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By James Herbert

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To allay his fear, Bethan had explained that such ancient trees were invaluable in nature, for they supported the perfect life cycle: their leaves, bark, acorns eaten by animals and insects, which in turn were prey to others; their remains passed on as droppings or simply discarded to be broken down by bacteria and so replenishing the earth itself. A fine system, unless you were first in the chain. The big old oak also provided the perfect home for small creatures - animals, insects and birds - who lived inside the trunk or the deep channels of its bark, or simply nested among the boughs.

Little Bracken, standing in the centre of the glade, was just as he remembered, a sandstoned, octagonal-shaped, two-storey building, a turret - this, too, eight-sided - rising beside it, pointed belltower at its top like an open umbrella beneath a clear blue sky. This turret would have been a ridiculous appendage to such a small building had it not been skilfully integrated into the whole structure and made from the same red sandstone, the square, leaded windows with frames of grey stone copying those of the main section.

And felt heat run through the warm metal into his fingers, then up as far as his wrist. The bit caught, the catch clicked. The door opened. It opened smoothly. No creaks, no expected squealing of rusty hinges. A nice, easy movement, as if the painted oak door were gliding weightlessly on oiled bearings. A stale and malodorous wave of air swept past him as though it had been waiting centuries to make its escape, rushing out into the freshness behind him, submission to something purer the price of release.

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