Home > Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(4)

Curse of the Bane (Wardstone Chronicles #2)(4)
Author: Joseph Delaney

Over it, on a metal tripod, a pot bubbled and spat. Dr Sherdley was going to use the tar to stop the bleeding. Painting the stump with it would also prevent the rest of the leg from going bad afterwards.

I smiled to myself when I saw where the doctor had got his wood from. It was wet outside, so he’d gone for the only dry kindling available. He’d chopped up one of the church pews. No doubt the priest wouldn’t be too happy, but it might just save his life. In any case he was now unconscious, breathing very deeply, and would stay that way for several hours until the effects of the potion wore off.

From the crack in the floor came the noise of the boggart feeding. It was a nasty gulping, slurping sound as it continued to draw blood from the leg. It was too preoccupied to realize that we were close by and about to bring its meal to an end.

We didn’t speak. I just nodded at the doctor and he nodded back. I handed him the deep metal dish to catch the blood I needed, and he took a small metal saw from his bag and laid its cold, shiny teeth against the bone just below the priest’s knee.

The housekeeper was still in the same position but her eyes were squeezed tight shut and she was muttering to herself. She was probably praying and it was obvious she wouldn’t be much help. So, with a shiver, I knelt down beside the doctor.

He shook his head. “There’s no need for you to see this,’ he said. ‘No doubt you’ll witness worse one day but it needn’t be now. Go on, lad. Back to your own business. I can deal with this. Just send the other two back to give me a hand getting him up onto the cart when I’ve finished.’

I’d been gritting my teeth ready to face it but I didn’t need to be told twice. Full of relief, I went back to the pit. Even before I reached it, a loud scream cut through the air followed by the sound of anguished weeping. But it wasn’t the priest. He was unconscious. It was the housekeeper.

The rigger and his mate had already hoisted the stone aloft again and were busy wiping off the mud.

Then, as they went back to the church to help the doctor, I dipped the brush into the last of the mixture and gave the underside of the stone a thorough coating.

I’d hardly time to admire my handiwork before the mate came back at a run. Behind him, moving much more slowly, came the rigger. He was carrying the dish with the blood in it, being careful not to spill a single drop. The bait-dish was a very important piece of equipment. The Spook had a store of them back in Chipenden and they’d been made according to his own specifications.

I lifted a long chain from the Spook’s bag. Fastened to a large ring at one end were three shorter chains, each ending in a small metal hook. I slipped the three hooks into the three holes close to the rim of the dish.

When I lifted the chain, the bait-dish hung below it in perfect balance, so it didn’t need that much skill to lower it into the pit and set it down very gently at its centre.

No, the skill was in freeing the three hooks. You had to be very careful to relax the chains so that the hooks dropped away from the dish without tipping it over and spilling the blood.

I’d spent hours practising this, and despite being very nervous I managed to get the hooks out at my very first attempt.

Now it was just a question of waiting.

As I said, rippers are some of the most dangerous boggarts of all because they feed on blood. Their minds are usually quick and very crafty, but while they’re feeding they think very slowly and it takes them a long time to work things out.

The amputated leg was still jammed into the crack in the church floor and the boggart was busily slurping blood from it, but sucking very slowly so as to make it last. That’s the way with a ripper. It just slurps and sucks, thinking of nothing else until it slowly realizes that less and less blood is reaching its mouth. It wants more blood, but blood comes in lots of different flavours and it likes the taste of what it’s been sucking. It likes it very much.

So it wants more of the same, and once it works out that the rest of the body has been separated from the leg, it goes after it. That’s why the riggers had to lift the priest up onto the cart. By now the cart would have reached the edge of Horshaw, every clip-clop of the horse’s hooves taking it further from the angry boggart, desperate for more of that same blood.

A ripper’s like a bloodhound. It would have a good idea of the direction in which the priest was being taken. It would also realize that he was getting further and further away. Then it would be aware of something else. That more of what it needed was very close by.

That’s why I’d put the dish into the pit. That was why it was called a ‘bait-dish’. It was the snare to lure the ripper into the trap. Once it was in there, feeding, we had to work fast and we couldn’t afford to make a single mistake.

I looked up. The mate was standing on the platform, one hand on the short chain, ready to start lowering the stone. The rigger was standing opposite me, his hand on the stone, ready to position it as it came down. Neither of them looked in the least bit afraid, not even nervous, and suddenly it felt good to be working with people like that. People who knew what they were doing. We’d all played our part, all done what had to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. It made me feel good. It made me feel a part of something. Quietly we waited for the boggart.

After a few minutes I heard it coming. At first it sounded just like the wind whistling through the trees.

But there was no wind. The air was perfectly still and, in a narrow band of starlight between the edge of the thundercloud and the horizon, the crescent moon was visible, adding its pale light to that cast by the lanterns.

The rigger and his mate could hear nothing, of course, because they weren’t seventh sons of seventh sons like me. So I had to warn them.

‘It’s on its way,’ I said. ‘I’ll tell you when.’

By now the sound of its approach had become more shrill, almost like a scream, and I could hear something else too: a sort of low, rumbling growl. It was coming across the graveyard fast, heading straight for the dish of blood inside the pit.

Unlike a normal boggart, a ripper is slightly more than a spirit, especially when it’s just been feeding.

Even then, most people can’t see it but they can feel it all right, if it ever gets a grip on their flesh.

Even I didn’t see much - just something shapeless and a sort of pinky red. Then I felt a movement of the air close to my face and the ripper went down into the pit.

I said ‘When’ to the rigger who, in turn, nodded to his mate, who tightened his grip upon the short chain. Even before he pulled it there came a sound from the pit. This time it was loud and all three of us heard it. I glanced quickly at my companions and saw their eyes widen and mouths tighten with the fear of what was below us.

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