I Kept My Word

Tell them I came, and no one answered,

That I kept my word,” he said.

– Walter de la Mare, The Listeners

‘Tell them I kept my word,’ he said

As the storm clouds gathered overhead

With the setting sun tainting them red

‘Tell them I came, as was my right

But the locked Great Hall was shuttered tight

And the echoes mocked in the fading light

He rested his head on the deep grained wood

The sunset glowed on his travel stained hood

‘Tell them I came as I said I would.’

‘Tell them I travelled over the seas

Across the great rivers and under the trees

But I kept my word and I held the keys’

A raven cawed in a twiggy nest

The wind was rising in the west

‘Tell them, say that I did my best.’

‘I saw strange stars and stranger skies.’

But he listened in vain for the listeners sighs

‘I kept my word, all else is lies.’

At the edge of the sky the thunder growled

And the rising wind wept soft then howled

At the dead Great Hall the traveller prowled

‘I kept my oath and now am free

I no longer approach on bended knee.’

He opened his hand and dropped the key

It seemed like no stroke of luck or chance

That the heavens threw down their fiery lance

As he rode away with no backward glance.

He felt the heat hard on his back

The Great Hall flamed from the lightning’s crack

But he still rode on down the weedy track.

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

Originally published July 1st 2014

Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cherry Blossom & Haunted Music

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

Cherry Blossom

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?  Who are you acting for?”

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

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

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

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

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

person playing piano
Image from Unsplash taken by elCarito

Haunting Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” Steve asked quietly.

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

From ‘Across a Misty Bridge’

Everything Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service

shallow focus photography of gray espresso machine
Image from Unsplash taken by Andrew Tanglao

Kane shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not really here that often,” he said. “If you’re giving a demonstration about how to service the coffee machines, you should speak to Jane. I’m just hear as an interested bystander.”

“And to ask my questions,” Bob said, his ghostly form peering closely at the machine.

“Although I’m sure I’ll have a few questions,” Kane added.

Jane nodded at the engineer. “That was the agreement. You show me how to service the machine and what I need to do to keep it working in good order.”

Bob hissed in Kane’s ear, “Watch he doesn’t over tighten stuff when he closes it all up. It’s a nasty trick some plumbers use, to make sure that a lass on her own has to call them out. He has the tools, you see, that can get nuts and bolts a bit tighter. It’s a dirty trick.”

Kane nodded. “Can I just check? When you’ve gone over it, you’ll watch Jane take it apart and do the service again, to make sure she knows what she’s doing?”

The engineer shot him a dark look. “Will you be having a go as well?”

Kane shook his head. “No, I’m just watching.”

“We have allowed a whole morning,” Jane said. “That should be plenty of time.”

“I can manage it in a morning,” the engineer said, “but it will take you some practice to be as quick.” He unrolled his took kit. “Can I check your tools?”

As the engineer picked over Jane’s comprehensive toolkit, Bob fretted around Kane. “He’s no good, really. I’ll be watching him. He’ll miss out a step that will mean a call out, or he’ll go too fast. It’s a good thing I’m here.”

“You may have to explain things to me,” Kane muttered in the background, trying to keep away from the engineer. “I haven’t got a clue.”

“Don’t worry,” Bob said, “I’ll keep you straight.”

It was an interesting morning. Kane was used to ghosts, so the shade of Bob hissing questions was nothing new. It was fun watching the engineer’s expression.

“Of course I’m going to use the descaler on these parts,” the engineer said. “I was just waiting for the right moment. May I have a jug to soak the parts?”

Under Bob’s instructions, Kane cut the bottom off a large, empty milk jug, rinsed it well and handed it over. “That should do, shouldn’t it?”

The engineer grunted. “It should be adequate. Now, let’s get back to this seal…”

“If we need to replace it, where do we get a new one?” Kane asked, prompted by Bob.

The engineer was rattled, “I always recommend going to the manufacturer,” he said. “That way you know you have a genuine part.”

Bob grunted. “It depends on the kit. Sometimes you don’t need the fancy stuff and get something from the builder’s merchants.” He shook his spectral head. “But with this machine costing so much, it’s probably best to be careful.”

“As I was saying,” the engineer glared at Kane, “the seal is seated here.” Jane watched with interest as the seal was neatly fitted. The engineer nodded, “And then we can screw this housing over it.”

Kane jumped as Bob shouted in his ear. “Is that seal properly set?” he asked. “I thought I saw it move.” Translating a ghost’s outrage into polite words to the living was a skill, and Kane had earned that skill.

The engineer shot Kane a suspicious look and looked closer. Everyone could hear the click as the seal fitted snugly into its spot. “Well spotted, lad. Have you done this sort of thing before?”

Kane shook his head. “But I believe in listening and paying attention,” he said with complete honesty.

“Hmm,” the engineer said, shooting a dark look at Jane who was watching with bland interest and fitting on the housing. “That should more or less-”

He’s forgotten a part!” Bob shrieked in Kane’s ear.

Kane nearly fell over and managed to gasp, “Where does that go?” as he pointed to a small rod next to the engineer.”

“Well spotted!” the engineer blustered, “I was just checking to see if you noticed.”

Kane managed a weak smile as Jane tried to hide her giggles behind the engineer as he fitted the part. The engineer was taking meticulous care while shooting glances over at Kane. “It’s very interesting,” Kane managed.

“That about wraps it up,” the engineer said. “I’ll be sending you the invoice.”

“Wonderful,” Jane said. “And can I have your card for the UNC folder?”

“Happy to oblige, miss.” The engineer rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a card and, after a further rummage, a pen. “And you can get me anytime on this number,” he said as he scrawled a number on the back.

“Thank you,” Jane smiled and eased him out of the shop, sagging slightly when he was out of sight. “That was an education. Did Bob make you jump?” she asked Kane.

“I think Bob took at as a professional insult,” Kane said. “What is the UNC folder?”

“I keep a record of business cards in it,” Jane said. “Numbers of businesses that I want to use again or that I found helpful get saved on my phone and laptop. The rest go in the UNC folder. It stands for ‘Use Under No Circumstances’ and I’m definitely putting this one there.” She smiled. “And thank Bob for me. If he hadn’t been watching, I’m sure I would have had to pay for a lot more visits. He’s saved me a fortune!”

Bob smiled broadly. “I’m happy to help out,” he said. “Anything for Ellen’s lass.”

Burning Up

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

“Are you sure you’re okay, ma’am?” The policeman was trying to be kind.

“It’s the shock.” His colleague said quietly.

“Would you like a tea or a coffee?  We’ve called a neighbour over to sit with you if you need it.”

“I’m fine.” I said, trying to breathe normally.

“There’ll be a lot of press speculation.” The first policeman said.  “We’ve had a lot of calls.  I suggest you get a legal representative and get a statement drafted.  Don’t feel you have to answer any calls.”

“I think my husband has a solicitor.” I said, then corrected myself.  “He had a solicitor.”

“He was in a hotel with his secretary, I believe some sort of business trip.  She may want to talk to you but perhaps it’s best if you don’t speak straight away.” The second policeman was trying to judge if I knew about my husband’s affair.

“There will have to be an inquest, of course.” The first policeman was watching me carefully.  “Perhaps you should sit down.”

I looked at him blankly.  This was all so unexpected.  “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” I asked the police.  “I’ve got some biscuits in.”

The police exchanged glances.  “I’ll put the kettle on.” The second policeman said calmly.  “I’m sure I’ll be able to find everything.”

“You need to aware that the internet have taken this up as a case of spontaneous combustion.  Someone filmed it on their phone.  I wouldn’t look at it, if I were you, ma’am, it’s distressing.” The first policemen gently eased me into a chair.  “We are going to have to take some samples, the people are on their way, we’ll be as discreet as possible.  It will all be returned to you.”

“Whatever you need, officer.” I murmured.  A cup of over sweetened tea was pushed into my hand.  “Take whatever you need.”

Because they would find nothing.  I kept my diaries on my laptop which was currently at work.  I kept my tools in my friend’s garage.  And no-one believed that ‘How to Cast Spells and Influence People’ was a book that actually worked.

Out of Place

person pouring coffee into glass
Image from Unsplash, taken by Tyler Nix

“How has it been?” Kane asked Jane. She had sounded strained on the phone when she had asked to meet him in the park.

“Well, it’s sort of a success,” Jane said, running a hand through her hair. It was evening and the setting sun gleamed on her loose, golden hair. “But it’s sort of not.”

“Is he haunting the café?” Kane asked.

“That’s the problem,” Jane said. “I thought he would have a bit of a chill around the place, you know, a cold spot or unexpected draughts. Instead he’s fixated on the machine.”

Kane thought for a moment. “Why?”

“He used to be a plumber when he was alive, remember,” Jane said. “I think he keeps trying to work out the coffee machines. To be fair, they work a lot better when he’s here. They get hotter, the flow is smoother and in general they are just that little bit easier. But it gives the barista’s the shivers.”

“How are they taking it?” Kane asked.

“With maximum drama,” Jane grumbled. “I don’t think that they’d miss it for the world. He’s very respectful, you know. They only spot it when the steam comes out twisted or there’s a disturbance on the surface of coffee, and they know he’s trying to work out what’s going on.”

“Is he haunting the customers?” Kane asked.

“He usually turns up for a Goth couple that come in most days, and all involved seem happy with that. But he seems unhappy to try anything with someone in a suit and tie, and they’re all office workers there. And he won’t upset the ladies.”

Kane smiled sympathetically. “If you’re going to have anyone haunting a coffee shop, it’s perhaps as well that they’re haunting it nicely,” he said.

“I wonder if you could have a tactful word with him,” Jane said. “He’s doing wonders for business and I’m very grateful, but perhaps if he redirects some of his work.” She smiled apologetically. “And I’ve arranged for a man to come and show the staff how to service the coffee machines. I’d like Bob to watch. I think he’d like it, and I’m sure he’ll understand it more than us. He could put us right.”

“You want Bob to service your machines?” Kane stared at her. “He’s a ghost!”

“But he’s already pretty good and it would save a fortune in repairs,” Jane said. “Please, will you tell him?”

Kane thought for a moment. It may seem odd, even to him, but who was he to argue. “I’ll let him know, and I’ll share what he says.” Kane shook his head. “I don’t know how he’ll take it, but I’ll be around tomorrow, around 10am.”

“Brilliant,” Jane said. “I can’t wait!”

Choosing the Battles

rain dropping from roof
Photo by Anna King on Unsplash

Tim put another log on the fire and then leant back. He hadn’t bothered to switch any lamps on as the light faded, and the flickering glow danced around the room, throwing shadows against the wall. It was that time of year again, when he wondered whether he had done the right thing, whether he had chosen the right path. A scatter of rain hit the window and he could hear the wind rising in the trees. There was a knock on the door.

Tim walked down the hallway, switching the lights on as he went, and checked the peephole. You didn’t get many surprise visitors this far out in the country, and he didn’t think it would be Estelle. She was visiting friends over in Rochdale and was staying the night. He did not expect to see a thin, hunched young lad, damp and bedraggled in the porch light. It could be a trick. Tim slid the chain on and cracked open the door. “Yes?”

“Mr Timothy Arndale McGuigan?” the young lad asked, shivering a little.

“Who are you?” Tim answered, peering around him for any possible accomplices.

“I’m Kane Thelwell, and I’m here on behalf of Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan.” Water dripped from his plain brown hair. “He’s asked me to pass on some messages.”

“Alistair McGuigan is dead.” Tim said flatly. “He can send no messages.”

Kane turned, as if listening to someone. “No, I can’t say that! Or that! Okay…” Kane squinted through the rain back at Tim. “The Major General says that you wanted to call your first cat Cowshed, because a friend had a cat called Cola as…”

“Alright, alright.” Tim unhooked the chain and ushered the lad in. “You’re soaked!”

Kane managed a smile. “It’s a bit wet out there, sir.”

“Stay there!” Tim ordered. “My wife would kill me if I let you drip on the sofa.”

After a brief whirlwind of activity, Kane was perched on a bundle of towels on the sofa, his hair roughly dried and a large mug of hot chocolate thrust into his hand. Tim put another log on the fire and sat back in his chair. For a moment he watched the stiff winds whipping the flames up into the chimney and turned to Kane. “How did you know about my cat Kimble?”

Kane glanced uneasily at a space at his side. “I can see ghosts.” He said. “Sometimes I get paid to help people out with hauntings and stuff.” He glanced again and nodded. “But this time I’m doing a favour for Major General McGuigan, as a way of saying thank you for his help.”

“What do you mean?” Tim said.

Kane shook his head. “The Major General wants to pass on a message to you. He says he knows that he always told you to be a soldier like him. And that you became a solicitor instead. He says that he talked about you going after money instead of glory.”

Tim pressed his lips together and turned back to the fire. After all these years, the words still stung. “I am a damn good solicitor, you know. I’ve been invited to apply for a position as a District Judge.”

Kane paused and listened to the unseen presence at his side. “But you’ll take a pay cut if you do that.” He said.

Tim shrugged. “I’m not exactly on the breadline, and judges get a respectable salary. Besides, I’ll still get a share of the profits from my firm.”

Kane sipped his hot chocolate and listened again. “The Major General says that you were handling a divorce recently, the Atkins. He said that you encouraged them to reconcile.”

“They were just going through a bad patch.” Tim said. “It would have been wrong to force the divorce.”

“But you could have made a lot of money out of it.” Kane said. “The Major General says that the other solicitor was itching for a fight.”

“They didn’t want to divorce.” Tim said. “They just needed to have a long talk. And they’re happy now.”

“The Major General said you walked away from that fight.” Kane said.

“It was the moral thing to do.” Tim said coldly.

Kane cocked his head to one side. “But you went in hard for that financial settlement.” He said. “The Cawlstone one. The Major General said you fought that like a tiger. He said you spent hours on the books over that.”

“It was the right thing to do. I was merely pursuing a fair settlement against unfair tactics by the respondent.” Tim said. “It was a challenge.”

Kane listened for a moment, then nodded. “The Major General said that you did the right thing both times. That you showed excellent judgement and good leadership.” He paused and nodded. “He says to tell you that you made the right choice, in those and the other cases he saw. That you choose your battles with skill, use well considered tactics and strategy and that he is proud of you. He says you would have made a good officer, but you’re doing pretty good where you are.” Kane listened again. “He says to tell you properly, that Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan is proud of you, his son, and that he always will be.”

Tim swallowed. “Thank you.” He said. “And I’m proud of him.” He hesitated. “I love you, Dad.”

Kane looked at the space next to him and smiled a little. “I think he loves you too.” He said. “He says, goodbye.”

“Wait, Dad, hang on!” Tim leapt to his feet, but Kane was shaking his head.

“He’s gone home now, passed over. He’s not here anymore.”

Tim lowered himself slowly back into the armchair. He found himself breathing a little harder, as if he had been running. He let the conversation sink in slowly. He turned to Kane. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Kane said awkwardly, sipping his hot chocolate.

“Seriously, thank you.” Tim said. “It means a lot.” He managed a smile. “And that is just the way Dad would have said it.”

“He seemed a bit hard work, but he was a good man.” Kane said. “He helped me out with a problem last week, and I don’t think I could have managed without him.”

Tim smiled a little sadly. “He was a great man to have on your side.” He hesitated. “You say you are employed to sort out hauntings?”

Kane nodded. “Well, sort of sort out. I can see and hear ghosts, but I can’t make them do what I want.” He thought for a moment. “I could never have got the Major General to do anything he didn’t want to.”

Tim laughed. “That sounds like Dad. But what is your fee?”

Kane shook his head. “No fee tonight. It’s my way of saying thank you to the Major General. I don’t mind.”

Tim looked at the hunched young lad, with his battered trainers and worn, cheap jeans. “I feel like I owe you a great deal.” He said. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?” He watched the emotions cross Kane’s face, as he struggled to resist temptation, before he gave in.

“Could you give me a lift to the station?” Kane asked.  

Child in a Sweet Shop

He looked carefully at his outfit.  He had to get the look exactly right, it could make all the difference between success and failure.  There was an all night screening of the Twilight films and he could not miss this opportunity.

 He was naturally pale but his blond hair was a problem.  The old fashioned top hat that he had picked up on the internet should cover it and give the right feel.  He had considered a cane but he hoped there would be times in the evening when he wanted both hands free.  There were likely to be a lot of young ladies at the screening.

The suit had been a problem.  He had found one eventually in a second hand shop.  The black suit jacket had velvet lapels and the waistcoat was nicely cut.  He had been meticulous to get rid of any faint trace of the iridescent dusting powder.  With the slightly flared trousers it said very clearly that this was a man who had not quite got the decade right. 

He had wondered about the shirt.  He may have wanted to look as if he couldn’t keep up with fashion after all this time, but there was no way he was wearing 1970s drip dry polyester with a frill.  He had settled for a deep crimson silk shirt.  It was brand new, but silk was an old fashioned material and he could always say that he had ripped his favourite brushed nylon shirt in a fight with a werewolf.  With well polished shoes and a heavy, plain signet ring he should look the part.

He checked he had his ticket and plenty of cash.  He didn’t want to break the look with a credit card and if he got lucky with a persuadable lady he didn’t want to give too much information about himself, just in case.  The taxi outside sounded the horn.  

“Going to the screening?  You look just like a vampire, mate.  It makes a better night if you put a bit of effort in to look the part.” The taxi driver sighed.  “I used to have a suit like that forty years ago.  Of course, I was a lot thinner then.  Well, you won’t be lonely tonight, I bet you’ve got a hotel room booked.”

He smiled enigmatically and gave the driver a generous tip.  Looking at the crowd there were others who had aimed for his intended look but he prided himself that he had hit closest to the mark.  He was already getting interested glances and he thought it would not take much to entice the pretty brunette near the popcorn stand to a secluded corner to ‘talk’.

Carefully keeping his expression immobile, inside he was laughing wildly.  He may be seven hundred and thirty two years old and a vampire but looking at all those pliable, gullible necks made him feel like a child in a sweet shop.  

The Coffee Shop

empty chairs and tables
Image from Unsplash taken by Van Thanh

“Please, could you just consider it?” Jane looked around into thin air. “It would make such a difference.”

Kane looked at the ghost of Bob Jones who was twisting the shade of his flat cap around in his hands. “Times are hard at the moment,” he said.

“They always are, son, they always are,” Bob said. “But that’s no reason to lose my dignity. I’m not one to put myself forward and I’ve always been respectable.”

“Can you see him?” Jane asked.

Kane nodded. “He’s not very comfortable with this, and I can see his point of view.”

“All I’m asking is a little help,” Jane said. “I’m not asking for clanking chains and moaning. All I want is a little presence.”

“Presence?” Kane asked.

“Yeah, a bit of a chill sometimes, or perhaps unexpected draughts. Something lowkey.” Jane looked around, trying to guess where Bob was standing. “What can Mr Jones do anyway?”

“That’s a very personal question,” Bob said, affronted.

Kane turned to Bob. “You must have seen the amount of work Jane has put in to re-open this café. She just needs a little help.”

“It’s not the same since she bought it,” Bob said. “I was coming here for years before I died here, and I always came in for Ellen’s smile. She had a lovely smile and she always made sure I had an extra bit of bacon.” Bob smiled reminiscently. “So when I passed here, well, I just hung around. I still got to see Ellen’s smile, though she found it a strain at the end, as she got older.” His tone changed. “Then this young lass waltzes in and changes everything. It’s not the same. I miss Ellen.”

Kane turned to Jane. “Bob is talking about Ellen, the former owner. I think he’s worried that she’s being forgotten now someone new has bought the shop. Do you know her or any of her family that may be able to speak up for you.”

The colour drained from Jane’s face. “Ellen Carson? She ran this place for years, with the best bacon butties and meat and potato pies for miles.”

“They were absolutely the best,” Bob said, “And she always had a cheerful word for anyone coming in.”

“But it was losing money in the end. People weren’t coming in. They wanted fancy coffee and my poor grandmother couldn’t keep up. She took a holiday away to think about it but she just faded when she was away from it. She passed in her sleep.” Jane looked down at her hands and a tear slid down her face. “I miss her. I promised her I’d make a go of this place, and I inherited it fair and square, but the costs of renovation have taken all my savings. I have to make this work.”

Kane stepped back as Bob peered forward then looked at Kane. “Is she Ellen’s granddaughter?”

Kane looked helplessly at Jane. “Can you show anything to link you with Ellen?”

Jane stared for a moment and then dug into her pocket. “How about this?” She pulled out her phone and flicked through the pictures. “Here.” She held it in the air.

Bob walked around Kane to look at the picture. “That’s Ellen sitting with you! I mean, she isn’t as young as she was when I met her, but she always had the sweetest smile.” He frowned and looked at Jane, tilting his head and frowning. “Do you know, I think you do have a look of her about you.”

“I think he believes you,” Kane said.

“I think I do,” Bob said. “I tell you what, I’ll make a deal. I’ll haunt this place – respectfully, with no hanky panky, as long as there’s a picture of Ellen on the wall.” The spirit’s face softened. “She made a great cup of tea as well. She knew what I liked – strong enough for a mouse to run across it.”

Kane tried to hide his grimace at the thought of the tea and passed the message on to Jane.

“It feels strange, knowing that he knew Gran,” Jane said. “But nice, like having a fairy godfather.”

Bob snorted, but there was a smile in his eyes. “And the reason that infernal new coffee machine keeps messing up is that the workman put one of the switches in upside down. I watched him as he was trying to sweet talk some lady on the phone. The foreman was far too forgiving. It would never have happened in my day.”

Kane passed the message on, keeping any comments to himself about his own experience of past workmen. He turned to Bob. “You won’t get carried away, will you?”

“As I said, I’ve always been respectable.” Bob was firm. “A few unexpected chills won’t hurt anyone, just a little decent spookiness.” He grinned, a gleam in his spectral eye. “And if Jane takes down the picture of her grandmother once or twice a year, I’ll do something special for it. Not at Halloween,” he added hastily. “That would be cheap. I won’t do cheap. But it will be good just to keep a story going. So it’s still fun to come here for one of those strange coffees, but there’s a little extra.” He puffed up his ghostly chest. “Ellen would have liked that.”

It’s Day Six of the October Frights Blog Hop. I hope you enjoy the somewhat scary stories. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blogs!

Are You Afraid of the DarkNight to Dawn Magazine & Books LLCHawk’s HappeningsHeidi AngellCuriositiesJames McDonaldAlways Another ChapterSpreading the Writer’s WordYours in StorytellingCarmilla VoiezHello RomanceGirlZombieAuthorsFrighten MeM’habla’s!Angela Yuriko SmithBrain MatterNLCARTERWRITES.COM

The Giveaway

The October Frights Giveaway