Tuesday 11 August 2009


This is the latest installment of Lee's thrilling horror series in the Osseous Box Cycle, that began with The Jesus People and The Shaman People. This time we have...

The Island People

“So, what can you tell me about him?” Jon asked as he sipped his pint.

The old man sniffed, yanked the string that was attached to his dog and replied. “Clever lad, not daft, not by a long shot.”

Jon reckoned the old codger was thinking about someone else. Mordecai Shimmin. He'd been born and christened Vincent but had changed his name by deed-poll to Mordecai, and he was anything but a clever lad.

Jon remembered sitting across from him in the interview room back on the mainland. He'd sat there looking like a lost lamb. A terrible stammer didn't help him any. Jon was sure that if it had been any other detective then they would have marked Mordecai down as innocent, even though he'd been hanging around the convent like the shine on a glass eye.

Then when Sister Gail had disappeared of course they were going to put the pinch on the freak.

Jon dug about in his pocket for the photograph. He passed it over to the man who had a quick shufty at it. “Yeah, that's Vincent Shimmin.” The man looked to the flickering television that sat on a wonky shelf in the corner of the pub.

Jon looked at the photograph again. The old man spoke as he stared at the goggle-box. “Bloody Keltic done it again, bastards.”

Jon looked up at the screen. It was the football results. Rangers had gotten a beating from Celtic. Jon looked at the old man as though he were endearingly slow. He couldn't help but correct the old man.

“You pronounced it Keltic, you meant Celtic?” Jon lifted his drink.

The old man looked at him as though he'd just pissed on his shoes.

“Maybe to you, but I've Keltic blood and C's are said hard, like the word 'cunt'.” The man's stare left nothing to the imagination.

Jon didn't care, his head was spinning. Spinning so fast that it felt as though it were rushing back in time. Back to when he was sitting before Mordecai questioning him about the missing nun.

He'd said 'Kerbrous' at one point when asked where the nun was. Jon had just put it down to him being slow. Jon had linked that to the building work that Mordecai had been doing. Labouring for a local building firm that was laying new kerbing. So they'd had a geographical survey done and found no bones. That had been the end of that line.

They'd released Mordecai without any charge; the lad did a bunk and Jon had his suspicions that the lad had high-tailed it back home to the island. And Jon's gut instinct told him that Mordecai had something to do with the nun's disappearance so he wasn't going to let it drop.

His superiors didn't share the same interest and had put the kibosh on Jon's wanting to travel over to the island where Mordecai had grown up to see what he could find out about the lad.

Without their backing he booked himself some vacation time and crossed the Irish Sea hoping for answers. He'd now gotten them, but he wasn't sure he felt any richer for it.

Jon looked at his watch. Half-past four on a Saturday, if he were lucky he might just be able to make it to the library before it closed for the night.


“So you're not a member then?” inquired the librarian.

Jon sucked in breath. She fell right into the stereotypical portrayal that female librarians seem to get lumbered with. She wore her hair plain, sober clothes and looked like she'd never been fucked, and that maybe such an occurrence might do her the world of good.

“No. I'm over here on police business.” He hoped that sounding official would help.

“Then why aren't you using official police computers?” She asked, her eyes looking over her half-moon glasses. There was no way she was over forty, yet she was wearing glasses and dressing like someone in their seventies.

Jon changed his mind, he wasn't sure now whether she needed fucking or punching.

“Because...Look, can I have a quick go of your computer or not?”

“It's over there. Don't be too long, it's supposed to be for members only.”

Jon couldn't believe it. Why the fuck she couldn't have just let him on it in the first place was beyond him. Then it hit him, she was bored and a little self-importance made up for being who she was.

The library was empty as he headed past the books towards a bank of knackered looking computers.

He cast a quick glance at the rows and rows of books and wondered what the point of them was what with the internet. He fired up Wikipedia and started tapping away with both fore-fingers.

The old fart at the pub who had known Mordecai when he was growing up had said the lad was clever. Jon kicked himself, the thought of being Keyser Soze'd was killing him. He typed in 'Cerberus' and hit enter. Mordecai hadn't meant anything to do with a kerb when he had said 'Kerbrous' he'd just been playing Jon for a fool.

He started to read the web page. It had clicked in the pub, Mordecai affecting the hard 'C' just like so many others seemed to on the island where he grew up. He'd meant Cerberus, he'd been using a kicking 'ker' instead of a curly 'ker'.

He knew that Cerberus was the three headed hound from Greek mythology that guarded Hell. But there must be more to it. At the very least Mordecai had used it to play a game. Anything more than that was sinister. But it all seemed to make some sort of sense. Mordecai was a pebblehead that had changed his name to a biblical one. Jon had long ago looked up the meaning of it. It meant contrition. This didn't seem to work in too well with abducting a nun.

He went back to reading about Cerberus. There had to be something there, something significant.

The shadow of the librarian splashed down in front of him.

“Two minutes.”

Jon looked up and around. She was peering down at him and showing off her watch.

“Okay.” He decided he couldn't be arsed arguing the toss or bargaining for more time. He twisted a lip. “You know anything about that three headed dog thing, what's it called? That guards Mount Olympus?” He was purposely erroneous and vague. He'd read her as being someone who liked to be smarter than others and had played on it.

She took a moment as though she had sent a mental-minion off through the corridors of her knowledge to look upon the shelf where facts about three-headed dogs were kept.

“Firstly, the dog's name is Cerberus, and it's from Greek and Roman mythology. It guards Hades, Hell, not Mount Olympus.”

Jon nodded, he'd read that much himself. “Any idea what it might have to do with the Island?” Jon asked as he swiveled in the chair to give her his full attention.

She took on that thoughtful look once more as the mental-minion went away to harvest the knowledge.

“Sticks River.” the librarian suggested.

Jon nodded, it was the River Styx that you had to cross when you were dead, and you paid the ferry man.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Sticks River branches off from the Silverburn.” She was enjoying being in the limelight with her vast knowledge. Wearing that same smug look that the twats on Mastermind sported when they'd not had to pass on any questions from their chosen subject.

He made a few scribbles that might have been notes. “Is it far from here? Could you show me on a map?” he asked.

She breathed heavily through her nose. “Come on then.”


Jon wasn't one for the countryside. He was stood on the banks of the Silverburn River. A well trodden pathway shouldered the river but it wasn't as good as paving. The librarian was a dozen feet ahead.

She'd decided to show him the river personally as he had struggled with her directions on how to get to the beauty spot.

She'd driven him to the outskirts of the small town where the river began and then acted as a guide. Jon had been right; she was a bitch because she was bored. She still seemed priggish; but that didn't matter seeing as she was doing him a favour. Her name was Beth. He'd expected something plain like Maude.

“It might be summer detective but the night comes in eventually.” She smiled as she said it. Jon smiled back somewhat sourly. It was working to her advantage dressing in a boring manner. Her flat shoes were perfect for going off road in. His shiny office shoes on the other hand were a nightmare, he might as well have just strapped two blocks of butter to his feet.

He caught up at best as he could. Then she was off again at speed with both her legs and her mouth.

“Not sure how it got its name, one of the problems with a small island, people sometimes forget to pass on such details and then it becomes a plaything of conjecture.” At that point Jon stopped listening but remembered to nod occasionally.


A small wooden bridge arched over the Silverburn. Beth pointed. “We cross here. It breaks away from the main river.”

They crossed the bridge. Jon looked at the Sticks River. It was far from impressive and you'd struggle to drown anything in it. He checked his watch; it was coming up to seven o'clock. Probably wouldn't start getting dark for another couple of hours.

They followed the Sticks River for nearly a mile. Jon reached out and touched Beth's shoulder.

“Stop.” He whispered it.

She gave him a stare filled with questions. “What's up?”

He pointed up the river. About a half mile up there was tent pitched beside it. Jon knew it could just be some nature loving camper, it could also be Mordecai.

“Stay here.” Jon didn't check to see if she was doing as she was told. He was marching towards the tent. He knew he wouldn't find one of the woolly-hat brigade poncing it up inside the tent. Just that gut-feeling; it had served him well in the past.

When he was about two dozen feet away from the tent he called out. “Mordecai Shimmin. Come out of the tent.” Jon refrained from adding the 'hands up' part.

There was that distinct sound of canvas being unsettled that went with tents. That regular noise was followed by the zip being drawn down. Mordecai's voice came from within the flaps.

“Detective Howard?”

“Yeah.” replied Jon.

“Clever you.” Came the voice.

“I see your stutter’s cleared up, must be a relief.”

“A miracle. Can I call you Jon?” The voice wasn't smarmy, it sounded polite if anything.

“Can I put you in cuffs?”

“No. Not yet anyway.”

“Do yourself a favour and come out of the tent.”

“Who's with you?”

“Just a librarian.”


“I'm counting to three and then I'm gonna come drag you out of there.”

“Don't you want to know about Sister Gail?” asked Mordecai from within the tent, showing no inclination to leave its flapping confines.

“Rather hear about it at the station.”

“Not going to happen. This is much too serious.”

“No shit.” Jon said and took a step closer.

Jon could see the tent-flap pulled back fully. Mordecai crawled out with something in his hand. Jon's body went rigid and then relaxed when he saw it was just a thermos.

“Put the flask down.”

“I need it. Sister Gail gave her life to fill it.” Mordecai's dark eyes were serious, even to the point where the lids forgot to blink.

Jon felt his stomach tighten. He didn't need a rampant imagination to guess what was in the flask. At least it proved that he had been right, that Mordecai had been the reason that Sister Gail had dropped off the face of the planet; he'd killed her.

Time to stop playing his game. “Drop the flask. I'm not going to ask again.”

“I can't. The hunt is on for the Osseous Box. If evil finds it first then evil will find us!”

“Whatever, drop the fucking flask.” Jon took a step closer.

“I gave you the clues. I needed you here to help me. Sister Gail said I would need help. Help me find the box and help me hide it somewhere safer!”

Mordecai was just spitting out insanity. Jon ignored it and took another step. Mordecai took one back to compensate.

“Jon. The river shall point the direction but holy blood will lead the way. Sister Gail gave her life so that we might get to it first. Don't let her death become a waste,” Mordecai pleaded.

“Stop talking Mordecai, you're fucked up. You killed a fucking nun, they'll probably bring back hanging for you.” Jon burst into a run. More to stop Mordecai from getting the chance to say anything else.

Mordecai dived for the small river. Jon was soon on him. Wrestling with Mordecai, rolling him over only to then be rolled over himself. The deranged always had more strength than was fair.

Jon struck down with an elbow that smeared Mordecai's nose across his face. Still Mordecai struggled to get to the river. Jon tried to get the flask. Mordecai didn't want to share it. They struggled and they rolled. Beth was shouting something. Jon couldn't make out what it was, it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was gaining control of the situation and getting the sick prick into cuffs.

Mordecai found some more strength and managed to momentarily shrug himself free of Jon. He used the inches of freedom that he had gained to take the top off the flask and hurl the contents into the river.

Jon saw red-anger. He watched as the contents of the flask poured away into the river. It was Sister Gail's blood. It pooled in the river like something had been slain within the shallow depths. Jon clenched a fist and was about to take it to task with Mordecai's face but stopped. The blood didn't run downstream with the flow of the river. It stayed together in a liquid mass.

Jon couldn't help but crawl over to the riverbank and stare. Mordecai held a hand to his nose and stumbled over. Beth joined them in their strange vigil. None spoke as the blood broke every law of physics and began to work its way up river.

Mordecai smiled. “Holy blood will guide us.”

“What the...” Jon couldn't find anything to say.

“That can't be happening,” Beth added.

Mordecai began to follow the rogue blood. “We must find it first, we must.”

Jon started off after Mordecai; he didn't know whether to arrest him, beat him up or question him. He went with a question. “What is this Osseous Box?”

Mordecai didn't stop or look back. “Destruction.”


Lee Hughes' short fiction has appeared in or is due to appear in the anthology Cern Zoo Nemonymous 9, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, A Twist of Noir, MicroHorror.com, The Daily Tourniquet and Powder Flash Burn. To find out more visit: http://leehugheswrites.blogspot.com/.


  1. Wonky, Shufty, Goggle box.. I need the Isle of Man dictionary - yet - another fabulous tale from the chap on an Island.Love to see getting fucked described as an occurrence - brilliant! So nuanced and detailed. Whooaa another smasher!

    Great write here Lee!

  2. I'm with Michael, another smasher this one Lee. I've mentioned to you elsewhere how much I love this kind of work so won't rabbit on. Macabre as hell.

    Hey, Michael, I was having a shufty at the gogglebox last night, but the wonky leg broke and the box smashed. (Roughly translates as: I was watching TV last night, but the leg was twisted and loose, and the TV fell and was damaged beyond repair).

  3. Lee,
    You've got me both intrigued and hooked with this series. Off to read the next installment.
    Good stuff, bud.