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Black Dog - Chapter 33

Imogen knew she had to take some of the blame. Eli had returned to the village to see her, but she'd soon grown jealous when he spent so much time with that pretty girl in perpetual mourning black. If Imogen was honest with herself, she'd jumped at the chance to share a hurtful piece of gossip about that pretty young thing. She hadn't known what Eli would do but the girl had deserved it. It was fitting that she knew now what it felt like to lose a child. There wouldn't be a baby in the house, not yet, not from Verity. One day there would be Lockwood children in the house again - Olivia's children - but that was a matter for the future and Imogen locked the thought of it away in a secret corner of her heart.

The only loose end she couldn't tie up in her mind was the lingering fear that she hadn't dissuaded Olivia from involving the authorities. Imogen didn't like how quiet her niece had been since the night of Verity's death, the flashes of anger and then helplessness in that gentle girl's warm brown eyes. So much like her mother, nineteen and learning for the first time that life really wasn't fair. Such anger wouldn't dissipate harmlessly over time, she'd store it up and let it fester, and who knew what would come out when it was all too much for her poor kind heart to bear. For now she kept scribbling in that red notebook, taking stock of all that she found wrong in the world. The sooner she acknowledged her anger and showed it to the world, the better for everybody.

*

Dear Uncle George,
Today, Imogen decrees that everything must go on as usual. This means her regular tea party, which I tried to talk her into cancelling this week, out of respect from Verity, but 'Life goes on'. Ha. She acts as if everything worked out for the best, in a strange way. Everything is fine(!) and we're all friends(!), no more secrets(!?). I told her not to expect me at her stupid tea party, but she threw a book at me, so I backed down. I'm here, but she can't force me to talk to anyone. The ghosts are huddled together off by themselves, gossip buzzing like flies around a carcass. I managed to catch Verity outside the bathroom this morning and told her she didn't have to put in an appearance if she didn't want to. She spat at me (disgusting!) and went off to hide again.

How quickly gossip spreads! "How could she lie to us like that?" "Is it true she was pregnant?" "I always said she was fast," and so on.

They don't say any of it to Eli. He just sits there staring out of the window, like he wants to be anywhere but here. Or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. Imogen wouldn't like it, but it would be for the best if he just disappeared, wouldn't it? Of course, if Verity had never

Catching a whiff of rancid meat, Olivia stopped and covered the open page of her notebook casually with her hand. "Siobhan?" she guessed, without looking up.

"You always know," said Siobhan, clearly impressed. "How do you always know?"

Olivia tapped her nose as a discreet reminder of her wolfish nature, and immediately wished she hadn't.

Siobhan, already miserably self-conscious about her appearance, shuffled back a step, but didn't go away altogether. "What are you writing?"

"Just a letter. Nothing important." Olivia tore off the page, folded it crisply and slotted it into an envelope from the pack on the coffee table. "I've finished now." The rest of what she wanted to say could wait. She addressed it simply 'to George' and wrote the date in the corner of the envelope so she could come back to it later. She rarely reopened those letters she'd already put away, but she'd been writing them since she was twelve years old and she'd always liked the idea that some day - long after her death - her descendants might read them.

"Ooh, who's George? A boyfriend?"

"My uncle, actually," said Olivia, not in the mood for teasing, no matter how gently. "He's been dead a while, but I don't see why that should keep me from writing to him now and then. You understand."

Siobhan stood, absently rubbing her arm. "Mm." And she shuffled off.

Olivia sighed. Perhaps Grace was right - perhaps it would do her good to get away from the house. She'd done her best to help and she'd failed. Thoughts of revenge flared up in her, and she pushed them back down, the embers of them burning in her chest.

                                                                                    *

Later, she sat alone in a window seat upstairs, watching the sky dim from colourless drizzle grey to deep royal blue, and lights coming on in the village below. She watched the bright windows of homes down the hill with envy, imagining the quiet lives of ordinary people quite oblivious to what was happening in the big old house by the churchyard.

The restless ache in her bones was half-familiar from the month before. As the tension grew, her thoughts became simpler, clearer. The house belonged to her and she belonged to it. She should tolerate no interloper who hurt those who dwelt within her domain. If Eli had made her a monster that night in the churchyard, she could use that against him.

She dropped the unread book she'd forgotten she was holding, abandoning it along with any thought of staying quietly out of the way for the night. Stalking out into the hallway, she sniffed the placid dead air. Stench of cats and stale perfume, dust damp and mould. Wet bathroom and medicine cabinet. She moved quickly through the thick appealing air of new paint from her bedroom and out onto the landing where kitchen smells - smoke, grease, soft bread - rose from the floor below. Downstairs, she sniffed at the cellar door, but nobody had been down there for a long time. The living room was empty but for the cats and the memory of people now gone. Olivia whined in frustration. Just as she felt ready to face up to her fears, Eli had disappeared again.

She ventured out past the iron gate and into the moonlight, feeling its pull on her skin, the ache and itch bone-deep. The perfect white disc of the moon seemed as bright as the sun, but Olivia stared into it, mesmerised. The first stab of pain dropped her to her knees in the wet grass. She squeezed her eyes tight shut, clenching her teeth on an animal noise of pain, forcing each breath through. This too, she remembered. Grace had reassured her it was nothing to be afraid of, but even as the pain began to pass, Olivia was too afraid to open her eyes. Some things weren't meant to be seen, like the time she'd had an X-ray and seen the slender bones of clavicles and ribs buried beneath her soft shoulders and chest. When she did open her eyes, it was to a world completely without colour, white gravestones dotted amongst the grey grass stretching out before her, and a scentscape so vivid that all she could do for a minute was lie in the grass, overwhelmed.

She lurched to her feet, clumsy with the still-new experience of having four of them, and looked around the dark graveyard. She saw the pale shape, elegant as an Afghan Hound, before she recognised the scent. Friend. Grace. But Grace hung back, tail tucked unhappily away, shifting the weight on her front paws as if she wanted nothing more than to turn and run. Her fear was infections, and when Olivia caught Eli's scent on the breeze, and saw him heading for the house, she too wanted to run and hide. Instead, she gathered her nerves and sprinted across the moonlit churchyard, her heart hammering with a mix of fear and hate, her fangs bared.

Eli stood his ground, and before Olivia could reach him her oversensitive nose betrayed her, the poisonous aura around him sending her stumbling and rolling into the wet grass. She hadn't thought of that. Barely dodging the hand that grabbed for the scruff of her neck, she scrabbled to her feet, backing away with a low rumbling growl. Whatever Eli might be, he was still man-shaped, still vulnerable to a wolf's powerful crushing jaws. Olivia lunged, snapping wildly, but Eli evaded her effortlessly. Olivia could have sworn she saw him smile. In an instant he was right in close, slipping the loop of a collar over her head as the world seemed to stumble and darken. Fear began to overtake thoughts of defending her home, and she cringed, whining and shrinking away from his clammy hands. What had she won with her ill-thought-out act of bravery? An eternity of servitude, like Jim, like Verity.

"C'mon, Olivie." A gentle pull on the collar. "Walkies." Yes, indisputably a hint of a smile twisted the cruel mouth. Olivia pulled back, the collar digging into her neck, but all her strength had drained away. The poison! She rubbed her nose frantically in the wet grass, but she couldn't undo what Eli had done. When he pulled on the lead again, she followed. Walkies. That couldn't be so bad, could it? And then she saw that he was leading her towards the woods. Anxiety pierced the muddy haze of her thoughts. The woods were bad, she'd promised Grace she wouldn't go into the woods. Olivia hauled up unknown reserves of strength and resisted, sitting down, her paws skidding in the wet grass.

The smile vanished from Eli's face. "Olivie." He pulled hard on the lead, both hands. "Be a good girl."

If Olivia had tried to push the sea back from the shore, it would have been no more futile than her attempts to stand her ground against Eli. She could only delay the inevitable, the black mass of the woods looming up ahead.

 

 

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