Halloween Fiction: The Rites of Mabon

Devil’s End, 18 months after the events of The Dæmons

‘Help us. Sister! Help us.’

Glowing figures danced in Miss Hawthorne’s dreams as she tried to sleep. It was the third night she’d been visited, each growing worse.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’

‘Please help us. Please. Before the veil closes once more.’

She forced herself awake and lay gasping for breath. After reciting a soothing incantation, she grabbed her dressing gown against the cool September air. A cup of camomile tea might calm her nerves before she ventured, once more, to sleep.

***

The following lunchtime found Miss Hawthorne on her hands and knees exploring a vegetable patch. Garden fork in her hand, she scanned the newly turned soil while answering the questions from Sam Cox, whose patch this was.

‘And why does it matter so?’ Sam asked.

Miss Hawthorne turned another patch of soil. ‘It matters because any piece of the church could place this village back in danger.’

‘Danger? I don’t think there’s any more unexploded bombs.’

Miss Hawthorne sighed. ‘You may believe the official story, but there were dark forces at work. It’s my duty to make sure every trace is found and disposed of.’

Sam scowled, opened his flask, and poured tea into an enamel mug.

‘And why my plot?’

Miss Hawthorne stood, one hand rubbing the small of her back.

‘Because your nephew came to me with this,’ she said holding out a fragment of stonework.

‘Aye, you said.’

‘He also told me your leeks are the largest they’ve ever been, nearly twice the size of anyone else’s.’

Sam puffed out his chest. ‘Makes a change for someone to beat old Harry’s. What’s your point?’

Miss Hawthorne bent down again and resumed digging.

‘The point is… hold on, what’s this?’

She lifted a clod from which protruded a familiar object. She removed the soil and revealed a clawed hand made of stone. She remembered Reverend Magister, the evil Azal, and his gargoyle assistant, Bok. This was surely one of Bok’s hands, landed here after the church exploded.

‘What’s that?’ Sam asked. ‘Valuable is it?’

Miss Hawthorne put the hand in small leather pouch inscribed with sacred runes she kept for such purposes. She handed the fork back to the now interested Sam. ‘No. Something best taken care of by the authorities.’

With that pronouncement, she left and hurried back towards the centre of Devil’s End.

***

Twenty minutes later, she was standing beside the village phone box. Inside was Mrs Townsend, deep in conversation and ignoring her taps on the glass. She was about to open the door when Mrs Townsend finished her call.

‘Sorry about that,’ Mrs Townsend said. ‘It’s Mrs Harwell. She’s got worse. The doctor tried to make her comfortable. He asked me to phone her son and let him know.’

‘Oh, I am sorry to hear that,’ Miss Hawthorne said. ‘I’ll be sure to come by later.’

Mrs Townsend nodded, leaving Miss Hawthorne to a frustrating twenty minutes calling various Whitehall departments and being passed around by disinterested junior civil servants. She would have to take matters into her own hands. If only she knew what the matters were.

***

Just before sunset, Miss Hawthorne sat drinking tea in the kitchen of Mrs Harwell’s house. The doctor was upstairs while she sat silently with Mrs Townsend, expecting the worst.

As Mrs Townsend poured a second cup, the doctor came in.

‘It’s as expected, I’m afraid,’ he said.

Mrs Townsend made the sign of the cross, and Miss Hawthorne muttered a prayer to the spirits as the doctor continued.

‘She’s had a condition for a while. I had hoped her son might arrive in time…’

‘Will you have a cup of tea?’ Mrs Townsend asked, already moving a cup.

‘No. I’m afraid not. I’ll go make a few calls. She’s lying peacefully now, if you wanted to pay your respects.’

With that, he left.

‘I’ll just pop up, then leave you in peace,’ Miss Hawthorne said.

Mrs Townsend smiled.

The small bedroom was tidy, curtains open, and the last rays of the evening sun played across the bed where Mrs Harwell lay. Miss Hawthorne paused, then sat beside the bed.

‘Judith. It’s me, Olive. Olive Hawthorne. Wherever you are now, may the light shine upon you, now and for always.’

She sat quietly, contemplating as she watched the sun fade. She hadn’t turned on a light, yet Judith’s body appeared to still be in sunlight. She looked harder and saw a glow flickering across her form. She leaned forward then jolted back in shock as Judith’s eyes opened.

She muttered a prayer, then noticed a vibration from her bag. She pulled out the pouch holding the gargoyle’s hand. It was the source of the disturbance. As she removed it, Judith sat up, then turned to face her.

‘I welcome you, sister,’ the woman who was once Judith said.

Miss Hawthorne stepped back, rummaging for her muslin of protective herbs. ‘What manner of spirit are you?’

‘I am of the Gelth. I can speak for only a moment as this spirit passes away and day passes to night. I only do this under the most dire of needs.’

‘And what are the Gelth?’ Miss Hawthorne asked.

‘We are trapped, trapped in darkness beyond the veil. We seek help, we need to return to the light. The veil was damaged here once. It is thin in this place; we might cross with help. Please help us – we are so few, and fewer every day.’

‘And what help do you need?’

‘In two days, it will be the Festival of Mabon. Gather at the site of destruction and perform the Rite of Mabon. You will need help. You will need the power you carry in your hand.’

Miss Hawthorne looked at pouch. The dead woman’s face turned pale and she slumped back down into the bed.

Miss Hawthorne shivered, said another prayer, then left. Mrs Townsend called after her, but got no reply.

***

Two days passed quickly. Identifying the rite was simple enough, but she also needed help. In the end, she enlisted the local Morris dancing troupe. She needed four people, and after the promise of ale in the Cloven Hoof afterwards, found she had all the help she needed. The dancers were in tune with ancient forces, and she’d told them it was part of re-consecrating the ground before the church was rebuilt. A small lie, but necessary.

The ceremony had to start just before sunset. She’d had problems getting Joe, the youngest of her volunteers to say his lines without laughing, but with the threat of losing his free drink he was soon chanting away.

The four were arranged at the corners of a large square, in the grounds of the now demolished and cleared church. As the sun set over the hills towards the next village, Satanhall, the air cooled and she drew her shawl tight.

‘And, finally, I call upon the spirits of the North.’

As she chanted, she traced a runes in the air with the gargoyle remnant she’d been keeping safe. North was Joe’s corner. As the words faded away, the sense of a sound – not heard but felt – startled Miss Hawthorne. She turned to her dancers, who now stood silently, unseeing, unmoving, and it seemed unbreathing.

In the centre of the square a glassy shimmer appeared. It sucked the air inwards as the gargoyle’s hand crumbled to dust. As the dust fell from her hand, she noticed the ground had turned ashen, the evening air smelled of brimstone, and each of the Morris Men had the same alien glow she’d seen around Mrs Harwell.

‘I thank you,’ the figure who’d once been Joe said.

‘Are you the Gelth?’ Miss Hawthorne asked.

‘I am.’

‘But I thought you could cross? You said nothing about possessing my friends.’

The Gelth laughed. ‘Foolish human. We need bodies to exist in this world. Here, where the separation is thin, we can merge our realm of exile then cross without such encumbrance. We four are the vanguard, taking over these frail forms to allow us to complete the ceremony and free our race.’

‘Your race? You said a handful of refugees.’

The Gelth laughed again, violently shaking Joe’s body. It was a sinister, mocking laugh like a hyena, a laugh that chilled Miss Hawthorne to the very bones. ‘Our race was once large, but we still number tens of thousands. We shall enjoy making our new home on the body of your world.’

Miss Hawthorne drew herself up, afraid yet resolute.

‘Then I shall stop you,’ she said.

The Gelth just smiled.

‘How?’ it asked. ‘Your artefact is no more. Your own powers are too weak to challenge such as we.’

The Gelth in Joe’s body turned its back to Miss Hawthorne and began to chant, joined by its colleagues.

Miss Hawthorne felt the air pulling and tearing as a rift between worlds started to form. She reached to the necklace she wore on a silver chain. She hadn’t worn it before, but instinct had told her it might come in useful. She tore it from her neck and held it aloft.

‘By the grace of the eternal light, I command thee: return to thy realm. Hecate, take these children back to thy bosom. I exhort thee.’

As she almost screamed the spell, the Gelth screeched, the necklace she held grew hot, almost too hot. The leader of the Gelth turned.

‘How can this be?’

Miss Hawthorne smiled through the pain.

‘The gargoyle’s hand wasn’t the first object of power recovered from the soil. I am the guardian of this village. I am not the first and I shall not be the last. There is a reason this place is known as Devil’s End.’

The Gelth shrieked, then faded, leaving the Morris Men dazed and rubbing their eyes.

Miss Hawthorne released Reverend Magister’s necklace and glanced at her burned hand.

‘I’m sorry,’ Joe said. ‘I kind of wandered off. Are we done?’

‘Yes, Joe. For now.’ Joe took a deep breath and smiled. ‘Time for a beer?’

She nodded and smiled.

‘Magic!’