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.
She looked straight at me.
“”You’re not supposed to be here,” she said.
And then there was fire.
(To be continued)