Chapter Six: The Man in the Hat

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After all the weirdness of the day, the night brought its own creeping worry. A sudden rain storm pounded down and flooded the gutters, the wind whispered through the walls, and the shadows of the night spied in through the windows.

I didn't trust the weather now.

I huddled on the sofa with my books and my laptop, and all the lights on everywhere in the house. I kept expecting a knock at the door; either Lady Selkie, with her seashell blade and a thirst for vengeance, or the Horseshoe Men, with some tough questions about my involvement with a sea monster.

My brother and I had said our unsentimental goodbyes. He punched me in the arm, and I told him not to shoot himself in the foot. Mum had to drive him to Chatham, which left me alone in the house.

Instead of studying like I was supposed to, I wasted the evening looking up anything and everything I could find online about what I'd seen. I looked up the Horseshoe Men, and found nothing. I looked up sea monsters, and searched for the names of the people I'd encountered, and all I found were stories about mermaids and sirens and sea nymphs; a selkie, it turns out, is a sort of magical seal-person.

Then I looked up how to protect myself against magic. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I thought it made sense to prepare myself in case they ever came back.

Most sources agreed that iron was a good deterrent, and horseshoes were popular. If the Horseshoe Men were real, that had to be where they got their name.

I searched the house for any iron objects I might use, but we didn't have horseshoes, and even our cookware was aluminium. Danny had left behind some weights that might be iron, but they were coated in thick rubber. Mum's tools were carbon steel, so I didn't know how effective they would be.

The only one thing in the house that looked like it might be real iron was something I wasn't meant to touch.

Dad's dagger.

The dagger was a seven-inch blade that lived in a velvet-lined case on a bookshelf in the living room. Its silvery surface shimmered with rippling white lines.

The dagger was a replica of a Roman weapon, a pugio—a soldier's knife with an hourglass-shaped blade. A gift from his regiment. If my memory was right, Dad's dagger was made of meteorite iron, and worth a lot of money.

We weren't supposed to touch it—not just because it was expensive, and not just because it was dangerous, but because it was Dad's.

His name was engraved on the handle. "Douglas Frazer."

I took the case down from the shelf and opened it up. I picked up the dagger and weighed it in my hand.

It was heavy. The heaviness made it reassuringly real.

I ran my thumb along the blade. The edge was sharp. The point was narrow and cruel. A man could do a lot of damage with a weapon like this.

I put the blade back in its case.

It wasn't right. It wasn't me. I didn't know how to wield a dagger, and I didn't want to know. I could never imagine using it, even against someone like Lady Selkie, and even if my life was in danger.

The wind blasted hard against the windows, and one of the windows blew open with a crash, sending the curtains kicking up into the room.

I put the case back on the shelf and crossed to the window.

But then I heard a whisper at my ear, and I felt a fingertip brush against my neck.

I spun around.

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