It’s been two years since Daniel moved out from the home he shared with his wife and baby daughter, now living alone in a remote cottage across the fields which belongs to his uncle and for the most part working alone, the driver of the early morning run of milk and other produce along the backroads to the farmhouses and factories of rural Cumbria.
Just him and the hills and his thoughts of his failings, his marriage, his career and his difficult childhood, on the cold, dark mornings, in the isolation and the monotony he begins to think he can perceive patterns in the snatched conversations with his customers, their nightmares become so vivid they feel compelled to confess them, in the increased presence of the fallen stock vehicles on the roads, flitting between farms as they collect the carcasses of dead animals.
His own recurring nightmare of a terrifying deformed giant entombed beneath the earth and consuming vast quantities of flesh, Daniel finds unexpected solace in Kathryn who runs the La’al Tattie Shop in Egremont who offers him a witch bottle to ward off the ghost which menaces him just out of sight in the shadows, then asks him to help her distribute similar bottles to other customers on his daily rounds, a bargain unconsciously made with which his own continued protection is linked.
A mix of elements individually mundane yet collectively potent, in his own Witch Bottle Tom Fletcher has placed the uncanny in the everyday, the commonplace slights and demands which can escalate to hostility, the small disappointments of life which accrete into a crushing burden, Daniel a man who moves as fast as is safe on the winding roads yet goes nowhere, digging a muddy rut as he covers the same ground in his employment and the endlessly repeating cycle of his bleak thoughts.
The rising tide of visions and visitations from the dead leading to a surge in demand for Kathryn’s skills, the witch in the baked potato shop is accustomed to growing things, to crafting and the needs of people, but is it Daniel who is marking everyone on his route with darkness, or was it already there waiting for a catalyst, or is it that he, either alone or because of his relationship with Kathryn, is a focus to which these things are drawn?
Much of Witch Bottle mediated through nightmares and memories, the scenes where tangible manifestations impinge on the real world are more disturbing but Fletcher’s articulate phrasing and rolling descriptions of country lanes and sharp characters never fails even when Daniel is forced to stop on the road by a severed cow’s head, and while perhaps too much time is focused on the process of loading and unloading dairy products when the twist of the blade comes it is sharp and buried suitably deep.
Witch Bottle is available from now from the Jo Fletcher Books