1967. Grieving the loss of her son, Cordelia Hemlock seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort in the local churchyard. During a storm, she sees a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. Cordelia begins to investigate, but there are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.
A bolt of lightning reveals something bone-chillingly unexpected in this stormy book extract from David Mark’s atmospheric and compelling new thriller . . .
“Here it comes,” said Felicity, and she raised a hand above her head. She was still holding the flowers and seemed to realise it. “Here, give these to the grave you’ve been laying on. I’ll get more for Mam.”
For a moment I felt as though I was inside a tin shack and somebody was banging upon it with a bat. The rumble in the sky was a colossal thing. God moving furniture in the Heavens. I ducked my head into my shoulders. The shiver that passed through me was primal; a fear that would have seemed as familiar to the Romans who once guarded the nearby boundary wall as it did to me. It was a feeling that the ground was about to split; that some almighty force was preparing to plunge His fists into the ground and pull up the earth’s foundations.
“Come on,” said Felicity, and to my surprise, she took my hand. I found myself smiling, grinning inanely, as I was led briskly between the ancient graves that stood out of the long damp grass and the untended wildflowers like boulders from the sea.
“Oh goodness, here it comes . . .”
I gave a shriek as the skies opened and a deluge like I had never witnessed tumbled down. It was as if somebody had flipped the earth; as if the sea had become the sky. I felt as though I was running through a waterfall. Felicity kept hold of my hand and we staggered up the shingle path towards the rusty black gate. Felicity wrenched it open and turned to tell me to hurry.
I felt the lightning strike rather than saw it. I experienced a sudden moment of light and heat and power at my back, as if somebody had suddenly opened the door of a furnace behind me. I spun and lost my footing, dropping painfully to one knee and my hand was wrenched from Felicity’s. I lay there, twisted and sprawled, watching the deluge beat down upon the tiny church and the ancient tombstones, flattening down the grass and thistles, ragwort and cow-parsely. Then came the sound. A noise like the cry of a dying beast; a keening wail that grew to a scream before climaxing in a crack that hurt my ears.
I looked up to see the ancient laurel split in two. It tore down the middle as if somebody were ripping a photograph. For a moment the trunk was two perfect halves. And then they fell. The branches were still tangled together and both halves of the trunk fell in the same direction, collapsing downwards with a dreadful crescendo of splintering wood.
It missed the church. Fell at an angle that would later be seen by the faithful as an act of God. Instead it stamped down into the churchyard with an impact that made the ground shake and one of the stoutest arms smashed into the stone roof of the little crypt that had stood there for 300 years. The construction was not much bigger than a garden shed.
It was surrounded by rusty iron railings and there were ornate carvings above the rotten wooden door. The whole edifice collapsed as if made of cards.
“Oh,” said Felicity, in my ear. I will always remember that. That sudden, simple exclamation. She had her hands under my armpits and was dragging me upright while her feet battled for purchase on a path that was already becoming a river.
We both saw it happen. Both watched as the crypt came apart in an explosion of stone and ancient timbers.
We knew there would be bones. Knew that if we did not look away we would see ancient skeletons and grinning skulls.
But the body that tumbled onto the grass was dressed in a dark suit and had a full head of hair. The face that looked at us had staring eyes and the mouth was open as if in surprise. Were it not for the unnatural position in which he lay, folded in on himself and twisted as if dropped from the sky, he may just as easily been sleeping.
I turned to Felicity and saw the horror on her face. Her mouth was open and I wondered if her scream was lost to the sound of the wind and the rain and the settling stones.
She looked at me, then. An accusing, puzzled glare. Looked at me as if I had done this thing. I had brought this ugliness into our lives. Then she dragged me upright and grabbed my wrist and tugged me through the storm.
I had to look where I was going. Had to try and find my feet as I splashed through the path and felt the earth pull at my boots as if hands were reaching out from the earth.
I took a last glance at the body as I splashed through the lychgate. The pummelling of the rain ceased for an instant. When it slashed back down it was with the precision of a blade. Through the rain I saw a man in blue. Dark hair. Neat brown shoes. A greenish-brown satchel wrapped across the torso. Then he was lost as I tore my gaze away, searching the pockmarked road for patches of ground where I might keep my feet. I ran. Thought of myself first. Thought of my boy’s ashes after that. Felt a wave of something inside me as I pictured the ashes of my baby being washed away like dust.
THE MAUSOLEUM is available from 28 February in the UK and 1 June in the US. Read more here.