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  Ever wondered where all those kids go? You know the ones on the back of milk cartons. Children disappear every day and are never seen again, they simply vanish into thin air!

  Poppy Darke is an eleven year old problem child with a bad attitude and an  Anti-social behaviour  order. She hates everyone and everything especially the brat, and it hasn t even been born yet.

  And to make matters even worse she s been dragged kicking and screaming out of London and forced to live in the stinking countryside. Could it get any worse?

  So when the new born baby comes and is abducted by an evil Goyle, the fingers of blame soon point at the  problem child  with the criminal record. Well they would, wouldn t they?

  What policeman is ever going to believe her tale of a four hundred year old witch and a ghost hiding in the cupboard? What Judge isn t going to send little Poppy to gaol forever if she even mentions the Boneshiner Goyles whose job it is to protect the dead from demons? Strange and magical powers, let s not even go there!

  And what is the big secret mum and granddad seem to be hiding anyway?

  Will the baby end up in the dreaded cauldron? Can Poppy save her brother before the last bell tolls on Christmas Eve?       

 

  
  


                                                                     Chapter 1

                                                                   Present day




  Claustrophobic darkness hung heavy in the air, a timeless beacon for all that is evil. Like an all-consuming plague, the black nothingness infested every space in the forest. Striking terror into those caught in its duplicitous embrace, helping both predator and prey alike. The full Moon, often a candle of respite for the unfortunate, was now confined by tempestuous storm clouds.
  Gargle Skuttlebucket stooped and hobbled with a limp when he walked; even by Goyle standards he was very old. His face was once that of a Cherub, hewn out of a single rock of granite by a French stonemason almost five hundred years before but now weathered and scarred. His joints were not what they once were; they ached and grated when he moved and had recently noticed an almost imperceptible tremor in his hands. Lichen patches swathed his once rotund girth, a staple of the Boneshiner, but now flabby and sagging dangerously around his knees. It wasn t just his body that was weathered and scarred, but also his Goyle soul.
   He was created from an ancient magic to protect the living from the terrors that infest the night and haunt only the darkest of shadows. Somewhere along the litter strewn highway that was his life he had become a grudging servant of evil and committed the most villainous of sins. Albeit at the behest of a Witch, he had taken a human life. He was getting too old for all this and cursed the wretched life that he had, he cursed the night, and he cursed that damnable cat.
  It looked like rain, and everyone knows that Goyles don t like rain. Looking around to make sure no one was about he pulled an umbrella from under his tunic, a pink umbrella with little daisy flowers around the rim. He grimaced with embarrassment. "If my old Ma  could see me now!" he growled. "Here Puss Puss…Where are you? You stupid moggy!"
  Trees swayed and creaked around him; the wind ripped leaves off the forest floor and tossed them teasingly in his face. "Once a great Boneshiner I was... A warrior Goyle!" He muttered angrily as he pulled a handful of leaves from his right ear. "Just look at me now… My old Pap would be ashamed, he would." He felt a drop of rain splash on to his nose and swore, because as everyone knows rain can cause a moss infestation if left untreated.
  Suddenly he heard movement behind him in the undergrowth. "Here pussy! Come on Twiddles, blooming  eck it s starting to rain now, I thought you cats don t like water." As he turned he looked up. It wasn t rain dripping on to his head, but blood. "Oh not again Twiddles, Put that sheep down… at once… What is wrong with you? Her Ladyship is going to flip."
  A bloody, headless sheep carcass crashed onto the ground splashing its guts and entrails all over Gargle Skuttlebucket. "Thanks for that!" he said through clenched teeth, and a long furry tongue lashed out of his mouth clearing the sticky gloop in one almighty lick. "Yummy..." he belched. "Now get in that house or there s no gruel for you tonight!"  
    He watched as the huge mutant cat slowly slinked off in to the night, with its head down and occasional lingering looks back at Gargle Skuttlebucket it could have been mistaken for a scolded and sulking child. That Moggy was in for a thrashing and her Ladyship would most probably rant and rave all night too. Gargle sighed heavily, he was no lover of mutant familiars, but he had no desire to see the Witch throw a wobbly again.
Then he sat on a bough of a recently fallen tree and waited, taking out the torch she had given him he switched it on and shone its beam at the ground, this was fly fishing for Goyles.
  He had to wait a while before the tantalizing scent of his prey wafted across his nose, soon he could hear them flapping nearby. He pointed the irresistible light in their direction; and they swarmed in by the multitude. Moths fluttered ignorantly about his head, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were being snatched one by one out of the air by a long furry tongue. He liked to have two or three in his mouth at once and crunch on their juicy little bodies, but occasionally one would escape and that tongue would shoot out and recapture it. This was  fast food  for Goyles and soon they were all gone and Gargle, to be honest, was feeling a little bloated.
  He belched loudly and yawned. "We can t stay out here all night Gargle!" he growled. "Better face the music now, and get it over and done with." and with that he picked up his umbrella and slid down onto the ground.
  The wind hadn t eased much by the time he arrived back at the house, but even so, it was still far too quiet. He tried the front door and surprisingly it opened, she hadn t locked him out as he thought she might. Taking a deep breath he entered on tiptoes, maybe if he was lucky he could get to his attic room without her seeing him.
    He reached the stairs and wished his wings still worked, pausing to listen on the third step he frowned. Somewhere in house he could distinctly hear the sound of sobbing, it was coming from upstairs. His huge ears twisted and flapped separately as they triangulated the sound and pinpointed her Ladyship s boudoir. "Not again!" he said.
  His shoulders sagged and he closed his eyes savoring the calm before the storm. Steeling himself at her door he tapped lightly and waited.
  The door slowly opened all by itself and Gargle stepped in. "I… I heard you crying Ma am! Is there something amiss?" he couldn t see her through the gloom, and was thankful. "Can I get you anything...? A tissue, perhaps."
  The sobbing instantly became full on hysterical wailing. "Look!" she cried and held out her hand. "What is happening to me?" her fingers unfurled and revealed a long tuft of silver grey hair. "The Cauldron…It fails me!"
  "That s… That s impossible!" he cried and turning on his torch, shone the beam upon her. He only saw a glimpse as she hissed and hid under the covers. But that split second was more than enough! She was aging alright and those were wrinkles he saw.
  "I have… liver spots on my beautiful hands!" she wailed. "Smash the mirrors… Smash all the mirrors, I dare not look upon myself."
  Gargle loved her Ladyship more than he could ever say, and would gladly go to his death for her. But that was only because of her magic coursing through his veins "There-There my Lady…Don t you fret none! You ll always be beautiful to me." He said softly, although it was hard to tell with his gravelly voice.
  She erupted in an ear splitting scream, the tumbler of water on her bedside shattered showering Gargle with both glass and water. "Beautiful to you…" she screeched. "Beautiful to you… a Gargoyle who eats earwigs and worms…." the scream echoed around the entire house smashing every mirror in every room.
   "Go now to the cauldron Ma am, this second, before it s too late." he cried and shone his torch at the door to guide her, but she didn t move. "Drink you re fill… Bathe in the cauldron, if you must." Even though she treated him like dirt most of the time, the magic would not let him bear to see her so upset.
  She contemplated the torch beam for a while and then her eyes darted back to the Goyle. "Have you found the one who escaped yet?"
  "No my Lady…He has but faded away and gone forever." Gargle lied, capturing the boy was proving impossible especially as he was friends of the Rottenoffles, and besides, what her Ladyship didn t know wouldn t hurt her.
  "I must have that boy… You find him. I fear my magic is failing me and I grow weaker with every passing day…!" she was thinking aloud and Gargle knew when to stay quiet. He could almost hear the cogs turning within her wicked brain. "Perhaps the cauldron is at last spent and I shall wither and turn to…To dust!"  She paused for what seemed like an age, and then. "Only a baby will do for me now Skuttlebucket… You must bring my cauldron a… shiny… new… baby!"
  Gargle s heart, if he had one, sank to his feet. "My Lady, where shall I find such a thing?" he whined.
  She raised her head and glared at him through the torch light. "If you loved me, and I mean truly loved me, you d give me a baby…! Wouldn t you?"
   There was no need for an answer, he had received his orders and now would have to find a baby, and any baby would have to do. His muscles, joints and bones seemed to ache more than usual as he turned to leave the room, but he was far too slow anyway. Daybreak had crept in unnoticed through a tiny gap in the curtains and bathed the back of his head in daylight. He felt the burning sensation instantly and in the time it takes to blink turned back to stone mid-stride; he wobbled backwards and forwards several times before settling.
  The Witch let out a scream of frustration. "You idiot!" she hissed and threw a bedside lamp, catching him with a glancing blow to the side of his head. He wobbled again and swayed and eventually toppled over, becoming wedged in the door frame. "Buffoon…! How am I supposed to get out now...? I cannot afford to waste my powers on stupidity!"
  She sat up in bed and reached out with both arms, her palms faced the Gargoyle. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she began muttering in Gibberish, an age old dialect known only to Witches. Hissing the same unspeakable, unpronounceable words over and over again, she became louder and louder. Each single word was spoken with a mixture of venom and passion, soon her voice was lost in the mêlée. Living sounds seemed to dance off her tongue and reverberate around the bedroom as if seeking direction and reason. Soon there were so many words and sounds that they began colliding and crashing into each other, exploding in showers of sonic fireworks and pure energy, creating living magic. The Witch directed the effervescent light show like an insane orchestral conductor. The Gargoyle began to glow an eerie green color and then he blinked and sagged on to his knees.
  "What have you done to me?" he spat painfully through clenched teeth. He could feel the magic coursing through his veins like prickly static; the spasms it caused were unbearable. "Kill me now I beg you... Free me from this hell!"
  "Go to your attic whilst you can my little Goyle slave...Seek darkness and sleep, for tonight you WILL bring me a child from the suburbs!" She seemed lost in thought again for a while, and then. "I must have a newborn!"
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