The man is hanging by his neck from the rafters overhead, frayed orange plastic rope tilting his head at an impossible angle. He is a big man, buck naked, blue-white flesh hanging in folds from his breasts and his buttocks, like a loose-fitting suit two sizes too big. Loops of something smooth and shiny hang down between his legs from a gaping smile that splits his belly from side to side. The flame sends the dead man's shadow dancing around the scarred and graffitied walls like so many ghosts welcoming a new arrival. Beyond him Uilleam sees Ceit's face. Pale, dark-eyed, frozen in horror. For a moment he thinks, absurdly, that the pool of diesel around him is agricultural, dyed red by the Excise to identify its tax-free status - before realizing it is blood, sticky and thick and already drying brown on his hands.
It was late, sultry warm in a way that it only ever gets at festival time. Fin found concentration difficult. The darkness of his small study pressed in around him, like big, black, soft hands holding him in his seat. The circle of light from the lamp on his desk burned his eyes, drawing him there like a moth, blinding now, so that he found it hard to keep his notes in focus. The computer hummed softly in the stillness, and its screen flickered in his peripheral vision. He should have gone to bed hours ago, but it was imperative that he finish his essay. The Open University offered his only means of escape, and he had been procrastinating. Foolishly.
He heard a movement at the door behind him and swivelled angrily in his seat, expecting to see Mona. But his words of rebuke never came. Instead, he found himself looking up in astonishment at a man so tall that he could not stand upright. His head was tipped to one side to avoid the ceiling. These were not big rooms, but this man must have been eight feet tall. He had very long legs, dark trousers gathering in folds around black boots. A checked cotton shirt was tucked in at a belted waist, and over it the man wore an anorak, hanging open, the hood falling away from an upturned collar. His arms dangled at his sides, big hands protruding from sleeves that were too short. To Fin he looked about sixty, a lined, lugubrious face with dark, expressionless eyes. His silver-grey hair was long and greasy and hung down below his ears. He said nothing. He just stood staring at Fin, deep shadows cut in stony features by the light on Fin's desk. What in the name of God was he doing there? All the hair on Fin's neck and arms stood on end, and he felt fear slip over him like a glove, holding him in its grasp.
And then somewhere in the distance he heard his own voice wailing, childlike, in the dark. "Funny ma-an . . ." The man remained staring at him. "There's a funny ma-an . . ."
"What is it, Fin?" It was Mona's voice. She was alarmed, shaking him by the shoulder. And even as he opened his eyes and saw her frightened face, perplexed and still puffy from sleep, he heard himself wail, "Funny ma-an . . ."
"For God's sake, what's wrong?"
He turned away from her onto his back, breathing deeply, trying to catch his breath. His heart was racing. "Just a dream. A bad dream." But the memory of the man in his study was still vivid, like a childhood nightmare. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. The digital display told him it was seven minutes past four. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry, and he knew that he would not get back to sleep.
"You just about scared the life out of me."
"I'm sorry." He pulled back the covers and swung his legs down to the floor. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face, but the man was still there, burned on his retinas. He stood up.
"Where are you going?"
"For a pee." He padded softly across the carpet and opened the door into the hall. Moonlight fell across it, divided geometrically by ersatz Georgian windows. Halfway down the hall he passed the open door of his study. Inside, it was pitch-black, and he shuddered at the thought of the tall man who had invaded it in his dream. How clear and strong the image remained in his mind. How powerful the presence had been. At the bathroom door he paused, as he had every night for nearly four weeks, his eyes drawn to the room at the end of the hall. The door stood ajar, moonlight washing the space beyond it. Curtains that should have been drawn but weren't. It contained only a terrible emptiness. Fin turned away, heartsick, a cold sweat breaking out across his forehead.
Excerpted from The Blackhouse by Peter May. Copyright © 2012 by Peter May. Excerpted by permission of Silver Oak. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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