Dear diary,
I am dead! And working through a medium, hence this dreadful handwriting. The girl is very young

The pale wisp of a girl holding the pen stopped, sitting back from the writing desk. "I'm not that young," she said. Her voice, light and chirping as a bird's, didn't help her case. "I'm just not used to this." She pushed back the unruly black curls of her hair, and folded her arms. "You needn't be rude about my handwriting, either."

A spectral figure stood by the window, the late afternoon light filtering through the cobweb skein of a lifetime's memories. She was white-haired and wiry with age, dressed in simple elegance, and a teapot had just materialised in her hands. The girl watched interestedly as the ghost paced the boundaries of the room, pausing at each of the dead houseplants lining the windowsills and surfaces, to tip a thin trickle of water from the teapot. Whether or not this did any good for the ghosts of the plants that had gone before was hard to say. The ethereal lady herself shifted distractedly like mist, her attention not really on the task at hand, but Imogen Lockwood had watered her plants every afternoon for as long as she could remember, and she didn't intend to let death stand in her way.

"Would you like me to give them some real water?" asked the girl, with a hint of a smile.

Imogen regarded the wilted flowers, petals and leaves crumbling papery brown, and put down her teapot, whereupon it melted away into the ether. "I rather think they're past saving." She sighed. "I'm sorry: I do appreciate you taking the time to help me. Do you have enough light there?"

"More than enough, thank you."

Throughout the house, most of the curtains remained drawn, and the visitor had only pulled back the curtains in the study at Imogen's request. Some days ago there had been a bit of a commotion when Imogen's neighbour Mrs Allsop had popped round to see if Imogen was all right, not having seen her about for a while. Mrs Allsop had soon discovered that Imogen was not all right, not at all, but well past worrying about the matter. Strangers had milled around the house shortly after. The body had been taken away. The house had fallen silent, but for the many cats.

"Your diary, Imogen?" said the girl.

Imogen sat down, trying to think but finding it difficult, like pushing her thoughts through a thick fog. She'd left the house to Olivia, hadn't she? It had seemed like a good idea at the time: Olivia had been such a well-behaved and thoughtful girl, and Imogen had always looked forward to a visit from her great-niece. This time, though, she dreaded it. "Forget the diary for now," she said, dismissing the notion with a wave of her hand. "I'm afraid I'm going to need your help with something more important."

Legend had it that the Lockwoods lived unnaturally long and escaped every war unscathed. The Lockwood boys had come back from the killing fields of the First World War safe and sound. More recently, no German bombs had found the village of Peter's Cross, where the Lockwoods lived. They paid the price, so the story went, in the form of a child from each generation, stolen by the Black Dog.

Reverend Milton knew the old story, and knew the truth. He knew the old races - things akin to men, but most emphatically not men. They'd walked the earth before the Garden of Eden, and they occupied their own niches in the world. Humanity, growing stronger in numbers every day, had pushed them right to the edges of things, into the twilight and the abandoned places. The night woods belonged to them. "Take heart," said Reverend Milton quietly to himself, his breath clouding in the night air. The full moon illuminated a chalky track through the trees, and he hesitated to leave the safety of the path. "Take heart, and trust in God…" He stepped blindly into the black undergrowth, assailed by branches and brambles. He couldn't help the noisy rustling of dry leaves beneath his feet, and since he couldn't progress in silence, he took some comfort in whispering prayers as he went.

Growling close by stopped him at once. Holding tight to a chestful of the chilly air, he stared into darkness. There, up ahead, grey and ghostly: the biggest wolfhound he'd ever seen. It growled again, but came no closer.

"Down boy," said a low voice behind Reverend Milton, and reluctantly the creature sat.

Milton, silently reminding himself that he had nothing to fear, turned away from the dog. The man who had appeared behind him was dressed all in dark clothing, his face a pale indistinct mask in the darkness.

"She died?" said the stranger.

Reverend Milton nodded. "She passed away last Tuesday night. Very sudden. The doctor said she hardly would have felt a thing."

The stranger considered this a moment, no sign of emotion on his face, his eyes hollow and shadowed. "Hmm. When's the funeral?"

Milton straightened his back enough to conjure up an extra inch or two to his unimpressive height, and stood his ground. "You know I can't tell you that."

"Already know where you'll bury her," said the stranger belligerently. "More or less."

The churchyard behind the house, thought Milton, anxious as if the stranger might somehow overhear the unbidden thought. Lockwood Corner. "I still can't tell you when. Please, it really would be best if you didn't come."

But the man had turned to walk away, vanishing into the shadows of the trees. The wolfhound, grey as smoke, looked one last time at Milton before padding obediently after. That creature was no dog - a human intelligence had looked out from behind those eyes.

"At least let her family be!" Reverend Milton called after them. "Haven't you caused enough suffering?"

The pine trees stood cold and silent, as if nobody besides him had ever walked these woods, and Milton wished he'd never felt the compulsion to pass along the sad news in the first place. He turned and headed back towards the path, and the comforting lights of the vicarage.