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Black Dog - Epilogue

A year went by, the seasons marching on in their uncompromising way. Imogen had relinquished the house utterly to her niece. It held nothing of the old life except memories grown too painful. Olivia worked hard to build a new life out of it, but progress, as always, was slow. Imogen might be gone, but there remained other ghosts to appease. Moving too much of the furniture at once resulted in chairlegs scratched and frayed by invisible claws, and mysterious patches where it stank of cat urine no matter how Olivia tried to clean and freshen and disguise it. Imogen was not the only ancestral ghost who'd learned to tumble a book to the floor when displeased, or smash an ugly vase. Something that Olivia never saw, nonetheless adored her long hair, sifting through it with gentle fingers, sighing breezily, unpicking braids it didn't like. Olivia resigned herself to compromise with the opinions of those who'd gone before.

In the spring she turned her attention back to the garden, making plans and following some of them up. One sunny afternoon she dragged a chair out beside her growing herb garden so she could bathe in the scents of it while she read a book. The last of the cats, faithful Banana, stretched out at her feet to sun himself, yellow eyes narrowed to slits, white claws showing now and then.

Something nagged at Olivia, something like a ghost just out range of her sight. She dropped her book when she remembered the date. It was a year to the day. Abandoning the garden, she went off to fetch what she needed, then walked up to the woods, treading warily. If nothing else, the unbaptised child still haunted these woods, watching with beady black crow eyes, and sometimes it would speak. Olivia didn't like to repeat the things she'd heard it say.

It took her a while to find the right place. There was no gravestone to enlighten anyone who didn't already know, but amongst the bluebells rose a stranger flower: a tall stalk; a silver bell. Verity had insisted, before she'd gone to her final death.

Olivia laid the spray of white star-shaped flowers beside the bell, thinking that she ought to say a few words to mark the occasion, but who was there to hear them? Verity's body was there (Verity's body must be there) but her soul had flown away. They never had found Malcolm, if there had been anything left to find. Grace… Grace hadn't quite recovered from her taste of Eli's blood. Some spark had gone out in her.

A light breeze shook the bluebells and Olivia shivered despite the warmth of the day, turning to hurry back the way she'd come. She didn't like to be away from the house too long, all sorts of horrible things happened whenever she went away.

*

Legend has it that the Lockwoods live unnaturally long, their menfolk escaping every war unscathed, and that they pay the price in the form of a child from each generation, stolen by the Black Dog. The Lockwoods themselves do their best to discourage such nonsense ideas, but time encroaches slowly in villages such as Peter's Cross. Old stories die slowly, and the spirits of the dead linger sometimes in the land of the living. Those who seek ghosts should go (if they must) at the hour between day and night, in the forgotten places. They should (if they insist) listen for whispers under leafy boughs on a windless evening, watch for the places where birds that at first glance appear to be crows gather. They should consider themselves warned that ghosts are unhappy creatures, resentful and jealous; that they may grasp at anything to fill the emptiness. It's best to keep a respectful distance if, in the graveyard of St Peter's church, you happen upon the ghostly figure of a woman kneeling at the place where the two paths cross. It's been said she speaks to those who venture too close, that she begs and pleads for them to dig for her. It's not so deep, she says. In some of the stories, she chases after anyone who answers to refuse her… though as far as those stories go, she's never pursued anyone beyond the boundaries of the graveyard. She stands there a while, watching, then goes back to the crossroads, waiting for the rain to wash away the hillside and unbury the dead.

 

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