Bad Night’s Sleep

gray table lamp beside bed
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

You were my perfect victim.  You were young, bright and energetic and I was so glad when I stumbled across you when you visited that fake medium.  You were the only one who believed in him because you had just a hint of my presence as I followed you home, but you shook it off and eventually went to bed for your lovely, long healthy sleep.

It was glorious.  Here was someone who slept eight hours every night.  That is a gift to one of my kind.  During the day I could creep into a corner or a shadow and remain an unobserved spirit.  I would even hide under the bed.  Then, when night fell and you slid between your covers and slept, I could creep into your dreams.

You had never remembered dreams before.  When I first crept into your sleepscape I was shocked at how bright it was, filled with sunlight and good memories.  But it was also full of your energy and you were worth the effort.  It took weeks for me to make it my home.  I eroded the sunlight, filled the golden fields with a nameless dread and sent strange shapes to hunt your dreamself.  I nibbled at the corners, cutting off the good memories and making the perfect opportunities for every shameful moment of your life to echo.  Every dark thought, every insidious fear, every tiny morsel was savoured as I nurtured your sleepscape like a master nurtures a perfect pupil.

You didn’t notice at first. I’ve been around for a very long time and I don’t make mistakes like that.  Instead you noticed that you were a little tired, a little run down.  You laughed with your friends about your strange dreams and tried changing your diet around.  Once I became settled, I took a little more.  You were finding sleep harder and harder and the nightmares were scaring you.  You cut out all caffeine and went to a counsellor.  I went with you, of course, and took notes during your discussions.  You gave me wonderful tools to use for your torment.

Then you cut out sugar and went to the gym more.  I basked in the dark thoughts that were brimming in your sleepscape and fed to satiation.  I gave you sleep terrors and laughed as you woke screaming.  I noticed that your boyfriend was a little too perceptive, so I made sure your nightmares featured him.  I was relieved when you dumped him, as he was getting close to the truth.

I drained draught after draught from you as you slept, your torrid dreams feeding me to repletion.  You, however, lost weight as you tried different diets and exercises.  You went to the doctor and got sleeping pills and I celebrated.  You had started to wake a little too often and now these wonderful pills kept you in my domain for so much longer.

You were finding it harder and harder and I gave some thought to moving on.  The bright, bubbly victim I first met had gone.  You were gaunt and pale, with dull eyes and slow speech.  You dragged yourself from work to home to sleep to work and suffered.  You were now insipid fare.  I looked around for a suitable candidate, but you were now far too exhausted to speak to anyone and my choices were becoming very limited.  I couldn’t survive long without a host, but you were so drained that you were barely adequate to keep me in existence.

Thank goodness I had my lucky break.  You were far too tired to drive but at the same time you were far too tired to see sense.  You lost concentration as you drove to your work and so you swerved to miss a fragment of dream and hit a tree.  I was frantic, wondering if I would be able to transfer to one of the crowd who rushed around to help you, but they brought you into this place.

I have never been in a hospital before.  It is truly a marvellous place.  As you slip deeper into a coma and I perch unseen on the end of your hospital bed and plunder the last of your sleepscape, I have so many other potential hosts I can choose from.  The patients are not worth considering, but there are plenty of visitors, along with technicians, secretaries, cleaners, maintenance, porters and all manner of healers.  The chirpy blonde girl who chats to your unhearing form as she cleans the room is perfect. I wonder what her sleepscape looks like.

Elfshot at Dawn

aerial photography of river between mountains
Photo by Mario Álvarez on Unsplash

They got Jenkins just as dawn broke and the mist was sidling away from the valley.  It was elfshot, straight in the chest above the heart.  We carried him back as he raved, our legs dampened and cooled with the morning dew and the light spilling golden through the mist and down the valley.  Into the farmhouse we took him and put him near the roof with a Bible next to his bed and a rosary over the bedstead.  The priest was slow to come but prayed hard when he came and someone was always watching as Jenkins told us about the sky kingdoms sailing through the skies like swans and cooed at pictures on the walls that only he could see.

The hen keeper could hear his shouts as she collected her eggs and topped up the water trough.  The cows being milked in the cool dairy with rowan twigs hung above the stalls could hear his cries.  Neither the doctor not the priest could pull the elf shot as Jenkins sang wildly as if under a mackerel sky.

He died at sunset, not well, and we did not bless the day the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk, the Faerie returned.

A Short Walk

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

“It’s dreamlike, isn’t it?”

Steve looked across at the figure that had appeared at his left side. “What is?”

“The entrance to Lord Rudyard’s domain.” She smiled enchantingly and tossed her bright scarlet hair back.

“I have business with Lord Rudyard.” Steve said.

“I keep the gate of his realm.” She said. “I meet all visitors. How can a mortal have business with a great elfen lord?”

“It’s private.” Steve said. Lord Rudyard had insisted that this was kept incredibly quiet. He was also far from a great lord, hanging on precariously between two rivals. “What should I call you?”

“You didn’t ask my name.” She said. “Perhaps you do know a little of the faerie realms. You don’t know enough, though. You bring no iron or steel.”

“I’ll call you Rose.” Steve said. “And Lord Rudyard is expecting me.”

“Is he?” Rose pouted. “I’m sure he’s not in a hurry, and you know we can play a little with time. Why don’t you stop and spend some time with me?” She ran a gentle hand up his left arm.

Steve raised an eyebrow. “I’m married. And I am here to see Lord Rudyard.” Elfen realms were a pain in the neck. Half of them had defences so deep it was impossible to get to them and then they complained about a lack of visitors.

“This road is intriguing, isn’t it?” Rose said, matching Steve’s steady gait. “You could walk forever on it, and it would never change. It will always be night and never dawn, always the chill autumn and never bright spring. You can keep pacing and even try running. Nothing helps.”

Steve looked ahead. It was utterly silent apart from the pad of their footsteps and the hiss of their breath, steaming in the chill, damp air. “I know about this road.”

“Do you? I doubt it.” Rose laughed, her voice seductively low. “But you can’t win. As you go down the road you will find nothing. No light, no warmth, no hope. Exhaustion will bring you to your knees and you will be crawling along this rough path until you collapse among the bones of your predecessors.” She ran a soft hand over his face. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit aside with me for a while?”

“I’m here to see Lord Rudyard.” Steve repeated.

“You can’t turn back, you know.” Rose said. “If you turn back, the road will just continue, for ever and ever, until you crumble to dust.” She ran a hand down from her throat and lower in invitation. “Are you sure you won’t sit a while with me?”

Steve looked around the unchanging bushes, nodded to himself and then muttered a few words. Magic was easy here, and Rose squeaked as she was suddenly encased in a glowing magical harness, the leash firmly in Steve’s hand. He snapped his fingers and a bright opening appeared on his right. “I think I will have a word with Lord Rudyard about his gatekeepers.” He gave the harness a tug as he strode into the hall and tried to keep his face immobile as he saw the appalled expression on Lord Rudyard’s face. “But I enjoyed the walk.”

Steve is the hero in ‘Across a Misty Bridge’, a series of stories which tell of his journey from a call centre employee to a magician that can chain the elfen, and which is free, along with a swathe of other wonderful stories, on Story Origin until 9 November 2019 here https://storyoriginapp.com/to/kTrsibP

Writing Challenge 28 October 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them.

Rose Kennedy

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Book Review: Grumpy Old Gods Vol 1

Confession time – I got accepted for their anthology Grumpy Old Gods Vol 3. Another confession – instead of doing my research, I only read their other stuff after I got accepted. Third confession – I liked it a lot more than I expected. As always, the review is completely honest and a true reflection of how I feel. I may have been accepted into a later anthology, but I wouldn’t have fibbed. We have all read books where the best thing you can say about them is that they were the perfect size to put under the table leg to stop it wobbling, and while I would have found something tactful to say if I didn’t like it, fortunately for my conscience, I loved this.

Grumpy Old Gods Vol 1 is a collection of thirteen stories from different authors, all of them about the former deities that are now out to pasture or somehow superannuated. The authors have taken the idea of the old gods and run with it. I don’t want to put in spoilers, but these are great stories. Some are just hilarious, others are sweetly sad.

It’s a great selection. Many of the stories go across more than one pantheon, so you get wonderful quotes such as, ‘Odin, Merlin, Zeus and Nubis sat around a table playing spades and debating the part humanity would play in the coming Apocalypse,‘ while others stick to one tradition and mythology. There is a great selection as well, as we have stories that refer to Norse, Greek, Egyptian and First Nation beliefs, which is wonderful to dip into.

I really enjoyed the excellent, well presented, well written stories. I am definitely going be reading Vol 2 just for pleasure, and I sincerely recommend this anthology.

New Books

Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash

“Good afternoon. I’m Mr Kennington. I was the first Head Librarian when this establishment opened, in 1803, and I’ve haunted here ever since my death.”

The new ghost smiled and shook Mr Kennington’s ethereal hand. “I’m Rose Donnelly.” She smiled, a figure in her late fifties, dressed in ghostly Victorian skirt and blouse and with an air of energy and determination around her. “Apparently I’m attached to the books.”

“As am I.” Mr Kennington nodded. “This is Toby. He passed on the premises two years ago.”

Rose tactfully didn’t ask the details but shook his hand. “You look about the same age as my great-great-grandson.” She said. She smiled a little sadly. “It was a shame that he decided to get rid of the collection, but there wasn’t the money and he needed to sell the house, so that was that.” She rubbed her hands briskly. “Besides, they were practically untouched. He spent most of his time on his top lap.”

“Laptop.” Toby said, without thinking. He was watching Elsie. The third ghost was peering over Rhia’s shoulder at the latest display she was putting up.

“Quite.” Rose said. “Who are the ladies?”

“Elsie has been here since she passed away from the influenza, back in…” Mr Kennington thought for a moment.

Tony drifted over to the display. “1919, apparently.”

Rhia looked over her shoulder. “Do you mind?”

“Rhia is the current Head Librarian.” Mr Kennington said quietly. He took Rose’s arm and quietly drifted back into the stacks. “She is somewhat in love with the owner of the Library, Mr Liam Kelshaw. And she is the first employee who can see us.”

“Is that convenient or inconvenient?” Rose asked.

“It has had its uses.” Mr Kennington said. “I managed to direct her to some items which were sold and secured the future of our library, and I’ve deflected her from a few other bits and pieces that I have salted away for future necessity. I cannot, however fully approve.” He sighed. “The ghost is Elsie. She is a good girl, who has always done her best, but she was never much of a reader. She met her young man here, as it was warm and dry and away from her mother, and promised to meet him here when he got back from the Front.”

“And he never came back?” Rose asked.

“I sincerely believe he was a casualty, rather than an unfaithful beau.” Mr Kennington said. “Unlike Elsie, he was a reader, and had great promise. The Great War took many good souls.” He drifted back to the main room. “Elsie doesn’t always keep up with things.” Mr Kennington said. “But she does her best.”

“That’s my name, there.” Elsie said, pointing at a list on the board in Rhia’s beautiful calligraphy.

“That’s right.” Rhia said. “Elsie Stretton, Spanish influenza.”

“And that’s my nan, and my auntie.” Elsie pointed.

“All the people in the parish who died of Spanish Flu.” Rhia said. “I’m trying to show how many were infected.”

“And this is the names of the soldiers who died overseas of the Fluenza.” Elsie said. “That must have taken some working out.”

“I’m a good researcher.” Rhia said. “And I had some help from Toby. He’s wonderful with computers.”

“And that, that’s Albert.” Elsie said, suddenly quiet.

“Albert Birkenshaw, yes he died of the Influenza when he was at Etaples.” Rhia said, shuffling through the copied photos. “It’s very sad. A lot of soldiers who survived the Great War were killed by the Spanish Influenza.”

“My Albert is dead?”

Toby laid a gentle hand on her insubstantial shoulder. “It’s has been a while.” He said.

“Albert was an estimable young man, with great potential.” Mr Kennington said. “I was always confident that he would have returned if at all possible.”

“My Albert is dead?” Elsie repeated. “So he won’t come back to meet me here?”

“I’m afraid that he won’t be able to meet you here.” Mr Kennington said. “He would never let you down if he could possibly help it.”

“Albert can’t come here to meet me.” Elsie said. “If he could, he would.”

“Indeed.” Mr Kennington said sadly, as Elsie started to fade.

“And if he can’t meet me here, why am I waiting?” Elsie said. “What if he’s waiting for me outside the Pearly Gates? I can’t be hanging around here.” There was barely a trace of her left, a wisp hanging in the air. “I’ve got to go and meet my Albert.”

“Goodbye.” Mr Kennington said softly to the empty air. “And God Bless.”

Quiet Library

“We have to do something.” Elsie whispered.  The faded ghost peeped around the corner.  “She’s in a world of her own.”

“You can’t interfere with someone’s love life.” Mr Kennington said.  In life he had been a head librarian and he still had the habit of authority.

“She didn’t realise that he couldn’t see us for years.” Elsie said.  “She’s not going to notice that he’s besotted by her.” Elsie sighed.  “It’s so romantic.”

“She may not like him.” Mr Kennington pointed out.

The third of the library’s ghosts drifted over.  “It’s up to him,” Tony said.  “Unless she’s got a boyfriend somewhere else.”  He looked nervously at Elsie and then looked away quickly.

“That’s not the only reason she would refuse.” Mr Kennington said.  “After all, the young man is not likely to be a good provider.”

“We only know what Rhia told us.” Elsie said.  She looked wistfully between Rhia, sorting out the classic fiction, and Liam, who seemed engrossed in his computer.  “Tony, go and have a look at what he’s looking at, there’s a love.”

Tony looked at Mr Kennington, who nodded.  The ghost of the teenager, the only one who had any understanding of computers, disappeared through the wall and slid into place behind Liam.

Elsie and Mr Kennington carefully composed themselves as Rhia picked up a faded book and walked passed them to the back rooms.  Mr Kennington sniffed as soon as Rhia was out of sight of Liam and wagged a faded finger.  “Your cleaner did not attend again this morning.  It is completely unacceptable.  You need to speak to her.  In fact, it was Mr Liam who did that vacuum thing and dusted this morning.”

Rhia managed a smile.  “Hello, Mr Kennington.” She sighed.  “Liam can’t afford to pay the cleaner any more.  He said he’ll take over that job.”

“It is inappropriate for the owner of the library to dust.” Mr Kennington said.  “The first owner, his esteemed ancestor, would never had done such a thing.”

“We need new subscribers.” Rhia said.  “People aren’t coming here.  Liam doesn’t know what to do.  He says people don’t like old books anymore.”

“Hi,” Tony said awkwardly as he slid out of the wall behind Rhia.  She jumped and turned around.

“Tony, I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Rhia said.  “Anyway, I need to get on.  I’m going to see if I can do something about this spine before it goes.”

The ghosts watched her as he walked briskly into the back room before Elsie and Mr Kennington turned to Tony.  Tony had only been dead three years and had managed to keep up with a lot of the technology.  He shook his head.

“I think Rhia’s right.  He’s looking at stuff like auctions and articles on the best way to sell old books.  He looks pretty down as well.”

“See,” Mr Kennington nodded.  “He’s not a good provider.  Rhia is mostly sensible and would not chose a husband who couldn’t provide for her and a future family.”

“It’s not really like that these days.” Tony avoided Mr Kennington’s eyes.  “Anyway, it looks bad.  Perhaps he can ask her for a date once he has sold the library.”

“What?” Mr Kennington snapped, before taking a deep breath.  “He can’t sell the library.”

“It’s not going to happen.” Elsie said with fake confidence.  “I mean, we live here – if you know what I mean.”

“We’ll probably be still here, but I think they’ll turn this into a bar or some flats.”

“Flats?” Mr Kennington said.  He didn’t always remember modern terminology.

“Apartments, small sets of rooms where people live.” Tony said helpfully.

“But then how will my Albert ever find me?” Elsie asked, her pale eyes wide.

“He isn’t coming back.” Mr Kennington said with as much patience as he could manage.  “You have been dead over 100 years.  If Albert was going to come back, he would have already got here.”

“I waited for him.” Elsie said.  “I promised him.  I said I would wait and always be in the library whenever I could so no matter what happened while he was away, he could find me.”

“I have overseen this library for nearly two centuries.” Mr Kennington pulled himself to his full height, such as it was, and drifted slightly upwards.  He shook his head sadly.  “It is all my fault.  I have spent far too much time coaching Tony and now that Mr Pierce and Miss Ellis have found peace, well, we are spread thinly.” Mr Kenning shook his head.  “Not that I blame either of you,” he said quickly.  “It’s been a pleasure to see you come on, young Tony, and I certainly don’t want any more deaths in the library.”  His translucent finger tapped at his pale chin.  “We shall have to have an advertising campaign in all the appropriate newspapers.  Perhaps even a picture!”

Tony shrugged.  “People don’t bother much with papers these days.” He said.  “Besides, adverts cost money.  If Liam can’t afford a cleaner then he can’t afford hundreds of pounds and a marketing manager.”

“He shall have to sell a book.” Mr Kennington said. “It’s a dreadful thing for a library to do, and it should be resisted until there is truly no other way.  Fortunately, I have been holding something in reserve.”  He drifted towards the classics section.  “It was before your time, Elsie, but Charles Dickens visited Leeds.”  Mr Kennington sniffed.  “He was not complimentary about our good city, but he did sign some copies of that Oliver Twist book.” Mr Kennington’s mouth twisted.  He was not a fan of serialised fiction.  “I know he signed quite a few, because a rascal came in and tried to force Mr Horace to purchase them.”  Mr Kennington shook his head.  “There was a dreadful scene and several of the dozen books he brought in fell down the crack at the back of the bookcase.  No-one noticed as the rogue got quite vocal and had to be escorted out.  Mr Horace threw his books at him afterwards.  I couldn’t get out to see what was happening, of course, but the constabulary were called and there was quite a scuffle, Mr Dickens being popular.”

The ghosts drifted over to the classics section.  Sure enough, behind the collected works of George Bernard Shaw, was a crack where the thin pine of the original shelves had split.  Elsie slid in to check.

“They’re dusty, of course, but they seem okay and you can still see their autographs.  But we can’t tell Liam.  He can’t see us.”

Mr Kennington looked over to where Liam was slouched at his desk, his head in his hands and a blank look on his face.  “We tell Rhia and hope that she can persuade Mr Liam to invest the small sum raised by the books into an advert in the Yorkshire Post.  And then,” he said, shaking his head, “We need to work out how to get them respectably married – once Mr Liam can provide properly of course.”  He frowned.  “Do you think that they will raise enough funds with those novels?”  He shook his head.  “I shall start working on contingency plans, just in case.”  He cast his eye over the two ghosts.  “The library must go on!

Walk in the Park

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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.”

Everything Changes

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Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

This is a repost of an old story from last year, but I thought it was suitably spooky. And while we are talking about spooky stories, there is a wonderful selection of spooky stories from the Fantasy and SciFi Readers Lounge, including an entry to the Anthology from yours truly, in a promotion that lasts until November 9th 2019, which you can find here https://storyoriginapp.com/to/kTrsibP

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.”

Not My Cup of Tea

Photo by Austin Wade on Unsplash

Kane managed a forced smile as he stood to shake Mrs Roberts hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m glad you can make it.” Mrs Roberts waved him to a seat. She set up her tablet and quickly flicked to the information. “You’re Kane, you live in Carlton Court down the road and you freelance. You are looking for a job in this shop to learn new skills and meet new people.” Mrs Roberts looked at him coldly. “This is not a dating site. This is a respectable coffee shop.”

A ghost of an elderly woman standing behind Mrs Roberts sniffed. “She may say it’s respectable, but the way they waste the cakes is shameful.”

The elderly man’s ghost next to her nodded. “You would have thought after eighteen months she would have got the cupcake order right.”

“They call them muffins.” The woman said. “It’s a disgrace.”

“What exactly is your freelance work?” Mrs Roberts asked.

Kane had practised this with the ghost of Auntie Brenda. He couldn’t say that he saw ghosts and sometimes he either talked them into ‘going home’ or passed on information such as the location of jewellery or recipes in a restaurant. “I practise a form of counselling.” He said with as much conviction as he could muster.

“I see that one of your references is that incredibly expensive restaurant in Chapel Allerton.” Mrs Roberts said, making a note. “Why are you coming to a small coffee shop after working there?”

“I didn’t work there as a restaurant worker.” Kane tried to keep calm. He really needed a steady income. He was making decent money as a ghost translator, but banks, credit cards and landlords needed something more tangible. “I was contracted as a freelance counsellor.” Mr Jervis needed something like counselling at the end of it and Kane still had to go in every month and play mediator between the old, dead chef and the new, living owner.

“That one looks like he might be worth keeping.” The elderly woman said. “He looks desperate enough to learn.”

“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.” The elderly man sniffed. “Perhaps he could eat up some of the surplus cake order.”

Kane tried to avoid looking at them. Mrs Roberts looked down the list. “You put that you prefer morning shifts. Is that to fit in with this freelance stuff?”

Kane nodded. “But I’m very flexible.”

“I bet he’s flexible.” The old lady smirked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to find out how flexible in the back room.”

The elderly man shook his head. “She never took her opportunity when we managed to lock her in the back room with the last lad that worked here. I would have thought it would have been perfect.”

“I even fused the lights.” The elderly lady said. “It takes a lot of effort to move electricity and she didn’t appreciate it.”

“I don’t approve of divorce.” The elderly man shook his head. “And she’s no age.” He looked Kane up and down. “He’s a bit young, but he should manage.”

“You can start tomorrow, if you like.” Mrs Roberts said. “6.30am sharp, I’ll show you how to set up.”

“I wish she would, but it would just be the café.” The elderly woman muttered.

Kane stood up. Auntie Brenda would be disappointed, but she would understand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can work here. The ghosts are a little too much.”

Kane felt bad for Mrs Roberts as her shoulders slumped, but the appalled expressions of the ghosts would keep a smile on his face for a long time.