Just a Point

Kent waved the letter at his wife.  “It’s the valuation.” He ripped it open.   Rupert watched carefully.

“You can’t be thinking of selling it.” Alison said.  “It’s been in your family for generations.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “And you know painting is haunted.  Look what happened last time it was sent for cleaning.”  Rupert nodded.  At least someone else was paying attention.

“Those sort of accidents are normal for a house of this age.” Kent looked uneasily over his shoulder.  “And we have to face reality.  We are in a Grade I listed English Stately Home with a leaking roof.  We can’t just get any old tiles from the local builder’s yard and get the cheapest quote plus scaffolding.  Did you see how much the only firm I could track down wanted?  We need the money.”

“Do you want to sell it?” Alison asked as Kent pulled the letter out of it’s rich, cream envelope.

Kent shrugged.  “No, I don’t.  It’s part of the place, I was fascinated by the old man in the picture as a child.  But sentiment won’t patch the roof.”  He absently straightened out the letter.  “I wish we didn’t have to.”  He straightened his shoulders.  “And if I’m not getting a good enough offer, I’m keeping it.  There are grants, after all.”

Jenkins stuck his head round the door.  “It’s Soames about his business proposition.  He’s in the study, sir.”

Rupert waited until Kent and Alison had left the room and inspected the letter.  He concentrated.  Kent would certainly sell for £350,000 but while the figure was flattering, he could not let the portrait go.  It took some work to manipulate it but by the time Kent got back the offer was £35,000, take it or leave it.  The old ghost knew that Kent would never settle for that.  The portrait would be safe for now.  Rupert tapped his ghostly finger on the polished mantle.  Now how could he help with this business idea?

Not Alone

I double checked the locks. I checked the windows and closed the curtains over. I pushed furniture out of place to block the door. Tonight is the last night. Tomorrow I will go back to my family, go back to my friends and beg them to forgive me, beg them to let me back into their lives.

As the darkness falls, I can hear them singing. Whatever they are, they surround this house, the place that was supposed to be my refuge, away from anyone who could hurt me, away from Steve.

But the strange singing and the tapping get worse every night. The haunting voices are getting closer and climbing the ivy and the outhouse roof. I feel so alone. I hope I make it to morning.

Seeking

It took me a long time to learn how to see fairies. I don’t mean the sort that you see in children’s books, but the fair folk, the shining ones, the quiet presence in a country lane. I trained myself to see a shimmer in the corner of a garden, a hint of rainbow as I walked down a dark country lane. I watched for an unexpected glimmer. I listened for a hint of tune that shouldn’t be playing. I waited for the scent of honeysuckle on the winter air.

An old man waited at the gate, grabbing my arm and pulling me to one side where my mum couldn’t see. “They’re hunting you. You need to stay safe. Carry salt or iron – or both! Or you’ll be trapped.”

I laughed and pulled away. How could they be hunting me when it was me that was searching them out, looking for the rainbows in dim places, listening for strange song. The glimpses were getting longer and I knew I was getting closer. I skipped school and found strange corners on the industrial estates where bindweed wound its way through the fences and flies hung in the shade of scented elder bushes.

I read everything in the library and on the internet. I joined groups and forums. They didn’t help. But I started noticing, through the long summer holiday, that I saw more of the glimpses near elder bushes and trees. I searched them out. I found clusters of them near abandoned warehouses and around the edges of neglected parks. I saw glimpses of the fair folk now, just a brief look at a face, glorious with beauty, lit from within by their wild, magical nature.

As the year turned, I ignored school and gloried in the change of the weather, watching the wind swirl the dead leaves around elder bushes drooping under heavy, purple berries. I saw more of them. They wore green and brown and the ladies had wreaths of autumn leaves in their hair. I stayed as still as a cat, watching. As the nights grew longer and the arguments with my mum got worse, I got closer. I could hear their singing and their soft conversations. Finally, I saw them enter the fairy realm. I saw them slip between two elder stems and I followed through.

The sky was alive with colours and shapes. The trees whispered in shock as I walked into the forest and called ahead that a mortal child was here. I could see the Lords and Ladies, the fair ones, riding towards me, their harness jingling and the sun glinting on their shining hair.

The doctor put down the latest report and shook his head. “I’m sorry Mrs Taylor. All tests for drugs have come back negative, but your daughter continues in a persistent, catatonic, hallucinating state. We’ve tried everything to reach her, but I’m afraid that there’s nothing more we can do. She’s lost to us.”

Never Get Drunk with a Stranger

Never get drunk with a stranger. My life would have been a lot easier if I had remembered those words. I may have missed out on some excitement, but, looking back, I could have lived with that.

Moving to Leeds was supposed to be the start of a better life. Moving from rural Lincolnshire to an insurance job in a city was supposed to be the start of great opportunities that included a steady job, a pension and possibly even a girlfriend. It was supposed to be an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. “It will do you good to get away from your computer,” my mother had told me as she packed my good shirts into my single suitcase. “You can get a hobby.”

“Computer gaming is a hobby.” I had tried to argue one last time.

“But you don’t find a girlfriend like that. Don’t forget to send us pictures.” My mother had tucked a pair of socks into the corner of the case and zipped it up. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

So here I was, three months into my life in Leeds, still without a girlfriend, and getting drunk with a stranger. His name was Piotr but he said to call him Peter. “It’s what all the English guys do.”

“So you’re not from Leeds either?” I said.

Piotr laughed. “I’m Polish, of course, from near Krakow. And this beer is no good. I’ll show you a pub that does proper drink.”

“Where is everyone?” I asked as we stumbled out into the dusty street. Last time I had been in Headingley the place had been almost too full to move and I had given up and gone home.

“Headingley is the student place and most have gone for the summer.” Piotr put a brotherly arm around me and steered me towards the back streets. “And finally we can get the good drink.”

If a stranger you have just met tells you to come with him for a good drink, don’t go. It’s never a good idea. Usually you get mugged. But we had had a few beers and traded a few stories and all sense had been washed away. The warm night air felt soft and lulled me into a sense of security as I listened to Piotr pouring his heart out to me about his girlfriend. At least he had one.

“She is so beautiful. But she knows how beautiful she is, and she is difficult.” Piotr said as we cut down one of the many back alleys. The cobbles were uneven, and I had had enough to drink to be paying attention to walking safely on the old stones. Piotr seemed used to them, though, and strode confidently ahead through the red painted, brick-built terraces to what looked like a private house. “Here we can get the good drink.”

If a stranger you have just met tells you to come into a private house for a good drink, don’t do it. There are so many bad things that can happen that you should just turn around there and then before you get mugged, or you have your organs harvested, or even just drink bootleg vodka that turns you blind. But Piotr seemed low and I had had a few beers and, besides, what else was I supposed to do on a Friday night? I followed him in.

This was a room for serious drinkers. Battered sofas were pushed against the walls, the carpet was threadbare, and the air was heavy with smoke. Men of different ages sat around, ignoring the wall mounted tv and staring at the drinks in their hands. All of them were holding small glasses filled with colourless liquid and all, like Piotr, were clean, neatly dressed and silent. It was a room with a single purpose and that purpose was drink. A middle-aged woman in heavy make up and an unflattering low-cut top sat behind a table in a corner. Piotr handed over some money and hissed at me to do the same. It seemed a lot, but I handed over the cost of two bottles of good whisky and accepted the small glass and bottle of liquor.

If someone you don’t know hands you a re-used bottle filled with alcohol, don’t take it. To be honest, a re-used bottle even from someone you trust is a risk. My bottle looked like it had once held maple syrup and it didn’t have a label. But here I was, in a room full of drinkers, all drinking. What else could I do? I joined Piotr on a cracked, leatherette sofa in the corner and poured myself a small shot.

“What am I going to do, Jamie?” Piotr asked as he poured himself a cautious amount. “Jenja is my life, but she is so fickle. And she says she loves me.”

A few drinkers glanced up at this. I looked up from the glass and got a sense that this was something unusual, but the rest of the men turned their attention back to their drinks and I followed their lead. Did I down it like tequila or sip it like a fine, single malt whisky? The others were sipping so I followed their example. How bad can bootleg vodka be?

This wasn’t vodka. I didn’t know what it was, but it slipped gently past my lips like sunlight made solid and spread warm over my mouth and down my throat. My fingers glowed, my legs tingled and I could feel a blessing stealing over me. I took a moment and breathed in the wonderful sense of well-being. I bathed in the sense of a golden glow before taking another sip. “This isn’t vodka.”

“It’s nearly vodka, made with plums.” Piotr said. “It’s hard to translate. Jamie.” He put a persuasive hand on my arm. “You are a good man. I can tell you are a good man and you come here, and you drink the good drink, and listen to a stranger who is facing a bad death. Do one thing for me. Please?”

“What do you mean?” The golden haze lifted a little. “Are you sick? There are new cures every day, you know. You look great.”

Piotr sadly shook his head. “I have fought against it for many days, but I must accept my fate.” He poured himself another measure of the gift from the gods and raised his glass, saying something in Polish before draining his glass.

I topped my own glass up and saluted him. “Cheers. But what do you mean? Surely there’s something that you can do?” I downed the glass, just like Piotr. This time it felt like a ball of liquid sunset smoothed its way down my throat to warm my stomach. This stuff was probably illegal.

“Jenja has said that she loves me. She is sorry for it, but it is what it is. She is crying at home.” Piotr looked sadly at his glass. “Or, at least, she is staying at home.”

“I don’t understand.” I said. I poured a little more of the magical water into my glass and took a sip. I felt like warm sun caressed my shoulders, but it didn’t help me think any clearer.

“You are English.” Piotr said. “And you are kind. Please, take care of Jenja when I go.”

I looked at my glass. It was half full. I didn’t think another drink would help, but I took it anyway. “Can’t Jenja be taken care of by her family or friends? Is she sick?”

Piotr sadly shook his head. “No-one Polish will help.”

I looked around the room. The silent men were all nodding. A few raised their glasses for the Polish toast, their eyes sad and sympathetic. “Why do you think you’re going to die?”

“Because Jenja said she loved me.” Piotr waved a drunken finger. “I forget. You are English. When a Vila loves someone, they die in dreadful ways. I write down the address for Jenja. You must help her get home.” He patted his pockets and found a cheap pen. He kept searching until the woman from behind the makeshift bar came out with a page ripped from her puzzle magazine and handed it to him. He nodded a thanks and carefully wrote the address. “We live near Bridgewater Place, where the winds are.”

I took the ragged piece of paper, folded it and put it into my wallet. “But you may not die.” I said.

“I will die and Jenja will be left alone and she will need help to go home. Jamie, you are a good man. Please, please promise me that you will take care of her, even if she is difficult.”

Never promise anyone anything when you are drunk. That’s how I got kicked out of the Student Union’s French Society. “I’ll look after Jenja.”

Piotr put an earnest hand on my arm and made sure he looked me in the eye. “Promise me, Jamie. Promise me on something that will mean it.”

What could I say. “I promise, Piotr. I promise I will look after Jenja.”

“By what do you swear?” His grip was tight and I was in danger of spilling the vital contents of my glass.

“I swear by Manchester United.” Never swear on anything while drunk. You will swear on something that means life or death to you and sound like an idiot at the same time. “But you may not die.”

Piotr poured himself another glass. “It will be bad.” He raised his glass and drank. I matched him and felt a golden filter settle over my vision. I could see, but there was a warm, fuzzy glow around the room, like a filter on a camera lens. Even the woman behind the bar looked good. Piotr stood shakily. “I use the bathroom.” No-one looked up as he weaved his way across the room to a door in the back wall.

I sat back and looked at the glass in front of me. I had never tasted anything like it. Reassured by the wonderful clarity in my glass, I knew that Piotr was just feeling his mortality. You worry about strange things under the influence of drink. Tomorrow we would forget all about this. Piotr and I would sleep off the heavenly fumes of whatever it was we were drinking and laugh at the promise. There was an awful crash from the bathroom.

Every head turned towards the battered door at the back of the room. I tried to rationalise it. Perhaps Piotr had knocked something over or had fallen. The woman got up from behind the door and, taking a deep breath, walked towards the crash. She paused before she opened the door, took a deep breath and closed it gently behind her. There was a long pause, as if the room held its breath. Eventually the woman came out looking pale and shaken.

“Piotr has died. I will call ambulance and fire brigade.” She thought for a moment. “Also plumber. You all leave.” She walked over to me as I struggled to get to my feet. “You go to Jenja now.” Her hand closed over my arm and it was icy. I looked into her eyes and even through the effects of the plum vodka I knew that I didn’t want to know the details. “You are a good boy. Get Jenja home. Be blessed.”

I had never knocked on a stranger’s door in the middle of the night while drunk. It’s exhilarating. While the nectar from heaven was still working its magic, I didn’t worry about getting a police record, or whether I was going to get mugged before someone could answer the door, or even if I had found the right place. The cramped terraces that sprawl south of Leeds City Centre are not safe for strangers who can barely walk. I made it, however, and a woman answered the door.

“Jenja, I have bad news!” I said dramatically, falling into the tiny entrance hall. “It has happened.”

“Who the hell are you?” She didn’t look like I expected. Her dark hair was tousled and she had a faded dressing gown over well washed pyjamas. She was pretty, in an understated way, but nothing like the vision Piotr described. She also had a look in her eye that could make any man sober.

“I’m Jamie Reid. Piotr made me promise to take care of you, Jenja. I’m really sorry…”

She held up a stern hand. “I’m not Jenja. I’m Lindsey.”

I looked again at the paper. “Piotr said you were Jenja.” I peered at the address.

Lindsey sighed. “Jenja is in her room. She’s been crying.” She leant against the newel post at the foot of the stairs and shouted up. “Jenja, there’s someone at the door. He says it’s about Piotr.”

A soul shattering wail came from upstairs, followed by a crash and a thump. Lindsey shook her head. “She keeps throwing glasses at the wall. What was your name again?”

“I’m Jamie.” I was sobering up fast and I didn’t like it. I held out my hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

Lindsey shook my hand but before she could say anything a door slammed and a vision of loveliness appeared at the top of the stairs. Jenja was dainty with an inviting figure under a white satin wrap. Her golden blonde hair was swept into an adorable ponytail and her large, deep blue eyes were red-rimmed from crying. “It has happened.”

“I’m sorry to break the bad news.” How did you tell a barely dressed vision of beauty that her boyfriend was dead. “I’m afraid Piotr had an accident. He… he didn’t survive. He made me promise to come and tell you.”

“Did you promise to send me home?” Jenja asked.

“Yes, I promised.” Now that I was sobering up I realised I had no idea about how to send a beautiful woman to Poland. “I don’t know when the funeral will be…”

Jenja waved an imperious hand as she came down the stairs. “I can go home now.” She pushed past Lindsey and I and wandered into the living room. I exchanged a worried glance with Lindsey. Perhaps she was in shock.

“I can look into flights tomorrow.” I said. “Have you got a lot of stuff to take back?”

Jenja looked at me in bewilderment. “I am Vila. You burn the lock of hair and I can go home. Where is Piotr’s green shirt?”

“Would you like a cup of tea.” I said.

Lindsey shook her head. “She really is a supernatural air spirit. Piotr told me his family sent her over as they were worried he didn’t have a girlfriend.”

My first thought was that why did all these families worry about girlfriends. Then my mind caught up. “What?”

Jenja sighed. “They never believe me here.” She waved her dainty hand. For a moment I was caught in the sweet elegance of the pink painted fingernails before I grabbed hold of the door frame. That casual gesture had sent a stiff breeze around the room that knocked the cheap prints off the walls and whirled the letters from their pile on the mantelpiece to all corners of the room.

“The Greeks called them sylphs, I think.” Lindsey said, picking up the envelopes.

“Sylphs are pathetic.” Jenja said. “They don’t know how to treat a man.”

I inched nearer to Lindsey for protection. “This lock of hair?”

“Yes! A lock of my hair. I am bound to it. Once it is burned, I am free and can go home.” Jenja smiled. For a heartbeat I was dazzled by the beauty. I wanted to lay the world at her feet. I wanted to sweep her into my arms and never let her go. I wanted to kneel before her. Lindsey elbowed me sharply in the ribs and I gathered what was left of my wits.

“Where is the lock of hair?” I looked around. “Did Piotr keep it in his room?”

“His mother sewed it into the pocket of his green shirt. She knew he would never look there. That way he couldn’t send me back and get an English girl.” Jenja said, looking around. “Where is Piotr’s shirt?”

“The green one that had the frayed collar and the airplane design on the back?” Lindsey said, feeling her way into a chair and sitting down.

“Yes, that’s the one.” Jenja said. “If I do not burn it then I am trapped in England.” She turned to me and looked deep into my eyes. “I want to go home.”

Before I could promise to dedicate my life to finding the green shirt, Lindsey grabbed my arm and squeezed it hard, digging her nails in. She turned to Jenja. “There’s a problem. You see, I was sorting out some of my old clothes to donate to the church sale and Piotr gave me some old clothes he didn’t want to add to my bag.” Lindsey swallowed. “He said that the green shirt was falling apart but someone may have a use for it.”

“I have a use for it!” Jenja snapped, her eyes sparkling. “I want to use it to go home. Where is this bag of valuable clothing?”

“It’s just old clothes for the sale tomorrow at the church.” Lindsey huddled back into her chair. “I took it down this afternoon.”

Jenja stamped her foot and another sharp breeze rattled around the room. “That is not good.”

“That’s okay, we can just call in tomorrow and buy the shirt, can’t we?” I looked between the two women. “It’s only a church sale. It will be less than a pound.”

Jenja shook her head. “I know these women. They will be in early in the morning to sort out the clothes and to take the best stuff for themselves. They are known for it.”

“Mrs Rafferty can get quite fierce.” Lindsey said. “But the shirt was worn out. I can’t see anyone buying it.”

Jenja started pacing, her wrap working loose and showing more of her than I expected. “What if they decide it is no good but they can put it in with the rags? I know that they have a deal with Mr Rafiq. He takes the stuff that doesn’t sell for his own reasons.” Jenja dropped into a chair across the room.

“He’s got a deal with a warehouse in Dewsbury.” Lindsey said. “Why don’t we just go in early before the sale starts and explain that we need the shirt?”

“Mrs Rafferty will not help with anything to do with me.” Jenja said. “Not after the incident with the marmalade. And I must be there to see if it is the right shirt.”

At this point I started to wonder exactly what had been in the bottle and how long it took to leave the system. “So what can we do?”

Never ask an air spirit a rhetorical question. It’s not something that comes up often, but I think it’s worth sharing. From what I read afterwards, air spirits are tricky, duplicitous and malevolent. They are also impressively slick at persuading people to do stupid things. That is why Lindsey and I found ourselves standing outside a church hall at two in the morning, wondering how to break in.

“There are bound to be alarms.” I said.

“Who steals from churches?” Lindsey asked.

I looked at her. “You would be surprised.”

“But it’s just a church sale of old clothes and second-hand ornaments.” Lindsey said. “There’s nothing of value.”

I shook my head and pointed to the alarm box at the side of the building. “We are not in the best part of Leeds. People will steal the copper from the wiring.”

Jenja looked thoughtfully at the church hall. Back home in Lincolnshire, the church hall had been solid stone and about a hundred years old. This was a slapdash wooden building, about twenty years old, with wire mesh over the large, square windows which were interspersed with panels of cheap turquoise plastic. She looked down at the rubbish strewn and overgrown flower beds that surrounded it. She paced around the structure, nodding and turned to us. “You will wait across the street. Then you will help me find the shirt.”

Lindsey and I crossed the street and leaned against the stone wall. There weren’t any houses on the street, thank goodness. The church next to the hall and the school we leaned against were empty, as was the ramshackle garages and the deserted fast food shop. I watched Jenja pacing up and down outside the hall. “Why are we here?”

“Because you made a promise to someone who died almost immediately afterwards, and I can’t wait to get Jenja out of my house.” Lindsey said.

“She’s not really going to break into a church hall, is she?” I asked. “And what if we’re caught? I work in insurance.”

“And I work in a solicitor’s office.” Lindsey said. “Piotr was a lovely lad, but I wish I had never met him.”

I was about to agree with her when Jenja started dancing. She was spinning as she ran up and down the street and around and around the hall. I shivered as the suddenly warm night chilled and a sharp wind whipped along the street. Dust and crisp packets whirled behind her and the moribund roses dipped and rattled as she passed. “I don’t think this is good.” I grabbed Lindsey’s arm and pulled her inside the small school doorway.

“She’s going to do something dreadful, isn’t she?” Lindsey yelled over the noise of the cans clattering in the gutters. I nodded, and with some instinct I didn’t know I had, pulled Lindsey against me and turned us away from the open street.

It was a good call. Behind us I heard a huge crash echoing with glass against metal. I could feel dust and grit spatter against my back as we huddled against the door. As the echoes of the explosion died down, I heard Jenja shouting, “Come on, you must help me.”

The nearest street light had been shattered in the blast, but enough light came from the ones further away to see the damage. Jenja was leaning in through what was left of the window. Something had blasted out all the church hall’s windows and the main door which sagged helplessly on its hinges. Twisted metal and glass shards littered over the road and there were cracks in the windows of the school and church. We ran over, squinting in the dust.

“I do not have a torch,” Jenja said. “And it may alert people if we switch on the lights.”

“People may have been alerted by the noise.” I said, shouting over the sound of the alarm.

“Then you have to be quick.” Jenja said and looked at us.

Never climb in through a broken window, no matter how much you think you have cleared it. There are always tiny shards of glass still embedded in the frame that will claw your skin off. None of us were wearing jackets and so I pulled the curtains hanging askew from the curtain pole and made a rough pad to climb over. Jenja went first, undaunted by the glass and splinters scattered over the floor. “You must help me. It’s here. I can feel it.”

I helped Lindsey in next and followed, my heart in my throat. I wished I was still drunk as I pulled out my phone and switched on the torch. My ears were still ringing from the blast and the noise from the alarm was getting on my nerves. It was obviously affecting Jenja as she hurried over to the pile of bags in one corner. “It’s in here, somewhere. Please help.”

“We had better be quick before the police arrive.” I said, ripping open the nearest bag and dumping the contents on the floor. I looked at Lindsey. She shook her head.

“That stuff isn’t mine.” She held her phone steady for light as Jenja and I tore open the bags scattering tired baby clothes and worn shirts across the glass and splinters. I kept glancing out of the window, waiting for sirens, but nothing came.

Jenja shrieked. “Here it is! I have found it!”

“Are you sure?” Lindsey asked, training the light of the phone on the worn fabric in Jenja’s hands. There was a faint lump in the pocket flap and Jenja used one of her long nails to slit open the fabric. She sighed and pulled out a neatly tied bundle of golden hair.

“This is mine. I can go home now.”

We got back to Lindsey’s house without any trouble. A few people were peering past us through cracks in their curtains as we passed, but they were all looking at the dust hanging over the church hall and ignoring us. Lindsey unlocked the door and we headed for the kitchen where Jenja pulled out a small, metal pan and placed the lock of her hair precisely in its centre. “The lighter, please.” Lindsey handed over the lighter they used for the kitchen candles and Jenja smiled. “Thank you for all your help. Please pray for Piotr.” And then she lit the hair.

Never light a lock of hair in a rental kitchen, especially if you light it directly under the smoke detector. All your neighbours will hate you for setting off the alarm at three in the morning. You should also never light a lock of hair in that rental kitchen if it’s going to release a Vila. Because right after the smoke alarm went off, Jenja sighed and vanished. Every window in the street blew out and all the street lights shattered. As the noise of breaking glass faded, there was the thumping sound as tiles slid from roofs up to a hundred yards away. And just as that settled down, the water main blew.

Good things did come out of that drink with a stranger. As Lindsey’s house was wrecked and the landlord had a breakdown, Lindsey moved in with me. One thing led to another and now we’re getting married in three months’ time. I now look at insurance claims for wind damage in a new light. I have never been able to find that little house with the golden drink again, although I walk around the area every now and then. And when it’s stormy and the winds are howling around the chimneys, I think of Jenja and wonder what she’s doing now. Then I thank my good fortune that I’m not a part of that and say a prayer for Piotr.

Cold Chills

“Are you sure that he’s a proper vicar?” Mr Jennings asked as he watched their guest stalk across the office.

“I went through the Bishop’s office to get him,” Leanne said. “And he seems to know what he’s doing.”

Mr Jennings frowned. “I’m having enough trouble keeping staff, what with one thing and another. The last thing I need is a ghost. He needs to sort this out.” He marched across to the man in the centre of the room. “Reverend King, can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Please, call me Darren,” the exorcist said. He glanced around the office again. “So you are saying that you get cold chills after dark, and that people have talked about the cat acting oddly – why have you got a cat?”

Mr Jennings felt the conversation running away from him. “We have mice. And we think that they’ve caused a problem with the heating. This is a busy office, Reverend, and the office gets very hot during the day with all the computers. I needed to try and fix the problem with the air conditioning and stop the mice getting in. So we got a cat and it acts funny.”

Darren looked hard at the man in front of him. “When you say that the cat acts ‘funny’, what exactly do you mean?”

“Well, it’s a bit of a b-” Mr Jennings broke off, not want to swear in front of a man of the cloth. “When he catches a mouse, he usually brings them to one of the staff.” Mr Jennings pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his sweating face. He struggled to meet Darren’s unwavering stare. “Sometimes he makes the girls squeak a bit. Then he takes it away. Well, he’s started to do that to a space.”

“What do you mean a space?” Darren asked.

“I mean, he’ll go to an empty space and drop the mouse and look up,” Mr Jennings said. “It causes a lot of disruption when that happens, and we’re already struggling with a backlog.”

“Hmm,” Darren said, looking around.

“I’ve heard that cats are very psychic animals,” Leanne said.

“They’re really just difficult,” Darren said.

Leanne shivered dramatically. “That’s it, that’s a draught of cold air.”

Darren looked up, then around the office. “Could you give me a moment, please, and do you have any recordings of the cat giving a mouse to something that isn’t there?”

“Of course,” Mr Jennings said, and bolted out of the room, closely followed by Leanne.

“He’s very good looking,” Leanne said slowly, “But very stern.”

Mr Jennings looked back at the door. The exorcist was younger than him, muscled and impatient. “I don’t think I’d risk nicking anything out of his collection box.” He sighed. “Have you got anything on your phone?”

Leanne shook her head. “I’ll text the rest of the office and see what they’ve got.”

“And I’ll see if any of the security tapes in the warehouse have anything,” Mr Jennings said.

They had not been looking long, though, before Darren opened the door and beckoned them back in. “I think I’ve found the problem,” he said. “Let me guess – the people most affected sit here, and here, and here?” He indicated three chairs, widely spaced.

Leanne stared. “How did you know? Are you psychic? Did the ghost tell you?”

“I am not at all psychic,” Darren snapped. “You have got the settings on the air conditioning mixed up. The air conditioning is programmed to come on at 6pm instead of 6am. At this time of year, it’s starting to get dark but the office is warm after a day when the office has been full of people and computers. I’ve reset the timers, using a twenty four hour clock, and you should have no more trouble.”

“Is that all?” Leanne said, disappointed.

“There are some places that aren’t haunted, even in York,” Darren said.

“And you’ve saved me a big bill for the air conditioning,” Mr Jennings said. He grabbed Darren’s hand and shook it wildly. “I think I owe you at least half of that, plus any fee for the call out.”

“Just make a donation to the food bank,” Darren said. “If you give me a moment, I’ll just say a few prayers and a blessing, to reassure the staff. And I wouldn’t worry about the cat. They do odd things.”

“They do, don’t they,” Leanne agreed. “My nana’s cat used to get into laundry baskets and…” She trailed off as Mr Jennings dragged her out.

Darren waited until the door closed behind them before turning to the ghost of the old security guard. “Thanks for the tip off about the air con,” he said. He smiled gently at the spirit. “Now, it’s time for me to send you home.”

Out with the Old

It was the longest night of the year and she always found it tough. She loved the sunlight and long days, and the dark, dreary nights pressed down on her like a weight. She sat next to the new woodburning stove and watched the flames flickering. He’d forbidden her to get a stove, of course. “Central heating is good enough for the church in the village, so it’s good enough for us.” The church was always freezing, though, and the central heating had never quite given the warmth of a fire in this draughty room. She added a small fragment of crumbling wood to the stove and watched it crackle into fiery life.

Traditionally it was a time to look back at the last year and on to the next. Last year had been a long, grinding slog with little respite. Her husband had fallen ill, and they had found it was terminal with very little time left.

“I told you to see a doctor about that cough,” she had said.

He had glared at her, his eyes sunk in his greying face but the glint of malice still bright. “I was never going to let you tell me what to do. You were always trying to get one over on me. You never knew your place.”

She shrugged. “Can I fetch you some water?”

“That fool Jeffries has been on the phone,” he had snarled. “They won’t let me change the payee on the life insurance. Did you sleep with him? You should have made me go to the doctor – I bet you worked it so that I wouldn’t.”

She had stared at him for a long moment. She had begged him for months to get a medical appointment but his refusal was still her fault. “It won’t be much,” she said. “I’ll have to go back to work.”

“No you won’t!” he had growled before a coughing fit took him. He sipped some water and gathered his strength. “I’ve made arrangements. There’ll be enough for you to live quietly, but you’re not to go gallivanting around and meeting people, and you’re not to change anything in the house.” His smile under the oxygen mask took on a vicious slant. “When I said I’ve made arrangements, I mean I’ve made proper arrangements. I’ve been speaking to Doctor Adodo and I’ll be haunting you. I’ll be watching every move you make and I’ll be waiting for you at the other side instead of crossing straight over.” The vicious angle of his smile grew stronger. “And you won’t like what happens if you disobey.”

He had not lasted long after that, and the funeral had been particularly grim. Hardly anyone attended apart from the unnerving Dr Adodo with his assistant and a scattering of neighbours who had nothing better to do. Unexpected fog had risen from the grave as he had been lowered down and Dr Adodo had given her a meaningful look. If she hadn’t seen Dr Adodo’s assistant tip dry ice into the grave as the minister said the last prayers, she would have been seriously upset.

The clock in the hall struck ten. She had spent enough time thinking of the past. There was a good film on and a bottle of wine in the fridge. He had been wrong about so many things. She had never stopped him going to see a doctor. She had never slept with Mr Jeffries at his old firm. And he was not haunting her. There had been a few unpleasant incidents at first, when she had started to redecorate, but she had dealt with that. She tossed the last piece of coffin wood onto the fire before standing up and fetching the wine. YouTube really did have a tutorial for everything.

Jar on the Shelf

She was finally dead. My bitch of a grandmother had finally shuffled off the mortal coil. Everyone knew she was a witch, and she held it over the heads of her family like a dagger. She always acted like she knew everything as well. What was worse, she wouldn’t tell me how to do it.

“You have no warm blood in your heart,” she’d tell me. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. You’ll never make a witch.” I hated her more every time she told me this.

And she was so precious about her things. A very select few were allowed to look at her notebooks – not me of course – but none of her grandchildren were allowed into her pantry or among her jars and boxes. At least, Annette and Daisy managed to have glimpses, once they were older, but I had always been shut out.

I hadn’t expected her to have a proper funeral, and I hadn’t expected so many to turn out. There must have been over a hundred in the hall afterwards, most of them bringing their sad pyrex casserole dishes filled with something vegan. I don’t see why my mother couldn’t get it catered, but she always was a cheap cow.

I wasn’t going to stick around and simper over someone I was glad to see gone. Annette and Daisy were red eyed and sniffling, but I didn’t care. I was going to do something I had always wanted to do, and no-one was going to stop me now.

I left as soon as they started passing round the instant coffee and headed straight to my grandmother’s house. It hadn’t been touched, of course, and my cousins had been too respectful to do anything before the funeral. They had been left all the magical stuff, of course. I just had the money. It stung that grandmother had done that because she thought it was all I cared about. If she hadn’t been cremated I would have danced on her grave.

I had been in and out of the old house all my life and I knew its ways. I slipped around the back of the house, got the spare key from under the plant pot and let myself in. All of my life I had been fascinated by a jar on the high shelf. Once, when I was around thirteen, I thought I had heard it calling to me and tried to reach it. The old bag had stopped me then, but she couldn’t stop me now.

I stood on a chair, took the jar down, set it on the scrubbed table and paused. I could hear Daisy and Annette shouting to me as feet pounded up the path to the house. They weren’t going to stop me now. The lid was stiff at first, but then it turned easily. I could hear the singing as the lid loosened and then finally, it was open.

I could hear Daisy calling down the hall, screaming at me to stay back, but I didn’t care. Now I could see inside the tiny perfect world, marvel at the minute and delicate fronds. Except now they were not so tiny. The fronds whirled, whipping around like vegetable tentacles, sprouting and stretching, growing faster than I could watch. The jar shattered as I fell back, too small to contain the writhing plants which were sprawling over the kitchen, feeling their way along to the surfaces and grabbing at me. The fronds were strong, far stronger than a plant should be and I couldn’t break free. They tightened around my throat and as I gasped for air, a cold green tendril slid down my throat. I could hear Daisy screaming as everything went black.

No Rest

“What’s her name?” I stalked slowly towards the man hunched over the drunk girl sprawled on the pavement. It was a scene played out every Friday and Saturday, and I knew the script. A predator had found his prey.

“She’s my girlfriend, and she’s sick.” He lied. “I just want to get her home.” He avoided my eyes. I didn’t blame him too much. I am a tall, well built man who is completely sober. I’m not an easy target like the woman crumpled next to him.

“What’s her name.” I pushed past him easily and picked up her bag, pulling out her driver’s licence.

“I think she needs to go home. I’ll call a taxi.” He tried to meet my gaze and failed.

What’s her name?

“I’ll go get a cab from the station.” He ran off.

I gently helped her up and guided her to the shop at the end of the street. It was a 24 hour convenience store, and, though corporate probably didn’t know, a safe haven with reliable people and a good relationship with the local cops. She swayed a little but managed. I checked her name and made sure she still had her phone. “Come on, Rose, come in here. It’s nice and warm and you can have a nice cup of tea.”

Steve came over, and nodded to Shelley who started calling the paramedics. “How is she?”

“I think she’s okay.” I said. “But I don’t think it’s just drink. She may have been spiked.”

“That’s the third one tonight.” Steve guided Rose onto a chair set next to the door, with a sturdy back and stable arms to support a vulnerable guest.

“I had a good look at him.” I said. “About the same height as Shelley, not tall, and skinny with it. He was wearing jeans and a denim jacket.” I shrugged. “That might help. I mean, who wears denim jackets these days?”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “You’re keeping up with fashion? I know what you are. I wouldn’t have thought you noticed these things.”

I looked away and shrugged. “It’s useful information.” I looked down at Rose who was still semi conscious. “I had better get back on watch.”

“You’ve been watching this street since I was a kid.” Steve said. “It’s not just at night, either. Last week someone raised the alarm about Surjit falling and getting stuck at the corner of Wine Street. I guess you couldn’t show yourself in daylight, but if someone hadn’t pulled down that stand of brochures into the alley, Surjit would still be there.”

“I need to get back to my post.” I said, taking a last look at Rose and backing out of the door.

“I know we are all grateful, but it must be hard for you.” Steve said. “When are you going to rest?”

“When I’ve paid my debt.” I faded into my usual nothingness and slipped past the paramedics as they rushed in. I looked down the street and watched a group of lads stalking a drunk. They looked like they had robbery on their mind. Softly, into Steve’s ear, just before I set off, I whispered, “There’s no rest for the formerly wicked.”

New Books

piled books on brown wooden shelf
Image from Unsplash, taken by Prateek Katyal

“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!