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Witch's Keep

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“Go on then, George. Tell us what you’ve got."

George adjusted his glasses, laying his stack of files on the table in front of him. "These are the floor plans,” he said, selecting a sheet, “circa fifteen-fifty two, when the castle was first built. As you can see, they’ve left plenty of room for unsavories in the dungeons."

Lockwood and I leaned over to inspect them. Thin lines showed Hadshire Keep in all its glory, covered in George’s neat notes and older, faded markings that were almost unintelligible.

“More unsavories than friends, from the look of things,” Lockwood said, pulling the sheet towards him. “There’s room for an entire army.”

“Not an army,” George said, “but close. When they built it, Hadshire itself was notorious for its criminal underground. Records say it was a ‘cesspit of the worste sin’ and a ’spawning ground of the Devil himselfe,’ among other things. The king stationed Lord Gavin and his family there in an attempt to restore some order to the area.“

“Not the most desirable place to live,” I said, “even with the castle.”

“No,” George agreed, pulling out another handful of papers. He consulted them. “In fact, things were so bad Lord Gavin and his family had to flee before the year was out. They killed his brother and came for him the same night.

“But,” he continued, “that’s not the only thing that went bad. Seventy or so years later, a bloke by the name of Mathew Hendrik shows up, starts preaching repentance to everyone who’ll listen. It seems like they’re going to hang him, but by the time they decide to do it he’s already got an impressive following. Hendrik survives the attempt and writes off everyone who tried to do him in as witches and servants of the Devil, so his would-be hangmen get hanged instead.” George grinned. “How’s that for irony?”

“So we’re dealing with Mathew Hendrik’s would-be killers?” I asked.

“I’m not done yet,” George said. “We haven’t even gotten to the castle.”

Lockwood leaned back in his chair. “Go on, then. What happened next?”

“Well, Mathew Hendrik’s got it good, now. The people love him, he just avoided the rope, and his major enemies are gone. So he thinks, ‘hey, why live here in the village when there’s that abandoned castle?’ He talks to a few people, makes an announcement, and bam, he’s in. Then, to make sure it’s really his, he throws his dissenters into the dungeons. Want to guess why?“

“They were witches?”

“Yep. He hangs some of them and leaves the rest in the dungeon to rot. He even gathers up a whole bunch of cats as evidence and drowns them as ‘familiars’ alongside the hangings. It was a huge spectacle. Hendrik invited the whole town to watch, and let them sit on roofs above the castle courtyard.”

“That sounds more like our haunting,” Lockwood said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “A mass execution of dissenters in the form of a public spectacle? That’s practically a recipe for a cluster.”

“It matches what John Lancaster told us, too,” Lockwood said.

“That’s what I was thinking,” George said. “There’s not much else that could be it, as far as I found. Mathew Hendrik does die violently several years later, but he’s not a cluster by himself.”

“Well, then.” Lockwood sat up suddenly, clapping his hands together. “We’ve got our ghosts and our information. If we pack our bags and give old Lancaster a call, we’ll be there by this afternoon.”

____________

For those who deeply desire a detailed picture of our investigation, the town of Hadshire was a couple hours ride from London, set on a rather steep looking hill. When we stepped off the train, houses made of varying materials rose in rows before us, with the castle sitting at the top like a giant, ominous cake topper. A cat watched us from a nearby roof; grimy children played in an alley, casting wary glances at the train. The air smelled vaguely of garbage, and a halfhearted drizzle fell from the sky.

“Here we are!” Lockwood said, the glow from his smile reflecting off the raindrops. “The haunted town of Hadshire, home to our soon-to-be fame and fortune!”

“It looks more sorry than haunted,” George said. “Those roofs haven’t seen a shingle in years. Bet they’ve got buckets under the leaks and everything.“

“Probably,” I agreed. “So now what? We walk?”

George grunted. “I hope not.”

“Excuse me,” Lockwood called. We turned as he approached a man with an old fashioned truck. Hay was heaped in the back of it, though the reason wasn’t immediately apparent. “Are you headed uphill?”

The man eyed us with a scowl. He wore a blue button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and had a weathered, rugged face. His salt-and-pepper hair was long and tangled. “What, you mean towards the castle?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Maybe, if you make it worth my while.”

Lockwood gave him a smile and pulled out his wallet. “Oh, I think we can do that.”

“Excellent.” The man took the bills Lockwood handed him and gave an approving nod. “Two of you will have to sit in the back, though. There’s not much room up front.”

“That’s fine.” Lockwood said. He tucked his wallet inside his coat and got in the truck. “Lucy, George, load the bags up,” he said, shutting the door before we could tell him exactly what we thought of his order.

“Hurry up, you two,” the man said, getting in on the other side. “I’ve got places to be.”

George and I looked at each other, then hoisted first the bags, then ourselves into the wet hay. The truck jolted to life and we puttered up the hill.

“I take it back,” George said. “Walking would have been better.”

I had to agree. The ride was cold and miserable. Water soaked into my leggings and skirt and dripped off George’s glasses. We passed people in the streets, some who gave us odd looks and some who didn’t. At some point, maybe halfway up the hill, we hit a particularly large stone that nearly threw me out of the truck. A moment later, there was a vicious rattle and we bounced to a stop. The man got out and came around back.

“Damn wheel,” he growled, stooping to inspect the side of the truck. “Always losing bolts.“

Lockwood opened his door and got out. “Is everything alright?”

The man shook his head. “This is as far as you go. I’ve got a wheel to fix.”

“That’s fine. Thank you for your help,” Lockwood said. “Lucy, George, come on. We’re almost there anyway.”

“The next time Lockwood says things are fine,’” George said as we picked up the bags and started after Lockwood, “he gets to carry the bags.”