Walk in the Park


Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

As first dates went, it hadn’t been too bad so far. I had met him at the local coffee shop and we had drunk a few lattes. He looked like his online profile, which was something, and the conversation had been light. He was studying computers and something that I didn’t catch or really understand and getting some side hustles with web design on the side. We shared a love of Doctor Who, agreed to disagree on Star Trek and I felt more relaxed with him than I had in a long time. I should have known it was too good to be true.

“Let me walk you home.” Ryan said. “It’s a shame to end the conversation. I feel like I could talk with you for hours.”

“I’m good.” I said. “And if you walk me home and we get talking there then I won’t get to bed early enough and I have work tomorrow.”

“Come on, let me walk you at least part of the way.” Ryan said. “Don’t pretend we haven’t had a marvellous time.”

“It’s been a great evening.” I said, “And I hope we have another one like it, but I do need to get up tomorrow.” What with one thing and another I would be lucky to get even a couple of hours sleep before work, even if he didn’t come in.

“Spoilsport.” He smiled at me and I smiled back. “Okay, let me walk you some of the way back. I promise I won’t go all the way.”

“That sounds like such a cheesy line!” I shook my head. I either gave in or he made a scene here. “But you said you lived over the other side of the city. Why don’t we walk as far as the subway terminus? Then you can get the subway back and I will be near home.”

“You aren’t that near to the subway terminus.” Ryan sounded a little sulky.

“Someone’s done their research.” I said. “But we can hang out together until you get on the subway, so we have a little more time.”

Ryan smiled. “I know you haven’t lived in this part of the city long, but I grew up around here. I know a great short cut, through the old park.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be haunted?” I asked. “I mean, I was warned about going into the old park after dark as it was dangerous.”

“Nobody believes in ghosts.” Ryan said, “And I can protect you.”

I looked at him thoughtfully. He was in good shape, but he didn’t look like he could take on a pack of muggers. What was worse, if we cut through the abandoned park, we would have to go past my home to get to the terminus. It looked like Ryan could be a problem. “I’d rather stay in public. You know all the advice that they give, about online dating, to stay in public for the first few dates and to be really careful who you give your details to? Perhaps I should just get an uber home.”

Ryan put a hand on my shoulder. Somehow it felt heavier than it should. “Please, we are having such a good time. Let’s just walk for a little while, carry on connecting and you can wait with me at the subway station.”

“And we can go past the supermarket.”

“Come on! Where’s your sense of adventure. There is nothing wrong with the park. It’s just neglected, that’s all.”

“It will be dark.” I said.

“It will be romantic.” Ryan held my hand and smiled at me. I felt incredibly uneasy.

The old park had effectively been abandoned by the council. Once it had been carefully landscaped but now it was an overgrown of tangled bushes and trees with some worn tracks through the dense growth. It was dimly lit even in daylight. We walked through the rusted gates in the dark and away from the street lights and we were suddenly in an eerie dark. I dug a mini torch out of my handbag.

“You’re prepared.” Ryan said. “I admit, it’s darker than I was expecting, but I thought you would use your phone.”

“Wouldn’t that run the battery down really quickly?” I asked as I found a path. “Is this the way?”

“I think we need to go down here.” Ryan said, pointing to a different path.

“No, this way will get us through the park quicker and nearer the subway.” I insisted pointing my torch.

“But this way will be more fun, I promise.” Ryan said.

He set off ahead of me, and I sighed and followed. The park was not safe after dark just because it was so overgrown and badly lit. If he fell, he could hurt himself badly and not be easily found. I decided that I would see him off at the subway and then send him a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ text. “Hang on!” I shouted after him.

“The park is supposed to be haunted, you know.” Ryan said as I scrambled after him. “They say that you can see ghosts here and that vampires and werewolves come here to meet.” Ryan looked around as much of the park as he could see in the small beam from my torch. “It’s a shame it isn’t a full moon.”

“Vampires and werewolves, seriously?” I said, as I hurried after him. “We’ve left the path.”

“I grew up here, remember?” Ryan turned and smiled in the glow of the torch. “I know all the tracks, like this one here.” We stumbled out onto a slightly wider path that was heading downward towards the neglected artificial lake.

“I need to get home and you need to make sure you get to the subway in time for the last train.” I said. “This is silly.”

Ryan looked around. “I’m just trying to get my bearings. Does your phone have GPS?”

“I thought you knew this place?” I was trying to keep calm. I really didn’t want to have a scene. “Come on, lets get out of here.”

“Seriously, which way is North?”

I ignored his hand open for my phone and pulled up the map function myself. “It’s that way, and if we follow this path, we’ll come out almost next to the subway. And you won’t miss your…” I was interrupted as I turned to point to a path. Ryan snatched my phone out of my hand and threw it into the bushes. I whirled around to glare at him. “What are you doing?”

“It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?” Ryan said, in a low voice, running his hand over my arm. “You are in the middle of the haunted park, in the dark, possibly surrounded by werewolves, and with a handsome stranger. Anything could happen. And you have no way to call for help.” He tried to pull me towards him for a kiss, but I struggled free.

“Okay, that’s it. This date is over, lose my number.” I shone my pitiful torch where I thought my phone landed.

“I don’t think you understand.” Ryan said. “You are alone, in the dark, with a stranger. You are in no position to tell me what to do. I’m in charge.” He moved a little closer. “I could even be a werewolf. That would be something, wouldn’t it, to be rescued by a werewolf.”

I swore at him and headed to where I thought I saw a glint of grey. “What are you going to do? Leave me for the ghosts. Leave me alone.”

“Or what?” Ryan was smirking as he followed me. “There are no werewolves around to rescue you.” He pushed his hand into my hair and pulled my head back. “We are going to have a nice time here, and then we are going back to your place and by the morning you will see that I am the best thing that could happen to you. No werewolves needed.”

“You’re right.” I snarled, my fangs lengthening as I grabbed his arm and twisted until he was on his knees, screaming. “No werewolves needed at all.”

Family Jewels


Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

“Can you see anyone?” Justin asked. He stood at the window, tension in every line of him.

“One moment, Mr Birstall.” Kane tried to concentrate on the sobbing ghost in front of him. “Calm down and just try and…” You couldn’t tell a ghost to take a breath. “Just take it easy.”

“All my life I’ve heard the story of the family jewels.” Justin said. “I’ve waited my whole life to buy back my family home.”

Kane nodded distractedly as the ghost slowly straightened up and looked at his sister’s great grandson. “That’s better. Now, this is Justin, and he wants to know what happened to his great grandmother’s jewellery.”

Justin looked between Kane and the gap that Kane was apparently speaking to. “Dad said that the jewellery wasn’t much, but it would be great to be sort of reconciled with that, to be part of the family.”

“I never thought she would leave.” The ghost started sobbing again. “I thought if I forbade her to marry then we would be together and comfortable. But she wanted to go to London with this clerk.”

Kane nodded politely. “I’m sure you missed your sister…”

“I missed her so much. How could I know that I would drive her away.” The ghost pulled out a spectral handkerchief. “I mean, if I had realised perhaps I would have at least had letters.” The ghost looked between Kane and Justin. “I have to know – did she die in poverty? Did she die in pain? Did she have a family? I’ve worried about it for so many years, I can’t rest.”

Kane looked at Justin. “Your great-grandmother, was she happy?”

Justin smiled. “I grew up with stories about her life. She loved the theatre, was devoted to my great-grandfather – she was so proud of him. She was always well dressed, and had all the latest fashions, especially when she went to the big dinners and galas.”

“What do you mean, big dinners?” The ghost forgot to sob into his handkerchief and stared at Justin.

“The ghost is surprised your great-grandmother went to big dinners.” Kane said, a little timidly. A skinny kid just out of local authority care shouldn’t ask questions of a high flyer in the City.

Justin didn’t take offence. “My great-grandmother ran off with my great-grandfather to the horror of all their families. But they settled in London, he went back to his father’s firm and they were very happy. Once he took over, there were shareholders’ dinners and charity events with the Lord Mayor.” He smiled. “Granny used to tell us stories about how they met with royalty and all sorts.” He sighed “But she used to whisper to Granny that all the fancy necklaces she had didn’t have the same feel as the locket her brother gave her and that she left behind.” He shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. One last chance.” He sighed. “Who am I kidding? That locket was probably sold or thrown long ago.”

“How dare you, sir!” The ghost stood, indignant. “The very thought that I would do something like that! Of course, I didn’t want the maids finding it and perhaps sending it on to London, so I hid it.” He turned to Kane. “Boy, you can fetch it for me.”

“What?” Kane said, bewildered. “I mean, what do you mean? Where is it?”

“I put it in the kitchen.” The ghost said. “No-one would think to look in the kitchen for something I hid. I never went there as an adult.” He shook his head. “Everyone forgot that I grew up in this house. I know every nook and cranny. Come on, lad, smarten up.”

Kane followed the ghost out of the empty study and down the echoing, uncarpeted hall and into the kitchen. Justin trailed after him.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m following the ghost, Mr Birstall.”

“What ghost?” Justin said. “I can’t see anything. Don’t you have to have a seance and call on them or something.”

As Kane walked into the kitchen, he wondered what it would be like to have to ask a ghost to come instead of trying to get them to shut up and leave him alone. “I’m getting a message.” He said.

“Hmph, a message.” The ghost snorted. “Anyone would think you were some sort of spiritist. Come over here, lad, and put your hand up the chimney, quick as you like.”

Kane looked at the soot-encrusted mantle and took off his jacket. “Whereabouts up the chimney?” He asked doubtfully, rolling up his sleeves.

“What?” Justin asked.

Kane ignored him and, following the ghost’s instructions, slid his hand behind the mantle. “The ghost, your great-great-uncle, would like to know if his sister was happy, and how she died.” The soot felt unpleasantly damp and a little slimy.

What?” Justin asked. He stared at Kane and then shrugged. “Everyone said she had a happy heart. She died in the Blitz, direct hit on the house.”

“She wouldn’t have suffered.” The ghost said quietly. “And she was happy.” He sighed. “Try a bit further left, boy.”

Kane looked down at the soot streaking his newest jeans and trainers. “Are you sure? Hang on…” His fingers found a loose stone and he wiggled it a little before he managed to prise it out. He set the stone carefully down on the hearth and tentatively reached in. “I think this is it.”

Justin took the small tin box from Kane, regardless of the soot falling on his bespoke suit and, after a struggle, opened it up. He swallowed and tipped the contents onto the dusty windowsill. “Great-grandmother’s locket.” He pushed aside the discoloured pearls and the garnet necklace and pulled out a simple locket, still faintly gleaming under the dust.

“She didn’t die poor, she died happy.” The ghost sighed as he started to fade and pass over. “I didn’t drive her to poverty. She was happy.”

Kane watched the ghost go home and turned to Justin. “The ghost has gone, Mr Birstall. I don’t think that there’s anything else.”

“Hmm?” Justin was staring at the picture in the locket. “Sorry, I was caught up with this.” He showed the facing pictures to Kane. “My great-grandmother and her brother. I have a similar picture of her at home, look.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled through to show Kane the picture of the same laughing young woman that was in the locket.

Kane looked at the faded photographs and smiled politely as he tried to brush the soot off his jeans. “So, I’ll see myself out.”

Justin came back to the present. “I’ll give you a lift to the station.” He handed Kane an envelope. “Agreed fee.” He added a second envelope. “And the bonus for finding the locket.” The smile on his face grew. “The family jewels.”

Book Review: The Omega Prize by Leann Ryans

This is erotic fiction. I practically never read erotic fiction and I blush very easily. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The Omega Prize is a science fiction story set in a world where there are dominants and submissives, alphas and omegas, and many are ruled by their pheromones. The story is set on a rough and ready space station with the heroine, Brie, trying to hide her nature as she works as a bartender. The hero, Zander, spots her true nature and, well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers.

I usually avoid erotica as there is often more biology than story. The Omega Prize is definitely a story – a well written story with real characters. It is relatively short, but there is a journey that the characters make and it’s an interesting journey.

I found the dialogue crisp and believable, and I enjoyed the description of the settings, with a great flavour of the darker scenes of sci fi movies. I am not sure how qualified I am to comment on the quality of the erotica, but I found it, well, erotic. It wasn’t mechanistic but had a wonderful, sensual, feline feel to it.

Now for something surprising. Alongside with a great setting, crisp dialogue, sensual scenes and three dimensional characters, there are some really excellent descriptions of hand to hand combat. It is great to see such a vivid description of a fight. Again, I don’t want to put too much in, but the combat, the passion and the characters are all legitimate parts of the story. I loved it

Another in the series is promised, and I am looking forward to it.

The New Building

Old foundation stone in the new building of the Church of the Nazarene, Morley

Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.

It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.

The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?

Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.

The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.

His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.

But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.

Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.

The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.

Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.

“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”

Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”

Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”

“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”

Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.

“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”

“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”

“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”

“Is there a way?” Kane asked.

Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”

“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”

Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.

“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”

Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.

The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”

Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”

“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”

“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”

“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”

Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”

“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”

“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”

“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”

Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”

“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.

Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.

Everything Changes


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.”

Green Fingers

Jessica looked at me. “You know about plants.” She thrust her phone at me. “What is this? I need to get it now!”

I looked. “I think it’s a butterfly palm. It’s a nice plant. Why are you getting a plant. Plants die just by looking at you.” I had know Jessica for years and she is the only person I knew who could kill a spider plant. She could kill anything green. She always swore that lettuce wilted faster around her.

“But my mother is coming to visit.” Jessica said. “And last time she was here, she gave me this plant.”

Mrs Ford, Jessica’s mum, was an avid gardener. She even wrote the gardening column in the church magazine. “So what happened to the plant. It looks pretty healthy and it must have been hard even for you to kill.”

Jessica winced. “I hate plants. Mum was always so obsessed over them and knew all their Latin names and everything. It put me off them for life. As soon as she was on the train back, I took it to a charity shop.”

I looked at the luxuriant plant in the picture. “Next time donate it to me. That looks beautiful, and they can be expensive.”

“What am I going to do?” Jessica said. “Mum is bound to ask questions.” Her shoulders slumped. “I feel such a disappointment.”

“She’s not disappointed in you.” I said firmly. “You two just have different skills. You know how she always gets you to check the bills and she can never cope with numbers.” Jessica stayed downcast. I gave her a quick hug. “I’ll take you shopping for plants tomorrow. We’ll pick up a nice butterfly palm, put it in a dark corner and keep her distracted with your knitting.” Mrs Ford loved Jessica’s knitting.

The next morning I was regretting my offer. Jessica was hopeless around plants. “This one looks great,” I said, picking it up.

“Hang on,” Jessica said. “We can’t get one too healthy or mum will suspect something.”

“How about this?” I found I sad specimen in the corner, heavily marked down.

“Mum would have a fit if she thought I had neglected her plant so much. You know what she’s like – they’re her babies.”

“What about this?” I picked up a slightly wilted one from near the heating duct.”

“Mmmm” Jessica was undecided. “Do you think it is the right size? I mean, it’s a little bigger than the picture.”

“Your mum was last here six months ago.” I said. “You always visit her, remember. The plant should have grown.”

Jessica looked the plant over, turning it this way and that. “It looks too nice to take to my house.” She ran a finger over the leaves.

“Which is why you are giving me that plant as soon as your mum is on the train and I’ll keep it safe for you. You can even tell your mum that I asked for it.” I said. “Come on, let’s pay for this and get it home. Your mum will be here in an hour.”

Jessica picked her mum up at the station while I finished the finishing touches on Jessica’s flat. It was a bright, sunny afternoon but the unsparing sunshine couldn’t find a speck of dust or scrap of lint anywhere. I made the coffee and put out some biscuits as I heard Jessica’s car draw up outside.

Mrs Ford came in and gave me a warm smile and a hug. “Mandy, it’s good to see you again. How are you doing? Still with Dan?”

“Dan who?” I grinned. “I’ll get you a coffee Mrs Ford.”

“Hmm, let me see, was it Kai? Or Jude? Or wasn’t there a Jason?” Mrs Ford teased as she slipped out of her jacket and looked around the room. She spotted the plant and walked over to pick it up. “That is a beautiful plant.”

Jessica rushed over as her mother expertly checked the dryness of the soil. “I bet you didn’t think I could keep a house plant alive all this time, but I did. I think I’ve done okay, actually. I call her ‘Gertie'”

“Jessica, I love you dearly, but I do wish you wouldn’t panic and fib.” Mrs Ford sighed. “I gave you a house plant last time because I thought the room looked bare without something green, but I know you very well.” She shook a sorrowful head at her daughter. “The plant I left with you was artificial.”


Photo by Kara Eads on Unsplash

Book Review: The Ring and the Coin Purse by Marianne Madson

I actually had Book 2 in the series recommended, but I went and read Book 1 first.

First things first – I loved it. I found myself relaxing in to it. It’s a story of a mysterious coin purse, a magical ring, extra dimensional beings and, well, all sorts of good stuff.

I get the feel that it is aimed at a young adult market, and the language used is very straightforward and streamlined and there is a wonderful clarity in the descriptions. This balances out a plot that intertwines intricately between different viewpoints, time periods and even worlds.

To be honest, sometimes I got a little lost in names, but a sneak peak at the next book shows a ‘who’s who’ and I think I will be referring back to it. And I am looking forward to learning how this world works as the series unfolds as Marianne Madson doesn’t dump a swathe of information on you but teases glimpses in as you read the book.

Perhaps my favourite passage, because it is so vivid and intriguing:

An old childhood memory of her Father comes to mind.

It’s of a moment she had forgotten but now can clearly recall.

Her Father is staring at her with his own grey gold flecked eyes.

He touches her forehead with the tip of his right index finger while saying in a hypnotic tone.

“Remember to act when you find the Red coat, Rose, DON’T LET THIS OPPORTUNITY SLIP AWAY!”

It is a story with a lot of light and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

The Ring and the Coin Purse by Marianne Madson

I Never Knew Her Name

I never knew her name.

I took this image in Roundhay Park and I wondered about the story behind it.  
This is one of my guesses

Retirement hit hard.  For the first three months I don’t think I moved far beyond my flat.  I wasn’t completely cut off.  I would do my little bit of shopping, speak to my daughter, speak to my daughter-in-law and sometimes I would call in at the local community centre coffee mornings, but mostly I stayed in. 

Thank goodness, after three months of slowly settling into place, I decided I was not going to come to a stop.  I started with a morning walk.  I would wait until the school run had finished and then I would walk the five minutes to my local park, half an hour around the paths, and then sit and overlook the small lake while I drank a flask of coffee.  And that’s when I met her.

She looked the same age as me and had the same air of striving to find a purpose.  I saw her every morning, and after a week or so I smiled in recognition, and she smiled back.  We were two old ladies sitting in the park, and we recognised the fight against drifting slowly into the sunset. 

A smile grew into a timid, ‘Good morning,’ and then a comment on the weather, and a little chat about the day, and suddenly we were friends. 

It was only ever that half an hour, between 9.45am and 10.15am, that we met.  I brought enough coffee for two and she brought biscuits.  We talked about our children, and their partners.  Her son was finding being a parent hard.  I talked about my worries over my daughter-in-law’s job.  She told me about her volunteer work at the library and I shared jokes about my time helping in a charity shop.  Then we would dust the crumbs off and set off in different directions to go back to our lives, a little energised and encouraged by that touch of contact with someone who understood. 

We managed to meet up in all sorts of weather.  If it was raining she brought a huge golf umbrella that we wedged between us and I had an old picnic blanket to put on the damp bench.  We used the umbrella for shade if it was too hot and I brought iced coffee.  I brought back sweets from my holiday to pass on to her grandson and she gave me cuttings from her scented geranium that flourished on my windowsill. 

But we never exchanged names.  That would have been ‘odd’.  We had talked about the weather and stray chitchat for so long without names that it would almost be bad manners to ask about names now.  I knew her son-in-law’s name, and the place where her daughter worked, but not her name.  And she knew where my daughter lived and my grandson’s school, but no name.  It was an unspoken taboo.  After so long, how could we bring it up now?

Then she stopped coming.  I was worried, of course, but what could I do?  I didn’t have a name or a telephone number.  It would be intrusive to try call her son-in-law or ask those regular dog walkers that greeted her every morning as we sat and talked.  One week turned into two weeks, and then it was a month.  I started bringing my own biscuits to have with my coffee.  But I didn’t dare miss a day in case my friend, my dear friend, suddenly was able to make it one more time. 

Then, after too many weeks, one of the dog walkers stopped as she walked passed.  “It’s so sad about Gwen, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry?” I said.

“Gwen,” he said, gesturing at the empty space beside me on the bench.  “It was so sudden, and the family are devastated.  I didn’t see you at the funeral?”

I withdrew a little at the small but definite hook for gossip. “I’m afraid I didn’t know.” A cold wave ran through me.  “What happened?”

“A heart attack in her sleep, they said.  It was very peaceful.” The dog walker leaned over me. “Are you okay?”

“It’s just a shock.” I said.  “I’m glad it was peaceful.”

“Would you like me to take you home?” The dog walker said, tugging her dog back to her.

“No, I’m fine.” I said, lying, my hands trembling as I clutched my plastic cup of coffee.

“It’s no trouble at all.” The dog walker said firmly.  “Come on, let’s get moving.  I’m Rachel, by the way, and this mutt is Bruno.”

I managed a smile at the beautiful dog.  “He’s very handsome.” I said, as Rachel helped me to my feet.  “I’m Sarah.”

“He’s a bit of a mix.” Rachel said, and chatted about nothing as she guided me home and made sure I was safe in a chair with a fresh coffee.  “And I hope I see you tomorrow on that bench.  And if you bring the coffee, I’ll bring the biscuits.”

Rachel is a good friend now, and I have her name, and her phone number and I am always glad to dog sit, but I still miss Gwen.  Gwen understood.  Funnily enough, I didn’t know her name, but I knew her birthday, after all our conversations.  So today, after Rachel has left with Bruno, I can leave some flowers for my friend, with a name on the card, before I go home to the quiet. 

Guest Post: Riftmaker by Phoebe Darqueling

You could say that Jeremy was “lost in the system,” if Excelsior did in fact have a system for dealing with homeless kids. He spent a few years being passed around between disinterested relatives until finally finding his way to the orphanage at a rooftop settlement called The Kaleidoscope. Jeremy’s sticky fingers got him caught, but his Grace took pity on him and folded him in to her collection of kids. It didn’t take long before he became part of the ‘Scope’s extended family, and he met his best friend, Adam.

To makes ends meet, Jeremy started to venture down to the Grand Market and sing in the hopes that passerby would spare a few coins. Though he had a beautiful voice, the ‘crats didn’t have much of a taste for vocal music at all. It’s considered the realm of paupers and those who can’t afford to attend the Guild of Musicians and learn “proper” music. Evenso, Jeremy was so talented that he caught the ear of one of the maestros. The city’s elite would sometimes sponsor kids from the kitetowns in order to look generous, and soon Jeremy was an apprentice.

As much as the ‘crats liked having a few charity cases around to stroke their egos, it was hard to rise through the ranks regardless of his talent. So at 17, the age when kids in the ‘Scope have to strike out on their own, he still hasn’t reached the rank of journeyman. He may be bullied for being poor and the other students make veiled accusations that he’s really a Traveler, but maybe, just maybe, he can change his stars tonight.

Though anything that comes from the other side is technically illegal, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few Artefacts around. This includes a coveted amplified violin in the collection of Lord Corvid, the city’s most important figure. The aging lord is throwing a party tonight, and Jeremy will get to play a solo in front of all the lords and ladies. If all goes well, he’ll be promoted to journeyman and be able to afford a little place for he and Adam to share when it’s his turn to graduate.

Things seem to be coming up roses, but Jeremy has no idea that just as he lowers his bow to the strings, a stranger arrives in Excelsior and ruins everything…

I discovered Damien Escobar after I had already created the character of Jeremy, but when I saw this video of this passionate violinist, my heart nearly skipped a beat. He reminded me so much of Jeremy, I wanted to include the video so you could see him as clearly as I do.

Here’s a taste of Jeremy and his violin from Riftmaker.

Jeremy stood in the center of a Guild practice room, one of the only places he could ever be alone. He raised his bow and held it poised above the strings of the violin.

The air vibrates with anticipation. The storm gnashes its teeth. The sky above turns smoky and thick, and in the distance, the first patter of raindrops can be heard. The temperature drops ever colder. The thirsty earth stands ready.

Bile churned inside of his guts. His anger rumbled on the horizon like the threat of thunder. He inhaled deeply and stood on the precipice a moment longer before his bow plunged downward, breaking the storm in his mind with the first piercing note.

Lightning flashes across a patchwork of swirling clouds and the roar of their explosions follows seconds behind. The sky is torn apart, and the heavy drops of the lazy drizzle give way to the stinging pelting of rain. Muddy water streams in rivulets, exposing hidden colors in the stones.

All of Jeremy’s turmoil poured from his body and into the melody. The Guild violin was nothing compared to the exquisite instrument of the evening before, but the music in his mind was beyond anything either violin could have produced at the best of times. He’d worried that he wouldn’t get permission to use the school’s violin at all, but news of his warm reception had already reached the maestros, and they were glad to foster his interest.

The trunks of mighty trees groan with the force of the battering wind, the smaller branches cracking in the wake of its violence. Leaves of emerald, chartreuse, and jade shudder and glint in the moments the world is illuminated by the shattered heavens.

His eyes were closed, but the images were vivid in his mind. He gritted his teeth and swayed in and out of the crescendos of a melody of his own design, the lament only his shattered heart could utter.

Find out the rest of Jeremy’s story in Riftmaker.

Riftmaker is available for $3.99 from Amazon and a variety of other e-book retailers. Print price is $18.99 from Amazon and the Our Write Side store.

Find more character spotlights, book reviews, guest posts, and interviews with Phoebe Darqueling during the Riftmaker blog tour, Jan 24 – Mar 6.

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Sometimes You Lose

I tried everything, using every trick in the book.  He never saw me cross or demanding and I was always, always attentive.  I made him the centre of my universe in the stolen moments he could get away. 

I lived for those moments, when he kept one eye on the clock and one foot on the floor as we snatched some tenderness.  He brought me perfume and a gold chain that I wear always.

I never faltered.  I kept myself just for him, curled up on the comfy sofa with the soft cushions, desperate for the rushed phone call or hurried text.  Why would I go out when everything else was ashen compared to his vital passion? 

Then she found out and he chose.  I heard him telling her how little I meant to him as he dashed off back to the perfect wife.  He left me behind with his spare razor and a coat and hat he forgot in the rush.  I keep them hanging near the door and sometimes I spray them with his cologne.  He is still the centre of my world, and I am empty without him, but there is nothing I can do.  Because sometimes you lose. 


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash