Olivia woke with her cheek pressed against cold hard earth, painfully aware of every bone inside her flesh: the awkward arrangement of jaw and skull bones; string of aching vertebrae; arm and leg bones loose at the joints. She decided against standing up just yet.
Fragments of last night's memory slotted into place. The bright round moon. Eli. Tall sharp-scented pines.
This morning seemed equally disjointed. A roof overhead, corrugated iron. Rusted machine parts and heavy cobwebs. She was cold, missing her clothes, but with a dog collar still fastened around her neck, worn plain leather, mercifully well loose enough for her to breath. Her mouth tasted of iron, and she winced in pain as she sat up, but on careful inspection she seemed to be unharmed. She unfastened the collar with difficulty, her fingers prickling with cold so that they were barely less clumsy than paws, and threw it far away in disgust.
She looked around again - was she in the old garage? Auntie Imogen had never driven, but that looked like the rusted-out shell of a car half under a dirty tarpaulin.
Olivia tried the door to the house, but as she'd expected, she found it locked. The same went for the doors to the grassy driveway, secured on the outside by a heavy padlock, rusted into a solid mass. Hunting around the garage yielded an old blanket, and Olivia shook out the dead leaves and live woodlice, gratefully wrapping the blanket around her shoulders. She'd have to shout for help, hoping that somebody sympathetic to her plight might hear her. Hopefully not Mr or Mrs Allsop, her closest neighbours, or else she'd have some extremely embarrassing explaining to do -
The door to the house opened, Verity appearing with a pinched expression. She didn't speak, her jaw clenched too tight, holding back. She'd heard what Olivia had tried to do, that much was clear.
Olivia opened her mouth, choking on an apology. I tried. I failed, again.
"You stupid, fat cow," Verity growled as she approached. Her jasmine perfume - heavier since her death, to mask the first flush of decay - burned. "Who on earth do you think you are?" Snake-fast she slapped Olivia in the face.
Olivia cringed like a kicked dog, an uncomprehending animal who had only wanted to be looked well upon. Still no words would come.
"I mean, really," said Verity. "I can't begin to imagine what goes on in your head." She looked Olivia up and down. "You're lucky. I thought he might kill you, too. What were you thinking?"
"What he did to you… I had to…" She'd had to stand up to Eli, for all the good it had done. For Verity. For the baby she would never have. "I had to do something."
Verity coughed up a high scornful laugh. "It's a little late for heroics, don't you think? Ugh. Perhaps if you'd been there when it happened, you could have done something about it then, although I doubt it."
"I'm sorry," Olivia said. There didn't seem to be an awful lot else she could say, any more.
Verity went back to the door, slamming it wide open and theatrically ushering the cowed Olivia indoors. She stared at her all the way indoors. "'Sorry'," she spat. "That's no use to me, either."
Indoors at last, Olivia crawled into bed, crying under cover of the Sunday bells ringing. Her throat ached from sobbing and her nose still burned from Verity's perfume so strong and close. She couldn't get comfortable - everything hurt too much.
Throwing off the covers and wiping her nose, she went to turn on the hot water for a bath. Before that was ready, though, hunger drove her down to the kitchen, where a bowl of cornflakes was completely unsatisfactory the morning after a full moon, and in her impatience she ended up eating a whole plateful of bacon nearly raw.
She found Eli in the living room, a newspaper open at the puzzle pages and a pen resting loosely in his hand. His eyes were closed, but Olivia dared not believe he was sleeping. She stared at him, her thoughts circling back round to bloodthirsty wolfish thoughts of revenge, and she couldn't tell if it was her humanity or her fear that held her back. Some treacherous voice at the back of her mind whispered that Eli could have done to her exactly what he'd done to Verity, and that perhaps she just ought to be glad she hadn't woken up under six feet of dirt.
Another violent confrontation being out of the question, Olivia forced herself not to retreat. She sat down quietly on the sofa, willing herself to relax, failing. Still watching Eli, she reached out for the letter she'd been writing. It wasn't there. She knew for certain she'd left an unfinished letter on the coffee table last night, but now…
"Verity!" she shouted, her fear of waking Eli completely forgotten. She stormed out into the hallway, to the kitchen, where a cold breeze blew through the half-open back door. Nosy little bitch - she'd taken the letter for sure. "Verity? What have you done with my letter?"
"What letter?" came a reply from round the corner, where Verity crouched close to the earth, prodding a dead stiff mouse with a stick.
"Don't play the innocent with me," Olivia snarled, angrier than she liked to be, but the letter had been of a sensitive subject. Long, ongoing, the outpouring of all her grief and anger in the wake of Verity's death, a silent howl of anguish and frustration. If she'd been thinking straight, she never would have left it lying out in the open where anybody could pick it up. "Come on: where is it?"
Verity's eyes narrowed, Kohl-framed slits of icy blue. "I don't care about your stupid bits of paper. Why should I?"
If Verity had taken the letter, she certainly hadn't read it: some of it would be incendiary enough to provoke more than nasty comments and a slap. "I know you took it. Don't you dare read it!" Olivia shouted before slamming the back door. She'd have to go up to Verity's attic room and find the wretched letter for herself. See how Verity liked people snooping through her things -
"Letter to George?" asked a voice, low and gruff. Eli detached himself from the shadows to appear framed in the doorway.
Startled, Olivia grabbed a rolling pin from the kitchen counter. All the knives were in a drawer, closer to him than to her. She wished for a heavy cast iron frying pan or similar as a second choice to a sharp knife, but the good solid weight of the wooden rolling pin gave her some confidence.
She realised he'd asked a question. She nodded. "To George. Yes. You - you found it?" She lowered the rolling pin. There'd been some stupid misunderstanding. Somebody had knocked her letter off the table, or accidentally moved it with a pile of books, or -
"What? You posted it?" She had put the letter inside an envelope, as per the familiar comforting ritual, but she hadn't put any address, of course.
"Delivered it," Eli repeated.
Olivia stared at him. What was the postman going to make of that? What would he do with a letter so vaguely addressed? Throw it away, file it somewhere, open it out of curiosity? And then it sank in what Eli had actually said. "Delivered it where?"
The way Eli frowned suggested it really ought to be obvious where he'd delivered the letter. "'To George', it said."
"Right," said Olivia, feeling light-headed. "I think I need some fresh air." She banged the rolling pin down onto the table, slammed the door on her way out, and walked hurriedly past Verity still crouched over her mouse.
The garden was too small - Olivia paced the perimeter of it restlessly before ending up in the churchyard. She had the strangest impression Eli had meant well by 'delivering' the letter, although quite what he'd meant by that…
Olivia didn't want to think about it, but couldn't stop herself. What if Eli had been telling the truth, and the letter was either on its way to Uncle George, or had already reached him? What mutual friend could Eli and her beloved dead uncle possibly have? Olivia's imagination offered up nothing any good. There was more, too, and it was worse: she'd never intended the letters addressed to Uncle George to be read by him. What would he think of them; of her? He might want to speak to her. He might have no interest in her at all. If Eli could deliver a letter, perhaps he…
The light drizzle turned suddenly to freezing sharp darts of rain, hissing through the air, haloing the gravestones and the unhappy Olivia. It soaked her clothes through in seconds before turning to wind-driven hail that bounced along the path, rapidly covering the green of the grass. Olivia dashed back towards the house, darting from the cover of one tree to another, back indoors and quietly up to her room.
She couldn't write another letter, not with the unanswered question of where the last one had ended up. She tried reading instead, but couldn't lose herself in a book once she heard the low murmur of conversation from downstairs. Resisting the temptation to sneak closer and listen in, she lay on her bed staring at the pages of her open book, scanning the lines listlessly, over and over, without seeing them.
In her miserable meditative state, Olivia paid no notice to the first timid knock at her bedroom door, but the loud banging of the second bout woke her from her trance. She glared at the locked door - there was nobody out there who she wanted to talk to.
"Oh, fine!" came Verity's shrill voice from the other side, "Be like that, then." A moment later she wedged several sheets of paper under the door.
Olivia listened closely for Verity's light footsteps in the hall, the creak of stairs and the final slam of the attic door overhead, before she got up and padded across the room to retrieve Verity's crumpled and torn offerings. She recognised at once a fistful of pages just like the ones she'd found before: the same mix of crabbed spider scrawl and prettier 'for show' handwriting, along with a couple of pages ripped from one of the many books Verity had been hoarding up there. Olivia scanned the notes, the handful of doodled cats stalking between Verity's scattered thoughts, and wondered what meaning Verity expected her to find there.
The woodcut illustration of a sinister figure caught Olivia's eye. Too tall, too thin, and with a few simple lines the long-dead artist had made a good likeness of the hateful staring eyes. Verity had annotated the page with odd comments here and there: 'graveyards, abandoned places' and 'prefers human food?'. That last one kept drawing her eye. Did it mean 'prefers the kind of food that humans eat' or… something else? That page went face-down on the windowsill, out of sight but not out of mind, as she sat and read the rest of the notes. Verity had been busy. The figure in the illustration turned out to be a ghoul, a grave-robbing monster originating somewhere in the Middle East. It felt strange to categorise Eli like an animal in a zoo.
Olivia skimmed over the details of the ghoul's reputedly unpleasant personal habits, moving on to a rambling essay speculating on the similarities between Eli's apparent abilities and something called 'zombie powder'. The essay came to no certain conclusion, a note below it reminding Verity to call Malcolm, followed by the afterthought 'phone box?'. Any reference to the Black Dog - along with the recurring appearances of Olivia's name - had become conspicuous by their absence, but several phrases had been violently scribbled out.
By the time Olivia had gleaned all she could from the cryptic notes, finding herself with more questions than answers, Verity was nowhere to be found.