Pictures from an Unknown Past

brown paper and black pen
Image from Unsplash taken by Joanna Kosinska

“She isn’t here now,” Kane said. “She was too embarrassed.” He looked at the lady sitting opposite him. It was almost a stereotype. She sat upright, as a plumb line, ankles crossed, hands folded on her lap and not a white hair out of place.

“My mother?” Mrs Kirkdale said. “That is a surprise. She was usually quite direct.”

“I didn’t manage to contact your late mother,” Kane said. “But I managed to get in touch with someone called Ellen. She seemed very fond of you?”

“My sister? She was always good to me, despite the age difference. I miss her a great deal, you know.” Mrs Kirkdale sighed.

Kane wished he knew the right way to approach things. “You got in touch with me about a strange bequest, didn’t you?”

Mrs Kirkdale nodded. “You were recommended by Tim McGuigan. He was the solicitor for my late husband, you know. He’s very practical and not usually one for such mumbo jumbo, so I took him seriously when he suggested that I speak to someone who speaks to ghosts.” She looked doubtfully at the scruffy figure hunched on her chair, then turned her attention to the small bundle of photos and slides. “Apparently there is a lot more of these photos and some letters, if I choose to accept the bequest, along with some money. But my parents and sister left me everything anyway and I invested in a good pension so I’m comfortable. I can indulge my scruples. These look like other people’s memories. I’m not sure that it is right that I have them. It should go to family.”

Kane shifted a little as he perched on the edge of the chintz armchair. He felt desperately out of place and had no idea how to approach the news. “You were fond of Ellen, weren’t you?” he said.

“I adored her,” Mrs Kirkdale’s face lit up with the memory. “She was such fun, you know, although she was nearly twenty years older than me. In fact, I was something of a miracle baby. I don’t think my parents really expected me. They were older and set in their ways.” She sighed and looked over at the pewter framed picture sitting on the windowsill. “Really it was Ellen who brought me up and taught me about life. She was very encouraging and supportive. I always think that she should have had children herself, but she never married. Her sweetheart died in the war, you know. It was right at the end, in Berlin. Ellen never talked about it, well you didn’t, but mother said that it was dreadful luck. They had even planned their wedding. I suppose I gave her something to think about. All I ever knew was that she doted on me.”

Kane took a mouthful of excellent tea from his china mug and summoned all his courage. “Did you ever wonder about your mother being a little older than most ladies giving birth?”

Mrs Kirkdale frowned. “I must have been quite a last gasp as a baby. I think it was a shock. I don’t remember her being affectionate to me, or loving, but she did her duty. It was a different generation and she was set in her ways. She always liked things to be just so, which saved me a few times. She had to be seen as a good mother.” She laughed. “Then I scandalised her by going to university. She didn’t see me working in the labs with the first computers, as she passed away before then, but she would have been horrified.” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “And she never met my late husband, either. I’m not sure that she would have approved of me marrying an engineer instead of a doctor or a solicitor.” She took another sip of tea. “Are these evidence of my mother’s indiscretions? If so, I would be very interested.”

Kane swallowed. “These photos and slides are from your father’s family. Not the man you think of as your father, but your real father.”

Mrs Kirkdale stared. “You mean that there really was a scandal? I can’t imagine it! Mother was so proper!”

Kane shook his head. “Ellen said that it was different times, and her mother was very strict.” He hesitated. “She asked you not to blame her. She loves you very much. It’s just that, she is your mother. She thought it wouldn’t matter, as they were supposed to be married the next month, but he got called back to the front line unexpectedly and then he was killed.”

Mrs Kirkdale looked blank. “How dreadful.”

“Ellen said that your mother, that is, her mother, wouldn’t allow her to say anything, so they went into the country and then told everyone that you were a surprise baby.” Kane watched Mrs Kirkdale carefully for signs of shock.

“Well I was, really, wasn’t I?” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “Now it makes sense. I always wondered why I was born so far away from the family, and why I wasn’t christened in the local church. My mother, I mean my grandmother, was so obsessed with appearances.” She looked at Tim and smiled. “And Ellen was a wonderful mother! If you can tell her anything, tell her that. Tell her that she still has all my love.” She looked down at the photos. “Thank you. It may seem strange to matter at my age, but it’s a wonderful gift to finally know that you had a mother that loved you.” She shook her head and brought herself back to the present. “And now my late father’s family have found me. That will be fun.” She held out an envelope. “Here is the fee that you agreed,” she said, then hesitated. “And, well, it’s expected that old ladies bake cakes. Well, I can’t bake for toffee, but I can shop at Waitrose like a champ. I hope you enjoy these.” She stood and picked up a large box of assorted luxury biscuits from behind her chair. “Now, I’m sorry to rush you off, but I have a great many phone calls to make.” She smiled at him, looking twenty years younger and full of mischief. “I can’t wait to find out about my family.”

Shiny Stones

brown and white tree branch with brown and white hanging ornament
Image from Unsplash taken by Rock Staar

Sir Dylan knew deep down that he wasn’t made for this sort of work. He’d grown up in the back alleys of Holbeck, among the druggies and sex workers, abandoned any attempt at school around the age of twelve, by which time he was running drugs for the local gangs and hanging around parks drinking. He was not cut out for the more cultured and expensive area of Lawnswood. North Leeds was as alien to him at times as Mars. “So you asked your vicar?”

Mrs Girton nodded. “I don’t normally approve of patriarchal religion,” she said. “I feel that it’s an unnecessarily restrictive practice. But I’ve been desperate. I love my garden. And Kingsley hasn’t been comfortable going into the garden for months.”

Sir Dylan looked down at the Shih Tzu. It barked sharply at him. “And you’ve noticed that the garden is fading?”

“Are you really a knight?” Mrs Girton asked.

Sir Dylan sighed. “I wasn’t always a knight,” he explained, well aware that the neck tattoo and bulky muscles were not normally associated with chivalry. “I was drafted into the Knights Templar due to my experience. Can you show me the garden affected?”

Mrs Girton looked doubtfully at the amateur inkings on Sir Dylan’s ham sized hands. “You had better come this way.” She swallowed nervously and picked up Kingsley, holding the dog like a shield between her and the unfamiliar, dangerous looking visitor.

Sir Dylan followed her around the corner into the back garden. When you watched a gang of drug dealers torn apart by a pack of rogue werewolves, you had limited options. He had not chosen to lose himself in drugs, drink or madness. Instead he had joined the Knights Templar, the underground group that policed the werewolves, vampires and the rest of the non-normal community, to fight back. “I’m registered as a Special Constable, Mrs Girton. They did all the background checks.” To be honest, the Ministry of Justice had sent a strong letter to local station who had grumbled and watched him like a hawk.

“That’s reassuring,” Mrs Girton said. “Although I’ve heard a lot about police brutality.” She patted Kingsley nervously. “You know what they say.”

“They’re a good bunch, on the whole,” Sir Dylan said. He could say this safely as he hadn’t got much of a clue but the ones he had had dealings with had been straight enough – and bright enough not to trust him. A copper that trusted a tattooed, muscled thug that hunted rogue vampires was not fit for duty.

“It’s around here.” Mrs Girton said. She opened a gate into the back garden. It jingled.

Sir Dylan looked at it curiously. Bells and strips of multicoloured ribbon hung with mirrors were tied to the gate. “That’s very decorative.”

“No, I think it’s awful.” Mrs Girton said. “It’s just that I heard you can use mirrors and stones against them.”

“Against who?” Sir Dylan asked, looking around the garden.

“The Fair Folk,” Mrs Girton whispered.

Sir Dylan took stock of the garden. There was definitely an issue. It showed every sign of being cherished but there was a greyness in the air. There was a pond with some sort of fountain that had a film of dust over it. The shadows under the climbing roses seemed to be darker and not moving with the light. A dimness fell over what should have been a glorious display of flowers. “You’ve put up a lot of these things.”

Mrs Girton nodded. “I’ve put them everywhere, but nothing helps.”

Sir Dylan stepped forward. He had got into the Knights Templar by being good in a fight, but he had developed a few instincts over the years. He could feel the elfen presence, but he didn’t want to get anything started in front of Mrs Girton. He looked over to her. She was hugging Kingsley, who was growling at a stand of bamboo. He sighed. That was the problem with things nowadays. People could learn just enough to get into trouble but not enough to get out of it. Bright stones, dream catchers and windchimes hung from every available corner and was enough to drive anyone insane. And Mrs Girton was right – no elfen could get past that lot. “Mrs Girton, you haven’t kept something out of your garden. You’ve trapped it in.” He checked the area and then strode over to the side that bordered onto the trees sheltering the golf club. Most of the shiny gewgaws were firmly wired into place but he managed to unhook the stones, wired with intricate patterns, and create a gap. “Out!” he snapped.

“What?” Mrs Girton asked over Kingsley’s barking.

“I’m talking to the elfen,” Sir Dylan said. “And I said, out!

A breeze rattled around the garden, shaking the blossoms, overturning a planter and ruffling the surface of the pond before shooting past Sir Dylan and then out.

Mrs Girton stared around her garden. Already it seemed brighter and Kingsley’s tail was wagging furiously. She put him down and watched as he raced around, sniffing happily. “So it’s gone?”

“Yes, it’s gone,” Sir Dylan carefully hung the stones back up. But I would be careful if I were you. How long were they trapped here?”

“It’s been over a year,” Mrs Girton said. “I mean, we bought the house for the garden and the view, and of course it’s near the golf course for my husband, but it has never felt right. And Jeff won’t play there anymore. He says he never has any luck. He goes to Alwoodley.”

“Then I suggest you move,” Sir Dylan said. “They won’t have been any happier than you, and they bear grudges for years.”

“But I’ve only just sorted out the kitchen!” Mrs Girton wailed.

“Then it will be a great selling point,” Sir Dylan said. “You have my number, if anything happens.” He turned towards the gate.

“How much do I owe you?” Mrs Girton asked. “I’ve got my purse in the house.”

“Just keep me in your prayers, Mrs Girton,” Sir Dylan said. “And I’ll be very grateful for that.”

Tap Tap Tap

Image by Anne Nygard on Unsplash

It started when the house along the street blew up.  We were told it was safe and I suppose it was.  The houses either side of the gap were fine and there was no trace of gas or anything.  But that night the tapping started.

First it was on the windows, a light, tap tap tap, like a branch against the panes in a light breeze.  Except there were no branches near my window.  Just the tap tap tap after dark.  It started to unnerve me.  There was never any trace when I pulled back the curtains to look and nothing seemed out of place when I looked at the windows from the street in daylight.

Gradually I got used to it and talked about perhaps it was mice or birds in the attic.  I even added it to the ghost stories that were exchanged at work – I live in York, after all, and there are always ghost stories.  However, as the nights grew longer and the days got cooler, the tapping changed.

It was the day after my birthday, 22nd of September, when I sat bolt upright in bed.  The tap tap tap was now coming from the living room.  I remember how frozen I felt, pinned to my bed as the gentle tap tap tap seemed to patter against the wooden floor.  I crept to the door of my bedroom and listened.  There were no human footsteps, no rustle of clothes and no sigh or grunt of someone moving.  I opened the door just a crack, peering out into the hall.  No light shone from under the living room door.  As I gathered my courage to confront the noise, the tap tap tap faded away and I realised it was dawn.

That was three days ago.  I forgot about the tapping as I went away for work.  I lost myself in the hectic pace of the conference and the after conference drinks, happy to forget about strange noises, but now I was back.  There was no sign of any disturbance in the house.  Nothing had moved.  I had a quick shower and got into bed with Netflix playing loudly as I wriggled down into the bed.

But it didn’t drown the tapping.  I can hear it now, tap tap tap in the living room.  I am lying here, terrified, as the tap tap tap gets nearer and nearer.  The tapping is in the hall now and getting closer to my door.   I pick up my phone from the bedside cabinet and scroll through my contacts, looking for the number that had been forced on me.  Now I was desperate.  I found the name – Rev D King, Exorcist.  My fingers trembled as I dialled the number, burrowed under the covers.  Dawn is two hours away and the tapping is getting closer.

I Kept My Word

Tell them I came, and no one answered,

That I kept my word,” he said.

– Walter de la Mare, The Listeners

‘Tell them I kept my word,’ he said

As the storm clouds gathered overhead

With the setting sun tainting them red

‘Tell them I came, as was my right

But the locked Great Hall was shuttered tight

And the echoes mocked in the fading light

He rested his head on the deep grained wood

The sunset glowed on his travel stained hood

‘Tell them I came as I said I would.’

‘Tell them I travelled over the seas

Across the great rivers and under the trees

But I kept my word and I held the keys’

A raven cawed in a twiggy nest

The wind was rising in the west

‘Tell them, say that I did my best.’

‘I saw strange stars and stranger skies.’

But he listened in vain for the listeners sighs

‘I kept my word, all else is lies.’

At the edge of the sky the thunder growled

And the rising wind wept soft then howled

At the dead Great Hall the traveller prowled

‘I kept my oath and now am free

I no longer approach on bended knee.’

He opened his hand and dropped the key

It seemed like no stroke of luck or chance

That the heavens threw down their fiery lance

As he rode away with no backward glance.

He felt the heat hard on his back

The Great Hall flamed from the lightning’s crack

But he still rode on down the weedy track.

I seriously recommend the original, and you can read it here

Originally published July 1st 2014

Window

brown brick wall with green plants
Image from Unsplash, taken by Random Sky

“It’s easier to show you,” Kate said.

“We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it,” Kes chipped in.

Kane looked nervously at the couple. “I’ve never dealt with a haunted window before,” he said. “They’ve always been haunted by someone.”

Kes shrugged his broad shoulders. “We didn’t know where to turn until you were recommended.”

Kane sighed. “Show me the problem, please.”

Kate led them into the small back room in the tiny terrace. “We sunk a lot of money into this. We always came in the evenings, though, and when we look back, the old owner always rushed us out of this room.”

“We thought of suing the surveyor,” Kes said. “But how do you explain this in court?”

Kate went over to the far wall where thick curtains hung and pulled them back. Kane stared as Kes switched on the light. The window was completely bricked up. Kate saw his confusion. “We thought we could have it knocked through, but, well…”

Kane watched in disbelief as Kate’s hand passed through the apparently solid brick and rapped smartly on what sounded like a glass pane. “I think I see.”

“It looks normal from the outside,” Kes said. “You can even see the furniture in the room and everything.”

Kate nodded. “We asked the previous owner.” She sighed. “He had inherited the house from his aunt. Apparently the old lady had seen her fiancé kissing another woman through this window, and so she had it bricked up.”

“She never married, or even dated, as far as the nephew knew,” Kes said. “It’s a very sad story.”

“I’ve never done a window before,” Kane said carefully. “I’ve only done people.” He thought for a moment. “And dogs.” He walked slowly up to the window and pressed his fingers against what looked like dark brick. They passed through and rested against cool glass. “Could you give me a moment?”

Kane waited until the door had shut quietly behind him and then looked carefully around. It took a moment, but he saw her, a bent old lady huddled in the corner. “Hello, Miss. I’m Kane. Are you okay?”

“I’m so ashamed,” the frail figure said. “I’ve never forgave myself.”

“I knew it wasn’t just a window,” Kane said. “There is always someone there.”

“I found out later that it was his sister,” the shade of the old lady said. “It had just been a peck on the cheek anyway, but I was so jealous.” The ghost of a withered hand wiped away a translucent tear. “And afterwards, well, I just couldn’t look him in the face. I had said such dreadful things.”

“I’m sure he knew that you didn’t mean them.” Kane said sympathetically.

The old lady’s ghost shook her head. “I couldn’t live with myself. I wouldn’t see him. I couldn’t even bare to read his letters.” She gestured to the ghost of the brickwork. “I had to do this.”

Kane stared at the ghost of the brickwork and then back at the old lady. “Who took it down?”

“My nephew, Arthur, took it down.” The old lady slowly approached the window and stood next to Kane. “I should have done that years ago, and I was glad that he had.” Tears slid down the wrinkled cheeks. “I should have gone to him years ago, and now it’s too late.”

Kane thought for a moment. “But it isn’t really too late,” he said. “You could find him now.”

The old lady was suddenly still. “You mean, apologise? It’s too late for that. And I could never find him now.”

Kane shrugged. “People seem to manage once they’ve passed over. And perhaps you could just talk to him. You can explain.”

The old lady slowly shook her head. “I need to apologise. I need to go and find him.” She slowly faded into the dim light in the corner of the room. As her presence left, light flooded in as the ghosts of the bricks on the window followed her.

Kane sighed as he turned to call in Kate and Kes, his heart breaking a little for her sadness. He had dealt with enough ghosts to be unsurprised by her stubbornness.

Never Get Drunk With a Stranger

Never get drunk with a stranger. My life would have been a lot easier if I had remembered those words. I may have missed out on some excitement, but, looking back, I could have lived with that.

Moving to Leeds was supposed to be the start of a better life. Moving from rural Lincolnshire to an insurance job in a city was supposed to be the start of great opportunities that included a steady job, a pension and possibly even a girlfriend. It was supposed to be an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. “It will do you good to get away from your computer,” my mother had told me as she packed my good shirts into my single suitcase. “You can get a hobby.”

“Computer gaming is a hobby.” I had tried to argue one last time.

“But you don’t find a girlfriend like that. Don’t forget to send us pictures.” My mother had tucked a pair of socks into the corner of the case and zipped it up. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

So here I was, three months into my life in Leeds, still without a girlfriend, and getting drunk with a stranger. His name was Piotr but he said to call him Peter. “It’s what all the English guys do.”

“So you’re not from Leeds either?” I said.

Piotr laughed. “I’m Polish, of course, from near Krakow. And this beer is no good. I’ll show you a pub that does proper drink.”

“Where is everyone?” I asked as we stumbled out into the dusty street. Last time I had been in Headingley the place had been almost too full to move and I had given up and gone home.

“Headingley is the student place and most have gone for the summer.” Piotr put a brotherly arm around me and steered me towards the back streets. “And finally we can get the good drink.”

If a stranger you have just met tells you to come with him for a good drink, don’t go. It’s never a good idea. Usually you get mugged. But we had had a few beers and traded a few stories and all sense had been washed away. The warm night air felt soft and lulled me into a sense of security as I listened to Piotr pouring his heart out to me about his girlfriend. At least he had one.

“She is so beautiful. But she knows how beautiful she is, and she is difficult.” Piotr said as we cut down one of the many back alleys. The cobbles were uneven, and I had had enough to drink to be paying attention to walking safely on the old stones. Piotr seemed used to them, though, and strode confidently ahead through the red painted, brick-built terraces to what looked like a private house. “Here we can get the good drink.”

If a stranger you have just met tells you to come into a private house for a good drink, don’t do it. There are so many bad things that can happen that you should just turn around there and then before you get mugged, or you have your organs harvested, or even just drink bootleg vodka that turns you blind. But Piotr seemed low and I had had a few beers and, besides, what else was I supposed to do on a Friday night? I followed him in.

This was a room for serious drinkers. Battered sofas were pushed against the walls, the carpet was threadbare, and the air was heavy with smoke. Men of different ages sat around, ignoring the wall mounted tv and staring at the drinks in their hands. All of them were holding small glasses filled with colourless liquid and all, like Piotr, were clean, neatly dressed and silent. It was a room with a single purpose and that purpose was drink. A middle-aged woman in heavy make up and an unflattering low-cut top sat behind a table in a corner. Piotr handed over some money and hissed at me to do the same. It seemed a lot, but I handed over the cost of two bottles of good whisky and accepted the small glass and bottle of liquor.

If someone you don’t know hands you a re-used bottle filled with alcohol, don’t take it. To be honest, a re-used bottle even from someone you trust is a risk. My bottle looked like it had once held maple syrup and it didn’t have a label. But here I was, in a room full of drinkers, all drinking. What else could I do? I joined Piotr on a cracked, leatherette sofa in the corner and poured myself a small shot.

“What am I going to do, Jamie?” Piotr asked as he poured himself a cautious amount. “Jenja is my life, but she is so fickle. And she says she loves me.”

A few drinkers glanced up at this. I looked up from the glass and got a sense that this was something unusual, but the rest of the men turned their attention back to their drinks and I followed their lead. Did I down it like tequila or sip it like a fine, single malt whisky? The others were sipping so I followed their example. How bad can bootleg vodka be?

This wasn’t vodka. I didn’t know what it was, but it slipped gently past my lips like sunlight made solid and spread warm over my mouth and down my throat. My fingers glowed, my legs tingled and I could feel a blessing stealing over me. I took a moment and breathed in the wonderful sense of well-being. I bathed in the sense of a golden glow before taking another sip. “This isn’t vodka.”

“It’s nearly vodka, made with plums.” Piotr said. “It’s hard to translate. Jamie.” He put a persuasive hand on my arm. “You are a good man. I can tell you are a good man and you come here, and you drink the good drink, and listen to a stranger who is facing a bad death. Do one thing for me. Please?”

“What do you mean?” The golden haze lifted a little. “Are you sick? There are new cures every day, you know. You look great.”

Piotr sadly shook his head. “I have fought against it for many days, but I must accept my fate.” He poured himself another measure of the gift from the gods and raised his glass, saying something in Polish before draining his glass.

I topped my own glass up and saluted him. “Cheers. But what do you mean? Surely there’s something that you can do?” I downed the glass, just like Piotr. This time it felt like a ball of liquid sunset smoothed its way down my throat to warm my stomach. This stuff was probably illegal.

“Jenja has said that she loves me. She is sorry for it, but it is what it is. She is crying at home.” Piotr looked sadly at his glass. “Or, at least, she is staying at home.”

“I don’t understand.” I said. I poured a little more of the magical water into my glass and took a sip. I felt like warm sun caressed my shoulders, but it didn’t help me think any clearer.

“You are English.” Piotr said. “And you are kind. Please, take care of Jenja when I go.”

I looked at my glass. It was half full. I didn’t think another drink would help, but I took it anyway. “Can’t Jenja be taken care of by her family or friends? Is she sick?”

Piotr sadly shook his head. “No-one Polish will help.”

I looked around the room. The silent men were all nodding. A few raised their glasses for the Polish toast, their eyes sad and sympathetic. “Why do you think you’re going to die?”

“Because Jenja said she loved me.” Piotr waved a drunken finger. “I forget. You are English. When a Vila loves someone, they die in dreadful ways. I write down the address for Jenja. You must help her get home.” He patted his pockets and found a cheap pen. He kept searching until the woman from behind the makeshift bar came out with a page ripped from her puzzle magazine and handed it to him. He nodded a thanks and carefully wrote the address. “We live near Bridgewater Place, where the winds are.”

I took the ragged piece of paper, folded it and put it into my wallet. “But you may not die.” I said.

“I will die and Jenja will be left alone and she will need help to go home. Jamie, you are a good man. Please, please promise me that you will take care of her, even if she is difficult.”

Never promise anyone anything when you are drunk. That’s how I got kicked out of the Student Union’s French Society. “I’ll look after Jenja.”

Piotr put an earnest hand on my arm and made sure he looked me in the eye. “Promise me, Jamie. Promise me on something that will mean it.”

What could I say. “I promise, Piotr. I promise I will look after Jenja.”

“By what do you swear?” His grip was tight and I was in danger of spilling the vital contents of my glass.

“I swear by Manchester United.” Never swear on anything while drunk. You will swear on something that means life or death to you and sound like an idiot at the same time. “But you may not die.”

Piotr poured himself another glass. “It will be bad.” He raised his glass and drank. I matched him and felt a golden filter settle over my vision. I could see, but there was a warm, fuzzy glow around the room, like a filter on a camera lens. Even the woman behind the bar looked good. Piotr stood shakily. “I use the bathroom.” No-one looked up as he weaved his way across the room to a door in the back wall.

I sat back and looked at the glass in front of me. I had never tasted anything like it. Reassured by the wonderful clarity in my glass, I knew that Piotr was just feeling his mortality. You worry about strange things under the influence of drink. Tomorrow we would forget all about this. Piotr and I would sleep off the heavenly fumes of whatever it was we were drinking and laugh at the promise. There was an awful crash from the bathroom.

Every head turned towards the battered door at the back of the room. I tried to rationalise it. Perhaps Piotr had knocked something over or had fallen. The woman got up from behind the door and, taking a deep breath, walked towards the crash. She paused before she opened the door, took a deep breath and closed it gently behind her. There was a long pause, as if the room held its breath. Eventually the woman came out looking pale and shaken.

“Piotr has died. I will call ambulance and fire brigade.” She thought for a moment. “Also plumber. You all leave.” She walked over to me as I struggled to get to my feet. “You go to Jenja now.” Her hand closed over my arm and it was icy. I looked into her eyes and even through the effects of the plum vodka I knew that I didn’t want to know the details. “You are a good boy. Get Jenja home. Be blessed.”

I had never knocked on a stranger’s door in the middle of the night while drunk. It’s exhilarating. While the nectar from heaven was still working its magic, I didn’t worry about getting a police record, or whether I was going to get mugged before someone could answer the door, or even if I had found the right place. The cramped terraces that sprawl south of Leeds City Centre are not safe for strangers who can barely walk. I made it, however, and a woman answered the door.

“Jenja, I have bad news!” I said dramatically, falling into the tiny entrance hall. “It has happened.”

“Who the hell are you?” She didn’t look like I expected. Her dark hair was tousled and she had a faded dressing gown over well washed pyjamas. She was pretty, in an understated way, but nothing like the vision Piotr described. She also had a look in her eye that could make any man sober.

“I’m Jamie Reid. Piotr made me promise to take care of you, Jenja. I’m really sorry…”

She held up a stern hand. “I’m not Jenja. I’m Lindsey.”

I looked again at the paper. “Piotr said you were Jenja.” I peered at the address.

Lindsey sighed. “Jenja is in her room. She’s been crying.” She leant against the newel post at the foot of the stairs and shouted up.  “Jenja, there’s someone at the door. He says it’s about Piotr.”

A soul shattering wail came from upstairs, followed by a crash and a thump. Lindsey shook her head. “She keeps throwing glasses at the wall. What was your name again?”

“I’m Jamie.” I was sobering up fast and I didn’t like it. I held out my hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

Lindsey shook my hand but before she could say anything a door slammed and a vision of loveliness appeared at the top of the stairs. Jenja was dainty with an inviting figure under a white satin wrap. Her golden blonde hair was swept into an adorable ponytail and her large, deep blue eyes were red-rimmed from crying. “It has happened.”

“I’m sorry to break the bad news.” How did you tell a barely dressed vision of beauty that her boyfriend was dead. “I’m afraid Piotr had an accident. He… he didn’t survive. He made me promise to come and tell you.”

“Did you promise to send me home?” Jenja asked.

“Yes, I promised.” Now that I was sobering up I realised I had no idea about how to send a beautiful woman to Poland. “I don’t know when the funeral will be…”

Jenja waved an imperious hand as she came down the stairs. “I can go home now.” She pushed past Lindsey and I and wandered into the living room. I exchanged a worried glance with Lindsey. Perhaps she was in shock.

“I can look into flights tomorrow.” I said. “Have you got a lot of stuff to take back?”

Jenja looked at me in bewilderment. “I am Vila. You burn the lock of hair and I can go home. Where is Piotr’s green shirt?”

“Would you like a cup of tea.” I said.

Lindsey shook her head. “She really is a supernatural air spirit. Piotr told me his family sent her over as they were worried he didn’t have a girlfriend.”

My first thought was that why did all these families worry about girlfriends. Then my mind caught up. “What?”

Jenja sighed. “They never believe me here.” She waved her dainty hand. For a moment I was caught in the sweet elegance of the pink painted fingernails before I grabbed hold of the door frame. That casual gesture had sent a stiff breeze around the room that knocked the cheap prints off the walls and whirled the letters from their pile on the mantelpiece to all corners of the room.

“The Greeks called them sylphs, I think.” Lindsey said, picking up the envelopes.

“Sylphs are pathetic.” Jenja said. “They don’t know how to treat a man.”

I inched nearer to Lindsey for protection. “This lock of hair?”

“Yes! A lock of my hair. I am bound to it. Once it is burned, I am free and can go home.” Jenja smiled. For a heartbeat I was dazzled by the beauty. I wanted to lay the world at her feet. I wanted to sweep her into my arms and never let her go. I wanted to kneel before her. Lindsey elbowed me sharply in the ribs and I gathered what was left of my wits.

“Where is the lock of hair?” I looked around. “Did Piotr keep it in his room?”

“His mother sewed it into the pocket of his green shirt. She knew he would never look there. That way he couldn’t send me back and get an English girl.” Jenja said, looking around. “Where is Piotr’s shirt?”

“The green one that had the frayed collar and the airplane design on the back?” Lindsey said, feeling her way into a chair and sitting down.

“Yes, that’s the one.” Jenja said. “If I do not burn it then I am trapped in England.” She turned to me and looked deep into my eyes. “I want to go home.”

Before I could promise to dedicate my life to finding the green shirt, Lindsey grabbed my arm and squeezed it hard, digging her nails in. She turned to Jenja. “There’s a problem. You see, I was sorting out some of my old clothes to donate to the church sale and Piotr gave me some old clothes he didn’t want to add to my bag.” Lindsey swallowed. “He said that the green shirt was falling apart but someone may have a use for it.”

“I have a use for it!” Jenja snapped, her eyes sparkling. “I want to use it to go home. Where is this bag of valuable clothing?”

“It’s just old clothes for the sale tomorrow at the church.” Lindsey huddled back into her chair. “I took it down this afternoon.”

Jenja stamped her foot and another sharp breeze rattled around the room. “That is not good.”

“That’s okay, we can just call in tomorrow and buy the shirt, can’t we?” I looked between the two women. “It’s only a church sale. It will be less than a pound.”

Jenja shook her head. “I know these women. They will be in early in the morning to sort out the clothes and to take the best stuff for themselves. They are known for it.”

“Mrs Rafferty can get quite fierce.” Lindsey said. “But the shirt was worn out. I can’t see anyone buying it.”

Jenja started pacing, her wrap working loose and showing more of her than I expected. “What if they decide it is no good but they can put it in with the rags? I know that they have a deal with Mr Rafiq. He takes the stuff that doesn’t sell for his own reasons.” Jenja dropped into a chair across the room.

“He’s got a deal with a warehouse in Dewsbury.” Lindsey said. “Why don’t we just go in early before the sale starts and explain that we need the shirt?”

“Mrs Rafferty will not help with anything to do with me.” Jenja said. “Not after the incident with the marmalade. And I must be there to see if it is the right shirt.”

At this point I started to wonder exactly what had been in the bottle and how long it took to leave the system. “So what can we do?”

Never ask an air spirit a rhetorical question. It’s not something that comes up often, but I think it’s worth sharing. From what I read afterwards, air spirits are tricky, duplicitous and malevolent. They are also impressively slick at persuading people to do stupid things. That is why Lindsey and I found ourselves standing outside a church hall at two in the morning, wondering how to break in.

“There are bound to be alarms.” I said.

“Who steals from churches?” Lindsey asked.

I looked at her. “You would be surprised.”

“But it’s just a church sale of old clothes and second-hand ornaments.” Lindsey said. “There’s nothing of value.”

I shook my head and pointed to the alarm box at the side of the building. “We are not in the best part of Leeds. People will steal the copper from the wiring.”

Jenja looked thoughtfully at the church hall. Back home in Lincolnshire, the church hall had been solid stone and about a hundred years old. This was a slapdash wooden building, about twenty years old, with wire mesh over the large, square windows which were interspersed with panels of cheap turquoise plastic. She looked down at the rubbish strewn and overgrown flower beds that surrounded it. She paced around the structure, nodding and turned to us. “You will wait across the street. Then you will help me find the shirt.”

Lindsey and I crossed the street and leaned against the stone wall. There weren’t any houses on the street, thank goodness. The church next to the hall and the school we leaned against were empty, as was the ramshackle garages and the deserted fast food shop. I watched Jenja pacing up and down outside the hall. “Why are we here?”

“Because you made a promise to someone who died almost immediately afterwards, and I can’t wait to get Jenja out of my house.” Lindsey said.

“She’s not really going to break into a church hall, is she?” I asked. “And what if we’re caught? I work in insurance.”

“And I work in a solicitor’s office.” Lindsey said. “Piotr was a lovely lad, but I wish I had never met him.”

I was about to agree with her when Jenja started dancing. She was spinning as she ran up and down the street and around and around the hall. I shivered as the suddenly warm night chilled and a sharp wind whipped along the street. Dust and crisp packets whirled behind her and the moribund roses dipped and rattled as she passed. “I don’t think this is good.” I grabbed Lindsey’s arm and pulled her inside the small school doorway.

“She’s going to do something dreadful, isn’t she?” Lindsey yelled over the noise of the cans clattering in the gutters. I nodded, and with some instinct I didn’t know I had, pulled Lindsey against me and turned us away from the open street.

It was a good call. Behind us I heard a huge crash echoing with glass against metal. I could feel dust and grit spatter against my back as we huddled against the door. As the echoes of the explosion died down, I heard Jenja shouting, “Come on, you must help me.”

The nearest street light had been shattered in the blast, but enough light came from the ones further away to see the damage. Jenja was leaning in through what was left of the window. Something had blasted out all the church hall’s windows and the main door which sagged helplessly on its hinges. Twisted metal and glass shards littered over the road and there were cracks in the windows of the school and church. We ran over, squinting in the dust.

“I do not have a torch,” Jenja said. “And it may alert people if we switch on the lights.”

“People may have been alerted by the noise.” I said, shouting over the sound of the alarm.

“Then you have to be quick.” Jenja said and looked at us.

Never climb in through a broken window, no matter how much you think you have cleared it. There are always tiny shards of glass still embedded in the frame that will claw your skin off. None of us were wearing jackets and so I pulled the curtains hanging askew from the curtain pole and made a rough pad to climb over. Jenja went first, undaunted by the glass and splinters scattered over the floor. “You must help me. It’s here. I can feel it.”

I helped Lindsey in next and followed, my heart in my throat. I wished I was still drunk as I pulled out my phone and switched on the torch. My ears were still ringing from the blast and the noise from the alarm was getting on my nerves. It was obviously affecting Jenja as she hurried over to the pile of bags in one corner. “It’s in here, somewhere. Please help.”

“We had better be quick before the police arrive.” I said, ripping open the nearest bag and dumping the contents on the floor. I looked at Lindsey. She shook her head.

“That stuff isn’t mine.” She held her phone steady for light as Jenja and I tore open the bags scattering tired baby clothes and worn shirts across the glass and splinters. I kept glancing out of the window, waiting for sirens, but nothing came.

Jenja shrieked. “Here it is! I have found it!”

“Are you sure?” Lindsey asked, training the light of the phone on the worn fabric in Jenja’s hands. There was a faint lump in the pocket flap and Jenja used one of her long nails to slit open the fabric. She sighed and pulled out a neatly tied bundle of golden hair.

“This is mine. I can go home now.”

We got back to Lindsey’s house without any trouble. A few people were peering past us through cracks in their curtains as we passed, but they were all looking at the dust hanging over the church hall and ignoring us. Lindsey unlocked the door and we headed for the kitchen where Jenja pulled out a small, metal pan and placed the lock of her hair precisely in its centre. “The lighter, please.” Lindsey handed over the lighter they used for the kitchen candles and Jenja smiled. “Thank you for all your help. Please pray for Piotr.” And then she lit the hair.

Never light a lock of hair in a rental kitchen, especially if you light it directly under the smoke detector. All your neighbours will hate you for setting off the alarm at three in the morning. You should also never light a lock of hair in that rental kitchen if it’s going to release a Vila. Because right after the smoke alarm went off, Jenja sighed and vanished. Every window in the street blew out and all the street lights shattered. As the noise of breaking glass faded, there was the thumping sound as tiles slid from roofs up to a hundred yards away. And just as that settled down, the water main blew.

Good things did come out of that drink with a stranger. As Lindsey’s house was wrecked and the landlord had a breakdown, Lindsey moved in with me. One thing led to another and now we’re getting married in three months’ time. I now look at insurance claims for wind damage in a new light. I have never been able to find that little house with the golden drink again, although I walk around the area every now and then. And when it’s stormy and the winds are howling around the chimneys, I think of Jenja and wonder what she’s doing now. Then I thank my good fortune that I’m not a part of that and say a prayer for Piotr.

Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I stared at the faded roses in the centre of the table.  My cup of coffee was cooling in front of me.  Tonight was the last night of the dark of the moon.  Perhaps it wouldn’t work.

I sat immobile, staring at the fallen petals surrounding the plain black vase.  I had made a deal.  I should get the results before the last petal fell.  Outside the sun was setting.  I needed to get up and close the curtains but somehow, after all the weeks since the funeral, I couldn’t quite find the will to move.

I watched another petal drop.  I had worked so hard, risked so much, lost so much.  I couldn’t bear to see it fail.  Another petal dropped.  I looked down at my hands.  I had lost weight over the last month.  My hands looked like claws and my wedding ring was loose.

The room was getting darker.  I needed to stand up.  I needed to close the curtains, switch on the light, sweep up the fallen petals and admit my failure.  I briefly closed my eyes.  How could I have failed him so badly?  But I had done all I could.  I had thrown everything into this.

Outside the wind was rising.  I could hear a sighing of the trees.  It was all the more reason to push myself to my feet and take care of the house.  To go through the motions of closing curtains and lighting the fire as the temperature dropped.  I gripped the edge of the table and forced my head to move.  By a massive effort of will I looked out of the window.  I could hear the sighing of the wind, but the trees were not moving.  Moving became easier.  I looked back at the table as another petal dropped.

I managed to push myself to my feet.  My joints ached and my head swam but I stood and looked fully out of the window.  The last gleam of the sun’s rays slipped down and I heard a soft tap at the door.  My dead love had come back.

 

Cherry Blossom & Haunted Music

pink petaled flower bloom during daytime
Image from Unsplash taken by Yustinus Subiakto

Cherry Blossom

It was an interesting place to meet, Elaine thought as she sipped her coffee.  It was public, but not too public.  She was sitting outside the café on the decking overlooking the park underneath the rustling trees.  It was early in the year and not many people were braving the brisk spring sunshine, but Elaine was glad of the fresh air.  It was public enough that she could call for help if she felt threatened, but quiet enough for a private conversation.  The email she had received had stressed that the conversation should be private.

The cherry blossom around the café had just started to come out.  It was a little early this year.  Elaine looked at the breaking buds.  Somehow it didn’t reassure her.  There had been cherry blossom when she had met Keith, there had been cherry blossom when he proposed.  She had hoped that there would be cherry blossom when she got married at the end of the month.

She pulled out her phone and tried to distract herself from running through the lists for the wedding.  It wasn’t working very well.  There had been something compelling in that email that meant that she couldn’t refuse to meet, but she really didn’t want to know what it meant.

She heard a car pull up and looked round.  An immaculate BMW had parked next to the café and a slim man got out, holding a large manila envelope.  He glanced around and then came over.  “Hi, I’m Steve Adderson.  Thank you for meeting me.”

“Why did you email me?” Elaine wished she could take the words back.  She had wanted to be so reserved and dignified.  She sounded desperate.  A cherry blossom petal dropped onto the table in front of her.

“I’m here on behalf of a client.” Steve looked around quickly and sat down opposite Elaine.

“Who?  Who are you acting for?”

“My client wishes to remain anonymous, but he knew your grandfather, Herbert Pettigrew.”

For a moment a pang squeezed Elaine’s heart.  She missed her grandfather.  “Did they work together?  Or what?  How did he know my grandfather?”

“My client felt indebted to your grandfather but never had a chance to repay that favour.” Steve smiled faintly.  “You could call it a strange inheritance, a bequest of a favour owed.  When he came into possession of some information he thought it important that he let you know at the earliest possible time.”  He pushed the envelope over to Elaine.  “He considers the debt paid.” Steve hesitated.  “You may not like what you see, but there is no malice on behalf of my client.  It’s well meant.”

Elaine watched Steve stand and walk briskly over to his car, get in and drive away.  When he was finally out of sight she pulled the envelope towards her.  Her fingers trembled as she opened it and pulled out a sheaf of blown up photos.

She had sort of guessed, sort of half known.  Keith was very keen on getting married but not so keen on her.  She slowly worked her way through the photos.  Keith holding hands with a mystery blonde.  Keith kissing the blonde.  A candid shot through a window showing Keith and the blonde in bed.  The picture that hurt the most, though, was perhaps the least compromising.  Keith and the blonde were sitting opposite each other in a café.  They weren’t touching, they weren’t even close, but they were sharing such a look of intense love that Elaine broke.  She carefully slipped the photos back into the envelope with trembling fingers and watched the cherry blossom petals fall, too numb for tears.

person playing piano
Image from Unsplash taken by elCarito

Haunting Music

“Hi.” Elaine smiled awkwardly at Steve.  “The wedding didn’t go ahead.”

Steve stayed professional.  “I’m sorry you had such an upheaval, but perhaps it’s for the best.  Is this the piano?”

Elaine nodded.  “My grandfather always said it was a gift from someone special.  I suppose it’s a wrench to part with it, but I need to make some changes and the money will come in useful.” She managed another smile.  “Cancelling a wedding with less than a month to go is expensive.”

Steve was checking the piano with care.  “The money has arrived in your account, hasn’t it?”

Elaine nodded.  “I triple checked.”  She looked through the window at the movers Steve had brought.  They were waiting patiently by the van and Elaine got the impression that this was a very specialist type of movers.  “I’m planning on selling everything up and going travelling.  Or perhaps I’ll go back to college.  Or move somewhere exciting.” She shrugged.  “I’m going to do something.”  She ran her fingertips in a farewell over the battered upright piano.  “It’s haunted, you know.  I know lots of people don’t believe me, but I’ve heard it playing at night.”

“It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted.  May I?” Steve pulled out a small, dusty button that looked like it had belonged to a long-discarded toy.

“Of course.” Elaine had no idea what she was agreeing to but watched with interest as Steve carefully placed it over a decorative rose on the top of the piano.

“You’re not easily shaken, are you?” Steve asked.

Elaine looked him up and down.  He was a slim young man in a sharp suit who looked like this was the first time he had left an office in a decade.  She had been raised with grandfather’s folk tales and horror stories.  “I am really not easily shaken.”

Steve pressed the button.  There was a faint click and then with no further warning a pair of ghostly hands appeared above the keys.  They stretched professionally, ran themselves up and down the keys in some scales and then started playing a wild Hungarian waltz.  Elaine didn’t recognise it, but it was evocative of moonlight, red roses and reckless romance.  She found herself almost hypnotised with the swirl of music.  She half closed her eyes and she could imagine herself dancing with dark strangers in a clearing in the wild woods.  She felt a sense of loss when the music spun into a breathless crescendo and the hands disappeared.  Steve put the button back in his pocket.

“Take me with you.” Elaine said impulsively.  “It looks like the best adventure I could take.  And you look like you need a PA.  I am an amazing PA and I would be no trouble.”  She put a pleading hand on his sleeve.  “Please.”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked quietly.

“I’ve left my fiancé, quit my job and given up my lease.” Elaine said.  “I’ve set myself up to go looking for adventure.  I think that actually adventure has come looking for me.”

Two stories, the first with uncanny help from the past, the second with haunting music, from Across a Misty Bridge which you can find as a downloadable read on Story Origin or you can read it here.

A Special Home

Photo by Renate Vanaga on Unsplash

Jenny really missed Granny. She pulled up outside the cottage and her five year old car looked shiny and new against Granny’s overgrown home and garden. In the grey, November light, it all looked so faded.

Jenny pulled out the keys and went around to the porch. It needed painting, but the hardest thing was the locked door. It had never been locked when Granny was alive. The paint may have been peeling a little as Granny faded, but there had always been a fire in the stove in the kitchen, and tea in the pot, and if Granny knew you were coming she would have baked scones, soft and fluffy and full of sultanas.

The lock was stiff, but Jenny managed to turn it and go into the cold kitchen. She’d been in a few times to air the place out, but it wasn’t the same. The crocheted throw on the little nursing chair that had been Granny’s favourite was damp and grey with dust. The curtains sagged and cobwebs straggled around the window frames.

Jenny took a breath. It was hers now, to the utter fury of her stepmother. Granny had pottered along, seemingly ageless, until she had a fall, which took her to hospital, and she had never come out. After the funeral, Jenny was shocked to find that Granny had owned a lot more than the cottage and had been quietly collecting rents on the fields around for many years. There was plenty of money for renovations and updates, though Jenny kept that away from her stepmother.

Granny had told her, before she fell into her final sleep, “You need to do it up, my girl. Get some new curtains, and that sofa has had its day. I daresay the stove will do a bit longer, but the bed is on its last legs and the carpets are almost threads. You get what you want, love, but be careful in the garden.”

Jenny paused by the window. Damp was speckling at the corners and the panes were cold to touch. The garden had been Granny’s pride and joy. Jenny had spent many happy, sunlit hours alongside her as they weeded, planted, pruned, pricked out and harvested. They had pulled caterpillars off the cabbages and fed them to Granny’s hens, placed pots of mint among the tomatoes and sage between the cabbages and sprayed soapy water over the aphids. In the rambling, purposeful garden, only one spot stayed immune from Granny. “You leave that bit alone, my girl.” Granny had warned. “Never touch it, never prune it. That’s the heart of the garden and it minds itself.”

Jenny had been fascinated by the small stand of hazel and wild rose near the gate, mingling with overgrown hawthorn from the hedge and quite impenetrable. She had never gone near it, though. It had been important to Granny, and, besides, Jenny had always been so busy. There had been the hens to feed, the garden to tend, the stove to clean, firewood and coal to stack up, cakes to bake, and, best of all, sitting in the shade of the garden, with Granny, listening to her stories while they knitted. Sometimes Granny would tell stories of years ago, like when the old lord had a manor here and he lost a bet with the local smith and had to pay a wagon of hay to every farmer. Sometimes it would be gossip about Him Down the Road and what he said at the Post Office and who had punched him for it. Sometimes it would be stories of fairies and goblins and why it was a good thing to have the swathes of honeysuckle that tumbled over the wall in heaped drifts.

Jenny was shaken out of her memories by a car pulling up. It was large, black and shiny and the man who got out was unfamiliar. He was slim, slightly balding and his cold eyes had an unnerving air of assurance. She made sure she had her phone with her as she went out onto the porch.

“Miss Smith? I’m Richard Simpson. I believe you refused our offer for the cottage and the land surrounding.”

“I don’t want to sell.” Jenny said quietly.

“May I come in?” Richard asked.

Jenny shook her head. “I don’t want to waste your time.”

A flicker of irritation crossed Richard’s face. “This is not a place for a young girl.” He said. “It needs thousands spending on the house to make it up to code. You do know that I could call in inspectors to check whether everything is as it should be, don’t you? I daresay that place hasn’t had its wiring checked since…”

“It’s fine.” Jenny said.

“And if there are issues with drainage, or the correct licensing on the fields, you could find yourself with extremely large fines.” Richard waved his hands towards the Thompson farm. “And you would be responsible for anything amiss on your tenants’ land.”

Jenny was fairly sure that the Thompsons were up to no good. They were always up to no good, and Granny had warned her never to ask questions as long as they paid their rent on time. “I’m sure it’s all under control.”

“Right now we have a very reasonable offer on the table, but it’s reducing all the time, and, in the end, it may not cover all the fines that may be pinned on you.” Richard smiled. “Why don’t I come inside and we can discuss things reasonably.” He looked around. “It may have all your memories but keeping a place like this takes a lot more work than you would believe, and it would be a shame to see it all fall apart. The memories would be there, but then you would have the memories of the garden being overgrown or the house falling down and draining the little money you have.” He would have patted Jenny’s shoulder paternally but she flinched back. “Why don’t we just talk?”

“Please leave.” Jenny said, hating how her voice sounded small and frightened.

Richard shook his head. “If you feel this nervous about a respectable businessman visiting in broad daylight, imagine how you would feel when it’s dark and there is an unexpected knock on the door. It could be tricky for a young girl out here on her own. Have you really thought this through?”

Jenny swallowed. “I think…” Her voice cracked and she tried to clear it. She had to be assertive. There was no-one else around.

There was a rustle from the hazel trees and a young man strode out. His dark hair was tousled and unkempt and the rough trousers with the collarless shirt and waistcoat looked out of place, but his clear grey eyes were sparking fire and he strode up to Richard without hesitation. “The lady said you should leave. So leave now.”

“I don’t know who you are, but this young woman and I…”

“She’s a lady. And she told you to leave. Last warning, you heed my words!”

“This is my business, not yours.” Richard said.

The stranger grabbed Richard by the front of his expensive shirt and stared hard into his eyes. “I can see all your little secrets, all your dark places, all your fears.” He grinned wickedly. “Which should I release first?” He let go and Richard stumbled back.

Jenny watched, horrified, as all the colour drained from Richard’s face. He shook his head. “I paid them off. It’s all over. No-one knows.”

The stranger stepped forward. “I know. And I could keep it my little secret, or I could tell the world. What do you think? Are you going to leave like the lady asked?”

They watched as Richard jumped into his car, spun around and raced up the track, the car swaying wildly.

The stranger looked at Jenny. “You can call me Rob.” He grinned. “It’s not my name, but it will do. Your Granny told us about you. She said you’d take over and look after us.” He looked around the little patch. “We owe her. She found a few of us in a poacher’s trap made of iron and she set us free, without asking anything for it.”

“She always had a kind heart.” Jenny smiled sadly. “And she would never ask anything for helping someone.”

“So we owe her, and we promised we would look after her and hers.” Rob said. “As long as you stay kind.”

Jenny remembered all the stories Granny told her. “I’ll stay away from your home.” She said. “And I’ll let you know the news, and if I’m making changes.”

Rob had a devilish smile. “Your Granny said you would have to do a lot of building if you were going to stay. We won’t interfere too much. And if you’re planning on staying, you’ll want to settle down.” He nodded to a farm worker coming up from Holly Farm to see what the car was about. “He should do you pretty well. And don’t forget – keep the honeysuckle.” And he laughed, walking backwards towards the hazel, until suddenly he was part of it, fading and twisting, and then he was gone.

Everything Changes

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is michael-d-beckwith-577526-unsplash-1024x683.jpg
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

Hal pressed himself against the cold stone wall and tried to catch his breath. He had to risk using the torch on his phone. He didn’t want to run the battery down, but he needed to know if he was safe. The quick sweep of light showed bare stone. The fan vaulting overhead told him he was in the Chapter House. Surely Kirkstall Abbey was a safe place from werewolves. Surely they wouldn’t be able to come onto sacred ground.

Hal tensed as he thought he heard a growl near the bare stone doorway, but his mind caught up with his terror and he realised it was just the sound of a motorbike. He leant back against the rough stone. Surely they wouldn’t come in here. This had to be a safe spot. He ran a reluctant hand over his left forearm. It felt damp and sticky and far too warm. His body ached.

If he could just hold out until morning, that would be alright, wouldn’t it? Hal knew he wasn’t thinking straight as whatever was in that werewolf bite ran through him, but he felt himself holding on to a tiny core of rational thought. Werewolves could cope with sunlight, he thought, but this was Kirkstall Abbey. It wasn’t some remote spot out on the moors but only ten minutes from the centre of Leeds and next to a busy main road. Werewolves wouldn’t want witnesses, would they?

Hal found himself sinking down the cold stone wall and slumping on the damp flags. All his bones throbbed and he hunched smaller, trying to ease the pains shooting through him. He had been bitten by a werewolf. His head felt like it was on fire. He felt his thirst was ripping his throat but he didn’t dare look for water. He just needed to hold out until morning.

Lord Marius looked around in irritation at the man stumbling across the damp grass towards Kirkstall Abbey. “You are not Sergeant Anson.”

“I’m DC Jamie Flint.” He held out his hand towards Lord Marius who completely ignored it. There was an awkward pause. “Sergeant Anson is on leave at the moment. I’m covering for him.”

Lord Marius looked at him carefully. Jamie was in his late twenties with thinning hair, an oversized uniform jacket and an anxious expression. “Did Sergeant Anson tell you everything?” He asked.

“I’ve read the briefing notes.” Jamie shifted uncomfortably. Half an hour earlier he had been trying to convince an old lady to turn her music down because not all of her neighbours were fans of Frank Sinatra. He had wanted excitement, but the brief skim of the notes left by Anson hinted at more excitement than he ever wanted.

“Come this way.” Lord Marius gestured imperiously and Jamie followed. They skirted the main building and headed towards the river. A man in a battered raincoat and holding a large sports bag was there surrounded by an orderly pack of very large dogs. “We have an incident and I think it best that you deal with it.”

“Me?” Jamie nodded to the man standing around the back of the main structure and automatically holding out a hand to the nearest dog. They were immaculately groomed and in peak condition. “Good boy.”

“Don’t call him a ‘good boy’.” Lord Marius said, sardonic amusement dripping from his tone. “That is Mark Davies, leader of the local pack. I’m sure he will have much to say when the moon is not full.”

Jamie went cold. As the moon came out from behind the clouds and added to the reflections of the local street lights, he could see the pack a lot clearer. They looked like wolves. They looked like very big, well-muscled, well-fed wolves. “I’m sorry, my mistake.” Jamie said. What was it that they said in college? Never show fear. It was easier said than done. The wolf gave a sharp bark. Lord Marius shrugged.

“Mark Davies is remarkably understanding. Of course, he has a lot on his mind. Inside the ruins of the abbey is a man who has been bitten by a werewolf. You need to bring him out.”

“Is he badly hurt?” Jamie asked. “Do I need to call for medical back up?”

The man in the middle of the pack walked up to Jamie and shook his hand. “I’m Dr Dave, and I’m the medical backup.” He turned to Lord Marius. “The stray didn’t make it. His heart gave out. Perhaps it was for the best.”

Mark gave a series of sharp barks, and for some reason Jamie felt chills running down his back. “Stray?”

Dr Dave looked between Lord Marius and Jamie. “You’re new, aren’t you. Never mind. In brief, a stray is a werewolf that isn’t attached to a pack. They usually turn bad if they spend too long alone and this one managed to pick up a case of white jaw – it’s a little like the werewolf version of rabies, and there has been the first outbreak in decades running around the country. It’s treatable, if caught in time, but the stray wasn’t able to get treatment. He may not have even realised he had it. The trouble was, the condition comes with delirium and hallucinations and he bit a normal – someone who doesn’t know about werewolves. They ran inside the ruins.”

Mark gave a few staccato barks and a deep ‘woof’.

Lord Marius nodded. “Quite.” He turned to Jamie. “The pack can’t get into the building as it is too holy. They can manage most churches, but there have been some great, if unknown, saints here over the centuries who have left their mark and it is out of bounds to the pack. Besides, they can’t risk getting the white jaw themselves. Dr Dave can treat the man if he can reach him, but he may need help restraining the victim. I’ve asked for help from the Knights Templar, but they’ve been caught up with a nest of vampire fledglings in the north of the city and it will take time for them to get here.”

“Will you be able to save him?” Jamie asked.

Dr Dave looked worried. “If I get to him in time, I can treat the white jaw. I can’t stop him changing, but Mark is a good leader and will look after him. I just need to get to him.”

Another deep ‘woof’ from Mark was translated by Lord Marius. “And as he transitions – which may be tonight or at the next full moon, depending on his infection – he’s going to be affected by the site. He won’t be able to stay there long.”

“How many exits can he reach?” Jamie asked.

“Just this one.” Dr Dave said. “We’ve blocked all the others with silver, so he should come out here.”

Jamie was not reassured by the uncertainty in the doctor’s voice. He looked over the ruins. Kirkstall Abbey was a mass of broken walls, uncertain pillars, dark shadows and council railings. The roof was intact over large parts of the medieval building, creating unlit, inky caverns. In the uncertain light, it was impossible to check all angles. “I think I need more support. Like, animal control…” He flinched as Mark took a pace forward and growled. “Sorry, but I don’t know what I can do.”

“You can help save a man’s life.” Dr Dave said briskly.

Jamie peered into the matt black shadows. He couldn’t see a thing. He pulled a torch from his belt. “What are we waiting for?” He had never been so scared in his life.

There was a yelping sound from within the building, then a growl. The pack took a collective step back as the whimpering and yelping came closer. Dr Dave pulled out a syringe. “You may not have to go in.”

Jamie stared, transfixed, as a huge, bedraggled wolf limped out, its left foreleg stained and matted with blood and the great jaws drooling foam. He groped for his taser. “Everyone stand clear.” Did he give the standard warning to a rabid werewolf? Where was the damn taser? He took a quick look around. All the wolves were standing, alert and with hackles raised. Lord Marius had taken a step forward and had a large and illegal knife held in front of him. Dr Dave was moving slowly towards the new werewolf.

“Hello, I’m Dr Dave. Let me help you. All you need to do is relax and I’ll…” Dr Dave paused at the rising growl from Hal.

“I’m DC Flint.” Jamie dredged up his courage and stuck to his training. “If everyone stays calm then no-one will get hurt. Lie down on the floor…” Jamie stumbled to a halt. Hal didn’t have any hands to keep in sight. He had four paws and a tail that was stiff and angry looking. The huge head turned towards Jamie. He took a breath. “Stop there.” Jamie held up the taser. “Get down on the floor and allow the doctor to give you treatment.” His hands closed on the handle of the taser. “Police! Taser! Taser!” And Jamie fired.

To his horror, the werewolf didn’t go down. For a few awful moments, Hal twitched, then instinctively the new werewolf ignored the shaking running through him and crouched to leap.

I’m going to die. Jamie thought as the werewolf seemed to rear up, almost in slow motion, Then he recoiled as a shot rang out next to him. Whirling around he saw a thickset man with a shaved head and neck tattoo lowering what looked like an automatic pistol. Jamie looked back at Hal. The werewolf lay limp with a dark stain spreading over the thin fur.

Mark bounded up to the shooter, barking urgently. The man nodded. “It’s okay, it was only loaded with lead. Everything alright?” He looked questioningly at Jamie.

Jamie looked over to where Dr Dave was checking over the victim as the rest of the pack gathered around. He nodded. “I think so. Thank you, I think you saved my life. I’m DC Flint.”

“Sir Dylan, Knights Templar.” He held the gun pointing at the ground, showing an uncomfortable familiarity with it.

Jamie took a breath. Less than an hour ago he had been dealing with a delusional ninety-year-old and her traumatised neighbours while Frank Sinatra had been belting out at window shaking volumes. Now he had seen a werewolf. He had not only seen werewolves but he had called one a ‘good boy’ and lived, tasered one, seen one shot and seen the shot one starting to regain consciousness, although looking a lot less feral but seriously frightened. In front of Jamie’s horrified eyes, the battered wolf flowed until he was a naked man, blood smeared over his arm and chest, curled up and shivering. And Jamie was standing next to the man who had shot him without hesitation.

Jamie dragged all his training, all his small experience and all his time as a copper and turned to Sir Dylan. “I hope you have a licence for that firearm.”