30 Days of Indie Horror continues! Check out the excerpt, and then at the bottom enter the drawing to win one of three Bards and Sages Prize packages featuring three ebooks. Today’s treat is from Hewhay Hall by Susan Roebuck.
About the book
2013 Epic Award Winner for Best Horror
An unsung hero’s destiny—Slater’s house of horrors.
Fire-fighter Jude Elliott loses part of his leg trying to rescue a family held hostage during a terrorist attack. He journeys to mysterious Hewhey Hall, where it is told there are wondrous, magical cures. Little does Jude know that his destination is Slater The Prince of Envy’s lair where demons reside and courageous souls are tormented… Can Jude escape Slater’s house of horrors, or will he suffer for all of eternity?
Learn more about the book at: http://www.susanroebuck.com
Chapter One Sunday
Jude stared down the hill at the glint on the water and then across to the fields baked hard by weeks of sun. He’d followed the directions to the letter, so this was the right place. But where was Hewhay Hall? A row of swallows balanced on a wire stretching overhead, each facing the same way as Jude, who rested against a five-bar gate. They too seemed to be eyeing the fallen tree trunks that littered the overgrown path down the rocky hillside. They were lucky—they could fly, but Jude had to hobble.
The air moved on the other side of the marshland. He didn’t imagine it. A definite ripple, the kind that alters your vision when a migraine’s about to start. Although the shift was fleeting, he had the idea something was down there after all, very faint and hard to describe. The outline of a building? Or maybe just heat haze. Whatever, he’d come this far—he’d go and investigate.
The latch and hinges on the gate were so rusted, Jude couldn’t open it. Nothing for it, then, but to climb over. He propped his crutches against the wooden bars, placed his hands on the top, and hauled himself up so his right leg got a footing on a lower rung. Now he could sit on the top. He bent down, picked up what was left of his other leg, and maneuvered it over until he straddled the gate. It creaked under his weight. As he swung his right leg over, he teetered, tried to grab the top bar but lost his balance and fell headlong into a bramble patch. Prickles stabbed him as he lay on his back, his whirling gaze locked on a wiggly jet trail in the cloudless sky.
Once the world righted itself, he pushed himself up on his elbows and extracted some of the more painful brambles before rolling onto his right knee. His bum in the air, he hoped no one was looking and that he retained a shred of dignity as he balanced on his right leg and wobbled his way upright. As he tried to stand, his knee locked. He was a second away from landing back on the ground but he grabbed an oak tree trunk for support. Bloody hell. Wasn’t it about time they gave him a prosthesis? He bent to rub his stump, still raw after all this time. Why wasn’t he healing?
The thought was barely out of his head when the gate clicked and glided open behind him as if the latch and hinges had been well oiled. He scratched his head and glared down the valley at the space where he thought he’d seen the outline of a house a moment ago. Was someone having a laugh at him here? Watch the ugly cripple struggle over the gate then open it on remote control?
I tell you, he silently told the marshes, if I find out who did that, I’m going to nail him to this oak tree by his ears. Fat chance. Even if the culprit were five years old, he’d still be stronger than Jude—and able to run faster.
A rifle shot resounded, the boom echoing off the hillside. Jude dove into the tall grass, his arms over his head, his chest bruised by the stony ground. When his heartbeat slowed, he lowered his arms and parted the weeds he was lying in to check out his surroundings. Of course it was only a local farmer scaring crows. God dammit, why did every little noise set him off?
Post traumatic stress disorder, the shrink had told him. Having experienced a bomb blast, you’re bound to get flashbacks. I’m an idiot, he wanted to shout at the now-darting swallows, but until he got his trembling under control, he was speechless. Anyway, he had to find the strength to get back on his feet, or rather, foot. Maybe he’d better just sit a moment, catch his breath and get his thoughts in order. Up to his chest in seed-grass, he wondered why the place called Hewhay Hall wasn’t here. The leaflet had said to follow the track as far as it goes, then to parkwhen you got to the gate leading to Hewhay Hall because you could go no farther.
He reached over and grabbed his fallen crutches. With their help, he clambered upright, fitted his arms in, and squinted against the glare of the light. Even his damned eyesight seemed to be going these days. Anyone would think he was ninety, not thirty. What a wuss. He scrubbed his hands over his face. Christ, he was tired. He’d lain awake for most of last night, tossing and turning, wondering if coming here was the right thing to do.
“It looks all wrong to me,” Tess, his wife, had said when he’d said good-bye to her this morning at home. And she’d thrown him that look—the one she’d acquired over the past year that had pity written all through it. Now he had two choices: go down and look for this Hewhay Hall or head back and admit his failure to assess a situation—again.
Another shot rang out, scattering a flock of crows. Jude swayed like a wind-blown sapling but kept his balance, even though his mind was thrown back to his final call-out… “Jude, code 10-79.” Code 79. For a moment he’d forgotten what a 79 was—he had been on duty at the fire station for twenty-four hours, it was a wonder he remembered his own name. Oh yes: bomb threat. Imminent. Needing senior officer, on scene, stat. Hostage situation.
“OK,” he’d told his divisional officer, reaching for his white helmet. “Let’s hit the road. Who are the hostages?”
“A family at the top of the building. Woman—mother—has a bomb attached to her.”
“She’s a suicide bomber?”
“No, it was a break-in. The perp held the husband at gunpoint—heavy weaponry—and forced the woman to put on a waistcoat with the armed device.”
“Jesus. What is the guy? An octopus?”
“Nope, typical fucking terrorist.”
“Where is he now?”
“He lit outta there somehow. Bloody cops. Sheer incompetence, if you want my opinion. But he evaporated into thin air.”
Now, standing on the wasteland, Jude pictured the children who’d been held hostage with their parents. Kids he’d seen and heard crying before they were blown to smithereens. He clasped his hands together to stop them from trembling as he relived the blanket of dust, the earsplitting crack as the ceiling gave way, and the rubble falling on him, tons, crashing down from above. It hadn’t hurt at the time—pain and repercussions had come later. Maybe it hadn’t been his job as a firefighter to go in like he had, maybe he had been disobeying orders. But he’d been driven by an overwhelming instinct to help.
Church bells pealed from heat-shimmering steeples across the fields on the high, wooded horizon. As the chimes echoed away, Jude caught another sound—a sweet, light voice carrying on the heavy air. He cocked his ear to hear more, but once the tolling vibrations died fully away so did the song. Unable to locate the source of the beautiful sound, Jude clung to the trunk of a huge oak. “Is anyone there?” He spoke only to the column of ants marching up the bark. He’d love to hear that cheerful song again. It had filled him to the brim with joy—a sensation almost alien to him these days, and he wanted it back.
As if in response to his wish, the air filled with the scent of apples and lavender. He lifted his nose to locate the invigorating fragrance. It was coming from down the hill. But could he get down there? The overgrown path was a tangle of snarled weeds and roots. He’d give it a go.
His foot dislodged stones as he skidded down a slope, steeper than it seemed from the gate, into overgrown shrubbery. He hissed as briars and brambles scratched his hands and leg, creating little beads of welling blood on his skin. Maybe he should give up, just put it down as a huge joke on his behalf, and go back to lick his wounds. But go back where? He paused, letting his right leg take his weight, and considered his options: he had no job—he’d been pensioned out of the fire service.
Perhaps go back as a trainer, but with his disabilities it was unlikely they’d want him. Do some other job—but who’d want a tired cripple like him?
Go home to Tess and try to adopt the attitude that he could care less he’d buggered up again and she was stuck with him? Stuck with him brooding at home, unable to dredge up even the energy to do some gardening. He was such a loser. He could still bend, for Chrissakes, so surely even he could make the garden look as if he’d at least tried.
Poor Tess. They’d had such a good life before the bomb. As if this thought triggered a slide-show, images, like photographs, passed through his mind: Tess and him leaning on skis on a snowy slope in Switzerland; a sunny, sandy beach in Cornwall with Tess trying to stay upright on a windsurf board in the surf while her younger sister, Leah, curled up with teasing laughter on the sand.
Poor Leah. The girl had witnessed quite a few frustrated, bickering disagreements between Jude and Tess this past year.
It wasn’t Tess’s fault. She had enough to worry her. Now she was the main breadwinner as a trainee veterinary nurse—a job that didn’t do her love for animals or her intelligence enough justice. She also had to spend two hundred percent of her time trying to understand the whims of a hormonal seventeen-year-old sister and a deadbeat of a husband like him. But their last argument about Hewhay Hall had been pretty forceful by their standards. It had started the day he announced he had a new friend, Joe.
“How many times have you met him?” Tess had asked, squinching up her nose in that delightful way she had when she was trying desperately to understand. Jude had wanted to lie and say, loads of times. Instead he told the truth.
“And he’s a friend?”
Jude felt the familiar welling of frustration. Come on! He didn’t have any friends these days. They’d all abandoned him after his discharge from the fire department probably because they didn’t want to risk their jobs by being seen to be on his side. Couldn’t he have one friend?
“Where did you meet him?”
On the street, the day Jude had ventured out for the first time using two crutches instead of sitting in a wheelchair. An old geezer was nonchalantly leaning against the carpet store window in the High Street, his lower face foliated by tendrils of beard growing in clumps. Jude wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t called across the crowd of Goths wearing industrial boots who lurked on the sidewalk. “Mathematically speaking,” he’d shouted, “we’re both fucked.”
Jude had rested on his crutches and felt an instant attraction to the guy. Who cared if he was an old crazy? Jude made his way over.
“Smells like rain,” the guy said.
“Probably because it is raining,” Jude replied.
“How true.” The guy pushed himself off the window. Planted in front of Jude, he stretched out his arms as if performing a daredevil circus trick. “Tra-la!” So what? Jude thought. The guy was standing in front of him. Nothing special about that.
But there was. The guy bent over and turned up both trouser cuffs to reveal not one but two prostheses. With a triumphant grin, he straightened and rattled off a fair imitation of a Mr. Bojangles tap dance. How did he do that? Jude felt like the poor relative, hunched over his crutches, his stump aching.
“Fancy a drink?” the guy asked. Why not? The guy—Jolon, or Joe for short—had lost both his legs when he’d been mowed down by a speeding getaway car during the London riots. “Was only trying to stop the bastards who’d set fire to an old lady’s paper shop.” He shook his head at the memory. “Buggers ran me down.” He glanced at Jude’s crutches propped up beside him. “You still using them things? Almost a year after the blast? ’Bout time you get rid of them, get yourself a false leg, and start jigging.” He leaned forward and touched his veined nose, red as an overripe pomegranate. “And I can tell you just the place they can help you do it. Hewhay Hall.”