Sharon Bolton is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels and has been labelled ‘the High Priestess of English Rural Gothic’ by The Times. She has been shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA Dagger in the Library.
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Blood Harvest by Sharon Bolton
She’s been watching us for a while now.’
‘Go on, Tom.’
‘Sometimes it’s like she’s always there, behind a pile of stones, in the shadow at the bottom of the tower, under one of the old graves. She’s good at hiding.’
‘She must be.’
‘Sometimes she gets very close, before you have any idea. You’ll be thinking about something else when one of her voices jumps out at you and, for a second, she catches you out. She really makes you think it’s your brother, or your mum, hiding round the corner.’
‘Then you realize it’s not?’
‘No, it’s not. It’s her. The girl with the voices. But the minute you turn your head, she’s gone. If you’re really quick you might catch a glimpse of her. Usually, though, there’s nothing there, everything’s just as it was, except . . .’
‘Except now, it’s like the world’s keeping a secret. And there’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach, the one that says, she’s here again. She’s watching.’
IT HAD HAPPENED, THEN; WHAT ONLY HINDSIGHT COULD have told him he’d been dreading. It was almost a relief, in a way, knowing the worst was over, that he didn’t have to pretend any more. Maybe now he could stop acting like this was an ordinary town, that these were normal people. Harry took a deep breath, and learned that death smells of drains, of damp soil and of heavy-duty plastic.
The skull, less than six feet away, looked tiny. As though if he held it in his palm, his fingers might almost close around it. Almost worse than the skull was the hand. It lay half hidden in the mud, its bones barely held together by connective tissue, as though trying to crawl out of the ground. The strong artificial light flickered like a strobe and, for a second, the hand seemed to be moving.
On the plastic sheet above Harry’s head the rain sounded like gunfire. The wind so high on the moors was close to gale force and the makeshift walls of the police tent couldn’t hope to hold it back completely. When he’d parked his car, not three minutes earlier, it had been 3.17 a.m. Night didn’t get any darker than this. Harry realized he’d closed his eyes.
Detective Chief Superintendent Rushton’s hand was still on his arm, although the two of them had reached the edge of the inner cordon. They wouldn’t be allowed any further. Six other people were in the tent with them, all wearing the same white, hooded overalls and wellington boots that Harry and Rushton had just put on.
Harry could feel himself shaking. His eyes still closed, he could hear the steady, insistent drumbeat of rain on the roof of the tent. He could still see that hand. Feeling himself sway, he opened his eyes and almost overbalanced.
‘Back a bit, Harry,’ said Rushton. ‘Stay on the mat, please.’ Harry did what he was told. His body seemed to have grown too big for itself; the borrowed boots were impossibly tight, his clothes were clinging, the bones in his head felt too thin. The sound of the wind and the rain went on, like the soundtrack of a cheap movie. Too much light, too much noise, for the middle
of the night.
The skull had rolled away from its torso. Harry could see a ribcage, so small, still wearing clothes, tiny buttons gleaming under the lights. ‘Where are the others?’ he asked.
DCS Rushton inclined his head and then guided him across the aluminium chequer plating that had been laid like stepping-stones over the mud. They were following the line of the church wall. ‘Mind where you go, lad,’ Rushton said. ‘Whole area’s a bloody mess. There, can you see?’
They stopped at the far edge of the inner cordon. The second corpse was still intact, but looked no bigger than the first. It lay face-down in the mud. One tiny wellington boot covered its left foot.
‘The third one’s by the wall,’ said Rushton. ‘Hard to see, half-hidden by the stones.’
‘Another child?’ asked Harry. Loose PVC flaps on the tent were banging in the wind and he had to half-shout to make himself heard.
‘Looks like it,’ agreed Rushton. His glasses were speckled with rain. He hadn’t wiped them since entering the tent. Maybe he was grateful not to see too clearly. ‘You can see where the wall came down?’ he went on.
Harry nodded. A length of about ten feet of the stone wall that formed the boundary between the Fletcher property and the churchyard had collapsed and the earth it had been holding back had tumbled like a small landslide into the garden. An old yew tree had fallen with the wall. In the harsh artificial light it reminded him of a woman’s trailing hair.
‘When it collapsed, the graves on the churchyard side were disturbed,’ Rushton was saying. ‘One in particular, a child’s grave. A lass called Lucy Pickup. Our problem is, the plans we have suggest the child was alone in the grave. It was freshly dug for her ten years ago.’
‘I’m aware of it,’ said Harry. ‘But then . . .’ He turned back to the scene in front of him.
‘Well, now you see our problem,’ said Rushton. ‘If little Lucy was buried alone, who are the other two?’
‘Can I have a moment with them?’ Harry asked.
Rushton’s eyes narrowed. He looked from the tiny figures to Harry and back again.
‘This is sacred ground,’ said Harry, almost to himself.
Rushton stepped away from him. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he called. ‘A minute’s silence, please, for the vicar.’ The officers around the site looked up. One opened his mouth to argue but stopped at the look on Brian Rushton’s face. Muttering thanks, Harry stepped forward, closer to the cordoned area, until a hand on his arm told him he had to stop. The skull of the corpse closest to him had been very badly damaged. Almost a third of it seemed to be missing. He remembered hearing about how Lucy Pickup had died. He took a deep breath, aware that everyone around him was motionless. Several were watching him, others had bowed their heads. He raised his right hand and began to make the sign of the cross. Up, down, to his left. He stopped. Closer to the scene, more directly under the lights, he had a better view of the third corpse. The tiny form was
wearing something with an embroidered pattern around the neck: a tiny hedgehog, a rabbit, a duck in a bonnet. Characters from the Beatrix Potter stories.
He started to speak, hardly knowing what he was saying. A short prayer for the souls of the dead, it could have been anything. He must have finished, the crimescene people were resuming their work. Rushton patted his arm and led him out of the tent. Harry went without arguing, knowing he was in shock.
Three tiny corpses, tumbled from a grave that should only have contained one. Two unknown children had shared Lucy Pickup’s final resting place. Except one of them wasn’t unknown, not to him anyway. The child in the Beatrix Potter pyjamas. He knew who she was.