I massaged my neck and got behind the wheel, the interior light illuminating the inside of Barry’s car. As I started up the engine, I found the contact number I needed.
‘Hello! You have reached Julia’s voicemail. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.’
Arse. ‘Julia, it’s Ivy. I know there’s patient confidentiality and all that stuff to deal with but I need you to confirm something for me. I’m seriously concerned about Gareth McAllan, the man you referred to another psychiatrist for me. I think he’s a danger both to himself and others. Any insight your friend could give me would be useful. If you hear this message in the next hour then call me straight away. If you’re listening to this in the morning, well, don’t worry.’
There wasn’t really much else to say. I hung up. It was time to face the enemy.
It took longer to find the main farmhouse than I thought it would. I circled round the area several times before I finally spotted the narrow lane leading up to it. Passing a few fields, each one containing the shadows of more sheep than I dared to count, I drove up and parked right in front of the door. It seemed sensible to have a quick getaway should I need one.
I took a deep breath, pulled my shoulders back and got out. My fingers were twitching to perform as many defensive runes as I could while I had the chance. I reminded myself that I might need to conserve my energy and simply played possible scenarios in my head so I was prepared. Then I knocked loudly on the door. Waiting outside wasn’t my usual modus operandi but I was trying to be cautious for once in my life.
A harassed looking woman with a lined face, who I reckoned was in her forties, answered. I couldn’t see any resemblance to Gareth but she still looked oddly familiar. Maybe she just had one of those faces.
Without smiling, I introduced myself and got to the point. ‘I need to see Gareth. Now.’
‘Gareth?’ Her face scrunched up as if she didn’t have the faintest idea who I was talking about. ‘What do you want him for? Do you know what time it is?’
‘It’s an emergency.’ And then, because I thought it might help, I added, ‘I’m a good friend of his.’
Her lip curled. ‘He’s got friends?’
‘If you could just tell him I’m here…’
‘He’s not in.’ She made to close the door but I wedged my foot in to stop her.
‘Where is he?’
‘One of the sheep has run off. Again. He’s gone after it. Fool boy can’t keep them in one place.’ She seemed to take perverse pleasure in his failures. All the same, my blood chilled.
‘Where did he go?’ I asked urgently. ‘Which direction?’
‘How the hell should I know?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Now piss off.’
This time she succeeded in shoving my foot out and closing the door. Wincing in pain, I drew back and stared at it. I could use magic to force it open but, despite the woman’s sour, unfriendly manner, I sensed she was telling the truth about Gareth – at least as far as she understood it. Somehow I doubted he was really searching for another errant sheep; in fact, I’d lay money on him using deepest darkest necromancy right at this very moment. If I were going to stop him, I’d have to move my plump arse faster than it was designed to go.
With heart-attack inducing speed, I accelerated back down the lane towards Dead Man’s Hill. Maybe they would rename it Dead Ivy Hill after this; that wouldn’t be fair on Benjamin Alberts, or any of the souls resting in the cemetery, but it sounded good. The more I focused on idiotic vanities, the less terrified I felt. That had to count for something.
I wasn’t foolish enough to drive up the same track where Winter and I had gone previously on the bike. I parked as close to the graveyard entrance as I could and sprinted through the heavy gates, ignoring the ominous shape of the mountain looming over me. The one small mercy was that the cemetery was at the bottom of the damn hill rather than the top. All the same, I was panting by the time I reached the first of the gravestones.
I doubled over, trying desperately to catch my breath and imagining Winter in my ear snarking at me for not doing anything to keep fit. That was when I heard footsteps.
Staying low, I edged round the neatly manicured pathway. There was a slight rise over to the right – and there was definitely a figure walking towards it, silhouetted against the night sky and with hands in pockets and slumped shoulders. I scanned round. This was no zombie; neither were there any other signs of nightmarish creatures. All the same, I half expected to hear Vincent Price’s voice booming about darkness falling across the land. Somehow I didn’t think I was going to be treated to an impromptu Thriller dance.
I decided that the element of surprise was the best thing going for me. Taking my time, I moved forward following a circuitous route to where the figure, presumably Gareth, was standing. He still hadn’t seen me. That was good.
I licked my lips and swallowed, wishing my tongue didn’t feel quite so furry. I should have had a last supper. Even condemned criminals got that much.
A gust of wind blew my hair, plastering it across my face and temporarily obscuring my sight. At the same time, an owl hooted. My fear increased; as far as harbingers of death and disaster went, that was one of the best. Winter might scoff at my superstitions but look at what had happened to Belinda after smashing that mirror.
I drew in a ragged breath. There was nothing wrong with being scared; that was only natural. It didn’t mean I should turn away and run. Nobody visited a graveyard in the dead of night unless they were kids on a dare or they were planning something evil. Gareth might be young but he was no kid – and as the few clouds obscuring the moon passed, his face was momentarily illuminated. He’d stopped moving and was standing stock still, staring down at one of the graves.
The intelligent thing would have been to cast a rune to knock him dead right there and then. I might never have drawn one to cause immediate death before but that didn’t mean I didn’t know how. But I was no stone-cold killer, more’s the pity; I couldn’t strike him down without giving him the chance to speak first. I’d probably end up regretting it but I needed to be sure.
I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to attack me, however. I wasn’t completely stupid.
I skirted round until I had a clear line of sight. As I watched, he withdrew one hand from his pocket and ran it through his hair. A strangled whisper drifted over. ‘You little idiot.’
Rather than trying to decipher who he was talking about, I prepared. If I could do this while drawing blood at the same time, I would know how far I’d need to take this. A double-handed rune to bring him down, swiftly followed by a second to cut would do the trick.
I bit down hard on my tongue, tasting my own blood. It was now or never. I raised my hands. A half second later, my phone rang.
Gareth whipped round. He took a few running steps towards me, his eyes squinting as he tried to see who and where I was. I fumbled for the bloody phone, doing everything I could to silence it whilst staying in the shadows. As it mercifully stopped ringing, Gareth shouted, ‘Alistair?’
Eh? Who the bejesus was Alistair? I frowned, flummoxed. Did Gareth have a partner? Were there two necromancers instead of one? Horror poured through me. I could stop one but I doubted I’d have any chance against two. There wasn’t any further time to waste.
Knocked off my equilibrium, I breathed in and cast the runes I’d originally intended. The ground shook, a localised disturbance directly under his feet. Gareth fell forwards onto his hands and knees. As my phone started ringing again, I jabbed out the second rune, turning the very air molecules against him and slicing open his cheek. Gareth cried out, one sharp howl of pain. I had to trust in my magic. It was too dark to see whether I’d actually drawn blood.
I dragged myself forward. The combination of the spells I’d cast, along with the last vestiges of the spell that had slammed into me earlier, was taking its toll. I felt mind-numbingly exhausted.
‘Sleep when you’re dead,’ I muttered to myself. Not my normal catchphrase, of course, but given that I might soon be in that state, it seemed apt.
Ignoring the incessant ringing of the phone, I reached Gareth, my hands extended and more than ready both to defend myself and finish him.