Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

He left yesterday morning. He wanted me to go with him, but I insisted on staying. Someone needed to look after the chickens and keep an eye on things. He said he would be back before I knew it with someone to sort out the generator.

It seems a long time ago. It’s a long time since I had a charge on my phone, and longer still since the last log burnt out of the fire. Now all I can do is watch the flame ebb on the lamp and wait.

And all the time the pad of paws pacing around the house grows louder. I hope the lamp lasts the night.

Reading the Label

Image by Lyssa Medana

My grandmother’s funeral was three years ago, but I still missed her. We were very close. Mum and dad had been caught up in their careers and while that meant I went home to a lovely, large house with every comfort, I spent more time with Gran.

Gran was as driven as my parents. You did not dawdle around or dither. You decided what you wanted to happen and then went out and happened. She had given up work the week before my mother was born, and was soon on every school board and committee in the area. As a result, she knew everyone, she knew their parents and she knew what they had been up to behind the supermarket. She was a force of nature.

And that is how I came to spend most of my Saturday mornings at The Grange. It had been the old vicarage, and the last vicar to use the big house had bequeathed his collections to the parish as an educational facility. For a few years it had taken off. People donated fossils and relics found on travels. There were unnaturally posed stuffed animals donated by a bankrupt taxidermist. A few Roman coins, an alleged Neolithic axe and a selection of postcards filled up other cases.

But now The Grange was closing amidst council cuts and restructuring, and the donors were being contacted to claim the dusty contents before the council disposed of the leavings.

Gran had donated the pieces of Goss china inadvertently won at the Dutch auction in aid of the local donkey sanctuary, only at the suggestion of the curator. Poor Vicky did her best, and she was trying to get a china exhibit together to fit around the miscellaneous donations. I remembered Gran writing the labels as she commented with acid precision on ‘museum quality’ china and cheap knickknacks and why someone styling themselves a curator should know the difference. I had been around five years old and I perched on the chair next to her, swinging my legs, as she wrote label after label in her immaculate copperplate for fake Spode, dubious Wedgewood and what she dismissed as cheap fairings.

The back room had a forlorn look. “You’ve come for your Grandmother’s donation?” Vicky managed a tired smile.

“Sort of.” I said. “You know what Gran was like.”

Vicky’s eyes flashed for a moment with the shell-shocked gaze of someone who had tried to manage Gran. “I remember. Anyway, here’s your little cache.”

For a moment my throat closed over as a wave of longing for my Gran. She would have organised this a lot better, I thought, and would have had a lot to say. I swallowed, managed a smile, and rummaged in my bag. “I know what she would have wanted.” I said, my voice husky, and snipped off the labels. Blinking back tears, I hurried out of there, clutching the labels and leaving the china behind.

Iron Railings

“Why do they still use iron railings, Mr Benson?” Ollie worked his shoulders before getting back to rubbing the paint down.

“Hm?” Mr Benson was checking the cans of paint. “Make sure you get a good surface on those railings. Get all the gloss off before we paint it.”

“But why don’t they put in those Perspex panels?” Ollie said. He tried to find a better angle. “Lots of places have those panels. And they don’t need much upkeep.”

“Never try and talk yourself out of a job, lad.” Mr Benson squinted at the fine print on the tins of paint. “It may only be work experience, but it’s better than nothing at all, and it gets you out in the fresh air. If it was them new panels then you wouldn’t need someone to paint them. No, they have to be cold iron.”

Ollie changed hands, now thankful that Mr Benson had insisted on gloves. “Why iron, Mr Benson. Why not wood, if you need to make jobs and keep people out of the ruins.”

“Iron is special.” Mr Benson said, shaking the tin. “It’s long lasting, if you look after it. You can shape it more or less how you like, and it’s been around for a while so you know what to expect.” He looked down at the young lad. “You’re doing alright there, lad. Yes, iron is special. There’s a lot of superstitions about iron, you know. They say fairies and elves can’t stand it.” He paused. “I suppose I can tell you what I learned as an apprentice, when I was about your age. I don’t know how true it is, but it’s what Mr Harvey, the old gaffer, used to say. You see, this was a fine Abbey, very rich, with lots of monks and servants and despite what they say, a lot of good was done as well as a lot of bad. But when the Abbey was closed down by King Henry, something odd happened.” He paused. “Don’t forget to rub under than ledge there with the glass paper.”

Ollie shifted, changing the paper from one hand to the other again as cramp set in. “You mean, like witchcraft?”

“I don’t know about that, just that strange things happened.” Mr Benson looked between the railings. “All I know is that people still see strange lights inside the Abbey at night, when no-one’s supposed to be there. Sometimes iron railings aren’t there to keep people out. Sometimes they’re there to keep something in.”