“And the lot where the house stood, no grass has ever grown on.”
“Probably a result of the lime in the soil making it inhospitable.” I’ve been listening to these so called ghost stories for nearly an hour and have finally had enough. With a bang, I shut the book I’ve been pretending to read. “And as for the so-called ’ghostly wailing’, even the coroner admitted he couldn’t be certain how long it took for the last victim to die. It’s perfectly possible that it was him, or that the friend made it up later.”
I get to my feet, ignoring the moans and cries of the others and head out of the off duty lounge and down the corridors.
They’ll be talking about me of course. Elaine McGee, Captain Ochre, the Skybase resident sceptic. Except I’m not, not really, any more than Scarlet is. When you’ve had contact with the supernatural, that’s it, there’s no going back. Only I can’t believe it, because the second I do, I’m dead. Literally.
He’s waiting for me when I get back, lying across the bed just like a living dog, but I ignore him as I sit down. I don’t want to think about it, but sometimes I can’t help it.
Everyone knows I’m from Ireland. My voice gives me away even if I were tempted to try and deny it. Those who know a bit more about accents, like Silver, usually peg me from County Cork and they’re right. And they’re wrong. Because although I hail from there, my blood is English, or at least partly so.
Once upon a time, which sounds like a fairy tale, I know, there was a wild man who inherited an estate in Ireland. By all accounts he was a harsh landlord to his tenants. No worse than others around him, but still.... bad enough to deserve what happened? I don’t think so.
He invited a friend from England to visit. The story is a little vague on why, but I’ve seen the house, or the ruins of it at least. It’s isolated. Not hard to imagine it would be a fairly lonely existence there, so maybe he just wanted some company.
There was a tenant on the estate who was behind with his rent. An old man who lived alone with only a dog for company. The wild man who owned the estate planned to evict him, with his friend’s help. But the old man was cunning; or perhaps merely deaf.
He nailed up his letter box so that the letter of eviction could not be delivered. And he locked the door.
The two men banged and bellowed for hours, but eventually were forced away in defeat. Later that evening they came back.
Probably they had been drinking and were made bold by it. I don’t think they honestly meant anything really bad to happen, but... these things are sometimes beyond our control.
They lit a fire around the edge of the cottage. The wood was damp, so it wouldn’t burn, but it did smoke; and as everyone knows in a fire, smoke can be more deadly than flames. The old man got out, but his dog was tied up inside. No one could reach it and the poor mutt died, suffocated by the smoke.
I’ve lost people – my father, my mother, my brother, friends... I know grief and how it can affect you. So I kind of understand what the old man did in revenge. He cursed them. I don’t mean he swore at them, I mean he literally laid an old Gaelic curse upon them both. That they would be haunted by the spirits of those they had wronged until it broke them. That their loved ones would not be spared. That the spirits would haunt them until the price was paid for their misdeed.
I would like to believe the old man later came to regret what he’d done, but I don’t think he did; otherwise, the curse wouldn’t have stuck around so long.
How seriously either man took the matter initially is not recorded. Certainly they had cause to view it more seriously soon.
The wild man was tormented night and day by a dog that only he could see. It drove him mad and eventually he was committed to an asylum. His nephew came from England to take over the running of the estate. That man was my great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick Kilmoyle.
While his uncle lived, he never saw the dog, but things... They didn’t go well for the estate. First there was the potato famine, which forced millions into emigration to America. Then his oldest boy was on the Titanic and two other sons were lost in the First World War, leaving only daughters to inherit the estate. Then came the Great Depression, wiping out most of the family fortune. It was not long after that his uncle died.
That was the first time my great great-great-grandfather saw the dog.
It’s hard to describe it if you’ve never seen it.
At first glance, it looks like a flesh and blood dog, a grey Irish wolfhound to be exact. Then you look again and you realise that the golden eyes are filled with an intelligence beyond human. It watches you. All the time.
The other man, the Wild Man’s friend, was luckier in one sense. He was an orphan with a wife and child. While the records he left are vague and rambling, it seems that the dog took his baby boy, and then its presence ultimately drove both him and his wife mad and resulted in both their deaths. But his line ended with him, whereas mine continues.
It isn’t just the watching, as I’ve hinted at in the last paragraph. More members of my family than should be possible have died in ways involving dogs.
My great great-grandfather died of a heart attack, having been chased by a dog down an alley. A great-uncle, who had the misfortune to be in Germany in 1939, was torn apart by dogs in a concentration camp.
And then there’s my brother, bitten by a dog during a training exercise for the army. The bite turned septic and in spite of the best efforts of the doctors, he died.
I knew he was dead before anyone else did; because that night, I saw the dog for the first time.
A knock on the door pulls me from my thoughts, and I open it to find Caroline Gorlisis, Captain Lime, standing there. Her use of my name tells me that she’s worried. Lime is the strictest about using codenames.
“Are you alright? Orange says you left the off duty lounge in a hurry.”
I roll my eyes. “Just got tired of listening to kids' stories. We’ve all seen things much scarier than anything they can come up with.”
“True,” Caroline agrees. “But that doesn’t explain why you let it get to you.” She paused, chewing on her lip. “Elaine, we’ve never really talked about what happened that day...”
“And now isn’t a good time to start,” I interrupt her. “Look, I’m just tired alright?”
Lime watches me, her green eyes telling me that she knows I’m lying. Her gaze drifts behind me into my room, which must seem empty to her. “Alright Ochre, I’ll see you on shift at seven.”
And we’re back to codenames now. I force myself to nod. “At seven.”
She walks away, leaving me with an almost crushing sense of guilt, especially as the overhead lights catch on the scar that bisects Lime’s face. She’s a good friend, or could be if we didn’t have this barrier between us.
I should tell her the truth, but I can’t. Superstitions only have any power if you believe in them. Lime told me that, years ago. Sometimes I wonder if she still believes it. I do, but it’s the only defence I’ve got. The thing about my brother’s death and the dog showing up, was that a worse time would have been hard to imagine.
When the Terrorism Wars started, I joined the Security Services. Ireland, with our troubled history, was after all, almost on the front lines and throughout the conflict, good, honest police officers were worth their weight in gold. And I am a good police officer.
Perhaps that’s what brought me to the attention of Colonel White, aka Sir Charles Grey and that other fellow, Reece Wilkson, Colonel Reece as his men called him, an American with an impressive war record. He and Sir Charles, who was head of MI6 back then, wanted to find the people supplying information to the terrorists. Not the traitors, but the brokers, the guys trading for money... They had an idea of how to do that. Two agents, one to be infiltrated into the terrorist groups, the other undercover with the UN Security Forces, the ‘Genevas’, as they were known. A pincer movement to find and trap Mr Big.
I was partnered with Mario Moro, who would become Captain Magenta. And Caroline, who was also recruited, was partnered with a guy called Cenred Vornholt. While Caroline and I trawled through the Genevas, investigating rumours, Cenred and Mario worked through the terrorist groups, slowly moving up through the ranks, getting closer and closer to the information traders, and deeper and deeper undercover.
Maybe that’s why it happened. Or maybe it was always going to be that way. Certainly the dog seemed to like Cenred, always hanging around when he was in the room.
And he does like those with evil in their souls. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, the fact remained. Whenever we were investigating a crime, be it rape, murder, theft or treason, he would always be near the guilty party, sitting by them with a very human smirk on his face, his tail thumping against the ground. He loved Black when we first came here.
Then again, he hangs around Scarlet a lot now too, but that could just be because of his other love, aside from tormenting me; those who are going to die.
I’d almost got used to having a dog that no one else could see following me around, always being there, just out of sight, when suddenly he was very much in my view. And he was sticking closely to Caroline.
It’s hard to explain why I didn’t figure out the truth immediately, why I doubted her. The work we were doing created an atmosphere, that’s the only word I can use. We couldn’t trust anyone and as we moved through, we saw that anyone could betray us, betray their country.
Also for weeks before hand, Caroline had been distant, distracted. Looking at it later, the reason was obvious, but I didn’t pick up on it.
It was late one night when I woke up and saw Caroline dressing hurriedly in the dark. There was a look on her face, determined, but fearful, like the soldiers I had seen going off to battle.
And the dog was standing at her heels, smirking like a cat that had got the cream.
I waited until she was gone, and then dressed quickly and followed her, taking my gun with me.
I came to an unused office on campus. There was light coming from a single torch and as I drew closer, I could hear voices.
“…Reece, Sir Charles, they trusted you. Gave you a second chance. How could you...”
“How could I not? Did I want to betray what I believed in? Did I ask to be brainwashed again to become another sheep of theirs, like you Caroline?”
Cenred. I recognised the harsh, clipped Cambridge accent.
“So all this time, you’ve been using us to wipe out the competition.” Caroline sounded furious, not that I could blame her.
“Basically.” There was a pause and I felt I could almost see those thin elegant shoulders of Cenred’s rising and falling. “But the colonel is becoming suspicious. Sir Charles too. You’re going to die here, a final victim for Twitter.”
“I don’t think so, Cenred.”
I heard a huge crash and broke down the door. Cenred had a knife and he was struggling with Caroline.
A deep cut had already bisected her face, and as I watched, he forced the knife clasped in both their hands down towards her heart. Caroline spotted me first and cried out a warning. Cenred turned, saw me and I shot him dead.
We stayed like that for a minute, as I stood in the doorway, holding the gun. There were two corpses on the floor, one Cenred’s, the other I was later to find out belonged to John Adams, also known as Twitter. Caroline was lying with Cenred’s body on top of her and the dog – that dog – was standing near her, growling.
Caroline was the first of us to recover. “Give me your gun.”
“Give me your gun, Elaine. Go back to our room and stay there till they fetch you. Quickly, there isn’t much time.”
“You don’t have a clue what you’ve wandered in to here, Elaine, so get out. And take your blasted dog with you.”
I don’t know if she’d always known he was there, or if she saw him for the first time while she lay there half dead.
She was right, of course. Twitter, it turned out, had been the army’s attempt at controlling the information and they weren’t pleased he’d been killed.
The official story was that Caroline had been going to meet a contact when Cenred, a terrorist, killed her and a nameless, unimportant university professor. The story Caroline told Colonel Reece and Sir Charles was that she followed Cenred there, see him shoot Twitter and when he attacked her, shot him in self defence.
I don’t think Sir Charles ever believed her. Colonel Reece did, and he protected her from what the army tried to do.
But Sir Charles asked too many questions, looking at both of us strangely. Maybe he even got the truth out of her. He definitely gave her a job as head of Security of Spectrum when he set it up, and that’s not a position you give without trust, but I don’t think he believed she told him the truth that night.
Caroline’s never asked me what I was doing there. Or about the dog. I think she knows some of it. That I suspected her of being a traitor.
Maybe that’s why the dog always looks so pleased now. Well, there’s one way to fight his fire. Getting to my feet, I head down the corridor to the small security office. There’s no point checking Lime’s quarters, she’s only there to sleep. The dog is trotting at my heels, but it feels like he’s getting fainter.
“Caroline, do you have a minute?”
“Depends what for.” She doesn’t look up from her papers.
Okay . I deserved that. “I want to tell you about what happened that night.”
She freezes at her desk, looking at me.
“If you’ll listen.”
There’s a pause. Then Caroline pushes away her papers, looking at him, with determination.
“Then yeah, I’ve got time.”
The dog is much fainter than I’ve ever seen him. Perhaps this is the way to break the curse finally. We have to tell someone outside the family what happened.
“It all started nearly 200 years ago...”
The inspiration for this story was “Dog or Demon” By Theo Gift. I started wondering what would happen if the curse wasn’t broken, if either of the men had left family behind. What if it kept on going? This was the result.
My thanks as ever to Chris and the Beta Panel.
I own nothing.
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