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

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.

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.

The Faerie Wall

Keep away from the wall, my child,

It keeps us from the faeries wild.

It keeps us from their faerie fear.

Keep away, my child, come here.

They blight the cows and cost us money

They steal the bees and take the honey

They spoil the butter in the churn

They cause the cakes and bread to burn

They steal our children, blight our wheat,

Ruin pigs and taint the meat.

Keep away from the wall, my dear,

Keep away, my child, come here.  

A Sense of Wonder

red and white concrete house near mountain
Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash
A house in Iceland

I think of this time of year as something of a dreamtime. The weather is stormy, the colours are vivid and it feels like stories are in the air along with the whirling leaves. It’s the month of Halloween, and I’ve aimed to post something every day, whether it’s old or new, just to acknowledge that this time of year is sort of supernatural.

Hand on heart, I don’t believe in vampires or werewolves. I keep an open mind about ghosts and know that as a (really rubbish) Christian I ought not to believe in nature spirits. But I do believe that it’s fun to act as if you believe, as if there are wonderful worlds just beyond our view, and that there is a magic in the world – within reason of course.

I have tried to raise my son with a sense of wonder and curiosity in the world, along with my husband who is a consummate story teller himself. I started young. When my son was maybe three years old, we walked past a hole next to the pavement and I pointed at it and said that anything could live down there, even a dragon. That was a mistake. Son refused to walk past it. I had to pick him up and carry him. Later I had to explain to a nursery worker exactly why my son was talking about dragons on the way to school. He only calmed down when we told him that Daddy had gone to the dragon and punched it on the nose, so there wouldn’t be any trouble.

A few weeks later we passed a similar hole. I thought I had learned my lesson and told him that rabbits could live down there. Son was only three, but he gave me a look that said, ‘You’re saying rabbits, but you’re meaning dragons’.

That is why I love reading about the elves in Iceland. There is an article here about them. It’s not a question of whether the elves are real or not. It is all about a world where there is room to believe in them. It is about a place where you can accept a little magic without worrying about what people think. For me, it isn’t about the elves. It is the spirit of generous tolerance to other people’s harmless beliefs that needs celebrating. It is a thing of wonder and we need more of that in the world. Sometimes we need to believe that the elves’ church needs protecting or that there is a dragon down a hole, just for the magic of it.

Shadow in the Corner

I thought I would start Fright Night with some poetry first published 20 November 2018

Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

It’s an old stone house with a tall stone tower

It’s bent and battered but it still holds power

And the priests keep blessing but the dark’s still calling

So the cattle’s brought in soon as night starts falling

We’re the edge of the kingdom so we don’t pay taxes

And the only human sounds are the woodcutter’s axes

So the lords don’t bother and we like it that way

Though few who come to work here have the heart to stay

There’s a new girl in the kitchens and we have to warn her

Of the stain that hides in the shadow in the corner.

Today is the first day of the October Frights Blog Hop. There are lots of lovely posts on lots of wonderful blogs, and you can find them here:Are You Afraid of the Dark? , The Word Whisperer , Hawk’s Happenings , Carmilla Voiez Blog , M’habla’s! , CURIOSITIES , Frighten Me , Winnie Jean Howard , Balancing Act , James P. McDonald , greydogtales

A Little Push

Photo by Nineteen on Unsplash

“It was a stupid idea to hold a séance.” Jan said.

“You didn’t have a better idea.” Izzy said.

“Just keep the circle together.” Rhys frowned as he concentrated. “Auntie Vivienne, are you there?”

I watched from the corner. Did they have any idea how tough it was for a spirit to communicate? A lot of my ideas about ghosts had undergone a change since I died, and I was ready to admit defeat. But my nieces and nephew had always been dear to me.

“I don’t know what you are expecting.” Jan said. “She left a fortune to us as it was. It seems a little greedy to go looking for more.”

I had always had a soft spot for Jan. She was always so determined to do the right thing. I never understood why she tolerated an old reprobate like me, but she had always been very sweet, especially when I was dying.”

“I just get a feeling that she wanted us to have something else.” Izzy said. “And we’ve all had those phone calls asking about Auntie Viv’s legacy.”

Izzy always had her wits about her. She would make sure no-one took advantage of Jan, and she wouldn’t let Jan’s scruples get in the way, either.

“Will you all shut up!” Rhys snapped.

And Rhys, youngest and brightest. He always had a very clear view of his end goal and ignored distractions. His engineering firm could do with an injection of cash. I focused and pushed.

Rhys visibly jumped. “What was that?”

“It came from the cupboard.” Jan said. “It could be a mouse.”

“We have to look.” Izzy nervously pulled her hands away from her brother and sister and went to the built-in cupboard in the corner. She swallowed and then opened the door. “The back of the cupboard has fallen off.” She opened the door wider. “Hang on, there’s something… Pass me my phone.”

Jan passed Izzy the phone, the torch already switched on, and peered over her shoulder. “Rhys, you need to see this. It’s a false back.”

Rhys squeezed past his sisters. “Auntie Viv kept this a hiding place – for these?” He picked up the rolls of film. “I don’t even know where we could get them developed.” He said.

Somewhere discreet, I hoped. There was the roll with the pictures of the upright, no-nonsense cabinet minister, who revelled in her role as a respectable wife and mother, being outrageously chastised by a lady. Then there were the pictures of the accounts of a church leader who ought to have known better than to siphon off so much from the building fund. And there were some very sweet pictures of them when they were kids, and Auntie Viv could always be relied on for sweeties and fun fairs, mixed in with the senior judge with his shady mistress. Good memories, blackmail material and insurance. It was up to them now. I could rest.

That Old Chestnut

Photo by Jade Seok on Unsplash

“Look what I got!” Phil walked in with a large paper bag in his hands. “Chestnuts.”

“Why?” Mica asked.

“What do you mean, why?” Phil said. “It’s autumn, it’s October. We can roast chestnuts on an open fire and tell fortunes from how they roast.”

“We haven’t got an open fire.” Mica said. “We’ve got gas.”

Phil frowned. “I’m not sure how you can tell the future from a chestnut. I’ll just check.” He got out his phone.

“I suppose we could try the frying pan.” Mica said. “I’ll have a look.”

“I’m not getting anything about telling the future with chestnuts.” Phil said, sitting down at the kitchen table and flicking through his phone.

“The frying pan looks a bit scary.” Mica said, flicking through her phone. “Do they taste nice?”

“What?” Phil asked.

“Chestnuts. Do they taste nice?”

“I don’t know.” Phil said, still checking his phone. “Apparently you can roast them in the microwave, but I can’t see how that would help.”

“You can’t tell the future from a microwave.” Mica said. “Not unless you’ve left the tuna in the tin. Then you can tell that you will need a new microwave.”

Phil looked embarassed. “It’s the sort of mistake anyone could make.” He said. “But I’m sure I heard about chestnuts and Halloween.”

“There’s a nice recipe here for soup.” Mica said. “I’ve got everything else in. We could try that.”

“It’s not quite the same as fortune telling by an open fire.” Phil said.

“We still don’t have an open fire.” Mica said. “But we can have nice soup by the gas fire and then some wine and a film.” She smiled. “We can have candles.”

Phil looked at his wife and smiled. “It will do.” He said, and gave her a hug. “Candles it is. We can make our own traditions.”

Skimming Stones

Photo by Paul Jarvis on Unsplash

This post is part of the Across a Misty Bridge series of stories, and this instalment was first published in May 2014. You can find the whole series on my other blog, here, and I will be posting other snippets throughout this October.

The imp belched in Steve’s ear.  “Someone’s coming, boss.”

Steve didn’t look around.  He skimmed another stone across the lake.

“I see that the imp has its uses.” Lord Marius said coolly.

“His name is Armani.” Steve said, still gazing across the lake.  He picked up another stone.

“On account of my style, yer highness.” Armani leered at Lord Marius.

Lord Marius took in the scruffy and torn miniature t-shirt, the filthy jeans and stained boots.  “I can see that only a normal could call you that.”  The imp chuckled coarsely and spat onto the rocky shore.

Lord Marius walked closer to Steve.  “There is no door to a magical kingdom here.” He said.

“I know.” Steve selected another stone.

“You are not meeting anyone?” Lord Marius was sure he knew the answer but asked anyway.

“No.” The stone skimmed for four bounces across the still water.  Steve bent to carefully select the next stone.

“But you are here.” Lord Marius persisted.

“I wanted a bit of peace and quiet.” Steve glanced a little bitterly first at Armani and then at Lord Marius.  “And Armani is quiet enough.”

Lord Marius watched Armani roll one of his foul cigarettes.  “Elaine is in Iberia.”

“Spain.” Steve skimmed another stone.  It was only three bounces this time, but he seemed satisfied enough.  “She’s gone to Spain with a friend.”

Lord Marius shrugged.  “Spain used to be part of Iberia.  No matter.  Is she coming back?”

“To England, yes.  She’s got a flat in Manchester and a good job offer.”

“Is she coming back to you?” Lord Marius asked.

Armani took a long drag of his roll up and gave Lord Marius a disbelieving look.   As the imp oozed smoke Steve took his time selecting his next stone.  Eventually he glanced up at Lord Marius.  “No, she’s not coming back to me.” He said finally and skimmed the stone.  It shot five bounces across the water sending ripples across the stillness.

“I am in contact with an elfen marriage guidance expert who…”

“Don’t you dare!” Steve whirled around and glared at Lord Marius.  “Don’t you even dare.  You think you know people, but you don’t.  You don’t understand emotions or love or caring, and you don’t understand me.  Elaine’s gone!  That’s it.  I can’t force her back.  She couldn’t cope with the magic, the elfen, the weirdness.  And even if I wanted to I can’t walk away from that because of Armani.  And I don’t.  This is who I am.  This is what I am.  And Elaine doesn’t want it.”  Steve sagged.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“I understand.” Lord Marius said quietly.  “And I also am sorry, sorry that your love affair failed.”  He picked up a stone.  “We don’t understand, really.  We try, but the elfen never quite understand the marvel that you are.  We do love, in our own way, but not in yours.” And he skimmed his own stone across the cool water.

Still Hunting

Photo by Signée 2.s on Unsplash

The nights were drawing in and the frosts had started. Mice and voles burrowed deep in their nests, hid beneath the leaf litter or fled into outhouses and homes. The cat that stalked the edge of this woodland knew her prey had all but disappeared, but still watched from her vantage point. The live prey may be hiding, but the ghosts of their fallen kind still scuttled, and that was sport enough.