Mistake

This is the third in a series of very short pieces. The first piece is here and the second piece is here. I hope you enjoy them.

Dave stretched and worked his shoulders. Life as a Tarot reader could be remarkably stressful. He checked the clock and grimaced. There wasn’t really time for a decent run before the next booking, but he would definitely hit the gym when the store closed. That was one advantage of having a room for Tarot reading over a new age supplies and book shop. He could keep to shop hours. There was a knock on the door. Dave groaned inwardly. “Come in.”

Martin strode in and took the chair opposite Dave. “You’re a funny sort of Tarot Reader. You don’t believe in it.”

Dave shrugged. “It says ‘for entertainment purposes only’ on the booking form. Besides, what I do is a sort of counselling. I’ve even been taking night courses for therapists.”

“I heard that you claimed them on your expense forms,” Martin said. “Anyway, I’m not here about the Tarot. It’s Paladin business.”

“What have you done?” Dave asked. Tarot reading was his side business. His main purpose was to be the Paladin of York, the defender of the unknowing normals who lived in the area against the supernatural creatures that lived among them. This wasn’t the easiest of jobs. He worked in a shop run by half the non-normal population of the area and they all seemed to have their own version of reality that they refused to abandon.

“It’s not exactly what I’ve done,” Martin said. “It’s more what I was seen to have done.”

“Does Lady Freydis know?” Dave asked. The ancient vampire shifting uncomfortably in the seat opposite him was married to the Prince of York, the ruler of the non-normal population and a barista downstairs. They weren’t exactly difficult, and they weren’t generally considered dangerous to people in general. However they had the potential for more havoc that was good for Dave’s mental health.

“Of course,” Martin said. “She thinks that it’s hilarious but that you ought to know.”

Dave’s heart sank further. “So what exactly happened?”

“I was minding my own business,” Martin said. “I had met with one of my young ladies.”

“That’s one of the ladies you feed from,” Dave said. “I thought that there were alternatives to feeding from young ladies.”

Martin ignored that. “As you know, I take great care of my young ladies, and we were having a very pleasant moment.”

“You were feeding,” Dave said.

“Yes, I was feeding, but I don’t want you to think that there was anything non-consensual involved.” Martin said. “I take great pains to make the experience pleasant for the young lady.”

“So I believe,” Dave said dryly.

“The young lady involved was very much enjoying herself. And I was rather lost in the moment myself.”

“So you were seen feeding,” Dave said. “What happened then?”

“The man interrupted us and pushed me away, telling Kayla that he would defend her.” Martin winced. “It didn’t go down well.”

Dave shut his eyes for a brief moment and shuddered. “What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do a thing!” Martin said. “Kayla was the one who drove him off. But he said that he would hunt me down, that he wouldn’t forget this, and that he would find me and stake me.”

“What did Lady Freydis say?” Dave asked.

Martin shrugged. “She hasn’t stopped laughing at it. He is probably traumatised and out there somewhere. I’m quite worried about him. I thought I may try and look for him, but that I had better let you know. And he may come to you through the usual channels.”

“When you say you are going to look for him, you mean to explain things and reassure him, right?” Dave looked hard at Martin.

“I have not survived these endless centuries by indulging in mindless cruelty,” Martin said firmly. “And the young lad looked distressed. I want to make sure that he is alright.”

Dave ran a tired hand over his face. “I’ll have a look out for him as well,” he said. “And I’ll give Darren and Luke the heads up. What does he look like?”

Martin thought for a moment. I suppose he is about the same height as you, so tall but not too tall. He’s slim, but not skinny. He has blond hair, not bright blonde, but sort of dull like old sacking. And he has a black eye.”

“I thought you said you didn’t do anything to him,” Dave said.

“I didn’t,” Martin said. “But Kayla was really upset and has a surprisingly good right hook.” He winced in sympathy as he remembered it. “And perhaps we had better find this young man before she does.”

Lucky Meeting

The first part of the story, published last week, is here.

Alex sat in the coffee bar and stared at the camera. Perhaps he should have shown the vicar the pictures. They were still on the camera, but also backed up on his PC, the cloud, half a dozen emails and two usb sticks. He flicked through the pictures on the view screen. Perhaps it was just good makeup at Halloween, but it looked too real. And if it was still on the camera, it couldn’t have been photoshopped – could it?

“Hey,” a deep voice said behind him. Alex turned around. A tall man stood behind him, slim but not skinny, with a neatly trimmed beard and short hair. “I saw those pictures.”

Alex forced a smile. “I got the camera second hand with these pictures on them. Looks like great makeup – right?”

“I’m Rhys McGee,” he said, sitting opposite Alex. “And I think we both know that it isn’t makeup.”

Alex froze for a moment, before forcing out, “What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s real,” Rhys said quietly. “But perhaps you shouldn’t be looking in a public place. If I could see them, so could anyone, or anything, else.”

“I got the camera blessed by a priest,” Alex said defensively.

Rhys hovered a hand over the camera, then paused. “That should help,” he said. “But what are you going to do about it?”

Alex shrugged helplessly. “I’m not exactly an action man,” he said.

Rhys looked thoughtfully at the skinny youngster in front of him. “I’m not going up against anything on my own,” he said. “That’s suicide. But perhaps we can do some stuff together. And I’ve worked as a personal trainer.”

Alex picked up the camera and stared at the pictures. “That’s what the priest said. That it was dangerous and that if a crime was committed then I should tell him.”

“What does an old man think he can do?” Rhys said. “Listen, I’ve got to get going, but why don’t we meet down by the river tonight, on the Lendal Bridge. They’re not supposed to be able to cross running water, so it should be safe enough.”

Alex stared at the stranger. For a brief moment he had the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff or the start of a rollercoaster. He should listen to the young, dynamic priest instead of some man that had approached him in a café. He should be sensible. He should get his laundry done before work tomorrow. He should walk away. Instead he nodded. “What time?”

“Make it around 10pm,” Rhys said. “I’ll have finished work by then, and it will be quieter.”

Rhys left the café and strode down Coppergate. Of course vampires could cross running water. He crossed the Lendal Bridge half a dozen times a day and it never bothered him. He could walk in sunlight as well, though he preferred the night and his night vision was now excellent. So was his hearing, which made the chatter filling the street and the off key busker even more annoying. Just because he could almost hear whether a coin had landed heads up did not make it a blessing.

He still couldn’t remember exactly how he became this monster. His memory was hazy. He’d met a woman in a bar a few years ago. Vivienne had been wild and edgy and he had gone back to her place and then…

He could never remember much more. There had been others around, he thought, coming and going, and lots of strange incense. Then one day, in the middle of summer, he had woken up. The old stone house was empty and all the vampires, including Vivienne, were gone.

Rhys would never forget the isolation he felt. The sensation of being adrift in a small, rudderless boat with no shore in sight. There was the gnawing hunger always at his back, a darkness in him that hadn’t been there when he was the second desk on IT support. He didn’t need caffeine anymore. He needed something far darker. And he couldn’t touch the camera.

There were advantages. When Rhys had searched the house for information, he had found some very detailed, very organised paperwork that even had his name on it. Through complicated trusts and deeds, he was now an owner of a large property set in its own grounds on the edge of the tourist haven of York. He was getting a fortune for it as a holiday rental. He hung out in a small caravan in a corner of the grounds. It gave him time to work his way up as a freelance tech guy and to work out what he was supposed to do now.

Perhaps he should speak to the priest. Whoever he was, he knew his stuff. The camera had been glowing with the blessing. Rhys hadn’t been able to get his hand near it. But then, getting a priest involved wasn’t fair. Most priests were old and frail and he didn’t want to drag one into a fight. Because that was what he was planning. He was going to hunt down every vampire he could, and he was going to destroy them. He was going to train a team, starting with Alex Poole. And they were going to get every last bloodsucker out there. All he, Rhys McGee, Vampire and Vampire Hunter, had to do was find them.

And he could start by looking through the pictures on the camera.

Get a Picture

black Canon EOS Rebel-series DSLR camera
Image from Unsplash, taken by Andrew Hutchings

“You want me to do what?” Darren asked, baffled.

Alex Poole leant forward. “It’s important,” he said. “If you bless the camera then I have a chance of keeping the images.”

“And you want to keep the images of…” Darren looked at the camera and then back at Alex. “If you actually find vampires and take pictures of them, what are you going to do with the pictures?”

“It’s proof that they exist,” Alex said. “I’m sure that they do. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours. An old guard told me that there were incidents under York Railway Station a few years back.”

“I don’t remember seeing anything about that in the papers,” Darren said.

“And there have been people talking about pet rats disappearing from their cages in mysterious circumstances.”

“Really?” Darren said helpfully. He looked at the camera then back and the thin, eager face of Alex. “And if you get a picture of a vampire, how do you prove that he or she is a vampire?”

Alex paused for a moment. “I’d have to follow them, to make sure that I got a proper picture.”

“Don’t you think that would be a little risky?” Darren asked.

“That’s where the blessing would come in,” Alex said. “If you blessed the camera, they wouldn’t be able to touch it.”

“It wouldn’t stop them touching you,” Darren said.

“Oh!” Alex sat back, suddenly thoughtful.

“Another important point is that a blessing or a prayer isn’t like an action in a video game. It’s about faith, and intent, and the will of God. It’s not something that settles on the camera like dust.” Darren said. “But let’s go further. If you find a vampire, and get a picture that is definitely of a vampire without any doubt, what are you going to do?”

“Stake it, of course,” Alex said.

Darren looked thoughtfully at the slight young man sitting opposite. “Apart from putting yourself in extreme danger, what would happen if you got it wrong?” He watched as Alex hesitated.

There was a knock on the door and Egerton stuck his head in. “Ian and Dean are here for the Bible study,” he said. “I’ve left them in the living room.”

“I’ll be a few minutes,” Darren said. He turned back to Alex. “Do you have evidence that a crime has been committed?”

Alex shook his head. “But if vampires are prowling our streets, then no-one is safe.”

“I am not going to tell you that vampires do not exist,” Darren said carefully. “And I can believe that they walk the streets. For all you know, the people waiting in my living room could be a vampire or werewolf.”

“That’s not possible,” Alex interrupted. “No vampire or werewolf could come into a vicarage.”

Darren looked thoughtful. “I’m an exorcist, as you know. I’ve seen many strange things. And I’ve seen people with all the disadvantages trying to live a normal life without hurting anyone. I’ll bless you and the camera, but I advise you against vampire hunting. And if there is any crime being committed, apart from possibly fraud, come to me. I’ll make sure that the authorities listen.”

“You don’t believe in vampires,” Alex said flatly.

“I believe that perhaps this isn’t a good idea,” Darren said. “But I will never refuse a blessing. Some things are beyond my judgement. Please, put the camera on the table and we can pray.”

Movement

brown house surrounded white trees
Image from Unsplash, taken by Craig Cooper

The day is without motion, all is quiet

The smoke across the valley rises straight

And in the silent room that is my kitchen

I sit and nurse my tea and slowly wait.

I careful move, not to disturb the silence

The frost is hard and the brittle grass is white

I sit and chill within the silent garden

The sunshine has no heat, just frozen light

As slow as moss, I move back to the kitchen

And breathe while waiting for my heart to fill

One day I’ll thaw and rattle through the hours

Till then the light, the day and I are still.

Flowers

green and yellow plant on white car
Image from Unsplash, taken by Maurice Pehle

“The flowers are late!” I rushed into the kitchen, my wedding dress bunched around my waist and my veil askew. I looked at my husband-to-be. “I knew we shouldn’t have trusted that florist.” I took a deep breath. “And I knew we shouldn’t have got ready together. It’s supposed to be unlucky.”

Tim sighed. “It’s just nothing. It’s probably meant to allow the bride a little peace to get ready without the groom asking a lot of questions and causing fuss. We aren’t doing all the fuss.”

It made a sort of sense, but I was still frantic. “What about the flowers?”

“Can’t your little friends help out with that?” Tim asked.

“You know I don’t like you calling them that,” I said. I manouevred my skirt over a stool and sank down. “They’re the fair folk – if you have to talk about them at all.”

Tim walked over to me, put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me gently on the forehead. “Well, whoever they are took a lot of getting used to. I’m still not sure they approve of me. But I love you, friends and all, and don’t worry.” Tim grinned, that crooked grin that I loved so much. “Besides, they’re more like family, really, and we all have awkward family. I mean, you’ve met my Auntie Violet. She is far worse than misplaced car keys and iffy reception for the radio.”

I smiled back for a moment. “Lots of people call this house haunted, but it isn’t really. I just have friends.” My face fell. “But no flowers – and you know that the minister said he wouldn’t go ahead if we were late. We can’t wait around for the dratted florist. What are we going to do?”

Tim took my hands and gently squeezed them. “My darling, we agreed that this is about the marriage that we are going to have for the rest of our lives, not one day. We agreed that we would remember the things that went wrong as fun stories and not as awful events.” He grew serious. “I wish my mum was able to come, but we lost her last year. I wish your family was still here. I wish that your bridesmaid hadn’t eloped with my best man a week before it was all due to happen. I wish all sorts of things. The flowers, well, it’s just another story. As long as we get married, that’s all that matters. I love you.”

I smiled back. “I love you too.” I sighed. “I hope the fair ones are happy. They haven’t interfered so far, which is a good sign.” I disentangled my voluminous skirt from the stool and stood up. “They mean a lot to me.” I pulled myself up and settled my veil. “They’re the last of my family. Come on, we can’t be late. We can do without the flowers. Let’s go and get married.”

Tim led me outside ready to drive to the church, then stopped. I almost fell over as I bumped into him and then stared. A small bundle of wild flowers lay across the boot of the rental car.

Tim picked them up tenderly and looked around. “Thank you for this,” he said to the empty air. “An amazing gift on our wedding day.” He turned to me. “Your family have given their blessing. Let’s go and get married.” He looked around again. “And I’ll save you some cake!”