Authors: KA John
Beware those you love the most
Still grieving after the death of their young daughter Alice in a frenzied dog attack, Patrick and Louise Daley leave the city to try and find some peace in the Irish countryside, and the village of Wake Wood seems like the perfect place to start again.
But the residents are guarding a terrifying secret: they can resurrect the dead. However, the rules are strict: they will bring Alice back only if she has been dead for less than a year; and, after three days, she must be buried.
Desperate to see their daughter again, even for just three days, the Daleys agree to everything. But they have been lying from the start. And by the time the villagers realise, it’s too late. Alice is alive and she does not want to go back …
K.A. John lives on the Gower Peninsula in Wales with her husband, cat and whichever of her three children chooses to visit. A full time writer with several pseudonyms, she also writes historical fiction as Catrin Collier and crime as Katherine John.
ALICE DALEY FELT
extremely pleased with herself as she left home to walk to school on her own for the very first time in her life. It was her ninth birthday. Only one more year before she reached double figures. Then she’d be
grown-up, although she doubted that she could feel any more grown-up than she did at that moment.
She stopped at the gate, turned and looked back at her mother framed in the front doorway, before glancing up at her father who was leaning out of the bedroom window. She gave one last, perfunctory wave – the goodbye wave of an adult.
Alice had won two arguments that morning, both by stating her case calmly, logically and sensibly as her father had taught her. The first with her mother, who’d wanted to walk her to school – as if she were still a child. The second with her father, who hadn’t wanted her to take her birthday present to show her classmates.
She looked down at the hamster in the cage she was carrying.
‘Of course you want to meet all my friends, don’t you …?’ She hesitated. ‘I think I’ll call you Howie. Do
like the name, Howie? I think Howie the hamster sounds good.’
The small creature poked his nose inquisitively through the bars and looked up at her. Alice stroked his nose with her thumb and carried on walking, but she slowed her step when she reached the high wooden gates that walled off her father’s veterinary surgery and yard. She set the hamster cage down, carefully looked up and read the brass plaque affixed to the door.
VETERINARY CLINIC, PATRICK DALEY, MRCVS
She adored her father, was proud of him, and she nursed an ambition to work alongside him. Both her parents had told her that she was good with animals and, false modesty aside, she knew they were right. From an early age she’d watched her father soothe and calm sick, injured and terrified animals and had tried to emulate his technique. He’d warned her that the university course was long, but told her that if she worked and studied hard, one day her name would be up there beside his on the brass plaque.
Her smile broadened as she imagined it.
ALICE DALEY, MRCVS
The gates towered over her. She clutched her packed lunch and debated whether or not to enter the yard. Her father had told her about his latest patient when he’d given her the hamster for her birthday. He’d been called to an emergency in the early hours. A ‘big noisy dog’ had needed life-saving surgery.
In her experience, big noisy dogs, even ones recovering from an operation, were hungry. And her mother had packed her an extra – and entirely unnecessary –
on the grounds that ‘nine-year-olds needed to eat more’.
She glanced at her watch. She could spare ten minutes.
Humming the last song she’d learned in school softly under her breath, she stood on tiptoe and reached up to the combination lock. She entered the numbers – her father’s, mother’s and her own combined birth dates, so none of them would forget it. Then she braced herself.
The gates were heavy, even for her father. Alice leaned against one of them with all the weight and strength she could muster, and then she still struggled to open it wide enough for her to slip through. The hinges creaked and groaned when the gate eventually swung back.
The pens in the yard were empty, her father’s patients still bedded down in their inner cages. She headed for the last pen on the right. It was the largest, the one reserved for the biggest dogs.
Alice fingered the new silver chain around her neck, a birthday present from her mother, before opening the latch on the pen. She whistled.
‘Come and see what I’ve brought you.’ She unclipped her lunch box, fumbled at the tie on the plastic bag that held her sandwiches, tore open the extra one and took out the slice of ham.
There was still no sign of the dog. She stepped inside and shouted, ‘Come on, slowcoach. I know Daddy’s made you better. Aren’t you hungry?’
The first she saw of the massive German shepherd was his eyes. He peered out of the opening that led to the inner cage and eyed her suspiciously.
‘There you are. Look what I have.’ She held out the ham.
The dog continued to stare at her. Suddenly, without warning, his mood changed. His ears flicked back; he snarled, bared his teeth and sprang into attack mode. Growling savagely, he knocked Alice to the ground and closed his jaws on her neck.
Alice screamed. Just once. There was no time for more.
The dog clamped his teeth tightly together, breaking into and tearing Alice’s fragile, delicate skin. He bit down viciously, tore a lump from her soft flesh and spat it aside. Alice saw droplets of blood flying through the air. The pain was excruciating.
The world darkened. Bright morning turned to grey-tinged night. As the light faded Alice heard footsteps. She looked up … saw her daddy and, behind him, her mummy. They were running … She closed her eyes, knowing that now she would be all right.
FEW PEOPLE HAD
reason to visit Wake Wood other than those who lived four-hour drive away from the bright lights and hustle of the city. The tiny Irish town was no more than a speck on the map in the midst of acres of thick woods interspersed with clearings of agricultural land, accessed by narrow winding lanes that connected the isolated hamlets, farms and smallholdings that surrounded it.
Rural life did not mean ignorance of the times and modern technology. When farming revenues fell, more than one Wake Wood farmer made use of the government subsidies that were available to those who were prepared to site wind farms on their land
No one denied the turbines stood taller than the surrounding trees and – every bit as brash, noisy and incongruous as their detractors had feared they would be – along the edge of the wood that bordered the town limits.
‘A blight on the landscape’, or so the detractors who’d fought against their advent said. ‘A necessary accessory to combat carbon emissions,’ declared the bureaucrats and Green Party members, who were
to place the turbines anywhere except within sight or earshot of their own homes.
‘A much needed and welcome source of income,’ the locals agreed when they saw their bank balances climbing out of the red. The small number of tourists and travellers who’d ventured deep enough into the countryside to discover Wake Wood before the wind farm had been erected generally had recalled little about the place afterwards. Later, they remembered the wind farm and little else.
Guide books that covered the area highlighted the ancient woods surrounding the town and mentioned a prehistoric circle of tall, thin standing stones, its origin long since lost in the mists of time. But the delights of Wake Wood were only available to the day tripper. No hotel, motel or even humble bed and breakfast within a thirty-mile radius had made it on to any lists of recommended places to stay, for the simple reason there were none.
The local farmers had never been exactly content with their income from farming, but neither had they been desperate enough to increase it by offering bed and breakfast to nosy outsiders who would inevitably ask questions. The inhabitants of Wake Wood were used to the place and the strange noises that echoed through the woods late at night – and occasionally even during the day. Things happened in the town that they realised would appear odd to visitors, and the last thing they wanted was strangers poking and prying into the town’s affairs.
As for those tourists who did drive through the town,
most common opinion was ‘A small town lost in a time warp’. Some might add ‘picturesque’ or ‘quaint’ to their description. Those with an imagination activated by Stephen King’s horror films set in rural communities on the other side of the Atlantic labelled it ‘creepy’. More mundane and observant travellers occasionally remarked that Wake Wood was in its death throes. Over half the business premises in the main street had their doors and windows boarded up. A smaller proportion of unoccupied houses had also been sealed against vandals, and as for the remainder, few residents appeared to possess the money or inclination to maintain their homes in a good state of repair.
Yet despite the dire state of cattle and arable farming – the only real labour-intensive industry in the town – people remained tied to the place. Their reasons for staying were a mystery to the casual traveller. But not to those who’d been born there.
Wake Wood was more than just another small Irish town, more even than home. It was an ancient place full of secrets that had to be carefully guarded from one generation to the next if the close-knit society was to survive in anything resembling its present guise.
The one thing every person in the place agreed on was that they had to be very careful of the invitations they extended when necessity dictated they add skills or professionals to their community.
To quote Mick and Peggy O’Shea, whose families had farmed in Wake Wood for generations, ‘People who come to Wake Wood have to be “right”.’
The O’Sheas didn’t have to define ‘right’. Not to their neighbours. ‘Right’ was something all natives recognised when they saw it, and they saw it rarely outside of themselves. They were certainly quick to mark its absence. But suspicious as they were, all of them had to accept that from time to time they needed the new blood of ‘incomers’ to keep the town alive.
In living memory, very few people had moved into Wake Wood, settled into the town and adopted its ways. Far more had tried and failed.
So if anybody had told Patrick Daley at the time he qualified that he would end up not only living in Wake Wood, but trapped in the town with no prospect of ever escaping, he would have laughed at them. But that would have been before sheer desperation had led him to reply to Arthur’s advertisement.
Due to ill health of present owner, full and free partnership in thriving rural and farming practice in small west-coast Irish town offered to qualified young veterinary not afraid of hard work. Excellent prospects and remuneration will be given to the right applicant
Two years before he’d had a loving wife he adored, a beautiful young daughter, a covetable Georgian town house – complete with original features – and a growing city veterinary practice. In short, everything a man with his qualifications could wish for, except the knowledge that the happiest days of his life were coming to an end and all he’d be left with was a yearning to recapture them.