was helping. Verity was chatting with Auntie Imogen and a man Olivia didn't recognise, and Eli was ignoring them, his attention on the puzzle page of his newspaper.

"It's so nice to have visitors, isn't it?" said Grace, brightly but not entirely convincingly. "Always fun to meet new people." She paused and raised her head to subtly sniff the air, "Ah, Giles…"

A sandy-haired young man about Olivia's age appeared in the doorway, carrying one of the kitchen chairs. "These were all I could find, Grace..." He stopped dead, a frozen statue of a frightened boy, his watery green eyes fixed on Olivia. "Oh," he said in a small voice. "Hello."

"Olivia, this is my boyfriend, Giles. You haven't been introduced… properly." Grace's sunny smile faltered.

The conversation in the corner had tapered off, and the scratch of pen on newspaper ceased.

Giles' gaze fell away from Olivia. "Look, I'm awfully sorry about what happened," he began, his voice shaking as he looked at his feet.

"I don't want to talk about it," said Olivia flatly. Talking about it out loud would mean admitting either that it had really happened, or that they both just really believed that it had happened, which might well be worse. "It wasn't your fault," she said, and didn't miss the way the boy's eyes flickered towards Eli, "and I'm not going to hold it against you." If no one talked about it, maybe she could forget about it. Besides, if she was angry then it was with the damn dog and its master. It was hard to be angry with the wet-eyed, sandy-haired boy without first acknowledging the unpalatable concept that the dog and the boy were the same creature.

Giles still looked like he was about to bolt. Grace sidled over to him, gripping his hand gently but firmly. "Best to put all that behind us," she said. "Water under the bridge."

The doorbell rang, making Giles cringe, and all of a sudden it wasn't that difficult to imagine him as a whining, jumpy mongrel with his tail between his legs.

"I'll get that," said Olivia, hurrying to answer the door.

It could only be Verity's 'gentleman friend' standing there on the doorstep, dressed in a long black coat and exuding an air of disdain for the world of the living and the dead alike. The vampire looked more or less as Olivia had imagined him, chalk-white skin, neat dark hair, expensive clothes and several ornate, heavy rings on long slender artist's fingers.

"Hello," she said. "You must be Theo."

"And you must be Olivia," he said, looking her up and down critically. He shook her hand but pulled away just too fast to be polite, making it clear that her touch made his skin crawl.

"Come in," said Olivia, "I'll just go and put the kettle on."

By the time she returned with the tray of tea, a couple more ghosts had 'arrived' from other parts of the house, and a red-haired girl was sitting on the sofa, staring vacantly ahead and pulling the sleeves of her ill-fitting jumper down over her knuckles. Judging by the stink of decay emanating from her, this was Siobhan, the zombie Verity had mentioned. Awkward silence blanketed the room, but Olivia hadn't a clue how to lift it. Eli looked more miserable than ever, as if not only was three a crowd, but four or more was some kind of torture, and for once Olivia was inclined to agree. Where on earth had Auntie Imogen disappeared to? Entertaining was her domain, not Olivia's.

"Who's he?" Olivia whispered to Grace, indicating the stranger snoring in the corner. "Is he with you and Giles?"

Grace looked rather offended by this idea. "No, I wouldn't have invited him. That's Malcolm. He must know Verity."

Somewhere upstairs, Verity shrieked with laughter, and Giles flinched violently. When Grace clamped her hand over her boyfriend's white knuckles, Olivia couldn't be sure if she meant to reassure him or keep him from running away.

Verity came thudding down the stairs, loud and graceless for her tiny size, and went straight to Theo. "Hello, darling," she purred, curling up next to him on the sofa, but she seemed to be of little interest to him. He was lazily thumbing through a book of poetry and barely spared her a glance. She smiled at him a lot, offering to bring him drinks and things from the kitchen but as time wore on the look in her eyes became stony and the level of liquid in her wine glass went down fast.

Giles coughed, shuffling awkwardly in the dead silence, eyes restless as he watched the others. He really looked as if he might make a break for freedom at any minute, if it weren't for sheer terror gluing him to his seat.

Grace patted his hand absently. Then she exclaimed, "Verity!" - which made the other girl jump. "Is that a new dress? I can see your knees, you hussy!" with a broad, guileless grin.

Verity scowled, fussing at her dress as she tried to pull the folds of her skirt down over her white shins. "And you're not wearing a bra," she spat back. "What of it?"

This shocked Grace into speechlessness for a moment, but her dark eyes flashed dangerously. "There's no need to be like that," she said, undertones of a hackle-raising growl in her low voice.

There followed the heavy, jostled silence of a room full of people not wanting to be the next to speak. All Olivia could hear was the arrhythmic ticking of the clock on the mantlepiece, and an odd choked gurgle which she thought might have been Siobhan stifling nervous laughter.

Eli got up. "Leaving now," he said, glancing at Verity as he left. A biting winter wind slammed the French windows shut in his wake. Verity, shooting a last evil look at the werewolf bitch, grabbed her wine bottle and flounced out after him.


Drizzling rain danced in the air as Verity followed Eli through the gate. She capered through the clumps of bright wet grass, silver droplets beading her hair and making it glitter, and went to join him in the shelter of the broad dark branches of the yew tree. She took her usual place, perched on the moss-furred tombstone. The churchyard, veiled in grey rain, was deserted apart from the two of them. There weren't even any ghosts to be seen today: like everybody else the dead were all sheltering from the rain indoors, in Imogen Lockwood's living room. Verity giggled at the thought, but didn't share it.

Eli glared at her. "Why don't you get back to your boyfriend."

"Who, Theo? Hmm." Lately, Verity's enthusiasm for that relationship had waned. She picked at her nail polish. "I'm not sure that's going to work out, actually," she admitted. She looked up at Eli and raised an eyebrow. "This is the part of the conversation where you say something," she prompted in a stage whisper. She got nothing in return. "Theo's a bit odd, you see," she continued. "He goes through these moody phases, saying he wants to pack it all in. I mean, I've heard of that sort of thing before, but…"

"Pack all what in?"

"Drinking, silly. Blood. What did you think I meant? So. I told him he's being ridiculous, but he's on pigs' blood at the moment. Oh, wait a minute, I don't think I was supposed to tell anybody about that..."

Pigs' blood had been taboo for centuries. Still, times changed, and while those who drank it in modern times were thought of as rather eccentric by their peers, it looked like it might just be the next big thing. Verity didn't see the point of it. There were always people around willing to give their blood: for money, or gifts, or just for the thrill of it. Otherwise, there were shady deals to be made at certain hospitals. You could drink it straight from the vein, you could mix it in the latest cocktail... blood was blood, but it had to come from people. Pigs' blood? "It's just disgusting. I mean, the very thought." She shivered exaggeratedly and nearly fell off her perch.

"Yes, Theo's all too strange for me. I think I shall be single again quite soon." She paused, then scowled up at Eli, who was rolling another cigarette. "You're supposed to say 'oh, but surely not for long'," she prodded, "or something similarly reassuring. You're not very good at this, are you?"

He shrugged. "Don't need to be." When Eli spoke, he sometimes left silences of several minutes bridging one thought and the next. It took a painfully long time to gauge whether the next was coming or not.

"Giles looks terribly ill, doesn't he?" Verity commented, hoping to pry out a few scraps of information by approaching a certain subject sneakily, sideways. "He's obviously sleeping badly, although if you ask me it looks like there's more to it than that."

Eli growled. "He's weak. Useless. Might let the blonde bitch keep him."

"Well, yes. If she wants him so much, she can have him, can't she? Now that we have Olivia." With Eli in a talkative mood, it was a good time to pursue the topic.





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