The March Special Guest Writer is Graham Masterton
Please feel free to visit Graham HERE
REFLECTION OF EVIL
It was raining so hard that Mark stayed in the Range Rover, drinking cold espresso straight from the flask and listening to a play on the radio about a widow who compulsively knitted cardigans for her recently-dead husband.
"It took me ages to find this shade of gray. Shale, they call it. It matches his eyes."
"He's dead, Maureen. He's never going to wear it."
"Don't be silly. Nobody dies, so long as you remember what they looked like."
He was thinking about calling it a day when he saw Katie trudging across the field toward him in her bright red raincoat with the pointy hood. As she approached he let down the window, tipping out the last of his coffee. The rain spattered icy-cold against his cheek.
"You look drowned!" he called out. "Why don't you pack it in?"
"We've found something really exciting, that's why."
She came up to the Range Rover and pulled back her hood. Her curly blonde hair was stuck to her forehead and there was a drip on the end of her nose. She had always put him in mind of a poor bedraggled fairy, even when she was dry, and today she looked as if she had fallen out of her traveler's joy bush and into a puddle.
"Where's Nigel?" he asked her.
"He's still there, digging."
"I told him to survey the ditches. What the hell's he digging for?"
"Mark, we think we might have found Shalott."
"What? What are you talking about?"
Katie wiped the rain from her face with the back of her hand. "Those ditches aren't ditches; they used to be a stream, and there's an island in the middle. And those lumps we thought were Iron Age sheep-pens, they're stones, all cut and dressed, like the stones for building a wall."
"Oh, I see," said Mark. "And you and Nigel, being you and Nigel, you immediately thought, 'Shalott!'"
"Why not? It's in the right location, isn't it, upstream from Cadbury?"
Mark shook his head. "Come on, Katie, I know that you and Nigel think that Camelot was all true. If you dug up an old tomato-ketchup bottle you'd probably persuade yourselves that it came from the Round Table."
Katie stretched her arms as wide as she could. "It's big, and it's very tarnished. Nigel thinks it could be a mirror."
"I get it…island, Camelot, mirror. Must be Shalott!"
"Come and have a look anyway. I mean, it might just be scrap, but you never know."
Mark checked his watch. "Let's leave it till tomorrow. We can't do anything sensible in this weather."
"I don't think we can just leave it there. Supposing somebody else comes along and decides to finish digging it up? It could be valuable. If we have found Shalott, and if it is a mirror—"
"Katie, read my lips: Shalott is a myth. Whatever it is you've dug up, can't you just cover it up again and leave it till tomorrow? It's going to be pitch dark in half an hour."
Katie put on one of those faces that meant she was going to go on nagging about this until she got her own way. They weren't having any kind of relationship, but ever since Katie had joined the company, six weeks ago, they had been mildly flirting with each other, and Mark wouldn't have minded if it went a little further. He let his head drop down in surrender, and said, "Okay…if I must."
The widow in the radio-play was still fretting about her latest sweater. "He's not so very keen on raglan sleeves…he thinks they make him look round-shouldered."
"He's dead, Maureen. He probably doesn't have any shoulders."
Katie turned around and started back up the hill. Mark climbed down from the Range Rover, slammed the door, and trudged through the long grass behind her. The skies were hung with filthy gray curtains, and the wind was blowing directly from the north-east, so that his wet raincoat collar kept petulantly slapping his face. He wouldn't have come out here at all, not today, but the weather had put him eleven days behind schedule, and the county council were starting to grow impatient.
"We're going to be bloody popular!" Nigel shouted. "If this is bloody Shalott!"
Katie spun around as she walked, her hands thrust deep in her duffel-coat pockets. "But it could be! A castle, on an island, right in the heart of King Arthur country!"
Mark caught up with her. "Forget it, Katie. It's all stories—especially the Lady of Shalott. Burne Jones, Tennyson; the Victorians loved that kind of thing. A cursèd woman in a castle, dying of unrequited love. Sounds like my ex, come to think of it."
They topped the ridge. Through the misty swathes of rain, they could just about make out the thickly-wooded hills that half-encircled the valley on the eastern side. Below them lay a wide, boggy meadow. A straggling line of knobbly-topped willows crossed the meadow diagonally from south-east to north-west, like a procession of medieval monks, marking the course of an ancient ditch. They could see Nigel about a quarter of a mile away, in his fluorescent yellow jacket and his white plastic helmet, digging.
Mark clasped his hands together and raised his eyes toward the overbearing clouds. "Dear Lord, if You're up there, please let Nigel be digging up a bit of old bedstead."
"But if this is Shalott—" Katie persisted.
"It isn't Shalott, Katie. There is no Shalott, and there never was. Even if it is—which it isn't—it's situated slap bang in the middle of the proposed route for the Woolston relief road, which is already three-and-a-half years late and six-point-nine million pounds over budget. Which means that the county council will have to rethink their entire highways-building plan, and we won't get paid until the whole mess has gone through a full-scale public enquiry, which probably means in fifteen years' time."
"But think of it!" said Katie. "There—where Nigel's digging—that could be the island where the castle used to stand, where the Lady of Shalott weaved her tapestries. And these were the fields where the reapers heard her singing! And that ditch was the river, where she floated down to Camelot in her boat, singing her last lament before she died!"
"If any of that is true, sweetheart, then this is the hill where you and I and the Historic Site Assessment Place would go instantly bankrupt."
"But we'd be famous, wouldn't we?"
"No, we wouldn't. You don't think for one moment that we'd be allowed to dig it up, do you? Every medieval archeologist from every university in the western hemisphere would be crawling all over this site like bluebottles over a dead hedgehog."
"We're perfectly well qualified."
"No, darling, we're not, and I think you're forgetting what we do. We don't get paid to find sites of outstanding archeological significance or interest, we get paid not to find them. Bronze Age buckle? Shove it in your pocket and rediscover it five miles away, well away from the proposed new supermarket site. An Iron Age sheep pen, fine. We can call in a JCB and have it shifted to the Ancient Britain display at Frome. But not Shalott, Katie. Shalott would bloody sink us."
They struggled down the hill and across the meadow. The rain began to ease off, but the wind was still blustery. As they clambered down the ditch, and up the other side, Nigel stood up and took off his helmet. He was very tall, Nigel, with tight curly hair, a large complicated nose, and a hesitant, disconnected way of walking and talking. But Mark hadn't employed him for his looks or his physical co-ordination or his people skills. He had employed him because of his MA in History and his diploma in Archeology and Landscape, which were prominently displayed on the top of the company notepaper.
"Nigel! How's it going? Katie tells me you've found Shalott."
"Well—no—Mark! I don't like to jump to—you know—hah!—hasty conclusions! Not when we could be dealing with—pff! I don't know!—the most exciting archeological find ever! But these stones, look!"
Mark turned to Katie and rolled up his eyes in exaggerated weariness. But Katie said, "Go on, Mark. Look."
Nigel was circling around the rough grassy tussocks, flapping his hands. "I've cut back some of the turf, d'you see—and—underneath—well, see?" He had already exposed six or seven rectangular stones that were the color of well-matured Cheddar cheese. Every stone bore a dense pattern of chisel-marks, as if it had been gnawed by a giant stone-eating rat.
"Bath stone," said Nigel. "Quarried from Hazlebury most likely, and look at that jadding…late thirteenth century, in my humble opinion. Certainly not cut by the old method."
Mark peered at the stones and couldn't really see anything but stones. "The old method?"
Nigel let out a honk of laughter. "Silly, isn't it? The old method is what quarrymen used to call the new method—cutting the stone with saws, instead of breaking it away with bars."
Nigel shielded his eyes with his hand and looked around the meadow, blinking. "The location suggests it, more than anything else. You can see by the way these foundation-stones are arranged that there was certainly a tower here. You don't use stones five feet thick to build a single-story pigsty, do you? But then you have to ask yourself why would you build a tower here?"
"Do you? Oh yes, I suppose you do."
"You wouldn't have picked the middle of a valley to build a fort," said Nigel. "You would only build a tower here as a folly, or to keep somebody imprisoned, perhaps."
"Like the Lady of Shalott?"
"So, if there was a tower here, where's the rest of it?"
"Oh, pilfered, most likely. As soon its owners left it empty, most of the stones would have been carried off by local smallholders for building walls and stables and farmhouses. I'll bet you could still find them if you went looking for them."
"Well, I'll bet you could," said Mark, blowing his nose. "Pity they didn't take the lot."
Nigel blinked at him through rain-speckled glasses. "If they'd done that—hah!—we never would have known that this was Shalott, would we?"
Nigel said, "I don't think the tower was standing here for very long. At a very rough estimate it was built just before 1275, and most likely abandoned during the Black Death, around 1348 or 1349."
"Oh, yes?" Mark was already trying to work out what equipment they were going to need to shift these stones and where they could dump them. Back at Hazelbury quarry, maybe, where they originally came from. Nobody would ever find them there. Or maybe they could sell them as garden benches. He had a friend in Chelsea who ran a profitable sideline in ancient stones and 18th century garden ornaments for wealthy customers who weren't too fussy where they came from.
Nigel took hold of Mark's sleeve and pointed to a stone that was still half-buried in grass. There were some deep marks chiseled into it. "Look—you can just make out a cross, and part of a skull, and the letters DSPM. That's an acronym for medieval Latin, meaning 'God save us from the pestilence within these walls.'"
"So whoever lived in this tower was infected with the Black Death?"
"That's the most obvious assumption, yes."
Mark nodded. "Okay, then…" he said, and kept on nodding.
"This is very, very exciting," said Nigel. "I mean, it's—well!—it could be stupefying, when you come to think of it!"
"Yes," said Mark. He looked around the site, still nodding. "Katie told me you'd found some metal thing."
"Well!—hah!—that's the clincher, so far as I'm concerned! At least it will be, if it turns out to be what I think it is!"
He strode back to the place where he had been digging, and Mark reluctantly followed him. Barely visible in the mud was a length of blackened metal, about a meter-and-a-half long and curved at both ends.
"It's a fireguard, isn't it?" said Mark. Nigel had cleaned a part of it, and he could see that there were flowers embossed on it, and bunches of grapes, and vine-tendrils. In the center of it was a lump that looked like a human face, although it was so encrusted with mud that it was impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman.
Mark peered at it closely. "An old Victorian fireguard, that's all."
"I don't think so," said Nigel. "I think it's the top edge of a mirror. And a thirteenth century mirror, at that."
"Nigel…a mirror, as big as that, in 1275? They didn't have glass mirrors in those days, remember. This would have to be solid silver, or silver-plated, at least."
"Exactly!" said Nigel. "A solid silver mirror—five feet across."
"That's practically unheard of."
"Not if The Lady of Shalott was true. She had a mirror, didn't she, not for looking at herself, but for looking at the world outside, so that she could weave a tapestry of life in Camelot, without having to look at it directly!"
And he began to sing:
"'There she weaves by night and day
Katie joined in:
"And in her web she still delights
"Top of the class," said Mark. "Now, how long do you think it's going to take to dig this out?"
"Oh…several weeks," said Nigel. "Months, even."
"I hope that's one of your University of Essex jokes."
"No—well!—it has to be excavated properly. We don't want to damage it, do we? And there could well be other valuable artifacts hidden in the soil all around it. Combs, buttons, necklaces, who knows? We need to fence this area off, don't we, and inform the police, and the British Museum?"
Mark said, "No, Nigel, we don't."
Nigel slowly stood up, blinking with perplexity. "Mark—we have to! This tower, this mirror—well!—they could change the entire concept of Arthurian legend! They're archeological proof that the Lady of Shalott wasn't just a story, and that Camelot was really here!"
"Nigel, that's a wonderful notion, but it's not going to pay off our overdraft, is it?"
Katie said, "I don't understand. If this is the Lady of Shalott's mirror, and it's genuine, it could be worth millions!"
"It could, yes. But not to us. Treasure trove belongs to HM Government. Not only that, this isn't our land, and we're working under contract for the county council. So our chances of getting a share of it are just about zero."
"So what are you suggesting?" said Nigel. "You want us to bury it again, and forget we ever found it? We can't do that!"
"Oh, no," Mark told him, "I'm not suggesting that for a moment." He pointed to the perforated vines in the top of the frame. "We could run a couple of chains through here, though, couldn't we, and use the Range Rover to pull it out?"
"What? That could cause irreparable damage!"
"Nigel—everything that happens in this world causes irreparable damage. That's the whole definition of history."
The rain had stopped completely now and Katie pushed back her hood. "I hate to say it, Mark, but I think you're right. We found this tower, we found this mirror. If we report it, we'll get nothing at all. No money, no credit. Not even a mention in the papers."
Nigel stood over the metal frame for a long time, his hand thoughtfully covering the lower part of his face.
"Well?" Mark asked him, at last. It was already growing dark, and a chilly mist was rising between the knobbly-topped willow-trees.
"All right, then, bugger it," said Nigel. "Let's pull the bugger out."
Mark drove the Range Rover down the hill and jostled along the banks of the ditch until he reached the island of Shalott. He switched on all the floodlights, front and rear, and then he and Nigel fastened towing-chains to the metal frame, wrapping them in torn T-shirts to protect the moldings as much as they could. Mark slowly revved the Range Rover forward, its tires spinning in the fibrous brown mud. Nigel screamed, "Steady! Steady!" like a panicky hockey-mistress.
At first the metal frame wouldn't move, but Mark tried pulling it, and then easing off the throttle, and then pulling it again. Gradually, it began to emerge from the peaty soil which covered it, and even before it was halfway out, he could see that Nigel was right, and that it was a mirror—or a large sheet of metal, anyway. He pulled it completely free, and Nigel screamed, "Stop!"
They hunkered down beside it and shone their flashlights on it. The decorative vine-tendrils had been badly bent by the towing-chains, but there was no other obvious damage. The surface of the mirror was black and mottled, like a serious bruise, but otherwise it seemed to have survived its seven hundred years with very little corrosion. It was over an inch thick and it was so heavy that they could barely lift it.
"What do we do now?" asked Katie.
"We take it back to the house, we clean it up, and we try to check out its provenance—where it was made, who made it, and what its history was. We have it assayed. Then we talk to one or two dealers who are interested in this kind of thing, and see how much we can get for it."
"And what about Shalott?" asked Nigel. In the upward beam of his flashlight, his face had become a theatrical mask.
"You can finish off your survey, Nigel. I think you ought to. But give me two versions. One for the county council, and one for posterity. As soon as you're done, I'll arrange for somebody to take all the stones away, and store them. Don't worry. You'll be able to publish your story in five or ten years' time, and you'll probably make a fortune out of it."
"But the island—it's all going to be lost."
"That's the story of Britain, Nigel. Nothing you can do can change it."
They heaved the mirror into the back of the Range Rover and drove back into Wincanton. Mark had rented a small end-of-terrace house on the outskirts, because it was much cheaper than staying in a hotel for seven weeks. The house was plain, flat-fronted, with a scrubby front garden and a dilapidated wooden garage. In the back garden stood a single naked cherry-tree. Inside, the ground-level rooms had been knocked together to make a living room with a dining area at one end. The carpet was yellow with green Paisley swirls on it, and the furniture was reproduction, all chintz and dark varnish.
Between them, grunting, they maneuvered the mirror into the living room and propped it against the wall. Katie folded up two bath towels and they wedged them underneath the frame to stop it from marking the carpet.
"I feel like a criminal," said Nigel.
Katie said, "I still don't know if we've done the right thing. I mean, there's still time to declare it as a treasure trove."
"Well, go ahead, if you want the Historical Site Assessment to go out of business and you don't want a third share of whatever we can sell it for."
Katie went up to the mirror, licked the tip of her finger and cleaned some of the mud off it. As she did so, she suddenly recoiled, as if she had been stung. "Ow," she said, and stared at her fingertip. "It gave me a shock."
"A shock? What kind of a shock?"
"Like static, you know, when you get out of a car."
Mark approached the mirror and touched it with all five fingers of his left hand. "I can't feel anything." He licked his fingers and tried again, and this time he lifted his hand away and said, "Ouch! You're right! It's like it's charged."
"Silver's very conductive," said Nigel, as if that explained everything. "Sir John Raseburne wore a silver helmet at Agincourt, and he was struck by lightning. He was thrown so far into the air that the French thought he could fly."
He touched the mirror himself. After a while, he said, "No, nothing. You must have earthed it, you two."
Mark looked at the black, diseased surface of the mirror and said nothing.
That evening, Mark ordered a takeaway curry from the Wincanton Tandoori in the High Street, and they ate chicken Madras and mushroom bhaji while they took it in turns to clean away seven centuries of tarnish.
Neil played The Best of Matt Monroe on his CD player. "I'm sorry…I didn't bring any of my madrigals."
"Don't apologize. This is almost medieval."
First, they washed down the mirror with warm soapy water and cellulose car-sponges, until all of the peaty soil was sluiced off it. Katie stood on a kitchen chair and cleaned all of the decorative detail at the top of the frame with a toothbrush and Q-tips. As she worried the mud out of the human head in the center of the mirror, it gradually emerged as a woman, with high cheekbones and slanted eyes and her hair looped up in elaborate braids. Underneath her chin there was a scroll with the single word Lamia.
"Lamia?" said Mark. "Is that Latin, or what?"
"No, no, Greek," said Nigel. "It's the Greek name for Lilith, who was Adam's first companion, before Eve. She insisted on having the same rights as Adam and so God threw her out of Eden. She married a demon and became the queen of demons.”
He stepped closer to the mirror and touched the woman's faintly-smiling lips. "Lamia was supposed to be the most incredibly beautiful woman you could imagine. She had white skin and black eyes and breasts that no man could resist fondling. Just one night with Lamia and—pfff!—you would never look at a human woman again."
"What was the catch?"
"She sucked all of the blood out of you—hah!—that's all."
"You're talking about my ex again."
Katie said, "I seem to remember that John Keats wrote a poem called Lamia, didn't he?"
"That's right," said Nigel. "A chap called Lycius met Lamia and fell madly in love with her. The trouble is, he didn't realize that she was a blood-sucker and that she was cursed by God."
"Cursed?" said Katie.
"Yes, God had condemned her for her disobedience forever. 'Some penanced lady-elf…some demon's mistress, or the demon's self.'"
"Like the Lady of Shalott."
"Well, I suppose so, yes."
"Perhaps they were one and the same person…Lamia, and the Lady of Shalott."
They all looked at the woman's face on top of the mirror. There was no question that she was beautiful; and even though the casting had a simplified, medieval style, the sculptor had managed to convey a sense of slyness, and of secrecy.
"She was a bit of a mystery, really," said Nigel. "She was supposed to be a virgin, d'you see, 'yet in the lore of love deep-learnèd to the red heart's core.' She was a blood-sucking enchantress, but at the same time she was capable of deep and genuine love. Men couldn't resist her. Lycius said she gave him 'a hundred thirsts.'"
"Just like this bloody Madras chicken," said Mark. "Is there any more beer in the fridge?"
Katie carried on cleaning the mirror long after Mark and Nigel had grown tired of it. They sat in two reproduction armchairs drinking Stella Artois and eating cheese-and-onion crisps and heckling Question Time, while Katie applied 3M's Tarni-Shield with a soft blue cloth and gradually exposed a circle of shining silver, large enough to see her own face.
"There," she said. "I reckon we can have it all cleaned up by tomorrow."
"I'll give my friend a call," said Mark. "Maybe he can send somebody down to look at it."
"It's amazing, isn't it, to think that the last person to look into this mirror could have been the Lady of Shalott?"
"You blithering idiot," said Nigel.
"I beg your pardon?"
Nigel waved his can of lager at the television screen. "Not you. Him. He thinks that single mothers should get two votes."
They didn't go to bed until well past 1 AM. Mark had the main bedroom because he was the boss, even though it wasn't exactly luxurious. The double bed was lumpy and the white Regency-style wardrobe was crowded with wire hangers. Katie had the smaller bedroom at the back, with teddy-bear wallpaper, while Nigel had to sleep on the sofa in the living room.
Mark slept badly that night. He dreamed that he was walking at the rear of a long funeral procession, with a horse-drawn hearse, and black-dyed ostrich plumes nodding in the wind. A woman's voice was calling him from very far away, and he stopped, while the funeral procession carried on. For some reason he felt infinitely sad and lonely, the same way that he had felt when he was five, when his mother died.
"Mark!" she kept calling. "Mark!"
He woke up with a harsh intake of breath. It was still dark, although his travel clock said 07:26.
"Mark!" she repeated, and it wasn't his mother but Katie, and she was calling him from downstairs.
He climbed out of bed, still stunned from sleeping. He dragged his toweling bathrobe from the hook on the back of the door and stumbled down the narrow staircase. In the living room the curtains were drawn back, although the gray November day was still dismal and dark, and it was raining. Katie was standing in the middle of the room in a pink cotton night shirt, her hair all messed up, her forearms raised like the figure in The Scream.
"Katie! What the hell's going on?"
"It's Nigel. Look at him, Mark, he's dead."
"What?" Mark switched the ceiling-light on. Nigel was lying on his back on the chintz-upholstered couch, wearing nothing but green woolen socks and a brown plaid shirt, which was pulled right up to his chin. His bony white chest had a crucifix of dark hair across it. His penis looked like a dead fledgling.
But it was the expression on his face that horrified Mark the most. He was staring up at the ceiling, wide-eyed, his mouth stretched wide open, as if he were shouting at somebody. There was no doubt that he was dead. His throat had been torn open, in a stringy red mess of tendons and cartilage, and the cushion beneath his head was soaked black with blood.
"Jesus," said Mark. He took three or four very deep breaths. "Jesus."
Katie was almost as white as Nigel. "What could have done that? It looks like he was bitten by a dog."
Mark went through to the kitchen and rattled the back door handle. "Locked," he said, coming back into the living room. "There's no dog anywhere."
"Then what—?" Katie promptly sat down, and lowered her head. "Oh God, I think I'm going to faint."
"I'll have to call the police," said Mark. He couldn't stop staring at Nigel's face. Nigel didn't look terrified. In fact, he looked almost exultant, as if having his throat ripped out had been the most thrilling experience of his whole life.
"But what did it?" asked Katie. "We didn't do it, and Nigel couldn't have done it himself."
Mark frowned down at the yellow swirly carpet. He could make out a blotchy trail of footprints leading from the side of the couch to the center of the room. He thought at first that they must be Nigel's, but on closer examination they seemed to be far too small, and there was no blood on Nigel's socks. Close to the coffee-table the footprints formed a pattern like a huge, petal-shedding rose, and then, much fainter, they made their way toward the mirror. Where they stopped.
"Look," he said. "What do you make of that?"
Katie approached the mirror and peered into the shiny circle that she had cleaned yesterday evening. "It's almost as if…no."
"It's almost as if what?"
"It's almost as if somebody killed Nigel and then walked straight into the mirror."
"That's insane. People can't walk into mirrors."
"But these footprints…they don't go anywhere else."
"It's impossible. Whoever it was, they must have done it to trick us."
They both looked up at the face of Lamia. She looked back at them, secret and serene. Her smile seemed to say, wouldn't you like to know?
"They built a tower, didn't they?" said Katie. She was trembling with shock. "They built a tower for the express purpose of keeping the Lady of Shalott locked up. If she was Lamia, then they locked her up because she seduced men and drank their blood."
"Katie, for Christ's sake. That was seven hundred years ago. That's if it really happened at all."
Katie pointed to Nigel's body on the couch. "Nigel's dead, Mark! That really happened! But nobody could have entered this room last night, could they? Not without breaking the door down and waking us up. Nobody could have entered this room unless they stepped right out of this mirror!"
"So what do you suggest? When we call the police?"
"We have to tell them!"
"Oh, yes? And is this what we tell them? 'Well, officer, it was like this. We took a thirteenth-century mirror that didn't belong to us and The Lady of Shalott came out of it in the middle of the night and tore Nigel's throat out?' They'll send us to Broadmoor, Katie! They'll put us in the funny farm for life!"
"Mark, listen, this is real."
"It's only a story, Katie. It's only a legend."
"But think of the poem, The Lady of Shalott. Think of what it says. 'Moving thro' a mirror clear, that hangs before her all the year, shadows of the world appear.' Don't you get it? Tennyson specifically wrote through a mirror, not in it. The Lady of Shalott wasn't looking at her mirror, she was inside it, looking out!"
"This gets better."
"But it all fits together. She was Lamia. A blood-sucker, a vampire! Like all vampires, she could only come out at night. But she didn't hide inside a coffin all day…she hid inside a mirror! Daylight can't penetrate a mirror, any more than it can penetrate a closed coffin!"
"I don't know much about vampires, Katie, but I do know that you can't see them in mirrors."
"Of course not. And this is the reason why! Lamia and her reflection are one and the same. When she steps out of the mirror, she's no longer inside it, so she doesn't appear to have a reflection. And the curse on her must be that she can only come out of the mirror at night, like all vampires."
"Katie, for Christ's sake…you're getting completely carried away."
"But it's the only answer that makes any sense! Why did they lock up The Lady of Shalott on an island, in a stream? Because vampires can't cross running water. Why did they carve a crucifix and a skull on the stones outside? The words said, God save us from the pestilence within these walls. They didn't mean the Black Death…they meant her! The Lady of Shalott, Lamia, she was the pestilence!"
Mark sat down. He looked at Nigel and then he looked away again. He had never seen a dead body before, but the dead were so totally dead that you could quickly lose interest in them after a while. They didn't talk. They didn't even breathe. He could understand why morticians were so blasé.
"So?" he asked Katie, at last. "What do you think we ought to do?"
"Let's draw the curtains," she said. "Let's shut out all the daylight. If you sit here, perhaps she'll be tempted to come out again. After all, she's been seven hundred years without fresh blood, hasn't she? She must be thirsty. "
Mark stared at her. "You're having a laugh, aren't you? You want me to sit here in the dark, hoping that some mythical woman is going to step out of a dirty old mirror and try to suck all the blood out of me?"
He was trying to show Katie that he wasn't afraid, and that her vampire idea was nonsense, but all the time Nigel was lying on the couch, silently shouting at the ceiling. And there was so much blood, and so many footprints. What else could have happened in this room last night?
Katie said, "It's up to you. If you think I'm being ridiculous, let's forget it. Let's call the police and tell them exactly what happened. I'm sure that forensics will prove that we didn't kill him."
Mark stood up again and went over to the mirror. He peered into the polished circle, but all he could see was his own face, dimly haloed.
"All right, then," he said. "Let's give it a try, just to put your mind at rest. Then we call the police."
Katie drew the brown velvet curtains and tucked them in at the bottom to keep out the tiniest chink of daylight. It was well past eight o'clock now, but it was still pouring with rain outside and the morning was so gloomy that she need hardly have bothered. Mark pulled one of the armchairs up in front of the mirror and sat facing it.
"Well, I wouldn't worry. I'm probably wrong."
Mark took out a crumpled Kleenex and blew his nose, and then sniffed. "Phwoaff!" he protested. "Nigel's smelling already. Rotten chicken, or what?"
"That's the blood," said Katie. Adding, after a moment, "My uncle used to be a butcher. He always said that bad blood is the worst smell in the world."
They sat in silence for a while. The smell of blood seemed to be growing thicker, and riper, and it was all Mark could do not to gag. His throat was dry, too, and he wished he had drunk some orange juice before starting this vigil.
"You couldn't fetch me a drink, could you?" he asked Katie.
"Ssh," said Katie. "I think I can see something."
"Look at the mirror, in the middle. Like a very faint light."
Mark stared toward the mirror in the darkness. At first he couldn't see anything but overwhelming blackness. But then he saw a flicker, like somebody waving a white scarf, and then another.
Very gradually, a face began to appear in the polished circle. Mark felt a slow crawling sensation down his back, and his lower jaw began to judder so much that he had to clench his teeth to stop it. The face was pale and bland but strangely beautiful, and it was staring straight at him, unblinking, and smiling. It looked more like the face of a marble statue than a human being. Mark tried to look away, but he couldn't. Every time he turned his head toward Katie he was compelled to turn back again.
The darkened living room seemed to grow even more airless and suffocating, and when he said, "Katie…can you see what I see?" his voice sounded muffled, as if he had a pillow over his face.
Soundlessly, the pale woman took one step out of the surface of the mirror. She was naked, and her skin was the color of the moon. The black tarnish clung to her for a moment, like oily cobwebs, but as she took another step forward they slid away from her, leaving her luminous and pristine.
She raised her right hand and lightly kissed her fingertips. He could feel her aura, both electrical and freezing cold, as if somebody had left a fridge door wide open. She whispered something, but it sounded more French than English—very soft and elided—and he could only understand a few words of it.
"My sweet love," she said. "Come to me, give me your very life."
There were dried runnels of blood on her breasts and down her slightly-bulging stomach, and down her thighs. Her feet were spattered in blood, too. Mark looked up at her, and he couldn't think what to say or what to do. He felt as if all of the energy had drained out of him, and he couldn't even speak.
We all have to die one day, he thought. But to die now, today, in this naked woman's arms…what an adventure that would be.
"Mark!" shouted Katie. "Grab her, Mark! Hold on to her!"
The woman twisted around and hissed at Katie, as furiously as a snake. Mark heaved himself out of his chair and tried to seize the woman's arm, but she was cold and slippery, like half-melted ice, and her wrist slithered out of his grasp.
"Now, Katie!" he yelled at her.
Katie threw herself at the curtains, and dragged them down, the curtain-hooks popping like firecrackers. The woman went for her, and she had almost reached the window when the last curtain-hook popped and the living room was drowned with gray, drained daylight. The woman whipped around again and stared at Mark, and the expression on her face almost stopped his heart.
"Of all men," she whispered. "You have been the most faithless, and you will be punished."
Katie was on her knees, struggling to free herself from the curtains. The woman seized Katie's curls, lifted her up, and bit into her neck with an audible crunch. Katie didn't even scream. She stared at Mark in mute desperation and fell sideways onto the carpet, with blood jetting out of her neck and spraying across the furniture.
The woman came slowly toward him, and Mark took one step back, and then another, shifting the armchair so that it stood between them. But she stopped. Her skin was already shining, as if it were melting, and she closed her eyes. Mark waited, holding his breath. At the same time, Katie was convulsing on the floor, one foot jerking against the leg of the coffee-table, so that the empty beer-cans rattled together.
The woman opened her eyes, and gave Mark one last unreadable look. Then she turned back toward the mirror. She took three paces, and it swallowed her, like an oil-streaked pool of water.
Mark waited and waited, not moving. Outside the window, the rain began to clear, and he heard the whine of a milk-float going past.
After a while, he sat down. He thought of calling the police, but what could he tell them? Then he thought of tying the bodies to the mirror, and dropping them into a rhyne, where they would never be found. But the police would come anyway, wouldn't they, asking questions?
The day slowly went by. Just after two o'clock the clouds cleared for a moment, and the naked cherry tree in the back garden sparkled with sunlight. At half-past three a loud clatter in the hallway made him jump, but it was only an old woman with a shopping-trolley pushing a copy of the Wincanton Advertiser through the letterbox.
And so the darkness gradually gathered, and Mark sat in his armchair in front of the mirror, waiting.
"'I am half-sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott."
Graham Masterton has published over 100 novels, including thrillers, horror novels, disaster epics, and sweeping historical romances.
He was editor of the British edition of Penthouse magazine before writing his debut horror novel The Manitou in 1975, which was subsequently filmed with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith and Stella Stevens.
After the initial success of The Manitou, Graham continued to write horror novels and supernatural thrillers, for which he has won international acclaim, especially in Poland, France, Germany, Greece and Australia.
His historical romances Rich (Simon & Schuster) and Maiden Voyage (St Martins) both featured in The New York Times Bestseller List. He has twice been awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America (for Charnel House, and more recently Trauma, which was also named by Publishers Weekly as one of the hundred best novels of the year.)
He has won numerous other awards, including two Silver Medals from the West Coast Review of Books, a tombstone award from the Horror Writers Network, another gravestone from the International Horror Writers Guild, and was the first non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger for bestselling horror novel. The Chosen Child (set in Poland) was nominated best horror novel of the year by the British Fantasy Society.
Several of Graham’s short stories have been adapted for TV, including three for Tony Scott’s Hunger series. Jason Scott Lee starred in the Stoker-nominated Secret Shih-Tan.
Apart from continuing with some of most popular horror series, Graham is now writing novels that have some suggestion of a supernatural element in them, but are intended to reach a wider market than genre horror.
Graham says, "The eighth in my series of Irish-based crime thrillers featuring Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire has just come out this month -- Dead Girls Dancing. Although these are categorised as crime novels, they have plenty of grue in them to satisfy my horror readers!"
Katie Maguire has her own website so that readers can keep up with the novels and also get to know Katie herself. Apart from having to deal with some horrific crimes, she has a very tangled love life!
Learn more about Katie Maguire HERE
Many of Graham's "classic" horror novels are scheduled to be re-released on Amazon Kindle and Kobo on June 1, and are already available for pre-order.