Beware the golden disk - it brings decay… destruction… death…
Four hundred years ago, a woman died in agony to keep its secret and went to her rave with it hung around her neck. Now, in a desolate graveyard, a workman has unearthed the amulet by chance and decides to keep it. His first mistake…
That night the village of Medford is plunged into a nightmare of terror by the discovery of a double murder and mutilation - the first in a series of shocking killings.
Wherever the amulet is found, ancient evil - hideous, powerful and vile - is once again reborn…
Scaning & primary formating:
Secondary formating & proofing:
I always think that this kind of message at the beginning of a book should be more aptly called 'Author's Intrusion.' Those of you who agree with me will doubtless already be well immersed in chapter one. For those of you who remain with me, please excuse this brief moment of pretension and accept a word of explanation.
was originally written when I was nineteen, one of many manuscripts with which, at the time, I was bombarding publishers in the hope of getting accepted. Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a 'How I made it after years of struggling' congratulatory introduction. I just want to say that there are ideas and themes in
which were developed in my later books, so, if you happen to find a scene that seems slightly familiar to some of my other stuff, don't think you're being ripped off. You're not. I leave that to certain other authors. Nevertheless, apologies for any feelings of
in my regular readers. To those of you reading
without having read my other work I have just one question: where have you been for the last six years?
Right, this is starting to become too self-indulgent. The novel beckons. But first, some people who deserve thanks for what they've done during the past few years. This list could be longer than the book so I'll be brief this time. Many thanks to Nicola Davies, who first wondered if there might be something about this novel. To Bob Tanner (blame him, he launched me). Special thanks to Sheelagh 'Smoke on the Water' Thomas for her continuing work with my efforts. To Ray Mudie and 'The Wild Bunch' (otherwise known as W. H. Allen's sales team). In fact, to everyone at W. H. Allen I extend my thanks. And, most important of all, to my parents and to Belinda.
To those named and dozens more who've given me friendship, love, inspiration and support (and who'll doubtless be mentioned in the acknowledgements of the next book…), thank you.
'Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed tn one self place; for where we are is Hell,
And where Hell is must we ever be…'
The woman was thrown to the floor of the tiny cell, her face ground into the reeking straw which covered the stone. She made few sounds, even as a heavy boot was driven into her ribs. She felt bone splinter and the air was tom from her. Powerful hands dragged her to her feet, pinning her against the cold wall. Her head was wrenched up by her long hair until she was face to face with the tallest of the three men.
His face was shrouded by deep shadows, some caused by the gloom inside the cell, but most by the wide brim of his hat. He stood in silence, watching her through heavily lidded eyes. She met his stare, the merest trace of a smile on her lips.
The two men on either side of her suddenly released their grip on her wrists and began tearing her clothes from her. Her full breasts swung into view, already marked with numerous scratches and red welts. She did little to resist as they tore the last clothing from her and then slammed her, naked, back against the'wall.
The tall man reached into his pocket and pulled something out. It looked like a piece of wood, as thick as a man's finger but it bore a needle like point of steel. He touched the point to a place close by her right nipple and pushed.
Now she broke her silence and screamed as the steel punctured her flesh. Blood welled up and dripped from her wound.
He repeated the procedure until her chest was reduced to a bleeding ruin. He reached lower, pushing it into her belly.
Pain lanced through her and she felt as if she would pass out but rough hands tugged at her hair and face, slapping hard until she found her vision clearing.
The tall man stepped back, pocketing the pointed implement.
'Speak,' he said, quietly. 'Where is your master?'
The woman met his gaze but did not answer. She felt one of her arms being forced up her back, the strain on the joint becoming intolerable.
'Where is your master?' the tall man repeated.
Her shoulder felt as though it were burning as yet more pressure was exerted on her twisted limb.
She opened her mouth in silent agony.
There was a loud crack as the arm broke, unable to withstand any more such pressure. The bone snapped above the elbow, the power exerted on it so great that the shoulder was dislocated too.
The woman screamed loudly.
'You think he would hesitate to speak your name where he in your position now?' the man asked her.
Her head sagged forward for a moment and the tall man nodded towards his companions who immediately took a firmer hold on the woman's arms and began dragging her from the cell. Along a narrow dripping corridor they took her until they reached a larger room. There they secured her to the stone wall with shackles and one of them hurled some water at her. It revived her, the clear liquid dripping from her body, mingling with the blood which had congealed there.
She saw the tall man reach for the branding iron, its tip white hot as he pulled it from the brazier. A flicker of fear passed behind her eyes as he approached her with it, the glowing end mere inches from her face.
'What is the secret of the circlet?' he asked.
She gritted her teeth and shook her head.
The iron came closer until she could feel the heat then, in a moment of mind numbing agony, she felt it touch her cheek. Her scream rose mightily within the room as the burning metal seared her flesh, a great raw welt rising beneath the brand. The acrid stench of her burnt skin filled her nostrils and she passed out.
More water was flung at her, hands slapped hard at her cheeks until she regained consciousness.
The tall man remained before her, the -branding iron still burning hot.
She closed her eyes, tears spilling down her cheeks.
'Why prolong the pain?' the tall man asked her. 'Speak now. Is it true that the circlet only afflicts those who are first to touch it?' He moved the glowing iron closer. 'Only those who are first to touch the amulet are tainted. Is that true?'
She didn't answer.
He snarled and pressed the red hot rod to her breast.
It took much longer to revive the woman this time but when she did eventually come round she felt heat between her spread legs. The iron had been re-heated and now, the probing brand, white hot, hovered precious inches from that most sensitive area.
'Is it true about the amulet?' the tall man asked her, the rod like some burning, agonizingly hot penis. It quivered between her legs.
'Yes,' she shrieked. 'The first to touch the amulet is tainted but none thereafter until my Master has held it again.'
The tall man smiled and turned away from her. He replaced the branding iron in the coals and turned back to face the woman. She felt sick, the pain which racked her body gripping her like a fist. The other two men unshackled her and dragged her from the room, back along the corridor but this time up into the daylight.
There were hundreds of people standing outside the building. They shouted things at her as she was thrown to the ground amongst them. Some spat at her. But the babble died down as the tall man emerged into the light.
'Let all know that in this, the year of Our Lord 1596,' he began. 'This woman has confessed to the sins of which she was accused. She knows the secret of the amulet and he who holds it.'
He pointed an accusing finger at her.
'There is but one punishment for this blasphemy.'
It took but a moment for them to find a rope and secure a stout knot. Two of them looped it round her neck and dragged her to the nearest tree, where they took hold of the end and tugged her up into the air. She kicked and struggled for what seemed like an eternity, spittle and blood dribbling over her cracked lips but, eventually, her movements ceased and only the wind stirred her motionless form.
'We have dealt with the disciple,' said the tall man. 'Let us destroy the Master.'
There was a roar of approval from the crowd, many brandishing pitchforks and clubs above their heads.
'Let us rid ourselves of this pestilence forever,' the tall man said. 'We know where its source lies, let us erase it from God's earth.'
He set off, followed by the maddened crowd. They knew their destination and there was a firm determination about them.
However, many shuddered as, overhead, dark clouds began to gather and the first soundless fork of lightning rent the air.
'Be not afraid, God is with us,' the tall man called.
The storm clouds gathered in huge black masses. Like dark warnings.
There was a dampness in the morning air which promised rain.
The sky was heavy with clouds, great, grey, washed out billows which scudded across the heavens, pushed by the strong breeze. The same breeze which stirred the naked branches of trees. They stood defiantly against the wind, shaking skeletal fingers at an invisible defiler which rocked and battered their flimsy forms. Birds huddled in the branches, feathers stirred and ruffled by the strengthening gusts.
Rain-soaked piles of leaves lay in tightly packed masses about the tree bases.
Seasonal transition had nature in limbo. The time when winter has passed but the earth has not yet erupted into that frenzy of greenery which is spring. That time was still to come.
There had been more rain during the night. Enough to darken the concrete paths of Medworth. The town had its fair share of rain, standing, as it did, in the rolling hills of Derbyshire. The nearest town of any size lay twenty miles away to the west, but the people of Medworth were content with their own patch of miniature metropolis. The town was small, a population which struggled to reach nine thousand, but there was plenty of work within the town itself. It was built around a large shopping centre. The shops themselves employed more than a third of the total labour force, many of the rest being accounted for by the town's small industrial estate built a mile or so out. It consisted of a small iron foundry and brewery as well as a number of smaller factories.
The few farms which were scattered on the hills nearby were concerned mainly with arable crops, the odd scatterings of livestock kept for the benefit of the individual farmers rather than for any serious commercial purposes.
To call Medworth a thriving community would have been an overstatement, but it ticked along comfortably, satisfied with its own seclusion.
There was little entertainment to be found. The old cinema had closed down two years earlier and now remained nothing more than an eyesore in the centre of town. A large building, almost imposing in its obsolescence, it stood at the top of the main street, now just a darkened shell.
Its presence represented a reminder of the past, of a time when life was lived at a slower pace. Progress had come slowly and almost resentfully to Medworth.
By eight o'clock that morning there were people in the streets, and, an hour later, another working day had begun.
Tom Lambert brought the Capri to a halt and switched off the engine. He looked out of the side window and read the sign which spanned the iron gates.
In ordinary circumstances he would have smiled. The name of the cemetery always amused him. After all, it was built on a hillside two miles outside of town. Not a meadow in sight.