An excerpt from The Unforgiven Dead by Fulton Ross

An excerpt from The Unforgiven Dead (Inkshares) by Fulton Ross one of the shortlist authors for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize.

Click HERE to read our interview with Fulton.

Clouds had amassed out to the west in the time he’d been away, chased landward by a strengthening wind. The tranquil sea of earlier was now a surging mass of spume-topped waves crashing onto the shore. The girl’s body looked insignificant set against the sweeping panorama of sky and earth and sea, a dark speck at the mercy of Mother Nature.

He glanced at Gills, who was doubled over, hands on his thighs. Although a member of the local rambling club and spry for his age, his friend was struggling on the scramble down the hillside. What did he expect? His self-imposed exile from Gills meant that it had been many years since they’d hiked together.

“Take it easy, a’bhalach,” he said, using the Gaelic term of endearment.

Eventually Gills straightened up. “Ready.”

Angus hesitated, reluctant to revisit the body. He saw the girl smile up at him from her Merc after he had pulled her over on that midge-infested evening three months ago.

“I need you to film the crime scene,” he said, swatting away the memory.

Gills fumbled for his mobile phone. He jabbed the screen with a shaking finger.

“Take a general sweep of the beach, then follow me,” Angus said. “But watch your step: the kelp’s slippery.”

Gills gave him a withering look, raised the phone, and swung it slowly through one hundred and eighty degrees. Angus set off down the shingle, then picked his way over drifts of seaweed before reaching the sinewy rivulets that crisscrossed the beach. The wind was an invisible foe now, trying to force him into retreat. Waves crashed onto the shore, a rhythmic refrain: Go back, go back, go back. . . .

By the time he reached the girl, the sea almost had her in its grasp. “Quick,” he told Gills. “Film the body and the surrounding sand, then I’ll lift her and carry her beyond the high-tide mark. Okay?”

Gills, though, was frozen to the spot, staring at the body. His breaths came in short, sharp bursts, like a man who had jumped into a pool without realizing the water was freezing. Angus clutched his arm. “Gills!”

The old man’s eyes snapped to him. This time there was no withering look. Gills could only nod and film in silence, the grim diorama played out to the sound of breakers and the plaintive cry of an oystercatcher.

“Right, time to move her.”

“No footprints,” Gills wheezed.

Only Angus’s own boot marks from earlier were visible.

“Probably the wind,” Gills said. “It could have blown sand into the footprints.”

“Aye, probably,” Angus said, unconvinced.
They stood in silence for a long second, heads bowed. “I’ll tell them I found her while out walking the dogs,” Gills said.

The wind howled across the sound. “You’ll have to go get them—otherwise, it’ll look suspicious.”

“I’ll say I left the dogs back home after contacting you.”

“Why didn’t you call 999?”

“Panicked. Figured you’d know what to do.”

A detached part of his brain told him there was no CCTV between the Old Manse and the beach or his home. The story would hold. Angus nodded, his eyes on the coarse rope cinched around the girl’s wrists. A compact bow-line knot, tied by hands that knew what they were doing.

Summoning up his strength, he squatted and worked his fingers under the girl’s body. She smelt of dew and there was a lingering hint of perfume, a slightly saccharine note that conjured up an image of her stabling her horse at Dunbirlinn.

In one fluid motion, he lifted the girl. Her head lolled back, the wound around her neck parting like lips.

He heard Gills stifle a cry. “Poor lassie,” he murmured, lowering the phone.

Angus could only nod, although “poor” was a word rarely mentioned in the same breath as this girl. She was sixteen but looked unbearably young.

He turned his back on the wind, cradling her body the same way as he had the Drowned Boy. Ethan Boyce had been even lighter.

Angus had barely taken three stuttering paces when something fell from under the girl’s cloak. He half-turned, in time to see Gills crouch and reach for the object. “Wait! Don’t touch—”

His warning came too late.

“Sorry,” Gills said with a wince.

Angus closed his eyes and muttered a curse under his breath. “What is it anyway?”

Gills stood and dusted sand off the object. A startled look rippled across the old man’s face. He glanced at Angus and then back at the object.

“Gills, what the hell is it?”

The old man stepped closer, his arm outstretched, the object lying on his palm. Angus frowned. He looked down at the object and felt a shudder run up his spine. It was a macabre doll, about six inches in height, with golden hair and bulging, beady glass eyes. It was crudely carved, but even so, the doll had an uncanny lifelike quality.

“A corp creadha,” Gills breathed. “It’s a Highland voodoo doll.”

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