A Most Peculiar Being (Part 3)

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Her face was in utter ruin.

Lumps and pockmarks scarred her flesh. There were patches of discolouration on her forehead and cheeks, but her neck and arms were untouched, and behind a curtain of curls she had eyes of the most beautiful cornflower blue.

She hadn’t seen me, though I knew it was she who had called me here.

Whether she had called me to the past, or to a world of her making, I could not say.

I took a cautious step forward.

“Who are you?” I asked. “Tell me how you died.”

She continued to run her fingers through the hair of the straw doll on her lap. Her lips were moving, in a nursery rhyme perhaps, or a lullaby.

I considered my surroundings. We were in a barn, or something that had once been a barn but now served some other purpose. The place was set up like a living room with tattered settees, a tea table set with fine china, and a tiny bed in the corner. Through the window I could see the spires of Oldfield Manor.

I made a home of the settee and tried again, gently. “My name is Alexander Harding. I am a spirit detective. I can help you, but you must help me first.” She gave no sign of hearing me, but I kept on. “You came to visit me last night – do you remember? You spoke to me and pointed to Oldfield Manor. What is it you were trying to tell me? What is it you want me to know?”

My approach was not working. I didn’t know how much time I had left, so I tried several questions in succession, hoping she would respond to one at least.

“Who are you?”

“How did you die?”

“How old were you?”

“What do you know of the goddess Aibhileen?”

A shockwave, like the sudden shattering of bone.

Everything stilled.

She looked straight at me.

“”You’re not supposed to be here,” she said.

And then there was fire.


(To be continued)




A Most Peculiar Being (Part 2)

[See Part 1]

“Your people have done something to earn her wrath.”

“And what would that thing be, Harding?”

I had to hide a smile. The village headman was a large man, and he was getting redder and redder by the minute. He suspected I wasn’t telling him all that I knew. He was right.

“You tell me,” I said.

I thought he would explode right then and there, but just as he reached the pinnacle of his rage his shoulders sagged and he deflated. “There were isolated acts of vandalism. But the shrine was always hastily restored and the culprits punished. And our numbers do dwindle, with more and more leaving us for the outside world. The old ways are fading. Our lady is being forgotten.”

I nodded. I was surprised to find a fully functional pagan village in this day and age. I knew paganism had survived, but an entire village of pagans? Aibhileen was faring better than other gods of old.

“I know you think me scornful of the old ways, for yes, I am a Christian. But I know the depiction of the old gods as unpredictable beings of vengeance is false. All acts are weighed on the scales of justice. Aibhileen would not punish the loyal for the acts of deserters, and it seems unfair to lay an eternal curse on an entire village for the acts of a few.” I took a sip of my mead. I worded my next question carefully. “Are you sure there were no notable incidents in the late 1850s?”

“What do you want me to say, Harding?” the headman barked. “I’ve told you everything.” He crossed his arms and levelled an accusing glare at me.

I sighed. We were sitting on the alehouse porch, and the full glory of spring lay before us. The sunlight was softer here, and the grass was thick with the fresh, sweet smell of sage. Lilac wildflowers grew everywhere. It was hard to imagine that in a month’s time people would start dying.

“Harding.” Something in the sight had softened the hard creases in the headman’s face. “You…see things others don’t. Have you seen her? Lady Aibhileen?”

I wondered then if I should tell him about the girl with the ruined face.

I decided against it.

“No,” I said. “I’ve seen no one.”

I was not ready to disclose the events of last night. That poor child with the grey curls and the face that was no longer a face. What was it she had said to me? You’re not supposed to be here.

“Jacob,” I said – for that was the headman’s name, though I had never used it – “Would you accompany me to Oldfield Manor tomorrow?”

He started. “That place? What’s it got to do with anything?”

“A great deal, I’m afraid.”

He looked uneasy. “I can take you to it, or what’s left of it. But I won’t stay after dark, you hear me? It’s no place for the living.”

I know what he meant. Old places like that, they don’t forget. They don’t move on. Old sins stain the carpets like fresh blood.

He likely thought me daring for suggesting it, for surely I knew the rumours.

But there was one thing he didn’t know.

He didn’t know I was already being haunted.


(To be continued)


A Most Peculiar Being (An Alexander Harding Spirit Detective mystery)

“I didn’t think you’d come,” the burly fellow crossed his arms. “Being a Christian and all.”

I took in his disposition. There was no mistaking the hostility he had for me.

“Well? What’ll it be, Harding?”

I raised an eyebrow.

Mr Harding,” he amended. “Look…our crops are failing and sickness spreads through the village like a blight. My people need help, and I don’t care where it comes from.”

“And this has been happening since…?”

“The first sickness hit in 1860. It got worse from then on.”

I rubbed my chin.


Three decades of misfortune.

“Any patterns?”

“Patterns? The sickness comes every year. It claims young, old, man, woman and child. Victims die in mere weeks.” He shuddered. “Their faces rot away.”

“Like leprosy?”

“It’s not leprosy,” he grunted. “One of your physicians confirmed that.”

“Was he able to treat the sickness?”

“He was not. And calling in an outsider brought her wrath. The sickness fell upon us faster.”

I thought a while. “The goddess you worship – Aibhileen. You are sure you have done nothing to anger her? Save for calling in the doctor, that is?”

“Nothing. We visit her shrine every other day. We hang garlands and light candles for her. She has always held a great love for us. In the old days, before your people came, she would descend every afternoon to dance and drink mead with us.” He sighed.

“And this…sickness, and the destruction of your crops…this happens just once a year? In June?”

“Always in June.”

I surveyed the pagan village. The sky was a rather becoming blue in these parts, and there were wild daisies everywhere, their stalks swaying slowly in a not-quite-there breeze. The scent of sage was in the air.

“Look, Harding, if you don’t believe -”

I raised a hand to silence him.

“I sense an entity here,” I said.

I turned to look him directly in the eyes. “I can feel its rage.”


(To be continued)


Note : This is the sequel to A Most Peculiar Haunting, originally named “Child”. For those of you who haven’t read it, Alexander Harding is a spirit detective in the late Victorian era. He investigates all manner of creepy-crawlies.