It is dark. I am late. Ten minutes could mean the difference between a ticking off and a round with the belt so I have little choice. Da and the belt scare me more than Father Jacob’s stories do.
The others eye me with pity as I climb the railings to the shortcut through the cemetery. It’s raining hard, the railings are slippery and the drop to the ground is a long one, but I land intact in the pool of darkness on the other side.
Slowly my eyes adjust to it. The shadows of headstones jut haphazardly from the ground, like broken teeth in a rotting mouth, the outstretched wings of a stone angel tower above me, its eyes blank and dead. The only sound is the rainwater gushing through the spouts in the gargoyles’ leering mouths.
I begin to walk.
The dead can’t hurt you - it’s the living you need to worry about, says Da. I repeat it in my head like a mantra. But Father Jacob says different. He knows about the wights that walk from their graves at midnight, and the baobhan-sith that take the form of a wolf to stalk their prey, and the dearg-due, who seduce men to tear out their throats and drink their blood.
He tells us that the dead can, most definitely, hurt you.
I walk faster, sodden from the rain overhead and the long wet grass at my knees. The shush-shushing of my strides fills my ears and I think of nothing for a time. But then I hear something else, something jarring; a counterpoint to the rhythm of my steps. My heart is thudding in my chest. I force myself to look ahead, but ahead there’s only darkness.
Ahead is where the sound is coming from.
There is only one way. I break into the run, but the sound speeds up too, it is an urgent, ragged, sound. I picture rotting flesh dragging itself determinedly towards me, spindle fingers of bone and bloody nails reaching to drag me back to the dark passages they have torn in the earth.
I begin to run, but the sound grows louder, more insistent.
There is a light in the vestry. I almost weep with relief. Father Jacob will help me. I throw myself towards the burning square of yellow light and press my face against the glass. It is bright inside, and I blink against it. Slowly a dark shape comes into focus as my eyes adjust. It is moving strangely. There is something jerky and ragged and wrong with it.
And then I know where the sound is coming from. Father Jacobs is inside, his black robes and long cape are lifted to his waist and his trousers lay crumpled on the floor as he thrusts himself over and over into the prone figure on the table beneath him.
At first I am convinced that it is the Dearg-Due about to rise up and tear out his throat. I open my mouth to shout a warning, but then he turns his face to me, his eyes meet mine and his lips split open in a wet, red wolfish grin.
I turn from the window and run for home as if my life depends on it.