This was Halloween

plague doctorsWe’d set our alarms for 6:15 but they betrayed us in the worst possible way. Lynx woke at 7 after a stress dream about missing our train. Way to taunt her, brain, rather than doing something useful and actually waking her. Can’t get the staff these days. We had an hour to get ready and get to Waverley Bridge. We got there with a few minutes to spare but the person in front of us at the ticket machine took ages and the machine to a while to figure out so we missed the 8 a.m. train we wanted. There was another one at 8:15. We got to the platform at 8:05 after Lynx’s suitcase got jammed in the barrier and had to be rescued. plague doctor costumesWe’ve never attempted to master public transport by ourselves (social anxiety makes things like that impossible) but we didn’t have a choice. We had to get to Falkirk. Once again, we rued leaving our glasses behind as we couldn’t read any signs. Luckily, we’d researched it online before we came to Edinburgh, so we knew which Falkirk station we wanted and headed for that platform. A train pulled up not longer after we arrived, ruining our opportunity to take a photo as plague doctors by the tracks. We didn’t get on it because ours wasn’t due for 10 minutes and we didn’t want to get on the wrong train. Everyone else got on it, like they knew it was their train. How do people know these things? We swear that everyone else has been given a manual on how do things – like using public transport, social interaction and how to behave like normal human beings – yet someone forgot to give us the manual so we have to work it out by ourselves. Lynx asked the conductor – it was the right train. The suitcase had to have a seat space to itself, so Lynx sat with it while Cat had a table and four seats for her, the briefcase trolley and rucksack. We donned our masks and hats and took photos of us as plague doctors on the train. The conductor walked past and said “I forgot it was Halloween.” Strangely, we had half the carriage to ourselves. Can’t think why.

C L Raven Callendar Square Halloween fair

our stall

When we arrived at the station, we spotted Julie across the platform. Actually, she spotted us and waved, so we knew it was her (refer to yesterday’s post about people being faceless blurs). We just had to get across the tracks. We eyed the steps leading to the bridge then eyed the suitcase full of books which weighs half our body weight and is half our height. Why must we be the size of pixies? Where are our hunky man slaves? Oh right. Helping the beautiful, Barbie members of the female populace. Sighing defeatedly, we teamed up and lugged it up the many, many steps. It bounced happily down the other side. Sarah, if it’s more battered that when you lent it to us, we’re sorry. But…steps. And books. And no hunky man slaves.

Callendar Square Halloween fair

l-r Lynx, Megan, Imogen, Cat

Julie drove us to Callandar Square shopping centre. We set up our stall then waited for people to arrive. We met Dee who owns Trinity Moon and her daughter, Ellie and a couple of the other stall holders. A woman looked at our stall and said her daughter had one of our books and wanted us to sign it. We then met her daughter, Imogen and her friend Megan. They were lovely and ended up hanging out with us until 2 p.m, which made the day even more fun.

Callendar Square Halloween fair

us with Facebook friend, Amanda

One of the stallholders, Tracey, gave us two glasses with dripping blood as a gift. We bought handmade photo frame and dragon’s eye notebook from a stall holder called Heather. She bought a book. We sold 36 books! 16 The Malignant Dead, 6 Soul Asylum & Disenchanted 5 Romance Is Dead, 4 Deadly Reflections! Can’t believe it! Don’t think we’ve ever sold that many books in a month. At the moment, a good month is selling two ebooks. Yeah, our sales suck.  We suck. Judging by our usual monthly sales, we must be the worst writers in the history of writers. Maybe we should write something involving terrible dialogue, bondage and spanking and earn millions. Think that’s already been done though.

Callendar Square Halloween fair

us with Julie

We also met our Facebook friend, Lauren. Apparently, we’re her favourite authors after Margaret Atwood, which is one hell of a compliment we’re not worthy of. It surprises us that people actually bother to read our books, let alone enjoy them, rather than just buying them out of obligation because we’re friends/family/they feel sorry for us. Lauren was joining us on the overnight ghost hunt, so after the fair, we went back to Julie’s to dump our stuff and meet her dogs, Penny and Roxy. If we’re honest, we were just as excited to meet the dogs as we were for going ghost hunting. After a quick stop for food and dog cwtching, we all headed to Culross Palace.Culross

The village of Culross is a fantastic place! It’s a historic village with cobbled streets. We wandered up to the abbey before everyone else got there. There were 13 people in total. We did a group walk around with Lee, the medium, doing his spiel. Then we had a break then split into 2 groups. Us, Julie, Lauren and 3 other women were with Lee in the north block. We went into a room by ourselves. but didn’t get anything. We then went downstairs by ourselves. And heard dragging on the ceiling. We shouted up to see if anyone was moving.

Culross

vigil in the north block

Nobody was. We heard it again a few more times, along with fast tapping. We shouted up – nobody was moving. No idea what caused it. There are bats there so maybe they had something to do with it – tapping morse code and dragging the corpse of a tourist who refused to pay. Hopefully the cameras picked it up. Cat also got really itchy in that room on her side, back and round her right boob. Lee said one of the ghosts had a skin condition, like eczema. The itching stopped once she left the room.

Culross Palace

in the laird’s room by the curtain that moved

We had another break then went up to the family room to do glasswork. We never participate in glass work or ouija boards with people we don’t know or trust implicitly. It’s too easy to fake it, whether consciously or unconsciously. So when we do public ghost hunts, we never volunteer to take part. The glass was extremely active. We would’ve like time to use it by ourselves. We then all separated. We went into the laird’s room and sat by the bed. Schofield and Linus (Lynx’s back and Cat’s bad knee) weren’t happy so we had to keep sitting down.

Culross Palace

upstairs in the north block

Lynx was attaching her bracket to her camera, as it had come undone when Cat asked for the curtain to be moved. It moved. Cat “that was Lynx moving the curtain.” Lynx “no it wasn’t.” She hadn’t touched it, or at least wasn’t aware she’d touched it. Her arm couldn’t reach so it may have been the bracket or it could’ve been shadow play creating the illusion of movement, as Cat’s torch was pointing at Lynx at the time. Hopefully the camera can tell us what happened, as it was on a chair, filming us and the curtain. We then went into the adjoining strongroom, but didn’t get anything.

Culross Palace

downstairs where we heard dragging & tapping

We regrouped, had another break then everyone went to the family room to use the glass with a ouija board. Again, we didn’t join in. So we napped through it instead. Bear in mind, we’d only had about 6 hours sleep the night before, from being down the vaults. We’re great at napping sitting upright. We went back to the north block and did an EVP session in the upstairs room. A woman, Morag, did the calling out. They played it back and Morag and Lee claimed to hear responses, but we couldn’t hear anything other than the static. Her voice was quite muffled on it. Another of the team, Helen, played it back on her DVR.

Culross

Culross village

Her recorder was much clearer, the voices were louder and sharper during the calling out, but it picked up nothing. Morag played hers again and again claimed to hear responses. Lee commented on how the expensive Panasonic ones, which she had, seemed good at capturing EVPs. But we believe a muffled DVR can sound like responses in the static when it is really just static. If there were responses, why hadn’t Helen’s DVR picked anything up, when it was obviously better quality?

We finished the night in the townhouse. We didn’t do anything in there, but it was cool to see it, as it’s where the old tollbooth was and where a witch tried to commit suicide. We left at 3:15 and dropped Lauren off. Julie made up the couches for us to sleep on. We had a surprisingly good night’s sleep, even if it was only 4 hours.

Culross

with Lauren and Julie

Cover Story

Do you ever get the feeling that something is cursed and the universe is telling you that going ahead with it will lead to your ultimate destruction? But you continue anyway in the vain hope when the day comes, the universe gets distracted by something shiny on the ground? In our case, that ‘something’ is The Malignant Dead. We get the feeling Fate doesn’t want us to release it. We don’t know why – we agreed not to release the stories of that time we caught her- anyhoo, we had the cover, it looked stunning and we sent off a press release with it and bought promo material. Createspace sent us a proof copy. It was too dark. Most of the plague doctor can’t be seen. Lizzie lightened him and we adjusted the photo on the back cover. We sent off for another proof copy, this time paying extra for the fastest delivery.

It looked no different.

Bandit holding Cat's hand through the Photoshop ordeal

Bandit holding Cat’s hand through the Photoshop ordeal

There was only one thing for it: change the black background. We found a misty one on 123rf.com and thought it would be a simple case of swapping the black for the new background. It took us two friggin’ hours! For a start, we couldn’t just swap it – no, we had to resize it to match the covers and spine. Then it didn’t fit on the print template – it was too small. For the other one, we cheated and filled the background in black. We tried this, continuously having to delete and resize the misty background to fit, and you could clearly see the cover on top of the background. We obviously weren’t going to be able to cheat this time. So we had to resize the cover. Several times. We probably should’ve asked someone who doesn’t hate Photoshop to do this, but we are so pushed for time, we can’t ask someone to drop everything they’re doing for us. We finally beat Photoshop into submission and sent the cover off for review.

They rejected it.

So this morning, we adjusted it to make sure it’s in the damn bleed area and sent it for another review.

We know most writers when they have a book coming out/ newly released, are gushing over their new baby. We now hate this book with the passion of a thousand burning witches. Which is a shame because it’s been one of our favourites to work on and we’re sad that we can’t work on it anymore.

We have a problem – we don’t think we have time for another proof copy. We have to have the books for our launch on Halloween and if we get another proof, we risk the books not coming in time unless we pay for the fastest shipping, in which case we’ll have zero profits. They come from America, so take a while. And customs once seized Deadly Reflections so they took months to get to us after we had to beg them to release it and pay a fine. If customs seize The Malignant Dead, we have no book launch. If we don’t get another proof, we risk the book looking terrible. We need more time. But we’re going to America next week and time is something we don’t have. We’ve had book launches without books before – Bad Romance and Romance Is Dead didn’t go live until the evening – but they were virtual launches and it’s never mattered if we haven’t had the print books. But this is a book signing. We need the books. And we need them before we fly to Scotland on October 29th.

We’re not changing the ebook cover – that one is staying black. We like the black and if we change it, it means our promo material was a waste of money. And we hate wasting money almost as much as we hate wasting time. We are so stressed, we can feel the frustration knotting in our chests. And we had our last therapy session on Monday. This is a bad time to be cut off from the people who keep us sane. We’re supposed to be excited about our first trip outside the UK but we can’t even concentrate on that at the moment. We are almost ready to throw away our atheism, adopt an ancient god and sacrifice someone to him in the hope that this will end well.

But this is our book. And our books never have happy endings.

Here is the new version. You can pre-order the Kindle version here – Amazon UK  Amazon US  Smashwords Read chapter one here.TMD mist

The Malignant Dead cover reveal

*drum roll* We can finally reveal to you The Malignant Dead’s cover! *Tugs on curtain. Frowns as it gets stuck. Tugs harder. Winces at the crash.* Well that wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Malignant Dead

We think you’ll agree that our artist, River Rose (who did Disenchanted  and Deadly Reflections’ covers) has done a fantastic job. This has probably been the most stressful book release we have ever had. And in the history of Raven releases, that says a lot. We’ve had releases without books when Amazon cocks up, but this was the first time we had to cancel a release, back in June. But finally, it is all ready for it’s Halloween launch, which we will be having in Falkirk, Scotland, thanks to Julie and Dee at Trinity Moon, who stock our books.

And we will also be at Bristol Horror Con on Saturday October 17th! Yep, they’re letting us have a table. Tickets are available here. So come along and say hi, just so we look marginally popular. Or if you’re too shy to say hello, just stand by our table, which is our usual method.

Read chapter one here

And here is The Malignant Dead’s book trailer!

The book is now available for pre-order on Amazon UK US and Smashwords 

A plague on Falkirk’s houses

This is Halloween, this is Halloween, plague victims scream in the dead of night! Well, they will this Halloween. As you know, The Malignant Dead, our novel set in Edinburgh during the 1645 plague was meant to be released June 13th. We’d had that date in mind since we wrote the book. Why that date? Because it was the anniversary of Edinburgh’s plague doctor, George Rae, getting the job. But due to our cover artist falling ill a week before the launch, the date came and went and instead of launching a book, we learned to ride motorbikes and went ghost hunting (Bad combination, people. Especially when you fall off the motorbike). As soon as we have the cover, we will reveal it to you and release the book trailer that we made in May. Yeah, May. We actually formatted the book for release in February.

But now, thanks to Dee and Julie at Trinity Moon, an awesome pagan/wiccan shop in Falkirk who stock our books, we will having a special Halloween launch in Falkirk. What better place to launch a Scottish book, than Scotland? They invited us to do a Halloween book signing in Callendar Square shopping centre as part of a fair that’s on that day. And we thought “what better time to launch our plague doctor book? Halloween, in Scotland.” So we will be in the shopping centre between 10 a.m- 4 p.m, signing books, getting distracted by Halloween decorations and trying to behave ourselves. Then we’re going ghost hunting overnight with Julie and Dee in Culross Palace in Fife. We’re excited!

And we’ll also be spending a few days in Edinburgh with Tom and Amy, doing research for our next book in the historical horror series, the body snatchers. After finding out William Burke’s skeleton was only available for viewing on the last Saturday of every month (we spent our last holiday there failing to find him and randomly asking people where his skeleton was), we discovered Halloween was the last Saturday. And he was available from 10-4. Yep. When we’re in Falkirk. So we emailed the Museum of Anatomy and asked if we could see the skeleton at a different date and explained why. And they said yes! And we’ll also be able to visit the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, where Burke’s death mask and a book cover made from his skin are kept. Best. Holiday. Ever.

So, to tempt you into buying the book, here is the blurb:

  1. The year Scotland died.

“Ring a ring of roses.”

Dirty white rags dangled from windows, like hanging men left on gallows for the city to witness their shame.

The Bubonic Plague is ravaging Edinburgh. Despite the council’s best efforts, people are dying. Soon there will be more people buried under Edinburgh than living in it.

“A pocketful of posies.”

When the plague doctor dies from the disease after a week, the council hires student doctor Alex McCrae, promising him one hundred pounds to cure the wretched pest. But a man who makes himself a hero, makes himself enemies. And when the council can’t afford to pay McCrae, they hope he’ll succumb to the disease.

“Ashes, ashes.”

But the plague isn’t the only way to kill a man. And in the city of the dead, it’s not just ghosts who return.

“We. All. Fall. Down.”

 

The Malignant Dead

We’re hoping to release our plague doctor novella, The Malignant Dead soon. We’ve loved working on it and are excited to release it. In the meantime, here’s the first chapter. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

1645. The year Scotland died.

Glazed eyes of the dead watched the cloaked figure creep through Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, his beaked mask casting monstrous shadows that slunk along the crumbling walls. People edged away, whispering ‘Doctor Death’. Where he walked, Death followed.

Rotting bodies lay entangled in the alleys; the June sun and north wind conspiring to poison the air with the foul odour of decay. One body groaned as black rats investigated her. Although her flesh had decomposed, she was still alive.

Dirty white rags dangled from windows, like hanging men left on gallows for the city to witness their shame. Retching coughs and screams smothered the pitiful moans. Death no longer loitered in the shadows, veiled beyond people’s nightmares; he prowled the streets, taking people where they stood. There was nowhere left for them to hide.

The figure stopped at a door. Red paint dripped like blood from a mortal wound.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

The words scrawled above the foot-long cross filled McCrae not with hope, but dread.

McCrae touched the cross. “There is no mercy here.”

He wiped the paint on his leather cloak, leaving a scarlet smear. He must be mad. He wasn’t a doctor. He was yet to cure an infected wound, yet he hoped to cure the plague. He could not even see out of the damn mask. He adjusted it then leaned down to tuck his leather breeches into his boots.

He beckoned a watchman, who crossed the narrow wynd and unlocked the door, his pipe clamped between his teeth. McCrae stepped inside the tenement. Gloom swallowed him, the smell of putrefaction lingering despite the herbs hanging in the window. Smoke infused the air from the brimstone burning by the hearth.

The stench of Hell.

Mrs Calhoun emerged from the bedroom, her haunted eyes revealing Death had visited her home. McCrae nodded and entered the small room. Rancid odours stirred his stomach. A man lay on the bed, blankets clutched in his decomposing fists. A shrivelled rabbit’s foot dangled off a leather thong around his neck. His mouth hung open, as though Death came before he finished his scream. Pus from the burst bubo in his armpit trickled down his blackened, festering skin. Flies crawled over his face. The buzzing of their wings became the music to die to.

McCrae stared down at him, gripping his bag. His hooded cloak felt heavy on his shoulders.

“I had hoped you could help me.”

McCrae unrolled the man’s nightshirt sleeves then picked him up.

“Don’t do this.”

He turned. Mrs Calhoun blocked the doorway, fingering the heart pendant around her neck.

“I cannot leave him to rot. The infection could spread to you, if it is yet to take hold.”

“Don’t undertake this role. It is not worth it.”

“The Guild of Surgeons and Barbers’ apprentice fee is forty shillings. I cannot afford that on a market trader’s wage. I will quit once I have cured this pest and settled my debt with my friend James.”

“John did not see a penny of the wage the council promised. He ‘did not live long enough to earn it’.” She gestured towards her dead husband. “Do you know how long John was the plague doctor? A week. How long have you been the plague doctor?”

McCrae glanced at the man in his arms. “Doctor Petrie is my first patient.”

Mrs Calhoun’s eyes brimmed with pity. “How old are you?”

“Twenty six.”

“Do you know what awaits you?”

“I have read about the treatments.”

“You won’t find the cure amongst the pages of a book. All John’s superstitions – the chicken tail feathers, plague water and frogs’ legs he gave his patients – could not save him. That lucky charm around his neck could not save him. Nothing could have saved him. Not even you. His parents died three days ago. He could not save them. Next week, the new plague doctor will put you on the cart while your betrothed weeps at your bedside. Tell me then it is worth the money.”

Mrs Calhoun walked away as McCrae carried his predecessor to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it and McCrae stepped into dying sunlight, where a cart waited. He laid John on the bodies then followed the cart. John’s glassy gaze fixed on him, as though forewarning him of the horrors to come. McCrae looked away.

A carriage jolted past, heading for the Flodden Wall, burdened with a family and their belongings. The mother averted her eyes and hugged a bairn to her, as though the mere sight of McCrae would infect her.

“You cannot outrun Death.”

The wheels of the next death cart rolling behind him drowned out the fleeing carriage.

A man staggered along Cowgate, weaving between the cattle before falling to his knees in the filth. He vomited; blood spattering his hands, the street, and the dead bairn he embraced.

McCrae’s cloak creaked as he knelt and reached for the bairn.

“No!” The man scrambled away, cradling her to his chest. “Yer the devil!”

“I’m yer only hope.”

McCrae eased the bairn from the man’s arms and placed her on a barrow between two dead women. The wheels trundled forwards, the death bell tinkling, the bodies’ limbs flopping with the cart’s jerky movements.

“Bring out yer dead!” echoed through the street.

McCrae helped the man up. “Where do you live–?”

“William.”

William shuffled along Cowgate, which ran parallel to the High Street, and turned right into Borthwick’s Wynd. He stopped at a door bearing a scarlet cross. McCrae ushered William inside, motioning to a watchman down the street. He locked the door from outside. McCrae’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim room, lit only by the hearth.

“I’m McCrae.” The large beak muffled his voice. Sweet herbs, dried flowers and bergamot oil masked some odours but nothing concealed death’s putrid perfume.

“You cannot help us, yer no doctor. Go back to yer market stall where you belong.”

“I’m the only one willing to help you.”

“Until the council’s money runs out. I want John.”

“John is dead. I can fetch his corpse from the cart if you wish but he will be as helpful to you as my family’s linen would be.”

Laboured breathing rattled from the bed in the corner. An elderly couple slept in another bed.

“Why do they lock us in?”

“Because if they didn’t, more folk would die.”

McCrae moved to the writhing fire and laid a poker in the flames. William wheezed, his legs buckling. McCrae crouched, removing a lance and a rag from his pocket.

“I’m sorry, this will hurt.”

He unbuttoned William’s shirt and pierced the apple-sized bubo in his armpit. William hissed as blood and pus burst from his decaying flesh. McCrae dabbed the weeping wound with the rag, swallowing the vomit threatening to choke him. Would he get used to the sights, the smells of this wretched disease? Would he live to see it cured? Or would he become just another corpse rotting in the pit while the city died above him?

“Why has this happened? We stopped bathing because Pastor Matthews said the dirt would keep the pest away and that God would punish us for our pride.”

McCrae examined William’s blackened fingers and green nails. “God punishes murderers, not folk who bathe.” He collected the poker.

William flexed his fingers. “What’s happening to them?”

“Yer body is dying around you.” McCrae wiped William’s brow then slipped a stick into his mouth. “Bite.” He thrust the glowing poker into the bubo, the rancid smell of burning flesh tainting the air. McCrae heaved, clenching his jaw to stop himself vomiting over his mask and his patient.

William screamed.

McCrae’s medical books and cadavers had not prepared him for treating the living dead. Corpses didn’t scream.

McCrae ran to the door, pounding on it like a still-warm body begging to be released from its grave. The watchman opened it. McCrae fell to his knees and tugged off his mask, vomiting into the dirt. He rested his hands on his thighs, gasping in the warm air. William’s decay festered in his nostrils. He heaved and spat.

The watchman chuckled. “They don’t smell like linen, do they laddie?”

McCrae wiped his mouth and shot him a contemptuous look. “They’re infected – what’s yer excuse?” He stood, pulling on his mask, and entered the tenement.

“Is anyone else infected?”

“My wife, Agnes.” William coughed, blood streaking his chin.

McCrae patted his shoulder with his gloved hand and approached the bed. The rough breaths of the dying had silenced. A woman on the straw mattress cradled a five-year-old lad. At the foot of the bed, an eight-year-old lass lay curled up, clutching a doll.

McCrae brushed the lass’s damp hair from her face. A small bubo lurked behind her ear.

She shrieked and wrenched back. “Mammy!”

“I’m a doctor,” McCrae whispered.

She gripped her doll, crying as he lanced the swelling. He examined the lad. Red roses covered his pale, sweaty skin. He hugged his mother, his eyes wide.

“Are they–?”

McCrae nodded. Tears trickled from William’s red eyes. McCrae checked Agnes’s pulse then lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

“No!” William pushed McCrae aside and hugged his wife. “Agnes!”

McCrae grabbed the bed. His heart ached at the thought of losing Katrein this way. William collapsed, pulling Agnes into his lap. He sobbed, kissing her face.

“Bring out yer dead!”

“I’m sorry William. I must take her.” McCrae prised Agnes from William’s arms and carried her to the door. He knocked. The watchman opened it, covering his face.

McCrae whistled and the cart stopped. He laid Agnes in the back.

“You must be the new fella. You’ll get a reputation for killing yer patients.” The barrowman chuckled. Grey sprinkled his dark hair, like stray ashes had fallen from the sky from the remains of the witches Scotland had burned. Even with the black rag covering his mouth and nose, McCrae recognised Hamish Reid.

McCrae patted the grey pony, Bran, who shied away. “That’s why they call me Doctor Death.”

“McCrae?” Hamish peered through the beak’s round glass eyeholes. “Samhain’s not until October. There’ll be no begging and celebration this year.”

“There’ll be plenty of spirits to welcome.”

“You should see him without the costume,” Hamish’s twenty-year-old passenger whispered.

“How are you, Hamish?” McCrae asked.

“Better than my passengers. They’re a wee bit quiet today.” Hamish jerked his thumb towards his cart then elbowed the woman beside him. “Though Katrein’s broth is trying to kill me.”

“Every day it fails,” she replied. Hamish laughed.

“Katrein!” McCrae circled Bran, who nipped at him.

“Are you trying to frighten yer patients into their graves, Alex?”

“Some say evil spirits caused this, and the mask frightens them away.”

“You believe them? For shame. I thought you were a man of science, not superstition.”

McCrae helped Katrein down. She wore her black nurse’s habit, her soot-coloured hair escaping her cap.

“Why did you not tell me you had accepted?” she asked.

“You’d try to stop me.”

“I don’t want you to die. The thought of riding in Hamish’s cart with you dead in the back terrifies me. But you’ll be a wonderful doctor. Even if you look like a monster.”

“Folk will never accept me as a doctor. The way they would not be happy if the flescher became king.”

“You do not accept the role you were born into. Folk cannot understand that.”

“At least they don’t have to worry about you becoming king.” Hamish laughed. “Yer manners and fists would see you on the gallows, not the throne.”

McCrae smiled, though they could not see it. He stroked Katrein’s hair. “Stop riding in Hamish’s cart. The dead could be contagious. I don’t know what causes the plague, how it spreads. I refuse to believe this is an act of God.”

“Witchcraft,” Hamish said.

“It’s a disease, not a curse.”

“Just because you cannot see the world beyond this one, does not mean it’s not there. If they were not witches, why did the council burn them?”

“If this is caused by witchcraft, why did it not stop after Agnes Finnie was executed in March?”

“She’s not the only witch in Edinburgh.”

Katrein smiled at their exchange. “I’m treating a woman’s broken ankle in Grassmarket. Hamish is taking me.”

McCrae groaned. “Will you ever obey rules?”

She stood on her toes and kissed his mask’s cheek. “If you wanted someone obedient, you would not be marrying me.”

“Each one of my grey hairs is caused by trying to control this one,” Hamish said.

Katrein hitched her skirt and climbed into the trap. “If my broth hasn’t killed my cousin, the pest won’t kill me.”

Hamish leaned over and tugged McCrae’s beak. “Yer not putting me in the back of my cart, birdman.” He flicked the reins and Bran walked on. “Bring out yer dead!”

Katrein blew McCrae a kiss.

Searchers entered tenements, scouring for the dead, the dying and the diseased. One searcher emerged, her face grim as she painted a crimson cross on the door and hung a white rag from the window. McCrae sighed, each cross a stain on his soul. Paint dripped down the wood, bleeding into the words.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

The Malignant Dead is available for pre-order. Amazon UK   Amazon US   Smashwords