The Seventh Apprentice
It’s a dangerous job, being a spook’s apprentice.
I had often wondered if I was actually cut out for this role, as I traced my fingers on the
six names on my bedroom wall, those of my master’s previous apprentices. A couple had
succeeded in completing their training to my master’s satisfaction, but I knew the rest had either
run away or perished in the line of duty.
But I needed to make a decision once and for all.
My mind travelled back three days previously. I was sitting at the kitchen table at our
house in Chipenden, trying very hard to remember the lesson my master had given me that
afternoon and jotting everything down in my notebook. I wrote very slowly you see, as I was
forced by my uncle when I was a lot younger to do everything with my right hand, so I usually
had to spend an extra hour every afternoon finishing my notes. I had merely completed three
months’ training under my belt, but already I was bombarded with so much new information it
was hard to keep up.
I remembered glancing at my master who was sitting close to the fireplace, stroking his
black beard as he was in the habit of when in deep thought, when the peal of a bell could be
heard from the distance. My heart dropped to my boots at the sound as it surely meant more
spook’s work. My master stood and glared at me with his piercing blue eyes. “Well, don’t just sit
there, lad. Hurry up and see who it is! Don’t keep people waiting.”
He was a formidable man, my master, standing well over six feet tall with shoulder
length black hair and a tough, wiry body. People say he was the only good spook in the county. I
was anxious to please him, so I immediately plucked my cloak from the back door and raced
towards the meeting place at the withy trees crossroads. I was out of breath by the time I
reached it. So far in my brief experience as an apprentice, it was usually a farmer or an errand
boy who would be waiting nervously for the Spook’s arrival, but to my surprise I saw a lady,
pacing back and forth in agitation, a red shawl draped across her thin shoulders. As I got closer, I
could see she was quite young, maybe just a few years older than I was, and she had been crying.
“Where’s Master Gregory? I need to speak to your master immediately!”
It was not uncommon for folk to sniff at the young spook’s apprentice. It was part of the
training and I had been expecting this.
“My master sent me to take your message. He is available, don’t you worry.”
“Don’t worry?! My children have been abducted by a beast, and I fear for their lives!” She
was starting to sob uncontrollably, and I needed to get as much coherent information from her
“Tell me what’s happened to your children, ma’am.”
The woman appeared to calm down and dapped her eyes with her shawl. “Something’s
been attacking our village these past few weeks. At first, sheep and cattle were found butchered
out in the farms. We thought wolves had come down marauding from the hills. But then the
children started to go missing, whisked away from their beds! My own twins…” She started
wailing again, so there was not much I could get out of her after this.
She managed to say she was from Chorley, a village less than half a day’s walk from here.
I reassured her I would tell my master straight away and ran back towards the house. I managed
a quick look back and saw the lady had already disappeared, no doubt keen to get home before
I burst into our kitchen and blurted out the lady’s story to my master, who was still
standing in exactly the same spot. When I had finished, the Spook kept his eyes on me before
asking, “A beast did you say? Did she give you a description, any clue to what’s behind these
I stared at my master in dismay at that. How could I have forgotten to ask something so
basic? It may indeed have been wolves at play for all we know.
“Did you at least ask the lady her name, lad?”
I flushed a deep red and hung my head in shame. I was just so keen to deliver the
message, I had neglected to retrieve vital pieces of information. To my relief, my master’s stern
face broke into a smile. He patted me on the shoulder. “It’s alright, lad. No harm done. You’re still
green behind the ears, and no doubt will only get better with experience.”
He shook his head then. “But what that lady said has me very worried, lad. She must
have been mighty desperate to come here on her own. We need to leave for Chorley right away!”
With that, we were soon on the path heading south for the next village, my master striding
ahead of me at a furious pace. In addition to my own staff, as the apprentice, I was instructed to
carry the Spook’s heavy leather bag as well as his staff.
I was still not used to walking long distances, raised as I was by my uncle at his tannery
where I would spend the whole day scraping smelly cow hide. We took the pathway parallel to
Chipenden village so we could avoid running into any nosy folk and skirted the fells before
entering the woods, just as the light was starting to fail. It was late autumn and the leaves
crunched under our boots. Patches of weak afternoon sunlight pierced through the thin
branches overhead as we plunged deeper into the trees. My master obviously knew where he
was going as he did not relent in his pace at all and I had a hard time keeping up, burdened as I
was with the tools of our trade. I made sure I stayed close behind him though, running
intermittently to keep up. I was near exhaustion before the trees started to clear and we
emerged out near an open field. My master pointed towards a cluster of buildings not far ahead,
and soon we were striding towards the main village tavern.
Several folks were already gathered here. One look at our cloaks and staffs and they
immediately turned their backs on us. Strange behaviour I thought, towards the very people
who were here to help them. My master had warned me several times that people tended to
keep well away from spooks for fear of the unknown, but it annoyed me just the same. The
innkeeper, a heavy-set man with a florid face and wearing a dirty apron, gave us a nod from
behind the counter. We sat at a table in the furthest corner and waited for the keeper to take our
“You must be the Spook that young Janet went to fetch,” the keeper said by way of
greeting. “What can I get you, gentlemen? We have some delicious lamb kidney pie if you fancy
some.” My ears perked up at the prospect of a decent meal. Instead, my master placed two silver
pieces on the table and said in a low voice. “No thank you, just some water and lodgings for the
night. My name is John Gregory, and this is my apprentice, Jack.” The keeper picked up the coins.
He glanced back at his other customers before replying, “Things are getting really bad around
these parts, Mr Gregory. You have a good reputation, so I hope you and your young apprentice
here could do something about it.”
At that, my master pointed to an empty chair next to me. “Why don’t you sit yourself
down and tell us what’s what then. Start from the beginning, leave nothing out.”
The keeper sat and for the first time I could see the signs of fear etched on his round
face. His double chin trembling, he began his account of the creature that had been terrorising
the villagers. People would hear horrifying screams as their farm animals were massacred in the
dead of night. Full grown cattle and horses were discovered the following day with deep bite
marks, their tough hide ripped to shreds by apparently sharp claws. Nobody had ever dared
venture out during these attacks to confront the beast.
“But I have seen it, with my own eyes…” whispered the man, visibly sweating next to me.
“Well, spit it out man, what does it look like? Does it stand on two or four legs?”
“Two, Mr Gregory. I was woken up one night not a week ago by the sound of a child
screaming its head off. I was upstairs in my bedroom and as I peeked out the window, I saw it,
standing just a stone’s throw away. It appeared to be in the form of a large man, but more
muscular…and it was carrying a sack over its shoulders.”
The innkeeper took a few shuddering breaths before continuing. “It made these loud
grunting noises as it devoured a piece of meat in its hands, like a dog shaking a rat. It was then
that it looked up at me standing at my window. I’ll never forget it! It had these fangs for teeth… I
am sure because it was smiling directly at me, like I was next on the menu!”
“Where did it go?” asked my master.
“I shut the window then and waited till the morning. I told anyone who would listen, but
they thought it was the drink talking! I managed to convince a few of the men and had a good
look around, but apart from a few vague prints, there was no trace of it.”
“But this creature keeps coming back?” my master prodded. “Hungry for more than just
animals, it seems.”
The keeper’s face turned a deathly pale. “First it was Mrs Foster’s girl. One late evening,
she got woken up by her dog barking madly. She lives at the end of the village so was too scared
to look. The next morning, her dog was found dead at her doorstep, head bashed to a pulp. And
her daughter, who was supposed to be safe inside, was gone. That wicked beast must have taken
her! Since then, four more children have vanished, most recently being Janet’s twins. That’s
when she went to get you.”
“So many children?!” cried my master, clearly angered. “What kind of bungling people
are you? Why haven’t you called me sooner, or at least informed the county sheriff about this?”
“We have sent word. But they have better things to do than bother coming to an out of
the way village like ours. They probably think its wolves behind all of this. And despite your
good name, Mr Gregory, folks here are not too comfortable with your lot.”
There was nothing more he could tell us. I was terrified hearing the keeper’s account. It
was clear a malevolent creature of the dark was at large, and we were expected to deal with it.
After going through the details again with the keeper, my master decided it was time to go up to
our rooms. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep after a tiring journey and an empty
stomach. But that was not to be. My master followed me into my room and sat down on the only
chair. I was about to do the same on the bed when my master said, “We haven’t got time to rest,
lad. Who knows when this evil entity would strike next? Another child’s life could be at stake.
These fools and their superstitious nonsense have caused untold damage!”
“What do you think it could be, master? Could a witch or boggart be responsible behind
The Spook stayed silent for a few moments, staring into space as if trying to recall
something from his past, then shook his head. “No, the description does not fit, lad, though if I’m
right it could be something just as terrible. I need more information to be certain, but I reckon
we are dealing with an abhuman”.
I remembered reading a reference about abhumans in the Spook’s Bestiary in the house
library, a detailed manual of denizens of the dark which my master wrote himself, but I could
not remember any details as I was focused more on boggarts which were the main subject
matter for first year apprentices.
My master seemed to know what I was thinking. “You need to always be on the alert, lad,
and to absorb new information whenever you can. Even the smallest detail could be crucial in
our fight against the dark,” he admonished.
“An abhuman is the abominable male spawn of a union between the Fiend and a witch. I
encountered one during my early years in this job and it was vicious, as strong as a bull. Just like
any animal, it must have a made a lair for itself close by which the villagers have missed. And it’s
our job to find it.”
“Do we need to find it this very night, master?” I asked, controlling my rising terror.
My master looked at me hard in that knowing way of his, then gave a deep sigh. “Aye, lad.
If I’m right, then I fear the worst for those children, for this monster is as depraved and wicked
as they come. Abhumans are flesh eaters, and they especially enjoy young tender meat.”
We waited until most of the patrons of the tavern had left, before slipping out the back
door. I judged it was just past midnight. It was a damp and chilly night to be out and about, the
ground squelching beneath our boots from a recent shower. Dark clouds obscured the full moon,
plunging the whole countryside into a deep gloom. Fortunately, as seventh sons of seventh sons,
we could see better in the dark than most people and had little trouble meandering the large
backyard and then out through the gate.
We carried our staffs and had filled our pockets with salt and iron. My master had his
silver chain tied around his waist beneath his cloak. He let me practice using it against the post
in the garden back in Chipenden, but it would be a long while before I could save enough to
purchase one of my own.
The Spook kept a straight course down a desolate lane until we were well out of earshot
of the tavern and other dwellings. “Right, lad. Stick close to me and keep your eyes and ears open
for any unusual signs. We would be performing what is called a surveillance of this area. Most of
all, trust your instincts and tell me at once if you sense anything strange. Do you understand?”
I put on a brave face and nodded, stifling the trembling of my lips. I looked very young
for my thirteen years. My older cousins used to harass me to no end at the tannery, kicking me
black and blue and calling me rude names whilst my uncle turned a blind eye. I was much
weaker and smaller than them, and very timid, so could not defend myself. It was both a
surprise and a relief when the Spook came one day and spoke with my uncle, offering to take me
on as his apprentice. Seventh sons of seventh sons were very rare, which I suspected was the
main reason I was offered this trial. Despite my apprehension, I jumped at the chance just to get
away, and my uncle was only too glad to be rid of me. Against all odds, I passed the initiation test
in my first month. Little did I know the dangers I would be facing as a spook’s apprentice, but my
master was a good man, and I was determined to do my best.
Together, holding our staffs in the ready position resting on our left shoulders, we
trudged down the pathway. We walked side by side this time, my master surveying the scene on
the left, whilst I looked in the opposite direction. When we had first come out of the woods and
seen this village from afar, I knew roughly there were about two dozen buildings making up this
community, built mostly within close vicinity of each other, with only a few outlying farmsteads.
We treaded as quietly as possible when passing the houses. Naturally, at this late hour, most
folks were already fast asleep and silent darkness purveyed the scene. After about an hour, we
found nothing amiss, hence the Spook pointed northwards towards one of the nearby farms.
We climbed a wooden gate and trudged across an empty field.
“Be careful, lad. Farmers like to keep big guard dogs. We’re likely to be in danger from
them as we are from the beast we’re hunting.”
No sooner had my master said that, then loud barking greeted us from across the field in
the direction of the farmhouse. “Let’s move on to the house beyond, lad. This place is obviously
well guarded and its unlikely the creature would have gone this way.”
We took a detour, giving the farm a wide berth and headed towards another isolated
dwelling which we could just make out from this distance. We walked past a thick clump of
trees. I was already feeling tired at this stage, my feet sore inside my large leather boots, another
gift my master had given me at the start of my apprenticeship. It was also getting very cold as a
chill westerly wind blew into our faces, forcing us to pull down our hoods. I half expected my
master to call the search off and head back to the warm inn. Instead, to my disappointment, he
seemed to pick up the pace, heading towards the other dwelling at the very perimeter of the
Suddenly, a noise came in the direction of the trees to our right that froze us in our
tracks. It was hard to make out at first, with the rustling of the leaves overhead. It seemed to be
coming from the base of a large oak tree. It was so dark under the leaf canopy that I could see
nothing but black shadows at first. But after a few moments, I had no doubt what the sound was,
and the realisation caused a knot of fear in the very pit of my stomach. It was the sound of a
I heard the click from my master’s staff as he released the silver alloy blade cleverly
engineered into the weapon. My fingers traced my own staff and found the hidden recess which
I pressed gently, releasing my own blade.
“Stay behind me, lad,” instructed my master as he slowly paced the short distance
towards the oak tree. A faint, putrid odour was in the air, rancid against the back of my throat.
My knees knocking weakly, I clutched my staff tight across my chest as I had been taught and
treaded a step behind him. The child’s agonised cries could be heard clearly now, a sound of
sheer anguish and distress that tore at my heart.
Abruptly, there was silence, so complete I could hear my heartbeat pounding inside my
head. We waited for several long minutes. I was just beginning to wonder if I could be imagining
things, when an icy current shot down my spine, the warning for a seventh son of a seventh son
that a creature of the dark was near. I thought about saying so to my master, but I was too fearful
to make a sound. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness; I could make out different shapes and
hues of the surrounding shadows. There seemed to be something tangible, a malevolent
presence, under the oak tree. As we stepped closer, the freezing sensation intensified, bolting
through my entire body, so strongly this time that I gasped in pain. My master must have felt it
too, as he halted in his tracks, merely ten paces from the edge of the canopy.
The child’s incessant shrieks started again, this time much louder. The full moon cleared
the clouds then and shone unhindered upon us. My vision sharpened acutely, and what I saw
ahead sent my heart thudding painfully against my chest. A tall, large figure stood leaning
against the oak tree, clutching a hessian sack in one clawed hand. It must have been over seven
feet tall, with short horns protruding either side of its wide forehead. Its hairy, muscular chest
was bare, and it wore some kind of animal skin over the lower part of its body. Worst of all, the
sound of the crying child was issuing from its open mouth, as it slowly stood erect. My master’s
earlier suspicions were proven correct; we were indeed facing an abhuman.
“Welcome to my lair, spook,” it uttered in a deep growl. “I have been watching you and
your young apprentice all night, ever since you trespassed into my territory.” Despite my horror,
I noticed it seemed to speak in an awkward manner, its mouth full of oversized teeth with black
tusks jutting upwards from an overbite. I could smell the reek from his hairy body and raw skins,
so overwhelming that I almost gagged at the foul stench.
My master stepped forwards, staff held diagonally in front of him in the defensive
position. I feared for his life as he looked relatively frail compared to our powerful adversary.
“Stay back, lad!”
“Yes, stay back, boy” said the abhuman, reaching inside its sack and pulling out a large
piece of bone almost the size of my leg. “Fresh meat has been scarce lately, and I hunger. I must
thank your master here for bringing you to me.” It opened its mouth wide, and the grotesque,
pitiful wailing of a young girl emanated from its throat before ending in a shriek of agony. It was
clearly some form of dark sorcery, which enabled the abhuman to imitate the voices of humans,
likely of the children it had abducted.
The malevolent creature grinned, showing its sharp canines. “After I crush your master’s
spine, I will enjoy stripping every piece of your soft flesh, and sucking your delicious marrow
whilst he watches.” It looked straight at me then, as it began licking the long piece of bone in its
hand, its cruel beady eyes boring into mine. How could we hope to defeat such a cunning
monster? Not only was it obviously very strong, but had magic at its disposal as well. It
obviously lured us here, into a trap. I felt faint with fear, and it took all of my willpower to not
turn tail and run. Only my loyalty towards my master held me rooted to the spot.
At that moment, I witnessed then why my master was regarded as the best spook in the
county. I watched, as if in slow motion, as my master ran straight at the abhuman. Its eyes were
still on me, saliva dripping from its maw, and only too late saw that its doom was approaching.
My master raised his staff in his left hand, overhead like a spear, before leaping the last
remaining steps. The abhuman eyes widened as it tried to block the attack with its bone club,
but to no avail. In the bright moonlight, with the silver alloy blade shining fiercely like white fire,
his long black hair streaming back, my master brought his staff downwards in a fiery arc,
burying the full shaft of the blade deep into the creature’s forehead with an audible crunch. The
abhuman rolled its eyes up and crumbled backwards onto the canopy floor, convulsing violently
in its death throes before finally lying still.
I rushed forward and stood by my master’s side, looking down at the dead creature.
“That’s something to jot down in your notebook, lad. Abhumans have a certain degree of magic;
they can mimic the sound of the voices of their recent victims. And the only sure way to kill
these abominable creatures is a decisive strike right into the middle of their foreheads.”
I have never been proud of anyone, but I was very proud of my master then. But,
unfortunately, the events that followed left me scarred for the rest of my life. My master emptied
the hessian sack. It was full of thigh bones, some large but many were small ones belonging no
doubt to the children the monster had abducted. It seemed to have enjoyed carrying the bones
in its blood-stained sack and sucking on them as treats. In addition, the tree canopy indeed held
the foul creature’s lair. On the other side of the oak tree was a large deep hole which, in centuries
past, may have been inhabited by bears that had once roamed the area. An overpowering odour
of blood and rotten meat wafted up from the entrance, that I had to cover my nose and mouth to
stop myself retching. I was filled with dread as we approached the hollow where the beast had
evidently gorged on his poor victims.
My master shook his head and looked at me with sorrow in his eyes. “I’m sorry you have
to see this, lad, but it’s a vital part of your training. Now, prepare yourself.” He placed his hand on
my shoulder as we entered the cave, our heads stooped for the low ceiling. Our boots made
sharp, crunching noises as we stepped on tiny pieces of bone that littered the muddy floor. The
back of my hand brushed against the wall which was wet with slime and gore. I felt rising panic
as I looked around me, my breath coming in short, rapid gasps. There was just enough light to
make out the body parts the abhuman had torn the thigh bones from. Fierce pain erupted in my
chest. Despite my master’s steadying grip, my vision faded into a dizzying void as I collapsed
into merciful darkness.
I regained consciousness on a soft bed back at the inn, dim predawn light creeping
through the cracks of a shuttered window. The spook was sitting beside me on the chair. He was
asleep, snoring softly, his staff laying across his lap. I stared up at the ceiling, hardly able to recall
the events of the last few hours. I felt very strange, numb all over my body, as if a part of me had
died in that corpse of trees. I felt no fear, just an emptiness, and something else. It was difficult to
put into words, but it was if a shell had covered my heart; in place of a soft palpitating piece of
flesh, a harder, sterner version was left. I closed my eyes and fell back into a dreamless sleep.
We left the village at midday, leaving the villagers the harrowing tasks of burying the
remains and burning the corpse of the abhuman. The sense of grief in the air was palpable.
As I walked silently beside my master, carrying both our staffs and his heavy leather bag,
I looked up at him and made my decision there and then. I resolved to train hard and become the
spook my master wanted me to be. I would do my part in ridding the county of creatures of the
dark that have caused so much suffering to so many innocent folk. When we reached our house
back at Chipenden, I ran up the stairs to my bedroom and finally carved my name on the
bedroom wall, Jack O’Byrne, the seventh Spook’s apprentice.