The flashing red light on the answering machine demanded attention when she walked back into the hall. She forgot, in her haste to study the books, Paul O’Farrell had promised to call, and now she listened to his hurried apologies for not having done so. They were taking the search further afield, he told her, and she could reach him on his cell phone, if she needed him. She was ashamed, when she realised, she failed to notice his absence. It could not be helped, as her mind was set on more pressing things. There was no need to bother him now, and she knew he would have told her if there was any hope. No doubt, Tom would contact him to complain about her, but for now she would leave well enough alone.
The village main street was busy, as mothers hurried to buy treats for the night ahead. It was only when she saw the costumed children and the garish decorations in the shop windows, Jill remembered it was Halloween. Tonight, was the night of the dead, when graves yawned, and spirits walked the land. Shivering, frightening herself with such ghoulish thoughts, she steered the car to the curb. She tried to ignore the pitying looks of the other customers, as she waited for her purchases to be bagged. It was easy enough to buy candles, but the shopkeeper made a great fuss when she asked for incense.
“Not much call for that sort of thing,” he looked around at his other customers, expecting them to confirm this.
“There’s a shop in James’s Terrace,” one of the women offered. “It sells alternative medicines, and all sorts of queer stuff.”
“Thank you,” Jill knew from the woman’s tone the shop was not raking in the profits.
While the village and its inhabitants were hauled kicking, and screaming into the twenty-first century, it would take years before they were ready to embrace any form of lateral thinking.
The walk to the shop meant she had to pass the school. Closed now for the holiday, it held the same deserted air as it did on the day Toby was taken. A frigid wind scattered the few remaining leaves across the playground, and she heard the rustle of their dryness on the concrete. The main door was open, but there was no sign of anyone. Perhaps, it was as Paul said, and everyone had moved to the new location. She couldn’t allow herself to think they scaled down the investigation, or the searchers had got tired and abandoned it.
The shop was in the middle of a small row of house, and she realised where she now stood was probably once someone’s sitting room. The assistant was not at all what she expected, and she admonished herself for thinking in clichés. Envisioning a hippie type with dreadlocks and flowing skirts, she was surprised to find a sensibly dressed, middle-aged woman behind the counter. A vast array of incense sticks was for sale, and since the book had not specified what type to use, she chose sandalwood. Unfortunately, the village community was small, and everyone knew everyone’s business, so there was no escaping the woman’s sad look as she handed over the parcel. Please don’t say anything kind, Jill prayed, I just couldn’t bear it. To her immense relief, the woman kept her mouth shut, and offered nothing more than the usual pleasantries. Still, tears picked the corners of her eyes as she made her way back to the car. If anyone even mentioned Toby’s name, she would have broken down.
The interior of the car felt warm after the biting wind, and she waited until her breathing steadied before turning on the engine. A gentle tapping on the passenger window made her jump, and she looked over to find the hunched figure of Toby’s teacher, Mr Jackson, peeping in. At any other time, she would have been pleased to see him, but not now, not with so much at stake. The window hummed down when she pressed the release button between the seats.
“Any news?” He asked.
“They’ve widened the search,” Jill informed him. “I got a message from the detective in charge last night. They must have gone quite a way.” She looked in the direction of the school. “There’s doesn’t seem to be anyone about.”
“Yes, they told us this morning, but the phones are still being manned,” he assured her. “I was in there a few minutes ago. We have a play on tonight, and I’m in charge, that’s why I’m not out searching.”
“I understand,” she tried to smile. “Life goes on.”
“Never lose hope, miracles have happened in the past,” was his parting comment.
He’s a nice man, Jill though, as she drove home.
She couldn’t ignore the costumed skeletons that danced along the footpaths, and their images made her think of what lay ahead. Deciding it was wiser to visit the graveyard during daylight hours, she turned the car around. There was no need for her to ask for directions, as they had passed it on their first day in their new home. They did a tour of the village, memorising landmarks and getting to know the area. The church was separate from the graveyard, so there would be very few about on such a cold day. She was right; the small car park was deserted. Buttoning her coat, she stepped out of the car and walked along the boundary wall. The small gate for foot traffic had once been painted silver, but the dark grey of the steel now showed through. Its rusted hinges groaned when she pushed it open, and the noise jarred her fragile nerves. The only other sound to disturb the quiet was the cawing of crows in the trees. Gravel crunched beneath her feet, as she made her way along the small paths between the graves. The graveyard must be hundreds of years old, she thought, studying the layout. Tombs, once elaborate, had fallen into decay, their walls blackened by time. It was impossible to read any of the inscriptions, as the weather had worn the wording away, so the inhabitant was now nameless and forgotten. It was difficult, even when she ran her fingers over the indents in the stone, to make out any of the names.
The first few yards were filled with old tombstones. Large Celtic crosses covered in moss and bird droppings stood guard over the small, more humble markers. The graveyard continued upwards, and it was only when she reached the brow of the hill that she saw the more modern part. Here the shiny marbles stretched out in a range of whites, blacks and greys. Unlike the forgotten ones in the old part, this area showed signs of remembrance. Faded, dry wreaths marked some of the graves, and the wind carried with it the sickly, sweet smell of dying flowers. She scanned each of the inscriptions, trying not to think about the ones marking the passing of a child, or young adult.
Marie’s grave stood at the end of one of the rows. The flowers placed on the shiny white stones that covered the place where she lay were fresh, no more than a day or two old. She thought of Tom and his lonely vigil beside the grave of his wife and prayed she would be spared the same thing. Looking around her, making sure that there was no one to hear, she knelt.
“Marie,” she whispered, placing her hand on the moist stones. “I need your help. My child is missing; I think the same person who took Rachael has taken him. I’m coming back tonight to try and bring you back. Please don’t hate me. I’m sure you would do the same thing in my place.”
Jill sobbed as she spoke, and she felt like she was going to vomit. The terror of the last few days overflowed, added to that her fear of the act of sacrilege she planned to carry out.
“God help me,” she stood and walked away.
Was it her imagination, somewhere beneath the earth her words were heard? She was still crying when she reached the car and had wait for the sobs to subside. How in the name of God would she go through with it?
To add to her discomfort, she saw Paul and Tom’s cars parked outside her house. She knew from Paul’s stern face that Tom told him what she planned. Pushing aside Bess and the pups welcome, she walked by the men.
“I suppose you better come in.” She didn’t wait for their reply, but instead walked into the kitchen and filled the kettle.
They were standing behind her when she turned, and she waited for the tirade of reprimand to begin.
“Sit down,” she pointed at the table.
They both sat on the same side, so she was forced to sit opposite, with only the wood between them. Their presence marked the boundary line, but was like a vast chasm, so far apart was they in their thinking. She was ready for battle, and prepared to deny Tom’s allegations, if need be. She couldn’t risk losing her freedom, not tonight.
“I can’t believe what I’ve just heard,” Paul was the first to speak.
“Really?” she tried to appear nonchalant. “What have you heard?”
“Oh, I think you know,” he was not fooled by her act. “Tom told me about your plan to raise the dead, and I’m not going to allow such nonsense to continue.”
“If it is, as you say, nonsense, why does it bother you?” she looked from one to the other. “Either of you?”
Paul’s face had grown red, and she imagined steam might come out of his ears, he was so angry.
“Will you talk sense, woman. This is not some backward country. This is Ireland, in the twenty-first century. You can no more raise spirits, than I can fly to the moon. What you are thinking is impossible.”
“So why does it bother you, then?”
“Because,” he pounded his fist on the table. “I can’t have you seen running around graveyards in the dead of night, up to all sorts of mischief, that’s why.”
“Look,” Tom tried to keep the peace. “This is getting us nowhere.”
Jill walked to the fire and pulled back the kettle that was now bubbling. She never asked them if they wanted a drink, but instead set about making the coffees. They waited in silence until she placed the mugs in front of them.
“Promise me, you’ll stay home tonight?” Paul asked when she had resumed her seat.
“Of course, I will.” She never even blinked.
“She doesn’t mean it,” Tom said.
“I know,” Paul’s mouth was set in a grim line. “But I can’t afford to have my men watch her.”
“Hey, I’m here,” Jill said. “Don’t talk about me as if I’m not even in the room.”
Both men shook their heads when they looked at her.
“Is there any news?” She asked, trying to change the subject.
“No,” Paul said. “We’re following a few leads, but it’s not working out as I expected. The man I’ve had my eye on for years is not moving, so I’m torn between sitting and waiting, or continuing elsewhere. Jesus,” he ran his hand through his hair.
The stress he was suffering was evident, and tears pricked her eyes again. Paul was a good man, but his work was killing him.
“Will you hear me out?” she asked.
“Listen to that rubbish?” he nodded towards the books.
“Let me read it to you, and then decide,” she gave him no time to answer, but instead brought the book to the table and began to read.
Her grandmother’s letter was the first thing she read aloud, and she knew from their expressions her words hit home. It took quite a while to finish the part in the book about the work of the Necromancer. When she finished, she looked at them.
“I know what I’m about to do is terrible; even those practised in the dark arts despise anyone like me. But what choice do I have? It’s like my grandmother says, it’s impossible to disturb anyone not at rest.”
“And how do you know when someone is not at rest?” Tom asked.
“I don’t, but it says here,” she pointed at the book, “that only a restless spirit will answer the call.”
“It’s all a load of bullshit,” Paul stood. “I have to get back to work.”
“Have you got a better idea,” Jill called after him.
“Ah, leave me alone, woman,” she heard him mutter, before slamming the front door.
“What are you waiting for?” she rounded on Tom.
When he refused to answer, she started to clear away the empty mugs. She was aware he watched her as she worked at the sink.
“What?” She spun around, when she could no longer bear the feeling of his eyes boring into her back.
“Do what?” she asked, not daring to hope he was giving permission.
“Go ahead with your plan,” he stood. “But don’t expect me to take part in any of it.”
“Thank you.” It was a relief to know she was not going to have to do it behind his back.
“Don’t thank me. I’m doing this for Rachael and Toby. It goes against everything I believe in, but if it works, and does no harm,” he paused, “can you assure me of that?”
“No, I’m afraid I can’t. I only know Marie would have tried anything to find her daughter.”
“Yes.” She had to strain to hear him. “She would have made a deal with the devil. So, go ahead, and may God forgive me.”
“May he forgive us both,” Jill prayed.