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The Soul Hunters would have been an odd novel in Guy's horror output as it's a pyschological piece that centres almost entirely on one character. It seems like it could be read on two levels, as it could be a supernatural story of psychic attack or it could be a psychological story of a man being driven insane by guilt.
When I was asked to contribute a piece to the Hell of a Guy book, I thought of writing up chapters from a synopsis for a book that Guy had pitched but never written. I ended up choosing this one because I felt the first couple of chapters were within my talents.
The synopsis carries Guy's Black Hill address, so it's a later example of a pitched story idea that didn't make it.
Ronald Duggan is a very ordinary young man living in a typical suburban area. Married only three months his wife's affections seem to have transferred themselves to a poodle dog which he finds himself exercising nightly when he returns from his office job. This particular night he is later than usual and takes a different route which leads him through a churchyard. Suddenly the dog runs off and he chases it, hears it give a howl of pain and terror. Then he comes upon the most frightening scene he has ever witnessed; a number of people are engaged in a black magic ritual and his wife's poodle has just been viciously sacrificed on an old tombstone. Hatred blazes from the faces which turn in his direction. He stands petrified, recognises one of them - a man whom he has seen about the estate. Then Duggan flees blindly, hearing them in pursuit and he knows that if they catch him they will kill him to silence him. The chase continues through the graveyard and out into the older part of the town where he realises that he has thrown them off his trail.
Duggan's dilemma; this was no student rag but the real thing, a sinister coven which will kill to protect its secret. They recognised him just as surely as he recognised that man off the estate - perhaps even now they are lying in wait for him, determined to ambush him and kill him when he returns home. Therefore he cannot go back home. The police? It would be difficult to convince the law and even if he did it is doubtful whether they would provide him with a 24-hour bodyguard. Just one man he recognised, and he does not even know where that one lives. Possibly the others all come from close-by also. Anytime Duggan ventures outside his house he risks his life and he has read enough about witchcraft to escalate his fears. The final deciding factor which has him walking in the opposite direction - Pauline, his wife, will blame him for the death of her poodle; she will not accept his explanation of what happened but will accuse him of killing the dog. Suddenly he is a man on the run, a fugitive from society as well as those terrible devil-worshippers. It is Friday night and he still has an unopened wage-packet in his pocket. Somehow he must attempt to make a new life for himself if he is to survive.
Duggan spends a cold and sleepless night in a half-demolished street of terraced houses and at daybreak he sets out on the next stage of his panic-stricken flight. He must get away from this town where people know him. His destination is a town thirty miles away where he spent his childhood but where he is now unlikely to be recognised. Dischevelled, he hitch-hikes and arrives at this town later in the day. It is now a sprawling conurbation - just the place to lose his identity and start a new life. Finding a job won't be easy in times of high unemployment and he has just £80 in hard cash to last him. He finds a cheap bedsit, a dowdy depressing room with basic amenities and prepares to spend his first night in hiding. Exhausted he falls asleep on the bed but sometime in the night he awakes with a sense of uneasiness which blends into mounting terror - it is as though he is not alone in the darkened room. A voice whispering his name, a voice he recognises... his wife's! That is impossible. Yet he can feel her presence, smell her perfume, tearful whispers begging him to return. It has to be all in his mind. He screams his refusal to return aloud, hears her becoming angry and grabs for the light cord. Harsh electric light will dispel his terror. But the light is dead, just a click and the blackness seeming to close in on him, Pauline's voice more angry now. He rushes to the door but it seems to have jammed. He is trapped in a cubicle of black terror, panicking, trying to shout but he can only manage hoarse whispers of fear. Other voices now, ones he does not recognise, and then he falls to the ground in a dead faint. When he awakes gey daylight is streaming in through the dusty window pane; he feels weak and can still hear those voices echoing inside his brain, incoherent but threatening. And then comes the most terrible realisation of all. Those devil-worshippers are using their terrible powers to get him - their psychic attacks on him have begun!
Duggan wanders the town in crumpled clothing, unshaven and unwashed, wincing every time a passer-by glances at him. They cannot know where he is, they are merely trying to lure him back and he must fight them. But he cannot stay in that awful room another night. He buys an evening paper, gasps as he sees his own photograph, an account of how the dead dog has been found by the police and they fear for his safety. Maybe he should telephone Pauline, just tell her that he is OK but no details. He tries but there is no answer, the ringing of the phone the other end a sound that fills him with dread. What of Pauline, will these nightmarish people take their revenge on her? But he cannot go back. Darkness finds him still wandering the town. Eventually he finds himself in the gorunds of a large private school which is closed for the holidays. He accept his new role as a vagrant prowler and breaks in in search of food and shelter. The kitchens are well-stocked in readiness for the new term, dormitories awaiting the return of the adolescents. Thoroughly exhausted he flings himself on to one of the beds.
Duggan awakens to see Pauline standing at the foot of his bed. Mingled joy turns to horror. She is wearing the same green trouser suit which she had on the night he left the house but it is her face which has him covering his eyes, trying in vain to shut out the terrible sight. For her features are wasted, putrefaction, the face of a rotting corpse in its grave. A cavity of a mouth is speaking, hollow tones that echo with terrible finality. Pauline is dead; they have killed her and have sent her tortured spirit to taunt him! She vanishes as though she had never been. This time he finds he can flee, falling down flights of steps, bruised and battered, scrambling out inot the open starry night. A headlong flight takes him across playing fields, away from the town and into the countryside. He finds himself in a damp dark wood that reeks of rotting vegetation, lying in the undergrowth. Day is breaking slowly. And that is when he sees the crows perching in the dead branches all around him!
The crows are like black hooded vultures, waiting to swoop down on their hapless victim. Ronald Duggan feels his own helplessness as though all physical resistance has drained from him. To his horror they remind him of his unknown hunters, persistent and patient, knowing that in the end they will wear him down. Then in the half-light they swoop, the only sound a swish of wings; he feels a rush of air. but they do not attack, only alighting in a circle, watching him with unblinking eyes. A council of justice, the justice of the dark forces passing sentence of death. Then suddenly they take wing and leave as silently as they came. Oh God, his pursuers have located him now. They know where he is and now they will run him to earth! Full daylight finds him weak and sweating in spite of the chill of the morning. Stumbling on, condemned to flee until he finds his release in death!
He finds himself in a recreation park, an area of swings and see-saws, the shouts of children seeming to mock him. 'We're going to kill you, Ronald Duggan!' He sprawls on a bench seat, closes his eyes. Where can he flee to now? It is the darkness he fears most. Suddenly there is an accident on one of the swings, a young child losing her balance and falling headfirst with a sickening thud on to the concrete below. Duggan stares in horror, finds himself unable to go to her assistance. A crowd gathers, an ambulance arrives but the child is already dead. A fit of remorse assails Duggan. It is all his fault because he came here and brought the forces of death to this place. He killed the child. Guilt that is stronger than his fear of the unknown has him going back to his original bedsit, sitting on the bed as dusk turns to darkness, hearing a crowd somewhere shouting 'murderer!' And then with darkness another night of terror begins.
Physical pain first this time, an unbearable headache. He is in a courtroom, cringing in the dock, judge and jurors black unrecognisable figures reminding him of those awful crows in the wood. Duggan wants to die but not this way. he tries to scream that there is no death penalty nowadays but they pass sentence and heed him not. A kind of waking nightmare where reality pervades, the condemned cell, screaming for mercy as he is dragged to the gallows. He feels the rope rough and taut around his neck, hears Pauline's lifeless voice somewhere. Even she is pitiless now. And then comes the executioner, a face that is recognisable in spite of the mask. That same man whom Duggan saw in the churchyard that terrible night, gloating in living death. He blacks out and when morning comes and he finds himself lying on the floor of his dismal room he is convinced that he is one of the living dead. But he still lives, although surely he cannot last much longer.
Duggan decides that there is only one way out - suicide! His mind is made up as he leaves his room and blends with the early morning crowds hurrying to work. For some strange reason he finds himself buying a newspaper although he has no interest in the affairs of others. There is a front page story of a bizarre death and there is no mistaking the woman's photograph. Pauline has paid the ultimate penalty - they have killed her! Dazed, he somehow manages to buy a bottle of aspirin from a chemist's shop and tramps out to the countryside. He stands on a bridge above a wide fast-flowing river. As he takes the bottle from his pocket it slips from his grasp and plunges into the current below. Suddenly he sees an alternative means of death and almost follows it. Something checks him - a flashback to the most terrifying experience of his life, swimming lessons in his schooldays, the time he slipped and fell into the deep end, the panic and terror as the greenish chemical-tasting water closed over him. No way could he go through it again. He finds himself backing away, running again.
Nightime and Ronald Duggan is back in town. A new resolve, spawned by a hatred for what these fiends have done to him. He has to take it out of somebody. He can't get that face out of his mind, that of the man who is bringing about these psychic attacks, coming to terrorise him in weird visions. Now the hunters must become the hunted, ruthlessly tracked down by one who has nothing to lose. He hitches a lift on a northbound lorry and within hours finds himself back in his own area, skulking on the edge of that churchyard where it all began. It is late and everywhere is deserted. He finds the old tombstone and the poodle's bloodstains are still visible. in his hand he clasps a penknife, a puny weapon but it will suffice. He just needs to find that man again, the one responsible for all this. The others do not matter. And then on the nightwind he hears voices again, those same strange incantations. Amongst them he recognises Pauline's voice, a demented soul crying for help. And the night is filled with inexplicable noises, presences which he can feel but cannot see. He recoils, tries to flee. A burning pain inside him, a living cancer eating his body away. Writhing, screaming. They have lured him back to their lair, used the terrible forces of evil to bring their victim back to them. Hands clutch at him, he is being dragged away. Only this time it is all so real, no figment of his tortured mind, fingers that dig deep into his flesh as he is dragged across the churchyard. He blacks out.
A bare cell, lit by blinding fluorescent light so that Duggan's brain is numbed by a terrible headache. People, real people. He recognises policemen, one uniformed, another in plain clothes. They are merciless, questioning, demanding answers. Again it reminds him of the wood of crows and that strange court-room. Being accused of murder... Pauline's! A kaleidoscope of all his innermost fears merging slowly into that one face that has haunted him throughout; the man who lives on the estate, the bestial features of a graveyard devil-worshipper, the executioner in his dream. Now it is before him... recognisable and real - none other than Detective-Constable Williscroft of the C.I.D.! Cruel lips forming into gloating malevolence, the voice so familiar... "...charged with the murder of... Pauline Duggan..."
Ronald Duggan wants to black out and wake up cold and frightened someplace else but this time it doesn't happen. He stares into those hooded eyes of the detective who had once lived close to him on the estate. Oh God, they'd got him in the end and this time there would be no escape!
Last update: 4th June, 2019